Early Kingdoms Of Ancient Egypt

Front and back of the Narmer Palette, depicting Narmer, considered the first king of a unified Ancient Egypt.
Front and back of the Narmer Palette, depicting Narmer, considered the first king of a unified Ancient Egypt.

5. Background and Initial Formation

Before the rise of the 1st and 2nd Dynasties of Egypt came the Pre-Dynastic period of Egyptian history. This span of time involved the historical advances in Ancient Egyptian civilization between the early Neolithic Age and the Pharaonic monarchy. Egypt during the early Neolithic age was probably inhabited by hunter-gatherers as early as 9,000 BC. As agriculture was gradually developed, small settlements gathered around the Nile River Valley, and an influx of peoples from the Sahara led to a rapid increase in the area's population size. Cultivation and animal grazing became the primary means of livelihood for these ancient Egyptians, and significant technological advancements were made during this time. The first walled settlements also were built around 3300 BC. Before 3100 BC, Egypt was referred to as ‘The Two Lands’, with these comprised by the lands of Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt. The unification of the two lands occurred sometime around 3100 BC, with the Egyptian King Narmer probably being the ancient ruler who oversaw this unification. The method used to accomplish this unification, whether by peaceful means or using armed forces, is still shrouded in much mystery.

4. Rise To Power And Accomplishments

The Early Dynastic Period of Egypt encompasses the reigns of the 1st and 2nd Egyptian Dynasties. The 1st Dynasty rose soon after the unification of Egypt, and there is little historical record related to this period in Egyptian history. The use of hieroglyphs was almost fully developed by this time, however, and one of the few evidences connected to the 1st Dynasty (3150 BC to 2890 BC) was discovered in the form of the Narmer Palette and mace-head, which depicts King Narmer wearing the red crown of Lower Egypt on one side, and the white crown of Upper Egypt on the other side upon the same hieroglyph. Narmer is credited with the building of the first temple dedicated to the Egyptian God of craftsmen and architects, Ptah, and the founding of the cities of Memphis and Crocodilopolis. He also expanded his powers far and wide, broadening his kingdom until it reached the First Cataract of the Nile (near modern Aswan). The tombs of Den and Qa'a, later Pharaohs who reigned in the 1st Dynasty, list Narmer’s name as the first of the succession of Unified Egyptian Kings and Pharoahs, followed by Hor-Aha, Djer, Djet, Merneith, Den, Anedjib, Semerkhet, and the aforementioned Qa’a. Until the period of Den's reign, Egypt was thought to have enjoyed a stable and prosperous period. However, internal conflicts and rivalries began during Anendjib's reign, which ultimately led to the replacement of the 1st Dynasty by the rulers of the 2nd Dynasty (2890 BC to 2686 BC).

Hotepsekhemwy was the first ruler of the 2nd Egyptian Dynasty, and was able to end the political strife arising towards the end of the rule of the 1st Dynasty, as evident from his name, itself meaning ‘Pleasing in Powers’. Thinis (near modern Girga) was the capital of the First Dynasty and, according to some historians, Memphis (near modern Giza) was the capital of the 2nd Dynasty of Egypt. Raneb, the second ruler of this Second Dynasty, is credited with the introduction of worshipping of the sacred ram, that of Mendes, while the next in line, Nynetjer, introduced various Egyptian festivals, including the Running of the Apis Bull. During the rule of the first two dynasties, tombs and cemeteries were built of wood and mud bricks, while stone was used to make ornaments, statues, and vessels. The 1st Dynasty rule also witnessed the practice of human sacrifices during the funerals of the Pharaohs, where the sacrificed dead were expected to accompany the Pharaoh into the afterlife.

3. Challenges and Controversies

Though the 1st Dynasty began with the unification of Egypt, little is known about the factors that led to the decline of the dynasty and its replacement by the 2nd Dynasty of Egypt. There are reports which indicate that Hotepsekhemwy, the first King of the 2nd dynasty, could possibly have been the son-in-law of Qa’a, which could have catalyzed his accession of the Egyptian throne. The rule of Khasekhemwy, the last Pharaoh of the 2nd Dynasty, ruled during a quite turbulent period, and nearly 47,000 casualties were reported during this period, as conflicts broke out between the Egyptian Kingdom and the rebels against it in the north. Even though the rebels managed to reach as far south as Nekheb and Nekhen, Khasekhemwy emerged victorious after the end of the conflict.

2. Decline and Demise

The decline of the 1st and 2nd Egyptians Dynasties was not sudden, but rather happened gradually over an extended period of time. Though very little in the way of historical records from this era exists, internal strife and external rebellions could have possibly led to the downfall of these dynasties. Besides, the rulers of the 3rd Dynasty of Egypt might have still themselves been genetically linked to those of the 2nd Dynasty. Khasekhemwy’s Queen, Nimaathetep, is mentioned in Ancient Egyptian records as the ‘King Bearing Mother’. Therefore, as per some records, Khasekhemwy and Nimaathetep are believed to be the ancestors of the kings of the 3rd Dynasty. With the demise of the 2nd Dynasty of Egypt in 2686 BC, an event marked by the death of Khasekhemwy himself, the rule of the 2nd Dynasty came to an end, and was replaced by the rulers of the 3rd Dynasty.

1. Historical Significance and Legacy

The Early Dynastic Period of Egypt, comprised by the 1st and 2nd Egyptian Dynasties, left behind a legacy of great political, cultural, and social significance. Perhaps the greatest achievement of these early dynasties was the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt into one, single kingdom ruled by an Egyptian, centralized, national power. The First Cataract area was incorporated into the Egyptian Kingdom by the middle of the 1st Dynasty's rule, and the influence of the Dynasties spread as far as the Second Cataract of the Nile in Nubia (around Lake Nasser in modern day Sudan. Significant progress was made in the technology and craftsmanship sectors during this period. Copper was also extensively used to a greater degree during this time. Architectural inventions included the use of the arch and recessed walls for ornamental purposes. The writing system of the Egyptian language matured during this period, and writing upon papyrus became highly developed during this period.


More in Society