Excerpt from The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt

by Toby Wilkinson

The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2011, 656 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2013, 656 pages

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Kevin Bartolotta

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One such influence, an interest in personal adornment, stayed with the ancient Egyptians throughout their history. Another development with long-term ramifications was the gradual stratification of society into leaders and followers, a small ruling class and a larger group of subjects. This was a system that owed much to the challenging lifestyle faced by pastoral seminomads. These external stimuli and internal dynamics began to transform Badarian society. Over many centuries, gradual changes took root and began to accelerate. The rich grew richer and began to act as patrons to a new class of specialist craftsmen. They, in turn, developed new technologies and new products to satisfy their patrons' ever more sophisticated tastes. The introduction of restricted access to prestige goods and materials further reinforced the power and status of the wealthiest in society.

The process of social transformation, once started, could not be stopped. Culturally, economically, and politically, prehistoric society became increasingly complex. Egypt was set on a course toward statehood. The final drying-out of the deserts around 3600 must have injected further momentum into this process. A sudden increase in population-when those living in the deserts migrated to the valley- may have led to greater competition for scarce resources, encouraging the development of walled towns. More mouths to feed would also have stimulated more productive agriculture. Urbanization and the intensification of farming were responses to social change but were also a stimulus to further change.

Under such conditions, communities in Upper Egypt began to coalesce into three regional groupings, each probably ruled by a hereditary monarch. Strategic factors help to explain the early dominance of these three prehistoric kingdoms. One kingdom was centered on the town of Tjeni (near modern Girga), a site where the floodplain narrowed and allowed the town's inhabitants to control river traffic. This area was also where trade routes from Nubia and the Saharan oases met the Nile Valley. A second territory had its capital at Nubt ("the golden," modern Nagada), which controlled access to gold mines in the Eastern Desert via the Wadi Hammamats on the opposite bank of the river. A third kingdom had grown up around the settlement of Nekhen, which, like Tjeni, was the starting point for a desert route to the oases (and thence to Sudan) and, like Nubt, controlled access to important Eastern Desert gold reserves, in this case the more southerly deposits reached via a wadi directly opposite the town.

Excerpted from The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson Copyright © 2011 by Toby Wilkinson. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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