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Afterglow of Empire: Egypt from the Fall of the New Kingdom to the Saite Renaissance

Afterglow of Empire: Egypt from the Fall of the New Kingdom to the Saite Renaissance

By Aidan Dodson. Pp. xviii + 343, figs. 133, maps 10. American University in Cairo Press, Cairo 2012. $29.95. ISBN 987-977-416-531-3 (cloth).

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In 1972, Kitchen published The Third Intermediate Period in Egypt: 1100–650 B.C. (Warminster), followed by an edition in 1986 and again in 1996. Kitchen’s aim was to establish a firm chronology for this fascinating but often forgotten period of Egypt’s history. Dodson’s new book, which focuses on this period with a slightly wider scope (already starting during the 20th Dynasty), seeks “to provide an ‘accessible’ account of the Third Intermediate Period, and the immediately preceding and succeeding decades, informed by the latest data and addressing the key issues that are presently the subject of active debate, while testing any ‘received wisdom’ before choosing to accept it” (x–xi).

Chronology and, consequently, family relationships stand out among the key issues addressed in the book. This issue is not merely important in the interest of Egyptian history itself but also because of its potential implications for a coherent chronology of the entire ancient Near East. To achieve his aim, Dodson arranges his material, after a short introduction entitled “Imperial Egypt” (1–2), into six chapters and five appendices. It is obvious from the start that Dodson is very familiar with his material. Nevertheless, the dense writing style, notably in the first two chapters, will make it difficult for the nonspecialist to follow his argument (so much so that the placing of the word “accessible” in quotes above is certainly justified).

Despite its title (“Of Tanis and Thebes” [ch. 2]) and the detailed level of information provided, Dodson’s second chapter fails to enlighten his reader on the intricate relations between the two major centers of power in Egypt at that time. In this respect, a brief introductory section (similar to those found in Kitchen’s work) that provides a framework for the material to be covered would have made the chapter more accessible to a wider audience.

In this respect, chapters 3–6 serve the reader much better. In these chapters, Dodson provides an up-to-date and quite accessible account of the developments in Egypt from the 22nd Dynasty (“The House of Shoshenq” [ch. 3]) up to and including the establishment of the 26th Dynasty (the Saite dynasty) (ch. 6). In particular, the fifth and sixth chapters contain a wealth of information. They discuss the Nubian (Kushite) rule in Egypt, the Assyrian involvement in Egyptian matters, the initial collaboration with Assyrian rule of the Saite kinglets, and their final “coming out” under Psamtik I as kings of a resurrected Egyptian state (with the aid of some Carian mercenaries). In doing so, these kings shook off both Assyrian control and Nubian claims to power ca. 555 B.C.E., in Psamtik’s ninth year. The rule of the Saite kings lasted until the defeat of Psamtik III by the Persian army of King Kambyses in 525 B.C.E. (for the history of Egypt under Persian [nominal] domination, see S. Ruzicka, Trouble in the West: Egypt and the Persian Empire 525–332 BCE [Oxford 2012]).

While the author attempts to provide his audience with a more or less secure chronology, it still proves to be extremely difficult to match Manetho’s kings lists (in various redactions) with the archaeological evidence. In fact, as Dodson states in appendix 1, “[t]he chronology of ancient Egypt prior to 690 [B.C.E.]—the accession of Taharqa—remains uncertain. Prior to this, all relative and absolute dating is a matter for the subjective interpretation of contemporary Egyptian data” (181). To a large extent, these data (notably family geneaologies) are related with the correct reading and interpretation of the Assyrian King List and the equally Assyrian limmu list. Dodson’s argument that the Assyrian lists continue to serve as a necessary reference for Egyptian chronology is reasonable, in spite of the inaccuracies, as long as other methods (e.g., radiocarbon dates) continue to raise concerns. On the basis of his data, Dodson opts for a new chronological structure. His “hooks” (or fixed points of chronology [181]) in this are 1265 B.C.E., being in his view the accession year for Rameses II (19th Dynasty), and 943 B.C.E. The latter Dodson sees as the accession year for Shoshenq I (22nd Dynasty). The resulting chronology, elaborated in appendices 2 and 3, is undoubtedly defensible and acceptable.

My main issue with Dodson’s work, however, concerns the intended audience. In the first chapters, he appears to write for a highly informed reader. In these instances, it would have been better if the (ample) notes had been placed as footnotes rather than endnotes, if only to facilitate consulting them. Likewise, if the author’s aim was to reach a wider audience, the first chapters, especially, need a stricter editor from the American University in Cairo Press. Matters of chronology demand meticulous arguing, especially if data are scarce and often inconclusive, and this can often cause arduous reading; however, in places Dodson could have made more of an attempt to provide an accessible account. Nevertheless, this judgement does not at all detract from my admiration for both his effort and knowledge.

Both bibliography (283–312) and index (313–43) are extensive and useful. The large number of photographs are an asset (partially a result of the book’s high-quality paper), but I would have liked them to have been larger and with better contrast. The drawings and maps are for the most part excellent, and, in general, the results reflect well the care invested by the press to produce this book. On the whole, I believe Kitchen’s book finally has found a worthy successor.

Department of Ancient History
University of Amsterdam
c/o “Phoenix”
2151 KB The Netherlands

Book Review of Afterglow of Empire: Egypt from the Fall of the New Kingdom to the Saite Renaissance, by Aidan Dodson

Reviewed by Jan P. Stronk

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 118, No. 1 (January 2014)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1181.Stronk

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