Old Kingdom PeriodEgypt Through Time - What is Ancient Egypt?
Old Kingdom Period 2686 BC to 2181 BC
The Old Kingdom Period ranges from the 3rd through to the 6th Dynasties as is often referred to as the Pyramid Age. Egypt was unified under its ruler and was productive enough to move the workforce from solely trade and agriculture on to building projects such as the Step Pyramid at Saqqara and the Sphinx, the Great Pyramid & the Pyramid of Khafre, and the Pyramid of Menkaure on the Giza Plateau.
The Capital City remained at the city of Memphis throughout the Old Kingdom Period, but the Royal Necropolis was moved from Abydos to Memphis, now known as the Saqqara Necropolis.
The outstanding characters of the 3rd Dynasty were Pharoah Djoser and his Architect, Vizier, and all-round genius Imhotep. To learn more about these people, see the People of the Old Kingdom Period below. The Pharaohs by this time had ensured that a full administration of the whole country in individual provinces had been formed.
This hold over the country allowed the Royals and Elites to use the wealth of the country on their own Necropoli but little was left for the population who now found that they were allowed little control to move about the country like their ancestors had in the pre-dynastic period.
The 4th Dynasty commenced the writing of Royal names within Cartouche’s, commenced by Pharaoh Snefru who also built in the Maydum, Fayyum and Dahshur areas of Egypt. His successor was the today’s well-known Pharaoh Khufu who built the first Pyramid Complex at Giza, known as Khufu’s Horizon; followed by Pharaoh Khafre who built his own Mortuary Complex next to his father’s including the Great Sphinx, and lastly followed by his son Pharaoh Menkaure and his own Mortuary Complex, again complex next to his father’s.
The last Pyramid Complex built on the Giza Pyramid was by the shadowy figure of female Pharaoh Khentkaus daughter of Pharaoh Menkaure and Queen Khamerernebty II.
The 5th Dynasty is characterised by their somewhat smaller Necropoli (compared to their 4th Dynasty counterparts) at Abusir and Abu Gorab as well as Saqqara. These often-included Sun or Solar Temples which appear to have been new additions to the earlier Mortuary Complexes. The exciting news is that there are potentially 6 Solar Temples on the site at Abu Gorab, but only 2 have been discovered so far!
There was a change in the way that the Royals adorned and believed that their Tombs needed to record the information they may need for their soul to reach the Afterlife. These were known as the Pyramid Texts, written in old Egyptian, it is the oldest religious work in Egypt and was reserved for use only by the Pharaoh and his Queen.
They were devoid of illustrations but contain one of the oldest mentions of God Osiris. The Pyramid Texts were carved into Subterranean Walls and Sarcophagi of the Pyramid at Saqqara from the end of the 5th Dynasty, throughout the 6th Dynasty and into the 7th and 8th Dynasties.
Externally, from artefacts which name the Pharaohs of this period, archaeologists know that Egypt had connections in Syria, Nubia, Anatolia, Sinai, Punt, and more mainland Africa. Internally, high officials tended now to be employed for their mental or physical attributes rather than for their genetic closeness to the Royal Family. This was echoed in how the Tombs of the Nobles no longer continued to be gathered around the mortuary complexes but rather more independently.
The 6th Dynasty can be highlighted by the reigns of Pharaoh’s Pepi I and Pepi II who undertook expeditions far below Egypt’s southern and western borders. But the power that these Pharaohs held was on the wane as it was being cautiously amassed by the heads of localised provinces, also known as Nomarchs, and Pharaoh Pepi II’s Pyramid Complex in Saqqara was the last large scale monument project of this Old Kingdom Period.
As Pharaoh Pepi II outlived so many of his natural heirs, with his reign which measured approximately 90 years, his death appears to have created a period of succession instability, now known as Egypt’s 7th and 8th Dynasties, the pre-cursor to the First Intermediate Period of Egypt’s history.
People of the Old Kingdom Period
Prince Ankhhaf, son of Pharaoh Snefru, was one of the Viziers to Pharaoh Khufu, and potentially to his nephew, Pharaoh Khafre: click here to learn more
Click here to read about Vizier Imhotep worked for Pharaoh Djoser and is infamous as a Doctor, Philosopher and Architect to name a few of his accomplishments
Prince Hemiunu was Vizier to Pharaoh Khufu, Hemiunu is believed to have been the brain behind the Great Pyramid of Giza: click here to learn more
Click here to read about Imhotep, who personally designed and oversaw the construction of Pharaoh Djoser’s Step Pyramid Complex at Saqqara, the precursor to the Pyramids at Giza
Prince Ankhhaf, son of Pharaoh Snefru, took on the main architectural role of the Great Pyramid at the Giza Necropolis during its later stages: click here to learn more
Click here to read about Prince Hemiunu, who is believed to be the architectural brain behind the concept and initial building of the Great Pyramid of Giza for Pharaoh Khufu
Imhotep was Vizier, High Priest, an architect, an engineer, a physician, a philosopher and was considered the real Father of Medicine after his writing of a Medical Treatise and advanced theories that disease occurred naturally rather than as a punishment for sins, for Pharaoh Djoser. Click here to learn more about this amazing ancient character