Not only had the people, as we have seen, lost heart and vigor for war; they were also impoverished. Most of the land and wealth had passed into the hands of the priesthood. Moreover, a foreign people from the north coast of Africa began to press into the kingdom. These were the Libyans. What caused their migrations we do not know, but gradually, sometimes by fighting, sometimes by friendly purchase or gift, they won possession of most of northwestern Egypt.

The Pharaohs gladly recruited their armies from these sturdy Libyan barbarians, who made much better fighting material than the intellectual Egyptians, who had begun to "think too much." The monuments of the later Ramesside sovereigns still continue to be covered with boasts of victory; but the frontiers of their empire recede. They fight against Libyans in Egypt itself, and against Hittites at the gates of Pelusium and Rameses. The wandering Israelites are able to occupy Palestine, and meet no Egyptian troops to check them there.

Out of this darkness and confusion came dynastic changes. Apparently the theocratic forces gained complete control, and a line of high-priests succeeded to the throne, so that Egypt was held by religious rather than military sovereigns. We begin to read frequently in the inscriptions of the "Libyan guard." These barbarians became, as did the Germans in Roman days, the chief fighting force of the empire. And then as a very natural result we come upon a commander of this Libyan guard called Shashanq, who supersedes the ancient race of kings that still claimed descent from the god Amon. Shashanq, a stranger and a foreigner, becomes Pharaoh in their stead.

With Shashanq we touch once more upon Biblical history. He attempted to revive the military glory which had long departed from Egypt. Among other warlike exploits he sought to reassert his empire's claim, three centuries old, over Palestine. The Bible, which spells his name as Shishak, tells how he plundered Jerusalem in the days of Solomon's son Rehoboam.

Apparently, Shashanq stayed the disruption of Egypt for merely a moment. His rule extended over only the lower valley. The high-priests defied his power, and continued to rule over upper Egypt from the ancient religious capital Thebes. So dreadful was the misery of these days that the poorer people suffered almost constantly from famine. Terrible deeds of desperation resulted. Even the sacred tombs of the ancient kings were no longer safe. They were broken open by marauders. The mummies of Sethos and Rameses the Great and a score of other mighty kings and princesses have been discovered in modern days not in their original gorgeous mausoleums, but all huddled together in a single hiding place. There, when their own monuments had been ravished, the royal remains must have been secreted by the priesthood during these tragic days of Shashanq. In some cases even the royal mummies themselves had been torn to fragments by the eager thieves in search of any article of value. In place of the bodies thus destroyed, the priests hastily substituted old bits of straw and rubbish, and wrapped these in the regal mummy garments, whence our astonished scientists laboriously unrolled them, ignoble relics which have thus been preserved to a strange immortality in our museums.

After Shashanq's day the anarchy increased. Each petty prince of a single Egyptian district fought for himself and held independent state. Pharaohs of merely nominal power rose and passed. The arts declined, the people sank into despair.

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Read about Shashanq in the The Story of the Greatest Nations and the Worlds Famous Events Vol 1

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