Egypt, like Greece, offers occupies a significant position in educating modern readers and scholars about the earliest forms of civilization in the world. The country's story highlights a series of fascinating and complex events spanning for centuries. It is a fascinating and complex story in the sense that the Egyptian state had been under several dynasties that came to define the social, political and economic practices of the modern era. Much of its historical complexity results from the fact that it was a rich and vibrant culture that was in constant evolution. This evolution was rooted in its core elements and symbols which make it a unique example of the ancient civilizations (Oriental Institute of Chicago & Teeter, 2011).This paper will explore the evolution of Egyptian civilization from its earliest times to the period ending 1650 AD.
How did the Egyptian civilization begin? The particular period in which the ancient civilization of Egypt began has been (and still is) a very difficult question for archeologists and historians to answer conclusively. As Oriental Institute of Chicago and Teeter (2011) observe, it is challenging to reconstruct the history of Egypt before the pre-dynastic period due to the limited documentary evidence as the art of writing came into existence around 3300 BC. However, scholars have relied on archeological materials to reconstruct the beginnings of the ancient civilization of Egypt. This historical stretch makes Egypt one of the oldest countries in the world.
For better comprehension of the history of ancient Egypt, scholars have divided into dynasties covering the following periods:
The Pre-dynastic Period covering beginnings of early Egyptian civilizations to 3100 BCE
The Early Dynastic Period (3100-2686 BCE)
The Old Kingdom (2686-2181 BCE)
The First Intermediate Period (2181-2040 BCE)
The Middle Kingdom (2014-1750 BCE)
The Second Intermediate Kingdom (1750-1550 BCE)
The New Kingdom (1550-1069 BCE)
The Third Intermediate Period, from 1069-715 BCE
The Late Period which started 715 to 332 BCE (Goldschmidt, 2008)
The Pre-dynastic Period: up to 3100 BCE
In most ancient societies, the practice of rearing animals and tending crops was very common. In Egypt, people mostly lived on the banks of rivers where they channeled floodwaters to irrigate crops. Archeological findings show human presence beyond 7000 BC with recent studies illustrating of a village that existed at around 5000 BC. This evidence suggests that people of this era farmed, kept cattle, conducted fishing activities in the Red Sea alongside sailing of boats. Moreover, they practiced art through the making of pots as well as drew sculptures that punctuated their religious beliefs (Goldschmidt, 2008). It follows then that trade developed and was carried mostly with tribes of other regions.
The development of trade craftsmanship and pottery resulted in the development an elite group which controlled the production and supply of such goods. For instance, the emergence of elite strengthened specialized production of quality goods hence increased the volume of trade. This period dates back to around 4000 BC (Oriental Institute of Chicago & Teeter, 2011). The trade volume led to the emergence of cities (Goldschmidt, 2008), a development that made people more organized in terms of trade and governance. This would later be critical in the emergence of dynasties.
The Early Dynastic Period: 3100-2686 BC
Towards the end of Pre-dynastic Period, Egypt as a state had developed into an organized civilization which existed in two distinct geographical regions: the Upper and Lower Egypt. The two regions later unified under Pharaoh Menes (Goldschmidt, 2008). The unification was crucial in sustaining its existence for the next two millennia.
The leadership of Menes supervised phenomenal social, economic and political developments in the ancient Egypt. Menes founded the capital of the kingdom in Men Nefer which was located on the west bank of river Nile, 12 miles south of the city of Cairo. Men Nefer remained the center of authority for the pharaohs until its decline in around 1300 BC. By this time, the kingdom had developed into a strong political and religious system (Goldschmidt, 2008).
The religious systems under the leadership of the first pharaoh were so intertwined with the politics that the rulers were considered as capable of divine interventions. The gods controlled every aspect of life and afterlife, and the pharaoh was considered as the connection between the gods and the subjects (Oriental Institute of Chicago & Teeter, 2011). For instance, divine kingship ensured that all peoples of the Kingdom worked together for economic gain as well in providing security against enemies. Also, the divine kinship controlled the level of flooding of river Nile which enabled people to plant crops. A bumper harvest was associated with the divine effort of the king (Goldschmidt, 2008).
The afterlife beliefs were most synonymous with the treatment of the kings after death. People built temples and pyramids that hosted the bodies of death rulers. They mummified the bodies of the death so as to prolong their association with the living. The practice was hinged on the belief that pharaohs will intercede while in death and this would ensure prosperity and well-being of the people (Oriental Institute of Chicago & Teeter, 2011). As such, they did not loathe the idea of living with death persons.
The Old Kingdom: 2686-2181 BC
During the Old Kingdom, Egyptians experienced phenomenal growth and development in stone architecture, hieroglyphic writing, and art (Oriental Institute of Chicago & Teeter, 2011). As Goldschmidt (2008) documents, it was credited with the building monumental pyramids as the customs regarding the treatment of kings became more elaborate. For instance, the Great Pyramid of Cheops was constructed. On the administrative front, the system became more bureaucratic and the divine attributes of the pharaoh were extended to provincial governors, pharaohs wives, and Fortunate Egyptians.
From the First Intermediate Period through Third Intermediate Period, the kingdom expanded and gained new trading opportunities. New centers of power were created. However, decentralization of power brought several challenges including secessions. These weaknesses created room for foreign invaders.
The Late Period
Although the kingdom returned to the centralized system of government in the Third Intermediate Period, repeated invasions from neighboring kingdoms such as the Libyans and Assyrians weakened the kingdom. By 525 BC, Egypt had begun to decline. This weakening attracted a series of foreign invaders who conquered the kingdom, hence its decline. It would later be under subjugation until 1952(Goldschmidt, 2008).
The Persian, Greek and the Roman Rule
Under the command of Cambyses, Persians defeated the last Egyptian pharaoh in the year 525 BC and established the 27th Dynasty. The Persians were tribal nomads from a region in today's Iran who had formed a powerful military force under the leadership of Cyrus (Bryant, 2002). Cambyses was a son of Cyrus. The conquest was characteristic of the expanding kingdoms of this period. During the three-year reign of Cambyses as a pharaoh, the lives of Egyptians improved through trade. However, when Darius succeed him, the kingdom faced internal conflicts that were instigated by remnants of Egyptian dynasties. The vulnerable situation of the kingdom allowed Alexander the Great to conquer it with ease in the year 332 BC (Goldschmidt, 2008).
The Reign of Alexander the Great (332-323 BC)
Alexander conquered Egypt in 332 and established a stable government that respected the religious practices of Egyptians. As a matter of fact, Egyptians considered him as a savior from the yoke of Persian leadership (Bryant, 2002). He encouraged commerce and created the city of Alexandria which acted as a commercial link between Egypt and the Mediterranean world. Suddenly, in the year 323 BC, Alexander died, leaving a power vacuum (Goldschmidt, 2008). The power vacuum attracted power struggles which culminated in the rise of Ptolemy as the new king of Egypt.
The Reign of Ptolemy
The reign of Ptolemy experienced resistance from Egyptians who felt that they were economically marginalized. Taxes were levied but their lives remained economically unchanged. Internal revolts and the invasion of the country by the Nubians in the Upper Egypt weakened the kingdom. Greeks also settled in large numbers in Alexandria and took over commercial activities (Goldschmidt, 2008). As a result, Ptolemy sought support from the Roman Republic. However, the death of Julius Caesar in 44 BC a triggered a power struggle in Rome that spilled over to Egypt. This weakened the power of Ptolemy. In the year 31 BC, the rule of Ptolemy ended (Bryant, 2002) and ushered in the Roman Empire.
The Reign of the Roman Empire (30 BC-640 AD)
When Octavian succeeded Caesar and took over Egypt, he instituted several measures that ensured the thriving agricultural sector benefited Romans. To avoid internal revolts against his rule, he allowed the agricultural sector to be controlled by Egyptians but levied heavy taxes on Egyptians(Monson,2007). It was during this period that Egypt gained close ties with cultural and religious practices of the people of Europe.
One of the significant developments during Octavian rule was the introduction of Christianity around 40 AD. Many Egyptians were converted to Christianity even though there was widespread persecution of the members of the Christian faithful. As a result, the ancient region was given little attention and, thus, slowly became irrelevant (Goldschmidt, 2008). Again, the disregard of Egyptian cultural heritage and economic harassment by the Roman rulers caused resentment among Egyptians. These circumstances would become a major factor in the successful Arab invasion in 640(Monson, 2007; Goldschmidt, 2008).
The Arab Rule: 640-868 AD
The reign of Arabs had a far-reaching effect on the lives of Egyptians and these consequences would remain as part of the Egyptian society until today. Unlike other previous rulers, Arabs were slow in interfering with the social, religious and economic lives of Egyptians. In a few decades, however, the governor began the process of Islamization of Egyptians. For instance, Egyptian Christians were required to convert to access opportunities in the administration of the Arab rulers (Sayyid, 2009). Additionally, Arabic was made the national language in 705 as part of the approaches to galvanized Arab culture and traditions (Goldschmidt, 2008). Like other previous foreign rulers, the Arabs imposed heavy taxes, but such levies excluded women, children, the aged and religious personalities. These taxes and other actions often generated resentment which culminated in revolts (Sayyid, 2009)
The revolts weakened the control of Arabs especially in the outlying areas of the kingdom. This volatile situation enabled to the local dynasties to take control of leadership in the mentioned areas and later the entire kingdom. However, this self-rule was short-lived. In the year 868, the Empire of Turkey sent an officer to Egypt as a governor and this officer installed himself as the king and officially founded the Tulunid Dynasty (Goldschmidt, 2008). Due to complex economic issues, the Tulunid Dynasty faced administrative challenges and, thus, weakened internal dissent. As such, the Turkish rulers could not repulse off the invasion of the kingdom by the Fatimids in the year 969.
The Fatimid Rule: 969-1171 AD
The Fatimids came as rescuers to Egyptians who were undergoing difficult economic times. They hailed from present-day Tunisia and claimed to be from Prophet Mohammeds anc...
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