The Sack of Thebes

The assassination of Suppiluliuma’s son frustrated Dakhamun’s hopes of retaining royal power, and the reigns of government passed on to Tirhaka’s nephew, Tandamane.(1) On Tanadamane’s accession the Ethiopians renewed their drive to dominate Egypt. Tandamane fortified Thebes and Heliopolis, and besieged the Assyrian garrison of Memphis.

We know from Herodotus that Necho I, called by him Necos, was killed by the Ethiopians after a very short reign.(2) His son, a youth, escaped to Palestine and lived there in exile. But “when the Ethiopian departed by reason of what he saw in a dream, the Egyptians of the province of Sais brought him [the son of Necho] back from Syria.”

The Ethiopian left Egypt no so much because of a dream, but because of Assurbanipal, who was marching against Egypt and Ethiopia in all haste. “Against Egypt and Ethiopia I waged bitter warfare and established my might.” This was the second campaign of Assurbanipal against Egypt. “Tandamane heard of the approach of my expedition (only when) I had (already) set foot in Egyptian territory.” The Assyrian troops “defeated him in a great open battle and scattered his (armed) might.” Tandamane abandoned Memphis, “fled alone and entered Thebes, his royal residence.” But Assurbanipal’s army followed in close pursuit. “They marched after him, covering a distance of one month in ten days on difficult roads as far as Thebes.” The Ethiopian did not risk another confrontation with Assurbanipal: “He saw my mighty battle array approaching, left Thebes, and fled to Kipkipi.” Never again did the Ethiopians transgress the frontier of the Sudan.

Thebes now lay prostrate before Assurbanipal’s troops and was “smashed (as if by) a floodstorm.” Its chief citizens were led into captivity. Isaiah’s prophecy about Egypt was fulfilled: “So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian prisoners, and the Ethiopian captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, even with their buttocks uncovered” (20:4). Assurbanipal boasted of having carried away “inhabitants, male and female.” Besides, he wrote, “I carried off from Thebes heavy booty, byoyond counting,” and he listed silver, gold, precious stones, fine horses; even two obelisks covered with “shining copper” were pulled down and carted off to Assyria. “I made Egypt (Musur ) and Nubia ( Kush) feel my weapons bitterly and celebrated my triumph. With full hands and safely I returned to Nineveh.” Many years later the prophet Nahum recalled “populous No (Thebes) that was situate among the rivers~.~.~ Ethiopia and Egypt were her strength and it was infinite~.~.~. Yet was she carried away, she went into captivity: her young children were dashed into pieces at the top of all her streats: and they cast lots for her honorable men, and her great men were bound in chains.”

Seti-Psammetich, the young exile, returned to Egypt following the chariot of Assurbanipal.


  1. Assurbanipal calls him “the son of his [Tirhaka’s ] sister.” See Luckenbill, Records of Assyria, II.

  2. Herodotus II. 152. Herodotus’ statement calls for a correction. Not Sabacos (Shabaku) but Tandamane, son of Sabacos, killed Necos. See E. Meyer, Geschichte des Alten Aegyptens (Berlin, 1887), p. 325; also A. Spalinger, “Assurbanipal and Egypt: A Source Study,” in Journal of the American Oriental Society 94 (1974), p. 323.