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Ancient Egypt was a civilization located along the Lower Nile, reaching from the Nile Delta in the north to as far south as Jebel Barkal at the time of its greatest extension (15th century BC). It lasted for three millennia, from circa 3200 BC to 343 BC, ending when Artaxerxes III conquered Egypt. As a civilization based on irrigation it is the quintessential example of a hydraulic empire.
Khafre's Pyramid (4th dynasty) and Great Sphinx of Giza (c.2600 BC or perhaps earlier)
Khafre's Pyramid ( 4th dynasty) and Great Sphinx of Giza (c. 2600 BC or perhaps earlier)

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Ancient achievements

Background - Contents

Map of Ancient Egypt
Map of Ancient Egypt
Egypt is a transcontinental nation located mostly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula lying in Asia. The country has shorelines on the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, and the Gulf of Suez; it borders Libya to the west, Sudan to the south, and the Gaza Strip, Palestine and Israel to the east. Ancient Egypt was divided into two kingdoms, known as Upper and Lower Egypt. The Nile river flows northward from a southerly point to the Mediterranean. The Nile river, around which much of the population of the country clusters, has been the lifeline for Egyptian culture since the Stone Age and Naqada cultures.The area around the Nile was called Kemet ("the black land", in Ancient Egyptian Kmt), the name for the dark soil deposited by the Nile floodwaters. In contrast, the desert was called Deshret ("the red land", in Ancient Egyptian Dsrt), c.f. Herodotus: "Egypt is a land of black soil.... We know that Libya is a redder earth" (Histories, 2:12). The vowels within the consonants K-M-T are not known with certainty. Coptic, however, provides some indication.Nomadic hunter-gatherers began living along the Nile during the Pleistocene. Traces of these early peoples appear in the form of artifacts and rock carvings along the terraces of the Nile and in the oases. By about 6000 B.C., organized agriculture and large building construction had appeared in the Nile Valley.

People - Contents

Many theories have been proposed regarding the origins of early Egyptians, a subject still imbued with controversy today. Controversy over race of Ancient Egyptians has more information about this subject.Egyptian society was a merging of North and Northeast African as well as Southwest Asian peoples. Modern genetics reveals that the Egyptian population today is characterized by paternal lineages common to North Africans primarily, and to some Near Eastern peoples. Studies based on the maternal lineages closely links modern Egyptians with people from modern Ethiopia , . The ancient Egyptians themselves traced their origin to a land they called Punt, or "Ta Nteru" ("Land of the Gods"), which most Egyptologists locate in the area encompassing the Ethiopian Highlands.A recent bioanthropological study on the dental morphology of ancient Egyptians confirms dental traits most characteristic of North African and to a lesser extent Southwest Asian populations. The study also establishes biological continuity from the predynastic to the post-pharaonic periods. Among the samples included is skeletal material from the Hawara tombs of Fayum, which was found to most closely resemble the Badarian series of the predynastic , . A study based on stature and body proportions suggests that Nilotic or tropical body characteristics were also present in some later groups as the Egyptian empire expanded southward. Champollion the Younger, who deciphered the Rosetta Stone, claimed in Expressions et Termes Particuliers that kmt referred to a 'negroid' population. Modern day professional Egyptologists, anthropologists, and linguists, however, overwhelmingly agree that the term referred to the dark soil of the Nile Valley rather than the people, which contrasted with dSrt or the "red land" of the Sahara desert.Although analyzing the hair of ancient Egyptian mummies from the Late Middle Kingdom has revealed evidence of a stable diet , mummies from circa 3200 BC show signs of severe anemia and hemolitic disorders .
Colossus of Memnon.
Colossus of Memnon.
Quoting extant literary sources
  • c. 450 BC: Herodotus wrote,
"the Colchians are Egyptians... on the fact that they are swarthy (melanchrôs) and wooly-haired (oulothrix)" (Histories Book 2:104).
  • c. 800 BC: Homer refers to the "Ethiopian origin of Thebes" ( Iliad). Melanchros was also used by Homer to describe the sunburnt complexion of Odysseus (Od. 16.176).

History - Contents

Egyptian culture was remarkably stable and changed little over a period of nearly 3000 years. This includes religion, customs, art expression, architecture and social structure.The history of ancient Egypt proper starts with Egypt as a unified state, which occurred sometime around 3000 BC. Narmer, who unified Upper and Lower Egypt, was the first pharaoh; though archaeological evidence indicates that a developed Egyptian society existed for a much longer period (see Predynastic Egypt).Along the Nile, in 10th millennium BC, a grain- grinding culture using the earliest type of sickle blades had been replaced by another culture of hunters, fishers, and gathering peoples using stone tools. Evidence also indicates human habitation in the southwestern corner of Egypt, near the Sudan border, before 8000 BC. Climate changes and/or overgrazing around 8000 BC began to desiccate the pastoral lands of Egypt, eventually forming the Sahara (c. 2500 BC), and early tribes naturally migrated to the Nile river where they developed a settled agricultural economy and more centralized society (see Nile: History). There is evidence of pastoralism and cultivation of cereals in the East Sahara in the 7th millennium BC. By 6000 BC ancient Egyptians in the southwestern corner of Egypt were herding cattle and constructing large buildings. Mortar (masonry) was in use by 4000 BC. The Predynastic Period continues through this time, variously held to begin with the Naqada culture. Some authorities however begin the Predynastic Period earlier, in the Lower Paleolithic (see Predynastic Egypt).Egypt unified as a single state circa 3000 BC. Egyptian chronology involves assigning beginnings and endings to various dynasties beginning around this time. The conventional Egyptian chronology is the accepted developments during the 20th century, but do not include any of the major revision proposals that have also been made in that time. Even within a single work, often archeologists will offer several possible dates or even several whole chronologies as possibilities. Consequently, there may be discrepancies between dates shown here and in articles on particular rulers. Often there are also several possible spellings of the names. Typically, Egyptologists divide the history of pharaonic civilization using a schedule laid out first by Manetho's Aegyptaica.
  • List of pharaohs: The pharaohs stretch from before 3000 BC to around 30 BC.
  • Dynasties (see also: List of Egyptian dynasties):
    • Early Dynastic Period of Egypt (1st to 2nd Dynasties; until ca. 27th century BC)
    • Old Kingdom (3rd to 6th Dynasties; 27th to 22nd centuries BC)
    • First Intermediate Period (7th to 11th Dynasties)
    • Middle Kingdom of Egypt (11th to 14th Dynasties; 20th to 17th centuries BC)
    • Second Intermediate Period (14th to 17th Dynasties)
      • Hyksos (15th to 16th Dynasties)
    • New Kingdom of Egypt (18th to 20th Dynasties; 16th to 11th centuries BC)
    • Third Intermediate Period (21st to 25th Dynasties; 11th to 7th centuries BC)
    • Late Period of Ancient Egypt (26th to 31st Dynasties; 7th century BC to 332 BC)
      • Achaemenid Dynasty
    • Graeco-Roman Egypt ( 332 BC to AD 639)
      • Ptolemaic Dynasty
      • Roman Empire

The Egyptian government imposed a number of different taxes upon its people. As there was no known form of currency during that time period, taxes were paid for "in kind" (with produce or work). The Vizier controlled the taxation system through the departments of state. The departments had to report daily on the amount of stock availible, and how much was expected in the future. Taxes were paid for depending on a persons craft or duty. Landowners paid their taxes in grain and other produce grown on their property. Craftsmen paid their taxes in the goods that they produced. Hunters and fishermen paid their taxes with produce from the river, marshes, and desert. One person from every household was required to pay a labor tax by doing public work for a few weeks every year, such as digging canals or mining. However, a richer noble could hire a poorer man to do his labor tax.

Language - Contents

Ancient Egyptian constitutes an independent branch of the Afro-Asiatic language phylum. Its closest relatives are the Berber, Semitic, and Beja groups of languages. Written records of the Egyptian language have been dated from about 3200 BC, making it one of the oldest and longest documented languages. Scholars group Egyptian into six major chronological divisions:
  • Archaic Egyptian (before 3000 BC)
Consists of inscriptions from the late Predynastic and Early Dynastic period. The earliest known evidence of Egyptian hieroglyphic writing appears on Naqada II pottery vessels.
  • Old Egyptian (3000–2000 BC)
The language of the Old Kingdom and First Intermediate Period. The Pyramid Texts are the largest body of literature written in this phase of the language. Tomb walls of elite Egyptians from this period also bear autobiographical writings representing Old Egyptian. One of its distinguishing characteristics is the tripling of ideograms, phonograms, and determinatives to indicate the plural. Overall, it does not differ significantly from the next stage.
  • Middle Egyptian (2000–1300 BC)
Often dubbed Classical Egyptian, this stage is known from a variety of textual evidence in hieroglyphic and hieratic scripts dated from about the Middle Kingdom. It includes funerary texts inscribed on sarcophagi such as the Coffin Texts; wisdom texts instructing people on how to lead a life that exemplified the ancient Egyptian philosophical worldview (see the Ipuwer papyrus); tales detailing the adventures of a certain individual, for example the Story of Sinhue; medical and scientific texts such as the Edwin Smith Papyrus and the Ebers papyrus; and poetic texts praising a god or a pharaoh, like the Hymn to the Nile. The Egyptian vernacular already began to change from the written language as evidenced by some Middle Kingdom hieratic texts, but classical Middle Egyptian continued to be written in formal contexts well into the Late Dynastic period (sometimes referred to as Late Middle Egyptian).
  • Late Egyptian (1300–700 BC)
Records of this stage appear in the second part of the New Kingdom, considered by many as the "Golden Age" of ancient Egyptian civilization. It contains a rich body of religious and secular literature, comprising such famous examples as the Story of Wenamun and the Instructions of Ani. It was also the language of Ramesside administration. Late Egyptian is not totally distinct from Middle Egyptian, as many "classicisms" appear in historical and literary documents of this phase. However, the difference between Middle and Late Egyptian is greater than that between Middle and Old Egyptian. It's also a better representative than Middle Egyptian of the spoken language in the New Kingdom and beyond. Hieroglyphic orthography saw an enormous expansion of its graphemic inventory between the Late Dynastic and Ptolemaic periods.
  • Demotic Egyptian (7th century BC–4th century AD)
  • Coptic (3rd–17th century AD)

For many years, the earliest known hieroglyphic inscription was the Narmer Palette, found during excavations at Hierakonpolis (modern Kawm al-Ahmar) in the 1890s, which has been dated to c. 3200 BC. However recent archaeological findings reveal that symbols on Gerzean pottery, c. 4000 BC, resemble the traditional hieroglyph forms . Also in 1998 a German archeological team under Gunter Dreyer excavating at Abydos (modern Umm el-Qa'ab) uncovered tomb U-j, which belonged to a Predynastic ruler, and they recovered three hundred clay labels inscribed with proto-hieroglyphics dating to the Naqada IIIA period, circa 33rd century BC , .Egyptologists refer to Egyptian writing as hieroglyphs, today standing as the world's earliest known writing system. The hieroglyphic script was partly syllabic, partly ideographic. Hieratic is a cursive form of Egyptian hieroglyphs and was first used during the First Dynasty (c. 2925 BC – c. 2775 BC). The term Demotic, in the context of Egypt, came to refer to both the script and the language that followed the Late Ancient Egyptian stage, i.e. from the Nubian 25th dynasty until its marginalization by the Greek Koine in the early centuries AD. After the conquest of Amr ibn al-A'as in the 7th century AD, the Coptic language survived as a spoken language into the Middle Ages. Today, it continues to be the liturgical language of the Christian minority.Beginning from around 2700 BC, Egyptians used pictograms to represent vocal sounds -- both vowel and consonant vocalizations (see Hieroglyph: Script). By 2000 BC, 26 pictograms were being used to represent 24 (known) main vocal sounds. The world's oldest known alphabet (c. 1800 BC) is only an abjad system and was derived from these uniliteral signs as well as other Egyptian hieroglyphs.The hieroglyphic script finally fell out of use around the 4th century AD. Attempts to decipher it began after the 15th century (see Hieroglyphica).

  • c. 1800 BC: Story of Sinuhe
  • c. 1800 BC: Ipuwer papyrus
  • c. 1600 BC: Westcar Papyrus
  • c. 1180 BC: Papyrus Harris I
  • c. 1000 BC: Story of Wenamun

Culture - Contents

The Egyptian religions, embodied in Egyptian mythology, were a succession of beliefs held by the people of Egypt, as early as predynastic times and all the way until the coming of Christianity and Islam in the Graeco-Roman era. These were conducted by Egyptian priests or magicians, but the use of magic and spells is questioned.Every animal portrayed and worshipped in ancient Egyptian art, writing and religion is indigenous to Africa, all the way from the predynastic until the Graeco-Roman eras, over 3000 years. The Arabian camel, domesticated first in Arabia, first appears in Egypt (and North Africa) beginning in the 2nd millennium BCE.The religious nature of ancient Egyptian civilization influenced its contribution to the arts of the ancient world. Many of the great works of ancient Egypt depict gods, goddesses, and pharaohs, who were also considered divine. Ancient Egyptian art in general is characterized by the idea of order.Evidence of mummies and pyramids outside ancient Egypt indicate reflections of ancient Egyptian belief values on other prehistoric cultures, transmitted in one way over the Silk Road. Ancient Egypt's foreign contacts included Nubia and Punt to the south, the Aegean and ancient Greece to the north, the Levant and other regions in the Near East to the east, and also Libya to the west.Some scholars have speculated that Egypt's art pieces are sexually symbolic.

Ancient achievements - Contents

Louvre Museum antiquity
Louvre Museum antiquity
See Predynastic Egypt for inventions and other significant achievements in the Sahara region before the Protodynastic Period.The art and science of engineering was present in Egypt, such as accurately determining the position of points and the distances between them (known as surveying). These skills were used to outline pyramid bases. The Egyptian pyramids took the geometric shape formed from a polygonal base and a point, called the apex, by triangular faces. Hydraulic Cement was first invented by the Egyptians. The Al Fayyum Irrigation (water works) was one of the main agricultural breadbaskets of the ancient world. There is evidence of ancient Egyptian pharaohs of the twelfth dynasty using the natural lake of the Fayyum as a reservoir to store surpluses of water for use during the dry seasons. From the time of the First dynasty or before, the Egyptians mined turquoise in Sinai Peninsula.The earliest evidence (circa 1600 BC) of traditional empiricism is credited to Egypt, as evidenced by the Edwin Smith and Ebers papyri. The roots of the Scientific method may be traced back to the ancient Egyptians. The ancient Egyptians are also credited with devising the world's earliest known alphabet, decimal system and complex mathematical formularizations, in the form of the Moscow and Rhind Mathematical Papyri. An awareness of the golden ratio seems to be reflected in many constructions, such as the Egyptian pyramids.The art of glass making is of very ancient origin with the Egyptians, as is evident from the glass jars, figures and ornaments discovered in the tombs. The paintings on the tombs have been interpreted as descriptive of the process of glass blowing. These illustrations representing smiths blowing their fires by means of reeds tipped with clay. Therefore it can be concluded that glass-blowing is apparently of Egyptian origin.

(All dates are approximate.)


  • 3500 BC: Senet, world's oldest (confirmed) board game
  • 3500 BC: Faience, world's earliest known earthenware


The Great Pyramid of Giza.
The Great Pyramid of Giza.
Egypt was first to create glass objects.
Egypt was first to create glass objects.
  • 3300 BC: Bronze works (see Bronze Age)
  • 3200 BC: Egyptian hieroglyphs fully developed (see First dynasty of Egypt)
  • 3200 BC: Narmer Palette, world's earliest known historical document
  • 3100 BC: Decimal system, , world's earliest (confirmed) use
  • 3100 BC: Wine cellars, world's earliest known
  • 3100 BC: Mining, Sinai Peninsula
  • 3050 BC: Shipbuilding in Abydos,
  • 3000 BC: Exports from Nile to Israel: wine (see Narmer)
  • 3000 BC: Copper plumbing (see Copper: History)
  • 3000 BC: Papyrus, world's earliest known paper
  • 3000 BC: Medical Institutions
  • 2900 BC: possible steel: carbon-containing iron,
  • 2700 BC: Surgery, world's earliest known
  • 2700 BC: precision Surveying
  • 2700 BC: Uniliteral signs, forming basis of world's earliest known alphabet
  • 2600 BC: Sphinx, still today the world's largest single-stone statue
  • 2600s– 2500 BC: Shipping expeditions: King Sneferu and Pharaoh Sahure. See also , .
  • 2600 BC: Barge transportation, stone blocks (see Egyptian pyramids: Construction)
  • 2600 BC: Pyramid of Djoser, world's earliest known large-scale stone building
  • 2600 BC: Menkaure's Pyramid & Red Pyramid, world's earliest known works of carved granite
  • 2600 BC: Red Pyramid, world's earliest known "true" smooth-sided pyramid; solid granite work
  • 2580 BC: Great Pyramid of Giza, the world's tallest structure until AD 1300
  • 2500 BC: Beekeeping,
  • 2400 BC: Astronomical Calendar, used even in the Middle Ages for its mathematical regularity
  • 2200 BC: Beer,
  • 1860 BC: possible Nile-Red Sea Canal ( Twelfth dynasty of Egypt)
  • 1800 BC: Alphabet, world's oldest known
  • 1800 BC: Berlin Mathematical Papyrus, , 2nd order algebraic equations
  • 1800 BC: Moscow Mathematical Papyrus, generalized formula for volume of frustum
  • 1650 BC: Rhind Mathematical Papyrus: geometry, cotangent analogue, algebraic equations, arithmetic series, geometric series
  • 1600 BC: Edwin Smith papyrus, medical tradition traces as far back as c. 3000 BC
  • 1550 BC: Ebers Medical Papyrus, traditional empiricism; world's earliest known documented tumors (see History of medicine)
  • 1500 BC: Glass-making, world's earliest known
  • 1258 BC: Peace treaty, world's earliest known (see Ramesses II, )
  • 1160 BC: Turin papyrus, world's earliest known geologic and topographic map
  • 1000 BC: Petroleum tar used in mummification
  • 5th– 4th century BC (or perhaps earlier): battle games petteia and seega; possible precursors to Chess (see Origins of chess)


    • c. 2500 BC: Westcar Papyrus
    • c. 1800 BC: Ipuwer papyrus
    • c. 1800 BC: Papyrus Harris I
    • c. 1400 BC: Tulli Papyrus
    • c. 1300 BC: Brugsch Papyrus
    • Unknown date: Rollin Papyrus

Open problems
There is a question as to the sophistication of ancient Egyptian technology, and there are several open problems concerning real and alleged ancient Egyptian achievements. Certain artifacts and records do not fit with conventional technological development systems. It is not known why there is no neat progression to an Egyptian Iron Age nor why the historical record shows the Egyptians taking so long to begin using iron. It is unknown how the Egyptians shaped and worked granite. The exact date the Egyptians started producing glass is debated.Some question whether the Egyptians were capable of long distance navigation in their boats and when they became knowledgeable sailors. It is contentiously disputed as to whether or not the Egyptians had some understanding of electricity and if the Egyptians used engines or batteries. The relief at Dendera is interpreted in various ways by scholars. The topic of the Saqqara Bird is controversial, as is the extent of the Egyptians' understanding of aerodynamics. It is unknown for certain if the Egyptians had kites or gliders. Beekeeping is known to have been particularly well developed in Egypt, as accounts are given by several Roman writers — Virgil, Gaius Julius Hyginus, Varro and Columella. It is unknown whether Egyptian beekeeping developed independently or as an import from Southern Asia.
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