Roman Period

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At the end of the Ptolemaic period, Cleopatra VII and her brother Ptolemy XIII at first ruled together. When Julius Caesar came to Alexandria in 47 BC, Ptolemy was killed. After Cleopatra had borne Caesar a son, Caesarion, she allied herself with Mark Antony in 41 BC. He had come to Egypt as 'praefectus equitum' with an expedition led by the Syrian viceroy Aulus Gabinius. In 32 BC, after a propaganda action against Mark Antony by Octavian, the Roman Senate declared war on Egypt, and shortly afterwards followed the battle of Actium (2 September 31 BC) and the occupation of Alexandria (1 August 30 BC). Cleopatra and Mark Antony committed suicide and Octavian (later called Augustus) seized power by proclaiming himself pharaoh, at which point the Roman Period officially begins. His rule lasted until AD 14. Augustus's successors include Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero. The emperors ruled from Rome rather than from an Egyptian residence. In AD 69 in Alexandria, the general Vespasian was proclaimed emperor by his legions; before he set off for Rome he consulted the oracle of Serapis. Under Trajan (AD 98-117) a canal between the Nile (near Bubastis) and the Red Sea, begun by Necho II and completed by Darius, was reopened. Hadrian (AD 117-138) visited Egypt himself; during his stay his friend Antinoos drowned in the Nile. He was promptly deified and the town of Antinoopolis was named after him. In AD 139, during the reign of Antoninus Pius, the heliacal rising of Sirius coincided with the Egyptian new year, a phenomenon that only occurred once every 1,460 years. This was recorded on coins. It is an important factor in the calculation of dates and chronology. The Roman emperors were considered to be pharaohs; they were depicted on temple walls and wrote their names in hieroglyphs in a cartouche; however, because they did not have a 'nomen' and a 'prenomen' like Egyptian pharaohs (the 'son of Re' name and the 'King of Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt' name), their real name was placed in the 'son of Re' cartouche (where earlier pharaohs put their throne name); the other cartouche (where the earlier pharaohs put their own names) only had the word 'Kaisar', or sometimes 'Autokrator Kaisar'. The Roman emperors added buildings to existing temples, or began new ones. The temple of Esna, for example, was begun under Claudius. At the same time the temples began to be heavily taxed. Many obelisks were transported from Egypt to Rome and other important places in the Roman Empire. Right from the start, Rome appointed a prefect to cope with the day-to-day running of affairs. Exploitation of the country swiftly followed - Egypt became merely the granary of the Roman Empire. Alexandria was destroyed and plundered several times as a result of the crushing of rebellions by the Romans. It was at this time that Christianity gained a foothold in Egypt; the propagators of the new religion were well received by the oppressed population. The ancient Egyptian culture and religion swiftly lost ground. Those temples not already destroyed by Coptic monks closed during the fourth century and then went to ruin. The last text written in hieroglyphs dates to AD 394 and is on the island of Philae. The Bible was quickly translated into the vernacular of the time, using the Greek alphabet and a few signs from Demotic. Thus Coptic was created. In AD 204, in the reign of Septimius Severus, the first large-scale persecution of Christians in the entire Roman Empire, including Egypt, occurred; another took place under Diocletian (AD 284-305). Only in the reign of Constantine (AD 324-337) would the situation become easier for the Copts. Once the Roman Empire had been divided into a western and an eastern part in AD 395 Roman rule in Egypt came to an end - it now fell under the rule of Byzantium.