Egypt, Third Intermediate Period (1070-712 B.C.)

    At the end of the Twentieth Dynasty (1196-1070 B.C.), priests discovered tomb robberies at Thebes, the traditional capital. (Under the New Kingdom the capital was moved to el-Amarna and then Avaris) there was a trial and punitive measures were taken. Afterward, the priests of Amon attempted to take over the government.

    Map of Egypt at the beginning of the Third Intermediate Period, ca. 1000 B.C.

    During the New Kingdom (1550 - 1070 B.C.), the priesthood became a distinct class. In addition to religious duties, they had enormous social influence. Priests had complete control over temples, sanctuaries, rituals, festivals. During the New Kingdom they also became architects and maintained administrative authority over Thebes and other temple districts.

    Stela, Priest Psusennes, making offerings to the gods Osiris, Horus, and Isis. 36 inches high. Dynasty XXI, British Museum, London, U.K.

    The last king of the New Kingdom was Ramses XI (1099-1069 B.C.) He was an ineffective ruler, whose power was undermined by Libyan insurgents. During the end of the New Kingdom and the beginning of the Third Intermediate Period, increasing realism in portrayal of the human body continued to occupy artists. Representations of animals also became more realistic and engaging.

    Painted papyrus, animals playing games, playing musical instruments, herding birds, etc. Dynasty XX, 6.1 inches high; British Museum, London, U.K.

    he first king of the Third Intermediate Period was Smendes (1069-1043 B.C.) During the time of King Ramses XI (1100 - 1070 B.C.) Smendes was a high-level bureaucrat. He was appointed the leading priest of Amun and simultaneously held the office of Viceroy of Lower Egypt. Along with another high priest of Amon named Herihor, Smendes essentially imprisoned King Ramses XI at his royal mansion at the end of his life. After Ramses XI died, Smendes and Herihor split governance of Egypt between them. Scholars consider this the beginning of the Third Intermediate Period.

    There were major changes in burial practices during Smendes's reign. Tombs were no longer highly decorated. The coffin was placed in an area cut out the stone of a mountain. Funerary documents on papyri suddenly appear during this period. Outer coffins looked virtually the same as they had since the Middle Kingdom. Inner coffins, however, now had more sophisticated painted scenes of the afterlife. Another innovation is the appearance of leather straps on top of the bandages that covered the body.

    Inner coffin, name of the deceased is unknown; light and dark blue with red on yellow ground. Origin: Thebes. 72.83 inches high; Dynasty XXI; British Museum, London, U.K.

    During the Third Intermediate Period, there are more funerary stele featuring the sun-god Re-Horakhty-Atum more frequently than Osiris. The burials of commoners took place at the previously royals only cemeteries at Thebes. By Dynasty XXII, the tombs were brick rather than stone. Funerary stelae were now wooden rather than stone as well. Instead of the traditional scene of the dead person making a sacrifice to a god, now there is a vignette of the deceased looking at a deity.

    Funerary stela of Anhorkhawi, shown bottom right. Limestone; 16 7/8 x 11 13/16 x 3 1/16 inches; The text is a prayer to the setting sun. Dynasty XX; excavated at Deir el-Medinah. Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York.

    King Smendes divided the rule of Egypt with the High Priest of Amon named Herihor. The center of Smendes territory was his home city Tanis. The royal tombs at Tanis had been excavated since the mid-nineteenth century, but only Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom objects had been found. When excavations began again under the French archaeologist Pierre-Marie Montet, the nearly intact tombs of the rulers of the Third Intermediate Period were found. These are the only tombs found essentially untouched-with the notable exception of Tutankhamen's.

    During the first part of the Third Intermediate Period, the small funerary statuettes called shabati were now called ushabati , which means "answerer" or helper. The purpose of the ushabati was to do the work required of the deceased in the afterlife. This passage from The Book of the Dead, Chapter 6 demonstrates the function of ushabatis:

    "O shabati, if [name of the deceased] be summoned to do any work which has to be done in the realm of the dead-to make arable the fields, to irrigate the land, or to convey sand from east to west; 'Here am I' you shall say, 'I will do it."

    Faience (blue) ushabti of Queen Henuttawy, Dynasty XXI, 4 5/8 inches high; private collection. Queen Henuttawy was a descendent of King Ramses XI. She was the main wife of King Pinudjern I, who ruled Upper Egypt. Her tomb at Deir el-Bahri was looted by the Abd el Rasoul brothers, who sold the contents of the tomb. After being caught and tortured, they told archaeologists to whom they had sold it.

    Amulets were commonly worn throughout Egyptian history. They were believed to have magical powers, protecting the wearer from harm. Amulets were carved out of gold, stone, terracotta, faience, or wood. They were sometimes worn as pendants, bracelets, or simply carried for luck. They were included in the linen wrappings of mummy to help the deceased in the afterlife.

    During the Third Intermediate Period, it became popular to wear amulet bracelets showing a goddess holding a child on her lap. The mother goddess uses her right hand to offer her left breast to the child. This motif did not appear before the Third Intermediate Period.

    Blue and green faience wedjat eye amulet, Third Intermediate period, 2.4 inches long; British Museum, London, U.K.

    The Egyptians believed that the wedjat eye amulet had the power to restore life. They became very common, particularly during the Third Intermediate Period. In the myth of the god Horus (the falcon god of the sky), he was the son of the deities Osiris and Isis. One of Horus's most important tasks was to avenge the killing of his father Osiris. During a battle to avenge Osiris's murder, one of Horus's left eye was knocked it. Hathor, the cow-goddess closely associated with revenge, put Horus's eye back. Therefore, the eye of Horus in Egyptian myth symbolized the process of restoration, of being made whole.

    Gold with lapis lazuli and colored glass, Bracelets with hinges, they depict a deity as a child sitting in a lotus flower but wearing the royal ureaus and carrying the royal scepter. These belonged to the son of King Shoshenq I, whose name was Nimlot. 1.65 inches high; British Museum, London, U.K.

    A ruler of Libyan origin Sheshonq I (945-924 B.C.) was the first king of the XXII Dynasty (945-715 B.C.). By this time, the high priests of Amun at Thebes had lost most of their power. Sheshonq promoted his son to head priest at Thebes, and together they ruled Egypt. By about 850 B.C., however, the Thebans rebelled against foreign rule and there was north-south strife. From Dynasty XXII to Dynasty XXIV, various rival groups claimed to rule portions Egypt. None of them effectively governed Egypt, however.

    Cartonnage case, Dynasty XXII, ca. 900 B.C.; Thebes; the inscriptions show that this was the mummy of a girl aged about twelve whose name was Tjayasetimu. British Museum, London. U.K.

    In about 760 B.C. King Osorkon III (777-749 B.C.) awarded his daughter Shepenwepet a new office with the title God's Wife of Amun; he essentially gave her control of the priesthood at Thebes. Control of Thebes during this period was synonymous with control of Egypt. Provincial governors became more powerful during the later part of the Third Intermediate Period. During the Third Intermediate Period, as central control faded, portraits became more individual. In the past, familial likeness was more important than the unique appearance of each person. Wigs appear less often in portraiture, wrinkles, excess pounds and other signs of age appear for the first time in Egyptian art at this time.

    Statue of Iriketakana, Dynasty XXII, 17 2/3 inches high, from Karnak; Egyptian Museum, Cairo.(no. J 38018)

    The Twenty-Third Dynasty was a time when several rulers claimed the throne of Egypt. The three main ones were Pedubastis I (818-793 B.C.); Sheshonq IV (ca. 780 B.C.) and Osorkon III (777-749 B.C.) These vying rulers had various capitals including Tanis, Leontopolis, Herakleopolis Magna, and Hermopolis Magna.

    During the Twenty-Fourth Dynasty (727-715 B.C.), the political family based in Sais (in the Western Nile Delta) temporarily eclipsed the religious and political power of the Thebans.

    Map of ancient Egypt showing Sais in the Western Nile Delta.

    Its sole ruler was Bakenrenef (also known as Bocchoris by the Greeks) who ruled from 727-715 B.C. According to the Roman historian Tacitus, Pharaoh Bakenrenef was the ruler of Egypt during the time of Moses and the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt.

    "Most writers, however, agree in stating that once a disease, which horribly disfigured the body, broke out over Egypt; that king Bocchoris, seeking a remedy, consulted the oracle of Hammon, and was bidden to cleanse his realm, and to convey into some foreign land this race detested by the gods. The people, who had been collected after diligent search, finding themselves left in a desert, sat for the most part in a stupor of grief, till one of the exiles, Moses by name, warned them not to look for any relief from God or man, forsaken as they were of both, but to trust to themselves, taking for their heaven-sent leader that man who should first help them to be quit of their present misery. They agreed, and in utter ignorance began to advance at random. Nothing, however, distressed them so much as the scarcity of water, and they had sunk ready to perish in all directions over the plain, when a herd of wild asses was seen to retire from their pasture to a rock shaded by trees. Moyses followed them, and, guided by the appearance of a grassy spot, discovered an abundant spring of water. This furnished relief. After a continuous journey for six days, on the seventh they possessed themselves of a country, from which they expelled the inhabitants, and in which they founded a city and a temple (Tacitus, Histories, Book 5, Paragraph 3)."

    The god Bes, (a multi-purpose household god who became popular during this period) Dynasty XXIV; Dark green faience; self glazed; ½ inch high, Collection of Jacques-Édouard Berger, Paris, France.

    The best known and most imperialistic of the Kushite rulers of the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty was Piy (746-716 B.C.) who conquered the Nile Valley and Memphis before retreating to Napata, between the Third and Fourth Cataracts of the Nile in Nubia. [Kush was a part of Nubia.] The subsequent pharaohs of the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty were Shabaka (716-702 B.C.); Shebitku (702-690 B.C.); Taharqo (690-664 B.C.); and Tanutamani (664-656 B.C.)

    The capital of Kush was Kerma, a city known in antiquity for its large mud-brick buildings, which were constructed in the Seventeenth Century B.C.

    During this Kushite period, we see the beginning of a nostalgia for the old art forms and ancient religion of Egypt. This emulation of the aesthetic of the Old Kingdom in particular continued for the next several dynasties.

    Djed Pillar (the Djed Pillar has been found from sites dating from the Predynastic period. It was a symbol of Osiris and used in the Sed Festival a religious/political festival held at Abydos, XXV Dynasty; Light green faience with traces of gold on verso, 3.2 inches high; Collection of Jacques-Édouard Berger, Paris, France.