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Ancient Egypt

THE NILE RIVER: CENTER OF EGYPTIAN CIVILIZATION
LOCATION   RIVER:
Source:
Direction:
Length:
Profile:


Ancient
EGYPT:
Nile
Central Africa
North
4,000 miles to the Mediterranean
Long navigable stretches broken by several cataracts

750 miles of the river valley , shaped like a funnel with two parts:
Upper (southern Egypt) consisted of the narrow valley of the Nile.
Lower (northern Egypt) consisted of the broad, triangular delta, which branched out about 150 miles along the Mediterranean coast.
FEATURES   Each year, the river flooded and covered the land.
When the river receded, it left fertile mud that produced 2 crops per year.
River provided agricultural prosperity based on:
Construction and maintenance of irrigation ditches to preserve water.
Careful planning and organization of planting and harvesting.
River served as a highway connecting the long, narrow country and encouraging its unification.
Nature helped protect and isolate the ancient Egyptians from outsiders.  These features made it difficult for foreigners to reach Egypt:
Cataracts
Sea
Desert
Security, along with a sunny predictable climate, gave Egyptian civilization a more optimistic outlook than that of Mesopotamia.

LIFE IN ANCIENT EGYPT

GOVERNMENT   OLD KINGDOM
Pharaoh's power was absolute:
Not merely a representative of the gods but a god himself
Land his own personal possession
People were his servants
Imposed internal peace and order
Appointed and removed officials at his pleasure
Direct source of law and justice (no law codes needed)
Led a luxurious life (and provided for a luxurious afterlife)
Peasants were carefully regulated, their movement was limited, and they were taxed heavily (up to as much as one-fifth of what they produced)
Government was merely one aspect of religion, and religion dominated Egyptian life.

FIRST INTERMEDIATE PERIOD

Power of the kings declined as priests and nobles gained more independence and influence.
Governors of the regions of Egypt gained hereditary claim to their offices and their families acquired large estates.
Period of decentralization and disorder.

MIDDLE KINGDOM
Rulers of Twelfth Dynasty restored the pharaoh's power

Brought order, peace, and prosperity
Encouraged trade
Extended Egyptian power and influence northward to Palestine and southward to Ethiopia
Emphasized their role as dispensers of justice

SECOND INTERMEDIATE PERIOD

Resurgent power of the local nobility
Erosion of central authority
Hyksos (from east) conquered the Nile Delta

NEW KINGDOM
Pharaohs of Eighteenth Dynasty:

Built a powerful army
Imposed absolute rule
Forged an empire that extended far beyond the Nile Valley
Combined new military techniques (learned from the Hyksos) with determination, fighting spirit, and an increasingly militarized society
Extended power into Palestine, Syria, and beyond to the upper Euphrates Rive
Not checked until they came in conflict with the Hittite empire in Asia Minor
SOCIETY   Most Egyptians were serfs and subject to forced labor.
Class stratification was not rigid and people of merit could rise to a higher rank in the service of the pharaoh.
Best avenue of advancement: education (scribe school).

Status of women was exceptionally high.

Landed property descended from mother to daughter.
Upon the death of his wife, a husband lost the use of the property, which was inherited by the daughter and her husband.
Brother and sister marriages often took place within the ruling family to ensure the right of succession to the throne, which was always through the female line.
ECONOMY   THEOCRATIC SOCIALISM:
State (pharaoh) owned the land and monopolized commerce and industry.
Most trade carried on by ships (The Nile is easily navigable in both directions; ships are carried downstream by the current and sail upstream with the winds).
Egypt's indispensable imports were lumber, copper, tin, and olive oil paid for with gold from its rich mines, linens, wheat, and papyrus rolls.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION

ONLINE
RESOURCES
 
Daily Life in Ancient Egypt: A wealth of information on Ancient Egypt, including hieroglyphics, medicine, astrology, garment making, and beer and wine making.
The Egyptian Creation Myth: Tells how Amon-Re created the world and man. Check for similarities to Biblical account of creation.
Judgment Day: From the Book of the Dead, Chapter 125.
Walk Like an Egyptian: A modern guide to the religion and philosophy of ancient Egypt. Includes Love on The Nile: Basic Concepts behind The Ancient Egyptian Beliefs and Why The Cat Has Nine Lives: The Essential Egyptian View of Self
Death in Ancient Egypt: Includes a discussion of Ancient Egyptian funerary customs, shabtis, mummies, tombs, offerings, the Egyptian personality, and the soul.
Hieroglyphs: Excellent treatment of Egyptian hieroglyphics. Includes a hieroglyphics translater (see your name in hieroglyphics) and a free hieroglyphics screen saver.
Plumbing in Egypt: Includes a discussion of the dam building,  plumbing for the dead, and pipe-making.
Egyptian Mathematics: Interesting treatment of Egyptian mathematics. Includes math problems to see if you could survive in the world of Egyptian numerals and mathematics.
DISCUSSION
QUESTIONS
 
Why is Egypt often referred to as the "Gift of the Nile?"
What role did geography play in the development of Egyptian civilization?
What do Egyptian attitudes toward life after death reveal about the Egyptian religion and attitudes toward life in general?
A highly centralized government seemed to be a requirement for order, peace, and prosperity in ancient Egypt. Why do you think that was? How do we maintain order, peace, and prosperity in the United States today? Do we have a better solution to the problem than the ancient Egyptians did?

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Send mail to Dr. Edrene S. Montgomery  with questions or comments about this web site.
Copyright 1999-2000 Edrene S. Montgomery
Last modified: July 12, 2000