Ancient Egypt was a civilization which arose along the middle to lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern nation of Egypt. It began around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh, and it developed over the next three millennia. This ancient civilization thrived from its adaptation to the conditions of the Nile River Valley. Controlled irrigation of the fertile valley produced surplus crops, which fueled social development and culture that promoted the building of monumental pyramids, temples, obelisks, faience and glass technology.
The history of Ancient Egypt can be divided into historical periods: the Early Dynastic Period, the Old Kingdom, First Intermediate Period, Middle Kingdom, Second Intermediate Period, New Kingdom, and Third Intermediate Period.
Early Dynastic Period
The ancient Egyptians chose to begin their official history with a king named "Menes" who they believed had united the two kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt. In the Early Dynastic Period about 3150 BC, the first pharaohs solidified their control over lower Egypt by establishing a capital at Memphis, from which they could control the labor force and agriculture of the fertile delta region as well as the lucrative and critical trade routes to the Levant. The increasing power and wealth of the pharaohs during the early dynastic period was reflected in their elaborate mastaba tombs and mortuary cult structures at Abydos, which were used to celebrate the deified pharaoh after his death. The strong institution of kingship developed by the pharaohs served to legitimize state control over the land, labor, and resources that were essential to the survival and growth of ancient Egyptian civilization.
During the Old Kingdom period, the Fourth Dynasty stands out. It ruled from 2613 to 2498 BC and included the Pharaohs who had the famous Giza Pyramids built: Khufu (Cheops), Khafre (Chephren) and Menkaura (Mycerinus). Along with the rising importance of a central administration arose a new class of educated scribes and officials who were granted estates by the pharaoh in payment for their services. Pharaohs also made land grants to their mortuary cults and local temples to ensure that these institutions would have the necessary resources to worship the pharaoh after his death. By the end of this period, the power of the pharaoh diminished as regional governors called nomarchs began to challenge the supremacy of the pharaoh. This, coupled with severe droughts between 2200 and 2150 BC, ultimately caused the country to enter a 140-year period of famine and strife known as the First Intermediate Period.
First Intermediate Period
After Egypt’s central government collapsed at the end of the Old Kingdom, the administration could no longer support or stabilize the country’s economy. Regional governors could not rely on the king for help in times of crisis, and the ensuing food shortages and political disputes escalated into famines and small-scale civil wars.
Free from their loyalties to the pharaoh, local rulers began competing with each other for territorial control and political power. By 2160 BC, rulers in Hierakonpolis controlled Lower Egypt, while a rival clan based in Thebes, the Intef family, took control of Upper Egypt. As the Intefs grew in power and expanded their control northward, a clash between the two rival dynasties became inevitable. Around 2055 BC the Theban forces under Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II finally defeated the Herakleopolitan rulers, reuniting the Two Lands and inaugurating a period of economic and cultural renaissance known as the Middle Kingdom.
The pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom restored the country’s prosperity and stability, thereby stimulating a resurgence of art, literature, and monumental building projects. Mentuhotep II and his 11th Dynasty successors ruled from Thebes, but the vizier Amenemhet I, upon assuming kingship at the beginning of the 12th Dynasty around 1985 BC, shifted the nation’s capital to the city of Itjtawy located in Faiyum. From Itjtawy, the pharaohs of the 12th Dynasty undertook a far-sighted land reclamation and irrigation scheme to increase agricultural output in the region. The last great ruler of the Middle Kingdom, Amenemhat III, allowed Asiatic settlers into the delta region to provide a sufficient labor force for his especially active mining and building campaigns.
Second Intermediate Period
Around 1650 BC, as the power of the Middle Kingdom pharaohs weakened, Asiatic immigrants living in the Eastern Delta town of Avaris seized control of the region and forced the central government to retreat to Thebes, where the pharaoh was treated as a vassal and expected to pay tribute. The Hyksos ("foreign rulers") imitated Egyptian models of government and portrayed themselves as pharaohs, thus integrating Egyptian elements into their Middle Bronze Age culture. it was Kamose’s successor, Ahmose I, from the 17th dynasty, who successfully waged a series of campaigns that permanently eradicated the Hyksos’ presence in Egypt.
The New Kingdom, sometimes referred to as the Egyptian Empire, is the period in ancient Egyptian history between the 16th century BC and the 11th century BC, covering the Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth Dynasties of Egypt. The New Kingdom (1570–1070 BC) followed the Second Intermediate Period and was succeeded by the Third Intermediate Period. It was Egypt’s most prosperous time and marked the zenith of its power.
Third Intermediate Period
The Third Intermediate Period marked the end of the New Kingdom after the collapse of the Egyptian empire. A number of dynasties of Libyan origin ruled, giving this period its alternative name of the Libyan Period. It was characterized by the country’s fracturing kingship.
The Late Period runs from 732 BC until Egypt became a province of Rome in 30 BC under Augustus Caesar, and includes periods of rule by Nubians, Persians, and Macedonians.