Ancient monuments and grand temples aside, the ancient Egyptians invented a number of items which one simply takes for granted in the modern day.
The history of Ancient Egypt is one of the most fascinating in the world, with a rich cultural heritage that dates to 5000 BCE and a history that has been preserved through thousands of years. It was first unified as one kingdom around 3100 BCE by King Menes, who founded the First Dynasty. The country would continue to be ruled by kings until 332 BCE, when it became part of Alexander's Macedonian Empire. After Alexander died in 323 BCE, Egypt was ruled by Ptolemy I Soter, who founded the Ptolemaic Dynasty, which lasted until 30 B.C. when Cleopatra VII committed suicide after being defeated by Octavian at the Battle of Actium. Early Dynastic Period (circa 3100 to circa 2686 BCE): The Early Dynastic Period was the first of three periods in Egyptian history. It began around 3100 BCE and lasted until 2686 BCE when Egypt became a unified country. Egyptian civilization dates to 5500 BCE, although there is evidence of human settlement along the Nile River dating back as far as 10,000 BCE. During this time, Egypt was ruled mainly by many different groups with varying levels of organization and power. By 3000 BCE, however, it had become an independent country under its first pharaoh: Menes (reign c. 2950-2910 BC).
Old Kingdom (circa 2686 to circa 2181 BCE): The Old Kingdom was the first Period of ancient Egyptian civilization. The first Pharaohs ruled here and built the Pyramids at Giza, which are still standing today. The pharaohs were buried in pyramids - these massive tombs were designed to protect their bodies from decay so they could continue to rule in the afterlife. Thousands of workers were used to build these magnificent examples of architecture for royalty, but it is likely that some people who were not royalty also had smaller tombs built for them.
First Intermediate Period (circa 2181 to circa 2055 BCE): The First Intermediate Period is the Period of Egyptian history between the Old Kingdom and the Middle Kingdom. It lasted from about 2181 BCE to 2055 BCE and spans four dynasties. This era was short-lived, but it was important because it marked Egypt's first decline as a world power. During this time, rule shifted from one Dynasty to another with regularity; during some periods, two rival dynasties were ruling at once—and neither was able or willing to hold territory against their rivals for long. The term "First Intermediate Period" comes from Manetho's original list of rulers who ruled during this time; these are now considered separate dynasties. Middle Kingdom (circa 2055 to circa 1650 BCE): The Middle Kingdom was a time of outstanding artistic achievement. Many of the most famous works of art in ancient Egypt were made during this period, including the beautiful Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri. In addition to being an era of prosperity and growth, it was also a period when Egypt conquered Nubia (a territory on its Southern border) and established control over its trading routes.
“Egyptian pyramid-building reached its zenith with the construction of the Great Pyramid at Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo. Built for Khufu (or Cheops, in Greek), who ruled from 2589 to 2566 B.C., the pyramid was later named by classical historians as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Second Intermediate Period (circa 1650 to circa 1550 BCE):
The 21st Dynasty: The first part of this Dynasty was ruled by a man named Nebpehtire, the founder of the 22nd Dynasty. He successfully drove out the Hyksos from Egypt and reunited Upper and Lower Egypt.
The 22nd Dynasty: This Dynasty ruled during the time mentioned above. It was headed by Nebpehtire's son, Mentuhotep II, who reunited all of Egypt under his rule.
The 23rd Dynasty: This short-lived Dynasty lasted only about 50 years before falling apart due to internal conflicts within its ruling family lineages.
The 24th Dynasty: Shortly after being established, this Dynasty collapsed when Ahmose I drove out all foreign rulers from Egypt once again and successfully reunified it under one ruler again for good this time!
New Kingdom (circa 1550 to 1069 BCE): The New Kingdom was Egypt's golden age when the region's military and political dominance reached its peak. The 18th Dynasty pharaohs ruled at this time and included Ahmose I (1550-1525 BCE), Hatshepsut (1479-1458 BCE), Thutmose III (1479-1425 BCE), and Amenhotep II, who reigned from 1427 to 1397 BCE. The 19th Dynasty pharaohs included Akhenaten (1353 – 1336 BCE) and Tutankhamun (1332 – 1323). From 1550BCE onwards, Egypt was ruled by a series of strong kings who were able to expand their territory through military campaigns against neighbouring countries such as Nubia (modern-day Sudan) and Syria but also further abroad towards Asia where they controlled parts of modern-day Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon as well as large parts of western Anatolia which today forms part of Turkey including Istanbul itself! Third Intermediate Period (circa 1069 to 525 BCE): The Third Intermediate Period (circa 1069 to 525 BCE) was a time of foreign invasions and political instability. The pharaohs were weak and unable to maintain control over their empire, so they had to rely on their vassals for protection. This led to a breakdown in order throughout Egypt as the pharaoh's power declined, and vassal rulers rose in rebellion against him. The Period is known as the "first intermediate period" in Egyptian history because it is between two distinct dynasties: the Old Kingdom and the Middle Kingdom.
Late Period (525 or 404 to 332 or 30 BCE): In 525 BCE, Egypt was conquered by the Persians. The Egyptians welcomed the Persian occupation because they viewed them as liberators compared to their previous foreign masters. In 332 BCE, Alexander the Great defeated Darius III at the Battle of Gaugamela, and established control over Egypt. However, he died shortly after that and left his generals in charge of Egypt. These generals were soon overthrown by Ptolemy I Soter (one of Alexander's top commanders), who established himself as king of Egypt in 305 BCE with support from his army and native Egyptian allies. He founded what would become known as Ptolemaic Dynasty, where Greek culture would influence Egyptian life for centuries to come until it fell under Roman rule in 30 BCE when Cleopatra VII committed suicide rather than surrender her kingdom to Octavian Augustus.
The Ptolemaic Period was the last of three periods in ancient Egyptian history. It began in 305 BC and ended with Egypt under the rule of Rome. During this period, also known as the Hellenistic Period, Egyptians were ruled by Greeks and Romans rather than Egyptians; they adopted their culture and customs while maintaining a sense of identity separate from their rulers. This section will explore how these rulers affected Egypt's history because it influenced so many aspects: religion (Greek gods replaced Egyptian ones), architecture (Greek styles became more common), government structure (a bureaucracy developed), language use (Greeks began using Egyptian hieroglyphs).
Civilization on the Nile
The Nile River is the beginning of ancient Egypt's story. 2,000 years before Egypt's first ruling Dynasty was founded in 3100 BCE, settlements along the Nile existed. Nomads and pastoralists settled the fertile floodplain of the Nile, growing barley, fishing, and hunting. These seemingly unexceptional people built a civilization that towered over the ancient world thanks to the river. In the Nile River basin, advanced civilizations evolved and decayed. This book explains how they did it and what it means to us today. In early Egypt, Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt were geographically and culturally separated. The region south of the Nile delta was known as Upper Egypt. Northward flowed the mighty Nile from these highlands. Low Egypt consisted of the northern lowlands where the Nile empties into the Mediterranean Sea through a fan-shaped delta. The terrain of the uplands tended to breed fierce and rugged people. Farmer prosperity was more likely among lowland northerners.
Grass-like aquatic plants called papyrus grew along the banks of the Nile. Sailcloths and clothing were made using fibres from the stem of this versatile plant. Papyrus reeds could be bundled together to form boats or ropes. Writing surfaces were undoubtedly papyrus' most important historical use. To make this surface, Egyptians crushed plant stems, dampened the layers they created from those strips, then hammered and dried them. Around 3000 BC, papyrus replaced clay tablets as the preferred writing surface. Documents written on papyrus (the root of English paper) still exist today. Inscribed monuments, artwork, papyrus documents, and king lists contributed to our understanding of ancient Egypt. Manetho's Aegyptiaca (now lost) provides the basis for most historians' work today. Following Egyptian unification in 3100 BC, a priest named Manetho divided Egyptian history into 30 dynasties.
In ancient Egypt, kings were called pharaohs and ruled the country. In Egyptian, pharaoh refers to the King's palace, called the "great house." Pharaohs were gods who became gods after they died. There are approximately 170 Egyptian kings whose names are known.
Egypt was the first true nation-state in the ancient world due to its power, stability, and unity. King Akhenaton and Queen Nefertiti worshipped the sun god Aton under the rule of Menes, the first recorded pharaoh. A.D. 3125. Menes united Lower Egypt and Upper Egypt by founding Memphis as the nation's capital. Archaeological evidence for this early period, however, is sparse. According to excavations, up to two dozen rulers may have been involved in the unification. In the overarching history of Egyptian rulers, Tutankhamun is perhaps the most recognizable of the ancient Egyptian kings. At 19, the "Boy King" ascended to the throne in 1333 BCE. British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered his burial site in 1922, bringing him to the public's attention. There was a treasure trove of treasures in the funerary chamber. There were enormous riches controlled by the ancient Egyptian kings, much of it buried with them. Tutankhamun's solid gold inner coffin alone would be worth millions today. There must have been a staggering amount of wealth accompanying longer-lived kings to their tombs. Grave robbers looted most other pharaohs' tombs in ancient times, so verifying this supposition is difficult.
Egypt's throne was occasionally claimed by women. Hatshepsut (1473-1458 BCE) and Cleopatra (51-30 BCE) were two of the most influential women of ancient times. Hatshepsut was the daughter of one King, Thutmose I, and the sister and wife of his successor, Thutmose II. Her relationship with Thutmose III, a young son he conceived by another wife, continued until she became King and adopted the title and regalia of a pharaoh (male). Having lost her father and brother, Cleopatra came to the throne. As a powerful and ambitious ruler, she alternated between alliances and wars against Roman leaders. However, Cleopatra is perhaps best remembered for her love affairs with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, despite her competent leadership.
In regnal matters, these women stood out as notable exceptions. In ancient Egypt, thrones were traditionally passed down to male heirs, and most leaders were male. According to Egyptian tradition, the eldest son of a pharaoh's chief wife usually succeeded him. It is possible, however, for other sons to be crowned pharaohs, along with other male relatives. Holy oracles might be used by a king to choose a successor. Ancient Egypt was a place where religion played an important role. Several gods and goddesses were worshipped by the polytheistic Egyptians. The importance of many old deities waned over 3,000 years. Over that time, the Egyptian religion remained remarkably stable and pervaded everyday life.
Modern sensibilities may find Egypt's pantheon of gods and goddesses strange. Among other things, Ptah, the creator god, was believed to have created the world by thinking. The sun god, Re, was believed to be swallowed by Nut each evening. As the sun, he traversed the sky each day and as the underworld each night. Against chaos and its allies, he fought. Public religion generally centred around two objects of devotion: the King and an array of gods. Between humanity and the gods, the King held a unique position. In honour of his afterlife, he constructed massive funerary monuments believed to have been constructed by the gods. A king's primary religious duty was to maintain the gods' benevolence. His actions would prevent the chaos and disorder seen in many other kingdoms. It was common for kings to live as absolute monarchs surrounded by small groups of family members. Eventually, a few hundred wealthy elites controlled the government, with the kings as its centre. A few thousand lesser officials were controlled by these men. About 5 percent of early populations were composed of these two groups.
The Egyptians believed that the gods favoured them. In addition, they believed in an afterlife. The belief that the body must remain intact through the afterlife is more important to history. Mummification allowed Egyptians to preserve dead bodies for thousands of years. During the period of kingship, elaborate coffins, graves, sarcophagi, and pyramids were built to safeguard and preserve the bodies of the kings. Immortality was built into these instruments. We have gained much insight into Egypt's civilization thanks to their survival. Writing contributed significantly to the centralization of the Egyptian state. Writing could be done in two different ways. Monuments and official state occasions were the principal uses of hieroglyphs. In formal writing, it was used. A cursive language, like modern Arabic, was used for more mundane communications. It was primarily a group of highly educated, literate scribes who held privileged positions in society and kept the machinery of the state running. In addition to assessing taxes and keeping legal records, they also recorded royal achievements. Scribes begin their training at a young age. Scribes attended schools called Houses of Life. Scribes were not uncommon to inherit their positions from their fathers, although literate commoners could rise to high positions.
The vast building projects of ancient Egypt were also noteworthy. Mud bricks and stone were the two primary building materials used by the Egyptians. Cities were primarily built with mud bricks. Due to Egypt's dry climate, some of those cities have been preserved, despite the Nile washing away many of them over time. However, most stone tombs and temples were built away from the Nile. Egypt's most recognizable buildings were the pyramids. Although their monumental scale remains a mystery, their purpose was sure to impress. Khufu's Great Pyramid reached a height of 481.4 feet (146.7 meters). Until the late 19th century, it remained the world's tallest building. Most Egyptian pyramids were built during the Old Kingdom. Pyramids fell out of favour due to the enormous amount of money and human resources required for their construction. Following that, funerary buildings became smaller and poorer in construction.
In the same way as the pyramids, Egypt's temples have earned worldwide fame. During the 18th Dynasty (around 1300 BC), Amenhotep III began the construction of the Temple of Luxor. Egypt's great temples contained elements found in the Temple of Luxor. Approached by a sphinx-lined avenue, a massive double-towered pylon loomed. A courtyard led to a hall filled with pillars within the pylon. A shrine to a deity was deep within the temple. Besides the temple, there was a lake where religious rituals were performed. Red brick walls surrounded all of this. An outstanding Egyptian builder, Ramses II, built Abu Simbel (1200s BCE), a temple complex with four massive statues. In terms of rock-cut architecture, they are among the most impressive.
There has been a long history of Egyptians inspiring awe. The pyramids were already thousands of years old when the ancient Greeks first visited Egypt around 500 BC. It was in its twilight years that Egypt's grand civilization flourished. As Egypt's final rulers, the Ptolemy kings came to power due to Alexander the Great's invasion in the 300s. The Ptolemy dynasty and Egypt's independence ended in 30 B.C. when Rome defeated Cleopatra. In the late nineteenth century, knowledge of Egyptian culture and writing began to fade.
Even so, ancient Egypt had a profound influence on the world. Egyptian gardens were built in the palaces of Roman emperors. It was common for cults based on Egyptian gods and goddesses to spread throughout the empire. From England to Afghanistan, the goddess Isis was worshipped. In the Middle Ages, medieval popes constructed obelisks that mimicked those of the pharaohs. During the Medieval era, doctors mistakenly believed that mummies had supernatural healing powers, ground them up, and fed them to patients. Egyptian culture was studied by Enlightenment philosophers from the few sources available to them.
Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798 opened new doors for Egyptian history. He discovered the Rosetta Stone, which contained a hieroglyphic and ancient Greek decree written by a king. With this critical piece of information, French scholar Jean-François Champollion was able to unlock centuries-old mysteries about hieroglyphics. Our knowledge of ancient Egyptians is primarily derived from this discovery. Egypt's temples and tombs could not be understood without them. Egypt's influence on design and the arts became fashionable in the 19th century. The public enjoyed operas, plays, and novels with Egyptian themes (or at least a touch of them). Designs and images conjure up memories of life along the Nile on jewellery, furniture, decorative objects, and accent pieces.
In the early 20th century, the discovery of King Tutankhamun's tomb sparked yet another round of Egyptomania. Ancient Egyptian relics and representations became more popular in America and Europe as more information was revealed about the ancient civilization. The silver screen was filled with films featuring mummies and compelling characters like Cleopatra, while significant cities erected buildings heavily influenced by Egyptian architecture. It was in 1978 that the treasures of Tutankhamun's tomb were displayed worldwide, and that interest in Egypt was revived. In 2005, a new traveling exhibition was launched. According to DNA analysis and radiography, King Tut most likely died from malaria and degenerative bone disease in 2010, thus solving a mystery that had intrigued the masses for decades. Egypt will never lose its appeal. As one of the world's greatest civilizations, ancient Egypt deserved a fate befitting its status.
In the 3rd millennium B.C., ancient Egyptian civilization developed in north-eastern Africa. Historically, ancient Egypt was associated with north-eastern Africa from its prehistory to the Islamic conquest in the 7th century. Despite its many achievements, its art and monuments continue to hold a fascination that grows as archaeological finds reveal their secrets. Ancient Egypt's agricultural population depended on the Nile River's annual inundation to survive in the desert of north-eastern Africa. There is a fertile floodplain in the Nile valley, where the Nile flows between limestone hills and the Nile delta, which fans into several branches north of present-day Cairo that contributed to the country's wealth. The game was in the low desert between the floodplain and the hills. Egypt's sole transportation route was the Nile.
Aswan's First Cataract, where a belt of granite changes the riverbed into rapids, was the only well-defined boundary within a populated country. Nubia's far less hospitable area lay to the south, where the river flowed through low sandstone hills that yielded only a narrow strip of cultivable land. It was necessary for Egypt's periodic southward expansion and access to southern products that Nubia provided. Arid Sahara west of the Nile was dotted with oases 125 to 185 miles (200 to 300 kilometres) from the river and devoid of all resources except minerals. As the route to the Red Sea, the eastern desert, located halfway between the Nile and the Red Sea, had greater importance, containing numerous mineral deposits, and supporting a small nomadic population.
The Isthmus of Suez lay to the northeast. Contact with Sinai, which brought turquoise and copper, and with southwestern Asia, Egypt's most important cultural area of interaction, provided stimulation for technical development and cultivars of crops. As a result of Egypt's stability and prosperity, immigrants and invaders crossed the isthmus into the country. There were numerous land and sea attacks along the eastern Mediterranean coast from the middle of the 2nd millennium BCE onwards. Initially, there was little cultural contact from the Mediterranean Sea, yet Egyptian traders continued to trade with Lebanese ports such as Byblos (today's Jbail). To maintain basic living standards, Egypt needed few imports, but good timber was essential and unavailable in the country, so it was often imported from Lebanon. Anatolia and Afghanistan were sources of minerals such as obsidian and lapis lazuli.
Cereal crops were cultivated primarily, including emmer wheat and barley. From a single annual crop, the fertility of the land and general predictability of the inundation ensured high productivity. Until the creation of the great empires of the 1st millennium BCE in the ancient Middle East, this productivity enabled the Egyptians to store large surpluses against crop failures. As the Nile valley and delta reclaimed land from the marsh and the river deposited alluvial silt, the area available for cultivation increased, while pastoralism slowly declined. It was impossible to plant multiple crops until much later, except perhaps in the lakeside area of Al-Fayyūm. Fruit and vegetables were also essential, irrigated year-round in small plots; fish was also needed. In ancient times, papyrus was collected from marshes and later cultivated. Ropes, mats, and sandals were undoubtedly made from it, which may have been used as a food crop. During the Late Period of Egyptian and then Greco-Roman times, its principal export was Egyptian writing material and cereals.
Cattle were domesticated in north-eastern Africa. Egyptians kept many of these animals as draft animals for their various products, and they showed some interest in the breeds and individuals found in Sudan and eastern Africa. Domestication of the donkey, the principal transport animal (camels did not become common until Roman times), is likely to have taken place in this region. In the second millennium B.C., the native Egyptian breed of sheep became extinct and was replaced by an Asian breed. The wool of sheep was rarely used, primarily for meat. Sheep were fewer in number than goats. It was also common to raise and eat pigs. Thousands of wild and migratory birds, including ducks and geese, were hunted, and trapped in Egypt. The elite hunted desert game, primarily antelopes and ibex; lions and wild cattle were royal privileges. There were dogs, also used for hunting, cats (domesticated in Egypt), and monkeys kept as pets. Moreover, the Egyptians were very knowledgeable about most species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish in their environment. Egyptians most likely descended from prehistoric settlers who settled in the Nile valley, with natural fertility increasing their populations. Immigrants came from Nubia, Libya, and especially the Middle East in various periods. Their numbers are unknown, but they were historically significant and may have contributed to population growth.
Most of the population lived in villages and towns in the Nile valley and delta. Buildings were generally made of mud brick and have long since disappeared beneath the rising water table or beneath modern towns, obliterating evidence for settlement patterns. A popular settlement location in ancient times was on the slightly raised ground near the riverbank, where transport and water were readily available, and flooding was unlikely. In contrast to Mesopotamia, Egypt did not urbanize until the 1st millennium B.C. People were evenly distributed throughout the country, except in a few centres, notably Memphis and Thebes. From 1 to 1.5 million in the late 2nd millennium to perhaps twice that number in the first-millennium BCE, the population doubled. During the Greco-Roman period, population levels reached much higher levels.
Agriculture was the primary occupation of nearly all people. Although people living there could not be easily removed, some categories of land could be purchased and sold by the King. The land was assigned to high officials as an income source, and most tracts required payment of substantial dues to the state, which had a strong interest in keeping it for agricultural purposes. The state reassigned abandoned land for cultivation and took it back into ownership. People who lived on the land and worked it were not free to leave; they were obligated to work it but not enslaved. Central officials received a portion of the products they produced. Free citizens could work the land on their own behalf. Although they were initially referred to as poor, these agriculturalists were probably not poor. Captives, foreigners, and people forced into slavery by poverty or debt were not expected to be sold into slavery. In the long term, slaves who were members of households tended to be assimilated into free society because they married family members of their owners. Many captive enslaved people were acquired by significant state institutions or incorporated into the army during the New Kingdom (between 1539 and 1075 BC).
Among the punishments administered to foreign enslaved people or native fugitives were; Labour that is forced. Desert oases (for example, in the western desert). Enlistment in dangerous mining expeditions is mandatory. Working in nonpunitive jobs, such as quarrying in the desert, was hazardous. Over ten percent of expedition members died, according to official records.
Their crafts and techniques, many of which were originally from Asia, were raised to extraordinary perfection just as they optimized their agricultural production through simple means. With a centralized state, the Egyptians could mobilize a vast labour force, made available by efficient agricultural practices, to construct their most striking technical achievement, a massive stone building. There were some remarkable technical and organizational skills involved. Until today, nothing is known about the construction of the 4th Dynasty's great pyramids (c. 2575–c. 2465 BCE). At least until the late 2nd millennium BCE, flint tools were still widely used in urban areas, despite sparse evidence of a neolithic way of living for rural populations. Due to the metal shortage, it was primarily used for prestige rather than everyday needs.
Despite the Egyptian ideal of the nuclear family in urban and elite contexts, extended families existed on the land and within the central ruling group. Monogamy was the norm among Egyptians, and the choice of partners did not follow a pattern based on formal ceremonies or legal sanctions. Only kings or heirs to the throne may have been permitted to marry consanguineous siblings during the Dynastic period. In theory, divorce was easy, but it was expensive. There was only a marginal difference between women's legal status and men. Divorce and other legal proceedings could be initiated by them as well. "Mistress of the house" was a title held by married women whose precise significance is unknown. Instead of holding administrative office, they increasingly participated in religious cults as priestesses or "chantresses." Since their social status was lower, they probably worked in the household and on the land.
Wealth, labour, and technology were unevenly distributed due to society's partially urban nature, especially in the 3rd-millennium BCE. Unlike numerous provincial towns, the country's resources were concentrated around its capital -- a dispersed string of settlements rather than a city -- and focused on the King, the central figure in society. The ideal elite, exemplified in the decoration of private tombs, was rural and manorial in the 3rd and early 2nd millennia. It was only much later that Egyptians developed a more pronounced urban identity.
Egyptian society was based on a hierarchy of gods, kings, the blessed dead, and humanity (understood chiefly by Egyptians). Since the King was the only single member of these groups, he was more prominent than the others. In a text, the King is described as "being on earth forever, judging humans and propitiating the gods, and putting order [ma'at], a central concept]. Offerings were made to the gods and mortuary offerings to the spirits [the blessed dead]." The King possessed divine essence, but not without qualification. Through rituals, he was affirmed in his divinity, but it was vastly inferior to that of significant gods. A god rather than a human, he was immeasurably more significant than any human. A complex web of metaphors and doctrines elaborated his conception of the gods on earth.
The chief queen's sons seemed to be the preferred successors to the throne, but others could also succeed. Many forerunners probably preceded them. It is common for the successor to be the eldest (surviving) son, and such inheritance is consistent with Egyptian values, but sometimes he was another relative or was completely unrelated. If there was no obvious successor, there might have been a pattern of selecting successors by the predecessors or by divine oracles. Numerous usurpations and interruptions of succession can be traced back to the Late Period (664–332 BCE) when sources were more varied and less rigid. Public sources suppress dissent and conflict.
In time, a monarch became a bureaucrat and the head of a state based on officeholding and free competition rather than an absolute monarch at the center of a small ruling group dominated by his kin. a monarch became a bureaucrat. The head of a state based on officeholding and free competition, rather than an absolute monarch at the center of a small ruling group dominated by his kin. a monarch became a bureaucrat and the head of a state based on officeholding and free competition, rather than an absolute monarch at the center of a small ruling group dominated by his kin. As the 5th Dynasty began, the charismatic and superhuman power of the King continued to dominate, despite the addition of fixed institutions to tradition and the regulation of personal contact.
The King appointed and commissioned the elite of administrative officeholders, whose general role was to judge humanity. Inscriptions documented their exploits and exemplary conduct of life, as well as their own justice and concern for others. By referencing the King, their prestige among their peers, and their conduct toward their subordinates, the elite could justify their appropriation of much of the country's production to some extent.
It is still being determined how far these attitudes were accepted and how much they counterbalanced inequality. Some 5,000 minor officials and scribes, most of whom could not afford memorials or inscriptions, made up the administrative class of wealthy officeholders. Perhaps 5 percent of the early population consisted of these two groups and their dependents. Monuments and inscriptions are commemorated by fewer than one person in a thousand. In ancient conditions of high mortality, the King's elite had to accept recruits from outside by royal ideology. Sons were also expected to succeed their fathers, however. A society became rigid and stratified due to this principle during periods of weak central control.
Writing played a crucial role in centralizing the Egyptian state and presenting it to the world. During late predynastic Egypt (c. 3000 BC), hieroglyphs were used for monuments and displays, and hieratic, a cursive form of writing, was invented simultaneously. Until about 2650 BCE, the writing was used primarily for administration, and no continuous text was preserved; the only literary works before the early Middle Kingdom (c. 1950 BCE) are lists of crucial traditional information and possibly medical treatises. A low literacy rate, probably well below one percent, and expectations about what writing could accomplish limited the use and potential of writing. Egypt was publicly identified with hieroglyphic writing. The Egyptian script was rarely adapted to write other languages due to its association with a single powerful state, language, and culture; in contrast, the Mesopotamian cuneiform script was centralized and multilingual. Yet, Egyptian hieroglyphs likely served as a model for the alphabet, eventually the most comprehensive a spread of all writing systems in the middle of the 2nd millennium B.C.
Architecture and representational art are the most visible remnants of ancient Egypt. Most of them were mortuaries, royal tomb complexes, pyramids, mortuary temples, and private tombs until the Middle Kingdom. Most of the country's temples were modest buildings dedicated to the cult of the gods. New Kingdom monuments became temples of the gods. It is less critical to review royals' palaces and private houses, which are relatively unknown. Ideally, monuments were built of stone with relief decorations on their walls and filled with stone and wooden statuary, stelae (freestanding stone monuments) inscribed and decorated, and composite works of art in precious materials. During the historical period, the monuments were designed and decorated to convey an ideal, sanctified cosmos. The decoration may depict historical events, rituals, or the career and titles of individuals. Nonetheless, its primary significance lies in its general assertion of values, and the information presented must be evaluated for its plausibility. Except in palaces, few works of art outside temples and tombs related to the everyday world. Reliefs on royal monuments often depict iconic rather than historical events.
Many works of Egyptian art feature the highly distinctive way Egyptians rendered nature and style. Before the New Kingdom, gods were rarely shown together with humanity since they were hierarchically ordered, and the most critical figures, the gods, and the King, are shown together. In nonroyal tombs, the tomb owner is typically depicted with subordinates who administer his land and present it to him. As a symbol of passage into the next world, tomb owners are often depicted hunting in the marshes, a favourite pastime of the elite. Nonroyal tombs lack the King and the gods, and until the New Kingdom, overtly religious imagery is restricted to mortuary rituals and journeys and to textual formulas. The King appears freely in temple reliefs, defeating his enemies, hunting, and offering offerings to the gods. Humans are only present as minor characters supporting the King. Some monuments depict an ideal world where everything is beautiful and smooth; only minor figures are imperfect.
As with writing, this artistic presentation of values originated before the latter could record continuous texts or complex statements. Inscriptions and copies of literary works were produced in all the main phases of the Egyptian language - Middle Egyptian, "classical" forms of Middle and New kingdoms that continued into Roman times, Late Egyptian, from the 19th dynasty to about 700 BCE, and demotic script, from the 4th to the 3rd-century AD. Many of the most beautiful and complex are among the earliest. There is an awareness of an ideal past only aspired to in some of the oldest continuous texts of the 4th and 5th dynasties. A few "biographies" of officials mention strife, but Middle Kingdom literary texts are the first to discuss the subject more nuancedly. There is a rich commentary on the one-dimensional rhetoric of public inscriptions in the texts, which include stories, dialogues, laments, and instructions on how to live a good life.
Among the literary works were treatises on mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and magic, as well as religious texts and canonical lists categorizing creations (probably the oldest genre, dating back to the Old Kingdom, c. 2575 BC, or even earlier). The only genuinely systematic text among these is a medical treatise on wounds. Egyptian practical expertise in fields such as surveying contrasts with the absence of systematic inquiry, as it was used for orienting buildings and planning fields after the annual Nile flood. Egypt's dimensions were also measured and established through the Middle Kingdom's beginning. The precise tasks required knowledge of astronomy and highly ingenious techniques, but they appeared to be accomplished without much theoretical analysis. Egypt had been divided into 35 nomes, or provinces, each with its own officials, in the earliest periods; it had been treated almost as the King's private estate. It was common for the central elite to live and die in the capital, where the administration was concentrated.
Nonmonetary Egyptian economic functions included:
Produce is collected, stored, and redistributed.
Irrigation and flood protection works, and significant state projects require the organization and drafting of human resources.
In legal matters, supervision is required.
There was no absolute separation between administration and law, and both depended on the King. For settling disputes, precedent was the guiding criterion, while contractual relations were governed by standard formulas. Temples were economic and religious institutions; they participated in redistribution and held massive grain reserves. Similar functions were exercised by local grandees during times of decentralization. In the past, markets played only a minor role, and artisans usually traded what they produced on their own time. The land was the primary source of income for the wealthiest officials, who also maintained large establishments with specialized workers.
Among the nonliterate 99 percent of the population, writing was the most essential medium of administration, reinforced by personal authority. A scribe is stressed as the one who commands while the rest does the work in texts exhorting youth to scribe. There was an intricate hierarchy of officials (most of whom were men) headed by the Vizier, the chief administrator, and the judge. In theory, the Vizier reported to the King, who retained certain powers, such as the authority to invoke the death penalty with absolute certainty. Before the Middle Kingdom, there was no clear distinction between the civil and the military. Local militias were organized under their own officials and included foreigners, and nonmilitary expeditions were organized similarly to extract minerals from the desert and transport heavy loads through the country. Priesthoods were separate in the New Kingdom. A priest could also hold a civil title, and a civil title could be held by a civil official. It is common for priesthoods to be sinecures: their primary significance is income. It was the same with minor civil titles acquired by high officials. On a lower level, minor priesthoods were held by "laymen" in temples every fourth month on a rotating basis. Before the late New Kingdom, state and temple were so closely interconnected that tensions were minimal.
Most Egyptian prehistory, including its Neolithic and Predynastic phases, is archaeological except for the last century. A mythical allusion to such remote times can be found in later native sources. It is generally accepted that native Egyptian rulers were ruled by 30 dynasties during the Dynastic period, according to the Aegyptiaca of the Greco-Egyptian Manetho of Sebennytos (early 3rd century B.C.), excerpts of which are preserved in later works. Several of Manetho's divisions reflect changes in the party holding power and changes in the capital cities his dynasties ruled. Several periods were grouped according to the length of kings' reigns or entire dynasties. It is still possible to reconstruct chronology from Manetho's figures with supporting evidence and analysis because of textual corruption and inflation. Manetho's primary sources were earlier Egyptian king lists, which he attempted to imitate in terms of organization. An Egyptian Museum document in Turin, Italy, known as the Turin Papyrus (Turin Canon), contains the most significant surviving example of a king list. The document lists all kings of the 1st through 17th dynasties, followed by a mythical dynasty of gods and the "spirits." As in Manetho's later work, the Turin document included reign lengths for individual kings and totals for some dynasties and extended multi-dynastic periods.
When dates were assigned to the 4th and 5th dynasties, they were based on biennial cattle censuses. King's reigns were not numbered consecutively in early periods but instead were named for salient events, and lists were compiled. Inscribed basalt fragments at the Cairo Museum and University College London preserve fragments of such lists, as does the Palermo Stone at the Regional Museum of Archaeology in Palermo, Italy. A complete copy of a 5th dynasty original document is presented here. Since the Egyptians did not date by eras longer than a single king's reign, astronomical data may enable whole periods to be dated precisely based on totals of reign lengths. Using astronomical events and Egyptian antiquities three calendars, this is accomplished. During the 3rd millennium BCE, a civil calendar was introduced, deriving from the lunar calendar. In principle, the civil year began when Sirius, or the Dog Star, appeared above the horizon after a period of absence, which occurred some weeks before the Nile rose for inundation. Sirius, or the Dog Star, is known in Greek as Sothis (ancient Egyptian: Sopdet). The civil year advances one day every four years about the solar year (365 14); after about 1,460 years, it would again align with the solar calendar. Two lunar calendars were used for religious ceremonies, each with 29 or 30 days and an extra intercalary month every three or four years.
The rising of Sirius is mentioned in texts from the 3rd millennium to the 1st millennium (generally called Sothic dates), but these references need to yield an absolute chronology. A chronology can be calculated and compared with Sirius observations from more significant numbers of lunar dates. Chronologies for the 2nd-millennium BCE differ by up to 40 years, while those for the beginning of the 1st Dynasty differ by more than a century. By re-examining the evidence for the Sothic and primarily lunar dates, most publications up to 1985 have doubted the chronologies offered for the Middle and New kingdoms. Based on links with the Hebrew Bible, a supposed fixed year of 945 BCE turns out to be variable by several years in the 1st millennium. Dates from 664 to 332 BCE are almost entirely fixed.
Before the 12th Dynasty, plausible dates can be calculated backward for the 11th, but for earlier times, dates are approximate. To determine the beginning of the 1st Dynasty, the Turin Canon assigns a date of about 3100 BCE, which requires excessive average reign lengths, and a 2925 BCE would be more appropriate. Dates computed from samples from Egyptian sites have not been improved or convincingly contested by radiocarbon dating or other scientific methods. However, radiocarbon dates from Egypt produced in recent years are encouragingly close to those computed in the manner described above. There is no chronological framework in King's lists or astronomy. Egyptian history can be derived from many archaeological and inscriptional sources, but none were produced with historical interpretation. It is impossible to write a consistent political history of ancient Egypt.
Many decades have passed, and no continuous recording of historical events or royal texts has been found in the 3rd millennium BCE. There is a very uneven distribution of evidence. Generally, personal biographical inscriptions of all periods from the 5th Dynasty (c. 2465–c. 2325 BCE) to the Roman conquest (30 BCE) document individuals' involvement in events without addressing their significance. From the 12th Dynasty (1938-1756 BCE) until Ptolemaic times, royal inscriptions depict the actions of a king under a concept of "history" in which the King is the guarantor of the stability of the world or its expansion. While nonroyal individuals may attribute their own successes to both the King and the gods, the goal of his action is to serve the gods rather than humanity.
There was no internal strife during the nonroyal periods because they were decentralized. When dis-sent arose at the beginning of a reign or phase of action, it was quickly and triumphantly overcome by reaffirming order. Often, such a schema dominates the factual content of texts, creating an extreme bias toward foreign affairs because, after the initial turmoil subsides, there is no internal disagreement. History is both a process of events and a ritual. A ritual's protagonists are divine and royal. These conventions only weakened significantly in the Late Period. In Roman times, they were retained in full for temple reliefs, where they remained vital. According to their king lists, the Egyptians were aware of history despite this idealization. According to folklore, the rulers were evaluated for their exploits and bad qualities, like those of Egyptologists. As divine punishment for their wicked actions, the Demotic Chronicle, a Ptolemaic text, predicts the lousy end of several Late Period kings.
Europe became interested in the Egyptian language after Coptic texts were taken from Egypt during the Renaissance. The classical tradition of Egypt as a land of ancient wisdom dominated views of Egypt until this time. Only the Copts, Christian Egyptians after the Arab conquest (AD 641), preserved the ancient Greek language. Hieroglyphic script was thought to contain wisdom due to its profound symbolic meaning instead of sound and words in texts, as is the case. The monuments of Egypt gradually became more known through the work of European scholars and travellers in the country during the 15th and 18th centuries, when they held a minor but significant place in general views of antiquity. Among the finest works of the 18th century were those by Richard Pococke, Frederik Ludwig Norden, and Carsten Niebuhr, whose works stimulated the revival of Egyptian architecture and art in Europe. Since the 17th century, Athanasius Kircher has been studying Coptic, the Christian successor to ancient Egyptians, for its potential to unlock Egyptian mysteries.
The expedition by Napoleon I to Egypt in 1798 and the short-lived conquest culminated 18th-century interest in the East. The expedition was accompanied by scholars who recorded the ancient and contemporary country, producing the Description de l'Égypte in 1809–28, the most comprehensive study before deciphering the hieroglyphics. It was discovered during the expedition that the Rosetta Stone bore a decree of Ptolemy V Epiphanes in hieroglyphics, demotic script, and Greek alphabetic characters. In the aftermath of the French capitulation in Egypt, it was ceded to the British, becoming part of the British Museum in London. In 1822, Jean-François Champollion succeeded in deciphering this document.
As revealed by the decipherment and decades of subsequent study, Egyptian is an Afro-Asiatic language. However, Egyptian is distinct in many ways from the family's Semitic branch. Over millennia, it underwent significant changes. Greek forms for royal names, known before Egyptian forms were available, have been merged with Egyptian forms because the script does not write vowels. Many major museums have collections of antiquities that date back to the first half of the 19th century, which have formed the nucleus of their collections. Due to the country's economic development, these ancient sites were removed rather than excavated, resulting in colossal damage. The country's monuments were also documented by travellers and scholars. Prussian expeditions led by Karl Richard Lepsius explored sites as far south as central Sudan in 1842–45, producing the most critical and accurate record.
By the mid-19th century, Egyptology— now defined as the study of pharaonic Egypt, covering the period from 4500 BCE to AD 641 — emerged as a French and Prussian subject. Auguste Mariette, a great excavator who sought to prevent the destruction of archaeological sites, established the Egyptian Antiquities Museum and the Antiquities Service in Egypt. Heinrich Brugsch, a Prussian who translated texts from many periods and published the first major Egyptian dictionary. Over 40 years of methodical excavation by Flinders (later Sir Flinders) Petrie led to the creation of an archaeological framework for all the chief periods of Egyptian culture, except for the remote prehistoric period. From 1899 to 1937, George Andrew Reisner excavated for American institutions, which surpassed Petrie in many archaeological methods. He put the understanding of the Egyptian language on a sound basis and wrote general works that organized what was known about earlier periods for the first time in the late 19th century.
In the 1890s, complete facsimiles of Egyptian monuments were published, providing a separate record that has become increasingly important with the decay of the original monuments. University of Chicago Oriental Institute's James Henry Breasted pioneered scientific epigraphy in 1905, soon followed by other scientists. In 1924, he founded the Epigraphic Survey to document monument inscriptions susceptible to deterioration from exposure to the elements. During the 1990-91 season, the group began recording the temple of Amon in Madnat Habu for its current project. Some outstanding archaeological discoveries were made in the first half of the 20th century. In 1922, Howard Carter uncovered the tomb of Tutankhamen; in 1939–44, Pierre Montet discovered the tombs of 21st–22nd-dynasty kings at Tanis, and in 1931–34, W.B. Emery and L.P. were the first to uncover tombs of the Ballanah culture (the 4th–6th century A.D.) in Nubia. The second survey of Lower Nubia was conducted in 1929–34, before the second raising of the Aswān Dam. Egyptian and Sudanese Nubia were excavated and recorded before the completion of the Aswan High Dam during the late 1950s and '60s. Lower Nubia has recently become one of the world's most extensively explored archaeological regions. Several temples there have been moved to higher ground nearby, such as Abu Simbel and Philae, or to entirely different places, such as foreign museums. As a result of the campaign, Egypt has also received a wide range of archaeological expertise, raising standards of excavation and recording.
Many areas have been excavated and surveyed in detail. The Serapeum, part of the necropolis of the ancient city of Memphis, has recently been discovered with rich finds, and a prominent New Kingdom necropolis is being thoroughly investigated. For the first time, urban occupation areas around ancient Memphis have been studied in detail, and its position along the ancient course of the Nile has been established. In 2009–10, archaeologists discovered in Alexandria the remains of a temple dedicated to Bastet, a cat-shaped goddess. Egyptology is primarily a subject of interpretation. Among the outstanding contributions are the principles developed by Heinrich Schäfer for rendering nature and language in art. It has shed new light on texts written in simple meters that can serve as a basis for sophisticated literary works. There has been significant progress in the physical environment, social structure, kingship, and religion, while reconstructions of the outline of history are constantly being improved.