Background and Initial Formation
The dynasties of the Old Kingdom of ancient Egypt were ruled by kings, and not by pharaohs. The Third Dynasty to the Sixth Dynasty, which spanned from 2686 BC to 2181 BC, comprised the era of the Old Kingdom. These dynasties flourished in the lower Nile Valley, and were known as the "Age of Pyramids", and when Ancient Egyptian Civilization enjoyed a golden age of prosperity. Egyptian art and culture flourished at this time, and gave the world its first impressions of what Ancient Egypt was all about. The building of pyramids and temples was at its peak during the Old Kingdom. However, most of all the Old Kingdom defined the gilded age of Ancient Egypt.
Rise To Power And Accomplishments
King Djoser, the first ruler of the Third Dynasty, initiated the pyramid building with the Step Pyramid in Saqqara. The Fourth Dynasty was ruled by King Sneferu who built even more pyramids, but his son, King Khufu, eclipsed his achievements by building the Great Pyramid and the Great Sphinx at Giza. Military conquests into Canaan, Nubia, and Sudan followed as well. King Userkaf of the Fifth Dynasty propagated the sun god, Ra, and temples were built in his honor. Trade flourished as well, reaching as far as Lebanon in the north and Somalia in the southeast at this time. King Pepi II's long reign in the Sixth Dynasty ended with civil strife and famine, an event that also ended the Old Kingdom Period of Egypt.
Challenges and Controversies
Egypt's Old Kingdom was the period in which the first pyramid was conceived and built in the necropolis at Memphis known as Saqqara. Thereafter, the pyramid projects became more ambitious, were constructed higher, and needed more bricks, but even these were still followed by yet more elaborate building projects. The Sphinx was also built to honor a king, and "Sun temples" were built to honor a the god Ra. More advanced hieroglyphics were also developed at this time. The Fourth and Fifth Dynasties were full of conflicts between royal siblings, and these often resulted in power usurpation. The Sixth Dynasty saw the king's power decline, and the return of the regional clans' powers ultimately led to the civil war and famine that ended the Old Kingdom.
Decline and Demise
The Sixth Dynasty was the beginning of the end for the Old Kingdom. King Pepi II of the Sixth Dynasty was the longest reigning monarch of the Old Kingdom, and his reign caused succession claims and struggles that further encouraged the different, and increasingly powerful, regional clans to organize resistance against the King. The return of the ancient Egyptian states, which had been put under central control by King Djoser of the Third Dynasty, was now in progress. This created a civil war, which, coupled with drought as the Nile River was drying up, started a famine that lasted for decades. The coming together of these destructive events eventually brought the Old Kingdom to its knees.
Historical Significance and Legacy
The time period stretching from the Third Dynasty to the Sixth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom was a gilded age when culture and architecture flourished in Ancient Egypt. The Ancient Egyptians built monolithic monuments to honor their gods and kings, and they inscribed their walls with writing and art that honored their dead. The development of art and architecture was was seen, as they used it to reanimate the afterlife. Art and decoration also reached new highs, as exceptional designs in furniture and personal jewelry enhanced the Egyptians' everyday existences. Trade and war allowed the Old Kingdom to make its mark across continents and seas, and in the process leave a legacy which, even today, still awes modern man.