Shabaka (reigned ca. 712-ca. 696 B.C.) was a Nubian king who established the Twenty-fifth Dynasty in Lower Egypt and thus became the first of the "Ethiopian" pharaohs.
Shabaka succeeded his brother Piankhi as ruler of the Nubian kingdom of Kush in what is now northern Sudan. At this time the people of the Mediterranean world called all black people south of Egypt "Ethiopian," so this name became associated with the Egyptian dynasty of Nubian kings. Shabaka and his successors, however, had nothing to do with the modern country called Ethiopia.
Piankhi had subdued Lower Egypt 10 years before Shabaka came to power but had failed to leave a permanent administration there. Thus Shabaka had to undertake the task of reconquering Lower Egypt completely anew. Despite the fact that Shabaka, unlike Piankhi, established an effective administration over all of Egypt, Piankhi received more attention in the histories because he left much more detailed written descriptions of his activities.
During Shabaka's reign Egypt experienced the prelude to the Assyrian conquest. Shabaka appreciated the serious danger of the growing power of the Assyrians to the northeast of Egypt, and he tried to get Syria and Palestine to revolt in order to create buffer states. This attempt failed when the Assyrians put down the revolts, and Assyria and Egypt approached a major confrontation. It is, however, unclear whether any battle actually took place at this time. Shabaka is often identified with the "So" of the Old Testament who fought the Assyrians, but this identification is highly tenuous.
The remainder of Shabaka's reign seems to have been peaceful. He established his capital at Thebes in Middle Egypt and fostered the priesthood and religious architecture. He restored the ancient temple at Thebes and completed much repair work on temples throughout Upper and Lower Egypt. According to Herodotus, he abolished capital punishment in Egypt.
About 696 he was succeeded by his nephew Shabataka (Shebitku). The threat of Assyrian attack still hung over the kingdom, so Shabataka also placed his younger brother Taharqa on the throne as coregent, as had been commonly done throughout Egyptian history in order to assure the development of strong leadership.
After Shabataka died 5 years later, Taharqa became the sole ruler, but he was eventually driven out of Lower Egypt by the Assyrians and the Twenty-fifth Dynasty came to an end. Shabaka's descendants did, however, continue to rule in Kush for another thousand years, while Egypt continued in its decline under a succession of foreign conquerors.
Relatively little is known about the life of Shabaka. Some contemporary records pertaining to him and the other Nubian pharaohs can be found in English translation with commentary in Ernest A. W. Budge, Egyptian Literature, vol. 2 (1912). Several general histories are also useful: James Henry Breasted, A History of Egypt (1905; 2d rev. ed. 1909); A. J. Arkell, A History of the Sudan (1955; 2d rev. ed. 1961); and Cyril Aldred, The Egyptians (1961). References to "So" can be found in 2 Kings of the Old Testament. □