Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt

A map of ancient Egypt A map of ancient Egypt One of the greatest and longest-lasting civilizations in history grew up on a narrow strip of fertile land along the banks of the River Nile in Egypt. The ancient Egyptians were surrounded by the arid Sahara Desert and their farming year relied on the annual flooding of the Nile. Yet their civilization lasted for 3500 years, during which time some of the most spectacular monuments of the ancient world were created. The first Egyptians came from the surrounding desert to settle in the Nile Valley from around 6000 BC. At that time, the Sahara Desert was a land of savanna grasslands and woodlands, but it was becoming more and more arid; its inhabitants found it more difficult to hunt game or herd their livestock. The settlers discovered that the Nile's summer floods provided fertile soil for growing grain and pasture for raising sheep, goats and cattle.

Harvesting cropsHarvesting crops

The dawn of civilization

The Nile floods were essential but they could also be disastrous. If the waters rose at the wrong time of year, all the crops would be ruined. If there was not enough water, the crops would not grow and people would starve. Early Egyptian farmers learned to control the flood waters by building dykes and ponds for storing water for use in time of drought.

As time passed, villages grew into towns and cities and the people developed a system of government. Craftworkers in the towns and cities learned to work metals such as copper. The potters’ wheel, an import from Asia, was a valuable tool. Egypt became wealthy as trading increased. A great new civilization had begun.A town in ancient EgyptA town in ancient Egypt
A pharaoh oversees the building of a pyramid.A pharaoh oversees the building of a pyramid.


By about 3400 BC Egypt consisted of two kingdoms, Upper and Lower Egypt. In about 3100 BC, Egypt was united, probably under the rule of Menes (also called Narmer), a king of Nekhen in Upper Egypt. The history of Egypt thereafter is divided into three main periods: the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom and the New Kingdom.

At the time of the Old Kingdom (2575–2134 BC), belief in the Afterlife became an important part of of ancient Egyptian religion. It was the age of pyramid-building. In the Middle Kingdom (2040–1640 BC), Egypt traded with other lands and conquered Nubia to the south.

A pharaoh goes into battle on his chariotA pharaoh goes into battle on his chariot The New Kingdom (1560–1070 BC) has been called Egypt’s Golden Age. With their capital at Thebes, the pharaohs (Egyptian kings) conquered lands in the Middle East and made their kingdom prosperous. The pharaohs built great temples. But the wealth of ancient Egypt attracted other rulers. Egypt was invaded by the armies of Assyria, Greece, Persia and finally fell to the Romans in 30 BC.

Ramesses II

Mummy of Ramesses IIMummy of Ramesses II
Queen NefertariQueen NefertariRamesses II (1279–1213 BC), a pharaoh of the New Kingdom, was probably the most powerful ruler in ancient Egyptian history. His reign was extremely long, 67 years, and he lived to around the age of 90. Although he had many wives and children in the course of his long life, his Great Royal Wife, Queen Nefertari, was a well-loved and much respected figure.

Ramesses had a gift for self-promotion: he once claimed he was the son of the chief god, Amun, and had many magnificent monuments to commemorate his rule, including the hypostyle hall in the Temple at Karnak, the Ramesseum (his mortuary temple) and the temples at Abu Simbel.

Ramesses moved his capital further north to the Delta, founding a new city called Per Ramesses. It remained Egypt's capital until the end of the New Kingdom.

The Temple of King Ramesses II The Temple of King Ramesses II Ramesses vowed to recapture the territories of Palestine and Syria, then ruled by a people called the Hittites, for the Egyptian empire. Ramesses’s forces engaged in a hard-fought battle with the Hittites at a place called Kadesh. They narrowly avoided a heavy defeat and afterwards claimed it as an Egyptian victory. Ramesses ensured his "triumph" would be depicted on the walls of many temples back in Egypt. Later, Ramesses made peace with the Hittites and married a
Hittite princess.

 Consultant: Philip Parker

The last ruling pharaoh of Egypt was Cleopatra (69–30 BC), who was descended from a Greek king, Alexander the Great. She had a son with Julius Caesar, named Caesarion. She killed herself after her forces were defeated by the Romans under Octavian (later called Augustus) at the Battle of Actium. Egypt then became a province of the Roman Empire.

The Old Kingdom came to an end partly as a result of a series of severe droughts that occurred between 2200 and 2150 BC.

Around 1700 BC, settlers from western Asia, known as the Hyksos ("foreign rulers"), began to seize control of the Delta region, eventually forcing the Egyptians to move their capital south to Thebes. The Hyksos effectively ruled Egypt before being driven out by Pharaoh Ahmose I, the first ruler of Egypt's New Kingdom.

The book of Exodus in the Bible tells how the Israelites are enslaved in Egypt and eventually escape under the leadership of Moses. But the pharaoh of the time is not named. A number of suggestions for his identity have been put forward, including Thutmoses III, Ahmose I, Ramesses I and Ramesses II.

In 1976, the mummy of Ramesses II was flown to Paris for treatment, after it was found that it was being attacked by a fungus. The mummy was issued with an Egyptian passport, which listed his occupation as "King (deceased)". From inspection of his hair roots, researchers found that he was probably a redhead.

© 2017 Q-files Ltd. All rights reserved. Switch to Mobile