Egyptian Achievements: Unification, Pyramids, Hieroglyphics & Calendar

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  • 0:01 Egyptian Achievements
  • 0:27 Unifying Egypt
  • 1:33 Pyramids & Obelisks
  • 3:23 Hieroglyphics
  • 4:50 Calendar
  • 5:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will discuss some of the major achievements of ancient Egypt, including its unification by King Menes, the pyramids, hieroglyphics, and the Egyptian calendar.

Egyptian Achievements

Welcome! My name is Anen, and I am an Egyptian scribe. My task today is to tell you about the achievements of my culture. You are probably already familiar with many of them, but perhaps I will tell you a few things that you don't already know. We'll focus especially on King Menes's unification of Egypt, the pyramids and obelisks that define Egypt's landscape, our writing system of hieroglyphics, and our calendar.

Unifying Egypt

Let's begin by talking about how King Menes unified Egypt. Early on, people settled near the mouth of the Nile River at the Mediterranean Sea. This area came to be known as Lower Egypt. Other people made their homes further south, near the base of some mountains, in a land that was called Upper Egypt. These two groups, called the Two Lands, were always fighting, even though they shared a common language, religion, and culture.

Then, about 5,000 years ago, somewhere between 3100 BCE and 2900 BCE, King Menes appeared on the scene. He was sick and tired of all the conflict, and he decided to combine Upper and Lower Egypt into one kingdom. Menes had been ruling only in Upper Egypt, but soon he conquered Lower Egypt and established his new capital at Memphis. It took a little time, but through wise governing, common laws, and new religious practices, the Two Lands became one Egypt under one pharaoh, or supreme ruler, namely, King Menes, who established the first Egyptian dynasty.

Pyramids and Obelisks

The pharaohs who followed Menes worked hard to strengthen their rule over that united kingdom and increase their personal prestige. They were especially interested in creating elaborate tombs that would display their power and provide a comfortable place in which they could enjoy the afterlife. They also built monuments for protection of the kingdom and in remembrance of their great deeds. This is why pyramids and obelisks dot the Egyptian landscape even today.

The age of pyramid building began about 2630-2611 BCE with the rule of Pharaoh Djoser, who ordered the construction of the first step pyramid for his tomb. The structure looks a bit like a huge cake with lots of square layers. Later pharaohs preferred smooth-sided pyramids, like the Pharaoh Snefru's three large pyramids and especially the Pharaoh Khufu's Great Pyramid at Giza.

The Great Pyramid is one of Egypt's most famous landmarks. It was built during Khufu's reign from 2551-2528 BCE by thousands of men, most of whom were farmers and other peasants who were paid for their labor. They worked very, very hard for over 20 years to build this pyramid, whose base covers about 13 acres and whose peak once rose to 481 feet. The pyramid contains 2.3 million stone blocks that average 2.5 tons a piece.

All in all, about 100 pyramids still decorate the Egyptian landscape. They are joined by dozens of large and small obelisks, which are pointed stone pillars that the pharaohs and other prominent Egyptians built to commemorate their great deeds, worship the sun god Ra, and provide magical protection and stability for Egypt's tombs, temples, and kingdom.

Hieroglyphics

All of the pyramids and obelisks are covered with Egypt's very own style of picture writing, called hieroglyphics. As a scribe, I'm an expert in hieroglyphics, for it was my job to use them to record important events and information.

Hieroglyphics, which probably developed sometime around 3300-3200 BCE, is one of the world's oldest systems of writing. To use this system, we scribes had to learn between 700 and 800 glyphs, or picture symbols that represented objects, ideas, or sounds. We usually wrote these glyphs in long lines, either from top to bottom or right to left. We would carve them into stone, chisel them onto tablets, or write them on papyrus, a type of paper made from reeds and linen.

Hieroglyphic writing was quite time consuming, so we also developed two simpler scripts for everyday use in business and record keeping: hieratic, a cursive version of hieroglyphics, and demotic, an even easier cursive form.

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