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Lesson summary: Ancient Egypt

An overview of ancient Egypt.

Key terms

statea territory organized under the control of a single government; the unification of Egypt created a state, for example, and some states, like ancient Egypt, were ruled by kings.
dynastya chain of rulers who are members of the same family, often with sons succeeding their fathers as rulers; ancient Egyptian history is often divided by royal dynasties.
divine kingshipthe idea that a political ruler held his power by favor of a god or gods; Ancient Egyptian kings were believed to be living incarnations of gods.
hieroglyphicsa form of writing that used images to express sounds and meanings; Ancient Egyptian writing is one example of hieroglyphics.
irrigationthe process of directing water to crops, usually through channels or levees; ancient Egyptians built many levees and irrigation channels to take advantage of the Nile for agricultural purposes.

Key dates

c.6000 BCEWidespread settlement of the area immediately surrounding the Nile River began as the Sahara Desert expanded
c.2686—2181 BCEOld Kingdom period, when Egypt first unified as a single state
c.2041—1640 BCEMiddle Kingdom period, when kings regained control and focused on expanding trade and irrigation
1550—1077 BCENew Kingdom period, when the term "pharaoh" began to be used for kings

Key themes

Environment: Early civilizations often adapted to and tried to alter their environments. The Nile River in Egypt made successful agriculture possible because it flooded annually and deposited a new layer of nutrient-rich soil each year. This flooding was so regular that the ancient Egyptians set their three seasons—Inundation, or flooding, Growth, and Harvest—around it.
State building: Agriculture and the development of cities gradually led to the development of states. Centralized states were able to organize large numbers of people and resources. Rulers often claimed divine kingship, the idea that a ruler was favored by the gods, which gave them more legitimacy and power.
Culture: Early civilizations developed urban planning, monumental architecture, and systems of writing and record-keeping. Ancient Egyptians used monumental architecture such as pyramids as a way to honor rulers. They also developed writing systems, which were used for recording economic and political information, as well as literature. Ancient Egyptians engaged in trade with Mesopotamia to the east and Nubia to the south. These exchanges of goods also facilitated the exchange of culture and ideas

Review questions

  • What were two ways in which the Nile River was essential to Egyptian civilization?
  • How did Egyptian rulers use the idea of divine kingship?
  • What similarities and differences existed between early states in Egypt and Mesopotamia?

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