Civilization in the Nile River Valley started very early. Some archaeologists say that agriculture, which is necessary for a large settled population, began in the area about 3600 BC. The river provided a long, narrow flood plain. The river was considered to be a gift from the gods. Every year from July to November it flooded and deposited silt, rich in nutrients, over the land, providing ideal conditions for growing crops. This, combined with the natural protection from enemies and disease provided by the seas to the north and east and the desert to the west, enabled early Egyptian civilization to flourish.
The inhabitants of the Nile River Valley civilization were dependent on farming. Close proximity to the Nile allowed easy access to water needed for crops; seasonal flooding fertilized the land for the following year’s crops. Agriculture was essential for their growth and economic success.
The social structure of Nile Valley civilization was kind of like a pyramid. At the top was:
- The King. He, along with his queen, had a special status as ruler. Later people came to believe that the King was the incarnation of a god.
- The ruling class was under the king. They were people related to or of great importance to the king.
- Next were the craftsmen, who were skilled to making weapons, tools, and decorations for tombs and temples.
- Most people were farmers working the land.
- There were also people who served in the military, about whom we know little.
- At the bottom were many servants or slaves. It was they who built structures such as the pyramids, and were paid in beer.
Pharaoh (King) Menes, who lived around 3200-3000 BC, was an early Egyptian king credited with establishing the First Dynasty. He also is said to be the one who united Lower Egypt (the area in the north) and Upper Egypt (the area in the south).
The Egyptians produced a 365-day calendar based on their study of astronomy. They also made developments in the study of geometry, which they used for designing fields and canals. They developed hieroglyphics, a writing system. The Egyptians were polytheistic (worshiped multiple gods).