The Twentieth Dynasty

The Twentieth Dynasty was founded by a pharaoh named Setnakht. Again, it is unclear what his relation to the previous royal family was, and how he became pharaoh if he was not a legitimate descendant of that line. We cannot rule out a usurpation by force. He reigned only a few years, less than five, and then the long dreary series of Ramessides begins. The first, Rameses III, fared well; he reigned some thirty years, and did his best to emulate his “Great” namesake in courage and deeds. Most Egyptologists look upon Rameses as the last great pharaoh of Egypt.

He repelled invasions by the Libyans, and he faced the so-called “Sea Peoples” probably a confederation of displaced tribes from Asia Minor. These people devastated Cyprus and Syria and destroyed the Hittite empire on their way to Egypt, but in Rameses III they met their match. Thousands of their warriors were captured or killed; the walls of Rameses’s funerary temple at Medinet Habu, near the Valley, depict huge heaps of severed hands being piled before Rameses by his victorious generals. However, the greatest threat to the king was domestic; a plot to assassinate him was hatched in his own harem, an indication of how far the prestige of Pharaoh was falling.

His son, Rameses IV, undertook a massive building program, but died after a short reign, and was succeeded by a series of rulers named Rameses—V through VIII—whose reigns were even less noteworthy, none exceeding seven years long and producing no monuments or achievements of significance except their Valley tombs. These kings were probably not a series of fathers and sons, but rather brothers and cousins who took the name upon their coronation. Rameses IX brought some stability to the throne, with a nineteen year reign, and a tomb in the Valley full of strange and beautiful funerary texts, some of which are not known outside its walls.

The prestige of the pharaoh decreased throughout this period, particularly in comparison with the priesthood of Amun, which continued to grow richer and more influential, until finally, during the twenty-seven year reign of Rameses XI, the last pharaoh of the dynasty, the high priest of Amun, Amenhotep, was able to have himself represented on the same scale as the pharaoh.

Soon thereafter, the country seems to have collapsed into civil war. In Upper Egypt, Amenhotep’s successor as high priest, Herihor, had his name inscribed in a cartouche, as a pharaoh would, while Lower Egypt was taken over by Nesbanebdjed, a native of Mendes in the Delta, whom Manetho called Smendes, perhaps fusing the name of his city with his personal name which must have been quite unmanageable in Greek. Some Egyptologists believe that Nesbanebdjed and Herihor were compatriots, and together overthrew Rameses XI, dividing the country between themselves. And so at last, the magnificent New Kingdom came to an end.

Although most of Ramesses III reign was prosperous and the king made many gifts to the temples, toward the end there were problems. First there was a strike because monthly food rations were overdue. More serious was the discovery that several of his wives and officials in his harem were in a plot to kill him. As punishment, some of the plotters were allowed to kill themselves, while others lived, but got there noses and ears off.

The next eight pharohs were all called Ramesses, and under them Egypt lost the what was left of it's empire and became increasingly unstable. This is list of the the dynasty pharaohs:

Setnakhte 1185–1182
Ramesses III 1182–1151
Ramesses IV 1151–1145
Ramesses V 1145–1141
Ramesses VI 1141–1133
Ramesses VII 1133–1126
Ramesses VIII 1133–1126
Ramesses IX 1126–1108
Ramesses X 1108–1098
Ramesses XI 1098–1070

The Twentieth Dynasty events:

- Internal weakening

- Libyan and Nubia resurgence

- Invasion of the Sea Peoples

- In the Twentieth Dynasty Rameses III (1195-1164 B.C.) pursued the retreating "Sea Peoples," whom he had repulsed in their attempted invasion of the Nile Delta, along the Mediterranean coast into Syria. He seems to have made no attempt, however, to recapture the coastal towns. Gaza alone, so far as his records show, fell into his hands. Before the end of his reign Egypt was compelled to abandon the whole of her Asiatic dependencies.

- Rameses III lead the war against the Sea Peoples 1180-1173. His temple at Medinat Habu

- Steady decay in Egyptian military power increasing use of foreign mercenaries difficult shift to iron age.

- Infiltration of Egypt by Libyans, Nubians, Semitic and Aegean Peoples

- Great Iron Age Migration of peoples c. 1230-1100. Conquest of Anatolia (= Trojan war, fall of Hittites). Syria Palestine (= Philistines, Israelites). Italy (= Sicily, Sardina, Etruscans). Greece (= Collapse of Mycenaeans, Greek Dark Ages). Two of the Great Epics of World History = Homer and OT conquests.

- Decline in trade, military and social upheaval, general dissaray. Loss of Syrian, Nubia and Oases domains. Egypt survives as Kingdom.

- Decline in absolute authority of Pharaoh, Revolt vs. Pharaoh by Herihor establishing 21st Dyansty c. 108

- The Twentieth Dynasty began by looking very favorably on this god, as is shown in the name of its founder Setnakt, "Set is Mighty." There is also considerable evidence that the set cult was favored among artisans of the time (see Romer's Ancient Lives, Henry Holt, 1984, and if you've got as copy of Stephen Quirk's Ancient Egyptian Religion check out the beautiful Stella of Aapehty -- probably the most beautiful surviving example of Setian art).

- By the end of the Twentieth Dynasty, as the funerary cult of Osiris became the dominate force in popular Egyptian religion,more and more, Set as the murderer of Osiris became the Evil One. In fact by the Twenty Sixth dynasty it was a common practice to disfigure any representations of Set. He became -- for all practical purposes the Christian devil. Some scholars have even derived the name Satan from Set-Hen, a cult title meaning the Majesty of Set, but I am dubious of this particular derivation.

- Soon after the Twentieth Dynasty in Egypt, the Egyptians lost control over Nubia and the land was plunged into a dark age. Around 900 B.C., evidence of a Nubian monarchy begins to emerge…By 770 B.C., these kings were extending their rule to the North. Soon …Egypt [was under] Nubian control. The Kings now wore the crown of the double cobra – signifying the unity of both Egypt and Nubia.

After the end of the 20th Dynasty Egypt was divided between the High Preist at Thebes and the Vizier of lower Egypt, Smendes who ruled from Tanis. And as usual, at times when Egypt was in turmoil conquerors came.