Why did the Libyans invade ancient Egypt?


In older times, up to the early New Kingdom, there are various reports of armed conflicts between Egyptians and Libyans (Ṯḥnw or. Ṯmḥw), especially about raids by the Egyptians. Conversely, the Libyans do not appear to have been a threat to Egypt at the time.

In the New Kingdom - at the same time as the Sea Peoples - new tribes are mentioned in the sources: since Amenophis III. the Meshvesh, since → Ramses II. the Libu, very occasionally also a few others. These tribes seem to pose an increasing threat to Egypt itself. There is at least one pictorial reference to this from the Amarna period, a papyrus from Amarna painted with battle scenes, including a Libyan who attacks or kills an Egyptian (Parkinson / Schofield 1993). A few decades later, Seti I led a campaign against the Libyans, of which a conventional “representation of triumph” has been preserved (Kitchen 1975, 20-24). Ramses II conquered or occupied part of northern Libya and had several forts built on the Mediterranean coast; The western delta was presumably also secured (Kitchen 1976; 473-475; Snape 1997; ders. 1998; ders. 2003; Morris 2005, 615; 621-645.).

His successor → Merenptah will succeed in his year 5 a great victory against the Libyans and the tribes of the sea peoples allied with them. The inscriptions that tell us about this victory (Kitchen 1982, 2-23; Manassa 2003) - and in which the word "Israel" is used for the first time (Kitchen 1982, 19, 7) - also provide some information about the prehistory of the Battle: Libyans had repeatedly penetrated far into Lower Egypt and were able to stay there for a long time. This could indicate that the Egyptians suffered defeats in the first years of Merenptah or perhaps in the last few years → Ramses II and were no longer able to protect their borders. About the events in the troubled times after Merenptah up to Ramses III. there is little news. In the Harris I papyrus (76.11-77.2; Grandet 1994, I, 337) it is reported in retrospect that Libu and Meshvesh had penetrated far into the Egyptian heartland and plundered there for years.

Under → Ramses III. the Libyans are defeated in two great battles in year 5 (Kitchen 1983a, 10-27) and in year 11 (ibid, 54-71). In the year 11 they also take their families and herds with them, apparently an attempt to take the land by force. Many of the prisoners are settled in mercenary colonies and fortresses, they have to learn Egyptian and serve in the Egyptian army (Kitchen 1983a, 24.1-3; 91.5-7; Grandet 1994, I, 337); Ramesses II had already proceeded similarly (Yoyotte 1949, 63; 65, pl. VI). Nevertheless, the danger emanating from Libya is by no means averted: Ramses III. had to have the temples fortified in spite of his victories in order to ward off “foreigners” and Libyans who “had crossed their traditional borders” (Grandet 1994, 305 = pHarris I, 57.13; 58.6).

Under Ramses IV. - XI. there are no more inscriptions about fighting against Libyans; In Theban papyri, however, there are repeated references to the presence of hostile Libyans even in Thebes (Yoyotte 1961, 148 note 3; Jansen-Winkeln 2002, 135-9), e.g. in the year 1 Ramses ’VI. (Kitchen 1983b, 342f), in the years 8-15 Ramses ’IX. (ibid, 563-564; 609; 637-638; 643) and in the year 3 Ramses ’X. (ibid, 687f). The intruders are referred to as Libu, Meshvesh or simply as "foreigners" (ch3stjw) designated. The latter has led to the fact that they are often seen in literature as (marauding) "desert dwellers" or Bedouins, but there can be no question of that (in Thebes in Upper Egypt); they are undoubtedly Libyan warriors, either invaders or insurgent mercenaries.

Very few sources exist for the epoch following the New Kingdom, the 21st Dynasty, the most important of which are the royal tombs in Tanis and the collective and reburial burials in Thebes (which often contain dates). There is almost no news about political events, one has to rely on indirect conclusions. First of all, it is clear that the 21st Dynasty is not, as variously claimed, a kind of conclusion to the New Kingdom, but something completely new. The ruling family is different (the family connection to the Ramessid royal house, which is often assumed in the literature, is unfounded), as is the organization of rule: Lower Egypt is ruled by a king who is also high priest of Amun of Tanis, while Upper Egypt has a regent who is also supreme Military commander and high priest of Amun of Thebes and often adopts royal attributes. Officially, the god Amun is the actual king and gives his instructions at festivals through (barque) oracles ("Theban divine state"). The capital is therefore Thebes, but the rulers often appear in the fortress as well el-Hība [el-Hiba] to reside on the northern edge of their domain. The burial customs of kings and the upper class change radically, as do other behaviors such as naming or the position of women (the upper class).

Overall, the conditions of the 21st dynasty almost completely correspond to those of the documented Libyan 22nd and 23rd dynasties (approx. 945-720 BC). And since several people in the ruling family of the 21st dynasty already have Libyan names, the inevitable conclusion is that the rule of the Libyans in Egypt did not begin with the 22nd, but with the 21st dynasty. How it came about is, however, in the dark; we only know that the new rulers were reigning in Upper Egypt in the time of Ramses ’XI. began and was preceded by a war in Egypt; this can be deduced from references in the Theban “grave robber papyri” (Jansen-Winkeln 1992, 26-31). According to the character of ancient Egyptian sources, any news that would inform about events such as the beginning of foreign rule or the overthrow of a dynasty are not to be expected. In the 21st dynasty itself there are virtually no sources on political history; what is available is enough to put the Upper and Lower Egyptian rulers in chronological order.

In the 22nd Dynasty the structure of Libyan rule emerges more clearly in the sources for the lower Egyptian area. They show that there are a number of local principalities there who are subordinate to a “grand duke” of the respective Libyan tribe (often depicted with the “chief's pen”), and this is at the same time the highest military and spiritual authority, i.e. high priest of the respective main cult (yoyotte 1961, 139, § 21-22); This means that the property of the temples, which was necessary to supply his troops, is also subordinate to him. The king apparently only exercises a rather loose supremacy. Upper Egypt, on the other hand, is ruled by a military commander and high priest, as in the 21st dynasty, for which the king appoints one of his sons in the early 22nd dynasty. The different forms of government in Lower and Upper Egypt since the beginning of the 21st Dynasty are probably due to the different population structure: The main settlement areas of the Libyans who came to Egypt in the New Kingdom and later were the Nile Delta, the oases and the area of ​​Herakleopolis, not Upper Egypt (Leahy 1985, 55-56; Jansen-Winkeln 2001, 169-70). This area, in which predominantly Egyptians lived, was controlled by the Libyan rulers through numerous fortresses, and the nominal rule by the divine kingship of Amun served as ideological support. It is noticeable that the civil administration of the New Kingdom has almost completely disappeared. A duality of Libyan warriors and Egyptian priests has developed in the upper class, with the priests as "scribes" also being responsible for administration.

From the later 9th century onwards, tendencies towards the establishment of new and competing ruling houses ("23rd Dynasty") became apparent. An inscription expressly speaks of prolonged civil wars, in which it was apparently a matter of rule over Thebes (Caminos 1958). Rivalries between the various principalities and increasing fragmentation through wars and inheritance divisions are also to be assumed for Lower Egypt. Incidentally, it is noteworthy that the Libyan rulers openly portray themselves as Libyans (e.g. with a chief's pen) even in the late Third Intermediate Period, centuries after the beginning of their rule.

Shortly before 750 BC Under unknown circumstances, Upper Egypt came under the rule of the Nubian kings residing in Napata (in today's Sudan). At the same time, the high priest of Amun loses his dominant position. From now on, the spiritual head of Upper Egypt is the “wife of God” of Amun, a celibate princess who has to adopt her successor.

From the Nubian king Pianchi (→ Pije / Pianchi) northern Egypt is also temporarily subjugated, from his successor → Schabaka finally. However, the local rulers are by no means eliminated or completely disempowered, the "feudal rule" of Libyan princes continues even under the supremacy of the Nubians; on Pianchi's victory stele (next to himself) no fewer than four kings and eleven ruling princes are listed. This does not change even among his successors: → Sennacherib reports on the occasion of the battle of → Elteke (701) that → Hezekiah “the kings of Egypt” and called the troops of the king of Nubia to help, and the Assyrian king took on this occasion "the charioteers and the sons of the kings of Egypt" and "The charioteers of the king of Nubia" caught (Frahm 1997, 54; 59). From the Assyrian point of view, the enemy is treated as a kind of coalition. Even during the time of the Assyrian conquests in Egypt under → Asarhaddon and → Assurbanipal, the delta princes are represented as acting independently in terms of foreign policy.

The 26th dynasty (664-525 BC) itself emerged from the Libyan dynasty of Sais, but its first king, → Psammetich I, eliminated the Libyan feudal rule right at the beginning of his rule; the independent local princes are replaced by royal functionaries. The uprisings against Persian rule in Egypt in the 5th century, led by apparently Libyan princes in the western Nile Delta, show that a certain tradition continued in the Libyan-populated areas. In the oases, too, there were Libyan "kings" up to the 4th century.

At least since the 21st dynasty, the beginning of their rule in Egypt, the Libyans (at least the upper class that we only perceive) have adopted the Egyptian religion. No upheavals whatsoever are discernible in this area, and only minor traces of Libyan influence can be identified (Vittmann 2003, 19-20). Since most of our sources come from the religious field (temples and graves), not from settlements, the typically Libyan of this time remains largely hidden from us. A very clear indication of different ideas, however, are the funeral customs, which changed radically after the end of the New Kingdom (Leahy 1985, 61; Jansen-Winkeln 2001, 161). Apparently the Libyans did not care about monumental graves. Apart from that, almost nothing is known about their everyday culture, customs and dress: Strangely enough, Libyans are in front at the beginning of their reign in Egypt was depicted more often than afterwards. We hardly know anything about their language either. Despite their centuries-long rule, only a few personal names and very few titles and designations have survived in Egyptian transcription. In Egyptian literature, however, they have left a clear mark: Several demotic stories handed down from Ptolemaic and Roman times, which take place in the late Third Intermediate Period ("Petubastis Cycle"), speak of ongoing, sometimes tournament-like battles between the princes and their followers . Such an “aristocratic heroic epic” was completely alien to older Egypt; it undoubtedly reflects the imagination of the Libyan warrior class (Quack 2005, 60).

Even if only a few features of the Libyan culture are recognizable, Egypt of the 1st millennium BC has politically ruled them. Chr. Profoundly shaped.

Literature research Index Theologicus

Literature research Biblical Bibliography Lausanne

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