Egypt – An Ancient Civilisation

hieroglyphics goddess queen

Thirty Centuries of History: from Menes to Cleopatra

When people think of ancient Egypt, they think perhaps of pyramids or pharaohs, or of names like Nofretete* or Tutankhamun*, or most likely of the river Nile. Apart from the name Nile all other words and names refer to a period of time which began about 5000 years ago. The time of the history of the kings (pharaohs) in Egypt covers a period of about 3000 years, longer than any other civilisation in world history.
A huge number of man-made objects (such as tools, weapons, etc.), architecture (temples, tombs*), texts and other material have been conserved due to the dry climate of Egypt. So we have a good knowledge of pharaonic Egypt.
The history of pharaonic Egypt is usually divided into three main epochs and some in-between periods with political unrest. In about 3100 BC a king called Menes from Upper Egypt conquered Lower Egypt (the Delta land) and ruled the lands as the first of the pharaohs. Memphis in the north and Thebes in the south became the most important centres. The first great period was that of the Old Kingdom (ca 2700 to 2200 BC). In that age the pharaohs built huge tombs for themselves, the pyramids. After a time of wars among rival kings a second great period followed, the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2040 to 1630 BC). For two and half centuries there was peace and trade grew well. Egyptian ships sailed the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. But then foreigners – the Egyptians called them Hyksos – attacked Lower Egypt. They brought new weapons with them, including horse-drawn chariots*. By 1550 BC the Egyptians managed to drive the Hyksos out of the country. A new age, the New Kingdom (ca. 1550 to 1180 BC), brought another long period of peace and unity. In that time, a well-known female pharaoh, Hatshepsut*, ruled. Her stepson Thutmose III and the pharaohs who followed changed Egypt into an empire that stretched from Syria to Nubia*. Their military operations were very expensive, but gold mines in the Near East and in the desert areas east of the Nile were a great source of income. The pharaohs could then build the magnificent temples of Luxor* and Karnak*. Though not really an aggressive people the Egyptians became gradually more and more involved* in long wars against various attackers. Finally the Persians overran Egypt. They were defeated by the Greek (Macedonian) Alexander the Great in 333 BC. After his death, Ptolemy, one of his generals, took power in Egypt. The last of the Ptolemys, Cleopatra, had great plans and was very astute*. She sought Roman support for Egypt and began a close relationship with the Roman politician and commander Julius Caesar, with whom she had a son, called Caesarion. After Caesar’s murder (44 BC), she tried to win over Mark Antony, who had become the leading Roman commander. Antony, however, was defeated by Octavian, another powerful Roman commander. After this Cleopatra decided to kill herself rather than to give up to Octavian. From 30 BC Egypt became part of the Roman Empire. The long history of pharaonic Egypt was over.

ple of Abu Simbel: “I’m not much of a fellow for temples…, but a place like this [is simply fascinating] … These old Pharaohs must have been wonderful fellows.”

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