Good Example Of Near East Ancestral Lineage Of Ancient Egyptians Essay
Just like any other civilization, Egypt has been influenced by cultures of its neighbors and at the same time, influenced the culture of its neighbors as well. For the same reason, it could not be avoided that its art forms would have a trace of similarity from the culture that influenced it. This paper would like to investigate how Egyptian art was influenced by the near east and to what extent was it influenced. In order to understand how the near east may have influenced Egyptian culture and subsequently its art, it should be noted that Egypt is effectively separated by natural barriers. And yet, while the first civilization of Mesopotamia has been flourishing, Egypt’s ancient civilization is also flourishing. Also, in order for Egyptian art to be influenced by the near east, it must first be established that the civilization of the East preceded that of Egypt so that the flow of information and ideas would be primarily from the near east toward Egypt. It should be established as well that there was indeed a constant mode of contact or interaction between Egypt and the Near East to allow for exchange of ideas and culture to occur. It must also be understood how Egyptian arts differ from the Near East and what factors may have brought the difference. Being one of the cradles of ancient civilization, in order to understand the artistic influences of the Near East to Egypt, one has to dig into Egypt’s ancient past. Egyptian art has been influenced by many things. Among the major influences are religion, agriculture, ancient technology and of course, foreign influence. It should also be noted that Egypt, in ancient times when the mode of transport and communication were primitive, has been effectively isolated from its neighbors in the Near East. Among its natural barriers are the Mediterranean Sea in the north; the Sahara desert in the West; the Eastern Dessert, the Red Sea and the Nile Valley in the East. Evidently, in order to establish contact with Egypt, one has to go through these natural barriers, which require not only a long journey but also a perilous one as well. Despite the almost impenetrable façade of Egypt from the East, scholars believe that contact has somehow been established with Mesopotamia or the present day Iraq as early as 3500 B.C. most likely through the Mediterranean.
Racial analysis of ancient Egyptians based on archeological findings suggests that their race have strong Caucasian lineage, which could have originated from the Semites of the near east. By studying numerous Egyptian cranial bone structures, it was believed that the majority of the Egyptian population in an earlier time was of European or of Near Eastern descent. However, constant admixture between Egyptians and Negroes of Northern Africa eventually resulted to a tanner race than their White or Caucasian ancestors. As observed by scholars, “Egyptians were a population of Negroid and non-Negroid elements (“Semitic”) or otherwise. The probability of Egyptians having European ancestors is quite remote because of the natural barriers that separate Europe from the Egyptian region. However, the possibility of Semitic people being the ancestral lineage of ancient Egypt is not farfetched. It should be noted that the Semites are natives of the Near East. In the Paleolithic period, Semitic clans have roamed the regions of the Tigris and Euphrates valley in search for food and provisions . Most likely, some of these Semitic clans may have wandered as far as Egypt and has established a permanent settlement along the Nile. Semites are known to be the ancestors of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Aramaeans, Phoenicians as well as the present day Arabs . They were also responsible for establishing the ancient civilization of Mesopotamia that flourished almost parallel with the civilization that emerged in ancient Egypt. In connection with their racial origins, it can be deduced that the Semitic ancestors of the Egyptians may have brought their customs with them, which includes their art work as well. In this assumption, there is indeed a strong tie between Semitic culture of the Near East and Egyptian culture even in ancient times.
The Rise of Egyptian Civilization
Just like the Mesopotamian civilization, Egypt’s civilization has been brought about by the fertile valleys of the Nile River. Many years have passed since the first nomadic Semites may have settled in these fertile valleys, they must have learned that they can cultivate the land and take advantage of the predictable flooding of the river. Independently, civilization flourished in the Nile River most likely because of the conduciveness of the valley and perhaps because of the mental capacity of the settlers, which is of the same stock with the Semitic tribes that has established the Mesopotamian civilization. However, this period of Egypt’s history is quite gray as no substantial documentation and archeological finds can explain with acceptable accuracy what Egyptian society looks like during this period. Also, during this period, Egypt has been divided into two kingdoms; the upper and the lower kingdom respectively. After these two kingdoms were united in the about 3,100 B.C. and right after the development of writing, Egypt’s recorded history began. After the unification of the two kingdoms, Egypt’s development became phenomenal. It was after the unification that Egyptian art began to take form and break away from its foreign influences.
Egyptian art is somehow unique. The Egyptian artistic paintings, for example, are fairly recognizable because of its features that are unique to Egypt’s established style. One of the most recognizable Egyptian artistic features is the contour line. As observed, Egyptian art especially their drawings and paintings are clearly defined by contour lines. For the same reason, the figures in their artwork are easily recognizable with well-defined features most especially the eyes and the limbs. Egyptians seem to have also established a standard for their drawings especially in the depiction of human figures. As observed by Krispin, the human head is always shown, which is somehow kept in proportion with the body. On the other hand, regardless of the position of the face, which is almost always facing sideward, the body of the human figure tends to face the front with legs spread widely in a stable position while the hands may project movement. It is quite clear that Egyptians are particular with balance, clear outlines and simple shapes. Egyptians are also fond of making symbolism especially in depicting their Pharaohs whom they believe as having divine qualities. As observed by Krispin, “It is interesting to note that in a battle scene, the pharaoh need not be represented as a human smiting a foe, but may appear as a lion, bull or sphinx biting, chewing or otherwise killing an animal representative of an enemy”. Symbolism was also recognizable features of Egyptian architecture. The Sphinx, for example, is believed to have been constructed to symbolize religious beliefs and the Pharaoh’s power. According to researchers, “The Sphinx consists of the body of the lion symbolizing the power, in its physical form and the head of man, symbolizing intelligence and consciousness”. Aside from the Sphinx, the pyramids, especially the one in Giza, is the most recognizable monument in Egypt. The pyramids are believed to have been built in the 3rd Dynasty of the Old Kingdom between 2650–2150 B.C. by King Djoser with the help of the architect, Imhotep. Believed to be the first pyramid structure in Egypt, it depicted that of the step pyramid or ‘ziggurat’ of the Mesopotamians. It was not until the 4th dynasty when true pyramid structures were built, the largest of which was built in Giza. According to Shaw, the largest pyramid in Giza was built around 2530 B.C. by the Pharaoh Khufu and was the biggest building on Earth until the 20th century. Shaw also argued that the common knowledge that the pyramids were built out of slave labor is erroneous. According to him, pyramid workers were paid workers and artists.
Contacts between Egyptians and the Near East
Egyptian culture is quite unique because it somehow developed independently with little influence from foreign countries. However, it was not totally immune from foreign influences especially from the Near East because of its strategic position as a “center for trade routes to and from western Asia, the Mediterranean, and central Africa”. Uruk, a city-state of ancient Mesopotamia or the modern day Iraq, have been pointed out by scholars as having the biggest influence in ancient Egyptian arts and culture. According to historians, contact between Mesopotamians and Egyptians have been quite constant following Uruk expansions from 4200 to 3000 B.C.. These contacts may have resulted from their leaders’ political or economic agenda especially for the purpose of expanding their territories. It should be noted thought that Egypt was just an emerging nation while Mesopotamia is already established. For the same reason, the flow of knowledge and ideas is from Mesopotamia towards Egypt. As observed by Joffe, “No uncomfortable lag between the period of contact and the period of Egyptian emulation must be posited, since Uruk influence appears immediately and is most clearly manifest within the next 200 years of pharaonic rule”. One of the major similarities of early Egyptian artwork to their Near East neighbors is the depiction of the griffin. Griffins are mystical creatures with a body of a lion with a head of a bird. According to scholars, the image of the griffin can be traced back in Iran as early as 3000 B.C.. Somehow, the image of the Griffin found its way to Egyptian work of arts. The pyramids are also believed by some scholars to have been borrowed by the Egyptians for the Mesopotamians. Accordingly, the pyramid is an Egyptian version of the ziggurat, which is a step pyramid that originated in Mesopotamia.
Influence from other Civilizations
Influence of the Near East on Egyptian art in the early years of the Old Kingdom was quite significant. However, as Egyptian civilization became gradually sophisticated, Egyptian artisans devote themselves to developing their art using Egyptian religion and culture as their inspiration. For the same reason, Near East’s influence on Egyptian art is quite limited. Since after the Upper and Lower kingdom united at around 3,000 B.C., Egypt gradually developed its own art based on its established culture. As observed, “Although the Egyptians borrowed a few artistic elements from their northeast neighbor, they had already begun to culturally and artistically define themselves and develop a style that could be identified as typically Egyptian”. While Egypt is having contact with the people of the Near East, it was also making close contact with nearby Nubia, in North Eastern Africa. In order to understand the difference and diversity between Egyptian and Near Eastern culture, it is important that Egypt’s contact with African cultures should be understood and Nabia is Egypt’s strongest tie with the Negro influence on its culture. As observed by Robinson, “Nubia gradually became really important - as a direct influence on ancient Egyptian culture and as a corridor through which other influences travelled back and forth”. Robinson believes that Nubia has an enormous influence on Egyptian art in terms of music and dance. Being an important source of foreign labor and raw materials, Egypt and Nubia established a close contact with each other. According to Robinson, foreign workers from Nabia brought with them their music and dance traditions, which had a lasting influence on Egyptian culture. Unlike the easy access towards North African neighbors, Egypt and the Near East are separated by natural barriers, which could have prevented both civilizations to become closely interrelated with each other. As a result, Egypt gradually became more influenced by its African neighbors than people from the near east. This claim is further reinforced by an archeological find in the Nile Valley that dates back 3,500 B.C. or even older. The find was a figure on a rock that clearly resembles that of a boat believed to have originated from African style of drawings in Eastern Sahara.
Some scholars indicate that there was somehow a conscious urge among the Egyptians to make their artwork quite different and unique. As observed by Aleff, “The Egyptians did not copy any details of this Sumerian invention but re- invented it from scratch for their different language, their different writing materials, and their different aesthetic and religious purposes”. This, of course, was in reference to the Egyptian’s hieroglyphics as compared to the Sumerians’ form of writing. There was also a strong indication that after the Upper and Lower kingdom were unified, “foreign motifs were almost never used in the next three millennia of intense artistic activity”. It should be noted though, that internal influence that has shaped the artwork of the early Egyptians has been heavily influenced by their religious belief. Most scholars believe that Egyptian art was originally created for religious purposes. Reliefs on religious temples often times depict religious motifs. The depiction of Pharaohs as animals, for example, reflects the belief that Pharaohs have multiple powers. Egyptian deities are also well represented in art. Just like the pharaohs who were revered as god, themselves, the deities are pictured as humans, animals or humans with animal head. Perhaps one of the most significant religious beliefs of the Egyptians that have greatly influenced their art is their belief on life after death. Being religious people, Egyptians are very particular on how their souls will fare after dying. For the same reason, pyramids were built to preserve and protect the bodies of pharaohs, whom they believe will be reincarnated.
Egyptian art is as unique as it can be although it could not be denied that somehow, traces of foreign influence are quite apparent. Among the notable influences are the depiction of the Griffith, the step pyramid and other forms of drawings and architecture that have its origins from Mesopotamia. Aside from the Near East, its African neighbors are what provided the most influence for Egyptian art and culture. This can be attributed to the accessibility of the region as compared to the Near East. Also, while Egyptian art was initially influenced by the Near East, the Egyptians have gradually developed their own art work from internal influences such as their culture and religion. For the same reason, Egyptian art has evolved into a recognizable and unique art form. . In the context of Near East’s influence on Egyptian art though, it can be deduced that the influence is minimal and that Egyptian art has evolved mostly on its own with very little foreign influence.
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