Much like a degree is a combination of all the modules and courses that one takes, so too is the modern world a combination of all the civilisations and cultures that came before. We all know the quote made famous by the Pythons, “What have the Romans ever done for us?”, and we all know the satirical response to this question (straight roads, running water, safety from ruffians etc.)
What is often glossed over, however, is that the Romans are merely the most famous example – the tip of the iceberg. The Greeks, the Egyptians, the Ancient Chinese, the Tudors, the Medieval period, all have contributed just as much to the modern world. So often, however, they are overshadowed by the shadow of Rome. Today, it’s the turn of the Egyptians. Who were they? Why did they do what they did? And, most importantly, what is their legacy?
Ancient Egypt is itself a vast period, covering thousands of years. Indeed Cleopatra, one of the most famous figures of Ancient Egypt, lived closer to our own time than to the building of the Great Pyramids. Despite this vast chronological period however, it is impossible to escape the legacy of the Ancient Egyptian world. Did you know, for instance, that Egypt was potentially one of the first cultures to explore the scientific arts? Chemistry specifically is derived from the word Alchemy, the ancient name for Egypt. So next time you’re in the lab, you can thank the Egyptians. Mathematics and Engineering too would not be the disciplines they are today without the Ancient Egyptians. Despite looking radically different on the surface of things, the Egyptian decimal system serves as one of the main precursors to our own. So, next time you’re trying to figure out how much change you need for that Unit 1 (or Arena for those old hats amongst you!) ticket, thank the Egyptians.
In terms of Engineering, one needs only to look at the Pyramids to comprehend the genius of the Egyptians. Marvels of construction in and of themselves, with just two inches of variation on its sides, the pyramids have influenced construction throughout the centuries. One of the most stable and iconic shapes, the pyramid can be seen everywhere from the tops of shopping centres to the modern entrance to the Louvre.
Sculpture too shows the influence of the Ancient Egyptians. If one thinks of iconic statuary, the pristine marble figures of Rome and Greece spring to mind. But, where did they learn to make such works of art? The Egyptians of course. The Ancient Greeks would have seen the so called Egyptian grid method used to portray the human figure and adopted it themselves. This would prove to be the basis for their own iconic figures. Then centuries later Egyptian sculpture would have captured the imagination of sculptors yet again when Napoleon invaded Egypt in the 1700’s. However, it is not just statuary that has left its mark on the modern world. As with the Pyramids, different Egyptian sculpture can be seen all over the place. One only needs to walk down the bank of the Thames to see obelisks adorning modern pavements. In fact, this particle form of sculpture is so iconic, that obelisks have been exchanged as gifts between different nations in the past.
It is not just the physical material culture of the Ancient Egyptians that has left its mark on the modern world however. The myths and stories, the cult and the allure of the Ancient Egyptians can be seen across the modern world. Hollywood, it seems, can’t stay away from them, with Ancient Egypt starring in a film every other year. And let’s face it, cinema today would not be what it is without Brendan Fraser running around ancient tombs. It is not just modern cinema that utilises the Ancient Egyptian mythology however, these stories have left their mark throughout history.
Writers and poets throughout history, from the Renaissance to the Romantics, have drawn on these stories and mythologies for centuries. Academics have studied the Egyptians for years, from the grizzly mummies to the enigma of their language, Egyptology continues to capture the imagination. Egyptology courses at universities are full to bursting, and the subject is a sure hit with producers and publishers (so if you’re thinking of going down that route, hint hint). From children’s books such as the horrible histories, to the aforementioned horror movies, mummies and Ancient Egyptian gods are everywhere.
Finally Ancient Egypt has given us one of the most boring institutions of the modern world: bureaucracy. The Egyptians loved their records, they loved to mark down everything they captured in battle, to tax those under their rule, to take stock of everything they owned. All of this was structured and organised very precisely and very efficiently. There was an overseer of the treasury, and overseer of the granary, viceroys and viziers, generals and royal tutors. So, when it comes to the next cabinet reshuffle, and you’re trying to remember all the different roles in government, you can thank the Egyptians. Next time you have to fill in a tax return? Thank the Egyptians. Next time a letter or form gets lost in the system? Thank the Egyptians. Joking aside, the legacy of the Egyptians can be felt strongly across the modern world, and will continue to capture the imagination of people for years to come.
Featured Image: Wikimedia.org