Podcast –  Ancient Egypt – 00 – An Introduction

Podcast – Ancient Egypt – 00 – An Introduction


Welcome to the DW World History Podcast Series. I’m your host, David Wainright, and I’ll be
taking you through 3,000 years of Egyptian History beginning with King Narmer and ending with the last native Egyptian ruler, Nectanebo II, in 343 B.C. If you followed our video series, you experienced
one of the most detailed presentations on this great civilization. This podcast series presents even more information
not covered in the video series, and is available for download at DWWorldHistory.com. Here you will also find detailed outlines
for each episode with additional resource material and bibliographies. You may wish to review these outlines before
and after listening to these lectures. And now… join us… as we take you through
the World of History! In this episode we’ll discuss why we should
study Ancient Egypt, how we know what we know about Egypt, the Egyptian historical timeline,
the geography of Ancient Egypt, the Egyptian Campaign, and the Rosetta Stone. Why Should We Study Ancient Egypt The Ancient Egyptians are one of the most
mysterious civilizations in history. They were also one of the most advanced. Many historical ‘firsts’ began in Egypt. For example, Religion: Most people are shocked
to learn that monotheism – the belief in one god – began in Egypt after it was first
presented by an Egyptian Pharaoh. The Egyptians were also the first to perfect
the science of mummification. This practice went along with their mythology,
which in itself, was more advanced than any other civilization at the time. In comparison, the Sumerians did not build
the Pyramids of Egypt; they did not build the incredible temples that remain even to
this day; and they did not do medical science the way the Ancient Egyptians did. The Egyptians remained basically one civilization
throughout 3,000 years, and as a result, maintained an edge over their Mesopotamian brothers when
it came to art, architecture, and science. The Ancient Greeks, themselves, revered the
Ancient Egyptians. If you read Greek historians, they all say
the same thing, “We got our civilization from Egypt.” The Greeks were new on the scene in comparison. The Iliad and Odyssey were composed around
800-900 B.C. The Pyramids were build a couple thousand
years earlier. If you asked the Ancient Greeks where they
learned to build their temples, they all said the same thing: “We learned to build in
stone from the Egyptians.” An example of this is revealed in Djoser’s
Step Pyramid at Saqqara. His fluted columns resemble, remarkably, the
Greek Doric Column, and his complex was constructed an amazing 2000 years before its use by the
Greeks. Let that length set in… 2000 years… that is incredible – one of the many reasons why we study the Ancient Egyptians. Another reason was for its art. Egyptian Art is among the most beautiful of
all time. The statues of Khafre, Nefertiti, and Queen
Tiye are examples of the best; beautiful works of art created thousands of years before the
famous Greek sculptures. The incredible works discovered in Tutankhamun’s
tomb are also worth mentioning. His burial items long outmatch anything being
produced by Mesopotamia at the time. Learning about Ancient Egyptian civilization
brings us to our most distant past in the historical record and reveal that these people
were not so different than who we are today. How We Know What We Know We get much of our information on the Egyptians
through their religion. They were ‘resurrectionists’, meaning they
believed in life after death. They believed their body would ‘literally’
get up and go again in the next life. As a result, they devoted much of their time
and energy into building vast tombs and temples while burying the dead with just about everything
they would need in order to live comfortably in the next world. Their tombs were built of stone and constructed
in order to last forever. On the tomb walls, they painted scenes of
daily life to show the gods how they wanted to be treated in the next world. For example, if a person liked hunting and
fishing, he would have a scene painted on his wall showing him ‘hunting and fishing.’ These scenes were very popular throughout
Egypt by both the commoners and the Pharaoh alike. Ramesses the Great’s wife, Nefertari, loved
playing the game called Senet, (kind of an Egyptian chess game). In her tomb she has a section of her wall
painted showing herself playing the game Senet. These tomb wall paintings are a great little
window into Ancient Egyptian daily life. Since they believed that you could ‘take it
with you into the next world’, they filled these tombs with an amazing variety of daily
objects. Just look at King Tut’s tomb. He packed it with everything! Over 5,000 items were discovered in his tomb,
from statues, to walking canes, to his chariot. They took everything they thought they would
want in the next life and through these items, we learn so much about these people. Another great source is written material. The Ancient Egyptians developed writing very
early, and as a result, used their temple walls to broadcast what they wanted the world
to know, especially the Pharaohs. The first detailed documented battle in history
(The Battle of Megiddo) comes from Pharaoh Tuthmosis III who provided an account of this
conflict on his temple wall at Karnak. These temple walls became a sort of bulletin
board for the ancient world, and as a result, give us a large amount of information into
the reign of most of these kings. Religious texts are also available. Written on papyrus scrolls, these works reveal
the complex mythology behind the various spells and incantations that the Egyptians used during
the mummification process. Some of these spells were to be used by the
dead in order to revive themselves, to get their legs working again, or to be able to
speak. These were written originally on tomb walls,
eventually moved to the sarcophagus, and later constructed into the ‘Book of the Dead’. This material reveals what the Egyptians thought
about the next world and provides additional insight into their religious beliefs. Another source of Egyptian historical information
is the Greek Historian Herodotus. He traveled to Egypt around 450 B.C. and provided
a detailed account of his travels in the first history book on the Egyptians. His work is highly debated among scholars,
due to some of his material being unreliable. Herodotus did not speak the Ancient Egyptian
language, and so was shown Egypt through a guide. We have to look at him as sort of a tourist,
not a historian, and understand that he was recording the information that was being told
to him at the time. We will refer back to him throughout this
series, as Herodotus still remains a good source for many things. The Egyptian Historical Timeline Because Egyptian history lasted so long, Egyptologists
divide the historical timeline into three periods called kingdoms: (1) The Old Kingdom,
(2) The Middle Kingdom, and (3) The New Kingdom. The Old Kingdom saw the beginnings of nationhood
for Egypt under one supreme ruler, the Pharaoh. This period saw the rise of the Great Pyramids
and established rules for Egyptian art that would last for 3,000 years. The Middle Kingdom was a period of stabilizing
after the Old Kingdom collapsed, and saw a nation fighting to regain its greatness. Pyramids were still built, but not to the
same quality as those built during the Old Kingdom. Being built of mud-brick instead of stone,
they would not last as long. During this time, the power of the priests
of Amun began to overshadow the kings, and the country was eventually split again. Through the rise of the New Kingdom, Egypt
developed a golden age of prosperity. The greatest pharaohs the country would see
ruled during a time of incredible building projects and beautiful artistic craftsmanship. The pharaohs of the New Kingdom ceased building
pyramids and focused on tombs in the famous Valley of the Kings. Through the power of their great army, the
pharaohs exerted their authority over lands in the Levant and south into Nubia. Separating each of these kingdoms were Intermediate
Periods that sent their country into chaos. These ‘dark ages’ plague scholars due to the
lack of written records available, but what we do have indicates that the people experienced
economic hardships until stability could be restored. After the New Kingdom, Egypt experienced its
Third Intermediate Period where it saw a rule by Nubians, Assyrians, and Persians before
finally becoming a province of the Roman Empire. During this lecture series, we will avoid
specific dates that are currently debated among scholars. Since this culture is so old, it is extremely
difficult to fix true or absolute dates in Egyptian chronology. It is
generally accepted that Egyptian chronology is on a firm ground from 664 B.C., the beginning
of the 26th Dynasty (Saite Period), and most specific
dates will not be given until around this point. Scholars acquire the timeline of kings from
several lists discovered in tombs and temples that include:
The Palermo Stone, The Royal List of Karnak, The Royal List of Abydos, and the Abydos King List. The order of pharaohs are not complete, but
are mostly accurate when they are compared together. It is
only during the time of the Intermediate Periods when the list of pharaohs become either
unknown or vague. We acquire our basic structure of Egyptian
chronology from the Graeco-Egyptian priest, Manetho, who lived in the third-century B.C.
during the reign of Ptolemy I. His work was called Egyptian History, or
Notes About Egypt, and divided the Egyptian chronology into dynasties. We recognize 30 of them from the unification
of Egypt down to the death of the last native Egyptian Pharaoh, Nectanebo II in 343 B.C.
Dynasty 31 is the Second Persian Period, and Dynasty 32 is the Ptolemaic Dynasty, which
of course ended with the death of Cleopatra VII in 30 B.C. Great reliance is placed with Manetho, but
no full text of his work survives. It was so treasured by later writers that
they often quoted from him. As a result, we are able to piece together
a majority of his work. Our survey of Ancient Egypt will end with
last native Pharaoh Nectanebo II. Coverage of the Second
Persian Period and the Ptolemaic Dynasty will be for another lecture series as they are
outside this current field of study. The Geography of Ancient Egypt With any civilization, we must first begin
with an overview of the terrain, as the environment played vital roles in how each culture developed. With the Egyptians, these early people began
building small communities along the Nile River, which eventually developed into larger
towns overtime. Egypt was originally divided into two regions,
Upper and Lower Egypt. The Nile River flowed
North, which was due to the higher mountains in the south. Just keep in mind that Upper and Lower Egypt
was based on the flow of the Nile, so Lower Egypt was the Delta Region, while Upper Egypt
was the mountainous terrain in the South. The Greek historian Herodotus called Egypt
the “gift of the Nile”, since the kingdom owed its survival to the annual flooding of
the Nile and the resulting depositing of fertile silt. This gave the only source for crop growth
to an otherwise inhospitable area. Without the Nile, Egypt would have been nothing
but a desert with a few oases locations. In the eyes of the ancient Egyptians, Egypt
had two lands: The Black Land and the Red Land. The Black Land was known as ‘Kemet,’ and was
the fertile lands along the Nile. Think of Black as the black soil needed for
crop production. The Red Land was the barren desert that protected
Egypt on two sides. Think of Red as hot arid desert. These deserts separated ancient Egypt from
neighboring countries and invading armies and was the main cause for
allowing their civilization to thrive for nearly 3,000 years. While oases existed in the western desert,
the eastern desert was largely empty of habitation, except around a few mines and quarries. Dry lake beds near the delta in Lower Egypt
provided natron, the salt used to preserve mummified corpses. The desert region northeast of Memphis provided
valuable stone, including quartzite for grinding and
drilling tools and limestone for building tombs and temples. Copper came from mines in the Sinai Peninsula
and the eastern desert. Then there was gold! It was said by a Hittite ruler that there
was as much gold in Egypt as there was sand, and they often begged the Pharaoh for it. This enormous wealth allowed Egypt to purchase
timber from the Levant, and import other goods into the country, including lapis lazuli,
silver, ebony, ivory and olive oil. Egypt’s southern boundary, at the southern
edge of Upper Egypt, was traditionally held to be the First Cataract. This was an area of harsh rapids and waterfalls
some six hundred miles due south of the main exit point of the Nile into the Mediterranean. During the Old Kingdom, this was Egypt’s farthest extent. During the Middle and New Kingdom periods,
however, Egyptian armies pushed further south, as far as the Sixth Cataract, in an attempt
to invade and conquer Nubia. As a side note, these Nubians would eventually
take over Egypt establishing the 25th Dynasty and attempt to challenge the Persian Empire! We will explore each of these areas in more
detail throughout the series as we follow along the great building projects of the Pharaohs. The Egyptian Campaign With an introduction to Ancient Egypt, we
must first explore how we regained our knowledge of this time after the collapse of the Roman
Empire. This began with Napoleon Bonaparte, and his
Egyptian campaign of 1798-1801. Bonaparte assembled 150 artists and scientists
who landed with the army and began what we now call Egyptology – the study of anything
and everything Egypt! These scientists published the Description
de l’Egypte. This 10-volume publication was instrumental
in advancing our knowledge of Ancient Egypt’s various temples and pyramids. The artwork is extremely accurate and provides
a glimpse of what the ancient structures looked like when they were first
discovered by these French explorers. These volumes were used by later Egyptologists
and set the standard for all future studies. The Rosetta Stone The next move forward in relearning Egypt’s
past was the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. This stele was located in the foundations
of a fort at the Rosetta mouth of the Nile River in 1799. The Rosetta Stone was the key to deciphering
the hieroglyphs. It contained three scripts and two languages:
Greek and Egyptian. Thomas Young, an English physician, correctly
concluded that an alphabet, not an ideogram, was at work in the carved images. Jean Champollion, a Frenchman who knew Coptic,
translated the message in 1822 through his knowledge of Ancient
Egyptian sound. Coptic, then proved to be our
connection with spoken Ancient Egyptian. The Rosetta Stone was originally known as
the Decree of Memphis, a decree of Ptolemy V, dated to Year 9 of his reign, in 196 B.C. In the next episode, we will begin at the
beginning. We will start at Prehistory: Ancient Egypt
before writing. Thank-you for joining us!

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