The History of ancient Egyptian civilization is one that has captured the interests of millions of people across many different eons of time. The History of ancient Egyptian civilization is such that no matter how much you know there is always heaps more to learn about it. While a lot of people have a good knowledge of how the Ancient Egyptians lived and flourished, what many people do not realize or do not know about Ancient Egypt is that it has not always been the one kingdom or country, as we know it today, but was more than that, with multiple rulers all at the same time. Prior to the Fourth millennium before Christ, Egypt was covered by a diverse range of different peoples, each with their own traditions, cultures, and sets of beliefs. All of these tribes were nomadic in nature. From the Fourth Millennium BC, though, things started to change around here, all of these different groups of people started coming together to form a conglomeration together.
There is no steady information about these kings in the history of ancient Egyptian civilization from this age, and we do not know where they came from. We also do not know how many kings ruled in that period. This is because of the lack of information in this direction on the period. One other explanation for this is the obliteration of any evidence that has been collected in the field. From the information, however, that we do have in place it is certain that there were three dynasties at the time (called 0, 1 and 2). These three dynasties are believed to have come from the region of “Thinis” located close to Middle Egypt’s Abydos. This is the reason that the kings from this region came to be known as the Thinite Kings.
The Old Kingdom
It was during the period of the Old Kingdom, from around 2686 BC – 2181 BC that Egypt came to be formed in its entirety. It was at this time that the importance of the people’s ruler came to lie in the hands of the king. Not only was he a ruler of the place, he was also considered a divine being. The pharaoh was said to be a reincarnation of the Egyptian god Horus. Along time, by the time the fifth dynasty came to be, the pharaoh was considered to be the son of the supreme Egyptian god, Re. By this time written language had come to be developed too. The use of hieroglyphics proved to have spread far and wide during this time, and written communication developed rapidly. This was also the time that there was a great improvement in the field of technology. Proof if this is the fact that it was in this age that the first pyramids on the planet came to be constructed. Also, there were many great temples that were built in this age, and also the Great Obelisk.
The Old Kingdom was made up of four dynasties; 3, 4, 5, and 6. The Old kingdom, however, did not see the same level of development in the sixth dynasty as it did in the third, fourth and the fifth dynasty. The reason for this is the fact that power came to be decentralized in this time. By the year 2181 BC, thus, Egypt as a nation started getting fragmented into different parts. In each of these arts, anarchy became the natural order, and there was chaos everywhere.
Here are details on the kings of the kings of the Old Kingdom. The dates are only an approximate as there is no way of ascertaining the exact dates, because of different calendars that were followed here.
Sanakhte was the first king of the Old Kingdom. This was from c.2686 to 2668. There is not much that is known about Sanakhte, but many historians state that he became the king by entering into marriage with the last king of the second dynasty’s daughter. Today we know much lesser than we know about his brother Djoser, about whom there is a lot of information. He, however, played an important role in starting a process through which he started accumulating wealth for his country. The first thing that he did do in this direction was to look into the mining of copper and turquoise from the adjoining Sinai desert. We do not have information about where Sanakhte had been buried following his death.
Djoser became the king of Egypt after the death of his probable brother, Sanakhte. This was somewhere from c.2668 – 2649 B. C. he was believed to have taken the borders of Egypt all the way to the First Cataract in the South, which was later known as the Aswan. This, however, was not true. What was true was the fact that it was during this age that the first building made completely out of stone was built. This was the first stone building in the history of the world, and it was the famous Step Pyramid of Saqqara. All that remains of Djoser’s body today, almost four thousand years later, is a mummified foot. This was found in the Step Pyramid itself. According to most counts and studies, Djoser’s body might have been torn apart by tomb robbers from the ancient world who had their eyes on precious stones and jewels.
Djoser came to be followed by Sekhemkhet in c.2649 – 2643. There was not much known about this king for a great amount of time. However in the year 1951, Zakaria Goneim, an Egyptian archaeologist found about a step pyramid that was unfinished at Saqqara that belonged to Sekhemkhet. The reason that the construction work was stopped midway was presumable because the king died quite suddenly. If it had reached completion, this pyramid could possibly have been a step taller than the pyramid that Djoser’s made for himself. There was a great amount of treasures that was found inside and so it was believed that it had not been marauded in antiquity, just like many other tombs from Egypt. The sarcophagus that was found here was opened live before press from all over the world after a few years nobody was discovered within the sarcophagus, though.
Sekhemkhet was succeeded on the throne by Khaba, who ruled from c.2643 to 2637. Khaba came to be known as the creator of the Layer Pyramid, roughly about a mile away from the Giza Plateau. This pyramid, however, did not see eventual completion, owing to which it was not used ever. Inside this pyramid too, there was nobody that was found by researchers.
Huni was known to be the last king of the third dynasty of Egypt. He ruled from c2637 to 2613. There is a great amount of mystery surrounding whether he ever built a pyramid for himself at all. Many researchers point out to the pyramid of Meydum and claim it to be his pyramid. However, there is not too many data to support this claim. Moreover, his body was never found, so there is an element of mystery surrounding his death.
Egyptian Civilization – The River Nile its True Lifeline
We journey up the storied Nile
The timeless water seems to smile;
The slow and swarthy boatman sings;
The dahabëah spreads her wings;
We catch the breeze and sail away,
Along the dawning of the day,
Along the East, wherein the morn
of life and truth was gladly born.
Excerpt from Along The Nile- A poem by Henry Abbey.
Desert. The very word brings to mind extensive stretches of sand, loneliness, emptiness and death. However, with time, this idea of the desert has changed, again and again, due to the resistance man has shown towards its attributes. There are a lot of countries in the world that have been formed right in the midst of such conditions. Egypt is one such country. Along with Greece, India, and Mesopotamia, Egypt is also one of the oldest civilizations on the planet. In sharp contrast to this image of a desert, there is only one reason human life flourished in Egypt, and that is the river Nile.
It was right on the banks of the river Nile, that Egypt came to life. It was Herodotus, who first called Egypt “the Gift of the Nile”. The Nile was the most important factor in the creation of Egypt civilization as it provided sustenance. Egypt Civilization settlement patterns even today, are reflective of this patterns of old. As far as habitation was concerned, it was only possible on the banks of the river. This was limited to thin strips of land on both sides of the river that stretched for miles. The percentage of arable land in Egypt was really minimal, and hence, all concentration of human population happened in this region. The soil around the Nile was fertile for most of the year as the river overflowed its banks every year. This soil was perfect for the Egyptian civilization to grow wheat and other crops like peas, barley, onions, lentils, etc. and also a lot of different fruits such as dates, figs, melons, and grapes. Wheat was a very important crop as it was needed not only in Egypt but all over Africa, as drought-like conditions were very common. This led to riches for the ancient Egyptians as it became a source of trade. The trade, in turn, led to the creation of diplomatic relations with other African countries and led to economic growth. The extent of Egyptian trade can be pointed out from Ishango bone, which was the start of the river Nile, close to Lake Edward, which is in north-eastern Congo. The Ishango bone has been carbon dated to be about 20,000 years, that is the Upper Paleolithic era. It finds a place for itself in the Egyptian book of the dead.
The flooding of the river Nile would start by around mid-June. And continue right until mid-October. It was only then that farmers would start plantations in their fields. Their fields would then be harvested from around February to June, more or less till the river started flooding again. The floods, however, were unpredictable; sometimes they were low leading to starvation, some other times they were too high, leading to the destruction of human life and property. The floods could be early or late thus affecting the yearly cycle. Another aspect that would spell doom for the Egyptians sometimes was the unpredictability of the time the river would flood. Sometimes the river wouldn’t flood at all for years on end, leading to less fertile soil. On other occasions, it would flood too much for many years. This again was lead to disruption of human life. Continuous spells of flood or no flood were what caused many problems for the people in Egyptian civilization.
The river Nile was also the main means of transport between places for the ancient Egyptian civilization. Animals like the donkey, camels and horses were used for transport only after they met the Persians, much later. The river flowing south to north connected the Upper and Lower Egypt, the two strips of land on either side of the Nile. During the flooding period, movement was considerably fast. Traveling from Memphis to Thebes, which was about 500 miles, would take 2 months when the water was low, but only 2 weeks when the flooding was on. Boats were used to transport food grains from time to time across the Nile. With time, the size of boats and other vessels started increasing considerably. The harbor at Medinet Hatu in Thebes, built by Amenhotep III is an example of an Egyptian harbor. While they did not manage to tame the river completely, the Ancient Egyptians were fairly successful in cutting down the devastation caused by it. Natural levees were strengthened and managed. Also, canals and channels were built to provide water in regions where the water was less so that cultivation could take place.
The River Nile was also important to the Egypt Civilization for spiritual point of view. The flooding of the river Nile was considered the grace of the pharaoh and the river deity, Hapy. Apart from being the source of life, the river was also considered a gateway from which the dead would pass into the afterlife. As the sun god Ra, would travel would cross the sky, the east was the source of life, while the west was considered the cause of death. It is no surprise then, that all the tombs in Egypt are west of the river Nile, since passing into the afterlife would have to be symbolized by death itself.
Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs – a History to Remember
The ancient Egyptian pharaohs were said to be mortal rulers, and at the same time, took on the form of divine beings. Ancient Egyptian history is one that has spread over more than thirty dynasties, and it is known to have had close to a hundred and seventy different rulers and kings. All of these kings and rulers came to rule over the land during a period that lasted no less than thirty centuries or three millenniums. The hierarchy of the rulers of the land followed the practice of succession, where the right to kinghood went from father to son and so on. There were, however, a great number of times that the following of the kinship was stopped by mayhem, murder, and a number of mysterious disappearances. With the ascent of a new king onto the throne, and the occupancy of the palaces by the new families, the history of the country itself seemed to have changed by great leaps and bounds. The rulers would have the members of their own families be married within the family itself so that the throne would remain with them. In spite of such occurrences, where men were marrying their own sister, daughters, and granddaughters, there were loads of times when the rule changed hand, contributing to one of the most complex and interesting royal histories ever.
Here are some of the most famous Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs that everyone must know of, because besides being the greatest rulers of Egypt, they were also amongst the greatest rulers in the world to have ever lived.
The Fist Egyptian King – King Menes
There is a lot of contrasting information that one gets to learn about the first Egyptian king. There are many who believe that the first king was Aha, while some others believe that the first king was indeed Menes. This is because there is not too much information that has been gathered on the on the kings from the first and the second Egyptian dynasties.
One thing is sure: there were at least sixteen or seventeen pharaohs who ruled over Egypt during this age, information on which has been found on the Palermo Stone, a stone tablet from ancient times containing information on the life of the people during the time of the pharaohs and also a list of all the pharaohs.
The Most Famous Pharaohs
Tutankhamen, also known as King Tut
King Tutankhamen or King Tut as he is generally known is possibly the most famous of all of the pharaohs in Egypt. One of the main reasons this pharaoh became as famous as he did is the fact that he had a very mysterious death. His tomb came to be discovered first in 1922. It is believed that Tut, at the young age of 18, had been plotted to be killed by his own grandfather and his wife.
Ramses II had ruled over all of Egypt for as long as sixty-seven years, and while he was the king, everything that he did seemed magnified in greatness. He was also believed to have been amongst the most prolific of all of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs, having had more than a hundred children with as many as at least a dozen wives. More than most other things, Ramses II is said to have been well known for having built more statues and temples than all of the other ancient Egyptian kings or pharaohs.
Early Egyptian Civilization and Symbolism
A lot that we know today about Egypt’s ancient history is because of the amount of symbolism that the Early Egyptian Civilization made use of. In fact, the ancient Egyptians were known to make use of symbols in such a way that pictorial references made up the alphabets of the hieroglyphic language that they wrote. These hieroglyphic representations of words and ideas have been seen on the surfaces of almost all historical sites like the temples and even the inside walls of the pyramids. They have also been seen on the scrolls that have been procured that are representative of Egypt’s historical facts.
Here are some of the main symbols that were used in the times of the Early Egyptians civilization.
This is one of the symbols of life without end. One of the representations it is used in is images depicting Egyptian Gods holding the Ankh to a person’s mouth in order to provide another lease of life. This is a reference to life in the afterlife.
The symbol of the Amenta refers to the ancient Egyptian Underworld or the Land of the Dead. It is also said to be a representation of the horizon of the setting sun. A reference can also be made to this symbol being representative of the west bank of the Nile , the traditional burial ground of the dead in Egyptian families.
The Ba is a representation of a person’s individual personality. Ba would go away from a person’s body on his or her death. Ba is believed to have been of use during the day, and would go to its tomb in the dark. The night was the time that the Ba would look for its physical identity. The Ba would have to look for its identity, and in case the mummified body to which it belonged was robbed or lost, it would still have a wooden representation of the body.
Deshret- The Red Crown
The Deshret or the red crown was that, which was representative of Lower Egypt
The head cloth, which had stripes and was worn by the Pharaoh was called the Nemes.
The Was was a representation of domination and power. The Was scepter was used by deities as a symbol of their rule. It also came to be used by kings and subsequently came to be used by common people in mortuary scenes
Hedjet- The White Crown
The white crown was the symbolic representation of Upper Egypt
The Shenu was also popularly called as the cartouche. The shape was that of a loop of rope on which a person’s name was inscribed. The Shenu was meant to be the protector of that name.
The Uraeus or the cobra was the representation of Lower Egypt. The Uraeus is in association with the king, and the kingdom of Lower Egypt. The Uraeus is also connected with the sun and with many other deities. The cobra depicted the “fiery eye of Re”, in which two uraei are visible on the two side of a solar disk having wings. The Uraeus can also be seen symbol adjusted on the crowns or headdresses of royal Egyptians. The Uraeus was also made use of as a protective symbol.
The Maat represents truth, justice, morality, and balance. A great many symbols of gods and religious figures are seen standing on a foundation of Maat.
The Scarab is also called the dung beetle as it rolls little balls of dung on the ground. According to the Egyptian mythology, this can be equated to the rolling away of the great ball of fire, the sun. Another reference that made scarabs so important was the speed at which these scarabs would grow out of their eggs. The hatching of the dung beetle from the eggs would be so sudden that it would seem like they were appearing out of thin air, which symbolized rapid creation. This symbolization was also in reference to the sunrise. Khepri was the god with the head of a scarab.
Many scholars state that Djed is a representation of the backbone of a human being. The Djed is a symbolization of stability and strength. The god Ptah was known to be in association with the Djed, who was said to be the god of creation. Depicted on the bottom of the most coffins, located where the backbone of the deceased would be, was a Djed column, which was the identification of the individual in front of Osiris, who was the lord of the underworld. The Djed was also said to be a source of strength or energy for the person in the afterlife.
Sema is the representation of lungs that are joined to the windpipe. This is a hieroglyphic symbolization that depicts the joining of the Upper and Lower Egypt.
Feather of Maat
The feather of Maat is a representative of truth, justice, morality, and balance. The pharaoh’s responsibility was to see hat the Maat was followed. The death of a pharaoh meant that Maat was not present and this led to chaos in the world. Maat would be able to be sent into the world only by the coronation of a new pharaoh.
It was at the time of the old Kingdom in Ancient Egypt that the pharaohs had managed to establish a central government stable in itself, all over the richness of the Nile Valley. The great of manifestation of the glory and splendor that these men managed to reach was seen in the creation of the Pyramids, the greatest of Egyptian tombs. So great indeed were and are these structures, there is no denying the fact that when it came to grandeur, the Egyptians left no stones unturned, not in the lifetime they lived or even in the life after death. Built as a shelter from external features for the pharaohs, these tombs were also always a source of awe and inspiration for generations of people who heard of them or saw them for themselves.
The Living King and the Dead King
According to the beliefs of the ancient Egyptians, the death of the pharaoh signaled his transformation from a mortal king to the more ephemeral and eternal form of Osiris, known as the King of the Dead. The pharaoh who would come to rule over the lands of Egypt would become a manifestation of Horus, who was the god of heaven, and was to the sun god, a protector. If one paid attention closely, one would realize that the present pharaoh played the role of the day, while the pharaoh who had died played the role of the night.
It was believed that when a pharaoh died, the spirit of the dead pharaoh would not totally leave the body, and a small part of it would remain behind. This spirit was known as his ka. It was also believed that if the body of the dead pharaoh were not taken proper care of, it would lead to him having problems with carrying out his responsibilities that the kings of the dead were supposed to carry out. This was essential, according to old, traditional Egyptian thought, in order to maintain decorum all over the country, the failure of which would lead to disastrous consequences.
In order to get away unscathed and also avert such disastrous catastrophes, a dead pharaoh would go through the process of mummification, a process that looked to the preservation of his body. Along with these all of the Egyptian tombs of the pharaohs were filled with whatever he would need for a royal life in the afterlife. Within his grave, one would find, several clay vessels adorned with gold and precious stones, enormous supplies of food, and even figurines representative of servants called the ushabti. The body of the pharaoh was offered food continually for quite a long while after he had died.
Egyptian Tombs- Tombs Perfect for Kings
Egyptian tombs were always large tombs considering the fact that they were meant to safeguard and shelter the small bit of the soul of the pharaoh that had remained with the rest of his body. While these tombs were always massive they did not necessarily have to be pyramids. Before the creation of the pyramids, the tombs were carved deep into bedrock and then topped with flat-roofed structures known as mastabas. This structure, then, would be topped with heaps and heaps of dirt mounds.
It was possible, that these same mounds that eventually led to the designing of a pyramid as a later tomb. However, there is also the possibility, that the pyramids of Egypt had been modeled on the pointed, sacred stone known as the benben. This benben was a symbolization of the sun’s rays, and the pharaohs were said to reach the heavens through the rays of the sun.
Who Built the Pyramids?
In a contrast to most popular beliefs, the builders of the pyramids were not foreigners or slaves. Skeletons that have been excavated from the sites of the pyramids prove that the builders were in fact, villagers of Egypt itself, who were supervised by the pharaoh’s men.
These villages were amongst the more developed and better to do villages in ancient Egypt. One would find a number of people doing different things here, with a number of different occupations. According to proof that has already been uncovered, some of the structures within these villages consisted of houses, bakeries, breweries, butcheries, granaries and cemeteries. There was also proof found of a healthcare facility system that existed over here, seen through the findings of laborers living through amputations and crushed limbs. The bakeries of the time were said to have fed the masses and every week saw the production of thousands of loaves.
There were a number of builders who were on the permanent roster of the pyramids of the pharaoh. A large number of workers were brought on a contractual base from other local regions. There is also a possibility that women were employed in the job of building Egyptian tombs.
Most of the workers who worked on Pharaoh’s tombs were happy with the hard work that they did and this is seen in the number of different graffiti works around the place, showing the people’s allegiance to him.
Two examples of graffiti work are “Drunkards of Menkaure” and “Friends of Khufu”.
Pyramid building was possibly the most difficult and most time consuming of activities that the Egyptians worked in. There was a minimum of twenty thousand to thirty thousand people that worked on each of these projects, and still, it took as long as eighty years to finish a single pyramid. The River Nile played a very influential role in making the creation of the pyramids possible.
The ancient Egyptian process of mummification
Every single time you see an Egyptian mummy being shown on television, it invokes some amount of awe mingled with fear. There is something about the whole process of keeping the body intact for so many years that makes it eerie.
The process of mummification, unfortunately, has not many texts or documents to support its process. What has been relied upon, alternatively, are a number of depictions available; and a few scattered papyrus fragments that may have given us a slight insight into the process of mummification.
Different Processes for Different People –
This much is known for sure – the process of mummification will vary depending on the person that had died and his financial status. The most lavish form of mummification happened for those who were extremely wealthy; from thereon deteriorating in standard with regards to how much the family could afford.
This process is known to have evolved throughout the stretch of ancient Egypt, and the earliest forms of the process were known to be simpler.
A pit would be dug, and the body placed in it. The heat from the desert would help the moist flesh to get dehydrated, and this was what helped in preserving the body.
With them, a few tweaks were made to the entire process to get to what was eventually considered the proper way of embalming and wrapping the person’s body. These were to include removal of organs like the stomach, intestine, and brain; which were then placed in separate alabaster jars; which helped avoid any sort of damage that could be caused due to decomposition.
Understanding the Process and its Relevance –
The Egyptians believed that it was important for the soul to be kept alive, and preserving the person’s body was one way of doing so effectively. The people conducted the mummification process were generally priests who had been trained to do so.
Given the fact that mummifying a body was considered a ritual of its own, the embalmers had to maintain ritual and surgical precision.
The embalmers worked in a place called the ‘Wabet’ which was like a purification tent or a clean place that was located outside the main town borders. The head priest who would be in charge of supervising the entire process would wear a terra-cotta mask which would be in the shape of Anubis; the chosen god for surgeons.
The Process –
An incision would be made on the left side of the person’s body, and this was done right below the ribcage. From here on, the organs were removed from the deceased’s body and placed in canopy jars.
The brain was then to be liquefied to be extracted through the nose. Resin was then poured through the nose, and this helped keep the head in place; or else, under normal circumstances, it would have collapsed.
The heart wasn’t extracted because the Egyptians believed that Anubis would guide the soul through the after-world on the basis of the weight of his/her heart.
This entire process would take around 13 to 15 days, and would use a cloth that had special spells written of them.
Royal mummies were known to be made from gold and were held in place by precious stones. The mummy would then be placed in a coffin, and the coffin would be placed in the tomb.
Egyptian Religion: Exploring the Facts
All aspects of Egyptian life were guided by religion. Polytheism was the basis of Egyptian religion. It involved worship of numerous deities. Egyptian religion took a backseat during Akhenaten’s reign. The ancient Egyptians had close to 2,000 goddesses and gods. The entire country worshiped some of the gods, such as Amun. Some of the gods were followed only locally.
Many of the gods and goddesses of Egyptian religion were partly human and partly animal. For instance, Horus, god of the sky, had a hawk’s head and a human’s body. Animals such as the bull, cat, and crocodile were considered to be holy. Amon-Ra and Osiris were the chief gods. Amon-Ra was considered to be the sun god and master of the universe. God of the underworld was Osiris. Tales and legends related to him revolve around the concept of immortality. A peaceful and tranquil afterlife was made possible by Osiris. Major beliefs and ideas of Egyptian religion are contained in the Book of the Dead. Ancient Egyptian Religion laid a great stress on afterlife. Hence, Egyptians spent a lot of wealth and time in preparing for survival in the world to come.
The Egyptians had many theories regarding the world’s origins. According to one popular legend, it commenced with an ocean in complete darkness. A mound of arid land subsequently rose, with the appearance of the Sun God. Light and all major things were created by him. In another popular version, the Sun God emerges from a sacrosanct, blue lotus growing out of the soil. In the third version, he appears on the eastern horizon as a scarab beetle.
The Egyptians considered temples to be the gods’ dwelling places. The temples were found everywhere. A temple was built in every city in honor of the god presiding over that city. The temple served as a cosmic center through which men communicated with the god. Subsequently, priests attained more power. Hence, tombs became a necessary part of each temple.
Caring for the gods and attending to the individual needs were the primary duties of the priests. Other duties of the priests included funeral rites, supervision of the works of the artists, and teaching students. They also gave advice to people on problems.
The Egyptians viewed death as a transitional event toward a better life in the other world. It was widely believed that only death could make individuals realize their full potential.