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Ancient Egypt’s New Kingdom (key events from 1550 BCE to 1075 BCE)

Specialists in Egyptian History have divided the time period of Ancient Egypt, covering 4,500 BCE to 664 BCE, into eight periods: Naqada (prewriting), Old kingdom, First Intermediate kingdom, Middle kingdom, Second Intermediate Period, New kingdom and the Third Intermediate Period. In this article we look at the key events of the New Kingdom.

The “New kingdom” period covers between the 16th century BCE and 11th century BCE It covers the 18th 19th and 20th dynasty. It was the most prosperous time in the history of Egypt. The 18th dynasty included some of the most popular pharaohs in Egypt history. pharaohs like Tutankhamun, Thutmose III, Ahmose I. The history of the Egyptian empire won’t be complete without these men.

One of the few surviving three-dimensional representations of Amenhotep I contemporary to his reign, now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Three-dimensional representation of Amenhotep I contemporary to his reign, which can be seen at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The founder of the 18th-century dynasty, Ahmose I ruled between 1549 BCE and 1524 BCE. He had a turbulent childhood due to the rule of Lower Egypt by foreign rulers and the imminent threat that the Hyksos rulers (the foreign rulers) would also conquer Upper Egypt. His father Seqenenre Tao died when he was only seven. His elder brother Kamose died from an unknown sickness after just three years on the throne as pharaoh. Even with all these challenges, Ahmose was able to lay the foundation for the New Kingdom and conquer as well as expel the Hyskos from the delta region. He was able to restore the Egyptian political structure by reinstalling the Theban rule in the delta region. He also expanded his territory into Nubia and Canaan. He also found time to construct a pyramid. Ahmose I was succeeded by Amenhotep I (meaning “Amun is satisfied”), who reigned from 1524BCE; followed by Thutmose I (who reigned 1503 BCE to 1493 BCE).

Ahmose I Family Tree

The daughter of Thutmose I, and the wife of his successor Thutmose II, Queen Hatshepsut is best remembered as the woman with the longest rule in the history of the Egyptian empire. She reigned between 1479 BCE to 1458 BCE. She strengthened Egypt by engaging and expanding cross border trading and commerce. Her throne name (her prenomen) was a composition of five Royal names which followed the convention of all native Ancient Egyptian Pharoahs:

  • Horus name: Wesretkau, “Mighty of Kas”
  • Nebty name: Wadjrenput, “She of the Two Ladies, Flourishing of years”
  • Golden Horus: Netjeretkhau, “Divine of appearance” (Netjeret is the feminine form of netery meaning ‘godly’ or ‘divine’, and khau, ‘appearances’)
  • Praenomen: Maatkare, “Truth [Ma’at] is the Ka of Re”
  • Nomen: Khnumt-Amun Hatshepsut, “Joined with Amun, Foremost of Noble Ladies”

The Nebty name (meaning “two ladies”) related to the goddess of Upper and Lower Egypt: Nekhbet, represented by the vulture and patron diety of Upper Egypt; and Wadjet, represented by the cobra and patron diety of Lower Egypt.

Her successor, Thutmose III, was popularly known for building the military strength of the empire and leading the army to great success. He is widely referred to as the ‘Napoleon of Egypt.’

The next king worthy of mentioning here is Akhenaten I whose previous name was Amenhotep IV. His mother was Tiye. She was the first cohort and the great wife of Pharaoh Amenhotep III. She was the matriarch of the Amarna family which produced many kings in Egypt. Akhenaten changed the Egyptian religion from polytheistic (belief in many gods) to henotheistic (belief in a single diety but acknowledging the existence of other gods). He was the ‘God ‘ called Aten which he began worshiping in the 4th year of his reign. He reigned between 1353 BCE to 1336 BCE. His period can be remembered for the flourish of Egyptian arts, music, and drama.

We have already talked about one woman here but there was another powerful woman from the ‘New kingdom’, Queen Nefretiti. Nefertiti was the great wife of Akhenaten. She played an important role in her husband worship of the god Aten. She reigned between 1370 BCE and 1330 BCE. Her reign remains a subject of debate among different historians. Queen Nefertiti and her husband ruled Egypt at what was arguably the wealthiest period in its history. Around the 12th year of her husband reign as pharaoh, historical record show she was elevated to the position of co-regent by her husband, Akhenaten. This made her enjoy unprecedented power even after his death. She and her husband were succeeded by their son Tutankhamun.

Tutankhamun was best known for his rejection of his father monotheistic religion and the restoration of the traditional religion of the worship of Amun and the restoration of its priests. He also abandoned Amarna and returned to Thebes the former capital. Tutankhamun was one of the most loved kings. He was worshiped like a god and honored with cult-like followership. He must have died early considering the size of his tomb which was small compared to his size, achievements and the kind of followership he enjoyed in his lifetime. Although the cause of his death was not officially stated in his tomb, a scientific conclusion was reached that ‘King Tut ‘ died of gangrene as a result of breaking his leg; by a team of scientists working with Egyptian archeologists Zahi Havass in 2005.

At the tail-end of the 18th dynasty, the power and influence of the pharaohs had begun to wane. This was accelerated by the apparent lack of interest in foreign politics by Akhenaten. Egypt left the Hittites to expand their kingdom and extend their influence into Palestine and Syria. This influence made things a little difficult for the 19th-century dynasty of Seti I and his son Ramses II.

Ramses II the Great ruled between 1279 to 1213 BCE. His main focus was to recover lost territories of the Levant that was held by Egypt in the 18th dynasty. His campaign of conquest led to the ‘Battle of Kedesh. This battle took place on the bank of the Orontes river where the Hittite king Muwatalli II planned the first ever recorded military ambush in history, against Ramses II.

Fortunately for the Egyptians, Ramses II as able to turn the tide of the war with the help Canaan mercenaries who were Egypt’s allies. There was no clear winner after the war with both sides laying claim to winning. This led to the signing of the peace treaty between both nations. He had lots of children as a result of having a large number of wives and concubines. He was succeeded by his son Ramses III. His many offspring probably led to erosion of central rule, as various children would have scrambled for a piece of power, wealth, responsibilities or all three.

Ramses III was the last great pharaoh of the new kingdom. He reigned between 1186 BCE and 1155 BCE. His long rule in the midst of political uprisings and invasion attacks led to increasing economic difficulties. This brought internal strife and contributed to the collapse of the 20th dynasty. Ramses III fought a lot of wars. In his 6 and 11 years as king, he fought against the Libyan tribesmen in the western Delta region of Egypt. He also fought sea pirates also known as sea people twice, and he defeated them.

Ancient Egyptians were men of culture, tradition, and religion. One of their many traditions included respect for the dead. The cult of the dead and lifelong preparation for the afterlife were the main focus of the ancient Egyptian religion. The discovery of the valley of the kings and other monuments in the West Bank are a testimony to this obsession. The valley of kings (kV) was the burial site of the Pharaohs. Although their burial was protected by the best security possible at the time, to protect the burial sites from grave robbers, only a few of these sites escaped being robbed by these grave robbers.

The Valley of kings also known as wadi -el -Muluk (the Place of truth) in Arabic is a valley in Egypt where tombs were built for the Pharaohs and powerful nobles in the Egyptian kingdom. The valley was used between approximately 1535 BCE to 1075 BCE. This time also coincides with the timeline of pharaohs XVIII to XX dynasty. It has about 60 tombs. The first tomb is the tomb of Thutmose I and ending with Ramses X or XI. The official name of this valley was The Great Field.

The acronym kV (Kings Valley ) is used to describe tombs located in the valley of kings. Each tomb in the Kings Valley has been assigned a specific sequential number ‘ kV number.’ Those located in the West Valley are known by the WV equivalent for easy identification. The tombs are numbered in accordance with their discovery. This means that those that were discovered first in modern times were numbered first. The numbering starts with Ramses VII (kV 1) and ending with Tutankhamun (kV 62). kV 5 was just rediscovered recently.

Most of the tombs in the eastern part of the Kings Valley are open, and this is where you will find most tourists as well. KV5 is the largest of all the tombs. It was built for the sons of Ramses II. It is the largest of all the tombs. It comprises of 67 burial chambers. The most popular of all the tombs is the tomb of King Tutankhamun (KV 62). The tomb was discovered by the archaeologist Howard Carter on November 4, 1922. The clearance and conservation work continued to 1932. Tutankhamun’s tomb was the first to be seen that was to an extent largely intact even though it had been visited by grave robbers. It was also the last important discovery in the valley. The wealth of his grave notwithstanding, king Tutankhamun was to a large extent a minor king and possibly other burial sites had better treasures.

The infamous term ‘curse of the pharaohs ‘ which has become a modern legend came about when other archaeological teams led by Carter and other archaeologists contracted lethal local viruses. They contracted these viruses through food and animals, mostly insects.

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