World Civilization: Ancient Egypt
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Ancient Egypt is one of the cradles of world civilization. In the study of ancient civilization, one cannot ignore the many factors that led to the formation of culture, economy, way of life, language, writing, economy, among other things which, if taken together, could shed light on the gradual development of a particular civilization. In order for a territory composed of inhabitants to be considered civilized, it must be able to possess the different criteria which will be discussed in this essay. What are the factors that made Egypt the most powerful civilization in the ancient world, and what are the reasons for its downfall?
Like any other ancient civilizations, Egypt became a fledgling dynasty with the fusion of the Lower and Upper Egypt in roughly 3200BC. The first colonial empire of Egypt was concentrated on the city of Nubia from about 3200 to 1200 BC (Adams 36). Early Egyptians started to occupy the Nile valley in about 7000 BC. Their source of living was farming, domesticating animals, and fishing. In 3200BC, there were about 20,000 settlers in the city of Abydos, and population grew in the next century as Memphis was also inhabited by about 20,000 people (Chandler). During 1200BC, the city of Pi-Ramses became the most populous of all Egypt with about 160,000 settlers, while the city of Memphis had 50,000 people.
In terms of occupational groups, there was concentration of population on a very few cities which served as the seat of the dynastic government. In 2250BC, it was estimated that Memphis only had 30,000 inhabitants, but several centuries later in 1991BC, inhabitants in the city grew up to 100,000 (Chandler). The city of Thebes also had 65,000 settlers in 1800BC, while in 1200 Memphis had 50,000.
In terms of social class, ancient Egypt had a social hierarchy that differentiates the ruling elite over the common subjects. On top of the hierarchy were the pharaohs and his royal family. The pharaoh was the law himself, as he had the absolute power to decide on all local affairs, including the fate of his subjects and the slaves. The priests were given high regard in the social hierarchy. It was the concept of godly kingship that bound the Egyptian society for thousands of years. In terms of economy and tribute, the early Egyptians relied on farming and barter of goods, wherein the Nile River played a great part in Egypt’s agricultural economy. However, serious economic crisis occurred during the rule of Rameses III around 1200BC. Ancient Egypt’s economy was sustained through force labor and conquest of neighboring states (Torok 101).
The greatest monumental public buildings of Egypt are the Egyptian pyramids, particularly the biggest one— the pyramid of Giza, which thought to have been built around 2560 (Oakes & Gahlin). Among the great public buildings are the Small Temple of Ramesses at Karnak, the Mortuary Temple of Ramesses III, the Temple of the Theban moon god Khonsu, and the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak. All of these are still visible up to these days. Within these public buildings are hundreds, if not thousands, of wall paintings, ancient writings, tombs, and Egyptian sculptors. All of these evidenced that Egypt thousands of years ago was the center of global power and civilization.
The ancient language of Egypt was part of Afro-Asiatic language phylum. Archeological evidence revealed that written records were as early as 3200BC. Thousands of Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions can be seen in walls, statutes, and tablets. Two of the classic Egyptian literatures are the Story of Sinuhe and the Story of Wenamun. Some of ancient Egypt’s great contributions to the world are: mathematics, its culture, monuments, and the pyramids, among many others.
All of the above mentioned aspects made Egypt an incomparable civilization and the most influential global power in the ancient world. Along with its rise was the development of these aspects, particularly in the area of public buildings, which ancient Egypt is popularly known for. Up to this day, the pyramids of Egypt still continue to baffle the world because of its highly complex engineering and enigmatic structure. Egyptian culture, writings, and economy also flourished along with the increase of its population. However, there is one area which Egypt failed to sustain. This particular area is its social hierarchy that gave much power and importance to the ruling class, but left behind the subservient subjects. This situation resulted in social chaos, as well as economic crises that ignited social unrest around 1200BC (Kagan 44). What followed was the inevitable downfall of once powerful Egypt.
Adams, William Y. The first colonial empire: Egypt in NUbia, 3200-1200BC. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1984
Chandler, Tertius. Four Thousand Years of Urban Growth: A historical census. Lewiston,
NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1987
Kagan, Donald. Problems in Ancient History. Macmillan, 1975
Oakes, Lorana & Gahlin, Lucia. Ancient Egypt. Dorset, UK: Hermes House, 2002
Torok, Laszlo. The Kingdom of Kush. Boston, MA: BRILL, 1998