The Old Kingdom/Kemet (c. 2686-2125 B.C)

The division between the Early Dynastic Period and the Old Kingdom is artificial. Its first kings were descended from pharaoh Khasekhemwy. Egypt was almost self-sufficient with few outside enemies. The familial relations between some pharaohs are unclear due to insufficient information.

3rd Dynasty

Djsoer's Ka Chamber
© Vincent Brown – Djoser’s Ka Chamber

Djoser was the most famous pharaoh of this dynasty and was well regarded by later pharaohs. He built the first large stone building, the Step Pyramid. Designs called for the tomb to be a mastaba with a burial chamber below it but it became a six-step pyramid.

In some kings’ lists, scribes wrote Djoser’s name in red. Later pharaohs regarded his reign as the beginning of pharaonic history. After Djoser’s death, the step pyramid became the preferred tomb type for his successors. The builders did not complete these tombs due to the short reigns of their builders.

4th Dynasty

Sneferu's Red Pyramid© kairoinfo4u – Snefru’s Red Pyramid

Snefru made a lasting impact on Egypt by turning the external form of a pyramid into that of a true pyramid. He also changed the orientation of the funerary complex into an east-west orientation. Snefru completed two pyramids during his reign. The first, the Bent Pyramid, got its name because its angle changed during construction. Snefru’s tomb was the Red Pyramid, made from red limestone.

Khufu was Snefru’s son and he built the Great Pyramid of Giza. His burial chamber was in the center of the pyramid rather than underneath the pyramid. Egyptologists discovered two boat burials beside the pyramid and restored one of them. Khufu built three pyramids for his queens on the plateau beside his tomb.

The Pyramids at Giza© DragonWoman – The Pyramid Complex at Giza

Two of Khufu’s sons ruled after him; Djedefra and Khafra. Djedefra had a short reign but he was the first pharaoh to use the title “son of the god Ra”. Khafra built the second largest pyramid at Giza. This building appears to be the same size as the Great Pyramid because it was on a higher elevation.

This dynasty made changes to the agricultural production in Egypt. It was necessary to improve yields to allow portions of the population to build pyramids. Pharaoh’s power was absolute so he was able to amass large groups of people to build his tomb. Royal family members filled many of the highest administrative positions. The pharaohs built sun-temples which show the ascendancy of the god Ra.

5th Dynasty

Scholars found important papyri documents in the pyramid temple of Neferirkara. These documents discuss the day-to-day running of the pyramid complex. They provide lists of the produce provided to the temple and of the priests serving there. Egyptologists also found inventories of the temples’ items and personal letters.

Several aspects of the kingdom either changed or became more elaborate. The royal family withdrew from administrative duties which allowed the elite to gain power. Egyptians saw the needs of the living and the dead as equal. Pharaoh began to make more donations to various local gods. Pharaoh sent expeditions to Punt and brought back malachite, myrrh and electrum (and alloy of gold and silver).

Another important change began in the reign of King Unas; the introduction of the Pyramid Texts. These texts decorated the ceiling of his burial chamber and they are the earliest large body of religious texts found to date. The Pyramid Texts track the development of religious ideas during this period. They provided spells and information for the king’s safe journey through the underworld. By this time, Osiris had progressed from a local deity to the main god of the dead.

6th Dynasty

Vessel from the 6th Dynasty Royal vessel from the 6th Dynasty

During this dynasty, many ideas and aspects of the government changed. Kings were no longer seen as untouchable. The Biographical Text of Weni mentioned a plot to kill King Pepi I. Local officials became more powerful which decreased royal authority.

Pepi II was the most famous of this dynasty’s kings. He was six when he inherited and he ruled for 94 years, the longest reign in Egypt’s history. During the second half of Pepi II’s reign, he was unable to rule well because the state collapsed. The people expected the pharaoh to provide food and safety for his people but he was unable to do this. Administrative offices became hereditary and this lead to a growth in their holders’ power. Centralized government vanished as did the pharaoh’s practical power.

7th and 8th Dynasties

Many ethereal kings all named Neferkara.

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