PRE-DYNASTIC (late neolithic culture) 6,000 to 3,000 BC
Nagada I – 5,000 BC – Upper Egypt, spread from Abydos over all of Upper Egypt; reached Red Sea, first cataract and Libyan oasis. Nagada II – 4,000 BC to 3,500 BC – Trade and conflict with Lower Egypt; Hierakonopolis, in middle Egypt, tombs, murals and inscriptions. Nagada III – @ 3,000 BC – The Two Kingdoms, Upper and Lower Egypt, emerge. Upper Egypt: Nekhab (El Kab, near Edfu) central location. Lower Egypt: Buto (Tell el Farain, near Desouq) in the Delta. Period of struggle between North and South in which south claimed the victory; Narmer palette commemorates victory and unification.
EARLY DYNASTIC ERA 3,000 to 2705 BC
Dynasties I and II – Unification of the Two Kingdoms by Hor-Aha (Menes) with capital at Memphis; tombs at Sakkara and Abydos. These tombs are surrounded by the tombs of nobles and court officials killed at the same time. Little is known of the seven kings of the Ist Dynasty other than their names. During the IInd Dynasty, the political struggle centered around the divine sponsor of the king. Set replaced Horus for a few rulers, then returned to influence toward the end of the Dynasty.
OLD KINGDOM 2705 – 2155 BC
Dynasties III through VI – Pyramid Age. Characterized by highly organized central authority and advanced level of civilization:
Dynasty III – (2705 – 2575) – Age of Zoser and Imhotep, builders of the Stepped Pyramid at Sakkara. Formative period of Egyptian culture with many innovations; including building with stone, the artistic canon, medicine, the emergence of hieroglyphic writing, etc. Capital at Memphis; tombs at Giza, Sakkara and Abydos.
Dynasty IV – (2575 – 2465) – Golden Age of Pyramids. Sneferu, Khufu, Rajedef, Khafra, and Men-kau-Ra all built major pyramid complexes. Shepseskaf, went back to a mastaba tomb at Sakkara to end the Dynasty.
Giza, Abu Roash, Sakkara, Dashur, Meidum, Memphis major sites. Dynasty V – (2465 – 2323) – Political ascendancy of the priests of Heliopolis; Kings become the “Sons of Ra.” Tombs in Abydos, Giza, Sakkara; temples and monuments at Heliopolis, Abu Gurab, Abu Sir; pyramids at Abu Sir and Sakkara. Unas, last of the Vth, introduces a burial chamber with inscriptions, a style which continued into the VIth Dynasty, at Sakkara. Dynasty VI – (2323 – 2150) – Relaxation of central authority; the nobles increase their power. Local cemeteries for these nobles are found in each of the ancient nomarchies, such as Thebes, Edfu, Aswan, Hierakonopolis, etc. Kings still built pyramids and tomb complexes at Sakkara, as did many of the nobles. Long reign of Pepi II, 94 years, brought on complete collapse of central government.
FIRST INTERMEDIATE PERIOD 2134 -2040
Dynasties VII through X reflect the internal chaos of the period. The VIIth was little more than a coalition of Memphite nobles struggling to maintain some kind of central authority. The VIIIth managed to control the general area around Memphis, as far south as Coptos, and one king, Ibi, erected a pyramid at Sakkara. IXth and Xth were confederations of nomes around Heracleopolis in Middle Egypt; the XIth saw the rise of Thebes. Tombs at Sakkara and local necropolis.
The Middle Kingdom 2040 – 1783 BC
Dynasties XI and XII restored the central authority, based on Thebes, and resumed a high level of civilization.
Dynasty XI (2040-1991) – Mentuhotep II (2061-2010) created a basic renaissance of the Egyptian culture by re-unifying the Two Lands and returning to the Old Kingdom canon of art. After taking the Horus-name of Smataui, “He-who-unites,” Mentuhotep II moved the capital to Thebes, (which replaced the older nome capital of Hierakonopolis) and built his tomb at Deir el-Bahri, on the west bank of Thebes. Expeditions to Punt, through Waddi Hammamat, were re-instituted.
Dynasty XII (1991-1783) – Amon-em-het (1991-1962) became Pharaoh after asuccessful overseas expedition; capital moved to Itj-towy, south of memphis near the entrance to the Fayyum; tombs and pyramids at Itj-towy, Dashur, el-Lahun, El-Lisht, Beni Hasan, El Beresh, Aswan, Beni Suef and Hawara; period of increasing central authority. Nomes and nomarchs are re-organized, foreign trade, etc, encouraged; borders in the Delta fortified against eastern nomads and southern border extended to the second cataract. Dynasty and Middle Kingdom ends with first great Egyptian Queen, Neferu-sobek, (1787-1783).
SECOND INTERMEDIATE PERIOD 1783-1532 BC
Five Dynasties in this second period of political instability; three are native Egyptian and two are Hyksos, “Princes of Foreign Lands” who seized control of the Delta and then extended their power up the Nile. Some building activity was undertaken and the level of artistic standards did not fall as low as the first intermediate period.
Dynasty XIII & XIV – Centralized government continues to function in spite of a rapid turnover of Kings. Capital remains in north, Itj-toway and Memphis; south begins to drift away. XIVth Dynasty, perhaps contemporaneous with XIIIth, ruled western delta and desert from the nome of Xois until conquered by the Hyksos.
Dynasty XV & XVI – The Hyksos, about 1720, established an independent regime at Avaris, near Tanis and Qantir in the Delta, with Set as its god. This line of rulers, the XVth, continued until about 1670. The XVIth Dynasty seems to be a minor ruling nobility from which High Kings were sometimes chosen, giving the impression that XVth and XVIth are just two components of the same dynastic system. The Hyksos are also known from their dealings with other regions in Asia, such as Crete, Palestine and Saudi Arabia. Six High Kings can be identified as Hyksos rulers, one of whom, Ausar-ra Sutekh, ruled for 40 years.
Dynasty XVII – Upper Egypt’s growing independence during the XIIIth Dynasty resulted in a new Dynasty, the XVIIth, which emerged around 1650. Traditionally divided into two groups, the first of which preserved Middle Kingdom titles and culture, but co-existed with the Hyksos. The second group, beginning with Nubkheperre Inyotef, asserted its claim to the whole of Egypt, which brought them into conflict with the Hyksos. Kamose, last king of the XVIIth dynasty, brought the war to the very gates of Avaris. His son Amose completed the conquest in 1567 BC and founded the XVIIIth Dynasty. Tombs on west bank of Thebes, Edfu and Abydos; some temples and structures at Karnak.
NEW KINGDOM 1550-1070
The Egyptian Empire, Dynasties XVIII- XX, is considered by many to be the high point of Egyptian civilization. A renaissance, based on Middle Kingdom canons, erupted with a flourish of sculpture and temples, and beautiful elaborate tombs in the Valley of the Kings and Queens on the west bank at Thebes.
Dynasty XVIII – (1550-1307) Amose I conquered the last Hyksos stronghold in Egypt, Avaris, then pursued the Hyksos to their base in southern Palestine and destroyed them. Egypt became a military power in the ancient world. Amenhotep I and Tutmose I completed this process, creating the vast Empire stretching from the swamps of Mesopotamia to the Horns of Africa, the mountains of Ethiopia. Monuments, temples and tombs at Thebes, Edfu and El Kab. Tutmose I was the first king to build his tomb in the Valley of the Kings, which would become the royal necropolis of the New Kingdom Pharaohs. Tutmose II, married to the daughter of Tutmose I and his half-brother, died young. His son Tutmose III was superceded by his step-mother, Hatshepsut, who ruled in her own right for about twenty years. Temples at Karnak and tomb complex at Deir el-Bahari. In the twenty first year of his reign, Tutmose III regained control and embarked on a great campaign of conquest that put the Empire on a firm political basis. This prosperity led to a dramatic increase in artistic activity and temple renovation and building; Karnak, Luxor, many west bank sites including tombs in Valley of Kings. Succeeded by Amenhotep II, who solidified the conquests of the empire, and under Tutmose IV, whose stele at the Sphinx tells of the growing influence of Heliopolis, the Empire reached its zenith. Amenhotep III inherited a vast and wealthy empire at peace, both internally and externally. He used this prosperity to accomplish an amazing building program at Karnak and Luxor. Thebes became “The City” the wonder of the ancient world, and the west bank necropolis rivaled Giza and Sakkara. Amenhotep IV, (Akhenaton) moved the capital down river to the new city, “The Horizon of the Aton,” at Tell el Amarna. Tombs of both the royal family and key nobles were built in that locality as well as the west bank at Thebes. Smenkare, Amenhotep IV’s son or younger brother, ruled briefly, as did Tutankhamen, before the capital was moved back to Thebes. Tutankamen was buried in the Valley of the Kings. The last two kings of the XVIIIth dynasty, were the aged statesman Ay, and the General Horemheb, who built his tomb at Sakkara. Horemheb restored order in the empire, which had degenerated during Amenhotep IV’s mystical preoccupations, but the dynasty had collapsed.
Dynasty XIX – (1307-1196) Horemheb, who was not a member of the royal family of the XVIIIth Dynasty, groomed the prince of a powerful Delta family to be the next king. Rameses I ruled for a short time, and his son Seti I completed the restoration of Egypt’s authority; much construction was done at Karnak, on the west bank of Thebes and at Abydos. Rameses II, called “The Great,” succeeded Seti I in 1290 BC to begin a 66 year reign. The early years of this reign were spent settling external affairs and rebuilding the Empire. Finished Seti I’s temple at Abydos, Luxor Temple, started by Amenhotep III, the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak and the rock temples of Abu Simbel, as well as temples on west bank at Thebes and tombs in the Valley of Kings and Valley of Queens. Built or re-built temples in all the ancient sacred centers and moved capital to Pi-Rameses in the Delta; Thebes remained religious and administrative center.
Rameses II was succeeded by one of his many sons, Menerptah, who assumed the throne at an advanced age. Menerptah fought off an invasion from Libya, but his son, Seti II, another aged ruler, accomplished little. The latter part of the XIXth dynasty is confused; the reigns of Amonmesse, Si-Ptah and Queen Twosert overlap in a tangle of intrigue and treachery, leaving mostly tombs and scattered monuments to tell the story.
Dynasty XX – (1196-1070) Around 1196, the confusion ended with the assumption of power by the non-royal adventurer Setnakht, founding the XXth Dynasty. After a short reign, he was succeeded by his son, the last great king of Imperial Egypt, Rameses III. In his reign, the Empire re-gained some of its glory and part of its territory. After three early victories against both Libyans and “Sea Peoples,” Rameses III concentrated on trade and building projects at Karnak, tombs in the Valley of Kings and his vast mortuary temple at Medinet Habu, which became the administrative center of the whole Theban necropolis in the latter part of the XXth Dynasty. Rameses III ruled for 31 years, and died a grisly death by black magic and treachery. The next eight Kings, all Rameses of one kind or another, are a dreary collection of failures. The empire shrank and decayed, the tombs of the west bank were looted and little new building or major repairs were undertaken. During the last years of Rameses XI, power was divided between Heruhor, High Priest of Amon at Thebes, and Smendes, vizier of Lower Egypt at Tanis in the Delta.
THIRD INTERMEDIATE PERIOD (1070-657)
Dynasties XXI – XXV – Period of anarchy and foreign conquest.
Smendes became the first ruler of the XXIst Dynasty.
Dynasty XXI – XXV (1070-657) Thebes retained its autonomy under the descendants of Heruhor, who solved the tomb robbery problem by hiding the remaining royal mummies. The kingship was passed back and forth between Tanis and Thebes until about 950 BC, when the descendants of the Libyans, defeated by Rameses III and settled as colonists in the Delta, emerged as the XXIInd Dynasty (945-712). Sheshank I, a general under the last king of the XXIst Dynasty, seized power in the Delta and tried to unify the country by appointing his son High Priest of Amon. This worked until the mid 830’s when Thebes joined with Nubia to create the XXIIIrd Dynasty (828-712). The rest of the XXIInd and XXIIIrd Dynasties were contemporary. A brief XXIVth Dynasty (724-712) emerged around Sais, but was conquered by the nubian XXVth Dynasty (712-657) which ruled from Thebes as ‘kings of all Egypt and Kush.’ Taharqa in particular built extensively at Napata, fourth cataract, including pyramid tombs. He was defeated by the Assyrians under Asshurbanipal in 671, but his son Tanutamon briefly reconquered Egypt. Asshurbanipal returned and sacked Thebes, around 660 BC, ending forever its influence in Egyptian history. The Nubians moved their capital even further south to Meroe and continued a kind of Egyptian culture of their own.
LATE PERIOD 664-332 BC
One last flourish of Egyptian culture before the end of Egyptian born rulers. Long decline as part the various Empires of the late ancient world. Dynasty XXVI (664-525) – The Assyrians left Necho, a prince of Sais perhaps connected to the brief XXIVth Dynasty, in charge of Egypt. His son Psamtik I became the first of the XXVIth Dynasty rulers, with the capital at Sais. A revival of New Kingdom culture in an imitative manner, tombs at Sakkara and some rebuilding work at Thebes and Karnak. Struggles went on with Assyria’s successor, Babylon, mostly conducted with Greek mercenaries who had settled in the Delta in large numbers. The decline of Babylon left the last two rulers of the XXVIth, Amasis and Psamtik III, in relative peace.
Dynasty XXVII (525-404) The Persian conquest, first by Cambyses in 525 BC and then annexation into the Persian Empire.
Dynasties XXVIII – XXX (404-332) Feeble native Egyptian rulers struggled against the Persian Empire, including Nepherites’ treaty (XXIXth Dynasty) with the Spartans and other uses of the Greek states as a balance of power against the Persians. Nectanebo I, founder of the XXXth Dynasty, defeated a Persian invasion and bought Egypt 40 years of relative peace. The Persians re-conquered Egypt just before their own collapse in the face of Alexander’s war machine. Various Delta capitals, tombs at Sakkara, Tanis and Sais.
PTOLEMAIC PERIOD 332 -30 BC
Egypt became a province of the Macedonian Empire after its conquest by Alexander. In 323, Alexander died and Ptolemy Lagus became the satrap of an increasingly independent Egypt. Ptolemy, taking the additional name Soter, “Saviour,” became king of Egypt in 305. Capital at Alexandria, new center of Egypto-Greek culture. Ptolemaic Dynasty attempted to unify the Two Lands by adopting Egyptian titles and religion, rebuilding and restoring the ancient temple sites, such as Dendera, Edfu Kom Ombo and Philae. Ptolemy V Epiphanes, whose decree is found on the Rosetta Stone, was a great benefactor to the Egyptian religion. By Ptolemy XII Auletes, Egypt had become dependent on Roman power. The Ptolemaic Dynasty ended with the death of Cleopatra and Caesarion in 30 BC.