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CONTINUATION OF THE MYTH THAT THE COPTS ASSISTED THE ARABS IN THEIR OCCUPATION OF EGYPT: THE EXAMPLE OF WALLIS BUDGE

August 26, 2017

 

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The two great British writers, Alfred Joshua Butler on the right and E. A. Wallis Budge on the left

If the reader care to survey some of the books that are written in our modern age about Egypt and its history, he will be surprised to find many of them still regurgitating the myth that the Copts assisted the Arab occupiers when they invaded Egypt in 640 AD. Coptic literature shows that the Copts hated the Arabs and their rule; and could not have assisted them against the Romans of the Byzantine Empire even if the latter were not particularly kind to them. But it was the great British writer, Alfred Joshua Butler (1850-1936), who researched the matter scientifically, and concluded in his monumental book, ‘The Arab Conquest of Egypt and the Last Thirty Years of the Roman Domain’, which was published in 1902, that the Copts did not help the Arab invaders. Butler has shown beyond doubt that what the Arabs call in their histories al-Muqawqas, and give him the title ‘Chief of the Copts’ (المقوقس عظيم القبط), was not a Copt at all, but the governor Cyrus, a man from the Caucus, who was appointed by Emperor Heraclius – a loyalist to the Byzantine Empire’s religious creed and current politics. It is this Cyrus who surrendered Egypt to the Arabs – and the Copts did not have a say in it. Further, the Copts did not offer the Muslim invaders assistance but in fact fought against them, particularly where they could – that is in the Delta marshes. For those who haven’t read The Arab Conquest, you can access it here.

If we can forgive superficial writers for their ignorance and intellectual laziness, we can’t forgive some who keep regurgitating the myth that the Copts surrendered Egypt to the Arabs, particularly when they are of a higher calibre, such as the British writer, E. A. Wallis Budge (1857 – 1934). Now, Budge, like Butler, has rendered a great service to the Copts: Butler by writing The Arab Conquest and The Churches and Monasteries of Egypt, and Budge by collecting Coptic manuscripts, translating and publishing them. So, criticising him does not come easy to me. However, Budge is to be criticised for propagating the Myth of the surrender of Egypt by the Copts in his book, The Nile. Notes for Travellers in Egypt, which was first published in 1890, and became one of the top books used by tourists. It was widely circulated, and has been published several times, with at least eleven editions. The first six editions did not include much about the Copts and their history;[1] but in the 7th edition, printed in 1901, Budge added a section which he gave the title of ‘Sketch of Coptic History’. It is a survey of Coptic history in ten pages;[2] and it is generally good apart from the usual confusion of regarding the Copts as Monophysites or Eutychians; and, of course, the myth about the surrender of Egypt by the Copts to the Arabs. Budge calls the Coptic Orthodox Christians, who refused to accept the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), Jacobites, after the Syrian Church leader, Jacob Baradaeus (c. 500 – 578), who helped the Copts in the 6th century to ordain new clergy. On that myth, we can read together what Budge has to say:

About this time, Makrizi[3] declares, the land of Egypt was full of Christians, but they were divided both as regards race and religion. On the one side there were about 300,000 men who were attached to the service of the Government, their religious views being Melkite, and on the other were the rest of the inhabitants of Egypt, who were Jacobites. Each side hated the other, and the religious views of each prevented inter-marriage, and often led to murders and massacres. This state of affairs facilitated the task of ‘Amr ibn al-‘Asi, who set out from Syria to conquer Egypt in 638; he captured Pelusium without difficulty and marched on Memphis, which he besieged for seven months. The famous Fortress of Babylon was bravely defended by the Greeks or royalist soldiers, and although their efforts were apparently well supported by the soldiers generally, there is no doubt that the Jacobites were tired of the Byzantine rule, and that they were anxious to make terms with ‘Amr and his Muhammadan troops. One of the chief officers of state at that time was the Makawkas (i.e., George the son of Menas), “the prince of the Copts,” a Jacobite, whose sympathies had been alienated from his royalist masters. He had great influence in the country, and all the evidence goes to show that he used it against his employers; be this as it may, he used his position as governor of Babylon to negotiate terms of peace with ‘Amr, and just as the city was on the point of being overrun by the Arabs, he bought off the disaster by agreeing to pay a tax of two dinars on every male, and to submit to the other impositions which ‘Amr had laid upon vanquished peoples. In return for the help of the Jacobites, the Arabs supported them against the Melkites or Royalists, and for nearly one hundred years a Jacobite sat on the patriarchal throne at Alexandria.[4]

You can see that Budge here blames the Copts, whom he calls the Jacobites, of the responsibility for handing Egypt to the Arabs, all through ‘the Makawkas’, whom he calls ‘the prince of the Copts’. Makawkas, by which he means al-Muqawqas, was a traitor Copt. I am not surprised of Budge’s mistake here, as he was not a historian; and, in his Sketch, he relied on Arab and Muslim historians, such as al-Maqrizi [he calls him, Makrizi], the fifteenth century Egyptian historian, whose histories are often inaccurate.

When Budge had his 7th edition printed, Butler had not yet published his book The Arab Conquest of Egypt; and, so, one can excuse him for the error. In the 8th edition, printed in 1902, Budge continues the myth without any change to the text of Sketch of Coptic History. The next editions, the 9th, 10th and 11th, printed in 1905, 1907 and 1910, respectively, however, included a little change, since they appeared after 1902 and the publication of The Arab Conquest of Egypt. They carried the same text without alteration, so I will use here the 9th edition. Let us see how butler influenced Budge:

About this time, Makrizi declares, the land of Egypt was full of Christians, but they were divided both as regards race and religion. On the one side there were about 300,000 men who were attached to the service of the Government, their religious views being Melkite, and on the other were the rest of the inhabitants of Egypt, who were Jacobites. Each side hated the other, and the religious views of each prevented inter-marriage, and often led to murders and massacres. This state of affairs facilitated the task of ‘Amr ibn al-‘Asi, who set out from Syria to conquer Egypt in 638; he captured Pelusium without difficulty and marched on Memphis, which he besieged for seven months. The famous Fortress of Babylon was bravely defended by the Greeks or royalist soldiers, and although their efforts were apparently well supported by the soldiers generally, there is no doubt that the Jacobites were tired of the Byzantine rule, and that they were anxious to make terms with ‘Amr and his Muhammadan troops. One of the chief officers of state at that time was the Makawkas (i.e., George the son of Menas), “the prince of the Copts,” a Jacobite, whose sympathies had been alienated from his royalist masters. Mr. Butler has shown that he was no other than Cyrus, the Patriarch and Governor of Alexandria, who had been appointed to this important position by Heraclius, after the recovery of Egypt from the Persians. He had great influence in the country, and all the evidence goes to show that he used it against his employers; be this as it may, he used his position as governor of Babylon to negotiate terms of peace with ‘Amr, and just as the city was on the point of being overrun by the Arabs, he bought off the disaster by agreeing to pay a tax of two dinars on every male, and to submit to the other impositions which ‘Amr had laid upon vanquished peoples. In return for the help of the Jacobites, the Arabs supported them against the Melkites or Royalists, and for nearly one hundred years a Jacobite sat on the patriarchal throne at Alexandria.[5]

 As you can see, Budge kept his previous text as it was, with the insertion of the text that I have emboldened for the benefit of the reader. Budge does not seem to understand Butler’s research and its significance. Even after Butler, he does not alter his position, and to him, ‘the Makawkas’ was still a Copt, a Jacobite, a ‘prince of the Copts’, and through him the Copts had submitted their country to the Arabs!

How great the pain when it comes from people like Wallis Budge, and how great the damage he has inflicted on the Copts by propagating a most inaccurate anti-Coptic myth.

________________________________

[1] 1st edition in 1890, 2nd in 1892, 3rd in 1893, 4th in 1895, 5th in 1897, and 6th in 1896. By clicking on the edition number you will be linked to the editions, published by Internet Archive.

[2] The Nile. Notes For Travellers In Egypt. Seventh Edition, 1901, pages 200-210.

[3] He means the 15th century Muslim historian of Egypt, al-Maqrizi (1364–1442).

[4] The Nile. Notes For Travellers In Egypt. Seventh Edition, 1901, page 203.

[5] The Nile. Notes For Travellers In Egypt. Nineth Edition, 1905, page 291.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Déborah L'Abeille permalink
    August 26, 2017 7:06 pm

    Excellent research done here.

  2. Mel Gaffey permalink
    August 26, 2017 7:25 pm

    Amr had 4000 men and Egypt was several millions, how it happened ??
    They have no business invading anybody,

    • Dioscorus Boles permalink*
      August 26, 2017 7:37 pm

      In fact, the Arab army numbered more than that, nearly 18,000 men. There are many reasons for the fall of Egypt to the Arab, including the stupid civil and religious policy of Byzantium, the religious divisions at the time, the malais9that took hold on Heraclius, the weakness of the Byzantine administration and military in Egypt, and the cowardice of and betrayal by Cyrus, Heraclius’ appointed Chalcedonian Patriarch and Governor of Alexandria.

  3. Egiziane permalink
    August 26, 2017 11:36 pm

    Thank you dear Dioscorus for you Excellent analysis.

  4. August 27, 2017 3:19 pm

    Dear Dioscorus, You are doing a GREAT job , very well researched and documented subjects that every Copt need to know, your efforts are very much appreciated. Did you consider publishing your posts in a book, Thank you so much,

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