- The Egyptians were one of the oldest civilizations in the world.
- The Nile and its flooding were essential to them.
- Egyptians built the pyramids of Giza
Ancient Egypt: The Beginning
Geography was essential to Egyptian civilization. Ancient Egypt was built next to the Nile River.
The Nile rises from the lakes of central Africa as the White Nile and from the mountains of Ethiopia as the Blue Nile. The two rivers meet and flow together northward to the Nile Delta. Then the river melts into the Mediterranean Sea.
This area has little rain or other water sources, which means that most of Egypt’s land is uninhabitable. Yet the Nile helps create a green valley across the desert.
The people who lived there used soil and floodings from this river to get food for themselves and their animals. The Nile floods every year, and the fertile lands it leaves behind made Egyptian agriculture the most successful in the Near East.
Crops can be planted after floods that have come, which cover all of Egypt’s river valley and delta area in August and September.
Hapy, the god who brought fertility to their land, became very important for Egyptians. Their calendar was adjusted according to Nile’s year cycle. In that way, New Year came when it was time for flooding.
The Black Land and the Red Land
There are two parts of Egypt. One is the Black Land (flooded soil perfect for agriculture) and the other is the Red Land (the dry desert).
The Black Land is next to the Nile. It was important in Egypt’s history because it allowed crops to grow to feed people. The Nile also made it easy for people to travel on boats across all the major Egyptian cities.
The delta in Egypt made invasions from enemies hard. Since invaders hated the desert, also called the Red Land, ancient Egypt had almost no enemies to fight.
Ancient Egyptian History
Egyptologists, people who study Ancient Egypt, divide up the Egyptian civilization into four parts:
- The Old Kingdom
- The Middle Kingdom
- The New Kingdom
- The Late Period
Each of these parts is separated by intervals of changes and instability.
The Old Kingdom
During the Old Kingdom, people built three huge pyramids. They are called the Pyramid of Menkaure, the Pyramid of Khafre, and the Great Pyramid of Khufu. The largest one is 481 feet high and 756 feet long on each side with stone blocks averaging 2.5 tons each.
It took 100,000 men and around 20 years to build these pyramids. The pyramids are remarkable because they are made of enormous stones, and they are still standing today.
In the Old Kingdom, the pharaoh had power over everything and everyone. He controlled people by taxing them heavily. There was a lot of luxury in his life because he was a god to his people. People worked for him and obeyed him blindly.
A pharaoh was the most important political and religious leader in Egypt. He or she owned all the land, its resources, and people.
A pharaoh had to be able to balance things, so he or she could help gods and humans get along better. A pharaoh was someone who inherited the title of the pharaoh from his or her parents.
Sometimes the pharaoh would go to a battle. They would fight against their enemies or try to expand their empire.
Pharaohs who are known for military expertise and battles include Thutmose I, Seti I, Ramses II, and III. Drawings on walls like the ones in temples at Karnak tell stories of their successful battles.
The Middle Kingdom
In the Middle Kingdom, the power of the Pharaohs diminished. Priests and nobles were more independent. The governors of different regions owned their land, and this made them more powerful.
In Egypt, women were treated better than in any other place in the world. Men were heads of houses and had all the power. Some women ruled their families, and other women became pharaohs.
For example, Nefertiti was the wife of Akhenaten. They ruled together as pharaohs. He was the king but also the sun god. She was the queen as well as the goddess of love, beauty, and power. She is famous for her painted sandstone bust that was discovered in 1913.
The New Kingdom
As time passed by, a group of priests took power. They worshipped the god Amon. They threatened the pharaohs.
When Amenhotep IV came to rule, he was determined to resist them. He moved his capital away from Thebes to a city called El Amarna with a god called Aton (the sun). That is why this moment is called the New Kingdom.
This was a moment when Egyptians became monotheists and only believed in one god.
Howard Carter found the tomb of Pharoah Tutankamon in 1922. It was one of the biggest arqueological discoveries of all times.
Tutankhamun was 9 years old when he became a pharoah. When he came to power, he reversed Akhenaten’s religious reforms and put Amun back as the main god. Tutankhamun also made Thebes his home and changed the end of his name to show how he supported Amun.
He died 10 years later and was mummified. His tomb was full of treasures and interesting things.
The death mask in Tutankhamun’s grave is made out of a single sheet of gold that covered the pharaoh’s head. There were also two standing guardian statues taking care of the dead king.
The Late Period of Ancient Egypt
There were several periods between the New Kingdom and the Late Period where Egypt was ruled by a series of foreign groups.
The last one of these periods is when the Romans invaded Egypt and made it part of their empire.
Ancient Egypt: Religion
Egyptian religion was based on polytheism, except for the reign of Akhenaton.
They had many gods and goddesses, some with only a local cult. Some gods were humans with animal heads and bodies.
Many Egyptian gods had immortal powers to help people get through this world, but there is one god that was crucial in Ancient Egypt: Ra.
Ra is also the sun god and he was believed to be responsible for giving life. Ra had two children: one son called Horus and one daughter called Hathor who were both strong gods in Ancient Egypt too because they had a lot of followers.
The Egyptian myths were also about different gods and goddesses like Isis, Horus, Osiris, Seti, and Hathor, who all represented things that people cared about such as life after death or fertility.
The Egyptians loved cats. One of the most popular goddesses in ancient Egypt was Bastet.
They depicted her as a cat or with the body of a woman and a cat’s head. Cats were highly regarded because they hunted vermin that could spread disease and destroy stored food.
Priests kept cats in Bastet’s temples since they were considered to be incarnations of the goddess. We have also found some Egyptian cat mummies in pyramids.
Life after death
The Egyptians believed that when a person died, the spirit or soul left their body. It was thought to go through stages for it to reach its final destination of becoming part of eternal life with gods.
The first stage is called “the weighing of hearts.” This would be done by a god called Osiris who had scales.
Osiris would take the deceased heart and weigh it against the feather of truth. If the heart was lighter than the feather of truth then the person could live an eternal life with the gods.
Ancient Egyptians believed that after you died, you could go to another world. In order to live a life after death, you had to keep your dead body well preserved.
The way they did this was by mummification–a complicated and expensive process. Only a few people could afford it. Mummies were made by removing all the body’s internal organs, then wrapping them up in linen bandages to make them look like they were sleeping.
The mummy was put inside a sarcophagus with furniture, statues, games, and other things for when they went to the next world.
Egyptians believed that this was necessary so that when souls reached heaven they found where their bodies had been buried on earth,
Egyptians had a complicated writing system made up of hieroglyphs. They wrote with pictures and signs. The script is difficult to read even today for archaeologists.
Hieroglyphs are written from the right to left or “from beginning to end”. Most Egyptian writings were done with a pen on paper (papyrus), though many were carved in stone in temples and pyramids.
Papyrus is a type of grass that grows in the Nile. People used this grass to make cloth for sails and clothing.
The most important use of papyrus was as a writing surface. People would crush it and then dampen it before pounding and drying it.
Scribes were the people who wrote on papyrus. The scribe had to be well-educated in hieroglyphs.
The daily jobs of a scribe included working with builders on construction projects, working with farmers to record agricultural crop yields and collect taxes, and working with artists to write on various objects.
The Rosetta Stone
Many centuries later, Napoleon invaded Egypt. His scientists found a stone fragment near the Nile River that we now call the Rosetta Stone.
The Egyptians had written hieroglyphics on this stone and as time passed, someone figured out how to read them. This stone led to translations of inscriptions on other Egyptian monuments. Thanks to it we could finally understand Egyptian hieroglyphs!
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