New Kingdom Egypt: Geography & Facts

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

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

Egypt has a very long history, but many of the things we associate with ancient Egypt came from the same era. In this lesson, we'll look at the New Kingdom and see how geography impacted its' development.

The New Kingdom

Did you know that the rulers of ancient Egypt didn't always use the title of ''pharaoh''? That title seems to only have been used in one specific era of Egyptian history, but it was such an important era that it defines our understanding of ancient Egypt to this day. The New Kingdom (1,550-1,070 BCE) was the third of the great peaks of Egyptian civilization, spanning the 18th, 19th, and 20th Dynasties. Formed by Ahmose I who reunited Upper and Lower Egypt into a single kingdom, this era saw the foundation of Egypt's first true empire.

Warrior kings stretched the empire's borders across northeast Africa. These were amongst the most powerful rulers in all of Egyptian history, with names you might recognize like Akhenaten, Nefertiti, Seti, Ramses II and of course, Tutankhamun. It was an important era in Egyptian history.

Major Cities and Sites

When Ahmose I reunited Upper and Lower Egypt and started the era of the New Kingdom, he was living in a world where Egypt was already full of large and important cities. To separate his rule from those who had come before, however, Ahmose I moved his capital. Previous rulers often governed from Memphis, near the Nile Delta, but Ahmose ruled from the city of Thebes, which was much further south in Upper Egypt.

Thebes grew as a major administrative center under the pharaohs of the New Kingdom and was maintained as one of the most important cities in all of Egypt. Even during the brief spans when it was not the formal capital, it was still a major religious and cultural center. Under the ninth pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty, Amunhotep III, Egyptian civilization reached the pinnacle of its wealth and cultural influence. Amunhotep displayed this by commissioning massive building projects, the most famous of which was the palace complex of Malkata. Located on the western bank of the Nile, it was once filled with some of the finest art and architecture of Egyptian history.

Ruins of Malkata
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However, palaces weren't the only important complexes in Thebes. Also in west Thebes was the most important mortuary center in Egypt. By this time in Egyptian history, the pharaohs had learned that massive pyramids were beacons for grave robbers. In order to protect their bodies and possessions, pharaohs of the New Kingdom were buried in an underground complex known as the Valley of the Kings. Queens had their own valley in this complex as well. The entire valley is a nexus of wadis (dry riverbeds) and cliffs, with tombs carved into both the valley floor and the cliff sides.

While many of these tombs were located and plundered, at least one survived. When King Tut's tomb was opened in the 1920s, it was still packed full of grave goods. This was actually a relatively small tomb, but it's one of the only one's we've found that was intact, so it gives us an idea of the splendor that must have once existed in the other tombs of the valley.

Funerary mask from the tomb of Tunankhamun
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Resources of the New Kingdom

Amunhotep III created massive palace complexes, and the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun was buried along with thousands of precious objects. The New Kingdom was defined by its wealth, but the question is: where did all of this wealth come from?

The pharaohs of the New Kingdom were the first to really expand Egypt's borders, and they did so in a way that increased their access to important resources. Let's start with the most obvious: the Nile River. Reunifying Egypt put the pharaohs back in control of nearly the entire Nile. The Nile provided water to Egyptian farmers, fish for their dinners, papyrus reeds for their paper and a transportation route to keep the entire empire connected. It was their most valuable resource.

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