A04: The Egyptians

As we have seen, there is much debate currently about the earliest human activity in the lands of what we call Egypt. It may be that a very important culture developed here prior to what classical archaeology describes as the Egyptian civilisation. Indeed, without the need of metals or specialised skills, an early emigration to South America on reed boats could have taken place at any point during this period. However, we shall not be concerned with this early time when sea travel was still very undeveloped. The Egyptian civilisation of accepted theory is summarised briefly as follows.

Iron metallurgy arrived in Egypt from Anatolia and copper came into use about 4,000 BC. From 3,600 BC to 3,000 BC, the basic structures of civilisation began to take shape. The earliest groupings of peoples took place in the region of the Nile and consisted of small states. After 3,400 BC they grew in size and social complexity, and it is thought that trading by sea and along the Nile was established in this period. By 3,200 BC, there were only two large groupings, which were by 3,100 BC finally united under the first pharaohs. The time prior to 3,100 BC is called Predynastic (before the first united kingdom under the rule of a Pharoah); the large number of years from 3,100 BC to 323 BC are called Pharaonic, i.e. the time of the Pharaohs. This extended period is divided into shorter periods defined by notable changes to the structure of the culture. The old Kingdom is considered to run from 3,100 to 1,640 BC, whilst the New kingdom runs from 1,570 to 1,090 BC. From that time onwards, Egypt was mostly not in control of her own destiny, for between 1,090 and 323 she was ruled by a succession of foreign powers.

After about 1,400 BC a series of Asian powers came, in turn, into a position of dominance in the Mediterranean region – first Hittites from Anatolia (1,090 BC), then Assyrians (600 BC), and finally the Persians, just before the Macedonian conquest swept over them all. The death of Alexander in 323 BC proved a further milestone that marked the slow fragmentation of the huge Empire that Alexander had created. Each of these powers took charge of Egypt for different periods of time. The period after this is called Ptolemaic after Ptolemy the first of the Graeco-Egyptian rulers. Ptolemy, continuing the development of this great city begun under Alexander, was responsible for the building of the Pharos at Alexandria, about which much more is said below.

The three centuries after the death of Alexander are called the Hellenistic Age, from the Greek word hellenizein, meaning "to act like a Greek." From the death of Alexander, it took more than 40 years of struggles and warfare (323-280 BC) before the new structure of the empire created by Alexander emerged. Three major dynasties were created: the Ptolemies in Egypt, the Seleucids in Asia, Asia Minor, and Palestine, and the Antigonids in Macedonia and Greece. These kingdoms got their names from three generals of Alexander - Ptolemy, Seleucus, and Antigonus. The richest, most powerful, and longest lasting of these kingdoms was that of the Ptolemies. It reached its height of material and cultural splendor under Ptolemy II Philadelphus, who ruled from 285 to 246 BC. After his death, the kingdom entered a long period of war and internal strife that ended when Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire in 30 BC. The Seleucid Empire was the largest of the three kingdoms. The Seleucids were the most active of the kingdoms in establishing Greek settlements throughout their domain. During the more than 200 years of its existence, the empire continually lost territory through war or rebellion, until it was reduced to Palestine, Syria, and Mesopotamia in 129 BC. It continued to decline until annexed by Rome in 64 BC. The Antigonid Kingdom of Macedonia lasted only until 168 BC. Continually involved in wars with other kingdoms and struggles with the Greek city-states, it was finally overtaken by the military might of Rome.

We need not concern ourselves with the time prior to 3,100 BC, nor after 290 BC, for by that time, we are certain that lighthouses were well established.

Iron metallurgy seems to have developed in Meroe, on the Nile in the south of the country, about 500 BC. The technology was imported either from the Assyrians who were in control at that time, or via the Phoenicians whose influence was spreading across the north of Africa from Carthage [15].