The New Kingdom of Egypt

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 3, 2012

The New Kingdom of Egypt

The New Kingdom era in Egypt began in 1570 BC and lasted for five hundred years. Throughout this era of Egyptian history, there was remarkably little change in the everyday lives of the people. Pharaohs succeeded one another, territorial borders shifted, and neighboring empires rose and fell, but through it all there was no particular scientific or technological progress. The ebb and flow of the Nile controlled the rhythms of life in Egypt as it always had.

During the fourteenth century BC, the various pharaohs expanded their sphere of influence northward, as well as once again establishing control over Libya and Nubia. Thutmose I led his troops as far as the Euphrates River; later in the century, Hatshepsut and her consort and successor Thutmose III extended the Egyptian Empire throughout Syria and ancient Palestine. The Egyptians followed the same pattern as most other successful empires in the ancient world. They allowed local authority figures in conquered areas to govern, but all had to pay tribute to the pharaoh and all were under his or her authority. The court at Thebes developed a literate civil service of bureaucrats to manage affairs such as taxes and the payment of tributes throughout the empire. The Egyptian military was garrisoned throughout the empire to quell any potential rebellions and to ensure that local rulers remained loyal.

Amenhotep IV inherited the pharaoh’s throne in 1379. His tastes ran more to religion than to administrative tasks. One of his first acts as pharaoh was to reorganize Egyptian religious practices by outlawing worship of all the gods except Aton, the sun god. Amenhotep established a new city, Amarna, three hundred miles north of Thebes, and ordered a new temple built to the sun god. Amenhotep even changed his own name to Akhenaton, specifically to identify himself as Aton’s representative on earth. His goal may have been to secure his own position of authority by weakening the powerful priestly class, but the actual result of his decision was to weaken the Egyptian Empire. With the pharaoh’s attention on religious matters, Egypt’s military might suffered and the Hittites took advantage of the situation to seize control over Syria.

In 1362 BC, Tutakhaton succeeded Akhenaton and promptly changed his name to Tutankhamen to mark the restoration of the old polytheistic religious practices. Tutankhamen’s reign was very short and uneventful; he is famous for the historical accident of the survival, unlooted, of his tomb in the Valley of the Kings. The magnificent collection of artifacts in his tomb shows a surprising level of veneration for a relatively uninspiring ruler and also demonstrates the great cultural renaissance in the arts that occurred during the New Kingdom. Some historians believe Tutankhamen was given such a lavish burial out of gratitude for his restoration of the old religious ways; Egypt was a religiously conservative society and the changes made under Akhenaton had not been popular.

During the twelfth century BC, Egypt attempted to regain control of its New Kingdom empire. Ramses II led the Egyptians against the Hittites at Syria. The battle ended more or less in a stalemate, in which the two combatants agreed that they would exist side by side in peace and that Egypt would accept Hittite authority in Syria.

The Egyptian Empire continued to decline. By the 1100s BC, Egypt had withdrawn its influence throughout the region; it was once again centered on its original home on the banks of the Nile. The New Kingdom was followed by an era called the Late Period. Two things characterized this era: internal strife and external attack.

Internally, the Egyptian court was chaotic throughout the Late Period. It can best be described as a long round of court intrigue, factionalism, and political squabbles. From the outside, a succession of foreign powers invaded Egypt one after another, and each held sway over it for a shorter or longer period. From about 945 BC to about AD 330, the following powers successfully attacked Egypt in turn: Libyans, Nubians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans. Remarkably, Egypt was able to retain its culture throughout all these successive takeovers; at the same time, it absorbed many elements of the conquering cultures.

Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:

The New Kingdom of Egypt and the Fall of Babylon Practice Test
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