Ancient Egypt History – Episode 2

The Middle Kingdom:
Without one centralized government, the bureaucracy was no longer effective, and regional concerns were openly championed. Egyptian art became more provincial, and no massive mortuary complexes were built. The religion was also democratized, as commoners claimed prerogatives previously reserved for royalty alone. They could, for instance, use spells derived from the royal Pyramid Texts on the walls of their own coffins or tombs.
Although the Middle Kingdom (2134-1784 BC) is generally dated to include all of the 11th Dynasty, it properly begins with the reunification of the land by Mentuhotep II, who reigned 2061-2010 BC. The early rulers of the dynasty attempted to extend their control from Thebes both northward and southward, but it was left to Mentuhotep to complete the reunification process, sometime after 2047 BC. Mentuhotep ruled for more than 50 years, and despite occasional rebellions, he maintained stability and control over the whole kingdom. He replaced some nomarchs and limited the power of the nomes, which was still considerable. Thebes was his capital, and his mortuary temple at Dayr al Bahrì incorporated both traditional and regional elements; the tomb was separate from the temple, and there was no pyramid. The reign of the first 12th Dynasty king, Amenemhet I, was peaceful. He established a capital near Memphis and, unlike Mentuhotep, de-emphasized Theban ties in favor of national unity. Nevertheless, the important Theban god Amon was given prominence over other deities. Amenemhet demanded loyalty from the nomes, rebuilt the bureaucracy, and educated a staff of scribes and administrators. The literature was predominantly propaganda designed to reinforce the image of the king as a “good shepherd” rather than as an inaccessible god. During the last ten years of his reign, Amenemhet ruled with his son as co-regent. “The Story of Sinuhe,” a literary work of the period, implies that the king was assassinated. Amenemhet's successors continued his programs. His son, Sesostris I, who reigned 1962-1928 BC, built fortresses throughout Nubia and established trade with foreign lands. He sent governors to Palestine and Syria and campaigned against the Libyans in the west. Sesostris II, who reigned 1895-1878 BC, began land reclamation in Al Fayyum. His successor, Sesostris III, who reigned 1878-1843 BC, had a canal dug at the first cataract of the Nile, formed a standing army (which he used in his campaign against the Nubians), and built new forts on the southern frontier. He divided the administration into three powerful geographic units, each controlled by an official under the vizier, and he no longer recognized provincial nobles. Amenemhet III continued the policies of his predecessors and extended the land reform. A vigorous renaissance of culture took place under the Theban kings. The architecture, art, and jewelry of the period reveal an extraordinary delicacy of design, and the time was considered the golden age of Egyptian literature.
Second Intermediate Period
The rulers of the 13th Dynasty—some 50 or more in about 120 years—were weaker than their predecessors, although they were still able to control Nubia and the administration of the central government. During the latter part of their rule, however, their power was challenged not only by the rival 14th Dynasty, which won control over the delta, but also by the Hyksos, who invaded from western Asia. By the 13th Dynasty there was a large Hyksos population in northern Egypt. As the central government entered a period of decline, their presence made possible an influx of people from coastal side of Phoenicia and Palestine and the establishment of a Hyksos dynasty. This marks the beginning of the Second Intermediate period, a time of turmoil and disunity that lasted for some 214 years. The Hyksos of the 15th Dynasty ruled from their capital at Avaris in the eastern delta, maintaining control over the middle and northern parts of the country. At the same time, the 16th Dynasty also existed in the delta and Middle Egypt, but it may have been subservient to the Hyksos. More independence was exerted in the south by a third contemporaneous power, the Theban 17th Dynasty, which ruled over the territory between Elephantine and Abydos. The Theban ruler Kamose, who reigned about 1576-1570 BC, battled the Hyksos successfully, but it was his brother, Ahmose who finally subdued them, reuniting Egypt.
The New Kingdom
With the unification of the land and the founding of the 18th Dynasty by Ahmose I, the New Kingdom (1570-1070 BC) began. Ahmose re-established the borders, goals, and bureaucracy of the Middle Kingdom and revived its land-reclamation program. He maintained the balance of power between the nomarchs and himself with the support of the military, who were accordingly rewarded. The importance of women in the New Kingdom is illustrated by the high titles and position of the royal wives and mothers.
The 18th Dynasty Kings
Once Amenhotep I, who reigned 1551-1524 BC, had full control over his administration—he was co-regent for five years—he began to extend Egypt's boundaries in Nubia and Palestine. A major builder at Karnak, Amenhotep, unlike his predecessors, separated his tomb from his mortuary temple; he began the custom of hiding his final resting place, then he continued the advances of the new Imperial Age and emphasized the preeminence of the god Amon. His tomb was the first in the Valley of the Kings. Thutmose II, his son by a minor wife, succeeded him, marrying the royal princess Hatshepsut to strengthen his claim to the throne. He maintained the accomplishments of his predecessors. When he died in 1504 BC, his heir, Thutmose III, was still a child, and so Hatshepsut governed as a regent. Within a year, she had herself crowned pharaoh, and then mother and son ruled jointly. When Thutmose III achieved sole rule upon Hatshepsut's death in 1483 BC, he reconquered Syria and Palestine, which had broken away under joint rule, and then continued to expand his empire. His annals in the temple at Karnak chronicle many of his campaigns. Nearly 20 years after Hatshepsut's death, he ordered the obliteration of her name and images. Amenhotep II, who reigned 1453-1419 BC, and Thutmose IV tried to maintain the Asian conquests in the face of growing threats from the Mitanni and Hittite states, but they found it necessary to use negotiations as well as force. Amenhotep III ruled peacefully for nearly four decades, 1386-1349 BC, and art and architecture flourished during his reign. He maintained the balance of power among Egypt's neighbors by diplomacy. His son and successor, Akhenaton (Amenhotep IV), was a religious reformer who fought the power of the Amon priesthood. Akhenaton abandoned Thebes for a new capital, Akhetaton (see Tall al ‘Amarana , which was built in honor of Aton, the disk of the sun on which his monotheistic religion centered. The religious revolution was abandoned toward the end of his reign, however, and his son-in-law, Tutankhamen, returned the capital to Thebes. Tutankhamen is known today chiefly for his richly furnished tomb, which was found nearly intact in the Valley of the Kings by the British archaeologists Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon in 1922. The 18th Dynasty ended with Horemheb, who reigned 1321-1293 BC.
The Ramesside Period
The founder of the 19th Dynasty, Ramses I, who reigned 1293-1291 BC, had served his predecessor as vizier and commander of the army. Reigning only two years, he was succeeded by his son, Seti I, who reigned 1291-1279 BC; he led campaigns against Syria, Palestine, the Libyans, and the Hittites. Seti built a sanctuary at Abydos. Like his father, he favored the delta capital of Pi-Ramesse (now Qantir). One of his sons, Ramses II, succeeded him and reigned for nearly 67 years. He was responsible for much construction at Luxor and Karnak, and he built the Ramesseum (his funerary temple at Thebes), the rock-cut temples at Abu Simbel, and sanctuaries at Abydos and Memphis. After campaigns against the Hittites, Ramses made a treaty with them and married a Hittite princess. His son Merneptah, who reigned 1212-1202 BC, defeated the Sea Peoples, invaders from the Aegean who swept the Middle East in the 13th century BC, and records tell of his desolating Israel. Later rulers had to contend with constant uprisings by subject peoples of the empire. The second ruler of the 20th Dynasty, Ramses III, had his military victories depicted on the walls of his mortuary complex at Medinet Habu, near Thebes. After his death the New Kingdom declined, chiefly because of the rising power of the priesthood of Amon and the army. One high priest and military commander even had himself depicted in royal regalia.
Third Intermediate Period
The 21st through the 24th dynasties are known as the Third Intermediate period. Kings ruling from Tanis, in the north, vied with a line of high priests, to whom they appear to be related, from Thebes, in the south. The rulers of the 21st Dynasty may have been partially Libyan in ancestry, and the 22nd Dynasty began with Libyan chieftains as kings. As the Libyans' rule deteriorated, several rivals rose to challenge them. In fact the next two dynasties, the 23rd and 24th, were contemporaneous with part of the 22nd Dynasty, just as the 25th (Kushite) Dynasty effectively controlled much of Egypt during the latter years of the 22nd and the 24th dynasties.
Late Period
The 25th through the 31st dynasties ruled Egypt during the time that has come to be known as the Late Period. The Cushites ruled from about 767 BC until they were ousted by the Assyrians in 671 BC. Native rule was reestablished early in the 26th Dynasty by Psamtik I. A resurgence of cultural achievement, reminiscent of earlier epochs, reached its height in the 26th Dynasty. When the last Egyptian king was defeated by Cambyses II in 525 BC, the country entered a period of Persian domination under the 27th Dynasty. Egypt reasserted its independence under the 28th and 29th dynasties, but the 30th Dynasty was the last one of native rulers. The 31st Dynasty, which is not listed in Manetho's chronology, represented the second Persian domination.

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