The ancient Egyptians were distinctly African people. They were not Hamites, as some history books tend to indicate. The manners and customs and religions of the ancient Egyptians suggest that the original home of their prehistoric ancestors was south in a country in the neighborhood of Uganda and Punt. (The Biblical land of Punt is believed to be in the area now known as Somalia.)
In many ways, Egypt is the key to ancient African history. Unless Egypt is seen as an African nation, African history becomes distorted. The invasions of Egypt that started about 1675 B.C. and continued until after the Roman period brought into Egypt large numbers of people who were not indigenous to the country. The bulk of the Arab population in present-day Egypt has no direct relationship to ancient Egyptian history. Most of them came into Africa in the seventh and eighth centuries during the rapid spread of Islam.
The famous inscription found in the Temple of Horus at Edfu and known as the Edfu Text is an important source document on the early history of the Nile Valley. This text gives an account of the origin of Egyptian civilization. According to this record, civilization was brought from the south by a band of wanderers under the leadership of King Horus, who was later deified. His followers were called “the blacksmiths,” because they possessed iron implements. This early culture has been traced back to Somalia, although it may have originated in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa.
In Somalia and present-day Zimbabwe, there are ruins of buildings constructed with dressed stone and showing a close resemblance to the architecture of early Egypt. Many inventions, such as pyramid building, which we think of as Egyptian inventions, have their origins in the nations south of Egypt. The Nile River played a major role in the relationship of Egypt to the nations in southeast Africa. As a great cultural highway, the Nile River brought elements of civilization into inner Africa during ancient times. If Egypt can be credited with creating the world’s first civilization, that credit must be shared with people in other parts of Africa.
No individual in ancient Egypt left a deeper impression than the commoner, Imhotep. He was probably the world’s first multigenius and the real father of medicine. Imhotep, the Wise, as he was called, was the Grand Vizier and Court Physician to King Zoser. He was also the architect of the Great Pyramid. He became a deity and later a universal god of medicine whose image graced the first Temple of Imhotep, mankind’s first hospital. Sufferers from all over the world came to the temple for prayer, peace, and healing. Imhotep lived in the court of King Zoser where he established his reputation as a healer in the third dynasty about 2980 B.C. One of his best-known sayings, one that is still being quoted, is, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die.”
When significant elements of Egyptian civilization were transferred and became the foundation of what we think of as Greek culture, the teachings of Imhotep were absorbed along with the teachings of other great African teachers. When Greek civilization became predominant in the Mediterranean area, the Greeks wanted the world to think that they were the originators of everything. They stopped acknowledging their early debt to Imhotep and other great Africans. Imhotep was forgotten for thousands of years and Hippocrates, a legendary figure of some two thousand years, later became known as the father of medicine. In spite of the neglect and misinterpretation of that day and later achievements, the intellectual aspect of Egypt’s Golden Age started with Imhotep.
The dynasties from the third through the sixth can be called the building dynasties and from the sixth through the thirteenth were the dynasties of consolidation. North Africa and the Nile Valley nations extending to the south were invaded in 1675 B.C. for the very first time. The Hebrew entry into Africa occurred in 1700 B. C. The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Dynasties were occupied in driving out the invaders with help from Egypt’s relatives in the south. This established the greatness of the Eighteenth Dynasty. Out of this dynasty came a family named Thotmoses or Thutmose. One of the first great female rulers in history came out of this dynasty. Her name was Hatshepsut. She was opposed by her brother, Thotmose III, and his supporters. During this period of conflict, Thotmose III learned the basics of power and how to handle it exceptionally well, thanks to the prodding of his sister. After her death, he became one of Egypt’s greatest pharaohs.
In 1300 B.C., a sickly boy, whose name was Amenhotep IV, came to power and took the name Akhneton. He was a social reformer, a pacifist, and one of the first men to announce the concept of monotheism. He has been referred to as the “Heretic King.” Near the end of this dynasty a young teenager, Tutankhamon, came to power. Some historians have cruelly referred to him as a minor king who had a major funeral. He is commonly known as King Tut.
The Eighteenth Dynasty was followed by a dynasty often called the Ramses dynasty because of the illustrious career of Ramses II and his beautiful Nubian wife, Nefertari, who came from what is now the Sudan. The next five dynasties are sometimes referred to as holding dynasties. Egypt and the Nile Valley civilization neither moved forward nor backward. This stagnation made possible a military dynasty coming from the south, starting in 751 B.C. and lasting approximately 110 years. This dynasty has been called the Ethiopian or Nubian dynasty. When at last it was pushed out of Egypt and had to retreat to its southern homeland, Egypt’s Golden Age ended.
Invaders from outside of Africa came again. First the Assyrians, now known as the Syrians, came in 666 B.C. Next the Persians, now known as Iranians, came in 550 B.C. The first purely European invasion of Africa occurred in 332 B.C. under the leadership of a young Macedonian known in history as Alexander the Great.
The weakening and the decline of Greek influence increased Roman designs on North Africa, especially the commercial city of Carthage. This was the basis of the Punic Wars. After holding Rome at bay for nearly 20 years, Hannibal, the North African general, was defeated, and large parts of North Africa became the headquarters of the Eastern Roman Empire. At that time, North Africa was the breadbasket of the Roman Empire. This Roman Empire lasted in some form for nearly seven hundred years, during which Africa played a major role in both the political as well as the Holy Roman Empire.
(To be continued.)