third king of the twenty-fifth or Kushite, dynasty, Late period. Piya, also known as Piankhy, was the first ruler of the Kushite kingdom to attempt to control all of Egypt; he is therefore to be viewed as the real founder of the twenty-fifth dynasty. His activities are known mainly from his monumental stela erected at the site of Napata (Gebel Barkal). Piya's first attempts to involve himself in affairs to the north of his southern kingdom of Kush (now in Sudan) led him into immediate conflict with the various princes and dynasts of a divided Egypt. In particular, he claims to have moved north to the ancient center of Amun worship, Thebes, in an effort to exert political and religious influence over that region. He first installed his sister Amunirdis as “God's Wife of Amun” at Karnak, and he appears to have received the tacit submission of Middle Egypt, where various garrisons held by local potentates blocked his way. On his famous stela of victory, dated to the twenty-first year of his reign, Piya is described as focusing particular attention on the city Hermopolis, led by Namlot, who subsequently betrayed him.
Egypt at this time was nominally held by a weak and ineffective pharaoh, Takelot III (r. 750–720 BCE), who effectively ruled only his center in the eastern Nile Delta, Bubastis. Real control over the land was held by numerous monarchs, among the most powerful of whom was Tefnakhte, prince of Sais in the western Delta (r. 724–717 BCE). It was Tefnakhte who organized the resistance to Piya after the Kushite ruler had effectively gained control of Hermopolis and, hence, of all Upper Egypt. After recounting the fall of Hermopolis in his stela, Piya then explains in detail his march to regain control of the old capital of Memphis and its final capture through another siege. At this point, the war became more complicated for the Kushite ruler. Although Piya claimed pharaonic jurisdiction over the entire Nile Valley—a theological claim as well as a political one—and although he had received approval from the priesthood at Heliopolis, Piya faced organized resistance from the western Delta.
For more than a century, the northwest portions of Egypt had been assimilated by a series of Libyan military men, who eventually consolidated their power at the ancient commercial city of Sais. At the time of Piya's move to the North of Egypt, the leader of this center, Tefnakhte, was pharaoh in name and deed, and he effectively controlled all of the Delta northwest of el-Lisht. It was Tefnakhte who initiated opposition to Piya's control over Middle Egypt after Namlot, the ruler of Hermopolis, had switched his allegiance from Piya to the Saite ruler, and after other major cities in the vicinity also opposed the Kushite pharaoh. This political move was the effective cause of Piya's march north, eventually to capture all of Egypt and subsequently to take Memphis itself. Piya returned to his ancestral kingdom of Kush and erected his stela of victory in his twenty-first regnal year (c.715 BCE). Nonetheless, Tefnakhte was not deposed, and soon thereafter Sais resumed its opposition to the Kushites.
Known mainly from the lengthy and detailed inscription on his victory stela as well as from decorated blocks at Thebes, Piya remains a shadowy figure, especially in contrast to his successors. He was not a native Egyptian and, as such, was vehemently opposed by the native rulers. They organized the resistance against him and the subsequent Kushite rulers. Nevertheless, Piya's religious piety—or at least his conservatism—was one of his hall-marks, and there is little doubt that his adherence to the long-standing Amun cult of Thebes, stressed in his stela of victory, was a primary reason why Thebes remained firmly under his control during his reign.
- Grimal, Nicolas-Christophe. La stele triomphale de Pi(’ankh)y au Musée du Caire, JE 48862 et 47086–47089. Cairo, 1981. The most recent study of Piya's victory stela; contains an up-to-date translation with a detailed historical analysis.
- Kitchen, K. A. The Third Intermediate Period in Egypt (1100–650 BC). Warminster, 1973. An extremely detailed and significant work which covers the reign of this pharaoh in some detail.
- Spalinger, Anthony J. “The Military Background of the Campaign of Piye (Piankhy).” Studien zur Altägyptisachen Kultur 7 (1979), 273–301. A detailed analysis of Piya's campaign in Egypt.
- Yoyotte, Jean. “Les principautés du Delta au temps de l'anarchie libyenne.” Mélanges Maspero 4.1 (1961), 121–191. A seminal study of the Delta at the time of Piya's invasion that has not been surpassed.
Anthony J. Spalinger