Egypt in the Late Period (ca. 712–332 B.C.)

Kushite Pharaoh, Late Period, Dynasty 25, ca. 713–664 B.C.
Bronze with gilding

H. 3 in. (7.5 cm)
Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, and Anne and John V. Hansen Egyptian Purchase Fund, 2002 (2002.8)

NOT ON VIEW Last Updated July 27, 2012

This small figure has a very large aura—its taut beauty and bold features express an intense energy and focus. That it is a Kushite pharaoh of Egypt is clear from its distinctive Sudanese regalia, discernible despite the efforts of an Egyptian king, ruling some seventy years later, to make the statuette more suitably conformist: the ram’s-head necklace was hammered out, the Kushite double uraeus was recut to a single one, and the king’s name on the belt was erased. The cap crown with a falcon engraved in the back, the bandeau with streamers, and the diadem with many tiny uraei were left untouched. The king’s narrowed eyes and large, forward-thrusting jaw do not resemble the few identifiable images of the Kushite kings, which disproportionately represent Taharqo (r. ca. 690–664 B.C.). A relatively early date is possible for the present object.

When the Kushites conquered Egypt in the mid-eighth century B.C., they saw themselves as recapturing part of an ancient homeland that had fallen away from proper observance of the gods. Consequently, their rule is distinguished by fine bronze temple statuary—small, kneeling kings meant to match the small, precious-metal divine image in the temple, to insulate it through devotion, to satisfy the gods, and to restore their blessings to Egypt.

female goddesses mammisi temples celebrating birth juvenile god identified king
female goddesses mammisi temples celebrating birth juvenile god identified king

Kneeling statue of Amenemope-em-hat, Late Period, Dynasty 26, reign of Psamtik I, ca. 664–610 B.C.
Egyptian; Apparently from Memphis, Ptah temple

H. including base 25 1/4 in. (64 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1924 (24.2.2)

ON VIEW: GALLERY 123 Last Updated July 27, 2012

Amenemope-em-hat was director of the Singers of the North and Overseer of the Singers of Amenemope. The second title was inherited from his father, whose equally fine statue has recently been discovered at Tanis, where there was a cult of Amenemope, a form of the god Amun. The first title implies wider authority.

Amenemope-em-hat holds before him the cult object of the cow-eared goddess Hathor. The proportions of this figure, its muscularity, and such details as the slanted ridges of the collarbone and the shallow depression down the center of the torso represent a conscious attempt in the Late Period to emulate the classic works of the Old and Middle Kingdoms.


art tradition earlier styles themes copied subtly changed imbued liveliness

Statuette of a Woman, Late Period, Dynasty 26, reign of Necho II, ca. 610–595 B.C.

H. 9 1/2 in. (24 cm)
Theodore M. Davis Collection, Bequest of Theodore M. Davis, 1915 (30.8.93)

NOT ON VIEW Last Updated July 27, 2012

The cartouches of Necho II embossed on the upper arms, as well as the slight smile and heavy breast, date this nude figure to Dynasty 26. Her elongated limbs and bobbed wig, however, betray an interest in Old Kingdom art frequently noted in Dynasties 25 and 26. The woman is cast in solid silver, with her wig and jewelry made separately. Silver statuettes are extremely rare, and this figure was probably dedicated in a temple or placed in the tomb of a member of the royal family.

statuettes extremely rare figure dedicated temple tomb member royal family

Sarcophagus of Horkhebit, Late Period, Dynasty 26, ca. 590 B.C.
Egyptian; From Saqqara

L. 8 ft. 4 in. (2.55 m), W. 4 ft. (1.21 m)
Rogers Fund, 1907 (07.229.1ab)

ON VIEW: GALLERY 123 Last Updated July 27, 2012

Horkhebit was a “Royal Seal Bearer, Sole Companion, Chief Priest of the Shrines of Upper and Lower Egypt, and Overseer of the Cabinet” in early Dynasty 26. His tomb was a great shaft over sixty feet deep sunk into the desert and solid limestone bedrock in the Late Period cemetery that covers most of the area east of the Djoser complex at Saqqara. In a huge plain chamber at the bottom of the shaft, a rectangular rock core was left standing and hollowed out to house this anthropoid sarcophagus. When the tomb was excavated by the Egyptian government in 1902, the sarcophagus contained the remains of a badly decomposed gilded cedar coffin, and a mummy that wore a mask of gilded silver, gold finger and toe stalls, and numerous small amulets. Other canopic and shawabti equipment accompanied the burial. The finds went to the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, while this sarcophagus was purchased from the Egyptian government by the Metropolitan Museum.

The sarcophagus is one of a group with plump, squarish broad faces, smooth unarticulated bodies, and slightly protruding feet that all originate in the Memphite area and date to the time around the reign of Psamtik II (ca. 595–589 B.C.); several of them may have been produced by the same workshop. Technically the sarcophagus is one of the masterpieces of late Egyptian hard-stone carving. The interiors of the extraordinarily rendered sunk-relief hieroglyphs and figures were left rough and may have been intended to be painted, perhaps in green. The long text on the lid comes from the Book of the Dead.


sculpture metropolitan museum statue god horus falcon 34 2 1

Cosmetic container in the form of a Bes image holding the cap of a kohl tube, Late Period, Dynasty 27, ca. 525–404 B.C.

H. 3 5/8 in. (9.2 cm), W. 1 3/4 in. (4.4 cm)
Gift of Norbert Schimmel Trust, 1989 (1989.281.94)

NOT ON VIEW Last Updated July 27, 2012

This squat human form with leonine features is commonly identified as the god Bes, but several other minor Egyptian gods were also represented by this image. These were protective deities, so they appear frequently as apotropaic figures in the decoration of furniture and personal belongings. Here, the god stands holding the cap of a kohl container, which has a small round hole in the top for insertion of an applicator. It seems likely that the hollow cap fit over a tube that could be detached for easy filling.

The god’s features are carefully modeled. His protruding tongue is outlined against the full lower lip. The eyes have a center dot of gray-blue and are rimmed with raised cosmetic lines that extend to the hairline, as do the heavy eyebrows. The hair is smooth, but manelike whiskers are sharply etched, with small holes at the ends indicating tight curls. Although the god usually has a tail of his own, the tail here clearly belongs to his leopard-skin garment. The narrow brown belt was applied separately; a section has chipped away, leaving a distinct groove. The hollow rectangular modius on the god’s head perhaps held a feathered crown, cemented in place with Egyptian blue, traces of which remain. The back of the right arm has been repaired.

The earliest firmly dated Bes image wearing a leopard skin comes from Dynasty 25, and it has been convincingly demonstrated that the style and iconography of this example date to Dynasty 27.

lacking beard block statue beard figure kneeling magical stela cippuslacking beard block statue beard figure kneeling magical stela cippuslacking beard block statue beard figure kneeling magical stela cippus

Torso of a striding statue of a general, 4th century B.C.

H. 27 1/4 in. (69.2 cm)
Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, Gift of Henry Walters, by exchange, Asher B. Edelman Gift, Judith and Russell Carson Gift, Ernest L. Folk III Bequest, Ludlow Bull Fund, and funds from various donors, 1996 (1996.91)

ON VIEW: GALLERY 128 Last Updated July 27, 2012

With its luxuriously modeled flesh and powerful leg thrust and hip torsion perceptible beneath the surface play of the garment, this torso reaffirms the bold beauty of the traditional striding kilted figure. The sixth century B.C. saw the lapse of this elegantly simple, assertively physical pose. At the beginning of the fourth century, the surge of vitality that brought about the overthrow of Persian domination also initiated a period of artistic renewal, during which this quintessentially Egyptian pose was revived.

The inscription on the back pillar confirms the owner’s position at the epicenter of this period’s events. It identifies him as a “first generalissimo of His Majesty” and speaks of his role in “driving away the aliens from the one who is on the throne” and restoring “the village[s] that had come to harm done by foreign lands.” The text also describes his contributions in restoring the temples of Osiris in the Delta and at Abydos, in one of which this statue perhaps stood. Unfortunately, the owner’s name has been lost.

Significant details include a style of frilled kilt first known in the time of Nectanebo I (380–362 B.C.), a rare sculpted forefinger, and an Isis knot incised on the shoulder.


Kushite Period, or Dynasty 25 (ca. 712–664 B.C.)

From ca. 728 to 656 B.C., the Nubian kings of Dynasty 25 dominated Egypt. Like the Libyans before them, they governed as Egyptian pharaohs. Their control was strongest in the south. In the north, Tefnakht’s successor, Bakenrenef, ruled for four years (ca. 717–713 B.C.) at Sais until Piankhy’s successor, Shabaqo (ca. 712–698 B.C.), overthrew him and established Nubian control over the entire country. The accession of Shabaqo can be considered the end of the Third Intermediate Period and the beginning of the Late Period in Egypt.

Nubian rule, which viewed itself as restoring the true traditions of Egypt, benefited Egypt economically and was accompanied by a revival in temple building and the arts that continued throughout the Late Period. At the same time, however, the country faced a growing threat from the Assyrian empire to its east. After forty years of relative security, Nubian control—and Egypt’s peace—were broken by an Assyrian invasion in ca. 671 B.C. The current pharaoh, Taharqo (ca. 690–664 B.C.), retreated south and the Assyrians established a number of local vassals to rule in their stead in the Delta. One of them, Necho I of Sais (ca. 672–664 B.C.), is recognized as the founder of the separate Dynasty 26. For the next eight years, Egypt was the battleground between Nubia and Assyria. A brutal Assyrian invasion in 663 B.C. finally ended Nubian control of the country. The last pharaoh of Dynasty 25, Tanutamani (664–653 B.C.), retreated to Napata. There, in relative isolation, he and his descendants continued to rule Nubia, eventually becoming the Meroitic civilization, which flourished in Nubia until the fourth century A.D.

Saite Period, or Dynasty 26 (664–525 B.C.)

When the Assyrians withdrew after their final invasion, Egypt was left in the hands of the Saite kings, though it was actually only in 656 B.C. that the Saite king Psamtik I was able to reassert control over the southern area of the country dominated by Thebes. For the next 130 years, Egypt was able to enjoy the benefits of rule by a single strong, native family, Dynasty 26. Elevated to power by the invading Assyrians, Dynasty 26 faced a world in which Egypt was no longer concerned with its role in international power politics but with its sheer survival as a nation. The Egyptians, however, still chose to think of their land as self-contained and free from external influence, unchanged from the days of the pyramid builders 2,000 years earlier. In deference to this ideal, the Saite pharaohs deliberately adopted much from the culture of earlier periods, particularly the Old Kingdom, as the model for their own. Later generations would remember this dynasty as the last truly Egyptian period and would, in turn, recapitulate Saite forms.

Under Saite rule, Egypt grew from a vassal of Assyria to an independent ally. There were even echoes of the bygone might of Egypt’s New Kingdom in Saite military campaigns into Asia Minor (after the collapse of the Assyrian empire in 612 B.C.) and Nubia. In pursuit of these goals, however, the Saite pharaohs had to rely on foreign mercenaries—Carian (from southwestern Asia Minor, modern Turkey), Phoenician, and Greek—as well as Egyptian soldiers. These different ethnic groups lived in their own quarters of the capital city, Memphis. The Greeks were also allowed to establish a trading settlement at Naukratis in the western Delta. This served as a conduit for cultural influences traveling from Egypt to Greece.

After the fall of Assyria in 612 B.C., the major foreign threat to Egypt came from the Babylonians. Although Babylonia had invaded Egypt in 568 B.C. during a brief civil war, both countries formed a mutual alliance in 547 B.C. against the rising threat of a third power, the Persian empire—but to no avail. The Persians conquered Babylonia in 539 B.C. and Egypt in 525 B.C., bringing an end to the Saite dynasty and native control of Egypt.

James Allen
Department of Egyptian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Marsha Hill
Department of Egyptian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Allen, James, and Marsha Hill. “Egypt in the Late Period (ca. 712–332B.C.) “. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2004)
Further Reading
  • Hill, Marsha, Deborah Schorsch, eds. Gifts for the Gods: Images from Ancient Egyptian Temples. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.
  • Lloyd, Alan B. “The Late Period (664–332 B.C.).” In The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, edited by Ian Shaw, pp. 369–94. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Russmann, Edna R., et al. Eternal Egypt: Masterworks of Ancient Art from the British Museum. Exhibition catalogue. New York: American Federation of Arts, 2001.
These related Museum Bulletin or Journal articles may or may not represent the most current scholarship.
  • Carboni, Stefano, et al. “Ars Vitraria: Glass in The Metropolitan Museum of Art.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, v. 59, no. 1 (Summer, 2001).
    JSTOR nbsp metropolitan museum art bulletin 59 1 summer 2001 jstornbsp | PDFs
  • Pischikova, Elena. “Reliefs from the Tomb of the Vizier Nespakashuty: Reconstruction, Iconography, and Style.”Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 33 (1998).
  • Josephson, Jack A. “A Fragmentary Egyptian Head from Heliopolis.” Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 30 (1995).
  • Arnold, Dorothea. “An Egyptian Bestiary.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, v. 52, no. 4 (Spring, 1995).
    JSTOR nbsp metropolitan museum art bulletin 52 4 spring 1995 jstornbsp | PDF | Supplemental PDFs
  • Becker, Lawrence. “An Egyptian Silver Statuette of the Saite Period: A Technical Study.” Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 29 (1994).
  • Dorman, Peter, Edna R. Russmann, and Christine Lilyquist. “Egyptian Art.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, v. 41, no. 3 (Winter, 1983–84).
    JSTOR nbsp metropolitan museum art bulletin 41 3 winter 198384 jstornbsp | PDF | Supplemental PDFs
  • Fischer, Henry George. “The Evolution of Composite Hieroglyphs in Ancient Egypt.” Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 12 (1977).
  • Russmann, Edna R. “The Statue of Amenemope-em-hat.”Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 8 (1973).
  • Meulenaere, Herman de. “La statue d’un chef de chanteurs d’epoque Saite.” Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 8 (1973).
  • Scott, Nora E. “The Cat of Bastet.” Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New ser., v. 17, no. 1 (Summer, 1958)
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