The inhabitants of Egypt accepted the new regime with their habitual phlegm.
Continuing Fatimites Conquer Egypt,
our selection from History of Egypt in the Middle Ages by Stanley Lane-Poole published in 1901. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in five easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Fatimites Conquer Egypt.
The city prepared for resistance, and skirmishes took place with Gawhar’s army, which had meanwhile arrived at the opposite town of Giza in July. Forcing the passage of the river, with the help of some boats supplied by Egyptian soldiers, the invaders fell upon the imposing army drawn up on the other bank, and totally defeated them. The troops deserted Fustat in a panic, and the women of the city, running out of their houses, implored the sherif to intercede with the conqueror.
Gawhar, like his master, always disposed to a politic leniency, renewed his former promises, and granted a complete amnesty to all who submitted. The overjoyed populace cut off the heads of some of the refractory leaders, in their enthusiasm, and sent them to the camp in pleasing token of allegiance. A herald, bearing a white flag, rode through the streets of Fustat proclaiming the amnesty and forbidding pillage, and on August the 5th the Fatimite army, with full pomp of drums and banners, entered the capital.
That very night Gawhar laid the foundations of a new city, or rather fortified palace, destined for the reception of his sovereign. He was encamped on the sandy waste which stretched northeast of Fustat on the road to Heliopolis, and there, at a distance of about a mile from the river, he marked out the boundaries of the new capital. There were no buildings, save the old “Convent of the Bones,” nor any cultivation except the beautiful park called “Kafur’s Garden,” to obstruct his plans. A square, somewhat less than a mile each way, was pegged out with poles, and the Maghrabi astrologers, in whom Moizz reposed extravagant faith, consulted together to determine the auspicious moment for the opening ceremony. Bells were hung on ropes from pole to pole, and at the signal of the sages their ringing was to announce the precise moment when the laborers were to turn the first sod. The calculations of the astrologers were, however, anticipated by a raven, who perched on one of the ropes and set the bells jingling, upon which every mattock was struck into the earth, and the trenches were opened. It was an unlucky hour; the planet Mars (El-Kahir) was in the ascendant; but it could not be undone, and the place was accordingly named after the hostile planet, El-Kahira, “the Martial” or “Triumphant,” in the hope that the sinister omen might be turned to a triumphant issue. Cairo, as Kahira has come to be called, may fairly be said to have outlived all astrological prejudices. The name of the Abbasside caliph was at once expunged from the Friday prayers at the old mosque of Amr at Fustat; the black Abbasside robes were proscribed, and the preacher, in pure white, recited the Khutba for the imam Moizz, emir El-Muminin, and invoked blessings on his ancestors Ali and Fatima and all their holy family. The call to prayer from the minarets was adapted to Shiah taste. The joyful news was sent to the Fatimite Caliph on swift dromedaries, together with the heads of the slain. Coins were struck with the special formulas of the Fatimite creed–“Ali is the noblest of [God’s] delegates, the wazir of the best of apostles”; “the Imam Maadd calls men to profess the unity of the Eternal”–in addition to the usual dogmas of the Mahometan faith. For two centuries the mosques and the mint proclaimed the shibboleth of the Shiahs.
Gawhar set himself at once to restore tranquility and alleviate the sufferings of the famine-stricken people. Moizz had providently sent grain ships to relieve their distress, and as the price of bread nevertheless remained at famine rates, Gawhar publicly flogged the millers, established a central corn-exchange, and compelled everyone to sell his corn there under the eye of a government inspector. In spite of his efforts the famine lasted for two years; plague spread alarmingly, insomuch that the corpses could not be buried fast enough, and were thrown into the Nile; and it was not till the winter of 971-972 that plenty returned and the pest disappeared. As usual, the viceroy took a personal part in all public functions. Every Saturday he sat in court, assisted by the wazir Ibn-Furat, the cadi, and skilled lawyers, to hear causes and petitions and to administer justice. To secure impartiality, he appointed to every department of state an Egyptian and a Maghrabi officer. His firm and equitable rule insured peace and order; and the great palace he was building, and the new mosque, the Azhar, which he founded in 970 and finished in 972, not only added to the beauty of the capital, but gave employment to innumerable craftsmen.
The inhabitants of Egypt accepted the new regime with their habitual phlegm. An Ikshidi officer in the Bashmur district of Lower Egypt did, indeed, incite the people to rebellion, but his fate was not such as to encourage others. He was chased out of Egypt, captured on the coast of Palestine, and then, it is gravely recorded, he was given sesame oil to drink for a month, till his skin stripped off, whereupon it was stuffed with straw and hung up on a beam, as a reminder to him who would be admonished. With this brief exception we read of no riots, no sectarian risings, and the general surrender was complete when the remaining partisans of the deposed dynasty, to the number of five thousand, laid down their arms. An embassy sent to George, King of Nubia, to invite him to embrace Islam, and to exact the customary tribute, was received with courtesy, and the money, but not the conversion, was arranged. The holy cities of Mecca and Medina in the Higaz, where the gold of Moizz had been prudently distributed some years before, responded to his generosity and success by proclaiming his supremacy in the mosques; the Hamdanide prince who held Northern Syria paid similar homage to the Fatimite Caliph at Aleppo, where the Abbassides had hitherto been recognized. Southern Syria, however, which had formed part of the Ikshid’s kingdom, did not submit to the usurpers without a struggle. Hoseyn was still independent at Ramla, and Gawhar’s lieutenant, Giafar ben Fellah, was obliged to give him battle. Hoseyn was defeated and exposed bareheaded to the insults of the mob at Fustat, to be finally sent, with the rest of the family of Ikshid, to a Barbary jail. Damascus, the home of orthodoxy, was taken by Giafar, not without a struggle, and the Fatimite doctrine was there published, to the indignation and disgust of the Sunnite population.
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