In this lesson, we will discuss some of the major achievements of ancient Egypt, including its unification by King Menes, the pyramids, hieroglyphics, and the Egyptian calendar.
Welcome! My name is Anen, and I am an Egyptian scribe. My task today is to tell you about the achievements of my culture. You are probably already familiar with many of them, but perhaps I will tell you a few things that you don’t already know. We’ll focus especially on King Menes’s unification of Egypt, the pyramids and obelisks that define Egypt’s landscape, our writing system of hieroglyphics, and our calendar.
Let’s begin by talking about how King Menes unified Egypt.
Early on, people settled near the mouth of the Nile River at the Mediterranean Sea. This area came to be known as Lower Egypt. Other people made their homes further south, near the base of some mountains, in a land that was called Upper Egypt. These two groups, called the Two Lands, were always fighting, even though they shared a common language, religion, and culture.
Then, about 5,000 years ago, somewhere between 3100 BCE and 2900 BCE, King Menes appeared on the scene. He was sick and tired of all the conflict, and he decided to combine Upper and Lower Egypt into one kingdom. Menes had been ruling only in Upper Egypt, but soon he conquered Lower Egypt and established his new capital at Memphis. It took a little time, but through wise governing, common laws, and new religious practices, the Two Lands became one Egypt under one pharaoh, or supreme ruler, namely, King Menes, who established the first Egyptian dynasty.
Pyramids and Obelisks
The pharaohs who followed Menes worked hard to strengthen their rule over that united kingdom and increase their personal prestige. They were especially interested in creating elaborate tombs that would display their power and provide a comfortable place in which they could enjoy the afterlife. They also built monuments for protection of the kingdom and in remembrance of their great deeds.
This is why pyramids and obelisks dot the Egyptian landscape even today.The age of pyramid building began about 2630-2611 BCE with the rule of Pharaoh Djoser, who ordered the construction of the first step pyramid for his tomb. The structure looks a bit like a huge cake with lots of square layers.
Later pharaohs preferred smooth-sided pyramids, like the Pharaoh Snefru’s three large pyramids and especially the Pharaoh Khufu’s Great Pyramid at Giza.The Great Pyramid is one of Egypt’s most famous landmarks. It was built during Khufu’s reign from 2551-2528 BCE by thousands of men, most of whom were farmers and other peasants who were paid for their labor. They worked very, very hard for over 20 years to build this pyramid, whose base covers about 13 acres and whose peak once rose to 481 feet. The pyramid contains 2.3 million stone blocks that average 2.5 tons a piece.
All in all, about 100 pyramids still decorate the Egyptian landscape. They are joined by dozens of large and small obelisks, which are pointed stone pillars that the pharaohs and other prominent Egyptians built to commemorate their great deeds, worship the sun god Ra, and provide magical protection and stability for Egypt’s tombs, temples, and kingdom.
All of the pyramids and obelisks are covered with Egypt’s very own style of picture writing, called hieroglyphics. As a scribe, I’m an expert in hieroglyphics, for it was my job to use them to record important events and information.Hieroglyphics, which probably developed sometime around 3300-3200 BCE, is one of the world’s oldest systems of writing. To use this system, we scribes had to learn between 700 and 800 glyphs, or picture symbols that represented objects, ideas, or sounds.
We usually wrote these glyphs in long lines, either from top to bottom or right to left. We would carve them into stone, chisel them onto tablets, or write them on papyrus, a type of paper made from reeds and linen.Hieroglyphic writing was quite time consuming, so we also developed two simpler scripts for everyday use in business and record keeping: hieratic, a cursive version of hieroglyphics, and demotic, an even easier cursive form.Hieroglyphic and demotic writings were first translated by you modern people after Frenchman Pierre Bouchard discovered the Rosetta Stone in 1799. The text on the Rosetta Stone is written in Greek, as well as in hieroglyphics and the demotic script, so by comparing the three systems, scholars finally learned how to read our ancient Egyptian words.
You probably knew something about hieroglyphics already, but you might not realize that we Egyptians are also famous for using our knowledge of astronomy and mathematics to develop a very accurate calendar. By studying the stars and the moon, as well as the cycle of the Nile’s floods, we created a calendar with 12 months and 365 days.
In fact, our calendar was only six hours off from your modern calendar. That’s not bad for a bunch of ancient Egyptians!
Let’s review. We Egyptians are proud of our accomplishments and happy that you modern people still want to know about them. Our very first achievement was the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt by King Menes somewhere between 3100 BCE and 2900 BCE. This marked the beginning of the first Egyptian dynasty, and King Menes became the first pharaoh, or supreme ruler.The pharaohs who followed Menes worked hard to strengthen their rule over that united kingdom and increase their personal prestige. They built elaborate pyramids for their tombs, beginning with the step pyramid of the Pharaoh Djoser and including the Pharaoh Khufu’s Great Pyramid at Giza.
About 100 pyramids still decorate the Egyptian landscape. They are joined by dozens of large and small obelisks, which are pointed stone pillars built to commemorate the great deeds of the pharaohs, worship the sun god Ra, and provide magical protection and stability for Egypt’s tombs, temples, and kingdom.We Egyptians are also famous for our hieroglyphics, a system of picture writing that developed sometime around 3300-3200 BCE and contained between 700 and 800 glyphs, or picture symbols that represented objects, ideas, or sounds. Along with hieroglyphics, we also used the simpler hieratic and demotic scripts for everyday purposes.Finally, by studying the stars and the moon, as well as the cycle of the Nile’s floods, we Egyptians created a very accurate calendar with 12 months and 365 days.Well, I hope you’ve learned something interesting about our ancient Egyptian culture.
This is Anen the scribe wishing you a good day.
Once you are finished with this lesson you should be able to:
- Describe how Egypt was unified under one pharoah
- Recite the multiple purposes for the pyramids and obelisks of Egypt
- Discuss Egyptian writing forms and the importance of the Rosetta Stone
- Recall the basics of the ancient Egyptian calendar