Ancient Egypt


The giant pyramids, temples, and tombs of ancient Egypt tell an exciting
story about a nation that rose to power more than 5,000 years ago. This mighty
civilization crumbled before conquering armies after 2,500 years of triumph and
glory. The dry air and drifting desert sands have preserved many records of
ancient Egypt until modern times.
The ancient Egyptians lived colorful, active, and eventful lives. Many
were creative artists, skilled craftsmen, and adventurous explorers. Bold
Egyptian warriors won many battles, and their rulers governed wide areas of the
known world. The ancient Egyptians loved nature and had a lively sense of humor.
They were among the first people to try to find answers to questions concerning
man, nature, and God. They also considered the relationship of man to society,
but regarded other people as savages. They captured and enslaved thousands of
men and women from other lands.
The Greek historian Herodotus called Egypt the gift of the Nile, because
floodwaters of this great river deposited rich, black soil on the land year
after year. Egyptian farmers planted their crops in this fertile soil. Sandy
plateaus and towering cliffs bordered the river valley. Beyond these waters
stretched the barren wastes of the Sahara desert. On the edge of the desert,
the Egyptians built giant pyramids as burial places for their pharaohs. They
carved the Great Sphinx out of solid rock as a guardian of King CheopsÕ Great
Pyramid at Giza. The ancient Egyptians called their country Kemet, which means
black (after the land). The Greeks called the country Aigyptos, from the name
Ha-ka-ptah, the main temple of the Egyptian capital at Memphis.
Many modern beliefs and ideals, as well as much of manÕs knowledge, had
their origin in Egypt. The ancient Egyptians developed the worldÕs first
national government. Their religion was one of the first to emphasize a life
after death. They produced an expressive art and literature. The Egyptians
introduced stone architecture and made the first convenient writing material,
papyrus. They developed a 365-day year and set up the basic methods of geometry
and surgery.
The boundaries of ancient Egypt changed many times during its history.
When the Kingdom of Egypt was formed in about 3100 B.C., it occupied only the
fertile valley of the Nile River in northeastern Africa. The kingdom extended
south about 680 miles from the Mediterranean Sea to the First Cataract (rapids)
of the river. It averaged only 12 miles in width from the Nile delta to the
First Cataract. Egypt covered about 8,000 square miles and was a little smaller
than the state of Massachusetts.
In later years, ancient Egypt usually controlled neighboring areas
around the Nile Valley, including oases (fertile green patches), in the desert
to the west. It usually governed part of the Nile Valley south of the First
Cataract, the Red Sea coast, and the western part of the Sinai Peninsula in Asia.
At the height of its power, around 1450 B.C., Egypt claimed an empire that
reached as far south as the Fourth Cataract in Nubia, a part of ancient Ethiopia,
and as far northeast as the Euphrates River in western Asia.
Ancient Egypt was a lot less crowded than Modern Egypt. Historians
believe that from one to eight million people lived in ancient Egypt. In Roman
times, estimates set the figure at about six million. Most Egyptians lived near
the Nile, with an average of 750 people per square mile. Today, the valley
averages almost 2,400 people per square mile, although Egypt as a whole averages
only 85.
The black-haired, dark-skinned ancient Egyptians were short and slender.
The belong to the Mediterranean race of the Caucasoid (white) stock. As time
went on, the Egyptians mixed with people from Asia, Negroes from other parts of
Africa, and people from lands around the Mediterranean Sea.
The Egyptians were divided into four social classes. They were from
most important: the royalty and nobles; artisans, craftsmen, and merchants;
workers; and slaves. The professional army gradually became almost a separate
class. Egypt had no fixed caste system. A person of the poorest class could
rise to the highest offices in the land.
The ancient Egyptians spoke a mixed language. It included words from
the Semitic language group of southwestern Asia and the Hamitic group of
languages of northeastern Africa. The language died out of everyday use about a
thousand years ago but the Coptic (Christian) Church still uses it.
No one knows just how the spoken language of ancient Egypt sounded.
Written Egyptian developed from picture writing into an elaborate system of
symbols called hieroglyphics. Hieroglyphics consisted of 24 alphabetic
characters for consonants and semi-consonants. These characters were used in
combination with