The Ancient Egyptian Civilization
A prosperous civilization flourished in Egypt and its vicinity, the Nile basin. The Greek historian Herodotus called the ancient Egyptian civilization the ‘Gift of the Nile’. This is because the Nile River was the lifeblood of this civilization. Agrarian society developed in Egypt with alluvial soil carried by the south-north current. The Egyptian civilization developed there approximately five and a half thousand years ago. Not only agriculture but the entire economic structure of Egyptian civilization was built around the Nile.
Country and Society: Egypt was divided into Upper (Northern) and Lower (Southern) Egypt in 5000 BC. The two regions together had 40 nomes or cities. Egypt during this period is called the pre-dynastic period. By 3200 BC, the two regions were united under the leadership of Pharaoh Menes. The reign of the first dynasty begins. 31 dynasties ruled ancient Egypt for nearly 3,000 years. The first capital of this state was Thebes, later it was moved to Memphis.
In ancient Egyptian society, we come across several occupational classes. They were divided into royal families, priests, elite traders, scribes, serfs, etc. At the highest level in Egyptian society were members of the ruling community and the royal family. Priests were quite influential, and scribes had good social status. But the condition of laborers, peasants, and serfs was not good. They were considered the lowest in the society.
Religion: Among the ancient nations, the Egyptians were the first to practice religious beliefs. They worshiped sun, moon, thunder, storm, flood, wind, and among animals tiger, lion, snake, crocodile, deer, hawk, monkey, and even cat. The sun god ‘Re’ was the chief among them. Pharaoh Amen Hotep IV introduced the worship of one god, Aton, instead of worshiping many gods and goddesses. Thus the concept of monotheism was introduced. The Egyptians believed that within man there was ‘Ba’ or soul and ‘Ka’ or a second being. After death ‘Ba’ and ‘Ka’ will return and revive the body. According to their religion, Parana must appear before Osiris to give an account of his deeds. It was common to build temples in Egypt to practice religion. Among the temples, Karnak Temple, Temple of Hatshepsut, and Temple of Abu Simbili were famous.
Economic Life: The Egyptian economic structure was based on agriculture. The fertile land of Egypt grew abundant crops. When the Egyptians started using the plow around 4300 BC, there was a great improvement in agriculture. They achieved unprecedented success in inventing various techniques in irrigation, reservoir creation, and agriculture. Beans, cotton, onion, etc. were some of their agricultural products. Another important aspect of the Egyptian economy was trade. An Indian island, it extended Nisro’s trade with Phoenician Palestine and Syria. By 3000 BC a large part of the population was employed in industries. Gradually, industrial establishments began to develop.
During the reign of Pharaoh Ikhnaton, the pharaoh priests became corrupt. They got one-seventh of the arable land, lots of cattle and sheep. The priests continued to impose authority over the country’s industries. In this way, the Egyptian economic and social structure gradually collapsed.
Governance: Priests were the head of governance. According to popular belief, the king represented God. The king considered himself the son of the sun god Re. The titles of the kings of Egypt were Karao or Pharaoh. The word Pharaoh is another form of Pharaoh. The word pharaoh is derived from the word “per-o”. Meaning from a large residence or royal family. Pharaohs could not marry outside the royal family. It is believed that the king was chosen from the royal family as their divine blood would be pure. This is where the theory of the word “Per A” or Karao or Pharaoh lies. The chief officer of the pharaoh was the priest. Karao himself played the role of high priest to initiate various privileges and authority. Other officials included the Prime Minister, an Accountant, a Chief Architect, an Inspector, and a Justice. Moreover, 42 landlords were attached to the system of government. Following the example of the Greeks, governors were appointed by the pharaoh in various city-states under the state.
Literature, Art, and Culture: The ancient Egyptian education system was advanced. An important contribution of the Egyptians was the invention of the letter-based pictorial script. In this style of writing, an image instead of a letter expresses the feeling of the mind. This writing system is known as Hieroglyphic. This system had 24 symbols and each symbol indicated a special meaning. Surprisingly, their writing style was divided into three parts. Namely: pictographic, syllabic, and alphabetic. A type of writing without consonants was called hieratic. Priests used this script in religious work. The introduction of consonant scripts revolutionized the art of writing. The script with consonants is called demotic. The mainstay of the education system was a group of scribes trained in pictorial writing. A complete curriculum was created with reading and mathematics.
The discovery of writing opened the door to the development of the Egyptians. Edicts, religious texts, etc. quickly became popular in written applications. Scripts were first carved on stone or wood. The practice of making paper from a type of plant called papyrus of reeds was introduced. The Egyptians developed a method of making black ink by mixing soft carbon glue and water. Their literature was mainly based on religion and philosophy. Egyptian literary works began to be created from the beginning of the writing system. Ikhnaton’s praise of the sun god in the Book of the Dead is another significant contribution of the Egyptian civilization to the brink of modernization by identifying the weakness of the calendar discovered in the Napoleonic period. This was an important advance in determining the natural conditions for the annual inundation of Niles as well as for agricultural purposes.
Architecture: The great gift of Egyptian civilization is their architecture. The precise application of amazing engineering knowledge can be seen in their monuments and temples. A unique example of a monument is the pyramid. It is a wonderful monument of ancient architecture.
The base of the pyramid is square. At the top of it, the sides become smaller and triangular, converging into a point. Apart from the pyramids, the two other objects of ancient Egypt that have survived as signatures of immortality are the sphinxes and mummies. Carving it on many stones. The body of the Sphinx is like a lion and the head is like a pharaoh. They were symbols of prestige and power.
Ancient Egyptians preserved dead bodies because of their religious beliefs. They believed that people would be resurrected after death and therefore they preserved the dead. The bodies preserved scientifically were called mummies. A novel method of survival to eternity is nowhere to be found. This is a significant aspect of Egyptian civilization.
Painting and Crafts: The contribution of Egyptians to painting and crafts is undeniable. The beautiful display of foliage and geometric designs in the tombs and temple decorations make it a sight to behold. Numerous such wall paintings are also seen in the temples built at Thebes. The application of technical knowledge was not professionally associated with the Egyptians in crafts. Colored pottery was skilled in making gold ornaments, carved furniture, ivory ornaments, musical instruments, toys, and fine linen cloths.
Knowledge: The ancient Egyptians had the practice of an open mind. All their thoughts were not limited by religion. Philosophers and sages believed in eternal universal nature. Essays on morals Maxims introduces deep philosophical theories. The contribution of the Egyptians in the practice of philosophy and science is incomparable. Their progress in arithmetic and astronomy is astounding. They were the first to invent arithmetic and geometry. Introduced addition-subtraction, multiplication, division, and decimal systems.
They were the first to discover angles, rectangles, and hexagons in geometry. They also had immense knowledge of medicine. At that time in Egypt, there was good treatment for eye, tooth, and spleen diseases. They knew the pulse and the pulsations and functions of the heart. They knew about the movement of tides and rivers. The discovery and development of Egyptian civilization laid the foundation of modern civilization. The development and organization of knowledge, science, education, literature, culture, law, governance, and government systems initiated the epoch-making process. Borrowed from there, all civilizations of the East and West received direction. Professor Says’s comment in this context is commendable. He said, “We are the heirs of the civilized past, and a goodly position of civilized that past was the creation of ancient Egypt.” That is, we are indebted to ancient civilizations and most of those ancient civilizations were created by Egyptians.