The Dynasties of Ancient Egypt

Egypt gets its name from “Aegyptus”, the Greek Αιγυπτος (Aigyptos), which is a corruption of the ancient Egyptian ḥwt-kꜢ-ptḥ (Hakaptah). Originally one of Memphis’ many names, the Greeks adopted it as the name of the entire kingdom.

Already in the ancient world, Egypt was seen as a mysterious land, renowned for its massive monuments, stylized art, and the distinct Gods with animal heads. The mystical Egyptian religion taught that life on Earth was only one aspect of an eternal journey; the immortal soul was only temporarily inhabiting a body on this physical plane. After death, one would face judgment by Osiris in the Hall of Judgement, where the whole life of a person is judged by the scales of justice. The earthly remains of the deceased were deliberately mummified according to a strict regiment to prepare the deceased body for afterlife. Royalty and nobility also had large tombs created for remains, with elaborate spells written on the walls, to help with the journey.

The art style of Ancient Egypt is very distinctive, always depicting humans in profile, except for the torso, which is seen from the front. This art was almost always accompanied by small symbols of animals, plants, and so on, which are actually a highly formalized script and language known as hieroglyphs. The details of the text on the monuments were finally revealed when the hieroglyphs were deciphered in the early 17th century. Documents written on papyrus reveal information of daily life as well as mysteries about the afterlife in ancient Egyptian religion, such as the Book of the Dead.

Unification

Since the earliest times, the Nile valley has been divided into the very fertile Delta in the North, and the Nile valley in the South. For a long time, scattered villages ruled their nearby surroundings, providing protection against intruders but were continuously at odds with their neighbours. That changed around 3000 BC, when the southern king Narmer established himself as the undisputed ruler of the South by dominating the smaller neighbors. Having amassed a large army, he then conquered the North, uniting the two parts into one kingdom, and started building the foundation with a centralized administration. This probably included the founding of larger cities instead of villages and created peace and prosperity on a never before seen scale. Enjoying the stability, people all over the land began to identify as one people united under one king.

The Dynasties

Periods of political unrest or instability are referred to as “intermediate periods” in Egyptian history, whereas stable times are regarded as “kingdoms.” The division of pharaohs into dynasties is generally considered to be an invention by the Egyptian priest Manetho. Whenever some discontinuity whether geographical, or genealogical ocurred, a new dynasty was assumed. Manetho’s history of Egypt is the most comprehensive, but is only known by references to it made by subsequent writers.

All ancient Egyptian king lists have significant gaps in their text, or fail to provide a complete list of rulers. Add to this that some dynasties overlapped, with more than one pharaohs of vying for supremacy at the same time, which leads to widely differing chronological interpretations. Over the three thousand years the Kingdom lasted, determining the exact reign-by-reign is not an easy task. The archaeological record is helpful at times—but it only goes so far—as chronological interpretations are not always straightforward. Omissions of pharaohs for political and religious reasons abound, and conflicting information makes it all but impossible to determine the actual reign duration and order.

Archaic Period

Archaic Period of Egypt

The Archaic Period of Ancient Egypt is generally considered to span from about 3100 BC to 2686 BC, amd saw the development and refinement of agriculture, metallurgy, and writing. The first hieroglyphs appeared during this time, and the first cities began to emerge in the Nile valley. Local rulers gradually consolidated power by building up their military, expanding their territory, ultimately creating a centralised state. The northern delta, or Lower Egypt, is flat, fertile and covered in black soil from the yearly inundations. The many waterways of the delta made it ideal for agriculture and trade, which helped to create a unified economy. Upper Egypt is more mountainous and much more arid than Lower Egypt. One of the most important developments was the unification of Egypt under a single ruler.

The unification of Egypt, which is traditionally dated to 3100 BCE, marked the beginning of the Early Dynastic Period and the start of the ancient Egyptian civilization. It is generally taken to include the First and Second Dynasties, lasting from the Protodynastic Period of Egypt until about 2686 BC, or the beginning of the Old Kingdom.

Early Dynastic Period

Dynasty Reigns Dates (BCE) Seat/Capital
Dynasty 1 8 kings for 250 years 3150–2900 Thinis
Dynasty 2 11 kings for 204 years 2880–2686 Thinis

Old Kingdom

The Old Kingdom marks a shift from small and simple monuments, to monumental large-scale building projects, like the pyramids. The period is often referred to as the Age of the Pyramids, during which Egypt attained its first continuous period of internal security and prosperity.

Artists, architects and masons mastered techniques necessary to build monumental structures in stone, wood, and copper. They perfected the art of carving reliefs and painting the walls of temples and tombs.

Dynasty Reigns Dates (BCE) Seat/Capital
Dynasty 3 8 kings for 73 years 2687–2613 Memphis
Dynasty 4 9 kings for 112 years 2613–2494 Memphis
Dynasty 5 9 kings for 149 years 2494–2345 Memphis
Dynasty 6 6 kings for 164 years 2345–2181 Memphis

First Intermediate Period

When Pepi II died, the centralised kingdom collapsed into what is called the First Intermediate Period. Pepi’s long reign had weakened the central authority and with his death, the kingdom began to to buckle.
As different factions fought for supremacy, from powerful noble families, to local nomarchs, the kingdom of the Two Lands collapsed, and was replaced by rulers that only controlled parts of the land. The temples were vandalized and pillaged as the political chaos grew.

Dynasty Reigns Dates (BCE) Seat/Capital
Dynasty 7 should be ignored or combined with the Eighth Dynasty.
Dynasty 8 17 kings for 21 years 2181–2160 Memphis
Dynasty 9 5 kings for 30 years 2160–2130 Herakleopolis
Dynasty 10 10 kings for 91 years 2130–2040 Herakleopolis

Middle Kingdom

The Two Lands were once again united when Mentuhotep II defeated the tenth dynasty of Heracleopolis. The Middle Kingdom expanded trade outside the kingdom and consolidated pharaonic power by building defensive fortifications and kept a standing army ready for action.
The long reign of Amenemhat III most likely weakened pharaonic power once again, as local rulers became powerful. This led to a series of weak and ephemeral rulers that ended the golden age of the Middle Kingdom.

Dynasty Reigns Dates (BCE) Seat/Capital
Dynasty 11 7 kings for 139 years 2130–1991 Thebes
Dynasty 12 8 kings for 189 years 1991–1802 Itjtawy
Dynasty 13 c. 40-50 kings for 154 years 1803–1649 Itjtawy & Thebes

Second Intermediate Period

The Second Intermediate Period was a period of disarray. It is best known as when the Hyksos, whose reign comprised the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Dynasties, made their appearance in Egypt. Around the time Memphis fell to the Hyksos, the native Egyptian ruling house in Thebes declared its independence and set itself up as the Seventeenth Dynasty. This dynasty eventually drove the Hyksos back into Asia.

Dynasty Reigns Dates (BCE) Seat/Capital
Dynasty 14 c. 40-50 kings for 75 years 1725–1650 Avaris
Dynasty 15 10 Hyksos kings for 50 years 1650–1600 Avaris
Dynasty 16 20 kings for 67 years 1649–1582 Thebes or Avaris
Abydos(?) 16 kings for 50 years 1650–1600 Abydos
Dynasty 17 9 kings for 30 years 1580–1550 Thebes

New Kingdom

Through military dominance abroad, The New Kingdom saw Egypt\'s greatest territorial extent. It expanded far into Nubia in the south, and held wide territories in the Near East. The Egyptians fought with Hittites. Two of the best known pharaohs of the New Kingdom are Akhenaten, whose exclusive worship of the Aten is often interpreted as the first instance of monotheism, and Ramesses II, who attempted to recover the territories that had been held in the Eighteenth Dynasty.

Dynasty Reigns Dates (BCE) Seat/Capital
Dynasty 18 15 kings for 258 years 1550–1292 Thebes & Amarna
Dynasty 19 8 kings for 103 years 1292–1189 Thebes & Memphis & Pi-Ramesses
Dynasty 20 10 kings for 112 years 1189–1077 Pi-Ramesses

Third Intermediate Period

The Third Intermediate Period was marked by decline and political instability, dividing the state for much of the period. Most rulers were of Libyan descent.

Dynasty Reigns Dates (BCE) Seat/Capital
Dynasty 21 7 kings for 126 years 1069–943 Tanis
Dynasty 22 12 kings for 223 years 943–720 Tanis & Bubastis
Dynasty 23 7 kings for 109 years 837–728 Herakleopolis or Thebes
Dynasty 24 2 kings for 12 years 732–723 Sais
Dynasty 25 5 Nubian kings for 88 years 744–656 Memphis & Napata

Late Period

The Late Period refers to the last flowering of native Egyptian rulers, into Persian conquests.

Dynasty Reigns Dates (BCE) Seat/Capital
Dynasty 26 7 kings for 139 years 664–525 Sais
Dynasty 27 6 Persian kings for 121 years 525–404 Babylon
Dynasty 28 1 king - 6 years 404–398 Sais
Dynasty 29 5 kings for 18 years 398–380 Mendes
Dynasty 30 3 kings for 37 years 380–343 Sebennytos
Dynasty 31 3 Persian kings for 11 years 343–332 Babylon

Hellenistic Period

The Hellenistic Period is often included in the Late Period, and were the last dynasties (despite the fact that they were conquering Macedonians,) that continued the rule of Egypt with a pharaoh on the throne.

Dynasty Reigns Dates (BCE) Seat/Capital
Argead 3 kings for 23 years 332–309 Memphis
Ptolemaic 16 kings for 275 years 305–30 Alexandria

Roman Province

Finally, Egypt was made a Roman province, effectively ending the rule of the pharaohs. The use of hieroglyphs for the emperor names continued sporadically, but finally stopped altogether.

Dynasty Reigns Dates Seat/Capital
Emperors 30 kings for 343 years 30 BCE–313 CE Rome

Uncertain

Pharaohs whose existence is in doubt or whose evidence makes it difficult to assign them to a certain dynasty. They may not have ruled at all, or they may have merely had local authority in specific regions of the kingdom.

Unplaced kings