Pharaohs: The Rulers of Ancient Egypt for Over 3000 Years
“Jestice has presented a beautiful, concise book designed to enlighten . . . Pharaohs: The Rulers of Ancient Egypt for over 3000 Years has an engaging narrative for the beginner worthy of its extensive color illustrations.”
Our political world is only a few centuries old, and although our society moves at an unprecedented speed, we can learn much from a remarkable civilization that lasted more than 3000 years. As with other such nation-states, the people of ancient Egypt believed their world would go on forever. Their story defines epic from grand monuments, social collapse, invasion, and empire.
Phyllis G. Jestice has presented a beautiful, concise book designed to enlighten and entertain the armchair and young future explorers on any gift list. Pharaohs: The Rulers of Ancient Egypt for over 3000 Years has an engaging narrative for the beginner worthy of its extensive color illustrations.
Common elements like the language, Nile, etc., and its unification are explained, as is the diversity of ancient Egypt. Subjects found worthy of mention, such as the pyramids, also receive a clear basic explanation. Female pharaohs, queens, and women play important roles throughout the narrative.
The story is told through the lives of 170 known pharaohs, a title that began as meaning the palace but came to represent the monarch, the government, and Egypt. Leister stays on track with that theme but also uses the rulers to discuss ancient Egypt in broader terms than civil unrest, foreign invasion, and failure or success, even to Alexander the Great and the Ptolemies.
These rulers could be ambitious, ruthless, or weak; they could disrupt society as Akhenaten did with his revolutionary ideas on religion. Pepy II’s reign came “during a time of declining state power,” and his policies weakened the monarchy.
Pharaohs believed, however, that their power was based on benefiting the nation. Pyramid builder Sneferu would be remembered with “fondness” and “as a model of kingship.” “The highly dedicated king” Menkaure “tried to double the accomplishments of his reign by staying awake at nights as well as days.” How long he did reign is debated. Thutmose “proved to be a success administratively and militarily.”
The author opens with simple queries such as “But what were these pharaohs?” that sometimes have deceptively deeper meanings. Questions keep the reader engaged, and the answers are thought provoking as the author writes of Apis Bull, art, hieroglyphics, Libyan kings, mummies, obelisks, and more. Rare personal narratives are quoted.
Jestice does not patronize but also never forgets her audience is introductory. How we know and why we do not is important to the author’s presentation. Methodology is as crucial in this work as the subject. The most important aspects are not just mentioned but carefully explained, such as the “Concept of Maat” and “Festivals and Rituals.”
Leister does not omit controversies, however. The First Intermediate period that ended the Old Kingdom is not just written off as a catastrophic famine. Alternative arguments that describe political and social failure are explained.
Pharaohs offer subtle lessons in understanding other cultures, not just some aspects of a society only known through popular culture. The rulers built and lived for eternity while learning from the past as they worked for a future built on a stable present. Lessons came from failure, too.
This work does not discuss the history of related archaeology and Egyptology, but those topics could make a substantial beginner’s book, in itself. Pharaohs: The Rulers of Ancient Egypt for over 3000 Years includes Suggestions for Further Reading.