Amasis: The Pharaoh With No Illusions

John Ray on a ruler who mixed laddishness with mysticism in the last days of independent Egypt.

There is no denying that ancient Egypt arouses great popular interest, but most of the interest concentrates on periods which have visual impact especially the Old Kingdom, the age of the great pyramids, and the New Kingdom, the time of Tutankhamun, Akhenaten, and the splendours of the Egyptian empire. But there are lesser known delights, and one of these is the so-called Late Period, although it passes for early by most people's standards (664 – 330 BC). This period is the subject of increasing interest to scholars, but otherwise it tends to be neglected, partly because of the lack of surviving monuments, partly because of a feeling that Egypt, by this time, had passed its prime and lost its identity along with some of its independence. (The French name for this period, la basse époque, captures this feeling well.) But this is misleading, as becomes clear if we consider the case of Amasis, the last great ruler of the twenty-sixth dynasty, whose reign lasted forty-four years, from 570 to 526 BC.

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