Dynastic Transitions

One of the things that really caught my attention this week was the issue of dynastic changeover. The end of the 18th dynasty was a succession of rulers with decreasing degrees of kinship connections. Akhenaten died and Tutankhamen “ruled” until he died when he was 18, but much of what he did was, according to Chapter 8, “probably manipulated by high court officials and priests of the traditional cults” (p. 229). After Tutankhamen the kingship passed on to Ay who was “possibly a brother of Akhenaten’s mother” (p. 214), but wasn’t descended from either Akhenaten or Tutankhamen. This passing on of rulership is odd, but at least it stays in the royal family and so is still more or less in the same traditions of the 18th dynasty. After Ay the next ruler was Horemheb though, and Horemheb was “a general who had also been regent for Tutankhamen” (p. 214). It is very interesting to see the way that political power is passed along at the end of the dynasty, from father to son, to possibly uncle, to general and then to another military leader/vizier. Rameses I wasn’t related to Horemheb though, but he did start his own dynasty even though “he ruled for little more than a year” (p. 214).

The interesting thing about all of this political turmoil is that while it seems like it should be important who is the leader of the country, it seems like most of the political power in Egypt is actually in the political and religious institutions existing in Egypt at this time, rather than in the hands of the individual ruler or his family. The king was no longer the only ruler either, as there were also Governors for conquest states, both in the north and in the south, as well as viziers of northern and southern Egypt, also overseers of money, and food production, as well as mayors in major cities and nomes as well as other large towns. Also important are the religious leaders, the high priests of Amen and the other gods, all of whom, both economic and religious leaders would have competed with the king for power and essentially limited the authority and power of any king. The king also sought to limit the power of others though, as is evidenced by the way that the “heir to the throne was often the commander-in-chief of the army in the king’s name, but to secure the line of succession other royal sons were often excluded from positions of power in the army or government” (p. 210). If they were excluded from government or army power, I wonder if the other royal sons sought religious power by becoming priests, or what they did with their lives.

The lack of the authority and power of the kings, especially compared to the old kingdom and even the middle kingdom to some extent, really emphasizes the power of the Egyptian state, in military, government, economic and religious areas. The way that the New Kingdom is able to survive short reigns of pharaohs, after Akhenaten, as well as after Rameses II, shows that while the pharaoh’s individual power may have been lacking, the Egyptian state and culture did have substantial power, and power that was able to maintain itself.