- The Egyptian civilization arose in the Nile valley at about the same time as that of Mesopotamia, and their development followed a similar trajectory. It is possible that indirect links existed between the two regions since prehistoric times, but diplomatic contacts between the rulers of Egypt and Mesopotamia date only from the second millennium. While in both regions fertile alluvial soils facilitated surplusproducing agriculture, which provided the basis for population growth and the development of cities, there are marked differences in the geographical conditions. Abarrier of deserts isolated the Nile valley to the east and the west, and the complex Nile delta was equally difficult to penetrate. This meant that Egypt was spared the numerous invasions by tribal peoples seeking better conditions for survival or by the armiesof rival nations. Protected by natural barriers, once Upper and Lower Egypt were united, early in the third millennium B.C, the country developed a strong identity of shared ideas, customs, and religion, with a remarkable continuity, facilitated by the adoption of hieroglyphic writing. On the other hand, Egypt’s lack of exposure to foreign influences and the lack of interest its elite showed in the wider world produced an inward-looking and at times arrogant disdain of outsiders that led to stagnation and entropy, which in turn facilitated foreign penetration and a forced absorption of new ideas. The formation of a unified country occurred in the Early Dynastic period, at roughly the same time as that in Mesopotamia (c. 3100–2686), though a reconstruction of its history, apart from a few royal names, is impossible. The most important result was the development of kingship and the adoption of writing. The pharaoh had possession of large tracts of land and conducted trade with neigboring regions, so he accumulated substantial wealth. His abrogation of economic and political power was justified on ideological grounds as due to his divine nature. Vast burial sites dedicated to pharaohs and members of the royal family left visible reminders of their continuing influence on the Egyptian landscape. This pattern continued in later periods.During the Old Kingdom (c. 2886–2181), dynastic succession as relayed in king lists was established and, in general, hieroglyphic sources became much more numerous. The habit of inscribing and decorating the tombs of kings and high officials with pictorial scenes allows insights into religious beliefs as well as the daily routine. The great pyramids, built by pharaohs of the IVDynasty, remain the most monumental testimonies of Old Egyptian aspirations and beliefs. After six dynasties, following the gradual weakening of central control from Memphis, a period of confusion and civil war ensued, with different cities vying for control, known as the First Intermediate period (c. 2180–c. 2040), which ended with the emergence of a new center of power, Thebes. Trading resumed with neighboring regions, and military expeditions ensured the pacification of tribal peoples in the eastern and western desert. The Middle Kingdom (c. 2040–c. 1730) has been taken as the “classical” phase of Egyptian civilization, in which literature and the artsreached a high degree of refinement and sophistication. It is also the period in which Egypt consolidated its control over the Levant and Nubia, building vast fortresses and investing in military training and new equipment. The Middle Kingdom also ended in a period of decline, and the second Intermediate period lasted nearly 200 years (c. 1720–c. 1550). The country was again fragmented into different, often warring polities until eventually a non-Egyptian group, known as the Hyksos, established control from Avaris, situated in the delta. This city was attacked by Amose of Thebes, who established the XVIII Dynasty, ushering in the period of the New Kingdom (1552/1555–1069) when Egypt reached the zenith of its political power.Already in the Middle Kingdom, pharaohs had been portrayed as conquering heroes, subjugating foreign peoples and bringing them under their yoke. Now the expansionist ideology brought Egypt into conflict with other ancient Near Eastern powers, especially the Hittites, who contested Egypt’s control over Syria and the Levant, as well as Mitanni and Assyria. The sources for the XVIII and XIX Dynasties are plentiful, and particularly valuable are the records and missives written in cuneiform and in Akkadian, then the lingua franca of international diplomatic exchange (see AMARNA CORRESPONDENCE). The XVIII Dynasty also produced a dramatic internal development under Pharaoh Amenophis IV, also known as Akhenaten, who moved the capital from Thebes to a new foundation at Tell al-Amarna. He famously proclaimed his sole allegiance to the sun god (Aten), whose worship by the king and his family is depicted on numerous works of art of the period. The imperial expansion of Egypt resumed under the XIX Dynasty, especially under the rule of Sety I and Ramesses II. This was challenged by the Hittites; the two armies clashed on the Orontes and a peace treaty was concluded between the two countries. After Dynasty XX, another period of decline and fragmentation ensued, although Egypt fared better in the turmoil associated with the Sea Peoples in the 13th century than many other polities. After this Third Intermediate period (c. 1069–664), Egypt was often ruled by foreign dynasties, of Libyan and later Nubian origin. It also became a target for Assyrian imperialism, suffering invasions by Esarhaddon in 674 and again in 671, when he conquered Memphis and replaced the Nubian king Taharka with governors. Taharka rebelled against Assyria, prompting the punitive expedition in 667 by Ashurbanipal, who defeated Taharka and installed Necho of Sais, initiating the Saite period (664–525). The collapse of Assyria brought Babylonia to the fore, and Nebuchadrezzar II used the usurpation of the Egyptian throne by Amasis as a pretext for a campaign to reinstate the previous incumbent, Apries, which was not successful. The end of Egypt’s independence, like that of Babylonia, was brought about by the Persians soon after the death of Amasis. It became a satrapy of the Achaemenid empire until it was conquered by Alexander the Great in 322 and was ruled by the descendants of his general Ptolemy until Julius Caesar made it a Roman province in 46 B.C.
Historical Dictionary of Mesopotamia. EdwART. 2012.