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First Dynasty of Egypt

First Dynasty of Egypt


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The kings of the First Dynasty of Egypt (c. 2890 BCE) all worked toward the same ends: increasing trade, expansion of the kingdom through military campaigns, engaging in building projects (such as monuments, tombs and temples), and securing central rule of the country. They ruled from the city of Thinis, near Abydos, and from Memphis. The first king, according to Manetho's chronology, was Menes who has come to be identified with the pharaoh once thought to be his successor, Narmer. Narmer united the regions of Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt under central rule initially at Thinis before then building a palace at Memphis and shifting the seat of government to that city. Historian Margaret Bunson writes:

The 1st Dynasty, begun at Memphis by Menes, was marked by significant cultural achievements. He cemented his claims to the throne [by marriage] and by instituting, or reinforcing, the previous modes of governmental and religious traditions that would become unique aspects of Egypt's heritage. Papyrus, writing, and a calendar were in use, and linear measurements, mathematics, and astronomy were practiced. A census, tax assessments, the reestablishment of boundaries after the yearly Nile inundations, and the development of new astronomical instruments moved the nation to new heights (77).

Narmer's queen, Neithhotep, may have been the first female ruler in Egypt after his death. The kings who followed Narmer all continued his policies. The greatest of these was Den (c. 2990 BCE) who is the first monarch depicted wearing the crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, indicating his dominance over the whole region. Den's mother was Merneith who may have ruled as regent when he was young or may have reigned over Egypt as Neithhotep possibly did earlier. Military campaigns were launched against Nubia, Libya, and Sinai during the First Dynasty which resulted in greater wealth and expanded territory for Egypt and those border lands not firmly defended were annexed.

Under the rule of the pharaohs, Egypt grew from a largely agrarian culture to an increasingly urbanized state.

The kings of the First Dynasty were, for the most part, very effective rulers. Only Anedjib and Semerkhet are recorded has having troubled reigns. Under the rule of the pharaohs, Egypt grew from a largely agrarian culture to an increasingly urbanized state. The Egyptians seem to have been careful, however, to avoid the pitfalls of urbanization which characterized Mesopotamian cities such as over-population and over use of land and water resources.

The following list of First Dynasty kings is based on Manetho's chronology, the Turin King List, and archaeological evidence as given in the scholarly work Ancient Egypt: Foundations of a Civilization by Douglas J. Brewer. The dates of the reigns are approximate. Each pharaoh built upon what had been established by their predecessor and worked to preserve the principle of ma'at (harmony) in the land. Owing to their unity of vision, and a lack of written records, it is difficult to precisely date their reigns. Exact dating is further complicated by a new model of reading ancient inscriptions (such as the Narmer Palette) symbolically rather than literally. Whereas, in the early 20th century CE, a piece like the Narmer Palette was read as history, it is now interpreted as representing cultural values of the period. While there is certainly some logic and method to this new approach, it makes precise dating nearly impossible.

Narmer (also known as Menes, c. 3150 BCE) Unified Upper and Lower Egypt and established a central government at Thinis (possibly his home city though he is also associated with Heirakonopolis) which then moved to Abydos and then Memphis. He married the princess Neithhotep of Naqada to solidify his rule and ally himself with Naqada's ruling house. Religious practices were developed and large building projects initiated. Narmer also most likely led military expeditions to put down rebellions in Lower Egypt and to expand the territories into Nubia and Canaan. After his death it is possible that Neithhotep reigned under her own authority. If so, she would be the first female ruler of Egypt and among the first in history, pre-dating early regents such as Sammu-Ramat of Assyria.

Hor-Aha (c. 3100 - 3050 BCE; Greek Name: Athotis) was most likely the son of Narmer and Neithhotep (though he has been associated with Menes/Narmer himself). He continued his father's policies of military campaigns in Nubia but seems to have neglected Canaan. Archaeological evidence from his time indicates he was primarily interested in religious rites and building the type of tomb known as a Mastaba (arabic for 'bench') which was a precursor to the pyramids. The necropolis of Memphis dates to his reign.

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Djer (c. 3050 - 3000 BCE; Greek Name: Uenephes), probably the son of Hor-Aha, concerned himself largely with building palaces and military expansion. He extended his rule through military campaigns in Nubia and Canaan and used the resources gained in his building projects. Trade and industry grew under his reign.

Djet (c. 3000 - 2990 BCE; Greek Name: Usaphais) was probably the son of Djer but nothing is known of his reign. He was buried at Abydos. He was succeeded by his wife, the Queen Merneith.

Merneith (c. 2990 BCE) was the wife of Djet and mother of his successor Den. There is no doubt she ruled as regent when Den was still a child but may have ruled on her own and by her own authority. Manetho does not mention her in his chronology but artifacts found in her tomb at Abydos indicate she was queen of Egypt. Her influence seems to have continued into her son's reign so, even if she did not rule in her own right, she certainly exercised power over the throne.

Den (c. 2990 - 2940 BCE; Greek Name: Kenkenes) was the son of Djet and Merenith. He is the first king depicted wearing the crown of both Upper and Lower Egypt. He ruled Egypt for 50 years (though part of that reign could have been under Merneith) and enlarged the country through military conquests in Sinai. Temple complexes and elaborate tombs were built under his reign and trade flourished. The Cult of Apis (also known as Hapi), the intermediary bull-deity between humans and gods, was introduced during his reign. He is considered the greatest king of the First Dynasty.

Anedjib (c. 2940 - 2930 BCE; Greek Name: Miebidos) was possibly Den's son but most likely his son-in-law. His reign was characterized by rebellion and little else is known of him.

Semerkhet (c. 2930 - 2920 BCE; Greek Name: Semempses) was considered a usurper by archaeologists and scholars for many years based upon his alleged desecration of Anedjib's name on various artifacts. This theory has been discredited with the discovery of the Cairo Stone which records his legitimate reign and his tomb. He seems to have had as difficult a time as Anedjib in controlling his kingdom

Qa'a (c. 2920 - 2890 BCE; Greek Name: Beieneches) was the last ruler of the First Dynasty. Very little is known about his reign except that it was very prosperous and lasted between 26 and 34 years. He was a relative of Semerkhet, probably his son. Either he had no children of his own or his sons fought over the throne since, after his death, war broke out for succession between a prince named Sneferka and another named Horus Bird. Their conflict was resolved by another prince known as Hotepsekhemwy - who either defeated them or reconciled them or both - and who then went on to found the Second Dynasty.


Introduction to ancient Egyptian civilization

Ancient Egypt can be thought of as an oasis in the desert of northeastern Africa, dependent on the annual inundation of the Nile River to support its agricultural population. The country’s chief wealth came from the fertile floodplain of the Nile valley, where the river flows between bands of limestone hills, and the Nile delta, in which it fans into several branches north of present-day Cairo. Between the floodplain and the hills is a variable band of low desert that supported a certain amount of game. The Nile was Egypt’s sole transportation artery.

The First Cataract at Aswān, where the riverbed is turned into rapids by a belt of granite, was the country’s only well-defined boundary within a populated area. To the south lay the far less hospitable area of Nubia, in which the river flowed through low sandstone hills that in most regions left only a very narrow strip of cultivable land. Nubia was significant for Egypt’s periodic southward expansion and for access to products from farther south. West of the Nile was the arid Sahara, broken by a chain of oases some 125 to 185 miles (200 to 300 km) from the river and lacking in all other resources except for a few minerals. The eastern desert, between the Nile and the Red Sea, was more important, for it supported a small nomadic population and desert game, contained numerous mineral deposits, including gold, and was the route to the Red Sea.

To the northeast was the Isthmus of Suez. It offered the principal route for contact with Sinai, from which came turquoise and possibly copper, and with southwestern Asia, Egypt’s most important area of cultural interaction, from which were received stimuli for technical development and cultivars for crops. Immigrants and ultimately invaders crossed the isthmus into Egypt, attracted by the country’s stability and prosperity. From the late 2nd millennium bce onward, numerous attacks were made by land and sea along the eastern Mediterranean coast.

At first, relatively little cultural contact came by way of the Mediterranean Sea, but from an early date Egypt maintained trading relations with the Lebanese port of Byblos (present-day Jbail). Egypt needed few imports to maintain basic standards of living, but good timber was essential and not available within the country, so it usually was obtained from Lebanon. Minerals such as obsidian and lapis lazuli were imported from as far afield as Anatolia and Afghanistan.

Agriculture centred on the cultivation of cereal crops, chiefly emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccum) and barley (Hordeum vulgare). The fertility of the land and general predictability of the inundation ensured very high productivity from a single annual crop. This productivity made it possible to store large surpluses against crop failures and also formed the chief basis of Egyptian wealth, which was, until the creation of the large empires of the 1st millennium bce , the greatest of any state in the ancient Middle East.

Basin irrigation was achieved by simple means, and multiple cropping was not feasible until much later times, except perhaps in the lakeside area of Al-Fayyūm. As the river deposited alluvial silt, raising the level of the floodplain, and land was reclaimed from marsh, the area available for cultivation in the Nile valley and delta increased, while pastoralism declined slowly. In addition to grain crops, fruit and vegetables were important, the latter being irrigated year-round in small plots. Fish was also vital to the diet. Papyrus, which grew abundantly in marshes, was gathered wild and in later times was cultivated. It may have been used as a food crop, and it certainly was used to make rope, matting, and sandals. Above all, it provided the characteristic Egyptian writing material, which, with cereals, was the country’s chief export in Late period Egyptian and then Greco-Roman times.

Cattle may have been domesticated in northeastern Africa. The Egyptians kept many as draft animals and for their various products, showing some of the interest in breeds and individuals that is found to this day in the Sudan and eastern Africa. The donkey, which was the principal transport animal (the camel did not become common until Roman times), was probably domesticated in the region. The native Egyptian breed of sheep became extinct in the 2nd millennium bce and was replaced by an Asiatic breed. Sheep were primarily a source of meat their wool was rarely used. Goats were more numerous than sheep. Pigs were also raised and eaten. Ducks and geese were kept for food, and many of the vast numbers of wild and migratory birds found in Egypt were hunted and trapped. Desert game, principally various species of antelope and ibex, were hunted by the elite it was a royal privilege to hunt lions and wild cattle. Pets included dogs, which were also used for hunting, cats, and monkeys. In addition, the Egyptians had a great interest in, and knowledge of, most species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish in their environment.

Most Egyptians were probably descended from settlers who moved to the Nile valley in prehistoric times, with population increase coming through natural fertility. In various periods there were immigrants from Nubia, Libya, and especially the Middle East. They were historically significant and also may have contributed to population growth, but their numbers are unknown. Most people lived in villages and towns in the Nile valley and delta. Dwellings were normally built of mud brick and have long since disappeared beneath the rising water table or beneath modern town sites, thereby obliterating evidence for settlement patterns. In antiquity, as now, the most favoured location of settlements was on slightly raised ground near the riverbank, where transport and water were easily available and flooding was unlikely. Until the 1st millennium bce , Egypt was not urbanized to the same extent as Mesopotamia. Instead, a few centres, notably Memphis and Thebes, attracted population and particularly the elite, while the rest of the people were relatively evenly spread over the land. The size of the population has been estimated as having risen from 1 to 1.5 million in the 3rd millennium bce to perhaps twice that number in the late 2nd millennium and 1st millennium bce . (Much higher levels of population were reached in Greco-Roman times.)

Nearly all of the people were engaged in agriculture and were probably tied to the land. In theory all the land belonged to the king, although in practice those living on it could not easily be removed and some categories of land could be bought and sold. Land was assigned to high officials to provide them with an income, and most tracts required payment of substantial dues to the state, which had a strong interest in keeping the land in agricultural use. Abandoned land was taken back into state ownership and reassigned for cultivation. The people who lived on and worked the land were not free to leave and were obliged to work it, but they were not slaves most paid a proportion of their produce to major officials. Free citizens who worked the land on their own behalf did emerge terms applied to them tended originally to refer to poor people, but these agriculturalists were probably not poor. Slavery was never common, being restricted to captives and foreigners or to people who were forced by poverty or debt to sell themselves into service. Slaves sometimes even married members of their owners’ families, so that in the long term those belonging to households tended to be assimilated into free society. In the New Kingdom (from about 1539 to 1075 bce ), large numbers of captive slaves were acquired by major state institutions or incorporated into the army. Punitive treatment of foreign slaves or of native fugitives from their obligations included forced labour, exile (in, for example, the oases of the western desert), or compulsory enlistment in dangerous mining expeditions. Even nonpunitive employment such as quarrying in the desert was hazardous. The official record of one expedition shows a mortality rate of more than 10 percent.

Just as the Egyptians optimized agricultural production with simple means, their crafts and techniques, many of which originally came from Asia, were raised to extraordinary levels of perfection. The Egyptians’ most striking technical achievement, massive stone building, also exploited the potential of a centralized state to mobilize a huge labour force, which was made available by efficient agricultural practices. Some of the technical and organizational skills involved were remarkable. The construction of the great pyramids of the 4th dynasty (c. 2575–c. 2465 bce ) has yet to be fully explained and would be a major challenge to this day. This expenditure of skill contrasts with sparse evidence of an essentially neolithic way of living for the rural population of the time, while the use of flint tools persisted even in urban environments at least until the late 2nd millennium bce . Metal was correspondingly scarce, much of it being used for prestige rather than everyday purposes.

In urban and elite contexts, the Egyptian ideal was the nuclear family, but, on the land and even within the central ruling group, there is evidence for extended families. Egyptians were monogamous, and the choice of partners in marriage, for which no formal ceremony or legal sanction is known, did not follow a set pattern. Consanguineous marriage was not practiced during the Dynastic period, except for the occasional marriage of a brother and sister within the royal family, and that practice may have been open only to kings or heirs to the throne. Divorce was in theory easy, but it was costly. Women had a legal status only marginally inferior to that of men. They could own and dispose of property in their own right, and they could initiate divorce and other legal proceedings. They hardly ever held administrative office but increasingly were involved in religious cults as priestesses or “chantresses.” Married women held the title “mistress of the house,” the precise significance of which is unknown. Lower down the social scale, they probably worked on the land as well as in the house.

The uneven distribution of wealth, labour, and technology was related to the only partly urban character of society, especially in the 3rd millennium bce . The country’s resources were not fed into numerous provincial towns but instead were concentrated to great effect around the capital—itself a dispersed string of settlements rather than a city—and focused on the central figure in society, the king. In the 3rd and early 2nd millennia, the elite ideal, expressed in the decoration of private tombs, was manorial and rural. Not until much later did Egyptians develop a more pronouncedly urban character.


Chronology

Egypt's history is split into several different periods according to the ruling dynasty of each pharaoh. The dating of events is still a subject of research. The conservative dates are not supported by any reliable absolute date for a span of about three millennia. The following is the list according to conventional Egyptian chronology.

  • Predynastic Period (Prior to 3100 BC)
  • Protodynastic Period (Approximately 3100–3000 BC)
  • Early Dynastic Period (1st–2nd Dynasties)
  • Old Kingdom (3rd–6th Dynasties)
  • First Intermediate Period (7th–11th Dynasties)
  • Middle Kingdom (12th–13th Dynasties)
  • Second Intermediate Period (14th–17th Dynasties)
  • New Kingdom (18th–20th Dynasties)
  • Third Intermediate Period (21st–25th Dynasties) (also known as the Libyan Period)
  • Late Period (26th–31st Dynasties)

First Intermediate Period - Dynasties 9-mid 11, ca. 2160-2055 B.C.E.

By the beginning of the First Intermediate Period, the power base of Egypt had shifted to Herakleopolis located 100 km (62 mi) upstream from Memphis.

The large-scale building came to a halt and the provinces were ruled locally. Ultimately the central government collapsed and foreign trade stopped. The country was fragmented and unstable, with civil war and cannibalism driven by famine, and the redistribution of wealth. Texts from this period include the Coffin Texts, which were inscribed on elite coffins in multiple roomed burials.


How the First Intermediate Period Came to Be in Egypt

Many unpleasant changes toward the end of the Old Kingdom finally resulted in the First Intermediate Period. (Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art/CC0 1.0/Public domain)

Changes in Old Kingdom

There were all kinds of changes at the end of the Old Kingdom, for example, the last king of Dynasty IV, Shepseskaf, built the Mastaba el-Faraoun in the desert instead of building a pyramid. The Fifth Dynasty kings changed their names to have ‘ra’ at the end. They built solar temples rather than big pyramids. The last king of Dynasty V started putting the Pyramid Texts on the walls. Dynasty VI, the last dynasty of the Old Kingdom, ended with Pepi II, the longest-reigning monarch in the history of the world, who ruled for 94 years. It is reasoned that, due to his old age, he couldn’t lead the army in battle or control the government, so Egypt just declined.

Theory of Kurt Mendelssohn

Kurt Mendelssohn proposed another theory about why Egypt took a nosedive. He was not an Egyptologist but a physicist and had a theory about the pyramids and pyramid building in his book, The Riddle of the Pyramids. He didn’t get it right, but he was an intelligent man thinking things through. His theory proposed that the decline of the government was because there were no longer any big pyramids being built.

According to Mendelssohn’s theory, there were 90,000 workers working on a pyramid, and it could be that the priests convinced the pharaohs not to build big pyramids anymore, resulting in unemployed laborers who revolted and caused problems. This could be a reason for the decline. But that was not right. Instead, most of the laborers were farmers who were free during inundation, and who went back to their farms.

First Intermediate Period

The First Intermediate Period lasted for 200 years but there was no record as such to tell us about the period. (Image: British Museum/CC BY-SA 4.0/Public domain)

The Old Kingdom ended with a lot of changes and a decline. Then came the First Intermediate Period, about which hardly anything was known. It lasted for nearly 200 years but reconstructing history was difficult when there were no records. This was a problem because it was the government that kept the records in ancient Egypt. Private people didn’t keep records as most of them couldn’t write.

One of the sources, Manetho, an Egyptian priest, gave an account of what happened, and how Egyptologists brought together a picture of the period no one knew much about. Manetho was alive in the third century B.C. at the time of the Ptolemies, who were the Greeks ruling Egypt at the very end of the civilization. He wrote a history of Egypt called Aegyptiaka, ‘About Egypt’.

Manetho’s History of Egypt

Manetho’s virtue was that he was an Egyptian priest. As an insider, he had access to temple records, could read the hieroglyphs, and wrote a history of Egypt, called Aegyptiaka which was in Greek. Egypt was controlled by Greeks so the reason to write in Greek was that the pharaoh, Ptolemy II, the Greek king, could read about the glorious history of Egypt.

The original text of Manetho was lost, but he was quoted by later historians, like Eusebius and Africanus. According to those quotes, Manetho says, of the First Intermediate Period, “There were 70 kings in 70 days.”

What he probably meant was that there were many pharaohs who didn’t reign for very long, the kings who didn’t last. Almost always in Egyptian civilization, kings with short reigns, coming one after the other, was a sign that there was something wrong. Stability was when a king reigned for more than ten years.

Simultaneous Kings

Another possibility was that there might have been simultaneous kings. For example, the capital was Memphis in the north, and there were people in the north claiming to be kings, as well as rulers in the south saying they were kings. So they would have simultaneous kings.

Herakles’s City

During the First Intermediate Period, the capital was changed. Dynasties VII and VIII were in the First Intermediate Period and the capital was Memphis, but after this, the capital moved south to a place called Herakleopolis.

Herakleopolis was the name that the Greeks had given the capital city. They associated it with their god Herakles, so it was ‘Herakles’s City’. As the capital moved from Memphis to the south, Herakleopolis, this might suggest that either the kings couldn’t rule anymore in Memphis, or there was a takeover, or that the gods were more important according to the priests. It would have been a big deal to move the capital as the records and the scribes were in Memphis.

Source of the Kings’ Lists

Some of the primary sources to figure out which kings ruled when, are the kings’ lists. The pharaohs were very proud of their continued lineage and loved to trace their heritage.

The kings’ lists were carved on temple walls or stones, sometimes written on papyrus, listing all the previous kings. As soon as someone became king, they started writing, ‘I’m now, and before me was so and so,’ and the line was traced back as much as they could.

One of those kings’ lists was the Palermo Stone. Though in fragments and pieces, it was a long, dark stone carved with the pharaohs’ names and things that happened during their reign. But the problem with the Palermo Stone was that the First Intermediate Period begins with Dynasty VII, and the list only goes up to Dynasty V. Another kings’ list, the Karnak List, was once carved on Karnak Temple, in Thebes, south, having 61 kings up to the time of the Pharaoh Tuthmose III, also telling us nothing about the First Intermediate Period.

This is a transcript from the video series History of Ancient Egypt. Watch it now, on Wondrium.

The Abydos Kings’ List

One of the best sources for studying the kings was the Abydos kings’ list. Abydos was the sacred city where Osiris was buried, and where the early kings had their burials. A later pharaoh, Seti I, built his temple at Abydos. On the wall, inside one of the rooms, he created the ‘Hall of the Ancients’. It was his genealogy table listing the kings from Narmer to Seti I, used in a ritual.

In the temple of Osiris, the pharaoh came once a year to say prayers by reading the names in the list of kings. (Image: Steve F-E-Cameron/CC BY-SA 3.0/Public domain)

Once a year, the pharaoh would come into that Hall of the Ancients, look at the list of kings’ names, and read them. The kings’ names were a prayer, which said, ‘May the king grant a wish to Anubis.’ It was also a funerary prayer, saying, ‘May the god give bread and beer, food, cattle, geese and oxen, all things good and pure upon which the god lives, may he give all those things to these kings.’ By reading the names of those kings, they were going to get everything needed in the next world.

The kings’ lists were important, although they may not help us with reconstructing the First Intermediate Period.

Common Questions about the History of Egypt

There were various theories for the collapse of the Old Kingdom in Egypt . Most prominent among them was Kurt Mendelssohn, First Intermediate Period, and Manetho but no real records as such were available.

The First Intermediate Period , a period about which hardly anything was known, lasted for nearly 200 years but reconstructing history was difficult with no records. The problem was that the government kept records in ancient Egypt but private people did not as most of them could not write.

Herakles is a Greek god . Herakleopolis was the name that the Greeks had given to an Egyptian city. They associated it with their god Herakles, so it was ‘Herakles’s City’.

Abydos was the sacred city where Osiris was buried , along with the early kings who also had their burials. A later pharaoh, Seti I, built his temple at Abydos. On the wall, inside one of the rooms, he created, the ‘Hall of the Ancients’.


3. Challenges and Controversies

Though the 1st Dynasty began with the unification of Egypt, little is known about the factors that led to the decline of the dynasty and its replacement by the 2nd Dynasty of Egypt. There are reports which indicate that Hotepsekhemwy, the first King of the 2nd dynasty, could possibly have been the son-in-law of Qa’a, which could have catalyzed his accession of the Egyptian throne. The rule of Khasekhemwy, the last Pharaoh of the 2nd Dynasty, ruled during a quite turbulent period, and nearly 47,000 casualties were reported during this period, as conflicts broke out between the Egyptian Kingdom and the rebels against it in the north. Even though the rebels managed to reach as far south as Nekheb and Nekhen, Khasekhemwy emerged victorious after the end of the conflict.


References

Boddy-Evans, A. (2018) ‘The Story of Menes, the First Pharaoh of Egypt.’ ThoughtCo. Available at: https://www.thoughtco.com/who-was-the-first-pharaoh-of-egypt-43717

Heagy, T. ( 2014) ‘Who Was Menes?’ Archéo-Nil 24, pp. 59-92. Available at: https://www.narmer.org/menes

KingtutOne.com (n.d.) ‘Menes the 1st Pharaoh.’ KingtutOne.com. Available at: http://kingtutone.com/pharaohs/menes/

New World Encyclopedia. (2014) ‘Menes.’ New World Encyclopedia. Available at: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Menes

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2018) ‘Menes: King of Egypt.’ Encyclopaedia Britannica. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Menes

Alicia

Alicia McDermott holds degrees in Anthropology, Psychology, and International Development Studies and has worked in various fields such as education, anthropology, and tourism. Ever since she was a child Alicia has had a passion for writing and she has written. Read More


Egyptian Old Kingdom Dynasties

Egyptian Old Kingdom Dynasties – In 300 BC the Egyptian historian Manetho wrote a history of Egypt called Aegyptiaca, which put the number of dynasties (ruling Families) at thirty. Although his original book did not survive, we know of it from the works of later historians such as Josephus, who lived around AD 70 and quoted Manetho in his own works. Although Manetho’s history was based on native Egyptian sources and mythology, it is still used by Egyptologists to confirm the succession of kings when the archaeological evidence is inconclusive.

The ancient Egyptians listed their kings in a continuous sequence beginning with the reign on earth of the sun god, Ra. Events were recorded by the reigns of kings and not, as in our dating system, based on a commonly agreed calendar system. For that reason, exact dating of events in Egyptian history is unreliable.

Modern scholars have divided Manetho’s thirty dynasties into “Kingdoms.” During certain times, kingship was divided or the political and social conditions were chaotic, and these eras are called “Intermediate Periods.” Today the generally agreed chronology is divided as follows, beginning from 3100 years before the birth of Christ – BC – around 5114 years ago.

  • The Archaic Period (414 years)
  • The Old Kingdom (505 years),
  • The First Intermediate Period (126 years),
  • The Middle Kingdom (405 years),
  • The Second Intermediate Period (100 years),
  • The New Kingdom (481 years),
  • The Third Intermediate Period (322 years),
  • The Late Period (415 years),
  • The Ptolemaic Period (302 years).

Archaic Period

First Dynasty 3100 – 2686 BC

Before the first dynasty Egypt was in fact two lands and according to folk tales, Menes (also thought to be Narmer) the first mortal king, after the rule of the gods, united these two lands. But by the end of the first dynasty there appears to have been rival claimants for the throne.

  • Narmer
  • Aha
  • Djer
  • Djet
  • Den
  • Anedjib
  • Semerkhet
  • Qaa

Second Dynasty 2890 – 2686 BC
At the end of the 1st dynasty there appears to have been rival claimants for the throne. The successful claimant’s Horus name, Hetepsekhemwy, translates as “peaceful in respect of the two powers” this may be a reference to the opposing gods Horus and Seth, or an understanding reached between two rival factions. But the political rivalry was never fully resolved and in time the situation worsened into conflict.

The fourth pharaoh, Peribsen, took the title of Seth instead of Horus and the last ruler of the dynasty, Khasekhemwy, took both titles. A Horus/Seth name meaning “arising in respect of the two powers,” and “the two lords are at peace in him.” Towards the end of this dynasty, however, there seems to have been more disorder and possibly civil war.

  • Hetepsekhemwy
  • Raneb
  • Nynetjer
  • Peribsen
  • Khasekhem (Khasekhemwy)

Old Kingdom 2686 – 2180 BC

Third dynasty 2686 2613 BC
This period is one of the landmarks of Human history. A prosperous age and the appearance of the worlds first great monumental building – the Pyramid. The artistic masterpieces in the tombs of the nobles show the martial wealth of this time

Djoser – one of the outstanding kings of Egypt. His Step Pyramid at Saqqara is the first large stone building and the forerunner of later pyramids.

Fourth dynasty 2613 2494 BC
Egypt was able to accomplish the ambitious feat of the Giza pyramids because there had been a long period of peace and no threats of invasion. So their energies were spent in cultivating art to it’s highest forms.

The fourth dynasty came from Memphis and the fifth from the south in Elephantine. The transition from one ruling family to another appears to have been peaceful.

  • Sneferu 2613-2589
  • Khufu 2589-2566
  • Radjedef 2566-2558
  • Khafre 2558-2532
  • Menkaura 2532-2503
  • Shepseskaf 2503-2498

Fifth Dynasty 2494 – 2345 BC

The first two kings of the fifth dynasty, were sons of a lady, Khentkaues, who was a member of the fourth dynasty royal family. There was an institutionalisation of officialdom and high officials for the first time came from outside the royal family.
The pyramids are smaller and less solidly constructed than those of the fourth dynasty, but the carvings from the mortuary temples are well preserved and of the highest quality.

There are surviving papyri from this period which demonstrate well developed methods of accounting and record keeping. They document the redistribution of goods between the royal residence, the temples, and officials.

  • Userkaf 2494-2487
  • Sahura 2487-2475
  • Neferirkara Kakai 2475-2455
  • Shepseskara Isi 2455-2448
  • Raneferef 2448-2445
  • Nyuserra 2445-2421
  • Menkauhor 2421-2414
  • Djedkara Isesi 2414-2375
  • Unas 2375-2345

Sixth Dynasty 2345 – 2181 BC
There are many inscriptions from the sixth dynasty. These include records of trading expeditions to the south from the reigns of Pepi I. One of the most interesting is a letter written by Pepy II.

The pyramid of Pepi II at southern Saqqara is the last major monument of the Old Kingdom. None of the names of kings of the short-lived seventh dynasty are known and the eighth dynasty shows signs of and political decay.

  • Teti 2345-2323
  • Userkara 2323-2321
  • Pepy I 2321-2287
  • Merenra 2287-2278
  • Pepy II 2278-2184
  • Nitiqret 2184-2181

First Intermediate Period 7th and 8th dynasties 2181- 2125 BC

About this time the Old Kingdom state collapsed. Egypt simultaneously suffered political failure and environmental disaster. There was famine, civil disorder and a rise in the death rate. With the climate of Northeast Africa becoming dryer, combined with low inundations of the Nile and the cemeteries rapidly filling, this was not a good time for the Egyptians.

The years following the death of Pepy II are most obscure. The only person from this era to have left an impression on posterity is a woman called Nitokris who appears to have acted as king. There are no contemporary records but Herodotus wrote of her:

“She killed hundreds of Egyptians to avenge the king, her brother, whom his subjects had killed, and had forced her to succeed. She did this by constructing a huge underground chamber. Then invited to a banquet all those she knew to be responsible for her brother’s death. When the banquet was underway, she let the river in on them, through a concealed pipe. After this fearful revenge, she flung herself into a room filled with embers, to escape her punishment.”

For a time petty warlords ruled the provinces. Then from the city of Herakleopolis there emerged a ruling family led by one Khety who for a time held sway over the whole country. However, this was short lived and the country split into North, ruled from Herakleopolis and South, ruled from Thebes.

Whereas the Theban dynasty was stable, kings succeeded one another rapidly at Herakleopolis. There was continual conflict between the two lands which was resolved in the 11th dynasty.

Seventh & Eighth Dynasties 2181 – 2125 BC
This dynasty was short lived and we only know the names of two kings. There were about seventeen minor warlords ruling different provinces.

Ninth & Tenth Dynasties 2160 – 2025 BC
There emerged a family from the city of Herakleopolis, led by Khety, who for a time ruled over the whole country. This did not last however, Egypt split into north and south again. The north was ruled from Herakleopolis and the south from Thebes.


An Egyptian pharaoh

Surely, you now know all about the first pharaoh of Egypt. Indeed, we saw together:

  • The explanation of why Narmer is a pharaoh of Egypt and not a king of Egypt.
  • The "Narmer Palette" detailing the methods used by Narmer to conquer Lower Egypt .
  • What was Egypt like before Narmer.
  • What became of Egypt after Narmer.

If the distant dynasties of pharaohs appear to you as an inspiring element of world history, it would be a pity if you missed our Egyptian jewelry inspired of the first pharaohs' Egypt!

To discover them, nothing could be simpler: just click on the image below!


Watch the video: ΑΡΧΑΙΑ ΑΙΓΥΠΤΟ 7: Η Πτολεμαϊκή Αίγυπτος και η Κλεοπάτρα VII (May 2022).


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