History of Early Egypt

By 3200BC the two kingdoms had appeared along the River Nile; the Upper and Lower Kingdoms.

In 3100BC King Menes united Egypt, making Memphis his capital and so the Old Dynastic period began.

Around 2575BC, a new period began, the Pharaonic period, which was broken down into three time periods.  The Old Kingdom (2575-2134), the Middle Kingdom (2040-1650) and the New Kingdom (1570-1070).  In the Old Kingdom Pharaohs ruled with absolute power as God-kings, and had command over their priests, nobles and civil-servants.  Most Egyptians were peasants, they were used by the pharaohs, in the building of pyramids etc.  Around that time Khufu’s Great Pyramid at Giza was constructed in 2500BC.

Sometime around 2134, the Old Kingdom ended in revolution, and thereafter, the land was plunged into a century of chaos, and known as the First Intermediate Period.  During this time political authority was in disarray among its local monarchs,

Ancient Egypt: Middle & New Kingdom

The year is 2040BC and Ancient Egypt’s Middle Kingdom witnessed Mentuhotep II restore order to the region and establish a new capital at Thebes.  The next four centuries saw pharaohs reign as god-kings as Egypt expanded its land borders southwards, taking in Nubia and Kush.

The 17th century invaders, the Hyksos of Western Asia drove iron chariots and won control of the Nile Delta.  Disorder ensued during the Second Intermediate Period.

Ahmose I of Thebes ejected the Hyksos, and the New Kingdom, and went on to consolidate his royal power in the rebuilding of the state bureaucracy, keeping a standing army, and declaring the state religion be; Temple of Amon.

Later Pharaoh’s which also included the like of Tutankhamun and Ramses the Great had to face a land of economic decline, religious unrest, political intrigue and invasion by the Hittites and Sea Peoples.  By the year 1070, the New Kingdom of the Egyptian Empire, had indeed crumbled.

Egypt – Life After Death: Canopic Jars

Ancient Egyptian’s used Canopic Jars carved from limestone or pottery, during the ritual of mummification, and their purpose was to house the internal organs of their pharaohs.

The jars had shaped stoppers of the head of one of the minor funerary deities known as the Four Sons of HORUS.

The four deities had to protect the internal organs of the deceased; “stomach –intestines-lung-liver” as his or her organs were required in order to be reborn in the Afterlife. These jars were usually grouped in fours and placed in a canopic chest, which in turn is placed within the  sarcophagus.

Canopic jars of the Old Kingdom (2686-2181 BC approx) are almost never inscribed, and have a plain lid. In the Middle Kingdom (2025-1700 BC approx), canopic jars are often inscribed, and the lids are often human headed. In the Nineteenth Dynasty and later each of the four lids takes the form of a different head – falcon, human, jackal and baboon (denoting the four children of Horus).

Alexandria: The Serapaeum

Under Ptolemy I, the Egyptian cult of Osiris – Apis at Memphis was moved to the city of Alexandria, where the god was called Serapis.  He took the form of a Greek God, which embraced both Greek and Egyptian deities: he was not only Osiris – Apis, but also Zeus, Dionysus, Hades and Asklepios.

Serapis was the “God of the Underworld,” a healing god, one of fertility and protector to sailors.  Depicted as a mature man bearing a beard and curly hair.  Upon his head, carried a basket overflowing with good things.

A temple… the Serapaeum was constructed in his honour.

Ancient Egypt Legend: Osiris – Isis – Set

Osiris

The River Nile played its part in the creation of Egypt, a process of life which started some five million years ago, when the river began flowing into Egypt.  Permanent dwellings rose along the river banks around 6,000 BC and this marked the beginning of the Egyptian Civilization.

The Nile of Ancient Egypt was seen as the source of all life, from which evolved the myth of Osiris, Isis and Set. One of these tales tell of the betrayal and murder of the God Osiris, by his brother-god; Set.

Set was jealous of the power which Osiris held, and offered him an elaborate sarcophagus, tricking him to lay down in it to see whom it fitted best; Osiris or Set.  Once Osiris had laid down, Set slammed shut the lid and threw the sarcophagus containing the body of Osiris into the River Nile.

Isis the wife of Osiris sought her husband’s body in order to give it a proper burial.  The coffin had floated down the Nile until it lodged itself in a tree at Byblos, and the tree grew encasing the body.  The King of Byblos took a liking to the tree and had it erected as a pillar in his court.  Isis, arrived in Byblos and recognised her husband’s coffin within the tree, and after endearing herself with the King, she was granted her request, the pillar styled tree containing her husband’s coffin and corpse.

Isis bought her dead husband’s coffin and corpse back to Egypt, with the aim of returning him to life.  With Osiris back in Egypt, she left his body in the care of her sister Nepthys, she who would keep it guard over it from Set.

Set heard that Isis had found the body of Osiris, and returned him to Egypt, to bring him back to life.  Set came upon Nepthys and forced her to reveal the whereabouts of the body.  Upon finding it he hacked the body into many pieces, and scattered them through Egypt.  A tearful Nepthys confessed to Isis what had happened, and promised to assist in finding what Set had done with the body.

Isia and Nepthys sought out the remains of Isis and wherever a part of him was discovered, they buried it according to proper rituals of the time, and erected a shrine.  That explains why many tombs existed throughout Ancient Egypt, and was also said to have established the nomes, the thirty-six territorial divisions of Ancient Egypt.

They managed to find and bury every part of him, except for his penis, which Set had tossed into the Nile and was consumed by a crocodile.  It is for this reason the crocodile came to be associated with the god of fertility; Sobek.

Osiris was incomplete, and as such could not return to life and so became the Lord of the Afterlife and Judge of the Dead.  The Nile had received the penis of Osiris, and was made fertile, giving life to the people of the land.

Horus, son of Osiris avenged his father by defeating Set and casting him from this land, thus restoring balance and order in the region.  From then on Horus and Isis ruled the land in harmony.

OSIRIS: 

Supreme god of the Underworld and the Dead.  First born of Geb and Nut.  Murdered by his jealous brother Set.  Counterpart to the sun-god below ground and manifestation of pharaoh after death.  He brought civilization to Egypt, and taught the people how to cultivate crops – hence also his manifestation as a grain god, as well as his more usual funerary and mortuary incarnations.

ISIS:

Great mother goddess of Egypt, wife to Osiris, mother of Horus.  Isis was an idealized woman and mother: loving, faithful and resourceful, the possessor of magical powers.  Her cult originated in Perehbet and spread throughout all Egypt.  She was displayed in many attitudes; suckling Horus the child, enthroned next to Osiris and protecting both her husband and the souls of the dead with her winged arms.

SET: 

God of chaos and disorder, thunder and storm, violence and the desert.  Set was the second son of Geb and Nut, who tore himself out of his mother.  He was jealous of his brother Osiris and killed him, usurping the throne until he was finally ousted in favour of Horus.  He was the personification of all that was evil.

Each month Set attacked and consumed the moon, the hiding place of Osiris and preyed on the souls of the deceased.  Set was adopted by the Hyksos invaders who settled in the Delta.  After their expulsion, Set’s reputation took a nose dive as his statues were destroyed and he took on the name Anathema.  When he lost out to Horus, he went to live with the sun-god becoming his weather controller.  He travelled with Re in his solar boat, standing in the prow speared Apophis when he attacked.  His two main centres of worship were Ombos and Kus.

Ancient Egypt: The First Pyramid

If one travels back to the lands of Ancient Egypt; when King Djoser ruled at the beginning of the Third Dynasty (2667-2648) BC.  He is remembered for building the first ever pyramid, a stepped pyramid.

This step styled pyramid was built from limestone, placing one layer on top of each other, each one smaller than the last, creating a pyramid of six steps.

The ground upon which the pyramid stands on is rectangular in shape, measuring 1,785 by 909 feet.  Fourteen false doorways are set into its walls, and its true entrance is on the south-eastern side.  Once through the door, you find a small vestibule and corridor of two rows of twenty fluted columns.  This corridor leads to eight pairs of columns, connected by limestone blocks, holding up its roof.  Beyond that lies the Great Courtyard in front of the stepped pyramid.

The six steps of the pyramids tower soar some two hundred feet into the heavens, and covers a shaft leading to the king’s burial chamber, his sarcophagus, his final resting place and a network of rooms and tunnels.  According to Egyptian beliefs, the preservation of the body, was a fundamental part, where one would pass from death to the afterlife.  The process was called mummification, which involved the removal of organs, and placing them in canopic jars.  The body would be washed, its internal cavities packed with resin and linen, and then wrapped in fine linen bandages.  Facial features were often restored by the painting of moulded plaster; a funeral mask.  Eleven shafts and chambers were built to the east, possibly for the burial of his royal women.

On the south side of the Great Courtyard is the Southern Tomb, which would house the King’s internal organs; Liver – Lungs – Stomach – Intestines, in canopic jars.

Imhotep, architect of Djoser’s step pyramid became a legend, for its construction, often referred to as a Great Wise Man of his time…

Egypt’s Lifeblood… Egypt’s Birth…

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 4th Dynasty 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 6th Dynasty 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.

9th and 10th Dynasties 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 12th Dynasty; 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 12th Dynasty 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.

17th Dynasty 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.

18th Dynasty 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).

18th and 19th Dynasties 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 20th Dynasty 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 21st Dynasty, it was ruled from Tanis in the Nile Delta, with only the odd acknowledgement from Thebes.

22nd Dynasty rule came from Bubastis in the Delta, and prosperity was healthy in the beginning, but went into decline during the 24th and 25th Dynasties.  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 25th Dynasty 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.

26th Dynasty 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…