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December 8, 2015
Nile Valley Civilization in Egypt (4000-500BC)
The history of the human race covers the entire period since man first appeared on earth. By about 4000 BC the accumulated knowledge and skills of the preceding thousands of years, combined with new discoveries of metals enabled man to live in urban societies. The emergence of this stage was a revolution in human history known as the metal age revolution. It led to the emergence of the first civilizations which are known as River Valley Civilizations. Such river valley civilizations were noted for the effective use of metal implements for Cultivation, weapons and domestic use.
The Bronze Age civilizations which flourished in different parts of the world between 5000 BC and 500 BC were
1. The Indus Valley civilization or the Harappan culture (3250 to 2750 BC)
2. The Tigris - Euphrates civilization of Mesopotamia, the modern Iraq (3500 BC to 1000 BC)
3. The Nile Valley Civilization in Egypt (4000-500BC)
4. The Hwang -Ho or the Yellow River civilization in China (3500-3000 BC)
The Nile Valley Civilization of Egypt:
Among the four civilizations of the Bronze Age, the civilization of Egypt which flourished in the valley of the Nile, is believed to be the oldest of which systematic records are available. The archaeologists were able to find huge pyramids, the mysterious sphinx, ruins of temples and tombs, furniture and clothing and even well preserved human bodies (Mummies). Egypt is known as the “daughter of Nile”. Herodotus, the greek historian aptly called Egypt, “the gift of Nile". The Egyptian civilization was at its pinnacle of glory about 5000 years ago.
The people of ancient Egypt consisted of various tribes. The innumerable tribal chieftains (Nomes) were gradually merged into two kingdoms under strong kings. Later on entire Egypt was united under one Pharaoh. The Pharaohs were absolute monarchs. The kings were believed to have descended from Sun God. They lived in great luxury. The Pharaoh was the chief justice, chief priest and chief commander. After his death his body was preserved in the form of ‘Mummy’. He had the power to declare wars and make treaties. The foremost among Egyptian kings of this period were Thutmosel andThutmose III. Emperor Thutmose III was known as the “Napolean of Egypt”.
Socio - Economic Condition
The Egyptian society was composed of three classes namely the aristocracy, the middle class and the slaves. The slaves were forced to work for the construction of pyramids, temples, canals and dams. Generally speaking, the king and his lords were at the top in the social ladder. The priests and the nobles formed a privileged class. They lived a life of comfort. Merchants, artisans, small landowners formed the middle class of the society. The position of women was a unique one. They practiced monogamy and endogamy.
Agriculture was the main occupation. They introduced the process of irrigation by digging canals in basins. They knew the art of making several articles of metal particularly of bronze. Ship-building became an important trade, along with pottery and cloth weaving. Both internal and external trade were highly developed. Their main means of transport was navigation in the river Nile and the sea.
Religion dominated the political, economic, intellectual and social life of the Egyptians. The ancient Egyptians practiced polytheism. Their principal god was the Sun God, AmonorAtonor Ra; the other important gods and goddesses were Osiris, Isis and Horus. The images of these gods were carved out of big stones. They were shaped as partly human and partly animal. They believed that man would have a resurrected life and a trial by God. This religious belief inspired them to mummify their corpses and to construct pyramids (Tombs of the Pharaohs) to preserve dead bodies. The great pyramid of Gizeh built for the Pharaoh Cheops (Khufu) is 481 feet high. The preserved and embalmed dead body inside the tomb was called mummy. The mummy was placed in a wooden coffin and it was sealed in a stone box called Sarcophagus.
The Mummy case
In order to make the journey of the Pharaoh to the next world comfortable, food, clothing and furniture were placed inside the tomb. Pharoah Amenhotep IV, popularly known as Akhnaton enforced monotheism, with Aton as the only god to be worshiped by people. He also declared that he was against fighting and wars.
Art and Architecture
Egypt was the earliest home of art, architecture and sculpture. The pyramids and the sphinx are the most beautiful and wonderful specimens of their architecture and art. The sphinx is a mythological animal with the head of a man and body of a lion.
The Greek historian and the father of history Herodotus wrote that 30,000 men worked for 20 years to complete the structure of the pyramid of Pharoah Cheops (Khufu) at Gizeh. It is regarded as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The temple at Karnak is a fine monument.
The ancient writing of Egypt was known as Hieroglyphics. Hieroglyphics is a Greek word, which means Holy picture. They first used a system of pictographs. There were more than 2000 pictograph symbols. Writing materials considered of papyrus, reed pen, ink and inkpot. Egyptian literature is predominantly religious in nature which included book of ‘the dead’ and ‘coffin texts’. They also discovered the secrets of eclipses, movements of planets and prepared a solar calender. They calculated the days between floods in the Nile and fixed the solar year with 365 days. The cycle of Zodiac is a gift of Egyptians to the science of Astronomy and Astrology. They prepared star tables. Tremendous progress in the field of medicine and surgery were made. They were the first to introduce a decimal system and to develop geometry.
Trade and Commerce
Agriculture was the main occupation of the Egyptians. The Nile Valley became the centre of great economic activity. They carried on trade in ivory, gold, ebony, ostrich feathers and slaves with Nubia and Sudan. They imported spices, scents, colours, fine cloth and sandal from India. They learnt the art of making jewellery, glassware and furniture. The world is deeply indebted to them not only for their contribution to the civilization but also for their art and crafts. Thus Egypt made several unique and valuable contributions to the world.