The Earliest States of Eastern Europe
DG-2013, 25-37

Historical writing without history: The perception and the recording of the past in Ancient Egypt

A. A. Banshchikova

The paper treats the general character of ancient Egyptian apprehension
and representation of the country’s history. Egyptians were greatly interested
in their historical past: they created numerous literary compositions on
historical topics; included historical fi gures into stories with fully invented
novelistic plots; preserved and knew well general schemes of Egyptian history
(in the form of king-lists which formed a kind of periodization and provided
their readers with knowledge of names and succession of the kings) including
theoretical concepts of large historical cycles. Nevertheless they have never
created a real history (narratives tracing large periods of time or at least a
single reign throughout all its course) because of the specifi c character
of their sources: on the one hand, monuments and literary compositions
dedicated to various events but irrelevant to the proper place of these events
on the timescale, and, on the other hand, Pharaonic king-lists which gave
the dynastic timeline on the whole but almost did not include events. Their
combination was out of their possibilities or inclinations till the Hellenistic
epoch. As a result Egyptian picture of the past was a chain of episodes within
rather fi rm frames of general dynastic scheme (but the latter was also liable
to modifi cations, transpositions and resulting variability), while these episodes
themselves synthesized some elements of real history together with folklore
models, belletristic inventions and vast contaminations (stimulated even more
by the fact that deeds of many kings were similar to each other and their
names were often similar or identical).

Keywords:
Ancient Egypt, historical writing, king-lists, literature, folklore
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