A History of Ancient Egypt

A History of Ancient Egypt

A History of Ancient Egypt

A History of Ancient Egypt


Outlining the major political and cultural events, A History of Ancient Egypt is an authoritative and accessible introduction to this fascinating ancient culture.
  • An accessible chronological narrative that draws on a range of historical sources
  • Offers an up-to-date survey of ancient Egypt's history from its origins to its domination by the Roman Empire
  • Considers social and economic life and the rich culture of ancient Egypt
  • Places Egypt's history within its regional context, detailing interactions with Asia and Africa
  • Engages students with various perspectives on a range of critical issues with the Key Debate section included in each chapter
  • Makes the latest discoveries and scholarship accessible to a wide audience


Visitors to bookstores and school and public libraries easily find titles on ancient Egypt. Works on Egyptian gods, the Book of the Dead, tombs, and pharaohs are abundant and new ones continue to appear. Is another publication that does not introduce material newly excavated or rediscovered in a museum then really needed? As a historian I thought so – otherwise this would have been a futile project. Basic surveys of the history of ancient Egypt are remarkably rare and those that exist tend to be either brief and geared toward a very general audience or detailed and intended for people who have made Egyptology a lifetime pursuit. My aim here is to present something in between: an introductory overview of Egypt’s ancient past in a single voice that, I hope, will encourage readers to delve further into one of the most fascinating civilizations in world history. This volume aims to serve as an introductory textbook for courses on ancient Egypt, but also to give the many people intrigued by its culture a general summary of the historical situation in the more than 3,000 years of its existence. As the author I had to make many choices about what to include and to omit and where to focus attention, and it may be useful to provide some clarifications on what inspired my decisions.

Even if scholars of ancient Egypt often complain that something is unknowable because of a lack of evidence – a great problem in the study of its history indeed – there still is a vast number of topics we can discuss. What I present here is a personal selection from a host of possibilities. I know that many readers will feel that I unjustly ignored or gave short shrift to subjects they find interesting: art, material culture, religion, war, women, and so on. I focus here on political history, but I also stress social interactions and give special attention to how later people – including we today – looked back on periods or individuals of ancient Egypt. I am well aware that others would have written a different book and would have focused attention on questions that concern them more, but I hope my choices are not too idiosyncratic and will appeal to many readers.

Although I organized the book according to the standard sequence of periods we recognize in Egyptian history, in the chapter narratives I have tried to avoid a format that many surveys use. The ancient sources encourage a presentation of Egypt’s history as a progression of individual reigns nicely grouped into 31 dynasties. This framework is quite secure and provides a straightforward structure that is easy to follow, but it prevents the recognition of patterns and can be monotonous. Because the dynastic organization is so central to the way in which scholars study any aspect of ancient Egypt, however, in each chapter I have provided very brief summaries that highlight reigns and dynasties, so that readers can more easily connect information they read or see in other books, articles, museums, and TV programs to my discussions. But in the main narratives I have avoided a purely chronological account.

Introductory histories often present information without contextualizing the evidence. Even if they make meticulous reference to specific inscriptions or papyri, it is not always clear whether these sources are unique or selected from many similar ones. So I start each chapter with a brief survey of the ancient written evidence available on the period it covers. Because the analysis of primary sources is such an important part of a historian’s task, I also discuss one or more documents in detail in each chapter. Reading ancient historical sources is not straightforward and they require much interpretation before they become the building blocks of the histories we produce. It is important thus to realize what the nature of the evidence is that historians use to investigate a particular period or question.

Finally, perhaps the most difficult challenge in writing introductory surveys is that they do not argue – they assert. Even if sentences are qualified by words like “seemingly” (often omitted to avoid clutter in the text), they give the impression that there is certainty. That is far from true. Every page, if not paragraph, of this book probably contains a statement that will offend someone who has argued differently in writing or lectures. It is impossible to acknowledge every scholarly opinion in an introductory book that covers the entirety of ancient Egyptian history. I chose to follow interpretations that I found the most convincing or appealing, and in the Guide to Further Reading I give preference to works that were the most useful in guiding my decisions. Like most of my colleagues, as a teacher I demand from my students that they acknowledge the sources they use when writing a research paper. It may thus seem that I set the wrong example here by not specifically referencing where I found an idea or what scholar’s view I follow. If I had chosen to give full bibliographic references, I would have produced a very different book, longer and probably more daunting to a general reader. But, in order to counteract the impression that what I have written is generally accepted fact, I have included sections called Key Debates in each chapter to survey different views on a specific topic and give more detailed notes with scholarly references. In these sections I often stress how interpretations have evolved because of changing modern preoccupations rather than a clearer understanding. Historians do not live in a vacuum and their interests and explanations reflect their own conditions. I admit that even . . .

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