Times & Places

Ancient Egyptian historical periods

Though there is evidence of settlers along the Nile River dating from almost 120,000 years ago, the history of ancient Egypt is generally divided into three major periods of stability: the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom, and the New Kingdom. These were separated by intermediate periods of political instability and followed by the Late Period.

The Old Kingdom, beginning in the 3rd millennium BCE is considered Egypt’s first great period of prosperity and political stability. The pharaohs of the Old Kingdom, assisted by a system of efficient administrators, commissioned a number of large-scale irrigation projects which led to surpluses in food and commerce. They also created a bureaucracy responsible for collecting taxes and administering a sophisticated justice system, and they commissioned a number of pyramids and other large-scale building projects. The Old Kingdom ended c. 2200 BCE after a series of droughts and political strife that led to the collapse of Egypt’s government.

Following nearly two centuries of political stagnation and economic instability known as the First Intermediate Period, Egypt’s Middle Kingdom marks another period of great prosperity. Beginning around 2030 BCE, the pharaohs of the eleventh dynasty, following a series of successful military campaigns to secure their power, promoted irrigation projects around the Nile that created great economic prosperity. Along with this prosperity and greater disbursement of wealth, high-ranking Egyptians outside the pharaoh’s immediate family demanded access to the afterlife. As a result, a number of Egyptian nobles and priests were mummified and entombed during the period. The Middle Kingdom ended around 1650 BCE after a series of insufficient crops weakened the power of the pharaoh.

The Second Intermediate Period, marked by a series of weak and foreign rulers, was followed by Egypt’s New Kingdom. New Kingdom pharaohs ushered in a period of prosperity by promoting diplomatic alliances with their neighbors. The New Kingdom ended after a series of military defeats and internal unrest that weakened the power of the pharaoh, who was replaced by the growing power of the priesthood.

The Third Intermediate Period was another period characterized by foreign rulers, wars, and political strife. It was followed by the Late Period when Egypt served as a vassal to several different foreign rulers.

Adapted from

DMA unpublished material.