Ever wonder why Israel matters so much? For that matter, why does Egyptian Civilization? It’s not the oldest, eclipsed by both the Sumerian and Indian ones, and yet Western Civilization, the heritage that transcends the globe, traces its origins to it.
The answer, I posit, is location, location, location. It held good water routes to both the Mediterranean Sea and Pacific Ocean, as well as the land route twixt Africa and Eurasia. Egypt’s power faded, but its memory didn’t. It left a a big impression on the Greeks, who really got the ball rolling in in terms of The Western Way, and ironically, they did it head- quartered in Africa.
Yes, Africa; a truly dark continent, indeed, given that for all those thousands of years of dynamism of Eurasia, all those wandering ethnic groups fighting and influencing each other, leaving a rich historical legacy, Africa, by comparison, has little to report. Yes, it had advanced cizilizations and cities, but they just came and went, not leaving much historical impact beyond their own existence.
You’d think that Eurasia would have influenced the subcontinent more than it has, or at least I do. What happens in the Mediterranean does echo East, and the East echoes back (and vice versa), but it’s like the Savannah just swallows the noise. For the longest time, if you were a Western power, and wanted to trade laterally, you’d simply do it through the Mediterranean, and the Indian Ocean, and Africa was irrelevant.
You’d still think Africa, along the Mediterranean’s rim, would eventually be drawn into the spiral of trade, but no. You’d think Africa might become more relevant after trade to the Far East was blocked by a nearer Eastern one, but no. That momentary blockage in the Eurasian feedback loop led to the discovery of the New World, expanding Wertern power and prestige beyond all recognition. The Horn route was always a secondary affair to Egyptian trade lanes, and Africa proper didn’t even seem like much of a prize to Western empires until there wasn’t anything left of more value to fight over, really.
I don’t think anyone’s gonna stone me when I say that Africa’s the most backward place on the planet, and I would venture to say it could have used more colonization, and for a longer time, with South America as an example. (Hey–Britain and America both started out as colonies, so please don’t lambaste when I evoke the long view of history.) Instead of participating in the long, epic melee that Eurasia started, Africa sat it out, and look what happened, which as history in silence reports, was in comparison very little.
No, only Egypt, crossroads to all, is where Africa’s value to world history lies, and it wasn’t even of value to the native Africans, but rather to the Semitic traders of the Eurasian north who did, forming a kingdom. I must say, though, that even so, Egypt’s impact feels much more mystical than as a trade linchpin.
Egyptologists (or pyramidiots, depending on how high you value them) keep talking about how Giza is the geographic center of the world, but while that may not be true, it’s ground zero for something else, and that’s monotheism. While Egypt was the regional power, the tiny state formed by some of their escaped slaves on the opposite side of the Sinai land bridge managed to export something of their culture to the world from the same basic pressure point, as well.
It remains a sore spot to the present day, doesn’t it? The world has changed a great deal, and flight among other things have much undermined the import of old sea lanes, but here we are, with the capitals of the world’s mightiest nations hundreds and thousands of miles away on other continents, and yet, despite all that, despite not being a resource haven, it still matters.
Ah, sweet mysteries of the ages.