OSORKON II, OF EGYPT'S 22ND DYNASTY
BY JIMMY DUNN --
Sermon II, a Libyan, succeeded Takelot I in 874 BC to become the fifth ruler of Egypt's 22nd Dynasty, known
as the Libyan or Bubastite Dynasty, at Tanis. He was probably a young man when he came to the throne, for
high reign was relatively long. Osorkon was this king's birth name, which together with the epithet,
meryamun, means "Osorkon, Beloved of Amun" His throne name was User-maaat-re Setepen-amun, meaning
"Powerful is the Justice of Re, Chosen of Amun". His set of titles harked back to Shoshenq I and his Horus
name incorporated an epithet of Ramesses II: "He whom Ra has crowned king of the Two Lands".
At the same time, his cousin, Harsiese became High Priest of Amun at Karnak, perhaps as an appointee of
Osorkon II (or his father). However, this was perhaps an unwise move, for it created problems when, in year
four of Osorkon II's reign, Harsiese declared himself king in the south. Had Harsiese's father, Shoshenq II
lived, it might have been he who would have inherited the throne in the first place. Yet, Harsiese's
declaration held little real power, perhaps because of a continuing illness. In fact, his skull contains a
hole, apparently made through a surgical procedure, which Harsiese seems to have survived, to judge from
the healing shown by the wound. He was buried in the trough of a granite coffin taken from the tomb of
Ramesses II's sister, Henutmire. Nevertheless, while Hariese's claim to the throne may have not provided
him with much power, it does seem to have limited the rule of Osorkon II.
Upon Harsiese's death, Osorkon II consolidated his position by appointing one of his sons, Nimlot C, as
High Priest at Karnak. He went on to appoint another son, Sheshonq D, as High Priest of Ptah at Memphis and
made his young son (under the age of 10), Harnakhte, High Priest of Amun at Tanis, the royal capital.
Obviously, his considerations for this were motivated by politics rather than religiously. In fact, an
interesting inscription on a statue from Tanis dated to the reign of Osorkon II petitions Amun to confirm
the appointment of his children to various high civil and religious offices. Nimlot C was also governor of
Hierakleopolis and Middle Egypt as well as Chief Priest of Arsaphes.
Osorkon II initiated major building works during his reign, particularly at Babastis in the temple of the
tutelary cat-goddess Bastet. He built for himself there a fine, monumental red granite hall to celebrate
his jubilee (sed festival) in year 22 of his reign, which he adorned with reliefs of himself and his wife,
Karomama I. It is unknown why he deviated from the normal thirty-year threshold for such a festival, but
also recorded with these reliefs was the reintroduction of an 18th Dynasty policy of fiscal exemption for
the temples of Egypt, which had once been announced by Amenhotep III at Soleb.
He also built at Memphis, Tanis, Thebes and Leontopolis, which would become the seat of power for the
following dynasty of kings. At Tanis, his contributions included a new forecourt where a stelophorous
statue of the king was discovered, and other outlying structures to the Temple of Amun. Much of the stone
for this work was derived from the demolition of Piramesses, Ramesses II's old capital.
By the end of his reign, Assyria under king Shalmaneser III (858-828 BC), was wielding considerable
influence over the Levant after overcoming northern Mesopotamia and Syria. Hence, in 853, Egypt was forced
to confront the threat by aligning with Israel and the neighboring kingdoms, including her old ally Byblos
so that together, they could halt the Assyrian advance, which they did at the battle of Qarqar on the
Orontes. However, Egypt's involvement in this seems to have been limited to a thousand troops that were
contributed to the coalition. During the very last years of Osorkon II's reign, he took an alternative
approach to the Assyrian problem, offering gifts of various exotic fauna to the foreign king.
Little else is really known about the final years of this king's reign, the last flourish of the 22nd
Dynasty, except that Thebes apparently made another attempt at gaining independence. During the king's last
two years, apparently he shared the kingdom with a certain Takelot II of Thebes, effectively marking the
end of Egypt as a unified state for a period of nearly two centuries. Even a Biblical passage from this
period suggests such a split, when it refers to the "kings of Egypt".
Upon his death, Osorkon II was buried at Tanis in the tomb (NRT 1) he had earlier appropriated for himself
and his late father. He was interred in a huge sarcophagus with a lid carved from the remains of a group-
statue of the Ramesside Period. He shared the burial chamber with his young son, Harnakhte, who's tenor as
High Priest of Amun at Tanis was apparently short-lived.
Unfortunately, his tomb was robbed during antiquity, leaving only a few debris of the hawk-headed coffin
and canopic jars behind. He was succeeded by Shoshenq III, who was presumably his son, though no certain
Usermaatre Setepenamun Osorkon II was a pharaoh of the Twenty-second Dynasty of Ancient Egypt and the son
of Takelot I and Queen Kapes. He ruled Egypt around 872 BC to 837 BC from Tanis, the capital of this
Dynasty. After succeeding his father, he was faced with the competing rule of his cousin, king Harsiese A,
who controlled both Thebes and the Western Oasis of Egypt. Osorkon feared the serious challenge posed by
Harsiese's kingship to his authority but, when Harsiese conveniently died in 860 BC, Osorkon II ensured that
this problem would not recur by appointing his own son Nimlot C as the next High Priest of Amun at Thebes.
This consolidated the pharaoh's authority over Upper Egypt and meant that Osorkon II ruled over a united
Egypt. Osorkon II's reign would be a time of large scale monumental building and prosperity for Egypt
According to a recent paper by Karl Jansen-Winkeln, king Harsiese A, and his son [..du] were only ordinary
Priests of Amun, rather than High Priests of Amun, as was previously assumed. The inscription on the Koptos
lid for [..du], Harsiese A's son, never once gives him the title of High Priest. demonstrates that the
High Priest Harsiese who served is attested in statue CGC 42225 – which mentions this High Priest and is
dated explicitly under Osorkon II – was, in fact, Harsiese B. The High Priest Harsiese B served Osorkon II
in his final 3 years. This statue was dedicated by the Letter Writer to Pharaoh Hor IX, who was one of the
most powerful men in his time. However, Hor IX almost certainly lived during the end of Osorkon II's
reign since he features on Temple J in Karnak which was built late in this Pharaoh's reign, along with the
serving High Priest Takelot F(the son of the High Priest Nimlot C and therefore, Osorkon II's grandson). Hor
IX later served under both Shoshenq III, Pedubast I and Shoshenq VI. This means that the High Priest
Harsiese mentioned on statue CGC 42225 must be the second Harsiese: Harsiese B.
Foreign policy and monumental program -
Despite his astuteness in dealings with matters at home, Osorkon II was forced to be more aggressive on the
international scene. The growing power of Assyria meant the latter's increased meddling in the affairs of
Israel and Syria – territories well within Egypt's sphere of influence. In 853 BC, Osorkon's forces, in a
coalition with those of Israel and Byblos, fought the army of Shalmaneser III at the Battle of Qarqar to a
standstill thereby halting Assyrian expansion in Canaan, for a brief while.
Osorkon II devoted considerable resources into his building projects by adding to the temple of Bastet at
Bubastis which featured a substantial new hall decorated with scenes depicting his Sed festival and images
of his Queen Karomama. Mutemhat was another of his wives. Monumental construction was also performed at
Thebes, Memphis, Tanis and Leontopolis. Osorkon II also built Temple J at Karnak during the final years of
his reign, which was decorated by his then serving High Priest Takelot F(the future Takelot II). Takelot F
was the son of the deceased High Priest Nimlot C and, thus, Osorkon II's grandson. Osorkon II was the last
great Twenty-second Dynasty king of Tanis who ruled Egypt from the Delta to Upper Egypt because his
successor, Shoshenq III lost effectively control of Middle and Upper Egypt in his 8th Year with the
emergence of king Pedubast I at Thebes.
Many officials are datable under Osorkon II. Ankhkherednefer was inspector of the palace;
Djeddjehutyiuefankh was fourth prophet of Amun; Bakenkhons was another prophet of Amun under that
Reign length -
Osorkon II died around 837 BC and is buried in Tomb NRT I at Tanis. He is now believed to have reigned for
more than 30 years, rather than just 25 years. The celebrations of his first Sed Jubilee was traditionally
thought to have occurred in his 22nd Year but the Heb Sed date in his Great Temple of Bubastis is damaged
and can be also be read as Year 30, as Edward Wente notes. The fact that this king's own grandson,
Takelot F, served him as High Priest of Amun at Thebes–as the inscribed Walls of Temple J prove – supports
the hypothesis of a longer reign for Osorkon II.
Recently, it has been demonstrated that Nile Quay Text No.14 (dated to Year 29 of an Usimare Setepenamun)
belongs to Osorkon II on palaeographical grounds. This finding suggests that Osorkon II likely did
celebrate his first Heb Sed in his 30th Year as was traditionally the case with other Libyan era Pharaohs
such as Shoshenq III and Shoshenq V. In addition, a Year 22 Stela from his reign preserves no mention of any
Heb Sed celebrations in this year as would be expected, (see Von Beckerath).
While Osorkon II's precise reign length is unknown, some Egyptologists such as Jürgen von Beckerath – in his
1997 book Chronology of the Egyptian Pharaohs – and Aidan Dodson have suggested a range of between 38 to
39 years. However, these much higher figures are not verified by the current monumental evidence. Gerard
Broekman gives Osorkon II a slightly shorter reign of 34 Years. The respected English Egyptologist,
Kenneth Kitchen in a recent 2006 Agypten und Levante article now accepts that if Nile Level Text 14 is
correctly attributed to Year 29 of Osorkon II, then the reference to Osorkon's Sed Festival jubilee should
be amended from Year 22 to Year 30. Kitchen, in turn, suggests that Osorkon II would have died shortly
after in his Year 31.
Marriages and children
Osorkon II is known to be the father of Tjesbastperu, Nimlot C--a High Priest of Amun at Thebes--Hornakht, a
short-lived chief priest of Amun at Tanis and Shoshenq D, a High Priest of Ptah at Memphis who died young in
his father's reign. Osrkon's son Nimlot C, in turn, was the father of Takelot II who would later rule
Upper Egypt at the same time that Shoshenq III ruled Lower Egypt.
Osorkon II appointed his third son Hornakht as the chief priest of Amun at Tanis to strengthen his authority
in Lower Egypt; however, this was clearly a political move since Hornakht died prematurely before the age of
10. In this period of Egypt's history, religious and political power were at their most inseparable.
David Aston has convincingly argued in a JEA 75 (1989) paper that Osorkon II was succeeded by Shoshenq III
at Tanis rather than Takelot II Si-Ese as Kitchen assumed because none of Takelot II's monuments have been
found in Lower Egypt where other genuine Tanite kings such as Osorkon II, Shoshenq III and even the short-
lived Pami (at 6-7 Years) are attested on donation stelas, temple walls and/or annal documents. Other
Egyptologists such as Gerard Broekman, Karl Jansen-Winkeln, Aidan Dodson and Jürgen von Beckerath have also
endorsed this position. von Beckerath also identifies Shoshenq III as the immediate successor of Osorkon II
and places Takelot II as a separate king in Upper Egypt. Gerard Broekman writes in a recent 2005 GM
article that "in light of the monumental and genealogical evidence," Aston's Chronology for the position of
the 22nd Dynasty kings "is highly preferable" to Kitchen's chronology. The only documents which mention
a king Takelot in Lower Egypt such as a royal tomb at Tanis, a Year 9 donation stela from Bubastis and a
heart scarab featuring the nomen 'Takelot Meryamun' - have now been attributed exclusively to king Takelot I
by Egyptologists today including Kitchen himself.
The English Egyptologist Aidan Dodson in his book, The Canopic Equipment of the Kings of Egypt, observes
that Shoshenq III built "a dividing wall, with a double scene showing Osorkon II" and himself "each adoring
an unnamed deity" in the antechamber of Osorkon II's tomb. Dodson concludes that while one may argue
Shoshenq III erected the wall to hide Osorkon II's sarcophagus, it made no sense for Shoshenq to create such
an elaborate relief if Takelot II had really intervened between him and Osorkon II at Tanis for 25 years
unless Shoshenq III was Osorkon II's immediate successor. Shoshenq III must, hence, have wished to associate
himself with his predecessor – Osorkon II. Consequently, the case for establishing Takelot II as a
Twenty-second Dynasty king and successor to Osorkon II disappears, as Dodson writes.
The French excavator, Pierre Montet discovered Osorkon II's plundered royal tomb at Tanis on February 27,
1939. It revealed that Osorkon II was buried in a massive granite sarcophagus with a lid carved from a
Ramesside era statue. Only some fragments of a Hawk-headed coffin and canopic jars remained in the robbed
tomb to identify him. While the tomb had been looted in antiquity, what jewellry which remained "was of
such high quality that existing conceptions of the wealth of the northern Twenty-first and Twenty-second
dynasties had to be revised."