The first couple of Dynasties of Egyptian history are grouped together as the Early Dynastic Period.

“Couple” is such a usefully vague word here – in general only the 1st and 2nd Dynasties are included as Early Dynastic, but there’s the occasional dissenting opinion like the inclusion of the 3rd Dynasty in Toby Wilkinson’s book “Early Dynastic Egypt”. It’s an arbitrary line, after all, so in the interests of picking one way or the other for this short overview I’ve gone for just the first two.

The period opens with the unification of Egypt under the rule of a single leader. The ancient historian Manetho names this man as Menes, but that name isn’t firmly attached to any king that there is archaeological evidence for. Most Egyptologists associate the name with king Narmer, who is depicted on the famous Narmer palette (now in the Cairo Museum) which appears to commemorate the unification of Egypt.

During the Early Dynastic Period a lot of the familiar iconography of kingship develops – the king’s name is written in a serekh (a schematic representation of a palace with the name in the middle and a falcon sitting on top), the king is shown smiting his enemies, he is depicted wearing the familiar red and white crowns of Egypt. (As always, boundaries between periods are fuzzy and this development begins in the Predynastic Period.)

Tombs for the elites also develop over this period, getting ever more elaborate. Kings of the 1st Dynasty are mostly buried at Abydos, but the kings of the 2nd Dynasty mostly chose Saqqara for their final resting place. The above ground bit of the tomb became a large mound or mastaba, prefiguring the pyramids that were to come in the Old Kingdom.

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