Thursday, December 2, 2010

Egypt Civilization

Ancient Egypt was the home of one of the oldest civilizations in the world. It flourished for two thousand years, and then declined, slowly for nearly another thousand years.

The River Nile flows for a thousand miles through desert sands to the Mediterranean Sea. Once a year floods poured down and covered the desert with silt. The Nile valley was wonderfully fertile and it became a refuge for animals and men.

The valley dwellers learned how to grow barley and wheat from the Palestinians, and people settled in villages. From Asia Minor came the knowledge of how to make things of copper. Building with sun-dried bricks and pictographic writing may have been learned from Mesopotamia.

Pictographs are picture writing, in which each symbol is not a letter but a picture of an object or an idea. Egyptian pictographs are called hieroglyphs. This mixture of an African way of life with the Bronze Age culture of the Near East produced Egyptian civilization. The scattered villages of the Nile valley were united by Menes (or Narmer) about 3200 B.C. He was the first pharaoh of the first Dynasty, or family of rulers.

The pharaoh was god and king to his subjects. The word 'pharaoh' means 'great house', and the household of the pharaoh was the government of the country. It foretold the arrival of the Nile flood and planned irrigation works, so that the flood waters enriched the largest possible area. The pharaoh's household consisted of priests and scribes (men who could write). Artists and craftsman were employed.

Egyptians were masters of building and carving in stone. They made jewelry, and invented faience, a kind of plastic of a brilliant blue or green color. They also discovered a way of making a writing material (papyrus) from reeds.

Much Egyptian art was for the dead, who were buried with all the things which they would need in the after life. The early pharaohs built great stone tombs, the pyramids. Later pharaohs were buried in tombs cut in the rock. Many people had their bodies preserved. The god of the dead was Osiris. The Egyptians believed that he had married his sister, Isis, and that he was killed by another god, Seth, and revived by his son, Horus'.

Horus was the god of sky and rain and ruled over the living. He was also a falcon or hawk god. Many Egyptian gods were half animal. Hathor was a cow-goddess. Re was the sun god of Heliopolis, the city of the sun. When Thebes became the capital of Egypt under the eleventh dynasty, Amun, the local god, became Amun-Re and king of the gods.

Four different dynasties ruled a united Egypt from c. 3200 to c. 2500 B.C. This was the Old Kingdom. The unity of Egypt was symbolized in the Pharaoh's crowns. The Red Crown was for Lower Egypt, the White Crown for Upper Egypt, the upper reaches of the Nile valley.

The Old Kingdom collapsed but unity was restored about 2080 B.C. by the eleventh dynasty. The Middle Kingdom lasted until c.1640 B.C. Egypt was then ruled by Semitic peoples, the Hyksos, until Ahmosis, Count of Thebes, reunited the country under the eighteenth dynasty in 1570 B.C. The New Kingdom lasted until 1075 B.C.

The eighteenth dynasty had large regular armies and conquered much of Arabia. The Egyptian empire at that time was nearly lost by the Pharaoh Akhenaten who ruled in the 1340's. He tried to introduce the worship of a single god, Aten the sun, and built a new capital at Tell-el-Amarna.

His successor, Tutankhamun, restored the old gods. Tutankhamun's tomb was the greatest of all finds of treasure in Egypt. Rameses II, of the nineteenth dynasty, restored some of Egypt's power.

He was a great warrior king. But the power of the pharaohs was fading as new kingdoms appeared in the Middle East. Persians, and later Greeks, ruled in Egypt. Some of them became pharaohs. Cleopatra (51-30 B.C.), a descendant of one of Alexander the Great's generals, ruled as pharaoh with her brother. The last pharaoh (native Egyptian), Nectanebo, had died in 341 B.C.

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