The Astronomical Basis of Egyptian Chronology of the Second Millennium BC*

In: Journal of Egyptian History
Peter J. Huber Klosters

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Egyptian dates are widely used for fixing the chronologies of surrounding countries in the Ancient Near East. But the astronomical basis of Egyptian chronology is shakier than generally assumed. The moon dates of the Middle and New Kingdom are here re-examined with the help of experiences gained from Babylonian astronomical observations. The astronomical basis of the chronology of the New Kingdom is at best ambiguous. The conventional date of Thutmose III’s year 1 in 1479 BC agrees with the raw moon dates, but it has been argued by several Egyptologists that those dates should be amended by one day, and then the unique match is 1504 BC. The widely accepted identification of a moon date in year 52 of Ramesses II, which leads to an accession of Ramesses II in 1279 BC, is by no means certain. In my opinion that accession year remains nothing more than one of several possibilities. If one opts for a shortened Horemhab reign, dating Ramesses II to 1290 BC gives a better compromise chronology. But the most convincing astronomical chronology is a long one: Ramesses II in 1315 BC, Thutmose III in 1504 BC. It is favored by Amarna-Hittite synchronisms and a solar eclipse in the time of Muršili II. The main counter-argument is that this chronology is at least 10–15 years higher than what one calculates from the Assyrian King List and the Kassite synchronisms. For the Middle Kingdom on the other hand, among the disputed dates of Sesostris III and Amenemhet III one combination turns out to be reasonably secure: Sesostris III’s year 1 in 1873/72 BC and Amenemhet III’s 30 years later.

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