It is a well-established fact that the population of Ancient Egypt was a multicultural one, and that the nation's history is closely linked with that of it's neighbours. `It has been recognized since the early years of Egyptology that by New Kingdom times the population of Egypt was liberally sprinkled with families of foreign origin.' (Ward: 1994.). These `foreigners' included groups such as Nubians, Canaanites, `Asiatics,' (people of Semitic origin to the north-east of Egypt), and Libyans.
In geographical terms the land of Egypt is fairly isolated, and cut off from most of its neighbouring countries by harsh desert. (Gardiner: 1964). This must have had an effect on the ideology of its inhabitants, who in early times probably had an insular view of the world. In the Egyptian creation myths Heliopolis is described as the centre of the world, as the first dry land to emerge from the waters of Nun. This shows that from the beginning the Egyptians considered themselves as the heart of the Earth and sustained by the sun-god, whereas lands around were arid, harsh and ruled by chaos. There is little archaeological evidence from Predynastic Egypt concerning `foreigners,' which could be indicative of this introverted perspective.
In predynastic times the neighbours of Egypt were known collectively as the `Nine Bows.' Kings were granted the title of, `master of the bows.' The fact that foreigners were described in terms of weapons could indicate associations of violence, and show that Egyptians regarded their neighbours as enemies. From the Middle Kingdom onwards the `nine bows' began to be associated with specific peoples. This shows a progression in the Egyptian mindset as it suggests that Egyptians had an increased awareness of the individual identities of their neighbours.
During the Old Kingdom the unification of Egypt took place. Consequently people began to examine who they were and defining what it meant to be Egyptian. They did this by comparing themselves to their neighbours and emphasizing the differences in appearance. An example of this can be seen on stelae found at the copper mines at Serabit El Khadim in the Sinai where semitic peoples are identified by a distinctive `mushroom-shaped' head to represent the hairstyle of Asiatic dignitaries. The hair is painted red whilst the skin yellow in order to highlight the difference in ethnic origin. Egyptians referred to themselves as `rõme,' they believed that they were the only true `men.' (Gardiner: 1964).
At this time kings of Egypt became concerned with establishing borders around the areas that they ruled. Evidence for this can be found on inscriptions on the base of a statue of Khasekhem/wy, which celebrate his subjugation of `47,209 northern enemies.'
Another example is a famous rock-cut inscription at Gebel Sheikh Suleiman in Nubia, which shows an early ruler presiding over a scene which seems to record an Egyptian raid into Nubia at the end of the Predynastic...