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Intermediate Kingdoms

The Egyptian civilization is one of the oldest in the world, spanning over 3000 years until the birth of Christ. Similar to other civilizations, ancient Egyptian history experienced periodic rise and decline of its 3000-year history. What makes it unique, however, is its length compared to other prominent civilizations that rose through the Bronze Age to the Iron Age period. As history often shows, ancient Egypt was not without a decline in its 3000-year history. These times of political chaos were divided into three periods or kingdoms: First Intermediate Period, Second Intermediate Period, and Third Intermediate Period. These events are listed on the Biblical Timeline under “Intermediate Kingdoms” from 2004 BC to 1529 BC.

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First Intermediate Period (c 2150-2055 BC)

The First Intermediate Period began after the death of Pepi II, ending Egypt’s Old Kingdom and 6th Dynasty. This period was characterized by the decline of the central government with the Pharaoh as its head, rise, and self-sufficiency of the nomarchs (rulers of nomes or provinces). And the establishment of competing dynasties in Heracleopolis and Thebes with some nomarchs taking sides between the two.

“Head of a King, ca. 2650-2600 BC, Brooklyn Museum; The earliest representations of Egyptian Kings are on a small scale. Not until Dynasty III were statues made which show the ruler life-size.”

There are several reasons which caused the decline of the Old Kingdom. One reason was Pepi II’s long reign which ancient Egyptian historian Manetho and the Turin Cannon attribute at approximately 94 years. This has been widely disputed. But if the length of his reign really lasted up to 94 years then it had created a succession problem as most of the possible heirs to his throne would be dead by then. Another reason for the decline of the Old Kingdom is the reduction of floods brought by the Nile river for up to three decades resulting in a severe drought and famine.

The upheaval brought by the low floods was felt by Egypt in all areas of their lives, from political to cultural to economic. Internal strife was so severe that separate dynasties were established in Memphis and Heracleopolis in Lower Egypt and Thebes in Upper Egypt. Each was supported by different nomarchs that further plunged Egypt into chaos. There were four dynasties in total during the First Intermediate Period, starting from the 7th Dynasty to the 11th Dynasty.

Art and culture reflected this period when provincial styles flourished as there were no central authorities to provide standards for artists. As chaos reigned in the kingdom, administrators of nomes were also unable to acquire essential materials from neighboring nomes. The struggle for power between different factions stopped during the time of Mentuhotep II of the 11th Dynasty in Thebes after he defeated the rulers of Heracleopolis.

Second Intermediate Period (c 1786-1550 BC or 1640-1550 BC)

The fall of the Middle Kingdom ushered in the Second Intermediate Period after the death of the female Middle Kingdom pharaoh Sobekneferu (12th Dynasty) who was without an heir. It was followed by the 13th Dynasty that ruled from Itjtawy near Memphis. The Second Intermediate Period saw the rise of Khendjer, Egypt’s first Semitic king during the 13th Dynasty. But this dynasty overall was unable to hold a unified Egypt. During this period, the capital switched from Avaris to Thebes to Abydos to Kerma, depending on which dynasty ruled that part of Egypt.

The Hyksos, an Asiatic tribe from the northeast, first settled in Egypt during the time of Sobekhotep IV and by 1720 BC, they became so powerful they took over the town of Avaris. They conquered Memphis in 1650 BC which resulted in the collapse of the 13th Dynasty. They later overran the 16th Dynasty in Thebes, establishing themselves as Egypt’s 15th Dynasty. The Hyksos introduced the harnessed horse and chariot into Egypt, as well as the composite bow, vertical loom, armor, lyre, and lute.

The rule of the Hyksos ended with the rise of the 17th Dynasty from Thebes. Seqenenre Tao and Kamose defeated the Hyksos during succeeding wars of liberation. The rise of the 18th Dynasty saw the Hyksos finally driven out of Egypt under Ahmose I.

Third Intermediate Period (c 1070-712 BC or 1069-664 BC)

Egypt experienced another decline after the death of Rameses XI whose dynasty was plagued by intrigues and problems of succession. One of the main reasons for the gradual decline was the internal strife between the priests and pharaohs. This started with Akhenaten way before the Third Intermediate Period. Because of political or religious reasons, Akhenaten diminished the power of Theban-based priests of Amon by establishing the worship of Aten. Priests were almost as powerful as the pharaoh and held just as much wealth as the king. Akhenaten’s move to diminish their power soured the relationship between the priests and the dynasty. The gradual weakening of Egypt’s central authority also meant the rise of nomarchs.

The earlier dynasty under Thutmose III expanded the territory to the Mitanni kingdom far north across the Euphrates and south to Nubia. Campaigns such as these were costly and by the end of Rameses XI’s reign (last pharaoh of the New Kingdom), the funds had been depleted. With no money to pay for the troops, restlessness brewed among the ranks. The situation was exacerbated by forces beyond the pharaoh’s control which included a series of reduced flooding in the Nile. Which caused droughts and famine, as well as the repeated incursion of Sea Peoples.

The rulers that succeeded Rameses XI were either several High Priests of Amon (21st Dynasty), Libyan rulers from the Meshwesh immigrant tribe (22nd and 23rd Dynasties) and finally, rulers from Nubia. The Egyptian pharaoh Sheshonk who was of Libyan descent seemed to be the pharaoh who “came up and attacked Jerusalem” during the reign of Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:25–26). Egypt enjoyed a relatively stable period during the rule of Libyan pharaoh Shoshenq I, but it splintered later on during the reign of succeeding kings. Nubians from the south took advantage of the chaotic Egyptian administration and launched a campaign that briefly saw them as rulers of Egypt.

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