Greeks in Egypt

Greeks in Egypt

The Greeks had a thriving presence in Egypt from the Hellenistic period up to today.


Greeks have been living in Egypt since the ancient times. Herodotus, who visited Egypt in the 5th century BCE, wrote that the Greeks were the first foreigners that ever lived in Egypt. [ [ Α΄ Η διαχρονική πορεία του ελληνισμού στην Αφρική ] ] Diodorus Siculus attested 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, the Egyptian cities including Heliopolis and Sais survived. [The Historical Library of Diodorus Siculus, [,M1 Book V,57] .]

Hellenistic times

Rule of Alexander the Great (332-323 BCE)

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 BCE, 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 flavour. 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. [ History of EGYPT ] ]

The Ptolemaic dynasty (323-30 BCE)

tetradrachm featuring the Lighthouse of Alexandria from 189 BCE]

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 BCE. By the time he abdicates in 285 BCE, in favour of one of his sons, the Ptolemaic dynasty is secure. Ptolemy and his descendants show respect to Egypt's most cherished traditions - those of religion - and turn them to their own advantage. Alexandria becomes the centre of the Greek and Hellenistic world and the centre of international commerce, art and sciences. 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. Cleopatra was twenty-one when she first met Julius Caesar, in 48 BCE, and twenty-eight when she first met Mark Antony, in 41 BCE. She is thirty-nine when she applied the asp to her breast in 30 BCE, 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.

Modern times

Greek communities

The Greek community of Alexandria was founded in 1843. In 1907 the official census showed 62,973 Greeks living in Egypt. By 1940 Greeks were numbered at about 250,000. The Greek community in Alexandria lived around the Church and monastery of Agios Savvas. In the same area there was a quest house for Greek travellers, a Greek hospital and later a Greek school. The Orthodox bishop was based in Damietta in the church of Agios Nikolaos.

In Cairo, the Greek community was founded in 1856, with the community based in three main neighbourhoods: Tzouonia, Haret el Roum (Street of the Greeks), and in Hamzaoui. The patriarchate was based in Haret el Roum, near the church of Saint Marcus. The monastery of Saint George, in Old Cairo still survives . The monastery is surrounded by a huge wall and on topped by a stone tower. Within its walls there is a Greek hospital, a school and housing for the elderly, and poor.

In addition to the Greek communities of Alexandria and Cairo there were the Greek communities of El Mansurah, founded in 1860, the Port Said founded in 1870, Tanta in 1880, and the community of Zayazik in 1870] . There were fifteen smaller communities across Egypt and mainly around Cairo and Alexandria. In Upper Egypt the oldest ancient Greek community is the one of Minia which was founded in 1862.

The contribution of the Greek population in the financial life of Egypt was very important. It was the Greek agriculturists and farmers that first systematically and with scientific planning, have cultivated cotton and tobacco. They improved the quantity and quality of the production and have dominated the cotton and tobacco commerce doing large exports. Notable families that dominated the commerce of tobacco were the Salvagos, Benakis, Rodochanakis and Zervoudachis. [ | Αιγυπτιώτης Eλληνισμός· κοιτίδα ευεργετισμού ] ] The tobacco breeds used for the cigarettes manufacturing was purely of Greek origin. A thriving commerce between Greece and Egypt was thus established. Other areas of interest for the Greek Egyptians were the fus, food, winery, soap, wood craft, typing industries. The first banks in Egypt were created by Greeks like the Bank of Alexandria, the Anglo-Egyptian bank (Sunadinos family) and the General Bank of Alexandria. There were many Greek theatres and cinemas. Major Greek newspapers were "Ta grammata" (Γράμματα) and "Nea Zoi" (Νέα Ζωή). [ [ Noctoc: The Greeks Of Egypt-Οι Ελληνεσ Τησ Αιγυπτου-اليونانيون في مصر ] ] The Greek community in Egypt has produced numerous artists, writers, diplomats and politicians. The most famous of them was the poet Konstantinos Kavafis.

During the Balkan wars, the Greek communities of Egypt sent volunteers, funded hospitals, and accommodated families of the soldiers. During World War II (1940 - 1945), more than 7,000 Greeks fought for the Allies in the Middle East. 142 people died while their financial contribution reached 2,500 million Egyptian liras. [ [ Η προσφορά του Ελληνισμού της Αιγύπτου στο Β΄Παγκόσμιο Πόλεμο ] ] After the Suez Crisis the British and French laborers left while the Greeks stayed. [ [ Αρχαία Αίγυπτος ] ]

Patriarchate of Alexandria

Egyptiot Greek benefactors

The emergence of a Greek aristocracy that consisted of rich industrialists, commercants and bankers has led to the great legacy of Egyptiot Greek philanthropism. These benefactors have donated large amounts for the building of schools, academies, hospitals and institutions in both Egypt and their mother land Greece. Mihail Tositsas has donated large amounts for the building of the Athens University, the Amalio Orphanage and the Athens Polytechnic. His wife Eleni Tositsa has donated the land for the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. George Averoff has also helped for the building of the National Technical University of Athens, the Evelpidon Military Academy and the donation of the Greek cruiser Georgios Averof to the Hellenic Navy. Emmanouel Benakis has helped for the building of the National Gallery of Athens while his son Antonis Benakis was the founder of the Benaki Museum. Other major benefactors include Nikolaos Stournaris, Theodoros Kotsikas, Nestoras Tsanaklis, Konstantinos Horemis, Stefanos Delta, Penelope Delta, Pantazis Vassanis and Vassilis Sivitanidis.


The exodus of Greeks from Egypt started during and after the revolution of 1952. With the establishment of the new sovereign regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser and the subsequent nationalisation of many industries from 1957 and afterwards, thousands Greeks had to abandon the country. Many of them have immigrated to Australia, the United States and Greece. Many Greek schools, churches, small communities and institutions have subsequently closed. The Nasser regime was a major disaster for the Greek diaspora which afterwards has dwindled from many thousands to a handful. The dangerous situation in the Middle East has also deteriorated the conditions for the Greeks that stayed back in Egypt. It is estimated that between 1957 - 1962 almost 70% of the Egyptiot Greeks have left the country.


Today the Greek community numbers officially about 3,000 people although the real number is much higher since many Greeks have changed their nationality to Egyptian.Fact|date=July 2008 In Alexandria, apart from the patriarchate, there is a patriarchical theology school that opened recently after 480 years being closed. Saint Nicolas church and several other buildings in Alexandria have been recently renovated by the Greek Government and the Alexander S. Onassis Foundation. During the last decade, there has been a new interest from the Egyptian government for a diplomatic rapprochement with Greece and this has positively affected the Greek diaspora. The diaspora has received official visits of many Greek politicians. Economic relationships have been blossoming between Greece and Egypt. Egypt has been recentlywhen the centre of major Greek investments in banking, tourism, paper and oil industry and many others.

Notable Greeks from Egypt

* Actis
* Cleopatra VII
* Ptolemy I
* Ptolemy II
* Constantine P. Cavafy
* Yorgos Seferis
* Nikos Nicolaides
* Dionysios Kasdaglis
* Kostas Skarvelis
* Stephanos P. Tamvakis
* Antigone Costanda
* Jean Desses
* Yousef Chahine
* Kimon Evan Marengo
* Nelly Mazloum
* Georges Moustaki
* Nagui
* Marina Papaelia
* Demis Roussos
* George Averoff
* Michail Tositsas
* Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria
* Constantin Xenakis
* Constantinos Speras
* Stratis Tsirkas
* Maria Iordanidou
* Giannis Loizos
* Manos Loïzos
* Gina Bachauer
* Timos Malanos
* Thomas Thomopoulos
* Giannis Christou
* Konstantinos Parthenis
* Antonis Benakis
* Emmanouel Benakis
* Penelope Delta
* Phoevos Polyxroniadis

ee also

* Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria
* Demographics of Egypt
* Alexandria
* Egyptian-Greek relations


External links

* [ The Greek community of Alexandria official website]
* [ Egyptian Hellenism Department-Hellenic Literary and Historical Archive]
* [ Greeks in Egypt-Greek communities Blog]
* [ Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa]
* [ Neo Fos online newspaper of the Greek community in Egypt]
* [ Greek presence in Egypt-in Greek]

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