Ancient Egypt was a civilization that developed in Northern Africa along the Nile River in what is now the country of Egypt. It began about 3150 B.C. and continued for the next 3000 years with pharaohs as the leaders. It was one of the oldest and greatest civilizations in the world, often being called the cradle of civilization. It survived rebellions and invasions and during one kingdom, the rulers governed northeastern Africa and much of southern Africa.
The earliest settlers lived and farmed along the banks of the Nile and were organized into clans, each of which had a chief as its head. Government and religion were closely linked with the members of each village believing that a sacred animal had founded their clan. Through conquest, the clan chiefs slowly united the various clans into groups of villages and towns called clan states or nomes. Gradually the more powerful chiefs began extending their power beyond and between 4500 B.C. and 3500 B.C. large kingdoms with pharaohs as leaders developed.
The ancient Egyptians believed their leaders to be gods and worshiped them. They also enjoyed life and believed that it continued after death. This led to elaborate burial customs with the graves of rulers being deeper and covered with heaps of rock and sand to form monuments. This sand helped preserve the bodies and the food and tools buried with them so that they could bring them to the afterlife. The Pyramids are examples of the types of monuments they built for the rulers in the later empires.
Settlements were built on artificial mounds connected by causeways. The people drained marshland to make more land available for farming and dug irrigation canals to bring water to the crops in times of drought. The ancient Egyptians invented the plough, which made clearing the land easier. Cloth was made from woven flax and clay was made into pottery. Some of the people made flint tools by hollowing out stone vessels and other made jewelry from the semiprecious stones they found in the rocks. Skilful carvers carved images of men and animals on ivory combs and slate palettes.
Trade was encouraged between villages and kingdoms. Boats made of papyrus reeds were used to carry the goods to other villages. Donkey caravans traversed the desert to bring the trade goods to other parts of the continent. In ports along the Red Sea, merchants set up businesses trading goods of ancient Egypt for the treasures of the Sinai region, such as copper, basalt gold and black malachite.
The ancient Egyptians used the rise and fall of the Nile to tell time. The year was divided into three seasons of flood, planting and harvest and this later developed into the Nile calendar. They also invented a system of writing in which a picture represented an object. Eventually they developed a letter system in which words could be written out. Hieroglyphs were used almost entirely for royal and religious inscriptions. Hieratic writing developed from this and was used for government and business records, letters and literature.
There was a distinct difference between the life of the nobles and the common people in Ancient Egypt. Nobles surrounded themselves with luxuries and their houses often had as many as thirty rooms. They generally wore a knee-length kilt made of white linen and clipped or shaved their heads or beards. The common people lived in small villages in one room huts made of reds and mud. They labored in the fields from dawn to dusk and both men and women wore a rough linen kilt.