Egyptologists and discoveries


-> Return to main Index (The Ancient Egypt)

Egyptologists and discoveries:

Dominique Vivant Denon: At Bonaparte's invitation he joined the expedition to Egypt as part of the arts and literature section of the Institut d'Egypte, and thus found the opportunity of gathering the materials for his most important literary and artistic work. He accompanied General Desaix to Upper Egypt, and made numerous sketches of the monuments of ancient art, sometimes under the very fire of the enemy. The results were published in his Voyage dans la basse et la haute Egypte (Journey in Lower and Upper Egypt), published as two volumes in 1802. The work crowned his reputation both as an archaeologist and as an artist, and sparked the Egyptian Revival in architecture and decorative arts. In 1804 he was appointed by Napoleon to the important office of director-general of museums and head of the new Muse Napoleon (Louvre Museum) after the Egyptian campaign of 1798-1801., which he filled until the Allied occupation of Paris in 1814.
Sphinx at Giza, being measured by French surveyors (drawing by Vivant Denon)


Giovanni Battista Belzoni (5 November 1778 – 3 December 1823), sometimes known as The Great Belzoni, was a prolific Venetian explorer of Egyptian antiquities.

Belzoni was born in Padua. His father was a barber who sired fourteen children. His family was from Rome and when Belzoni was 16 he went to work there, claiming that he 'studied hydraulics'. He intended taking monastic vows, but in 1798 the occupation of the city by French troops drove him from Rome and changed his proposed career. In 1800 he moved to the Netherlands.

In 1803 he fled to England to avoid being sent to jail. There he married an Englishwoman, Sarah Bane (1783-1860). Belzoni was a tall man at 6 ft 7 in (2m1) tall. In England, Belzoni in despair at not find any employment in engineering and mechanics and having taken on a young wife, joined a traveling circus and was billed as “Patagonian Samson.” This career lasted twelve years and included several years spent with the famous Astley's Circus due to the patronage of Henry Salt, the traveller and antiquarian.

Belzoni
On the recommendation of the orientalist, J. L. Burckhardt, he was sent by Henry Salt, the British consul to Egypt, to the Ramesseum at Thebes, from where he removed with great skill the colossal bust of Ramesses II, commonly called "the Young Memnon". Shipped by Belzoni to England, this piece is still on prominent display at the British Museum. He also expanded his investigations to the great temple of Edfu, visited Elephantine and Philae, cleared the great temple at Abu Simbel of sand (1817), made excavations at Karnak, and opened up the sepulchre of Seti I (still sometimes known as "Belzoni's Tomb"). He was the first to penetrate into the second pyramid of Giza, and the first European in modern times to visit the oasis of Bahariya. He also identified the ruins of Berenice on the Red Sea.

the Young Memnon
In 1823 he set out for West Africa, intending to travel to Timbuktu. Having been refused permission to pass through Morocco, he chose the Guinea Coast route. He reached the Kingdom of Benin, but was seized with dysentery at a village called Gwato, and died there. According to the celebrated traveller Richard Francis Burton he was murdered and robbed. In 1829 his widow published his drawings of the royal tombs at Thebes.

Jean-François Champollion (23 December 1790 – 4 March 1832) was a French classical scholar, philologist and orientalist, decipherer of the Egyptian hieroglyphs.

He was raised in humble circumstances; because his parents could not afford to send him to school, and he was taught to read by his brother Jacques. Jacques, although studious and largely self-educated, did not have Jean-François' genius for language; however, he was talented at earning a living, and supported Jean-François for most of his life.

He lived with his brother in Grenoble for several years, and even as a child showed an extraordinary linguistic talent. By the age of 16 he had mastered a dozen languages and had read a paper before the Grenoble Academy concerning the Coptic language. By 20 he could also speak Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Amharic, Sanskrit, Avestan, Pahlavi, Arabic, Syriac, Chaldean, Persian and Ge'ez in addition to his native French. In 1809, he became assistant-professor of History at Grenoble University. His interest in oriental languages, especially Coptic, led to his being entrusted with the task of deciphering the writing on the then recently-discovered Rosetta Stone, and he spent the years 1822–1824 on this task. Champollion published the first translation of the Rosetta Stone hieroglyphs in 1822, showing that the Egyptian writing system was a combination of phonetic and ideographic signs. His 1824 work Précis du système hiéroglyphique gave birth to the entire field of modern Egyptology. He also identified the importance of the Turin King List, and dated the Dendera zodiac to the Roman period.

The Rosetta Stone

Champollion was appointed Conservator of the Egyptian collections at the Louvre, Paris in 1826. He made his sole visit to Egypt in 1828-29, conducting the first systematic survey of the country's monuments, history and archaeology. On his return, the first chair in Egyptian history and archaeology was created for him at the Collège de France, Paris. Champollion died on 4 March 1832 as a result of a stroke, while preparing the results of his expedition for publication. His Egyptian grammar was published posthumously.

Karl (or Carl) Richard Lepsius (23 December 1810 – 10 July 1884) was a pioneering Prussian Egyptologist and linguist and pioneer of modern archaeology.

Richard Lepsius
In 1836, Lepsius travelled to Tuscany to meet with Ippolito Rosellini, who had led a joint expedition to Egypt with Champollion in 1828–1829. In a series of letters to Rosellini, Lepsius expanded on Champollion's explanation of the use of alphabetic signs in hieroglyphic writing, emphasising (contra Champollion) that vowels were not written.

In 1842 Lepsius was commissioned (at the recommendation of Alexander von Humboldt and Christian Charles Josias Bunsen) by King Frederich Wilhelm IV of Prussia to lead an expedition to Egypt and the Sudan to explore and record the remains of the ancient Egyptian civilization. The Prussian expedition was modeled after the earlier Napoléonic mission, and consisted of surveyors, draftsmen, and other specialists. The mission reached Giza in November 1842 and spent six months making some of the first scientific studies of the pyramids of Giza, Abusir, Saqqara, and Dahshur. They discovered over sixty-seven pyramids and more than 130 tombs of noblemen in the area. While at the Great Pyramid of Giza, Lepsius inscribed a graffito written in Egyptian hieroglyphs that honours Friedrich Wilhelm IV above the pyramid's original entrance; it is still visible.

[The Karnak king list was located in the southwest corner of the Akh-Menu Hall. Composed during the reign of Thutmose III, it lists sixty-one kings beginning with Sneferu from Egypt's Old Kingdom. Only the names of forty-eight kings are still legible, and one is not written in a cartouche.

In 1843, French adventurer Emile Prisse dismantled and stole the blocks containing the king list at night, claiming to act "in the interests of France." He had found out that a German expedition led by egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius was making its way up the Nile to Karnak.Severely damaged, it is now on display at the Louvre in Paris]

Working south, stopping for extended periods at important Middle Egyptian sites, such as Beni Hasan and Dayr al-Barsha, Lepsius reached as far south as Khartoum, and then traveling up the Blue Nile to the region about Sennar. After exploring various sites in Upper and Lower Nubia, the expedition worked back north, reaching Thebes on 2 November 1844, where they spent four months studying the western bank of the Nile (such as the Ramesseum, Medinet Habu, the Valley of the Kings, etc.) and another three on the east bank at the temples of Karnak and Luxor, attempting to record as much as possible. Afterwards they stopped at Coptos, the Sinai, and sites in the Egyptian Delta, such as Tanis, before returning to Europe in 1846.

Lepsius was president of the German Archaeological Institute in Rome from 1867–1880, and from 1873 until his death in 1884, the head of the Royal Library at Berlin. He was the editor of the Zeitschrift für ägyptisches Sprache und Altertumskunde, a fundamental scientific journal for the new field of Egyptology, which remains in print to this day.

Working south, stopping for extended periods at important Middle Egyptian sites, such as Beni Hasan and Dayr al-Barsha, Lepsius reached as far south as Khartoum, and then traveling up the Blue Nile to the region about Sennar. After exploring various sites in Upper and Lower Nubia, the expedition worked back north, reaching Thebes on 2 November 1844, where they spent four months studying the western bank of the Nile (such as the Ramesseum, Medinet Habu, the Valley of the Kings, etc.) and another three on the east bank at the temples of Karnak and Luxor, attempting to record as much as possible. Afterwards they stopped at Coptos, the Sinai, and sites in the Egyptian Delta, such as Tanis, before returning to Europe in 1846.

Lepsius published widely in the field of Egyptology, and is considered the father of the modern scientific discipline of Egyptology, assuming a role that Champollion might have achieved had he not died so young. Much of his work is fundamental to the field. Indeed, Lepsius even coined the phrase Totenbuch ("Book of the Dead"). He was also a leader in the field of African linguistics, though his ideas are now mainly considered to be outdated.

François Auguste Ferdinand Mariette (February 11, 1821 – January 19, 1881) was a French scholar, archaeologist and Egyptologist, the designer of the rebuilt Egyptian Museum under Maximilian of Austria orders when the later had gained control of the artifacts collected to that point.

Born at Boulogne-sur-Mer, Mariette proved to be a talented draftsman and designer, and he supplemented his salary as a teacher at Douai by giving private lessons and writing on historical and archaeological subjects for local periodicals.

Statue of Egyptologist François Auguste Ferdinand Mariette at Boulogne-sur-Mer
Entrusted with a government mission for the purpose of seeking and purchasing the best Coptic, Syriac, Arabic and Ethiopic manuscripts for the Louvre collection so that it retained its then-supremacy over other national collections, he set out for Egypt in 1850.  In 1851, he made his celebrated discovery of this avenue and eventually the subterranean tomb-temple complex of catacombs with their spectacular sarcophagi of the Apis bulls. Breaking through the rubble at the tomb entrance on November 12, he entered the complex, finding thousands of statues, bronze tablets and other treasures, but only one intact sarcophagus. He also found the virtually intact tomb of Prince Khaemweset, Ramesses II's son.

Accused of theft and destruction by rival diggers and by the Egyptian authorities, Mariette began to rebury his finds in the desert to keep them from these competitors. Instead of manuscripts, official French funds were now advanced for the prosecution of his researches, and he remained in Egypt for four years, excavating, discovering — and despatching archaeological treasures to the Louvre, following the accepted Eurocentric convention. However, the French government and the Louvre set up an arrangement to divide the finds 50:50, so that upon his return to Paris 230 crates went to the Louvre (and he was raised to an assistant conservator), but an equal amount remained in Egypt.

However, unsatisfied with a purely academic role after his discoveries at Saqqara (he said "I knew I would die or go mad if I did not return to Egypt immediately"), after less than a year he returned to Egypt on the insistence of the Egyptian government under Ismail Pasha, who in 1858 created the position of conservator of Egyptian monuments for him.

Moving with his family to Cairo, his career blossomed into a chronicle of unwearying exploration and brilliant successes. He cleared the sands around the Sphinx down to the bare rock, and in the process discovered the famous granite and alabaster monument, the "Temple of the Sphinx".

In 1869, at the request of the Khedive, he wrote a brief plot for an opera. The following year this concept, worked into a scenario by Camille du Locle, was proposed to Giuseppe Verdi, who accepted it as a subject for Aida. For Aida, Mariette and Du Locle oversaw the scenery and costumes, which were inspired by the art of Ancient Egypt. The premiere of Aida was originally scheduled for February 1871, but was delayed until 24 December 1871, due to the siege of Paris at the height of the Franco-Prussian War (which trapped Mariette with the costumes and scenery in Paris). The opera met with great acclaim.

In 1878, his museum was ravaged by floods, which destroyed most of his notes and drawings. By the spring of 1881, prematurely aged and nearly blind, Mariette arranged for the appointment of the Frenchman Gaston Maspero (a linguist rather than an archaeologist, who he had met at the Exposition in 1867), to ensure that France retained its supremacy in Egyptology, rather than an Englishman. At this time, the English comprised the majority of Egyptologists in Egypt. He died in Cairo and was interred in a sarcophagus which is on display in the Garden of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo.

Gaston Camille Charles Maspero
(June 23, 1846 – June 30, 1916) was a French Egyptologist. Gaston Maspero was born in Paris to parents of Lombard origin. While at school he showed a special taste for history, and by the age of fourteen he was already interested in hieroglyphic writing. It was not until his second year at the École Normale in 1867 that Maspero met fellow Egyptologist Auguste Mariette, who was in Paris as commissioner for the Egyptian section of the Exposition Universelle. Mariette gave him two newly discovered hieroglyphic texts of considerable difficulty to study, and the young self-taught scholar produced translations of them in less than a fortnight, a great feat in those days when Egyptology was still almost in its infancy. The publication of these texts in the same year established his academic reputation.

Maspero

Aware that his reputation was then more as a linguist than an archaeologist, Maspero's first work in the post was to build on Mariette's achievements at Saqqara. He expanded their scope from the early Old Kingdom to the later, with particular interest in tombs with long and complete hieroglyphic inscriptions that could help illustrate the development of the Egyptian language. Selecting five later Old Kingdom tombs, he was successful in that aim, finding over 4,000 lines of hieroglyphics which were then sketched and photographed.

As an aspect of his attempt to curtail the rampant illegal export of Egyptian antiquities by tourists, collectors and agents for the major European and American museums, Maspero arrested the Abd al-Russul brothers from the notorious treasure-hunting village of Gorna, who confessed under torture to having found the great cache of royal mummies at Deir el-Bahri in July 1881. The cache was moved to Cairo as soon as possible to keep it safe from robbers.

In 1886 he resumed work begun by Mariette to uncover the Sphinx, removing more than 65 feet (20 m) of sand and seeking tombs below it (which he did not find, but have later been found and left unopened). He also introduced admission charges for Egyptian sites to the increasing number of tourists to pay for their upkeep and maintenance.
View of the collapsed columns from the north gate in 1900
figure found at Karnak
Maspero resumed his professorial duties in Paris from June 1886 until 1899, when, at 53, he returned to Egypt in his old capacity as director-general of the department of antiquities. On October 3rd that year an earthquake at Karnak collapsed 11 columns and left the main hall in ruins. Maspero had already made some repairs and clearances there (continued in his absence by unofficial but authorized explorers of many nationalities) in his previous tenure of office, and now he set up a team of workmen under French Egyptologists and regularly visited to oversee its reconstruction work, opposing some Romantics who wished the ruins left as they were. In 1903 an alabaster pavement was found in the court of the 7th Pylon, and beneath it a shaft leading to a large hoard of almost 17,000 statues, with  every part of the dig drawn, recorded and photographed.

Ludwig Borchardt (5 October 1863 – 12 August 1938) was a German Egyptologist who was born in Berlin.His main focus was Ancient Egyptian architecture. He began excavations in Amarna, where he discovered the workshop of the sculptor Djhutmose, amongst its contents was the bust of Nefertiti, (now in the Neues Museum in Berlin). He also directed the excavations in Heliopolis and the tombs of Old Kingdom nobles in Abu Gorab. He died in Paris, on 12 August 1938. Recently, controversy has arisen with the assertion he smuggled the bust of Nefertiti out of Egypt by reporting it as an artifact made of gypsum. It has also been claimed by Swiss art historian Henri Stierlin that the bust is a copy dating from 1912.

William Matthew Flinders Petrie (3 June 1853 – 28 July 1942), commonly known as Flinders Petrie, was an English Egyptologist and a pioneer of systematic methodology in archaeology and preservation of artifacts. He held the first chair of Egyptology in the United Kingdom, and excavated at many of the most important archaeological sites in Egypt, such as Naukratis, Tanis, Abydos and Amarna. Some consider his most famous discovery to be that of the Merneptah Stele, an opinion with which Petrie himself concurred.

Born in Maryon Road, Charlton, Kent (now part of south-east London), England, the son of William Petrie (1821–1908) and Anne (née Flinders (1812–1892). Anne was the daughter of Captain Matthew Flinders, surveyor of the Australian coastline.

Flinders Petrie was encouraged from childhood in his archaeological interests. At the age of eight he was being tutored in French, Latin, and Greek, until he had a collapse and was taught at home and self-taught.

After surveying British prehistoric monuments in his teenage years (commencing with the late Romano-British 'British Camp' that lay within yards of his family home in Charlton) in attempts to understand their geometry (at 19 tackling Stonehenge), Petrie travelled to Egypt early in 1880 to apply the same principles in a survey of the Great Pyramid at Giza, making him the first to properly investigate how they were constructed. On that visit he was appalled by the rate of destruction of monuments (some listed in guidebooks had been worn away completely since then) and mummies. He described Egypt as "a house on fire, so rapid was the destruction" and felt his duty to be that of a "salvage man, to get all I could, as quickly as possible and then, when I was 60, I would sit and write it all down".

Having returned to England at the end of 1880, Petrie wrote a number of articles and then met Amelia Edwards, journalist and patron of the Egypt Exploration Fund (now the Egypt Exploration Society), who became his strong supporter and later appointed him as Professor at her Egyptology chair at University College London. Impressed by his scientific approach, they offered him work as the successor to Édouard Naville. Petrie accepted the position and was given the sum of £250 per month to cover the excavation’s expenses. In November 1884, Petrie arrived in Egypt to begin his excavations.

Petrie
He then went straight to the burial site at Fayum, particularly interested in post-30 BC burials, which had not previously been fully studied. He found intact tombs and 60 of the famous portraits, and discovered from inscriptions on the mummies that they were kept with their living families for generations before burial. Under Auguste Mariette's arrangements, he sent 50% of these portraits to the Egyptian department of antiquities. However, later finding that Gaston Maspero placed little value on them and left them open to the elements in a yard behind the museum to deteriorate, he angrily demanded that they all be returned, forcing Maspero to pick the 12 best examples for the museum to keep and then returning 48 to Petrie, which he sent to London for a special showing at the British Museum.

In 1890, Petrie made the first of his many forays into Palestine, leading to much important archaeological work. His six-week excavation of Tell el-Hesi (which was mistakenly identified as Lachish) that year represents the first scientific excavation of an archaeological site in the Holy Land.

Next, from 1891, he worked on the temple of Aten at Tell-el-Amarna, discovering a 300-square-foot (28 m2) New Kingdom painted pavement of garden and animals and hunting scenes. This became a tourist attraction but, as there was no direct access to the site, tourists wrecked neighbouring fields on their way to it. This made local farmers deface the paintings, and it is only thanks to Petrie's copies that their original appearance is known.

painted pavement of garden at Tell-el-Amarna

The chair of Edwards Professor of Egyptian Archaeology and Philology at University College, London was set up and funded in 1892 by Amelia Edwards. Petrie's supporter since 1880, she made him its first holder. He continued to excavate in Egypt after taking up the professorship, training many of the best archaeologists of the day. In 1913 Petrie sold his large collection of Egyptian antiquities to University College, London, where it is now housed in the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology (The museum contains over 80,000 objects and ranks among some of the world's leading collections of Egyptian and Sudanese material. It ranks behind only the collections of the Cairo Museum, The British Museum and the Ägyptisches Museum, Berlin in number of items).

In early 1896, Petrie and his archaeological team were conducting excavations on a temple in Petrie's area of concession at Luxor. This temple complex was located just north of the original funerary temple of Amenhotep III which had been built on a flood plain. Two splendid stelae were found, both of them usurped on the reverse side by Merenptah, who had turned them face to the wall (a temple had been built by Merenptah, the son and successor of Ramesses II, almost entirely from stone which had been plundered from the temple of Amenophis III nearby) In one of the It was the first mention of the word "Israel" in any Egyptian text and the news made headlines when it reached the English papers.'

Petrie offered important collections of artefacts to the University of Strasbourg. In 1897, the Kaiser-Wilhelms-Universität Straßburg gratefully conferred to Petrie the title of doctor honoris causa.  1923 saw Petrie knighted for services to British archaeology and Egyptology. In 1926, the focus of Petrie’s work shifted permanently to Palestine (though he did become interested in early Egypt, in 1928 digging a cemetery at Luxor which proved so huge that he devised an entirely new excavation system, including comparison charts for finds which are still used today)

By linking styles of pottery with periods, he was the first to use seriation in Egyptology, a new method for establishing the chronology of a site. Flinders Petrie was also responsible for mentoring and training a whole generation of Egyptologists, including Howard Carter.

Upon his death in Jerusalem in 1942, influenced by his interest in science, races and different civilisations, Petrie donated his head to the Royal College of Surgeons of London, so that it could be studied for its high intellectual capacity. Petrie, who was also affiliated with a variety of far right-wing groups and anti-democratic thought in England and was a dedicated believer in the superiority of the Northern peoples over the Latinate and Southern peoples (Silberman, 1999), derided Budge's belief that the ancient Egyptians were an African people with roots in eastern Africa as impossible and "unscientific", as did his followers.

Howard Carter (9 May 1874 – 2 March 1939) was an English archaeologist and Egyptologist, noted as a primary discoverer of the tomb of Tutankhamun.

In 1891, at the age of 17, Carter, a talented young artist, was sent out to Egypt by the Egypt Exploration Fund to assist Percy Newberry in the excavation and recording of Middle Kingdom tombs at Beni Hasan. Even at that young age he was innovative in improving the methods of copying tomb decoration. In 1892 he worked under the tutelage of Flinders Petrie for one season at Amarna, the capital founded by the pharaoh Akhenaten.

In 1899, Carter was appointed the first chief inspector of the Egyptian Antiquities Service (EAS). He supervised a number of excavations at Thebes (now known as Luxor) before he was transferred in 1904 to the Inspectorate of Lower Egypt. Carter resigned from the Antiquities Service in 1904 as a result of an affray between Egyptian site guards and a group of French tourists, in which he sided with the Egyptian personnel.

After three hard years, Carter was employed by Lord Carnarvon to supervise his excavations from 1907. The intention of Gaston Maspero, who introduced the two, was to ensure that Carter imposed modern archaeological methods and systems of recording.

Carnarvon financed Carter's work in the Valley of the Kings from 1914, but it was interrupted by World War I until 1917, when serious work was resumed. After several years of fruitless searching, Carnarvon became dissatisfied with the lack of results and, in 1922, he gave Carter one more season of funding to find the tomb he was searching for. On 4 November 1922, Carter's water carrier found the steps leading to Tutankhamun's tomb (subsequently designated KV62), by far the best preserved and most intact pharaonic tomb ever found in the Valley of the Kings. The tomb was underneath the remains of workmen's huts built during the Ramesside Period (The creation of Ramesses VI's tomb, however, protected Tutankhamon's own intact tomb from grave robbers since debris from its formation was dumped over the tomb entrance to the boy king's tomb); this explains why it was spared from the worst of the tomb depredations of that time. He wired Carnarvon to come, and on 26 November 1922, with Carnarvon, Carnarvon's daughter, and others in attendance, Carter made the famous "tiny breach in the top left hand corner" of the doorway, and was able to peer in by the light of a candle and see that many of the gold and ebony treasures were still in place. He made the breach into the tomb with a chisel his grandmother had given him for his seventeenth birthday. She knew he would one day make an amazing archaeological discovery. He did not yet know at that point whether it was "a tomb or merely a cache", but he did see a promising sealed doorway between two sentinel statues. When Carnarvon asked "can you see anything?", Carter replied: "Yes, wonderful things."

The next several months were spent cataloging the contents of the antechamber under the 'often stressful' oversight of Pierre Lacau, director general of the Department of Antiquities of Egypt. On 16 February 1923, Carter opened the sealed doorway, and found that it did indeed lead to a burial chamber, and he got his first glimpse of the sarcophagus of Tutankhamun. All of these discoveries were eagerly covered by the world's press, but most of their representatives were kept in their hotels; only H. V. Morton was allowed on the scene, and his vivid descriptions helped to cement Carter's reputation with the British public.

The tomb was densely packed with items in great disarray. Carter was able to photograph garlands of flowers, which disintegrated when touched. Due to the state of the tomb, and to Carter's meticulous recording technique, the tomb took nearly a decade to empty, the contents all being transported to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Tutankhamun's tomb had been entered at least twice, not long after he was buried and well before Carter's discovery. The outermost doors of the shrines enclosing the king's nested coffins were left opened, and unsealed. It is estimated that 60% of the jewellery which had been stored in the "Treasury" was removed as well. After one of these ancient robberies, embalming materials from KV62 are believed to have been buried at KV54: it is thought that after the first robbery attempt of the tomb, the embalming cache material was moved to the pit that was KV54, and the corridor filled with rocky debris in order to stop any future robbery attempts.The food and other related items likely came from a funerary banquet held at the pharaoh's interment. He estimated that there had been a total of eight official mourners who had attended the burial.

In design, the tomb appears to have originally been intended for a private individual, not for royalty. There is some evidence to suggest that the tomb was adapted for a royal occupant during its excavation.


The clearance of the tomb with its thousands of objects continued until 1932. Following his sensational discovery Howard Carter retired from archaeology and became a part-time agent for collectors and museums, including the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Detroit Institute of Arts. He visited the United States in 1924, and gave a series of illustrated lectures in New York City and other cities in the United States which were attended by very large and enthusiastic audiences, sparking Egyptomania in America.

Hometric view of the corridor and four chambers of Tutankhamun's tomb with its contents.
On 5 April 1923, Carnarvon died in the Continental-Savoy Hotel in Cairo, in the Kingdom of Egypt. This led to the story of the "Curse of Tutankhamun", the "Mummy's Curse". His death is most probably explained by blood poisoning (progressing to pneumonia) after accidentally shaving a mosquito bite infected with erysipelas. His colleague and employee, Howard Carter, the man most responsible for revealing the tomb of the young king, lived safely for another sixteen years.

Carter died of lymphoma, a type of cancer, in Kensington, London, on 2 March 1939 at the age of 64.

Ernesto Schiaparelli (July 12, 1856– 1928) was an Italian Egyptologist, born in Occhieppo Inferiore (Biella), who found Queen Nefertari's tomb in Deir el-Medina in the Valley of the Queens (1904) and excavated the TT8 tomb of the royal architect Kha (1906), found intact and displayed in toto in Turin. He was appointed director of the Egyptian Museum in Florence, where he professionally reorganized the collection in new quarters in 1880, then at the peak of his career was made director of the Museo Egizio di Torino (It houses the second world's largest collections of Egyptian antiquities after Cairo), which became with him and his many seasons of excavating, the second biggest Egyptian museum in the world.

The pyramid-chapel of Kha and his wife Merit had already been well known for many years; indeed, scenes from it had already been copied by several Egyptologists including John Gardiner Wilkinson and Karl Lepsius in the 19th century. The items found in the tomb show that Kha and Merit were quite wealthy during their lifetime. Unlike the more chaotic burial of Tutankhamun, Kha's burial had been carefully planned out, the more important items had been covered by dust sheets, and the floor had been swept when the last person had left.The coffins of Kha and Merit had been buried in two nested coffins; Kha's mummy had been tightly wrapped with several items of jewelry included within the wrappings.

Statue of Kha


Pierre Montet (June 27, 1885, Villefranche-sur-Saône, Rhône – June 19, 1966) was a respected French Egyptologist.

He excavated at Byblos (modern Jbail) in Lebanon between 1921 and 1924, excavating tombs of rulers from Middle Kingdom times. Between 1929 and 1939, he excavated at Tanis, Egypt, finding the royal necropolis of the Twenty-first and Twenty-second Dynasties — the finds there almost equalled that of Tutankhamun's tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

In the 1939-1940 Egypt excavation season, he discovered the completely intact tombs of 3 Egyptian pharaohs at Tanis: Psusennes I, Amenemope, and Shoshenq II along with the partially plundered tomb of Takelot I in Lower Egypt at Tanis.

During his academic career, he served as Professor of Egyptology at the University of Strasbourg from 1919 to 1948 and then at the Collège de France, Paris between 1948 and 1956. He died in Paris on June 19, 1966.

Montet believed that his excavations at Tanis had uncovered Pi-Ramesses. After his death, Austrian Egyptologist Manfred Bietak discovered that although Montet had discovered Pi-Ramesses stonework at Tanis, the true location of the ancient city lay some 30 km to the south. Montet can be credited, however, as the discoverer of the "transplanted" city of Pi-Ramesses.

Richard H. Wilkinson (born 1951) is an archaeologist in the field of Egyptology. He is Regents Professor of Egyptian Archaeology at the University of Arizona and Director of the University of Arizona Egyptian Expedition. He has conducted research and excavation in Egypt for more than 20 years, mainly in the Valley of the Kings, and is currently excavating the memorial temple of Queen Twosret, a queen of the 19th dynasty who ruled Egypt as a king.



Richard H. Wilkinson
Wilkinson has held a number of professional offices, he is the editor of the Directory of North American Egyptologists and also editor of the Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections, an online publication concerning the interactions of ancient Egypt with other Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cultures. He is the author of many scholarly articles and books on Egyptology and his books have been translated into many languages. He is best known for his studies of Egyptian symbolism and his work in Egyptian archaeology.


Old Egyptian way of life


-> Return to main Index (The Ancient Egypt)

Old Egyptian life:

The ancient Egyptians viewed men and women, including people from all social classes except slaves, as essentially equal under the law, and even the lowliest peasant was entitled to petition the vizier and his court for redress. Both men and women had the right to own and sell property, make contracts, marry and divorce, receive inheritance, and pursue legal disputes in court. Married couples could own property jointly and protect themselves from divorce by agreeing to marriage contracts, which stipulated the financial obligations of the husband to his wife and children should the marriage end. Compared with their counterparts in ancient Greece, Rome, and even more modern places around the world, ancient Egyptian women had a greater range of personal choices and opportunities for achievement. Women such as Hatshepsut and Cleopatra VI even became pharaohs, while others wielded power as Divine Wives of Amun. Despite these freedoms, ancient Egyptian women did not often take part in official roles in the administration, served only secondary roles in the temples, and were not as likely to be as educated as men.

Egyptian society was highly stratified, and social status was expressly displayed. Farmers made up the bulk of the population, but agricultural produce was owned directly by the state, temple, or noble family that owned the land. Farmers were also subject to a labor tax and were required to work on irrigation or construction projects in a corve system. Artists and craftsmen were of higher status than farmers, but they were also under state control, working in the shops attached to the temples and paid directly from the state treasury. Scribes and officials formed the upper class in ancient Egypt, the so-called "white kilt class" in reference to the bleached linen garments that served as a mark of their rank. The upper class prominently displayed their social status in art and literature. Below the nobility were the priests, physicians, and engineers with specialized training in their field. Slavery was known in ancient Egypt, but the extent and prevalence of its practice are unclear.

The head of the legal system was officially the pharaoh, who was responsible for enacting laws, delivering justice, and maintaining law and order, a concept the ancient Egyptians referred to as Ma'at. Although no legal codes from ancient Egypt survive, court documents show that Egyptian law was based on a common-sense view of right and wrong that emphasized reaching agreements and resolving conflicts rather than strictly adhering to a complicated set of statutes

Local councils of elders, known as Kenbet in the New Kingdom, were responsible for ruling in court cases involving small claims and minor disputes. More serious cases involving murder, major land transactions, and tomb robbery were referred to the Great Kenbet, over which the vizier or pharaoh presided. Plaintiffs and defendants were expected to represent themselves and were required to swear an oath that they had told the truth. In some cases, the state took on both the role of prosecutor and judge, and it could torture the accused with beatings to obtain a confession and the names of any co-conspirators. Whether the charges were trivial or serious, court scribes documented the complaint, testimony, and verdict of the case for future reference. Punishment for minor crimes involved either imposition of fines, beatings, facial mutilation, or exile, depending on the severity of the offense. Serious crimes such as murder and tomb robbery were punished by execution, carried out by decapitation, drowning, or impaling the criminal on a stake. Punishment could also be extended to the criminal's family. Beginning in the New Kingdom, oracles played a major role in the legal system, dispensing justice in both civil and criminal cases. The procedure was to ask the god a "yes" or "no" question concerning the right or wrong of an issue. The god, carried by a number of priests, rendered judgment by choosing one or the other, moving forward or backward, or pointing to one of the answers written on a piece of papyrus or an ostracon.

The ancient Egyptians used donkeys and oxen as beasts of burden, and they were responsible for plowing the fields and trampling seed into the soil. The slaughter of a fattened ox was also a central part of an offering ritual. Horses were introduced by the Hyksos in the Second Intermediate Period, and the camel, although known from the New Kingdom, was not used as a beast of burden until the Late Period. There is also evidence to suggest that elephants were briefly utilized in the Late Period, but largely abandoned due to lack of grazing land. Dogs, cats and monkeys were common family pets, while more exotic pets imported from the heart of Africa, such as lions, were reserved for royalty. Herodotus observed that the Egyptians were the only people to keep their animals with them in their houses. During the Predynastic and Late periods, the worship of the gods in their animal form was extremely popular, such as the cat goddess Bastet and the ibis god Thoth, and these animals were bred in large numbers on farms for the purpose of ritual sacrifice.

The ancient Egyptians placed a great value on hygiene and appearance. Most bathed in the Nile and used a pasty soap made from animal fat and chalk. Men shaved their entire bodies for cleanliness, and aromatic perfumes and ointments covered bad odors and soothed skin. Clothing was made from simple linen sheets that were bleached white, and both men and women of the upper classes wore wigs, jewelry, and cosmetics. Children went without clothing until maturity, at about age 12, and at this age males were circumcised and had their heads shaved. Mothers were responsible for taking care of the children, while the father provided the family's income.

Circumcision was practiced in Ancient Egypt with one record as far back as over 4,200 years ago mentioning the circumcision of 120 boys in a single ceremony. It appears to have been carried out at puberty and on reaching adolescence the side-lock worn by young male children also disappeared. The rite was called the Sebi and became compulsory for all priests of the temples if not for all youths. It may have been for 'cleanliness' in a hot dusty land as Herodotus said, but it also appeared to have religious and ethnic significance as it differentiated them from foreigners. A religious custom, as we know, also adopted by the Israelites.

Hieroglyphic writing dates to c. 3200 BC, and is composed of some 500 symbols. A hieroglyph can represent a word, a sound, or a silent determinative; and the same symbol can serve different purposes in different contexts. Hieroglyphs were a formal script, used on stone monuments and in tombs, that could be as detailed as individual works of art. In day-to-day writing, scribes used a cursive form of writing, called hieratic, which was quicker and easier. While formal hieroglyphs may be read in rows or columns in either direction (though typically written from right to left), hieratic was always written from right to left, usually in horizontal rows. A new form of writing, Demotic, became the prevalent writing style, and it is this form of writing along with formal hieroglyphs that accompany the Greek text on the Rosetta Stone.

The Egyptians believed that every human being was composed of physical and spiritual parts or aspects. In addition to the body, each person had a wt (shadow), a ba (personality or soul), a ka (life-force), and a name. The heart, rather than the brain, was considered the seat of thoughts and emotions. After death, the spiritual aspects were released from the body and could move at will, but they required the physical remains (or a substitute, such as a statue) as a permanent home. The ultimate goal of the deceased was to rejoin his ka and ba and become one of the "blessed dead", living on as an akh, or "effective one". For this to happen, the deceased had to be judged worthy in a trial, in which the heart was weighed against a "feather of truth". If deemed worthy, the deceased could continue their existence on earth in spiritual form. By the New Kingdom, the ancient Egyptians had perfected the art of mummification; the best technique took 70 days and involved removing the internal organs, removing the brain through the nose, and desiccating the body in a mixture of salts called natron. The body was then wrapped in linen with protective amulets inserted between layers and placed in a decorated anthropoid coffin. Mummies of the Late Period were also placed in painted cartonnage mummy cases. Actual preservation practices declined during the Ptolemaic and Roman eras, while greater emphasis was placed on the outer appearance of the mummy, which was decorated. Wealthy Egyptians were buried with larger quantities of luxury items, but all burials, regardless of social status, included goods for the deceased. Beginning in the New Kingdom, books of the dead were included in the grave, along with shabti statues that were believed to perform manual labor for them in the afterlife. The New Kingdom saw the Book of the Dead develop and spread further. The famous Spell 125, the 'Weighing of the Heart', is first known from the reign of Hatshepsut and Tuthmose III, c.1475 BC. From this period onward the Book of the Dead was typically written on a papyrus scroll, and the text illustrated with vignettes.During the 25th and 26th dynasties, the Book of the Dead was updated, revised and standardised. Spells were consistently ordered and numbered for the first time. This standardised version is known today as the 'Saite recension', after the Saite (26th) dynasty. In the Late period and Ptolemaic period, the Book of the Dead remained based on the Saite recension, though increasingly abbreviated towards the end of the Ptolemaic period.
Hunefer (fl. 1310 BCE) was a scribe during the 19th Dynasty. His copy of the Egyptian funerary Book of the Dead, along with the Papyrus of Ani, represent classical examples of these documents. He was "Scribe of Divine Offerings", "Overseer of Royal Cattle", and steward of Pharaoh Seti I
In the three scenes from the Book of the Dead (version from ~1300 BCE) the dead man (Hunefer) is taken into the judgment hall by the jackal-headed Anubis. The next scene is the weighing of his heart, with Ammut awaiting the result and Thoth recording. Next, the triumphant Hunefer, having passed the test, is presented by the falcon-headed Horus to Osiris, seated in his shrine with Isis and Nephthys. (British Museum)
Literature: The Story of Sinuhe, written in Middle Egyptian, might be the classic of Egyptian literature. Also written at this time was the Westcar Papyrus, a set of stories told to Khufu by his sons relating the marvels performed by priests. The Instruction of Amenemope is considered a masterpiece of near-eastern literature. Towards the end of the New Kingdom, the vernacular language was more often employed to write popular pieces like the Story of Wenamun and the Instruction of Any. The former tells the story of a noble who is robbed on his way to buy cedar from Lebanon and of his struggle to return to Egypt. From about 700 BC, narrative stories and instructions, such as the popular Instructions of Onchsheshonqy, as well as personal and business documents were written in the demotic script and phase of Egyptian.

Sinuhe is an official who accompanies prince Senwosret I to Libya. He overhears a conversation connected with the death of King Amenemhet I and as a result flees to Upper Retjenu (Canaan), leaving Egypt behind. He becomes the son-in-law of Chief Ammunenshi and in time his sons grow to become chiefs in their own right. Sinuhe fights rebellious tribes on behalf of Ammunenshi. As an old man, in the aftermath of defeating a powerful opponent in single combat, he prays for a return to his homeland.: "May god pity me..may he hearken to the prayer of one far away!..may the King have mercy on me..may I be conducted to the city of eternity!". He then receives an invitation from King Senwosret I of Egypt to return, which he accepts in highly moving terms. Living out the rest of his life in royal favour he is finally laid to rest in the necropolis in a beautiful tomb.

Parallels have been made with the biblical narrative of Joseph. In what is seen as divine providence, the Syro-Canaanite Joseph is taken to Egypt where he becomes part of the ruling elite, acquires a wife and family, before being reunited with his Syro-Canaanite family. In what as seen as divine providence, Sinuhe the Egyptian flees to Syro-Canaan and becomes a member of the ruling elite, acquires a wife and family, before being reunited with his Egyptian family. Parallels have also been drawn with other biblical texts: Sinuhe's frustrated flight from the orbit of god's power (=King) is likened to the Hebrew prophet Jonah's similar attempt, his fight with a mighty challenger, whom he slays with a single blow, is compared to the battle between David and Goliath and his return home likened to the parable of the Prodigal Son.

The story also formed part of the inspiration for the 1945 novel by Mika Waltari, and the 1954 Hollywood film epic, both titled The Egyptian, which although set during the reign of 18th dynasty pharaoh Akhenaten, features a lead character named Sinuhe who flees Egypt in disgrace, to return after achieving material success and personal redemption in foreign lands.


Roman Egypt (30 BC to AD 395)

-> Return to main Index (The Ancient Egypt)

Roman Egypt (30 BC to AD 395)

The Roman province of Egypt (Aegyptus) was established in 30 BC after Octavian (the future emperor Augustus) defeated his rival Mark Antony, deposed his lover Queen Cleopatra VII and annexed the Ptolemaic kingdom of Egypt to the Roman Empire. The province encompassed most of modern-day Egypt except for the Sinai Peninsula (which would later be conquered by Trajan).

As a province, Aegyptus was ruled by a prefect instead of the traditional senatorial governor of other Roman provinces. The prefect was a man of equestrian rank and was appointed by the Emperor. The first prefect of Aegyptus, Gaius Cornelius Gallus, brought Upper Egypt under Roman control by force of arms, established a protectorate over the southern frontier district, which had been abandoned by the later Ptolemies.

From the reign of Nero onward, Aegyptus enjoyed an era of prosperity which lasted a century. Much trouble was caused by religious conflicts between the Greeks and the Jews, particularly in Alexandria, which after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 became the world centre of Jewish religion and culture. Under Trajan a Jewish revolt occurred, resulting in the suppression of the Jews of Alexandria and the loss of all their privileges, although they soon returned. Hadrian, who twice visited Aegyptus, founded Antinoöpolis in memory of his drowned lover Antinous. From his reign onward buildings in the Greco-Roman style were erected throughout the country.

Under Antoninus Pius, however, oppressive taxation led to a revolt in 139, of the native Egyptians, which was suppressed only after several years of fighting.

Caracalla (211-217) granted Roman citizenship to all Egyptians, in common with the other provincials, but this was mainly to extort more taxes, which grew increasingly onerous as the needs of the emperors for more revenue grew more desperate.

There was a series of revolts, both military and civilian, through the 3rd century. Under Decius, in 250, the Christians again suffered from persecution, but their religion continued to spread.

Zenobia, queen of Palmyra, took the country away from the Romans when she conquered Aegyptus in 269, declaring herself the Queen of Egypt also. This warrior queen claimed that Egypt was an ancestral home of hers through a familial tie to Cleopatra VII.

Two generals based in Egypt, Probus and Domitius Domitianus, led successful revolts and made themselves emperors. Diocletian captured Alexandria from Domitius in 298 and reorganised the whole province. His edict of 303 against the Christians began a new era of persecution. This was the last serious attempt to stem the steady growth of Christianity in Egypt, however.

Just as under the Ptolemies, Alexandria and its citizens had their own special designations. The capital city enjoyed a higher status and more privileges than the rest of Egypt. Just as it was under the Ptolemies, the primary way of becoming a citizen of Roman Alexandria was through showing when registering for a deme that both parents were Alexandrian citizens. Alexandrians were the only Egyptians that could obtain Roman citizenship. If a common Egyptian wanted to become a Roman citizen he would first have to become an Alexandrian citizen.

Egyptian Christians believe that the Patriarchate of Alexandria was founded by Mark the Evangelist around 33, but little is known about how Christianity entered Egypt. The historian Helmut Koester has suggested, with some evidence, that originally the Christians in Egypt were predominantly influenced by gnosticism until the efforts of Demetrius of Alexandria gradually brought the beliefs of the majority into harmony with the rest of Christianity.

By 200 it is clear that Alexandria was one of the great Christian centres. The Christian apologists Clement of Alexandria and Origen both lived part or all of their lives in that city, where they wrote, taught, and debated.

No sooner had the Egyptian Church achieved freedom and supremacy, however, than it became subject to schism and prolonged conflict which at times descended into civil war. Alexandria became the centre of the first great split in the Christian world, between the Arians, named for the Alexandrian priest Arius, and their opponents, represented by Athanasius, who became Archbishop of Alexandria in 326 after the First Council of Nicaea rejected Arius's views. The Arian controversy caused years of riots and rebellions throughout most of the 4th century. In the course of one of these, the great temple of Serapis, the stronghold of paganism, was destroyed. Athanasius was alternately expelled from Alexandria and reinstated as its Archbishop between five and seven times.

Arius is notable primarily because of his role in the Arian controversy, a great fourth-century theological conflict that rocked the Christian world and led to the calling of the first ecumenical council of the Church. This controversy centered upon the nature of the Son of God, and his precise relationship to God the Father. Arius ignited the controversy that bears his name when St. Alexander of Alexandria, who had succeeded Achillas as the Bishop of Alexandria, gave a sermon on the similarity of the Son to the Father. Arius interpreted Alexander's speech as being a revival of Sabellianism, condemned it, and then argued that "if the Father begat the Son, he that was begotten had a beginning of existence: and from this it is evident, that there was a time when the Son was not. It therefore necessarily follows, that he [the Son] had his substance from nothing." This quote describes the essence of Arius' doctrine.

At this First Council of Nicaea in 325 (celebrated at Bithynia, present Turkey) twenty-two bishops, led by Eusebius of Nicomedia, came as supporters of Arius. But when some of Arius's writings were read aloud, they are reported to have been denounced as blasphemous by most participants. For about two months, the two sides argued and debated, with each appealing to Scripture to justify their respective positions. Anthonius is quoted to have said "Jesus that I know as my Redeemer cannot be less than God" . Under Constantine's influence, the majority of the bishops ultimately agreed upon a creed, known thereafter as the Nicene creed. It included the word homoousios, meaning "consubstantial", or "one in essence", which was incompatible with Arius' beliefs

On June 19, 325, council and emperor issued a circular to the churches in and around Alexandria: Arius and two of his unyielding partisans (Theonas and Secundus) were deposed and exiled to Illyricum, while three other supporters—Theognis of Nicaea, Eusebius of Nicomedia and Maris of Chalcedon—affixed their signatures solely out of deference to the emperor. In the course of one of these, the great temple of Serapis, the stronghold of paganism, was destroyed. Athanasius was alternately expelled from Alexandria and reinstated as its Archbishop between five and seven times.

Though he never repudiated the council or its decrees, the emperor ultimately permitted Arius (who had taken refuge in Palestine) and many of his adherents to return to their homes, once Arius had reformulated his Christology to mute the ideas found most objectionable by his critics. As it turned out—for whatever reason—one day before the Sunday appointed for Arius to be formally readmitted to communion, Arius suddenly died. Many Nicene Christians asserted that Arius's death was miraculous—a consequence of his allegedly heretical views.

Constantius II, who succeeded Constantine, was an Arian sympathizer who openly encouraged the Arians by appointing Eusebius of Nicomedia, another sympathizer to Arianism, as Bishop ("Patriarch", in the Eastern Church) of Constantinople. However, Theodosius I effectively wiped out Arianism once and for all among the elites of the Eastern Empire through a combination of imperial decree, persecution, and the calling of the Second Ecumenical Council in 381, which condemned Arius anew while reaffirming and expanding the Nicene Creed: One of the projects undertaken by the Council was the creation of the Nicene Creed, a declaration and summary of the Christian faith.

Egypt had an ancient tradition of religious speculation, enabling a variety of controversial religious views to thrive there. Not only did Arianism flourish, but other doctrines, such as Gnosticism and Manichaeism, either native or imported, found many followers. Another religious development in Egypt was the monasticism of the Desert Fathers, who renounced the material world in order to live a life of poverty in devotion to the Church. The Desert Fathers were hermits, ascetics, monks, and nuns (Desert Mothers) who lived mainly in the Scetes desert of Egypt beginning around the third century AD. The most well known was Anthony the Great, who moved to the desert in 270–271 and became known as both the father and founder of desert monasticism. By the time Anthony died in 356, thousands of monks and nuns had been drawn to living in the desert following Anthony's example — his biographer, Athanasius of Alexandria, wrote that "the desert had become a city".

Sometime around the year 270 AD, Anthony heard a Sunday sermon stating that perfection could be achieved by selling all of one's possessions, giving the proceeds to the poor, and following Christ.(Matt. 19.21, part of the Evangelical counsels) He took the message to heart and made the further step of moving deep into the desert to seek complete solitude. Over time, the model of Anthony and other hermits attracted many followers, who lived alone in the desert or in small groups. They chose a life of extreme asceticism, renouncing all the pleasures of the senses, rich food, baths, rest, and anything that made them comfortable.

Hesychasm (from the Greek for "stillness, rest, quiet, silence") is a mystical tradition and movement that originated with the Desert Fathers and was central to their practice of prayer.  Hesychasm for the Desert Fathers was primarily the practice of "interior silence and continual prayer". It didn't become a formal movement of specific practices until the fourteenth century Byzantine meditative prayer techniques, when it was more closely identified with the Prayer of the Heart, or "Jesus Prayer".

The emphasis of the Desert Fathers was on living and practicing the teachings of Christ, much more than mere theoretical knowledge. Their efforts to live the commandments were not seen as being easy — many of the stories from that time recount the struggle to overcome negative emotions such as anger and judgment of others.  Anthony himself is said to have faced a series of supernatural temptations during his pilgrimage to the desert. Some of the stories included in Saint Anthony's biography are perpetuated now mostly in paintings, where they give an opportunity for artists to depict their more lurid or bizarre interpretations. Many artists, including Martin Schongauer, Hieronymus Bosch, Dorothea Tanning, Max Ernst, and Salvador Dalí, have depicted these incidents from the life of Anthony.

The Temptation St. Anthony by Salvador Dali

The desert monastic communities that grew out of the informal gathering of hermit monks became the model for Christian monasticism. The eastern monastic tradition at Mt. Athos and the western Rule of St. Benedict both were strongly influenced by the traditions that began in the desert.

Egyptian Christians took up monasticism with such enthusiasm that the Emperor Valens had to restrict the number of men who could become monks. Egypt exported monasticism to the rest of the Christian world. Another development of this period was the development of Coptic, a form of the Ancient Egyptian language written with the Greek alphabet supplemented by several signs to represent sounds present in Egyptian which were not present in Greek. Coptic is invented as a means to ensure correct pronunciation of magical words and names in "pagan" texts, the so-called Greek Magical.



The fall of the Western Empire in the 5th century further isolated the Egyptian Romans from Rome's culture and hastened the growth of Christianity. The triumph of Christianity led to a virtual abandonment of pharaonic traditions: with the disappearance of the Egyptian priests and priestesses who officiated at the temples, no-one could read the hieroglyphs of Pharaonic Egypt, and its temples were converted to churches or abandoned to the desert.

The Eastern Empire became increasingly "oriental" in style as its links with the old Græco-Roman world faded. The Greek system of local government by citizens had now entirely disappeared. Offices, with new Byzantine names, were almost hereditary in the wealthy land-owning families. Alexandria, the second city of the empire, continued to be a centre of religious controversy and violence. Cyril, the patriarch of Alexandria, convinced the city's governor to expel the Jews from the city in 415 with the aid of the mob, in response to the Jews' alleged nighttime massacre of many Christians.The murder of the philosopher Hypatia marked the final end of classical Hellenic culture in Egypt. Hypatia (ca. AD 350–370–March 415)  was a Greek Neoplatonist philosopher in Roman Egypt who was the first notable woman in mathematics. As head of the Platonist school at Alexandria, she also taught philosophy and astronomy.

Modern studies represent Hypatia's death as the result of a struggle between two Christian factions, the moderate Orestes, who was the Praefectus augustalis -gobernor- of the Diocese of Egypt (province of Rome) and supported by Hypatia, and the more rigid Cyril.

According to Christian sources, the Jews of Alexandria schemed against the Christians and killed many of them. Cyril reacted and expelled either all of the Jews, or else only the murderers, from Alexandria, actually exerting a power that belonged to the civil officer, Orestes. Orestes was powerless, but nonetheless rejected Cyril's gesture of offering him a Bible, which would mean that the religious authority of Cyril would require Orestes' acquiescence in the bishop's policy

Nitrian monks came from the desert and instigated a riot against Orestes among the population of Alexandria. These monks' violence had already been used, 15 years before, by Theophilus against the "Tall Brothers"; furthermore, it is said that Cyril had spent five years among them in ascetic training.

Prefect Orestes enjoyed the political backing of Hypatia, a philosopher and scientist who had considerable moral authority in the city of Alexandria, and who had extensive influence.

Several Christians thought that Hypatia's influence had caused Orestes to reject all reconciliatory offerings by Cyril. Modern historians think that Orestes had cultivated his relationship with Hypatia to strengthen a bond with the pagan community of Alexandria, as he had done with the Jewish one, to handle better the difficult political life of the Egyptian capital. A Christian mob possibly led by Nitrian monks, however, grabbed Hypatia out of her chariot and brutally murdered her, hacking her body apart and burning the pieces outside the city walls.

This political assassination eliminated an important and powerful supporter of the Imperial Prefect, and led Orestes to give up his struggle against Patriarch Cyril and leave Alexandria.

In 396, Emperor Theodosius I, age 48, dies after a disease involving severe edema, at Milan. The Roman Empire is re-divided into an eastern and a western half. The Eastern Roman Empire is centered in Constantinople under Arcadius, son of Theodosius, and the Western Roman Empire in Mediolanum under Honorius, his brother. Egypt is under the Eastern Roman Empire.


The new religious controversy was over the nature of Jesus of Nazareth. The issue was whether he had two natures, human and divine, or a combined one (from His humanity and divinity). This may seem an arcane distinction, but in an intensely religious age it was enough to divide an empire. The Miaphysite controversy arose after the First Council of Constantinople in 381 (The Council confirmed the teachings of Saint Athanasius and confirmed the title of Mary as "Mother of God".) and continued until the Council of Chalcedon in 451, which ruled in favour of the position that Jesus was "In two natures" due to confusing Miaphytism (combined) with Monophystism (single). The Council of Chalcedon was a church council held from October 8 to November 1, 451 AD, at Chalcedon (a city of Bithynia in Asia Minor), on the Asian side of the Bosporus. The council marked a significant turning point in the Christological debates that led to the separation of the church of the Eastern Roman Empire in the 5th century. It is the last council which many Anglicans and most Protestants consider ecumenical. The Church of Alexandria split from the Churches of Rome and Constantinople over this issue, creating what would become the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, which remains a major force in Egyptian religious life today. In terms of Christology, the Oriental Orthodox (Non-Chalcedonians) understanding is that Christ is "One Nature--the Logos Incarnate" of the full humanity and full divinity.

Egypt nevertheless continued to be an important economic center for the Empire supplying much of its agriculture and manufacturing needs as well as continuing to be an important center of scholarship. It would supply the needs of Byzantine Empire and the Mediterranean as a whole. The reign of Justinian (482–565) saw the Empire recapture Rome and much of Italy from the barbarians, but these successes left the empire's eastern flank exposed. The Empire's "bread basket" now lacked for protection.

The Persian conquest of Egypt, beginning in 619 or 618, was one of the last Sassanid triumphs in the Roman-Persian Wars against Byzantium. Khosrow II Parvêz had begun this war in retaliation for the assassination of Emperor Maurice (582-602) and had achieved a series of early successes, culminating in the conquests of Jerusalem (614) and Alexandria (619). The Persian conquest allowed Miaphysitism to resurface in the open in Egypt, and when imperial rule was restored by Emperor Heraclius in 629, the Miaphysites were persecuted and their patriarch expelled. Egypt was thus in a state of both religious and political alienation from the Empire when a new invader appeared.


Ptolemaic Egypt (332 BC -30 BC)


-> Return to main Index (The Ancient Egypt)

Ptolemaic Egypt (332 BC -30 BC)

In 332 BC Alexander III of Macedon conquered Egypt with little resistance from the Persians. He was welcomed by the Egyptians as a deliverer. He visited Memphis, and went on a pilgrimage to the oracle of Amun at the Oasis of Siwa. The oracle declared him to be the son of Amun. He conciliated the Egyptians by the respect which he showed for their religion, but he appointed Greeks to virtually all the senior posts in the country, and founded a new Greek city, Alexandria, to be the new capital. The wealth of Egypt could now be harnessed for Alexander's conquest of the rest of the Persian Empire. Early in 331 BC he was ready to depart, and led his forces away to Phoenicia. He left Cleomenes as the ruling nomarch to control Egypt in his absence. Alexander never returned to Egypt.

On either 10 or 11 June 323 BC, Alexander died in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II, in Babylon, at age 32. Details of the death differ slightly – Plutarch's account is that roughly 14 days before his death, Alexander entertained admiral Nearchus, and spent the night and next day drinking with Medius of Larissa. He developed a fever, which worsened until he was unable to speak. Given the propensity of the Macedonian aristocracy to assassination, foul play featured in multiple accounts of his death.

In 2010, however, a new theory proposed that the circumstances of his death were compatible with poisoning by water of the river Styx (Mavroneri) that contained calicheamicin, a dangerous compound produced by bacteria. Several natural causes (diseases) have been suggested, including malaria and typhoid fever.

Alexander's body was laid in a gold anthropoid sarcophagus, which was in turn placed in a gold casket.According to Aelian, a seer called Aristander foretold that the land where Alexander was laid to rest "would be happy and unvanquishable forever". Perhaps more likely, the successors may have seen possession of the body as a symbol of legitimacy, since burying the prior king was a royal prerogative. While Alxander's funeral cortege was on its way to Macedon, Ptolemy stole it and took it to Memphis. His successor, Ptolemy II Philadelphus, transferred the sarcophagus to Alexandria, where it remained until at least late Antiquity. Ptolemy IX Lathyros, one of Ptolemy's final successors, replaced Alexander's sarcophagus with a glass one so he could convert the original to coinage. Pompey, Julius Caesar and Augustus all visited the tomb in Alexandria. The latter allegedly accidentally knocked the nose off the body. Caligula was said to have taken Alexander's breastplate from the tomb for his own use. In c. AD 200, Emperor Septimius Severus closed Alexander's tomb to the public. His son and successor, Caracalla, a great admirer, visited the tomb during his own reign. After this, details on the fate of the tomb are hazy.

Caesar at the Grave of Alexander
Alexander's legacy extended beyond his military conquests. His campaigns greatly increased contacts and trade between East and West, and vast areas to the east were significantly exposed to Greek civilization and influence. Some of the cities he founded became major cultural centers, many surviving into the twenty-first century. His chroniclers recorded valuable information about the areas through which he marched, while the Greeks themselves got a sense of belonging to a world beyond the Mediterranean. Alexander's most immediate legacy was the introduction of Macedonian rule to huge new swathes of Asia. At the time of his death, Alexander's empire covered some 5,200,000 km2 (2,000,000 sq mi), and was the largest state of its time. Many of these areas remained in Macedonian hands or under Greek influence for the next 200–300 years. The successor states that emerged were, at least initially, dominant forces, and these 300 years are often referred to as the Hellenistic period. Over the course of his conquests, Alexander founded some twenty cities that bore his name, most of them east of the Tigris. The first, and greatest, was Alexandria in Egypt, which would become one of the leading Mediterranean cities

Hellenization was coined by the German historian Johann Gustav Droysen to denote the spread of Greek language, culture, and population into the former Persian empire after Alexander's conquest. That this export took place is undoubted, and can be seen in the great Hellenistic cities of, for instance, Alexandria, Antioch and Seleucia (south of modern Baghdad). Some of the most unusual effects of Hellenization can be seen in India, in the region of the relatively late-arising Indo-Greek kingdoms.There, isolated from Europe, Greek culture apparently hybridized with Indian, and especially Buddhist, influences. The first realistic portrayals of the Buddha appeared at this time; they were modeled on Greek statues of Apollo.

Following Alexander's death in Babylon in 323 BC, a succession crisis erupted among his generals. Initially, Perdiccas ruled the empire as regent for Alexander's half-brother Arrhidaeus, who became Philip III of Macedon, and then as regent for both Philip III and Alexander's infant son Alexander IV of Macedon, who had not been born at the time of his father's death.

Perdiccas appointed Ptolemy, one of Alexander's closest companions, to be satrap of Egypt. Ptolemy ruled Egypt from 323 BC, nominally in the name of the joint kings Philip III and Alexander IV. However, as Alexander the Great's empire disintegrated, Ptolemy soon established himself as ruler in his own right. Ptolemy successfully defended Egypt against an invasion by Perdiccas in 321 BC, and consolidated his position in Egypt and the surrounding areas during the Wars of the Diadochi (322 BC-301 BC). In 305 BC, Ptolemy took the title of King. As Ptolemy I Soter ("Saviour"), he founded the Ptolemaic dynasty that was to rule Egypt for nearly 300 years.

All the male rulers of the dynasty took the name "Ptolemy", while princesses and queens preferred the names Cleopatra and Berenice.

Ptolemy II instituted a new practice of brother-sister marriage when he married his full sister, Arsinoe II. They became, in effect, co-rulers, and both took the epithet Philadelphus ("Brother-Loving" and "Sister-Loving").

This custom made Ptolemaic politics confusingly incestuous, and the later Ptolemies were increasingly feeble. The only Ptolemaic Queens to officially rule on their own were Berenice III and Berenice IV. Cleopatra V did co-rule, but it was with another female, Berenice IV. Cleopatra VII officially co-ruled with Ptolemy XIII Theos Philopator, Ptolemy XIV, and Ptolemy XV, but effectively, she ruled Egypt alone. Several queens exercised regal authority, but the most famous and successful was Cleopatra VII (51 BC-30 BC), with her two brothers and her son as successive nominal co-rulers.


The early Ptolemies did not disturb the religion or the customs of the Egyptians, and indeed built magnificent new temples for the Egyptian gods and soon adopted the outward display of the Pharaohs of old.

The Greeks always remained a privileged minority in Ptolemaic Egypt. They lived under Greek law, received a Greek education, were tried in Greek courts, and were citizens of Greek cities, just as they had been in Greece. The Egyptians were rarely admitted to the higher levels of Greek culture, in which most Egyptians were not in any case interested.

The Ptolemies undertook changes that went far beyond any other measures that earlier foreign rulers had imposed. They used the religion and traditions to increase their own power and wealth. Although they established a prosperous kingdom, enhanced with fine buildings, the native population enjoyed few benefits, and there were frequent uprisings.

Early Greek settlers did little to hide their disdain for the Egyptian population which surrounded them, people they thought to be barbaric. Despite this initial disdain, later generations of the Greek population were more open to intermarriage with the Egyptian population, particularly in the settlements farthest away from Alexandria

Ptolemy I, perhaps with advice from Demetrius of Phalerum, founded the Museum and Library of Alexandria. The Museum was a research centre supported by the king. It was located in the royal sector of the city. The scholars were housed in the same sector and funded by the Ptolemaic rulers. They had access to the Library. The chief librarian served also as the crown prince's tutor. For the first hundred and fifty years of its existence this library and research centre drew the top Greek scholars. This was a key academic, literary and scientific centre.

A number of the Ptolemaic dynasty are described as being extremely obese, whilst sculptures and coins reveal prominent eyes and swollen necks. Familial Graves' disease could explain the swollen necks and eye prominence (exophthalmos), although this is unlikely to occur in the presence of morbid obesity.


prominent eyes and swollen necks, some of the common features of the Ptlomaic dinasty
Ptolemy I Soter  was a ready patron of letters, founding the Great Library of Alexandria. He himself wrote a history of Alexander's campaigns that has not survived. Although now lost, it was a principal source for the surviving account by Arrian of Nicomedia.

Ptolemy III is  credited with the foundation of the Serapeum. Due to a falling out at the Seleucid court, his eldest sister Berenice Phernophorus was murdered along with her infant son. In response Ptolemy III invaded Syria.During this war, the Third Syrian War, he occupied Antioch and even reached Babylon. In exchange for a peace in 241 BC, Ptolemy was awarded new territories on the northern coast of Syria, including Seleucia Pieria, the port of Antioch. The Ptolemaic kingdom reached the height of its power. This war is cryptically alluded to in Daniel 11:7-9

[Ptolemy III Euergetes, (Ptolemai~os Euergéte-s, reigned 246 BC – 222 BC) was the third ruler of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt. A serapeum is a temple or other religious institution dedicated to the syncretic Hellenistic-Egyptian god Serapis, who combined aspects of Osiris and Apis in a humanized form that was accepted by the Ptolemaic Greeks of Alexandria. There were several such religious centers, each of which was a serapeion  or, in its Latinized form, a serapeum ("seh-rah-peh-um").

The Serapeum of Alexandria in Ptolemaic Egypt was a temple built by Ptolemy III (reigned 246–222 BCE) and dedicated to Serapis, the syncretic Hellenistic-Egyptian god who was made the protector of Alexandria. By all detailed accounts, the Serapeum was the largest and most magnificent of all temples in the Greek quarter of Alexandria. The geographer Strabo tells that this stood in the west of the city. Nothing now remains above ground.

The Serapeum in Alexandria was destroyed by a Christian crowd or Roman soldiers in 391. Two conflicting accounts for the context of the destruction of the Serapeum exist.

A film called Agora was released in 2009 depicting these and other events, with semi-historical accuracy .

Several other ancient and modern authors, instead, have interpreted the destruction of the Serapeum in Alexandria as representative of the triumph of Christianity and an example of the attitude of the Christians towards pagans. However, Peter Brown frames it against a long-term backdrop of frequent mob violence in the city, where the Greek and Jewish quarters had fought during four hundred years, since the 1st century BCE. Robert Barron, an American Catholic priest, writes in an article: "Hypatia was indeed a philosopher and she was indeed killed by a Christian mob in 415, but practically everything else about the story that Gibbon and Sagan and Amenábar tell is falseThe film stands firmly in the Gibbons/Sagan tradition, presenting Hypatia as a saint of secular rationalism. Sagan’s account found its roots in Edward Gibbons’ version of the story in his deeply anti-Christian classic “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” In fact, Gibbons was the first to link the murder of Hypatia with the burning down of the Alexandrian library. First, The library of Alexandria was burnt to the ground, not by Christian mobs in the fifth century, but by Julius Caesar’s troops, some 40 years before Jesus was born.
 

Second, sadly enough, she found herself caught in the middle of a struggle between two powerful figures in Alexandria, namely, Orestes the civil authority and Cyril the bishop. She was most likely killed in retaliation for the murder of some of Cyril’s supporters by agents of Orestes. Hypatia was also known as a neo-Platonist philosopher, a devotee of Plato and Plotinus. Not only were there Christians in Hypatia’s classes, not only were Christian bishops among her circle of friends, but Christian theologians — Augustine, Ambrose, and Origen, just to name the most prominent — were enthusiastic advocates of neo-Platonism."
]

Inside Pergamon in Bergama, there is the Temple of Serapis, built for the Egyptian Gods in the 2nd c. CE. and called the Red Basilica or Red Courtyard  by locals. This is a basilica-shaped building constructed under the reign of Hadrian. It consists of a main building and two round towers. In the 1st century CE, the Christian Church at Pergamon, inside the main building of the Red Basilica, was one of the Seven Churches to which the Book of Revelation was addressed (Revelation 2:12).

Although the building itself is of an immense size, it was only one part of a much larger sacred complex, surrounded by high walls, that dwarfed even the colossal Temple of Jupiter in Baalbek. The entire complex was built directly over the River Selinus in a remarkable feat of engineering that involved the construction of an immense bridge 196 metres (643 ft) wide to channel the river through two channels under the temple.

The temple was converted by the Byzantines into a Christian church dedicated to St John but was subsequently destroyed. Today the ruins of the main temple and one of the side rotundas can be visited, while the other side rotunda is still in use as a small mosque. The church was probably destroyed by the forces of the Arab general Maslamah ibn Abd al-Malik, who besieged and looted the city in 716–717 during an unsuccessful bid to conquer Constantinople. Pergamon fell into Turkish hands in 1336 and the building was converted into a mosque.

Ruins of the Temple of Serapis nowadays
The temple's date of construction is not recorded, but from the style of the sculptures and the building techniques a date in the first half of the second century AD has been proposed. Its use of red brick on a massive scale, unique in Asia Minor but relatively common in Italy at the time, indicates that the architect was not local. The immense size and lavish construction of the complex points to an extremely wealthy patron who sent a Roman architect and brick masons to Pergamon to build the temple. The most likely candidate is the emperor Hadrian himself. He is known to have been an enthusiastic sponsor of the Egyptian gods; he built temples of Isis and Serapis at various places in the Roman world, including at his own villa in Tivoli.

Ptolemy IV Philopator (reigned 221–205 BCE), son of Ptolemy III and Berenice II of Egypt was the fourth Pharaoh of Ptolemaic Egypt. Under the reign of Ptolemy IV, the decline of the Ptolemaic kingdom began.

Philopator was devoted to orgiastic forms of religion and literary dilettantism. He built a temple to Homer and composed a tragedy, to which his favourite Agathocles added a commentary. He married (about 220 BC) his sister Arsinoë III, but continued to be ruled by his mistress Agathoclea, sister of Agathocles.

Ptolemy is said to have built a giant ship known as thet ("forty"), a huge type of galley. The forty of its name may refer to its number of banks of oars. The Guinness Book of Records recognizes it as the world's Largest Human Powered Vessel.

Agathoclea may have given birth to a son from her affair with Ptolemy IV, who may had died shortly after his birth. On the death of Ptolemy IV in 205 BC. Agathoclea and her friends kept the event secret, that they might have an opportunity of plundering the royal treasury. They also formed a conspiracy with Sosibius aimed at placing Agathocles on the throne or at least making him regent for the new boy king, Ptolemy V Epiphanes. With the support of Sosibius, they murdered Arsinoe III. In 203/202 BC, the Egyptians and Greeks of Alexandria, exasperated at Agathocles' outrages, rose against him, and the military governor Tlepolemus placed himself at their head. They surrounded the palace in the night, and forced their way in. Agathocles and his sister begged for mercy, but in vain. Agathocles was killed by his friends, to avoid an even more cruel fate. Agathoclea with her sisters, and Oenanthe, who had taken refuge in a temple, were dragged out, and in a state of nakedness exposed to the fury of the multitude, who literally tore them limb from limb.

Ptolemy IV is a major protagonist of the apocryphal 3 Maccabees, which describes purported events following the Battle of Raphia, in both Jerusalem and Alexandria.

Ptolemy V Epiphanes (reigned 204–181 BC), son of Ptolemy IV Philopator and Arsinoe III of Egypt, was the fifth ruler of the Ptolemaic dynasty. He became ruler at the age of five.

Egyptian revolts: Great cruelty and treachery were displayed in the suppression of the native rebellion, and some accounts represent him as personally tyrannical. In 197 BC Lycopolis was held by the forces of Ankmachis, the secessionist pharaoh of Upper Egypt, but was forced to withdraw to Thebes. The war between North and South continued until 185 BC with the arrest of Ankmachis by Ptolemaic General Conanus.

The Rosetta Stone, "basically a tax concession," was statement of thanks to the Egyptian priesthood for help during the crisis.

Ptolemaic Empire in 200 BC, during the reign of Ptolemy V

Ptolemy VI Philometor (ca. 186–145 BC) was a king of Egypt from the Ptolemaic period. He reigned from 180 to 145 BC.

In 170 BC, Antiochus IV began the sixth Syrian War and invaded Egypt twice. He was crowned as its king in 168, but abandoned his claim on the orders of the Roman Senate.

From 169–164, Egypt was ruled by a triumvirate consisting of Ptolemy, his sister-queen and his younger brother known as Ptolemy VIII Physcon. In 164 he was driven out by his brother and went to Rome to seek support, which he received from Cato. He was restored the following year by the intervention of the Alexandrians and ruled uneasily, cruelly suppressing frequent rebellions.

In 145 BC he died of battle wounds received against Alexander Balas of Syria.

Ptolemy IX Soter II or Lathyros was king of Egypt three times, from 116 BC to 110 BC, 109 BC to 107 BC and 88 BC to 81 BC, with intervening periods ruled by his brother, Ptolemy X Alexander.

Ptolemy IX replaced the sarcophagus of Alexander the Great with a glass one, and melted the original down in order to strike emergency gold issues of his coinage. The citizens of Alexandria were outraged at this and soon after, Ptolemy IX was killed.

His daughter Berenice III took the throne after his death, and reigned for about a year. She was forced to marry her stepson Alexander, who reigned under the name Ptolemy XI Alexander II and had her killed nineteen days later.

Ptolemy XII Auletes (117–51 BC) was an Egyptian king of Macedonian descent.

Ptolemy reigned during the period of Hellenism. He is assumed to have been an illegitimate son of Ptolemy IX Soter, perhaps by an Egyptian woman. But he is also possibly the Son of Ptolemy XI and Cleopatra IV.

When Ptolemy XI died without a male heir, the only available male descendents of the Ptolemy I lineage were the illegitimate sons of Ptolemy IX by an unknown Greek concubine.The boys were living in exile in Sinope, at the court of Mithridates VI, King of Pontus. As the eldest of the boys Ptolemy XII was proclaimed king as Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos and married his sister, Tryphaena. Ptolemy XII was coregent with his daughter Cleopatra VI Tryphaena and his wife Cleopatra V Tryphaena.

During his reign, Ptolemy XII attempted to secure his own fate and the fate of his dynasty by means of a pro-Roman policy. In 63 BC, it appeared that Pompey would emerge as the leader of a Roman struggle, thus Ptolemy sought to form a patron-client relationship with the Roman by sending him riches and extending an invitation to Alexandria.

In 58 BC, Ptolemy XII failed to comment on the Roman conquest of Cyprus, a territory ruled by his brother, thereby upsetting the Egyptian population to start a rebellion. Egyptians were already aggravated by heavy taxes (to pay for the Roman bribes) and a substantial increase in the cost of living. Ptolemy XII fled to Rome, possibly with his daughter Cleopatra VII, in search of safety. His daughter Berenice IV became his successor. She ruled as coregent with her sister (or possibly mother) Cleopatra VI Tryphaena. A year after Ptolemy XII's exile, Cleopatra VI Tryphaena died and Berenice ruled alone over Alexandria from 57 to 56BC.

During this time, Roman creditors realized that they would not get the return on their loans to the Egyptian king without his restoration.Thus in 57 BC, pressure from the Roman public forced the Senate's decision to restore Ptolem. Ptolemy XII finally recovered his throne by paying Aulus Gabinius 10,000 talents to invade Egypt in 55 BC. After defeating the frontier forces of the Egyptian kingdom, Aulus Gabinius's army proceeded to attack the palace guards but the guards surrendered before a battle commenced. Nevertheless, upon entering the palace, Ptolemy had Berenice and her supporters executed. From then on, he reigned until he fell ill in 51 BC. Around two thousand Roman soldiers and mercenaries, the so-called Gabiniani, were stationed in Alexandria to ensure Ptolemy XII's authority on the throne. In exchange, Rome was able to exert its power over the restored king. His daughter Cleopatra VII became his coregent.


The first pylon at Edfu Temple was decorated by Ptolemy XII in 57 BC with figures of himself smiting the enemy.

In his will, he declared that she and her brother Ptolemy XIII should rule the kingdom together. To safeguard his interests, he made the people of Rome executors of his will. Since the Senate was busy with its own affairs, Pompey (as Ptolemy XII's ally) approved the will.

Cleopatra originally ruled jointly with her father Ptolemy XII Auletes and later with her brothers, Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV, whom she married as per Egyptian custom, but eventually she became sole ruler. As pharaoh, she consummated a liaison with Julius Caesar that solidified her grip on the throne. She later elevated her son with Caesar, Caesarion, to co-ruler in name. After Caesar's assassination in 44 BC, she aligned with Mark Antony in opposition to Caesar's legal heir, Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus (later known as Augustus). With Antony, she bore the twins Cleopatra Selene II and Alexander Helios, and another son, Ptolemy Philadelphus. Her unions with her brothers produced no children.

Ptolemy XII died in March 51 BC, thus by his will making the 18-year-old Cleopatra and her brother, the 10-year-old Ptolemy XIII joint monarchs. In August 51 BC, relations between Cleopatra and Ptolemy completely broke down. Cleopatra dropped Ptolemy's name from official documents and her face appeared alone on coins, which went against Ptolemaic tradition of female rulers being subordinate to male co-rulers.

The sole reign of Cleopatra was finally ended by a cabal of courtiers, led by the eunuch Pothinus. In connection with a half-Greek general, Achillas, and Theodotus of Chios he overthrew her in favor of her younger brother. Now Ptolemy XIII became sole ruler in circa 48 BC.

Horus and Thoth purifying Ptolemy XIII at the temple of Kom Ombo
While Cleopatra was in exile, Pompey became embroiled in the Roman civil war. In the autumn of 48 BC, Pompey fled from the forces of Caesar to Alexandria, seeking sanctuary. Ptolemy, only thirteen years old at that time, had set up a throne for himself on the harbour, from where he watched as on September 28, 48 BC, Pompey was murdered by one of his former officers, now in Ptolemaic service. He was beheaded in front of his wife and children, who were on the ship from which he had just disembarked. When Caesar arrived in Egypt two days later, Ptolemy presented him with Pompey's severed head; Caesar was enraged. Although he was Caesar's political enemy, Pompey was a Roman consul and the widower of Caesar's only legitimate daughter, Julia (who died in childbirth with Pompey's son).

Eager to take advantage of Julius Caesar's anger toward Ptolemy, Cleopatra had herself smuggled secretly into the palace to meet with Caesar. Plutarch in his "Life of Julius Caesar" gives a vivid description of how she entered past Ptolemy’s guards rolled up in a carpet.

At this point Caesar abandoned his plans to annex Egypt, instead backing Cleopatra's claim to the throne. After Mithridates raised the siege of Alexandria Caesar defeated Ptolemy's army at the Battle of the Nile, Ptolemy XIII drowned in the Nile and Caesar restored Cleopatra to her throne, with another younger brother Ptolemy XIV as her new co-ruler. Although Cleopatra was 21 years old when they met and Caesar was 52, they became lovers during Caesar’s stay in Egypt between 48 BC and 47 BC. She became Caesar’s mistress, and nine months after their first meeting, in 47 BC, Cleopatra gave birth to their son, Ptolemy Caesar, nicknamed Caesarion, which means "little Caesar. Cleopatra claimed Caesar was the father of her son and wished him to name the boy his heir, but Caesar refused, choosing his grandnephew Octavian instead.

Cleopatra VII and her son Caesarion at the Temple of Dendera

The ancient accounts by Plutarch, Aulus Gellius, Ammianus Marcellinus, and Orosius agree that Caesar accidentally burned the Alexandria's library down during his visit to the city in 48 BC at the fight with Ptolemy XIII.

 Cleopatra, Ptolemy XIV and Caesarion visited Rome in summer 46 BC, where the Egyptian queen resided in one of Caesar's country houses. The relationship between Cleopatra and Caesar was obvious to the Roman people and it was a scandal, because the Roman dictator was already married to Calpurnia Pisonis.

The Roman orator Cicero said in his preserved letters that he hated the foreign queen. Cleopatra and her entourage were in Rome when Caesar was assassinated on 15 March, 44 BC. She returned with her relatives to Egypt. When Ptolemy XIV died – allegedly poisoned by his older sister – Cleopatra made Caesarion her co-regent.

In the Roman civil war between the Caesarian party, led by Mark Antony and Octavian, and the party of the assassins of Caesar, led by Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus, Cleopatra sided with the Caesarian party because of her past. In 41 BC, Mark Antony, one of the triumvirs who ruled Rome in the power vacuum following Caesar's death, sent his intimate friend Quintus Dellius to Egypt. Dellius had to summon Cleopatra to Tarsus to meet Antony and answer questions about her loyalty. During the Roman civil war she allegedly had paid much money to Cassius. It seems that in reality Antony wanted Cleopatra’s promise to support his intended war against the Parthians. Cleopatra arrived in great state, and so charmed Antony that he chose to spend the winter of 41 BC–40 BC with her in Alexandria.To safeguard herself and Caesarion, she had Antony order the death of her sister Arsinoe, who was living at the temple of Artemis in Ephesus, which was under Roman control. The execution was carried out in 41 BC on the steps of the temple, and this violation of temple sanctuary scandalised Rome

On 25 December 40 BC, Cleopatra gave birth to twins fathered by Antony, Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene II. Four years later, Antony visited Alexandria again en route to make war with the Parthians. He renewed his relationship with Cleopatra, and from this point on, Alexandria was his home. He married Cleopatra according to the Egyptian rite (a letter quoted in Suetonius suggests this), although he was at the time married to Octavia Minor, sister of his fellow triumvir Octavian. He and Cleopatra had another child, Ptolemy Philadelphus.

 Relations between Antony and Octavian, disintegrating for several years, finally broke down in 33 BC, and Octavian convinced the Senate to levy war against Egypt. In 31 BC Antony's forces faced the Romans in a naval action off the coast of Actium.

After losing the Battle of Actium to Octavian's forces, Antony committed suicide. Cleopatra followed suit, according to tradition killing herself by means of an asp bite on August 12, 30 BC. She was briefly outlived by Caesarion, who was declared pharaoh by his supporters, but he was soon killed on Octavian's orders. Egypt became the Roman province of Aegyptus.

The ancient sources, particularly the Roman ones, are in general agreement that Cleopatra killed herself by inducing an Egyptian cobra to bite her. The oldest source is Strabo, who was alive at the time of the event, and might even have been in Alexandria. He says that there are two stories: that she applied a toxic ointment, or that she was bitten by an asp on her breast.

Death of Cleopatra by Canadian author Harold F. Kells

Plutarch tells us of the death of Antony. When his armies deserted him and joined with Octavian, he cried out that Cleopatra had betrayed him. She, fearing his wrath, locked herself in her monument with only her two handmaidens and sent messengers to tell Antony that she was dead. Believing them, Antony stabbed himself in the stomach with his sword, and lay on his couch to die. Instead, the blood flow stopped, and he begged any and all to finish him off. Another messenger came from Cleopatra with instructions to bring him to her, and he, rejoicing that Cleopatra was still alive, consented. She wouldn't open the door, but tossed ropes out of a window. After Antony was securely trussed up, she and her handmaidens hauled him up into the monument. This nearly finished him off. After dragging him in through the window, they laid him on a couch. Cleopatra tore off her clothes and covered him with them. She raved and cried, beat her breasts and engaged in self-mutilation. Antony told her to calm down, asked for a glass of wine, and died upon finishing it.

The site of their mausoleum is uncertain, though the Egyptian Antiquities Service believes it is in or near the temple of Taposiris Magna, southwest of Alexandria.

Cleopatra was regarded as a great beauty, even in the ancient world. In his Life of Antony, Plutarch remarks that "judging by the proofs which she had had before this of the effect of her beauty upon Caius Caesar and Gnaeus the son of Pompey, she had hopes that she would more easily bring Antony to her feet. For Caesar and Pompey had known her when she was still a girl and inexperienced in affairs, but she was going to visit Antony at the very time when women have the most brilliant beauty." Later in the work, however, Plutarch indicates that "her beauty, as we are told, was in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those who saw her." Rather, what ultimately made Cleopatra attractive were her wit, charm and "sweetness in the tones of her voice."

Cassius Dio also spoke of Cleopatra's allure: "For she was a woman of surpassing beauty, and at that time, when she was in the prime of her youth, she was most striking; she also possessed a most charming voice and knowledge of how to make herself agreeable to every one.