Africa may have given rise to the first human beings, and Egypt probably gave rise to the first great civilizations, which continue to fascinate modern societies across the globe nearly 5,000 years later. From the Library and Lighthouse of Alexandria to the Great Pyramid at Giza, the ancient Egyptians produced several wonders of the world, revolutionized architecture and construction, created some of the world's first systems of mathematics and medicine, and established language and art that spread across the known world. With world-famous leaders like King Tut and Cleopatra, it's no wonder that today's world has so many Egyptologists.
What makes the accomplishments of the ancient Egyptians all the more remarkable is that Egypt was historically a place of great political turbulence. Its position made it both valuable and vulnerable to tribes across the Mediterranean and the Middle East, and ancient Egypt had no shortage of its own internecine warfare. Its most famous conquerors would come from Europe, with Alexander the Great laying the groundwork for the Hellenic Ptolemy line and the Romans extinguishing that line after defeating Cleopatra and driving her to suicide.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of ancient Egyptian civilization was its inception from the ground up, as the ancient Egyptians had no prior civilization which they could use as a template. In fact, ancient Egypt itself became a template for the civilizations that followed. The Greeks and the Romans were so impressed with Egyptian culture that they often attributed many attributes of their own culture - usually erroneously - to the Egyptians. With that said, some minor elements of ancient Egyptian culture were, indeed, passed on to later civilizations. Egyptian statuary appears to have had an initial influence on the Greek version, and the ancient Egyptian language continued long after the pharaonic period in the form of the Coptic language.
Although the Egyptians may not have passed their civilization directly on to later peoples, the key elements that comprised Egyptian civilization - their religion, early ideas of state, and art and architecture - can be seen in other pre-modern civilizations. For instance, civilizations far separated in time and space - such as China and Mesoamerica - possessed key elements that were similar to those found in ancient Egypt. Indeed, since Egyptian civilization represented some fundamental human concepts, a study of their culture can be useful when trying to understand many other pre-modern cultures.
Despite not having great physical monuments compared to previous and later periods in pharaonic history, however, the Middle Kingdom is the period in Egyptian history when many aspects of Egyptian culture reached their heights. Modern scholars point to the numerous texts written during the Middle Kingdom, especially fictional prose, as examples of the period's greatness. These same scholars also correctly point out that examples of Middle Kingdom literature are not as accessible to the general public, especially in the original language, and therefore are often overlooked by television documentaries and popular publications. Apart from the advances made in literature, some of the greatest Egyptian sculptures produced in pharaonic history come from the Middle Kingdom. In addition, the Egyptian empire that is today associated with the New Kingdom actually began with the great kings of the Middle Kingdom.
©2017 Charles River Editors (P)2017 Charles River Editors