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Djoser is best known for the Step Pyramid in Saqqara built by his architect Imhotep. The mortuary complex (including step pyramid, shrines, burial shafts, and tombs) is one of the major steps in the evolution of the 'true pyramid". Contemporary sources use the name Netjerikhet exclusively -- only later, in the New Kingdom, is he referred to as Djoser. References to the step pyramid in later periods does confirm that Netjerikhet and Djoser are the same person.
We are unsure of his parents, although the wife of Khasekhemwy, Nimataap, held the name "Mother of the King", which may suggest that Djoser was her son and Khasekhemwy his father. And, despite the fact that we know of three women associated with Djoser, we don't really know the relationship between Djoser and his successor, Sekhemkhet.
This king is often placed as the first king of the Third Dynasty, although there is an earlier king, Sanakhte, who often takes that place. Some of the sources (notably the Westcar Papyrus) place the king Sanakhte (Nebka) after Djoser and before Huni instead of before Djoser. The Turin list implies this as well.
Djoser ruled for over two decades, during which time a seven year famine struck Egypt. His governors and high priest (imhotep) counseled him to travel to Elephantine and erect a temple to Khnum, who controlled the Nile. The famine ended, and everyone attributed it to the offerings and temple, Djoser act of faith. Inscriptions about this event that claims to be from the age of Djoser is actually from the Ptolemaic dynasty, illustrating that Djoser was still remembered and venerated more than two thousand years after he died.
Obviously there is some disagreement as to how long Djoser actually reigned -- manetho says sixteen years, and the Turin king list has shown 19 -- but we honestly do not know if the cattle counts by which these are reckoned are done every year, or done every other year, which would result in 37 or so years on the throne. Given the scope of his building projects, the higher number seems more realistic However, looking at the building projects of later kings who ruled for less time makes this a bit suspect, too, I guess.
During his reign, Djoser's foreign policy was conservative, and focused on establishing Egypt as an economic presence, and maintaining the Sinai, so important for trade and as a military buffer zone between Egypt and the Asian/Arab states. Djoser did not expand the borders of Egypt during his reign, and the southern border of Egypt may have been fixed at the First Cataract. He made a distinct effort to control Nubia and make it the gateway to the African cities father south. Djoser moved the royal capitol to Memphis, and cut all ties to the old necropolis at Memphis -- moving instead to Saqqara. Memphis would be the central city of Egypt for the next two millennia.
Because there was no pressing external threat to Egypt while Djoser ruled -- which freed up resources and energy to improvements within the country. The building projects flourished, and nearly every branch of society saw enormous progress -- arts, writing, governmental organization, religion, etc. Djoser was the first king to have both necessary skills: the ability o pick officials who could most ably organize and user the skills of the Egyptian people...and the long reign to use those skills.
Of course, the most important of his legacies was the Step Pyramid and the complex in Saqqara -- building on a scale never undertaken before. The technological advances and architectural change were mostly driven by Imhotep, the pharaoh's vizier, high-priest, and architect. The ability to organize and build such a monument definitely speaks to the power of a centralized government.
The Step pyramid is the first building of hewn stone, and the structures built in the mortuary complex were unique, and set the building model for the kings to follow Djoser. Obviously, stone cutting wasn't new -- mastabas of cut stone and mud brick were common -- but building on this scale was previously unheard of. Stone sculpturing and pillars that imitated the natural world -- flowers, and wood-beam ceilings carved in stones -- were also new. The structure and contents of the Mortuary complex as well as a boatload of pictures) can be found in the he Photos section and Travelogue.
The person responsible for this -- Imhotep -- is rumored by some to be the kings son, although little is actually known about his origins. He was the chief vizier, architect, poet, physician, and high priest -- and was the only man who was deified and later worshipped as a god. He was venerated even into the Roman Era, 2500 years after his death.