Sheshonq I, Founder of Egypt's 22nd Dynasty

Sheshonq I, Founder of Egypt's 22nd Dynasty

by Jimmy Dunn

Cartouches of Sheshonq I

For rather obvious reasons, the 22nd Dynasty is known as the Libyan or Bubastite dynasty. All the kings of this period are listed by Manetho as being from Bubastis, a city located in the eastern Nile Delta, and their Libyan origin is evident in the founder's name, Sheshonq I (Shoshenq I). They ruled Egypt for about 200 years, beginning in 945 BC.

It was a rare occurrence for an outside military power to simply conquer Egypt, and the Libyan takeover of the country was no exception. When foreign rule of Egypt took place, it was almost always by elements who had settled in the country and it was Bubastis that the Libyans eventually dominated, creating a seat of power that would rise up to control the Two Lands. Sheshonq I was not the first Libyan to at least rule a part of Egypt, and in fact, many other Libyan names appear in official capacities before him. By the end of the New Kingdom, Libyans may have made up a majority of the Egyptian army, and by this time, Libyans constituted a substantial and influential presence in Egypt


Sheshonq I depicted on the walls at Karnak

To a certain extent, referring to the Libyans as foreign rulers of Egypt must be put into some prospective. For example, hardly anyone would say that, during the 1960s, the Irish took control of the United States, even though John Kennedy, who was of Irish decent with an obvious Irish name became president. His family had lived in the United States for many years, just as Sheshonq I's family had lived in Egypt for generations. It is likely that Sheshonq I considered himself just as much Egyptian as John Kennedy considered himself American, though perhaps both recognized their heritage.

Sheshonq was actually the son-in-law of his predecessor, Psusennes II (though some references provide that it was his son, Osorkon I, who married Psusennes II's daughter named Maatkara), and a nephew of Osorkon the elder. He had, prior to ascending the throne, the strength of the Egyptian military behind him as commander-in-chief of all the armies and was also a trusted adviser to Psusennes II. He was noted in the Theban records as "Great Chief of the Meshwesh", who originally were recruited from Libyan tribes as essentially an internal police force.

Like his predecessors, and even the Greeks who would follow him in the not so distant future, he adopted the royal Egyptian titles as his own. He choose to associate himself with the king named Smendes I from the previous dynasty, basing his titles on those of that former ruler. His birth name, Sheshonq I, and epithet (meryamun) translate as "Sheshonq, Beloved of Amun. His throne name was Hedj-kheper-re Setep-en-re, meaning "Bright is the Manifestation of Re, Chosen of Re".

Sheshonq I

Sheshonq I was known as a strong ruler who once again brought together a divided Egypt, which had been fragmented between Thebes in the South and Tanis in the north. Hence, his reign is seen as a highpoint in the otherwise bleak Third Intermediate Period. He was responsible for incorporating his sons into various high offices that allowed him to exercise specific control over important regions of the country. His son, Iuput, became Governor of Upper Egypt, High Priest of Amun and commander-in-chief of the armies, which had the effect of uniting secular and religious elements within the empire. At the same time another son named Djedptahaufankh was able to support his brother as Third Prophet of Amun, while yet another son, Nimlot, became military commander at Herakleopolis. Herakleoplis was near Thebes and this military base could keep that important region in check. He also appointed a chief of an allied Libyan tribe named Nesy as fourth prophet of Amun. Loyalty to the throne was also encouraged by allowing powerful locals to marry the daughters of the royal court. Hence, Shjeshonq I created a stable power base at home, which allowed him, after having put down a small disturbance in the Dakhla Oasis, to turn his attention towards the old Egyptian Near Eastern holdings.

After the death of Solomon in 930 BC, Judah was under the control of Rehoboam (Solomon's son), while Israel was ruled by Jeroboam I, and both of these kingdoms were attractive prospects for the new Egyptian ruler. Apparently, Jeroboam I had led an open rebellion against Solomon before his death, weakening both kingdoms. Sheshonq, known in the Hebrew Bible as Shishak, defeated both in 925 BC during a very successful campaign. In fact, one would have to look back to the reign of Ramesses III in Egypt's 20th Dynasty to find an equal to this victorious expedition. The expedition opened with an engagement in the area of Bitter Lakes against Bedouins. Afterwards, he went first against Judah, setting out from Gaza with 1,200 chariots and an army that included Libyans and Nubians. He penetrated some distance into the Negev, capturing the principal towns of Judah before he arriving at the walls of Jerusalem. He surrounded the city but was bought off by being given, according to 1 Kings 14:26, "the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the King's house; he even took away all: and he took away all the shields of gold which Solomon had made". Apparently, the only treasure that Rehoboam was able to retain was the most sacred Ark of the Covenant. Now, Sheshonq I turned his attention to Israel, forcing Jeroboam, who had once been under Sheshonq I's protection, to flee over the Jordan River. He was nevertheless captured by an Egyptian patrol. Sheshonq finally halted at Megiddo, which had been conquered by Tuthmosis III 500 years before.

There, he erected a victory stele in the manner of his predecessors before marching southwards over Mount Carmel and returning to Egypt by way of Ashkelon and Gaza. He likewise inscribed his success on the walls of the Temple of Amun at Thebes (modern Luxor). He reopened the sandstone quarries at Gebel el-Silsila for building material so that Iuput, as High Priest of Amun could build a great new court (the Babastite Portal) before the Second Pylon at Karnak. Its south outer wall was decorated with a huge relief of Sheshonq I's victories, provided through the grace of Amun. From his inscriptions at Karnak, we find at a list of cities effected by his military campaign in the Levant. Those that can be somewhat identified


Egyptian Hebrew English
rwbAty rbyt Rabbith
tAankA tank Taanakh
SAnmA Swnm Shunem
bAtySnrA bytSAn Beth Shan
rwHAbAA rHwb Rehob
HApwrwmA Hprym Hapharaim
mHAnm mHnym Machanaim
qbAaAnA gbawn Gibeon
bAtyHwArwn byt Hwrwn Beth Horon
Aywrwn Aylwn Ajalon
mkdyw mgdw Megiddo
ywdhmrwk ydhmlk
aArAnA arn Aruna
DAdptTrw zdpt Al ?
sAywkA Skh Socoh
AdmA AdmA ?
yrwDAA Yeraza
AdrAA Adr Adar
aArwdA ard Arad
anprwn ayn prn Ayn Paran

From a statue of Sheshonq I discovered in the sanctuary of the goddess Baalat-Gebal at Byblos, it also appears that this pharaoh also had a good relationship with King Abibaal. Most scholars believe that this was due to economic trade, rather than any military actions, and apparently he also established trade relationships with others in the Levant. Notably, it was during the reign of Sheshonq I, while his son Iuput was at Thebes, that many of the royal mummies in the Valley of the Kings were moved to a cache in a arge gallery just south of Deir el-Bahari, which had a few years earlier been adapted as the tomb of the late High Priest Pinudjem II

Sheshonq I's cartonnage  coffin from Tanis now in the Cairo Museum

Unfortunately for Sheshonq I, his life ended in about 924 BC, soon after the Palestinian campaigns, and with it, Egypt's new found success in the Levant. Most scholars believe that he was buried with his ancestors in the group of royal tombs at Tanis, though no specific grave has ever been discovered. He may have even been buried in his native town of Bubastis. His mummy was encased in a cartonnage and a sliver coffin, both having Horus falcon heads to identify the king with Osiris-Sokar. The only item of Sheshonq I's funerary equipment that has been unearthed is a canopic Chest, which seemed to have been modeled on an earlier 18th or 19th Dynasty type. Regrettably, this artifact first appeared on the antiquities market and there was no information on the location where it was discovered.

He was succeed by a son named Osorkon I, but he was honored by four other kings of the 22nd and 23rd Dynasty who also took his name.






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