Key Features of Egyptian Religion



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  • • Egyptians considered religion to be essential to every part of their lives, and so there was no word for religion in the Egyptian language.
  • • Egyptians were polytheistic. They believed in many gods.
  • • Gods and goddesses were associated with heavenly bodies and natural forces.
  • • Because of the importance of the sun and fertile lands along the Nile, sun and land gods and goddesses held special significance.
  • • The Egyptian ruler took the title “Son of Re” and was considered an earthly form of Re, one of the sun god's names.
  • • Pharaohs were mummified so that their bodies would be preserved for life in the next world.
  • Key Achievements of the Old and Middle Kingdoms
  • Old Kingdom
    • • The Old Kingdom was an age of prosperity and unity lasting from about 2700 to 2200 B.C.
    • • Divine kingship was established. Pharaohs ruled with absolute power.
    • • A bureaucracy was developed. Eventually, Egypt was divided into provinces run by governors appointed by the pharaoh.
    • • Pyramids were built as tombs for the mummified bodies of the pharaohs.
  • Key Achievements of the Old and Middle Kingdoms
  • Middle Kingdom
    • • Egypt expanded during the Middle Kingdom, from 2055 to 1650 B.C.
    • • Egypt conquered Nubia to the south and sent military personnel to protect its expanded territory.
    • • Traders traveled to Kush, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Crete.
  • Egyptian Social Structure
  • • The pharaoh was at the top of the social order in ancient Egypt.
  • • The nobles and priests who surrounded the pharaoh were the upper class.
  • • Below the upper class were merchants, artisans, scribes, and tax collectors.
  • • The lower classes made up the largest group of people in Egypt. Most were peasants who lived in small villages, paid taxes, and were forced to provide military service and labor for building projects.
  • • Egyptian society was basically patriarchal, but women could inherit property, operate businesses, and become priestesses. A few even became pharaohs.
  • Egyptian Cultural and Artistic Accomplishments
  • • The hieroglyphic writing system, in which pictures and abstract symbols were used to communicate meaning, was developed in about 3000 B.C.
  • The hieratic script, a simplified form of hieroglyphics, was used in business and everyday communications.
  • • Architectural achievements included pyramids, temples, and other monuments.
  • • Sculpture followed particular formulas, as in the representation of the human body from multiple perspectives.
  • • Advances in mathematics aided in the construction of Egypt’s massive monuments.
  • • The Egyptians created an accurate 365-day calendar.
  • Early Nomadic Peoples
  • • Early nomadic peoples relied on hunting and gathering, herding, and sometimes farming for survival.
  • • Pastoral nomads carried goods and new technologies between civilizations. They would occasionally attack or overrun settled communities and establish their own empires.
  • • Indo-Europeans migrated from southwestern Asia to India, western Asia, and Europe in about 2000 B.C.
  • • One group of Indo-Europeans, along with native peoples, established the Hittite Empire in Anatolia in about 1600 B.C. They were the first Indo-Europeans to use iron.
  • • Invading “Sea Peoples” destroyed the Hittite Empire in about 1200 B.C.
  • Importance of the Phoenician Alphabet
  • Trade
    • • The Phoenicians took advantage of their geographical position and shipbuilding prowess to establish far-reaching trade routes reaching as far as Britain and Africa’s west coast.
  • Alphabet
    • • The Phoenicians used 22 different symbols to represent the sounds of their speech. The Arabic alphabet, the Greek and Roman alphabets, and most of the other alphabets used today can be traced to the Phoenician alphabet.
  • Importance of the Phoenician Alphabet
  • • Jews are monotheistic and believe in one God who created the world and everything in it.
  • • God made a covenant, or contract, to protect Jews if they followed his Torah, or precepts.
  • • The Ten Commandments are one important part of the Torah.
  • • Jewish prophets called for social justice and concern for all humanity.
  • • Judaism has influenced Christianity and Islam.
  • Key Features of Judaism
  • • According to their traditions, the Israelites originally migrated from Mesopotamia to Canaan, then moved to Egypt, and then were led back to Canaan by Moses.
  • • Between 1200 and 970 B.C., the Israelites took control of Canaan, forming a kingdom with Jerusalem as its capital.
  • • Under King Solomon, ancient Israel reached the height of its power.
  • • After Solomon’s death, Israel’s people divided into two kingdoms: the Kingdom of Israel in the north and the Kingdom of Judah in the south.
  • • Assyria conquered the Kingdom of Israel and scattered its people. After a period of exile in Babylonia, the people of Judah were allowed by the Persians to return to their homeland.
  • The Israelites
  • Indian Geography and Monsoons
  • • The Himalaya Mountains form the northern border of the Indian subcontinent. They are the highest mountains in the world.
  • • Immediately south of the Himalaya is the Ganges River valley, a chief region of Indian culture.
  • • The dry Deccan Plateau stretches from the Ganges Valley to the southern tip of India.
  • • Lush plains are found on India’s eastern and western coasts.
  • • Monsoons are seasonal wind patterns that cause heavy rainfall in the summer and winter. Indian farmers depend on the summer monsoon rains to grow crops.
  • Urban Planning and the Economy of the Indus Valley Civilization
  • The Indus or Harappan civilization (3000–1500 B.C.) included more than a thousand settlements. Among them were the planned communities of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro.
  • Urban Planning in Harappa and Mohenjo Daro
    • • All houses were built to the same plan—a square courtyard surrounded by rooms—though they varied in size.
    • • Streets were laid out in a grid pattern. Main streets running north-south were crossed by smaller east-west roads.
    • • Public wells supplied all residents with fresh water.
    • • An advanced drainage system moved wastewater from bathrooms to sewage pits beyond the city walls.
  • Divine Rule
    • As in Egypt and Mesopotamia, religion and political power were linked. Royal palaces also served as temples, and rulers based their power on a belief in divine assistance.
  • Economy
    • • The Indus Valley economy was based on farming.
    • • Indus Valley goods and raw materials were traded as far away as Mesopotamia.
  • Urban Planning and the Economy of the Indus Valley Civilization
  • Decline of the Indus Valley Civilization
  • • Flooding
  • • Earthquake
  • Change in climate
  • • Environmental change caused by human settlement
  • • Change in the course of the Indus River
  • • Influx of nomadic Aryan people from central Asia
  • Although the way the Indus civilization ended remains a mystery, archaeologists have identified these factors in its decline:
  • Shang Society
  • Aristocracy
    • • Shang society was based primarily on farming.
    • • The king and aristocracy were concerned mainly with warfare.
  • The Shang dynasty ruled China from about 1750 to 1045 B.C.
  • Shang Society
  • Political and Social Structure
    • • The kingdom was divided into territories ruled by aristocratic military leaders called warlords; the king appointed these leaders.
    • • Though the majority of people were peasants, there were some artisans, merchants, and slaves.
  • Shang Society
  • Religion and Culture
    • • Belief in supernatural forces that helped royalty and life after death was common.
    • • Communication with deities was done through oracle bones.
    • • Shang artisans were masters of bronze casting.
  • Key Geographical and Cultural Features
  • Arable Land
    • • China has thousands of miles of fertile, food-producing land along its two main rivers, the Huang He and the Chang Jiang.
    • • Only about 10 percent of China’s land is suitable for farming, however. Much of the remaining land consists of mountains and deserts.
  • Key Geographical and Cultural Features
  • Geographic Isolation and the Northern Frontier
    • • Mountains and deserts formed natural boundaries with neighboring countries and so isolated the Chinese from other peoples in Asia.
    • • Contact with Mongolian, Indo-European, and Turkish peoples in the frontier lands to the north often ended in conflict.
  • Varied Climate
    • • Climate variations are based on land elevation and monsoons. Dry and wet seasons create major temperature differences in winter and summer.
  • The Zhou Dynasty
  • • As in the Shang dynasty, the Zhou king ruled over the government, and the kingdom was divided into territories governed by appointed officials.
  • • The Zhou king was considered a link between Heaven and Earth. By virtue of the Mandate of Heaven, the king held authority to command.
  • Under the mandate, kings were expected to rule with goodness and efficiency, following the Dao (or “Way” of proper behavior in Confucianism) to protect the country from disasters.
  • The Zhou dynasty ruled from 1045 to 256 B.C. and was the longest-lasting dynasty in Chinese history.
  • The Zhou Dynasty
  • • Territories that had become powerful states eventually challenged Zhou rule. The period of civil war that broke out in 403 B.C. is known as the Period of the Warring States.
  • • By the end of the Zhou period, iron weapons had replaced bronze weapons, and soldiers on horseback carried powerful crossbows.
  • Essay: The Mandate of Heaven
  • Mencius was a leading disciple of Confucius who lived in the 300s B.C., during the Period of the Warring States in China. He gave the following advice to the king of Liang, one of the warring states:
  • “ Your dogs and pigs feed on the food of your people, but you are unaware that you should restrain them. On our roads are people starving to death, but you are unaware that you should open your granaries. When people die you say, ‘It is not my fault; it is the year!’ How does this differ from stabbing a man to death and then saying, ‘It is not my fault; it is the sword!’ If your majesty would stop putting blame on the year, people from throughout the empire would come to you at once. ”
  • —Mencius, as quoted in China’s Imperial Past
  • Essay: The Mandate of Heaven
  • • What responsibilities does a ruler have under the Mandate of Heaven?
  • • How should the king change his behavior?
  • Mencius is suggesting that the king is losing the Mandate of Heaven. Think about what you have learned about the Mandate of Heaven in this lesson. Write an essay explaining why the ruler might be losing the Mandate. Consider the following questions so you plan your essay:
  • Common Features of Mesoamerican Civlization
  • Zapotec Civilization
  • • The Zapotec civilization was established in central Mexico around 500 B.C.
  • • It was centered at Monte Alban, where temples and pyramids were built on a massive stone terrace atop a 1,200-foot mountain.
  • • Most of the people of Monte Alban lived in terraces cut into the sides of the mountain.
  • • Nobles and priests ruled over farmers and artisans.
  • • The Zapotec had a written language, but it has not been deciphered.
  • • The city was abandoned in the late eighth century A.D.
  • Teotihuacán
  • • Teotihuacán, the first major city in Mesoamerica, was established about 250 B.C.
  • • The city was located in one of the richest farming areas in Mesoamerica. Most inhabitants were farmers.
  • • Teotihuacán was a busy trade center. Goods were shipped to Central America, Mexico, and what is now the southwestern United States.
  • • Among the goods made by the city’s artisans were tools, weapons, pottery, and jewelry.
  • Teotihuacán
  • • The artisans were especially famous for objects made from obsidian (volcanic glass). It is estimated that there were 400 obsidian workshops in the city.
  • For unknown reasons, the city’s power declined, and it was destroyed and abandoned around A.D. 800.
  • The Chavin Culture
  • • The Chavin people of South America built a religious center out of stone, with a temple flanked by two pyramids.
  • • In 300 B.C., they constructed a solar observatory consisting of thirteen stone towers.
  • • They crafted objects out of gold and silver.
  • • There are signs that the Chavin created a simple writing system.


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