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Author Topic: Why was there a great Egyptian civilisation but no great Egyptian empire?  (Read 13958 times)

Offline greensleeves

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The Egyptian civilisation was a dominant culture of the Mediterranean for 3000 years - far far longer than the Greeks or Romans. The Greeks established cities all around the central and eastern Mediterranean and into Asia Minor, and the Roman Empire is legendary for its extensions across Europe north and south, the Middle East and North Africa. But although the ancient Egyptians had some battles against the Hittites and Persians in the Middle East, they don't seem to have been ambitious or successful when it comes to spreading an empire further afield. Why did they not invade Greece, or Italy, or Spain or North Western Africa in the centuries before European civilisations became dominant? Why did Egyptian civilisation remain more or less confined to Egypt?
« Last Edit: 23/02/2011 15:32:56 by greensleeves »


 

Offline JimBob

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The lack of any sea-worthy ships and the logistics of a land-based supply system further than 300 or so miles from the Nile delta across deserts would be the main reason.
 

Offline greensleeves

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Thanks for the reply. I guess you're probably right. The desert on either side would be a major obstacle to a culture more or less bound to the Nile flood plain, which might explain lack of expansion of the civilisation into Western Africa, and Asia.

I would have thought that Egyptians would have had some desire (or even necessity in times of famine) to explore or conquer or even just to trade across the Mediterranean, and over the millenia they would have made some ventures into Europe, but maybe there just weren't enough trees to provide the wood for sea-going ships? Have any Egyptian artifacts of any kind been found in Europe, which predate Greek or Roman influence?
« Last Edit: 23/02/2011 15:33:14 by greensleeves »
 

Offline Don_1

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There is also the fact that the Egyptians were almost constantly at war with their neighbours. Carthage, Assyria, The Hittites, Persia, Lybia and Hyksos (basically meaning rulers of foreign lands). Ramsis II did eventually take Nubia {to the south of Egypt) into his Kingdom.
 

Offline greensleeves

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Thanks. It's just hard for me to understand the fact that a whole vast continent(Europe) was left untouched by this major civilisation for at least a couple of thousand years before the Minoans/Greeks etc came to the fore. Maybe like you suggest, the Egyptians were just too busy squabbling with the immediate neighbours!
« Last Edit: 23/02/2011 15:33:35 by greensleeves »
 

Offline JimBob

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Well, as for Europe, there were advanced societies already developed in Europe 5000 years ago. The Egyptians had an extensive trade relationship with the Minoans, who were the sailors. Obviously there must have been Egyptian sailors but the evidence I know of points to most voyages being made by the Minoans.

The Mycenaean Greek age was preceded by the Doric and possibly Illirian invasions of Greece at least 1600 BC. or older if the Illirians (Balkan) tribes invaded. (The later is not known for certain. Advanced civilizations we know little about were well established in present day Romania and Bulgaria.

Gold hordes of exceptional artistry of thee Vinča culture which existed in the Danube valley 5 millinuim ago have been found.

So Europe did have a power structure at the time Egypt was emergent.

We know less about the European cultures as they lacked written languages.
« Last Edit: 22/02/2011 16:23:23 by JimBob »
 

Offline Don_1

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Quite so JimBob, Europe was on the up at the same time as Egypt, but lacked the written word, so little is known about the people apart from what can be gleaned from archaeological investigation of their settlements. A first class example of such being Stonehenge, which is now known to date to around the same period as the construction of the Great Pyramid by Kufu.
 

Offline nicephotog

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Actually, if you really think about it, its really politics. What do you pay your soldiers and are there any other pressing problems , apart finally do you want that many people dead or do the people agree to getting killed in an entirely self generated war(this last: probably "no"). The main history of the Ancient Egyptian army is usually against Nubia and Kush that bordered their south.

There were effectively only one or two "warlord" pharoas one of whom did conquer north-eastern areas up to around jordan(north) and Afghanistan(east), however almost all is in in the South regions and Nubia itself was taken over through history repeatedly. Nubia in the South and the surrounding kingdoms in the South was most of its military occupation and troubles.
 

Offline greensleeves

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Does anyone know the estimated population stats for ancient Egypt, Greece or Rome? Was the Egyptian population in its heyday smaller than the Greek or Roman populations in their heyday?

I wonder myself if the fundamental reason why the Egyptians never developed a very extensive empire, is because they were uniquely bound to the river which created their civilisation. Because almost the entire population lived near the banks of the Nile, perhaps the sustainable population was relatively small - remarkably so for the scale of their architectural achievements. A successful mass migration / invasion of territories across the Mediterranean, would maybe have required the Pharoah to devote an unacceptably huge proportion of the manpower available to the enterprise.
 

Offline nicephotog

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Thanks. It's just hard for me to understand the fact that a whole vast continent(Europe) was left untouched by this major civilisation

Egyptian stuff is mostly triangles and rectangles as precision engineering but circles were a bit of a toy to mathematicians.around 1500BC the chariot was introduced as new weapons technology as featured on WINGS tablets(sure as hell can think it but can't do it).Wheels would have been serious help. However, ships too are a problem until around 2000BC but again they stretch on resources by the tactical disadvantage of a long thin strip(the Nile) makes for being happy with rudeness inclusive on border areas until a threat is real.
It is a problem that to guard the river and its lengthy traversal of settlements is expensive at all times in travel equipment and soldiers. It is "unique" as a geographical problem in committing maintenance of security and remains a huge requirement beyond more classical geographic locations that only place fortification groups in localities that can reach easily to multiple other fortifications as backup. The egyptians did have small outpost forts and districts(civilian support) on the East coast(Suez - red sea) but were only for forewarning and some sea based commerce(Seals and tokens of appreciation) and trade probably around the ancient Harappan Culture(present Pakistan - India) time.
The real valuables were the cult cities and Nile banks and Northern Nile Delta on the North coast.A rather difficult geographic shape to manage for military defense of such an area.
There resources(any type)would be too dangerously overworked. Thutmose III may as be considered a fool hardy maniac as a point to that, but i believe(correct me if i'm wrong please) he did control or cripple Nubia and Kush in the south first before moving toward Syria. Just looked it up ,Thutmose III first campaign "the battle of Megiddo" in present day Israel.

note:it says "Thutmose III ruled Egypt for almost fifty-four years..." but i believe that's an immense lie that comes from where i know not,but can suspect with a bit of scripting quite easily. The trouble is all that fatty food that killed the high priests with salt and colestrol and various other mildly poisonous herbs, he either died of a heart attack the moment he said charge or was killed instantly by the enemy as he cowered on the ground screaming "nooooo" or "heeeelp" in front of everyone at the front.
54 years is far too long for that era to have a shreed of truth.
Upon this occurrence,his generals realised he had ordered them to attack and grin came over their faces when they realised he would never be alive to tell them to stop, just as they can't when they are of their leash.wooosh!... There goes canaan...there goes Syria! If anyone(probably any officials or nobles) ever knew he were dead they would re-instate a regent and call a halt, but hey! who's telling!


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Maybe like you suggest, the Egyptians were just too busy squabbling with the immediate neighbours!

Maybe they were too busy sqabbling with each other and stabbing each other in the back and poisoning each other as ancient Egyptian history often relates on their ancient documents!more likely!One Dynasty is supposed to be founded by a Userpa reasonably publically and plain in terms of court and deity priest knowledge social circles!Much the same as any kingdom anywhere anytime.

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would have had some desire (or even necessity in times of famine)

Well certainly desire in famine to do such, but, eating the person beside you was much more available if not just as appealing as occurred in one immense famine that is also considered and ancient geological proven climate change occurrence(also there is an ancient known climate effect known as the "Saharan Pump" which i am not sure is this one), as much the Nile dried up and a huge quantity of the population died while doing just that,being cannibals to survive it(archeologically proven).

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Because almost the entire population lived near the banks of the Nile,

Most of it in the Nile Delta, regardless cities and temple cults along the Nile.

Egypt had many different periodic "Dynasties" of rulers.
It just happens to be a very important point to remember that over the 4000 years it had rulers alike any of the Pharoahs but each dynasty tended to be some form of ousting or rebuild after decay and collapse of rule whether infighting or simply bad lazy political management.
Each Dynasty set may as well be considered totally unique of its royal families and leaders and not part of or related to the previous culture.

Also, through most of history they were "new stone age" for their technology, while it was clever and some of it was metal, mainly they were more a socially glorified stone age society.

Most of the "Great" things in either engineering or politics was well before other surrounding cultures had technology contributions and ability to trade, so hence had not much to offer to Egypt and niether were any ever a true threat except Nubia and Kush to the South whom they had many wars against (defensive or Attack) over the millenias and would be the most likely reason they did not bother moving soldiers for actions in the north until needed there.

Most(maybe 99%) of Egypts existance precedes Greeks and Romans, if anything they were always fighting in the South against the Nubians and Kush but even the Nubians conquered Egypt at one time, the high priests threw out the Pharoah and ruled at one time, Foreigners called Hyksos(around 1500BC) from Asia(middle Eastern) ruled Egypt at one time and shrunk the Egyptian nile kingdom down to around the size of a city. The Greeks were the final group to take over Egypt.

The Romans and Greeks were around 200BC and account for around less than 1% of any of "its historical era".
The Hyksos however did rule for a century as the 15th Dynasty, each dynasty may as be as different each time as the Hyksos(note: the Hyksos brought the chariot technology to Egypt with them). The ancient Egyptians Kingdoms families were never that perfect for all of time or much more than a century or two at best, However, one particular warlord Pharoah called Thutmose III did occur and pushed north and south, but for metalurgical technology can remain to be thought of as quite stone age(Bronze age - the late "new stone age" era).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thutmose_III

Without seriously digging out who and what, here is a timeline of the Pharoahs, there are hundreds of them and all different family cultures except most originated in the Egypt somewhere at some time. Until the Greek and Roman era metal technology was extremely stone age.
http://www.king-tut.org.uk/egyptian-pharaohs/pharaohs-timeline.htm

One more point, while sea is on the eastern side and desert on the west, the gap between lands on the east is not far and protrudes almost down to modern day Ethiopas' north coast.
That means attacking the water supply on the south end of the Nile or allieing armies to Nubia and Kush would be an action they would not want to foster in any of the North West countries / communities.
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because they were uniquely bound to the river which created their civilisation.
Most of the military presence of Egypt in the South against Kush and Nubia was probably attributable to protecting the water purity by being ready to attack those southern kingdoms at any time in great force.
« Last Edit: 24/02/2011 05:18:06 by nicephotog »
 

Offline greensleeves

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Thanks for your reply and long notes. Particularly the point of view about the difference between Egyptian (mainly stone age to bronze age) culture, and Greek and Roman (bronze age to iron age) culture, and the impact that limited metal forging ability may have had on the capacity either to wage war, or to transport Egyptian culture far afield.

Also the point about the constant upheavals in Egyptian society. It is true as I understand it, that Egyptian civilisation was effectively several civilisations which replaced each other (the old, middle and new kingdoms) with disruptions to the dynastic order, and one-time conflicts between the northern and southern kingdoms. All of this would suggest that Egypt was perhaps a less stable nation than one would imagine from their building enterprises, and an unstable nation is not the best equipped to have designs on other peoples' territories.
 

Offline nicephotog

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was perhaps a less stable nation than one would imagine from their building enterprises,

You can look at the underlined above as much(or much more) being purely wealth of the time(and a persons specific lifetime) more than any civilisation and Dynasty or era and its feats of engineering being a people or civilisation in a geographic locale.
As a contrast.
You could well ask the same question of the Myans but i suppose of hand to answer it would be the size of South America itself and the non arid environmental conditions may have leaved nothing more to do all day than be cerebral for a Myan(sit around thinking). The Myans had everything in respect of food, so much so one city was built on a man made lake and was effectively its "fish farm". They can be considered to have not bothered to explore beyond the bounds of their world by shipping.

Really this summaral point is so incomplete that i had best add a/the subtle but main reason for the ancient Egyptians being a greater ancient community that is often overlooked but more never realised and told to people whom do not specifically study it.
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and an unstable nation is not the best equipped to have designs on other peoples' territories.
First: for quite some time ancient Egyptians kept government bureaucratic records on papyrus in a non hieroglyphic script of their language that was easier to write than hieroglyphics. Hieroglyphics can be considered a primitive form of "Graphic Arts" and an alphabet devoted to it.
Second: the order of mathemiticians, scribes and engineers was quite holy alike high priests of the cults, these were quite VIP not just something the king(Pharoah) took out and used because it was there(the Pharoah reasonably much could but after that in their own ranking order was where they weren't as good as Pharoah and to everyone else and soldiers they may as be Pharaoh). They realised the worth of these people and they were set apart from ordinary people(not seriously committed by other kingdoms except they are more useful and require some protection but not holy or aristocratic in value) to something alike aristocracy if they could learn and perform any of these.

These two points in ancient Egypt are both immensely more ancient than most civilisations, and more effectively committed than most post A.D. dark ages or middle ages kingdoms ever committed(Harappan civilisation had writing but is yet to be deciphered and bureaucratic operation is unknown).

About Europe and sea travel:
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All of this would suggest that Egypt was perhaps a less stable nation than one would imagine from their building enterprises
It is known as someone stated previously that well before 2000BC when ancient Egyptian boat building for sea going vessels was perfected(loosely/crudely - so to speak) they traded over sea routes in the Mediterranean.
Much of this happens to be for "wood" a substance found in little quantity in Egyptian geography except Nubia(modern Ethiopia) which happens to be the other place they obtain it. Another is copper for nails to nail wood(mostly they slotted wooden objects/parts together very cleverly by pre design).
You can well imagine perfecting any boats in wood has the problem of being both expensive and in some form priceless because of the difficulty of obtaining it. What floated made of  wood in the Nile as a "constructed" canoe is the equivalent of a cruiser yacht for its weight of worth(a canoe made of wood on the Nile was possibly a way of recognising nobles or wealthy, or a thief).

A huge trouble with committing war by sea is "spys and traitors". All they need to see is a few more large boats and the questions and reports and backing up brought in begin, giving an enemy a good chance particularly with smaller faster vessels to simply go ahead and warn a country accross the other side that there are military ships heading for their shore.
Oh! and one last point(really dumb of me to forget it), but wood "burns". Most of their fires and burning were oil from oil seed crushing and various other vegetable matter that was not wood.
« Last Edit: 25/02/2011 05:04:54 by nicephotog »
 

Offline greensleeves

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Thanks to all who have contributed to this topic so far. To summarise the central puzzle which I felt existed: I wondered why a long-lived civilisation (Egypt) apparently far in advance of other contemporary cultures 1000-3000 BC, failed to make any significant territorial gains in Europe, NW Africa or the Middle East - gains which seem to have come relatively easily to later cultures like the Greeks and Romans. Was it lack of ambition or lack of capability? Why are there no ancient Egyptian cities outside of Egypt's current borders?

Reading through responses to the topic and coupling them with my own views, the conclusion seems to be that a variety of factors may have been involved.

1)  Egypt experienced significant internal upheavals between northern and southern kingdoms, as well as dynastic conflicts. Such upheavals and instability would make it difficult for a culture to focus it's resources on ambitious foreign affairs.

2)  Regular disputes and threats from neighbouring states such as Nubia, as well as Middle Eastern states such as the Hittites and Persians, would also perhaps have concentrated the mind on protecting Egypt's established borders, rather than expanding their territory.

3)  The Biblical ten plagues may or may not be based on fact, but certainly many of these events were natural occurances in the region, and a society constantly facing such hardships would be doing well just to keep its own house in order, let alone think about invading other territories.

4)  Egyptian civilisation grew because of the Nile, but this may ultimately have proved a handicap as far as expansion is concerned, more or less restricting the culture to the banks of the Nile and the Nile delta. This would presumably have limited the Egyptian population to a relatively small size - too small perhaps to have empire building ambitions.

5)  Even though the Egyptians were master builders, (which today perhaps distorts our view of the culture's power, because it is the culture's impressive buildings which have survived the centuries), in other respects, they were little more advanced than other contemporary cultures with stone age and bronze age technology, weaponry and modes of transport. They would not have had significant advantage in battle in far distant lands.

6)  The regional conditions - desert on most sides, would have made expansion west, and maybe in other directions, rather difficult.

7)  Lack of trees and therefore wood, might have made the production of large seafaring ships impractical, limiting expansion north, and may even have limited useful trade and communication.

Most of these obstacles would not have applied to quite the same extent to later European civilisations, so I wonder if it was a combination of all these factors which stopped any thought of a pan-Mediterranean Egyptian empire in its tracks?

If anybody has any further comments on these seven points, or further reasons why Egypt failed to spread its civiliation significantly, please contribute. Thanks.
 

Offline JimBob

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Item 5 can be expanded to be one of the most significant reasons.

Dr. Zahi Hawass on one of the National Geographic "Egypt Unwrapped" programs that ran all this last week made a statement that is more and more important as I think about it. He said (I paraphrase) "the measure of a Pharaohs success was in what they built - temples, civil works, monuments. I would estimate only 5% of all works by the Pharaohs are now know. The Nile has covered everything."

Thinking about this, the total yearly gross domestic product of ancient Egypt consumed in building projects was so large that spending on other items, such as conquest, was not feasible.

 

Offline greensleeves

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Quite so JimBob. I'm sure it's true that colossal building projects were a major drain on the civilisation's manpower and economic wealth. In fact I'm sure the main reason why they stopped building their most symbolic and famous architecture, the pyramids, was simply down to common sense - it was proving ridiculously costly in terms of money and manpower to complete them during the life of a pharoah.
 

Offline nicephotog

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....that spending on other items, such as conquest, was not feasible.

Why is it scientists comprehend politics so little????
you have discounted GREED in reference to paying, as you have discounted how debted economically even modern countries are and moreover to security and war expendature.

To finalise that to its kingpin point, modern debt operates from prospectivised money that will be there later after successes that have occurred, such as in example: in alll the areas where flooding, tsunamis and cyclones have occurred recently('though as you would expect not a success now and a total fail write off).

You have committed a non argument where standard warlord AVERICE and GREED directives have many times been the only and prime issue in their minds.
 

Offline JimBob

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....that spending on other items, such as conquest, was not feasible.

Why is it scientists comprehend politics so little????
you have discounted GREED in reference to paying, as you have discounted how debted economically even modern countries are and moreover to security and war expendature.

To finalise that to its kingpin point, modern debt operates from prospectivised money that will be there later after successes that have occurred, such as in example: in alll the areas where flooding, tsunamis and cyclones have occurred recently('though as you would expect not a success now and a total fail write off).

You have committed a non argument where standard warlord AVERICE and GREED directives have many times been the only and prime issue in their minds.

Having run a large company and having had to depended on my understanding of markets, as well as the understanding that greed is one of the the driving forces of any economy, I think this last post is absolutely incorrect in its basic assumptions.

Economics were not as sophisticate 3000 years ago as they are now. You either had the gold or other commodity in the treasury or you didn't. Banking, Actuarial Accounting, "Future Present Value" were all meaningless to Egyptians.

The whole premise of the previous post (if there really is one) is based on an incorrect assumption - the assumption that the culture (and economic system) of the Egyptians were the same as we see today. That is the same thing as saying the feudal system of Europe in 1066 is the same as the political system we have today in Europe.

They cannot be compared.


As for political understanding - You are dead wrong. If you have ever worked for a large corporation, you have had to be a politician just to keep your job. The business world is the most ruthless political place anyone has ever encountered. Your ability to eat depends on your political instincts and abilities.
« Last Edit: 13/03/2011 22:18:57 by JimBob »
 

Offline nicephotog

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The whole premise of the previous post (if there really is one) is based on an incorrect assumption - the assumption that the culture (and economic system) of the Egyptians were the same as we see today. That is the same thing as saying the feudal system of Europe in 1066 is the same as the political system we have today in Europe.


Of people whom are suggested for Nobel peace prize and alike as modern(present day) politicians that are peace-makers and economists your
criticism is correct, but fundamentally here we are talking warlords or would-be war lords(or like thutmose would-be until after his mother died and he could have unclean undepants).

Their business technique in clinching a deal is essentially not unlike pirates or even Adolf Hitlers U-Boats main job which is plundering and sinking merchant shipping.

They are not unreasonable in business and economics its simply the pricing and payment scheme is done totally different.

(a side note to why no warlords - the list of Kings and Queens does have many eras and periods of queen(it appears too whatever not being a man means) Pharoahs).
« Last Edit: 14/03/2011 05:40:15 by nicephotog »
 

Offline katesisco

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Reading referencing ancient Egyptians.  No one really understands where the initial impetus came from, the best guess is that the founders were from the Atlas mountains to the West and they were driven to the Nile by drought. 
I have always been curious about the false beard of the Phorah and finally saw a reference to a 'bearded dragon' in ancient Egyptian myth. Same as Chinese!!! I was so surprised.  The reference is to power displayed in the sky, Nun pronounced Noon is depicted as a snake (the dragon in the sky) or an old man whose skin is marked all over with jagged waves. 
I feel the correct interpretation of the Egyptian beginning myth (much the same as the Chinese) is applicable to the universe formation not in reference to Egypt itself.  The same is admitted by the authors of the book (can't remember title) non fiction that covers what we know about the universe.  Really thorough but in the footnotes on Chapter 7 they admit the mythology is applicable to describing the universe.  Primeval Waters, a void, no characteristics, eternal, existed.  Aten pictured as a beetle parts the void and from one comes two, Ma,at and Shu.
So if you look at the two oldest world civilizations, the Chinese and the Egyptians, the similarities are there. 
And I believe that they both were the immediate recoveries of a global catastrophe.  My assessment is that the civilizations were the product of a single impetus, either one or a group.  This organized effort resulted in the what we know so little of, the predecessors of the Old Kingdom.  They were interested in building a solid base, not amassing territory hence no large army.  The multiple gods, priest classes, military emphasis, all came later.  Most of what we know and emphasize is from this later time.  We know so little of the pre Old Kingdom.  It is worth digging for.  Remember all this layer of gods, mummification, etc., all came later, and this is what history records, not the initial beginning. 
In a civilization that was rebuilding in a devastated world, there would not have been a drive to conquer.  What would be is what was, a belief that they held the world together. 
 
 

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