In this week’s readings on ancient Egypt, I found it interesting that although, “Most explanations for the origin of the state focus on population growth and competition for land and natural resources.” (Fagan, 2011) this was not actually the case for ancient Egypt. In fact, Fagan tells us that states began to form before the creation of large population centers or even before there was any significant competition for land (Fagan, 2011). Instead Fagan explains that the seeds of Egyptian Empire were sown, beginning as a patchwork of communities along the Nile river which over time consolidated in to ever larger and more powerful groupings. What I found interesting was that one of the primary motivations for this growth and consolidation, which culminated in the unification of the Upper, Lower, and Middle Kingdoms, was a desire on the part of the Egyptian people to be protected from external chaos and live in an ordered society. This suddenly makes ancient Egyptians seem far more relatable. They had the same concerns we do today—we still vote for leaders and policies based heavily on a desire for law & order. For me personally, thinking about those ancient Egyptians and their desire for order, stability, and societal “rightness” or “ma’at” (Fagan, 2011) as they put it, brought home the human element of what archeologists are really all about- people. In spite of the thousands of years of separation we still have similar desires.
What’s more, this desire for law and order shows that ancient Egyptians were not simple or un-intelligent people—they were able to perceive that by organizing themselves they could meet the serious threats which faced them. For us, college educated modern Americans who have the gift of thousands of years of historical hindsight, this may not seem to be any extraordinary revelation, but for the ancient Egyptians, organizing on the scale which they eventually did was unprecedented (at least, so far as they were probably aware). The Egyptians did not have the Greek, Roman, British, or any other models to look to and say, “They did it- we can too”. The Egyptian goal of gaining “ma’at” was not achieved over night, but was brought through hundreds of years of continual political and military efforts. The ancient Egyptians doggedly pursued improved stability and strength through organization, out of a desire for safe, prosperous lives—just like us. It’s those kind of connections that make history real for me.
Fagan, Brian. (2011). World Prehistory: A Brief Introduction. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. Pearson Prentice Hall.