Back To CourseHigh School World History: Help and Review
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Mary has a Master's Degree in History with 18 advanced hours in Government. She has taught college History and Government courses.
Ancient Egypt enjoyed particularly fertile soils as a result of the constant flow of the Nile River through the center of the kingdom. Egypt also had large quantities of stone and clay, as well as gold. The fertile soil and abundant natural resources led to the development of a complex society governed by the pharaohs, or Egyptian kings.
The first pharaoh Menes united Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt into a single kingdom around 3100 B.C.E. The period of time after Menes unification of Egypt is called the Old Kingdom. Old Kingdom Egypt was a prosperous time in which Ancient Egyptians produced large quantities of art and developed a new religious belief system.
The Ancient Egyptians were polytheistic, which means they believed in many gods, some of whom were more important and more powerful than others. The most powerful god in Ancient Egypt was Amon-Ra, the creator of life and the commander of the sky, earth, and the underworld. Amon-Ra was actually a combination of two different figures. Amon could control the cosmos with his thoughts and sustained the land and its people. Ra was the creator of life and was associated with another god, Horus. Horus was a falcon-like god who bestowed divinity on the Egyptian pharaohs.
Pharaohs were the focal point of Ancient Egyptian religious life. The Egyptians considered the pharaoh to be Horus in human form. The pharaoh was thus a living god on earth and had a powerful position as a mediator between the gods and the common people. The pharaohs, as gods on earth, required massive palaces during their lifetimes and opulent pyramids during death. These pyramids contained everything that the pharaoh would need during the afterlife and symbolized their power and connection to the gods. The Great Pyramids at Giza are an excellent example of an Old Kingdom monument to the pharaohs.
During the New Kingdom period, the pharaohs of the Eighteenth Dynasty pushed an invading group, the Hyksos, out of Egypt, subdued the Nubians in the South, and conquered Palestine and parts of Syria. The pharaohs in this period were warrior- kings and vastly expanded the Egyptian territory. They celebrated their triumphs with monuments and pyramids on a scale never before seen in the world. The conquering pharaohs brought home material wealth from the territories they took over and used conquered peoples as slaves. These slaves helped build the opulent palaces and pyramids of the New Kingdom pharaohs.
The Egyptian Pharaohs used their status as warrior-god-kings to preserve their wealth and power. It was common for pharaohs to marry their close female relatives, often their sisters. By marrying their sisters, the pharaohs kept their power within the bounds of family allegiance. In some cases, pharaohs married more than one of their sisters, as well as other women for the purpose of cementing their power.
One of the most unusual pharaohs in this period was Akhenaten. Akhenaten was monotheistic, and believed in one god named Aton. Akhenaten believed that all other gods worshiped by the Egyptians were frauds. Akhenaten forced the people of Egypt to give up their worship of all other gods and to only worship Aton. In an effort to enforce his religious views, Akhenaten built a new capital city, as well as other monuments to glorify Aton. Akhenaten's religious beliefs were influenced by his wife Nefertiti; however, the Egyptian people were not supportive of Akhenaten's religious views.
After Akhenaten's death, Smenkhkare, one of his sons became pharaoh. Little is known about this period of time, though historians speculate that Nefertiti might have ruled with this largely unknown pharaoh. Some historians even believe that Nefertiti and Smenkhkare may have been the same person and that Nefertiti was the acting pharaoh during this period.
In 1332 B.C.E. Tutankhaten, the son of Akhenaten and one of his sister wives, became the pharaoh. He was only 9 years old when he began his reign and he was highly influenced by his advisers. Tutankhaten, whose name meant 'living image of Aton', changed his name to Tutankhamen, meaning 'living image of Amon' early in his reign. King Tutankhamen, or King Tut as he is more commonly called, returned the Egyptian people to polytheism. He also returned the capital city of the pharaohs to its previous location in Thebes. Many images or descriptions of Akhenaten and Nefertiti were removed or destroyed during his reign. King Tut married his half-sister, Ankhesenamun but they were unable to have children.
When King Tut died at the age of 19, his most important advisor Ay married Ankhesenamun and became pharaoh. Several characters in the popular movies 'The Mummy' and 'The Mummy Returns' are very loosely based on Nefertiti, Ankhesenamun, and Ay.
During the New Kingdom period, a few women acted as rulers of Egypt. The first woman pharaoh, Hatshepsut, was the sister and wife of Pharaoh Thutmose II. When Thutmose II died suddenly, Hatshepsut took his place as the regent for her stepson, Thutmose III. Hatshepsut reigned as regent pharaoh for several years. She sent trading expeditions to neighboring kingdoms, and sponsored artists and architects, spawning a frenzy of building activity and economic prosperity.
Hatshepsut built one of the world's greatest temples at Deir el Bahri, which eventually served as her tomb. After her death, Thutmose III had her name scratched off monuments and destroyed most statues depicting her. Historians believe the Thutmose III may have been jealous of his stepmother's status as a powerful and benevolent pharaoh. It is also possible that he may have been uncomfortable with following a woman to the kingship. Despite her stepson's attempts to erase her reign from history, Queen Hatshepsut remains the best-known female pharaoh in Ancient Egypt.
Here is a brief timeline of the age of the Egyptian pharaoh
3100 B.C.E. Menes united Upper and Lower Egypt under one pharaoh
2660-2180 B.C.E. Old Kingdom period
1570-1075 B.C.E. New Kingdom period
1479-1458 B.C.E. Reign of Hatshepsut
1367-1350 B.C.E. Reign of Akhenaten
1332-1323 B.C. E. Reign of Tutankhamen
The Egyptian pharaohs benefited from a wealthy nation with many natural resources. The first pharaoh, Menes, united Egypt under one ruler. In general, Egyptians were polytheistic, which means they believed in many gods. The most powerful god in Ancient Egypt was Amon-Ra, the creator of life and the commander of the sky, earth, and the underworld. The pharaoh was a living god on Earth and had a powerful position as a mediator between the gods and the common people.
One of the most unusual pharaoh's in the New Kingdom period was Akhenaten. Akhenaten was monotheistic and believed in one god named Aton. His religious beliefs were influenced by his wife, Nefertiti.
In 1332 B.C.E., Tutankhaten, the son of Akhenaten, became the pharaoh. He was only nine years old when he began his reign. Tutankhaten changed his name to Tutankhamen, meaning living image of Amon, early in his reign. King Tut, as he's more commonly called, returned the Egyptian people to polytheism.
A few women acted as rulers of Egypt. The first woman pharaoh, Hatshepsut was the sister and wife of Pharaoh Thutmose II. When Thutmose II died suddenly, Hatshepsut took his place as the regent for her stepson, Thutmose III. And despite his attempts to erase her reign from history, Queen Hatshepsut remains the best-known female pharaoh in Ancient Egypt.
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Back To CourseHigh School World History: Help and Review
35 chapters | 495 lessons
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