Ancient Civilizations 101 : The Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt I


We cannot be sure of how human mentality led to the development of civilizations. Until today, this remains a popular topic among historians and anthropologists, and it is a significant scholarly debate. This 101 series brings to the spotlight some of the oldest civilizations that have ever existed. Undoubtedly, modern-day culture and society owe a lot to the previous ones. Each civilization, discussed in this 101 series, contributed in many ways to: new inventions, new ideas, new cultures, new philosophies, and lifestyles. In this article, the author will examine the civilization of ancient Rome; Rome, a city built on the lowest point of the Tiber River, gradually expanded as the power of its inhabitants grew. The monarchy of the early years gave way to democracy, which was later replaced by the imperial power of Augustus. At this time, the city acquired the first outstanding monuments, while at the same time some remarkable technical structures were built, such as aqueducts, sewers, and public toilets.

Ancient Civilizations 101 So Far Is Divided Into 5 Chapters

  1. The Rise and Fall of Mayans

  2. The Mycenaeans

  3. The Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt I

  4. The Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt II

  5. The Roman Empire from Caesar to Augustus I

Ancient Egypt can easily be thought of as an oasis in northeastern Africa because of the annual flood of the Nile River that supported its agricultural population. For almost 30 centuries, Egyptian civilization was the dominant one in the Mediterranean world. From its union around 3100 BC to its conquest by Alexander the Great in 332 BC, Egypt's majesty has long intrigued archaeologists and historians, a fascination that continues to grow as more archaeological findings reveal their secrets. The information about the ancient Egyptian civilization comes mainly from the many monuments, objects, and artifacts that have been recovered from archaeological sites. Also, another crucial source of information is the hieroglyphs that have only recently been deciphered. These elements form an image of a culture, with remarkable art and architectural accomplishments parallel with rich religious tradition.

The Met. West wall of the chapel of Nikauhor and Sekhemhathor. [Photograph].

The Old Kingdom

The Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt is the grounds upon which all of Egypt's long and legendary history has been built. The truth is that the origin of many concepts and practices can be traced to earlier periods. However, during the Old Kingdom period, they evolved into the forms that would define and influence the rest of pharaonic history. From 2686 to 2181 BC, people living in the Nile Valley began to produce the art and architecture that still is counted among the most impressive ancient achievements in the history of ancient civilizations. Several artistic, historical, and religious trends distinguished this period. However, the specific elements and displays of these overarching commonalities changed dramatically over time. As a consequence, the artistic sense at the end of the Old Kingdom differed remarkably from the beginning of the period. The Old Kingdom consisted of Pharaoh Dynasties, with an overall of 25 Pharaohs. For over 400 years, Ancient Egypt had a strong central government and economic system. The most remarkable achievement of that period is the construction of the pyramids. Thus, the period is known as "the age of the pyramids" or "the age of the pyramid builders." Although several remarkable settlement sites provide insight into everyday life, our knowledge of Old Kingdom culture is mainly based on funerary evidence.

The Third Dynasty 2649–2575 BC

The Third Dynasty began with king Netjerikhet, who would later be called Djoser. Djoser ordered the construction of a pyramid in Memphis' necropolis, Saqqara. His funerary complex represents the renowned architectural and cultural developments that were constructed during his reign. This was the earliest stone structure in Egypt, and the first pyramid reached, known as the Step Pyramid. The complex consisted of multiple worship buildings and an enormous series of underground apartments within a large square room oriented from north to south. Acting symbolically as he aligned the deceased king with the patrol stars and the gods enabled him to celebrate the rites of the kingdom forever and provided a place for his burial worship.

Excavating the Old Kingdom. [Photograph]. Almedron.

In this era, formerly independent ancient Egyptian states became known as Nomes under the rule of a Pharaoh. Egyptians at this era worshiped their Pharaohs as gods, believing that the Pharaohs would ensure the annual flooding of the Nile. Egypt's main wealth came from the fertile flood of the Nile channel that flows between zones of limestone hills and the Nile delta, which fans into several tributaries north of present Cairo. The Nile, despite its importance for agriculture, was Egypt's sole transportation access. During this period, Egyptians believed that the universe and the natural world were held in cycles. The Pharaoh worked on earth to ensure the stability of those cycles.

High officials of the third Dynasty built rectangular mud-brick superstructures known today as mastabas above their tombs in Saqqara, continuing the practices of the previous dynasty. In many of these, niches were enlarged into small chapels that were decorated and lined with stone. An offering scene in which the tomb owner is seated before a table of bread, with lists of food and other reserves, was usually portrayed inside the chapel. This scene magically granted for the deceased in the afterlife his continued existence. Such scenes were omnipresent for the rest of ancient Egyptian history.

The fourth Dynasty 2575–2465 BC

The Old Kingdom and its royal power reached its zenith under the Fourth Dynasty from 2575 until 2465 BC. Pyramid building reached its height during the earliest times of that period. After Djoser, Pharaoh Sneferu was the next great pyramid builder. Sneferu commissioned the building of not one but three massive pyramids, using more stones than any other Pharaoh, in Meidum and Dahshur. The Meidum pyramid was the first to have an above-ground burial chamber. However, the full development of the pyramid style was reached during the building of The Great Pyramids at Giza.

(2021). The Great Pyramid of Giza. [Photograph]. TD.

The Great Pyramid at Giza, the largest Egyptian pyramid, belongs to his son and successor, Khufu. During this period, the main elements of the pyramid construction became standardized. These were aligned along an east-west axis, included the pyramid itself in the west marking the king's tomb. The pyramid temple -also known as the funerary temple- was directly adjacent to the pyramid's east side. The valley temple in the east and at the edge of cultivation and the causeway connected the temples leading from the cultivation toward the pyramid in the desert. While these elements were followed with remarkable unity during the rest of the Old Kingdom, the plan of each element could be widely varied. The changes in the organization and structure of the royal funerary complex revealed the sun god's enhanced influence and emerging beliefs of kingship. The pyramid was a solar symbol, thought to mimic the pure benben stone in Heliopolis, where the solar cult was gathered. The close relationship between the king and the sun god was further emphasized in a new royal name that cited the king as the sun god's son. The Pharaoh was a living god who held all the power while being at the top of a highly layered society. Admittedly, the administration was extremely centralized, and most superior high officials were close relatives of the ruler, often his sons.



P.F. Dorman. Ancient Egypt. Britannica.

The Met. Egypt in the Old Kingdom (ca. 2649–2130 B.C.)

Wikipedia. Old Kindom of Egypt.

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Anna-Aikaterini Bati

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