During the first millennium B.C., variations in the effectiveness of traditional centralized royal power are compensated for by the importance of the temples in structuring society. Owing to many factors, including the rise of conquering empires in western Asia and the northern Mediterranean, Egypt experiences greater involvement in an increasingly interrelated world, and by the end of the millennium is integrated into the Roman Empire dominating the Mediterranean arena.
Third Intermediate Period, Dynasties 21–24: This period is a time of competing power bases with gradual fragmentation into smaller political units, Many of these political entities have their origins in Libyan groups settled in the Delta region in the late New Kingdom. Relatively little building takes place, but artistry and innovation flourish in areas such as metal temple statuary and coffin decoration.
Late Period, Dynasties 25–30: Although unified under dynasties 25, 26, and 28—30, Egypt sees considerable turmoil. Foreign military powers threaten throughout the period. Assyrians invade repeatedly between ca. 671 and 663 B.C., and Achamenid Persians invade and successfully control the country from 525 to 404 B.C, and again from 343 to 332 B.C. Somewhat surprisingly, then, the Late Period is an extremely fruitful time both conceptually and artistically. A good deal of consolidation and formalization of religious thought lays the foundation for the highly rationalized system that emerges in the ensuing Ptolemaic Period. Repeatedly, the rich artistic heritage of two millennia is explored to create new formulations of royal and religious ideals of in statuary and relief.
Macedonian and Ptolemaic Periods: Egypt, under Persian rule since 343 B.C., is conquered by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C., ushering in the Macedonian Period. Alexander builds a new capital city, Alexandria, turned outward toward the Mediterranean and Hellenistic world. Upon his death in 323 B.C., Egyptian rule passes informally and then formally to one of his generals, Ptolemy, and to Ptolemy’s descendants. In their wake, settlement of Greek and eastern Mediterranean peoples in Egypt increases greatly. The Ptolemaic court itself is emphatically Greek in atmosphere and practice and adopts the god Sarapis, a Greek version of the Egyptian Osiris-Apris, as a religious focus. The influence of Hellenistic art is especially strong in court circles and luxury goods, but otherwise traditional Egyptian art is largely unaffected. The Ptolemies represent themselves as pharaohs performing traditional rites and are prolific builders in fully traditional pharaonic style at many temples.
Octavian conquers Antony and Cleopatra in a sea battle off Actium in northwestern Greece, and in 30 B.C. assumes control in Egypt following their suicides and the death of Caesarion.
“Egypt, 1000 B.C.–1 A.D.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=04®ion=afe (October 2000)