Introduction to Ancient Egypt and Its Civilization

This lecture covered a lot of information about Egypt’s kingdoms and various pharaohs. It was just an introduction so Professor Silverman didn’t go into too much detail but gave a comprehensive overview. Professor Silverman talks briefly about various periods and dynasties of Egypt but didn’t necessarily go into too much depth, so I won’t bother writing about everything he said here or it would just end up being a transcript of his lecture. Instead, I chose to focus on some of the more interesting facts or people that he talked about in his lecture and combined it with some information that I already knew to flesh out this blog.

The scholars today know about 175 kings in Egypt’s 3400-year history. Though many people will instantly recognize the name of King Tut, he was in fact a King who didn’t live long enough to do anything remarkable. Rather, he is famous because his tomb was overlooked by graverobbers and remained intact until it was discovered by Howard Carter in 1922. For the Ancient Egyptians however, there were three very important kings who were believed to have started the three major kingdoms of Egypt. King Menes of The Old Kingdom, King Mentuhotep II of The Middle Kingdom, and King Ahmose who founded The New Kingdom. Within the Temple of Seti I, was a list of the names of 76 pharaohs of Egypt. The temple was situated in Abydos, a very important city in Ancient Egypt where many temples and tombs had been built. This list is known as the Abydos King List.

The Abydos King List

Professor Silverman also talked about the last Dynasty which began with Ptolemy I, in 107 BCE. Ptolemy was a friend, general, and a personal bodyguard of Alexander the Great. After Alexander’s death, his kingdom (which included Egypt) was divided amongst his friends to be kept for his infant son until he came of age. Alexander’s son was murdered soon after and the Ptolemaic Dynasty went on to last for around 300 years until the death of Cleopatra (right, that Cleopatra!). Ptolemy was not Egyptian but Macedonian- Greek. Greek became widely used and all the important records/events were written in Greek after the death of Alexander the Great and the start of Ptolemy’s reign.

Scholars began to realize that the Abydos King List had inaccuracies or deliberate omissions in it. This was known only after the information on the list was compared to other sources that were discovered. One good example is Hatshepsut, a Queen who seized the throne and proclaimed herself to be King and donned male garments. She was the daughter of King Thutmose I and became Queen after she married her half brother Thutmose II at the age of 12. When her husband died suddenly, he left only his infant son from his second wife as heir. Hatshepsut stepped in to act as regent until her stepson was old enough to take over. After a few years, she had herself declared king, and began to dress in the men’s garments, and even had herself depicted in official pictures donning the same fake beard that the male pharaohs were shown wearing.

After her death, her stepson began the systematic removal of her name and image from buildings, monuments, and temples. It was only with a discovery in 1822 that scholars realized that she existed.

Hatshepsut depicted as both pharaoh and male

Hatshepsut is but one of several pharaohs whose names and images have been eradicated from the annals of Egyptian history. They have been pharaohs who have gone against the rigidly held beliefs upheld by the powerful priests. I look forward to learning more about them in this course.

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