The Old Kingdom is the period in the third millennium (c.
2686–2181 BC) also known as the 'Age of the Pyramids' or 'Age
of the Pyramid Builders' as it includes the great 4th Dynasty
Sneferu perfected the art of pyramid building and the
pyramids of Giza were constructed under the kings Khufu,
Khafre, and Menkaure. Egypt attained its first continuous peak of
civilization – the first of three so-called "Kingdom" periods
(followed by the Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom) which mark the high
points of civilization in the lower
The term itself was coined by eighteenth-century historians and the
distinction between the Old Kingdom and the Early Dynastic Period is
not one which would have been recognized by Ancient Egyptians. Not
only was the last king of the Early Dynastic Period related to the
first two kings of the Old Kingdom, but the 'capital', the royal
residence, remained at Ineb-Hedg, the Ancient Egyptian name for
Memphis. The basic justification for a separation between the two
periods is the revolutionary change in architecture accompanied by the
effects on Egyptian society and economy of large-scale building
The Old Kingdom is most commonly regarded as the period from the Third
Dynasty through to the Sixth Dynasty (2686–2181 BC). The 4th–6th
Dynasties of Egypt, are scarce and historians regard the history
of the era as literally 'written in stone' and largely architectural
in that it is through the monuments and their inscriptions that
scholars have been able to construct a history. Egyptologists
also include the Memphite Seventh and Eighth Dynasties in the Old
Kingdom as a continuation of the administration centralized at
Memphis. While the Old Kingdom was a period of internal security and
prosperity, it was followed by a period of disunity and relative
cultural decline referred to by Egyptologists as the First
Intermediate Period. During the Old Kingdom, the king of Egypt (not
Pharaoh until the New Kingdom) became a living god who
ruled absolutely and could demand the services and wealth of his
Under King Djoser, the first king of the Third Dynasty of the Old
Kingdom, the royal capital of Egypt was moved to Memphis, where Djoser
established his court. A new era of building was initiated at Saqqara
under his reign. King Djoser's architect,
Imhotep is credited with the
development of building with stone and with the conception of the new
architectural form—the Step Pyramid. The Old Kingdom is perhaps
best known for the large number of pyramids constructed at this time
as burial places for Egypt's kings. For this reason, the Old Kingdom
is frequently referred to as "the Age of the Pyramids."
1 Third Dynasty
2 Fourth Dynasty
3 Fifth Dynasty
4 Sixth Dynasty
7 Further reading
8 External links
The Pyramid of
Djoser at Saqqara.
Pharaoh of the Old Kingdom was
Djoser (sometime between 2691
and 2625 BC) of the third dynasty, who ordered the construction of a
pyramid (the Step Pyramid) in Memphis' necropolis, Saqqara. An
important person during the reign of
Djoser was his vizier, Imhotep.
Djoser at Saqqara
Head of a King, ca. 2650-2600 BC, Brooklyn Museum; The earliest
representations of Egyptian Kings are on a small scale. From the 3rd
dynasty, statues were made showing the ruler life-size; this head
wearing the crown of Upper Egypt even surpasses human scale.
It was in this era that formerly independent ancient Egyptian states
became known as nomes, under the rule of the Pharaoh. The former
rulers were forced to assume the role of governors or otherwise work
in tax collection.
Egyptians in this era worshipped their
Pharaoh as a
god, believing that he ensured the annual flooding of the
was necessary for their crops. Egyptian views on the nature of time
during this period held that the universe worked in cycles, and the
Pharaoh on earth worked to ensure the stability of those cycles. They
also perceived themselves as a specially selected people.
Great Sphinx of Giza
Great Sphinx of Giza in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza.
The Old Kingdom and its royal power reached a zenith under the Fourth
Dynasty (2613–2494 BC), which began with
Sneferu (2613–2589 BC).
Pharaoh Snefru was the next great pyramid builder.
Snefru commissioned the building of not one, but three pyramids. The
first is called the
Meidum pyramid, named for its location in Egypt.
Snefru abandoned it after the outside casing fell off of the pyramid.
Meidum pyramid was the first to have an above-ground burial
chamber. Using more stones than any other Pharaoh, he built the
three pyramids: a now collapsed pyramid in Meidum, the
Bent Pyramid at
Dahshur, and the Red Pyramid, at North Dahshur. However, the full
development of the pyramid style of building was reached not at
Saqqara, but during the building of 'The Great Pyramids' at Giza.
Sneferu was succeeded by his son,
Khufu (2589–2566 BC), who built
the Great Pyramid of Giza. After Khufu's death, his sons Djedefra
(2566–2558 BC) and
Khafra (2558–2532 BC) may have quarrelled. The
latter built the second pyramid and (in traditional thinking) the
Sphinx in Giza. Recent reexamination of evidence has led Egyptologist
Vassil Dobrev to propose that the Sphinx had been built by
a monument to his father Khufu. Alternatively, the Sphinx has been
proposed to be the work of
There were military expeditions into Canaan and Nubia, with Egyptian
influence reaching up the
Nile into what is today the Sudan. The
later kings of the Fourth Dynasty were king
Menkaure (2532–2504 BC),
who built the smallest pyramid in Giza,
Shepseskaf (2504–2498 BC)
Djedefptah (2498–2496 BC).
Khufu, the builder of the Great Pyramid at Giza.
Late Period statue of Imhotep, Musée du Louvre.
The Fifth Dynasty (2494–2345 BC) began with
Userkaf (2494–2487 BC)
and was marked by the growing importance of the cult of sun god Ra.
Consequently, fewer efforts were devoted to the construction of
pyramid complexes than during the 4th dynasty and more to the
construction of sun temples in Abusir.
Userkaf was succeeded by his
Sahure (2487–2475 BC) who commanded an expedition to Punt.
Sahure was in turn succeeded by
Neferirkare Kakai (2475–2455 BC) who
was Sahure's son.
Neferirkare introduced the prenomen in the royal
titulary. He was followed by two short-lived kings, his son Neferefre
(2455–2453 BC) and Shepseskare, the latter of uncertain
Shepseskare may have been deposed by Neferefre's
Nyuserre Ini (2445–2421 BC), a long lived pharaoh who built
Abusir and re-started royal activity in Giza.
The last Pharaohs of the dynasty were
Menkauhor Kaiu (2421–2414 BC),
Djedkare Isesi (2414–2375 BC) and
Unas (2375–2345), the earliest
ruler to have the pyramid texts inscribed in his pyramid.
Egypt's expanding interests in trade goods such as ebony, incense such
as myrrh and frankincense, gold, copper and other useful metals
inspired the ancient
Egyptians to build suitable ships for navigation
of the open sea. They traded with Lebanon for cedar and travelled the
length of the Red Sea to the Kingdom of Punt—possibly modern day
Somalia—for ebony, ivory and aromatic resins. Ship builders of that
era did not use pegs (treenails) or metal fasteners, but relied on
rope to keep their ships assembled. Planks and the superstructure were
tightly tied and bound together.
During the sixth dynasty (2345–2181 BC) the power of pharaoh
gradually weakened in favor of powerful nomarchs (regional governors).
These no longer belonged to the royal family and their charge became
hereditary, thus creating local dynasties largely independent from the
central authority of the Pharaoh. However,
Nile flood control was
still the subject of very large works, including especially the canal
Lake Moeris around 2300 BC, which was likely also the source of
water to the
Giza pyramid complex centuries earlier.
Internal disorders set in during the incredibly long reign of Pepi II
(2278–2184 BC) towards the end of the dynasty. His death, certainly
well past that of his intended heirs, might have created succession
struggles. The country slipped into civil wars mere decades after the
close of Pepi II's reign.
The final blow was the
22nd century BC drought
22nd century BC drought in the region that
resulted in a drastic drop in precipitation. For at least some years
between 2200 and 2150 BC, this prevented the normal flooding of the
Whatever its cause, the collapse of the Old Kingdom was followed by
decades of famine and strife. An important inscription on the tomb of
Ankhtifi, a nomarch during the early First Intermediate Period,
describes the pitiful state of the country when famine stalked the
Egypt's Old Kingdom (Dynasties 3–6, ca. 2649–2150 BC) was one of
the most dynamic periods in the development of Egyptian art. During
this period, artists learned to express their culture's worldview,
creating for the first time images and forms that endured for
generations. Architects and masons mastered the techniques necessary
to build monumental structures in stone.
Sculptors created the earliest portraits of individuals and the first
lifesize statues in wood, copper, and stone. They perfected the art of
carving intricate relief decoration and, through keen observation of
the natural world, produced detailed images of animals, plants, and
even landscapes, recording the essential elements of their world for
eternity in scenes painted and carved on the walls of temples and
These images and structures had two principal functions: to ensure an
ordered existence and to defeat death by preserving life into the next
world. To these ends, over a period of time, Egyptian artists adopted
a limited repertoire of standard types and established a formal
artistic canon that would define Egyptian art for more than 3,000
years, while remaining flexible enough to allow for subtle variation
and innovation. Although much of their artistic effort was centered on
preserving life after death,
Egyptians also surrounded themselves with
objects to enhance their lives in this world, producing elegant
jewelry, finely carved and inlaid furniture, and cosmetic vessels and
implements made from a wide range of materials.
^ a b "Old Kingdom of Egypt". Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved
^ Malek, Jaromir. 2003. "The Old Kingdom (c. 2686–2160 BCE)".
In The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, edited by Ian Shaw. Oxford and
New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0192804587, p.83
^ Carl Roebuck, The World of Ancient Times, pp. 55 & 60.
^ a b Carl Roebuck, The World of Ancient Times, p. 56.
^ Bothmer, Bernard (1974). Brief Guide to the Department of Egyptian
and Classical Art. Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Museum. p. 22.
access-date= requires url= (help)
^ Herlin, Susan J. (2003). "Ancient African Civilizations to ca. 1500:
Pharaonic Egypt to Ca. 800 BC". p. 27. Archived from the original
on August 23, 2003. Retrieved 23 January 2017.
^ a b "
Ancient Egypt - the Archaic Period and Old Kingdom".
www.penfield.edu. Retrieved 2017-12-04.
^ Carl Roebuck, The World of Ancient Times, p. 57.
^ Vassil Dobrev, French Institute, Cairo, link 1, link 2
^ p.5, 'The Collins Encyclopedia of Military History' (4th edition,
1993), Dupuy & Dupuy.
^ Miroslav Verner: Archaeological Remarks on the 4th and 5th Dynasty
Chronology, Archiv Orientální, Volume 69: 2001
^ Jean-Daniel Stanley; et al. (2003). "
Nile flow failure at the end of
the Old Kingdom, Egypt: Strontium isotopic and petrologic evidence".
Geoarchaeology. 18 (3): 395–402. doi:10.1002/gea.10065.
^ a b "Select Egypt". selectegypt.com.
Library resources about
Old Kingdom of Egypt
Resources in your library
Resources in other libraries
Brewer, Douglas J. Ancient Egypt: Foundations of a Civilization.
Harlow, UK: Pearson, 2005.
Callender, Gae. Egypt In the Old Kingdom: An Introduction. South
Melbourne: Longman, 1998.
Kanawati, Naguib. Governmental Reforms In Old Kingdom Egypt.
Warminster: Aris & Phillips,, 1980.
Kanawati, Naguib., and Alexandra Woods. Artists of the Old Kingdom:
Techniques and Achievements. 1st English ed. Egypt: Supreme Council of
Antiquities Press, 2009.
Lehner, Mark. The Complete Pyramids. London: Thames and Hudson, 1997.
Málek, Jaromír., and Werner Forman. In the Shadow of the Pyramids:
Ancient Egypt During the Old Kingdom. Norman: University of Oklahoma
McFarlane, A., and Anna-Latifa Mourad. Behind the Scenes: Daily Life
In Old Kingdom Egypt. North Ryde, N.S.W.: Australian Centre for
Metropolitan Museum of Art. Egyptian Art in the Age of the Pyramids.
New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999.
Papazian, Hratch. Domain of Pharaoh: The Structure and Components of
the Economy of Old Kingdom Egypt. Hildesheim: Gerstenberg, 2012.
Ryholt, Kim S. B. The Political Situation in Egypt during the Second
Intermediate Period c. 1800–1550 BC. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum,
Sowada, K., and Peter Grave. Egypt In the Eastern Mediterranean During
the Old Kingdom: An Archaeological Perspective. Fribourg: Academic
Strudwick, Nigel. The Administration of Egypt In the Old Kingdom: The
Highest Titles and Their Holders. London: KPI, 1985.
Warden, Leslie Anne. Pottery and Economy In Old Kingdom Egypt. Boston:
Wilkinson, Toby. Early Dynastic Egypt. London: Routledge, 2001.
The Fall of the Egyptian Old Kingdom from BBC History
Middle East on The Matrix: Egypt, The Old Kingdom – Photographs of
many of the historic sites dating from the Old Kingdom
Old Kingdom of Egypt- Aldokkan
Early Dynastic Period
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