the great dynasties of Egypt, there was a predynastic period
when there were two separate kingdoms in Upper and Lower Egypt. King
Narmer was the first to unify Egypt into one empire.
The Palette of King Narmer
above shows the ancient king weilding a club while he grabs the
hair of one of his enemies. On the opposite side is another relief
carving depicting two animals with entwined necks, probably symbolizing
the unification of the north and south.
location - surrounded by oceans to the north and east, and vast
desert to the west and south - protected her from invaders, allowing
over 2500 years of self-rule. They enjoyed an extremely stable
government, and their art changed very little throughout the
succession of empires. The Nile flooded
each year, keeping the river valley fertile. It was used to transport
supplies and building materials to the pyramids.
was the second king of the 3rd Dynasty. His
was the first Egyptian tomb to be built of stone, instead of
mud bricks (which were also used to
build later Middle Kingdom Pyramids). The stones that are used
are different from the huge stones used in the pyramids at Giza,
in that they are small in size.
In addition to the
stepped pyramid, he built a vast complex containing temples and
smaller tombs, surrounded by a great wall. The name of his architect,
Imhotep, is legendary. He was later
worshipped as a god for the remarkable craftsmanship in the complex.
Pyramid of King Zoser
(2667 - 2648 BC)
The Great Pyramids
It is no wonder that when
we think of the Egyptians, the Great Pyramids are often the first images
to come to mind. Their creation has awed and puzzled mankind for centuries.
They were created during the Old Kingdom by three successive rulers:
Khufu, Chefron, and Mycerinus. Each were tombs for the departing kings,
whose burial chambers lay deep within the massive stones. Each were
filled with the country's greatest riches: art created from precious
metals and gems, servants whos honor was to serve them in the next life,
and even buried ships to carry them into the next world.
Giza's pyramids are oriented to face the four cardinal
directions: true north, south, east, and west. Their entrances are all on
the north side, and the temples of the pyramids are on the east side.
The Great Pyramid of
Cheops (Khufu) 2589
- 2566 BCE
King Khufu, who is also known by the
Greek name "Cheops," ruled from 2551 - 2528 B.C.E. His pyramid
contains over 2,300,000 blocks of stone with an average weight
of 2.5 tons each. The total weight would have been 6,000,000
tons and a height of 482 feet (equivalent to a 50-story modern
Khafre, who was the son of Khufu, was also
known as Chephren. He ruled from 2520 - 2494 B.C. and is responsible
for the second largest pyramid complex at Giza. The Chephren
pyramid originally was 10 feet shorter and 48 feet more narrow
at the base. The estimated weight of
all the stones in the pyramid is 4,880,000 tons.The most distinctive
feature of Khafre's Pyramid is the topmost layer of smooth stones
that are the only remaining casing stones on a Giza Pyramid.
The precious white limestone was pulled off by later Egyptians
for the construction of more modern buildings in Cairo.
Mycerinus (Menkaure in
Egyptian) ruled from 2490 - 2472 B.C.
His pyramid is the smallest of the three at Giza, and the only
one which does not have a ship buried at its base. Next to it
are the smaller pyramids of three Queens.
How the Great Pyramids
were built is a question that may never be answered. Many Egyptologists
agree the stones were hauled up ramps using ropes of papyrus
twine. The gradually sloping ramps, built out of mud, stone,
and wood were used as transportation causeways for moving the
large stones to their positions up and around the four sides
of the pyramids. Herodotus (the Greek historian) said that it
would have taken 30 years and 100,000 slaves to have built the
Cheops pyramid alone. Modern scholars suggest a more modest number
of 20,000 workers. They probably had crews who labored on the
pyramids year round, in shifts of several months. During the
late summer and early autumn months, when the Nile had its annual
flooding, a larger labor force would be employed. Most of the
work force were probably willing citizens, working for ample
rations, and for their own security into the afterlife.
The Great Sphinx is to the northeast
of Chephren's Valley Temple and connected to his pyramid by a
causeway. It was given the face of the Pharoah and the body of
a lion. Facing the rising sun, he is believed to be Chefron's
guardian spirit for his entire burial complex. The body is 200
feet in length and 65 feet tall. The face on its own is 13 feet
wide and its eyes are 6 feet high. Carved from the natural limestone
of Giza, the figure was buried for most of its life in the sand.
It was later unearthed by a new kingdom ruler,Thutmose IV (1425
- 1417 BC), and its soft stone has been disintegrating ever since.
King Mycerinus and
Royalty are always portrayed in
sculpture with the left foot striding forward to signify their status
as divine mortals. It is likely that their portraits were highly idealized
and not true likenesses of their subjects. Proportions of nearly all
of the statues are identical. Most of these figures originally resided
in their temples, where offerings were regularly given, even to the
The longevity of the excellent
condition of many of the statues can be contributed to their
solid design. Notice that the figures are attached to a solid
platform, and that the spaces between their limbs are filled.
This gives the statues a very formal and enduring quality.
The best preserved of Egyptian murals exist
in the galleries leading to the tombs within the pyramids. The
paintings and their accompanying heiroglyphics tell stories about
the king's life and of his transition into the afterlife. A constant
feature of Egyptian painting style is the twisted perspective of figures (with head torso and legs depicted in profile, and
eyes and shoulders depicted frontally). Notice also the hierarchal
scale within the painting at the left, which pictures the
king in enlarged scale, and his servant at a much smaller scale,
according to their relative importance. The painting at right
depicts the mummification of the king, which is attended by Anubis,
the god of the underworld.
The Rosetta Stone
The Rosetta Stone can be thought
of as the "key" to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. Before
Napoleon's conquer of Egypt (succeeding the Persians and Romans), the
meaning of the ancient text had been entirely lost. Discovered
in 1799 near the lower Egyptian town of Rosetta, it is a slab of black
basalt dating from 196 BC. It was inscribed by the ancient Egyptians
with a royal decree praising their king Ptolemy V. The inscription is
written three times, once in hieroglyphic, once in demotic(Egyptian alphabetic language), and once in Greek.
The stone now resides in the British Museum
in London. Thomas Young, a British physicist, and Jean Francois
Champollion, a French Egyptologist, collaborated to decipher
the hieroglyphic and demotic texts by comparing them with the
known Greek text. Egyptologists eventually managed to read most
everything that remains of the Egyptians' ancient writings.
The Rebel King:
Akhenaten was the one and only Egyptian
king to establish monotheism (the worship of one god). He was
crowned Amenhotep IV, but later changed his name to Akhenaten
('glory of the Aten'). He closed the temples of all other gods,
even deleting the plural 'gods' from the language. Akhenaten
then relocated the capital from Thebes to Akhet-Aten, where palaces
and buildings worshipping the one god, "Aten" were
built. During his reign, artistic styles altered from
the earlier ideal, now called the "Armana style", which
was more naturalistic. It is obvious in his portraits that the
king had some physical deformities (researchers suggest he may
have had a congenital disease called Marfan's Syndrome).
One of Akhenaten's downfalls was that he
neglected foreign policy, allowing Egypt's captured territories
to be taken back. He ruled for eighteen years - and with his
death, the empire returned to its preferred worship of many gods.
The new city was abandoned, and the story of Akhenaten and his
name itself was erased from Egyptian history. He was thereafter
referred to as 'that heretic' or 'rebel' if necessary.
Her name literally means "the beautiful
one comes", and if her portrait was a true likeness, then
she fit the description. She was a devoted wife to Akhenaten,
and together they had six daughters. During his early reign,
Nefertiti was his constant companion, and images portraying family
scenes show them to be a loving couple. For unknown reasons late
in his reign, Akhenaten and Nefertiti had a falling out. It is
possible that they disagreed on politics or religion, or perhaps
the breakup was due to Akhenaten's desire to have a male heir.
They had the equivelent of an ancient divorce, and she was banished
to the North Palace in Aketaten. Also living with her was her
daughter Ankhesenpaaten, and a young prince named Tutankhaten.
Boy King: Tutankhamen
See Treasures From Tut's Tomb
The most famous of all Egyptian kings had one of the least
influential and shortest reigns of power. He was only eight or nine years
old at his succession, when he married the third daughter of Akhenaten and
Nefertiti. It is likely that his reign was actually governed by the senior
officials, who re-opened the temples, returned to polytheistic practices,
and again established Thebes as the capital. Tutankhamen died at the age of
19 by a head injury. It is likely that he was assassinated, but we do not
know for sure. There is some suspicion that his successor, Ay (who married
his widow) may have had a hand in it. He was buried in the Valley of the Kings.
Two mummified fetuses were found in coffins that had been sealed by his name.
These are believed to have been his children that were born prematurely.
Despite all of this interesting speculation, Tutankhamen is famous primarily
for what has been found in his tomb. His was the first tomb to be found during
the 20th century, and the only one which had not been subsequently robbed.
Its discovery in 1922 made the British archaeologist Howard Carter famous.
The tomb contained great treasures, including a gold mask and jewelry, beautifully
carved furniture, and other artifacts.
Next: Ancient Greece