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The Old Kingdom Period of Egypt


The end of the 3rd Dynasty of Egypt marked the end of the Early Dynastic period and the start of the Age of the Pyramids, better known as the Old Kingdom of Egypt (2613-2181 BC). It is important to note that the periods did not exist in ancient times and were designated by scholars in the 19th century who divided the history of Ancient Egypt into periods, so they could understand it better. Traditionally, the Old Kingdom started from the 3rd Dynasty, because the first pyramids were built then, but later it was concluded that this was a transitional period and the 3rd Dynasty still has more characteristics of the Early Dynastic period then the Old Kingdom.

The 4th Dynasty of Egypt

The Old Kingdom starts with the first ruler of the 4th Dynasty of Egypt, Sneferu (2613-2589 BC). He is most known for building the Maidum Pyramid, known today as the Collapsed Pyramid or False Pyramid. The pyramid was built with few modifications from the original design made by Imhotep. The outer casing rested on a sand foundation rather than a rock foundation, leading to its’ collapse. Other pyramids built by Sneferu are the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid, located at Dahshur. The Bent Pyramid rises at a 55-degree angle and then shifts to 43-degrees which gives the appearance of bending. The Red Pyramid is the 3rd pyramid he built. The name comes from the reddish limestone that was used for construction. Learning a lesson from the Bent Pyramid, this pyramid rises at a 43-degree angle and it’s the first successful true pyramid in Egypt.

After his death, he was succeeded by his son Khufu (2589-2566 BC), also known as Cheops by the Greeks. He is mostly known for building one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Great Pyramid at Giza. Greek authors depict him as a tyrant who forced 100,000 men to work on the pyramid. However, the archeological finds and other Egyptian texts say that the workers were well cared-for and only worked when the Nile flooded, when farming was impossible. Khufu was one of the good kings of Egypt. Egypt grew in wealth, had successful military campaigns in Nubia and Libya and agriculture developed even further. After his death, he was succeeded by Djedefre (2566-2558 BC), who was not Khufu’s chosen successor. He built a pyramid complex at Abu Rawash, which was destroyed by the Romans, who used the stones for other buildings. He is also the first king to take the title Son of Ra. After his death, he was succeeded by his brother Khafre (2558-2532 BC). He built the second largest pyramid at Giza and the Great Sphinx. Not much is known about his reign. He continued his father’s politics and took the title “Son of Horus”. In 2532 BC Menkaure (2532-2503 BC) became king. He built the smallest pyramid at Giza. During his time, Giza became a city of the dead. Many priests and workers stayed there and cared for the pyramids and temples. The pyramids of his grandfather and father drained Egypt’s resources, so he built a smaller pyramid; however, he died before it was finished. His successor, Shepseskaf (2503-2498 BC), finished his father’s pyramid, but he was buried in a modest tomb at Saqqara. 

The 5th Dynasty of Egypt

With the death of Shepseskaf, so ended the 4th Dynasty. The 5th Dynasty of Egypt is known as the Dynasty of the Sun Kings because many of them use the name of the god Ra (Re) in their own name. The first king is Userkaf (2498-2481 BC), but there is mention of a “Mother of two Kings”, named Khenkaues. Her tomb is the 4th pyramid at Giza, but nothing else is known about her. Userkaf constructed the Temple of the Sun at Abusir. During his time, the priests gained control over the temples, and the power of the king diminished. After his death, Sahure (2490-2477 BC) took the throne. He built a small pyramid next to the Temple of the Sun at Abusir and built his own temple of the Sun. His greatest achievement was the successful expedition in Punt. Little is known for the next kings. Sahure’s successor Neferirkare Kakai (2477-2467 BC) is considered a good and respected king, though priests gained even more power in his time. His son Neferefre (2460-2458 BC) ruled for very short time and nothing is known about him.

During Neferefre’s successors Shepsekare, Nyussere Ini (2445-2422 BC) and Menkauhor Kaiu (2422-2414 BC), the priests gained even more power. Djedkare Isesi (2414-2375 BC) tried to change this. He rejected the idea of building a Temple of the Sun and reduced the number of the priests. However, he made a big mistake by giving more power to local officials, who were controlled by the local priests. This made their earlier efforts irrelevant, since the priests regained the power they had lost. Djedkare Isesi was succeeded by his son Unas (2375-2345 BC). He is the first king to paint the interior of his tomb, today known as the Pyramid Texts. He is the last king of the 5th Dynasty.

The 6th, 7th and 8th Dynasties of Egypt

The first king of the 6th Dynasty is Teti (2345-2333 BC) who had little power as a king and was murdered by his bodyguards. He was succeeded by Userkare (2333-2332 BC) and Meryre Pepi I (2332-2283 BC). The local officials, known as nomarchs, became very powerful. Their power continued to grow under the rule of Nemtyensaf I (2283-2278 BC) and Neferkare Pepi II (2278-2184 BC). At the end of his long reign, Pepi II became ineffective, causing tghe nomarch to gain more autonomy. He was succeeded by Merenre Nemtyemsaf II (2184 BC) and Netjerkare (2184-2181 BC), the final king of the 6th Dynasty. Both kings could do nothing to get their power and control back. There are no known names of kings from the 7th Dynasty, and only one king is known from the 8th. Ibi is known to have built a small pyramid in Saqqara, but nothing else is known. Royal power continued to decay. With the end of the 8th Dynasty, so ended the Old Kingdom, marking the start of a period of instability in Egypt, known as the First Intermediate period.