Important Events in Ancient Egypt

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Giza Pyramids (Cairo, Egypt)
Giza Pyramids (Cairo, Egypt). Image credit: gloria_euyoque cc2.0
Giza Pyramids (Cairo, Egypt)
Giza Pyramids (Cairo, Egypt). Image credit: gloria_euyoque cc2.0

The dating of events in the history of Ancient Egypt is still being researched and debated. Its history is separated into different periods according the Dynasties of the pharaohs who ruled: e.g. Old Kingdom, First Intermediate Period, Middle Kingdom, etc.


1. Construction of the First Egyptian Pyramid

Step pyramid of King Djoser at Saqqara
Step pyramid of King Djoser at Saqqara by jay galvin cc2.0

The Step Pyramid at Saqqara was the first pyramid built in ancient Egypt. It was built for the Pharaoh Djoser, one of the pharaohs of the 3rd Dynasty. It was built for his burial by his vizier (a high official), Imhotep. Djoser’s step pyramid was different from preceding architecture. It was the first monumental structure made of stone. The step pyramid is different from the pyramids built later on, but it set the stage for the pyramids built afterward in the 4th, 5th and 6th Dynasties, including the Great Pyramid of Giza.




2. The Great Pyramid of Giza

Giza Pyramids (Cairo, Egypt)
Giza Pyramids (Cairo, Egypt). Image credit: gloria_euyoque cc2.0

At a height of 455 feet (139 meters) the Great Pyramid of Giza was the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3800 years, finally exceeded by the reputedly 520-foot (158-meter) spire of the Lincoln Cathedral in about 1300 AD. Built by the 4th Dynasty pharaoh Khufu, the Great Pyramid is also known as the Pyramid of Khufu or the Pyramid of Cheops. It is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and the only one remaining that is largely intact. It is said that the building of the Great Pyramid took 20 years and even today, archaeologists and others still debate the technology used by the ancient Egyptians to construct this wonder.


3. Collapse of the Old Kingdom

Old Kingdom of Egypt map
Old Kingdom of Egypt map. Author: SomeGuyWhoRandomlyEdits/CC0 Public Domain.

The period of Egyptian history from the 3rd to the 6th Dynasty is commonly regarded as the Old Kingdom (2686-2134 BC) and the royal capital during this period was Memphis. During the 6th Dynasty, the nomarchs (regional governors) became powerful, while the influence of the pharaohs gradually weakened. The decline of the Old Kingdom began and a period of civil war erupted in Egypt. The final impact was a severe drought, which followed decades of famine and strife and as a result, the Old Kingdom collapsed.


4. The Middle Kingdom

Ancient Egypt old and middle kingdom map
Ancient Egypt old and middle kingdom map. Author: RedTony/GFDL.

Roughly, a period of 200 years after the collapse of the Old Kingdom is known as the First Intermediate Period. This was a period of civil war in Egypt. After a series of battles between the rulers of Upper and Lower Egypt, these lands were reunited in around 2055 BC. The rulers of Upper Egypt won. With Mentuhotep II of the 11th Dynasty reigning as its first pharaoh, the Middle Kingdom began. The Middle Kingdom survived to the end of the 13th Dynasty. The pharaohs of this period were not as powerful as the ones of the Old Kingdom, when the Egyptians worshipped their pharaoh as a god. The pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom were thought of as just the “caretakers” of the people, while the nomarchs held the real power. After the prosperous reign of Amenemhat III, the power of the 12th Dynasty started to weaken and once again, the power of the central government began to decline.


5. Second Intermediate Period

Egypt Hyksos Period
The political situation in Egypt during the early Hyksos period (1650-1590 BC) in the midst of the second intermediate period (1800-1550 BC). Author: Iry-Hor/CC BY-SA 4.0

Egypt once again fell into disarray. The period between the end of the Middle Kingdom and the start of the New Kingdom is known as the Second Intermediate Period. This period is best known for the appearance of the Hyksos (Asian people) in Egypt. The Hyksos formed the 15th Dynasty of Egypt. They ruled the country for more than two centuries. The pharaoh Ahmose I from Thebes drove out the Hyksos.


6. The New Kingdom

Egypt, 1450 BC
New Kingdom at its maximum territorial extent in the 15th century BC. Author: Andrei nacu/CC BY-SA 3.0

The start of the 18th Dynasty and the New Kingdom began with the pharaoh Ahmose I. This period of Egyptian history is noted for its expansion of territory and for its rich architecture and art.


7. The Amarna Period

Amarna Map
Map of the ancient Near East during the Amarna period, showing the great powers of the period: Egypt (green), Hatti (yellow), the Kassite kingdom of Babylon (purple), Assyria (grey), and Mittani (red). Lighter areas show direct control, darker areas represent spheres of influence. The extent of the Achaean/Mycenaean civilization is shown in orange. Image licensed under GFDL.

For many centuries, ancient Egyptians believed in and worshipped more than one god. Pharaoh Amenhotep IV made a religious revolution when he discarded the polytheistic beliefs and established the worship of only one god, Aten (the Sun God). Together with his wife Nerfertiti, he closed down any temples that were not devoted to Aten. He even changed his name to Akhenaten. He built a new capital which, today, is known as Amarna. Many people did not want to follow the new beliefs, especially the priests. This revolution caused priests to lose their power. The Amarna Period ended after Akhenaten’s passing, when the nine-year-old boy king Tutankhamen was crowned. He re-established the old worship of multiple deities.


8. Reign of Ramses II

Ramesses II
A Closeup of a Ramesses II Colossus in Luxor Temple. Author: Than217/CC0 Public Domain.

Ramses the Great of the 19th Dynasty reigned for 67 years. He constructed many great temples, such as the Abu Simbel. He carried out battles to recover territories. He led the Egyptian armies to the Battle of Kadesh against the Hittite king Muwatalli II. During this battle, Ramses was caught in the first recorded military ambush in history. Ramses was also famous for siring more than 100 children by his many wives and concubines.


9. Alexander the Great Conquers Egypt

Alexander the Great
The detail of the Alexander Mosaic showing Alexander the Great. Author: Unknown/CC0 Public Domain.

The Nubians, and later the Persians, conquered Egypt. In 332 BC, Alexander III of Macedon (Alexander the Great) conquered Egypt with little resistance from the Persians. Alexander gained the favor of the Egyptians by the respect he showed to their religion. He found a new Greek city called Alexandria and made it the new capital. He was then able to harness Egypt’s wealth for his conquests of the rest of the Persian Empire.


10. The Ptolemaic Dynasty and the Last Queen of Egypt

Cleopatra's Statue
A marble statue of Cleopatra in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. Image credit: Kyle Rush/CC BY 2.0

After the death of Alexander the Great one of his generals, Ptolemy I, became his successor. He established the Ptolemaic Dynasty, which ruled Egypt for three centuries. The last member of the Ptolemaic Dynasty (and the last pharaoh of Egypt) was the famous Queen Cleopatra VII. Her suicide marked the end of the Ptolemaic Dynasty, and Egypt fell under the rule of Rome. The Romans introduced Christianity.




11. Egypt as an Islamic Nation

Cairo mosques
Historical and ancient mosques in Cairo. Author: ThutmoseIII/GFDL.

Around 642 AD, the Arabs seized Egypt and Alexandria. Egypt became an important part of the Islamic Empire. The Arabs brought Islam to Egypt and ever since then Egypt has been an Islamic nation.

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