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The History of the Late Period

Late Period - Egypt Through Time - What is Ancient Egypt?

After being driven back south by the Assyrians, the Nubians never invaded Egypt again but continued to rule from their Capital City in Napata and when former Pharaoh Tantamani died he was buried in the Royal Cemetery with the Nubian Pyramids. They left behind them an Egypt who had been reintroduced to the Temples, Deities and Pyramids of the Middle Kingdom periods.

The Assyrian Ruler, King Ashurbanipal, left his vassal, Psamtik I to rule Egypt on his behalf. Psamtik had different ideas and though he continued to be peaceful with the Assyrians, he did not stay loyal to his Assyrian King Ashurbanipal. He expelled the Assyrian Army and made himself the first Pharaoh of the 26th Dynasty of Egypt, taking Sais as his Capital City where he reigned for over 50 years. In part this may have been due to the Assyrians being involved in an ongoing rebellion closer to home in Babylon. In 656BC Pharaoh Psamtik I utilised troops which his ally, King Gyges of Lydia had loaned him and sent a fleet to Thebes in the south and peacefully managed to regain control of Upper Egypt and reunify the country as one. The former Egyptian Pharaohs, the now Nubian Rulers never returned. It is thought that he went on to reign for 54 years from 664 to 610 BC. King Gyges ruled over Lydia, an Iron Age country in the modern day west of Asia Minor, east of Ionia in Turkey’s western provinces. 

After the dearth of Pharaoh Psamtik I, his son with Queen Mehtenweshkhet ascended the Throne. Pharaoh Necho II ruled from 610 to 595 BC and is particularly remembered for having sent explorers who via the Red Sea around modern South Africa probably navigated all the way to the Strait of Gibraltar and back, a trip which took 3 years; he aimed to build the precursor of today’s Suez Canal to allow trade between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean; instituting a Royal Navy and building boats for their use; and is supposed to be the Pharaoh mentioned many times in the Bible: Second Book of Chronicles and Second Book of Kings.

Pharaoh Necho II’s Military Campaigns started immediately on his ascension when he attempted to stop the supply chain of the rampaging of Scythians, Cimmerians and Babylonians who had formed an allyship to break apart the Assyrian Empire. On this campaign he became the first Pharaoh since Pharaoh Seti I to recapture the former Hittite City of Kadesh and the first Pharaoh since Pharaoh Tuthmose III to cross the Euphrates. He was ultimately defeated, the Babylonians took power, and he had to retreat. His second campaign was against the aging Babylonian King Nabopolassar, during which the Egyptians looked to recapture the land they had held during the New Kingdom Period. The tide was in favour of Egypt until the Babylonian King passed his army over to his son who crushed Pharaoh’s plans and Pharaoh Necho II eventually turned to diplomatically allying himself with new countries rather than retyring to conquer long lost territory.

Son of his predecessor, Pharaoh Psamtik II ruled from 595 to 589 BC. In Regnal Year 3 he engaged in battles in Nubia who looked as though they were gathering pace to reinvade Egypt. He sacked the Kushite Capital of Napata and the survivors fled further into their Nubian territory of Meroe. Pharaoh Psamtik II retreated to the Egyptian border at Elephantine, his purpose being achieved, he had no desire to rule Nubia. He erected the Kiosk at the Temple of Isis on Philae Island, a pair of Obelisk at the Temple of Heliopolis, and the Temple of Hibis.

Ruling from 589 to 570 BC, Pharaoh Apries (also known as Pharaoh Wahibre Haaibre) was the son of his predecessor and Queen Takhut, and his sister was Princess Ankhnesneferibre, who was raised to be God’s Wife of Amun at Karnak Temple in Thebes in Regnal Year 4. Attempting to follow in his grandfather’s military exploits he sent an army to protect Jerusalem from the Babylonians which failed leading to the mutiny of the Soldiers at Aswan, he then sent an army to protect Libya from Greek invaders, but they were massacred. This led to a Civil War inside the Army, pitching the Egyptian native troops, under General Amasis, against the Foreign Mercenaries which the Army employed.

The Egyptians in the army believed that they had been betrayed by the mercenaries who were fighting alongside them and by Pharaoh Apries himself. Forced into exile by now self-proclaimed Pharaoh Amasis II in his 19th Regnal Year, Pharaoh Apries fled to Babylon, from where he returned to try and reconquer his lost Throne at the head of a Babylonian Army, but they were defeated and Pharaoh Apries probably died either in battle or after a demand of justice by the Egyptian people after the battle.

Former General Amasis took on the Throne as Pharaoh Amasis II and ruled from 570 to 526 BC. To ensure his legitimate right to rule, he married his predecessor’s daughter, Princess Khedebneithirbinet II. Amasis II taking the Throne was prosperous for Egypt as he reformed the government, and the economy began to bloom due to its flourishing trade and secure borders. Pharaoh was able to begin Building Campaigns once more and built Temples and made many additions in Lower Egypt.

During this period Pharaoh was requested by Ruler Cambyses II of the Achaemenid Empire to provide him with a wife, one of Pharaoh’s daughters to ensure good relations between the two empires. Pharaoh was worried that the Princess of Egypt would be treated as a concubine, so he sent the daughter of his predecessor to Cambyses instead, a usurped former Princess. On learning of the duplicity Cambyses II led a Persian Invasion to Egypt but found that Pharaoh had died leaving his son on the Throne, Pharaoh Psamtik III.

His reign was short, only 6 months, due to the continuous invasion attempts by Cambyses II. The Persian Ruler’s initial attacks were rebuffed by Pharaoh and the Egyptian Army, but Cambyses II employed a former Greek advisor of Pharaoh Amasis II who had fled to Persia meeting with Ruler Cambyses II en route.

Together they plotted the best battle strategy and pitched the Battle of Pelusium in 525BC. Egypt and its Pharaoh lost, and Cambyses II took his revenge on Pharaoh Psamtik III by removing him from the Throne. Pharaoh Psamtik III, the Royal Family and some of the Court managed to flee to the former Capital City of Memphis but they were soon captured by the Persians who removed them to their Capital City of Susa.

To enact his final revenge, Ruler Cambyses II exhumed Pharaoh Amasis II’s body from its Tomb and burned what remained of his mummy. But this was not quite the end of the story. In Susa, Pharaoh Psamtik III and exiled Egyptians lived peacefully for quite some time until former Pharaoh Psamtik III tried to incite a revolt. The Persians executed him and put many of the remaining Egyptians to death.

Cambyses II had himself crowned in his predecessors’ Capital City of Sais inside the Temple of Neith, with the traditional Egyptian titles, “Descended from the Gods Ra, Horus and Osiris”, and “King of Upper and Lower Egypt”. He brought the Libyans and the Greeks of Cyrene and Barca under his rulership and they would often send him gifts as well as the required tributes. In 522 BC Pharaoh left Egypt hastily to put down an uprising in his native Persia, but he died after a leg wound turned gangrenous in Syria, it is not certain whether this was an accident or an assassination attempt. Bardiva, his brother, succeeded Pharaoh Cambyses II, as he died without a suitable heir.

By this point, Upper-class Persians were either enslaving native Egyptians or using them as conscripted soldiers in their Army.

The information about Pharaoh Bardiya is notoriously difficult to interpret. It appears that the Bardiya who claimed the Throne of Egypt after his brother’s death was a Magician called Gaumata who was pretending to be Bardiya. If so, he successfully reigned for 8 months before he was killed by Darius along with other Persian Nobles who suspected his impersonation.

Pharaoh Petubastis III who was a distant member of the former Egyptian Pharaohs was crowned at Memphis in the period when Pharaoh Cambyses died and the newly enthroned Pharaoh Bardiya had taken the Throne at Sais. His reign also covered the period between the death of Pharaoh Bardiya and the assumption of the Throne by another Persian, Pharaoh Darius I, also known as Darius the Great. Darius I ascended to the Throne when he seized it after the murder of Pharaoh Bardiya or the man impersonating Bardiya depending on which hazy version of history you may prefer. He was 28 years old and ruled over the largest scale that the Persian Empire reached: Egypt, North Africa and Northeast Africa, Macedonia, Paeonia and Thrace, the Caucasus, Black Sea coasts and the Balkans, the Indus Valley, parts of Libya, parts of Sudan and Central Asia.

Pharaoh’s reign began on a bumpy trajectory as after the previous Persian Ruler was murdered. Firstly, he needed to defeat the army of the Pharaoh based in Memphis who was loosely connected to the 26th Dynasty of Egyptian Pharaohs. Secondly, he turned his attention the rest of his Realm and the uprisings which were occurring throughout the then Persian Empire: Elam, Assyria, Babylon and finally Scythian Nomads. Darius and his Army put every single revolt down, including the Babylonian uprising which included a siege for over a year and a half.

As leader of Egypt, Darius did nothing to dissuade the Egyptian religion being worshiped and followed throughout his rule. In Egypt, his building achievements including new Temples which he dedicated to the deities Nekhbet, Amun and Ptah, new roads, and canals, and restored many broken down or destroyed Temples. His campaigning through his life finally wore Pharaoh down. After the Persians, under Pharaoh’s son, were defeated at the Battle of Marathon, Pharaoh began planning to complete a new Greek campaign. The planning stage was at its zenith after three years of prepping. Timing being everything, Egypt revolted and the stress this forced on Pharaoh combated with his health failing. He would never lead another Military Campaign and shortly after he died.

Pharaoh Xerxes I inherited his Throne from his father and similarly to him he ruled the Persian Empire when it was still at the height of its power. He is remembered for successfully invading Greece and ending revolts in Babylon and Egypt. Pharaoh Xerxes I died at the hands of the Head of the Royal Bodyguard, Artabanus. He was assassinated and his killer seized the Throne. Pharaoh Artabanus of Persia was allegedly forced into killing his predecessor because he was already responsible for Pharaoh’s son and Crown Prince of Egypt, Darius’ death. However, other accounts claim that he placed Artaxerxes I as Pharaoh and he remained as a Regent for him. Whichever case was true, within a few months, Artaxerxes I killed Artabanus and his sons in revenge for the killing of Pharaoh Xerxes I.

Pharaoh Artaxerxes I faced a revolt in Egypt from 460 to 454 BC which was headed by 26th Dynasty descendant, Libyan Prince Inaros II, paired with the Athenians. He defeated the Persian Army, and they were forced to retreat into the ancient city of Memphis. The Athenians and Prince Inaros II were finally defeated in 454 BC and many were removed to the Persian City of Susa and held there in a form of imprisonment.

Son of his predecessor, Pharaoh Xerxes II, ruled for 45 days after which time he was murdered by his half-brother Sogdianus, whose commands were committed by Menostanes, cousin to Pharaoh Xerxes II, and the eunuch Pharnacyas. Little is known about Pharaoh Sogdianus apart from the length of his reign, 6 months and 15 days, and that he was killed by his half-brother, Ochus, who claimed the Throne after him as Darius II. Pharaoh Sogdianus requested that he was not killed by poison, hunger, or the sword, so his half-brother killed him by asphyxiating him in a pile of ash. Pharaoh Darius II died after reigning for 19 years and was the last Pharaoh of the 27th Dynasty, but little is known about his reign in relation to Egypt.

Pharaoh Amyrtaeus was probably related to Egypt’s 26th Dynasty of Pharaohs who had their Capital City at Sais. Egypt was now back in the hands of an Egyptian Ruler and the Persian rulers had been banished after he revolted against Pharaoh Darius II in 411BC and then assumed the Throne on his death. Although the Persians may have still been in semi-control of Upper Egypt whilst Pharaoh was magnanimous in the Delta and Lower Egypt. This pharaoh is only known from documentation. No monuments or cartouches in reliefs have been found in any form of hieroglyphic writing. Only papyrus documents written in demotic script show this Rulers name. Pharaoh was eventually killed by his successor, Pharaoh Nepherites I. They fought an open battle in October 399 BC where Amyrtaeus was presumably captured and then executed at Memphis. The end of Dynasty 28.

Dynasty 30 commenced in 398 BC with the crowning of Pharaoh Nefaarud I in Memphis. Pharaoh’s background is thought to have originated in Mendes and this is where he sets up his Capital City and from where he sent out building commissions including those which remain in Memphis, the Saqqara Necropoli, Mendes, Sohag, and Karnak Temple.

Pharaoh looked to involve Egypt once more in international roles and so when the Spartans were looking to fight against the Persians, he supplied the Spartans with 500,000 measures of Grain and material for 100 seaworthy vessels, known as Triremes. Unluckily for Pharaoh this did not assist with Pharaoh’s presence on the World Stage as the provisions missed the Spartans and were swallowed up by the Persians instead who had just retaken the Island of Rhodes from the Spartans. He died in 393 BC and his Tomb is thought to have been destroyed by the Persians although fragments from and of his Funerary Area may well have been located. More investigations are being completed before this can be successfully theorised.

Pharaoh Psammuthis ruled for less than a year and may well have usurped the Throne from Pharaoh Hakor and then lost the Throne back into the hands of Pharaoh Hakor. He is known to have built the Apis Stele in the Serapeum in the Saqqara Necropolis and began a Chapel at Karnak Temple which Pharaoh Hakor seems to have taken over again. The haze of history is not helpful for this Pharaoh, his reign, of his reign dates. Pharaoh Hakor was probably the son of Pharaoh Nefaarud I. It appears that Pharaoh Hakor’s reign was interrupted by Psammuthis rule.

To cement his reign in legitimacy Pharaoh highlighted his ancestry to Pharaoh Nefaarud I and engaged many builders to undertake projects on his behalf. These included: a Barque Chapel for Amun Deity in Karnak Temple, a Temple Complex in Saqqara, at Luxor Temple, at Medinet Habu, and on Elephantine Island. Internationally Pharaoh followed previous foreign policy and sided with the Athenians against their foe, the Persians. This included many Greeks’ joining the Egyptian Army and Navy as mercenaries and officers, as Egypt still had no monetary system and often paid its foreign employees in gold. This went smoothly for both the Greeks and the Egyptians until the Peace of Antalcidas was rendered their pairing as obsolete in 387 BC. With this peace between Greece and Persia, Egypt stood only with Cyprus in opposing the Persians and their King Artaxerxes II.

The Persians were now free to turn their attention to Egypt and in 385 BC they attacked and tried to retake their old vassal state. They failed and were successfully rebuffed due to the Greek Commander Chabrias of Athens who had a leading role in the Egyptian Army. Once Cyprus fell to the Persians, Pharaoh Hakor made an alliance with Sparta but again this was short lived as he died soon after in 380 BC. He left the Throne to his son Pharaoh Nepherites II.

This last Pharaoh of the 29th Dynasty reigned for approximately 4 months in the late summer through to the autumn of 380 BC. An Egyptian Military Officer, Kheperkare Nakhtnebef of Sebennytos, began a campaign of disruption which succeeded in ousting Pharaoh from his rule with the support of the Army and potentially the Greek Commander Chabrias of Athens. This was the beginning of Dynasty 30.

Pharaoh Nectanebo I was the son of a Military Officer Djedhor but his mother’s name has not survived time and erosion who lived and brought Pharaoh up in Sebennytos. Pharaoh had originally been an Army General for his predecessor and he used his position to undertake a campaign of disruption which succeeded in ousting Pharaoh Nepherites II from his rule with the support of the Army and potentially the Greek Commander Chabrias of Athens. He was crowned in Sais and again in Memphis, before he moved the Capital City to his home City of Sebennytos and then began a massive building campaign which included: the commencement of the Temple of Isis on Philae Island (click here to learn more about the Temple of Isis); First Pylon of Amun at Karnak Temple, Thebes (click here to discover more about the First Pylon); the earliest Mammisis at Dendera Temple (to find out more about the Temple at Dendera, click here); and buildings in Memphis (click here to visit the City of Memphis) and Tanis (click here to visit the City of Tanis).

Pharaoh Nectanebo I is listed on Stele’s that remain today listing how generous he was to the local and the nationally known Deities and the Temples which he often supported financially. This worked in his favour when the Persians looked to retake Egypt over as a vassal state in 374 to 373 BC. They invaded down the Mendesian Branch of the Nile as Pharaoh Nectanebo I had reenforced the Pelusium Branch of the Nile so strongly that it posed too large a threat to an Army and Navy. The Mendesian Branch took much longer to navigate and by the time the Persians had reached the religiously significant city of Memphis, Pharaoh had taken the opportunity and time it took the Persians to advance to reenforce the defences at Memphis.

By this point, the infighting amongst the Persians, their mercenaries and the Nile flood conspired for the Egyptians and against the Persians who were repealed. Pharaoh continued against the Persians and sided with Sparta and Athens when they rebelled against Ruler Artaxerxes II and the Persians, keeping them at bay.

In Regnal Year 16, Pharaoh rose his son and Crown Prince Teos to be co-Ruler alongside him, reinstituting a long-forgotten method of ensuring the succession, they ruled together for 3 years. When he died his son continued to rule as Pharaoh Teos from 361 to 360 BC. Emboldened by his father’s wise military use, Pharaoh Teos invaded Persian lands that we know today as Palestine/Israel and Syria trying to reconquer land which Egypt held during the New Kingdom. To do this, he imposed heavy taxes and seized Temple property which the populace, the Army, and the Court, as well as the priesthood grew to hate Pharaoh for. 

Whilst away, Prince Tjahapimu, Pharaoh’s brother and approved Regent, seized the Throne and declared his son as the new Pharaoh Nectanebo II. Despite Nectanebo II being Teos’ nephew, he was not willing to accept this usurpation. He tried to get the Army involved in the regal struggle, but they, as well as the Court, sided with Pharaoh Nectanebo II and so Teos fled to the Persian Court at Susa. He was pursued and returned to Egypt in chains.

Under Pharaoh Nectanebo II’s leadership, Egypt once again prospered, and he decided to outdo even his namesake in his building achievements. He commenced an immense building program of over 100 different sites which included: the Temple of Isis on Philae Island (click here to learn more about the Temple of Isis); monuments in Memphis after Pharaoh officiated over the Funeral of an Apis Bull at the Necropolis of Saqqara (click here to visit the City of Memphis or click here to discover the Necropolis at Saqqara); many items and the Temples at his Capital City of Sebennytos (click here to learn more about the capital city of Sebennytos), the Temple of Khnum on Elephantine Island, Aswan (click here to discover more about the Temple of Khnum); and a Temple to God Amun at Sekhtam.

Whilst peace reigned between the Persians and Egypt, the Pharaoh took the time to rebuild the Army which also included Greek Mercenaries. So, when the Persians tried to invade in 351 BC Pharaoh with his Allied Generals of Diophantus of Athens and Lamius of Sparta defeated the Persian attack after roughly a year of fighting. To support his allies and weaken the Persians, Pharaoh supported the Phoenicians with 4,000 Greek Mercenaries but this strategy failed. Towards the end of 344 BC the Persians tried to persuade Greece to fight with them against Egypt, but this failed, and Greece remained as Egypt’s ally.

Despite Pharaoh Nectanebo II re-enforcing his weaker Mediterranean Sea Border with Forts and Military Camps, deploying flat bottomed boats along the Nile mouths, and having a combined army of roughly 100,000 fighters, Pharaoh and Egypt were defeated in the summer of 342 BC. Pharaoh fled to Upper Egypt and then down into Nubia where he was given protection by the Court of Napata in Nubia.

Persian Ruler, King Artaxerxes marched into Memphis and Egypt was never again ruled by a native Egyptian Ruler. Egypt’s 30th Dynasty was ended.

Pharaoh Artaxerxes III, King of Persia, was not tolerant to his conquered Egypt: he imposed high taxes, looted the Temples, stole religious books, looted much wealth from the Temples and the populace, destroyed the walls of cities, and persecuted any Egyptian who followed their traditional religion. All this was done to subjugate and supress Egypt and her peoples so they could never revolt against the Persian Empire again.

Once done, Pharaoh Artaxerxes III physically left Egypt and returned to his Capital of Persepolis, Egypt was now in the hands of a Regent called Pherendares. From his destruction, Persia gained a lot of wealth which Pharaoh used to renumerate the Army and Mercenaries who fought for him. Pharaoh died in September 338 BC when he was poisoned by a eunuch called Bagoas. He left his regally and politically weaker son Artaxerxes III, sometimes known as Arses, as King of Persia and Pharaoh of Egypt.

Seeing the weakness in the Persian’s rule, an Egyptian named Khababash set himself up as the ruler of Upper Egypt. Therefore, technically, Pharaoh ruled for less than 2 years, and only in Lower Egypt, as when he tried to remove himself from the eunuch’s influence by poisoning him, Pharaoh ended up succumbing to poison instead. His cousin Darius III who was willing to work with Bagoas then became King of Persia and de facto Pharaoh of Egypt.

Pharaoh was a relative to the previous 2 Pharaohs and Kings of Persia but was not a direct relative. To start with Pharaoh took charge of Lower Egypt in 336 BC and regained control of Upper Egypt in 335 BC. Pharaoh Darius III encouraged the religion and culture of Egypt during his time of the Throne and there did not appear to be the unrest which had previously occurred during other Persian King’s reigns.

However, in between Pharaoh claiming Lower Egypt and re-joining it with Upper Egypt, it appears that Pharaoh had his own issues at home in Persia to deal with. The Eunuch Bagoas changed his opinion of Darius and decided that he was not as malleable as he would like. So, he again attempted poison which you may assume the Pharaoh was wise to this plan, especially considering the last 2 rulers were murdered by the same person in the same manner. Pharaoh swapped glasses with the eunuch during a toast and Bagoas drank his own poison and died.

Egypt remained as a vassal state to Persia until the Macedonian King Alexander, now known to history as Alexander the Great, invaded Asia Minor, first at the Battle of the Granicus in 334 BC, which Alexander won, and second at the Battle of Issus in 333 BC, which Alexander won. At this second battle Pharaoh Darius III was on the battlefield and seeing the defeat fled so rapidly that he did not stop to take anyone or anything with him. Alexander captured the Persian Headquarters and Pharaoh’s family who were never returned as Darius refused to concede defeat and raised two more “armies” against the Macedonians.

Pharaoh Darius III died by a sword wound in 332 BC and was buried by Alexander the great in the Royal Persian Tombs after a lavish funeral in Persepolis. This ended Dynasty 31 and the Late Period of Egypt. Her new Pharaoh was Alexander the Great who took over full control in 331 BC.


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