Nectanebo II

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Nectanebo II (Manetho's transcription of Egyptian Nḫt-Ḥr-(n)-Ḥbyt, "Strong is Horus of Hebit" [2] [3] ), ruled in 360—342 BC [lower-alpha 1] was the third and last pharaoh of the Thirtieth Dynasty of Egypt as well as the last native ruler of ancient Egypt. [5]

Manetho Egyptian historian and priest from Ancient Egypt

Manetho is believed to have been an Egyptian priest from Sebennytos who lived in the Ptolemaic Kingdom in the early third century BC, during the Hellenistic period. He authored the Aegyptiaca in Greek, a major chronological source for the reigns of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt. It is unclear if he wrote his work during the reign of Ptolemy I Soter or Ptolemy II Philadelphos, but no later than that of Ptolemy III Euergetes.

Egyptian language Language spoken in ancient Egypt, branch of the Afro-Asiatic languages

The Egyptian language was spoken in ancient Egypt and was a branch of the Afro-Asiatic languages. Its attestation stretches over an extraordinarily long time, from the Old Egyptian stage. Its earliest known complete written sentence has been dated to about 2690 BC, which makes it one of the oldest recorded languages known, along with Sumerian.

Horus Egyptian war deity

Horus or Her, Heru, Hor in Ancient Egyptian, is one of the most significant ancient Egyptian deities who served many functions, most notably god of kingship and the sky. He was worshipped from at least the late prehistoric Egypt until the Ptolemaic Kingdom and Roman Egypt. Different forms of Horus are recorded in history and these are treated as distinct gods by Egyptologists. These various forms may possibly be different manifestations of the same multi-layered deity in which certain attributes or syncretic relationships are emphasized, not necessarily in opposition but complementary to one another, consistent with how the Ancient Egyptians viewed the multiple facets of reality. He was most often depicted as a falcon, most likely a lanner falcon or peregrine falcon, or as a man with a falcon head.


Under Nectanebo II, Egypt prospered. During his reign, the Egyptian artists developed a specific style that left a distinctive mark on the reliefs of the Ptolemaic Kingdom. [6] Like his indirect predecessor Nectanebo I, Nectanebo II showed enthusiasm for many of the cults of the gods within ancient Egyptian religion, and more than a hundred Egyptian sites bear evidence of his attentions. [7] Nectanebo II, however, undertook more constructions and restorations than Nectanebo I, commencing in particular the enormous Egyptian temple of Isis (the Iseum).

Relief Sculptural technique

Relief is a sculptural technique where the sculpted elements remain attached to a solid background of the same material. The term relief is from the Latin verb relevo, to raise. To create a sculpture in relief is to give the impression that the sculpted material has been raised above the background plane. What is actually performed when a relief is cut in from a flat surface of stone or wood is a lowering of the field, leaving the unsculpted parts seemingly raised. The technique involves considerable chiselling away of the background, which is a time-consuming exercise. On the other hand, a relief saves forming the rear of a subject, and is less fragile and more securely fixed than a sculpture in the round, especially one of a standing figure where the ankles are a potential weak point, especially in stone. In other materials such as metal, clay, plaster stucco, ceramics or papier-mâché the form can be just added to or raised up from the background, and monumental bronze reliefs are made by casting.

Ptolemaic Kingdom Hellenistic kingdom in ancient Egypt from 305 to 30 BC

The Ptolemaic Kingdom was a Hellenistic kingdom based in ancient Egypt. It was ruled by the Ptolemaic dynasty, which started with Ptolemy I Soter's accession after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and which ended with the death of Cleopatra and the Roman conquest in 30 BC.

Nectanebo I Egyptian pharaoh

Kheperkare Nakhtnebef, better known by his hellenized name Nectanebo I, was an ancient Egyptian pharaoh, founder of the last native dynasty of Egypt, the thirtieth.

For several years, Nectanebo II was successful in keeping Egypt safe from the Achaemenid Empire. [8] However, betrayed by his former servant, Mentor of Rhodes, Nectanebo II was ultimately defeated by the combined Persian and Greek forces in the Battle of Pelusium (343 BC). The Persians occupied Memphis and then seized the rest of Egypt, incorporating the country into the Achaemenid Empire under Artaxerxes III. Nectanebo fled south and preserved his power for some time; his subsequent fate is unknown.

Achaemenid Empire first Persian Empire founded by Cyrus the Great

The Achaemenid Empire, also called the First Persian Empire, was an ancient Iranian empire based in Western Asia founded by Cyrus the Great. Ranging at its greatest extent from the Balkans and Eastern Europe proper in the west to the Indus Valley in the east, it was larger than any previous empire in history, spanning 5.5 million square kilometers. Incorporating various peoples of different origins and faiths, it is notable for its successful model of a centralised, bureaucratic administration, for building infrastructure such as road systems and a postal system, the use of an official language across its territories, and the development of civil services and a large professional army. The empire's successes inspired similar systems in later empires.

Mentor of Rhodes Greek soldier and general in Persian service

Mentor of Rhodes was a Greek mercenary and later Satrap of the Asiatic coast. He fought both for and against Artaxerxes III of Persia. He is also known as the first husband of Barsine, who later became mistress to Alexander the Great.

Battle of Pelusium (343 BC)

The Battle of Pelusium in 343 was fought between the Persians, with their Greek mercenaries, and the Egyptians with their Greek mercenaries. It took place at the stronghold of Pelusium, on the coast at the far eastern side of the Nile Delta. Overall, Artaxerxes III commanded the Persians, and Nectanebo II commanded the Egyptians. The Greek troops with Egyptians inside the fortress were commanded by Philophron. The first attack was by Theban troops under Lacrates.


The greywacke statue of Nectanebo II. HorusAndNectaneboII MetropolitanMuseum.png
The greywacke statue of Nectanebo II.

Except for the small-scale greywacke statue in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which shows Nectanebo II standing before the image of Horus, no other annotated portraits of Nectanebo II are known. [9] In the greywacke statue, Nectanebo II is shown in a nemes and uraeus. His bent arm with the sword stands for the hieroglyph nakht, the falcon represents Horus, while the hieroglyph in Nectanebo's right hand stands for heb. [10] Other portraits attributed to Nectanebo II (all featuring the khepresh ) include a quartzite head in the museum of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, a basalt head in Alexandria, a granite head acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and a damaged quartzite head. [9]

Greywacke A hard, dark sandstone with poorly sorted angular grains in a compact, clay-fine matrix

Greywacke or graywacke is a variety of sandstone generally characterized by its hardness, dark color, and poorly sorted angular grains of quartz, feldspar, and small rock fragments or lithic fragments set in a compact, clay-fine matrix. It is a texturally immature sedimentary rock generally found in Paleozoic strata. The larger grains can be sand- to gravel-sized, and matrix materials generally constitute more than 15% of the rock by volume. The term "greywacke" can be confusing, since it can refer to either the immature aspect of the rock or its fine-grained (clay) component.

Metropolitan Museum of Art Art museum in New York City

The Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York City, colloquially "the Met", is the largest art museum in the United States. With 6,953,927 visitors to its three locations in 2018, it was the third most visited art museum in the world. Its permanent collection contains over two million works, divided among seventeen curatorial departments. The main building, on the eastern edge of Central Park along Museum Mile in Manhattan's Upper East Side is by area one of the world's largest art galleries. A much smaller second location, The Cloisters at Fort Tryon Park in Upper Manhattan, contains an extensive collection of art, architecture, and artifacts from Medieval Europe. On March 18, 2016, the museum opened the Met Breuer museum at Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side; it extends the museum's modern and contemporary art program.

Nemes formal headcloth worn by the kings of Ancient Egypt

Nemes were pieces of striped headcloth worn by pharaohs in ancient Egypt. It covered the whole crown and back of the head and nape of the neck and had lappets, two large flaps which hung down behind the ears and in front of both shoulders. It was sometimes combined with the double crown, as it is on the statues of Ramesses II at Abu Simbel. The earliest depiction of the nemes, along with a uraeus, is the ivory label of Den from the 1st Dynasty. It is not a crown in itself, but still symbolizes the pharaoh's power.

Rise to power

In 525 BC, Egypt was conquered by the Achaemenid Empire. Because of internal struggles for the Persian imperial succession, Egypt managed to regain independence in 404 BC. In 389 BC, Pharaoh Hakor negotiated a treaty with Athens and for three years (from 385 to 383 BC) managed to withstand Persian aggression. [11] However, following the conclusion of the Peace of Antalcidas in 387 BC between the Achaemenids and the Greek city-states, Egypt and Cyprus became the only obstacles to Persian hegemony in the Mediterranean.

Hakor Egyptian Pharaoh

Hakor or Hagar, also known by the hellenized forms Achoris or Hakoris, was an ancient Egyptian pharaoh of the 29th Dynasty. His reign marks the apex of this feeble and short-lived dynasty, having ruled for 13 years – more than half of its entire duration.

Classical Athens City-state in ancient Greece

The city of Athens during the classical period of Ancient Greece was the major urban center of the notable polis (city-state) of the same name, located in Attica, Greece, leading the Delian League in the Peloponnesian War against Sparta and the Peloponnesian League. Athenian democracy was established in 508 BC under Cleisthenes following the tyranny of Isagoras. This system remained remarkably stable, and with a few brief interruptions remained in place for 180 years, until 322 BC. The peak of Athenian hegemony was achieved in the 440s to 430s BC, known as the Age of Pericles.

Peace of Antalcidas peace treaty

The King's Peace, also known as the Peace of Antalcidas, was a peace treaty guaranteed by the Persian King Artaxerxes II that ended the Corinthian War in ancient Greece. The treaty's alternate name comes from Antalcidas, the Spartan diplomat who traveled to Susa to negotiate the terms of the treaty with the king of Achaemenid Persia. The treaty was more commonly known in antiquity, however, as the King's Peace, a name that reflects the depth of Persian influence in the treaty, as Persian gold had driven the preceding war. The treaty was a form of Common Peace, similar to the Thirty Years' Peace which ended the First Peloponnesian War.

At the beginning of 360 BC, Nectanebo's predecessor, Teos, started preparations for war against intruders. In the same year, the Egyptian army set off, traveling along the coast by land and sea. Nectanebo II accompanied his uncle Teos in that campaign and was in charge of the machimoi . [12]

Teos of Egypt Egyptian Pharaoh

Djedhor, better known as Teos or Tachos, was an ancient Egyptian pharaoh of the 30th Dynasty.

Machimoi low-ranked armed warriors of Ancient Egypt

The term máchimoi commonly refers to a broad category of ancient Egyptian low-ranked soldiers which rose during the Late Period of Egypt and, more prominently, during the Ptolemaic dynasty.

In an attempt to quickly raise finances for the war, Teos imposed taxes on Egyptians and seized temple property. [13] Egyptians, particularly the priests, resented these measures but supported Nectanebo II. Teos asked Spartan military leader Agesilaus and Athenian general Chabrias to support him. [14] Agesilaus, however, said he was sent to aid Egypt and not to wage war against it. [14] Chabrias returned home with his mercenaries. [14] Teos decided to flee to the Achaemenid court, where he ultimately died of natural causes.

Nectanebo contended with an unnamed pretender to the throne from the town of Mendes, who proclaimed himself pharaoh. [14] The revolt was probably led by one of the descendants of Nepherites I, whose family had ruled the town before. [15] The claimant sent messengers to Agesilaus in an attempt to persuade Agesilaus to his side. [14] Agesilaus remained loyal to Nectanebo, fearing to become a turncoat. At one of the towns in the Nile Delta, the troops of Nectanebo and Agesilaus were besieged by the usurper, who had gained many sympathisers. Despite the enemy's numerical superiority, Nectanebo and Agesilaus were victorious and the revolt was put down in the fall of 360 BC. [7] Acknowledging Agesilaus, Nectanebo sent him 220 talents of gold.


Egyptian gold stater of Nectanebo II. The design on the reverse consists of Egyptian hieroglyphs meaning "good gold": pectoral necklace (nub = "gold") crossing horizontally over a windpipe and heart (nefer = "good"). Gold Stater of Pharaoh Nektanebo II.jpg
Egyptian gold stater of Nectanebo II. The design on the reverse consists of Egyptian hieroglyphs meaning “good gold”: pectoral necklace (nub = “gold”) crossing horizontally over a windpipe and heart (nefer = “good”).

Religion played an important part in Nectanebo's domestic policy. He began his reign by officiating over the funeral of an Apis bull in Memphis. There, Nectanebo added a relief decoration to the eastern and western temples of Apis. [18] Among notable sanctuaries erected under Nectanebo II are a temple of Khnum in Abu and a temple of Amun at Sekhtam. He also dedicated a diorite naos to Anhur-Shu (a fragment of it was found in the temples of Tjebnutjer). [6] Nectanebo II was responsible for the increasing popularity of the Buchis cult. [7] Under Nectanebo II a decree forbidding stone quarrying in the so-called Mysterious Mountains in Abydos was issued. [19]

Foreign affairs under Nectanebo II were thwarted by repeated Achaemenid attempts to reoccupy Egypt. Before the accession of Nectanebo II to the throne, the Persians attempted to reclaim Egypt in 385, 383, and 373 BC. Nectanebo used the peace to build up a new army and employed Greek mercenaries, which was a common practice at the time. In about 351 BC, the Achaemenid Empire embarked on a new attempt to reclaim Egypt. After a year of fighting, Nectanebo and his allied generals, Diophantus of Athens and Lamius of Sparta, managed to defeat the Achaemenids. Having scored a resounding victory, Nectanebo II was acclaimed "Nectanebo the divine falcon" by his people, and cults were set up in his name. [20]

In 345/44 BC, Nectanebo supported the Phoenician rebellion against the Achaemenid Empire, led by the king of Sidon, Tennes, [21] and dispatched military aid in the form of 4000 Greek mercenaries, led by Mentor of Rhodes. [22] However, having heard of the approach of the forces of Artaxerxes III, Mentor opened communication with the Persians in collusion with Tennes. [22]

Black siltstone obelisk of Pharaoh Nectanebo II. According to the vertical inscriptions he set up this obelisk at the doorway of the sanctuary of Thoth, the Twice-Great, Lord of Hermopolis. Today, it is located in the British Museum, London. Nectanebo II obelisk.jpg
Black siltstone obelisk of Pharaoh Nectanebo II. According to the vertical inscriptions he set up this obelisk at the doorway of the sanctuary of Thoth, the Twice-Great, Lord of Hermopolis. Today, it is located in the British Museum, London.

At the end of 344 BC, ambassadors of Artaxerxes III arrived in Greece, asking for the Greeks' participation in a campaign against Egypt. [23] Athens and Sparta treated the ambassadors with courtesy, but refrained from committing to an alliance against Egypt. [23] Other cities, however, decided to support the Persians: Thebes sent 1000 hoplites and Argos 3000. [23]

In the winter of 343 BC, Artaxerxes set off for Egypt. The Egyptian army, headed by Nectanebo, consisted of 60,000 Egyptians, 20,000 Libu, and as many Greek mercenaries. [24] In addition, Nectanebo had a number of flat-bottomed boats intended to prevent an enemy from entering the Nile mouths. [25] The vulnerable points along his Mediterranean sea border and east boundary were protected by strongholds, fortifications and entrenched camps. [25] Persian forces were strengthened by Mentor and his men, well acquainted with the eastern border of Egypt, and by 6000 Ionians. [22]

Nectanebo II was ultimately defeated and, in the summer of 342 BC, Artaxerxes entered Memphis [26] and installed a satrap. [27] Nectanebo fled to Upper Egypt and finally to Nubia, where he was granted asylum. He, however, preserved a degree of power there for some time. With the help of Khabash, Nectanebo made a vain attempt to regain the throne. [28]


Building campaigns

Though placed in an unfortunate period of Egyptian history, and with his legacy perhaps marred by being "the last pharaoh" to rule an autonomous Egypt, Nectanebo was an extensive builder, likely on a scale that would equal many kings of the glory days of the New Kingdom. [29] References to either Nectanebo II or his grandfather have been found almost ubiquitously at the premier religious centres, [29] and the piety of the two kings matched those of the great kings of the past, attested to by the numerous monuments across Egypt bearing their names. [30] Nectanebo II, specifically, built and improved temples across the country, and he donated extensively to the priesthoods of the plethora of sites which he donated to. Nectanebo's name has been found at Heliopolis, Athribis, and Bubastis in the Nile Delta, among other places, but he built most extensively at Sebennytos, [31] including the modern site of Behbeit El Hagar. The reliefs of the temples at Sebennytos would leave a distinct mark on the art of the later Ptolemaic Kingdom. The religious focus of his building campaigns, however, may not be solely due to sheer piety; because Nectanebo was an usurper, he likely sought to legitimise his rule over Egypt religiously. [29]

Nectanebo and the Alexander Romance

There is an apocryphal tale appearing in the pseudo-historical Alexander romance that details another end for the last native pharaoh. Soon after Alexander the Great's godhood was confirmed by the Libyan Sibyl of Zeus Ammon at the Siwa Oasis, a rumor was begun that Nectanebo II, following defeat in his last battle, did not travel to Nubia but instead to the court of Philip II of Macedon in the guise of an Egyptian magician. There, while Philip was away on campaign, Nectanebo convinced Philip's wife Olympias that Amun was to come to her and that they would father a son. Nectanebo, disguising himself as Amun, slept with Olympias and from this event came Alexander. [32]

This myth would hold strong appeal for the Egyptians, who desired continuity and harbored a strong dislike for foreign rule. In art of this event, Nectanebo is usually depicted as having dragon-like features, for example in the Speculum Historiale. [33]

Papyrus of the Dream of Nectanebo, ca. 160-150 BC Droom van Nectanebo - Google Art Project.jpg
Papyrus of the Dream of Nectanebo, ca. 160–150 BC

In the early Ptolemaic tale of Nectanebo and Petesis, [34] preserved only in a Greek fragment from the Memphis Serapeum, the pharaoh has a prophetic dream of Isis in which the god Onuris is angry with him because of his unfinished temple in Sebennytos. Nectanebo calls in the best sculptor of the realm, Petesis, to finish the job, but he bungles his assignment when he gets drunk and chases a beautiful girl instead. The narrative ends abruptly here, but this is probably the preface to the fall of Egypt. [35] Al-Biruni's A History of India reproduces the story. [36]


  1. 1 2 According to J. von Beckerath & A. Dodson; 360–343 BC according to N. Grimal and 359/58–342/41 BC according to D. Arnold. [4]
  2. The Dictionary of African Biography notes that "Precise details of Nectanebo II's death are lacking, although it is assumed that he died shortly after 341 BC."

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  36. Al Beruni (1910). Alberuni's India. translated by Edward Sachau). London.
Preceded by
Pharaoh of Egypt
Thirtieth Dynasty
Succeeded by
Artaxerxes III