Shabaka became pharaoh of Egypt and Kush after Piankhy died. He was probably crowned at Napata. When the Egyptian princes of northern Egypt revolted, he reinvaded Egypt and made Memphis his capital. He established diplomatic relations with the Assyrian kings at Nineveh (in what is now northern Iraq).
Statuette of an Nubian King
Ancient Egypt. Late Period, XXV Dynasty. 7th century BC
Bronze. 8.5 cm
This small Ancient Egyptian bronze statuette of an Nubian king dates to the short period when Egypt was ruled by the 25th Nubian Dynasty (8th-7th centuries BC), a period during which the art of the scuptural portrait flourished. According to Ancient Egyptian canon the ruler of the Nubian dynasty is shown as a walking man with his left leg thrust forward. Originally the ruler held some attributes in his hands, but these are now lost. One identifying feature of the Nubian rulers is a broad diadem placed over short hair, the diadem adorned with a band made up of imperial symbols in the form of ureus-snakes. Two such large urei (cobras) are placed over the king's forehead. According to Egyptian perceptions, cobras with their fiery breath protected the gods and kings from evil forces. Around his neck the Nubian wearns an unusual ornament, an amulet in the form of a ram's head on a string. The king's attire is Egyptian - a short pleated apron, the belt of which is adorned with geometrical ornament.
The small figure was cast in bronze using the lost wax (cire perdue) method.
This is one of only a few pieces in the Hermitage collection to depict a Nubian ruler Ancient Egypt.
The details of Shabaka's campaign are not recorded anywhere in contemporary texts, but the subsequent Graeco-Roman tradition credits him with victory, the installation of a Nubian governor over Sais, and the recipient of oaths of fealty from his opponents. In the face of victory, Shabaka elected to remain in Egypt, rather than return to Napata, and chose Memphis as the site of his royal residence. Because he was the first Nubian pharaoh to reside permanently in Egypt proper, some Classical authors accord Shabaka the credit for founding Dynasty XXV. Herodotus, the so-called Father of History, writing in Greek about 450 B.C.E., described him as a just ruler who sentenced prisoners to public service in the form of dyke building for irrigation projects rather than condemn them to death.
The most remarkable literary monument of his reign is doubtless the Shabaka Stone, a basalt stela that purports to have been copied from an ancient, but damaged, document to the degree that the worm holes of the alleged original have been faithfully reproduced as intentional gaps in the text of this stela. Written in a style reminiscent of the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom, sculpted into the walls of the burial chambers of the pyramids of the pharaohs of Dynasty V and VI to ensure their successful passage into the Hereafter, the text of the Shabaka Stone deals with the role of Ptah, the creator god of the Memphite pantheon, and that of the city of Memphis relative to the Two Lands of Egypt. Whether the Shabaka Stone is, as stated, a Nubian copy of an older document or, as some scholars suggest, an original Nubian composition in an intentionally archaic style, it nevertheless demonstrates the antiquarian interests of Dynasty XXV in general and the reverential piety of its kings toward their venerable religious past. Such uses of the past helped to legitimize the contemporary religious programs of the Nubian pharaohs and enabled them to cloak those programs in an aura of authenticity.
The increased physical presence of the Nubians in Egypt at the royal residence of Memphis was but one vignette in the ever-changing picture of the ancient Near East as a whole at this time. Nubian consolidation of Egypt and Nubia into one polity enabled Shabaka's administration to gain a monopoly on luxury goods once passing from Nubian into Egyptian hands. Papyrus scrolls, finely woven Egyptian linen textiles, and even hides of elephants are listed as gifts received by petty princes of the Syria-Palestine region. Timber-poor Egypt continued to import cedar from Lebanon in exchange for Egyptian luxury goods.
The history of the Syrian-Palestine region during Dynasty XXV is an exceedingly complex one, compounded by Assyrian-Egyptian relations. Seals originally associated with now-lost correspondence and found at the Assyrian site of Kuyunjik suggest an exchange of diplomatic correspondence between Shabaka and Sargon, king of Assyria. When Sargon was compelled to deal with military campaigns elsewhere in his kingdom, Shabaka seized the opportunity of establishing a foothold in the Syria-Palestine region. This presence inevitably placed Egypt in an adversarial position relative to Assyria, and caused concern among the petty rulers of the region as to the nature of their diplomatic alliances.
Shabaka died before these issues came to a head. He was buried at el-Kurru in a tomb that was lavishly supplied with funerary goods, including vessels of various stones and finely worked articles of ivory and gold. His horses were also buried at el-Kurru, draped in beaded blankets and silver trappings.
Sandstone; From Karnak, Ptah Temple, south wall of the second gate
King Shabaka is shown presenting offerings. He appears in traditional pose and costume, raising a pair of spherical wine jars before a deity, now lost. The accompanying caption is written in carefully carved, classical hieroglyphic signs. Only the headdress, the "Kushite cap" with double uraeus, and the style of the body and facial treatment reveal the Kushite idenity of this pharaoh.
With the accession of Shabaka to the throne, Nubian history and Egyptian history become one, although certain details remain opaque. These include the familial relationships among the members of the Nubian ruling family. So, for example, earlier scholars regarded Shabaka as Piankhy's younger brother, but he was more likely to have been the son of Kashta and brother of Amenirdis I, the God's Wife of Amun.
Piankhy's decision not to further his political interests in the Delta had dire consequences for Shabaka, who was confronted by a military challenge to his authority over Egypt by the new dynast of Sais, Bakenrenef by name. By the time of Shabaka's decision to invade Egypt in his second regnal year, Bakenrenef had already exercised his control over most of the Delta and had been acknowledged as ruler in Memphis.