The Formation of An Egyptian Empire

The first settlements in the Nile Valley began around 7,000 years ago. As in other parts of the world, these settlements gradually developed into more and more complex societies. The first peoples to inhabit this region called their land Kemet, which means black lands. This name comes from the rich black soil that was found there.

The different regions of the Nile River were ruled and governed by tribal chiefs and kings. As the centuries passed, smaller kingdoms joined together forming larger and larger kingdoms. This continued until around 6,000 years ago when the Nile Valley consisted of only two large kingdoms. These kingdoms were called Lower Egypt and Upper Egypt. Lower Egypt was in the northern portion of the Nile Valley, and Upper Egypt was in the southern portion of the Nile Valley.

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modern-day Nile

Around 5,000 years ago a powerful king from the Upper Egyptian nation led an army north in order to conquer Lower Egypt. This king’s name was Narmer. Narmer established a unified Egypt throughout the Nile Valley. He built a capital on the border between Lower and Upper Egypt, which he named Memphis. From Memphis, Narmer and his decedents ruled Egypt. A family that rules a nation is known as a dynasty. From 5,000 years ago until around 2,300 years ago Egypt was ruled by 30 different dynasties. Historians divide the nearly 2,500 years of Egyptian history into three periods. These periods are known as the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom, and the New Kingdom.

The Old Kingdom

The Old Kingdom began around 2700 B.C. and lasted until about 2200 B.C. These four centuries are most notable for the way that the Upper and Lower Kingdoms maintained their separate identities. They were ruled by the same leader, but they were in essence different nations.

During the Old Kingdom, Egyptian rulers grew in power and influence. Their people began to consider them not just kings, but also gods. Thus, these rulers had absolute power and authority over all aspects of the lives of the people they ruled. A government where the political power and religious power lie in the same person is known as a theocracy.

As the Egyptian society grew in size and complexity, it became impossible for a king to rule the nation by himself. He needed to enlist the assistance of other subordinate leaders. These government officials aided the King in doing everything from building canals to punishing criminals.

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The Egyptians Built Pyramids

The Egyptian people believed that their rulers were gods. They believed that after they died, these rulers would continue to work in behalf of the Egyptian nation. Thus, the death of a king was an important event.

Egyptians went to great efforts to honor their deceased rulers, and to insure them a successful trip to the afterlife. These kings were buried with elaborate treasures, food supplies, and often even servants.

The bodies of the kings as well as those of other important individuals were preserved from decay through the process of mummification.

These remains were then laid to rest within elaborate burial chambers. The most elaborate of these burial chambers were constructed during the Old Kingdom. Massive stone buildings known as pyramids stretched upward into the sky. These pyramids took decades and many thousands of laborers to construct. They stand as a testament to the awesome power and might of the Egyptian Kingdom.

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Pyramids – Tombs of Kings

Written for the KidsKnowIt Network by:
Debora Dyess

When people around the world think of Egypt, they think of pyramids. While other peoples of the ancient world built these interesting structures, the countryside of Egypt is best known for them. These ancient structures stretch up from the sandy desert ground toward the skies, timeless reminders of the power of the kingdoms of this historic country.

Most pyramids are three or four sided structures, meeting at the top in a triangular, pointed tip. The solid base and small top made for a solid building design. The largest pyramid, the Great Pyramid of Khufu, covers an amazing 13 acres and originally stood 488 feet (149m) high. Due to wear and theft of the beautiful limestones used as the outer walls, the structure now stands only 455 feet (138m) high. Around 1,300,000 bricks were used, but not bricks like we think of today. The cut limestone pieces weigh 5,500 pounds each and the larger ones weigh 33,000 pounds!

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Pyramid building became more and more efficient, with early pyramids, such as the step pyramid tomb of Pharaoh Djoser, in ruins. Built on a poor foundation, the pyramid architect did not carve the stones so that they leaned slightly inward, making the weight of the stones lock the pyramid into place. Later structures, such as the three Great Pyramids of Giza, were put together much better and have stood the test of time with little damage.

Some people believe that a huge slave population built the pyramids. While some slave labor probably played an important role, not all the workers were slaves. For four months of the year, the Nile River floods, making it impossible for farmers to work the land. It is likely that, during this time, farmers worked alongside the year-round workers to construct the massive monuments.

Archeologists now believe that the larger pyramids only took about 20 years to build, with a work force of 100,000 men. (Some female skeletons have also been unearthed that show the results of hard labor, so some workers may have been women.) But conditions were not as harsh as once believed. Large towns have been discovered at the bases of pyramids that included everything from bakeries to medical care centers. Pharaohs made sure their workers were strong and able to work hard.

So why would so much effort and so many man hours be put into a monument? Egyptians believed that pharaohs were gods. One of dozens of gods, the Pharaoh was the protector of the heavens and of the sun god. Once the ruler passed away, he became god of the dead. Even though he was gone from the earth, a part of his spirit stayed with his body. Because of this, his body stayed important to the Egyptians. They made sure it was mummified (kept from decay), that he had food, weapons and sometimes even slaves in his pyramid-tomb, and that his final resting place was elegant and fit for a king! Not all Egyptian pyramids held the bodies and property of Pharaohs and their queens. Some were erected by wealthy individuals who just wanted to be remembered after they died. Whether pharaoh or simple Egyptian, the age of the pyramids lasted approximately 1000 years, ending in 1700 BC.

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The Middle Kingdom

For over four centuries Egypt had enjoyed peace and prosperity. In 2200 B.C., this was all about to change. The peace gave way to a series of civil wars that would last for the next 150 years.

Local leaders rose in rebellion against the powerful king, and eventually crumbled the empire. For the next 150 years Egypt would be ruled by a number of local leaders.

Then, around 2050 B.C., a new king united Egypt once again. This leader moved the capital from Memphis to Thebes where he and his descendants would rule Egypt for the next 1,800 years.

The New Kingdom

In 1700 B.C. two things happened that once again shattered the peace of the Egyptian nation. These two things were a renewed civil war, as well as the threat of invasion by a desert people known as the Hyksos. Using superior weapons and technology, the Hyksos eventually conquered the Egyptians and would rule for the next century. However, the Egyptians despised them and eventually were able to overthrow them, beginning the period known as the New Kingdom.

The kings of the New Kingdom were the first to be referred to as pharaohs. These pharaohs once again united Egypt, and using the military skills which they learned from the Hyksos, they expanded their territory immensely across new lands.

As their territory grew, so did their power and wealth. The capital, located in Thebes, reflected a wealth of art, gold, treasures, fine cloth, and large construction projects.

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(source – fair use – images are public domain)