jueves, 22 de marzo de 2018

The Nile Civilization and the Great Pharaoh (part 1).

Through times, there have existed some cultures which dissapeared leaving behind only their works. But also, they have set out an enigma about who they were, how they lived and why they vanished. It could have happened to the Ancient Egypt civilization, despite of their archaelogical remains... those material signals and wonders, which have been the object of an ethernal looting.

Chefren's Pyramid and Sphinx at Giza, Egypt. Photo: Hajor, 2002. en.wikipedia
Lic. CC-BY-SA 3.0

As a matter of fact, life in Egypt was an unresolved issue along many centuries. If we take a closer look, its history has been like a huge puzzle, very slowly assembled and still with many missing pieces.

Herodotus. Ancient Agora Museum, Athens
Lic. CC BY-SA 3.0

By the Fifth Century before Christ (BC.), Herodotus, a greek historician began to search on the Egiptian past... but he only produced a group of scattered tales. Near 280 BC. a priest called Maneton, wrote in Greek (fortunately), a History and Cronology about the ancient kings of Egypt, from their origins till the times of Alexander the Great. His writings and historical sources have dissapeared, but several scholars from the antiquity could read them. They used Maneton's work, somehow saving it for the posterity.

Alexander the Great. Roman mosaic, ca 100aC. (detail). Source: The Guardian.
Is important to keep in mind that by the times of Alexander (332 AC.) Egypt already had a long history of millenniums. Hence, those writings surely had many and inmense "blackouts and gaps". 

Tutmose II (Aakheperenre) hieroglyphic. Photo:
Przemyslaw Idzkiewicz. Lic: CC-BY- SA 2.5
So many visible inscriptions on the monuments, tombs and papyrus, were a mystery. All those messages, among such a greatness, and nobody could understand them! The ancient Egyptians' script could not be interpreted for a good reason, was very complicated. Some experts, even came to think that were "riddles", and drawed conclusions without a real support.

The Rossetta Stone. British Museum,London. Dig, photo:
 Nicolás Pérez Gómez. Loaded by: Lourdes Cardenal
Source: Universal Free Enciclopedia  Lic. CC-BY-SA 3.0

This situation remained till the late 18th Century, when Napoleon's forces invaded Egypt. Among his people there were wise men and experts, who "collected" and classified every archaeological item. That way they showed their interest and respect for the ancient culture. But one day, at the city of Rashid (Rosetta) they found a stele made of polished basalt, filled with inscriptions. It was written in three different languages: Hieroglyphic, Demotic and Greek, along three separated sections. From the begining they guessed that was the same message, written in those languages. Maybe in their hands was the key to understand the egiptian language... but how to use it? 

Jean-Francois Champollion. By: Léon Cogniet, 1831.
Louvre Museum. References: Joconde database 000PE000522
After several attempts and failures of highly qualified linguists, there was some progress. By the year 1822, Jean-Francois Champollion with his hard work and high ingenuity, could decode the hieroglyphic writings. This finally opened the doors to a great, captivating and yet so unknown past. The life and works of this man are very interesting. Would be worthwhile to make a virtual visit to this remarkable human being.

Champollion's notebook. 19th century. Source: Les Cahiers de Science et Vie:
Les origines de l'escriture. {{PD-US}}

With this tool at hand, was possible to study, date and had a better look to the past of that country. A culture whose origins go back to the year 5000 BC. approximately. We are talking of seven thousand years ago.

The Nile river. Photo: Xosé Calvo, 2005.
The amazing and astonishing Egypt Civilization, always was bound to the river Nile existence. To conquer and domesticate the immense river for their use, impulsed the progress of the early inhabitants of those lands. Its annual floods left a fertile strip of land in the middle of the desert, which meant life to that country. 

Also, we should take into account the relative isolation of Egypt. Surrounded by huge deserts and by the sea, it was like a true "historic-cultural ecosystem". That made this civilization grow in the middle of special conditions, so becoming obstinately traditionalists. This was very marked on their religion and beliefs.

Egypt. From: www.todoegipto.org

Egyptian History began with their first written registers, around the year 3100 BC. This coincided with the time when the two main regions of the country were joined under one king. The lands of the Nile delta, received the name of Lower Egypt, while the rest of the territory was the Upper Egypt. 

Narmer Palette, facsimile. Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto

By then, at the dawn of history, Menes (Narmer) conquered and merged both reigns. He was from the Upper Egypt, and all the registers and cronologies from the egyptian kings, begin with him. Those who followed king Menes through many centuries were part of families or Dynasties, and these were grouped in Periods (as Maneton did). All those milleniums made them went through magnificent Periods, but there were decadent and inestable times too. Also, is very likely that exist several errors and imprecisions in all these. 

Saqqara pyramid. Assumed author: Marperi, 2005. CC BY 2.5
As we said, the country had greatness or declining times. They conquered and expanded, but also they had foreign invaders taking on Egypt. Incompetent  or wise monarchs... The capital city was continuosly moved at the king's ease or convenience. All this ups and downs are logical during such a long history.

Golden death mask of Tutankhamum. Egyptian Museum
Cairo, Egypt. Photo: MykReeve, 2002. en.wikipedia
Lic. CC BY-SA 3.0
The leading figure on Egypt History was the king, or pharaoh, always infused with a divine-like nature... although most of the time his human origin was evident. Such a greatness, joined to their religious beliefs, made their funeral rites more and more sophisticated. That ended in the magnificence of their culture, giving some of the most spectacular works ever made by man.

Among all pharaohs, maybe one is the most famous for his battles and constructions, but also for his personality cult and egocentrism. He was Ramesses II, who ruled over Egypt for many years, since 1290 BC. His father was Seti I... but we better travel again to that epoch and places, mysterious and fascinating. To visit a world which has captivated man's imagination for such a long time.

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