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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Egypt was the gift of the Nile

Kingdoms of the Nile
Egypt was “the gift of the Nile"
The ancient Greek historian Herodotus once observed that all Egypt was “the gift of the Nile.” Each year rain caused the river to flood, bringing rich silts down from the Ethiopian Highlands and depositing them over the lower parts of the river valley. From the earliest times, Egyptian farmers planned their work around the flood, not only taking advantage of the richness of the soil it left behind, but also using its waters for irrigation.

Over the centuries, strong leaders united early Egyptian farming settlements to create two kingdoms, Lower Egypt in the north, and Upper Egypt in the south. Then, sometime after 3200 B.C., a king of Upper Egypt, known as Menes (MEE»neez), united the two kingdoms. He and his successors eventually took the title pharaoh. They crushed rebellions, gained new territory, regulated irrigation, and encouraged trade, bringing increased prosperity. From the time of Menes to almost 300 B.C., about 30 Egyptian dynasties, or families .of rulers, rose and fell. Historians divide this time span into three kingdoms: the Old Kingdom, which lasted from about 2650 to 2180 B.C.; the Middle Kingdom, from about 2040 to 1780 B.C.; and the New Kingdom, which was established about 1570 B.C. The periods between the kingdoms are referred to as intermediate periods.

The Hyksos 
During the second intermediate period, about 1650, much of Egypt fell under the control of an Asiatic people the Hyksos (HIK*sohs) whose horse-drawn chariots overwhelmed the Egyptians. Eventually, a new leader emerged in the city of Thebes who drove the Hyksos out of Egypt and proclaimed the New Kingdom under his own dynasty. Adopting the battle techniques of the Hyksos, the pharaohs of the New Kingdom conquered new territories in Nubia and along the eastern Mediterranean coast, in the process establishing an empire.

From about 1380 to 1362 B.C., Egypt was ruled by the pharaoh Amenhotep (ahm»uhn»HOH»tep) IV. Amenhotep IV tried to replace the traditional Egyptian belief in many gods, a practice known as polytheism, with his own belief in only one god, a practice known as monotheism. The new god was symbolized by the disk of the Sun, called the Aton, and Amenhotep even changed his name to Akhenaton (ahk«NAHT#uhn), or “he who is pleasing to Aton.” Akhenaton’s religious revolution stirred up resentment and the end of his reign was marked by strife between the pharaoh and the priests of the old religious cults. After Akhenaton’s death, the priests regained power and, under the boy- king Tutankhamen (too • tang»KAHM#uhn), they restored the old polytheistic religion in Egypt.

After Akhenaton, few strong pharaohs ruled Egypt. Perhaps the most important exception was Ramses II, sometimes called Ramses the Great, who ruled from about 1279 to 1213 B.C. Ramses’ successors could not hold the empire together, however, and eventually Egyptian power declined.

With the prosperity provided by the Nile’s bounty and protected for the most part from invaders by its geographical location, Egyptian civilization was remarkably stable over the course of its long history.

Anxious to keep track of the Nile floods, the Egyptians developed a remarkably accurate calendar based on the rising and setting of the star Sirius. They also developed a number system based on 10, remarkably similar to the decimal system we use today. They used geometry to calculate how to restore the boundaries of fields after floods, and also to build the pyramids. Egyptian architects and engineers ranked among the best of the ancient world. The Egyptians also learned a great deal about the human body and used this knowledge to treat illnesses and to preserve the bodies of the dead.

At the heart of Egyptian civilization was the Egyptians’ concern with religion. Egyptians believed in many gods, including the idea that the pharaoh himself was a god. The most important of these gods was Amon, or Amon-Re, the king of the gods. They also came to believe in an afterlife and the possibility of achieving immortality after death by preserving the body of someone who had died. To do this, they developed a process known as mummification, which involved removing internal organs and treating the body with chemicals so that it would remain preserved for centuries. Although at first only the pharaoh was treated in this fashion, eventually even ordinary Egyptians hoped to survive after physical death. In later periods, they included copies of the Book of the Dead hymns, prayers, and spells that acted as a kind of guide to the afterlife in people’s tombs. It was largely in an effort to preserve bodies and to safeguard all the articles with which they were buried for the needs of the afterlife that Egyptians spent so much time constructing elaborate tombs like the pyramids. Much of Egyptian art was also devoted to religious themes and to decorating the tombs in which people expected to spend eternity.


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