Egypt is one of the oldest countries in the world that still exists today, with its history tracing back to around 3150 BCE, when Upper and Lower Egypt were unified into one kingdom. That’s over 5,000 years ago!
Take a look at the below key moments in the timeline of ancient Egypt, including the most interesting pharaohs and events that occurred during this incredibly rich chapter of history.
All dates in this post are BCE, which means ‘before Common Era’. This refers to the same point in time as BC. BC means ‘before Christ’, a period before Jesus Christ was born.
BCE is a way to refer to a period of time without religious implications.
C. is an abbreviation of circa, meaning approximately.
So, C. 3150 BCE means approximately 3150 years before Common Era (or before Jesus Christ was born).
Dynasties & Kingdoms
When exploring the timeline of Ancient Egypt, it’s common to use two different ways to refer to the different time periods: Dynasties & Kingdoms.
In Ancient Egypt, it was common for families to rule for significant periods of time, passing rulership down to family members. These periods are referred to as a ‘dynasty’, and there were over 30 different dynasties that ruled Ancient Egypt over a period of 3000 years.
Only families possessing great power came into rulership, and they achieved many great things, such as constructing pyramids.
Kingdoms refer to periods in Ancient Egypt spanning multiple dynasties. There are three main kingdoms, which are the Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom and the New Kingdom. Before, in between and after these kingdoms are intermediate kingdoms, where leadership wasn’t as strong and a family didn’t reign for a long period of time.
Early Dynastic Period (C. 3150 – 2686 BCE)
Dynasties: I and II
- Unification of Upper and Lower Egypt
- This is considered the beginning of ancient Egypt
Before this period, Egypt was divided into Upper Egypt in the south and Lower Egypt in the north.
Egyptian tradition says that King Menes unified the two lands and ruled as the first pharaoh of Egypt from the city of Memphis. And since the first pharaoh was Narmer, they were likely the same person.
Old Kingdom (C. 2686 – 2181 BCE)
- The first pyramid is built in the third dynasty
- The Great Pyramid of Giza is built in the third dynasty
- The Old Kingdom is known for its many pyramids
- Other less famous pyramids that were built include the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid
The Old Kingdom and third dynasty started when Djoser established his court in Memphis. Afterward, Djoser and his architect, Imhotep, built the first pyramid.
The fourth dynasty was started by Snefru, who built some less-popular pyramids. But his son, Khufu, built the Great Pyramid of Giza. And Khufu’s son and grandson, Khafre and Menkaure, built two more pyramids in the Giza necropolis.
First Intermediate Period (C. 2181 – 2061 BCE)
- Collapse of the Old Kingdom
- Egypt splits into two kingdoms
- The instability in this period was possibly caused by a drought that led to famine
The first intermediate period was a rough 100-200 years for Egypt, which possibly started after a climate disaster caused droughts in the late Old Kingdom.
Not much is known about this period, but we know that pharaohs from Lower Egypt retook their land until forces from Thebes reunited Egypt under Mentuhotep II.
Middle Kingdom (C. 2061 – 1650 BCE)
Dynasties: XI (cont.)–XIV
- Mentuhotep II
- Senusret III
- Reunification of Egypt
- Recapturing important territories in Nubia
- Egypt experienced a population boom in the 19th century BC
After Mentuhotep II reunited Egypt, his successors started trading with the Punt region in the Horn of Africa and improving irrigation from the Nile to farmlands.
The most powerful pharaoh of the Middle Kingdom was Senusret III, who led massive military missions into Nubia (modern-day Sudan) to recapture Egypt’s lost territories.
Population booms in the late 12th dynasty caused food shortages, which led to weak 13th and 14th dynasties that had to rely on foreign workers from Asia.
Second Intermediate Period (C. 1650 – 1550 BCE)
- The Hyksos occupy Egypt
- Egypt splits again when the southern cities gain independence
- The Egyptian military first used horses and chariots in this period
The Hyksos continued moving to Egypt until they captured Lower Egypt and established their capital in Avaris, starting the 15th dynasty.
The 16th dynasty Upper Egyptians kept resisting occupation but were eventually overwhelmed. However, the Hyksos later withdrew from Upper Egypt, and the 17th dynasty was established there.
The last 17th dynasty king, Kamose, was the first Egyptian leader to use chariots in battle.
Kamose eventually died in battle. But his brother, Ahmose I, kept fighting to the end.
New Kingdom (C. 1550 – 1077 BCE)
- Ahmose I
- Thutmose III
- Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV)
- Ramesses II
- Liberation of Egypt
- Founding of Atenism
- Battle of Kadesh
- The New Kingdom marked the peak of the Egyptian Empire culturally and militarily
- Many famous pharaohs ruled in this period
Ahmose I fought the Hyksos back to Western Asia and reinstated Egyptian power in the region, starting the 18th dynasty.
One of the most notable female pharaohs of ancient Egypt was Queen Hatshepsut, who led Egypt for 22 years of economic prosperity.
Hatshepsut’s successor, Thutmose III, led massive military campaigns as far north as Syria and became the most successful pharaoh.
Amenhotep IV rose to the throne in 1352, then changed his name to Akhenaten to mark his dedication to the god Aten. This change shocked the Egyptians but was short-lived, as his son, Tutankhamun, restored traditional religion.
Ramesses II became pharaoh in 1279 and continued leading grand military quests, like the Battle of Kadesh, and art projects like the Abu Simbel temples.
Third Intermediate Period (C. 1077 – 664 BCE)
- Egypt splits again into two lands
- Many smaller Nubian pyramids were built along the Nile
- Since many rulers were Nubian, most pyramids from this period are in Sudan
Towards the end of the New Kingdom, Ramesses III’s heirs kept fighting for the throne, leading to the decline of Egypt.
During this decline, Nubian kings took the chance to take over Upper Egypt and even threatened to capture Lower Egypt at times.
Late Period (C. 664 – 332 BCE)
- Psamtik I
- Alexander the Great
- Battle of Pelusium
- Liberation of Egypt by Alexander the Great
- The last native Egyptian pharaoh, Nectanebo II, ruled in this period
Psamtik I reunited Egypt, but tensions with foreign empires peaked. And although Egypt managed to fight off Assyria and Babylon, Persia eventually conquered the land after the Battle of Pelusium.
Eventually, Alexander the Great liberated Egypt and founded the historic city of Alexandria.
Ptolemaic Kingdom (C. 332 – 30 BCE)
Dynasties: XXXII and XXXIII
- Ptolemy I
- Cleopatra VII
- Suicide of Cleopatra VII
- This is generally considered the last period of ancient Egypt
After Alexander the Great’s death, his territories were divided among his peers, and Ptolemy I acquired Egypt to start the Ptolemaic dynasty, which stayed in power for 300 years.
Although Egypt thrived under Ptolemaic rule, it eventually fell to Roman conquests. By 30 BC, the last pharaoh, Cleopatra VII, ended her life and the dynasty.
Dating Egyptian History
Note: Some dates may seem contradictory, but we don’t know for sure when exactly some events occurred. In the below table, courtesy of memphis.edu, some dates have been rounded (e.g. in order highlight that there is a lack of accuracy around these.
|Prehistoric/Predynastic||c. 4300-3000 B.C.E.|
|Naqada I (Amratian)||c. 4300 – 3600 BCE|
|Naqada II (Gerzean)||c. 3600 – 3150 BCE|
|Naqada III (Semainean)||c. 3150 – 3000 BCE|
|Early Dynastic||c. 3000 – 2675 BCE|
|Dynasty 1||c. 3000 – 2800 BCE|
|Dynasty 2||c. 2800 – 2675 BCE|
|Old Kingdom||c. 2675 – 2130 BCE|
|Dynasty 3||c. 2675 – 2625 BCE|
|Dynasty 4||c. 2625 – 2500 BCE|
|Dynasty 5||c. 2500 – 2350 BCE|
|Dynasty 6||c. 2350 – 2710 BCE|
|Dynasties 7-8||c. 2170 – 2130 BCE|
|First Intermediate Period||c. 2130 – 1980 BCE|
|Dynasties 9-10||c. 2130 – 1970 BCE|
|Dynasty 11, Part I||c. 2081 – 1980 BCE|
|Middle Kingdom||c. 1980 – 1630 BCE|
|Dynasty 11, Part II||c. 1980 – 1938 BCE|
|Dynasty 12||c. 1938 – 1759 BCE|
|Dynasty 13||c. 1759 – after 1630 BCE|
|Dynasty 14||Dates not verified|
|Second Intermediate Period||c. 1630 – 1539/ 1523 BCE|
|Dynasty 15||c. 1630 – 1523 BCE|
|Dynasty 16||Dates not verified/unknown.|
|Dynasty 17||c. 1630 – 1539 BCE|
|New Kingdom||c. 1539 – 1075 BCE|
|Dynasty 18||c. 1539 – 1292 BCE|
|Dynasty 19||Dynasty 19 c. 1292 – 1190 BCE|
|Dynasty 20||c. 1190 – 1075 BCE|
|Third Intermediate Period||c. 1075 – 656 BCE|
|Dynasty 21||c. 1075 – 945 BCE|
|Dynasty 22||c. 945 – 712 BCE|
|Dynasty 23||c. 838 – 712 BCE|
|Dynasty 24||c. 727 – 712 BCE|
|Dynasty 25||c. 760 – 656 BCE|
|Late Period||c. 664 – 332 BCE|
|Dynasty 26||c. 664 – 525 BCE|
|Dynasty 27||c. 525 – 404 BCE|
|Dynasty 28||c. 404 – 399 BCE|
|Dynasty 29||c. 399 – 380 BCE|
|Dynasty 30||c. 380 – 343 BCE|
|Dynasty 31||c. 343 – 332 BCE|
|Macedonian Period||c. 332 – 305 BCE|
|Alexander the Great and successors|
|Ptolemaic Dynasty||c. 305 – 30 BCE|
|Beginning with Ptolemy I and ending with Cleopatra VII|
|Roman and Byzantine Empire||c. 30 BCE – 642 CE|
|Starting with Augustus Caesar|
Ancient Egypt Timeline FAQs
When did Ancient Egypt start and end?
Ancient Egypt started around 3100 BCE, known as the ‘Early Dynastic Period’. Ancient Egypt ended around 30 BCE when it fell to the Roman Empire.
What dynasties and kingdoms in Ancient Egypt?
A dynasty refers to a period of time where a family ruled Ancient Egypt, handing rulership down to family members over a long period of time. Kingdoms are periods of time that group dynasties together, for example the Old Kingdom spans dynasties III – VI.
What was Egypt called before it was called Egypt?
Ancient Egyptians referred to their country as ‘Kemet’, meaning ‘Black Lands’. This is because of the mineral rich and dark soil found along the River Nile, referred to as ‘The Gift of the Nile’.
Who was the first pharaoh of Ancient Egypt?
It is generally agreed that the first pharaoh of Ancient Egypt was Narmer, also known as Menes. Narmer was known for unifying upper and lower Egypt.
Is Egypt older than Greece?
Yes, Egypt is older than Greece.
What is a fun fact about Ancient Egypt?
The history of Ancient Egypt spans such a long period of time, that Cleopatra, the last ruler of Ancient Egypt, lives closer in time to us today than she did to the construction of the first pyramids.