The Craddle of Civilization – A Brief Introduction to Egyptian History
Egyptian culture has emerged from a process that had been going on for thousands of years. The nomad tribes of fishermen and hunters began to be stationary in villages in approximately 6000 BC, and after the adapting of agriculture in approximately 5000 BC, some of them grew to quite a substantial size.
Other communities were also developing, by other rivers like Indus which is in today’s India/Pakistan and much closer by Eufrat and Tigris in Mesopotamia.
Archaeology in Egypt has revealed habitats which had their own typical pottery, tools, weapons, burial customs etc.
Until the advanced civilization from the southern town of Nagada started to spread north- wards, the cultures at the middle Egyptian town of Badari and a couple of minor at the southern delta, lived their own lives.
They stopped in the south at the cataract of Aswan, where the abundant shores ended and the sterile desert reached right down to the shores of the Nile. This point was the natural lower border of Egypt for thousands of years, separating them from the black inhabitants further south by a vast stretch of wasteland.
As there was a need to have a single authority to manage the waters of the Nile, there was a creation of the world’s first state in Egypt in approximately 3000 BC.
Egypt has an unusual geographical and cultural unity that has given the locals a strong sense of identity and a vast amount of pride in their heritage as descendants of mankind’s earliest civilized community.
However, once Egypt did succumb to foreign rule, they were unable to escape from it, and Egypt was governed by foreigners for approximately 2,400 years, such as:
– Byzantine Greeks
– French and
The Hyksos were some of those among the earliest foreign rulers of Egypt, however, the Egyptians regained control of their country after the Hykso period.
In approximately 3,200 BC, Upper and Lower Egypt were united, creating a nation of a 1.200km fertile strip of land alongside the river Nile, from Aswan in the south to the Mediterranean Sea in the north. A record that is unlikely to ever be beaten, is that the first national state on earth was founded, lasting for 3,000 years. This was because two nations because one under a divine king ruling from a new founded capital by the name of Memphis. These two parts had been divided into approximately 42 provinces, and the local areas along with their own tribal leaders became governors and proceeded to work for the state.
The Egyptians have performed with amazing skill in working in hard stone. One example of this, is the Statue of Khasekhemwy, with its shaped and polished surfaces in hard stone. Dozens of graves from wealthy non-royal inhabitants of Memphis were buried in tombs where the substructures were built of large blocks of fine shaped stones on the east bank of the Nile opposite Sakkara.
An important factor of cultural development in the Nile valley, was the invention of writing. This made it possible for knowledge to passed to the next generation to come. The origin of the signs, called hieroglyphs, still remain a mystery, and the grammatical system was already complete in the first dynasty without any trace of developing stages. Theory shows that it had all been brought in from the outside, but this has not been confirmed. It is possible that the earliest writing was made on material which is now completely decayed, but this is, of course, very difficult to prove.
Egyptians were made famous by some of the great achievements, including:
-They were the first to build in stone;
-The first to fashion the arch in stone and brick;
-They had developed a plough and a system of writing before the merge of the Two Lands;
-They were accomplished sailors and shipbuilders;
-In order to predict the Nile flood, they learned to chart the heavens;
-Their physicians prescribed healing remedies and performed surgical operations; and
-They sculpted in stone and decorated the walls of their tombs with naturalistic murals in vibrant colors
The ancient Egypt legacy is written in stone across the face of the country from the pyramids to the rock tombs in the Valley of the Kings, to the Old Kingdom temples of Luxor and Karnak, to the Ptolemaic Temples of Edfu and Dendera, and to the Roman Temple to Isis on Philae Island.
MEDIEVAL EGYPTIAN HISTORY
The Arab conquest of Egypt of 641 by the military commander Amr ibn al, was perhaps the next most important event in the history of Egypt due its results in the Islamization and Arabization of the country, which endure to this day. Even those who clung to the Coptic religion, a substantial minority of the population in 1990, were Arabized; that is, they adopted the Arabic language and were assimilated into Arab culture.
Although Egypt has formally been under Arab rule, at the beginning of the ninth century hereditary autonomous dynasties arose that permitted local rules to maintain a great deal of control over the country’s destiny. Cairo was established as the capital of the country during this period and went on to become the centre of religion, learning, art and architecture.
The ruler, Qutuz, and his forces stopped the Mongol advance across the Arab world at the battle of Ayn Jalut in Palestine in1260. Islamic civilization continued to flourish when Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid caliphate, fell to the Mongol because of this victory. Qutuz’s successor, Baybars I, inaugurated the reign of the Mamluks, a dynasty of slave-soldiers of Turkish and Caucasian origin that lasted for almost three centuries.
The country was conquered by Sultan Selim I and absorbed into the Ottoman Empire In 1517.
This period saw institutional continuity, particularly in religion, education, and the religious law courts as the Turks were Muslims, however, and the sultans regarded themselves as the preservers of Sunni Islam.
In addition, the Mamluk system reasserted itself, after only a century of Ottoman rule, and Ottoman governors became virtual prisoners at times in the citadel, the ancient seat of the country’s rulers.
MODERN EGYPTIAN HISTORY
The middle of the eighteenth century can be considered as the starting point in recounting the history of modern Egypt.
Over the years, thousands of examinations of skeletal remains from graves, have given evidence that ancient Egyptians belonged to the Mediterranean type of the Caucasian people.
As they are living in Africa, north of the Sahara, from the Red Sea in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west. The invasion of people in the later times has slightly affected the amount of the Egyptian population, therefore scholars generally believe that the human stock of today is very much the same as it was in ancient times.
An Egyptians complexion becomes darker, the further south you travel, following the strength of the sun, but without any real change in their looks. For example, Egyptians were generally slim hipped with broad shoulders and oval faces and long straight noses.
The Egyptians attempts to achieve political independence, first from the Ottoman Empire and then from the British, is marked as the modern history of Egypt.
Muhammad Ali, an Albanian and the Ottoman viceroy, attempted to create an Egyptian empire that extended to Syria and to remove the country from Turkish control during the first half of the nineteenth century. Ultimately, he was unsuccessful, and true independence from foreign powers would not be achieved until midway through the next century.
Foreign investment in Egypt along with Britain’s need to maintain control over the Suez Canal, resulted in the British occupation in 1882. Britain remained the real power, although the country was granted nominal independence in 1922,.
Between the 1952 Revolution and the 1956 War Genuine political independence was finally achieved.
In 1952 the Free Officers, led by Lieutenant Colonel Gamal Abdul Nasser, took control of the government and removed King Faruk from power.
In 1956 Nasser, as Egyptian president, announced the nationalization of the Suez Canal, an action that resulted in the tripartite invasion by Britain, France, and Israel.
Ultimately, however, Egypt prevailed, and the last British troops were withdrawn from the country by the end of the year.
And of course, no history of Egypt would be complete without the mention of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which has cost Egypt so many lives, territory, and property. Armed conflict between Egypt and Israel ended in 1979 when the two countries signed the Camp David Accords.
The accords, however, constituted a separate peace between Egypt and Israel and did not lead to a comprehensive settlement that would have satisfied Palestinian demands for a homeland, or brought about peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Thus, Egypt remained embroiled in the conflict on the diplomatic level and continued to press for an international conference to achieve a comprehensive agreement.