Shabaka (Shabaqo, Shebaka), Egypt's 2nd Nubian Ruler

Shabaka (Shabaqo, shebaka), Egypt's second Nubian ruler

By Jimmy Dunn

Cartouches of Shabaka

Piye (Piankhi), the great king of Nubia who became king of Egypt, was succeeded upon his death by Shabaka (Shabaqo, Shebaka) who became the second ruler of Egypt's 25th Dynasty. There is some controversy surrounding the dates for his accession to the throne. Most scholars believe that this occurred in 715 BC. However, some specialists such as Robert G. Morkot believe the correct date to be shortly after 712 BC. We have been left with considerable information on Shabaka's wives and children. His major wife seems to have been Queen Tabakenamun, who was a king's daughter and a king's sister. She held the religious offices of Priestess of Hathor, Mistress of Tepihu (Aophroditopolis), Priestess of Hathor of Iunyt (Dendera) and Priestess of Neit. It is thought that her royal titles suggest that she was a sister/wife of the king, but her priestly offices may indicate that she was the daughter of one of the Libyan kings.

Shabaka from the naos at the temple of Esna

Another wife was Mesbat, who may have been the mother of the High Priest of Amun, Harenmakhet, as evidenced by her name on his sarcophagus. A third wife was queen Qalhata, who became the mother of Tantamani. Therefore, she is depicted on the "Dream Stela". She was very possibly the sister of Taharqo, and hence a daughter of Piye. Therefore Tantamani was probably one of Shabaka's youngest sons, and some scholars believe that besides Tantamani and Harenmakhet, Shabaka may have also been the father of his immediate successor, Shebitku, though other scholars maintain that he was actually Piye's son. It has long been thought that Shabaka was the younger brother of Piye, although there is really no direct evidence of such. This was at variance with Egyptian customs, though otherwise Piye displayed considerably respect for ancient Egyptian traditions. In fact, Shabaka continued the revival of old Egyptian traditions just as Piye before him. He even had old temple records researched in order to learn more about ancient customs.

The Shabaka Stone

One important relic of this is the Shabaka Stone, a slab of basalt now in the British Museum. Though much worn due to its later use as a millstone, on its deeply scored face it recounts that it is a copy taken from an ancient, worm-eaten papyrus discovered at Memphis and recounting the Memphite theology of the creator gods.

Though Piye changed his own titulary a number of times during his reign, Shabaka attempted to model himself upon the Old Kingdom pharaohs. His throne name was Neferkare, a name that had been used by Pepi II and many of his successors. Also in Old Kingdom style, his Horus, Two Ladies and Holden Horus names were the same, Sebaq-tawy, probably meaning "He who blesses the Two Lands".

In fact, Shabaka set about establishing himself in Egypt with his residence at Memphis. He seems to have followed the Libyan tradition of placing a son as High Priest of Amun, though he did not apparently install any daughter as the future God's Wife of Amun. Within the Saite territory, a stela of Shabaka's 4th year from Sau and other of his 6th year from the twin towns of Pe and Dep (Buto) depict the king before the city's patron deities. As in the reign of Piye, the Saites were the main opposition to Shabaka's rule in Egypt. Bakenranef, the last king of Egypt's Third Intermediate Period and the 24th Dynasty, had at leas been acknowledged in Memphis, and expanded his control across the Delta to Tanis. Apparently having ensured that his position in Kush was stable, and undoubtedly with Thebes in his hands, we believe that Shabaka must have marched northwards. However, while it would seem that Shabaka ended up with the whole of Egypt, the events surrounding his actions against the Saites has been a matter of controversy, for no clear contemporary records survive. Yet is it clear that the Nubians controlled all of Egypt from about 710 or 709 BC.

The overall control that was exerted by Shabaka south of the 24th Dynasty territory in the northern Delta is indicated by the vast array of building work that he undertook during his reign. This work was mostly performed at Thebes, on both banks of the Nile River and largely directed to the cult of Amun, but he also built at other cult centers such as Memphis (Ptah), Abydos (Osiris), Dendera (Hathor), Esna (Khnum) and Edfu (Horus). He was the first in many years to build on both sides of the Nile at Thebes. On the west bank, he enlarged the 18th Dynasty temple at Medinet Habu. On the east bank he worked at at Luxor and at Karnak, he built a structure called the "Treasury of Shabaka" between the Akh-menu and the northern enclosure wall of the Iput-isut. He also enlarged the entrance to the temple of Ptah, and it was probably Shabaka who directed building work near the future Kiosk of Taharqa, beside the sacred lake and in the precinct of Montu.

Upon Shabaka's death in about 702 BC, after a fairly lengthy reign, Shabaka was buried, like Piye, in a steep-sided pyramid at el-Kurru in Nubia. He was succeeded by Shebitku, who was either his, or Piye's son.

See also:


Title Author Date Publisher Reference Number
Chronicle of the Pharaohs (The Reign-By-Reign Record of the Rulers and Dynasties of Ancient Egypt) Clayton, Peter A. 1994 Thames and Hudson Ltd ISBN 0-500-05074-0
History of Ancient Egypt, A Grimal, Nicolas 1988 Blackwell None Stated
Monarchs of the Nile Dodson, Aidan 1995 Rubicon Press ISBN 0-948695-20-x
Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The Shaw, Ian 2000 Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-815034-2