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The "Death" of Egyptian Civilization?
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 04, 2004 1:27 pm 
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Although it is common to refer to the ''death'' of the pharoanic civlization,there is no consensus as to what point in history it ''died'' or wheater it was merely trasnformed. A basic problem with such a discussion is the definition of exactly what constitues the death of a civlization. As defined by Redfield and Singer[1954], civlization refers to the great traditions of a state;thus,''death'' must refer to the loss of these great traditions.
On the other hand,the great traditions of the Egyptian culture----its elaborate polytheistic religion,sovereignity,system of writing,the creation of monumental art and architecture----had all vanished by the Late Antique Period[early Christain period] or shortly afterward. On the other hand,however,many aspects of ancient Egypt lived on. Economically,Egypt did not collapse The annual inundation of the Nile ensured a renewable supply of rich arable land,and irrigation works were dependent upon local rather than central govermental power. natural resources were never exhausted as they were in the case of the states of Mesoptamia. In addition,the basic infrastructure of the Egyptian state was relatively inexpensive to maintain----there was no great system of dikes or roads,and no standing army to exhaust the national treasury.Politically,there was not fragmentation of the Egyptian state that can be compared to the ''fall'' of a state such as Rome or the Incan empire. Pharoanic Egypt withstood periods of decentralization[the Intermediate Periods],foregin conquest,and occupation by Hykos,Persians,Assyrians,Greeks,and Romans,yet the borders of the country remained largely unchanged even into the Christain and Islamic periods.Indeed,the borders of the modern state of Egypt are not appreciably different today from those that existed in the third millennium BC ,so one cannot properly speak of the physical fragmentation of the state.

In terms of religion,the ancient theology continued to exert a strong influce. Greek and Romans became adherents of the cult of Auset. Christains built their churches within pagan temples,such as Medinet Habu,and reconsecrated other,such as Philae,for their new monotheistic religion. Even today the pharonic temples continue to play a part in the folk religion of rural Egypt,with Coptic Christains and Muslims alike visiting the temples to gather sand that has been gound from the ancient pillars to use as remedy for barrenness. One of the clearest surviving rituals is the annual festival of the Islamic saint Abul'l Haggag,which is celebrated by a pocession of boats around the temple of Luxor in imitation of the ancient festival of Opet. page 188

Finally,the influence of Egyptian art and architectural style is clearly visiabl,e in early Greek sculpture[the kouroi] and Roman monuments. The Roman also collected Egyptian art and disseminated it throughout their vast empire. The Neoplatonists[fifth century AD] and,much later,the Freemasons[eighteenth century]studied Egyptian iconography in their search for enlightment ,while Neoclassical artistis and designers such as Piranesi and Robert Adam inspired a mania for all things Egyptian that swept through Western Europe during the late 1770s and early 1800s. Centers of Christain piety and learning ,such as St. Peter's in Rome ,were embellished with obelisks,a pagan symbol of sun whorship. The plazas of great cities---London,Paris,Rome,Istanbul,New York---likewise imported and raised Egyptian obelisks in homage to the ancient Egyptians. Today,Egyptian motifs decorate myriad objects of daily life,from fabrics and furniture to beer cans and dishware.

It is clear that the concept of ''death'' does not take into account the many aspects of Egyptian culture that continued,even to the present day. Therefore,it is argued that it is more productive to consider that the culture was trasnformed. But how was it transformed and what factors were invovled ? Was there a single cause,such as military conquest or poor leadership? Surveying the 3,000 years of Egypt's history suggests that a single cause is too simplistic,and that the modification of Egyptian civlization resulted from the complex cumination of evolutionary processes.



Although perhaps not dramatic enough to constitue a true demise,one cannot deny there were changes in Egypt's economic and political systems. The Romans heavily taxed Egypt,to the extent that farms in Lower Egypt were depopulated as farmers fled to Upper Egypt or Nubia to escape their obilgation to the state . Even more damaging to the long-term health of the Egyptian state was that the Romans increasingly exported the resources instead of redistributing the goods to state workers within Egypt,as had been done in former times. Politically,Egypt did lose her sovereignity. With the rule of the Persians,Romans,Byzantines,Arans,and to a lesser degree,Ptolemiac,Macedonian Greeks who considered Egypt their own kingdom,Egypt was ruled by powers outside the Nile Valley and was drawn into the status of a client state. Yet the autocratic,and each had a definite theocratic basis---the divine Roman emperor,the Byzantine emperor,the caliph of Islam----so these political changes were easily comprehended by the majority of the Egyptian populace. One theocratic autocracy simply replaced another,and daily life continued much the same as before. Even today,life in Upper Egypt among the peasents has not changed appreciably from ancient times.


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 04, 2004 3:06 pm 
Pharaoh
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Well surely Egypt just suffered an overly long and lingering death. Very few civilisations just died. Rome took the best part of a millennia to die. (I class the final fall of Rome as the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in the fifteenth century). That was a lingering death, but we still have many Roman influences in art and architecture today. Does a civilisation ever die then as nearly all of them have ripples appearing to this very day. One must define when a civilisation "dies" to answer this more thoroughly. Any ideas on this?


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 04, 2004 5:15 pm 
Pharaoh
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You're right, Si-Amon. It's very hard--almost impossible--to really say when a civilization dies.
So many that are gone still have traces we can find in our own civilization, from the ancient Middle East, Roman, Greek--anything you care to mention.
To actually pin-point the exact time when a civilization dies is a choice that is different for everyone--so many things influence that choice.
I feel that the ancient Egyptian civilization, if it had one special moment, started its decline with the advent of Christanity. The early church, once it gained power in the land, came down--hard--on the religious beliefs of the Egyptians. To this day, it is easy to find monuments and temples that have been defaced--the faces of gods chiseled out, crosses carved in over ancient carvings, etc.
The Egyptians lost pride in themselves, and accepted others' evaluation of their society. And a lot of times, that evaluation was wrong--perhaps well-meaning, but wrong.
It's sad, in a way. But the death of ANY civilization is sad. Hopefully, our civilization will learn by mistakes in the past.


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