Ancient Egyptian Buildings: Old, Middle & New Kingdoms

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  • 0:02 Kingdoms of Egypt
  • 0:46 The Old Kingdom
  • 2:28 The Middle Kingdom
  • 3:07 The New Kingdom
  • 4:41 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the architectural styles of the three most powerful periods of Ancient Egypt. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Kingdoms of Egypt

Not every powerful culture remained influential for so long that their history can be divided into three separate golden ages. Egypt is special that way. Ancient Egypt was one of the world's oldest major civilizations, remaining a major power from the fourth millennium to the fourth century BC. That's a period of 3,000 years. Yeah, a long time. During this time, there were three eras when Egyptian civilization reached a high mark, developing sophisticated culture, economy, and art. They are remembered by historians as the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms. Although each period was accompanied by several changes, one of the most distinguishing characteristics was new styles of architecture.

The Old Kingdom

As the name might suggest, the Old Kingdom was the first rise of major civilization in Egypt. The Old Kingdom lasted from roughly 2680-2180 BC, during which Egypt grew into a mighty civilization. One of the notable architectural developments of this time was the use of pyramids as massive tombs for the kings. The first pyramid of this era was the Pyramid of Djoser. Djoser, the first king of the Old Kingdom, had this pyramid built around 2620 BC, and it was accompanied by a major complex of temples and other buildings. You may notice that it doesn't look like a typical pyramid. This is a step pyramid, with stacked layers that are progressively smaller from the bottom to the top.

step pyramid of djoser

Later pharaohs built more pyramids, refining the style. Finally, the pharaoh Khufu commissioned a massive temple complex near the town of Giza. This complex featured massive temples, supported by rows of columns, large statues, and even a gigantic sphinx. Most famously, however, were the pyramids. Khufu's burial pyramid, also called the Great Pyramid of Giza, was constructed around 2560 BC, and at 481 feet tall, it was massive. In fact, this pyramid remained the largest man-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years. Originally, it was encased in polished stone, and likely capped with a golden top piece. Khufu's pyramid is what most people think of when they think of Egyptian pyramids. The Giza complex also has pyramids built by Khufu's son Khafre and Kafre's successor Menkaure.

The Middle Kingdom

After the Old Kingdom, Egypt's power and influence declined. But not for long. The Middle Kingdom was the next era of Egyptian growth, lasting from roughly 2000-1700 BC. There were cultural changes, including a new capital city and shifts in the importance of certain deities. Middle Kingdom pharaohs continued to build large pyramids connected to massive temple complexes, where the pharaoh was worshiped as a god after his death. Temples in this era were more symmetrical, and more often used stone rather than mud bricks for major walls. These temples also frequently had hypostyle halls and courtyards, meaning they were lined with rows of columns.

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