Mentuemhet, prince of Thebes, Dyn. 25

Mentuemhet, prince of Thebes, Dyn. 25
Period:Egypt, 3rd Intermediate Period, Dynasty 25 and Contemporaries, Taharqa/Khunefertemre
Dating:690 BC–656 BC
Origin:Egypt, Upper Egypt, Thebes
Physical:12.1cm. (4.7 in.) -

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Links to others from Dynasty 25 and Contemporaries

Amulet of Duamutef, Dyn. 25
Amulet of Imsety, Dyn. 25
Bronze Imhotep seated, Dyn. 25 (?)
Bronze Nefertem pendant amulet, Dyn. 25
Bronze of a queen nursing, Dyn. 25
Bronze of King Shabaka ? as Osiris, Dyn. 25
Bronze of Ptah, Memphis, Dyn. 25
Bronze ritual pendant of Osiris, Dyn. 25
Bronze ritual pendant of Osiris, Dyn. 25
Bronze statuette of Ptah, Dyn. 25
Faience amulet of Qebhsenuef, Dyn. 25
Five Udjat eyes amulet, Dyn. 25
Horus-the-Child as Amun, 776-656 BC
Horus-the-Child, Dyn. 25, 776-656 BC
Osiris-Neper, god of agriculture, Dyn. 25
Queen Aqaluqa as Isis nursing, Dyn. 25
Queen as Goddess Neith seated, Dyn. 25106

Queen as Isis nursing, Dyn. 25
Scarab of Piankhi, Dyn. 25
Twenty-eight udjat eyes amulet, Dyn. 25
Udjat eye amulet-pendant, Dyn. 25
Udjat eye amulet-pendant, Dyn. 25

Links to others of type Statue

Granite cartouche of Akhenaten, Dyn. 18
King wearing the nemes, New Kingdom
Stone head of a man, Palmyra, 150-250 AD
Terracota votive head, Etruria, 350-300 BC
  This portrait honors Mentuemhet, Prince of the City (mayor) of Thebes and fourth Prophet of Amun around 690-656 BC. The style, intimate yet formal, exuding both strength of character and serenity, is an example of the return to Middle Kingdom aesthetics and values promoted by the Kushite kings of Dynasty 25.

“These [grand building projects] were directed by a remarkable individual named Mentuemhet. . . He and his brothers, whom Taharqa had appointed to the major priestly posts, shared power over the Theban region with the local nobility. . .” (Grimal 1994:349).

“King Taharqa's extensive works at Thebes were carried out under the direction of an extraordinary man named Mentuemhet, who held the office of ‘Prince [mayor] of the City [Thebes]' and, in effect, virtually ruled the whole of Middle Egypt. He is one of the few great officials of whom several distinctive portrait statues have survived. His tomb in the Assasif at Thebes is among the largest in the necropolis. He and his brothers, who also held high-ranking priestly offices, kept the Theban nobility in check for Taharqa” (Clayton 1994:193).

“The great noble Mentuemhet was still a major figure in Thebes in 656 BC and he allied himself with Psamtik I’s daughter, the Princess Nitocris, who had been sent south early in 656 BC to be officially adopted as Divine Adoratrice of Amun amidst great celebrations by Shepenwepet II and Amenirdis II, the two current holders of the office. Secular and religious ties were therefore effected that were to hold the state together” (Clayton 1994:195).

Taharqa’s twenty six year reign (690-664) stands out from any other in the Third Intermediate Period by the extent of the building program he implemented in the first sixteen years of his reign, and the extent of the fighting with the Assyrians in the later years.

In 701 BC King Shebitku, Taharqa’s uncle and predecessor, sent Taharqa to head a military force to support the rebellion of King Ezekiah of Judea against his Assyrian overlords. But Ezehkiah surrendered, and the Egyptians had to retreat to Egypt. Beset by matters closer to home, then by internal succession problems, the Assyrians did not pursue any pretension to Egypt for another twenty six years. This lull in the Assyrian threat allowed the newly crowned King Taharqa to devote himself to cultural issues.

Buoyed by the riches of Nubia and providential bumper crops brought by extraordinarily favorable climatological conditions, Taharqa invested considerable resources into celebrating the glory of Amun, first in his own Kingdom of Napata, but also in his Egyptian territories. Immensely respectful of Egypt’s cultural heritage, Taharqa set out to draw on the traditions of the Old and Middle Kingdoms, using new materials (previous Intermediate Period cash-strapped kings had taken to pilfering stone from older buildings) to restore and build anew. In his kingdom of Napata, he built in every important site: Sanam, Napata, Abu Dom, and Kawa. In Kawa particularly, he rebuilt and expanded on a temple complex that became the second most important in his kingdom of Napata. In Egypt, it is at Karnak that he made the greatest impact, thanks to the energy of the man he installed as Prince (mayor) of the City: the great Mentuemhet. At Karnak, the Sacred Lake structures, the kiosk in the first court, and the colonnades at the temple entrance are all owed to Taharqa and Mentuemhet. Memphis, the capital of the Old Kingdom and royal residence of Kushite kings also received much attention, paying much respect to the importance of the god Ptah, despite the Kushite’s devotion to Amun.

This devotion of Egypt’s resources towards peaceful undertakings would not last. In 674 BC, the Assyrian army first attempts to invade Egypt. Taharqa swiftly rebukes their advance, and the invaders retreat. But three years later, in 671 BC, the Assyrians try again and succeed. They take Memphis, capture the royal queen and the crown prince. Taharqa retreats south. The Assyrians install their representatives in all key positions. In Sais, Nekau swears allegiance to the Assyrians and his son is sent to Assyria for political training. As soon as the Assyrians leave, Taharqa drives his forces north and regains control of Egypt. In 667 BC, the Assyrians come back, pushing much further south this time. Taharqa flees to Napata, and the Assyrians once again get Egyptian governors to pledge allegiance to Assyria. When they leave again, several local kings and governors plot to bring Taharqa back. But this time, the Assyrians squelch the insurrection by having all plotters assassinated. The only surviving Egyptian is Nekau, who had prudently abstained from participating in the plot while his son (the future Psamtik I) was still in the hands of the Assyrians. With northern rulers no longer supportive, Taharqa abandons his hopes of ever regaining Egypt.

In 665, he appoints his cousin Tanutamun as his successor, then dies within a year.

Dynasty 25
The kings of Dynasty 25 (747-656 BC) were not from Egypt, but from the land of Kush, south of Egypt (in today’s northern Sudan). Previously invaded, colonized, exploited, and forcefully ‘Egyptianized’ most recently during the New Kingdom, the Kushites had unexpectedly retained their Egyptianized ways in the five hundred years since the Egyptian state had pulled out of Kush. Their leader Piankhy (Piyi) still worshipped Egyptian gods, wrote official texts in classical hieroglyphs, and intended to be buried under a pyramid. Indeed, at a time when Lower Egypt was populated by a majority of ethnic Lybians who did not necessarily revere the Egyptian cultural heritage as their own, and when the strong pharaohs of the past had been replaced by a “federation of semi-autonomous rulers” (Shaw 2000:345), Piankhy felt more genuinely Egyptian than any king of Egypt. In fact, Kushite kings “did not see themselves as foreigners, although they had different ethnic, cultural and linguistic roots. In their view and faith, Kush and Egypt were the two halves of the ancient kingdom of Amun, which were once united in a distant mythical past” (Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris 1997:166, 170).

And so, when King Tefnakht of Sais in the Delta showed expansionist ambitions, Piankhy’s religious fervor led him to descend upon Egypt with his powerful army in a crusade to unite the nation under an ‘ideologically Egyptian’ king—himself. In southern Egypt, he diplomatically established his influence by convincing the Thebans to adopt his sister Amenirdis as the Divine Adoratrice of Amun—a position with considerable political power. In northern Egypt, his military supremacy brought compliance. But instead of annihilating the (mostly Lybian) kings, princes and chieftains of the Delta, he was satisfied with receiving their pledge of allegiance.

By the strength of their conviction and their deft and consistent application of symbolically charged gestures, Kushite kings awoke in their people a sense of national identity, gave a new impetus and a clear purpose to a land slowly drifting away into irrelevance. Although the idea of drawing strength from Egypt’s great past predates their intervention—“it had its origin in the later Lybian period, having begun during the first half of the eight century BC” (Shaw 2000:356)—the Kushites lent an energy, and a dedication to the cause that is almost palpable. Dynasty 25 high art blends the physical strength of Kushite body types with the classical model of Old Kingdom portraiture, adding a few details that demonstrate that Dynasty 25 Egypt was not just a relic of the past, but a nation moving forward, building confidently and proudly on its glorious heritage.

Although in artistic and cultural matters, the Kushite kings insisted on a return to Old Kingdom order, in politics they were unwilling to commit the resources necessary to return to an absolute centralized royal authority. But perpetuating the decentralized model of the previous hundred years meant they had to intervene sporadically to curtail the ambitions of their vassals. More importantly, the relative independence of local rulers in the delta eventually drew them to meddle in rebellions against the Assyrian dominance of Palestine. Provoking the Assyrian empire at the height of its power proved fatal to the Kushite Dynasty. In 667 BC, Assyria invaded Egypt and the Kushites pulled back to the land of Kush. Within three years, all hope was lost for Dynasty 25.

Bibliography (for this item)

Clayton, Peter A.
1994 Chronicle of the Pharaohs: The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Rulers and Dynasties of Ancient Egypt. Thames and Hudson, London, UK. (193, 195)

Grimal, Nicolas
1994 A History of Ancient Egypt (Reprint of the 1994 edition, translated by Ian Shaw). Blackwell, Oxford, United Kingdom. (349)

Khalil, Hassan M.
1976 Preliminary Studies on the Sanusret Collection. Manuscript, Musée l’Egypte et le Monde Antique, Monaco-Ville, Monaco. ([2] 53-55)

Maspero, G
1912 Histoire générale de l’art: Egypte. Hachette, Paris, France.

Bibliography (on Taharqa)

Clayton, Peter A.
1994 Chronicle of the Pharaohs: The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Rulers and Dynasties of Ancient Egypt. Thames and Hudson, London, UK.

Grimal, Nicolas
1994 A History of Ancient Egypt (Reprint of the 1994 edition, translated by Ian Shaw). Blackwell, Oxford, United Kingdom.

Shaw, Ian
2000 The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford University Press, Oxford, United Kingdom.

Bibliography (on Dynasty 25)

Institut du monde Arabe, Paris, , and Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Munich
1997 SOUDAN. Royaumes sur le Nil (Exhibition in Munich, Paris, Amsterdam, Toulouse, Mannheim.). Flammarion, Paris.

Shaw, Ian
2000 The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford University Press, Oxford, United Kingdom.

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