One of history’s greatest empires is that of the Ancient Egyptian kingdom whose reign lasted for roughly 3000 years. The length of their dominion over the lovely and rich territory that is North Africa speaks to their profound ability to regulate and govern their people through a successful military and social culture both of which were driven by spiritual ideals and strategic ecological variables. By studying Egyptian kingdom, it may be possible to understand and utilize the methods they used to have such a long term of power and prolific legacy. In sum, its likely that their spiritual emphasis on nature, reliance upon the sun, and worship of their leaders, the pharaohs all helped them to gain such success.
The legacy of the Egyptian peoples is one of the most lasting and prolific out of any culture. Especially in the modern world, people are increasingly ready to recognize the genius of the Egyptian empire as they behold their megalithic structures, daring spiritual cosmologies, and general success as a people. For proof of their continued influence, all one has to do is turn to the American one dollar bill, a currency loaded with Masonic and Egyptian imagery including the Great Pyramid and the all-seeing eye (Armour 2). Furthermore, modern the mythological motifs of Egypt continue to appear in pop culture as highly intriguing artifacts, such as ones from Imhotep, that seem to grasp one on a deep subconscious level.
Even more significant is its location on the Nile for Egypt, for as it is written by Heroduts, “Egypt is the gift of the Nile” (Baker & Baker 13). As the Nile river’s gift, Egypt has been blessed with great agricultural, economic, and strategic benefits that have all fostered the development of Life in Egypt. The Nile river is 4,000 miles long and is thus the world’s longest river (Baker & Baker, 13). From the Nile, Egyptians built irrigation systems that allowed for them to cultivate crops in the barren African desert. Also, the Nile was used extensively by the Egyptians for transporting people, goods, and materials distances near and far (Baker & Baker 13). Such a connection would prove to be enormously important for the Egyptian’s connection to nature. On either side of Egypt, hot, barren, and hostile deserts surrounded the Egyptians which inspired an even greater respect for the Nile and the gifts it offers. Indeed, the black mud made by the Nile’s flooding would be revered in Egypt for its fertile and alchemical properties. (Baker & Baker 14).
The Egyptian Kingdoms, besides having three main era, also were split into a higher and lower territory on either side of the Nile. Since the Nile flows towards the Mediterranean Northwards, the Northern Egypt was known as the Lower Kingdom while the Southern Kingdom was known as the Upper Kingdom (Baker & Baker 14). These kingdoms were distinguished by the their deities of worship and land symbols. The Lower Kingdom is identified by its connection to the bee, the papyrus plant, and the god Edjo, a Cobra Goddess. In the Upper Kingdom, there were the symbols of the sedge, the Louts Flower, and Nekhbet, the vulture Goddess as their patron deity (Baker & Baker 14).
The Egyptian kingdoms are divided into three main periods of control, the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom, and the New Kingdom. This division is supported by the Egyptian priest Manetho who wrote the history with such correlations in 300 B.C.The beginning of the Old Kingdom is placed to at around 2686 B.C. and ends at the start of the Middle Kingdom of 2055 B.C (Trigger 71). The Old Kingdom is ruled by the 3rd through the 6th Dynasties as this period follows the initial Early Period of Egypt beginning in 3100 wherein the first 2 Dynasties ruled (Shuter 4). During this period a number of Egyptian temples and pyramids were built in order that he Pharoh could eventually pass into the afterlife since he was considered to be a God by his people (Shuter 4). It is reported that during the 4th dynasty, the world famous pyramids of Giza were made from 2575 to 2465 BC. These pyramids were constructed out of fine-quality limestone with a geometry so perfect that they had no detectable entrance. The Great Pyramid Kufu, the first and largest of the group, is the only remaining survivor of the original seven wonders (Kamil 71). The remarkability of these pyramids is amplified by the fact that enormous several ton stone blocks were exactly carved and placed together to achieve the finished result. In the Old Kingdom, Pyramid building was the largest ongoing industry that took considerable amounts of labor, artisanal skills, material, and time. The fact that these blocks were made and moved without the use of wheeled conveyances from quarry to the top of a 146 meter pyramid plateau (Kamil 74). Eventually, the Old Kingdom collapsed after famines caused widespread chaos however not before they managed to create monuments whose significance can still be sensed today.
The Middle Kingdom was composed of the 11th to 12th dynasties after King Mentuhotep united the country once more after the chaos of the famine (Shuter 4). It was the shortest of the three and lasted from 2686 to 2181 B.C. He did so with the principles of kingship, religious practice, reorganization of society, and firm beliefs in the afterlife to bring the order back to this once troubled nation. There was the renewed emphasis on relationships with neighboring groups and nations. This period strengthened trade with Crete and Sinai while the borders of Egypt were pushed South into Nubia (Shuter 4). Such interactions were quite helpful since the kingdom had made significant strides in their production of goods and services. During the Middle Kingdom, the was a wide and helpful range of developments which brought about the advancement of numerous services and products. Jewelry, stelae, relief, decoration, sculpture, architecture, literature, and more were created during the Middle Kingdom with lasting effect. These tools and abilities helped to reestablish the Old Kingdom’s power in a much needed time. The 12th dynasty signified the end of the central administration agency when Hyksos, foreign rulers, took over lower Egypt. Even with their take over however, there were contributions made including the addition of horse-drawn chariots, new weapons, and musical instruments (Shuter 4). These further added to the majesty Egypt which would rise once again in the third Kingdom.
The New Kingdom consisted of the 18th to 20th Dynasties from 1500 to 1069 B.C. Here Egypt was ruled by some of its most iconic rulers including the Pharaoh Ankhenaten and the Queen Hatshepsut (Suter 5). These rulers stepped into power following the Hyksos occupation with one radically different agenda for Egypt, the development of a military system capable of aggressively advancing foreign policy and maintaining the lands (Healy 6). The Egyptian military of this time were successful thanks to their organization and employment of new technologies such as bronze weapons, the composite bow, chariots (Healy 8). Their main enemies during the New Kingdom’s period were the former rulers, the Hyksos who had been pushed Northward by the time of the 18th Dynasty. The central city of the New Kingdom was Thebes, a cultural and economic trading center that played host to many races and trades. Thebes would contribute to both Egypt’s war efforts and their scientific skills with such interactions. Nubians in around 1,000 B.C. conquered Egypt however only a few years later the Persians defeated them which was also a short lived rule as soon the Greeks under Alexander the Great and then the Romans would take over.
The Egyptians were a very culturally active people who produced many prolific and interesting stories regarding the divinities they believed watched over them both Day and Night. The most significant collection of mythological stories from Egyptian society comes during the Pharaonic period. A key characteristic of Egyptian mythology that helps to set it apart from other cultures is their emphasis upon the cyclical creation and destruction of existence which was believed to occur daily. From their observation of flora, such as the water lily and the lotus, plants that unfold in the day time and close at night, the Egyptians considered the Sun itself, the great god Ra, to be also reborn regularly (Armour 1). This process of birth, death, and rebirth featured prominently throughout the culture and helped to regulate their activities, psychic and social, with the natural rhythms of their environment.
The mythology was far from unified however as the three thousand year reign of Egypt entailed a wide diversity of spiritual devotions that were concentrated in certain cult centers such as Heliopolis, Mephis, Elephantine, and Thebes. Each of these cities was known to have its own God, political climate, and theology practice (Armour 3). From the first Kingdom, the temple-city of Heliopolis predominated with its worship of Helios, the sun god Ra. This religion focused on Ra as the main principle from whom the other main gods and goddess were created. Interestingly, the genesis pattern of the Egyptian cosmology matches that of the Greek, Jewish, and Christian religions which have posited that in the primeval, there only were the unconscious and inert waters. From this, the main god, Ra raised himself up to be the one and only (Armour 7). This is however where the association ends as it was this point where Ra practically masturbated with his phallus the totality of creation into existence through a coupling with his own shadow. In this process, the twin gods, Shu and Tefnut, Gods of Air and Mist respectively, were born creating order. This required Ra to send an eye out in the universe to find them. When it returned it was angry. To treat the eye, Ra gave it more power than the other and these two eyes became the moon and the sun. Men and women were later born from his tears (Armour 8).
Perhaps one of the most significant and interesting of Egyptian traditions is their association between the Gods and their leaders the Pharaohs. Within Egyptian tradition, the Pharaohs were seen as semi-gods themselves. In fact, the design and creation of they pyramids were in large part set so that they would help Shepard the soul of the Pharaohs into the afterlife in perfect harmony with the natural rhythms of the sun. For instance, Akhenaten’s tomb’s entrance is positioned so that the light from the sun would flow down its corridor, along a stairway, and finally into a burial chamber where it struck his sarcophagus (Baker & Baker 129). Such reverence for the Pharaohs is a cornerstone characteristic for the success of Egypt.
The Egyptian empire is certainly one of the greatest that ever lived. Their wisdom has been passed on from culture to culture so that their influence persists through an incredibly long history. Such a legacy is however not totally unexpected for this was a culture that revered and expressed eternity throughout their works.
Armour, Robert. Gods and Myths of Ancient Egypt. American Univ. in Cairo Press, 2001. Web. June, 29, 2016. https://books.google.com/books
Baker, Rosalie, & Baker, Charles. Ancient Egyptians: People of the Pyramids. Oxford University Press, 2001. Web. June, 29, 2016. https://books.google.com/books?id=gw5prEJQq10C&printsec=frontcover&dq=egypt+ancient&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwid9L-hhsHNAhVGXB4KHV-qDPsQ6AEINDAE#v=onepage&q=egypt%20ancient&f=false.
Oppenheim, Adela, et. al, Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2015. Web. June, 30, 2016. https://books.google.com/books
Shuter, Jane. Ancient Egypt. Heinemann, 2001. Web. June, 30, 2016. https://books.google.com/books?id=G8ke1kyIVDYC&dq=egypt+ancient&source=gbs_navlinks_s.
Trigger, B.G., Ancient Egypt: A Social History. Cambridge University Press, 1983. Web. June, 30, 2016. https://books.google.com/books?id=OiiUcYOHX74C&dq=egypt+ancient&source=gbs_navlinks_s.
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