The History of Ancient Egypt, Part 2/5: 3500BC - 2500BC
By this date Ancient Egypt has developed one of the great civilizations of world history.
The thousand years between 3500 BC and 2500 BC saw the civilization of Ancient Egypt reach full maturity.
Down to around 3000 BC Egypt remained fragmented amongst various chiefdoms. An interpretation of the thin available evidence suggests that the first powerful chiefdoms (or confederacies of chiefdoms) were centred on the largest towns in southern Egypt, such as Abydos and Hierakonpolis. The prominence of military motifs in the art of the period suggests frequent warfare, and it is easy to speculate that from this situation emerged a victor, who went on to dominate the entire country.
In any event, a unified kingdom had appeared by 2900 BC at the latest. The unification is traditionally credited to king Menes, but scholars now think he was a mythical figure, and not to be identified with the first king whose rule was clearly country-wide, Narmer.
Already in Narmer’s reign some of the key elements of Egyptian royal imagery are evident: he is represented as a living god, his monuments are adorned with heiroglyphic writing, and they are in a style that is recognizably “Egyptian” in motif and design.
Close-up view of Narmer on the Narmer Palette
Narmer was the founder of the 1st dynasty of Ancient Egypt (there would eventually be 30 or so dynasties), and therefore the period known to modern archaeologists as the Early Dynastic period. The capital was established at Memphis, which, along with Thebes, would become one of the two royal cities of Egypt.
During the Early Dynastic period, Egyptian civilization achieved its mature form. At their capital city of Memphis, the kings of the Old Kingdom erected more and more magnificent tombs for themselves. By the 3rd dynasty (c. 2650-2575 BC), these had evolved into huge pyramid structures. Modern scholars designate this development the start of the “Old Kingdom” period, one of the greatest ages of ancient Egyptian history.
In the early years of the Old Kingdom, the kings of Egypt began interfering in the affairs of the peoples of the south, in Nubia. Under the 4th dynasty (c. 2575-2465 BC), an Egyptian colony was established deep in Nubian territory, beside the second cataract. This was withdrawn fairly quickly, but Egyptian officials remained active in the area, fostering friendly relations with the tribes who controlled the trade routes.
Djoser’s step pyramid at Sakkara (c.2610 BC) was the first in the sequence of Pyramids to be built entirely of stone, and it was not long before the giant pyramids of Giza were being built for the kings of the 4th dynasty (c. 2575-2465 BC). These enormous edifices were surrounded by a host of other tombs, of courtiers and officials. This complex served as the spiritual heart of Ancient Egypt for centuries to come.
The construction of the Great Pyramids were astonishing achievements.
The Sphinx of Giza, partially excavated, with two
pyramids in background
They involved a very high level of engineering and mathematics, and amazing feats of organization and logistics. However it as not only in Pyramid-building that Old Kingdom Egypt excelled. Refined and lifelike sculpture in wood and stone, as well as a whole range of beautiful objects - jewellery, finely carved furniture, ivory cosmetic boxes - have been recovered from tombs of this period. It was in this period that the conventions of ancient Egyptian art were developed, and never afterwards, while this civilization endured, did artists and craftsmen stray too far from them.
Continue: Part 3: Ancient Egypt 2500 BC - 1500 BC follows ancient Egyptian history through periods of unity and disunity
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Civilization Overview: Ancient Egypt
Overview of Ancient Egypt, Location of Ancient Egypt, Ancient Egyptian Art, Ancient Egyptian Architecture, Ancient Egyptian Technology, Ancient Egyptian Governance, Ancient Egyptian Economy and Society, Ancient Egypt in World History
The History of Ancient Egypt:
Part 4 - Ancient Egyptian History 1500 BC- 1000 BC: A Strong Monarchy, An Imperial Power, International Trade and Diplomacy, Egyptian Imperialism, Religious Upheavals, The Hittite Challenge, New Threats, Impotence Abroad c.1153-1069 BC, Weakness at Home