Piye, (whose name was once transliterated as Piankhi)2 (d. 721 BC) was a Kushite king and founder of the Twenty-fifth dynasty of Egypt who ruled Egypt from the city of Napata, located deep in Nubia, Sudan. His predecessor as king of Kush, Kashta, almost certainly exercised a strong degree of influence over Thebes prior to Piye’s accession because Kashta managed to have his daughter, Amenirdis I, adopted as the Heiress to the serving God’s Wife of Amun, Shepenupet I, before the end of his reign. A Year 19 date carved at Wadi Gasus associates Shepenupet I (daughter of Osorkon III) with Year 12 of her Adopted Adoratice, Amenirdis I. This inscription has been interpreted by Egyptologists to mean that Year 12 of Piye is equivalent to Year 19 of one of Osorkon III’s two sons, likely Takelot III based on recent archaeological discoveries.
As ruler of Nubia and Upper Egypt, Piye took advantage of the squabbling of Egypt’s rulers by expanding Nubia’s power beyond Thebes into Lower Egypt. In reaction to this, Tefnakht of Sais formed a coalition between the local kings of the Delta Region and enticed Piye’s nominal ally—king Nimlot of Hermopolis—to defect to his side. Tefnakht then sent his coalition army south and besieged Herakleopolis where its king Peftjaubast and the local Nubian commanders appealed to Piye for help. Piye reacted quickly to this crisis in his Year 20 by assembling an army to invade Middle and Lower Egypt and visited Thebes in time for the great Opet Festival which proves he effectively controlled Upper Egypt by this time. His military feats are chronicled in the Victory stela at Gebel Barkal.
Piye viewed his campaign as a Holy War, commanding his soldiers to cleanse themselves ritually before beginning battle. He himself offered sacrifices to the great god Amun. 3
Piye then marched north and achieved complete victory at Herakleopolis, conquering the cities of Hermopolis and Memphis among others, and received the submission of the kings of the Nile Delta including Iuput II of Leontopolis, Osorkon IV of Tanis and his former ally Nimlot at Hermopolis. Hermopolis fell to the Nubian king after a siege lasting five months. Tefnakht took refuge in an island in the Delta and formally conceded defeat in a letter to the Nubian king but refused to personally pay homage to the Kushite ruler. Satisfied with his triumph, Piye proceeded to sail south to Thebes and returned to his homeland in Nubia never to return to Egypt. Despite Piye’s successful campaign into the Delta, his authority only extended northward from Thebes up to the western desert oases and Herakleopolis where Peftjaubastet ruled as a Nubian vassal king. The local kings of Lower Egypt especially Tefnakht were essentially free to do what they wanted without Piye’s oversight. It was Shabaka, Piye’s successor, who later rectified this unsatisfactory situation by attacking Sais and defeating Tefnakht’s successor Bakenranef at Sais, in his second regnal year.
Piye adopted two throne names: Usimare and Sneferre during his reign and was much more passionate (in common with many kings of Nubia) about the worship of the god Amun. He revitalised the moribund Great Temple of Amun at Gebel Barkal, first built under Thutmose III of the New Kingdom by employing numerous sculptors and stone masons from Egypt to renew the temple. He was once thought to have also used the throne name ‘Menkheperre’ (“the Manifestation of Ra abides”) but this prenomen has now been recognised as belonging to a local Theban king named Ini instead who was a contemporary of Piye. Piye’s Highest known Date was long thought to be the Year 24 III Akhet day 10 date mentioned in the “Smaller Dakhla Stela” (Ashmolean Museum No.1894) from his reign. This sandstone stela measures 81.5 cm by 39.5 cm and was discovered from the Sutekh temple at Mut al-Kharib in the Western Desert Oasis town of Dakhla, according to a JEA 54(1968) article by Jac Janssen. However, in early 2006, the Tomb of the Southern Vizier Padiamonet, son of Pamiu, was discovered in the third Upper Terrace of Queen Hatshepsut’s mortuary Temple at Deir El-Bahari by the Polish Mission for the Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology. It was carved approximately 8 metres into the rock face of the temple cliff in an area where several other Third Intermediate Period and Late Period burials have also been discovered. According to this article in the Polish news site Nauka w Polsce (Science & Scholarship in Poland), Padiamonet’s tomb contains a burial inscription which is dated to Year 27 of Piye.1 Dr. Zbigniew Szafrański, Director of the Polish Mission, states regarding the find:
“ The tomb had been plundered. We don’t know whether in antiquity or in more recent times; however we have found fragments of the mummy. On the basis of the inscriptions found in the tomb we suspect that buried there was the vizier Padiamonet who died in the 27th Year of the rule of the Pharaoh Piankhi (Piye) from the 25th Dynasty.4 ”
Szafrański further notes that the Mummy cartonnage (a cover in which the mummy is placed) found in Padiamonet’s burial chamber featured “beautiful, ornate, colourful pictures [in which] you can read in hieroglyphs the name of the Vizier. It is also visible on the fragments of the [mummy] bandages.”5
The Great Temple at Gebel Barkal contains carved relief scenes depicting Piye celebrating a Heb Sed Festival but there is some doubt among scholars as to whether it portrayed a genuine Sed Feast or was merely Anticipatory. Under the latter scenario, Piye would have planned to hold a Jubilee Festival in this Temple in his 30th Year—hence his recruitment of Egypt’s Artisans to decorate it—but died before this event took place.
While Piye’s precise reign length is still unknown, this new find and his subsequently higher Year 27 date affirms the traditional view that Piye lived into his Year 30 and celebrated his Jubilee that year. Kenneth Kitchen in his book, The Third Intermediate Period in Egypt, has suggested a reign of 31 years for Piye based on the Year 7 donation stela of a certain Shepsesre Tefnakht whom he viewed as Piye’s opponent. However, this stela is now believed to refer instead to a second later Saite king called Tefnakht II from the late Nubian era because it is almost similar in style and format to a newly revealed donation stela—from a private collection—which is dated to Year 2 of Necho I’s reign. (This new document was analysed by Olivier Perdu in CRAIBL 2002) Hence, no reliance can be placed on the Year 8 stela of Shepsesre Tefnakht to determine Piye’s reign length. However, Dr Szafrański’s recent discovery suggests that the Gebel Barkal Heb Sed scenes are genuine and supports the conventional view that Piye enjoyed a reign of roughly three full decades. More recently, in the February 2008 issue of National Geographic, Robert Draper wrote that Piye ruled for 35 years and invaded all of Egypt in his 20th regnal year in about 730 BC6; however, no archaeological source gives Piye a reign of more than 31 years at present.
Piye was buried in a pyramid alongside his four favorite horses at el-Kurru near Gebel Barkal, a site that would come to be occupied by the tombs of several later members of the dynasty.