The Third Intermediate Period – links and further reading

UPDATE JULY 2021: Thank you to everyone who attended my talk on Egypt’s Silver Pharaohs in June and July this year. The guide below was prepared following series of talks which dealt with similar themes and should, I hope, be of use for anyone looking to take their interest in the subjects covered further (see the description that follows). Of course as always if you have any questions you can drop me a line via this page.

Egypt’s Silver Pharaohs. The end of the Twentieth Dynasty was also the end of the great era known as the New Kingdom. By this time Egypt had relinquished its empire, and pharaoh no longer even controlled all of his own country which was now split between the king in the north and an all-powerful Chief Priest in the south. This was the beginning of the ‘Third Intermediate Period’. Such phases are generally harder to understand – the evidence is thinner on the ground and confused, but they are generally held to be times of relative decline. But in 1939 a French archaeologist Pierre Montet discovered the royal tombs of the Twenty-first and Twenty-second Dynasty kings at Tanis in the Delta region, several of which turned out to be intact. What Montet had found might have caused a sensation to rival the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb – a solid gold death mask belonging to Psusennes I, several others like it and countless other treasures including several falcon headed coffins, one of solid silver, a material, that was much less common in Egypt than gold. But the world’s attention was elsewhere – WW2 had broken out… This is the story of his incredible discoveries but also of the tombs that are yet to be found…

The notes below are also relevant to my forthcoming talk, Egyptians, Libyans and Kushites: The Third Intermediate Period UNTANGLED! on 20 and 21 July 2021. Places are still available for this one – for more details or to book please go here.

ORIGINAL POST (Jan 2021):

Thanks to all of you who attended the four talks I gave on the Third Intermediate Period (TIP) over the course of two Sundays, 10 and 17 January 2021, and thanks to Ali, Bernadette, Josie and co at the Kemet Klub for hosting me! The following is a very brief guide to some of the literature etc I mentioned during the talks and some advice on further reading should you wish to take your interest in the topic further. I’ve divided the information into two parts, one for the first two lectures, and a second for the third and fourth. If you have any questions or if there’s anything I’ve missed please let me know via this page.

The Third Intermediate Period (TIP) has been much misunderstood. Spanning roughly four centuries it is a period characterised by cycles of division and reunification within the country, and also the influence of foreigners, particularly various groups of ‘Libyan’ settlers, and the emerging new power in the south, the kingdom of Kush. Individuals from both groups came to rule Egypt as pharaoh at various times. Archaeological and textual evidence for the period is fragmentary and has proven difficult to reconcile with other sources, particularly the king list provided by the historian Manetho. We now have a much improved understanding of how Egypt changed during the TIP, of what was distinctive about it, and in particular how Egypt was influenced by the foreign groups. Also vice versa, much more so perhaps, to the extent that even though we refer to parts of the period as the ‘Libyan’ or Kushite’ periods, Egypt was still very much Egypt.

Sunday 10 January.

My slides were as follows:

Lecture 1: ‘The Twenty-first Dynasty: pharaohs to the north, chief priests to the south’

Lecture 2: ‘The Libyans and a Reunified Egypt (but not for long) – Dynasties 22 and 23’

My charts showing the lines of Kings and Chief Priests of Amun are as follows:

Twenty-first Dynasty Kings
Chief Priests of Amun of the same period
Twenty-second Dynasty Kings


Slide from the first of my talks showing the lines of Twenty-first Dynasty kings and Chief Priests of Amun side by side.

My map of the major sites mentioned in the talks is here.

Further reading etc.

In my second talk in particular I mentioned that the best known single volume on the period remains Kenneth Kitchen’s, The Third Intermediate Period in Egypt, 1100-650 BC, which was first published in 1973. This is a masterful synthesis of the mass of confused and confusing evidence and remains indispensable for this reason. However, Professor Kitchen’s reconstruction of the events of the period, and in particular the sequences of kings, was challenged during the 1980s and consensus has since formed around an alternative reconstruction put forward by Anthony Leahy and others, initially in the 1980s.

The fullest articulation of Leahy’s alternative interpretation (now the consensus) is the following:

1990. “Abydos in the Libyan Period” in Libya and Egypt c. 1300-750 BC, edited
by Anthony Leahy. London: SOAS Centre of Near and Middle Eastern Studies,
155-200.

I’m not aware of this volume or the article being available online (please let me know if you find it!), but the following also very important articles are accessible:

Spencer, Patricia and A. J. Spencer. 1986. “Notes on Late Libyan Egypt.” JEA 72: 198-201.

This is the very short article in which the Spencers observed that several of the rulers supposedly based in the Delta were entirely unattested outside Upper Egypt, paving the way for Leahy’s hypothesis about an entirely independent Upper Egyptian line unknown to Manetho.

Aston, David A. 1989. “Takeloth II – a King of the Theban Twenty-third Dynasty?” JEA 75: 139-153.

This article builds on Leahy’s, above, developing the idea of the independent Upper Egyptian line called here the ‘Theban Twenty-third Dynasty’.

The most recent edition of Professor Kitchen’s book (see here) includes a new preface written in 1996 in which he responds to Leahy’s hypothesis (and also yet another, more dramatic revision to the establishment view of Egyptian history put forward by David Rohl). Professor Kitchen has quite a combative style of writing and the preface is really quite a good read!

PLEASE NOTE: that much has been written since these articles were published and certain details of the chronology of the period revised. In 2007 an important conference was hosted in Leiden which gathered together the most eminent specialists in the field including Kitchen, Leahy and Aston (I was there too!) and the published proceedings of the conference – The Libyan Period in Egypt: Historical and Cultural Studies Into the 21st – 24th Dynasties – represent the ‘state of play’ in the subject at that time. For a more readable overview of the period written by another of the leading specialists, one who has also made a number of very important contributions to the subject, I recommend the most recent edition of Aidan Dodson’s Afterglow of Empire: Egypt from the Fall of the New Kingdom to the Saite Renaissance.

Lastly (for now!), the fifth chapter of my book, Searching for the Lost Tombs of Egypt includes a brief overview of the Kitchen and Leahy reconstructions (‘Theban kings, unknown to Manetho?’, pp. 178 ff.), as does my PhD thesis (here, ‘The Libyan Period’ pp. xviii ff.).

Sunday 17 January.

My slides:

Lecture 3: ‘The Royal Tombs of Tanis and The Missing Third Intermediate Period Tombs’

Lecture 4: ‘The Coming of the Kushites: Egypt’s Twenty-fifth Dynasty’

Further reading

This fifth chapter of Lost Tombs is all about the royal tombs of the TIP, and also forms the focus of the third of my talks in this series. The greater part of the lecture was taken up by an exploration of the royal necropolis of Tanis, where a number of burials of Twenty-first and Twenty-second Dynasty kings were discovered by Pierre Montet in 1922.


The Royal Tombs at Tanis

A number of books on the discovery and the treasures the tombs contained have been published, including one or two I mentioned in the talk. Confusingly, more than one has the title ‘Gold of the Pharaohs’. The one from which I used several photographs, as mentioned in my slides (above) is the catalogue of a touring exhibition that visited, among other places, Edinburgh in 1988, as follows:

Gold of the Pharaohs: Catalogue of the Exhibition of Treasures from Tanis

This provides and excellent account of the excavations with archival photographs of the work in progress, and more recent images of the treasures, and I note that second hand copies are going cheap – highly recommended!

The other account of a similar name, which is also very good, is:

Stierlin, H, Gold of the Pharaohs

Also excellent is this account written by a member of Montet’s excavation team:

Goyon, G, La Découverte des trésors de Tanis


The solid silver coffin of Pharaoh Hedjkheperre Sheshonq IIa of the Twenty-second Dynasty, discovered by Montet at Tanis

The photographs and detailed drawings of the tomb of the the Theban king Harsiesi were taken from the original excavation reports (which also includes a detailed description):

Hölscher, U, The Excavation of Medinet Habu, Volume 5. Post-Ramessid Remains. (OIP 66, Chicago, 1954).

The large plans of Medinet Habu, showing the location of the tomb (highlighted in blue, a little to the left of the small Amun temple highlighted in red), are from:

Hölscher, U, The Excavation of Medinet Habu, Volume 1. General Plans and Views. (OIP 21, Chicago, 1934).

The Oriental Institute, Chicago has performed the wonderful service of making all its publications freely accessible online, and both the above are available via this page.


Lid of the sarcophagus of Theban king Harsiesi, discovered in his tomb at Medinet Habu

The fourth of my talks, on ‘The Coming of the Kushites: Egypt’s Twenty-fifth Dynasty’ was a modified version of a lecture I gave in summer 2020 on ‘The Kingdom of Kush’. A guide to further reading related to the topics discussed in both is available on this page.

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I hope you’ll find the above useful but as I mentioned at the top of the page if you have any questions or if there’s anything I’ve missed please let me know via the contact form here.