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Old Kingdom Egypt: Developments & Achievements

Instructor: Joshua Sipper

Dr. Sipper holds a PhD in Education, a Master's of Education, and a Bachelor's in English. Most of his experience is in adult and post secondary education.

This lesson goes over the developments in engineering, architecture, and art achieved during the Old Kingdom of Egypt. They are still under scrutiny in modern times and seem to defy explanation due to their amazing design, complexity, and ingenuity.

The Old Kingdom of Egypt

Say 'Egypt' and many people will think of the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid right away. They are, after all, two of the most iconic structures in Egypt's history. It turns out that they, as well as many other achievements, were made during the Old Kingdom of Egypt.

The Old Kingdom of Egypt existed around the years of 2680 to 2180 BCE, and included the end of the 3rd Dynasty through the 6th. The 4th Dynasty was where the period reached it's zenith. The most well recognized Pharaohs during the 4th Dynasty period were Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure.

Khufu was known to be a stable leader who organized storage and stability of the Egyptian food supply and was involved in some spectacular building projects.

Khafre and Menkaure followed in Khufu's footsteps and continued massive construction projects as well as centralized government control of food and other administration. Let's take a closer look at the developments and achievements of this period.

The Pyramids

The most recognizable, iconic structures in Egyptian history are the pyramids. But where did this concept of building originate and how did it become the monstrous achievement it is?

Pyramids actually started being constructed before the Old Kingdom as Pharaoh Djoser began the practice of constructing step pyramids, which were a sort of rough, proto-pyramid structure.

A step pyramid constructed under Pharaoh Dsojer in the 3rd Dynasty.
Djosers Pyramid

Later, a Pharaoh named Sneferu continued his work and perfected the design of the pyramid into what we know today. Sneferu did not actually complete the Great Pyramid, but left his designs to Khufu and his continuing dynastic lineage to continue his legacy.

He would not have been disappointed, as Khufu constructed what is considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Great Pyramid of Giza. At almost 500 feet high, this pyramid held the world record for tallest structure built by humans until the Eiffel Tower in 1889.

Khufu's successors also built pyramids, although theirs would never rise to the height of the Great Pyramid. All historical reports point to this period of unprecedented construction as being one of prosperity and growth in Egypt.

According to ancient writings, Khufu provided well for the workers (who were not actually slaves, contrary to myth) as well as the general population of Egypt. His reign as well as the reigns of Khafre and Menkaure were marked as a golden age of Egypt.

A view of the Giza Pyramid, the only one of the seven wonders of the ancient world that is still mostly intact.
great pyramid

Art

Egyptian achievement during the Old Kingdom period was not confined to construction projects. There were also some of the most pronounced advances in art, engineering, and cultural understanding.

During this period, sculptors refined their art and produced realistic sculptures (wood, copper, and stone) of full-sized people for the first time.

Sculptors also perfected stone reliefs, intricately and accurately depicting animals, plants, people, and landscapes. Most of these reliefs adorned temples and tombs as natural representations of the passing of humanity from this world to the next.

A stone sculpture of a nobleman and his wife from the Old Kingdom.
Nobleman and Wife

Another hybrid art-construction project is the iconic Great Sphinx. While there is some debate among historians as to whether it was created by Djedefre (a short-reigning Pharaoh between Khufu and Khafre) or Khafre, the Sphinx is usually associated with the latter. Regardless, it is considered another of the worlds greatest monuments. It is perfectly aligned with Khafre's own pyramid, which is itself a major achievement.

A view of the 238 foot long Great Sphinx
great sphinx

Economic Stability

Culturally, the Old Kingdom provided unprecedented centralized government control, economic stability and prosperity. There was access to social and cultural development for almost all Egyptians. This was achieved mostly through Khufu's reforms, which mandated food stores to ensure Egyptian survival during dry seasons, droughts, famine, and low economic times.

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