The word civilisation refers to an advanced and organised group of people or a society living at a place for a particular time. When we talk about ancient cultures, religions, political systems or family systems then one of the most organised, attractive and advanced civilisations, Egypt Civilisation. The Egypt civilisation developed along the River Nile in northeast Africa. The fertile soil and annual flooding of river water is one of the reasons in developing ancient Egypt civilisation there. Nile River played a vital role in developing agricultural and irrigation system at that time.
The Egypt civilisation ruled for almost 30 centuries, from 3100 BC to 332 BC. This was a powerful and advanced civilisation of the history. They amazingly managed transportation, building materials, food, and many other things. The art and craft shows cultural values, daily life and routine.
of the ancient Egypt.
Timeline of the Ancient Egypt
There are two types or ways to understand the history of the ancient Egyptians. The first way is by dynasties and the second one is by kingdom and periods.
The word dynasty, commonly defined as “a succession of people from the same family who play a prominent role in business, politics, or another field.” The timeline of Egypt history can be first described by dynasties that ruled for 30 centuries. Family members passed the both religious and political power of the Pharaohs to the specific other family members. For 3000 years of Egypt history almost 30 dynasties ruled over ancient Egypt.
The dynasties has following divisions to understand history of the ancient Egypt:
- Early Dynastic Period (2950 -2575 BC) – Dynasties I-III
- Old Kingdom (2575-2150 BC) – Dynasties IV-VIII
- First Intermediate Period (2150-1975 BC) Dynasties IX-XI
- Middle Kingdom (1975-1640 BC) Dynasties XI-XIV
- Second Intermediate Period (1640-1520 BC) Dynasties XV-XVII
- New Kingdom (1520-1075 BC) Dynasties XVIII-XX
- Third Intermediate Period (1075 – 653 BC) Dynasties XXI-XXIV
- Late Period (653 – 332 BC) Dynasties XXV-XXX
- Ptolemaic dynasty
Kingdoms and Periods
Three basic kingdoms; the Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom. After each kingdom there is an “intermediate” period.
The old kingdom was considered as best time of Egypt history. Egyptians enjoyed a strong central government and a powerful economy over 400 years. The Egypt had many states, named as nomes. Every state had its own governor named nomarch who was responsible to report about every state affair to the Pharaoh. The state religion and political head, known as the Pharaoh. Vizir was at the second in hierarchy, they were responsible for running and reporting daily affairs to the great pharaoh. The old kingdom lasted from 2575 BC to 2150 BC.
They built first pyramid during this time period. This kingdom was famous for building pyramids. Egyptians were economically strong enough to built Pyramid of Djoser, and the largest pyramid, the Great Pyramids at Giza during old kingdom.
The Middle Kingdom is the second kingdom of Egypt history. This lasted from 1975 BC to 1640 BC. Single religious and political king ruled Egypt after facing political and central government fall of 150 years. The tenth dynasty ruled north Egypt and the eleventh dynasty ruled south Egypt during first intermediate Period. The King of Eleventh dynasty Mentuhotep II planned an attack on northern Egypt. This attack brought whole Egypt under one flag. Mentuhotep II became king of Egypt. Middle Kingdom, actually started after this time according to the historians. The Middle Kingdom, sometimes referred to as Egypt’s Classical Age or The Period of Reunification. Mentuhotep II gave all powers to the Pharaoh again, he set him as god of religion and politics. He himself ruled for 51 years as king of Egypt.
Pharaoh Amenemhat III was the pharaoh of twelfth dynasty, he is memorable in history of Egypt, he ruled for almost 45 years. He played a vital role in establishing economic roots of Egypt. The twelfth dynasty did a great job in forming a strong army. The army was responsible for protecting borders of Egypt from foreigner forces.
The New Kingdom, also known as the golden age of Egypt civilisation. It lasted from 1520 BC to 1075 BC. Egyptians were wealthy, politically strong and prosperous during this time. Ahmose I was a ten year old boy, he became king of Lower Egypt. He conquered northern Egypt from foreigner powers. Hyksos were ruling Egypt at that time. Egyptian Empire defeated a range of lands to its south and east. Kush and Nubia to the south and Israel, Syria and Lebanon to the east. Egyptians started trading with other nations and countries during the New Kingdom. They used gold mines of Nubia to earn money.
Ramses II built the famous Abu Simbel temple during the New Kingdom. There were eleven pharaohs who had the name Ramesses or Ramses during the nineteenth and twentieth dynasties. The period sometimes called as the Ramesside period. Thutmose III, also known as Napoleon of Egypt. Egypt was at its largest during rule of this king. Hatshepsut is few of females who ruled over Egypt. She ruled for almost 20 years. Tutankhamun’s tomb, found in Valley of Kings. A lot of treasure, art work of his time and his mummy found in tomb. Akhenaten was famous for introducing a new god to Egyptians. The name of that god was Aten, he built a new capital city named Amarna in the honor of Aten. These are some of the famous Pharaohs of the New Kingdom.
Culture of the Ancient Egypt
The ancient Egypt civilisation is full of colourful cultural values and roots. It’s a deep sea of information to learn about ancient Egyptians. Life during ancient Egypt was considered so perfect, in fact, that the Egyptian afterlife was imagined as an eternal continuation of life on earth.
Daily life of the ancient Egyptians
Daily life in ancient Egypt revolved around the Nile and the fertile land along its banks. The concept of harmony and balance was central to the Egyptians understanding of life. Egyptians of all social classes valued life and enjoyed themselves as often as they could. The children generally followed the occupation of their parents, usually the father.
Women had almost equal rights to men in the ancient Egypt. No other civilisation of history could give that much equal rights to women as ancient Egyptians had given. They could run their own businesses, buy or sell their land, and their homes, could take divorce, have abortions, and dispose of their own property as they saw fit; this was a level of sexual equality. Marriages in the ancient Egypt believed as a religious affair. Parents of all classes, rich or elite arranged marriages of their children. Girls were usually married around the age of 12 and boys around age of 15.
The bread was main food item of the ancient Egyptians. Fruits, vegetables, goats and lambs, were also included in food. Meat was very expensive, and usually only royalty could afford it. The barley beer was the common drink at that time.
The ancient Egyptians were very particular not only about their dressing but about cleanliness as well. Both men and women took bath daily. They used perfumes and wore makeup to look presentable. They wore simple clothes, the hot climatic conditions did not favour them to wear variety of clothes. Plane white linen was the common dressing of people of ancient Egypt. Farmers grew flax plant to woven clothes.
Working Men wore a short skirt like kilt of white linen. A rectangular shaped cloth, used to made kilts. It was wrapped with a belt on waist. Wealthy men wore knee-length shirts, loincloths or kilts. Working women wore long full length dress. Rich or Elite Women wore long full length dress decorated with beads or jewellery. High ranking priests and the Pharaohs sometimes wore leopard skin cloaks over their shoulders. The Egyptians considered the leopard an sacred animal. Children didn’t wear any clothing until they turned six years old.
Although the dressing of ancient Egyptians was very simple but the jewellery was amazingly mind blowing. Both men and women wore jewellery. They decked the statues of gods and kings with lavish jewels. The ancient Egyptians used bracelets, earrings, armbands, neck collars, anklets, rings and necklace. The jewellery of rich people had Precious stones, precious metals and glass beads. Clay, stone, animal teeth and bones were used by poorer people to made jewellery for them.
The jewellery was not only a fashion symbol but it was considered helpful against evil powers. They loved jewellery designed with scrolls, tigers, scarab beetles, winged birds, jackals, antelopes, and tigers. They used armbands from protection against evils. The neck collar was famous in elite class. Parents also had their children wear charms and amulets to protect them. They put charms with dead bodies to help them in afterlife. The crown of king and queens, gods and goddess were also decorated with snake shaped design. They believed that the snake will spit in evil eyes to protect them.
The ancient Egyptians considered makeup as a symbol of holiness. They linked cosmetics with spiritual importance. Both men and women wore makeup. They carry their makeup cases with them. Some of the most important makeup items are:
- Malachite; a copper ore, provided the green eye makeup colour.
- Kohl; used to draw thick, distinctive black lines, giving an almond shape to the eyes.
- Red ochre; used as lip colour.
- Henna; used to paint their fingertips and toes.
- Oils and perfumes were of great importance for the ancient Egyptians.
- They coloured their cheeks with red ochre.
Hair and Wigs
The hair styles vary time to time. Women of old kingdom usually wore short hair. After that the long hair was in trend. The men normally had short hair cut or shave their head. The wigs were in fashion too. The wealthy people wore wigs to show their richness by decorating them with stones, feathers and beads. The Pharaohs kept their faces and head clean shaven, but they also wore fake beards for religious festivals or other purposes. Even the female Pharaoh Hatshepsut wore a fake beard while she ruled.
The rich people wore sandals made of leather and the poor wore sandals made from woven grass.
There are many different jobs which Egyptians did some of them are:
As the ancient Egypt civilization was around the Nile river so they had fertile soil. Many people had occupation of farming at that time. They grew barley to make beer, wheat for bread, vegetables such as onions and cucumbers, and flax to make into linen.
To keep record of different activities painting, sculpturing, wooden work was very common. The hard work and skills of a craftsman was key to success. The carpenter, weavers, jewelers, leather workers, and potters all were very skilled people.
The Egyptian army had a well defined hierarchy. It was an honor to become a soldier. They also help in governmental affairs.
Those who can write or read are known as scribes. Only the elite class or children of priests could become scribes at that time. It was long and time taking training.
Priests and Priestesses
They were responsible for the temples and held religious ceremonies. Priests could be male or female.
Most of the villagers lived in small houses made of mud bricks.They painted their houses. Flat roofs of the houses were helpful and used to sleep during summer nights. King and his close ones lived in well decorated and luxurious place. Scribes lived in or the temples.
Art and Craft
Art and craft had a great importance in the history of ancient Egypt. Actually art is the main source to know about the ancient Egypt civilisation. It includes paintings, sculptures, drawings on papyrus, faience, jewelry, ivories and architecture. Their art changed very little over 3000 years.
The ancient Egyptians made sculptures, most of the time they made for religious purposes, for decoration of the Pharaohs’ tombs and temples. The famous huge sized sculptures like the Great Sphinx of Giza and the statues of Ramses II at Abu Simbel temple found there .
They used solid gold to made sculptures of their Pharaohs and other religious leaders. They made beautiful sculptures with stones and beads.
The ancient Egyptians were fond of paintings. They used both sculptures and paintings to decorate their temples and tombs. Commonly used colours were red, blue, white, black, golden and green. The walls show paintings of different animals and birds, crop harvests, wine making, cattle herding, stone vessel carving and hunting. The Mayor of Thebes, Ramose, his tomb is the classic example of Egyptians paintings.
The dry weather of Egypt helped to keep the paintings saved for a long time. In many cases, a final coating of protective material applied over the colour to seal out dampness.
The ancient Egyptians contributed many new forms to architecture like columns, pylons and at least three kinds of decoration. The Great Pyramid and Karnak’s Temple are one of the examples of architectural achievements of Egypt civilisation.
The coffins were of great importance for people at that time. The labours decorated them with their hard work. They made coffins of wealthy people with wood import from other countries. Furniture was also carved with that wood.
Entertainment and Games
The ancient Egyptians were very lively and joyful. They loved to celebrate festivals and functions. Not only the rich and wealthy people liked to entertain themselves but the poor were also enjoyed games and fun activities.
The famous mind games of the ancient Egyptians were Senet and Mehen. Two board games were played. Senet is almost 5000 years old and it was played by the Pharaohs as the game was buried by many the Pharaoh. Mehen is played on a round board.
Sports and Physical Activities
As the ancient Egyptians were blessed with Nile River near them so most of the physical activities and festivals were related to swimming and agriculture. The ancient Egyptians were very good swimmers. Chariot racing helped to hone the skills of chariot drivers. Wrestling was also a common game at that time. Young boys showed interest in these kinds of games. Archery contests helped warriors improve their accuracy with the bow and arrow.
Hunting was not the only source to get food but it was also a leisure time pass by elite class. They arranged hunting for fun and entertainment.
Festivals and Parties
The wealthy people held parties for friends and family members. Musicians and dancers were also part of these parties to entertain guests. The ancient Egyptians enjoyed many festivals, most of them were celebrated in honour of their gods. Some of the festivals are:
- Wepet Renpet; meaning the opener of the year. The new year celebrations are named as Wepet Renpet.
- The Festival of Opet; this festival lasts after three days, it is celebrated in honour of three gods.
- Feast of Wagy; associated with the festival of Thoth.
- Festival of Khoiak.
Most of the Egyptians did not know how to write and read. The storytelling was an form of art at that time. People used to listen to others very carefully about things they do not know. One of the example of storytelling is the King Khufu, he entertained his sons by telling them about stories from past.
Activities for Kids
Kids were encouraged to play games that developed strength and agility. They played with marbles, balls, spinning tops and toy lions etc.
Hieroglyphics is the formal writing system used in the ancient Egypt. We know more about Egyptian society than most other ancient cultures. Hieroglyphs were called, by the Egyptians, the words of God and were used mainly by the priests. The symbols were used for decorating the walls of temples but for conducting daily activities there was another way, known as hieratic. This was a handwriting in which the picture signs were abbreviated to the point of abstraction. Hieroglyphs are written in rows or columns and can be read from left to right or from right to left or top to bottom.
Types of Hieroglyphics Signs
It’s a very complicated way of writing involving 1000s of symbols. These signs are divided into four categories:
- Alphabetic signs
- Syllabic signs
- Word signs
The reading and writing was not common for poor people.Only the kids of priests and rich people could learn how to read and write. It took a long time to learn hieroglyphs. The people who trained to write were called scribes.
The ancient Egypt mostly wrote on walls or stones but that was not the only way they used. Papyrus is a tall reed like plant which was used by the ancient Egyptians to write. The stem of the plant was used to make paper, they first put a strip vertical and then a horizontal strip on it, these strips were covered with a linen cloth and then put under a stone or some heavy object. Then a sheet like paper would make by binding strips together.
Without the Rosetta stone, we would know nothing of the ancient Egyptians, and the details of their three thousand years of history would remain a mystery. The Rosetta stone is written in two languages; Egyptian and Greek and three writing systems; hieroglyphic, demotic, and Greek. It was discovered by a French captain named Pierre Bouchard in AD 1799, during the Napoleonic wars.
Major god and goddess
Religion played a vital role in the history of the ancient Egyptians. Some the well known god and goddess are:
- Ra; was the sun god. It was believed that he created all forms of life and the ruler of the gods.
- Isis; was the mother goddess. She was believed to help and protect in time of grief.
- Osiris; was the god of dead. He was ruler of afterlife and husband of goddess Isis.
- Horus; was the god of sky. He was son of goddess Isis and god Osiris. The Pharaohs were believed to be the living version of god Horus.
- Thoth; was the god of knowledge and the moon. The knowledge of writing, medicine, and mathematics was a blessing of god Thoth.
Egyptian Mummies and Pyramids
They used process of mummification to bury their Pharaohs, religious leaders, priests or other powerful personalities. They believed on two things about life and death, the life, named as Ka; the body and the afterlife, named as Ba; the soul. They preserved body so both the Ka and Ba will meet each other again in afterlife. This is the best way to keep a dead body preserved for a long time. The key component to preserve the body, is reunion. The Egyptians used the embalming process, or mummification, to preserve the dead. They decorated coffin of a dead body with paintings, pictures and writings. As the ancient Egyptians believed afterlife so all the necessary things were there for the dead body.
Mummies, buried with scrolls called the book of the dead, which explained how to go through the underworld and what spells and chants to use. The process of mummifying and burying a body, believed to help the person travel successfully through the underworld, which would get them to the afterlife and the god Osiris, who was king of the underworld. Canopic jars, used to keep internal organs of a dead body preserved for afterlife. It was an expensive way of burying a dead body, so only people who could afford it were mummified. Estimated two months required to make mummy. Mummies of animals such as cats, dogs and even bulls and crocodiles also found there. These type of animals are mummified to please their gods.
Why did they build the pyramids?
They built pyramids to bury the Pharaohs, the ancient Egyptians considered them their gods so it was a part of religious belief to keep all sorts of items and treasure that they may need to survive in the afterlife. Pyramids took a long time to build, so work would start on them while the pharaoh was still alive. There were different chambers that held things for the king . Pyramids also included shafts that pointed upwards, so the soul could escape.
The Pharaoh in Egyptian Society
Egypt enjoyed tremendous economic prosperity and stability. The pharaohs; the kings and queens of Egypt, were gods for the ancient Egyptians. Somewhere in between human and divine, they believed to chosen by the gods themselves to serve as their mediators on earth. The Pharaohs wore a crown that had an image of the cobra goddess.
Some of the famous Pharaohs of the ancient Egypt are:
- Djoser; the most famous third dynasty Pharaoh. He built the famous step pyramid at Saqqara.
- Khufu; a fourth dynasty Pharaoh. He had the Great Pyramid at Giza built, one of the seven wonders of the world.
- Hatshepsut; she was the wife of Thutmose II. She took to the role of pharaoh and proved an accomplished ruler.
- Thutmose III; he never lost a battle. Some Egyptologists refer to him as the Napoleon of Egypt.
- Amenhotep III; he largely presided over a peaceful and prosperous Egypt.
- Akhenaten; was famous for saying there was only one god, the sun god. He ruled with his wife, Nefertiti.
- Tutankhamun; he became king at the age of 9 only.
- Ramses II; he was a very successful pharaoh. He helped Egypt prosper, and ruled for a long time.
- Cleopatra; the last pharaoh, and known for being very beautiful and very smart.
Types of pyramids
The ancient Egyptians used their knowledge of math to shape well and position properly, the pyramids. Two main types of pyramids are:
- Bent Pyramid; pyramids, which looked like a staircase with different levels.
- Red Pyramid; pyramids which have smooth, perfectly angled sides.
The Early Pyramids
During the early time of the ancient Egyptians buried the Pharaohs in tombs called mastabas. They had tombs beautifully painted and designed with all luxury items. Mastabas, the tombs carved into rocks and covered with a rectangular shaped flat roof structure. The Pharaoh Djoser, buried in a flat-roofed structure with sloping sides on top of one another, creating the very first step pyramid. The pyramid includes a recessed limestone wall, a temple, and a statue of King Djoser. Imhotep, the vizier of the Pharaoh built the pyramid.
After Djoser, the stepped pyramid became the norm for royal burials. Sneferu, the one who made three attempts to build pyramids after pyramid of Djoser. The second pyramid of Egyptians history, the Medium Pyramid, also known as the collapsed pyramid. The Bent Pyramid, the second attempt of the Pharaoh Sneferu, almost succeed to build the first smooth sided pyramid. The Red Pyramid, also known as the North Pyramid, is the third of Sneferu’s pyramids, it is the third largest pyramid in Egypt.
The Great Pyramids of Giza
These massive monuments remains unsurpassed in height for thousands of years after their construction. The three pyramids on Giza built over the period of three generations by the rulers Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure.
The Pharaoh Khufu began the first Giza pyramid. The sides of the pyramid’s base average 755.75 feet, and its original height was 481.4 feet. It is the largest pyramid in the world. Khufu’s three queens found, buried around his pyramid. His mother, Queen Hetepheres, also buried nearby. Khufu’s tomb, surrounded by rows of mastabas, where relatives or officials of the king buried.
The Pharaoh Khafre, son of the Pharaoh Khufu, buried in middle pyramid of Giza. The Pyramid of Khafre is the second tallest pyramid at Giza. His pyramid also includes the Sphinx, a mysterious limestone monument with the body of a lion and a pharaoh’s head. They considered the huge statue a sign of power against evils. It was the largest statue in the ancient world, measuring 240 feet long and 66 feet high.
The Pharaoh Menkaure, he built the third pyramid of Giza. He is son of the Pharaoh Khafre. It is the shortest of the three pyramids at the Giza. Its height is almost 218 feet long.
In addition to these major structures, several smaller pyramids belonging to queens also found there.
Who Built The Pyramids?
The construction of these pyramids is still a mystery. Despite of many theories no one is sure how exactly this construction had happened. Approximately 2.3 million blocks of stone about 2.5 tons had cut, transported and then assembled to build Khufu’s Great Pyramid. They had skilled and well-trained Egyptian workers and builders . The scientists believed that thousands of workers and slaves worked; cut up the large blocks then slowly move them up the pyramid. They built pyramids slowly, one block at a time. Most of the Pharaohs started building of tombs or pyramids during their lives. Scientists estimate it took at least 20,000 workers over 23 years to build the Great Pyramid of Giza.
What is the book of the dead?
The book which contains spell and some magics or formulas to help the person for afterlife. They felt that the spells contained in the Book of the Dead would help protect them from demons. The book have some chapters written on papyrus. There were at least 190 different chapters of the Book of the Dead. The scribes wrote those books. Not every dead body contains this only the rich people who can afford a scribe to write the book for themselves had this book. The book of length 100 feet is also found.
Valley of the Kings
The place where many great Pharaohs buried after 1500 BC. The time when Pharaohs rejected the idea of building pyramids for themselves and selected this place for their burial. Kings were buried in different tombs in the valley of the Kings. There are many tombs which vary from each other. Some are so small like a hole in the ground and others are larger enough with 1oo chambers in them. There are over 60 tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Robbers had stolen almost all treasure from tombs.
The one tomb discovered with much of the treasure and tomb still there, that of Tutankhamun. It was discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter and had been largely untouched by thieves and vandals. Carter found the tomb under the remains of some workmen’s huts. The tomb contained several chambers including the burial chamber, antechamber, treasure chamber, and annex.
Columns and pillars in the temples had design in the shape of sacred plants such as papyrus and lotus. The temples grew in size over time as new pharaohs added to them. The temples employed thousands of workers to supply food, jewelry, and clothing for the offerings as well as the many priests. Some of the famous temples of the ancient Egyptians religious and political powers are:
- Karnak; located in the ancient city of Thebes. Almost thirty Pharaohs took part in its construction as it’s the most largest and visited temple.
- Luxor; located on the east bank of the Nile River. Amun, his wife and son built that for themselves.
- Abu Simbel; located on the southern border of Egypt. The Pharaoh Ramesses II built this.
- Temple of Edfu; located on the west bank of the Nile River.
- Temple of Hatshepsut; located to the northeast of the city of Luxor, for the female Pharaoh.
- Temple of Seti I; constructed in the shape of an “L” and has shrines dedicated to six Egyptian gods.
Famous Cities of the ancient Egypt
There were two types of cities, capital cities were near the central government and important officials. The cities of religious importance were near to the temples. Some of the famous cities of the Egypt are:
- Memphis; the capital and administrative city for a very long time. It has many temples. It was the main city of the ancient Egyptian empire while Thebes was the religious center.
- Thebes; present day Luxor. was the religious capital of Egypt and the center of power. It included the area occupied by Karnak and Luxor.
- Alexandria; the city became the capital when Alexander the Great conquered Egypt and one of his generals established the Ptolemy Dynasty. Alexandria remained the capital for nearly a thousand years.
- Amarna; the city built by the Pharaoh Akhenaten in honour of a new god Aten.
- Abydos; the holy city of the Egypt because they believed that the god Osiris burial place is that city. The city had many temples and tombs of the Pharaohs.
- Hermopolis; the city was famous because of belief that the sun god was first appeared there. They worshiped god Thoth for a long time. The city was a wealthy resort.
- Crocodilopolis; the city was the place for god of crocodile.
- Elephantine; they worshiped god of water khnum. It was famous as defensive fort and trade center.
- Kom Ombo; the city was a trade center of trade routes, Nubia to the rest of Egypt. The city later became famous for the Temple of Kom Ombo.
Inventions of the ancient Egypt
Some of the great inventions are following:
- Papyrus Sheet
- Ship building
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Large door locks
- Wooden boats
- Cargo ships
- Funeral Boats
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