New Kingdom Ancient Egypt Top Ten Booklist

Ruins of the Workmen’s Village near the Valley of the Kings

During the New Kingdom (ca. 1550-1075 BC), Egypt reached the heights of its imperial and economic glory. Through their powerful army that was led by the chariot corps, the Egyptians expanded south, far into Nubia, and northeast into the Levant (modern day Israel, Palestine, and Lebanon) to create one of the largest Bronze Age empires. The Egyptians used that power to exploit valuable minerals and resources such as gold, silver, electrum, ebony, ivory, and cedar, making their vast empire even wealthier. Once they had the commodities at their disposal, the New Kingdom pharaohs then embarked on ambitious building campaigns, constructing many of the temples and monuments in Upper/southern Egypt that still attract countless visitors every day.

New Kingdom Egypt’s military and economic might was even acknowledged by contemporary kingdoms, such as Babylon and Hatti, who sought to make alliances with the Egyptians through well-documented correspondence letters. Truly, New Kingdom Egypt was one of the world’s first superpowers.

The following list covers ten of the best books for one to gain a firm understanding of New Kingdom Egypt. The books are sub-divided by topical categories and are arranged with the best/most important books first.

New Kingdom Historical Surveys

1. Redford, Donald B. (1993). Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Although this book is not solely a survey of the New Kingdom, it provides an excellent analysis in chapters six through eight of ancient Egypt’s imperial period. As the title suggests, this book examines the relationships that the Egyptians had with some of their neighbors to the northeast and how those relationships ultimately affected ancient Egyptian culture. Of particular interest is Chapter Eight – “Asia in Egypt: Mosaic, Not Melting Pot” – which explores the role of the imperial Egyptian army and how importing large numbers of Canaanites as prisoners and slaves was received by non-royal Egyptians.

2. Shaw, Ian, ed. (2000). The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

This title is actually a historical survey of all ancient Egyptian history, beginning with the Pre-Dynastic Period and ending with the Roman Period. Three of the book’s fifteen chapters concern the New Kingdom specifically, with Egyptologist Jacobus van Dijk dedicating all of chapter ten to the “Amarna” and Ramesside” periods (the late Eighteenth Dynasty through the Twentieth Dynasty).

New Kingdom Archaeology

1. Smith, Stuart Tyson. (2003). Wretched Kush: Ethnic Identities and Boundaries in Egypt’s Nubian Empire. London: Routledge.

Using anthropological and archaeological methods, Smith examines the boundaries between ethnic Egyptians and Nubians in Egyptian controlled New Kingdom Nubia. While New Kingdom royal texts clearly demarcated the line between the Egyptians and their southern neighbors, Smith demonstrates that ethnicity was often more fluid and complex in colonial settlements.

2. Martin, Geoffrey T. (1993). The Hidden Tombs of Memphis: New Discoveries from the Time of Tutankhamun and Ramesses the Great. London: Thames and Hudson.

During the Old Kingdom, the area on the west bank of the Nile River near the capital city of Memphis became ancient Egypt’s most popular necropolis, as it was used to inter the remains of royals, non-royals, and even later, animals. Despite the Memphite necropolis’ importance, it was somewhat eclipsed during the New Kingdom when nearly all of the kings were interred in the Valley of the Kings across the Nile River from Thebes. In this scholarly work, Martin examines some of the more impressive tombs of Egyptians who decided to build their tombs in the older necropolis near Memphis.

Biographical Studies

1. Redford, Donald B. (1987). Akhenaten: The Heretic King. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

One of the problems that many people face when they decide to delve in to Egyptological studies is discerning some of the more outlandish books from the truly scholarly, and besides the origins of the pyramids, the life of King Akhenaten (ruled ca. 1353-1336 BC) seems to attract a fair amount of bizarre theories. Redford cuts through the sensationalism to present a solid biography of Akhenaten that is based on facts derived from textual and archaeological sources. This book chronicles the origins of Akhenaten’s Amarna Period, its peak, and also its eventual collapse.

2. James, T.G.H. (2002). Ramesses II. New York: Friedman/Fairfax.

This book combines aspects of coffee table literature with a definite academic background in a title that can be enjoyed by lay people and specialists alike. As the title states, the book is about the longest lived and most prolific builder of all ancient Egyptian kings – Ramesses II, or Ramesses “the Great” (reigned ca. 1279-1213 BC). Ramesses II was known for many things, which included an ego that could not be contained in the number of vast New Kingdom temples he had built. This book provides a historical background of Ramesses II’s rule, along with several beautiful, oversized pictures of the illustrious king’s many temples and statues.

3. Dodson, Aidan, and Dyan Hilton, (2004). The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt. London: Thames and Hudson.

This book serves as an excellent reference work to help sort out the often confusing family trees of the ancient Egyptian royals. Although the book covers all of ancient Egyptian history, the New Kingdom families were among the best documented, so Dodson and Hilton offer plenty about the Eighteenth through Twentieth dynasties, including genealogical trees, tables, and commentary.

New Kingdom Social History

1. Spalinger, Anthony J. (2005). War in Ancient Egypt: The New Kingdom. London: Blackwell.

Egypt’s success on the battlefield was a major, if not the most important, reason for her success in international affairs during the New Kingdom. Spalinger examines how the Egyptians adopted chariot corps during the New Kingdom and how their version of it differed from their neighbors such as the Hittites. This book also considers the role that the Egyptian military played in greater New Kingdom society.

2. Vernus, Pascal. (2003). Affairs and Scandals in Ancient Egypt. Translated by David Lorton. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

In this title that was originally published in French, Vernus surveys some of the major events that took place in Egypt during the Twentieth Dynasty. Vernus examines several published New Kingdom texts that concern tomb workers’ strikes, bureaucratic graft and corruption, and the assassination of Ramesses III (reigned ca. 1186-1155 BC). The author concludes that the texts demonstrate that Egypt was in steep decline during the Twentieth Dynasty.

3. Romer, John. (2003). Ancient Lives: The Story of the Pharaohs’ Tombmakers. London: Phoenix Press.

This book covers some of the same events in Affairs, but focuses on the daily lives of the men who built the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings. The workmen and their families lived near the Valley of the Kings in a village that is known today as Deir el-Medina. Daily religious practices of the workers is covered along with some more salacious accounts, including trials of workers accused of stealing from the tombs they had just built!