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This is a story studded with extraordinary achievements and historic moments, from the building of the pyramids and the conquest of Nubia, through Akhenaten's religious revolution, the power and beauty of Nefertiti, the glory of Tutankhamun's burial chamber, and the ruthlessness of Ramesses, to Alexander the Great's invasion, and Cleopatra's fatal entanglement with Rome.
As the world's first nation-state, the history of Ancient Egypt is above all the story of the attempt to unite a disparate realm and defend it against hostile forces from within and without. Combining grand narrative sweep with detailed knowledge of hieroglyphs and the iconography of power, Toby Wilkinson reveals Ancient Egypt in all its complexity.
Cambridge University Egyptologist Wilkinson (Lives of the Ancient Egyptians) offers a revisionist view of the ugly life hidden by the splendors and dazzling treasures of pharaonic Egypt. He shows in rich detail that it was a brutal society where life was cheap, royal power absolute and established through fear and coercion. Wilkinson finds unequivocal evidence in royal tombs like that of First Dynasty king Djer (c. 2900 B.C.E.), surrounded by 318 buried retainers, probably victims of human sacrifice. Even if construction workers for Khufu's Great Pyramid at Giza ("the ultimate projection of absolute power") were reasonably fed and housed, they were virtual, if not literal, slaves, drafted to perform the perilous work. Later the fanatical, heretic king Akhenaten built a new model city with grand temples where mountains of food were offered to a sun god while his people were starving and severely overworked. The Ptolemies' punitive economic policies unleashed a peasants' revolt that fatally weakened their empire. This is a penetrating and authoritative overview of a violent ancient civilization often revered by contemporary scholars and enthusiasts. 24 pages of color photos; 44 b&w photos; 12 maps.