Archaeologists find Late Dynastic and pre-Dynastic ruins under Cairo
Egyptologists have found carved basalt blocks in a chapel to King Nectanebo I, founder of the 30 th Dynasty—the last native Egyptian royal house before Alexander the Great conquered the country in 332 BC. They also unearthed evidence of earlier settlements, going back to predynastic periods.
The Egyptian-German mission, excavating Heliopolis Temple in a modern part of Cairo, found part of a royal statue of King Merineptah, who was of a much earlier time than Nectanebo—the 19 th Dynasty of 1291 to 1187 BC.
“Aiman Ashmawy, head of the Egyptian Mission from the Ministry of Antiquities, added that the uncovered part of the statue depicts King Merineptah of the 19th Dynasty presenting an offering to a deity, pointing out that excavation works performed at the area revealed layers of human settlements; pottery and other evidences dating to Pre- and Early Dynastic Periods,” says the Facebook page of the Ministry of Antiquities.
Remnant of the bust of Pharaoh Merineptah (Egypt Ministry of Antiquities photo)
King Nectanebo I ruled from 379 to 360 BC. His son succeeded him. His grandson, Nectanebo II, was king when Persians retook the country around 343 BC.
“Historical evidence suggests the Pharaoh [Nectanbeo I] came to power by overthrowing Nepherites II, his predecessor and the last pharaoh of the 29 th Dynasty,” Sherif el-Sabban told The Cairo Post.
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A carved basalt block, part of the shrine to Nectanebo shown on the Ministry of Antiquities Facebook page, depicts a falcon. The bird may be the god Horus (see photo at the top of this article). Horus is often depicted with the body of a man, however.
“The falcon or hawk is usually associated with the god Horus,” says the website The Nightjar. “It is believed that the Falcon had special protective powers and is often represented hovering over or protecting a pharaoh. The Falcon was also sacred to Montu, the god of war and Sokar, the god of the Memphite necropolis. Qebehsenuef, the son of Horus and the protector of the canopic jar of the intestines was also often represented as a falcon.”
The obelisk of Senusert, possibly the oldest-known obelisk of ancient Egypt, which is from Heliopolis, where the recent finds were made. Alexander passed Heliopolis on his way south on the Nile River. (Nethsabes/Wikimedia Commons)
The Late Dynastic period was one of upheaval in ancient Egypt. The nation had been controlled by Persia for a time, won independence and then was controlled by Persia again just prior to Alexander’s conquest.
“The latter part of the Late Dynastic Period starts and ends with a Persian occupation. The first Persian occupation, also known as the 27th Dynasty, lasted for more than a century. It was brought to an end by Amyrtaios, the only king of the 28th Dynasty, who succeeded in ridding Egypt of the Persian yoke and was able to re-establish control over the entire country,” says The Ancient Egypt Site.
Persian rule may have seemed like a yoke to rulers, but it very well may have been beneficial to the common people because Persian rulers abolished slavery and did other human rights reforms when they came to power. Persian kings extended their reforms to lands they conquered while allowing religious freedom.
In a clay cylinder that has been called the first Charter of Human Rights, Cyrus talks about lifting “unbecoming yokes” of Babylonians and abolishes forced labor. The Persians apparently also gave grain and meat to poor people, though from the website The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies it is unclear if such rations were given in Egypt.
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Alexander wanted to conquer Egypt and its ports because he needed a coastal base for commercial and military reasons.
The end of the 30 th Dynasty, the last native house to rule ancient Egypt, had actually come about a decade before Alexander arrived. Nectanebo II, the grandson of the man depicted in the shrine unearthed this year, had fled to the Sudan in 343 BC in the face of Persians’ incursions. The Persians, though, left when Alexander and his forces arrived.
“With [Alexander’s] naval forces following his progress down the coast, his Macedonian army covered the hazardous 130-mile distance in only a week, and he reached the heavily fortified coastal town of Pelusium, in late October 332 BC,” says the site Realhistory.
King Darius of Persia fled, and Egypt’s Persian governor Mazaces met Alexander without any armed forces and turned over the treasury’s 800 talents. Mazaces remained as part of the new administration of governor Cleomenes and established Egypt’s royal mint around 331 BC.
After Alexander died the Ptolemaic Dynasty ruled Egypt until around 30 BC, when Rome conquered Egypt. The Byzantine Empire ruled Egypt later, until eventually Arabs conquered Egypt in the seventh century.
By Mark Miller