King Tut Mystery

Ever since a 1968 X-ray of tutankhamun’s  skull revealed signs of a severe blow to his  head, Egyptologists have wondered whether  he was murdered. Who might have killed the  boy king, and why? cutting-edge technology has (almost)  put the mystery to rest. tutankhamun was  almost certainly not murdered. He probably  died from a terrible infection that set in after  he broke his leg.  in January 2005, a computed tomography  (ct) scanner, donated by its manufacturer,  Siemens, and the national geographic Society, scanned the insides of tut’s mummy. 

King Tut Mystery

King Tut Mystery

King Tut Mystery

It recorded more than 1,700 images in five  minutes. Since tutankhamun is in such bad  shape, the scanner came right to his tomb in  the Valley of the Kings, in a specially-outfitted truck.  Analysis of the scanned images revealed  that the king had broken his leg just days  before he died. not even the best royal doctors could save him from the infection that  likely resulted.  Dr. Zahi Hawass, secretary general of  the Egyptian Supreme council of Antiquities, personally supervised the ct scan of  tutankhamun’s mummy.

He said,  “i believe  these results will close the case of tutankhamun, and the king will not need to be examined again. We should now leave him at rest.” given the terrible condition of the boy  king’s mummy, Egyptologists can be forgiven for not being sure about tut’s fate. Howard  carter, who discovered tut’s tomb in 1922,  was eager to separate the king’s mummy  from its fabulous gold mask, jewelry, and  other treasures. But the ancient glues used  in the mummification process gripped tight.  carter broke poor tut in half, separated his  head from his body, and broke the body into  more than a dozen pieces. He even took the  remains of the king outdoors and lit a fire  beneath them to try to loosen the resin glue. 

 the continued interest in tut is making  for a very active afterlife for him. the boy  king can now personally greet visitors to  his tomb from his comfortable resting place  in an airtight glass case, specially filtered  to keep fungi, molds, and microorganisms  from growing. only his face is visible. His  broken body is tastefully covered.


Imperial Egypt

 Imperial Egypt The New Kingdom

The 350 years of Dynasties 18 and 19 were the world’s first great empire. A series of brilliant military pharaohs extended Egypt’s domain from the fourth cataract deep in Nubia in the south, to the Eu- phrates River in the Near East. Egypt’s empire was much smaller than the later Persian and Roman empires, was built up gradually, and took shape not entirely by design. Egypt’s greatest general-kings appeared when much of the rest of the Mediterranean world was unstable and weak. Still, Egypt was the world’s first superpower.

The imperial age brought vast wealth and a new, cosmopolitan outlook to Egypt. Previously isolated in their narrow valley, Egyptians now subdued a multitude of nations, adopted their gods and goddesses, and im- ported their fashions and technologies. Sons of the leaders of conquered territories in Nubia and Asia were compelled to live in Egypt, study in temple schools, and learn Egyptian ways. Foreign princesses joined the royal harem—the king’s group of wives. Harems could be quite large, with hundreds of wives. Although these foreigners lived in luxury, their marriages were strictly diplomatic their presence kept the tribute and gifts flowing, and discouraged revolt. Trade, always important, became more varied and extensive. Fine- ly made products weapons, furniture, faience (glazed earthenware), linen, jewelry from the workshops of Egypt’s skilled artisans were in demand everywhere.

Goods and materials Egyptians had always craved poured in from abroad. From Nubia and further south came gold, ebony, ivory, amethysts, carnelian, jasper, diorite (a hard, grayish-green stone used for statues), leopard skins and other exotic animal pelts, incense, oils, ostrich eggs and feathers, and monkeys. From the mountainous deserts to the east came carnelian, garnets, jasper, rock crystal, obsidian, green and multi-hued feldspar, alabaster, copper, and rare emeralds. The copper and turquoise mines of Sinai were in constant production. Silver and lapis lazuli came from the far reaches of the Near East. With Ahmose’s triumph over the Hyksos (see page 35), the The- bans reigned supreme.

In a series of military campaigns, Ahmose secured Egypt’s borders. To build support for his central government, he gave the nomarchs and provincial nobles a great deal of authority and responsibility backed up with land grants and rich gifts. He also started major temple-building projects all over the country. His son, Amenhotep I, ruled for 21 years, continuing his father’s military campaigns in Nubia and Syria, and founding the great temple of Karnak, near Thebes. The next king, Thutmose I, was a non-royal general who gained the throne by marrying a princess. During his 11-year reign, the priests of Amun-Re at Thebes became fabulously wealthy and powerful. Thutmose II was the son of a royal harem woman. He found it pru- dent to strengthen his claim to the throne by marrying his half-sister. Like Thutmose I, he conducted successful military campaigns in Nubia and Syria. Thutmose III was also the son of a minor harem wife. He became king as a small child.

His aunt Hatshepsut, ruling as his regent, seized the throne within two years. A talented and ambitious woman, Hatshepsut became one of Egypt’s most powerful female pharaohs. She built and restored many temples, and built a splendid mortuary temple of unique design for herself at Deir el-Bahari near Thebes. With her lavish royal support, the Amun-Re priesthood became even richer. Hatshepsut was not much concerned with military matters, but she was very interested in trade. She sent almost continuous expeditions to the turquoise mines of Sinai, and to Punt, down the African coast. Meanwhile, Thutmose III was in the army, studying military strategy and planning his comeback. There is much historical evidence that Thutmose III disliked his aunt Hatshepsut. As soon as she died (some scholars speculate that  Thutmose actually had a hand in her death), he destroyed many of her monuments and those of her supporters. He scratched her name off  inscriptions and made sure she was left off the official king lists.

His  revenge complete, he proceeded to earn his modern title, “The Napoleon of Egypt.” Building a Superpower The first king to use ships for major troop movements, Thutmose III launched campaigns against Syria each summer for 18 years. In his most brilliant victory, he marched to Gaza in 10 days and took the city. He proceeded to Meggido and drove off the enemy after a daring- ly clever surprise attack. Unfortunately, his soldiers could not resist the temptation to do some looting. This gave the enemy time to build up their defenses in Meggido. (A seven-month siege finally dislodged them.) Thutmose III conquered more than 350 cities in the Near East, from the northeast border of Egypt to the Euphrates River. The temples of Amun-Re got most of the spoils, as well as large shares of the tribute that flowed in from conquered provinces.

Thutmose I had already pret- ty much conquered Nubia, enabling Thutmose III to concentrate on Asia. His primary opponent was the Mittani Empire in northern Syria, which eventually fell to Egypt.  The court of Thutmose III was luxurious beyond anything we can imagine today. During his 54 year reign, nothing was too good for his hundreds of wives (including many foreign princesses) and military generals. Tombs and grave goods from his era are remarkable for their high quality and abundance. The death of Thutmose III provoked widespread revolts around his empire. Because Egypt had never been known for military or imperial ambitions, the conquered peoples could be forgiven for hoping that when Thutmose III died, they would be able to regain their independence. But his son, Amenhotep II, quickly set them straight. A vigorous man, famous as a sportsman and athlete, the new king subdued every revolt.

He moved swiftly into Nubia, killing seven captive Nubian princes. He hung one from the walls of the Nubian capital, as a warning. A decisive campaign in Palestine confirmed that Amenhotep meant to hold on to his empire. For the rest of his 26-year reign, peace ruled the empire. Tribute flowed into Egypt as reliably as the Nile floods. The next king, Thutmose IV, also enjoyed a peaceful, prosperous reign. Thutmose IV and the powerful Mittani kingdom of the Near East reached a peace accord, and Thutmose married at least one Mittani princess. From then on, all that was required to keep the empire in line were a few “police actions” in Nubia and Syria. The next king, Amenhotep III presided over a prosperous, stable empire. There was little need for military action during his 37-year reign, because the empire was secure. Egypt was the world’s undisputed superpower. The king built grand temples, enhanced his reputation as a sportsman, and enjoyed luxury and high living at his fabulous court, along with more than 1,000 wives. His era is known for magnificent artwork and statuary.

Egypt’s wealth during this prosperous era did not come from war booty, but from vast international trade and tribute from conquered provinces. Gold poured in from the empire’s mines. The king built a spec- tacular mortuary temple at Thebes that included two 60-foot-tall statues of himself, known as the colossi of Memnon. It was lucky for Egypt that the next king reigned only 17 years. Fo- cused on promoting his new religion, Amenhotep IV badly neglected the empire. Only quick, decisive work by the kings who followed him kept Egypt’s empire together. Tutankhamun was a young boy, and his power was controlled and manipulated by older, experienced officials. During his 10-year reign, extensive building was carried out at the temples of Karnak and Luxor. There were military campaigns in Nubia and Syria, although Tutankhamun probably did not personally participate. He left no heir. He may have been murdered, but this idea is very controversial.

Akhenaten’s reign had destabilized the empire at a time when the neighboring Hittites were becoming a major force. Renewed military efforts would have been needed, but Tutankhamun had been too young and inexperienced to lead effective military campaigns. After Tu- tankhamun’s premature death, his young wife, Ankhesenamun, wrote to the Hittite king and asked him to send one of his sons. She would marry the son, she said, and he would become king of Egypt. This sounded too good to be true. The Hittite king suspected a trap, and sent a team of diplomats to investigate. Assured that Ankhesenamun’s story was true and her offer sincere, the Hittite sent his son who was ambushed at the border and murdered. The next three generations saw sporadic war between Egypt and the Hittites.

Tutankhamun’s successor, Ay, was an elderly official who had served under several kings. Ay ruled only four years. He was followed by Horemheb, an experienced, war-hardened general whom scholars consider the chief suspect in the murder of the unfortunate Hittite prince. Horemheb was a career officer who had served ably under three kings. Supremely ambitious, he seized the throne upon Ay’s death, and married a sister of Nefertiti to establish a link to the royal family. There is little evidence that Horemheb undertook any major mili- tary campaigns. His 27-year reign was focused on restoration, consolidation, internal reforms, and rewriting history. He immediately repaired and reopened temples closed by Akhenaten.

He restored the wealth and prestige of the Amun-Re temples with lavish royal support but took the precaution of appointing army officers loyal to him as chief priests. He did everything possible to erase all records of the kings between Amenhotep III and himself. After Horemheb’s death, his vizier became king. Ramesses I, first king of the Nineteenth Dynasty, was a career military officer who reigned only two years. His son, Sety I, presided over a rebirth of art and culture. A major builder and patron of Amun-Re, Sety I started the splendid Great Hypostyle Hall at the temple of Karnak, and built many other temples. He also resumed military campaigns to Nubia and Syria. His tomb is the largest and finest in the Valley of the Kings. But his greatest achievement might have been fathering Ramesses II Ramesses the Great. Ramesses II did everything on the grandest possible scale. No other pharaoh built so many temples, fathered so many children (more than 100 sons, daughters not counted), or erected so many colossal statues and obelisks.

He presided over the peak of Egypt’s imperial age. As a young prince, Ramesses II participated in many military campaigns against the Hittites. Soon after taking the throne, he led 20,000 soldiers against the Hittites in a great battle at Kadesh in Syria. The bat- tle ended in a stalemate, but Ramesses II returned home and proclaimed victory. Further campaigns had similar outcomes. This started getting expensive, and embarrassing, for both sides. According to Egyptian records, it was the Hittite king who proposed a peace treaty. Hittite records say it was Ramesses. In any case, flowery diplomatic letters, rich royal gifts, and Ramesses’s marriage to a Hittite princess sealed the peace pact. Ramesses II was one of Egypt’s biggest builders. He completed Sety’s mortuary temple at Thebes, another for himself at Abydos, and the huge mortuary temple called the Ramesseum.

He added to the temple complexes Karnak and Luxor, and built major temples all over Egypt. His Great Temple at Abu Simbel, cut into the rocky cliffs near Elephantine, was dedicated to the gods Re-Herakhte, Ptah, and Amon-Re—but with its four 60-foot-tall statues of himself, it was clearly meant to proclaim his own magnificence. Nearby, he built a smaller temple to honor his favorite wife, Nefertari, and the goddess Hathor. He built a new city, Piramesse (“Domain of Ramesses”) in the Delta. A total of 14 jubilee festivals were held in ancient Egypt by various kings. Also called heb-sed festivals, these weeks-long national parties were held to reaffirm the king’s vigor and fitness to rule. The heb sed in  cluded many religious ceremonies and a ritual “marathon run” in which the king ran a course around the temple precincts to show that he was in excellent shape.

Kings held heb-seds at different intervals, and some held many more than others. They were generally 10 to 15 years apart during the 64 year reign of Ramesses II. The king was more than 90 years old when he died.  Ramesses II is believed by many scholars to be “Pharaoh” mentioned in the Bible in the book of Exodus, which describes how Moses freed the Israelite people from Egyptian slavery. However, there are no surviving records in Egypt of this event during the reign of any pharaoh. The Beginning of the End When Merneptah, 13th son of Ramesses II, took the throne, revolt was in the air. Merneptah repelled waves of Libyan invaders, subdued rebellion in Nubia, and turned back hordes of refugees from Mesopotamia, who were suffering from extreme droughts. (He did send grain to the faminestricken Hittites.) Times were equally difficult for the rulers who followed him through the end of the Nineteenth Dynasty, including Twosret, Egypt’s fourth reigning queen.

 Within 25 years of the death of Ramesses the Great, Egypt was beset by invaders, and disorder mounted. The Nineteenth Dy- nasty ended in confusion. The Twentieth Dynasty saw the beginning of the end of Egypt’s empire. Ramesses III was the last great imperial pharaoh. When he took the throne in 1279 B.C.E., the world was in turmoil. The Trojan War and the fall of Mycenae in what is today Greece, and several years of drought, poor harvests, and famine in lands around the Mediterranean sent hordes of refugees on the move. A confederation of refugees collectively called the Sea Peoples  tried again to invade Egypt. They had first appeared during the reign of Merneptah, but had been turned back. This was not an army.

These were entire nations men, women, children, animals, household goods on the move, desperate for a place to live. They had their eyes on the fertile Nile River Delta. Their attempts to invade overland were met with fierce resistance, resulting in heavy loss of life. When their ships approached close to Egypt’s northern shore, ranks of archers drove them off with wave after wave of deadly arrows. The remnants of the Sea Peoples were finally chased back to the Near East. This gave Egypt only a short break from trouble. Invasions of the Delta and several waves of Libyan invaders required the king’s attention. Ramesses III crushed them all. His reign was prosperous, but troubled. He was even beset by problems in his own palace. A “harem conspiracy,” led by a minor queen who wanted to promote her son’s fortunes (and her own) plotted to kill the king. The plot was discovered just in time.

Most of the conspirators were allowed to commit suicide (considered a great boon) in lieu of execution. A few other chose to kill themselves rather than face lesser punishments, such as having their ears and noses chopped off. Ramesses III was followed by a long series of kings, also named Ramesses (IV through XI). They are called the Ramessides. The kings from Ramesses IV onward had no family connection with Ramesses the Great. And borrowing his name did them little good. Little is known about these kings. During the 81 years of their reigns, internal instability increased. Trade dropped sharply. Egypt was plagued by civil wars, strikes, widespread lawlessness, and huge price increases.

The empire was swiftly receding, which meant less tribute and gifts coming in (the Egyptian economy and the lifestyles of the rich and royal had become quite dependent upon all this tribute, which they did not have to work to earn). Troubles around the Mediterranean curtailed trade, meaning even less income. The pie was shrinking and the elites were elbowing one another to get their share before it all disappeared. The growing prevalence of infighting was not good for social stability. Nubia, and its important gold resources, was finally lost. Under Ramesses VI, the eastern frontier was pulled back to the eastern Delta. The turquoise mines in the Sinai were abandoned.

Some building still went on in Egypt, but as less tribute flowed in from the weakening empire, funds dried up. The powerful priests of Amun-Re at Thebes rebelled openly against the throne. Civil war raged in Thebes. Finally, Herihor, a high priest of Amun-Re who had risen through the military ranks and had been southern vizier and viceroy of Nubia, declared himself king. His reign overlapped the last six years of the reign of Ramesses XI, who continued to rule from Piramesse in the Delta. The two kings acknowledged each others’ separate spheres of influence. There was not much Ramesses XI could do about it.

The Amarna Period

In his third year of rule, Amenhotep IV held a heb-sed, a traditional festival that re-affirmed his fitness to rule. Oddly, no gods except his favorite, the Aten, were included. The Aten, a winged sun disk, was an obscure god in whom Amenhotep’s parents had taken an interest, but only as one god among many. The heb-sed shrines featured only Amenhotep IV beneath the Aten disk. Even Amun-Re was excluded. By his fifth year as ruler, Amenhotep had promoted the Aten to official state god. Support that used to flow to Amun-Re temples and priests went to the Aten cult, which quickly grew rich.

Temples of Amun-Re closed for lack of funds. The king declared that the Aten was the one true god, and banned all others a staggering change in a land where 2,000 gods were worshiped. Amenhotep changed his name to Akhenaten (“Living Spirit of the Aten”) and moved his capital to a new city, Akhetaten (“Horizon of the Aten”) on the east bank of the Nile, halfway between Thebes and Memphis modern Tell elAmarna. The brief era of Akhenaten’s radical religious upheaval is called the Amarna Period. Within four years, Akhetaten, the city, was fully functional. It became both the religious and political capital of Egypt.

Buildings were decorated with art in the new Amarna style, with charming scenes of Akhenaten, the king, his wife Nefertiti (which means “a beautiful woman has come”), and their six daughters. The elite found it wise to swiftly convert. But almost everyone else continued to quietly worship their traditional gods and goddesses. The Aten religion, actually a cult formed around the personality of the king, never caught on outside the king’s closed circle. In the 12th year of Akhenaten’s reign, several members of his family died suddenly, possibly of plague. Nefertiti vanished. She may have died, or she may have been “retired” because she produced no sons.

Akhenaten married at least one of his surviving daughters but still got no sons. He became increasingly intolerant of the persistent interest in the old gods, traditional religion, and anybody who disagreed with his radical religious notions. After ruling for 17 years, he died. Massive confusion followed. The identity of his immediate successor is a hot topic of scholarly controversy. Tutankhaten, the king who followed the mystery successor, changed his name to Tutankhamun and moved the capital back to Thebes. He demolished the Aten’s temples, and erased the names of Akhenaten and Nefertiti from monuments. Amun-Re ruled once more.

Akhetaten was abandoned. With its residents gone and valuables removed, it sank back into the desert sands, until it was rediscovered by archaeologists in the early 1800s. The kings who followed Akhenaten tried to erase the heretic king, his wife, and the entire embarrassing episode from history. In spite of their efforts, Akhenaten and Nefertiti are among the best-known icons of ancient Egypt and the Amarna Period is one of the most intensively studied and fascinating eras of Egyptian history.

King Tut Biography

Tutankhamun lived over 3,300 years, during the period known as the New Kingdom. For two centuries, Egypt had decided as a global superpower, while the royal family lived opulent lifestyle. The powerful priesthood of Amun had controlled vast temples and estates.
All that changed during the reign of Amenhotep IV when he renounced the multitude of gods worshiped by the Egyptians and abolished the priesthood of Amon. Amenhotep established a new order to worship the sun god Aten and changed his own name to Akhenaten, meaning "servant of Aten".

A new capital was established well north of Thebes (modern Luxor) - home of the main temples of Amun. His new city was named Akhetaten, meaning "Horizon of Aten". This is where Akhenaton (left) has decided with his wife Chief, Nefertiti, who bore him six daughters but no son to be like Pharaoh. It is now believed that Akhenaten and a lesser wife named Kiya were the parents of Tutankhaten, as Tutankhamun was known at first. He spent most of his early years in the palace of Tell el-Amarna, a mentor in many skills, including reading and writing.
Much is uncertain about this period and, in time, both names of Nefertiti and Kiya has ceased to appear in written documents. A dark figure emerged as the Smenkhkare - it may have been a brother of the king and ruled briefly by his side.

King Tut Biography

In any case, shortly after the death of Akhenaten and Smenkhkare, Tutankhaten became a Boy King at the age of about nine years. He married a slightly older Ankhesenpaaten (bottom right), a daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. Soon their names have been changed to Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun to reflect the return to favor of the Amun hierarchy and the ousting of the Aten power base. The temples of Amun were restored. At a young age, Tutankhamun would not have been responsible for the actual decision-making. It would have been handled by two senior officials called Ay (possibly the father of Nefertiti) and Horemheb, commander of the army.

Around the ninth year of the reign of Tutankhamun, perhaps 1325 BC, he died and Ay is represented in tomb paintings to oversee the funeral arrangements of Tutankhamun, which lasted 70 days. Meanwhile, Ankhesenamun was left in a dilemma - there was no heir to the throne. (Two female stillborn fetuses were found in the tomb). Maybe she was the Queen who wrote in desperation to Suppiluliumas I, king of the Hittites, asking him to send his son to marry and become Pharaoh. Being an enemy of Egypt, the Hittite king suspected a trick and sent an emissary to check. The situation of the widow was confirmed and he then sent a son who was murdered at the border - probably by agents sent by General Horemheb. (It is also possible that the correspondence with the Hittites may have been written some years earlier by Nefertiti after the death of her husband, Akhenaten.)

The aging Ay became Pharaoh and took Ankhesenamun his queen to legitimize his rule. What happened to her after that is unknown. Ay ruled for only four years after his death Horemheb grabbed power. He soon obliterated evidence of the reigns of Akhenaten, Tutankhamun and Ay and substituted his own name on many monuments. Radiographs taken in 1968 seemed to indicate the possibility of injury to the skull that had time to partly heal. This was seen by some as evidence of a blow to the skull - perhaps murder. Others thought it was perhaps the result of a fall from a horse-drawn chariot.

In January 2005, the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities organized a van equipped with a CAT-scan cell (the latter given by Siemans Ltd and the National Geographic Society) to be taken to the Valley of Kings, as part of her mother Egyptian project. Tutankhamun's mummy was briefly removed from his tomb and decayed outside the van for CT scans. These detailed analyzes have shown no evidence of a blow to the skull. They provided a wealth of data on Tutankhamun, including that he had an impacted wisdom tooth. According to the analyzes, it was estimated that was about 168cm (5 feet 6 inches) tall, lightly built, but well fed, and about 19 when he died.

The analyzes also showed that the Pharaoh had a fractured left femur with skin and broken bones. The left knee cap was also detacted. His injuries could have occurred as much as a few days before his death and, if infection had settled, it may have been fatal. Maybe he was thrown from a car or injured in battle, but we may never know.


Gold Mask Mummy King Psusennes I

In this gold mask mummy cover Psusennes Prime appears with the royal headdress surmounted by the uraeus, or cobra. He wears a false beard braided.

The mask is made of two pieces of beaten gold, welded and assembled by five nails that can be seen from the rear.

Gold Mask Mummy King Psusennes I
Gold Mask Mummy King Psusennes I

The king wears the Nemes headdress Royal, usually linen, surmounted by the sacred uraeus, the cobra. The protection of the king against his enemies and the enemies of life and after death.

The king wears a false beard braided, which is the symbol of dignity. He also wears a necklace Usekh large incision with floral decorations. Incrustations of the eyelids and eyebrows and straps of the beard are glass paste. The eyes are made of black and white stones.


The Early Dynastic Period

Narmer’s triumph did not put an immediate end to conflict. There were many periods of localized warfare. Forces from the north and south clashed. For awhile, the two lands continued to think of themselves as separate kingdoms. Narmer, who was from Ta-Shomu, may have married a Ta-Mehu princess to establish his right to rule the north. Throughout Egyptian his- tory, many kings chose wives to strengthen their ties to the royal family or to cement a political or diplomatic relationship.

Second Dynasty king Khasekhemwy also married a northern princess. This period, known as the Early Dynastic Period, covers 375 years of what Egyptologists have named Dynasties 0 to 3 (3000 B.C.E.–2625 B.C.E.). Most information about the Early Dynastic Period comes from royal tombs at Abydos, and tombs of nobles at Saqqara. The few items missed by tomb robbers show that arts and crafts were already highly advanced. Early kings wanted to be assured of plenty of help and compan- ionship in the afterlife. When they died, servants and family members were killed and buried with them. First Dynasty king Djer was buried with more than 300 people.

This cruel, wasteful practice was abandoned by the end of the First Dynasty.  The population was growing rapidly, reaching an estimated 1 million by the end of the Second Dynasty. One of the king’s most important roles was to increase food production by extending irrigation systems and reclaiming land for farming. Land was reclaimed for farms, towns, and cities using dams and drainage canals. First Dynasty king Hor-Aha founded the capital city of Memphis on land reclaimed from the Nile. Memphis (which means “white walls”), at the southern tip of the Nile Delta, became one of the ancient world’s greatest cities.

Artistic, cultural, religious, and political traditions were established during the Early Dynastic Period that persisted throughout Egypt’s history. At Memphis, a highly centralized, bureaucratic government was soon in place and growing fast. The government employed legions of scribes, tax collectors, accountants, engineers, and architects. Specialists oversaw trade, irrigation, and drainage, and the distribution and storage of food. Scribes, whose job was to write down all important records, quickly converted from cumbersome hieroglyphics, based on pictures, to speedier hieratic script (a kind of hieroglyphic shorthand).

They wrote on sheets or rolls of papyrus, made from the fiber of the papyrus plant, which was already in wide use by Narmer’s time. Accountants and engineers had all the basic mathematical and surveying skills they needed to determine property boundaries and calculate crop yields. The 365-day calendar was in place. A system of weights and measures simplified trade and tax collection. Artists and craftsmen started using standardized proportion grids for depicting objects and people. Before beginning to paint or carve, the artist drew a grid of horizontal and vertical lines of predetermined size and spacing on his work surface (a tomb wall, for example).

Depending upon the rank and social position of the person being depicted, he or she was made a specific size in relation to the other figures in the composition. Also, each figure had to be structured in a specific way—a person was a certain number of “heads” tall, the legs were a certain length in relation to the torso, and so on. These very specific relationships were established early on and artisans seldom deviated from them. These conventions and proportions had deep religious, magical, cultural, and social significance. (There is more information about artistic conventions in chapter 6.)

The arts of pottery and stonework were highly advanced. There is evidence of roof beams, joists, and large doors made of cedar wood, in- dicating ongoing trade with Lebanon, which is on the Mediterranean coast more than 200 miles northeast of Egypt. Articles of ebony and ivory show that trade with Nubia, in north-central Africa south of Egypt, was well-established. Trade goods that came through the southerly routes from Nubia originated in Nubia itself, and from the peoples of the Sudan and of equatorial and sub-Saharan Africa.

Lapis lazuli ornaments show that Egyptian traders were also benefitting from a long-distance trade network that brought in gemstones and other luxury goods from as far as central Asia. The stage was set for a spectacular flowering of culture. Early Third Dynasty kings faced serious internal political problems and could not yet afford to concentrate on tomb-building. They granted large estates, herds, and rich gifts to trusted nobles who promised to keep the provinces quiet. These nobles enjoyed enormous local power and prestige, setting up a dangerous pattern repeated throughout the dynastic era: powerful local nobles becoming too wealthy and independent.

Besides putting down internal squabbles, kings were also busy obtaining reliable supplies of the industrial materials they needed and the luxury goods they craved. Third Dynasty kings began extensive mining in the Sinai Peninsula, especially for copper and turquoise. Keeping the mines open often meant military action against local Bedouin tribes. Keeping prized gold flowing north from Nubian mines was a prob- lem faced by kings throughout the dynastic era. Third Dynasty king  Djoser extended the boundary of Upper Egypt to the first cataract at Aswan to help secure the southern trade routes. Djoser’s success at managing internal affairs let him turn attention to his tomb.

He wanted to do something different, and had just the man to do it: his brilliant vizier (chief official), Imhotep. Imhotep designed the world’s first pyramid, the Step Pyramid, at Saqqara. The Step Pyramid is a stack of successively smaller mastabas (the Arabic word for “bench”; it is a small, oblong tomb with sloping sides and a flat roof) piled atop one another. It measures 467 feet by 393 feet, and is 200 feet tall. It was the first all-stone building in the world.

Photo of New Kingdom kings

The new kingdom period of Egypt is the period between the 16th century BC and the 11th century BC .The expulsion of the Hyksos, began during the late 17th Dynasty by Seqenenre or by Kamose and completed by 18th Dynasty monarch Ahmose in 1522, was the start of a series of conquests that would bring Egypt peace and prosperity. This was finally accomplished by Ahmose I, who reunited Egypt, ushering in the New Kingdom the third great era of Egyptian culture.


The First Intermediate Period

The god king no longer enjoyed exalted status. Local rulers and nomarchs had grabbed much of his authority. When the collapse finally came, it was sudden and complete.  While general disorder and the independence of local rulers helped bring about the collapse of the Old Kingdom, many scholars believe that climate change in Africa and the Near East had at least as much to do with it. Changes in the patterns of monsoon rains over the Abyssinian highlands caused widespread drought and a series of low Niles. Food production abruptly declined.

Hot winds blew from the south for weeks at a time, according to some ancient texts. Sandstorms and dust storms hid the sun for days. Already dry farms turned to dust. In some places, the Nile was so shallow that it could be crossed on foot. Drought and famine in the Near East drove bands of starving, desperate refugees to Egypt’s borders, putting additional pressure on food and water supplies. These disastrous events called into serious question the god-king’s ability to control the river and to ensure agricultural success. The king quickly lost any reputation he still had for magical powers.

Only local warlords had the power to repel invaders, control distribution of scarce food, and enforce water conservation. Egypt quickly splintered into numerous small feudal kingdoms ruled by powerful chieftains. Their only concerns were keeping their domains secure and keeping invaders out. Art, tomb building, and everything else had to wait.  This period spans from about 2130 B.C.E. to 1980 B.C.E., Dynasties 9 to 11 (early). But in fact, there is little information and much confusion about the length of this period (estimates range from 140 to 200 years) and the number of kings.

A rapid succession of kings (sometimes more than one at a time) claimed the throne. None of these self proclaimed rulers had much influence beyond Memphis. By 20 years after Pepy II’s death, the Delta had been invaded by “Asiatics” refugees and nomadic tribes from northeast of Egypt in the Near East, Palestine, and beyond, to the Tigris Euphrates Valley. Egypt’s government, such as it was, fled south. One powerful faction ruled the Delta during the ninth and tenth dynasties, and parts of Middle Egypt from Herakleopolis. They brought a temporary end to warfare, expelled Asiatic invaders from the Delta, fortified the eastern borders, improved irrigation systems, and reestablished Memphis as a regional capital. Another powerful ruling family (the Eleventh Dynasty) ruled from Thebes. There were frequent border clashes between the Thebans and Herakleopolitans.

Ancient Egypting Old Kingdom

 The Old Kingdom spans Dynasties 4 through 8, a period of 495 years from 2625 B.C.E. to 2130 B.C.E. It was the age of the great pyramids. The rule of the god king was absolute. He alone was privileged to enjoy eternal life. As chief priest, he controlled the Nile and the inundation, and made sure the sun rose every day. As leader of an increasingly prosperous country, he commanded enormous power and wealth.

Old Kingdom kings poured all of Egypt’s resources into ensuring that their afterlives would be as luxurious and glorious as possible. For a few hundred years at the height of the Old Kingdom, all Egypt’s wealth stone, gold, and gems, every peasant’s labor, every artisan’s skill, the central government, and the entire religious establishment were harnessed for a single goal: building royal tombs. Advances in architecture, astronomy, surveying, construction, quarrying, stonework, sculpture, art, and hieroglyphic writing were focused on designing, building, decorating, and maintaining the king’s tomb and vast necropolis a city of the dead, where tombs were laid out like a well planned town.

Ancient Egypting Old Kingdom


Like Djoser, later kings also wanted pyramids. And now they had the wealth to build on a large scale. They tried several designs. During his 40 year reign, Fourth Dynasty king Sneferu built at least two pyramids of different designs: his Bent pyramid, and the Red Pyramid, both at Dahshur. The Bent pyramid was an attempt to build a true, smooth sided pyramid. But during construction, it almost collapsed. So the builders had to reduce its almost 54 degree angle of incline to 43 degrees halfway up, resulting in a curiously asymmetrical profile. The Red Pyramid is a smooth sided (not stepped) structure, making it the first true pyramid.

Unlike the Great Pyramid and others in the Giza Plateau, the Red Pyramid at Dahshur rises at a 43 degree angle of incline.  Sneferu’s son, Khufu, was the biggest builder of all. He spent his entire 25 year reign getting ready for his afterlife. It still holds many mysteries. The Great Pyramid of Khufu, second king of the Fourth Dynasty, is the only one of the seven wonders of the ancient world still standing. Khufu took the art and science of pyramid building to heights it had never achieved before, and never would again.

Khufu built his pyramid and necropolis at the edge of the desert on the northwestern corner of the Giza Plateau, southwest of modern Cairo. No one had built there before. When fully developed, the complex stretched over four miles long. It included the Great Pyramid (surrounded by an eight foot high wall) and a huge mortuary temple for the king’s funeral. A 2,700 foot long paved causeway led to the Valley Temple by the Nile. At least five pits held boats in which Khufu’s spirit could sail the heavens. 

The vast necropolis included hundreds of mastabas for royals, nobles, priests, and officials. Villages housed construction workers and priests to tend to the king’s cult after his death. There were three small pyramids for Khufu’s queens, and a small cult pyramid a very small pyramid used in religious/magical rituals and ceremonies during the king’s funeral, and afterward as a site of rituals for his mortuary cult. It may have been meant for the king to use in some (unknown) way during his afterlife. It was excavated only recently, and its precise meaning and use within the necropolis is still a hot topic of debate among Egyptologists.

 Khuit Khufu Khufu’s Horizon, as the Egyptians called the Great Pyramid was the largest, most complex, and best built of all the pyramids. When first built, it rose 481 feet into the desert sky. (The top 31 feet, including the capstone, are long gone.) The pyramid’s base covers about 13 acres. Each of the four sides is 755 feet long at the base. Until 1889, when the 1,045 foot Eiffel Tower was built in Paris, it was the tallest artificial structure on earth. It held this record for more than 4,000 years. More than 2 million limestone blocks, weighing an average of two  and one half tons each (some weigh up to 15 tons), were stacked, with amazing accuracy, in 210 ascending rows.

The blocks in the lowest row are five feet tall; the blocks at the summit are 21 inches tall. The outer walls are slightly concave (bowed inward) to increase stability. The Pyramid was topped with a gold covered pyramidion (pyramid shaped capstone). No one is sure exactly how the Great Pyramid was built or how long it took. Egyptian priests told Herodotus it had taken 20 years. He calculated that the project would have required more than 100,000 workers.

Modern Egyptologists believe it was more like 15,000. The pyramid builders had mostly stone age tools. But they also had unlimited  manpower, religious motivation, excellent organization, strong leadership, and plenty of time. For measuring, the builders used ropes and sticks, a plumb bob (a weight at the end of a string), leveling staffs, and a set square to mark angles. For cutting limestone, they used flint knives, copper chisels, long copper saws, and wooden wedges. A stonecutter, recognizing natural seams in the rock, pounded in wooden wedges, soaked the wedges, and waited for the heat of the sun to expand the wood.

The wood split the rock at the seams. Harder stone was pounded free with diorite slabs, using pumice or quartz sand as an abrasive. Most of the blocks were quarried from limestone outcrops near the site. The outer casing was fine white limestone from Tura, east of the Nile. (Most of the casing blocks are long gone, used to build medieval Cairo.) The pink granite for the burial chamber and sarcophagus (the outer stone coffin) was floated on barges from quarries near Elephantine. At the time the Great Pyramid was built, the Egyptians had donkeys and oxen, but no horses. They did not use pulleys or wheels.

The massive blocks were probably raised using earth and mudbrick ramps. The design of the ramps is a subject of much controversy. On flat ground and slight inclines, the blocks were dragged with heavy flax ropes over oiled rollers made of wood or stone. The Great Pyramid was not built by slaves. Manual laborers, drafted from all over Egypt, worked under a core of architects, engineers, master builders, stonemasons, artisans, and scribes. Draftees were mostly farmers who had nothing to do while their fields were underwater as a result of the inundation.

They worked for a season, then returned home. The Pyramid’s interior is a complex maze of chambers, tunnels, shafts, and corridors. There is much controversy about the purpose and nature of some of these features, and whether there might be stillundis covered features inside, or beneath, the Great Pyramid. Khufu’s son, Khafre, built his slightly smaller pyramid complex near his father’s. He added a unique touch: the Great Sphinx. A reclining lion with a human head and Khafre’s face, this guardian of the necropolis, carved from a natural outcrop of limestone, is 60 feet tall and 240 feet long.

King Menkaure’s pyramid, the third at Giza, is only half the height of the Great Pyramid. In fact, the huge pyramids of Sneferu, Khufu, and Khafre were a departure from the normal scale of the vast majority of pyramids. Many scholars think that after Khafre the emphasis turned to temples and their decoration. As they observed the sun and the other objects in the sky, the as  tronomer priests of the popular sun god Re at Heliopolis made many discoveries. They documented the movements of celestial bodies, and learned to calculate the passage of time based on the rising and setting of stars and constellations. They understood the geometry of angles and were skilled at surveying land.

They guarded their scientific knowledge closely. Because its priests possessed so much useful knowledge, the solar cult became wealthy and powerful. The first kings of the Fifth Dynasty final ly realized that building lavish tombs for themselves while ignoring the rest of the country was not wise. They quickly saw the advantages of being associated with Re’s powerful cult. Fifth Dynasty king Userkaf built the first temple to the sun god. His successors built many more. Fifth Dynasty pyramids were not as well built at their Fourth Dynasty predecessors: They were constructed with rubble or mudbrick cores covered with stone casings.

When the outer stone was stolen for other buildings (as always happened, sooner or later), the pyramids crumbled. Since the pyramids could not be relied on to stand forever, kings started looking to magic to ensure a comfortable afterlife. The tomb of the last king of the Fifth Dynasty, Unas, contains the first known example of the Pyramid Texts, which are hundreds of magic spells to help the dead king navigate the dangers of the underworld on his way to paradise. During the Fifth Dynasty, power was somewhat decentralized and nomarchs and provincial nobles became increasingly wealthy and powerful. Many local posts became hereditary, with fathers passing power and taxfree estates to their sons. A feudal system developed, especially in Upper Egypt.

Local rulers controlled mini kingdoms and paid little attention to dictates from Memphis. As long as Egypt remained peaceful and taxes rolled in to the royal treasuries, the kings went along with this arrangement. But there was rumbling on the borders. Soldiers often had to be sent to Nubia to protect trade routes and to recruit mercenaries (soldiers for hire) for the army and police forces. A major fort was established at Buhen, near the second cataract. Libyan raiders made repeated incursions from the western desert.

The Fifth Dynasty ended in confusion. The first king of the Sixth Dynasty, Teti, settled things down. But the power and influence of the king was severely declining. Local nobles no longer felt it necessary or even desirable to be buried near the king. They built tombs for themselves and their families in their own districts. The last known king of the Old Kingdom, Pepy II, took the throne when he was a child. (Pepy II was, in fact, a Sixth Dynasty king, and the Old Kingdom ended in the Eighth Dynasty.

However, not much is known about the kings of Dynasties 7 and 8, and Pepy II is the last king from this period to have had much influence over the course of events in the Old Kingdom.) His 94 year reign appears to have been marked by a steady decline in royal power. As the power of central government decreased, the power of local rulers increased. Instability and civil disorder followed Pepy’s death. A few hundred years of gloriously high culture had been followed by a severe backlash.

Many scholars believe the artistic and architectural achievements of the Old Kingdom were never equaled. But the Great Pyramid and similar projects were enormous drains on Egypt’s resources. The royal pretensions that led to such projects got out of hand. When powerful and all too independent nobles rebelled against the king’s authority and a series of low Niles brought widespread crop failure and famine, pyramid building was the last thing on the king’s mind.