7 Facts on 7 Millennia of History

Highlights of Egyptian history through the years

By American Research Center In Egypt

Tomb Chapel of Raemkai: West Wall Tomb Chapel of Raemkai: West Wall (ca. 2446–2389 B.C.)The Metropolitan Museum of Art

#1 The First Egyptians

The Egyptian Pharaonic civilization began around 3100 BCE and is one of the oldest in the world, but humans were present in Egypt long before that. Stone tools used by our human ancestors were found along the Nile River from around 2 million years ago.

Evidence of mining activities indicate that modern humans were around from at least 60,000 years ago. People began farming and living in permanent settlements around 6,000 BCE, but upper and lower Egypt weren’t unified under the first dynasty until 3,000 years later.  

Giza Pyramids (2009-04-07) by Kenneth GarrettAmerican Research Center In Egypt

#2 Ancient Egyptian Inventions

The ancient Egyptians were incredibly innovative. You probably know that they built the first pyramids and perfected mummification...

Wig of human hairBritish Museum

... but did you know that they also invented locks, toothpaste, wigs, papyrus sheets and ink, and even developed the first pregnancy test?   

Drawing of a shaduf by Claire ThorneBritish Museum

Other ancient creations like the shaduf, a hand-operated device for lifting water, are still used by Egyptian farmers today.   

Fragment of a basalt Egyptian-style statue of Ptolemy IBritish Museum

#3 Greco-Roman Egypt

The Pharaonic period ended with the arrival of Alexander the Great in Egypt in 332 BCE. During the next few centuries, Egypt was ruled by the Ptolemies, a Macedonian Greek royal family.  

By Walter SandersLIFE Photo Collection

To legitimize their rule and gain acceptance from the native Egyptians, the Ptolemies styled themselves as pharaohs, even building temples to the Egyptian gods and depicting themselves in traditional pharaonic dress on public monuments.

An Egyptian beauty (Ca. AD 140) by UnknownAltes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

The Romans continued this tradition, but when Christianity became the dominant religion in the 4th century CE, there was no longer room for Pharaonic religion and customs.  

Leaves from a Coptic Manuscript Leaves from a Coptic Manuscript (6th–14th century (?))The Metropolitan Museum of Art

#4 The Coptic Language

The Coptic Church was established in Egypt in the 1st century CE, making it the oldest Christian community in Africa, and gave birth to the tradition of Christian monasticism.   

The Coptic language evolved from ancient Egyptian, but the alphabet is derived mainly from Greek, since it was created at the time when Egypt was controlled by the Greek Ptolemies.  

Mosque of Amr ibn al-As (circa 1900) by Photgr. Artistique G. Lekegian & CieOriginal Source: Image number: DIG 8039

#5 The Arab-Islamic Conquest and Founding of Cairo

Starting in 639 CE, Egypt was overtaken by the Arab-Muslim conquest. The general 'Amr ibn al-'As founded a new capital, Fustat, and built the first mosque in Africa. This would become the modern city of Cairo, with Fustat as the historic center.

Map of the Turkish Empire (1654) by Johannes JanssoniusSkokloster Castle

Egypt was ruled by a series of dynasties including the Umayyads, Ab­ba­si­ds, Fati­mi­ds, Ayyu­bi­ds, and Mamluks, until they were overtaken by the Ottoman Empire, based in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) in 1517.   

War 1792-1815 Napoleonic Camp EgyptLIFE Photo Collection

#6 The French & Egyptology

In 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte and the French army invaded Egypt. While the French were quickly driven out of the country, the scientists and scholars who accompanied the military were able to document many of the ancient sites and monuments throughout Egypt.   

The Rosetta Stone (-196/-196)British Museum

During this campaign, a French officer discovered the Rosetta Stone, which became the key to deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. This scientific approach to studying ancient Egyptian history and the ability to read ancient hieroglyphs gave birth to modern Egyptology.

Time Covers - The 30S (1937-08-09)LIFE Photo Collection

#7 Independence and Revolution

Egypt was occupied by the British in 1882 while the country continued to be ruled by the Muhammed Ali Dynasty. 

Time Covers - The 50S (1952-09-08) by Ernest Hamlin BakerLIFE Photo Collection

However, in 1952, Egyptian nationalists overthrew King Farouk and ended the British occupation. Mohammed Naguib became the first president of the Republic of Egypt.  

Nearly 60 years later, Egyptians initiated another revolution to end the authoritarian rule of President Hosni Mubarak. The January 25 revolution, as it has come to be known, was part of the larger Arab Spring movement, a wave of pro-democracy protests throughout the region.

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