Nectanebo II, The Last Ancient Egyptian Native King

Nectanebo II, The Last Ancient Egyptian Native King

by Jimmy Dunn

The name cartouches of Nectanebo II

The 30th Dynasty was not one of Egypt's greatest moments, despite the fact that Nectanebo I, the founder of the dynasty, may have provided us with a last a vision of the empire's past. By the end of the 30th Dynasty and the reign of Nectanebo II, Egypt would no longer be ruled by true Egyptians, and in many ways, they would not be ruled again purely by Egyptians until the 1952 revolt that brought President Nasser into power. His birth name, Nakhthorheb and epithet, mery-hathor, means "strong is His Lord, Beloved of Hathor". His throne name was Snedjem-ib-re Setep-en-inhur, meaning "Pleasing to the Heart of Re, Chosen of Onuris (Osiris)".

Nectanebo II upsurped the Egyptian throne in 360 AD away from the son of Nectanebo I (Teos, Tachos). In the fifth century BC, Egypt had been part of the Achaemenid Empire (Persian), but in 404 BC, Egypt regained its independence. Nectanebo I had to repel an offensive by the Persians. When his son went on the offensive against the Persians, taking to the field at the head of an army containing a large contingent of Greek mercenaries under the aging king Agesilaos (Agesilaus) of Sparta, he left his brother, Tjahapimu, in charge of Egypt. Tjahapimu was very possibly Teos' older half brother who was passed over for accession in favor of a child born to Queen Ptolemais (however, some scholars believe Tjahapimu was the son of Teos, making Nectanebo II his grandson).

Coins made in the name of Nectanebo II

In order to finance the war, Teos had levied heavy taxes at home, and now in his brother's absence, Tjahapimu used this as a pretext for raising the country in revolt.

By now, Tjahapimu's son, Nectanabis (Nakhthorheb, the future Nechtanebo II) was serving with the royal army, by now in Syria, and as Plutarch version of the events describes, he managed to gain the support of both his own men and those under Greek command for the rebel cause:

"Then, having jointed Tachos, who was making preparations for his campaign [against Persia], he [Agesilaus] was not appointed commander o the entire force, as he was hoping, but only given command of the mercenaries, whilst Chabrias the Athenian was put in charge of the fleet. Tachos himself was commander-in-chief. This was the first thing which vexed Agesilaus; then, whilst he found the prince's arrogance and empty pretensions hard to bear, he was compelled to put up with them. He even sailed with him against the Phoenicians, and, setting aside his sense of dignity and his natural instincts, he showed deference and subservience, until he found his opportunity. For Tachos' cousin Nectanabis [i.e. the future Nectanebo II], who commanded part of the forces, rebelled, and, having been proclaimed king by the Egyptians and having sent to Agesilaus begging him for help, he made the same appeal to Chabrias, offering both men great rewards. Tachos presently learned of this and begged them to stand by him, whereupon Chabrias tried by persuasion and exhortation to keep Agesilaus on good terms with Tachos...The Spartans sent a secret dispatch to Agesilaus ordering him to see to it that he did what was in Sparta's best interests, so Agesilaus took his mercenaries and transferred his allegiance to Nectanabis... Tachos, deserted by his mercenaries, took flight, but meanwhile another pretender rose up against Nectanabis in the province of Mendes and was declared king"

The individual from Mendes may have been a scion of the former 29th Dynasty which hailed from that city. In fact, a brief civil war did break out and for a time Nectanebo II was besieged in Tanis, though Agesilaos came to his rescue. Afterwards, Agesilaos was sent home with a bonus of 250 talents of gold. Nectanebo II had won out and Egypt was his, at lest for a while. The next threat came from Teos, acting as a Persian proxy, but he soon died and with the help of Nektanebo II's Greek forces, he was able to maintain Egypt's independence for the time being. However, it must be noted that the Mendes contender did in fact thwart the last attempt by an Egyptian pharaoh to conquer the Near East, for Nectanebo II had been obliged to return to Egypt in order to but down this rebellion against his authority.

Nectanebo II ruled Egypt for some eighteen years. During a period of quit while Persia suffered from its own dynastic squabbles, Nectanebo II definitely returned to the old values and stability brought by the gods. Temples were built or refurbished and there are actually more than a hundred Egyptian sites that show evidence of his attentions. The king was also presented as highly pious and under the gods' protection. This is exemplified by a grand stone statue now in the Metropolitan Museum of New York. It depicts Horus the falcon, wearing the Double Crown. Between its legs is a small figure of Nectanebo II wearing the nemes headdress and carrying a curved harpesh and a small shrine.

Statue of Horus and Nectanebo II

We have records that Nectanebo II personally participated in the burial of an Apis Bull at Saqqara, and also of his role in raising the status of the Buchis bull of Armant to that of the Apis bull of Memphis. There is also inscriptional evidence of acts of piety on his part to Isis of Behbeit el-Hagar (Samannud, ancient Sebennytos, the birthplace of the 30th Dynasty kings), for whom he at least began the construction of an enormous temple (now in ruins), and he also built at Bubastis and was active at Karnak. He also dedicated temples to Isis at Philae and to Amun at Siwa. Sometime during this period, we also know that he buried his probable mother Udjashu, in a fine sarcophagus, the remains of which are now in the Cairo Antiquities Museum.

However, the threat of Persia never vanished. By 350 BC, the new Persian ruler Artaxerxes III had sufficiently established authority over most of his empire to contemplate an attack on Egypt. Little is known about this campaign, except for the fact that two mercenary leaders, Lamias of Sparta and Diophantes of Athens, dealt with the Persian generals on behalf of the Egyptians. The Persian defeat must have been devastating, because king Artaxerxes III Ochus now personally started to build a larger army at Babylon, and a navy was gathered at Sidon, one of the towns of Phoenicia.

Nectanebo knew what was afoot and knew how to intervene. The people of Sidon felt oppressed by the sheer size of Artaxerxes' preparations, and the Egyptian king seems to have told their king Tennes (Phoenician Tabnit) that he would come to their assistance if they rebelled. And so it happened: the Sidonians revolted and Nectanebo duly sent 4,000 Greek mercenaries to Sidon. They were commanded by one of the best Greek generals, Mentor of Rhodes, who had been forced to flee to Egypt after he had joined a failed revolt against the Persians.

However, in the Autumn of 343 BC, the Persian king returned and was successful in penetrating northern Egypt, after having whittled down Egypt's potential allies. Greek mercenaries fought for both Egypt and Persia and it was with some 20,000 Greeks, forming about one-fifth of his army, that Nectanebo II stood at Pelusium in the eastern Delta. Regrettably, the Greek generalship on the Persian side outflanked the Egyptians, and Pelusium fell, followed by other Delta strongholds.

This time there was no inundation that served Nectanebo I so well, and Nectanebo II was driven out of Memphis. He apparently retreated to Upper (southern) Egypt where he was able to stage a short-lived revival after Artaxerxes returned home at the end of the campaigning season. However, the Persians returned, and Nectanebo II was eventually forced to retreat further southwards into Nubia, where he perhaps found refuge in the Kushite court.

Nectanebos II's sarcophagus now in the British Museum

His unused sarcophagus of black granite, finely carved all over with texts and scenes from the Book of What is in the Underworld, was later used as a ritual bath in Alexandria from where it eventually made its way to the British Museum, a mute monument to the last truly Egyptian king of ancient times.

A curious postscript to Nectanebo II is a medieval legend (recounted in the 'Alexander Romance'). This tells how Nectanebo was said to have fled to the Macedonian court (i.e. to the anti-Persain faction). There he was recognized as a great Egyptian magician, and attracted the attentions of the Macedonian king's (Philip II's) wife Olympias, becoming the unbeknown father of Alexander the Great, thus continuing in due course the pharaoh-bred line legend for Alexander. Though doubtless a fabrication, it may very well explain why Nectanebo II's sarcophagus was made a shrine.






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None Stated

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