The northern part of the African continent, which is now occupied by the Sahara Desert, was originally a fertile land. Here stretched the tropical savanna with vast grassy pastures, along which herds of antelopes and other ungulates roamed, hunted by predators – lions and cheetahs. But from the tenth millennium BC. the climate began to change, becoming hotter and drier. The vegetation was drying up, the pastures were hiding under sand dunes.
At that time, local tribes had already mastered nomadic cattle breeding and grazed goats and cows on these lands (sheep were domesticated a little later, in the 8th millennium BC). The herds of domestic animals ate and trampled down the remains of the grass cover. Due to frequent droughts, the savannah did not have time to recover, the plains turned into deserts and could no longer feed the grazing animals. The tribes were removed from their usual habitats, leaving in search of more fertile lands. One of the regions that sheltered these settlers was the wide valley of the Nile River, which flows in northeastern Africa.
This river carries a huge volume of water to the Mediterranean Sea. Although the Nile crosses the desert in its lower reaches, it does not dry up even in the hottest years. Therefore, along its channel, among the advancing sands, extensive pastures and lowlands, suitable for agriculture, have been preserved. In the Nile delta, tribes settled, coming from the North African plains. The first human settlements in this area date back to the 6th millennium BC. The population of the lands along the Lower Nile at that time was made up of people from the most diverse tribes of the Caucasian and Negroid races. The inhabitants of these places, mixing with each other, later gave birth to the ancient Egyptian people, not similar to the other Middle Eastern population of antiquity.
Due to the limited territory of residence, these settlers had to develop cattle breeding and agriculture: to breed more productive breeds of livestock and varieties of grain crops. The villages of tribal communities in areas suitable for agriculture and near pastures, on which grass grew all year round, became larger and larger. For agriculture, seasonal changes in the water level in the Nile turned out to be very favorable. Early summer in East Africa, where the source of the Nile is located, the rainy season begins, which causes the water level in the river to rise. The Nile overflows and floods vast areas. Then the water recedes, but fertile river silt remains on the lands that have been flooded. Thus, the floodplains along the river receive free natural fertilization every year.
To regulate the level of water supplied to irrigate the fields, pools with walls coated with clay were dug, in which water was retained after floods. Water accumulated in these basins and did not flood the cultivated fields, and, if necessary, farmers opened dams, and water flowed to their areas. Managing the dams required teamwork and proper organization of society, which encouraged people to unite. The places where the leaders who controlled the exploitation of the dams lived became trade and political centers. Craftsmen also moved there, fairs and religious holidays were held in these centers of social life. Thus, the first cities arose in the lower reaches of the Nile.
The ancient Greeks, who became acquainted with the Egyptian way of life, began to call the area subject to the city, nom, and the ruler of such an area – nomarch. These names have taken root in historical science, although the Egyptians themselves called them the word “sept”. The nomarch gave instructions on the beginning of the sowing campaign, the construction of new dams and the repair of old ones. He was also responsible for storing the harvested crop in city warehouses. There was no private ownership of land and crops in ancient Egypt. Food was passed on to public canteens, where chefs prepared stew, porridge and beer. These canteens were managed by an official appointed by the nomarch, who made sure that the cooks did not plunder the food, and the food went to everyone equally. The same official served as a judge.
There were several dozen nomes and nomarchs on the banks of the Nile. Moreover, their life was not peaceful – often there was enmity between neighboring nomes, nomarchs tried to subjugate each other’s lands. At the end of the 4th millennium BC. all the nomes submitted to the largest city located in the Nile Delta, which was called Hi-Ku-Pta (translated as “the house of the soul of the creator god”). The ancient Greeks pronounced this name in their own way: Egiptos, with the same word they called the whole country. The ancient Egyptians themselves called their country Kemet, which means “black land”, according to the color of the fertile layer of earth along the Nile. The city of Hi-Ku-Pta later changed its name to Memphis, under this name it remained in history.
With the unification of Egypt around Memphis, a period of Egyptian history called the Old Kingdom begins. It lasted for almost the entire 3rd millennium BC. It was then that the power of the ruler of Memphis became absolute. According to the ancient Egyptian title “per-oh” (translated as “great house”), this ruler began to be called Pharaoh. Pharaoh for the Egyptians was the living embodiment of the god Horus, portrayed as a man with a falcon’s head. It was believed that the pharaoh did not die, but was reincarnated as his heirs.
Pharaoh disposed of all his subjects at his discretion, involving them in any public works, such as the construction of temples or tombs in the form of huge pyramids. This system of power, despite wars, enemy invasions and revolts, existed until the 1st century BC, when Egypt was subdued by Rome.
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