Cross Cultural Connections in Ancient Egypt

Petrie’s sketch of Naucratis – Public Domain

My next task is to answer the question ‘“Egypt as a society was strongly xenophobic” Do you agree or disagree with statement? Provide evidence for your argument?’

I would argue that the reality is more complicated than saying whether the entirety of Egyptian society was xenophobic. The surviving evidence we have comes from a limited array of sources and this limited our view, and these surviving pieces have an agenda were xenophobia (fear or hatred of strangers/foreigners) might be beneficial to those that have written it. I am going to quickly examine two different aspects of Egyptian society, from different historical periods, to highlight the complexities in answering this question.

The adoption and adaptation of Chariot Culture: This was an aspect of the elite culture that the Egyptians adopted from contemporary Near Eastern Civilisations, during the conquests of the 18th Dynasty. Adoption of this aspect of elite culture shows a respect for the ways of foreigners, and an understanding of the benefits being more open and excepting of new ideas can be. Additionally, there is further evidence in the Karnak Stela of Amenhotep II, that fellow members of the chariot elite (i.e. foreigners) were greatly respected by the Egyptians.

Greek Mercenaries and Traders:  In the late Dynastic Period, the Pharaohs began to rely heavily on the Greek (and Carians from Asia Minor) mercenaries. They became an essential part of Egyptian Armies. During this period, the trading emporion of Nuacratis was founded, it was a joint effort of various Greek cities and took advantage of Egypt’s resources. Archaeological evidence now suggests that Naucratis was more diverse than previously thought, with a mixed population, evidence for this includes the presence of both Greek and Egyptian Temples. During the Late Dynastic Period, Egyptian Art took on a more traditional form in order to emphasise the ‘Egyptian-ness’ of the ruling dynasty. This was happening at a time when Egypt was becoming much more open to the world and was relying more on its contacts with foreigners.

Both these examples show the complexities with dealing with the topic of xenophobia in Ancient Egypt and highlight the cross-cultural connections that existed in the ancient world. It also suggests to me that although on the surface Egypt appeared Xenophobic, the reality proved otherwise.


Primary Source
Herodotus, Histories. Trans. Selincourt, A. (revised) 2003. Harmondsworth: Penguin

Secondary Sources
Drews, R. 1988. The Coming of the Greeks. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Leonard, A. 1998. Ancient Naukratis: Excavations at a Greek Emporion in Egypt. Part II. The Excavations at Kom Hadid. The Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research, vol. 55, 1998, pp. iii-273
Muller-Wollermann, R. 2016. ‘Temples, trade and money in Egypt in the 1st Millennium BC’ in Dynamics of of Production in the Ancient Near East’ Ed. Moreno Garcia, J.C.
REVIV, H. 1972. Some Comments on the Maryannu. Israel Exploration Journal, 22(4), 218-228.

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