July 11, 2012

Egyptian Luxor Overview Part Two

During the long pre-dynastic years while these two capitals flourished independently, sometimes peacefully, sometimes clashing in armed strife, ancient Thebes slumbered. When the southern kingdom overcame the northern and the two were united into a single state, the people of ancient Thebes continued to live as did their fathers and their fathers’ fathers before them: a simple rural existence where the annual flood was the all-important event of the year and the regular channelling of its flow the most creative activity. Little was known of activities elsewhere.

In the north Menes founded the 1st Dynasty and set up his capital at Memphis. After years of frustrated effort towards unity came the ultimate solution. The Pharaoh of Egypt was henceforth a god, the God-king of a single united country. And not only was he to be recognised as divine and worshipped as such during his lifetime, but his cult should be continued for ever after in a mortuary temple.

With King Zoser we pass from the Early Dynastic Period of the first two dynasties (c. 3100-2686 B.C.) to the period of the Old Kingdom, extending from the 3rd to the 6th Dynasties (c. 2686-2181 B.C.). Zoser exercised complete control over Upper and Lower Egypt. In his reign vessels over fifty metres long were constructed for river traffic, the copper mines in Sinai were exploited, commerce was carried on with the Phoenician coast, cedarwood was imported from Lebanon, slaves from Nubia. And he instructed his gifted architect, Imhotep, to erect the first large structure of stone known in history: the Step Pyramid at Sakkara.

By this time three different communities seem to have grown up in the area of Luxor, each of which recognised the hawk-headed Montu as emblem or deity. Armant, to the south, was the largest. Medawad was situated about four kilometres to the north, and Tud was a settlement on the eastern bank of the Nile fifteen kilometres to the south. All three were quite important centres for commerce, but otherwise of no particular significance.

Then came the 4th Dynasty and the epoch of powerful monarchs whose great pyramids at Dahshur and Giza secured them undying “T16-. Sneferu, Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure. Only a strong and effective government such as that under Khufu could have envisaged and organised, as we assume that it did, the erection of the great pyramid of Giza, by one hundred thousand men over twenty years. This was the development of organised society under one controlling mind and it was a period of unprecedented grandeur, out Thebes was hardly affected.

In the 5th Dynasty Egypt’s civilization attained new heights. In particular her art reached a degree of perfection never known e ore. Commerce existed with Punt on the Somali coast. The quarries of Wadi Hammamat in the eastern desert were opened. The benefits were being reaped of years of intelligent, single-minded and imaginative administration. But then something happened that was to have far-reaching consequences. The unlimited power enjoyed by the Pharaohs was partly passed to their officials, and the result was an inevitable weakening of Pharaonic power. In fact the 6th Dynasty saw the local governors actually shaking themselves free of the Pharaoh’s yoke and establishing independence.

And Thebes? Political awareness was dawning at last. After the fall of the monarchy in Memphis there was a readjustment of the scales of power. This was in what historians refer to as the First Intermediate Period, the 7th to the early nth Dynasties (c. 2181-2040 B.C.). Some of the independent kings in the north established themselves at Herakleopolis and others at Memphis. The disorganisation and weakness of the 7th and 8th Dynasties, which lasted for a mere thirty years, gave way to 285 years of Herakleopolitan rule in the 9th and 10th Dynasties when some degree of order was restored. Although little is known about them, the last rulers in the family line were powerful monarchs. And in the south power was seized by another family of monarchs, whose capital was Armant, neighbouring Thebes. Towards the close of the 10th Dynasty this family forced their way northwards from Thebes. Little by little they extended their authority, annexing local provinces and establishing themselves until the inevitable clash with the rulers of the north. The struggle was fierce and long and resulted in triumph for the south. Thus, after almost three centuries of disorder, Intef and Mentuhotep succeeded in reuniting the country. Theban supremacy was recognised, trade was resumed, confidence was re-established. And Amon was at last introduced to Thebes, not as a local deity, like Wast and Montu before him, but as the national god.

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