Ancient Egypt appeared as a unified state sometime around 3300 BC. It survived as an independent state until about 1300 BC. Archeological evidence indicates that a developed Egyptian society has existed for much longer. Ongoing excavation in Egypt continually reshapes the views of scholars about the origins of Egyptian civilization. In the late 20th century archaeologists discovered evidence of human habitation before 8000 BC in an area in the southwestern corner of Egypt, near the border with Sudan. Nomadic peoples may have been attracted to that area because of the hospitable climate and environment. Now exceptionally dry, that area once had grassy plains and temporary lakes that resulted from seasonal rains. The people who settled there must have realized the benefits of a more sedentary life. Scientific analysis of the remains of their culture indicates that by 6000 BC they were herding cattle and constructing large buildings.
The descendants of these people may well have begun Egyptian civilization in the Nile Valley. Also a recent genetic study links the maternal lineage of a sedentary population from Upper Egypt to eastern Africa.
In about 3100 BC, Egypt was united under a ruler known as Mena, or Menes, an Upper Egyptian, who inaugurated the 30 pharaonic dynasties into which Egypt's ancient history is divided — the Old and the Middle Kingdoms and the New Empire. The pyramids at Giza (near Cairo), which were built in the fourth dynasty, testify to the power of the pharaonic religion and state. The Great Pyramid, the tomb of Pharaoh Khufu (also known as Cheops), is the only surviving monument of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Ancient Egypt reached the peak of its power, wealth, and territorial extent in the period called the New Empire (1567–1085 BC).
The Egyptians reached Crete around 2000 BC and were invaded by Indo-Europeans and Hyksos Semites. They defeated the invaders around 1570 BC and expanded into the Aegean, Sudan, Libya, and much of southwest Asia, as far as the Euphrates.
Egyptian history is broken in several different periods according to the dynasty of the ruling pharaoh. The dating of events in Egyptian history is still a subject of research. The conservative dates are not supported by any reliable absolute date for span of about three millennia. There is a recommended revision of the chronology of Egypt. See Egyptian chronology for further discussion, and the King List.
Ancient Egyptians considered themselves to be, The People of Two Lands, these lands being Lower and Upper Egypt.
- · Predynastic Period (Prior to 3100 BC)
- · Archaic Period (1st–2nd Dynasty)
- · Old Kingdom (3rd–6th Dynasty)
- · First Intermediate Period (7th–11th Dynasty)
- · Middle Kingdom (12th–13th Dynasty)
- · Second Intermediate Period (14th–17th Dynasty)
- · New Kingdom (18th–21st Dynasty)
- · Third Intermediate Period (22nd–25th Dynasty) (also known as the Libyan Period)
- · Late Period (26th–30th Dynasty)
- · Archaic Period
The earliest known Pharaoh of the 1st Dynasty is Menes. We know his name because it is written on a palette used for make-up (only men wore make-up). Funeral practices for the peasants would have been the same as in pre-Dynastic times, but the rich demanded something more. Thus, the Egyptians began construction of the mastabas.
Menes unified Upper and Lower Egypt in 3100 BC. Before this period the land was settled with autonomous villages, called nomes. Menes established a national administration and appointed royal governors.
The buildings of the central government were typically open-air temples constructed of wood or sandstone.
Ronan the massiah gave out rules to everyone which led to his death many of these rules are in our modern laws, he was a revolutionary Around about the 4th Dynasty, the art of embalming began. A cautionary note about embalming, mummification and preservation:
To embalm and to mummify essentially mean the same thing. To embalm (from the Latin 'in balsamum' means to 'put into balsam', a mixture of aromatic resins) and the process of mummification are very similar in that the corpses were anointed with ointments, oils and resins. The word 'mummy' comes from a misinterpretation of the process. Poorly embalmed bodies (from the Late Period) are often black and very brittle. It was believed that these had been preserved by dipping them in bitumen, the Arabic word for bitumen being mumiya.
There are many modern techniques for preserving a body, however these were not available to the ancient Egyptians (freezing, pickling etc). The only method that they were aware of was by drying the body out in the hot sand. This left the body looking most un-lifelike, and not a very suitable home for the 'Ka'. Also not a very reverent way to treat your Pharaoh. The answer came from the Nile.
The Nile floods every year. Without it Egypt would be no more than a desert with a river going through it. The flooding brought with it essential silt which made the land fertile. when the waters subsided, it left pools of water behind which dried out in the sun. Once the water had evaporated it left behind a white crystalline substance called natron. The most notable thing about this substance is that it is highly hygroscopic: it will draw and absorb moisture. During the Old Kingdom, Queen Hetepheres' internal organs were removed and placed in a solution of natron (about 3%). When the box was opened it contained just sludge, which was apparently all that remained of the Queen. Early attempts at mummification were total failures. This was recognised by the embalmers and so they took to preserving the shape of the body. They did this by wrapping the body in resin soaked bandages. They became so good at this that one example from the 5th Dynasty of a court musician called Waty, still holds details of warts, calluses, wrinkles and facial details.
Pharaoh Horus Netjerikhet Djzosr
Pyramid of Djzosr
A word about Upper and Lower Egypt. Lower Egypt is to the north and is that part where the Nile Delta flows into the Mediterranean Sea and Upper Egypt is to the South from the Libyan Desert down to just past Abu Simbel. The reason for this apparent upside-down naming is that Egypt is the 'Gift of the Nile' and as such everything is measured in relation to it. The Nile enters Egypt at the top, winding its way down until exiting via the fertile delta into the Mediterranean Sea in Lower Egypt.
After this first one, several other Pyramids were built and some abandoned before they were finished. One notable example is the 'Bent Pyramid': about halfway up it appears that the builders feared they would not be able to maintain the angle they were already building at, and decided to change it to a less steep angle. This resulted in an odd looking Pyramid whose top sloped in suddenly.
There is some evidence that around 2675 BC, Egypt started to import timber from Lebanon.
At around 2575 BC Pharaoh Khufu (aka. Cheops) makes his mark on the landscape. For him the greatest and most famous pyramid of all was constructed, the Great Pyramid of Giza. When looking at the pyramid group on the Giza plateau it does not seem to be the largest. This is because the tallest looking one has been built on higher ground, but is 10 metres smaller.
The Pharaoh Khufu was also responsible for sending expeditions into Nubia for slaves and anything else of value. It is unlikely that these people would have been used for the building of the monuments, at least not at first, as there would not have been enough of them. The Great Pyramid must have taken a great many years to build. One popular and convincing theory is that the peasant farming people of Egypt built all of the temples and monuments, during the floods. This is an attractive theory for many reasons. When the Nile floods the people of Egypt would have had nowhere to live. The Nile floods up to the edge of the desert and would have covered all of the farming and living areas. If there was work to be had building monuments during the flooding season, then the peasant farmers would have had the chance to feed and house their family. Of course all of this would have been paid out of the taxes that the farmers would have paid during the harvest season, but that is the nature of government. This would also account for how the country had become, and stayed, so stable for several hundred years.
Pyramid building continued for some time, in fact there are 80 known pyramid sites, although not all of them are still standing.
First Intermediate Period
This takes us through the 5th and 6th dynasties and into the First Intermediate Period. The Old Kingdom was weakened by famine and weak leadership. One theory holds that a sudden, unanticipated, catastrophic reduction in the Nile floods over two or three decades, caused by a global climatic cooling which reduced the amount of rainfall in Egypt, Ethiopia and East Africa, contributed to the great famine and the subsequent downfall of the Old Kingdom.
The last Pharaoh of the 6th dynasty was Pepi II who is believed to have reigned for 94 years, longer than any monarch in history. He was 6 when he ascended the throne and 100 years old when he died. The latter years of his reign were marked by ineffeciency because of Pepy's advanced age. When he died the Old Kingdom collapsed.
A dark time marked by unrest followed. The Union of the Two Kingdoms fell apart and regional leader had to cope with the famine.
Around 2160 BC a new line of Pharaohs tried to reunite Lower Egypt from their capital in Heracleopolis. In the meantime, however, a rival line based at Thebes was reuniting Upper Egypt and a clash between the two rival dynasties was inevitable.
The Pharaohs from Heracleopolis descended from a Pharaoh named Akhtoy and the first four Pharaohs from Thebes were named Inyotef or Antef.
Around 2055 BC Pharaoh Amenemhat I ended this period of unrest and united the country again and moved the capital to North (lower) Egypt. Sesostris I (son of Amenemhat I) co-reigned with him until his assassination. Sesostris I was able to take control immediately without the country degenerating into unrest again. Sesostris I continued to wage war on Nubia.
In 1878 BC the Pharaoh Senusret III became king. He continued the military campaigns in Nubia and was the first to try to extend Egypt's power into Syria.
Later Amenemhat III came to power. He is regarded as being the greatest monarch of the Middle Kingdom and did much to benefit Egypt. He ruled for 45 years.
Much of the greater activities done by the 12th dynasty kings took place outside the valley of the Nile. As was done before there were many expeditions into Nubia, Syria and the Eastern Desert, searching for valuables to be mined and wood to bring back. Also trade was established with Minoan Crete.
During the middle kingdom the next phase in tomb design was the rock-cut tomb. The best examples of these can be seen in the Valley of the Kings. They still had grand temples built in more visible areas.
The 13th Dynasty is often entered as a part of the Middle Kingdom, although the period seems to be a time confusion and of foreign princes from Asia known as the Hyksos who took advantage of the political instabilities of the Nile Delta to take control of it and later extend their powers south. They brought with them the horse-drawn war chariot. It didn't take the Egyptians long to realise the power of this chariot and use it themselves. This breakdown of central control marks the beginning of the Second Intermediate Period.