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Egypt is among one of the oldest civilizations in the world. Based in the Nile River Valley around the 5th millenium BCE, it first manifested in the Kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt, which finally unified in 3400BCE. They were best known for their awe-inspiring architecture and monuments, and being so advanced in art, science and literature, Egypt's ancient civilisation has always held an allure for foreigners, and perhaps all the more following the discovery of the remains and grave goods of the child King, Tutankhamun, whose tomb when Howard Carter found it in 1922 A.D. has enthralled the world with its opulent splendor ever since.

The Nile River was the wellspring of the Egyptian civilization and their Pharaoh was their god king on earth, charged with the responsibility and the divine power to ensure this life-giving river provided for its people. When this failed, it usually also signaled a change in the rulers for this ancient land. Indeed throughout its history, Egypt was ruled by thirty-two different dynasties, and sometimes by foreign rule. In fact from 342BCE. the Egyptian lost control of their own lands, and became a people subject to the rule of Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Ottoman Turks, French, and then the British, with de facto independence gained only after 1952CE.

Sun KingsEdit

Despite being in a desert, Egypt's Nile floodplain was one of the world's most fecund areas, fertilised by silt washed down from the Ethiopian highlands thousands of leagues further south with each autumn flood. The banks of the River Nile had produced more than its share of bountiful harvests which allowed civilisation to flourish in the desert sands. Equally, Egypt also was located at a strategic crossroads on the trade route between Europe and India, making it a key player in the maritime sea trade in the Arabian Sea. 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. At the end of the Archaic Period, Egypt was now a fully fledged civilisation, and evidence suggests that the two lands of Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt were now fully integrated, along with a single national identity. This period — called the "Old Kingdom" — was now dominated by the emergence of mass agriculture, and the appearance of a hierarchical theocracy which prided itself on monument building: the hallmarks of Egyptian civilisation as we know it. The Old Kingdom eventually collapsed sometime around 2000BCE - a momentuous event in all global history - following droughts that resulted in famine that broke the nation apart into warring states, before reviving under unified rule with the Middle Kingdom.

Stranger DangerEdit

Despite having some security owing to the harshness of the desert in the west and south, Egypt was open to attack from the east via the Sinai Peninsula - and much later, north from the sea. The first foreigners to dominate Egypt were the "Foreigners" or "Hyksos" as the Egyptians called them. During the ending days of the 13th Dynasty, Egypt was in political turmoil and her colonies to the east began to assert their independence even as the Egyptian mainland fell apart into civil war. Taking advantage of the chaos, the Hyksos marched in from the east and seized the Nile Delta region with little resistance, forming the Fifteenth or "Hyksos" dynasty with the fortress-city of Avaris as their capital.

Hyksos rule was not welcomed by the Egyptians, for the Hyksos razed many cities and were said to have inducted many women and children into slavery. But nasty as they were, the Hyksos made several valuable contributions to Egypt, chiefly the use of the chariot, the composite bow and metallic armour, which had by now been staples in the military traditions of the Near Eastern nations such as Sumer and Akkad for many generations. Even so, Hyksos rule did not last very long nor was it sufficiently pervasive, for they couldn't penetrate deep into Upper Egypt where native resistance to the newcomers continued, centred around the city of Thebes. 

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. Egyptian freedom proved short-lived, however. 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.

This time saw Greek become the official language of Egypt, 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.

Although the Ptolemaic rulers considered themselves as Pharaohs and even practised ritual incest as a means of "preventing royal blood from becoming corrupted by lesser mortals", 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.

Like their native predecessors from seven centuries before, the Ptolemids 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 Bosporus 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 Chremonidian 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 Caesar, then later became the wife of Mark Antony who was Julius Caesar's chief lieutenant. They managed to keep Egypt independent for 10 years before the next Roman Caesar; Octavian defeated the Egyptians at the battle of Actium in 31 BCE, driving Antony and Cleopatra to suicide.

From Actium onward, Egypt was effectively under Roman rule, and would remain so until 640CE. The Romans like the Greeks integrated their culture with the Egyptian. As before the Egyptians eventually adopted Latin as their language, and were granted full Roman citizenship in 212 CE. This period in Egyptian history can hardly be separated from that of the Roman Empire and like Rome, Egypt saw the gradual emergence of Christianity in 37CE with the establishment of the Coptic Church. Like Christians in the rest of the Empire they were persecuted but by the middle of the 4th century CE Egypt was largely Christian, as was the rest of the Roman Empire, but a schism between Egypt and the Byzantine successors of Rome developed after the Council of Chalcedon in 451CE, where the Coptic Church refused to accept the council's interpretation on the nature of Christ and rejected any bishops sent by Constantinople. During this time the Roman Empire also saw Egypt as little more then a place to supply it with grain and riches, investing very little back into Egypt. So when the Arabs invaded in 639CE the Egyptians offered skant resistance. Amr ibn al As, the Muslim Hero who seized Egypt from the Byzantines, then established a a new capital at Qatta'i.

Muslim RuleEdit

The Arabs gave the Egyptians three choices: convert to Islam, retain their religion in exchange for tax payments, or death. Unsurprisingly, the Egyptians took the second option. The Arabs ruled Egypt as a province and treated the Egyptians fairly well, leaving the Coptic Church to rebuild after years of persecution by the Catholic Byzantines. But eventually the Egyptians began to adopt Islam, and the Arabic language. Egypt became a center for learning this period marked a high point in the culture of both Egypt and its Arab rulers. Egypt under the Arabs also became a prominent trading nation around the Mediterranean. Political changes within the Arab Empire also saw Egypt regain autonomy if under various Arab rulers during 868 A.D. to 1168 A.D. However, Egypt was once again brought back into the fold of the Arab Empire by the Kurdish general Salah ad Din ibn Ayyub, better known as Saladin by the Europeans.

During this period Turkish tribes from central Asia began to migrate west towards the middle east, being employed by the various Arab caliphates as mercenaries who called them Mamelukes (or slaves).

They eventually reduced their Arab employers to the state of puppet governments before seizing control themselves for their powerful Generals declaring themselves proudly as Mameluke Sultans.

The Tulunids were the first independent dynasty in Islamic Egypt, ruling from 868 to 905. The Abbasids ousted them and transferred custodianship of Egypt to another group of Turkic Saracens, the Ikhshidids, who would rule for roughly three decades before being deposed by the Fatimid sultanate. Another group of Turkic-descended mamluks would arise in Egypt again, under the Bahrids in 1250. This whole process repeated itself again in 1382 when the Burji mamluks arose under their emir Barquq. 

In 1258 A.D. the Mongols invaded Egypt. The Mamelukes defeated the Mongols at the battle of Ain Jalut, becoming the only military force in history to ever accomplish such a feat.

Ottoman Rule (1518–1882CE)Edit

The Mamelukes ruled Egypt until 1518 A.D. When the Ottomans under Selim I, defeated the Mamelukes at Ar Raydaniyah. The Mameluke while no longer rulers still retained much power and influence over Egypt. Eventually regaining control of Egypt in 1760 A.D, until France under Napoleon invaded and took control of Egypt in 1799 A.D. The French did not however have much impact on Egypt in their short occupation of Egypt but awoke Europe's fascination with Egypt when Napoleon's forces rediscovered the Rosetta stone. It also brought to light Egypt's strategic importance as the junction between the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf. The conflict between France and Britain caused the British to ally with the Ottoman Empire to drive out the French, doing so in 1801 A.D.

This time Ottomans were more careful to remove the Mameluke power structure, and appointed Muhammad Ali, who has been called the "father of modern Egypt" to seized control of both Upper and Lower Egypt in 1805 A.D. He proceeded to modernize Egypt introducing industrialization on a broad scale. However he also had ambitions beyond the reunification of Egypt, in fact he wanted to achieve Egypt's independence from the Ottoman Empire under his rule. His forces were defeat by the combined forces the Ottomans and their European allies. Egypt was forced to accept an unfair trade pact, which eventually lead to Egypt's economic ruin.

Modern EgyptEdit

Britain eventually used the huge debt this created and the resistance to European interference as a pretext to occupy the country in 1882 A.D. During this time, Egypt as part of the British Empire played a key role in World War II to stem the advance of the Germans in North Africa. After the war, Lt. Colonel Gamal Abdul Nasser led a group of officers in a revolution against the British occupation in 1952 A.D. Struggling to shake the shackles of European Imperialism, Egypt set a course for itself as a non-aligned nation during the cold war period, and strengthening ties with the Arab world. In the years that followed regional conflicts continued, but Egypt has managed to steer itself through the turmoil to become a respected regional power.

ReferencesEdit

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