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Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

24    The Political Approach to the Classical World
the island. Minoan Crete has as yet no history. Her hieroglyphic
writing remains undeciphered, and the chronology of her culture
depends  upon  the  evidence  of contacts  with  her  greater
neighbours, and above all with Egypt.
It seems probable that Egypt was the first large stretch of
territory in the ancient world to be unified under one ruler. In
Syria., so far as we know, and in Mesopotamia the country was
divided into a number of small city-states, each with its centre
around the shrine of the local god, each governed by a ruler
who was regarded as the earthly representative of that god.
These states pursued a self-centred policy of aggrandizement,
warring on each other and united only by the common culture
which they shared alike. The plain of the Tigris and Euphrates
is wide; there is no sharp borderline between it and the desert,
and by an energetic system of irrigation any city-state could
enlarge the area of its cultivated land and so its wealth. Egypt,
on the other hand, is a very narrow country. It measures on
an average only about fourteen miles across from cliff to cliff
and is many hundreds of miles long. The prosperity of Egypt
therefore depends on the proper regulation and control of the
Nile, that great and vital artery without which Egypt would be
one with the deserts which border it. And so it was that at some
very early date, before we have written records, the whole land
of Egypt from the Delta to Aswan was united under the rule
of one king. Throughout the history of Egypt, periods marked
by poverty of material culture, craftsmanship of poor quality,
a low level of artistic achievement, were those periods in which
the central authority had been overthrown and the country was
split into petty princedoms or oppressed by foreign rule.
By about 2700 B.C. Egypt had reached the first peak of her
prosperity. Her rise had been rapid. Internal unijy, and a series
of able rulers, had led to a remarkable advance in civilization.
Only a few generations after the first tentative attempts at
substituting stone slabs for wooden planks, King Zoser's famous