Egyptian History Part 5 - The Long, Slow Decline
Created | Updated Apr 26, 2017
An Introduction to Pharaonic Egypt | The Rise of Egypt | Rebuilding | From the Depths to the Heights | The Amarna Period | The Long, Slow Decline | Egyptian Mummies | Egyptian Pyramids | Egyptian Legends and Theology | Egyptian Gods
Third Intermediate Period (1069 - 715 BC)
The decline of the New Kingdom once again left Egypt internally fragmented and surrounded by aggressive foreign powers. This time there would be no great ruler to restore and exceed past glories. After 600 years of internal disruption and foreign rule, there would be one final flowering of native-style (if foreign-ruled) Egyptian culture before what was once the greatest civilisation in the world was finally subsumed into the vast Roman Empire. This was a period of almost uninterrupted decline for Egypt.
21st Dynasty (1069 - 945 BC)
The descendants of Herihor ruled in Thebes in the south, while those of Smendes had mastery over Tanis in the north. The Thebans were priests, and theoretically subservient to the Tannite pharaohs, but in practice were almost independent. Despite this, it is regarded as a single Dynasty.
22nd Dynasty (945 - 715 BC)
The 22nd Dynasty has been the centre of some debate, after British Egyptologist David Rohl1 suggested that the 21st and 22nd Dynasties may have overlapped. If Rohl is correct, this would shorten recorded Egyptian history considerably, bringing all the preceding dates forward by around 200 years. Notable pharaohs from this dynasty include Shoshenk I2. The 22nd Dynasty's capital was Bubastis.
23rd Dynasty (818 - 715 BC)
Ruling from Thebes, this Dynasty was involved in a civil war with the pharaohs of the 22nd Dynasty.
24th Dynasty (727 - 715 BC)
To confuse matters further, this was yet another Dynasty ruling simultaneously with the other two (or three, according to Rohl). The 24th Dynasty was of Ethiopian descent, one of a number of foreign or foreign-descended Dynasties.
25th Dynasty (747 - 656 BC)
Tanuatamum presided over Egypt during the Assyrian invasion. This was a disaster from which Egypt would never fully recover, with Memphis being captured and even Thebes sacked. The sack of Thebes in 664 BC is well-attested in the records of many cultures, and is regarded as a crucial point at which Egyptian records can be synchronised with other histories.
Late Period (664 - 332 BC)
Again, there is disagreement over exactly when the Third Intermediate Period became the Late Period - some would include the 26th Dynasty as part of the Third Intermediate Period, while others count the 25th Dynasty as part of the Late Period. By this point, there is almost no disagreement on dates, as they are confirmed by Egypt's interactions with other surrounding nations whose records have also survived.
26th Dynasty (664 - 525 BC)
These were client kings installed by the Assyrians and they ruled from Sais3. The first was Psammetichus I. The Assyrians were eventually forced to withdraw to fight a war with Babylon, and Egypt again became a military power. Necho II defeated the biblical King Josiah at Megiddo4, and Psammetichus II was also a successful expansionist. However, the Dynasty went downhill afterwards, with the final pharaoh, Amasis, being known as 'the Drunkard'.
27th Dynasty (525 - 404 BC)
The Persians under Cambyses II invaded in 525 BC. Emperors such as Cambyses and Darius I were regarded as pharaoh.
28th Dynasty (404 - 399 BC)
The shortest Dynasty, this consisting of just one pharaoh, Amyrtaeus, who managed to evict the Persians. A descendant of the 26th Dynasty kings, Amyrtaeus took advantage of the death of the Persian Emperor Darius II and uncertain succession in Persia to press home his advantage.
29th Dynasty (399 - 380 BC)A short Dynasty of four pharaohs, this period was again one of division and instability for Egypt, and only alliances with Athens preserved their independence.
30th (380 - 343 BC) and 31st (343 - 332 BC) Dynasties
Nectanebo I repelled another Persian invasion, only for Artaxerxes III to defeat Nectanebo II and reconquer the country from 343 - 332 BC to form the 31st and final Dynasty.
In 332 BC, Alexander the Great conquered Persia and so gained control of Egypt. He introduced the Greek language and Hellenic ideas, as well as founding the city of Alexandria. Upon his death, his general Ptolemy5 became ruler of Egypt, and this dynasty (not usually numbered) ruled until 30 BC. Ironically, these Greek rulers were responsible for some of the best- known examples of Egyptian architecture, such as the temples at Kom Ombo and Edfu, as well as the legendary Great Library of Alexandria. The final Egyptian ruler in the pharaonic style was Cleopatra VII, whose reign saw an invasion by Julius Caesar in 54 BC. A wily politician, Cleopatra bore Caesar a son, Caesarion, then entered a relationship with Mark Anthony after Caesar's death. She committed suicide after Mark Anthony's defeat by the future Augustus Caesar, ending Egyptian independence for nearly 2,000 years.
In 30 BC, Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire. It would not be truly independent again until the 1950s.