3000 - 2501 BC - PART I

  BACK-9000 BC NEXT-3000 BC Part II    
3000 - 2501 BC
Proto-Elam and Elam
The Ancient Kingdom
Ancient Egypt
King Narmer
King Menes
King Zoser
King Sanakht
King Khufu
King Khafre
Religion in Mesopotamia
The Gods and Goddesses of Egypt
Part II
Sumerian Art
The art of Ancient Egypt. The Predynastic and Early Dynastic Periods
Part III
The Invention of Writing
Animal actors
Pyramids of Giza
Building the Pyramids
City-States of Sumer
Sumerian first city-states
Mesopotamian Seals

Cuneiform tablet
"Archaeology ... deals with a period limited to a few thousand years and its subject is not the universe, not even the human race, but modern man. "

Leonard Woolley Digging up the Past (1930).
The archaeologist defines his work in the Middle East.



Events that Shaped the World

3000-2501 BC

 3000 b.c.e. Silk Cloth Manufactured

The manufacture of silk cloth from the filaments of the silkworm caterpillar's cocoon, a process known as sericulture, produces the world's finest natural fabric, one so coveted in antiquity that it lent its name to a wide-ranging network of trade routes spanning Eurasia, the silk roads. The earliest known fragments of woven silk date to about 3000 B.C.E., though evidence suggests its roots lay centuries deeper with the Yangshao people, agricultural inhabitants of the Yellow River Basin in eastern China. Knowledge of silk production was slow to travel and was not known in most other parts of China until the second century B.C.E. For much of its history, China maintained a monopoly on silk production and was able to ship this highly prized luxury item along the silk roads to lands as distant as India, Persia, Mesopotamia, and even Rome.

3000 b.c.e. Paper Developed

The development of papyrus as a writing medium led to the first books that could be transported easily across wide geographic ranges. Papyrus was first produced in ancient Egypt around 3000 B.C.E. from the marsh reed of the same name. Egyptian papermakers cut the inner portions of the papyrus stem into long, narrow strips, then placed them side by side on a cloth in two perpendicular layers. They would dampen, pound, and press the strips until the sap of the reed adhered the layers into a single sheet. Papyrus sheets were glued together into long scrolls with a flour paste. Inks of various colors were applied with reed pens. The use of scrolls led to a growing number of educated, literate scribes, who now could set down more easily their thoughts on science, medicine, history, architecture, and religion. Through the use of papyrus scrolls, the collective knowledge and cultural mores of the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans could be disseminated and preserved for future generations.

2600 b.c.e. First Pyramid Built

Imhotep is the first physician in recorded history, and as architect of Egypt's first pyramid, he is also the earliest artist and engineer whose name has been preserved. Born a commoner, Imhotep distinguished himself as a skilled and intelligent administrator during the reign of Pharaoh Djoser from 2630 to 2611 B.C.E. Although he was deified after death, Imhotep's many achievements in life may have been embellished by later generations. His esteemed position and reputation, though, add credence to his skill as a physician. It was as architect and designer of the step pyramid of Djoser that Imhotep's work was truly unprecedented. Rising about 200 feet, the step pyramid is the world's first building constructed completely of quarried stone and stands as the first imposingly grandiose royal tomb in ancient Egypt. It set off a flurry of pyramid construction over the following centuries that would result in the largest buildings the world had ever known.

2600 b.c.e. Stringed Instruments Evolve

The development of stringed instruments is indicative of the increasingly important role that music played in the daily and courtly life of the ancient world. The earliest stringed instrument was likely the musical bow, whose origins are obscured in prehistory. The oldest extant stringed instruments are nine lyres and three harps, unearthed from royal burial chambers in the Mesopo-tamian city of Ur and dating back to about 2600 B.C.E. These ornately engraved instruments were sacrificed along with their owners in order to accompany the nobility of Ur to the afterlife, evidence of their status as prized commodities. Wall paintings and figurines attest to the presence of almost identical instruments in Egypt and the Aegean Islands around the same time. The lyre seems to have functioned for poetic and religious purposes, while the harp, often represented as played by women, may have served a role in erotic entertainment. The lute, or oud, may originally have been the instrument of farmers and shepherds, but its successors, the guitar, fiddle, sitar, banjo, and others, are now played the world over.

2550 b.c.e. Pyramids at Giza and Khufu

The Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza still stand as perhaps the most remarkable technical feats of construction, engineering, and sheer organization of labor in the ancient world. Harnessing the energies of tens of thousands of masons, craftsmen, laborers, and slaves, these massive monuments were constructed using relatively simple tools of copper, stone, wood, and rope. The largest of all the Egyptian pyramids, the Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza, erected between 2551 and 2528 B.C.E., originally rose 481 feet above the desert sand and is composed of some 2,300,000 blocks of limestone, some weighing up to 15 tons. With perfectly sloped sides oriented to the cardinal points of a compass, it is a marvel of precision, intended to stand for eternity. Weighing in at about 5,750,000 tons, the Great Pyramid of Khufu is arguably the largest structure ever made by humans, not surpassed in height until perhaps as late as the 19th century c.e.

3000 - 2501 BC

Ancient cities of Mesopotamia
Sumer in southern Mesopotamia was the location of the world's first urban civilization from с 2900 ВСЕ
as agricultural success led to a complex society.


3000-2700 B.C.

DURING THE LAST HALF OF THE FOURTH MILLENNIUM ВСЕ, the world's first civilizations arose, first in Western Asia, then North Africa and South Asia.
Civilization also appeared in China in the early second millennium ВСЕ. By 3000 все, the world's first urban culture had begun to develop in southern Mesopotamia, in what is now Iraq. The lower Euphrates river plains had been farmed from с 6200 все, after the development of irrigation systems—the Greek word mesopotamia means "land between the rivers." By 3500 все, farming communities were growing into towns and then cities such as Ur, Uruk, and Eridu. Over the next 300 years, each city came to dominate its surrounding area, forming a group of city-states in the land called Sumer in southeast Mesopotamia.

Metalworking had begun in Mesopotamia around 6000 все. Around 3200bce, Sumerian smiths began manufacturing bronze. The plow had been in use since about 5000bce, wheeled carts from around 3500все, and such advances made farming more productive. The resulting food surplus freed some people from the farming life, allowing specialization into professions such as priesthood, crafts, trade, and administration. The world's first tiered society developed, headed by kings sometimes known as lugals.

In Egypt, one of the world's most complex ancient civilizations was forming along the banks of the Nile River by 3100 все. The Nile formed a narrow strip of cultivatable land, floodplain, as the river's annual flood (known as the inundation) spread black silt along its banks. The Egyptian farming year began in the fall when the inundation subsided, and farmers cultivated wheat, barley, beans, and lentils in the fertile soil.

By the end of the 4th millennium все, farming communities had evolved into two kingdoms: Upper Egypt in the south and Lower Egypt in the north. King Narmer united the two kingdoms с 3100 все. After Narmer came Menes, although historians are unsure whether Menes was Narmer's successor or a different name for Narmer himself.
Menes is credited with founding the Egyptian capital at Memphis and Egypt's first dynasty.
  As in Mesopotamia, efficient agriculture produced prosperity and specialism, allowing arts, crafts, engineering, and early medicine to develop.

The Early Dynastic Period (с. 3100-2686 все)
was already characterized by many of the celebrated aspects of Egyptian culture: hieroglyphic writing, a sophisticated religion (including belief in an afterlife), and preserving the dead using mummification. A complex hierarchical society developed, with the king at the apex accorded semi-divine status. Egyptian kings—later known as pharaohs—ruled with the help of a chief minister, or vizier, regional governors (nomarchs), and a huge staff of lesser officials including priests, tax collectors, and scribes.

In China, civilization originated in the valleys of eastern rivers such as the Huang He (Yellow River), where the rich loess soil made the land fertile. As early as 8000все, millet had been cultivated in the area around Yangshao in Henan Province. Around с 2400 все, the neighboring Dawenkou culture developed into the Longshan culture of Shangdong Province.
Longshan farmers grew rice after developing irrigation systems. As in other early civilizations, agricultural success allowed the development of an elaborate society. Chinese craftsmen were making bronze tools с 3000 все, jade vessels с. 2700 все, and silk weaving had begun by 3500 bce.

The Bronze Age was underway in western Asia by 3000 все, and possibly considerably earlier. The Bronze Age in Europe seems to have developed separately from around 2500 все, using ore sources from the Carpathian Mountains in Central Europe. This era also saw the beginnings of the Minoan civilization on the Greek island of Crete around 2000 все, with trading links to the nearby Cyclades Islands and the wider Mediterranean.

In Western Europe, the earlier tradition of megalithic tomb building and a growing interest in astronomical observation gave rise to a new megalithic tradition of erecting stone circles, stone rows, standing stones, and tombs including astronomical features. These include Newgrange in Ireland, Stonehenge in England, and Carnac in France.

2700-2500 B.C.

was a patchwork of over 40 city-states, among which Ur, Uruk, Nippur, and Kish were the most important.

Trade flourished using a network of rivers and canals, and trade links extended to Anatolia (modern-day Turkey), Iran, and Afghanistan, with grain, minerals, lumber, tools, and vessels traded. The Sumerian population was unique in being predominantly urban. In Ur, Uruk, and other centers, people lived in clustered mud-brick houses. At the heart of the city, the ziggurat—a terraced temple mound—provided the focus for religious ceremonies, and grain was kept in storerooms within the temple precincts. From around 2500bce, some citizens of Ur were buried in tombs along with treasures such as the Standard of Ur. The purpose of its intricate side panels is still a mystery; they may have formed the soundbox of a lyre.

Arising from the need to keep economic and administrative records, the first pictographic writing developed in Sumer (c. 3300все). Pictographs (pictorial writing representing a word or phrase) evolved into a script called cuneiform с. 2900все, in which scribes pressed sharpened reeds into soft clay to leave wedge-shaped impressions. Southern Mesopotamia became densely populated, putting pressure on natural resources. This led to conflicts over land and water, and alliances between cities were forged and broken.

The first signs of civilization in the Americas appeared along the coast of Peru and in the Andes с 2800все. Andean farmers grew potatoes and the cereal quinoa, and raised alpacas and llamas. There were fishing communities on the coast, while inland towns became ceremonial centers, builtaround mud-brick temple platforms.
  An exceptional example is Caral, about 125 miles (200 km) from Lima and dating from с 2600 все. Another, Aspero, had six platform mounds topped by temples. Cotton was grown in the region, and corn was cultivated from around 2700bce.

The Indus Valley civilization began to emerge in South Asia in the fourth millennium все, as flood control technology developed. By 2600bce, the Indus Plain contained dozens of towns and cities. Of these, Mohenjo-daro on the Indus River, and Harappa, to the northeast, were preeminent, with populations of around 100,000 and 60,000, respectively.

In Egypt, King Sanakht acceded to the throne in the year 2686 все, marking the beginning of the Third dynasty and the Old Kingdom era—a time of strong, centralized rule and pyramid-building. These magnificent monuments were built as royal tombs. In Early Dynastic times, kings had been buried beneath rectangular mud-brick platforms called mastabas. Around 2650все, the first pyramid, the Step Pyramid of Saqqara, was completed for King Djoser. Designed by the architect Imhotep, it resembled six stone mastabas on top of one another.

Straight-sided pyramids appeared soon after, the greatest of which were the three pyramids at Giza. These incredible feats of engineering were constructed not by slaves as was once thought, but by a staff of full-time craftsmen and masons supplemented by farmers performing a type of national service during the Nile floods. Enormous blocks of stone (lower stones of 6-10 tons; higher ones of 1-2 tons) were cut from local quarries, hauled on site using sleds, and then heaved up ramps, which grew ever higher as construction progressed.
  3000 - 2501 BC

Semitic tribes occupy Assyria in northern part of the plain of Shinar and Akkad

Phoenicians settle on Syrian coast, with centers at Tyre and Sidon

Neolithic settlements in Crete

Height of Danubian culture

Beginning of early dynastic period of Mesopotamia

Egyptians invade Palestine as reprisal for attacks on trade caravans

Proto-Elam and Elam

2 Valley in Lunstan, southwest Iran

Concurrently with Sumer, another early high culture emerged
in the 2 southwest of present-day Iran.
The Elam kingdom produced the oldest known inter-state treaty.



This little-known culture, identifiable only by a form of script used around 2900 B.C., is referred to as Proto-Elam. Out of it rose the later kingdom of Elam, perhaps as early ac. 2700 b.c. Around 2300 B.C. the Akkadians occupied the empire until Elam regained its independence in 2240 through an inter-state treaty—the oldest surviving in the world. Several royal dynasties followed, with a supreme monarch—resident in the capital Susa—ruling over several vassal kings.

Women generally played a larger role in Elamitic society than in neighboring Sumer and Akkad. The wife, and often the sister, of the king was a prominent figure. Upon his death, she married his successor. Occasionally successors in the female line predominated.

4 Women spinning, eighth с. в.с.

In the history of Elam, periods of rule by foreign powers alternated with times of Elamite expansion. Around 2004 B.C. the Elamites destroyed Ur. Six hundred years later Elam came under the rule of the old Babylonian Empire.

Then in 1155 B.C., the Elamites expelled the Kassites from Babylon, ruling until 1100 when Nebuchadressar I of the second dynasty of Isin pushed the Elamites back out of Babylon and pillaged their capital 6 Susa.

Only in 646 B.C. was Elam finally destroyed by the Assyrians. The area then fell to the Persians and became the central province of the vast empire forged by the powerful Achaemenid dynasty.

6 Reconstructed fortification of Susa, Iran


  3000 - 2501 BC

The Ancient Kingdom


Ancient Egypt

In the time of the Ancient Kingdom, the most famous pyramids were built. They testify to the pronounced hierarchical character of the Egyptian society.


Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt, civilization in northeastern Africa dating from the 3rd millennium bc. Its many achievements, preserved in its art and monuments, hold a fascination that continues to grow as archaeological finds expose its secrets...

Timeline for Egyptian Pharaohs...


"Gift of the Nile"

In the fifth century B.C. the Greek historian and traveler Herodotus described Egypt as "a gift of the Nile": "It is certain, however, that now they gather in fruit from the earth with less labor than any other men, for they have no labor in breaking up furrows with a plough, nor in hoeing, nor in any other of those labors which other men have about a crop; but [they wait until] when the river has come up of itself and watered their fields and, after watering, has left."

From the History of Herodotus
  Egypt is located in the Nile Valley, bordered on the East and West by desert.

The yearly flooding which occurs between July and October deposits the fertile silt that is the basis of productive agriculture on the land bordering the river.

The country is divided into Upper Egypt, where the Nile flows through a narrow valley, and Lower Egypt, where the river and its tributaries form a broad delta before flowing into the Mediterranean Sea.

In the early period, ca. 2900 B.C., two warring, independent kingdoms developed in the two areas. According to tradition, it was в Narmer, a Predynastic ruler of Upper Egypt, who conquered the Nile Delta and unified the two kingdoms, establishing the new capital and powerful Memphis on the border of the two. Aha ruled the first dynasty, ca. 2900 B.C.

The separation between Upper and Lower Egypt into autonomous regions occurred repeatedly throughout Egypt's history. Whenever central power began to decline, the individual regions would exert their independence.

Nilometer used to measure the high-water mark of floods since 2000 B.C.
Sailing and agriculture
View of the Nile showing the bordering agricultural lands
Ever since the birth of Egyptian culture, the throne was closely linked to religion. At first each pharaoh was considered to be a representative of the heavenly god Horu. From the fifth dynasty onward, however, the successive pharaohs were revered as the sons of the sun god Re.

Pharaoh Chephren with the Horus Falcon, ca. 2500 B.C.

The unification of Upper and Lower Egypt was symbolically reenacted every time there was an accession to the throne, when the pharaoh was crowned with the double crown of both kingdoms. The ruler regularly levied taxes. These depended on the size of the fieds and the amount of  livestock each family owned, furthermore, the population was required to absolve communal duties during the dry and flood periods. These included the digging of canals and dams as well as the construction of the royal tombs.

Aside from the pharaoh, the priests, high officials, and provincial governors owned the majority of property. They were thus able to exert great political influence in the kingdom, particularly as many of these offices became hereditary with the passage of time.

Wood model of a livestock counting, 1990 B.C.

Sitting scribe, ca. 2500 B.C.

One of the most significant pharaohs of the Old Kingdom was King Djoser of the third dynasty, who commissioned expeditions to the Sinai Peninsula where copper and turquoise were mined. He is also well known for his Step pyramid at Saqqara. The architect of this structure was Imhotep, who also made a name for himself as a physician, priest, and court official. He was one of history's first universal talents and was later revered as a deity.

The Old Kingdom reached its high point during the fourth dynasty. Pharaoh Snefru led raiding expeditions to Nubia (present-day Sudan) in the south and to Libya in the west, bringing back spoils such as gold, ivory, and slaves.

His son Cheops left behind the Great Pyramid of Giza. the sole survivor of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Cheops' successors Chephren and Mycerinus also built great burial complexes in Giza. After the reign of Pharaoh Pepy II of the sixth dynasty, who ruled for over 90 years, signs of disintegration began to appear. Power struggles, assassinations at the royal court, and independence struggles led by regional governors led to the demise of the Old Kingdom.

A Nubian family with animals, ca. 1340 B.C.

Narmer, 1st King of all Egypt

Narmer was an Egyptian Pharaoh who ruled in the 31st century BC. Thought to be the successor to the predynastic Scorpion and/or Ka, he is considered by some to be the founder of the First dynasty, and therefore the first king of all Egypt.

Narmer, 1st King of all Egypt
King Narmer , 1st King of all Egypt

Narmer was an ancient Egyptian pharaoh of the Early Dynastic Period (c. 32nd century BCE). He is thought to be the successor to the Protodynastic pharaohs Scorpion (or Selk) and/or Ka, and he is considered by some to be the unifier of Egypt and founder of the First Dynasty, and therefore the first pharaoh of unified Egypt.

The identity of Narmer is the subject of ongoing debate, although mainstream Egyptological consensus identifies Narmer with the Protodynastic pharaoh Menes (or "Merinar" reversing the 2 hieroglyphs which spell "Narmer"). Menes is also credited with the unification of Egypt, as the first pharaoh. This conclusion of joint identity is evidenced by different royal titularies in the archaeological and historical records, respectively.

The famous Narmer Palette, discovered in 1898 in Hierakonpolis, shows Narmer displaying the insignia of both Upper and Lower Egypt, giving rise to the theory that he unified the two kingdoms in c. 3100 BC.

A mud jar sealing indicating that the contents came from the estate of the pharaoh Narmer.
The mainstream Egyptological consensus identifying Narmer with Menes is by no means universal. This has ramifications for the agreed history of ancient Egypt. Some Egyptologists hold that Menes is the same person as Hor-Aha and that he inherited an already-unified Egypt from Narmer; others hold that Narmer began the process of unification but either did not succeed or succeeded only partially, leaving it to Menes to complete. Arguments have been made that Narmer is Menes because of his appearance on several ostraca in conjunction with the gameboard hieroglyph for "mn", which appears to be a contemporary record to the otherwise mythical king.

At the site of Nahal Tillah, a pottery shard was found with the serekh of king Narmer, showing that the Egyptian kings had five royal names, one of which also included the signs for "mn" (Menes), without further title but adjacent to the Horus name for Narmer. This would lead to the conclusion that Menes' royal names included "Narmer". However, there are inconsistencies within every ostracon which mentions Menes, precluding any definitive proof to his identity. The king lists recently found in the tombs of Den and Qa'a both list Narmer as the founder of their dynasty, who was then followed by Hor-Aha (but Menes was absent).

Another equally plausible theory is that Narmer was an immediate successor to the king who did manage to unify Egypt (perhaps the King Scorpion whose name was found on a macehead also discovered in Hierakonpolis), but he adopted symbols of unification that had already been in use for perhaps a generation.

His wife is thought to have been Neithhotep (literally: "Neith is satisfied"), a princess of northern Egypt. Inscriptions bearing her name were found in tombs belonging to Narmer's immediate successors Hor-Aha and Djer, implying that she was the mother of Hor-Aha.

King Menes  
Menes, also spelled Mena, Meni, or Min (flourished c. 2925 BC), first king of unified Egypt, who, according to ancient tradition, joined Upper and Lower Egypt in a single, centralized monarchy. Manetho, a 3rd-century-bce Egyptian historian, called him Menes; the 5th-century-bce Greek historian Herodotus referred to him as Min; and two native-king lists of the 19th dynasty (13th century bce) call him Meni. Modern scholars have inconclusively identified the traditional Menes with one or more of the archaic Egyptian kings bearing the names Scorpion, Narmer, and Aha.

In addition to crediting Menes with the unification of Egypt by war and administrative measures, tradition attributes to him the founding of the capital, Memphis, near present-day Cairo. Excavations at Haqqārah, the cemetery for Memphis, have revealed that the earliest royal tomb located there belongs to the reign of Aha. Manetho called Menes a Thinite—i.e., a native of the Thinite province in Upper Egypt—and, in fact, monuments belonging to the kings Narmer and Aha, either of whom may be Menes, have been excavated at Abydos, a royal cemetery in the Thinite nome. Narmer also appears on a slate palette (a decorated stone on which cosmetics were

King Menes

Pharaoh Djoser, Build 1st pyramid

Netjerikhet or Djoser is the best-known pharaoh of the Third dynasty of Egypt.


King Zoser , king of 3rd Egyptian dynasty
Statue of Djoser in Cairo Museum, originally in his serdab at the Step Pyramid
Pharaoh Djoser's step pyramid in Saqqara, ca. 2600 B.C.
Djoser, also spelled Zoser, second king of the 3rd dynasty (c. 2650–c. 2575 bce) of ancient Egypt, who undertook the construction of the earliest important stone building in Egypt. His reign, which probably lasted 19 years, was marked by great technological innovation in the use of stone architecture. His minister, Imhotep, a talented architect and physician, was himself deified in later periods.

Djoser probably succeeded his brother to the throne. Through his mother, he was related to the last ruler of the 2nd dynasty (c. 2775–c. 2650). With the help of Imhotep, the king erected a funerary complex at Ṣaqqārah, outside the royal capital, Memphis (southwest of modern Cairo). Built entirely of stone, the innovative structure was a departure from the traditional use of mud bricks along with stone. The greatest advance, however, was a complete alteration of the shape of the monument from a flat-topped rectangular structure to a six-stepped pyramid. Surrounding the Step Pyramid were a large number of limestone buildings intended to represent shrines used for royal rituals. The style of architecture of these buildings reproduced in minutest detail the wood, reed, and brick forms employed in utilitarian construction in Egypt.

The pyramid complex was enclosed by a wall with a single entrance at the southeast corner of the precinct. In response to the internal troubles of the 2nd dynasty, Djoser was the first king to reside exclusively at Memphis, thereby helping to make it the political and cultural centre of Old Kingdom (c. 2575–c. 2130 bce) Egypt.
  King Sanakht
  Relief fragment of pharaoh Sanakht, shown in the pose of smiting an enemy. On display at the British Museum.
Sanakht(e), generally identified with the Nebka of much later king lists, was probably either the first or second pharaoh of the Third Dynasty of Ancient Egypt. The dates assigned to his reign by Shaw are ca. 2686-2667 BC; for various conjectures of other scholars. Sanakht's name means strong protection.

Sanakht's position in the royal family is not entirely clear. It has been suggested that Sanakht married Queen Nimaethap. In this theory, Nimaethap is considered to be the daughter of Khasekhemwy with Sanakht and Nimaethap being the parents of Djoser (Netjerikhet). Others have suggested that Sanakht should be identified with Nimaethap's son Nebka and conjecture that he was the founder of the Third Dynasty.

Presently Sanakht is more commonly thought to date to the Third Dynasty after Djoser.While Sanakht's existence is attested by a mastaba tomb and a graffito, among other objects, his position as the founder of the Third Dynasty, as recorded by Manetho and the Turin Canon, has been seriously undermined by recent archaeological discoveries at Abydos.
  These discoveries establish that it was likely Djoser who helped bury—and thus succeed—Khasekhemwy, rather than Sanakht. This is determined from seals found at the entrance to the latter's tomb bearing Djoser's name.It appears instead, that Sanakht was a later king of the third dynasty. Unlike Djoser, few relics survive from Sanakht's reign, which also casts serious doubts on the traditional figure of an eighteen year reign for this king, as given by both Manetho and the Turin Canon.

It must be stressed that the Turin Canon and Manetho were more than one and two thousand years removed from the time of Egypt's third dynasty, and would be expected to contain some inaccurate or unreliable data. The Turin Canon, for instance, was transcribed on papyri that dates to the reign of the New Kingdom king, Ramesses II, who ruled Egypt from 1279-1213 BC.

A large mastaba near Abydos contained some fragments bearing the name of Sanakht. It also contained skeletal remains, which may have been those of this king. Manetho also credited a certain late 2nd dynasty king he calls Sesochris as being particularly tall, which may refer to these remains.


King Khufu (Cheops), 4th dynasty (2700–2675 B.C.), completes construction of the Great Pyramid at Giza (c. 2680 B.C.).

The Great Sphinx of Giza (c. 2540 B.C.) is built by King Khafre.

Statue of Khufu in the Cairo Museum
King Khufu

Khufu, Greek Cheops (flourished 25th century bce), second king of the 4th dynasty (c. 2575–c. 2465 bce) of Egypt and builder of the Great Pyramid at Al-Jīzah, the largest single building to that time.

Khufu’s reign and that of his son Khafre were represented by the Greek historian Herodotus as 106 years of oppression and misery, but this was belied by Khufu’s posthumous reputation in Egypt as a wise ruler. Herodotus’s story of Khufu’s prostitution of his daughter in order to raise money for his building projects is clearly apocryphal.

Although few written sources remain, it is known that Khufu was the son and successor of King Snefru and his queen Hetepheres and was probably married four times: to Merityetes, who was buried in one of the three small pyramids beside his own; to a second queen, whose name is unknown; to Henutsen, whose small pyramid is the third of the group; and to Nefert-kau, the eldest of Snefru’s daughters. Two of his sons, Redjedef and Khafre, succeeded him in turn.

Statue of Khafre, originally found at Mit Rahina, now residing in the Egyptian Museum, in Cairo
King Khafre

Khafre, also spelled Khafra, Greek Chephren (flourished 26th century bce), fourth king of the 4th dynasty (c. 2575–c. 2465 bce) of ancient Egypt and builder of the second of the three Pyramids of Giza.

Khafre was the son of King Khufu and succeeded the short-lived Redjedef, probably his elder brother. He married his sister Khamerernebti, Meresankh III, and perhaps two other queens. Although many of his relatives were hastily buried in cheap tombs, his own pyramid was almost as vast as the Great Pyramid of his father.

Khafre’s valley temple, linked to the pyramid by a causeway, was constructed of great monolithic blocks of granite and contained remarkable statues of the king carved from diorite taken from a remote quarry in the Nubian Desert. Near the causeway is located the Great Sphinx (see sphinx), which many consider to bear Khafre’s features.

Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt, civilization in northeastern Africa dating from the 3rd millennium bc. Its many achievements, preserved in its art and monuments, hold a fascination that continues to grow as archaeological finds expose its secrets...

Timeline for Egyptian Pharaohs...

  3000 - 2501 BC


Long before Greek and Roman antiquity laid the foundations for Western culture, high civilizations were emerging in the Orient, particularly in the fertile "land between the rivers"—Mesopotamia.


1 The bust of a Sumerian lady of the court at Ur wearing headgear and other jewelry

The Early States of Mesopotamia

In contrast to the desert of the Arabian Peninsula to the south and the rugged mountain ranges to the north, Mesopotamia ("land between the rivers"), situated between the Tigris and Euphrates provided fertile land for cultivation. Early inhabitants, therefore, called their home Sumer ("cultivated land"). One of the earliest civilization of the Near East developed here. Complex societies flourished and were later organized into city-states like Uruk. Over time, great empires developed who managed to extend their power well beyond the two rivers.

The discovery of the treasures of ancient Ur put the Sumerians once again in a prominent position on the world stage. They had been absent for more than 4,000 years. The Sumerians were the people who transformed the vast, flat lower valley between the Tigris and Euphrates into the Fertile Crescent of the ancient world. Sparsely inhabited before the Sumerians, this area is now southern Iraq. In the fourth millennium все, the Sumerians established the first great urban communities and developed the earliest known writing system.

Bedouin shepherd with sheep in Jordan.
Cattle herd at a river in Khuzistan, Iran.
Camel and rider, ca. 700 B.C.
The donkey and particularly the camel were also domesticated for riding and as pack animals.

The camel became the main form of transportation in the caravan trade, while horses were used primarily in warfare.

Wheat and barley were the main crops cultivated. The invention of the field plow, cleverly devised irrigation systems, and dams and canals to protect against floods all increased efficiency and production within the settlements. The other important task of the growing communities was defense against outside enemies who were competing for resources.

Sumerian bulls head

Cultivation of grain on artificially irrigated fields

The increasing number and complexity of tasks led to social differentiation between farmers, craftsmen, warriors, and administrators. In addition, there were priests who performed religious rites and also attempted to determine the favorable times for sowing and harvest through calculations, prophecies, and astrology.
Engraving of carpenter, Babylon, second-third с. в.с.
Statuette of a baker, ninth eighth century B.C.
Statue of a priest
Administration and Religion in the Ancient Orient

Early communities eventually developed into strictly hierarchical class-based societies. The officials, as administrative specialists, held a key position. They controlled the municipal trade and agrarian production.

Central grain silos were usually placed in religious structures, and for this reason it is assumed that the state's property and administration was also concentrated here (that is, a "temple economy").

The ruler, a king or city prince, had a special role. He was the initiator of communal work projects as well as the head of administrative and religious activities. He administered the land in the name of the gods and acted as their earthly representative.

Ruins of a grain silo
The Significance and Development of Writing

The change in the cultural development of man that resulted from the invention of writing cannot be overestimated. The earliest known script has been found on small clay tablets that were used in commercial transactions.

Early Sumerian cuneiform writing developed out of pictographs in which—as in Egyptian hieroglyphics—the pictograph resembled the object it was meant to represent.

It was a complicated system that was mastered only by specially trained scribes who therefore had a powerful position within the social hierarchy.

Trade record in cuneiform script,
ca. second с. в.

Egyptian hieroglyphics in a mural in the tomb of Haremhab,
in the Valley of the Kings in Western Thebes, Egypt
Pictographs differed from the earlier symbols and paintings by cavemen because they relied on the systematic coherency of the writing, rather than oral tradition, for the transmission of meaning. The desire to simplify writing led from pictographs to cuneiform script. Characte pressing a sound or a group of sounds replaced the object symb and word-phonetic spelling developed.   At first a syllabary : emerged in which a character represented a single syllable or com syllables. Around 2500 B.C., the Akkadians adopted Sumerian syllable writing, which already existed in cuneiform, and expanded it with their own characters. Later, the Elamites, Hurrites, Hittites, Urartians, and other peoples adopted this writing system, and by 1400 B.C. it was in use as the common script for international trade.

Byblos, ruins of the obelisk temple

The most abstract step in the development of writing was the creation of an alphabetic script assigning characters to sounds. With this method, an unlimited number of combinations can be formed with a small number of phonetic characters. The first scripts composed purely of phonetic characters were developed in the Canaanite metropolises of Ugarit (ca. 1400 B.C.) and Byblos (ca. 1000 B.C.), with alphabets of 30 and 22 letters, respectively. Like all Semitic script, the alphabets of the Canaanites and their successors, the Phoenicians—which became the foundation for Israelite, Syrian, Arabic, and Greek alphabets—had no vowels.

The Greek alphabet was the first to include vowel characters, but it otherwise adopted the form and order of the letters from previous alphabets, as well
as their use as numeric symbols. The oldest Greek texts are also written, like the old Semitic texts, from right to left.

  3000 - 2501 BC

Sumerian chief deities are Mother Goddess Innin and her son Tammuz; similar divinities are worshiped by Egyptians, Hittites, Phoenicians, and Scandinavians

Pharaoh, the god-king in Egypt

Major religious festival in Sumeria celebrates victory of god of spring over goddess of chaos

The Gods and Goddesses of Mesopotamia

The Sumerians and their successors in the ancient Near East worshiped numerous deities, mostly nature gods. The Mesopotamian gods and goddesses discussed in this chapter are listed here.

Ann, the chief deity of the Sumerians, was the god of the sky and of the city of Uruk. One of the earliest Sumerian temples may have been dedicated to his worship.

Enlil, Anu's son, was the lord of the winds and the earth. He eventually replaced his father as king of the gods.

Inanna was the Sumerian goddess of love and war. Later known as Ishtar, she is the most important female deity in all periods of Mesopotamian history. At a very early date, the Sumerians constructed a sanctuary to Inanna at Uruk. Amid the ruins, excavators uncovered fourth-millennium statues and reliefs connected with her worship. Whether or not the goddess herself was represented in human form at that time is uncertain. Inanna/Ishtar is unmistakably depicted with her sacred lion in a mural painting in the 18th-century все palace of Zimri-Lim at Mari.

Nanna, the moon god, also known as Sin, was the chief deity of Ur, where his most important shrine was located.

Utu, god of the sun, known later as Shamash, was especially revered at Sippar. On a Babylonian stele of ca. 1780 все, King Hammurabi presents his law code to Shamash, who is depicted with flames radiating from his shoulders.

Marduk was the chief god of the Babylonians. His son Nabu was the god of writing and wisdom. Adad was the Babylonian god of storms. Nabu's dragon and Adad's sacred bull are depicted on the sixth-century все Ishtar Gate at Babylon.

Ningirsu was the local god of Lagash and Girsu. His name means "lord of Girsu." Eannatum, one of the early rulers of Lagash, defeated an enemy army with the god's assistance and commemorated Ningirsu's role in the victory on the so-called Stele of the Vultures of ca. 2600-2500 все. Gudea, one of Eannatum's Neo-Sumerian successors, built a great temple about 2100 все in honor of Ningirsu after the god instructed him to do so in a dream.

Ashur, the local deity of Assur, the city that took his name, became the king of the Assyrian gods. He sometimes is identified with Enlil.

  Religion in Mesopotamia

Religion in Mesopotamia was very complex and, as a result of the steady arrival and settlement of nomadic peoples, new elements were constantly added, and others changed over time, thus testifying to its integrative capacity. Various local heroes, such as Gilgamesh of Uruk (ca. 2700-2600 B.C.), or city tutelary deities, such as Marduk in Babylon, rose to prominence in the pantheon of the gods with the support of the community. For example, Marduk was declared chief god under Hammurapi of Babylon (1792-1750 B.C.).

The Achaemenid ruler Cyrus the Great accepted the acclamation of the Marduk priesthood in Babylon and thereby renewed the Babylonian Kingdom. After his victory over Darius III in the battle at Gaugamela, Alexander the Great paid tribute to the city god Marduk in 331 B.C. His rule thereby acquired an element of divine legitimacy. In this way the conqueror made himself the successor of the Babylonian kings.

Acrificial procession for the goddess Inanna with a bull and sacrifices,
stone vase from Uruk




The Gods and Goddesses of Egypt

The worldview of the Egyptians was distinct from those of their neighbors in the ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern worlds. Egyptians believed that before the beginning of time the primeval waters, called Nun, existed alone in the darkness. At the moment of creation, a mound rose out of the limitless waters—just as muddy mounds emerge from the Nile after the annual flood recedes. On this mound the creator god appeared and brought light to the world. In later times, the mound was formalized as a pyramidal stone called the ben-ben supporting the supreme god, Amen, the god of the sun (Re).

The supreme god also created the first of the other gods and goddesses of Egypt. According to one version of the myth, the creator masturbated and produced Shu and Tefnut, the primary male and female forces in the universe.

They coupled to give birth to Geb (Earth) and Nut (Sky), who bore Osiris, Seth, Isis, and
Nephthys. The eldest, Osiris, was the god of order and was revered as the king who brought civilization to Egypt. His brother, Seth, was his evil opposite, the god of chaos. Seth murdered Osiris and cut him into pieces, which he scattered across Egypt. Isis , the sister and consort of Osiris, with the help of Nephthys, Seth's wife, succeeded in collecting Osiris's body parts, and with her powerful magic brought him back to life.

The resurrected Osiris fathered a son with Isis— Horus, who avenged his father's death and displaced Seth as king of Egypt. Osiris then became the lord of the underworld. Horus is represented in art either as a falcon, considered the noblest bird of the sky, or as a falcon-headed man . All Egyptian pharaohs were identified with Horus while alive and with Osiris after they died.

Other Egyptian deities included Mut, the consort of the sun god Amen, and Khonsu, the moon god, who was their son. Thoth, another lunar deity and the god of knowledge and writing, appears in art as an ibis, a baboon, or an ibis-headed man crowned with the crescent moon and the moon disk. When Seth tore out Horus's falcon-eye (wedjat), Thoth restored it. He, too, was associated with rebirth and the afterlife.

Hathor, daughter of Re, was a divine mother of the pharaoh, nourishing him with her milk. She appears in Egyptian art as a cow-headed woman or as a woman with a cow's horns. Anubis, a jackal or jackal-headed deity, was the god of mummification and the weigher of hearts in the underworld. Maat, another daughter of Re, was the goddess of truth and justice. Her feather was used to measure the weight of the deceased's heart to determine if the ka (life force) would be blessed in the afterlife.


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