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By A.I. Makki

  The archeologists excavating the remains of the civilization of the Nile Valley Delta believe that man had inhabited the area and the surrounding deserts ever since the Ice Ages. However, the Ice Age did not extend to North Africa, which made it possible for people to settle down on the banks of the Nile River building their mud huts made up of poles, intertwined with twigs, reeds, branches and straw. The stone implements left by these early people make the archeologists believe that they were probably hunters who made up the colonies of early settlements and they were probably originating from different parts of the Mediterranean Region. They used weapons, which were made up of beautifully fashioned flints. However, the origins of the early Egyptians will remain a puzzle to the historians to this day.

  The early people were probably living in agricultural communities who cultivated the lands of the banks of the River Nile after the rainy season, which made the soil around the Delta fit for cultivation. By 7000 BCE, it is assumed, there was a push of various tribes into the fertile Valley from the Asiatic east, who joined the existing settlements, as the valley was green, forested, peopled, and rich in animal life. They brought with them various cattle to cultivate the lands, and raised goats, sheep and kept duck and geese. Asses were used as beasts of burden. The ornaments – discovered by archeologists – were made up of ivory and shell. There is evidence to suggest that these people used rogue and malachite as paint. They designed beautiful pottery and invented the use of glazes. Above all, they invented writing – writing at first primitive and pictographic – and later developed into hieroglyphics on one hand, and a phonetic system on the other.

  Even then, the early Egyptians carried a lucrative trade with other countries in the Mediterranean region and along the coasts of the North African continent. The early ships designed by them were about one hundred feet long and were sometimes manned by as many as sixty oarsmen. Painted on the cabins of their ships were emblems of their homeport, which was an elephant, crescent, a fish etc.

  During the Bronze Age – about 6000 BCE – it is believed that the Nile Valley Civilization came under the rule of Kings. Stone was used by the third dynasty for the first time in the place of bricks. King Djoser of Egypt was the first person to construct a step pyramid, as his tomb, with temples and palaces and Chapel near the area of Saqqara.

  By this time, the famed riches of the Egypt had attracted the attention of King Menes of Thinis, who invaded Egypt probably crossing the Red Sea. The history claims that he was the first among the kings of Egypt who was responsible for unifying the Upper and Lower Egypt under his rule. He successfully defeated the Libyans and during his time – 3500 to 2900 BCE – the Egyptian army had extended its rule into the neighboring Nubian Kingdom and expanded to the First Cataract of the River Nile. Menes also founded the City of Memphis, and chose its location on an island on the River Nile – a site located twenty miles away from Cairo - so that it would be easy to defend against an enemy attack. He was also the founder of a city called Crocodopolis.

  During the Old Kingdom of Egypt, estimated to have started from 2686 – 2181 BCE, the Great Pyramids of Egypt were built. Death, the Egyptians believed, was a continuation of life, which is the reason they spent so much time and effort in preparing for it. The great stones for these pyramids were quarried from the Western side of the River Nile, often far from the building site and were towed on rafts across the river – a very delicate act of navigation – that made the task difficult because of the strong flood currents of the river. The stones, which were shaped in the form of squares, weighed as much as ten tons.

  It is believed that these tombs were built in steps, and then an earthen ramp was constructed to reach the highest ‘step,’ the stones dragged to the top on sledges placed on rollers. Slaves were not employed to build these Pyramids. It was done with the help of hundreds of thousands of agricultural workers. It is alleged that Cheops used to personally visit this area to supervise the construction of his tomb (480 feet high) soaring upwards to meet the rays of the Sun-god Ra.

  During the rule of the Pharaohs, Senusert III defeated the southern Nubians and took many captives. He extended his kingdom as far as the Third Cataract of the River Nile where he built a great castle to defend his new frontiers. Apparently, it was as strong as the Norman castles of Britain built to defend the frontier from Wales three thousand years later. By this time, the Pharaohs had ruled the Kingdom of Egypt for nearly thirteen dynasties.

  The era of Shepherd Kings  (2090 – 1580 BCE) began with the invasion of the Hyskos, which was one of the greatest national disasters that occurred to Egypt. The Hyskos originally came from Oxus, via Media, and brought with them chariots and horses from Central Asia, which was never seen in that part of the world before. They were also armed with bronzed scimitars.

  On their march into Egypt, they brought with them many other tribes, including the Hebrews. This is the period of the Biblical Exodus. It was at some point during this period that Prophet Yusuf (Joseph) entered into the service of one the Hyskos kings and rose to high position in his court.

  However, the original inhabitants of Egypt were extremely angry under the Hyskos rule, and finally the Princes of Thebes organized themselves, and under Ahmose I they roused the people of Egypt to a revolt against the foreign invaders, and in a great naval battle that took place on a lake on the Nile Delta they gained their first victory over the invaders.

  After many battles, the Hyskos rulers were driven out of Egypt. However, they left the Hebrews (The Children of Israel) behind them who were subjected to a great deal of cruelty and used as slaves by the Egyptian Pharaohs. Amenhotep I, the son of Ahmose I consolidated on his father’s military gains and extended his borders, and put the country on the path of prosperity, a period the lasted for 150 years.

  It was during the reign of one of the Pharaohs - the Bible and the Holy Qur'an do not mention him by his name - that God commissioned Prophet Moses, to liberate the Children of Israel from their bondage. After severe trials, and tribulations, the Pharaoh reluctantly agreed to free his Hebrew slaves. Led by Moses, they left the capital city of the Pharaohs, and traveled across the flatlands of the Nile Delta until they reached a point near Suez, where the Red Sea separated them from the mainland on the other side. Now, the Pharaoh was having set the Israelites free was having second thoughts of enslaving them again. He led his soldiers on a fierce pursuit of his former slaves. According to the accounts given in the Bible and the Holy Qur’an, God made it possible for Moses and the Israelites to cross the Red Sea with the help of a fierce wind that parted the sea into two making a way for them to cross on the other side. However, when the Pharaoh attempted to follow Moses and his followers, the wind changed flooding the way that had been created for the Israelites drowning the Pharaoh and his Egyptian hosts forever.

  The Armana Age (2065 BCE) began after the rule of the Theban princes with the ascension of a Queen Hatshepshut to the throne of Egypt; an amazing achievement for a woman in those days, for it went contrary to all Egyptian customs and traditions for a woman to rule the Kingdom. Earlier, she had married Thutmose II, her half-brother – not an unusual practice in ancient times - and after the untimely death of her husband, the clever queen first ruled on behalf of Thutmose III, the infant king. But later she dropped all pretense and established herself as a Pharaoh, and soon found out a way to overcome the objections of the priests and her courtiers - she started dressing up like a man and wearing a false beard to extend her authority over them. In her reign, she expanded Egyptian trade, and visited the Land of Punt (Somaliland) from where her ships returned with a rich haul of cargo after trading profitably on foreign shores.

  Pharaoh Thutmose III (1500 BCE) who succeeded Hatshepshut made Egypt once again regain her lost glory, and became a leading military power to which all the surrounding countries paid homage. The kings as far as from lands of Euphrates and Tigris sent their embassies to the Pharaoh, bearing rich tributes, which included horses, elephants, cattle and other precious gifts. Thutmose III had also waged a war against a confederation of states of North Syria and Palestine, which under the leadership of Kadish had rebelled against his rule. At a great battle that took place in 1479 BCE outside the town of Megiddo, Thutmose III defeated the rebels and emerged victorious.  The rebels fled into the center of their fortified city. Thothemes laid siege to the city, and later captured it. From there, he crossed the River Euphrates into the land of Mittani.

  The next Pharaoh to succeed Thutmose III was Amenhotep, and he proved his genius as a great military leader by defeating the Nubians in a fierce battle and extended the frontiers of his kingdom as far as Shendi, today south of modern Khartoum. His fame as a military leader spread far and wide, and the great kings of Babylon gladly agreed to pay him a tribute, and a Babylonian princess was sent to him to be his wife. It was under him that the Kingdom of Egypt underwent a building spree that included the creation of colossal statues and temples throughout the land.

  During Amenhotep’s rule, the Syrians again revolted, but were once more defeated. It is recorded the victorious Pharaoh returned to his capital of Thebes with the captive rebel chieftains in 2450 BCE. Now the splendor of Egypt reached its peak. One of the most impressive buildings of that period is the great temple of Karnak. However, his son Amenhotep IV, better known as Akhenaton was perhaps one of the strangest Pharaohs of his time. He was a poet, a philosopher, and a pacifist, and he tried to make his people abandon the pantheon of gods worshipped in his time, and introduced the worship of the One Universal God. He built a new sacred capital at Amarna and lived there along with his beautiful wife Nefertiti. He is supposed to have built eight temples dedicated to the worship of One God – Aton – the “source of all life” in Thebes and all over the world.

  It is believed that under his rule, the might of the Egyptian empire declined. But, under the succeeding Pharaohs, Semnkhkara, Tutankahton (Tutunkhamen), Horemheb (1330-105 BCE) – one of the ablest military commanders of his time - and the great Seti I, and his son Ramses, the surrounding Asiatic kingdoms were subdued, and after the defeat of Hittites on the bank of the River Orontes peace was ultimately restored. The age of Ramses, with its imposing statues and buildings marks the climax of the age of the Pharaohs. 

  However, the neighboring lands of Egypt coveted the great granary of the Nile with its fertile delta and riches. Wars continued to be fought until the reign of Ramses IV, the last of the great Pharaohs. He defeated a great force of Asiatics, Philistines and the Cretans who were ranged against him in a decisive sea battle at the mouth of the Nile.

  The reign of the succeeding dynasties of the Pharaohs from the twentieth to the twenty-seventh, saw the decline of the military power of Egyptians. First, Libyan mercenaries ruled Egypt, and it was followed by the rule of the Negro Pharaohs from Nubia in 725 BCE. In the year 670 BCE, the Assyrians under Asarhadon attacked Egypt; Cambyses the King of Persia, in turn, drove them out of Egypt, and there followed a period of Persian domination. During this time a canal from the Nile to the Red Sea was completed.

  In 332 BCE, Alexander the Great marched into Egypt without meeting any resistance on the way, and was hailed by the Egyptians as liberator from the Persian rule. At this time, Alexandria became a great center of Greek learning. It was here that the Pharos, the great lighthouse of the world was built, and became famous as one of the seven wonders throughout the ancient world.

  Alexander appointed a Macedonian General Ptolemaios to rule Egypt. This was the beginning of the Ptolemaic Dynasty, and the most famous queen of this period was Cleopatra. When the Romans defeated the Greeks in 33 CE, Egypt became the granary of the Roman Empire. During this period Julius Caesar visited Egypt and fell in love with the beautiful Cleopatra. However, Caesar was murdered soon after, and “the triumvirs,” made up of Octavius who was Caesar’s adopted son, Mark Anthony and Lepidus, ruled the Roman Empire. Mark Anthony ruled the Western Empire from Egypt, where he fell in love with Cleopatra too. Octavius wished to rule alone, sent his fleet against Mark Anthony, who was living in the luxury of the Egyptian court, and was caught totally unaware of his war plans until it was too late. In the great naval battle at Actium, Anthony was defeated. Cleopatra fled from the scene in her barge and it is believed that she committed suicide.

  The only interruption of the Roman rule until the collapse of the Empire was the short-lived invasion of Egypt of the beautiful queen Zenobia from Palmyra in 270 CE. Her reign was brief and the Roman Emperor Aurelian who took her prisoner defeated her and she was brought to Rome bound in golden chains, and a gold collar. The Emperor Aurelian got her married to one of his senators, and she lived with him in his estate, as his wife until the end of her life.


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