One of the unique features of ancient Egyptian civilization was the bond between the Nile and the Egyptian people and their institutions. The Nile caused the great productivity of the soil, for it annually brought a copious deposit of rich silt from the monsoon-swept tableland of Ethiopia. Each July, the level of the Nile began to rise, and by the end of August, the flood reached its full height. At the end of October, the flood began to recede, leaving behind a fairly uniform deposit of silt as well as lagoons and streams that became natural reservoirs for fish. By April, the Nile was at its lowest level. Vegetation started to diminish, seasonal pools dried out, and game began to move south. Then in July, the Nile would rise again, and the cycle was repeated.
Because of the fall and rise of the river, one can understand why the Egyptians were the first people to believe in life after death. The rise and fall of the flood waters meant that the "death" of the land would be followed each year by the "rebirth" of the crops. Thus, rebirth was seen as a natural sequence to death. Like the sun, which "died" when it sank on the western horizon and was "reborn" in the eastern sky on the following morning, humans would also rise and live again.
Sometime during the final Paleolithic period and the Neolithic era, a revolution occurred in food production. Meat ceased to be the chief article of diet and was replaced by plants such as wheat and barley grown extensively as crops and not gathered at random in the wild. The relatively egalitarian tribal structure of the Nile Valley broke down because of the need to manage and control the new agricultural economy and the surplus it generated. Long-distance trade within Egypt, a high degree of craft specialization, and sustained contacts with southwest Asia encouraged the development of towns and a hierarchical structure with power residing in a headman who was believed to be able to control the Nile flood. The headman's power rested on his reputation as a "rainmaker king." The towns became trading centers, political centers, and cult centers. Egyptologists disagree as to when these small, autonomous communities were unified into the separate kingdoms of Lower Egypt and Upper Egypt and as to when the two kingdoms were united under one king.
Data as of December 1990
Source: Library of Congress Country Studies
Ancient Egypt LOC ArticlesAncient Egypt - 664-323 B.C. Late Period
Ancient Egypt - Cult of the Sun God and Akhenaten's Monotheism
Ancient Egypt - Art and Architecture in the New Kingdom
Ancient Egypt - New Kingdom 3d Intermediate Period
Ancient Egypt - Pyramid Building in the Old and Middle Kingdoms
Ancient Egypt - Old Middle Kingdoms and 2d Intermediate Period