The power of the pharaohs

The first Egyptian cultures formed along the banks of the Nile River in northern Africa sometime before 4000 B.C.E. Ever since that time, the Nile has been at the center of Egyptian culture. One of earth's great rivers, the Nile's waters allowed for the development of agriculture in a dry land, and communities formed along its banks. The Nile flows north from Lake Victoria in present-day Uganda through Sudan and into Egypt and empties into the Mediterranean Sea. In ancient times Egypt had been divided into Upper Egypt to the south and Lower Egypt to the north. In about 3100 B.C.E. the

River Nile Costumes
The Pyramids at Giza in Egypt are one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Photograph by Dilip Mehia. Reproduced by permission of Stock Market.

two cultures were united under King Menes. (Some believe, however, the king who united the two Egypts was named King Narmer.) He became the first pharaoh, the Egyptian name for the ultimate ruler, and he wore the pschent, a crown that symbolized the union of the two regions of Egypt.

From the time of Menes on, Egypt was ruled by pharaohs whose reign was known as a dynasty. The pharaohs were thought to be directly related to the gods. In fact, Egyptians believed that the pharaohs were gods. The pharaohs had ultimate power in Egypt and were the head of the religion and the government; any decision that they made was accepted without question. The society that they ruled over fully accepted the power of the pharaoh, and Egypt was long protected from foreign attack by the vast deserts that lay to the west and the Red Sea that lay to the east. For these reasons Egyptian society was very stable. Pharaoh succeeded pharaoh for nearly three thousand years, and many elements of Egyptian culture stayed the same throughout this time, including many of their clothing traditions.

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