Egypt’s Lifeblood… Egypt’s Birth

the river nile

The world’s longest river, flowing some 4,100 miles out into the Mediterranean Sea is the Nile in Egypt. It being Egypt’s life blood, according to the ancient Egyptians.

The River Nile flowed from two separate sources: the White Nile from equatorial Africa and the Blue Nile from the Abyssinian highlands.  The Nile played its part in the creation of Egypt, a process which started around five million years ago, when the river flowed into Egypt.

The desert would make its own geographical frontiers, Nile dwellers benefited, providing safety and isolation to develop their own approach to life.

In the beginning were the pre-dynastic times, when Neolithic hunter-gatherers settled on the banks of the Nile.  On an annual basis rich black silt was washed up, which was used to fertilise their crops.

“Khemet” the Black Land, became its name, with “Dehsret” the Red Land surrounded them.

The Egyptian civilization began around 6,000 BC when settlements started appearing on the banks of the River Nile.

Neolithic hunter-gatherers settled along the banks of the River Nile as the Sahara dried out, bringing with it, rich black alluvial silt, which was used to fertilise the fields. Silt gave name to their country “Khemet” the Black Land and it was surrounded by the aridity of the Red Land “Dehsret.”

From independent beginnings they organised themselves, firstly we had villages, then communities, then small provinces and by 3500 BC two large kingdoms had emerged; The Two Lands of Upper and Lower Egypt.

UPPER EGYPT: The White Land with its capital city Nehken (Hieraconpolis) near Edfu.  The kingdom’s deities were the hawk-headed Horus and the vulture goddess Nehkbet, and the king wore a tall white crown.

LOWER EGYPT:  The Red Land with its capital City Pe (Buto). Here the king wore a red crown, and the cobra-goddess Edjo was worshipped, along with the composite animal god of Set.

Around 3100 BC these two kingdoms were united.  The Double Crown equalled the two kingdoms, consisting of the red and white crowns with two protective goddesses.

The Nile Delta became the meeting point for trade, immigration and technology from the continents of Asia, Africa and Europe.  Whilst the former lands of Lower Egypt had little contact with the outside world, retaining its original culture and traditions.

Narmer, also known as Menes united the two lands.  Horus of Behdet, national god of Upper Egypt, triumphed over Set of Ombus, his rival in the Delta becoming the God of the two lands.

Narmer went on to establish a new capital at Memphis and inaugurated the First Dynasty (3050-2890 BC). This period of Egyptian history saw the Pharaoh as absolute ruler of his people, a god himself as head of state, and the early embodiment of Horus.

From the beginning of time, Egyptians were a religious and superstitious race, and the supernatural side was interwoven with the real, in most aspects of everyday life.  State deities became incorporated with governmental structure, and the agricultural population coped with everyday hazards of life, through magic, charms and folklore.  They would appeal to their gods, associated with each hazard, to intercede on their behalf, such as the Nile, sowing, harvests, childbirth just to name a few.

As villages grew in size to become towns then cities, so their gods grew in stature likewise, reflecting the growth of their country.

Other features of these early dynasties, was their obsession with the correct procedure for attaining life after death.  The King’s the Pharaoh’s of these dynasties were responsible for the construction of stepped tombs at Neqada, Abydos, Saqqara and Helouam.  Along with the legendary Imhoteps stepped pyramid, the earliest known stone building of its size.

The year 2575 BC ushered in the 4thDynasty and with it the golden age of pyramids of the Old Kingdom.  As art and architecture made major advances in their fields of development.

Egyptians believed that only the Pharaoh’s could receive everlasting life, and his subject’s contribution would be in his service whilst alive in this world, and his journey to the next world.  Thus construction of royal pyramids became the focus for their society.

Come the 6thDynasty the Old Kingdom was crumbling before their eyes, by the limitations they themselves had set.  Too many resources were used, on the construction of Pyramids; these huge pharaonic funeral structures.

Priesthoods and governors became wealthy and powerful in a very short time at the expense of their pharaohs, until the country collapsed, returning to its provincial beginnings.

The First Intermediate period of Egyptian history witnessed the splintering of the Two Lands as foreigners entered the Nile Delta.  A time when there was a high turnover of Pharaohs as the country fell apart.

This was a time when religious beliefs and customs were taking place.

Osiris rose to prominence at a time when the god-king had become discredited, and its people sought personal eternity.

9thand 10thDynasties witnessed a Hierakliopolitan resurgence, which was overwhelmed by the Theban line, who made it their purpose, to reunite the country, leading to the Middle Kingdom.

Montu, the Theban God of War became a dominant force, before succumbing to the likes of the 12thDynasty; Amun.  A period of expansion, immigration and trade came into being.  Campaigns took place, calling for important gold routes to remain open, and more contact with outsiders as they entered the Delta.  The country entered a state of reorganisation, and the ancient irrigation system was repaired to its former glory.

The 12thDynasty pharaohs attempted to reduce local nobility power, establishing dominance of Thebes.  Amun, the main pharaonic god, accepted the fact that the people supported other cults too: Ptah at Memphis, Hathor at Dendera, Min at Coptos, Re-Atum at Heliopolis, Sobek in the Faiyum and Osiris at Abydos. An increased democratisation of the After Life existed, possibly the result of increased appeal of Osiris.

At death, one would be judged in the presence of Osiris by fourty-two Assessor Gods.  One’s heart was placed on scales, opposite at Ma’at’s feather of truth and justice.  Passing the test, guaranteed one, eternal life with Osiris.

The Second Intermediate period came about through weal rulers.  Dynasties competed against each other, leading to confusion and opening the gates, letting in to the Delta, the Hyksos from the Middle East.  Their leaders were appointed Pharaohs, adopting local gods and traditions.  Their main Royal God was Set.

17thDynasty at Thebes, led to rebellion and expelling of foreigners, as the stage was set for the Ancient Egyptian civilization and the “New Kingdom 1570-1085 BC. Egypt’s isolation was no more, they had become part of the Ancient Mediterranean World.  Trade played a major part in establishing borders of Egyptian control.

18thDynasty Pharaohs expanded their country, building an empire, conquering Palestine and the Euphrates in Syria, securing the Delta to the east and west with fortifications.  They expanded southwards securing control of Nubian gold mines.  Egypt was proving they be a mighty power coming face to face with competition from Libyans, Hittites, Sea People and other tribes.

Egypt, an empire of 2,000 years of history, had become the world’s wealthiest country.  Her capital was Thebes, and the air-god “Amun” combined with the sun-god “Amun-Re.”  Magnificent temple complexes at Karnak were considered to be the most powerful religious and political centre in the empire.  Through time the priesthood had the influence to control Egypt’s royal line of succession, turning it into an ecclesiastical state.

Tombs of Egypt’s pharaohs were hidden in pyramids in the “Valley of the Kings,” cut into rock, but not free from damage.  They were robbed of high end artefacts and desecrated.  Their descendants, their followers were buried close by in their own necropolis (cemetery).

18thand 19thDynasties experienced much construction across the land.  Some pharaohs with much wealth to their name ordered the construction of monuments and buildings, many of which would bear their name.  Successful pharaohs gave large amounts of their wealth to Amun-Re.  As his priesthood became rich and influential, these Pharaohs regretted their actions and sought to bring it to an end.

By the 20thDynasty much land had passed to the temples, mostly to Amun at Karnak, giving them almost complete control of Upper Egypt.  Priesthood became hereditary and independent of the Pharaoh, which led to the creation of their own Dynasty.  Conspiracies and jostling for positions took place with the royal line, which saw the royal line weaken, and dissatisfaction and unrest spread across the land.

Finally it came to pass, the throne fell to a high-priest, and Lower Egypt defected and Nubia broke away. Come the 21stDynasty, it was ruled from Tanis in the Nile Delta, with only the odd acknowledgement from Thebes.

22ndDynasty rule came from Bubastis in the Delta, and prosperity was healthy in the beginning, but went into decline during the 24thand 25thDynasties.  Both Pharaoh and priesthood suffered badly at this time, and the cause could have been that the Pharoahs of Amun at Thebe were able to marry off their daughters to Amun. These daughters became divine wives, and not permitted to marry any mere mortal.

At the start of the 25thDynasty all the signs were there for a prosperous period, but their hopes were dashed, by the by the newly-emergent Assyrian power which was expanding eastwards.  The Assyrians captured Memphis in 671 BC driving the Pharaoh south and by 650 BC the Assyrians were in control.

26thDynasty Pharaohs cast aside Assyrian domination which had commenced in 668 BC.  Over the next three centuries, Greek mercenaries were used in military campaigns.  So much so, that the Egyptian authorities gave the city of Naucratis to these Greek mercenaries.

Assyrian power waned, Babylonian’s and Medes stepped in to fill the vacuum as Egypt made an alliance with Palestinian states to balance the latest threat.  In 539 BC Babylon was overthrown by the Persians who conquered Babylon and invaded Egypt.  After the siege and fall of Memphis around 520 BC, the pharaoh was put to death and Egypt became a Satrapy (Provincial Governor or Subordinate Ruler)of the Persian Empire.

Egypt under the protection and rule of Persia, appeared very one sided, for these Persians took from the Egyptians and returned nothing.  Egyptians found it hard to swallow the rule of these Persian’s and had no alternative but to seek assistance from Greece, in the form of mercenaries.  However, the city-state of Athens who supplied military aid, had a peace treaty with Persia since 449 BC, thus peace and freedom was short lived, which lasted till 343 BC, until the Persians imposed their rule once again.  They retained power until 332 BC, when Alexander the Great swept their empire away.

Alexander the Great, captured Egypt without blood being spilt, and was seen as its saviour by the people.  His intention was to bind Egypt with his own Empire, but he died in 323 BC before it could be put into action.

With Alexander’s death, Egypt fell to his General; Ptolemy, who founded a dynasty which would last 250 years.  Ptolemic Pharaohs took on Egyptian traditions of royal brother and sister marriages.

Restoration and construction of temples in the old ways, and the creation of the hybrid Greco-Egyptian God: Serapis a combination of elements of Osiris, Zeus, Helios and Aesculapius.

Under Ptolemic Pharaohs rule, Greeks spread out across the country from Alexandria and Naucratis, colonising fertile Faiyum, an oasis containing a lake fed by Bahr Yusef, a branch of the Nile, that comes from the main river to the west.

With the abolition of the Old Egyptian aristocracy, it paved the way for the creation of Greek nobility.

Cleopatra, Queen of the East attempted to protect her country; Egypt from Roman domination… Roman rule.  First she became the mistress of Julius Caesar and after his death Marc Antony. She and Marc Antony tried to take on the might of Rome, and failed, which led to her suicide.

Romans accepted and adopted the titles of Pharaoh and Divine Son, for it gave them the legitimacy they desired to rule.  Romans succumbed to Christianity in 311 BC, when Constantine the first Christian Emperor issued the “Edit of Tolerance,” which stated Christianity was the state religion across the country.  Pagans and heretics of the old order were persecuted, the old gods and temples attacked, the old faiths destroyed.

It took until AD 540 to eradicate the old religions…

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Birth of Writing

Cave Painting
Primitive Man

When we look around to-day, at how things are, and how much our daily lives rely on the art of writing.  We have to wonder how difficult it must have been in those early times, before writing and the alphabet came into existence.

Primitive man, a nomadic race of people, whom we are descended from, lived on this world of ours some 30,000 or more years ago.  They left their story for future inhabitants to find, on the walls of caves, made up of pictures and symbols, cut into stone using shaped stone tools and bones, often coloured by natural dyes.

They moved around, following herds of animals; as their food moved, so did they.  Only when they became less nomadic in their lifestyle, and learnt to cultivate crops and raise herds of cattle, would some form of early language develop… the first steps in communication.  So the evolution of man had started; pictures to symbols and symbols to letters as the alphabet was developed.

When I think back to my early years, and being taught how to write, creating my first o then adding a side line and a tail to the right and creating an a.  It must have been a thrill to those men of learning who went on and created the very first alphabet.

They produced an early form of writing instrument, made out of stone, and sharpened, so they could scratch Rock Art pictures on the walls of caves and dwellings.  It could be anything from, family life, their offspring, crops and victories with cave men or animals.

With the discovery of clay, early traders were able to record details of their trading using clay tokens with pictographs.

Writing forms started out in 3500 BC, when the Sumerians, created their own unique style of Pictograms, which consisted of people or objects.  They found they needed more forms of images to express their meaning, which led to the Ideogram.  In time these symbols represented a word; Logograms.

Sumerian Cuneiform
Sumerian Cuneiform

The Sumerians used a wedge-shaped tool, made from reed, to press signs into clay tablets they had developed.  This new writing system was called Cuneiform (Wedge-Shaped).

From these humble beginnings, they developed images to represent sounds, so as to create a record in their own spoken language.  Sounds equalled specific images, once achieved they took it a step further, and recorded for history, works of literature.

In 668-627 BC the Assyrian King; Ashurbanipal had libraries containing such works as the “Epic of Gilgamesh.”

The cuneiform writing system spread through the middle east, during its 3,000 year history, writing the sounds as used by many countries and their languages.  Which included Babylonian, Assyrian, Elamite and Hittite, just some of the fifteen, who used this system of writing.

An early writing system was in its early stages of creation on the island of Crete in 3000 BC.  By 2000 BC they had developed the phonogram-syllabic script.

Therefore all the indications were there, the Greeks possessed a writing system.  Sadly their culture, their lifestyle was destroyed by Dorian invaders around 1100 BC.

Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs, were discovered in 1988 by Gunter Dreyer the archaeologist at Abydos, south of Cairo.  Inscriptions were found upon; pottery, bones, tombs and clay seals.  Radiocarbon analysis performed on the finds, deduced they dated between 3400 and 3200 BC which would make them one of the oldest, if not the oldest example of Egyptian writing known to exist.  Some of the Hieroglyphs used in Egypt, were similar to the cuneiform, that they referred to objects or had their links to sounds.  Many are used by royalty and deity, as can be seen in the Valley of the Kings, where many Pharaoh’s have their pyramids and burial chambers.

The word hieroglyph, is Greek in origin, and comes from the word hieros, and if we follow the route of the word it means sacred and carved stone.

Other types of scripts were developed by the Egyptians; “Hieratic” a hand written style produced between 2613-2160 BC, and used until 700 BC.  It was later replaced by the “Demotic” a popular abbreviated version (661-332 BC).

The earliest known styles, still in existence within China are believed to date back to the Shang Dynasty (1500-1050 BC).  Inscriptions have also been discovered, carved into oracle bones and upon Shang bronzes  dating from this period.  Egyptian hieroglyphs faded with the rigors of time, whilst Chinese versions exist in one form or another.

Seal scripts as developed around 221 BC, are still used as a seal, as a personal signature.  By 200 BC a Clerical script came into existence for the purpose of book-keeping, and Grass script for note-taking.

China’s highest written art-form has to be that of Calligraphy; produced by using a brush or quill.

The Phoenicians once belonged to the Aramaic people, and settled in Syria pre 1000 BC, and were established sea-faring traders.  The writing systems of the Phoenician and Aramaic people were similar.

The Aramaic people were suppressed and scattered by the Assyrian invasions of their lands, sometime after 732 BC.  By then, much of the Babylonian language and cuneiform writing system had been replaced by their own, before being lost …

Aramaic scripts spread across the Assyrian Empire through to the lands of Afghanistan, India and Mongolia.  From these small steps, new writing systems developed; modern Arabic, Hebrew, Persian scripts and Brahmin script as used in India.

The Aramaic script was the language of Jesus and his disciples.  In the 6th century AD, this script was still being used, for St.Mashtots introduced it as the new alphabet for the Armenian people.

The Arabic script of Islam, a descendant of the Nabatean.  These scripts first started appearing around 300 AD.

Phoenician had a direct connection with Hieratic and Demotic scripts of Ancient Egypt.  Once a standard style had been developed for its use, so the Koran a sacred text was written, and spread through North Africa, Asia, India and China.  It was halted in its path of crossing into the lands of Western Europe by Charles Martel who defeated the Saracen armies at Poitiers in 733 AD.

If we cross the Pacific Ocean, and come forward in time to AD 300-900 we reach the Maya civilisation in Central America.  It is here glyph pictograms have been discovered upon sculptures, pottery murals and public buildings, and are believed to date back to (AD 250-900) their Classic period.  Whilst other’s are known to belong to their Late Pre Classical period (400 BC – AD 250).  The inscriptions detail historical events, alliances, wars and marriages.

The Maya glyphs are made up of square blocks each with its own inscription, then placed in horizontal and vertical rows, and finally read from left to right.

The first known alphabet was developed around 1500BC, by the Semites in Syria and Palestine, using signs to show the consonants of syllables, using their own set of characters.

Around 1000BC the Phoenicians developed an alphabet which the Greek modified.  With written lines; left to right and they added symbols for vowels.  Now days all western alphabets, are based on the early Greek alphabet.

In the early days of writing, there was only uppercase lettering, until around 600AD, when lowercase was introduced, with finer writing pens for this use.

The earliest implements that resembled that of a pen and paper were developed by the Greeks, using a nib made of metal, bone or ivory.

For it was that the Grecian scholar, Cadmus who invented the written letter-text messages.

Indian ink was invented by the Chinese Philosopher; Tien-Lcheu in 2697BC, out of soot, lamp oil, gelatine of donkey skin and musk, and was commonly used by 1200BC.  Other cultures developed their inks using natural dyes, with berries for colour, plants and minerals.

Parchment Paper
Parchment Paper

With the invention of ink, came the introduction of parchment paper, created in 2500 BC by the Egyptians, made from a water plant; papyrus.  Which was used by early Egyptians, Romans, Greeks and Hebrews.

Roman Reed Pen
Roman Reed Pen

We now had paper and ink, but needed an effective way of transcribing it.  So it was the Romans who created a reed style of pen, from the hollow tubular-stems of marsh grasses.  By cutting one end to create a nib or point, with which to write with, they filled the stem with ink, and squeezed the stems, thus forcing the fluid into the nib.

By 400AD a stable form of ink had been developed, consisting of iron-salts, nutgalls and gum, which would remain in use for centuries.  When first applied to paper, it was a bluish-black in colour, turning truly black, then to a dull brown over the years.

A wood fibre paper had been invented in China around 105AD and brought to Spain by the Arabs in 711AD.

Quill Pen
The Quill Pen

The writing instrument that dominated history was the quill pen, as that used by Calligraphists, first introduced in 700AD and made from bird feathers.  Goose feathers were most commonly used, swan feathers being scarce were classed as premium grade, and crow feathers used for straight lines.

Plant fibre paper became the primary medium for writing after the dramatic invention by Johannes Gutenberg of the printing press with wooden or metal letters in 1436.

Articles written by hand had resembled printed letters until scholars began to change the form of writing, using capitals and small letters, writing with more of a slant and connecting letters.  The running hand or cursive style of handwriting with Roman capitals and small letters (Uppercase and lowercase) was invented by Aldus Manutius of Venice in 1495AD, and by the end of the 16th century we had the twenty-six lettered alphabet as we know it to-day.

The history of writing in Britain started in the 5th century AD, with the Anglo-Saxons.  By the 7th century AD, the Latin alphabet had been introduced.

The Normans invaded our shores in 1066, and the English language was relegated to the poor, whilst nobility, clergy and scholars spoke and read Norman or Latin.  By the 13th century, the English language had become the most prominent language once again, having been influenced by two centuries of Norman rule.

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