Wednesday, May 27, 2009
The history of Egypt is the longest continuous history, as a unified state, of any country in the world. The Nile valley forms a natural geographic and economic unit, bounded to the east and west by deserts, to the north by the sea and to the south by the Cataracts of the Nile. The need to have a single authority to manage the waters of the Nile led to the creation of the world's first state in Egypt in about 3000 BC. Egypt's peculiar geography made it a difficult country to attack, which is why Pharaonic Egypt was for so long an independent and self-contained state. The Nubians and Hyksos were among the earliest foreign rulers of Egypt, but the ancient Egyptians regained control of their country soon after their invasions. The Neo-Assyrian Empire also controlled Egypt for a while before native Egyptians regained control.
Once Egypt did succumb to foreign rule, however, it proved unable to escape from it, and for 2,400 years, Egypt was governed by a series of foreign powers: the Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, Rashidun, Umayyads, Abbasids, Ottomans, French, and British. At certain periods during these 2,400 years, Egypt was independently governed under the Ptolemies, Ikhshidids, Fatimids, Ayyubids, Mamluks and Muhammad Ali. The founders and rulers of these governments, however, were not native to Egypt.
When Gamal Abdel Nasser (President of Egypt) (1954–1970) remarked that he was the first native Egyptian to exercise sovereign power in the country since Pharaoh Nectanebo II, deposed by the Persians in 343 BC, he was exaggerating only slightly.
The History of ancient Egypt spans the period from the early predynastic settlements of the northern Nile Valley to the Roman conquest in 30 BC. The Pharaonic Period is dated from around 3150 BC, when Lower and Upper Egypt became a unified state, until the country fell under Greek rule in 332 BC.
Ancient Egyptian history is broken into several different periods according to the dynasty of the ruling pharaoh. The dating of events is still a subject of research. The conservative dates are not supported by any reliable absolute date for a span of about three millennia. The following is the list according to conventional Egyptian chronology.
Predynastic Period (Prior to 3100 BC)
Protodynastic Period (Approximately 3100 - 3000 BC)
Early Dynastic Period (1st–2nd Dynasties)
Old Kingdom (3rd–6th Dynasties)
First Intermediate Period (7th–11th Dynasties)
Middle Kingdom (12th–13th Dynasties)
Second Intermediate Period (14th–17th Dynasties)
New Kingdom (18th–20th Dynasties)
Third Intermediate Period (21st–25th Dynasties) (also known as the Libyan Period)
Late Period (26th–31st Dynasties)
The Nile has been the lifeline for Egyptian culture since nomadic hunter-gatherers began living along the Nile during the Pleistocene. Traces of these early people appear in the form of artifacts and rock carvings along the terraces of the Nile and in the oases.
Along the Nile, in the 11th millennium BC, a grain-grinding culture using the earliest type of sickle blades had been replaced by another culture of hunters, fishers, and gathering people using stone tools. Evidence also indicates human habitation and cattle herding in the southwestern corner of Egypt, near the Sudan border, before 8000 BC. Geological evidence and computer climate modeling studies suggest that natural climate changes around 8000 BC began to desiccate the extensive pastoral lands of northern Africa, eventually forming the Sahara (c.2500 BC). Early tribes in the region naturally tended to aggregate close to the Nile River where they developed a settled agricultural economy and more centralized society. There is evidence of pastoralism and cultivation of cereals in the East Sahara in the 7th millennium BC.
Continued desiccation forced the early ancestors of the Egyptians to settle around the Nile more permanently and forced them to adopt a more sedentary lifestyle. However, the period from 9,000 to 6,000 BC has left very little in the way of archaeological evidence.
Main article: Predynastic Egypt
Further information: Naqada
A Naqada II vase decorated with gazelles, on display at the Louvre.
By about 6000 BC, organized agriculture and large building construction had appeared in the Nile Valley. At this time, Egyptians in the southwestern corner of Egypt were herding cattle and also constructing large buildings. Mortar was in use by 4000 BC. The Predynastic Period continues through this time, variously held to begin with the Naqada culture.
Between 5500 and 3100 BC, during Egypt's Predynastic Period, small settlements flourished along the Nile, whose delta empties into the Mediterranean Sea. By 3300 BC, just before the first Egyptian dynasty, Egypt was divided into two kingdoms, known as Upper Egypt, Ta Shemau to the south, and Lower Egypt, Ta Mehu to the north. The dividing line was drawn roughly in the area of modern Cairo.
The Tasian culture was the next to appear in Upper Egypt. This group is named for the burials found at Der Tasa, a site on the east bank of the Nile between Asyut and Akhmim. The Tasian culture group is notable for producing the earliest blacktop-ware, a type of red and brown pottery which has been painted black on its top and interior.
The Badarian Culture, named for the Badari site near Der Tasa, followed the Tasian culture, however similarities between the two have led very many to not differentiate between them at all. The Badarian Culture continued to produce the kind of pottery called Blacktop-ware (although its quality was much improved over previous specimens), and was assigned the Sequence Dating numbers between 21 and 29. The significant difference, however, between the Tasian and Badarian culture groups which prevents scholars from completely merging the two together is that Badarian sites use copper in addition to stone, and thus are chalcolithic settlements, while the Tasian sites are still Neolithic, and are considered technically part of the Stone Age.
The Amratian Culture is named after the site of el-Amra, about 120 km south of Badari. El-Amra was the first site where this culture group was found unmingled with the later Gerzean culture group, however this period is better attested at the Naqada site, thus it is referred to also as the Naqada I culture. Black-topped ware continues to be produced, but white cross-line ware, a type of pottery which has been decorated by close parallel white lines being crossed by another set of close parallel white lines, begins to be produced during this time. The Amratian period falls between S.D. 30 and 39 in Petrie's Sequence Dating system. Trade between Upper and Lower Egypt is attested at this time, as new excavated objects attest. A stone vase from the north has been found at el-Amra, and copper, which is not present in Egypt, was apparently imported from the Sinai, or perhaps from Nubia. Obsidian and an extremely small amount of gold were both definitively imported from Nubia during this time. Trade with the oases was also likely.
The Gerzean Culture, named after the site of Gerza, was the next stage in Egyptian cultural development, and it was during this time that the foundation for Dynastic Egypt was laid. Gerzean culture is largely an unbroken development out of Amratian Culture, starting in the delta and moving south through upper Egypt, however failing to dislodge Amratian Culture in Nubia. Gerzean culture coincided with a significant drop in rainfall, and farming produced the vast majority of food. With increased food supplies, the populace adopted a greatly more sedentary lifestyle, and the larger settlements grew to cities of about 5,000 residents. It was in this time that the city dwellers started building using mud brick to build their cities. Copper instead of stone was increasingly used to make tools, and weaponry as well. Silver, gold, lapis, and faience were used ornamentally, and the grinding palettes used for eye-paint since the Badarian period began to be adorned with relief carvings.
Ancient Egyptian History
Dynasties of Ancient Egypt
v • d • e
Early dynastic period
Main article: Early Dynastic Period of Egypt
Stela of the 2nd dynasty pharaoh Raneb, displaying the hieroglyph for his name within a serekh, surmounted by Horus. On display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The historical records of ancient Egypt begin with Egypt as a unified state, which occurred sometime around 3150 BC. According to Egyptian tradition Menes, thought to have unified Upper and Lower Egypt, was the first king. This Egyptian culture, customs, art expression, architecture, and social structure was closely tied to religion, remarkably stable, and changed little over a period of nearly 3000 years.
Egyptian chronology, which involves regnal years, began around this time. The conventional Egyptian chronology is the chronology accepted during the twentieth century, but it does not include any of the major revision proposals that also have been made in that time. Even within a single work, archaeologists often will offer several possible dates or even several whole chronologies as possibilities. Consequently, there may be discrepancies between dates shown here and in articles on particular rulers or topics related to ancient Egypt. There also are several possible spellings of the names. Typically, Egyptologists divide the history of pharaonic civilization using a schedule laid out first by Manetho's Aegyptiaca (History of Egypt) that was written during the Ptolemaic era, during the third century BC.
Prior to the unification of Egypt, the land was settled with autonomous villages. With the early dynasties, and for much of Egypt's history thereafter, the country came to be known as the Two Lands. The rulers established a national administration and appointed royal governors.
According to Manetho, the first king was Menes, but archeological findings support the view that the first pharaoh to claim to have united the two lands was Narmer (the final king of the Protodynastic Period). His name is known primarily from the famous Narmer Palette, whose scenes have been interpreted as the act of uniting Upper and Lower Egypt.
Funeral practices for the elite resulted in the construction of mastaba tombs, which later became models for subsequent Old Kingdom constructions such as the Step pyramid.
Main article: Old Kingdom
Graywacke statue of the pharaoh Menkaura and his consort Queen Khamerernebty II. Originally from his Giza Valley temple, now on display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
The Old Kingdom is most commonly regarded as spanning the period of time when Egypt was ruled by the Third Dynasty through to the Sixth Dynasty (2686 BC – 2134 BC). The royal capital of Egypt during the Old Kingdom was located at Memphis, where Djoser established his court. The Old Kingdom is perhaps best known, however, for the large number of pyramids, which were constructed at this time as pharaonic burial places. For this reason, the Old Kingdom is frequently referred to as "the Age of the Pyramids." The first notable pharaoh of the Old Kingdom was Djoser (2630–2611 BC) of the Third Dynasty, who ordered the construction of a pyramid (the Step Pyramid) in Memphis' necropolis, Saqqara.
It was in this era that formerly independent ancient Egyptian states became known as nomes, ruled solely by the pharaoh. Subsequently the former rulers were forced to assume the role of governors or otherwise work in tax collection. Egyptians in this era worshiped their pharaoh as a god, believing that he ensured the annual flooding of the Nile that was necessary for their crops.
The Old Kingdom and its royal power reached their zenith under the Fourth Dynasty. Sneferu, the dynasty's founder, is believed to have commissioned at least three pyramids; while his son and successor Khufu erected the Great Pyramid of Giza, Sneferu had more stone and brick moved than any other pharaoh. Khufu (Greek Cheops), his son Khafra (Greek Chephren), and his grandson Menkaura (Greek Mycerinus), all achieved lasting fame in the construction of their pyramids. To organize and feed the manpower needed to create these pyramids required a centralized government with extensive powers, and Egyptologists believe the Old Kingdom at this time demonstrated this level of sophistication. Recent excavations near the pyramids led by Mark Lehner have uncovered a large city which seems to have housed, fed and supplied the pyramid workers. Although it was once believed that slaves built these monuments, a theory based on the biblical Exodus story, study of the tombs of the workmen, who oversaw construction on the pyramids, has shown they were built by a corvée of peasants drawn from across Egypt. They apparently worked while the annual Nile flood covered their fields, as well as a very large crew of specialists, including stone cutters, painters, mathematicians and priests.
The Fifth Dynasty began with Userkhaf (2465–2458 BC), who initiated reforms that weakened the central government. After his reign civil wars arose as the powerful nomarchs (regional governors) no longer belonged to the royal family. The worsening civil conflict undermined unity and energetic government and also caused famines. The final blow came when a severe drought in the region that resulted in a drastic drop in precipitation between 2200 and 2150 BC, which in turn prevented the normal flooding of the Nile. The result was the collapse of the Old Kingdom followed by decades of famine and strife.
First Intermediate Period
Main article: First Intermediate Period
Pottery model of a house used in a burial from the First Intermediate Period, on display at the Royal Ontario Museum.
After the fall of the Old Kingdom came a roughly 200-year stretch of time known as the First Intermediate Period, which is generally thought to include a relatively obscure set of pharaohs running from the end of the Sixth to the Tenth, and most of the Eleventh Dynasty. Most of these were likely local monarchs who did not hold much power outside of their own limited domain, and none held power over the whole of Egypt.
While there are next to no official records covering this period, there are a number of fictional texts known as Lamentations from the early period of the subsequent Middle Kingdom that may shed some light on what happened during this period. Some of these texts reflect on the breakdown of rule, others allude to invasion by "Asiatic bowmen". In general the stories focus on a society where the natural order of things in both society and nature was overthrown.
It is also highly likely that it was during this period that all of the pyramid and tomb complexes were robbed. Further lamentation texts allude to this fact, and by the beginning of the Middle Kingdom mummies are found decorated with magical spells that were once exclusive to the pyramid of the kings of the sixth dynasty.
By 2160 BC a new line of pharaohs (the Ninth and Tenth Dynasties) consolidated Lower Egypt from their capital in Herakleopolis Magna. A rival line (the Eleventh Dynasty) based at Thebes reunited Upper Egypt and a clash between the two rival dynasties was inevitable. Around 2055 BC the Theban forces defeated the Heracleopolitan Pharaohs, reunited the Two Lands. The reign of its first pharaoh, Mentuhotep II marks the beginning of the Middle Kingdom.
Main article: Middle Kingdom of Egypt
An Osiride statue of Mentuhotep II, the founder of the Middle Kingdom, on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Middle Kingdom is the period in the history of ancient Egypt stretching from the establishment of the Eleventh Dynasty to the end of the Fourteenth Dynasty, roughly between 2030 BC and 1640 BC.
The period comprises two phases, the 11th Dynasty, which ruled from Thebes and the 12th Dynasty onwards which was centered around el-Lisht. These two dynasties were originally considered to be the full extent of this unified kingdom, but historians now consider the 13th Dynasty to at least partially belong to the Middle Kingdom.
The earliest pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom traced their origin to a nomarch of Thebes, "Intef the Great, son of Iku", who is mentioned in a number of contemporary inscriptions. However, his immediate successor Mentuhotep II is considered the first pharaoh of this dynasty.
An inscription carved during the reign of Wahankh Intef II shows that he was the first of this dynasty to claim to rule over the whole of Egypt, a claim which brought the Thebeans into conflict with the rulers of Herakleopolis Magna, the Tenth Dynasty. Intef undertook several campaigns northwards, and captured the important nome of Abydos.
Warfare continued intermittently between the Thebean and Heracleapolitan dynasts until the 14th regnal year of Nebhetepra Mentuhotep II, when the Herakleopolitans were defeated, and the Theban dynasty began to consolidate their rule. Mentuhotep II is known to have commanded military campaigns south into Nubia, which had gained its independence during the First Intermediate Period. There is also evidence for military actions against Palestine. The king reorganized the country and placed a vizier at the head of civil administration for the country.
Mentuhotep IV was the final pharaoh of this dynasty, and despite being absent from various lists of pharaohs, his reign is attested from a few inscriptions in Wadi Hammamat that record expeditions to the Red Sea coast and to quarry stone for the royal monuments. The leader of this expedition was his vizier Amenemhat, who is widely assumed to be the future pharaoh Amenemhet I, the first king of the 12th Dynasty. Amenemhet is widely assumed by some Egyptologists to have either usurped the throne or assumed power after Mentuhotep IV died childless.
Amenemhat I built a new capital for Egypt, known as Itjtawy, thought to be located near the present-day el-Lisht, although the chronicler Manetho claims the capital remained at Thebes. Amenemhat forcibly pacified internal unrest, curtailed the rights of the nomarchs, and is known to have at launched at least one campaign into Nubia. His son Senusret I continued the policy of his father to recapture Nubia and other territories lost during the First Intermediate Period. The Libyans were subdued under his forty-five year reign and Egypt's prosperity and security were secured.
Senusret III (1878 BC – 1839 BC) was a warrior-king, leading his troops deep into Nubia, and built a series of massive forts throughout the country to establish Egypt's formal boundaries with the unconquered areas of its territory. Amenemhat III (1860 BC – 1815 BC) is considered the last great pharaoh of the Middle Kingdom.
Egypt's population began to exceed food production levels during the reign of Amenemhat III, who then ordered the exploitation of the Fayyum and increased mining operations in the Sinaï desert. He also invited Asiatic settlers to Egypt to labor on Egypt's monuments. Late in his reign the annual floods along the Nile began to fail, further straining the resources of the government. The Thirteenth Dynasty and Fourteenth Dynasty witnessed the slow decline of Egypt into the Second Intermediate Period in which some of the Asiatic settlers of Amenemhat III would grasp power over Egypt as the Hyksos.
Second Intermediate Period and the Hyksos
Main articles: Second Intermediate Period and Hyksos
The Second Intermediate Period marks a period when Ancient Egypt once again fell into disarray between the end of the Middle Kingdom, and the start of the New Kingdom. This period is best known as the time the Hyksos made their appearance in Egypt, the reigns of its kings comprising the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Dynasties.
The Thirteenth Dynasty proved unable to hold onto the long land of Egypt, and a provincial ruling family located in the marshes of the western Delta at Xois broke away from the central authority to form the Fourteenth Dynasty. The splintering of the land accelerated after the reign of the Thirteenth Dynasty king Neferhotep I.
The Hyksos first appear during the reign the Thirteenth Dynasty pharaoh Sobekhotep IV, and by 1720 BC took control of the town of Avaris. The outlines of the traditional account of the "invasion" of the land by the Hyksos is preserved in the Aegyptiaca of Manetho, who records that during this time the Hyksos overran Egypt, led by Salitis, the founder of the Fifteenth Dynasty. In the last decades, however, the idea of a simple migration, with little or no violence involved, has gained some support. Under this theory, the Egyptian rulers of 13th Dynasty were unable to stop these new migrants from travelling to Egypt from Asia because they were weak kings who were struggling to cope with various domestic problems including possibly famine.
The Hyksos princes and chieftains ruled in the eastern Delta with their local Egyptian vassals. The Hyksos Fifteenth Dynasty rulers established their capital and seat of government at Memphis and their summer residence at Avaris.
The Hyksos kingdom was centered in the eastern Nile Delta and Middle Egypt and was limited in size, never extending south into Upper Egypt, which was under control by Theban-based rulers. Hyksos relations with the south seem to have been mainly of a commercial nature, although Theban princes appear to have recognized the Hyksos rulers and may possibly have provided them with tribute for a period.
Around the time Memphis fell to the Hyksos, the native Egyptian ruling house in Thebes declared its independence from the vassal dynasty in Itj-tawy and set itself up as the Seventeenth Dynasty. This dynasty was to prove the salvation of Egypt and would eventually lead the war of liberation that drove the Hyksos back into Asia. The two last kings of this dynasty were Tao II the Brave and Kamose. Ahmose I completed the conquest and expulsion of the Hyksos from the delta region, restored Theban rule over the whole of Egypt and successfully reasserted Egyptian power in its formerly subject territories of Nubia and Canaan. His reign marks this beginning of the Eighteenth Dynasty and the New Kingdom period.
Main article: New Kingdom of Egypt
Possibly as a result of the foreign rule of the Hyksos during the Second Intermediate Period, the New Kingdom saw Egypt attempt to create a buffer between the Levant and Egypt, and attain its greatest territorial extent. It expanded far south into Nubia and held wide territories in the Near East. Egyptian armies fought Hittite armies for control of modern-day Syria.
Golden mask from the mummy of Tutankhamun
This was a time of great wealth and power for Egypt. Some of the most important and best-known Pharaohs ruled at this time. Hatshepsut was a pharaoh at this time. Hatshepsut is unusual as she was a female pharaoh, a rare occurrence in Egyptian history. She was an ambitious and competent leader, extending Egyptian trade south into present-day Somalia and north into the Mediterranean. She ruled for twenty years through a combination of widespread propaganda and deft political skill. Her co-regent and successor Thutmose III ("the Napoleon of Egypt") expanded Egypt's army and wielded it with great success. Late in his reign he ordered her name hacked out from her monuments. He fought against Asiatic people and was the most successful of Egyptian pharaohs. Amenhotep III built extensively at the temple of Karnak including the Luxor temple which consisted of two pylons, a colonnade behind the new temple entrance, and a new temple to the goddess Ma'at.
Egypt and its world in 1300 BC.
Colossal depictions of Ramesses II at a temple dedicated to him at Abu Simbel.
Ramesses I reigned for two years and was succeeded by his son Seti I. Seti I carried on the work of Horemheb in restoring power, control, and respect to Egypt. He also was responsible for creating the temple complex at Abydos.
Arguably Ancient Egypt's power as a nation-state peaked during the reign of Ramesses II ("the Great") of the 19th Dynasty. He reigned for 67 years from the age of 18 and carried on his immediate predecessor's work and created many more splendid temples, such as that of Abu Simbel on the Nubian border. He sought to recover territories in the Levant that had been held by 18th Dynasty Egypt. His campaigns of reconquest culminated in the Battle of Kadesh in 1274 BC, where he led Egyptian armies against those of the Hittite king Muwatalli II and was caught in history's first recorded military ambush. Ramesses II was famed for the huge number of children he sired by his various wives and concubines; the tomb he built for his sons, many of whom he outlived, in the Valley of the Kings has proven to be the largest funerary complex in Egypt.
His immediate successors continued the military campaigns, though an increasingly troubled court complicated matters. Ramesses II was succeeded by his son Merneptah and then by Merenptah's son Seti II. Seti II's throne seems to have been disputed by his half-brother Amenmesse, who may have temporarily ruled from Thebes. Upon his death, Seti II son Siptah, who may have been afflicted with polio during his life, was appointed to the throne by Chancellor Bay, an Asiatic commoner who served as vizier behind the scenes. At Siptah's early death, the throne was assumed by Twosret, the dowager queen of Seti II (and possibly Amenmesses's sister). A period of anarchy at the end of Twosret's short reign saw a native reaction to foreign control leading to the execution of the chancellor, and placing Setnakhte on the throne, establishing the Twentieth Dynasty.
The last "great" pharaoh from the New Kingdom is widely regarded to be Ramesses III, the son of Setnakhte who reigned three decades after the time of Ramesses II. In Year 8 of his reign, the Sea People, invaded Egypt by land and sea. Ramesses III defeated them in two great land and sea battles. He claimed that he incorporated them as subject people and settled them in Southern Canaan, although there is evidence that they forced their way into Canaan. Their presence in Canaan may have contributed to the formation of new states in this region such as Philistia after the collapse of the Egyptian Empire. He was also compelled to fight invading Libyan tribesmen in two major campaigns in Egypt's Western Delta in his Year 6 and Year 11 respectively.
The heavy cost of these battles slowly exhausted Egypt's treasury and contributed to the gradual decline of the Egyptian Empire in Asia. The severity of these difficulties is stressed by the fact that the first known labor strike in recorded history occurred during Year 29 of Ramesses III's reign, when the food rations for the Egypt's favoured and elite royal tomb-builders and artisans in the village of Deir el Medina could not be provisioned. Something in the air prevented much sunlight from reaching the ground and also arrested global tree growth for almost two full decades until 1140 BC. One proposed cause is the Hekla 3 eruption of the Hekla volcano in Iceland, but the dating of that event remains in dispute.
Following Ramesses III's death there was endless bickering between his heirs. Three of his sons would go on to assume power as Ramesses IV, Ramesses VI and Ramesses VIII respectively. However, at this time Egypt was also increasingly beset by a series of droughts, below-normal flooding levels of the Nile, famine, civil unrest and official corruption. The power of the last pharaoh, Ramesses XI, grew so weak that in the south the High Priests of Amun at Thebes became the effective defacto rulers of Upper Egypt, while Smendes controlled Lower Egypt even before Ramesses XI's death. Smendes would eventually found the Twenty-First dynasty at Tanis.
Third Intermediate Period
Main article: Third Intermediate Period
Sphinx of the Nubian pharaoh Taharqa.
After the death of Ramesses XI, his successor Smendes ruled from the city of Tanis in the north, while the High Priests of Amun at Thebes had effective rule of the south of the country, whilst still nominally recognizing Smendes as king. In fact, this division was less significant than it seems, since both priests and pharaohs came from the same family. Piankh, assumed control of Upper Egypt, ruling from Thebes, with the northern limit of his control ending at Al-Hibah. (The High Priest Herihor had died before Ramesses XI, but also was an all-but-independent ruler in the latter days of the king's reign.) The country was once again split into two parts with the priests in Thebes and the Pharaohs at Tanis. Their reign seems to be without any other distinction, and they were replaced without any apparent struggle by the Libyan kings of the Twenty-Second Dynasty.
Egypt has long had ties with Libya, and the first king of the new dynasty, Shoshenq I, was a Meshwesh Libyan, who served as the commander of the armies under the last ruler of the Twenty-First Dynasty, Psusennes II. He unified the country, putting control of the Amun clergy under his own son as the High Priest of Amun, a post that was previously a hereditary appointment. The scant and patchy nature of the written records from this period suggest that it was unsettled. There appear to have been many subversive groups, which eventually led to the creation of the Twenty-Third Dynasty, which ran concurrent with the latter part of the Twenty-Second Dynasty. After the withdrawal of Egypt from Nubia at the end of the New Kingdom, a native dynasty took control of Nubia. Under king Piye, the Nubian founder of Twenty-Fifth Dynasty, the Nubians pushed north in an effort to crush his Libyan opponents ruling in the Delta. He managed to attain power as far as Memphis. His opponent Tefnakhte ultimately submitted to him, but he was allowed to remain in power in Lower Egypt and founded the short-lived Twenty-Fourth Dynasty at Sais.
The country was reunited by the Twenty-Second Dynasty founded by Shoshenq I in 945 BC (or 943 BC), who descended from Meshwesh immigrants, originally from Ancient Libya. This brought stability to the country for well over a century. After the reign of Osorkon II the country had again splintered into two states with Shoshenq III of the Twenty-Second Dynasty controlling Lower Egypt by 818 BC while Takelot II and his son (the future Osorkon III) ruled Middle and Upper Egypt.
The Nubian kingdom to the south took full advantage of this division and political instability. Piye waged a campaign from Nubia and defeated the combined might of several native-Egyptian rulers such as Peftjaubast, Osorkon IV of Tanis, and Tefnakht of Sais. Piye established the Nubian Twenty-Fifth Dynasty and appointed the defeated rulers to be his provincial governors. He was succeeded first by his brother, Shabaka, and then by his two sons Shebitku and Taharqa.
The international prestige of Egypt declined considerably by this time. The country's international allies had fallen under the sphere of influence of Assyria and from about 700 BC the question became when, not if, there would be war between the two states. Taharqa's reign and that of his successor, Tanutamun, were filled with constant conflict with the Assyrians against whom there were numerous victories, but ultimately Thebes was occupied and Memphis sacked.
Main article: Late Period of Ancient Egypt
From 671 BC on, Memphis and the Delta region became the target of many attacks from the Assyrians, who expelled the Nubians and handed over power to client kings of the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty. Psamtik I was the first to be recognized as the king of the whole of Egypt, and he brought increased stability to the country during a 54-year reign from the new capital of Sais. Four successive Saite kings continued guiding Egypt successfully and peacefully from 610-526 BC, keeping the Babylonians away with the help of Greek mercenaries.
By the end of this period a new power was growing in the Near East: Persia. The pharaoh Psamtik III had to face the might of Persia at Pelusium; he was defeated and briefly escaped to Memphis, but ultimately was captured and then executed.
Main article: History of Achaemenid Egypt
Achaemenid Egypt can be divided into three eras: the first period of Persian occupation when Egypt became a satrapy, followed by an interval of independence, and the second and final period of occupation.
The Persian king Cambyses assumed the formal title of Pharaoh, called himself Mesuti-Re ("Re has given birth"), and sacrificed to the Egyptian gods. He founded the Twenty-seventh dynasty. Egypt was then joined with Cyprus and Phoenicia in the sixth satrapy of the Achaemenid Empire.
Cambyses' successors Darius I the Great and Xerxes pursued a similar policy, visited the country, and warded off an Athenian attack. It is likely that Artaxerxes I and Darius II visited the country as well, although it is not attested in our sources, and did not prevent the Egyptians from feeling unhappy.
During the war of succession after the reign of Darius II, which broke out in 404, they revolted under Amyrtaeus and regained their independence. This sole ruler of the Twenty-eighth dynasty died in 399, and power went to the Twenty-ninth dynasty. The Thirtieth Dynasty was established in 380 BC and lasted until 343 BC. Nectanebo II was the last native king to rule Egypt.
Artaxerxes III (358–338 BC) reconquered the Nile valley for a brief period (343–332 BC). In 332 BC Mazaces handed over the country to Alexander the Great without a fight. The Achaemenid empire had ended, and for a while Egypt was a satrapy in Alexander's empire. Later the Ptolemies and then the Romans successively ruled the Nile valley.
Main article: Ptolemaic dynasty
In 332 BC Alexander III of Macedon conquered Egypt with little resistance from the Persians. He was welcomed by the Egyptians as a deliverer. He visited Memphis, and went on pilgrimage to the oracle of Amun at the Oasis of Siwa. The oracle declared him to be the son of Amun. He conciliated the Egyptians by the respect which he showed for their religion, but he appointed Greeks to virtually all the senior posts in the country, and founded a new Greek city, Alexandria, to be the new capital. The wealth of Egypt could now be harnessed for Alexander's conquest of the rest of the Persian Empire. Early in 331 BC he was ready to depart, and led his forces away to Phoenicia. He left Cleomenes as the ruling nomarch to control Egypt in his absence. Alexander never returned to Egypt.
Following Alexander's death in Babylon in 323 BC, a succession crisis erupted among his generals. Initially, Perdiccas ruled the empire as regent for Alexander's half-brother Arrhidaeus, who became Philip III of Macedon, and then as regent for both Philip III and Alexander's infant son Alexander IV of Macedon, who had not been born at the time of his father's death. Perdiccas appointed Ptolemy, one of Alexander's closest companions, to be satrap of Egypt. Ptolemy ruled Egypt from 323 BC, nominally in the name of the joint kings Philip III and Alexander IV. However, as Alexander the Great's empire disintegrated, Ptolemy soon established himself as ruler in his own right. Ptolemy successfully defended Egypt against an invasion by Perdiccas in 321 BC, and consolidated his position in Egypt and the surrounding areas during the Wars of the Diadochi (322 BC-301 BC). In 305 BC, Ptolemy took the title of King. As Ptolemy I Soter ("Saviour"), he founded the Ptolemaic dynasty that was to rule Egypt for nearly 300 years.
The later Ptolemies took on Egyptian traditions by marrying their siblings, had themselves portrayed on public monuments in Egyptian style and dress, and participated in Egyptian religious life. Hellenistic culture thrived in Egypt well after the Muslim conquest. The Ptolemies had to fight native rebellions and were involved in foreign and civil wars that led to the decline of the kingdom and its annexation by Rome.