History of Egypt


History of Egypt

The pharaonic period

The Pharaonic period began at the end of the Neolithic, between 6500 and 3500 BC, and lasted until the invasion of Egypt by the Roman Empire, during antiquity. This period, very rich, is detailed on a page dedicated to him.

Learn more about history of Egypt of the pharaohs.

From antiquity to the year 1000

Rome began to interfere in Egyptian politics during the reign of the last lagid kings. Already Ptolemy XII (80-51 BC) had reigned only by buying the protection of Pompey, who was then walking his triumphant army in the region. In 48, Caesar installs Cleopatra on the throne of Egypt. Returned to Rome, he falls in 44 under the blows of Brutus. He is replaced by a triumvirate formed of Octavian, Lepidus and Antony. The latter succumbs to Cleopatra's charms, and Octave, seizing the opportunity of getting rid of a cumbersome rival, crushes his legions at the battle of Actium. Became emperor of Rome under the name of Augustus, Octavian makes of Egypt an imperial prefecture and sets up an administration in charge of managing the country for the benefit of Rome the wealth of the Country. Egypt must pay the "annone" (annual shipment to Rome of a large part of its wheat crop). This organization will remain in place for three centuries until the reign of Diocletian.

Alexandria will be during this period the setting of frequent riots, opposing between them the different communities (Egyptian, Greek or Jewish) which compose its population, or all of it against the Roman prefect. All will be repressed. Some prefects will attempt unsuccessfully to break the link between Egypt and Rome by seizing power: this is the case of Achilleus in 296. Diocletian submits Alexandria at the end of an eight-month blockade. He then abolished the prefecture of Egypt and divided the country into five provinces now attached to the "diocese of the East". In 331, Emperor Constantine founded Constantinople on the site of Byzantium, making it the capital of the Roman Empire. He is represented in Rome only by a prefect. Finally, in 395, the Empire is divided between the two sons of Theodosius, Honorius and Arcadius, and Egypt is included in the Eastern Roman Empire.

Appeared in Egypt in the year 60, Christianity had made rapid progress, especially in the Delta and Alexandria, despite the persecutions he had undergone in the reigns of Septimius Severus in 199, then of Diocletian in 303. Finally, in 313, the Emperor Constantine proclaimed by the Edict of Milan religious freedom. Christian Egypt is rapidly beset by the internal struggles between those who, with Athanasius, the patriarch of Alexandria, affirm the divinity of Jesus Christ and the Arians who deny it and who most often support the imperial power. The Copts profess monophysism which admits only a divine nature in the person of Jesus Christ. Egypt is as severely exploited by the Byzantine emperors as it was during the time of Rome, and revolts are frequent. Meanwhile, the Arabs, federated in the seventh century under the banner of nascent Islam, set out to conquer Persia and Syria. Poorly organized and poorly defended, Egypt is conquered in 641 without any real resistance by the army of Amr ibn al-'As, while the Byzantine Empire begins a long decadence.

Having become governor of Egypt, Amr organizes the exploitation of the country for the benefit of the Arabs, but on more just bases: a part of the product of the taxes, calculated again thanks to the nilometer, is allocated to the maintenance channels. Conversions to Islam are numerous and Arabic became in 715 the official language of Egypt. In 661, Mu'âwiyya ibn Abu Sufyan was recognized as a caliph by all Muslims. Islam then extends its empire over the Maghreb, Spain and the south of France. The capital of the Umayyad dynasty is established in Damascus. But, weakened by the defeat of the siege of Constantinople in 717 and the defeat before Charles Martel in Poitiers in 732, this dynasty can not resist the pretensions of Abu al-Abbas and collapses in 750. The Abbasids will dominate the Egypt until 968, from Baghdad, their capital, but in a more and more nominal way from 868. Egypt often changes governor, and this instability is detrimental to its prosperity. In 868, Ahmed ibn Tûlûn, a young officer of the Caliph's Guard, sent to Egypt to command the troops of the province, made the country a proud, almost independent, and extended his power over Syria. The reign of the Tûlûnides will last 35 years and will restore the prosperity of Egypt by a just administration. In 905, the Abbasids regained power, but, as early as 935, Ikhchid, governor of Egypt, imitating Ibn Tûlûn, seceded and established for thirty-two years the reign of his family, the Ikhchidides.

Tired of this state of anarchy, the Egyptians in 969 offer the throne to the Fatimids, a dynasty originating in the Maghreb, which had already established itself in Alexandria and which immediately pushes its advantage to Syria and Palestine. Founded in 970, Cairo becomes the seat of the caliphate. The rule of the Fatimids will be marked by the struggle against the Crusaders, from 1099. In 1771, Saladin (Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub) founded the Ayyubid dynasty and collected the legacy of the Fatimids, including Palestine, recovery to the crusaders in 1187. The capture of Jerusalem causes the third crusade. After the terrible siege of Saint-Jean-d'Acre (1191), Saladin concluded a treaty with Richard of England. Meanwhile, Egypt lives in peace and prosperity under its new masters. At the death of Saladin, in 1193, the Muslim Empire darkened in the internal struggles. The Ayyubid dynasty died in 1250. The power fell into the hands of the Mamluks, former slaves brought back by Saladin from the shores of the Caspian Sea and whose personal militia he had composed. The Mamluks will rule Egypt for nearly three centuries.

The second millennium

From the end of the eleventh to the fifteenth century, Cairo became the intellectual center of the East. Egypt is enjoying great economic prosperity, as the traffic from India to Europe, turning away from Baghdad, now passes through Alexandria. But the discovery in 1497 by Vasco de Gama of the Cape of Good Hope ruins this privileged situation. In addition, two formidable invaders threaten it: Tamerlane, leader of the Mongols, and Bajazet (Bayezid), sultan of the Ottoman Turks. These, having suffered a terrible defeat before the Mongols in Angora (1402), get up quickly and take Constantinople in 1453. It is under the reign of Qà'itbây (1468-1496), the most famous of the Mamluk sultans that begins the conquest of Egypt by the Turks. It will be fulfilled by Selim in 1517, Soliman "the Magnificent" (1520-1566), the most famous of the Turkish sultans, gives Egypt a new status: Egypt is now governed by a pasha, named for a short duration, whose powers are limited by those beys (prefects) who assist. Taxes are collected by "farmers", owners of their office, who press the fellah. The Mamluks will quickly know how to deal with the winner. From the beginning of the eighteenth century, the true masters of Egypt will no longer be pashas sent by Constantinople, but the Mamluk beys, while the Ottoman Empire is suffering a series of setbacks in its wars.

The greed of the Mamluk beys threatens the interests of France in the region (in 1536, it signed with the Porte Capitulation agreements under which the French flag was only admitted in the Ottoman ports). Also - anxious to reach England by disrupting her trade with the Indies - she decides to intervene. Bonaparte took the head of a fleet, landed in July 1798 at Alexandria and immediately marched on Cairo. The battle of the Pyramids ends on July 21 on a rapid victory French, but part of the fleet is destroyed in August by the English in the harbor of Aboukir. While Desaix made himself master of Upper Egypt, Bonaparte's army opposed the Turks, which it routed in July 1799. Bonaparte then returned to France, leaving to Kleber the command in chief of the army Egypt. Assassinated in Cairo in June 1800, Kleber was replaced by General Menou, who had to bow to the Turkish and English armies in August 1801.

On October 15, 1801 the last French soldiers leave the country. They leave the field open to a young captain, leader of the Albanian contingent of the Ottoman army, who will quickly take advantage of the rivalry between his masters and the Mamelukes, to whom the departure of the French abandons the country. His name is Mehemet Ali.

The modern period

With the departure of the last French soldiers begin the period of modern Egypt, which begins with the reign of Mehemet Ali.

Learn more about modern period.

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