History of Egypt From 330 B.C. To the Present Time, Volume 10 (of 12)

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Produced by David Widger


From 330 B.C. to the Present Time

By S. RAPPOPORT, Doctor of Philosophy, Basel; Member of the Ecole Langues Orientales, Paris; Russian, German, French Orientalist and Philologist


Containing over Twelve Hundred Colored Plates and Illustrations



[Illustration: Spines]

[Illustration: Cover]

[Illustration: Frontispiece]


[Illustration: Titlepage]


Professor Maspero closes his History of Egypt with the conquest of Alexander the Great. There is a sense of dramatic fitness in this selection, for, with the coming of the Macedonians, the sceptre of authority passed for ever out of the hand of the Egyptian. For several centuries the power of the race had been declining, and foreign nations had contended for the vast treasure-house of Egypt. Alexander found the Persians virtually rulers of the land. The ancient people whose fame has come down to us through centuries untarnished had been forced to bow beneath the yoke of foreign masters, and nations of alien blood were henceforth to dominate its history.

The first Ptolemy founded a Macedonian or Greek dynasty that maintained supremacy in Egypt until the year 30 B.C. His successors were his lineal descendants, and to the very last they prided themselves on their Greek origin; but the government which they established was essentially Oriental in character. The names of Ptolemy and Cleopatra convey an Egyptian rather than a Greek significance; and the later rulers of the dynasty were true Egyptians, since their ancestors had lived in Alexandria for three full centuries.

In the year 30 B.C. Augustus Cæsar conquered the last of the Ptolemies, the famous Cleopatra. Augustus made Egypt virtually his private province, and drew from it resources that were among the chief elements of his power. After Augustus, the Romans continued in control until the coming of the Saracens under Amr, in the seventh century. Various dynasties of Mohammedans, covering a period of several centuries, maintained control until the Mamluks, in 1250, overthrew the legitimate rulers, to be themselves overthrown three centuries later by the Turks under Selim I. Turkish rule was maintained until near the close of the eighteenth century, when the French, under Napoleon Bonaparte, invaded Egypt. In 1806, after the expulsion of the French by the English, the famous Mehemet Ali destroyed the last vestiges of Mamluk power, and set up a quasi-independent sovereignty which was not disturbed until toward the close of the nineteenth century. The events of the last twenty-five years, comprising a short period of joint control of Egypt by the French and English, followed by the British occupation, are fresh in the mind of the reader.

What may be termed the modern history of Egypt covers a period of more than twenty-two centuries. During this time the native Egyptian can scarcely be said to have a national history, but the land of Egypt, and the races who have become acclimated there, have passed through many interesting phases. Professor Maspero completes the history of antiquity in that dramatic scene in which the ancient Egyptian makes his last futile struggle for independence. But the Nile Valley has remained the scene of the most important events where the strongest nations of the earth contended for supremacy. It is most interesting to note that the invaders of Egypt, while impressing their military stamp upon the natives, have been mastered in a very real sense by the spell of Egypt's greatness; but the language, the key to ancient learning and civilisation, still remained a well-guarded secret. Here and there one of the Ptolemies or Greeks thought it worth his while to master the hieroglyphic writing. Occasionally a Roman of the later period may have done the same, but such an accomplishment was no doubt very unusual from the first. The subordinated Egyptians therefore had no resource but to learn the language of their conquerors, and presently it came to pass that not even the native Egyptian remembered the elusive secrets of his own written language. Egyptian, as a spoken tongue, remained, in a modified form, as Koptic, but at about the beginning of our era the classical Egyptian had become a dead language. No one any longer wrote in the hieroglyphic, hieratic, or demotic scripts; in a word, the hieroglyphic writing was forgotten. The reader of Professor Maspero's pages has had opportunity to learn how this secret was discovered in the nineteenth century. This information is further amplified in the present volumes, and we see how in our own time the native Egyptian has regained something of his former grandeur through the careful and scientific study of monuments, inscriptions, and works of art. Thus it will appear in the curious rounding out of the enigmatic story that the most ancient history of civilisation becomes also the newest and most modern human history.

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