Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


First Empires

ca. 7000 B.C. - 200 A.D.


The Middle East was the cradle of mankind's first advanced civilizations. In Egypt and the Fertile Crescent, which extends in an arc from the north of the Arabian Peninsula east through Palestine to Mesopotamia, the first state structures emerged in parallel with the further development of animal husbandry, agriculture, trade, and writing. The first great empires, such as those of the Egyptian pharaohs, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, and the Persians, evolved at the beginning of the third millennium B.C., out of small communities usually clustered around a city. Similar development also occurred on the Indian subcontinent and in China, where quite distinct early advanced civilizations took shape as well.


The golden mask of Tutankhamun, a jewel of ancient Egyptian artwork,
 showing the pharaoh in a ceremonial robe decorated with the heraldic animals, the vulture and cobra, ca. 1340 B.C.


see also:

The Art of the Ancient Kingdoms

Egyptian religion (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Egyptian Goddess (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Illustration from the Book of the Dead


Ancient Egypt

CA. 29OO-332 B.C.


Ancient Egypt's civilization developed on the fertile strip of land created by the Nile in the North African desert. As a result of its relative geographical isolation, Egypt's development differed, in some respects greatly, from that of the rest of the Near East. Although Egypt was subject to outside influences as well, it appears that the principal defining characteristics of its culture remained homogeneous throughout the course of its long history. Its history is characterized by a series of ruling dynasties.


The Predynastic Period

The upper and lower parts of Egypt were united as early as the predynastic period, creating a single political entity.


2 Votive depicting Narmer, the unifier of the
Kingdoms, a prisoner, and the Horus Falcon,
ca. 3000 B.C.

Egypt is located in the 4 Nile Valley, bordered on the East and West by desert.

The yearly 1 flooding which occurs between July and October deposits the fertile silt that is the basis of productive 3 agriculture on the land bordering the river.

The country is divided into Upper Egypt, where the Nile flows through a narrow valley, and Lower Egypt, where the river and its tributaries form a broad delta before flowing into the Mediterranean Sea.

In the early period, ca. 2900 B.C., two warring, independent kingdoms developed in the two areas. According to tradition, it was 2 â Narmer, a Predynastic ruler of Upper Egypt, who conquered the Nile Delta and unified the two kingdoms, establishing the new capital and powerful Memphis on the border of the two. Aha ruled the first dynasty, ca. 2900 B.C.

The separation between Upper and Lower Egypt into autonomous regions occurred repeatedly throughout Egypt's history. Whenever central power began to decline, the individual regions would exert their independence.



1 Nilometer used to measure the high-water mark of floods since 2000 B.C.
Sailing and agriculture
4 View of the Nile showing the bordering agricultural lands



The Ruling Dynasties

The chronology of the Egyptian rulers before the arrival of
Alexander the Great in 332 B.C. is divided into 31 dynasties.



Early Dynastic Period

(1 - 2  Dynasty)   2900-2660

Ancient Kingdom

(3 - 6  Dynasty)   2660-2160

1st Intermediate Period

(7 -10  Dynasty)   2160-2040

Middle Kingdom

(11-12 Dynasty)   2040-1785

2nd Intermediate Period

(13-17 Dynasty)   1785-1552

New Kingdom

(18-20 Dynasty)   1552-1070

3rd Intermediate Period

(21-24 Dynasty)   1070-712

Late Dynastic Period

(25-31 Dynasty)   712-332




"Gift of the Nile"

In the fifth century B.C. the Greek historian and traveler Herodotus described Egypt as "a gift of the Nile": "It is certain, however, that now they gather in fruit from the earth with less labor than any other men, for they have no labor in breaking up furrows with a plough, nor in hoeing, nor in any other of those labors which other men have about a crop; but [they wait until] when the river has come up of itself and watered their fields and, after watering, has left."

From the History of Herodotus



The Ancient Kingdom

In the time of the Ancient Kingdom, the most famous pyramids were built. They testify to the pronounced hierarchical character of the Egyptian society.


Ever since the birth of Egyptian culture, the throne was closely linked to religion. At first each pharaoh was considered to be a 9 representative of the heavenly god Horu. From the fifth dynasty onward, however, the successive pharaohs were revered as the sons of the sun god Re.

9 Pharaoh Chephren with the Horus Falcon, ca. 2500 B.C.

The unification of Upper and Lower Egypt was symbolically reenacted every time there was an accession to the throne, when the pharaoh was crowned with the double crown of both kingdoms. The ruler regularly levied taxes. These depended on the size of the fieds and the 7 amount of  livestock each family owned, furthermore, the population was required to absolve communal duties during the dry and flood periods. These included the digging of canals and dams as well as the construction of the royal tombs.

Aside from the pharaoh, the priests, 8 high officials, and provincial governors owned the majority of property. They were thus able to exert great political influence in the kingdom, particularly as many of these offices became hereditary with the passage of time.

7 Wood model of a livestock counting, 1990 B.C.

Sitting scribe

8 Sitting scribe, ca. 2500 B.C.

One of the most significant pharaohs of the Old Kingdom was King Djoser of the third dynasty, who commissioned expeditions to the Sinai Peninsula where copper and turquoise were mined. He is also well known for his 6 Step pyramid at Saqqara. The architect of this structure was Imhotep, who also made a name for himself as a physician, priest, and court official. He was one of history's first universal talents and was later revered as a deity.

The Old Kingdom reached its high point during the fourth dynasty. Pharaoh Snefru led raiding expeditions to 5 Nubia (present-day Sudan) in the south and to Libya in the west, bringing back spoils such as gold, ivory, and slaves.

His son Cheops left behind the 10 Great Pyramid of Giza. the sole survivor of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Cheops' successors Chephren and Mycerinus also built great burial complexes in Giza. After the reign of Pharaoh Pepy II of the sixth dynasty, who ruled for over 90 years, signs of disintegration began to appear. Power struggles, assassinations at the royal court, and independence struggles led by regional governors led to the demise of the Old Kingdom.

6 Pharaoh Djoser's step pyramid in Saqqara, ca. 2600 B.C.


5 A Nubian family with animals, ca. 1340 B.C.



The Pyramids

Pyramids were built from the third through the 17th dynasty, and by the Kushites. The grave mounds of the Predvnastic period were the forerunners of the pyramids that developed into the right-angled tombs called mastabas (Arabic: "bench"). The step pyramids of Djoser in Saqqara were constructed by placing several mastabas on top of each other. By the fourth dynasty, pyramids with straight sides were created by fillthe steps.

10 The pyramids of Giza, third century B.C.



The Great Sphinx and the Pyramids


Map of Giza pyramid complex


First and Second Intermediate Period and the Middle Kingdom
2150-1539 â.ń.
The Middle Kingdom era lay between two periods of weakness and division.
During the First Intermediate Period, which followed the fall of the Old Kingdom, Egypt disintegrated once again into many territories, whose rulers fought each other in a civil war. This led to a breakdown in civil administration, trade, and the economy, and the consequent neglect of irrigation and food storage systems meant the population suffered 3 famines. The provincial governors of the eleventh dynasty of Thebes in Upper Egypt were finally able to gain supremacy in the power struggle for the reign over Egypt.

3 Emaciated man with
bowl, ca. 2000 â.ń.

They conquered Lower Egypt and founded the Middle Kingdom.
The pharaohs of the eleventh and twelfth dynasties disempowered the governors of the provinces and restored a central administration.

The shift of the kingdom's capital to 1 Thebes in Upper Egypt also affected the religious policies of Egypt. The deity Amun, who was particularly worshiped in the new capital, was combined with the sun god Re—whose main temple was in Heliopolis in Lower Egypt, near the old capital of Memphis— to become the official deity of the empire: Amun-Re.

A 2 large temple complex was erected in Thebes to honor and worship him. Thebes was on the site of the present-day villages Luxor and Karnak.

1 View over the Sacred Lake of the Great Amun-Re Temple at Karnak,
East Thebes

2 A pharaoh offering a sacrifice in front of the
god Amun-Re of Thebes, ca. 1440 B.C.

Under Pharaoh Sesostris III (1878-1843 B.C.), far-reaching Egyptian influence—from Nubia across the Sinai to the rich trading cities of Lebanon — was once again restored. Sesostris' son 4 Amenemhet III (1842-1797 B.C.) diverted a tributary of the Nile to create the Fayoum Oasis.

It was here that the last great pyramid was erected for the king. As Theban tradition dictated, later pharaohs were buried in underground tomb complexes in the 6 Valley of the Kings, west of the capital.

By the dawning of the Second Intermediate Period, following the end of the twelfth dynasty, the country was divided once again into Upper and Lower Egypt.

This allowed the 5 invasion of the Hyksos (in Egyptian, Hega-khase: "rulers of foreign lands"), a group of Indo-European tribes. They entered Lower Egypt and established their capital Avaris in the Nile Delta. From here they ruled over Lower Egypt as pharaohs, while native dynasties continued to rule Upper Egypt from Thebes.

4 Amenemhet III

5 Invasion of Egypt by the Hyksos,
woodcarving, 19th century a.d.

6 Valley of the Kings, west of Thebes


The New Kingdom I
ca. 1539-1379 â.ń.
Ancient Egypt was at the pinnacle of its political power during the era of the New Kingdom. The pharaohs of the 18th dynasty turned Egypt into the dominant state of the Near East.
Under Ahmose I, the first pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, the rulers of Thebes were able to expel the Hyksos and extend Egyptian hegemony to the Syrian border. Ahmose's descendent Thutmose I (ca. 1525- ca. 1512 B.C.) conquered the entirety of Nubia and integrated it into the Egyptian Empire.

Thutmose's daughter 9 Hatshepsut (1503-1482 B.C.) was married to her half-brother Thutmose II. After his death she assumed power, initially as regent for her nephew Thutmose III. She ultimately took the title of pharaoh for herself and ushered in a period of peace and prosperity in Egypt. Great trading expeditions were undertaken, for example, to the land of Punt (present-day Eritrea and Somalia).

Like other pharaohs, she had a magnificent 11 funerary temple constructed for herself, one of the most significant structures of its kind.

After Hatshepsut's death, 8 Thutmose III (1504-1450 â.ń.) eradicated all memory of his stepmother and aunt. Under him, the New Kingdom was at its most extensive. It reached from the Euphrates in the north into today's Sudan in the south.

To counter the growing power of the Hittites, succeeding pharaohs formed alliances with the Mitanni kingdom. This policy of alliances was reinforced through dynastic marriages; 7 Amenhotep III (1417-1379 B.C.) married not only the Egyptian Tiy but also two Mitannian princesses.

The reign of Amenhotep III was noted for its 10 construction and architecture. His long reign was also marked by the gradual decline of the 18th dynasty, which was further accelerated by the religious policies of his son Amenhotep IV (Akhenaton).

9 Queen Hatshepsut wearing the traditional fake ceremonial beard of the pharaohs, ca. 1490 B.C.



11 Terrace-shaped funerary temple complex of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri in West Thebes, ca. 1470 B.C.


8 Thutmose III, ca. 1460 B.C.

7 Giant statue of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiy,
ca. 1370 B.C.

Amenhotep III


10 Statues of Memnon at Thebes during the Inundation-remains of the funerary temple of Amenhotep III in West Thebes, painting, 19th ń A.D.


Women in Ancient Egypt

Egyptian women enjoyed rights relatively equal to men's. They could independently complete legal transactions and practice most professions. Women also had equal rights with their husbands in marriage. Polygamy was customary only in the royal houses.
Among the wives of the pharaohs, the "great royal consorts" such as Tiy and Nefertiti were able to assert enormous influence. In some cases, women themselves ruled as pharaohs. Sibling marriages were meant to ensure the purity of the divine dynasties. Usually ifthepharaoh was the descendent of a concubine—which was true of most of the kings of the 18th dynasty—he would secure his rule through marriage to a half-sister from the main line. In later periods, the "godly wives ofAmun" officially stood at the top of Theban theocracy in Upper Egypt.

Bust of Nefertiti, 1355 B.C.




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