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- "Thou makest all the land to drink unceasingly, as thou descendest on thy way from the heavens."
— Ancient Egyptian liturgy, to the God of the Nile
Possibly the oldest known surviving civilisation at the onset of the 3rd century BCE, Egypt was an ancient land which had been ruled by foreigners for almost two hundred years, and was acknowledged by the Greeks (who were proud of their being civilised) as the source of all culture in the eastern Mediterranean, and with the rise of the Ptolemaic pharaohs, was destined for even greater heights. Court intrigues and competition with the growing power of Rome however proved to be one too many challenges for the Ptolemaic Egyptians and following a civil war in Rome, the last Pharaoh was forced to commit suicide, and Egypt would become a part of the Roman empire for well over six centuries.
Dynastic rule in Egypt began with the world's first imperial city of Memphis, under King Menes. This period, known as the "Archaic Period" which lasted until 2686BCE, saw the Egyptian civilisation began to take root, with the development and refinement of Egyptian culture. It also saw the conquest of the Sinai, and continuing solidification of central rule to keep the Kingdoms of Lower Egypt, whose patron deity Horus, and Upper Egypt, whose patron deity was Seth, intact. Military expeditions were also sent to Nubia and Libya to extend Egypt's power and influence.
The union of Upper and Lower Egypt was proven to have been fully consolidated with the invasion of the Hyskos — the pharaoh Ahmosis did not merely manage to retake all Egyptian territories held by the Hyksos, but even managed to expand Egyptian influence further into the Levant.
However, Egypt was fated to be conquered by foreign peoples again once more. During the so-called the "Late Period" which lasted from 1085–322BCE, the Nubians conquered Egypt, only to be overthrown by the Assyrians with the help of resentful Egyptians. The Assyrian war with the Persians forced them to withdraw and once again Egypt was ruled by an Egyptian when Psammethchus I declared himself Pharaoh.
The Greeks in EgyptEdit
The Greek presence in Egypt can be attested to as late as the Bronze Age, when the Mycenaeans and Minoans traded with Egypt — Minoan-style frescoes unearthed at Tell-ad Daba, dating from as early as the 14th century attest to this. However, it was only much later when the Greeks first began to make an appearance in Egypt.
The Egyptian pharaoh Psammetichus was the first to set down an enclave for Greeks — most likely mercenary hoplites. From that time onward, the Greeks would then establish themselves new cities throughout Egypt, most notably Daphnae (near present-day Port Said), Heracleion and Naucratis (now part of present-day Alexandria). However, this policy of recruiting Greeks to bolster his forces, according to Herodotus, was said to have undermined Psammethichus' line. By the time of the reign of his great-grandson, Haabire (Hellenicised as Apries), a native Egyptian army officer managed to instigate a rebellion spurred by increased dissatisfaction over the Pharaoh's use of Greek mercenaries and installed himself as Khnemibre (named by Herodotus as Amasis.
Much later, Amasis was betrayed by a Greek minister, Phanes. We do not know for what reasons Phanes chose to betray his employer but what happened next was documented by Herodotus, who stated that Phanes then chose to advise Cambyses, the son of the Persian shah, on how to conduct his invasion of the Middle East and Egypt — namely, to form alliances with the Arabs and to strengthen ties with Egypt. With Phanes' advice, the Persian Achaemenids succeeded in wresting control of Egypt in 525BCE, and they would rule for almost two more centuries. The Persians had no interest in reliving ancient Egypt's past or ruling as Pharaohs as the past invaders had, and, despite local rebellions, ruled the Egyptian as a subject people of the Persian Empire.
A God from AbroadEdit
Persian rule in Egypt was finally ended when Alexander the Great defeated the them in the Battle of Issus (in present day Turkey) in 333BCE. When he entered into Egypt the next year, the Egyptians welcomed him as their liberator and accepted him as Pharaoh of Egypt — Alexander was aware of how the Egyptians despised foreigners, and sought to restore the trapping of Egyptian culture which were disdained by the former Persian occupiers. Alexander's greatest contribution to Egypt was establishing a new capital for Egypt called Alexandria. When Alexander died shortly after, his Empire was left to his lieutenants, of which Ptolemy became governor of Egypt. Ptolemy eventually declared his independence from the Macedonian Empire and made himself Pharaoh and established the Ptolemaic dynasty (or Lagid dynasty, named so after Lages, his own father).
Thus, the rise of Hellenistic domination of Egypt saw Greek become the official language, and an integration of Greek culture, military traditions, and technology with Egyptian traditions. The library of Alexandria was built at this time; it eventually boasted the largest collection of books in the ancient world. It was also at this time that the Rosetta stone was carved, and what would allow the language of the ancient Egyptians to be translated into modern text, as the stone contained both ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and Greek. Religion too was also transformed: the old gods Ra, Osiris and Apis (whose worship then was most popular in both Upper and Lower Egypt) — were soon identified with the father of Greek heroes, Zeus, to form a new syncretic deity for the ancient nation: Serapis, who looked like Hellenic Zeus donning Egyptian costume, while his son Horus got a new name, Harpocrates.
The Fraticidal BrotherhoodEditAlthough the Ptolemaic rulers considered themselves as Pharaohs and even practised ritual incest as a means of "preserving purity of blood", they never forgot their Greek roots. There was one good reason for doing so: the Ptolemids continued to be menaced by their other cousins, especially the expansionist Seleucids who had managed to annex the whole of Alexander's Middle Eastern domains for their own use. To improve his international prestige, Ptolemy was said to have sent privateers to gather books and antiquities from Greece to build Egypt's museums and libraries, and even had Alexander the Great's mortal relics stolen and sent to Egypt, where they were fittingly interred at Alexandria.
Like their native predecessors from seven centuries before, the Lagids were embroiled in struggles for hegemony in the Syrian desert with the Seleucids (who at the height of their power) controlled an empire stretching from the Sea of Marmara all the way to the borders of India). The pharaohs were also worried by the threats posed by old Macedon itself, and so the Egyptians interfered a lot in the Greek peninsula. Most notable of Egyptian efforts in Greece was sponsorship of the Chremonidean League headed by Athens and Sparta as a means of limiting Macedonian power. This was successful not because the Ptolemaic rulers were sufficiently gifted, but because luck favoured them in spite of their failures — the new powers of Rome and Carthage were also active in the Greek world and competition with the Greek kingdoms of Epirus and Macedon over the Adriatic, Tyrrhenian and Ionian seas helped to keep Macedonian power in check.
Fall of the Gods: The Falcon and the WolvesEdit
- "I came to see a king, not a line of corpses!"
- —Octavian, when asked if he would like to visit the tombs of the Ptolemaic emperors after visiting the tomb of Alexander the Great in Alexandria
However, the reign of the Ptolemaic Pharaohs eventually began to decline as a result of internal power struggles, and the emergence of Rome as a world power. As Rome emerged triumphant east and west, and the Seleucids were slowly devoured by their own expansionist ambitions, Egypt began to appear isolated and alone in a world where the Greek kingdoms were doomed to becoming fleeting memories — and which was also being divided into east and west, with Rome ruling over Europe and the Levant, and the rising Parthians proving to be a force to be reckoned with.
The last of the Ptolemies was Cleopatra VII. She was an ambitious and able ruler who wanted to preserve Egypt's independence and restore its glory. So to this end she had a son with the Roman dictator Julius Caesar, then later became the wife of Mark Antony who was Caesar's chief lieutenant. They managed to keep Egypt independent for 10 years before Caesar's successor Octavian defeated the Egyptians at the battle of Actium in 31 BCE, driving Antony and Cleopatra to suicide.
Even though Egypt ceased to be an independent power with the fall of the Ptolemid dynasts, little much would change for Egypt. The Romans chose to promote the growth of Hellenism in Egypt, while diverting its bountiful grain supplies back home to the Golden City where they allowed emperors such as Augustus and Caligula to engage in the provision of free bread to garner votes and popularity and was also one of the first places on earth where Christianity flourished. Egypt would continue to prosper and remain part of the Roman empire until the 7th century when a new invader arrived — being the nascent power of Islam.