The course of the ancient Egyptian civilization, starting with the pre-dynastic period till the Ptolemaic period, has a series of events that highlight it.
The dynastic period, being the main chunk of ancient Egyptian history, provides some of the most interesting insights into the ancient Egyptian civilization.
Ancient Egyptian history is divided into 31 dynasties, which are then further subdivided into three main kingdoms with intermediate periods in between. Click here to see the timeline.
The Pre-dynastic Period (approx. 5500-3100 BC)
During this period the nomadic tribes of hunter-gatherers that were scattered all over the country were started settling down near the Nile. These settlements were divided into nomes (provinces).
The main division in Egypt was that of the Upper and Lower Egyptians (the two lands). The two were very different.
At around 3100 BC, the dynastic period began with the reign of King Narmer. He managed to unify (through battle) the provinces and the two lands, and Egypt became a single state.
This was the real beginning of the ancient Egyptian civilization.
Early Dynastic Period (approx. 3150-2686 BC)
This was a sort of stepping stone period, where the Egyptians started settling into the idea of a unified Egypt. It only lasted 2 dynasties and was called "the Archaic period".
This period was when the administrative capital of Egypt became Memphis. It is also when elaborate tombs became popular.
The architecture, religious beliefs and art of the ancient Egyptian civilization became more prominent during this period.
The Old Kingdom (approx. 2686-2181 BC)
This period was all about pyramids. In fact, it's called "The Age of the Pyramids."
It was a time of wealth and progress for the Egyptians.
During the third dynasty King Djoser builds the Step Pyramid in Saqqara - the first pyramid ever built. The famous Imhotep was the architectural engineer for this big project.
The Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt's main landmark and the only surviving ancient wonder of the world, was built by King Khufu in the 4th dynasty.
There were also other beautiful pyramids built during this dynasty, such as the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid in Dahshur.
The funerary texts called the Pyramid Texts, which provide us with much information about the ancient Egyptian religious beliefs, were formed in this period.
By the end of this period, the nobles had gained more power and wealth than the royal family itself. Civil wars weakened the kingdom. But what finally ended this dynastic period was the drought, which brought about famine and disease.
The First Intermediate Period (approx. 2181–2040 BC)
Egypt's version of the Dark Ages, it was a time of chaos and famine.
The poor who were hit worst with famine and disease began to rise up against the kings. There was anarchy and unrest all over, with plundering and vandalizing of the monuments.
The rule became divided, and conflicts between the kingdoms began, until finally at the end of this period the Theban king Menuhotepconquers and unifies Egypt again.
The Middle Kingdom (approx. 2040–1782 BC)
After the re-unification of Egypt with Thebes as the capital, much of the power was still not entirely in the hands of the Pharaohs. The king depended on the local governors to conscript soldiers from their provinces to pull together an army.
Then during the 12th dynasty, Egypt's army was strong enough to begin a series of invasions to expand the territory. They would build fortresses in the new areas to secure them.
The middle kingdom also saw a rise to trade connections with Nubia.
A large migration of foreign settlers from Assyria happened during this period, which gave rise to many changes in the ancient Egyptian civilization...
...it also gave rise to the Hyksos.
As a child I'd play "Egyptians and Hyksos", much like American children a long time ago used to play "Cowboys and Indians". Neither of which is very "politically correct" if I may say so myself!
But thankfully kids have now stopped those kinds of games and are now playing peaceful playstation :-)
(Don't get me wrong, I love playstation!)
The Second Intermediate Period (approx. 1782–1570 BC)
Division, once again! Does it every end?
So now the Syrians and Palestinians that had migrated gained power and gave rise to the Hyksos kings. And then even when the Hyksos allowed Egyptians to be kings, they were only puppet rulers and had to do as they’re told.
One of those puppet kings however was not very "puppet-y" at all. He and most Egyptians had had enough of these immigrants taking over!
So he called forth the Egyptians to war against the Hyksos King Apopis.
King Seqenenre Tao died in battle with head wounds. His son, Kamose, took over and managed to take back most of Egypt. But then Kamose died young and his brother Ahmose I continued battling the Hyksos until they left completely.
This signals the end of this turbulent intermediate period, and the start of a luxurious time in ancient Egyptian civilization.
The New Kingdom (approx. 1570–1070 BC)
After so many wars and so much chaos, the ancient Egyptians thought it would be smart to have a full-time army. Instead of conscripting men when they needed them they would have well-trained, fully-armed soldiers ready to fight.
They also reinforced their borders and even expanded them.
With this change plus a few other smart moves, the New Kingdom gave rise to an Egyptian empire.
Some of the most famous pharaohs come from this period, such as Rameses II (image), King Tut, and Queen Nefertiti.
Another drastic change in ancient Egyptian civilization that took place during the New Kingdom was the introduction of a type of early monotheism.
King Akhenaten flipped everything upside down when he changed the religion of Egypt from worshipping hundreds of gods to just one... the sun disc Aten. Not too many Egyptians were happy with this.
One of the most important battles of the New Kingdom was the battle of Kadesh. The ancient Egyptians fought the Hittites for years over control of the area, which had an essential trade route of the near east.
Other battles took place in the New Kingdom with ancient Libyans and the Sea People. But the Egyptians did well both on land and on sea.
Even though the New Kingdom had made a great empire and most of the battles had been won, the ancient Egyptian civilization began to be riddled with division, invasions and economic problems. Ancient Egypt started to decline and slowly fade away.
The Third Intermediate Period (approx. 1080–525 BC)
The trouble began when once again Egypt fell to divided rule. Economic problems weakened the unification and kings from different regions fought - this exposed Egypt to foreign invasions.
Sure enough, Nubia eventually conquered a divided northern Egypt. And to make matters worse, the Assyrians were also expanding in the near east.
The Assyrians ended the Nubian dynasties and their king became the king of a once again unified Egypt. The Assyrians chose to do as the Hyksos did, and enlisted Egyptians as puppet kings.
But then the Assyrian empire began falling, as empires usually do. Who was there to pick up the pieces? Another, very powerful empire - the Persian.
This marks the start of the late period, the last of the dynastic periods.
The Late Period (approx. 525–332 BC)
The Persian dynasties saw a revolt from the Egyptians. And although there were moments when the Egyptians had regained control of Egypt, these were short-lived. Ultimately, the Persians kept the power until the coming of none other than...
...Alexander the Great.
He came to Egypt in 332 BC, and the Egyptians had loved him and thought of him as their liberator. But in the end, the Greeks took over Egypt and started the Greco-Roman period - the fall of the ancient Egyptian civilization.
Foreign rule continued all the way to 1953 AD, until the Egyptian revolution and the establishment of the first Egyptian presidency.