The Geography Of Ancient Egypt

Geography-Physical environment and how it may influence an economy and culture.

The Nile runs through the entirety of Egypt, and it is 4160 miles long, making it the longest river in the world. It flows north, beginning in east-central Africa, ending when it reaches the Mediterranean Sea. Rainfall gathered in the mountains south of Egypt is the source of the Nile’s water. The land in Egypt is mostly desert (in the northern Sahara), and it is not very fertile.  However, when the Nile overflows each year, silt is deposited in the land near the river, which makes it very fertile.  Around 4000 BCE, the lands near the Nile’s banks became increasingly populated by farmers. Since the water levels became unpredictable during the flooding season, Egyptians learned how to control flooding by using irrigation streams, dams, dikes, and by storing water in case of drought.  Egyptian civilization and agriculture was almost entirely dependent upon the water and silt from the Nile.

The Economy Of Ancient Egypt

Economy-How a civilization makes money through the buying and selling of goods and services.

The economy of Egypt was largely dependent on the surplus grains Egyptians were able to grow from the water and silt of the Nile.  Grains such as wheat and barley were traded with cities and travelers up and down the Nile, and with traders from southwestern Asia.  The Nile River was used to transport goods north and south, and Egyptian sailboats even allowed them to travel against the current of the river! During the Middle Kingdom (2040 BCE-1786 BCE), Egyptian trade began to expand further into southwestern Asia, eastern Africa, and the eastern Mediterranean region.  Egypt had grains and minerals, but they had to trade with other regions to get copper, iron, and wood, which were needed for metalwork and building.  Trade was often very dangerous, as robbers and pirates were a regular threat.

Achievements Of Ancient Egypt

Achievements-The lasting contributions of a civilization.

Egypt is still noted for a number of lasting achievements. Egyptians were the world’s first nation-state, and many of their massive pyramids and monuments (such as the Sphinx) have survived thousands of years.  Egyptians created paper from a plant called papyrus which grows along the Nile River.  Coupled with paper, their form of writing, called hieroglyphics, allowed them to keep detailed records and administer a huge empire.  In addition, Egyptian agricultural and irrigation techniques were a huge advancement in farming. With the Nile River playing a major role in the lives of the Egyptians, shipbuilding was an important part of their technology. They originally built small boats from papyrus reeds, but later began to build large ships from cedar wood imported from Lebanon. 

Social Classes Of Ancient Egypt

Social Class-How a civilization is divided into classes that have different roles, responsibilities and privileges.

Egyptian society was broken into a number of classes, with the Pharaoh at the top of the hierarchy.  Royal family members, priests, and nobles made up the class below the Pharaoh.  Below them was the class of craft workers, scribes (writers), and merchants.  The most common class of Egyptians were farmers and unskilled workers.  At the bottom of society were slaves. Slaves did have some rights and opportunities for advancement.  Only a small portion of Egyptians lived in cities, with about 95% living in agricultural farming areas.  Women were respected and able to own land and businesses, but men generally made up the government and workforce.

Religion Of Ancient Egypt

Religion-A belief system that influences the development of a civilization.

Due to the unpredictability of Nile flooding, Egyptian gods were created based on the elements and nature.  The most prominent gods worshipped were Hapi, the flood god, Ra, the sun god, Horus, the sky god, and Osiris, the god of the afterlife.  Egyptian cities often had unique gods that were only worshipped there, but when a city rose to prominence, its gods often became worshipped throughout Egypt.  Because Egyptians believed that there was an afterlife, mummies became an important part of their religion.  Egyptians believed a person could take his/her body and possessions that were buried with him/her, into the afterlife.  Because of this belief, they thought it was important to preserve one’s body as much as possible after death.  Hence, mummification was common.  Egyptian kings spread the belief that they were living gods, and the pyramids were built to house their dead bodies and possessions.

Government Of Ancient Egypt

Leadership/ Government- How a civilization creates an organized way of leadership.

Around 3100 BCE, there were two separate kingdoms in Egypt, Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt.  Soon afterwards, King Narmer (from Upper Egypt) united the two kingdoms.  When the unification happened, it became the world’s first ever nation-state.  King Narmer was the first king of Egypt’s first dynasty, and there would be 30 more dynasties after him.  The king controlled all of Egypt, but assigned governors to regions to help him rule.  There were three eras, the Old Kingdom (2700 BC-2200 BC), the Middle Kingdom (2100 BC-1800BC), and the New Kingdom (1500 BCE-1000BCE).  The Old Kingdom was a long, politically stable, prosperous period for ancient Egypt. Government was organized into one central leader or Pharaoh. The Pharaoh was credited with supernatural powers and his authority was virtually absolute.  Even after death, the Pharaoh was expected to mediate between gods and humans.  For this reason, the preparation for his afterlife, the building of elaborate burial sites, was vitally important. A civil war ended the Old Kingdom, but Egypt reunited to begin the Middle Kingdom, which was another prosperous time for the civilization.  Egypt conquered Nubia to the south, and built forts along the Nile and at the Delta to protect the region.  The Middle Kingdom ended when the militarily superior Hyksos began to settle in Northern Egypt.  The Hyksos took over Lower Egypt and ruled for a century.  Eventually, the Egyptians caught up to the military power of the Hyksos and reunited Upper and Lower Egypt; this began the New Kingdom.  Egypt had mostly male Pharaohs, but also some female ones, such as Hatshepsut.  She was able to increase the size and power of Egypt.  After her rule, Thutmose III expanded Egypt to its largest size.  Then, Ramses the Great took power and made Egypt very prosperous. He is noted for building extravagant temples all over the kingdom.  However, around 1215 BCE, Egypt began its decline, and was only able to remain united until about 1075 BCE.