Egyptian History

Egyptian Culture and the Old Kingdom

Page 1 of 2 Egypt has changed significantly since its first recorded unification. It has undergone many dynasties, whether internal or occupations from enemies such as Alexander's Empire, Rome, the Christian empires of medieval times and the Ottomans. Its influences are, therefore, its own original culture blended with Greek, Roman, Medieval Christian and now predominantly Arabic. As one can obviously see, Egypt has always been a land of great change, thought, might and military strength.

The first immigrants into the land of Egypt were not very outstanding. They mostly hunted for their food, but soon realized the benefits of the fertile, life-giving Nile. The religion they followed, which consisted of an enormous pantheon of gods and goddesses, was obviously an ode to the Nile; every season, the Nile would overflow and give 'new birth' to the farm land around its shores, and this is closely paralleled in Egyptian mythology in the idea that the world is reborn every day anew.

The pre-dynastic Egyptians were divided into two kingdoms, the Upper and Lower, each with their own king. The Upper Kingdom was actually south of the Lower Kingdom; they were named following the direction of the Nile, which flows contrary to most rivers of the world.

The first ruler to unite both kingdoms is under somewhat of a dispute. The legendary pharaoh to bring to order the first dynasty of Egypt could be many people, for example: Menes, Hor-aha, and Narmer. However, it is generally accepted that Menes united the kingdoms and became the first Pharaoh around 3100 B.C.

After this unification, the Egyptians could now turn towards their increasingly complex religion. They believed that the Pharaoh was the divine Son of the Osiris, the god of the Nile and the afterlife. Therefore, they also believed that he would pass into the next world father and face judgment by Anubis, another one of the myriad gods. This was believed to be the eventually result of all people, and it was also believed that Pharaoh could control events in the mortal world after passing into the next life; essentially a patron saint.

This obsession with the afterlife led even greater leaps toward reaching death with a new light. One aspect was the construction of the first lavish tombs, the mastabas. They were the first step toward the pyramids that would eventually rise toward the sky, forever entombing the noblemen of Egypt. The obsession with death in Egypt was almost more important than life. People who could afford it had their bodies, after death, prepared, sanitized and dried out in a process known as mummification. It was believed this would preserve and protect their body in the afterlife, and they were right in the fact that it preserved the dead bodies up until today, and therefore the art of embalming is still practiced today, though not widespread. It was also determined that physical things could be taken to the Egyptian underworld. Therefore, the most important things that the noblemen could use, such as games, beer, food, and even mummified pets, were packed in the burial tomb with the deceased.

In Egyptian government, pharaohs most often had to out-do the ruler before them. In essence, it was a struggle to build a bigger pyramid than the predecessor. This was seen in 2575 B.C. when Pharaoh Khufu built the extraordinary Great Pyramid of Giza. Before this, pyramids, stepped and slanted, were seen, but none were as big and fabulous as the one Khufu built. It was a massive feat for any group of peoples, especially for a society with no cranes, lifts and trucks for transportation! They were built using precise measurements involving ditches, water and astrology. The stone used to build them came from miles and miles away. Some pyramids took the entire life of the pharaoh to build! The answer to the intense labor that was required to accomplish such a monument was slaves and farmers. During the flooding, or inundation, of the Nile, farmers could not do their job, but were kept employed by working on the pyramids. Slaves were also used, whether they were Hebrew, Nubian or a handful of other nationalities.

The Egyptian culture was quite advanced. They enjoyed modern luxuries like beer and music, but used a barter system for most of their currency. As mentioned before, religion was very important to the Egyptians, and there was usually a 'god of the house' for each hovel. There was a god for almost everything, and the people revered and feared them, much as they revered and feared Pharaoh.

This was the Old Kingdom. It was the height of Egyptian rule, culture and power. It had solid leadership throughout most of the period. It was the best of Ancient Egypt, something that would be imitated in later periods, but ultimately failed. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. The Old Kingdom was no exception. It is believed that famine caused by bad inundation and bad leadership led to the fall of the most perfect period in Egyptian history. The last pharaoh in this period was Pepi II, whose reign ended some time around 2100 B.C. Continued...

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