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History of Ancient Egypt

The name Egypt is derived from Greek word Acgyptus, which was taken from the ancient Egyptian term Hik up tuh (House of Spirit).


Egypt, one of the main civilisations of the ancient world, has a history that goes back more than 6000 years. Starting with the Pharaohs who were able to create a civilisation based on the banks of the Nile, they were succeeded by foreign conquerors, mainly Persian, Greek, Roman and Byzantine.

Egyptian’s strong identity extends back to the 4th millennium BC when the Ancient Egyptian civilization was established. Conquered by the Arabs during 7th century, Egypt was part of the Ottoman Empire from 1517 to 1798 and was held by the British from 1882 to 1922. It then became the independent Monarchy.

In the 10th millennium BC, a culture of hunter-gatherers and fishers replaced a grain-grinding culture. Climate changes and/or overgrazing around 8000 BC began to desiccate the pastoral lands of Egypt, forming the Sahara. Early tribal peoples migrated to the Nile River where they developed a settled agricultural economy and more centralized society.

By about 6000 BC, organized agriculture and large building construction had appeared in the Nile Valley. During the Neolithic era, several predynastic cultures developed independently in Upper and Lower Egypt. The Badarian culture and the successor Naqada series are generally regarded as precursors to Dynastic Egyptian civilization.

Egypt was the first united under king Normer (MENES) at the beginning of the Early Dynastic period (the first and second dynasties C. 3100- 2686 BC) during which a powerful kingship and centralized bureaucracy developed.

The first two ruling dynasties of a unified Egypt set the stage for the Old Kingdom period, c.2700−2200 BC., famous for its many pyramids, most notably the Third Dynasty pyramid of Djoser and the Fourth Dynasty Giza Pyramids.

The Great Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza, built during the Old Kingdom, are modern national icons that are at the heart of Egypt's thriving tourism industry.

A New Kingdom (c.1550−1070 BC) began with the Eighteenth Dynasty, marking the rise of Egypt as an international power that expanded during its greatest extension to an empire as far south as Jebel Barkal in Nubia, and included parts of the Levant in the east.

Frequent contacts with other nations brought new ideas to the New Kingdom. The country was later invaded by Libyans, Nubians and Assyrians, but native Egyptians drove them out and regained control of their country.

First built in the third or fourth century AD, the Hanging Church is Cairo's most famous Coptic church. The Thirtieth Dynasty was the last native ruling dynasty during the Pharaonic epoch. It fell to the Persians in 343 BC after the last native Pharaoh, King Nectanebo II, was defeated in battle. Later, Egypt fell to the Greeks and Romans, beginning over two thousand years of foreign rule.

Then Egypt became part of the Byzantine realm early in the AD first century. Diocletian's reign marked the transition from the Roman to the Byzantine era in Egypt.

The Byzantines were able to regain control of the country after a brief Persian invasion early in the seventh century, until in AD 639, Egypt was invaded by the Muslim Arabs.

The form of Islam the Arabs brought to Egypt was Sunni. Muslim rulers nominated by the Islamic Caliphate remained in control of Egypt for the next six centuries, including a period for which it was the seat of the Caliphate under the Fatimids.

With the end of the Ayyubid dynasty, the Mamluks, a Turco-Circassian military caste, took control about AD 1250. They continued to govern even after the conquest of Egypt by the Ottoman Turks in 1517.

The brief French Invasion of Egypt led by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798 had a great social impact on the country and its culture. Native Egyptians became exposed to the principles of the French Revolution and had a chance to exercise self-governance. A series of civil wars took place between the Ottoman Turks, the Mamluks, and Albanian mercenaries following the evacuation of French troops.

The Albanian Muhammad Ali (Kavalali Mehmed Ali Pasha) took control of Egypt. He was appointed as the Ottoman viceroy in 1805. He led a modernization campaign of public works, including irrigation projects, agricultural reforms and increased industrialization, which were then taken up and further expanded by his grandson and successor Isma'il Pasha.

Following the completion of the Suez Canal by Khedive Ismail in 1869, Egypt became important world transportation and trading hub. However, the country fell heavily into debt to European powers. As a result, the United Kingdom seized control of Egypt's government in 1882 to protect its financial interests, especially those in the Suez Canal.

With the defeat of the Egyptian army at the Battle of Tel el-Kebir, British troops reached Cairo, eliminated the nationalist government and disbanded the Egyptian military. Egypt remained an Ottoman province until 1914, when Britain formally declared it as a colony and deposed Egypt's last khedive, Abbas II.

After the First World War, Saad Zaghlul and the Wafd Party led the Egyptian nationalist movement. When the British exiled Zaghlul and his associates to Malta on March 8, 1919, the country arose in its first modern revolution. Constant revolting by the Egyptian people throughout the country led Great Britain to issue a unilateral declaration of Egypt's independence on February 22, 1922.

Last Updated on Friday 13th November 2009