Post-classical history





When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place’ ST MATTHEW XXIV, 15

On a February day in the year A.D. 638 the Caliph Omar entered Jerusalem, riding upon a white camel. He was dressed in worn, filthy robes, and the army that followed him was rough and unkempt; but its discipline was perfect. At his side was the Patriarch Sophronius, as chief magistrate of the surrendered city. Omar rode straight to the site of the Temple of Solomon, whence his friend Mahomet had ascended into Heaven. Watching him stand there, the Patriarch remembered the words of Christ and murmured through his tears: ‘Behold the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet.’

Next, the Caliph asked to see the shrines of the Christians. The Patriarch took him to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and showed him all that was there. While they were in the church the hour for Moslem prayer approached. The Caliph asked where he could spread out his prayer-rug. Sophronius begged him to stay where he was; but Omar went outside to the porch of the Martyrion, for fear, he said, lest his zealous followers might claim for Islam the place wherein he had prayed. And so indeed it was. The porch was taken over by the Moslems, but the church remained as it had been, the holiest sanctuary of Christendom.

This was according to the terms of the city’s surrender. The Prophet himself had ordained that, while the heathen should be offered the choice of conversion or death, the People of the Book, the Christians and the Jews (with whom by courtesy he included the Zoroastrians) should be allowed to retain their places of worship and to use them without hindrance, but they might not add to their number, nor might they carry arms nor ride on horseback; and they must pay a special capitation tax, known as the jizya. Sophronius cannot have hoped for better terms when he rode out on his ass under safe conduct to meet the Caliph on the Mount of Olives, refusing to hand over his city to anyone of lesser authority. Jerusalem had been beleaguered for over a year; and the Arabs, inexperienced in siege-warfare and ill equipped for it, were powerless against the newly repaired fortifications. But within the city provisions had run low; and there was no longer any hope of relief. The countryside was in the hands of the Arabs, and one by one the towns of Syria and Palestine had fallen to them. There was no Christian army left nearer than Egypt, except for the garrison holding out at Caesarea on the coast, protected by the imperial navy. All that Sophronius could obtain from the conqueror in addition to the usual terms was that the imperial officials in the city might retire in safety with their families and their portable possessions to the coast at Caesarea.

Survival of the Empire in the East

This was the Patriarch’s last public achievement, the tragic climax to a long life spent in labour for the orthodoxy and unity of Christendom. Ever since the days of his youth, when he had travelled round the monasteries of the East with his friend, John Moschus, gathering for their Spiritual Meadow sayings and stories of the saints, to his later years, when the Emperor whose policy he opposed appointed him to the great see of Jerusalem, he had fought steadfastly against the heresies and nascent nationalism that he foresaw would dismember the Empire. But the ‘honey-tongued defender of the Faith’, as he was named, had preached and worked in vain. The Arab conquest was proof of his failure; and a few weeks later he died of a broken heart.

Indeed, no human agency could have stopped the disruptive movements in the eastern provinces of Rome. Throughout the history of the Roman Empire there had been a latent struggle between East and West. The West had won at Actium; but the East overcame its conquerors. Egypt and Syria were the richest and most populous provinces of the Empire. They contained its main centres of industry; their ships and caravans controlled the trade with the Orient; their culture, both spiritual and material, was far higher than that of the West, not only because of their long traditions but also because of the stimulus given by the proximity of Rome’s only rival in civilization, the kingdom of Sassanid Persia. Inevitably the influence of the East grew greater; till at last the Emperor Constantine the Great adopted an eastern religion and moved his capital eastward, to Byzantium on the Bosphorus. In the next century, when the Empire, weakened by internal decay, had to face the onrush of the barbarians, the West perished, but the East survived, thanks largely to Constantine’s policy. While barbarian kingdoms were established in Gaul, in Spain, in Africa, in distant Britain, and finally in Italy, the Roman Emperor ruled the eastern provinces from Constantinople. The government at Rome had seldom been popular in Syria and Egypt. The government at Constantinople was soon even more bitterly resented. To a large extent this was due to outside circumstances. The impoverishment of the West meant the loss of markets for the Syrian merchant and the Egyptian manufacturer. Constant wars with Persia interrupted the trade route that went across the desert to Antioch and the cities of the Lebanon; and a little later the fall of the Abyssinian empire and chaos in Arabia closed down the Red Sea routes controlled by the sailors of Egypt and the caravan-owners of Petra, Transjordan and southern Palestine. Constantinople was becoming the chief market of the Empire; and the far eastern trade, encouraged by the Emperor’s diplomacy, sought a direct, more northerly route thither, across the steppes of central Asia. This was bitter to the citizens of Alexandria and Antioch, jealous already of the upstart city that threatened to overshadow them. It embittered the Syrians and Egyptians still more that the new governmental system was based on centralization. Local rights and autonomies were steadily curtailed; and the tax-collector was stricter and more exigent than in the old Roman days. Discontent gave new vigour to the nationalism of the East, which never slumbers for long.

The struggle broke out openly over matters of religion. The pagan emperors had been tolerant of local cults. Local gods could so easily be fitted into the Roman pantheon. Only obstinate monotheists, such as the Christians and the Jews, suffered an occasional bout of persecution. But the Christian emperors could not be so tolerant. Christianity is an exclusive religion; and they wished to use it as a unifying force to bind all their subjects to the government. Constantine, himself a little vague on matters of theology, had sought to unite the Church then torn by the Arian controversy. Half a century later Theodosius the Great made conformity part of the imperial programme. But conformity was not easily obtained. The East had taken avidly to Christianity. The Greeks had applied to its problems their taste for subtle disputation; to which the hellenized orientals added a fierce, passionate intensity that soon bred intolerance and hate. The main subject of their disputes was the nature of Christ, the central and most difficult question in all Christian theology. The argument was theological; but in those days even the man in the street took an interest in theological argument, which ranked in his eyes as a recreation only surpassed by the games at the circus. But there were other aspects as well. The average Syrian and Egyptian desired a simpler ceremonial than that of the Orthodox Church with all its pomp. Its luxury offended him in his growing poverty. Still more, he regarded its prelates and priests as the agents of the government at Constantinople. His higher clergy were from jealousy easily persuaded into a like hostility. The Patriarchs of the ancient sees of Alexandria and Antioch were furious to find their upstart brother of Constantinople raised in precedence above them. It. was inevitable that heresy should arise and should assume the form of a nationalistic and disruptive movement.

Nestorians and Monophysites

Arianism soon died out in the East, except in Abyssinia; but the heresies of the fifth century were more enduring. Early in the century, Nestorius, the Syrian-born Patriarch of Constantinople, promulgated a doctrine that overstressed the humanity of Christ. The theologians of the Antiochene school had always leaned in that direction; and Nestorius found many followers in northern Syria. His doctrine was denounced as heresy at the Occumenical Council of Ephesus in 431; whereupon many Syrian congregations seceded. The Nestorians, proscribed in the Empire, made their headquarters in the territory of the king of Persia, in Mesopotamia. They soon turned their main attention to missionary work in the further East, in India, in Turkestan and even in China; but in the sixth and seventh centuries they still maintained churches in Syria and in Egypt, chiefly amongst merchants engaged in the far eastern trade.

The Nestorian controversy gave rise to another, still more bitter. The theologians of Alexandria, delighted at a double victory over Antiochene doctrines and a Patriarch of Constantinople, themselves overstepped the limits of orthodoxy in the opposite direction. They put forward a doctrine that seemed to imply a denial of Christ’s humanity. This heresy is sometimes called Eutychianism after an obscure priest, Eutyches, who first suggested it. It is more usually known as Monophysitism. In 451 it was denounced by the fourth Oecumenical Council, meeting at Chalcedon; and the Monophysites in indignation broke off from the main body of Christendom, taking with them the majority of the Christians of Egypt and a number of congregations in Syria. The Armenian Church, whose delegates had arrived at Chalcedon too late for the discussions, refused to accept the Council’s findings and ranged themselves with the Monophysites. Later Emperors searched unceasingly for some conciliatory formula that would cover the breach and which, endorsed by an Oecumenical Council, could be accepted as a further precision of the true Faith. But two factors worked against them. The heretics did not particularly want to return to the fold, except on their own unacceptable terms; and the attitude of Rome and the western Church was steadfastly hostile to compromise. Pope Leo I, basing himself on the view that it was for the successor of Saint Peter and not for an Occumenical Council to define the creed, and impatient of dialectical subtleties that he did not understand, issued a definitive statement of the correct opinion on the question. This statement, known in history as the Tomus of Pope Leo, though it ignored the delicacies of the argument, was accepted by the Council authorities at Chalcedon as a basis for their discussions, and its formula was embodied in their findings. Pope Leo’s formula was clear-cut and crude, admitting of no gloss nor modification. Any compromise that would placate the heretics would involve its abandonment and in consequence a schism with Rome. This no emperor with interests and ambitions in Italy and the West could afford. Caught in this dilemma, the imperial government never evolved a consistent policy. It hovered between the persecution and the appeasement of the heretics; while they grew in strength in the provinces of the East, backed by the resurgent nationalism of the orientals.

Disruption in Syria

Besides the Monophysites and the Nestorians, there was another community in the eastern provinces that was constantly opposed to the imperial government, that of the Jews. There were Jews established in considerable numbers in all the great cities of the East. They were under certain civil disabilities; and occasionally they and their property would suffer damage in some riot. In return they seized every opportunity for doing harm to the Christians. Their financial resources and their widespread connections made them a potential danger to the government.

During the sixth century the situation worsened. Justinian’s wars in the West were long and costly. They embarrassed his religious policy, and they meant higher taxes and no compensating advantages for his eastern subjects. Syria suffered the worst; for in addition to her fiscal burden she underwent a series of cruel raids by Persian armies and a series of disastrous earthquakes. Only the heretics flourished. The Monophysites of Syria were organized into a powerful force by Jacob Baradaeus of Edessa, backed by the sympathy of the Empress Theodora. Their Church was henceforward usually known as the Jacobite. The Monophysites of Egypt, now called the Copts, included almost the whole native population. The Nestorians, safely entrenched beyond the Persian frontier and expanding rapidly eastward, consolidated their position within the Empire. Except in the cities of Palestine the Orthodox were a minority. They were named contemptuously the Melkites, the Emperor’s men, with good reason, for their existence depended upon the power and prestige of the imperial administration.

In 602 the centurion Phocas seized the imperial throne. His rule was savage and incompetent; and while Constantinople suffered a reign of terror, the provinces were given over to riots and civil war between the circus factions of the cities and between the rival religious sects. At Antioch the Jacobite and Nestorian Patriarchs openly held a joint council to discuss common action against the Orthodox. Phocas punished them by sending an army which slaughtered vast numbers of heretics, with the Jews gleefully giving their aid. Two years later the Jews themselves rose, and tortured and slew the Orthodox Patriarch of the city.

The Persian War

In 610 Phocas was displaced by a young nobleman of Armenian descent, Heraclius, son of the governor of Africa. That same year King Chosroes II of Persia completed his preparations for the invasion and dismemberment of the Empire. The Persian war lasted for nineteen years. For twelve years the Empire was on the defensive, while one Persian army occupied Anatolia and another conquered Syria. Antioch fell in 611, Damascus in 613. In the spring of 614 the Persian general Shahrbaraz entered Palestine, pillaging the countryside and burning churches as he went. Only the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem was spared, because of the mosaic over the door that depicted the Wise Men from the East in Persian costume. On 15 April he invested Jerusalem. The Patriarch Zacharias had been prepared to surrender the city to avoid bloodshed; but the Christian inhabitants refused to yield so tamely. On 5 May, with the help of Jews within the walls, the Persians forced their way into the city. There followed scenes of utter horror. With their churches and houses in flames around them, the Christians were indiscriminately massacred, some by the Persian soldiery and many more by the Jews. Sixty thousand were said to have perished and thirty-five thousand more were sold into slavery. The sacred relics of the city, the Holy Cross and the instruments of the Passion, had been hidden, but they were unearthed and were sent, together with the Patriarch, eastward as a gift to the Christian queen of Persia, the Nestorian Meryem. The devastation in and round the city was so vast that to this day the countryside has never fully recovered.

Three years later the Persians advanced into Egypt. Within a year they were its masters. Meanwhile, to the north, their armies had reached the Bosphorus.

The fall of Jerusalem had been a terrible shock to Christendom. The part played by the Jews was never forgotten nor forgiven; and the war against the Persians assumed the nature of a holy war. When at last Heraclius was able, in 622, to take the offensive against the enemy, he solemnly dedicated himself and his army to God and set out as a Christian warrior fighting the powers of darkness. To subsequent generations he figured as the first of the Crusaders. William of Tyre, writing his history of the Crusades five centuries later, includes the story of the Persian war; and the old French translation of his book was known as the Livre d’Eracles.

The Crusade was successful. After many vicissitudes, many moments of anxiety and despair, Heraclius at last defeated the Persians at Nineveh, in December 627. Early in 628 King Chosroes was murdered and his successor sued for peace; though it was not till 629 that the peace was established and the conquered provinces restored to the Empire. In August Heraclius celebrated his triumph in Constantinople. Next spring he journeyed south again, to receive back the Holy Cross and to carry it in pomp to Jerusalem.

It was a moving scene. Yet the Christians of the East had not fared badly under Persian rule. Chosroes had soon withdrawn his favour from the Jews and had even expelled them from Jerusalem. While his court favoured the Nestorians, he was, officially, equally benevolent towards the Monophysites and the Orthodox. Their churches were restored to them and rebuilt; and a council was held under his patronage at Ctesiphon, his capital, to discuss the reunion of the sects. The return of the imperial administration, once the first enthusiasm died down, was seen to benefit the Orthodox alone. Heraclius had inherited an empty treasury. He had only been able to finance his wars by a great loan from the Church. The booty taken from Persia was not enough to repay it. The Syrians and Egyptians found themselves once again obliged to pay high taxes and to see their money go to swell the coffers of the Orthodox hierarchy.

Nor did Heraclius help matters by his religious policy. First, he took action against the Jews. He had not felt any animosity towards them; but, whilst he was actually staying with a hospitable Jew at Tiberias on his way to Jerusalem, he learnt full details of the part that they had played during the Persian invasions. Moved too, perhaps, by a vague prophecy that a circumcised race would ruin the Empire, he ordered the compulsory baptism of all Jews within the Empire, and he wrote to the kings of the West to urge them to follow suit. The order was impossible to execute; but it gave zealous Christians a fine opportunity for the massacring of the hated race. The only ultimate result was to make the Jews even more resentful of imperial rule. Next, the Emperor plunged into the dangerous waters of Christian theology. The Patriarch Sergius of Constantinople, himself a Syrian Monophysite by birth, had gradually evolved a doctrine that, he thought, would reconcile Monophysites and Orthodox. Heraclius gave it his approval; and the new doctrine, known in history as Monoenergism, was promulgated throughout the Empire as soon as the Persian wars were over. But despite the advocacy of the Emperor and the Patriarch and the cautious approval of the Roman pontiff Honorius, it was universally unpopular. The Monophysite hierarchy rejected it at once. The majority of the Orthodox, led by the great mystic, Maximus the Confessor, in Constantinople, and by Sophronius in the East, found it equally unacceptable. Heraclius, with more enthusiasm than tact, tried hard to force it on all his subjects. Apart from his courtiers and a few Armenians and Lebanese, known later as Maronites, it won no supporters. Heraclius later amended the doctrine; hisEkthesis, published in 638, advocated Monotheletism equally fruitlessly. The whole episode, which was not finally cleared up till after the sixth Oecumenical Council in 680, merely added to the bitterness and confusion that were mining the Christians of the East.

Pre-Moslem Arabia

When Heraclius was in Constantinople in 629, receiving congratulatory embassies from as far afield as France and India, it is said that there arrived for him a letter addressed by an Arabian chieftain, who announced himself as the Prophet of God and bade the Emperor join his faith. Similar letters were sent to the kings of Persia and Abyssinia and to the governor of Egypt. The story is probably apocryphal. It is unlikely that Heraclius had any idea as yet of the great events that were revolutionizing the Arabian peninsula. At the beginning of the seventh century Arabia was occupied by a number of unruly, independent tribes, some of them nomadic, some agricultural, and a few living in the merchant cities strung out along the caravan routes. It was an idolatrous country. Each district had its special idols; but the most sacred of all was the kaabah at Mecca, the leading merchant city. Idolatry was, however, on the wane; for Jewish, Christian and Zoroastrian missionaries had long been working in the country. The Zoroastrians had only been successful in the districts under Persian political influence, in the north-east and later in the south. The Jews had their colonies in many Arabian cities, notably in Medina, and had made a certain number of Arab converts. The Christians had achieved the most widespread results. Orthodox Christianity had its followers in Sinai and Petraea. The Nestorians, like the Zoroastrians, were to be found where there was Persian protection. But the Monophysites had congregations down the great caravan routes as far as Yemen and the Hadramaut; while many important tribes on the edge of the desert, such as the Banu Ghassan and the Banu Taghlib, were wholly Monophysite. Arab merchants, frequently travelling to the cities of Syria and Palestine and Iraq, had many further occasions for studying the religions of the civilized world; while in Arabia itself there was an old tradition of monotheism, that of the hanif. At the same time there was in Arabia a need for expansion. The slender resources of the peninsula, grown slenderer since the destruction of the irrigation works of the Himyarites, were insufficient for the growing population. Throughout recorded history the desert populations had constantly overflowed into the cultivated lands around; and now the pressure was particularly strong.

The peculiar and tremendous genius of Mahomet was exactly suited to these circumstances. He came from the holy city of Mecca, a poor relation of its great clan, the Qoraishites. He had travelled and seen the world, and he had studied its religions. In particular he was attracted by Monophysite Christianity; but the doctrine of the Trinity seemed to him inconsistent with the pure monotheism that he admired in the hanif tradition. The doctrine that he himself evolved, while it did not utterly reject Christianity, was an amended and simplified form far more easily acceptable to his people. His success as a religious leader was mainly due to his complete understanding of the Arabs. Though far the ablest of them he genuinely shared their feelings and their prejudices. In addition he possessed extraordinary political skill. This combination of qualities enabled him in ten years to build up out of nothing an empire that was ready to conquer the world. In 622, the year of the Hegira, his only following was his household and a small group of friends. In 632, when he died, he was lord of Arabia, and his armies were crossing the frontiers. The sudden rise of adventurers is not uncommon in the East but their fall is usually equally sudden. Mahomet, however, left an enduring organization whose permanence was guaranteed by the Koran. This remarkable work, compiled by the Prophet as the Word of God, contains not only uplifting maxims and stories but also rules for the conduct of life and for the governance of an empire and a complete code of laws. It was simple enough to be accepted by his Arabian contemporaries and universal enough to suit the needs of the great dominion that his successors were to build. Indeed, the strength of Islam lay in its simplicity. There was one God in Heaven, one Commander of the Faithful to rule on earth, and one law, the Koran, by which he should rule. Unlike Christianity, which preached a peace that it never achieved, Islam unashamedly came with a sword.

The First Arab Invasion

The sword struck at the provinces of the Roman Empire even during the lifetime of the Prophet, with some small and not very successful raids into Palestine. Under Mahomet’s successor Abu Bakr, the policy of expansion became manifest. The conquest of Arabia was completed by the expulsion of the Persians from their dependency of Bahrein, while an Arab army crossed through Petraea along the trade route to the south Palestine coast, defeated the local governor, Sergius, somewhere near the Dead Sea, and advanced to Gaza which it captured after a short siege. The citizens were treated kindly, but the soldiers of the garrison became the first Christian martyrs to the sword of Islam.

In 634 Abu Bakr was succeeded by Omar, who inherited likewise his determination to extend Moslem power. Meanwhile the Emperor Heraclius, who was still in northern Syria, realized that the Arab invasions must be taken seriously. He was short of man-power. The losses during the Persian war had been heavy. Since the end of the war he had disbanded many regiments for economy’s sake; and there was no enthusiasm to join the army. All over his Empire there had fallen that atmosphere of lassitude and pessimism that so often after a long bitter war assails the victors no less than the conquered. Nevertheless he sent his brother Theodore at the head of the troops of the Syrian province to restore order in Palestine. Theodore met the two main Arab armies together at Gabatha, or Ajnadain, south-west of Jerusalem and was decisively defeated. The Arabs, secure in southern Palestine, next advanced up the trade route that went east of the Jordan to Damascus and the Orontes valley. Tiberias, Baalbek, and Homs fell into their hands without a struggle, and Damascus capitulated after a short siege in August 635. Heraclius was now seriously alarmed. With some difficulty he sent two armies southward. One was formed of Armenian levies, under the Armenian prince Vahan, and of a large number of Christian Arabs, headed by a sheikh of the Banu Ghassan. The other was commanded by Theodore Trithyrius and consisted of mixed troops. On the news of their approach the Moslems evacuated the Orontes valley and Damascus and retired towards the Jordan. Trithyrius caught up with them at Jabbia in the Hauran but was defeated. He managed, however, to hold a position on the river Yarmuk, just south-east of the Sea of Galilee, till Vahan’s army could join him. There, on 20 August 636, in a blinding sandstorm the decisive battle was fought. The Christians had the larger army; but they were outmanoeuvred; and in the midst of the fighting the Ghassanid prince and twelve thousand Christian Arabs went over to the enemy. They were Monophysites and hated Heraclius; and their pay was many months overdue. The treason had been easy to arrange. It settled the issue. The Moslem victory was complete. Trithyrius and Vahan perished with almost all their men. Palestine and Syria lay open to the conquerors.

The Arab Conquest of Syria

Heraclius was at Antioch when the news of the battle reached him. He was utterly despondent; it was the hand of God stretching out to punish him for his incestuous marriage with his niece Martina. He had neither the men nor the money to defend the province further. After a solemn service of intercession in the cathedral of Antioch he went down to the sea and took ship to Constantinople, crying bitterly as he left the shore: ‘Farewell, a long farewell to Syria.’

The Arabs quickly overran the country. The heretic Christians submitted to them without demur. The Jews gave them active help, serving as their guides. Only in the two great cities of Palestine, Caesarea and Jerusalem, was there organized opposition, and at the fortresses of Pella and Dara on the Persian frontier. At Jerusalem on the news of the Yarmuk Sophronius had repaired the defences of the city. Then, hearing that the enemy had reached Jericho, he collected together the holy relics of Christ and sent them by night down to the coast to be taken to Constantinople. They should not again fall into the hands of the infidel. Jerusalem withstood a siege of over a year. Caesarea and Dara held out till 639. But by then they were lonely outposts. The metropolis of the East, Antioch, had fallen the year before; and the whole country, from the isthmus of Suez to the Anatolian mountains, was in the hands of the Moslems.

They had meanwhile destroyed Rome’s ancient rival, Persia. Their victory at Kadesiah in 637 gave them Iraq and a second victory next year at Nekhavend gave them the Iranian plateau. King Yazdegerd III, the last of the Sassanids, lingered on in Khorassan till 651. By then the Arabs had reached his eastern frontiers, on the Oxus and the Afghan hills.

The Conquest of Egypt

In December 639 the Moslem general ‘Amr, with four thousand men, invaded Egypt. The administration of the province had been chaotic since the end of the Persian occupation; and the present governor, the Patriarch Cyrus of Alexandria, was both unwise and corrupt. He had been a convert from Nestorianism and was the Emperor’s chief supporter in his Monothelete doctrines, which he determined to force on the unwilling Copts. So hated was his rule that ‘Amr had no difficulty in finding allies amongst his subjects. Early in 640 ‘Amr entered the great frontier fortress of Pelusium, after a two months’ siege. There he received reinforcements from the Caliph. Next he advanced on Babylon (Old Cairo), where the imperial garrison was concentrated. A battle at Heliopolis in August 640 forced the Romans to retire to the citadel of Babylon, which held out till April 641. Meanwhile the Arabs took over Upper Egypt. On the fall of Babylon, ‘Amr marched through the Fayyum, its governor and garrison fleeing before him, to Alexandria. Cyrus had already been recalled to Constantinople on the justified suspicion of having entered into a treasonable pact with ‘Amr. But Heraclius died in February, and his widow, the Empress-Regent Martina, was too insecure herself in Constantinople to defend Egypt. Cyrus was sent back to Egypt to make what terms he could. In November he went to ‘Amr at Babylon and signed the capitulation of Alexandria. But meanwhile Martina had fallen and the new government repudiated Cyrus and his treaty. ‘Amr had already broken his part in it by invading the Pentapolis and Tripolitania. It seemed, however, impossible to maintain Alexandria, with all the rest of Egypt now in Arab hands. The city capitulated in November 642. But all hope was not yet lost. In 644 news came of ‘Amr’s disgrace and recall to Medina. A new army was sent by sea from Constantinople, which easily reoccupied Alexandria, early in 645, and which then marched on Fostat, the capital that ‘Amr had founded near Babylon. ‘Amr returned to Egypt and routed the imperial forces near Fostat. Their general, the Armenian Manuel, fell back on Alexandria. Struck by the utter indifference of the Christian population towards this attempt to recover the land for Christianity, he made no effort to defend the city but re-embarked for Constantinople. The Coptic Patriarch Benjamin restored Alexandria to the hands of ‘Amr.

Egypt was lost for ever. By the year 700 Roman Africa was in the hands of the Arabs. Eleven years later they occupied Spain. In the year 717 their empire stretched from the Pyrenees to central India and their warriors were hammering at the walls of Constantinople.

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