AN OUTLINE OF EGYPTIAN HISTORY
Manetho, an Egyptian historian who studied in the days when the Ptolemies were ruling Egypt, divided the rulers of Egypt into 30 dynasties. This list goes back to the earliest king and ends with the conquest of Alexander the Great.
The Archaic Period
The Old Kingdom
1st Intermediate Period
2nd Intermediate Period
3rd Intermediate Period
THE PREDYNASTIC PERIOD
Early in Egypt's history, the people living along the Nile River polarized into two distinct kingdoms.
1. Lower Egypt.
This was the northern kingdom. It was called "Lower Egypt" because it lay in the lowlands of the Delta region. Its capital was Pe.
The symbol for Lower Egypt was the papyrus reed which grew throughout the Delta. The king of Lower Egypt wore a red crown.
2. Upper Egypt.
The southern kingdom was called "Upper Egypt" because it lay in the highlands to the south of the Delta. It stretched over a greater area, all the way to the First Cataract. Its capital was Hierakopolis.
The symbol for Upper Egypt was the white lily and the king of Upper Egypt wore a white crown.
This division of Upper and Lower Egypt remained throughout antiquity. Even when one pharaoh ruled over all the land, his title was "Pharaoh of Upper and Lower Egypt" and he wore a combined red and white crown.
THE ARCHAIC PERIOD
1. The Unification of Upper and Lower Egypt.
Around 3000 B.C. Lower and Upper Egypt were finally welded into a single kingdom under one ruler. This was the result of conquest, but it served to bring peace and prosperity to the land.
Tradition has it that this new ruler was Pharaoh Menes, also known as Pharaoh Narmer. The capital of this new kingdom was Thes (located near Abydos), but was soon moved north to Memphis, 20 miles south of the Delta, where it remained for the next 600 years.
2. Achievements of the Period.
This period saw the building of many brick temples and palaces. Hieroglyphic writing was fully formulated and several fragmentary inscriptions from this period still exist.
THE OLD KINGDOM: 2666 - 2161 B.C.
Now began one of Egypt's most prosperous periods in history. Within just a few years, Egypt moved from a few city-states into a great kingdom, producing architectural feats which have amazed even modern engineers of today.
The Old Kingdom was seen as the Golden Age of Egypt. The Pharaohs, ruling from Memphis, divided the country into provinces and appointed governors of royal blood to oversee them.
The Egyptians were not by nature a warlike people. At this period they had no standing army, but only a civilian militia which could be drafted in times of national troubles. This militia was also used in peacetime for peaceful enterprises such as building or trading. When its task was completed, it was disbanded.
1. The Third Dynasty.
The Pharaoh was considered to be a god. He was worshiped throughout the temples of Egypt. Because of this, no expense in serving the Pharaoh was considered too great, both in life and in death.
During the 1st and 2nd Dynasties, the Pharaohs had been buried in small brick structures called "mastabas." With the advent of this dynasty began the building of the pyramids.
The first Egyptian pyramid was the famous Step Pyramid. It was built by the imperial architect for Pharaoh Zoser, first ruler of the Third Dynasty. With its series of six terraces, it more closely resembled one of the ziggurats of Mesopotamia. However, the ziggurats were temples; the pyramids served as tombs.
2. The Fourth Dynasty.
This Dynasty saw the height of Egypt s prosperity. Pyramids assumed their more regular shape. The most famous of these being the great pyramids at Gizeh.
The pyramid of Khufu (called Cheops by the Greeks) was the largest to be built. It stood 480 feet high and was overlaid with a smooth facing of limestone. It was constructed with more than 2 million blocks of stone, most weighing about 2½ tons. Although the core blocks were obtained locally, the granite face blocks were mined at Aswan, 500 miles to the south, and ferried down the Nile. These weighed up to 30 tons a piece.
3. Decline of the Old Kingdom.
With the advent of the Fifth Dynasty, Egypt began to show signs of trouble. The last two dynasties of Egypt would see a growing decline.
a. Religious problems.
Prior to this time, the king had been a god, equal to all of the other gods of Egypt. Now the priests declared that the king was only the son of god and a power struggle between the king and the priests ensued.
b. Economic problems.
Egypt had paid a great price to build the pyramids and now found them very expensive to maintain.
The pyramids built during this dynasty were only half the size of the Great Pyramid and had a central core of such poor construction that most have collapsed into low mounds of rubble.
c. Political problems.
In addition to the priests, there were other high officers and officials that began to be a threat to the king s omnipotence.
THE FIRST INTERMEDIATE PERIOD: 2181 - 1991 B.C.
With the death of Pepi II, Egypt rapidly broke up into several small feudal kingdoms. These kingdoms were constantly at war with each other, each trying to conquer his neighbor. This was a period of anarchy as the ruling classes lost their wealth and power.
1. Entrance of Bedouins.
During this period, various bedouins began to filter into Egypt, pushed from the northeast by migration pressures that were taking place throughout the ancient world. It was during this period that Abraham visited Egypt during a time of famine in Canaan (Genesis 12:10).
2. Pessimistic Literature.
It was during this First Intermediate Period that Egypt began its Pessimistic Literature. Finally a ruler arose at Thebes who succeeded in overcoming the other kingdoms and uniting Egypt under one government.
THE MIDDLE KINGDOM: 1991 - 1786 B.C.
While the Eleventh Dynasty united Egypt into one kingdom, the Twelfth Dynasty consolidated and strengthened the kingdom so that it achieved a form of stability.
1. Accomplishments of the Twelfth Dynasty.
a. Political power.
These pharaohs curbed the power of the individual governors by installing their own loyal nobles from Thebes.
b. Economic growth.
By the Twelfth Dynasty, the building of royal pyramids had ceased. The resources of the country were now put to other uses.
The pharaohs rebuilt canals, dikes and catch basins which were so important to Egypt s agricultural economy.
c. Military advances.
They expanded the military, sending expeditions into Nubia in the south and into Palestine in the northeast.
d. Growth in trade: They organized regular trade with the Minoans and the Phoenicians.
2. Entrance of Joseph and the Israelites.
It was during this period that Joseph became the Prime Minister of Egypt and, under his influence, the Israelites were allowed to settle in the area of Goshen, on the eastern edge of the Delta.
Pharaoh Amenemhat 2nd was upon the throne of both Upper and Lower Egypt while Joseph was in the house of Potiphar. It was Amenemhat 2nd who had his butler and baker throne into prison with Joseph.
Sesostris 3rd became pharaoh in 1887 B.C. It may have been this new pharaoh who released the butler restoring him to service in the court while condemning the baker to death.
Two years later (1885 B.C.), Joseph was released from prison and instituted as the Prime Minister of Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh. It is noteworthy that the forces of Sesostris 3rd were the first to campaign in Palestine, raiding the region of "Sekmem in Retenu" (Shechem in Canaan?).
Sesostris 3rd also invaded Nubia, bringing back such wealth that gold became more common and therefore of less value than silver. When Joseph s brothers were accused of stealing a silver cup, it was the most valuable on in the household.
Sesostris 3rd reigned until the year 1849 B.C., well after the Israelites had settled in Egypt.
As the years passed and the Israelites began to prosper and multiply, a new king came to the throne of Egypt who was suspicious of these foreigners. There were several reasons for these suspicions:
a. They were foreigners.
The Egyptians were very race conscious and naturally looked upon foreigners with suspicion.
b. They were shepherds.
The wild border tribes who lived in the deserts around Egypt were also shepherds. Shepherds were persona non grata in Egypt.
c. They lived in Goshen.
Goshen controlled the northeastern frontier. It was the doorway to Egypt and whoever controlled Goshen had a stranglehold on Egyptian security.
d. Religious differences.
The Israelites did not honor the gods of Egypt. They sacrificed bulls which the Egyptians held to be sacred.
3. Amenemhet 3rd.
Amenemhet 3rd took the throne at the death of his father in 1849 B.C. His primary achievement was in developing an irrigation system. He ordered his officials at the Fortress of Senineh at the Second Cataract to record the height of the Nile each year so that he could more accurately plan for the economic needs of his country.
He developed a plan to irrigate the entire Fayum Basin, building a wall 27 miles long to control the flood waters and adding 27,000 acres of farmland. The following song, praising his benevolent accomplishments has been found:
He makes the two lands green more than a great Nile,
He has filled the two lands with strength. He is life, cooling the nostrils.
The treasures which he gives are food for those who are in his following;
He feeds those who tread his path.
The king is food and his mouth is increase.
As we read these words, we cannot help but wonder if this preoccupation with the agricultural economy looked back to the famine in the days of Joseph.
THE SECOND INTERMEDIATE PERIOD: 1786 - 1567 B.C.
Egypt's period of political strength did not last after the advent of the Thirteenth Dynasty. The ineffectual reign of the Thirteenth Dynasty failed to provide any central authority. Before long, Egypt had split and Upper and Lower Egypt were once again at war with each other.
Upon this scene, a dynasty of foreigners arose to take over the Delta region. They were known to the Egyptians as Heka Khasewt ("Chieftains of a foreign hill country"), but are known in history as the Hyksos ("Rulers of Countries"). Manetho identified them as Phoenicians and Arabs. We know only that they were Semitic foreigners.
1. Identity of the Hyksos.
The Hyksos seem to have been a Semitic people who began filtering into Egypt near the end of the Middle Kingdom, about the same time that the Israelites were settling in Goshen.
"The scarabs of a pharaoh who evidently belonged to the Hyksos time give his name as Jacob-her or possibly Jacob-el, and it is not impossible that come chief of the Jacob-tribes of Israel gained the leadership in this obscure age." (James H. Breasted, History of Egypt; 1909; Page 220).
The Bible treats these as silent years, telling us nothing of the history of the period.
2. Conquest over Egypt.
With Egypt greatly weakened by the civil war, the Hyksos were able to move in and take control of the leadership of Lower Egypt. They were able to do this because of several military advantages.
The Egyptians were not advanced in the art of war. They fought almost nude, carrying heavy, man-sized shields. Their two primary weapons were the small axe and the light bow.
The Hyksos had the finest weapons in the world. They had come down from Padam-aram where they had enjoyed much contact with the Hittites who were the largest arms manufacturers in the ancient world at that time. Thus, they came into Egypt with the latest in modern weaponry.
a. Body armor which the Hittites had obtained from the Mycenaeans.
b. Long, slim swords and short daggers.
c. Powerful bows made of wood and horn.
d. The six-spoked, light, horse drawn chariot.
The result was the equivalent of matching a modern tank corps against a tribe of African Bushmen.
3. Resistance at Thebes.
In spite of all their advances in warfare, the Hyksos did not succeed in advancing past Thebes. A resistance movement at Thebes managed to hold off the Hyksos for over 100 years.
4. The Hyksos Dynasty.
The Hyksos now set up their own dynasty, ruling from Avaris. They set up military garrisons all along the Nile to protect their new holdings.
Other than this, they erected no monuments of which we are aware. Quite the contrary, they burned many books and objects of art.
Egyptian inscriptions describe the Hyksos as being a destructive race, matched only by the Assyrians for their cruelty. This is not too surprising when we consider that the Hyksos and the Assyrians were probably from the same stock. They are described as torturing their captives, cracking heads open, smashing teeth, gouging eyes out and hacking off arms and legs.
5. The Expulsion of the Hyksos.
During this period of Hyksos domination, the Theban nobles had not been idle. Learning from their Semitic enemies, they began to train an army in the use of the war chariot and the short sword.
Their leader was a Theban nobleman named Senekenre. He was killed in one of the early battles and for a time the revolt was quieted.
The son of Senekenre was Kamoses. He was recognized as the leader in Thebes and he decided to fight a naval battle against the Hyksos. Gathering a fleet of warships, he sailed down the Nile, meeting an defeating the Hyksos forces who were poor sailors. The defeat of the Hyksos marked the beginning of the New Kingdom in Egypt. The first and greatest part of this period was ruled by the Eighteenth Dynasty.