Necho II

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Necho II [1] (sometimes Nekau, [2] Neku, [3] Nechoh, [4] or Nikuu; [5] Greek: Νεκώς Β'; [6] [7] [8] Hebrew : נְכוֹ, Modern: Nəkō, Tiberian: Nekō) of Egypt was a king of the 26th Dynasty (610–595 BC), which ruled out of Saite. [9] Necho undertook a number of construction projects across his kingdom. [10] In his reign, according to the Greek historian Herodotus, Necho II sent out an expedition of Phoenicians, which in three years sailed from the Red Sea around Africa to the Strait of Gibraltar and back to Egypt. [11] His son, Psammetichus II, upon succession may have removed Necho's name from monuments. [12]


Necho played a significant role in the histories of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, the Neo-Babylonian Empire and the Kingdom of Judah. Necho II is most likely the pharaoh mentioned in several books of the Bible. [13] [14] [15] The aim of the second of Necho's campaigns was Asiatic conquest, [16] [17] to contain the westward advance of the Neo-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.

The Egyptologist Donald B. Redford observed that although Necho II was "a man of action from the start, and endowed with an imagination perhaps beyond that of his contemporaries, Necho had the misfortune to foster the impression of being a failure." [18]


Lineage and early life

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 (i.e., Wish) [of] Re." [19] 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.

Military campaigns

First campaign

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, Book 2:159:

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 (Red Sea), 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 the 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.

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

The Second Book of Kings states that Necho met King Josiah of the Kingdom of Judah at Megiddo and killed him [20] (2 Kings 23:29) (see Battle of Megiddo (609 BC)). 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. [21] 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

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 Nebuchadnezzar II, who led them to a decisive victory over the Egyptians at Carchemish in 605 BC, 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 Nebuchadnezzar conquered Egyptian territory from the Euphrates to the Brook of Egypt (Jeremiah 46:2; 2 Kings 23:29) down to Judea. Although Nebuchadnezzar 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. [22] It was in connection with a 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, [23] about 15 km west of Ismailia. The waterway was intended to facilitate trade between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. [24]

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. [25] The navy which Necho created operated along both the Mediterranean and Red Sea coasts. [26] Necho II constructed warships, [27] including questionably triremes. [28]

Phoenician expedition

The world according to Herodotus, 440 BC Herodotus5m1.jpg
The world according to Herodotus, 440 BC
A 15th-century depiction of the Ptolemy world map, reconstituted from Ptolemy's Geographia (c. 150) PtolemyWorldMap.jpg
A 15th-century depiction of the Ptolemy world map, reconstituted from Ptolemy's Geographia (c. 150)

At some point between 610 and before 594 BC, Necho reputedly commissioned an expedition of Phoenicians, [29] who it is said in three years sailed from the Red Sea around Africa back to the mouth of the Nile; and would thereby be the first completion of the Cape Route. [30] [31] Herodotus' account was handed down to him by oral tradition, [32] but is seen as potentially credible 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 [33] ). Pliny reported that Hanno had circumnavigated Africa, which may have been a conflation with Necho's voyage, while Strabo, Polybius, and Ptolemy doubted the description; [34] at the time it was not generally known that Africa was surrounded by an ocean (with the southern part of Africa being thought connected to Asia) [35] . F. C. H. Wendel, writing in 1890, concurred with Herodotus [36] as did James Baikie. [37] Egyptologist A. B. Lloyd disputed in 1977 [38] that an Egyptian Pharaoh would authorize such an expedition, [39] except for the reasons of Asiatic conquest [40] [41] and trade in the ancient maritime routes. [42] [43]

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, apparently removed Necho's name from almost all of his father's monuments for unknown reasons. However, some scholars, such as Roberto Gozzoli, express doubt that this actually happened, arguing that the evidence for this is fragmentary and rather contradictory. [44]

Further reading


See also

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General information
  1. Thomas Dobson. Encyclopædia: Or, A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Miscellaneous Literature. Stone house, no. 41, South Second street, 1798. Page 785
  2. A History of Egypt, from the XIXth to the XXXth Dynasties. By Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie. p336.
  3. The Historians' History of the World: Prolegomena; Egypt, Mesopotamia. Edited by Henry Smith Williams. p183.
  4. United States Exploring Expedition: Volume 15. By Charles Wilkes, United States. Congress. p53
  5. The Bibliotheca Sacra, Volume 45. Dallas Theological Seminary., 1888.
  6. Essay on the Hieroglyphic System of M. Champollion, Jun., and on the Advantages which it Offers to Sacred Criticism. By J. G. Honoré Greppo. p128
  7. Herodotus 2,152. 2
  8. W. Pape, "Wörterbuch der griechischen Eigennamen", 1911
  9. Cory, Isaac Preston, ed. (1828), The Ancient Fragments, London: William Pickering, OCLC   1000992106 , citing Manetho, the high priest and scribe of Egypt, being by birth a Sebennyte, who wrote his history for Ptolemy Philadelphus (266 BCE – 228 BCE).
  10. The history of Egypt By Samuel Sharpe. E. Moxon, 1852. Part 640. p138.
  11. Herodotus (4.42)
  12. The Popular Handbook of Archaeology and the Bible. Edited by Norman L. Geisler, Joseph M. Holden. p287.
  13. Encyclopædia britannica. Edited by Colin MacFarquhar, George Gleig. p785
  14. The Holy Bible, According to the Authorized Version (A.D. 1611). Edited by Frederic Charles Cook. p131
  15. see Hebrew Bible / Old Testament
  16. The temple of Mut in Asher. By Margaret Benson, Janet A. Gourlay, Percy Edward Newberry. p276. (cf. Nekau's chief ambition lay in Asiatic conquest)
  17. Egypt Under the Pharaohs: A History Derived Entireley from the Monuments. By Heinrich Brugsch, Brodrick. p444 (cf. Neku then attempted to assert the Egyptian supremacy in Asia.)
  18. Donald B. Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), p. 447-48.
  19. Peter Clayton, Chronicle of the Pharaohs, Thames and Hudson, 1994. p.195
  20. Ernest Alfred Wallis Budge, The Nile: Notes for Travellers in Egypt, p16
  21. II. Chronicles by Philip Chapman Barker. p447–448
  22. Redmount, Carol A. "The Wadi Tumilat and the "Canal of the Pharaohs"" Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. 54, No. 2 (April , 1995), pp. 127-135
  23. Shaw, Ian; and Nicholson, Paul. The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. The British Museum Press, 1995. p.201
  24. See also: History of the Suez Canal
  25. Peter Clayton, Chronicle of the Pharaohs, Thames and Hudson, 1994, p.196
  26. Herodotus 2.158; Pliny N.H. 6.165ff; Diodorus Siculus 3.43
  27. The Cambridge Ancient History. Edited by John Boardman, N. G. L. Hammond. p49
  28. Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization. By Richard Miles. Penguin, Jul 21, 2011. p1781
  29. Unlikely with the intent of circumnavigating Africa, but for finding an alternative route to Asia than through the area near the Levant. Also, such voyages were undertaken for trading with more southern African cities; thereafter being blown off-course, if not tasked to sail around the lands.
  30. Israel, India, Persia, Phoenicia, Minor Nations of Western Asia. Edited by Henry Smith Williams. p118
  31. Anthony Tony Browder, Nile valley contributions to civilization,Volume 1. 1992 (cf. In the Twenty Fifth Dynasty, during the reign of Necho II, navigational technology had advanced to the point where sailors from Kemet successfully circumnavigated Africa and drew an extremely accurate map of the continent.)
  32. M. J. Cary. The Ancient Explorers. Penguin Books, 1963. Page 114
  33. As for Libya, we know it to be washed on all sides by the sea, except where it is attached to Asia. This discovery was first made by Necos, the Egyptian king, who on desisting from the canal which he had begun between the Nile and the Arabian gulf (referring to the Red Sea), sent to sea a number of ships manned by Phoenicians, with orders to make for the Pillars of Hercules, and return to Egypt through them, and by the Mediterranean. The Phoenicians took their departure from Egypt by way of the Erythraean sea, and so sailed into the southern ocean. When autumn came, they went ashore, wherever they might happen to be, and having sown a tract of land with corn, waited until the grain was fit to cut. Having reaped it, they again set sail; and thus it came to pass that two whole years went by, and it was not till the third year that they doubled the Pillars of Hercules, and made good their voyage home. On their return, they declared—I for my part do not believe them, but perhaps others may—that in sailing round Libya they had the sun upon their right hand. In this way was the extent of Libya first discovered. "Book 4"  . History of Herodotus via Wikisource.
  34. The Geographical system of Herodotus by James Rennel. p348+
  35. Die umsegelung Asiens und Europas auf der Vega. Volume 2. By Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld. p148
  36. History of Egypt. By F. C. H. Wendel. American Book Co., 1890. p127 (cf. Herodotus relates a story of a great maritime enterprise undertaken at this time which seems quite credible. He states that Nekau sent out Phoenician ships from the Red Sea to circumnavigate Africa, and that in the third year of their journey they returned to the Mediterranean through the Straits of Gibraltar.)
  37. The Story of the Pharaohs. By James Baikie. p316
  38. Lloyd, Alan B. "Necho and the Red Sea:Some Considerations" Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. 63, No. 2 (April , 1995), pp. 142-155
  39. Lloyd is to hold the position 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 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.
  40. Twentieth Century. Twentieth century, 1908. p816
  41. 'The Historians' History of the World. Edited by Henry Smith Williams. p286 (cf. Syria seems to have submitted to him, as far as the countries bordering the Euphrates. Gaza offered resistance, but was taken. But it was only for a short time that Neku II could feel himself a conqueror.)
  42. Cosmos: A Sketch of a Physical Description of the Universe. By Alexander von Humboldt. p489
  43. The Cambridge History of the British Empire. CUP Archive, 1963. p56
  44. Gozzoli, R. B. (2000), The Statue BM EA 37891 and the Erasure of Necho II's Names Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 86: 67–80

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