A brief history of Egyptian Civilization: Part 3 Old Dynasty

This period is also called as an age of pyramids which historian put as 2613–2181 BC. As discussed earlier, it includes dynasties from 4th to 6th. The fourth dynastic period must have a strong central government because the kings had built much larger structure like pyramids and temples which must have been possible due to strong bureaucratic efficiency that a strong king brought with him. Gradually, especially in 5th and 6th dynasty, the priesthood grew and made king weaker until it became less relevant. Thus, this period, old kingdom, ended with asocial unrest due to weak the government at the centre and a famine that had occurred at that time due to a drought in the region.

Then, the old kingdom followed by the first intermediate period 2181–2040 BC in which local official called Nomarch ruled their respective regions ie Noms.

Another reason for this unrest was because the last king of the 6th dynasty Pepi II ascended to the throne as a child king but died an old man. His reign lasted almost 100 years. He had outlived his successors and died leaving Egypt in the chaos of power struggle.

Fourth dynasty: 2613–2465 BC. This dynasty started with the king Sneferu who completed the history’s first true pyramid, Maydum Pyramid. This pyramid was perhaps started by king Huni of the third dynasty who was perhaps the father of Sneferu.

Sneferu had built three pyramids. Maydum pyramid is called a false pyramid and collapsed pyramid because it looked more like a tower then a pyramid but historian believe it to be a true pyramid which had collapsed. The original pyramid was modified but could not hold itself together and collapsed while construction still on.

Pyramid of Maydum

Sneferu built another pyramid which is called the Bent pyramid because the structure did not plan well and it was already late when they must have realized the mistake and made the pyramid bend on the tip.

Bent pyramid

Then, Sneferu perhaps has the great fortune at his hand did not stop there and built the first true pyramid in shape called Red pyramid.

Red Pyramid

Khufu, his son, succeeded him and known for the great pyramid of Giza which was the world’s tallest structure until 1889 when Eiffel Tower was built, making it second tallest structure. Egypt grew wealthy under his reign and he did military campaigns against Nubia and Libya and trade with Babylon’s got prosper.

Then, Djedefre succeeded Khufu for a brief time and then Khafre succeeded him. Khafre is famous for Great Sphinx at Giza which has the body of lion and face of the king, perhaps Khafre’s. Djedefre’s son became the king for a less a year then Khafre’s son Menkaure took over.

Great sphinix of Giza

Menkaure’s pyramid and complex were smaller than his father and grandfather perhaps because he no longer had the fortune that his ancestors had enjoyed. He lost his successor during the pyramid building and he died before the pyramid could have completed. The fact that he could not complete the pyramid in his 30-years reign indicates that he was struggling with the resources to pay for it.

His successor, Shepseskaf, completed this pyramid but he chose a modest Mastaba at Saqqara for his resting place.

The kings had diverted huge resources for these pyramids, complexes and temples which priests started controlling them. With the end of Shepseskaf short reign, this dynasty ended.

Fifth dynasty: 2465–2325 BC. This dynasty started with the king Userkaf and had consisted of 9 kings. He was followed by Sahure then Neferirkare. Some of the historians believe Userkaf to be related to the fourth dynasty princess Khentikaues. According to a legend around the starting of this dynasty that there was a prophesy that the last of the fourth dynasty would be dethroned by the triplets of a priest of Ra god ie god of the sun. These triplets were Userkaf, Sahure, Neferirkare, the first three kings of 5th dynasty. But historians believe it to be a legend only And they don’t know anything about this dynasty’s ascension. The other six kings of this dynasty are Nefrefre, Shepseskaf, Nyuserre Ini, Menkauhor Kaiu, Djekare Isesi, Unas, chronologically.

Pyramid of King Unas

The main change this dynasty showed from the previous one, was the change in religious practice. The last two kings did not build a temple of Ra god which was the tradition of their dynasty. Instead, they must have followed Osiris, the god of the dead.

At the end of this dynasty, the local officials grew in influence and wealth. Some of them started making their elaborated tombs indicating they were getting independence from the central government, gradually.

Sixth dynasty: 2325–2150 BC. This dynasty started with the reign of King Teti. During his reign, local officials and administrators made more elaborated tomb then the king. According to Manetho, Teti was killed by his bodyguards and was succeeded by Userkare who reign for short period and succeeded by Meryre Pepi I. During the reign of Meryre Pepi I local officials grew in power. He succeeded by Merenre Nemtyensaf I. Then Neferkare Pepi II came to power as a king at the age of six and died at a very old age.

Pyramid of Pharoh Pepi II

During his reign came a drought which brought a famine with it. But the king in the centre could not control this situation because he became irrelevant in his last days. After his death Merenre Nemtyesaf II and then Netjerkare became kings but for a very short time and then kingdom fell into social unrest. Thus ended the sixth dynasty and old kingdom and started the first intermediate period during which local rulers ruled their respective territories.