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At the pressing summons of Amrou, their patriarch chAP. LI.
Benjamin emerged from his desert; and, after the first interview, the courteous Arab affected to declare,
that he had never conversed with a Christian priest of .
more innocent manners and a more venerable aspect." In the march from Memphis to Alexandria the lieutenant of Omar intrusted his safety to the zeal and gratitude of the Egyptians: the roads and bridges were diligently repaired; and in every step of his progress, he could depend on a constant supply of provisions and intelligence. The Greeks of Egypt, whose numbers could scarcely equal a tenth of the natives, were overwhelmed by the universal defection; they had ever been hated, they were no longer feared: the magistrate fled from his tribunal, the bishop from his altar; and the distant garrisons were surprised or starved by the surrounding multitudes. Had not the Nile afforded a safe and ready conveyance to the sea, not an individual could have escaped, who by birth, or language, or office, or religion, was connected with their odious name.
By the retreat of the Greeks from the provinces of siege and
Upper Egypt, a considerable force was collected in the island of Delta: the natural and artificial channels of the Nile afforded a succession of strong and defensible posts; and the road to Alexandria was laboriously cleared by the victory of the Saracens in two-and-twenty days of general or partial combat. In their annals of conquest, the siege of Alexandria" is perhaps the most arduous and important enterprise.
f See the life of Benjamin, in Renaudet (Hist. Patriarch. Alexandrin. p. 156 —172), who has enriched the conquest of Egypt with some facts from the Arabic text of Severus the Jacobite historian.
g The local description of Alexandria is perfectly ascertained by the master hand of the first of geographers (D’Anville, Memoire sur l'Egypte, p. 52–63); but we may borrow the eyes of the modern travellers, more especially of Thevenot (Voyage au Levant, part i. p. 381–395), Pocock (vol. i. p. 2–13), and Niebuhr (Voyage en Arabie, tom. i. p. 34–43). Of the two modern rivals, Savary and Volney, the one may amuse, the other will instruct.
conquest of Alexandria.
CHAP. The first trading city in the world was abundantly
replenished with the means of subsistence and defence. Her numerous inhabitants fought for the dearest of human rights, religion and property; and the enmity of the natives seemed to exclude them from the common benefit of peace and toleration. The sea was continually open; and if Heraclius had been awake to the public distress, fresh armies of Romans and barbarians might have been poured into the harbour to save the second capital of the empire. A circumference of ten miles would have scattered the forces of the Greeks, and favoured the stratagems of an active enemy; but the two sides of an oblong square were covered by the sea and the lake Maraeotis, and each of the narrow ends exposed a front of no more than ten furlongs. The efforts of the Arabs were not inadequate to the difficulty of the attempt and the value of the prize. From the throne of Medina, the eyes of Omar were fixed on the camp and city: his voice excited to arms the Arabian tribes and the veterans of Syria; and the merit of a holy war was recommended by the peculiar fame and fertility of Egypt. Anxious for the ruin or expulsion of their tyrants, the faithful natives devoted their labours to
the service of Amrou; some sparks of martial spirit
were perhaps rekindled by the example of their allies; and the sanguine hopes of Mokawkas had fixed his sepulchre in the church of St. John of Alexandria. Eutychius the patriarch observes, that the Saracens fought with the courage of lions; they repulsed the frequent and almost daily sallies of the besieged, and soon assaulted in their turn the walls and towers of the city. In every attack, the sword, the banner of Amrou, glittered in the van of the Moslems. On a memorable day, he was betrayed by his imprudent valour: his followers who had entered the citadel were driven back; and the general, with a friend and a slave, remained a prisoner in the hands of the Chris- CHAP. LI.
tians. When Amrou was conducted before the praefect, he remembered his dignity, and forgot his situation; a lofty demeanour, and resolute language, revealed the lieutenant of the caliph, and the battle-axe of a soldier was already raised to strike off the head of the audacious captive. His life was saved by the readiness of his slave, who instantly gave his master a blow on the face, and commanded him, with an angry tone, to be silent in the presence of his superiors. The credulous Greek was deceived; he listened to the offer of a treaty, and his prisoners were dismissed in the hope of a more respectable embassy, till the joyful acclamations of the camp announced the return of their general, and insulted the folly of the infidels. At length, after a siege of fourteen months," and the loss of three-and-twenty thousand men, the Saracens prevailed: the Greeks embarked their dispirited and diminished numbers, and the standard of Mahomet was planted on the walls of the capital of Egypt. “I have taken,” said Amrou to the caliph, “the great city of the West. It is impossible for me to enumerate the variety of its riches and beauty; and I shall content myself with observing, that it contains four thousand palaces, four thousand baths, four hundred theatres or places of amusement, twelve thousand shops for the sale of vegetable food, and forty thousand tributary Jews. The town has been subdued by force of arms, without treaty or capitulation, and the Moslems are im
* Both Eutychius (Annal tom. ii. p. 319) and Elmacin (Hist. Saracen. p. 28) concur in fixing the taking of Alexandria to Friday of the new moon of Moharram of the twentieth year of the Hegira (December 22, A. D. 640). In reckoning backwards fourteen months spent before Alexandria, seven months before Babylon, &c. Amrou might have invaded Egypt about the end of the year 638; but we are assured, that he entered the country the 12th of Bayni, 6th of June (Murtadi, Merveilles de l'Egypte, p. 164. Severus, apud Renaudot, p. 162). The Saracen, and afterwards Lewis IX. of France, halted at Pelusium, or Damietta, during the season of the inundation of the Nile.
WOL. VI. G G
patient to seize the fruits of their victory.” The commander of the faithful rejected with firmness the idea of pillage, and directed his lieutenant to reserve the wealth and revenue of Alexandria for the public service and the propagation of the faith: the inhabitants were numbered; a tribute was imposed; the zeal and resentment of the Jacobites were curbed, and the Melchites who submitted to the Arabian yoke were indulged in the obscure, but tranquil, exercise of their worship. The intelligence of this disgraceful and calamitous event afflicted the declining health of the emperor; and Heraclius died of a dropsy about seven weeks after the loss of Alexandria. Under the minority of his grandson, the clamours of a people, deprived of their daily sustenance, compelled the Byzantine court to undertake the recovery of the capital of Egypt. In the space of four years, the harbour and fortifications of Alexandria were twice occupied by a fleet and army of Romans. They were twice expelled by the valour of Amrou, who was recalled by the domestic peril from the distant wars of Tripoli and Nubia. But the facility of the attempt, the repetition of the insult, and the obstinacy of the resistance, provoked him to swear, that if a third time he drove the infidels into the sea, he would render Alexandria
as accessible on all sides as the house of a prostitute.
Faithful to his promise, he dismantled several parts
The Alexandrian library.
* Eutych. Annal. tom. ii. p. 316. 319.
j Notwithstanding some inconsistencies of Theophanes and Cedrenus, the accuracy of Pagi (Critica, tom. ii. p. 824) has extracted from Nicephorus and the Chronicon Orientale the true date of the death of Heraclius, February 11th, A. D. 641, fifty days after the loss of Alexandria. A fourth of that time was sufficient to convey the intelligence.
I passed in silence the fate of the Alexandrian library, c
as it is described by the learned Abulpharagius. The “
spirit of Amrou was more curious and liberal than that of his brethren, and in his leisure hours, the Arabian chief was pleased with the conversation of John, the last disciple of Ammonius, and who derived the surname of Philoponus, from his laborious studies of grammar and philosophy." Emboldened by this familiar intercourse, Philoponus presumed to solicit a gift, inestimable in his opinion, contemptible in that of the barbarians; the royal library, which alone, among the spoils of Alexandria, had not been appropriated by the visit and the seal of the conqueror. Amrou was inclined to gratify the wish of the grammarian, but his rigid integrity refused to alienate the minutest object without the consent of the caliph; and the well-known answer of Omar was inspired by the ignorance of a fanatic. “If these writings of the Greeks agree with the book of God, they are useless and need not be preserved: if they disagree, they are pernicious and ought to be destroyed.” The sentence was executed with blind obedience: the volumes of paper or parchment were distributed to the four thousand baths of the city; and such was their incredible multitude, that six months were barely sufficient for the consumption of this precious fuel. Since the Dynasties of Abulpharagius' have been given to the world in a Latin version, the tale has
* Many treatises of this lover of labour (pixo~oves) are still extant; but for readers of the present age, the printed and unpublished are nearly in the same predicament. Moses and Aristotle are the chief objects of his verbose commentaries, one of which is dated as early as May 10th, A. D. 617 (Fabric. Bibliot. Graec. tom. ix. p. 458–468). A modern (John Le Clerc.), who sometimes assumed the same name, was equal to old Philoponus in diligence, and far superior in good sense and real knowledge.
| Abulpharag. Dynast. p. 114. vers. Pocock. Audi quid factum sit et mirare. It would be endless to enumerate the moderns who have wondered and believed, but I may distinguish with honour the rational scepticism of Renaudot (Hist. Alex. Patriarch. p. 170): historia . . . . habet aliquid arrrow ut Arabibus familiare est.