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Volume 10 issue 3 December 2009






This month’s NETFISHING continues its look at the history of Egypt by seeing what the World Wide Web has to say about the end of the Twentieth Dynasty, and the transition into the Twenty-first Dynasty.


Events at the end of the Twentieth Dynasty show that Egypt was divided, and the Two Lands were under the control of not one, but three separate rulers. Refer:


Rameses XI:


High Priest Herihor:


Smendes :


In the North, Rameses XI was recognised as King, ruling from the city of Piramesse, whilst in the South, the ‘High Priests of Amun’ administered much of Upper Egypt. To complicate matters even further, a short distance away from Piramesse, the king’s son-in-law, one Smendes, appears to have been a major power in the Delta and he held court at the city of Tanis.


Smendes, a son of High Priest Herihor, had married Princess Tantamun (B), the daughter of King Rameses XI, perhaps in an attempt by Rameses XI to unify the country once more and end the divisions that were weakening it. Smendes had been appointed as ‘Governor of Tanis’ by the king, but it now appears that Smendes held effective control over all of Northern Egypt, and the king had been relegated to a backwater, quite literally in fact, as the branch of the Nile serving Piramesse was silting up, and a ‘new capital’ for Egypt was being constructed at the city of Tanis. Refer:





It is interesting to note that, when the High Priest Herihor sent an envoy to Lebanon to obtain wood for a new Barque of Amun, the envoy, Wenamun, did not pay court to the true King, Rameses XI, but instead visited the city of Tanis “the place where Smendes and Tantamun are”. So it would appear that it was Smendes who was the effective power in Northern Egypt, and it was only lip service that was paid to the (exiled?) ‘King of Egypt’ residing not too far away in the old city of Piramesse. Refer:


In the South, High Priest Herihor had died. His tomb remains undiscovered, but it appears he was succeeded in office by Piankhi, who was a relative, perhaps his son-in-law. Piankhi’s rule as High Priest was not a very long one, however, as he died only a few years later, around 1070 BC, at about the same time as King Rameses XI. Refer:


The death of Rameses XI cleared the way for Smendes to become officially King of Egypt and he is, therefore, recognised as the ‘first king’ of the Twenty-first Dynasty. He did not rule over all of Egypt, for Upper Egypt was still the preserve of the High Priests of Amun. Even so, it was still a family relation who ruled in the South, his own brother-in-law, Piankhi. These close family relationships between the King and the High Priests continued to exist throughout the Twenty-first Dynasty and were perhaps the reason why the two sides never fought for supremacy. Another reason for their co-existence may have been a religious one, for at this time the power of the god Amun was at its height and Egypt may have been considered a theocracy, with both the King and the High Priest being seen simply as the god’s representatives on earth.


High Priest Piankhi was succeeded by his son Pinudjem, who at first only claimed priestly titles, and returned the system of dating to that based on King Smendes’ regnal years. Pinudjem is most famous for his preservation and diligent re-wrapping of the kings of Egypt. The royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings had been ransacked again and again and Pinudjem decided it was time to end this destruction and save the kings from further degradation. He decided to remove all the jewellery and precious objects from the bodies of the kings and re-bury them in cache tombs where they would remain safe for all time. The unused tomb of Rameses XI was duly used for this operation, and the preserved bodies of the kings were to remain safe until the end of the nineteenth century. Refer:


The jewellery removed from the bodies of the kings was sent down-river to Tanis, where it appears to have been recycled and used in turn for the burials of the Northern kings – as we shall see in the next article.



Victor Blunden

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