Early Dynastic Period (Egypt)

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For the period of the same name in Mesopotamia, see Early Dynastic Period (Mesopotamia)
Early Dynastic Period of Egypt


c. 3150 BC – c. 2686 BC 30px

Flag of Early Dynastic Period of Egypt

Capital Memphis
Languages Ancient Egyptian
Religion Ancient Egyptian religion
Government Monarchy
 •  c. 3100 BC Narmer (first)
 •  c. 2690 BC Khasekhemwy (last)
 •  Established c. 3150 BC 
 •  Disestablished  c. 2686 BC
Today part of  Egypt

The Archaic or Early Dynastic Period of Egypt immediately follows the unification of Lower and Upper Egypt c. 3100 BC. It is generally taken to include the First and Second Dynasties, lasting from the Protodynastic Period of Egypt until about 2686 BC, or the beginning of the Old Kingdom.[1] With the First Dynasty, the capital moved from Thinis to Memphis with a unified Egypt ruled by an Egyptian god-king. Abydos remained the major holy land in the south. The hallmarks of ancient Egyptian civilization, such as art, architecture and many aspects of religion, took shape during the Early Dynastic period.

Before the unification of Egypt, the land was settled with autonomous villages. With the early dynasties, and for much of Egypt's history thereafter, the country came to be known as the Two Lands. The rulers established a national administration and appointed royal governors. The buildings of the central government were typically open-air temples constructed of wood or sandstone. The earliest hieroglyphs appear just before this period, though little is known of the spoken language they represent.

Cultural evolution

A plate created during the Early Dynastic period of Ancient Egypt. It depicts a man on a boat alongside a Hippopotamus and a Crocodile
tȝwy 'Two Lands'
in hieroglyphs

By about 3600 BC, neolithic Egyptian societies along the Nile River had based their culture on the raising of crops and the domestication of animals.[2] Shortly after 3600 BC Egyptian society began to grow and advance rapidly toward refined civilization.[3] A new and distinctive pottery, which was related to the pottery in the Southern Levant, appeared during this time. Extensive use of copper became common during this time.[3] The Mesopotamian process of sun-dried bricks, and architectural building principles—including the use of the arch and recessed walls for decorative effect—became popular during this time.[3]

Concurrent with these cultural advances, a process of unification of the societies and towns of the upper Nile River, or Upper Egypt, occurred. At the same time the societies of the Nile Delta, or Lower Egypt also underwent a unification process.[3] Warfare between Upper and Lower Egypt occurred often.[3] During his reign in Upper Egypt, King Narmer defeated his enemies on the Delta and merged both the Kingdom of Upper and Lower Egypt under his single rule.[4] Narmer is shown on palettes wearing the double crown, composed of the lotus flower representing Upper Egypt and the papyrus reed representing Lower Egypt - a sign of the unified rule of both parts of Egypt which was followed by all succeeding rulers. In mythology, the unification of Egypt is portrayed as the falcon-god, called Horus and identified with Lower Egypt, as conquering and subduing the god Set, who was identified with Upper Egypt.[5] Divine kingship, which would persist in Egypt for the next three millennia, was firmly established as the basis of Egypt's government.[6] The unification of societies along the Nile has also been linked to the drying of the Sahara.

Funeral practices for the peasants would have been the same as in predynastic times, but the rich demanded something more. Thus, the Egyptians began construction of the mastabas which became models for the later Old Kingdom constructions such as the Step pyramid. Cereal agriculture and centralization contributed to the success of the state for the next 800 years.

It seems certain that Egypt became unified as a cultural and economic domain long before its first king ascended to the throne in the lower Egyptian city of Memphis where the dynastic period did originate. This would last for many centuries. Political unification proceeded gradually, perhaps over a period of a century or so as local districts established trading networks and the ability of their governments to organize agriculture labor on a larger scale increased, divine kingship may also have gained spiritual momentum as the cults of gods like Horus, Set and Neith associated with living representatives became widespread in the country.[7]

It was also during this period that the Egyptian writing system was further developed. Initially Egyptian writing had been composed primarily of a few symbols denoting amounts of various substances. By the end of the 3rd dynasty it had been expanded to include more than 200 symbols, both phonograms and ideograms.[6]

Map of Egypt showing important sites that were occupied during the Early Dynastic Period of Egypt (clickable map)

First Pharaoh

According to Manetho, the first king of the unified Upper and Lower Egypt was Menes who is now identified with Narmer. Indeed, Narmer is the earliest recorded king of the First Dynasty: he appears first on the king lists of Den and Qa'a.[8] This shows that Narmer was recognized by the first dynasty kings as an important founding figure. Narmer is also the earliest king associated to the symbols of power over the two lands (see in particular the Narmer palette, a votive cosmetic palette showing Narmer wearing the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt) and may therefore be the first king to achieve the unification. Consequently, the current consensus is that "Menes" and "Narmer" refer to the same person.[3] Alternative theories hold that Narmer was the final king of the Protodynastic Period[5] and Hor-Aha is to be identified with "Menes".


  1. Shaw, Ian, ed. (2000). The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford University Press. p. 479. ISBN 0-19-815034-2. 
  2. Carl Roebuck, The World of Ancient Times (Charles Scribner's Sons Publishing: New York, 1966) p. 51.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Carl Roebuck, The World of Ancient Times (Charles Scribner's Sons: New York, 1966) p. 52-53.
  4. Carl Roebuck, The World of Ancient Times (Charles Scribner's Sons Publishers: New York, 1966), p. 53.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Carl Roebuck, The World of Ancient Times, p. 53.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Kinnaer, Jacques. "Early Dynastic Period" (PDF). The Ancient Egypt Site. Retrieved 4 April 2012. 
  7. The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Egypt pg 22-23 (1997) By Bill Manley
  8. Qa'a and Merneith lists http://xoomer.virgilio.it/francescoraf/hesyra/Egyptgallery03.html

Further reading

  • Shaw, Ian (2003). The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-280458-7. 
  • Wilkinson, Toby (2001). Early Dynastic Egypt: Strategies, Society and Security. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-26011-6. 
  • Wengrow, David (2006). The Archaeology of Early Egypt: Social Transformations in North-East Africa, c. 10,000 to 2,650 BC. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-83586-0. 

External links

pl:Władcy Egiptu#Okres wczesnodynastyczny (archaiczny) - ok. 3100-2686 roku p.n.e.