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Egypt’s 26th Dynasty: Egyptians’ Last Golden Age

A summary of Ancient Egypt’s 26th dynasty and its last Golden Age.

Egypt’s 26th dynasty (624-525 B.C.E.) marked the last time Egypt had any independent influence in the ancient world. The Saite Pharaohs established Egypt as an economic, cultural, and military force in the Middle Eastern and the eastern Mediterranean areas. Often lost in the annuals of history due to the grandeur of older Egyptian times, the 26th dynasty preserved Egyptian civilization for a few more years and gave historians today a broader base of knowledge about Egypt.   

In the years before 664 B.C.E., the Assyrian empire had conquered Egypt. From 700 B.C.E. on, Egypt and Assyria had fought many battles across Egypt, leading to the sack of Memphis. The fighting ended when the Assyrians destroyed the Temple of Amun at Thebes. However, the Assyrians didn’t control the Egyptians with an iron fist. They set up satellite kings to rule over the country. These kings became known as the Saite pharaohs, from their capital at Sais in the Nile Delta. It was the first pharaoh of this dynasty, Psamtek I, who overthrew the Assyrians in 654 B.C.E. and founded the Late Period and the 26th dynasty.

Psamtek I had many problems to solve upon gaining the throne, even with the Assyrians gone. Egypt had not been united since the days of the 20th dynasty and the Ramesside era. Psamtek I had gained control of Lower Egypt before he defeated the Assyrians, as they thought he was still their puppet king. He gained control of Upper Egypt by using diplomacy to bring many minor princes under his rule. The power-center of the south, the Temple of Amun-Ra at Thebes, was brought under control by naming one of Psamtek I’s daughters the “god’s wife of Amun.” This consolidation allowed the Saites to concentrate on controlling Egypt and protecting its borders.

The Saite dynasty also elevated Neith to chief goddess of Egypt as another way to weaken the power of the Priests of Amun-Ra. Neith, the goddess of hunting and the waters of creation, was the main deity of Seis. The pharaohs of the 26th dynasty built the “Mansion of Neith” at Seis, with altars dedicated to other classical Egyptian. With the change in religion came a change in burial practices. The 26th dynasty pharaohs were buried in simple chapel tombs outside of the Temple of Neith. These tombs lacked grave goods, in contrast to earlier Egyptian tombs.

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