Egypt: Ancient roots

Updated January 2012

The emergence of a Neolithic culture about 8000 years ago in the valley of the Nile River enabled eventual state formation and even the emergence of a literate culture even prior to the political unification of Egypt around 4700 years ago. This culture, which spanned from the late Stone Age, born of the development of agriculture then, through the bronze and well into the Iron Age, was overthrown militarily by the Persian Empire in 343 BCE, but then fell to Alexander the Great in 332 BCE. Though ancient Egyptian culture persisted under a Greek dynasty of "Pharaohs", the Ptolemies, Egypt fell increasingly under the sway of expanding Hellenism which process continued under Roman rule from 30 BCE onwards. Along with the rest of the Roman Empire Egypt embraced Christianity, but by 451 CE Egypt had developed a native church of its own at odds with that of the Greek Byzantine successors of Rome that ruled it from Constantinople.

Religious persecution and political conflict with its Byzantine overlords resulted in Egyptians welcoming the conquering Arabs in 639 CE and Egypt was incorporated into a broader Muslim world that stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the borders of India and China. A succession of local Muslim rulers, the Fatimids, Ayyubids and Mamluks, Egypt's integration into a broader Arab Muslim culture and political and economic discrimination encouraged the gradual but steady conversion of Egyptians from Christianity to Islam. Nevertheless, Christians were still in the majority in 1517 when Egypt was incorporated into the expanding Empire of the Ottoman Turks.