Upper and Lower Egypt

In the late predynastic period, there is evidence of increased political activity and a struggle for predominance between Upper and Lower Egypt. Kozue Takahashi wrote: “In both regions, the basic unit of government was the local community clustered around a town or group of villages and was under the greater control of a local variant of one of the universal gods, and looking for leadership to some powerful headman.” [Source: Kozue Takahashi, Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com \+\]

Marcelo P Campagno of the University of Buenos Aires wrote: The decline of the Naqada site around 3200 B.C. suggests that this center could have fallen to one of its neighbors and rivals, either Hierakonpolis to the south or Abydos to the north. Rock carvings recently discovered at Gebel Tjauti—in an overland path that may have connected Hierakonpolis to Abydos, allowing them to avoid passing through Naqada—with scenes including early kingship symbols (falcons, individuals holding scepters and maces) and depictions of violence (capture of prisoners) support this possibility. In particular, the depiction of a scorpion similar to those represented repeatedly on Tomb U-j’s vessels— considered by some authors to be the name of the tomb owner—may also provide a link to Abydos. [Source: Marcelo P Campagno, University of Buenos Aires, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org <>]

“Expansion to the north seems to have resulted in increased political integration. Before this process, there appears to have been a variety of political scenarios in the regions to the north of Upper Egypt. In Middle Egypt, as pointed out above, some social differentiation occurred; however, there are no specific traces of political- administrative leadership. On the other hand, in the Memphite region and the Delta, the situation may have been much more heterogeneous. Aside from the aforementioned indications of socioeconomic differentiation, some sites in these regions show evidence of what were probably recording systems (seals and other small devices in Tell el-Farkha, potmarks in vessels from many northern sites), and serekhs with features and names only known in the north. <>

“The pace and specific dynamics of the political unification process are difficult to determine. Although the expansion to the north may have begun in early Naqada IIIa, the process seems to have reached completion only in late Naqada IIIb, in the transition between “Dynasty 0” and Dynasty 1, since it is only with Ka and Narmer that objects related to a single king have been consistently found at sites ranging from Upper Egypt to the southern Levant. Regarding the nature of the expansion, traditional Egyptology, relying on a historicist reading of a set of ceremonial objects decorated with scenes of combats, walled settlements, and prisoner executions (among them, the Gebel el-Arak knife-handle; Battlefield, Cities, Bulls, and Narmer palettes; Scorpion and Narmer maceheads), assumed that expansion was mainly achieved by systematic military conquest. This approach has been questioned, both because of the nature of the message expressed in these documents— symbolic rather than “realistic”—and because of the lack of unequivocal archaeological evidence indicating such conquest. In any case, iconography of the period suggests that the expansion was carried out in a context that was at the very least discursively violent; this kind of symbolic violence is totally compatible with the prerogatives of an elite capable of exercising coercion on the territories that were being included under its rule. <>

“The direction of the expansion, as well as the iconographic motifs related to its violence, both provide clues about the reasons behind this process. The expansion followed the routes to the principal regions from which prestige goods consumed by Upper Egyptian elites arrived (e.g., ivory, ebony, incense, or animal skins coming from the south and intermediated by Lower Nubia; wine, oils, timber, copper, precious stones, and even Mesopotamian artifacts coming from the north through the Delta and the Levant). Thus, the expansion may have suppressed the competition of potential rivals, avoiding intermediaries and securing the obtaining in situ of the exotic products desired in Egypt. Regarding the depictions of scenes of violence, they make known one of the core attributes of the Egyptian king, a figure who imposes cosmic order against the threat of chaos. Throughout Egyptian history, the king would have been seen as the divine guarantor of order imposed through violence, as the ritual massacre of the enemy, depicted both before (Hierakonpolis Tomb 100) and after (palette of Narmer) the late Predynastic Period, symbolizes. In this respect, the expansion may have been seen by the Egyptians as the royal task par excellence, a cosmic matter rather than a strictly political one.” <>

Websites on Ancient Egypt: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Discovering Egypt discoveringegypt.com; BBC History: Egyptians bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/egyptians ; Ancient History Encyclopedia on Egypt ancient.eu/egypt; Digital Egypt for Universities. Scholarly treatment with broad coverage and cross references (internal and external). Artifacts used extensively to illustrate topics. ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt ; British Museum: Ancient Egypt ancientegypt.co.uk; Egypt’s Golden Empire pbs.org/empires/egypt; Metropolitan Museum of Art www.metmuseum.org ; Oriental Institute Ancient Egypt (Egypt and Sudan) Projects ; Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre in Paris louvre.fr/en/departments/egyptian-antiquities; KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt kmtjournal.com; Ancient Egypt Magazine ancientegyptmagazine.co.uk; Egypt Exploration Society ees.ac.uk ; Amarna Project amarnaproject.com; Egyptian Study Society, Denver egyptianstudysociety.com; The Ancient Egypt Site ancient-egypt.org; Abzu: Guide to Resources for the Study of the Ancient Near East etana.org; Egyptology Resources fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk

Government in the Early Dynasties of Ancient Egypt

Narmer Palette, 3100 BC

Toby Wilkinson of Cambridge University wrote: “The introduction of job specialization within government circles can be seen in the same context: the 1st-Dynasty pattern of bureaucracy, with its diffuse portfolios of responsibilities, was simply not up to the task of managing an increasingly complex governmental machine. It is no coincidence that the post of “vizier”— a single individual, directly responsible to the king for the workings of the entire national administration—is first attested in inscriptions from the Step Pyramid complex. While the tripartite title of the vizier, tAjtj zAb TAtj, echoes an earlier model of officialdom that combined courtly, civil, and religious duties, the creation of the post itself reflects the new challenges faced by the Egyptian government at the dawn of the pyramid age. The emergence in the 3rd Dynasty of a fully diversified and professionalized national administration with a hierarchical structure is demonstrated in the autobiographical inscription of Metjen, who took full advantage of the opportunities afforded to ambitious and talented men . His career progression exemplifies the changes wrought in Egyptian society as a whole during the 2nd-3rd dynasties. [Source: Toby Wilkinson, Cambridge University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2014, escholarship.org <>]

“Alongside changes to the composition and structure of the administration, measures to improve the country’s economic productivity can also be linked to the state’s focus on royal building projects with their vast resource requirements. From tentative beginnings in the 1st Dynasty, provincial government via the nome system was fully realized during the 2nd- 3rd dynasties, and district administrators such as Sepa and Ankh enjoyed commensurately high status at court. By the beginning of the 4th Dynasty, state interference in local affairs extended to the forced resettlement of entire communities as royal estates were established and reorganized . To give the state better information for the purposes of taxation and economic control, a regular census of Egypt’s agricultural and mineral wealth was introduced in the early 2nd Dynasty, to judge from the royal annals preserved on the Palermo Stone. Decisive steps were also taken, at home and abroad, to increase government revenue. Mining expeditions to exploit Egypt’s mineral resources became a regular occurrence, yielding copper from Wadi Dara, el-Urf/Mongul South, and Gebel Zeit in the eastern desert, and turquoise from Wadi Maghara in Sinai . At the latter site, three 3rd-Dynasty kings— Netjerykhet, Sekhemkhet, and Sanakht—left commemorative inscriptions, emphasizing the royal/state character of the expeditions. <>

“Beyond Egypt’s borders, an intensification of long-distance trade swelled the state’s coffers still further. At the end of the 2nd Dynasty, the Egyptian government seems to have formally chosen Byblos, on the Lebanese coast, as the center of its trading activity—attracted, no doubt, by the port’s long history as an entrepôt for high-value commodities, and by the abundant supplies of good-quality timber in the vicinity. Access to these forests of coniferous wood permitted an upsurge in ship-building, which, in turn, facilitated a sharp increase in the volume of trade between Egypt and the Near East. The results of this commerce— notably the import of tin from Anatolia—can be seen in the tomb equipment of Khasekhemwy, which included the earliest bronze vessels yet discovered in Egypt. <>

“If Egypt’s engagement with the Near East in subsequent eras can be used as a guide to earlier periods, it is probable that the rise in economic interaction between Egypt and the Levant in the 2nd-3rd dynasties was accompanied by an increase in the number of foreigners settling in the Nile Valley. Because of the demands of Egyptian artistic and cultural decorum, such immigrants are difficult to identify in the textual or archaeological records, but a few examples from the early 4th Dynasty may indicate a more widespread phenomenon. From the beginning of the 2nd Dynasty, as far as we can judge, there also seems to have been a diminution in the official xenophobia directed against Setjet (the Near East), and the two trends may be connected. A final manifestation of Egypt’s increased economic activity, and its relentless search for mineral resources and trading opportunities, may have been a greater interest in its southern neighbor, Nubia. Evidence from the earliest levels at Buhen, near the second Nile cataract, suggests a permanent Egyptian presence as early as the 2nd Dynasty. <>

“The availability of a richer array of raw materials combined with the rise of royal workshops led to advances in craftsmanship and technology, as attested by surviving artifacts from the 2nd-3rd dynasties. Sculptors achieved greater levels of refinement and sophistication, as shown in the terracotta lion and the large-scale statues of Khasekhem from Hierakonpolis, the statues of princess Redjief and other 3rd-Dynasty worthies, and the beautiful carved wooden panels of Hesira (Metropolitan Museum of Art 1999: Catalogue nos. 11-17). A greater confidence in the handling and dressing of stone was both a prerequisite for, and the result of, the realization of the Step Pyramid complex. Advances in metallurgy, with the advent of bronze technology, have already been noted. Beyond these few inscribed or royal objects, however, our knowledge of material culture in the 2nd-3rd dynasties is severely limited by the paucity of securely dated material from controlled excavations. There is, thus, immense potential for the study of unpublished data, the re-excavation of known sites, and new fieldwork to add to our understanding of this crucial, formative period.” <> <>

Old Kingdom Government (ca. 2649–2150 B.C.)

The Old Kingdom period (2649-2150 B.C.) of Ancient Egypt is when the great pyramids and the Great Sphinx were built. Great achievements and advances were made in a number of fields: administration, astronomy, architecture, painting, sculpture, mass transportation, distribution of food, and sanitation. In many cases Old Kingdom traditions were continued with few alterations by the dynasties that followed. Perhaps one million to a million and a half people lived in Old Kingdom Egypt.

Before the Old Kingdom was established, ancient Egypt consisted of small regional chiefdoms with separate gods, rulers and governments. The main Old Kingdom dynasties were: the Third Dynasty of the Old Kingdom. (2649-2575 B.C.); the Forth Dynasty of Old Kingdom (2575-2465 B.C.); and the Fifth Dynasty of Old Kingdom (2465-2323 B.C.). The greatest achievements in the Old Kingdom took place during the Forth, Fifth and Sixth dynasties. After the Sixth dynasty the central state began to collapse and the First Intermediate Period transpired. Some scholars used to consider the First Intermediate Period as part of the Old Kingdom Period.

The Old Kingdom pharaohs periodically moved to new places, perhaps so they could have enough room to construct monuments greater than their predecessors. The capital of the Old Kingdom (2686-2181 B.C.) was in Memphis near present-day Cairo. The first pyramids where built around Saqqara, beginning with the Step Pyramid, built in 2630 B.C. Two generations later the first pyramids were built in Giza.

The Old Kingdom formed a central state with a national bureaucracy that supervised construction of canals, monuments and pyramids. An administration system was established to govern a large area that included parts of Nubia. Exactly how the Old Kingdom pharaohs forged a powerful state and unified people through a shared national consciousness---that was strong enough to mobilize the labor and administration necessary to build the pyramids and produce great works of art---is not known.

Pyramids of Giza

Fragmentation and Decentralization of the Old Kingdom

The Old Kingdom collapsed during a time of political fragmentation, civil disorder, environmental disaster and famine. The climate of Northeast Africa becoming dryer, the flow of the Nile decreased and death rate increased. For a time petty warlords ruled the provinces. Then some unity occurred a ruling family led by a ruler named Khety emerged from the city of Herakleopolis and briefly controlled the whole country. Soon after Egypt was divided with the North, ruled from Herakleopolis and the South ruled from Thebes. The Theban dynasty was relatively stable while the Herakleopolis Dynasty was characterized by a rapid succession of kings. The North and South fought off and on through the period, with the conflict finally being resolved in the 11th dynasty. [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com]

Renate Mueller-Wollermann of the University of Tuebingen wrote: “The administration of the latter half of the 6th Dynasty is characterized by increasing decentralization. More and more posts were taken over by officials in the provinces and made de facto inheritable. Especially noteworthy is the number of provincial viziers, although some of these viziers may be titular. Many, but not all, nomes were governed by a nome administrator, who was often also the overseer of the priests of the main temple of the nome. These officials were responsible for recruiting manpower— especially soldiers, as a standing army did not exist. The training and recruiting of troops, Nubian mercenaries included, was increased, and forts were erected, in Balat, for example, or on the Sinai coast. [Source: Renate, Mueller-Wollermann, University of Tuebingen, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2014, escholarship.org <>]

“Prior to the reign of Pepy II most of the holders of the office of Overseer of Upper Egypt—responsible for the collection of taxes—were buried at the royal residence, only a few being buried in the provinces. Upon Pepy II’s reign, however, the situation was reversed. The nomes in the Delta, however, seem to have been administered from the royal residence. The number of royal domains increased in the 6th Dynasty, but not in those regions with major temples, such as el-Hawawish, Elkab, or Coptos. This indicates that royal domains and temples took over the same task—that is, to supply the royal residence with provisions. <>

“The increasing number of decorated tombs in the provinces produced a variety of texts and figures. Provincial tomb biographies show greater innovation and more frequent use of unconventional motifs than those in the royal residence. The quality of decoration in provincial tombs, however, declined and the scenes became increasingly less elaborate, due to, among other possible factors, the smaller size of many of the tombs. The decoration of tombs in the southern provinces in particular, where contact with skilled craftsmen from the royal residence was limited, shows a return to simplicity. In general, tomb decoration, including statues, exhibits a new, “second style” that became manifest in the representation of exceptionally long bodies, narrow waists, and wide eyes. Some scholars, however, have claimed that the canon of proportions did not change.” <>

Professor Fekri Hassan wrote for the BBC: ““Contrary to what some Egyptologists claim, the stability of the long reign of Pepy II was most likely due to the decentralization of the government. This is one of the most successful strategies in managing complex organizations. The ambitions of local governors in such a system are primarily curtailed by the economic and defence rewards of being a vassal. In addition, there is the strong likelihood of failure in staging an uprising because the king can count on many more loyalists. Only when the monarchy is undermined by some unforeseen cause, would charismatic and ambitious provincial governors seek to become kings. In this situation, they stand to gain from restoring the monarchy in their name, thus counting on the support of others who, in the absence of a powerful king, would rally behind them. [Source: Professor Fekri Hassan, BBC, February 17, 2011]

Administration and Government in the Late Middle Kingdom (18th-17th Centuries B.C.)

Middle Kingdom leader Senusret I

Wolfram Grajetzki of University College London wrote: “The early Middle Kingdom was one of the most decentralized periods of Egyptian history, with many flourishing local centers. In the late Middle Kingdom, these local centers still existed, but the big governors’ tombs and the well-equipped burials of the officials working for them have disappeared. In the late Middle Kingdom, the focus of the royal activities within the country was the Memphite-Fayum region, where all of the royal pyramids were built. Abydos was an important religious center. Especially in the 13th Dynasty, Thebes became the second royal residence of the country. Furthermore, an important population center developed at Avaris (modern Tell el-Dabaa) at the edge of the eastern Delta, where many people coming from the Near East settled. [Source: Wolfram Grajetzki, University College London, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org <>]

“The typical titles of Middle Kingdom local governors are still well attested in the late Middle Kingdom, signifying that the general administrative structures continued and it is unclear what really changed. However, under Senusret III the last bigger tombs for local governors were built, but they are no longer securely attested under Amenemhat III. In the administration new titles appeared, while the long strings of titles for high officials common in almost all other periods of ancient Egyptian history are often just reduced to one title, the function title. Only highest state officials could bear additional ranking titles announcing their social position at the royal court. Titles became more precise: while the title “steward” was common in the other periods, now it often had an extension, such as “steward who counts the ships” or “steward who counts the cattle”. The largest number of scarab seals with name and titles of officials can be dated to the late Middle Kingdom, especially to the 13th Dynasty. Seal impressions of scarabs appear from that time on in great quantities at settlement sites. This seems to reflect a demand for tighter control of commodities. <>

“From the late Middle Kingdom, a significant number of administrative documents survive, providing valuable insights into parts of the administration. The large number of papyri found at el-Lahun (the pyramid town of Senusret II) also includes religious, mathematical, medical, and literary papyri. From administrative documents, but also from contemporary monuments, it becomes clear that having double names was common in this period. This may be seen in relation to the general trend of this period toward greater control, already visible in the more precise titles and the larger number of sealings used in administration.” <>

New Kingdom (1550-1070 B.C.) and Its Strong Rulers

Catharine H. Roehrig of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Late in the Second Intermediate Period (ca. 1640–1550 B.C.), the Theban rulers (Dynasty 17) began to drive the Hyksos kings (Dynasty 15) from the Delta. This was finally accomplished by Ahmose I, who reunited Egypt, ushering in the New Kingdom—the third great era of Egyptian culture. Ahmose's successors in Dynasty 18 conducted military campaigns that extended Egypt's influence in the Near East and established Egyptian control of Nubia to the fourth cataract. As a result, the New Kingdom pharaohs commanded unimaginable wealth, much of which they lavished on their gods, especially Amun-Re of Thebes, whose cult temple at Karnak was augmented by succeeding generations of rulers and filled with votive statues commissioned by kings and courtiers alike. [Source: Catharine H. Roehrig, Department of Egyptian Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2000, metmuseum.org ]

The New Kingdom reached its peak under strong pharaohs that led Egypt into war and helped bring a renaissance in art and architecture that had declined in the second intermediate period. Mark Millmore wrote in discoveringegypt.com: during the 18th Dynasty “a succession of extraordinarily able kings and queens laid the foundations of a strong Egypt and bequeathed a prosperous economy to the kings of the nineteenth dynasty. Ahmose expelled the Hyksos, Thutmose I’s conquered the Near East and Nubia; Queen Hatshepsut and Tuthmose III, who made Egypt into the first super power; the magnificent Amenhotep III, who began an artistic revolution; Akhenaton and Nefertiti, who began a religious revolution by adopting the concept of one god; and finally, Tutankhamen, who has become so famous in our modern age.” [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com]

Thutmose III, the Greatest Leader of Egypt

Thutmose III sphinx

Around 1480 B.C., after the sudden death of Harshepsut, Thutmose III became the leader of Egypt. Soon after he became pharaoh, he began defacing of Hatshepsut’s monuments and replaced her name with Thutmose I, II, or III, in an effort to erase his stepmother’s name from history. Ironically, Thutmose III inherited an economically strong Egypt from Hatshepsut, that provided the foundation for his accomplishments and the greatness of the New Kingdom achieved. With his military training and a strong, stable Egypt to stand on, Thutmose III conquered foreign lands and brought such great wealth to Egypt that he, arguably, made making it the world’s first super power.

Mark Millmore wrote in discoveringegypt.com: His impact upon Egyptian culture was profound. He was a national hero, revered long after his time. Indeed, his name was held in awe even to the last days of ancient Egyptian history. His military achievements brought fabulous wealth and his family resided over a golden age that was never surpassed. [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com ^^^]

Thutmose III established a military priesthood that controlled the empire. At the center of the system was the god Amun of Thebes and the powerful priests at his temple. “He was also a cultured man who demonstrated a curiosity about the lands he conquered; many of his building works at Karnak are covered with carvings of the plants and flowers he saw on his campaigns. He also set up a number of obelisks in Egypt.” Among them are ones that now stand in London, New York, Rome and Istanbul. ^^^

Joyce Tyldesley of the University of Manchester wrote for the BBC: “Thutmose took his throne in unsettled times. His eastern vassals, for so long quiet, were starting to challenge Egypt's dominance. A series of glorious campaigns, including the dramatic capture of Megiddo (Biblical Armageddon), saw Egypt restored to her position of power. Egypt now controlled an empire which stretched from beyond the third cataract in Nubian to the banks of the River Euphrates in Syria. The rewards of empire-plunder, tribute, taxes and gifts from those eager to be friends-made Thutmose the richest man in the world. [Source: Dr Joyce Tyldesley, University of Manchester, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“Using his hard-won wealth, Thutmose attempted to out-build Hatshepsut. Once again the Nile Valley echoed to the sound of hammer and chisel. But now there was destruction alongside the construction. The royal masons had been charged with the task of removing all traces of the female pharaoh. By the time of his death, some thirty-three years after his solo accession, Thutmose was confident that Hatshepsut's unorthodox reign would soon be forgotten. |::|

Rekhmire the Vizier

Rekhmire and Mother receving offerings

Greg Dawson of Minnesota State University, Mankato wrote: “Rekhmire the Vizier, under Thutmose III and Amenhotep II, was the son of a priest of Amon, Nefer Weben, and nephew of the Vizier Woser. He became the most powerful commoner in the country during Thutmose reign. His Theban tomb contains some information about his life and shows him and his wife, Meryt, festively enjoying the afterlife. He oversaw the building of the great entrance portal at the temple in Thebes watching to make sure that the blocks used were of the right quality. Also, under his supervision was the creation of giant statues, sphinxes, furniture and implements, and vessels and precious objects. [Source: Greg Dawson, Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com \+\]

“Rekhmire was responsible for operation of foreign embassies, operation of law courts, collection of taxes, activities of the craftsmen of the Temple of Amun at Thebes and finally funerary banquet and musical accompaniment. Above all, it was his job to collect all tribute which came to the kingdom from the outside or surrounding areas such as tribute from the King’s of Babylon, Assyria and the Hittites.The tomb also holds decrees given by the king concerning Rekhmire's role as Vizier, these decrees make the tomb of this high ranking commoner give people today a reference concerning the political, legal and social aspects of the New Kingdom of Egypt and also the empire.” \+\

End of the New Kingdom

The Twentieth Dynasty marked the end of the New Kingdom. It began with Setnakht who ruled for only a few years but restored order after a period of chaos. His son Ramses III gave Egypt a final moment of glory before Egypt fell into a period of decline from which it would never recover. Ramses III was by followed a succession of kings named Ramses, perhaps “a vain attempt to recapture past glories.”

Pierre Grandet, a French Egyptologist, wrote: “The origins of the 20th Dynasty remain obscure, their only indications being provided by the Elephantine Stela. After several years of political and social unrest, Sethnakhte seized power as first king of the 20th Dynasty. He was succeeded by his son Ramesses III, who is considered to be the last great king of the New Kingdom. His reign is marked by a long list of achievements, including an impressive building program, military successes, and a number of expeditions. [Source: Pierre Grandet, 2014, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ]

Ramses III was the last great pharaoh, Ramses V died of small pox in 1151 B.C. Pockmarks are clearly visible on his unwrapped mummy. After the chaotic reign of Ramses XI (1115-1086 B.C. ) the long-unified Egyptian state broke apart. The burials at the Valley of the Kings ended abruptly following his death. After the death of Ramesses XI, the throne passed to Smendes, a northern relative of the High Priest of Amun. Smendes' reign (ca. 1070–1044 B.C.) initiated the Third Intermediate Period — a 350 year span, according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art” of “politically divided rule and diffused power.”

After Ramses III’s death Egypt began having economic problems and missed the boat with Iron Age — which began around 1200 B.C. and among other things made stronger and more powerful weapons possible — because it lacked sources of iron. Under a succession of weak leaders, Egypt fragmented and weakened. There were disputes between officials and governors and friction between the north and south. The priestly caste became so powerful it was able to take control of the government. But this occurred at a time when strong military was needed to fend off threats from Assyrians and Persians. Later Greeks and Romans would lay claim to the region. ^^^

Egypt Reduced to Greek-Influenced Province or Rome


Dr Aidan Dodson wrote : Egypt was seized by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C., but regained independence at the break-up of his empire in 310 B.C. However, the new ruler, Ptolemy I, was a Macedonian Greek, and the ruling class of the state was now foreign, running the country as part of the Ptolemaic kings' wider Mediterranean agendas. The ancient religion and culture were supported and new temples built, but the dominant culture was now increasingly European, with Greek becoming the language of state. [Source: Dr Aidan Dodson, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“The increasingly bloody internal struggles of the ruling house brought Egypt within the orbit of the still-growing Roman Empire, culminating in the defeat of the last of Ptolemy's ruling descendants, Cleopatra VII, and her Roman lover Mark Antony in 30 B.C., resulting in the country's absorption into the empire that same year. Egypt now became a mere province, with its primary goal to provide grain for the rest of the empire. |::|

“While the Ptolemies' support for traditional culture was maintained through a programme of temple-building, in which the Roman emperors were depicted as pharaohs, the infiltration of foreign philosophical and religious ideas continued apace. In particular, Christianity took early root in Egypt, doubtless aided by its many similarities to the popular cult of Osiris and Isis, which also featured an unjustly killed divine figure who was resurrected to provide humans with a guarantee of eternal life. |::|

“The association of the ancient hieroglyphic writing system with the old religion, together with the wide currency of the Greek language in Roman Egypt, led to the Christians beginning to write the native Egyptian language in an augmented version of the Greek alphabet. The old art style was also tainted with paganism, and so was also replaced by a style derived from outside, thus further eating away at key parts of the ancient Egyptian civilisation.” |::|

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Tour Egypt, Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com; Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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