The New Kingdom of Egypt (1550-1069 B.C.), otherwise known as the Empire of Egypt, was instituted when Ahmose I expelled the foreign rule of Hyksos who had reigned during the Second Intermediate period (1802–1550 B.C.).The New Kingdom includes the 18th, 19th and 20th dynasties. In the later days of this epoch (1292–1069 B.C.) eleven pharaohs obtained the name of Ramesses, as a result, this time is also called the Ramesside period.
This period comprises the reign of today’s best known pharaohs of Egypt: Hatshepsut, Tutankamun, Thutmose III, Amenhotep, Akhenaten and many others. The celebrated relics of history such as the temples of Karnak and Luxor, Abu Simbel, Ramesseum, and the tombs of the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the queens were built in the course of this time.
Egypt, with a strong central government, saw a prosperous year with an expansion of its dominion and trade routes.
Egypt Mummy mask of a boy, by BurgerSF (second half of 14th Century BC)
The Eighteenth Dynasty
Dynasty XVIII (1543-1292 BC), otherwise known as the Thutmosid Dynasty because of the four kings named Thutmose, boasted Egypt’s foundation to a prosperous reign. The advent of the New Kingdom ushered in the revival of Egypt; the Theban Kings ousted the Hyksos and the Egyptian armed forces enlarged the kingdom’s dominion by entering the lands of Palestine and Syria.
Banquet scene, painting on straw and mud, Thebes, New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, c. 1400 BCE by Daderot (2011)
Egypt enjoyed an unprecedented prosperity of economy, trade expansion, foreign relations, innovative thinking, and artistry. This was made possible because of a succession of great kings and queens and a well-structured system of administration. The appointment of official positions was based on merit and competence which allowed for effective advances in all scopes of the kingdom’s enterprise.
This period was anything but uneventful. Thutmose I conquered and expanded Egypt’s dominion to Syria and Palestine to the west, the Euphrates River in the north, and Nubia to the south. Queen Hatshepsut and her successor Tuthmose III secured Egypt’s position as the first super power. Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti occasioned the world’s first instance of monotheism.
List of Dynasty XIX Pharaohs
1524–1503 B.C.—Amenhotep I
1503–1493 B.C.—Thutmose I
1493–1479 B.C.—Thutmose II
1479–1458 B.C.—Queen Hatshepsut
1479–1425 B.C.—Thutmose III
1425–1398 B.C.—Amenhotep II
1398–1388 B.C.—Thutmose IV
1388–1350 B.C.—Amenhotep III
1351–1334 B.C.—Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten)
1479–1425 B.C.—Thutmose III
Thutmose III (often styled “the Napoleon of Egypt”) was the son of Thutmose II. During his infancy, his step mother and aunt (she was married to her brother Thutmose II) Hatshepsut (1479–1458 B.C.) ruled over Egypt. Despite her great statesmanship and her achievements of expanding foreign trade, especially to the land of Punt, Hatshepsut was not accepted as a female pharaoh. When Thutmose III ascended to the throne, he continued her legacy but committed to a campaign to eliminate all memory of her. It was his innate desire not to see her serve as an idol to Egyptian women whom he believed did not belong to leadership.
Thutmose III was a great military man like his grandfather Thutmose I. He brought the kingdom to its zenith by conquering the whole of Syria, crossing the Euphrates River to fight the Mitannians who he successfully defeated, and forging south along the Nile River to Napata in Sudan. He also built a legion of temples honoring his notable accomplishments. Thutmose III is seen as one of ancient Egypt’s greatest pharaohs.
1351–1334 B.C.—Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten)
The son of Amenhotep III and Tiye, Akhenaten was Egypt’s most controversial ruler. He was the father of Tutankhamen (by a lesser wife named Kiya) and Ankhsenamun, who was the wife and half-sister of Tutankhamen—her mother was Nefertiti.
In the beginning five years of his rule, he was referred to as Amenhotep IV. He continued his father’s legacy and adhered to Egypt’s polytheism. But then he went through a religious transformation; he forsook his cult of Amun and espoused the cult of Aten. He altered his name to Akhenaten, meaning ‘successful for’ or `of great use to’ the god Aten. And in the next twelve years of his rule his religious fixation led Egypt to a complete collapse.
Akhenaten’s rule is one of anarchy; it is often referred to as ‘The Amarna Period’ (1353-1336 B.C.). This was due to the fact that he changed the capital of the kingdom from Thebes to a city he established - Akhetaten, which later came to be known as Amarna. This was a capital dedicated to the god Aten. It can be argued that Akhenaten was a pharaoh that brought the dynasty to its nadir.
The Amarna Period was fraught with turmoil. Akhenaten implemented reforms aimed at establishing a single and supreme god. He pursued a policy of erasing the worship of other gods besides Aten. The names of the other gods were chiseled from monuments, the ancient practices were banned and temples consecrated to other gods were shut down. This era was a stark contrast from the polytheistic and religiously tolerant Egypt. The Egyptologist Zahi Hawass writes:
“Dating to this point in Akhenaten’s reign was a campaign to excise the name of gods other than the Aten, especially Amun, from the monuments of Egypt. This was done with violence: hieroglyphs were brutally hacked from the walls of temples and tombs. This was probably carried out, at least in part, by illiterate iconoclasts, presumably following the orders of their king. [Akhenaten] carried out a religious revolution the like of which had never been seen before in Egypt. His reign represents a significant departure from religious, artistic, and political norms (42-43).”
Akhenaten was notorious for his actions; in archival records, his successors referred to him as “heretic king”, "the enemy" or "that criminal". He remained an ambiguous entity in Egypt’s history until the finding of the city of Amarna in the 19th century.
Despite his short life, Tutankhamen (also known as Tutankhamun and “King Tut”) is one of the most renowned historical relics of our time. His golden sarcophagus is now an emblem almost indistinguishable from Egypt. The name Tutankhamen means `living image of [the god] Amun.’
Tuts Tomb Opened, by the New York Times (1923)
Earlier findings used to argue that Tutankhamen’s reign was a rather peripheral one; however, recent evidence shows that his rule was indeed a decisive factor that restored order to an Egypt that was plagued with political and religious anarchy. This chaos was of course the making of his father Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten).
Tutankhamen ascended to power at the age of eight or nine in 1338 or 1336 B.C. after his father’s death. A coregent named Smenkhkare is believed to have reigned over Egypt in the interim period of Amenhotep IV’s death and Tutankhamen’s rise to power. Little is known about this interim pharaoh, but it is suspected that it might have been Nefertiti (the wife of Amenhotep IV and step-mother of Tutankhamen). According to the Egyptologist Zahi Hawass,Nefertiti ruled under the pseudonym Smenkhkare (a male persona) in order to avoid the wrath that was seen a century earlier after the death of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut (women were not supposed to assume power).
During his time of ruling, Tutankhamen, with his elder counselors, made strides to collect the rags of Egypt that his father left behind. He re-established order, brought back the religion of Amun and repaired derelict temples.
Tutankhamen’s early death is a contentious topic among scholars. Some argue that the severe wound on his skull attest to his murder; others adduce his incestuous birth as a genesis of his early death. What can be asserted though is that Tutankhamen’s death sounded the Knell of the 18th dynasty.
Colossal statue of King Tutankhamun, New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, reign of Tutankhamun, c. 1334 BC, by Daderot (20144)
He too entered an incestuous marriage; his wife was his half-sister Ankhsenamun (incestuous practice was commonplace in the 18th dynasty). Their two children were stillborn, thus Tutankhamen left the dynasty without an heir. His sudden death caused an incubated struggle for power. Hawass writes:
“The country would have fallen in disorder at the sudden death of Tutankhamun, who left the land with no heir. At the moment of his death, it is possible that Egypt was engaged in battle with the Hittites, in which case it is likely that Horemheb, who might otherwise have been expected to take the throne, was in the north leading the troops. Another high official, [named] Ay, supervised the king's trip to the afterlife instead. Ay bore the titles of Commander of Chariotry and Fanbearer at the King's Right Hand...By burying Tutankhamun, Ay proclaimed himself the next king (58-61).”
Ay’s ascension to power (1323–1319 B.C.) meant that Ankhsenamun had to marry him. She didn’t want to; so as a desperate try she resorted to the help of the Hittite (today’s Turkey) king Suppiluliuma I. She wrote this to him:
“My husband has died and I have no son. They say that you have many sons. You might give me one of your sons and he might become my husband. I would not want to take one of my servants. I am loath to make him my husband (Hawass, 67).”
The King responded to her imploration and sent his son Zananza.He was killed before reaching Egypt. Nothing is known of the event that took place after that—whether Ankhsenamun married Ay or not.
After the death of Ay, Horemheb (1319–1292 B.C.) ascended to the throne. As he didn’t have a royal blood, he claimed that the god Horus of Hutsenu had chosen him for the job of restoring the earlier prominence and glory of Egypt. He was the last pharaoh of Dynasty XVIII.
The Nineteenth Dynasty
Dynasty XIX (1292-1187 B.C.) was founded by Vizier Ramesses I; he was selected heir by the Pharaoh Horemheb. The 18th dynasty was unparalleled in power and thus was able to expand its dominion easily. But it wasn’t so easy for the 19th dynasty which constantly clashed with the powerful kingdom of the Hittites which had grown to be a major superpower, extending its territories to Syria and Canaan. The dynasty is perhaps best known for its series of military conquests in Canaan.
The dynasty reached its peak during the reign of Seti I and Rameses II who spearheaded dynamic crusades against the Hittites and Libyans.
The pharaohs of this dynasty were buried in Thebes in the Valley of Kings.
Intra-fights between the power hungry heirs of Merenptah led to the decay of the dynasty. The last ruler of the dynasty was Queen Tausret (Twosret) who had a sinister repute in Egyptian folklore. She ruled for only two years (1191–1189 B.C.) and proved to be ineffective. It is most probable that she was expelled by Senakhte who was the founder of the 20th Dynasty.
1279–1213 B.C.—Ramesses II
Ramsses II was the third pharaoh of the dynasty. He is known to the Egyptians as Usermaatre Setepenre, meaning 'Keeper of Harmony and Balance, Strong in Right, Elect of Ra’. He is also known as Ozymandias and Ramessesthe Great.
Ramesses II is considered to be the greatest rulers of the New Kingdom. He commissioned Egypt’s many elaborate buildings of the time: the temples at Abu Simbel, the enormous tomb complex known as the Ramesseum at Thebes, the complex at Abydos, the hall at Karnak, the celebrated tomb of Nefertari –which was his first wife—and hundreds of other building. The period of his reign is seen as the zenith of Egyptian art.
RamessesII is also celebrated for his conquests aimed at reclaiming territories of Levant that had been controlled by the eighteenth dynasty. His campaigns culminated to the Battle of Kadesh (1274 B.C.), fought between him and the Hittite king Muwatalli II.
Karnak temple, by Karelj (2010)
The pharaoh had the longest reign—he died at the age of 96. So long was his rule that when he died the Egyptian people feared the world would come to a devastating end. He later came to be known by the posterity as‘The Great Ancestor’. Ramesses II had over two hundred wives and concubines from whom he bore sixty daughters and ninety-six sons. He outlived most of his children.
List of Dynasty XIX Pharaohs
1292–1290 B.C.—Rameses I
1290–1279 B.C.—Seti I
1279–1213 B.C.—Ramesses II
1203–1197 B.C.—Seti II
1191–1189 B.C.—Queen Tausret (Twosret)
The Twentieth Dynasty
After usurping power from Queen Tausret (Twosret), Senakhte (1189–1186 B.C.) founded the 20th Dynasty (1189 to 1077 B.C.). His time of reign lasted for three years only and was immediately succeeded by his son Rameses III who was to be Egypt’s last great king.
During the 19th Dynasty, Egypt had enjoyed an unprecedented affluence which had allured the Sea Peoples (they’re origin is unknown but they are believed to have come from the Aegean area). They had demolished the Hittite empire and now had their eyes glued on Egypt’s wealth.
Although the Sea Peoples had attempted incursions earlier, Ramesses II had successfully kept them at bay. However, after his death, they managed to ransack Kadesh—then a territory of Egypt—and destroy the coast. Ramesses III engaged in a fierce battle between1180-1178 B.C., until he finally conquered them in the Battle of Xois in 1178 B.C.
After the rule of Ramesses III, Egypt was plagued by a legion of predicaments: a series of draughts, famine, below-normal flooding scales of the Nile, civil unrests and much besides. There followed a succession of kings named Ramesses; this was perhaps an attempt to redeem the past glories of Egypt.
The administration also faced a resistance from the populace of Egypt, namely those from the colonies. The clergy was another thorn to the central administration. After Tutankhamen restored the religion of Amun, the priests of Amun had grown very affluent and had appropriated massive land. They were a threat to the administration; their corruption led to the decay of social cohesion and the central government. By the time Rameses XI (1107–1077 B.C.)had ascended to power, the clergy had gotten so powerful that the High Priests of Amun at Thebes were governing the south as de facto rulers; this among other things occasioned the collapse of the 20th Dynasty and ushered in a new era known as the Third Intermediate Period (1069–664 B.C.) followed.
The List of the Rulers of Dynasty XX
1186–1155 B.C.—Rameses III
1155–1149 B.C.—Rameses IV
1149–1145 B.C.—Rameses V
1145–1137 B.C.—Rameses VI
1137–1130 B.C.—Rameses VII
1130–1129 B.C.—Rameses VIII
1129–1111 B.C.—Rameses IX
1111–1107 B.C. Rameses X
1107–1077 B.C.—Rameses XI