The First and Last Pharaohs of Egypt and the Outstanding Civilisation Between Them

Updated On: September 12, 2023


After the Rosetta Stone was discovered during the French Campaign in Egypt in 1799 and its deciphering in the 1830s by the French linguist Jean-François Champollion, the world could finally read the hieroglyphics, the ancient writing system the pharaohs used for thousands of years. Suddenly, the doors to understanding the ancient Egyptian civilisation busted wide open in what can pretty much be described as enlightenment.

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This, combined with the Description of Egypt, the greatest and by far largest publication at the time that described everything about Egypt from ancient to modern times, ignited some kind of Egyptomania in Europe in particular and most of the world in general. It also laid the bases of Egyptology, the science of studying the culture and history of ancient Egypt.

After over a century and a half of studying, archaeological discoveries, tests, expeditions, research and connecting so many dots, scholars could come up with a detailed description of the three-millennia-long Egyptian civilisation.

In this article, we will explore this description by looking into the lives of the first and last pharaohs of Egypt and briefly going over the outstanding civilisation between them. So grab yourself a cup of iced coffee and read on.

Narmer (3150–3088 BC)

First Pharaoh of Egypt and the founder of the first Dynasty.

Before discussing the first Pharaoh of Egypt and the founder of the first Dynasty, we must address a nagging question that I bet you, too, have: what was the country before that?

Well, according to most scholars, the period before the start of the ancient Egyptian civilisation is known as prehistoric or pre-dynastic Egypt. It was all the duration from the first human settlement in this region until the year 3150 BC, which is when most scholars agree the Egyptian civilisation started.

Toward the end of this prehistoric period, Egypt was not one but two lands, two kingdoms, Upper Egypt to the south and Lower Egypt in the north. I know this sounds counterintuitive; however, it is described this way as the Nile flows from the highlands in the south toward the lowlands in the north until it empties in the Mediterranean Sea.

Both kingdoms were entirely independent. Each had its own king and a differently shaped and coloured crown. The Upper Egypt crown was tall and white, called hedjet, while the Lower Egypt’s one was short and red, called desert—Interestingly, the current most prominent Egyptian football clubs, Ahly and Zamalek, play in the colours red and white, respectively.

As the records and long conclusions revealed, Narmer, or Menes, which means the stinging catfish in ancient Egyptian, was the king of Upper Egypt. One day he rose early and decided it was time to conquer the north and merge both regions into one big kingdom, which he would reign.

Narmer was a man of his word. He unified the country in the 31st century BC, which occurred quite peacefully, combined the two crowns and became the first Pharaoh of the new political state of Egypt.

One thing that Egyptologists leaned on to come up with this story is the Palette of Narmer, on which the news of the unification was carved. Namer appears on one side of the palette, wearing a hedjet, the crown of Upper Egypt, defeating a member of the crowd, and being protected by the gods. On the other side, he appears wearing the crown of Lower Egypt and marching in victory.

The Narmer Palette was discovered by British Egyptologist James Quibell in 1898 in Luxor. It is made of one piece of siltstone, around 63.5 centimetres tall and 42 centimetres wide. Besides the carvings of Narmer, the palette has some of the earliest and most beautiful hieroglyphic inscriptions. It is currently displayed in the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square.

Now that Egypt had become one large country, the crowns of Upper and Lower Kingdoms were joined together, making the double crown. One thing that confirms this fact is a statue of Horus, the ancient god of war and sky, shown embodying a falcon and wearing the double crown.

Narmer then officially established the first Dynasty, which ruled the newly united country for 250 years from 3,150 BC to 2900 BC. He also built a capital city and called it Thinis. It may have been located somewhere between Upper and Lower Egypt but has never been accurately located.

Other than what we just mentioned, there does not seem to be a whole lot of information about Narmer. Besides his palette, the only other things that were found related to him were a few small statues of his face.

Narmer is thought to have ruled for 62 years. Archaeologists could identify his tomb in Abydos in Upper Egypt. But unlike the magnificent royal tombs that would emerge in the subsequent dynasties, Narmer’s was a pretty humble one consisting only of two chambers.

Although the entire area was robbed by thieves, archaeologists could find objects indicating Narmer was buried there, but the Pharaoh’s body was never found.

Egyptian Civilisation (3088-358 BC)

After Narmer died, the first Dynasty ruled for 188 more years. The native reign of Egypt continued for over 2700 years after that and came to an end in 343 BC when Egypt was conquered by the Persians. This started a series of long-lasted colonisation that only ended in the 20th century!


Scholars divided the long Egyptian civilisation into different periods during which the country was ruled by several dynasties and characterised by different themes. Such themes were mainly created by the changes the country underwent and the achievement made in it during each period. Each Dynasty comprised several kings and sometimes queens too.

All in all, there are eight native periods, the early Dynastic period, started by Narmer, as we mentioned, the Old Kingdom, the First Intermediate Period, the Middle Kingdom, the Second Intermediate Period, the New Kingdom, the Third Intermediate Period and the Late Period.

These eight periods are further divided into 30 dynasties, each of which ruled for some time, the longest being 250 years and the shortest being 12 years. Twenty-nine of these 30 Dynasties were native, but only the 27th Dynasty, a period of 121 years, was a Persian ruling, after which Egypt went back again to the hands of the Egyptians—we will learn more about that later in the article.

The 30th Dynasty was brought to an end by another yet more powerful Persian conquest in 343 BC, after which colonisers frequented the country and gradually caused the Egyptian civilisation to die out.


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The three golden ages of ancient Egypt comprise the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom and the New Kingdom. These were times of political stability, expansion, and prosperity. Egypt saw a significant uprise in architecture, science, art, religion, and traditions. It was also during these periods that most of the ancient Egyptian architectural hallmarks were built.

For example, the Old Kingdom lasted for 506 years, from 2687 to 2181 BC, during which the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth Dynasties ruled. The Pyramids and the Sphinx of Giza were built in the time of the fourth Dynasty.

The Middle Kingdom, on the other hand, features the 12th, 13th and 14th Dynasties. The famous Karnak Temple Complex was initially started in the 12th Dynasty and stayed in development and expansion for 1500 years.

Queen Hatshepsut ruled for almost 20 years during the 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom. She started huge building activities, which primarily resulted in dual obelisks in al-Karnak Temple, one of which is nearly 30 metres tall and weighs 343 tonnes, and the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut. This architectural masterpiece is situated opposite Luxor on the west bank of the Nile. One part of this temple was carved inside the rock mountain, and the other was built outside of it.

King Tutankhamun ruled some 126 years after Hatshepsut died, yet his reign also belonged to the 18th Dynasty. Although he stayed only nine years in power, the discovery of his magnificently lavish tomb in 1922 by British archaeologist Howard Carter earned him eternal global recognition.

Then came the greatest Pharaoh of all time, King Ramesses II, in the 19th Dynasty. He ruled for 90 whole years, which makes him the second longest-ruling Pharaoh after King Pepi II from the 6th Dynasty, whose reign lasted 94 years.

Ramesses II was able to secure Egypt by defeating the Hittites of ancient Anatolia and signing the first-ever peace treaty with them. He built the monumental temple of Abu Simbel in Aswan and the Ramesseum in Luxor and expanded the Karnak Temple.

The New Kingdom ended with the end of the 20th Dynasty. It was followed by the Third Intermediate Period, which featured a big deal of political instability due to several foreign invasions. The Late period started with the establishment of the 26th Dynasty in 664 BC, which was brought to an end by the Persian invasion.

Toward the end

The Persians ruled Egypt for 121 years, the duration of the 27th Dynasty, from 525 to 404 BC. By that time, there were so many conflicts inside the Achaemenid Empire, another name for the Persian Empire, both we will be using interchangeably throughout the rest of the article, over power, which quite distracted the kings of the overseas territories and loosened their grip.

Amyrtaeus was most probably a member of the Egyptian military, which dramatically subsided during the Persian rule. He is thought to be related to the last Pharaoh of the 26th Dynasty, who ruled before the Persian conquest. When Amyrtaeus realised the Achaemenid Empire was unstable, he organised a coup against the Persian King Darius II, who was ruling the Egyptian state at the time, succeeded at seizing power, and declared it independent once again.

Amyrtaeus was the only Pharaoh of the 28th Dynasty. The 29th Dynasty was established in 392 BC, where only two Pharaohs ruled until 379 BC. The 30th Dynasty, on the other hand, started in 379 BC and featured three Pharaohs, Nectanebo I, Teos, and Nectanebo II, who marked the end of the 30th Dynasty as well as ancient Egypt.

Nectanebo II (358-340 BC)

Last Pharaoh of both the 30th Dynasty and ancient Egypt.

King Nectanebo II came to power in quite unsettling circumstances. He ruled the country for 18 years, made significant changes in internal politics, left a huge architectural legacy and rebuilt the army to repel the attacks of the Persians.

Yet, lousy luck combined with a twist in destiny caused Nectanebo II’s defeat against the Persians and the country’s subsequent falling in their hands.

The story of Nectanebo II, however, starts with his predecessor, King Teos, who was the former’s uncle.

When Teos came to power in 361 BC, all he was focused on was empowering the Egyptian army to fight the Persians, who did not tolerate Egypt slipping away from them.

To raise the money required to strengthen the army, Teos imposed high taxes on Egyptians, which earned him both the anger of the Egyptians and the enmity of the priests and made him quite unpopular.

But Teos could not care less. He was so determined to go on a military expedition to what is now Palestine and Lebanon, which were both under the control of the Achaemenids. Besides the money, Teos needed political support. So he asked the king of Sparta, Agesilaus II and the general of Athens, Chabrias, to help him, so they provided him with 200 Greek ships.

The expedition started. Teos was the general leader of the army; both Greek leaders were commanders, while Teos’ nephew, Nectanebo II, was in charge of low-ranking soldiers. At some point, Nectanebo II was advised by his father, Tjahapimu, to rebel against Teos, take over and become the new pharaoh.

Nectanebo II did precisely as instructed. He took advantage of the conflicts between his uncle Teos and Agesilaus II and attracted the latter to his side, forcing poor unfortunate Teos to flee.

Once in control, Nectanebo II worked hard to bring back a state of order and stability in Egypt. He primarily focused on restoring the building activities most of the pharaohs who ruled over the past 3000 years were famous for. He built new temples, renovated old ones and constructed so many new and different monuments. He became an extensive builder, and he is even compared to the kings of the New Kingdom.

Unlike his uncle, Nectanebo II knew that his power and popularity were tied to the priests, so he gained their support by donating to them. He especially cared about validating his reign through religion which he dedicated special care for.

It was during Nectanebo II’s reign, too, that the Achaemenids were trying so badly to reclaim Egypt, so he reinforced the army by hiring professional Greek officers and soldiers to lead and train the Egyptian troops. Nectanebo II also became allies with Greek generals who assisted him in defeating the Achaemenids and keeping his country free and independent.

Nectanebo II even went further in fighting the Achaemenids by supporting a revolt against them in Phoenicia; this is modern-day Syria, Lebanon and some parts of Palestine, which was also controlled by the Achaemenids.

To empower the rebellion, Nectanebo II sent a military of professional Greek soldiers led by the Greek leader Mentor of Rhodes. They marched toward Sidon in Phoenicia in an attempt to reclaim the city, which they did.

Soon after, the king of the Achaemenid Empire at the time, Artaxerxes III, raised a much bigger army and counter-attacked Sibon. This time, the Mentor of Rhodes knew he had no chance of defeating Artaxerxes III’s army. So he decided to open a conversation with him and surrender the city. He then changed his loyalty and went on to fight with the Achaemenids. That was in 344 BC.

Empowered by his victory, Artaxerxes III sought the support of the leaders of all the Greek provinces to reconquer Egypt. Those who were allies with Nectanebo II refused to join forces with the Persian king. But other cities’ leaders agreed and even sent armies to the Achaemenids.

In a matter of a few months, Artaxerxes III was all done with a brand new powerful army and marched directly toward Egypt. Nectanebo II also raised an army of over 80,000 troops, secured Egypt’s weak points in both the Mediterranean Sea and the Nile, and built new fortifications.

Sadly, the odds were not in Nectanebo II’s favour. As it turned out, Artaxerxes III’s army was more powerful and eventually defeated Nectanebo II’s. The Achaemenids entered Egypt in 343 BC, and Nectanebo II fled to Nubia in the south, where he sought asylum and eventually died three years later.

The Persians dominated Egypt for 11 years, from 343 to 332 BC. Then Egypt was conquered once again, but this time by Alexander III of Macedon or Alexander the Great. The native reign of Egypt would not be retrieved until over 2000 years later, in 1952.

Learning about the striking Egyptian history is one thing, but seeing the pharaohs’ legacy for yourself is something completely different and undoubtedly tremendously fascinating. If you still have not decided where to go on your next overseas trip, do not shilly-shally and start packing for Egypt. Whether you are a history, beach, desert, city or cuisine person, Egypt has got you covered and is just waiting patiently to provide you with a once-in-a-lifetime touristic experience.

2 commments on “The First and Last Pharaohs of Egypt and the Outstanding Civilisation Between Them

  1. Indeed, a detailed article containing content of long ruled pharaohs in Egypt to apprehend the ancient culture is highly appreciable effort for readers/ having interest in archeology of Egypt.

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