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What Are Dynasties, Kingdoms And Periods In Ancient Egypt?

Author:R Kay Ologist
Date: 2015-03-02 02:54:01
Tags:What Are Dynasties, Kingdoms And Periods In Ancient Egypt?

Before we look into what these different names mean, and why they are so important in the field of Egyptology, let us first look at something which many people are not really aware of. Throughout these articles on ancient Egypt the term “BCE” will be seen. This means “Before the Christian Era” and is what used to be known as “BC” (Before Christ). This term has been adopted by most archaeologists and archaeologists so that everyone in the world, of all different religious beliefs, can use the same system without having to refer to a religious meaning that they do not share. This also applies to “CE” (Christian, or Current, Era) which used to be referred to as “AD” (Anno Domini, or as is often incorrectly said, After Death).

So, what are these dynasties, kingdoms and periods that are continually referred to in ancient Egypt? Well, history relies on a chronological framework, very much as the present, or the future, does. Everything has to have a date so that its place in the timeline can be ascertained. Even the ancient Egyptians, themselves, knew this, which is why “king lists” have been found at the siltstone quarries at Wadi Hammamat, The 19th Dynasty temples of Seti I and Ramses II at Abydos, and even on papyrus in the form of the “Turin Canon”, which dates to the Ramesside period in the 13th century BCE. All of them are lists with names of the royal rulers, though some have been deliberately left out: Akhenaten and Hatshepsut being the two most notable.

The first known history of Egypt was written in the 3rd century BCE by an Egyptian priest called Manetho, and it is he that is attributed as dividing the king list into the various periods we know as “dynasties”. He looked through the list and divided every ruler, from c. 3,100 to 332 BCE, into family groups, or groups that shared the same location of their royal residences. This has served us well, right into the 21st century, even though we now know that some kings should be in an earlier, or later, dynasty because we have since discovered certain kinships that Manetho would not have known about.

Later on in time, and once the understanding of ancient Egyptian history was becoming more clear, historians started to notice that ancient Egypt was not always ruled by one king (the word pharaoh is actually a term brought in via Greece, the ancient Egyptians only ever referred to themselves as king). Once it was established that King Narmer was the first to unify the whole of Egypt, it could be seen that this happened again, and again. So the periods of unity were called “Kingdoms” (Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, and New Kingdom)  and the periods in between were referred to as the Intermediate Periods (1st Intermediate Period, 2nd Intermediate Period, and 3rd Intermediate Period). But the New Kingdom appears to be the last time that actual Egyptians ruled as kings of their own country, which is why, after the 3rd Intermediate Period, the Late Period (Libyan, Nubian, and Persian rulers) appears, followed by the Ptolemaic Period (Macedonian and Greek rulers). After 30 BCE the Romans took control of Egypt, but our history ends with the end of Greek rule.

What is referred to as the “Ramesside Period” is just a way of linking all the kings who were either descendants of Ramses I or shared his name (Ramses I – Ramses XI). Though this period includes what we nowadays call a “Queen” (Tausret), the ancient Egyptians never called their female rulers by this term. Originally Egyptologists were looking for a king called Hatshepsut, until they realised that the feminine symbol “t” was being overly used, which led them to realise that Hatshepsut was, in fact, a female king: the title “Queen” did not appear until the Greek, or Ptolemaic, Period.

As archaeology has progressed and better ways of dating have been invented, it was soon discovered that Egypt’s history went back further than first thought. Therefore the term “Predynastic Period” was brought in, which was then subdivided into two parts: Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt. Again, archaeologists went further back in time, and so the Saharan Neolithic Period and the Palaeolithic Period came into being. But that has now taken us back to c.700,000 and our story starts with King Narmer at the end of Naqada III or “Dynasty O”, 3,000 BCE.

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