The ancient Kingdom of Egypt, one of the great cradles of civilization, united under the Pharaohs almost three thousand years before the common era, had once been a major power in the region, dominating the Nile river valley and delta, the eastern Mediterranean, and the lands west of the Euphrates. After the first millennium B.C., Egyptian power had begun to wane. In the seventh century B.C., Egypt was conquered by Assyria. Egypt reestablished its independence again after the fall of the Assyrian Empire, but was conquered by the Persians in 525 B.C.
In 332 B.C., Egypt was conquered by Alexander the Great. In 305 B.C., after the breakup of Alexander's empire, it became the center of the Hellenistic Ptolemaic Empire, with the great city of Alexandria as its capital. Ptolemaic Egypt controlled Palestine and parts of Asia minor, and fought numerous bitter wars with the Seleucids, a Hellenistic empire to the north, with its capital in Syria. Egypt became an ally of Rome in the second century B.C.
In 51 B.C., upon the death of Ptolemy XI, the Kingdom was willed jointly to his children Ptolemy XII and Cleopatra VII. Rivalry between the siblings broke out into civil war. Julius Caesar intervened in 48 B.C., and restored Cleopatra, who had been ousted by her brother, to the throne.
During the Civil War that ensued after Caesar's assassination, Cleopatra murdered her younger brother, Ptolmey XIII, whom Caesar had placed jointly on the throne of Egypt with her. With the establishment of the second triumvirate in 43 B.C., Mark Antony was granted control of the East, and spent a year with Cleopatra in 41 B.C. When Mark Antony promised, in 34 B.C., to confirm her children as rulers over Roman provinces, Octavian accused Antony of treason and convinced Rome to declare war.
After the disastrous defeat of the Egyptian fleet at the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C., Cleopatra fled to Egypt. She was followed by Antony, whose army had defected to Octavian. In 30 B.C., at the approach of Octavian's army, Antony committed suicide. After Octavian arrived in Alexandria, Cleopatra attempted to charm him as she had Antony and Caesar before him, but when her advances were rebuffed, she committed suicide rather than become a trophy at Octavian's next triumph in Rome. At her death, Egypt was made a province of Rome.
Egypt had been an important center of Greek learning under the Ptolemies, and the Great Library of Alexandria -- burned down by Caesar's legions during the siege of 48 B.C. -- was considered one of the marvels of the ancient world. Alexandria was one of the largest, most diverse and vibrant cities in the empire, and had the largest population of Jews of any city of the ancient world. During the first centuries of the common era, Egypt became one of the early centers of the Christian faith as well, and the Coptic Christian sect traces its roots to this early Christianity.
A province of the Eastern Roman Empire after the collapse of the west, Egypt was conquered by the Arabs in the seventh century.