Front Page Titles (by Subject) 5.: The Historical Significance of Egypt - Judgments on History and Historians
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5.: The Historical Significance of Egypt - Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians 
Judgments on History and Historians, ed. Alberto R. Coll (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
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The Historical Significance of Egypt
We must keep our view unaffected by the ease with which changes and new developments in state and culture now occur, and take a wide and high perspective. Then Egypt will appear in its unique greatness.
After thousands of years must have passed with a growing civilization of which, except at the Nile, no one had any inkling; after, possibly, even these advances had involved immeasurable sacrifices; after gods, heroes, and the dead had ruled for numberless dynasties, Egypt made a tremendous new stride under Menes and United Egypt was founded. And after that time there was here a state with a superior will, a nation, a way of life, a religion; while the Egyptians were founding and recording, in the rest of the world there can have been only primitive life or the first rudiments of a civilization. In addition, due to a providence most significant for us, there appeared the strongest impulse of the monumental, of recording and tradition. Gradually the other peoples, except for desert tribes, had to be affected by all this in some way. It is idle to argue about Egypt’s priority. Chronologically it is assured, in all matters; its influence is obscured from our view, which does not make it any the less probable.
Even though the other peoples—the Babylonians, Phoenicians, Assyrians, Iranians, and others—may differ from the Egyptians in every single element of their civilizations, still they were most probably subjected to a general Egyptian impetus without which their development might have been delayed and perhaps not have occurred at all.
The period of the Old Empire offers us a complete government with numerous officials and priests; a very rich outward life, graded into numerous occupations; a monumental will to portray all this and lend it permanence; realistically alive, quite vigorous graphic arts (Beni-Hassan; the Scribe in the Louvre) and at the same time the greatest monumentality; but side by side with this, a true separation of the spiritual from the material, attached to the idea of life after death. Here belong the ideas of the tomb system (up to the royal graves, the pyramids) and embalming. Already at that time pre-existence and metempsychosis must have existed as fully developed doctrines; but the mere subordination of the transitory to the permanent, of the individual life on earth to a colossal community of the dead would be something of giant proportions.
Accordingly, even though life then was undoubtedly “a hard service, with many sacred customs,” still there was no mere priestly tyranny and superstition. The Prisse Papyrus with the babbling beginnings of a code of ethics dates from as early as the fifth dynasty.
As the main feature of this epoch there stands out the will to feel and act as a united Egypt. Apart from the subjection of Ethiopia, the willingness to share glory is predominant.