By the defeat of Cleopatra
in the battle of Actium
31 BC, Egypt was annexed to the Roman Empire.
Octavian, renaming himself Augustus, was made the first emperor.
He maintained his rule on Egypt. A remarkable phrase he said "I
added Egypt to the empire of the Roman people".
first Roman emperor
To him Egypt was the most important province of the empire. A viceroy
was appointed to govern Egypt. The first to rule Egypt was Cornelius
Gallus, a Roman poet. Roman senators who wanted to visit Egypt were
required to get the direct emperor's permission prior to their visit.
Thenceforth, Egypt became the main source of grain to the Roman
Empire, thus giving it a vital importance. 3 Roman legions were
left in Egypt to maintain security. These forces proved their importance
later in securing the borders and curbing internal conflicts accompanied
by the new rule.
Romans introduced a new system in Egypt dividing the country in
few provinces, each was governed by a special ruler and each province
was also divided into small centers.
Successive rulers bore the responsibility of quelling revolts that
used to erupt from time to time.
First thing they face was to put down the riots that broke between
the Greeks and Jews in the reign of Caligula (ruled 34-41) then
the Jewish revolts under Trajan (ruled 98 - 117) and people's revolt
in Coptos in 293 AD.
During the Roman rule, many cultures mingled. Citizens were of difference
descents: Romans, Greek Alexandrians, Jews and Egyptians.
Romans started to introduce various tax categories to increase the
empire's income and ergo making it harder for Egyptians to live.
In the first century AD, Christianity was introduced in Egypt by
Saint Mark who later martyred at the hands of Alexandrians in 67
AD. Henceforth, the Christian missionaries began their activities
and the great church of Alexandria
was established to the current date. The current Egyptian church
is still bearing the name of Alexandria, the city to where Christianity
was first introduced in Egypt.
Amazingly Christianity was spreading very fast to the extent that
Egypt became predominantly Christian by the end of the 3rd century
Christians were regarded as a cult just like Jews were regarded.
This was until they began to increase and adopted a unique attitude.
Their role was amplified when they refused to present sacrifices
to the Romans' pagan gods. They also resist the Roman teachings,
especially those contradicting with Christianity.
Romans considered this attitude as a social revolt that could endanger
the security and the unity of the empire.
This resulted in the commencement of the great persecution of Christians
and the biggest in history.
Roman emperors launched violent and organized persecutions against
the Christian population all over the empire. The biggest are recorded
at reigns of Roman emperors; Septimius Severus (ruled 193 - 211),
Maximinus I (ruled 235 - 238), Decius (ruled 249 - 251).
Diocletian, prime persecutor of Christians
The persecution reached its peak during the reign of Diocletian
(ruled 284-306). Copts, or Christian Egyptians, made the start of
his reign as the first year of their Coptic calendar based on the
Pharaonic solar year.
Diocletian's reign is called the martyrdom era by present-day Copts.
Romans showed brutality in their persecution of Christians. They
had advanced equipment invented only for this purpose. They adopted
very aggressive torture methods like: lashing, sloughing, stoning,
ripping off organs, gouging out eyes, etc
When dealing with Christians, Romans were first trying to convince
them to admit the Roman beliefs, which was usually rejected by the
believers. Romans were then imposing their aggressive torturous
persecuting before putting their lives to an end.
Contrary to what Romans were endeavoring, this persecution was a
way of diffusing Christianity and more pagans diverted to the new
faith. The typical Christian brave manner in these times was to
admit their faith and ask for martyrdom, something that believers
were actually contending for.
At some periods citizens were required to carry a certificate that
proves their Roman faith and that they regularly present sacrifices
to the pagan gods.
Romans' aggressive attitude was usually accompanied by a brutal
destructive policy towards the Coptic Christian culture.
The Roman whip used in torture
They burnt religious books, sacred scripts, liturgies and destroyed
churches and anything that relate to Christianity.
The persecution continued till the tolerant reign of Constantine
the Great (ruled 306 - 337) who finally admitted Christianity as
the official religion of the empire.
During the Roman era a new language spoken by Egyptians
made its way into appearance; the Coptic language. The word "Copt"
is taken from the Greek word "Aigyptos" which means Egyptian.
The origin of the language cannot be dated but it seemed to have appeared
in the 2nd century AD. It is derived from the ancient Egyptian language
and is considered as its final stage. The Coptic language uses the
Greek alphabet in addition to 7 demotic
letters borrowed from the demotic script (a simplified form of hieroglyphics).
Coptic language survived for centuries until the Arab
conquest in the 7th century when the Arabic language gradually
replaced it. However, the Coptic language is still used by the Coptic
church in liturgies.
The rise of a new language marked the start of the Coptic literature
that is added to Egypt's glorious history.
And just as Egypt was the first to contribute to the human civilization,
it was also among the first to contribute to Christianity.
It was the Egyptians who first established the current monasticism.
It all started when Romans were persecuting the believers. Some
of the people decided to leave their normal life and go away in
the deserts for worshipping God. But going to the deserts didn't
mean leaving behind dangers. Monks were facing frequent attacks
of barbers who where not in less brutality than the Romans. Their
attacks were usually leaving many martyrs.
The founder of Monasticism is Saint Anthony
(251 - 356 AD) who left his wealthy life and departed to the desert.
He was the first to adopt asceticism. He put the system by which a
monk can live an independent life.
Saint Pachomious (292 - 346 AD) is the founder of cenobitic monasticism.
He is the one who first put regulations for monks gathering. He founded
several monasteries for men and women.
The pagan rule of Romans was concluded by the tyrant Diocletian.
He introduced administrative reforms to the empire dividing it into
sections to ease its control.
Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (ruled
306-337) ascended the throne and sanctioned the Christian worship.
This was a start of a new era in the Mediterranean known as the
Byzantine era which is considered an extension for the Roman Empire
but with another attributes.
The Roman Empire