A Tour of Ancient Egypt History
Ancient Egypt history is as fascinating as it is long.
Pharaonic tours of Egypt take visitors to attractions that span the entire history of ancient Egypt. While not exactly chronological, most of these tours begin in Cairo and its surroundings, so visitors get to first experience the earliest achievements of this amazing civilization. Giza and Saqqara were the necropolises of the Old Kingdom pharaohs, with their imposing pyramidal tombs.
Now, these terms like Old Kingdom, New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty and so forth are modern terms used by historians. Ancient Egyptians did not reckon their history in dynasties or kingdoms like today's textbooks. The dynastic chronology of ancient Egypt history is an invention of an Egyptian scribe of the Ptolemaic period named Manetho. Manetho divided his list of kings in Greek language into thirty dynasties (31 to some scholars) from Menes through the Persian conquest in 525 BC. A historical account of ancient Egypt reveals that Egyptians did not go through an unperturbed continuous trajectory. There were periods of glory and periods of turmoil, including famine.
It is an enriching experience for any traveler to Egypt to be acquainted with how the Egyptian civilization unfolded, its principal characters (mostly the pharaohs) and what each tourist attraction represents in the grand scheme of ancient Egypt history.
Proto-Dynastic or Archaic Period
First and Second Dynasties
Since pre dynastic times and all throughout its history, ancient Egypt has been known as the "Two Lands". Geographically, Lower Egypt in the north is where the Nile branches in triangular fashion, hence the term "Delta" from the Greek alphabet, not far from present Cairo to finally flow into the Mediterranean Sea. South of the Delta and upstream the Nile river into the Land of Nubia, Upper Egypt is the very narrow strip of fertile land on both banks of the river. Both lands were inhabited by two different types of people and coexisted as separate political entities until about 3100 BC, when Narmer (Menes), king of Upper Egypt, conquered Lower Egypt and joined the Two Lands under one rule, becoming the first king of the First Dynasty. From this era comes the famous Palette of Narmer in the Louvre Museum.
Old Kingdom: Dynasties 3-6
During this formative period in ancient Egypt history, the country lived in peace and isolation. The capital of the Old Kingdom was located at Memphis. The great ruler of the Third Dynasty was Djoser, builder of the Step Pyramid in Saqqara, the first of its kind and the largest surviving stone structure in the world. The Fourth Dynasty, founded by Snefru, was the age of the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx. Snefru was the first pharaoh to attempt the construction of the true pyramid shaped tomb, with smooth triangular sides tapering at the top. Some tours include visits to his pyramids in the Dashur area near Memphis.
Snefru's son Khufu built the largest pyramid, the only surviving wonder of the ancient world, followed by his son Khafre and grandson Menkaure.
Statues of these rulers are to be admired in the Egyptian Museum. A fine replica of the Djoser Ka statue is located in the serdab of his Step Pyramid complex, and visitors can peek at it through a small hole in the structure. The diorite larger-than-life statue of Khafre is one of the finest masterpieces of Egyptian art. Supposedly, the face depicted in the Great Sphinx is that of Khafre. The museum has a collection of fine statues of Menkaure, among them a stella of the pharaoh flanked by two goddesses. Curiously, the only surviving image of King Khufu is a tiny statue of the seated pharaoh.
The most significant legacy of the Fifth and Sixth dynasties are the classical literary works known as the Pyramid Texts, religious texts found inside the much smaller and now ruined pyramids of the rulers of these periods. Visitors to Egypt can see an example of these texts magnificently carved inside the pyramids of Teti, Unas and Pepi. The Pyramid Texts give us an immense understanding of ancient Egyptian religion. Revealing is the fact that in this early period of ancient Egypt history, only the pharaoh, regarded as a living god on Earth, an incarnate of Horus, son of Isis and Osiris, was capable of achieving eternal life as an Osiris.
First Intermediate Period: Dynasties 7 - 11
2200 2050 BC
After Pepi II, one of the last pharaohs of the Sixth Dynasty, died, the centralized authority under the pharaoh breaks down completely, in part as a result of the economic collapse caused by the depletion of resources during the pyramid building era.
Egypt enters into a system similar to European medieval feudalism, with local chiefs governing a fragmented country, divided into provinces known by the Greek term "nome".
The Middle Kingdom: Dynasty 12
2050 1780 BC
Egypt is once again consolidated under the rulership of Neb Hepet Ra Mentuhotep, from Thebes. The period is characterized by a strong central authority from the new capital and commercial expansion to the eastern Mediterranean. Although the nobles had to surrender their political autonomy to the pharaoh, they preserved the privilege they had attained during the Intermediate Period to become an Osiris in the afterlife like the pharaohs of the Old Kingdom. The magical spells of the Pyramid Texts were adapted into formulae written in the coffins of the nobles, hence the name "Coffin Texts". Notable pharaohs in this period of ancient Egypt history include the Amenemhats and Senusrets. Some portraits of Senusret III depicts him as an old tired individual whose countenance reveals the heaviness of ruling under burdened conditions.
The Second Intermediate Period - The Hyksos Invasion: Dynasties
13 - 17
1800 - 1500 BC
Egypt once again disintegrates into a chaotic period and suffers the first of many foreign invasions in all its ancient history. The Hyksos (Hekau Khasut, meaning "foreign rulers"), slowly infiltrated the country from Canaan and Syria until seizing power in Lower Egypt, and ruled from Tanis, or Avaris, in the eastern Delta from 1730 to 1570, during the Fifteenth and Sixteenth dynasties. The notable contribution of the Hyksos to ancient Egyptian civilization was the introduction of the horse and chariot. The invaders allowed some Egyptian pharaohs to rule as their vassals in Thebes during the Seventeenth dynasty.
The New Kingdom - The Empire: Dynasties 18-20
1570 - 1090 BC
Ahmose, the first king of the Eighteenth dynasty, succeeded in expelling the Hyksos and drove them back to Syria and Palestine, subduing these territories and turning Egypt into the first powerful empire in history.
The New Kingdom is the most glorious era in the history of ancient Egypt. Imperialism had consequences in all aspects of ancient Egyptian civilization, including a great and sudden enrichment of the country, bringing economic prosperity from the top to the lower social classes, through spoils of war, tributes and international trade, cultural exchange across national boundaries, the building of large cities and a flourishing of all the arts. Now, not only the kings and the nobility, but also the common people could afford to pay a scribe for a papyrus roll of spells and become an Osiris in the afterlife.
These military campaigns brought so much wealth to the country that pharaohs began a monument building program unparalled in history, the remains of which we tour today. Egypt is actually an open air museum, with ancient monuments scattered along the east and west banks of the Nile, from the Pyramids of Giza at the North to the Great Temple of Abu Simbel near the present day border of Sudan.
Thebes became the capital once again, aggrandized with vast monumental structures the likes of which the world had never seen. To this day, even in ruins, the temple complex of Karnak dwarfs the spectator with its huge pylons, columns and obelisks.
Whoever visits present day Luxor cannot avoid getting the impression that Egypt is still under the absolute supremacy of the great Amenhoteps, Thutmosides and Rammesides.
Deep sunken reliefs of Thutmosis III in the majestic pylons at Karnak show him smiting the subdued enemies. The huge columns of the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak attest to the power of Ramses the Great. Ramses built all over Egypt, and his mighty presence is witnessed everywhere from his recumbent colossal statue in Memphis, the temples of Karnak and Luxor, the Ramesseum in the west bank to the Nubian monuments of Abu Simbel. His father Seti I, another great warrior pharaoh, built a magnificent temple in Abydos. His tomb in the Valley of the Kings is the largest for one pharaoh. The Temple of Luxor and the so called Colossi of Memnon still reminds us of the majesty of Amenhotep III. The great Hatshepsut still graces the West Bank with her magnificent Mortuary Temple. And in the Valley of the Kings, we find the beautifully decorated tombs of many of these pharaohs, some of whose mummies are displayed in the Mummy Room of the Egyptian museum in Cairo.
The New Kingdom is also the era of the so called Amarna Revolution, when Akhenaten, the son of Amenhotep III, attempted to overthrow the power of the god Amen and impose the supremacy of the Sun Disk, the Aten.
Post Empire and Decadence: Dynasties 21 - 26
1100 - 660 BC
Like all empires, Egypt entered a slow but inevitable descent that gave way to the rising of empires in Mesopotamia, Syria and Asia Minor until Egypt is finally invaded by the Assyrians.
The Saïte Period: Dynasty 26
663 - 525 BC
Confrontations between Assyria and the new Babylonian Empire brings the power back to the Egyptians for the last time in ancient Egypt history, with a new capital at Saïs, in the central part of the Delta. Egypt goes back to the "good old days" of the Old Kingdom, with a revival of the arts closely resembling the style of the former period. This revival lasted only briefly until the Persian conquest of 525 BC, marking the beginning of the end of ancient Egyptian civilization.
Ptolemaic, Roman, and Byzantine Egypt:
332 BC - 642 AD
The Persian occupation of Egypt ended when Alexander the Great defeated the Persians at the Battle of Issus (near presentday Iskenderun in Turkey). After Alexander's death of malarial fever in 323 B.C., the Macedonian commander in Egypt, Ptolemy, managed to secure for himself the satrapy (provincial governorship) of Egypt.
Under the early Ptolemies, the dominant culture and language was exclusively Greek. A mixed culture was formed along with a hybrid art that combined Egyptian themes with elements of Hellenistic culture. Examples of this are the grandiose temples built by the Ptolemies at Edfu, Kom Ombo and Dendera.
The dynasty Ptolemy founded in Egypt endured until the suicide of Cleopatra in 30 B.C., at which time direct Roman control was instituted.
With the establishment of Roman rule by Emperor Augustus in 30 B.C., more than six centuries of Roman and Byzantine control began. Egypt again became the province of an empire. The Romans completed the construction of an architectural jewel, the Temple of Isis on Philae Island, which had begun under the Ptolemies. A new artistic development during this period of ancient Egypt history was the painting of portraits on wood, an art that originated in the Fayum region. These portraits were placed on the coffins of mummies.
Egypt was affected by the spread of Christianity during the Roman empire. Christianity arrived early in Egypt, and the new religion quickly spread from Alexandria into the hinterland, reaching Upper Egypt by the second century. According to some Christian traditions, St. Mark brought Christianity to Egypt in 37 AD. The Egyptian Christians are called Copts, a word derived from the Greek word for the country, Aegyptos. By the middle of the fourth century, Egypt was largely a Christian country.
Ancient Egypt as a living culture ceased to exist with the Arab invasion and conquest around 640 AD. The migration of Arab tribes had the greatest impact on Egyptian life and culture, resulting in the rapid conversion of the overwhelming majority of the population to Islam.
Category: Ancient Egypt
Badarian Culture—Neolithic culture (4500–3250 BC)
Predynastic—Nagada I and II/Amratian Culture (3250–2850 BC)
Proto-dynastic—Nagada III (2850–2789 BC)
Early dynastic (2789–2658 BC)
1st Dynasty—8? monarchs including:
Menes/Meni/Aha? (first king to achieve unification)
2nd Dynasty—10 monarchs including:
Old Kingdom (2658–2150 BC)
3rd Dynasty—5+monarchs including:
Zanakht (= Nebka)
4th Dynasty—?8 monarchs including:
5th Dynasty—?9 monarchs including:
Pepi I (Meryre)
Pepi II (Neferkare)
First Intermediate (2150–2100 BC)
7th Dynasty—numerous minor kings
8th Dynasty—numerous minor kings
9th Dynasty—numerous minor kings
10th Dynasty(based in Nennisut)—19 monarchs, contemporary with the 9th Dynasty
11th Dynasty(based in Thebes)—6 monarchs
Inyotef I (Sehertawy)
Inyotef II (Wah1ankh)
Middle Kingdom (2100–1750 BC)
Amenemhet I (Sehetepibre)
Senuseret I (Kheperkare)
Amenemhat II (Nubkaure’)
13th Dynasty—70+ kings, some coeval with other dynasties, including:
Second Intermediate (1750–1500 BC)
14th Dynasty—minor group of kings contemporary with 13th or 15th Dynasty
15th Dynasty—Hyksos rulers
16th Dynasty—minor Hyksos rulers coeval with other dynasties
17th Dynasty—numerous Theban kings, including:
Invotef V (1640–1550 BC)
Kamose (1555–1550 BC)
New Kingdom (1550–1070 BC)
Ahmosis (1550–1525 BC)
Amenophis I (1525–1504 BC)
Thutmosis I (1504–1492 BC)
Thutmosis II (1492–1479 BC)
Hatshepsut (1479–1457 BC)
Thutmosis III (1479–1425 BC)
Amenophis II (1427–1397 BC)
Thutmosis IV (1397–1387 BC)
Amenophis III (1387–1349 BC)
Akhenaten—Amenophis IV (1349–1333 BC)
Smenkhare (1335–1333 BC)
Tutankhamen (1333–1323 BC)
Aya (1323–1319 BC)
Haremheb (1319–1307 BC)
Ramesses I (1307–1306 BC)
Sethos I (1306–1290 BC)
Ramesses II (1290–1224 BC)
Merneptah (1224–1214 BC)
Sethos II (1212–1204 BC)
Amenemesses (usurper during the reign of Sthos II)
Siptah (1204–1198 BC)
Twosret (1198–1196 BC)
Setenakhte (1196–1194 BC)
Ramesses III (1194–1163 BC)
Ramesses IV (1163–1156 BC)
Ramesses V (1156–1151 BC)
Ramesses VI (1151–1143 BC)
Ramesses VII (1143–1136 BC)
Ramesses VIII (1136–1131 BC)
Ramesses IX (1131–1112 BC)
Ramesses X (1112–1100 BC)
Ramesses XI (1100–1070 BC)
Third Intermediate (1070–712 BC)
Smendes (1070–1044 BC)
Amenemnisu (1044–1040 BC)
Psusennes (1040–992 BC)
Amenemope (993–984 BC)
Osorkon I (984 BC–8 BC)
Siamun (978–959 BC)
Psusennes II (959–945 BC)
Shoshenq I (945–712 BC)
Osorkon II (924–909 BC)
Takelot I (909 BC)
Shoshenq II (909–883 BC)
Osorkon III (883–855 BC)
Takelot II (860–835 BC)
Shoshenq III (835–783 BC)
Pami (783–773 BC)
Shoshenq V (773–735 BC)
Osorkon V (735–712 BC)
23rd Dynasty—various lines of kings recognized in Thebes, Hermopolis, Herakleopolis, Leontopolis, and Tanis, including:
Pedubaste I (828–803 BC)
Osorkon IV (777–749 BC)
Peftjau?awybast (740–725 BC)
Late Dynastic (712–332 BC)
Tefnakhte (724–717 BC)
Bocchoris (717–712 BC)
Kashta (770–750 BC)
Piye (750–712 BC)
Shabaka (712–698 BC)
Shebitku (698–690 BC)
Taharqa (690–664 BC)
Tantamani (664–657 BC)
Necho I (672–664 BC)
Psammetichus I (664–610 BC)
Necho II (610–595 BC)
Psammetichus II (595–589 BC)
Apries (589–570 BC)
Amasis (570–526 BC)
Psammetichus (526–525 BC)
27th Dynasty—Persian period
Cambyses (525–522 BC)
Darius (521–486 BC)
Xerxes I (486–466 BC)
Artaxerxes I (465–424 BC)
Darius II (424–404 BC)
Amyrtaios (404–399 BC)
Nepherites I (399–393 BC)
Psmmuthis (393 BC)
Hakoris (393–380 BC)
Nepherites II (380 BC)
Nectanebo I (380–362 BC)
Teos (365–360 BC)
Nectanebo (360–343 BC)
31st Dynasty—second Persian period
Artaxerxes III Ochus (343–338 BC)
Arses (338–336 BC)
Darius III Codoman (335–332 BC)
Graeco-Roman period (332 BC–AD 395)
Alexander III, the Great (332–304 BC)
Philip Arrhidaeus (323–316 BC)
Alexander IV (316–304 BC)
Ptolemaic Dynasty (304–30 BC)
Roman period (30 BC–AD 395)