Taharqa, King of Kush and the Assyrians

Taharqa was a pharaoh of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty of Egypt and Qore (king) of the Kingdom of Kush (present-day Sudan), from 690 to 664 BC. He was one of the “Ethiopian Pharaohs” who ruled over Egypt for nearly a century. Although Taharqa’s reign was filled with conflict with the Assyrians, the empire flourished under his reign.

        Taharqa began cultivating alliances with kingdoms in Phoenicia and Palestine who were prepared to take a more independent position against Assyria which made war with the Assyrians inevitable. 

        In 701 BC, Taharqa and his army aided Judah and King Hezekiah in withstanding a siege by King Sennacherib of the Assyrians (2 Kings 19:9; Isaiah 37:9). There are various theories (Taharqa’s army, disease, divine intervention, Hezekiah’s surrender, Herodotus’ mice theory) as to why the Assyrians failed to take Jerusalem and withdrew to Assyria. 

        In 679 BC, Sennacherib’s successor, King

Esarhaddon campaigned into Khor and took a town loyal to Egypt. After destroying Sidon and forcing Tyre into a tribute, Esarhaddon invaded Egypt. According to Babylonian records, Taharqa and his army defeated the Assyrians. However, Taharqa was defeated in Egypt some years later when Esarhaddon conquered Northern Egypt, captured Memphis, imposed tribute, and then withdrew. Although the Pharaoh Taharqa had escaped to Kush, Esarhaddon captured the Pharaoh’s family and most of the royal court.

         Esarhaddon again led his army to Egypt and on his death in 668 BC, the command passed to Ashurbanipal. Ashurbanipal and the Assyrians again defeated Taharqa and advanced as far south as Thebes, but direct Assyrian control was not established.

         Some years Ashurbanipal appointed as his vassal ruler in Egypt Necho I, who had been the king of the city Sais. Necho’s son,

Psamtik I was educated at the Assyrian capital of Nineveh during Esarhaddon’s reign. As late as 665 BC, the vassal kings of the Egyptian cities of Sais, Mendes, and Pelusium were still making overtures to Taharqa in Kush. The vassals’ plot was uncovered by Ashurbanipal and all rebels but Necho of Sais was executed.

         Taharqa died in the city of Thebes[42] in 664 BC. He was followed by his appointed successor Tantamani, son of Shabaka, himself succeeded by a son of Taharqa, Atlanersa. Taharqa was buried at Nuri, in North Sudan. Egypt was still seen as vulnerable and Tantamani invaded Egypt in hopes of restoring his family to the throne. This led to a renewed conflict with Ashurbanipal and the sack of the city by the Assyrians in 663 BCE.

         Taharqa chose the site of Nuri to build his pyramid, away from the traditional burial site of El-Kurru. It was the first and the largest pyramid of Nuri, and he was followed by close to twenty later kings at the site.

         In the Bible, Taharqa is known as Tirhakah. Concerning Taharqa’s successor, the sack of Thebes was a momentous event that reverberated throughout the Ancient Near East. It is mentioned in the Book of Nahum chapter 3:8-10 “Art thou better than populous No, that was situated among the rivers, that had the waters round about it, whose rampart was the sea, and her wall was from the sea? Ethiopia and Egypt were her strength, and it was infinite; Put and Lubim were thy helpers. Yet was she carried away, she went into captivity: her young children also were dashed in pieces at the top of all the streets: and they cast lots for her honorable men, and all her great men were bound in chains”

           The two snakes in the crown of pharaoh Taharqa show that he was the king of both the lands of Egypt and Nubia.

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