3100 BC: centralized government, secure– that is defined– borders, artistic accomplishment, some technological knowledge, permanent structures, extensive contacts abroad and extensive social hierarchy. This is how professor Robert Garland defines civilization and is how Ancient Egyptian civilization is seen.
Fertile land graced each side of the Nile River for five miles and this allowed communities on the coast to flourish through a system of organized labor that cared for the land. Everyone was required to work the land or for Pharoh, though if you were well-off you could appoint a deputy in your stead to labor in your place.
Herodotus was among the first Western historians to describe Egypt, saying that their customs were the reverse of many other peoples’. These differences were based, usually, in the sexes where women went to the market while men stayed at home to weave; women peed standing up, while men did it sitting down; but regardless of the accuracy of these claims, Herodotus did make some solid claims about the Egyptians, such as: they were pious, always wore freshly cleaned linen, they practice circumcision, and that their priests are shaven.
The earliest inhabitants of Egypt can be traced back to the Paleolithic period near 200,000 BC. Progress during this time was static with hunting and fishing constituting the means of survival. Technological advancement meant the improvement of flint tools. It is only around 6000 BC that permanent settlements began to form near the Nile.
It wasn’t until 3100 BC that a semi-legendary king named Menos (?) converted Egyptian society into a civilization proper. He united the Northern and Southern parts of the country and formed the first nation-state.
The New Kingdom Period (570-1070 BC; the 18th-20th Dynasty): if you lived as a person among this time, you lived in the most prosperous civilization on Earth. That is to say, you lived an immensely secure life. You lived in a theocracy with the Pharoh acting as a God-King whose health was directly connected to the land. Living in this theocracy, you were culturally superior to your neighbors who would often come to you when their own harvest failed. It seems, moreover, that Egyptian law was mostly based on precedent. The Egyptians of this period were among the first, if not the first, people to claim homogeneity despite its racially mixed status (a remarkable fact that indicates the cohesion of the nation). Such a feat is also repeated in how Ancient Egyptians cooperated; seeing themselves as a powerful people who shared in an identity, even at the local level, people cooperated with one another to conserve resources and repair infrastructure.
The population of Egypt at this time (3000 BC) was around 800,000 to 45 million by the Late New Kingdom (1100 BC).
Egypt was an intensely conservative society. Mostly, it was difficult to gain social mobility, though joining the military or becoming a scribe did offer some class mobility. For the vast majority of Egyptians, though, there was zero chance to better their lives. Many, though, were content with their lot.
Egyptian art was highly conservative and traditional, with Dr. Garland remarking that one would have to be an expert to even detect minor changes over the course of hundreds of years. The basis of Egyptian art was based on geometry. This is in stark contrast to Greek art which constantly changed.
Intellectual life was likewise conservative with only a minority of Egyptian traders traveling abroad. Because most of the world was so backward, one didn’t travel abroad to expand one’s horizons.
In an extremely idealized vision of the world, a person living during this time would value beauty, symmetry, and sensuality. You would be an observer of animals and nature which today would make liberal activists blush.
We know much about Ancient Egypt due to the sands preserving delicate objects. Another reason we know so much is that a group of Egyptians– the Scribes– were highly literate. Hieroglyphic, or “Sacred Carving,” was the standard writing convention. This was a combination of images and sounds to form communication. This was in use for about 4000 years. Knowledge of this writing died out until 1820 when a Frenchman deciphered the script thanks to the Rosetta Stone.
Many pieces of literature of all genres survive: romances, legal documents, religious scripts, daily advice, moral tales, and many more.