Egypt: The Old Kingdom

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The Old Kingdom: Re, Pharaoh, and the Nile.

Re, the god of the sun was the first ruler of Egypt. He gave the people the blessings of the Nile before he returned to heaven, leaving a son, Horus, by an Egyptian mother. So the Egyptians believed.

In discussing Ancient Egypt most historians divide its history into three periods, the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom and the New Kingdom. The Old Kingdom is often also called the "Pyramid Age" because most of the pyramids were built during this time.

In the Old Kingdom Egypt established a culture which was to endure for 2,500 years. They created an artistic style, a religion, and a system of government and trade network which made Egypt a powerful civilization.

The king was the most important figure in Egypt. He performed the rituals necessary to keep the Nile flooding, not too high and not too low. The annual inundation of the Nile was crucial to the survival of the people of Egypt. Without the annual flooding and the silt it deposited on the land, there would have been no Egypt.

The king owned the land and everything in it and ruled all people, even non-Egyptians, living nearby. They all offered tribute and allegiance to Re. He was the father and mother of his people, the ruler, the head priest, and the commander-in-chief of the army. He was all powerful, though assisted by ministers and nobles.

In Egyptian culture, the woman played an important role. She owned the land, which was passed through her to her daughter. Kingship also passed through the woman. The ruler became king only when he married the daughter of the previous king. The custom of royalty inter-marrying (brother and sister for example) developed because of this. Women were respected in Egyptian society.

Writing was sacred and only used by priests. Writing a name was thought to give power of that person. It was forbidden to even speak the name of a king. Pharaoh means "great house" and does not directly refer to a person at all.

The worship of Re may have come to Egypt through immigrants from Mesopotamia. His symbol was the obelisk, a tall column, preferably carved from a single piece of stone.

The pharaohs of Egypt believed they were the sons of the god Re. In the fourth dynasty pharaohs began to include "son of Re" in their official titles. Re was always important to the Egyptians. He eventually became identified with a local god of Thebes, Amon, and was known thereafter as Amon-Re, the king of the gods.

The Egyptians built their pyramids on the west side of the Nile. It was the land of the dead, where the king would go to meet Re at the end of his life. On the east side where the sun rose, they built their villages.

The Egyptians believed in an after-life, at least for the king. Later others could have an after-life too, but in the Old Kingdom only the king was so fortunate. When they buried Pharaoh in the pyramid, they surrounded him with objects of daily life, to remind him of life. He was to enjoy an afterlife which was just like life on Earth.

Much of the wealth of the Old Kingdom went into the building of the pyramids. These amazing structures were not, as was once thought, built by slaves. People willingly went to work in their off-season to build the pyramids so that Pharaoh would live forever and watch his people.

The Old Kingdom declined with power struggles within and raids from without.

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