Third Intermediate Period

by Siobhan Shinn

The Third Intermediate Period spanned from c.1069-664 BC and included the twenty-first to twenty-fourth dynasties. This period is characterized by localized rule and therefore most scholars have considered it as another one of Egypt’s “dark ages”.

The site of Tanis in the northeastern delta was the seat of the 21st Dynasty rulers and was excavated by W. M. F. Petrie between 1883 and 1886 on behalf of The Egypt Exploration Fund. It is now known that many of the moments recorded by Petrie were removed from the Ramesside capital at Qantir known as Pi-Ramesses. Many cartouches of Ramesses II can be seen in the EES Lucy Gura Archive images of the site.


Figure 1: The monumental remains and tell at Tanis. Previous excavations at Tanis by Mariette provided evidence for an ambitious building project. Petrie, digging at this site in 1883, discovered a number of monumental sculptures and stela containing the names of kings from Egypt’s Third Intermediate Period.

The influence of these rulers was still felt at Thebes where the line of Theban priests recognized this deltaic dynasty until the rise of the Libyan 22nd Dynasty which installed family members into Theban religious positions to sonsolidate their rule. Toward the end of the 22nd Dynasty during the reign of Shoshenq III, political power became divided between three centres: two in the Delta at Tanis and Tell Moqdam (Leontopolis) and another in the Nile Valley at Thebes. Tanis and Tell Moqdam were ruled by two separate family lineages, each of which claimed to be Egypt’s true pharaohs. Thebes, and the rest of Upper Egypt, was controlled by the High Priests of Amun who were also of Libyan descent and were distantly related to the deltaic dynasties.


Figure 2: A relief of Shoshenq III at  Tanis.

A group of Libyan chieftains established themselves at Sais in the western delta as the 24th Dynasty. Unfortunately, little is known about this dynasty due to the dearth of archaeological evidence discovered but they paved the way for the subsequent 26th Dynasty at Sais in the Late Period. Excavations, funded in part by The Egypt Exploration Society, continue at Sais and their findings are published by the Society.

During the 25th Dynasty, the powerful leaders of the Kingdom of Kush in Nubia conquered Egypt and established control at Memphis. Their choice of Memphis, the traditional seat of political power for Egypt, was a symbolic act designed to create an emotional tie between the contemporary Nubian rulers and Egypt’s ancient pharaohs. This began a time of archaism and revival known as the Late Period.

Further Reading

Petrie, W. M. F. 1885. Tanis. Part 1, 1883-4. London: The Egyptian Exploration Fund.

Petrie, W. M. F. 1888. Tanis. Part 2, Nebesheh (Am) and Defenneh (Tahpanhes). London: The Egyptian Exploration Fund.

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