Ancient Egypt’s history includes political struggles, engineering marvels, advancements in writing and art, and more.
For more than 3,000 years, North Africa’s ancient Egypt was one of the most powerful and important civilizations in the region. Researchers are still delving into the trove of artifacts and documents that were left behind by the civilization.
However, Egyptian culture has been around for a long time and thrived ever since this time period. Even though Egypt’s dynasties have ruled throughout the millennia, its language, writing, climate, religion and borders have all changed, the country still remains today.
Ancient Egypt was a global trading post, importing and exporting goods, religions, food, people, and ideas from all over the world. In the past, ancient Egypt reigned over territories that are now Sudan, Cyprus, Lebanon and Syria as well as Israel and Palestine.
Ancient Egyptians were also occupied by the Persians, Nubians, Greeks, and the Romans at various times.
Egypt was referred to by a variety of names. Egypt’s old name was “Kemet,” which translates to “black country,” and was popular among the ancient Egyptians. August’s nutrient-rich soil is often believed to have inspired the name of this region of Egypt.
Egypt relied on the fertile soil provided by the Nile’s annual flooding, which occurred between June and August, to sustain itself. The mummification of Tutankhamun’s penis is just one indication of the importance of fertility in Egyptian rites and beliefs.
According to an Egyptology expert at the University of Toronto, the country’s ancient pharaohs are known to today as “pharaohs,” but in ancient times they each had their own title, which included a number of names (Society of Biblical Literature, 2013). According to Leprohon, “per-aa,” which means “the Great House,” is the root of the Egyptian term “pharaoh.” During the reign of Thutmose III (approximately. 1479 to 1425 B.C.), Leprohon said, the name was first used as a regal title.
We don’t know exactly when the first early hominids started showing up in Egypt. Modern humans first left Africa about 100,000 years ago, over 2 million years after the earliest known migration of hominids. In some of these migrations, Egypt may have served as a gateway to Asia.
Around 7,000 years ago, Egypt began to see the rise of farming communities. Live Science earlier revealed that the earliest known written inscriptions in the civilization stretch back roughly 5,200 years and contain information about Egypt’s early rulers. The inscriptions attribute the founding of Egypt’s capital city, Memphis, to Iry-Hor, one of Egypt’s earliest rulers. Sometime in the late predynastic period, an inscription mentions a queen named Neith-Hotep who served as regent to a child pharaoh named Djer.
Archaeologists and historians disagree over how and when ancient Egypt was united into one kingdom. Upper and Lower Egypt may have formed as the result of the union of several lesser entities that came to be known as the Kingdoms of Egypt. A pharaoh’s crown was sometimes represented with two crowns, one for Lower Egypt and the other for Upper Egypt, after the conquest of Egypt.
Prehistoric Egypt’s climate was much more humid than it is now, and parts of the country that are currently arid were once lush green mesas. The “cave of swimmers,” as it is known now, is located on the Gilf Kebir plateau in southwest Egypt and is a well-known archaeological monument. Despite the fact that kilometers of arid desert currently surround the cave, rock art found inside depicts what some researchers believe to be people swimming. Scholars aren’t sure exactly when the rock art was made, but they do believe it dates back to prehistoric times.
EGYPT’S 30 DYNASTIES
Thirty (or occasionally 31) dynasties have generally been recognized in the history of ancient Egypt. As early as the 3rd century B.C., the Egyptian priest Manetho began this practice. It was only after the 19th century that hieroglyphic writing could be decoded that historians were able to study his tales of ancient Egyptian history, which were preserved by ancient Greek writers.
Many modern researchers divide these dynasties into eras. Early Dynastic or “Archaic” refers to the 5,000-year span between the beginnings of Dynasties 1 and 2.
Menes I was the first pharaoh of the first dynasty (or Narmer, as he is called in Greek). Archaeological evidence reveals that he was not the first pharaoh of a unified Egypt, despite the fact that he lived more than 5,000 years ago. An earlier emperor, such as Djer or Iry-Hor (as Live Science previously reported), was determined to have been in power before Menes, according to newly discovered texts and other evidence. A “dynasty zero” is occasionally used to refer to these pre-Menes kings.
In modern scholarship, the “Old Kingdom” refers to the period between 2650 and 2150 B.C., which includes dynasties three through six. When pyramid-building techniques advanced throughout this period, the Giza Pyramids were constructed. Archaeological evidence suggests that groups of skilled workers—sometimes referred to as work gangs—were instrumental in the building of Egypt’s pyramids and other constructions.
The central government in Egypt was weak from 2150 B.C. to 2030 B.C. (including dynasties seven to ten and part of eleven), and the kingdom was frequently ruled by regional chiefs. Researchers are debating whether drought and climate change played a part in the demise of the Old Kingdom. Archaeological evidence shows that a period of drought and arid environment affected sites all over the Middle East during this time, as did towns and civilizations there.
Scholars refer to the 12th, 13th, and part of the 11th dynasty as the “Middle Kingdom,” which lasted from around 2030 B.C. to 1640 B.C., as the “Middle Kingdom.” During the reign of Mentuhotep II (who reigned around 2000 B.C.), the entire land was reclaimed. In Egypt, the building of pyramids restarted, and a large number of works of literature and science were written during this period.. The Edwin Smith surgical papyrus is one of the surviving documents, and it contains a number of medical procedures that modern doctors have lauded as remarkable for their day.
Modern historians generally refer to dynasties 14 to 17 as the “Second Intermediate Period,” which includes the dynasties from 14 to 17. After a second collapse of Egypt’s central government, the “Hyksos” seized control of much of the country’s north during this period. Research indicates that the Hyksos were already in Egypt at the time of the fall of the Egyptian government. The discovery of a series of severed hands at a palace in Avaris, the capital of Hyksos-controlled Egypt, is one horrible find from this time period. In exchange for cash, troops may have handed the severed hands to the ruler.
“New Kingdom” refers to the time between 1550 and 1070 B.C. that encompasses dynasties 18 through 20 of the Ptolemaic period. During this period, Egypt was unified when the Hyksos were conquered by a succession of Egyptian monarchs. The Valley of the Kings, which contains the burial sites of numerous Egyptian rulers from the New Kingdom, including Tutankhamun (ruled roughly 1336 to 1327 B.C.), whose sumptuous tomb was discovered complete in1922. Pharaohs put an end to the construction of pyramids during the New Kingdom in order to better protect their tombs from looters.
Modern-day scholars generally refer to the period between the 21st and 24th dynasties as the “Third Intermediate Period.” During this historical period, the central authority was often weak and the country was not always united. People from the Aegean, known today as “Sea Peoples,” ravaged the Middle East during this period, destroying cities and civilizations. In spite of Egyptian leaders’ claims of victory in battle, the civilization of Egypt collapsed. Egypt’s central authority may have been weakened as a result of the loss of commercial channels and revenue.
Scholars commonly refer to the dynasties 25 to 31 (which spanned from from 712 to 332 B.C.) as the “Late Period.”. During this period, Egypt was sometimes ruled by foreign nations. The monarchs of the 25th dynasty came from Nubia, a region in modern-day Egypt and Sudan. During the Late Period, Egypt was also ruled by the Persians and Assyrians.
Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 B.C. and incorporated it into the Macedonian Empire, driving the Persians out of the land. Alexander’s general, Ptolemy Soter, was one of the monarchs who took control after Alexander’s death. Cleopatra VII, the last of the so-called “Ptolemaic” rulers, committed herself in 30 B.C. after her armies were defeated by Octavian, who would go on to be known as Roman emperor Augustus, at the Battle of Actium. Egypt became part of the Roman Empire after her death.
Roman emperors were revered by the Egyptians even though they were located in Rome. The emperor Claudius (A.D. 41 to 54) is shown as a pharaoh in an excavated carving, according to Live Science. “King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Lord of Two Lands,” says the carving’s Egyptian inscriptions, referring to Claudius as “Son Ra, Lord of Crowns.”
The Ptolemaic and Roman dynasties are not numbered dynasties.
A polytheistic religion was practiced by Egyptians for the most of their ancient history, in which many gods and goddesses were worshipped. Osiris, the Egyptian deity of death, was a major figure. Many temples and shrines were built in his honor in Abydos, which was an important worship center.
In the New Kingdom, the god Amun-Ra (sun god) grew in importance and was connected with the city of Luxor (ancient Thebes). In honor of this god, the Karnak Temple complex was erected near Luxor.
Egyptians thought that the dead could achieve a paradise-like state in the underworld, where they would be able to spend eternity. It was common in ancient Egypt for the deceased to be preserved via mummification and buried with spells to help them in the afterlife. A 13-foot-long (4-meter-long) copy of the “Book of the Dead” was recently discovered in an old burial pit, according to Live Science.
The feather of Maat, a god of truth, justice, and order, was used in ancient Egyptian mythology as the first step in crossing the underworld. A person’s heart would feel heavier than a feather if they had done a large deal of harm, and their soul would be wiped clean. In other words, if their deeds were generally beneficial, they were allowed to progress and make it through the underworld successfully.
Shabti (death-related figurines) were often buried beside the deceased. Their mission was to carry out the tasks assigned to them by the departed in the afterlife.
Egypt’s religion evolved over time, not remaining the same. Egypt’s religious revolution was spearheaded by Pharaoh Akhenaten (approximately 1353 to 1335 B.C.), who introduced the concept of “Aten,” the sun disk, into Egypt’s cult. During Akhenaten’s reign, he erected a new city in Egypt’s desert and defiled the names of some of Egypt’s deities. Akhenaten’s son Tutankhamun renounced his father’s polytheistic beliefs after his death.
Greek and Roman gods and goddesses were adopted into Egyptian religion when Egypt was ruled by these two nations. Christianity swept over Egypt in the first century A.D., causing another dramatic shift. A vast collection of Gnostic literature was discovered in southern Egypt in 1945, near the city of Nag Hammadi, as Gnosticism, a religion that integrated some Christian doctrines, expanded throughout Egypt at this period.
After the capture of the country by a Muslim army in A.D. 641, Islam spread throughout the country. The majority of Egyptians are Muslims, although there is a sizable Christian population, many of whom are members of the Coptic Church.
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