Search This Blog

Friday, 26 February 2016

World History: Ancient China
While the river civilizations of the Indus Valley, Mesopotamia and Egypt were busy trading and warring against one another along the banks of the Hwang-Ho, Yangtze and the Hsi a united state was forged. From as early as c.1700 BCE an administration was founded which utilized writing, bureaucracy and a central government under an emperor which would last virtually unchanged until 1911 CE. It would last longer than both Ancient Egypt and the Western Roman Empire put together. Chinese history can be split into dynasties where people often start with the Xia (which may not have existed), followed by the Shang, then the Zhou, the Warring States Period and then the Qin. This post will deal mostly up to and including the Warring States but after the Qin came the Han, the Jin, a break in one central dynasty before the Tang took over, then the Song, the Yuan, the Ming, the Qing and finally a republic in 1911 (this is a major simplification). 

Religion and the Mandate of Heaven
One idea that prevails through Chinese history is the idea of the Mandate of Heaven or tianming. Like the divine right of kings which European monarchs would later rule by Chinese emperors would rule by the grace of heaven (tian). However, if the emperor acted unbecoming and is not sufficiently virtuous then this mandate will be removed and whoever is deemed best to rule will gain the mandate. The first emperor of the Zhou dynasty, Zhou Wu, would establish the Mandate of Heaven into Chinese society. The last emperor of the Shang dynasty, Di Xin, was said to have built a extravagant pleasure garden for his favorite concubine at the expense of the people and had his uncle's heart plucked out which had lost him the mandate. Zhou scripts would later say that the Shang managed to overthrow the Xia because the Xia emperors took part in large orgies which caused them to be stripped of the mandate. We know this is not true as the Xia were largely fictional, only during the reign of the Zhou do these accounts appear and also the Xia from sources had no concept of tian. The Mandate of Heaven shows us though the importance of religion in ancient Chinese society. The emperor ruled by the bequest of tian but equally the emperor was expected to live and rule virtuously.
Chinese script is thought to have developed due to this link between religion and administration during the Shang dynasty. Oracles engraved lines on turtle shells or the shoulder bones on animals before heating them with a bronze pin. This would create cracks on the reverse side which the emperor would then consult. 5000 signs are known although not all of them can be read. What is important to note however is that each sign was monosyllabic and to structure a sentence they were placed in word order instead of inflection. Already the Shang managed to craft the earliest form of Chinese writing which would undergo refinement over the next thousand years. While the languages of the Harappan civilization, Babylon and Egypt would be lost for thousands of years the language of the Shang would live on.

Shang to Zhou to Warring States

Shang dynasty wine vessel:
The Shang rose around 1600 BCE around the Yellow River from several archaeological sites including Zhengzhou, Shangcheng and Eligang. Like many Bronze Age societies most of what we know is unfortunately best estimations and heavily weighted towards the elites. Luckily through an efficient bureaucracy in the form of oracles we have a chronology of the Shang Emperors and later records would help paint a clearer picture. The Records of the Grand Historian would claim that during the first half of the Shang's rule the capital moved six times before settling in Yin around 1350 BCE. We know the Shang installed the Zhou family as Western Protectors and as the rule of the last Shang emperor grew more despotic Zhou Wu started a war. At the Battle of Muye, around 1046 BCE, the Zhou beat the Shang which caused the last Shang emperor to flee to his burning palace and commit suicide. The Zhou would be China's longest lasting dynasty surviving from 1046 until 256 BCE. The Zhou would start a system of expansion across the Yangtze river as well as implement a feudal system based on a system of Five Peers (duke, marquis, count, viscount and baron) with agriculture being a serf based system. This system would last for many centuries to come. Around the 8th century the decentralization of the Zhou government would turn out to be it's downfall as local leaders started to claim kingship on top of the kingdom being invaded by people from the northwest, the Qin. This is often referred to as the Spring and Autumn Period and would precipitate the Warring States Period (476-221 BCE). Here several major dynasties would war between one another about who should hold hegemony over China. There would still be a Zhou emperor until 256 BCE but the dynasty had lost all of the power it once had. 

Confucianism and Taoism
Confucius is one of the best known philosophers of all time and he came about during the Warring States Period. He came from a shih family and was of the lesser nobility; most likely he acted as a minor official or minister of state. Confucius had several ideas about how the state should be ran and sought the various warring leaders to see if any of them would adopt his ideas; none did so he turned to meditation and teaching. His ideas were a reforming conservatism (words of Dr John Roberts) where he aimed to show his pupils the truth of the ancient ways (Tao), to find wisdom in the Sage Emperors (several mythological rulers that supposedly predated the Xia in northern China), emphasizing the value of good form and supporting five relations which bring order- for Confucius the greatest of these relations was that between the father and son. (A theme throughout history is how women were marginalized. The mother/daughter, father/daughter and mother/son relationship was never mentioned by Confucius). The son had to respect the father while the father had to act respectively to achieve moral superiority (junzi/ chun-tzu). Although the Warring State leaders ignored Confucius his pupils would enter the civil service and implement his teachings. The teachings would become the bedrock of Chinese administration up to and including today, so much so that the writings of Confucius, such as the Thirteen Classics, are now venerated.

A possible contemporary of Confucius was Laozi who was so influential that the Tang dynasty later claimed to be descended from him. Unlike Confucius we know very little about Laozi, we do not even know when he supposed to have lived, but his teachings we know much about. Like Confucius he taught about Tao but ran contrary to Confucianism. Instead of seeking the wisdom of the past and striving for moral superiority Laozi taught political quietism, that you must accept the good and bad parts of yourself, to be patient and gentle and that life is a cycle. These ideas expressed themselves in the form of Taoism, also called Daoism, and remains one of the main aspects of Chinese history. Many people today consult the I Ching to help guide their lives. Confucianism, Taoism and later Buddhism would form the 'three teachings' which shaped Chinese culture.

Reunification under the Qin and after
In 221 BCE Qin Shi Huang would conquer the warring states and reunify China. However keeping together a state which had been warring for many years meant that he had to rule through a mixture of decentralization and an iron fist. To forestall any criticism of his regime in 213 BCE he had all books destroyed, he didn't want his regime to be compared to past ones, and anyone who mentioned the old sources were publicly executed and their families wiped out. Only books on the Qin's history, divination and agriculture survived the purge. He had 460 scholars who spoke out against him buried alive and people found having illegal sources had their faces tattooed before being forced into hard labor on his wall. This wall would be finished under the Ming centuries later and is known world wide as being the Great Wall of China. As old age set in and three failed assassination attempts on him Qin sought an elixir of life. In 211 BCE he drank a concoction and died of mercury poisoning. His chief eunuch, Zhao Gao, and his prime minister, Li Si, maneuvered a pliable son onto the throne. Things spiraled out of control, including Zhao Gao getting the emperor to kill himself only to be executed by the new emperor, and Liu Bang of the Han dynasty took power in 202 BCE. Liu Bang would be venerated by scholars as he stopped the book burnings, reduced taxes, emphasized Confucianism and ruled less despotically. They said that the Mandate of Heaven had passed to Liu Bang and as Emperor Gaozu experienced a golden age.

Thank you for reading. The sources I have used are as follows:
-The Human Past edited by Chris Scarre
-The New Penguin History of the World by John Roberts
-One Bloody Thing After Another by Jacob Field

Next World History will be set in India around this time period about India, Jainism and Buddhism. Although the Qin dynasty was short lived it did have some lasting impacts (the word China derives from Qin) and one is pictured below which I shall leave you with.
For a list of other World History posts please see here

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Review: Deadpool (2016)

Warning: May Contains Spoilers
Deadpool has been one of the most anticipated comic book movies of 2016 with the hype surrounding it easily surpassing that of X-Men: Apocalypse and Batman v. Superman. With that in mind let's start the review but be in mind some spoilers may be present in the review.

Plot and Script
Mercenary Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is diagnosed with cancer just as he proposes to his girlfriend Vanessa Carlysle (Morena Baccarin). Due to his successful mercenary career he is approached by a mysterious group able to give him superpowers. There one of the organizers of the group called Ajax (Ed Skrein) tortures him and gives him an astounding healing ability which also leaves him disfigured. Wilson now becoming the 'hero' Deadpool vows for revenge. Although the plot is very basic it fits perfectly for the film they were trying to make. Unlike X-Men which delves into detailed social commentary and plots where the entire world is at stake the plot to Deadpool simply focuses on one man's quest for revenge. It also fits very much with Deadpool as a character. In the comics Deadpool only becomes the hero when it suits him and until the last act of the film his quest for revenge is purely for his own means. However, he is a very likable character and the writers managed to balance the over the top comedian, likable person and self-centered fool. He seemed believable and made watching the film more enjoyable. 

Overall the characters are well written. Baccarin as Vanessa and T.J. Miller as Weasel (who also directed the film) were easily the best characters after the protagonist. They seemed to actually belong in the film and not shoehorned in for Deadpool to bounce jokes off of. I particularly enjoyed seeing the relationship between Wade and Vanessa because it seemed genuine. In a movie where they did not need to bother to create a somewhat genuine relationship this was a pleasant surprise. However, the same cannot be said for the villains. They are not bad by any means but compared to the interaction that Weasel and Vanessa got it seemed rather lacking. This could very well be nitpicking though. My only fault with the plot and script is the main villain Ajax. He seemed rather lackluster and forgettable in a film where most of the characters were very memorable. I could understand Angel Dust (Gina Carano) having less of a developed personality due to the fact that she is a henchman character but have the main antagonist have less of a character is hard to overlook. In the comics (and Deadpool: The Game) Deadpool often doesn't know the motivation of the people he fights, largely because he fights people for either money or when their plan inconveniences him, so this could have been a novel way in which it tried to keep with the comics but I doubt this. Overall the only downside to the plot is the antagonist.

Characters and Acting
Ryan Reynolds has given cinema one of the best adaptations of Deadpool. He managed to effectively portray the balance between joker, sadist and tragic character without impeding on any one of them. He is without a doubt hilarious and he manages to sustain this all the way through the movie even when the comedy starts to become somewhat stale. Miller as Weasel is similarly equally hilarious managing to effectively pull off a sleazy and droll best friend of a psychotic mercenary. As stated earlier Baccarin as Vanessa was one of the best characters in the movie. Baccarin is a good actor and she managed to inject comedy, seriousness and light heartedness into one role making her character very memorable. Compared to the romantic interests in other comic book movies, like Natalie Portman in Thor, she is very good and my only criticism surrounding her has nothing to do with Baccarin or how the character was written. My criticism is how she could have been in the movie more. I would have liked to see more of her in the movie and I felt they missed an opportunity to have her powers be shown in the film. In the comics she is a shapeshifting mutant called Copycat and it could have been a novel twist for the film.

Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) are very funny in the movie offering a good satire on the X-Men series. By adhering to their stereotypes they managed to offer unique comedy that often falls flat when using stereotypes. Although lacking the in depth character development of Deadpool, Vanessa and Weasel what development they did have made the characters much more engaging. As stated earlier the antagonists were a let down. They were well acted but it was not enough to fully save the character. A lack of any form of development made possibly memorable villains seem lackluster. Considering that Guardians of the Galaxy had the same sort of humor, running time, protagonist development and had a primary antagonist with not one but two secondary antagonists but still managed to have memorable villains it seems disappointing. Overall the film has great acting and great protagonists but weaker antagonists.

Comedy and References
I am someone who normally does like comedy films. With comedy being very subjective and the humor that I like the most rarely gets the big screen treatment, I find for every Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead there are a dozen Adam Sandler movies. However the comedy in Deadpool was some of the funniest comedy that I have seen in a film in years. During the opening credits I had to stifle my laughter seeing the clever satire of comic book movie opening credits and how they were written as if from Deadpool's point of view (Reynolds is listed as 'God's Perfect Idiot', Baccini as 'A Sex Object', Skein as 'A British Villain', Miller as 'An Overpaid Stooge' and Stan Lee as 'A Gratuitous Cameo'). Deadpool in the comics relies heavily on popular culture references, fourth wall breaks and childlike immaturity in serious situations which was perfectly transferred onto the big screen. I dreaded the pop culture references as I thought they would date the film and make it seem pandering to the immediate audience but the exact opposite happened. Most of the pop culture references served to mock other comic book movies (particularly X-Men with numerous jokes about Hugh Jackman) and when they did reference non-comic book movie media they chose to reference franchises which have been ingrained in pop culture. Instead of a Minions joke we got one about Adventure Time just to name one. However by the end of the film the humor had started to become predictable and I found myself laughing less and less. Luckily the delivery by Reynolds stopped it from being completely stale so they were not fully wasted.

Like other comic book movies Deadpool is full of references to other ones. My particular favorite is the after-credit scene where he spoofs the after-credit scene of Ferris Bueller's Day Off as well as the making reference to Samuel L Jackson playing Nick Fury at the end of Iron Man. The highway fight scene has the names of multiple comic book writers and artists who worked on Deadpool comics as well as the special effects department. The song that Deadpool listens to at the beginning was released the same year as Deadpool #1 and the film itself was released 25 years after his debut in New Mutants #98. There are so many that I cannot name them all here but one final reference is how the final fight takes place on what looks like to be a SHIELD Helicarrier. Fox does not own the right to use SHIELD but the little nod to the Marvel Cinematic Universe was nice.

Overall I would give Deadpool a 7.9/10 for the good acting, well written protagonists and hilarious humor. Hopefully the sequel hinted at in the after-credit scene will be just as good or if not better. 

Saturday, 13 February 2016

The St. Valentine Day Massacre
February 14 is celebrated as Valentine's Day throughout the world where people shower gifts on their loved ones. Me being me I could not care less about about all the hearts, roses and cards but in 1929 Valentine's Day was painted red. In Chicago gang wars led to a brutal shooting of several gang members of one of the biggest gangs in the city. The murderers were never identified or caught and the person who ordered the killings was never tried for their deaths. 1920s Chicago had been a hot bed for gang activity. Gang leaders had become so powerful that they could openly flaunt the law and publicly bribe the mayor with no serious repercussions. How though did they get so powerful to do this?

For many years the temperance movement had called for the prohibition of alcohol. As early as 1846 Maine had passed a prohibition law and several other states did the same up to the Civil War. Groups such as the Women's Christian Temperance Union and Anti-Saloon League virulently campaigned for the abolition of liquor by lobbying politicians, picketing saloons and smashing the windows of bars. Many leading women such as Susan B Anthony got behind the temperance movement adding more credibility to their claims. During the First World War the Anti-Saloon League managed to get widespread support by playing on patriotism and xenophobia. They argued that grain which could be used to feed soldiers and as many brewers were of German origin they used xenophobia against Germans to discredit the manufacturers. In 1920 Congress took notice of their calls and passed the Eighteenth Amendment which banned the production, transport and sale (although not consumption or private ownership) of alcohol. The Volstead Act was simultaneously passed (despite a presidential veto) which enforced the law. Thus in the words of Herbert Hoover started 'the great social and economic experiment'. 

However, Prohibition failed. Despite the initial reduction of alcohol consumption by 30% it was being constantly undermined. People started to illegally manufacture alcohol, moonshine, in their homes, they started to illegally sell alcohol, bootlegging, and 'speakeasies' were opened. Speakeasies were illegal saloons where people could turn up to drink illegal alcohol and when law enforcement arrived they would be quickly converted to look like cafes, non-alcoholic bars etc. Numerous people smuggled alcohol over the Canadian border and even many enforcers of prohibition chose not to do anything with many being more than happy to go to a speakeasy. Out of 6,902 cases in New Year for people breaking the Volstead Act 6,074 were dismissed. With the high demand for alcohol the criminal underworld managed to prosper. $2,000,000,000 worth of business going from brewers to the criminal underworld they managed to make millions. As they grew richer throughout the 1920s they expanded into new fields: racketeering, extortion, money laundering, gun running, prostitution, illegal gambling, arson and murder just to name a few things. They became virtual kings and with them bribing the police and politicians they developed an immunity. In Chicago Mayor William 'Big Bill' Thompson was known to openly collude with the most famous gangster of them all: Al Capone

Capone and the Massacre
Chicago had become a battle ground between two powerful gangs: Al Capone's Chicago Outfit and Bugs Moran's North Side Gang. Both men were powerful (Capone's net worth in 1927 was around $127 million) and were battling for dominance in Chicago. Moran was organizing a bootlegging operation from a garage in the North Side of Chicago. Four men dressed as police officers on Valentine's Day arrived at the garage and seemingly went to arrest the bootleggers. When the seven bootleggers were against a wall thinking they were going to be arrested the police officers pulled out machine guns and murdered them. Only one man survived, Frank Gusenburg, but he refused to talk to police before he died. Moran instantly blamed Capone only for Capone to claim that he was at his home in Florida at the time. The murderers were never caught and to this day the identity of the person who ordered the murders is unknown. Most place the blame on Capone although evidence from a criminal who supposedly knew the killers stated that the murders were ordered by several gang leaders working in collusion including Capone and Frank Nitti. We may never know who the murderers were and who told them to shoot the Moran gang members.

The Downfall of Capone, Moran and Prohbition
With Capone's blame for the Massacre he became 'Public Enemy No. 1'. Although other gangs now refused to touch him the government became determined to take him down. He would be taken down by the government but it would not be due to his murders, extortion, bootlegging or other gangster activities but he would be taken done via tax evasion. Special Agent Frank Wilson found he had been evading income tax and in June 1931 he was found guilty of tax evasion and sent to Alcatraz. He would be released in 1939 and die as a recluse in his home in Florida. Prohibition fell next. Anti-prohibition groups had lobbied the government and in 1933 Franklin Roosevelt became president and heeded their calls. With the country in the midst of the Great Depression enforcing prohibition was too costly and if it was returned it could be taxed so the 21st Amendment was passed the same year. With alcohol legal now Moran lost his power and had to resort to low level crimes, even leaving his once wealthy gang. He was arrested for robbery and would later die in prison.

The sources that I have used are as follows:
-The Penguin History of the United States by Hugh Brogan
-The People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Sunday, 7 February 2016

World History: Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt is the last of what we often refer to as the 'River Valley Civilizations'. Located on the Nile which flooded seasonally it created the perfect fertile land. Soon we saw the rise of urban areas, writing, a bureaucratic government and a clear social hierarchy. Pharaonic  Egypt caught the attention of people throughout history with everyone knowing who Tutankhamen is where far fewer know who Sargon of Akkad is, the Pyramids of Giza are the last standing Wonders of the World and Egyptian religion and culture has been shown throughout pop culture. Ancient Egypt spanned thirty-one dynasties with the first dynasty starting in 3100 BCE and ending in 30 BCE when conquered by the Romans. These dynasties are sorted into the Early Dynastic Period, the Old Kingdom, the First Intermediate Period, the Middle Kingdom, the Second Intermediate Period, the New Kingdom, the Third Intermediate Period, the Late Period and finally the Ptolemaic Period. 

The Rise of Pharaohs
The area around the Nile was settled around 3500 BCE. The extremely fertile land of the Nile meant hunter-gatherers could easily grow crops without the extensive irrigation which was needed in Mesopotamia and quickly a society developed based on trade. In fact there were two societies: Upper Egypt located on the mouth of the Nile and Lower Egypt located further down the river. These societies regularly traded with one another. Lower Egypt had vast resources of gold which they traded with Upper Egypt for pottery, metals and luxury goods. Upper Egypt with its strategic position managed to trade with Mesopotamia and we find many goods exported from great distances here like lapis lazuli all the way from Afghanistan. This trade showed some cultural interactions with Mesopotamia with Mesopotamian art styles being found at tombs in Hierakonpolis. Writing likely developed here due to this trade to keep track on everything. Around 3300 BCE at the site of Abydos the first hieroglyphics were found, close to two hundred years before Mesopotamian writing developed at Uruk!

From the gold laden tombs at Hierakonpolis we know that Lower Egypt started to gain greater power than their northern neighbor. In 3100 BCE the king of Lower Egypt, Narmer, conquered Upper Egypt. Henceforth all art (such as the palettes found at Narmer's tomb) showed a king with the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt merged together to form a new crown. Thus we now see the rise of Old Dynastic Egypt. Under the First Dynasties of Egypt a bureaucracy was created to manage the united kingdoms with main cities, such as Memphis, ensuring that the king's work got done. Irrigation work was set up to ensure crops like barley, wheat and emmer while scribes were trained at Thebes to ensure there was an efficient government. Of course slavery was a key player in Egypt, slaves were used to create the infrastructure and irrigation systems, and local free citizens worked alongside said slaves.

The Old, Middle and New Kingdoms
Like in Mesopotamia, Mesoamerica and China the monarchs of Egypt during the Old Kingdom (2686-2160 BCE) the monarchs of Egypt gained a godly position in society. Unlike China, Mesopotamia and other Bronze Age societies the monarchs of Egypt were not seen as ruling through the grace of god/s: they were gods. The king/queen of Egypt was seen as the human personification of the god Horus, later Ra, and after death they became a literal god. Hence the word of the monarch was the word of the gods. Whatever the king liked was justice and whatever he hated was evil. A civil servant in 1500  BCE said 'He is a god by whose dealing one lives, the father and mother of all men, alone by himself, without equal'. They did have other responsibilities though such as making offerings to the Nile to continue the fertility of the land. Around this time the word 'pharaoh' came into usage although it initially meant the court, it was used to mean the king/queen themselves during later kingdoms. During this time we see the first pyramids. The earliest known was built by the orders of the first king of the Old Kingdom, Djoser, between 2667-2648 BCE at Saqqara (pictured above). a
At 60 meters high and and containing up to 330,400 cubic meters of clay it was the largest structure of its kind in the world. However over a hundred years later a more impressive pyramid was constructed.
Around 2580 BCE the Great Pyramid of Giza was built by Cheops (also called Khufu) and is currently the last remaining of the Ancient Wonders of the World. The pyramid was built using a mixture of slaves and local citizens pulled from their daily jobs to aid in construction. Ancient Greek sources depicted Cheops as a tyrant who even forced his daughter into prostitution to fund the construction of the pyramid while Egyptian sources painted Cheops as a benevolent ruler (although it is likely Cheops or his descendants had these sources written). Why did the pharaohs have these pyramids built? Around the same time the just as impressive Valley of the Kings was being built as well. How did the pharaohs justify using so many slaves and pulling so many workers to build such extravagant tombs? It shows both how effective the Egyptian government was if they managed to organize the construction of such huge tombs and also how important they were in the eyes of the people. In a world where your king is a god, where their word is law and when they govern how you live your life it is best to venerate them. In 2181 BCE the Old Kingdom collapsed due to the failure of administration. Pepi II died in 2184 BCE at the age of 100, ruling for 94 years, and with his weak old in old age with a mixture of poor successors the Upper and Lower Kingdoms splintered starting the First Intermediate Period.

In 2055 BCE Mentuhotep II reunited the kingdoms, through force, thus starting the Middle Kingdom. During this time Egypt started to trade with a vast new area created by a new political stability. Trade began with cultures in Palestine to the north-west and Nubia to the south. It is thought that the kingdom of Kush, which would be founded after the collapse of the New Kingdom, had its roots with trade settlements founded by the Egyptians. This period saw the term pharaoh become synonymous with the king/queen which emphasized the idea that he was a god but also descended from a god and so his descendants would also be gods. In 1802 BCE the Second Intermediate Period started when political rivalries caused a decline in administration but this was made worse in 1630 BCE when the Hyksos from Asia invaded. The Egyptian government fled from Thebes and went south. This period saw several Nubians become pharaoh and the interaction with southern kingdoms led to new technological innovations within Egypt such as bronzeworking, the creation of composite bows and the introduction of new crops. By 1520 BCE the Egyptians managed to expel the Hyksos and formed the New Kingdom.
The New Kingdom, founded by Amenhotep III, saw the peak of Egypt. With a capital at Thebes the military grew the borders of the kingdom further while trade widened the economic links. The Uluburun Shipwreck, which was a Mycenaean trading ship, (the Mycenaeans were a group of people from mainland Greece) had various objects from Egypt including ostrich eggs, hippo tusks, elephant tusks and a gold pendant with Queen Nefertiti's seal on it thus showing the wide trade links Egypt had developed. Elaborate burials with golden death masks were created for pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings showed the prosperity. The second woman pharaoh, Hatshepshut, has been regarded as one of the greatest pharaohs expanding the kingdom via trade, building vast temples and even leading wars against Nubia and Canaan although she was almost lost to history. Her successor and nephew/stepson, Thutmose, tried to eradicate her name from history by having all tablets/writing depicting her or her name destroyed or altered in revenge for her 'usurping' the throne of his father. Amenhotep IV was a strange pharaoh. He tried to start a new religion in Egypt based on a new god named Aten. Instead of the normal polytheistic Egyptian religion Atenism was monotheistic and this greatly upset the conservative priests, a bad idea considering they helped rule the kingdom. Amenhotep was so devoted to this idea that he changed his name to Akhaton, created a new capital Amarna and created a secret police to enforce his new religion. With his wife Nefertiti this cult lasted throughout his reign and even got his son-in-law (also his son) Tutankhaten to change his name to Tutankhamon. In 1333 BCE Tutankhamon came to power, ended his father's religious policies and died of a broken leg accompanied with malaria. The only reason why he is famous is because his tomb when discovered had not been looted by grave robbers. By the end of the New Kingdom Egypt was losing ground to the Hittites, with Tutankhamon's widow/sister almost marrying a Hittite prince, which was made worse by 1150 BCE when the Jews left Egypt alongside mass political turmoil. However Egypt would go on after the collapse of the New Kingdom with it surviving the conquests of Alexander the Great only to finally end in 30 BCE when Rome conquered Egypt.

Religion, Life and Culture
We do know religion played a massive part of Egyptian life. People regularly bought amulets to keep away evil and to please the gods, the pharaoh had to make sacrifices on the Nile to win the favor of them and priests played a huge role in governing the kingdom. Religion helped cause a downfall of the idea that pharaohs were gods: if they were gods how then could New Kingdom pharaohs lose to the Hittites and other cultures? Even Egyptian marriage of son to daughter was a part of religion. The blood of the gods could not mix with an ungodly person so incest was seen as keeping the blood line clean. The lavish tombs featured heavily in the life of Egyptians as death was not seen as a bad thing in Egypt like it was in other places. When you died you merely went to a new state and continued living so all the gold, chariots, weapons, toys, shoes and even slaves were buried with the dead to ensure they could be used in the afterlife. Life revolved around religion.

However, we have spoken little about life for women and the common people. Women were relatively equal to men in Egypt. They could own property, get divorced, appear in court, borrow money and have multiple husbands. The pharaohs chief wife held vast amounts of power and could inherit the throne and even the harems had great sway over the pharaoh. Ramses III was even brought down thanks to a conspiracy in his harem. Although society was still patriarchal. Sons had greater chance on inheritance than daughters and only women were punished for adultery. Life was hard though for common people. Egyptian art and literature has shown that most of the population worked in agriculture. Farmers and laborers hard to work long hours with a poor diet, rickets and syphilis have been found in large numbers, and there was a chance that they could be drafted into the army (where there was a high chance of being enslaved by the enemy if not killed) or forced to work on the tombs. Infant mortality was very high so this could explain why polygamy was a regular part of life. Like in Mesopotamia though there were growing amounts of specialized people. Traders, potters, glassblowers and other good makers were common in Egypt. Unlike Mesopotamia though you could not rise through the ranks of the military, it was not a meritocracy.

One final point to make is how culturally continuous Ancient Egypt was. Hieroglyphs were used all the way from 3300 BCE up until 400 CE, just 34 years before Attila the Hun attacked Rome! Cleopatra actually lived closer to the Moon Landing than the construction of the Great Pyramids of Giza! This cultural continuity lasted for 3070 years which is over a thousand years longer than which Christianity has been in existence, almost two thousand years longer than Ancient Rome's existence and almost thirteen times the length of time that the USA has been in existence. Egypt shows us how cultures no matter how solid can change and how enduring others can be.

The sources that I have used are:
-The Human Past by Chris Scarre
-Ancient Mesopotamia: The Eden that Never Was by Susan Pollock
- The Penguin History of the World by J.M. Roberts
-Crash Course World History: Ancient Egypt:
-The lectures of Professor Edgar Peltenburg of the University of Edinburgh

Thanks for reading and the next World History will cover the rise of a civilization with 4000 years of history: China.

For a list of other World History posts please see here