The seventy-sixth patriarch of the See of Saint Mark (1250-1261). Athanasius was peacefully selected to the throne of Saint Mark after an interregnum of seven years, during which the patriarchal seat remained vacant. The reasons are hard to explain beyond the lack of unanimity on any candidate and the general unrest that accompanied the transfer of power in Egypt from the Ayyubid to the Bahri Mamluk dynasty.
The son of Makarim or Abu al-Makarim ibn Kalil, the priest of Our Lady’s Church of al-Mu‘allaqah, Athanasius III was born in Cairo (though the date of his birth is unknown), and he became a deacon in the same church at the time of taking the monastic vow at the Monastery of Saint Antony (DAYR ANBA ANTUNIYUS) in the Eastern Desert. The date of his monasticism is also unknown. He had no rivals, and his selection and consecration at Alexandria were unopposed.
His biography in the HISTORY OF THE PATRIARCHS is succinct and appears in a few lines only, and we must look for any events of his reign in the Islamic sources. One significant event during his reign was the appointment of a Copt as vizier for the first time in the Mamluk state. His name was al-As‘ad Sharaf al-Din Hibat Allah ibn Sa‘id al-Fa’izi, and he was famous for the reorganization of the tax system, which earned for him Muslim discontent; the Copts were penalized by the doubling of the poll tax or JIZYAH.
Athanasius was a contemporary of a number of Bahri Mamluk sultans, beginning with the famous Shajarat al-Durr (1250-1252), and including ‘Izz al-Din ‘Aybak (1252-1257), al-Mansur Nur al- Din ‘Ali ibn Aybak (1257-1259), and al-Muzaffar Sayf al-Din Qutuz (1259-1260). The most prominent event of his time was the Seventh Crusade, which Saint Louis, king of France (1226-1270), directed against Egypt. After landing at Damietta in 1249, he penetrated the Delta as far as al-Mansurah, where the Mamluks opened the dikes of the Nile, and the invaders found themselves paralyzed in water. Louis and his nobles were consequently defeated by the batallions of Shajarat al-Durr in 1250, and all were seized as prisoners. The story of these stirring events has been poignantly related by an eyewitness, the French chronicler Joinville. Negotiations concerning the liberation of the king and the French nobility were opened at once. In addition to the evacuation of Damietta, the terms included the payment of a ransom amounting to half a million livres tournois or the equivalent of approximately 1 million dinars. Afterward the French contingent set sail to ‘Akka, which was still the seat of the shadowy Frankish kingdom of Jerusalem.
Within the Mamluk realm in Syria, however, sad events were reported about the position of the Jacobite Christians in the city of Damascus. Mob riots of the Islamic population resulted in the burning of the Church of Our Lady as well as a number of houses belonging to Christians. Their property was pillaged, and many of them died in the fray. About the same time, in 1265, the battle of ‘Ayn Jalut was fought between Mongols and the Muslims. Syrian Christians were accused of clandestine support to the Mongols. Finally Sayf al-Din Qutuz (1259-1260) quelled the rebels and imposed a penalty of 150,000 dirhems on the Christians. The sum was raised and surrendered to a Mamluk emir who was the atabeg of the army, Faris al-Din Aqatay.
Evidently the accumulation of penalties from the French and the Syrian Christians, as well as the taxes and capitation previously levied in Egypt, enriched the Mamluks, and we hear of no additional imposts on Athanasius and his congregation. Nevertheless, there is no evidence of church building or restoration during his patriarchate. He died in the opening year of the sultanate of al-Zahir Baybars (1260-1277), after remaining in office for a period of eleven years and fifty-six days.
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- Runciman, S. History of the Crusaders, 3 vols. Cambridge, 1951- 1954.