Egypt, Old Kingdom, Fourth - Eighth Dynasties (2575-2150 B.C.)

    The Great Pyramid of Cheops, the pyramids at Giza and Dahshur, are among the many monuments showing the massive growth of power during the Fourth Dynasty (2575-2417 B.C.) The administration of the country was centralized in Memphis, the pharaoh was the focus of religion and power. The Old Kingdom was considered the height of the Egyptian bureaucracy.

    The construction of the pyramids required enormous organizational efficiency. Local limestone, sandstone and granite were used. Stone from Tura was used for outer walls because it was soft and easily worked with a chisel. The theory that the pyramids were built by slaves is no longer accepted. Scholars believe that the pyramids were built during the periods of inundation, when the fields could not be worked and agricultural workers had free time. The Nile could also be used more easily for transportation during the inundation.

    Pharaoh Chephren, who succeeded Cheops, was probably the model for the face of the Sphinx. A lion with a human head, the Sphinx was carved out of one mound of rock.

    During the Fifth Dynasty (2498-2345 B.C.), the sun-god Re was considered the father of the first pharaohs. Re became the preeminent god; the center of the cult was Heliopolis but many of the Fifth Dynasty pharaohs built shrines to Re at Abu Gurah, which is south of Giza.

    The first inscribed papyrus also dates from the Fifth Dynasty.

    During the Sixth Dynasty (2345-2183 B.C.), the government became decentralized. It ended in anarchy. Nobles began to be buried not in the royal tomb but in their local seat of their power-their nome. The inscriptions from these tombs document the administrative structure and imperialism of Egypt. Through these inscriptions we can trace with some detail the incursions into Nubia Libya, Sinai, and Western Asia.

    Vases, alabaster, one shaped like Mother Monkey, the other her baby. Ca. 2255 B.C.; Mother, 18.5 cm; offspring, 13.7 cm.

    Fragment of raised relief, painted limestone, created ca. 2550 B.C. at the Pyramid of Giza; head of an archer, 25.4 x 37.5 cm.; reused in later pyramid (1991-1961 B.C.)

    Statue, "Royal Acquaintance Memi and Sabu," ca. 2575-2465 B.C., painted limestone; 62 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.