A fragmentary statue head of Amasis II
|Reign||570–526 B.C.E. (26th dynasty)|
|Consort||Tentkheta, mother of Psamtik III
Tashereniset II ?
Amasis II (Ancient Greek: Ἄμασις) or Ahmose II was a pharaoh (reigned 570 B.C.E. – 526 B.C.E.) of the Twenty-sixth dynasty of Egypt, the successor of Apries at Sais. He was the last great ruler of Egypt before the Persian conquest.
Most of our information about him is derived from Herodotus (2.161ff) and can only be imperfectly verified by monumental evidence. According to the Greek historian, he was of common origins. A revolt which broke out among native Egyptian soldiers gave him his opportunity to seize the throne. These troops, returning home from a disastrous military expedition to Cyrene in Libya, suspected that they had been betrayed in order that Apries, the reigning king, might rule more absolutely by means of his Greek mercenaries; many Egyptians fully sympathized with them. General Amasis, sent to meet them and quell the revolt, was proclaimed king by the rebels instead, and Apries, who had now to rely entirely on his mercenaries, was defeated. Apries was either taken prisoner in the ensuing conflict at Memphis before being eventually strangled and buried in his ancestral tomb at Sais, or fled to the Babylonians and was killed mounting an invasion of his native homeland in 567 B.C.E. with the aid of a Babylonian army. An inscription confirms the struggle between the native Egyptian and the foreign soldiery, and proves that Apries was killed and honourably buried in the third year of Amasis (c.567 B.C.E.). Amasis then married Chedebnitjerbone II, one of the daughters of his predecessor Apries, in order to legitimise his kingship.
Some information is known about the family origins of Amasis: his mother was a certain Tashereniset as a bust statue of this lady, which is today located in the British Museum, shows. A stone block from Mehallet el-Kubra also establishes that his maternal grandmother—Tashereniset's mother—was a certain Tjenmutetj.
Herodotus describes how Amasis II would eventually cause a confrontation with the Persian armies. According to Herodotus, Amasis, was asked by Cambyses II or Cyrus the Great for an Egyptian ophthalmologist on good terms. Amasis seems to have complied by forcing an Egyptian physician into mandatory labor, causing him to leave his family behind in Egypt and move to Persia in forced exile. In an attempt to exact revenge for his forced exile, the physician would grow very close to Cambyses and would suggest that Cambyses should ask Amasis for a daughter in marriage in order to solidify his bonds with the Egyptians. Cambyses complied and requested a daughter of Amasis for marriage.
Amasis, worrying that his daughter would be a concubine to the Persian king, refused to give up his offspring; Amasis also was not willing to take on the Persian empire, so he concocted a trickery in which he forced the daughter of the ex-pharaoh Apries, whom Herodotus explicitly confirms to have been killed by Amasis, to go to Persia instead of his own offspring.
This daughter of Apries was none other than Nitetis, who was as per Herodotus's account, "tall and beautiful." Nitetis naturally betrayed Amasis and upon being greeted by the Persian king explained Amasis's trickery and her true origins. This infuriated Cambyses and he vowed to take revenge for it. Amasis would die before Cambyses reached him, but his heir and son Psamtik III would be defeated by the Persians.
Herodotus also describes that just like his predecessor, Amasis II relied on Greek mercenaries and council men. One such figure was Phanes of Halicarnassus, who would later on leave Amasis, for reasons Herodotus does not clearly know but suspects were personal between the two figures. Amasis would send one of his eunuchs to capture Phanes, but the eunuch is bested by the wise council man and Phanes flees to Persia, meeting up with Cambyses providing advice in his invasion of Egypt. Egypt would finally be lost to Persians during the battle of Pelusium.
Although Amasis thus appears first as champion of the disparaged native, he had the good sense to cultivate the friendship of the Greek world, and brought Egypt into closer touch with it than ever before. Herodotus relates that under his prudent administration, Egypt reached a new level of wealth; Amasis adorned the temples of Lower Egypt especially with splendid monolithic shrines and other monuments (his activity here is proved by existing remains). For example, a temple built by him was excavated at Tell Nebesha.
Amasis assigned the commercial colony of Naucratis on the Canopic branch of the Nile to the Greeks, and when the temple of Delphi was burnt, he contributed 1,000 talents to the rebuilding. He also married a Greek princess named Ladice daughter of King Battus III and made alliances with Polycrates of Samos and Croesus of Lydia.
Under Amasis or Ahmose II, Egypt's agricultural based economy reached its zenith. Herodotus who visited Egypt less than a century after Amasis II's death writes that:
It is said that it was during the reign of Ahmose II that Egypt attained its highest level of prosperity both in respect of what the river gave the land and in respect of what the land yielded to men and that the number of inhabited cities at that time reached in total 20,000
His kingdom consisted probably of Egypt only, as far as the First Cataract, but to this he added Cyprus, and his influence was great in Cyrene. In his fourth year (c.567 B.C.E.), Amasis was able to defeat an invasion of Egypt by the Babylonians under Nebuchadrezzar II; henceforth, the Babylonians experienced sufficient difficulties controlling their empire that they were forced to abandon future attacks against Amasis. However, Amasis was later faced with a more formidable enemy with the rise of Persia under Cyrus who ascended to the throne in 559 B.C.E.; his final years were preoccupied by the threat of the impending Persian onslaught against Egypt. With great strategic skill, Cyrus had destroyed Lydia in 546 B.C.E. and finally defeated the Babylonians in 538 B.C.E. which left Amasis with no major Near Eastern allies to counter Persia's increasing military might. Amasis reacted by cultivating closer ties with the Greek states to counter the future Persian invasion into Egypt but was fortunate to have died in 526 B.C.E. shortly before the Persians attacked. The final assault instead fell upon his son Psamtik III, whom the Persians defeated in 525 B.C.E. after a reign of only six months.
Tomb and desecration
Amasis II died in 526 BC. He was buried at the royal necropolis of Sais, and while his tomb was never discovered, Herodotus describes it for us:
[It is] a great cloistered building of stone, decorated with pillars carved in the imitation of palm-trees, and other costly ornaments. Within the cloister is a chamber with double doors, and behind the doors stands the sepulchre.
Herodotus also relates the desecration of Ahmose II/Amasis' mummy when the Persian king Cambyses conquered Egypt and thus ended the 26th Saite dynasty:
[N]o sooner did [... Cambyses] enter the palace of Amasis that he gave orders for his [Amasis's] body to be taken from the tomb where it lay. This done, he proceeded to have it treated with every possible indignity, such as beating it with whips, sticking it with goads, and plucking its hairs. [... A]s the body had been embalmed and would not fall to pieces under the blows, Cambyses had it burned.
Gallery of images
Papyrus, written in demotic script in the 35th year of Amasis II, on display at the Louvre
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