Late Period of ancient Egypt

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Late Period of ancient Egypt

c. 664 BC – c. 332 BC

Capital Sais, Mendes, Sebennytos
Languages Ancient Egyptian
Religion Ancient Egyptian religion
Government Monarchy
 -  Established c. 664 BC 
 -  Disestablished  c. 332 BC
Today part of  Egypt

The Late Period of Ancient Egypt refers to the last flowering of native Egyptian rulers after the Third Intermediate Period from the 26th Saite Dynasty into Persian conquests and ended with the conquest by Alexander the Great and establishment of the Ptolemaic Kingdom. It ran from 664 BC until 332 BC. Though foreigners ruled the country at this time, Egyptian culture was more prevalent than ever. Libyans and Persians alternated rule with native Egyptians, but traditional conventions continued in the arts.[1]

It is often regarded as the last gasp of a once great culture, during which the power of Egypt steadily diminished.

26th Dynasty[edit]

The Twenty-Sixth Dynasty, also known as the Saite Period, lasted from 672 BC to 525 BC. Canal construction from the Nile to the Red Sea began.

According to Jeremiah, during this time many Jews came to Egypt, fleeing after the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians (586 BC). Jeremiah and other Jewish refugees arrived in Lower Egypt, notably in Migdol, Tahpanhes and Memphis. Some refugees also settled at Elephantine and other settlements in Upper Egypt (Jeremiah 43 and 44). Jeremiah mentions pharaoh Apries (as Hophra, Jeremiah 44:30) whose reign came to a violent end in 570 BC.

One major contribution from the Late Period of Ancient Egypt was the Brooklyn Papyrus. This was a medical papyrus with a collection of medical and magical remedies for victims of snakebites based on snake type or symptoms.[2]

Egypt 664-332 BC - Brooklyn Museum

Artwork during this time were representative of animal cults and animal mummies. This image shows the god Pataikos wearing a scarab beetle on his head, supports two human-headed birds on his shoulders, holds a snake in each hand, and stands atop crocodiles.[3]

Figure of Pataikos, 664-30 BC - Brooklyn Museum

27th Dynasty[edit]

Statue of Persian king Darius I from Egypt
Cambyses II of Persia capturing pharaoh Psamtik III after his conquest of Egypt. Image on Persian seal, 6th century BCE.

In 525 BC Cambyses II son of Cyrus the Great wished to expand the already massive Persian Empire created and expanded by his fathers campaigns. He set his sights for Egypt and took his army of 7,000 from the Persia to Gaza. There he made an alliance with the Arab tribes and they allowed him to pass peaceful. He then confronted the Egyptian Pharaoh Psamtik III at the Battle of Pelusium, where he defeated the Egyptian army of nearly 50,000 soldiers, which was nearly 5 times bigger than the army he brought. Cambyses later captured Psamtik at the Siege of Memphis, thus conquering Egypt. With the conquest of Egypt, the Persian Empire now spanned over 3 continents and controlled 40% of the worlds population at that time, a world record which no other future empire or country would ever hold in all of history.[4] Yet unlike the previous Pharaohs of Egypt, the Persians had almost no slaves. In order to create the massive palaces of Persepolis and Pasargadae the Persian kings would pay their workers in wine and gold instead of forcing them to work against their will. These payments were recorded in the Persepolis Administrative Archives. Though the Egyptian people were free from slavery, the Persians did not make many monuments in Egypt, and instead put their artistic and architectural efforts into other parts of the Empire. It stayed this way until Darius I came to the Persian throne. Under his rule the Canal of the Pharaohs was completed. This revolutionary canal was an ancient version of the modern Suez Canal and for the first time allowed ships to travel from the Red sea to the Mediterranean without having to go around Africa which many European explorers were forced to do.

Egypt remained quiet and peaceful until 404 BC. This is the year that the Persian king Darius II dies and is succeeded by his eldest son Artaxerxes II. Yet Artaxerxes was a weak king and from the beginning of his reign Persia lost great amounts of land to rebel leaders. One of these rebels was Amyrtaeus who was able to capture Egypt for himself thus ending the Twenty-seventh dynasty of Egypt.

28th–30th Dynasties[edit]

The Twenty-Eighth Dynasty consisted of a single king, Amyrtaeus, prince of Sais, who rebelled against the Persians. He left no monuments with his name. This dynasty lasted six years, from 404 BC to 398 BC.

The Twenty-Ninth Dynasty ruled from Mendes, for the period from 398 BC to 380 BC.

The Thirtieth Dynasty took their art style from the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty. A series of three pharaohs ruled from 380 BC until their final defeat in 343 BC led to the re-occupation by the Persians.

31st Dynasty[edit]

  • Copied content from Artaxerxes III article; see that article's history for attribution
Statue of a Persian nobleman found in Egypt

In 343 BC, Artaxerxes III, in addition to his 330,000 Persians, had now a force of 14,000 Greeks furnished by the Greek cities of Asia Minor: 4,000 under Mentor, consisting of the troops which he had brought to the aid of Tennes from Egypt; 3,000 sent by Argos; and 1000 from Thebes. He divided these troops into three bodies, and placed at the head of each a Persian and a Greek. The Greek commanders were Lacrates of Thebes, Mentor of Rhodes and Nicostratus of Argos while the Persians were led by Rhossaces, Aristazanes, and Bagoas, the chief of the eunuchs. Nectanebo II resisted with an army of 100,000 of whom 20,000 were Greek mercenaries. Nectanebo II occupied the Nile and its various branches with his large navy. The character of the country, intersected by numerous canals, and full of strongly fortified towns, was in his favour and Nectanebo II might have been expected to offer a prolonged, if not even a successful, resistance. But he lacked good generals, and over-confident in his own powers of command, he was able to be out-manoeuvred by the Greek mercenary generals and his forces eventually defeated by the combined Persian armies.[5] at the Battle of Pelusium (343 BC). After his defeat, Nectanebo hastily fled to Memphis, leaving the fortified towns to be defended by their garrisons. These garrisons consisted of partly Greek and partly Egyptian troops; between whom jealousies and suspicions were easily sown by the Persian leaders. As a result, the Persians were able to rapidly reduce numerous towns across Lower Egypt and were advancing upon Memphis when Nectanebo decided to quit the country and flee southwards to Ethiopia.[5] The Persian army completely routed the Egyptians and occupied the Lower Delta of the Nile. Following Nectanebo fleeing to Ethiopia, all of Egypt submitted to Artaxerxes. The Jews in Egypt were sent either to Babylon or to the south coast of the Caspian Sea, the same location that the Jews of Phoenicia had earlier been sent.

After this victory over the Egyptians, Artaxerxes had the city walls destroyed, and set about looting all the temples. Persia gained a significant amount of wealth from this looting. Artaxerxes also raised high taxes and attempted to weaken Egypt enough that it could never revolt against Persia. For the 10 years of the second Persian occupation of Egypt, believers in the native religion were persecuted and sacred books were stolen.[6] Before he returned to Persia, he appointed Pherendares as satrap of Egypt. With the wealth gained from his reconquering Egypt, Artaxerxes was able to amply reward his mercenaries. He then returned to his capital having successfully completed his invasion of Egypt. Artaxerxes' treatment of the Egyptians was much different from the Peaceful result of the first Persian occupation of Egypt.

After his success in Egypt, Artaxerxes returned to Persia and spent the next few years effectively quelling insurrections in various parts of the Empire so that a few years after his conquest of Egypt, the Persian Empire was firmly under his control. Egypt remained a part of the Persian Empire until Alexander the Great's conquest of Egypt.

Persian Empire at the beginning of Artaxerxes III's rule (green), and his conquests and suppressed rebellions(Dark grey)

After the conquest of Egypt, there were no more revolts or rebellions against Artaxerxes. Mentor and Bagoas, the two generals who had most distinguished themselves in the Egyptian campaign, were advanced to posts of the highest importance. Mentor, who was governor of the entire Asiatic seaboard, was successful in reducing to subjection many of the chiefs who during the recent troubles had rebelled against Persian rule. In the course of a few years Mentor and his forces were able to bring the whole Asian Mediterranean coast into complete submission and dependence.

Bagoas went back to the Persian capital with Artaxerxes, where he took a leading role in the internal administration of the Empire and maintained tranquillity throughout the rest of the Empire. During the last six years of the reign of Artaxerxes III, the Persian Empire was governed by a vigorous and successful government.[5]

Tomb of Artaxerxes III at Persepolis

The Persian forces in Ionia and Lycia regained control of the Aegean and the Mediterranean Sea and took over much of Athens’ former island empire. In response, Isocrates of Athens started giving speeches calling for a ‘crusade against the barbarians’ but there was not enough strength left in any of the Greek city-states to answer his call.[7]

Although there weren't any rebellions in the Persian Empire itself, the growing power and territory of Philip II of Macedon in Macedon (against which Demosthenes was in vain warning the Athenians) attracted the attention of Artaxerxes. In response, he ordered that Persian influence was to be used to check and constrain the rising power and influence of the Macedonian kingdom. In 340 BC, a Persian force was dispatched to assist the Thracian prince, Cersobleptes, to maintain his independence. Sufficient effective aid was given to the city of Perinthus that the numerous and well-appointed army with which Philip had commenced his siege of the city was compelled to give up the attempt.[5] By the last year of Artaxerxes' rule, Philip II already had plans in place for an invasion of the Persian Empire, which would crown his career. But the Greeks would not unite with him.[8]

In 338 BC Artaxerxes was poisoned by Bagoas with the assistance of a physician.[9]


  1. ^ Bleiberg, Edward (2013). Soulful Creatures: Animal Mummies in Ancient Egypt. Brooklyn Museum. p. 16. 
  2. ^ Bleiberg, Edward (2013). Soulful Creatures: Animal Mummies in Ancient Egypt. Brooklyn Museum. p. 55. 
  3. ^ Bleiberg, Edward (2013). Soulful Creatures: Animal Mummies in Ancient Egypt. Brooklyn Museum. p. 16. 
  4. ^ name=Yarshater>While estimates for the Achaemenid Empire range from 10–80+ million, most prefer 40–50 million. Prevas (2009, p. 14) estimates 10 [1]. Langer (2001, p. 40) estimates around 16 2. McEvedy and Jones (2001, p. 50) estimates 17 3. Strauss (2004, p. 37) estimates about 20 4. Ward (2009, p. 16) estimates at 20 5. Aperghis (2007, p. 311) estimates 32 6. Scheidel (2009, p. 99) estimates 35 7. Zeinert (1996, p. 32) estimates 40 8. Rawlinson and Schauffler (1898, p. 270) estimates possibly 50 9. Astor (1899, p. 56) estimates almost 50 10. Lissner (1961, p. 111) estimates probably 50 11. Milns (1968, p. 51) estimates some 50 12. Hershlag (1980, p. 140) estimates nearly 50 13. Daniel (2001, p. 41) estimates at 50 15. Meyer and Andreades (2004, p. 58) estimates to 50 16. Pollack (2004, p. 7) estimates about 50 17. Jones (2004, p. 8) estimates over 50 18. Safire (2007, p. 627) estimates in 50 19. Dougherty (2009, p. 6) estimates about 70 20. Richard (2008, p. 34) estimates nearly 70 21. Mitchell (2004, p. 16) estimates over 70 22. Hanson (2001, p. 32) estimates almost 75 23. West (1913, p. 85) estimates about 75 24. Zenos (1889, p. 2) estimates exactly 75 25. Cowley (1999 and 2001, p. 17) estimates possibly 80 26. Cook (1904, p. 277) estimates exactly 80 27.
  5. ^ a b c d "Artaxerxes III Ochus ( 358 BC to 338 BC )". Retrieved March 2, 2008. 
  6. ^ "Persian Period II". Archived from the original on February 17, 2008. Retrieved March 6, 2008. 
  7. ^ "Chapter V: Temporary Relief". Retrieved March 1, 2008. 
  8. ^ "Philip of Macedon Philip II of Macedon Biography". Archived from the original on March 14, 2008. Retrieved March 7, 2008. 
  9. ^ Briant, Pierre (2002). From Cyrus to Alexander: A history of the Persian Empire. Eienbrauns. p. 769. ISBN 1-57506-120-1. 


  • Roberto B. Gozzoli: The Writing of History in Ancient Egypt During the First Millennium BCE (ca. 1070-180 BCE). Trend and Perspectives, London 2006, ISBN 0-9550256-3-X
  • Lloyd, Alan B. 2000. "The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, edited by Ian Shaw". Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. 369-394
  • Quirke, Stephen. 1996 "Who were the Pharaohs?", New York: Dover Publications. 71-74