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Greece and Egypt: Colonialism and Interaction Essay

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Updated: Sep 14th, 2021


Ancient Greece is considered by most historians to be the foundational culture of western civilization. Greek culture was a powerful influence in the Roman Empire, which carried a version of it to many parts of Europe. Ancient Greek civilization has been immensely influential on the language, politics, educational systems, philosophy, art and architecture of the modern world particularly during the Renaissance in Western Europe and again during various neo-classical revivals in 18th and 19th century Europe and the Americans

The classical Greek civilization was the result of a conquest of the present Greece from the north by the Hellenes. These were Indo-European speakers or Aryans. The indigenous population of the Aegean, whom they conquered is simply labeled by modern scholars as pre-Hellenes. All that proponents of the Aryan model know about the Pre-Hellens is that they were Caucasian definitely not Semitic speakers or Egyptians and they did not speak an Indo-European language. (Martin, 1987)

Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt was a civilization in northeast Africa concentrated along the middle to lower reaches of the Nile River that reached its greatest extent in the second millennium BC during the new kingdom. It stretched from the Nile delta in the north to as far south as jebel barkal, located at the fourth cataract of the Nile in modern-day Sudan. The flued geographic range of ancient Egypt also included at different times, areas of southern Levant, the eastern desert and the red sea coastline, the Sinai Peninsula and the oases of the western desert.

Ancient Egyptian civilization began around 3150 BC with the political unification of the major Nile valley cultures under the first pharaoh and it developed under the next three millennia. Its history is divided into a series of golden ages, known as kingdoms that are separated by periods of relative instability known as intermediate periods. After the end of the last golden age, known as the new kingdom, the civilization of ancient Egypt entered a period of slow, steady decline, during which Egypt was conquered by a succession of foreign adversaries. The power of pharaohs officially ended in 31BC when the early Roman Empire conquered Egypt and made it a province

The cultural laboratory from which Ancient Egypt emerged has been variously negotiated as the Mediterranean and near eastern in origin. However, the African character of ancient Egypt’s cultural landscape remains the least studied and the most vigorously contested, albeit due to desperate ideological considerations. Those considerations correspond to the prevailing attitudes and cultural status of Africa and Europe at the birth of Egyptology in the nineteenth century. (Boardman, 1999)

However, since the advent of martin bernals Black Athena, before the last decades of the twentieth century, encouraging calls for a paradigm shift have been noted. That shift is away from an otherwise stagnant, defensive and archaic traditionalism towards increasing levels of diagonals with a diverse range of scholarly sources. This study focuses on a twofold problem within the unfolding challenges. First, it perceives a problem of cultural orientation in ancient Egyptian studies and secondly, it questions the status of oriental cultures in ancient Egyptian studies, especially in the light of post-black Athena research.

The study opts for a three-pronged response to the problem. It explores the first two millennia of ancient Egypt’s cultural archive as the more representative period of its cultural flowering. It explores evidence of cultural kinship between ancient Egyptian and related traditions in selected societies in Africa cultural landscape and it provides a critique of studies in pursuit of the Africa (cultural) data since the advent of Egyptology. (James, 1988)

Attributing color to the ancient Egyptians

Much of what martin bernal argues in black Athena is not at first glance so controversial, despite the fact that he clearly thought himself it would be seen as revolutionary. Nobody today or recently would dispute that the Greeks inherited much from their predecessors, Egyptians not least, nor that this debt was played down in some nineteenth and twentieth-century scholarship, nor that the idea of race had some part to play in the thinking that led to exaggerated emphasis on the achievements of classical Greeks civilization, at the expense of obvious new eastern predecessors (James, 1988)

Greeks view of Egypt as a colonialist

Though Martin Bernals is a controversial work, and often faulty, it brings forward a number of important observations. He is attempting to demonstrate the influence of African culture, or more specifically Egyptian culture on ancient Greece. The most important aspects of Bernals works that he exhumed a number of references in Greek myth along with statements by ancient writers, which suggest that Greece was originally colonized by Phoenicians or Egyptians However, where Bernals errs, in is misinterpreting his own evidence due to his emphasis on Egyptian influence.

Even in his primary source Heccateaus of Abdera, as he mentioned stated the myth of colonization by Danaus, as referring to the expulsion of the Jews from Egypt, their later settlement in Palestine and eventual colonization of Greece. This fact explains the often-ambiguous references to these colonizers. (Boardman, 1999)

Another important accomplishment of his work is his tracing of the history of the denial of the near eastern influence on Greece. The ancient’s accounts were widely accepted until the 18th century at which point he does a fascinating job of showing how the ancient model of Greek civilization was replaced by the emerging Aryan model, due to the growing European nationalistic tendencies The oriental station revolution and Pomigliano alien wisdom would suggest that there was in fact a great deal of near eastern influence affected on the culture of ancient Greece, due largely to the influx of the Phoenicians. (Martin, 1987)

Ancient Greeks had a very different view, idolized ancient Egypt and its God. Greeks insisted that Egyptian culture grew out of pre-existing African kingdoms. Egypt was Afro-Asiatic but didn’t become part of Africa but Egypt grew out of African culture. It was an African civilization but the west resists this concept. There were great kingdoms around Africa, and Europeans were suitably impressed by what they saw. These regions were important for local and international trade. Importation of West African gold led to the economic renaissance that dragged Europe out of poverty. Empire china had links to internal developments in Africa made it a valuable trader partner to the rest of the world.

The distribution and history of writing in Africa is a case in point. Its pattern strongly reminds us of that of geomancy and mankala. Of the view oldest writings systems of mankind, one Egyptian hieroglyphic script was invented in Africa with the authorities increasingly tending to play down the possibility of a stimulus invention factor from Mesopotamia summer and Elam. In Antiquity, Nubian, Meroe, Ethiopia, Carthage and its African possessions, and Berber groups throughout North African had writing systems of their own. This derived in part from Egyptian non-alphabetic hieroglyphic writing and its hieratic and demotic derivates, but mostly from alphabetic scripts whose earliest, even pre-Phoenician forms spread rapidly across great distances. (Boardman, 1999)

Greek and Latin writings established themselves throughout North Africa from the first millenia BCE, towards the end of the first millennium CE to be supplanted.

Industry requires first of all strong ethics and moral qualities such as courage. Economic activity as an element of practical philosophy, along with virtue. Other prerequisites of industry or benefits include a love of manufacturing goods and colonialism. At-tahtawi lauds the expeditions sent by Viceroy Ismael to conquer the Sudan and further up the Nile, and he clearly shares his government’s vision of an African empire where cotton could be grown for export, with Egypt reaping the profits. He praises the model of the British Empire, as one Egypt would do well to emulate, despite his European education, he is no collaborator.

He sees the European empires not as patrons, but as models. He claims Algerian who fought the French as heroes. But he shares a common Egyptian vision of the Sudanese as barbarians whom the Egyptians have a duty to civilize. (Martin, 1987)

Although the at-Tahtawi defends Egypt’s highly stratified social order and expatiates on the goodness of wealth in Islam, he is also concerned to improve the status and conditions of workers. (Boardman, 1999)

The contributions of Mary Lefkowitz to the Afrocentric debate and the historiography of antiquity is well known for its clearheaded, analytical precision and for its passionate rejection of the hypothesis that a great ideal of the glory that was Greece was stolen from the African Egyptian. In not out of Africa, Lefkowitz sets out to tackle the notion, current among many adherents of the postmodern approach to history that there is no ascertainable historical truth in the slippery rhetoric of historical texts, but that there are many truths, appropriated by those engaging with the text in different content. (Martin, 1987)

Common to the above historiographical tradition is not only an uncritical dependence on the works of Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus but also Lefkowitz demonstrates a tendency to use Greek myths as historical evidence. The myth of Denaus, for example has been extensively used to illustrate Egyptians colonization of Greece, however, with the aid of a family tree, Lefkowitz reminds us that Danaus was the decent of Io, daughter of Inachus of Argos who wandered from Greece to Egypt tormented by the jealous Hera. Thus i8f anything, Danaus and his daughter were turning into Greek exiles, not colonizing Egyptians. Furthermore, there is simply no archaeological proof of an invasion of Greece by the Egyptians in the second millennium BCE. (Boardman, 1999)

Egyptian colonialism

The Romans kept ruling Egypt as a colony established to serve Rome, hindering Egyptians from having their own army least their existence in Egypt might be threatened. Hence, Egypt kept suffering from a severe decline in power under the rule of the Roman Empire, and with the spread out of Christianity in Egypt. Egyptians sustained severe oppression until the spread of Islam in 642 A.D. From then on, substantial changes in the lifestyle of Egyptians were introduced

With the wide spread of Islam in Egypt under the command for Amr-el-Aas, Egypt adopted Islam as the religion of the country and became the home of the Islamic caliphate in 969 A.D. In addition, the Arab language spread and became the official language of the country. The Egyptian army under the command of Salah El-Din-El-Ayoubi defeated the crusaders in the battle of Heteen in 1186 A.D. It was also able to defeat another French campaign, under the command of King Louis IX of France, in 1249 A.D. In El-Mansoura capturing the French king as prisoner of war. (Martin, 1987)

The Egyptian army went into a fierce war against the Asian Mongolians and reaped victory in the battle of Ein-galout in 1260A.D.It kept defending Egyptians and Arab land, facing colonial greed, until Egypt fell in the hands of turkey in 1517, opening a new page in Egyptian history. The weapons of the Egyptian army under the Turkish occupation were swords; axes, archery weapons, daggers and hatchets were the most common weapons at that time in addition to catapult and mobile towers on the wheels. (Martin, 1987)

With the Ottoman occupation of Egypt in 1517 A.D., Egypt became the pivot of great powers’ conflicts, mainly great Britain and France, yet the first initiative came from France, the French expedition headed by napoleon. In approximately 1550BC, Egypt conquered its southern neighbor, ancient Nubian and secured control over valuable trade routes. But rather than excluding the colonize people from management of the region, new evidence from an archaeological site on the Nile reveals that Egyptian migrants shared administrative responsibilities for ruling this large province with native Nubians.

Through an examination of the archaeological site of Tombos, a strategic point of control in Egyptian controlled Nubian, buzon sought to determine whether the people buried in a colonial cemetery were immigrants from Egypt or Nubians who had adopted Egyptian practices. Comparing skull measurements with other revealing features such as tomb architecture, grave objects and burial position, Buzons found that the imperial officials who had buried in symbolically marked tombs were of Egyptian and Nubians descent. Egyptians were generally laid to rest on their backs in small tombs or pyramids, were Nubians were buried in fatal positions on a bed or cows skin. (Milne, 1991)

Egyptian Nubian interaction

Throughout its history, Ancient Egypt repeatedly mounted attacks in the southern neighbor, Nubia. Ancient Nubian possessed rich resources and controlled the main route of trade for these goods, the Nile of upper Nubian, control over this trade route and commodities inspired many Egyptians forays into Nubian over the millennia. The Nubian state of Kerma recognized the potential benefits of internal Egyptian turmoil at the end of the middle kingdom and used this as an opportunity to gain access to the lower Nile in Egypt, and Egypt responded by building a series of 11 forts along the valley and eventually fought Nubian to regain control of the Nile. (James, 1988)

The effects of Egyptian colonial strategies at Tombos in upper Nubian

As circumstances of conquest change, leaders of empires must adapt their colonial strategies in order to be successful. One example of such modification in approach is the shift from middle kingdom to new kingdom Egyptian colonial activities in Nubia. During the middle kingdom (2050-1650 BC0, Egypt used aggressive military campaigns to subdue the strong Nubian policy at kerma, resulting in the construction of fortresses and many victory stelae. In the subsequent new kingdom period (1550-1050BC), during which the Egyptian administration succeeded in occupying nearly all of Nubian, changes were necessary for conquest strategies. Diplomacy and cooperation may have replaced military action as mechanics of control. (Martin, 1987)

Patterns of injuries in a sample from the site of Tombos, an Egyptian colonial cemetery in Nubian dating to the new kingdom period, are compared with data on the patterns of injuries from kerma, a cemetery dating to the middle kingdom period (James, 1988)


Ancient Egyptian civilization began around 3150 BC with the political unification of the major Nile valley cultures under the first pharaoh and it developed under the next three millennia. Its history is divided into a series of golden ages, known as kingdoms that are separated by periods of relative instability known as intermediate periods. There is no reason to characterize the Egyptians as a Greece colony since there is not yet proof for this. It is either the Palestinians or the Egyptians.


Boardman, J. (1999): The Greeks overseas. Their early colonies and trade (4th Ed.).London.

Burkert, W. (1992): The oriental sing revolution. Near Eastern influence on Greek culture in the Early Archaic Age. Cambridge.

Coldstream, J (1996): Knossos north cemetery, early Greek tombs. London.

James, R. (1988): Genesis in Egypt. The philosophy of ancient Egyptian creation accounts. Yale university press.

Martin, B. (1987): The Afro Asiatic roots of classical civilization.Vol.1: The fabrication of Ancient Greece. London.

Milne, J (1991): Egypt under Roman rule. By Macmillan and company-Egypt.

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