From the fourth century BC until the seventh century AD, Egypt was ruled by outsiders, first from Greece and later from Rome. While the local people continued to use the Egyptian language in their daily lives, Greek became the language of government and education. Greek was the language used by government officials at all levels, and also by the upper class of settlers, merchants and soldiers, who not only communicated with each other in Greek, but also brought with them Greek literature of all sorts. As a result, Egypt is an excellent archaeological source for a wide variety of Greek papyri.
Greek became the official language of the government in Egypt after the conquest of Alexander the Great. When Alexander divided his empire, Egypt was entrusted to one of his generals, Ptolemaios, whose descendents continued to rule Egypt for the next three hundred years.
The Ptolemaic era ended when Egypt was conquered by Octavian and became part of the Roman Empire. Under Roman rule, Greek continued to be used as the official language in Egypt, with two exceptions; Latin was used by the office of the prefect, who ruled Egypt, and also by the Roman military, which maintained a strong presence.
The transition to what is known as the Byzantine era was accompanied by a number of changes in government and religious practices, but the status of the Greek language in Egypt was unchanged. Following the Edict of Toleration and the Edict of Milan, the persecution of Christians came to an end and Greek Christian documents became more common.
These changes in government had a noticeable impact on the way Greek was written during different time periods. Handwriting styles change continuously, and it is generally possible to date a text to within fifty years using handwriting analysis.
Continue on to see examples of hands from different eras.