Timeline for the Ancient Egyptian Empire

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Egypt was an enormous kingdom of the ancient world. It was unified around 3100 B.C.E. and lasted as a leading economic and cultural influence throughout North Africa and parts of the Levant until it was conquered by the Macedonians in 332 B.C.E. [1] For almost 30 centuries, ancient Egypt was a well-known civilization in the Mediterranean world. From the prodigious pyramids of the Old Kingdom to the military conquest of the New Kingdom, the majesty of Egypt has long entranced archaeologists and historians. With this, it had established a vibrant field of study all its own, which is called Egyptology.[2]

If you are wondering about the events that occurred in ancient Egypt, we are here to help you. Below is a timeline that shows the dates, periods, dynasties, and vital events in the history of ancient Egypt. It includes the Predynastic Period to the end of the Roman Period.

Timeline for the Ancient Egyptian Empire

Source: https://australian.museum/learn/cultures/international-collection/ancient-egyptian/ancient-egyptian-timeline/

The Predynastic Period

There were only a few written records or artifacts that have been found from the Predynastic Period, which included at least 2,000 years of the slow development of the Egyptian civilization. Neolithic or late Stone Age societies in northeast Africa replaced hunting for agriculture and made early developments that gave way for the later development of Egyptian arts and crafts, politics, religion, and technology. These included a great reverence for the dead and possibly a belief in life after death.

Around 3400 B.C.E., there were two separate kingdoms that were established near the Fertile Crescent. It was an area home to some of the oldest civilizations in the world. The Red Land to the north was based in the Nile River Delta and extended along the Nile, perhaps to Atfih. The White Land in the south, on the other hand, stretched from Atfih to Gebel es-Silsila. Scorpion, a southern king, made the first attempts to conquer the northern kingdom around 3200 B.C.E. King Menes, after a century, would subdue the north and unify the country, becoming the first king of the first dynasty.[2]

Archaic or Early Dynastic Period

The capital of ancient Egypt was founded by King Menes at White Walls, which was eventually identified as Memphis, in the north, close to the summit of the Nile River Delta. The capital grew into a great megapolis that conquered Egyptian society during the Old Kingdom period. The progress of the foundations of Egyptian society was seen in the Archaic Period, including all the essential ideologies of kingship. The king was a godlike being to the ancient Egyptians, closely identified with the all-powerful god Horus. In addition to that, the earliest known hieroglyphic writing also dates to the Archaic Period.

In this period, like in all other periods, most ancient Egyptians were farmers that lived in small villages. The economic base of the Egyptian state was formed by agriculture, which was largely wheat and barley. The needed irrigation and fertilization were provided by the annual flooding of the great Nile River. The wheat was sowed by farmers after the flooding receded and harvested before the dry and hot season returned.[2]

The Old Kingdom

Dynasties three to six date from around 2630 – 2181 B.C.E. and are usually congregated together into a time period referred to as the “Old Kingdom” by contemporary scholars. During these times, pyramid-building techniques were established, and the pyramids of Giza were created.[4] Around 2630 B.C.E., King Djoser of the third dynasty requested architect, priest, and healer Imhotep to design a funerary monument for him. It gave rise to the world’s first major stone building, which was the Step-Pyramid at Saqqara, near Memphis.[2]

the pyramids of Giza

With the building of the Great Pyramid at Giza, on the borders of Cairo, Egyptian pyramid-building reached its peak. The pyramid was built for Khufu, who ruled from 2580 to 2566 B.C.E. Later on, it was named by classical historians as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. According to Herodotus, an ancient Greek historian, it took an estimated 100,000 men and 20 years to build it. In addition to that, there were two other pyramids that were built at Giza for the successors of Khufu, Khafra (2558-2532 B.C.E.) and Menkaura (2532-2503 B.C.E.).

In the third and fourth dynasties, a golden age of peace and prosperity was enjoyed by Egypt. The pharaohs provided a stable central government and held absolute power. There were no serious threats faced by the kingdom from abroad, and the successful military campaigns in foreign countries such as Nubia and Libya added to the economic prosperity of ancient Egypt.

During the fifth and sixth dynasties, the prosperity of the king was exhausted steadily. This was partly because of the big expense of pyramid-building. With this, his total power wavered in the face of the growing impact of the nobleness and the calling that grew up around the sun god Ra. After the death of King Pepi II of the sixth dynasty, who ruled for around 94 years, the Old Kingdom period finished in chaos.[2]

First Intermediate Period

illustration of ancient Egyptians

On the collapse of the Old Kingdom, the seventh and eighth dynasties comprised a rapid succession of Memphis-based rulers until around 2160 B.C.E., when the central authority dissolved completely, which led to a civil war between provincial governors. This disordered circumstance was deepened by Bedouin assaults along with famine and disease.

Two different kingdoms appeared in this era of conflict. One was a line of 17 rulers, which were dynasties nine and ten, based in Heracleopolis. It ruled Middle Egypt between Memphis and Thebes. On the other hand, another family of rulers arose in Thebes to challenge Heracleopolitan power. The Theban prince Mentuhotep succeeded in toppling Heracleopolis around 2055 B.C.E. and reunited Egypt, starting the 11th dynasty and ending the First Intermediate Period.[2]

The Middle Kingdom

The twelfth, thirteenth, and part of the eleventh dynasties are often referred to as the “Middle Kingdom” by scholars. It lasted from around 2030 to 1640 B.C.E. A ruler named Mentuhotep II, who reigned until around 2000 B.C.E., regained control of the whole country at the start of this dynasty.[4]

After the last leader of the 11th dynasty, Mentuhotep IV, was killed, the throne was passed to his vizier or chief minister, King Amenemhet I, the founder of the twelfth dynasty. After that, a new capital was established at It-towy, south of Memphis. Thebes, on the other hand, remained a great religious center. Egypt flourished once again during the Middle Kingdom as it had during the Old Kingdom. The smooth succession of their line was ensured by the twelfth dynasty kings by making each successor co-regent. This was a custom that started with Amenemhet I.

a Bedouin by the pyramids

The Middle Kingdom Egypt hunted an aggressive foreign policy. Nubia was occupied with its rich supply of gold, ivory, ebony, and other resources. The Bedouins who had penetrated Egypt during the First Intermediate Period were deterred. Trade relations with Palestine, Syria and additional countries were also built by the kingdom. It undertook building projects, including military fortresses and mining quarries. In addition to that, it also returned to pyramid-building, following the tradition of the Old Kingdom.

The peak of the Middle Kingdom was reached under Amenemhet III (1842-1797 B.C.E.). However, its decline started under Amenemhet IV (1798-1790 B.C.E.) and continued under his sister and regent, Queen Sobekneferu (1789-1786 B.C.E.), who was the first female ruler of Egypt and the last ruler of the twelfth dynasty.[2]

Second Intermediate Period

Sphinx with the portrait of a Hyksos barbarian king preserved in Tanis

Dynasties fourteen to seventeen are grouped together as the Second Intermediate Period by scholars. In these times, the central government of ancient Egypt collapsed again, and a group called the “Hyksos” became powerful, controlling much of northern Egypt.[4]

The thirteenth dynasty was the start of another disconcerted period in the history of ancient Egypt. During these times, a hasty succession of kings failed to unite power. During the Second Intermediate Period, as a consequence, Egypt was separated into more than a few spheres of influence. The authorized royal court and seat of government were moved to Thebes. The fourteenth dynasty, which was a rival dynasty, on the other hand, centered on the city of Xois in the Nile Delta and seems to have existed at the same time as the thirteenth dynasty.

The Hyksos, a line of foreign rulers, took advantage of the instability of Egypt to take control around 1650 B.C.E. The Hyksos rulers of the fifteenth dynasty adopted and continued a lot of the existing traditions in the government and culture of Egypt. They ruled alongside the line of native Theban rulers of the seventeenth dynasty, who retained control over most of southern Egypt, even though they needed to pay taxes to the Hyksos. However, the conflict eventually flared between the two groups. Around 1570, the Thebans launched a war against the Hyksos, driving them out of Egypt.[2]

New Kingdom

The dynasties eighteen to twenty are encompassed in the New Kingdom. It was a period that lasted around 1550 to 1070 B.C.E. This period occurred after the Hyksos were defeated by a series of Egyptian rulers and the country reunited.[4]

Egypt was once again reunited under the first king of the eighteenth dynasty, Ahmose I. During this dynasty, the control of Egypt over Nubia was restored, and military campaigns in Palestine started, clashing with other powers in the area, such as the Mitannians and the Hittites. The country continued to establish the first great empire in the world, stretching from Nubia to the Euphrates River in Asia.

mortuary temple of Hatshepsut

Aside from the powerful kings like Amenhotep I (1546-1526 B.C.E.), Thutmose I (1525-1512 B.C.E.), and Amenhotep III (1417-1379 B.C.E.), the New Kingdom was popular for the role of royal women like Queen Hatshepsut (1503-1482 B.C.E.) She started ruling as a regent for her young stepson, who later became Thutmose III, which was the greatest military hero of Egypt but rose to exercise all the supremacies of a pharaoh.

Amenhotep IV (1379-1362 B.C.E.) of the late eighteenth century was controversial as he undertook religious upheaval, ending the priesthoods dedicated to Amon-Re, which was a blend of Amon, the local Theban god, and the sun god Re, and imposing the special worship of another sun-god, Aton. He renamed himself Akhenaton, which meant servant of the Aton. He then built a new capital in Middle Egypt referred to as Akhetaton and later on known as Amarna. When he died, the capital returned to Thebes, and Egyptians went back to worshipping a multitude of gods.

The Ramesside period, which comprised the nineteenth and twentieth dynasties, saw the renewal of the deteriorated Egyptian empire and a remarkable amount of building, which included the great temples and cities. Based on biblical chronology, the exodus of Moses and the Israelites from Egypt possibly happened during the reign of Ramses II from 1307 to 1237 B.C.E.

hieroglyphs at the pharaoh tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt

All of the rulers of the New Kingdom were placed to rest in deep, rock-cut tombs and not in pyramids in the Valley of the Kings, a funeral site on the west bank of the Nile opposite Thebes, with the exclusion of Akhenaton. In 1922 A.D., most of them were invaded and demolished, with the exception of the tomb and treasure of Tutankhamen (1361-1352 B.C.E.), and were discovered mostly intact. The mortuary temple of Ramses III, the last great king of the twentieth dynasty, was also fairly well-preserved and showed the affluence that Egypt still enjoyed during his supremacy.

The kings that followed Ramses III were all less successful. The provinces of Egypt were gone to Palestine and Syria for good. It also suffered foreign incursions, popularly by the Libyans, along with its wealth being gradually and unavoidably exhausted.[2]

Third Intermediate Period

Nubian pyramids in the Sahara desert

The following 400 years were known as the Third Intermediate Period. It was the era that saw the important changes in Egyptian politics, culture, and society. Centralized government under the twenty-first dynasty rulers gave way to the renaissance of local officials. Foreigners from Nubia and Libya, on the other hand, grabbed power for themselves and left a lasting mark on the population of Egypt.

Around 945 B.C.E., the twenty-second dynasty started with King Sheshonq, a successor of Libyans who had occupied Egypt during the late twentieth dynasty and settled there. A lot of local rulers were virtually autonomous during this era. The twenty-third and twenty-fourth dynasties were poorly documented.

During the 8th century B.C.E., Nubian pharaohs starting with Shabako, ruler of the Nubian kingdom of Kush, established their own dynasty, which was the twenty-fifth, at Thebes. Egypt clashed with the growing Assyrian empire under the Kushite rule. The Assyrian ruler Esarhaddon drove Taharka, the Kushite king, out of Memphis and destroyed the city in 671 B.C.E. After that, he selected his own rulers out of local governors and officials devoted to the Assyrians. Necho of Sais was one of them, who ruled shortly as the first king of the twenty-sixth dynasty before being killed by the Kushite leader Tanuatamun in a final unsuccessful grab for power.[2]

Late Period to Alexander’s Conquest

Persian Temple of Hibis at Kharga Oasis, Egypt

For less than centuries, starting with Necho’s son, Psammetichus, the Saite dynasty reigned a reunified Egypt. King of Persia, Cambyses, defeated Psammetichus III in 525 B.C.E. He was the last Saite King at the Battle of Pelusium. After this, Egypt became part of the Persian Empire. Persian rulers such as Darius ruled the country mainly under the same terms as native Egyptian kings. He reinforced Egypt’s religious cults and assumed the building and restoration of its temples.

The dictatorial rule of Xerxes sparked bigger rebellions under him and his successors. In 404 B.C.E., one of these rebellions prevailed, starting one last period of Egyptian independence under natural rulers, which were the dynasties twenty-eight to thirty. The Persians attacked Egypt again in the mid-fourth century B.C.E., reviving their empire under Artaxerxes III in 343 B.C.E. [2]

Ptolemaic Period

temple in Upper Egypt built during the Ptolemaic dynasty

In 332 B.C.E., which was around a decade later, Alexander the Great of Macedonia defeated the Persian Empire’s armies and conquered Egypt. After he died, Egypt was governed by a line of Macedonian kings, starting with the general Ptolemy of Alexander and continuing with his descendants. The legendary Cleopatra VII was the last ruler of Ptolemaic Egypt. She surrendered Egypt to the armies of Octavian, which was later Augustus, in 31 B.C.E. [2]

Roman Period

The events were followed by six centuries of Roman rule, wherein Christianity turned out to be Rome’s official religion, including the Roman Empire’s provinces and Egypt. The downfall of Egypt by the Arabs in the 7th century A.D. and the beginning of Islam would do away with the last apparent facets of ancient Egyptian culture and drive the country to its modern embodiment.[2]

References

[1] National Geographic Society, E. (2020). Ancient Egypt. National Geographic Society. Retrieved May 13, 2022, from https://www.nationalgeographic.org/topics/resource-library-ancient-egypt/?q=&page=1&per_page=25

[2] History.com, E. (2009, October 14). Ancient Egypt. History.com. Retrieved May 13, 2022, from https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/ancient-egypt

[3] Australian Museum. (2021, May 14). Ancient Egyptian timeline. The Australian Museum. Retrieved May 13, 2022, from https://australian.museum/learn/cultures/international-collection/ancient-egyptian/ancient-egyptian-timeline/

[4] Jarus, O. (2021, December 15). Ancient Egypt: History, dynasties, religion and writing. LiveScience. Retrieved May 13, 2022, from https://www.livescience.com/55578-egyptian-civilization.html

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