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Ancient civilization of Egypt (review article)

Ancient Egypt was called “Gift of the Nile”

Geographical position

Ancient Egypt is one of the most ancient civilizations in the world, originating in North-East Africa, in the Nile Valley. It is generally accepted that the word “Egypt” comes from the ancient Greek “Ayguptos”. It probably arose from Het-ka-Ptah – a city that the Greeks later called Memphis. The Egyptians themselves called their country “Ta Kemet” – Black Earth – according to the color of the local soil.

According to Herodotus, Egypt is “the gift of the Nile”, for the Nile was a source of inexhaustible fertility, the basis of all economic activities of the population. In Egypt and its neighboring regions, there was almost everything he needed. The mountains that closed the Nile Valley were rich in various types of stone: granite, diorite, basalt, alabaster, limestone, sandstone. In Egypt itself, there were no metals, but they were mined in the adjacent areas: on the Sinai Peninsula – copper, in the desert between the Nile and the Red Sea – gold, on the coast of the Red Sea – zinc and lead. Silver and iron were delivered mainly from Asia Minor (see Map of Mineral Resources of Egypt).

Egypt had an advantageous geographical position. The Mediterranean Sea connected it with the Near Asian coast, Cyprus, the Aegean islands and mainland Greece. The Nile was the most important navigable artery connecting Upper and Lower Egypt and the whole country with Nubia, which ancient authors called Ethiopia.

Formation of a single state

Stele of King Horus Ouadzhi of Abydos. Dynasty I.

Stele of King Horus Ouadzhi of Abydos. Dynasty I.

For more details about the first centuries of Ancient Egypt and the formation of the state, see the article – “Formation of the state. The Early Kingdom of Ancient Egypt ”.

In the era preceding the formation of the state, Egypt consisted of separate regions, as a result of their unification, two kingdoms arose – Lower Egypt and Upper Egypt. After a long war, the Upper Egyptian kingdom won, and both parts merged. The exact date of this event is unknown, but it can be assumed that around 3000 BC. e. a single state already existed in the Nile Valley.

The beginning of the chronicle Egyptian tradition is connected with the name of King Min (Greek Menes) – the founder of the 1st dynasty, which is probably identical with Horu Aha. According to the legend preserved by Herodotus, Ming founded the capital of the united kingdom at the junction of Upper and Lower Egypt, erecting a dam to protect the city from flooding. From here it was convenient to control both the south and north of the country. The Greeks later called this city Memphis.

Earlier kingdom

In the era of the Early Kingdom (XXX-XXVIII centuries BC), Egypt was ruled by two dynasties, which originated from the Upper Egyptian city of Tina (near Abydos). Already under the kings of the 1st dynasty, the Egyptians began to move beyond the borders of their country: to the south – to Nubia, to the west – to Libya, to the east – to the Sinai Peninsula. Pharaoh II of the Hasekhem dynasty finally united the country into a centralized state, suppressing the unrest in the north of Egypt.

One of the important functions of the royal power was to organize the irrigation system in the Nile Valley and keep it in order. Already for Egypt, the Early Kingdom was characterized by high agricultural productivity. Numerous wine jars found in Lower Egypt testify to the flourishing of the art of grape cultivation. Egypt was a country of highly developed cattle breeding. Weaving has made significant progress. The production of papyrus for writing began. His invention was of exceptional importance. Contributing to the wide spread of writing, it survived the ancient Egyptian civilization for a long time, influencing the culture of later eras and becoming famous in the Greco-Roman world and in medieval Europe.

The ancient kingdom

Pyramid of Djoser from Saqqar. Architect Imhotep. Dynasty III.

Pyramid of Djoser from Saqqar. Architect Imhotep. Dynasty III.

During the period of the Old Kingdom (XXVIII-XXIII centuries BC), Egypt was a large centralized state that extended its influence to the regions of the Sinai Peninsula, southern Palestine and Nubia.

The kings waged constant wars. It is known, for example, that during the campaign to Nubia of the founder of the IV dynasty Sneferu (XXVIII century BC) 7 thousand prisoners and 200 thousand heads of cattle were taken away, and during the campaign against the Libyans – 1100 people. During the reign of the IV dynasty, Egypt became the sovereign owner of the region of copper mines on the Sinai Peninsula. Trade expeditions were equipped to Nubia for building stone, ivory, acacia and ebony (it was brought to Nubia from the deep regions of Africa), for precious stones, incense, panther skins and exotic animals. Fragrant resins and “light gold” were brought from Punta. From the Phoenician Byblos to Egypt there was a timber – a cedar tree.

A huge power was concentrated in the hands of the king, the basis of which was an extensive land fund. large labor and food resources. The state acquired the features of a centralized despotism, based on an extensive bureaucratic apparatus. The first person on the hierarchical ladder after the pharaoh was the supreme dignitary, who was also the chief judge, who combined a number of government posts and ruled many sectors of the economy. In the presence of the royal, temple and private farms, the decisive role in the country’s economy, especially during the 5th-6th dynasties, was played by the noble farm, where, apparently, the overwhelming majority of the working population was employed.

The funeral temple of Hatshepsut in Deir el-Bahri. Architect Senmut. Dynasty XVIII.

The funeral temple of Hatshepsut in Deir el-Bahri. Architect Senmut. Dynasty XVIII.

In the era of the Old Kingdom, gardening, horticulture, and viticulture were further developed, especially in Lower Egypt. The Egyptians have the honor of discovering beekeeping. Delta’s pastures provided ample opportunities for the development of animal husbandry. Its characteristic feature is keeping in a herd together with livestock completely or semi-tamed desert animals: antelopes, ibex and gazelles. The main wealth of Upper Egypt was grain, primarily barley and two-grain wheat (emmer). Part of it along the Nile was delivered to the north. Thus, Southern and Northern Egypt complemented each other.

The period of the Old Kingdom is characterized by the rapid growth of stone construction, the culmination of which was the erection of royal tombs – huge pyramids with funeral temples and “cities” of noble tombs. With the construction of the pyramid of King Djoser (III dynasty), carried out mainly with the help of copper tools, Egypt finally entered the copper age. But they continued to use stone tools later.

At the end of the 5th dynasty, the power of the pharaohs began to weaken. At the same time, the positions of the nominal nobility were strengthened. Exhausted by the construction of pyramids, torn apart by social contradictions, by the end of the reign of the 6th dynasty, Egypt began to disintegrate into semi-dependent nomes. 70 Memphis kings of the next, VII dynasty, according to the legend preserved by Manetho, ruled for only 70 days. From the middle of the XXIII century. BC. began a period of decline of Egypt, its internal fragmentation.

By the end of the 3rd millennium BC. the economic situation of Egypt demanded the unification of the country; during the troubles, the irrigation network fell into disrepair, the population often suffered from severe hunger. At this time, two unifying centers claimed the Egyptian throne. One of them was Heracleopolis, located in the north of the country, in a fertile lowland near the Fayum oasis, on the western bank of the Nile. The nomarch of Herakleopolis Kheti I (Akhtoy) subdued the rulers of the nearby regions to his power, while simultaneously fighting the Asian nomads. The nomarchs of Thebes also strove to become rulers of all Egypt. The Theban rulers emerged victorious, and under Mentuhotep I the country was united. On one of the reliefs that have survived to this day, this ruler is depicted as the conqueror of the Egyptians, Nubians, Asians and Libyans. But the unity achieved was not yet strong.

Middle kingdom

Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten). Head of a statue from the Temple of Aten in Karnak. Dynasty XVIII.

Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten). Head of a statue from the Temple of Aten in Karnak. Dynasty XVIII.

The heyday of the Middle Kingdom (XXII-XVIII centuries BC) belongs to the reign of the XII dynasty. At this time, the Egyptians waged wars with the neighboring Libyan and Western Asian tribes, conquered Northern Nubia. Under Amenemhat I, the ancestor of the dynasty, a fortress was built on the western border of Egypt. During the reign of Senusret III, a number of fortresses were built in Upper and Lower Nubia. Senusret III was revered in Nubia as a patron god. Fanned by legend and combined with the images of the great pharaohs-warriors of the New Kingdom, the memory of this king lived for many centuries and formed the basis of the legends about “Sesostris”.

In the era of the Middle Kingdom, the positions of the nome nobility were still strong. But people of common origin are gaining more and more importance. The most important support of the royal power was the close army. The main creators of the country’s material wealth, deprived of property rights to the tools and means of production, were “hemuu nisut” – the royal hemuu, whose labor was used in the royal, temple and private households. The slaves – “baku”, known back in the era of the Old Kingdom, in contrast to the “hemuu nisut” were part of the owner’s personal property and could be bought and sold.

During the period of the Middle Kingdom, tools of labor continued to improve: along with stone and copper, bronze tools were now increasingly used. The copper deposits in the Sinai and the gold and copper mines of North Nubia were intensively developed. Glass production began. Agriculture underwent significant development, which was facilitated by the creation of a large reservoir connected by a canal to the Nile, and an extensive network of irrigation systems in the Fayum oasis. With the emergence of many small and medium-sized farms, conditions were created for wider exchange.

At the turn of the XVIII-XVII centuries. BC. Egypt, once again in a state of fragmentation, was an easy prey for the Hyksos, who invaded from Asia through the eastern Delta. Their dominion lasted 100-150 years, and the legend about it as a terrible time lived throughout the ancient history of Egypt. The Hyksos were not united and could not form a single state. The rulers of Thebes, while remaining relatively independent, led the struggle against the conquerors.

New kingdom

The Hypostyle Hall of the Temple of Amun. Karnak. XIX dynasty.

The Hypostyle Hall of the Temple of Amun. Karnak. XIX dynasty.

Ahmose I, who became the ancestor of the XVIII dynasty, took possession of the Hyksos fortress Avaris in the northeast of the Delta and brought the struggle against the conquerors to a victorious end. Thus began the era of the New Kingdom (1580-1085 BC), the reign of the XVIII-XX dynasties, under which Egypt took a leading position in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Under Pharaoh Thutmose I (second half of the 16th century BC), Egypt became a powerful power, the southern border of which advanced beyond the third rapids of the Nile. Thutmose I made a trip to the Euphrates and defeated the state of Mitanni in Northern Mesopotamia.

After the reign of his heir Thutmose II, the throne was seized by Hatshepsut, who initially retained her young king, her stepson, Thutmose III, as the nominal ruler, but later openly declared herself pharaoh. Having come to power, Thutmose III sought to erase any reminder of Hatshepsut, destroying her images and even her name. He made many campaigns in Syria and Palestine, and his empire began to stretch from the fourth rapids of the Nile to the northern outskirts of Syria.

In the first half of the XIV century. BC e. accounts for the reign of Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten), with whose name the most important religious reform is associated. Under the two successors of Amenhotep IV, a departure from his policies began. Semnekh-kere restored the cult of Amun, under the next pharaoh – Tutankhamun – the cult of Aton, approved by the reformer king, lost state support.

Under Ramses I (XIX dynasty), long wars began with the Hittites for domination in Syria. During the reign of Ramses II, the famous battle with the Hittites took place near the walls of the Syrian city of Kadesh, in which up to 20 thousand people participated on each side. In his description of this battle, Rameses claims that it was he who won the victory. But it is known that the Egyptians were unable to take Kadesh and the Hittites, led by King Muwatalli II, pursued them during their retreat. The long war ended in the 21st year of the reign of Ramses II with a peace treaty with the Hittite king Hattusilis III. The original treaty was recorded on silver tablets, but only copies of it in Egyptian and Hittite have survived. Despite the power of Egyptian weapons, Ramses II was unable to restore the borders of the empire of the pharaohs of the XVIII dynasty.

Under the heir of Ramses II, his thirteenth son Merneptah, and under Ramses III, the son of the founder of the 20th dynasty Setnakht, waves of conquerors – the “peoples of the sea” and the Libyan tribes hit Egypt. Having hardly repelled the onslaught of the enemy, the country was on the verge of serious shocks, which in domestic political life manifested themselves in the frequent change of rulers, rebellions and conspiracies, in the strengthening of the positions of the nominal nobility (especially in Thebaid, in the south of Egypt), closely connected with the priestly circles, and in the sphere of foreign policy – in the gradual decline of the military prestige of Egypt and in the loss of its foreign possessions.

The era of the New Kingdom was for Egypt a time not only of territorial expansion, but also of rapid economic development, stimulated by the influx into the country of a huge amount of raw materials, livestock, gold, all kinds of tribute and labor in the form of prisoners.

From the 18th dynasty, bronze tools began to be widely used. But due to the high cost of copper, they still continue to use stone tools. A number of iron items have survived from this era. Iron was known in Egypt before. But even at the end of the 18th dynasty, it continued to be considered almost a jewel. And only in the 7th-6th centuries. BC. tools of labor in Egypt began to be made of iron everywhere, which was extremely important for economic progress.

In the era of the New Kingdom, an improved plow, bellows in metallurgy, and a vertical loom began to be widely used. Horse breeding, previously unknown to the Egyptians, is developing, serving the Egyptian army with its war chariots. From the reign of Amenhotep IV, the first image of a water-lifting structure, the shaduf, has come down to us. His invention was of great importance for the development of horticulture and horticulture in high fields. Attempts are being made to cultivate new varieties of trees exported from Asia (pomegranate, olive, peach, apple, almond, cherry, etc.) or from Punta (myrrh tree). Glass production is developing intensively. The art of mummification achieves unsurpassed perfection. Domestic trade is becoming increasingly important. International trade, for the development of which in Egypt in the era of conquests there was no incentive, for he received everything he needed for himself in the form of booty and tribute, acquires a certain significance only in the second half of the New Kingdom.

During the period of the New Kingdom, the widespread use of slave labor was noted, primarily in the royal and temple farms (although slaves also served private estates). So, during his 30-year reign, Ramses III donated over 100 thousand prisoners from Syria, Palestine and more than 1 million sechat (Greek “arur”; 1 arura – 0.28 hectares) of arable land to the temples. But the main producer of material goods was still the working population of Egypt, entangled in all kinds of duties.

By the beginning of the XI century. BC. in Egypt, two kingdoms were formed: the Lower Egyptian with the center in Tanis, in the northeast of the Delta, and the Upper Egyptian with the capital in Thebes. By this time, Syria, Phenicia and Palestine had already come out of the Egyptian influence, the northern half of Egypt was inundated with Libyan military settlers led by leaders who were in alliance with the local Egyptian authorities. One of the Libyan military leaders, Sheshonk I (950-920 BC), founded the XXII dynasty. But his power, like the power of his successors, was not strong, and under the Libyan pharaohs (IX-VIII centuries BC), Lower Egypt fell apart into a number of separate regions.

Colossi of Ramses II. Rock temple in Abu Simbel. XIX dynasty.

Colossi of Ramses II. Rock temple in Abu Simbel. XIX dynasty.

At the end of the VIII century. BC. The Nubian king Pianhi captured a significant part of Upper Egypt, including Thebes. The local influential priesthood supported the conquerors, hoping with their help to regain their dominant position. But the ruler of Sais in Lower Egypt, Tefnacht, relying on the Libyans, was able to lead the fight against the invasion. Memphis also spoke out against the Nubians.

However, in three battles they defeated the army of Tefnakht and, advancing north, reached Memphis, taking the city by storm. Tefnacht was forced to surrender at the mercy of the victors. The next Nubian king to rule over Egypt was Shabaka. According to the legend preserved by Manetho, he captured the Lower Egyptian Pharaoh Bokhoris and burned him alive. In 671 BC. Assyrian king Esarhaddon defeated the army of the Nubian pharaoh Taharqa and captured Memphis.

The liberation of Egypt and its unification was carried out by the founder of the XXVI (Sais) dynasty, Psammetichus I. The next pharaoh, Necho II, sought to establish his rule in Syria. In 608 BC. the Jewish king Josiah blocked the way for the Egyptian army at Megiddo (a city in northern Palestine), but was mortally wounded. After that, Judah began to pay a large tribute in gold and silver to the Egyptian king. The rule of the Egyptians over Syria and Palestine lasted three years, and in 605 BC. the Egyptian army was pushed back to its border by the Babylonians. Under Aprius (589-570 BC), one of the successors of Psammetichus I, Egypt supported Judea in the struggle against Babylonia. Aprius defeated the fleet of Sidon, one of the largest Phoenician cities. In 586 BC. The Egyptian army appeared under the walls of Jerusalem, but was soon defeated by the Babylonians.

By that time, west of Egypt, on the Libyan coast of the Mediterranean Sea, the Greeks had created their own state – Cyrene. Aprius decided to subjugate him and sent significant military forces against him, but they were defeated by the Greeks. A mutiny broke out in the Egyptian army against Aprius, and Amasis (570-526 BC) was enthroned.

Persian rule

In 525 BC. in the battle of Pelusius, the Persian army led by King Cambyses defeated the Egyptians. Then Cambyses was proclaimed king of Egypt (XXVII dynasty). To give the seizure of Egypt a legitimate character, legends were created about the matrimonial ties of the Persian kings with the Egyptian princesses and about the birth of Cambyses from the marriage of his father Cyrus with Nyetis, the daughter of Pharaoh Aprius.

Capture of Egypt by Alexander the Great

Egypt several times sought independence from the Persian rulers (XXVIII-XXX dynasties), until it was conquered in 332 BC. Alexander the Great, in whom the Egyptians initially saw a liberator from the oppression of the Persians. The time of the Egypt of the pharaohs is up. The era of Hellenism began.

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