The Third Intermediate Period is a phrase used to refer the period of the history of Ancient Egypt from the death of pharaoh Rameses XI in 1070 BC to the foundation of the Twenty-sixth Dynasty by Psamtik I, following the expulsion of the Nubian rulers of the Twenty-fifth dynasty.
This period is characterised by the fracturing of the kingship in the country. Even in Rameses day his dynasty (the 20th) was losing its grip on power in the city of Thebes whose priests were becoming increasingly powerful. After his death his successor Smendes I ruled from the city of Tanis. In fact this division is less significant than it seems since both priests and pharoahs came from the same family.
The country was firmly reunited by the Libyan 22nd dynasty founded by Shoshenq I in 945 BC who succeeded in the usual fashion by marrying the daughter of the last king of the 21st dynasty Psusennes II. This brought stability to the country for well over a century but by 818 BC another breakaway powerbase had emerged this time at Leontopolis where Pedibastet had himself made pharoah. These two dynasty squabbled and intermarried with confusing regularity. By their conclusion there were pretenders not only at Leontopolis but also Hermopolis and Herakleopolis.
The Nubian kingdom of the south took advantage of this squabbling. In 727 BC its ruler Piankhi came north and defeated the combined might of the Egyptian rulers. He established a 25th dynasty and made the defeated rulers his provincial governors. Piankhi was succeeded first by his brother Shabaka and then by his two sons Shebitku and Taharqa.
The international prestige of Egypt was much reduced by this time. The country had fallen firmly into the sphere of influence of Assyria and from about 700 BC the question became when not if there would be war. Taharqa's reign and that of his successor (his cousin) Tanutamun were filled with constant conflict with the Assyrians against whom there were numerous victories but ultimately Thebes was occupied and Memphis sacked. The dynasty ended with its rulers stuck in the relative backwater of the city of Napata.
Instead Egypt was ruled (from 664 BC, a full eight years prior to Tanutamun's death) by the 26th dynasty, client kings established by the Assyrians. Psamtik I was the first to be recognised by them as the King of the whole of Egypt and he brought increased stability to the country in a fifty year reign from the city of Sais. Unfortunately for his dynasty a new power was growing. Pharoah Psamtik III had suceeded his father Ahmose II scarcely a year before he had to face the might of Persia at Pelusium. The Persians had already taken Babylon, Egypt was no match. Psamtik was defeated, briefly escaped to Memphis but ultimately was imprisoned at Susa, capital of the Persian emperors who now assumed the title of Pharoah.
The historiography of this period is disputed for a variety of reasons. Firstly there is a dispute about the utility of a very artificial term that covers an extremely long and complicated period of Egyptian history. The Third Intermediate period includes periods of stability as well as instability and its name rather clouds this fact. Secondly there are significant problems of chronology stemming from several areas. First there are the difficulties in dating common to all Egyptian chronology but these are compounded here due to links to biblical archaeology that also contain heavily disputed dates. Finally, some Egyptologists and biblical scholars have novel and controversial theories about the familial relationships of the dynasties comprising the period.
- Dodson, Aidan Mark. 2001. “Third Intermediate Period.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, edited by Donald Bruce Redford. Vol. 3 of 3 vols. Oxford, New York, and Cairo: Oxford University Press and The American University in Cairo Press. 388–394.
- Kitchen, Kenneth Anderson. . The Third Intermediate Period in Egypt (1100–650 BC). 3rd ed. Warminster: Aris & Phillips Limited.
- Myśliwiec, Karol. 2000. The Twighlight of Ancient Egypt: First Millennium B.C.E. Translated by David Lorton. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.
- Taylor, John H. 2000. “The Third Intermediate Period (1069–664 BC).” In The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, edited by Ian Shaw. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. 330–368.