Ancient Egypt
By the time Romans had conquered Egypt in the first century, the Pharaohs had already ruled for almost Four Thousand years


The Ancient Egyptian World

Bust of Nefertiti from Amarna, Workshop of Thutmose, 14th Century BCE

Perhaps no other civilization enters the human imagination more then the Kingdoms of Ancient Egypt. When Napoleon's troops entered Egypt in the 19th century, he brought with him the first true team of Archeologists, and this led to a world wide fascination with the exploration of Antiquities. Ancient Egypt was one of the longest lived civilizations in Africa. It was concentrated along the middle to lower reaches of the Nile River, reaching its greatest extent in the second millennium BC, during the New Kingdom. It reached from the Nile Delta in the north, as far south as Jebel Barkal at the Fourth Cataract of the Nile. Extensions to the geographic range of ancient Egyptian civilization included, at different times, areas of the southern Levant, the Eastern Desert and the Red Sea coastline, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Western Desert. Before being annexed to the Roman Empire in the 1st century, Egypt had already been an ancient civilization for over three thousand years. The Pyramids are the only remaining of the Seven ancient wonders, and still stand as a testament to the Egyptian people today over five thousand years after they were built.

The Early Dynastic Period

The Sphinx overlooking the Giza plateau, and is the largest monolith statue in the world

The Early Dynastic Period is a period of some 500 years or more at the beginning of what is conventionally considered as the history of Ancient Egypt. It was the culmination of the formative stage of the Ancient Egyptian culture that began centuries before during the Prehistory. It was during this period that the divine kingship became well established as Egypt's form of government, and with it, an entire culture that would remain virtually unchanged for the next 3000 or more years. Writing evolved from a few simple signs mainly used to denote quantities of substances and their provenance, to a complex system of several hundreds of signs with both phonetic and ideographic values. Craftsmen increased their skills and experimented with the use of more durable materials. Structures built in brick, wood and reeds were copied in stone, giving birth to the typical Ancient Egyptian architecture. Most of the features developed during the Early Dynastic Period would remain in use until the Greek-Roman Period, more than 3000 years later. Another very important change that marks the beginning of the Early Dynastic Period is the rise of urbanism. Inhabitants of small settlements throughout the country abandoned their homes and moved to larger communities and cities.

The Pyramid of Djoser in the Saqqara necropolis, was built for the burial of Pharaoh Djoser by his vizier Imhotep, during the 27th century BC

As the Early Dynastic Period is the culmination of an on-going cultural, religious and political evolution, it is hard to determine its actual beginning. According to the Ancient Egyptian tradition, the first (human) king to have ruled over the whole of Egypt was a man named Menes. He is considered the first king of the 1st Dynasty and tradition credited him with the unification of Upper- and Lower-Egypt. As none of the sources from the Early Dynastic Period mention his name and as none of the deeds credited to him can be associated with any of the archaeologically attested kings, the identification of this Menes, however, is problematic. Both in the Turin King-list and with Manetho, this Menes follows a long list of gods and demi-gods who ruled before him. The first row on the Palermo Stone contains names of kings who allegedly ruled Egypt before him. As our knowledge of this early stage of Egyptian history evolves, we are finding sources that hint at powerful rulers living in Middle and Upper Egypt who already had extended their influence, if not their realm, to parts of Lower Egypt. This information may correspond to the mythical rulers in the Turin King-list and to the names listed in the first row of the Palermo Stone, if not literally, then perhaps simply as a confirmation that the Ancient Egyptian chroniclers were aware of the existence of kings before Menes. This has led some authors to propose that there may have been a Dynasty "0" before the 1st Dynasty. It is not certain that the kings placed in this hypothetical Dynasty "0" actually belonged to the same ruling family and to what extent they all ruled over the same area. In most books dealing with the history of Ancient Egypt, the Early Dynastic Period usually consists of the first two dynasties. This is based on the fact that the first pyramids were built during the 3rd Dynasty and that the Old Kingdom is often viewed as "the age of the pyramids".

This has caused the 3rd Dynasty to be included in the Old Kingdom. It needs to be pointed out, however, that the pyramids built during the 3rd Dynasty were Step Pyramids and not the "true" pyramids that were built from the start of the 4th Dynasty on. The complexes surrounding Netjerikhet's Step Pyramid and Sekhemkhet's unfinished step pyramid, both at Saqqara, are unlike the funerary complexes of the 4th Dynasty and later. As such, the Step Pyramid and the funerary complexes of the 3rd Dynasty can still be considered as part of the formative stage of pyramid building.

The kings during the 3rd Dynasty were still known mainly by their Horus-title, but from the 4th Dynasty on, the Prenomen, and later the Nomen, become the more important titles. This may indicate in shift in views on the divine kingship: during the first three dynasties, the king was a living embodiment of the god Horus, whereas from the 4th Dynasty on, he came to be the son of the solar god Re. The 3rd Dynasty should therefore rather be part of the Early Dynastic Period than the Old Kingdom. As such, it played a pivotal role in consolidating the political, religious and cultural evolution that had started centuries before. It should, on the other hand, be noted that the Turin King-list simply lists the kings of the first 5 dynasties, without further classification. This may mean that at the time of the composition of the Turin King-list's original, the first 5 dynasties were viewed as a whole. Our division of that time frame into an Early Dynastic Period and an Old Kingdom, does not correspond to the views of some Ancient Egyptian chroniclers.

The Old Kingdom

The Old Kingdom is not as much a breach with the Early Dynastic Period as a continuation of it. The kings of the 4th Dynasty are believed to be descendants of Huni, the last king of the 3rd Dynasty. The Turin King-list, in fact, lists all kings from the first five dynasties without any further internal distinction.

The Bent Pyramid, located at the royal necropolis of Dahshur, of Old Kingdom Pharaoh Sneferu

This means that the composers of the list considered these kings as belonging to a single group. From a cultural, political and religious point of view, however, the 4th Dynasty has brought about several changes that set it apart from the first three dynasties. The most remarkable change is the transition of Step Pyramids to 'true' pyramids with smooth surfaces. This transition was not only the result of increasing technical skills, but even more of religious views that shifted from stellar to solar. The Step Pyramid symbolized a staircase to the stars. The 'true' pyramid, on the other hand was considered as a solar symbol and as a representation of the primeval mound from which all life had sprung. The image above illustrates the evolution of the Early Dynastic Step Pyramid (to the left) to the 'real' pyramid shape of the pyramids at Giza. The pyramid of Meidum was converted from a Step Pyramid into a 'real' pyramid by Snofru, the first king of the 4th Dynasty. The Bent Pyramid at Dashur was also built by Snofru. The angle of the pyramid may have been changed to alleviate the pressure of the weight of the pyramid.

The Great Pyramid was listed by Antipater of Sidon as one of the Seven Wonders of the World and is the only one of the ancient Wonders still in existence

The building of pyramids would not have been possible without a flourishing economy and a strong central government. Royal estates throughout the country centralized and provided the necessary resources that were needed in the construction of pyramid complexes. This required a powerful administration, both on a local and on a central level, to successfully manage the resources and ensure the flow of supplies, materials and riches to the central government. Artists and craftsmen became increasingly skilled as state-sponsored ateliers produced the most exquisite objects of art for the royal family and the members of the ruling elite. The high-quality decoration of the private tombs that were grouped next to the royal pyramids, not only hint at the wealth and status of the tomb-owner, but are also a rich source of information about daily life in the age of the pyramids.

First Intermediate Period

The decline of the Old Kingdom is often said to have been caused by the long reign of Pepi II, during which the king supposedly lost more and more power to the central administration and the provincial governors.

Luxor Temple is a large Ancient Egyptian temple complex located on the east bank of the River Nile in the city today known as Luxor (ancient Thebes), founded in 1400 BC

Perhaps the long reign of the king, which had started in his childhood and ended when he was at least well into his nineties, may indeed have allowed the central administration to become more powerful. This, however, does not explain why the central government itself apparently had lost its control over the provinces and the provincial governors. It were these provincial governors, also known as nomarchs, who were a key factor in the decline of the Old Kingdom. It is more likely that climatic changes, resulting in a decrease of the Nile's inundation, impacted the Ancient Egyptian society. As the central government was unable to cope with the results of this change, it was up to provincial governors and other local rulers to come up with a solution to best irrigate their own territory. This, along with different geographical circumstances, caused some provinces and territories to be more successful in controlling the floods than others. While some local rulers still officially recognized the central government in Memphis and the kings of the 7th/8th Dynasty, others proclaimed themselves kings in their own right. Particularly at Heracleapolis, a city located to the south of the Fayum oasis, the nomarchs were successful in founding their own dynasty, the 9th/10th Dynasty, and claiming royal prerogatives. Their influence extended at least as far south as Abydos and Dendara, where it was challenged by the local rulers of Thebes, in Middle Egypt, who founded the 11th Dynasty. Less powerful nomarchs, while having some degree of independence, were loyal to either the Heracleopolitan or the Theban dynasties. The two rivaling dynasties would wage their conflict on both a diplomatic and a military platform, plunging at least part of the country into a civil war.

A wall painting at Luxor depicting the God Anubis and the body of the Pharaoh

The final victory of the Theban dynasty, led by Mentuhotep II, marked the beginning of a new era of unity and prosperity: the Middle Kingdom. That not the entire country was afflicted by this civil war is, however, shown, at the Dakhla oasis, to the west of the Nile Valley. The capital of this region, known today as Balat, was rebuilt after a fire at the end of the 6th Dynasty, but contrary to the older city, the new capital was not protected by an enclosure wall. At least in this part of the Egyptian territories, there must have been a feeling of security during the 1st Intermediate Period. The collapse of the central government and the break-down of the country into several semi-independent and independent provinces also had consequences on an artistic level. Without the support of the central government, the ateliers at Memphis were no longer capable of producing the high-quality artifacts and decoration they were used to. The local governors chose to use their own ateliers with craftsmen lacking the the required training and skills. The reliefs and statues that were created during this period often lack the refinement of their Old Kingdom predecessors: the craftsmanship was rather clumsy or even sloppy and figures were stiff and dis-proportionate.

The Middle Kingdom

The 1st Intermediate Period came to an end in 2040 when 11th Dynasty king Mentuhotep II finally succeeded in overthrowing the Heracleopolitan kings of the 9th/10th Dynasty, thus reuniting Egypt after almost a century of chaos and civil war.

The Colossi of Memnon are two massive stone statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III. For the past 3400 years (since c 1350 BC) they have stood in the Theban necropolis

Later generations would come to see Mentuhotep as the second founder of Egypt. He and his successors launched a new building campaign throughout the country to build impressive monuments. Egypt once again became a prospering nation. There are, however, indications of dynastic problems. The last king of the 11th dynasty, Mentuhotep IV, was omitted from later king lists, which might indicate that he was considered a usurper. His vizier, a man named Amenemhat, probably became the first king of the 12th Dynasty. It is not known with certainty how this Amenemhat came to power: maybe he ceased it, maybe he was named Mentuhotep IV's successor, or maybe he just rose to the occasion. A stone plate found at el-Lisht shows the names of the two kings next to each other, hinting at the possibility of a co-regency. If indeed there was such a co-regency between Mentuhotep IV and Amenemhat I, then Amenemhat was intended as Mentuhotep's successor and the co-regency was meant to make sure that the transition of power would go uncontested. This principle would be continued throughout most of the 12th Dynasty as well. Amenemhat I moved the administrative centre of the country from Thebes to a new city, Itj-tawi ("the one that takes the Two Lands"), located somewhere in or near the Fayum-oasis, while Memphis became the official capital again.

An Alabaster Sphinx at the ruins of Memphis

Thebes would however gain in importance, as it became the centre of the cult of Amun, a god of obscure origins to whom the kings of the 12th Dynasty felt some special allegiance. Amenemhat I and his successors continued the building policy of the kings of the late 11th Dynasty. This building activity was financed with the spoils coming from military campaigns in Nubia, where Amenemhat and his son Sesostris I regained control of the region South of the first cataract. Along the Eastern frontier and in Nubia fortresses were built to prevent nomad tribes from entering the country uncontrolled. Sesostris III brought the 12th Dynasty to its political, economical and cultural climax. He too directed campaigns against Nubia, advancing the Southern border to the second cataract or beyond, where he would later be venerated as a god. Although Egypt did not show an interest in that region for a long time after Sesostris III, he waged the first military campaign against Syria-Palestine, most likely to punish some nomad raiders who had tried to enter the country. A lovely relief at Dendara shows Mentuhotep II in adoration. Arts and crafts flourished during the Middle Kingdom as is shown in this lovely amulet of Sesostris III. He also made some very important changes in the administration of the country, thus eliminating the local governors who had still retained much of their power since the 1st Intermediate Period. After the long and properous reign of Amenemhat III, the power of the dynasty started to decline. There may have been some tension regarding the succession of Amenemhat III, as his immediate successor, Amenemhat IV,may not have been of royal blood. Perhaps taking advantage of the central government's weakened influence, a local potentate of foreign origin, founded the 14th Dynasty that ruled the eastern Nile Delta. With the country divided, the Middle Kingdom came to an end.

The Second Intermediate Period

Somewhere during the reign of Amenemhat IV, the penultimate king of the 12th Dynasty, the regular expeditions to the copper and turquoise mines of the Sinai came to a stop.

The Statue of Ramesses II

At about the same time, the archaeological record shows that a man of obvious foreign origin, usurped royal power and controlled at least part of the Nile Delta. He was succeeded by a long list of foreign kings, whose control never seems to have exceeded Lower Egypt and that are grouped in the 14th Dynasty, which ruled from the city of Avaris. The circumstances under which a foreigner was able to seize power over a prosperous region in the country, are not known. Perhaps Amenemhat IV's non-royal parentage caused some dynastic feud with the remaining members of the old royal family, weakening the position of the central government. The fact that Amenemhat IV's immediate successor, Nefrusobek, was not one of his surviving sons, but a daughter of Amenemhat III, may have been an ultimate attempt of the members of the 12th Dynasty to hold on to power. That this attempt, if that is indeed what it was, failed, is shown by the fact that Nefrusobek's successor, Sebekhotep I, was the son of Amenemhat IV and thus no longer a member of the 12th Dynasty. Sebekhotep I is therefor considered to be the founder of the 13th Dynasty, which ruled Upper-Egypt from Itj-Tawi near the Fayum oasis and Memphis, while the 14th Dynasty held power over at least the eastern part if not the whole of Lower Egypt. The tombs of the early 14th Dynasty in the Delta contained several military objects, which could indicate that the relationship of this Lower Egyptian Dynasty with the last rulers of the 12th and the first rulers of the 13th Dynasties may have been of a military nature. That any initial hostilities between the Upper and the Lower Egyptian Dynasties were ended soon is shown by the fact that the kings of the 13th Dynasty were able to trade with the Near East, while the 14th Dynasty could trade with Nubia, each dynasty thus allowing the other one a safe passage on its trading routes. Despite the initial rivalry and the kings of the 13th Dynasty still officially claiming kingship over the entire country, the first halves of both concurrent dynasties appear to have been fairly stable.

Egyptian soldiers carved in wood from the Old Kingdom

The second part of the 13th Dynasty, however, was marked by usurpations and kings openly proclaiming their non-royal birth. At the same time, the kings of the 14th Dynasty became more and more ephemeral figures. The last kings of the two dynasties followed each other in rapid succession which drastically weakened the authority of their governments. Remarkably, several kings of the second half of the 14th Dynasty, had the word nourishment as part of their royal names, an indication that the provisions of food become a topic of high political importance. At the same time, burials in Avaris, the capital of the 14th Dynasty, often lacked the usual food offerings and have the character of quick mass interments. All of this appears to point towards famines ravaging the otherwise very fertile Nile Delta. The results of these famines may have been felt throughout the entire country. Not only may there have been a general lack of food in the whole of Egypt, but famines quite often resulted in plagues which explain the quick succession of kings in both Dynasties. As a result of the weakened positions of the 13th and 14th Dynasties, Egypt lay open to any outside aggression. At around 1640 BC, Egypt was invaded by a group of Canaanites, whose leader used the title HqA-xAs.wt, 'ruler of the foreign land', or Hyksos. The Hyksos easily conquered Avaris as well as Memphis, causing the end of both the 13th and 14th Dynasty and founding their own dynasty, the 15th Dynasty. The fall of the 13th Dynasty created a power vacuum in the southern part of Upper-Egypt, which was quickly filled by two local dynasties: one in Abydos and one in Thebes, the latter's power extending from Thebes to Aswan in the South.

The Pharaoh Ahmose battling the Hyksos from a tomb painting

The kings of the Theban dynasty are grouped in the 16th Dynasty. At the same time, the Hyksos pressed on further to the South as well, and after it had been independent for about 20 years, they made an end to the Abydene Dynasty. It would take them another 30 years before they would succesfully end the 16th Dynasty and enforcing their rule upon the entire country. The Hyksos kings, however, were not able to maintain their control over the whole of Egypt, and only a few years after it had been conquered, Thebes again arose as an independent state, and home to the 17th Dynasty. The circumstances that led to Thebes' renewed independence are not clear. A change of power in the 15th Dynasty may hint at some dynastic troubles among the Hyksos, and it is possible that the Thebans took advantage of the situation not only to reclaim their autonomy but also to extend their rule as far North as Abydos. After the Theban conquest of Abydos, a status quo appears to have been established between the 15th and 17th Dynasty and both dynasties even appear to have entered into trade. This situation lasted at least until the reign of Seqenenre, the penultimate king of the 17th Dynasty, during which hostilities between the Thebans and the Hyksos appear to have been reinitiated.

The New Kingdom

Tuthmosis III statue in Luxor Museum

The expulsion of the Hyksos, began during the late 17th Dynasty by Seqenenre or by Kamose and completed by 18th Dynasty monarch Ahmose in 1522, was the start of a series of conquests that would bring Egypt peace and prosperity. The age of conquest had begun! Even though Ahmose was the brother or nephew of his predecessor, Kamose, Manetho has placed him at the head of a new royal house: the 18th Dynasty. In an effort to secure Egyptian borders against future invasions, Ahmose conquered a territory stretching from Syria-Palestine in the North, to the 2nd cataract in Nubia in the South. Within a few decennia, Egypt became the most powerful nation in the Ancient Near East. Ahmose's aggresive policy against Asia and Nubia was followed by his successors, especially by Thutmosis I and Thutmosis III, who expanded the boundaries of the new empire as far as the 4th cataract to the south and as far as the Euphrates river near the modern-day Turkish border in the north. The spoils brought home from the many successful military campaigns and the tributes owed by the many conquered states increased Egypt's wealth and prosperity, which was translated in a tremendous building activity: new temples were built, older ones were restored or enlarged. Especially favoured were the god Amun and his great temple at Karnak, in the capital Thebes. Egypt's stability was briefly ruptured when the late 18th Dynasty king Amenhotep IV, also known as Akhenaten, changed the Egyptian religion and had most temples closed, favoring one new god, the solar-deity Aton. During this period of turmoil and upheaval, the so-called Amarna-revolution, Egypt lost a lot of it's former influence in Asia and Nubia.

The Statue of Ramesses II is a 3,200-year-old figure depicting him standing, that was discovered in 1820 by Giovanni Battista Caviglia at the Great Temple of Ptah of Mit-Rahina near Memphis.

The first kings of the 19th Dynasty, Seti I and Ramesses II, set out to restore Egypt's lost glory, reclaiming the lost territories abroad and continuing the formidable building activity started in the 18th Dynasty. Again, large parts of Asia were conquered, but the international situation had changed and the Egyptians found themselves facing a new and powerful enemy: the Hittites. The enmities between Egypt and the Hittites came to an end in the 21st year of Ramesses II's year with a peace treaty between the two countries. The remainder of the 67-year long reign of Ramesses II would be peaceful and prosperous. Thutmosis III was the greatest conqueror of the New Kingdom. Ramesses II reclaimed Egypt's lost glory through war and peace treaties. Ramesses II's successors, however, were unable to follow in his footsteps. The 19th Dynasty gradually slipped away in dynastic disputes and chaos. With the 20th Dynasty, Egypt's half millennium of prosperity and relative stability would slowly draw to an end. Although Ramesses III was clearly a very capable ruler who had successfully repelled several foreign invasions and was able to restore the Egyptian influence in Syria-Palestine, his reign was also marked by corruption, social turmoil and a conspiracy against his life! During the years following his death, Egypt's unity and stability started falling apart: the Theban priests of Amun were becoming more and more the de facto rulers of Upper-Egypt, while Lower-Egypt was in the hands of the administration of the Pharaoh. Another powerful group in the Egyptian society were the military, especially the military who descended from former Libyan prisoners of war. They too claimed their part in the government and in Egyptian territory. By the end of the 20th Dynasty, Egypt was again divided into many fractions and the New Kingdom came to an end.

The Late Dynasties

In most history books, the period following the New Kingdom is the 3rd Intermediate Period (1070 - 712 or 1070 - 525), composed of the dynasties 21 through 24 or 26. This period, followed by the Late Period (712 - 332 or 525 - 332), is often described as a period of decline and chaos.

It is true that during most of the so-called 3rd Intermediate Period, there was more than one center of power in Egypt: in Tanis, in the Nile Delta, there were the kings from the 21st and 22nd Dynasty, who nominally ruled the entire country, but who had to share their power with the Theban high-priests, or with some other, local dynasties, such as the 23rd and the 24th. This division of power, however, did not lead to civil wars or a decline in wealth. To the contrary, the period so often called "3rd Intermediate Period" was a period of relative peace and stability. The 21st Dynasty royal tombs, unearthed in Tanis, are among the richest finds in the history of Egyptian archaeology. That the power did not only reside with the king and his entourage, was the result of the increasing wealth of private persons, such as the Theban high-priests.

This too is echoed by the immense private tombs found on the Theban West Bank, dated to this period. I have therefore chosen not to use the name "3rd Intermediate Period" and have the Late Dynastic Period immediately follow the New Kingdom. What is called the "Late Period" in most history books, has also become part of this "Late Dynastic Period". During most of the New Kingdom, the wealth and power of the Theban high-priests had slowly increased. It is possible that 18th Dynasty King Akhenaten's Amarna-revolution was an attempt to break this power. If so, the attempt failed, for a mere 20 years later, the old temples were reopened and the high-priests were reinstated in their offices. Whatever Akhenaten's motives for his religious revolution, the reinstatement of the traditional cult was a victory for the high-priests of Thebes. At the end of the New Kingdom, during the later years of Ramesses XI, a Theban high-priest named Herihor, possibly a brother-in-law to Ramesses XI, was able to combine his influential office with the office of vizier and he bore the honorary title of "viceroy of Kush". He was so wealthy that he was able to build parts of the Khonsu-temple in Karnak and he even usurped the royal privilege to have his name written in a cartouche! When Ramesses XI died, the dynasty of high-priests had become a major political factor. The kings of the 21st Dynasty were probably related through marriage to the last Ramessides.

A map of the Nile valley showing the early Kingdoms of Egypt

They moved the capital from Pi-Ramesse to Tanis, both in the Nile Delta, probably because the canal neighboring Pi-Ramesse had dried out. At Tanis they launched an elaborate building activity, one that was to rival the temple of Amun in Thebes and which also included the moving of temples and palaces from the old capital Pi-Ramesse to Tanis. They also moved the royal necropolis from the Valley of the Kings on the Theban West Bank to Tanis, where the intact tomb of Psusennes I has been discovered in the late 1930's. Another important political factor was the Libyan military, which had been integrated into the Egyptian army and police force during the late New Kingdom. At the end of the 21st Dynasty, one of those leaders, who was married to the daughter of the last king of the 21st Dynasty, came to power. He founded a new dynasty, the 22nd, also called the Libyan or the Bubastide Dynasty since the Dynasty was founded by Libyans who lived in the Delta-city of Bubastis. The early Bubastide kings were powerful rulers who were able to re-establish Egyptian presence in Syria-Palestine. They were also able to determine who would be high-priest in Thebes and they often picked someone from their own family, thus reinforcing the Egyptian unity. But dynastic rivalry would soon bring an end to the newly found unity. In Leontopolis, also in the Delta, a 23rd Dynasty was proclaimed. This example would soon be followed by Tefnakht, a prince in the Delta-city of Sais, who founded the 24th Dynasty. Not only was Egypt divided between the Delta and Thebes, now the Delta itself would be divided as well. Taking advantage from these internal conflicts, a new power arose in the South, in Nubia. There a dynasty had come to power intent on conquering Egypt. In an effort to confront this Nubian invasion, the three Delta-dynasties allied themselves, but they were defeated.

The Great Temple at Abu Simbel, which took about twenty years to build, was completed around year 24 of the reign of Rameses the Great (which corresponds to 1265 BCE)

The 25th Dynasty would be a Nubian Dynasty. The monarchs of the 25th Dynasty ruled the larger part of Egypt -only the 24th Dynasty from Sais seems to have maintained its independence- from their own capital, Napata, near the 4th cataract, but they would rule it following the old Egyptian traditions. The high quality craftsman-ship of the 21st and 22nd Dynasties, as shown in this death mask of Psusennes I, does not justify this period being dubbed an "inter-mediate" period. The Nubian kings of the 25th Dynasty followed the ancient Egyptian traditions, as is shown by this statue of Taharqa. The peace and stability resulting from the Nubian conquest was brought to an end by another external factor: the Assyrians. Although the presence of the Assyrians in Egypt has been a short one, its results were devastating. The once glorious Thebes was plundered, ransacked and many wonderful temples, among which the mortuary temple of Ramesses II, were destroyed. Fortunately for Egypt, the Assyrians were forced to return to Assur, leaving the king of Sais, Psamtek I, the opportunity to take control of the entire country. With him began the 26th Dynasty and a new era of stability and prosperity in Egypt. For more than a century, the 26th Dynasty would rule over Egypt, until it was defeated by Persian invaders. The latter part of the Late Dynastic Period starts and ends with a Persian occupation. The first Persian occupation, also known as the 27th Dynasty, lasted for more than a century. It was brought to an end by Amyrtaios, the only king of the 28th Dynasty, who succeeded in ridding Egypt of the Persian yoke and was able to re-establish control over the entire country. Egypt's regained independence lasted some 60 years, during which the kings of the 29th and 30th Dynasties ruled the country and re-established all of its traditions. The second Persian occupation would only last for 10 years, but it was one of the darkest pages in the history of Ancient Egypt: temples were plundered, holy animals were butchered and the people were subjected to demanding tributes. Egypt's ordeal during this occupation would make it ready to welcome the Macedonian king Alexander the Great as its liberator. With the "conquest" of Egypt by Alexander, Egypt would become a Hellenistic state and a new era had begun. - By Jacques Kinnaer

Egyptian Art: The Tomb of Tutankhamun

The Pharaoh's solid gold funerary mask

When Howard Carter uncovered the remarkably preserved tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922, he created a worldwide sensation. The only tomb of its era found intact and full of indescribable treasures, it was also the first major discovery in the age of easy worldwide communication. That, along with rumors of a mysterious curse, helped make Tutankhamun the most popular of the Egyptian pharaohs in the modern world.

Tutankhamun's tomb fairly soon after his burial. The thieves were caught in the act and official inspectors reorganized the contents and resealed the tomb. Several generations later, workmen constructing the nearby tomb of another pharaoh built their huts over the young king's place of burial, thus obscuring it. Later flooding in the area erased any evidence of its existence. Tutankhamun's tomb would remain hidden for more than three thousand years.

Tomb of Tutankhamen in the Valley of the Kings

On November 4, 1922, workmen uncovered the top step of a staircase which archaeologist Howard Carter followed to discover eleven stairs and sealed door. Stamped on the surface of the doorway was the Jackal-and-Nine-Captives seal of the official guards, but a royal name was not visible. The upper left-hand corner of the door had been re-plastered and resealed, which told Carter that robbers had broken into the tomb in antiquity, but that something important still remained inside. After making a small hole, Carter peered inside and saw a corridor filled with rubble. He curbed his impatience, had his men refill the stairway, and sent the momentous telegram to Lord Carnarvon in England.

The throne found in the tomb was most certainly used by the Pharaoh

He was not to realize the extent of his discovery until November 26th, when he held a small candle up to a breach in the doorway separating him from the first of the four rooms, checking for noxious gases and then a few seconds later enlarging the opening and peering inside. Carter recorded his first impression in his popular book, The Tomb of Tutankhamen:

"At first I could see nothing, the hot air escaping from the chamber causing the candle flame to flicker, but presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues and gold - everywhere the glint of gold...I was struck dumb with amazement, and when Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, "Can you see anything?" it was all I could do to get out the words, "Yes, wonderful things."

Egyptian Mythology

Amun Ra, The Creator

The Egyptians saw the actions of the gods behind all the elements and forces of nature. However, they did not believe that the gods merely controlled these phenomena, but that each element of nature was a divine force in itself. The forces deified in this way included animals, as with Sekhmet, who represented the ferocity of lions, and inanimate elements, such as Shu, the deification of air. The gods could also represent more abstract things, as Horus represented the power of kingship. The Egyptians thus believed in a multitude of gods, which were involved in every aspect of nature and human society. Egyptian myths about the gods were intended to explain the origins and behavior of these phenomena, and the hymns, prayers and offerings given to the gods were efforts to placate them and turn them to human advantage. This polytheistic system was very complex, as some deities were believed to exist in many different manifestations, and some had multiple mythological roles. Conversely, many natural forces, such as the sun, were associated with multiple deities.


The depictions of the gods in art were not meant as literal representations of how the gods might appear if they were visible, as the gods' true natures were believed to be "hidden" and "mysterious". Instead, these depictions gave recognizable forms to the abstract deities by using symbolic imagery to indicate each god's role in nature. Thus, for example, the funerary god Anubis was portrayed as a jackal, a creature whose scavenging habits threatened the preservation of the body, in an effort to counter this threat and employ it for protection. His black skin was symbolic of the color of mummified flesh and the fertile black soil that Egyptians saw as a symbol of resurrection. However, religious iconography was not fixed, and many of the gods could be depicted in more than one form. Below are some of the major gods of the Egyptian Pantheon.


Names in ancient Egypt were very mystic and powerful. It was thought that if you inscribed your enemies' name on something, then broke it, that enemy would either be afflicted, or possibly die.

If you knew a name you had power. In the same respect, using a name could be beneficial. Each god had five names, and each was associated with an element, such as air, with celestial bodies, or were a descriptive statement about the god, such as strong, virile or majestic.


The creator of all things was either Re, Amun, Ptah, Khnum or Aten, depending on which version of the myth was currently in use. The heavens were represented by Hathor, Bat, and Horus. Osiris was an earth god as was Ptah. The annual flooding of the Nile was Hapi. Storms, evil and confusion were Seth. His counterpart was Ma'at, who represented balance, justice and truth. The moon was Thoth and Khonsu. Re, the sun god, took on many forms, and transcended most of the borders that contained the other gods. The actual shape of the sun, the disk (or, aten), was deified into another god, Aten.

Certain gods were worshiped in different areas. Local cities or villages, known as nomes, often had unique gods that were known only to that region. On occasion, these gods attained country -wide recognition and became the myths and legends that were passed on from century to century. Below is a listing of the main gods and their primary place of worship.


Amaunet - A female counterpart to Amon and one of the primordial gods of the Hermopolitian Ogdoad (group of eight gods). She was also worshipped at Thebes along with Amon and Mut.

Amon - Usually associated with the wind, or things hidden, and was also of the Hermopolitian Ogdoad. At Thebes he became Amon-Re, king of the gods. He was part of the Theban Triad, along with Mut and Khonsu.

Antaios - He was originally a double god, "the two falcons", that was later joined to create one, probably that of Horus.

Anuket - Worshipped at Elephantine, she was associated with the gazelle.

Apis - Seen as the bull with a solar disk between its horns, Apis was associated with Osiris and Ptah.

Aton - Also known as Aten, he was worshiped at Tell 'Amarna.

Atum - A primordial god that was represented in the form of a human and a serpent. He was the supreme god in the Heliopolitan Ennead (group of nine gods) and formed with Re to create Re-Atum.


Hathor - The goddess of love, dance and alcohol was depicted as a cow. At Thebes she was also the goddess of the dead. She was worshiped at Dendera as the consort of Horus and Edfu, and was associated with Isis at Byblos.

Horus - The earliest royal god was the shape of a falcon, with the sun and moon as his eyes. The sky-god was the ruler of the day. The many forms of Horus are; Re-Harakhti, Harsiesis, Haroeris, Harendotes, Khenti-irti, Khentekhtay (the crocodile-god), and Harmakhis, which is Horus on the horizons, in which the Sphinx of Giza is considered to be his aspect.


Isis - The mother of Horus and sister and consort of Osiris was worshiped at Philae. Associated with Astarte, Hathor, Nut and Sothis, she was later worshiped over the entire Roman Empire.

Khnum - Resembling a human with a rams head, he was worshiped in Hypselis, Esna, Antinoe and Elephantine.

Khonsu - the moon god was the son of Amon and Mut. The main temple at Karnak is dedicated to him.

Min - God of fertility coalesced with Amon and Horus. Min was mainly worshiped at Coptos and Akhmim.


Mut - Worshipped at Thebes, she was a consort of Amon and part of the Theban Triad (group of three gods).

Nut - Mother of the sun, moon and heavenly bodies.

Osiris - He is regarded as the dead king that watches over the nether world and is rejuvenated in his son Horus. As the symbol of eternal life he was worshiped at Abydosand Philae.

Ptah - Worshiped in Memphis, he coalesced with Sokaris and Osiris.


Re - He was the sun god of Heliopolis. From the fifth Dynasty onwards he becomes a national god and is combined with the supreme deity Amon.

Serapis - He was mainly worshiped in Alexandria and was later worshiped by the Greeks as Zeus. He was never fully accepted by the Egyptians in the Ptolemaic period.

Sekhmet - She was part of the Memphite Triad with Ptah and Nefertem. She was the mistress of war and sickness.

Seth - The son of Geb and Nut in the Heliopolitan Ennead was in the form of an animal that has no zoological equivalent.


This powerful god was regarded as god of the desert, making him a god of foreign lands.

Shu - He was an ancient cosmic power and was regarded as the god of the air and the bearer of heaven.

Sobek - He was a crocodile god and was worshiped at the Faiyum and Ombos. During the middle Kingdom he coalesced with Re, Sobek-Re, and was worshiped as primordial deity and creator-god.

Thoth - He was worshiped as a baboon in Hermopolis. He was the god of sacred writings and wisdom.


There was a period in the 14th century BC when the pharaoh Akhenaten promoted the worship of the sun-disk Aten over the other deities. Eventually he prohibited the worship of the other gods, converting the official religion of Egypt into true monotheism. However, Akhenaten's changes contrasted with the syncretic tradition of earlier Egyptian belief, and this exclusivity alienated ordinary Egyptians. Thus, under Akhenaten's successors Egypt reverted to its traditional religion, and many of his creations were profaned, his new religious beliefs abolished and his major capital of el-Amarna abandoned.

Post Comment

Please Login or Register to post a comment!


Cleopatra Jones's avatar
by Cleopatra Jones on 2011 06 25

Nice overview, but where’s the info on the Queens of the Nile??? Love the site..

Talk to the hand…

Our Sponsors

Your support keeps the Ancient Web running!

Latest Comments

Under founding of denmark the picture of a statue is not gorm the old, but holger danske/ ogier the dane.
Holger Danske is normally regarded as a Danish national symbol. He is first mentioned in literature as one of the French king Charlemagne’s warriors in La Chanson de Roland from around 1060. In this Chanson he is called Oger le Danois, his name being the only link to Denmark. In the later epos La Chevalerie d’Ogier de Danemarche (1200-1215) he is portrayed as the main character and is described as a son of the Danish king Gudfred (d. 810), an enemy of Charlemagne.

His first appearance in Nordic literature is in the saga Karlemagnússaga from the latter part of the 1200s, which in the main consists of passages translated from French texts. His name here is given as Oddgeir danski. This saga was translated into Danish during the 1400s and thereafter Holger Danske became part of Danish folklore with several accounts in the Danish Chronicle first published around 1509.

The Danish national writer Hans Christian Andersen in 1845 wrote the fairytale Holger Danske, where he is described as sitting fast asleep in the casemates of the Castle of Kronborg, with his beard having grown into the table in front of him and his sword in his lap, prepared to wake up to action in case of Denmark being threatened from outside forces. Today his statue can be seen in the casemates of Kronborg as described by Hans Christian Andersen.

During the German occupation of Denmark in 1940-45 one of the principal partisan organizations was named after Holger Danske.

in Ancient Denmark

Our Sponsors

Your support keeps the Ancient Web running!