Ancient Egypt /
The Old Kingdom emerged as a culmination of the technological, cultural and political achievements of the 1st Dynasty, while the 2nd Dynasty appears to represent an intermediary period of decline. Between the end of the 1st Dynasty and the beginning of the Old Kingdom there were about 200 years, still there is a strong cultural link between the two eras.
The Old Kingdom emerges with the first great monuments of human history, represented with the step-pyramid of Zoser at Saqqara. The fact that the other kings of the 3rd Dynasty did not complete any structure of similar size and quality is not very surprising, as all but one ruled for short periods. The only exception is Huni, who, during his 24 years, is the most likely candidate to have ordered the building of the pyramid at Meidum.
The characteristics of the Old Kingdom were the death cult of the kings, building of pyramids, extremely efficient central governance and increased foreign trade.
The understanding of wealth in the society during the Old Kingdom may be deceptive, when judged by the pyramids, their quality and size. There is no evidence suggesting that living standards during the 5th Dynasty (with its poor pyramids) were lower than the 4th Dynasty (with the greatest pyramids). But pyramids do well suggest the strength of central power, and the position of the kings. In this respect, the Old Kingdom reached its heigh with the 4th Dynasty, which consisted of the greatest pyramid builders, Snefru, Khufu and Khafre.
The 5th Dynasty is noted for more focus on the sun cult, in which several sun temples were built.
The Old Kingdom was a period of tension, and at least within the royal family, feuds of national control were fought. Especially the beginning of the 6th Dynasty, whose two first kings were forcibly removed from power (Teti, murdered and Userkare, removed by a coup). But even with the 6th Dynasty, Egypt was still able to make great advances into foreign lands, in search of new wealth.
The main burial grounds of the Old Kingdom were Giza, Saqqara, Dahshur and Abu Sir. But several more grounds were used to bury kings, often housing only one pyramid.
Memphis was the capital of the Old Kingdom throughout, but during the 5th Dynasty, many religious activities were administered from Heliopolis. Much of the importance was returned to Memphis during the 6th Dynasty, but this would become a period of regional divisions in a political senzse.
The eventual decline and end of the Old Kingdom is usually attributed to the emergence of regional power during the long reign of Pepi 2, as well as famine. The period following the Old Kingdom is called First Intermediate Period, an era of cultural, political and possible economical decline.
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