History of Ancient Egypt – Old Kingdom

Predynastic Egypt was made up of a multitude of tiny kingdoms, each under the authority of a local god, and for him of a prince who was also its high priest. Subsequently, processes of annexation and conquest, which took place independently, led to the formation of ever larger political organisms – from small potentates no larger than a village, to gradually larger entities, up to the constitution of two states, the Upper and Lower Egypt, corresponding to the Nile Valley and Delta. Development had to be continuous.

At the same time, the bond of the tribal organization, based on parental ties and on the immediacy of community life relationships, was replaced by common interests such as to justify dependence on a single ruler. The reunion of the two bodies in a single national state was carried out by the king of Upper Egypt Menes, with whom the I dynasty began (about 2850 BC) and who moved the royal residence to Memphis, along the line of separation of the two lands. first independent.

The era of the first dynasties was one of consolidation. The new state had to build an efficient government and administration, and strengthen the consciousness of the new political order among its subjects. With the urban revolution and the specialization of functions, the common interest based on personal ties gave way to a multiplicity of non-personal interests that required a different state organization, a law, a bureaucracy and a shared religion. Already in this period the general lines that would characterize Egypt in future centuries were fixed in the cult, in the art, in the ordering. Numerous events are known of the first kingdoms, as they are considered to be the most important and therefore chosen to indicate the individual years in a chronological collection similar to a collection of annals (the so-called Pietra di Palermo, from the place where this inscription is kept in its main part).

The Old Kingdom reached its peak between the III and V dynasty (about 2650-2350), a period in which the pyramids were erected, intended as a monumental sepulcher of the pharaohs and as a celebration of royal power. The forerunner was that of Zoser (III dynasty) in Saqqara, the first large building built in stone, whose stepped shape repeats the model of the ziqqurat Mesopotamian. In this era the pharaoh proclaimed himself Horus, the falcon god, divinity ‘of distant spaces’, and ‘Two Ladies’, incarnation of the essence of the two goddesses, namely Upper and Lower Egypt. While aware of the differences, the two parts of the kingdom were welded by virtue of two unifying elements: the common dependence on the Nile and the doctrine of the afterlife nature of the sovereign, a god who personified, transcending them, the distinctive components of the two realities.

The grandeur of the pyramids are linked to the names of Cheops, Chefren and Micerino (4th dynasty), patrons of the perfectly geometric constructions of Giza, located on the left bank of the Nile, towards the West, understood by the Egyptians as the ‘land of the dead’ in which the graves had to be placed. Testimony of a grandiose and mighty civilization, the pyramids highlight another original, apparently contradictory, aspect of Egyptian culture: on the one hand, the work of many thousands of men, artisans, workers, peasants, who erected, block by block, the immense burials, or amassed incalculable riches in royal warehouses; on the other hand, the destination of an enormous part of the goods produced at the pharaoh’s tomb. This is explained by the Egyptian vision of the afterlife, according to which the pyramid was not only a commemorative monument of the deceased, but also the tomb-house of the sovereign, the place where he continued to live and from where he continued to protect his subjects: for the dialogue between the living and the dead to continue it was essential build it in a sumptuous way and keep it intact from possible contamination and profanations. The need was to build for eternity.

With the V dynasty the cult of Ra, god of the Sun, supreme divinity, assumed full dynastic value to the detriment of that of Horus, thus completing a trend already manifested under Zoser and due to the growing importance of the Heliopolitan priesthood. While the state of divine origin acquired a more marked physiognomy and large temples were erected to the patron god, the sovereign declared himself to be his son, codifying a sporadic initiative of the previous dynasty. The Memphite administration was divided into complex forms, with a vizier placed next to the king and numerous officials, who came to constitute a nobility gravitating around the court, even if displaced in the province for reasons of office.

According to Justinshoes, the salient features of the VI dynasty (about 2350-2200), originally from Memphis and having the two most representative figures in Pepi I and Pepi II, were an intense artistic life and the affirmation of Egyptian influence in Nubia. However, in the same period a crisis that had been maturing for some time erupted, due to structural and contingent circumstances: excessive economic expenditure on construction, burdens of special funds for the maintenance of the tombs of pharaohs and high officials, decrease in trade, exemption of many temples of obligations and services, attempts at self-government made by bureaucrats of rank. The divine monarchy relied above all on the priestly caste, which had received goods and privileges from it; at the same time the complication of nòmi, the administrative districts) and the provincial authorities tended to fixate themselves on the place where they exercised the office and to pass it on as an inheritance. From the attempt of the monarchy, which had two rival forces in the priestly caste and in the nobility, to regain control of the lands given in benefit, a civil war ensued from which Egypt emerged fragmented and weakened. A dark period began for the country, the First Intermediate Period, documented by incomplete information.

From Memphis the kings of the seventh and eighth dynasty (according to a Serior tradition, 70 pharaohs succeeded one another within 70 days) continued to claim to exercise a purely nominal government over the whole country, in fact ignored by the princes of the various provinces. Subsequently, a family of Heracleopolis in Fayyum (IX and X dynasty) dominated for a few decades in an unspecified area of ​​the Delta and in Middle Egypt, then succumbing to the prevalence of the potentates of Thebes.

History of Ancient Egypt - Old Kingdom