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ART204 Egypt the Old Kingdom


A formal style, in confident idealized mathematical form. Reflecting a earthly immediacy fused to other worldly concerns.

Social: gifts of Nile, benign class distinction
Political: benevolent pharaoh as steward, first laws
Religious: celebrates Immortality, strong priest class, Ra, Sun God. Hathor, nourisher
Philosophy: Maat dualistic cosmos, this life preparation for next life.
Scientific: math / geometry, bronze tools, irrigation.

Old Kingdom: Myth and Religion

Ra, who reflects both male and female principles appears as the first creator. He makes earth and sky from the primeval waters and they in turn create Osiris, Set, Isis, and Nephtys. Sets of twins.

Osiris is the first hero to over come a physical death on earth. This archetype will be followed by Gilgamesh in Mesopotamia and Hercules the Greek god.

Isis conceives Horus, who brings divine teachings. Isis and Mary are archetypes of the woman who gives birth to hero.

In the Old Kingdom, Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis, goes to war with Set, who will become a symbol of anti structure or anti-order. He will become Seth and then Satan to Early Hebrews. Something evil, rather than the necessary mirror to states of order.

One of the important insights to Egyptian thinking is the concept of a dualistic cosmos. A grand design of two elements in a necessary relationship to evolve.

In Old Kingdom Egypt, religion and worship of the gods began in the early settlement of Heliopolis, close by is the Giza pyramids.

One of the oldest Old Kingdom shrine is dedicated to Ptah, maybe related to Hermes, the developer. Who, according to Egyptian tradition, raised Egypt from under the waters of the Great Flood and made it habitable by extensive drainage and Earth-works. Esoterically, Hermes is a clone who helped build the great pyramid.

Divine reign over Egypt was the transferred by Ptah to his son Ram, the bright one. Who was then called Tem, the pure one. His shrine is at Heliopolis with the Boat of Heaven, and the original conical Ben-Ben, which could be seen by pilgrims once a year.

Old Kingdom: 1st–10th Dynasties 2650–2140 BC

The first Historical dynasty was founded by the Horu, people entering Egypt from the east. They establish Memphis. Culturally they have a divine king, priest and worker class and a mythos of their own. Celebrating Hathor, Isis and the falcon god.

Another migration, because of drying climates, the Seti come across the Red Sea and settle in and around Thebes.

King Narmer or Menes a monarch King from the south unites both Thebes and Memphis in the 1-2nd dynasty, 3100 to 2700 BC.

Was probably a gradual transition in establishing the scared king, who proclaims divinity and power.

Socially, the Old Kingdom is generally a time of social cohesion and political stability.

The text book will suggest that the technological advances made at the beginning of the Old Kingdom;, set it apart form the Early Dynastic Period.
An understanding that made it possible for the Old Kingdom to become the age of the Great Pyramids. Yet there is no written history to confirm it.

During the 3rd Dynasty, the hieroglyphic script was developed, as was monumental sculpture and painting.

Djoser complex, 1st to 2nd Dynasty

Giza complex, 3rd to 4th Dynasty

4th Dynasty

By the beginning of the 4th dynasty: 2500 BC
Early dynasties show some military activity in the South, in Nubia. A fortress was built, which confirms the Early Egyptian presence in North Africa, to govern a commercial settlement where traders from the region would supply the Egyptians.

The construction of the pyramids of Khufu, Khafre, and Mykerinos at Giza, are said to have been built in the 3rd to 4th Dynasty.

The 4th Dynasty brought an important change religiously. The solar god Re was gaining in importance over Ra, and the title "Son of Re" was added to royal names to enhance the Pharaoh's power.

Regardless, the monumental building of temples and pharaoh's courts reflected a profound change on Egyptian society and its economy. Temple construction became the important social element in the cultures life. An economical and political force.

It appears that it wasn't until the 5th Dynasty, that the courts in the outlying provinces began to receive land donations from the Pharaoh to become economically independent from Giza.

5th Dynasty; 2300 BC

During the Fifth Dynasty, the Pharaoh was more firmly established as a political entity. And interestingly, large-scale religious building efforts were no longer as ambitious or interesting.

Economically and politically the country becomes less centralized.

Because of inherited wealth royal family funerary rites and tombs become richer and more elaborate. The last king of the 5th Dynasty, introduced another convention, his burial tomb was the first to have been decorated with the "Pyramid Text".

These texts describe the ritual necessary to ensure a good journey and fate for the king in the afterlife, when he returns to the stars.

6th Dynasty: 2300–2100 BC

In the 6th Dynasty, the Old Kingdom begins its slow decline. The central power of the Pharaoh decreases.

Pepi I is associated, son will avenge, and chisel out the traitors images, defying them afterlife.

During the long reign of Pepi II, who ruled for more than 90 years, the Egyptian unity is compromised by local princes or governors who seize power in the provinces and rule almost independently.

During the 7th and 8th Dynasties 2150 - 2130, Egypt was struck by famine and there was no longer a central government to maintain order.

The Old Kingdom comes to an end with threats and invasions from the East and conflict between Pharaohs and the Priest class.

There was a gradual shift in the rule of the land to decentralized authority and regional cult and temple establishments. As well as a weakening royal authority. Lots of interbreeding.

With worsening climatic conditions, and political stress the Egyptian administration was no longer in a position to react. The Old Kingdom comes to an end in the 9–10th dynasty.

Funerary Architecture, 2700–2190 BC

The Old Kingdom was a time of social and political stability. Central to ancient Egyptian religious belief was the notion of a transcendental life force.

In the next life, Ka needed a body to live in, but when in absence of this earthly plane, a sculpted likeness of the deceased was made. It was especially important to provide an image and comfortable home for the Ba of a departed king, so that even in his afterlife he would continue to visit and give direction to the Egyptian people.

To satisfy the need of the deceased for Ka, in the next life. The Egyptians developed elaborate funerary rites and structures. They preserved bodies of the dead and placed them in burial chambers filled with supplies and furnishings that Ka might need in the afterlife. An egotistic compromise.

From the Early Dynastic Period, the most common type of tomb structure in Egypt was the Mastaba, which evolves to tombs for the wealthier in the later Old Kingdom. The wealthy devoted huge sums to the funerary tombs. These structures were grouped together at the edge of the desert on the west bank of the Nile, in the direction of the setting sun.

The two most extensive royal funerary complexes of the Old Kingdom are centered around the Saqqara for Djoser and at the three great Pyramids at Giza.
Where succeeding Pharaohs will house their images to act as a medium from the deceased.

Funerary Art into the New Kingdom.

The Saqqara complex is the main burial area during the Old Kingdom.

Beginning in the New Kingdom when a king died, his mummified body was ferried across the Nile from the pyramids and the sphinx to his valley temple, where it was received with elaborate ceremonies.

Their family members presented it with offerings of food and drink, and priests preformed the rite known as "opening the mouth", in which the deceased's spirit consumes a meal. Then the body was entombed in a vault or rock cut tombs in the Valley of the Dead.

Others, commoners and labors in mass underground necropolises, in-closed by sandstone slabs.

Djoser's Funerary Complex at Saqqara

The step pyramid at Saqqara. c. 2600 BC 3rd Dynasty.

Is Egypt's most impressive early cultural achievement. Imhotep is credited with being the first architect to build a pyramid megalith. He known as the father of medicine, and was deified 2000 years after his death.

The Saqqara is a monument to King Zoser. His symbol is the Ibis Bird, representing wisdom. Thousands of mummified ibises have been found to honor his death.

It was built by free workers, not slaves. They took pride in their work and left their marks on the stones they installed. They worked while the Nile irrigated the fields, and were given housing, food and beer.

Djoser, with his priest and architect Imhotep, built the gigantic step pyramid at Saqqara; it consisted of six massive steps, rising about 200 feet and measured 358 by 397 feet at its base. From its base a 92-foot shaft descends to granite lined burial vault. Covered by a mastaba, then two succeeding overlaying step pyramids.

This 36-acre complex was constructed for darkness as you move further in.
A temple chamber in front of the pyramid held the Pharaoh’s statue
His statue has holes in the eye's and nose to receive gifts each day from the priest.

Statues were receptacles for Ba the actual life force of the immortal Kings. They were therefore powerful and even dangerous. At the same time, they were vulnerable and needed ritual treatment for their survival, thus they were focal points for rites presided over by priest.

The Heb-Sed, an elaborate and detailed ceremony of ritual / renewal, was preformed at Saqqara. The king demonstrated his vigor by running around the outside perimeter of the walls. Then buried, to be reborn with renewed power. This feat would guarantee the Pharaoh another thirty more years of reign.

There is still some questions raised by certain experts, as to whether the 3rd Dynasty belongs to the Old Kingdom. Nevertheless, it is clear that the reign of Djoser (2630-2611 BC) marked the transition to a sophistication that characterizes the 4th Dynasty.

Egypt Old Kingdom Sculpture

A Fusion of Earthly immediacy and other-worldly concerns.

Confident heroic stature.

Narmers Palette 3150 BC

The King's name, are syllables of crude glyphs for chisel and catfish.

Narmer maybe the legendary King Menes, who conquered the peoples of northern Egypt and united the two parts of Egypt under a central rule. The Palette of Narmer depicts this conquest. On the front the king wears the crown of Upper Egypt and on the reverse the newly won radii crown of Lower Egypt.

The ceremonial palette of Narmer, first King of the 1st Dynasty was found at the temple of Hierakonpolis (Hawk City).

The Old Kingdom Egyptian kings all bear the image of Horus. Which indicates their status as the earthly incarnation of the Falcon celestial god.

Menkaure and His Queen—Builder of the third pyramid

Menkaure is portrayed with his left leg extended forward, his arms held stiff holding the symbol of Shin, or infinity indicative of his power.

A mature vigorous man, perhaps in his thirties, made to appear lifelike, yet idealized in cubic form. He represents the ideal of beauty in Old Kingdom Egypt.

The beard and the headdress are the primary symbols of his status as Pharaoh.

Next to Menkaure stands his queen, usually identified as Khamerernebty II. She stands in a more naturalistic way, with her right arm reaching around his waist, and her left one bent at the elbow and holding his left arm.

The "wet drapery", is intended to celebrate the physicality of the Queen's body. Material also clings in a natural way around her pubic area describing a broad triangular shape. A symbol of Feminine. A convention reaching back into the pre dynastic past when the fertility triangle was exaggerated.

The edges of the straps at her shoulders are not indicated, thereby making the dress seem invisible and her to seem nude even while clothed. Surviving traces of color indicate, that probably such lines as the shoulder straps of the queen's dress would have been shown.

On the queen's forehead can be seen her own hairline below what is seen to be a thick wig, probably made from human hair. The tripartite wig was also worn by women in subordinate positions, it may have been more an indicator of maturity than of class.

The statue is unfinished, only the head and parts of the upper body have received their final polish. The flat area next to their feet has inscriptions identifying each figure.

A common assumption has been that the queen is Menkaure's wife, and that in this position she occupied a position subordinate to the pharaoh.
Her left foot does not extend as far forward as Menkaure's, her pose has therefore been interpreted as that of a passive dutiful wife standing supportively next to her powerful husband.
Recently, this interpretation of the queen has been challenged.

Women in Early Egypt seem to have enjoyed the same legal and economic rights as men, a situation which the Greeks, writing about the Egyptians, found very strange.

Herodotus, writing in the 5th century BC lists customs that "women buy sell, the men abide at home and weave".

Early Egyptian cultures suggest it was ordained that the queen should have greater power and honor then the king and that among private persons the wife should enjoy authority over her husband.

This is the so-called "heiress" theory, which argues that the right to the throne in Ancient Egypt was transmitted through the female line.

The queen represented in the statue, therefore was more than a mere wife. Her position and gestures should be interpreted not as indication of inferiority, but signaling her legitimization of Menkaure as pharaoh. She is shown in the act of presenting him.

Records show that pharaohs had several "wives" of different standing within the royal bloodline. Heiress - queen could both be "married" to the pharaoh and also be married and have children with another man, a consort-king.
Power in Ancient Egypt descended through the mother's side of the royal family.
Men in the royal family, though, had certain claims to the throne by right of birth and kinship to the heiress-queen who may be their mother, stepmother, sister, half-sister, or niece. But none of the pharaoh's children would automatically be the next Pharaoh.