Ancient Egypt: Timeline
In all of human history, very few ancient civilizations could hold a candle to ancient Egypt. Thus in terms of its duration, achievements and contributions to human progress, ancient Egypt comes out as one of the greatest civilizations in history. Developing along the longest river in the world, the Nile River, ancient Egypt would grow to cover large territories, spreading throughout northeastern Africa to include present-day places in Egypt and Sudan.
Below we present a complete timeline of the major events that occurred in ancient Egypt, one of the world’s most influential civilizations.
The Pre-dynastic period of ancient Egypt refers to periods before the 3rd millennium BCE. The land of Egypt was not united, comprising Upper and Lower Egypt.
The Pre-Dynastic Period in so many ways laid the pillars upon which subsequent dynasties were formed. For example, this period witnessed the development of hieroglyphic writing which not only facilitated trading activities, but would also help the Egyptians take proper records and have a more efficient central government.
c. 7200 BCE: First settlers on the Nile begin to form small communities
c. 6100 BCE: Ancient Egyptians start to bury their dead in structures called mastabas, often at Saqqara
c. 5400 BCE: Artisans and craftsmen begin to emerge
c. 4500 BCE: Images of Egyptian gods and settings of the afterlife are painted on the walls of tombs
c. 3600 – c. 3115 BCE: The city of Xios, founded in the marshy regions of the Nile Delta, grows steadily.
c. 3200 BCE: Egyptians develop a writing style – the hieroglyphic script
c. 3200 BCE – c. 3050 BCE: Narmer Palette, a siltstone that shows King Narmer delivering a big blow to his enemies, is developed; the Narmer Palette then goes on to show Narmer bringing Upper and Lower Egypt together
Did you know: Archaeologists discovered Egypt’s oldest faience workshop at Abydos?
Early Dynastic Period (c. 3150 BCE – c. 2686 BCE)
Egypt’s Early Dynastic Period, which many scholars place around the early parts of the 3rd millennium BCE, ushered in the first major rulers of Egypt such as Menes and Den. The former is generally seen as the mighty pharaoh that united Upper and Lower Egypt.
Following the unification, ancient Egypt was set on a path of true dominance in the region. Its been stated that Menes built the first major city of ancient Egypt, the city of Memphis. Located in Lower Egypt near the Giza plateau, Memphis (known as Men-nefer, which translates to “the enduring and beautiful”) was a very important religious and political hub for not just the Early Dynastic Period, but also the Old Kingdom era.
It was also in the Early Dynastic period that the legendary architect Imhotep designed and built Pharaoh Djoser’s pyramid at Giza (also known as the Step Pyramid). Many of those massive construction projects were made possible due to the strong central government that pharaohs from Dynasties 1-3 established. With Lower and Upper Egypt united, the rulers of Egypt were better able to quell foreign invasions that threatened to rip Egypt apart.
Culturally, the Early Dynastic period saw immense improvement in the works of artisans, scribes, architects and sculptors.
c. 3000 BCE: Increased trading activities, especially between Egypt and neighboring Syria
c. 2950 BCE: Upper and Lower Egypt is united, ushering in Dynasties I to III; trade and commerce grows and Egyptians begin to stamp their influence in the region
c. 2650 BCE: Egypt’s first pyramid – the Step Pyramid of Djoser – is erected during the reign of Pharaoh Djoser
c. 2665 BCE: The famous ancient Egyptian polymath Imhotep – who by the way built Djoser’s Pyramid – makes huge strides in medicine and architecture
Old Kingdom (c.2686 BCE – c. 2181 BCE)
The Old Kingdom spanned about five dynasties, from Dynasty IV to Dynasty VIII. It was a time of monumental development in all facets of the Egyptian society. Massive buildings and religious structures were erected, including the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx.
Artisans and architects in this period had such advanced knowledge that they frequently built huge structures. Such was the sheer scale of those pyramids that scientists to this day have been left scratching their heads as to how an ancient civilization was able to pull it off. It is therefore not surprising that Old Kingdom period is sometimes referred to as the Age of Pyramids.
Also, ancient Egyptians took to adorning those magnificent and large structures with expertly painted images of their gods and kings.
The Old Kingdom was also marked by long periods of relative peace, which in turn fueled even more growth and prosperity. The ruling elites of this period had a relatively more robust system of managing the affairs of the nation. Another interesting feature of the Old Kingdom era was the increased worship of the sun god Ra (Re).
c. 2560: Pharaoh Khufu (2589 – 2566 BCE), also known as Cheops of the 4th Dynasty, constructs a magnificent pyramid – the Great Pyramid of Giza, located on the Giza plateau (in modern-day Cairo)
c. 2500 BCE: Egypt sees the construction of the Great Sphinx of Giza
Did you know: It has been estimated that the Great Pyramid of Giza, which is last surviving member of the Seven Great Wonders of the Ancient World, took at least 20 years to build?
First Intermediate Period (c. 2150 BCE– c. 1975 BCE)
Stemming from a succession of weak central governments and rulers, ancient Egypt enters into a decline, which is in turn exacerbated by food shortages and famine. The outcome of this is a series of wars and chaos among the various rival dynasties.
Sometimes known as the Dark Ages of Ancient Egypt, the First Intermediate Period of ancient Egypt spanned from the 9th Dynasty to the 11th Dynasty. This period, which translates into about 150 years of rife and disunity, saw Memphis in the north split from Thebes in the south.
However, it was not all gloomy, as there was some amount of regional development in the respective towns. The period also saw the use of bronze [beginning around 1800 BCE] by artisans.
Middle Kingdom (c. 2040 – c. 1640 BCE)
The Middle Kingdom spanned Dynasties XI – XIV. It began with Pharaoh Mentuhotep II reuniting Upper and Lower Egypt. Gradually, the land became more stable with each passing pharaoh. Religious practices also became more profound. In the 11th Dynasty for example, the Egyptian god Amun-Ra became prominent among the people, especially at Thebes. Royal tombs were moved to the north, near Memphis.
Irrigation facilities were built, feeding water from the Nile to the vast agricultural fields of the land. The arts and other forms of artisanship flourished as well. For example, Pharaoh Seusret I constructed an amazing obelisks at Heliopolis.
1783 BCE: Hyksos rulers make Avaris their capital
1700 BCE: Kushites in the South of Egypt form a kingdom
1650 – 1550 BCE: The rulers from the 14th Dynasty make the city of Xios the capital
Second Intermediate Period (c. 1640 BCE – 1520 BCE)
This period of ancient Egypt was characterized by Egypt’s attempt to take back their nation from Near Eastern rulers known as the Hyksos rulers. From their base in the North, Hyksos rulers (Dynasties XV-XVII) were never accepted by Egyptians, causing Egyptians to rise up against them.
Amidst all that chaos, art and culture took a slight decline. However, the Hyksos did introduce to the Egyptians some amount of new military technology, such as the horse-drawn chariot.
After about a century and half of resistance, mostly by Egyptians in Thebes, Hyksos were completely driven out of the land by an Egyptian army led by Ahmose I.
New Kingdom (c. 1520 BCE – c. 1075 BCE)
Spanning Dynasties XVIII-XX, the New Kingdom saw Egypt attain never-before-seen prosperity and growth. The rulers of the New Kingdom also expanded the boundaries of the land through foreign conquests.
The New Kingdom is most famous for the burial place of its rulers. Around the middle part of the second millennium BCE, Tutmosis I became the first pharaoh to be buried in the Valley of the Kings. For the next 500 years or so, Egyptians would use that place to bury their kings and rulers.
c. 1520 BCE: Ahmose I reunites the Egypt, paving the way for the various dynasties of the New Kingdom
c. 1550 BCE – 1070 BCE: Egyptian Book of the Dead is composed
c. 1504 BCE – 1492 BCE: Thutmose I steers the affairs of Egypt in such adept manner that ancient Egypt peaks in terms of development
c. 1479 – 1458 BCE: Hatshepsut, one of Egypt’s greatest rulers, ascends to the throne of Egypt
c. 1458 BCE – 1425 BCE: The reign of Thutmose III
c. 1458 BCE: Thutmose III clash with King Durusha, the king of Kadesh and leader of the Canaanite alliance mainly composed of Mitanni, Megiddo and Kadesh
c. 1386 BCE – c. 1353 BCE: Amenhotep III reigns over one of the most prosperous periods in ancient Egypt’s history
c. 1353 BCE – c. 1336 BCE: Reign of Egypt’s ‘Heretic King’ Pharaoh Akhenaten
c. 1336 BCE – c. 1327 BCE: Tutankhamun, the boy-king of Egypt, reigns
c. 1334 BCE: Tutankhamun, previously called Tutankhamen – in honor of the god Aten, begins a massive reform program to revert Egypt to its polytheistic traditions and pantheon of gods
c. 1327 BCE – 1323 BCE: Ay succeeds Tutankhamun and then goes on to reign for about five or so years.
c. 1320 BCE – 1292 BCE: Pharaoh Horemheb, previously an army commander during the reigns of Ay and Tutankhamun, takes the throne of Egypt; Horemheb does everything humanly possible to remove the names of heretic kings – Akhenaten and Tutankhamun – from the history records.
c. 1303 BCE: One of Egypt’s most famous rulers, Ramesses II, is born
c. 1295 BCE – 1294 BCE: Ramesses I reigns
1295 BCE – 1188 BCE: The 19th Dynastic reign begins with the ruler Seti I
1294 BCE – 1279 BCE: The reign of Seti I
1279 BCE – 1212 BCE: Ramesses II, also known as Ramses the Great, rules Egypt
c. 1274 BCE: Ramesses II clash with Hittites King Mauwatalli in the Battle of Kadesh
c. 1264 BCE – c. 1244 BCE: Abu Simble is constructed
c. 1258 BCE: The world’s first known peace treaty – the Treaty of Kadesh between Egypt and Hittites – is signed.
c. 1184 BCE – 1153 BCE: Ramesses III inherits the throne
1180 BCE: An alliance of naval raiders – Sea Peoples – from the coastal cities begin to become a thorn in the flesh of ancient Egypt; causing immense headaches for rulers such as Ramesses II (1279-1213 BCE), Merenptah (1231-1203 BCE), and Ramesses III (1186-1155 BCE)
1185 BCE – 1178 BCE: Ramesses III takes several steps to halt the incursions made by the “Sea Peoples”
1178 BCE: Ramesses III leads Egypt to a resounding victory over the Sea Peoples
Third Intermediate Period (c. 1075 BCE– c. 653 BCE)
During the Third Intermediate Period (Dynasties XXI to XXIV), progress in Egypt was stalled by power struggle among Thebian, the Smendes and Libyans. As a result the Assyrians were able to exploit the situation and rule Egypt for some time. The Third Intermediate Period ends when Psamtik, with the help of some forces from Greece, pushes the Assyrians out of Egypt.
712 BCE – 671 BCE: A Kushite dynasty briefly rules Egypt
671 BCE: Assyrians bring Egypt to its knees and takes Memphis
667 BCE – 665 BCE: Ashurbanipal, the last great king of Assyria, marches his army into Egypt to quell a revolt
653 BCE: Psamtik I rules Egypt and drives out Assyrians from Egypt
Late Period (c. 653 BCE – c. 332 BCE) – Dynasties XXV-XXX
c. 601 BCE: Nebuchadnezzar II, undoubtedly the greatest king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire (626-539), fails to conquer Egypt
525 BCE – 404 BCE: Egypt falls to the Persian Empire
c. 525 BCE: Persia’s Cambyses II conquers the city Pelusium and then turns his attention to the Egyptians
c. 530 BCE: The great architect from the Early Dynastic period, Imhotep, is deified by the Egyptians; many worship him as the son of Ptah, the creator god
c. 520 BCE: Darius the Great, King of Persia, constructs a canal to connect the Nile River to the Red Sea
340 BCE: Virtually all of Egypt comes under the control of Persia
Ptolemaic dynasty (The Hellenistic Age) (323 BCE – 31 BCE)
332 BCE: Following his defeat of the Persian army, Alexander the Great turns his attention to Egypt and takes the land without any resistance from the Egyptians
331 BCE: Alexandria the Great establishes the city of Alexandria, the famous coastal city at the port town of Rhakotis
323 BCE: Alexander the Great dies
323 BCE – 282 BCE: Ptolemy I Soter rules Egypt, which sees the construction of a number of important buildings, including the Great Library – i.e. the Library of Alexandria
285 BCE – 246 BCE: Ptolemy II rules Egypt and continues many of the projects started by Ptolemy I Soter, including the Library of Alexandria and the Lighthouse of Alexandria
276 BCE – 275 BCE: Ptolemy II brings into his rank a number of Celts
259 BCE: Ptolemy II brutally inflicts misery upon the Celts that tried to topple him from the throne
247 BCE: Construction of the famous Lighthouse of Alexandria is finished
217 BCE: Ptolemy IV effectively deploy services of thousands of Celts to defeat the Seleucid King Antiochus III at Raphia
47 BCE: Cleopatra VII becomes the sole ruler of the land of Egypt
30 BCE: Cleopatra VII, the last pharaoh of Egypt, bringing an end to the Ptolemaic era in Egypt
30 BCE: Egypt is brought under the rule of Rome
Other Interesting Facts about Ancient Egypt and its timeline
Ancient Egypt was generally ruled by dynasties. All in all, including the Ptolemaic Dynasty that hailed from ancient Greece, there were about 30 dynasties that spanned the three major time periods (or kingdoms) of ancient Egypt.
To make sense of the history of ancient Egypt, scholars and Egyptologist like to group the civilization into three main kingdoms – the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom, and the New Kingdom. The gap in between the kingdoms is often referred to as the “intermediate” period.
The Predynastic Period saw an increase pottery, ceramics, ivory carvings and cosmetic palettes.
Beginning around the 5th dynasty, Egyptians started making exquisite paintings and decorations on the walls of mortuary chapels that housed their deceased pharaohs. They were also fond of building statues of kings in those temples.
Potter’s wheel was invented in the 5th dynasty, which was in the Old Kingdom period.
You may also like: 10 Major Ancient Egyptian Festivals