Taharqa reigned from 690 BC to 664 BC, which was a time of affluence in Egypt. He was known as the 4th king of the 25th dynasty and the king of Kush. He rose into power as the successor of his brother, Shebitku, but he started with unappealing decisions that resulted in challenges in the early part of his leadership.
How did his decisions affect his royal image?
Although his army was not yet well trained in severe battles, he upheld Palestine’s opposition against King Sennacherib of Assyria.
This act led to his defeat when his army was crushed by Esarhaddon, Sennacherib’s son, in 671 BC. To Taharqa’s disappointment, Esarhaddon also invaded Memphis and took away its crown jewels and royal concubines.
At that time, Pharaoh Taharqa found his refuge in Upper Egypt for his safety against Esarhaddon. Otherwise, a bloody encounter could have been inevitable knowing the might of Esarhaddon.
Who Was Taharqa?
King Taharqa came from a Nubian family that had first invaded Egypt. His name means “young man” or “young warrior.” His father, Piye or Piankhi, the King of Napata, was at the height of his power when Taharqa, the Black Pharaoh, was born.
His family’s royal ascendancy included his brother, Shebitku, who became his predecessor in Egypt. The family’s affluence began with the successful invasions of Piankhi and his brother, Shabaka, which resulted in the accumulation of more wealth and power.
You must know that Taharqa was one of the “Kushite Pharaohs” who triumphantly controlled Egypt for about a century. His parents, King Piankhi and Queen Abar disciplined their children to carry over the royal legacy of his father. He got married to Naparaye, and they had three children named Amenirdis II, Atlanersa, and Abdi-Milkutti.
Records taken from Serapeum stela show that Taharqa’s reign commenced in 690 BC. It was also presumed that his rule ended in 664 BC. He stated that he succeeded to the throne of his brother, Shebitku, and he deliberately omitted the name of his uncle, Shabaka, from his history because he ousted Shabaka from power due to a power struggle between the two.
The literature about his reign has presented a detailed account of his travels around the country. Interestingly, he mentioned how he sailed to the northern region of Thebes with the young and stunning people sent by Shebitku from Nubia. He also narrated that he was loved by the nobles in Egypt and how he earned the crown in Memphis.
This event in Taharqa’s life explained his journey from Nubia to Egypt with the assistance of Shebitku. Still, he chose to emerge from the shadows of Shabaka because he wanted to project a legitimate kingship away from any inquiry associated with Shabaka, his uncle. Likewise, he wanted to claim the thought that Shebitku favored him more than anyone in their royal clan.
A master of narrative, Taharqa stated in his stela his origin as a Nubian pharaoh of Egypt. His reign symbolized that he was the last ruler of the 25th dynasty, which historians fondly called the Ethiopian Dynasty. He also added that he fought with the Assyrians, who overpowered him and drove him out of Lower Egypt at the beginning of their military campaign.
Another version of the Nubian legacy recounted that Shabaka conquered Lower Egypt with his nephew, Taharqa, who was only 20 years old at that time. Taharqa took the side of the leader of the Egyptian army and didn’t fight with Shabaka. However, after 23 years of Nubian presence in Egypt, Taharqa proclaimed himself as the king of the Nile in his own right.
You could see a peaceful regime at the beginning of Taharqa’s reign. Then, he moved his capital to Tanis in the Delta region of the river to be more connected with the activities in other Asian countries. For instance, Egypt and Assyria began a military confrontation in 671 BC, in which the Assyrians defeated Taharqa’s soldiers.
Esarhaddon, the Assyrian king, boldly crossed Sinai and crushed the weakening men of Taharqa. It was known that the Assyrians were more disciplined and advanced in their military strategies and weaponry.
Knowing their weakness compared to the soldiers of Esarhaddon, Taharqa escaped to Upper Egypt to give way for Esarhaddon to control Lower Egypt. However, he didn’t surrender his quest for victory because he gathered reinforcement and a young battalion of soldiers to challenge Esarhaddon once again. Taharqa’s audacity made him successful, but it didn’t last long.
You could probably feel his eagerness to win despite having a less trained army. He was a young and proud king who wanted to keep his image as a conqueror. To counterattack, Esarhaddon commissioned his successor, Ashurbanipal, to launch an offensive strike against Taharqa’s soldiers, who were driven south again.
Taharqa learned a lot of lessons from this battle, so he accepted his final defeat by not sending his soldiers to the north again. Sadly, this scenario opened the door of Egypt into a period of foreign invaders. It should be noted that Egypt had been revered for its immense power, but its failure had caused foreign leaders to come and defy the land, the gods, and their people.
Egypt was a prosperous country everybody could enjoy. People from other countries were always stunned by the grandeur of Egyptian engineering, architecture, science, education, and economy.
Taharqa spent time restoring more temples and significant monuments during his regime. He led the construction of temples in Cush since the Nubian state was in Upper Egypt. He also built monuments at Thebes, Karnak, and Tanis in Lower Egypt to symbolize his power.
At a young age, he had shown his fondness for architectural projects, which he spearheaded in the last eight years of his stay in Cush. He always expressed his interest in engineering and designs, which he tried to adopt for his hometown.
Believing that it was not yet late for another royal duty, he accepted coregency with Tanutamon in 663 BC. His ministers were equally surprised with that decision because his relationship with Tanutamon was unclear. Such a decision was another mistake because he died in 664 BC, and he was laid to rest in his pyramid in Nuri.
Right after his internment, Tanutamon acted violently by conquering Lower Egypt. With a great amount of audacity, he conquered the region because he was a coregent of Taharqa.
This period in the leadership of Egypt brought a lot of lessons for the people and its local leaders. Tanutamon dominated Lower Egypt for about a decade until his people were driven away by the Assyrians.
You can estimate that the Nubians had managed to conquer Egypt for approximately 75 years. They had been the perennial enemy of Egypt. They knew the Egyptians’ infirmities, but history favored Egypt when great leaders were born in the land, including Taharqa. Meanwhile, the Nubians were able to control the Kingdom of Cush, located in the northern part of Sudan, for about a thousand years.
Historians still commend Taharqa for his courage in strengthening the Kushite Empire or the Nubian Dynasty in Egypt. This period was also called the Black Pharaohs or the 25th dynasty of Egypt. You might notice that Taharqa had conflicts with his family members, such as Shabaka. He was also notable for his feuds with the Assyrians.
Suffice to say, you could describe the period as a time of opulence because the country gained more under the kingship of Taharqa. His timing was perfect for the economy to grow as the Nile was generous to the people at that time.
Consequently, they were able to have an abundant harvest, which made the economy more stable. Aside from that, Taharqa’s period gave birth to adequate intellectual and material resources.
You could see the lavish support he intended for the intellectuals, believing that his government could thrive with astute people in various positions. His sacred inscriptions revealed his abundant donations of gold to the temple of Amun located in Kawa. Historians believe that his restoration of the temple in Kawa was one of the flagships of his reign. In addition, the empire at the Nile Valley flourished during his time.
Taharqa’s Contributions to Culture
The 25th dynasty under the kingship of Taharqa was a period of renaissance for the Egyptians. Historians have agreed to call it a period of cultural revival and architectural restoration. More readings about this period will lead you to the great achievements and contributions instituted by Taharqa.
You might be awed by the projects he supported concerning religion and the arts. Taharqa also made sure that cultural and architectural restorations were done in a manner that was faithful to their original forms, covering the grandeur of the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms.
In terms of religion, the main doctrines of Theban theology were incorporated into the royal doctrines and ideology. In addition, cultural development was emphasized. He pursued the cultural integration of Egypt and Kush, but their respective cultures were impossible to change.
During Taharqa’s reign, he ordered the restoration and expansion of more chapels, temples, and monuments in various places. Historians claim that his effort in restoring the temples in Karnak and Jebel Barkal was remarkable. He planned to build a massive complex of monuments and sanctuaries featuring the great temple of Amun at the center.
Such a project was a lofty dream for Taharqa, and his goal was to finish it as his main legacy for the people. He thought that the Jebel Barkal and Karnak temples were similar, and he aimed to develop the two as the epitome of the people’s religious beliefs. Hence, by building his construction projects, people would enjoy “Temple Towns,” where they could interact with the government, work, and pray to their gods before anything else.
Egyptian builders had seen that Taharqa’s reign was a time in the 25th dynasty for the first-ever large-scale pyramids, particularly in modern Sudan. They acknowledged the construction of the largest pyramid in Nubia by using sophisticated cuts of rocks. The pyramid was 52 square meters or 560 square feet at the base, and it was made of approximately 1070 pieces of shabtis with irregular sizes, designs, and colors. It was believed that Taharqa was buried there.
The tiny stone figures or shabtis were made of alabaster, granite, and green ankerite. Egyptians believed that they were included in tombs to provide the dead with servants if ever they should be asked to do menial jobs in the afterlife. This custom gives you another facet of the ancient burial customs observed by early people.
Taharqa occupied two positions in his time. He was both the pharaoh of Egypt and the king of Kush. His life was a celebration of prestige, luxury, and even failure in terms of military campaigns, but Taharqa was not someone who would easily give up. He worked hard to keep his title and power.
After years of opulence, he died in 664 BC in Thebes, Egypt, but he was buried in Nuri, Sudan, to keep the traditions of his Nubian family. He was buried at the Taharqa pyramid in Nuri, an enormous pyramid featuring his accomplishments, prayers, and supplications to his god.
Historians had revived their study on his life when a Pharaoh Taharqa statue was discovered in 2010. Archeologists found this statue 217 miles northeast of Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. His royal duties were succeeded by Tantamani, who was the son of Shabaka.
Taharqa was known as the “Black Egyptian King” who ruled Egypt during the country’s economic stability. He was endowed with the right skills and training as a pharaoh.
Here are other notable points about his reign:
- Taharqa was known for his shaky start in Egypt due to his disagreement with his uncle, Shabaka, and his unwise decisions that put his leadership in near jeopardy.
- His ambitious dream to expand the country’s territory and political power was quite challenging because he had to win against equally formidable nations around Egypt.
- He lost in some of his military campaigns.
- Nevertheless, he never gave up and eventually won, which showed his determination to make a name as a dynamic leader.
- His restoration projects in arts, culture, religion, architecture, and economy had won the admiration of many people.
His reign did not take off smoothly but Taharqa eventually found his footing, leading to his recognition as a respected African pharaoh in Egypt.