Ancient Egypt: History and culture
History of the Old Kingdom and the First Intermediate Period: The pyramid builders, the first major breakdown of the central power and the military reunification.
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Map of Resources
Resources and Pyramids

Pyramid of Djoser,  Source: University of Pennsilvania website
Djoser's Pyramid at Saqqara
Source: Jon Bodsworth

 

Pyramids at Gizeh
Giza
Source: Jon Bodsworth

 

Pepi I
Pepi I, 6th Dynasty

 

Neb-Hetep-Ra Mentuhotep
Neb-Hetep-Ra Mentuhotep
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Dynasties III to XI
From the pyramid builders to the beginning of the Middle Kingdom

Old Kingdom

3rd Dynasty (2686-2613 BCE)

According to Manetho this dynasty comprised nine Memphite kings about most of whom very little is known. They were buried at Saqqara.

Djoser (Netjerykhet) ruled for almost two decades (2668-2649 BCE) and is credited with building the Step Pyramid at Saqqara. Imhotep was the architect of that great tomb, and of the magnificent royal funerary complex at Saqqara. King Djoser led several campaigns against Asiatic peoples in Canaan and extended his influence over the Sinai desert with its copper mines where some graffiti and his serekh were found at Waddi Maghara.

The Famine Stele on Sehel (Not a contemporary record)

4th Dynasty (2613-2494 BCE)

Manetho claims that eight kings belonged to this dynasty. They ruled at Memphis and built pyramids at Dahshur (Snefru) and Giza.

Snofru, 2575-2551 BCE., was an active military leader. His campaigns against the Nubians are recorded on the Palermo Stone. He conquered the Sinai desert, important for its copper and turquoise mines, initiated a series of construction projects throughout Egypt and began trade with the other Mediterranean nations. To supply Egypt with timber, he sent a fleet of forty ships to Phoenicia. While there, he erected monuments to commemorate the event.
He built his mortuary complex at Dahshur, the Bent Pyramid, the Red Pyramid, and the Meidum Pyramid near Crocodilopolis. The bent pyramid is thought to be an architectural link between the Step Pyramid and the true pyramids. Snofru was deified [1] by the kings of the 12th Dynasty. Many of the rulers of that time built their own mortuary complexes beside his.

Khufu (Cheops)(2585-2566 BCE), Khafre (Chefren) and Menkaure (Mycerinos) are best known for the pyramids they built at Giza.

Herodotus on Khufu
Herodotus on Khafre
Herodotus on Menkaure

Shepseskaf, who followed them (2514-2494 BCE), had to assert his power against various priests and southern tribes. His tomb is at South Saqqara.

5th Dynasty (2494-2345 BCE)

Eight kings made up the fifth dynasty, according to Manetho, though he gives nine names, all of which are also found in the archaeological records. They ruled at Elefantine and built pyramids at Abusir and Saqqara.

Userkaf (c.2494-2487 BCE), grandson of Djedefre, founded the fifth dynasty. He built a sun temple at Abusir and erected his pyramid at Saqqara.

Sahure (c. 2487-2475 BCE) established the Egyptian navy and sent a fleet to Punt and traded with Canaan. His pyramid has colonnaded courts and reliefs of his naval fleet, but his military career consisted mostly of campaigns against the Libyans in the western desert.

Niuserre ruled Ancient Egypt from 2416 till 2392 BC, and is famous for both his solar temple at Abu Gorab and his pyramid at Abusir. The reliefs in the burial chamber of his pyramid describe his military campaigns in the Western Desert and in the Sinai.

Unas (Wenis) ruled Egypt from 2356 till 2323 BC. Successful trading expeditions were conducted to neighbouring nations. An inscription at Elephantine shows a giraffe that was brought to Egypt with other exotic animals. Another drawing found on a vase shows battle scenes. There was a major famine during this time. His pyramid was the first one to be decorated with the magical spells which are referred to as Pyramid Texts.

Tomb inscription of the nomarch Henku

Cities of Egypt

6th Dynasty

The kings list of Manetho states that six kings of Memphis belonged to this dynasty. They were buried in pyramids at Saqqara.

Egypt being fairly cut off from the more warlike middle-eastern nations by the Sinai desert, did not have a standing army. Whenever necessary, forces would be called up by local noblemen and sometimes Bedouins and Nubians would serve as well.

Teti, the first pharaoh of the 6th dynasty reigned from 2346 to 2313 BCE. He sent his army several times into southern Canaan under Weni, a long lived official who served also under Pepi I and Merenre. After a conspiracy in the royal household, Weni was appointed to try the case. The embattled vizier Fefi (Meref-nebef), whose grave has been discovered not long ago, held power over the finances as head of the administration.

Pepi I (2289-2255 B.C.) had to enlist the support of noblemen from Upper Egypt in order to defeat a usurper and Upper Egyptians came to play an important part in his administration: He married two of his vizier's sisters, and Weni, a close advisor, led Nubian troops against the Bedouins in Sinai and southern Canaan.
Pepi campaigned in Nubia and established garrisons and trading posts. Trade relations with Byblos were flourishing and Punt in the Horn of Africa was frequently reached. His pyramid was so impressive that its name, Mennefermare, was given to the area. The capital, originally named Hiku-Ptah, was renamed Mennefer, then Menfi. The Greeks later transliterated it as Memphis. Pepi built temples at Tanis, Bubastis, Abydos, Dendera and Coptos.

Pepi's Campaigns in Canaan

Merenre followed Pepi I, but died at a young age. He was succeeded by Pepi II, his half brother, who was still underage. His mother, Queen Ankhesenpepi II, widow of Pepi I, became regent. She was buried in her own pyramid in the mortuary compound of her husband.
According to the kings list Pepi II reigned for 94 years[2], during which time the power of the pharaoh decayed, as too much wealth was expended on burials and the more talented and vigourous officials left Memphis for the regional capitals. Foreign campaigns into Nubia under Harkhuf and trade expeditions to Punt met with little success.
 
Queen Nitocris, the last ruler of the dynasty, is only known from Manetho, the Turin Canon and a tale recounted by Herodotus.

Sixth dynasty tomb inscription
The end of the Old Kingdom

First Intermediate Period

There was a breakdown of centralized government, with kings belonging to different dynasties having overlapping reigns and vying for supremacy. For some time the kings of Heracleopolis, supported by the nomarchs of Siut, succeeded in preventing a southern coalition led by the nomarchs of Thebes from conquering northern Egypt, but finally Mentuhotep established order from his capital at Thebes. According to Manetho the 7th dynasty counted 70 kings ruling at Memphis for seventy days, but none of these has been identified and the whole dynasty may be a fiction. The 8th dynasty was given 27 kings by Manetho, who ruled at Memphis during 146 years, some of whom feature in king lists. Manetho accords nineteen kings to the 9th dynasty, who resisded at Herakleopolis during 146 years. Doubts have been cast on the accuracy of these numbers, as of those of the 10th dynasty, who, according to Manetho comprised of nineteen kings, ruling from Herakleopolis for 185 years. The Turin Canon assigns a total of eighteen kings to both dynasties, while other king lists do not mention them. The Theban Mentuhotep II of the 11th dynasty made an end to the rule of the Herakleopolites.

The Instructions of Merikare
The decree of Demedjibtawy protecting mortuary foundations and exempting them from dues and duties
The biography of Tefibi, nomarch of Siut (9/10th dynasty)
The inscriptions of Kheti, son of Tefibi, nomarch of Siut (9/10th dynasty)
The inscriptions of Kheti, son of Sit, nomarch of Siut (9/10th dynasty)

11th Dynasty

Manetho accords this Theban dynasty 16 kings and a reign of 43 years. Its members before Mentuhotep II who united the country under his rule, are not considered to have been pharaohs. The later kings were buried at Deir el Bahri.

Inyotef I (ca.2133-2123) took Thebes as the capital of Egypt and ruled from 2074 till 2064 BC. He was the son of Mentuhotep I, the "elder". The king took over a divided Egypt and tried to reunite the north and the south.

Inyotef II (ca.2123-2074) led an army against his Herakleoplitan allies in Sauty (Assyut). His enemies sacked the city of Tjeni (Thinis) and desecrated its tombs. Inyotef captured the entire tribe but ceased hostilities. He decided to trade with them and maintain the integrity of the Southern Kingdom peacefully.
He was followed by Inyotef III who ruled from 2074 until 2066.

Mentuhotep I (2066-2040 B.C.) took the city of Herakleopolis which was the capital of the kings of the rival 10th Dynasty. This victory established his rule from Thebes. He fought against the Libyans in the Delta and the nomads in the Sinai. He built his mortuary complex at Deir el Bahri. He is not generally accepted as a pharaoh.

Mentuhotep II Nebhepetre (c.2040-2010) conquered the north and rebuilt a centralized monarchy, inaugurating the Middle Kingdom.
The intensity and causes of these disruptive events are uncertain. Later Egyptian writers, appalled by the deviation from accepted norms, exaggerated the revolutionary aspects; they also described an imaginary environmental deterioration, actually a poetic cosmological counterpart to social disorder. More significant were external pressure and internal political instability that long endured; even the 11th dynasty may have been ended by a coup, and the victor, Amenemhet I was himself later assassinated.


[1] Snefru was remembered as the Benefactor (cf. Erhart Graefe, 1990, Die gute Reputation des Königs "Snofru"), unlike Khufu who had a much spottier reputation even though he was worshiped until the Persian Period.
[2] Some scholars like Beckerath read it as 64 years.

 -Previous (1st and 2nd Dynasties)
- Next (12th to 17th Dynasty)
- History Contents Page
- Dynasty List
- Main Index and Search Page
 
Offsite links(Opening in a new window)
I do not assume any responsibility for the content or availability of these websites.
 
-The Ancient Egyptian Third Dynasty by Francesco Raffaele
-Djoser
-Step pyramids
-Dating the pyramids
-Khufu
-Shepseskaf's tomb
-Weni the Elder and His Mortuary Neighborhood at Abydos, Egypt
-The Peak and Splendour of the Old Kingdom from the Fourth Dynasty to the end of the Sixth Dynasty by Zahi Hawass
-Aera - The Lost City (Mark Lehner)
 

Feedback: Please report broken links, mistakes - factual or otherwise, etc. to me. Thanks.

 

July 2000
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- Alternative spellings:
Djoser: Zoser
Snofru: Snefru, Sneferu, Seneferu
Khufu: Chufu, Cheops, Kheops
Khafre: Chafre, Chefren
Menkaure: Mykerinos, Mycerinos
Unas: Wenis
Teti: Tety
Pepi: Pepy
Merenre: Mernere
Merikare: Merikara
Demedjibtawy: Demedjibtaoui
Kheti: Khety, Achthoes, Cheti
Inyotef: Iniotef, Intef, Antef
Mentuhotep: Montuhotep, Mentuhotpe, Montuhotpe