Unit 1: Ancient Africa - The Cradle of Civilization
(200,000 B.C. - 476 B.C.)

Unit 1: Class 8: Ancient Kemet (Egypt): The Old Kingdom & First Intermediate Period (3150 B.C. – 2055 B.C.)

Ancient Egypt: Old Kingdom (2700 - 2200 B.C.) and First Intermediate Period (2181 - 2055 B.C.) 

People To Know
Menes or "Narmer." He is considered the first Pharaoh of Egypt and is credited with the first unification of Upper and Lower Egypt.
The Old Kingdom is the name commonly given to the period in the 3rd millennium BC when Egypt attained its first continuous peak of civilization in complexity and achievement – the first of three so-called "Kingdom" periods, which mark the high points of civilization in the lower Nile Valley (the others being Middle Kingdom and the New Kingdom). The term Old Kingdom, coined during the nineteenth century, is somewhat arbitrary. Egyptians at that time would have seen no distinction between the Old Kingdom and the preceding Early Dynastic Period, since the last Early Dynastic king was related by blood to the first two kings of the Old Kingdom, and the Early Dynastic royal residence at Ineb-Hedj (translated as "The White Walls" for its majestic fortifications) remained unchanged except for the name. During the Old Kingdom, the capital was renamed Memphis. The basic justification for a separation between the Early Dynastic Period and the Old Kingdom is the revolutionary change in architecture accompanied and the effects that large-scale building projects had on Egyptian society and economy. The Old Kingdom spanned the period from the Third Dynasty to the Sixth Dynasty (2,686 BC – 2,134 BC). Many Egyptologists also include the Memphite Seventh and Eighth Dynasties in the Old Kingdom as a continuation of the administration that had been firmly established at Memphis. Thereafter, the Old Kingdom was followed by a period of disunity and relative cultural decline (a "dark period that spanned the Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, and part of the Eleventh Dynasties) referred to by Egyptologists as the First Intermediate Period.  

Beginnings. With its capital at Memphis, site of the Third Dynasty court of Pharaoh Djoser (formal name Neterikhet, which means "Divine of the Body"; his reign 2630–2611 BC), the Old Kingdom is known today as the "Age of the Pyramids" for the large number of pyramids constructed as pharaonic burial places. The oldest pyramid, probably the first pyramid built in Egypt, is the Step Pyramid of Djoser, which still towers above the surrounding landscape at Saqqara, the royal necropolis complex designed by the first named architect in history, Imhotep (2635-2595 BC), near Memphis. More than an architect, he also served as a physician, high priest, official scribe and vizier (a political advisor and administrative overseer), which made him the highest official at the royal court second only to the pharaoh.

Because his name is known, Imhotep is credited with many architectural achievements during the Third Dynasty. Yet only three projects are known with certainty to have been built under his direction: the Step Pyramid of Djoser; the 277- by 544-meter burial complex of Pharaoh Djoser surrounded by a high wall featuring one real and fourteen false doors; and the nearby unfinished pyramid of Pharaoh Sekhemkhet ("Powerful in Body"; reign 2648-2640 BC), where Imhotep's name is inscribed on the north side of the enclosure wall of the unfinished pyramid. The next step in the progression toward a "true pyramid" occurred near the end of Imhotep's life during the reign of the early Fourth Dynasty Pharaoh Sneferu at his royal necropolis at Dahshur, where an unknown architect built the so-called Bent Pyramid, circa 2600 BC. A unique example in pyramid construction, the Bent Pyramid has angled rather than straight sides; the lower part of the pyramid rises from the desert at a 55-degree inclination, while the top section is built at a shallower 43-degree angle, lending the pyramid its very obvious "bent" appearance. The Bent Pyramid, which Sneferu appears to have abandoned prior to its completion (perhaps the builders realized that the initial angle at the bottom part of the structure was too steep), may have served as an experimental or transitional design between the step-sided pyramids built by during Imhotep's time and the much larger smooth-sided pyramids to come.

Size Matters. Considered the "golden age" of the Old Kingdom, the Fourth Dynasty (2,613 BC– 2,494 BC) was a time of relative peace and prosperity during which trade with neighboring regions provided pharaohs with the leisure to explore artistic and cultural pursuits and the resources to build on a much grander scale. Credit for completing the first true pyramid goes to Sneferu, who commissioned the Red Pyramid, also known as the North Pyramid, the largest of the three major pyramids located at the Dahshur necropolis, which at the time of its completion was the tallest man-made structure in the world. The Red Pyramid was followed by the Medium Pyramid and a number of smaller step pyramids, all of which made Sneferu the most prolific pyramid builder of the era. 

Menes's Cartouche
The cartouche of Menes on the  Abydos King List

In Egyptian hieroglyphs, a cartouche (English pronunciation: /kɑːˈtuːʃ/) is an oval with a horizontal line at one end, indicating that the text enclosed is a royal name.


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