The giant pyramids, temples, and tombs of ancient Egypt tell an exciting story about a nation that rose to power more than 5,000 years ago. This mighty civilization crumbled before conquering armies after 2,500 years of triumph and glory. The dry air and drifting desert sands have preserved many records of ancient Egypt until modern times.
The ancient Egyptians lived colorful, active, and eventful lives. Many were creative artists, skilled craftsmen, and adventurous explorers. Bold Egyptian warriors won many battles, and their rulers governed wide areas of the known world. The ancient Egyptians loved nature and had a lively sense of humor. They were among the first people to try to find answers to questions concerning man, nature, and God. They also considered the relationship of man to society, but regarded other people as savages. They captured and enslaved thousands of men and women from other lands.
The Greek historian Herodotus called Egypt the gift of the Nile, because floodwaters of this great river deposited rich, black soil on the land year after year. Egyptian farmers planted their crops in this fertile soil. Sandy plateaus and towering cliffs bordered the river valley. Beyond these waters stretched the barren wastes of the Sahara desert. On the edge of the desert, the Egyptians built giant pyramids as burial places for their pharaohs. They carved the Great Sphinx out of solid rock as a guardian of King CheopsÕ Great Pyramid at Giza. The ancient Egyptians called their country Kemet, which means black (after the land). The Greeks called the country Aigyptos, from the name Ha-ka-ptah, the main temple of the Egyptian capital at Memphis.
Many modern beliefs and ideals, as well as much of manÕs knowledge, had their origin in Egypt. The ancient Egyptians developed the worldÕs first national government. Their religion was one of the first to emphasize a life after death. They produced an expressive art and literature. The Egyptians introduced stone architecture and made the first convenient writing material, papyrus. They developed a 365-day year and set up the basic methods of geometry and surgery.
The boundaries of ancient Egypt changed many times during its history. When the Kingdom of Egypt was formed in about 3100 B.C., it occupied only the fertile valley of the Nile River in northeastern Africa. The kingdom extended south about 680 miles from the Mediterranean Sea to the First Cataract (rapids) of the river. It averaged only 12 miles in width from the Nile delta to the First Cataract. Egypt covered about 8,000 square miles and was a little smaller than the state of Massachusetts.
In later years, ancient Egypt usually controlled neighboring areas around the Nile Valley, including oases (fertile green patches), in the desert to the west. It usually governed part of the Nile Valley south of the First Cataract, the Red Sea coast, and the western part of the Sinai Peninsula in Asia. At the height of its power, around 1450 B.C., Egypt claimed an empire that reached as far south as the Fourth Cataract in Nubia, a part of ancient Ethiopia, and as far northeast as the Euphrates River in western Asia.
Ancient Egypt was a lot less crowded than Modern Egypt. Historians believe that from one to eight million people lived in ancient Egypt. In Roman times, estimates set the figure at about six million. Most Egyptians lived near the Nile, with an average of 750 people per square mile. Today, the valley averages almost 2,400 people per square mile, although Egypt as a whole averages only 85.
The black-haired, dark-skinned ancient Egyptians were short and slender. The belong to the Mediterranean race of the Caucasoid (white) stock. As time went on, the Egyptians mixed with people from Asia, Negroes from other parts of Africa, and people from lands around the Mediterranean Sea.
The Egyptians were divided into four social classes. They were from most important: the...