Ancient Greeks in Egypt

It is perhaps generally known that the famed ‘Cleopatra’ was Greek. She was the last of the Greek Pharaohs of Egypt who had ruled for over 300 years.

I bring this up now because I just met a woman whom I was visiting for a hearing checkup (she is an audiologist), and she looked Greek to me. She said, no, her family was from Egypt and that they are Copts, an ancient Christian sect founded by Jesus’s disciple, Mark. She said she is often taken for Greek in her lineage because of their family name.

She was unaware of Greek history in Egypt, so went about to pester her with a printed document, most of which is shown below.

Included in the below are ancient portraits found in the Mediterranean Museum in Stockholm, which are of Greek Egyptians, or of Egyptians with at least some Greek DNA. When I first saw the portraits, I knew I was looking at Greeks. I sent a picture of these portraits (shown below) to my friends at the Greek Historical Society of the San Francisco Bay Area, and asked them if they agreed. They did, then educated me about Faiyum portraits.

So, the following is what printed out for my audiologist:

Ptolemy I Soter (Greek: Πτολεμαῖος Σωτήρ, Ptolemaîos Sōtḗr “Ptolemy the Savior”; c. 367 BC – January 282 BC) was a Macedonian Greek general, historian and companion of Alexander the Great from the Kingdom of Macedon in northern Greece who became ruler of Egypt, part of Alexander’s former empire. Ptolemy was pharaoh of Ptolemaic Egypt from 305/304 BC to his death. He was the founder of the Ptolemaic dynasty, which ruled Egypt until the death of Cleopatra in 30 BC, turning the country into a Hellenistic kingdom and Alexandria into a center of Greek culture. (Wikipedia)

Greek Pharaohs of Egypt

  • Ptolemy I Soter (305–285 BC) Abdicated in 285 BC; died in 283 BC
  • Berenice I (Wife of Ptolemy I) (?-285 BC)
  • Ptolemy II Philadelphos (288–246 BC)
  • Arsinoe I (Wife of Ptolemy II) (284/281-c. 274 BC)
  • Arsinoe II (Wife of Ptolemy II) (277-270 BC)
  • Ptolemy III Euergetes (246–222 BC)
  • Berenice II (Wife of Ptolemy III) (244/243-222 BC)
  • Ptolemy IV Philopator (222–204 BC)
  • Arsinoe III (Wife of Ptolemy IV) (220-204 BC)

Civil Unrest in the South of Egypt

  • Hugronaphor Usurper Revolutionary Pharaoh in the South (205-199 BC)
  • Ankhmakis Usurper Revolutionary Pharaoh in the South (199-185 BC)

Continuation of the House of Ptolemy

  • Ptolemy V Epiphanes (Upper Egypt in revolt 207–186 BC) (204–180 BC)
  • Cleopatra I (Wife of Ptolemy V, co-regent with Ptolemy VI during his minority) (193-176 BC)
  • Ptolemy VI Philometor Died 45 BC (180–164 BC)
  • Cleopatra II (Wife of Ptolemy VI) (173-164 BC)
  • Ptolemy VIII Euergetes Proclaimed king by Alexandrians in 170 BC; ruled jointly with Ptolemy VI Philometor and Cleopatra II from 169-164 BC. (Died 116BC; 171–163BC)
  • Ptolemy VI Philometor Egypt under the control of Ptolemy VIII 164 BC–163 BC; Ptolemy VI restored 163 BC 163-145 BC
  • Cleopatra II Married Ptolemy VIII; led revolt against him in 131 BC and became sole ruler of Egypt. (163-127 BC)
  • Ptolemy VII Neos Philopator Proclaimed co-ruler by father; later ruled under regency of his mother Cleopatra II 145-144 BC
  • Ptolemy VIII Euergetes Restored 145-131 BC
  • Cleopatra III Second wife of Ptolemy VIII 142-131 BC
  • Ptolemy Memphitis Proclaimed King by Cleopatra II; killed by Ptolemy VIII 131 BC
  • Ptolemy VIII Euergetes Restored 127-116 BC
  • Cleopatra III Restored with Ptolemy VIII; later co-regent with Ptolemy IX and X. 127-107 BC
  • Cleopatra II Reconciled with Ptolemy VIII; co-ruled with Cleopatra III and Ptolemy until 116. 124-116 BC
  • Ptolemy IX Soter (Died 80 BC; 116–110 BC)
  • Cleopatra IV Shortly married to Ptolemy IX, but was pushed out by Cleopatra III 116-115 BC
  • Ptolemy X Alexander (Died 88 BC 110–109 BC)
  • Berenice III Forced to marry Ptolemy XI; murdered on his orders 19 days later 81-80 BC
  • Ptolemy XI Alexander Young son of Ptolemy X Alexander; installed by Sulla of Rome; ruled for 80 days before being lynched by citizens for killing Berenice III 80 BC
  • Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos Son of Ptolemy IX; (Died 51 BC 80– 58 BC)
  • Cleopatra V Tryphaena (Wife of Ptolemy XII, mother of Berenice IV) (79 BC-68 BC)
  • Cleopatra VI (Daughter of Ptolemy XII) (58 – 57 BC)
  • Berenice IV (Daughter of Ptolemy XII; forced to marry Seleucus Kybiosaktes, but has him strangled) (Joint rule with Cleopatra VI until 57BC) (58–55 BC)
  • Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos Restored; reigned briefly with his daughter Cleopatra VII before his death 55–51 BC
  • Cleopatra VII (Kleopatra-VII) Ruled Jointly with her father Ptolemy XII, her brother Ptolemy XIII, her brother-husband Ptolemy XIV, and her son Ptolemy XV; also known simply as Cleopatra (51–30 BC) lover of Julius Caesar and Marc Antony
  • Ptolemy XIII Brother of Cleopatra VII (51–47 BC)
  • Arsinoe IV In opposition to Cleopatra VII (48-47 BC)
  • Ptolemy XIV Younger brother of Cleopatra VII and Ptolemy XIII (47–44 BC)
  • Ptolemy XV Cesarion Infant son of Cleopatra VII; aged 3 when proclaimed co-ruler with Cleopatra. Last known ruler of ancient Egypt when Rome took over. 44-30 BC was killed by Augustus (27BC-14AD)

Fayum (or Faiyum) Portraits

From the Louvre: portrait de momie ; L’Européenne, 100 / 150 (époque romaine), Lieu de provenance : Antinoé (rive est Moyenne Égypte->Moyenne Égypte->Égypte)
MND 2047 ; P 217 Département des Antiquités égyptiennes

Fayum Mummy Portraits (source)

While commonly believed to represent Greek settlers in Egypt, the Faiyum 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 portraits represent both descendants of ancient Greek mercenaries, who had fought for Alexander the Great, settled in Egypt and married local women, as well as native Egyptians who were the majority, many of whom had adopted Greek or Latin names, then seen as ‘status symbols’. A DNA study shows genetic continuity between the Pre-Ptolemaic, Ptolemaic and Roman populations of Egypt, indicating that foreign rule impacted Egypt’s population only to a very limited degree at the genetic level.

Faiyum (region) is the source of some famous death masks or mummy portraits painted during the Roman occupation of the area. The Egyptians continued their practice of burying their dead, despite the Roman preference for cremation. While under the control of the Roman Empire, Egyptian death masks were painted on wood in a pigmented wax technique called encaustic—the Faiyum mummy portraits represent this technique. While previously believed to represent Greek settlers in Egypt, modern studies conclude that the Faiyum portraits instead represent mostly native Egyptians, reflecting the complex synthesis of the predominant Egyptian culture and that of the elite Greek minority in the city. (Emphasis is mine)

Faiyum portraits in the Mediterranean Museum of Stockholm: