Oedipus, Akhenaton, and the Fall of Egyptian Thebes
Oedipus, Akhenaton, and the Fall of Egyptian Thebes
In his Oedipus and Akhnaton (1960), Velikovsky introduced his readers to one of the most fascinating episodes of ancient history. In this volume he identified Akhnaton, the heretic pharaoh, with Oedipus, the incestuous king of Greek legend. He went on from there to suggest that the entire “Theban cycle” of legends surrounding Oedipus and his children rightfully belonged in Egypt and described the downfall of the Eighteenth Dynasty. Thus Eteocles and Polyneices, the two sons of Oedipus who battled for the throne of Thebes after the exile of Oedipus, were identified with Tutankhamun and Smenkhare, who also apparently were in contention for the throne of Egypt. According to Velikovsky, the aged politician Ay fomented conflict between Smenkhare and Tutankhamun with a view to acquiring the throne for himself. In Oedipus and Akhnaton Velikovsky suggested that after being deposed Smenkhare fled abroad, where he gathered armies in a bid to retake the throne. With these troops he marched on Egypt where both he and Tutankhamun were slain in battle. These events are apparently recalled in the Greek story of the War of the Seven Champions. The Greek legend suggested that just a few years later another foreign army, led by the descendants or “epigoni” of the Seven Champions, marched on Thebes (ie Egypt) and that this invasion succeeded.
Nowhere in Oedipus and Akhnaton did Velikovsky identify the country of origin of these invading armies; though elsewhere he indicated that they hailed from Libya. This was because, in Velikovsky’s scheme, the Libyan or Twenty-Second Dynasty followed immediately from the Eighteenth; whilst the Nineteenth Dynasty was placed in the sixth century, just before the Persian Invasion. This meant that, in his way of thinking, a gap of almost two centuries intervened between the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty and the beginning of the Nineteenth.
The present writer differs from Velikovsky on this issue, and agrees with conventional scholarship that the Nineteenth Dynasty followed on directly from the Eighteenth. However, there is much evidence, much of it missed by Velikovsky, to show that he was right in stating that the Eighteenth Dynasty ended violently, and that Egypt suffered foreign invasion at the time. There is further evidence to suggest that Horemheb, first pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty, was installed in power with foreign help. This help did not, however, come from Libya. Evidence of many types combines to suggest that armies from several regions formed a confederate force which attacked Egypt at the end of Tutankhamun’s reign. This same evidence demonstrates how the wily courtier Ay, having crowned himself pharaoh, was then overthrown by his protégé Horemheb, who organised a coup d’etat against his master and called in foreign troops to assist him. Evidence shows that these troops came from Assyria, and that the dynasty established by Horemheb was initially a client regime of the Assyrian monarch.
Wars of the “Polluted Wretches”
The fall of Akhnaton’s dynasty was a traumatic event in the history of Egypt, and it was not forgotten. The story found its way into the traditions of Greece (if Velikovsky is to be believed) and it was alluded to, in a different context, by a number of classical and Hellenistic authors. Sometimes the story was couched in the language of myth and legend; occasionally it was mixed with related episodes from other events. Always, however, it is possible to untangle the web of facts and to identify the essential elements. What we find again and again is the tradition of an impious king who fled either to or from Ethiopia, and whose country eventually fell to invaders without a battle being fought. These elements are found in both Herodotus and Diodorus, though the latter has the more complete account, where we hear of a king named Actisanes, who built a colony for certain miscreants at Rhinocolura. (Diodorus i, 60,1-6). Apart from the fact that Actisanes is a rather precise transliteration of the Egyptian Akhnaton, we know that the penal colony of Rhinocolura was in fact established just a few years after the death of Akhnaton, by Horemheb. The most detailed and clear-cut retelling however comes in the work of the Egyptian historian Manetho.
Josephus Flavius quotes Manetho at some length in his polemic Against Apion. Manetho, it seems, had associated the Jews with the hated Hyksos, who had reputedly invaded Egypt and imposed a tyrannical rule upon her for many centuries. But although Manetho begins his account with the Hyksos and their expulsion from Egypt, he soon launches into an entirely different story and an entirely different conquest. Contained in these pages is the story of Egypt’s fall at the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty. We hear a strange tale, unknown to any history books, of Egypt’s conquest by Asiatic armies in the days of a pharaoh named Amenophis, a pharaoh who sought to “see the gods”. Contemporary with this king was a great seer, also named Amenophis, who was the “son of Papis”. There seems little doubt whatsoever that these two men were Akhnaton (Amenhotep IV) and the famous seer Amenhotep, son of Hapu. Historians are generally agreed on these two identifications, and there is little dissention on the point.
According to Manetho, the seer Amenophis informed his royal namesake that in order to communicate with the gods, as he desired, he would have to expel certain “polluted wretches” from the country. (Josephus, Against Apion, I, 26) These “polluted” persons are then rounded up and put to work in quarries. After these events the seer has pangs of conscience, realising that the cruel treatment of the “polluted” persons would bring retribution from heaven. After preparing a letter, in which he warned the king that the country was destined to be invaded and that he would be driven into exile for thirteen years, the seer commits suicide.
All this calls to mind the career of Amenhotep son of Hapu, who, in Velikovsky’s reconstruction, played a major role in the events surrounding Akhnaton’s life and death. In Greek tradition, according to Velikovsky, this man is known as Tiresias.
The prophesied invasion comes and is led by one Osarsiph, whom the “polluted” persons had chosen to lead them. These are not the Hebrews, as Manetho apparently believed, but can only be Smenkhare and his associates, who were regarded as tainted by their too close association with Akhnaton. In the immediate aftermath of Akhnaton’s reign there was a concerted effort in Egypt to purge the country of all traces of the heresy; and such terms as “criminal”, “enemy” and “polluted” were regularly applied to Akhnaton and his beliefs as well as to his entourage. In Manetho’s account the invaders, who have received the assistance of the Asiatic “Solymites” (identified by him with the Hyksos who had earlier been expelled from Egypt by Tethmosis), are met either by king Amenophis, or by his son, at Pelusium. According to Manetho the pharaoh then fled, without even a token fight, and retreated with all his followers into Ethiopia. That followers of the Aton cult did indeed retreat to Ethiopia is confirmed by the very strong echoes of that same cult observed amongst the Nubian pharaohs of the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty. During the time of Tirhaka, for example, the Aton-city constructed earlier by Akhnaton still bore the solar god’s name, Gem-Aton. This, together with other clues - such as the honor paid to Horemheb by the Nubian pharaohs - have long suggested to Egyptologists that the Nubian line was established by refugees from Egypt who fled south near the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty. (See J. H. Breasted, "A City of Ikhenaton in Nubia," Zeitschrift fur Aegyptische Sprache, 40, 1902/1903)
The final part of the story of the “Polluted Wretches” sounds remarkably like the famous War of the Epigoni in Greek legend, when the descendants of the Seven Champions captured Thebes without a fight, after king Creon and his people had fled, on the advice of the seer Tiresias.
Thus Manetho appears to have preserved a somewhat garbled account of the story of Akhnaton and the downfall of the Theban dynasty. The sequence of events, as recorded by Manetho, is of course far from clear; and at a later stage we shall see that elements from two entirely different, though closely related events, are present in his version of the story. One very striking difference between Manetho and the Greek accounts as interpreted by Velikovsky is that the Egyptian historian tells us of only one invasion of Thebes/Egypt, whereas the Greeks all agreed that there had been two. In Manetho the “polluted” persons return and capture the country without a fight, whilst the Greek story-tellers insisted that the Theban exile Polyneices and his followers were defeated, and that it was their descendants, the Epigoni, who took the city without a battle. But the version of Manetho preserved in Josephus may not be wholly in line with the original, and there is at least a hint that Manetho knew of two invasions of Egypt at this time. In his description of Osarsiph’s rebellion, Manetho/Josephus tells us that king Amenophis met the invaders at Pelusium, only to retreat without risking a battle. However, at a later stage Josephus comments on the fact that the son of Amenophis had met the invaders at Pelusium. Thus it would seem clear that two distinct invasions are implied. According to our interpretation, the son of Amenophis who met the invasion would have been Tutankhamun, or Eteocles of Greek tradition.
Thus Manetho’s account is by no means clear-cut and presents its own peculiar difficulties. Nevertheless, the essential elements of the story are so evident that it is impossible to miss them, and we are perfectly justified in drawing the above-mentioned conclusions. Manetho’s version tells us quite clearly that towards the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty exiles from Egypt enlisted the help of foreigners in an attempt to win the throne. The evidence indicates that the “polluted” exiles were none other than Smenkhare and his supporters.
But if Egypt really was attacked at this time, who were the attackers? Who were these invaders who assisted Smenkhare? Which nation or power would have the strength to attempt an invasion of Egypt? Manetho speaks of the involvement of “Solymites” as well as “Hyksos”, and commentators throughout the centuries have thereby assumed that Manetho believed the Hyksos to be Hebrews. However, the Hebrews were never known by the name “Solymite”, and so the identification is questionable. Still, it could be that if Smenkhare did flee from Egypt, as Velikovsky claimed, then his first port of call could have been Israel. Certainly the pharaohs always had close links with the northern kingdom of Israel, and it is likely that a fugitive Smenkhare would have found succour in the newly-erected fortress of Samaria. Nevertheless, even if the Egyptian prince and his entourage did stop at Samaria, it is unlikely they remained there for long. Their ultimate goal, I aim to demonstrate, lay much further to the north.
It is possible that Manetho derived “Solymite” from a hieroglyphic word written as slm or srm. The latter of course is not dissimilar from Assurim, the Hebrew/Phoenician name for the Assyrians.
Other evidence from ancient tradition points in the same direction. Thus we find that Tydeus, greatest of the Seven Champions who in the Greek story invaded Thebes, has a name which, although meaningless in Greek, is a precise transliteration of the Semitic name Adad. Adad was an extremely common component of names amongst Syrian and Mesopotamian monarchs during the epoch of the Eighteenth Dynasty.
We are told by the Greeks that both invasions of Thebes were launched at the behest of a queen, a woman named Eriphyle. Eriphyle was the sister of Adrastus, king of Argos, and it was she who persuaded her brother to organise the expedition of the Seven. (Apollodorus, iii, 62-3. Sophocles actually composed a play, now lost, named Eriphyle). Strikingly, this woman was clearly identified with the region of Syria in Greek tradition. According to Pausanias, the dress of Eriphyle was preserved in a sanctuary in Gabala, a town of the Syrian coast which may well have been Byblos. (Pausanias, ii, 1, 7) Another tradition claimed that Eriphyle’s necklace was dedicated in a sanctuary of Adonis (a Syrian god) in the Cypriot city of Amathous. (Pausanias, ix, 41, 2) Thus a major player in the whole Theban cycle is clearly identified by two separate traditions with the Near East.
It is clear then that the legends both of Greece and Egypt seem to suggest that Asia, particularly the region of Syria, may have been the source of the forces which advanced against the kingdom of the Nile at this time. We shall presently attempt a much more precise identification of these armies and their leaders.
It is generally agreed that after the reign of Akhnaton his son Smenkhare briefly occupied the throne. Whether or not Smenkhare actually shared a co-regency with Akhnaton is unclear, but it seems certain that he was regarded as too closely linked to the heretic. In any event, after an extremely short reign – perhaps no more than a year – Smenkhare too was deposed. We know he was not murdered, for a mummified body almost certainly belonging to him was discovered by Davis in a rubble-filled tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Had he been murdered it is likely that his body would either have been completely destroyed or that his murderers, attempting to conceal their deed, would have accorded him all the normal funerary rituals of a dead pharaoh.
The discovery of Smenkhare’s mummified corpse in a wrecked tomb suggests very unusual circumstances indeed.
In any event, Smenkhare’s reign was followed by that of the young Tutankhamun – a boy of no more than nine or ten years at the time of his coronation. The exact relationship of Tutankhamun with Smenkhare is uncertain. Tutankhamun was clearly a close member of the royal family. Medical examination of his corpse suggests that he too was probably a son of Akhnaton – though a son by one of the lesser wives. Thus Smenkhare and Tutankhamun were in all probability half-brothers.
The very youth of Tutankhamun upon his ascent of the throne suggests that right from the start he was a pawn in a political game over which he had little control or understanding. Always, behind these events, behind the removal first of Akhnaton and then of Smenkhare, we may discern the hand of the wily old Ay. This man had been a major player during the time of Akhnaton and his eventual elevation to the kingship after the death of Tutankhamun suggests that he had a pivotal role in everything that went before.
If Smenkhare was not killed when he lost the crown we may well wonder what became of him. According to Velikovsky he fled abroad, there to gather armies in an attempt to win back the royal diadem. Leaving aside for one minute the truth or otherwise of this claim, we need to look at the circumstances surrounding the end of Tutankhamun’s reign. For whether or not Smenkhare led foreign armies against Egypt there seems little doubt that Tutankhamun faced a foreign invasion, and that after little more than seven or eight years on the throne the young pharaoh met a violent death on the battlefield. This can be demonstrated, I hold, by a number of key pieces of evidence:
(a) Examination of Tutankhamun’s body revealed that death was probably caused by blood poisoning following fracture of the leg.
(b) The splendid funeral accorded the young pharaoh is perhaps suggestive that he died a hero’s death.
(c) A decorated chest found in his tomb shows him in battle against foreign enemies.
(d) Inscriptions of various characters who served under Tutankhamun and Ay speak graphically of major military action at the time and apparently of an attempted invasion of Egypt.
Points (a), (b) and (c) are so well-known and accepted that there seems little need to say much more about them here. On the subject of Tutankhamun’s death for example, it is now generally agreed that the fracture to the king’s left thighbone occurred either in battle or during a hunting expedition. (See Brian Handwerk, “King Tut’s Face: Behind the Forensic Reconstruction,” National Geographic (June, 2005))
Where the young pharaoh could have received such an injury may well be displayed on the decorated chest, where he is shown riding his chariot into the serried ranks of his enemies. These include Asiatics (apparently either Syrians or Assyrians) and Ethiopians, and the accompanying inscription reads: “The good god, son of Amon, valiant and without his peer; a lord of might trampling down hundreds of thousands and laying them prostrate”. This certainly sounds like the description of a heroic warrior-king: but whether or not the chest describes a real event has been debated for years.
Other artefacts from the young pharaoh’s tomb also display defeated foreign enemies; but it is the written testimonies of high officials of the time which form by far the most crucial evidence. In the tomb of Huy, viceroy of Ethiopia under Tutankhamun, we read:
The chiefs of Retenu the Upper [the uplands of Palestine/Lebanon], who knew not Egypt since the days of the gods, are craving peace from His Majesty. They say ‘Give us the breath which thou givest, O Lord! Tell us thy victories; there shall be no revolters in thy time, but every land shall be in peace.’ (Cited from J. Baikie, A History of Egypt Vol. 2 (London, 1929) p. 327)
Why, we might ask, would the chiefs of Retjenu (Syria/Palestine) be “craving peace” from Tutankhamun, unless that peace had been broken? And what were Tutankhamun’s “victories” about which the Asiatics wanted to hear?
The general Horemheb (whose career we shall examine shortly) apparently took part in the same campaign. In his early (pre-royal) tomb he states that he had been:
King’s follower on his expeditions in the south and north country [against the Nubians and Asiatics] … King’s messenger at the head of his army to the south and north country … Companion of the feet of his lord upon the battlefield on that day of slaying the Asiatics. (Baikie, op cit. pp. 326-7)
It really is not possible to be much more explicit than this. A major military encounter, almost certainly during the reign of Tutankhamun, is being described. There seems little doubt also that this campaign was identical to the one referred to on Tutankhamun’s decorated chest. In the same place Horemheb is shown introducing captive Asiatics to a king. The accompanying inscription reads:
… The princes of all foreign countries come to beg life from him. It is the Hereditary Prince, Sole Companion, and Royal Scribe Hor-em-heb, the triumphant, who will say, when he answers [the king: ‘The countries] which knew not Egypt – they are under thy feet forever and ever, for Amon has decreed them to thee. They mustered [every] foreign country [into a confederacy] unknown since Re. Their battle cry in their hearts was as one. (But) thy name is flaming [against them, and they become] subject to thee. Thou art the Re [who comes] that they [abandon] their towns … (Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts (Princeton, 1950) p. 251)
Any remaining question that important military activity took place in Tutankhamun’s latter years should be laid to rest by this passage. Even more to the point, the statement that Egypt’s enemies had mustered every foreign country into a confederacy strongly suggests that Egypt herself was being attacked.
The Wily Vizier
We have seen that, by common consent, the hand of the wily courtier Ay, formerly Master of the Horse and later vizier, behind the major political events of the time. According to Velikovsky, Ay is the Creon of legend, the cruel, scheming and unscrupulous general who overthrew Oedipus, engineered the deaths of Oedipus’ sons, and eventually had himself raised to the kingship.
With the death of Tutankhamun, Ay now revealed the true extent of his unscrupulousness and his ambition.
At his death, Tutankhamun can have been no older than nineteen or twenty. His wife Ankhesenamun must have been of similar age. This young woman was now effectively the reigning monarch. Yet in Egypt a queen could not be “pharaoh” since the pharaoh was the living incarnation of the god Horus – a male deity. The one exception to the rule was of course Hatshepsut, but Ankhesenamun was young and inexperienced, and the powers that be in the land were never, at this stage, going to allow a repetition of Hatshepsut’s example.
Now in Egypt heredity was carried through the female line. Tutankhamun himself could not have become pharaoh without marrying Ankhesenamun, the crown princess. This meant that whoever married Ankhesenamun would be raised to the kingship. Ankhesenamun herself was well aware of this, and well aware too, no doubt, of who was next in line among her suitors: the aged Ay, the man whom she quite possibly now suspected of engineering Tutankhamun’s death. In any event, at this stage she did something quite extraordinary; she sought a husband among the royalty of a foreign land. Ankhesenamun’s two letters to the Hittite king Suppiluliumas requesting him to send one of his sons are among the most famous of ancient correspondences. For a while there was debate as to the true authorship, but a subsequent discovery proved beyond doubt that the letters were those of Tutankhamun’s widow. The first communication reads thus:
My husband died and I have no son. People say that you have many sons. If you were to send me one of your sons, he might become my husband. I am loath to take a servant of mine and make him my husband. (Pritchard, op cit. p. 319)
Suppiluliumas was initially suspicious of the queen’s intentions and made further enquiries. This prompted a second letter from the queen:
Why do you say: ‘They may try to deceive me?’ If I had a son, would I write to a foreign country in a manner which is humiliating to myself and my country? You do not trust me and tell me even such a thing. He who was my husband died and I have no sons. Shall I perhaps take one of my servants and make him my husband? I have not written to any other country. I have written (only) to you. People say that you have many sons. Give me one of your sons and he is my husband and king in the land of Egypt.
Now the Hittite king delayed no longer, and dispatched his son Zannanzash to marry the widowed queen. But, as we know from another document, he was murdered on the way.
The identity of the man responsible for the foreign prince’s murder is hardly open to question. Ay was the only person with either the power or the motive, and his subsequent behaviour more or less confirms his guilt. Soon the hapless Ankhesenamun was compelled to marry the old scoundrel, who now, as the reigning king, performed the obsequies at Tutankhamun’s interment.
If there is any truth in Velikovsky’s claims, this was scarcely the last or even the worst of Ay’s crimes. For whilst the aged king decreed an elaborate funeral for one brother, he refused burial to the other, the hapless Smenkhare, on the grounds that he was a traitor who had brought foreign armies against his country. On the contrary, Smenkhare’s body was to be cast into the desert, to be devoured by jackals and carrion birds. For Egyptians, this was quite literally a fate worse than death. It meant eternal damnation for the dead man’s spirit. But just as in the Greek story, where Antigone secretly buried the body of her dead brother Polyneices, so, said Velikovsky, Meritaten, the wife/sister of Smenkhare, secretly buried the body of her husband. Tragically, her actions were discovered by the cruel ruler who, furious that his first decree as a king had been defied, ordered the girl herself to be interred alive in the Valley of the Kings.
According to Velikovsky, the rock-cut chamber wherein the hapless girl was imprisoned was actually discovered. In this small pit was found a collection of small eating and drinking vessels, along with an Egyptian headscarf embroidered with the words; “Long live Smenkhare”. Did the tragic girl embroider these words in the long and lonely hours she spent in her terrible tomb? In the end, said Velikovsky, a public outcry forced the elderly autocrat to retract and he ordered the girl’s release. But when the soldiers arrived at the tomb to let her out, they found her already dead.
Whether or not Ay was guilty of all he has been accused of, there seems little doubt that he was an experienced and able survivor in the politics of courtly intrigue; and the meteoric rise of this commoner to the kingship, after the deaths of two young members of the royal family, was a circumstance certain to attract the suspicion and opprobrium of the populace.
Ay was an old man when he compelled Tutankhamun’s widow to marry him. After making a brief appearance to legitimise the old courtier’s position, the young queen disappears. She may have been murdered. But Ay himself was not to enjoy the throne much longer. His reign lasted no more than four years.
With the death or deposition of Ay, Egypt was ruled by a pharaoh named Horemheb. Some authorities consider this man to be the last king of the Eighteenth Dynasty; others count him as the first of the Nineteenth. It is not known how Horemheb managed to attain the crown: he was not of royal blood, and it is strongly suspected that he organised a coup against Ay. (See eg. James Baikie, The Story of the Pharaohs (3rd ed. 1926) p. 195) His attitude to his aged predecessor’s memory was certainly one of great hostility.
We recall at this point that Greek tradition spoke of Creon (in whom Velikovsky recognised Ay) as an unpopular ruler, and that the seer Tiresias warned of a “tumult of hatred” arising against him. In Sophocles’ Antigone the blind seer upbraids Creon, prophesying that the “other cities/Whose mangled sons received their obsequies/From dogs and prowling jackals” would turn in fury against his house. As we have noted, the tradition that Thebes (Egypt) fell in the second war (of the Epigoni) without a fight strongly suggests that a substantial element of the Egyptians themselves had rebelled against Ay and had colluded with the invading Epigoni. Further support for this view comes from the Antigone, where Sophocles has Haemon, Creon’s son, warn his father of the anger of the populace over the cruel fate of Antigone, the girl he had condemned to be buried alive:
As your son, you see, I find myself
Marking every word and act and comment
Of the crowd, to gauge the temper
Of the simple citizen, who dares not risk
Your scowl to freely speak his mind. But I
From the shadows hear them: hear
A whole city’s sympathy towards
This girl, because no woman ever faced
So unreasonable, so cruel a death
For such a generous act: She would not leave
Her brother lying on the battlefield
For carrion birds and dogs to maul. ‘Should not
Her name be writ in gold?’ they say. And so
The whisper grows. (Sophocles, Antigone, 770-780)
This whisper, said Velikovsky, grew and grew, swelling into a shout of open rebellion against the cruel and scheming king. If we look closely at the life and career of Horemheb we shall see emerging quite clearly the biography of the man who overthrew Creon, the pharaoh Ay.
The major events of Horemheb’s times are preserved on a number of monuments erected at various stages of his life. He seems to have started his career as a high-ranking officer in Tutankhamun’s army. In his pre-regal tomb at Memphis, the general (or staff officer) Horemheb states that he was the companion of the king (whose name is defaced) in two great campaigns; one in the “south country” and one in the “north country”. (Baikie, op cit. pp. 326-7) It is here too that Horemheb speaks of “that day of slaying the Asiatics”. A bas-relief in the tomb shows Horemheb receiving groups of captured Asiatics, who are being led, shackled, towards the pharaoh. These prisoners are attired precisely like those on the monuments of Tutankhamun, and are probably prisoners of the war we find illustrated on his decorated chest. Yet the pharaoh to whom Horemheb leads the prisoners was probably not Tutankhamun but his successor Ay. We know that Horemheb served under Ay for a time and that he was raised to great honours by him. Thus during Ay’s reign Horemheb could describe himself as “greatest of the great, mightiest of the mighty, great lord of the people ... presider over the Two Lands, in order to carry on the administration of the Two Lands.”(Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, III, 20) In another place he writes that he had been,
Appointed ... chief of the land, to administer the laws of the Two Lands as hereditary prince of all this land. He was alone without a rival ... The council bowed down to him in obeisance at the front of the palace, the chiefs of the Nine Bows came to him, South as well as North: their hands were spread out in his presence, they offered praise to him as to a god. (Breasted, op cit. III, 25)
The name of the monarch who appointed Horemheb to such an exalted position (without precedent, according to Breasted), is unfortunately effaced, though historians are in no doubt whatsoever that it was Ay. But only two or three years later Horemheb was to reveal himself as a great enemy of Ay, defacing his name and memory wherever he found it. What can explain such a remarkable volte face?
It is widely believed that Ay was childless. This is assumed not only because his children are nowhere mentioned, but because of the way he was apparently grooming Horemheb for power after his death. But something must have happened. We might never be sure, of course, but it seems likely that Ay may have, in his old age, produced a child, probably by one of the numerous secondary wives who were now available to him as pharaoh. In any event Horemheb must have had a very strong reason for turning against him. It is commonly surmised, we have seen, that Horemheb actually organised a coup against him. Such a move would have been unnecessary had Horemheb remained the heir apparent he had earlier been.
The logic of the situation therefore demands that Horemheb could only have reached the throne through organising a coup d’etat. Nothing else can explain the wanton destruction by Horemheb of everything his predecessor had built. To have raised the country against Ay would probably not have been difficult, as he was evidently an unpopular ruler from the start and widely viewed as a usurper. If what Velikovsky said is true, about him burying Meritaten alive in the Valley of the Kings, then we might well imagine a country seething with anger against him.
Horemheb’s ascent of the throne was legitimised by his marriage to Akhnaton’s sister-in-law Mutnodjmet. Needless to say, he left no explicit reference to a rebellion or coup. His account of how he became king is typically enigmatic:
Now when many days had passed by, while the eldest son of Horus [Horemheb] was chief and hereditary prince in this whole land, behold, the heart of this august god, Horus, lord of Alabastronpolis, desired to establish his son upon his eternal throne ... Horus proceeded with rejoicing to Thebes ... and with his son in his embrace, to Karnak, to introduce him before Amon, to assign him his office as king. (Breasted, op cit. III, 27)
According to Velikovsky, as well as the various ancient traditions mentioned earlier, it would appear that Horemheb actually called in the assistance of foreign troops against Ay – successors to the warriors who had four years earlier launched an unsuccessful assault on the country in the attempt to reinstate Smenkhare. This, in Velikovsky’s interpretation, was the War of the Epigoni in Greek tradition, where the descendants of the earlier Seven captured Thebes without a battle. If there is any truth in this account, it would appear that Ay was so unpopular that he could not muster enough troops to fight his cause. But if Horemheb did call in foreign troops, where, we must ask, did they come from? We have already suggested that they came from Asia. But can we be more precise?
An Asiatic Interlude
The reign of Horemheb marks the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty and the beginning of the Nineteenth. There exists a great body of material which suggests very strong links between the Nineteenth Dynasty rulers and Asia. These links were evident right from the start. Thus a vizier named Seti celebrated a peculiar anniversary during the time of Horemheb. According to Pritchard, “... when Hor-em-heb was pharaoh, a vizier named Seti came to the city of Tanis in the Delta to celebrate a four hundredth anniversary. This anniversary took the form of the worship of the Egyptian god Seth, who is represented in the scene carved on the stela as an Asiatic deity in a distinctly Asiatic dress.” (Pritchard, op cit, p. 252) Pritchard also notes that “the god of the [Asiatic] Hyksos was equated by the Egyptians with Seth,” and that “Seth held a high position under the Nineteenth Dynasty, with two pharaohs named Seti, ‘Seth’s Man’.” (Pritchard, p. 252)
Why, it has been asked, would a vizier and then two pharaohs associate themselves so closely with a deity linked to the Hyksos, the hated Asiatic conquerors of Egypt, who had subjected the country to a reign of terror in an earlier age? Could it be that the Nineteenth Dynasty was established in power by forces from the same region as the Hyksos came from?
This impression of Asiatic influence is confirmed in numerous ways, and the preponderance of Asiatic deities during the Nineteenth Dynasty is one of the most striking characteristics of the period. According to Pritchard, “From the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty on [ie reign of Horemheb], there is an abundance of evidence of Asiatic gods worshipped in Egypt.” (Pritchard, p. 249) Most popular of these was Baal. We find that from the end of the Amarna period Baal even had his own priesthood in Egypt. Lepsius noted a Memphite individual from this period who was a ‘Prophet of Baal’ and a ‘Prophet of Astarte’. (C.R. Lepsius Denkmaeler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien (ed. E. Naville, Leipzig, 1897) I,16) Pritchard remarks that “By the Twenty-second Dynasty, a family had several generations in which there had been a ‘Prophet of the House of Baal in Memphis’.” (Pritchard, op cit. p. 250) The devotion to the gods of Asia is demonstrated in the Egyptian royal family itself, where we find Ramses II’s daughter bearing the purely Semitic name Bint Anath, “daughter of Anath”.
Thus the worship of Asiatic gods was greatly popularised in Egypt during the Nineteenth Dynasty, and this was accompanied by a veritable flood of Asiatic influences. Semitic words in great numbers entered the Egyptian language, and these were often used in preference to the Egyptian equivalent.
We have said that the traditions recorded in Manetho (ie the legend of the “polluted wretches”) and the classical authors suggested that Egypt was invaded by Asiatic forces during or shortly after the time of Akhnaton. Now we see that the new dynasty established after Akhnaton’s death brought a pronounced Asiatic influence to the country. This strongly suggests that Horemheb did indeed seize the throne with military help from Asia. But still we have not answered the question: From where did such forces originate? Although the legends from Greece suggest a confederacy of many states going to war against Egypt/Thebes, other evidence suggests that the main forces came from the land of Assyria. This is hinted by the depiction of the enemies against whom Tutankhamun fought on his decorated chest. But it is put beyond reasonable doubt by other information entirely.
When he came to the throne Horemheb issued his famous Edict, a document preserved on the north face of the Ninth Pylon at Karnak. Here he comments upon the state of lawlessness into which the country had sunk, presumably at the end of Ay’s reign, and threatens “savage” punishments for transgressors. Amongst these punishments is that of severing parts of the body, including noses. We know that Horemheb carried out his threats and that the unfortunate miscreants were exiled to a penal colony, apparently near Avaris, which the classical authors knew as Rhinocolura (“nose colony”). This type of punishment, it has been remarked by several writers, (See eg Velikovsky, “The Correct Placement of Haremhab in Egyptian History, "Kronos, IV, No. 3) is quite alien to the traditions of Egypt, but very much in accordance with those of Mesopotamia – particularly Assyria. Assyrian influence too is seen in the cavalry units depicted upon Horemheb’s monuments.
The king of Assyria during the latter years of Akhnaton was named Ashuruballit; and this monarch wrote several letters to the heretic king requesting gold, among other gifts. Ashuruballit had a long life and it is not doubted that he was still alive during the reigns of Tutankhamun, Ay and Horemheb. He was a king noted for his military exploits. His great-grandson Adad-Nirari said that he had “scattered the mighty hosts of the far-flung land of the Subartians”. It is surmised by some scholars that these Subartians may have been Mitannians, but they are more likely to have been Hittites; for other documents of the period confirm that he waged relentless war against this people. Most strikingly of all, however, Ashuruballit was said to have “subdued Musri” (C. J. Gadd, “Assyria and Babylon: c. 1370-1300 BC,” in The Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. 2 part 2 (3rd ed.) p. 28) Now Musri is the normal Semitic name for Egypt (Hebrew Mizraim), and the claim that Ashuruballit subdued this country has caused all sorts of problems for historians: so much so that alternative locations for Musri have been sought. But such alternatives are unnecessary. The claim that Ashuruballit had subdued Egypt is fully supported by the evidence from Egypt herself.
As I have shown in great detail, in my Empire of Thebes (2006) and elsewhere, the Ashuruballit who wrote to Akhnaton also called himself Ashurnasirpal; and this man was the father of the well-known Shalmaneser III. Ashurnasirpal (II) reigned altogether twenty-six years, but became seriously ill in his ninth year and thereafter associated his son Shalmaneser III on the throne with him. Thus, by my reckoning, Shalmaneser III’s first year was Ashurnasirpal’s (Ashuruballit’s) tenth year. Ashurnasirpal II and Shalmaneser III were, like Ashuruballit and his son Enlil-Nirari, aggressive kings who undertook continuous warfare against the Hittites.
The contemporaneous nature of these early Neo-Assyrians and the pharaohs of the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Dynasties is illustrated in many ways, not least by the discovery of countless artefacts belonging to these pharaohs in the ruins of the Neo-Assyrian cities. A particularly large number of late Eighteenth Dynasty scarabs, most especially from the reign of Amenhotep III, were found at Nimrud (Calah), the city built by Ashurnasirpal II. Among a multitude of cultural links between the Assyria of Ashuruballit (of Akhnaton’s time) and that of Ashurnasirpal II and Shalmaneser III is the identical dress and military equipment of the two epochs. Thus the Asiatics whom Tutankhamun fought, as illustrated on his decorated chest, carry rectangular wickerwork shields. These are identical to the shields carried by the soldiers of Shalmaneser III on his various monuments. This was the only period in Assyrian history when such shields were used.
During his long reign Shalmaneser III made many forays across the Euphrates into Syria/Palestine. On his famous Black Obelisk he even claims to have received the submission of king Jehu of Israel. In the same place he records “tribute” sent from Musri, or Egypt. That Musri, on this occasion at least, means Egypt, is put beyond question by the fact that amongst the gifts sent by this country was a hippopotamus (ie “river ox”) and a rhinoceros. If Shalmaneser III could claim to receive “tribute” from a state this would suggest that that country had been conquered or at least come within Assyria’s sphere of control. The Black Obelisk does not give the exact year in which the tribute of Egypt was received, but I believe it is possible to put a rough date on it.
We have already seen how a great deal of evidence suggests that Shalmaneser III’s accession to the throne of Assyria coincides almost precisely with the end of the reign of Akhnaton in Egypt. Thus the war in which Tutankhamun was slain (after an eight year reign) must have occurred in Shalmaneser III’s eighth or ninth year (corresponding to year 17/18 of Ashuruballit/Ashurnasirpal). That this expedition is not recorded on the Assyrian monuments is no surprise, as it was a major defeat for the Assyrians. Four years later however, at the end of Ay’s reign, the Assyrians were back. This would have been year 12 or 13 of Shalmaneser III. We know in fact that he made numerous expeditions through Syria and probably Palestine at this time. If it was then that his armies entered Egypt (Shalmaneser need not have been personally present), then military action was unnecessary, since the country welcomed the Asiatics as liberators (an event recalled, as we have seen, in Manetho and the Greek sources). I would suggest then that sometime near Shalmaneser III’s year 16 or 17 (year 25 or 26 of Ashurnasirpal/Ashuruballit), Assyrian forces entered Egypt peacefully and installed Horemheb as a client king. It was these forces who introduced the pronounced Asiatic elements observed by archaeologists in every sphere of Egyptian life during the Nineteenth Dynasty.
That the armies which helped Smenkhare and later Horemheb came from Assyria helps to explain Manetho’s linking of the story of Osarsiph with the Hyksos. These Shepherd Kings, said Manetho, who had earlier been expelled from Egypt by Tethmosis, were now called into the fray by Osarsiph, and the Shepherd Kings responded by sending a mighty army. I follow Gunnar Heinsohn in identifying the Hyksos with the Imperial Assyrians, an identification I have also defended in detail in my Ramessides, Medes and Persians (2008).