Why didn't the ancient Egyptians have a large empire?

Satuf

Ad Honorem
Nov 2009
3,471
Nebraska
#1
They only had Egypt, Sudan, and the levant. (I'm not sure if they had Sudan.) That is the peak of their ancient empire.

Now, that is quite surprising to me. A civilisation that is considered to be one of the greatest civilisations in the ancient world. They were crazily advanced in lots of aspects.

But why not the empire?
 
Jan 2009
1,265
#2
They only had Egypt, Sudan, and the levant. (I'm not sure if they had Sudan.) That is the peak of their ancient empire.

Now, that is quite surprising to me. A civilisation that is considered to be one of the greatest civilisations in the ancient world. They were crazily advanced in lots of aspects.

But why not the empire?
If you compare Egypt to the other empires at the same time period, it measures up quite well. That is of course the other thing: it had neighbors of similar size. I wonder if the military technology plays a role, too: armies were expensive and hence smaller than in Roman times... Might make it more difficult to hold the land you have conquered. I think ships were less advanced, too. In short: it was not worth the effort.

Just tossing those out there.
 
Likes: Zanis

tjadams

Ad Honoris
Mar 2009
25,362
Texas
#3


Empires too large always eventually crumble and as Whyte alluded to, expensive. Egypt seems to have extended itself just far enough to maintain itself for long periods of time. The borders of the country ebbed and flowed to different dimensions in its long history.
 

okamido

Forum Staff
Jun 2009
29,885
land of Califia
#4
Military tech, logistic capabilities, and lack of resources all come into play at this time period. Most of the empires of the time had comparatative issues that created a tipping point in how far they were able to expand, Hittites, Assyrians, etc., were all roughly the same size at their heights. If you couple this with a seeming disintrest by a great deal of Kings/ Pharoahs in military expansion, there is a possible answer.


As I review the other posts, it seems like I am piggy-backing on Whyte's answer. ;)
 
Likes: Zanis

Salah

Forum Staff
Oct 2009
23,284
Maryland
#6
They also don't have access to a lot of metal, which played out in the long run.
I recall reading a story about a pharaoh who sent a messenger to the Hittite emperor, asking for a "gift of iron" for a birthday gift. Apparently he was intending on receiving enough iron to equip an army, or at least a division within his army.

On his birthday, a Hittite soldier arrived in the city the pharaoh was celebrating in, bearing the emperor's gift - a single iron dagger:D
 
Dec 2009
19,933
#8
As previously noted, the impact of any state or civilization is not directly related to its size; just check out Athens or Florence.

At the predynastic period (late V millennium) both "kingdoms" of Lower & Upper Egypt were by far the largest sedentary (non-nomad) political entities of the region.

As the unification circa the turn of the millennia was strictly speaking asymmetrical (i.e. the conquest of the Upper by the Lower Egypt) it may well be considered as one of the earliest attested examples of an "imperial" acquisition.
All along the centuries, Kemet eventually ruled over several of its neighbors in all direction.

That said, the size of this notable state can be misleading, because the vast desert tends to be included by many authors, i.e. analogous to modern Egypt (like 1,000,000 km2); e.g. wikipedia reports from 400,000 (Old Kingdom) to 1,000,000 km2 (XVIII dynasty).

That would be clearly inappropriate for Ancient Egypt, as only the Nile Valley and a couple of oases were inhabited.

Modern estimations for the area under cultivation in Egypt proper (up to the 1st cataract) would then be around 25,000 km2 at most (Rathbone, D. (1990), Villages, Land and Population in Graeco-Roman Egypt)

That would be like eight times Rhode Island, or close to the modern Republic of Macedonia (currently the 148th country of the world by area), just a bit larger than their modern neighbor Israel (22,000 km2).
 
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Apr 2010
16,748
Slovakia
#9
I would say that they did not build larger Empire simply because of Geographical position. They did expand as much as they could. Only way to expand further were strips of land at the coast. When they started to expand by the coast in to Levant they run in to another empires. Hitites, Babylonians later Asirians. That stooped futher expansion in that direction.

Also note that because of geography, Egyptians were fairly secure. Empires start to expand often as a result of perceived or real outside thread/insecurity. Look at the Romans for example. When Egyptians expanded in to Levant it was also as a reaction to the overrunning of Egypt by invaders from that region (forget name of people who did it). So sense of security might have also played role in that Egyptians felt no need to expand and concentrated their energies inside society.
 
Sep 2010
217
Sydney Australia
#10
Didn't geography have a lot to do with it? The Egyptians centre of power lay along the Nile valley. To the west of the Nile you have the Libyan Desert which forms a formidable barrier to travel/expansion and (apart from some mines) offered little to attract the Egyptians. To the East you have Red sea and then the Arabian Peninsula (ditto).

To the South you have a series of cataracts which disrupted travel by boat then the country starts to rise into the Ethiopian and Ugandan Highlands. This is tough country to move through on foot (as 18th century European explorers found out) and as such it naturally favours defenders (the Kush). To the north you have the med and while I am aware the Egyptians could and did build a navy for defensive purposes I am not aware of any indications that they were an expansionist sea power (Anyone please correct me if I am wrong?) This may have been due to limited resources (timber?) or competition from the Minoans who were a sea power .... any help here?.

Given the above when you look at the map TJ kindly provided you can see that the Egyptians did what most early empires did, they expanded along natural geographical pathways until they ran into other empires - the Hittites in the North and whoever was on top in the Euphrates at the time.
 
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