How ancient civilizations made cloth

Wikijunior Ancient Civilizations / Egyptians

View of the Nile from space

In which country did they live?

Egypt is located in northeast Africa, on Nile. This river has its source in central Africa. Its source rivers, the White Nile and the Blue Nile, converge at the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. From there the Nile flows northwards and finally flows into the Mediterranean. The mouth of the Nile is shaped like a "delta". A river delta has the shape of a triangle and forms at the mouth of a river because the sand and suspended matter that is carried along settle.

View from the bank of the Nile

The Nile was the center of life in Egypt. Every year at about the same time the river overflowed its banks, covering the land near the bank with fresh mud, making it fertile for agriculture. In order to be able to grow more food, the Egyptians laid Irrigation channels who diverted part of the Nile water to the areas next to the river. People rarely went far from the Nile, as the river borders the Sahara desert to the west and the Arabian desert to the east. That is why the Egyptians also needed the fertile mud brought by the annual flood for agriculture. On the photo of the Nile taken from space, one can easily see the fertile land along the shore (green) and the adjacent desert (light brown). So you can see why the Egyptians didn't want to go too far from the Nile!

The Nile was also important to the Egyptian transportation system, which relied heavily on shipping. Boats could take advantage of the current of the river, making it easy to get north. But traveling south by boat wasn't a problem either, as the winds on the Nile usually blow southwards. If the Egyptians wanted to go south, all they had to do was hoist their sails and go against the current with the help of the wind!

The Nile was very important to the Egyptians. A Greek historian named Herodotus, who traveled the Nile millennia after the dawn of Egyptian civilization, is said to have said: "Egypt is a gift from the Nile." By this he meant that without the Nile and its effects on the people who lived on its banks, no civilization could have emerged there.

What did their buildings look like?

There were two types of buildings that the Egyptians lived in: workers' houses and townhouses where the wealthier people lived. Both types of houses were made of bricks. These bricks were made from a mixture of very clayey Nile mud, small stones and straw. The mixture was poured into wooden frames and then dried in the sun until the bricks were set. The buildings built from such bricks eventually collapsed, and new ones were erected right on top of the remains of the old houses. This created small mounds over time. Stone was only used for structures that were supposed to last a long time, such as the pyramids. Usually the houses were built on the banks of the Nile, but they had to be high so that they would not be flooded.

A workers' house usually had one floor and up to four rooms. It also had a courtyard, a kitchen in the back of the house, and two underground cellars. The roofs of the Egyptian houses were flat and people often stayed on them. Egyptian families slept and cooked on the roof and also ate their meals there. The roof was, so to speak, a living room, kitchen, dining room and bedroom in one. There was no running water in the simple houses. The water had to be drawn from a source usually shared by several families. Workers' houses had little furniture, only beds and boxes to store clothes.

The houses of the wealthy were much larger and had up to three stories. Since their walls were much higher, they had to be stabilized by beams and the walls on the first floor were often made of stone so that they could carry the load. The different floors had different tasks. The first floor was used as a workshop and for business, while the second and third floors were more luxuriously furnished and were used by the family to live. The food was prepared on the roof and then brought down to the living quarters by the servants. The homes of the wealthy also had gardens, pools, and small divine altars. They were adorned with tiled floors, lockable windows, chic stairs, and painted walls. The ceilings were high and supported by pillars.

The famous Cheops pyramid

The pyramids were tombs for the Egyptian rulers (pharaohs). They were high because it was believed that they served the dead rulers as stairs to heaven. There were pyramids of many different shapes, but the most famous ones have a square base and triangular sides. The largest is the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Giza: with an age of around 4,500 years, it is the oldest surviving structure in the world. It took 20 years to build. It was once clad in white marble and had a completely smooth surface. Originally, it was 147 meters high, but today it is still 137 meters due to erosion. The precision was incredible: the lengths of the four sides differ by less than a per thousand! The pyramids were all built using very simple means, such as pulleys, inclined planes and levers. The stone blocks were brought from the quarries by Nile ships. A road led from the river bank to the pyramid. The cuboids were rolled on tree trunks placed underneath or transported on sledges. The sand in front of the sledge has been watered to make the sledge easier to slide.

It was an honor to be selected to work for the Pharaoh. Besides, the food was good and plentiful, better than in the villages. The more skilled craftsmen were highly regarded. The quarries worked all year round. The stonemasons used copper chisels. Copper is actually a soft metal, but back then it was the hardest metal known to people. After 100 blows, a chisel was blunt and was sharpened and hardened again by blacksmiths. The division of labor was highly developed: there were stonemasons for coarse and fine work, water carriers, firewood carriers (for the forge fire), sled pullers, water-in-front of the runners, etc.

During the annual floods of the Nile, up to 100,000 people were brought together to build the pyramids (there was nothing to be done in the fields, they were under water). Such large-scale projects were only possible because the fertile Nile valley enabled a high standard of living.

From the inside, the walls of the pyramids were decorated with hieroglyphics, the pictorial Egyptian script. The Pharaoh's burial chamber was located deep inside the pyramid and was filled with gold, jewels, and other riches. It also contained the everyday objects that the Pharaoh would need during his journey into the afterlife, such as food, clothing, utensils, stoneware and furniture. Sometimes even the servants were walled up in the grave! Because of all these treasures in the burial chamber, robbers sometimes broke into the pyramids. But since the inside resembles a maze, they often lost their orientation and eventually starved to death or they fell into nifty traps. Another protection against robbers were the curses that were placed as inscriptions at the entrance to the pyramids. Many of the ancient Egyptians were very superstitious and the curses scared them enough to keep them away. Unfortunately, over the centuries, the thieves lost their fear of the curses. They stole almost everything they could find. Sometimes archaeologists find a previously unknown burial chamber and enjoy the ancient treasures that have lain untouched in the pyramids for centuries.

What did they eat?

The food of the ancient Egyptians wasn't very different from what we eat today. Since the Nile regularly supplied them with water, they were able to grow many different crops in the otherwise desert-like environment. The most important crops were cereals, vegetables and fruits. Figs, pomegranates, dates, melons, and grapes grew well in the heat. Vegetables such as cucumbers, onions, cabbage, garlic, radishes, leeks and much more could be harvested three times a year: in spring, autumn and winter. In the summer, the floods washed new fertile mud onto the fields. Fruit and vegetables were dressed with vinegar and oil, much like how we still eat salad today.

Meat was very expensive. Most domestic animals were therefore used as draft animals instead of slaughtering them. In order to enrich their menu with meat, the ancient Egyptians often hunted wild animals. Poor people also caught fish, boiled or fried them or breaded them like a schnitzel. Often they just let the fish dry out in the sun.

Honey was used a lot because there was no sugar. Many Egyptians also believed that honey could cure them and used it when making a medicine.

The Egyptians knew many different types of bread. The dough consisted of grain, yeast, eggs, butter, salt, milk and spices. At first it was cooked over an open fire. Later, the Egyptians used previously heated stone slabs for this purpose. Da bread was usually flat and round, but on special occasions it was formed into rolls. There was simple bread as well as stuffed with beans, vegetables or other ingredients. Sweet bread could be made with the help of honey, fruits or dates. The Egyptians invented leaven and learned to control fermentation.

The climate was too hot for apples and peaches, and the rich imported such things.

How did they dress?

In the hot climate of Egypt, the style of clothing was determined by comfort. Most Egyptians wore white linen tunics. For a man, the tunic came down to the knee, for a woman, down to the ankles. Women often wore shawls with their clothes. The men wore loincloths at work, but many workers had no clothes on at all. Women wore shorter skirts when they worked. The children usually ran around without clothes in summer and wore coats and shawls to wrap themselves in in winter. Richer people wore baggy clothes, and a few aristocratic women wore beaded dresses.

The shoes were sandals made of palm fiber or plaited papyrus. Most people ran barefoot, carried their shoes and only put them on when necessary. The women rarely wore shoes as they mostly work in the house.

Both men and women put on make-up. The make-up was made from a mixture of ground minerals and oil and also protected against sunburn and insects. The Egyptians also use a reddish dye called 'henna'. In contrast to other ancient peoples, the Egyptians attached great importance to cleanliness. Before getting dressed, they would wash and cream themselves with scented oils. They use combs, razor blades and tweezers for personal hygiene. Both men and women wore wigs that were changed every day and were made of human hair or wool. Curly wigs were worn on special occasions.

Jewelry was part of the equipment of every Egyptian. Egyptians of all layers wore jewelry, either of gold or of colored pearls or of stone. Necklaces were made from lapis lazuli and turquoise. Rings were mostly made of clay and the Egyptians also wore earrings.

The royal family carried ceremonial Clothes adorned with lots of feathers and sequins. The king's sandals and gloves were also richly decorated.

What did they believe in?

Most Egyptians were polytheists, that is, they believed in many different gods. The two sun gods Re and Atum were among the most important gods. Many of the gods were based on animals or were symbolized by animals. Anubis, the god of the rites of the dead, was often represented as a jackal, Hathor was a goddess in the form of a cow, and Horus was represented by a falcon.

With the help of the legends that were told about these gods and goddesses, important religious ideas of the ancient Egyptians were often explained. A famous legend, for example, is about Isis and Osiris. This story explains some of the most important notions: belief in one Beyond and the mummification.

The Egyptians believed that people passed over to an afterlife after their death and lived there essentially exactly as they did on earth. In order for them to do this, everything had to be preserved that they had used in their earthly life. For this reason all of his possessions were buried with a dead pharaoh. The pharaohs and other people who were rich enough had the walls of their graves painted with scenes from their earthly life so that they could "relive" exactly these scenes in the afterlife. For this reason, the Egyptians also believed in mummification: it was important to preserve the body after death so that the spirit (called 'ka ') could return to him later.

Under the rule of a pharaoh named Akhenaten, the Egyptians adopted monotheism, that is, belief in only one god. During this period, the Egyptians worshiped the sun god Aten. However, the Egyptians never really embraced monotheism and returned to polytheism after the pharaoh's death.

The pharaohs had huge temples built. The largest sacred (= religious) building in the world is the Amun temple in Karnak. 134 columns, each 24 meters high, form the large hall of columns. 70,000 priests belonged to the temple and its outposts. The temple stood in the royal city of Thebes. The city covered such an enormous area that the city wall had 100 gates. Unfortunately, apart from the stone temples, nothing remained: houses, warehouses, even villas and palaces were built from bricks made from dried Nile mud.

What did their writing look like?

The Egyptians had three different scripts. The first script is called Hieroglyphs. Hieroglyphs were a kind of picture writing. A picture or several pictures / characters together form words. This script is difficult to read because it is often difficult to see where one word ends and the next begins because the Egyptians did not use punctuation. Another ancient Egyptian font is called "Hieratic Script". That means "priestly scripture". This writing style also consists of hieroglyphics, but it was written very quickly and in italics. The "Demotic Script" developed last. It came into vogue while Egypt was ruled by the pharaohs, who were descended from a general Alexander the Great.

The Egyptians carved hieroglyphs into stone, adobe, or papyrus (a type of paper made from reeds). It took many years to learn the Egyptian script and few people could read and write. For a farmer or craftsman it was completely out of the question to learn to read "on the side" (after the day's work). The “scribes” were in high regard and formed a proud caste with their own rules. They used all their ambition to write every character exactly according to centuries-old templates. As a result, there was no further development of the script and no different "handwriting" for centuries. The best scribes could become court officials or priests. The pharaoh and every high courtier could read and write, which was not taken for granted: in most ancient civilizations it was quite rare for a ruler to read.

The Egyptian empire was ruled very effectively. The Pharaoh's orders were written down and ensure law and order down to the last corner of the empire. The written form guaranteed that no local official could misunderstand something in his own interest or interpret it differently than intended by the Pharaoh. The officials returned reports from the towns and provinces. Everything was well thought out. The level of taxes depended, for example, on the level of the flood: if the flood was weak, the farmers in the higher-lying fields lacked water and the harvest was meager, so they paid fewer taxes. Fair isn't it?

This well thought-out legal system, which had grown over centuries and headed by the pharaoh, represented a tremendous achievement in the eyes of every Egyptian: everyone was equal before the law, there was no room for arbitrary decisions. What an Egyptian learned in his youth about the law in force remained valid for life. What a contrast to the neighboring peoples who were considered barbarians by the Egyptians! For all the protection and safety, Pharaoh was worshiped as a god.Isn't it logical (from the point of view of the common people): The Pharaoh must be divine, because how could an ordinary person have so much wisdom and rule a mighty kingdom in such a well-ordered manner? If he died, he was replaced by the next pharaoh: the office was much more important than the specific person.

When Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire, the ancient Egyptian language and script fell into oblivion. Until the early 19th century, it looked like it would remain a secret forever. Then Napoleon invaded Egypt and brought many scholars and scientists into the country. One of these scholars found a large stone slab on which the same text could be seen in three different fonts. Because this slab was found near the town of Rosette in the Nile Valley, it was called the “Rosette Stone”. Years later, a man named Jean-François Champollion found out that one of the writings on the stone was a form of Greek he could read. The other two scripts were hieroglyphics and the demotic script. By comparing the Greek words with the Egyptian one by one, he finally succeeded in deciphering the hieroglyphs and understanding the basics of the ancient Egyptian language and its most important sounds. However, many other people still had to work to decipher the Egyptian script and to this day there are many characters and words that we still do not understand. However, an attempt is made to find out the meaning of these symbols, which are still unknown to us, with the help of the already known hieroglyphs.

Are some of them still famous today?

Thutmose III. 1479 to 1425 BC Chr.

Having just become pharaoh, he had to undertake a campaign against rebellious Syria. He opposed the largest Syrian army that had existed up to then with the best-organized army in the world. The recruits were carefully trained by his core force, the Nubians. The Egyptians used a revolutionary new development: the chariot. The Pharaoh gained 1458 BC. A great victory in Megiddo, his first. He did not massacre the vanquished, but made them vassals. The account of these and other battles was carved into a temple wall. Over the next 20 years, the ingenious strategist won 17 more battles. Egypt was under Thutmose III to superpower. When he died, the scribes chiseled in stone: "His realm stretched as far as the course of the sun".

Tutankhamun, 1333 to 1323 BC Chr.

The Pharaoh Tutankhamun is perhaps the most famous ancient Egyptian ruler today. It is interesting that it was not considered particularly important in ancient times and is not mentioned on the oldest king lists. The discovery of his grave in 1922 made him a star. Many of the tombs discovered earlier had been robbed, but his grave remained virtually untouched. Many of the things that were buried with Tutankhamun were well preserved, including thousands of items made of precious metals and rare stones. That is why he is so famous today. By discovering his tomb, historians and archaeologists were able to get an idea of ​​what the burial chambers of the more important kings must have looked like before they were robbed.

Ramses II, the Great, ca.1298 to 1213 B.C. Chr.

There was a long struggle for supremacy between the Pharaoh and the Hittites, that of Ramses could be ended. In 1275 BC There was a battle between Hattusili, the military leader of the Hittite king Muwatalli, and the young Ramses II, who had only been crowned Pharaoh four years earlier. The Hittites narrowly won. Regardless, when Ramses II returned home, he called the battle a great victory. In the following years, both rulers feared long-term problems with their borders: Egypt in the south, the Hittites with the Assyrians. Hattusili, now king of the Hittites, proposed a treaty. To avoid two-front wars, both rulers closed in 1259 BC. after long negotiations the first peace and non-aggression treaty, which also provided for mutual military assistance. The exchange of prisoners and refugees (with amnesty) was also agreed. This is the first peace treaty in world history, a copy can be found in the entrance hall of the UN.

The treaty benefited both sides: the mutual promise of military assistance deterred the enemy. Both rulers did not need to station troops on their common border. The peace treaty of Kadesh prevented the Libyans from attacking Egypt and ensured Egypt a fifty-year period of peace and an economic and cultural prosperity that was no longer achieved under any pharaoh after Ramses II. The Hittites also benefited because the treaty deterred their enemies, the Assyrians.

Cleopatra VII, the Great, around 69 to 30 BC Chr.

The Egyptian queen Cleopatra is famous because she was Julius Caesar's mistress and it is said that she killed herself with a whipped bite. That happened after she was captured by Octavian. William Shakespeare wrote a play about her life, which was filmed several times. Did you also know that Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy XIII. - a child - was married?

What is left of them today?

The Egyptian priests observed that the Nile floods returned about every 365 days. Through remarkably precise observations of the stars, they even knew that the earth's axis would describe a circle in the starry sky in about 26,000 years (the so-called Precession) and that a year is a quarter day longer than 365 days. Today there is a "leap year" every four years to compensate. At that time, the calendar deviated from reality by a quarter of a day every year: the summer solstice was shifted by a quarter of a year from June to September in 365 years, and to December after another 365 years! Every 1460 years (4 x 365) the calendar coincided with the course of the sun, and these years were specially celebrated. For everyday use, they divided the year into twelve months of thirty days each plus five additional days. This calendar was more practical than any other early calendar.

The Egyptians dated the “beginning of time”, the “golden age”, to the year 11,500 BC. Today we know that around this time the last cold period ended and the warm period began in which we still live today.

When Greek civilization emerged, numerous Greeks went to Egypt for many years to learn from the wise priests: Thales, Euripides, Herodotus, Anxagoras, Plato and many other philosophers, doctors, mathematicians and historians. They wrote down what they had learned, and this knowledge is one of the foundations of our civilization today.

Even today, Egypt is still an important state with a large population. With many different peoples settling in the area around Egypt, the people there are different from ancient times, but many of today's Egyptians still live near the same land where their ancestors lived thousands of years ago and they are proud on their great past.

The ancient Egyptians carved messages into many walls. The first Egyptologists (those are historians who are particularly concerned with Egypt) used these messages on the buildings to find out something about the ancient Egyptians. Many papyrus rolls have been preserved, which deal with various topics in life. Much of it has not yet been translated because it is difficult to translate. Probably the oldest medical textbook in the world described how to treat the wounded in battle. There are also many works of art and jewelry from the ancient Egyptians to be seen in the museums. Most of it comes from the tomb of Tutankhamun and the tombs of other pharaohs. The most famous work of art is the bust of Nefertiti.

Many of the ancient Egyptian structures, such as tombs and monuments, still exist today. Most of them, however, are only preserved as ruins. There is still much to be found out about the politics, history, religion and scientific achievements of ancient Egypt.

Further children's books [edit]

  • Nicholas Harris, Peter Dennis: "Adventure time travel. The secret of the pyramids", Bibli. Mannheim Institute, 2002
  • Claude Delafosse: "Lights on..., Volume 9: The Egyptian Grave", Bibli Institut Mannheim 1999
  • For handicrafts: Karl Müller: "My super great handicraft set. Pyramids", Cologne 2004

The text was taken from the English project [1], see authors there.