History of Egypt

Brief history of Egypt summarized

A brief journey through the history of Egypt, from Ancient Egypt to the present day.

Ancient Egypt

By 5,000 BC the people of Egypt had begun farming. They also weaved linen and made pottery. Later they learned to wear bronze. Around 3,200 BC the Egyptians invented writing. The first Egyptian in history was King Menes, alias Narmer, who lived shortly before 3,100 BC.

At that time Egypt was divided into the north (lower) and the south (upper). Around 3118 Menes managed to unite the two. He made Memphis his capital. Ancient Egypt was a highly organized society. The country was divided into 42 areas called nomes. Each of them was ruled by a nomad. Farmers paid part of their crops in taxes.

The first period of Egyptian history, which ended in 2181 BC, is called the Old Kingdom. During it the pharaohs built pyramids. The first pyramid, the Step Pyramid, was built by Djoser around 2665 BC Others were built by later pharaohs Sneferu and Khufu.

However, the central authority in Egypt eventually weakened. After 1281 BC Egypt was divided into parts and there were civil wars between the rival areas. This period of civil disorder is called the First Intermediate Period and lasted until 2055 BC Finally Mentuhotep II managed to reunite Egypt and founded the Middle Kingdom.

The Middle Kingdom lasted until 1650 BC It was a great period of art and literature in Egypt. In addition, the pharaohs carried out successful military campaigns and more pyramids were built. However, the Middle Kingdom was followed by the Second Intermediate Period. Around 1650 a Palestinian people called the Hyksos seized power in northern Egypt. They ruled from the city of Avaris.

However, the native Egyptians continued to rule southern Egypt and in 1550 BC they expelled the Hyksos and reunited Egypt. Thus began the New Kingdom. It lasted from 1550 to 1070 BC During this era Egypt was once again rich and powerful. Egypt controlled Nubia, the land to the south, and invaded Palestine and Syria.

Meanwhile, great new temples were built at Thebes and the pharaohs were buried in the Valley of the Kings. Then around 1364 BC Akhenaten became pharaoh. He only worshiped the sun god, Aton. However, his son Tutankhamun worshiped the ancient gods.

The New Kingdom collapsed in 1070, ushering in another period of disunity. From this point on, Egypt declined and never regained its former glory.

During the third intermediate period, Egypt was divided into two halves, north and south. However, in 747 BC, the kings of Nubia (the country south of Egypt) conquered Egypt and restored unity. However, in 525 BC the Persians conquered Egypt. Then, in 332, Alexander the Great conquered it.

After Alexander’s death, his empire was divided into parts. A Greek general named Ptolemy eventually took Egypt and for about 300 years his Greek descendants ruled Egypt. However, in 30 BC Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire and ceased to be an independent kingdom.

Meanwhile, a woman named Sobekneferu ruled Egypt around 1800 BC Later, a woman named Hatshepsut ruled Egypt around 1479-1458 BC Another woman, Twosret ruled Egypt around 1191-1189 BC

The Nile in Ancient Egypt

Egypt was said to be the gift of the Nile. Every summer the Nile would flood and provide water for crops. For irrigation the Egyptians used a device called a shaduf. It was a “see-saw” with a leather container at one end, which was filled with water, and a counterweight at the other.

When the Nile flooded it also deposited silt on land near the banks, making the land very fertile once the water had receded. The Nile also provided a way to transport people and goods. The prevailing winds in Egypt blew to the south, so ships traveling in that direction used sails. Ships heading north used oars.

Society in ancient egypt

Ancient Egypt was ruled by a king. Around 1500 BC he was called the Pharaoh (from the word per ao meaning great house). Originally it meant the palace in which he lived, but came to mean the ruler himself.) The Pharaoh was assisted by a kind of prime minister called a vizier (sometimes there was more than one). Also, for administration, Egypt was divided into areas called “nomes”.

Below the Pharaoh were the nobility, the priests, the scribes, and the merchants. Then came the soldiers and craftsmen, then the peasants, and finally the slaves. Ordinary Egyptians who were not slaves also had to work for the Pharaoh each year building or repairing irrigation canals. This was done when the Nile was flooded and agricultural work was impossible. Farmers also had to pay part of their crops to Pharaoh as taxes.

In Ancient Egypt women had a lot of freedom. They could come and go as they pleased. They could own property and sign contracts. Women can also divorce their husbands.

However, most of the women worked at home. There was a lot of work to be done, as most households were self-sufficient. The woman made the family’s clothing and prepared the food, such as grinding grain into flour to make bread. Even in a rich family, the woman was busy organizing the slaves.

There were some female doctors in Ancient Egypt. Merit Ptah was a famous female doctor who lived around 2,700 BC A woman named Sobekneferu ruled Egypt around 1800 BC Later, a woman named Hatshepsut ruled Egypt around 1479-1458 BC Another woman, Twosret ruled Egypt around 1191-1189 BC

Food and agriculture in Ancient Egypt

The staple diet of the common people in Ancient Egypt was bread and beer. The bread was baked outside. Due to the desert, the sand often turned into dough. Over time, eating bread with grains of sand in it wore down people’s teeth.

In Ancient Egypt, as in all early civilizations, meat was a luxury and only the wealthy could afford to eat it frequently. The Egyptians ate sheep, pigs, cattle, and goats, but the meat often came from ducks and geese. However, in Egypt fish abounded.

The Egyptians ate many vegetables including squash, beans, onions, lentils, leeks, radishes, garlic, and lettuce. They also ate fruits such as melons, dates, and figs. Pomegranates were quite expensive and were consumed mainly by the wealthy. The Egyptians also grew herbs and spices and made cooking oil.

The beer was made from crumbled barley bread and barleyed with water, so it was lumpy. He was tense before he got drunk. Still, still, it was clumpy, so you had to drink it through a wooden straw with a filter. Egyptians better drink wine.

Ancient Egyptian farmers dug irrigation canals to take in water from the Nile when it flooded and to hold it when the flood subsided. In Ancient Egypt, oxen pulled plows and farmers used simple tools such as hoes, sickles, rakes, and fans (used to throw wheat into the air and separate light chaff from heavier grain).

In Ancient Egypt there were three seasons. July to October was the season when the Nile was flooded. The seeds were planted from November to February. The harvest lasted from March to June.

The Egyptians divided the days into 24 hours and measured time with water clocks. (Water was allowed to trickle into a container at a constant rate. The container was marked at intervals, and it took an hour for the water to rise from one mark to another.)

Like all early civilizations, ancient Egypt was an agricultural society. Most of the people lived in the countryside and made a living from farming. The most important crops were wheat and barley.

Clothing in Ancient Egypt

Not surprisingly, given the hot climate, Egyptians wore only light clothing. The men wore a loincloth and a kind of kilt. The women wore dresses with straps. Clothing was linen or cotton. Later in Egyptian history clothing became more elaborate and colorful.

The Egyptians shaved their hair and wore wigs. Boys had their heads shaved to prevent lice (although a braid usually remained on the side of their heads). It was normal for children to undress. Most people went barefoot most of the time, but sometimes they wore sandals made of papyrus.

The ancient Egyptians wore jewelry. Those who could afford it wore gold, silver, and precious stone jewelry. The poor wore copper or bronze jewelry. Both men and women wore makeup.

Houses in Ancient Egypt

Rich Egyptians lived in large, comfortable houses with many rooms. The walls were painted and the floors had colored tiles. Most of the rich houses had enclosed gardens with swimming pools. Inside their homes, wealthy Egyptians kept wooden furniture such as beds, chairs, tables, and chests for storage.

However, instead of pillows, they used wooden headrests. The toilets consisted of a clay pot filled with sand. It was emptied regularly.

Common people in Ancient Egypt lived in simpler houses made of mud bricks with perhaps four rooms. People may have slept on the flat roof in hot weather and did most of their work outside because of the heat.

The furnishings were very basic. Ordinary Egyptians sat on brick benches around the walls. To store things, they used cane trunks or wooden pegs on the walls.

Pastimes in Ancient Egypt

For entertainment, the Egyptians loved parties. If a wealthy person were to invite you to a banquet, you would be entertained by singers, musicians, dancers, jugglers, wrestlers, and buffoons.

Musicians played wooden flutes, harps, lutes, drums, and clapping. At a rich person’s banquet, guests received a cone of scented fat to put on their heads. It slowly melted leaving the wearer smelling good.

The ancient Egyptians loved hunting and fishing. (For the rich hunting was for pleasure, for the poor for food). Men caught birds with nets or by throwing curved sticks. Fish were caught with hooks or harpoons.

Men and women went swimming. Men also enjoyed boxing, wrestling, and archery. They also played a game where they got on a boat and tried to knock the opposing team into the water with a stick. The Egyptians also played a board game called senet. The board was divided into squares with tokens.

You rolled sticks instead of dice. Ancient Egyptian children played games similar to those played by children today. They also played with dolls, toy soldiers, wooden animals, balls, marbles, tops, and knucklebones (which were thrown like dice).

Education in Ancient Egypt

Most children in Ancient Egypt did not go to school. Instead, the children learned farming or other trades from their parents. The girls learned sewing, cooking, and other skills from their mothers.

However, children from wealthy families sometimes went to school and learned to be scribes. They learned by copying and memorizing and the discipline was strict. Teachers beat naughty children. The children learned reading and writing and also mathematics. Sometimes girls from wealthy families are homeschooled.

Ancient Egyptian writing consisted of symbols called hieroglyphs. They were originally images, but over time they became standard symbols. However, hieroglyphics were very complicated, so they were only used for religious books and for carving on buildings. For everyday use a simpler form of writing called hieratic was developed.

Weapons in Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egyptian soldiers went into battle protected only by wooden or leather shields. They fought with spears, swords, axes, daggers, and maces. They also used slings, bows and arrows. Most men fought on foot, but after 1700 BC the army also had chariots.

Each chariot carried two men, one to drive and one to shoot arrows. (In Ancient Egypt horses were used primarily for warfare. Donkeys were used as pack animals.) Only the most important soldiers wore bronze armor. Prisoners of war were generally made slaves.

Medicine in Ancient Egypt

The first known physician in history was Sekhet-eanach, who “healed the pharaoh’s nostrils.” (We don’t know what happened to them). The second physician we know of is Imhotep (c. 2600 BC), who was the pharaoh’s vizier or chief minister. He was also a doctor and was so famous that after his death he was revered as a god.

Much of Egyptian medicine continued to rely on magic. However, they could at least keep written records of which treatments worked and which didn’t. In this way, medicine could advance. The earliest known medical book is the Ebers Papyrus, which was written around 1500 BC.

Physicians in ancient Egypt used a wide variety of medicines obtained from herbs and minerals. They were drunk with wine or beer or sometimes mixed with dough to form a ‘pill’. Egyptian physicians also used ointments for wounds and treated chest ailments by having the patient inhale steam.

The Egyptians believed that the human body was full of passageways that acted as irrigation canals. The Egyptians knew that irrigation channels were sometimes blocked. They reasoned that if passageways in a human body were blocked, they could cause disease. To open them, the Egyptians used laxatives and induced vomiting.

However, the Egyptians still believed that spells would help the sick and they wore amulets to ward off illness. However, they were beginning to look for a physical cause for the disease.

The Egyptians had some knowledge of anatomy from the making of mummies. To embalm a corpse, they first removed the major organs, which would otherwise rot.

However, ancient Egyptian surgery was limited to treating wounds and broken bones and treating boils and abscesses. The Egyptians used clamps, sutures, and cauterization (burning with red metal). They had surgical instruments such as probes, saws, forceps, scalpels, and scissors.

They also knew that honey helped prevent wounds from becoming infected. (It is a natural antiseptic). They also bound the wounds with willow bark, which has the same effect. The ancient Egyptians were clean people. They washed daily and changed their clothes regularly, which must have helped their health.

Religion in Ancient Egypt

The ancient Egyptians were polytheists. That is, they worshiped many gods. The gods and goddesses were usually represented as human beings although they sometimes had animal heads.

Among the ancient Egyptian gods was Amun-Re, the sun god and leader of the gods. Nut was the goddess of the sky. Her brother Geb was the earth god. Osiris was in charge of the underworld. His wife was Isis and his son Horus (sometimes depicted with a falcon’s head). Hathor was the goddess of joy and love. She was also the goddess of music and dance.

They also worshiped Anubis, god of the dead and of mummification. He was a man with the head of a jackal and the Egyptians believed that he watched over the places where the dead were buried.

Other gods included Thoth, a man with an ibis head, who was god of the moon and of wisdom. Ptah was the god of craftsmen. Taweret, a pregnant hippopotamus, was the goddess of childbirth. Maat was the goddess of justice and truth. Hapi was the god who caused the Nile to flood. The ancient Egyptians had a goddess of reading, writing, and arithmetic. She was called Seshat.

The ancient Egyptians believed that the gods “lived” in temples (the spirit of the god was believed to inhabit a statue). Three times a day the priests cleaned the statue, changed its clothes and placed fresh food for it to ‘eat’. (After a time, the priests removed the food and ate it.)

After death, the Egyptians believed that they would be judged. His heart was placed on a scale and weighed against an ostrich feather (a symbol of truth and justice). If the heart was good, it would balance the pen and the person was granted eternal happiness.

If he was evil, the pen would overcome him. In that case, the heart was fed by a monster named Anmit, who was part lion, part crocodile, and part hippopotamus. If Anmit ate your heart, you ceased to exist.

The ancient Egyptians tried to preserve corpses by mummifying them so that the owners could use them in the next life. The dead were also buried with ‘grave goods’ for use in the next life. Animals, especially cats, were also mummified.

To mummify a body, the Egyptians first removed its internal organs (otherwise they would rot), rinsed the cavities with palm wine, and then covered the body with a salt paste called natron to dry it out. After 70 days the body was washed and wrapped in linen bandages.

Medieval Egypt

However, the true end of Ancient Egypt came with Christianity. It arrived in Alexandria in AD 70 and spread south in AD 180. Christianity meant the end of the old religion and thus the end of the old Egyptian culture.

In the 4th century the Roman Empire split in two. Egypt was part of the eastern half, known to us as the Byzantine Empire. However, in the 7th century the Arabs conquered it. The Arabs invaded Egypt in 639 and by 642 all of Egypt was in their hands.

It became part of an Islamic Empire and was ruled from Baghdad. However, in 868 an administrator named Ahmed Ibn Tulun declared independence from Egypt, but the independence did not last long. His son and his successor were assassinated and the Baghdad government was reimposed.

In the year 969, Egypt was conquered by the Fatimids of Tunis. The Fatimids ruled Egypt until 1171 and built Cairo, which became the capital.

However, in 1171 a Syrian named Salah-ad-Din, known in the West as Saladin, became ruler of Egypt. He founded a dynasty called the Ayyubids that ruled Egypt for nearly 80 years. Then, in 1250, a man named Beybars seized power in Egypt. He and his successors were called the Mamluks and they ruled Egypt until 1517.

During that period Egypt was rich and powerful. However, in 1517 Egypt was conquered by the Ottoman Turks.

Contemporary Egypt

Under the Ottomans, Egypt was allowed some autonomy. While Egypt paid taxes, the Ottomans were content to let the Egyptians manage themselves. However, the 17th and 18th centuries were those of Egypt’s economic decline and in 1719 the country suffered a devastating outbreak of plague.

Then, in 1798, a French army led by Napoleon landed in Egypt. (Napoleon hoped that if he occupied Egypt British links with India would be disrupted). Napoleon defeated the Egyptians on land at the Battle of the Pyramids, but was defeated at sea by the British navy.

So Napoleon abandoned his army and left Egypt. Later, the British and Ottoman forces defeated the French army and forced them to surrender. However, the French expedition led to a renewed interest in Ancient Egypt in Europe.

After the departure of the French there was a power struggle in Egypt. It was eventually won by Albanian mercenaries led by Mohammed Ali who became the viceroy of Egypt. (Nominally it was under the control of the Ottoman sultan, but in practice it was more or less independent.) Ali tried to modernize Egypt and built factories and shipyards. However, he died in 1849.

Work on the Suez Canal began in 1859. It was built by the French engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps (1805-94).

Khedive Ismail (1863-79) continued the policy of trying to modernize Egypt, establishing a postal service and building railways. In 1869 the Suez Canal was completed.

However, he had to borrow from European lenders at high interest rates to finance the modernization. Finally, to avoid bankruptcy, Ismail was forced to sell his shares in the Suez Canal to the British in 1875. He was followed by his son Tewfik in 1879.

In 1882 there was an uprising in Egypt. Concerned about their investments in the Suez Canal, the British sent troops to occupy Egypt. They kept Khedive as a puppet ruler. Naturally, the Egyptians resented becoming a British colony and in 1919 anti-British riots swept through Egypt.

In 1922 Great Britain recognized Egypt as an independent state. However, the British continued to control the Egyptian communication system, its legal system, and its foreign policy. The British made a successor to Khedive named Fuad King of Egypt, but he only had limited power. In 1935 he was followed by his son Farouk.

Then in 1942, German troops invaded Egypt but were repulsed by the British at the Battle of El-Alamein.

However, following anti- British riots, the last British troops withdrew from Egypt in 1947.

In 1948 Egypt was defeated in a war with Israel. Farouk was blamed for the disaster and in 1952 a group of army officers called the Free Officers staged a coup and forced Farouk to abdicate. Their leader, General Naguib, became the leader of Egypt, but in 1954 he was replaced by Gamal Abdel Nasser.

In 1956 Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. Britain, France and Israel formed an alliance and in October 1956 Israel invaded Sinai. The British and French sent troops to Port Said, but American pressure forced them to withdraw.

Nasser introduced a socialist regime and brought Egypt closer to the Soviet Union. Under him, education and health improved, but it was a repressive regime and the economy stagnated.

However, Egypt was defeated by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War and Nasser was killed in 1970.

He was replaced by Anwar Sadat, who reversed discredited socialist policies and encouraged foreign investment. As a result, the Egyptian economy grew (although Egypt fought another unsuccessful war with Israel in 1973). In 1978 Sadat made peace with Israel through the Camp David Agreement. However, he was assassinated by extremists in 1981 and was replaced by Hosni Mubarak.

Today, Egypt is facing the problems of rapid population growth and lack of farmland. However, the tourism industry is booming and Egypt has great potential for natural gas exports.

In 2011, after the demonstrations in Egypt (known as the Arab Spring), Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign and a new chapter in Egypt’s history began. Egypt got a new constitution in 2014. Today, the population of Egypt is 97 million.

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