[Partly revised 1/21/09, 1/17/12, and 1/14/14]
You have all heard the phrase "the
journey of a thousand miles begins
with a single step." That's certainly true, but if you are
beginning that 1000 mile journey, you better make sure that that first
step is in the right direction.
In this class, we are going on a
journey that will take us, not only
through thousands of miles, but through thousands of years as well, and
it's helpful at the outset to know where we are headed.
For convenience sake, historians
divide history into three major
Note that these periods
overlap--there are no sharp breaks between
these different periods, though there are some broad
general differences. The ancient period of history, for instance,
is dominated by polytheistic societies, while the medieval period sees
the rise of monotheistic civilizations.
Note also that history has for us a
beginning: roughly 3000 BC.
There were people on earth before that time, and the anthropologists
and archaelogists can tell us some things about them and their
societies. However, until the emergence of writing (roughly 5000
years ago), we can't investigate the kinds of questions historians
really care about. We don't know people's religious beliefs or
their laws. Most of all, we can't know anything about
individuals, their choices and the consequences of those choices.
The 1st third of this course will be
devoted to ancient history.
We will be discussion the following:
- Ancient history (3000 BC--AD 476)
- Medieval history (AD 325--1500)
- Modern history (AD 1350--Present)
This will take us up to the
first MT exam. During the 2nd
third of the course we will still concentrate on the ancient period,
this time focusing on Europe. We will talk about....
- The Ancient Near East
- Ancient Israel
This will take us up to the 2nd MT
exam. After the midterm,
we will move on to the following for the last 3rd of the course:
- Ancient Greece
- Ancient Rome
- The Middle Ages
- Byzantium (The Eastern
- Western Europe
Note that the final exam is not
"cummulative." It will deal with
material in the last third of the course, e.g., everything from the
Byzantine Empire through the Reformation.
- The earliest part
of the Modern
- The Renaissance (1350-1600)
- The Reformation (1517-1648)
Introduction to Egypt
One of the first great human civilizations grew up in Egypt. The
Egyptians created for themselves a society that lasted for more than
two thousand years. Obviously, a society that lasts that
be doing something right. What was it?
Henry Bamford Parkes suggested that,
in order to survive, a
civilization needed to provide three things to its members, physical
security, ethical guidance, and emotional fulfillment, and it seems to
me that, for the most part, Ancient Egyptian civilization did an
excellent job providing these three things.
involves those things
necessary to physical survival, e.g. food, water, shelter, protection
enemies, etc. Ethical Guidance involves rules to live by
including rules for family life, rules for extended social
relationships, and rules for our business/economic relationships.
Emotional Fulfillment involves convincing people that their
society is a good one, that it is better than the alternatives, that it
is worth making sacrifices for.]
Physical Security in the Old
Kingdom period [3000-2200 BC]
When it came to providing physical
security, Egypt had some natural
1. The Nile river. As one
Greek historian observed, Egypt
was the "gift of the Nile," a recognition that, without the Nile, there
would have been no Egypt. Egypt is a land with little rainfall,
and, without the Nile, there would have been no water for
irrigation. But Egypt is also the gift of the Nile in another
sense. Every year, the Nile river floods, and, when the flood
waters recede, they leave behind a rich black soil, called by the
Egyptians KEMET, the Black Land. This is the name the
Egyptians gave their country (our name "Egypt" is derived ultimately
from this word Kemet as well--as is the name Ham, one of the sons of
Noah). Because the Egyptians had this rich top soil deposited
year after year, the Egyptians didn't have to worry about crop rotation
or letting land lie fallow. The could plant the same land year
year--and sometimes more than once a year! The Nile also served
as a natural highway for the Egyptians, making transportation
relatively easy and inexpensive. This enabled the Egyptians to
take advantage of another geographical advantage, the fact that they
had most of the raw material for creating a fairly advanced
civilization within reach (e.g, building stone, clay, copper).
2. Warm climate. Egypt's
simplified women's work. They did not have to spend as much time
weaving and making clothes for their families since relatively simple
linen garments were enough protection from the elements. Likewise
men didn't have to spend as much time building elaborate shelters.
3. Egypt is a land
"fortified by nature" (as another Greek
historian observed). Since Egypt is protected on three sides by
deserts and by the Nile cataracts in the south, not as much
effort was needed to defend the country from outside invasion.
This last advantage helps only when
the Egyptians are *not* fighting
among themselves, and, at first, the Egyptians were not united.
The Egyptians lived in 42 independent NOMES, independent
city-states along the Nile, each ruled by a nomarch, a sort of
king. Finally, though, one strong man called Menes (or Narmer)
united all of Egypt, becoming the first PER-0 (PHARAOH). Menes
and his successors united Egypt by convincing the
people that there were not mere humans, but gods, and that they should
receive the loyalty due to gods.
[I over-simplify in
lecture. Prior to the
time of Menes, the nomes of upper Egypt and lower Egypt had come
together into two separate kingdoms. Menes achievement is to
bring together both upper and lower Egypt.]
Menes and his successors did not
entirely destroy the government
framework of the old nomes. Instead, they preserved the nomes as
administrative districts and used the nomarchs as their
administrators. Here was a good basis for an effective
Also helping administer the kingdom,
the Egyptian priests. The
priests were particularly helpful because of their mastery of
HIEROGLYPHICS. The development of writing facilitated all sorts
of other advances, advances in mathematics, medicine, etc. Also, the
devleopment of an effective means of organization meant more land could
be brought under cultivation. And the fact that the Egyptians no
longer had to worry much about warfare meant they were free to advance
in other areas, e.g., metallurgy, making pottery, and other crafts.
Ethical guidance in Old Kingdom Egypt
Since the pharaoh was regarded
as a living god, he could
obviously serves as a source of ethical guidance. Whatever he
said was law, the right thing to do. But pharaoh can't be
everywhere, and the Egyptians needed more general principles of ethical
guidance. Fortunately for us, we know what standards the
encouraged because of hieroglypic texts like the Maxims of Ptah Hotep.
selections from the Maxims of Ptah
Hotep in class. There's a lot more in this online
translation of the Maxims of
The translation is different from the one I read in class. I am
not sure which is more accurate.]
Particualry wise advice from Ptah
If you are wise, look after
your house; love your wife
without alloy. Fill her stomach, clothe her back; these are the cares
to be bestowed on her person. Caress her, fulfil her desires during the
time of her existence; it is a kindness which does honor to its
possessor. Be not brutal; tact will influence her better than violence;
her . . . behold to what she aspires, at what she aims, what she
regards. It is that which fixes her in your house; if you repel her, it
is an abyss. Open your arms for her, respond to her arms; call her,
display to her your love.
[Egypt Lecture I
usually ends here]
Emotional Fulfillment in Old Kingdom
In addition to providing physical
security and ethical
Egypt provided much in the way of emotional fulfillment, the sense that
their society was a good one. Pharaoh himself was a source of
emotional fulfillment. After all, if you're lead by a god,
obviously your society is on the right track, yes? We like to
look up to our leaders, and, the more highly we think of our leaders,
the more highly we tend to think of our whole society. [But note carefully the
consequences of taking this
too far: see Unas below.]
Another imporatant source of emotional fulfillment for the
Egyptians was their religion. The Egyptians were a polytheistic
people, worshipping gods associated with the forces of nature, e.g.. Re
(Ra), the Sun God. The Egyptians believed that their gods were
benificent, kindly forces that favored.them.
Education was another source of
Apparently, Egyptian schools had a place for able young men regardless
of class. This is an important social saftey valve.
Talented people who feel they have no room to advance can create real
problems for a society. If you let these people prove their
ability through hard work in shcool and give them the chance to join
the governing class as priests or officials, they will work with the
system rather than against it. Further, these kind of individuals
insure fresh ideas and fresh blood in the administrative
ranks--certainly a healthy thing.
Maybe the most important source
of emotional fulfillment in Egypt
was the strong family life. There were few if any divorces--a
good thing. Egyptian art and literature depict husbands and wives
side by side, working together for a common purpose--and this is true
regardless of class. We see the husband-wife team everywhere from
peasant couples to the pharaoh with his wife.
For most individuals, their ability
to form a stable marriage is the
most important single factor in determining whether or not their life
will a happy one. Likewise children feel much more secure when
their parents' marriages are stable. Also, when husbands and
wives stay together, they are much better able to pass their
values on to the next generation.
A final source of emotional
fulfillment was the Egyptian sense of
history. Note that Ptah Hotep looked back to ancestral
tradition. People like a feeling of being part of something that
has lasted for a long time. If it's good enough for our fathers
and mothers, well it's good enough for us.
Weaknesses in the Old Kingdom setup
It is common in history to want
to turn our rulers into supermen,
and many civilizations go so far as to deify their rulers. But, when
this happpens, the leader has a very difficult position description to
match up to! How many of us could handle being a god? It's
so easy, and, when we turn human beings into gods, we are setting them
up for some real potential problems. We see just how bad these
problems can get with a pharaoh like UNAS (c. 2375-2345 BC).
The inscriptions on Unas' pyramid
reflect his struggles trying to live
up to being a god. There are constant reference to his control
over life and death:
They proclaim him a god "with an
indestructible spirit," and
over and over again that whoever Unas wishes one to die will die and
whoever he wishes to live will live.
Unas seems to have killed people
arbitrarily, to have practiced ritual
cannibalism, and to have taken whatever woman he wanted whenver he
wanted--all to prove that he was a god. Not so good for ethical
guidance or emotional fulfillment.
Unas is the last Pharaoh of his
Dynasty (the fifth), so
it seems there may have been some way for the Egyptians to deal with a
pharaoh who went totally off the deep end, but we have no idea how they
might have gone about this.
But even a Pharaoh with none of Unas'
problems is eventually going to
get tripped up by the god business. Real gods don't die:
men pretending to be gods do.
Now how do you preserve the illusion
that pharaoh is a god when he dies
like everyone else?
It's easy enough to see *how*
the Egyptians approached the
problem, but the reason why this seemed a good solution I can't
out. What the Egyptians *did* was to resort to elaborate funeral
rituals that enabled them (somehow) to pretend that their god wasn't
Egyptians started with "mastaba" tombs, "Castles of Eternity," where
pharaoh's were laid to rest along with plenty of good things they might
want or need for an enjoyable after life. And what one might want
most? Well, how about a body? The Egyptians developed
advanced techniques of mumification--supposing, I guess, that the
preserved body might eventually prove useful.
During the reign of the Pharaoh Zoser
Djoser in Chodorow] (c.
2700 BC), one of his priests
(Imhotep) came up with a new tomb idea, the step-pyramid. The
Egyptians called these tombs "ladders of ascent," and the idea was that
the buried pharaoh ascended the ladder of ascent to his place with the
rest of the gods.
Soon, the pyramid style changed, The
steps were filled in, and we get
the great pyramids that, for most of you, are the thing you most
connect with ancient Egypt. They are certainly very impressive,
but was the building of such tombs really a good way to devote the
wealth of Egypt?
The financing and maintenance of
these tombs became an increasing
burden as more and more of them were constructed. To gain the
resources they needed for their projects, the pharaoh's delegated more
and more authroity to the nomarchs, and, eventually, centrallized
government broke down. This leads to a period called the "first
First Illness - 2,200 B.C. - 2,000 B.C.
During this two hundred year
period, Egypt went through a rough
time. There was no single pharaoh. One text asks, "Was Pepi
pharaoh? Was Teti pharaoh? They were all pharaoh, and none
of them was pharaoh." Nevertheless, despite the struggles,
Egyptians civilization recovers--and ends up more successful than
Middle Kingdom Egypt (2000-1750)
Around 2000 BC, the nomarchs
of Thebes became powerful enough
that they could make good their claim to be pharaohs for *all* of
Egypt. This leads to a new period of prosperity, the Middle
Kingdom period. During this period, Egypt has all the good things
originally developed during the Old Kingdom period. In addition,
there are two major advances.
1. Government change
During the Middle Kingdom period,
pharaoh's put less emphasis on
elaborate tombs and instead
concentrated on creating and maintaining a good government. The
values of this period are well reflected in a story called....
The Plea of the Eloquent Peasant [See
Tale of the Eloquent Peasant]
This story reflects the idea that the
job of a good official is in part
to protect the weaker members of society from people who would exploit
them. Here's what it has to say about a good ruler:
For you are the father of
the orphan, the husband of the
brother of the desolate, the garment of the motherless. Let me place
your name in this land higher than all good laws: you guide without
avarice, you great one free from meanness, who destroys deceit, who
Good standards for leaders at any
2. Religious change
Another MK improvement was in the
area of religion accompanied by a
new emphasis on the god Osiris.
According to Egyptian mythology, Osiris was once a king on this earth,
good and wise king. Unfortunately, Set [or Seth], Osiris’s
brother, was jealous of his pharaoh brother. He kills Osiris, and
then chops up Osiris’s body and scatters the pieces all around.
But Osiris had the most wonderful thing any man could have: a good
wife. Isis (Osiris's wife) collects his body parts and with the
water of life, restores Osiris. She and Horus (their son) defeat Set,
and Horace becomes the ruler. But what of Osiris? He rules
too...but in a new kingdom where there is no more death, and where
everthing is wonderful. And, most wonderful of all, there is a
place in this kingdom for you...if you lead the right kind of life.
Egyptians of this period believed
that, at the end of your life, you
would stand before the jakal-headed god Anubis. Your soul would
be weighed against the feather of Ma'at (truth). If you had lived
a good life...well, it's the kingdom of Osiris for you. If
not...well, it's Egyptian tradition (not the Bible) that give us our
detailed vivid images of torment in the afterlife.
A good source of ethical guidance
here: you are assured of reward for
good conduct and punishment for bad conduct. Also, the idea that
wrong is ultimately punished and good rewarded is a great source of
fulfillment. Justice is done, and all's right with the
world. And it's worth making a sacrifice or two for what's
right. Reward is certain to come eventually.
End of the Middle Kingdom
Now the Egyptians were doing so much right
during this Middle Kingdom period, one might have expected this phase
of Egyptian civilization to last even longer than the Old Kingdom
phase. But around 1750, the Egyptians faced on outside threat
they couldn't deal with effectively. A new group of people, the
Hyksos, invaded Egypt. The Hyksos soldiers had body armor and
composite bows, formidable weapons.
Meanwhile, the Egyptians had a weapon
of their own: the clay
image. Egyptians of this period tried to deal with problems by
writing the name of whatever problem they faced on a clay figure, then
smashing that figure with a curse. Now suppose two armies are
about to meet face to face: one equipped with body armor and compound
bows, the other with clay figures ready to smash. Any guess
as to what side is going to win?
Well, at least it's emotionally
fuflilling to smash a clay figure I
In any case, the Hysksos invasion
marks the beginning of what the
The Second Illness
The second illness lasted from
around 1750-1570 BC. We
don't know much about this period, except that the Hyksos dominated at
this time. The Hyksos rulers claimed the title "Pharaoh" for
themselves, and we know the names of the pharaohs from this
period...but not much more. Later Egyptians hated the Hyksos so
much that they deliberately detroyed the records of this period.
That's especially unfortunate for us because this is a period we'd like
to know more about: it's likely that the Israelites (Jacob and his
sons) came into Egypt at this time. If we knew more, it
might shed some light on Biblical stories. The story of Joseph
buying up Egyptian land for pharaoh, for instance, might make sense if
we're thinking of one of the Hyksos pharaoh's struggling to gain
control of a land whose people are resisting their control
The "second illness" comes
to an end with the rise of....
New Kingdom Egypt (1570 B.C. - 1000 B.C.)
New Kingdom Egypt begins with a
man named Ahmose (c. 1570 - 1545
BC). Ahmose imitates Hyksos military techniques, and turns the
tables on them, driving the Hyksos out. He becomes the first
pharaoh of the New Kingdom period.
The Egyptians of the New Kingdom had
at their disposal all the good
things developed during the Old and Middle Kingdom periods. In
addition, the New Kingdom pharaohs add a powerful army.
The Egyptians want to make sure that they are never, ever conquered by
foreigners again. They want the best defense possible, and ,
since the best defense if a good offense, they go on the
offensive. Particulary this is true with fighting pharaoh's
Thutmose I (1525 B.C. - 1495 B.C.)
Thutmose expands Egyptian control up
through Palestine and down to
This means tremendous wealth flooding into Egypt. It also means
expanded opportunities for trade and even more wealth. Egypt at
its height? Well, sort of. But there are problems.
The Egyptian military wants an aggressive foreign policy at all times,
and, if the person on the throne doesn't favor such a policy, there's
trouble. Hatchepsut (wife of Thutmose II who takes over after his
death) was an exceptionally able leader, sponsoring extensive trade and
other wise policies. But the army wanted a more aggressive leader
and so engineered a coup against her, replacing Hatchepsut with her
step-son Thutmose III. Note the potential problem with such
But there was a far bigger
problem. As the Egyptians conquered
other societies, they acquired large numbers of slaves, slaves
they treated very cruelly. They feared slave revolt, and treated
them more cruelly. Note what the Bible says about the treatment
of the Israelites after they had been reduced to the status of slaves.
This leads to a real breakdown in
ethical guidance. Whenever a
society treats one group of people badly, they always end up treating
other people badly as well
But what about Anubis? Did the
Egyptians forget about their date
with him? Not at all. They still believed that they would
be judged by the jackal-headed
god when they got to the entrance of the kingdom of Osiris. But
they believed they could get past close scrutiny--if only they had
recited for them (or buried with them) the collection of mortuary texts
we call the Egyptian Book of the
Priests sold copies of this book as
if was an insurance policy to gain
the Kingdom of Osiris. And as this happened, Egyptians now felt
they had the choice of leading a good life or buying the book to be
entry into the Kingdom of Osiris--and, taking the easy way out, many
decided to just by the book. Now the old standards were still
there theoretically, but no
one really thinks they have to follow them. Once you've got the book, you've got all
sorts of official recognition of one's goodness regardless of actual
conduct. ("I have not: done any harm, robbed the poor, caused
pain, made anyone suffer, cheated in the fields, I am pure, I am pure,
I am pure, etc.") .
Further, many Egyptians begin
(rightly) to view the priests as people
who are simply in for the money--and, ofen enough, as crooks.
And if the priests are crooks and the
priests reflect the gods, well,
maybe the gods are crooks too. Certainly many Egyptian texts from
this period seem to suggest as much. The story of Osiris changes during
the New Kingdom period, and the depiction of the gods and their
conflicts is pretty disgusting to say the least.
The decay in religion as a source of
ethical guidance made the
Pharaoh's job more difficult.
They started making exceptionally harsh laws--a clear sign they
felt they were losing control.
Now Egypt was so wealthy and so
powerful, the final collapse was not
going to come for quite some time. Nevertheless, by the time of
Isaiah (c. 750 BC) Egypt was a shadow of its former self, a broken reed
Isaiah calls it.
In 654 BC, The Assyrians conquer
Egypt. In 525 BC, the Persians conquer
Egypt. In 332 BC, Alexander the Great conquers Egypt, and in 31 BC,
the Romans annex Egypt.
Neverthess, through all these
setbacks, the Egyptians continued to get
one thing right. Even in some of the darkest days of Egyptian
history, the Egyptians produced some beautiful love poems, and there
remained in this society a strong sense that there was one man or
woman would should give ones hear to with complete devotion. As
long as that foundation remains, the emphasis on a solid love
relationship between man and wife, a society can survive quite a
Well, we will see.