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Old Kingdom Ancient Egypt Achievements Essay

Egypt’s Old Kingdom (Dynasties 3–8, ca. 2649–2130 B.C.) was one of the most dynamic periods in the development of Egyptian art. During this period, artists learned to express their culture’s worldview, creating for the first time images and forms that endured for generations. Architects and masons mastered the techniques necessary to build monumental structures in stone. Sculptors created the earliest portraits of individuals and the first lifesize statues in wood, copper, and stone. They perfected the art of carving intricate relief decoration and, through keen observation of the natural world, produced detailed images of animals, plants, and even landscapes, recording the essential elements of their world for eternity in scenes painted and carved on the walls of temples and tombs.

These images and structures had two principal functions: to ensure an ordered existence and to defeat death by preserving life into the next world. To these ends, over a period of time, Egyptian artists adopted a limited repertoire of standard types and established a formal artistic canon that would define Egyptian art for more than 3,000 years, while remaining flexible enough to allow for subtle variation and innovation.

Although much of their artistic effort was centered on preserving life after death, Egyptians also surrounded themselves with beautiful objects to enhance their lives in this world, producing elegant jewelry, finely carved and inlaid furniture, and cosmetic vessels and implements in a wide variety of materials.

Catharine H. Roehrig
Department of Egyptian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

October 2000


Ancient Egypt

Old Kingdom

History >> Ancient Egypt

The "Old Kingdom" is a period of time during the history of Ancient Egypt. It lasted from 2575 BC to 2150 BC. Over these 400 years, Egypt had a strong central government and a prosperous economy. The Old Kingdom is most famous as a time when many pyramids were built.

What dynasties were during the Old Kingdom?

The Old Kingdom spanned four major dynasties from the Third Dynasty to the Sixth Dynasty. The period reached its peak during the Fourth Dynasty when powerful pharaohs such as Sneferu and Khufu ruled. Sometimes the Seventh and Eighth Dynasties are included as part of the Old Kingdom.

Rise of the Old Kingdom

The period before the Old Kingdom is called the Early Dynastic Period. Even though Egypt had become one country under the First Dynasty, it was under the rule of Pharaoh Djoser, founder of the Third Dynasty, that the central government became organized and strong.

Government

Under Pharaoh Djoser's rule, the land of Egypt was divided up into "nomes" (like states). Each nome had a governor (called a "nomarch") that reported to the pharaoh. Egypt became wealthy enough to build the first Egyptian pyramid, the Pyramid of Djoser.

The pharaoh was the head of both the government and the state religion. He was considered a god. Below the pharaoh was the vizier who ran many of the daily tasks of the government. Only the most powerful families gained an education and were taught to read and write. These people became the high-ranking government officials, priests, army generals, and scribes.

Pyramids

The Old Kingdom period is most famous for building pyramids. This includes the first pyramid, the Pyramid of Djoser, and the largest pyramid, the Great Pyramid at Giza. The peak of the Old Period was during the Fourth Dynasty when pharaohs such as Sneferu and Khufu ruled. The Fourth Dynasty built the Giza complex including several large pyramids and the Great Sphinx.

Fall of the Old Kingdom

The central government began to weaken during the Sixth Dynasty. The governors (nomarchs) became very powerful and began to ignore the rule of the pharaoh. At the same time, the country suffered from drought and famine. Eventually the central government collapsed and Egypt broke up into several independent states.

First Intermediate Period

The period after the Old Kingdom is called the First Intermediate Period. This period lasted around 150 years. It was a time of civil war and chaos.

Interesting Facts About the Old Kingdom of Egypt
  • Pharaoh Pepi II, who ruled near the end of the Old Kingdom, was pharaoh for around 90 years.
  • The capital city of Egypt during the Old Kingdom was Memphis.
  • Art flourished during the Old Period. Many of the styles and images created during the Old Kingdom were imitated for the next 3000 years.
  • The Old Kingdom is sometimes referred to as the "Age of Pyramids."
  • Egypt established trade with many foreign civilizations during this period. They built trade ships to travel the Red Sea and the Mediterranean.
  • Much of what we know about the Old Kingdom comes from tombs, pyramids, and temples. The cities where people lived were largely made from mud and have long since been destroyed.
  • Some historians say the Old Kingdom continued until the end of the Eighth Dynasty when the capital city moved away from Memphis.
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History >> Ancient Egypt
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Pyramid of Djoser
Photo by Max Gattringer

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