Egyptian Dynasties Old Kingdom
In 300 BC the Egyptian historian Manetho wrote a history of Egypt called Aegyptiaca, which put the number of dynasties (ruling Families) at thirty. Although his original book did not survive, we know of it from the works of later historians such as Josephus, who lived around AD 70 and quoted Manetho in his own works. Although Manetho’s history was based on native Egyptian sources and mythology, it is still used by Egyptologists to confirm the succession of kings when the archaeological evidence is inconclusive.
The ancient Egyptians listed their kings in a continuous sequence beginning with the reign on earth of the sun god, Ra. Events were recorded by the reigns of kings and not, as in our dating system, based on a commonly agreed calendar system. For that reason, exact dating of events in Egyptian history is unreliable.
Modern scholars have divided Manetho’s thirty dynasties into “Kingdoms.” During certain times, kingship was divided or the political and social conditions were chaotic, and these eras are called “Intermediate Periods.” Today the generally agreed chronology is divided as follows, beginning from 3100 years before the birth of Christ – BC – around 5114 years ago.
- The Archaic Period (414 years)
- The Old Kingdom (505 years),
- The First Intermediate Period (126 years),
- The Middle Kingdom (405 years),
- The Second Intermediate Period (100 years),
- The New Kingdom (481 years),
- The Third Intermediate Period (322 years),
- The Late Period (415 years),
- The Ptolemaic Period (302 years).
First Dynasty 3100 – 2686 BC
Before the first dynasty Egypt was in fact two lands and according to folk tales, Menes (also thought to be Narmer) the first mortal king, after the rule of the gods, united these two lands. But by the end of the first dynasty there appears to have been rival claimants for the throne.
Second Dynasty 2890 – 2686 BC
At the end of the 1st dynasty there appears to have been rival claimants for the throne. The successful claimant’s Horus name, Hetepsekhemwy, translates as “peaceful in respect of the two powers” this may be a reference to the opposing gods Horus and Seth, or an understanding reached between two rival factions. But the political rivalry was never fully resolved and in time the situation worsened into conflict.
The fourth pharaoh, Peribsen, took the title of Seth instead of Horus and the last ruler of the dynasty, Khasekhemwy, took both titles. A Horus/Seth name meaning “arising in respect of the two powers,” and “the two lords are at peace in him.” Towards the end of this dynasty, however, there seems to have been more disorder and possibly civil war.
- Khasekhem (Khasekhemwy)
Old Kingdom 2686 – 2180 BC
Third dynasty 2686 2613 BC
This period is one of the landmarks of Human history. A prosperous age and the appearance of the worlds first great monumental building – the Pyramid. The artistic masterpieces in the tombs of the nobles show the martial wealth of this time
Djoser – one of the outstanding kings of Egypt. His Step Pyramid at Saqqara is the first large stone building and the forerunner of later pyramids.
- Sanakht 2686-2667
- Djoser 2667-2648
- Sekhemkhet 2648-2640
- Huni 2637-2613
Fourth dynasty 2613 2494 BC
Egypt was able to accomplish the ambitious feat of the Giza pyramids because there had been a long period of peace and no threats of invasion. So their energies were spent in cultivating art to it’s highest forms.
The fourth dynasty came from Memphis and the fifth from the south in Elephantine. The transition from one ruling family to another appears to have been peaceful.
- Sneferu 2613-2589
- Khufu 2589-2566
- Radjedef 2566-2558
- Khafre 2558-2532
- Menkaura 2532-2503
- Shepseskaf 2503-2498
Fifth Dynasty 2494 – 2345 BC
The first two kings of the fifth dynasty, were sons of a lady, Khentkaues, who was a member of the fourth dynasty royal family. There was an institutionalisation of officialdom and high officials for the first time came from outside the royal family.
The pyramids are smaller and less solidly constructed than those of the fourth dynasty, but the carvings from the mortuary temples are well preserved and of the highest quality.
There are surviving papyri from this period which demonstrate well developed methods of accounting and record keeping. They document the redistribution of goods between the royal residence, the temples, and officials.
- Userkaf 2494-2487
- Sahura 2487-2475
- Neferirkara Kakai 2475-2455
- Shepseskara Isi 2455-2448
- Raneferef 2448-2445
- Nyuserra 2445-2421
- Menkauhor 2421-2414
- Djedkara Isesi 2414-2375
- Unas 2375-2345
Sixth Dynasty 2345 – 2181 BC
There are many inscriptions from the sixth dynasty. These include records of trading expeditions to the south from the reigns of Pepi I. One of the most interesting is a letter written by Pepy II.
The pyramid of Pepi II at southern Saqqara is the last major monument of the Old Kingdom. None of the names of kings of the short-lived seventh dynasty are known and the eighth dynasty shows signs of and political decay.
- Teti 2345-2323
- Userkara 2323-2321
- Pepy I 2321-2287
- Merenra 2287-2278
- Pepy II 2278-2184
- Nitiqret 2184-2181
First Intermediate Period 7th and 8th dynasties 2181- 2125 BC
About this time the Old Kingdom state collapsed. Egypt simultaneously suffered political failure and environmental disaster. There was famine, civil disorder and a rise in the death rate. With the climate of Northeast Africa becoming dryer, combined with low inundations of the Nile and the cemeteries rapidly filling, this was not a good time for the Egyptians.
The years following the death of Pepy II are most obscure. The only person from this era to have left an impression on posterity is a woman called Nitokris who appears to have acted as king. There are no contemporary records but Herodotus wrote of her:
“She killed hundreds of Egyptians to avenge the king, her brother, whom his subjects had killed, and had forced her to succeed. She did this by constructing a huge underground chamber. Then invited to a banquet all those she knew to be responsible for her brother’s death. When the banquet was underway, she let the river in on them, through a concealed pipe. After this fearful revenge, she flung herself into a room filled with embers, to escape her punishment.”
For a time petty warlords ruled the provinces. Then from the city of Herakleopolis there emerged a ruling family led by one Khety who for a time held sway over the whole country. However, this was short lived and the country split into North, ruled from Herakleopolis and South, ruled from Thebes.
Whereas the Theban dynasty was stable, kings succeeded one another rapidly at Herakleopolis. There was continual conflict between the two lands which was resolved in the 11th dynasty.
Seventh & Eighth Dynasties 2181 – 2125 BC
This dynasty was short lived and we only know the names of two kings. There were about seventeen minor warlords ruling different provinces.
- Qakara Iby
Ninth & Tenth Dynasties 2160 – 2025 BC
There emerged a family from the city of Herakleopolis, led by Khety, who for a time ruled over the whole country. This did not last however, Egypt split into north and south again. The north was ruled from Herakleopolis and the south from Thebes.
- Khety Meryibra
- Khety Wahkara