Following the Predynastic period (c. 6000-3150 BC), the Early Dynastic period began with the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. The rulers of unified Egypt took the title king instead of pharaoh. According to the chronology of Manetho (3rd century BC) and the Turin King List, a king named Menes unified Egypt. However, no archeological finds support this claim. The Narmer Palette shows that a king by the name of Narmer was the one who unified Lower and Upper Egypt. These two names overlap each other, so historians can’t be sure who actually unified Egypt and started the first dynasty. Menes actually means “he who endures”, opening the possibility that this is not an actual name, but a title. Menes and Narmer could be the same person. The name Menes is found on an inscription associated with Hor-Aha, which could mean that the title was taken by other kings as well.
The First Dynasty of Egypt
No matter if Egypt was unified by Menes or Narmer, the first dynasty of Egypt (c. 3150-2890 BC) was founded after Upper and Lower Egypt were unified by one of those two kings. Papyrus was invented as a writing material and writing spread, but mostly for administrative uses during this dynasty. The first king led a military expedition in Lower Egypt, starting many building projects and urbanization; also making an alliance with the Naqada by marrying the princess Neithhotep. He was succeeded by his son Hor-Aha c. 3100 BC, who continued his father’s work. C. 3050 BC, Djer came to the throne, and in c 3000 BC, Djet succeeded him. Djet married a princess by the name of Merneith, who became the first queen of Egypt upon his death, however it is still unclear if she ruled as a queen or a regent of her young son Den. C. 2990 BC, Den came to the throne. His reign marked the highest point of the First Dynasty. He was the first ruler depicted wearing the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt. He strengthened Egypt’s military power and economy; however, his successors Anedjib and Semerkhet ruled in tempestuous times. Eventually, their power waned, and after the death of King Qa’a, his successors fought over the throne, ending the First Dynasty.
The Second Dynasty of Egypt
A king by the name of Hetepsekhemwy came to the throne and founded the second dynasty. His name translated means “peaceful in respect of the two powers”, which means that two factions of Egypt came to power, probably followers of the two opposed gods, Horus and Seth. Though he brought peace to Egypt, it did not last. Many rebellions broke out, so Hetepsekhemwy had to deal with this problem during his entire reign. His son Raneb continued to have the same problem. Raneb is known in Egypt’s history as the first king to establish a close relationship between the rulers and the gods, giving himself divine characteristics. Both his father and he are credited for moving the official burial site to Ṣaqqārah. The rebellion problem persisted, even after his death. Little is known about the next two kings, Nynetjer and Senedji. Senedji was succeeded by Peribsen, who took the title of Seth and separated himself from the Horus cult. The reasons as to why he did that are still unclear. Even though he took the title of the god of evil and chaos, he is considered one of the good kings of Egypt. The economy, trading, art and religion flourished in his time. Peribsen was succeeded by Khasekhemwy who brought the two cults back together.
The Third Dynasty of Egypt
The next king Djoser (c. 2670 BC), is mostly known for the great building projects he initiated, primarily the Step Pyramid at Ṣaqqārah, the first known pyramid in Egypt. The pyramid was designed by Imhotep, and his designs would become examples for building pyramids in later periods. His successor, Sekhemkhet, planned an even larger pyramid at Ṣaqqārah, the Buried Pyramid and his successor Khaba built the Layer Pyramid at Zawyat al-ʿAryan, a few miles south of Giza. The burial place of the last king of the Third Dynasty, Huni (c. 2630-2613 BC), is still unknown. Even the information about his reign is sparse. After his death, he was succeeded by Snefru, who founded the Fourth Dynasty. The end of the Third Dynasty marked the end of the Early Dynasty Period of Egypt and the start of the Old Kingdom.
During these three dynasties, major changes were made in Egypt’s cultural, religious and everyday life. Writing was developed, and its’ use was expanded, a calendar was created, the knowledge of art, science and agriculture grew to a new level, as did the technology required for building new kinds of monuments, temples and tombs. These new changes continued to shape Egypt for the next 2000 years.