Necho I

The new administration set up in Egypt at Assurbanipal’s behest consisted again of the twenty governors and vice-kings appointed earlier by Esarhaddon. At the head of the list was Necho, who received Memphis and Sais as his share—two of the most important cities of the period.

But the governors were not content with their subordinate position under an Asiatic overlord. As told by Assurbanipal, “their hearts plotted evil.” They sent mounted messengers to Tirhaka, saying: “Let brotherhood be established among us, and let us help one another. We shall divide the land in two, and among us there shall not be another lord.” But soon the Assyrians caught wind of the plot: “An officer of mine heard of these matters and met their cunning with cunning. He captured their mounted messengers together with their messages, which they had dispatched to Tirhaka, king of Ethiopia.” (1) The Assyrian reaction was characteristically swift and decisive: The governors were arrested, bound in chains, and sent to Nineveh to face the wrath of Assurbanipal.

There followed a wave a savage reprisals in the cities of Egypt against the civilian population. The soldiers “out to the sword the inhabitants, young and old~.~.~. they did not spare anybody among them. They hung their corpses from stakes, flayed their skins, and covered with them the wall of the towns.” (2) It happened as Isaiah had prophecied when he warned that the Egyptians would be given “into the hand of a cruel lord; and a fierce king shall rule over them.” (19:4).

When the twenty governors reached Nineveh, all save one were put to death: only Necho, vice-king of Memphis and Sais, was allowed to live. Assurbanipal, in need of a reliable ally to govern Egypt and keep it safe from the Ethiopians, chose Necho to be sent back to the country as its sole king. “And I, Assurbanipal, inclined towards friendliness, had mercy upon Necho, my own servant, whom Esarhaddon, my own father, had made king in Kar-bel-matate [Sais].” The king of Assyria secured Necho’s allegiance by “an oath more severe than the former. I inspired his heart with confidence, clothed him in splendid (brightly-colored) garments, laid upon him a golden chain as the emblem of his royalty~.~.~. Chariots, horses, mules, I presented to him for his royal riding. My officials I sent with him at his request.” (3)

This Necho lives in history as Ramses I of the Nineteenth, and Necho I of the Twenty-sixth Dynasties. He was installed by Assurbanipal in ca. -655, a score of years after Haremhab’s final expulsion. We shall continue, in this reconstruction of history, to refer to him as Ramses I, although an earlier king of that name, Ramses Siptah, held the throne briefly decades earlier, in the time of Sargon II, and might therefore have a better claim to that title.

It is sometimes surmised that it was Haremhab who appointed Ramses I to the throne; but the course of this reconstruction makes it evident that some twenty-two years passed from the time of Haremhab’s expulsion by Tirhaka (ca. -688) and the accession of Ramses I (ca. -665). Historians have wondered that none of the extant inscriptions of Ramses I contains any reference to Haremhab, and that no traceable relation of Ramses I to the family of Haremhab has been found.(4) Instead, Ramses I calls himself “Conductor of the Chariot of His Majesty,” “Deputy of His Majesty in North and South,” “Fanbearer of the King on His Right Hand.” (5) The similarity of these titles to those borne earlier by Haremhab has been noted(6)—as we saw, both Haremhab and Ramses I were appointees of Assyrian kings: Haremhab of Sennacherib and Ramses I of Assurbanipal.

Assurbanipal also elevated Necho’s son to the position of co-rulership with his father, and let him reign in Athribis. The Assyrian called him Nabushezibanni, but the Greek authors knew him as Psammetichos. In his own inscriptions he names himself Seti Meri-en-Men-maat-Re, or Seti Ptah-Maat. It is known from Egyptian sources that Seti was co-regent with his father Ramses I.(7)

In both his existences, Ramses I--Necho I lived only one year and a few months after being crowned.(8)


  1. A. C. Piepkorn, Historical Prism Inscriptions of Assurbanipal (Chicago, 1933), pp. 13-15.

  2. Luckenbill, Records of Assyria, II. 876, in Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 295.

  3. Luckenbill, Records of Assyria II, 905, in Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 297.

  4. R. Hari, Horemheb et la Reine Moutnodjemet (Geneva, 1964), p. 412.

  5. Ibid., p.

  6. Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs, p. 248.

  7. Bulletin de l’Institut Francais d’Archeologie Orientale au Caire.

  8. [Ramses I reigned, according to Manetho, for one year and four months; This is confirmed by a stele dated to his second year (Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs, p. 248. The length of Necho’s reign can be determined from the Assyrian documents: It began ca. -655 when he was installed by Assurbanipal, and ended in -664/663 with his assassination by Tandamane. The Egyptologists, looking for Necho’s monuments apart from those of Ramses I, have failed to find any inscriptional evidence whatsovever for the reign of Necho I.]