Egyptian Civilization Essay, Research Paper
The Egyptian Civilization
Egyptian civilization formed along the Nile river and the earliest traces of
human life in that region are from the Paleolithic Age, (Old Stone Age), about
300,000 B.C., at the very edges of the Nile Valley. Beyond, on both sides of the
river the land was and still is desert.
At that time the people moved from place to place, ate berries, roots, and
any animals they could find, but stood close to their lifeline, the Nile. The lands
along the Nile were rich enough to be farmed, so over time the people started to
grow crops. They found ways to store the yearly floodwaters and then use them
for the dry seasons. The farmers learned to lift water out of the Nile or wells and
send it across the fields through a system of canals. In order for all of this to
work out they had to work together, no one could do any of it alone. So as the
farmers and people began to cooperate, an organization began to grow. They
found leaders among them who directed the work. A form of government
developed and due to that they soon began to build cities, to manufacture
things, in time to trade with their neighbors. That is how it all started. Over a
period from 3100 B.C. to 332 B.C. they grew in culture, arts, religion, science,
medicine, and many other fields.
The early Egyptian people grew food by the Nile and lived mainly by
hunting for meat, fishing, and gathering wild plants. They kept a small number of
cattle, sheep, or goats, and grew a few crops. Their crops were flax, barley, and
a primitive kind of wheat called ‘emmer.’ They got the sheep and goats from the
middle east, and their crops too. Farming provided most of the food and helped
their population grow. Later on in time, the basic diet of the ordinary people was
bread and beer. The wealthier ones ate more meat and drank wine instead of
The most common clothes women wore were tunic dresses. Those were
made by folding a rectangle of cloth in half, sewing it up at the sides, leaving
holes for the arms, and cutting a key hole for the head. Some had sleeves and
some were sleeveless. This looks very different from the tomb paintings where
women are shown wearing skintight transparent dresses with no underclothes. I
guess they wanted the art more attractive.
Men usually wore loin-cloths and short kilts. Much of the people’s clothes
were made of linen because for the mostly hot weather they needed light, loose,
and easily washed clothes. Linen was perfect for that.
Children went naked whenever it was warm enough. At about the age of
10 they started to wear the same kind of tunics or kilts as their parents.
Egyptian doctors were the most famous in the ancient world. Today some
scholars call them ?the first real doctors.? The people who were doctors were
often priests as well. They were trained in the temple medical schools. Their
medicine was a mixture of science, religion, and magic. In many kingdoms all
over the Mediterranean if medical help was needed their services were at
demand. Their medical writings include all sorts of magic charms and chants, but
they had a lot of practical knowledge. They knew how to deal with broken bones,
wounds, and fevers. It is said that they approached their study of medicine in a
remarkably scientific way.
An example of likely treatment in those early times is the binding of a slice
of raw meat over a stitched wound. Also wounds were treated with willow leaves,
which contain salicylic acid (aspirin), to reduce inflammation, plus copper,
sodium salts to help dry up the wound. Cream and flour were mixed to make a
cast for a broken limb. With very bad diseases, where they didn’t understand the
cause, magic spells were mixed with the potions. Even if the magic didn?t work
itself the patient felt a little better just thinking it might work.
There are many gods and goddesses to be found in the beliefs of ancient
Egypt. The gods were associated with individual provinces, and their names
varied throughout the country.
The basic belief of most Egyptians was that in the beginning there was
only water. Then, just as happened after the Nile floods every year, the first
mound of earth rose out of the waters of chaos. What they believed happened
next depended on where they lived. There were common gods to all though. For
ordinary families most important in their daily lives were the household
Demigods: Thoueris the hippopotamus, and the little frog Hetak, who helped at
childbirth; the seven Hathors who protected children; Renenvet, the cobra
goddess of the harvest; and, most of all ugly dwarf Bes, who brought good luck
to everyone. People painted images of these gods on their walls or wore them as
good luck charms.
They believed that everyone had several parts. The ka; spiritual double,
created at birth and released from the body at death. The ba; soul, and the akh;
supernatural power. As long as the body was preserved, the ka and ba would
live. That is why they carefully mummified their dead and laid them in tombs
where offerings of food could be made, which would nourish the ka. Once in the
tomb it was believed that the akh began its journey to the hall of judgment. The
god Anubis held the person?s heart in one pan in another a feather of Ma?at, the
goddess of justice. The more crimes the dead person admitted to, the heavier
the heart. If it outweighed the feather, then the Gobbler, a monster made of lion,
crocodile, and hippo, swallowed it and it became an evil spirit, forever fighting
the gods. If it passed the test it went with Osiris to live in the fields of Yalu, a
place like Egypt only more beautiful. They had a saying; ?He who reaches the
other world without wrongdoing shall exist there like a god.?
There were several festivals during the year where people could get
closer to their god. Sometimes a statue of the god would be paraded around the
temple walls carried in a closed shrine on a golden boat.
Some of Ancient Egypt?s most remarkable achievements were in
architecture and engineering, especially in designing plus building the great
pyramids. In Egypt there are more than 80 pyramids which experts believe are
the tombs built by pharaohs, as the final resting place for their body. The finest
sculptors, masons, engineers, and countless laborers spent years building the
tombs. They were not slaves but farmers who believed that if they help their king
get to heaven, he would look after them in the next world.
They produced objects of superb workmanship in stone, copper, gold, and
wood. Jewelry was among the most popular things. The paintings inside the
tombs were decorated by teams of craftsmen. Those paintings were believed to
be partly magic. Things painted were believed to become real in the afterworld
so they showed them as clearly as possible.
Their art is what makes ancient Egyptians popular today among other
things. What they are also known by is their writing and calculations. They used
a form of writing called hieroglyphics. The script is made of about 750 signs
which include pictures of people, animals, plants, and objects. The last priests
who wrote in this way died in about A.D. 400, and the ability to read
hieroglyphics died with them.
The Egyptians were a practical people, and to them knowledge was
important because it was useful. They needed ways to measure their fields, and
predict the size of their crops, and figure out supplies, so they created a simple
arithmetic and geometry. There were only 7 signs for numbers. There was no
zero and no multiplication or division. To multiply they added the number to itself
as many times as needed. They did use fractions.
They developed engineering and numerical skills in building the
pyramids. Their concern with religion and the need for arranging a calendar of
festivals led to their interest in astronomy. By careful observation, they learned
the movements of some stars, and charted the skies.
One of their greatest achievements was their creation of a calendar. It is
very close to the ones we have today. They set the beginning of the year on the
day the Nile began to rise because that was the most important event to them.
Astronomers noticed that the Nile?s rising happened at the same time the
brightest star in the sky (Sirrus, the Dog Star) rose with the sun. By counting the
number of days until the Dog Star again rose at dawn, they worked out a
calendar of 365 days. They learned they needed to correct the calendar every
so often by adding extra days, as we add a day in leap years. They also divided
day and night into 12 parts, hours to us, and they created shadow clocks that
marked the time by the shadow cast by an upright arm onto a horizontal arm,
and water clocks. In water clocks the passing of time was measured by water
dripping out of a hole at the bottom of a stone bowl.
They developed a way to live that included work and the fulfillment of
duties to the state and their religion. They were able to spend time at leisure and
in creative activities. All Egyptians enjoyed leisure. Peasants had less of it but
they still had time for dancing and singing, and sometimes a special meal. They
were all very fond of music and had professionals and amateurs (often women)
playing harps, lutes, flutes, oboes, and clarinets.
The early Egyptians are to some extent the same people as the Egyptians
of today. Those who now live beside the Nile are descended from those who
settled in farming villages there before history began. They are also descended
from the foreigners who for thousands of years have arrived and settled in their
country. Their many great achievements form a magnificent legacy from a gifted
people to us today, and all those that may come after us.