Universal Brotherhood Path – July 1900


XV. Tirhakah. — Wars with Assyria. — Esarhaddon. — Sardanapalos. — Thebes Destroyed. — Psamatikh I. — Twenty-sixth Dynasty. — The New Egypt and "St. Luke's Summer."

TIRHAKAH had succeeded Sabako as king at Napata. The right of succession in Ethiopia appears to have been controlled by a primitive law of descent by which a brother or sister might take precedence over a son. He also ruled at Thebes while Sabataki was restricted to the northern territory. (1) He was soon involved in hostilities to Assyria.

Sennakherib, upon his accession, had made Ninevah again the capital. He built it anew, adding, as he had opportunity, to its embellishments. As had been the case with the kings before him, his accession was characterized by a general revolt, which he proceeded immediately to suppress with all the savage cruelty characteristic of the Assyrian monarchs. He first made a campaign against Kar-Dunia (Babylon) and Susiana; and then turned his arms against "the kings of the Khatti or Hittites, all of them of the coast." The Khitan dominion which lay upon the river Euphrates had been already overthrown, and the description indicates these kings to have been simply Phoenicians. They were in alliance with Hezekiah of Jerusalem, and with "the kings of Egypt and the king of Meroe" — the under-kings of the Lowlands and the king of Ethiopia. As he marched into Palestine the cities in his way quietly returned to their allegiance. The city of Ekron held out. The inhabitants had deposed their king, Padi, and sent him in chains to Hezekiah at Jerusalem, who now refused to set him at liberty. A battle took place at Eltekeh in southern Palestine, and according to the boast of the Assyrian monarch, the allies were defeated, and the Egyptians and Ethiopians went home in disorder. Instead of following them he turned upon the revolting vassals. A savage revenge was taken upon the chief men of Ekron. They were now condemned to death and impaled on stakes (2) all around the city.

Sennakherib next overran the western territory of Judea and annexed it to the contiguous Philistine principalities, also carrying away two hundred thousand of the inhabitants into captivity. He afterward invested Jerusalem, Hezekiah, acting by the advice of his chief minister Shebna, hastened to make submission.

Tirhakah renewed his preparations. An army was dispatched by him into southern Palestine and he came with another from Ethiopia. Hezekiah rallied from his alarm, dismissesd the timid Shebna, and put Jerusalem into a state of defense. Sennakherib marched his forces to meet the Egyptians at Lakhish, and sent his vizier, chamberlain, and commanding general with a detachment of his army to besiege Jerusalem. They demanded a parley and they called for an unconditional surrender, jeering at the notion of help from Egypt and assuring them that Sennakherib on his return home would remove the remainder of the people to another region. Neither Hezekiah nor his God, the rabsaki added, was able to deliver them; the king of Assyria is stronger than the gods of the nations. Hezekiah made no answer, and the Assyrian envoys returned to the main army.

The fate of this expedition has been told in several forms. There has no record of it been found at Kuyunjik, but this is easy to explain. It was not the practice to make a statement of dishonor or calamity occurring to a reigning prince. Even the defeats of Azariah and Hezekiah are not mentioned in the books of the Kings and Chronicles. But the inscriptions of Tirhakah at Napata, Thebes and Memphis indicate that that king met the Assyrians in battle and inflicted on them a total defeat.

The Egyptian record as preserved by Herodotus withheld all credit from the hated Ethiopian sovereigns. The "Ethiopian," it was affirmed, had been warned by a dream and abandoned Egypt, and Sethi the high-priest of Ptah at Memphis became king. This sovereign had offended the soldiers, and they refused to obey him. He was at a loss how to repel the invaders. He invoked the image of the god, and was instructed to go boldly out against the Assyrians. He raised a force of volunteers, resembling that of Falstaff, of persons engaged in common pursuits, and led them against the enemy there at Pelusium. Before they had engaged, there came a multitude of mice by night and devoured the quivers and bow-strings of the invaders, thus rendering them utterly defenseless. The Egyptians fell upon them, inflicting a terrible slaughter.

The mouse in Oriental imagery, is a symbol of calamity or pestilence. This suggests the explanation of a story which would otherwise be improbable. Disease naturally incident to camp-life, like typhoid or smallpox, or perhaps the deadly simoom, may have enfeebled the Assyrians.

Sennakherib returned immediately home. He was assassinated some years afterward by the Crown-prince and his brother, while celebrating a festival at the temple of the Nis-Rokh, the Bird-god. (3) His younger son the best beloved Assur-akhi-adon or Esarhaddon, then king at Babylon, came to Nineveh with his army, drove the parricides, Assur-melekh and Nergal-Sar-asar, into exile, and succeeded to the throne.

Tirhakah took advantage of the opportunity to establish his authority over all Egypt. He put Sabataki to death, and brought the other princes and under-kings into subjection to his government. Then followed a period of quiet and prosperity which lasted for twenty years. Tirhakah restored the public worship where it had fallen into neglect, repaired the temples, and strengthened the several capitals. He was also in friendly communication with the kings in Arabia, Idumea, Moab, Judea, Palestine and Syria, who all regarded him as their protector. Among them were Baal of Tyre, Abi-Baal of Samaria, Manasseh of Jerusalem, Ahi-melekh of Ashdod. Kavis of Idumea, Hazael of Arabia, besides ten kings of Cyprus.

Esarhaddon was a statesman of ability, and possessed ambition to increase his power and the prestige of his two capitals. He invested Tyre, but found it impossible to reduce the city that was mistress of the sea, and supported by the forceful help of Egypt. He resolved accordingly to make the conquest of Egypt and Ethiopia.

Tirhakah collected his forces at the northeastern portion near Pelusium. Esarhaddon thereupon marched at the southward through the Desert of Shur, in order to turn the flank of the Egyptian army, reach Pithom or Heroopolis, and move upon Memphis. The Arabian chiefs brought water to his army in skins carried by camels. The route was tedious, and the soldiers were terribly alarmed by the numerous "fiery serpents" that abounded there. (4)

Tirhakah immediately crossed the delta, and met the Assyrians, only to suffer a complete defeat, which dispersed his army. Memphis was captured and pillaged. The temples were literally stripped of their ornaments and the wealth with which the piety of kings had enriched them. All were carried to Assyria. The family of Tirhakah fell into the hands of the conqueror.

Tirhakah himself fled to Thebes. The Assyrian king followed close behind, sweeping the country with his cavalry till he reached the capital of the South. Tirhakah retired into Ethiopia, but Esarhaddon did not pursue him beyond the border of Egypt. His own health had given way, and he now devoted himself to the establishing of his authority over his conquests. He divided Egypt into twenty principalities, placing a governor in each with the title of king, and putting an Assyrian garrison in every capital city. Most of these under-kings were Egyptians, and we find their names similar to those of former princes such as Nekho, Pimai, Petubast, Sheshank, Nimarata, Tafnekht, Bokenranf or Bokkhoris.

A detachment of Assyrian troops had overrun Judea, made Manasseh the king a prisoner, and carried him and others to Babylon. He was also restored to his government as a vassal of Assyria.

Assur-bani-ral, or as he is named in classic history, Sardanapalos, had conspired to seize the supreme power. Esarhaddon, however, anticipated this by adopting him as his colleague and placing the imperial authority in his hands. His own death occurred not long afterward, and the attention of the young monarch was speedily called to quell a general revolt.

Tirhakah meanwhile collected a new army, and coming from Ethiopia, expelled the vassal princes in Egypt, and took possession of the country. Sardanapalos came to their help, and routed the Ethiopian troops at Kar-banit, a city in the Delta. Tirhakah made his escape from Memphis to Thebes, closely pursued by the Assyrian rabsaki, who had been reinforced by the forces of the returning fugitive governors. Unable to continue the conflict, Tirhakah retired again to Ethiopia. Sardanapalos reinstated the princes, garrisoned their capital cities anew and returned to Assyria.

Affairs soon presented a new phase in Egypt. The under-kings became impatient of the supervision of foreign military officials, and opened negotiations on their own account with the Ethiopian monarch. The Assyrian generals discovered this and arrested Nekho and the king of Pelusium, who, together with Pi-kerera, the king of Pisaptu, had been foremost in the movement. The two prisoners were sent in chains to Nineveh. This hastened the uprising and Tirhakah came to the aid of the insurgents. The Assyrians captured Sais Mendes, Tanis and other cities, and massacred the inhabitants without mercy. This, however, did not in any degree check the revolt. Tirhakah defeated the Assyrian forces and drove them from Upper Egypt. He then proceeded down the Nile from Thebes to Memphis and was welcomed by the inhabitants all the way.

Sardanapalos finding it impracticable to rely upon military force to retain possession of Egypt, had recourse to other measures. Nekho, his prisoner, might be employed again against the Ethiopian king. His kinsman, Bokkhoris, had been put to death in a cruel manner by Sabako, and he, therefore, could not be heartily engaged in behalf of Tirhakah. The conjecture proved correct. Nekho was set free accordingly, and honored by Sardanapalos by costly presents. He was also restored to the government of Sais as before, with the title of Bel-mate, lord of the two realms. His son Nebushasbani was also made king of Athribis. Nekho then returned home and his authority was generally acknowledged by his countrymen. Tirhakah withdrew from Egypt with his army, disappointed and disgusted at this betrayal, and died soon afterward, bequeathing a legacy of vengeance to his successor.

Ru-t-Amun, the son of Sabako, was the next heir to the Ethiopian throne. He was of warlike temperament and set himself to the recovering of Egypt. He promptly occupied Thebes, and marched with his army into the Lower country, defeating the Assyrian forces at Memphis. Nekho was taken prisoner and put to death, while his son, Psametikh fled into Syria. Egypt was thus once more a possession of Ethiopia.

Sardanapalos, however, came thither himself with an army. He encountered Rutamun at the frontier and defeated him. He pursued him relentlessly to Memphis and afterward to Thebes. He soon effected an entrance into the southern metropolis, and inflicted upon it all the cruelties incident to Kurdish and Assyrian warfare.

From this period, however, the power of Assyria waned, and the history of Egypt was for a time very obscure. The under-kings were able to regain much of their influence, and the Ethiopian monarch was again acknowledged in Upper Egypt. A new king, Nut Meriamun, succeeded to the throne of Na-pata. A memorial stone which is found in the ruins of that city describes his conquest of the Northern realm. "He had gained possession of the land of Ethiopia without fighting; no one dared to resist him." He was ambitious to copy his great predecessors, Piankhi and Tirhakah, and reign over all Egypt.

He saw himself in a dream, the inscription declares, standing between two royal serpents. On consulting the interpreters, they told him that as Upper Egypt was already his, he should also take possession of Lower Egypt. "Amun-Ra," said they, "beside whom there is no other god, will be with thee."

The king set out accordingly with a force of one hundred thousand men. He performed religious rites sedulously at every capital city in his way. At Napata the statue of Amun was brought out in a procession, and sacrifices offered. Similar worship was rendered to Num-Ra, the god of the inundation at Elephantina. "He propitiated the river in its hidden cave." Again at Thebes, the chief priests and ministers of the temple of Amun-Ra "brought flowers for him whose being is hidden." All the way down the river to Lower Egypt, great was the rejoicing. The inhabitants sped him onward with blessings, asking him to dispense life, to restore the temples, to set up anew the statues of the gods, to bestow again revenues for public worship and offerings to the dead, to establish the priests anew in their office and to "cause all to be performed according to the Sacred Learning." "Even those whose intention had been to fight him were moved by the joy."

At Memphis he found the army of his enemy. He put them to flight and gained possession of the city. He commanded to enlarge the temple of Ptah, and made a generous provision for his worship.

He then marched on in quest of the princes, but they did not venture upon a battle. He returned to Memphis, where a conference took place. The king received them graciously and entertained them many days. The chief spokesman at this conference was Pikerara, the king of Pisapta, in the Arabian district. He had been concerned with Nekho in the project to bring Tirhakah again into Egypt and was probably the leader in this movement, in behalf of the Assyrian rule.

Neither of the Ethiopian monarchs Rutamun and Nut Meriamun is mentioned in the lists of Egyptian kings, and Piankhi II. was actually king of Upper and Lower Egypt. He married the beautiful princess Ameniritis, whose statue bore the inscription setting her forth as sister of Sabako, daughter of Kashta and wife, or priestess, of the Divinity. Her monument at Thebes portrays her in glowing terms as a benefactress. "I gave bread to the hungry," is her testimony, "drink to the thirsty, and clothes to the naked."

Herodotos has related the fanciful account of the evacuation of Northern Egypt by this monarch. He had been directed in a dream, they said, to invite the priests to a conference and massacre them. He regarded this command as the purpose of the gods to induce him to do a sacrilegious act which would make him detested by his subjects. He then, in order to accomplish the real will of the divinities, without being guilty of heinous crime, withdrew peaceably to Ethiopia. The parable may be more rationally explained in another way. The under-kings, being appointed to office by the Assyrian king, made his government in Egypt insecure, and he unwilling to imperil everything by war, chose to resign his authority.


For fifteen years the under-kings who had been appointed by the Assyrian monarch ruled in Lower Egypt. They were allied by marriage and family relationship and met often for religious and political purposes. Psametikh, the king of Sais, presently became obnoxious to the others. He was of Libyan ancestry and a great-grandson of Tafnekht, who had contended with the first Piankhi for supreme power. It was not unlikely that he was the prince whom Saradanapalos appointed over Athribis, by the Semitic name of Nebushasban. When Nekho, his father, was put to death by Rutamun, he made his escape into Syria, but came back afterward under an Assyrian commission, to occupy his father's throne.

The dependencies of Assyria everywhere had begun to revolt. Babylon and the neighboring kingdoms maintained successfully their independence. Gog or Gyges had wrested the throne of Lydia from its Hittite lords and became a vassal of Assyria, in consideration of aid against the Kimerians. He now renounced allegiance to the "Great King of the nations." Psametikh found the time ripe for him to grasp the crown of Egypt. He allied himself to the Ethiopian Dynasty in the South by marriage with the princess Sebna-pata, the daughter of Piankhi II. This fact explains satisfactorily the peaceful withdrawal which Herodotos has recorded of the Ethiopian monarch from the government.

The realm was the dowry of the Princess. The other princes, Pakrura, Pima, Sheshank and their fellows had been virtually independent of Assyria, though nominally vassals, and were alarmed at the claims of Psametikh. They immediately flew to arms to resist him, and drove him from his principality. He procured from Gyges an army of Karian and Ionian volunteers and joined battle with them at Menuf, or Momemphis, on the border of the Libyan Desert. He was victorious and immediately followed up his success by attacking the several cities and dethroning their rulers. The different governments which had so often been instrumental in promoting disturbance were now abolished, and Psametikh I. became the sole and independent king. He took the name of Ka-ua-eb.

The first care of the new monarch was to strengthen his frontier. He stationed the Egyptian troops at Elephantina to guard the South, and at Daphne and Marea at the east and west of Northern Egypt. The Karians and Ionians were placed in nearer proximity to his own capital city, and lands were given them near Bubastis. This was the first introduction of an Aryan and Greek-speaking population as permanent inhabitants of Egypt. Psametikh further disregarded the hereditary prejudice and exclusiveness of the Egyptians in regard to foreigners. He made the new subjects welcome at the royal table and court in Sais, and committed native youths to their charge to be instructed in the Greek language. These became the beginning of a new class of the Egyptian population, the dragomans and interpreters.

The defection of Gyges and the success of Psametikh were fatal to Assyria. Sardanapalos, on hearing of the loss of Egypt, raised his hands to the gods of Nineveh and invoked a curse upon the head of the perfidious Lydian. The Kimerians or Gomerites (5) pressed forward by a general movement from the wilds of Skythia, overran his kingdom, and Gyges was killed in battle.

Sardanapalos was constantly at war to recover Egypt. Psametikh transferred the seat of conflict into Palestine and besieged Ashdod, the "strong city." Its Assyrian garrison held out long; Herodotos gives a period of twenty-nine years. During this time the death of Sardanapalos took place. He had been a civilian, rather than a soldier, but he was successful in his numerous wars. He lost Egypt, but he conquered Susiana and held his other dominions. He was fond of shows and pageants; he excelled in hunting; he filled the library at Kuyunjik with the entire literature of Babylon and archaic Akkad, (6) and embellished Nineveh beyond all former monarchs. He is described as sensual and effeminate, but this was only qualifiedly true. The numerous kings whom his generals subjugated were obliged to send their daughters and favorite servants to Nineveh. That he was cruel even beyond the extremes of savagery cannot be questioned or extenuated. His sculptures depict him in the act of inflicting the most appalling tortures with his own hands. It is no matter of wonder that men who had been worsted in battle committed suicide that they might escape barbarity so atrocious. (7)

His successor, as designated by Greek writers, was Sarakos, but after a reign of several years, his general, Nabu-pul-asar, revolted and formed an alliance with Viskara or Kyaxeres, then king of Media, by which his famous son, Nebu-kadar-asar or Nebukhadhezzar, married the daughter of the prince. The two kings then joined their forces against Nineveh. They were interrupted, however, by another event that put everything in peril.

An immense multitude of Skyths had burst through the Caucasos and swooped down upon Asia. It was one of those movements of population from the unknown North which had occurred at almost regular periods for centuries. It was described by the Hebrew Prophet Jeremiah as "an evil out of the North breaking forth upon all the inhabitants," and he sneered at the notion of Judea receiving any help from either Egypt or Assyria. All military operations were suspended. The hordes overran Media, Assyria and Syria, ravaging the whole region and disseminating abject terror everywhere.

Psametikh was engaged at the siege of Ashdod. He was embarrassed by a general defection of the Egyptian soldiers that he had set to guard the frontiers of Egypt. Herodotos gives their number at two hundred and forty thousand. They were exasperated at his partiality for the foreign troops who had placed him on his throne. They now abandoned their posts, and leaving their wives and children behind, marched into Ethiopia. He followed and appealed to them not to forsake their gods, their wives and their country. It was of no avail. Finally the kings of Ethiopia settled them in a region beyond Meroe, far away from Egypt.

Psametikh was no longer able to take part in the war against Assyria. When the Skyths had come into Palestine and taken Askalon, he met them with rich presents and persuaded them to turn aside and refrain from advancing upon Egypt. Thus he saved his country. The inroad lasted twenty-eight years. The historians simply add that they perished from excess, disease and massacre; and with their destruction, the kings resumed their warfare. Ashdod finally capitulated, but Psametikh was too much weakened by the defection of his soldiers and the infirmity of age to prosecute the conflict any further. He died after having ruled over all Egypt fifty-six years.

But he had regenerated the country, creating an order of affairs such as had never been known. The Egyptians had before supposed themselves the oldest of nations, but he made them conscious of their fellowship and relationship to other peoples of the world. He had come to the throne when Egypt had long been subject to foreign domination and incessant wars. It was in a deplorable state of misery and degradation. The cities were impoverished, the lands deserted, and the country depopulated. The Assyrian overlord had actually colonized districts from the East. Psametikh set himself to create Egypt anew. He applied himself to the task with energy during his long reign. Lands and roads were restored, agriculture encouraged, the towns repaired and rebuilt, the temples enlarged and beautified, the rites and observances of worship strictly maintained. The entire valley of the Nile was like a huge workshop where the population belonging in every department of industry was constantly employed. Science and literature assumed new importance. The hieroglyphics, so long the vehicle of preserving the knowledge of events and discovery, were divested of their exclusive importance, and the demotic art of writing, the art of the people, was generally adopted.

"With the Twenty-sixth Dynasty," says Professor Sayce, "the St. Luke's Summer of Egyptian history begins." The expulsion of the Assyrian vassals, the consolidation of the monarchy in a single hand, and the broad policy of the new government had occasioned the revival of peace, power, and prosperity, and with these the resuscitation, likewise, of art. Sais, the city of Psametikh, was adorned by him with buildings that almost rivaled the monuments of Thebes; Memphis, again a political metropolis, resumed her former importance. A new gallery was constructed at the Serapeion for the enshrining of the Sacred bulls, slabs of stone were placed in the temples to hide the interior from the profane gaze of the multitude, and now a new cursive system of writing was adopted for common use, the demotic or popular, showing that the literature was no longer exclusively in the control of the sacerdotal class; "But," adds Mr. Sayce, "the government had ceased to be Egyptian; it had gained its power by Hellenic aid, and from this time forward Grecian influence began to prevail. The king's person is protected by a Greek body-guard; the native soldiers desert to Ethiopia, and the oldest Ionic inscription that we possess records the pursuit of them by the foreign mercenaries of Psammetikhos." (8)

"Trade with foreign countries was now maintained, as had never been the case before. There existed novelty in ten thousand shapes. The cities formerly active chiefly with pilgrimages and religious processions, became busy marts of commerce. Indeed, as judgments are commonly formed, Psametikh I. must be regarded as one of the noblest of Egyptian kings. He combined profound political sagacity with military talent and exhibited an enlightened love of the arts which, by transmitting to the Future a knowledge of the irrevocable Past, thereby make the Present immortal."


1. The name Egypt or Mizraim as it is given in the Hebrew text of the Bible, denoted only the northern part of the country, and was distinct from Pathros in the South. (return to text)

2. The stauros or "cross" was a stake for impaling. The Assyrian kings impaled prisoners taken when besieging a fortress. (return to text)

3. Ancient religions had their sacred birds. We may note the Garuda, or man-bird, of India, the Simurg of Eran, the Rokh of Assyria, the dove of Babylon, and the peacock of the Oriental Secret Rites, analogous with the cock of China which is sacrificed to confirm testimony and obligations. The god Nisrokh was eagle-headed, as is noticed in pictures of Assyrian priests. The eagle of the Roman standard, and of European and American ensigns, is a survival of this divinity. (return to text)

4. Deuteronomy, viii., 15; Numbers, xxi., 5. (return to text)

5. Gomri, hordes. (return to text)

6. A Royal Library appears to have been maintained from very early periods for free consultation by scholars. Sargon's Library at Agaua or Akkad was catalogued and numbered, Dr. Sayce informs us, "so that the student had only to write down the number of the Tablet, and the librarian handed it to him." Later, the Assyrian Library was begun at the city of Assur, and afterward removed and established by Assur-nagir-pal at Kala or Nimrud. Additions were made in subsequent reigns. Sargon caused the whole to be written over, and early literature became a study at the capital. Sardanapalos however surpassed all the kings before him. He caused all the literature of his empire to be collected at Nineveh, over 10,000 different works, belonging to every department of learning, and they were methodically arranged and catalogued. To all intents it was a free public library. (return to text)

7. Like King Saul — Samuel I., xxxi., 4, 5. (return to text)

8. This inscription at Abu Simbel, contains the later Greek double letters psi, phi, khi, etc., theta (ps, ph, kh, §, and th), but not the long o, omega. (return to text)

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