Chapters 1 & 2 of the Oxford History of Ancient Egypt

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Department
Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations
Course
NMC101H1
Professor
Zoe Mc Quinn
Semester
Fall

Description
NMC343 -Ancient Egypt I Chapters 1 & 2 1. Introduction: Chronologies and Cultural Change in Egypt (Ian Shaw) First western-style history of Egypt was written by an Egyptian priest called Manetho in the third century BC The pharaonic periodfrom 3100 to 332 BC has been divided into a number of periods known as dynastiesever since, each consisting of a sequence of rulers, usually united by such factors as kinship or the location of their principal royal residence Becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile this politically based chronology with the social and cultural changes revealed by excavations since the 1960s Chronology As Egyptian historical and archaeological data have expanded and diversified it has become ap- parent that Manethos system - simple, durable, and convenient though it is - often strains to con- tain the many new chronological trends and currents that can be perceived outside the simple pass- ing of the throne from one group of individuals to the next Some of the new work shows that at many points in time Egypt was far less culturally unified and centralized than was previously assumed, with cultural and political changes taking place at different speeds in the various regions Other analyses show that short-term political events, which have often tended to be regarded as the paramount factors in history, may often be less historically significant than the gradual process- es of socio-economic change that can transform the cultural landscape more overwhelmingly in the long term Pre-dynastic periods of egyptian prehistory are commonly understood as sequences of cultural rather than political developments The dynastic periods has begun to be understood not only in terms of the traditional sequence of individual kings and ruling families but also in terms of such factors as art materials Modern Egyptologistschronologies of ancient Egypt combine three basic approaches: 1) Relative dating methods such as stratigraphic excavation and seriation 2)Absolute chronologies, based on calendrical and astronomical records obtained from an- cient texts 3) Radiometric methods, by means of which particular types of artifacts or organic remains can be assigned dates based on the measurement of radioactive decay or accumulation Radiocarbon Dating and Egyptian Chronology Since the late 1940s, when a series of Egyptian artifacts were used as a benchmark in order to as- sess the reliability of the newly invented radiocarbon dating technique, a consensus emerged that the two systems are broadly in line Traditional calendrical systems of dating, however, virtually always have a smaller margin of er- ror than radiocarbon dates Dendrochronological calibration curves which allow the spans of radiocarbon years to converted into actual calendar years represent a significant improvement in terms of accuracy. However, the vagaries of the curve and the continued need to take into account associated error means that dates must still be quoted as a range of possibilities, as with radiocarbon dating, rather than one specific year The prehistory however has benefited greatly as previously only relative dating methods were able to be used From Prehistory to History: Late Predynastic Artifacts and the Palermo Stone NMC343 -Ancient Egypt I Chapters 1 & 2 Only small number of artifacts from the late Predynastic Period that can be used as historical sources, documenting the transition into full unified statehood. These are: Funerary stelae Votive palettes Ceremonial maceheads and Small labels (of wood, ivory or bone) originally attached to items of elite funerary equipment In the case of stelae, palettes and maceheads it was clearly the intention that they should com- memorate many different kinds of royal act, whether the Kings own death and burial or his act of devotion to tone of the gods or goddesses Some of the smaller, earlier labels are simply records of the nature or origins of the grave goods to which they were attached Some of the later labels, from the Early Dynastic royal graves atAbydos employ a similar reper- toire of depictions of royal acts in order to assign the items in question to a particular date in the reign of a specific king If the purpose of this mobiliary art of the late fourth and early third millennia BC was to label, commemorate, and date, then their decoration has to be seen as resulting from the desire to com- municate the contextof the object in terms of event and ritual The ancient Egyptians show little inclination to distinguish consistently between event and ritual, as modern historians may wish to, and indeed ti might be argued that Egyptian ideology during the pharaonic period (particularly in so far as it related to the kingship) was reliant on the maintenance of some degree of confusion between real happenings and purely ritual or magical acts With regard to the palettes and maceheads, Donald Redford suggests that there must have been a need to commemorate the unique events of the unification at the end of the third millennium BC, but that these events were commemoratedrather than narrated This distinction is crucial as we cannot expect to disentangle historicalevents from scenes that are commemorative rather than descriptive One of the most important historical sources for the Early Dynastic period (3000-2686 BC) and the Old Kingdom (2686-2160 BC) is the Palermo Stone, part of a 5th-Dynasty basalt stele (c.2400 BC) inscribed on both sides with royal annals stretching back to the mythical prehistoric rulers Obviously the kind of document that Manetho consulted when he was compiling his history or Aegyptiaca It enumerates the annals of the kings of Lower Egypt, beginning with the many thousands of years that were assumed to have been taken up by mythological rulers, until the time of the god Horus, who is said to have given the throne to the human king Menes Human rulers are then listed up to the 5th Dynasty Regnal year = renpet Divisions under regnal years indicated the memorable events of individual years in each kings reign This is slightly confused by the fact that many Old Kingdom dates appear to refer to the number of biennial cattle censuses (hesbet) rather than to the number of years a king reigned Therefore the number of yearsin the Old kingdom dates may well have to be doubled to find out the actual number of regnal years The types of events recorded on the stone are cult ceremonies, taxation, sculpture, building, and warfare - precisely the same type of phenomena that are recorded on the protodynastic ivory and ebony labels fromAbydos, Saqqara and various other early historical sites NMC343 -Ancient Egypt I Chapters 1 & 2 The introduction of the renpet sign on the labels in the reign of Djet makes this comparison even closer There are two differences, however: 1) The labels include clerical information, while the Palermo Stone does not 2) The Palermo stone includes records of the Nile inundation, whereas the labels do not Both of these types of information seem to have occupied the same physical part of the docu- ments format - that is, the bottom of the record Redford suggests this shows that the Old Kingdom genut (the royal annals that are assumed to have existed at this date but have no survived except in the form of the Palermo Stone) were con- cerned with hydraulic/climatic change, which, with its crucial agricultural and economic conse- quences, was potentially the most important aspect of change as far as the reputation of each indi- vidual king was concerned Perhaps the hydraulic info included on funerary equipment was regarded as irrelevant King-Lists, Royal Titles, and the Divine Kingship Basic sources used by Egyptologists to construct traditional chronology of political change in Egypt are Manethos history (fragmentary), king-lists, dated records of astronomical observations, textual and artistic documents (reliefs and stelae) bearing descriptions apparently referring to his- torical events, genealogical information and synchronisms with non-Egyptian sources, such as the Assyrian king-lists For the 28th-30th Dynasties the Demotic Chronicle serves as a unique early Ptolemaic source concerning the political events of the last phase of the Lat Period, compensating to some extent for the dearth of historical information provided by the papyri and monuments of this date Interpreted as pseudo-prophetic oracular statementsand can shed new light on the events of the period discusses but also the ideological and political context of the fourth century BC Ancient Egyptians dated imported political and religious events not according to the number of years that had elapsed since a single fixed point in history but in terms of the years since the acces- sion of each current king (regnal years) Dates were recorded as: day 2 of the first month of the season peret in the fifth year of Neb- maatra (Amenhotep III) The reign of each new king represented a new beginning, not merely philosophically but practi- cally, given the face that dates were expressed in such terms Probably a psychological tendency to regard each new reign as a fresh point of origin: every king was essentially reworking the same universal myths of kingship within the events of his own time By the Middle Kingdom, each king held five names (fivefold titular), each of which encapsulated a particular aspect of the kingship Three stressed his role as a god Two emphasized the supposed division of Egypt into two unified lands
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