The 3rd Dynasty was the first of the Memphite houses, and its second ruler, Zoser, or Djoser, who reigned about 2737-2717 BC, emphasized national unity by balancing northern and southern motifs in his mortuary buildings at Saqqara. His architect, Imhotep, used stone blocks rather than traditional mud bricks in the complex there, thus creating the first monumental structure of stone; its central element, the Step Pyramid, was Zoser's tomb. In order to deal with affairs of state and to administer construction projects, the king began to develop an effective bureaucracy. In general, the 3rd Dynasty marked the beginning of a golden age of cultural freshness and vigor.
The 4th Dynasty began with King Snefru, whose building projects included the first true pyramid at Dahshur (south of Saqqara). Snefru, the earliest warrior king for whom extensive documents remain, campaigned in Nubia and Libya and was active in the Sinai. Promoting commerce and mining, he brought prosperity to the kingdom. Snefru was succeeded by his son Khufu (or Cheops), who built the Great Pyramid at Giza. Although little else is known of his reign, that monument not only attests to his power but also indicates the administrative skills the bureaucracy had gained. Khufu's son Redjedef, who reigned about 2613-2603 BC, introduced the solar element (Ra, or Re) in the royal titulary and the religion. Khafre (or Chephren), another son of Khufu, succeeded his brother to the throne and built his mortuary complex at Giza. The remaining rulers of the dynasty included Menkaure, or Mycerinus, who reigned about 2578-2553 BC; he is known primarily for the smallest of the three large pyramids at Giza.
Under the 4th Dynasty, Egyptian civilization reached a peak in its development, and this high level was generally maintained in the 5th and 6th dynasties. The splendor of the engineering feats of the pyramids was approximated in every other field of endeavor, including architecture, sculpture, painting, navigation, the industrial arts and sciences, and astronomy; Memphite astronomers first created a solar calendar based on a year of 365 days. Old Kingdom physicians also displayed a remarkable knowledge of physiology, surgery, the circulatory system of the body, and antiseptics.
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