Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of eastern North Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Ancient Egypt began about 3,500 BC and lasted until 20 BC when it was invaded by the Roman Empire.
It grew along the River Nile and was at its most powerful in the second millennium BC. At one time it went all the way from the Nile delta to Nubia, a kingdom which today mostly lies in the Sudan.
For most of its history, Egypt was prosperous, since the water from the Nile made sure that the Egyptians would have good crops.
The Egyptians created a way of writing using hieroglyphs, built huge temples and tombs, trading with other areas, and had a powerful army. Their religion had many gods, and its priests were a powerful and wealthy group. Their rulers, called Pharaohs, were thought to be close to the gods.
Archaeologists, or people who dig in the earth to find ancient objects, have found that people have lived along the Nile for a very long time. The fertile flood plains of the Nile allowed people to begin farming. By the 10th millennium BC, the people in Egypt had begun growing cereal grains like wheat and barley and because they were farming, they stayed in one place. because they were settled, society became more complex and involved. This was an important step in the history of human civilization.
This period in Egyptian history is called predynastic, as it happened before the large kingdoms were formed. By about 5500 BC, small tribes living in the Nile valley had developed into a series of cultures. Each had begun farming both crops and animals. They had their own types of pottery and personal items, such as combs, bracelets, and beads. In upper Egypt, the north part of the country, the Badari was one of the biggest groups. It was known for its high quality pottery, stone tools, and its use of copper. They were followed by the Amratian and Gerzian cultures. They had improved tools and other new ideas. In Gerzian times, the people were making contact with Palestine and the Byblos coast (now Lebanon).
The different periods are of ancient Egyptian history are:
- Predynastic Period (5500 – 3000 BC)
- Early Dynastic Period (1st & 2nd Dynasties, 3000 – 2700 BC)
- Old Kingdom (3rd to 6th Dynasties, 2700 – 2180 BC)
- First Intermediate Period (7th to 11th Dynasties, 2180 – 2050 BC)
- Middle Kingdom (11th to 14th Dynasties, 2080 – 1640 BC)
- Second Intermediate Period (15th to 17th Dynasties, 1640 – 1560 BC; the Hyksos)
- New Kingdom (18th to 20th Dynasties, 1560 – 1070 BC)
- Third Intermediate Period (21st to 25th Dynasties, 1070 – 664 BC)
- Late Period (26th to 31st Dynasties, 664 – 323 BC; the Persians)
- Graeco-Roman Egypt (323 – 30 BC; Ptolemaic to Roman)
The Intermediate periods included times when the traditional system broke down, the country was split, or invaded by foreign rulers. Egypt's culture and climate was relatively stable, compared to other parts of the Middle East. Nevertheless, they had some periods when their government was challenged and sometimes overthrown.
Ancient Egypt was split up into many different districts called sepats. The first divisions were created during the Predynastic Period, but then, they were small city-states that ruled themselves. When the first pharaoh came to power, the sepats remained and were much like the counties in today's England. They stayed basically the same for a long time – there were 42 of them, and each was ruled by a governor called a nomarch. This person was put in power by the pharaoh.
Ancient Egypt had a lot of different taxes, but there was no real money, so people paid each other with goods or work. The person who watched the tax collection was called the scribe, and every tax collector in Egypt had to tell him every day how many taxes they had collected. Each person paid different taxes based on the work that they did: craftsmen paid in goods, hunters and fishermen paid with food, and every single household in the country had to pay a labour tax every year by helping with work for the country like mining or for canals. A lot of rich Egyptians paid poorer people to do this for them.
The language can be divided into six time periods:
- Archaic Egyptian (before 3000 BC): This language was found on carvings on pottery.
- Old Egyptian (3000 BC to 2000 BC): This language was used during the Old Kingdom and First Intermediate Period. It was found in pyramids, or Egyptian tombs, and was the first version of the language that had plural tense, which shows that there was more than one object being talked about.
- Middle Egyptian (2000 BC to 1300 BC): This language is called Classic Egyptian, much like Shakespearean English, and it is found all over objects and tombs in Egypt. It is the language that is found on a lot of Egyptian coffins too. Books on science and society were written during this time, and a lot of the things we know about religion of the time are written in Classic Egyptian. Even after people stopped speaking this kind of Egyptian, writers still used it when they wrote books.
- Late Egyptian (1300 BC to 700 BC): This is the language of the New Kingdom, which was the best time in Egypt's history. There was a lot of knowledge being shared during this time, so we have a lot of very old books that were written in Late Egyptian. Many people believe that this version of the language was much like what Egyptians spoke.
- Demotic Egyptian (700 BC to 400 AD)
- Coptic Egyptian (300 AD to 1700 AD)
Hieroglyphics: Egypt had writing called hieroglyphics, which is one of the two oldest written languages (the other is Sumerian cuneiform). Hieroglyphic writing dates to c. 3200 BC, and is composed of some 500 symbols. A hieroglyph can represent a word, a sound, or a silent determinative (which makes clear what the sign means). The same symbol can serve different purposes in different contexts. Hieroglyphs were for public purposes, used on stone monuments and in tombs. It was art, and often it was political propaganda. Hieroglyphs, like Japanese or Chinese characters, started out as ideographic characters, or writing made of pictures. This ancient writing has no vowels: all sounds in the writing are consonants. Of course, they used vowels when they spoke; we have to work out what they were.
Hieratic script: The script used by priests for everyday writing on papyrus, wood or cloth. In day-to-day writing, scribes used a cursive form of writing, called hieratic, which was quicker and easier. While formal hieroglyphs may be read in rows or columns in either direction (though typically written from right to left), hieratic was always written from right to left, usually in horizontal rows.
Demotic script: The script used by ordinary people. A new form of writing, Demotic, became the main writing style, and it is this form of writing — along with formal hieroglyphs — that accompany the Greek text on the Rosetta Stone.
Coptic script: The Coptic script is a modified Greek alphabet. The Coptic language is the last stage of the Egyptian language (modern Egyptians speak a dialect of Arabic).
- The Story of Sinuhe: An Ancient Egyptian murder mystery written around 1800 BC.
- Ipuwer Papyrus: A poem about the ruin of Egyptian society--some think it is about the story in Exodus, a book in the Christian Bible.
- Westcar Papyrus: A series of stories about the Pharaoh Khufu told by his sons.
- Tulli Papyrus: A diary that some believe is about aliens landing in Ancient Egypt, but only one person has seen the original copy, so historians think it might be fake.
- Ebers Papyrus: A very important medical document, this document is thought to be one of the earliest medical texts ever found.
- Papyrus Harris I: The longest papyrus ever found in Egypt.
- Story of Wenamun: An ancient adventure story about a priest who goes to collect gifts from a king.
Religion was very important to Ancient Egyptians. To Egyptians, all African animals were holy and were worshipped. Because of this, Egyptians domesticated, or made pets of, animals very early and took very good care of them. The centre of any Egyptian town was the temple, and this building was used for everything from the town hall to a university in addition to its religious services.
Because they were so religious, Egyptians created a lot of art of their gods. This art shows all different kinds of divine, or holy, creatures including the pharaoh, who was thought to be a god.
The afterlife was also very important to Egyptians and they are known for mummifying their dead. These mummies are important to scientists today because they tell them about how the Egyptians lived.
The rich fertile soil came from annual inundations of the Nile River. The ancient Egyptians were thus able to produce an abundance of food, allowing the population to devote more time and resources to cultural, technological, and artistic pursuits. In ancient Egypt taxes were assessed based on the amount of land a person owned.
Farming in Egypt was dependent on the cycle of the Nile River. The Egyptians recognized three seasons: Akhet (flooding), Peret (planting), and Shemu (harvesting). The flooding season lasted from June to September, depositing on the river's banks a layer of mineral-rich silt ideal for growing crops. After the floodwaters had receded, the growing season lasted from October to February. Farmers plowed and planted seeds in the fields, which were irrigated with ditches and canals. Egypt received little rainfall, so farmers relied on the Nile to water their crops. From March to May, farmers used sickles to harvest their crops, which were then threshed with a flail to separate the straw from the grain. Winnowing removed the chaff from the grain, and the grain was then ground into flour, brewed to make beer, or stored for later use.
Flax plants were grown for the fibers of their stems. These fibers were split along their length and spun into thread, which was used to weave sheets of linen and to make clothing. Papyrus growing on the banks of the Nile River was used to make paper. Vegetables and fruits were grown in garden plots, close to habitations and on higher ground, and had to be watered by hand. Vegetables included leeks, garlic, melons, squashes, pulses, lettuce, and other crops, in addition to grapes that were made into wine.
The Egyptians believed that a balanced relationship between people and animals was an essential element of the cosmic order; thus humans, animals and plants were believed to be members of a single whole. Cattle were the most important livestock; livestock were taxed; the size of a herd reflected the prestige and importance of the estate or temple which owned them. In addition to cattle, the ancient Egyptians kept sheep, goats, and pigs. Poultry such as ducks, geese, and pigeons were captured in nets and bred on farms, where they were force-fed with dough to fatten them. The Nile provided a plentiful source of fish. Bees were also domesticated from at least the Old Kingdom, and they provided both honey and wax.
The ancient Egyptians used donkeys and oxen as beasts of burden. They plowed the fields and trampled seed into the soil. The slaughter of a fattened ox was part of an offering ritual. Horses were introduced by the Hyksos in the Second Intermediate Period, and the camel, although known from the New Kingdom, was not used as a beast of burden until the Late Period. There is also evidence to suggest that elephants were briefly used in the Late Period, but largely abandoned due to lack of grazing land. Dogs, cats and monkeys were common family pets, while more exotic pets imported from the heart of Africa, such as lions, were reserved for royalty. Herodotus observed that the Egyptians were the only people to keep their animals with them in their houses. During the Predynastic and Late periods, the worship of the gods in their animal form was extremely popular, such as the cat goddess Bastet and the ibis god Thoth, and these animals were bred in large numbers on farms for the purpose of ritual sacrifice.
Ancient Egyptians had some advanced medical knowledge for their time. They performed surgery, set broken bones and even knew about medicines. Some medicines the Ancient Egyptians used are honey and breast milk or gazelle's milk. Not only did they have medicinal values, they also are believed to have been used to ward off evil spirits and demons. The easiest way to see how good they were at medicine is to look at the medical papyri which have survived to the present day. The Edwin Smith papyrus is the world's oldest surviving surgical document, from about 1600 B.C. The text describes anatomy, and the examination, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of 48 types of medical problems in detail.
Engineering was a very specialised art in Egypt. Engineers were able to survey, or find the area between two points, make very complicated structures called pyramids that were nearly perfect geometrically, create cement, and make large irrigation networks. There is even the belief that Ancient Egyptians created a kind of battery.
Science was also very important. Some believe that the beginning of the modern scientific method can be found in Egypt. Mathematics were also in use in Egypt, and the golden ratio was even used in the construction of the Pyramids.
Another famous ability of the Egyptians was glassmaking. Archaeologists have found many pieces of beads, jars, figures and ornaments in tombs across the nation. In 2005, there was even the discovery of an ancient glassmaking factory.
Ancient Egypt Timeline
3500 BC: Senet, a board game, is invented
3500 BC: Faience, the world's oldest earthenware, or pottery, is created
3300 BC: Bronze works are first created
3200 BC: Hieroglyphs are developed
3100 BC: The skin Palette, the world's oldest historical document, is created
3100 BC: Decimal system in use
3100 BC: Mining occurs on Mt. Sinai
3100 BC: Ships are built in Abydos, an Egyptian city
3000 BC: Trading takes place between Egypt and Palestine
3000 BC: Copper plumbing in use
3000 BC: Papyrus, or ancient paper, is first used
3000 BC: First documented use of medicine
2900 BC: Perhaps the first steel use in the ancient world
2700 BC: First surgery performed
2700 BC: Surveying used by engineers
2700 BC: Hieroglyphs no longer just show little pictures of words, but become based on sounds
2600 BC: The Great Pyramids of Giza created
2600 BC: Shipping expeditions occur
2600 BC: First use of barges
2600 BC: Pyramid of Djoser created
2600 BC: Menkaure's Pyramid and the Red Pyramid created
2200 BC: Government in Egypt collapsed, meaning many different people tried to become King
1900 BC: Possible Nile to Red Sea Canal created
1650 BC: Creation of Rhind Mathematical Papyrus, which shows knowledge of geometry, arithmetic and algebra
1600 BC: Creation of Edwin Smith Papyrus, which shows knowledge of advanced medical techniques
1550 BC: Creation of the Ebers Medical Papyrus, the first document on the topic of tumours
1500 BC: Glassmaking created
1258 BC: First known peace treaty (Ramesses II)
1160 BC: Creation of Turin Papyrus, the first geologic and topographic map
Topics of Interest
A pyramid is a shape. It has triangular sides that come together in a point at the top, call the "apex". A pyramid with a square base (bottom) and four sides is called a square pyramid. A pyramid with a triangular base and three sides is called a tetrahedron.
There are famous buildings with a pyramid shape around the world. In Egypt (a country in north Africa), kings and queens called pharaohs were buried in very large square pyramids built of stone. The largest of these huge buildings is the great pyramid at Giza near Cairo. It was built by the pharoh Khafra from the Ancient Egyptian Old Kingdom. The other pyramids were built by Menkaura and Khufu (both from the Old Kingdom). The ancient Greeks called it one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
There are also ancient pyramids in Africa, Nubia, Central America, Greece, Rome, North America, France, China and Europe.
There is a famous modern glass pyramid in front of the Louvre Museum in Paris. The Luxor Hotel, in Las Vegas, Nevada is also a glass pyramid.
Mummification is a process. Through it, the skin and flesh of a corpse can be preserved. The process can occur either naturally, or it can be intentional. If it occurs naturally, it is the result of cold (as can be found in a glacier), acid (as can be found in a bog) or dryness.
Intentional mummification was common in ancient Egypt, especially for burying Egyptian pharaohs. It takes about 70 days to completely mummify a dead body. The first step is to push a sharp rod up the nose and into the brain. From there, the brain is broken up into tiny pieces and removed through the nose. Next, they make a hole in the body to remove all the organs except for the heart. Jars which had the heads of gods on top were used to store the organs. The hole was then filled with linen and spices and the body was left under a salt to become dry. Later, after 40 days the body was wrapped in linen bandages. Priests surrounded the body while it was being wrapped and said spells. After the mummifying process was complete, a mask was placed over the head so it can be known in the afterlife.
Papyrus is a kind of paper that the Ancient Egyptians used for writing. It was made from a kind of reed called cyperus papyrus.
Papyrus plants grow 2-3m (5–9 ft) tall. They were first used in Ancient Egypt, but they were also used throughout the Mediterranean region. The Egyptians also used the papyrus plants to make boats, mattresses, mats, rope, sandals, and baskets.
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