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Necropolis at Asyut

17 February 2020

At https://archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.com/2020/02/the-necropolis-of-as… … concerns the acropolis of Asyut – which goes back 4000 years. An ancient city with its temples, palaces, libraries and houses was later overcome by Nile flood sediments. These were possibly as a result of the river changing channels as it did on a number of occasions. A recent excavation, in the mountains above Asyut, has provided new information on the city that existed during the First Intermediate Period and Middle Kingdom.

   (the city tell)        (the mountainside acropolis).


In the Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections (see https://jaci.library.arizona.edu ) volume 2:1 (2010) pages 14-23, we have an article by Dan'el Kahn of the University of Haifa. He seeks to identify Asiatics and allies as recorded on the Elephantine stele of Sethnakhte which cast light on the historicity of the Medinet Habu Asiatics on the war reliefs of Ramesses III.

The Hittites were known allies of Ramesses II from a treaty signed in his 21st year. This treaty set the new boundary line between Hatti (in Syria) and Egypt's Levantine empire. Kadesh on the Orontes was transferred to the Hittites, and the kingdom of Amurru. Damascus remained in the sphere of Egypt. We also know that Merenptah maintained good relations with the Hittites as he shipped food to Syria in order to alleviate a famine. He also campaigned in the Levant in order to put down recalcitrant elements – possibly Habiru. However, his successors do not seem to have been so lucky – although this is open to dispute as we know very little about them apart from the fact several rebellions and attempted coups took place, culminating in the successful coup of Sethnakhte (who established dynasty 20). The Elephantine stele appears to record his conflict with one of the last kings of dynasty 19. His list of enemies appear to include mercenaries or elements with a Syrian origin – suggesting the dynasty 19 king had called on the Hittite king to honour his treaty obligations and send military help. These included Asiatics from Amurru as well as Sherden and Philistines. The latter appear to have been a group of so called sea peoples that had settled on the upper Orontes (together with various other refugee elements from Anatolia and the Aegean). They had a war like reputation and were employed both by the Hittites and the Egyptians. Many of them were later resettled by Ramesses III in Egypt and SW Canaan.

Kahn then turns to the wars of Ramesses III (who claims to have campaigned in Nubia, Libya and the Levant). We are told that his enemy had set up a great camp in Amurru, and threatened the very borders of the Egyptian empire. What this shows is that the treaty with the Hittites had by then become obsolete – as it applied only to the descendants of Ramesses II (dynasty 19). Whereas in year 5 Ramesses repelled a maritime invasion that had entered the Nile, in year 12 the theatre of war was in Syria. In other words, we are not necessarily dealing with a horde of refugees from natural disaster, but a concerted effort by the Hittite king (possibly Suppiluliumas II, or a son of his) that had gathered a huge force in order to attack the southern Levant. The action took place in Amurru and the Neo Hittite regions of Syria (the Hittite capital, Hattusas, in central Anatolia, having been destroyed by a natural disaster in the late reign of Merenptah). Ramesses III claims to have defeated his enemies – and certainly seems to have retained control over the southern Levant and Edom etc.

The bigger picture is a bit different as both the Egyptian and the Hittite empires disappeared mid dynasty 20. It was followed by a prolonged episode of drought and famine and most importantly, severe inroads by tribal groups. These included the Arameans in the east, and Libyans in the west. When the Iron Age wakes up in Iron IB (Iron IA largely a period of impoverishment and retraction) the political boundaries have been withdrawn. Large regions of Syria remained (the small Neo Hittite kingdoms) but there were also severe inroads by Arameans. In the southern Levant we have to accommodate the reign of David – a Habiru war leader. Many features of his reign fit into the late dynasty 20 period (such as famine and drought etc) and other features suggest a contemporeignty with Ramesses III and his immediate successors (allies of the Philistines in SW Canaan which can only have occurred after they had been placed there by Ramesses III). The activities of Saul, on the other hand, take place in a different geography, and best fit the era of Merenptah – who may have overwhelmed a Habiru kingdom in the central hill country as indicated on his stele. This Habiru kingdom may go all the way back to the Amarna period and the activities of Labayu (used by David Rohl  to create a direct link to David and Saul). Kahn's attempt to make sense of the final stages of Late Bronze history is long overdue. We have two major sets of site destructions (by earthquake or other forces of nature) the first of which affected both the Hittites and the Assyrians (and Babylonians). Egypt seems to have been less affected although Sethnakhte refers to late dynasty 19 as empty years and Kahn visualises a 20 year period of contraction and upheaval. It all changed in the reign of Ramesses III as he claims to have restored order, not just at the political level but in the environment too. The fact it didn't last long is shown by an attempt to overthrow him towards the end of his reign. One of his sons died from the plague (and so on). This coincides with another feature in the story of David, an epidemic of some kind. Rohl claimed plague in the time of Amarna could explain this – but plague and epidemics were common features at the time (and no one single epidemic can be definitely assigned to any proposed convergence between the Bible and Egyptian history).

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