A History of Ancient Egypt: From the First Farmers to the Great Pyramid

by John Romer

Hardcover, 2013



Call number

DT83 .R66


Thomas Dunne Books (2013), 512 pages


The first volume of a history of the earliest days of ancient Egypt challenges popular archaeological understandings to chronicle the ancient world's first agricultural practices through the construction of the pyramids.

User reviews

LibraryThing member passion4reading
This extensive overview of ancient Egypt’s history from the first farmers (approx. 5000 BC) to the building of Khufu’s Great Pyramid in approx. 2550 BC is written by the British Egyptologist, historian and archaeologist John Romer, and suitable both for the interested layman (who hasn’t
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dreamed of becoming an archaeologist and deciphering ancient hieroglyphs?) and serious scholar. It presents a wealth of information divided into manageable chunks with plenty of drawings to illustrate the text. He writes clearly and engagingly and with an obvious passion for his subject, and only occasionally lapses into terminology (e.g. entrepôts, fattorie, sacerdotal, Sardamapalian) that won’t mean anything except to students and scholars of archaeology or Egyptology. The sentence structure is complex and unnecessarily complicated in places, in my opinion, and concentration is required throughout the book to follow him on his tour of ancient Egypt; pool-side reading it is not.

From the start, he makes it clear that his is not a history book following the established notions of 19th-century “theories about human nature and the rise and fall of nation-states”; in fact, he is very critical of “traditional historians” who still do. He is careful not to employ established language which may be laden with connotations that he deems not appropriate, such as “king” or “nation”, and in contrast to what he terms the “great European bondage of a grand scholarly tradition”, he builds up the history from the evidence forwards. This is particularly evident when he talks about the Great Pyramid as the culmination of millennia of craftsmanship that started with the production of pre-dynastic pottery ware by the first farmers: we can follow the logical progression clearly in our minds. As he phrases it, “the epitome of a powerful aesthetic that has driven the craftsmen of the lower Nile since the times of the Badarians.” He also dispels some modern myths, especially the persistent one of Imhotep as the designer of Djoser’s Step Pyramid, or the ideas of the ancient Egyptian gods like Horus or Ptah as remnants from a savage prehistoric past and relics of a lost oral tradition. Only once did I feel that he skirted around the issue without giving an answer, namely when he talks about the traditional historians’ view that hundreds of courtiers and servants had been killed (as they appear to have been in the First Dynasty) to serve their pharaoh in the “next world”; at this point I expected him to come up with a viewpoint of his own to contrast the traditionalist view, yet I felt he was being evasive about what he thinks the reason for the mass killings was. At times I found it frustrating that he touches on subjects, especially when there are drawings to illustrate the point, and then moves on, leaving me with more questions than answers. The main body of the text is accompanied by an appendix with a chronology of dates (offering the present consensus arrived at by historians) and an extensive bibliography which will appeal more to scholars and students than the interested layman.

In all, I found this to be a fascinating and often mind-boggling foray into ancient Egypt which has illuminated my understanding of that fascinating and yet so obscure period in history manifoldly. I’m already looking forward to his later history of Ancient Egypt, which is planned for publication in 2014. Recommended.

(This review was originally written as part of Amazon's Vine programme.)
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LibraryThing member Stromata
Having been a student of Ancient Greek and Roman history for many years I have been spoiled for choice when it comes to reading matter, where a plethora of well researched, well written books abound. The same cannot be said of good quality books on the history of Ancient Egypt - where the volumes
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on offer ranged from the stuffy to the frankly bizarre. That is, apart from the work of John Romer, his latest offering 'A History of Ancient Egypt - From the first farmers to the Great Pyramid' is, in my opinion, the absolute best.

A very readable volume with a good selection of photographs and a brilliant array of line drawings with - oh joy of joys - sizes, ie a line of drawn Badarian ivory spoons states that the largest is 8 1/2 inches tall - so we can now visualise them in use.

The book covers all subjects from those who ordered the building of the Great Pyramid to the linen farmers and wine producers, the very stuff of life.

This is happily just the first of two volumes, the second is due to be published in two years time. Very highly recommended for general and 'specialist' readers alike.
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LibraryThing member JBD1
The first of a two-volume history of ancient Egypt, this covers the period from roughly 5000 BCE through the construction of the Great Pyramid (around 2500 BCE or so). The book is written, rather delightfully, from an archaeological perspective, with artifacts and archaeological discoveries serving
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as the main focal points. Romer also is able to point out and put to good use the ways in which what we know about ancient Egypt has shifted over time as more discoveries are made, and to make clear just how much we don't know and how much is contingent on interpretations of tiny fragments.

Excellently written, and highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member drmaf
John Romer is an Egyptologist with the soul of a poet. In his beautifully constructed books he waxes lyrical on the most mysterious civilization of the ancient world. This book, the first of a two-volume history covering Egypt's earliest beginnings trhough the development of the reign of the
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earliest Pharaohs to the building of the Great Pyramid, covering around 2500 years. Romer is an archaeologist, not a historian, so he spurns dubious chronicles, many created 12 or more centuries after the event, in favour of pure archaeology. Egypt's earliest history is revealed solely through pottery, tools, graves and tombs, human and animal remains, art, temples and monuments. Beginning with the humble graves and storage pits of the first nomadic visitors to the Faiyum Oasis, through increasing elaborate pottery and the beginnings of art, he charts the development of the Egyptian civilization. He uses the evidence to challenge the prevailing myths, such as that the office of Pharaoh sprung fully-formed into being. Careful analysis showed the first "Pharaohs" controlled little other than small tribal areas and their power increased not through conquest but by building up increasing elaborate supply chains to ferry goods, both local and foreign, to more and more sophisticated civic entities. Romer doubts that such an entity as "Egypt" as we envision it existed at least in the early years, given the Egyptians had no common word to describe their land. Pharoah, far from being a national leader, was an individual at the top of a power structure which could ensure supply routes for goods, the efficient storage and distribution of those goods, and later on could direct the efforts of a bureacracy sufficiently advanced enough to arrange the building of elaborate tombs. This is a wonderful book, highly technical yet poetic in Romer's unique style. Not a casual read but extremely rewarding to those willing to lose themselves in the minutiae of a long-lost civilization.
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Original language


Physical description

512 p.; 6 inches


1250030110 / 9781250030115


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