6 May 2022


Ancient Egypt History

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Wilkinson’s book provides a detailed record of the history of Ancient Egypt. The narrative takes shape when different kingdoms of Egypt unite under King Narmer. Later, the story builds up revealing the issues that the country experienced with time. Famines, revolutions, culture, economy and wars are some of the issues that have been discussed. Wilkinson features an ancient priest (Manetho) who appears to have recorded a lot of information about the Dynasties of Ancient Egypt. The essay provides an overview of the history of Ancient Egypt as written by Wilkinson form chapter 1-9. 

According to Wilkinson (2011) the history of Ancient Egypt dates back to the fifth millennium B.C. During this period, the North-East African climate began to change significantly. Rains become less predictable and unreliable. In addition, the rain belt shifted southwards and the savannas that lie on the east and west of Nile began to turn into deserts. A few decades later, the land could no longer support livestock keeping. Initially, cattle herders depended on summer rains for seasonal pasture along the river. Accordingly, they migrated to other regions. People who were not livestock keepers occupied the Nile Valley where they engaged in agricultural practices. Unlike the cattle herders, the valley dwellers enjoyed good climate that allowed them to cultivate their lands year-round. 

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Good climate in the valley region led to the development of what Egyptologists refer to as the Badarian culture. The valley dwellers established permanent settlements so that they could engage in agriculture fully. Another factor that influenced the formation of the Badarian culture was the gradual shape that the society of the settlers began to take. Some people began to take leadership roles while others become their followers. The ruling class remained small while the subjects continued to increase in numbers. The Badarian society continued to grow with time. The rich continued to accumulate more wealth and became the patrons of artists who specialized in craft. The craftsmen rewarded the patrons by innovating new technologies and products that met their ‘sophisticated tastes’ (Wilkinson, 2011). The services and products of the craftsmen were only restricted to the wealthy in the society. 

Over time, cultural, economic and political forces lead to complex transformation in the society. Besides, harsh climatic conditions in the deserts caused migration of large populations to the valley. The phenomenon intensified the level of competition for resources leading to the establishment of walled towns. Further social transformation led to increased agriculture and development of urban centers. The Egyptian communities developed several strategies in response to these changes. In Upper Egypt, communities segmented themselves into three regional groups. The three centers they occupied were referred to as Tjeni, Nubt and Nekhen (Wilkinson, 2011). The leadership of the regions was handed over to hereditary monarchs. The occupants of Tjeniwere favored by availability water in their region and the presence of trading routes that connected Nubia and Saharan oases (Wilkinson, 2011). The Nubt inhabitants gained control over gold reserves that were located in Eastern Desert while the people who occupied Nekhenhad control over a route from the desert to the oases(Wilkinson, 2011). 

The ruling class in these territories used all the economic means available to them to accumulate wealth and in return acquired political authority. They facilitated the trade of valuable objects such as gold, lapis lazuli, olive oil and precious stones. Trade was conducted within and outside regional and state boarders. For example, products such as olive oil and lapis lazuli were imported from Near East and Afghanistan respectively (Wilkinson, 2011). At some point, the rulers began to engage in supremacy battles. The competition for power was particularly manifested in burials. The Nekhen and Tjeni rulers outsmarted the Nebt rulers in terms of constructing large and magnificent tombs. The largest tomb was constructed by the Tjeni ruler. The tomb resembled a miniature palace.

The Tjeni ruler gained so much power. His economic success was recognized far beyond the Nile Valley. He controlled the Nile delta successfully while his counterpart the Nekhen ruler engaged in sub-Saharan trade outstandingly. Existing evidence shows that eventually the king of Tjeni acquired victory by gaining controls over 2/3 of Egypt. In addition, Tjeni gained control over seaports and engaged in lucrative trade with regions such as modern Syria, Palestine and Lebanon. The conflicts lasted for about two centuries. Around 2950 B.C all the kingdoms of Egypt become united under the leadership of a Tjeni ruler referred to as Narmer (Wilkinson, 2011). Accordingly, Narmer is recognized as the first king of Egypt. The Narmer Palette is a ceremonial engraving associated with Narmer’s victory over his enemies. It was discovered by British archeologists known as James Quibell and Frederick Green in an excavation season that took place in 1897-1898. It was discovered in Nekhen’s ancient site in Hierakonpolus, a presynaptic capital in southern Egypt. 

The river Nile is a major factor that led to the establishment of permanent settlement and development of Egypt (Wilkinson, 2011). Accordingly, Egypt is primarily recognized as ‘the gift of the Nile’ (Wilkinson, 2011). River Nile flows through the Sahara toward Egypt. It molds the landscape of the regions around it and influences the way of life of the Egyptians. Their myths and philosophical believes are shaped by the river. River Nile has also provided the inhabitants of Nile valley with good topography for agriculture. Additionally, it has always been their main source of water. It has also been used for transport and communication for many years (Wilkinson, 2011). Generally, the economic, social and political success of Egypt is largely controlled by the river. In ancient Egypt, its value extended beyond cultural, economic and political factors. The river was a unifying factor for the different regions that made up the country. The southern part of the country was referred to as Upper Egypt because the river originated from that direction. 

The unification of Egyptian kingdoms to one nation brought significant changes in terms of governance and social transformation. With Narmer as the first king, the country moved to a governmental structure that was dominated by shared values. All the kings that preceded him were bound by this structure. Egyptian rulers had the responsibility of cultivating a sense of patriotism amongst their people. They ensured that their people valued the sense of belonging to their nation (Wilkinson, 2011). Existing records with information about leadership through monarchy in ancient Egypt employ a system that focuses on kingship dynasty (Wilkinson, 2011). The dynasties begin with Narmer and end after the death of Cleopatra. A system that was developed by a priest fProm Ancient Egypt referred to as Manetho, shows that the country had thirty dynasties. King Narmer founded the First Dynasty which is also known as the Menes. The Thirtieth Dynasty lasted between 360 B.C. and 343 B.C. and its last king was Nakhthorheb (Wilkinson, 2011). Contemporary records include a Thirty-First Dynasty that is associated with the Persian conquerors who ruled Egypt after the death of Nakhthorheb. However, they were later conquered by Alexander the Great. 

Manetho did not include Alexander’s Dynasty in his scheme. Manetho associated the Egyptian dynasties with the ideas of a doctrine that was widely popularized by the Pharaoniccourt (Wilkinson, 2011). The doctrine focused on a god known as Atum.Atum was the creator who comes up with kingship system of government whereby at the end of a king’s reign, the subsequent ruler was obligated to inherit a government that had been ‘divinely sanctioned’ (Wilkinson, 2011). Practically, things did not go according to this perspective. Sometimes national wrangles provided room for change of leadership. 

The first three dynasties (Early Dynastic Period) of Egypt are recognized for their significant efforts towards economic development. They reinforced their political power through several economic developments. The main accomplishment of the Early Dynastic Period leaders was leading the country towards an economy that was centrally controlled with the aim of ensuring that projects of the royal building received adequate financing (Wilkinson, 2011). According, writing as a form of transmitting knowledge was invented. Written communication become useful for creating historical records. The first evidence that shows the use of written communication in Ancient Egypt was discovered in apredynastic tomb located in Abdja (Wilkinson, 2011). It is a bone containing several labels on it. Matters concerning invention of writing have created a dispute among archaeologists. Some believe that the idea originated in Egypt while others from Mesopotamia. It is speculated that Egypt adopted the concept from Mesopotamia. 

Writing allowed the Egyptian rulers to manage their economic progress effectively. Competing kingdoms were able to record information concerning their goods before sharing it with others. The business activities that were conducted in the royal treasury were monitored through stamping. Crucial details such as quality and quantity of goods were also recorded. Over time, writing led to important transformations including the development of international trade (Wilkinson, 2011). Evidence obtained from Abdja’s royal tombs shows labels associated with high quality oil that was obtained from Near East. It is also evident that Egyptians had established trading stations in southern Palestine. A place such as Tel Erani in Israel consists of Egyptian pottery with seal impressions and stamps implying that Ancient Egyptians conducted their business there(Wilkinson, 2011).

Well established trade links allowed the economy of Ancient Egypt to experience massive growth. The country rose into prosperity but wealth was unevenly distributed across the population. The gap between the rich and the poor widened with time because the rich continued to become richer while the poor drowned in more poverty (Wilkinson, 2011). To benefit from agricultural productivity, the First Dynasty government introduced taxes. The government officials used written records to keep track of taxation details. An elaborate national system was developed to regulate assessment, collection and redistribution of taxes. Taxes were mainly collected in terms of agricultural produce. Later, the produce was divided into two portions. The first portion was stored in granaries owned by the government and the second one was manufactured into secondary products that were traded for profit (Wilkinson, 2011). The proceeds that were acquired through taxes were mainly used to celebrate the ruling elite. For example, magnificent monuments and other facilities were constructed for them. On the other hand, the masses were languishing in poverty. 

The end of the First Dynasty was marked by the death of its last king, Qaa. Hetepsekhemwy became the first king of the Second Dynasty. Some of the changes that accompanied this change include abandonment of Abdja as a royal burial ground, civil unrest and increased tension throughout the country, and reinstatement of Abdja (Wilkinson, 2011). The mid years of the Second Dynasty were dominated by political and social unrest. The unity that the Egyptians had worked so hard to attain at the beginning of the First Dynasty was destroyed. The country’s kingship system had become weakened and the people needed a new and more determined leader.Khasekhem become the new ruler and took over the mandate of unifying his people immediately (Wilkinson, 2011). He once again took his country back to a state of economic and cultural growth. New international bonds between the country and regions such a classical Byblos and modern Jubayl were established. Khasekhhem had numerous achievements and it is his reign that ushered in the formation of the pyramids. The first pyramid isreferred to as the Step Pyramid and it was designed by a man known as Imhotep. His first innovation leads to the formation of all the other pyramids. The Third Dynasty ended at a point where the administration had gained absolute power. 

The pyramid age stretched from the Third to the 25th Dynasty. However, vigorous construction lasted up to the Six Dynasty period. Besides the Step Pyramid, the Djoser Pyramid is identified among the earliest pyramids because it was constructed in 2630-2611 BC. The Fifth and Sixth Dynasty pyramids were constructed between 2465-2323 BC and 2323-2150 BC respectively. The Pyramids of Giza are a celebrated wonder of the ancient world. Their construction lasted for almost a decade (85 years), between 2589 and 2504 BC.Userkaf was the first king of the Fifth Dynasty. Unlike his predecessors, he oversaw the construction of the smallest pyramid in the history of Egypt. Besides, all the other pyramids signified a king’s political authority but his was a sign of sacredness (Wilkinson, 2011). It was a sun temple signifying the strong bond between King Userkaf and the sun god. The successors of Userkaf also stressed on the concept of divinity by constructing sun temples.The kings of the Fifth Dynasty distanced themselves and their royal families from their subjects deliberately. Reforms were made to create employment for government officials who facilitated the government’s daily operations. Most of the highest offices in the land were reserved for the relatives of the ruling king. Notably, construction of tombs was an activity that the rulers of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties took very seriously (Wilkinson, 2011). Highly skilled craftsmen were used to create sophisticated decorations on the tombs. The purpose of an elaborate tomb was ensuring that the spirit of the deceased was well protected in the afterlife. Decorations scenes on the tombs featured things such as agricultural produce, jewelry, and furniture so that the deceased soul would receive a constant and magical supply of daily requirements. 

Before the end Fifth Dynasty, the monarchy realized that reforms it had introduced earlier worked against its favor. It quickly reorganized the structure of the government by eliminating some of the bureaucrats who had acquired so much power thereby threatening the existence of the monarch. Consequently, the central government was weakened and some of its responsibilities were assigned to provincial officials (Wilkinson, 2011). The last king of the Fifth Dynasty did not have an heir and the throne was passed to Teti, a commoner who ended upmarrying the king’s daughter for legitimacy reasons. According, the Sixth Dynasty began with a lot of uncertainty, and other forms of crises that threatened its existence to the end. Teti decided to protect his reign and gain support by establishing good and trustworthy relationships with his lieutenants. However, he was assassinated by royal relatives. 

Teti’s preferred heir was known as Pepi I. He reigned for forty years where he devoted substantial energy to the construction of multiple chapels that he dedicated to himself. The reign of Pepi I one faced by threats from within the monarch and outside country boarders. The nomads who lived outside Egypt had an eye for the wealth of the Nile Valley. The king used a close confidant, Weni, to lead an army against them (Wilkinson, 2011). The Egyptian conscripts worked with the Nubian mercenaries to launch an attack in southern Palestine which was also the homeland of the rebels. Egypt also felt threatened by new powers that were growing on the upper side of the Nile. Therefore, they formulated policy initiatives that led to the establishment of an administration post in Dakhla Oasis (Wilkinson, 2011). Soldiers were put in the area and watch posts constructed on major access routes to ensure that all the movements and business operations that took place in the area were monitored. On the other hand, the Nubian chiefs were becoming very powerful and threatening the dominance of Egypt in the region. Suddenly, perspective of Ancient Egypt as the only powerful and most prosperous region around the world was beginning to diminish. 

In the following years, Egypt began to experiences serious leadership issues. Different kings ascended to power and ruled for a very short time because they faced conflicts from other people who wanted to rule. Furthermore, the central authority continued to weaken most duties had been delegated to regional leaders. Eventually, the central government collapsed and they country went back to its initial pattern of regional lines division (Wilkinson, 2011). The three provinces in the southern region formed one unit while the remaining two provinces formed another unit. However, the tradition of kingship was retained. While the country was still experiencing a situation of political instability, a great famine occurred. Many people suffered and others died because the King and the provincial governors were unable to provide them with food. Some of the leaders took advantage of the crisis to advance their career objectives. For example, Ankhitifu the governor of Upper Egyptian province claimed that he had supplied food people from the northern and southern regions of the country (Wilkinson, 2011). He later acquired some provinces to form an alliance that pledged its loyalty to the king of the land. He started attacking Thebes and other provinces thatrefused to join his course. After three years, his attacks failed and his provinces fell under the Theban leadership which by then was seeking the unity of the entire country.Struggle for power by different regional leaders led to a civil war that lasted for many years (2080-1970).

King Mentuhotep emerged as the conqueror of the civil war. He also managed to reunite the conflicting lands of Egypt. When the reign of Mentuhotep’s family ended, the Twelfth Dynasty took over the supremacy of the land. The country began to flourish again both socially and economically. Political stability was also maintained. Massive efforts were made to empower the military for internal and external security purposes. The leaders of the country were always cautious of foreign aggressors (Wilkinson, 2011). In some regions, borders walls were erected and cross-border movements monitored carefully. Egyptians and peoplefrom neighboring countries perceived Egypt as a civilized nation that was blessed in many ways. Its social and cultural way of life attracted many foreigners from the less successful neighboring nations (Wilkinson, 2011). However, not all immigrants were interested in culture innovations. Others were interested in ideas of conquest. Although the country always managed to keep such people at bay, at the end of the Twelfth Dynasty things were different. The country’s culture was almost destroyed by such ambitious foreigners(Asiatic population).

The Asiatic population had migrated to the nation when the country was under the watch of the Twelve Dynasty. They engaged in trade actively and flourished both economically and socially. Over time, they developed confidence and felt the need of engaging in the country politically. The constructed a mansion for political officials and lavish tombs that had symbols and signs associated with Asiatic customs. On a different note, the end of the Twelfth Dynasty marked the beginning of a chaotic monarchy. Different kings rose to power in a matter of days and months. The respect for kingship deteriorated amongst the people. In 1630-1520 Sematic-speaking from coastal Lebanon began to rule Northern Egypt. They branded their capital located at Hutwaret in Asiatic culture. They also worshipped Baal-a foreign god. Their rule oversaw expansion of their capital and prosperity in the northeastern delta region. 


Wilkinson, T. A. H. (2011).  The rise and fall of ancient Egypt . New York: Random House.

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