Egyptian Dynasties Old Kingdom

From the 1st dynasty 3I00 2890 BC to the 8th dynasty 2181- 2125 BC Egyptian dating is expressed by ruling families - dynasties.

The historian Manetho (270 BC) wrote a history of Egypt giving the number of dynasties, the number of kings, their names and the length of each reign.

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1st dynasty 3I00 2890 BC

  • Narmer
  • Aha
  • Djer
  • Djet
  • Den
  • Anedjib
  • Semerkhet
  • Qaa

2nd dynasty 2890-2686 BC

  • Hetepsekhemwy
  • Raneb
  • Nynetjer
  • Peribsen
  • Khasekhem

3rd dynasty 2686 2613 BC

  • Sanakht
  • Djoser
  • Sekhemkhet
  • Huni

4th dynasty 2613 2494 BC

  • Sneferu
  • Cheops
  • Radjedef
  • Chephren
  • Menkaura
  • Shepseskaf

5th dynasty 2494 2345 BC

  • Userkaf
  • Sahura
  • Neferirkara Kakai
  • Shepseskara Isi
  • Raneferef
  • Nyuserra
  • Menkauhor Akauhor
  • Djedkara Isesi
  • Unas

6th dynasty 2345 2181 BC

  • Teti
  • Userkara
  • Pepy I
  • Merenra
  • Pepy II

Before the first dynasty Egypt was in fact two lands. The unifier of these lands, in folk tales, was a fellow called Menes and known as the first mortal king of Egypt. The Greek historian Herodotus, records that this king founded the capital, Memphis, by damming the Nile to reclaim land for the city.

During this time papyrus was invented and as a consequence writing was used as an administrative tool of government. This created the conditions for prosperity, which can be seen in the magnificent artefacts that have been found from this period.

At the end of the 1st dynasty there appears to have been rival claimants for the throne. The successful claimant’s Horus name, Hetepsekhemwy, translates as "peaceful in respect of the two powers" this may be a reference to the opposing gods Horus and Seth, or an understanding reached between two rival factions. But the political rivalry was never fully resolved and in time the situation worsened into conflict.

The fourth pharaoh, Peribsen, took the title of Seth instead of Horus and the last ruler of the dynasty, Khasekhemwy, took both titles. A Horus/Seth name meaning "arising in respect of the two powers," and "the two lords are at peace in him." Towards the end of this dynasty, however, there seems to have been more disorder and possibly civil war.

This period is one of the landmarks of Human history. A prosperous age and the appearance of the worlds first great monumental building - the Pyramid. The artistic masterpieces in the tombs of the nobles show the martial wealth of this time

Djoser - one of the outstanding kings of Egypt. His Step Pyramid at Saqqara is the first large stone building and the forerunner of later pyramids.

Egypt was able to accomplish the ambitious feat of the Giza pyramids because there had been a long period of peace and no threats of invasion. So their energies were spent in cultivating art to it’s highest forms.

The fourth dynasty came from Memphis and the fifth from the south in Elephantine. The transition from one ruling family to another appears to have been peaceful.

The first two kings of the fifth dynasty, were sons of a lady, Khentkaues, who was a member of the fourth dynasty royal family. There was an institutionalisation of officialdom and high officials for the first time came from outside the royal family.

The pyramids are smaller and less solidly constructed than those of the fourth dynasty, but the carvings from the mortuary temples are well preserved and of the highest quality.

There are surviving papyri from this period which demonstrate well developed methods of accounting and record keeping. They document the redistribution of goods between the royal residence, the temples, and officials.

There are many inscriptions from the sixth dynasty. These include records of trading expeditions to the south from the reigns of Pepi I. One of the most interesting is a letter written by Pepy II.

The pyramid of Pepi II at southern Saqqara is the last major monument of the Old Kingdom. None of the names of kings of the short-lived seventh dynasty are known and the eighth dynasty shows signs of and political decay.

First Intermediate Period 7th and 8th dynasties
2181- 2125 BC

About this time the Old Kingdom state collapsed. Egypt simultaneously suffered political failure and environmental disaster. There was famine, civil disorder and a rise in the death rate. With the climate of Northeast Africa becoming dryer, combined with low inundations of the Nile and the cemeteries rapidly filling, this was not a good time for the Egyptians.

The years following the death of Pepy II are most obscure. The only person from this era to have left an impression on posterity is a woman called Nitokris who appears to have acted as king. There are no contemporary records but Herodotus wrote of her:

"She killed hundreds of Egyptians to avenge the king, her brother, whom his subjects had killed, and had forced her to succeed. She did this by constructing a huge underground chamber. Then invited to a banquet all those she knew to be responsible for her brother's death. When the banquet was underway, she let the river in on them, through a concealed pipe. After this fearful revenge, she flung herself into a room filled with embers, to escape her punishment."

For a time petty warlords ruled the provinces. Then from the city of Herakleopolis there emerged a ruling family led by one Khety who for a time held sway over the whole country. However, this was short lived and the country split into North, ruled from Herakleopolis and South, ruled from Thebes.

Whereas the Theban dynasty was stable, kings succeeded one another rapidly at Herakleopolis. There was continual conflict between the two lands which was resolved in the 11th dynasty.

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