Arab conquest of Egypt

(Redirected from Muslim conquest of Egypt)

The Arab conquest of Egypt, led by the army of 'Amr ibn al-'As,[1] took place between 639 and 642 AD and was overseen by the Rashidun Caliphate. It ended the seven-century-long Roman period in Egypt that had begun in 30 BC, and widely speaking Greco-Roman period that had lasted about a millennium.

Arab conquest of Egypt
Part of the Arab–Byzantine wars

Roman Theater in the city of Alexandria, Egypt
Result Rashidun victory
Rashidun Caliphate annexes Egypt, Cyrenaica, and Tripolitania
Rashidun Caliphate
Commanders and leaders

Shortly before the conquest, Byzantine (Eastern Roman) rule in the country had been shaken, as Egypt had been conquered and occupied for a decade by the Sasanian Empire in 618–629, before being recovered by the Byzantine emperor Heraclius. The Caliphate took advantage of Byzantines' exhaustion to invade Egypt.

During the mid-630s, the Romans had already lost the Levant and its Ghassanid allies in Arabia to the Caliphate. The loss of the prosperous province of Egypt and the defeat of the Byzantine armies severely weakened the empire, resulting in further territorial losses in the centuries to come.[2]



Following the death of Muhammad in 632 AD, the Arab armies of the Rashidun Caliphate began expanding toward both Sasanian Persia and the Byzantine Empire.[3] Neither of the two former powers was prepared for the aggressive expansion of the Arabs, as both largely underestimated Islam and its growing support; this is best depicted by the ambivalent views held by the Byzantines and the painstakingly slow reaction of the Sasanians.[4]

After defeating the Byzantines at Yarmuk (636) and the Persians at Qadisiyah (637), the gaze of the Arab generals turned towards the riches of Byzantine Africa. After the Siege of Jerusalem, it was Amr ibn al-As who suggested an invasion of Egypt to the Caliph,[1] being familiar with the country's prosperity both from visiting it as a merchant and from leading the expedition to Gaza in 637.[1] Appealing to the Caliph, he said "the conquest of Egypt will give great power to the Muslims and will be a great aid to them, for it is the wealthiest land and the weakest in fighting and war power."[1]

After being convinced by Amr to proceed with the invasion, the caliph Umar is said to have had "an eleventh-hour change of heart", but too late to stop it. This element of the story, which conveys the caliph's wariness at allowing a general to seize such an asset, may have been a later embellishment in light of Amr's subsequent reputation as a stubbornly independent governor.[1]

Rashidun invasion of Egypt


Crossing the Egyptian border

Pyramids of Giza

According to Arab sources, In December 639, 'Amr ibn al-'As left for Egypt with a force of 4,000 troops. Most of the soldiers belonged to the Arab tribe of 'Ak, but Al-Kindi mentioned that one third of the soldiers belonged to the Arab tribe of Ghafik. The Arab soldiers were also joined by some Roman and Persian converts to Islam. However, 'Umar, the Muslim caliph, reconsidered his orders to Amr and considered it unwise to expect to conquer such a large country as Egypt with a mere 4,000 soldiers. Accordingly, he wrote a letter to 'Amr ordering him to "return with all haste to the court of the Caliph, so that his soldiers might join additional campaigns being planned elsewhere", however there was a provision in the letter stating that 'Amr's first duty was the protection of his troops, and if he found himself on Egyptian soil by the time he received the letter, the Caliph would leave overall strategic command of movement to him, so as to not unduly burden troops already in the field.[5]

The messenger, 'Uqbah ibn 'Amr, caught up with Amr at Rafah, a little short of the Egyptian frontier. Guessing what might be in the letter, 'Amr ordered the army to quicken its pace. Turning to 'Uqbah, 'Amr said that he would receive the caliph's letter from him when the army had halted after the day's journey. 'Uqbah, unaware of the contents of the letter, agreed and marched along with the army. The army halted for the night at Shajratein, a little valley near the city of El Arish, which 'Amr knew to be beyond the Egyptian border.[6] 'Amr then received and read 'Umar's letter and went on to consult his companions as to the course of action to be adopted. The unanimous view was that as they had received the letter on Egyptian soil, they had permission to proceed.[citation needed]

When 'Umar received the reply, he decided to watch further developments and to start concentrating fresh forces at Madinah that could be dispatched to Egypt as reinforcements. On Eid al-Adha, the Muslim army marched from Shajratein to El Arish,[5] a small town lacking a garrison. The town put up no resistance, and the citizens offered allegiance on the usual terms.[citation needed]

Conquest of Pelusium and Belbeis


Cyrus of Alexandria had a daughter named Armenousa, who he desired to marry to Heraclius Constantine. Constantine accepted the marriage proposal, so in late 639 Armenousa left Babylon in a grand marriage procession which included two thousand horsemen, along with slaves and a long caravan laden with treasures that served both as dowry and tribute. On her way to Constantine, who was in Caesarea, she heard of the Arab army approaching Egypt and dispatched a regiment of her guards to defend Pelusium, a garrison city considered to be the eastern gateway to Egypt at the time, while she herself remained in Belbeis with more of her guards and sent warnings to her father Cyrus.[7][8][9]

In of December 639 or early January 640, the Muslim army reached Pelusium. The siege of the town dragged on for two months. In February 640, an assault group, led by the prominent Huzaifah ibn Wala, successfully captured the fort and city.[10][11][12][13][14][15]

The losses incurred by the Muslim army were ameliorated by the number of Sinai Bedouins, who, taking the initiative, had joined them in conquering Egypt.[16] The Bedouins belonged to the tribes of Rashidah and Lakhm.[17]

The ease with which Pelusium fell to the Muslims and the lack of Roman reinforcements during the month-long siege is often attributed to the treachery of Cyrus, who was also the Greek Patriarch of Alexandria (not the one recognised by most of the population, who was Pope Benjamin I).[16][18]

After the fall of Pelusium, the Muslims marched to Belbeis, 65 km (40 mi) from Memphis via desert roads, and besieged it. Belbeis was the first place in Egypt that the Byzantines showed some measure of resistance towards the Arabs. Two Christian monks, accompanied by Cyrus of Alexandria and the famous Roman general Aretion, came out to negotiate with 'Amr ibn al-'As. Aretion had been the Byzantine governor of Jerusalem and had fled to Egypt when the city fell to the Muslims. 'Amr gave them three options: convert to Islam, pay the jizya, or fight. They requested three days to reflect and then, according to Al-Tabari, requested two extra days.[citation needed]

At the end of the five days, the two monks and the general decided to reject Islam and the jizya and fight the Muslims, thus disobeying Cyrus, who wanted to surrender and pay jizya. Cyrus left for the Babylon Fortress. The battle resulted in a Muslim victory during which Aretion was killed and Armenousa was captured, but sent back to Cyrus. 'Amr ibn al-'As subsequently attempted to convince the native Egyptians to aid the Arabs and surrender the city, based on the kinship between Egyptians and Arabs via Hajar.[19] When the Egyptians refused, the siege resumed until the city fell around the end of March 640.[18]

Siege of Babylon Fortress

Map detailing the route of the Muslims' invasion of Egypt

Amr had assumed that Egypt would be a pushover but was quickly proven wrong. Even at the outposts of Pelusium and Belbeis, the Muslims had met stiff resistance, with sieges of two and one months, respectively. As Babylon, near what is now Cairo, was a larger and more important city, resistance on a larger scale was expected.[5] The Muslims arrived at Babylon some time in May 640.[20]

Babylon was a fortified city, and the Romans had indeed prepared it for a siege. Outside the city, a ditch had been dug, and a large force was positioned in the area between the ditch and the city walls. The Muslims besieged the fort, a massive structure 18 m (59 ft) high with walls more than 2 metres (6.6 feet) thick and studded with numerous towers and bastions and a force of some 4,000 men. Early Muslim sources place the strength of the Byzantine force in Babylon at about six times the strength of the Muslim force. For the next two months, fighting remained inconclusive, with the Byzantines repulsing every Muslim assault.[20]

Later the same month, 'Amr sent a detachment to raid the city of Fayoum. The Byzantines had anticipated that and so had strongly guarded the roads that led to the city and had fortified their garrison in the nearby town of Lahun. When the Muslims realised that Fayoum was too strong for them to take, they headed towards the Western Desert, where they looted all the cattle and animals that they could. They subsequently headed to Oxyrhynchus (Per-Medjed), which was defeated and the city was captured. The destruction of its irrigation canals during the siege would result in its eventual abandonment.[21] The Arabs then noticed that a Roman general, John, with a small group of 50 men, had been following them. John and his men ran away, but their hiding place was betrayed by a Bedouin chief and they were all killed. Hermann Zotenberg identifies this John with the John, Duke of Barca or Barciana mentioned by Nicephorus. He had brought the Ecthesis and a portion of the True Cross from Patriarch Sergius to Cyrus.[citation needed]

When news of John's death reached Augustalis Theodorus, the commander of the garrison at Babylon, ‘his lamentations were more grievous than the lamentations of David over Saul when he said: 'How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished!'’ as John of Nikiu puts it.[22] Anastasius, prefect of Arcadia Aegypti, and Theodosius, prefect of Alexandria, arrived from Nikiû with cavalrymen to reinforce the garrison at Babylon, and from Babylon a further force was sent under the command of Leontius to Fayoum. The Arabs attempted, but failed, to take Fayoum, then returned to Lower Egypt down the River Nile.[23] Theodore sent men to search for the body of John, which was found in the Nile, retrieved with a net, embalmed with honour and sent to Heraclius. Heraclius, moved by the general's death, expressed displeasure with Theodorus. Theodorus felt that Anastasius and Theodosius blamed him for the death of John, and formed an enmity with them.[21]

Reinforcements from Madinah


In July, 'Amr wrote to 'Umar requesting reinforcements, but before the letter reached him, the caliph had already dispatched 4,000 men, mostly veterans of the Syrian campaigns, to bolster Amr's strength. Even with the reinforcements, 'Amr was unsuccessful and so, by August, 'Umar had assembled another 4,000-strong force, consisting of four columns, each of 1,000 elite men. Zubayr ibn al-Awwam, a renowned warrior and commander, veteran of the Battle of Yarmouk and once a part of Khalid ibn al-Walid's elite mobile guard, was appointed the supreme commander of the army.[citation needed]

'Umar had also offered Zubayr the chief command and governorship of Egypt, but Zubayr had declined. The column commanders included Miqdad ibn al-Aswad, 'Ubaidah ibn as-Samit and Kharijah ibn Hudhaifah. The reinforcements arrived at Babylon sometime in September 640, bringing the total strength of the Muslim force to 12,000 (and likely far less, given losses incurred), still quite modest.[6]

It is said that a Coptic soldier, seeing the size of the Muslim force, expressed amazement that such a small force could stand against the Emperor's army, whereto another soldier replied that Arabs could not yield, and had to either emerge victorious or die to the last man. In another anecdote, some Roman soldiers refused to fight, saying 'We have small chance against the men who have conquered Chosroes and Caesar in Syria.' [21]

Battle of Heliopolis


When Zubayr arrived, he pointed out to ‘Amr that the Roman-garrisoned city of Heliopolis was a short distance away, and that troops from there could relieve the Siege of Babylon. To remove this threat, ‘Amr went with about half of his men there.[24]

The Muslim army reached Heliopolis, 15 km (10 mi) from Babylon,[20] in July 640.[25] The city boasted the Sun Temple of the Pharaohs and grandiose monuments and learning institutions.[26] There was the danger that forces from Heliopolis could attack the Muslims from the flank while they were engaged with the Roman army at Babylon.

There was a cavalry clash near the current neighbourhood of Abbaseya. The engagement was not decisive, but it resulted in the occupation of the fortress located between the current neighborhoods of Abdyn and Azbakeya. The defeated Byzantine soldiers retreated to either the Babylon Fortress or the fortress of Nikiû.[27] Zubayr and some of his handpicked soldiers scaled the Heliopolis city wall at an unguarded point and, after overpowering the guards, opened the gates for the army to enter the city. After the capture of Heliopolis, 'Amr returned to Babylon.[24]

Conquering of Fayoum and Babylon


When news of the Muslims' victory at Heliopolis reached Fayoum, its governor, Domentianus, and his troops fled without informing the people of Fayoum and Abuit that they were abandoning their cities to the enemy. When news reached 'Amr, he sent troops across the Nile to invade Fayoum and Abuit, capturing the entire province of Fayoum with practically no resistance. Fayoum's population was enslaved, and the city was looted (the traditional fate of cities that had resisted).[28]

Emissaries were exchanged between Theodorus and 'Amr, leading to 'Amr meeting Theodorus in person. Then, with negotiations stalled, during the night of 20 December, a company of handpicked warriors, led by Zubayr, managed to scale the wall, kill the guards, and open the gates for the Muslim army to enter. The city was captured by the Muslims the following morning with tactics similar to those that had been used by Khalid ibn Walid at Damascus. However, Theodorus and his army managed to slip away to the island of Rauda during the night, whence they continued to fight the Muslims.[29]

The final assault of the Muslims was on Good Friday, April 6 641, and by Easter Monday the Roman troops had evacuated and began marching to Nikiû. The Romans were given a few days to evacuate so they might celebrate Easter. Many Copts who were imprisoned in Babylon, either for refusing to accept Chalcedon or on suspicion of treachery, were released from prison by the Romans, but Eudocianus, the brother of Domentianus, had them scourged and their hands cut off. The Siege of Babylon had lasted seven months.[21]

Surrender of Thebaid (Southeastern Egypt)


On 22 December, Cyrus of Alexandria entered a treaty with the Muslims,[30] recognizing Muslim sovereignty over the whole of Egypt and effectively over Thebaid, and agreeing to pay Jizya at the rate of 2 diners per male adult.[20] The treaty was subject to the approval of the emperor Heraclius, but Cyrus stipulated that even if the emperor repudiated the treaty, he and the Egyptians, would honour its terms.[31] Cyrus asked Heraclius to ratify the treaty and offered an argument in support. 'Amr submitted a detailed report to Umar recommending ratification.[20] He desired that as soon as the reactions of Heraclius were known, he should be informed so that further necessary instructions could be issued promptly.[30] Upon hearing about this, Heraclius was furious and sent Cyrus a letter full of insults, calling him an abject coward and a heathen and asking whether 100,000 Romans were a match for 12,000 barbarians.[21]

March to Alexandria

Ancient Roman theaters in Alexandria

The Byzantine commanders, knowing full well that the Muslims' next target was Alexandria, set out to repel the Muslims through continued sallies from the fort or, at least, to exhaust them and erode their morale in a campaign of attrition.[30] In February 641, 'Amr set off for Alexandria from Babylon with his army, encountering defending regiments all along the route. On the third day of their march the Muslims' advance guard encountered a Byzantine detachment at Tarnut on the west bank of the Nile.[20] The Byzantines failed to inflict heavy losses but were able to delay the advance by a full day. The Muslim commanders decided to halt the main army at Tarnut and send an advance guard of cavalry forward to clear the path.[citation needed]

The Muslims came to Kebrias of Abadja, where Domentianus and his soldiers were. He cravenly fled the city in a small boat, leaving his soldiers to their fate. They attempted to follow him, but in the panic the boatmen fled to their home provinces, leaving many of the soldiers stranded. When the Arabs arrived, the soldiers threw their weapons into the water before their enemies, hoping to be spared, but instead they were all massacred. According to John of Nikiu, the only man who lived to tell the tale was a “gallant warrior” named Zacharias. The Muslims then passed by Sais and, finding the family of Theodorus there, killed all of them.[22][21][8]

Now 30 km (19 mi) from Tarnut, the Byzantine detachment that had withdrawn from Tarnut the day before joined another that was already at Shareek, and both attacked and routed the Muslim cavalry. The next day, before the Byzantines could annihilate the Muslim advance guard completely, the main Muslim army arrived, prompting the Byzantines to withdraw. The following day, the whole army marched forward without an advance guard. The Muslims reached Sulteis, where they encountered another Byzantine detachment. Hard fighting followed, but the Byzantine resistance soon broke down and they withdrew to Alexandria.[citation needed]

The Muslims halted at Sulteis for a day, still two days' march from Alexandria. After another day's march, the Muslim forces arrived at Kirayun, 20 km (12 mi) from Alexandria. There, the Muslim advance to Alexandria was blocked by a Byzantine force about 20,000 strong. The resulting action remained indecisive for ten days.[6] However, on the tenth day, the Muslims launched a vigorous assault, forcing the defeated Byzantines to retreat to Alexandria. With the way to Alexandria clear, the Muslims reached the capital's outskirts in March.[citation needed]

Conquest of Alexandria and fall of Egypt


The Muslims laid siege to Alexandria in March 641.[31] The city was heavily fortified and provisioned: there were walls within walls and forts within forts. The city also had direct access to the sea by which men and supplies from Constantinople could come at any time.[citation needed]

There was much enmity between the Roman leaders at Alexandria. Theodorus was the commander-in-chief of the Romans in Alexandria, and the only other commander there seems to have been Domentianus. Among the civilians in Alexandria were two men of high rank: the non-Chalcedonian Menas, who was at opposition with Domentianus as both of them competed for power, and Philiades, the brother of Patriarch George I of Alexandria. Domentianus was feuding with both of these men, as well as with Cyrus, his own half-brother. Menas was also furious with Eudocianus for torturing the Coptic prisoners in Babylon. In addition, Theodorus was disgusted by Domentianus’ flight and abandonment of his troops, and took the side of Menas in their dispute. To help with the war effort, Menas recruited all the Greens in Alexandria, while Domentianus recruited all the Blues. These two factions immediately began infighting, and it was with great difficulty that Theodorus managed to stop them. He then demoted Domentianus from his rank of decurion, replacing him with Artana.[22][8]

As 'Amr surveyed the military situation, he felt that the conquest of Alexandria would be difficult.[30] The Byzantines had high stakes in Alexandria and were determined to offer stiff resistance to the Muslims. They mounted catapults on the walls of the city, and the engines effectively pounded the Muslims with boulders, prompting 'Amr to withdraw out of range. The ensuing battle see-sawed:[6] when the Muslims approached the city, they were pelted with missiles, and, when the Byzantines sallied from the fort, they were invariably beaten back by the Muslims.

It is said[by whom?] that Heraclius, the Byzantine emperor, collected a large army at Constantinople, intending to lead it personally to Alexandria. However, before he could finalize the arrangements, he died. The troops mustered at Constantinople dispersed in the ensuing succession crisis, and no help came to Alexandria, which further demoralized the defenders. The siege dragged on for six months, and in Madinah, 'Umar, got impatient. In a letter addressed to 'Amr, the caliph, concerned at the inordinate delay, appointed 'Ubaidah as field commander to assault the fort. 'Ubaidah's assault was successful, and Alexandria was captured by the Muslims in September. Thousands of Byzantine soldiers were killed or taken captive, and others managed to flee to Constantinople on ships that had been anchored in the port. Some wealthy traders also left.[20]

On behalf of the Egyptians, Cyrus of Alexandria sued for peace, and his request was granted. Both 'Amr and 'Ubaidah intended to sack the city, according to both Roman and Arabic sources, and felt that they had the right to do so as the city had not only resisted, but done so with great force. Cyrus convinced the Arab leaders that the city's monstrously high tax revenue would serve the Caliphate far better than any sack of the city would. In order to justify his denial of the sack to his troops and to the Caliph, 'Amr is reported[by whom?] to have written to 'Umar, "We have conquered Alexandria. In this city there are 4,000 palaces, 400 places of entertainment, and untold wealth."[citation needed]

After Cyrus had convinced the city's inhabitants to accept terms, a treaty was agreed on 28 November 641. The city was to pay a tribute and there was an eleven-month truce until September 642. The tribute was collected and paid on 10 December 641.[32] In the aftermath, 'Amr's forces moved through Middle Egypt and the northern parts of the Nile Delta, encountering no serious resistance. The last Byzantine troops in Alexandria finally left on 17 September 642 and 'Amr entered the city without no further opposition on 29 September.[33] The surrender of Alexandria in 641–642 marked the effective end of Byzantine resistance and the beginning of Muslim rule in Egypt.[34][35][36][37][38]

On the twentieth of Maskaram (approximately September 18 according to the Julian calendar), the Byzantine general, Theodorus, and all of his troops proceeded to the island of Cyprus, abandoning Alexandria to 'Amr. The conquest represented a huge loss of food and money to the Byzantine Empire and, coupled with the conquest of Syria and the later invasion of the Exarchate of Africa, meant that the Mediterranean, long referred to as the "Roman lake", was now contested between the Muslim Caliphate and the Byzantine Empire. The latter, although sorely tested, would be able to hold on to Anatolia, while the walls of Constantinople would withstand two great Muslim sieges, saving the Byzantines from the fate of the Persian Empire.[39][page needed]

Invasion of Nubia


In the summer of 642, 'Amr ibn al-'As sent an expedition to the Christian kingdom of Nubia, which bordered Egypt to the south, under the command of his cousin 'Uqbah ibn Nafi as a pre-emptive raid to announce the arrival of new rulers in Egypt.[40][page needed] 'Uqbah ibn Nafi, who later made a great name for himself as the conqueror of Africa and led his horse to the Atlantic, had an unhappy experience in Nubia. No pitched battle was fought, but there were only skirmishes and haphazard engagements, the type of warfare in which the Nubians excelled. They were skilful archers and subjected the Muslims to a merciless barrage of arrows, resulting in 250 Muslims losing their eyes in the engagement.[citation needed]

The Nubian cavalry displayed remarkable speed,[18] even more so than the Muslim cavalry. The Nubians would strike hard and then vanish before the Muslims could recover and counterattack. The hit-and-run raids took their toll on the Muslim expedition. 'Uqbah reported that to 'Amr,[30] who ordered 'Uqbah to withdraw from Nubia, terminating the expedition.[citation needed] A treaty was finally concluded with the Nubians in 651–2, securing the southern frontier of Muslim rule in Egypt.[41]

Byzantine counterattack


In 645, the newly installed Eastern Roman Emperor Constans II was determined to retake the land, and ordered a large fleet to carry troops to Alexandria. These troops, under Manuel, took the city by surprise from its small Arab garrison towards the end of 645 in an amphibious attack - thus temporarily winning Alexandria back.[42]

Amr at the time might have been in Mecca, and was quickly recalled to take command of the Arab forces in Egypt.[43] On returning to Egypt, he engaged the Byzantines at the small fortified town of Nikiou (Coptic: ⲡϣⲁϯ Pashati),[44] about two-thirds of the way from Alexandria to Fustat,[45] with the Arab forces numbering around 15,000, against a smaller Byzantine force. The Arabs prevailed, and the Byzantine forces retreated in disarray, back to Alexandria.[46]

Although the Byzantines closed the gates against the pursuing Arabs, the city of Alexandria eventually fell to the Arabs, who stormed the city sometime in the summer of that year. The defeat of Manuel's forces marked the last attempt by the Byzantine Empire to recapture Egypt for some 500 years, before Emperor Manuel I Komnenos sent a failed expedition there in the 12th century.[47][48]

Egypt under Muslim rule

Rashidun Caliphate at its peak under the third Caliph, Uthman in 654
  Strongholds of Rashidun Caliphate

In The Great Arab Conquests, Hugh Kennedy writes that Cyrus, the Roman governor, had exiled the Coptic patriarch, Benjamin. When 'Amr occupied Alexandria, a Coptic nobleman (duqs) called Sanutius persuaded him to send out a proclamation of safe conduct for Benjamin and an invitation to return to Alexandria. When Benjamin arrived, he was then instructed by the governor to resume control over the Coptic Church. He arranged for the restoration of the monasteries in the Wadi Natrun, which had been ruined by the Chalcedonean Christians; four of them still survive as functioning monasteries.[49]

On Benjamin's return, the Egyptian population also worked with him.[50] Kennedy wrote, "The pious biographer of Coptic patriarch Benjamin presents us with the striking image of the patriarch prayed for the success of the Muslim commander Amr against the Christians of the Cyrenaica. Benjamin survived for almost twenty years after the fall of Egypt to the Muslims, dying of full years and honour in 661. His body was laid to rest in the monastery of St Macarius, where he is still venerated as a saint. There can be no doubt that he played a major role in the survival of the Coptic Church".[49] Benjamin also prayed for 'Amr when he attempted to take Libya.[51]

Kennedy also wrote, "Even more striking is the verdict of John of Nikiu. John was no admirer of Muslim government and was fierce in his denunciation, but he says of Amr: 'He extracted the taxes which had been determined upon but he took none of the property of the churches, and he committed no act of spoliation or plunder, and he preserved them throughout all his days.... Of all the early Muslim conquests, that of Egypt was the swiftest and most complete. Within a space of two years the country had come entirely under Arab rule. Even more remarkably, it has remained under Muslim rule ever since. Seldom in history can so massive a political change have happened so swiftly and been so long lasting."[52]

The Coptic Chronicler Severus ibn al-Muqaffa claims that “The Arabs in the land of Egypt had ruined the country.… They burnt the fortresses and pillaged the provinces, and killed a multitude of the saintly monks who were in them and they violated a multitude of the virgin nuns and killed some of them with the sword.”[53]"Egypt had become enslaved to Satan" concludes John of Nikiu.[54]

Uqba ibn Nafi then used Egypt as a launch pad to move across North Africa, all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.[55] Kennedy wrote that when Uqba reached the Atlantic, he is said to have ridden his horse into the sea until the water was below his chest, and then shouted, 'O Lord, if the sea did not stop me, I would go through lands like Alexander the Great, defending your faith'. Kennedy writes further that the image of a warrior whose conquest in the name of God was stopped only by the ocean remains important in the history of the conquests.[56]

Fustat, the new capital


During the Egyptian campaign, Alexandria was the capital of Egypt. When Alexandria was captured by the Muslims, the houses vacated by the Byzantines were occupied by the Muslims, who were impressed and attracted by Alexandria, "the queen of cities". 'Amr wanted Alexandria to remain the capital of Muslim Egypt.[6] He wrote to 'Umar to propose that but 'Umar refused on the basis that Alexandria was a maritime city, and there would always be a danger that the Byzantine Navy would attack.[20] He suggested instead for the capital would be established at a central location further inland, where no mass of water separated it from Arabia.[30]

As 'Amr's tent was to be the focal point of the city, the city was called Fustat, meaning in Arabic "the tent". The first structure to be built was the mosque that later became famous as Mosque of 'Amr ibn al-'As.[57] In the course of time, Fustat extended to include the old town of Babylon to the west, becoming the bustling commercial centre of Egypt.[30]

Umar's reforms


To consolidate his rule in Egypt, Umar imposed the jizya on Egyptians. During later Umayyad rule, higher taxes would be levied. With Umar's permission, Amr decided to build a canal to join the Nile with the Red Sea to open new markets for Egyptian merchants and an easy route to Arabia and Iraq. The project was presented to Umar, who approved it. A canal was dug and, within a few months, was opened for merchants. It was named "Nahar Amir ul-Mu'mineen" (the canal of the Commander of the Faithful), after Umar's title.[30]

See also



  1. ^ a b c d e Sijpesteijn 2007, p. 440.
  2. ^ Haykal 1944, ch. 18
  3. ^ James Lindsay. Daily Life in The Medieval Islamic World. (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press,1957) Pg 3
  4. ^ Khalil I. Semaan. Islam and the Medieval West. (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1980) Pg 4
  5. ^ a b c Haykal 1944, chpt. 19
  6. ^ a b c d e Al-Maqrizi, Mawaiz wa al-'i'tibar bi dhikr al-khitat wa al-'athar.
  7. ^ Al-Maqrizi, Mawaiz wa al-'i'tibar bi dhikr al-khitat wa al-'athar, p. 231
  8. ^ a b c Butcher, Edith Louisa (1897). The Story of the Church of Egypt: An Outline Of The History Of The Egyptians Under Their Successive Masters From The Roman Conquest Until Now. London, United Kingdom: Smith, Elder, & Company.
  9. ^ Martindale, John Robert; Jones, Arnold Hugh Martin; Morris, J., eds. (1992). The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire. Vol. III: A.D. 527–641. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-20160-5.
  10. ^ Al-Kamil, pp. 451–452
  11. ^ Al-Gawzi, Al-Montazim, pp. 532–534
  12. ^ al-Tabari, History of the Kings, p. 862
  13. ^ Abu Salih the Armenian, The churches and monasteries of Egypt and some neighbouring countries, tr. B.T.A.Evetts, p. 168
  14. ^ Butler 1902, p. 234
  15. ^ Kamil Salih, Pope Benjamin the First and the Arab invasion of Egypt, p. 65
  16. ^ a b Butler 1902, p. 213
  17. ^ Al-Maqrizi, Mawaiz wa al-'i'tibar bi dhikr al-khitat wa al-'athar
  18. ^ a b c "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Cyrus of Alexandria". Archived from the original on 24 March 2011. Retrieved 8 October 2005.
  19. ^ Butler 1902, p. 216
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h Butler 1902
  21. ^ a b c d e f Butler, Albert J. (1903). The Arab Conquest of Egypt and the Last Thirty Years under Roman Dominion (PDF). Oxford University Press. ISBN 1724498029.
  22. ^ a b c "John, Bishop of Nikiu: Chronicle. London (1916). English Translation".
  23. ^ Butler 1902, pp. 254–255
  24. ^ a b Bagnall, Roger S., ed. (2021), "The Persians, the Arab conquest, and another transformation of Egypt", Roman Egypt: A History, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 276–343, doi:10.1017/9781108953948.008, ISBN 978-1-108-84490-1, retrieved 12 October 2023
  25. ^ Raymond, Andre, Cairo, transl. Willard Wood, (Harvard University Press, 2000), p. 10.
  26. ^ Butler 1902, p. 258
  27. ^ Butler 1902, p. 263
  28. ^ Butler 1902, p. 264
  29. ^ Haykal 1944, chpt. 21
  30. ^ a b c d e f g h Haykal 1944, chpt. 22
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  35. ^ Kennedy 2007, p. 160 "The last Byzantine troops under Theodore set sail for Cyprus on 17 September and the final act was played out when, at the end of the eleven-month truce, Amr formally entered the city without meeting any resistance on 29 September. A thousand years of Graeco-Roman rule were at an end."
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Further reading