Seti Becomes an Ally
of Assurbanipal

Two campaigns against Egypt and Ethiopia and one against Tyre, and Assurbanipal found himself surrounded by enemies. The instigator was his brother Shamash-shum-ukin, to whom Esarhaddon had bequeathed Babylonia, leaving Assyria to Assurbanipal. Shamash-shum-ukin corresponded with Tirhakah the Ethiopian until the death of the latter, and with the kings of Elam, Aram (Damascus), and other countries that were alarmed by Assyria’s aggressive policy.

After a campaign toward Elam, whose king “plotted” against him, Assurbanipal became aware that his own brother was his chief enemy. “In these days Shamash-shum-ukin, the faithless brother of mine, king of Babylon, stirred to revolt against me the people of Akkad, Chaldea, the Arameans . . . along with the kings of Gute, Arnurru and Melukha [Ethiopia] .” (1)

Assurbanipal was no longer able to interfere in the affairs of Egypt, and Seti succeeded in overcoming the eleven vice-kings of the nomes and regained the throne of his father. The revolt stirred up all around Assyria absorbed Assurbanipal’s entire attention. In the fraternal war he captured Babylon, and his brother Shamash-shum-ukin killed himself. But a number of years later a new opponent, an untiring avenger, arose in the person of Nabopolassar.

Nabopolassar, together with the king of the Medes, waged a protracted war against Assurbanipal, who desperately needed an ally. Assurbanipal found him in Seti, whose father had been pardoned and crowned by him. In this way Seti rose from the status of a vassal to that of a partner of the Assyrian king in a long war.

Seti may have numbered the years of his reign from the day he became the sole king of Egypt, or from the day he achieved independence for Egypt and was recognized as Assurbanipal’s ally. This explains the fact that already in his first year Seti, in recording his accomplishments, could refer to his campaigns in Palestine, Arabia, and Libya.(2)

The princes of Babylon, Nabopolassar and his brother, revolting against Assyria, sent emissaries to Aleppo, Hamath, and Damascus, and to the chieftains of the unsettled tribes of the desert, inciting them to create disturbances in the Assyrian domain. At that time, in the reign of Assurbanipal, the provinces were ruled more by anarchy than by the will of the despot. Usurper replaced usurper, to be assassinated in his turn, and there was neither order nor authority in northern Palestine and Syria. “They have taken to cursing and quarrelling, each of them slaying his neighbor, “(3) wrote Seti.

He moved into Galilee. The land of the Ten Tribes was desolate after the exile, and th new settlers were unable to protect their habitations against bands from the desert or even against wild beasts (II Kings 17:25f.).

In the days of Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal, Menashe (Manasseh), son of Hezekiah, reigned in Judea. For fifty-five years he occupied the throne of Jerusalem. The Scriptures do not mention any war of Menashe, only his being carried away into a short captivity in Babylon. In those turbulent times fifty-five years could hardly have passed without involving Judea more than once in greater or lesser conflicts. Menashe certainly must have been successful in his politics if he could keep Judea out of war that long.

Seti repeatedly led military expeditions toward the Euphrates; he also took measures to secure the safety of the cities of Galilee and defended them against bands from the desert. His activities in Galilee and his numerous marches across the plains of the Philistines, close to Judea, might easily have infringed on Menashe’s territorial rights. But apparently Menashe leaned toward Assyria and Egypt; he called his son Amon, a sacred name among the Egyptians. He tried to avoid a major conflict.

The latter part of Menashe’s long reign coincided with the earlier part of the long reign of Seti, and it would be strange indeed if, in Seti’s account of his march to Galilee and Syria, he did not mention Menashe. With this thought in mind, it is worthwhile to reread the annals of Seti. There we find Seti’s boast that he had “set terror in Retenu [Palestine],” had taken from there “every costly stone of God’s land,” and had “beat down the men of Menate (M-n-ty).” The men of Menate, twice named in this passage of Seti’s annals,(4) are the men of Menashe. We have here the name we had every reason to expect to find, inasmuch as Seti and Menashe were contemporaries.

The question, ‘Why do the Scriptures not mention the presence of a pharaoh in Palestine in the days of Menashe?’ is not the point. Although the Scriptures contain no reference to this fact, the historians admit that a pharaoh went with his army on a prolonged expedition to Palestine in the time of Menashe, but they call him Psammetichos, as Herodotus narrated.

The reason for the omission on the part of the Scriptures is at hand. Since the time of Hezekiah, the father of Menashe, the land of the Ten Tribes had been settled by non-Israelites, and the Books of Kings and of Chronicles no longer occupy themselves with the history of the place, in respect to this or any other event.

"Not far into Asia, Seti apparently meets a fortified town, to which the relief gives the name Pekanan [Pekanon]. . . . Exactly what this name means here is not certain.” (5) A scene on a bas-relief illustrates the occupation of the fortress Pekanon in Palestine. The accompanying inscription reads:

Town of Pekanan (P’ -k’ -n’ -n’ ), Year I, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Menmare (Seti). The destruction which the mighty sword of Pharaoh made among the vanquished of the Shasu (invading Bedouins) from the fortress of Tharu (in Egypt) to Pekanan, when his majesty marched against them like a fierce-eyed lion, making them carcasses in their valleys, overturned in their blood. . . .” (6)

A few other places in the plain of Jezreel are also mentioned as having been occupied with the intention of repelling the invasion of the foreigners, but prominence is given to Pekanon.

No reference to the city of Pekanon is found in previous lists of Palestinian cities compiled by the pharaohs, nor had the Israelites found a city by that name when they occupied Canaan. Some scholars presume that it may mean Pi-Canaan or “The Canaan,” but others disagree.(7) The name has the sign of a country, but it is pictured on the bas-relief as a city. This suggests that the city was the capital of a country.

The city of Pekanon must have existed for but a short moment. It is conceded that Egyptian documents before Seti (whose reign, according to the conventional chronology, started in -1310) do not know such a city. Hebrew annals containing a list of the Palestinian cities of the thirteenth century (the supposed time of the conquest by Joshua) do not know it either. In the Egyptian sources Pekanon is met once more on the stele of Merneptah (the grandson of Seti), who mentions the Israelites in Palestine. Thus the name Pekanon became a hopeless issue in historical geography.

Pekanon was a city fortified by Pekah, the next to the last king of Israel.(8) Cities built, rebuilt, or fortified by kings were often named in their honor. Pekah, son of Remaliah, reigned in Samaria

for twenty years (II Kings 15:27). He was a ruler eager for enterprises, from the day he slew Pekahiah, his master, until the day he slaughtered 120,000 people of Judah and “carried away captive of their brethren two hundred thousand” (II Chronicles 28:8), only to release them shortly thereafter.

According to the reconstruction of history offered here, Pekah preceded Seti the Great by two generations. This order of things explains why, in the list of Thutmose III containing the names of hundreds of Palestinian and Syrian localities, the name of Pekanon does not appear, and why, in the biblical register of cities of Canaan, there is no mention of this name in the days of Joshua’s conquest or later. Judging by the significance attached to Pekanon in the records of Seti, it was an important city in or near the Esdraelon Valley, renamed by King Pekah, who rebuilt or fortified it.


  1. Luckenbill, Records of Assyria, II, Sec. 789.

  2. Breasted, Records, Vol. Ill, Sec. 81.

  3. Ibid., Sec. 101.

  4. Breasted, Records, III, Sec. 118. On M-n-ty, meaning the tribe Menashe, see Ages in Chaos, 1,173.

  5. Breasted, Records, Vol. III, Sec. 87. See W.M. Muller, Asien und Europa nach Altagyptischen Denkmalern, p. 205.

  6. Breasted, Records, Vol. III, Sec. 88.

  7. G. Steindorff, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, XXV (1939), 32, supports this equation; Gauthier, Dictionnaire des noms geographiques contenus dans les textes hieroglyphiques (Cairo, 1925-31), V, 187-88, questions it.

  8. The form “Pekanon” is derived from Pekah, like Shomron from Shemer (I Kings 16:24). Pekanon could also be Shomron (Samaria) renamed by Pekah.