Who was Pharaoh Neco?
Pharaoh Neco was the 2nd king of the XXVI th Dynasty, being the son of Psammetichus I, famous in Greek contemporary history, whose long reign has left so many memorials both in Upper and Lower Egypt ( Herodotus ii. 153,158, 169).
1. Pharaoh-Necoh, 610-594 BC:
The great event of his reign (610-594 BC) was his expedition across Syria to secure for himself a share in the decaying empire of Assyria. In the days of Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal, Egypt had been tributary to Assyria, and, when it began to break up, Egypt and other subject kingdoms saw their opportunity to throw off its yoke. Psammetichus had turned back the Scythian hordes which had reached his border on their western march, and now his son Necoh was to make a bold stroke for empire.
2. Battle of Megiddo, 608 BC:
On his expedition toward the East, he had to pass through the territory of Judah, and he desired to have Josiah its king as an ally. Whatever may have been his reasons, Josiah remained loyal to his Assyrian suzerain, declined the Egyptian alliance, and threw himself across the path of the invader. The opposing armies met on the battlefield of Megiddo, 608 BC, where Josiah was mortally wounded and soon after died amid the lamentations of his people. Necoh marched northward, captured Kadesh, and pressed on to the Euphrates.
Not having met an enemy there, he seems to have turned back and established himself for a time at Riblah in Syria. To Riblah he summoned Jehoahaz whom the people had anointed king in room of his father Josiah, deposed him after a brief reign of 3 months, and set his brother Jehoiakim on the throne as the vassal of Egypt. Jehoiakim paid up the tribute of a hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold which Necoh had imposed upon the land, but he recovered it by exactions which he made from the people (2 Kings 23:35 ).
3. Battle of Carchemish, 604 BC:
The Egyptian monarch still kept some hold upon Syria, and his presence there had attracted the attention of the newly established power at Babylon. The Chaldeans under Nebuchadrezzar set out for the Euphrates, and, meeting the army of Pharaoh-necoh at Carchemish, inflicted upon him a signal defeat. The Chaldeans were now undisputed masters of Western Asia, and the sacred historian relates that "the king of Egypt came not again any more out of his land; for the king of Babylon had taken, from the brook of Egypt unto the river Euphrates, all that pertained to the king of Egypt" (2 Kings 24:7 ).
4. Commercial Development of Egypt:
While Pharaoh-necoh 2 was ambitious to extend his empire, he was bent also upon the commercial development of Egypt. For this he set himself to collect a navy. He had two fleets built, composed of triremes, one of them to navigate the Mediterranean, the other to navigate the Red Sea. In order to secure a combination of his fleets, he conceived the idea of reopening the canal between the Nile and the Red Sea which had been originally constructed by Seti I and Rameses II, two Pharaohs of the days of the Israelite oppression, but had become silted up by desert sands. He excavated this old canal, following the line of the former cutting, and widening it so that two triremes might meet and pass each other in it.
According to Herodotus he was obliged to desist from the undertaking in consequence of the mortality among the laborers, and it was left to Darius to complete. He also resolved to try whether it was possible to circumnavigate Africa, and, manning his ships with Phoenician sailors, he sent them forth with instructions to keep the coast of Africa on their right and to return to Egypt by way of the Mediterranean. They succeeded, and, rounding the Cape of Good Hope from the East, anticipated by two millenniums the feat which Vasco da Gama accomplished from the West. The enterprise took more than two years, and the result of it was of no practical value. Herodotus , when he visited Egypt in 450 BC, saw still remaining the docks which Necoh had built for the accommodation of his fleet.
IBSE (in the public domain) with minor edits.