Ancient Egypt -- a land of mysteries. No other civilization has so captured the imagination of scholars and laypeople alike. Mystery surrounds its origins, its religion and its monumental architecture: colossal temples, pyramids and the enormous Sphinx. The Egyptian pyramids are the most famous of all the ancient monuments, the only remaining wonder of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Just as life arose from the waters of the primeval sea, so the waters of the Nile gave birth to the pharaonic kingdom. A gift to the people of Egypt, the longest river in the world flows north from the heart of Africa to the Mediterranean Sea. Its flood plain was an extensive oasis, a magnet for life -- human, plant and animal. Humans were drawn there because they could grow crops and settle into permanent villages. The annual flooding of the Nile deposited nutrient rich silt on the land, creating all the ingredients needed to support life and the growth of a great civilization.
Bounded on the south, east and west by a impenetrable desert, and on the north by the sea, ancient Egypt was protected from outside influences, which allowed it to evolve in its own unique way.
The pharaonic period spans over 3,000 years, beginning when kings first ruled Egypt. The first dynasty started in 3000 B.C. with the reign of King Narmer. Throughout the centuries, the power of the pharaohs increased and decreased numerous times before Egypt came under Roman rule in the Graeco-Roman Period (332 B.C. - A.D. 395). The pharaonic period ended with the death of the last Cleopatra during the thirty-second dynasty. When the Roman Empire was divided in A.D. 395, Egypt was controlled from Byzantium until the Arab conquest in A.D. 641.
Each summer, starting in July, the Nile River rose, flooding the low-lying plains on either side. Swollen by the monsoon rains of Ethiopia, it deposited a layer of black soil over the land, rich in nutrients needed for growing crops. The river rose about 8 metres (27 feet) on average. If it rose 2.5 metres (8 feet) higher or lower, disaster struck. When it rose too high, villages were flooded, causing extensive damage and loss of life. When it did not rise high enough, the fields did not receive sufficient nutrients and moisture to support the crops, which resulted in famine. Livestock was important to the Egyptian economy, supplying meat, milk, hides, and dung for cooking fuel.
Most houses were made of brick. The banks of the Nile provided the mud used to make bricks.Egyptian peasants would have lived in simple mud-brick homes containing only a few pieces of furniture: beds, stools, boxes and low tables. Craftworkers lived in one- or two-storey flat-roofed dwellings made of mud bricks. The walls and roof would have been covered with plaster and painted. Inside, there was a reception room, a living room, bedrooms and a cellar in which food and beverages were stored. Food was prepared in an outdoor kitchen equipped with a mud-brick oven. Stairs on the exterior of the house led to a roof-top terrace.
The homes of the wealthy were larger and more luxurious. Spacious reception and living rooms opened onto a central garden courtyard with a fish pond and flowering plants. Each bedroom had a private bathroom, and the walls, columns and ceilings were painted with beautiful designs inspired by nature. Elaborate and highly decorated furniture included beds, chairs, boxes and tables. Painted clay pots and vessels, as well as alabaster bowls and jars, were also found in the homes of the nobles.
The ancient Egyptians were very particular about cleanliness and personal appearance. People who were poorly groomed were considered inferior. Both men and women used cosmetics and wore jewellery. One item of jewellery, the amulet, was believed to protect the owners and give them strength.
Flax grown by farmers was woven into fine linen for clothing. Working-class men wore loincloths or short kilts, as well as long shirt-like garments tied with a sash at the waist. Kilts were made from a rectangular piece of linen that was folded around the body and tied at the waist. Wealthy men wore knee-length shirts, loincloths or kilts and adorned themselves with jewellery – a string of beads, armlets and bracelets. Working-class women wore full-length wraparound gowns and close-fitting sheaths. Elite women enhanced their appearance with make-up, earrings, bracelets and necklaces.
The Egyptians used mineral pigments to produce make-up
From the earliest times, jewellery was worn by the elite for self-adornment and as an indication of social status. Bracelets, rings, earrings, necklaces, pins, belt buckles and amulets were made from gold and silver inlaid with precious stones such as lapis lazuli, turquoise, carnelian and amethyst. Faience and glass were also used to decorate pieces of jewellery.
The Egyptian language was one of the earliest languages to be written down, perhaps only the Sumerian language is older. First appearing on stone and pottery dating from 3100 B.C. to 3000 B.C., it remained in use for almost 3,000 years; the last inscription was written in A.D. 394.
The word hieroglyph literally means "sacred carvings". The Egyptians first used hieroglyphs exclusively for inscriptions carved or painted on temple walls. This form of pictorial writing was also used on tombs, sheets of papyrus, wooden boards covered with a stucco wash, potsherds and fragments of limestone.