Ancient History 101, pt. 4 : Africa.

Egypt

3100 - 32 BCE

Egypt was one of the first river-valley civilizations and was located along the Nile River, the longest in the world. Interestingly, it flows over 4,000 miles from south to north before emptying in the Mediterranean Sea.

What is the difference between an ocean and a sea? Seriously, you should know that. Go look it up.

Every year, the Nile flooded and left rich, dark soil on the riverbanks. This area was great for farming, which meant food surpluses and a population of healthy eaters. Sweet.

Because they had to pay attention to annual flooding, Egyptians became very good at recording dates and creating a calendar and using numbers to track data. They were numbers geeks, which meant they would have loved using spreadsheets if they had had computers. But they didn’t. If they wanted them, they should have chosen to be born later.

So the Nile River was great for transportation and communication.

A sampling of Egyptian gods

Hali, god of the Nile
Amon-Re, king of the gods
Osiris, god of the underworld
Isis, Osiris’s wife
...and hundreds of other ones

Words

Delta
The plain at the mouth of a river.

Dynasty
Succession of rulers from the same family.

Pharaoh
Title given to ancient Egyptian kings.

Rulers

Thirty-one different dynasties over 3,000 years. There were three main periods. See if you can memorize them in less than six months. Challenge yourself. They are as follows:

The Old Kingdom
The Middle Kingdom
The New Kingdom

Good luck. Anyway, whatever the pharaoh decided was law. He had total power. So much power, he was considered a god. How much power do you think a ruler should have in order to effectively rule?

Old Kingdom (2700-2200 BCE)

King Menes united Egypt under one dynasty when he joined Upper and Lower Egypt. During this period, many great pyramids for pharaohs and their families were built. The largest of these, the Great Pyramid at Giza, took 20 years, 100,000 workers, and over 2000 stones to build.

The Great Sphinx was a giant statue that was half man and half lion. It was built to protect the Great Pyramid. Because farmers couldn’t work during the flood season, they were put to work building pyramids. We might call this “mandatory volunteerism.” Egyptians used their advanced understanding of mathematics, especially geometry, to build these. And they used their advanced understanding of human psychology to get farmers to build them in their free time.

Middle Kingdom (2100-1800 BCE)

This was a stable period of expansion. Nubia (also known as Kush) was an area south of Egypt that was conquered. Pharaohs gave aid for important public projects, such as draining swamps and digging canals. There is a phrase in politics known as “draining the swamp” that some politicians like to throw around. The world would be better if many of those politicians were to wander around an actual swamp and get lost. I feel confident the farmers-turned-pyramid builders and canal diggers would agree with me on this one.

New Kingdom (1500 - 1000 BCE)

The ascension to power of Thutmose III marked the beginning of the New Kingdom. He was a mostly peaceful leader who encouraged trade, which introduced ivory and incense to the region.. Incense smells so good, but ivory. Really? Sad. Although he was mostly peaceful and was careless with elephant’s rights, he led an army of 20,000 to extend Egypt’s lands into Syria and Palestine and was a decent leader overall, as far as totalitarian leaders go.

King Tutankhamen - possibly known to you as King Tut, or even more simply, Tut - became pharaoh at nine years old and ruled from 1333 to 1323. He died at 19. Sad. He was buried in a tomb with over 5,000 expensive objects that were meant to go with him to the afterlife. He was mummified via their process of body preservation, because Egyptians believed the soul could continue its life after death so therefore, it still needed a body to use.

They learned a great deal about human anatomy and physiology and medicine from their use of mummification. If you feel like interesting reading, do some Google-sleuthing on Howard Carter and his team, the ones who discovered the tomb centuries later. And their untimely demises. Then ask yourself if you’re beyond superstition.

Anyway.

Greatest Events in History : Exodus

Religious sleuths and scholars have also dated the possibility of the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt to somewhere in here, circa the 13th century. This was to have a massive and lasting impact on the world because it led to the Ten Commandments and covenant established between the the people of Moses (Israelites) and God, which led to the formation of the three world’s great monotheistic religions and their accompanying moral influences that, thousands of years later, still affect the lives of billions of people.

Anyway. Back to the end.

The New Kingdom collapsed in 1070 and eventually, Alexander the Great of Macedonia conquered the country around 331. Queen Cleopatra the VII was the last Macedonian ruler in 51 BC after waging war with the Roman Empire (oh Julius, oh Marcus).

After her, Egypt would not be independent for another 2,000 years. Sad.

Art

Egyptians had some beautiful illustrations, but they tended to usually look similar. They were expected to follow a formula, as opposed to coming up with unique ideas. For instance, portraits often show a person in a half-profile pose. Not a whole lot of variety. Sad.

Hieroglyphs / writing

Egyptians invented hieroglyphics, picture-like symbols for writing. They were complicated to learn and use. Only members of the upper class were trained as scribes. Sad.

Initially, Egyptians wrote on clay tablets, but later moved to papyrus, a type of paper made from the papyrus plant. Unfortunately, papyrus plants no longer grow in Egypt. Sad.They wrote their history and achievements on these, which have been a valuable insight for historians to study in learning about their culture. Someday, post-time machine, we’ll be able to verify which scribes were truth-tellers and which ones were LIARS!

Timeline

These dates are rough. I wasn’t there.

3300-3200 B.C.
Development of hieroglyphics for communication

2575-2465
Pyramid building. And the Sphinx.

2700
King Menes unites the Upper and Lower Kingdoms of Egypt.

539
Fall of Babylon. Persia’s Achaemenid Empire takes it down.

331
Alexander the Great conquers Egypt.

30
Cleopatra dies. Egypt falls to the Roman Empire. Sad.

0-ish
Baby Jesus.

30 A.D.
Death, resurrection, birth of Christianity

Bantu
2000 BCE

For a thousand years, give or take a few, the Bantu people drifted east and south from West Africa. This is known as a slow migration.

Why? For the same reasons many people did: to find fertile land and good grazing.

They were super good metalworkers and adept at making iron tools and weapons. This was a good thing, because it meant as they kept moving, they could either have cool metal tools to give to their new neighbors if they were friendly, or if they weren’t, they had cool metal weapons to take them out with.

Kush / Nubia
2000 -1500ish BCE

The Kingdom of Kush (also: Nubia) is today called Sudan. It was located just south of Egypt on the Nile River (the long one). The Kushies, or Kushites, used to be farmers, but eventually figured out they could do better as traders. They made iron tools and weapons and traded with Rome, Arabia, and India. What did they get in return?

Sadly, ivory and slaves. Bad. But also gold and ebony. Not as bad.

Carthage
800ish BCE

The Phoenicians set up this nifty city in North Africa. It was a massive trading empire and had colonies all over the place. It was super powerful for 600 years or so. But then, throughout a series of three wars with Rome that involved snow, Alps, elephants, and a non-cannibal general called Hannibal, they fell. They fell hard. As in *spoiler alert* demolished. Memo: if you live in the United States, your country (also mine) has been around less than 250 years. Just as a reminder of the temporal nature of power.

Choose your leaders well.

Fortunately, we know a bit about African history because of oral histories. This means stories that were passed down from one generation to the next by word of mouth. This is great because it means we have something.

It would be even better if we had written records with more details and specifics about the great continent of Africa during this time period. But we’ll take what we can get. Until someone finally mass markets a time machine that will let us fill in some of the details.

Footnote

Introduction to Ancient History, from the Paleolithic Era to the fall of Rome, and how the lives, cultures, decisions, and actions of these periods affects our modern lives.

Education for most ages and for all curious people.
Written by Joseph Ivan Long with curiosity, humbleness, and a big grin.