Ancient Egyptian History Essay

Pages: 6 (1957 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Literature

Ancient Egyptian History

While attempting to present a fairly comprehensive overview of the ancient Egyptians and their way of life, Barry Kemp's Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization undertakes the reconstruction of the identities of the people living in ancient Egypt. Such a task is intrinsically arduous because a considerable amount of time has passed since this indigenous population inhabited the earth. As such, the crux of Kemp' manuscript ultimately hinges upon some crucial definitions that allows for the completion of such a work. The most eminent of these revolves around the notion of identity itself, and addresses facets of what identity consists of and how it may be measured several centuries later. To his credit, the author has addressed these vital points in the conclusions he has reached in his manuscript. A careful analysis of these points and of their relevance and credibility in contemporary society demonstrates the fact that the author has based his argument upon the notion of community, and has utilized tangible representations of such community in the form of culture -- some of the most essential of which was created during the Predynastic period -- (Brewer, p. 72) to reconstruct the identities of the ancient Egyptians.

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As such, Kemp's definition of identity is relatively simple and integrates several facets of culture. The author believes that the collective identity of a group of people exists in their proclivity and proficiency in forming a community that is considered distinct from that of others, despite the fact that it may encompass the territory of others, such as the fact that during the 17th Dynasty Egypt expanded to encompass parts of Nubia and Cannan (Grimal, 1994, p. 194). The ultimate expression of such a community, of course, is the modern conception of a state, which existed in ancient times under various labels. After providing such a definition of the collective identity of a people or peoples, the author confirms the fact that ancient Egypt conforms to this definition as having an identity for the simple fact that:

TOPIC: Essay on Ancient Egyptian History Assignment

Central to the concept of the nation: is an imagined political community…by this definition ancient Egypt passes the test reasonably well. The ancient Egyptians, speaking and writing a common language, occupying a territory with a well catalogued geography centred on the Nile valley and subscribing to a distinctive culture, imagined themselves as a single community (Kemp, 2006, p. 20).

The political community that oversaw the larger, literal community of ancient Egyptians was the lineage of kings that ruled this nation state. This "pharaonic civilization" stems from the early dynastic period, and was influential in propagating this form of government for later generations (Wilkinson, 2001, p. 49) Yet it is also crucial to denote the several facets of culture that the author invokes that are also fairly integral to the definition of community and, by extension, to the conception of identity. Cultural aesthetics include forms of communication such as language. They also include tenets of religion (partially allude to in this quotation since the political community of pharaohs governing Egypt was believed to be divine), as well as architecture and forms of artwork. The founding of a principle place of demarcation -- denoted within this passage as along the Nile river -- is another key principle of identity that is intrinsically related to culture.

Therefore, after demonstrating the close relationship between culture and identity, Kemp bases his notion of reconstructing ancient Egyptian civilization by referring to and analyzing manifestations of its culture. These include studying its form of government and the states erected and sustained by it, as well as analyzing facets of Egyptian literature, art, religion and architecture. These cultural facets provide the sources that are available to study the identity of the ancient Egyptians because they provide tangible representations of the values and mores of this people, which assist in defining who they are. For instance, the author utilizes aspects of etymology for the Egyptians' word for Egyptian, as well as folk stories and art work to reveal the fact that they considered themselves the center of the universe and most prominent species of man (Kemp, 2006, p. 20).

However, physical aspects of culture are not the only means by which Kemp reconstructs the identity of the ancient Egyptians. The author makes use of first-hand accounts from those outside of the Egyptian community as well. There is a finite amount of written materials created by Europeans (the most salient of which is compiled by Herodotus, although both Plato and Pythagoras have written accounts of Egyptians as well) that the author references. What appears as the most compelling sources for reconstructing the identity of ancient Egyptians, however, are written accounts (non-literary in nature) of their own history. For example, the Palermo stone contains historical data regarding the names and length of governments of several kings. Such documentation is highly valued, and is occasionally used by Kemp to validate certain points. Additionally, the author also references contemporary or popular notions of academic scholarship to persuade or dissuade the reader about certain points. However, it is important to understand that the bulk of the author's sources for recounting the identity and daily facets of the civilization of the ancient Egyptians are cultural relics.

Kemp makes a number of relevant inferences based on the culture of these people to draw conclusions about their values and, ultimately, their cosmology. For instance, he recounts the Story of Sinuhe to allude to concepts that the Egyptians had regarding those who dwelled outside of their communities. He eventually draws the conclusion, with this particular piece of literature as the primary source, and other secondary sources -- such as material from Herodotus and references to popular scholarship -- that the ancient Egyptians took great pains to distinguish themselves from outsiders to preserve the homogeneity of its population.

However, when attempting to reconstruct the culture of a civilization that has long since eroded, there are a number of obstacles that can impede the efficacy of sources utilized. The primary issue with attempting to utilize just about any source is the length of time that has transpired from its initial contemporary application and the centuries that have elapsed to contemporary time. Cultures inevitably merge over time -- such as the fact that the "three cultural identities of the Predynastic (Delta, Desert and Valley)" would eventually form one during the late Predynastic period (Brewer, 2005, p. 109). Great lengths of time leaves room for a substantial amount of doubt regarding the veracity of the sources themselves. The reader, and even the author and contemporary scholars, never fully knows whether or not a source is authentic and when it has been tampered with. It is due to this reason that the most reliable of sources are those from Egyptian historical accountings such as the Palermo stone. However, these sources are exceedingly rare to come by and limited in the degree of the information that they can provide.

The first-hand accounts of ancient European writers regarding the customs and practices of Egyptian civilization during their contemporary time have the same temporal difficulties associated with verifying the authenticity of the documents. Yet these documents have other problems, such as the particular bias of the author and of the culture that he represents which inevitably color the information revealed about the ancient Egyptians. Kemp himself alludes to this issue with such sources by alluding to passages from Herodotus and from ancient Jewish authors regarding the homogenous nature of the Egyptians and their disdain of interaction with outsiders. The author says of these sources: "To what extent these are themselves caricatures made to pander to the intended home audience is now hard to tell" (Kemp, 2006, p. 25). "These" refers to the sources referenced about the Egyptians' isolationist policies. It is also significant to note that this quotation delineates the temporal limitation associated with using sources to verify a civilization existent millennia ago, as Kemp states that the cultural biases of these sources is "now" difficult to discern.

Ultimately, the paucity of ancient Egyptian historical documents and the cultural biases of sources outside of its indigenous culture attest to a lack of certitude about most conclusions regarding these people. This sense of the indefinite also pertains to the cultural testaments of ancient Egyptian civilization, such as its architecture and its language. Although remnants of these exist and can still be found, the conclusions reached via them is less than certain. For the bulk of this manuscript, Kemp makes assertions that are qualified by phrases such as probably, seems, likely, and others that denotes the fact that there is some (no matter how slight in certain instances) degree of doubt found in the inferences made from the sources of evidence and the significance of those inferences. Kemp's job, like that of all historians and academics looking to reconstruct facts that have preceded them by lengthy periods of time, is to minimize such doubt -- although it still inevitably exists.

Kemp utilizes the aforementioned sources to account for not only… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Ancient Egyptian History" Essay in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Ancient Egyptian History.  (2012, November 12).  Retrieved January 16, 2022, from

MLA Format

"Ancient Egyptian History."  12 November 2012.  Web.  16 January 2022. <>.

Chicago Style

"Ancient Egyptian History."  November 12, 2012.  Accessed January 16, 2022.