Egypt: Tanwetamani (Tantamani), The Last Nubian King of Egypt And the Looting of the Temple of Amun at Thebes

Tanwetamani (Tantamani), The Last Nubian King of Egypt And the Looting of the Temple of Amun at Thebes

by Jimmy Dunn

Tanwetamani (Assyrian Tandamane or Tantamani, Greek Tementhes, also known as Tanutamun) was Egypt's last ruler of the 25th Dynasty as well as the last Nubain (Kushite) Ruler, ruling from about 664 to 657 BC. We are told his throne name was Ba-ka-re, meaning "Glorious is the Soul of Re". He succeeded Taharqa, though he was probably the son of that king's sister, queen Qalhata. His succession to the throne is recorded in a record known as the Dream Stela, not to be confused with that of Tuthmosis IV. It was discovered along with the Victory Stela of Piye at Gebel Barkal in 1862, and now resides in the Nubian Museum in Aswan.

Tanwetamani may have served as a co-regent with Taharqa, but his parentage and family relationships are difficult. From his stela we find depicted two women, one of whom is referred to as "the royal sister, the Mistress of Egypt, Qalhata", while the other is "the royal sister, the Mistress of Ta-Seti, Pi-(ankh)-Arty". An analysis of the text associated with the stela would seem to indicate that Qalhata was Tanwetamani's mother, while the second woman was his wife. The fact that Qalhata was his mother is also supported by her tomb at Nuri in the modern Sudan, where she is given the title of "King's Mother". Foundation deposits also show that the tomb was build during the reign of Tanwetamani.

Of his father, K.A. Kitchen provides:

"The parentage of Tantamani is not absolutely certain; the 'Rassam Cylinder' of Assurbanipal calls him 'son of Shabaku', while Cylinder B makes him 'the son of his (Taharqa's) sister', cited above. It would be possible for Tantamani to have been a son of Shabako by an elder sister of Taharqa. This solution, however, would make Tantamani the son of an uncle/niece marriage; and most scholars prefer - perhaps correctly - to take the Assyrian 'Shabaku' as intended (or an error) for Shibitku. As the latter was a brother of Taharqa, Tantamani would then have beena the offspring of a brother/sister match precisely like the marriages of Alara and Kasaqa, Kashta and Pebatma, Piankhy and three of his five wives, and Taharqa and two wives. So, provisionally, I adopt this latter solution here." TIP 121

Therefore, most recent histories which discuss the 25th dynasty identify Tanwetamani (Urdamani) as a son of Shabataka, Taharqa's brother, not of his uncle Shabaka as the Rassam cylinder annalist appears to suggest.. The errant orthography can be explained by the fact that the name Shabaka is more properly vocalized as Shebitku. If so then the "t" in the doubled consonant "tk" in the name of Shebitku would easily be lost to a foreign ear. The annalist wrote what he heard and recorded Shabataku instead of Shabitku.

In the narrative of his stela, the king is referred to as "lord of valor like Montu, great of strength like a fierce-eyed lion". It goes on to explain that in the first year of his reign, Tanwetamani had a dream of two serpents, one on his right hand and one on his left. After waking, the king's advisors interpreted the dream, saying that, "the southland is already thin, seize the northland". Hence, he should bring Egypt back under control of the Kushite empire. After this passage, another states that Tanwetamani then "rose on the throne of Horus", a term which may be interpreted as his having ascended the throne. This is the primary evidence we have for his co-regency with Taharqa, but we are also told that Assyrian text provides that he did not do so until after Taharqa's death.

Gebel Barkal in the  modern Sudan

We assume that at the time of his accession, Tanwetamani was most likely inside Egypt proper, for the text on the stela states that "he went from where he was to Napata (Nubia), and there was none who stood up to oppose him". Hence, he went to the Temple of Amun and was acknowledged as god and king.

Other text within the stela confirms that he was at this time in control of southern, or Upper Egypt, but at the very least was not in control of parts of the north. After ascending the throne, he went north from Nubia, first stopping at Elephantine where he participated in a festival procession of the God Khnum. From there he sailed further north to Waset (Thebes) where he once again participated in the festival. However, after this, he goes further north to Memphis, where we learn that:

"the sons of revolt rushed forth to fight against his majesty. His majesty made a great slaughter amongst them, and it was not know how many of them were killed."

Nekau of Sais may have been killed in this battle, but his son, Psamtek, who was loyal to the Assyrians fled to Asia. After this victory, Tanwetamani honored the God, Ptah-Sokar and his wife Sakhmet in the great temple of Memphis, and afterwards ordered the building of a chapel dedicated to Amun at Napata in Nubia. The temple, we know, was to be built of stone overlaid with gold, sections of cedar wood and the leaves of the door plated with electrum. This temple may be associated with parts of the great temple of Amun at Gebel Barkal.

Afterwards, he prepared to attack the Delta:

"His majesty sailed down the river...and he did battle with the princes of the Northland and they went into their huts as rats go into their holes. And his majesty passed many days by them, and not one of them came forth to do battle with his majesty; and his majesty made a sailing up the river to Memphis and he sat down in his palace to think out and plan how he could make his soldiers surround them with mounds. And one said to him: 'These princes have come to where the sovereign is.' And his majesty said, 'Have they come to do battle? Or have they come to pay fealty to me? If they come to pay fealty, they live from this hour'. They said before his majesty: 'They have come to pay fealty to the sovereign, our lord.'


His majesty said, 'Where are they at this moment?' They said 'They wait standing in the court.' Then his majesty went forth from his house and his appearance was like the shining of Re upon the horizon, and he found them prostrate upon their bellies, smelling the earth before him."

Tanwetamani apparently spared the lives of the Delta princes, sending them home, but this victory was short lived. The Assyrians mustered their army and we find the son of Nekau telling us that: "In my second campaign, I made straight for Egypt and Kush. Tandamani heard of my campaign and that I trod the soil of Egypt. He abandoned Memphis and fled to Thebes to save his life. The kings, princes and mayors whom I had set up in Egypt came and kissed my feet. I took the road after Tandamani and marched to Thebes, his stronghold. He saw the approach of my terrible battle array and he fled to Kipkip. Thebes in its entirety I captured with the help of Assur and Ishtar. Silver, gold, precious stones, all the possessions of his palace, many colored clothing, linen, great horses, two obelisks of electrum, the door posts of the temple door I took from their bases and removed to Assyria. Great booty, beyond counting, I took away from Thebes. Against Egypt and Kush I let my weapons rage and I showed my might." The "door posts of the temple" may refer to the great gate of electrum erected by Tuthmosis IV and renewed by Shabaka. This attack on Thebes was one of the great tragedies of the ancient world, and was remembered by a Jewish prophet fifty years later:

"Will you fare better than No-Amon? - She that lay by the streams of the Nile, surrounded by water, whose rampart was the Nile, waters her wall; Kush and Egypt were her strength, and it was boundless. Punt and the Libyans brought her help. Yet she to became an exile and went into captivity. Her infants too were dashed to the ground at every street corner. Her nobles were shared out by lot, and all her great men were thrown into chains."

Interestingly, Tanwetamani seems to have continued to be acknowledged as pharaoh in Thebes until his eighth year. There are inscriptions at Luxor that date the installation of priests by his name and the Kushites still maintained a large official presence in the city. Piye's daughter, Shepenwepet II we know as God's Wife of Amun, with Taharqa's daughter, Amenirdis II as her designated successor. Even in year none of Tanwetamani's reign, his cousin remained the High Priest of Amun, and we have other evidence of the Kushite's continued power within the region.

The Necropolis of Nuri in  Nubia

It is possible that Tanwetamani one again tried to assert control over Egypt, though the evidence is slight. In a brief passage in the work of Polyaenus from a 2nd Century (AD) text, we hear of a later battle near the temple of Isis at Memphis that may have involved Tanwetamani. He states that Psamtik, aided by Carian mercenary troops, defeated "Tementhes". A few Egyptologist believe, based on a hellenistic Jewish source, that Tanwetamani may have even retaken Memphis, but much of this is conjecture.

In any case, Tanwetamani probably continued to rule in Nubia for at least a few more years, and was buried in the necropolis at Nuri.


Title Author Date Publisher Reference Number
Black Pharaohs, The: Egypt's Nubian Rulers Morkot, Robert G. 2000 Rubicon Press, The ISBN 0-948695-23-4
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
Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The Shaw, Ian 2000 Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-815034-2