OLD KINGDOM 2705 – 2155 BC
Dynasties III through VI – Pyramid Age. Characterized by highly organized central authority and advanced level of civilization:
Dynasty III – (2705 – 2575) – Age of Zoser and Imhotep, builders of the Stepped Pyramid at Sakkara. Formative period of Egyptian culture with many innovations; including building with stone, the artistic canon, medicine, the emergence of hieroglyphic writing, etc. Capital at Memphis; tombs at Giza, Sakkara and Abydos.
The small stones that were used in the place of bricks quickly grew into gargantuan blocks weighing many tons. In less than two centuries all the really big pyramids were built, during the III but mainly the IV Dynasties.
Seth was now forgotten in the royal cult. Tombs are again built at Saqqara, and the palace façade of the I Dynasty tombs (royal or not), although returning in stone with Djoser, disappears forever by the time of the IV Dynasty.
Dynasty IV – (2575 – 2465) – Golden Age of Pyramids. Sneferu, Khufu, Rajedef, Khafra, and Men-kau-Ra all built major pyramid complexes. Shepseskaf, went back to a mastaba tomb at Sakkara to end the Dynasty.
The real mystery of the IV Dynasty is not so much how Khufu could have built his pyramid on such a scale but how his father, Seneferu, could, apparently, have done three of them nearly as big, one at Meidum and two at Dahshur, all within sight of each other. The pyramid at Meidum was begun as a step pyramid, perhaps by Huni of the III Dynasty, but was then certainly finished as a true pyramid, with the steps filled in, by Seneferu.
The first pyramid at Dahshur, the “Bent Pyramid,” was then begun as a true pyramid, but it had stability problems, and had to be finished with a flattened top. The full mastery of the medium then appears in the third pyramid, with a good foundation, and larger blocks. The whole technique of truly large scale construction thus rapidly evolved in just one reign.
One key feature about the pyramid building is that the quarries for the finest limestone were on the opposite side of the Nile, and that quarries for all the granite were far up the Nile (the rough internal blocks could be quarried nearby). This means that the best time to move the stones to the sites was during the season of the Flood, when the Nile would be the widest and deepest.
Indeed, an essential part of all pyramid architecture was the dock at the edge of the desert, i.e. at the high water mark, with a causeway leading up to the pyramid foundation. The rest of the year, the more skilled stone masons would work to place the blocks, or would quarry the interior stone to the sites.
The V Dynasty, indeed, ushered in an era of less colossal, but also more articulated, works. The mortuary temples became larger and more elaborate, private tombs began to tell the everyday stories of the time, and soon the pyramids related the perils of the voyage to the afterlife.
Giza, Abu Roash, Sakkara, Dashur, Meidum, Memphis major sites. Dynasty V – (2465 – 2323) – Political ascendancy of the priests of Heliopolis; Kings become the “Sons of Ra.” Tombs in Abydos, Giza, Sakkara; temples and monuments at Heliopolis, Abu Gurab, Abu Sir; pyramids at Abu Sir and Sakkara. Unas, last of the Vth, introduces a burial chamber with inscriptions, a style which continued into the VIth Dynasty, at Sakkara.
Dynasty VI – (2323 – 2150) – Relaxation of central authority; the nobles increase their power. Local cemeteries for these nobles are found in each of the ancient nomarchies, such as Thebes, Edfu, Aswan, Hierakonopolis, etc. Kings still built pyramids and tomb complexes at Sakkara, as did many of the nobles. Long reign of Pepi II, 94 years, brought on complete collapse of central government.
“Scorpion king” (II?)