Ancient Egypt Timeline — Charts and Interesting Tidbits
Egypt is a fascinating civilization and a prominent setting for my books, and I thought it would be interesting to put simple graphs for readers to get a sense of the scale and timeline of the civilization and its rulers. Some time ago, I wrote a post on Roman Emperors and their Rule and it became very popular, and this one tackles Egypt.
The Roman empire is a fascinating period in history. We mostly read about the "famous times" of Caesar, Antony, and…jaypenner.com
Most of us know Egypt is an ancient civilization and we’ve heard of some famous rulers like Ramesses or Tutankhamun or Khufu (Cheops), and yet few have a good idea of where these rulers were in the timeline, how long they ruled, and who else was notable. I will always remember something I read long ago (Unfortunately I don’t remember the source) that…
When Julius Caesar and Cleopatra were doing a boat trip along the Nile and saw the Pyramids, they were looking at monuments that were more ancient to them as they (Caesar and Cleopatra) are to us!
This series of charts here lays out a chronology of ancient Egypt with some interesting facts. There are tons of websites with details on individuals or dynasties but few that capture the essence by the numbers.
The key source for the chronology and the list is The Metropolitan Museum of Art with minor adjustments from me to account for the final names in the Ptolemaic rule. Please be aware that there are many disputes in Egyptian chronology and you will find different lists and sources with slightly different dates. More notes below.
- The timeline begins with Zanakt in ~2650 B.C. and ends with Cleopatra (Cleopatra VII Philopater) in 30 B.C. The 1st and 2nd dynasties, starting from around 5,500 B.C. are not included, as the more prominent Pharaonic rule and defined chronology began around Zanakt’s time.
- The exact year of ascension and duration of many kings is disputed, and in some cases, there was more than one ruler at the same time either in a co-regency or ruling different parts of the country. The rule of the Hyksos in Lower Egypt (remember: Lower Egypt is the North of Egypt and Upper Egypt is South of Egypt) is a good example where Egypt had two rulers at the same time, not in a co-regency.
- There may have been other rulers that we are unaware of and have not been recorded (or the records have been lost)
- Women rulers are also termed “King”
Chronology From the 3rd to the 30th Dynasty
From Zanakt to Cleopatra there were about 190-200 rulers over the span of ~2,500 years. This chronology does not include the Hyksos rulers of Egypt as we have scant and unreliable information about their names or individual rule. The vertical bars signify the beginning of a rule and therefore the gap in the timeline after the bar is because the ruler sat on the throne a long time — Pepi II being one prime example. You will notice a rather unusually large gap in the 1700–1500 range and we will talk about that later below.
The “Top 10” Egyptian Pharaohs by Years of Rule
It is impressive that we know of at least 10 rulers who ruled for nearly 50 years or more, with Pepi II taking the honors at 95!
Pepi II: Yes, records indicate that Pepi II, who ruled from around 2240 B.C., sat on the throne for nearly a century. It appears he lived for over a hundred years and was quite likely crowned when he about 6 years old. Let’s ponder that for a moment — this man was King practically since his earliest memories, and died being one. He knew no life except being a ruler. Read more on Encyclopaedia Britannica
Ramesses II: Also called Ramesses the Great, considered by many as the greatest Egyptian Pharaoh. He ruled for over 65 years, lived to be 96, had over 200 wives and concubines, over 150 children, expanded Egyptian territory beyond its boundaries, built incredible monuments at Abu Simbel and Luxor, and took Egypt to its zenith. A truly impressive man and ruler. While some tales and movies indicate that Ramesses is the Pharaoh in the Biblical Exodus, there is no archeological evidence to suggest that this may be true. Read more on Ancient.eu.
Thutmose III: Also known as Thutmosis III. A powerful ruler from the New Kingdom of Egypt, Thutmose continued the expansionist policies started by his co-regent and predecessor Hatshepsut — the famous woman Pharaoh. Thutmose would prove to be a superb military strategist and commander and is considered one of the great Pharaohs of Egypt. Read more on Ancient.eu
Some of the other famous Pharaohs and Kings like Amenhotep, Akhenaten, Tutankhamun, Cambyses, Alexander the Great, or Cleopatra don’t appear in our top 10 list!
Number of Rulers and Decades of Rule
It is impressive when you think that 70+ rulers remained in power for over 20 years, especially considering the fleeting nature of power. One of the salient features of Egyptian chronology is the fact that it appears most rulers died of natural causes, and there’s not much by the way of coups and back-stabbing. But then it is very well possible that the records kept such incidences secret and we just don’t know.
On the flip side, over 100 Kings (I refer to women rulers as Kings as well) lasted a lot less.
Famous Rulers and their Appearance in the Chronology
The chart above should give you a good indication of where the “Rich and the Famous” appeared on the timeline. Let’s talk about a few.
Khufu — called Cheops by the Greeks — was the builder of the Great Pyramid of Giza, an astonishing monument that has withstood the ravages of times and continues to be one of the greatest (if not the) symbols of the ancient world.
Amenemhat III — was a powerful 12th dynasty ruler who is known to have brought the Middle Kingdom to great economic prosperity. His reign was known to be relatively peaceful.
Ahmose I — was the first ruler of the powerful New Kingdom of Egypt, an era that took Egypt to its zenith. Ahmose likely drove the Hyksos (possibly Asiatic/Semitic people; their source has never been conclusively established) out of Egypt. He was the son (or grandson) of Sequenenre Tao who, it appears, was the first Pharaoh to take on the Hyksos with some measure of success and died fighting them. Ahmose plays a prominent role in my next novel, The Wrath of God
Hatshepsut — the famous female Pharaoh with her spectacular mortuary temple. Hatshepsut came to power as the regent when Thutmose III was too young. But she maintained her grip and eventually assumed the title of Pharaoh (and even dressed as a man), not relinquishing it to Thutmose. Eventually, once Thutmose became sole Pharaoh, he had Hatshepsut’s name erased from most places.
Amenhotep III — One of the most accomplished Pharaoh’s of the New Kingdom, Amenhotep took Egypt to great heights in terms of architectural splendor and military prowess. Read up on the interesting Amarna letters on Amenhotep’s foreign relations. Amenhotep’s son was the (in)famous Akhenaten.
Tutankhamun (original name Tutankhaten)— If it were not for the astonishing tomb of King Tut (discovered by Howard Carter), this King would have remained practically unknown. Compared to many other Kings, Tut was quite unremarkable. He came to the throne quite young at nine, married his sister Ankhesenamun, as was custom, did a little in terms of building projects, and then died before his 20s likely as a result of an accident (there’s much speculation). He did play a role in reversing his heretic father Akhenaten’s practices. But it was his tomb, which probably wasn’t even close to the great rulers, that captivated the world’s attention on how a Pharaoh’s tomb could possibly be, and made “King Tut” world famous.
Alexander the Great — Alexander conquered Egypt, established Alexandria the city, and desired to be buried in Amon (Siwa Oasis). But Alexander never stayed and ruled Egypt as he turned East towards India and then died in Babylon. But Alexander’s general, Ptolemy (Ptolemy Soter), became the satrap of Egypt and then established the Ptolemaic dynasty that ruled for over 250 years until its end by the death of Cleopatra VII.
Some Famous Events over the course of Time
- The Pyramid Builders — the most prominent and long-lasting pyramids were built in the Old Kingdom. For whatever reason, the Pyramid craze seems to have declined later on, or those that were built were simply not durable. The tombs changed in style from pyramids to intricate underground/cliff-side structures.
- General Strife of the Second Intermediate Period— somewhere around 1700 BC, Egypt descended into a period of general weaknesses in centralized rule and allowed incursion of the Hyksos (whose origins are debated, but quite likely Asiatics from Canaan). We have scant records for this period and lack of clarity on the rulers, their ruling periods, and what was happening during this time period. Egypt emerged from this when Sequenenre Tao took on the Hyksos, his son (or grandson) Kamose upped the ante…
- Rise of the New Kingdom …And then finally Ahmose (Kamose’s brother and son or grandson of Sequenenre Tao), the first ruler of the New Kingdom successfully established Egyptian rule over the land by driving out the Hyksos.
- Zenith of the Egyptian Empire — a period of expansion, with strong Pharaohs like Hatshepsut, Thutmose III, Amenhotep III and Rameses II who solidified their control and built a powerful empire that stretched South, East, and North of Egypt.
- Late Bronze Age Collapse — this period saw the broad decline of most bronze age civilizations — from Egypt to Mycenae (Ancient Greece) to Hittites and Mitannis. There are many theories as to what happened, from invasion by the mysterious “Sea Peoples” to natural disasters like earthquakes and droughts. With this, after the reign of Rameses III, the glorious period of native Egypt rule pretty much came to end.
- Persian Rule — Egypt became of a vassal state of the vast and influential Persian empire, with notable Persian rulers exerting their dominance under Xerxes, Cambyses, and Darius. The Persian rule (technically the Achaemenid Empire) came to end by the defeat of Darius by Alexander the Great.
- Macedonian and Ptolemaic Dynasties — Egypt came under the Macedonians under Alexander the Great. After Alexander’s death, Ptolemy I Soter, one of Alexander’s generals, began the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt until its eventual fall to the Roman empire. My current thriller, The Atlantis Papyrus, touches on several interesting events around Ptolemy’s founding of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt. This dynasty contributed significantly to the richness of Egyptian heritage through the development of major cities like Alexandria and Heraclion, construction of temples and monuments, the establishment of the Library of Alexandria, and expanding trade.
- End of the Ancient Egyptian Rule — Cleopatra VII Philopater (yes, the famous Cleopatra) committed suicide in 30 B.C. after being defeated by Octavian (later first Roman emperor Augustus Caesar), finally bringing an end to the Ancient Egyptian chronology. Egypt became a state of the Roman empire.
The Extent of Native Ruling
I’m probably playing fast and loose with this one, but the general classification of “Native” is broadly Egyptian rulers who were locals to the land and not clearly distinguishable external people.
As it’s evident, local Kings ruled Egypt for the vast majority of the time. But Egypt had at least four other dynasties — The Hyksos (not shown in the chart, but they ruled Lower Egypt for about 200 years), The Nubians, The Persians, The Macedonians/Ptolemies.
Unlike the Persians who treated Egypt more as a vassal state with their representatives or puppet kings (though Cambyses appears to have made some effort to integrate into Egypt in his early years before abandoning all civility later on), the Ptolemies treated Egypt as home. They took on Egyptian customs, and firmly established themselves as Pharaohs. The Ptolemaic dynasty finally came to end with the advent of the Roman empire.
Average Rules by Dynasty
This is just a simple interesting graph that shows which dynasty rulers stayed on the throne the longest on average, and it turns out it’s the 12th dynasty (ca. 1980 to 1800 B.C.). It was also a dynasty that ruled with relative peace before the tumultuous first intermediate period started and the Hyksos arrived on the scene.
Then it’s the 27th dynasty (the Persians!) from around 525 B.C. to 404 B.C.
Egypt, like many other great civilizations, is an amazingly rich and interesting topic for further reading. I would recommend spending time on Ancient.eu or Wikipedia on any of the related topics or follow the links I have.
If you liked this, please take a moment to share so others with similar interests can enjoy the work. And if you’re a history buff, may I interest you to The Atlantis Papyrus? It is a thriller set in the ancient world and includes Alexander and Ptolemy, with some interesting facts woven into the story. My next work, The Wrath of God, takes place during Ahmose’s time.
Do you have any suggestions on how to make this better and more informative? Please let me know. Read more of my work at https://jaypenner.com