Essay on Egyptian Civilization
Periods of Egyptian civilization
The Egyptian civilization is not only viewed as one of the oldest civilizations, but also as one of the most durable ones. It is traditionally divided into the following major periods:
1) Pre-Dynastic period (Prior to 3100 BC). During this period 42 territorial and political unities were formed. As a result of political, economic and military cooperation, they were merged creating the two major political formations: Upper Egypt (south) and Lower Egypt (north). Those, in turn, become part of a single Egyptian state. 2) Early Dynastic Period (1st–2nd Dynasties). Ancient Egyptian pharaoh Menes, the founder of the 1st Dynasty united Egypt in a whole. The integrity of the country was strengthened by establishing a centralized irrigation system and an administrative apparatus of the invention and spread of hieroglyphic writing. 3) Period of the Old Kingdom (3rd–6th Dynasties). Egypt is considered to be a powerful state based on economic and political factors. Economic prosperity and political stability have made possible the improvement of the irrigation system, as well as the construction of the pyramids such as Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure – symbols of Egyptian civilization. 4) The first transitional period (VII-X Dynasties). This is a time of the internal strife and the collapse of the centralized state. The city of Thebes became one of the major centers that played a huge role in Ancient Egypt. 5) Period of the Middle Kingdom (XI-XIII Dynasties). The country was reunited, and the power of the prefecture leaders was limited. Egypt increased its territory, particularly in the south. In addition to this, it launched glass manufacturing and started a proliferation of tools made of bronze. 6) The second transitional period (XIV-XVII Dynasties). Egyptian states collapsed due to the invasion of the Hyksos – nomadic tribes of Semitic origin, invaded from Asia and conquered the northern and central parts of the country. The rulers of Thebes led national liberation struggles that ended the expulsion of the Hyksos. As a result, “the Hyksos attacked Egypt and occupied the Egyptian lands. Yet, the princes of Thebes, led by Ahmos I, managed to expel them out of Egypt” (“Pharaonic Era,” 2009, para. 9). 7) Period of the New Kingdom (XVIII-XX Dynasties). The era of the heyday of Egyptian civilization. Egypt expanded its ownership to the Euphrates in the east and the third cataract of the Nile in the south. Pharaohs put more effort to keep their land in the fight against the Hittite Empire, and later with the Sea Peoples. 8) Late Period (XXI-XXVI Dynasties). The time of strife, invasions and alien dominations: Libyan, Nubian, Assyrian. During this period, Egypt survived its last ascent. 9) The period of Persian rule (XXVII Dynasties). The Persian Empire conquered Egypt, but the increase in the tax oppression and abuse led to the Persians, the Egyptians revolted and liberated the country. 10) The last period of the independence of Egypt (XXVIII-XXX Dynasties). The union reduced to the internal strife that caused the weakening of the state and the restoration of Persian influence. 11) The period of the Persian, Greek, Roman and Byzantine domination (342 BC. – 646 BC.). In 332 BC, Persians were driven out by Alexander the Great. After the collapse of the empire Alexander the Great in Egypt established the Hellenistic Ptolemaic dynasty, which lasted until the time of the Roman conquest.
However, “the end of the Old Kingdom was not the end of Egyptian civilization…The calamity triggered by low Nile floods was the impetus to radical social changes and a reformulation of the notion of kingship. The legacy of this period is still with us today” (Hassan, 2011, para. 20).
Hence, as we can see Ancient Egypt started with the primary association of tribes in the valley of the River Nile in 3150 BC and ended around 31 BC, when the Roman Empire conquered Egypt. The latter event is not the first period of foreign Dominion, but the arrival of the Romans marked significant changes in the cultural and religious life of Egypt, as well as the termination of Egypt as a unified civilization. Ancient Egypt developed over three and a half thousand years. It all started with the primary association of tribes in the valley of the River Nile in 3150 BC and ended around 31 BC, when the Roman Empire conquered Egypt. The latter event is not the first period of foreign reign, but the arrival of the Romans marked the significant changes in the cultural and religious life of Egypt, as well as the termination of Egypt as a unified civilization.
The significance of the Nile River
The basis of the existence of ancient Egypt was a constant control of balance of natural and human resources , which primarily meant control over the irrigation of the fertile valley of the Nile , the use of minerals occurring in the valley and surrounding desert regions, the development of independent systems of writing and literature, the organization of collective projects, trade with neighbors in eastern and central Africa and the eastern Mediterranean, and, finally, military campaigns, which demonstrated the strength and power of the empire, as well as the territorial advantage over neighboring cultures at different periods of time. Those actions were organized and motivated by socio-political and economic elite that reached a social consensus through a system of religious means. For administrative purposes, Egypt was divided into different districts. Starting from the pre-dynastic period (3100 BC) ‘noma’ represented an individual city. In the days of the Pharaohs a whole country was divided into 42 nomes.
In Egypt, different taxes were paid according to the type of activity. The vizier controlled revenues from the people in the budget and plans for the collection. The householders also have to pay taxes, as annually they were engaged in social work for at least several weeks. There is no doubt that Egyptian civilization is widely known for its major achievements. This was “a time of a spectacular development in mathematics, astronomy, transport, government organization, and food production” (Kozma, 2006, p. 303). It was a civilization that has reached a very high standard of production and intellectual activity as well as art and engineering (surveying), which led to the creation of the pyramids. Egyptians invented the hydraulic cement. In fact, “the first pyramid ever built in Egypt was Zoser’s, then Midum’s pyramid. However, the Giza pyramids together with the Sphinx, built during the 4th Dynasty, are the most famous of the 97 pyramids built to be tombs for Pharaohs” (“Pharaonic Era,” 2009, para. 12). Thanks to the irrigation system, Egypt became the breadbasket of the ancient world. Lake Fayoum was used by Pharaohs as a reservoir for the storage of excess water, which was very important during droughts.
Egyptians’ cultures and worldviews were mainly based on the River Nile. Their view of the world, unlike most other nations, was focused not on the north and south, but mostly on the origins of the river. In addition, the river itself determined the three main seasons. Each of them consisted of four months: 1) July – October; 2) November – February; and 3) March – June – the harvest period and the lowest water level. Hapi as the god of the annual flooding of the Nile was portrayed as a fat man who brings gifts to the gods of the earth. Many pharaohs and the local nobility compared themselves with this divinity. In fact, “the Nile River brought an unlimited supply of water to the desert and the yearly flood built a fertile valley along the riverbanks. The almost regular and predictable pattern of yearly flooding of the Nile River guaranteed irrigation of the fields and adequate food production which caused the civilization to flourish” (Kozma, 2006, p. 303). Thus, it is possible to sum up that “the Nile valley is one of the oldest places in the world where its ancient inhabitants husbanded the water resources that engendered the valley a cradle of civilization, thereby creating ancient polities and empires” (Arsano, 2007, p. 25). The Nile River was an important shipping thread connecting Upper and Lower Egypt with Nubia (Ethiopia). In such favorable conditions, Egypt began the construction of irrigation canals. The need to service an extensive irrigation network has led to the emergence of polynomials – large territorial associations of early farming communities. This particular area is denoted as a nome, written in the ancient Egyptian language depicting the land, and divided into sections of the irrigation network of the correct form. The system of Egyptian nomes, formed in the 4th millennium BC, remained the basis for Governorates of Egypt to the end of its existence. Creating a unified system of irrigated agriculture has become a prerequisite for the emergence of a centralized state in Egypt. At the end of the 4th century BC and at the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC the process of unification of certain polynomials has been implemented. This distinction throughout Egyptian history preserved in the division of the country into Upper and Lower Egypt and was reflected even in the titles of the Pharaohs, who were called “Kings of Upper and Lower Egypt.”
Egyptian people venerated many different gods. Some of them were very old and looked more like animals – cats, bulls, and crocodiles – and thus they were kept in special rooms, ponds or stalls. Any insult to animals was punishable by death. Each nome had its own gods (sometimes unknown outside it), but there were various deities accepted throughout the country: Gore, Ra, Osiris, Isis, and others. As a result, Egyptians associated myths about the gods with the phenomena of nature, the major seasons, the flooding of the Nile River.
In addition to the above-mentioned information, it is possible to add that thanks to Ancient Egypt, many contemporary people can use various inventions in their everyday lives, such as the invention of the alphabet and calendar. Like other nations, the Egyptians first took a time-calculation basis for the lunar year (354 days). But they soon realized that such a system did not have sufficient accuracy and prevented the smooth functioning of complex administrative machinery.
Thus, taking the above-mentioned information into consideration, it is possible to draw a conclusion that Egypt is not only considered to be one of the oldest civilizations, but also one of the most durable ones. The major reason is, first of all, its location: the country as it stands alone, apart from other states and empires. As a result, Egypt got the opportunity to grow in the fertile valley of the Nile, without any outside interference and influence. Like a long stem of the papyrus, it stretches from the south to the north, where the river flows into a series of flows in the Mediterranean Sea. In addition, Egyptian civilization is widely recognized for its major achievements in different aspects of our life. This was a time of various developments in various fields such mathematics, astronomy, food production, and more. Indeed, it was a civilization that has reached very high standards of production and intellectual activity as well as art and engineering processes (surveying), which resulted in the creation of the different pyramids known all over the world.
The flooding of the Nile is like a gift for many farmers in Egypt. In addition, it is an important natural cycle in Egypt because it is presented in the form of brown sludge on the farmers’ lands. Moreover, Egypt itself has developed as a centralized state with its own system of writing. It soon became the center of a highly developed civilization where philosophy and literature, architecture and art, science and medicine have been flourished, as well as the management systems and the organizations of society have been formed. All in all, due to its geographical location and access to the Mediterranean Sea, the Egyptians had a brilliant opportunity to contact with Europe, which is constantly expanding, and the influence of Egypt on the western culture has enriched the entire world civilization.
Under Ahmose I, the first king of the 18th dynasty, Egypt was once again reunited. During the 18th dynasty, Egypt restored its control over Nubia and began military campaigns in Palestine, clashing with other powers in the area such as the Mitannians and the Hittites. The country went on to establish the world’s first great empire, stretching from Nubia to the Euphrates River in Asia. In addition to powerful kings such as Amenhotep I (1546-1526 B.C.), Thutmose I (1525-1512 B.C.) and Amenhotep III (1417-1379 B.C.), the New Kingdom was notable for the role of royal women such as Queen Hatshepsut (1503-1482 B.C.), who began ruling as a regent for her young stepson (he later became Thutmose III, Egypt’s greatest military hero), but rose to wield all the powers of a pharaoh.
The controversial Amenhotep IV (c. 1379-1362), of the late 18th dynasty, undertook a religious revolution, disbanding the priesthoods dedicated to Amon-Re (a combination of the local Theban god Amon and the sun god Re) and forcing the exclusive worship of another sun-god, Aton. Renaming himself Akhenaton (“servant of the Aton”), he built a new capital in Middle Egypt called Akhetaton, known later as Amarna. Upon Akhenaton’s death, the capital returned to Thebes and Egyptians returned to worshiping a multitude of gods. The 19th and 20th dynasties, known as the Ramesside period (for the line of kings named Ramses) saw the restoration of the weakened Egyptian empire and an impressive amount of building, including great temples and cities. According to biblical chronology, the Exodus of Moses and the Israelites from Egypt possibly occurred during the reign of Ramses II (1304-1237 B.C.).
All of the New Kingdom rulers (with the exception of Akhenaton) were laid to rest in deep, rock-cut tombs (not pyramids) in the Valley of the Kings, a burial site on the west bank of the Nile opposite Thebes. Most of them were raided and destroyed, with the exception of the tomb and treasure of Tutankhamen (c.1361-1352 B.C.), discovered largely intact in A.D. 1922. The splendid mortuary temple of the last great king of the 20th dynasty, Ramses III (c. 1187-1156 B.C.), was also relatively well preserved, and indicated the prosperity Egypt still enjoyed during his reign. The kings who followed Ramses III were less successful: Egypt lost its provinces in Palestine and Syria for good and suffered from foreign invasions (notably by the Libyans), while its wealth was being steadily but inevitably depleted.