Cultural Traits Of Egypt Throughout The Old, Middle, And New Kingdoms. Essay
Egypt has had a special and unique history. Much has been compiled and written about this history. Egypt begun as a political entity ruled by kings called pharaohs. A close examination of Egypt reveals peculiar cultural traits that shape and define Egypt’s culture. Indeed, much of the modern Egyptian practices emerge from the recollections and transfer of their cultural heritage.
This paper identifies, defines, and examines particular cultural traits of the old, middle, and new Kingdoms of Egypt. It gives a critical analysis of the developments and changes in the traits that have occurred in the three Kingdoms.
The Old Kingdom (2686 – 2160 BCE)
About the of the Kingdom
Few sources document the details about this kingdom. However, some information from surviving, papyri, inscriptions and Art of the Third Dynasty provide some crucial information about this kingdom. For example, according to Cole and Symes, the early rulers of the Old Kingdom exercised a tight control over their subjects. Apparently, this kind of control aimed to prevent them from establishing control over their territories (Cole and Symes 24)
The Architecture, priesthood, language, and the funerary process of the Old Kingdom
Cole and Symes note that Egyptians were the first civilization to emerge with pictographic writing called hieroglyphs. The Greeks called them the sacred carvings. The invention of hieroglyphic writing dates back to 3200 BCE. Indeed, this period marked the inception of pictograms in Mesopotamia (Cole and Symes 27). They used informal shorthand language for their writing. Part of their writing involved religious and political texts. For example, early Mesopotamian of Akkad and Sumer as well as Egyptian civilizations had revealed something about creation. These civilizations had primeval god who in turn created other deities (The Creation 2).
There is no precise knowledge about the origin of the Old Kingdom language. However, speculations have it that it emerged from an admixture of various African and Semitic Near Eastern languages (Cole and Symes 26). However, the river Nile played a primary role in forging the cultural and political unity of Egypt (Cole and Symes 24).
The step pyramids of Imhotep significantly influenced the old Kingdom funerary matters. It had a big temple and mortuary surrounding it. The belief was that these structures would provide sustenance and habitation for the dead. Secondly, the labyrinthine passageways and immovable doors design of the buildings were thought to prevent robbers from breaking into the tombs (Cole and Symes 28). Incidentally, certain writings were considered to be able to provide directions as to the welfare of the dead. For instance, the book of the dead contained a series of magic spells. These magic spells were deemed to ensure the safe journey of the dead to the afterworld. In addition, it also pleaded the beautification and acceptance of the deceased by Osiris, The Lord and Ruler of the Afterworld (The Book of the Dead 2). The writings of Egypt had a profound impact on the people. For instance, Osiris’s story made a significant impact on the people who met Egypt, starting from the earliest times of the Roman empires (The Great Royal Myth of Egypt).
As concerns priesthood, Pharaoh enjoyed the position of being the divine representative of the nation of Egypt (Cole and Symes 35). The supreme status of the king as the manifest and living national god of Egypt found its authority in the primary myth of Egypt(The Great Royal Myth of Egypt).
Speculations have it that the Old Kingdom partly ended due to the influence of the priests. Indeed, Egyptian priests took over from the pharaohs. Scholarly speculations have it that the building efforts of the fourth dynasty drew significant resources from the economy. The channeling of resources to Memphis increased resentment and shortages in the economy (Cole and Symes 27).
The Middle Kingdom. (2055-1650 BCE)
About the Kingdom
This Kingdom draws its establishment from the wars that existed between pharaonic dynasties. Incidentally, the conquest of the Theban king Metunhotep over the northerners led to his enthronement as king of Egypt. This incident marked the beginning of the Middle Kingdom and the re-establishment of the central government (Cole and Symes 34).
The Architecture, priesthood, language, and the funerary process of the Middle Kingdom
This Kingdom developed massive and grand building and irrigation projects. It also marked a change in the priesthood of the pharaoh. Pharaoh’s chief source of influence was no longer his position. Indeed, pharaoh’s influence was based on his actions. Precisely, pharaoh’s control depended on his ability to protect and defend the interests of the Egyptians. In a picture, he was to act as a shepherd to the flock that is Egypt (Cole and Symes 35) the shape of the middle kingdom significantly draws from the First Intermediate Period. It marked the redistribution of power and wealth (Cole and Symes 42).
During this period, the political gravity of Egypt moved to Thebes. As a result, Amon gained high status, recognition, and popularity (Cole and Symes 46)
The Story of Sinuhe the Egyptian is a classic writing that culminates the culture of the Middle Kingdom. It provides succinct picture of warfare and conquest in the ancient Egyptian context. The story is one of the main works that precisely captures the dynamics of war and victory in Egypt showing the interactions of man with the gods (The Story of Sinuhe the Egyptian).
The New Kingdom
About the Kingdom
The New Kingdom emerged because of the influence of external forces from around 1700 BCE. The settling of Nubians and Western Asian peoples brought further changes in the cultural features. The Hyksos established control of the lower Nile, after conquering it. This conquest weakened Pharaoh’s dynasty in Egypt. However, the Hyksos did not wipe away Pharaonic systems completely. For instance, they adopted some of the Egyptian deities for their names (Cole and Symes 42).
The Architecture, priesthood, language, and the funerary process of the New Kingdom
The eighteenth dynasty marked the rise of Egyptian’s power and magnificence. Various developments took place in honor of the pharaoh’s of the time. The pharaohs of this time used highly symbolic language and iconography to protect their self-image. These pharaohs used the vocabulary of images to portray themselves as godly, authoritative, virtuous, and steadfast (Cole and Symes 44). For instance, sculptural portraits were carved in honor of Hatshepsut. Although Hatshepsut was a woman, her carvings and statues portrayed her as male-like and as a warrior. In addition, the sculptures depicted her as having a ceremonial beard characteristic of the other pharaohs (Cole and Symes 44).
The pharaohs of the New Kingdom, also known as the Eighteenth century observed a different funerary condition. Precisely, these pharaohs opted to be buried in specially built temples instead of separate pyramids (Cole and Symes 46)
The architecture of the New Kingdom also varied significantly from the previous two. For instance, Hatshepsut‘s tomb was built into a hillside and then set off by columns and rows (Cole and Symes 46).
The conquests of the Eighteenth dynasty brought significant wealth to Egypt. Much of the wealth went into offerings to the gods of Egypt. Apparently, the pharaohs also used the wealth to glorify themselves by building grand temples, monuments, and tombs (Cole and Symes 46).
Amen had emerged as the earthly representation of the sun god Ra (Cole and Symes 46). Indeed, Amen was exalted to the supreme position of pantheism to become Amen-Ra (Amen 1). The priest of Amon became not only influential in religion but also in Egypt’s economy and politics. The increased status of Amon priests is a result of the favor that Amenhotep had among the people of Thebes. Consequently, the priesthood of Amon significantly surpassed the military aristocracy in influence and importance (Cole and Symes 46).
The priesthood of Amon glorified Amen Ra but also continued to recognize all the other gods of the Egyptian Pantheon. Thebe was the capital of the New Kingdom, Eighteenth dynasty. Moreover, Thebes was the home of the most sacred place for Amon, the Egyptian god of creation (Cole and Symes 46)).
However, of Amenhotep IV(meaning Amon is pleased) resented the increased influence of Amon’s priesthood in Egypt’s. Consequently, the resentment led to the Atenism of the Amarna revolution (Amen 1). During his reign in Egypt, Amen dethroned Ra from his exalted position. In his place, Amen glorified the Aten, a personified version of Ra. Aten is the disk of the sun (Atenism and the Amarna Revolution).
How these characteristics have changed throughout the Old, Middle, and the New Kingdoms
According to Cole and Symes, the Middle Kingdom had remarkable changes from the old. For instance, the Middle Kingdom changed their conservative attitude. They began to embrace ideas from the surrounding regions (Cole and Symes 34).
The literary structures of Egyptian’s forms of communication also changed. Contrary to the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom included manuals and manuscripts detailing the perils and duties of the high office. An example of this is the instruction of Amenemhet. This manuscript is thought to be containing the life-lessons of Pharaoh to his son from the grave (Cole and Symes 35).
How each trait re-adapts in response to social changes
Indeed, the traits re-adapt in response to social changes. For instance, the Indo- European languages started to emerge in Eastern Mediterranean and Near East shortly after 2000 BCE. The Semitic speaking people also had a high influence on the emergence of European language. For instance, the Amorites and the Akkadians played a crucial role in the development of Hammurabi. Phoenicians, Assyrians, and Canaanites built on the existing Near Eastern cultures. Thus, they established unique patterns of Organisation and urban life. (Cole and Symes 41)
The question of magic spells seemed to play a fundamental role in the priesthood circles. For instance, there were magic spells to protect the dreamer and to exorcise bad dreams. There is a classic rendition of the dialog between Horus, the dreamer and Isis, his mother. Isis was believed to be the great mistress of magical words of power (The Interpretation of Dreams 3)
Amenhotep IV made some changes to reform the priesthood of Egypt. One of the main amendments he made was to remove the presence of Amon from Thebes. Together with his administrators and family, courtiers and priests, he built a new capital. Moreover, he established a temple for Aten about halfway the down the Nile between Memphis and Thebes. As well, he changed the name of the city to Akhet- Aten meaning the horizon of the Aten (Atenism and the Amarna Revolution).
The social, political, economic, and cultural changes have played and continue to play key roles in Egyptian history. Indeed, the interactions of Egypt with other civilizations has helped enrich and refine the structures and systems of the nation. The impact of war and trade contributed to a significant level, to the development of Egypt.
Amen: An Upstart Who Rose to Supreme Power and Became Ra. Western Nevada College, 2015. Web. 23 February 2015.
Atenism and the Amarna Revolution. Western Nevada College. (2015). Web. 23 February 2015.
Cole, J. and Symes, C. Western Civilizations: Their History and their culture. New York. Norton Company Inc., 2014. Print.
The Book of the Dead. Western Nevada College. (2015). Web. 23 February 2015.
The Creation. Western Nevada College. (2015). Web. 23 February 2015.
The Interpretation of Dreams. Western Nevada College. (2015). Web. 23 February 2015.
The Story of Sinuhe the Egyptian. Tour Egypt, 2011. Web. 23 February 2015. Adapted from M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Volume I (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), pp. 223-33.
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