The Ancient Egyptians and Their Neighbors

The Ancient Egyptians and Their Neighbors

by Marian Broida

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The Ancient Egyptians and Their Neighbors by Marian Broida

Want to speak Hittite? Hold out a glass and ask for “wa-tar.” This unique activity book for children ages nine and up shows what life was like among the Nubians, Mesopotamians, Hittites, and their neighbors the Egyptians from around 3100 B.C., when Upper and Lower Egypt became one kingdom, to the death of Queen Cleopatra under the Romans, in 30 B.C. Projects such as building a Nubian irrigation machine, creating a Mesopotamian cylinder seal out of clay, making kilts like those worn by Egyptian boys and men, and writing in Hittite cuneiform help young readers to connect with these ancient cultures and see how profoundly they have influenced our own.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781556523601
Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 11/01/1999
Edition description: 1 ED
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 473,129
Product dimensions: 11.00(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range: 9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Ancient Egyptians and their Neighbors

An Activity Guide

By Marian Broida

Chicago Review Press Incorporated

Copyright © 1999 Marian Broida
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-55652-360-1


The Egyptians

Egyptian History and Geography

The Nile River cuts through a valley in northeast Africa. Seen from the sky, the river is surrounded by a narrow band of blazing green on both sides. Beyond the green is dry desert. Stark red cliffs rise on either side of the valley.

The ancient Egyptians called their land Kemet, which meant "black land" — the rich black earth watered yearly when the Nile flooded. Crops grew only where the floodwaters moistened the land. Farmers learned to irrigate, so they could grow two or three crops a year before the flood waters retreated completely. Crops could not be grown in the desert, called the "red land." There was very little rain. Over most of Egypt the sun blazed down day after day, and only in the evenings did the air grow cool.

Ancient Egyptians believed that people could return to life after death, just as plants grew back each year with the Nile's flood. They believed that bodies, if preserved and reunited with their spirits, could enter afterlife (the life people led after leaving this world). They buried their dead with the supplies they would need for eternal life. They soaked pharaohs' bodies in a mineral called natron to preserve them as mummies. They buried the pharaohs in pyramids or rock-cut tombs meant to last forever.

The Egyptians spent much time preparing for the afterlife. They loved this life and they believed something quite like it would continue after they died. Tomb paintings show vivid pictures of people feasting and playing, as well as working hard in fields, workshops, and homes. Both rich and poor Egyptians played board games and enjoyed singing and dancing. They owed their lives and their pleasures to the gifts of the Nile — food, water, and transportation.

Nature made the Nile a wonderful means of travel. This huge river is the largest in the world running from south to north. While the current rushes one way, the wind blows the other. Nature helped ancient Egyptian travelers go in either direction. Boats could float with the current down the river to the north, and sail up the river to the south.

It was fairly easy to get from one end of Egypt to the other, but it was hard to get into Egypt from other countries. The desert, the sea, and fierce river rapids isolated Egypt from cultures on all sides. Its geography protected Egypt from most invaders. It also kept other cultures from greatly changing the Egyptian way of life.

Over the 3,000 years covered in this book, Egyptian culture changed in many ways — but not nearly as much as our own has changed in a shorter period of time. An Egyptian from 2800 B.C. would still recognize many ways of living in 300 B.C. Do you think a Native American or European from 500 B.C. — long before the beginning of the English language, many religions, electricity, or computers — would recognize anything in the modern United States?

Our book begins in 3100 B.C., the start of the first Egyptian dynasty (DIE-nus-tee), or family of kings. (Some scholars give that date as 3000 B.C., or even 2675 B.C.) Ancient Egyptians believed their civilization began when Upper Egypt united with Lower Egypt under a king named Menes (MEN-aze).

Egyptian history is usually sorted into periods of time called kingdoms. There were three kingdoms in ancient Egypt: old, middle, and new. The Old Kingdom began around 2675 B.C. In between the kingdoms were periods of conflict called intermediate periods. Sometimes during the intermediate periods more than one king claimed to be pharaoh. In two of the intermediate periods, foreigners ruled Egypt. People called Hyksos (HEEK-sose) ruled Egypt during one of them, and Nubians ruled Egypt during part of another.

After the New Kingdom came the Third Intermediate Period, followed by a Late Period. The Late Period ended in 332 B.C. when Alexander the Great conquered Egypt.

After Alexander's death, his general Ptolemy (TALL-uh-mee) and Ptolemy's descendents ruled, during a time called the Ptolemaic (tall-uh-MAY-ik) Period. The Ptolemies formed the last dynasty in Egypt. In 30 B.C. the Romans defeated the Ptolemaic queen Cleopatra, beginning Roman rule of Egypt. Cleopatra's death marks the endpoint of this book.

Egyptian Architecture

Jutting into the sky, the pyramids look as if they will endure forever. The Egyptians meant the pyramids to inspire awe, both among the pharaoh's subjects and among foreign visitors. The builders strove to make the pyramids grand and glorious because they were meant for gods. The Egyptians believed their kings were gods. They wanted the tombs, like the gods, to last for eternity.

In fact these pyramids, especially the early ones, have held up remarkably well. The Great Pyramid of Giza was called one of the Seven Wonders of the World by an ancient Greek traveler Herodotus (her-ODD-o-tus) because it was one of the biggest man-made structures of the time. (The other six wonders were the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Hanging Garden of Babylon, and the Pharos at Alexandria.) Many of the pyramid's outer blocks were removed to build the modern city of Cairo. Even without its smooth limestone exterior, the pyramid still inspires awe.

The earliest Egyptian pharaohs were buried in mud-brick tombs called mastabas (ma-STA-bas), until a brilliant man named Imhotep (im-HO-tep) designed the first pyramid for King Djoser (JOE-sir), around 2660 B.C. Imhotep was the king's architect, as well as an astronomer, priest, physician, and scribe. He was called the eyes, ears, and hands of the pharaoh and was appointed the king's vizier (prime minister). He was such an amazing man that thousands of years later Imhotep was worshipped as a minor god. This first pyramid was later called the Step Pyramid because it looked like a staircase. In fact, the Egyptians believed the king would climb the steps to heaven when he died.

This pyramid is remarkable for many reasons. It was the first time people in Egypt used stone for building. Before then they used mud brick. Also, the architect kept changing his mind while building it. First Imhotep built a large mastaba. But that seemed too small, so he added two more levels. Even that was too small, so he enlarged the base and added more levels. In the end he built a pyramid that had six levels.

Imhotep did other things that were new and strange. He built many buildings surrounding the pyramid, including a temple for the king's statue and a temple where the king's body would be prepared for burial. But some buildings were fake. The outer walls were carefully carved and decorated, but inside the buildings were filled with rubble.

Imhotep built a huge stone wall surrounding the pyramid and all these buildings. He made what appeared to be 14 entrances to the stone wall, but only one was the real entrance. The other 13 were fake. We don't know why Imhotep built so many fake entrances. Maybe it was to fool grave robbers. But more likely it was for magical or religious purposes. He built the entire building complex to look like the pharaoh's palace and surrounding buildings. The Egyptians may have thought that the real palace buildings would go with the king into the next world if they built models of them near his tomb.

Simple Step Pyramid

You can make a model step pyramid out of sugar cubes. Be careful of the ants!


* Newspapers

* 1-pound box (95 or more) sugar cubes (The cubes must be shaped like squares, not bricks.)

* Heavy paper plate

* Pencil

* Glue

* Small paintbrush


Spread out newspapers on your work surface. Arrange 36 sugar cubes in the middle of the plate. Make a square of six rows of six cubes each. Carefully trace around the outside of the square with the pencil. Remove the sugar cubes from the plate. Drizzle some glue within the outline, being careful not to get too close to the edges. With your paintbrush, spread the glue inside this box. Starting at one corner, replace the sugar cubes in the glue-filled square. Drizzle and brush more glue across the top of the sugar cubes, covering the inner 16 cubes completely. Arrange 25 more cubes on top of your square (five rows of five).They should cover the part you glued. Make another square of glue on top of this layer. Arrange four rows of four cubes on top of this second layer. Repeat this process for squares made of nine cubes and then four cubes. Finish with a single cube on top. To make a temple, place four cubes (two rows of two) next to one side of the pyramid base. Trace around them with a pencil, then glue them in place.

Egyptian Model Garden

This model porch and garden is adapted from an ancient wooden model (see page 9) discovered in a Middle Kingdom tomb. An Egyptian named Meket-Re sat with his family in a garden like this one.


* Facial tissue box, 9¼ by 4¾ inches

* Scissors

* Green and brown paint

* Paintbrushes

* Jar of water

* 4 white 3-by 5-inch index cards

* Colored markers or other paint colors

* 5 green (or white) 3-by 5-inch index cards

* Scotch tape

* Pencil

* Small piece silver or aluminum foil (about 2 by 4 inches)

* Colored paper

* Glue (optional)


1. Cut off the top of the box, leaving a one- to two-inch lip covering one end. This is the porch roof. Pull out any plastic liner.

2. Paint the floor of the box green.

3. Make a door by cutting a white index card into a rectangle smaller than the width of one end of the box. Decorate it with markers and tape it to the short side of the box under the roof.

4. Make three pillars to support the roof, using a white index card. (Save the green ones for trees.) To make a pillar, first decorate the plain side of the index card with wide colored stripes, using paint or markers. Paint the stripes horizontally across the short side. Then roll it into a skinny tube the long way and tape it closed. Make four small cuts (½ inch or less) around one end of the tube about ½ inch apart. Fold out the four cut sections.

5. Trim the other end so the pillar is about ½ inch taller than the porch roof. Now make four small cuts in the other end and fold out the four small cut sections. When the floor is dry, place the pillar under the roof. Spread out the cut sections and tape them to the floor and ceiling. Make two or three pillars this way.

6. With the remaining index cards, make palm trees. First draw a line across the middle of the index card from one long side to the other (the short way). Paint the top part green (unless it's a green card), and the bottom part brown. When it dries, turn the card over and color the back of the green part green, too, so the top half of the card is completely green.

7. Roll the card into a tube the long way, with the brown and green parts showing, and tape it closed. Now make one- to two-inch-long cuts about ½ inch apart all the way around the top. Fold down the cut sections to form palm leaves.

8. Make four cuts about ½ inch long in the bottom of the trunk. Fold out the four bottom sections. In a little while you will tape these to the floor to hold up the tree.

9. Trim the silver foil and tape it to the bottom of the box in the middle.

10. Tape the bottoms of the trees symmetrically around the edge of the pond. The Egyptians liked symmetry, so both sides of the pond should be the same.

11. Cut out small ornamental fish, lotuses, and lily pads from colored paper and glue or tape them to the pond.

Now imagine you are sitting on your porch, enjoying a cool breeze off the pond as your palm trees sway.

Egyptians Clothing

Egyptians wore clothes woven of linen made from flax plants. The weave could be coarse, for ordinary people, or so fine you could see through it, for the rich to wear on important occasions.

During most of Egypt's history, women did the weaving on flat looms set up on the ground. During the New Kingdom (~1550–~1070 B.C.), some men began weaving on upright wooden looms. Clothing was usually left white, bleached with chemicals or the hot Egyptian sun.

Two articles of clothing were popular, a plain kilt (skirt) for men and a long sleeveless dress for women. Both could be pleated. During the Old and Middle Kingdoms, Egyptian art shows men wearing kilts and women wearing long sleeveless dresses. During the New Kingdom, tomb paintings show more elaborate, looser clothing. Women and men are shown wearing clothes with sleeves and many pleats. Even so, pictures still show men wearing kilts and women wearing sleeveless dresses, sometimes with a shawl.

Children often wore nothing except jewelry and amulets (charms to protect them from evil).

Girl's Long Dress

Try making this long dress from a couple of pillowcases. You'll need help measuring. Then walk like an Egyptian!


* 2 old matching white pillowcases (or any solid color)

* Pencil

* Ruler or tape measure

* Scissors

* Safety pins or adhesive tape


Turn one pillowcase inside out. Take off any bulky sweaters and lie down on top of the pillowcase with the very base of your neck at the closed narrow end. Have a friend trace around your upper body with the pencil. Stop just below the arms. Get up, and draw a straight line from armpit to armpit on the pillowcase. Draw two wide shoulder straps on the pillowcase from the edge of your neck, extending to the armpit line. (Be careful to start right next to the neck.) Straps should be about two inches wide at the top, getting wider as they go down. Cut out around the straps (but not across the tops).

Try on the dress inside out. It may be too wide. Use safety pins to take in the sides. Leave enough room so you can get it off and on.

To make the dress longer, take it off, still inside out. Slit the end of the second pillowcase and turn it inside out too. Slide the cut end of the second pillowcase over the bottom of the first one, just past the hem. Pin them together and try the dress on. If it's too long, mark the length you'd like. (Egyptian paintings show women wearing ankle-length dresses.) Make a small cut at this desired length and then tear the cloth the rest of the way.

Turn the dress right side out and wear it with an Egyptian necklace or bracelet (see pages 18–20).

Boy's Short Kilt

Use an old pillowcase to make a kilt like the ones worn by Egyptian men and boys. You will need someone to help you measure.


* Old white pillowcase (or any solid color if white's not available)

* Scissors

* Straight pin or pen for marking

* Safety pin (optional)


Cut along the two sides of the pillowcase, leaving the end uncut. Open the cloth into a long strip and wrap it

around your waist. Decide how long you want it. (Egyptians usually wore kilts above the knee.) Have a friend mark the length you want with a pin or pen.

Lay down the cloth. Cut the cloth at your mark. Then tear the rest of the way. Save the strip for a belt.

Wrap the pillowcase around you again. If you like, use a safety pin to secure it around your waist. Tie on the belt, leaving the ends in front. (You can tuck them in.) Wear your kilt with an Egyptian bracelet or necklace or (see pages 18–20).

Hair and Makeup

Ancient Egyptians wore their hair naturally or they wore wigs. Many people shaved their heads or cut their hair very short. Wealthy ladies and gentlemen sometimes wore elaborate wigs on fancy occasions. Children had shaved heads or very short hair except for a single lock of hair on the side called a sidelock. Cutting off the sidelock was a step toward becoming an adult.

Egyptians had some unique grooming traditions. Sometimes they wore a cone of scented fat on top of their wigs. In the hot air the fat melted, sending trickles of sweet-smelling grease down their wigs and bodies. Egyptians used scented oils and fats to keep their skin moist. Egyptian men and women also wore eye paint to help protect their vision from the sun's glare.

Egyptian Jewelry

Everyone in Egypt — rich or poor, infants or old people — wore jewelry. If they could afford it they wore gold set with gemstones: garnets, turquoises, a blue stone called lapis lazuli (LAP-us LAZ-oo-lie), or red carnelian. Egyptians favored heavy necklaces and collars made of beads. They also wore bracelets, armbands, anklets, earrings, and pectorals (PECK-tore-ulls), which were large inlaid pendants hung from bead necklaces.


Excerpted from Ancient Egyptians and their Neighbors by Marian Broida. Copyright © 1999 Marian Broida. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Foreword Gary Beckman, professor of Hittite and Mesopotamian Studies, University of Michigan,
Time Line,
The Egyptians,
Egyptian History and Geography,
Egyptian Architecture,
Egyptian Clothing,
Egyptian Writing,
Egyptian Work,
Egyptian Food,
Egyptian Religion,
The Mesopotamians,
Mesopotamian History and Geography,
Mesopotamian Architecture,
Mesopotamian Clothing,
Mesopotamian Writing,
Mesopotamian Work,
Mesopotamian Food,
Mesopotamian Religion,
The Nubian,
Nubian History and Geography,
Nubian Architecture,
Nubian Clothing,
Nubian Writing,
Nubian Work,
Nubian Food,
Nubian Religion,
The Hittites,
Hittite History and Geography,
Hittite Architecture,
Hittite Clothing,
Hittite Writing,
Hittite Work,
Hittite Food,
Hittite Religion,
Further Reading,

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