Ancient Egypt’s Third Intermediate and Late Periods Top Ten Booklist

When Egypt’s New Kingdom (ca. 1550-1075 BC) collapsed, it ushered in a period of political instability and decline known as the Third Intermediate Period. The Third Intermediate Period was marked by the rule of various Libyan tribes, who divided Egypt into several contemporary dynasties. The Late Period came after the Third Intermediate Period and although it was a period when Egypt was usually united one single dynasty at a time, the rulers were often foreign. The exact point where the Third Intermediate Period ended and the Late Period began is open for debate among many scholars. Some believe that the Third Intermediate Period ended with the Nubian King, Piye’s, conquest of Egypt in 728 because that date also marked the beginning of the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty and a return to Egyptian unification under one dynasty. Other scholars see the date 664 BC as the inception date of the Late Period when Psamtek I came to power, establishing the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty and many of the political, military, and cultural attributes commonly associated with the period.

Similar to questions concerning the chronological origin of the Late Period, its end date is also a bit ambiguous. Some scholars consider Alexander the Great’s conquest of Egypt in 332 BC to be the end of the Late Period, while others extend the period well into the Christian Era, often to the end of the Western Roman Empire in AD 476. This current booklist will consider some titles that cover material after 332 BC.

Unfortunately, the Third Intermediate and Late Periods are almost entirely overlooked in popular publications and the scholarly community has also dedicated far less research into the periods. With that said, there are a number of titles that offer excellent surveys of the periods in their entireties, as well as other books that take more specialized approaches. The following booklist is arranged according to subject’s chronology, beginning with the oldest.

1. Kitchen, Kenneth A. (1995). The Third Intermediate Period in Egypt: (1100 to 650 BC). 2nd ed. Warminster, United Kingdom: Aris and Phillips.

Through the careful analysis of Egyptian, Assyrian, biblical, and Greek primary sources, eminent British Egyptologist, Kenneth Kitchen, presents the first and most accurate chronology of this often confusing period. This erudite and academically dense tome is required reading for any attempts to understand how Egypt’s New Kingdom collapsed and how political fragmentation became the norm in the Third Intermediate Period.

2. Myśliwiec, Karol. (2000). The Twilight of Ancient Egypt: First Millennium B.C.E. Translated by David Lorton. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

This book is a good place to start for anyone with an interest in ancient Egypt’s Late Period as it provides a suitable survey that covers most of the important political events of the period. The book is arranged in a chronological, narrative format, beginning with the decline of the New Kingdom and ending with a brief synopsis of Greek-Macedonian rule in Egypt after Alexander’s conquest.

3. Bothmer, Bernard V. (1969). Egyptian Sculpture of the Late Period: 700 B.C. to A.D. 100. New York: Arno Press Incorporated.

Any attempt to understand ancient Egypt’s Late Period – or any period in ancient Egyptian history for that matter – will fall short if the textual/historiographical evidence is not considered along with the art historical, and archaeological evidence. This volume is a collection of many Late Period sculptures, some are considered “masterpieces,” by one of the leading ancient Egyptian art historians of the time – Bernard Bothmer. The art historian argues in the introduction that far from being “degenerate” or “provincial,” Late Period sculpture was actually very skilled and refined and in many ways anticipated and influenced later Greek portraiture sculpture.

4. Gozzoli, Roberto B. (2006). The Writing of History in Ancient Egypt during the First Millennium BC (ca. 1070-180 BC): Trends and Perspectives. London: Golden House Publications.

Any careful examination of a pre-modern culture or period should include a historiographical analysis. Understanding ancient historical texts can tell modern scholars a lot, not just about chronology, but more importantly, as Gozzoli argues, historiographical texts can give us a window into what these people were thinking. This book analyzes most of the important, published historiographical texts from ancient Egypt’s Late Period: the first part includes royal inscriptions, while the second part examines histories, folk tales, and eschatological texts.

5. Morkot, Robert. (2000). The Black Pharaohs: Egypt’s Nubian Rulers. London: The Rubicon Press.

As the title of this book suggests, a large portion of this study is dedicated to the period of Nubian rule in Egypt – the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty. Mokot goes beyond Nubian rule in Egypt, though, by providing an in-depth study of Nubian culture in Sudan before the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty, as well as after the Nubian rulers were expelled from Egypt in 664 BC. The author combines both archaeological and textual evidence to present a work that is accessible to academics and lay people alike.

6. Manuelian, Peter D. (1994). Studies in Archaism of the Egyptian Twenty-Sixth Dynasty. London: Keegan Paul International.

The idea of “archaism,” or looking to the past for inspiration in art, language, and culture in general became a major theme in many dynasties of the Late Period. Since many of these dynasties originated outside of Egypt, these kings often attempted to legitimize their sometimes precarious rule by appealing to the powerful priests and nobles through the conscious utilization styles that harkened back to more glorious periods in ancient Egyptian history. Although the kings of the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty – often referred to as the “Saite” Dynasty because their capital was based in the city of Sais – were technically native Egyptians, their names often exposed their Libyan ethnic ancestry that dated back to the Third Intermediate Period. In this book, Manuelian exams a number of important historical texts from the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty and how grammar and lexicon from early periods were used to write the texts. Although the focus of this book is on grammar, the texts, which are complete with Egyptian hieroglyphic transcriptions and English translations, provide a solid primary source background needed to understand the Saite Period.

7. Posener, Georges. (1936). La première domination Perse en Égypte: Recueil d’inscriptions hieroglyphs. Cairo: L’Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale.

Although this book is several decades old now, it is still relevant in terms of historiography and the accuracy of the translations. This book is a collection of Egyptian hieroglyphic texts from the Twenty-Seventh Dynasty – the first era of Achaemenid Persian dominance in Egypt (525-404 BC) – from a variety of different contexts, including royal inscriptions, funerary offerings, and religious texts. Hieroglyphic transcriptions of the texts are provided along with French translations. Posener acknowledged in the introduction that most knowledge Egyptologists’ had of the Twenty-Seventh Dynasty before this publication came from Greco-Roman sources, such as Herodotus, which have a tendency to be distorted, especially concerning the Achaemenid Persians who were the rivals of many of the Greek city-states. He intended for his collection of texts to fill in the gaps that were often left by the Greco-Roman sources and to provide a more complete and objective image of the period.

8. Joisten-Pruschke, Anke, (2008). Das religiöse Leben der Juden von Elephantine in der Achämenidenzeit. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

One of the more intriguing aspects of the Achaemenid Persian Empire was how its kings were able to keep such a vast and diverse subject population under control for so long. One of the tactics the Persians used was the deployment of strategic military garrisons throughout the empire. During the Twenty-Seventh Dynasty, the Persian kings established a colony of Jewish mercenaries near the city of Elephantine (modern Aswan), which was documented by its inhabitants in a collection of Aramaic papyri. In this book, Joisten-Pruschke presents a number of previously published Aramaic papyri from Elephantine with new German translations. The author also gives a historical background of the colony and discusses some major events, including the construction of a Yahweh temple and communal violence between the Jews and priests of the Egyptian god Khnum during the reign of Darius II in 410 BC.

9. Chauveau, Michael. (2000). Egypt in the Age of Cleopatra: History and Society under the Ptolemies. Translated by David Lorton. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

Chauveau examines the period of Greek/Ptolemaic rule in Egypt (332-30 BC) in this engaging book. The first chapter is a brief chronological survey of the period, but the majority of the book is dedicated to important thematic issues in Ptolemaic Egypt such as the relationship between the Greek and native Egyptian communities, changes in religious life, and the nature of the Ptolemaic economy.

10. Bowman, Alan K. (1996). Egypt after the Pharaohs: 332 BC-AD 642 from Alexander to the Arab Conquest. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

This book covers Ptolemaic era Egypt through the Roman Period, ending with the advent of the Islamic conquest in AD 642. Like Chauveau’s book, Bowman examines Greek and Roman Egypt with a more thematic approach, but in a much more dense and academic manner. Bowman places a greater emphasis on the social history of the period, particularly how the Greek and native Egyptian communities interacted, than he does on imperial politics and chronology.