The Conquest of Egypt and The Decline of the Empire
Ancient Egypt History - The Conquest of Egypt
Under a policy of appeasing the priests and the clergy it was only a matter of time before the kings would become the servants of the priests.
In the reign of the last Ramessid king the High Priest of Amon usurped the throne and ruled as openly supreme; the Empire became a stagnant theocracy in which architecture and superstition flourished, and every other element in the national life decayed and Thus begun the conquest of Egypt.
Omens were manipulated to give a divine sanction to every decision of the clergy.
The most vital forces of Egypt were sucked dry by the thirst of the gods at the very time when foreign invaders were preparing to sweep down upon all this concentrated wealth.
For meanwhile on every frontier trouble brewed.
The prosperity of the country had come in part from its strategic place on the main line of Mediterranean trade; its metals and wealth had given it mastery over Libya on the west, and over Phoenicia, Syria and Palestine on the north and east.
But now at the other end of this trade route in Assyria, Babylon and Persia new nations were growing to maturity and power, were strengthening themselves with invention and enterprise, and were daring to compete in commerce and industry with the self-satisfied and pious Egyptians.
The Phoenicians were perfecting the trireme galley, and with it were gradually wresting from Egypt the control of the sea.
The Dorians and Achaeans had conquered Crete and the Aegean (ca. 1400 B.C.), and were establishing a commercial empire of their own; trade moved less and less in slow caravans over the difficult and robber-infested mountains and deserts of the Near East; It moved more and more, at less expense and with less loss, in ships that passed through the Black Sea and the Agean to Troy, Crete and Greece, at last to Carthage, Italy and Spain.
The nations along the northern shores of the Mediterranean ripened and blossomed, the nations on the southern shores faded and rotted away.
Egypt lost her trade, her gold, her power, her art, at last even her pride; one by one her rivals crept down upon her soil, harassed and conquered her, and laid her waste during their conquest of Egypt.
In 954 B.C. the Libyans came in from the western hills, and laid about them with fury.
In 722 the Ethiopians entered from the south, and avenged their ancient slavery;
In 674 the Assyrians swept down from the north and subjected priest-ridden Egypt to tribute.
For a time Psamtik, Prince of Sai's, repelled the invaders, and brought Egypt together again under his leadership.
During his long reign, and those of his successors, came the "Sai'te Revival" of Egyptian art: the architects and sculptors, poets and scientists of Egypt gathered up the technical and aesthetic traditions of their schools, and prepared to lay them at the feet of the Greeks.
But in 525 B.C. the Persians conquest of Egypt under Cambyses, crossed Suez and again put an end to Egyptian independence.
In 332 B.C. Alexander sallied out of Asia, and made Egypt a province of Macedon.
In 48 B.C. Caesar arrived to capture Egypt's new capital, Alexandria, and to give to Cleopatra the son and heir whom they vainly hoped to crown as the unifying monarch of the greatest empires of antiquity.
In 30 B.C. Conquest of Egypt was complete, and it became a province of Rome, and disappeared from history.
For a time it flourished again when saints peopled the desert, and Cyril dragged Hypatia to her death in the streets (415 A.D.).
Again when the Muslims conquered it (ca. A.D. 650), built Cairo with the ruins of Memphis, and filled it with bright-domed mosques and citadels.
But these were alien cultures not really Egypt's own, and they too passed away.
By the year 1920 there is a place called Egypt, but the Egyptian people are not masters there; long since they have been broken by conquest, and merged in language and marriage with their Arab conquerors.
Perhaps greatness could grow there again if Asia should once more become rich, and make Egypt the half-way house of the planet's trade.
But of the morrow, as Lorenzo sang, "there is no certainty; and today the only certainty is decay."
On all sides gigantic ruins, monuments and tombs, memorials of a savage and titanic energy; on all sides poverty and desolation, and the exhaustion of an ancient blood.
And on all sides the hostile, engulfing sands, blown about forever by hot winds, and grimly resolved to cover everything in the end.
Nevertheless the sands have destroyed only the body of ancient Egypt; its spirit survives in the lore and memory of our race.
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