Egypt2 Essay

This essay has a total of 5320 words and 22 pages.

egypt2



The civilization of ancient Egypt is significant in several ways. Together with those of
Mesopotamia, India, and China, it was one of the earliest civilizations, and it is perhaps
the best example of continuous cultural evolution based on internal stimuli, rather than
the complex mix of internal and external factors found, for example, in Mesopotamia.
Egyptian influence on other peoples was also significant. Its hieroglyphic writing system
and other cultural elements were adapted by ancient kingdoms of the Sudan. Syria-Palestine
was strongly affected by Egyptian religion and art. And the cults of some Egyptian gods
had followers in both Greece and Rome. The two last regions and the Bible are the most
important antecedents of the modern Western world that owe something to Egypt. The Western
alphabet is derived from a Phoenician one possibly modeled on Egyptian hieroglyphs;
Egyptian ideas are found in some parts of the Bible; and Greek sciences and, especially,
art were originally influenced by Egypt. Finally, archaeology and historical writing have
made Egypt a subject of general public interest.

The image of Egyptian history moves continually closer to reality as new facts are
discovered and new kinds of research--anthropological and other--supplement more
traditional archaeological techniques. Egypt's well preserved pyramids and cemeteries on
the dry desert, and sturdy stone-built temples, have been studied by archaeologists since
the early 19th century, but river-plain town mounds and all sites in densely settled
northern Egypt now receive more attention than previously. Funerary and temple
inscriptions survived well, but they paint an idealized, oversimplified picture of history
and society. Papyrus texts and ostraca (pottery fragments) are rarer but more realistic.
They now are better studied and are supplemented by new types of archaeological analysis
(see Egyptology).

Environment strongly affected history. In a largely rainless climate, Egypt's agricultural
productivity depended on a long but very narrow floodplain; on average 19.2 km (11.9 mi)
wide, it reached a maximum of 248 km (154.1 mi) in the Delta and was formed by the Nile's
annual inundation. Periodic, long-term decreases in its volume might create social stress
and political and military conflict; increases in volume increased food supplies and
favored stability and centralized government. The deserts to the east and west had
valuable stones and minerals and helped protect Egypt from much external attack or
infiltration. To the south (northeast Africa) and northeast (Syria-Palestine), however,
important kingdoms developed. Egypt traded with and exploited these kingdoms but was
sometimes threatened by them. Beyond Syria-Palestine greater powers--in Anatolia,
Mesopotamia, and Iran--were alternately allies and rivals in imperial expansion, but none
was a direct threat before the 7th century BC.

Achievement, continuity, and innovation characterized Egyptian civilization. Major
achievements included a continuous drive toward political unity and social stability; the
creation of a surplus in food and materials that supported a superstructure of
administrators, soldiers, priests, and craftsmen; and the invention or adoption of a
writing system (c.3100 BC). Literacy made government more effective; it also stabilized
and enriched religious, intellectual, and scientific information. In turn, these
developments promoted the growth of elaborate and often colossally scaled architecture in
brick and stone, and the growth of highly accomplished art forms (statuary, relief, and
painting), which were among the most distinctive of the ancient world.

Continuity was very strong. Egypt's religion (see mythology), its concepts of social
order, and its system of strong monarchical government remained fundamentally the same for
over 3,000 years. Environmental stability helped, as did ethnic and linguistic continuity;
unlike other areas of the Near East, Egypt did not periodically have to absorb large new
populations with languages and ideas different from those already established. Equally
important was a powerful and tenacious worldview shared by all Egyptians--an orderly
cosmos, enfolding gods, humans, and nature, had been created in complete and perfect form
at the beginning of time; its perfection held off the destructive, chaotic forces that
surrounded it. Adherence to traditional forms of belief, politics, and culture was
believed necessary to maintain perfection and prevent the collapse of the universe.
Egyptian art and religious architecture (temples and tombs) closely followed established
conventions of style and content because their role was to depict this ideal order--and
thus be one of several means ritually integrating Egypt with the cosmos.

Change and innovation nevertheless occurred, sometimes violently. Egypt's periodic
interludes of disunity were politically disorderly and economically painful in part
because inherent problems and contradictions (for example, obvious weakness in "perfect"
institutions such as kingship) came to the surface and demanded solutions. Less obviously,
change also took place in more stable periods. Bureaucracies were periodically reformed or
restructured in the interests of both royal power and fairer government. Religious
concepts became increasingly rich and complex. Styles in art and architecture changed
subtly to meet new needs, but all successful innovation required adherence to basic,
traditional norms.

Predynastic Egypt
Egyptian history is usually divided into periods roughly corresponding to the 30 dynasties
of kings listed by Manetho, an Egyptian chronicler of the 3d century BC. The period before
c.3100 BC, a time for which no written records exist, is called the Predynastic era.

Well before 5000 BC many communities of Paleolithic hunters and gatherers lived in the
Nile valley and across savanna lands stretching far to the east and west. As rainfall
decreased, especially after 4000 BC, the western lands became arid deserts and human
settlement was confined to the valley and its fringes. However, here exotic fauna such as
elephants and giraffes persisted as late as 2300 BC before finally retreating southward.

Annually inundated, and with natural irrigation basins that retained floodwaters, the Nile
valley was an ideal setting for Mesolithic economies with incipient agriculture to evolve
into Neolithic ones based on sedentary agriculture, with domesticated crops and animals.
The process is hard to follow in Egypt because major Predynastic sites, on the floodplain,
are inaccessible or destroyed and most data come from peripheral settlements and
low-desert cemeteries. In northern Egypt, however, the development of Neolithic life can
be traced at Merimdeh and in the Fayum (5000-4000 BC); there and elsewhere in the north
the pervasive northern culture emerged, characterized by monochrome pottery sometimes
using incised and applied decoration. The earliest Neolithic phases of southern Egypt are
not yet identified, but two cultures existed there by c.4000 BC: the Tasian, influenced by
the north, and the Badarian, which originated in the eastern desert. The former evolved
into phases labeled Nakada I (Amratian) and II (Gerzean), representing a material culture
very different from that of the north. In the south, among other differences, pottery is
more varied in fabric, often has a black top, and favors painted decoration (white on red
and red on light-colored desert clays).

Historically significant patterns can be discerned. Political elites developed, supported
by agricultural surplus, partly through control over valuable resources that were
beginning to be used in new technologies. Originally, tools and weapons were made of stone
and organic materials, but in southern (and slightly later in northern) Egypt copper and
precious metals became increasingly important. By Nakada II times, larger, more efficient
river ships were built and trade along the Nile was expanding. These and other factors
stimulated the emergence of an elite class whose graves are larger and richer than normal,
and ultimately regional political leaders are identifiable by "chieftain's tombs" at
several sites. According to later traditions, by late Predynastic times (c.3300 BC)
chiefdoms had coalesced into two competitive kingdoms, northern and southern. Gradually,
the characteristic material culture of the south had been spreading, and it replaced the
once different one of northern Egypt in Nakada III times.

Throughout the period 5000-3100 BC foreign influences were significant, but direct ones
are hard to distinguish from indirect. Domesticated grains and some domesticated animals
came via Syria and Palestine, perhaps at the time of Merimdeh's earliest phase, which
shows influences from these regions in material culture also. Both northern and southern
Egypt traded with Syria, Palestine, and northeast Africa throughout Predynastic times.
Particularly striking and so far found mainly in southern Egypt (Nakada I and II) are
Mesopotamian-style cylinder seals, pottery, and artistic motifs, but these may have come
through intermediaries rather than by direct contact.

Predynastic architecture, using wood, matting, and mud brick, is best attested in
cemeteries, where pit graves were lined with wood or brick and roofed with matting or
stone slabs; eventually, some graves had small, solid superstructures of brick and rubble.
Some settlements have been partially excavated, and a possible Predynastic temple was
recently found at Hierakonpolis. Art was well developed but small scale. Figurines and
statuettes of individual humans or animals, some modeled realistically, were made in mud,
pottery, and ivory; slate cosmetic palettes might be in bird or animal form; and painted
designs on pottery placed humans, animals, and boats together in sometimes complex
designs. Most of these art forms were from tombs and were magical or religious
representations. In later Predynastic times, however, ivory knife handles and ceremonial
palettes, perhaps dedicated to temples, bore scenes in relief, possibly including
depictions of historical events, as did a wall painting in a chieftain's tomb at
Hierakonpolis. Battles, hunts, and ceremonial scenes were favorite motifs. In all areas,
conventions typical of historical art were emerging.

Early Dynastic Period and Old Kingdom
The two kingdoms were apparently unified by King Narmer (later called Menes or Meni, "the
founder"); a ceremonial slate palette shows him surveying slaughtered prisoners, striking
a northern enemy, and wearing the regalia of both kingdoms. He and his immediate
predecessors were buried at Abydos, at or near the southern capital; Buto in the northwest
Delta had been the northern capital. Narmer's successors were the pharaohs (kings) of the
1st and 2d dynasties. Some argue that the 1st dynasty kings were buried at Abydos, in pit
tombs topped by moundlike superstructures with associated cult buildings, possible
prototypes for the later pyramid complexes. This theory assigns the pharaoh unique status
from the outset. However, Memphis was the new capital of united Egypt, and 1st dynasty
tombs at nearby Saqqara, also claimed as royal, are similar in size and type to other
elite tombs (implying that royal status was yet to grow). Second dynasty royal tombs are
less well documented; two were at Abydos, with cult complexes, and the rest were at
Saqqara.

Royal power had greatly increased by the 3d dynasty (c.2686-2613 BC), when much larger
royal tombs, now dominated by step pyramids in stone, were built at Saqqara. The best
preserved is Zoser's (Djoser's); the pyramid was 62 m (190 ft) high and surrounded by a
complex of buildings, representing both a funerary cult place and eternal palace, the
whole protected by a towered stone wall. Even more dramatic were the pyramids of the 4th
dynasty at Giza and elsewhere. Khufu's (Cheops's) Giza pyramid, the largest ever, has a
volume of 2.59 million m(3) (91.46 million ft(3)). Pyramids of the 5th and 6th dynasties
at Abusir and Saqqara were smaller but still impressive.

In its totality, the pyramid complex served the dead king but also linked kingship and
cosmos together. The complex consisted of temple and imitation palace, with the pyramid a
means of ascent; scenes within the complex, however, depicted the king's role in the
cosmos as overthrower of chaos, and the pyramid also represented the primeval mound upon
which the creation of the universe had taken place. During the 5th dynasty, temples of the
sun god Ra (Re), the creator and maintainer of the universe, were built near pyramids,
reflecting the unique relationship between sun god and king; the latter was called "son of
Ra" from the 6th dynasty on.

The materials, organization, and labor required by the pyramids, and the many estates
supporting the cult and personnel of each, clearly reveal the king's firm control over
Egypt and its resources. This was achieved through a complex government, consisting of a
central bureaucracy, directly under the pharaoh's supervision, and more than 30 provincial
bureaucracies reporting to the center. Periodically, kings restructured aspects of the
system; royal sons were first used, then excluded to avoid rivalries; high central
officials were reduced in power if they threatened royal control, but restrengthened if
the lower ranks and provinces became too independent. Throughout the Old Kingdom, revenues
were collected, labor and resources exploited, and justice and arbitration provided;
literary works extolling the bureaucracy and advising on proper behavior were popular.

Internal strength encouraged expansion and aggression abroad. In the Early Dynastic
period, the Egyptians already had extensive trade contacts with Syria, Palestine, and
northeast Africa; they pushed into the Sinai and northern Nubia, creating both buffer
zones and Egyptian-dominated trade routes. Later, in the 4th and 5th dynasties, Egyptian
armies went further, raiding Palestine and southern Nubia; by the 6th dynasty, however,
regional kingdoms in these areas were stronger, and Egypt, still campaigning, was on the
defensive.

Initially, the royal court with its adjacent cemeteries was the major center of
intellectual, artistic, and architectural activity, but as towns began to develop in
various parts of Egypt, they too shared in the cultural life of the time. Royal relatives
and central officials were buried under mastabas, rectangular superstructures of brick or
stone. The mastabas contained chapels and other rooms, increasing in number over time and
opening up more wall space to be covered with reliefs and paintings. These depicted the
funerary cult and also scenes showing the preparation of a multitude of foods, liquids,
and objects for the benefit of the deceased.

Such art, appearing realistic, actually followed conventions that were to remain dominant
for millennia thereafter. In painting and relief, human and animal figures are always
drawn according to a set of fixed proportions, and reality is ignored so as to present the
most characteristic aspects. Humans, for example, always have heads, legs, and feet in
profile but eye and torso presented frontally. Figures were scaled according to their
importance, and perspective was ignored. Landscapes were depicted in schematic form, but
architecture was rarely attempted. An idealized world is shown; aging, disease, injury,
and death are omitted, except for inferior beings such as foreigners and animals.

Statuary was intended at all times mainly for temples and tombs, and consisted of
representations of gods, kings, and deceased individuals. Complex compositions were
avoided, although sometimes two or more figures might be shown side by side. Life-size
statues were not uncommon, but most were smaller; colossal royal figures embellished
temples. As in painting, set conventions were closely followed in statuary; whether seated
or standing, figures are always facing forward, with arms and legs in standardized
positions. Technically, the carving was often superb, although many clumsy works were also
produced. Materials included hard stones, softer stones such as limestone, and wood;
statues were often painted in bright colors. Sculptors depicted the ideal human; true
portraiture in any form was hardly ever attempted.

First Intermediate Period and Middle Kingdom
Centralized rule began to break down under the 7th dynasty. In the ensuing First
Intermediate period (c.2181-2040 BC), the Memphite monarchs were powerless to prevent
provincial warlords from fighting each other over territory; eventually two separate
kingdoms emerged, one ruled by the 9th and 10th dynasties from Heracleopolis, the other by
the 11th dynasty from Thebes. They tried to dominate each other but were impeded by the
semi-independence of provincial rulers. They also had to be simultaneously aggressive
against foreigners to protect their rears, secure trade advantages, and recruit or compel
the valuable services of Palestinian and Nubian warriors for the civil wars. Finally, in
the 21st century, Nebhepetre Mentuhotep of the 11th dynasty conquered the north and
rebuilt a centralized monarchy, inaugurating the Middle Kingdom.

The intensity and causes of these disruptive events are uncertain. Later Egyptian writers,
appalled by the deviation from accepted norms, exaggerated the revolutionary aspects; they
also described an imaginary environmental deterioration, actually a poetic cosmological
counterpart to social disorder. More significant were external pressure and internal
political instability that long endured; even the 11th dynasty may have been ended by a
coup, and the victor, Amenemhet I, was himself later assassinated.

The 12th dynasty, which he founded (1991 BC), worked hard to restore royal prestige,
seriously damaged by civil war and periodic famine. Its kings, living near Memphis,
reduced provincial power and developed a loyal central elite, using subtly propagandistic
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