The conquest of Egypt was indeed the aim of his life.
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.
When he ascended the throne in April, 953, he had already a policy, and he lost no time in carrying it into execution. He first made a progress through his dominions, visiting each town, investigating its needs, and providing for its peace and prosperity. He bearded the rebels in their mountain fastnesses, till they laid down their arms and fell at his feet. He conciliated the chiefs and governors with presents and appointments, and was rewarded by their loyalty.
At the head of his ministers he set Gawhar “the Roman,” a slave from the Eastern Empire, who had risen to the post of secretary to the late Caliph, and was now by his son promoted to the rank of wazir commander of the forces. He was sent in 958 to bring the ever-refractory Maghreb (Morocco) to allegiance. The expedition was entirely successful, Sigilmasa and Fez were taken, and Gawhar reached the shore of the Atlantic.
Jars of live fish and sea-weed reached the capital, and proved to the Caliph that his empire touched the ocean, the “limitless limit” of the world. All the African littoral, from the Atlantic to the frontier of Egypt–with the single exception of Spanish Ceuta–now peaceably admitted the sway of the Fatimite Caliph.
The result was due partly to the exhaustion caused by the long struggle during the preceding reigns, partly to the politic concessions and personal influence of the able young ruler. He was liberal and conciliatory toward different provinces, but to the Arabs of the capital he was severe. Kayrawan teemed with disaffected folk, sheiks, and theologians bitterly hostile to the heretical “orientalism” of the Fatimites, and always ready to excite a tumult. Moizz was resolved to give them no chance, and one of his repressive measures was the curfew. At sunset a trumpet sounded, and anyone found abroad after that was liable to lose not only his way, but his head. So long as they were quiet, however, he used the people justly, and sought to impress them in his favor. In a singular interview, recorded by Makrisi, he exhibited himself to a deputation of sheiks, dressed in the utmost simplicity, and seated before his writing materials in a plain room, surrounded by books. He wished to disabuse them of the idea that he led in private a life of luxury and self-indulgence.
“You see what employs me when I am alone,” he said; “I read letters that come to me from the lands of the East and the West, and answer them with my own hand; I deny myself all the pleasures of the world, and I seek only to protect your lives, multiply your children, shame your rivals, and daunt your enemies.” Then he gave them much good advice, and especially recommended them to keep to one wife.
“One woman is enough for one man. If you straitly observe what I have ordained,” he concluded, “I trust that God will, through you, procure our conquest of the East in like manner as he has vouchsafed us the West.”
The conquest of Egypt was indeed the aim of his life. To rule over tumultuous Arab and Berber tribes in a poor country formed no fit ambition for a man of his capacity. Egypt, its wealth, its commerce, its great port, and its docile population–these were his dream.
For two years he had been digging wells and building rest-houses on the road to Alexandria. The West was now outwardly quiet, and between Egypt and any hope of succor from the eastern caliphate stood the ravaging armies of the Karmatis. Egypt itself was in helpless disorder. The great Kafur was dead, and its nominal ruler was a child. Ibn-Furat, the wazir, had made himself obnoxious to the people by arrests and extortions. The very soldiery was in revolt, and the Turkish retainers of the court mutinied, plundered the wazir’s palace, and even opened negotiations with Moizz. Hoseyn, the nephew of the Ikshid, attempted to restore public order, but after three months of vacillating and unpopular government he returned to his own province in Palestine to make terms with the Karmatis. Famine, the result of the exceptionally low Nile of 967, added to the misery of the country; plague, as usual, followed in the steps of famine; over six hundred thousand people died in and around Fustat, and the wretched inhabitants began in despair to migrate to happier lands.
All these matters were fully reported to Moizz by the renegade Jew Yakub Killis, a former favorite of Kafur, who had been driven from Egypt by the jealous exactions of the wazir, Ibn-Furat, and who was perfectly familiar with the political and financial state of the Nile valley. His representations confirmed the Fatimite Caliph’s resolve; the Arab tribes were summoned to his standard; an immense treasure was collected, all of which was spent in the campaign; gratuities were lavishly distributed to the army, and at the head of over one hundred thousand men, all well mounted and armed, accompanied by a thousand camels and a mob of horses carrying money, stores, and ammunition, Gawhar marched from Kayrawan in February, 969. The Caliph himself reviewed the troops. The marshal kissed his hand and his horse’s shoe. All the princes, emirs, and courtiers passed reverently on foot before the honored leader of the conquering army, who, as a last proof of favor, received the gift of his master’s own robes and charger. The governors of all the towns on the route had orders to come on foot to Gawhar’s stirrup, and one of them vainly offered a large bribe to be excused the indignity.
The approach of this overwhelming force filled the Egyptian ministers with consternation, and they thought only of obtaining favorable terms. A deputation of notables, headed by Abu-Giafar Moslem, a sherif, or descendant of the Prophet’s family, waited upon Gawhar near Alexandria, and demanded a capitulation. The general consented without reserve, and in a conciliatory letter granted all they asked. But they had reckoned without their host; the troops at Fustat would not listen to such humiliation, and there was a strong war party among the citizens, to which some of the ministers leaned.
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