Victory of Arab Forces: Alexandria Conquered by Amr ibn Al-As

Victory of Arab Forces: Alexandria Conquered by Amr ibn Al-As
Image Source: Google, Image By: Picryl


Alexandria, also known as Al-Iskandariyyah, is a significant city in Egypt. It was once a great city of the Mediterranean world, known for its Greek learning and science. Founded by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE, it served as Egypt's capital until it surrendered to Arab forces led by ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ in 642 CE.

Today, Alexandria is one of Egypt's largest cities, serving as a major seaport and industrial hub. It is located on the Mediterranean Sea, at the western edge of the Nile River delta, approximately 114 miles (183 km) northwest of Cairo in Lower Egypt. The city covers an area of 116 square miles (300 square km) and had a population of 4,110,015 in 2006.

The capture of the significant Mediterranean port of Alexandria by the Rashidun Caliphate forces in the mid-7th century AD marked a crucial turning point in history. Alexandria, formerly the capital of the Byzantine province of Egypt, held a vital position in the Eastern Roman Empire's domination of the area. The Arab conquest of this ancient city had profound and extensive consequences, fundamentally altering the geopolitical situation in the Eastern Mediterranean. The subject of this article is the Arab conquest of Egypt and its far-reaching effects.

Victory of Arab Forces: Alexandria Conquered by Amr ibn Al-As
Image Source: Google, Image By: Picryl


Historical Background:

Under the rule of the first caliphs, known as the Rashidun, Muslim armies began to advance on the borders of both Sassanid Persia and the Byzantine Empire. Neither of these two formidable powers was fully prepared for the aggressive expansion of the Arabs, as they underestimated the growing influence of Islam. The Byzantines and the Persians had mixed views toward Islam, and their reactions were soft.

The Muslim forces achieved significant victories over the Byzantines at the Battle of Yarmuk in 636 and over the Persians at the Battle of Qadisiyah in 637. With these successes, Muslim expansion turned its attention south, towards the prosperous provinces of Byzantine Africa.

The Byzantine Alexandria:

Before the arrival of Arabs, Alexandria was under Roman rule. It was a busy port city and a center in upholding Roman control over the region due to its large Greco-Egyptian population and economic significance. However, the rural population in Egypt spoke Coptic, not Greek, which was more common in the coastal cities.

Victory of Arab Forces: Alexandria Conquered by Amr ibn Al-As
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In the past, Egypt faced difficulties. First, it was taken over by the powerful Sasanian Empire, but later control was returned to Egypt through an agreement. During this time, there was a religious disagreement: some followed the "Chalcedonians," while others did not.

Emperor Heraclius, who led the Roman Empire, believed in the Chalcedonian beliefs. He appointed Cyrus to govern Egypt and be the religious leader in Alexandria. However, many Egyptians disagreed with Cyrus's beliefs and didn't accept him.

To enforce Chalcedonian beliefs, Cyrus used harsh methods, forcing people to worship in secret and even torturing some to make them change their beliefs. This was a challenging time in Egypt due to religious differences and the actions of those in power.

Alexandria also served as one of Byzantium's primary army and naval bases. However, with the loss of Jerusalem in 638, Roman attention shifted towards strengthening their hold on the frontier, particularly in Anatolia and Egypt. Egypt, though successfully held as an imperial base province, became increasingly challenging to defend.

Rashidun Conquest of Egypt:

In 634, Umar, a prominent Muslim leader, became the caliph and inherited a rapidly expanding Islamic empire. In the early 640s, he set his sights on Egypt, particularly Alexandria, a city of great economic importance. The invasion of Egypt was led by Amr ibn Al-Aas, who commanded a force larger than any the Byzantines could assembly, largely due to their previous defeat at the Battle of Yarmuk.

Victory of Arab Forces: Alexandria Conquered by Amr ibn Al-As
Image Source: Google, Image By: Flickr


The initial Arab attempts were not just directed at Alexandria but focused on capturing the Byzantine fortress of Babylon on the Nile Delta. The destruction of the Byzantine military power at the Battle of Heliopolis in 640 and the victory over the Byzantine defenders at Babylon effectively broke Byzantine power in Egypt.

This marked the conclusion of seven centuries of Roman control over Egypt. However, the Egyptian people continued to resist under Umayyad Caliphate rule, and this resistance persisted until at least the ninth century.

The Byzantines made several attempts to retake Alexandria, with limited success. They briefly regained control of the city in 645 but were soon defeated by the Muslim forces under Amr ibn Al-As. Further attempts in 654, under Constans II, also failed, marking the end of Byzantine efforts to reclaim the city.



Fall of Alexandria and Its Aftermath:

The establishment of Islamic rule in Egypt brought about significant cultural, social, and linguistic changes for the Egyptian people. Here are the major transformations:

Language Shift: One of the most notable changes was the adoption of Arabic as the primary language. Over time, Arabic replaced Coptic and Greek, becoming the language of administration, education, and everyday communication.

Religious Transformation: Islam became the dominant religion, replacing the previously prevalent Christian and pagan beliefs. Mosques were constructed, and Islamic customs and practices became integral to daily life.

Legal System: Islamic law, or Sharia, replaced Roman and Byzantine legal systems. It influenced family matters, inheritance, and personal conduct, shaping the legal framework of Egypt.

Urban Development: The construction of mosques, madrasas (educational institutions), and other Islamic architectural structures transformed the urban landscape.

Cultural Exchange: Egypt became a vibrant center of Islamic culture and scholarship. The exchange of ideas with other parts of the Islamic world contributed to the development of art, science, and philosophy.

Economic Changes: Agriculture remained a central part of the economy, but trade and commerce expanded, connecting Egypt to the wider Islamic trading network.

Clothing and Dress Code: Islamic attire, such as the hijab and traditional clothing, became prevalent, reflecting Islamic modesty standards.

Culinary Influences: Egyptian cuisine saw the incorporation of new flavors and cooking techniques influenced by Islamic culinary traditions.

Identity and Heritage: Egyptians developed a distinct Islamic identity while retaining elements of their ancient heritage. This fusion of cultures continues to shape modern Egyptian society.

In summary, the establishment of Islamic rule in Egypt had a profound impact on the language, culture, religion, and governance of the region, leaving an enduring legacy that continues to shape Egypt's identity to this day.

Victory of Arab Forces: Alexandria Conquered by Amr ibn Al-As
Image Source: Google, Image By: World History


Conclusion:

The takeover of Alexandria and gaining control over parts of the Byzantine Empire in Egypt and Syria held significant importance in Islamic history. These conquests paved the way for Muslims to expand into regions like Cyrenaica, Tripoli, and Kairouan. Egypt also became a major hub for Islamic legal matters.

When the Rashidun Caliphate conquered Alexandria in the 7th century, it had a profound impact. It shifted the balance of power and influence in the Eastern Mediterranean. The history of Alexandria under Muslim rule highlights that the early Islamic leaders showed a fair degree of tolerance and respect for various cultures and religions. 

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