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History of Ancient Egypt

History of Ancient Egypt

Professor Bob Brier Ph.D.
Long Island University

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History of Ancient Egypt

History of Ancient Egypt

Professor Bob Brier Ph.D.
Long Island University
Course No.  350
Course No.  350
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Course Overview

About This Course

48 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture

Ancient Egyptian civilization is so grand that our minds sometimes have difficulty adjusting to it. Consider time. Ancient Egyptian civilization lasted 3,000 years, longer than any other on the planet. When the young pharaoh Tutankhamen ruled Egypt, the pyramids of Giza had already been standing well over 1,000 years. When Cleopatra came to power, Tutankhamen had been in his tomb more than 1,000 years.

Consider scale. The only one of the Eight Wonders of the Ancient World still standing, the Great Pyramid of Cheops, was the tallest building in the world until well into the 1800s. It covers 13.5 acres at the base and contains 2.3 million limestone blocks, weighing 5,000 pounds each on average. Tens of thousands of men labored to raise this tomb—but they were not slaves; they were free farmers and artisans. The social organization alone of this project humbles most modern achievements. And it was built in 2550 B.C., roughly 2,000 years before Rome was founded.

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Ancient Egyptian civilization is so grand that our minds sometimes have difficulty adjusting to it. Consider time. Ancient Egyptian civilization lasted 3,000 years, longer than any other on the planet. When the young pharaoh Tutankhamen ruled Egypt, the pyramids of Giza had already been standing well over 1,000 years. When Cleopatra came to power, Tutankhamen had been in his tomb more than 1,000 years.

Consider scale. The only one of the Eight Wonders of the Ancient World still standing, the Great Pyramid of Cheops, was the tallest building in the world until well into the 1800s. It covers 13.5 acres at the base and contains 2.3 million limestone blocks, weighing 5,000 pounds each on average. Tens of thousands of men labored to raise this tomb—but they were not slaves; they were free farmers and artisans. The social organization alone of this project humbles most modern achievements. And it was built in 2550 B.C., roughly 2,000 years before Rome was founded.

Consider its mystery. Egypt was the most advanced of any ancient civilization. Yet, even after deciphering the hieroglyphs, Egypt remains one of the most mysterious. Scarabs, mummies, obelisks, sphinxes—their civilization was extraordinary and yet so "other" from what we live today.

Professor Bob Brier regularly hosts and contributes to programs on ancient Egypt for The History Channel and The Learning Channel. He has served as Director of the National Endowment for the Humanities "Egyptology Today" Program and has twice been selected as a Fulbright Scholar. He is also the recipient of the David Newton Award for Teaching Excellence. He is the perfect guide to take you through the tombs, mummies, and history of Egypt.

Professor Brier combines the precision and care of a scientist with a novelist's feel for plot, action, and character. His approach brings together the best that the narrative and scientific schools of history have to offer.

"Professor Brier's style of presentation is as impressive as it is engaging, and combines the skills of a master teacher with an encyclopedic knowledge of his subject. The History of Ancient Egypt is enthusiastically recommended."

—Harold McFarland, Regional Editor, Midwest Book Review

"In these lectures on ancient Egypt, the enthusiasm of Professor Brier is so infectious, the material chosen so fascinating, and the presentation so pleasant that any adult listener could enrich his knowledge of history with enjoyment."

AudioFile magazine

The Big Picture

In this course, you chronologically survey the full 3,000 years of recorded ancient Egyptian history. Because Egyptian history lasted so long, Egyptologists divide it into three periods called Kingdoms:

  • The Old Kingdom saw the beginnings of nationhood for Egypt under one supreme ruler, the pharaoh. During this time, the pyramids were built and the rules of Egyptian art were established that would govern for 3,000 years.
  • The Middle Kingdom, a period of stabilizing after the Old Kingdom collapsed, saw a nation fighting to regain its greatness.
  • The New Kingdom, the glamour period of ancient Egypt, was when all the stars—Hatshepsut, Tutankhamen, Ramses the Great, Cleopatra, and others—appeared.

Professor Brier begins with a note on his approach.

"To a great extent, the fun of history is in the details. Knowing what kind of wine Tutankhamen preferred makes him come alive.

"Knowing that Ramses the Great was crippled by arthritis for the last decade of his long life makes us more sympathetic to the boastful monarch who fathered more than 100 children.

"If we understand what it was like to be a miner sent to the turquoise mines in the Sinai in the summer, we will feel a kinship with our long-dead counterparts.

"As we wind our way chronologically through 30 centuries of history, we will pause repeatedly to look at the details that make up the big picture."

The Base

The first five lectures are foundational. Professor Brier shows what Egypt was like before writing, how Egyptologists piece together the history of ancient Egypt, and how hieroglyphs were deciphered. These lectures show how Egyptology has been one ongoing detective story—and reveal Napoleon's massive contribution to what we know.

The Old Kingdom

In Lectures 6–10, you see the Egyptians rise to a greatness far surpassing any other people in the Near East, learn of a king who united Egypt by might, and discover a pharaoh who showed Egypt how to build the pyramids.

While you see how the pyramids were built, you learn just what it was that made Egypt great. At the end of these lectures, you see Egypt collapse into a dark age about which little is known, and with Professor Brier, you try to assess what happened.

The Middle Kingdom

Lectures 11–15 discuss Egypt's successful attempt to pull itself together, only to collapse once again. You study heroic kings from the south who battle to unite the country and establish a peace that would last for two centuries—as long as the United States has existed. Then Egypt is invaded by the mysterious people called the Hyksos, as the kings of the south battle Egypt back to greatness. These lectures also look in detail at the Old Testament story of Joseph in Egypt to see what light it might shed on this period.

The New Kingdom

Lectures 16–25 deal with the fabulous Dynasty XVIII, the period of Egypt's greatest wealth and personalities. Examining in-depth the kings and queens of this period, you study:

  • Hatshepsut, the woman who ruled as king and whose history was systematically erased from Egyptian records
  • Akhenaten, the first monotheist—and, arguably, the first individual—in history, who changed the religion of Egypt
  • Tutankhamen, the son of Akhenaten, who became the most famous of Egypt's kings when his undisturbed tomb was discovered in 1922
  • Egyptian medicine and why Egyptian physicians were justly the most famous in the ancient world.

Lectures 26–28 are a brief excursion into Professor Brier's specialty: mummies. You even learn how to make one. You also see that mummies are like books—packed with information—if you know how to read them.

Lectures 29–35 focus on the end of the New Kingdom, the last great epoch of Egyptian history, dominated by Ramses the Great. Professor Brier discusses the unnamed pharaoh of the Exodus, as well as Egyptian magic.

Greatness, but under Greek Rule

Lectures 36–41 recount the invasion of Egypt by a series of conquering peoples, including Nubians, Libyans, and Persians. Professor Brier examines the causes of Egypt's decline and the ways the falling pharaohs reached back 1,500 years to grasp at greatness.

Lectures 42–47 chart the rule of the Ptolemies, Greek kings. This period begins with the conquest of Alexander the Great and ends with Cleopatra. For 200 years, once-mighty Egypt was ruled by kings named Ptolemy, all of whom descended from General Ptolemy, who served under Alexander. These lectures examine what life was like for an Egyptian under the oppressive rule of their Greek masters. And they detail some of the achievements of this period, including the library at Alexandria.

Lecture 48 concludes the series with a summary of Egypt's legacy and suggestions for continuing study.

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48 Lectures
  • 1
    Introduction
    What makes ancient Egypt so interesting? How do we know what we know about it? What can you, as a student, expect from these lectures? x
  • 2
    Prehistoric Egypt
    In this lesson, we will see just how old "old" is. The basic divisions of prehistory will be discussed, and each category will be defined and its specific characteristics delineated. Once these categories are clear, we will discuss the difficulties of studying a prehistoric civilization. x
  • 3
    Ancient Egyptian Thought
    What distinguishes mythology, religion, and philosophy from one another? What role did each play in the lives of the ancient Egyptians? x
  • 4
    Napoleon and the Beginnings of Egyptology
    Why does modern Egyptology begin with Napoleon? How was Egypt studied before he and his army arrived with 150 scientists in tow in 1798? How did the monumental Description de l'Egypte that Bonaparte's savants produced become the benchmark for all future publications in the field? x
  • 5
    The Rosetta Stone, and Much More
    The Rosetta Stone is a large granite stela, carved under Ptolemy V and unearthed by French troops in 1799. With inscriptions of the same text in Greek and Egyptian, it provided the key to deciphering the ancient Egyptian language. Learn the four scripts in which ancient Egyptian can be written, as well as the three ways hieroglyphic signs can be used. x
  • 6
    The First Nation in History
    How did Egypt become history's first nation? Once King Narmer unified Upper and Lower Egypt, it took only a few hundred years to build a power that would dominate the Near East for millennia. Learn why the political structure of ancient Egypt made this possible and how the "Narmer Palette" tells this story. x
  • 7
    The Rise of the Old Kingdom
    As Egypt becomes a great nation led by a single all-powerful ruler, traditions arise that will last for millennia: a capital city, separate burial places (and eventually mighty pyramids) for the kings, solar boats for the trip to the next world, and more. x
  • 8
    Sneferu, the Pyramid Builder
    This lecture will present a portrait of the founder of the "Fabulous Fourth" Dynasty, Sneferu. Using trial and error, he figured out how to build a true pyramid. His reign also saw Egypt's blossoming as an international power and the setting of artistic standards that would last for thousands of years. x
  • 9
    The Great Pyramid of Giza
    From leveling the foundation to setting the capstone, here are—as best as we can make out—the "nuts and bolts" of the Egyptians' most literally "monumental" feat: pyramid building. This lecture also discusses the 144-foot solar boat that was found in 1954, buried near the Great Pyramid. x
  • 10
    The End of the Old Kingdom
    After the fantastic achievements of Dynasty IV, something—no one knows what—changed. Pharaohs stopped building pyramids and seem to have adopted sun worship. Dynasty VI resumed pyramid building on a small scale, but the death of its last king plunged Egypt into chaos. x
  • 11
    The First Intermediate Period
    After centuries of power, pyramids, and prosperity, Egypt totally collapsed. Why? A look at this period also shows the methods that Egyptologists use to reconstruct history where the resources are scant. x
  • 12
    The Middle Kingdom—Dynasty XI
    The Middle Kingdom is the story of Egypt's resurrection. Dynasty XI is the dynasty of reunification, slowly bringing Egypt back to unity and greatness. x
  • 13
    The Middle Kingdom—Dynasty XII
    The seven kings of Dynasty XII built pyramids, fostered great literature (often for political purposes), and consolidated power once again in the center. x
  • 14
    The Second Intermediate Period
    Ancient Egypt is the only civilization in history to have been eclipsed twice and bounced back to prominence on both occasions. Dynasties XIII through XVII saw the Middle Kingdom's decline, the advent of foreign rule, and finally, the expulsion of the Hyksos by a heroic prince of Thebes and his two sons at the end of Dynasty XVII. x
  • 15
    Joseph in Egypt
    The Bible describes a lengthy sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt. We examine the Joseph story in the Book of Genesis to see what light Egyptology might shed on its authenticity. x
  • 16
    The Beginning of the New Kingdom—The Fabulous XVIIIth Dynasty
    Practices we think of as defining ancient Egypt—including the use of a standing army to exact foreign tribute and the burial of the pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings—have their origins in this seminal period. We will also take a detailed look at what warfare was like in the ancient world. x
  • 17
    Queen Hatshepsut
    One of the greatest individuals in Egyptian history, Hatshepsut appears in no official Egyptian record. When she died, she was "King of Upper and Lower Egypt." How did she handle the three core activities of kingship—building, warfare, and trading expeditions? Why was her name later systematically expunged? x
  • 18
    Obelisks
    Obelisks are a purely Egyptian invention. Quarrying, transporting, and erecting one is perhaps an even greater engineering feat than the building of a pyramid. Learn the origins and religious significance of obelisks. x
  • 19
    Tuthmosis III—King At Last
    For 22 years, Tuthmosis III was second fiddle to his aunt Hatshepsut, who ruled as a king although she was a woman. When she died and he ruled by himself, he became one of the greatest military pharaohs Egypt had ever known. Learn what it meant to be a great king by tracing the epic events of his reign. x
  • 20
    The Fabulous XVIIIth Dynasty Rolls On
    Witness this glorious dynasty continue through two superior pharaohs and then one great one, Amenhotep III, "The Sun King." x
  • 21
    Akhenaten the Heretic Pharaoh
    The most enigmatic and controversial pharaoh in Egypt's history, Akhenaten rocked the pillars of Egyptian society. He may have been the first monotheist and the first "individual" in history. x
  • 22
    The Discovery of Tutankhamen's Tomb
    Unearthed by Howard Carter in 1922, the burial place of this young son of Akhenaten is the only royal tomb to have been found substantially intact. Follow the careful research and planning that led up to Carter's discovery, and learn the significance of the thousands of artifacts found. x
  • 23
    The Murder of Tutankhamen—A Theory
    Was Tutankhamen the victim of foul play? Do his mummified remains hold clues? Who might have wanted him dead, and why? Sift the physical and circumstantial evidence for this intriguing hypothesis and form your own conclusion. x
  • 24
    Medicine—The Necessary Art
    The physicians of Egypt were famous throughout the ancient world. Probe the justification for this fame by examining medical papyri. We will see that there were really two approaches to medicine: clinical and magical. x
  • 25
    The End of Dynasty XVIII
    What happened when a pharaoh died without issue? Find out by looking at three such cases that arose toward the end of Dynasty XVIII. Tutankhamen, Aye, and Horemheb, the last king of the dynasty, left no children. x
  • 26
    Mummification—How We Know What We Know
    Mummification was a trade secret. The Egyptians left no records of how they did it. Detective work is needed, and fortunately, there are four papyri that offer some clues. x
  • 27
    What Mummies Tell Us
    The primary source for figuring out how the Egyptians mummified their dead is the mummies themselves. What distinguishes mummies from the Old Kingdom, the New Kingdom, and the Late Period, respectively? How have Egyptologists reconstructed this ancient art? By the end of this lecture, you will be able to look at a mummy and tell how old it is. x
  • 28
    Making a Modern Mummy
    Here you'll learn how Professor Brier mummified a human cadaver in the ancient Egyptian manner to determine how the Egyptian embalmers did it. The purpose of the project was not to make a mummy, but to gain knowledge of the instruments, substances, and surgical procedures used during the process. x
  • 29
    Dynasty XIX Begins
    After three childless pharaohs in a row, Egypt desperately needed stability. Thus, the first pharaoh of Dynasty XIX may have been selected not for his ability, but because of his heirs! x
  • 30
    Ramses the Great—The Early Years
    Ramses the Great ruled for 67 years and was considered one of Egypt's greatest pharaohs. The pillars of his reputation were classic: warfare and building. x
  • 31
    Ramses the Great—The Later Years
    There is a bit of a mystery about Ramses's reign. Its last 40 years were rather sedentary. In considering what might have happened, you will see how a pharaoh with the resources of Ramses prepared himself and his family for the next world. x
  • 32
    The Exodus—Did It Happen?
    The Book of Exodus, so fundamental to the history of the Jewish people, is the section of the Old Testament most closely tied to Egypt. What light can Egyptology shed on the biblical account? x
  • 33
    The Decline of Dynasty XIX
    Short reigns and a lack of major building projects betray the beginnings of Egypt's long slide from greatness. x
  • 34
    Dynasty XX—The Decline Continues
    After Ramses III's brief attempt to restore Egypt's stability, the downward slide continued. Who were the mysterious Sea Peoples? How did they contribute to the weakening of Egypt? x
  • 35
    Ancient Egyptian Magic
    Magic was a central concern of the ancient Egyptians. What were its basic elements and practices? x
  • 36
    Dynasty XXI—Egypt Divided
    Egypt's long slide continued as rival dynasties ruled from Thebes and the Delta. Egyptian history had become "a tale of two cities." x
  • 37
    Dynasty XXII—Egypt United
    Libyans ruled from the Delta city of Bubastis for 200 years and fought to restore Egypt's greatness. During this time, Egypt became involved with the biblical kingdoms of Judah and Israel. In the end, Egypt suffered division once more, but this time the two halves did not fight one another. x
  • 38
    Dynasty XXV—The Nubians Have Their Day
    Nubians had been permitted to grow independent, with their leaders taking the title of pharaoh. They were also devoted to Amun, so in a sense, Egypt was their spiritual home. We will see a warrior from the south (Kush) battling a confederation of Egyptian "kings" and unifying Egypt once again. x
  • 39
    Dynasty XXVI—The Saite Period
    Egypt fell under and then escaped Assyrian control only to face a new menace in the form of Babylon. As if they knew it was the last gasp, the pharaohs of Dynasty XXVI looked back to the Old Kingdom for inspiration. x
  • 40
    Dynasty XXVII—The Persians
    The Greek traveler Herodotus gives three different reasons Persia invaded Egypt. How do his accounts compare with Egyptian records? How did Egypt express its unbending will to be free under this latest group of foreign rulers? x
  • 41
    Dynasties XXVIII to XXXI—The Beginning of the End
    Four very brief dynasties ruled in succession. When the last native-born ruler, Nectanebo II, was forced to flee into Nubia, Egypt's glory was over. x
  • 42
    Alexander the Great
    Alexander the Great began 300 years of Greek control of Egypt. We will trace his extraordinary career as a young general, as pharaoh, and as legendary conqueror. x
  • 43
    The First Ptolemies
    The Greek kings known as the Ptolemies ran Egypt like a business. Taxes were heavy; government was oppressive. There are two great Hellenistic achievements, however: the Pharos Lighthouse and the famed Library of Alexandria. x
  • 44
    The Middle Ptolemies—The Decline
    A TV show about the Middle Ptolemies might well be called "Lifestyles of the Rich and Murderous." With few exceptions, the members of this dysfunctional dynasty were violent, debauched, and generally neglectful of the country they ruled. The Egyptians hated them and frequently rebelled, forcing some to flee for their lives. With each Ptolemy, Egypt sank deeper, making a return to greatness impossible. x
  • 45
    Animal Mummies
    The Ptolemies had a fascination with mummies, especially animal mummies. We will take an in-depth look at the practice of animal mummification, which became a major industry during the Ptolemaic period. x
  • 46
    Cleopatra's Family
    For a Ptolemy, dodging assassination by one's own kin was often the hardest part of ruling. Learn how Cleopatra's father managed this task, and trace the course of Egypt's growing—and ultimately fatal—interaction with the rising power of Rome. x
  • 47
    Cleopatra—The Last Ptolemy
    Although Cleopatra is one of the most famous women who ever lived, she remains an enigma—we don't even know her mother's name. History is written by the victors, and Cleopatra lost. Can ancient records help fill out her story? x
  • 48
    The Grand Finale
    This last lecture crowns the course by briefly summarizing 3,000 years of Egyptian history; outlining Egypt's legacy to us; surveying images of Egypt in film and literature; and listing ways you can pursue your interest in this remarkable civilization. Your learning needn't stop here! x

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Bob Brier
Ph.D. Bob Brier
Long Island University

Dr. Bob Brier is an Egyptologist and Senior Research Fellow at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University. He earned his bachelor's degree from Hunter College and Ph.D. in Philosophy from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Professor Brier has twice been selected as a Fulbright Scholar and has received Long Island University's David Newton Award for Teaching Excellence in recognition of his achievements as a lecturer. He has served as Director of the National Endowment for the Humanities' Egyptology Today program. In 1994, Dr. Brier became the first person in 2,000 years to mummify a human cadaver in the ancient Egyptian style. This research was the subject of a National Geographic television special, Mr. Mummy. Dr. Brier is also the host of The Learning Channel's series The Great Egyptians. Professor Brier is the author of Ancient Egyptian Magic (1980), Egyptian Mummies (1994), Encyclopedia of Mummies (1998), The Murder of Tutankhamen: A True Story (1998), Daily Life in Ancient Egypt (1999), and numerous scholarly articles.

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Reviews

Rated 4.6 out of 5 by 174 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by Best presenter ever! Dr. Bob Brier is the best video presenter I've ever seen (and I've seen a lot). He kept my attention riveted through 48 lectures, and I've ordered another series by him. October 27, 2014
Rated 4 out of 5 by Great Overview of Ancient Egypt Nice Chronological approach with side discussions on various topics. He brought the characters to life and made it very interesting to listen to. October 14, 2014
Rated 1 out of 5 by bad science the professor sure is a good speaker but the way he presents wildly contested theories as hard facts again and again and again is just awful. such a fascinating topic deserves a more humble scientist who doesn't play the know-it-all and doesn't talk to his audience like they were school kids. September 9, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Loved this class I absolutely loved this class. The professor's love for Egypt shines through and his enthusiasm serves to increase the enthusiasm of his audience. He makes the people and culture of Egypt more real and I think many times during the course of my day of things that I learned in his class. I look forward to watching certain sections again over and over and will greatly miss having his class as a part of my daily routine. Because of his class, I have been driven to pull out some of my old books on Ancient Egypt and rediscover some of my passions with greater focus instead of the over-generalized study I had done in the past. I have also gone and subscribed to KMT per his recommendation. If there are more audiovisual classes taught by this professor, I will be first in line to pick them up. Amazing class! July 31, 2014
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