Ancient Egypt grips the imagination, touches the soul and inspires the uninspired. You simply can’t escape over 7000 years of historical influence Ancient Egypt enjoys. The legacy of Ancient Egypt, with names like Ramses, Nefertiti and Tutankhamun and places like the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx echoes in art, literature and popular culture.
When Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, Ancient Egyptian priests proclaimed him pharaoh after the oracle of Siwa declared Alexander to be a descendant of Amun, the chief deity of Ancient Egypt. Ptolemy I, one of Alexander’s generals, succeeded Alexander as pharaoh and established the Ptolemaic dynasty.
Cleopatra, a direct descendant of Ptolemy I, was the last Greek ruler of Egypt. During a Roman civil war, Augustus put an end to centuries of Ptolemaic rule when Cleopatra sided with Marc Anthony against Augustus. After winning the war, Augustus made Egypt a province of Rome. Respecting the tradition of the house of Ptolemy, the Caesars of Rome continued to honour Ancient Egyptian religion.
The continuous homage offered by Greek and Roman rulers to the local traditions of Ancient Egypt is the essence of Greco Roman culture in Egypt. Greco Roman art, architecture and ruins attest to the importance of Egypt in their regard. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Greco Roman Egypt became a part of the Byzantine Empire until the Arab Muslim conquest.
Travel to Egypt to see breathtaking temples, fascinating mummies and stunning artwork. Ancient Egypt is truly a cradle of civilization.
And now we will descrip below the History of Egypt in brief:
• Prehistory (up to 3100 BC)
• Early Dynastic Period (3100 – 2700 BC)
• Old Kingdom (2700 – 2181 BC)
• First Intermediate Period (2181 – 2040 BC)
Middle Kingdom (2040 – 1650 BC)
• Second Intermediate Period (1650 – 1550 BC)
• New Kingdom (1550 – 1070 BC)
• Late Period (1070 – 332 BC)
• Greek Period (332 – 30 BC)
• Roman Period (30 BC – 638 AD)
• Arabic & Islamic Period (640 – 1250)
• Mamluke Period (1250 -1517)
• Turkish Period (1517 – 1798)
• French Period (1798 – 1802)
• Mohammed Ali and his heirs (1805 – 1882)
• British Period (1882 – 1952)
• Modern Egypt (1952 – present day)
Prehistory (up to 3100 BC)
Archaeological evidence suggests that over 250,000 years ago roaming hunter-gatherers inhabited Egypt, which at the time was rolling grassland. During the Palaeolithic period, around 25,000 BC, climatic changes turned Egypt into a desert. During this period a shift to primitive forms of cultivation occurred as communities began to settle in Middle Egypt and the Nile Delta. Soon these farmers were growing wheat, flax and weaving linen fabrics, as well as tending flocks. Gradually the primitive settlements became small tribal kingdoms, which eventually evolved into two loosely aligned kingdoms – one in the Nile valley (worshiping the god Horus) and the other in the Nile Delta (worshiping the god Seth). The two kingdoms vied for control over all the lands of Egypt, and in 3100 BC unification of Egypt, under the command of Menes, marked the beginning of the dynastic period of the Pharaohs.
The era of the Pharaohs
Early Dynastic Period (3100 – 2700 BC)
This period of Egyptian history is mostly shrouded in mythology and little is known of Menes and his descendants other than their divine ancestry and that they developed a highly stratified social system, patronized the arts and built many temples and public buildings. Menes established his new capital at Memphis, the world’s first imperial city, which lies just 24 km south of Cairo.
During the First Dynasty (3100 – 2890 BC) Egyptian culture became increasingly refined, examples of which can still be glimpsed today at the royal burial grounds of Saqqara and Abydos.
The Second Dynasty (2980 – 2686 BC) was marked by a breakdown of Pharaonic authority and a series of regional disputes – probably the result of religious rivalry between the two deities Horus in the south, and Seth in the Delta. These rivalries seem to have been resolved by Khasekhem, the last Pharaoh of the Second Dynasty.
Old Kingdom (2700 – 2181 BC)
The Old Kingdom was the period in which most of Egypt’s pyramids were built. Built during the Third Dynasty (2686 – 2613 BC) by Zoser’s chief architect Imhotep, the impressive Step Pyramid at Saqqara is believed by many to be the first true pyramid in Egypt, and seems to have been the inspiration for the many pyramids that followed. Also during Zoser’s rein, the Sun God Ra rose in importance above all other Egyptian deities.
The Fourth Dynasty (2613 – 2494 BC) is where pyramid building reached its pinnacle. King Sneferu constructed the Bent and Red Pyramids at Dahshur near Saqqara and the Pyramid of Meidum in Al-Fayoum, and his descendants, Cheops (Khufu), Chephren (Khafre) and Mycerinus (Menkaure), built the Great Pyramids of Giza. During Sneferu’s reign trading along the Nile flourished and military expeditions into Libya and Nubia were undertaken. By the end of the reign of Mycerinus trade had expanded into the Near East and Egypt had developed the world’s first truly organised form of government.
The Fifth Dynasty (2490 – 2330 BC) brought a relative decline in Pharaonic power and wealth, which can be seen in the smaller pyramids built at Abu Sir during this period. This was the result of a gradual shift away from the absolute power enjoyed by earlier Pharaohs to power sharing with the aristocracy and high officials. Worship of the sun god Ra also increased during this period.
The erosion of Pharaonic authority continued during Sixth Dynasty (2330 – 2170 BC) as small provincial principalities emerged to challenge Pharaonic power. The Pharaohs became more warlike and during the reign of Pepi I the Egyptian army was organized and a warrior caste developed. The Old Kingdom came to an end with the death of Pepi II and following his death, the central government collapsed. This brought about a period of turmoil known as the First Intermediate Period.
First Intermediate Period (2181 – 2040 BC)
During the chaotic Seventh Dynasty (2181 – 2173BC) and Eighth Dynasty (2173 – 2160 BC), civil disorders multiplied, and drought and famine struck Egypt leading to even more social upheaval and anarchy. As a result of the turmoil small local principalities rose up to challenge the rule of the kings and, at the beginning of the Ninth Dynasty (2160 – 2130BC), a second capital was established by Achthoes at Heracleopolis, near present-day Beni Suef. The kings of Heracleopolis ruled northern Egypt throughout the Tenth Dynasty (2130 – 2040 BC). However, rebellion in the south and subsequent civil war marked the start of the Eleventh Dynasty (2133 – 1991 BC), and eventually saw the reunification of Egypt by Nebhepetre Mentuhope II, from his base in Thebes. This marked the beginning of the Middle Kingdom in Egypt.
Middle Kingdom (2040 – 1650 BC)
Mentuhope II reign over Egypt lasted for fifty years and during this period he re-established political and social order. This in turn helped to regenerate the economic and artistic development that so characterized the glory of the past Pharaohs. Trading was resumed and mines were reopened. Campaigns were undertaken against Libya and Nubia, and local and foreign trade flourished.
Mentuhope III and Mentuhope IV continued to rule from Thebes, building and expanding their kingdom until Amenemhat, assumed the throne and founded the Twelfth Dynasty (1991 – 1790 BC). Amenemhat moved his capital back to Memphis and pushed the boundaries of Egyptian rule deep into Nubia to the south and the land of Sham, as far as Syria and Palestine, to the north. Pyramid building was re-established and every Pharaoh was buried in their own pyramid. It was Amenemhat II and Senusert III who built the last pyramids in Lahun, Lisht and Hawara.
There appears to have been a smooth transition to the Thirteenth Dynasty (1790 – 1700 BC), but the Middle Kingdom eventually came to a close, as over time the central authority weakened, leading to civil disorder and instability and a prolonged period of upheaval. The close of the Middle Kingdom is a little sketchy, but is believed to be due to the arrival in the Eastern Nile Delta, and subsequent rise to power, of Asiatic settlers from the Near East, known as the Hyksos. The Fourteenth Dynasty took control of the western Delta and the Hyksos led Fifteenth Dynasty took control of the eastern Delta.
Second Intermediate Period (1650 – 1550 BC)
By 1600 BC the Hyksos had made their way down the Nile and captured Memphis. Their influence on Egypt’s dying culture was marked by the introduction of new animals and plants, the potter’s wheel and the vertical loom, and various new musical instruments. They also brought with them new instruments of war like the composite bow, chariot and scale armour. The advance of the Hyksos was finally halted at Thebes, thus establishing the Seventeenth Dynasty and, by 1550 Kamose, the Theban king, had cornered the Hyksos in Avaris. When his successor Ahmosis drove the last of the Hyksos from Egypt, the New Kingdom was born.
New Kingdom (1550 – 1070 BC)
Ahmosis founded the Eighteenth Dynasty (1567 – 1320BC), and started a period of great stability and prosperity during which Pharaonic culture flowered and Egypt once again became a world power. Nubia, to the south, was conquered and its vast wealth of gold, ivory and gemstones flowed into Egypt. To the north, the Near East, Syria and Palestine also fell to the Pharaohs and a vast assimilation of cultural and knowledge took place through the immigration of slaves and workers from these newly established colonies. The temple of Karnak at Thebes grew with the expansion of the empire, and Tuthmosis I constructed the first tomb in the Valley of the Kings. His daughter Hatshepsut, one of Egypt’s few female rulers, reigned as pharaoh and built the temple of Deir Al-Bahri. Tuthmosis III continued to expand the empire beyond Nubia and across the Euphrates to the land of the Hittites. Imperial expansion continued under Amenophis II and Tuthmosis IV, and the reign of Amenophis III was the pinnacle of Egyptian Pharaonic power. During the reign of Amenophis III the kingdom was secure enough for the Pharaoh to build many of Egypt’s finest Pharaonic structures, including the Temple of Luxor.
His son Amenophis IV was more wayward and, after breaking away from the priesthood of the god Amun, changed his name to Akhenaten in honour of the new sun god Aten. He also broke with Thebes and, with his wife Nefertiti, moved north to establish a new capital called Akhetaten. Some historians believe his single devotion to one god is the first example of an organized monotheistic religion. The scant remains of Akhetaten can still be seen today at Tell al-Amarna, near the town of Minya. Upon Akhenaten death the old priesthood at Thebes destroyed all signs of his rule and religion and the throne was passed on to his son-in-law, the boy king Tutankhamun. Best remembered today for the fabulous and pristine treasures uncovered when his tomb was discovered in 1922, he ruled for only nine years until just before reaching manhood, when he mysteriously died.
The Nineteenth Dynasty (1320 – 1200BC) saw the rise to power of a line of warrior kings. Ramses and his descendants, Ramses II and III and Seti I and II, set about recapturing territories lost under Akhenaten. They also built colossal structures like the majestic temple at Abydos, the Ramesseum in Thebes, and the sun temples of Abu Simbel.
The Twentieth Dynasty (1200 – 1085BC) was to be the last of the New Kingdom and was first established by Sethnakhte. However by the reign of his successor Ramses III, the kingdom was beset with provincial unrest and foreign invaders. Ramses’ III successors, all of whom were named Ramses, presided over the decline of their empire until during the reign of Ramses XI the New Kingdom drew to a close with the outbreak of civil war.
Late Period (1070 – 332 BC)
During the start of this period external threats from Libyan invaders and others were eroding Egypt’s power to defend itself. Eventually Libyan warriors established their own Dynasty in the Nile delta from their capital at Tanis, until later replaced by the princes of Sais. Upper Egypt held out longer against Nubian invaders but eventually the armies of their ruler Piankhi overran Thebes. In 671 BC Assyrian armies captured Memphis and attacked Thebes, driving the Nubian pharaoh Tanutamun back to Nubia. By 525 BC the Assyrians were in turn swept aside by the armies of the Persian Empire. The rule of the Persian lasted for almost 200 years, during which time they built a canal connecting the Nile with the Red Sea and also constructed temples and a new city on the site of what is now called Old Cairo. Eventually Persian rule gave way to Greek rule in 332 BC, under the leadership of perhaps the world’s greatest conqueror Alexander the Great.
Greek and Roman period
Greek Period (332 – 30 BC)
In 332 BC, Egypt became a part of the new Macedonian Empire after Alexander the Great’s destruction of the Persians. Alexander was greeted as something of a liberator from Persian rule due to his respect of the local deities, and was immediately accepted as a Pharaoh. After founding the new capital of Alexandria, one of many cities named after him, he soon left Egypt to resume his campaign against the Persians. In 323 BC, Alexander died suddenly and one of his generals Ptolemy I became the satrap of Egypt.
By 305 BC Ptolemy I had become the king and founder of a dynasty that would rule over Egypt for the next 300 years. Under his rule Greek became the official language of Egypt and Hellenistic culture and ideas were introduced and assimilated into traditional Egyptian theology, art, architecture and technology. The legacy of Ptolemaic rule can still be seen today at the temples of Edfu, Kom Ombo and Philae. The city of Alexandria also became a great capital, housing one of history’s greatest libraries.
By the early first century BC internal control had slackened and gradually Ptolemaic rule was eroded. The Romans were largely responsible, supporting various rulers and factions until attaining total control over the country when Julius Caesar’s armies attacked Alexandria. Queen Cleopatra VII was the last of the Ptolemaic rulers to reign, albeit under the protection of the Caesar. After his assassination, Cleopatra VII found a new protector in Mark Anthony, a strong contender for the vacated role of emperor of Rome, who helped her retain Egypt’s independence for a further 10 years. Eventually the fleets of Octavian Caesar destroyed the Egyptian navy in the battle of Actium, causing Anthony and Cleopatra to commit suicide and Egypt to become a province of the Roman Empire.
Roman Period (30 BC – 638 AD)
Octavian became the first Roman ruler of Egypt, reigning as the Emperor Augustus but did little to develop the country, which served ostensibly as a granary for the Roman Empire. He did, however, establish a number of trading posts along the Red Sea coast and across the Western Desert extending into Cyrenaica (modern day Lybia) The Romans, like their Greek predecessors, incorporated many of their own beliefs into Egyptian culture, but Hellenism remained a dominant cultural force and Alexandria continued to be a centre of Greek learning.
Christianity appeared in Egypt around 40 AD with the arrival of Saint Mark who began preaching the gospel and established the Patriarchate of Alexandria in 61 AD. The Egyptian Coptic Church expanded over the next 300 years despite the Roman persecution of Christian converts throughout the empire. In AD284, the persecution of Coptic Christians reached a low point under the reign of the Emperor Diocletian, with a series of bloody massacres, from which the church has dated its calendar. However, such was the universal appeal of Christianity that in 323 AD it was legalized and adopted as the official religion of the Roman Empire by the Emperor Constantine.
Soon after the Roman Empire fell into decline as a result of internal strife, famine and war, finally splitting into eastern and western empires. The eastern empire was based in Constantinople and became known as the Byzantine Empire and the western empire remained centred in Rome. The legalization of Christianity did not stop the Roman persecution of Coptic Christians, because the Byzantine church deemed the Copt’s monophysitic doctrine (the belief that Christ is divine, rather than both human and divine) as heretical, and expelled them from the Orthodox Church in 451 AD. This schism between the Byzantine and Coptic churches was never closed.
The fifth century saw the emergence of monasticism in Egypt, and the construction of the Coptic monasteries of Saint Catherine, Saint Paul and Saint Anthony. The continued oppression by their Roman overlords eventually came to an end in Egypt with the arrival of Islam in 639 AD.
Arabic Islamic Period (640 – 1250)
Abu Bakr, the successor to the prophet Mohammad, led the invasion of Egypt and defeated the Byzantine army in 636. Establishing a capital called Fustat, just north of the Roman fortress Babylon, Egypt was ruled as a province and used primary as a granary for the larger Arab empire.
In 658 the Umayyads of Damascus seized control of Egypt and ruled for around 100 years before losing out to the Abbassids of Baghdad who ruled for another 200 years.
Copts who form the majority of Egyptian Christians are followers of the Coptic Orthodox Church and considered to be part of the descendants of Ancient Egyptians and one of the first peoples to convert to Christianity. In fact, the word “Copt” derives from the Arabic word “Qibt” – or “Gibt” – which derives from the Greek word “Egyptos” meaning “Egypt.” The Ancient Egyptian root of the word was “Hikaptah” (Ha-Ka-Ptah), the name Memphis was known by in 3100 BC at the time when it was the first capital of Ancient Egypt.
The Coptic Church traces its spiritual history back to St. Mark, the traditional author of the Gospel of Mark, and considers him to be the founding father of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
The history of the Coptic Church is tied to the history of Christian monasticism. The ancient tradition of monasticism continues to be practiced in Egypt and offers a great opportunity to visit Coptic monasteries, such as the monastery of St Simeon in Aswan, St Anthony and St Paul Monasteries in the Red Sea mountains, and Deir Al-Kashef Monastery, an early Coptic monastery in the Western Desert. Some of Egypt’s churches also rank among the oldest Christian landmarks in the world, such as the church of the virgin in Asyut and the Coptic Cathedral of St. Mark in Alexandria. Several churches and monasteries also mark the Holy Family Journey trail as described in the Bible. Take an angle’s advice and “Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt.
The number of Egyptian Jews reached a maximum of 80.000 in the first half of the 20th century, an era that is considered as the golden age of Judaism in Egypt. The massive Jewish exodus to Israel in the mid 20th century made this number decrease drastically to some mere hundreds today. Nevertheless, some greatly preserved Jewish landmarks attest to the Judaic heritage of Egypt in major metropolis such as Cairo and Alexandria.
Islam in Egypt flourished during the early dynastic periods such as the Fatimid and the Ayyubid dynasties and established Egypt as a major cultural, political and social power in the Islamic world. In 1250 AD, a military caste known as the Mamluks took control of Egypt and established it as a major Islamic power. In 1798, the arrival of a French expedition led by Napoleon changed the political landscape after Muhammad Ali became the hereditary ruler of Egypt. His reign set Islamic Egypt on the path to modernization.
The colorful history of Islam in Egypt shaped the culture, art and architecture of modern Egypt. Islamic Egypt has a tremendous wealth of Islamic art and architecture. Visit Al-Mu’izz al-Din Street, El Azhar Street, Darb al-Ahmar Street, El Saliba Street and Salah ad-Din Square in Cairo to see Egypt as it once was during the golden age of Islamic architecture. These restored areas are considered open museums and wonderful to visit at night. There are also dozens of historical mosques, citadels and souks to visit.
The contrast of historical layers that range from Ancient Egypt to the Roman Empire, Islamic dynasties to the modern history of Egypt is what you’ll find in Egypt today. In Cairo and most of the Egypt’s major cities you’ll find skyscrapers, highways, international hotels, restaurants, mass advertising, western clothing, local clothing, ancient monuments, historical mosques, Coptic churches, and traditional souks; all blending together into the unique mosaic that is modern Egypt. Over the past decade, Egypt has grown to become the modern hub of Africa; the country boasts numerous airports, ports and modern marinas, and major cities are connected through a network of newly built highways. Moreover, telecommunications and Internet services in Egypt are booming, providing the needed infrastructure for the constant development of the country.
Visit the major achievements of modern Egyptian architecture such as the High Dam, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and contemporary art museums. Go to Egypt today !