the name of two kings of the thirtieth dynasty, Late period. Nektanebo I (r. 380–363 BCE) founded the dynasty and Nektanebo II (r. 360–343 BCE), is usually considered to be its final ruler and the last native king of Egypt, despite the possibility that a man named Khababash may have succeeded as king (see Spalinger 1978). Tachos (Teos II), son of Nektanebo I and an uncle of Nektanebo II, ruled briefly between the reigns of the Nektanebos. Little is known about Tachos and he built few, if any, monuments. There is some uncertainty about the regnal years of these kings, and the dates listed above may be plus or minus at least one year.
Nektanebo I, from the central Nile Delta city of Sebennytos, was born into a military family, the son of a man named Djedhor. Soon after the death of Hakoris (r. 392–380 BCE), the penultimate king of the twenty-ninth dynasty, Nektanebo seized power. The brief reign of Nepherites II (a son of Hakoris) was disrupted by a period of unrest that resulted in a revolt that unseated him, leaving Nektanebo I to rule. The first seven years of his rule were peaceful, this interlude ending with an invasion by the Persian king, Artaxerxes II. Nektanebo I repulsed the attack, then entered into an alliance with Sparta and Athens. Although his capital was Mendes in Lower Egypt, his monuments have survived from the Mediterranean Sea to the Nubian border. He built a large number of temples— probably more than any of the other pharaohs who ruled after the New Kingdom. If that vast amount of construction is an accurate indicator, his rule was economically extremely successful.
Apart from numerous highly idealized relief representations of Nektanebo I on temple walls, three inscribed statues, or statue fragments, of him are extant. An over life-size limestone portrait (now standing outside the Egyptian Museum in Cairo) is the best known—intact except for its nose and feet. The Mansoura storage magazine in the Delta contains the upper part of a graywacke statue, which skillfully and carefully imitates the style of the late twenty-sixth dynasty, and was probably carved near the beginning of Nektanebo I's reign. A granite head in Paris at the Musée du Louvre is in the later style of the Cairo portrayal. There are undoubtedly other portraits of him not bearing a name (see Josephson 1997). Nektanebo I was venerated long after his death, with cults dedicated to him enduring at least into the middle years of the Ptolemaic (Hellenistic) domination of Egypt.
Nektanebo II ascended the throne as a result of the duplicity of his father, Tjahepimu, a brother of Tachos, who was left in charge of Egypt when Tachos, accompanied by Greek mercenaries and the Egyptian army, journeyed to Phoenicia to battle the Persians who had invaded North Africa. The mercenaries, acting under instructions from Sparta, supported Nektanebo II, and Tachos fled to the Persian court. Upon returning to Egypt, the new pharaoh, Nektanebo II, defeated the prince of Mendes, his only opposition, then turned his attention to the construction and restoration of temples throughout Egypt, an undertaking that enriched the powerful priesthood and ensured their endorsement of his kingship. Coincidentally, the Persians were also preoccupied with problems of succession, so Egypt had a respite from interference by that powerful empire. This state of affairs lasted until 351–350 BCE, when Artaxerxes III, then in full control of his realm, led an invasion force into Egypt. Nektanebo II's troops defeated that formidable foe, who retreated northward, abandoning much of the conquered territory that bordered the Mediterranean Sea.
Emboldened by his military success, Nektanebo II did not conclude treaties with the Greeks and other Mediterranean powers, although together, they might have presented a strong enough alliance to discourage Artaxerxes from attempting to reconquer the wealthy states of Phoenicia and Egypt. In 343 BCE, Persia reinvaded Egypt and prevailed against the isolated Egyptian pharaoh; Artaxerxes had craftily insured success by recruiting two extraordinary generals, Bagoas and Mentor of Rhodes, as well as a substantial force of Greek soldiers. Nektanebo II fled from the Persians, presumably south to Nubia, and never returned to Egypt. Whether Khababash succeeded him is conjectural; if he did, it was in name only.
Although the reign of Nektanebo II ended ignominiously, it was, for the most part, replete with achievements and lasted a considerable period of years, marked by great turbulence in the region. His memory was honored by the Hellenic conquerors of the Persians, led by Alexander the Great. (The so-called Alexander Romance intimates that Nektanebo II fathered Alexander.) As with Nektanebo I, cults were established for his worship during the Ptolemaic period. Some representations of Nektanebo II survive as the pharaoh standing under the protecting Horus in the form of a hawk, which made a rebus of his name, Nect-hor-heb. Other noninscribed heads of Nektanebo II have also been identified on the basis of their style (see Josephson 1997).
Sadly, and unfairly, Nektanebo II is best remembered as the pharaoh whose reign ended almost three thousand years of mostly native rule in an unparalleled civilization. Often forgotten is that those final years included an extraordinary rebirth of artistic and literary creativity. When Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, only eleven years after Artaxerxes III had established his primacy there, the Hellenistic period began for Egypt.
- De Meulenaere, Herman. “Nektanebo I.” In Lexikon der Ägyptologie, 4: 450–453. Wiesbaden, 1982.
- Grimal, Nicholas. A History of Ancient Egypt, translated by Ian Shaw. Oxford, 1992.
- Josephson, J. Egyptian Royal Sculpture of the Late Period, 400–246 b.c. Mainz, 1997.
- Kienitz, F. Die politische Geschichte Ägyptens, vol. 7. Berlin, 1953.
- Spalinger, Anthony. “Reign of King Chabbash.” Zeitschrift für Ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde 105 (1978), 142–154.
Jack A. Josephson