Ancient Egypt was one of the world's first known and longest living civilizations. Some of its most iconic landmarks, the Pyramids of Giza, are 4,500 years old. Egyptian culture has thrived as part of the Persian Empire, Hellenistic Empire, the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the British Empire, and present-day Egypt. While Egypt has since changed its dominant religion twice (first to Christianity and then to Islam) and its language once (to Arabic), Ancient Egyptian heritage still plays a major role in the self image of the country, as does the Nile, about which the oldest poems and songs still known to man were written.
The banks of the Nile River have been inhabited since time immemorial. Written records started to appear around 3000 BC, with the Early Dynastic Period, and one of the world's first known monarchies. Ancient Egyptian history is usually divided between the Old Kingdom (2686–2181 BC), the Middle Kingdom (2134–1690 BC) and the New Kingdom (1549–1069 BC), each of them surviving five hundred years, still preceding any known civilizations in mainland Europe. To give an idea of the timespans involved: the pyramids were older to Julius Caesar than he is to us, and he was still dealing with an independent Egyptian state claiming — despite its Greek descendant rulers — to be the same state that built the pyramids.
Egypt spent some time gradually developing as a civilization, but was one of the main civilizations in the world by the time the pyramids were built during the Old Kingdom. While Egypt went through periods of ups and downs, it was not until later in its history that Egypt began to build an empire and come in conflict with the Hittites.
According to the Old Testament, the Jewish people lived in the Canaan region for some time and significantly grew in population while they were there. Eventually, according to the Book of Exodus, the Jews were enslaved in Egypt, but this enslavement ended during The Exodus of Moses from Egypt to the Holy Land (Israel), an event dated to around 1300 BC. There is no archaeological evidence for this date or for the Exodus at all, though in modern popular culture it is closely associated with ancient Egyptian history.
It was around 1300 BC that Egypt was at its height and reached far along the Nile and extended north to the land of the Hittites. However, over the next few hundred years Egypt declined (coincidentally, around the same time that Israel became one of the dominant groups in this area) and from about 500 BC onwards the Egyptians were under the control of various other empires. Around 30 BC, Egypt became part of the Roman Empire, and did not become a formally independent state until 1922.
Posterity, heritage and rediscovery
Egyptians often invoke the Pharaonic heritage. Through the centuries, a romanticized image of Ancient Egypt survived; especially in Judeo-Christian tradition. Roman (and later Byzantine) Egypt would become one of the centers of early Christianity, particularly Gnostic and other heterodox sects. Egypt still contains a Christian minority which uses the Coptic language (the modern descendant of Hieroglyphic Egyptian) liturgically to some extent, while most Egyptians these days are Arabic-speaking Muslims.
With the Napoleonic Wars and the French invasion of Egypt in 1799, came egyptology; the academic study of ancient Egypt.
The hieroglyphic script was unreadable until the Rosetta Stone was discovered in 1799. The juxtaposion of a text written in hieroglyph, Demotic script and ancient Greek, allowed the hieroglyphs to be deciphered, and spurred new interest in Ancient Egypt.
- 1 Abusir.
- 2 Alexandria. This is where the Greeks built an extremely tall lighthouse that was one of the seven wonders of the world. However, the lighthouse no longer stands.
- 3 Fayum. Nearby Meidum is the site of one of the oldest pyramids, of the step type, built by the ancient Egyptians.
- 4 Giza. Famous for its pyramids and actually surprisingly close to the urban sprawl of modern Cairo. The highest of the pyramids is one of the seven wonders of the world.
- 5 The Great Sphinx. The famous part-animal, part-human godlike figure.
- 6 Memphis.
- 7 Saqqara.
- 10 Abu Simbel. The original location of Abu Simbel was put in danger when it was decided that a reservoir would be created over this historic site. Therefore, Abu Simbel was actually moved to a new location so it would not be lost in the depths of the lake. It is now one of Ancient Egypt’s great tourist attractions.
- 11 Edfu. Has the best preserved Ancient Egyptian temple, dedicated to the falcon god Horus. The temple was completed by 57 BC, under the reign of Ptolemy XII Auletes, the father of Cleopatra.
- 12 Luxor.
- 13 Aswan.
- 14 Valley of the Kings. Perhaps the most legendary of all the sites related to Ancient Egypt; this valley is where the great Egyptian pharaohs were buried.
- 15 Uronarti. An island within the Nile, nowadays in northern Sudan, upon which is a huge fortress built by pharaohs of the Twelfth Dynasty. It was created as part of a wave of expansion and colonialism into Upper Nubian lands during the Middle Kingdom era. Many of the other fortresses and outposts in the area were engulfed by the artificial Lake Nasser, a result of the Aswan Dam project in the 1960s, but Uronarti's impressive fortress remains and new archaeological projects on it have commenced.
- 16 Kadesh. In present-day Syria, Kadesh was the site of the largest recorded chariot battle in history. Ramesses II led a 20,000 strong army against Muwatilli II of the Hittites. Ramesses declared the military campaign to be a resounding success though historians now know that the battle ended in a stalemate for both sides. Soon after the battle, the Egyptian–Hittite peace treaty was created, one of the oldest known treaties in the world.
- Nubia, Egypt's southern neighbor in ancient times