I have always found the decline of the Ptolemaic Era very interesting, and I actually wrote a research paper about this subject just last year. However, the focus of that paper was just on Cleopatra and her dealings with Rome. I want to take this opportunity to look at the earlier rulers of the Ptolemaic Period.
After Alexander the Great’s rule, obviously there was a little bit of confusion as to who would rule next. That honor fell to Ptolemy Soter, who was actually a close friend of Alexander the Great. Under his rule and the rule of the pharaohs after him, there began to be a lot of mixing of Egyptian and Greek aspects of life. In terms of bureaucracy, Greeks held the majority of the positions of power in Egyptian society. There were also designated communities for specific peoples, like the Greeks , Jews and even the Egyptians. The economy of Egypt changed as well; it was still agricultural in nature, but the invention of the water wheel made it easier to manipulate the waters of the Nile to be able to get water to more fields of wheat. Wheat would continue to be one of Egypt’s main exports, but the type of wheat exported did change. Instead of emmer wheat, which had been used practically since Predynastic times, the Egyptians started planting free threshing wheat, which did not need as much tending and made it easier to extract the wheat with just a gentle threshing, as opposed to the strenuous ritual associated with emmer wheat. The Egyptians still did extensive trade, mainly via sea routes, and its main export was papyrus, which had been used in ancient Egypt for centuries as a writing implement. Gold mines were also utilized, but not as much gold was mined compared to before the Ptolemaic period. Religion also changed drastically; a new triad of deities combined the powerful Egyptian and Greek gods Serapis, Isis and Herpocrates, and the temple was actively supported right up until the end of the Ptolemaic period.
I have always been interested in the shift between polytheism and monotheism during the eighteenth dynasty, so that is what this week’s post will focus on. First of all, I was not aware that Amenhotep IV (otherwise known as Akhenaten) was not even supposed to take the throne as pharaoh, but that he was destined to be a priest. Every other reference piece I have read about the subject fails to mention that. The fact that Amenhotep III, Akhenaten’s father, ruled for thirty-eight years is quite remarkable, considering the average life expectancy for an Egyptian back then was only thirty years. Amenhotep III put such a large emphasis on one particular deity, the sun disk of Re Horakty, I am sure that he brought up his children to worship the same deity. Under his father’s influence, Akhenaten sought out on a quest to make the Aten the supreme deity, with every other Egyptian god and goddess placed significantly below it. I found it surprising to learn that this period was not just one of religious reform, but economic as well: Akhenaten placed a tax on a number of temples and cities throughout the country to help support his new cult.
The one thing that sticks out to me is the fact that Amenhotep IV deliberately changed his name to Akhenaten to turn his back on monotheism. The name Akhenaten can be translated to “the one who is beneficial to Aten”, which is a far cry from his previous name, which translated to “Amun is satisfied”. One fact I found interesting was that Akhenaten’s son, Tutankhaten, changed his name to Tutankhamun, so it went from “the living image of Aten” to “the living image of Amun”, in an attempt to lead the Egyptian people back to polytheism. It was successful, and almost every carving or relief of Akhenaten was destroyed after his reign.
For this week’s blog post, I decided to combine the information I learned in two videos and elaborate on it. I focused on the end of the Middle Kingdom and the Second Intermediate Period this week, mainly because I didn’t know that much about either of those topics to begin with. As a historian-in-training, I often wonder what exactly makes an era collapse or segue into a new one. The end of the Middle Kingdom was especially interesting to learn about this week because one would think that the arrival of the Hyksos people would foster some degree of conflict. However, it seems like they Hyksos just drifted in and assimilated with the Egyptians by adopting their name style as well as their royal titles. It wasn’t long before the Hyksos were dominant over Lower Egypt and the Nile Delta, leaving the pharaohs with Upper Egypt.
It makes sense that there would be some turmoil during this time. According to several king’s lists found in Egypt, there were 175 rulers during the Second Intermediate Period. On the other hand, the number of viziers stayed relatively low, showing that while the seat of power was unstable, the administration behind the seat was almost unmovable.
One of the many things I found interesting was that the Egyptians were unnerved because of the Hyksos’ alliance with the Nubians, a people that Egypt had previously come into contact with. Essentially, the Egyptian pharaohs were caught between a rock and a hard place (the Hyksos and the Nubians, respectively). It wasn’t until the 18th dynasty, under the reign of Ahmose, that the Hyksos would be permanently expelled from Egypt, thanks to a siege that lasted for three years at Sharuhen (or Tell el Ajjul).
Despite the tension between the Hyksos and the pharaohs, the Hyksos contributed new ideas to modern warfare in Egypt, with inventions like the horse-drawn chariot, the battle-axe and a fancier compound bow.
For this week’s blog, I would like to take a look at the first pharaohs of the 1st dynasty. For starters, I did not realize that Abydos played a large part in the religious life and funerary practices of the Archaic Egyptians. It makes sense, though, because Abydos was the legendary burial place of Osiris, god of the dead and rebirth.
When it comes to the chronology of the pharaohs, it could get confusing for some because of the fact that Menes might not be the actual name of the king, it might have just been the title used by him. Knowing this, it could be said that Menes and Narmer were the same person, and Narmer used Menes as his title. According to one of my books about Egypt, it lists the first pharaoh of the first dynasty as Narmer. Clearly, there is still some debate over what to call the first pharaoh. Moving on to Aha (or Horus-Aha/Hor-Aha), he was most likely the son of Narmer. His name appears on the Palermo Stone, which can also be called the Royal Annals of the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt. Essentially, it lists all the rulers from the first dynasty through the fifth.
Next on the list was Djer, and, again, whether he was the third or fourth pharaoh is up for debate. Archaeologists have stated that he was buried next to a woman named Merneith, so she was presumably his wife. In addition, she also allegedly gave birth to Den, who would succeed Djer. Den was the first pharaoh to wear the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt together (the double crown was called the pschent). He was also the first pharaoh to go by the title of the Ruler of the Two Kingdoms. I found it interesting that the Egyptians system of writing was further standardized under his rule: I would have thought that it would be a system used throughout the entire united land.
The unification of Upper and Lower Egypt has always been one of the most fascinating aspects of Ancient Egypt to me. At first, I wasn’t really sure how one would go about unifying these two individual states. I was sure that there would have been a large amount of conquest and subsequent revolution, but studies have shown that there was actually very little conquest (Watrall, Unification of Egypt: The End of the Predynastic lecture). This was very surprising to me: most of the other “unifications” I’ve read about almost always include some conquest of peoples that aren’t exactly thrilled about the situation. My guess as to why there was very little conquest at this time is because the two states were already similar. They both had systems of politics, religion and economics. In addition, they both had their own separate rulers, which was probably the reason behind any conflict. Each “proto-pharaoh” wanted to be the ruler of both unified states, but only one could rule. That might have been a cause of some tension.
In addition to the small amount of conquest occurring at this time, there was also evidence found of military action and colonization. Again, this makes sense because unifying two states probably required order to be kept. Diplomats were also dispatched to villages near the border to gain support for the pharaoh, and also to make the transition to one large empire a little easier.
Another aspect I found interesting was the spread of material culture that had a lot to do with the general unification of the two states. The majority of the goods came from western Asia. Once they crossed the Sinai Peninsula into Egypt, they were spread to both Upper and Lower Egypt, as well as to other countries like the Sudan, and other regions further south and southwest.
For as long as I have been interested in Ancient Egypt, I have never actually looked in depth at its extended history: much of my focus has been on who ruled Egypt, and not what Egypt was like during the Predynastic period. In this blog post, I want to take a look at the Fayum, the largest oasis in Egypt.
The most interesting thing about the Fayum, in my opinion, is how agriculturally advanced it was for being the first Predynastic community. The underground grain silos found at the sites of Kom K and W on the northern edge of the oasis were relatively small compared to today’s silos, but I am sure that it was more than enough storage capacity to sustain a permanent, year-round agricultural society. I found it very interesting to learn that the Ancient Egyptians used woven baskets, not pottery, to line the silos with. It makes sense, though, because baskets were (and still are today) the most distinctive feature of the Fayum Oasis.
Unfortunately, there are no building remains at either Kom sites, so it is impossible to excavate any remains and see what daily life in the Fayum was really like. However, it is known that Kom W was the larger of the two sites, based on the fact that there were a great number of hearths found there. On the other hand, at Kom K, there is evidence of animal domestication. So, each of these sites had somewhat of their own defining attribute.
I, being a big fan of stone tools, was fascinated to learn that the Ancient Egyptians living in the Fayum had developed their own stone tool tradition. The most important tool was obviously the sickle, because without one they would not have been able to harvest grain to fill the silos. In addition to sickles, they were also quite well adept at making ground tools, in order to grind the grain. The Fayum Oasis was home to one of the earliest permanent Predynastic communities, and its technological advances made agriculture in more areas more manageable.
Hi all! My name is Emma Greene and I am a junior at MSU, planning on majoring in History. I’ve been interested in Egypt for as long as i can remember; i remember checking out the same book about Egypt for almost a year in elementary school, and i can remember a time when i actually wanted my room decorated to look like the inside of a pyramid! I have a tattoo of an Ankh, and to me it is a symbol of where my life will take me (my dream job is to work at the Cairo Museum in Egypt!!).
I have two dogs, a siberian husky named Mercedes and a one-eyed Shih-tzu named Jack. I’m from Harbor Springs, a sleepy little town in Northern Michigan with a year round population of about 1000 (it’s mostly fudgies for the summer!)
My favorite hobby by far is riding horses; I haven’t been riding long but i was good enough to make the MSU Dressage Team in the fall of 2011!
I’m so excited to take this class and learn more about Egypt, and also to get to know my classmates more! Go Green!!