The history of Egypt
The history of Egypt commences with Menes, the founder of the monarchy, and it terminates with the Emperor Theodosius, who abolished by a decree the ancient religion of the land (A.d.381).
During this long period Egypt was not always mistress of her destinies. She had been conquered by the Shepherds, a horde of barbarians from Asia ; by the Ethiopians, by the Greeks, and by the Romans, to say nothing of partial incursions of Libyan and Arabian tribes. But all these conquerors, not even excepting the Shepherds, adopted while in Egypt the religion, the arts, language, and customs of the conquered people ; and their names figure in the official register of the kings of the country. To establish some order in the endless list of kings who reigned from the time of Menes to that of Theodosius, one generally divides them, after Manetho’s method, into royal families, or Dynasties^ and these dynasties are in their turn distinguished from each other either by the name of the foreign nation which furnished the kings, or by the name of the city which served as capital in the time of such dynasty. Thus there is the Greek dynasty, the Memphite, the Theban, etc. From Menes to Theodosius there are as many as thirty-four different dynasties. Another and a wider division has been made.
Taking into consideration certain important events and certain modifications introduced into the general economy of the kingdom, the entire history of Egypt has been divided into four main stems :
1. The first comprises the first ten dynasties, and is called the Ancient Empire. The Ancient Empire belongs to a period so prodigiously remote that it is literally lost in the obscurity of ages. Its existence actually ceases before Abraham is born. The Ancient Empire spreads entirely over the fourth, the fifth,, and part of the sixth dynasties. Before and after that, all is confusion, or rather darkness. This is the age of the Pyramids. It is a remarkable fact that the art of tliie statuary and of tlie sculptor reached a degree of perfection under the Ancient Empire which it was never again to attain.
2. The second extends over those centuries that elapsed between the eleventh dynasty and the eighteenth. This is the Middle Empire. The Middle Empire has already been some time in existence when Abraham appears. Joseph is governor under the last king of the Middle Empire. Of the whole of this period, however, the twelfth dynasty and the Shepherd kings alone need be remembered. The twelfth dynasty is made famous by the tombs of Beni-Hassan. As to the Shepherds, or Hyksos, they give their name to the most lamentable period in Egyptian history, a period of 511 years, during which the national homogeneity is utterly broken, and Asiatic invaders lord it over the most flourishing provinces in the kingdom.
3. The third stem is that which is called the New Empire. It commences with the eighteenth dynasty and terminates with Alexander. The most brilliant epoch of the New Empire, that of which the most frequent and glorious traces are met with during a voyage on the Nile, corresponds to the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth dynasties. It is the age of the Thothmes’, the Amenophises, and the Rameses’. It is also the time of Moses (nineteenth dynasty). But this brilliancy was not to last, and when Shishak (twenty-second dynasty) took Jerusalem, the decline of Egypt had already begun.
4. The fourth stem, to which the general name of Lower Period is given, includes the Greek dynasty- founded by Alexander and that of the Roman emperors, who were kings of Egypt by the same right as Cambyses and Darius.
The history of this epoch, entirely taken up as it is with a fruitless competition for the throne, possesses but a feeble interest. The traveller in Upper Egypt, however, should not pass it by because the temples of Philse, of Edfou, of Ombos, of Denderah, and of Esneh, that is to say, the most complete monuments which we possess of Egyptian worship, belong to the Lower Period. A primary division of the kings of Egypt into Dynasties, according to the type furnished by Manetho, and a further division of the dynasties into Ancient Empire^ Middle Empire^ New Empire^ and Lower Period^ such, then, is the starting-point of all study of Egyptian history, and consequently the starting-point of the classification of all the temples the tourist will meet with in his journey on the Nile.
It is evident that a history of Egypt would here be well placed, and would be the very best preparation for the voyage. But we could not possibly, without exceeding our limits, place under the eyes of the reader, were it ever so briefly, an account of those events which procured for Egypt so wide an influence over the destinies of the ancient world. A few years since we prepared for the use of the Egyptian schools a small ” Aper§u de
THistoire d’Egypte.” Those who do not care to go very deeply into the subject, or who would be satisfied with general views, may make themselves acquainted with its pages. If more details be desired, penned by a competent hand, let the History of M. Brugsch be consulted.
Such persons as may not care to go deeply into the study of Egyptology may be content to read the Second Book of Herodotus, the First Book of Diodorus, the Seventeenth Book of Strabo, and the Treatise de hide et Osiride, attributed to Plutarch.
Had we nothing but the writings of Herodotus and of Diodorus to guide us in the study of Ancient Egypt, we could certainly form but a very imperfect idea of that country. Every notion of chronology is there completely upset. They contain stories as ridiculous as they are impossible. One must read the histories of Egypt written before the discovery of Cham pollion to see into what fatal errors these two writers would involve science, were no other sources of information at hand. Strabo is more trustworthy. His Geography contains excellent information, with no other fault than that of being rather curtailed.
Whoever may have been the author of the Treatise on Isis and Osiris, no one can enter upon the study of the Egyptian religion without an intimate acquaintance with this book. The author has borrowed with discernment from true Egyptian sources. In this world of ours, good is incessantly struggling with evil, truth with falsehood, light with darkness, life with death. Osiris is one of the personifications of the eternal antagonism of these two opposing principles. At one moment overthrown by Typhon, the genius of evil, Osiris dies; he revives only to fall again. Out of this antagonism and the numerous explanations and illustrations drawn from the myth the pseudo Plutarch has woven the thread of his admirable Treatise
Egypt has the longest continuous history as a unified nation of any nation in the world. Individual tribes lived in Egypt thousands of years ago, settling on the banks of the fertile Nile River. Distinct civilizations developed in Upper and Lower Egypt long before the nation was unified.
Around 3150 B.C., Menes united the kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt and became the new nation’s first king. This ushered in the period known as the Old Kingdom, which lasted from 2686 to 2134 B.C. The Old Kingdom is also known as the Age of the Pyramids, since many of Egypt’s huge pyramids, including the Great Pyramid of Giza, were constructed under Old Kingdom pharaohs. During the Old Kingdom period, formerly independent Egyptian states were ruled solely by the pharaoh. Former rulers were forced to be governors subject to the pharaoh or to work in tax collection. During this era, Egyptians worshiped their pharaoh as a god, believing that he ensured the annual flooding of the Nile that was absolutely necessary for their crops. Toward the end of the Old Kingdom, the central government weakened and civil wars. The final blow for the Old Kingdom era came in the form of a drought; the resulting drop in precipitation prevented annual flooding of the Nile. The Old Kingdom collapsed amid famine and conflict.
The following era, known as the First Intermediate Period, lasted for around 200 years. Pharaohs during these 200 years were weak and controlled only parts of Egypt. There are no official records from this period, so it is impossible to know exactly what occurred; however, it is likely that the pyramid-tombs were robbed and pillaged during this era. Towards the end of the First Intermediate Period, two independent dynasties gained power; the Heracleopolitan pharaohs consolidated Lower Egypt from their capital at Herakleopolis Magna, while a rival dynasty based in Thebes reunited Upper Egypt. The two dynasties clashed, and around 2055 B.C. the Theban army defeated the Heracleopolitan pharaohs, reuniting the Upper and Lower kingdoms. The reign
of their first pharaoh, Mentuhotep II, marks the beginning of the Middle Kingdom.
The first dynasty of the Middle Kingdom (2030 to 1640 B.C.) traced its origin to the ruler of Thebes, who consolidated power; eventually, his descendants became pharaohs. During the Middle Kingdom, pharaohs concentrated on centralizing and strengthening the government as well as recapturing territories lost during the First Intermediate Period. Many pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom led armies into Nubia, a valuable territory along the Nile River south of Egypt, in what is now Sudan. There are also records of campaigns against Palestine, and the pharaoh Senusret I subdued the Libyans, to the east of Egypt. The pharaoh Amenemhat III, who reigned from 1860 to 1815 B.C., is considered the last great pharaoh of the Middle Kingdom. During his rule, Egypt’s population began to outgrow its food production capacity. Amenemhat III also invited Asiatic settlers into Egypt as manual laborers for Egypt’s monuments. Toward the end of his reign, annual floods along the Nile failed again, further straining Egypt’s economy. The Middle Kingdom fell into a slow decline after the death of Amenemhat III.
During the years following the decline of the Middle Kingdom, known as the Second Intermediate Period, Egypt once again fell into disarray. Egyptian pharaohs were weak, and large numbers of migrants from Asia began moving into Egypt. These Asiatic settlers were known as Hyksos, and they eventually gained control of the Nile delta and most of Middle Egypt. Their control never extended as far south as Upper Egypt, however, and Theban pharaohs continued to rule in Upper Egypt. Around the time that the Hyksos rulers captured the city of Memphis, the Theban dynasty declared its independence and began to gain power. Eventually, the Theban dynasty of pharaohs waged war on the Hyksos, pushing them out of the Nile delta and reasserted Theban control over the entire country. Ahmose I completed the expulsion of the Hyksos and reasserted Egyptian control over the territories of Nubia and Canaan. His reign marked the beginning of the New Kingdom.
The New Kingdom era lasted from 1570 to 1070 to B.C., and marked Egypt’s most prosperous and powerful time. It was during the New Kingdom that Egypt attained its greatest territorial extent; it expanded far south into Nubia and controlled many Near East territories, even fighting Hittite armies for control of what is now Syria. Many of the pharaohs that have gained the most historical renown reigned during the New Kingdom, including Hatshepsut, Tutankhamen, Thutmose III, Amenhotep III, Ramses, and Akhenaton. The pharaoh Akhenaton introduced
one of history’s first monotheistic religions when he promoted the sun disk Aten as the only god to worship. After his death, Egypt returned to its traditional polytheistic religion and destroyed art and temples built during Akhenaton’s reign. The last great pharaoh of the New Kingdom was Ramses III, who most likely ruled from 1186 to 1155 B.C. The “Sea People,” sea raiders from the Mediterranean, invaded Egypt during his reign; Ramses III defeated them in two great land and sea battles. He also had to fight invading Libyan tribesmen in the western Nile delta on two separate occasions. The heavy cost of these battles slowly depleted Egypt’s treasury; the New Kingdom began to decline. Its decline was further accelerated by large-scale crop failures along the Nile caused by the extended eruption of the Hekla III volcano in Iceland. The volcanic eruptions threw massive amounts of soot and rock into the atmosphere, preventing sunlight from reaching the ground and arresting tree growth. After the death of Ramses III, his heirs quarreled over the throne. During this time, Egypt was plagued by a series of droughts, below-normal levels of flooding along the Nile, famine, and civil unrest. The last pharaoh, Ramses XI, was so weak that the high priests of Amun at Thebes took over Upper Egypt, while Smendes took control of Lower Egypt even before the death of Ramses XI, ushering in the Third Intermediate Period.
The Third Intermediate Period (1070 to 664 B.C.) was another time of political unrest; during this period the country split into two separate kingdoms and was reunified several times. The Nubians took advantage of the instability and invaded Egypt; they established a Nubian dynasty of pharaohs. Assyria was rising as an international power in the Middle East, overrunning many of Egypt’s allies. The Third Intermediate Period was marked by numerous skirmishes with Assyrian armies, until the Assyrians finally succeeded in sacking Thebes in 664 B.C.
From 664 B.C., Egypt was ruled by a series of Assyrian-established kings in what is known as the Late Period. These kings brought relative stability to Egypt, and ruled the country peacefully until around 525 B.C. By the end of this period a new power was growing in the Near East. The Assyrian pharaoh Psamtik III had to face the Persians, and was defeated. He was captured and brought to the Persian capital of Susa, where he was beheaded. The Persian king Cambyses assumed the title of pharaoh.
The Persians ruled Egypt as a satrapy from 525 to 402 B.C. The Persian king Darius built a navigable waterway from the Nile to the Red Sea, which facilitated commerce. Persian kings put down several
revolts in the Egyptian satrapy; they lost control of the region from 402 to 342 B.C, when it was governed by the last native Egyptian kings. In 343 B.C., Artaxerxes III reconquered Egypt, making it a Persian satrapy once again.
In 332 B.C., Alexander the Great conquered Egypt with little resistance from the Persians. He was welcomed as a deliverer; the oracle of Amun declared him to be a son of Amun. Alexander founded a new city, Alexandria, to be the capital of Egypt and appointed Greeks to govern the country. During this period, many Greeks settled in Egypt, creating a new elite class. Large populations of Jews also moved to Egypt. The new Greek rulers called themselves the Ptolemies and claimed to be successors of the pharaohs. They adopted Egyptian customs to gain acceptance by the Egyptian population. The Ptolemies ruled Egypt for around 300 years; all male heirs took the name “Ptolemy.” The Ptolemaic kings adopted the ancient Egyptian custom of marrying their sisters, which led to confusing, incestuous family lineages and also caused the birth of increasingly feeble future Ptolemies. The famous Queen Cleopatra was the last ruling Ptolemy. She committed suicide in 31 B.C., following the suicide of her lover, Mark Antony of Rome. After her death, Egypt fell under Roman rule.
Egypt became part of the Roman Empire in 31 B.C. as the province Aegyptus. Although Romans replaced Greeks in the highest tiers of government, the Romans did not change the Ptolemaic system of government. Egypt served as a major producer of grain for the Roman Empire, and enjoyed increasing prosperity during the century following Nero’s rule. Conflicts between Greeks and Jews arose, particularly in Alexandria, which became the world center of Jewish religion and culture after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
In 33 A.D., the introduction of Christianity to the province of Aegyptus would change the region forever. The native Egyptian religion put up little resistance to the influence of Christianity, and it spread quickly throughout the country. It was persecuted vigorously by the Roman government, but it gained followers first among the Jews of Alexandria, then spread to the Greeks and finally the native Egyptians. In 312, Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which ended official persecution of Christianity, and then he made it the official religion of Rome in 324.
The new Egyptian church quickly became subject to schism and heresies. Alexandria was the source of the first great split in the Christian church, between the
Arians, after the Alexandrian priest Arius, and the Athanasians, representing orthodoxy. The First Council of Nicaea rejected Arius’ views in 326, but Arianism continued to cause riots and rebellions throughout most of the fourth century. Other notable heresies took root in Egypt, including Gnosticism and Manichaeism. Another religious tradition which flourished in Egypt was the monastic tradition of the Desert Fathers; Egyptian Christians embraced monasticism with fervor. During this period, the Coptic language was developed. Coptic is a form of ancient Egyptian written with Greek characters, invented to ensure the correct pronunciation of magical words and names in pagan texts. Christians soon adopted Coptic as a means to share Christianity with Egyptians, and it became the liturgical language of the Egyptian Church, also known today as the Coptic Church.
In 639, Muslim Arabs invaded Egypt, bringing with them the Sunni sect of Islam. Muslim rulers appointed by the Islamic Caliphate (the religious government of the Middle East) ruled Egypt for the next six centuries. It was during this time that the Egyptian form of Arabic still spoken in Egypt today developed. After the fall of the Ayyubid dynasty, a Turkish military caste took control of Egypt around 1250.
Also known as mamluks, the Turkish military caste consisted of slave soldiers who had converted to Islam and served the Muslim caliphs and Ayyubid sultans. They grew very powerful, and seized Egypt for themselves in 1250. Egypt became the Mamluk Sultanate. The Mamluks developed Cairo from a small town into one of the foremost cities in the world during the Middle Ages. After the Mongols sacked Baghdad, Cairo became the center of the Islamic world. The Mamluk dynasties were turbulent times, due to power struggles and short-lived sultans. Egypt was devastated by the Black Plague beginning in 1388, and waves of plague continued to sweep the country until 1514.
In 1517, the Ottoman Sultan Selim I defeated the Mamluks, making Egypt a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire. He chose to keep the Mamluks as the Egyptian ruling class. Egypt proved to be a difficult country for the Ottomans to control due to constant power struggles with the powerful Mamluks. The French entered Egypt in 1798 under Napoleon Bonaparte, wresting control of Egypt from the Mamluks. In 1801, the British arrived to force the French out of Egypt on behalf of the Turks, and from May through September 1801, the French were forced to evacuate Egypt. The country reverted briefly back to Ottoman control.
After a civil war between the Ottomans, Mamluks, and Albanian mercenaries from 1803 to 1807, the Albanian warlord Muhammed Ali Pasha established himself as ruler of Egypt, though still technically a vassal of the Ottoman Empire. He initiated many reforms and modernizations in Egypt, many of which proved highly unpopular. He confiscated nearly all private land in Egypt, paying landowners small, inadequate pensions instead. He also created state monopolies over the chief products of the country, set up new factories, and began digging a new canal linking Alexandria with the Nile. He made efforts to promote education and the study of medicine, and showed favor to European merchants. In 1820, Muhammed Ali gave orders to invade Libya, then Nubia. His intention was to gain control of the valuable Red Sea trade caravans. He continued to gain power, and in 1832 began a long war against his nominal superior, Sultan Mahmud of the Ottoman Empire. His forces succeeded in defeating the sultan’s armies, a development which worried the Western world. The British invaded Egypt and defeated Muhammed Ali in 1841. He was left in power; the British merely wanted to place a check on his power.
After the death of Muhammed Ali, his grandson Ismail continued his reforms, completing the Suez Canal in 1869. This made Egypt a world trading hub, but the country began to fall heavily into debt, particularly to European powers. The United Kingdom seized control of Egypt’s government in 1882. It was made a British protectorate in 1914.
In 1919, massive demonstrations became uprisings as Egyptians revolted against British control. British repression led to the deaths of around 800 Egyptians. Attempts at negotiation between British and Egyptian delegates stalemated, and at the end of 1921 Britain declared martial law in Egypt. Demonstrations and violence continued, prompting Britain to abolish the protectorate in 1922. The independent Kingdom of Egypt was established, although the British maintained a presence in Egypt.
In the period following Egypt’s partial independence, three major political forces competed for control in Egypt: the Wafd, a nationalist political group strongly opposed to the continuing British presence in Egypt; the British-appointed King Fuad; and the British themselves, who wanted to maintain control of the Suez Canal area. The Communist party and the Muslim Brotherhood also gained political influence during this period. When King Fuad died in 1936, his son Farouk inherited the throne. He immediately signed the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty, which required
Britain to immediately remove all troops from Egypt except those necessary to protect the Suez Canal.
During WWII, the British used Egypt as a base for Allied operations; anti-British sentiment in Egypt continued to grow. In 1952, military officials led by Lieutenant Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser overthrew King Farouk. Egypt was declared a single-party republic on June 18, 1953.
Nasser became a charismatic leader, not only of Egypt but also of the Arab world. He ruled as an autocrat, but was extremely popular. His foreign and military policies, however, were instrumental in provoking the Six Day War in 1967. During this conflict, Syrian, Jordanian, and Egyptian armies were routed by the Israelis, and Egypt lost control of the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip to Israel.
After Nasser’s death, his vice president, Anwar alSadat, was elected president. He initiated economic reforms and liberalized the justice system, reinstating due process and banning the use of torture. He also brought to trial a number of former Nasser officials accused of corruption. He was highly unpopular with the average Egyptian, however, and in 1981 he was assassinated by Islamic extremists. His vice president, Hosni Mubarak, was elected president in his place.
Mubarak has since been reelected for three more sixyear terms. He has been working to reduce the size of Egypt’s public economic sector and increase the role of the private sector, but has done little in the way of political reform.
Ethnic Groups The vast majority (98 percent) of Egyptians are descended from the ancient Egyptians. Nearly all live on the banks of the Nile, where the only arable land in the country is found. About half of native Egyptians are urban, living in the densely populated cities of Cairo and Alexandria; most of the rest are fellahin, or rural subsistence farmers. Native Egyptians tend to have a deep attachment to the province or town where they live. Even Egyptians who travel or study abroad are likely to return to their town or village. Native Egyptians today speak the Egyptian dialect of Arabic.
The Bedouin of Egypt are desert-dwelling nomadic herders. They live in the Sinai Peninsula and the eastern desert of Egypt. Bedouins are of Arabic descent, and respect a hierarchy of loyalties which is strongest with immediate family members and moves down through extended family, community, and the entire tribe. The Bedouins have a strong honor code
known as Sharaf, and their systems of justice revolve around honor. As Egypt modernizes, traditional Bedouin ranges have shrunk. Beginning in the 1950s and 1960s, Bedouins have begun to move to Egyptian cities and settle, due in part to government pressure to settle them.
Ethnic Berbers live in Egypt’s Siwa Oasis, an isolated community surrounding a large oasis in the Sahara. These Berbers speak a distinct language, known as Siwi, and they are mainly agriculturalists. They cultivate dates and olives, and also weave baskets.
The Nubians are an ethnic group directly descended from the ancient kingdom of Nubia. They live in settlements clustered around the Nile River in the south of Egypt, near the Syrian border. They speak dialects of the Nubian language.
There were communities of Syrians, Greeks, Jews, Armenians, and Italians during the colonial period, but many left or were forced to leave during the 1950s, after Nasser took over the government. Egypt still has small populations of these groups. The country is also home to a sizeable refugee population, most of whom are from Palestine or Sudan.