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The New Kingdom of Egypt: Pharaohs, Temples & Timeline

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  • 0:02 Beginning of the New Kingdom
  • 1:43 Pharaohs
  • 5:38 Temples
  • 6:49 Timeline
  • 9:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Tracy Musacchio
The New Kingdom was Ancient Egypt's age of empire; Egyptian pharaohs expanded their control into Syro-Palestine, and the Valley of the Kings was initiated. This lesson offers a timeline and discusses major developments in New Kingdom history.

Beginning of the New Kingdom

The New Kingdom, which lasted from about 1550-1070 BCE, was the last of Egypt's three great kingdoms (the other two were the Old Kingdom and the Middle Kingdom). The New Kingdom began with the expulsion of the Hyksos, the rulers of foreign lands who had occupied Egypt during its Second Intermediate Period. After Kamose and Ahmose (with their father, Seqenenre Tao) successfully defeated the Hyksos, Ahmose founded the 18th Dynasty in Egypt, and the New Kingdom began. This period saw the powerful state of Egypt expand outside of its traditional borders and begin to push for an empire that spanned into Syro-Palestine. Once outside of Egypt, the Egyptians encountered (and fought with) the Hittites and the Mitanni. It wasn't enough that the Egyptians had defeated the Hyksos; they wanted to control the land outside of Egypt in order to prevent an occupation from ever happening again.

At the same time that the Egyptian government was pushing northward, outside of the country, changes were happening internally to Egyptian society. Developments in Egyptian religion put the god Amun at the forefront of the Egyptian pantheon; at least until the pharaoh Akhenaten (briefly) revolutionized Egyptian religion around worship of the god Aten. Deviating sharply from the pyramids of earlier generations, pharaohs moved their burials underground to the Valley of the Kings; however, their mortuary temples, which were the visible monuments to the deceased pharaoh, increased in size.

Pharaohs

Some of the best-known Egyptian kings were pharaohs of the New Kingdom, thanks in part to Egypt's international stature and in part to how much evidence these pharaohs left behind. A few of the better known kings of the New Kingdom were Hatshepsut, Akhenaten and Ramses II.

Hatshepsut

During the 18th Dynasty, a pharaoh named Thutmose II took the throne. Upon his death, his son and heir, Thutmose III, was still a small child. Rather than putting a young boy on the throne, Thutmose II's wife (the stepmother of Thutmose III) served as coregent. Her name was Hatshepsut, and she became one of the most prominent Egyptian pharaohs, reigning for more than 20 years. She was responsible for building several major projects throughout Egypt, including adding to the temple of Karnak. She also sent out a trade mission to the land of Punt, an area south of Egypt along the Red Sea coast that was known for its exotic flora and fauna.

Hatshepsut

Hatshepsut's reign as queen of Egypt wasn't unique - other women had ruled previously; however, she was the most successful of the female pharaohs who ruled during the Pharaonic era. One of the idiosyncrasies of her rule is that she was frequently depicted looking masculine in full pharaonic regalia. This should not be seen as suggesting any sort of gender confusion on her part. In fact, she was often referred to as a beautiful woman; however, the office of pharaoh was a male office, and when Hatshepsut was shown holding that office, she assumed the role of pharaoh. Depictions of her looking masculine can be understood to stress that she was the pharaoh (and not simply the stepmother of the king).

Hatshepsut in pharaonic regalia
Hatshepsut in pharaonic regalia

Akhenaten

Another notable 18th Dynasty pharaoh, Akhenaten, is also represented in ways that defy gender. But what he is most known for are the changes he enacted upon Egyptian religion. Born Amenhotep IV, he changed his name to Akhenaten to honor his main god, the Aten. He also moved the capital city from Thebes (the cult center for the god Amun) to a new city that he named Akhetaten (the present day city of Amarna, which scholars use as a shorthand term for the entire period).

Many scholars believe that his religious reforms may have been an attempt to discredit the priesthood of Amun. The power of the priesthood had grown so strong that it began to rival the power of the pharaoh. In order to curb this, Akhenaten made the cult of Aten the state cult - thereby cutting off funding to the priesthood of Amun. Ultimately, Akhenaten's new religion did not endure beyond his reign, and the cult of Amun was restored to power shortly after his death.

Akhenaten, with womanly hips and breasts, worshiping the Aten disk
Akhenaten, with womanly hips and breasts, worshiping the Aten disk

Ramses the Great

Moving into the 19th Dynasty, one of Egypt's most famous pharaohs was Ramses II (or Ramses the Great). He ruled over Egypt for nearly 70 years, taking Egypt to new heights on the international sphere. He also built extensively throughout Egypt, including a major temple at Abu Simbel in the far South of the country. His roughly 100 children are a testament to his power and longevity.

Ramses II was an active campaigner, taking Egypt's army to new heights and expanding their rule both north of the country (into the Levant) and south of the country (into Nubia). He spent so much time campaigning that he even moved the capital from Thebes (in the Southern part of the country) to a new city he established called Pi-Ramesses (in Egypt's Delta, the Northeastern part of the country). The new capital was conveniently located to allow his troops to be closer to the campaigns they were waging against their Hittite and Mitanni foes.

Abu Simbel
Abu Simbel

Temples

In the New Kingdom, Egyptian religion underwent a significant change (not only during the reign of Akhenaten). The growth of the cult of Amun brought with it a new age of state-sponsored religion, and the temple of Amun at Karnak in particular saw a huge growth.

Karnak was located in the capital city of Thebes. Originally, it was built on a similar scale to other temples. Over time, as each pharaoh of the New Kingdom wanted to leave his (or her) mark on the temple, the temple expanded into a massive complex, encompassing nearly 250 acres of land. Three main temples at the site are dedicated to Amun, his consort, Mut, and their son, Montu. The temple grounds contain a sacred lake, representing the water from which the creation of man sprang.

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