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Until now, the function of tower houses within a predominantly rural society has been discussed. This chapter illustrates how they were equally urban phenomena, present in pre-modern towns and cities. Their functions in these urban landscapes were different to their roles in the rural environment. In towns they operated as merchant residences, business venues and extensions of commerce. New evidence is provided for a public role for urban tower houses, reminding us that we cannot simply view fortifications as a communal–private dichotomy.

in The Irish tower house
Foreign relations and internal reforms

Psamtek I successfully resisted an incursion by western tribesmen in his early years, and by the end of his reign he was successfully campaigning in the Levant against the Babylonian Empire, the new powerful force in the east. During his fifty-four-yearreign Psamtek reformed the political landscape of Egypt, politically reunifying the country and reforming the administration. This reforming spirit of times was also reflected in art and architecture, and one of the most salient features of the culture of this period is archaism. Standards of workmanship in the visual arts, particularly in sculpture, was high. There was a nationwide temple-building and renovation programme, and monumental elite tombs were now being constructed, such as that of Montuemhat, Mayor of Thebes. Changes in funerary practices were evident and the cult of divine animals underwent a considerable degree of development and proliferation.

in Egypt of the Saite pharaohs, 664–525 BC

This volume discusses the history, culture and social conditions of one of the less well-known periods of ancient Egypt, the Saite or 26th Dynasty (664–525 BC). In the 660s BC Egypt was a politically fragmented and occupied country. This is an account of how Psamtek I, a local ruler from Sais in northern Egypt, declared independence from its overlord, the Assyrian Empire, and within ten years brought about the reunification of the country after almost four hundred years of disunity and periods of foreign domination. Over the next century and a half, the Saite rulers were able to achieve stability and preserve Egypt’s independence as a sovereign state against powerful foreign adversaries. Central government was established, a complex financial administration was developed and Egypt’s military forces were reorganised. The Saites successfully promoted foreign trade, peoples from different countries settled in Egypt and Egypt recovered a prominent role in the Mediterranean world. There were innovations in culture, religion and technology, and Egypt became prosperous. This era was a high-achieving one and is often neglected in the literature devoted to ancient Egypt. Egypt of the Saite Pharaohs, 664–525 BC reveals the dynamic nature of the period, the astuteness of the Saite rulers and their considerable achievements in the political, economic, administrative and cultural spheres.

The last Saite ruler, Psamtek III

Soon after the death of Ahmose II, the Persian Empire, which had been increasing in size and power for a number of years, invaded Egypt. Ahmose’s son, Psamtek III, the new ruler of Egypt, fought the Persians, under Cambyses II at Pellusium. The Egyptians retreated and following a siege at Memphis were defeated and Psamtek was taken prisoner. Cambyses conquered Egypt, sent expeditions to the oases, campaigned in Nubia and consolidated his control over the whole country. The celebrated statue of Udjahorresnet, an Egyptian naval officer and dignitary, who served under both Ahmose II and Cambyses II, provides information for this period. Psamtek III reputedly committed suicide following a failed attempt to foment a rebellion against the Persian occupiers. In 525 BC Cambyses was declared King of Egypt and incorporated Egypt into the Persian empire. The Saite Period was over and Egypt was an occupied country.

in Egypt of the Saite pharaohs, 664–525 BC
Civil war to prosperity

Psamtek II was succeeded in 589 BC by his son, Haaibra (Apries), who had to deal with a number of international challenges. The Egyptians were defeated when attempting to lift the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, and again defeated when trying to prevent the expansion of the Greek colony of Cyrene. This latter engagement led to a revolt among the defeated Egyptian troops, resulting in civil war and the replacement of Haaibra by a general, Ahmose, who was later declared king. The forty-four-year rule of Ahmose (Amasis) was one of the notable periods in ancient Egyptian history which benefited from a peaceful and stable international scene. Ahmose forged a number of international alliances, he placed renewed emphasis on trade at Naukratis, further developed the oases and undertook massive building projects. There was economic and administrative reorganisation within the country which included the strengthening of the customs administration and greater tax control over the assets of the individual. The numerous economic and commercial reforms contributed to a growing prosperity in Egypt.

in Egypt of the Saite pharaohs, 664–525 BC
Nekau II and Psamtek II

Nekau II, Psamtek I’s son, inherited the throne in 610 BC and continued the Egyptian policy of campaigning against the Babylonians in the Near East. After initial victories, Nekau was defeated at Carchemish in 605 BC and the Egyptians withdrew back to Egypt, losing all their possessions in the Levant. Nekau then concentrated on building up a navy, and Herodotus records that he built a canal to the Red Sea and sent a naval expedition around Africa. Nekau was succeeded by his son, Psamtek II, who sent an army to Nubia to crush the Kushites and undertook a seemingly peaceful expedition to Syria–Palestine, possibly in an attempt to reassert Egyptian claims to Syria–Palestine. Early suggestions that Psamtek directed a damnatio memoriae against his father, Nekau, for surrendering Egyptian territorial possessions in the Levant appear unsubstantiated and probably more a policy of usurpation of some of Nekau’s monuments to promote his own rule.

in Egypt of the Saite pharaohs, 664–525 BC

The kingdom of Kush rose to power and dominated Nubia in the eighth century BC, and then went on to conquer and rule Egypt as the 25th Dynasty. Egyptian-Kushite commercial activity in the Levant brought them into conflict with the Assyrian Empire, the dominant force in the Near East at that time. Subsequent clashes between the Assyrians and the Egyptian-Kushite forces resulted in the Assyrians, led by Esarhaddon, invading and conquering Egypt. However, once the main Assyrian forces left Egypt, the Kushites rebelled and took over Egypt once more. The Assyrians returned under Ashurbanipal, the next Assyrian ruler, on two further occasions putting down revolts, and finally drove the Kushites from Egypt in 663 BC. The Assyrians appointed local regional rulers to administer the country and Egypt became a province of the Assyrian Empire. In the Delta, the Kingdom of the West was controlled by Psamtek, following the death of his father Nekau I who had ruled the state during the Assyrian and Kushite confrontations.

in Egypt of the Saite pharaohs, 664–525 BC
Setting the scene

The opening chapter sets the scene for Egypt of the Saite Pharaohs, 664–525 BC by considering the political turmoil, disunity and events in Egypt prior to the 26th Dynasty, the Saite Period. The invasions and settlements of western tribes (‘Libyans’) into Egypt were a factor in the origin and later rise to power of the Saite rulers. The process of how the ‘Libyan’ leaders rose from being merely local chiefs in a foreign country to eventually being independent rulers of mini-states in northern Egypt is considered. In time one of these states, the Kingdom of the West, centred on Sais, developed and became the largest of these independent polities. Further expansion into the Delta and central Egypt was halted by the invasion of the Kushites from Nubia, the country to the south of Egypt, who already had some presence in the southern part of Egypt. The Kingdom of the West, although defeated, was able to retain its original territory, and its rulers later declared themselves kings and became known as the 24th Dynasty.

in Egypt of the Saite pharaohs, 664–525 BC
Reunification of Egypt

On coming to the throne of the Kingdom of the West, Psamtek began the process of reunifying Egypt. The Assyrians left in unidentified circumstances and Psamtek began to bolster his military forces by recruiting foreign mercenaries. Economically the fledgling Saite state was quite weak, and Psamtek sought to improve his economic base by establishing trading relations, particularly with the Aegeans and the Phoenicians. He expanded his power throughout the Delta, seemingly by mainly diplomatic means. In Middle Egypt Psamtek strengthened his alliances with the major power, the rulers of the Herakleopolitan kingdom who eventually recognised him as king. In the south of the country he achieved his greatest success, with the adoption of his eldest daughter, Princess Nitiqret, as heir to the powerful position of God’s Wife of Amun. In doing so he was able to return the Thebaid to Egyptian central royal authority. Within a period of about nine years Psamtek had imposed his will throughout Egypt but overall consolidation of his power and full reintegration of the state of Egypt was some time away.

in Egypt of the Saite pharaohs, 664–525 BC

The final chapter considers the significance of the 26th Dynasty in relation to the history of ancient Egypt. The dynamic nature of the period, and the achievements of the Saites in the political, economic, administrative and cultural spheres are highlighted. Far-reaching administrative changes throughout the country, changes in ownership and tenancy of land, temple reform, the introduction of Demotic, religious ideology developments are major factors during this period. On the international front, for a brief period, Egypt occupied territory in Syria–Palestine, although much of the Saite Period was a struggle against her more powerful neighbours to the east. Trade was promoted with the Greeks and Phoenicians and Egypt became part of the wide-range trading networks that linked the Mediterranean cultures. Egypt realigned itself in the Mediterranean world, heralding the Hellenistic age; a time of transformation from the Bronze Age to the Classical era.

in Egypt of the Saite pharaohs, 664–525 BC