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The ancient Egyptians invented a calendar, originated a form of writing called hieroglyphics, and developed papyrus (paper made from the papyrus plant). Foremost among their achievements, however, were the pyramids (tombs of kings) at Giza, including the Great Sphinx, which have been designated as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Other impressive Egyptian structures were two temples built by King Ramses II (c. 1250 B.C.–?) at Abu Simbel, ruins and tombs at Abydos, and a complex of temples and shrines at Karnak (part of the site of ancient Thebes). One of the world's oldest civilizations, Egypt developed from 5000 to 3000 B.C. along the Nile River, which flows into the Mediterranean Sea. The civilization lasted until 332 B.C.
The history of ancient Egypt is divided into three periods: the Old Kingdom (3110–2258 B.C.) the Middle Kingdom (2000–570 B.C.), and the New Kingdom (1570–332 B.C.). Throughout these periods ancient Egypt was ruled by a series of thirty dynasties. In 3110 B.C. King Menes (lived c. 3200 B.C.) founded the first dynasty (a period during which a specific family reigns), thus beginning the Old Kingdom when he united Upper and Lower Egypt and established his capital at Memphis, near present-day Cairo in northern Egypt. Commerce prospered and the arts flourished during the Old Kingdom. The Egyptians began to build the pyramids during the fourth dynasty (c. 2500 B.C.). A series of weak rulers and political struggles brought an end to the Old Kingdom in 2258 B.C., leaving the country in chaos for 258 years. Finally King Amenemhet I (?–1970 B.C.) founded the twelfth dynasty and ushered in the Middle Kingdom. After centralizing the government at the new capital of Thebes, Amenemhet I conquered Palestine and Syria. At the end of the Middle Kingdom (c. 1720 B.C.), nomads (wandering tribes) invaded Egypt and established a peaceful and prosperous period, which extended from the fifteenth through the seventeenth dynasties. Around 1570, however, the Egyptians expelled the foreign occupiers and created the New Kingdom (eighteenth through thirtieth dynasties). During the next two centuries Egypt was at its height of power as the cities of Thebes and Memphis became the political, commercial, and cultural centers of the known world. Egypt went into decline over the last 700 years of the New Kingdom (c. 1085–332 B.C.) and was easily conquered by Alexander the Great (353–323 B.C.), king of Macedon.
Further Information: Bown, Deni. Ancient Egypt. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1995; Freeman, Charles, and John D. Ray. The Legacy of Ancient Egypt. New York: Facts On File, 1997; Giblin, James C. The Riddle of the Rosetta Stone: Key to Ancient Egypt. New York: HarperCollins Children's Books, 1993; Halsall, Paul, ed. Internet Ancient History Sourcebook. [Online] Available http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/asbook.html, October 20, 2000; Haynes, Joyce L. Egyptian Dynasties. New York: Franklin Watts, 1998; Strudwick, Nigel. Egyptology Resources. [Online] Available http://www.newton.cam.ac.uk/egypt/index.html, October 20, 2000.
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