Egyptians hold in high esteem the two pharaohs who unified their country: the Old Kingdom pharaoh Narmer of around 3100 B.C., and Ahmose I (unknown—1525 B.C.), who reunited a divided Egypt around 1550 B.C. and ushered in the celebrated New Kingdom.
When young Ahmose I ascended the throne, Egypt was in tremendous turmoil. Intruders of Asiatic origin known as the Hyksos, meaning “rulers of foreign lands,” had taken control of the Nile Delta. They had savagely murdered Pharaoh Seqenenre Tao, Ahmose’s father, and decimated the army. They demanded tribute from the rulers of Upper Egypt in Thebes and took their princesses as wives. The barbarism of the Hyksos was memorialized by Egyptian historian Manetho. “[They] burned our cities ruthlessly, razed to the ground the temples of our gods, and treated all the natives with a cruel hostility.” (Discover how three rebel queens in Egypt helped expel the Hyksos.)
Ahmose I eventually gathered forces together and exploited the technology that the Hyksos had introduced to their land. Armed with horse-drawn chariots and bronze weapons, they expelled the Hyksos from the delta. Upper and Lower Egypt were at last united.
In with the new
That victory is viewed as the starting point of the New Kingdom, a 500-year period marking the height of Egypt’s power and prosperity. Ahmose I reestablished Thebes as the capital for the entire country. Commanders who had served the king faithfully were granted high positions as royal officials or governors. Ahmose I also reasserted control over Egypt’s rival to the south, Nubia, plundering its vast gold reserves in the process. He further strengthened the treasury by reactivating mines and expanding trade. By the time he died, he was worshipped as a god by his people. (Read the secret and sacred rituals inside the Egyptian Book of the Dead.)
Ahmose I established a successful and confident Egypt. He inaugurated a new era of Egyptian culture and paved the way for the powerful New Kingdom pharaohs who would enlarge the empire and leave an astounding architectural legacy on its horizon. (Hear how prosperity in Egypt may have led to heart disease for the royal family.)
This text is an excerpt from the National Geographic special issue The Most Influential Figures of Ancient History.