Earliest Egypt

A History of Egypt from the Earliest Times to the Persian Conquest (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1905), Chapter III, pp. 25-50

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Art & Architecture


it is not probable that a lunar year had ever existed. Such a system of government and administration as this of course could not operate without a method of writing, which we find in use both in elaborate hieroglyphics (Fig. 27) and in the rapid cursive hand of the accounting scribe. It already possessed not only phonetic signs representing a whole syllable or group of consonants but also the alphabetic signs, each of which stood for one consonant; true alphabetic letters having thus been discovered in Egypt two thousand five hundred years before their use by any other people. Had the Egyptian been less a creature of habit, he might have discarded his syllabic signs 3,500 years before Christ, and have written with an alphabet of twenty four letters. In the documents of these early dynasties the writing is in such an archaic form that many of the scanty fragments which we possess from this age are as yet unintelligible to us. Yet it was the medium of recording medical and religious texts, to which in later times a peculiar sanctity and effectiveness were attributed. The chief events of each year were also recorded in a few lines under its name, and a series of annals covering every year of a king's reign and showing to a day how long he reigned, was thus produced. A small fragment only of these annals has escaped destruction, the now famous Palermo Stone,' so called because it is at present in the museum of Palermo (Fig. 29).2

Already a state form of religion was developing, and it is this form alone of which we know anything ; the religion of the people having left little or no trace. Even in the later dynasties we shall find little to say of the folk-religion, which was rarely a matter of permanent record. The royal temple of Menes's time was still a simple structure, being little more than a shrine or chapel of wood, with walls of

lI, 76-167.

2 The front of the fragment is shown in Fig. 29. After the first row, each rectangle contains a year, and in the space over each row, was written the name of the king to whom the row of years belonged. The front contained the predynastic kings (top row) and dynasties one to three; the rest extending into the Fifth Dynasty was on the back.

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