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A Note on the Chronology of Ancient Egypt

Modern chronology of ancient Egypt is based on a history written by the Egyptian priest Manetho, who lived in the third century B.C.E. Manetho divided the history of ancient Egypt up into a sequential list of dynasties, or groups of ruling families—when a family bloodline ended, the new ruling family constituted a new dynasty. Manetho’s sources were ancient king lists—documents that list the names and titles of rulers. Sometimes king lists included the length of a king’s rule and major events of his reign. A few of these ancient documents still survive today, but many more of them were available to Manetho in the third century B.C.E. In some cases the history he wrote is our only record of lost king lists.

This approach of listing successive ruling families allows ancient Egyptian history to be neatly segmented into dynasties, kingdoms, and distinctive historical periods. Egyptologists use this dating system as a matter of convenience, but one must always keep in mind that political, social, and cultural changes were not as neat as a chronology implies and archaeological discoveries continue to improve the knowledge of ancient Egyptian history.

- Amber Myers Wells, (2006)