The second studious volume in the author’s massive history of ancient Egypt.
British Egyptologist and TV presenter Romer (A History of Ancient Egypt: From the First Farmers to the Great Pyramid, 2013, etc.) emphasizes how the discoveries by archaeologists, especially during the 19th century, have formed our sense of Egypt’s ancient past, for better or worse. In eloquent, deliberative fashion, the author follows the development of the pharaonic state from the second millennium B.C.E. onward, as much research began to be recently available and “fake mini-biographies” of rulers were discarded in favor of “facts upon the ground”—e.g., texts, stones, and other surviving data that tell something of the lives of the people who created them. Following Romer’s previous book, this volume takes up where court masons began to build pyramids smaller than before, and “writing had changed everything”—i.e., where once the royal pyramid chambers had no images drawn on them, by 2325 B.C.E., they were engraved with hieroglyphic texts. The significance, Romer writes, is that “a single prince who lived and died in a pre-literary age,” Prince Hardjedef, of Khufu’s court, “had been transformed into an ageless literary personality.” Much of the first part of the book is an examination of how the “colossal wreck” of Egyptian history has come down to us, namely by the scholars of Napoleon’s Grand Tour of Egypt (1798-1801) and Jean François Champollion (1820s), the premier modern Egyptologist who set out to establish the firm chronology for the pharaohs and other elements of the history. Romer gives a good sense of the evolving pharaonic state, the court system, specific archaeological sites, the importance of the copper mines of Sinai and the courts of Memphis and Thebes, and the eventual movement to Itjtawy and its reflective courtly culture.
Another solid work of history from an author and historian who truly grasps the mysteries of ancient Egypt.