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"HE immense extent of the history of Egypt is
so incommensurate with the length of time which the average tourist has at his disposal that at first sight it presents an array of monumental discouragements. The ordinary mind is incapable of making a study of the records in which the Egyptologist delights. Moreover it is to most of us utterly unfamiliar ground. The annals of Greece and Rome we have met at close quarters in our school days; and while we generally manage to forget the details with discouraging speed on emerging from school and college, the names of emperors and battles are at least familiar and lend to our later travels in classic countries a form of lively interest which needs only a little historical refurbishing.
With Egypt it is not so. Most of us venture into that mysterious land with no knowledge of its past save what has clung to us from our early experiences in Sunday School. The name of Pharaoh is likely to suggest a single personage rather than a line of kings. We recall the tales of Abraham and Joseph; our minds then make a wild leap to the exploits of Moses; and having done with him, there remains little but a shadowy acquaintance with the mere names of Rameses, Ptolemy, and Cleopatra. Of the relations of these several dim figures to the times we have little or no idea. They have entered but casually into our scheme of education. Our notions of the country itself are based, in many instances, on the psychological effect produced by a certain color on the maps of our childish geographies.
The problem before us now, therefore, is to fit ourselves for a voyage up the Nile, which may at best consume but a month or two among ruins that have a story of long ages to tell. And it is with the idea of laying down some definite and essential landmarks of history for the general guidance of the uninitiated visitor that this chapter is written. In so small a compass little can be set down but the most commandingly salient points; and as usual the great object is to omit, rather than to include, to the end that the reader may find a few points from which to take his reckoning and not be confused by a long list of names and dates. As a matter of fact, the history of Egypt is not unlike a prodigious range of mountains, enormously long and possessed of numerous peaks of a very similar altitude, but broken here and there at rather convenient intervals by commanding groups which it is well to take note of and study.
We shall be wise not to concern ourselves unduly with the predynastic period, interesting as this is likely to prove as investigation proceeds. We shall do well also to leave quite untouched the long intervening stretches between the three or four really important dynastic groups. And we shall most certainly leave out of our account the more recent period of Egyptian chronology from the time of the new empire's decay, even though this deprives us of Cleopatra and her train. We go to Egypt, in most cases, for a taste of the antiquity that antedates Alexander and that makes even the Old Testament seem young. And while it is true that many of the surviving temples date in their present surprisingly complete form from the Ptolemaic period, it is with the interval between 4400 and 1000 B.C. that we shall have the most to do. In other words, we shall be more concerned with Egypt from the dawn of recorded history down to the time of Troy than we shall be with her subsequent record, important as that was, after the last of the Ramessids had passed from the scene and left the land a prey to foreign invaders and overlords for the rest of her time.
The chronology of Egypt is at best a speculative matter and little errors of a century or two either way give the experts apparently little concern. I have adopted for convenience the estimates of Professor Breasted; and the accompanying table is designed to reveal at a glance the relative positions of the great dynastic periods with which it is advisable to become fairly familiar before venturing south from Cairo, or even out to the neighborhood of the pyramids at Ghizeh.
For convenience, therefore, the history of Egypt may be roughly and somewhat arbitrarily divided into these periods:
I. The earliest historical period, dating from the accession of Menes as the first historical king to the end of the Second Dynasty. The original royal capital at this period was at Thinis, near Abydos.
II. The “Old Kingdom," or Third to Eleventh dynasties inclusive, with the royal capital at Memphis and a prodigious royal cemetery extending all the way from Sakkâra northward to Ghizeh. This is the period of the greater pyramid builders.
III. The “Middle Kingdom," or Twelfth to Sixteenth dynasties, inclusive. This period covers the lesser pyramid builders and marks a time which was one of great prosperity in Egypt wherein both architecture and literature flourished, but which has, nev
TABULAR VIEW OF EGYPTIAN HISTORY
Period Dawn of Dynas- | I
Old Kingdom 2980–2160
VII-X XI XII
Monuments, events, etc.
date First historical
ital at Thinis Step Pyramid. Ist true pyramid. Great Pyramid. 2d Pyramid.
Rise of Thebes
"Shepherd Hyksos invasion
at Beni Has
san Amenhotep III Culmination of
tion Ptolemies Temples Den
Philæ Cleopatra Roman conquest