Fall of Ancient Egypt

Next came the Persian conquest. Cyrus the Great of Persia marked out Egypt as part of the world he planned to master; but he died before accomplishing that portion of his designs. His son Cambyses advanced against Egypt just as the aged Aahmes died, and the Persians thus encountered a new and untried sovereign, who made little resistance against them. The story of Persia's dominion over Egypt has been already told. It is true that Cambyses and his successors took the title of Pharaoh and that the Egyptian priesthood included them among the dynasties of Egyptian sovereigns. But the Persians held the rank of Pharaoh only as one among their many honors; they dwelt in their own country and ruled Egypt by governors as a conquered country. The long line of independent monarchs who had held the throne of ancient Egypt as their chief glory and their seat of empire vanished with Aahmes.

Alexander, the famous Grecian conqueror, won Egypt when he defeated Persia. Indeed, the Egyptians hailed him as a deliverer. He worshipped their gods, accepted the title of "Pharaoh" with solemn respect, and caused Egypt to profit greatly by his favor. He founded the celebrated city of Alexandria at the western mouth of the Nile, naming the city after himself and planning to have it supersede Tyre as the commercial metropolis of all the eastern world.

In the division of Alexander's empire among his generals, which followed after his death, Egypt fell to Ptolemy, the son of Lagos. His family, the Ptolemies, ruled Egypt as independent monarchs for nearly three centuries, making of it a sort of Greek-Egyptian kingdom. Its fortunes fluctuated, without marked extremes, in the constant struggle for power which occupied the various Greek kings whom Alexander had thus left in control of all the East.

This era of the Ptolemies is to be reckoned on the whole as one of the more fortunate periods of Egyptian life. At no time was the Nile valley actually invaded, and the sovereigns were most of them thoughtful of their people's comfort and prosperity. Alexandria became not only the business centre of the world, but also the chief home of Greek learning and Greek art, outstripping the decadent cities of Greece itself.

The first Ptolemy founded the celebrated Alexandrian library, which grew to be the largest and most valuable collection of books the world had ever known. The second Ptolemy, called Philadelphos, built the colossal lighthouse of Alexandria, and reopened the ancient canal from the Nile to the Red Sea. Egypt was thus established as the intermediary of the trade between Europe and India. Alexandria grew to resemble both a great university filled with learned philosophers, and a great American trading city, her wharves thronged with merchants and strangers from every land. She was the granary of the Roman world.

Rome first interfered in Egyptian affairs when Ptolemy Epiphanes asked for help against the King of Syria, about two centuries before Christ. After that, Egypt was really a vassal kingdom of the Romans. She took part perforce in the tremendous civil war between the Roman generals Pompey and Caesar, and her young queen Cleopatra won the favor of Caesar.

Cleopatra's remarkable career belongs rather to the story of Rome than to that of Egypt. Roman intrigue brought Caesar to Alexandria, where he fought for Cleopatra; and after the great conqueror's death Roman intrigue sent Anthony to punish her. Anthony also succumbed to the thrall of this remarkable woman, and for nine years dwelt with her in Egypt. When at last he roused to defend himself against his Roman enemies it was too late. His fleet and that of Cleopatra were defeated at Actium (31 B.C.); and these two celebrated lovers both committed suicide rather than be taken as prisoners to Rome.

The Roman Emperor Augustus made Egypt a mere province of his empire. As such it became the richest of all the provinces, and in the later days a centre of disunion and discontent from which the various Roman governors planned rebellions against Rome. Most striking of these revolts was that of the famous Zenobia, queen of Palmyra. Her husband had been the friend and vassal of Rome against the Persians. But Zenobia not only declared herself independent, but also claimed sovereignty over Egypt as a descendant of Cleopatra. She seized the country (269 A.D.), defeated the Romans who marched against her, and ruled Egypt for over three years. Then she was defeated, captured, and slain.

Another notable tragedy of those days was the ravaging of Alexandria by the troops of the Emperor Caracalla. Angered by the jibes which some of the young men of the town made upon his drunkenness, he sent his soldiers out to slay every person whom they met in the streets. They continued the massacre for six days. After that, the Romans had less trouble with the chastened city. It became the seat of learning rather than of politics.

Greek philosophy, which had once guided the world, found in Alexandria its last refuge against the advancing tide of Christianity. And here occurred that brutal blow beneath which the Greek scholastic philosophers disappeared. Their last leader was the beautiful woman teacher, Hypatia, who ruled like a queen over the Alexandrian schools of philosophy in the fifth century. A horde of wild Christian monks from the monasteries of the deserts attacked Hypatia and tore her to pieces in the streets while her disciples field for their lives.

Alexandria, the chief home of trade and learning, became also the religious metropolis of the east, the strongest seat of Christianity, the fostering place of theological doctrines and disputing sects. Christianity triumphed here, as throughout the Roman world. As early as 389 A.D. the Emperor Theodosius forbade all the old pagan worships, and ordered all the temples to be closed except those of the Christians.

With this downfall of the five thousand year old religion, the native or Egyptian Egypt ceased to exist. Aryans and Semites brushed aside the last shred of Hamitic influence. Egypt had first surrendered her culture for that of the Greeks, to whom she herself had given their earliest instruction centuries before. Next she had perforce given up her empire to the Romans, a race of whom her mightier Pharaohs had never heard, even as barbarians. Now she lost also her religious faith, abandoning it for that sprung from the Hebrews who had been her despised servants, her slaves before the "exodus." Thus, with the decree of Theodosius, the great and remarkable civilization created by the Hamitic race lost the last shadow of its national existence.

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