Greeks in Egypt

Greeks in Egypt
Total population
(3.800 [1][2])
Regions with significant populations
Greek · Egyptian Arabic · French
Greek Orthodox Church
minorities of Sunni Islam · Judaism

There has been a large community of Greeks in Egypt, also known as Egyptiotes (Greek: Αιγυπτιώτες), from the Hellenistic period until the aftermath of the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, when most were forced to leave.


Greco-Egyptian Aryballos from the 6th century BC, Walters Art Museum.

Greeks have been present in Egypt since at least the 7th century BC. Herodotus visited Egypt in the 5th century BC and claimed that the Greeks were one of the first groups of foreigners that ever lived in Egypt.[3] Diodorus Siculus claimed that Rhodian Actis, one of the Heliadae, built the city of Heliopolis before the cataclysm; likewise the Athenians built Sais. Siculus reports that all the Greek cities were destroyed during the cataclysm, but the Egyptian cities including Heliopolis and Sais survived.[4]

First historical colonies

According to Herodotus (ii. 154), King Psammetichus I (664–610 BC) established a garrison of foreign mercenaries at Daphnae, mostly Carians and Ionian Greeks.

In 7th century BC, after the Greek "dark ages" from 1100-750 BC, the city of Naucratis was founded in Ancient Egypt. It was located on the Canopic branch of the Nile river, 45 mi (72 km) from the open sea. It was the first and, for much of its early history, the only permanent Greek colony in Egypt; acting as a symbiotic nexus for the interchange of Greek and Egyptian art and culture.

At about the same time, the city of Heracleion, the closest to the sea, became an important port for Greek trade. It had a famous temple of Heracles. The city later sank into the sea, only to be rediscovered recently.

From the time of Psammetichus I onwards, Greek mercenary armies played an important role in some of the Egyptian wars. One of such armies was led by Mentor of Rhodes. Another such personage was Phanes of Halicarnassus.

Hellenistic times

Rule of Alexander the Great (332–323 BC)

Alexander the Great conquered Egypt at an early stage of his conquests. He respected the pharaonic religions and customs and he was proclaimed Pharaoh of Egypt. He established the city of Alexandria. After his death, in 323 BC, his 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, largely Greek in flavor. Its capital was 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 AD.[5]

The Ptolemaic dynasty (323–30 BC)

Reverse of a tetradrachm featuring the Lighthouse of Alexandria from 189 BC

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 BC. By the time he abdicated in 285 BC, in favour of one of his sons, the Ptolemaic dynasty was secure. Ptolemy and his descendants showed respect to Egypt's most cherished traditions — those of religion — and turned them to their own advantage. Alexandria became the centre of the Greek and Hellenistic world and the centre of international commerce, art and science. 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, who took her own life in 30 BC, a year after the battle of Actium.[5]

Greco-Roman and Byzantine Egypt

Under Greco-Roman rule, Egypt hosted several Greek settlements, mostly concentrated in Alexandria, but also in a few other cities, where Greek settlers lived alongside some seven to ten million native Egyptians.[6] Faiyum's earliest Greek inhabitants were soldier-veterans and cleruchs (elite military officials) who were settled by the Ptolemaic kings on reclaimed lands.[7][8] Native Egyptians also came to settle in Faiyum from all over the country, notably the Nile Delta, Upper Egypt, Oxyrhynchus and Memphis, to undertake the labor involved in the land reclamation process, as attested by personal names, local cults and recovered papyri.[9] It is estimated that as much as 30 percent of the population of Faiyum was Greek during the Ptolemaic period, with the rest being native Egyptians.[10]

Modern Studies conclude that the Faiyum portraits represent Greek settlers in Egypt.[11][12] Victor J. Katz notes that "most modern studies conclude that the Greek & Egyptian communities coexisted with little mutual influence".[13] Anthony Lowsted has written extensively on the scope of Apartheid that separated the 2 communities during the Hellenistic, Roman & Byzantine period. [14]

Medieval Islamic and Ottoman era

Raghib Pasha (ca. 1819–1884) was a Greek convert to Islam who served as Prime Minister of Egypt.

Greek culture and political influence continued and perhaps reached its most influential times during the Ottoman Caliphate, which witnessed many Ottoman Sultans and Pashas of Greek ancestry rule over the Ottoman Empire in general, and Egypt in particular. Some of the more notable Greeks during Ottoman times were Mimar Sinan, the architect, although he may have been of Armenian descent. Other notable Greeks in Egypt during the Ottoman period included Damat Hasan Pasha from the Morea, a governor of Egypt. Raghib Pasha, born in Greece to Greek parents, served as Prime Minister of Egypt. During the Ottoman Caliphate, Ibrahim Pasha, Grand Vizier to Sultan Suleyman from 1520–1566, is perhaps the best known.

Many Greek Muslims from Crete (often confusingly called Cretan Turks) were resettled in Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, and Syria by Sultan Abdul Hameed II after the Greco-Turkish War of 1897 that resulted in Crete being ceded to the Kingdom of Greece (see the example of al-Hamidiyah, a largely Cretan Greek Muslim village in Syria).

Modern times

Greek community

In 1907, the census showed 6,924 Greeks living in Egypt. By 1940, Greeks numbered about 25,000. The Greek community in Alexandria lived around the Church and monastery of Agios Savvas. In the same area there was a guest 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 first organised 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 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 organised Greek communities of El Mansurah, founded in 1860, the Port Said founded in 1870, Tanta in 1880, and the community of Zagazig 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 first banks in Egypt were created by Greeks, including the Bank of Alexandria, the Anglo-Egyptian bank (Sunadinos family / Συναδινός), and the General Bank of Alexandria. Also, it was the Greek agriculturists and farmers that first systematically and with scientific planning, cultivated cotton and tobacco. They improved the quantity and quality of production and dominated cotton and tobacco exports. Notable families in tobacco commerce were the Salvagos (Σαλβάγκος), Benakis (Μπενάκης), Rodochanakis (Ροδοχανάκης) and Zervoudachis (Ζερβουδάκης).[15] The tobacco cultivars used for cigarette manufacturing, e.g., by Kyriazi freres, were of Greek origin. A thriving commerce between Greece and Egypt was thus established. Other areas of interest for the Greeks in Egypt were foods, wine, soap, wood crafts, printing.

In the food industry, the macaroni industries of Melachrinos (Μελαχροινός) and Antoniadis (Αντωνιάδης) were well known. Another example was the cheese and butter production of Archyriou (Αργυρίου), Roussoglou (Ρουσσόγλου) and Paleoroutas (Παλαιορούτας). Chocolate-Biscuits and Toffee producers were: Daloghlou (Δαλόγλου), Roussos (Ρούσσος), Repapis (Ρεπάπης); Oil-soaps- vegetable fats (Salt & Soda) producers like Zerbinis (Ζερμπίνης) were based in Kafr Al-Zayat. There were many Greek theatres and cinemas. Major Greek newspapers were Ta grammata (Τα Γράμματα), "Tahidromos"(Ταχυδρόμος), and Nea Zoi (Νέα Ζωή).[16] The Greek community in Egypt has produced numerous artists, writers, diplomats and politicians, the most famous being the poet Konstantinos Kavafis (Κωνσταντίνος Καβάφης), also the painter Konstantinos Parthenis (Κωνσταντίνος Παρθένης).

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 died. Their financial contribution reached 2,500 million Egyptian pounds.[17] After the Suez Crisis, the British and French laborers left while the Greeks stayed.[18]

Patriarchate of Alexandria

Greek-Egyptian benefactors

Dionysios Kasdaglis, ethnic Greek Egyptian tennis player at the Athens Olympics in 1896

The emergence of a Greek aristocracy of rich industrialists, commercants and bankers created the legacy of Greek-Egyptian philanthropism. These benefactors donated large amounts for the building of schools, academies, hospitals and institutions in both Egypt and Greece. Mihail Tositsas donated large amounts for the building of the Athens University, the Amalio Orphanage and the Athens Polytechnic. His wife Eleni Tositsa donated the land for the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. George Averoff also contributed to the building of the National Technical University of Athens, the Evelpidon Military Academy and the donation of the Greek battleship Georgios Averoff to the Hellenic Navy. Emmanouél Benakis contributed to 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 Stournaras, Theodoros Kotsikas, Nestoras Tsanaklis, Konstantinos Horemis, Stefanos Delta, Penelope Delta, Pantazis Vassanis and Vassilis Sivitanidis.[15]


The exodus of Greeks from Egypt started before the revolution of 1952. With the establishment of the new sovereign regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser, rise of Pan-Arab nationalism, and the subsequent nationalisation of many industries in 1961 and 1963, thousands of Greek employees decided to abandon the country. Many of them emigrated to Australia, the United States, Canada, South Africa, Western Europe, and Greece. Many Greek schools, churches, small communities and institutions subsequently closed, but many continue to function to this day. The Nasser regime saw a big exodus of the Greeks from Egypt, but most of the minority left the country either before or after the period 1952-1970. The Arab-Israeli wars of 1956 and 1967 contributed to the uprooting of the sizeable Greek community in the Suez Canal cities, especially Port Said.


Today the Greek community numbers officially about 1,000 people, with roughly 500 living in Alexandria,[19] although many of Greek origin are now counted as Egyptian, having changed their nationality. In Alexandria, apart from the Patriarchate, there is a Patriarchal theology school that opened recently after 480 years being closed. Saint Nicholas church in Cairo and several other buildings in Alexandria have been recently renovated by the Greek Government and the Alexander S. Onassis Foundation. Saint George's church in Old Cairo is undergoing restoration to end in 2014. 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 between Greece and Egypt have expanded. As of 2010, Egypt has been received major Greek investments in banking, tourism, paper, the oil industry, & many others. In 2009, a five-year cooperation-memorandum was signed among the NCSR Demokritos Institute in Agia Paraskevi, Athens and the University of Alexandria, regarding Archeometry research and contextual sectors.[20]

Notable Greeks from Egypt

Greeks of Cyrene (the Cyrenaica is a region corresponding to modern eastern Libya) are also included, as during antiquity it held close relations to the Egyptian kingdoms, and at some points, also used to be a part of the Ptolemaic kingdom. The presence of an asterisk (*) next to a person's name denotes that the person was born outside of Egypt, however the most part of this person's life or most important work occurred while in Egypt.


7th - 1st century B.C.E

Roman and Byzantine era

1st - 7th century C.E.

Arab Caliphate &

Ottoman era

7th - 19th century [21]


20th - 21st century

Battus I of Cyrene

Ruler, 7th century B.C.E., Cyrene

Hero of Alexandria

Engineer, 1st century B.C.E. or C.E., Alexandria

Constantinos Vardalahos *

Mathematician, 1755 - 1830, Cairo

Jean Dessès

Fashion designer, 1904 - 1970, Alexandria

Theodorus of Cyrene

Mathematician, 5th century B.C.E., Cyrene


Philosopher, 20 B.C.E - 50 C.E., Alexandria

Mikhail Tositsas *

Businessman, 1787 - 1856, Alexandria

Ioanna Boukouvala-Anagnostou

Author, 1904 - 1992, Cairo [22]


Philosopher, 435 - 356 B.C.E., Cyrene

Chaeremon of Alexandria

Philosopher, 1st century C.E., Alexandria

Abet brothers *

Traders, Cairo

Raphael 1780 - 1866, Ananias 1790 - 1860

Alexander Iolas

Art collector, 1907 - 1987, Alexandria

Aristaeus the Elder *

Mathematician, 370 - 300 B.C.E., Alexandria

Menelaus of Alexandria

Mathematician, 70 - 140 C.E., Alexandria

George Averoff *

Businessman, 1815 - 1899, Alexandria

Kimon Evan Marengo

Cartoonist, 1907 - 1988, Zifta

Ptolemy I Soter *

Ruler, 367 - 282 B.C.E., Alexandria


Geographer, 90 - 168 C.E., Alexandria

Emmanouil Benakis *

Politician, 1843 - 1929, Alexandria

Nikos Tsiforos

Director, 1909 - 1970, Alexandria

Philitas of Cos *

Poet, 340 - 285 B.C.E., Alexandria

Sosigenes of Alexandria

Astronomer, 1st century C.E., Alexandria

Ioannis Pesmazoglou *

Economist, 1857 - 1906, Alexandria

Dimos Starenios

Actor, 1909 - 1983, Cairo

Theodorus the Atheist

Philosopher, 340 - 250 B.C.E., Cyrene

Thrasyllus of Mendes

Mathematician, 1st century C.E., Alexandria

Alexandros Pesmazoglou *

Economist, 1859 - 1939, Alexandria

Stratis Tsirkas

Author, 1911 - 1980, Cairo

Euclid *

Mathematician, 325 - 265 B.C.E., Alexandria

Clement of Alexandria

Theologian, 150 - 211 C.E., Alexandria

Constantine Cavafy

Poet, 1863 - 1933, Alexandria

Mary Giatra Lemou

Author, 1915 - 1989, Alexandria

Magas of Cyrene

Ruler, 317 - 250 B.C.E., Cyrene


Theologian, 185 - 251 C.E., Alexandria

Antonis Benakis

Businessman, 1873 - 1954, Alexandria

Dinos Iliopoulos

Actor, 1915 - 2001, Alexandria

Ptolemy II Philadelphus

Ruler, 309 - 246 B.C.E., Alexandria


Philosopher, 203 - 270 C.E., Alexandria

Dimitrios Kasdaglis *

Athlete, 1872 - 1931, Alexandria

Aggelos S Vlahos

Author, 1915 - 2003, Alexandria


Poet, 305 - 240 B.C.E., Cyrene


Mathematician, ~210 - ~290 C.E., Alexandria

Penelope Delta

Author, 1874 - 1941, Alexandria

Voula Zouboulaki

Actor, 1924, Cairo


Engineer, 285 - 222 B.C.E., Alexandria

Catherine of Alexandria

Theologian, 282 - 305 C.E., Alexandria

Konstantinos Parthenis

Painter, 1878 - 1967, Alexandria

Jani Christou

Composer, 1926 - 1970, Cairo

Conon of Samos *

Astronomer, 280 - 220 B.C.E., Alexandria

Pappus of Alexandria

Mathematician, 290 - 350 C.E., Alexandria

Konstantinos Tsaldaris

Politician, 1884 - 1970, Alexandria

Nelly Mazloum

Dancer, 1929 - 2003, Alexandria [23]


Mathematician, 276 - 194 B.C.E., Alexandria

Theon of Alexandria

Mathematician, 335 - 405 C.E., Alexandria

Georgios Pesmazoglou

Economist, 1890 - 1984, Alexandria

Constantin Xenakis

Artist, 1931, Cairo

Apollonius of Rhodes

Poet, 3rd century B.C.E., Alexandria


Mathematician, 370 - 416 C.E., Alexandria

Jean Kefalinos

Painter, 1894 - 1957, Alexandria

Souli Sabah

Actress, 1932, Alexandria

Sostratus of Cnidus *

Engineer, 3rd century B.C.E., Alexandria


Poet, 4th century C.E., Alexandria

Antigone Costanda

Model, 1934, Alexandria


Mathematician, 190 - 120 B.C.E., Alexandria

Isidore of Alexandria

Philosopher, 450 - 520 C.E., Alexandria

Georges Moustaki

Singer, 1934 - 2013, Alexandria

Dionysius of Cyrene

Mathematician, 2nd century B.C.E., Cyrene

Hierocles of Alexandria

Philosopher, 5th century C.E., Alexandria

Christos Parlas

Actor, 1936 - 2012, Alexandria

Eudorus of Alexandria

Philosopher, 1st century B.C.E., Alexandria

Hesychius of Alexandria

Author, 5th century C.E., Alexandria

Manos Loïzos

Composer, 1937 - 1982, Alexandria

Aretaphila of Cyrene

Revolutionary, 1st century B.C.E., Cyrene

George Leonardos

Author, 1937, Alexandria

Cleopatra VII

Ruler, 69 - 30 B.C.E., Alexandria

Christos Zerefos

Physicist, 1943, Cairo

Sosigenes of Alexandria

Astronomer, 1st century B.C.E., Alexandria

Ioannis Chatzifotis

Author, 1944 - 2006, Alexandria

Nikos Perakis

Director, 1944, Alexandria

Demetrio Stratos

Singer, 1945 - 1979, Alexandria

Evgenia Fakinou

Author, 1945, Alexandria

Demis Roussos

Singer, 1946 - 2015, Alexandria

Andreas Gerasimos Michalitsianos

Astronomer, 1947 - 1997, Alexandria

Nora Valsami

Actress, 1948, Cairo

Alkistis Protopsalti

Singer, 1954, Alexandria

Alex Proyas

Director, 1963, Cairo

See also


  1. English version of Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs reports a few thousand and Greek version 3.800
  2. Number higher when counting those who have taken Egyptian citizenship
  3. Α΄ Η διαχρονική πορεία του ελληνισμού στην Αφρική
  4. The Historical Library of Diodorus Siculus, Book V,57.
  5. 1 2 History of EGYPT
  6. Adams, Winthrope L in Bugh, Glenn Richard. ed. "The Hellenistic Kingdoms". The Cambridge Companion to the Hellenistic World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2006, p. 39
  7. Stanwick, Paul Edmund. Portraits of the Ptolemies: Greek Kings as Egyptian Pharaohs. Austin: University of Texas Press. 2003, p. 23
  8. Adams, op cit.
  9. Bagnall, R.S. in Susan Walker, ed. Ancient Faces : Mummy Portraits in Roman Egypt (Metropolitan Museum of Art Publications). New York: Routledge, 2000, p. 27
  10. Bagnall, op cit.
  11. Egyptology Online: Fayoum mummy portraits accessed on January 16, 2007
  12. Encyclopædia Britannica Online - Egyptian art and architecture - Greco-Roman Egypt accessed on January 16, 2007
  13. Victor J. Katz (1998). A History of Mathematics: An Introduction, p. 184. Addison Wesley, ISBN 0-321-01618-1: "But what we really want to know is to what extent the Alexandrian mathematicians of the period from the first to the fifth centuries C.E. were Greek. Certainly, all of them wrote in Greek and were part of the Greek intellectual community of Alexandria. And most modern studies conclude that the Greek community coexisted with little mutual influence. So should we assume that Ptolemy and Diophantus, Pappus and Hypatia were ethnically Greek, that their ancestors had come from Greece at some point in the past but had remained effectively isolated from the Egyptians? It is, of course, impossible to answer this question definitively. But research in papyri dating from the early centuries of the common era demonstrates that a significant amount of intermarriage took place between the Greek and Egyptian communities chiefly Greek men taking Egyptian wives. And it is known that Greek marriage contracts increasingly came to resemble Egyptian ones. In addition, even from the founding of Alexandria, small numbers of Egyptians were admitted to the privileged classes in the city to fulfill numerous civic roles. Of course, it was essential in such cases for the Egyptians to become "Hellenized," to adopt Greek habits and the Greek language. Given that the Alexandrian mathematicians mentioned here were active several hundred years after the founding of the city, it would seem at least equally possible that they were ethnically Egyptian as that they remained ethnically Greek. In any case, it is unreasonable to portray them with purely European features when no physical descriptions exist."
  14. Anthony Lowsted (2014). Apartheid Ancient, Past, and Present Gross Racist Human Rights Violations in Graeco-Roman Egypt, South Africa, Israel/Palestine and Beyond
  15. 1 2 | Αιγυπτιώτης Eλληνισμός· κοιτίδα ευεργετισμού
  16. Noctoc: The Greeks Of Egypt-Οι Ελληνεσ Της Αιγυπτου-اليونانيون في مصر
  17. Η προσφορά του Ελληνισμού της Αιγύπτου στο Β΄Παγκόσμιο Πόλεμο
  18. Αρχαία Αίγυπτος
  20. Cooperation memorandum signed among NCSR D and Alexandria University, Egypt 29/1/2009, retrieved on 31/1/2009
  21. While creating the table entries, it was very hard to find any details for Greeks in Egypt during the Arab and later Ottoman period. This may be due to the Islamic practice where the subjects of a kingdom adopt Islamic names, thus making it hard to distinguish nationality by name. With the French and English interventions in Egypt during the 18th and 19th century, the first Greek organised communities arise, giving a lot of information about Greek Egyptians of this era.
  22. "BiblioNet : Μπουκουβάλα - Αναγνώστου, Ιωάννα".
  23. "Nelly Mazloum official website - Biography".

External links

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