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Ancient Egypt Magazine

Volume 6 issue 3 December 2005 / January 2006



This month’s NETFISHING continues its look at the history of Egypt by seeing what the World Wide Web has to say about the Old Kingdom, the first flowering of Egyptian civilization, a period also known as the "Pyramid Age" due to the magnificent monuments that survive from this era.


The Old Kingdom (c.2686 - 2181 BC) was an age of remarkable achievements when a strong monarchy and a stable, well administered country enabled the Egyptian civilization to reach new heights. This is evident not just culturally and socially, but in the arts, and especially in the field of architecture, where Egyptian religious beliefs inspired elaborately-decorated tombs to be constructed for the nobility, and huge man-made mountains of stone to be raised for their god-kings. Indeed to a large extent it is these monuments of stone that enable us to understand, and place into context, the development of the Old Kingdom.

The Old Kingdom can be divided up into four distinct Dynasties, numbered 3-6 and a good outline of their history can be found at the

Tour Egypt web-site: Dynasty 3

Dynasty 4

Dynasty 5

Dynasty 6 .

The most important king of Dynasty 3 is undoubtedly King Zoser (or Djoser), who built the earliest of the Egyptian "super-monuments", the famous Step-Pyramid complex at Saqqara. Details of the king himself can be found at: ,

whilst his pyramid is discussed in a series of articles to be found at: and on the pages of Su Bayfield’s excellent "Egyptian Monuments" site at: . Whilst many readers may be familiar with the Step Pyramid and its massive enclosure wall, not as many may know that the entire complex was surrounded by a giant trench and this enormous undertaking is discussed at: .

The rise in the worship of the sun-god Ra, of Heliopolis, may have brought about a change in the architecture of the pyramid, which

changed its form from the step-pyramid design (related to the stellar cult of the Northern sky) into a true geometric pyramid (associated with the cult of the sun-god and the ben-ben stone, the very symbol of the cult itself). These changes are evident at the pyramid of Meidum, most probably first built by King Huni and then finished, in geometric form, by his son Sneferu; refer to:

The architectural development of the Pyramid becomes our window on the development of the Old Kingdom and a number of web-sites exist to describe and illustrate the monuments of the Pyramid Age in some detail; refer to:

the Guardians page

the ancient Egypt site

Egyptology Online

and the Egyptian Monuments site .

King Sneferu ( ) built another two pyramids at Dahshur, the "Bent Pyramid" and the Northern "Red Pyramid" whilst his son, Khufu ( and )

moved the royal cemetery to Giza ( ), and constructed the largest pyramid in the world – the "Great Pyramid"; refer to: .

According to the theories of Colin Reader, it is possible that the Sphinx ( ) already existed in some form or another at this time, although "the traditional view" is that it was constructed much later by king Khafra; refer to: and .

The third king to build at Giza was Menkaura; refer to: and .

The Hollywood version of events is that these pyramids were constructed by slave labour, but this is totally untrue, as can be seen by the discoveries made at the workmen’s village at Giza; refer to: .

The fifth and sixth Dynasties reveal the growing status and position of the administrators of Egypt; refer to: and .

The high position of these officials is revealed in their elaborate tombs and the way in which they were equipped and decorated for eternity; refer to: and .

Two of the most famous and beautifully decorated tombs of the period are those of:

Mereruka and

Kagemni .

The last king of the sixth Dynasty was Pepi II ( ) whose long reign apparently resulted in a lack of decisive leadership just when the nobility were becoming stronger, the nomarchs were ruling as petty princes within their own districts, and the Nile began to fail – and so food shortages stalked the land. The end of the Old Kingdom was the result of a combination of circumstances, but certainly climatic change and the failure of the Nile were the final straws that tipped the tables into anarchy and the wars of the First Intermediate Period. A discussion of these climatic changes is given on the BBC web-site by Professor Fekri Hassan at: , although it must be remembered that the failure of the Nile was not the only factor that brought about the end of the Old Kingdom.

Victor Blunden

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