History of Egypt

Ancient Egypt was the distinguished civilization in the Mediterranean world for almost 3000 years —from its unification around 3100 B.C. to its defeat at the hands of Alexander the Great in 332 B.C. From the splendid Old Kingdom pyramids to the New Kingdom military conquests, Egypt’s splendour has long fascinated archaeologists and historians and fashioned a vibrant field of study of its own: Egyptology. The main sources of info about ancient Egypt are the various monuments, objects and artefacts that have been obtained from archaeological sites, and also recently deciphered hieroglyphs. The image that emerges is of a culture that is unmatched in the beauty of its art, the wealth of its religious traditions and the accomplishment of its architecture.

History of Egypt

Pre-dynastic period (5000 BC to 3100 BC)

Few written records or artefacts from the Pre-dynastic Period have been unearthed. This period comprised at least 2,000 years of gradual development of the Egyptian civilization. Neolithic (late stone age) communities in north-eastern Africa switched from hunting to agriculture and made early advances that prepared the ground for the later development of Egyptian arts and crafts, technology, politics and religion (including a great reverence for the dead and possibly a belief in life after death). Around 3400 B.C., two distinct kingdoms were established near the Fertile Crescent, a region renowned as home to some of the world’s oldest civilizations: White Land in the south, extending from Atfih to Gebel es-Silsila and the Red Land to the north, based in the Nile river Delta. Around 3200 B.C. first attempt to conquer the northern kingdom was made by a southern king named Scorpion and within a century King Menes subdued the north, unified the country and became the first king of the first dynasty.

Archaic (Early dynastic) Period (3100 BC – 2686 BC)

The capital would grow into a great metropolis that dominated Egyptian society during the Old Kingdom period. The Archaic Period saw the development of the foundations on which Egyptian society took shape, all-important ideology of kingship included. King was a godlike being in the eyes of ancient Egyptians, closely identified with the supreme god Horus. The initial known hieroglyphic writing also dates to this period. At the start of this period King Menes established the capital of ancient Egypt at White Walls, in the north, nearby to apex of the delta of Nile River. Economic base was agriculture and wheat and barley were main crops in this period.

Old Kingdom: Age of pyramid builders (2686 BC – 2181 BC)

With the third dynasty of pharaohs started the Old Kingdom. Third dynasty’s King Djoser asked Imhotep, an architect and priest, to design a funerary monument for him; resultant was the Step-Pyramid at Saqqara, world’s first major stone building. Egyptian pyramid building reached its pinnacle with the erection of the Great Pyramid at Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo, later recognised by classical historians as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

First intermediate period (2181 BC – 2055 BC)

Following the Old Kingdom’s collapse, the seventh and eighth dynasties saw a rapid succession of Memphis-based rulers until about 2160 B.C., when the central authority completely ceased, leading to civil war between provincial governors. This chaotic situation was intensified even more by Bedouin invasions accompanied by famine and disease. Around 2055 B.C., the Theban prince Mentuhotep reunited Egypt, establishing the 11th dynasty and ending the First Intermediate Period.

Middle Kingdom: 12th Dynasty (2055 BC – 1786 BC)

After Mentuhotep IV, the last ruler of the 11th dynasty was assassinated, his viziergot the throne and he became King Amenemhet I, founder of dynasty 12. A brand new capital was established at It-towy, south of Memphis, while Thebes continued to be a great religious center. Egypt once again flourished, during the Middle Kingdom. In the same way as it had during the Old Kingdom. Middle-Kingdom Egypt pursued an aggressive foreign policy by repelling the Bedouins and colonizing Nubia (with its rich supply of gold, ivory, ebony and other resources). Decline of middle kingdom began under Amenenhet IV (1798-1790 B.C.) and continued under his sister and regent, Queen Sobekneferu (1789-1786 B.C.), last ruler of the 12th dynasty and first confirmed female ruler of Egypt.

Second intermediate period (1786 BC – 1567 BC)

The 13th dynasty marked the beginning of second intermediate period. In second intermediate period a rapid succession of kings prevented consolidation of power resulting in another unsettled period in Egyptian history. As a consequence, Egypt was divided into several spheres of influence. Seat of government and the official royal court and was relocated to Thebes, while a rival dynasty (the 14th), centered on the city of Xois in the Nile delta, seems to have co-existed with 13th dynasty.

New kingdom (1567 BC – 1085 BC)

Egypt was once again reunited, under Ahmose I, the first king of the 18th dynasty. During the 18th dynasty, Egypt reinstated its control over Nubia and began military campaigns in Palestine, clashing with other powers in the area such as the Mitannians and the Hittites. The country went on to establish first great empire of the world, extending from Nubia to the Euphrates River in Asia. In addition to powerful kings the New Kingdom was distinguished for the role of royal women such as Queen Hatshepsut (1503-1482 B.C.). All of the New Kingdom rulers except Akhenaton were laid to rest in deep, rock-cut tombs (not pyramids) in a burial site on the west bank of the Nile opposite Thebes known as the Valley of the Kings.

Third intermediate period (1085 BC – 664 BC)

The next 400 years – popularly known as the Third Intermediate Period – saw significant changes in Egyptian politics, society and culture. Centralized government under the 21st dynasty pharaohs declined and gave way to the resurgence of local officials, while foreigners from Nubia and Libya seized power for themselves and left a lasting imprint on Egypt’s population. The 22nd dynasty commenced around 945 B.C. with King Sheshonq, a successor of Libyans who had invaded Egypt during the late 20th dynasty and settled there.

From the late period to Alexander’s conquest (664 BC – 332 BC)

Saite dynasty ruled a reunified Egypt for about two centuries. In 525 B.C., Cambyses, king of Persia, defeated the last Saite king, Psammetichus III, at the Battle of Pelusium, and Egypt became part of the Persian Empire. Rule of Persian rulers such as Darius (522-485 B.C.) was more or less similar to rule of native Egyptian kings: Darius supported Egypt’s religious cults and undertook the building and restoration of its temples. Native rulers overthrew Persians and took control of Egypt for some time but in the mid-fourth century B.C., the Persians again attacked Egypt, reviving their empire. A decade later, in 332 B.C Macedonian king Alexander the Great defeated the armies of the Persian Empire and conquered Egypt. After Alexander’s untimely death, Egypt was ruled by a line of Macedonian kings, beginning with Alexander’s general Ptolemy and continuing with his descendants.–The legendary Cleopatra VII– the last ruler of Ptolemaic Egypt surrendered Egypt to the armies of Octavian (later Augustus) in 31 B.C. Thus began Roman rule lasting six centuries, during which Christianity became the official religion of Rome and the Roman Empire’s provinces (including Egypt). The Arabian conquest of Egypt in the seventh century A.D. and the introduction of Islam ended last surviving aspects of ancient Egyptian culture.

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