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User:Mountain Blue/Great Egyptian Revolt

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The Great Revolt was an extensive and prolonged, yet ultimately unsuccessful, military campaign led by Horwennefer and Ankhwennefer to liberate Egypt from Ptolemaic rule between 207BC and 186BC. Little covered in historical literature either at the time or later, the revolt at times led to the Ptolemaic government to loose control of some 80% of Egyptian territory.


Ptolemy IV[edit]

The actions of Ptolemy IV were crucial in the creation of the revolt, which dominated the last years of his reign. His lack of vigour in ruling had led to an ineffectual and corrupt government. His fatal decision was to re-establish and arm the Egyptian military, rather than rely on Greek forces to fight the battle of Raphia in 217 The Egyptian victory gave a huge boost to the confidence and morale of Egyptian troops, whom having defeated foreigners abroad, inevitably began to think about the foreigners who had seized the Horus Throne. It would be Ptolemy IV’s most notable legacy to Egypt.

Ptolemy V[edit]

Ptolemy V succeeded to the throne in 204 aged just five, ruling with a series of ineffectual regents that effectively neutralised the government, rendering unable even to hold the Delta. The revolt last almost the entirely of Ptolemy V’s reign, possibly given all the more fuel by the brutality and savagery that ancient accounts record in the Ptolemaic counter-measures. Ptolemy V himself was recorded as being vindictive, cruel and deceitful in person.


Apart from occasional graffitticos and administrative papyri, most accounts of the battle come from Greco-Roman sources, not Egyptian, and as such focus mostly on the Greek protagonists. Little is known of Horwennefer, though it is speculated that he was of military origin, rather than a descendent of the 30th Dynasty royal bloodline.

He took the full nomen of “Horwennefer, Beloved of Isis, Beloved of Amun-Ra, King of the Gods, the Great God” (Egyptian: Hr-wn-nfr mr-is.t mr-imn-ra-nsw-ntr.w pA ntr aA). It should be noted here that this name (most likely taken upon taking upon the mantle of Pharaoh) is full of political-religious meaning. The name Horwennefer is in fact Hr-wn-nfer, reconstructed as Hor-wen-nefer. This has a double importance. Hor is the original name of Horus (the Hellenised name), the god most closely associated with the earthly Kingship. Wen-nefer is an epithet often given to Osiris often link to his kingly role. Meanwhile, Beloved of Amun-Ra links him specifically to the traditional state cult of Amun, and specifically to Upper Egypt and Thebes, drawing a clear distinction between himself and the Ptolemies, who were crowned by preists from the cult of Ptah at Memphis, and had their power base in Lower Egypt.

The view that Horwennefer was originally himself a preist of Ptah at Memphis, based on the evidence that a priest of Ptah of this name did indeed exist at this time is not accepted by most Egyptologists.


It is still unclear whether or not Horwennefer changed his name to Ankhwennefer following a Ptolemaic counter-attack 199. The remainder of the royal titulary stays exactly the same, and the reginal year dates are likewise maintained. The name Ankhwennefer, literally, “Wennefer Lives” could easily be read is a propagandistic statement that the counter-attacks has not defeated him.

Chronology of Events[edit]

Willy Clarysse has built a timeline of events in the revolt, using sources such as dated administrative papyri and graffiticos.

Years Events
207 Revolt beings in Edfu
205 Horwennefer is crowned Pharaoh in Thebes
200 - 199 Counter–offensive of the Ptolemies, thebes lost. Horwennefer becomes Ankhwennefer
199 Ankhwennefer is recognized as Pharaoh in Thebes
199 Second Ptolemaic counter-attack? Ptolemy V recognized in Thebes. Ankhwennefer advances north to Lycopolis (Asyut) cutting off Ptolemaic forces in the South.
194 Ankhwennefer is recognized as pharaoh in Thebes
191 September: Thebes falls to Ptolemaic forces. Ankhwennefer retreats southward.
186 Ankhwennefer is defeated and captured by Ptolemaic general Komanos

Early Years[edit]

The revolt began in the last years of Ptolemy IV’s reign, in 207BC, approximately ten years after the Battle of Raphia, and began in the Edfu region of Upper Egypt, as attested by an inscriptions on the Naos at Edfu temple. Thebes, one of the largest and most important cities in Egypt, falls no later than 205, when Horwennefer is crowned. It appears the Horwennefer extended his boundaries at least as far north as Abydos.

Horwennefer Becomes Ankhwennefer[edit]

Between 200-199BC, the Ptolmaic government launched a major counter-attack against Horwennefer, briefly forcing him out of Thebes, and laying siege to Abydos, where graffiticos left by soldiers of both sides survive in the Temple of Seti I.

The Ptolemaic campaign was decidedly mixed in it’s outcome. It clearly had a significant impact, for Horwennefer changes his name to Ankhwennefer, or, (less likely) was killed, and succeeded by Ankhwennefer. Whichever it was, any Ptolemaic gains were short lived, for Ankhwenner re-occupies Thebes by 199

A Second Ptolemaic Counter-Attack?[edit]

It is uncertain wether the following actions were a part of a single, protracted campaign, or, as is more likely, a second counter attack. Protracted campaigns in Egypt were made difficult by the seasons. Therefore, a second campaign is more likely. In either case, by the end of 199, Thebes had fallen to Ptolemaic forces.

Ankhwennefer’s Counter-Attack[edit]

Rather than retreat to his Edfu stronghold, Ankhwennefer advanced northward, extending his rule as far as Lycospolis (Asyut), most likely in a move to gain the upper hand and cut-off relief and supply routes to Ptolemaic forces in the south. At this time another revolt was also raging in the Delta area, and it is quite possible that no more than a quarter of Egypt was actually under effective Ptolemaic control.

From this position of strength, Ankhwennefer recaptured lost territory, and re-conquered Thebes by 194BC.

Loss and Thebes and End of the Revolt[edit]

In September 191 Ptolemaic forces dealt a strategic blow to Ankhwennefer, once again taking Thebes. From this point on Akhwennefer retreated steadily southward, his capture being recorded by a decree at Philae.

“On the 3rd of Mesore it was announced to his Majesty: Hr–wnf has been captured alive in the battle against him in year 19, on 24 Epeiph. His son was killed, the commander of the army of impious men, together with the leaders of the Ethiopians who fought on his side. He was brought to the place where the king was. He was punished by death for the crimes, which he had committed, and so were the other criminals, those who had rebelled in the sedition, which they had made.”

The final battle took place in 186BC in the southern most province of Egypt, where Ankhwennnefer made a last stand with his Nubian allies.

Aftermath and Long Term Developments[edit]

The conflicts of the revolt stayed true to their savage nature until the end, with Ankhwennefer’s son being killed on site, and many of his troops slaughtered. Ankhwennefer himself was executed and those who had supported the revolt were sold by the Ptolemaic government into slavery.

“Thaubastis daughter of Sokrates, a Syrian, with as guardian Apollonios, a Cretan of the company of Anthemis, staff–officer of the elite armoured troups, has declared in accordance with the decree issued in year 8, on the 2nd of Phaophi, concerning those who own Egyptian slaves as a result of the revolt in the land, Thasion, about eighteen years, of whom she says that she is an Egyptian.” [1] P.Mich.inv. 6947

The revolt left the Ptolemaic treasury denuded, as the Philae decree also notes:

“His Majesty caused that great quantities of silver and gold came to the land to bring troops to Egypt, money from the taxes of the nomes, in order to protect the temples of Egypt against the impious men who violated them.”

Immediately following the end of the revolt, Clarysse reports that numerous temple estates were auctioned off, and officials moved into the provinces to make tax assessments, only to find entire villages dead.

Thebes, one of the most important cultural and economic centres in Egypt was probably heavily damaged during a conflict at which it was the heart, and the disruption must have been immense. However, the Ptolemies were quick to forgive the city, relying on the priesthood to administer the region and help shore up the government. However, by the time the revolt finally ended, the ability of the Ptolemaic government to effectively govern Egypt had evaporated, as Lloyd describes:

“There are many other signs, large scale and otherwise, of disaffection among the Egyptian populace – strikes, flight (sometimes to the point where whole settlements were abandoned), brigandage, attacks by desperados on villages, despoliation of temples, and frequent recourse to the temples’ right of asylum. These are indisputably the reactions of a people pushed beyond the limits of endurance by famine, rampant inflation and an oppressive and vicious administrative system operated by officials who were all too often corrupt and beyond the control of central government.”


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  • Clarysse, W (2004), The Great Revolt of the Egyptians, University of California, Berkeley website [2] - Accessed 11/12/2008
  • Dodson, A and Hilton, D (2004), The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, Thames & Hudson, London
  • Lavi, P (1971), Guide to Greece By Pausanias, Penguin, London
  • Lloyd, A (2000), The Ptolemaic Period in: Shaw, I (Ed) Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Oxford University Press, Oxford
  • Muller, W (1920), Egyptological Researches III. The Bilingual Decrees of Philae, Carnegie Institution, Washington DC
  • Bennett, C (2006), Egyptian Royal Genealogy: Horwennefer / Ankhwennefer, Tyndale House, Cambridge University website [3] - Accessed 11/12/2008