Arab Conquest Of Egypt


The conquest, under ‘Amr ibn al-‘As, was the last of the rapid series of victories in the years A.H. 13-19/A.D. 635-640 that had led the Arabs to overthrow the weakened Byzantine provinces of the Near East. The conquest of Egypt marked the virtual end of a rapid period of expansion, since after the swift conquest of the Pentapolis, the victorious Arab forces were compelled to mark time in the western parts of North Africa. During the period of the Orthodox caliphs and Umayyads, until the Fatimid conquest, Egypt remained on the margin of the Islamic world, and the story of its conquest is of relevance to the affairs of the rest of the Arab world.

The sources include Arabic chronicles of high quality. The brief but standard accounts in Baladhuri‘s Futuh al-Buldan and Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam’s Futuh Misr (which contains the earliest and most reliable accounts) form the basis of many of the later traditions. These are recorded by writers such as Ibn Duqmaq, al-Maqrizi, and al-Suyuti, and comprise the largest body of collective evidence, but for our purpose provide little that is not already found in the two sources named.

Furthermore, these later accounts are based on a long and largely unverifiable chain of traditions, and reveal the characteristic and familiar weaknesses of Arabic historiography. This is particularly obvious with reference to the termination of various phases of the hostilities between Muslim and non-Muslim, the confusion of dates and events, an uncritical reliance on oral or written hadith (unconscious and conscious repetition), and the excessive details concerning unimportant individual episodes. Except for short sketches of narrative, the chronicles present no sense of the general course of events. These are strictures from which only Baladhur is relatively free.

At the same time, the Chronicle of John, the Monophysite bishop of Nikiou (the important city of the western Delta), is of primary importance as a contemporary document independent of Arab traditions; it survives, however, only in an Ethiopic translation of an Arabic version of a Coptic or Greek original. Besides being naive and disjointed in style, it is mutilated and incomplete in its present form. Nevertheless, it provides the main thread on which our narrative must hang, both for the information that it uniquely provides and as a corrective to the untrustworthy, though beguiling, Arab sources.

Late Byzantine and early Arabic papyri also provide documentary evidence for administrative and fiscal history. In addition, ecclesiastical histories (particularly that of SAWIRUS IBN AL-MUQAFFA‘) and the lives of the saints, which now survive largely in Arabic versions of Greek or Coptic originals, offer individual items of significance to the secular historian. They form the basis of the history of the national church itself as well.

At best, therefore, the historian may hope to extract only an outline of what occurred from all these inadequate sources. The brief account that follows omits detailed discussion of the insoluble problems raised by many episodes (for these the reader is referred above all to the works of Butler and Caetani) and attempts only to provide a framework against which more detailed studies can be consulted with a clearer understanding. A few words of introduction regarding the condition of Byzantine Egypt will provide a background for the narrative of the conquest itself.

In terms of its links with the rest of the empire, the political stability of the province, which had not been achieved by the measures of Justinian, had been severely shaken a generation before the arrival of ‘Amr’s forces. First, the revolt of the elder Heraclius in Africa against the vicious government of Emperor Phocas (602-610) that placed the young Heraclius (610-641) on the throne of Byzantium was largely fought out on Egyptian soil. Second, a decade later, Egypt, like the other Byzantine provinces of the Middle East, was invaded by the Sassanid forces of Chosroes II (A.D. 619-628). As a result of the Persian occupation, both Alexandria and the whole of the Nile Valley were subjected to severe material and religious oppression for a decade.

Some aspects of this period are described in vivid colors in the encomiastic Life of the Melchite patriarch, John the Almoner (Eleemon) of Cyprus. He was sanctified because of his eleemosynary works in Alexandria on behalf of the refugees from the Persian advance. They crowded into the city from all over the Middle East, and especially from Jerusalem. The delayed but victorious “crusade” of Heraclius against the Persians in 628-629 resulted in the reconquest of all the eastern provinces, but the wounds inflicted by the Persians could have healed only partially all the time the Arab forces advanced on the Nile Valley.

We can now recover few of the events of that tumultuous generation. The Arabs certainly knew very little of the true history (Torrey, 1922, pp. 33-34). We can say with some certainty that the life of Alexandria was profoundly shattered by the Persian invasion. It could hardly have recovered its stability after its reoccupation by Byzantine forces, nor at the time of the arrival of the Arabs. Furthermore, Sassanid rule, as had the Achaemenid rule a millennium before, undoubtedly led to the establishment of garrisons and centers of Persian life and religion in the provinces and in the area around Alexandria. John of Nikiou’s narrative of the Persian occupation falls within a lacuna, but we learn from al- Hakam, Futuh Misr (Torrey ed., 1922, p. 74, 1. 16) and later derivatives that there was (at the time of the Arab conquest) a locality, near the Alexandrian suburb called by the Arabs Hilwan, still called Qasr Fars (the Persian Fort).

There is, however, little evidence to suggest wholesale religious persecution. The life of the province as a whole seems to have been relatively undisturbed. Indeed, the large estates that were so conspicuous a feature of the provincial life of Byzantine Egypt certainly continued to exist during the Persian interlude. The religious incompatibility of Monophysite and Melchite may have prompted the Persian authorities to leave them to mutual destruction.

After the Byzantine reconquest of the province and on the eve of the Arab invasion, intersectarian disharmony was considerably increased. Heraclius appointed Cyrus (then probably bishop of Phasis in the Caucasus, and known to the Arabs as al- MUQAWQAS) to the combined secular and religious leadership of the province, in the role of augustal and Melchite patriarch (Sawirus ibn al-Mukaffa‘, ed. Evetts, 1907, pp. 225-26). This left to separate authority only the command of the armed forces garrisoned in and near the city and at Babylon, the great Roman fortress opposite Giza. This was not the first such dual appointment made by Heraclius, for it is explicit at several points in the Life of John the Almoner that he himself had authority bestowed on him by Heraclius to issue edicts in his own name and to sit in judgment in civil cases.

Earlier evidence for such a dual part can perhaps be seen in the appointment of JOHN II as augustal and patriarch by JUSTIN II in about 570. It is, therefore, in no way surprising that Cyrus should have played the leading role both on the ecclesiastical (Melchite) and civil fronts at the time of the final collapse of Byzantine power in Egypt. But the reputation of Cyrus as the unyielding foe of the Monophysites had preceded him to Egypt, and thus from the outset threatened the relations of the two churches at a fateful moment in Egyptian history.

Arab testimony is unanimous but doubtless incorrect in recording that the Prophet had had contacts with Egypt before the Arab invasion. The tradition is not impossible that as far back as A.H. 6/A.D. 628 Muhammad had communicated with the rulers of the world, demanding recognition, and that his messenger to Egypt, Hatib ibn Abi Balta‘, had been kindly received by al-Muqawqas (who, however, was not in office at that time).

It was further written by the Egyptian traditionalists that the “ruler” sent back various gifts with the messenger. Two of these were Egyptian slave girls, one of whom, a native of ANTINOOPOLIS, became the mother by Muhammad of a son named Ibrahim. This embroidery is of considerable age, for Futuh Misr quotes it (pp. 45ff.) from a tradition reaching back to Hisham ibn Ishaq and it occurs, with only a brief reference to Egypt, in the Sirah of Ibn Ishaq.

There seems little reason to doubt the tradition, recorded at length by Futuh Misr (pp. 53ff.) of the previous visit of ‘Amr to Egypt in the company of a Christian deacon whose life he had saved in Palestine. In so journeying, ‘Amr was following the normal practice of the caravan traders from the eastern side of the Red Sea; even if the story has received much romantic accretion, there seems no reason to doubt its basic truth. Previous familiarity with the wealth of the Nile Valley provides the strongest motive for ‘Amr’s insistence that ‘Umar should approve the invasion of Egypt.

The conquest of Egypt itself stands in our traditions, both Arab and non-Arab, as an episode in which ‘Amr exerted pressure upon the more cautious judgment of ‘Umar and caused the latter reluctantly to yield (Futuh Misr, pp. 55ff.). The story is widely recorded that, after ‘Umar’s discussion with ‘Amr at al-Jabiyah near Damascus, giving permission to proceed, he wrote ‘Amr a letter that was to recall him if it reached him before he had crossed the Palestinian border into Egypt, south of al-‘Arish.

If, on the other hand, the letter was received and read when he was already inside Egypt, he should proceed with his campaign. According to this account, ‘Amr, on receiving the missive, left it unopened and unread until he was safely inside Egyptian territory. The variant version, that this moral equivocation had been agreed between them at the meeting at al-Jabiyah, seems a pointless elaboration.

Whether ‘Amr had a clear political plan in his campaign may be doubted, but it cannot be doubted that his strategy was based on a just appreciation of the geographical and military factors involved, as well as on the need to preserve his very limited forces—largely contingents from the northern Hijaz and the Yemen. Inevitably, his route led him past al-Farama, down the old desert caravan route through the Wadi Tumaylat to the eastern flank of the Delta. His goal was Babylon, which would give him the most strongly fortified point in Egypt and would enable him to isolate the Delta before launching his attack on Alexandria.

He could thus gain mastery of the whole Nile Valley by holding the crossing of the Nile at Giza. The decision to head straight for the Nile Valley was thus a preconceived strategy, which had the tactical advantage of enabling the Arabs, familiar with the desert routes, to pass outside the various Roman defensive positions until they reached Tendunias, the Arabs’ Umm Dunayn. In taking this route, ‘Amr was probably following in the steps of the Persians twenty years before. They, too, no doubt, wished to avoid the dangerous entanglements of the many branches of the Nile and the complexities of the canal system that led to Alexandria.

The reduction of al-Farama is said to have occupied ‘Amr for approximately a month—a conventional rather than an exact figure. According to Arab traditions, the assistance rendered by the Coptic population to the Arabs began at this point (Futuh Misr, pp. 58-59). The truth of this statement and of its consequences is discussed below. ‘Amr advanced from al-Farama without serious opposition to Bilbeis, where the caravan route reaches the cultivation, and this fell after a brief resistance. Further southwest, a few miles north of Babylon, at Tendunias (Umm Dunayn; Futuh Misr, p. 59, 10; Nikiou, p. cxii, 7-10), somewhere in the Azbakiyyah region of modern Cairo and a strongly defended Roman encampment, ‘Amr met stronger resistance and sent urgently for reinforcement to ‘Umar.

According to the most trustworthy traditions, ‘Umar sent him 4,000 foot soldiers under Kharijah ibn Khudhafah, bringing the approximate total of ‘Amr’s troops to 8,000 (Futuh Misr) but making no allowance for losses incurred en route. With these reinforcements, a further battle was fought at ‘Ayn Shams (Heliopolis), north of Tendunias, perhaps after the siege of Babylon had already begun. Here the battle was won by a successful Arab cavalry maneuver that outflanked the strong Roman entrenchments (Nikiou, p. cxii, 8; Futuh Misr, p. 59, 14ff., links this maneuver with the battle of Umm Dunayn).

As a result of these victories, whatever their exact sequence, ‘Amr was able to concentrate his energies on the siege of Babylon, whose great circular walls surrounded by a moat dominated the area between the Nile (which then ran close beside it) and the Muqattam hills to the east and controlled the route southward. It appears, however, that in spite of the natural advantage of striking hard at Babylon, ‘Amr at this point sent at least some of his troops to overcome the Roman forces scattered rather loosely in the Fayyum and farther south, although the conquest of Upper Egypt itself was left to a later phase of operations. The fact reminds us that the Arabs were not adept at siege warfare (Nikiou, pp. cxi, 5f.; cxv, 9-10; cf. Butler, 1902, p. 219, n. 1; not in Futuh Misr, which gives a later account of a conquest of the Fayyum, pp. 169-70, cf. Butler, pp. 218f.).

The number of the Roman defenders of Babylon, and indeed of Egypt as a whole, is very uncertain. John of Nikiou mentions numerous generals who were active at various points in the operations, but their individual roles are vaguely described. Theodorus seems to have been commander in chief and certainly played the leading role, and another George (?) was the commander of Babylon. Nor do we learn anything of the size or composition of the forces themselves. There is no doubt that the strict military formations of the early Byzantine period had been replaced in the reign of Justinian by troops (arithmoi) and garrisons commanded by tribunes (tribuni), and by the levies of bucellarii (private soldiers) raised by the owners of large estates.

It is likely that these loosely associated forces, whose normal duties were probably protective in the manner of a police force rather than military, were neither well equipped nor well trained to meet the mobile and powerful Arab thrusts in open warfare. The multiplicity of command may itself have been a factor in the piecemeal defeat of the Roman forces.

The siege of Babylon began at the end of the flooding of the Nile (August-September) of A.H. 19/A.D. 640, and continued for seven months before its final capitulation in April 641. In the interval two attempts at negotiations failed. The first, probably about the end of September, is recounted in the Arab traditions. Cyrus, after consultation with his colleagues in the fortress, had himself secretly ferried over to “the island” Rawdah (Rodah).

There he conducted a lengthy but abortive parley with ‘Amr, first through his own emissaries to the Arab camp, and then with the Arab envoys sent to Rawdah, led by the powerful figure of ‘Ubadah ibn al-Samit. This episode has the ring of truth, but the different traditions recorded by Futuh Misr (pp. 64ff.) are sufficiently at variance with each other on fundamental points to prevent acceptance of any single version. In any case, the options offered by the Arab delegation through ‘Ubadah—either submission and the payment of tribute or continuation of the war—are no doubt historically correct. After some debate among the Romans, they were refused, and the siege continued.

The second episode is undoubtedly historical though it has to be pieced together from Futuh Misr and other sources. According to Futuh Misr (71-72), very shortly after this (in or about November 640), pessimistic over the outcome of the siege, Cyrus had returned from Rawdah to Babylon and offered submission to ‘Amr, who in return offered the same alternatives of submission and payment of tribute or continuation of the war.

This time a provisional treaty was signed, to be approved by the emperor (Futuh Misr, p. 71). Cyrus returned to Alexandria and wrote to Heraclius, who was not enthusiastic about the letter. Apparently he forthwith summoned Cyrus to Constantinople, where he was soundly berated for his cowardice in dealing with the Arab invasion (Nikiou, pp. cxvi, 14; cxix, 19-20; cxx, 4).

Meanwhile, having left a detachment to continue the siege, ‘Amr had been able to turn his attention to the subjugation of the Delta. However, he made little progress, and soon returned to the siege. In February 641 Heraclius had died, and by March news of this reached the Arab camp outside the citadel. On learning of it, the Roman garrison lost hope, and the Arabs pressed the siege still harder. The dramatic but probably unhistorical tradition of the feat of al-Zubayr ibn al-‘Awwam seems to belong to this phase of the siege (Futuh Misr, pp. 63-64; not in Nikiou).

Al-Zubayr devoted himself to Allah, undertaking to scale the walls and capture the fortress. He, and others who followed him, reached the top of the wall. They were recalled from entering by ‘Amr, who feared for Zubayr and at the same time insisted, in answer to Zubayr’s protestations, that the Roman capitulations should be by surrender and not by force. The Roman garrison, under its acting commander, surrendered after a further brief resistance, and ‘Amr had thus achieved his aim.

The terms of the agreed treaty are not recorded in full in any recognizable form, but they are given in a very succinct version by John of Nikiou (p. cxvii, init.). The conditions of surrender seem to be of a strictly military nature.

And ‘Amr, the chief of the Muslim forces, encamped before the citadel of Babylon and besieged the troops that garrisoned it. Now the latter received his promise that they should not be put to the sword, and they on their side undertook to deliver up all the munitions of war, which were considerable. Thereupon he ordered them to evacuate the citadel, and they took a small quantity of gold and set out. And it was in this way that the citadel of Babylon in Egypt was taken on the second day after the [festival of the] Resurrection.

The text of the “Treaty of Misr” given in Butler, (Vol. 2, pp. 32- 33), whatever its origin, does not seem to be a relevant document in this context. The doubts cast on its authenticity by S. Lane-Poole and L. C. Caetani are not wholly dispelled by Butler’s subsequent vigorous treatment of the text.

With Babylon fallen, the forces of ‘Amr again turned northward and proceeded up the western side of the Delta, capturing Terenuthis, Nikiou (the main link between Babylon and Alexandria, and later the seat of Bishop John), Kom Sharik and Sult?ays, and reached the outskirts of Alexandria at Hulwa and Max (Futuh Misr, pp. 73-74). ‘Amr, as always at his least effective when facing a siege, failed to take the city (Nikiou, p. cxix, 3) and left a detachment to continue the siege. He once more returned south to his new garrison at Babylon in order to meet Cyrus, who had returned in September from Constantinople via Rhodes to Alexandria (together with the commander-in-chief Theodore).

Cyrus came armed with authority to negotiate a permanent peace from the successive short-lived successors of Heraclius. This was signed between the two protagonists at Babylon in A.H. 20/A.D. 641. This final treaty of Alexandria, recorded by John of Nikiou (p. cxx, 17ff.), unlike the previous submission at Babylon, covered the whole field of future relations in Egypt to Muslim rule and acceptance of subject status, with payment of tribute and a two-dinar poll tax (JIZYAH) by all unconverted adult males.

It provided for an armistice of eleven months during which the Byzantine troops were to evacuate all Egypt, including Alexandria; ‘Amr used this period to complete the reduction of the rest of the country as far as the Thebaid (Nikiou, p. cxv, 9; cf. Futuh Misr, pp. 139-40; 169-70). Alexandria finally opened its gates at the end of the period of armistice in A.H. 21/A.D. 642.

The termination of the period of armistice was followed by the evacuation of the Byzantine forces accompanied by Greek civilians, who are reported to have sailed to Constantinople. Jews were allowed to remain, though according to one tradition 7,000 left (Futuh Misr, p. 82). The number of departing Greeks is uncertain. The evacuation population is said to have consisted of 100,000 troops and civilians (Futuh Misr, p. 82; cf. Butler, 1902, p. 366, n. 3), although the ships were assembled for the purpose of carrying 30,000 persons with their goods and chattels.

Prisoners numbering 600,000 were said to have been held, women and children excepted. These figures are certainly exaggerated, and there is no doubt that numbers of free Greeks remained behind in the city for a considerable time. According to John of Nikiou, Cyrus himself had already died during the period of armistice in March 642, grief- stricken at the fall of his city. The news of the fall of the great city was conveyed to Umar in Medina by Amr’s envoy, Mu‘awiyah ibn Hudayj (Futuh Misr, p. 81).

The whole reduction of the country had taken only three years from the arrival of the first troops at al-Farama. During this period the Arab forces had been living on the sustenance provided by the country itself. The pressure this placed on the peasant population is attested by numerous surviving Greek and Arabic papyri, which contain entagia, demands for requisition of livestock, fodder, and supplies for troops. Such requisitions continued to be a feature of Muslin rule, and papyri of a later date (of the period A.D. 698-722) include the voluminous correspondence of the most notable of all the early governors of Egypt, the much-disliked Qurrah ibn Sharik. Many of these letters deal with the same or similar topics. (See the analysis in Butler, 1977, pp. 76ff.; for the Qurrah papyri, see pp. 80ff.; cf. also Nikiou, p. cxiii, 4).

There is an epilogue to the conquest. Four years after the evacuation, the Byzantine government engineered a revolt in Alexandria, headed by one Manuel, who was sent from Constantinople. This attempt to oust the Muslim conquerors extended over the Delta but was put down without difficulty and marks the end of the conquest (Futuh Misr, p. 80, without reference to Manuel, but clearly referring to the later siege; also pp. 175.3- 176.8, on the death of Manuel; Theophilus 338; cf. Butler, 1902, p. 481).

It should be stressed that the double siege and double surrender, once by voluntary submission (sulh) and once by force (‘unwatan), led to that profound confusion in the minds of the Egyptian traditionalists, who in a short time inextricably conflated the terms imposed after the second conquest with those imposed after the first. Unfortunately, no clear statement as to a second treaty, if one existed, survives, and we should probably accept the conclusion that the status assigned to Alexandria and the villages associated in the revolt was, on the instruction of ‘Uthman, left unchanged from that imposed after the original conquest.

That is to say, the conquered remained protected persons on payment of the poll tax (the matter is recorded at length in Futuh Misr, pp. 82ff.). There is, in any case, no doubt that the second siege was conquest by force (Futuh Misr, pp. 175-81; Balahuri, 1956, pp. 260-61, 347- 84; Butler, 1902, pp. 465-83). This was also conducted by ‘Amr, who was recalled from a post to which he had been assigned outside Egypt to command the Muslim forces (Futuh Misr, pp. 173-74). He spent only a month in Alexandria after the original conquest. He is said to have handed the city over to destruction and to have razed its fortifications, although the walls were either soon rebuilt, or, as frequently in the past, had been only partially demolished (Baladhuri, pp. 347-48). At the point at which the Arabs sheathed their swords ‘Amr erected the “Mosque of Mercy” (Masjid al- Rahmah).

The relative ease with which Egypt fell before the small Muslim forces was long explained as the result of the cooperation of the Monophysite population, which, under the leadership of their patriarch, BENJAMIN I, could no longer brook the long-standing Melchite persecutions, which reached a climax under Cyrus himself. This view was challenged in forceful terms by A. J. Butler, who regarded the Copts as having remained faithful to their imperial allegiance in spite of all their tribulation, until after the surrender of Babylon or the capture of the Fayyum, when they saw that further resistance would be fruitless.

They then collaborated with the invading forces. Others have not been convinced by this argument, and indeed the evidence, in spite of all the confusion in either direction, seems to point to the traditional view. In Ibn ‘Abd al- Hakam (Futuh Misr, p. 58.20ff.) there is a tradition going back to vague Egyptian sources that Benjamin himself, on hearing of the arrival of ‘Amr at al-Farama, wrote to his flock that the power of Byzantium was broken and that the “Copts” should rally to ‘Amr. That, if true, was not unduly prescient of him, in view of the speed of the Arab conquests elsewhere, nor was he likely to be unaware that the Muslim treatment of religious minorities would be governed by more rational procedures than those of Melchite persecution.

On the other hand, John of Nikiou, our earliest and normally most reliable source, appears to imply that the collaboration of the Copts began only after the approximate time of the submission of Babylon (Nikiou, p. cxiii, 1). The issue is historically crucial, but the chaotic state of the surviving text of John at this point does not permit a decision in favor of prolonged Coptic allegiance to Byzantium; the subsequent persecutions of the Copts carried out by Cyrus after his return from Constantinople (Nikiou, p. cxvi, 14, misplaced) hardly affect the issue. Cyrus himself seems to have regretted his role in the final fall of Egypt but is not reported to have felt any particular remorse over his treatment of the Copts.

Ironically, the Arab traditionalists frequently regard him as a Copt, that is, as Egyptian and not Roman. Perhaps no solution of this problem is possible with the evidence in its existing state. In any case, the causes of defeat were complex. The military failure of the Byzantine government, the personal character of Cyrus, in particular his persecution of the Copts, and the hostility of the overwhelmingly Monophysite population must all in different degrees have contributed to the defeat. The hostility of the Copts, amply justified in their own eyes, was probably the decisive factor in terms of local assistance provided to the Muslim troops, particularly in the Delta. This assistance is recorded beyond doubt in the later stages of the campaign by the Arab chroniclers, possibly in exaggerated terms (Futuh Misr, pp. 73, 3ff.; 74, 16-17).

‘Amr had established a new era in Egyptian history when he first set up his standard just north of Babylon, on the site known henceforth as al-Fustat (fossatum, the camp, perhaps from a previously existing Byzantine camp). From A.H. 22/A.D. 643 onward the area between the river and the Muqattam Hills was divided into tribal and military allotments. These familiar inalienable khittahs (districts) rapidly grew into a town that, in turn, spread farther north and east of the fortress. Their partially excavated ruins are a familiar sight today. Gradually, however, the center of urban gravity moved slightly farther north, and the area of al-Fustat began to be abandoned when the Abbasid dynasty built al- ‘Askar as a residential area, in the neighborhood later occupied by the Mosque of Ibn Tulun.

This transference was consummated in A.D. 969, by the foundation of al-Qahirah by the Fatimid commander Jawhar al-Siqilli. The settlement was slightly farther north in the area between Babylon and the old Tendunias. References to al-Fustat still occur in the twelfth century, and the excavations have yielded considerable material from this latest phase, before its destruction by fire in A.D. 1168.

The material consequences of the conquest weighed heavily on the native population. The protection of the Dhimmis (unconverted) was guaranteed in return for a payment of jizyah (poll tax) of supposedly fixed taxes, which were embodied in the terms of the capitulation, at two dinars per adult male, and an additional kharaj (land tax) payable by those (including churches) possessing land in the provinces. In addition, the protected population was required to provide a measure of clothing and hospitality to any itinerant Muslim. This description is vague enough to cover the innumerable variations of interpretation offered by Arab chroniclers, jurists, and writers on taxation, to say nothing of many of their modern successors concerning the imposition of these taxes. Much of this confused material reflects the theoretical variations of a later date.

Nevertheless, contemporary papyri, as well as some historical sources, show clearly that the Dhimmis in early Muslim Egypt were, in fact, the victims not so much of a system fixed ab origine by the capitulation but of frequent and seemingly haphazard changes in status and in levels and incidence of taxation. Of these, the poll tax weighed heavily on lay people and eventually clerics alike, and at some periods even the converted were not exempt.

In most other respects the Arab authorities did little more than adapt the existing bureaucratic system to a more efficient standard of administration. This was focused on the person of the PAGARCH, whose role is amply documented for us in two sets of correspondence, that between Qurrah and Basilius of Aphrodito, and that between Papas, pagarch of Apollonos Ano, and the amir of the Thebaid. The main effect of this was certainly to be seen in the provinces, where the large estates and autopract domains of Coptic landowners that had dominated the life of the country and country towns, were swiftly abolished and appropriated for allotment.

The pagarchic system survived long after the Umayyad period, and, correspondingly, Greek remained the main vehicle of intercourse between governor and governed until the ninth century. On the other hand, the steady stream of Arab military settlers and garrison troops, who virtually repopulated the Delta and other areas in the early period, led to the rapid predominance of the Muslim faith, and, in time, to the almost complete predominance of the Arab tongue.


  • Ibn Abd al-Hakam. Futuh Misr wa-Akhbaruha, edited from manuscripts in Paris and London by Charles C. Torrey under the title The History of the Conquest of Egypt, North Africa and Spain, known as Futuh Misr. Yale Oriental Series, Researches 3. New Haven, 1922. First printing in Leiden, 1920. Another earlier edition under the title Futuh Misr wa-al-Maghrib was edited by Abd al-Mun‘im Amir; Cairo, 1911. References in this article are to the Torrey edition.
  • Baladhuri, al-, Ahmad ibn Yahya ibn Jabir. Kitab Futuh al-Buldan, 3 vols., ed. Salah-al-Din al-Munajjid. Cairo, 1956. First edited by De Joeje, Liber expugnationis regionum, 3 pts., Auctore Imama Ahmed ibn Iahja ibn Djabir al-Baladsori. Leiden 1863- 1866. Reproductions of the Leiden ed. made in Cairo 1901 and again in 1932 without index, diacritical marks, or critical apparatus.
  • Butler, A. J. The Arab Conquest of Egypt. Oxford, 1902. Second, amplified ed. P. M. Fraser, Oxford, 1977. My edition includes Butler’s later pamphlets entitled The Treaty of Misr by Tabari (1913) and Babylon of Egypt (1914). In the introductory section of the second edition, I have given in considerable detail an analysis of other relevant works both in general and by chapter. The reader should consult this edition, to which some further modern items might be added, but no additional ancient evidence has come to light directly relating to the conquest. As explained in Butler, 2nd ed., p. 50, the full text of Abd al-Hakam was not available to Butler, though Caetani was able to use one of the two Paris manuscripts of the Futuh Misr (see p. 51).
  • Caetani, L. C. Annali dell’Islam; vols. 1-7. Milan, 1905-1914. Repr., Hildesheim, 1972. Most important are sections analyzed in Butler, 2nd ed., pp. 163-69.
  • Kubiak, W. Al-Fustat: Its Foundation and Early Urban Development. Dissertation, University of Warsaw, 1982. Contains a valuable discussion of Arab sources, including Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam, pp. 18ff.
  • Lane-Poole S. Egypt in the Middle Ages, 8 vols. London, 1901.
  •  . The Story of Cairo. Mediaeval Towns Series. London, 1902.
  • Nikiou, John of. Chronique, in Notices et Extraits des manuscrits de la Bibliothèque Nationale, Vol. 24, ed. H. Zotenberg. Paris, 1883. English trans. R. H. Charles, The Chronicle of John, Bishop of Nikiu. London, 1916.
  • For further bibliographical material, including that relating to the Polish reports of their excavations at Kom al-Dik, which embrace both the Byzantine and the early Islamic periods, see ALEXANDRIA, CHRISTIAN AND MEDIEVAL.


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