Ancient Egypt History Overview

Around 3100 BC, two kingdoms that had grown up along the Nile river were united when the ruler of Upper Egypt conquered the kingdom in Lower Egypt. Thus began what is now generally accepted as the first of at least 30 Egyptian dynasties. Ancient Egyptian dynasties are grouped into periods of stability referred to as 'kingdoms' and periods of fragmentation and chaos referred to as 'intermediate periods'.

The Early Dynastic Period (c. 2925 – c. 2575 BC)

The Early Dynastic Period includes the 1st, 2nd and 3rd dynasties. The first king of the 1st dynasty is considered by some experts to be called Menes. Others believe Narmer was the unifier of the two Egyptian kingdoms. Still others consider Menes and Narmer to be the same person.

The Old Kingdom (c. 2600 - c. 2150 BC)

The Old Kingdom lasted approximately 500 years and is sometimes called the "Age of Pyramids". (The Old Kingdom includes the 4th through the 8th dynasties.) Great achievements in art and architecture were realized including the completion of 20 major pyramids. During this time, the kings of Egypt were totalitarian dictators owning all land, minerals and water. The kings shared these resources with the people in return for taxes and obedience.

The strong centralized government of the king was broken down into provinces with appointed officials. Gradually these positions became hereditary and a class of nobles was created. The Old Kingdom ended in confusion as the centralized government lost power to provincial nobles who began to struggle against one another.

First Intermediate Period (c. 2150 - 1938 BC)
The chaotic period between the Old and New Kingdom are known as the First Intermediate Period. It was a time of great upheaval in political, religious and cultural structures. The 9th, 10th and 11th dynasties are included in this time period.

The Middle Kingdom (1938 – c. 1600 BC)

After a century and a half of conflict, Thebian nobles reunited Egypt. During this time period the king had less absolute power and more emphasis was placed on concepts of justice. Unlike the Old Kingdom the Egyptian religion began to accept the idea that the afterlife was for the common people as well as the king. The Middle Kingdom includes the 12th and 13th dynasties.

During this period, under King Amenemhet III (1818 – c. 1770 BC), Egypt began to greatly expand its trade and developed colonies below the third cataract.

The Second Intermediate Period (c. 1600 - c. 1540 BC)
A series of weak rulers causes a new breakdown in centralized authority during the Second Intermediate Period (dynasties 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th.) The Hyksos from Asia took advantage of Egypt's internal conflicts. The Hyksos army used horses, chariots, body armor and new types of bronze weapons - none of which the Egyptians had. The Hyksos advanced military weaponry and the internal turmoil in Egypt allowed the Hyksos to conquer and rule Egypt for 160 years.

The Early New Kingdom (c. 1540 - 1300 BC)
The Egyptians learn to use the same weapons and warfare as their captors and eventually drive the Hyksos from the kingdom. Queen Hatsehpsut again increases trade and begins building new temples and palaces. She rules jointly with her husband King Thutmose III for awhile and their is relative peace in the land. When King Thutmose becomes sole ruler he begins a series of military campaigns. Thutmose conquers land as far as the fourth cataract takes Egypts borders to its largest size.

The Armana Revolution (1370 - 1300 BC)
When Amenhotep IV becomes king he tries to drastically change Egypt's religion from a polythiestic worship of many gods to a montheistic worship of Aton the Sun. He outlaws all other religions and force the people to worship him as a God-king. For the first time Egyptians begin to call their king, Pharoah. During Amenhotep's reign of the outlying control of Egypt's far borders is lost and the Hitites take over portions of Asia. When Tutankhamon becomes king at an early age, the priests force him to return the country to the worship of many gods.

The Later New Kingdom (1300 - 1090 BC)

The Later New Kingdom is also known as "Egypt's Golden Age". Egypt regains its lands in Asia and although Ramses II begins with a very strong reign by 1150 the country again begins to lose control of its outlying areas. This time it isn't bronze weapons but new iron weapons that help others to encroach on Egypt's borders.

Period of Invasions
Sheshonq I of Libya siezes Egypt's throne in 945 BC. During this time period the Sudanese, Assyrians, Persians and then the Greeks take turns ruling Egypt. Alexander the Great's conquest leaves a new dynasty the Ptolemies in control until finally Rome takes Egypt and the death of Cleopatra ends the reign of the Pharoahs.

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