Destruction and survival of a civilisation
Philae Temple, site of the last hieroglyphic inscription, dated 394 AD.
How could a civilisation with almost 3,500 years of history, which influenced Western culture, with temples and monuments in the centre of Rome, whose goddess Isis was worshipped as far as England became foreign? Its achievements forgotten, its culture turned into exotic folklore, its words enigmas? What made ancient Egyptian memories return to dust?
In this chapter, the reader discovers the principles of the ancient Egyptian civilisation, striving for eternal life, harmony and justice against chaos.
Greek and Roman Pharaohs
In the last stages of ancient Egypt's history, the Greeks arrived in Egypt, and like had been done for three millennia, they carved words in stone. Except this time in languages intelligible to all, Greek and Egyptian.
Having spent seven centuries exchanging with Greek and Roman cultures, and having carved multilingual documents in stone saved ancient Egypt from certain oblivion.
Ancient Egyptian memory destroyed by greed
Pharaoh Khufu might have built the largest stone structure in the world, so he could save his body and get the chance of an afterlife, nothing was left inside the immense pyramid.
The appearance of the builder of the largest pyramid is only known from a small ivory statuette.
In ancient Egypt already, the tremendous riches that the Pharaohs took with them in their tombs, so they would enjoy in the afterlife the power and luxury befitting to their rank turned out to be the best way to ensure they would fail at reaching eternity.
Their tombs treasures proved too enticing to thieves, as no amount of stone, traps and protection would stop men from dreaming of gold and quick fortune. The looting and recycling of the past kept on until the 19th century.
Ancient Egyptian memory destroyed by intolerance
Egypt had already been through an episode of religious turmoil, creation and destruction, when Pharaoh Akhenaten reformed religion by refocusing on a single god, the sun Aten, instead of the numerous divinities that Egyptians had used to worship until then.
The reader then learns the consequences of the edicts in 391 AD of Roman Emperor Theodosius stating that “no person shall revere the images formed by mortal labor, lest he become guilty by divine and human laws. No person shall be granted the right to perform sacrifices; no person shall go around the temples; no person shall revere the shrines.”
Mummies returned to dust
The ancient Egyptians went to so much trouble and expense to preserve their bodies, in the hope of vanquishing the inevitability of death and live for eternity. For 1,400 years mummies literally returned to dust, as they were pulverised into powder and used as medicine.
Egyptian doctors might have been considered amongst the best of the ancient world, they probably did not intend to be eaten to cure others. The reader also discovers how far people went to sell “mummy” and how Tutankhamun's mummy was treated.
Survival of ancient Egypt
Chaos repeatedly fell upon Egypt, with devastative greed and destructive religious reforms. The ancient Egyptians could hardly have foreseen the magnitude of the destruction that would befall their achievements nor the odds of their memory surviving.
Yet the ancient Egyptians' ambition, in aiming for eternity, drove them to build countless pyramids, temples and statues and tombs carved from top to bottom with images. To ensure their everlasting power they used the hardest materials available. The sheer amount and durability of their creations simply overwhelmed those who destroyed, chiseled, burnt and recycled their accomplishments.
Since we are fortunately able to read the words the ancient Egyptians left behind and study their thinking and their beliefs, neither modern Egyptians nor anyone else has to agree or disagree with their religion and customs to be able to admire their civilisation.
This was illustrated in 2015 Egypt by a decree of the Islamic authority for religious verdicts, “the necessity of preserving the priceless material treasures of human civilisation, some of which belong to the Islamic era and others to the civilisation of previous nations. It stressed that preserving this heritage and visiting such sites is both lawful and encouraged by religion due to the lessons which can be derived from the civilisations of the previous nations”.
This is a preview of the chapter about the destruction and survival of the ancient Egyptian civilisation from the book Lost Treasures.