The Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt

By W. Stevenson Smith | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 19
THE RAMESSIDE PERIOD: DYNASTIES XIX-XX 1314-1085 B.C.

POLITICALLY, Dynasty XIX began with the accession of Horemheb about the middle of the fourteenth century B.C., when the strong reaction set in which obliterated the memory of the successors of Amenhotep III. On the other hand, we have seen that the work executed for Horemheb before he became king is so closely linked with Amarna that it has been necessary to discuss the monuments of his time in connexion with the style of the late Eighteenth Dynasty. Nor was he related to the new family of soldiers who came into power with Ramesses I, showing special partiality to the city of Tanis in the Eastern Delta which was probably their place of origin. Ramesses I, who reigned briefly as an elderly man, was the Paramesses who had served as vizier under Horemheb and, like his father and the son who succeeded him as Sety I, held the military title of Chief of Archers.1 Horemheb's reorganization of the country had been facilitated by a relaxation of pressure from the Hittites after the death of Subbiluliumas. They had maintained themselves in the plains of northern Syria centring on Aleppo, but were chiefly occupied with the Kaska in the north and the Arzawa lands in the west of Anatolia. The Assyrians under Assur-Uballit had occupied the Mitanni country beyond the Euphrates.

An aggressive policy was adopted by Sety I, immediately upon his accession, which recovered a large measure of Egypt's dominance in Palestine and Syria. He first clashed directly with the Hittites at Kadesh on the Orontes (Figure 73), which in the next reign was to be the scene of the much vaunted exploit of Ramesses II. This famous battle of Kadesh 2 really resulted in a draw which was finally recognized by both parties some fifteen years later in a treaty between Hatti and Egypt. This pact of alliance with Hattusilis III, certainly inspired in part by fear of the growing power of Assyria, was further sealed by the marriage of a Hittite princess to Ramesses II. It resulted in fifty years of peace for the Levant from about 1280 to 1230, when Merenptah met the first impact of the great mass movement of peoples which eventually overwhelmed Hatti around 1200. Ramesses III, the last great ruler of Dynasty XX, beat off attacks on Egypt from both land and sea similar to but even more formidable than those which had struck his predecessor Merenptah.

Combined with the migrating mass which moved by land from the Balkans and Black Sea region down across Asia Minor, past Carchemish and through the Levant, were northerners who came by ship. These were the Peoples of the Sea whom Ramesses III speaks of as making a conspiracy in their islands. An Indo-European element among the Libyans who attacked Egypt in the time of Sety I seems to have anticipated the larger numbers of newcomers who were mixed with the Libyan tribes which attempted to push into the Delta in the time of Merenptah and Ramesses III. Some of the sea peoples had served as allies of the Hittites at Kadesh and as mercenary troops in Egypt during the

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