July 1, 2013

The Environment of Ancient Egypt

The Environment
Egypt is a land with well defined boundaries. To the east and west are vast deserts. To the north is the Mediterranean Sea. To the south there was a formidable granite barrier - now inundated - beyond which lay the barren land of Nubia.

The Environment of Ancient Egypt
These physical barriers were, of course, open to cultural influences, and could be traversed by groups of traders. But they impeded large bodies of troops. This gave the ancient Egyptians a great sense of security and confidence. They had the feeling that divine providence protected their land and set them apart from their neighbours. They were the remeth, ‘the (true) men’. The others were ‘sand-dwellers’, ‘sand-wanderers’, or people other than Egyptians. Theirs was a flat and largely uniform landscape, blessed with eternal sunshine and a lifegiving annual flood. Hill country was foreign land.

Within these recognisable boundaries, however, was a land divided: Upper Egypt, which extended from Aswan to a point just south of modern Cairo, was, apart from the narrow strip of land flanking the river, largely barren. The triangle of the Delta, or Lower Egypt, was extremely fertile. The climate in Upper Egypt was semi-tropical. That of the Delta was temperate. Such physical and climatic differences naturally gave rise to different cultures, different experiences and different outlooks.

Pre-dynastic pottery, for example, was stamped, like the land itself, by a distinct character; black-topped, burnished ware was found in Upper Egypt, and wide-lipped, buff-coloured pottery in Lower Egypt. The inhabitants of Upper Egypt remained semi- nomadic even after those of Lower Egypt had settled down to farming. Control of river water in largely barren Upper Egypt required the digging of canals and blockage in basins against times of need. In the Delta settlements were made on natural knolls. The hardy Upper Egyptians, who were closely linked with Nubia and Kush, tended to be somewhat suspicious by nature. The Lower Egyptians, culturally oriented to the Mediterranean and the lands of Asia, were tolerant of strangers.

Little wonder, then, that dualism should enter into the very political organisation of the country, which was reflected in the Two Lands of Upper and Lower Egypt. The ruler was Lord of the Two Lands, even at a time when the frontiers of Egypt were extended well beyond its borders.

Ancient Egypt Environment
 Unification has been ascribed to Narmer (Menes). He was the first king to be portrayed wearing both the White Crown of Upper Egypt and the Red Crown of Lower Egypt, having brought the whole of the Nile valley under his domination from the First Cataract, south of Aswan, to the Mediterranean sea.

Social attitudes, however, did not end with unification. In fact they remained such that an Egyptian exile, bewildered at finding himself in a foreign country, wrote that . .it was as if a man of the Delta were to see himself in Elephantine.'’ And the different dialects of the people of Upper and Lower Egypt were expressed thus: ‘. . . your speeches . . . are confused when heard . . . they are like the words of a man of the Delta marshes with a man of Elephantine.'’


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