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Ancient Near East Essay, Research Paper

Environment strongly affected in the Ancient Near East. In a largely rainless climate, Egypt’s high agricultural productivity depended on a long but very narrow floodplain; on average 19.2 km wide, it reached a maximum of 248 km in the Delta and was formed by the Nile’s annual flood. If a periodic, long-term decrease in the volume of the Nile were to occur, it might create social stress and political and military conflict. But an increase in volume increased food supplies and favored stability and centralized government. The deserts to the east and west had valuable stones and minerals and it also helped protect Egypt from much external attack or infiltration from all sides of its boundaries. To the south (northeast Africa) and northwest (Syria-Palestine), however, important kingdoms developed. Egypt traded with and exploited these kingdoms but was also sometimes threatened by them. Beyond Syria-Palestine, greater powers in Anatolia, Mesopotamia, and Iran were alternately Egypt’s allies and its rivals in imperial expansion, but none was a direct threat before the 7th century BC.

Achievement, continuity, and innovation characterized Egyptian civilization. Major achievements included a continuous drive toward political unity and social stability. The creation of a surplus in food and materials supported a great structure of administrators, soldiers, priests, and craftsmen. The invention or adoption of a writing system was created around 3100 BC. Literacy made government more effective, stabilizing and enriching religious, intellectual, and scientific information. In turn, these developments promoted the growth of elaborate and often massively scaled buildings in brick and stone. It also promoted the growth of highly accomplished art forms such as statues and paintings, which were among the most distinctive of the ancient world.

Continuity was very strong in the civilization of the Ancient Near East. Egypt’s religion, its concepts of social order, and its system of strong monarchical government remained fundamentally the same for over 3,000 years. Environmental stability helped, as did ethnic and linguistic continuity; unlike other areas of the Near East, Egypt did not continually have to absorb large new populations with languages and ideas different from those already established. Equally important was a powerful and tenacious worldview shared by all Egyptians. A cosmos, enfolding gods, humans, and nature, had been created in complete and perfect form at the beginning of time. Its perfection held off the destructive, chaotic forces that surrounded it. Adherence to traditional forms of belief, politics, and culture was believed necessary to maintain perfection and prevent the collapse of the universe. Egyptian art and religious architecture such as temples and tombs closely followed established conventions of style and content because their role was to depict this ideal order and be one of several means ritually integrating Egypt with the cosmos. Art for decorative, aesthetic, and propagandistic purposes was also real, but very secondary.

Because of annual flood from the Nile, and with natural irrigation basins that retained floodwaters, the Nile valley was an ideal setting for Mesolithic economies with basic agriculture to evolve into Neolithic ones based on stationary agriculture, with domesticated crops and animals. In northern Egypt, the development of Neolithic life can be traced at Merimdeh and in the Fayum from 5000-4000 BC. There and elsewhere in the north the northern culture emerged, characterized by monochrome pottery using incised and applied decoration.

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