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Medieval Sourcebook:
Accounts of The Arab Conquest of Egypt, 642



The History of The Patriarchs of Alexandria

And in those days Heraclius saw a dream in which it was said to him: "Verily there shall come against you a circumcised nation, and they shall vanquish you and take possession of the land." So Heraclius thought that they would be the Jews, and accordingly gave orders that all the Jews and Samaritans should be baptized in all the provinces which were under his dominion. But after a few days there appeared a man of the Arabs, from the southern districts, that is to say, from Mecca or its neighbourhood, whose name was Muhammad; and he brought back the worshippers of idols to the knowledge of the One God, and bade them declare that Muhammad was his apostle; and his nation were circumcised in the Hesh, not by the law, and prayed towards the South, turning towards a place which they called the Kaabah. And he took possession of Damascus and Syria, and crossed the Jordan, and dammed it up. And the Lord abandoned the army of the Romans before him, as a punishment for their corrupt faith, and because of the anathemas uttered against them, on account of the council of Chalcedon, by the ancient fathers.

When Heraclius saw this, he assembled all his troops from Egypt as far as the frontiers of Aswan. And he continued for three years to pay to the Muslims the taxes which he had demanded for the purpose of applying them to himself and all his troops; and they used to call the tax the bakt, that is to say that it was a sum levied at so much a head. And this went on until Heraclius had paid to the Muslims the greater part of his money; and many people died through the troubles which they had endured.

So when ten years were over of the rule of Heraclius together with the Colchian, who sought for the patriarch Benjamin, while he was fleeing from him from place to place, hiding himself in the fortified churches, the prince of the Muslims sent an army to Egypt, under one of his trusty companions, named Amr ibn Al-Asi, in the year 357 of Diocletian, the slayer of the martyrs. And this army of Islam came down into Egypt in great force, on the twelfth day of Baunah, which is the sixth of June, according to the months of the Romans.

Now the commander Amr had destroyed the fort, and burnt the boats with fire, and defeated the Romans, and taken possession of part of the country. For he had first arrived by the desert; and the horsemen took the road through the mountains, until they arrived at a fortress built of stone, between Upper Egypt and the Delta, called Babylon. So they pitched their tents there, until they were prepared to fight the Romans, and make war against them; and afterwards they named that place, I mean the fortress, in their language, Bablun Al-Fustat; and that is its name to the present day.

After fighting three battles with the Romans, the Muslims conquered them. So when the chief men of the city saw these things, they went to Amr, and received a certificate of security for the city, that it might not be plundered. This kind of treaty which Muhammad, the chief of the Arabs, taught them, they called the Law; and he says with regard to it: "As for the province of Egypt and any city that agrees with its inhabitants to pay the land-tax to you and to submit to your authority, make a treaty with them, and do them no injury. But plunder and take as prisoners those that will not consent to this and resist you." For this reason the Muslims kept their hands off the province and its inhabitants, but destroyed the nation of the Romans, and their general who was named Marianus. And those of the Romans who escaped fled to Alexandria, and shut its gates upon the Arabs, and fortified themselves within the city.

And in the year 360 of Diocletian, in the month of December, three years after Amr had taken possession of Memphis, the Muslims captured the city of Alexandria, and destroyed its walls, and burnt many churches with fire. And they burnt the church of Saint Mark, which was built by the sea, where his body was laid; and this was the place to which the father and patriarch, Peter the Martyr, went before his martyrdom, and blessed Saint Mark, and committed to him his reasonable flock, as he had received it. So they burnt this place and the monasteries around it....

When Amr took full possession of the city of Alexandria, and settled its affairs, that infidel, the governor of Alexandria, feared, he being both prefect and patriarch of the city under the Romans, that Amr would kill him; therefore he sucked a poisoned ring, and died on the spot. But Sanutius, the believing dux, made known to Amr the circumstances of that militant father, the patriarch Benjamin, and how he was a fugitive from the Romans, through fear of them. Then Amr, son of Al-Asi, wrote to the provinces of Egypt a letter, in which he said: "There is protection and security for the place where Benjamin, the patriarch of the Coptic Christians is, and peace from God; therefore let him come forth secure and tranquil, and administer the affairs of his Church, and the government of his nation." Therefore when the holy Benjamin heard this, he returned to Alexandria with great joy, clothed with the crown of patience and sore conflict which had befallen the orthodox people through their persecution by the heretics, after having been absent during thirteen years, ten of which were years of Heraclius, the misbelieving Roman, with the three years before the Muslims conquered Alexandria. When Benjamin appeared, the people and the whole city rejoiced, and made his arrival known to Sanutius, the dux who believed in Christ, who had settled with the commander Amr that the patriarch should return, and had received a safe-conduct from Amr for him. Thereupon Sanutius went to the commander and announced that the patriarch had arrived, and Amr gave orders that Benjamin should be brought before him with honour and veneration and love. And Amr, when he saw the patriarch, received him with respect, and said to his companions and private friends: "Verily in all the lands of which we have taken possession hitherto I have never seen a man of God like this man." For the Father Benjamin was beautiful of countenance, excellent in speech, discoursing with calmness and dignity.

Then Amr turned to him, and said to him: "Resume the government of all your churches and of your people, and administer their affairs. And if you will pray for me, that I may go to the West and to Pentapolis, and take possession of them, as I have of Egypt, and return to you in safety and speedily, I will do for you all that you shall ask of me." Then the holy Benjamin prayed for Amr, and pronounced an eloquent discourse, which made Amr and those present with him marvel, and which contained words of exhortation and much profit for those that heard him; and he revealed certain matters to Amr, and departed from his presence honoured and revered. And all that the blessed father said to the commander Amr, son of Al-Asi, he found true, and not a letter of it was unfulfilled.


Al-Baladhuri: The Conquest of Alexandria

'Amr kept his way until he arrived in Alexandria whose inhabitants he found ready to resist him, but the Copts in it preferred peace. Al-Mukaukis communicated with 'Amr and asked him for peace and a truce for a time; but 'Amr refused. Al-Mukaukis then ordered that the women stand on the wall with their faces turned towards the city, and that the men stand armed, with their faces towards the Moslems, thus hoping to scare them. 'Amr sent word, saying, "We see what you have done. It was not by mere numbers that we conquered those we have conquered. We have met your king Heraclius, and there befell him what has befallen him." Hearing this, al-Mukaukis said to his followers, "These people are telling the truth. They have chased our king from his kingdom as far as Constantinople. It is much more preferable, therefore, that we submit." His followers, however, spoke harshly to him and insisted on fighting. The Moslems fought fiercely against them and invested them for three months. At last, 'Amr reduced the city by the sword and plundered all that was in it, sparing its inhabitants of whom none was killed or taken captive. He reduced them to the position of dhimmis like the people of Alyunah. He communicated the news of the victory to 'Umar through Mu'awiyah ibn-Hudaij al-Kindi (later as-Sakuni) and sent with him the fifth.

The Greeks wrote to Constantine, son of Heraclius, who was their king at that time, telling him how few the Moslems in Alexandria were, and how humiliating the Greeks' condition was, and how they had to pay poll-tax. Constantine sent one of his men, called Manuwil, with three hundred ships full of fighters. Manuwil entered Alexandria and killed all the guard that was in it, with the exception of a few who by the use of subtle means took to flight and escaped. This took place in the year 25. Hearing the news, 'Amr set out at the head of 15,000 men and found the Greek fighters doing mischief in the Egyptian villages next to Alexandria. The Moslems met them and for one hour were subjected to a shower of arrows, during which they were covered by their shields. They then advanced boldly and the battle raged with great ferocity until the polytheists were routed; and nothing could divert or stop them before they reached Alexandria. Here they fortified themselves and set mangonels. 'Amr made a heavy assault, set the ballistae, and destroyed the walls of the city. He pressed the fight so hard until he entered the city by assault, killed the fathers and carried away the children as captives. Some of its Greek inhabitants left to join the Greeks somewhere else; and Allah's enemy, Manuwil, was killed. 'Amr and the Moslems destroyed the wall of Alexandria in pursuance of a vow that 'Amr had made to that effect, in case he reduced the city....'Amr ibn-al-Asi conquered Alexandria, and some Moslems took up their abode in it as a cavalry guard.


Source.

From: Sawirus ibn al-Muqaffa, History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandria, trans. Basil Evetts, (Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1904), pt. I, ch. 1, from Patrologia Orientalis, Vol. I, pp. 489-497, reprinted in Deno John Geanakoplos, Byzantium: Church, Society, and Civilization Seen Through Contemporary Eyes, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), pp. 336-338;

Philip Hitti, trans., The Origins of the Islamic State, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1916), Vol. I, pp. 346-349, reprinted in Deno John Geanakoplos, Byzantium: Church, Society, and Civilization Seen Through Contemporary Eyes, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), pp. 338-339.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.


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© Paul Halsall, August 1998
halsall@murray.fordham.edu