04 September 2015
#History of World Civilization, Day 4
Why are Egypt and Nubia called "gifts of the Nile?"
Egypt and Nubia are called “gifts of the Nile” because the Nile River made both civilizations possible. Without the Nile running through that part of Africa, the fertile valley would have been a barren wasteland, unable to support even small settlements and rudimentary agriculture. The Nile is the source of life on that part of the continent, carrying both fresh water and fertile soil deposits. Mountain runoff from rainfall and melting snow courses down the river valley annually, irrigating and replenishing the parched land. Even today, the Nile Valley is a relatively narrow strip of green running through a monotonous tan landscape, with little else but sand for hundreds of miles to the west, and a rocky, inhospitable landscape between the river and the Gulf of Suez and the Red Sea to the east.
How did the institution of the pharaoh evolve? What was the nature of the pharaoh's authority and power?
Ancient Egypt began as a series of small kingdoms situated along the northward-flowing Nile River from the first cataract (Upper Egypt) in the south to the sprawling river delta that spills into the Mediterranean Sea in the north (Lower Egypt). By about 3100 BC, a strong leader (Menes) finally united the kingdoms and instituted the idea that the pharaoh was a divine son of the god Horus, son of Osiris. The royal bloodline was closely guarded, with the typical genetic problems associated with inbreeding. Apparently, these physical abnormalities did not deter the Egyptians from worshipping the pharaoh, and recognizing his (or her; there were at least three female pharaohs) absolute rule. The land and everything on it, even the people, were his personal property, though most pharaohs regarded their citizens more as children than chattel. They lived in comfort and ruled by direct fiat through a complex bureaucracy. Though they had unquestioned authority, most attempted to rule in the best interests of their subjects.
Describe the most important features of ancient Egyptian society.
The most important feature of ancient Egypt was the Nile River, without which Egypt would never have existed. The Nile Valley forms the western end of the Fertile Crescent, a curved strip of land that includes the Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates river valleys. These rivers made agriculture possible in an otherwise dry, mostly barren landscape. Egypt depended on the Nile for drinking water for its people and domesticated animals, fishing, and for the annual flooding of the Nile Delta to irrigate and replenish the soil, producing abundant crops. Water is the most basic essential for life, and the Nile provided it bountifully. Even in modern times, few major cities in Egypt are located outside the Nile Valley.
The strong, unquestioned leadership of the pharaohs supported a complex bureaucracy that made Egyptian life ordered and stable. Egyptians were a hardworking, serious people who followed the word of the pharaoh as divine. They took religion and the afterlife very seriously, believing that the best thing one could do in this life was to prepare a tomb for the next life. Their pantheon of gods and goddesses was overseen by Ra-Atum, the Sun god, which they believed was the source of all life and overseer of the universe. Egyptian mythology held that all pharaohs were descended from the god Horus, and a divine, or at least semi-divine, earthly representative of Ra.
The importance Egyptians placed on life after death can be seen in the elaborate tombs they built and the extensive (and expensive) process of mummification. A well-furnished tomb was a sign of wealth and prestige, and was sometimes bestowed by the pharaoh on his (or her) most highly regarded subjects. Since most Egyptians could not afford grand tombs or mummification, they had small statues of themselves made to take their place as the afterlife embodiment of their ka. Aside from the Great Sphinx, the purpose of which is not fully known, the greatest surviving monuments of the ancient world are the Great Pyramids in the enormous necropolis at Giza, the burial places of the greatest of the pharaohs, emphasizing their obsession with death and the afterlife. The tombs of Egypt are among the largest and most elaborate burial places of any known culture, ancient or modern.