Flag description: three equal horizontal bands of red (top),
white, and black with the national emblem (a shield superimposed on a golden
eagle facing the hoist side above a scroll bearing the name of the country
in Arabic) centered in the white band; similar to the flag of Yemen, which
has a plain white band; also similar to the flag of Syria, which has two
green stars, and to the flag of Iraq, which has three green stars (plus
an Arabic inscription) in a horizontal line centered in the white band
Location: Northern Africa, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between
Libya and the Gaza Strip
Geographic coordinates: 27 00 N, 30 00 E
Climate: desert; hot, dry summers with moderate winters
Independence: 28 February 1922 (from UK)
Capital City: Cairo
Population: 68,359,979 (July 2000 est.)
Head of State: President Mohammed Hosni MUBARAK
Area: 1,001,450 sq km
Type of Government: republic
Currency: 1 Egyptian pound = 100 piasters
Major peoples: Eastern Hamitic stock (Egyptians, Bedouins, and
Berbers) 99%, Greek, Nubian, Armenian, other European (primarily Italian
and French) 1%
Religion: Muslim (mostly Sunni) 94%, Coptic Christian and other
Official Language: Arabic
Principal Languages: Arabic, English and French widely understood
by educated classes
Major Exports: crude oil and petroleum products, cotton, textiles,
metal products, chemicals
The civilization of ancient Egypt is significant in several ways.
Together with those of Mesopotamia, India, and China, it was one of the
earliest civilizations, and it is perhaps the best example of continuous
cultural evolution based on internal stimuli, rather than the complex mix
of internal and external factors found, for example, in Mesopotamia.
Egyptian influence on other peoples was also significant. Its HIEROGLYPHIC
writing system and other cultural elements were adapted by ancient kingdoms
of the Sudan. Syria-Palestine was strongly affected by Egyptian religion
and art. And the cults of some Egyptian gods had followers in both
Greece and Rome. The two last regions and the Bible are the most
important antecedents of the modern western world that owe something to
Egypt. The western alphabet is derived from a Phoenician one possibly
modeled on Egyptian hieroglyphs; Egyptian ideas are found in some
parts of the Bible; and Greek sciences and especially, art were originally
influenced by Egypt. Finally, archaeology and historical writing
have made Egypt a subject of great public interest, stimulating many books,
novels, exhibits, and movies.
The image of Egyptian history moves continually closer to reality as
new facts are discovered and new kinds of research-- anthropological and
other--supplement more traditional archaeological techniques. Egypt's
well preserved pyramids and cemeteries on the dry desert, and sturdy stone-built
temples, have been studied by archaeologists since the early 19th century,
but river-plain town mounds and all sites in densely settled northern Egypt
now receive more attention than previously. Funerary and temple inscriptions
survived well, but they paint an idealized, oversimplified picture of history
and society. PAPYRUS exists and ostraca (pottery fragments) are rarer
but more realistic. They now are better studied and are supplemented
by new types of archaeological analysis.
Environment strongly affected history. In a largely rainless
climate, Egypt's high agricultural productivity depended on a long but
very narrow floodplain; on average 19.2 km (11.9 mi) wide, it reached
a maximum of 248 km (154.1 mi) in the Delta and was formed by the Nile's
annual inundation. Periodic, long-term decreases in its volume might
create social stress and political and military conflict; increases
in volume increased food supplies and favored stability and centralized
government. The deserts to the east and west had valuable stones
and minerals and helped protect Egypt from much external attack or infiltration.
To the south (northeast Africa) and northwest (Syria-Palestine), however,
important kingdoms developed. Egypt traded with and exploited these
kingdoms but was also sometimes threatened by them. Beyond Syria-Palestine
greater powers--in Anatolia, Mesopotamia, and Iran--were alternately Egypt's
allies and its rivals in imperial expansion, but none was a direct threat
before the 7th century BC.
Achievement, continuity, and innovation characterized Egyptian civilization.
Major achievements included a continuous drive toward political unity and
social stability; the creation of a surplus in food and materials
that supported a superstructure of administrators, soldiers, priests, and
craftsmen; and the invention or adoption of a writing system (c.3100
BC). Literacy made government more effective, stabilizing and enriching
religious, intellectual, and scientific information. In turn, these developments
promoted the growth of elaborate and often colossally scaled architecture
in brick and stone; and the growth of highly accomplished art forms (statuary,
relief, and painting), which were among the most distinctive of the ancient
Continuity was very strong. Egypt's religion, its concepts of
social order, and its system of strong monarchical government remained
fundamentally the same for over 3,000 years. Environmental stability
helped, as did ethnic and linguistic continuity; unlike other areas
of the Near East, Egypt did not periodically have to absorb large new populations
with languages and ideas different from those already established.
Equally important was a powerful and tenacious worldview shared by all
Egyptians--an orderly cosmos, enfolding gods, humans, and nature, had been
created in complete and perfect form at the beginning of time; its
perfection held off the destructive, chaotic forces that surrounded it.
Adherence to traditional forms of belief, politics, and culture was believed
necessary to maintain perfection and prevent the collapse of the universe.
Egyptian art and religious architecture (temples and tombs) closely followed
established conventions of style and content because their role was to
depict this ideal order--and thus be one of several means ritually integrating
Egypt with the cosmos. Art for decorative, aesthetic, and propagandistic
purposes was also real, but very secondary.
Change and innovation nevertheless occurred, sometimes violently.
Egypt's periodic interludes of disunity were politically disorderly and
economically painful in part because inherent problems and contradictions
(for example, obvious weakness in "perfect" institutions such as kingship)
came to the surface and demanded solutions. Less obviously, change
also took place in more stable periods. Bureaucracies were periodically
reformed or restructured in the interests of both royal power and fairer
government. Religious concepts became increasingly rich and complex.
Styles in art and architecture changed subtly to meet new needs and tastes,
but all successful innovation required adherence to basic, traditional
Egyptian history is usually divided into periods roughly corresponding
to the 30 dynasties of kings listed by Manetho, an Egyptian chronicler
of the 3d century BC. The period before c.3100 BC, a time for which
no written records exist, is called the
Well before 5000 BC many communities of Paleolithic hunters and gatherers
lived in the Nile valley and across savanna lands stretching far to the
east and west. As rainfall decreased, especially after 4000 BC, the
western lands became arid deserts and human settlement was confined to
the valley and its fringes. However, here exotic fauna such as elephants
and giraffes persisted as late as 2300 BC before finally retreating southward.
Annually inundated, and with natural irrigation basins that retained
floodwaters, the Nile valley was an ideal setting for Mesolithic economies
with incipient agriculture to evolve into Neolithic ones based on sedentary
agriculture, with domesticated crops and animals. The process is
hard to follow in Egypt because major Predynastic sites, on the floodplain,
are inaccessible or destroyed and most data come from peripheral settlements
and low-desert cemeteries. In northern Egypt, however, the development
of Neolithic life can be traced at Merimdeh and in the Fayum (5000-4000
BC); there and elsewhere in the north the pervasive northern culture
emerged, characterized by monochrome pottery using incised and applied
decoration. The earliest Neolithic phases of southern Egypt are not
yet identified, but two cultures existed there by c.4000 BC: the
Tasian, influenced by the north, and the Badarian, which originated in
the eastern desert. The former evolved into phases labelled Nakada
I (Amratian) and II (Gerzean), representing a material culture very different
from that of the north. In the south, among other differences, pottery
is more varied in fabric, often has a black top, and favors painted decoration
(white on red and red on light-colored desert clays).
Historically significant patterns can be discerned. Political
elites developed, supported by agricultural surplus, partly through control
over valuable resources that were beginning to be used in new technologies.
Originally, tools and weapons were made of stone and organic materials,
but in southern (and slightly later in northern) Egypt copper and precious
metals became increasingly important. By Nakada II times, larger,
more efficient river ships were built and trade along the Nile was expanding.
These and other factors stimulated the emergence of an elite class whose
graves are larger and richer than normal, and ultimately regional political
leaders are identifiable by "chieftains's tombs" at several sites. According
to later traditions, by late Predynastic times (c. 3300 BC) chiefdoms had
coalesced into two competitive kingdoms, northern and southern. Gradually,
the characteristic material culture of the south had been spreading, and
it replaced the once different one of northern Egypt in Nakada III times.
Throughout the period 5000-3100 BC foreign influences were significant,
but direct ones are hard to distinguish from indirect. Domesticated
grains and some domesticated animals may have come via Syria and Palestine,
perhaps at the time of Merimdehs's earliest phase, which shows influences
from these regions in material culture also. Both northern and southern
Egypt traded with Syria, Palestine, and northeast Africa throughout Predynastic
times. Particularly striking and so far found mainly in southern
Egypt (Nakada I and II) are Mesopotamian-style cylinder seals, pottery,
and artistic motifs, but these may have come through intermediaries rather
than by direct contact.
Predynastic architecture, using wood, matting, and mud brick, is best
attested in cemeteries, where pit graves were lined with wood or brick
and roofed with matting or stone slabs; eventually, some graves had small,
solid superstructures of brick and rubble. Some settlements have
been partially excavated; and a possible Predynastic temple was recently
found at HIERAKONPOLIS. Art was well developed but small scale.
Figurines and statuettes of individual humans or animals, some modeled
realistically, were made in mud, pottery, and ivory; slate cosmetic
palettes might be in bird or animal form; and painted designs on
pottery placed humans, animals, and boats together in sometimes complex
designs. Most of these art forms were from tombs and were magical
or religious representations. In later Predynastic times, however,
ivory knife handles and ceremonial palettes, perhaps dedicated to temples,
bore scenes in relief, possibly including depictions of historical events,
as did a wall painting in a chieftains's tomb at Hierakonpolis. Battles,
hunts, and ceremonial scenes were favorite motifs. In all areas,
conventions typical of historical art were emerging.
Early Dynastic Period and Old Kingdom
The two kingdoms were apparently unified by King Narmer (later called
MENES or Meni, "the founder"); a ceremonial slate palette shows him
surveying slaughtered prisoners, striking a northern enemy, and wearing
the regalia of both kingdoms. He and his immediate predecessors were
buried at ABYDOS, at or near the southern capital; Buto in the northwest
Delta had been the northern capital. Narmer's successors were the
pharaohs (kings) of the 1st and 2d dynasties. Some argue that the
1st dynasty kings were buried at Abydos, in pit tombs topped by moundlike
superstructures and surrounded by cult buildings, possible prototypes for
the later PYRAMID complexes. This theory assigns the pharaoh unique status
from the outset. However, MEMPHIS was the new capital of united Egypt,
and 1st dynasty tombs at nearby SAQQARA are also claimed as royal. Similar
in size and type to other elite tombs (implying that royal status was yet
to grow), 2d dynasty royal tombs are less well documented; two were
at Abydos, with cult complexes, and the rest were at Saqqara.
Royal power had greatly increased by the 3d dynasty (c. 2686-
2613 BC), when much larger royal tombs, now dominated by step pyramids
in stone, were built at Saqqara. The best preserved is Zoser's (Djoser's);
the pyramid was 62 m (190 ft) high and surrounded by a complex of buildings,
representing both a funerary cult place and eternal palace, the whole protected
by a towered stone wall. Even more dramatic were the pyramids of
the 4th dynasty at Giza and elsewhere. KHUFU's (Cheops's) Giza pyramid,
the largest ever, has a volume of 2.59 million cubic meters (91.46 million
cubic feet). Pyramids of the 5th and 6th dynasties at Abusir and
Saqqara were smaller but still impressive.
In its totality, the pyramid complex served the dead king but also
linked kingship and cosmos together. The complex consisted of temple
and imitation palace, with the pyramid a means of ascent; scenes
within the complex, however, depicted the king's role in the cosmos as
overthrower of chaos, and the pyramid also represented the primeval mound
upon which the creation of the universe had taken place. During the
5th dynasty, temples of the sun god Ra (Re), the creator and maintainer
of the universe, were built near pyramids, reflecting the unique relationship
between sun god and king; the latter was habitually called "son of Ra"
from the 6th dynasty on.
The materials, organization, and labor required by the pyramids, and
the many estates supporting the cult and personnel of each, clearly reveal
the king's firm control over Egypt and its resources. This was achieved
through a complex government, consisting of a central bureaucracy, directly
under the pharaoh's supervision, and more than 30 provincial bureaucracies
reporting to the center. Periodically, kings restructured aspects
of the system; royal sons were first used, then excluded to avoid
rivalries; high central officials were reduced in power if they threatened
royal control, but restrengthened if the lower ranks and provinces became
too independent. Throughout the Old Kingdom, revenues were collected,
labor and resources exploited, and justice and arbitration provided;
literary works extolling the bureaucracy and advising on proper behavior
Internal strength encouraged expansion and aggression abroad. In the
Early Dynastic period, the Egyptians already had extensive trade contracts
with Syria, Palestine, and northeast Africa; they pushed into the
Sinai and northern Nubia, creating both buffer zones and Egyptian-dominated
trade routes. Later, in the 4th and 5th dynasties, Egyptian armies
went further, raiding Palestine and southern Nubia; by the 6th dynasty,
however, regional kingdoms in these areas were stronger, and Egypt, still
campaigning, was on the defensive.
Initially, the royal court with its adjacent cemeteries was the major
center of intellectual, artistic, and architectural activity, but as towns
began to develop in various parts of Egypt, they too shared in the cultural
life of the time. Royal relatives and central officials were buried
under MASTABAS, rectangular superstructures of brick or stone. The
mastabas contained chapels and other rooms, increasing in number over time
and opening up more wall space to be covered with reliefs and paintings.
These depicted the funerary cult and also scenes showing the preparation
of a multitude of foods, liquids, and objects for the benefit of the deceased.
Such art, appearing realistic, actually followed conventions that were
to remain dominant for millennia thereafter. In painting and relief,
human and animal figures are always drawn according to a set of fixed proportions,
and reality is ignored so as to present the most characteristic aspects.
Humans, for example, always have heads, legs, and feet in profile but eye
and torso presented frontally. Figures were scaled according to their
importance, and perspective was ignored. Landscapes were depicted
in schematic form, but architecture was rarely attempted. Subject
matter is also highly selective, for an idealized world is shown;
aging, disease, injury, and death are omitted, except for inferior beings
such as foreigners and animals.
Statuary was intended at all times mainly for temples and tombs, and
consisted of representations of gods, kings, and deceased individuals.
Complex compositions were avoided, although sometimes two or more figures
might be shown side by side. Life-size statues were not uncommon,
but most were smaller; colossal royal figures embellished temples.
As in painting, set conventions were closely followed in statuary; whether
seated or standing, figures are always facing forward, with arms and legs
in standardized positions. Technically, the carving was often superb,
although many clumsy works were also produced. Materials included
hard stones, softer stones such as limestone, and wood; statues were
often painted in bright colors. Sculptors depicted the ideal human;
true portraiture in any form was hardly every attempted.
First Intermediate Period and Middle Kingdom
Centralized rule began to break down under the 7th dynasty. In
the ensuing First Intermediate period (c.2181-2040 BC), the Memphite monarchs
were powerless to prevent provincial warlords from fighting each other
over territory; eventually two separate kingdoms emerged, one ruled
by the 9th and 10th dynasties from Heracleopolis, the other by the 11th
dynasty from THEBES. They tried to dominate each other but were impeded
by the semi-independence of provincial rulers, and they also had to be
simultaneously aggressive against foreigners to protect their rears, secure
trade advantages, and recruit or compel the valuable services of Palestinian
and Nubian warriors for the civil wars. Finally, in the 20th century
BC, Nebhepetre Mentuhotep of the 11th dynasty conquered the north and rebuilt
a centralized monarchy, inaugurating the Middle Kingdom.
The intensity and causes of these disruptive events are uncertain.
Later Egyptian writers, appalled by the deviation from accepted norms,
exaggerated the revolutionary aspects; they also described an imaginary
environmental deterioration, actually a poetic cosmological counterpart
to social disorder. More significant were external pressure and internal
political instability that long endured; even the 11th dynasty may
have been ended by a coup, and the victor, AMENEMHET I was himself later
The 12th dynasty, which he founded (1991 BC), worked hard to restore
royal prestige, seriously damaged by civil war and periodic famine.
Its kings, living near Memphis, reduced provincial power and developed
a loyal central elite, using subtly propagandistic literature to encourage
recruitment and transform the royal image from insecure war leader to confident,
semidivine ruler. The external situation remained dangerous.
The northern Nubian and Sinai buffer zones were reoccupied and, for the
first time, heavily fortified. Foreign trade and diplomatic contact
expanded, but Egyptian activity was more restricted than in the Old Kingdom.
Social change was considerable. People had become more conscious
of their individual rights, and royal policy had to both satisfy and temper
this. Religion was affected; funerary beliefs and rituals once
largely restricted to kings now spread throughout all classes. First
Intermediate period Egyptians had felt less dependent on the state, stressing
their economic self-sufficiency, and even under the 12th dynasty royal
policies encouraged the growth of a middle class, buried in well-furnished
tombs and active at cult centers such as Abydos. OSIRIS, formerly a royal
funerary god, became accessible to all.
Architectural remains are now more varied. At Kahun, a large
town was divided up into zones of better and poorer houses, reflecting
socioeconomic differences; superbly designed fortresses were built
in Nubia; and the ground plans of several temples have survived.
Some kings built cenotaphs (dummy tombs) at Abydos, where many private
memorial chapels of unique type have also recently been discovered.
Funerary remains continue to be the best source of artforms. At Thebes
a new type of royal tomb developed, culminating in the unique terraced
monument of Nebhepetre topped, not by a pyramid, but by a cubical version
of the primeval mound. The pharaohs of the 12th dynasty, anxious
to be identified with the autocratic Old Kingdom, revised the classic complex
pyramid but included unusual subterranean elements evoking the mythical
tomb of Osiris. Royal statues were often idealized, but some depicted
a care-worn and more realistic figure. The elite continued to be
buried in mastabas and rock-cut tombs, decorated first in awkward but striking
styles reflecting the breakdown in centralized stylistic norms, but later
returning to more sophisticated, traditional modes.
Second Intermediary Period
Decline and invasion marked the Second Intermediate period (1786-1567
BC). High officials became so powerful in the 13th dynasty that they
manipulated and fought over the royal succession. Much shorter reigns
imply depositions, assassinations, and possible short-term "elections"
of kings. As a result, Egypt's military presence in the vital buffer zones
weakened and invasions occurred.
The Cushites of Upper Nubia occupied Lower Nubia, while Syro-Palestinians
conquered Egypt itself and established the 15th dynasty. These HYKSOS
(from the Egyptian for "ruler of a foreign land") exploited Egyptian ideology
but remained Syro-Palestinian in culture. Eventually, Theban vassals
(17th dynasty) began a war of independence, resisted by an alliance of
Hyksos and Cushites.
Expelling the Hyksos, the Theban insurgents founded the 18th dynasty,
inaugurating ancient Egypt's most brilliant period, the New Kingdom (1570-1085
BC). Its rulers included HATSHEPSUT, THUTMOSE III, AKHENATEN, SETI
I, and RAMSES II. Under their leadership Egypt became more expansionist
than ever before. The early rulers of the 18th dynasty reconquered
southern Nubia and Palestine. Thutmose III (c.1504-1450) tried to
wrest domination of Syria from Mitanni, a north Mesopotamian power, but
failed. Thutmose did set up efficient imperial governance, with viceroys
controlling foreign vassals who paid rich tribute and sent their successors
to be raised in Egypt. International relations were widespread. Babylonia,
Assyria, the Hittites, and the Mycenaeans had strong diplomatic and commercial
links with Egypt, as did Punt, an incense-producing region on the Red Sea
depicted in vivid detail in Hatshepsut's funerary temple at DEIR EL-BAHRI.
Internally, the pattern of royal succession was deviant for a while.
Hatshepsut, regent for her young nephew Thutmose III, declared herself
pharaoh and ruled for 22 years. Female pharaohs were very rare, and
Thutmose resentfully destroyed her monuments after her death. More
significant in general was the transformation of the earlier system of
Hyksos vassals into a centralized autocracy. The kings' large armies,
generated by foreign wars, cowed internal rivals, and they set up a streamlined
bureaucracy, with a chief minister over each half of the country.
There was neither council nor parliament, all appointments being made and
revoked directly by the kings, who made frequent tours of inspection.
A special feature of this period was the increasingly wealthy priesthoods,
on which the king lavished estates, personnel and gifts; they eventually
owned one-third of Egypt's arable land. Nevertheless, they could not easily
rival the king, for they were appointed directly by him. Moreover,
pharaoh had always had a dual nature, human and divine, and the latter
was heavily emphasized. Royal dogma taught that each king was possessed
by the divine ka, or soul of kingship; he was HORUS, son of Osiris,
mythically the last god to rule earth in primeval times, and was identified
with Amun-Ra (AMON-RE). This god, combining the Theban deity with
the sun god, was tutelary deity of the empire.
The religious reformer Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV, 1379-1362 BC) carried
royal absolutism to an extreme. During his reign, all endowments
were transferred to a single god, a cosmic pharaoh who manifested himself
as the Aten or sun-disk. At Tell el-AMARNA (Akhetaten) in Middle
Egypt, Akhenaten built Aten's cult center and a new royal capital.
There he, his queen NEFERTITI, and their children were a holy family, with
the king appearing as virtually the Aten on earth.
Possibly mentally unstable, Akhenaten was nevertheless a strong and
skillful ruler. Government was staffed by loyalists, and Akhenaten
was aggressive abroad. Armies campaigned in the Sudan, and Egypt's
allies and vassals were supported against the Hittites, who now dominated
Syria instead of Mitanni, and were attacking Egyptian-held territory.
As the archives of Amarna show, Akhenaten maintained contact with great
powers and closely followed rivalries and rebellions among his vassals.
Akhenaten's innovations were ended by his successors, who restored
polytheism and returned to Thebes; one, TUTANKHAMEN, had the richest
royal tomb ever to survive. Later, a new royal line, the 19th dynasty
(1320-1200 BC), destroyed Akhenaten's monuments, but the dynasty maintained
the same efficiently centralized government and regained territory lost
in Palestine. Seti I and Ramses II fought several campaigns against
the Hittites, but ultimately a peace treaty was signed. Palestine and Nubia
were secure, but new threats appeared. Ramses's son Merenptah had to fight
off a major invasion by hitherto minor enemies, the seminomads of Libya,
who were aided by the SEA PEOPLES, warriors of western Anatolia and the
Aegean. Internally, the 19th dynasty continued to stress the king's
divinity and skillfully divided preeminence and economic benefits between
Amun-Ra and the gods PTAH of Memphis and Ra of HELIOPOLIS. It was
thus less likely that any priesthood would be unduly powerful.
Social history is now richly documented. The careers of many
high officials or royal sons are known; for example, Ramses's son
Prince Khaemwase was an early archaeologist, restoring many ancient monuments.
Social strata were clearly defined. The highest priests, soldiers,
and officials received lavish rewards but were liable to disgrace or removal.
Middle-class people, who included many craftsmen, were well off, as can
be seen from the prosperous village of Deir el Medinah, housing for 400
years the artisans who cut and decorated the royal tombs. Law, always
a major responsibility of pharaonic government, was well developed.
It was probably codified, many magistrates were available, and sometimes
a god's image, carried in public procession, was called on for legal judgements.
Women's legal status was high; they owned and bequeathed property,
initiated divorce, and sometimes served as deputies representing a husband
who was an official. Land remained the basis of wealth; foreign
and internal trade was dominated by the pharaoh and state institutions,
but private sales were common and often recorded in writing.
New Kingdom art and architecture were varied and revealing. Gods' temples
include the earliest in Egypt to have survived relatively intact;
stone-built, they could be colossal in scale. Amun-Ra's Theban temple
(KARNAK) came to occupy over 3.2 ha (8 acres). Every temple was designed
to integrate Egypt ritually with the cosmos. Exterior scenes of royal
victories magically protected the god's image within, while the interior
walls of the courtyards and chambers were covered with scenes depicting
public festivals and the hidden, inner rituals. These derived cosmological
significance from the temple's form; the sanctuary was the primeval mound
of creation, the ceilings were painted as skies and supported by columns
representing giant vegetation, and the two-towered pylon, or entryway was
identified as the notched horizon where the sun god rose and renewed the
universe. Royal palaces, although built in brick, deliberately copied
temple architecture so as to stress the pharaoh's divine nature;
floor frescoes depicted resurgent nature, wall paintings illustrated royal
victories and ceremonies, and ceilings were painted as celestial vaults.
Domestic architecture is best known from Amarna and Deir el Medinah.
At the former, many upper-class houses , with numerous rooms, service areas,
and gardens, have been excavated; at both sites the other end of
the scale is represented by small, five-roomed houses, with extensive use
made also of the flat roof. Generally, houses were not lavishly decorated
with wall paintings or carpets, but the minor arts were very well developed.
Tutankhamen's thrones and chairs were well crafted in exotic woods and
exquisite jewelry, and containers in stone, metal, and other materials
were frequent. Even here, art had a purpose; for example, furniture
often incorporated figures of Bes, a demigod warding off evil spirits.
Specifically, funerary items, such as coffins and BOOKS OF THE DEAD (collections
of magical texts and pictures on papyrus), could also be works of art.
Royal tombs show a radical change. The pyramid was abandoned,
to be taken over in a smaller scale by private tombs. Nearly all
New Kingdom royal tombs are tunnels cut in the walls of the remote VALLEY
OF THE KINGS, their walls covered with a brightly painted underworld full
of gods and demons. Royal funerary cult rites were performed in temples
separate from the tombs and at the foot of the cliffs fronting the valley.
Amarna art and architecture is unusual in several respects. Akhenaten
modified the traditional temple type, stripping it of roofs and lintels
so that its interior was completely filled with sunlight and removing the
sanctuary as unnecessary. The royal tomb, now badly damaged, was
at Amarna, as were the nobility's tombs. The latter minimize offering-cult
and traditional daily-life scenes, but emphasize royal ceremonies and depict
the city with a fullness and detail unique in Egyptian art. The Amarna
style is more fluid and realistic in depicting humans and animals, yet
it adheres to many old traditions, such as making important people larger
in scale than others and ignoring perspective.
Historically, the 20th dynasty represents deterioration. An early
king, RAMSES III (c.1198-66 BC), did repulse major invasions by Libyans
and Sea Peoples and build a magnificent funerary temple, but thereafter
the empire shrank and ambitious royal building programs failed. Government
was impeded by officials' independence, as offices became hereditary and
corruption and inefficiency increased. The New Kingdom ended in a
civil war under Ramses XI.
Late Dynastic, Hellenistic, and Roman Periods
After 1085 BC, Egypt split between a northern 21st dynasty claiming
national recognition and a line of Theban generals and high priests of
Amun who actually controlled the south. The 22d dynasty rose from
long-settled Libyan mercenaries and used a decentralized system, with kings
based in the north and their sons ruling key centers elsewhere. Rivalries
and sporadic civil wars resulted, and by the 8th century BC Egypt had divided
into 11 autonomous states, their subjects dependent on congested, walled
towns for security and exhibiting increased anxiety by adherence to local
rather than national gods.
Thus weakened, the country fell to Cushites, whose 25th dynasty brought
limited unity and resisted Assyrian expansion into Syria-Palestine.
Assyria, provoked, occupied Egypt (617, 667-664 BC), but a 26th dynasty
regained independence, only to fall before Persia. The Persians ruled
Egypt from 525 to 404 BC, and again from 341 to 333 BC.
Despite these vicissitudes, the country was often prosperous in the
Late Dynastic period. Great temples were built but survived poorly,
and artisans produced a steady stream of statues, often in bronze.
Several much earlier styles and even specific scenes were copied in temple
and tomb reliefs, partly to link Egypt ritually with its "perfect" past.
There was also a quasi-realistic style, especially in statuary; but
in this and reliefs softer, rounded contours later became popular.
In the 4th century BC Egypt was wrested from Persia by Alexander the
Great; Alexander's general Ptolemy (PTOLEMY I) established a Macedonian
dynasty that ruled the country for over 300 years. Strong centralization
and expansion abroad brought prosperity first, but later internal dynastic
conflicts encouraged rebellions. Although the Ptolemies supported
traditional religion, native Egyptians resented the Greek officials and
soldiers. A Roman takeover followed the death of CLEOPATRA VII, the
last Ptolemaic ruler, in 30 BC. For about two centuries, conditions
were favorable under the Romans; Egypt was protected from invasion, private
land ownership grew, and irritating distinctions between Hellenized and
traditional Egyptians were broken down.
The details of Hellenistic and Roman social, legal, and economic life
are better known in Egypt than anywhere else, because many papyri (written
in Greek and demotic, a script developed from hieroglyphs) survived in
the dry climate. Traditional life continued everywhere, Greek civilization
being confined to Alexandria and a few other towns. Temples continued
to be built in traditional form, but art had a hybrid quality. Wall
scenes in tombs show a sometimes skillful but often clumsy mix of Egyptian
and Hellenistic Greek styles and subjects. Later, emperors' faces
in realistic Roman style were grafted incongruously onto traditional statues
of the pharaoh, and realistic portraits, painted on wood, were integrated
with Egyptian-style mummies and coffins. Sacred bird and animal cults
were now especially popular, and many, sometimes striking, images were
Eventually, Roman policies created great problems for Egypt. Government
had been by officials salaried by the state via general revenues, but a
new "liturgical" system required the middle class to pay administrative
costs directly. Peasants, forced to cultivate poorer lands to increase
yield and onerously taxed, began to flee the countryside. In the
late 3d century AD, Diocletian's reforms met the resulting economic crisis,
but administrative disintegration had begun. Egypt, like the rest
of the empire, became Christian, but was rebellious and heretical, and
eventually was divided up among four ruling families. Distressed
and divided, it fell easily before the Arab conquest of 639-642.
Between AD 639 and 642 the Arabs took control over Egypt from the Byzantine
Empire and introduced both the Arabic language and Islam. The Arab
CALIPHATE had its capital at Damascus under the Umayyads and at Baghdad
under the Abbasids. In 969, however, the FATIMIDS, a Shiite dynasty,
conquered Egypt and founded Cairo as its capital. Fatimid rule ended
in 1171 when SALADIN conquered Egypt and united it with Syria. He
founded the AYYUBID dynasty (1171-1250) and restored Egypt to Sunni Islam.
The Ayyubids were weakened by the Fifth Crusade (1218-21) and the Sixth
Crusade (1249). The dynasty was brought to an end when the MAMELUKES,
originally brought to Egypt by the Ayyubids as war captives, revolted against
their masters and seized power in 1250. Under their rule Egypt became
an important cultural, military, and economic center. In 1517, Cairo was
conquered by the Ottoman sultan SELIM I, who reduced the role of Egypt
to that of an exploited province of the OTTOMAN EMPIRE.
Ottoman rule of Egypt remained uninterrupted until the end of the 18th
century. In 1798 a French army under Napoleon Bonaparte (NAPOLEON
I) arrived in Egypt. Although the French were expelled in 1801, their
short occupation had a great impact on Egypt's future because it brought
the country into close contact with the West.
During a power struggle that followed the expulsion of the French,
MUHAMMAD ALI PASHA, an Albanian officer in the Ottoman forces, established
himself in a position of power and was recognized (1805) as viceroy of
Egypt by the Ottoman sultan. In 1811 he rid Egypt of the Mamelukes.
He undertook (1811-18) successful military campaigns in Arabia and conquered
(1820-22) the Northern Sudan. In 1824 he sent an Egyptian force,
led by his son Ibrahim, to help the Ottoman sultan suppress the Greek independence
revolt, but the Egyptian and Turkish fleets were destroyed at the Battle
of NAVARINO. When the sultan rejected Muhammad Ali's demand for Syria
in recompense, Ibrahim conquered (1831) Syria and ruled it for seven years.
War with the Ottomans broke out, and in 1841, Muhammad Ali defeated the
Ottoman sultan and became hereditary ruler of Egypt. During his rule,
Muhammad Ali embarked upon programs of reform and modernization that laid
the foundations of modern Egypt.
The Modern Era
Under Muhammad Ali's hereditary successors, Egypt's prosperity declined,
despite the construction of the SUEZ CANAL (opened 1869) with the help
of a French firm. To offset Egypt's declining economy, Khedive ISMAIL
PASHA borrowed increasingly large sums of money from Europeans. He
sold (1875) most of Egypt's shares in the Suez Canal to Great Britain and
in 1876 was forced to accept the establishment of a joint Anglo-French
debt commission. In 1879, Ismail was deposed in favor of his son
TAWFIQ PASHA. A nationalist revolt in 1881-82 was suppressed by the
British, who then became the controlling power in Egypt. From 1883
to 1907 the effective ruler of the country was the British administrator
Lord Cromer. When World War I began in 1914, Britain made Egypt a
protectorate and used it as a base for Allied operations against the Ottoman
Empire. In 1922 the protectorate was ended, and Egypt became a monarchy
with FUAD I as king. In 1937 he was succeeded by King FAROUK, and
British troops withdrew from Egypt, except in the Suez Canal Zone.
During World War II, Egypt helped Britain to defeat German forces at
El ALAMEIN. After the war, national feelings grew stronger, and discontent
increased after Arab armies were defeated in the 1948 war with Israel.
In 1952 the Egyptian army seized power, and King Farouk abdicated.
The monarchy was abolished in 1953, and Egypt became a republic with Gen.
Muhammad Naguib as the first president. In 1954, Col. Gamal Abdel
Nasser forced Naguib out of office and became president. Following the
withdrawal of a Western offer to finance the Aswan High Dam, Nasser nationalized
the Suez Canal in 1956. In retaliation, Britain, France, and Israel
invaded Egypt. The troops were forced to withdraw under pressure
from the United States, the USSR, and the United Nations . Nasser's successful
resistance to the triple aggression increased his popularity in the Arab
World and led to Egypt's forming a short-lived union (1958-61) with Syria,
known as the UNITED ARAB REPUBLIC.
In 1967 increased tension between Israel and the Arab states and the
closure of the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping brought about war with
Israel. During the so-called Six-Day War the Israeli air force attacked
and destroyed the Egyptian air force on the ground, and the Egyptian army
was defeated in the Sinai, which came under Israeli occupation.
Nasser died in September 1970 and was succeeded by his vice-president,
Anwar al SADAT. In July 1972, Sadat ordered the 20,000 Soviet military
advisors and experts in Egypt to leave because he believed that the Soviets
were not willing to supply Egypt with sophisticated weapons needed to liberate
territory lost to Israel. The uneasy state of neither war nor peace
led to violent clashes between police and students in 1972 and 1973.
The unrest continued until Sadat made assurances that military action against
Israel was intended. In a surprise attack on Oct. 6, 1973, Egyptian forces
crossed the Suez Canal into the Sinai, and Syrian forces entered the Golan
Heights. Egyptian forces regained a strip of the Sinai during the
three-week war. The war, along with the reopening of the Suez Canal
in June 1975, enhanced Sadat's reputation.
The Peace Initiative
In 1974 the United States and Egypt resumed diplomatic relations, previously
severed by Egypt in 1967. By September 1975, through U. S. mediating
efforts, Egypt and Israel had reached several agreements on the disengagement
of their forces. In March 1976, Sadat abrogated a friendship treaty
with the USSR signed in 1971.
Sadat took a dramatic and significant step toward peace with Israel
by visiting Jerusalem in November 1977. President Jimmy CARTER sponsored
a peace summit in September 1978 between Sadat and Israeli prime minister
Menachem BEGIN. Egypt and Israel signed preliminary documents for
a peace treaty. The actual treaty, signed on Mar. 26, 1979, in Washington,
D.C., called for the gradual withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Sinai
over a period of 3 years. The withdrawal proceeded smoothly, and
in January 1980, Egypt and Israel established diplomatic relations.
Little progress was made, however, in the difficult negotiations on Palestinian
autonomy, and the rest of the Arab world rejected the rapprochement with
From 1974, Sadat had followed a policy entirely different from that
of Nasser, who advocated war with Israel, Arab socialism, and Arab unity.
Sadat promoted peace with Israel, economic liberalism, and Egyptian nationalism.
Although Sadat increased political freedoms, he also periodically cracked
down on dissidents. In 1981 he was killed by Muslim fundamentalists.
His successor, Hosni MUBARAK, honored the peace treaty with Israel
but criticized the lack of progress on the Palestinian issue. Israel
withdrew from the Sinai by 1982 except for Taba, a resort returned to Egypt
in 1989. Mubarak improved Egypt's ties with other Arab nations, gaining
readmission to the Islamic Conference Organization in 1984 and to the Arab
League in 1989; in 1990 the League voted to return its headquarters
to Cairo. Mubarak's popularity at home declined as the economy deteriorated
and Muslim fundamentalism increased, but he won a second term as president
in 1987, and his party remained in firm control of the legislature.
Mubarak's activist foreign policy improved his domestic standing and
won him the gratitude of the United States. Egypt had aided Iraq
during the IRAN-IRAQ WAR (1980-88). After Iraq invaded Kuwait in
August 1990, however, Mubarak convened the Arab summit that voted to deploy
Arab soldiers to supplement U.S. forces invited to Saudi Arabia, arguing
that no Arab state should attack and occupy another. Egyptian troops
(the last of which returned home in August 1991) formed the third-largest
allied contingent in the PERSIAN GULF WAR in 1991. The Egyptian government
continued to support the U.S. effort to persuade Israel to implement the
plan for autonomy for the Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank
and Gaza Strip. In the process, Egypt resumed its historical role
as the leader of Middle Eastern diplomacy. In late 1992 and early
1993, the government faced the challenge of violence from Muslim extremists
who wish to overthrow secular rule and establish a religious state.
Terrorists allegedly attached to these groups attacked foreign tourists
in Egypt and were possibly connected with the bombing of the World Trade
Center in New York City late in February 1993.