The Third Intermediate Period refers to the time in Ancient Egypt from the death of Pharaoh Ramesses XI in 1070 BCE to the foundation of the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty by Psamtik I in 664 BCE, following the expulsion of the Nubian rulers of the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty.
This period is characterized by the country's fracturing kingship. Even in Ramesses XI' day, the Twentieth dynasty of Egypt was losing its grip on power in the city of Thebes, whose priests were becoming increasingly powerful. After his death, his successor Smendes I ruled from the city of Tanis, and the High Priests of Amun at Thebes ruling the south of the country in the period of the Twenty-first dynasty of Egypt. In fact, this division was less significant than it seems, since both priests and pharaohs came from the same family.
The country was firmly reunited by the Twenty-Second Dynasty founded by Shoshenq I in 945 BCE (or 943 BCE), who descended from Meshwesh immigrants, originally from ancient Libya. This brought stability to the country for well over a century, but after the reign of Osorkon II, particularly, the country had effectively shattered in two states with Shoshenq III of the Twenty-Second Dynasty controlling Lower Egypt by 818 BCE while Takelot II and his son Osorkon (the future Osorkon III) ruled Middle and Upper Egypt. In Thebes, a civil war engulfed the city between the forces of Pedubast, who had proclaimed himself Pharaoh versus the existing line of Takelot II/Osorkon B. These two factions squabbled consistently and the conflict was only resolved in Year 39 of Shoshenq III when Osorkon B comprehensively defeated his enemies. He proceeded to found the Upper Egyptian Libyan Dynasty of Osorkon III – Takelot III – Rudamun, but this kingdom quickly fragmented after Rudamun's death with the rise of local city states under kings such as Peftjaubast of Herakleopolis, Nimlot of Hermopolis, and Ini at Thebes.
The Nubian kingdom to the south took full advantage of this division and political instability. Prior to Piye's Year 20 campaign into Egypt, the previous Nubian ruler – Kashta – had already extended his kingdom's influence over into Thebes when he compelled Shepenupet, the serving Divine Adoratice of Amun and Takelot III's sister, to adopt his own daughter Amenirdis, to be her successor. Then, twenty years later, around 732 BCE his successor, Piye, marched North and defeated the combined might of several native Egyptian rulers Peftjaubast, Osorkon IV of Tanis, Iuput II of Leontopolis and Tefnakht of Sais. Piye established the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty and appointed the defeated rulers as his provincial governors. He was succeeded first by his brother, Shabaka, and then by his two sons Shebitku and Taharqa respectively.
The international prestige of Egypt had declined considerably by this time. The country's international allies had fallen firmly into the sphere of influence of Assyria and from about 700 BCE the question became when, not if, there would be war between the two states. Despite Egypt's size and wealth, Assyria had a greater supply of timber, while Egypt had a chronic shortage, allowing Assyria to produce more charcoal needed for iron-smelting and thus giving Assyria a greater supply of iron weaponry. This disparity became critical during the Assyrian invasion of Egypt in 670 BCE.
Consequently, Pharaoh Taharqa's reign and that of his successor, (his cousin) Tanutamun, were filled with constant conflict with the Assyrians. In 664 BCE the Assyrians laid the final blow, sacking Thebes and Memphis. The dynasty ended with its rulers stuck in the relative backwater of the city of Napata.
Instead Egypt was ruled (from 664 BCE, a full eight years prior to Tanutamun's death) by the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty, client kings established by the Assyrians. Psamtik I was the first to be recognised by them as the King of the whole of Egypt, and he brought increased stability to the country in a fifty-four year reign from the city of Sais. Four successive Saite kings continued guiding Egypt into another period of unparalleled peace and prosperity from 610-526 BCE. Unfortunately for his dynasty, a new power was growing in the Near East – Persia. Pharaoh Psamtik III had succeeded his father Ahmose II for only six months before he had to face the Persian Empire at Pelusium. The Persians had already taken Babylon and Egypt was no match. Psamtik was defeated and briefly escaped to Memphis, before he was ultimately imprisoned and, later, executed at Susa, the capital of the Persian king Cambyses, who now assumed the formal title of pharaoh.
The historiography of this period is disputed for a variety of reasons. Firstly there is a dispute about the utility of a very artificial term that covers an extremely long and complicated period of Egyptian history. The Third Intermediate period includes long periods of stability as well as chronic instability and civil conflict: its very name rather clouds this fact. Secondly there are significant problems of chronology stemming from several areas: first, there are the difficulties in dating common to all of Egyptian chronology but these are compounded due to synchronsyms with Biblical Archaeology that also contain heavily disputed dates. Finally, some Egyptologists and Biblical scholars, such as Kenneth Kitchen, or David Rohl have novel or controversial theories about the family relationships of the dynasties comprising the period.
- Dodson, Aidan Mark. 2001. “Third Intermediate Period.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, edited by Donald Bruce Redford. Vol. 3 of 3 vols. Oxford, New York, and Cairo: Oxford University Press and The American University in Cairo Press. 388–394.
- Kitchen, Kenneth Anderson. . The Third Intermediate Period in Egypt (1100–650 BC). 3rd ed. Warminster: Aris & Phillips Limited.
- Myśliwiec, Karol. 2000. The Twighlight of Ancient Egypt: First Millennium B.C.E. Translated by David Lorton. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.
- Taylor, John H. 2000. “The Third Intermediate Period (1069–664 BC).” In The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, edited by Ian Shaw. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. 330–368.
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