How the History of Egypt Became “Egyptology”
Once I was asked, “Why is it referred to as Egyptology, indicating that it is to be studied along with scientific subjects?” To answer this question, we must go back to the year l798 when Napoleon attempted to invade Egypt. His expedition, ill-advised as it was from the military standpoint, had the long-range effect of politically waking the history of Egypt and setting in motion a scientific examination of its antiquities that continued to this day. He had taken one hundred and seventy-five scholars to study and record every aspect of Egypt that could be brought under the microscope of those who wanted to know more about it in as great a depth as possible.
Napolean’s Contribution to Egyptology
Not only did Napolean Bonaparte bring some of France’s greatest authorities on such subjects as astronomy, mathematics, chemistry, hierology, history, various technicians, painters, poets and a copy of every book he could find in France that contained information about the Nile Valley. He brought crates of scientific apparatus and measuring instruments.
Long after Napoleon gave up his military interest in Egypt and returned to France, the army of scholars remained in Egypt and continued to study, to measure and to record their findings. He was able to create a worldwide interest in Egypt and after the other Europeans became interested in Egypt, there was a host of adventurers as well as scholars who descended upon Egypt and remain there to this day.
The Key to Understanding the History of Egypt
As the result of the work of Thomas Young of England and the young Frenchman Champollion in the deciphering of the famous Rosetta Stone, it was possible to bring the meaning of the hieroglyphics to light. Once it was possible to read the hieroglyphics, 3000 years of Egyptian history, of the culture, of the entire scope of Egyptian civilization was now an open book.
History can find no greater application of mathematics than that which has gone into the study of the great pyramids of Giza. The same may also be said for astronomy.
And so, it may be without precedent when we say Egyptology, but there is so much in the way of the various fields of science that have been called into play in relation to this geographical location and of the people and places that are associated with it.
The Land of the Nile
Egypt has been called “the gift of the Nile”. Here again, we have one of the most interesting and unique natural features found anywhere on earth. The people who settled here, perhaps from Northern Europe or from the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, soon discovered a land protected on the north by the Mediterranean, on the west and south by the desert and on the east by the Red Sea. As the river flooded each year, it brought with it a renewal of life in abundance. One could raise the food that they ate as well as the food for their animals and the cotton they needed there for their clothing. Although natural wood was in short supply, building stone was not. Minerals such as gold were found in abundance as well as gemstones.
When so many of the other ancient civilizations were in constant fear of their various enemies, this was not the case in Egypt. Much more of their effort could be directed toward establishing their own civilization based on both abundance and tranquility. As a consequence, a type of Renaissance was experienced where art and culture flourished. Like any society, there was a social structure and a social hierarchy. There was the royalty, the nobility, the priests and scholars, the military, and the artisans. The vast majority of the population worked on the land.
There was a universal love of beauty, color and nature. Gardens and flowers were seen even in the places were the peasant population lived. Egyptian education was considered to be the finest in the known world. If a man or woman studied medicine or dentistry in Egypt, they were considered to have received the best training possible. The role of women was unique in many aspects of equality seen nowhere else in the ancient world.
Cultural Stability Amidst a Changing World
The average Egyptian in pharaonic times had little if any contact with the rest of the ancient world. They were both militarily and psychologically self-sufficient. There was a very strong identification with anything that was very much their own land, their own culture, their own religion, and their own way of life. It did not change. For over three thousand years, it did not change. Their language remained the same, their customs and their traditions remained the same. There was predictability on every hand.
The Nile rose and gave life every year. They planted and they reaped. They had a very unique way of life and they thrived within its structure. Even to this day, we see so many examples in Egypt of that which was seen many years ago. As long as the Nile continues to give life to Egypt, Egypt will continue to be the gift of the Nile.
Thus, Egypt has earned the right to be a major subject of study – Egyptology. With its 40,000 plus years of human development and culture, grand contributions to business, science, medicine, language, art, and phenomenal engineering capabilities, Egypt has demonstrated to the rest of the world just what an incredible and advanced civilization they once were.
Article originally posted on Sept. 10, 2011