Chronology of Ancient Egypt

Chronology is a method of organising time and placing events in the order in which they occurred. Experts generally view the chronology of Ancient Egypt as settled; while it continue to be refined, some minor details still need to be resolved.

Work in progress!

Chronology is a mess.


Ancient records are frequently incomplete, containing errors or omissions, which can make their reliability questionable. Timekeeping was essential for anticipating the seasons and planning agricultural activities such as planting and harvesting. Additionally, specific times of the year were associated with religious ceremonies and festivals. Keeping track of when markets, fairs, and gatherings were planned helped to create a sense of community and shared understanding of time.

However, it often is unclear what type of calendar was used and whether the presented information is reliable. Historical dates that survive were often documented decades or even centuries after the event took place. It is also possible that such sources may have been corrupted, imagined, untrue, or may have been altered or added after the fact to fit a particular narrative.

Chronology becomes increasingly unreliable the further back in time you go, as records become sketchy.

The accuracy of dates decreases as we look further back in time. At most, approximations can be made because precise chronological standards did not exist in the past. No methods were available to record dates contemporaneously, and there was no understanding of historical time. Timekeeping was not as exact as it is nowadays, but astronomy was crucial for many ancient civilizations as it helped them keep track of time. Dating historical events accurately can be challenging for modern historians due to the absence of a unified system for numbering years in the ancient world. To create a comprehensive timeline of events, evidence is collected from various sources, such as historical records, inscriptions, and archaeological finds.

The Egyptian solar year was 365 days divided into 12 months of 30 days each, plus five added days at the end of the year. The discrepancy between their 365-day calendar and the actual solar year was well known to the ancient Egyptians. They did not attempt to synchronise their calendar perfectly with the solar year, but accepted this discrepancy as a natural phenomenon.

To adjust their calendar they used the Sothic cycle as a long-term framework to keep it aligned with the seasons. This cycle was based on the rising of Sirius (Greek: Σωθις, Sothis). Every 1460 years, Sirius would appear to rise above the eastern horizon on the same day according to their calendar, marking a cyclical ‘reset’ of their calendar year with the astronomical phenomena.

Chronology in the ancient world was not as straightforward as it is today, as there are several inherent problems that complicate things. To establish a chronology, several techinques are employed.

Regnal years

Administrative documents, production dates, and inscriptions were dated by the regnal year: In the reign of King Usermaatra, Year 39, month 7, day 22. Regnal years were counted from the day of accession of the king, thus not the same as a civil year.


Ancient cultures used a wide variety of calendars, the simplest and most common being the lunar calendar. Because each culture had its own system, it is very difficult to convert and synchronise dates between two or more calendars, especially as the accuracy of the records was of varying quality – where such records exist at all. For example, diplomatic correspondence between kings was discovered in the ruins of Akhetaten, buried when the brief capital was razed and abandoned.

King lists

Documented sequences of kings are very rare, and dated chronological lists even more so, as chronology in the modern sense was unheard of in the ancient world. One of the earliest known lists is Ptolemy's Canon of Kings, a chronological list of the Kings of Mesopotamia, collected in the 3rd century BC from older sources. The foundation of Egyptian chronology is provided by the very fragmentary Turin King List, a papyrus roll from the 12th century BC detailing the order and duration of the reigns of more than 200 Egyptian pharaohs.

Temple and tomb inscriptions frequently include the date of the ruling pharaoh when it was made. However, but this only indicate a minimum duration of that reign. For instance, the Battle of Kadesh inscription begin with: “Year 5, third month of the harvest season, day 9, under the Majesty of Ramesses II ...” Furthermore, labelled goods (wine jars etc.) often included the year it was produced.


Tombs of highly ranked officials often included a record of their ancestry and under which king they served. Furthermore, administrative documents allows scholars to map out families that can verify or act as controls for disputed or lesser known reigns.

Archaeological records

Archaeological records are useful for linking objects to specific time periods, and are essentially archives of the past that can be enhanced by radiocarbon dating.

Astronomical records

Astronomical records were created to help plan and prepare for important future events, such as festivals to the gods, but also for agricultural activities. Modern techniques make it possible to date ancient astronomical events, often with very high accuracy.

Ptolemy's Canon of Kings

Ptolemy of Alexandria, who flourished in the second century CE under Roman rule, compiled a list of kings noting the length of their reigns, most likely based on even older lists. This important list of Babylonian and Egyptian kings was used by ancient astronomers as a practical manner of dating astronomical events. Known as Ptolemy’s Canon,1 it has been preserved by multiple succeeding authors, who often supplemented it with up-to-date knowledge from their own times. Historians generally regard the Canon to be accurate, and it forms the foundation of ancient chronology from 747 BC forward, to which all other datings are synchronised.

The Canon is divided into four sections:
20 Babylonian Kings were followed by 10 Persian Kings (538–332 BC) that conquered Mesopotamia. The list was continued by astronomers in Alexandria, detailing first the Macedonian Kings (331–305 BC), followed by the 10 Ptolemies of Egypt (304–30 BC).

Name (in Greek) Transliteration Reign Total Year (BC)
Babylonian Kings
Ναβονασσάρου Nabonassaros 14 14 747–734
Ναδίου Nadios 2 16 733–732
Χινζηρος και Πώρου Khinzer and Poros 5 21 731–727
Ιλουλαίου Iloulaios 5 26 726–722
Μαρδοκεμπάδου Mardokempados 12 38 721–710
Αρκεανου Sargon II (Arkeanos) 6 43 709–704
άβασίλευτα Without king 2 45 704–703
Βιλίβου Bilibos 3 48 702–700
Απαραναδίου Aparanadios 6 54 699–694
Ρηγεβήλου Rhegebelos 1 55 693
Μεσησιμορδάκου Mesesimordakos 4 59 692–689
άβασίλευτα Without king 8 67 688–681
Aσαραδινού Esarhaddon (Asaradinos) 13 80 680–668
Σαοσδουχίνου Saosdouchinos 20 100 667–648
Κινηλαδάνου Kineladanos 22 122 647–626
Ναβοττολασσάρου Nabopolassaros 21 143 625–605
Ναβοκολασσάρου Nabokolassaros (Nebuchadnezzar II) 43 186 604–562
Iλλοαρουδάμου Illoaroudamos 2 188 561–560
Νηριγασολασσάρου Nerigasolassaros 4 192 559–556
Ναβοναδίου Nabonadios 17 209 555–539
Persian Kings
Κυρου Kyros (Cyrus the Great) 9 218 538–530
Καμβύσου Kambysos (Cambyses II) 8 226 529–522
Δαρείου πρώτου Dareios the First (Darius the Great) 36 262 521–486
Ξερζου Xerxes (Xerxes I) 21 283 485–465
Aρταζερξου πρώτου Artaxerxes I 41 324 464–424
Δαρείου δευτέρου Dareios (Darius II) 19 343 423–405
Αρταξερξου δευτέρου Artaxerxes II 46 389 404–359
Ωχου Ochos (Artaxerxes III) 21 410 358–338
Αρωγού Arogos (Artaxerxes IV) 2 412 337–336
Δαρείου τρίτου Dareios the Third (Darius III) 4 416 335–332
Αλεξάνδρου Μακεδόνος Alexander the Great 8 424 331–324
Macedonian Kings
Φιλίππου Philippos (Philip III Arridaeus) 7 7 323–317
Αλεξάνδρου ετερου The other Alexandros (Alexander IV) 12 19 316–305
Πτολεμαίου Λάγου Ptolemaios Lagos (Ptolemy I Soter) 20 39 304–285
Φιλαδελφου Ptolemy II Philadelphus 38 77 284–247
Ευεργέτου Ptolemy III Euergetes 25 102 246–222
Φιλοπάτορος Ptolemy IV Philopator 17 119 221–205
Επιφανούς Ptolemy V Epiphanes 24 143 204–181
Φιλομητορος Ptolemy VI Philometor 35 178 180–146
Ευεργέτου δευτέρου Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II 29 207 145–117
Σωτηρος Ptolemy IX Soter 36 243 116–81
Διονύσου νέου Ptolemy XII Auletes Dionysos Neos 29 272 80–52
Κλεοπάτρας Kleopatra (Cleopatra VII) 22 294 51–30

The Astronomical Tablet of Nebuchadnezzar II2 comprises a sequence of astronomical observations made during the king's 37th year. Modern astronomers studying this data have concluded that the only year within centuries that fits the data is 568/67 BC. Therefore, Nebuchadnezzar's first year of his reign was in 604/03 B.C., which corresponds perfectly with the Canon. There are several biblical references to the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II that provide a link with Hebrew chronology, which together with other contemporary king lists further confirm the validity of Ptolemy's sequence of kings, providing reasonably accurate dates as going back to 747 BC.

The Julian calendar

When administering the rapidly expanding Roman Empire, it became clear that a calendar was needed to coordinate the many local calendars in use. This calendar would be used throughout the Empire. The Romans recognised the Julian calendar's greater accuracy compared to the old Egyptian calendar and adopted it as their primary calendar, which later became the standard for most of the Western world. The Julian calendar added an extra day every four years.

Like the Egyptians, the Romans did not number each year sequentially from a specific year, but instead differentated years by naming the two elected consuls in Rome serving a specific year. For example: in the Year of Braccus and Cassius, the Consuls were Cassius and Braccus, and if Cassius served multiple times, the second time his name would have an additional number, Braccus and Cassius II, the third time, Probus and Cassius III, and so on.

The lists of the elected consuls, the Fasti consulares,3 were originally engraved on marble tablets erected in the Roman forum, and survive in the writings of several historical accounts, along with fragments from various places throughout the Empire.

In the middle of the first century BC, the Roman scholar Terentius Varro established a system that place the traditional foundation of Rome as year 1 ab urbe condita (A.U.C.). The year of the founding of the Republic was available from the fasti, and Varro simply added seven generations before that, counting each generation as 35 years (7 × 35 = 245).4 From Cicero we learn that according to the annals of the Greeks, Rome was founded in the second year of the seventh Olympiad.5 Eratosthenes of Cyrene established the use of the Olympiad and the individually numbered years between them in the third century. Olympic dates survive in Eusebius' Chronicon, which attempted to reconcile the events of biblical history with classical historical material, and was only used for historical purposes, never for everyday use. The second part of Eusebius’ Universal History, the Canons, puts the historical material into a parallel timeline, listing the reigning rulers of each nation side-by-side, for every year. Although the original is lost, Jerome's Latin translation written around 380 in Constantinople preserve the chonological tables.

The Anno Domini (AD) system we still use today was developed by the monk Dionysius Exiguus in 525 AD (A.U.C. 1278), as a result of his work on calculating the date of Easter, but was not widely used until the 9th century. He produced tables with a 19-year cycle for calculating Easter but also years since the birth of Christ, which is the basis of the AD system:

Nineteen year cycle of Dionysius (Cyclus decemnovennalis Dionysii)
First Argumentum. On the years of Christ. If you want to find out which year it is since the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, compute fifteen times 34, yielding 510; to these always add the correction 12, yielding 522; also add the indiction of the year you want, say in the consulship of Probus Junior, a 3, yielding 525 years altogether. These are the years since the incarnation of the Lord.

Consulting Dionysius’ Easter table, which includes years in the era of the Roman emperor Diocletian, we see that Probus was consul in the year 241 of Diocletian. Subtracting 241 from 525 gives 284, the year in which Diocletian became emperor.

Although Moses was a first-hand witness to what he wrote, the Bible is not very helpful as it does not name the Pharaohs in the time of Moses and Joseph. However, a few Late Period pharaohs were named: Shishak (1 Kings 11:40), Tirhakah (2 Kings 19:9), Hophra (Jeremiah 44.30), and Neco (2 Kings 23:29).

Syncronizing events and calendars

So, with that out of the way, how do we go about to establish a chronological link between today and a pharaoh? We could simply look it up in a book on the subject, but that does not actually teach us anything. Instead, we will trace the path and then actually walk that path.


  • 2024

    The current year.

  • 1582

    The Gregorian calendar adopted. All dates before this use the Julian calendar.

  • 643

    Arabic-Greek Papyrus PERF 558 is dated by Islamic (1 Jumada al-Thani 22 AH) and Coptic (30 Baramudah I, 360 AM) dates, corresponding to 25 April 643.

  • 525

    Dionysius developed Anno Domini in 525 = A.U.C. 1278 = 241 Anno Martyrum.

  • 284

    The Alexandrian calendar used by the Coptic church start in 284 AD, and is year 1 Anno Martyrum – the year Diocletian became Roman Emperor.

  • 27 BC

    Octavian becomes Augustus, the first Roman emperor.

  • 30 BC

    The last pharaoh of Egypt, Cleopatra, is defeated by Octavian and commits suicide.

  • 509 BC

    Rome becomes a republic = A.U.C. 245.

  • 747 BC

    The first Babylonian king Nabonassaros of Ptolemy's Canon of Kings started his reign 696 years before Cleopatra started hers.

  • 753 BC

    The traditional foundation of Rome = A.U.C. 1.

  • 763 BC

    June 15 solar eclipse in Sicily is used to fix the chronology of the Ancient Near East. (Diod. 20.5.5)

  • 776 BC

    First Olympiad.

Chronology becomes increasingly unreliable the further back in time you go, as records become scarce or sketchy. This is not to say that it is impossible – historians are some very clever people and they have managed to find very elusive evidence to form a coherent and working chronology for very ancient times. However, it is not always possible or necessary to establish exact dates.

Cleopatra, the last of the Pharaohs

We know from Plutarch’s Life of Antony that during Octavian's fifth consulship, which he shared with Antony, (Plut. Ant. 11; Plut. Ant. 30), Octavian defeated Cleopatra and Antony in Egypt. This was before he was given the title Augustus, which is clear as he was still known simply as (Imperator) Caesar.

Ancient chronology is linked to ours by direct or indirect synchronisms with Roman dates.

The Fasti Capitolini have a gap for the years around the fifth consulship, but the The Chronograph of 354 records it in AUC 725, but with Appuleius, as do the Fasti of Hydatius, but with Pulchro (alt. Appuleius). This is typical of antiquity - conflicting and/or incomplete information.

The Chronicon Paschale tells us that Augustus (Octavian) landed in Egypt AUC 727 (Anno Mundi 5477) and halted the reign of the Ptolemies, which had lasted 296 years, which according to Ptolemy's Canon of Kings lasted 294 years.

As we have learned above, AUC 1278 = 525 AD. There are 553 years between AUC 725 and AUC 1278. Subtracting 525 AD from those 553 years yield -28. Since there was no year zero, we have to increase it by one, and thus we arrive at -29 = 29 BC ≈ 30 BC, the date commonly used by historians.

All Roman dates, if they are complete and reliable, can be directly expressed in Julian years. All the other datings of ancient chronology are linked to our reckoning by direct or indirect synchronisms with Roman dates.