Joann Fletcher explains how Ancient Egypt's story fits together. In the final episode, Joann discovers how Egypt's enemies exploited a country weakened by internal strife.
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This is about as far north in Egypt as it's possible to get,
because out there is the Mediterranean.
To my west is Libya, to my east Palestine and Arabia.
While Egypt itself lies down there to the south -
1,000 kilometres of desert cut right through the centre
by the mighty river Nile.
And at its top lies this,
the great port city of Alexandria.
It was ancient Egypt's last and most influential capital.
It was a city of great power, wealth and luxury,
the greatest in the world.
Alexandria was also home of one of Egypt's most famous pharaohs -
the final ruler of a Greek dynasty,
and the last in a long line of foreign invaders
who'd each claimed Egypt for themselves,
seduced by its legendary splendours.
'By now the pyramids were already thousands of years old.
'They were the beginning of a seemingly indestructible core belief
'that had survived chaos, famine and war.'
It's as if they have been picked clean
A belief that would shine even more brightly
in its fabled golden age,
whose temples, tombs and glittering treasures
had made Egypt an irresistible temptation.
As jealous foreign rulers eyed a weakened Egypt,
how could it survive successive waves of foreign attack?
But Egypt had a secret weapon -
a culture so strong and deep rooted that it seduced
and then absorbed all who would claim it as their own.
Welcome to my story of ancient Egypt.
Throughout the first millennium BC,
Egypt faced wave after wave of foreign invaders.
But in the face of such a strong and long-lived culture,
all who would try to take over Egypt would themselves be taken over.
Almost 1,000 years before Cleopatra,
Egypt had entered its third intermediate period -
a time of political decline and vulnerability.
But it's the beginning of the 22nd Dynasty around 945 BC -
the priests are in charge of the south,
but in the north the vultures have started to circle,
waiting for their chance to swoop,
as a group of Libyan generals seize power
to rule as pharaohs of a divided land.
In many ways Egypt's waning power had been triggered by
a loss of faith when the authority of the new kingdom pharaohs
had begun to crumble.
Egypt's once pious priests had helped loot the royal tombs
in the Valley Of The Kings, systemically dismantling
Egypt's previously unshakable belief in the afterlife.
With the decline in power of the new kingdom pharaohs,
the Libyans who'd fought for the Egyptians as mercenary generals
gradually infiltrated Egypt's power structure
and eventually took power as the 22nd Dynasty.
The first king of the 22nd Dynasty, Shesonq,
had a number of sons who helped him keep control of Egypt,
one of whom was called Nimlot,
and these are the bracelets of Prince Nimlot.
Egypt's Libyan rulers understood that looking and
acting Egyptian would help to keep the country under their control.
These beautiful bracelets are just a tiny fraction
of the golden treasures created for Egypt's Libyan royals,
who, on the surface at least,
upheld many of Egypt's most sacred traditions.
They are portraying the very small figure of the god Horus,
who symbolised Egyptian kingship,
shown as a young child emerging from a lotus blossom.
And on either side he's protected by the rearing cobras,
the royal uraeus symbol.
Yet in some ways these images are simply window dressing,
lip service to ancient Egyptian traditions
in order to claim a greater prize.
For the Libyans had organized nothing less than
the state sponsored plundering of Egypt's royal tombs.
They were so transfixed by the wealth, by the gold,
by the bling of ancient Egypt they wanted it for themselves.
And over their several centuries rule,
while they appeared to look like pharaohs and to rule as pharaohs,
Egypt never feels to have been a cohesive united kingdom.
They weren't Egyptians at heart and that's really what mattered.
In many ways Libyan rule was destined to fail,
because even if they were militarily superior
their adoption of Egyptian culture was at best superficial
and was insufficient to unite the country.
In the north a squabbling Libyan elite fought amongst themselves,
while in the south, the Egyptian priesthood,
including yet more Libyan princes, still clung to power.
A fragmented Egypt was easy pickings for any would-be invader.
Egypt needed a regime that could reconnect
with its most powerful asset - its history.
And by 747 BC, that's what happened,
when the Kushite rulers of Nubia made a direct spiritual connection
with Egypt's glorious past.
Now the Kushites were Egypt's southern neighbours in Nubia,
and from time immemorial they and the Egyptians
had kind of battled around sort of southern border of Egypt
and by the 8th century BC, however, the Kushites had the upper hand.
They were fervent believers in Egypt's traditional gods,
in some ways making them more Egyptian than the Egyptians.
The kingdom of Kush, in Nubia,
was at the very edge of the Egyptian world.
Having been repeatedly conquered by Egypt,
the Kushites had been hugely influenced by Egyptian beliefs.
Beliefs that centred on this great sandstone mountain, Gebel Barkal.
For centuries it had been regarded as the mythical mound of creation.
The mound from which Egypt's great creator god, Amun, was born.
Here is the holy mountain.
This is where the god lived in his primeval form.
'Dr Tim Kendal has spent almost 30 years working at the site.'
Being at the southern limit of the empire it was where,
where the Nile began, where fertility began
and so it had to be the place where creation began.
So this was...they imagined this as the birthplace of the god Amun.
And so this was the primeval Karnak.
When the new kingdom pharaohs had arrived here in 1500 BC
they built this temple,
and dedicated it to Amun and his wife, the goddess Mut.
And when the Egyptians withdrew from Nubia some 400 years later,
the native Kushites continued to honour the sacred mountain,
and Egypt's spiritual traditions.
As the Kushite kings gained increasing military power
they also claimed Egypt for themselves.
So when King Piye led a Kushite invasion of Egypt in 747 BC,
he didn't plunder or destroy, but restored and rebuilt,
and founded Egypt's 25th Dynasty.
The irony is that he's conquering Egypt,
to put everything right I suppose.
So it's all such a cycle of rebirth, re-growth, redevelopment
and the Kushite kings are really kind of tapping into
-that ancient power source...
..and just sort of giving it back to the Egyptians.
It's like starting time all over again and doing it right.
So they had that same sense of history and continuity as the Egyptians.
They are natural successors of the 18th Dynasty kings.
Fuelled by a genuine desire to make their own mark in Egypt's long story,
the Kushites began to rebuild Egypt here in their Nubian heartland.
King Piye expanded the existing temple of Amun at Gebel Barkal,
to balance the original great temple of Karnak in Egyptian Thebes.
But while the Kushites had absorbed the culture of Egypt
they still had their roots here in Africa.
This cultural fusion is quite clearly expressed in this
extraordinary representation of the Egyptian goddess Mut.
The face of the goddess Mut has tribal scars. And look...
..we'll see if it shows with this light.
Can you see the three lines in her face?
So this is an Egyptian goddess with a Nubian makeover?
Yeah. She was a goddess of Nubia
and it was appropriate for Nubians to have tribal scars.
So this is a very, very graphic version of the way in which
local Nubians were making the traditional deities of Egypt
their own, physically marking them.
It's as if she's has been stamped as a Nubian.
How incredible. This is such a land of surprises.
That is beautiful.
Yet this land of surprises has something else in store too.
Gale force winds whip up the worst sandstorm in years.
It's a powerful reminder that the ancients would also have had
to deal with such dramatic natural phenomena.
You can certainly taste the grit in your teeth.
The ancients would have tackled this using spells, rituals.
They would also have made extra offerings to specific deities,
most notably Osiris's brother, god Seth,
the god of turbulence and the god of storms,
the god of red headed individuals
who were seen somewhat turbulent too. Can't imagine why.
I'm seeking shelter in this shrine,
cut into the mountain by Pyie's son, Taharqa,
which is currently undergoing major restoration by an Italian mission.
It apparently reveals graphic evidence of Egypt's continuing powerful influence.
I've never been here before.
I have no idea what's going on in here,
so this'll be as new to me as it is to you.
Oh, flippin' heck!
'It's a real privilege to see the time blackened walls
'finally giving up their secrets.'
Wow, look at that, look at that!
Oh, that is... Oh, that is so beautiful.
They're bringing out not just the golds but the blues.
These two colours -
the bright blue of the sky and the Nile and the gold.
This sort of really powerful colour of the sun god.
'This is Taharqa, the Kushite's most powerful and important pharaoh.
'In classic Egyptian style he's shown offering to the god Amun
'and his wife the goddess Mut.'
It's raised relief. This is old school,
this is old school technique. This is skill.
And they're all overlaid in this yellow gold.
And you can even see the little scales on this corselet
that Amun's wearing. Every detail is here.
It's fabulous. It's like Christmas morning, this.
This is just extraordinary, just look for yourselves, just look.
Look at their faces. Look at their eyes.
'This wall truly exemplifies Egypt's ancient magic,
'as those who try to conquer it end up being seduced by it
'and then become a part of it.
'It's a sincere attempt by Taharqa to connect his kingship
'to the achievements of the pharaohs of Egypt's past,
'in particular to the rulers of the new kingdom.'
So, although history records that Taharqa conquered Egypt,
this scene reveals it's actually Egypt that conquered Taharqa.
It's as if the Egyptian identity will always win out, no matter what,
so much so that Taharqa is even shown with the ram's horns of Amun,
identifying him as the son of Egypt's god of gods.
These were worn my Amenhotep III in Luxor temple in the 18th Dynasty.
They were later worn by the great Alexander
to show he, too, was the son of Amun.
And here we have Taharqa in all his finery and all his splendour.
Who knew that they were here, hidden away in this special, special rock?
We've come to heart of Gebel Barkal now.
We've come to heart of Egyptian religion.
Because this the very birthplace of Amun himself
and here he is, just for us, right now emerging from the walls.
Very few people have ever seen this.
Here inside the temple, where only the most pious were allowed,
Taharqa is shown in deference to Egypt's most powerful god.
And outside, on the mountain, he exhibits his devotion
on a truly monumental scale
by embellishing the very top of its pinnacle.
180 metres tall and 11 metres from the cliff face,
it seems completely inaccessible.
But Taharqa pulled off an incredible technical achievement.
He built a crane arm and elaborate scaffolding
in order to make his own permanent mark on the mountain.
What he did was, he made an inscription for himself
commemorating his victories east and west.
And then underneath his men set a small statue of the king
and they covered the inscription in gold.
Today you can hardly see it, but in those days
it would've been the most conspicuous feature of the mountain.
-I mean that's meant to be seen by the gods.
-Seen by the gods.
'Of course no mortal eye could read this from the ground.
'But that wasn't the point.
'This was a message to the gods,
'carved on a monument built to impress.
'Completely covered in gold, it reflected the sun's rays
'and it acted like a giant billboard as it telegraphed Taharqa's message
'for miles around.
'And this, again, harked back to Egypt's past when previous pharaohs
'had placed gilded capstones on their pyramids and obelisks
'to harness the potent powers of the sun.
'Just to the east of Gebel Barkal lies the necropolis of Nuri
'where the Kushite kings' transformation into Egyptian pharaohs was finally completed,
'for the dynasty who'd invaded Egypt
'were now copying Egypt's ultimate symbol,
'and for the first time in over 1000 years,
'the kings who ruled Egypt were buried in pyramids.'
When the kings made their capital at Memphis,
they were living right across the river from the great pyramids.
Taharqa had spent most of his life there
and was familiar with the great pyramids and so when he died
he needed a pyramid of commensurate scale,
and he sort of established this new type
and it was followed by all his successors.
The Kushites eventually built more pyramids here,
in their Nubian homeland, than the Egyptians had built in Egypt.
And just as at Giza,
Taharqa's pyramid is precisely aligned to its environment.
For on the exact day when the Nile flood begins to recede
the sun sets just like this,
directly behind the Gebel Barkal pinnacle.
Yet only on this specific day
and only when viewed from the top of Taharqa's pyramid.
That is totally impressive.
Not just a skill, a feat of engineering,
but such devotion to the gods.
The gods, observing nature.
-I mean it would take a huge amount of observation
to get the position just right, to get the day just right.
Surrounded by these pyramids, the images of Amun and Mut,
and their monumental temples,
it's easy to forget that the Kushites were actually
a foreign power who'd taken Egypt by force.
Yet it's almost as if Egypt was taunting its invaders.
"While you may try and dominate our land,
"our culture will ultimately dominate you."
And as such, the Kushites left a legacy of renewal and resurrection.
But, like all Egypt's conquerors,
the Kushites' moment in the sun was fleeting,
for their 25th Dynasty lasted but a century,
as a far more ruthless and ambitious power now invaded.
In 674 BC, the fearsome Assyrian army marched into Egypt.
As ruthless expansionists, they had little interest in Egyptian culture.
They graphically demonstrated their contempt
by sacking the sacred city of Thebes.
The Assyrians unlike the Egyptians,
are interested in expanding their empire and really taking over
other parts of the world, and they do that by violence.
This very un-Egyptian bronze helmet was discovered in Thebes.
It is one of the very few objects that reveal the Assyrian takeover of Egypt.
Despite possessing equally powerful iconography of their own,
the Assyrians had little time to leave their mark.
They simply stamped their authority upon Egypt
by trying to rip out its religious heart.
This holy complex, this really huge sacred space,
had never been attacked in Egyptian history.
And so for a mob to damage the temple,
to damage statues perhaps,
to damage precious things would really have been
absolute anathema to the Egyptians.
What's really striking is it's obviously not an Egyptian item
but the Egyptians didn't even wear helmets, did they?
-They relied on their thick hair, didn't they?
So for me it really evokes a completely alien image.
I mean the Assyrians... I mean war was their business, wasn't it?
With their sophisticated weapons and armour,
the Assyrians were a war machine,
whose unstoppable progress seemed to spell disaster for Egypt.
Yet after little more than 20 years, the Assyrians returned east
to tackle problems at home, leaving vassals in charge of Egypt.
Based at the delta city of Sais, these were the Saite kings,
shrewd Egyptian politicians who first appeared to serve their Assyrian masters,
but soon became strong enough to declare their independence.
Egypt was now back in Egyptian hands.
The Saites instigated a spectacular renaissance in native culture,
at the heart of which lay Egypt's most powerful symbol
of national identity - mummification.
But no longer limited to humans,
there was an explosion of animal mummification.
Everything from dogs, cats, crocodiles,
ibis and even tiny shrews.
The ancient Egyptians had always mummified their dead,
both human and animal.
And with the Saites, we can almost see it as a way of the Saite kings
trying to declare, "We are Egypt, we are important,
"this is what makes us special."
No-one else in the ancient world could mummify like the Egyptians
and so they rolled it out a millionfold.
With animals specifically bred for mummification
and then sold as offerings at temples,
the Saites had reinvigorated Egypt's oldest industry.
Death was once again big business.
Now, this might look pretty silly, but around 2,000 years ago
here at Saqqara, this would have been a very common sight.
This place would've been packed with pilgrims,
with priests making animal mummies,
and they'd be trundling the mummies across the landscape in carts like this one.
So we must get out of our minds this idea of Egyptian priests
as these pious, quiet figures wafting through the landscape,
when, at by this time, it was all carried out in great numbers.
And it was Egypt's endless ability to reinterpret its core beliefs
that was the key to its longevity.
For millennia, the Egyptians had believed that the pharaoh
was a living god, who embodied the soul of Egypt.
When the king died, their soul lived on in their mummified body,
which must be kept safe to guarantee the continuity of Egypt.
So they'd always buried their rulers in the safety of pyramids
or elaborate rock-cut tombs.
But in times of increasing unrest and foreign rule,
the Egyptians could no longer rely on even having a pharaoh to bury,
and so they turned to another centuries-old practice.
The Serapeum at Saqqara is a huge subterranean tomb complex in which
the concepts of kingship and animal mummification were fused together.
For each of these giant granite sarcophagi once contained
an animal believed to embody all the qualities of kingship.
This is the burial site of the sacred Apis bull.
These were bodies of mummified bulls
of such importance to the Egyptian mind-set
they extended all this effort and cost to create
a suitably impressive burial site, and they've done this in spades.
As one bull dies and is mummified and buried,
the other one is then worshipped in life,
and at death mummified and buried again,
and so there's a real progression.
The cult of the Apis bull dates right back to the beginning
of Egyptian history, and it's closely linked to the pharaoh.
It was believed that when the sacred bull died,
it became one with Osiris, the god of the afterlife.
And so became an Osiris Apis or Serapis for short.
And these sacred bulls became hugely important under the Saites.
During times of foreign occupation,
when Egypt was increasingly being ruled by pharaohs in absentia,
be it in Persia or wherever else,
for the Egyptians, they needed a physical presence
and the Apis bull provided this presence,
because they could see it with their own eyes, they could
celebrate rituals in its company, and at death it would be mummified
and then buried in the manner of pharaohs going back for millennia.
So it was crucial to have this creature here -
each one successively buried in a sarcophagus just like this one.
We're looking at some serious devotion
to this sacred creature and everything it represented for Egypt.
In many ways, the Serapeum is Egypt writ large,
in which its core beliefs are taken to extremes.
Being down here really makes you feel minuscule.
You realise you're now walking amongst the gods.
Words fail me frankly because of the enormity of it all.
But that was the thing, that was the skill of the Egyptians.
They batter you over the head with the idea of the colossal,
the monumental, the spectacular.
Yet the Egyptians' devotion to the Apis bull had left them vulnerable.
By embodying the power of Egypt within a single living animal,
they had created an easy target.
Given the Apis bull's divine status,
harming it would have been completely unthinkable.
But when the Persian king Cambyses invaded Egypt, he had other plans.
The Persian empire is swept west, taking all before it,
and then into Egypt itself.
The Persian king Cambyses entered Egypt in 525 BC
and destroyed the Saite dynasty.
Much like the Assyrians, the Persians were ruthless expansionists,
chiefly interested in enlarging their empire.
And Cambyses seemed to have trampled all over Egypt's ancient traditions.
Having taken Egypt by force,
Cambyses burnt the mummy of the previous Saite pharaoh,
before stabbing the Apis bull, which slowly bleed to death.
And by doing this,
Cambyses was sending a very clear message to the Egyptians -
"I am now in charge."
For the next 200 years, the Egyptians were little more
than the heavily taxed servants of the Persian empire,
and with all attempts at rebellion met with extreme retaliation,
Egypt needed a saviour,
an outsider who could be transformed by Egypt's powerful ideology
and, in return, could transform Egypt.
Enter the Macedonian superman. Enter Alexander the Great.
Alexander was one of the world's greatest military leaders,
and during his short life amassed an empire that stretched across
three continents, founding over 70 cities that bore his name.
After his initial defeat of the Persian king,
Alexander marched unopposed into Egypt in 332 BC.
The world's most successful empire builder had arrived,
not only transforming Egypt's future,
but preserving its ancient past
It really is no exaggeration to say that Alexander the Great
is one of the most remarkable people who ever lived.
He really was the superhero of the ancient world.
So you'd think that Egypt would be filled with his images,
after all he had saved them from the hated Persians.
And yet other than the great city of Alexandria that bears his name,
he is remarkably hard to find within Egypt's traditional temples.
Except here in this modest little shrine at the heart of Luxor temple.
Alexander was not only a brilliant soldier, but a master politician...
..marching into Egypt's ancient capital, Memphis,
amid rumours he was the son of Egypt's last native pharaoh.
This instantly plugged him into Egypt's long native history
and he was crowned as a traditional pharaoh.
Here he is, the great man,
repeatedly across the walls of this limestone shrine.
And yet you'd never know it was Alexander simply by looking,
cos he looks like every other Egyptian pharaoh.
But he knew their secret, that to rule Egypt you had to appear
to be an Egyptian, and he did this brilliantly.
To the extent that he had his name, his Greek name Alexandros,
written in the Egyptian tradition, even in a royal cartouche.
And it's the only giveaway that this is Alexander the Great,
because there is his name,
Alexandros, written in typical Egyptian style,
and there he's even wearing the red and the white dual crown of a united land,
and so he's encapsulating everything that it was to be an Egyptian pharaoh.
Just like the Kushite king Taharqa at Gebel Barkal,
Alexander is shown offering incense to the king of the gods, Amun.
But simply connecting with the gods wasn't enough.
Alexander understood that real power came from BECOMING a god.
And so he undertook a perilous journey across the Libyan desert
to the remote oasis shrine of Siwa,
where he could commune with the oracle of Amun himself.
And it's said, in this legendary story,
that the god actually said to him, "You are my son,"
and from then on something clicked in Alexander's mind
and he went off to conquer the rest of the ancient world,
truly believing he was divine and he had the full blessing
and support of Amun himself, the king of the gods of Egypt.
Alexander would only stay in Egypt for six short months.
But during his time here, he founded a city
that would be his lasting legacy - the great city of Alexandria.
Built on the Mediterranean coast,
to create trading links with the rest of the ancient world,
the later historian Arrian recorded that Alexander
had laid out the city's general plan himself.
But lacking chalk or other means,
he resorted to marking it out with grain.
When a flock of birds began eating the grain,
Alexander regarded this as a bad omen.
Yet his religious advisor quickly spun bad news into good,
and interpreted this as a sign that the new city would soon prosper
and would one day feed the whole world -
a remarkably accurate prophecy.
For within a very few years, Alexandria would not only be
Egypt's new capital, but the greatest city on Earth...
..although Alexander himself would never see it.
Yet, despite his pious nature,
Alexander was essentially a soldier
and in his quest to conquer the Persian empire
he left Egypt in 331 BC, never to return alive.
Moving as far east as India, he conquered an empire of two million square miles
before dying in Babylon, aged only 32,
but still undefeated
and still the pharaoh of Egypt.
At death Alexander was mummified
and his body became the focus of a power struggle.
Some of his officers wanted him buried in his Greek homeland,
but for others he had to return to Egypt
and be buried as a pharaoh, thereby preserving Egypt's long traditions.
But it obviously meant that anyone who possessed his mummified body
could also claim the throne of Egypt.
And clues to this drama can be found here,
in the windswept desert of Saqqara.
Ten years after he'd left Egypt alive, Alexander returned here,
for his body had been mummified Egyptian-style
and it became a hugely powerful talisman,
for whoever held the body of Alexander the Great, held Egypt.
While en route to Greece, his cortege was diverted
and his mummified body brought here
to Egypt's ancient necropolis of Saqqara.
Exactly where his tomb itself was remains a mystery -
although situated just metres from the Serapeum
is this collection of very un-Egyptian looking statues.
And it's these somewhat sand-blasted statues that give us a real clue
that Alexander may have initially been buried somewhere close by,
because these are the sculpted images of some of the greatest
scholars and artists of ancient Greece.
Although exactly who is who has kept academics scratching their heads for years,
their likely identities reveal a direct link
to the world in which Alexander grew up and was educated.
Take Homer for example -
his great warrior hero Achilles was Alexander's lifelong role model...
..Plato, who had tutored Aristotle, who in turn had tutored Alexander...
..and Pindar, whose poetry had praised Alexander's Macedonian ancestors.
As for who placed these statues here,
the most likely candidate is Alexander's general
and probable half-brother, Ptolemy, for by burying Alexander here,
close to Egypt's ancient capital Memphis,
Ptolemy could legitimise his own takeover of Egypt.
And by laying claim to Alexander's body and to Egypt,
he founded the dynasty named after himself,
the fabulous and outrageous Ptolemies.
Ruling Egypt for the last three centuries BC,
the Ptolemaic dynasty would be Egypt's final flowering.
15 male kings all named Ptolemy, with their female co-rulers,
half of whom were called Cleopatra.
Macedonian Greek by descent, their dynasty would bring Greek style,
culture, knowledge and fabulous wealth into Egypt,
while, at the same time, immersing themselves
in Egypt's irresistible religion and customs.
They were very, very sensitive to the cultural practices
and the religious sensibilities of the Egyptians.
They knew that to control this ancient land of Egypt,
they had to tap in to what made Egypt powerful,
what made Egypt special.
They wore the right clothes, the right crowns,
they built the right temples, they worshipped the right gods.
And the Ptolemies relocated Egypt's capital from Memphis
to their new super city, Alexandria.
Built to Alexander's original plan,
it was one of the most lavish construction projects on Earth.
The historian Strabo would later comment that the city had
magnificent public precincts and royal palaces that covered
a fourth or even a third of the entire area.
The colonnaded marble streets were over ten metre's wide.
There were public baths, a huge gymnasium,
and one of the greatest wonders of the ancient world -
the 135 metre tall Pharos Lighthouse,
that guided ships safely into port.
And at the centre of the city, Alexander himself,
whose mummified body had been exhumed from Saqqara and brought here.
The Ptolemies had built a capital unlike anything Egypt had ever seen before,
for in Alexandria a new Egypt was being born.
The creation of Alexandria and the great influx
of immigrants gave it a freshness, a vivacity
and really kind of transformed the ancient culture.
Whereas, previously, Egyptian civilisation had developed
along the Nile, and in many ways was quite inward-looking, quite insular.
I think the fact that Alexandria was open to so many diverse influences,
religiously, culturally, and this gave it a real air of tolerance.
I think I'd have felt very at home here.
There's a real sense of culture and learning
and an appreciation of life.
Today Alexandria is the largest city on the Mediterranean,
stretching for over 20 miles along the coast.
As Egypt's largest seaport,
it caters for over 80% of the country's imports and exports,
a legacy that reaches directly back to the Ptolemies.
Having improved Egyptian agriculture by reclaiming new farmland
through increased irrigation, they supplemented the Egyptian staples
with new crops such as cotton, and better grapes for wine-production.
And today the markets of Alexandria still buzz
with some of the early city's lively, cosmopolitan style.
THEY SPEAK EGYPTIAN
I'm going to try and find the nearest equivalent to
ancient Egyptian delicacies, and these are dates
and the ancient Egyptians used to make pastries and bread from them,
because they had a very sweet tooth.
I think I might have to taste one, just for quality control you understand.
See how authentic they are.
They are very nice.
This is incense in its raw state
and, of course, this was burnt in temples and in funerary rites.
'The port city of Alexandria became a huge hub of international trade,
'establishing routes with Greece, the Middle East,
'India and even Britain.
'And as native Egyptian goods like papyrus and perfume
'flowed out of the country,
'new exotic luxuries like spices, silks and wines poured in.'
The Greeks loved olives and so these were imported
and the Egyptians started to grow them.
I'll definitely have some of these. Delicious.
Black pepper? Oh! We've got to get some black pepper.
So this is one of the really, really popular things,
certainly in Ptolemaic times, because markets had opened up
and certainly as far east as India
and the Greeks went crazy for this stuff.
It's certainly lively shopping in Egypt. Never a dull moment.
With Alexandria now at the heart of the ancient world,
the rest of Egypt benefitted too,
for, determined to honour their adopted country's long history,
the Ptolemies undertook a massive temple rebuilding and restoration programme.
Indeed, modern visitors can often fail to realise that many of
the places they visit were either built or restored by the Ptolemies.
Esna, Edfu, Dendara, Kom Ombo -
all of these are Ptolemaic buildings
that tourists and scholars admire so much,
and yet they really don't give sufficient credit to the people
whose vision created them.
The most impressive all such temples lies the farthest from Alexandria.
Deep into upper Egypt, close to Aswan,
is the stunning temple of Philae, which in Egyptian meant "the end",
since it was located at the very southern edge of Egypt.
Much of the temple was built by Ptolemy II
and his co-ruler and sister Arsinoe.
There was a law passed by her husband, Ptolemy,
to say that a statue of Arsinoe had to be erected
in every single temple in Egypt.
She had to become its resident goddess.
Arsinoe was a powerful female pharaoh,
associated with the goddess Isis -
a role the famous Cleopatra would adopt two centuries later -
and under the Ptolemies, Philae became a major centre of the Isis cult.
And here, in the heart of Philae Temple, Arsinoe's golden statue
would have stood side-by-side with that of Isis,
so the walls are full of images of Isis and her fellow gods.
According to myth, Isis was responsible for the vital Nile flood,
swelling the river as she wept tears of sorrow
for her murdered husband Osiris, who she then resurrected.
And with its spectacular location,
Philae still retains its hugely spiritual atmosphere.
I think it's that sense of continuity you really feel when you're up here.
You feel like you're at the centre of the world.
I suppose for the ancient Egyptians you were -
the centre of their religious world.
And at this point, which was the heart
of ancient Egyptian religion way into the Christian era,
way into the 6th century AD, it kind of messes with your head.
It's a very, very holy place this.
But while Philae was becoming an increasingly important centre of Egyptian religion,
its new capital Alexandria had become the leading centre of knowledge,
for the Ptolemies created some of the first scholarships,
attracting academics from across the world to study a wide range of subjects.
Biology, theology, astronomy,
geometry, anatomy, philosophy.
'And, of course, my own personal favourite...'
And at the centre of this intellectual hot house
was the famous royal library.
Up to half a million works were once housed within,
to compete with the famous schools of Plato and Aristotle in Athens,
and today that legacy lives on with Alexandria's striking new library.
The Ptolemies really did appreciate that knowledge was power,
and they wanted that power,
so they brought together, in this one single place,
some of the greatest works in human history -
the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides,
the works of Aristotle the philosopher,
the old testament scriptures,
and all the accumulated knowledge from the temples of ancient Egypt -
all brought into this one, single building.
The great library also contained the works of Herodotus,
a Greek historian who'd travelled the length of Egypt
over a century before the Ptolemies had come to power.
His accounts sum up the Greek fascination with Egyptian society.
"Not only is the climate different from that of the rest of the world,
"and the river unlike any other river,
"but the people also, in most of their manners and customs,
"exactly reverse the common practice of mankind,
"for the women attend the markets and trade,
"while the men sit at home and do the weaving."
Indeed, the level of equality of Egypt's women shocked Herodotus.
Something he vividly records when he witnessed a group of men and women
travelling together by boat to the delta city of Bubastis.
"Some of the women make a noise with clappers, others play the oboe
"while the rest of the women and men sing and clap their hands."
"Some of the women shout mockery to the women of that town they are passing,
"whilst others dance
"and others stand up and expose their private parts!"
In temples the length of Egypt,
the Ptolemies ensured they were portrayed as Egyptian pharaohs,
making them almost indistinguishable from their native Egyptian predecessors.
Yet in Alexandria, the blend of Greek and Egyptian
could sometimes create a hybrid of rather strange results.
-Hi, how are you?
'Nermine Sami is a local historian who's spent years studying
'this remarkable tomb complex, built just after the Ptolemaic period.'
And here we come to the unique burial, main burial chamber.
That is fabulous.
'Guarded by Greek Doric columns, the entrance is covered in images
'of Egyptian gods who would ensure safe passage into the afterlife.'
It's like a tomb but it's also like a temple.
A temple, a facade of a temple but a typical Egyptian style.
-Yeah, yeah. It's really...
-With cobras protecting the entrance.
-You know why cobras chosen to be presented in the tombs?
Because the cobra has no eyelashes,
it keeps her eyes open 24 hours,
which means it's awake to protect the tomb
for 24 hours a day and night.
I love these snakes.
That's a very Greek-looking snake,
but it's wearing a very little ancient Egyptian crown.
They literally are throwing everything they've got at this tomb.
-I mean Medusa, Horus, sun disk... Everything.
-To guarantee safety.
-This is the best guarded doorway I've seen in Egypt.
It's got everything here. And there's statues.
'They represent the inhabitants of the tomb, a single wealthy family.
'These, too, exhibit an odd mix of the Greek and Egyptian.'
I think the bodies are ancient Egyptian,
the stance is ancient Egyptian, the man's kilt is Egyptian.
-A leg forward.
-From the neck down they're Egyptian,
but from the neck up they're European.
'It's clear the tomb owners had done everything they could
'to ensure safe passage into the Egyptian afterlife...'
Oh, look! It's the Apis bull.
'..even if they didn't quite understand how it all worked.'
All the features are there, you've got Thoth with, you know, presenting the oils,
and Anubis doing the same, mummifying the dead.
You've even got canopic jars underneath.
Canopic jars and feather of Maat, the goddess of justice.
Without her approval you will never cross to the other side.
He didn't forget to add a Greek touch in a lower part,
two depictions of Dionysus.
'Dionysus was the Greek god of wine and fertility.
'Clearly these tomb occupants intended to continue
'the lives they lived in Alexandria into the beyond.
"I want, all what I enjoy in life to be with me...
-..in the other side.
-Especially the wine.
What a great place to spend eternity.
'Despite its rather cartoon-like quality,
'the apparent opulence of this tomb demonstrates
'the desire of the Alexandrian elite to integrate into Egyptian culture.
'Yet in many ways, it was little more than a veneer,
'hiding the real force that would ultimately destroy Egypt,
'for where the external invaders had largely tried and failed,
'Egypt's real nemesis would be the Ptolemies' famous love of luxury and excess.'
Much of this luxury was just a facade,
for the royals of Alexandria, notorious for their love of display,
were like actors on a stage.
As one ancient commentator observed,
"Everything in Egypt is simply play acting and painted scenery."
A comment which cuts to the heart of this melodramatic monarchy,
for whom image was everything.
Because while the ruling elite were living it up in Alexandria,
other parts of Egypt were far from content.
By the end of the 3rd century BC,
Egypt was once more riven with civil war.
Upper Egypt began to rebel,
and it fell to Ptolemy V to try and fight the fires of anarchy.
So, not only did he portray himself as an Egyptian,
he went even further in his support for Egypt's ancient beliefs.
In doing so he left the world one of its most famous ancient artefacts...
The Rosetta Stone.
It's best known as the means by which the French scholar Champollion
was first able to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs in 1822.
And we can tell that the inscription on the stone was of huge importance
because it was written out in three types of script -
Greek, Demotic and Hieroglyphic.
In a way you could almost describe it as a kind of news bulletin.
It's the priests of Memphis issuing this decree,
to let as many people know exactly what the religious
and the political policy was of crown and clergy.
And it particularly focuses on Ptolemy V's generous patronage.
The priests are praising him because he's one that gives wealth
to the temple, and gives due honour and respect to the sacred animals
which were such an integral part of Egyptian religion.
The priests really are grateful to their Ptolemaic pharaoh,
who they see as wanting to sort of tap in to
the ancient Egyptian culture and ancient Egyptian religion,
much like Alexander had,
much like the Saites had and the Kushites had.
They knew that to attain true power,
true control in Egypt you had to do things the Egyptian way.
Yet Ptolemy V's philanthropy came at a price.
Keeping the peace in Egypt proved cripplingly expensive,
so the second half of the Ptolemaic dynasty was riven by debt, corruption and vicious civil war.
Soon the expanding Roman empire bore down on a divided Egypt.
Only the famous Cleopatra stood in their way.
In the mould of Great Uncle Alexander,
she believed herself divine
and managed to hold the Romans at bay for over 20 years.
But not even the great Cleopatra could prevent the inevitable.
And so it was that in August 30 BC
Cleopatra's famous suicide brought an end to ancient Egypt as we know it.
This epic culture, which had lasted for 3,000 years,
came to an end in a matter of days
when on 31st August, Egypt was formally annexed by Rome.
This was Egypt's point of no return -
a slow, painful decline of Egyptian beliefs and culture
until the arrival of Christianity.
With its numerous temples abandoned, built over or simply destroyed,
Egypt's glories began to fade from memory.
But Egypt's great story can now be traced back
20,000 years to the very origins of its magical culture,
which had evolved from its unique environment,
Creating a series of sophisticated beliefs,
able to unite a country to build great monuments.
It had survived chaos and famine,
only to rise again in a glorious zenith of rebirth and resurrection.
Even waves of foreign invasions were ultimately assimilated
by Egypt's powerful traditions.
And despite being eventually absorbed into the Roman Empire,
the ancient culture had continued until the arrival of Christianity.
Yet as the Egyptians had always believed,
there would be a life after death.
Cleopatra's Needle, on London's Embankment
had lain forgotten in Egypt until the 19th century.
But as pioneering Egyptologists began a 200-year process of rediscovery...
..ancient Egypt was reborn,
and this time it went global.
And what a privilege it is for us today to be able to see
such wonderful things and capture just a glimpse
of this fascinating ancient culture.
The culture of a people at one with their environment,
and who captured, through their timeless monuments,
their own unique view of the world.
In fact the story of Egypt is far from over,
for its rediscovery means that it is only just beginning.
And it's the things that made the Egyptians so very special,
have ensured that they're now known right across the world
and they've achieved their ultimate goal - to live forever.
In the final episode, Joann discovers how Egypt's enemies exploited a country weakened by internal strife, ultimately leading to its destruction.
Joann leaves Egypt and journeys south to Sudan where she finds the remarkable story of the forgotten Nubian Kings. For a century, they ruled Egypt from their southern homeland, even building their own pyramids to bury their kings.
Back in upper Egypt, Joann finds the next group of invaders, the Saites, discovering how they had taken the Egyptian tradition of mummification to new extremes by preserving millions of animals. Finally in Luxor temple, she discovers Egypt's saviour and founder of one of the greatest cities on earth - Alexander the Great.