Osorkon IV

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Usermaatre[2] Osorkon IV was an ancient Egyptian pharaoh during the late Third Intermediate Period. Traditionally considered the very last king of the 22nd Dynasty, he was de facto little more than ruler in the district of Tanis (Rˁ-nfr) and in Bubastis, in Lower Egypt.[3][4] He is generally – though not universally – identified with the king Shilkanni mentioned by Assyrian sources, and with the biblical So, king of Egypt from the Books of Kings.



Osorkon IV ascended to the throne of Tanis in c. 730 BCE, at the end of the long reign of his predecessor Shoshenq V of the 22nd Dynasty, who was possibly also his father.[5][4] However, this somewhat traditional collocation is challenged by a certain number of scholars whom preferred to place Osorkon IV in a lower–Egyptian branch of the 23rd Dynasty, right after the reign of the shadowy pharaoh Pedubast II.[6] Osorkon's mother, named on a electrum aegis of Sekhmet now in the Louvre, was Tadibast III.[7][8]
Osorkon ruled during one of the most chaotic and politically fragmented period of ancient Egypt, in which the Nile Delta was dotted with small Libyan kingdoms and principalities and Meshwesh dominions;[4] as the last heir of the Tanite rulers, he inherited the easternmost of these kingdoms, thus the one most involved in all the political and military upheavals that soon would afflict the Near East.[9]

Piye's campaign[edit]

Around 729/28 BCE, soon after his accession, Osorkon IV had to face the crusade led by the Nubian pharaoh Piye of the 25th Dynasty. Along with others rulers of Lower and Middle Egypt – mainly Nimlot of Hermopolis, Iuput II of Leontopolis and Peftjauawybast of Herakleopolis – Osorkon IV joined the coalition led by the Chief of the West Tefnakht in order to contrast the Nubian. However, Piye's advance seemed unstoppable and the opposing rulers surrendered one after another: Osorkon IV found wise to reach the Temple of Ra at Heliopolis and pay homage to this new overlord personally, soon imitated by the other rulers. Piye accepted their submission, but Osorkon and most of the rulers were not allowed to enter the royal enclosure due to the fact that they were not circumcised and had eaten fish, both abominations in the eyes of the Nubian.[10][11] However, Osorkon IV and the others were allowed to keep their former domains and authority.[12][11]

The Assyrian threats[edit]

In 726/25 BCE Hoshea, the last King of Israel, rebelled against the Assyrian king Shalmaneser V who demanded an annual tribute, and sought the support of So, king of Egypt (2 Kings 17:4) who, as already mentioned, was most likely Osorkon IV (see below). For some reason – possibly in order to remain neutral towards the powerful Neo-Assyrian Empire, or simply because he didn't have enough power or resources – king So didn't help Hoshea, who was subsequently defeated and deposed by Shalmaneser V. The Kingdom of Israel ceased to exist, and many Israelites were brought to Assyria as exiles.[13][14]

Sargon II

When in 720 BCE a revolt occurred in Palestine against the new Assyrian king Sargon II, this time was king Hanno (also Hanun and Hanuna) of Gaza to seek the help of "Pirʾu of Musri", a term most probably meaning "Pharaoh of Egypt" and referring to Osorkon IV. Assyrian sources claims that this time the Egyptian king did sent a turtanu (an army–commander) called Reʾe (his Egyptian name was Raia) as well as troops in order to support the neighboring ally. However, the coalition was defeated in battle at Raphia: Reʾe/Raia fled back to Egypt, Raphia and Gaza were looted and Hanno was burnt alive by the Assyrians.[13][14]
In 716 BCE Sargon II almost reached Egypt's boundaries. Feeling this time directly threatened, Osorkon IV (here called Shilkanni by Assyrian sources, see below) was carefully diplomatic: he personally met the Assyrian king at the "Brook of Egypt" (most likely el-Arish) and tributed him with a present which Sargon personally described as "twelve large horses of Egypt without equals in Assyria". The Assyrian king appreciated his gifts and did not take action against Osorkon IV.[13]


Shortly after, Osorkon IV vanished in obscurity, and the 22nd Dynasty with him. His death should have occurred between 715 and 713 BCE, after 16/18 years of reign,[15] as he was apparently gone when king Iamani of Ashdod sought refuge from Sargon II in Egypt around 712 BCE or possibly later, only to be caught by a pharaoh of the 25th Dynasty who returned him to the Assyrians in chains.[16]
Few decades later a man called Gemenefkhonsbak, possibly a descendant of the now-defunct 22nd Dynasty, claimed for himself the pharaonic royal titles and ruled in Tanis as its prince.[17]

Identification with Shilkanni and So[edit]

It is believed that Shilkanni is a rendering of (U)shilkan, which in turn is derived from (O)sorkon – hence Osorkon IV – as proposed by William F. Albright.[18] This identification is accepted by several scholars[19][20][21][14][11] while others remains uncertain or even skeptics.[22] Shilkanni is reported by Assyrians as "King of Musri": this location, once believed to be a country in northern Arabia by the orientalist Hans Alexander Winckler, is certainly to be identified with Egypt instead.[18] In the same way, the "Pir'u of Musri" ("Pharaoh of Egypt") to whom Hanno of Gaza asked for help in 720 BCE could ony have been Osorkon IV.[23]

The identity of the biblical king So is somewhat less definite. Generally, an abbreviation of (O)so(rkon) is again considered the most likely by several scholars,[13][20][21][1][24][25] but the concurrent hypothesis which equates So with the city of Sais, hence with king Tefnakht, still has its supporters.[26]


Small aegis of Sekhmet with the name of Osorkon and Tadibast, in the Louvre.

As shown above, Osorkon IV is attested by Assyrian documents (as Shilkanni and other epithets) and probably also by the Books of Kings (as king So), while Manetho's epitomes seems to have ignored him.[27] He is undoubtedly attested by the well-known Victory stela of Piye[28] on which he is depicted while prostrating in front of the owner of the stela along with other submitted rulers. Another findings almost certainly referring to him is the aforementioned aegis of Sekhmet, found at Bubastis and mentioning a king Osorkon son of queen Tadibast who, as not coinciding with any name of all the other Osorkon kings' mothers, can only be Osorkon IV's mother.[7]

About the throne name[edit]

Osorkon's throne name was thought to be Aakheperre Setepenamun from few monuments naming a namesake pharaoh Osorkon, such as a faience seal and a block. But this attribution has been criticized by Frederic Payraudeau in 2000. According to him, these findings could be rather assigned to the first Aakheperre Osorkon i.e. the distant predecessor Osorkon the Elder of the 21st Dynasty.[29] Furthermore, in 2010/11 a French expedition discovered at Tanis few blocks bearing a relief of a king Usermaa(t)re Osorkonu, here depicted in a quite archaizing style, which at first were attributed to Osorkon III. In 2014, on the basis of the style of both the relief and the royal name, Aidan Dodson rejected the identification of this king with both the already known kings Usermaatre Osorkon (Osorkon II and III) and stated that he was rather Osorkon IV with his true throne name.[1] A long known archaizing "glassy faience" statuette fragment from Memphis now exhibited at the Petrie Museum (UC13128),[30] which is inscribed for one king Usermaatre and which was once considered to represent either pharaoh Amyrtaios (28th Dynasty), the Upper Egyptian ruler Rudamun ("Theban 23rd Dynasty"), or the Kushite king Piye (Piankhy), may in fact represent Osorkon IV.[31]

See also[edit]

Pharaohs in the Bible – for other historical or conjectural pharaohs cited in the Bible


Media related to Osorkon IV at Wikimedia Commons

  1. ^ a b c d Aidan Dodson, The Coming of the Kushites and the Identity of Osorkon IV, in Elena Pischikova et al. (eds.), Thebes in the First Millennium BC, Cambridge Scholars publishing, 2014, ISBN 978-1-4438-5404-7, pp. 6–12 online PDF.
  2. ^ Once believed to be Aakheperre Setepenamun, see the section "About the throne name".
  3. ^ Kenneth Kitchen, The Third Intermediate Period in Egypt (1100–650 BC), 1996, Aris & Phillips Limited, Warminster, ISBN 0-85668-298-5, § 82; 92
  4. ^ a b c Nicolas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt, Oxford, Blackwell Books, 1992, pp. 330–31
  5. ^ Kitchen, op. cit., § 92
  6. ^ Supporters of this hypothesis are Karl-Heinz Priese, Anthony Leahy, David Aston, Jürgen von Beckerath; see: Karl Jansen-Winkeln, Third Intermediate Period, in Erik Hornung, Rolf Krauss and David A. Warburton (eds.), Ancient Egyptian Chronology, Brill, Leiden/Boston, 2006, ISBN 978 90 04 11385 5, pp. 246–47 and references therein.
  7. ^ a b Jocelyne Berlandini, Petits monuments royaux de la XXIe à la XXVe dynastie, in Hommages a Serge Sauneron: 1927–1976, vol. 1, 1979, Cairo, Imprimerie de l'Institut d'Archeologie Orientale, pp. 92–98
  8. ^ Aidan Dodson & Dyan Hilton, The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, Thames & Hudson, 2004, ISBN 0-500-05128-3, p. 222
  9. ^ Kitchen, op. cit., §§ 333–36
  10. ^ Kitchen, op. cit., §§ 325–26
  11. ^ a b c Toby Wilkinson, The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt, Bloomsbury, London, 2010, pp. 420–23
  12. ^ Grimal, op. cit., p. 339
  13. ^ a b c d Kitchen, op. cit., §§ 333–36; 463–64
  14. ^ a b c Grimal, op. cit., pp. 341–42
  15. ^ Kitchen, op. cit., § 526; revised table 6
  16. ^ Kitchen, op. cit., §§ 463–64
  17. ^ Kitchen, op. cit., § 357
  18. ^ a b See: Kitchen, op. cit., § 115 and references therein.
  19. ^ Kitchen, op. cit., § 115; 463
  20. ^ a b I. E. S. Edwards, Egypt: from the Twenty-second to the Twenty-fourth Dynasty, in The Cambridge Ancient History, 2nd ed., vol. III, part 1, Cambridge University Press, 1982, ISBN 0 521 22496 9, p. 576
  21. ^ a b T. C. Mitchell, Israel and Judah c. 750–700 B.C., in The Cambridge Ancient History, 2nd ed., vol. III, part 2, Cambridge University Press, 1991, ISBN 0 521 22717 8, p. 345
  22. ^ Karl Jansen-Winkeln and Jean Yoyotte respectively; for both see: Karl Jansen-Winkeln, op. cit., p. 260 & n. 177
  23. ^ Kitchen, op. cit., §§ 335; 463
  24. ^ Richard D. Patterson, The Divided Monarchy: Sources, Approaches, and Historicity, in Michel A. Grisanti & David M. Howard (eds.), Giving the sense: understanding and using Old Testament historical texts, Kregel, 2003, ISBN 978-0-8254-2892-0, pp. 196–97
  25. ^ Peter A. Clayton, Chronicle of The Pharaohs, Thames & Hudson, 2006, pp. 182–83
  26. ^ Notably, Hans Goedicke and Donald B. Redford, see: Kitchen, op. cit., § 463 and references therein.
  27. ^ Kitchen, op. cit., § 418
  28. ^ Karl Jansen-Winkeln, op. cit., p. 246, n. 91
  29. ^ Frederic Payraudeau, "L'identite du premier et du dernier Osorkon", Göttinger Misszellen 178, 2000, pp. 75–80.
  30. ^ Statuette fragment of Usermaatre (UC13128), catalog of the Petrie Museum
  31. ^ Helmut Brandl, "Eine archaisierende Königsfigur der späten Libyerzeit", in: E. Bechtold, A. Gulyás, A. Hasznos (eds.), From Illahun to Djeme. Papers Presented in Honour of Ulrich Luft, BAR IS 2311, Oxford, 2011, pp. 11–23.