Does Geography Determine Destiny?


The Development of Cities

As you have already learned, King Menes founded the first capital of Egypt in Memphis, and, like so many other locations in ancient Egypt, being surrounded by so many deserts protected them from invasion and takeover. Water is the most basic of human needs, no matter what year you live in. Let’s think about water and the quality of that water in today’s world. We have more pollutants in our water, but, for Americans living in Michigan, access to the water of the Great Lakes is such a huge advantage. Access to water has to be reliable for the growth of a civilization. A huge group like the Ancient Egyptians could not build a capital without water. Without the Nile River, there would not have been the Egyptian Empire.

In ancient times, designing a good way to transport enough fresh water was a difficult challenge. For example, to keep an army hydrated during battles, leaders had many difficulties. The cities of Egypt were strategic in their design; these cities were rarely invaded due to their location. Power and protection go together! The cities were situated to support the travel, trade, transportation, and safety. These four factors were paramount in the location of their busy centers of Egyptian life.

Another major city of Egyptian civilization was Thebes. Thebes was the capital for hundreds of years during the reign of several pharaohs. The location was both strategic and hospitable to life in the Nile River Valley. It is over 400 miles south of Egypt’s modern capital, Cairo. On the east side of the river was the city for the living and on the west bank of the river was home to all the tombs and those involved in burial like the priests, embalmers, and workers. During the Middle Kingdom, a time period from about 2000 BCE to 1700 BCE, Thebes was where you’d find the Sphinxes and great temples. Thebes was ruled by Egyptians, but it was also taken over for time spans by the Hyksos, invaders from Asia, by the Assyrians, the Persians, and finally the Greeks. The Greeks had such a strong influence that the name Thebes is Greek. Today, Thebes is a small village in Egypt visited by tourists that come to visit the ruins. King Tutankhamen’s tomb was discovered here in Thebes in 1922, less than 100 years ago. King Tut had quite a complicated family tree and the city of Thebes has a notable history, too.

Sometimes periods of change and unrest in a civilization can lead to the development of new cities. As you have already learned, the pharaoh Amenhotep IV and his queen Nefertiti created a new set of traditions based on the worship of the one god whom they called Aten. No one knows for certain why or to what extent this religious change from polytheism to monotheism, the worship of only one god, took place. But it was sincere enough, or an attempt to consolidate his power enough to cause Amenhotep IV to change his name to Akhenaten in honor of the one god of his monotheism efforts. He also began the building of the the city of Amarna to honor the god Aten, not Amon-Re. This city was also called Tell el-Amarna and is believed to have been one of the first planned settlements in all of human history; a fitting tribute to what is considered to be the earliest documentation of monotheistic religious beliefs in human history.

Akhenaten and Nefertiti paid for the new city’s construction with the riches from the temples of Karnak. Karnak was the home to temples dedicated to other gods, but they were closed for 17 years during the rule of Akhenaten. The change to a new religious system had an economic impact, too.

Change often produces unrest and that was certainly the case here. This team of rulers, Akhenaten and Nefertiri, brought about a time of crisis and social disorder. With all this change the rulers were forced to seek out protection from those who did not like their ideas. Armana was surrounded by cliffs on three sides and the Nile on the fourth. The city was a fortress, or citadel.

Upon Ahkenaten’s death, Nefertiti returned to the previous capital of Thebes and ruled there for a year. Priests to the previous gods were still in Thebes when Nefertiti returned with the body of her husband, and her return may have signaled a return to previous religious practice. Akhenaton’s son Tutankhamen, whom we would come to know as King Tut, would eventually consolidate his own power and rule from Thebes.