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Ancient Egypt's History

Late Period



As may be expected from earlier history, the strong kings of the 18th and 19th dynasties and the first part of the 20th Dynasty were succeeded by weak rulers who allowed the country to fall from their grasp. Ramses III, the last powerful ruler of the 20th Dynasty, built an immense mortuary temple (1198-1167 BC) on the west bank of the Nile at Medinet Habu, near Thebes, which remains one of the best preserved today. A palace adjoined the temple; it is clear that the king visited and used it during his lifetime. Ramses III had to organize the defense of Egypt from foreign invasion; the battles of these campaigns are vividly recorded in reliefs on the temple walls.

The 21st through 24th dynasties are considered the Third Intermediate period, a span of more than 350 years, with rulers at Sais, Tanis, and Bubastis in the Nile delta. The rulers of the 25th Dynasty who reunited Egypt were foreigners from Kush in the Sudan; they worshiped Egyptian gods, however, and practiced Egyptian customs in the belief that it was their duty to restore Egypt to glory. These Kushite kings refurbished temples and built new structures to the gods. They incorporated in their names those of famous kings of the past, and their art imitated scenes and motifs from earlier monuments. The practice of pyramid burial was revived in their homeland of Kush. During their reign the Assyrians invaded Egypt and eventually put an end to Kushite domination.

The Assyrians were not able to hold the country; the appointed vassals of the Assyrians created a new native dynasty at Sais and ruled for nearly 140 years. The Saites carried on the restoration of tradition begun by the Kushites, and the arts flourished. Sculpture and bronze casting became major industries; contacts were made with the Greeks, some of whom served in the Egyptian army as mercenaries. A Jewish colony was even established as far south as Asw?n, testifying to contact by the Saite kings with the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The art of the 26th Dynasty used many ancient forms, often literally copying motifs from earlier monuments. An interest in perceptive portraiture begun in the 25th Dynasty was continued, sometimes with splendid results.

The 26th Dynasty ended with the invasion by the Persian Empire and, except for brief periods, Egypt was never again completely free from foreign domination. The conquest of the country by Alexander the Great in 332 BC and by the Romans in 30 BC brought Egypt into the classical world, but the ancient artistic traditions persisted. Alexander and his successors were depicted on the walls of temples as Egyptian kings in an Egyptian style of relief carving. Temples were built in the Ptolemaic period (the dynasty founded by Alexander) and in the Roman period that echoed traditional Egyptian styles in architecture.

Egyptian art also exerted a powerful influence on the cultures of the invaders. Early Greek artists acknowledged a debt to Egypt in the development of their own styles. The Romans so loved Egyptian art that they carried off to their homeland countless examples and even had imitations of Egyptian sculpture carved by Roman artists. The influence of Egyptian art and an interest in Egyptian antiquity have lasted to the present day.


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