Ancient Egyptian Timeline

A timeline showing the dates, periods, dynasties and significant events in the history and art of ancient Egypt from the Predynastic Period (before 3100 BCE) to the end of the Roman Period (395 CE).

Ancient Egyptian model funerary boat

 © Australian Museum

Predynastic Period (before 3100 BCE)

Historic events

  • Egypt divided into Upper and Lower Egypt

Art movements

  • Hieroglyphic writing created
  • Two-dimensional imagery and symbolism established
  • Grid system to regulate proportions established
  • Painted pottery and figurines, ivory carvings, slate cosmetic palettes
  • Relief design developed from drawing
  • High quality and richly designed ceramics

Early Dynastic Period (3100-2686 BCE) Dynasties 1-2

Historic events

  • 3100 BCE - Unification of Upper and Lower Egypt by the first pharaoh Menes
  • Memphis is capital city
  • The strong central government supports the work of scribes, sculptors, and other artists and encourages new artistic methods.

Art movements

  • The Step Pyramid (first pyramid) for King Djoser constructed at Giza
  • Conventions of three-dimensional art established
  • Special royal iconography used to express ideologies of kingship
  • Scale of figures in artwork is used to symbolise status
  • Symbolic positions of seated and standing figures established
  • Depiction of nude enemies stripped of status

Old Kingdom (2686-2181 BCE) Dynasties 3-6

Historic events

  • 6th Dynasty – Collapse of the central government leads to local art styles developing

Art movements

  • First images and forms of art that endured for 3000 years
  • Painting develops
  • Large numbers of pyramids constructed
  • 4th Dynasty – Great Sphinx and Great Pyramids built at Giza
  • 5th Dynasty – Decoration inside pyramids introduced
  • 5-6th Dynasty – mortuary chapels expanded to allow walls to be decorated
  • Stelae appear
  • Statues of kings placed in pyramid temples as part of the royal cult.
  • 5th Dynasty – potter’s wheel invented
  • Gods depicted with broad shoulders and low smalls of their backs
  • Formalised nude figures with long, slender bodies, idealised proportions and large staring eyes

First Intermediate Period (2181-2125 BCE)

Historic events

  • Egypt splits into two smaller states: ruled by Memphis in the north and Thebes in the south. This civil disorder lasts for 150 years.

Art movements

  • Regional art styles develop

Middle Kingdom (2125-1650 BCE) Dynasties 11-13

Historic events

  • Mentuhotep reunites Egypt
  • First obelisks erected at Heliopolis by Seusret I
  • 11th Dynasty – God Amun-Ra rises to prominence and becomes a centre of cult at Thebes

Art movements

  • New emphasis is placed on the King as the child of a divine pair.
  • Technology to smelt and cast bronze develops and statues flourish
  • Women begin to appear in individual portraits
  • People lower in social rankings began to commission statues, causing a large variation of quality
  • Coffins imitating body form appear
  • Shabtis appear
  • Canopic jars with heads sculpted in human form appear
  • Key piece

Second Intermediate Period (1650-1550 BCE)

Historic events

  • Egypt falls to Near Eastern rulers  - Hyksos - who seize power of the north.
  • 11th Dynasty – Egypt unified again

Art movements

  • Egyptian art declines and is relatively crude
  • A reversion to traditional models from Memphis in the Early Dynastic Period
  • Figures have small heads, narrow shoulders and waists, slender limbs and no visible musculature.

New Kingdom (1550-1069 BCE) Dynasties 18-20

Historic events

  • 1470 BCE - Rule of the first female pharaoh Hatshepsut
  • 1350 BCE - Ahkenaten rules and attempts to introduce the worship of a single god
  • 1334 BCE - Tutankhanum rules
  • 1290 BCE - Rameses II rules
  • Political stability and economic prosperity, supporting the abundance of artistic masterpieces

Art movements

  • Ahkenaten adopts the ‘Amarna’ style of art, characterised by movement and activity in images as well as faces shown in profile and distinctly feminine forms
  • Elaborate hidden tombs in the Valley of the Kings created
  • A middle class comprised of independent craftsmen and artisans develops
  • Highest quality workmanship, colossal sizes, rich materials used
  • Durable materials such as sandstone, basalt and granite widely used
  • A new sculpture introduced – owner kneeling, holding a stelae with a hymn to the sun
  • Feminine dress becomes more elaborate; men and women wear large heavy wigs with multiple tresses and braids
  • More painted scenes in rock-cut tombs than carved relief scenes
  • 19th Dynasty – Canopic jars now have heads of baboons, jackals, falcons and humans
  • Large-scale battle scenes in temple decorations

Third Intermediate Period (1069-664 BCE)

Historic events

  • Egypt again falls under Nubian and Lybian rule

Art movements

  • Bronze sculpting reaches its height
  • Many statues are richly inlaid with gold and silver
  • Kushite fold (the facial ‘smile’ line from the nose to the mouth)
  • Nubians depicted with dark skin and hooped earrings, braided hair

Late Period (664-332 BCE) Dynasties 26-30

Historic events

  • Egypt regains the throne

Art movements

  • Stylistics developments of the New Kingdom discarded and older models are looked to for inspiration, particularly styles from the Old Kingdom and Middle Kingdom
  • Standards for the king and elite are at an extraordinary high level
  • The development of iron tools allow artisans to work on very hard stones
  • Bronze statuary common and technically finer and bronze casting now a major industry
  • Minor arts, such as alabaster vases, faience pottery, glass, ivories and metalwork flourish

Ptolemaic Period (332-30 BCE)

Historic events

  • Alexander the Great conquers Egypt and his general, Ptolemy, founds a dynasty.
  • Cleopatra dies in 30 BCE and Egypt becomes a province of the Roman Empire

Art movements

  • Colossal statues grace temple pylons along with sphinxes
  • New type of voluptuousness in female forms
  • High, smoothly rounded and heavily-modelled relief styles

Roman Period (30 BCE – 395 CE)

Historic events

  • The adoption of Christianity as the official religion of Egypt

Art movements

  • 4-5th Century CE – art decorated with pagan and Christian themes


Ms Helen Wheeler , Education Project Officer
Last Updated:

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