Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.
The New Kingdom and Egyptian Empire
When we think of Egyptian history, things that often come to mind include the treasures of King Tut's tomb, the massive statues of Ramses II, and powerful armies racing across the desert. All of these images have something in common: they all date to the New Kingdom.
Spanning from roughly 1570 to 1069 BCE, the New Kingdom is the best-documented period of Egyptian history, as wealth flowed and education rose. It was also the time in which Egypt went from being a kingdom of the Nile to expanding its control around the Mediterranean. This was the era in which Egypt became an empire, and the wealth and influence it amassed would change the world forever.
To understand the rise of New Kingdom imperialism, we need to understand what happened to the Middle Kingdom. By the 18th century BCE, Egyptian kings had weakened, allowing other powers to start growing around the Nile. The Middle Kingdom fell to internal strife, and these other powers rose to establish control in what we call the Second Intermediate Period.
Most notable were the Hyksos, foreign, Semitic kings who took control over Lower Egypt. The Egyptian kings still ruled from the city of Thebes, but that was basically all they had left. The Hyksos controlled most of Lower Egypt. At the same time, the Kingdom of Kush had risen to dominate Upper Egypt and Nubia.
Rise of the New Kingdom
So, why is it important for us to know about the Hyksos and the Second Intermediate Period? This experience had major impacts on the Egyptian kings, who started fighting the Hyksos in earnest in the 16th century BCE.
The king to finally defeat the Hyksos (no easy feat) was Ahmose I, who drove them from Lower Egypt. He then turned his attention south, marching into Kush to regain control of Lower Egypt. Through his military leadership, Ahmose I ultimately reunified all of Egypt around 1570 BCE. At this time, he declared the start of Egypt's 18th Dynasty, which historians identify as the start of the New Kingdom.
Egypt was restored, but Ahmose I had fought long and hard to accomplish that. He had also studied his history, and blamed the negligence of the Middle Kingdom rulers for allowing the Hyksos to become so powerful. Ahmose I swore this would never happen again. He believed that if he conquered everybody else, Egypt would be safe from foreign invasion.
With this vision, Ahmose I became the first Egyptian monarch to expand the kingdom's borders beyond the Nile region. His campaigns took him south into Nubia and as far north as Palestine and Syria.
Ironically, Ahmose I's military success was largely thanks to an old enemy. The Hyksos had been the first people to introduce bronze weapons into Egypt, replacing the less-reliable copper ones, and were also the first to introduce the horse and chariot. These were substantial advances in military technology, and with them Ahmose I raced across the eastern Mediterranean region with his newly trained, better equipped, professional military.
Expansion of the Empire
Ahmose I started Egyptian imperialism, conquering far-reaching lands and exploiting their resources. This was maintained by later monarchs as well, but the greatest champion of the empire was Thutmoses III_ (r. 1479-1425 BCE).
Thutmoses III put substantial effort into expanding Egypt's imperial borders and was a skilled military commander. He led 17 military campaigns in 20 years, and was able to fully conquer kingdoms as far south as Sudan, and stretching across the Mediterranean coast from Libya in North Africa to Syria in the Levant. Egyptian imperialism reached its height under Thutmoses III.
Impact on Egyptian Culture
The rise of imperialism was new to Egyptian culture, and had some major impacts. While Egypt had always fought wars, they had never been of this size and scale, and military needs placed a major burden on the economy. At the same time, the massive amounts of resources flowing into Egypt from its conquered lands made Egypt the wealthiest kingdom in the world at the time. This is partially why so many of Egypt's famous building projects were completed in the New Kingdom. The rulers Hatshepsut and Ramses II would end up being among the most prolific builders in history, using Egypt's wealth to construct temples and palaces on a scale never seen before.
The role of the monarch also began to change in this period. In fact, it was during the New Kingdom that the term ''pharaoh'' (or at least the Egyptian equivalent of the word the Greeks later transcribed as ''pharaoh'') was first applied to the monarchs of Egypt. The pharaoh was more than just a monarch and religious figure, as had been the role of Egyptian rulers in the past, but carried a very specific imperial connotation. The pharaoh was a warrior-emperor, someone whose authority was defined by their battles as well as civic achievements. It was a big change in Egyptian society, and just one of many during the New Kingdom that would reshape the Mediterranean world for all time.
The New Kingdom of Egyptian history (ca. 1570-1069 BCE) saw the first rise of Egyptian imperialism. This change began when Ahmose I overthrew the foreign Hyksos rulers of Lower Egypt, reunified the kingdom, and expanded its borders to protect it from another foreign incursion. Ironically, it was Hyksos military technologies and strategies, specifically the use of bronze and the horse and chariot, that allowed Egypt to create its empire, which was expanded to its greatest extent under Thutmoses III_ (r. 1479-1425 BCE). The new, imperialist direction of Egypt had substantial impacts on its culture, as well as the rest of the Mediterranean. It was a significant era in history. Ancient Egypt has over 3,000 years of history, but the New Kingdom is still the one most people think of first. With its wealth, power, and influence, it's not hard to see why.
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