The first empire arose in Egypt? The first civilization arose in Mesopotamia? Does that make sense?

According to " A History of Knowledge Past, Present and Future " by Charles van Doren (pages 4-9)

The first empire probably arose in Egypt and the first civilization arose in Mesopotamia. Does that make sense? Doesn’t an empire require civilization first or can empires simply be territorial in nature without the complex bureaucracy found among civilizations?
I look forward to your feedback

While the confusion wouldn’t arise if he’d written it the other way around, it’s still accurate if an empire first arose in Egypt after civilization arose in Mesopotamia.

And as per Wiki: for the original pharaoh, in the early dynastic period, we’re talking roughly 3100 BC – by which point the Sumerians had already done the “from irrigated settlements to full-on city-states complete with cheap mass-produced goods” thing.

Perhaps the author means that Mesopotamian society predates Eqypt (and everything else).

The Mesopotamian civilizations were the first city-states; Egypt was the first nation-state.

Ask Temujin or Atilla (not that the Steppe Empires didn’t have civilizational components, but in origins they was nomadic/territorial, not civilized)

BTW, if you go by wikipedia’s list of Empires, it lists the first empire as the Akkadian, predating the Egyptian by almost a millennium. I tend to agree with this - “Egyptian Empire” isn’t quite synonymous with “Dynastic Egypt”, nor is “empire” synonymous with “nation-state”

Which Egypt? Upper or Lower?

I think they’re taking the unification of upper and lower Egypt as counting as an Empire. That isn’t the standard view, but since both regions (probably) were culturally distinct at the time, and had (probably) their own political systems consisting of several states, you can make an argument for it.

Did they not share language/ethnicity, though? That’s the defining feature of Empire IMO - hegemonic rule over a multi-ethnic populace (so not confederations)

Ethnicity is a pretty loosely defined concept, and our knowledge of predynastic Egypt is pretty hazy, so I don’t think there’s a canonical answer. There were different cultures spread through the Nile Valley prior to the rise of the Egyptian state, but to what extent they merged due to conquest (as opposed to merging due to trade relations, etc. prior to conquest) is debated, and to what extent they saw themselves as ethnically separate peoples is probably unknowable.

But there’s room enough to argue the early Egyptian unification was the conquest of various ethnicities under a single monarch, and so was the first Empire. I assume that’s what Van Doreen (wait, is this the Quiz Show guy?) has in mind anyways.

The two nations were different enough imo. IIRC, one of the differences is that the lower nile worshiped the Eagle and the upper nile worshiped the serpent and the unification of both combined the two as reflected in the crowns of the subsequent pharaohs.

Vulture, I believe.

And here I thought they worshiped bowling pins.

I’d say that an Empire requires that the ethnicities remain largely separate afterwards - e.g the British and Indians didn’t meld into one nation, the Romans, Gauls, Iberians, Greeks etc didn’t form one Roman Imperial ethnicity. But post-unification, there was just one Egypt - that’s not an Empire, that’s a Kingdom (see: England, 1066->present)

The Akkadian Empire is the first empire because the Akkadians ruled over not just their own selves, but also other Semites and Sumerian peoples. Egypt only really achieved this level with the New Kingdom, when it exercised hegemony over the Levantine coast and Kush, AFAIK.

Religion doesn’t exclusively make ethnicity though - e.g individual Greek city-states had individual patron gods (Athena for Athens, Artemis and Ares for Sparta etc) but shared a culture/ethnicity - I’d want to know if there was a shared language between the two Egypts, and other cultural touchpoints. Which we may never know, I guess. But telling, for me, is the fact that there was total unification afterwards - that’s not an empire, that’s a new polity. Upper and Lower Egyptian ethnicities didn’t remain distinct AFAICT.

Okay, but: if they remain distinct for – six months? six years? – and then truly unify, it sounds like you’d say, well, they were an empire, and then they weren’t.

Yea, I don’t think you can have a definition of “empire” that relies on stuff that happens hundreds of years after the Empire is founded. Otherwise we’d only be able to call something an empire after it was over, which obviously isn’t how the word has been used.

Some scholars think Egypt became culturally unified before political unification, some people think it took hundreds of years after the conquest for the cultures involved to merge. I assume the person that wrote the OP’s book is taking the latter view, and that’s why he referred to Egypt rather then Akkad as the oldest Empire.

Well, by that reasoning, we should speak of the Norman Empire not the English Kingdom, shouldn’t we?

The Angevin Empire was a thing.

So was the British Empire - but we don’t consider Normandy + England an example of Empire - why not? It’s not like the Normans and Anglo-Saxons weren’t two distinct ethnicities before or for a while after, because they totally were (hell, throw the Danes and the Brythonic remnants in Cornwall in there too).

So I’m trying to tease out what makes the post-conquest Anglo-Norman polity a Kingdom, and Egypt an Empire (in your view, obviously. *I *don’t think that post-unification Egypt was an Empire, which to me implies foreign hegemony without integration)

If you want to be very technical, the British Empire was an empire because Queen Victoria was Empress of India, a title she took from the last Mogul Emperor. Before that happened, the term “British Empire” didn’t exist. There are only 5 imperial titles in the world: the Western Roman Emperor, the Eastern Roman Emperor, the Indian Emperor, the Chinese Emperor and the Japanese Emperor (the Ottoman Empire was also an empire, although its ruler was not referred to as “emperor” in English). If you claimed one of those titles, and ruled a kingdom, then your kingdom was an empire. If it you didn’t, you weren’t.

Thus, the Angevin Empire wasn’t an empire because it was ruled by a king, not an emperor.