Pre-dynastic and Old Kingdom

Pre-dynastic Egypt

What we now know as ancient Egypt wasn't always one country, ruled over by one monarch (pharaoh). Before the 4th millennium BC, the land of Egypt was covered by many different nomadic tribes, with different cultures and traditions. From about 4000BC though, these diverse tribes began to conglomerate together. The first kings of Egypt are of unknown origin, and we cannot be sure exactly how many of them there were, as the archaeological evidence has either been obliterated or not yet discovered. From what we can gather, there were 3 dynasties (0-2), the heads of which probably came from a place called "Thinis", near Abydos (in Middle Egypt). Because of this, these monarchs are called the Thinite Kings.

The Old Kingdom, c.2686 BC - 2181 BC

During the Old Kingdom, Egypt really came of age. Kingship as a concept became more crystallised, with an increased emphasis upon the divine nature of pharaoh - he was the reincarnation of Horus and (from the 5th dynasty onwards) the son of the sun god Re. Writing was developed too, with hieroglyphics becoming the standard method of written communication. Technological improvements also allowed larger and more elaborate structures, the culmination of this being the construction of the pyramids.

The Old Kingdom comprised dynasties 3 - 6. However, the advancements under the 3rd, 4th and 5th dynasties couldn't continue in the 6th, which saw increasing decentralisation. Thus, by the end of the Old Kingdom in c.2181BC, Egypt was politically fragmented and anarchy reigned. Let us know look at the Old Kingdom in greater detail. Remember, all the dates are approximate (different books tend to have different dates) and BC. Important aspects (e.g. certain pyramids) will be shown on their own pages.

The first pharaoh of the Old Kingdom was Sanakhte (c.2686 - 2668). Little is known about him, but historians reckon he became king by marrying the female heir of the last king of the second dynasty. Although today very much in the shadow of his probable brother, Djoser, he did play an important role in extracting the future wealth of Egypt by starting to mine the turquoise and copper that was abundant in the Sinai desert. It is not known where he is buried.

Djoser Following the death of Sanakhte, Djoser (c.2668 - 2649) acceded to the Egyptian throne. It is thought that he extended Egypt as far south as the First Cataract (Aswan), but is now best known for producing what is now recognised as the first totally stone building in history - the Step Pyramid of Saqqara. There are no surviving remains of Djoser, except perhaps for a mummified left foot found in the Step Pyramid - in all likelihood, his body was torn to pieces by ancient tomb robbers looking for jewels.

Djoser was succeeded by Sekhemkhet (c.2649 - 2643). For many years very little was known about him, but in 1951, the Egyptian archaeologist Zakaria Goneim discovered an unfinished step pyramid at Saqqara belonging to Sekhemkhet. Presumably, the king's early death stopped the construction work. Had it been completed, it would have been one step taller than Djoser's (230ft \ 70m). From the treasures found within, it was assumed that it wasn't robbed in antiquity, as with so many Egyptian tombs. A sarcophagus was found, and was opened before the world's press a few years later. However, there was no body within.

Khaba (c.2643 - 2637) followed Sekhemkhet on the throne. He built the Layer Pyramid 1 mile south of the Giza plateau, which was never completed and therefore in all probability never used. Once again, no corpse has been found.

The last king of the 3rd dynasty was Huni (c.2637 - 2613). Mystery still prevails as to whether he build a pyramid at all. Some attribute the pyramid of Meydum to him, but the evidence for this is shaky. His mummy has never been found.

Next: The 4th dynasty