|#1 Arts and Crafts of Ancient Egyptians
How did the innovations of ancient Egypt impact its neighbors and future civilizations?
Howard Carter was not the only archaeologist to find amazing art and artifacts inside the tomb of a pharaoh. Much of the early art of ancient Egypt was created within tombs. Their murals, or wall paintings, showed daily activities, historical events, and afterlife scenes of the individual buried in the tomb.
The main purpose of tomb murals was to express important values and beliefs. For this reason, the paintings, while carefully executed, did not focus on realism. Instead, they showed an ideal world. In paintings of individuals, artists showed not what they saw, but what they knew to be there. Faces were shown in profile, but both eyes could be seen. Bodies were shown from the front, making both arms and both legs visible. Finally, artists used scale to show social standing and importance—they depicted the pharaoh as larger than his servants.
Like the surviving paintings of ancient Egypt, most of the sculptures archaeologists have found were in tombs or monuments honoring rulers. Unlike the paintings, these royal sculptures achieved a high degree of realism. Egyptian sculptures and carvings of ordinary people and animals were also lifelike. This realism in sculpture can be seen in the works of later civilizations as well.
Egyptian craftspeople also created beautiful jewelry. Egyptian men and women wore a lot of jewelry. They turned gold and silver into necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. They also used makeup similar to today’s cosmetics. They applied rouge and blush to their cheeks, favored bright red lipstick, and used thick eyeliner, called kohl. They ground up a stone called malachite to make a green eye shadow. They probably did not realize it, but the malachite helped protect their eyes from damage from the sun. Women were responsible for household chores, which included the making of clothing, jewelry, and makeup.
How did the religion and mythology of Ancient Egypt influence other cultures?
The Egyptians believed in many gods. The gods controlled almost every aspect of life. Hundreds of years later, the Greeks and Romans changed the names of some of these gods and adopted them into their own cultures.
One of the Egyptian deities was Maat. She was the goddess of truth and justice. The Egyptians believed that when they died, Maat would decide if they had lived a good life by weighing their hearts on a scale. If they had, they would be admitted to an afterlife similar to the paradise or heaven described in other religions. If they did not, they could be cast out into nothingness. Maat was often depicted with scales, similar to those carried by Lady Justice, the modern-day symbol of justice.
Ancient Egyptians considered the pharaoh a god. His most important job as ruler was to maintain good relations with the other Egyptian deities, or gods, to protect and provide for his subjects. This developed into the idea of the “divine right” of kings in Europe, who claimed their powers came from God and that they were not responsible to any earthly authority.
Maat, the Goddess of Truth, with a deceased pharaoh.
#3 Medical Discoveries
What did the Egyptians know about medicine?
Like many early civilizations, ancient Egyptians believed that illness was caused by evil spirits. They often used rituals to try to cure the sick. But Egyptian doctors also used herbal remedies and scientific treatments to treat specific symptoms.
They used medicinal plants and herbs, made people drink teas made with insect parts, and rubbed animal dung on wounds. Doctors used a lot of trial and error when treating patients. They slowly learned which methods worked and which did not. The doctors kept careful records of what they tried and what worked.
Some doctors were also surgeons. They specialized in treating eyes and stomach diseases. Because Egypt is in a desert, the food had a lot of sand in it. That meant many Egyptians had very poor teeth, so there were also doctors who specialized in treating teeth.
Egyptian doctors used their skills on the living and the dead. Doctors mummified bodies, preserving them for the afterlife. To do this, they needed to remove the heart, lungs, kidney, and brain. For this reason, the physicians’ knowledge of anatomy, the inside of the human body, was very good. The drawings Egyptian physicians made are as detailed and accurate as those in some modern-day medical textbooks. Recent X-rays of some mummies show that ancient Egyptian doctors set broken bones as well as doctors in modern emergency rooms.
Because of their knowledge and skill, Egyptian physicians were highly respected. Pharaohs sometimes sent their doctors to treat important members of friendly nations. Egyptian doctors were sent to teach in Greece and other places around the Mediterranean Sea.
Medical instruments carved on a wall in ancient Egypt.
#4 The Architecture of the Pyramids
How did the pyramids influence architecture?
The pyramids are the best known symbols of ancient Egypt. Architects, draftspeople, and contractors invented the solutions to difficult problems they encountered while building the pyramids. They created the square base as the foundation of pyramids, developed an understanding of angles, and created a basic system of measurement. These ancient Egyptian techniques have been used for every building project since then, from adding a deck to a house to constructing a skyscraper. Some of their methods remain a mystery, even today!
The Egyptians made their pyramids, temples, and public buildings on a very large scale. This showed how important these structures and the rituals and proceedings that occurred there were to the ancient Egyptians. Large open areas usually surrounded those buildings. The buildings were used for public meetings, ceremonies, and festivals. Today, many government buildings, civic centers, and important places of worship are designed in a similar style.
The Great Stone Pyramids at Giza, Egypt
#5 Reading and Writing in Ancient Egypt
Early civilizations had no form of written language. Everything was spoken. There was no way to post laws, write directions, or record sales.
The Egyptians began using pictures as a form of writing. Each picture represented an idea or a word. For example, a picture of a vulture was the symbol for the word "mother." These are called logograms. Logo is the Greek word for "word," and gram is the Greek word for "sign."
Other pictures were used to represent a sound. A lion represented the sound “r.” These are called phonograms. Phono is the Greek word for "sound." Using the logograms and phonograms together, the Egyptians created hieroglyphics, a form of writing. The word hieroglyphics means “sacred carving.” The hieroglyphics allowed Egyptians to track their business transactions, praise their rulers, and record their history.
#6 The Invention of Paper
How did Egyptians preserve their written records?
At first, Egyptians painted or carved hieroglyphics onto stone or clay. While that meant information was permanently recorded, it was not exactly portable. To solve this problem, the Egyptians learned how to make a kind of paper from papyrus, a reed that grows in the Nile River. They also developed ink and a type of pen called a stylus; these were used by scribes, or official government recorders, to write on the papyrus. For the first time, information could be permanently written, transported, and stored.
Having permanent and easily transportable writing was an important development in Egyptian society, especially in the areas of government and commerce. For the first time, people could keep historical records and record and distribute laws and regulations. Merchants could keep a record of their inventories and record the important details of all of their sales and transactions.
Because Egyptians used writing only for important matters, such as recording business transactions, writing treaties, setting taxes, and documenting important events, only the scribes and a few members of the royal family and upper classes knew how to read or write. The upper classes did not want the ordinary Egyptian workers, citizens, and enslaved people to have this ability.
For centuries, archaeologists struggled to understand hieroglyphics. In 1799, French soldiers found a large rock near the city of Rashid, which was also known as Rosetta. It was inscribed with one message written in three different scripts. One form of the message was written in hieroglyphics, one was written in demotic script (another form of Egyptian writing), and one was written in Greek. Scholars realized the message was the same in all three scripts and were finally able to decipher the hieroglyphics by using the Greek translation. The rock, called the Rosetta Stone, is on display at the British Museum in London.
The development of written language and the creation of papyrus enabled Egyptians to make consistent communications among themselves as well as with their neighbors. It also ensured their beliefs, ideas, and knowledge could be passed down to future generations and civilizations. Much of what we know about ancient Egyptians today comes from their written records.
By translating the Greek writing on the Rosetta stone, scholars were able to translate hieroglyphics.
What did the Egyptians know about mathematics?
In addition to a system of writing, Egyptians also created numerals and had an understanding of mathematical concepts.
The Egyptian numeric system was similar to that used by the Romans. Individual symbols were used for 1, 10, 100, and so on. Numbers were created by repeating the number of symbols for each place value. For example, Egyptians wrote “21” by writing the symbol for 10 twice and the symbol for 1 one time.
The Egyptians also understood mathematical concepts and operations. Documents show examples of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems. Egyptians also could solve more complex problems using fractions and basic concepts of geometry.
The Egyptian system of mathematics was centered on common problems they faced and was mostly used in surveying farmland and the construction of buildings. Although their understanding of math was not advanced, it served as the basis for work done by later civilizations, such as the Greeks.
#8 How Much and How Big
Why did Egyptians develop a standard system of weights and measures?
The Egyptians did not use coins and money to conduct business. They bartered, or traded goods. If you are trading two fish for a loaf of bread, it is easy to keep track of what you are trading. But how would you know if one pile of wheat is the same as another?
A standard set of weights is important when you are trading goods. Merchants agreed on how valuable something was based on its weight. Egyptians used rings, called debens, to weigh goods on a balance scale. Every deben weighed the same amount, about 12 grams, so a deben in one market weighed the same as a deben in another market. They also agreed on a standard size of container. Jars and chests of the same size were used to measure out grain, honey, and gold dust.
Travelers and farmers needed a way to measure distances. Because the Nile River flooded every year, farmers needed a way to determine where their fields had been before the flooding.
The Egyptians measured distances and lengths by cubits. One cubit was the length of a person’s arm from his elbow to the tips of his fingers. It was not completely accurate, as everyone’s arms are different. The architects building the pyramids used rods that were all the same length to make sure no variations affected the construction.They also measured with long lengths of rope that featured evenly spaced knots tied a cubit apart from one another.
By standardizing weights and measures, Egyptians ensured that trading could be practiced fairly across Egypt and throughout the region. As Egyptians traveled to other lands to trade, they extended their influence over those cultures.
#9 Trade Networks
How did Egyptian innovations spread throughout the world?
Ancient Egyptians invented large ships to carry goods across the Mediterranean Sea.
Ancient Egyptian merchants used trade networks to ship their goods throughout the ancient world. They would export goods they wanted to sell and import goods they needed from other nations. Egyptian caravans crossed deserts to cities in the modern-day countries of Libya, Afghanistan, and Iran. Egyptians also traveled across the sea to trade.
The Egyptians used cedar planks they received in trades with other civilizations to build ships that could safely cross the Mediterranean Sea. The pieces of cedar wood were tied together with reeds and then covered with pitch. Egyptian ships had both oars, as many as 20 a side on larger ships, and sails to help them navigate the vast open waters. These merchant ships visited Crete, Greece, and Lebanon. Some of the cities the Egyptian merchants visited connected with other trade routes that went to India and Asia.
At first, trading occurred mainly between rulers. The pharaohs sent gifts of grain, pottery, dried fish, linen, and gold to rulers they wanted to impress or put in their debt. In return, those rulers sent gifts or payment of wood, livestock, and gems that were not found in Egypt. The pharaoh Hatshepsut, who was one of the few women to rule Egypt, led a trading expedition to the distant land of Punt in modern-day Ethiopia and Djibouti.
As they traded, Egyptians brought their innovations to other civilizations. Merchants used the standard weights and measurements of Egypt to ensure fair trading. They also recorded their trades on papyrus using their system of writing. Many of these innovations were adopted by other civilizations and then adapted to fit their own needs.
Conquest also played a role in Egyptian influence. Egypt engaged in many wars. It had a strong, well-trained, and well-equipped army and conquered its immediate neighbors. Egyptian administrators controlled the government and economy of the conquered lands. Rulers had to promise to obey Egyptian laws. Their sons were sent to Egypt as hostages to make sure these rulers obeyed. The sons were educated at the Egyptian court and returned to help run their homelands in the Egyptian way.
With its innovations in art, architecture, trading, and technology, the legacy of ancient Egypt extends to today.