Today’s installment concludes 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.
If you have journeyed through all of the installments of this series, just one more to go and you will have completed a selection from the great works of five thousand words. Congratulations!
Previously in Fatimites Conquer Egypt.
A worse plague than the Fatimite conquest soon afflicted Syria. The Karmati leader, Hasan ben Ahmad, surnamed El-Asam, finding the blackmail, which he had lately received out of the revenues of Damascus, suddenly stopped, resolved to extort it by force of arms. The Fatimites indeed sprang from the same movement, and their founder professed the same political and irreligious philosophy as Hasan himself; but this did not stand in his way, and his knowledge of their origin made him the less disposed to render homage to the sacred pretensions of the new imams, whom he contemptuously designated as the spawn of the quacks, charlatans, and the enemies of Islam. He tried to enlist the support of the Abbasside Caliph, but El-Muti replied that Fatimis and Karmatis were all one to him, and he would have nothing to do with either. The Buweyhid prince of Irak, however, supplied Hasan with arms and money; Abu-Taghlib, the Hamdanide ruler of Rahba on the Euphrates, contributed men; and, supported by the Arab tribes of Okeyl, Tavy, and others, Hasan marched upon Damascus, where the Fatimites were routed, and their general, Giafar, killed. Moizz was forthwith publicly cursed from the pulpit in the Syrian capital, to the qualified satisfaction of the inhabitants, who had to pay handsomely for the pleasure.
Hasan next marched to Ramla, and thence, leaving the Fatimite army of eleven thousand men shut up in Jaffa, invaded Egypt. His troops surprised Kulzum at the head of the Red Sea, and Farama (Pelusium), near the Mediterranean, at the two ends of the Egyptian frontier. Tinnis declared against the Fatimites, and Hasan appeared at Heliopolis in October, 971. Gawhar had already intrenched the new capital with a deep ditch, leaving but one entrance, which he closed with an iron gate. He armed the Egyptians as well as the African troops, and a spy was set to watch the wazir Ibn-Furat, lest he should be guilty of treachery. The sherifs of the family of Ali were summoned to the camp, as hostages for the good behavior of the inhabitants. Meanwhile, the officers of the enemy were liberally tempted with bribes. Two months they lay before Cairo, and then, after an indecisive engagement, Hasan stormed the gate, forced his way across the ditch, and attacked the Egyptians on their own ground. The result was a severe repulse, and Hasan retreated, under cover of night, to Kulzum, leaving his camp and baggage to be plundered by the Fatimites, who were only balked of a sanguinary pursuit by the intervention of night. The Egyptian volunteers displayed unexpected valor in the fight, and many of the partisans of the late dynasty, who were with the enemy, were made prisoners.
Thus the serious danger, which went near to cutting short the Fatimite occupation of Egypt, was not only resolutely met, but even turned into an advantage. There was no more intriguing on behalf of the Ikshidids; Tinnis was recovered from its temporary defection and occupied by the reinforcements which Moizz had hurriedly despatched under Ibn-Ammar to the succor of Gawhar; and the Karmati fleet, which attempted to recover this fort, was obliged to slip anchor, abandoning seven ships and five hundred prisoners. Jaffa, which still held out resolutely against the besieging Arabs, was now relieved by the despatch of African troops from Cairo, who brought back the garrison, but did not dare to hold the post. The enemy fell back upon Damascus, and the leaders fell out among themselves.
The Karmati chief was not crushed, however, by his defeat. In the following year he was collecting ships and Arabs for a fresh invasion. Gawhar, who had long urged his master to come and protect his conquest, now pointed out the extreme danger of a second attack from an enemy which had already succeeded in boldly forcing his way to the gate of Cairo. Moizz had delayed his journey, because he could not safely trust his western provinces in his absence; but on the receipt of this grave news, he appointed Yusuf Bulugin ben Zeyri, of the Berber tribe of Sanhaga, to act as his deputy in Barbary, left Sardaniya–the Fontainebleau of Kayrawan, as Mansuriya was its Versailles–in November, 972, and making a leisurely progress, by way of Kabis, Tripolis, Agdabiya, and Barka, reached Alexandria in the following May. Here the Caliph received a deputation, consisting of the cadi of Fustat and other eminent persons, whom he moved to tears by his eloquent and virtuous discourse. A month later he was encamped in the gardens of the monastery near Giza, where he was reverently welcomed by his devoted servant, Gawhar, content to efface himself in his master’s shadow.
The entry of the new Caliph into his new capital was a solemn spectacle. With him were all his sons and brothers and kinsfolk, and before him were borne the coffins of his ancestors. Fustat was illuminated and decked for his reception; but Moizz would not enter the old capital of the usurping caliphs. He crossed from Roda by Gawhar’s new bridge, and proceeded direct to the palace-city of Cairo. Here he threw himself on his face and gave thanks to God.
There was yet an ordeal to be gone through before he could regard himself as safe. Egypt was the home of many undoubted sherifs or descendants of Ali, and these, headed by a representative of the distinguished Tabataba family, came boldly to examine his credentials. Moizz must prove his title to the holy imamate inherited from Ali, to the satisfaction of these experts in genealogy. According to the story, the Caliph called a great assembly of the people, and invited the sherifs to appear; then, half drawing his sword, he said:
“Here is my pedigree,” and scattering gold among the spectators, added, “and there is my proof.”
It was perhaps the best argument he could produce. The sherifs could only protest their entire satisfaction at this convincing evidence; and it is at any rate certain that, whatever they thought of the Caliph’s claim, they did not contest it. The capital was placarded with his name, and the praises of Ali and Moizz were acclaimed by the people, who flocked to his first public audience. Among the presents offered him, that of Gawhar was especially splendid, and its costliness illustrates the colossal wealth acquired by the Fatimites. It included five hundred horses with saddles and bridles encrusted with gold, amber, and precious stones; tents of silk and cloth of gold, borne on Bactrian camels; dromedaries, mules, and camels of burden; filigree coffers full of gold and silver vessels; gold-mounted swords; caskets of chased silver containing precious stones; a turban set with jewels, and nine hundred boxes filled with samples of all the goods that Egypt produced.
This ends our series of passages on Fatimites Conquer Egypt by Stanley Lane-Poole from his book History of Egypt in the Middle Ages published in 1901. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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