The Old Kingdom
According to the Palette of Namur, an ancient carved stone tablet, Upper and Lower Egypt were first unified around 3100 BCE when the leader of Upper Egypt, Menes, conquered his enemies and brought a centralised government to the many small communities along the Nile. Menes founded the first of eight dynasties that would control ancient Egypt for around a thousand years, a period that is known as the Old Kingdom.
The main evidence for their being a centralised government during this period of Egypt’s history is the appearance of pyramids in the region. To build these large structures would have taken a huge amount of man power, maybe into the tens of thousands. The provision of food, water and other essentials like housing for such a workforce would require a huge amount of planning so it shows the leaders of the Old Kingdom had the resources and power to control large numbers of people.
The First Intermediate Period
Around 2100 BCE, the Old Kingdom went into decline and for two hundred years, Egypt was without centralised control. Why the First Intermediate Period came about is unknown, but it is speculated that a natural disaster made it imposable for the taxes of the peasants to be delivered to the Pharaohs.
Another theory is that taxes would have been so high in order to pay for grand projects such as the pyramids, it could have caused revolt amongst the noble classes which led to an end to central authority and an end to the first great ancient Egyptian kingdom.
The Middle Kingdom
Following the First Intermediate Period in ancient Egypt was the Middle Kingdom, which lasted between 2000 -1700 BCE. The Egyptian government was centralised by a new dynasty of Pharaohs with their capital situated in Thebes. The kingdom stretched as far south as Ethiopia and became wealthy from resources mined and quarried.
Rather than erecting pyramids as their predecessors did, for the Pharaohs of the Middle Period of ancient Egypt, gods were far more important and a large number of temples were built. This suggests a more ‘democratic’ approach to worship in which all social classes were allowed to participate.
Public works were constructed, such as an irrigation project in the Fayum Depression west of the Nile near Cairo and a dam was built in order to control the waters of Lake Moeris. Great monuments were also erected, one of the most famous being the Obelisk at Mataria.
The Second Intermediate Period
The Second Intermediate Period of Egypt’s history again saw an end to centralised Egyptian government and lasted from 1786 – 1560 BCE. It was brought about initially by revolting nobles but another factor was the appearance of a race of invaders of unknown origins called the Hyksos. The ancient Egyptians referred to them as ‘the sea people’, suggesting they came from the north and according to primary historical sources, they used horses and chariots to pass through the dessert and bronze weapons that were previously unknown to the Egyptian people.
Some historians believe the Pharaoh who appointed the biblical Joseph as his vizier was of the Hyksos race and although their domination was relatively short lived (1700 – 1555 BCE), monuments and scarabs from that time are still present on the Egyptian landscape. Eventually, resisting the Hyksos became such a priority that it lead to the third period of a centralised Egyptian government, that became known as the New Kingdom.
The New Kingdom
The New Kingdom lasted between 1560 – 1087 BCE and was started by a Pharaoh named Ahmose, who finally defeated the Hyksos invaders. It was a period of expansion in ancient Egypt and the empire included all lands between the Nile and the Euphrates and stretched the entire length of the Valley of the Nile.
With expansion came great prosperity for the ancient Egyptians and great building projects were undertaken, such as those at Thebes, the religious centre and sometimes capitol of the period. Another testimony to the wealth of the time is the lavish tombs of kings and private individuals, the most famous of which is that of Tutankhamen, whose mummified remains were buried with extensive provisions and treasures.
The last strong Pharaoh in Egypt was Ramses III of the nineteenth dynasty (1182 – 1151 BCE) whose successors had to deal with a corrupt administration and a succession of foreign invaders. By 1100 BCE, the rule of the Pharaohs was at an end for ever and Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, French and British invaders all successively kept Egypt under foreign rule until 1952 CE.