History of Egypt - The New Kingdom (1567-1085BC)

History of Egypt - The New Kingdom (1567-1085BC) Last updated on Thursday 15th April 2010

Ahmosis founded the Eighteenth Dynasty (1567-1320BC) which reigned over the first part of a prosperous and stable imperial period during which Pharaonic culture flowered and Egypt became a world power.

During the Eighteenth Dynasty Nubia was subdued and its wealth of gold, ivory, gemstones and ebony flowed into Egypt. Pharaonic armies conquered the Near East, Syria and Palestine and workers from these new-established colonies, and a cultural cross-fertilization took place as artisans and intellectuals transplanted their knowledge, skills and culture onto Egyptian soil.

The temple of Karnak at Thebes grew with the expansion of empire. Tuthmosis I constructed the first tomb in the Valley of the Kings. His daughter reigned as pharaoh and built the temple of Deir Al-Bahri. Tuthmosis III expanded the empire beyond Nubiaand across the Euphrates to the boundaries of the Hittites.

Imperial expansion continued under Amenophis II and Tuthmosis IV. The reign of Amenophis III was the pinnacle of Egyptian Pharaonic power. Under Amenophis III the kingdom was secure enough for the Pharaoh to build many of the greatest Pharaonic structures including the Temple of Luxor.

His son Amenophis IV fought with the priesthood of the god Amun and changed his name to Akhenaten in honour of the god Aten. With his wife Nefertiti Akhenaten he established a new capital at Tel El-Amarna dedicated to the worship of Aten, which many believe was the first organized monotheistic religion. Both his predecessors and successors denounced his beliefs as heresy.

During their short reign (1379-1362BC) Pharaonic obsession with the afterlife was banished as was the old idolatry. Art began to reflect human concerns. This was called the Amarna revolution, which barely survived Akhenaten's reign. His successor Smenkhkare upheld Akhenaten's ideals but died within a year, leaving the child pharaoh Tutankhamen under the influence of the priesthood who easily convinced him to renounce the monotheism of his father-in-law and return to rule from Thebes.

This period has been called the Theban counter-revolution during which time the priesthood destroyed any traces of Akhenaten's reign, including the Temple of the Sun at Karnak.

Tutankhamen ruled for nine years until just before reaching manhood, when he died. He is most remembered in modern times for the fabulous and pristine treasures uncovered when his tomb was discovered in 1922. Tutankhamen was succeeded by Ay and Horemheb, the last Eighteenth Dynasty kings, both of whom worked to eradicate Akhenaten's revolutionary beliefs and restore the status quo.

The Nineteenth Dynasty (1320-1200BC) was established by the Horemheb's wazir, or minister, Ramses I who reigned for two years. Ramses and his descendants were warrior kings who recaptured territories lost under Akhenaten. His successor Seti I regained control over Egypt's eastern colonies in Palestine, Nubia and the Near East. Seti I also began construction on a majestic temple at Abydos which was completed by his son Ramses II who reconquered Asia Minor.

Ramses also constructed monumental structures like the Ramesseum in Thebes and the sun temples of Abu Simbel. His son Merneptah spent much of his reign driving back invaders from Libya and the Mediterranean but he is believed to be the biblical Pharaoh described in Exodus. Seti II was the last king of the Nineteenth Dynasty.

The Twentieth Dynasty (1200-1085BC) was to be the last of the New Kingdom and was first established by Sethnakhte. By the reign of his successor Ramses III, the kingdom was occupied with defending itself against Libyan and "Sea People" invasions. Ramses III constructed the enormous palace temple of Medinet Hebu but the empire had begun to disintegrate with strikes, assassination attempts and provincial unrest.

His successors, who were all named Ramses, presided over the decline of their empire until Ramses XI withdrew from active control over his kingdom, delegating authority over Upper Egypt to his high priest of Amun, Herihor, and of Lower Egypt to his minister Smendes. These two rulers were the last of the New Kingdom.

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