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The Pre-Dynastic period saw the development of civilisation during the millennia BC. The prehistoric inhabitants of Egypt developed sophisticated tools and weapons, as well as agricultural implements such as sickles and ploughs, as long ago as 10,000 BC. Permanent towns and communities began to emerge during the 4th Millennium BC, and around about 3200 BC one of the first written language, using hieroglyphics emerged.
The Proto-Dynastic Period, saw the rise of significant states developing around the Nile Delta, and these are believed to have been united in about 3,100 BC by the Pharoah* Menes of the first Dynasty.
During this period, the city of Memphis was founded as the capital of Egypt.
The Old Kingdom
The Old Kingdom was marked by strong centralised power under the Pharaohs of the 1st to 10th Dynasties, who were regarded as living Gods wielding absolute and unrestricted power over their subjects. It is not therefore too surprising that this was the period in which the most grandiose (and monumentally egotistical) tombs for which Egypt is most famous, the Great Pyramids of Giza were built, as well as the Great Sphinx.
The Old Kingdom declined during the 5th Dynasty, torn apart by Civil War and towards the 2100s BC, drought and famine. The previously united Egypt disintegrated and entered into a period of anarchy, known as the 'First Intermediate Period', lasting over 140 years.
The Middle Kingdom
The Middle Kingdom emerged in 2055 BC, when Mentuhotep II, ruler of Thebes and the 11th Dynasty reunited Egypt. The Royal Court of Egypt was established in Thebes, although Memphis continued to be an important trading centre. In 1991 BC, Amenemhat I, formerly a Vizier (Prime Minister) to the court of the 11th Dynasty overthrew Mentuhotep IV and established the 12th Dynasty. Perhaps in part of this lack of hereditary legitimacy, the structure of Pharaonic rule became less absolutist and more feudal, as Amenenmhat had to grant land and titles to noble supporters in return for their backing.
The Middle Kingdom Period was marked by frequent military campaigns against Nubia, often led by the Pharaoh himself.
When the 12th Dynasty came to an end with the death of Queen Sobekneferu in 1802 BC, Egypt once again began to disintegrate into competing states.
The New Kingdom
The Second Intermediate Period lasted until about 1550 BC, when Ahmose I of the 18th Dynasty reasserted central Egyptian Authority of the Nile Delta. It was during this period that Akhenaten (c.1353 BC – 1336 BC) and his son Tutankhamun (1333–1323 BC) ruled in Egypt. Akhenaten was famous for being one of the earliest known monotheistic rulers and his religious beliefs are said by some to have been an important influence on the development of the monotheistic Abrahamic religions. Tutankhamun is of course famous for being discovered with his tomb intact and untouched by grave robbers for many centuries until it was discovered in 1922.
The Power of the Pharaohs of the New Kingdom declined by the time of the 20th Dynasty, and by the end of the period in 1069 BC under Ramesesses XI, the Priests of of Amun in Thebes wielded de-facto power over Egypt.
The preceding Third Intermediate Period lasted until 664 BC, when the Nubian 25th Dynasty was finally expelled from Egypt. Although Egypt had regained its unity and independence it was a shadow of its former self, and never regained the power and prestige of its earlier days. The rise of the Persian Empire during the late period would eventually see Egypt conquered and reduced to a satrapy in 526 BC.
Alexander the Great and the Ptolemies
In 332 BC, Alexander the Great of Macedonia conquered the Persian Empire and Egypt became a province of Alexander's own Empire. Alexander founded the city of Alexandria, named after him in 331 BC. Upon Alexander's death in 323, Alexander's general Ptolemy became the Satrap, and later King of Egypt. Ptolemy's successors, (usually named Ptolemy) tried to style themselves after the Pharaohs of old, even taking to the custom of marrying their own sisters, ruled jointly with their brothers. The Ptolemaic Dynasty frequently fought against other diadochy (successor states to Alexander's Empire) states, particularly the Seleucids.
The rise of the Roman Empire eventually saw the end of the Ptolemaic Dynasty and the end of the Pharaohs, the last Ptolemaic ruler, Cleopatra VII, backed the wrong side of a Roman Civil War when she took the factional leader Mark Anthony as her lover. The triumphant Augustus made Egypt a Roman Province.
Roman Rule (including Byzantine Rule) lasted until the 7th Century A.D. During this period, Christianity was introduced, and the Coptic Church, a uniquely Egyptian branch of Christianity, developed. Alexandria was by now the capital of the province of Egypt, and one of the great cities of the ancient world, along with Rome and Constantinople. In the 620s, Egypt was briefly conquered by the Sassanid Persians, who were pushed out again by the Byzantines, but in 640s, Egypt was overrun by the Arabs.
Egypt under the Caliphate
Under Arab rule, most of the local population converted to Islam, helped in part by the evacuation of much of the Christian Graeco-Roman population from Alexandria. However, enclaves of Coptic Christianity survived and remain today as Egypt's second most important religious belief after Sunni Islam. Egypt eventually evolved from being an Arab ruled state into an Arab state. The Umayyad caliphate was overthrown in 750 A.D. and replaced by the Fatamid Caliphate, under which the City of Cairo was founded in 969 A.D. which would eventually become the capital of Egypt. In 1174, three years after the death of the last Fatimid Caliph, the famous general Saladin, bane of the Crusaders, emerged.
Saladin was the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, and proclaimed himself the Sultan of Egypt. Egypt re-emerged as a great power under Saladin, with an Empire that at its height stretched from Carthage in the West to Mesopotamia in the East. The Ayyubid Dynasty came to an end when Turanshah, last of Ayybids was assassinated by Mamluks (slave soldiers) in conspiracy with his stepmother, Shajar al-Durr. The Mamluks then became rulers of Egypt under the Burji Dynasty.
In 1515, after years of deteriorating relations between the Ottomans and the Sultans of Egypt, the Ottomans, led by Selim I commenced a campaign against the Mamluks, first thrusting into Syria and then Marching South. In 1517, Selim I captured Cairo. Although Selim I had successfully conquered Egypt, he found it expedient to maintain the Barji Dynasty as vassal rulers of Egypt, or Khedives (a term roughly equivalent to that of a Viceroy).
Egypt officially remained part of the Ottoman Empire for almost 400 years. However, as the Ottoman Empire declined, so too did its power and influence over Egypt. The Mamluk Khedives regained their positions as defacto rulers of Egypt. From 1798-1800 The French, led by Napoleon ruled Egypt, but were eventually defeated when the French were cut off from their supply route by the British following the Battle of the Nile, causing Napoleon to abandon his army and leave them stranded there.
During the 1860s, the French financed and supported the building of the Suez Canal, which provided a shipping shortcut from the West to the East. Although the British had opposed the building of the canal, once it had been constructed and opened, the considered it of vital importance as a communication link between Britain and India. In 1882, Egyptian Officers disgruntled at western influence in Egypt tried to lead a coup against the Khedive, leading to British intervention. Britain invaded and occupied Egypt, whilst leaving the Khedive in charge and nominally a part of the Ottoman Empire.
This legal fiction persisted until 1914, when the Ottoman Empire allied itself with Germany, following which Britain formally annexed Egypt. In 1922, following rising nationalist sentiment, Britain granted Egypt dejure independence, but maintained the right to control Egypt's foreign relations and control over the Canal.
Egypt remained officially neutral during World War II, although it was the site of a major campaign between Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy against Britain over control of the Suez Canal, in which Britain and its allies were ultimately successful. In 1952 a military coup against King Farouk (incidentally one of world's most famous coin collectors) eventually led to the downfall of the Egyptian Monarchy and the declaration of a republic the following year.
In 1954, General Abdel Nasser took control of the Egyptian Republic and repudiated the treaty that gave Britain the right to occupy the Canal Zone, causing British troops to withdraw from the Canal Zone two years later. Following which Nasser nationalised the Canal.
The resulting Suez Crisis, during which Britain, France and Israel conspired with each other for Britain to re-occupy the Canal Zone, led to a political victory for Nasser when US pressure forced the belligerents to withdraw from the Canal Zone. Between 1958 and 1961, Egypt and Syria joined together to form the United Arab Republic, with Nasser as its first and only president. The UAR fell apart when Nasser's attempts to centralise power in Cairo were badly received in Syria and other prospective member nations. Egypt took part in the 6 day war in Israel in 1967, due to which she lost the Sinai Peninsula.
Nasser died in 1970, and was succeeded by Anwar Sadat. Sadat repudiated Nasser's foreign policy of being cosy with the Soviets and expelled Soviet advisors from the country. In 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, he invaded the Sinai Peninsula whilst the Syrians attacked Israel from the North. The Egyptians managed to penetrate far into the Sinai Peninsula, but the war almost ended in a tactical defeat for Egypt when the Israeli forces almost encircled the Egyptian Army. However, the negotiated settlement was a strategic and political victory when he negotiated the return of the Sinai Peninsula in return for a peace treaty with Israel in 1979.
Unfortunately for Sadat, this was not well received amongst the more fundamentalist sections of Egyptian society, and he was assassinated by disaffected Egyptian officers in 1981, and was replaced by Hosni Mubarak.
Hosni Mubarak ruled Egypt in an almost constant state of Emergency until 2011, when after months of protests in what became known as the 'Arab Spring' Mubarak was forced to step down as president. Egypt is now governed by a council of military officers, with the prospect of elections to elect a new government sometime in the future.
*The term 'Pharaoh', meaning 'Great House' was not used by the Egyptians themselves until the New Kingdom Period, instead the Pharaohs, or Kings of Egypt were known by various titles, such as 'Horus' as if a living manifestation of the God Horus, or 'Son of Ra' who was the Egyptian sun god. However, for the sake of simplicity and consistency, we will refer to the pre-New Kingdom rulers by the technically incorrect but widely used term of 'Pharaohs'.
Coinage of Egypt
Although Egypt is one of the most ancient civilisations in the world, they were not amongst the first to use coinage. Although there is evidence of imitation Athenian Tetra drachms being struck in order to pay Greek Mercenaries fighting Egypt's wars, the striking and widespread use of coinage in Egypt was introduced by Alexander the Great and the Ptolemies. Because of this, Egypt developed a Hellenic currency system, which was used until Diocletian's currency reforms in the late 3rd Century A.D. introduced a standardised Roman currency system throughout the Roman Empire.
Byzantine coins gave way to derivative Arabic issues, and after the conquest by the Ottoman Empire in 1517, The Ottoman cypher continued to be featured on the obverse of Egyptian coinage until 1914. During much of Ottoman Rule, the currency of Egypt was the Piastre, which was divided into 40 Para, each of which was worth 3 akçe.
The Egyptian Pound was introduced in 1834 (then known as the gineih) each of which was worth 100 quirsh (piastre). The Quirsh (or Piastre) continued to be subdivided into 40 para until 1885, following which the 1,000 malleem subunit was introduced.
The Egyptian Pound was pegged to the Sterling Pound at £1 GBP to £0.975 EGP until 1961, when Egypt left the sterling era and pegged itself to the Dollar.
In 1885 when Egyptian currency was fully decimalised, coins as low as 1/4 of a Malleem were issued for circulation. However, over the course of the 20th Century and beyond, the Egyptian Pound has depreciated considerably since the days when it was worth slightly more the Pound Sterling, and the Malleem subdivision disappeared in the 1970s. Today coins of 5, 10, 20, 25, 50 Piastres and the bimetallic 1 Pound are legal tender issues in Egypt, although only coins of 25 piastres and above generally remain in circulation.
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Egyptian Gold Coins
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