Egypt and the Nile. Farming in the Nile floodplain. The Nile floodplain. Felucca boats. A mural of Narmer or Menes conquering Lower Egypt (c.a. 3100 B.C.).
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The Nile floodplain
The new pharaoh established their capital at the strategic site of Memphis, just south of the delta, and over the next several centuries consolidated their rule. Probably no other dynasty in history has been so successful in creating an effective yet apparently timeless form of government. For thousands of years Egyptian pharaohs were able to convey to their subjects a sense of permanence and eternity while constantly adjusting the system to meet new needs. (Nagle, 23)
Ma’at (or Maat) was the god of order, justice and truth. A woman wearing a crown surmounted by a huge ostrich feather. Her totem symbol is a stone platform or foundation, representing the stable base on which order is built. Maat was the personification of the fundamental order of the universe, without which all of creation would perish. The primary duty of the pharaoh was to uphold this order by maintaining the law and administering justice. To reflect this, many pharaohs took the title "Beloved of Maat," emphasizing their focus on justice and truth. “The course of the stars, the sequence of day and night, and the passage of all things from life to death were part of this universal, unchanging ma’at.” (Nagle, 25)
Osiris, in Egyptian mythology, ruler of the realm of the dead. As king of Egypt, Osiris taught his people law, agriculture, religion, and other blessings of civilization. He was murdered by his brother Seth. His his sister and wife, Isis, buried his scattered remains. Each burial place was thereafter regarded as holy. Osiris lived on in the underworld as the ruler of the dead, but he was also regarded as the source of renewed life.The Encarta® Desk Encyclopedia Copyright © & ℗ 1998 Microsoft Corporation.
The Egyptian god of
and of vegetation.
Seth (or Set) was the Seth was the God of the desert, storm and violence, which are all enemies of the fertile, properous, narrow valley of the Nile. He was the brother of Osiris. Seth had killed Osiris by tricking him into a coffin, which he threw into the Nile. When Osiris\' wife Isis heard about this, she started searching desperately for her husband\'s body, to bury it properly. She asked everyone she met and finally some children told her where it was. Isis mourned for her dead husband. Then she hid the body, while she went back to look after her son Horus, still a baby. Seth was terrified that Isis might be able to bring Osiris back from the dead, since she was a great magician. So Seth found where she had hidden the body and cut it into pieces, which he scattered up and down the Nile. Now Isis had to find all the scattered pieces of Osiris. Whenever she found a piece, she buried it there and built a shrine. This means that there are lots of places in Egypt where Osiris was buried! Osiris himself became the King of the Dead, and all Egyptians hoped they would join him after death.
Seth (or Set)
Horus, the son of Osiris, was the god of balance and harmony, assigned to maintain the ma’at of Egypt. His function was to ensure the continuing existence and activity of the gods on earth by means of religious acts and to maintain the natural order such as the flow of the Nile an the fertility of the soil. He did not rule by the consent of the governed but by the decision of the gods. (Nagle, 25)
The first pyramid built was the graded one of Zoser, which exists even today, in Sakkarah, the necropolis of Menphis. Built in the year 2650 BC by the architect Imhotep, initially it was supposed to be a mastaba but later floors were added until they reached six. It is the oldest monumental work in stone known to man that exists. Its exterior walls, of white limestone, measures 545 metres from North to South and 227 metres from East to West. The wall has 14 doors, 13 of them false. Its height is 66 metres. In its interior, lies the sepulchral chamber of the Pharaoh Sneferu with cladding of pink granite and sealed with a block of stone of three tons weight.
The Bent Pyramid
The Great Pyramids of Giza
The burial of the king, as well as his passage from this world to the next, was not simply a private affair of importance only to the royal family and its retinue but an event of national significance. The ritual cycle by which the living pharaoh, the god Horus, became Osiris, Lord of the Underworld, guaranteed the survival of Egypt itself. By expressing this act in architectural form in the building of the pyramids, the kings of the Old Kingdom stumbled on—or perhaps cunningly devised—a method of unifying all Egyptians in a single religion of ancestor worship in which the pyramids served as giant reliquaries. (Nagle, 27-28)
Historian have divided Egyptian history into three major periods: the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom and the New Kingdom. These were long periods of stability characterized by strong monarchical authority, competent bureaucracy, freedom from invasion, much construction of pyramids and temples, and considerable intellectual and cultural development and activity. These major periods were punctuated by ages of political chaos known as the Intermediate Periods, which were characterized by weak political structures and rivalry for leadership, invasions, a decline in building activity, and a restructuring of society.
For administrative purposes, Egypt was divided up into provinces, or nomes. A governor, or nomarch, was at the head of each nome and was responsible to the pharaoh. These governors tended to amass large holding of land and power within their nomes, creating a potential rivalry with the pharaohs. Of special importance to the administration of the state was a vast bureaucracy of scribes who kept records of everything. Armed with the knowledge of writing and reading, they were highly regarded and considered themselves a superior class of men. Their high standard of living reflected their exalted status.
Seated Scribe, from Saqqara. c.a. 2400 BC.
Relief showing men, women, and children suffering from the effects of severe famine
Professor Fekri Hassan examining ancient hieroglyphs which tell of appalling suffering. A third of the population died and the most ordered of empires was brought to chaos.
The Middle Kingdom (2050-1653 B.C.) was characterized by a new concern of the pharaohs for the people. In the Old Kingdom, the pharaoh had been viewed as an inaccessible god-king. Now he was portrayed as the shepherd of his people.
The Hyksos were the source of the new horse-drawn war-chariots introduced to Egypt in the second half of the Hyksos rule. This invention, never seen before in Egypt, was instrumental in the continued power of the Hyksos in this region. The Hyksos utilized superior bronze weapons, chariots, and composite bows to help them take control of Egypt, and by about 1720 BC they had grown strong enough, at the expense of the Middle Kingdom kings, to gain control of Avaris in the north eastern Delta. This site eventually became the capital of the Hyksos kings, yet within 50 years they had also managed to take control of the important Egyptian city of Memphis.
Starting in 1567 B.C., the pharaoh Ahmose I eventually managed to defeat and expel the Hyksos from Egypt, reuniting Egypt and establishing the New Kingdom (c. 1567-1085 B.C.). The New Kingdom was characterized by a new militaristic and imperialistic path. A more professional army was developed.
Ahmose and his army driving out the Hyksos.
Egyptian sculptors at work on various statues. Drawing after a painting in the tomb of Rekhmire, c.a. 1475 BC.
Amenhotep IV (c. 1362-1347 B.C.) introduced the worship of Aton, god of the sun disk, as the chief god and pursued his worship with enthusiasm. Changing his own name to Akhenaten (“It is well with Aton”), the pharaoh closed the temples of other gods and especially endeavored to lessen the power of Amon-Re and his priesthood at Thebes.
The days of Egyptian empire were ended, and the New Kingdom expired with the end of the twentieth dynasty in 1085 B.C. For the next thousand years, despite periodic revivals of strength, Egypt was dominated by Libyans, Nubians, Persians, and Macedonians.
Egyptian Drawings of Two Different Tribes of Sea People