History of Ancient Egypt

    A long time ago people didn’t live in cities. Instead, they were hunters and gatherers. They moved around in small groups searching for food. People who move around to find food are called nomads.

    Around 5,000 years ago, people began settling around rivers. Rivers are surrounded by plants and animals. This meant that people didn’t have to move around to find food. They could stay in one place.

    Many people settled around the Nile River. They learned how to farm and formed cities. In a city, people have many different jobs. People can trade to get what they need. A weaver could make cloth and trade it for bread from the baker.

    In this early times Ancient Egypt was divided into two kingdoms. The Upper Kingdom was located in the south. It was called the Upper Kingdom because the land here was higher than in the north. The northern part of Egypt was called the Lower Kingdom. The Lower Kingdom was made up of the lowlands in the  north.

    The Nile River flows from south to north and empties into the Mediterranean Sea. Near the Mediterranean it forms a delta. A delta is an area where a river separates into many smaller rivers before it empties into a larger body of water. Every year the Nile River would flood around the delta. This brought rich soil to the Lower Kingdom for farming. People were also able to farm in the Upper Kingdom, but the Lower Kingdom had more farmland.

    In 3100 B.C., King Narmer of the Lower Kingdom conquered the Upper Kingdom. He united all of Ancient Egypt into one kingdom. In paintings, he is shown wearing two crowns. A red crown to represent the Lower Kingdom and a white crown to represent the Upper Kingdom.

    Narmer formed the first dynasty of Ancient Egypt. A dynasty is a family that rules a kingdom. One family can rule a kingdom for many generations. In Egypt, the role of king was passed from father to son. If the king didn’t have a son, a close male relative was chosen to become the new king. Sometimes another family would take over the kingdom. This would create a new dynasty. Ancient Egypt had 31 dynasties over 3,000 years.

    Today we call the Egyptian rulers pharaohs, but this isn’t the title they used. Pharaoh is a word that the Greeks used for the Egyptian leaders.

    After Narmer, Egypt’s history is divided into three kingdoms. The Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, and New Kingdom. Most of the pyramids of Ancient Egypt were built during the Old Kingdom.

    Pyramids were burial tombs for the pharaohs. The first pharaoh to build a pyramid was Djoser. Before Djoser, pharaohs were buried under flat rectangular buildings called mastabas. The mastaba would hold everything the pharaoh would need in the afterlife. Djoser’s pyramid was called the Step Pyramid because it was designed to be several mastabas stacked on top of each other to make a staircase for the pharaoh to climb to the afterlife.

    After Djoser, pharaohs continued to build themselves pyramids. The design of the pyramids improved over time. Eventually, true pyramids with flat sides replaced the step pyramids. The most famous true pyramid in Egypt is the Great Pyramid of Giza built by Khufu during the Old Kingdom.

    Around 2190 BC, the united kingdom of Egypt fell apart. Different areas were each ruled by a separate king. In about 2008 BC the kingdom was reunited. Mentuhotep II was a king in the south of Egypt. He conquered the other kings of Egypt and reunited the kingdom. This began the Middle Kingdom.

    The Middle Kingdom lasted for about 400 years. During this time the Egyptians were able to conquer the land to south of them known as Nubia. The Nubians provided rare wild animals, gold, and slaves.

    By 1700 BC, the Hyksos, from the Middle East, had conquered Egypt. This ended the Middle Kingdom. The Hyksos ruled Egypt for about 200 years and brought much of their culture with them. One example is the chariot which was used later by Egyptian pharaohs.

    Around 1500 BC, a new pharaoh, Ahmose I, brought the kingdom of Egypt together and expelled the Hyksos. This began the New Kingdom. The first woman pharaoh of Egypt ruled during the New Kingdom.

    Hatshepsut was married to Thutmose II. He was also her brother. The Egyptians believed that they need to keep the royal bloodlines pure, so they often married their siblings. When Thutmose II died, his nephew, Thutmose III was supposed to become the new pharaoh. He was just a baby, so Hatshepsut served as his regent. Then, she declared herself pharaoh. She began dressing like a pharaoh, and she even wore the pharaoh’s braided beard.

    Hatshepsut was not interested in going to war to expand Egypt. Instead, she focused on growing the economy through trade. She traded with Punt, another ancient kingdom. This brought ivory, gold, myrrh, and trees to Egypt. She used these riches to build many temples celebrated the Egyptian gods.  

    Historians didn’t know about Hatshepsut for a long time because she built her tomb into the side of a mountain where it was hidden until 1902. Also, after her death, her nephew, Thutmose III, destroyed all statues and inscriptions that mentioned her in an effort to solidify his power as pharaoh.

    Later in the 18th dynasty, a pharaoh named Akhenaten attempted to change the religion of Ancient Egypt from polytheistic (worshipping many gods) to monotheistic (worshipping one god). He formed Atenism to worship the god Aten. When he died, his son, Tutankhaten, became pharaoh.

    Tutankhaten returned the religion of Egypt back to the polytheistic form that existed before his father ruled. He changed his name to reflect the change and became known as Tutankhamun. He was called “the boy king” because he became pharaoh at 8 years old and died suddenly at 18 most likely from an infection due to a broken leg. His tomb was discovered in 1922, and he became world famous as King Tut.

    Ramses III was the last pharaoh of the New Kingdom. During his reign Egypt faced continual attacks. Corruption within the government also weakened the kingdom. Eventually, Egypt split into the Upper and Lower Kingdoms again. In 728 BC Egypt was conquered by Nubia, in 671 BC the Assyrians invaded, and in 525 BC the Persians attacked.

    In 332 BC Alexander the Great from Macedonia arrived in Egypt. He traveled up the Nile to visit the Oracle of Amun. Here, he was told that he was a son of one of the gods of Egypt. This would have made him the rightful ruler of Egypt. As ruler, Alexander encouraged the Egyptians to keep their religion and culture. However, he brought some Greek culture to Egypt. He relocated the capital to Alexandria. He also appointed Macedonians to the senior posts throughout Egypt.

    Alexander the Great left Egypt just one year after arriving and never returned. After his death in 323 BC, his kingdom was in chaos. Ptolemy, one of his generals, was put in charge of Egypt. As Alexander’s kingdom fell apart, Ptolemy decided to declare himself pharaoh of Egypt. This began the Ptolemaic Dynasty.

    Ptolemy was a strong ruler and brought wealth to Egypt. His son, Ptolemy II, was the last great ruler of Egypt. The rest of the rulers of the Ptolemaic Dynasty kept themselves separate from the people of Egypt. They married within their own family, spoke Greek, and spent most of their time plotting against each other for power.

    As Rome came to power in the west, the royal family in Egypt paid bribes to the Romans in order to stay in power. They would send payments of grain to Rome in exchange for protection.

    The last pharaoh of Egypt, Cleopatra VII, began ruling with her brother after their father died. Soon after, her brother exiled her from Egypt. Luckily for Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, the emperor of Rome, was visiting Alexandria in 48 BC. She was hidden in a carpet and brought to him to ask for help. Cleopatra and Julius Caesar defeated her brother in the Battle of the Nile.

    Cleopatra married her younger brother in Alexandria, but soon left for Rome with Caesar in 45 BC. They had a son together named Caesarion. In 44 BC, Caesar was assassinated by the Roman Senate. Cleopatra and Caesarion fled to Egypt.

    After Caesar’s death, Mark Antony and Cleopatra fell in love. They had three children together. Mark Antony distributed much of Egypt’s land to his three children. Octavian, the emperor of Rome, didn’t believe that Mark Antony had the power to give away Roman land. His army attacked Alexandra where Mark Antony and Cleopatra were living.

    To avoid being captured, Antony fell on his sword to commit suicide. Cleopatra and her handmaidens also committed suicide either by drinking poison or letting a Egyptian cobra bite them.

    Soon after Cleopatra’s death, Caesarion was captured and executed. Cleopatra’s three other children were sent to Rome where they were raised by Mark Antony’s Roman wife, Octavia. When they grew up, they married into the Roman nobility.

    Egypt officially became a Roman province, but the Romans didn’t settle in Egypt. This allowed the Greek influence on the Egyptian culture to remain until it was conquered by the Arabs in 642 AD.

    One of the most remarkable things about kingdom of Ancient Egypt is that it lasted for so long. The span from King Narmer to Cleopatra VII is nearly 4,000 years. As you have read, a lot happened in those 4,000 years.