Dynastic Egypt Timeline - 2,700 Years of Change in Egyptian Society

The Rise and Fall of the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms in Egypt

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Hirst, K. Kris. "Dynastic Egypt Timeline - 2,700 Years of Change in Egyptian Society." ThoughtCo, Aug. 11, 2017, thoughtco.com/dynastic-egypt-timeline-4147743. Hirst, K. Kris. (2017, August 11). Dynastic Egypt Timeline - 2,700 Years of Change in Egyptian Society. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/dynastic-egypt-timeline-4147743 Hirst, K. Kris. "Dynastic Egypt Timeline - 2,700 Years of Change in Egyptian Society." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/dynastic-egypt-timeline-4147743 (accessed October 17, 2017).
The Pyramids at Giza, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cairo, Egypt, North Africa, Africa
The Pyramids at Giza, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cairo, Egypt, North Africa, Africa. Gavin Hellier / Getty Images

The dynastic Egypt chronology that we use to name and classify the 2,700-year long list of royal pharaohs is based on myriad sources. There are ancient history sources such as kings lists, annals, and other documents translated into Greek and Latin, archaeological studies using radiocarbon and dendrochronology, and hieroglyphic studies such as the Turin Canon, the Palermo Stone, the Pyramid and Coffin Texts.

Manetho and His King List

The primary source for the thirty established dynasties, sequences of rulers united by kinship or their principal royal residence, is the 3rd century B.C.E. Egyptian priest Manetho. His entire work included a king-list and narratives, prophecies, and royal and non-royal biographies. Written in Greek and called the Aegyptiaca (History of Egypt), Manetho's complete text has not survived, but scholars have discovered copies of the king's list and other pieces in narratives dated between the 3rd and 8th centuries CE.

Some of those narratives were used by the Jewish historian Josephus, who wrote his 1st century CE book Against Apion using borrowings, summaries, paraphrases, and recapitulations of Manetho, with specific emphasis on the  Second Intermediate Hyksos rulers. Other fragments are found in the writings of Africanus and Eusebius.

Many other documents pertaining to the royal dynasties had to wait until Egyptian hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone were translated by Jean-Francois Champollion in the early 19th century. Later in the century, historians imposed the now-familiar Old-Middle-New Kingdom structure onto Manethos' king list. The Old, Middle and New Kingdoms were periods when upper and lower parts of the Nile Valley were united; the Intermediate periods were when the union fell apart. Recent studies continue to find a more nuanced structure than that suggested by Manetho or the 19th-century historians.

Egypt Before the Pharaohs

Female Figurine from Predynastic Egypt
From the Brooklyn Museum's Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, this female figurine dates to the Naqada II period of the Predynastic period, 3500-3400 BC. ego.technique

There were people in Egypt long before the pharaohs, and cultural elements of the previous periods prove that the rise of dynastic Egypt was a local evolution. 

Early Dynastic Egypt - Dynasties 0-2, 3200-2686 B.C.E.

Close-Up of Narmer Pallette Facsimile in the Royal Ontario Museum
A procession of the early dynastic Pharaoh Narmer is illustrated on this facsimile of the famous Narmer Palette, found at Hierakonpolis. Keith Schengili-Roberts

Dynasty 0 [3200-3000 B.C.E.] is what Egyptologists call a group of Egyptian rulers who are not on Manetho's list, definitely predate the traditional original founder of dynastic Egypt Narmer, and were found buried in a cemetery at Abydos in the 1980s. These rulers were identified as pharaohs by the presence of the nesu-bit title "King of Upper and Lower Egypt" next to their names. The earliest of these rulers is Den (c. 2900 B.C.E.) and the last is Scorpion II, known as the "Scorpion King". The 5th century B.C.E. Palermo stone also lists these rulers.

Early Dynastic Period [Dynasties 1-2, ca. 3000-2686 B.C.E.]. By about 3000 B.C.E., the Early Dynastic state had emerged in Egypt, and its rulers controlled the Nile valley from the delta to the first cataract at Aswan. The capital of this 1000 km (620 mi) stretch of the river was probably at Hierakonpolis or possibly Abydos where the rulers were buried. The first ruler was Menes or Narmer, ca. 3100 B.C.E. The administrative structures and royal tombs were built almost entirely of sun-dried mud brick, wood, and reeds, and so little remains of them.

The Old Kingdom - Dynasties 3-8, ca. 2686-2160 B.C.E.

Step Pyramid at Saqqara
Step Pyramid at Saqqara. peifferc

The Old Kingdom is the name designated by 19th-century historians to refer to the first period reported by Manetho when both the north (Lower) and south (Upper) parts of the Nile Valley were united under one ruler. It is also known as the Pyramid Age, for more than a dozen pyramids were built at Giza and Saqqara. The first pharaoh of the old kingdom was Djoser (3rd dynasty, 2667-2648 B.C.E.), who built the first monumental stone structure, called the Step Pyramid.

The administrative heart of the Old Kingdom was at Memphis, where a vizier ran the central government administration. Local governors accomplished those tasks in Upper and Lower Egypt. The Old Kingdom was a long period of economic prosperity and political stability that included long distance trade with the Levant and Nubia. Beginning in the 6th dynasty, however, the central government's power began to erode with Pepys II long 93-year reign.

First Intermediate Period - Dynasties 9-mid 11, ca. 2160-2055 B.C.E.

Frieze from the tomb of Mereri, First Intermediate Period Dynasty 9 near TEmple of Hathor
First Intermediate Frieze from the Tomb of Mereri, 9th Dynasty Egypt. Metropolitan Museum, Gift of Egypt Exploration Fund, 1898

By the beginning of the First Intermediate Period, the power base of Egypt had shifted to Herakleopolis located 100 km (62 mi) upstream from Memphis.

The large-scale building came to a halt and the provinces were ruled locally. Ultimately the central government collapsed and foreign trade stopped. The country was fragmented and unstable, with civil war and cannibalism driven by famine, and the redistribution of wealth. Texts from this period include the Coffin Texts, which were inscribed on elite coffins in multiple roomed burials.

Middle Kingdom - Dynasties mid-11-14, 2055-1650 B.C.E.

Coffin of Khnumankht, Middle Kingdom, 13th Dynasty ca 1802-1640 B.C.E., excavations at Khashaba, 1910-1915.
Middle Kingdom coffin of Khnumankht, an unknown person from Khashaba in the early 20th century B.C.E. The Metropolitan Museum, Rogers Fund, 1915

The Middle Kingdom began with the victory of Mentuhotep II of Thebes over his rivals at Herakleopolis, and the reunification of Egypt. Monumental building construction resumed with Bab el-Hosan, a pyramid complex which followed Old Kingdom traditions, but had a mud-brick core with a grid of stone walls and finished with limestone casing blocks. This complex has not survived well.

By the 12th dynasty, the capital moved to Amemenhet Itj-tawj, which has not been found but was likely close to the Fayyum Oasis. The central administration had a vizier at the top, a treasury, and ministries for harvesting and crop management; cattle and fields; and labor for building programs. The king was still the divine absolute ruler but the government was based on a representative theocracy rather than direct rules.

The Middle Kingdom pharaohs conquered Nubia, conducted raids into the Levant, and brought back Asiatics as slaves, who eventually established themselves as a power block in the delta region and threatened the empire.

Second Intermediate Period - Dynasties 15-17, 1650-1550 B.C.E.

Headband with Heads of Gazelles and a Stag Between Stars or Flowers, Second Intermediate Period Egypt Dynasty 15
Second Intermediate Period Egypt, Headband from the Eastern Delta, 15th Dynasty 1648-1540 B.C.E. The Metropolitan Museum, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1968

During the Second Intermediate Period, the dynastic stability ended, the central government collapsed, and dozens of kings from different lineages reigned in quick succession. Some of the rulers were from the Asiatic colonies in the Delta region—the Hyksos.

The royal mortuary cults stopped but contacts with the Levant were maintained and more Asiatics came into Egypt. The Hyksos conquered Memphis and built their royal residence at Avaris (Tell el-Daba) in the eastern delta. The city of Avaris was enormous, with a huge citadel with vineyards and gardens. The Hyksos allied with Kushite Nubia and established extensive trade with the Aegean and Levant.

The 17th dynasty Egyptian rulers at Thebes started a "war of liberation" against the Hyksos, and eventually, the Thebans overthrew Hyksos, ushering in what 19th-century scholars called the New Kingdom.

New Kingdom - Dynasties 18-24, 1550-1069 B.C.E.

Hatshepsut's Djeser-DjeseruTemple at Deir el Barhi
Hatshepsut's Djeser-DjeseruTemple at Deir el Barhi. Yen Chung / Moment / Getty Images

The first New Kingdom ruler was Ahmose (1550-1525 B.C.E.) who drove the Hyksos out of Egypt, and established many internal reforms and political restructuring. The 18th dynasty rulers, especially Thutmosis III, conducted dozens of military campaigns in the Levant. Trade was reestablished between the Sinai peninsula and the Mediterranean, and the southern border was extended as far south as Gebel Barkal.

Egypt became prosperous and wealthy, especially under Amenophis III (1390-1352 B.C.E.), but turmoil arose when his son Akhenaten (1352-1336 B.C.E.) left Thebes, moved the capital to Akhetaten (Tell el-Amarna), and radically reformed the religion to the monotheistic Aten cult. It didn't last long. The first attempts to restore the old religion began as early as the rule of Akhenaten's son Tutankhamun (1336-1327 B.C.E.), and eventually persecution of the practitioners of the Aten cult proved successful and the old religion was re-established.

Civil officials were replaced by military personnel, and the army became the most influential domestic power in the country. At the same time, the Hittites from Mesopotamia became imperialistic and threatened Egypt. At the Battle of Qadesh, Ramses II met the Hittite troops under Muwatalli, but it ended in a stalemate, with a peace treaty.

By the end of the 13th century B.C.E., a new danger had arisen from the so-called Sea Peoples. First Merneptah (1213-1203 B.C.E.) then Ramses III (1184-1153 B.C.E.), fought and won important battles with the Sea Peoples. By the end of the New Kingdom, however, Egypt was forced to withdraw from the Levant.

Third Intermediate Period - Dynasties 21-25, ca. 1069-664 B.C.E.

Meroe, Capital City of the Kushite (Nubian) Kingdom, Egypt
Capital City of the Kingdom of Kush, Meroe. Yannick Tylle . Corbiss Documentary / Getty Images

The Third Intermediate Period began with a major political upheaval, a civil war fomented by the Kushite viceroy Panehsy. Military action failed to reestablish control over Nubia, and when the last Ramessid king died in 1069 B.C.E., a new power structure was in control of the country.

Although at the surface the country was united, in reality, the north was ruled from Tanis (or perhaps Memphis) in the Nile Delta, and lower Egypt was ruled from Thebes. A formal frontier between the regions was established at Teudjoi, the entrance to the Fayyum Oasis. The central government at Thebes was essentially a theocracy, with supreme political authority resting with the god Amun.

Beginning in the 9th century B.C.E., numerous local rulers became virtually autonomous, and several declared themselves kings. Libyans from Cyrenaica took a dominant role, becoming kings by the second half of the 21st dynasty. Kushite rule over Egypt was established by the 25th dynasty [747-664 B.C.E.)

Late Period - Dynasties 26-31, 664-332 B.C.E.

Mosaic of Battle of Issus between Alexander the Great and Darius III
Mosaic of Battle of Issus between Alexander the Great and Darius III. Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

The Late Period in Egypt lasted between 343-332 B.C.E., a time when Egypt became a Persian satrapy. The country was reunified by Psamtek I (664-610 B.C.E.), in part because the Assyrians had weakened in their own country and could not maintain their control in Egypt. He and subsequent leaders used mercenaries from Greek, Carian, Jewish, Phoenician, and possibly Bedouin groups, that were there to guarantee Egypt's security from the Assyrians, Persians, and Chaldeans.

Egypt was invaded by the Persians in 525 B.C.E., and the first Persian ruler was Cambyses. A revolt broke out after he died, but Darius the Great was able to regain control by 518 B.C.E.and Egypt remained a Persian satrapy until 404 B.C.E.when a brief period of independence lasted until 342 B.C.E. Egypt fell under Persian rule again, that was only ended by the arrival of Alexander the Great in 332 B.C.E.

Ptolemaic Period - 332-30 B.C.E.

Taposiris Magna - Pylons of the Temple of Osiris
Taposiris Magna - Pylons of the Temple of Osiris. Roland Unger

The Ptolemaic period began with the arrival of Alexander the Great, who conquered Egypt and was crowned king in 332 B.C.E., but he left Egypt to conquer new lands. After he died in 323 B.C.E., sections of his great empire were parcelled out to various members of his military staff, and Ptolemy, the son of Alexander's marshall Lagos, acquired Egypt, Libya, and parts of Arabia. Between 301-280 B.C.E., a War of Successors broke out between the various marshalls of Alexander's conquered lands.

At the end of that, the Ptolemaic dynasties were firmly established and ruled over Egypt until the Roman conquest by Julius Caesar in 30 B.C.E..

Post-Dynastic Egypt - 30 B.C.E.-641 C.E.

Roman Period Mummy Footcase
Roman Period Footcase of a Mummy with Images of Defeated Enemies Under the Feet, part of the Brooklyn Museum's exhibition of Egytpian artifacts called To Live Forever, February 12-May 2, 2010. © Brooklyn Museum

After the Ptolemaic period, Egypt's long religious and political structure ended. But the Egyptian legacy of massive monuments and a lively written history continues to fascinate us today. 

  • Roman Period 30 B.C.E.-395 C.E.
  • Coptic period in the 3rd C.E.
  • Egypt ruled from Byzantium 395-641 C.E.
  • Arab Conquest of Egypt 641 C.E.

Sources

The Pyramids at Giza, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cairo, Egypt, North Africa, Africa
Old Kingdom Pyramids at Giza. Gavin Hellier / Getty Images