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Foreign relations: Roman Egypt

The foreign relations of Roman Egypt reflect, and form part of, those of the Roman Empire as a whole. Egypt was now part of an wide economic and administrative network. People and goods were brought to and from all provinces of the Empire. In the imperial context, Egypt is a frontier province, with long and potentially vulnerable external borders. However, most of these borders cross deserts, and are adjacent to regions with relatively few inhabitants. Only the Nubian border caused permanent trouble.

There is much attestation for trade, but also for military struggles with Nubia, the southern neighbour. In the Byzantine Period, parts of Upper Egypt were even occupied for a short period by the Blemmyes, a nomadic people from the eastern deserts of Nubia.

UC 19455 The occurrence of 'African Red Slip' ware in many parts of the Roman Empire gives an example of the wider distribution of goods produced at a certain place and traded to many different parts of the empire.
Koptos is an important town on the route from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea coast (and from there to India and Africa). Inscriptions and texts found here demonstrate the international character of the place: letters of a family of traders, stela mentioned archers from Palmyra.
UC 39219 Relations with the South were, especially in the Byzantine Period, marked by attacks from peoples such as the Blemmyes, who for a short period even conquered Koptos and Ptolemais. Coin hoards (Denderah), dating to the period might have been deposited for safekeeping against the troubles of these times.
There is good evidence for trade between Egypt and Nubia. Goods produced in the Roman Empire, probably often in Egypt, are often found in elite burials at many Nubian sites, dating to all periods. Products traded from Nubia to the Roman Empire are harder to detect, but might include raw materials (gold, ivory) and slaves.



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