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Nekau II (also known as Necho II) was a king of the Twenty-sixth dynasty of Egypt (610 - 595 BC), and the son of Psammetichus I. He played a significant role in the histories of Assyrian Empire, Babylonia and Kingdom of Judah. The Egyptologist Donald Redford observed that although he was "a man of action from the start, and endowed with an imagination perhaps beyond that of his contemporaries, Necho had the misfortune to foster the impression of being a failure."
Upon his ascension, Nekau 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. Nekau 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.
In the spring of 609 BC, Nekau personally led a sizeable force to help the Assyrians. Josiah of Judah sided with the Babylonians and attempted to block his advance at Megiddo, where a fierce battle was fought and Josiah slain (2 Chronicles 35:20-24). Nekau continued forward, joined forces with Ashur-uballit and together they crossed the Euphrates and laid siege to Harran. Although Nekau 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 vanishes from history, and the Assyrian Empire came to its final end.
Leaving a sizeable force behind, Nekau returned to Egypt. On his march back he found that the Judeans had selected Jehoahaz to succeed his father Josiah, whom Nekau deposed and replaced with Jehoiakim. He brought Jehoahaz back to Egypt as his prisoner, where Jehoahaz ended his days (2 Kings 23:31; 2 Chr. 36:1-4). At some point over the next three years he embarked on the ambitious project of cutting a canal from the Pelusiac branch of the Nile to the Gulf of Suez, the earliest precursor of the Suez Canal. Some 12,000 workers dug in the Wadi Tumilat to make the waterway, who were housed at Per-Temu Tjeku (Tell el-Maskhuta), about 15 km west of Ismailia. This waterway not only facilitated trade between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean, but allowed the navy he created to operate along both the Mediterranean and Red Sea coasts. (Herodotus 2.158; Pliny N.H. 6.165ff; Diodorus Siculus 3.43.) About this same time historians date the expedition rerported by Herodotus (4.42), where Nekau sent out an expedition of Phoenicians, who in three years sailed from the Red Sea around Africa back to the mouth of the Nile. (Note however that though the original documents state "Red Sea," many ancient manuscripts reference the "Mediterranean Sea" as the "Red Sea." See History of Suez Canal.) Many current historians tend to believe Herodotus' account, primarily because he stated with disbelief that the Phoenicians had the sun on their right hand all of the time -- in Herodotus' time it was not known that Africa extended south past the equator.
Nekau also undertook a number of construction projects across his kingdom; his son and successor Psammetichus II afterwards removed Nekau's name from almost all of them for unknown reasons.
Meanwhile, the Babylonian king was planning on reasserting his power in Syria. In 609, king Nabopolassar captured Kumukh , which cut off the Egyptian army, then based at Carchemish. Nekau 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; the Egyptians sallied forth and attacked the leaderless Babylonians, who fled their position.
At this point, Nabopolassar, becoming burdened with age, passed command of the army to his son Nebuchadnezzar II, who led them to a decisive victory over the Egyptians at Carchemish, and persued the survivors to Hamath. Nekau's dream of restoring the empire in Asia Egypt had enjoyed under the New Kingdom melted away as Nebuchadnezzar conquered their territory from the Euphrates to the Brook of Egypt (Jeremiah 46:2; 2 Kings 24:7,8). Although Nebuchadnezzar spent many years in his new conquests on continuous pacification campaigns, Nekau 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. Nekau turned his attention in his remaining years to building up relationships with new allies: the Carians, and further to the west, the Greeks.
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