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Ancient Egypt: The rise to power of the Libyans
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The rise to power of the Libyans

Egypt     During the second millennium BCE Libyans entered the eastern Delta mostly peaceably. Forceful invasions during the later New Kingdom were repelled by Merneptah [1] (ca 1203 BCE) and Ramses III [2], and the vanquished were enslaved. But the infiltration of Lower Egypt continued.
    In the first half of the 11th century a tehenu (Libyan) named Buyuawa lived at Herakleopolis. His son became Divine Father [3] of the local god Hershef and great chief of the Meshwesh. This position was inherited by his descendents. One of these, Sheshonq, married a widowed queen. During the time of Pinedjem II he was recipient of an oracle from Amen at Thebes in favour of a mortuary cult for his father and good fortune for himself and the army. His grandson, Sheshonq I, became founder of the XXII Dynasty at Bubastis with the support of the army and consolidated his reign by marrying his son Osorkon to a daughter of Psusennes II.

    The Libyans accepted Egyptian culture in a superficial way, retaining their separate group identity and militaristic outlook.

They may practise no trade but war, which is their hereditary calling.
Herodotus, Histories 2,166
    The popular stories of the time are about knights challenging each other, chiefs at war and parades of well equipped Libyan soldiers.

    The practice of remunerating soldiers for their services with land created a feudal society. When the Nubian Piankhi conquered Egypt towards the end of the 8th century BCE, he found three kings in the delta and fifteen great chiefs of the Meshwesh. Their power never reached further south than Asyut. The territory of the Thebans was for ever immune and out of bounds for the inspectors of the royal house. In practice the separation wasn't quite as clear-cut. Sheshonq I appointed one of his sons, Iuput, as First Prophet of Thebes. Under Osorkon II other royal princes (a Sheshonq and a Nimlot) held the position. Karama, Sheshonq I's wife, and Karomama, wife of Takelot I, are regents at Thebes as wives of the god.

Sheshonq II     From this period dates the division of Egypt into three parts: the Delta, ruled by the pharaohs of Bubastis, Middle Egypt with its southern frontier at Asyut governed by the princes of Herakleopolis and Upper Egypt administered by the priests of Amen and the Wife of God.

    After Takelot II (ca 850825 BCE) the authority of the king over the chiefs of the Meshwesh was practically non existent. The chiefs at Hermopolis, Herakleopolis and Tentremu declared themselves kings. The centre of of political power was again at Thebes, where the son of King Osorkon II was Great Priest for 44 years.

    Pedibastet (ca 818793 BCE), founder of the XXIII Tanite Dynasty, challenged the power of the last Bubastite kings, and for generations there was no clear authority in Egypt. A statue from that time displays a Theban priest who served both the Tanite Osorkon III (ca 787759 BCE) and the Bubastite Takelot. They built together a chapel dedicated to Osiris. But Osorkon succeeded in appointing a daughter, Seshepenupet, as the Wife of the God and a son, Yewelot, as First Prophet.

    At the same time Shepsesre Tefnakht (724-717 BCE), Great Chief of the Meshwesh, created a principality for himself in the delta, from Sais to Behbeit, took over Memphis and Hermopolis and finally became pharaoh. His dynasty was short lived and fell under the onslaught of the Napatans.

    Historical developments and power relations during the 8th century BCE are not very clear, but a number of Libyan great chiefs are documented:
 
Nemeteped xYear 4 of Sheshonq III, IV or Vca 822, 780 or 764
Nemeteped IYear 10 of Sheshonq I or IIIca 936 or 816
Inamennaefnebu    Year 31 of Sheshonq IIIca 795
Nemeteped IIYear 8 of Sheshonq Vca 760
Ti(?)taruYear 15 or 17 of Sheshonq Vca 753
KerYear 19 of Sheshonq Vca 749
RudamenYear 30 of Sheshonq Vca 738
TefnakhtYear 36 and 38 of Sheshonq V   ca 732 and 730
AnkhorYear 37 of Sheshonq Vca 731
Jocelyne Berlandini, Une stèle de donation du dynaste libyen Rudamon, BIFAO 78, p.162

 


[2] Ramses III makes claims to have won a victory in his fifth year (ca 1192 BCE). He may simply have rehashed Merneptah's record.
[3] Divine Father or Father of the God     His place in the clerical hierarchy would be between the prophets and the priests. Often a title for the pharaoh's father or father in law. It also might denote that the title holder has daughters serving the god. In the Late Period it was a title borne by all priests.

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-[1] The Merneptah hymn

 

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Update: October 2005

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