Once again a family from the south (Luxor) evicted the Hyksos from the Delta. The rulers who started the process were Kamose followed by Ahmose. This is the beginning of the Egyptian Empire with armies going to Syria-Palestine, Nubia and the kingdoms of Mitanni and the Hittites.
The New Kingdom is well known for exceptional pharaohs like Hatshepsut, the female pharaoh, who reigned for a long time on behalf of Thutmose III, a warrior king. He subdued the Canaanites and extended the empire even further into the Ancient Near East. His son Amenhotep II continued his father’s military campaigns. After all the military expeditions the following king, Amenhotep III, settled down to enjoy the wealth accumulated over the years.
The style of the Middle Kingdom’s statues and painting were copied, but at the same time transformed into a style of the time. The same applies to the written word. This changed when the son of Amenhotep III, initially known as Amenhotep IV, ascended the throne. He changed his name to Akhenaten and with his queen, Nefertiti, built a new town called Akhetaten, where they worshipped the sun disc Aten, as the only god. This is generally referred to as the Amarna Period.
Amenhotep/Akhenaten abandoned the worship of many gods (polytheism) in favour of one god only, the sun god Ra, as seen in the Aten, the sun-disc. He banned the worship of all the other Egyptian gods, especially Amun. All the temples were closed. This new religion did not find favour with the priests of Amun or his subjects. The priests were deeply disturbed, as they had enjoyed extreme prestige and power for many years. Perhaps Akhenaten wanted to curtail their power.
Akhenaten did not just establish a new religion or cult - at the same time the static artistic styles also underwent a change. Instead of great battle scenes and captives, emphasis was placed on the royal family. They were portrayed in a more naturalistic and very affectionate way. The wife of Akhenaten, the lovely Nefertiti (nefer means ‘beautiful’), played a prominent part in the celebration of the cult and her name is mentioned in numerous inscriptions.
Akhenaten died in the seventeenth year of his reign and it is not clear who succeeded him. It is possible that it could have been Smenkhkare. He ruled for a very short time and was followed by Tut-ankh-amun, a young child, who abandoned the city of Akhetaten and the cult of the Aten along with his wife, Ankhsen-amun, daughter of Akhenaten. The city with its many houses, villas, artisans’ workshops, palaces and temples was only rediscovered in the 19th century.
Tut-ankh-Amun, last pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty, abandoned Akhetaten and the Aten cult and returned to Thebes where he reverted to the old state religion of Amun-Ra. After his death there was political uncertainty and a military officer by the name of Horemheb became king. His tomb was discovered by Howard Carter in 1922.
The founder of the Nineteenth Dynasty was Ramses I. The Ramesside Dynasty came from Lower Egypt and their god was Seth of the town of Avaris. Under Ramses’ son, Seti I, Egypt was restored to its former glory. The king led armies abroad and initiated massive building projects. This was taken even further during the sixty-four years his son, Ramses 11 (Ramses the Great), reigned. He made Egypt one of the greatest powers of the time. He was also a great builder and his temples can be seen everywhere in Egypt. His favourite wife was Nefertari.
After Ramses the Great the power of the pharaohs declined. Under Ramses XI Egypt once more disintegrated into the Third Intermediate Period [1070-713 BCE].
Several local dynasties rebelled at this time and foreigners like the Libyans, Nubians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans infiltrated the country. The Twenty-second Dynasty pharaohs were Libyans like Shoshenq (Shishak of the Bible), while the Twenty-third Dynasty kings ruled from Tanis in the Delta. The following dynasty produced another ruling family of Sais in the western Delta, but the Twenty-fifth Dynasty kings from Kush defeated them (also known as the Black Pharaohs).
A display of the Amarna period at the Iziko Slave Lodge.
Tut-ankh-Amun's, the last pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty, gold mask found in the Valley of the Kings. (c) Iziko Photo Archives.