What happened to Ancient Egypt?
It's hard to imagine that a civilization as strong and powerful as Egypt could be so easily forgotten. A lot of factors contributed to Egypt's fall from power, but it is most likely a combination of both internal and external factors. The Egyptians entered into what is known as the Third Intermediate Period (1070-664 BC), which was marked by political instability, deteriorating economic conditions, foreign invasions, and civil war. This period was followed by the Late Period (664-332 BC), where Egypt fell under the rule of other empires such as Persia, Greece and Rome. By 712 B.C., Egypt would become unified again under Persian rule until 332 B.C., when Alexander the Great defeated King Darius III during the Battle of Issus in 333 B.C., bringing an end to Persian hegemony in Egypt (Trickey). Though Alexander was welcomed at first by Egyptians who wanted independence from Persia, his reign did not last long after his death in 323 B.C.. Beginning with Ptolemy I Soter in 305 B.C., the Ptolemaic Dynasty lasted nearly 300 years until Cleopatra VII committed suicide following her defeat by Augustus Caesar in 30 BC (Aston). This marked the end of Ancient Egyptian history not only because it ended with Cleopatra's suicide but also because it marks the beginning of Ancient Roman domination over Egypt for another 600 years to come. It appears that Egypt simply became too weak by this time to withstand any more foreign invasions or occupations; its legacy seemed like nothing more than a distant memory for those people living along the Nile River at this time (Szpakowska).
What do we know about Ancient Egypt's rise and fall?
It's impossible to provide an in-depth treatment of the history of Ancient Egyptian civilization in one paragraph, but here's a basic summary. The civilization rose slowly over thousands of years and fell slowly over thousands more. It's tempting to want a simple answer for why Ancient Egypt became so powerful, or why they eventually lost their power, but the disparate threads that made up the empire rarely point one direction.
The Old Kingdom: ca. 2950–2040 BC
By 2500 BC, the peoples of Upper and Lower Egypt had come together under one ruler and were building monumental structures like pyramids. The pharaohs were revered as gods on earth and began constructing temples to confirm their status as such. The era was prosperous and stable until about 2181 BC when pharaoh Pepi II died without naming a successor. This period is considered the end of the Old Kingdom.
How did the ancient Egyptians understand their world?
As in most ancient societies, the Egyptians believed in many gods. In fact, there were HUNDREDS of them! It's hard to believe they could keep track of them all, but they did try their best. "Gods" are a real mystery. Who or what are they? Where do they come from? What do we have in common with them? What can they do for us? Why don't we see them more often? These were questions that would never be answered by the ancient Egyptians; however, this did not stop them from keeping track of all these deities and praying to them regularly!
In most cases, the gods reflected forces in nature: The sun god Re ruled the skies during day hours and the moon goddess Khonsu presided over night time skies while Osiris ruled death and afterlife (which was considered just as important as life itself). Isis was known as being one of Egypt's most powerful magicians because she discovered how to revive her dead husband Osiris by using magic spells!
How did the ancient Egyptians chart the heavens?
The ancient Egyptians were the first civilization to develop a 365-day calendar, which was based on the annual flooding of the Nile River. As you can imagine, it was paramount for their economy and society to be able to accurately predict these floods. To do this, they used a star that rose in conjunction with the flooding of the Nile: Sirius. This brilliant star rises every year just before sunrise from July 19th to August 12th (although there are some small variations). The heliacal rising of Sirius, then, marked the beginning of a new year for ancient Egyptians, as well as when their annual harvest began.
But beyond using Sirius as a marker for important events in their yearly cycle and setting up agricultural calendars based on its cycle, they also used it to navigate across their dry desert landscape. At night, Sirius acts as a pointer star that can help determine south by drawing an imaginary line between Orion's belt in the constellation Orion and through Sirius itself in Canis Major (the Big Dog). From there, if you continue this line southward toward the horizon a bit farther (about 7°), you will have found due south.
Why were ancient Egyptian temples so important?
Temples were built in order to give the people a place to worship the gods and interact with them. The temples were where ordinary people could communicate with their gods and seek advice. Egyptians believed that through the rituals performed at these temples, the gods would be appeased and help guide their lives.
The temples were also very important because they provided medical services for the ancient Egyptians. The priests who worked there often had a working knowledge of medicine, and they used their skills to heal the sick. Temples also operated schools that taught reading, writing, mathematics, astronomy, history, science, architecture and philosophy.
How did they build those incredible temples?
The most impressive structures to come out of ancient Egypt are the temples. They contain incredible stone work, with precise interlocking blocks weighing several tons, and many times, hidden passageways, rooms, and even a giant statue that would be revealed when entering the temple.
There are some temples built in ancient Egypt that still stand today. These structures all serve the same purpose, however they differ in design and scale. They were made to honor the gods of ancient Egypt, such as Ra, Horus, and Anubis. The pyramids also served this purpose as well.
Is there an easier way to build a pyramid?
What if you could build a pyramid in half the time? What if all you had to do was send your people to the top of the hill and have them kick down little rocks as they went back down? One of the more interesting theories suggests that this is exactly how Egyptians built one of their pyramids, which would mean that there might be an easier way than dragging huge slabs on wooden sledges. It's definitely a theory worth considering: for one, it ties in with an ancient Egyptian building inscription that says something like "a pyramid is being made."
There are some problems with this theory, though. Not only do any workers on the bottom have to contend with falling rocks (ouch), but they'd have to deal with a giant ramp that would need to be either incredibly tall or very long—both options are pretty costly. Plus, those little rocks would have to be arranged into blocks before they could be used...but hey! This is still better than hauling stones across Egypt on sledges! Plus, there seem to be no signs of ramps at all near these pyramids.
Can we still learn science from ancient temple design?
You might be surprised to learn that the ancient Egyptians were not always as advanced in science and technology as we once imagined them to be. It was thought that they understood the nature of the stars and observed their cycles, but newly discovered documents show that this is incorrect. While they were not at an advanced stage in astronomy, however, they were far more advanced than we ever gave them credit for when it came to other forms of science. Their knowledge in architecture and how it related to physics did not get put into practice until much later. The Egyptians knew how to design temples so that light emanating from certain points on the ceiling would illuminate specific areas of the floor—and even create special effects such as a projected starry sky in a dark chamber. They also built pyramids using such precise calculations for angles and measurements that many modern day builders are still baffled by their ingenuity. And who can forget about the tombs? You can learn a lot about anatomy from studying some of these well-preserved mummies!
While historians often focus on specific events or periods, it's important to examine the whole arc of a great civilization.
Historians are often tasked with pinpointing a specific moment in history, and examining that moment in great detail. This is a useful approach, but it is also important to look at civilizations as a whole. Doing so allows us to better understand the greater arc of human civilization, while also looking more deeply into the causes and effects of specific events. As we will see in this series, Ancient Egypt was an empire whose influence continues to reverberate through our modern world today.