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The Victory Stele of Piankhy

Victory Stele of Piankhy

Brian Yare

June 2000

"We have accurate knowledge of Egyptian history from the time of Psammetichus onward." Herodotus, The Histories, II, 154. This statement, made some 2400 years ago, is still true today. Before the reign of Psammetichus, the second king of Dynasty XXVI, in 664BC, we can only date approximately. Most dates used in this essay are those given by Kitchen, although other sources are in general agreement.

King Piankhy of Dynasty XXV, also known variously as Py, Piye and Piankh, reigned in Nubia for about 31 years between 747 and 716BC. He was the son of King Kashta and Pebatma, and married his sister, Peksater, and four other wives. His family tree is shown in Appendix 1. The only notable Piankhy in history may have been a son of Herihor at the end of the 20th Dynasty.

Egypt had lost control of Nubia in the 20th Dynasty. A power centre then developed at Napata. The Nubians there preferred as a model the culture of the Old and Middle Kingdoms, and this is shown in their art and tombs.

Towards the end of the 8th Century BC, Egypt had grown so fragmented that the rulers at Napata sought to assert some control over it. In about 727, Piankhy began the absorption of Egypt. At that time, Tefnakhte, a ruler of various nomes in the western delta, advanced southward with a large army. Piankhy responded by marching his troops northward. The Victory Stela tells the story.

Piankhy’s Victory Stela, a large, round-topped stela of grey granite, was discovered in 1862 in the ruins of the temple of Amun at Nepata, the capital of Nubia at the foot of Gebel Barkal. This New Kingdom temple was much enlarged by Piankhy. The stela measures 1.80 by 1.84 metres, is 0.43 metres thick and weighs about 2300 kilograms. It is inscribed on all four sides, with a total of 159 horizontal lines of hieroglyphs. It is now in the Cairo Museum, but not pictured in the main catalogue.

The relief at the top shows Amun enthroned on the left, with Mut standing behind him and Piankhy before him. Behind Piankhy, King Namart of Hermopolis leads a horse. His wife is with him. Below them in the next register, the figures of Kings Osorkon IV, Iuput II and Peftuaubast are prostrate. Behind them, kissing the ground, are five other rulers, Prince Pediese and four Libyan chiefs of Meshwesh: Patjenfi, Pemai, Akanosh and Djedamenefankh.

The stela is dated to year 21, first month of the first season. Tefnakte was in control of the western delta as far south as Itj-tawy (el-Lisht), south of Memphis, and sailed south with a large army. He met no opposition until he reached Hnes (Heracleopolis, U20), which he besieged.

Then the Ethiopian commanders in Upper Egypt, Purema and Lamersekni, who were loyal to Piankhy, wrote to him asking for help. Piankhy replied, ordering them to fight with all their forces, and to beset the Hare nome (U15). Piankhy sent an army to Egypt. He ordered it to fight, in the name of Amun, but only when the enemy is ready. This army sailed north to Thebes, capturing many troops and ships on the way. After great religious ceremonies at Thebes, they proceeded towards Hnes and challenged Tefnakte’s army to battle. That army included King Namart (U15) and King Iuput, Shoshenq of Per-Usirnebdjedu (Busiris, L9), Djedamenefankh of Per-Banedjedet (Mendes, L16) and his son, commander of Per-Thoth-Weprehwy (Hermopolis Parva, L15), Prince Bakennefi and his son Nesnaisu of Hesbu (L11) and King Osorkon IV of Perbast (Bubastis). Piankhy prevailed, his troops slaughtering many men and troops, and King Namart fled to Hermopolis Magna, which was besieged by Piankhy’s troops.

Piankhy was concerned that some of the enemy troops had escaped. He swore that he would go north himself the following year. Piankhy’s army in Egypt then took Permedjed (U19), "the Crag Great of Victories" (Ta-tehan, U18) and Hut-benu (U18). This was not sufficient and, on day 9 of the first month of the first season, he sailed north to Thebes. He told his troops there, "It is a year for making an end, for putting the fear of me in Lower Egypt, and inflicting on them a great and severe beating!"

After many days, Hermopolis Magna was ready to submit. Namart surrendered and paid tribute. Piankhy was particularly annoyed to find that Namart’s horses were unfed, and reprimanded him.

Then Peftuaubast, ruler of Hnes, came to Piankhy bearing tribute and praising Piankhy.

Piankhy sailed north again to Rehone (el-Lahun), which submitted immediately. Next Mer-Atum (Meidum in the Fayyum) was approached and yielded. Then Itj-tawy, where Piankhy made a great sacrifice to the gods of the town.

Memphis closed its gates, and was reinforced by the Chief of Sais (Tefnakhte) with 8000 troops. Piankhy saw that the city was well defended. He captured every ship in the harbour. Then he ordered his troops to enter the city across the river. They did, slaying many and taking many captives. An alternative interpretation, Hall’s, is that the river was high and the shipping of the town lay high alongside the river-wall. Piankhy embarked his army on his own ships, moored them alongside those of the enemy, boarded them and passed over them to the wall. “So Memphis was taken as by a flood of water; a multitude of people were slain therein and [many were] brought as living captives to the place where His Majesty was. And afterwards, at dawn of the next day, His Majesty sent men into it, to protect the temples of the god.”

King Iuput, Akanosh and Prince Pediese then surrendered, bearing tribute. All the nearby towns opened their gates to Piankhy. Piankhy then proceeded east and visited the sanctuaries of Heliopolis. He performed rituals at the temple of Re, including visiting the Pyramidion House and resealing it afterwards. King Osorkon IV then surrendered to him.

Prince Pediese invited Piankhy to Athribes to select tribute and make offerings to the gods. Then most of the other northern rulers also invited Piankhy to take tribute. Tefnakhte had occupied the town of Mesed to the north. Piankhy’s troops captured the town, slaying the inhabitants, and Piankhy gave the town to Pediese as a gift.

Tefnakhte then announced his submission and offered tribute. Piankhy was satisfied. Finally Hut-Sob (Crocodilopolis in the Fayyum) and Meten (L22) submitted. All Egypt was now under his control. King Namart was invited into the palace because he was clean and did not eat fish, while Peftuaubast, Iuput II and Osorkon IV remained outside. After this final meeting, Piankhy’s ships were filled with all the tribute, and he sailed south again.

On returning to Napata, Piankhy inaugurated a vast building programme at Gebel Barkal. The original temple of Seti I and Ramesses II was enclosed in a wall, an extra hall was built next to the sanctuary, and 2 new pylons and courtyards were added. Scenes on the courtyard walls are almost identical to some on the Victory Stela, even down to the spelling mistakes. There is a fragment of a scene showing Piankhy running alongside an Apis bull. This is indicative of a Sed-festival, which would normally have been in the king’s 30th year. While only year 24 is attested, on a stela from Dakhla Oasis in the Western Desert, it is thought that Piankhy continued to reign, as King of Upper Egypt, as long as 30 or even 40 years. 31 years seems to be generally accepted for his reign, and it is thought that he never returned north to Egypt. Kitchen considers also a chronology two years lower, with Piankhy dying in 714BC.

Robert Morkot, supporting a lower chronology for the Third Intermediate Period (TIP), suggests that the temple works were started much earlier in Piankhy’s reign. He proposes that the campaign against Tefnakhte took place in years 3 and 4 or perhaps in year 12. The temple extensions could then have been completed in year 21, at which time the stela was erected in the courtyard. A number of stela fragments have been found: one is in Berlin, one in Cairo and another found by Reisner is at an unspecified location. These suggest that there was a second historical stela indicating that a campaign took place in years 3 and 4. A further sandstone stela has been found at Gebel Barkal and this also supports an early invasion.

In Centuries of Darkness, James et al. suggest that the Osorkon IV and Iuput II defeated by Piankhy could actually be Osorkon III and Iuput I. This would simplify the chronology of the TIP by eliminating 2 kings, and shorten Dynasty XXII. These suggestions are refuted by Kitchen

The Victory Stela is such a wonderful historical document that it is difficult to believe it refers to events 17 or 9 years earlier. In my opinion, it was written soon after the events that it relates, and the conquests of Piankhy probably took place in his year 20. The events related confirm Horodotus when he talks about a dodekarchy in Egypt, although the exact number of simultaneous rulers is unclear. In Hall’s words, The whole story is told with a certain naïvetéand obvious truth which differentiates it from other official inscriptions. The Nubian king is much more human than any of his predecessors since Thothmes III.

As for international trade under Piankhy, there are no records. His successors, particularly Taharqa, traded with Phoenicia, as did the rulers in Lower Egypt before him.

Appendix 1 - Dynasty XXV

Nomen, reign and relationship Prenomen(s) Horus Name
Alara, c780-760    
Kashta, c760-747
brother of Alara
Piankhy, 747-716
son of Kashta and Pebatma
Shabako, 716-702
brother of Piankhy
Neferkare Sebeqtowe
Shebitku, 702-690
son of Piankhy and Peksater
Djedkare Djedkha
Taharqa, 690-664
son of Piankhy
Nefertumkhure Qakhau
Tantamani, 664-656
son of Shebitku
Bakare Wahmerit

Appendix 2 - The Nomes of Lower Egypt (Kuhrt, 1995)

Appendix 3 - The Nomes of Upper Egypt



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