Egypt has a very long and proud history, is a country that has always been a country for many thousands of years. Perhaps no other truly ancient nation (2,500 years old and over) has fascinated the West more than Egypt.
One of the most important things to understand about the history of Egypt is the importance of the Nile on its economy, identity, and religion. It is very helpful to have some understanding of the history of Egypt including an understanding of the religion and gods of Egypt before visiting so that one can get the most out of visiting.
The Background of Egyptian History
For over 3,000 years ancient Egypt was one of the most powerful and influential civilizations. This period of time can be thought of as from 3100 BC to 30 BC when it became a province of Rome (although for centuries before that it had been ruled by Greeks and Persians).
When people think of ancient Egypt, they normally think of the times before it was taken over by the Persians (or Achaemenids). Egypt's history can be broken up into the following periods.
- Prehistoric Egypt: Pre-3150 BC
- Ancient (Dynastic) Egypt: 3150 BC to 332 BC
- Grece-Roman Egypt: 332 BC to 629 AD
- Medieval Egypt: 641 AD to 1517 AD
- Early Modern Egypt: 1517 to 1914
- Late Modern Egypt: 1882 to Present
For this article, we will only be concerned about ancient dynastic Egypt from 3150 BC to 322 BC. It is also important to keep in mind that Egypt was closely connected with other parts of the world and in ancient times Egypt ruled territories in what is now Sudan, Cyprus, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and Palestine.
Ancient Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first king of the First Dynasty, Narmer/Menes. The Egyptians would mostly rule themselves from then until the 6th century after which they were ruled by successions of Empires.
The Old Kingdom Of Egypt
Broadly speaking the ancient dynastic period of Egypt is broken into three golden periods - the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom, and the New Kingdom with intermate periods.
- Early Dynastic Period: 3150 to 2686 BC
After ancient Egypt was unified by Pharaoh Menes/Narmer in 3150 BC, it began a series of dynasties that would rule Egypt for the next 3,000 years. After the early dynastic period, Egypt entered the Old Kingdom which spanned from around 2700–2200 BC.
- Period: Third Dynasty to the Sixth Dynasty (2686–2181 BC)
This was a golden age and is known as the "Age of the Pyramids" or the "Age of the Pyramid Builders." It was during this period that the great pyramids of Giza were built by the Pharaohs Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure.
The Old Kingdom is most commonly regarded as the period from the Third Dynasty to the Sixth Dynasty (2686–2181 BC). It was during the Old Kingdom that the King of Egypt became a living god who ruled absolutely.
The Middle Kingdom of Egypt
After the collapse of the Old Kingdom, there was a time of political upheaval for about 150 years called the First Intermediate Period. This gave way to the Middle Kingdom. The Middle Kingdom of Egypt was the second of the three "golden ages" of ancient Egypt.
- 1st Intermediate Period: 2181 to 2055 BC
This period lasted from around 2040 to 1782 BC and stretched from the reunification of Egypt under the reign of Mentuhotep II in the Eleventh Dynasty to the end of the Twelfth Dynasty.
- Period: 2040 to 1782 BC
- Peak: During The Reign of Pharaoh Amenemhat III
- End: The Middle Kingdom Was Brought To An End By the Invasion of the Hyksos
During this time, Osiris became the most important deity in popular religion. The Middle Kingdom would come to an end with the invasion of the Hyksos. They were the first foreign ruling dynasty in Egypt, eventually, they were driven out by an Upper Egyptian force led by Ahmose I.
The New Kingdom Of Egypt
After the Hyksos were driving out the New Kingdom began with the Eighteenth Dynasty. The New Kingdom lasted from around 1550–1070 BC and marked the largest expansion of the empire to include parts of Nubia and the Levant. It marked the peak of Egypt's power and the most prosperous time.
- 2nd Intermediate Period: 1650 to 1550 BC
- Period: 1550–1070 BC
- Notable Pharaohs: Tutankhamun, Ramesses II, Hatshepsut, Thutmose III, Akhenaten
- Expansion: During This Time Egypt Expanded and Became An Empire
It was during this period that the kings of Egypt took on the title of "Pharaoh." This period is famous for some of the most famous Pharaohs including Hatshepsut, Thutmose III, Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti, Tutankhamun, and Ramesses II.
The empire eventually declined due to increasing droughts, famine, civil unrest, and corruption of officials. The pharaohs grew so weak that eventually, the High Priests of Amun at Thebes became the de facto rulers of Upper Egypt.