The Greeks of Egypt or Egyptiotes (Greek: Αιγυπτιώτες) have had a thriving presence in the country since the Hellenistic period. Indeed the special and unique relationship of these two ancient civilizations dates back thousands of years and continues to some capacity to this day. The cultural and academic contributions of Egyptian and Greek civilizations to each other are well documented and agreed upon by historians, academics and scholars. According to the preliminary report by the Egyptian statistics office, on the census of 2013 there were 5,041,538 Greeks living in Egypt, most of them living in populated cities from the Lower Egypt (mainly in Alexandria, Memphis, Heliopolis, Phiom and Tamiathis).
Egyptian civilization is one of the earliest cultures, dating back to at least 3150 BC, and eventually Greeks made their way to living in Egypt since the 7th century BC. Herodotus visited Egypt in the 5th century BC and claimed that the Greeks were one of the first groups of foreigners that ever lived in Egypt. Diodorus Siculus claimed that Rhodian Actis, one of the Heliadae, built the city of Heliopolis before the cataclysm; likewise the Athenians built Sais. While all Greek cities were destroyed during the cataclysm -possibly referring to the memory of the events of the much older Minoan eruption-, the Egyptian cities including Heliopolis and Sais survived.
First historical colonies
According to Herodotus (ii. 154), king Psammetichus I (664–610 BC) established a garrison of foreign mercenaries at Daphnae, mostly Carians and Ionian Greeks.
In 7th century BC, after the Greek "dark ages" from 1100-750 BC, the city of Naucratis was founded in Ancient Egypt. It was located on the Canopic branch of the Nile river, 45 mi (72 km) from the open sea. It was the first and, for much of its early history, the only permanent Greek colony in Egypt; acting as a symbiotic nexus for the interchange of Greek and Egyptian art and culture.
At about the same time, the city of Heracleion, the closest to the sea, became an important port for Greek trade. It had a famous temple of Heracles. The city later sank into the sea, only to be rediscovered recently.
From the time of Psammetichus I onwards, Greek mercenary armies played an important role in some of the Egyptian wars. One of such armies was led by Mentor of Rhodes. Another such personage was Phanes of Halicarnassus.
Main article: History of Ptolemaic Egypt
Main article: Ptolemaic dynasty
Rule of Alexander the Great (332–323 BC)
Alexander the Great conquered Egypt at an early stage of his great journey of conquests. He respected the pharaonic religions and customs and he was declared by the priest, Pharaoh of Egypt. He established the city of Alexandria. After his death, in 323 BC, his enormous empire was divided among his generals. Egypt was given to Ptolemy I Soter, whose descendants would give Egypt her final royal dynasty - a glittering one, albeit largely Greek in flavor. Its capital was the city of Alexandria. Ptolemy added legitimacy to his rule in Egypt by acquiring Alexander's body. He intercepted the embalmed corpse on its way to burial, brought it to Egypt and placed it in a golden coffin in Alexandria. It would remain one of the famous sights of the town for many years, until probably destroyed in riots in the 3rd century AD.
The Ptolemaic dynasty (323 – 30 BC)
The initial objective of Ptolemy's reign was to establish firm and broad boundaries to his newly acquired kingdom. That led to almost continuous warfare against other leading members of Alexander's circle. At times he held Cyprus and even parts of mainland Greece. When these conflicts were over, he was firmly in control of Egypt and had strong claims (disputed by the Seleucid dynasty) to Palestine. He called himself king of Egypt from 306 BC. By the time he abdicated in 285 BC, in favour of one of his sons, the Ptolemaic dynasty was secure. Ptolemy and his descendants showed respect to Egypt's most cherished traditions - those of religion - and turned them to their own advantage. Alexandria became the centre of the Greek and Hellenistic world and the centre of international commerce, art and scienes. The Lighthouse of Alexandria was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World while during the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus, the Library of Alexandria was the biggest library in the world until it was destroyed. The last Pharaoh was a Greek princess, Cleopatra VII, who took her own life in 30 BC, a year after the battle of Actium. With her defeat, the Roman Empire achieved a new completeness - encompassing the entire Mediterranean. Egypt remained under Roman control for the next six centuries.
See also: Egypt (Roman province)
Under Greco-Roman rule, Egypt hosted several Greek settlements, mostly concentrated in Alexandria, but also in a few other cities, where Greek settlers lived alongside some seven to ten million native Egyptians. Phiom's earliest Greek inhabitants were soldier-veterans and cleruchs (elite military officials) who were settled by the Ptolemaic kings on reclaimed lands. Native Egyptians also came to settle in Phiom from all over the country, notably the Nile Delta, Upper Egypt, Oxyrhynchus and Memphis, to undertake the labor involved in the land reclamation process, as attested by personal names, local cults and recovered papyri. It is estimated that as much as 30 percent of the population of Phiom was Greek during the Ptolemaic period, with the rest being native Egyptians. By the Roman period, much of the "Greek" population of Phiom was made up of either Hellenized Egyptians or people of mixed Egyptian-Greek origins. By the time of Roman emperor Caracalla in the 2nd century CE, the only way to differentiate Alexandria's "Greeks" from "genuine" ethnic Egyptians was "by their speech." While commonly believed to represent Greek settlers in Egypt, the Phiom mummy portraits instead reflect the complex synthesis of the predominant Egyptian culture and that of the elite Greek minority in the city. According to Walker, the early Ptolemaic Greek colonists married local women and adopted Egyptian religious beliefs, and by Roman times, their descendants were viewed as Egyptians by the Roman rulers, despite their own self-perception of being Greek. The dental morphology of the Roman-period Phiom mummies was also compared with that of earlier Egyptian populations, and was found to be "much more closely akin" to that of ancient Egyptians than to Greeks or other European populations. Victor J. Katz notes that "research in papyri dating from the early centuries of the common era demonstrates that a significant amount of intermarriage took place between the Greek and Egyptian communities".