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How were artisans trained in Ancient Egypt?

How were artisans trained in Ancient Egypt?

I would like to know how artisans like potters and blacksmiths were trained to specialize in their trade in ancient civilizations. In particular, I am interested in how this was done in ancient Egypt.

Was there anywhere else they could get training besides their relatives, friends, or neighbors? Could they possibly travel to a different city-state to receive training?


There was certainly a system of apprenticeship in place in Ancient Egypt, although there doesn't seem to be any evidence to support the idea that people travelled any great distance to train as artisans.

We have good evidence for apprenticeship contracts from the 18th - 20th dynasty Workmen's village at Deir el-Medina. There is a good overview of what we know about that site in Kathlyn M Cooney's excellent paper Apprenticeship and Figured Ostraca from the Ancient Egyptian Village of Deir el-Medina [Willeke, 2013, p145]. The workers of this village were particularly skilled artisans, and children were apprenticed to other families in the village to learn their skills.

In the later periods, we have a pretty good overall understanding of the apprentice system that was in force in ancient Egypt during the Roman period. Once again, children seem to have been apprenticed locally to learn their skills. This does not mean that their training was necessarily carried out locally. Smiths and potters would certainly have been based locally. The same is probably true for boat-builders. However, masons, for example, might travel considerable distances to work on commissions, and their apprentices would accompany them. A good, accessible paper here would be W. L. Westermann's Apprentice Contracts and the Apprentice System in Roman Egypt.


Although not really artisans in the traditional sense, the only "trade" that the ancient Egyptians seem to have travelled any great distance to learn is that of the scribe. There is some good evidence for scribal training being carried out in a town or city that was not the apprentice's home town. Ronald J. Williams' 1972 paper Scribal Training in Ancient Egypt is available to read free online if you'd like more information.


Sources

  • Wendrich Willeke (ed.): Archaeology and Apprenticeship: Body Knowledge, Identity, and Communities of Practice, University of Arizona, 2013
  • Westermann, W. L: Apprentice Contracts and the Apprentice System in Roman Egypt, Classical Philology, Vol. 9, No. 3 (July 1914), University of Chicago Press, pp. 295-315
  • Williams, Ronald J: Scribal Training in Ancient Egypt, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 92, No. 2 (April - June, 1972), pp. 214-221

Ancient Egyptian Craftsmen

The ancient Egyptians were true original artisans, who were expert craftsmen, totally aware of their incredible skill and amazing capabilities.

The ancient Egyptian craftsmen were responsible for the creation of some of the most enchanting pieces of art which showcased the brilliance and allure of the ancient Egyptian civilization in infinite generations.

These artists were considered to be more socially superior to common laborers thanks to their incredible gifts.


How were artisans trained in Ancient Egypt? - History

S tone and clay pots comprise one of the most important categories of Egyptian artifacts. They help us understand the evolution of the culture from the Predynastic Period to the end of the pharaonic era. The banks of the Nile provided the mud and clay used to make ceramic ware. Food was cooked in clay pots, which also served as containers for grains, water, wine, beer, flour and oils. Baskets were the other type of container found in the home. They were made from reeds and the leaves of date palms that grew along the Nile.

S killed artisans were considered socially superior to common labourers. They learned their art from a master who ensured stylistic continuity in the beautiful objects they created for the living and the dead. Women engaged in weaving, perfume making, baking and needlework. Very few artistic creations were signed, and exceptional ability was rewarded through increased social status.

C arpenters

S killed carpenters manufactured a wide range of products, from roofing beams to furniture and statues. Their tools included saws, axes, chisels, adzes, wooden mallets, stone polishers and bow drills. Since wood suitable for building was scarce in ancient Egypt, it was imported from countries such as Lebanon.

From Satire of the Trades, a Middle Kingdom text reproduced in Ancient Egyptian Literature, by Miriam Lichtheim

S tonemasons and Sculptors

S culptors had to adhere to very strict stylistic rules. The stone was first shaped and smoothed by masons using stone hammers. For bas-reliefs, draftsmen outlined images on the stone before a team of sculptors began carving them with copper chisels. A fine abrasive powder was used to polish the stone before the images were painted.

"I'll describe to you also the mason:
His loins give him pain
Though he is out in the wind,
He works without a cloak
His loincloth is a twisted rope
And a string in the rear."

From Satire of the Trades, a Middle Kingdom text reproduced in Ancient Egyptian Literature, by Miriam Lichtheim

B ead Making

V arious types of semi-precious stones were used in jewellery. To make beads, artisans broke stones and rolled them between other stones to shape them. A bow drill was used to drill a hole through the beads, which were then rolled in a recessed receptacle containing an abrasive to refine their shape.

B rickmakers and potters

T he word iqdou (Nile mud) was used to designate the profession of the brickmaker and the potter, who used mud from the Nile to make their products.

T he brickmaker had one of the more menial occupations in ancient Egypt. To make bricks, Nile mud was mixed with sand, straw and water, slapped into wooden moulds and then slapped out onto the ground to dry in the sun. Bricks were used extensively in ancient Egypt for building everything from peasants' homes to the pharaoh's palaces.

P otters produced vast quantities of utilitarian vessels. Cow dung, water and straw were mixed with mud to produce clay ready for the potter's wheel. The exterior surface of pots was often covered with a reddish slip and/or decorated using a stylus or comb before the pots were fired in kilns.

M erchants and Trade

I n a good year, the quantity of grain harvested in Egypt far exceeded the needs of the country. The grain exported to neighbouring countries provided a rich source of revenue for the Egyptian Treasury. Egypt's economy functioned on a barter system. In the marketplace, stone weights were used to determine the value of grain and other rations.

E gyptian merchants developed an extensive trade network for procuring goods from other countries. Gold from the mines of eastern Nubia, for example, was traded for raw materials or manufactured goods.

M istress of the House

Women of all classes could earn wages, own property and employ workers, but their main role was within the family. The title most women had was "mistress of the house". They were considered equal with men before the law, and could sue for damages and divorce.

Musical scenes on murals seem to indicate a predominance of female musicians during the New Kingdom. Music served both secular and religious purposes, with many high-status New Kingdom women holding the position of "chantress" to a local god. Harps, lutes, flutes, oboes, tambourines and sistra (rattles) were the main instruments used.


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Consequences of the Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution altered attitudes toward training. Machines created a need for both skilled workers (such as machinists or engineers) and unskilled workers. Unskilled employees who showed aptitude advanced to semiskilled jobs. Apprenticeships actually grew in importance with the development of trade unions, which were created to uphold quality and control recruitment (by protecting union jobs).

In England apprenticeship was maintained by the craft industries and even extended to analogous fields. The education system, for example, offered various apprentice programs for student teachers, and there was a comparable system of training for young farmers.

Apprenticeship was fairly common in the American colonies, with indentured apprentices arriving from England in the 17th century. (Benjamin Franklin served as apprentice to his brother in the printing trade.) But apprenticeship in colonial America was less important than in Europe because of the high proportion of skilled workers in the colonies.

Because modernization and industrialization brought new impetus to the division of labour, the development of large-scale machine production increased the demand for workers with specialized skills. The more ambitious among them sought to increase their effectiveness and potential for advancement by voluntary study. To meet this need, mechanics’ institutes were established, such as the one founded in London in 1823 by George Birkbeck, which still exists as Birkbeck College, and Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City, established in 1859. In France technical education on a national scale dates from 1880.


Fashion & Dress in Ancient Egypt

In 1851 CE, a woman named Amelia Bloomer in the United States shocked the establishment by announcing in her publication The Lily that she had adopted the "Turkish Dress" for daily wear and, further, provided readers with instructions to make their own. This "Turkish dress" was a pair of light-weight pants worn under a dress which dispensed with the heavy petticoats and undergarments which constituted women's fashion. At the time of Bloomer's announcement, upper-class women were wearing dresses comprised of as many as 16 petticoats, which were quite heavy, and those of the lower classes were almost equally constrained. These 'Turkish' pants (which came to be known as 'bloomers') emancipated women from the constraints of fashion, allowing them freedom of movement, and became one of the symbols of the new women's suffrage movement.

The Women's Suffrage Movement had only just met to issue their Declaration of Rights and Sentiments, written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, in 1848 CE at Seneca Falls, NY, and Bloomer's advocacy of the new style was embraced by one of the pivotal figures of the movement, Lucy Stone, who wore the pants during her lectures on women's rights. It was Lucy Stone who would encourage Susan B. Anthony to take up the cause of the women's suffrage movement and Anthony, of course, is now synonymous with women's rights.

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All of these challenges to the patriarchy of the 19th century CE were quite disturbing, to women as well as men, but they would have been nothing startling to the ancient Egyptians who viewed women as equals and whose fashion sense was nearly unisex long before that word, or concept, was understood by the more 'advanced' culture of the present day.

Egyptian fashion was practical, simple, and, for most of the population, the same kind of outfit worn by a woman was worn by a man. The upper-class women in the Old Kingdom of Egypt (c. 2613-2181 BCE) wore longer dresses which covered their breasts, but the women of the lower classes would have worn the same simple kilt as their fathers, husbands, and sons.

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Early Dynastic Period & Old Kingdom

Images from the Early Dynastic Period in Egypt (c. 3150 - c. 2613 BCE) show men and women of the lower class in the same kind of dress: a knee-length, plain kilt, probably white or light in color. This would have been made of cotton, linen, or byssus (flax) and was fastened around the waist by a belt of cloth, papyrus rope, or leather.

Upper-class Egyptians in the same time period dressed the same only with more ornamentation. Egyptologist Helen Strudwick observes how "only by their jewelry could men from the wealthy class be distinguished from farmers and artisans" (374). Women's dress was more distinctive between classes as upper-class women wore a long, figure-fitting dress with or without sleeves. These dresses were held in place by straps over the shoulders and sometimes were supplemented by a sheer tunic worn over them.

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Women's fashions which bared the breasts were not a matter of concern. The upper-class women's dresses sometimes began below the breasts and went to the ankles. Lower-class women's skirts, as noted, were from the waist to the knees without a top. Before the development of linen, people wore clothes made of animal hide or woven papyrus reeds. Strudwick writes:

Shepherds, ferrymen, and fishermen mainly made do with a simple leather sash from which hung a curtain of reeds many also worked completely naked, at least until the Middle Kingdom - during this time it became rare to see an unclothed worker. Female millers, bakers, and harvest workers are often depicted in a long wraparound skirt but with the upper part of the body bared. (376)

Children of both sexes wore no clothes from birth until puberty and some occupations, as Strudwick notes, continued this practice. The washermen and washerwomen who worked daily by the banks of the Nile River washing other people's clothing performed their tasks naked because they were in the water so frequently.

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First Intermediate Period & Middle Kingdom

The First Intermediate Period of Egypt (c. 2181-2040 BCE) followed the collapse of the Old Kingdom and initiated many dramatic changes in the Egyptian culture but fashion remained relatively the same. It is only in the Middle Kingdom of Egypt (2040-1782 BCE) that fashion changes as women begin to wear long cotton gowns and different hairstyles.

In the Old Kingdom and First Intermediate Period women are depicted with hair length just below their ears while, in the Middle Kingdom, their hair is worn to their shoulders. The Middle Kingdom dress of the upper class is also different in that outfits were often made of cotton. These dresses, still form-fitting, were often sleeved with a plunging neckline ornamented with a clasp necklace at the throat. These dresses would be made of a single sheet of cloth which the woman would wrap herself in and then arrange for style with a belt around the waist over which she could blouse the top.

From the same period, however, there is also evidence of upper-class women's dresses which rose from the ankle to the waist and were held up by thin straps which ran over the breasts and were fastened over the shoulders at the back. Men at this time continued to wear the simple kilt only with pleats at the front. Precisely how the ancient Egyptian pleated their clothing is not known, but images in art clearly show pleats in both men and women's clothing. The most popular article of clothing among upper-class men was the triangular apron a starched, ornamented kilt which fell to just above the knees and was held by a sash. This would have been worn over a loincloth which was a triangular strip of cloth running between the legs and tied at the hips.

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The New Kingdom

Following the Middle Kingdom, Egypt entered the Second Intermediate Period (c. 1782-1570 BCE) during which the foreign people known as the Hyksos ruled from Lower Egypt and the Nubians held the southern frontiers of Upper Egypt with only Thebes in the middle representing Egyptian rule.

The Hyksos gave Egypt many advances, innovations, and inventions which they later made significant use of but do not seem to have contributed to fashion. This is largely because the Hyksos greatly admired Egyptian culture and emulated Egyptian beliefs, behavior, and dress in their cities in the northern Delta.

C. 1570 BCE the Theban prince Ahmose I (c. 1570-1544 BCE) drove the Hyksos out of Egypt and initiated the period of the New Kingdom of Egypt (c. 1570-1069 BCE) which saw the greatest advances in fashion in Egyptian history. The fashion styles of the New Kingdom are those most often depicted in films and television shows dealing with Egypt no matter what time period they are set in.

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The New Kingdom was the era of Egypt's empire when the country stepped onto the international stage and came into closer contact with other nations than they had previously. Even before the age of empire, however, fashion statements became more elaborate. Ahmose I's wife, Ahmose-Nefertari (c. 1562-1495 BCE), is depicted in a dress with winged sleeves and a wide collar which falls to above her ankles.

Beaded gowns and dresses (the kalasiris which Herodotus mentions) ornamented with jewels begin to appear in the late Middle Kingdom but become more common in the New Kingdom among the upper classes. Elaborate wigs adorned with beads and jewels also appear with greater frequency at this time. Egyptologist Margaret Bunson notes how "the capelet, made of sheer linen, was the fashion innovation of the New Kingdom" (68). The capelet, or shawl cape, was a rectangle of linen twisted, folded, or cut, and usually attached to an ornamented collar. It was worn over a kalasiris which fell either from the waist or just below the breasts and became the most popular style of the upper classes.

Men's fashion also advanced fairly quickly in the New Kingdom. The kilts of this period drop to below the knee, are more intricately embroidered, and they are often supplemented by a sheer, loose-fitting, blouse. The pharaoh, depicted in the nemes headdress, is often seen in this kind of clothing wearing either sandals or slippers. Bunson notes how men "wore kilts and sheer blouses with elaborately pleated sleeves. Great panels of woven materials hung from the waist and intricate folds were visible under sheer overskirts" (68). This style was popular with the royalty and upper classes who could afford the material.

The lower classes continued to wear the simple kilt, for both sexes, but now more women of the working class appear with covered tops. Previously, Egyptian servants are depicted in tomb paintings and other art as naked or nearly so but, in the New Kingdom, a number of servants are shown not only fully clothed but in fairly elaborate dresses. Strudwick writes:

The clothes worn by the servants of officials and dignitaries were more refined than those of simple folk. A servant depicted in an Eighteenth Dynasty tomb wears a finely pleated linen tunic and loincloth with a wide, pleated sash. (376)

Underwear was also developed further during this period, evolving from the rough, triangular loincloth wrapped between the legs and around the waist to a finer piece of cloth either sewn to a certain waist size or tied at the hips. Upper-class men's fashion in the New Kingdom was this underwear beneath a loincloth over which was worn a long sheer shirt falling to the knees, a broad neck piece (for nobility), bracelets, and sandals. King Tutankhamun (c. 1336-c.1327 BCE) was buried with over 100 of this kind of underwear as well as shirts, jackets, kilts, and cloaks, providing some of the best examples of New Kingdom fashion yet found.

Women's fashion from the period was more elaborate than in any previous era. Men and women of Egypt often shaved their heads to prevent lice and to cut down on the time it would take to maintain a full head of hair. Wigs were used by both sexes to protect the scalp and for ceremonial purposes. The wigs of the New Kingdom are the most ornate, especially for women, and show pleated, fringed, and layered hair styles with a length to the shoulders or below. Sheer gowns of light linen were in favor among the upper-class women, often ornamented with a sash or cape, belted at the waist, and accented by a headpiece, necklace, and earrings.

Different professions also adopted fairly consistent styles of fashion. Viziers, for example, wore a long skirt (often embroidered) which fastened under the arms and fell to the ankles along with sandals or slippers. Scribes wore the simple waist-to-knee kilt and are sometimes seen in a sheer blouse. Priests wore white linen robes and, according to Herodotus, could wear no other color as white symbolized purity and the sacred. Soldiers, guards, and police forces also wore the simple kilt with sandals and sometimes wrist guards. Farmers, brewers, tavern keepers, masons, laborers, and merchants are uniformly depicted from this period in the same simple kilt, both male and female, though the merchant sometimes appears in a robe or a cloak. Coats, jackets, and cloaks were common throughout Egypt's history as the temperature at night, and especially in the rainy season, could be quite cold.

Footwear & Accessories

Perfume and jewelry were appreciated and worn by both men and women, as were cosmetics. Egyptians of both sexes used kohl under their eyes to decrease sun glare and kyphi, the most popular Egyptian perfume, was regarded so highly it was burned as incense in the temples. Images of Egyptians with cones on their heads are depicting the use of kyphi in its cone form. It was composed of frankincense, myrrh, pine resin, and other ingredients and could be burned (as with the cones), applied to the skin, or used as toothpaste and mouthwash.

Kyphi was most often used by women and applied in very much the same fashion as perfume is in the modern day. A woman, or her maidservant, would open a container of kyphi, fan the air, and walk through the scent. The same is true of cosmetics, which were kept in pots or jars and applied from these containers with a brush or reed, much like the modern eyeliner.

The most popular form of jewelry among the upper classes was gold-based. The Egyptian word for gold was nub, and once the land to the south had been conquered, it came to be called Nubia for the vast amounts of gold found there. All classes of Egyptians wore some kind of jewelry as Strudwick notes:

Virtually every form of jewelry has been recorded, including finger rings, anklets, armlets, girdles and pectorals, necklasces, torques, chokers, diadems, ear studs, earrings, and hair ornaments. Colored semi-precious stones, such as cornelian, turquoise, feldspar, green and red jasper, amethyst, quarts, agate, and lapis lazuli were the most commonly used stones. Often, however, they were imitated by coloured glass and faience. (386)

Footwear was practically non-existent among the lower classes, but in cold weather or rough terrain, they seem to have wrapped their feet in rags. Among the upper classes sandals and slippers were worn but, like the lower classes, people usually went barefoot. Sandals were made of wood, papyrus, leather, or a combination of these and were fairly expensive. Tutankhamun's tomb contained 93 pairs of sandals in different styles and one even of gold. Slippers were made of papyrus rushes woven together but could be supplemented with cloth interiors.

There is some evidence of shoes being worn by nobility in the New Kingdom and also the use of silk but this is rare. The Hittites had developed the shoe and the boot by this time, so it would not be surprising to see their appearance in Egypt. In 1258 BCE the Hittites and Egyptians signed the world's first peace treaty, and afterwards cultural diffusion was common between the two. Still, the shoe never became popular footwear in Egypt as it would probably have been considered unnecessary effort after all, even the gods went barefoot.

Manufacture & Simplicity of Form

The earliest clothing was probably papyrus reeds and animal skins, but this changed with the cultivation of flax which was processed and turned into cloth. Women were the first cultivators of flax and initiated the manufacture of clothing. Evidence for this claim is the oldest depictions of textile production showing women at work, not men, and women continuing in textile production even when the industry was run by males. This is not at all unusual as women were the first brewers in Egypt and, most likely, the first healers who predated the rise of the medical profession.

Making clothing began in the home but soon turned into an industry once linen, and later cotton, became popular. Flax fibers were spun into thread and woven on a horizontal loom to create one long piece of cloth, which then was cut. Even the most elaborate dresses and kilts were simply a bolt from this cloth which was rarely sewn into any shape. The kalasiris was little more than a sheet a woman wrapped around her body the individual turned that sheet into a dress through personal skill in manipulating the cloth.

Simplicity was the central value of Egyptian fashion even when styles became more elaborate in the New Kingdom. The basic concept of Egyptian fashion also did not change much from the time of the Old Kingdom through the Ptolemaic Dynasty (323-30 BCE) which was the last dynasty to rule Egypt before it was annexed by Rome. The kinds of fashion one sees in this later period are very close to those from the New Kingdom which follow the basic form of Old Kingdom dress. It may safely be said that more radical changes have taken place in fashion in the last 150 years than in the whole span of Egyptian history, but this is only because the ancient Egyptians understood that simplicity of style can often be the most elegant and certainly the most classic.


Scribal equipment

The scribe was generally depicted carrying the tools of his trade: a wooden palette with brushes and reed pens and a roll of papyrus.

Papyrus was the ancient world’s version of paper and in fact is the root of the word “paper”. It was made by slicing the yellowish-white pith of the papyrus reed into long strips and laying them out in horizontal and vertical layers to form a mat.

A sticky vegetable gum was poured over the sheets to fill up spaces in the mat and it was then pounded flat with a mallet and placed under a heavy weight to dry. Once the juices of the plant had evaporated the papyrus mat would be pliable and strong. It was polished with a piece of wood or ivory and was then ready to use. Papyrus was expensive and time consuming to make so students would practice by copying texts on ostraca.

The pen of a scribe was made from a thin-stemmed reed, usually around nine inches long. The end of the reed was hammered soft to cause it to fray, and then trimmed to create a brush.

Ink was carried in a flat pallet with two depressions cut into it one for red ink and the other for black ink. Black ink was made from soot mixed with gum, and red ink was created from this same mixture by adding the dust of red oxide. Scribes generally wrote in red or black ink, with red ink being employed for important or magical terms and by tutors when correcting the work of their students (a practice which exists to this day!) Red ink was also used to indicate titles, headings and to mark the beginning of a new section of text.

A beautiful example of ancient Egyptian writing equipment was recovered from the Tomb of Tutankhamun.


Contents

The Nile has been the lifeline of its region for much of human history. [8] The fertile floodplain of the Nile gave humans the opportunity to develop a settled agricultural economy and a more sophisticated, centralized society that became a cornerstone in the history of human civilization. [9] Nomadic modern human hunter-gatherers began living in the Nile valley through the end of the Middle Pleistocene some 120,000 years ago. By the late Paleolithic period, the arid climate of Northern Africa became increasingly hot and dry, forcing the populations of the area to concentrate along the river region.

Predynastic period

In Predynastic and Early Dynastic times, the Egyptian climate was much less arid than it is today. Large regions of Egypt were covered in treed savanna and traversed by herds of grazing ungulates. Foliage and fauna were far more prolific in all environs and the Nile region supported large populations of waterfowl. Hunting would have been common for Egyptians, and this is also the period when many animals were first domesticated. [10]

By about 5500 BC, small tribes living in the Nile valley had developed into a series of cultures demonstrating firm control of agriculture and animal husbandry, and identifiable by their pottery and personal items, such as combs, bracelets, and beads. The largest of these early cultures in upper (Southern) Egypt was the Badarian culture, which probably originated in the Western Desert it was known for its high-quality ceramics, stone tools, and its use of copper. [11]

The Badari was followed by the Naqada culture: the Amratian (Naqada I), the Gerzeh (Naqada II), and Semainean (Naqada III). [12] [ page needed ] These brought a number of technological improvements. As early as the Naqada I Period, predynastic Egyptians imported obsidian from Ethiopia, used to shape blades and other objects from flakes. [13] In Naqada II times, early evidence exists of contact with the Near East, particularly Canaan and the Byblos coast. [14] Over a period of about 1,000 years, the Naqada culture developed from a few small farming communities into a powerful civilization whose leaders were in complete control of the people and resources of the Nile valley. [15] Establishing a power center at Nekhen (in Greek, Hierakonpolis), and later at Abydos, Naqada III leaders expanded their control of Egypt northwards along the Nile. [16] They also traded with Nubia to the south, the oases of the western desert to the west, and the cultures of the eastern Mediterranean and Near East to the east, initiating a period of Egypt-Mesopotamia relations. [17] [ when? ]

The Naqada culture manufactured a diverse selection of material goods, reflective of the increasing power and wealth of the elite, as well as societal personal-use items, which included combs, small statuary, painted pottery, high quality decorative stone vases, cosmetic palettes, and jewelry made of gold, lapis, and ivory. They also developed a ceramic glaze known as faience, which was used well into the Roman Period to decorate cups, amulets, and figurines. [18] During the last predynastic phase, the Naqada culture began using written symbols that eventually were developed into a full system of hieroglyphs for writing the ancient Egyptian language. [19]

Early Dynastic Period (c. 3150–2686 BC)

The Early Dynastic Period was approximately contemporary to the early Sumerian-Akkadian civilisation of Mesopotamia and of ancient Elam. The third-century BC Egyptian priest Manetho grouped the long line of kings from Menes to his own time into 30 dynasties, a system still used today. He began his official history with the king named "Meni" (or Menes in Greek), who was believed to have united the two kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt. [20]

The transition to a unified state happened more gradually than ancient Egyptian writers represented, and there is no contemporary record of Menes. Some scholars now believe, however, that the mythical Menes may have been the king Narmer, who is depicted wearing royal regalia on the ceremonial Narmer Palette, in a symbolic act of unification. [22] In the Early Dynastic Period, which began about 3000 BC, the first of the Dynastic kings solidified control over lower Egypt by establishing a capital at Memphis, from which he could control the labour force and agriculture of the fertile delta region, as well as the lucrative and critical trade routes to the Levant. The increasing power and wealth of the kings during the early dynastic period was reflected in their elaborate mastaba tombs and mortuary cult structures at Abydos, which were used to celebrate the deified king after his death. [23] The strong institution of kingship developed by the kings served to legitimize state control over the land, labour, and resources that were essential to the survival and growth of ancient Egyptian civilization. [24]

Old Kingdom (2686–2181 BC)

Major advances in architecture, art, and technology were made during the Old Kingdom, fueled by the increased agricultural productivity and resulting population, made possible by a well-developed central administration. [25] Some of ancient Egypt's crowning achievements, the Giza pyramids and Great Sphinx, were constructed during the Old Kingdom. Under the direction of the vizier, state officials collected taxes, coordinated irrigation projects to improve crop yield, drafted peasants to work on construction projects, and established a justice system to maintain peace and order. [26]

With the rising importance of central administration in Egypt, a new class of educated scribes and officials arose who were granted estates by the king in payment for their services. Kings also made land grants to their mortuary cults and local temples, to ensure that these institutions had the resources to worship the king after his death. Scholars believe that five centuries of these practices slowly eroded the economic vitality of Egypt, and that the economy could no longer afford to support a large centralized administration. [27] As the power of the kings diminished, regional governors called nomarchs began to challenge the supremacy of the office of king. This, coupled with severe droughts between 2200 and 2150 BC, [28] is believed to have caused the country to enter the 140-year period of famine and strife known as the First Intermediate Period. [29]

First Intermediate Period (2181–2055 BC)

After Egypt's central government collapsed at the end of the Old Kingdom, the administration could no longer support or stabilize the country's economy. Regional governors could not rely on the king for help in times of crisis, and the ensuing food shortages and political disputes escalated into famines and small-scale civil wars. Yet despite difficult problems, local leaders, owing no tribute to the king, used their new-found independence to establish a thriving culture in the provinces. Once in control of their own resources, the provinces became economically richer—which was demonstrated by larger and better burials among all social classes. [30] In bursts of creativity, provincial artisans adopted and adapted cultural motifs formerly restricted to the royalty of the Old Kingdom, and scribes developed literary styles that expressed the optimism and originality of the period. [31]

Free from their loyalties to the king, local rulers began competing with each other for territorial control and political power. By 2160 BC, rulers in Herakleopolis controlled Lower Egypt in the north, while a rival clan based in Thebes, the Intef family, took control of Upper Egypt in the south. As the Intefs grew in power and expanded their control northward, a clash between the two rival dynasties became inevitable. Around 2055 BC the northern Theban forces under Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II finally defeated the Herakleopolitan rulers, reuniting the Two Lands. They inaugurated a period of economic and cultural renaissance known as the Middle Kingdom. [32]

Middle Kingdom (2134–1690 BC)

The kings of the Middle Kingdom restored the country's stability and prosperity, thereby stimulating a resurgence of art, literature, and monumental building projects. [33] Mentuhotep II and his Eleventh Dynasty successors ruled from Thebes, but the vizier Amenemhat I, upon assuming the kingship at the beginning of the Twelfth Dynasty around 1985 BC, shifted the kingdom's capital to the city of Itjtawy, located in Faiyum. [34] From Itjtawy, the kings of the Twelfth Dynasty undertook a far-sighted land reclamation and irrigation scheme to increase agricultural output in the region. Moreover, the military reconquered territory in Nubia that was rich in quarries and gold mines, while laborers built a defensive structure in the Eastern Delta, called the "Walls of the Ruler", to defend against foreign attack. [35]

With the kings having secured the country militarily and politically and with vast agricultural and mineral wealth at their disposal, the nation's population, arts, and religion flourished. In contrast to elitist Old Kingdom attitudes towards the gods, the Middle Kingdom displayed an increase in expressions of personal piety. [36] Middle Kingdom literature featured sophisticated themes and characters written in a confident, eloquent style. [31] The relief and portrait sculpture of the period captured subtle, individual details that reached new heights of technical sophistication. [37]

The last great ruler of the Middle Kingdom, Amenemhat III, allowed Semitic-speaking Canaanite settlers from the Near East into the Delta region to provide a sufficient labour force for his especially active mining and building campaigns. These ambitious building and mining activities, however, combined with severe Nile floods later in his reign, strained the economy and precipitated the slow decline into the Second Intermediate Period during the later Thirteenth and Fourteenth dynasties. During this decline, the Canaanite settlers began to assume greater control of the Delta region, eventually coming to power in Egypt as the Hyksos. [38]

Second Intermediate Period (1674–1549 BC) and the Hyksos

Around 1785 BC, as the power of the Middle Kingdom kings weakened, a Western Asian people called the Hyksos, who had already settled in the Delta, seized control of Egypt and established their capital at Avaris, forcing the former central government to retreat to Thebes. The king was treated as a vassal and expected to pay tribute. [39] The Hyksos ("foreign rulers") retained Egyptian models of government and identified as kings, thereby integrating Egyptian elements into their culture. They and other invaders introduced new tools of warfare into Egypt, most notably the composite bow and the horse-drawn chariot. [40]

After retreating south, the native Theban kings found themselves trapped between the Canaanite Hyksos ruling the north and the Hyksos' Nubian allies, the Kushites, to the south. After years of vassalage, Thebes gathered enough strength to challenge the Hyksos in a conflict that lasted more than 30 years, until 1555 BC. [39] The kings Seqenenre Tao II and Kamose were ultimately able to defeat the Nubians to the south of Egypt, but failed to defeat the Hyksos. That task fell to Kamose's successor, Ahmose I, who successfully waged a series of campaigns that permanently eradicated the Hyksos' presence in Egypt. He established a new dynasty and, in the New Kingdom that followed, the military became a central priority for the kings, who sought to expand Egypt's borders and attempted to gain mastery of the Near East. [41]

New Kingdom (1549–1069 BC)

The New Kingdom pharaohs established a period of unprecedented prosperity by securing their borders and strengthening diplomatic ties with their neighbours, including the Mitanni Empire, Assyria, and Canaan. Military campaigns waged under Tuthmosis I and his grandson Tuthmosis III extended the influence of the pharaohs to the largest empire Egypt had ever seen. Beginning with Merneptah the rulers of Egypt adopted the title of pharaoh.

Between their reigns, Hatshepsut, a queen who established herself as pharaoh, launched many building projects, including restoration of temples damaged by the Hyksos, and sent trading expeditions to Punt and the Sinai. [42] When Tuthmosis III died in 1425 BC, Egypt had an empire extending from Niya in north west Syria to the Fourth Cataract of the Nile in Nubia, cementing loyalties and opening access to critical imports such as bronze and wood. [43]

The New Kingdom pharaohs began a large-scale building campaign to promote the god Amun, whose growing cult was based in Karnak. They also constructed monuments to glorify their own achievements, both real and imagined. The Karnak temple is the largest Egyptian temple ever built. [44]

Around 1350 BC, the stability of the New Kingdom was threatened when Amenhotep IV ascended the throne and instituted a series of radical and chaotic reforms. Changing his name to Akhenaten, he touted the previously obscure sun deity Aten as the supreme deity, suppressed the worship of most other deities, and moved the capital to the new city of Akhetaten (modern-day Amarna). [45] He was devoted to his new religion and artistic style. After his death, the cult of the Aten was quickly abandoned and the traditional religious order restored. The subsequent pharaohs, Tutankhamun, Ay, and Horemheb, worked to erase all mention of Akhenaten's heresy, now known as the Amarna Period. [46]

Around 1279 BC, Ramesses II, also known as Ramesses the Great, ascended the throne, and went on to build more temples, erect more statues and obelisks, and sire more children than any other pharaoh in history. [a] A bold military leader, Ramesses II led his army against the Hittites in the Battle of Kadesh (in modern Syria) and, after fighting to a stalemate, finally agreed to the first recorded peace treaty, around 1258 BC. [47]

Egypt's wealth, however, made it a tempting target for invasion, particularly by the Libyan Berbers to the west, and the Sea Peoples, a conjectured confederation of seafarers from the Aegean Sea. [b] Initially, the military was able to repel these invasions, but Egypt eventually lost control of its remaining territories in southern Canaan, much of it falling to the Assyrians. The effects of external threats were exacerbated by internal problems such as corruption, tomb robbery, and civil unrest. After regaining their power, the high priests at the temple of Amun in Thebes accumulated vast tracts of land and wealth, and their expanded power splintered the country during the Third Intermediate Period. [48]

Third Intermediate Period (1069–653 BC)

Following the death of Ramesses XI in 1078 BC, Smendes assumed authority over the northern part of Egypt, ruling from the city of Tanis. The south was effectively controlled by the High Priests of Amun at Thebes, who recognized Smendes in name only. [49] During this time, Libyans had been settling in the western delta, and chieftains of these settlers began increasing their autonomy. Libyan princes took control of the delta under Shoshenq I in 945 BC, founding the so-called Libyan or Bubastite dynasty that would rule for some 200 years. Shoshenq also gained control of southern Egypt by placing his family members in important priestly positions. Libyan control began to erode as a rival dynasty in the delta arose in Leontopolis, and Kushites threatened from the south.

Around 727 BC the Kushite king Piye invaded northward, seizing control of Thebes and eventually the Delta, which established the 25th Dynasty. [51] During the 25th Dynasty, Pharaoh Taharqa created an empire nearly as large as the New Kingdom's. Twenty-fifth Dynasty pharaohs built, or restored, temples and monuments throughout the Nile valley, including at Memphis, Karnak, Kawa, and Jebel Barkal. [52] During this period, the Nile valley saw the first widespread construction of pyramids (many in modern Sudan) since the Middle Kingdom. [53] [54] [55]

Egypt's far-reaching prestige declined considerably toward the end of the Third Intermediate Period. Its foreign allies had fallen under the Assyrian sphere of influence, and by 700 BC war between the two states became inevitable. Between 671 and 667 BC the Assyrians began the Assyrian conquest of Egypt. The reigns of both Taharqa and his successor, Tanutamun, were filled with constant conflict with the Assyrians, against whom Egypt enjoyed several victories. Ultimately, the Assyrians pushed the Kushites back into Nubia, occupied Memphis, and sacked the temples of Thebes. [57]

Late Period (653–332 BC)

The Assyrians left control of Egypt to a series of vassals who became known as the Saite kings of the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty. By 653 BC, the Saite king Psamtik I was able to oust the Assyrians with the help of Greek mercenaries, who were recruited to form Egypt's first navy. Greek influence expanded greatly as the city-state of Naukratis became the home of Greeks in the Nile Delta. The Saite kings based in the new capital of Sais witnessed a brief but spirited resurgence in the economy and culture, but in 525 BC, the powerful Persians, led by Cambyses II, began their conquest of Egypt, eventually capturing the pharaoh Psamtik III at the Battle of Pelusium. Cambyses II then assumed the formal title of pharaoh, but ruled Egypt from Iran, leaving Egypt under the control of a satrapy. A few successful revolts against the Persians marked the 5th century BC, but Egypt was never able to permanently overthrow the Persians. [58]

Following its annexation by Persia, Egypt was joined with Cyprus and Phoenicia in the sixth satrapy of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. This first period of Persian rule over Egypt, also known as the Twenty-Seventh Dynasty, ended in 402 BC, when Egypt regained independence under a series of native dynasties. The last of these dynasties, the Thirtieth, proved to be the last native royal house of ancient Egypt, ending with the kingship of Nectanebo II. A brief restoration of Persian rule, sometimes known as the Thirty-First Dynasty, began in 343 BC, but shortly after, in 332 BC, the Persian ruler Mazaces handed Egypt over to Alexander the Great without a fight. [59]

Ptolemaic period (332–30 BC)

In 332 BC, Alexander the Great conquered Egypt with little resistance from the Persians and was welcomed by the Egyptians as a deliverer. The administration established by Alexander's successors, the Macedonian Ptolemaic Kingdom, was based on an Egyptian model and based in the new capital city of Alexandria. The city showcased the power and prestige of Hellenistic rule, and became a seat of learning and culture, centered at the famous Library of Alexandria. [60] The Lighthouse of Alexandria lit the way for the many ships that kept trade flowing through the city—as the Ptolemies made commerce and revenue-generating enterprises, such as papyrus manufacturing, their top priority. [61]

Hellenistic culture did not supplant native Egyptian culture, as the Ptolemies supported time-honored traditions in an effort to secure the loyalty of the populace. They built new temples in Egyptian style, supported traditional cults, and portrayed themselves as pharaohs. Some traditions merged, as Greek and Egyptian gods were syncretized into composite deities, such as Serapis, and classical Greek forms of sculpture influenced traditional Egyptian motifs. Despite their efforts to appease the Egyptians, the Ptolemies were challenged by native rebellion, bitter family rivalries, and the powerful mob of Alexandria that formed after the death of Ptolemy IV. [62] In addition, as Rome relied more heavily on imports of grain from Egypt, the Romans took great interest in the political situation in the country. Continued Egyptian revolts, ambitious politicians, and powerful opponents from the Near East made this situation unstable, leading Rome to send forces to secure the country as a province of its empire. [63]

Roman period (30 BC – AD 641)

Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire in 30 BC, following the defeat of Marc Antony and Ptolemaic Queen Cleopatra VII by Octavian (later Emperor Augustus) in the Battle of Actium. The Romans relied heavily on grain shipments from Egypt, and the Roman army, under the control of a prefect appointed by the Emperor, quelled rebellions, strictly enforced the collection of heavy taxes, and prevented attacks by bandits, which had become a notorious problem during the period. [64] Alexandria became an increasingly important center on the trade route with the orient, as exotic luxuries were in high demand in Rome. [65]

Although the Romans had a more hostile attitude than the Greeks towards the Egyptians, some traditions such as mummification and worship of the traditional gods continued. [66] The art of mummy portraiture flourished, and some Roman emperors had themselves depicted as pharaohs, though not to the extent that the Ptolemies had. The former lived outside Egypt and did not perform the ceremonial functions of Egyptian kingship. Local administration became Roman in style and closed to native Egyptians. [66]

From the mid-first century AD, Christianity took root in Egypt and it was originally seen as another cult that could be accepted. However, it was an uncompromising religion that sought to win converts from Egyptian Religion and Greco-Roman religion and threatened popular religious traditions. This led to the persecution of converts to Christianity, culminating in the great purges of Diocletian starting in 303, but eventually Christianity won out. [67] In 391 the Christian Emperor Theodosius introduced legislation that banned pagan rites and closed temples. [68] Alexandria became the scene of great anti-pagan riots with public and private religious imagery destroyed. [69] As a consequence, Egypt's native religious culture was continually in decline. While the native population continued to speak their language, the ability to read hieroglyphic writing slowly disappeared as the role of the Egyptian temple priests and priestesses diminished. The temples themselves were sometimes converted to churches or abandoned to the desert. [70]

In the fourth century, as the Roman Empire divided, Egypt found itself in the Eastern Empire with its capital at Constantinople. In the waning years of the Empire, Egypt fell to the Sasanian Persian army in the Sasanian conquest of Egypt (618–628). It was then recaptured by the Roman Emperor Heraclius (629–639), and was finally captured by Muslim Rashidun army in 639–641, ending Roman rule.

Administration and commerce

The pharaoh was the absolute monarch of the country and, at least in theory, wielded complete control of the land and its resources. The king was the supreme military commander and head of the government, who relied on a bureaucracy of officials to manage his affairs. In charge of the administration was his second in command, the vizier, who acted as the king's representative and coordinated land surveys, the treasury, building projects, the legal system, and the archives. [71] At a regional level, the country was divided into as many as 42 administrative regions called nomes each governed by a nomarch, who was accountable to the vizier for his jurisdiction. The temples formed the backbone of the economy. Not only were they places of worship, but were also responsible for collecting and storing the kingdom's wealth in a system of granaries and treasuries administered by overseers, who redistributed grain and goods. [72]

Social status

Egyptian society was highly stratified, and social status was expressly displayed. Farmers made up the bulk of the population, but agricultural produce was owned directly by the state, temple, or noble family that owned the land. [77] Farmers were also subject to a labor tax and were required to work on irrigation or construction projects in a corvée system. [78] Artists and craftsmen were of higher status than farmers, but they were also under state control, working in the shops attached to the temples and paid directly from the state treasury. Scribes and officials formed the upper class in ancient Egypt, known as the "white kilt class" in reference to the bleached linen garments that served as a mark of their rank. [79] The upper class prominently displayed their social status in art and literature. Below the nobility were the priests, physicians, and engineers with specialized training in their field. It is unclear whether slavery as understood today existed in ancient Egypt, there is difference of opinions among authors. [80]

The ancient Egyptians viewed men and women, including people from all social classes, as essentially equal under the law, and even the lowliest peasant was entitled to petition the vizier and his court for redress. [81] Although slaves were mostly used as indentured servants, they were able to buy and sell their servitude, work their way to freedom or nobility, and were usually treated by doctors in the workplace. [82] Both men and women had the right to own and sell property, make contracts, marry and divorce, receive inheritance, and pursue legal disputes in court. Married couples could own property jointly and protect themselves from divorce by agreeing to marriage contracts, which stipulated the financial obligations of the husband to his wife and children should the marriage end. Compared with their counterparts in ancient Greece, Rome, and even more modern places around the world, ancient Egyptian women had a greater range of personal choices, legal rights, and opportunities for achievement. Women such as Hatshepsut and Cleopatra VII even became pharaohs, while others wielded power as Divine Wives of Amun. Despite these freedoms, ancient Egyptian women did not often take part in official roles in the administration, aside from the royal high priestesses, apparently served only secondary roles in the temples (not much data for many dynasties), and were not so likely to be as educated as men. [81]

Legal system

The head of the legal system was officially the pharaoh, who was responsible for enacting laws, delivering justice, and maintaining law and order, a concept the ancient Egyptians referred to as Ma'at. [71] Although no legal codes from ancient Egypt survive, court documents show that Egyptian law was based on a common-sense view of right and wrong that emphasized reaching agreements and resolving conflicts rather than strictly adhering to a complicated set of statutes. [81] Local councils of elders, known as Kenbet in the New Kingdom, were responsible for ruling in court cases involving small claims and minor disputes. [71] More serious cases involving murder, major land transactions, and tomb robbery were referred to the Great Kenbet, over which the vizier or pharaoh presided. Plaintiffs and defendants were expected to represent themselves and were required to swear an oath that they had told the truth. In some cases, the state took on both the role of prosecutor and judge, and it could torture the accused with beatings to obtain a confession and the names of any co-conspirators. Whether the charges were trivial or serious, court scribes documented the complaint, testimony, and verdict of the case for future reference. [83]

Punishment for minor crimes involved either imposition of fines, beatings, facial mutilation, or exile, depending on the severity of the offense. Serious crimes such as murder and tomb robbery were punished by execution, carried out by decapitation, drowning, or impaling the criminal on a stake. Punishment could also be extended to the criminal's family. [71] Beginning in the New Kingdom, oracles played a major role in the legal system, dispensing justice in both civil and criminal cases. The procedure was to ask the god a "yes" or "no" question concerning the right or wrong of an issue. The god, carried by a number of priests, rendered judgement by choosing one or the other, moving forward or backward, or pointing to one of the answers written on a piece of papyrus or an ostracon. [84]

Agriculture

A combination of favorable geographical features contributed to the success of ancient Egyptian culture, the most important of which was the rich fertile soil resulting from annual inundations of the Nile River. The ancient Egyptians were thus able to produce an abundance of food, allowing the population to devote more time and resources to cultural, technological, and artistic pursuits. Land management was crucial in ancient Egypt because taxes were assessed based on the amount of land a person owned. [85]

Farming in Egypt was dependent on the cycle of the Nile River. The Egyptians recognized three seasons: Akhet (flooding), Peret (planting), and Shemu (harvesting). The flooding season lasted from June to September, depositing on the river's banks a layer of mineral-rich silt ideal for growing crops. After the floodwaters had receded, the growing season lasted from October to February. Farmers plowed and planted seeds in the fields, which were irrigated with ditches and canals. Egypt received little rainfall, so farmers relied on the Nile to water their crops. [86] From March to May, farmers used sickles to harvest their crops, which were then threshed with a flail to separate the straw from the grain. Winnowing removed the chaff from the grain, and the grain was then ground into flour, brewed to make beer, or stored for later use. [87]

The ancient Egyptians cultivated emmer and barley, and several other cereal grains, all of which were used to make the two main food staples of bread and beer. [88] Flax plants, uprooted before they started flowering, were grown for the fibers of their stems. These fibers were split along their length and spun into thread, which was used to weave sheets of linen and to make clothing. Papyrus growing on the banks of the Nile River was used to make paper. Vegetables and fruits were grown in garden plots, close to habitations and on higher ground, and had to be watered by hand. Vegetables included leeks, garlic, melons, squashes, pulses, lettuce, and other crops, in addition to grapes that were made into wine. [89]

Animals

The Egyptians believed that a balanced relationship between people and animals was an essential element of the cosmic order thus humans, animals and plants were believed to be members of a single whole. [90] Animals, both domesticated and wild, were therefore a critical source of spirituality, companionship, and sustenance to the ancient Egyptians. Cattle were the most important livestock the administration collected taxes on livestock in regular censuses, and the size of a herd reflected the prestige and importance of the estate or temple that owned them. In addition to cattle, the ancient Egyptians kept sheep, goats, and pigs. Poultry, such as ducks, geese, and pigeons, were captured in nets and bred on farms, where they were force-fed with dough to fatten them. [91] The Nile provided a plentiful source of fish. Bees were also domesticated from at least the Old Kingdom, and provided both honey and wax. [92]

The ancient Egyptians used donkeys and oxen as beasts of burden, and they were responsible for plowing the fields and trampling seed into the soil. The slaughter of a fattened ox was also a central part of an offering ritual. Horses were introduced by the Hyksos in the Second Intermediate Period. Camels, although known from the New Kingdom, were not used as beasts of burden until the Late Period. There is also evidence to suggest that elephants were briefly utilized in the Late Period but largely abandoned due to lack of grazing land. [91] Cats, dogs, and monkeys were common family pets, while more exotic pets imported from the heart of Africa, such as Sub-Saharan African lions, [93] were reserved for royalty. Herodotus observed that the Egyptians were the only people to keep their animals with them in their houses. [90] During the Late Period, the worship of the gods in their animal form was extremely popular, such as the cat goddess Bastet and the ibis god Thoth, and these animals were kept in large numbers for the purpose of ritual sacrifice. [94]

Natural resources

Egypt is rich in building and decorative stone, copper and lead ores, gold, and semiprecious stones. These natural resources allowed the ancient Egyptians to build monuments, sculpt statues, make tools, and fashion jewelry. [95] Embalmers used salts from the Wadi Natrun for mummification, which also provided the gypsum needed to make plaster. [96] Ore-bearing rock formations were found in distant, inhospitable wadis in the Eastern Desert and the Sinai, requiring large, state-controlled expeditions to obtain natural resources found there. There were extensive gold mines in Nubia, and one of the first maps known is of a gold mine in this region. The Wadi Hammamat was a notable source of granite, greywacke, and gold. Flint was the first mineral collected and used to make tools, and flint handaxes are the earliest pieces of evidence of habitation in the Nile valley. Nodules of the mineral were carefully flaked to make blades and arrowheads of moderate hardness and durability even after copper was adopted for this purpose. [97] Ancient Egyptians were among the first to use minerals such as sulfur as cosmetic substances. [98]

The Egyptians worked deposits of the lead ore galena at Gebel Rosas to make net sinkers, plumb bobs, and small figurines. Copper was the most important metal for toolmaking in ancient Egypt and was smelted in furnaces from malachite ore mined in the Sinai. [99] Workers collected gold by washing the nuggets out of sediment in alluvial deposits, or by the more labor-intensive process of grinding and washing gold-bearing quartzite. Iron deposits found in upper Egypt were utilized in the Late Period. [100] High-quality building stones were abundant in Egypt the ancient Egyptians quarried limestone all along the Nile valley, granite from Aswan, and basalt and sandstone from the wadis of the Eastern Desert. Deposits of decorative stones such as porphyry, greywacke, alabaster, and carnelian dotted the Eastern Desert and were collected even before the First Dynasty. In the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods, miners worked deposits of emeralds in Wadi Sikait and amethyst in Wadi el-Hudi. [101]

Trade

The ancient Egyptians engaged in trade with their foreign neighbors to obtain rare, exotic goods not found in Egypt. In the Predynastic Period, they established trade with Nubia to obtain gold and incense. They also established trade with Palestine, as evidenced by Palestinian-style oil jugs found in the burials of the First Dynasty pharaohs. [102] An Egyptian colony stationed in southern Canaan dates to slightly before the First Dynasty. [103] Narmer had Egyptian pottery produced in Canaan and exported back to Egypt. [104] [105]

By the Second Dynasty at latest, ancient Egyptian trade with Byblos yielded a critical source of quality timber not found in Egypt. By the Fifth Dynasty, trade with Punt provided gold, aromatic resins, ebony, ivory, and wild animals such as monkeys and baboons. [106] Egypt relied on trade with Anatolia for essential quantities of tin as well as supplementary supplies of copper, both metals being necessary for the manufacture of bronze. The ancient Egyptians prized the blue stone lapis lazuli, which had to be imported from far-away Afghanistan. Egypt's Mediterranean trade partners also included Greece and Crete, which provided, among other goods, supplies of olive oil. [107]

Historical development

The Egyptian language is a northern Afro-Asiatic language closely related to the Berber and Semitic languages. [108] It has the second longest known history of any language (after Sumerian), having been written from c. 3200 BC to the Middle Ages and remaining as a spoken language for longer. The phases of ancient Egyptian are Old Egyptian, Middle Egyptian (Classical Egyptian), Late Egyptian, Demotic and Coptic. [109] Egyptian writings do not show dialect differences before Coptic, but it was probably spoken in regional dialects around Memphis and later Thebes. [110]

Ancient Egyptian was a synthetic language, but it became more analytic later on. Late Egyptian developed prefixal definite and indefinite articles, which replaced the older inflectional suffixes. There was a change from the older verb–subject–object word order to subject–verb–object. [111] The Egyptian hieroglyphic, hieratic, and demotic scripts were eventually replaced by the more phonetic Coptic alphabet. Coptic is still used in the liturgy of the Egyptian Orthodox Church, and traces of it are found in modern Egyptian Arabic. [112]

Sounds and grammar

Ancient Egyptian has 25 consonants similar to those of other Afro-Asiatic languages. These include pharyngeal and emphatic consonants, voiced and voiceless stops, voiceless fricatives and voiced and voiceless affricates. It has three long and three short vowels, which expanded in Late Egyptian to about nine. [113] The basic word in Egyptian, similar to Semitic and Berber, is a triliteral or biliteral root of consonants and semiconsonants. Suffixes are added to form words. The verb conjugation corresponds to the person. For example, the triconsonantal skeleton S-Ḏ-M is the semantic core of the word 'hear' its basic conjugation is sḏm, 'he hears'. If the subject is a noun, suffixes are not added to the verb: [114] sḏm ḥmt, 'the woman hears'.

Writing

Hieroglyphic writing dates from c. 3000 BC, and is composed of hundreds of symbols. A hieroglyph can represent a word, a sound, or a silent determinative and the same symbol can serve different purposes in different contexts. Hieroglyphs were a formal script, used on stone monuments and in tombs, that could be as detailed as individual works of art. In day-to-day writing, scribes used a cursive form of writing, called hieratic, which was quicker and easier. While formal hieroglyphs may be read in rows or columns in either direction (though typically written from right to left), hieratic was always written from right to left, usually in horizontal rows. A new form of writing, Demotic, became the prevalent writing style, and it is this form of writing—along with formal hieroglyphs—that accompany the Greek text on the Rosetta Stone. [120]

Around the first century AD, the Coptic alphabet started to be used alongside the Demotic script. Coptic is a modified Greek alphabet with the addition of some Demotic signs. [121] Although formal hieroglyphs were used in a ceremonial role until the fourth century, towards the end only a small handful of priests could still read them. As the traditional religious establishments were disbanded, knowledge of hieroglyphic writing was mostly lost. Attempts to decipher them date to the Byzantine [122] and Islamic periods in Egypt, [123] but only in the 1820s, after the discovery of the Rosetta Stone and years of research by Thomas Young and Jean-François Champollion, were hieroglyphs substantially deciphered. [124]

Literature

Writing first appeared in association with kingship on labels and tags for items found in royal tombs. It was primarily an occupation of the scribes, who worked out of the Per Ankh institution or the House of Life. The latter comprised offices, libraries (called House of Books), laboratories and observatories. [125] Some of the best-known pieces of ancient Egyptian literature, such as the Pyramid and Coffin Texts, were written in Classical Egyptian, which continued to be the language of writing until about 1300 BC. Late Egyptian was spoken from the New Kingdom onward and is represented in Ramesside administrative documents, love poetry and tales, as well as in Demotic and Coptic texts. During this period, the tradition of writing had evolved into the tomb autobiography, such as those of Harkhuf and Weni. The genre known as Sebayt ("instructions") was developed to communicate teachings and guidance from famous nobles the Ipuwer papyrus, a poem of lamentations describing natural disasters and social upheaval, is a famous example.

The Story of Sinuhe, written in Middle Egyptian, might be the classic of Egyptian literature. [126] Also written at this time was the Westcar Papyrus, a set of stories told to Khufu by his sons relating the marvels performed by priests. [127] The Instruction of Amenemope is considered a masterpiece of Near Eastern literature. [128] Towards the end of the New Kingdom, the vernacular language was more often employed to write popular pieces like the Story of Wenamun and the Instruction of Any. The former tells the story of a noble who is robbed on his way to buy cedar from Lebanon and of his struggle to return to Egypt. From about 700 BC, narrative stories and instructions, such as the popular Instructions of Onchsheshonqy, as well as personal and business documents were written in the demotic script and phase of Egyptian. Many stories written in demotic during the Greco-Roman period were set in previous historical eras, when Egypt was an independent nation ruled by great pharaohs such as Ramesses II. [129]

Daily life

Most ancient Egyptians were farmers tied to the land. Their dwellings were restricted to immediate family members, and were constructed of mudbrick designed to remain cool in the heat of the day. Each home had a kitchen with an open roof, which contained a grindstone for milling grain and a small oven for baking the bread. [130] Ceramics served as household wares for the storage, preparation, transport, and consumption of food, drink, and raw materials. Walls were painted white and could be covered with dyed linen wall hangings. Floors were covered with reed mats, while wooden stools, beds raised from the floor and individual tables comprised the furniture. [131]

The ancient Egyptians placed a great value on hygiene and appearance. Most bathed in the Nile and used a pasty soap made from animal fat and chalk. Men shaved their entire bodies for cleanliness perfumes and aromatic ointments covered bad odors and soothed skin. [132] Clothing was made from simple linen sheets that were bleached white, and both men and women of the upper classes wore wigs, jewelry, and cosmetics. Children went without clothing until maturity, at about age 12, and at this age males were circumcised and had their heads shaved. Mothers were responsible for taking care of the children, while the father provided the family's income. [133]

Music and dance were popular entertainments for those who could afford them. Early instruments included flutes and harps, while instruments similar to trumpets, oboes, and pipes developed later and became popular. In the New Kingdom, the Egyptians played on bells, cymbals, tambourines, drums, and imported lutes and lyres from Asia. [134] The sistrum was a rattle-like musical instrument that was especially important in religious ceremonies.

The ancient Egyptians enjoyed a variety of leisure activities, including games and music. Senet, a board game where pieces moved according to random chance, was particularly popular from the earliest times another similar game was mehen, which had a circular gaming board. “Hounds and Jackals” also known as 58 holes is another example of board games played in ancient Egypt. The first complete set of this game was discovered from a Theban tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Amenemhat IV that dates to the 13th Dynasty. [136] Juggling and ball games were popular with children, and wrestling is also documented in a tomb at Beni Hasan. [137] The wealthy members of ancient Egyptian society enjoyed hunting, fishing, and boating as well.

The excavation of the workers' village of Deir el-Medina has resulted in one of the most thoroughly documented accounts of community life in the ancient world, which spans almost four hundred years. There is no comparable site in which the organization, social interactions, and working and living conditions of a community have been studied in such detail. [138]

Cuisine

Egyptian cuisine remained remarkably stable over time indeed, the cuisine of modern Egypt retains some striking similarities to the cuisine of the ancients. The staple diet consisted of bread and beer, supplemented with vegetables such as onions and garlic, and fruit such as dates and figs. Wine and meat were enjoyed by all on feast days while the upper classes indulged on a more regular basis. Fish, meat, and fowl could be salted or dried, and could be cooked in stews or roasted on a grill. [139]

Architecture

The architecture of ancient Egypt includes some of the most famous structures in the world: the Great Pyramids of Giza and the temples at Thebes. Building projects were organized and funded by the state for religious and commemorative purposes, but also to reinforce the wide-ranging power of the pharaoh. The ancient Egyptians were skilled builders using only simple but effective tools and sighting instruments, architects could build large stone structures with great accuracy and precision that is still envied today. [140]

The domestic dwellings of elite and ordinary Egyptians alike were constructed from perishable materials such as mudbricks and wood, and have not survived. Peasants lived in simple homes, while the palaces of the elite and the pharaoh were more elaborate structures. A few surviving New Kingdom palaces, such as those in Malkata and Amarna, show richly decorated walls and floors with scenes of people, birds, water pools, deities and geometric designs. [141] Important structures such as temples and tombs that were intended to last forever were constructed of stone instead of mudbricks. The architectural elements used in the world's first large-scale stone building, Djoser's mortuary complex, include post and lintel supports in the papyrus and lotus motif.

The earliest preserved ancient Egyptian temples, such as those at Giza, consist of single, enclosed halls with roof slabs supported by columns. In the New Kingdom, architects added the pylon, the open courtyard, and the enclosed hypostyle hall to the front of the temple's sanctuary, a style that was standard until the Greco-Roman period. [142] The earliest and most popular tomb architecture in the Old Kingdom was the mastaba, a flat-roofed rectangular structure of mudbrick or stone built over an underground burial chamber. The step pyramid of Djoser is a series of stone mastabas stacked on top of each other. Pyramids were built during the Old and Middle Kingdoms, but most later rulers abandoned them in favor of less conspicuous rock-cut tombs. [143] The use of the pyramid form continued in private tomb chapels of the New Kingdom and in the royal pyramids of Nubia. [144]

Model of a household porch and garden, c. 1981–1975 BC

The Temple of Dendur, completed by 10 BC, made of aeolian sandstone, temple proper: height: 6.4 m, width: 6.4 m length: 12.5 m, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City)

The well preserved Temple of Isis from Philae is an example of Egyptian architecture and architectural sculpture

Illustration of various types of capitals, drawn by the Egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius

The ancient Egyptians produced art to serve functional purposes. For over 3500 years, artists adhered to artistic forms and iconography that were developed during the Old Kingdom, following a strict set of principles that resisted foreign influence and internal change. [145] These artistic standards—simple lines, shapes, and flat areas of color combined with the characteristic flat projection of figures with no indication of spatial depth—created a sense of order and balance within a composition. Images and text were intimately interwoven on tomb and temple walls, coffins, stelae, and even statues. The Narmer Palette, for example, displays figures that can also be read as hieroglyphs. [146] Because of the rigid rules that governed its highly stylized and symbolic appearance, ancient Egyptian art served its political and religious purposes with precision and clarity. [147]

Ancient Egyptian artisans used stone as a medium for carving statues and fine reliefs, but used wood as a cheap and easily carved substitute. Paints were obtained from minerals such as iron ores (red and yellow ochres), copper ores (blue and green), soot or charcoal (black), and limestone (white). Paints could be mixed with gum arabic as a binder and pressed into cakes, which could be moistened with water when needed. [148]

Pharaohs used reliefs to record victories in battle, royal decrees, and religious scenes. Common citizens had access to pieces of funerary art, such as shabti statues and books of the dead, which they believed would protect them in the afterlife. [149] During the Middle Kingdom, wooden or clay models depicting scenes from everyday life became popular additions to the tomb. In an attempt to duplicate the activities of the living in the afterlife, these models show laborers, houses, boats, and even military formations that are scale representations of the ideal ancient Egyptian afterlife. [150]

Despite the homogeneity of ancient Egyptian art, the styles of particular times and places sometimes reflected changing cultural or political attitudes. After the invasion of the Hyksos in the Second Intermediate Period, Minoan-style frescoes were found in Avaris. [151] The most striking example of a politically driven change in artistic forms comes from the Amarna Period, where figures were radically altered to conform to Akhenaten's revolutionary religious ideas. [152] This style, known as Amarna art, was quickly abandoned after Akhenaten's death and replaced by the traditional forms. [153]

Egyptian tomb models as funerary goods. Egyptian Museum in Cairo

Kneeling portrait statue of Amenemhat holding a stele with an inscription c. 1500 BC limestone Egyptian Museum of Berlin (Germany)

Fresco which depicts Nebamun hunting birds 1350 BC paint on plaster 98 × 83 cm British Museum (London)

Portrait head of pharaoh Hatshepsut or Thutmose III 1480–1425 BC most probably granite height: 16.5 cm Egyptian Museum of Berlin

Falcon box with wrapped contents 332–30 BC painted and gilded wood, linen, resin and feathers 58.5 × 24.9 cm Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City)

Religious beliefs

Beliefs in the divine and in the afterlife were ingrained in ancient Egyptian civilization from its inception pharaonic rule was based on the divine right of kings. The Egyptian pantheon was populated by gods who had supernatural powers and were called on for help or protection. However, the gods were not always viewed as benevolent, and Egyptians believed they had to be appeased with offerings and prayers. The structure of this pantheon changed continually as new deities were promoted in the hierarchy, but priests made no effort to organize the diverse and sometimes conflicting myths and stories into a coherent system. [154] These various conceptions of divinity were not considered contradictory but rather layers in the multiple facets of reality. [155]

Gods were worshiped in cult temples administered by priests acting on the king's behalf. At the center of the temple was the cult statue in a shrine. Temples were not places of public worship or congregation, and only on select feast days and celebrations was a shrine carrying the statue of the god brought out for public worship. Normally, the god's domain was sealed off from the outside world and was only accessible to temple officials. Common citizens could worship private statues in their homes, and amulets offered protection against the forces of chaos. [156] After the New Kingdom, the pharaoh's role as a spiritual intermediary was de-emphasized as religious customs shifted to direct worship of the gods. As a result, priests developed a system of oracles to communicate the will of the gods directly to the people. [157]

The Egyptians believed that every human being was composed of physical and spiritual parts or aspects. In addition to the body, each person had a šwt (shadow), a ba (personality or soul), a ka (life-force), and a name. [158] The heart, rather than the brain, was considered the seat of thoughts and emotions. After death, the spiritual aspects were released from the body and could move at will, but they required the physical remains (or a substitute, such as a statue) as a permanent home. The ultimate goal of the deceased was to rejoin his ka and ba and become one of the "blessed dead", living on as an akh, or "effective one". For this to happen, the deceased had to be judged worthy in a trial, in which the heart was weighed against a "feather of truth." If deemed worthy, the deceased could continue their existence on earth in spiritual form. [159] If they were not deemed worthy, their heart was eaten by Ammit the Devourer and they were erased from the Universe.

Burial customs

The ancient Egyptians maintained an elaborate set of burial customs that they believed were necessary to ensure immortality after death. These customs involved preserving the body by mummification, performing burial ceremonies, and interring with the body goods the deceased would use in the afterlife. [149] Before the Old Kingdom, bodies buried in desert pits were naturally preserved by desiccation. The arid, desert conditions were a boon throughout the history of ancient Egypt for burials of the poor, who could not afford the elaborate burial preparations available to the elite. Wealthier Egyptians began to bury their dead in stone tombs and use artificial mummification, which involved removing the internal organs, wrapping the body in linen, and burying it in a rectangular stone sarcophagus or wooden coffin. Beginning in the Fourth Dynasty, some parts were preserved separately in canopic jars. [160]

By the New Kingdom, the ancient Egyptians had perfected the art of mummification the best technique took 70 days and involved removing the internal organs, removing the brain through the nose, and desiccating the body in a mixture of salts called natron. The body was then wrapped in linen with protective amulets inserted between layers and placed in a decorated anthropoid coffin. Mummies of the Late Period were also placed in painted cartonnage mummy cases. Actual preservation practices declined during the Ptolemaic and Roman eras, while greater emphasis was placed on the outer appearance of the mummy, which was decorated. [161]

Wealthy Egyptians were buried with larger quantities of luxury items, but all burials, regardless of social status, included goods for the deceased. Funerary texts were often included in the grave, and, beginning in the New Kingdom, so were shabti statues that were believed to perform manual labor for them in the afterlife. [162] Rituals in which the deceased was magically re-animated accompanied burials. After burial, living relatives were expected to occasionally bring food to the tomb and recite prayers on behalf of the deceased. [163]

The ancient Egyptian military was responsible for defending Egypt against foreign invasion, and for maintaining Egypt's domination in the ancient Near East. The military protected mining expeditions to the Sinai during the Old Kingdom and fought civil wars during the First and Second Intermediate Periods. The military was responsible for maintaining fortifications along important trade routes, such as those found at the city of Buhen on the way to Nubia. Forts also were constructed to serve as military bases, such as the fortress at Sile, which was a base of operations for expeditions to the Levant. In the New Kingdom, a series of pharaohs used the standing Egyptian army to attack and conquer Kush and parts of the Levant. [164]

Typical military equipment included bows and arrows, spears, and round-topped shields made by stretching animal skin over a wooden frame. In the New Kingdom, the military began using chariots that had earlier been introduced by the Hyksos invaders. Weapons and armor continued to improve after the adoption of bronze: shields were now made from solid wood with a bronze buckle, spears were tipped with a bronze point, and the khopesh was adopted from Asiatic soldiers. [165] The pharaoh was usually depicted in art and literature riding at the head of the army it has been suggested that at least a few pharaohs, such as Seqenenre Tao II and his sons, did do so. [166] However, it has also been argued that "kings of this period did not personally act as frontline war leaders, fighting alongside their troops." [167] Soldiers were recruited from the general population, but during, and especially after, the New Kingdom, mercenaries from Nubia, Kush, and Libya were hired to fight for Egypt. [168]

Technology

In technology, medicine, and mathematics, ancient Egypt achieved a relatively high standard of productivity and sophistication. Traditional empiricism, as evidenced by the Edwin Smith and Ebers papyri (c. 1600 BC), is first credited to Egypt. The Egyptians created their own alphabet and decimal system.

Faience and glass

Even before the Old Kingdom, the ancient Egyptians had developed a glassy material known as faience, which they treated as a type of artificial semi-precious stone. Faience is a non-clay ceramic made of silica, small amounts of lime and soda, and a colorant, typically copper. [169] The material was used to make beads, tiles, figurines, and small wares. Several methods can be used to create faience, but typically production involved application of the powdered materials in the form of a paste over a clay core, which was then fired. By a related technique, the ancient Egyptians produced a pigment known as Egyptian blue, also called blue frit, which is produced by fusing (or sintering) silica, copper, lime, and an alkali such as natron. The product can be ground up and used as a pigment. [170]

The ancient Egyptians could fabricate a wide variety of objects from glass with great skill, but it is not clear whether they developed the process independently. [171] It is also unclear whether they made their own raw glass or merely imported pre-made ingots, which they melted and finished. However, they did have technical expertise in making objects, as well as adding trace elements to control the color of the finished glass. A range of colors could be produced, including yellow, red, green, blue, purple, and white, and the glass could be made either transparent or opaque. [172]

Medicine

The medical problems of the ancient Egyptians stemmed directly from their environment. Living and working close to the Nile brought hazards from malaria and debilitating schistosomiasis parasites, which caused liver and intestinal damage. Dangerous wildlife such as crocodiles and hippos were also a common threat. The lifelong labors of farming and building put stress on the spine and joints, and traumatic injuries from construction and warfare all took a significant toll on the body. The grit and sand from stone-ground flour abraded teeth, leaving them susceptible to abscesses (though caries were rare). [173]

The diets of the wealthy were rich in sugars, which promoted periodontal disease. [174] Despite the flattering physiques portrayed on tomb walls, the overweight mummies of many of the upper class show the effects of a life of overindulgence. [175] Adult life expectancy was about 35 for men and 30 for women, but reaching adulthood was difficult as about one-third of the population died in infancy. [c]

Ancient Egyptian physicians were renowned in the ancient Near East for their healing skills, and some, such as Imhotep, remained famous long after their deaths. [176] Herodotus remarked that there was a high degree of specialization among Egyptian physicians, with some treating only the head or the stomach, while others were eye-doctors and dentists. [177] Training of physicians took place at the Per Ankh or "House of Life" institution, most notably those headquartered in Per-Bastet during the New Kingdom and at Abydos and Saïs in the Late period. Medical papyri show empirical knowledge of anatomy, injuries, and practical treatments. [178]

Wounds were treated by bandaging with raw meat, white linen, sutures, nets, pads, and swabs soaked with honey to prevent infection, [179] while opium, thyme, and belladona were used to relieve pain. The earliest records of burn treatment describe burn dressings that use the milk from mothers of male babies. Prayers were made to the goddess Isis. Moldy bread, honey, and copper salts were also used to prevent infection from dirt in burns. [180] Garlic and onions were used regularly to promote good health and were thought to relieve asthma symptoms. Ancient Egyptian surgeons stitched wounds, set broken bones, and amputated diseased limbs, but they recognized that some injuries were so serious that they could only make the patient comfortable until death occurred. [181]

Maritime technology

Early Egyptians knew how to assemble planks of wood into a ship hull and had mastered advanced forms of shipbuilding as early as 3000 BC. The Archaeological Institute of America reports that the oldest planked ships known are the Abydos boats. [5] A group of 14 discovered ships in Abydos were constructed of wooden planks "sewn" together. Discovered by Egyptologist David O'Connor of New York University, [182] woven straps were found to have been used to lash the planks together, [5] and reeds or grass stuffed between the planks helped to seal the seams. [5] Because the ships are all buried together and near a mortuary belonging to Pharaoh Khasekhemwy, originally they were all thought to have belonged to him, but one of the 14 ships dates to 3000 BC, and the associated pottery jars buried with the vessels also suggest earlier dating. The ship dating to 3000 BC was 75 feet (23 m) long and is now thought to perhaps have belonged to an earlier pharaoh, perhaps one as early as Hor-Aha. [182]

Early Egyptians also knew how to assemble planks of wood with treenails to fasten them together, using pitch for caulking the seams. The "Khufu ship", a 43.6-metre (143 ft) vessel sealed into a pit in the Giza pyramid complex at the foot of the Great Pyramid of Giza in the Fourth Dynasty around 2500 BC, is a full-size surviving example that may have filled the symbolic function of a solar barque. Early Egyptians also knew how to fasten the planks of this ship together with mortise and tenon joints. [5]

Large seagoing ships are known to have been heavily used by the Egyptians in their trade with the city states of the eastern Mediterranean, especially Byblos (on the coast of modern-day Lebanon), and in several expeditions down the Red Sea to the Land of Punt. In fact one of the earliest Egyptian words for a seagoing ship is a "Byblos Ship", which originally defined a class of Egyptian seagoing ships used on the Byblos run however, by the end of the Old Kingdom, the term had come to include large seagoing ships, whatever their destination. [183]

In 2011, archaeologists from Italy, the United States, and Egypt excavating a dried-up lagoon known as Mersa Gawasis have unearthed traces of an ancient harbor that once launched early voyages like Hatshepsut's Punt expedition onto the open ocean. Some of the site's most evocative evidence for the ancient Egyptians' seafaring prowess include large ship timbers and hundreds of feet of ropes, made from papyrus, coiled in huge bundles. [184] In 2013 a team of Franco-Egyptian archaeologists discovered what is believed to be the world's oldest port, dating back about 4500 years, from the time of King Cheops on the Red Sea coast near Wadi el-Jarf (about 110 miles south of Suez). [185]

In 1977, an ancient north–south canal dating to the Middle Kingdom of Egypt was discovered extending from Lake Timsah to the Ballah Lakes. [186] It was dated to the Middle Kingdom of Egypt by extrapolating dates of ancient sites constructed along its course. [186] [d]

Mathematics

The earliest attested examples of mathematical calculations date to the predynastic Naqada period, and show a fully developed numeral system. [e] The importance of mathematics to an educated Egyptian is suggested by a New Kingdom fictional letter in which the writer proposes a scholarly competition between himself and another scribe regarding everyday calculation tasks such as accounting of land, labor, and grain. [188] Texts such as the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus and the Moscow Mathematical Papyrus show that the ancient Egyptians could perform the four basic mathematical operations—addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division—use fractions, calculate the areas of rectangles, triangles, and circles and compute the volumes of boxes, columns and pyramids. They understood basic concepts of algebra and geometry, and could solve simple sets of simultaneous equations. [189]

Mathematical notation was decimal, and based on hieroglyphic signs for each power of ten up to one million. Each of these could be written as many times as necessary to add up to the desired number so to write the number eighty or eight hundred, the symbol for ten or one hundred was written eight times respectively. [190] Because their methods of calculation could not handle most fractions with a numerator greater than one, they had to write fractions as the sum of several fractions. For example, they resolved the fraction two-fifths into the sum of one-third + one-fifteenth. Standard tables of values facilitated this. [191] Some common fractions, however, were written with a special glyph—the equivalent of the modern two-thirds is shown on the right. [192]

Ancient Egyptian mathematicians knew the Pythagorean theorem as an empirical formula. They were aware, for example, that a triangle had a right angle opposite the hypotenuse when its sides were in a 3–4–5 ratio. [193] They were able to estimate the area of a circle by subtracting one-ninth from its diameter and squaring the result:

a reasonable approximation of the formula πr 2 . [194]

The golden ratio seems to be reflected in many Egyptian constructions, including the pyramids, but its use may have been an unintended consequence of the ancient Egyptian practice of combining the use of knotted ropes with an intuitive sense of proportion and harmony. [195]

Estimates of the size of the population range from 1-1.5 million in the 3rd millennium BCE to possibly 2-3 million by the 1st millennium BCE, before growing significantly towards the end of that millennium. [196]

A team led by Johannes Krause managed the first reliable sequencing of the genomes of 90 mummified individuals in 2017 from northern Egypt (buried near modern-day Cairo), which constituted "the first reliable data set obtained from ancient Egyptians using high-throughput DNA sequencing methods." Whilst not conclusive, because of the non-exhaustive time frame (New Kingdom to Roman period) and restricted location that the mummies represent, their study nevertheless showed that these ancient Egyptians "closely resembled ancient and modern Near Eastern populations, especially those in the Levant, and had almost no DNA from sub-Saharan Africa. What's more, the genetics of the mummies remained remarkably consistent even as different powers—including Nubians, Greeks, and Romans—conquered the empire." Later, however, something did alter the genomes of Egyptians. Some 15% to 20% of modern Egyptians' DNA reflects sub-Saharan ancestry, but the ancient mummies had only 6–15% sub-Saharan DNA. [197] They called for additional research to be undertaken. Other genetic studies show much greater levels of sub-Saharan African ancestry in the current-day populations of southern as opposed to northern Egypt, [198] and anticipate that mummies from southern Egypt would contain greater levels of sub-Saharan African ancestry than Lower Egyptian mummies.

The culture and monuments of ancient Egypt have left a lasting legacy on the world. Egyptian civilization significantly influenced the Kingdom of Kush and Meroë with both adopting Egyptian religious and architectural norms (hundreds of pyramids (6–30 meters high) were built in Egypt/Sudan), as well as using Egyptian writing as the basis of the Meroitic script. [199] Meroitic is the oldest written language in Africa, other than Egyptian, and was used from the 2nd century BC until the early 5th century AD. [199] : 62–65 The cult of the goddess Isis, for example, became popular in the Roman Empire, as obelisks and other relics were transported back to Rome. [200] The Romans also imported building materials from Egypt to erect Egyptian-style structures. Early historians such as Herodotus, Strabo, and Diodorus Siculus studied and wrote about the land, which Romans came to view as a place of mystery. [201]

During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Egyptian pagan culture was in decline after the rise of Christianity and later Islam, but interest in Egyptian antiquity continued in the writings of medieval scholars such as Dhul-Nun al-Misri and al-Maqrizi. [202] In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, European travelers and tourists brought back antiquities and wrote stories of their journeys, leading to a wave of Egyptomania across Europe. This renewed interest sent collectors to Egypt, who took, purchased, or were given many important antiquities. [203] Napoleon arranged the first studies in Egyptology when he brought some 150 scientists and artists to study and document Egypt's natural history, which was published in the Description de l'Égypte. [204]

In the 20th century, the Egyptian Government and archaeologists alike recognized the importance of cultural respect and integrity in excavations. The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (formerly Supreme Council of Antiquities) now approves and oversees all excavations, which are aimed at finding information rather than treasure. The council also supervises museums and monument reconstruction programs designed to preserve the historical legacy of Egypt.

Frontispiece of Description de l'Égypte, published in 38 volumes between 1809 and 1829.


Facts About Daily Life in Ancient Egypt

  • Ancient Egyptian society was very conservative and highly stratified from the Predynastic Period (c. 6000-3150 BCE) onwards
  • Most ancient Egyptians believed life was so divinely perfect, that their vision of the afterlife was an eternal continuation of their earthly existence
  • The ancient Egyptians believed in an afterlife where death was merely a transition
  • Up until the Persian invasion of c. 525 BCE, the Egyptian economy used a barter system right and was based on agriculture and herding
  • Daily life in Egypt focused on enjoying their time on earth as much as possible
  • Ancient Egyptians spent time with family and friends, played games and sports and attended festivals
  • Homes were built from sun-dried mud bricks and had flat roofs, making them cooler inside and allowing people to sleep on the roof in summer
  • Houses featured central courtyards where the cooking was done
  • Children in ancient Egypt rarely wore clothes, but often wore protective amulets around their necks as child mortality rates were high

Role Of Their Belief In The Afterlife

Egyptian state monuments and even their modest personal tombs were built to honour their life. This was in recognition that a person’s life mattered sufficiently to be remembered across all eternity, be they the pharaoh or a humble farmer.

The fervent Egyptian belief in the afterlife where death was merely a transition, motivated the people to make their lives worth living eternally. Hence, daily life in Egypt focused on enjoying their time on earth as much as possible.

Magic, Ma’at And The Rhythm Of Life

Life in ancient Egypt would be recognizable to a contemporary audience. Time with family and friends was rounded out with games, sports, festivals and reading. However, magic permeated the ancient Egypt world. Magic or heka was older than their gods and was the elemental force, which enabled the gods to carry out their roles. The Egyptian god Heka who did double duty as the god of medicine epitomized magic.

Another concept at the heart of daily Egyptian life was ma’at or harmony and balance. The quest for harmony and balance was fundamental to the Egyptian’s understanding of how their universe worked. Ma’at was the guiding philosophy that directed life. Heka enabled ma’at. By maintaining balance and harmony in their lives, people could peacefully coexist and collaborate communally.

Ancient Egyptians believed that being happy or allowing one’s face “shine” meant, would make one’s own heart light at the time of judgment and lighten those around them.

Ancient Egyptian Social Structure

Ancient Egyptian society was very conservative and highly stratified from as early as Egypt’s Predynastic Period (c. 6000-3150 BCE). At the top was the king, then came his vizier, members of his court, the “nomarchs” or regional governors, military generals after the New Kingdom, overseers of government worksites and the peasantry.

Social conservatism resulted in minimal social mobility for the majority of Egypt’s history. Most Egyptians believed the gods had ordained a perfect social order, which mirrored the gods own. The gods had gifted Egyptians with everything they needed and the king as their intermediary was the best equipped to interpret and enact their will.

From the Predynastic Period through to the Old Kingdom (c. 2613-2181 BCE) it was the king who acted as the mediator between the gods and the people. Even during the late New Kingdom (1570-1069 BCE) when the Thebian priests of Amun had eclipsed the king in power and influence, the king remained respected as being divinely invested. It was the king’s responsibility to rule in keeping with the preservation of ma’at.

Ancient Egypt’s Upper Class

Members of the king’s royal court enjoyed similar comforts to the king, although with little former responsibilities. Egypt’s nomarchs lived comfortably but their wealth depended on the wealth and importance of their district. Whether a nomarch lived in a modest home or a small palace hinged on the wealth of a region and the personal success of that nomarch.

Physicians And Scribes In Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egyptian doctors needed to be highly literate to read their elaborate medical texts. Hence, they started their training as scribes. Most diseases were believed to emanate from the gods or to teach a lesson or as punishment. Doctors thus needed to be aware of which evil spirit ghost or god could be responsible for the illness.

The religious literature of the time included treatises surgery, setting broken bones, dentistry and treating illnesses. Given religious and secular life was not separated, doctors were typically priests until later when the profession became secularized. Women could practice medicine and female doctors were common.

Ancient Egyptian believed Thoth the god of knowledge selected their scribes and thus scribes were highly valued. Scribes were responsible for recording events ensuring they would become eternal Thoth and his consort Seshat were believed to keep the scribes’ words in the gods’ infinite libraries.

A scribe’s writing drew the attention of the gods themselves and thus made them immortal. Seshat, the Egyptian goddess of libraries and librarians, was thought to personally set each scribe’s work on her shelves. Most scribes were male, but there were female scribes.

While all priests qualified as scribes, not all scribes became priests. Priests needed to be able to read and write to perform their sacred duties, particularly mortuary rites.

The Ancient Egyptian Military

Until the beginning of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom’s 12th Dynasty, Egypt had no standing professional army. Prior to this development, the military comprised conscripted regional militias commanded by the nomarch usually for defensive purposes. These militias could be assigned to the king in times of need.

Amenemhat I (c. 1991-c.1962 BCE) a 12th Dynasty king reformed the military and created Egypt’s first standing army and placed it under his direct command. This act significantly undermined the prestige and power of the nomarchs.

From this point onwards, the military consisted of upper-class officers and lower class other ranks. The military offered an opportunity for social advancement, which was not available in other professions. Pharaohs such as Tuthmose III (1458-1425 BCE) and Ramesses II (1279-1213 BCE) conducted campaigns far outside Egypt’s borders so expanding the Egyptian empire.

As a rule, Egyptians avoided travelling to foreign states as they feared they would not be able to journey to the afterlife if they died there. This belief filtered through to Egypt’s soldiers on campaign and arrangements were made to repatriate the bodies of Egyptian dead to Egypt for burial. No evidence survives of women serving in the military.

Ancient Egyptian Brewers

In ancient Egyptian society, brewers enjoyed high social status. The brewer’s craft was open to women and women owned and managed breweries. Judging by early Egyptian records, breweries seem to have been also entirely managed by women.

Beer was by far the most popular beverage in ancient Egypt. In a barter economy, it was regularly used as payment for services rendered. Workers on the Great Pyramids and mortuary complex on the Giza Plateau were provided with a beer ration three times each day. Beer was widely believed to have been a gift of the god Osiris to the people of Egypt. Tenenet, the Egyptian goddess of beer and childbirth, oversaw the actual breweries themselves.

So seriously did the Egyptian population view beer, that when the Greek pharaoh Cleopatra VII (69-30 BCE) levied a beer tax, her popularity dropped more precipitously for this sole tax than it did during all her wars with Rome.

Ancient Egyptian Labourers And Farmers

Traditionally, the Egyptian economy was based on a barter system right up until the Persian invasion of 525 BCE. Based predominantly on agriculture and herding, the ancient Egyptians employed a monetary unit known as a deben. A deben was the ancient Egyptian equivalent of the dollar.

Buyers and sellers based their negotiations on the deben although there was no actual deben coin minted. A deben was equivalent to roughly 90 grams of copper. Luxury goods were priced in silver or gold debens.

Hence Egypt’s lower social class was the powerhouse producing goods used in trade. Their sweat provided the momentum under which Egypt’s entire culture flourished. These peasants also comprised the annual labour force, which built Egypt’s temple complexes, monuments and the Great Pyramids at Giza.

Each year the Nile River flooded its banks making farming impossible. This freed up the field labourers to go to work on the king’s construction projects. They were paid for their labour

Consistent employment on constructing the pyramids, their mortuary complexes, great temples, and monumental obelisks provided perhaps the sole opportunity for upward mobility available to Egypt’s peasant class. Skilled stonemasons, engravers and artists were in high demand throughout Egypt. Their skills were better paid than their unskilled contemporaries who provided the muscle to move the massive stones for the buildings from their quarry to the construction site.

It was also possible for peasant farmers to enhance their status by mastering a craft to create the ceramics, the bowls, plates, vases, canopic jars, and funerary objects people needed. Skilled carpenters could also make a good living crafting beds, storage chests, tables, desks and chairs, while painters were needed to decorate palaces, tombs, monuments and upper-class homes.

Egypt’s lower classes could also discover opportunities by developing skills in crafting precious gems and metals and in sculpting. Ancient Egypt’s sublimely decorated jewellery, with its predilection for mounting gems in ornate settings, was fashioned by members of the peasant class.

These people, who made up the majority of Egypt’s population, also filled out the ranks of Egypt’s army, and in some rare cases, could aspire to qualify as scribes. Occupations and social positions in Egypt were usually handed down from one generation to another.

However, the idea of social mobility was seen as one worth aiming for and imbued the daily lives of these ancient Egyptians with both a purpose and a meaning, which inspired and suffused their otherwise highly conservative culture.

At the very bottom of Egypt’s lowest social class were its peasant farmers. These people rarely owned either the land they worked or the homes they lived in. Most land was the property of the king, nomarchs, members of the court, or the temple priests.

One common phrase peasants use to start their working day was “Let us work for the noble!” The peasant class consisted almost exclusively of farmers. Many worked other occupations such as fishing or as a ferryman. Egyptian farmers planted and harvested their crops, keeping a modest amount for themselves while giving the majority of their harvest to the owner of their land.

Most farmers cultivated private gardens, which tended to be the domain of the women while the men worked each day in the fields.

Reflecting On The Past

Surviving archaeological evidence suggests Egyptians of all social classes valued life and looked to enjoy themselves as frequently as possible, much as people do today.


Warfare in Ancient Egypt: Chariots, Archers, and Infantry

Warfare was one of the most important things in ancient Egypt, so Egypt was one of the first countries to have a standing army. (Image: BasPhoto/Shutterstock)

A vital activity of any king was warfare in ancient Egypt. An army had to march wherever they could, fight, get whatever they can, and come back with booty. In the XVIII th Dynasty, a standing army became an important part of the war, along with chariots and archers. Egyptians were lucky to be able to afford a standing army. The Nile’s abundance was the first reason why Egypt could have a standing army. They could grow more food than they needed and feed an army.

Tuthmosis III

The writings on the walls of temples show a lot about warfare in ancient Egypt, including the shape of the shields. (Image: Nagib/Shutterstock)

Tuthmosis III was the greatest military king of Egypt. He started ruling after his aunt and stepmother, Queen Hatshepsut. He had to wait a long time before he could rule, and some suspect that Hatshepsut was keeping him away from the throne. She called herself a King, built some of the greatest obelisks Egypt had ever seen and ruled for several years.

Hatshepsut had a daughter who died at an early age. However, Tuthmosis III married her before she died, and her purely royal blood made him the fully righteous king of Egypt. Still, he had to wait until Hatshepsut died. What was he doing all the time that Hatshepsut was the king? A reasonable theory is that Tuthmosis III was sent for military training when Hatshepsut was ruling.

This is a transcript from the video series History of Ancient Egypt. Watch it now, Wondrium.

The Chariots in Egyptian Army

The equipment that the army needed began from spears and evolved as Egyptians raided more and more countries. They discovered an important thing from the Hyksos, with whom they had numerous wars: the horse-drawn chariot. They were very light structures and were drawn by two horses to make them as maneuverable as possible. Horses were not initially elements of an Egyptian army. Thus, they never cared if the horses’ colors matched or not.

The chariots were made of three different kinds of wood. One kind needed to be flexible enough to bend and make wheels. Next, they needed a strong but slightly flexible kind for the axles. The chariots were, like everything else, handmade. They broke a lot due to the uneven ground and their light structure. Thus, an army needed many carpenters to fix the chariots when they broke. The chariots were expensive, high-maintenance vehicles, but very important.

The Egyptians used the chariots mainly for archers. An archer would stand on the chariot as it speeded through the field toward the enemy to shoot the arrows. He was not the one who controlled the chariot, a driver did that. So, each chariot carried two people.

Naturally, it was a difficult task to hit the target with the arrow as the horses were pulling the chariot on bumpy fields. There were no shock absorbers, but they needed to help the archer gain a bit of stability. Thus, they used strips of woven leather to make the platform. The leather platform could not absorb the shocks really, but it could make the archer feel them a bit more smoothly.

The charioteer also tried to control the chariot and give the archer the best shooting positions. The charioteers were the elite and not the largest body of the army.

The Infantry in Egyptian Army

The infantry was the largest body of an army. Since they were walking forces, they set the pace of the whole army. The infantry could cover about 15 miles a day. Every infantryman had a round-topped shield. On the temple walls, soldiers with round-topped shields were the good Egyptian soldiers, and the rest were enemies.

The infantry usually fought with a spear, a sword, or both. They were the walking part of the army and the pacemakers. (Image: Kuki Ladron de Guevara/Shutterstock)

When the army camped, the infantrymen would stick the shields in the ground, forming like a picket fence all around their encampment. They used spears or swords for fighting and were usually illiterate. The archers had much more training but also marched with the infantry.

Warfare in ancient Egypt was a significant business, and Egyptians cared a lot for what they could get from other territories and bring back home.

Common Questions about Warfare in Ancient Egypt

Warfare in ancient Egypt was one of the most important values. They had no interest in peace, and a king that attacked more regions and brought back more booty was more respected and successful.

Ancient Egyptians learned how to use chariots in battles from the Hyksos.

Egyptians valued attacking others and gaining loot to bring back home. Thus, warfare in ancient Egypt was among the most important issues a king had to take care of.

Chariots were among the most important elements of warfare in ancient Egypt . They were made of wood and leather, and needed fixing all the time as they could easily break during a battle.


Watch the video: Η γυναίκα στην Αρχαιότητα (December 2021).