The Dynasties

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 interpr etations 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.

The Archaic Period

3150—2686 BC
The Early Dynastic Period of Egypt immediately follows the unification of Lower and Upper Egypt c. 3100 BC. 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.

Predynastic I II

Old Kingdom

2686—2181 BC
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.


First Intermediate Period

2181—2040 BC
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.


Middle Kingdom

2040—1802 BC
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.


Second Intermediate Period

1802—1550 BC
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.

scene from Seti I temple at Abydos

New Kingdom

1550—1070 BC
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.


Third Intermediate Period

1070—664 BC
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.


Late Period

664—332 BC
The Late Period refers to the last flowering of native Egyptian rulers, into Persian conquests.

Hellenistic Period

332—30 BC
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.

Argead Ptolemaic

Roman Period

30 BC— c. 313 AD
Finally, Egypt was made a Roman province, effectively ending the rule of the pharaohs. The use of hieroglyphs, for the emperor names, continued however, but finally stopped altogether.

Local or unplaced kings

Pharaohs that cannot easily be placed in a certain dynasty, or the evidence about their existence is questionable Their position is uncertain, or they might only have ruled locally in certain parts of kingdom, or even not ruled at all.

End of page
Ancient historians
Terms & information

OK – Old Kingdom
Dynasties 3-6

MK – Middle Kingdom
Dynasties 11-12

NK – New Kingdom
Dynasties 18-20

SIP – Second Intermediate Period
Dynasties 13-17

Thebes – The Southern capital

Memphis – The Northern capital

Epitome – Manetho’s original Aegyptiaca was lost in antiquity, and in the following centuries, it was replaced by Epitomes (summaries) by rivalling advocates of Jewish, Egyptian, and Greek history that saw each side trying to establish the truth according to their point of view.

Vorlage – From the German for prototype or template, a vorlage is a prior version of a manuscript, in this case an earlier version of the canon.

Recto and verso – Recto is the front side and verso is the back side of a written or printed text.

Cartouche – oval band enclosing a pharaohs name

Hieratic – cursive form of hieroglyphic script

Hyksos – Greek form of ḥḳꜢ-ḫꜢswt or “rulers of foreign lands,” referring to peoples who migrated and controlled parts Egypt during the SIP.

Mortuary Temple – where the gods and the king who built the temple were worshipped.

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