The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 5

Author: Stanley Lane-Poole  | Date: A.D. 969

Conquest of Egypt by the Fatimites

A.D. 969


It was the fate of the religion which Mahomet founded, as it has been of other great systems, to undergo many sectarian divisions, and to be used as the instrument of conquest and political power. When Islam had somewhat departed from the character which it first manifested in moral sternness and fiery zeal, and had established itself in various parts of the world on a basis of commerce or of science, rather than that of its original inspiration, various offshoots of the faith began to assume prominence. Among the sects which sprang up was one that claimed to represent the true succession of Mahomet. This sect was itself the result of a schism among the adherents of one of the two principal divisions of the Moslems—the Shiahs. They maintained that Ali, a relation and the adopted son of Mahomet and husband of his daughter Fatima, was the first legitimate imam or successor of the prophet. They regarded the other and greater division—the Sunnites, who recognized the first three caliphs, Abu-Bekr, Omar, and Othman—as usurpers. Ali was the fourth caliph, and the Sunnites in turn looked upon his followers, the Shiahs, as heretics.

The schism among the Shiahs grew out of the claim of the schismatics that the legitimate imam or successor of the Prophet must be in the line of descent from Ali. The sixth imam, Jaffer, upon the death of his eldest son, Ismail, appointed another son, Moussa or Moses, his heir; but a large body of the Shiahs denied the right of Jaffer to make a new nomination, declaring the imamate to be strictly hereditary. They formed a new party of Ismailians, and in 908 a chief of this sect, Mahomet, surnamed el-Mahdi, or the Leader—a title of the Shiahs for their imams—revolted in Africa. He called himself a descendant of Ismail and claimed to be the legitimate imam. He aimed at the temporal power of a caliph, and soon established a rival caliphate in Africa, where he had obtained a considerable sovereignty. The dynasty thus begun assumed the name of Fatimites in honor of Fatima. The fourth caliph of this line, El-Moizz, conquered Egypt about 969, founded the modern Cairo, and made it his capital. The claims of the Egyptian caliphate were heralded throughout all Islam, and its rule was rapidly extended into Syria and Arabia. It played an important part in the history of the Crusades, but in 1171 was abolished by the famous Saladin, and Egypt was restored to the obedience which it had formerly owned to Bagdad. The Bagdad caliphs, called Abbassides—claiming descent from Abbas, the uncle of Mahomet—remained rulers of Egypt until 1517, or until within twenty years of the death of the last Abbasside.

Three hundred and thirty years had passed since the Saracens first invaded the valley of the Nile. The people, with traditional docility, had liberally adopted the religion of their rulers, and the Moslems now formed the great majority of the population. Arabs and natives had blended into much the same race that we now call Egyptians; but so far the mixture had not produced any conspicuous men. The few commanding figures among the governors, Ibn-Tulun, the Ikshid, Kafur, were foreigners, and even these were but a step above the stereotyped official. They essayed no great extension of their dominions; they did not try to extinguish their dangerous neighbors the schismatic Fatimites; and though they possessed and used fleets, they ventured upon no excursions against Europe.

The great revolution which had swept over North Africa, and now spread to Egypt, arose out of the old controversy over the legitimacy of the caliphate. The prophet Mahomet died without definitely naming a successor, and thereby bequeathed an interminable quarrel to his followers. The principle of election, thus introduced, raised the first three caliphs, Abu-Bekr, Omar, Othman, to the cathedra at Medina; but a strong minority held that the "divine right" rested with Ali, the "Lion of God," first convert to Islam, husband of the prophet’s daughter Fatima, and father of Mahomet’s only male descendants. When Ali in turn became the fourth caliph, he was the mark for jealousy, intrigue, and at length assassination; his sons, the grandsons of the Prophet, were excluded from the succession; his family were cruelly persecuted by their successful rivals, the Ommiad usurpers; and the tragedy of Kerbela and the murder of Hoseyn set the seal of martyrdom on the holy family and stirred a passionate enthusiasm which still rouses intense excitement in the annual representations of the Persian passion play.

The rent thus opened in Islam was never closed. The ostracism of Ali "laid the foundation of the grand interminable schism which has divided the Mahometan Church, and equally destroyed the practice of charity among the members of their common creed and endangered the speculative truths of doctrine."

The descendants of Ali, though almost universally devoid of the qualities of great leaders, possessed the persistence and devotion of martyrs, and their sufferings heightened the fanatical enthusiasm of their supporters. All attempts to recover the temporal power having proved vain, the Alides fell back upon the spiritual authority of the successive candidates of the holy family, whom they proclaimed to be the imams or spiritual leaders of the faithful. This doctrine of the imamate gradually acquired a more mystical meaning, supported by an allegorical interpretation of the Koran; and a mysterious influence was ascribed to the imam, who, though hidden from mortal eye, on account of the persecution of his enemies, would soon come forward publicly in the character of the ever-expected mahdi, sweep away the corruptions of the heretical caliphate, and revive the majesty of the pure lineage of the prophet. All Mahometans believe in a coming mahdi, a messiah, who shall restore right and prepare for the second advent of Mahomet and the tribunal of the last day; but the Shiahs turned the expectation to special account. They taught that the true Imam, though invisible to mortal sight, is ever living; they predicted the mahdi’s speedy appearance, and kept their adherents on the alert to take up arms in his service. With a view to his coming they organized a pervasive conspiracy, instituted a secret society with carefully graduated stages of initiation, used the doctrines of all religions and sects as weapons in the propaganda, and sent missionaries throughout the provinces of Islam to increase the numbers of the initiates and pave the way for the great revolution. We see their partial success in the ravages of the Karmathians, who were the true parents of the Fatimites. The leaders and chief missionaries had really nothing in common with Mahometanism. Among themselves they were frankly atheists. Their objects were political, and they used religion in any form, and adapted it in all modes, to secure proselytes, to whom they imparted only so much of their doctrine as they were able to bear. These men were furnished with "an armory of proselytism" as perfect, perhaps, as any known to history: they had appeals to enthusiasm, and arguments for the reason, and "fuel for the fiercest passions of the people and times in which they moved." Their real aim was not religious or constructive, but pure nihilism. They used the claim of the family of Ali, not because they believed in any divine right or any caliphate, but because some flag had to be flourished in order to rouse the people.

One of these missionaries, disguised as a merchant, journeyed back to Barbary in 893, with some Berber pilgrims who had performed the sacred ceremonies at Mecca. He was welcomed by the great tribe of the Kitama, and rapidly acquired an extraordinary influence over the Berbers—a race prone to superstition, and easily impressed by the mysterious rites of initiation and the emotional doctrines of the propagandist, the wrongs of the prophetic house, and the approaching triumph of the Mahdi. Barbary had never been much attached to the caliphate, and for a century it had been practically independent under the Aglabite dynasty, the barbarous excesses of whose later sovereigns had alienated their subjects. Alides, moreover, had established themselves, in the dynasty of the Idrisides, in Morocco since the end of the eighth century. The land was in every respect ripe for revolution, and the success of Abu-Abdallah esh-Shii, the new missionary, was extraordinarily rapid. In a few years he had a following of two hundred thousand armed men, and after a series of battles he drove Ziyadat-Allah, the last Aglabite prince, out of the country in 908. The missionary then proclaimed the imam Obeid-Allah as the true caliph and spiritual head of Islam. Whether this Obeid-Allah was really a descendant of All or not, he had been carefully prepared for the role, and reached Barbary in disguise, with the greatest mystery and some difficulty, pursued by the suspicions of the Bagdad caliph, who, in great alarm, sent repeated orders for his arrest. Indeed, the victorious missionary had to rescue his spiritual chief from a sordid prison at Sigilmasa. Then humbly prostrating himself before him, he hailed him as the expected mahdi, and in January, 910, he was duly prayed for in the mosque of Kayrawan as the Imam "Obeid-Allah el-Mahdi, Commander of the Faithful.’"

The missionary’s Berber proselytes were too numerous to encourage resistance, and the few who indulged the luxury of conscientious scruples were killed or imprisoned. El-Mahdi, indeed, appeared so secure in power that he excited the jealousy of his discoverer.

Abu-Abdallah, the missionary, now found himself nobody, where a month before he had been supreme. The Fatimite restoration was to him only a means to an end; he had used Obeid-Allah’s title as an engine of revolution, intending’ to proceed to the furthest lengths of his philosophy, to a complete social and political anarchy, the destruction of Islam, community of lands and women, and all the delight of unshackled license. Instead of this, his creature had absorbed his power, and all such designs were made void. He began to hatch treason and to hint doubts as to the genuineness of the Mahdi, who, as he truly represented, according to prophecy, ought to work miracles and show other proofs of his divine mission. People began to ask for a "sign." In reply, the Mahdi had the missionary murdered.

The first Fatimite caliph, though without experience, was so vigorous a ruler that he could dispense with the dangerous support of his discoverer. He held the throne for a quarter of a century and established his authority, more or less continuously, over the Arab and Berber tribes and settled cities from the frontier of Egypt to the province of Fez (Fas) in Morocco, received the allegiance of the Mahometan governor of Sicily, and twice despatched expeditions into Egypt, which he would probably have permanently conquered if he had not been hampered by perpetual insurrections in Barbary. Distant governors, and often whole tribes of Berbers, were constantly in revolt, and the disastrous famine of 928-929, coupled with the Asiatic plague which his troops had brought back with them from Egypt, led to general disturbances and insurrections which fully occupied the later years of his reign. The western provinces, from Tahart and Nakur to Fez and beyond, frequently threw off all show of allegiance. His authority was founded more on fear than on religious enthusiasm, though zeal for the Alide cause had its share in his original success. The new "Eastern doctrines," as they were called, were enforced at the sword’s point, and frightful examples were made of those who ventured to tread in the old paths. Nor were the freethinkers of the large towns, who shared the missionary’s esoteric principles, encouraged; for outwardly, at least, the Mahdi was strictly a Moslem. When people at Kayrawan began to put in practice the missionary’s advanced theories, to scoff at all the rules of Islam, to indulge in free love, pig’s flesh, and wine, they were sternly brought to order. The mysterious powers expected of a mahdi were sedulously rumored among the credulous Berbers, though no miracles were actually exhibited; and the obedience of the conquered provinces was secured by horrible outrages and atrocities, of which the terrified people dared not provoke a repetition at the hands of the Mahdi’s savage generals.

His eldest son Abul-Kasim, who had twice led expeditions into Egypt, succeeded to the caliphate with the title of El-Kaim, 934-946. He began his reign with warlike vigor. He sent out a fleet in 934 or 935, which harried the southern coast of France, blockaded and took Genoa, and coasted along Calabria, massacring and plundering, burning the shipping, and carrying off slaves wherever it touched. At the same time he despatched a third army against Egypt; but the firm hand of the Ikshid now held the government, and his brother, Obeid-Allah, with fifteen thousand horse, drove the enemy out of Alexandria and gave them a crushing defeat on their way home. But for the greater part of his reign El-Kaim was on the defensive, fighting for existence against the usurpation of one Abu-Yezid, who repudiated Shiism, cursed the Mahdi and his successor, stirred up most of Morocco and Barbary against El-Kaim, drove him out of his capital, and went near to putting an end to the Fatimite caliphate.

It was only after seven years of uninterrupted civil war that this formidable insurrection died out, under the firm but politic management of the third caliph, El-Mansur (946-953), a brave man who knew both when to strike and when to be generous. Abu-Yezid was at last run to earth, and his body was skinned and stuffed with straw, and exposed in a cage with a couple of ludicrous apes as a warning to the disaffected.

The Fatimites so far wear a brutal and barbarous character. They do not seem to have encouraged literature or learning; but this is partly explained by the fact that culture belonged chiefly to the orthodox caliphate; and its learned men could have no dealings with the heretical pretender. The city of Kayrawan, which dates from the Arab conquest in the eighth century, preserves the remains of some noble buildings, but of their other capitals or royal residences no traces of art or architecture remain to bear witness to the taste of their founders. Each began to decay as soon as its successor was built.

With the fourth caliph, however, El-Moizz, the conqueror of Egypt, 953-975, the Fatimites entered upon a new phase.

El-Moizz was a man of politic temper, a born statesman, able to grasp the conditions of success and to take advantage of every point in his favor. He was also highly educated, and not only wrote Arabic poetry and delighted in its literature, but studied Greek, mastered Berber and Sudani dialects, and is even said to have taught himself Slavonic in order to converse with his slaves from Eastern Europe. His eloquence was such as to move his audience to tears. To prudent statesmanship he added a large generosity, and his love of justice was among his noblest qualities. So far as outward acts could show, he was a strict Moslem of the Shiah sect, and the statement of his adversaries that he was really an atheist seems to rest merely upon the belief that all the Fatimites adopted the esoteric doctrines of the Ismailian missionaries.

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 and 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&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. 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 labored 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—"All 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 tranquillity 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.

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 All, 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 All 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.


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Chicago: Stanley Lane-Poole, "Conquest of Egypt by the Fatimites," The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 5 in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. Rossiter Johnson (Harrogate, TN: The National Alunmi, 1926), Original Sources, accessed August 17, 2022,

MLA: Lane-Poole, Stanley. "Conquest of Egypt by the Fatimites." The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 5, in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, edited by Rossiter Johnson, Harrogate, TN, The National Alunmi, 1926, Original Sources. 17 Aug. 2022.

Harvard: Lane-Poole, S, 'Conquest of Egypt by the Fatimites' in The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 5. cited in 1926, The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. , The National Alunmi, Harrogate, TN. Original Sources, retrieved 17 August 2022, from