Pyramids on the Nile

Setting the Stage

While the Sumerian civilization was developing, another civilization was taking place on the Nile River, Egypt. Egyptian civilization was pretty different from the city-states in Mesopotamia. Since then, Egypt gained high respect because of their unity, stability, and cultural continuity over 3,000 years.

Introduction

The longest river in the world, is the Nile River, located in Africa. It flows from the highlands of East Africa to the Mediterranean Sea, providing water to Egypt, Burundi, Tanzania, and Ethiopia. The river makes the soil and land that surrounds it fertile, bringing an easy way to maintain a stable agricultural activity. The northern section of the river flows almost entirely through desert, from Sudan into Egypt, a country that since their civilization took place, have been depending on the river. Most of the population of Egypt and all of its cities, with the exception of those near the coast, lie along those parts of the Nile valley north of Aswan. Almost all the cultural and historical sites of ancient Egypt are found along the banks of the Nile river. The Nile ends in a large delta that empties into the Mediterranean Sea.

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The Gift of the Nile

It all started when flooding brought water and got mixed with the rich soil. By the track of time, it allowed the settlements to grow. The Nile is divided into two tributaries, the White Nile and the Blue Nile. The drainage basin of the Nile covers up 10% of the area of Africa.
People living near the Nile is used to the dramatic climatic changes. Before the arrival of summer, they would have their wheat and barley fields prepared for the whole season. And in fall and winter, they water their crops from a network of irrigation ditches. In the end of each Octuber, the river will usually leave rich soil deposits of fertile black called silt.

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**Environmental Changes**

Farmers in Egypt were a lot more fortunate than those of Mesopotamia. Why? Basically because of their river's system. Unlike the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the Nile was regular and less damaging. Nevertheless, Egypt still had environmental risks. These risks include:

  • When the Nile's floodwaters were just a few feet lower than normal, the amount of fresh silt and water for crops was greatly reduced which contributed to starvation.
  • When floodwaters where a few feet higher than usual, the surplus of water destroyed homes, granaries, and the seeds farmers needed for planting.
  • The vast and forbidden deserts on either side of the Nile acted as natural barriers between Egypt and other lands, which forced Egyptians to live on a very small portion of the land and reduced interaction with other people.
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**Upper and Lower Egypt**

Between the First Cataract, where river boats were able to continue upstream south to the interior of Africa, and the Mediterranean lay to very different regions. One was Upper Egypt, known for its higher elevation in the south. The other, to the north, near the sea, Lower Egypt. Upper Egypt is a skinny strip of land from the First Cataract to the point where the river starts to fan out into many branches. Lower Egypt, on the other hand, includes the Nile Delta Region, which begins about 100 miles before the river enters the Mediterranean.

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The Nile, which flows north, provided a reliable system of transportation between Upper and Lower Egypt. The ease of contact that made possible the watery highway helped unify Egypt's villages and promote trade. This also helped with the mis-interactment between the villages.

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egypt unites into a kingdom

Egyptians lived in farming villages around the year 5000 B.C and even further back. Each village had their own rituals, beliefs, and gods; they were like independent off each other. By the year 3200 B.C this villages were ruled by two separates kingdoms, the upper Egypt, and the lower Egypt but eventually this two joined together to form one. There was a conflict between them because the history of this didn’t had so much evidence so some said that this were ruled by a king named scorpion, others said it was ruled by a king named Narmer. Before this two sides got together, the upper Egypt wore a white crown and lower Egypt wore a red crown to show that they were different. Narmer which was said to be the king of lower Egypt unified this to colors of the crown mixing the red crown with the white crown to show that they were unified. There was found a carved piece of slate in which was found Narmer wearing the crown of Lower Egypt in one side and the crown of Upper Egypt in another. There is said that the year when they unified was around 3000 B.C. Narmer was the first to establish and Egyptian dynasty in Egypt.

The Pharaoh

The most powerful political and religious leader in ancient leader was the pharaoh, often called: 'Lord of the Two Lands' and 'High Priest of Every Temple'.

The Egyptians believed the pharaoh was a god-king, he being capable of speaking to the gods, and if he wasn’t pleased, it was thought he could produce droughts, floods, etc.

The 'Lord of the Two Lands' meant that the pharaoh was the ruler of both Upper and Lower Egypt. He owned all of the land, made the laws, collected taxes, and defended Egypt against invaders.

The 'High Priest of Every Temple', meant that the pharaoh represented the gods on Earth, as I said before, he being kind of a god-king. He performed rituals and built temples to honor the gods.

Many pharaohs used to go to war when their land was threatened or when they wanted to control surrounding lands. If the pharaoh won the battle, the conquered people had to recognize the Egyptian pharaoh as their ruler and offer him the finest and most valuable goods from their land.

Pyramids

The ancient Egyptians believed in a life after death, so they built pyramids as tombs for their pharaohs and queens. These were filled with clothing, food jewelry, and other garments that they could use in their other life. The pharaohs were buried in pyramids of many different shapes and sizes from before the beginning of the Old Kingdom to the end of the Middle Kingdom.

There are about eighty pyramids known today from ancient Egypt. The three largest and best-preserved of these were built at Giza at the beginning of the Old Kingdom. The most well-known of these pyramids was built for the pharaoh Khufu. It is known as the 'Great Pyramid'.

Egyptian Culture

Like Mesopotamians, Egyptians were polytheistic, believing in many gods. The most important gods were Re, the sun god, and Osiris, god of the dead. The most important goddess was Isis, who represented the ideal mother and wife. Egyptians worshiped more than 2,000 gods and goddesses. They built huge temples to honor them.
Egyptians believed in the afterlife, this is why pharaohs were buried with their treasures. Egyptians believed that Anubis, god and guide of the underworld, would weigh each dead person’s heart. To win eternal life, the heart could not be heavier than a feather, if this was not so the Devourer of Souls would gobble the impure heart.

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Religion was very important to the Ancient Egyptians. Their religion was strongly influenced by tradition, which caused them to resist change. Egyptians did not question the beliefs which had been handed down to them, they did not desire change in their society. One of the very strong traditions was that of Divine Kingship, the belief that the Pharaoh was not only the King but also a god. The Pharaoh was associated with Horus, son of Re the sun god. Later it was believed that at death he became Osiris, and would help the Egyptians in their afterlife.

People of all classes in Egypt planned there burials, so that they safely reach the Other World. The Egyptian God-King or Pharaohs where buried in great tombs, such as pyramids while other Egyptians built smaller tombs. Royal and elite Egyptian bodies were preserved through a process called mummification, which involved embalming and drying the body in order to prevent it from decaying.

The attendants placed the mummy in a coffin inside the tomb. Then the attendants filled the room were the coffin was with items the dead person could use in the afterlife such as jewelry and cosmetics.

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Hieroglyphs

English is based on 26 characters—letters. Letters that are combined into words…and then into sentences…which tell a story.
Ancient Egyptian writing uses more than 2,000 hieroglyphic characters. Each hieroglyph represents a common object in ancient Egypt. Hieroglyphs could represent the sound of the object or they could represent an idea associated with the object.

Alphabet characters were the basis for hieroglyphic writings. The basic hieroglyph characters are refered to as the ALPHABET. They 'spell out' names or anything which can't be represented by other characters. The alphabet characters are read as the sound of the object they represented.
Although vowels were used in the spoken language, they were not usually written unless a word begins with a vowel or where it might be confusing if left out…like with names.

Egyptians used cursive hieroglyphs for religious literature on papyrus and wood. Papyrus usually grow 2–3 meters (5–9 ft) tall. Papyrus is first known to have been used in ancient Egypt (at least as far back as the First dynasty), but it was also used throughout the Mediterranean region. Ancient Egypt used this plant for boats, mattresses, mats, and paper.
Papyrus was first manufactured in Egypt as far back as the third millennium BC. In the first centuries BC and AD, papyrus scrolls gained a rival as a writing surface in the form of parchment, which was prepared from animal skins.

The Egyptian Calendar

A tablet from the reign of First Dynasty King Djer was conjectured by early Egyptologists to indicate that the Egyptians had already established a link between the heliacal rising of Sirius and the beginning of the year. However, more recent analysis of the pictorial scene on this tablet has questioned whether it actually refers to Sothis at all. Current knowledge of this period remains a matter more of speculation than of established fact.

According to Roman writer Censorinus, the Egyptian New Year's Day fell on July 20 in the Julian Calendar in 139 AD, which was a heliacal rising of Sirius in Egypt. From this it is possible to calculate that the previous occasion on which this occurred was 1322 BC, and the one before that was 2782 BC. This latter date has been postulated as the time when the calendar was invented, but Djer's reign preceded that date. Other historians push it back another whole cycle, to 4242 BC.
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Invaders Control Egypt

The reign of the mighty pharaohs declined giving way to the Middle Kingdom starting in the 11th dynasty ending with the 14th dynasty more or less between 2040 B.C and 1640 B.C. During the rule of the strong new pharaohs, law and transportation improved on account of the canal dug from the Nile River to the Red Sea. Huge dikes were built to trap and channel the Nile’s floodwaters for irrigation. Thousands of new acres of farmland were ingeniously created by draining the swamps of Lower Egypt. Unfortunately in the 12th dynasty Egypt’s population grew requiring more food than there was available. Since the Egyptians had limited space around the banks of the Nile River there wasn't enough fertile land that could be used to harvest more food. To add even more stress to an already unstable economy the annual floods along the Nile began to fail. So during the 13th and 14th dynasties the Egyptian reign was gradually declining until finally it was invaded by a group of Asiatic people called the Hyksos, meaning “the rulers of foreign lands.” The Hyksos ruled most of Egypt from 1630 to 1523 B.C.

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