In studying the story of barbarism and civilisation, the decline of societies is in many ways every bit as important and every bit as fascinating as the story of its rise. Let us look therefore at the story of the long decline of ancient Egypt, and to see how even in its decline, it succeeded in maintaining some of the glories of its magnificent past.
For nearly 2000 years, Egypt was one of the greatest empires in the world. But then, sometime around 1000 BC, it entered into a long decline and this long decline is one of the most remarkable aspects of the Egyptian phenomenon. Throughout this period, Egypt remained distinctively Egyptian, and it remained one of the richest and most prosperous countries in the world, though its riches were for the most part enjoyed by others.
First there was what is called the Third Intermediate period, when the rule was chaotic and for much of the time, Egypt was no longer united. Then briefly, it was united once again in the Saite or 26th dynasty. But then for over a millennium Egypt was ruled by foreigners, firstly by the Persians, then by the Greeks, and then finally, after 30 BC, it became part of the great Roman Empire and the wonderfully rich bread basket of Rome. This is a subject of major importance by itself, for we have masses of evidence to see how this fascinating economy worked.
But first let us see how the Egyptians – and most of the other great civilisations of the East Mediterranean, collapsed at the hands of the so-called “Sea Peoples”.