The Old and Middle Kingdoms of Egypt (page 2)

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 3, 2012

The Great Pyramids

A pyramid is a final resting place for the pharaoh. The impressive size and scale of the pyramids at Saqqara and Giza make three things clear. First, they demonstrate the pharaoh’s power, authority, and central importance in Egyptian society. Second, they prove the Egyptians were able to organize and carry through a project on a grand scale. Some of the Great Pyramids took more than twenty years to build, and some of the stones were brought to the Nile River valley from five hundred miles away. Third, they provide evidence of an orderly society. The pyramids represent the combined efforts of thousands of laborers who had to fit every stone into place with no technology except levers, sleds, and their own strength. It is clear that only a stable and well-organized society could have carried through such massive projects over such a length of time.

There is clear archaeological evidence of Mesopotamian influence on the early Egyptians. The styles of art and architecture, the systems of writing, and the use of official seals all came from the Mesopotamians. This indicates a certain degree of trade and cultural exchange between the civilizations.

Surviving Egyptian art and architecture are remarkable both for their state of preservation and their beauty and style. Egyptian artists portrayed gods and goddesses, ordinary mortals, and animals in a variety of settings and activities— everything from battles and royal ceremonies to fishing, cooking, and farming. This extraordinary level of artistic achievement and the prominence given to its display are typical of highly advanced human civilizations.


The Egyptians were the first to use papyrus—a plant material similar to thick paper or parchment—as a writing surface. Papyrus is prone to curl, and thus the scroll format was adopted for texts of any length. The Egyptians developed a complex writing system of hieroglyphs—a small picture to represent each word. This system took a long time to learn and was used only by priests. Scribes, of whom there were hundreds throughout the bureaucracy, wrote in a kind of shorthand called hieratic script.

Mathematics and Science

The Egyptians achieved little of note in the areas of mathematics and science; the pyramids are impressive feats of engineering, but they are not the result of sophisticated mathematical ability. The Egyptians did invent the embalming process by which corpses are preserved as mummies—the hot, dry climate of Egypt, of course, was a powerful aid in preservation. Egyptians also devised the first calendar that divided the year into twelve 30-day months, with an extra five-day week at the end to account for the full 365-day year.


Egyptian women seem to have had more choices, more power, and greater opportunities than women in other ancient civilizations—more, in fact, than most women would have in any culture for many centuries to come. The records show that women served as pharaohs, priestesses, and scribes. Female pharaohs were considered just as divine and powerful as their male counter- parts; the fact that both men and women were given the same title, pharaoh, shows that they were considered equals.

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