Period of Ancient Egypt, 1069-664 BCE, 405 years, covering the 21st through the 25th Dynasty.
"Intermediate" - a correct definition?
When considering periods of Ancient Egyptian history as "intermediary", what dominate are conflicts, instability and a divided Egypt. So is the case with the Third Intermediate Period, but actually stability was more common. During several periods, Egypt was even united under one ruler. Also, while not up to the same cultural achievements as in earlier periods, Egypt was still a civilized region in many respects.
Most confusion over the usage of the derogatory term "intermediate", comes from the last period of rulers, the Cushites (25th Dynasty). This was a dynasty that actually exercised full control over Egypt for 54 of its total 91 years, and were great patrons of Egyptian culture. Why they should be considered part of an intermediate period, and not the Late Period is hard to explain.
Looking more into definitions, it is interesting to compare with the Persian dynasties of the Late Period, 525-404 (27th Dynasty) and 343-332 (31st Dynasty). These are not defined as "intermediate", although Egypt during these periods was merely a Persian province.
Writing the history of this period involves certain challenges; the whole period being omitted from any king-list. There is some scant information from Manetho, but not even archaeological material is of much aid. Except Tanis in Lower Egypt, very little survives.
There are variations to the reconstructed length of this period. It is estimated to begin between 1075 and 1069; its transition to the so-called Late Period is usually firmly set to 656, the year when the 26th Dynasty was founded. Some historical accounts place even the 26th Dynasty into the Third Intermediate Period, which ends in 525, so that the Third Intermediate Period lasts 544 years.
Rulers and Periods
The period is defined to begin with the death of Ramses 11 in 1069, but in reality, Egypt was divided long before this. Civil wars had ravaged the country for years, the High Priest of Amon in Thebes opposing and challenging the royal power. The High Priest and the first intermediate king, Smendes, in Tanis in the north were both from the same family.
This period was very much dominated by foreign peoples. Already towards the end of the New Kingdom, most of the Egyptian army consisted of Libyan mercenaries. In the north, two Libyan peoples would establish themselves. The Meshwesh came to dominate in the East, eventually making Tanis their capital (21st Dynasty). In the West, the Libu dominated, and when establishing themselves as rulers of Egypt with the 24th and the 26th Dynasty, Sais became new capital. The Libyans were largely Egyptianized, but kept some original cultural elements, like their names and their chiefs wore a feather in the hair.
In the south, the Nubians acted not as an Egyptian people, but exercised control over Upper Egypt before and during their 25th Dynasty. The Assyrians was the fourth people to have great impact on Egyptian society, sending military expeditions deep into Egypt in the 7th century BCE, and eventually forming a political structure from which the 26th Dynasty emerged. They started out as client kings of the Assyrians, but would soon free themselves to establish an independent Egypt.
Egypt was united for generations during the 22nd Dynasty, 945-ca. 870, and ca. 860-818. The power struggle between 870 and 860 affected all of Egypt, but the main power centres were Sais and Thebes, and eventually, in 818, a new dynasty emerged from Thebes, the 23rd.
For a few decades, dynasties apparently as far between in years as the 22nd (Lower Egypt) and 25th (Upper Egypt) ruled parallel.
Culture and Economy
There is fairly little we know about culture of this period. The amounts of monuments and buildings surviving is quite limited. Next to the Step Pyramid of Zoser at Saqqara are a few strange and unique tombs, digging deep into ground; these belong to this era.
With the great Libyan immigration to the north over the preceding centuries, a few interesting cultural differences emerged. In Lower Egypt, demotic script was used for business documents, while hieratic was used in Thebes. There was also differences in the use of language, more archaic in the south than the north.
The most dramatic single change in this period was the loss of Nubia, with its gold mines and lucrative trade with African lands further south. State revenues were seriously affected by this.
Most information suggest that Egypt's economic weakness persisted throughout the Third Intermediate Period. An apparent challenging fact, like the case of Osorkon 1 dedicating 391 tons of gold to Egyptian temples is not a clear reflection of a wealthy state; most of the precious materials were robbed from New Kingdom tombs and booty from the military campaign to Palestine by Shoshenq 1 around 925 BCE.
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