Necho II

Necho II
Nekau

A small kneeling bronze statuette, likely Necho II, now residing in the Brooklyn Museum
Pharaoh of Egypt
Reign 610–595 BC, 26th dynasty
Predecessor Psamtik I
Successor Psamtik II
Consort(s) Khedebneithirbinet I
Died 595 BC

Necho II (sometimes Nekau) was a king of the Twenty-sixth dynasty of Egypt (610 BCE – 595 BCE).

Necho II is most likely the pharaoh mentioned in several books of the Bible (see Hebrew Bible / Old Testament). The Book of Kings states that Necho met King Josiah of the Kingdom of Judah at Megiddo and killed him (2 Kings 23:29) (see Battle of Megiddo (609 BC)). The Book of Chronicles 2 Chronicles 35:20-27 gives a lengthier account and 2 Chronicles 35:20 states that when Josiah had prepared the temple, Necho king of Egypt came up to fight against the Babylonians at Carchemish on the Euphrates River and that King Josiah was fatally wounded by an Egyptian archer. He was then brought back to Jerusalem to die. Necho is quoted as saying:

"What quarrel is there between you and me, O king of Judah? It is not you I am attacking at this time, but the house with which I am at war. God has told me to hurry; so stop opposing God, who is with me, or he will destroy you." (NIV)

However, at Carchemish in the summer of 605 BC an important battle was fought by the Babylonian army of Nebuchadrezzar II and that of Pharaoh Necho II of Egypt (see the record contained in the Book of Jeremiah chapter 46 regarding Egypt and its defeat).[1] The aim of Necho's campaign was to contain the Westward advance of the Babylonian Empire and cut off its trade route across the Euphrates. However, the Egyptians were defeated by the unexpected attack of the Babylonians and were eventually expelled from Syria.

Contents

Biography

Family

Necho II was the son of Psammetichus I by his Great Royal Wife Mehtenweskhet. His prenomen or royal name Wahem-Ib-Re means "Carrying out [the] Heart (ie. Wish) [of] Re."[2]

Reign

Necho played a significant role in the histories of the Assyrian Empire, Babylonia and the Kingdom of Judah. Upon his ascension, Necho was faced with the chaos created by the raids of the Cimmerians and the Scythians, who had not only ravaged Asia west of the Euphrates, but had also helped the Babylonians shatter the Assyrian Empire. That once mighty empire was now reduced to the troops, officials, and nobles who had gathered around a general holding out at Harran, who had taken the throne name of Ashur-uballit II. Necho attempted to assist this remnant immediately upon his coronation, but the force he sent proved to be too small, and the combined armies were forced to retreat west across the Euphrates.

First campaign

Aerial view of Tel Megiddo site of the battle of Megiddo in 609 BC.

In the spring of 609 BC, Necho personally led a sizable force to help the Assyrians. At the head of a large army, consisting mainly of his mercenaries, Necho took the coast route Via Maris into Syria, supported by his Mediterranean fleet along the shore, and proceeded through the low tracts of Philistia and Sharon. He prepared to cross the ridge of hills which shuts in on the south the great Jezreel Valley, but here he found his passage blocked by the Judean army. Their king, Josiah, sided with the Babylonians and attempted to block his advance at Megiddo, where a fierce battle was fought and Josiah was killed (2 Kings 23:29, 2 Chronicles 35:20-24).

Herodotus reports the campaign of the pharaoh in his Histories:

Necos, then, stopped work on the canal and turned to war; some of his triremes were constructed by the northern sea, and some in the Arabian Gulf, by the coast of the Sea of Erythrias. The windlasses for beaching the ships can still be seen. He deployed these ships as needed, while he also engaged in a pitched battle at Magdolos with the Syrians, and conquered them; and after this he took Cadytis (Kadesh), which is a great city of Syria. He sent the clothes he had worn in these battles to Branchidae of Miletus and dedicated them to Apollo.

Necho soon captured Kadesh on the Orontes and moved forward, joining forces with Ashur-uballit and together they crossed the Euphrates and laid siege to Harran. Although Necho became the first pharaoh to cross the Euphrates since Thutmose III, he failed to capture Harran, and retreated back to northern Syria. At this point, Ashur-uballit vanished from history, and the Assyrian Empire was conquered by the Babylonians.

Leaving a sizable force behind, Necho returned to Egypt. On his return march, he found that the Judeans had selected Jehoahaz to succeed his father Josiah, whom Necho deposed and replaced with Jehoiakim. He brought Jehoahaz back to Egypt as his prisoner, where Jehoahaz ended his days (2 Kings 23:31; 2 Chronicles 36:1-4).

Second campaign

Meanwhile, the Babylonian king was planning on reasserting his power in Syria. In 609 BC, King Nabopolassar captured Kumukh, which cut off the Egyptian army, then based at Carchemish. Necho responded the following year by retaking Kumukh after a four month siege, and executed the Babylonian garrison. Nabopolassar gathered another army, which camped at Qurumati on the Euphrates. However, Nabopolassar's poor health forced him to return to Babylon in 605 BC. In response, in 606 BC the Egyptians attacked the leaderless Babylonians (probably then led by the crown prince Nebuchadrezzar) who fled their position.

At this point, the aged Nabopolassar, passed command of the army to his son Nebuchadrezzar II, who led them to a decisive victory over the Egyptians at Carchemish, and pursued the fleeing survivors to Hamath. Necho's dream of restoring the Egyptian Empire in the Middle East as had occurred under the New Kingdom was destroyed as Nebuchadrezzar conquered Egyptian territory from the Euphrates to the Brook of Egypt (Jeremiah 46:2; 2 Kings 23:29) down to Judea. Although Nebuchadrezzar spent many years in his new conquests on continuous pacification campaigns, Necho was unable to recover any significant part of his lost territories. For example, when Ashkalon rose in revolt, despite repeated pleas the Egyptians sent no help, and were barely able to repel a Babylonian attack on their eastern border in 601 BC. When he did repel the Babylonian attack, Necho managed to capture Gaza while pursuing the enemy. Necho turned his attention in his remaining years to forging relationships with new allies: the Carians, and further to the west, the Greeks.

Ambitious projects

At some point during his Syrian campaign, Necho II initiated but never completed the ambitious project of cutting a navigable canal from the Pelusiac branch of the Nile to the Red Sea. Necho's Canal was the earliest precursor of the Suez Canal.[3] It was in connection with this new activity that Necho founded a new city of Per-Temu Tjeku which translates as 'The House of Atum of Tjeku' at the site now known as Tell el-Maskhuta,[4] about 15 km west of Ismailia. The waterway was intended to facilitate trade between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. Necho also formed an Egyptian navy by recruiting displaced Ionian Greeks. This was an unprecedented act by the pharaoh since most Egyptians had traditionally harboured an inherent distaste for and fear of the sea.[5] The navy which Necho created operated along both the Mediterranean and Red Sea coasts.[6]

Herodotus (4.42) also reports that Necho sent out an expedition of Phoenicians, who in three years sailed from the Red Sea around Africa back to the mouth of the Nile.[7] Some current historians tend to believe Herodotus' account, primarily because he stated with disbelief that the Phoenicians " as they sailed on a westerly course round the southern end of Libya (Africa), they had the sun on their right - to northward of them" (The Histories 4.42) -- in Herodotus' time it was not known that Africa extended south past the equator; however, Egyptologists also point out that it would have been extremely unusual for an Egyptian Pharaoh to carry out such an expedition.[8] Alan B. Lloyd doubts the event and attributes the development of the story by other events.[9]

Death and succession

Necho II died in 595 BC and was succeeded by his son, Psamtik II, as the next pharaoh of Egypt. Psamtik II, however, later removed Necho's name from almost all of his father's monuments for unknown reasons.

References

General information
Footnotes
  1. ^ Jeremiah 46-48, biblegateway.com
  2. ^ Peter Clayton, Chronicle of the Pharaohs, Thames and Hudson, 1994. p.195
  3. ^ Redmount, Carol A. "The Wadi Tumilat and the "Canal of the Pharaohs"" Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. 54, No. 2 (Apr., 1995), pp. 127-135
  4. ^ Shaw & Nicholson, p.201
  5. ^ Clayton, p.196
  6. ^ Herodotus 2.158; Pliny N.H. 6.165ff; Diodorus Siculus 3.43
  7. ^ Note however that though the original documents state "Red Sea", many ancient manuscripts reference the "Mediterranean Sea" as the "Red Sea". See History of Suez Canal and painting by Wybylack for more detail.
  8. ^ For instance, the Egyptologist Alan Lloyd wrote "Given the context of Egyptian thought, economic life, and military interests, it is impossible for one to imagine what stimulus could have motivated Necho in such a scheme and if we cannot provide a reason which is sound within Egyptian terms of reference, then we have good reason to doubt the historicity of the entire episode." Alan B. Lloyd, "Necho and the Red Sea: Some Considerations", Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 63 (1977) p.149.
  9. ^ Lloyd points out that geographical knowledge at the time of Herodutus was such that Greeks would know that such a voyage would entail the sun being on their right but did not believe Africa could extend far enough for this to happen. He suggests that the Greeks at this time understood that anyone going south far enough and then turning west would have the sun on their right but found it unbelievable that Africa reached so far south. He suggests that "It is extremely unlikely that an Egyptian king would, or could, have acted as Necho is depicted as doing" and that the story might have been triggered by the failure of Sataspes attempt to circumnavigate Africa under Xerxes the Great. For more see: Lloyd, Alan B. "Necho and the Red Sea: Some Considerations Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. 63, (1977), pp. 142-155

Further reading

  • Peter Clayton (1994). Chronicle of the Pharaohs, Thames and Hudson.
  • Nekau (II) Wehemibre., digitalegypt.ucl.ac.uk
  • Necho II, touregypt.net.

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