SOCIAL STUDIES CHAPTER 3: ANCIENT EGYPT AND NUBIA
SECTION 1: THE GEOGRAPHY OF THE NILE
I. Map and Introduction
-The waters of the Nile flow through Nubia and Egypt and spill into the
-The Greek historian Herodotus wrote, “Egypt is the gift of the Nile.”
-Herodotus had learned a basic truth: There would be no Egypt without the Nile.
II. The Course of the Nile
-The Nile River is the world’s longest river. It flows north from its sources in East
Africa to the Mediterranean Sea for more than 4,000 miles.
-The Nile has two main sources. The Blue Nile rises in the highlands of Ethiopia and
races down to the desert in thundering torrents.
-The White Nile is calmer. It begins deep in East Africa and flows northward through
-The White Nile and the Blue Nile meet in Sudan.
-Just north of the point where the Blue and White Nile meet, the Nile makes two
huge bends. It forms an S shape 1,000 miles in length. The northern tip of the S is at
the city of Aswan in Egypt. Along this stretch of Nile was Nubia, an ancient region in
the Nile River valley.
-The Nubian section of the Nile contained six cataracts, or rock-filled rapids.
Between the first and second cataract was lower Nubia. Because it rarely rained
there, people had to live close to the Nile for their water supply.
-Father south between the second and sixth cataracts, lies the area that was known
as Upper Nubia. In that region, rain does fall, so people could plant in the fall and
then harvest in the spring.
-The Nile ran for about 700 miles through ancient Egypt, from the first cataract at
Aswan to the Mediterranean Sea. On its way, it passes through a narrow region
called Upper Egypt. This fertile strip had an average width of around six miles on
each side of the river.
-In the north, the Nile spread out to form a fertile, marshy area called Lower Egypt.
-At the end of the Nile in the north, the river split into several streams that flowed
into the Mediterranean Sea. These streams formed an area called a delta.
-A delta is a plain at the mouth of a river. A delta is generally shaped like a triangle
and is named for the Greek letter delta which looks like this three-sided geometric
-Every spring, far away in the highlands of Africa, waters begin to rush downstream.
As they flowed, they brought a rich, fertile sediment called silt.
-Silt is a fine soil found on river bottoms. By late summer, the Nile spilled over its
banks all the way to the delta. The floodwaters deposited a thick layer of silt,
making the land ideal for farming.
-The ancient Egyptians called their land Kemet, the black land because of the dark
soil left by the Nile’s floods.
-Dry years were rare in Egypt, but they could cause famine.
-Beyond the fertile river banks lay the “red land,” the vast desert. Most of the Sahara
lay to the west, and the part of the Sahara called the Eastern Desert lay to the east.
-The hot sands shielded Egypt and Nubia from foreign attack. That was a protection
Mesopotamia did not have.
-Over a period of 2,000 years, the people of ancient Egypt and Nubia faced few
-Yet they were not isolated. The Nile valley provided a path for trade with Central
Africa. The Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea provided access to Southwest Asia.
III. The Growth of Communities and Trade Along the Nile
-Settled hunting and fishing communities may have appeared in Nubia around 6000
-Unlike the communities of the Fertile Crescent that settled after taking up
agriculture, the Nubians formed settlements before they started to farm.
-Settled farming communities began to appear in both Egypt and Nubia sometime
around 5000 B.C.
-Egypt’s early farming communities settled in the delta and valley regions of the
-The people built their homes of straw or of bricks made from a mix of mud and
-Nubia had less farmland along the Nile than Egypt. Because of the shortage of
farmland, Nubians added to their diet by fishing in the Nile and hunting ducks and
-In Egypt, the Nile was used to transport goods. Ships could travel north on the Nile
because it was moving downriver. But they could also sail upriver with the help of
the winds that blew toward the south.
-Other trade links ran east across the desert to the Red Sea ports or to Mesopotamia.
-Caravans loaded with gold, silver, copper, and fine pottery traveled the overland
-Valuable goods such as cedar from the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea and
gold from Nubia were sold in the bazaars of Egypt’s towns.
-Because of the cataracts, people could not travel through Nubia by river. Instead,
the Nubians developed trade routes over land.
-They traded ebony wood, ivory from elephant tusks, ostrich feathers and eggs,
panther skins, and throwsticks, a type of boomerang that Africans used for hunting.
SECTION 2: THE RULERS OF EGYPT
-Hatshepsut seized control of Egypt’s throne and made herself pharaoh.
-She ruled from 1473 to 1458 B.C.
II Egyptian Kingship
-Egypt’s fortune rested on the strengths of its pharaohs.
-Egypt had 31 dynasties from 3100 B.C. until it was conquered in 332 B.C.
-A dynasty is a series of rulers from the same family or ethnic group.
-Historians group Egypt’s dynasties into three major time periods, called kingdoms.
-The earliest major time period is called the Old Kingdom. It lasted from 2686 to
- Next comes the Middle Kingdom. It lasted from 1991 to 1786 B.C.
-The latest time period is called the New Kingdom. It lasted from 1567 to 1085 B.C.
-The gaps between the kingdoms were times of trouble—wars, invasions, or weak
-For most of ancient Egyptian history, rule was stable.
-According to legend, Egypt’s first dynasty began when a king named Menes united
Upper and Lower Egypt around 3000 B.C.
-Menes built a city named Memphis near the present day city of Cairo. From
Memphis, he ruled over the two lands, the name the ancient Egyptians gave to
Upper and Lower Egypt.
-Some historians believe that Menes and Narmer may have been the same man.
-The pharaohs had absolute power over their people.
-Ancient Egyptians believed that their pharaohs were the earthly forms of Horus,
the falcon god.
-Over time, pharaohs came to be connected with other gods, including the sun god
-In this way, the pharaohs were god-kings.
-It was the pharaoh, Egyptians believed, who provided his people with the Nile’s
yearly floods and the harvests that followed.
IV. The Three Kingdoms
The Old Kingdom
-The Old Kingdom was noted for its well-run system of government.
-The Old Kingdom pharaohs kept the peace and traded with Nubia.
-They sent merchants to the eastern coast of the Mediterranean to find timber. The
timber was used to make houses, boats, and furniture.
-Toward the end of the Old Kingdom, governors in the provinces began to challenge
the power of the pharaohs’ government. Egypt’s unity crumbled, and the dynasties
-During the Old Kingdom, builders began the Great Pyramid (2589 B.C.) and
completed the Great Sphinx (2533 B.C.).
-Dynasties 3-6 ruled during the Old Kingdom.
The Middle Kingdom
-The early rulers of the Middle Kingdom restored order and reunited the country.
-Pharaohs spent the nation’s wealth on public works instead of on wars. They
constructed buildings and irrigation projects and Egypt grew richer.
-Weaker and less able rulers followed and, in time, they lost control of the country
to foreign invaders.
-During the Middle Kingdom, Egypt expanded into Lower Nubia and literature and
-Dynasty 12 ruled during the Middle Kingdom.
The New Kingdom
-Egyptian princes drove out the foreigner invaders in 1567 B.C.
-The first pharaohs of the new kingdom wanted to build an empire. They created
huge armies of foot soldiers, mounted warriors, and charioteers. Bronze swords
and body armor made the Egyptians nearly unbeatable.
-Dynasties 18-20 ruled during the New Kingdom.
-Queen Hatshepsut ruled from 1503-1482 B.C.
-Thutmose III ruled from 1504-1450 B.C.
-The Egyptian empire expands into Syria.
-King Tutankhamen was an Egyptian ruler who died at about age 18. His tomb was
discovered in 1922.
IV. Rule During the New Kingdom
-In 1504 B.C., a child named Thutmose III began his reign. Because of his youth, his
stepmother Hatshepsut was appointed regent.
-Not content to be regent, Hatshepsut had herself proclaimed pharaoh. She ruled for
about 15 years.
-Hatshepsut was a bold leader who is known for creating a time of great peace and
-She encouraged trade with faraway places, sending a famous expedition to the land
of Punt, on the east coast of Africa.
-When Thutmose grew up, Hatshepsut refused to yield the throne to him.
-After her death, Thutmose became pharaoh and destroyed all her statues.
-Thutmose III became one of the greatest pharaohs of the New Kingdom.
-He led his army in wars against Syria and Phoenicia.
-His troops advanced as far east as the Euphrates River and south into Nubia.
-Thutmose was also an educated man who loved to study plants.
-Toward the end of the New Kingdom, Egypt declined. Civil war left Egypt weak and
-In 332 B.C., long after the end of the New Kingdom, Egypt fell to the famous
conqueror Alexander the Great of Macedonia.
-The Macedonians ruled Egypt for about 300 years.
-In 51 B.C., Queen Cleopatra VII became the last Macedonian to rule Egypt. She
shared the throne with members of her family until Egypt was conquered by the
Romans in 31B.C.
-Egypt would not govern itself again for 2,000 years.
SECTION 3: EGYPTIAN RELIGION
I. Egyptian Gods and Goddesses
-Religion was an important part of daily life in Egypt.
-The Egyptians believed that their gods and goddesses controlled the workings of
-Egyptian towns had their own gods and goddesses with their own temples.
-Horus was the son of Isis and Osiris and the sky god and the god of kingship.
-Osiris was the god of the living and the dead.
-Isis was the wife of Osiris and goddess of women.
-Thoth was the god of wisdom and writing.
-Amon-Re was the chief god of the Egyptians. He protected the rich and poor alike.
The Egyptians believed that Amon-Re was born each morning in the east with the
sunrise. Each evening he died in the west with the setting sun. That is why the
desert area to the west was believed to be the home of the dead. He is known as the
sun god and god of creation.
-The Egyptians believed the spirits of the dead made their way to the afterlife in
heavenly boats. If they pleased the gods in this world, they joined Osiris and lived a
life of ease and pleasure. They spent their days eating, drinking, and visiting with
friends and family members who had died. Because the souls of the dead could not
survive without food, clothing, and other items from this life, their possessions
were buried with them.
-During the Old Kingdom, the afterlife was thought to be only for kings and their
associates. But beginning with the Middle Kingdom, people of all classes looked
forward to an afterlife.
-Egypt’s climate dried out a person’s remains, creating a mummy.
-According to Egyptians’ religious beliefs, the soul would leave the mummy, but
return to it to receive food offerings.
-By the time of the Fourth Dynasty, the Egyptians had begun to practice
-Mummification was expensive and took two or three months. Workers carefully
removed the organs. The body was then filled with a natural salt and stored for
about forty days. During that time, it completely dried out. Once dry, the body was
cleaned and bathed in spices. It was then wrapped in linen bandages.
-Pharaohs had three or four coffins. The innermost coffin was usually shaped like a
human body, with the dead person’s face painted on the cover.
II. The Pharaohs’ Tombs
-The planning for a pharaoh’s tomb began soon after he was crowned.
-The earliest tombs were made of mud brick.
-The pharaohs of the Fourth Dynasty built the largest and most famous tombs.
These were the pyramids.
-Most of the pyramids were built during the Old Kingdom.
-The largest is called the Great Pyramid, built for Khufu in the ancient city of Giza.
-The Great Pyramid is made up of more than 2 million stones. The average weight of
each stone is 5,000 pounds.
-To get the blocks of stone into place, workers used sleds, wooden rollers, and
levers. They dragged and pushed the huge blocks up ramps of rubble to the level on
which they were working.
SECTION 4: ANCIENT EGYPTIAN CULTURE
I. Lives of the Egyptians
-Most of what we know about the everyday life of the Egyptians is based on paintings that cover the walls of tombs and temples.
-Egyptian paintings and carvings show royalty and ordinary people involved in all aspects of life.
-Egyptian society itself resembled a pyramid. At the very top stood the pharaoh.
-Beneath him was a small upper class. This group included priests, members of the
pharaoh’s court, and nobles who held the large estates.
-The next level was the middle class, made up of merchants and skilled workers.
-At the base of the pyramid was by far the largest class, the peasants. Mostly, the
peasants did farm labor, but they also built roads and temples.
-A person could rise to a higher class.
-Prisoners captured in war were made slaves. Slaves formed a separate class. Slaves
had rights. They could own personal items, inherit land from their masters, and
even be set free.
-Although peasants could own land, most worked the land of wealthier people.
During the flood season, the peasants worked on roads, temples, and other
buildings. As soon as the water left the land, they had to plant the fields.
-Egyptian woman were looked upon as living models of Isis, the wife of the god
Osiris. They had most of the rights that men had. They could own property, run
businesses, and enter into legal contracts. For the most part, women traveled about
-Noble women held a special position in Egyptian society. Sometimes they were in
charge of temples and religious rites. Some women acted as regents until the
pharaoh was old enough to rule on his own.
II. Writing in Ancient Egypt
-The records and writings left by the ancient Egyptians allow us to learn more about
their culture. From these records, we know they possessed an amazing amount of
-In ancient Egypt, as in Mesopotamia, ideas were written down in picture-like
symbols called hieroglyphs. In this script, some pictures stand for ideas or things.
-The Egyptians began to use hieroglyphs because they needed a way to keep track of
the kingdom’s growing wealth.
-At first, the Egyptians wrote on clay and stone, as the Sumerians did. But they
needed a more convenient writing surface. They found it in papyrus, an early form
of paper made from a reed found in the marshy areas of the Nile delta.
-To make the paper, the inner stalks of the plant were cut into narrow strips. The
strips were cut to the same length and placed side by side in one layer. Another
layer of strips was placed crosswise on top to form a sheet. Papyrus makers wet
the sheet, pressed it flat, and dried it in the sun. Sap from the plant glued the strips
together. Pasted side by side, the sheets formed a long strip that could be rolled up.
-The meaning of ancient Egypt’s hieroglyphic writing was lost after the A.D. 400s.
-It wasn’t until 1799 that an important find took place. A soldier digging a fort near
the Nile found a large black stone with three different types of writing on it. The
upper part showed hieroglyphics, the middle part showed a later Egyptian script
called demotic, and the lower part showed Greek letters. The stone was named the
Rosetta Stone because it was found near Rosetta, a city in the Nile delta near the
-The three texts on the stone held the same meaning. Many scholars tried to use the
Greek letters on the Rosetta Stone to figure out the meaning of the hieroglyphs.
-Finally in the 1820’s, a young French scholar named Jean Francois Champollion
eventually figured it out.
III. Science and Medicine
-Among the people of the ancient world, Egypt was known as a land of great
-Egyptian astronomers were able to predict the Nile appeared to rise rapidly about
the time they could see Sirius, the Dog Star, in the sky shortly before sunrise. They
worked out that the average time between the appearances of the star was 365
days. This became the length of their year.
-The Egyptians knew how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. They could also use
-Mathematics helped Egyptians measure stone so that it could be cut to the proper
size to build pyramids. They used geometry to measure area so they could figure
out the amount of taxes for a plot of land.
-Religion and medicine were closely related in ancient Egypt. Doctors were specially
trained priests who used religious practices and their knowledge of illnesses to try
to heal the sick. They could perform surgery, set broken bones, and heal minor
-The Egyptians also used natural remedies to help ease everyday illnesses such as
stomachaches and headaches.
-They wrote much of their medical knowledge down on papyrus and, centuries later,
the Greeks and Romans used these records.
SECTION 5: THE CULTURE OF NUBIA
I. Nubia and Egypt
-The region of Nubia was located south of ancient Egypt, beyond the first cataract of
the Nile River.
-For most of their long history, Nubia and Egypt were peaceful, friendly neighbors.
-Egypt valued Nubia for its rich mineral resources such as gold, copper, and iron ore.
-Because of its location, Nubia became a bridge for goods traveling between central
Africa and Egypt.
-Powerful kingdoms rose in Upper Nubia, the region between the second and sixth
Nile cataracts. These kingdoms rivaled Egypt for control of land.
-The most powerful of these kingdoms were in the cities of Kerma, Napata, and
Meroe. These kingdoms were ruled by Kushites, people who lived in southern
II. The Kerma Culture
-The Kushites came to power at a time when Egypt was weakening. By about 1600
B.C., the Kushite kingdom had expanded from the city of Kerma into parts of
-These Nubians are known as the Kermite culture, and their kingdom lasted from
about 2000 to 1500 B.C.
-Kerma gained wealth and power by controlling the trade between Central Africa
-Like the Egyptians, the people of Kerma devoted a great deal of energy and
resources to royal burials. They buried their kings in mounds of earth as large as
football fields. Inside their tombs, the kings’ bodies rested on top of gold-covered
beds surrounded by jewelry, gold, and ivory.
-Around the 1500’s B.C., Egypt began to recover its strength and to reclaim control
of the area. Pharaoh Thutmose I sent his armies into Nubia. After a war that lasted
about fifty years, the Egyptians took control of Nubia as far south as the fourth
cataract. Egypt ruled Nubia for about the next 700 years.
-During this period, the Nubians adopted many Egyptian ways and the two cultures
III. Napata and Meroe
-South of Kerma lay the Nubian cities of Napata and Meroe, in the ancient land called
Kush. After centuries of Egyptian rule, the Kushites rose again to power. Their
kingdom was centered in the Nubian city of Napata and then later in Meroe.
-In the late 700’s B.C., Egypt was once again weak and divided. From their capital in
Napata, the Kushites expanded their power into Egypt.
-The Napatan kings gradually took control of more of Egypt. They moved their
capital city first to Thebes and then to Memphis. By the time Taharka became
pharaoh, the Nubians controlled all of Egypt.
-The pharaohs of Egypt’s Twenty-fifth dynasty were Nubians.
-The Napatan kings admired Egyptian culture and they brought back many old
Egyptian ways and preserved them.
-The rule of the Napatan kings did not last long. About 660 B.C., they were forced
back into Nubia. They retreated to Napata and then gradually moved their capital
south to Meroe. The Nubians never again controlled Egyptian land.
-After moving south of Egypt’s reach, the Nubians founded a royal court in the
ancient city of Meroe.
-Meroe became the center of an empire that included much of Nubia and stretched
into central Africa.
-The desert east of Meroe held large deposits of iron ore which the Nubians used to
make weapons and tools.
-Iron plows allowed them to produce generous supplies of food, and iron weapons
allowed them to control trade routes that ran all the way to the Red Sea.
-Meroe grew rich from this trade.
-Today, Meroe remains largely a mystery. The Nubians of Meroe created their own
system of hieroglyphic writing, but scholars have been unable to fully understand
-Meroe began to weaken in the A.D. 200’s and it fell to the Africa kingdom of Axum
in the next century.
-Features of Nubian culture have lasted for 3500 years. To this day, Nubian styles of
pottery, furniture, jewelry, braided hairstyles, and clothing survive among people of
the modern-day African country of Sudan.
-Women held very high status in Nubian society. Most often, the children of the
ruler’s sister would be next in line for the throne. Compared to Egypt, Nubia had
many more women as rulers.