In 332 BC, Alexander the Great conquered Egypt with little resistance from the Persians and was welcomed by the Egyptians as a deliverer. The administration established by Alexander's successors, the Greek Ptolemaic dynasty, was based on an Egyptian model and based in the new capital city of Alexandria. The city showcased the power and prestige of Greek rule, and became a seat of learning and culture, centered at the famous Library of Alexandria. The Lighthouse of Alexandria lit the way for the many ships that kept trade flowing through the city—as the Ptolemies made commerce and revenue-generating enterprises, such as papyrus manufacturing, their top priority.
Greek culture did not supplant native Egyptian culture, as the Ptolemies supported time-honored traditions in an effort to secure the loyalty of the populace. They built new temples in Egyptian style, supported traditional cults, and portrayed themselves as pharaohs. Some traditions merged, as Greek and Egyptian gods were syncretized into composite deities, such as Serapis, and classical Greek forms of sculpture influenced traditional Egyptian motifs. Despite their efforts to appease the Egyptians, the Ptolemies were challenged by native rebellion, bitter family rivalries, and the powerful mob of Alexandria that formed after the death of Ptolemy IV. In addition, as Rome relied more heavily on imports of grain from Egypt, the Romans took great interest in the political situation in the country. Continued Egyptian revolts, ambitious politicians, and powerful Syriac opponents from the Near East made this situation unstable, leading Rome to send forces to secure the country as a province of its empire.