NEKAU II, OF EGYPT'S 26TH DYNASTY
BY JIMMY DUNN --
Nekau (II), who we know better as Necho, was either the 2nd or 3rd king of Egypt's 26th Dynasty, depending on whether we allow the
rule of a nominal king Nekau I at the beginning of the Dynasty. Nekau was his Birth name, and Necho is actually his Greek name. His
Throne name was Wah-em-ib-re, which means "Carrying out the Wish of Re Forever".
He came to the throne, succeeding his father, Psammetichus I in about 610 BC., and probably ruled Egypt until about 595 BC. He
continued the foreign involvement of his father, and Palestine once more became an Egyptian possession. In fact, much of Egypt's
involvement in that area is found in the Biblical account of the Book of Kings. Initially things went well for Nekau II and we find
the Egyptian forces campaigning east of the Euphrates river against the Chaldaeans, defeating Josiah of Judah in 609 BC. at Harran.
This allowed the Egyptians to establish themselves on the Euphrates for a short while, though apparently the Egyptians did not end
up controlling that city. He then intervened in the kingdom of Israel and deposed Josiah's son Jehoahaz, replacing him with his
brother Eliakim (Jehoiakim (II Kings 23: 29-35). Afterwards, we are told that Jerusalem paid tribute to Egypt. He also ruled Syria
at least as for as Carchemish.
But this position was also soon lost, when in 605 BC, the king suffered a catastrophic loss. The son of the Babylonian king,
Nabopolassar was sent to deal with Syria. This was Nebuchadrezzar, and he captured Carchemish from the Egyptians, and then pursued
the fleeing army as far as Hamath, where he apparently overwhelmed them. Hence, this was followed by a retreat to by the Egyptians
to their eastern frontier at Gaza.
Necho is known to have been responsible for monuments honoring the Apris Bull in Memphis. We also find inscriptional evidence of
the king in the quarries of the Mokattam Hills.
But in many ways, Necho was a very foresighted individual who's vision included a "Suez Canal" almost 2,500 years prior to the
modern construct. He had a navigable canal dug, using some 12,000 workers, through the Wadi Tumilat between the Pelusiac branch of
the Nile (where the great frontier fortress of Pelusium was located) and the Red Sea. He caused a great port city, Per-Temu-Tjeku
("the House of Atum of Tjeku", modern Tell el-Mashkuta) west of modern Ismailia to be built on the canal, and like Suez later, its
fortunes were inevitably linked with this new waterway. Tradition held that this was the Biblical city of Pithom, but recent
excavations have shown this to be incorrect.
At this time, Greece was expanding her trading contacts and Necho took the opportunity to recruit displaced Ionian Greeks to form
an Egyptian Navy. This was, militarily, revolutionary, for the Egyptians had an inherent distaste for and fear of the sea. While
this new navy was probably not much threat to his rivals, it did lead to other benefits, such as the creation of a new African
trade route. He also encouraged some Greek settlement in the Delta.
When Nacho II died in 595 BC., he left behind a son and three daughters. His son, Psammetichus II, only ruled for a brief period.
Necho II (sometimes Nekau) was a king of the Twenty-sixth dynasty of Egypt (610 BCE - 595 BCE).
Necho II is most likely the pharaoh mentioned in several books of the Bible (see Hebrew Bible / Old Testament). The Book of Kings states
that Necho II met King Josiah of the Kingdom of Judah at Megiddo and killed him (2 Kings 23:29 ) (see Battle of Megiddo (609 BC)). Another
book called the Book of Chronicles 2 Chronicles 35:20-27 gives a lengthier account and 2 Chronicles 35:20 states that when Josiah had
prepared the temple, Necho king of Egypt came up to fight against Carchemish by the Euphrates River and that King Josiah was fatally
wounded by an Egyptian archer. He was then brought back to Jerusalem to die. Necho is quoted as saying:
"What quarrel is there between you and me, O king of Judah? It is not you I am attacking at this time, but the house with which I am at
war. God has told me to hurry; so stop opposing God, who is with me, or he will destroy you." (NIV)
However, at Carchemish in the summer of 605 BC (or 607 BC by some sources) an important battle was fought there by the Babylonian army of
Nebuchadrezzar II and that of Pharaoh Necho II of Egypt (see the record contained in the Book of Jeremiah chapter 46 regarding Egypt and
its defeat). The aim of Necho's campaign was to contain the Westward advance of the Babylonian Empire and cut off its trade route across
the Euphrates. However, the Egyptians were defeated by the unexpected attack of the Babylonians and were eventually expelled from Syria.
Necho II was the son of Psammetichus I by his Great Royal Wife Mehtenweskhet. His prenomen or royal name Wahemibre means "Carrying out the
Wish of Re."
Necho played a significant role in the histories of the Assyrian Empire, Babylonia and the Kingdom of Judah. Upon his ascension, Necho was
faced with the chaos created by the raids of the Cimmerians and the Scythians, who had not only ravaged Asia west of the Euphrates, but had
also helped the Babylonians shatter the Assyrian Empire. That once mighty empire was now reduced to the troops, officials, and nobles who
had gathered around a general holding out at Harran, who had taken the throne name of Ashur-uballit II. Necho attempted to assist this
remnant immediately upon his coronation, but the force he sent proved to be too small, and the combined armies were forced to retreat west
across the Euphrates.
First campaign -
Aerial view of Tel Megiddo site of the battle of Megiddo in 609 BC.
In the spring of 609 BC, Necho personally led a sizable force to help the Assyrians. At the head of a large army, consisting mainly of his
mercenaries, Necho took the coast route Via Maris into Syria, supported by his Mediterranean fleet along the shore, and proceeding through
the low tracts of Philistia and Sharon. He prepared to cross the ridge of hills which shuts in on the south the great Jezreel Valley, but
here he found his passage blocked by the Jewish army. Their king, Josiah, sided with the Babylonians and attempted to block his advance at
Megiddo, where a fierce battle was fought and Josiah was killed (2 Kings 23:29, 2 Chronicles 35:20-24).
Herodotus reports the campaign of the pharaoh in his Histories:
" Necos, then, stopped work on the canal and turned to war; some of his triremes were constructed by the northern sea, and some in
the Arabian Gulf, by the coast of the Sea of Erythrias. The windlasses for beaching the ships can still be seen. He deployed these ships as
needed, while he also engaged in a pitched battle at Magdolos with the Syrians, and conquered them; and after this he took Cadytis
(Kadesh), which is a great city of Syria. He sent the clothes he had worn in these battles to Branchidae of Miletus and dedicated them to
Necho soon captured Kadesh on the Orontes and moved forward, joining forces with Ashur-uballit and together they crossed the Euphrates and
laid siege to Harran. Although Necho became the first pharaoh to cross the Euphrates since Thutmose III, he failed to capture Harran, and
retreated back to northern Syria. At this point, Ashur-uballit vanished from history, and the Assyrian Empire was conquered by the
Leaving a sizable force behind, Necho returned to Egypt. On his return march, he found that the Judeans had selected Jehoahaz to succeed
his father Josiah, whom Necho deposed and replaced with Jehoiakim. He brought Jehoahaz back to Egypt as his prisoner, where Jehoahaz ended
his days (2 Kings 23:31; 2 Chronicles 36:1-4).
Second campaign -
Meanwhile, the Babylonian king was planning on reasserting his power in Syria. In 609 BC, King Nabopolassar captured Kumukh, which cut off
the Egyptian army, then based at Carchemish. Necho responded the following year by retaking Kumukh after a four month siege, and executed
the Babylonian garrison. Nabopolassar brought forth another army, which he encamped at Qurumati on the Euphrates, but his health forced him
to return to Babylon in January of 605 BC; the Egyptians sallied forth in 606 BC and attacked the leaderless Babylonians (probably then led
by the crown prince Nebuchadrezzar) who fled their position.
At this point, the aged Nabopolassar, passed command of the army to his son Nebuchadrezzar II, who led them to a decisive victory over the
Egyptians at Carchemish, and pursued the fleeing survivors to Hamath. Necho's dream of restoring the Egyptian Empire in Asia that had
occurred under the New Kingdom was destroyed as Nebuchadrezzar conquered their territory from the Euphrates to the Brook of Egypt (Jeremiah
46:2; 2 Kings 23:29) down to Judea. Although Nebuchadrezzar spent many years in his new conquests on continuous pacification campaigns,
Necho was offered no opportunity to recover any significant part of his lost territories: when Ashkalon rose in revolt; despite repeated
pleas the Egyptians sent no help, and were barely able to repel a Babylonian attack on their eastern border in 601 BC. When he repelled the
attack, Necho managed to capture Gaza while pursuing the enemy. Necho turned his attention in his remaining years to forging up
relationships with new allies: the Carians, and further to the west, the Greeks.
Ambitious projects -
At some point during his Syrian campaign, over the next three years, Necho II initiated but never completed the ambitious project of
cutting a navigable canal from the Pelusiac branch of the Nile to the Red Sea, the earliest precursor of the Suez Canal. It was in
connection with this new activity that Necho founded the new entrepot city of Per-Temu Tjeku which translates as 'The House of Atum of
Tjeku' at the site now known as Tell el-Maskhuta, about 15 km west of Ismailia. The waterway was intended to facilitate trade between
the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean; Necho also formed an Egyptian navy by recruiting displaced Ionian Greeks. This was an
unprecedented act by the pharaoh since most Egyptians had traditionally harboured an inherent distaste for and fear of the sea. The navy
which Necho created served to operate along both the Mediterranean and Red Sea coasts.
Herodotus (4.42) also reports that Necho sent out an expedition of Phoenicians, who in three years sailed from the Red Sea around Africa
back to the mouth of the Nile. Some current historians tend to believe Herodotus' account, primarily because he stated with disbelief
that the Phoenicians " as they sailed on a westerly course round the southern end of Libya(Africa), they had the sun on their right - to
northward of them" (The Histories 4.42) -- in Herodotus' time it was not known that Africa extended south past the equator. However,
Egyptologists also point out that it would have been extremely unusual for an Egyptian Pharaoh to carry out such an expedition. Alan B.
Lloyd doubts the event and attributes the development of the story by other events.
Death and succession -
Necho II died in 595 BC and was succeeded by his son, Psamtik II, as the next pharaoh of Egypt. Psamtik II, however, later removed Necho's
name from almost all of his father's monuments for unknown reasons.