Ancient Egypt. Egypt’s Powerful Kings and Queens. Egypt’s God-Kings.
Egypt’s Powerful Kings and Queens
The rulers of Egypt held the respected title of pharaoh (FAIR oh). The pharaohs were all-powerful. Whatever the pharaoh decided became law. The pharaoh decided which fields should be planted, and was also the religious leader of Egypt. The people of Egypt believed that the gift of the Nile, the yearly floods, was provided by the pharaoh.
Ancient Egypt has a history of dynasties. A dynasty is a family of rulers. Egypt had 31 dynasties before it was conquered by the Greeks in 332 B.C.
Historians separate Egyptian history into three main time periods, which they call kingdoms. The time periods are called the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom, and the New Kingdom.
2575 BC - 2150 BC
2040 BC - 1640 BC
1540 BC - 1070 BC
* The dates in this table are not exact.
The times between the kingdoms were called the intermediate periods. These were troubled times for Egypt. They were marked by weak rulers and invasion.
These in-between periods were rare, however, as most of ancient Egypt’s history is characterized by stable rule.
Ancient Egyptian tradition states that the first king was a man named Menes. Though there is not a lot of archaeological evidence to support his existence, he is credited with many achievements. Menes was the founding king of the 1st Dynasty, and he unified Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt into one kingdom. He also founded the capital city at Memphis. Memphis was built on an island in the Nile River, so that it would be easy to defend.
Menes was also referred to as Aha and King Scorpion, or, the Scorpion King. Menes sent ambassadors to Canaan and Byblos in Phoenicia and established peaceful trade with them. He also attacked Nubia, and held influence as far south as the first cataract.
It is said that Menes ruled for 62 years, and that he was killed by either a hippopotamus or by crocodiles.
Egypt became rich and powerful due to irrigation and trade. This allowed several projects to be funded, such as the pyramids. All of the pyramids were built during the Old Kingdom.
This step-pyramid was built by the pharaoh Djoser, during the 3rd Dynasty.
Here is the Great Pyramid of Giza. It was built by Khufu (a.k.a. Cheops) during the 4th Dynasty.
The Sphinx is believed to have been built by the pharaoh Khafre, sometime in the 4th Dynasty. There are scholars who think that the Sphinx may have been built earlier than that, though. The issue is still being debated.
After almost a century of chaos and civil war, which happened during the first intermediate period, Egypt was finally reunited under the rule of the pharaoh Menuhotep II.
During the Middle Kingdom, the Egyptians also conquered Lower Nubia.
There was an increase in art and literature during this time. The Shipwrecked Sailor is a famous story that was written at this time.
This time is known as the “Age of Empire,” as Egypt expands it’s control over Nubia and the Near East.
The Valley of the Kings was built during the New Kingdom. This burial ground houses the tombs of many of the great New Kingdom pharaohs, including King Tutankhamun and Ramses II.
Hatshepsut was the stepmother of a child named Thutmose III. Thutmose III became pharaoh around 1500 BC. Since he was very young, his stepmother was appointed regent. A regent is someone who rules in place of a child until the child is old enough to rule.
Hatshepsut decided to declare herself pharaoh. She ruled for 22 years, and during her time as pharaoh, she found new trading partners. Egypt enjoyed peace and great wealth during her time as pharaoh. She built monuments as well during her time as pharaoh.
Hatshepsut refused to give up power when Thutmose III was old enough to rule. When she died, he had all of her statues destroyed.
Another pharaoh of the New Kingdom, Akenhaten (a.k.a. Amenhotep IV), tried to end polytheism in Egypt. Though he still mentioned other gods, Akenhaten elevated the sun-god Aten as the one true god. His wife, Nefertiti, supported this belief. They closed the temples of other gods, and promoted monotheism 100 years before the time of Moses and the Israelites. Akenhaten claimed, however, that to worship the one god Aten, one had to give gifts to the pharaoh (which was him!)
The change in religion was not popular with the Egyptians, and when the next pharaoh, Tutankhamun, began his rule, he restored the old religion.
King Tutankhamun (or, King Tut) is one of the most famous Egyptian pharaohs. He became a boy-king at about the age of 9. He died about 9 years later, possibly from a wound to his head.
King Tut’s tomb was discovered in 1922. Many treasures were also found in his tomb. His innermost sarcophagus, or coffin, was made of beaten gold.
Ramses II was also known as Ramses the Great. He regained many lands that Egypt had previously lost. He also built a great deal of temples and monuments. Ramses II ruled for 67 years and lived to be over 90 years old.
Was Ramses II the king who enslaved the Israelites? Historians and scholars disagree about this. Some think that Ramses’ father enslaved the Israelites, and that Ramses may have been the pharaoh during the exodus that followed. Many others believe that the pharaoh of the exodus was either Amenhotep II, or Thutmose III.
Ramses’ rule was characterized by war and conquest. He is given wide praise for the peace treaty that he created with his primary enemies, the Hittites.
Eventually, the Nubians conquer the Egyptians and take over. Then, Egypt is briefly conquered by the Assyrians. Later, the Persians conquered Egypt. Egypt became independent again around 404 BC. Then, a Macedonian named Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, and he made one of his generals, Ptolemy, the king.
Ptolemy created a dynasty of his own, though he was a Macedonian and not an Egyptians. His descendents ruled for 300 years, and Egypt became a learning center. The Great Library of Alexandria was built (incidentally, the city of Alexandria was named after Alexander the Great).
Cleopatra was part of the Ptolemy dynasty, but her dynasty’s power was declining. Meanwhile, power in Rome was growing, and they resented her for being treated as a pharaoh. The Romans wanted to be viewed as the governors of Egypt.
Rome declared war on Egypt, and the Romans defeated Cleopatra’s armies, thus ending the rule of pharaohs in Egypt. This marked the beginning of Roman rule.