Hophra: An Archaeological Biography

“Thus says the LORD, Behold, I will give Pharaoh Hophra king of Egypt into the hand of his enemies and into the hand of those who seek his life, as I gave Zedekiah king of Judah into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, who was his enemy and sought his life.” (Jer. 44:30)

The cartouche of Pharaoh Hophra/Apries/Wahibre from the Oriental Institute University of Chicago.. Photo: A.D. Riddle/BiblePlaces.com

Pharaoh Hophra (his Hebrew name), is better known as Apries (his Greek name) or Wahibre Haaibre (his Egyptian names). Both the Hebrew and Greek forms of his name are abbreviated by omitting the first syllable, Wa.1 Hophra was the fourth pharaoh of the 26th Dynasty, the son of Psammetichus II, and the grandson of Necho II. When his father died in 589 BC, Hophra ascended the throne and reigned until he was deposed, and ultimately killed, in military revolt in 570 BC.

Hophra’s Reign

Like the other pharaohs of the 26th Dynasty (also known as the Saite Period), he ruled from the capital city of Sais. While little remains at the site of ancient Sais, his other palace at Memphis was excavated, first by Sir Flinders Petrie in 1909-10, and most recently by a Portuguese team from the Universidade Nova de Lisboa beginning in 2000. Petrie discovered Hoprha’s palace was constructed of black mud brick that was about 14 feet wide, along with sone linings around the lower part of the halls, stone floors to the halls and stone doorways and stairways.2 In addition to this palace, he was known to have constructed additions to the temples at Athribis (Tell Atrib), Bahariya Oasis, Memphis, and Sais.3

The remains of columns from Hoprha’s palace at Memphis. Photo: Sebi/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Hophra’s Palace at Memphis. From The Palace of Apries (Memphis II), by W. M. Flinders Petrie

Hophra’s reign was consumed with countering the growing Babylonian threat after Egypt’s former ally, Assyria, had seen her might all but fade away. He seems to have joined a coalition of nations that resisted Babylonian expansion, a group that included Judah (see below), and Phoenicia. For example, when Nebuchadnezzar swept down on the west to subdue and control these nations, he was unable to conquer the Phoenician city of Tyre because it was being supplied from the sea by Hophra’s fleet.4

Alan Lloyd comments, “The main foreign-policy issue during his time was the containment of Chaldean expansion from the Near East.”5 Hophra’s resistance to Babylonian rule likely drove most of his military campaigns. This is consistent with the geopolitical description of Babylon’s growing threat recorded in the Bible (2 Kings 24; Jer. 52).

Hophra’s Alliance with Judah

Hophra and Zedekiah, King of Judah were both contemporaries and allies. Zedekiah had been placed on the throne in 597 BC by King Nebuchadnezzar and had sworn fealty to his Babylonian overlord (2 Kgs 24:15-17). “However, in 590 BC, with the encouragement of Pharaoh Psammetichus II, Zedekiah violated his oath, revolted against Babylonian rule, and sought help from Egypt against the Babylonians (see Ezekiel 17:15).”6 Nebuchadnezzar responded by attacking Jerusalem in 589 BC, the year Psammetichus II died and Hophra ascended the throne.

The stele of Hophra which was discovered by a farmer in 2021. Photo: Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

Hophra’s army marched east to Zedekiah’s aid: Nebuchadnezzar temporarily withdrew from attacking Jerusalem to confront the Egyptian threat (Jer. 37:5-8). Donald Redman explains the outcome: “The Babylonian forces quickly withdrew from Jerusalem and sped westward into the coastal plain. Their march was apparently so swift and their front so intimidating that Apries [Hophra] with the limited number of troops he had brought saw neither the opportunity of marching up-country to Jerusalem nor any realistic chance of overcoming the enemy in an open battle. Ignominiously the Egyptians withdrew.”7 Nebuchadnezzar returned to Jerusalem, Zedekiah was captured trying to escape, he was blinded and taken to Babylon, where he was put in prison until he died (Jer. 52:8-11).

In 2021, a farmer who was cultivating his field unearthed a sandstone stele (monument) naming Pharaoh Hophra.8 Egyptian Antiquities authorities believe the stele was erected during one of his military campaigns towards the east, which has led some scholars to wonder if it commemorates Hophra’s brief attempt to help Zedekiah. One must wait until the translation of the stele in published to see which campaign it is commemorating.

Hophra’s Success

Pharaoh Hophra (on the right) offers land to the goddess Bastet. From the Apries Donation Stele. Photo: Metmuseum.org/Public Domain

While Hophra failed in assisting King Zedekiah, he did lead successful campaigns against Tyre, Sidon, and Cyprus (ca. 754-571 BC). The ancient Greek historian, Diodoras records, “He made a campaign with strong land and sea forces against Cyprus and Phoenicia, took Sidon by storm, and so terrified the other cities of Phoenicia that he secured their submission; he also defeated the Phoenicians and Cyprians in a great sea-battle and returned to Egypt with much booty.”9 The motivation for these campaigns was likely to block Babylonian expansion and secure additional economic resources with which to fund the war.10

The sphynx of Hophra. Photo: Louvre Museum / Christian Décamps. Free reuse of image granted by the Louvre in digital publications for scientific or educational purposes

Hophra’s Failure

Despite these successful campaigns, Hophra is perhaps best remembered for his final, ill-fated campaign against Cyrene, a Greek city in eastern Libya on the coast of the Mediterranean. The Egyptians suffered a crushing defeat, for which the Egyptians blamed their king. They believed Hophra “had knowingly sent his men to their doom, so that after their perishing in this way he might be the more secure in his rule over the rest of the Egyptians.”11 In short, the Egyptians revolted.

The head of Hophra (attribution according to style) Photo: Louvre Museum / Christian Décamps. Free reuse of image granted by the Louvre in digital publications for scientific or educational purposes

Hophra sent his commander Amasis to quell the rebellion, but the Egyptian army crowned the general king; they then marched against Hophra. When he heard of this, he gathered the foreign mercenaries who were still loyal to him, and met Amasis and the Egyptian army in battle at Momemphis. Herodotus records that Hophra was defeated, taken captive, and “brought to Saïs, to the royal dwelling which belonged to him once but now belonged to Amasis” and that he was eventually killed by the Egyptians while in prison.12 Other sources, however, indicate he escaped and made his way to Babylon in search of Nebuchadnezzar’s support. In 567 BC Nebuchadnezzar invaded Egypt with Hophra at his side, likely intending to place him on the throne as a vassal king. The Babylonian force was defeated and Hophra was killed.13 Regardless, both sources agree that Hophra was buried in the royal cemetery at Sais.

Conclusion

Despite the fact that Hophra reigned for almost two decades, and experienced some success, he is remembered mainly for his failed attempt to come to King Zedekiah’s assistance and his disastrous final campaign against Cyrene, which ultimately resulted in his death. What is known from history about Hophra’s life is consistent with his brief appearance in the biblical text. In the end, the prophecy of Jeremiah was fulfilled that Hophra would be given “into the hand of his enemies and into the hand of those who seek his life” (Jer. 44:30).

Cover Photo: The head of a 26th Dynasty pharaoh, identified as Apries in the Civic Archaeological Museum of Bologna. http://www.museibologna.it/archeologico/sfoglia/47681/offset/2480/id/2806/

Endnotes:

1 K. A. Kitchen, On The Reliability of the Old Testament. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006), 16.

2 W. M. Flinders Petrie, The Palace of Apries (Memphis II). (London: Hazell, Watson and Viney, 1909), 1.

3 Ian Shaw and Paul Nicholson, The British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. (Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 1995), 37.

4 Nicolas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt. Translated by Ian Shaw. (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1992), 362.

5 Alan B. Lloyd, “Apries.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt – Vol. 1, ed. Donald B. Redford. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 98.

6 “Biblical Pharaoh Hophra Named in Long-Lost Stele.” Artifax. Autumn 2021, 3.

7 Donald B. Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 466.

8 Bryan Windle, “Top Three Reports in Biblical Archaeology – June 2021.” Bible Archaeology Report. https://biblearchaeologyreport.com/2021/06/25/top-three-reports-in-biblical-archaeology-june-2021/ (Accessed Jan. 27, 2022).

9 Diodoras, Bibliotheca Historica, 1.68. Online: https://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Diodorus_Siculus/1C*.html (Accessed Jan. 27, 2022)

10 Alan B. Lloyd, “Apries.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt – Vol. 1, ed. Donald B. Redford. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 99.

11 Herodotus, Histories, 2.161. Online: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0126%3Abook%3D2%3Achapter%3D161 (Accessed Jan. 27, 2022).

12 Herodotus, Histories, 2.169. Online: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0126%3Abook%3D2%3Achapter%3D169 (Accessed Jan. 27, 2022).

13 Alan B. Lloyd, “Apries.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt – Vol. 1, ed. Donald B. Redford. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 99.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s