Art in Egypt and Mesopotamia.
The history of Egypt, from the time of the earliest extant monuments to the absorption of the country in the Roman Empire, covers a space of some thousands of years. This long period was not one of stagnation. It is only in proportion to our ignorance that life in ancient Egypt seems to have been on one dull, dead level. Dynasties rose and fell. Foreign invaders occupied the land and were expelled again. Customs, costumes, beliefs, institutions, underwent changes. Of course, then, art did not remain stationary. On the contrary, it had marked vicissitudes, now displaying great freshness and vigor, now uninspired and monotonous, now seemingly dead, and now reviving to new activity. In Babylonia we deal with perhaps even remoter periods of time, but the artistic remains at present known from that quarter are comparatively scanty. From Assyria, however, the daughter of Babylonia, materials abound, and the history of that country can be written in detail for a period of several centuries. Naturally, then, even a mere sketch of Egyptian, Babylonian, and Assyrian art would require much more space than is here at disposal. All that can be attempted is to present a few examples and suggest a few general notions. The main purpose will be to make clearer by comparison and contrast the essential qualities of Greek art, to which this volume is devoted.
I begin with Egypt, and offer at the outset a table of the most important periods of Egyptian history. The dates are taken from the sketch prefixed to the catalogue of Egyptian antiquities in the Berlin Museum. In using them the reader must bear in mind that the earlier Egyptian chronology is highly uncertain. Thus the date here suggested for the Old Empire, while it cannot be too early, may be a thousand years too late. As we come down, the margin of possible error grows less and less. The figures assigned to the New Empire are regarded as trustworthy within a century or two. But only when we reach the Saite dynasty do we get a really precise chronology.
Chief Periods of Egyptian History:
Old Empire, with capital at Memphis; Dynasties
4-5 (2800-2500 B.
C. or earlier) and Dynasty 6.
Middle Empire, with capital at Thebes; Dynasties
B. C. or earlier).
New Empire, with capital at Thebes; Dynasties
17-20 (ca. 1600-1100
Saite period; Dynasty 26 (663-525 B. C.).