The New Kingdom

During New Kingdom (c. 1550-1069 BCE), the pharaohs began having their mummies buried in what they hoped would be secure underground vaults in the Valley of the Kings on the west bank of the Nile River at Thebes.  Despite their hopes, most tombs were robbed during ancient times and their contents lost to history.

One of the few New Kingdom tombs discovered intact was that of King Tutankhamun (1336-1327 BCE). His tomb yielded vast treasures and artifacts, the most famous of which is his solid gold burial mask. The artifacts found in King Tutankhamun's tomb today fill rooms of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Although King Tutankhamun achieved some immortality from the good fortune of his tomb surviving intact until modern times, during his rule he was a minor king who died by the age of 18. If the tomb of this minor and forgettable king was filled with such valuable treasures, one can only imagine what the tombs of the great and powerful kings must have contained.

During the New Kingdom, one of the most remarkable women in history – Queen Hatshepsut (1473-1458 BCE; 18th Dynasty) – came to power. Her mortuary temple (Deir el-Bahri) on the west bank of the Nile at Thebes is a magnificent structure that Hatshepsut filled with carvings depicting her as chosen by the god Amun to rule Egypt and listing her many accomplishments as ruler.

The New Kingdom was also the period during which the magnificent temples at Luxor were constructed (mostly by Amenophis (Amenhotep) III (1390-1352; 18th Dynasty) with additions by Ramses II (1279-1213 BCE; 19th Dynasty).  I visited Luxor at night and though it was a very impressive site, photography was impossible and so no photos here.  The other great temple area of the New Kingdom was at Karnak.  The site was begun during the Middle Kingdom (2055-1650 BCE) and added to by various pharaohs, but most of the grand structures we see today date from reigns of Seti I (1294-1279 BCE; 19th Dynasty) and his son, Ramses II.

It was Ramses II, perhaps the greatest builder in ancient Egypt, who also commissioned the imposing temples at Abu Simbel. Built on a bend in the Nile River where ancient travelers would have first entered what was then Upper Egypt, these temples served as both a warning to would-be invaders and as a symbol of the godlike powers of the pharaoh. Who else but a divine being could build on such an imposing scale? The temples at Abu Simbel also figured in one of the most impressive construction projects of modern times. To save them from the rising waters of the Nile (caused by the newly-completed Aswan Dam), archeologists orchestrated the complete dismantling and reassembly of the temples on higher ground. The scale of this undertaking boggles the mind even given modern construction techniques. So much more impressive is that the ancient Egyptians were able to build on this scale with more primitive means.

To continue the chronological tour, go to the Ptolemaic & Roman Era page.