Ancient History of Egypt

Ancient History of Egypt

According to ancient records the Dynastic period began with the unification of Egypt by King Menes after he successfully subdued the north and united both parts of the land into one kingdom.The Dynasty that he founded together with the one after it constitutes the Archaic Period. During this period a new type of government and court was created and consolidated. During the subsequent Old and Middle Kingdoms, (beginning with the Third Dynasty), a new period started "marking the plateau of achievement" for ancient Egypt, as by then the government and court had reached high levels of 'scale and competence'. Five centuries after the Third Dynasty, following the end of the Sixth Dynasty (around c.2182 BC) the system appears to have faltered and there began a century and a half of disintegration of political unity and distribution of power,the First Intermediate Period. (it has been suggested, that one should put in mind the environmental changes that appears to have taken place at the time and had an effect that can not be ignored).

But the re-establishment of the central government followed, c. 2040 BC, whereby the Middle Kingdom period marked another re-establishment of the Old Kingdom patterns.During the latter part of the Middle Kingdom there began an influx of "Asiatic workers". These were nomads whose tribal chiefs were called by the ancient Egyptians 'Hikaw Khasut' meaning 'rulers of desert uplands', this name was rendered by Manetho as Hyksos or shepherd kings. These people first entered Egypt through a peaceful but persistent migration and gradually began to settle in northern Egypt. By the end of the Middle Kingdom the immigrant communities were uniting and starting to gain control over certain areas that were available to them. They were able to reach such power as a result also of the state being weak and in the process of disintegration. The Second Intermediate period thus begins due to these factors.

The term Second Intermediate is a label for a period of about two hundred years, during which the central authority of the kingdom was once more fragmented. The power of the Hyksos had by then grown to such an extent that they controlled the Delta area taking Avaris as their capital, while at the same time native Egyptian power retreated to the south. From the south at Thebes there was another native Dynasty controlling the land from Abydos to Elephantine.

At the beginning there was no open conflict between the two dynasties, however there began a conflict which ended by the reign of King Ahmose (1570,60 or 51)in favor of the Theban Dynasty. After routing the Hyksos and re-conquering the country, Ahmose reorganized its system of government, resumed major religious and funerary architectural projects and started opening up contacts with the Near East.

Ahmose thus founded the New Kingdom, a period during which Egypt's relations influenced the ancient world and its power came to dominate the Near East for half a millennium. The New kingdom was characterized by extraordinary expansions abroad and strong centralized stability internally. Every Pharaoh on accessing the throne began a campaign of foreign conquests to sustain the power and position of Egypt in the ancient world.

By the time king Amenhotep III had accessed the throne, Dynasty 18th had reached its zenith. By his reign Egypt had reached a position of such absolute power in the world that it had never witnessed before. Amenhotep was about nine years old when he succeeded his father Tuthmosis IV on the throne of Egypt. Inspite of his young age he married his chief wife, Queen Tiye, at his coronation. His reign could be divided into two parts. The first 10 years, he carried out a campaign in Nubia and boasted about it being such a success in that he had excelled in it above any other king. In spite of this campaign during his reign Egypt had no need to go to war, because of the conquests of his predecessors. Egypt's international policy was carried out from a position of strength and her 'legendary might' was sufficient to prevent invasion and discourage any 'would be rebel' in the Empire. The second part of his reign witnessed an extended program of construction. Amenhotep III was thus remembered by later generations as "The great Horus" "King of the Kings" "Ruler of Rulers". It is known that Amenhotep III lived to complete his 37th may be even 38th year on the throne. After his reign the succession passed to his son, Prince Amenhotep IV.

Amenhotep IV married Nefertiti upon his accession to the throne. Amenhotep IV was to reign for 17 years, the main feature of his rule was "an exclusive, even fanatical, personal devotion to the god Aten." The principal god of Egypt was Amon, who had reached such position of importance by the New Kingdom Period. Amenhotep IV replaced the principal god of the Egypt Amon with the god Aten, thus making 'Atenism' the state religion in place of Amon worship. He changed his name from Amenhotep to Akhenaten (meaning one who is beneficial to the Aten). In about the fourth year of his reign he changed the capital of the country (which had been Thebes) to a new virgin site at el Amarna. The king and his queen visited the site of the future capital and declared that the Aten himself had chosen this site and revealed his choice to the King so that his new domain could be founded there.

Akhenaten worshipped his god as sole god of the country and thus hacked out the word gods in the plural, and often the word Amon, wherever they occurred. Akhenaten also limited the activities of the other temples and confiscated priestly goods for the state if he had not actually closed down certain temples.

From tomb scenes at el Amarna dating to the 12th regal year of Akhenaten we start seeing the king with a new figure, Smenkare, who appears along side the princess Meritaten daughter of Akhenaten. Smenkare himself is a poorly known figure and there is not enough data about him available. It is not clear whether he was a co-regent during the last two years of Akhenaten's reign becoming a sole ruler of the country for a few months only or that he was eventually attested as king by the end of Akhenaten's rule and his reign probably lasted for two years intervening between those of Akhenaten and Tutankhamon. Whatever the length of Smenkare's reign, it couldn't have exceeded the period of three years after which he disappears and the spotlight shifts to a child named Tutankhaten better known today as Tutankhamon.

It is likely that Smenkare and Tutankhamon were the only male heirs, probably being of royal blood and having some indirect claim to the throne. Both legitimized the claim to the throne by marrying one of the King's daughters. Tutankhamon inherited the throne from Smenkare at the age of about nine. He married Ankhesenpaaten the daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti upon his accession to the throne.

It must have been a hazardous and uncomfortable position to become king at that particular time in the history of his country. The situation at the time could be imagined as follows: abroad the empire that had begun by the Eighteenth Dynasty was crumbling, at home one could imagine the dissatisfaction felt especially by the priests of the ancient faith, upon seeing their gods flouted and their very livelihood compromised.

Hard facts about Tutankhamon's reign are few. However as he ascended the throne at such a young age, it is most likely that the government was not controlled by him but for the most part of his reign. It could have been that a council was formed and governed by the name of the king, among its most likely members would have been Ay, the vizier and regent to Tutankhamon (also Akhenaten's father-in-law) and the General Horemheb each of whom would succeed Tutankhamon to the throne.

The most important event of Tuankhamon's reign was in this religious sphere. Early in his reign he issued an edict restoring the traditional cults, abandoning the religion that was introduced by Akhenaten. In this edict, which was set up at the foot of the third pylon of the temple of Amon at Karnak, he described at great length the wretched state to which the country had been reduced to by the mistakes of Akhenaten. The capital was moved from El Amarna to Thebes. Neglected temples during the reign of Akhenaten were restored and reconstructed. The royal couple also abandoned the -aten forms of their names, which were associated with Akhenaten's god and took the -amon forms. This return to the orthodox worship of Amon during Tutankhamon's reign was probably under the influence of those who guided the young king. In the foreign sphere there are no details. There is reference to at least one Asiatic and Nubian military campaign in relief fragments from Karnak and Luxor and Horemheb's Memphite tomb.

Recent re-examination of Tutankhamon's mummy has shown that he died around the age of 19 and that he had a wound in the region of his left ear. This was taken as to indicate that he might have died from a cerebral hemorrhage. His hair has been shaved off his head to treat such injury, as we know from the Edwin Smith Surgical papyrus. Whatever the cause of his death he died unexpectedly. He was the last in the line of king Ahmose, the founder of the New Kingdom and the 18th Dynasty and he left no heir.

Tutankhamon, as Carter himself explained, did not capture the attention of the whole world on basis of his eventful reign for he was "a king of obscure origin with a short and uneventful reign" but rather "his fame comes from the single fact that while the tomb of every other pharaoh yet discovered had been riffled in ancient times, that of Tutankhamon was found practically intact. In the confined space of this tomb was contained an assemblage of royal possessions such as had never been seen." Also "he was the only king who has ever been seen in the wrappings, coffins, sarcophagus and tomb in which he was originally laid to rest."

The Asiatic Empire and a series of low Niles and bad harvest upset the internal economy. The power of the king came to be shared by the Priests of the god Amon, partly because the earlier kings had given away vast state wealth to the priesthood of Amon, so that the temple became mightier than the state.

A period of decline followed known as the Third Intermediate Period and the Late Period , that had occasional flashes of energy. Egypt during this period was controlled mainly from the Delta where the capital moved from one city to another. In Upper Egypt, the High Priest of Amon controlled the southern part of the country together with the Priestess of Amon. Egypt was invaded by the Assyrians and the Persians, and opened its borders to the Greeks for the first time.

Ancient Egyptian Dynastic history ends with the arrival of Alexander the Great in 332 BC. For the next 250 years Egypt was ruled by Greeks, but as a separate country with its own interests. Immigration was encouraged from all sides of the Mediterranean. The newly founded capital Alexandria displaced Athens as the center of learning. The Greeks also introduced new agriculture techniques and restored earlier temples. However Ptolemaic rule ended with the conquest of Egypt by the Romans in 30 BC. Under Greco Roman Period there was an initial increase in prosperity. But this policy was carried out to secure wealth for Rome and not for Egypt's own sake. Egypt was not given any degree of local autonomy, unlike other provinces of the Roman Empire. It was administered by a perfect under the jurisdiction of the emperor.

Last Updated on Sunday 16th January 2011