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The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt

Cover of The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt

The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt

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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

In this landmark work, one of the world's most renowned Egyptologists tells the epic story of this great civilization, from its birth as the first nation-state to its final absorption into the Roman Empire--three thousand years of wild drama, bold spectacle, and unforgettable characters.

Award-winning scholar Toby Wilkinson captures not only the lavish pomp and artistic grandeur of this land of pyramids and pharaohs but for the first time reveals the constant propaganda and repression that were its foundations. Drawing upon forty years of archaeological research, Wilkinson takes us inside an exotic tribal society with a pre-monetary economy and decadent, divine kings who ruled with all-too-recognizable human emotions.

Here are the years of the Old Kingdom, where Pepi II, made king as an infant, was later undermined by rumors of his affair with an army general, and the Middle Kingdom, a golden age of literature and jewelry in which the benefits of the afterlife became available for all, not just royalty--a concept later underlying Christianity. Wilkinson then explores the legendary era of the New Kingdom, a lost world of breathtaking opulence founded by Ahmose, whose parents were siblings, and who married his sister and transformed worship of his family into a national cult. Other leaders include Akhenaten, the "heretic king," who with his wife Nefertiti brought about a revolution with a bold new religion; his son Tutankhamun, whose dazzling tomb would remain hidden for three millennia; and eleven pharaohs called Ramesses, the last of whom presided over the militarism, lawlessness, and corruption that caused a crucial political and societal decline.

Riveting and revelatory, filled with new information and unique interpretations, The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt will become the standard source about this great civilization, one that lasted--so far--longer than any other.

From the Hardcover edition.
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

In this landmark work, one of the world's most renowned Egyptologists tells the epic story of this great civilization, from its birth as the first nation-state to its final absorption into the Roman Empire--three thousand years of wild drama, bold spectacle, and unforgettable characters.

Award-winning scholar Toby Wilkinson captures not only the lavish pomp and artistic grandeur of this land of pyramids and pharaohs but for the first time reveals the constant propaganda and repression that were its foundations. Drawing upon forty years of archaeological research, Wilkinson takes us inside an exotic tribal society with a pre-monetary economy and decadent, divine kings who ruled with all-too-recognizable human emotions.

Here are the years of the Old Kingdom, where Pepi II, made king as an infant, was later undermined by rumors of his affair with an army general, and the Middle Kingdom, a golden age of literature and jewelry in which the benefits of the afterlife became available for all, not just royalty--a concept later underlying Christianity. Wilkinson then explores the legendary era of the New Kingdom, a lost world of breathtaking opulence founded by Ahmose, whose parents were siblings, and who married his sister and transformed worship of his family into a national cult. Other leaders include Akhenaten, the "heretic king," who with his wife Nefertiti brought about a revolution with a bold new religion; his son Tutankhamun, whose dazzling tomb would remain hidden for three millennia; and eleven pharaohs called Ramesses, the last of whom presided over the militarism, lawlessness, and corruption that caused a crucial political and societal decline.

Riveting and revelatory, filled with new information and unique interpretations, The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt will become the standard source about this great civilization, one that lasted--so far--longer than any other.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Excerpts-
  • Chapter 1

    IN THE BEGINNING

    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...

About the Author-
  • Toby Wilkinson graduated with a first class honors degree in Egyptology from Downing College, University of Cambridge, winning the university's Thomas Mulvey prize. He is the recipient of the Lady Wallis Budge Junior Research Fellowship in Egyptology, a Leverhulme Trust Special Research Fellowship, and an Honorary Research Fellowship in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Durham. He is currently at Clare College in the University of Cambridge. Wilkinson has published seven books and numerous articles, and has appeared on radio and television as an expert on ancient Egyptian civilization (especially the early periods). He is the recipient of the Antiquity Prize for the best journal article and is a member of the international editorial board of the Journal of Egyptian History.

Reviews-
  • Bettany Hughes, The Times

    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."

  • Oxford 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."
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