The ancient Egyptians built one of the world’s longest-lasting
civilizations. About 1,600 years passed from the start of the Old Kingdom to
the end of the New Kingdom. Another 1,100 years passed before the end of what
we call ancient Egypt. But ancient Egypt never again regained the glory it had
known at its height.
So what happened after the end of the New Kingdom? Let’s find out.
The Third Intermediate Period
As you have learned, ancient Egypt had three great periods of stability. They
are known as the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom, and the New Kingdom.
Between these times of prosperity, there were periods of instability called the
First and Second Intermediate Periods. (Intermediate means “in the
middle of.”) During these times, Egyptian rule was often divided between Upper
Egypt and Lower Egypt. Upper Egypt is the land near the Nile in the south.
Lower Egypt refers to the Nile Delta, in the north.
After the reign of Ramses II (1290 to 1224
b.c.e.), Egypt went into a slow decline.
Eventually the New Kingdom gave way to another period of disunity, the Third
Intermediate Period. This period lasted from about 1100 to 730
Once again, internal divisions weakened Egypt. The pharaoh ruled from his base
in Lower Egypt. Near Thebes, in Upper Egypt, high priests became more and more
powerful. They began to challenge the pharaoh, first in secret plots, and then
in open rebellion. Over time, most of the land that Egypt had conquered in the
south was lost. Egypt broke into smaller states.
Egypt’s internal troubles set the stage for a series of foreign invaders to
conquer and rule the country. Except for brief periods, the days of native
Egyptian pharaohs were over.
In the mid 700s
b.c.e., Kushite rulers invaded Egypt. (Kush was
south of Egypt. It is also called Nubia.) In about 730
b.c.e., a Kushite king declared himself pharaoh.
For almost a century, Kushite pharaohs ruled Egypt. This period is known as the
The Kushites were very interested in Egyptian culture. Under their rule, many
magnificent temples and monuments were built.
b.c.e., the Assyrians invaded Egypt from the
east. You may remember the Assyrians from your study of ancient Mesopotamia.
They were known for their iron weapons and their skill in siege warfare and
fighting on horseback.
Over the next 15 years, these ruthless warriors drove out the Kushites. They
sacked the cities of Memphis and Thebes, and made Egypt part of their empire.
The Assyrians ruled Egypt through native Egyptian princes. But they didn’t hold
Egypt for long. In about 660
b.c.e., a prince named Psamtik declared his
independence from the Assyrians. Then he set about unifying Egypt and driving
out the Assyrians.
By 612, the Assyrians had withdrawn from Egypt. For the first time since before
the Kushites, Egypt was ruled by Egyptians.
The 26th Dynasty
The new line of rulers founded by Psamtik is called the 26th dynasty.
It is also called the Saite dynasty, after its capital city, Sais.
Under the Saite pharaohs, Egypt enjoyed a period of peace that
lasted until 525 b.c.e. Commerce flourished, and Egyptians revived
and imitated the arts of the past. But foreigners continued to
play a big role in the country. Pharaohs did not have their own
army. Instead, they depended on Greek soldiers that were paid to
fight. Also, much of the trade in Egypt was carried out by Greeks.
In 525, the 26th dynasty came to an end as new invaders, the Persians,
took over Egypt.
The Persians (from present-day Iran) created a vast empire in western and
central Asia. They ruled Egypt from 525 to 404
b.c.e., and again from 343 to 332
In between these two periods came a brief time of Egyptian rule.
Only the first Persian ruler, Darius the Great, showed much interest in Egypt.
After Darius, Persian rulers rarely visited Egypt. The Persians looked down on
the Egyptians. Mostly, they used the land and the people, especially Egyptian
engineers, to provide labor and products to feed the growth of their empire.
b.c.e., the Egyptians managed to drive back the
Persians. For the last time, an Egyptian dynasty ruled Egypt.
b.c.e., the Persians took over Egypt once again.
But just 11 years later, Egypt fell to a new conqueror.
Alexander the Great
The new conqueror was Alexander the Great. A young king from Macedonia, in
northern Greece, Alexander created a great empire of his own. In 332
b.c.e., he won an important victory over the
Persians and conquered Egypt.
Although Alexander was a foreign ruler, the Egyptians welcomed him as a
liberator. He won many people’s loyalty by honoring Egyptian gods along with
those of the Greeks and Persians. One Egyptian priest even called him “the son
Alexander had been interested in Egypt since he was a boy. During his reign, he
worked to rebuild its great culture. He also founded the city of Alexandria, on
the Mediterranean Sea. It soon became a great commercial city and an important
center of learning. Still, Alexander was a foreigner, and his reign marked the
beginning of a long period of rule by Greek-speaking kings.
The Ptolemaic Period
When Alexander died in 323, his generals divided his empire into three parts. A
general named Ptolemy declared himself king of Egypt. He and his descendants
ruled Egypt for almost 300 years, until 30
In some ways, Egypt thrived during the Ptolemaic period. Many important temples
were built, and trade flourished. But the Ptolemies ruled Egypt as Greek
conquerors. Most of their kings did not even bother to learn the Egyptian
The last Ptolemaic ruler was different. She was Cleopatra, the daughter of
Ptolemy XII Auletes. (Her full title was Cleopatra VII.) Cleopatra was
interested in Egypt. She learned about its culture and history. She even
learned to speak the language.
By Cleopatra’s reign, the Romans (from Italy) were becoming the greatest power
in the Mediterranean world. Cleopatra became caught up in the struggle for
power between two Roman leaders. One was her lover, Marc Antony. The other was
Octavian, the founder of the Roman Empire.
b.c.e., Octavian declared war on Antony and
Cleopatra. After losing a key battle the next year, Antony and Cleopatra both
committed suicide. In 30
b.c.e., Octavian made Egypt a province of the
Roman Empire. The Ptolemaic period had come to an end.
The Romans were the last rulers of ancient Egypt. For more than 600 years,
Egypt was part of the Roman Empire and its successor in the east, the Byzantine
Empire. You will learn much more about the Roman Empire in Unit 6.
Use the information in the essay to complete the matrix.
||How Did This Period or Change in Rule
||What Effect Did This Period
or Ruler Have on Egypt?
|Third Intermediate Period
|Alexander the Great