Old Kingdom

The Old Kingdom (2686–2333 or 2181 BCE) was a time of great royal wealth and economic power.

This period included the third to the sixth dynasties of Egyptian pharaohs, and it is best known for pyramid building.

Because of that, the Old Kingdom is commonly known as the Age of the Pyramids.

Formerly independent regions of Egypt, now known as nomes, were firmly unified under the centralized power of the pharaoh.

Former local rulers had become governors and tax collectors.

The people of Egypt believed their pharaoh was a god, and that he ensured the stability of natural cycles, especially the annual flooding of the Nile because their crops depended on it.

The dynasties and pharaohs of the Old Kingdom:

  • Pharaoh Djoser, who belonged to the third dynasty and ruled around 2691 and 2625 BCE, built the first pyramid which was also the first stone building in Egypt.It was the Step Pyramid at Saqqara (the necropolis in Memphis), and it was constructed as an extension added to a more traditional tomb and stepped monument.

    The pyramid was probably designed by Djoser’s vizier and high priest, Imhotep.

  • The Fourth Dynasty (around 2613-2494 BCE) of the Old Kingdom of Egypt is often referred to as a “golden age.” It was a period of prosperity and peace.Furthermore, this was the first time that trade with other countries is documented.
  • King Sneferu of the fourth dynasty contributed to the evolution of pyramid building.Since he wasn’t happy with his first pyramid in Meidum, he constructed another two – the Bent Pyramid at the royal necropolis of Dahshur near Cairo, and the Red Pyramid at the northern part of the same necropolis.

    The Red Pyramid was not only the most substantial pyramid that pharaoh Sneferu has built at Dashur – it is the third largest pyramid that the Egyptians have even built in their three-millennium long history.

  • Pharaoh Sneferu’s son, Khufu – also known as Cheops – has constructed the famous Great Pyramid of Giza, and his son Khafra built the second Giza pyramid and the Sphinx (although it is possible that it was Khafra’s brother, Djedefra, who actually built the Sphinx).The smallest pyramid in Giza was built by their descendant, king Menkaure, also known as Mykerinos.
  • Priorities were somewhat different during the rule of the fifth dynasty.Pyramids were not as colossal as those in the previous dynasty, but now they had the Pyramid Texts – the oldest known ancient Egyptian religious texts, carved onto the sarcophagi and subterranean walls of pyramids at Saqqara.

    These texts gave us valuable information about the earliest funerary beliefs and bureaucracy of the Old Kingdom.

    Rather than building massive pyramids, the Fifth dynasty rulers constructed a number of temples in Abusir, dedicated to the cult of the sun god Ra.

  • The sixth dynasty had some serious challenges to deal with. The economy of Egypt had changed, and nomarchs(the governors of the local nomes) became wealthier and more powerful than the kings.These nomarchs started ruling their regions independently and even created local dynasties.
  • One of the most important factors that led to the fall of the Old Kingdom was a severe drought that hit the region, which caused famine and disease.
  • The last pharaoh of the Old Dynasty who ruled the unified country was Pepi II.Decades after his death, the kingdom slipped into civil wars and collapsed, and the First Intermediate Period began.

Q&A

  • What is the Old Kingdom particularly well known for?
    It is known for its colossal pyramids.
  • Which pharaoh built the first pyramid in Egypt?
    It was Pharaoh Djoser of the third dynasty.
  • The famous pyramid builders, Khufu, Khafra and Menkaure, belonged to which dynasty of the Egyptian pharaohs?
    They belonged to the fourth dynasty.
  • What caused the collapse of the Old Dynasty?
    Several factors, including severe climate change, led to the end of this period.