The ancient Egyptian civilization was one of the most relevant in history. Their culture revolved around the Nile River, which provided them with everything they needed. In this article, we talk about its general characteristics, as well as the importance of religion and the division of social classes.
Below you have an index with all the points that we are going to deal with in this article.
Location and history
The geographical space occupied by the ancient Egyptian civilization was the Nile River Valley and Delta, Northeast Africa. This area they called Kemet, Meaning black earth, since it was fertile. In contrast, the desert was known as Desheret, Which is Red land.
The limits of this territory were the Mediterranean to the north, present-day Sudan to the south, the Red Sea to the east and the Libyan desert to the west. It was divided into two different areas: the Alto Egypt to the south and the Lower Egypt to the north.
This empire lasted around 3.000 years, a time that can be divided into different periods, which we find here arranged chronologically:
- Archaic Period: from 3000 to 2686 BC After the unification of Egypt by King Menes, Dynasties I and II begin.
- Ancient empire: from 2686 to 2181 BC Dynasties III to VI. The capital was Memphis.
- First Intermediate Period: from 2181 to 2025 BC Dynasties VII to X. Time of decadence and changes in religious beliefs.
- Middle kingdom: from 2025 to 1773 BC Dynasties XI and XII. Time of prosperity and expansion.
- Second Intermediate Period: from 1773 to 1550 BC Dynasties XIII to XVII. Domination of the Hyksos (heads of nomadic peoples) and subsequent liberation.
- New kingdom: from 1550 to 1069 BC Dynasties XVIII to XX. An important date is 1336 BC, when Tutankhamun begins to rule.
- Third Intermediate Period: from 1069 to 656 BC Dynasties XXI to XXV. Political instability.
- Late Period: from 672 BC to 332 BC Dynasties XXVI to XXXI. Persian domination.
- Hellenistic period: from 332 to 30 BC Macedonian and Ptolemaic Dynasties.
The main cities were characterized by their position, not their size. There are hardly any remains of these cities, just the large buildings.
The most relevant was Memphis, as it was located between the Nile Valley and the Delta. It was the capital from 3100 to 2040 BC It was the administrative, economic and religious center.
Thebes was to the south and was the capital from 2040 BC to approximately 1300 BC Ruins such as the Temple of Luxor are preserved. Another prominent city was Aketaton.
One of the bases of the economy was agriculture. Thanks to the Nile floods, which occurred between June and September, the land was abundantly fertile, so cereals, vegetables, and flax were grown.
To control these floods, a system of ponds and irrigation canals was organized. Also, cereals were kept in granaries for conservation.
They also had their own livestock, which was varied. Among the various species, they raised cows, pigs, sheep, and birds. Every year all the animals were counted so that the owners paid the corresponding taxes.
On the other hand, crafts were produced: ceramics, jewelry and textiles. A part of these utensils were exported, since the trade with other regions it was important. Materials were even imported, such as wood from Byblos.
Religion and culture
Religion was a way of life for the Egyptians, as it was present at all times. Their ideology was polytheistic, since they worshiped a multitude of gods, who controlled the elements and phenomena of nature.
They believed in the immortality of the soul and life after death. To achieve this, the body of the deceased had to be well preserved, for that reason the mummification.
Depending on the time of the empire, each divinity was given more or less importance. However, these were some of the main gods:
- Ammon: He was the god of creation, although with the passage of time he merged with Ra, becoming Amun-Ra. It was represented as a human with a crown made up of two feathers.
- Anubis: its function was to guide people who died. It had the head of a dog or jackal.
- Isis: goddess of motherhood and medicine, as well as sister and wife of Osiris. It was a woman who was sometimes depicted with wings.
- Osiris: god of resurrection, judges people after their death. His image was that of a mummified human, sometimes green in color.
- Ra: the main god and symbol of the sun. It was drawn like a hawk on which there was a sun with a snake.
At present, we can find numerous drawings and representations of these figures, such as the ones we have below:
On the other hand, the Egyptians led a life outdoors, as the climate was warm. At first, the garb it was made with cotton, but later linen became the predominant material. The most used color was white.
The workers worked naked or with a loincloth. As for royalty and royal scribes, the entire body was plucked, including the eyebrows.
The men wore a short skirt known as schenti, which was girded with a leather belt. Upper-class women wore a long, tight dress, the kalasiris. They protected themselves from the sun with a short cape. The lower class wore more loose clothing.
In the following drawing we can see an example of the clothes worn by the pharaohs and nobles of this civilization:
Social and political organization
The social structure of ancient Egypt was pyramidal, that is, it was hierarchical. At the top of the cusp was the Pharaoh, which was considered to be chosen by the gods. He had to maintain the order of the kingdom, as well as the happiness of the divinities.
If you want to know which were the most important pharaohs in history, as well as their lifestyle, we recommend you read the following article: Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt.
Under him was the upper class, which was made up of different sectors of society:
- Royal family: at first they had governmental functions, but these passed to the nobles.
- Priests: they had to administer the temples and interpret the wishes of the gods in order to fulfill them.
- Nobility: they were in charge of the government, the execution of public works and the collection of taxes.
- Scribes: they were one of the few who could read and write. In addition, they were proficient in mathematics. They wrote down the amount of food and soldiers the kingdom had.
- SoldadosThey protected the population from possible attacks, fought in case of war and supervised the lower classes when they built the pyramids.
The middle class was made up of merchants, doctors, and artisans. The latter were carpenters, jewelers, painters, sculptors, etc. Sometimes they concentrated in small workshops.
As for the lower class, first of all we find the peasants, who worked for the pharaoh or the nobles in exchange for clothes and food. They lived in small houses built with mud. In the following photo you can see the different tasks that they did:
Finally, there were the slaves, who used to be prisoners of war. They worked in the houses of the nobles, in the royal palace or in the temples, although they could also work in the mines.
The legal organization was composed of a supreme magistrate, the rest of magistrates and the courts. They worshiped Maat, the queen of justice. They had their own rules, although no Egyptian law code is known.
Food in ancient Egypt depended on the floods of the Nile River and the absence of pests. However, they did not usually go hungry and all classes had food to a greater or lesser extent.
Its gastronomy had two basic products: bread and beer. There were different types and all the inhabitants consumed them. They also ate vegetables like onion and lettuce, and legumes like chickpeas and lentils.
As for meat, beef was reserved for the upper classes, while the rest consumed sheep, pig, goat, goose or duck. Eggs and milk also served as food.
Likewise, fish from the Nile were cooked, such as perch, carp and mullet. If it was left over, it was dried or salted so that it could be kept in optimal conditions.
Another drink was wine, but it was considered a luxury item, so only the pharaoh and his associates enjoyed it. There were different wines, such as those derived from figs or dates.
The lower class ate two meals a day and did not usually have meat. The middle class had it more within reach. As for the nobles, they ate three times a day and had beef, an exclusive delicacy.
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