The Egyptian Society declined rapidly from the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty. The relationship between this decline and economic conditions, the position of weakened pharaohs and warfare is examined.
This paper examines the causes of the decline of the ancient Egyptian civilization and argues that a number of factors played a role. Among these are a shift from economic prosperity to poverty, the weakening power of the pharaoh (related to the rise of the priesthood and royal instability) and continuous warfare with neighbouring societies.
“From the Egyptian state’s origins in the Old Kingdom, circa 2575 B.C., it flourished in relative isolation from other civilizations. It was protected by the Mediterranean in the north, the desert in the east and west, and by an ethnic frontier in the south (Adams, 1984, p. 38). During this time of remoteness, the Egyptian state built complex pyramid structures, developed a unique religion and established a political system based on the supremacy of the pharaoh and a hereditary bureaucracy (Fagan, 2004, p. 385). However, the prosperity and stability of the Old Kingdom (circa 2575 to 2180 B.C.) could not last forever, and since several succeeding pharaohs lacked leadership Egypt entered a period in which the central power of the government declined and local leaders became independent rulers within their own territories (Fagan, 2004, p. 389). In conjunction with this decline in power, came a prolonged drought cycle, but this led to improvements in agriculture and eventually to a rapid increase in population, though famines continued to strike for over three hundred years. Trade networks were vastly expanded during the Middle Kingdom (2134 to 1640 B.C.) and parts of the desert lands of Nubia were conquered, the first signs of imperial ambitions (Fagan, 2004, p. 390). The second intermediate period, occurring between 1640 and 1530 B.C., brought political instability and economic disorder to Egypt once again. However, in the same way that the first intermediate period brought improvements to the Egyptian civilization, this new period of instability brought several innovations that preserved Egypt’s role in the eastern Mediterranean world (Fagan, 2004, p. 391). The New Kingdom, 1530 to 1070 B.C., brought with it periods of extensive wealth, an expansive empire, and political stability, though these qualities were quickly dissolved with the last of the long-lived pharaohs Rameses III (Fagan, 2004, p. 391; Ibid, p. 395). The last years of the Egyptian dynasties were marked by a “succession of short-lived, sometimes competing and generally unremarkable kings” (Rice, 1997, p. 1980). After this time political weakness opened the door to the rapidly evolving civilizations crowding Egypt’s borders. By about 1000 B.C. the country was bankrupt and the influence of other ancient civilizations, Assyrians and Persians followed by the Greeks, came to dominate the Nile Valley (Clayton, 1994, p. 173). The decline of the Egyptian civilization resulted from the complex interplay of several factors including economic conditions, a weakening of the pharaohs? power, and warfare with other complex societies.”