The ancient Egyptians knew that they were the special favorite of the gods. Every year, the waters of the River Nile flooded over their land and deposited rich silt that turned desert into farmland. The river gave them fish and waterfowl to eat, mud for bricks and paper from the papyrus reeds that grew on its banks and a broad highway on which people and goods could travel. Beyond the river valley lay deserts which protected the Egyptians from all but the most determined invaders. Those apparently barren wastes were actually a source of natural riches - gold and copper, semiprecious stones for jewellery, and a variety of stones for building. With the exception of good quality timber, it seemed that the gods had lavisly endowed the people of Egypt with everything they needed.

Egypt's history is a long one. The Nile valley had already been settled for centuries before the states of Upper and Lower Egypt were united under one king around 3000 BCE. From then on, Egypt retained its distinctive culture until in 30 BCE it became part of the Roman Empire. This long history - one and a half times as long as the present Christian era - included several distinctive periods of greatness. During the 500 years known as the New Kingdom, which began around 1570 BCE, Egypt reached its greatest extent and the height of its prosperity.