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A
Brief
History

I have had to rely on the accounts given to me by the Egyptians and their priests. They have told me that 341 generations separate the first King of Egypt from the last and that there was one King and one High Priest to each generation. Reckoning three generations as a century ... a total of 11,340 years.
Herodotus, Book II, 142

he civilization of Ancient Egypt is one of the oldest in the world and began more than 5000 years ago. It lasted for over 3000 years.

Tutankhamun

Stone age hunters in search of new lands settled here and learnt how to tame animals and plant seeds and become farmers. The Ancient Egyptians were descended from these early hunters and at the peak of their civilization produced great works of art such as the golden death mask of the boy king Tutankhamun. Surrounded by desert it was only possible to farm the land because of the water provided by one of the world's greatest rivers - the Nile.

There is little rainfall in Egypt itself. In the summer, on the mountains of Ethiopia and Central Africa, snow melts and rain falls. This huge volume of water flows along the White Nile and the Blue Nile. Near Khartoum the two rivers join and the floodwater continues its journey north towards Egypt.

During July and August the Nile flooded its banks leaving rich deposits of silt on the edge of the valley. These deposits were very fertile and ready for cultivation. The crops grew in the spring and were harvested before the next flood. The Ancient Egyptians then devised a system of stone barrages to divert water into clay lined tanks. In this way water could be kept after the floods had finished and more crops could be grown.

In modern times the great dam at Aswan has made it possible to have even more control over the waters of the Nile. Now water does not just arrive in one flood period but can be supplied regularly along canals so that more than one crop a year can be grown.

Red Crown
And
White Crown

You, the people of the South and North, whose eyes can see the Sun,.... I am the herald, named by the king to hear your prayers and raise to the gods the affairs of the Two Countries.
Inscription in the Temple of Amun.

or a time Egypt was divided into two kingdoms - Upper and Lower Egypt. The King of Upper Egypt wore the White Crown and the King of Lower Egypt wore the Red Crown. After many years of bitter struggle between the kings of the two kingdoms the north was finally defeated around 3100 BC.

The Double Crown

King Menes, the King of Upper Egypt, had conquered Lower Egypt and so was born the title 'King of Upper and Lower Egypt'. The age of the 1st Dynasty had begun and a new capital city was built at Memphis. To signify a united Egypt the Pharaoh wore a crown that combined that of the south with the crown of the north.

This chart shows the different periods of Egyptian history. The important periods are the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms. The kings have been divided into Dynasties and this was done by a priest called Manetho in the 3rd century BC.

PeriodDateDynasties
Pre-dynastic    -2920BC 
Early Dynastic2920-2650BC1&2
Old Kingdom2650-2152BC3-6
1st Intermediate Period2152-1986BC7-10
Middle Kingdom2074-1759BC11&12
2nd Intermediate Period1759-1539BC13-17
New Kingdom1539-1069BC18-20
3rd Intermediate Period1070-715BC21-24
Late Period712-343BC25-30
Second Persian Period343-332BC31
Greek Period332-30BCPtolemic

The Step Pyramid

Beginning with the 3rd Dynasty the Old Kingdom was a time of prosperity and peace. During this period the great pyramids were built. The first was the step pyramid at Saqqara designed for King Djoser by an architect called Imhotep.

In the 4th Dynasty the pharaohs built what are now called 'true' pyramids. The most famous of these are The Great Pyramids at Giza. It was an age of great achievement in art, especially sculpture.

The Pyramids at Giza

By the 6th Dynasty the pharaohs had lost their influence over much of Egypt and local nobles began to take control. Wars broke out between local governors wanting to gain power.

The wars were brought to an end when a prince from Thebes, Mentuhotep, seized power and reunited the land. The period we call the Middle Kingdom now began. Again there was peace and prosperity with a lot of beautiful jewellry being made. Egypt extended her borders and conquered Northern Nubia to the south. A chain of fortresses was built to protect the new southern frontier and a new capital city was built at Faiyum.

Mentuhotep II

Eventually the power of the royal families declined once again and invasion by a people called the Hyksos followed. The Hyksos ruled for over a hundred years and introduced the horse and chariot to Egypt. Eventually a prince from Thebes named Kamose led a revolt and expelled them bringing about the start of the New Kingdom.

Queen Hatshepsut

During this period the Egyptians conquered a vast empire which they ruled from the new capital, Thebes. It wasn't only men who became Pharaoh. In 1473 BC Queen Hatshepsut seized power upon the death of her husband. She was succeeded by her nephew Tuthmosis III who was a great warrior and much of the empire was won during his reign.

Akhenaten and Aten-
the sun disc

The Egyptians worshipped many gods but King Amenhotep IV decided that there should be only one god, Aten. He even changed his own name to Akhenaten, which means 'Glory to Aten'. Everyone had to worship Aten and all other gods were removed from the temples. Akhenaten, and his wife Nefertiti, established a new capital at Amarna.

People preferred the old gods and after Akhenaten's death, mostly during the reign of Tutankhamun, things began to change back to the way they had been before. The capital was once again moved back to Thebes.

In the latter half of this period Egypt's enemies began to grow stronger. During his reign as king Ramses II was responsible for many magnificent buildings including the temple at Abu Simbel in Nubia. Later, Ramses III defended Egypt from a race known as The Sea People who came from the Mediterranean islands but the kingdom was already in decline.

Cleopatra VII

Attacked by many invaders Egypt was eventually lost to the rule of a Nubian family for one hundred years. Then in 664 BC Thebes was overrun by the Assyrians. Although they were driven out the Persians then conquered Egypt and made it part of the Persian Empire in 525 BC.

The Persians were much hated and when Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 BC he was welcomed by the Egyptians. When Alexander died one of his generals, Ptolemy, founded a new dynasty (now called the Ptolemic Dynasty) ruling from the city of Alexandria.

The last Ptolemy, Cleopatra, and her husband Mark Anthony, committed suicide after being defeated by the Romans. Egypt then became a Roman province.


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