Universal Brotherhood Path – May 1900


Decline of the Monarchy — The Ramessids — Usurpation of the Priest Harhor — Sheshank —

Eclipse of the Moon — Era of Confusion — The Priest-King's Return.

"The Twentieth Dynasty opened brightly, and under it the ancient glory of Egypt seemed to revive," says M. August Mariette; "but the timid successors of the hero of Medinet-Habu did not know how to keep intact the treasures bequeathed to them, and the brilliant victories of Rameses III. were in vain to arrest Egypt from the downfall which she was so soon to experience."

Rameses IV. was already seated upon the throne when the embalmed body of his father, who had been justified at the Assize of the Dead, was placed in his sepulchre at Biban el Molokh. The country was at peace, and prosperous, and of course the annals in such a condition are barren of exciting incident to make history enlivening. The principal event of this reign that is noted in the memorial tablets was an exploration of the valley between the eastern hills and the Red Sea, in the third year, to find a suitable site for a temple, and "the creation of monuments of granite for his father and his ancestors, and for the gods and goddesses who are the rulers of Egypt."

So far as it appears, it was a fruitless undertaking. No trace of any important monument bearing the name of Rameses IV. has been found; and it has been suggested that the real purpose was to get rid of disaffected subjects.

Other inscriptions purport to have been made in the eighteenth year of his reign, but they are not significant of anything of importance.

A revolution of which no particulars have been obtained placed his successor, Rameses V., a prince of a rival family, upon the throne. A tablet at Silsileh is the principal monument of the new monarch's reign. He appears to have been dethroned by the sons of Rameses III., who also took possession of his tomb. The Alexandrian chronologists place the war of the Greeks against Troy at this period.

Rameses VI. was most noted for the inscriptions in the tomb which he had seized and appropriated at Biban el Molokh. On the ceiling are tables of the hours, with the times of the rising of the stars, which formed the "Houses of the Sun" in his course of thirty-six or thirty-seven weeks of the Egyptian year. Among them is that of the Dog-Star, Sothis or Sirius. Biot made a calculation from this which fixed the date of the inscription at 1240 before the present era. Lepsius, however, set the number as 1,194.

Rameses VII. also styled Amun-hi-khepeshef, and Rameses VIII., with the official name of Meiamun, succeeded their elder brother, but we have little record of them.

Whatever rivalship had existed in a previous dynasty between the kings and the pontiffs of Thebes was finally determined by the subordination of the monarchs to the hierarchy. Henceforth it is to be noticed that the high-priest was in the foreground. As though to signify the religious change which has been commemorated in the mystic tragedy of "Isis and Osiris," there was recorded upon a sepulchral tablet at this period, the ascension and reign of a prince named Horos. It was also reported that he was succeeded by Meri-Tum, the High-Priest of Memphis, and he by Rameses IX.

A sculpture on the wall of the Great Temple at Thebes, with the inscription accompanying bearing date of the twelfth part of the reign, illustrated distinctly by the relative positions of the king and Chief Pontiff. In the forecourt stands Amun-Hetep in full dignity, "the hereditary prince and chief priest of Amun-Ra, king of the gods." Before him in deferential attitude was the king with the treasurer, the interpreter, and two Abs or Councillors. The interview was begun with an invocation of the god Menthu, together with Amun-Ra, Horemakhu, Ptah of Memphis, and Thoth the lord of sacred speech for witness. The object of the conference was to bestow upon the priest "rich reward and much recompense in good gold and silver, and a hundred thousand fold of good things on account of the many splendid buildings at the temple of Amun-Ra to the great name of the divine benefactor, Rameses IX."

After the king had rewarded him, Amun-Hetep replied, styling himself "the teacher of the king, and the chief priest of the king of the gods." He then describes the work which had been performed. It bore date, he said, since the time of king Osirtasen I., of the famous Twelfth Dynasty.

From this time the high priests of Memphis began the double part, assuming authority equivalent to that of the kings, and, in fact, superior. The easy manners of Rameses III. had operated to diminish the veneration which had made former monarchs the subject of worship as actual gods. They were now regarded as men only, who might be deposed, ridiculed, and even robbed without the incurring of any guilt or sacrilege.

This reign became memorable accordingly for the operations of a Society of Thieves regularly organized for the purpose of plundering the royal tombs. It included priests among the members. The robberies first came to light in the sixteenth year, but they had been already carried on for some time.

The violations continued three years longer. The king finally appointed a royal commission of six persons, afterward increasing it to twelve, to investigate the matter. The high-priest of Amun-Ra and the superior officers of the Royal Court were selected. The persons who were accused were all acquitted. It appears that the priests of the Commission were not willing to condemn members of their own Order at a secular tribunal. The king, however, learned of eight of the offenders, members of the priesthood, and they were summarily punished with the bastinado and death. Rameses now associated his son Rameses X. with him in the royal authority. Neither this prince nor his successor, Rameses XL, have left any record except their names on the monument.

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Rameses XII. in summer time, he was at Thebes to celebrate the Feast of the Coming of Amun-Ra to Egypt, An ambassador arrived from the king of Bakhatana, with gifts for Queen Neferu-Ra. He had come on account of her sister, the princess Benat-Resh, who was ill, and his master desired for her a physician from Egypt. Rameses collected the College of Scribes, and the Rekht-get-Amun, those skilled in mystic learning, and asked their counsel. They made choice of Thot-em-hebi as "a man of intelligent heart and skilful with his fingers." (1) He found the princess "possessed with a spirit that he was not able to exorcise.

Eleven years passed and another embassy was sent to Rameses. He was asked to send the god Khonsu himself; or, in plainer words, the effigy or simulacrum of the divinity that was in a temple at Thebes. The prophet or superior was of course to accompany the image to interpret the divine will. Rameses accordingly "gave command to cause Khonsu, the oracle-god of Thebes, to embark on the great ship (the ark in which he went in processions). Many barks and many carriages and horses were on his right hand and on his left. The god reached the city of the land of Bakhatana after the space of a year and five months."

When the god had come to the place where the princess was abiding, he caused his talisman to operate upon her, and she became well immediately.

There is in this account some resemblance to the story of the demon As-modeus or Aeshmadeva as given in the Apocryphal book of Tobit. But the sequel is hardly congruous. The spirit is represented as acknowledging to the prophet attending the divinity that his lord was supreme in Bakhatana. It asks, however, before going away that a great feast shall be celebrated for it, and for the god, together with the king. This was done, and "then the glorious spirit went thence whither it pleased him." But the king would not permit the prophet to carry the image back. Three years and nine months passed, and he was warned in a dream to change his purpose. The god and prophet came again to Thebes in the thirty-third year of the reign of Rameses XII.

This story is plainly part of the folk-lore of Egypt, on a plane with the account of the "Two Brothers." No country was tributary or in alliance that might require seventeen months, even in those days of slow locomotion, to journey from one capital to the other. The power of the kings of Egypt had dwindled to a nominal sovereignty, and the affairs of state were under the supervision of a high priest of Amun, who was then holding every superior office in the country. Yet from the little knowledge that is in our possession of Oriental Magic and ancient learning, it may be surmised that there was somewhat of actual truth in the account. The succeeding monarch, Rameses XIII., was chiefly famous for the building of the Forecourt of the temple of Khonsu with the colonnade.


Har-Hor, a native of Tanis, was now high priest of Thebes. He had been entrusted by Rameses XIII. with the highest dignities of the Royal Court. He was "hereditary prince," bearer of the royal fan, "king's son," Chief Architect, Commander-in-chief of the army, and administrator of the granaries of the kingdom. Only as king of Egypt was Rameses his superior. Whether the fact that the king had recognized Ptah of Memphis instead of Amun-Ra as his "father," was suggestive that another might supersede him, or whether the adoption of the Crown Prince Rameses XIV., as colleague on the throne portended his relegation to a position of less influence, or whether he was simply ambitious and unwilling to remain even nominally subordinate, are questions to be solved.

The Pontiff was able to organize a party in Northern Egypt, as well as to control the whole body of priests and prophets in the South. When he found the time ripe for his purposes he laid aside the mask of loyal obedience and seized the royal power, proclaiming himself by the several official titles of "King of Upper and Lower Egypt, High-Priest of Amun-Ra, Si-Amun Har-Hor."

We can hardly suppose that all this was accomplished without resistance. Coups d'Etat are generally characterised by scenes of violence. Indeed, the members of the royal family and their adherents who were not put to death were banished and found a refuge in the Great Oasis. An inscription gives the number of the exiles as a hundred thousand. A multitude so large could have been evicted only by a revolution set on foot by a conspiracy which had been carefully laid. And this is confirmed by the fact that the sacerdotal usurpers found these exiles to be a constant source of peril.

According to the monumental record, Harhor reigned sixteen years. He is also described as winning a victory over the Ruthen or Palestinians, but this must have been the repelling of an invasion. Syria and Palestine had ceased to be tributary to Egypt, and all that this king could hope was to be permitted to occupy the throne in peace. His wife was of Semitic parentage, and was named Netem. Their children received Semitic names. Semitism in language and customs had thus generally perverted the Egyptian court and wealthier population. (2)

Pi-ankhi was invested by his father with the priesthood of Amun-Ra, and was succeeded many years afterward by his son, Pi-netem. The son of the latter became king upon the death of Harhor. He contracted marriage with the princess Ra-ka-maa of the Ramessid family, and held the royal court at Tanis.

Meanwhile the exiled family of Rameses had maintained communication and formed marriage alliances with the princes in or around Egypt who were opposed to the new state of things. A great-grandson of Rameses XIII. took to wife a daughter of Panu-res-nes, the Sar-a-Mat or prince of the Mat, a people whom Brugsch-Bey considers to be Assyrian, but whom Mariette-Bey, Professor Sayce and other Egyptologists believed were Libyans. Another chieftain of rank, Sheshank, also married Mehet-en-usekh, a princess of the royal family. Political disturbances took place, and open revolt. Pinotem found it necessary in the twenty-fifth year of his reign to send the Crown Prince Men-kheper-Ra, who was also high-priest of Amun, to Thebes to propitiate the disaffected population. The Thebans demanded a general amnesty, and the recall of the families that had been exiled to the Oasis. The prince complied.

The throne of Tanis was now occupied by Susenes I., Psiankhan or Pi-Seb-Kan, and after him by the other kings whom Manetho has enumerated. There were several intermarriages which tended to complicate the relations between the several monarchs, and afterward to afford a pretext for their violent solution. Psiankhan married a Theban princess, perhaps of the Ramessid family, and their daughter Kar-am-hat became the wife of Sheshank, the son of Nemroth. The discrepancies of the accounts given by different writers are inexplicable, except for the reason that no two writers read names alike. Pineten, the son of Menkheper-Ra, succeeded him as king of Upper Egypt, and by his second wife he was the father of Men-kheper-Ra, the last king in Egypt of the lineage of Harhor. This prince married Isiemkheb, and the sun-dried bricks of the fortress of Khebhave preserved their names.

The Hebrew monarchy is reputed to have been established during the period of this Dynasty, and several curious conjectures have been made respecting its alliance with the king of Egypt. Professor Sayce names Hor Psiunkha II. the successor of Psiunkha I., the Susennes II. of Manetho, as perhaps the king who sought to strengthen himself against the growing power of the Libyan mercenaries (of Bubastis) by marrying his daughter to King Solomon." Mr. Birch and R. S. Poole concur in this opinion. As the next Dynasty is recorded as harboring conspirators against the Hebrew monarch this conjecture is plausible. Professor Rawlinson, however, leans to the supposition that Pineten II. was the king who formed the alliance, which he remarks, "had advantages and disadvantages."

He attributed to the Egyptian influence both the corruption of manners and the development of commerce and the arts. "The excessive polygamy which had been affected by the Egyptian monarchs ever since the time of Rameses II. naturally spread into Judea," he declares. "On the other hand, commerce was no doubt promoted by the step taken, and much was learned in the way of art from the Egyptian sculptors and architects. The burst of architectural vigor which distinguished Solomon's reign among those of other Hebrew kings, is manifestly the direct result of ideas brought to Jerusalem from the capital of the Pharaohs. The plan of the temple with its open court in front, its porch, its Holy Place, its Holy of Holies, and its chambers, was modelled after the Egyptian pattern. The two pillars, Jakhin and Boaz, standing in front of the porch, took the place of the twin obelisks, which in every finished example of an Egyptian temple stand just in front of the principal entrance.

. . . Something in the architecture of Solomon was clearly learned from Phoenicia, and a little — a very little — may perhaps have been derived from Assyria; but Egypt gave at once the impulse and the main ideas of the forms."

These suppositions are rather strong in terms. They are based on Hebrew tradition and not on monumental inscriptions or the records of papyrus-rolls. The accounts of the Temple at Jerusalem, as well as the Tabernacle in the Desert, exhibit more Phoenician than Egyptian characteristics. There is no evidence of a conclusive character that the architecture employed by the Phoenician builders that were hired by Solomon was Egyptian at all, although the Brazen Serpent that was said to have been worshipped there at that time was an Egyptian symbol, and described as having been fabricated by Moses in the region of Sinai, where were mines of copper. Indeed, the temples of Northern Egypt were likewise constructed by Phoenicians who quarried and fashioned the stones and erected the structures. The origin of the Hebrew monarchy as an offshoot of the Tyrian is briefly passed over by the sentence that Hiram the king of Tyre, "was ever a lover of David." No mention is made of the conditions which developed that friendship; but from that period the Rutenu, or Canaanites were never mentioned. They had been absorbed into the Israelites, and became one people with them, and like the Normans of England the dominant Israelites became assimilated with the Canaanites, adopting their commercial habits, religious customs and other peculiarities. But the disturbed condition of affairs in Egypt hardly favored the conception of an alliance which could greatly influence the new monarchy.

Sheshank, the son of Nemaroth, succeeded his grandfather at Bubastis. He, like Pepin, of France, had no disposition to play the part of Mayor of the Palace to a Dynasty whose history had given him an example. The government at Thebes had confiscated the possessions of his wife, the daughter of the King Miamun Pi-seb-khan. Sheshank marched to the south with an army. On his arrival at Abydos he found that the temple of his father had become dilapidated through neglect, and that the revenues for its maintenance as a shrine had been embezzled and squandered. He summarily punished the delinquents, and established anew the regulations for stated worship.

The king and royal family of Thebes escaped into Ethiopia. There they established an independent kingdom, making Napata their capital, and became in later years a formidable power to which Egypt was compelled to yield.

It was not difficult for Sheshank to procure from the priests at Thebes a full restitution of the property of the queen. He was now sole monarch of all Egypt, under the manifold designation of Hat-Kheper-Ra. Sotep-en-Ra, Meiamun Sheshank I.; and the family of Rameses did him homage. All these occurrences were officially reported.

The Twenty-second Dynasty marks more distinctly the subjection of the Egyptians to rulers from another people. It has been generally supposed that the monarchs before this except the Hyksos, were native princes. It may yet be learned that they were likewise quite frequently of extraneous origin, and brought from abroad those arts and ambitions which had from their very antiquity, been considered as indigenous. It is certain that with the innovations which were introduced, the people of Egypt became less free and prosperous, and that the seeds were thus sown for the fall of the country from its high eminence. The origin of this Dynasty has been a subject of controversy. Brugsch-Bey and others maintain that it was Assyrian outright, and that the kings employed the title of Ser-en-Mat, as denoting the king over nations. Sir Gardner Wilkinson also states that Tiglath Pileser I. of Assyria is said to claim the conquest of Egypt about the year 1120 before the present era. Mr. Poole also cites the names of the princes of the Dynasty, Sheshank, Osorkon, Takelot, and Nimrut as being all of them either Assyrian or Babylonian. (3) But we do not find in the Cuneiform Tablets any mention of kings at that period bearing those designations. Indeed, if the Hebrew records are to be regarded as historic it would be impracticable for the Assyrians at that time to- invade Egypt. Mari-ette-Bey explains the matter thus: "It is surprising," he says, "to find how many members of the royal family bear Assyrian names, such as Nimrod, Tiglath and Sargon; also that the regiment whose special duty it was to guard the king's person was composed, not of Egyptians, but of Mashuasa, a Libyan tribe, whom Rameses III. had so often routed from the frontiers of the Delta." It is probable, therefore, that the family of Sheshank was actually of Semitic origin, and had been long settled in Egypt. It made its way into distinction, and its leading members received appointments under the kings of the Twentieth and Twenty-first Dynasties. It is not necessary to make account of Semitic forms of name, for the Phoenicians and other colonists had long established their language in Lower Egypt.

Sheshank and his descendants made it a rule to entrust all positions of importance, religious and military, to princes of the royal family. This policy was evidently adopted as a safeguard against usurpations like that of Har-Hor. Aunpath or Uapath, the Crown-Prince, was accordingly appointed High-Priest of Amun-Ra and Commander-in-chief of the "whole body of great warriors of Patoris." The prince died before his father, and his brother, Usarkon, or Sargon, succeeded to the throne.

The reign of this monarch was marked by no achievement worthy of mention. The power and prestige of Egypt were now decaying, and the policy of his administration facilitated disintegration. He had two wives, and the rivalry of their sons laid the foundation of later controversy. The older prince, Take-lath, or Tiglath, was the son of Queen Tashed-Khonsu, and became king upon the death of his father.

Takeloth was succeeded by his son Usarkon II. The two sons of this monarch were duly invested with the sacerdotal offices. Sheshank the elder was the son of Queen Keramat, and he became High-Priest of Ptah at Memphis.

The next king of Egypt was Sheshank II., a grandson of the priest of that name, whose claim had been passed over. Little is known of him beyond his name, and the fact that he was succeeded by Takelath II., the son-in-law of the priest Nimrato. The reign of this king is chiefly famous for an eclipse of the moon and certain events which this was supposed to portend. Usarkon, the son of the king, was High-Priest of Amun-Ra, and commander-in-chief of the army of Egypt, and likewise of a province. He is extensively described in the inscriptions at the Great Temple. In the eleventh year of his father's reign his mother died and the next year he entered upon his office as high-priest, and proceeded at once to put everything in order. In the fifteenth year, on the twenty-fifth day of the month, Mesori, the day became dark; "the sky could not be distinguished, and the moon was horrible." It was a sign of calamity coming upon the country, and it also happened that the children of revolt (the Ethiopians) invaded with war the Southern and Northern districts.

Usarkon is recorded as reigning twenty-eight years, and Sheshank III. for about a similar period. The chief record of the reign of this latter monarch is the birth of an Apis in the twenty-eighth year and his reception in the temple of Ptah by Pe-ti-se, the high-priest and chief prince of the Libyans, and also by Takelot, the son of the high-priest, and by the royal princess Thes-Bast-pir. "The full lifetime of this divinity was twenty-six years." He died in the twentieth year of Pi-mai, the next king, Sheshank IV., succeeded Pimai, and reigned twenty-six years. During his reign three of the sacred bulls died. Whether the authority of this monarch extended beyond the Delta is very doubtful. His dominion over Egypt was in name rather than in fact.

The Twenty-third Dynasty left little to record beyond the names of the kings, and it is not altogether easy to determine whether they were much else than rulers of circumscribed districts. Their authority was little more than nominal. No Apis is recorded as dying or being born during their reigns. Manetho has named them as four, Petubastes, or Pet-se-Bast, Usarkon or Khonsu, Psamos or Pi-se-Mut, and Zet. He also affirmed that the method of computing time by Olympiads was begun in Greece during the reign of Petu-bastis. This was seven hundred and seventy-six years before the present era.

Meanwhile Upper Egypt had come again under the suzerainty of the descendants of the Priest-Kings of the Twenty-first Dynasty, whom Sheshank I. had supplanted. They had retired to the Soudan and there founded the kingdom of Kush or Ethiopia, which was afterward so formidable. Their capital was at Noph or Napata, "the City of the Holy Mountain," Barkal, and the government and religion were the same as they had been at Thebes. The kings bore the name of Pi-ankhi, the "ever-living"; the mother, sisters and daughters were held in honor, bearing the titles of "Queens of Kush." Amun-Ra was worshipped as the Supreme God and the Egyptian language and writing were preserved. A large part of the population was similar in race to the inhabitants of Upper Egypt.

The kings were waiting their opportunity to recover their former power. This was afforded them by the disorganized condition of affairs, which the monarchs of the Twenty-third Dynasty were unable to remedy. "From causes yet unknown to us," says Mariette-Bey, "Egypt was completely divided within herself. In the North, instead of becoming a separate kingdom as in the days of the Hyksos, we find her split into several States, and domineered over by a handful of petty kings — veritable Janisaries — drawn for the most part from the ranks of the Mashuasha (Libyan soldiery employed in Egypt), who probably by slow degrees scaled the steps to the throne. In the South a state of affairs still more unforeseen betrayed the internal discords which prevailed in the unhappy country. The Soudan, which till now had been submissive to the Pharaohs, suddenly arose as an organized and independent kingdom. No longer were these 'Governors of the South' and 'Princes of Kush' to carry out above the Cataract the orders issued from Thebes and Memphis; the land of Kush was free, and Upper Egypt as far as Minyeh, was a province of the Soudan."



1. This is usually interpreted to mean expert writing, but it more probably signifies a man expert in mesmerism. The Egyptian priests who were physicians were skilled in that art as sculptures show. (return to text)

2. A change in the sound of letters appears to have been introduced. The aspirate kh was superseded by the sibilant, and Kheops from Khufu became Sufu. (return to text)

3. The Semitic form of these names would be Shishak, Sargon, Tiglath and Nimrod. (return to text)

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