In the autumn of 332 BC., Alexander the Great conquered Egypt an event that marked the beginning of the Greek period in Egyptian history. He had captured Gaza and led his forces towards Pelusium, the eastern gateway to Egypt. Advancing to expel the Persians from Egypt, he met no resistance either from the Egyptians or from the Persian garrison at the frontier. Thus, he entered Egypt easily and soon afterwards took his forces across the Nile to arrive at the capital Memphis. Alexander was welcomed by the Egyptians as a triumphant deliverer, and held a festival in the Greek style to celebrate the occasion.
After this, Alexander led his army along the Canopic, or westernmost, branch of the Nile, on his way to the Mediterranean coast. Setting up camp by what is now known as Lake Maryut, he immediately became aware of the importance of the area lying between the lake and the sea, particularly as the site was so close to the Nile that it formed a secure fresh water supply that sustained the small village of Rakotis. Alexander, therefore, ordered the architect Deinocrates, one of his aides, to oversee the building of a city at this location; it was to be called Alexandria.
As his engineers started to work on their plans, Alexander went on a pilgrimage to the temple of Amun at Siwa Oasis. On entering the temple, the priests gave Alexander a warm welcome. Afterwards, he was able to declare himself the son of the god Amun Re, in order to win the respect and veneration of the Egyptians.
When he returned to Memphis, and before his departure from Egypt, Alexander reorganised the administration of Egypt in a well thought out manner. Preserving the Ancient Egyptian system of local government, he appointed both Greeks and Egyptians to military and financial offices in the country. Administrative positions, on the other hand, went exclusively to the Egyptians. He divided state authority evenly, avoiding the appointment of a Macedonian viceroy. His purpose was to please the Egyptians and to ward off nationalist revolts.
Egypt remained a province, and Memphis continued to be its capital. The administrative structure of Egypt was also left untouched. Alexander opened the doors of Egypt to Macedonian and other Greek immigrants. Egypt, as envisioned by Alexander, was a province with a ruler and a culture that were to be both Greek and Macedonian. This concept of Egypt proved to be an important turning point in Egyptian history, marking a new stage in its varied cultural history. This was especially so after the founding of the Ptolemaic ruling family, which to a great extent, made Alexander's dream come true.
Before his departure from Egypt, Alexander reviewed his forces to bid them farewell. He also held a cultural and sports festival for both Egyptians and Greeks, intending it to be a symbol of the cooperation between these two ancient civilisations. Furthermore, he directed his administrators to carry out the restorations needed in the temples of Egypt, especially the temple of Karnak.
The time Alexander spent in Egypt was just six months (from the autumn of 332 BC. to the spring of 331 BC.). However, his brief stay was full of reforms and events that put Egypt within the orbit of Greek civilisation in the Mediterranean.
Alexander wished to return to Egypt to enjoy the fruits of what he had sown, but he never did in his lifetime. He did, however, come back in the form of a mummy mounted on a carriage that took him to his burial place.