Ancient Civilizations: Egypt - The Old Kingdom #8 of 18 cover

Ancient Civilizations: Egypt - The Old Kingdom #8 of 18

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The Old Kingdom of Egypt, spanning the Third to Eighth Dynasties, saw prolific construction of pyramids, but also declined due to civil instability, resource shortages, and a disastrous drop in rainfall.
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Ancient Civilizations: Egypt - The Old Kingdom #8 of 18

The Old Kingdom

The Old Kingdom, spanning the Third to Eighth Dynasties of Egypt, saw the prolific construction of pyramids but declined due to civil instability, resource shortages, and a drop in precipitation.

Learning Objective

• Explain the reasons for the rise and fall of the Old Kingdom

The Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara

The Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara

Image by Berthold Werner, (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Key Points

• The Old Kingdom is the name commonly given to the period in the 3rd millennium BCE when Egyptian attained its first continuous peak of complexity and achievement, most notably in its construction of pyramids.

• The royal capital of Egypt during the Old Kingdom was located at Memphis, where the first notable pharaoh of the Old Kingdom, Djoser, established his court.

• In the Third Dynasty, formerly independent ancient Egyptian states became known as Nomes, who were ruled solely by the pharaoh. The former rulers of these states were subsequently forced to assume the role of governors or otherwise work in tax collection.

Key Points (Cont.)

• Egyptians during this era worshipped their pharaoh as a god and believed that he ensured the stability of the cycles that were responsible for the annual flooding of the Nile necessary for their crops.

• The Fourth Dynasty saw multiple large-scale construction projects under pharaohs Sneferu, Khufu, and Khufu's sons Djedefra and Khafra, including the famous pyramid and Sphinx at Giza.

• The Fifth to Eighth Dynasties experienced civil instability due to civil reforms, the overextension of resources from building projects in the Fourth Dynasty, and a drop in precipitation which resulted in decades of famine and strife.

Terms

Djoseran ancient Egyptian pharaoh of the Third Dynasty and the founder of the Old Kingdom.

Old Kingdom encompassing the Third to Eighth Dynasties, the name commonly given to the period in the 3rd millennium BCE when Egyptian attained its first continuous peak of complexity and achievement.

pharaoh the form of address for a person who was king and son of the Egyptian god Ra, originally meant "Great House. "

nomarchs semi-feudal rulers of Ancient Egyptian provinces.

Nomes subnational administrative division of Ancient Egypt.

Map Of The Old Kingdom

Map Of The Old Kingdom

Age Of The Pyramids

The Old Kingdom is the name commonly given to the period in the 3rd millennium BCE when Egyptian attained its first continuous peak of complexity and achievement.

The Old Kingdom is the first of three so-called "Kingdom" periods, which mark the high points of civilization in the Nile Valley, and was followed by a period of disunity and relative cultural decline referred to by Egyptologists as the First Intermediate Period.

The royal capital of Egypt during the Old Kingdom was located at Memphis, where Djoser established his court. The Old Kingdom is perhaps best known, however, for the large number of pyramids, which were constructed at this time as pharaonic burial places. For this reason, the Old Kingdom is frequently referred to as "The Age of the Pyramids."

The Beginning: Third Dynasty

The first notable pharaoh of the Old Kingdom was Djoser (2630 to 2611 BCE) of the Third Dynasty, who ordered the construction of the Step Pyramid in Memphis' necropolis, Saqqara.

It was in this era that formerly independent ancient Egyptian states became known as Nomes, who were ruled solely by the pharaoh. The former rulers of these states were subsequently forced to assume the role of governors or otherwise work in tax collection.

Egyptians in this era worshipped their pharaoh as a god and believed that he ensured the annual flooding of the Nile that was necessary for their crops.

Cycles

An early Ramesside Period mural painting from Deir el-Medina tomb depicts an Egyptian couple harvesting crops. Scanned from The Oxford encyclopedia of ancient Egypt, Public Domain.

Cycles

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. The Egyptians also perceived themselves as a specially selected people, "the only true human beings on earth. "

Golden Age: Fourth Dynasty

The Old Kingdom and its royal power reached their zenith under the Fourth Dynasty, which began with Sneferu (2575 to 2551 BCE).

Using a greater mass of stones than any other pharaoh, he built three pyramids: a mysterious pyramid in Meidum (a failure), the famous Bent Pyramid in Dahshur (another failure), and the small Red Pyramid, also in Dashur.

Sneferu was succeeded by his (in)famous son, Khufu (2551 to 2528 BCE), who built the Great Pyramid of Giza. Later Egyptian literature describes him as a cruel tyrant, who imposed forced labor on his subjects to complete his pyramid.

Great Sphinx of Giza, Egypt

Image by Barcex, CC BY-SA 2.5)

Great Sphinx of Giza, Egypt

After Khufu's death his sons Djedefra (2528 to 2520 BCE) and Khafra (2520 to 2494 BCE) may have quarreled. The latter built the second pyramid, and the Sphinx in Giza. Recent reexamination of evidence has suggested that the Sphinx may have been built by Djedefra as a monument to Khufu.

The later kings of the Fourth Dynasty were king Menkaura (2494 to 2472 BCE), who built the smallest pyramid in Giza, and Shepseskaf (2472 to 2467 BCE).

The Great Sphinx of Giza

The Great Sphinx (The Terrifying One; literally: Father of Dread), commonly referred to as the Sphinx, is a limestone statue of a reclining or couchant sphinx (a mythical creature with a lion's body and a human head) that stands on the Giza Plateau on the west bank of the Nile in Giza, Egypt.

The face of the Sphinx is generally believed to represent the face of the Pharaoh Khafra. It is the oldest known monumental sculpture and the largest monolith statue in the world, standing 73.5 metres (241 ft) long, 19.3 metres (63 ft) wide, and 20.22 m (66.34 ft) high.

Worship

Colin Reader has proposed that the Sphinx was probably the focus of solar worship in the Early Dynastic Period, before the Giza Plateau became a necropolis in the Old Kingdom (c. 2686 to 2134 BC).

He ties this in with his conclusions that the Sphinx, the Sphinx temple, the Causeway and the Khafra mortuary temple are all part of a complex which predates Dynasty IV (c. 2613 to 2494 BC).

The lion has long been a symbol associated with the sun in ancient Near Eastern civilizations. Images depicting the Egyptian king in the form of a lion smiting his enemies date as far back as the Early Dynastic Period.

The Sphinx Against the Pyramid of Khafre, 2005

Image most likely by Hamish2k, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Sphinx Against the Pyramid of Khafre, 2005

In the New Kingdom, the Sphinx became more specifically associated with the god Hor-em-akhet (Hellenized: Harmachis) or Horus at the Horizon, which represented the pharaoh in his role as the Shesep-ankh of the god Atum.

Pharaoh Amenhotep II (1427 to 1401 or 1397 BC) built a temple to the north east of the Sphinx nearly 1000 years after its construction, and dedicated it to the cult of Hor-em-akhet.

Decline & Collapse: Fifth-Eighth Dynasties

The Fifth Dynasty began with Userkhaf (2465-2458 BCE), who initiated reforms that weakened the Pharaoh and central government. A period of civil wars arose following his reign, since the powerful nomarchs (regional governors) no longer belonged to the royal family.

The worsening civil conflict undermined unity and energetic government and caused famines. Additionally, the massive building projects of the Fourth Dynasty exceeded the capacity of the treasury and populace, weakening the Kingdom at its roots.

The final blow was a sudden and short-lived cooling in the region that resulted in a drastic drop in precipitation between 2200 and 2100 BCE, which in turn prevented the normal flooding of the Nile. The result was decades of famine and strife.

Tomb of Anchtifi

Tomb of Anchtifi

An inscription on the tomb of Ankhtifi, a leader of the First Intermediate Period, describes the state of the country at the end of the Old Kingdom.

Art

Egypt's Old Kingdom 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 from this period created the earliest portraits of individuals and the first life-size 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, thereby recording the essential elements of their world for eternity in scenes painted and carved on the walls of temples and tombs.

Two Functions

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.

Question 1

Which of the following statements regarding the art and culture of the Old Kingdom is true?

A Artists from this period were prolific, but their work lacked the detail found in later periods.

B The Old Kingdom was the second greatest period of pyramid construction

C Art had two main functions: to order existence in life and preserve life upon death

D The Egyptians considered themselves one of three selected special peoples in the world.

Question 2

The Old Kingdom of Egypt fell due to_____?

A Overspending

B Climate change

C Civil war

D All the Above

Answers:

Question 1: C Art had two main functions: to order existence in life and preserve life upon death

Question 2: D All the above

Boundless, CC BY-SA 4.0