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The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt par [Wilkinson, Toby]
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Longueur : 656 pages Word Wise: Activé Composition améliorée: Activé
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The first king of Egypt

In a tall glass case in the entrance hall of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo stands an ancient slab of fine-grained greenish-black stone, about two feet high and no more than an inch thick. Shaped like a shield, it is carved on both sides in low relief. The scenes, though still crisp, are difficult to make out in the diffuse, hazy light that filters down through the dusty glazed dome in the museum ceiling. Most visitors barely give this strange object a second glance as they head straight for the golden riches of Tutankhamun on the floor above. Yet this modest piece of stone is one of the most important documents to survive from ancient Egypt. Its place of honor at the entrance to the Egyptian Museum, the world's greatest treasure- house of pharaonic culture, underlines its significance. This stone is the object that marks the very beginning of ancient Egyptian history.

The Narmer Palette, as it is known to Egyptologists, has become an icon of early Egypt, but the circumstances of its discovery are clouded with uncertainty. In the winter of a.d. 1897-1898, the British archaeologists James Quibell and Frederick Green were in the far south of Egypt, excavating at the ancient site of Nekhen (modern Kom el-Ahmar), the "city of the falcon" (classical Hierakonpolis). The nineteenth century was still the era of treasure seeking, and Quibell and Green, though more scientific in their approach than many of their contemporaries, were not immune from the pressure to discover fine objects to satisfy their sponsors back home. So, having chosen to excavate at Nekhen, a site eroded by countless centuries and largely devoid of major standing monuments, they decided to focus their attentions on the ruins of the local temple. Though small and unimpressive by comparison with the great sanctuaries of Thebes, this was no ordinary provincial shrine. Since the dawn of history, it had been dedicated to the celebration of Egyptian kingship. The local falcon god of Nekhen, Horus, was the patron deity of the Egyptian monarchy. Might the temple, therefore, yield a royal treasure?

The two men worked away, and their initial results were disappointing: stretches of mud brick wall; the remains of a mound, faced in stone; a few worn and broken statues. Nothing spectacular. The next area to be investigated lay in front of the mound, but here the archaeologists encountered only a thick layer of clay that resisted systematic excavation. The city of the falcon seemed determined to keep its secrets. But then, as Quibell and Green struggled their way through the clay layer, they came upon a scatter of discarded ritual objects, a motley collection of sacred paraphernalia that had been gathered up and buried by the temple priests some time in the remote past. There was no gold, but the "Main Deposit"-as the archaeologists optimistically called it-did contain some interesting and unusual finds. Chief among them was a carved slab of stone.

There was no doubt about what sort of object they had found. A shallow, circular well in the middle of one side showed it to be a palette, a grindstone for mixing pigments. But this was no workaday tool for preparing cosmetics. The elaborate and detailed scenes decorating both sides showed that it had been commissioned for a much loftier purpose, to celebrate the achievements of a glorious king. Beneath the benign gaze of two cow goddesses, a representation of the monarch himself-shown in the age-old pose of an Egyptian ruler, smiting his enemy with a mace-dominated one side of the palette. The archaeologists wondered who he was and when he had reigned. Two hieroglyphs, contained within a small rectangular panel at the very top of the palette, seemed to provide the answer, spelling out the monarch's name: a catfish ("nar" in the Egyptian language) and a chisel ("mer"): Narmer. Here was a king previously unknown to history. Moreover, the style of the carvings on the Narmer Palette pointed to a very early date. Subsequent research showed that Narmer was not just an early king; he was the very first ruler of a united Egypt. He came to the throne around 2950, the first king of the First Dynasty. In the mud of Nekhen, Quibell and Green had stumbled upon ancient Egypt's founding monument.

While Narmer may be the first historical king, he is not the beginning of Egypt's story. The decoration of his famous palette shows the art of the Egyptian royal court and the iconography of kingship already in their classical forms. However, some of the palette's stranger motifs, such as the intertwined beasts with long serpentine necks and the bull trampling the walls of an enemy fortress, hark back to a remote prehistoric past. On his great commemorative palette, Narmer was explicitly acknowledging that the cornerstones of Egyptian civilization had been laid long before his own time.

The desert blooms

As the Narmer Palette demonstrates on a small scale and for an early date, the Egyptians achieved a mastery of stone carving unsurpassed in the ancient, or modern, world. Diverse and abundant raw materials within Egypt's borders combined with great technical accomplishment to give the Egyptians a highly distinctive medium for asserting their cultural identity. Stone also had the advantage of permanence, and Egyptian monuments were consciously designed to last for eternity. The origin of this obsession with monumentality was in the Western Desert, near the modern border between Egypt and Sudan. The remote spot is known to archaeologists as Nabta Playa. Today, a paved main road carves through the desert only a mile or two away, bringing construction traffic to Egypt's New Valley project. But until very recently, Nabta Playa was as far away from civilization as it was possible to get. Its main distinction was as a pit stop on the cross- country route between the desert springs of Bir Kiseiba and the shores of Lake Nasser. The flat bed of an ancient, dried-up lake-or playa-together with a nearby sandy ridge, certainly make Nabta an ideal spot for an overnight camp. There is, however, much more to the site than a casual first glance would suggest. Scattered throughout the landscape are large stones-not naturally occurring boulders but megaliths that had been hauled from some distance away and set up at key points around the edge of the playa. Some stand in splendid isolation, as sentinels on the horizon; others form a linear alignment. Most remarkable of all, on a slight elevation a series of stones has been set out in a circle, with pairs of uprights facing each other. Two pairs are aligned north to south, while two more point toward the midsummer sunrise.

Previously unknown and entirely unexpected, Nabta Playa has emerged from obscurity as the ancient Egyptian Stonehenge, a sacred landscape dotted with carefully placed stone structures. Scientific dating of the associated sediments has revealed a startlingly early date for these extraordinary monuments, the early fifth millennium b.c. At that time, as in even earlier periods, the Sahara would have been very different from its current arid state. On an annual basis, summer rains would have greened the desert-filling the seasonal lake, and turning its shores into lush pasture and arable land. The people who migrated to Nabta Playa to take advantage of this temporary abundance were seminomadic cattle herders who roamed with their livestock across a wide area of the eastern Sahara. Large quantities of cattle bones have been excavated at the site, and traces of human activity can be found scattered over the ground: fragments of ostrich eggshells (used as water carriers and, when broken, for making jewelry), flint arrowheads, stone axes, and grindstones for processing the cereals that were cultivated along the lakeshore. With its seasonal fertility, Nabta offered semi-nomadic people a fixed point of great symbolic significance, and over generations they set about transforming it into a ritual center. Laying out the stone alignments must have required a large degree of communal involvement. Like their counterparts at Stonehenge, the monuments of Nabta show that the local prehistoric people had developed a highly organized society. A pastoral way of life certainly needed wise decision-makers with a detailed knowledge of the environment, close familiarity with the seasons, and an acute sense of timing. Cattle are thirsty animals, requiring a fresh supply of water at the end of each day's wandering, so judging when to arrive at a site such as Nabta and when to leave again could have been a matter of life and death for the whole community.

The purpose of the standing stones and the "calendar circle" seems to have been to predict the arrival of the all-important rains that fell shortly after the summer solstice. When the rains arrived, the community celebrated by slaughtering some of their precious cattle as a sacrifice of thanks, and burying the animals in graves marked on the ground with large, flat stones. Under one such mound, archaeologists found not a cattle burial but a huge sandstone monolith that had been carefully shaped and dressed to resemble a cow. Dated, like the calendar circle, to the early fifth millennium b.c., it is the earliest known monumental sculpture from Egypt. Here are to be found the origins of pharaonic stone carving-in the prehistoric Western Desert, among wandering cattle herders, a millennium and more before the beginning of the First Dynasty. Archaeologists have been forced to rethink their theories of Egypt's origins.

On the other side of Egypt, in the Eastern Desert, equally remarkable discoveries have been made, confirming the impression that the arid lands bordering the Nile Valley were the crucible of ancient Egyptian civilization. Thousands of rock pictures pecked into the sandstone cliffs dot the dry valleys (known as wadis) that crisscross the hilly terrain between the Nile and the Red Sea hills. At some locations, usually associated with natural shelters, overhangs, or caves, there are great concentrations of pictures. One such tableau, by a dried-up plunge pool in the Wadi Umm Salam, has been likened to the Sistine Chapel. Its images constitute some of the earliest sacred art from Egypt, prefiguring the classic imagery of pharaonic religion by as much as a thousand years. Like their sculpture-loving counterparts at Nabta Playa, the prehistoric artists of the Eastern Desert seem also to have been cattle herders, and pictures of their livestock-and the wild animals they hunted out on the savanna-feature heavily in their compositions. But instead of using megaliths to signify their deepest beliefs, they exploited the smooth cliff faces offered by their own environment, turning them into canvases for religious expression. Gods traveling in sacred boats, and ritual hunts of wild animals, are key themes in the pharaonic iconography first attested in the Eastern Desert rock art. The inaccessible and inhospitable character of the region today belies its pivotal role in the rise of ancient Egypt.

Gathering speed

Ongoing survey and excavation at sites across the Western and Eastern deserts is revealing a pattern of close interaction between desert and valley peoples in prehistory. Rather unexpectedly, the semi- nomadic cattle herders who roamed across the prehistoric savanna seem to have been more advanced than their valley-dwelling contemporaries. But in a lesson for our own times, the cattle herders' vibrant way of life was made extinct by environmental change. Beginning in about 5000, the climate of northeast Africa began to undergo a marked shift. The once predictable summer rains that for millennia had provided cattle herders with seasonal pasture away from the Nile became steadily less reliable. Over a period of a few centuries, the rain belt moved progressively southward. (Today the rains, when they fall at all, fall over the highlands of Ethiopia.) The savannas to the east and west of the Nile began to dry out and turn to desert. After little more than a few generations, the desiccated land was no longer able to support thirsty herds of cattle. For the herders, the alternative to starvation was migration-to the only permanent water source in the region, the Nile Valley.

Here, the earliest settled communities, along the edge of the floodplain, had been established in the early fifth millennium b.c., broadly contemporary with the megalith builders of Nabta Playa. Like the cattle herders, the valley dwellers had also been practicing agriculture, but in contrast to the seasonality of rainfall in the arid regions, the regime of the Nile had made it possible to grow crops year-round. This would have given the valley dwellers the incentive and the wherewithal to occupy their villages on a permanent basis. The way of life the valley dwellers developed is known to Egyptologists as the Badarian culture, after the site of el-Badari, where this lifestyle was first recorded. The local vicinity was ideally suited to early habitation, with the juxtaposition of different ecosystems-floodplain and savanna-and excellent links to a wider hinterland. Desert routes led westward to the oases, while a major wadi ran eastward to the Red Sea coast. It was through these avenues that the Badarian way of life was strongly influenced by the early desert cultures.

One such influence, an interest in personal adornment, stayed with the ancient Egyptians throughout their history. Another development with long-term ramifications was the gradual stratification of society into leaders and followers, a small ruling class and a larger group of subjects. This was a system that owed much to the challenging lifestyle faced by pastoral seminomads. These external stimuli and internal dynamics began to transform Badarian society. Over many centuries, gradual changes took root and began to accelerate. The rich grew richer and began to act as patrons to a new class of specialist craftsmen. They, in turn, developed new technologies and new products to satisfy their patrons' ever more sophisticated tastes. The introduction of restricted access to prestige goods and materials further reinforced the power and status of the wealthiest in society.

The process of social transformation, once started, could not be stopped. Culturally, economically, and politically, prehistoric society became increasingly complex. Egypt was set on a course toward statehood. The final drying-out of the deserts around 3600 must have injected further momentum into this process. A sudden increase in population-when those living in the deserts migrated to the valley- may have led to greater competition for scarce resources, encouraging the development of walled towns. More mouths to feed would also have stimulated more productive agriculture. Urbanization and the intensification of farming were responses to social change but were also a stimulus to further change.

Under such conditions, communities in Upper Egypt began to coalesce into three regional groupings, each probably ruled by a hereditary monarch. Strategic factors help to explain the early dominance of these three prehistoric kingdoms. One kingdom was centered on the town of Tjeni (near modern Girga), a site where the floodplain narrowed and allowed the town's inhabitants to control river traffic. This area was also where trade routes from Nubia and the Saharan oases met the Nile Valley. A second territory had its capital at Nubt ("the golden," modern Nagada), which controlled access to gold mines in the Eastern Desert via the Wadi Hammamats on the opposite bank of the river. A third kingdom had grown up around the settlement of Nekhen, which, like Tjeni, was the starting point for a desert route to the oases (and thence to Sudan) and, like Nubt, controlled access to important Eastern Desert gold reserves, in this case the more southerly deposits reached via a wadi directly opposite the town.

Revue de presse

Praise from the United Kingdom for The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt
“Absolutely divine . . . a thorough, erudite and enthusiastic gallop through an astonishing three thousand years.”—The Sunday Times
“I had always presumed, before I read Wilkinson’s book, that it was impossible to write a history of Egypt which combined scholarship, accessibility, and a genuine sense of revelation. I was wrong.”—Tom Holland, The Observer
“Not just the pyramids but the politics; not just war and religion but livestock and labour relations: the whole astonishing story meticulously researched and enthrallingly told.”—The Scotsman
“Egypt has for the past four thousand years been much vaunted, much debated . . . Toby Wilkinson’s The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt [adds] impressively to this tradition.”—Bettany Hughes, The Times

“No detail is spared on this literary journey. . . . [The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt] will appeal to anyone . . . who wishes to learn more about this incredible civilization.”Press Association
“Take this great book with you on your next boat to Egypt.”—Oxford Times

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  • Editeur : Random House (15 mars 2011)
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) HASH(0x8dd150e4) étoiles sur 5 86 commentaires
138 internautes sur 146 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x8dd3fe04) étoiles sur 5 Splendid, quirky, gritty...An altogether fascinating retelling of Egyptian History 21 mars 2011
Par Gregory S. King-owen - Publié sur
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
Despite having a doctorate in early American history, I have been fascinated with Ancient Egypt since I can remember. And, having read Toby Wilkinson's earlier works (Early Dynastic Egypt and Genesis of the Pharaohs, in particular), I knew that I would have to read this latest interpretation of the course of ancient Egyptian history. The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt is nothing short of magnificent, with a narrative thread focusing on both the glorious and gritty sides of Egyptian life as fostered by the Egyptian state's exertion of coercive power.

Organized chronologically, The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt returns time and again to the problems of state power. States rise and fall, power ebbs and flows: Egypt's leaders attempted to uphold the forces of truth and order against those of chaos and disarray. To do so required developing state infrastructures and means of coercing the appropriation of both labor and material goods to build the glorious monuments that so capture the public's imagined Egypt. From the pyramids to Abu Simbel, the projection of Egyptian glory depended on breaking the backs of the people who toiled incessantly in service to the state. Indeed, the twin themes of ideology (religion, royal divinity) and administration (bureaucracies, taxation, etc.) repeatedly resurface to highlight just how the state secured support for its regime and managed that support. When both aspects of state control broke down, Egypt entered periodically into times of disorder and chaos.

Readers expecting a romantic view of Ancient Egypt focused on the archaeological treasures will probably be disappointed to be reminded of the costs of Egyptian grandeur. Readers hoping for a more cultural approach to Egyptian history--an extended exploration of religion, art, music, and the like--will probably be less satisfied with Wilkinson's focus upon the state. To be sure, Wilkinson brings these matters up when they are needed but gives them no extended treatment. The excellent bibliography and notes, however, do provide additional resources to investigate topics of interest; moreover, the notes detail Wilkinson's own interpretive engagement with Egyptian historiography, making his book much more valuable to others besides the casual reader.

Despite the book's populist tone, readers may be put off by content density of some chapters. At times, a bewildering array of names and places rush off the page, forcing the reader to consult his handy copies of The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt or the Penguin Atlas of Ancient Egypt. Those without sufficient reference material would perhaps have been well served by a glossary, which, although it does lengthen the book, does provide readers with a handy reference when there are simply too many names to conjure with. The writing style itself is fairly popular, with few words that might trip up readers. Frequent references to British history--especially comparisons to how monarchies have exercised state power across the ages--might be off putting to many American readers, but, it seems to me that the implied arguments by analogy do serve a purpose in highlighting how states have little changed since the Ancient Egyptians invented statehood. Color and black and white illustrations, along with excellent maps, complement the narrative.

Overall, Toby Wilkinson's The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt seems to combine the best features of the histories that I've come to love. Its accessibility and charm reminds me of Barbara Mertz' Temples, Tombs, and Hieroglyphs, while its scholarly insight and argumentation make me think of Barry Kemp's Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization. To me, the joy of a book is being able to re-read it and come to new insights and appreciation each time and I am sure that such will be the case with The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt.
39 internautes sur 42 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x8dd4306c) étoiles sur 5 History as Story 24 avril 2011
Par Gridley - Publié sur
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
I remember wondering as a small boy about life in the kingdoms of ancient Egypt. Maybe it was Sunday school lessons, Moses, and all that, but the Egyptian period of human development has always had me in its spell.

And Wilkinson's book makes the spell even deeper. His story begins with Narmer, the first king of a more or less united Egypt and continues through the pyramidal age to the New Kingdom and its fully fleshed art, architecture, literature, government and religion. Wilkinson takes us from there through Egypt's wars with Abyssinia and Persia, Alexander the Great's appearance and ends with the Roman conquest of Egypt and Cleopatra's death. Rather than a dry litany of dates, names and events, the author retells the story of a culture. He has an agenda here, and he doesn't try to hide it, but that's where the story lies.

Wilkinson is looking through time from the vantage of a twenty-first century writer, one who sees the evolution of a culture in which some people become more important than others. These elites use humanity's tendency to fear to subjugate them, to keep them under royal and religious thumb. The four thousand years of Egypt's rise and dominance and its subsequent fall, then, are the product of this abuse of masses of humanity for the benefit of the few.

What's unexamined are the stories buried in the developments Egypt gave birth to: building techniques for its massive structures. A unique written language. An enduring religion that has given subsequent religions many of its tenets, cloaked in newer cultural clothes. A central governmental structure not unlike our modern ones. Art. Medicine.

The lesson drawn from Wilkinson's examination of these four millennia? That even in a culture based on subjugation of the masses, much good arose and endured, and from that good the structure of today's reality has been drawn.

Wilkinson is a gifted writer, despite what appears in the first hundred or so pages to be a political rant disguised as history. I suspect he realized early in the book's development that readers would understand without the editorializing, that there was much more to tell of this culture than the enduring story of man's dominance of man.
47 internautes sur 52 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x8dd43030) étoiles sur 5 Beautifully written, a joy to read; highly recommended. 1 avril 2013
Par Anne Rice - Publié sur
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
Toby Wilkinson is a superbly talented writer. He knows how to tell a story, and how to write history as the exciting series of stories that it is. In this book he delivers the wonders and mysteries of ancient Egypt to the popular reader with depth and grace. This is simply a joy to read. Curl up in a comfortable chair and dig in. ---- I'm so thrilled with this book that I'm devouring it as if I were eating chocolate. It will make a perfect gift for young adults in the family who have not yet discovered the tantalizing beauty of ancient Egyptian culture. And it is a marvelous book for anyone who wants to be up to date on the latest discoveries and revelations. How thrilling to read about the monoliths of Nabta Playa, as well as to revisit the familiar stories of Akhenaten and Tutankhamen, Ramses II and Ramses III and move on to the great and seductive Cleopatra with prose that just rolls so beautifully along. ---- I'm so glad we have a writer of this knowledge and skill to deliver the great story of the Nile valley to new generations. ---- I haven't enjoyed a book on Egypt or archaeology so much since I read "Lost Worlds" when I was a kid. And this is fact filled, accurate, current, comprehensive and rich --- as well as being fun.
21 internautes sur 22 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x8dd43324) étoiles sur 5 A Complete, Scholarly, And Totally Enjoyable Work 4 juillet 2011
Par Silver Lake Mike - Publié sur
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
Before I visited Egypt in 2010, I looked for books about ancient Egypt. While there were works on portions of ancient Egyptian history and about certain figures like Cleopatra, Akhenaten, and Rameses II, there was no book that covered the whole period. This book came out a year later and was everything that I had been looking for. Wilkinson covers the history of Egypt from prehistoric times until the time of Cleopatra. While other historians focused mainly on the Pharaohs and the nobility (and Wilkinson does not ignore those subjects at all), Wilkinson also takes time to describe the lives of average Egyptians. He also discusses ancient Egyptian literature and poetry; how the Pyramids were built; and how the Egyptian army was maintained, trained, and armed. Wilkinson does an outstanding job of covering all aspects of ancient Egypt. However, not only is the book comprehensive, but it is also well written and enjoyable to read. This book is simply the best of its kind on the subject.
50 internautes sur 61 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x8dd43384) étoiles sur 5 Unbalanced, dubious scholarship 15 avril 2012
Par John McArthur - Publié sur
Format: Broché
Toby Wilkinson is of the opinion that his fellow Egyptologists tend to look at Ancient Egypt through rose tinted glasses (p.9) and he is going to correct it by producing a balanced account about the history of this ancient civilization. This seemed promising - my main interest in recent years has been in the study of religion and its impact through the ages and I have little patience, possibly to a fault, with hagiography masquerading as objective history. My authors include atheists, believers and (my own preference), agnostics. I have a couple of bookshelves covering the history of Ancient Egypt by authors from around the mid nineteenth century, through the "golden age of Egyptology" and right up to the 21st century. Maybe I have been very lucky in my choice but I cant truthfully say that in the modern works I have read there is any noticeable tendency to whitewash as Toby Wilkinson suggests and neither does he actually provide anything substantial to support his allegation. In the absence of supporting evidence Toby Wilkinson appears to be doing what many of us tend to do: projecting our own mindset onto others.

Many approaches have been used to analyze A.E: A journey into our sub-conscience, humankind in its childhood and so on but a model which leans heavily towards a politico-historical treatment at the expense of spiritual beliefs and ethical development, in a society which was to a large degree a theocracy, seems dubious to say the least. The author continuously passes value judgments on an ancient civilization but doesn't explicitly declare which measuring rod he is using. For me the only objective way of doing so is by comparing Ancient Egypt with other contemporary civilizations or, even better, with what went before in the Nile valley. When hunter gathers first got together for their common good and took the first faltering steps towards what we call civilization one of the prime reasons must surely have been mutual protection from covetous eyes that saw the gift of the Nile as something desirable and, if needs be, to be taken with force. Even within the limitations of this book it would seem from the available information that the institution of a monarchy provided a point of unity which, when strong, afforded the average person some feeling of protection for themselves and their families from foreign invasion. When the monarchy was strong so was Egypt.

It is the institution of the monarchy which is the particular focus of what I take to be the authors 21st century value judgments projected back in time and beginning around 3000 BCE. Negative epithets abound. A few from the early pages which appear throughout the book that relate to the kings and life of the common people are given at the end of this review.(1)

In the authors mind there is nothing good to say about the Ancient Egyptian monarchy, anything good is simply suppressed or an evil motive imputed to any actions that appear demonstrably good. It doesn't seem to have occurred to him that empires do not last when their internal structures become so corrupt - they collapse sooner rather than later - but here we have an institution that lasted millenia.

I have problems with his selective use of sources. Whilst he accepts and uses Herodotus as an authority for the cruelty involved in Pyramid building, and by innuendo takes it as being representative of all the kings he misses out what Herodotus says in the same passage. "Till the death of Rhampsinitus [I.e upto the reign of the Giza pyramid builders], the priests said, Egypt was excellently governed, and flourished greatly" which doesn't fit in with the authors take. Amidst all the attempts to portray the Giza workmen as being once again the downtrodden subjects of the Pharaoh (sinisterly "the official record is predictably silent about how many died during the building of the Great Pyramid" p87) he cannot see the contradiction in those same workmen describing themselves as the "Pharaohs Drunkards" p84 which isn't indicative of people bemoaning their hard conditions in the "cramped barracks at the end of another day of toil on the Giza plateau" p89 The author is so taken by Herodotus, albeit through selective quotation and mistranslation, that he writes a "humbling" acknowledgement: "It is a salutary lesson that the ancients were often far clever than we give them credit for." Why miss out another ancient Greek historian who wrote of Ancient Egypt and love of Egyptians for their kings:

"Because the kings treated their subjects so justly, the affection the people had for their princes was stronger than the love between the closest relatives ever was. Not just the community of the priests, but all Egyptians did not care as much for their wives and children and their other goods as they cared for the welfare of their sovereigns. Therefore, the wisest of the known kings have preserved the native order, for as long as the legal institution we have just described, existed." Diodorus Siculus Historic Library Vol 1, Chapters 70 and 71

The author takes the texts associated with the workers village of Deir el-Medinah, and the disorder and economic chaos around the coming of the Iron Age, as a prime example of how corrupt the state was. The author asserts that the tomb robbers cared not for theological niceties p. 375 when the burned the coffins but fails to point out, what others note, that they might have intended to destroy the afterlife of the mummies so retribution would not follow. It could well have been a theologically driven act (Paul Johnson goes so far as to suggest they might have been followers of Set). He fails to see the contradiction in his thesis of the supposed fear and loathing of despot kings with the demonstrable love the villagers had for King Ahmose. Nor can he see that workers being able to go on strike is not indicative of the all embracing fear driven totalitarian state he describes.

He thinks, without giving evidence, that dwarves were used as figures of fun thus signifying the decadence of the pharaohs p. 89 but fails to point out that King Unas is shown as a dwarf entertaining the Gods nor does he mention the high position they could reach in society such as Seneb of the 4th dynasty who was priest of the funerary cults of Khufu and Dedefre (they were thought to have divine connections) nor does he mention how those who were physically or mentally disabled were defended in the Instructions of Amenemope. No mention of the how the blind also had an honored place in society as harpers. Can the British rugby players who threw dwarves about for entertainment in Australia in 2011 be viewed as representing the decadency of our 21st century western civilization?

For an author who continuously (albeit indirectly, and with heavy innuendo) passes value judgments there is a surprising lack of analysis of what the Ancient Egyptians held to be good and not so good. The extensive surviving Maat literature is given scant attention and it is easy to conclude that maybe it doesn't accord with the authors own take on the reality of Ancient Egyptian values as expounded, for example, in the so called Negative Confessions from the Book of Going Forth into the Day and the instructional texts.

Paul Johnson emphasized in his own excellent work "The Civilization of Ancient Egypt" that it is simply not possible to write an account of this people which decouples history from the religious beliefs which permeated so much of their culture and everyday life. In my opinion Johnson assertion is amply proven by this book. Contrary to what this author asserts Egyptologists of all generations have pointed out the good with the bad but this book, in essence, only the bad is recounted in an ideologically driven work. Simpson in his 1970 book "The Ancient Near East" noted an emerging trend with the modern student generation, growing up in technological society and computer age, of treating this part of the world and epoch as a form of oriental despotism. Up until this book I can't say I have ever noticed this in the modern works by Egyptologists however, I sincerely hope that in an age when we deliver "freedom" and "democracy" to lands by cruise missile and xbox360 type controllers, where the the realities of war are virtualised as a form of entertainment, where "free-markets" come with mass unemployment that this book doesn't signal that Simpson's comments are a prophecy fulfilled. Budge pointed an Ancient Egyptian drawing that showed the head of Horus and Set sharing the same body and as others have pointed out both deities reflect contrary states that coexist in each human being. I certainly recognize them in myself. For me the main failing of this book is the predominance of Seth and is thus an example of what Ancient Egyptians recognized as isfet. I hope the author at some point will release a revised edition of the book that will be more Maat like, i.e balanced.

(1) "sinister", "absolute power", "untrammeled exercise of political and economic control" p81, "relentless rise of state control", "life of subjugation", "a life of fear", "grim and shocking" p. 51 "the relentless rise of state control" p. 52, "Tyrants and megalomaniacs" p. 73 "brainwashing and subjugation" p. 74, "repression" and "brutality" p74, "snuff out" local autonomy p74, "vaunting ambition" p. 76 "despotism, pure and simple" p. 77 cattle are fed "preferentially" compared to the pharaohs human subjects p.77, "wether the populace liked it or not" p78, The pyramids are "folies de grandeur" p. 87 "megalomaniac tyrant" p. 87, "megalomaniac tyrant with scant regard for human life" p87, "ultimate projection of absolute power" p87, "opulence" and decadence" p89, "naked displays of power" p94, "tyranny" p94, "greasy pole of career advancement" p98, "wallow in pampered luxury" p98, "life was mean and miserable" p98, "an effete royal court steeped in pampered privilege" p99, "overpaid and overbearing bureaucracy" p100, "style over substance" p101, "chilling" p103, "despotic monarchy" p105, "human bauble" p111, "our rose tinted view of Ancient Egypt" p118 "despotic, autocratic rule" p118, "tinpot dictator" p122,
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