Staś and Nel travelled a great deal across deserts. Little wonder: they take up most of the territory of Egypt. The country lies in the dry tropical zone, and there are no permanent rivers other than the Nile. Because only a small percent of the territory can be farmed, settlement in Egypt has always been concentrated in the valley and the delta of the Nile, which is also portrayed in Sienkiewicz’s novel.
Civilisation in Egypt dates back to the 5th millennium BC. The first communities were hunters, farmers, traders and miners. The slow process of unification resulted in the establishment of two states, Upper in the north and Lower Egypt in the south, which united around 3100 BC. Hieroglyphs developed around that time, and so did the foundations of culture, art, and religion. The later history of Egypt consists of intertwining phases of development and trouble until the conquest of the state by the Persians, and later by Alexander of the Great. Greek rule lasted for 300 years. The country developed during that time, and Alexandria as built by Alexander the Great became one of the most important cities in the world. The Greeks were unable to prevent another invasion, this time of the Roman Empire, yet some still live in Egypt even in our times (as they did in the times of Sienkiewicz: Staś and Nel met Kaliopuli the Greek).
Major changes in the culture of the country were introduced by the spread of Christianity, which nonetheless also gave way to Islam, brought by the Arab conquest. It formed contemporary Egypt: today, the country’s official language is Arabic and Islam is the prevalent religion. In the Middle Ages, the Arabisation of the country resulted in the increase of its economic and cultural significance.