The Age of the Old Kingdom, generally characterized as an era of peace and prosperity, represents the culmination of Egyptian civilization in its material and spiritual components. The centralized state becomes stronger, the irrigation channel network is amplified, the crafts are well developed, facilitating trade links with neighboring areas (Nubia, Libya, Syria), and the first masterpieces appear in the field of art and literature. Modern historiography generally associates the Old Kingdom of Egypt with the pyramid period. It is to be noted that out of the five centuries of the epoch, only one is of the great pyramids, the rest of the range including ascending or descending phases, whose content can be delimited and defined, in part, by the evolution of the funerary architecture of the pharaohs.
The founder of the Third Dynasty, Djoser, was noted for the strengthening of royal authority in the interior, as well as war expeditions for the procurement of raw materials (the copper from the Sinai Peninsula, gold from Nubia), cattle flocks and prisoners. Perhaps the name of Djoser may be related to the annexation by Egypt of the lower Nubia. As a result of these activities and successes, the capital of the united kingdom, Memphis, was strengthened by strong walls and adorned by temples dedicated to the protector goddesses of the Dynasty and the State. His tomb, the Sakarach steppe pyramid, a funerary complex built by tradition by the royal architect Imhotep, illustrates the use of the stone in this extensive architectural work, the technical and socio-economic progress achieved by the Egyptian society at the beginning of the Old Kingdom. The impressive amount of work required to lift these monuments can not be conceived without a high level of concentration and organization of available human forces and large agri-food resources. Equally, these monuments certify the existence of a political and ideological program designed to reinforce and emphasize royal power. The second progressive stage in the history of the Old Kingdom corresponds to the reign of Pharaoh Snefru at the beginning of the fourth dynasty (about 2700 BC), a pharaoh that can be considered the continuation of the political and ideological program initiated by Djoser.
***All images are mine
From the information contained in Stela in Palermo, we know that Snefru organized an expedition during which he brought 40 cedar woods from Lebanon. He also raised fortresses at the border and organized two victorious expeditions in Nubia and Libya, where important war brooms (prisoners and cattle flocks) were brought. This pharaoh also carries out a constructive activity (two pyramids at Sakarach and Meidum). During the period of the ancient kingdom, Egypt will establish privileged relations with Byblos. Egyptian inscriptions and royal inscriptions discovered in the temple of the Baalit goddess give these ties a great deal of significance. The presence of an Egyptian community in this so important commercial port for Egypt is also not excluded. The peak of Pharaoh’s power in the Old Kingdom period, expressed by huge funerary buildings (the pyramids, the Giza sphinx), reaches the fourth dynasty in the Keops, Kefren and Mikerinos Pharaohs (about 2650-2500 BC). They prove the great political and economic power of the pharaohs, their authority over the whole territory of Egypt, the special development of crafts and arts, and the military capability to lead war expeditions beyond the kingdom. With the gigantism and harmony of construction, the pyramids symbolize at the same time the quintessence of the pharaohs world, its socio-political and aesthetic ideal, the greatness of Egypt, and the vision of the ancient Egyptians about nature, society, state, and themselves. The Pharaohs of the Fourth Dynasty are called the Sun god, Ra, the supreme divinity of the Egyptian kingdom. Among the pharaohs of the 6th Dynasty who followed a similar political and military program, there were, at the end of the 25th centuries, Pepi I and Pepi II. The first sought to restore and strengthen Egyptian domination in the Sinai Peninsula mining region, as well as in Nubia, penetrating into this last region until the second cataract. Soon followed a gradual weakening of the central power administration and the intensification of internal conflicts together with the intensification of separatist movements initiated by nomarh leaders.
The first intermediate period (2280-2060 BC)
In the following period, Egypt undergoes a severe internal crisis, characterized during the VII-VIII dynasties, especially by disaggregating the state’s political unity. It is a period of anarchy of the Egyptian aristocracy against the royal authority, but it has failed to establish a lasting power. The immediate result was the emergence of small provincial provinces unable to withstand the attacks of nomads in the vicinity of Egypt. The country’s defense capability has declined as a result of the frequent fraternal struggles sustained by the heads of these kingdoms. Under these conditions, the Delta was systematically robbed by Arabian pastors. From the provincial kingdoms, around 2240 BC, the one who had its center at Herakleopolis, in the Faium oasis, was imposed. Because of their increased power and military strength, principles included in the IX-X dynasties exerted their authority, even nominally, on a part of Egypt in rivalry with the governor of the Tebouman residence with Hermonthis residence, which represented another power pole. Later, towards the end of the twenty-first century, the princes of Teba ascended including dynasty XI. The struggles for supremacy between the two kingdoms continued until 2050 BC, when Mentuhotep I, violating the rival forces and conquering the city of Heracleopolis, managed to reunite Egypt in favor of the Tebalan kingdom.