The Nile River

Egyptian civilization began on the Nile river because of the river's very fertile soil and normal flooding seasons. The annual floods provided a rich soil so that the Egyptian could have regular crops. The Nile also could provide the Egyptians with an oasis from the parched land the surrounded them, and provided them with the resources to sustain a successful society. However, the Nile could become very dangerous at times. When the Nile's floods were lower than usual, the quality of the soil was greatly reduced, and many people starved. On the other hand, when the waters were higher, houses and granaries were flooded.

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The Nile River

The Egyptian Kingdom

Ancient Egyptians lived in villages since around 5000 BCE. At this time, they were divided into two kingdoms- Upper and Lower Egypt. Eventually, in 3000 BCE, the kingdoms were united by a king named Narmer. Narmer established his capital, Memphis, at the border between Upper and Lower Egypt. After his death, Narmer's descendents ruled, creating the first of 31 different dynasties that would each rule Ancient Egypt in turn.

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The Egyptian pharaohs were considered gods, and they were responsible for both successful growing seasons and natural disasters. As "gods", their "ka", their soul or life force, would continue to influence Egypt after death. So, they built great tombs in the form of pyramids. Made of limestone blocks weighing two and a half tons each, the pyramids were built without the use of the wheel. The pyramid-building tradition began in the Old Kingdom, which lasted from 2660 to 2180 BCE, and many later pharaohs would continue to build splendid tombs.

The pharaohs stood at the top of the social pyramid. Below were the wealthy landowners, officials, priests, and military commanders. Then was the middle class: the merchants and artisans. At the bottom was the huge lower class consisting of peasants, farmers, captive slaves and laborers. However, lower and middle class people could marry into a higher class or become successful in their work, and slaves could be freed. However, reading and writing were essential skills if one wished to join the army, work at the treasury, or become a priest or part of the king's court.

In around 2180 BCE, the pharaohs' power declined and the Old Kingdom came to an end. A century later, strong rulers would regain control and restore order. However, in 1640 BCE, the Hyksos, who came from present day Israel, invaded and ruled Egypt until the 1500s BCE.

Egyptian Culture

Like Mesopotamian cuneiform, the Egyptian writing, hieroglyphics, was pictographic. The Egyptians soon invented papyrus, a paper-like writing surface made from papyrus reeds. Other innovations included the calendar, which helped them keep track of the flood seasons; a system of numbers, used for counting, adding, and subtracting; math, used by architects; and medicine, which included checking heart rate, surgery, and setting broken bones.

The Egyptian religion was more optimistic than the Mesopotamian beliefs. They believed in many powerful gods such as Ra and Osiris, and in an afterlife in which they would be judged by their good and bad deeds. Their heart would be weighed in the afterlife by the god Anubis, and if the heart weighed more than a feather, it would be eaten by a monster. If the heart passed the test, it would live forever in the "Other World", a paradise.

Royal Egyptians' bodies were mummified after death. According to the Greek Herodotus,

"[The] brains [were drawn out] through the nostrils with an iron hook... Then [they would] take out all the bowels [and fill] the belly with pure myrrh, cassia, and other perfumes [and] sew it up again; and when they have done this they steep it in natron, leaving it under for 70 days."

The mummy then would be wrapped and placed inside an elaborate coffin with clothes, food, and symbolic amulets, along with the Book of the Dead, scrolls that contained hymns, prayers, and spells that would be used in the afterlife.

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The Great Pyramid of Giza