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Chapter 3

Egyptian Civilization

The Fertile Valley of the Nile
Nile originates in Burundi and flows through Uganda, Sudan, Egypt and
empties in the Mediterranean sea. It is around 6650 km long.
Herodotus called Egypt the gift of Nile
Control of river included engineering and administrative skills
Fertility, crops, transportation and communication
Geographical position provided Egypt with protection
Egyptian history
Manetho, an Egyptian priest provided basic frame for the study of
Egyptian history
More than 3000 thousand years of history
31 royal dynasties
6 major historical periods
Menes or Narmer often called unifier of the Upper and Lower Egypt
unified Egypt in 3100 BCE and established the first dynasty
Last Ptolemaic dynasty ended in 31 BCE


The Early Dynastic Period (c. 3100-2700 BCE) (Dynasties I-II)

The earliest phase saw the formation of the Egyptian state

Egypt was divided into Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt
Before unification settlements along Nile took place. So settlement and Nile
facilitated foundation of the state
Unification was important. It was geographical and political unification. Even
the royal double crown represented unification.
Important developments that led to the foundation of the state
cultural regionalism disappeared
social structure and hegemony of Egyptian culture/ self-identification
administration at Memphis, which was strategically located for control of
both Upper and Lower Egypt
establishment of trade and organized economy
introduction of hieroglyphic writing


The Old Kingdom (2700-2200 BCE) (Dynasties III-VI)

The Old Kingdom lasted for about 500 hundred years. This period symbolizes
peace, stability, no standing army and only internal interest
By the III dynasty Egyptian kings achieved full supremacy and ruled from
their capital at Memphis
The royal power was absolute. Rule through royal family and nobility
The word pharaoh literally means great house
The best symbol of the Old Kingdom were great pyramids
During the 4th dynasty main pyramids were built
The first pyramid was Zoser pyramid built by architect Imhoteph in around
2600 BCE
Giza Complex and the largest Khufu pyramid:
481 feet high
756 feet long on each side
Built of 2.3 million stone block
Each block 2.5 tones
100 thousand people spent 20 years building it
Pyramids symbolize
political and military authority
economic strength
religious motives 5


The earliest pyramidal structure of the ancient world, the Step Pyramid (c.2630 BC) of King Zoser at
Saqqara, Egypt, consists of six terraces of receding sizes with a mastaba (tomb) at its nucleus.
(Corbis/MIT Collection)

A camel caravan passes the pyramids of Khufu (Cheops), Khafre, and Menkaure
at Giza, Egypt, on the eastern edge of the Sahara. (Corbis/Jonathan Blair)


The Great Sphinx is among the world's best known and most admired ancient treasures. Its
extraordinary monumentality attests to advanced engineering and construction methods which
continue to baffle contemporary scientists. The body (of a recumbent lion) and the head (of a divine
king) of the Great Sphinx are carved from living rock. The outstretched paws are added masonry.
The whole figure was originally covered with painted plaster, traces of which are still visible. (Deni
& Will McIntyre/AllStock/PNI)

The First Intermediate Period (c. 2200-2000 BCE) (VII-XI)

declining of royal power
growing provincial power of priests and nobles
rise of independent rulers
economic decline due to the construction of pyramids
civil war
dynasty ruled only part of Egypt



The Middle Kingdom (c. 2000-1800 BCE) (XI-XII)

After the period of confusion the governors of Thebes established the Middle
Kingdom in 2052 BCE.
12th dynasty restored kings power and partial control of nobles
Reestablishment of trade with Palestine, Ethiopia and Nubia.
New capital Thebes
New deity Amon-Re.
The resurgent power of nobility, the erosion of central authority, mark the end
of the Middle Kingdom and beginning of the Second Intermediate Period




The Second Intermediate Period (1800-1600 BCE): Hyksos Invasion


A plot by Hyksos and Nubians to control entire Egypt. Nubians occupied

southern while Hyksos occupied northern part of Egypt. Supporters of
Egyptian royal family were in between.
Dominated by Hyksos king shepherds invaders since around 1800 BCE
Desert and geographical position could not save Egypt this time
They were Semitic-speaking people and their origin was not certain
Established rule, controlled trade links and had Egyptian governors.
Introduced use of bronze and new warfare tactics. They were the first to use
horse chariot in the battle.
The pharaohs Camose and Amose drove the Hyksos out of Egypt in 1575
Egyptians conquered the capital city of Hyksos Avaris


The New Kingdom Empire (c. 1600-1200 BCE) and After

King Thutmose III built powerful army and began extending Egyptian
Conquests of Nubia, Palestine and Syria resulted in conflict with Hittites
Struggle between the two weakened both
Amarna Period (1346-1364 BCE):
religious struggle and priests challenged pharaoh
Amenhotep IV resisted the priesthood of Amon and devoted himself to
Aton sun-disc
His wife Nefertiti supported him in the foundation of new religion
Changed his name to Akhenaten satisfies Aton and moved capital from
Thebes to place called Tell-el-Amarna, which means Horizon of the
God Aton universal and creator of the universe; [monotheism]
Opposition to the worship of Aton and persecutions of Amon-Re
Economic decline, foreign invasions, and revolution.
Tutankhamen restored the old religion and returned capital to Thebes
Ramses the Great, who ruled 67 years, was among the last powerful Egyptian
kings. He was also known as tomb builder and fought Hittites in the battle of
After 1200 BCE Egypt fall under control of Libyans, Nubians, Assyrians,
Persians, Greeks and Romans 14


Ramses II, the third king of the Egyptian 19th dynasty, is depicted in this stone sculpture. His 67-year
reign was a time of great prosperity and marked the height of Egyptian military power, culminating in
a peace treaty (1283 BC) with the neighboring Hittites. (Scala/Art Resource, NY) 15

The gold funerary mask of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamen (r.1361-52 BC) was among the
items that were discovered in his tomb by Egyptologist Howard Carter in 1922. Tutankhamen
was only nine years old when he succeeded to the throne. (Corbis/Charles & Josette Lenars)



Religion: The Basis of Egyptian Civilization

Religion shaped political and social life of Egyptian society. It is illustrated in

great pyramids, mummification and religious literature
Religious beliefs the basis for art, medicine, astronomy, literature..
Deities worshiped by Egyptians numbered in thousands
Beliefs in animism, polytheism and monotheism
Spirits could take forms of humans and animals and were present everywhere
Over a time special deities emerged such as Horus, Amon, Re, Isis and Osiris.
Egyptians spend money and resources to please deities. That is why there
were many ceremonies and rituals.
Immortality of the spirit and the quest of pharaohs for immortality.
Vally of the kings in the West life goes from one shore to another
Mummification and pyramids stone medium of immortality
divine kingship+ the concept of maat [truth and justice]



The Temple of Luxor, or Southern Sanctuary, at Luxor, Egypt, was begun by the 18th-dynasty king
Amenhotep III (r. 1417-1379 BC) and dedicated to Amon-Re, king of the gods. It was built of
sandstone from the quarries of Gebel Silsila. (Corbis/Vanni Archive)

Osiris, god of the dead and the underworld, was one of the most important deities of ancient Egypt.
The Egyptians expected to be judged after death and to be presented before Osiris when found
innocent. (Corbis/Rober Wood) 20


In this image is a portion of the text of the Book of the Dead. In

the representation, the deceaseds heart is being weighed under
the observation of the deities Isis, Osiris, and Nephthys. Also
present are Maat, Thoth, Hor, and Anubis. The creature kneeling
before the shrine is a monster who will eat the heart if it fails to
pass inspection.

Contributions in Sciences
Religious activity stimulated literary activity
Hieroglyphic writing in 3200 BCE found on stone and papyrus. This writings
influenced Phoenician alphabet
Architecture represented in tombs and pyramids
movements of the stars
365 day calendar, influenced Julius Caesar calendar
system of numbers
360 degrees of a circle
Pi ratio
surgical techniques and drugs
accurate diagnosis
human anatomy
Arts and architecture
pyramids, tombs and temples



From the end of the 4th millennium BC, hieroglyphics, which are pictorial symbols used in early
writing systems, were an integral part of Egyptian writing. These hieroglyphics were engraved on a
temple wall in the ancient village of Karnak, in southern Egypt. (Corbis-Bettmann) 23

As far as the science of Egyptology is concerned, the Rosetta Stone might well be the most important
rock ever found. Discovered in 1799 by French soldiers during Napoleon's occupation of Egypt, it
contains an inscription carved in both Egyptian and Greek. Since scholars could read the Greek
version, the Rosetta Stone served as a tool for deciphering the previously mysterious hieroglyphics.



Egyptian Civilization: Political, Economic and Social Life

The key to Egyptian civilization was political system

Pharaoh supreme power. He literally owned Egypt and people
Administrative system
Vezier or DPM was responsible directly to king. He managed all
Nomarch was royal official or governor
Nomes were administrative units [22 in the Upper Egypt and 20 in the
Lower Egypt]
Pharaoh, priests, nobility, the middle class [merchants and artisans],
soldiers and slaves