Among the first societies to emerge from Prehistory with a unique
historical identity was Egypt. The population of Egypt lived on the banks
of the Nile river in Northeast Africa. The Nile flooded annually, throwing
new fertile soil onto the riverbanks. Because of this annual flooding, the
exhaustion of the soil's minerals and crop rotation were not issues,
making Egypt a perfect locale for an agriculture-based society.
The Nile ends in a delta, or swampy, muddy area where it flows into the
Mediterranean sea. This delta made navigation by large ships (i.e. war
ships) impossible. The presence of deserts and inhospitable lands on
Egypt's other borders made hostile attack a rare, if not unheard of
occurrence. All of these factors worked together to create an extremely
stable, structured society in which social status was determined at birth,
and creativity was not encouraged.
Egyptian religion permeated every aspect of life and was, not suprisingly,
centered around the Nile that sustained Egypt's agriculture. Religion in
Egypt was Polytheisticand controlled by a priest class. Most of what we
have learned about Egyptian life and religion is gathered from
heiroglyphics written on papyrus or painted/carved on walls.
Between 1364 and 1347 B.C., Amenhotep IV
took the throne. He
neatly circumvented the power of the priestly class by declaring that he
had received a message from Aton Ra . In this message Ra explained
that he was the ruler of the gods, and that he would speak only to the
Pharoh. Amenhotep changed his name to Akhenaton (servant of Aton)
and ushered in the most creative era of ancient Egypt. During the rule of
Akhenaton and his wife Nefertiti, art was used for more than religious or
political function. Called Amarna Art, it became moderately
representational, and gave rise to the portrait bust of Queen Nefertiti.
After Akhenaton's death, however, the priests quickly regained control
and returned art to its rigid form.
Egyptian history fascinates us because it is filled with mysteries.
the greatest of thise is that of Egyptian architecture. The blocks that
make up the great pyramids weigh in at over 60 tons each, and they were
moved without the aid of modern heavy equipment or hydraulics!
Imhotepis the genius who historians believe designed some of the earliest
pyramids. The Sphinx (having the body of the lion and the head of a
man) is even more mysterious, as both its origins and use remain
unknown, although its image is familiar to almost everyone.