(ruled 284-305) started administrative reforms in the empire to
prevent the collapse of the empire. The reforms were continued by
Constantine the Great
The reforms were to mark a start of a new era which is nothing but
an extension of the same Roman era
but with different characteristics.
Constantine was very different than his predecessors. In 313 AD,
he granted religious rights to all citizens to the empire, recognizing
Christianity as on of the official religion of the empire. He gave
back Christians their lost properties and allowed them to rebuild
Constantine founded Constantinople in 330. The establishment of the
city would be later seen as an attempt to undermine Alexandria's
distinctive role in the Mediterranean Sea and shift it to a new place.
Constantine the Great
Constantinople was founded on the remains of the old city of Byzantium.
Henceforth, Constantinople would be made the capital of the Byzantine
Empire until its fall in the 15th century by the hands of Ottomans.
Constantinople is Turkey's present-day city of Istanbul.
The new Byzantine era would bear the characteristics of ideological
differences among Christians.
Great patriarchs of Alexandria, Rome and Constantinople had to attend
successive councils to discuss their differences and the evolving
Religious Alexandrian scholars showed a great talent dealing with
heresies, particularly in councils that took place in Nicea 325
AD and Constantinople 381 AD.
A result of Constantinople's council was a decree considering Christianity
as the sole religion of the empire. Councils took place again in
Ephesus 431 and 449 AD. In 451 at Chalcedon, a new ecumenical council
was held to overturn decisions reached in the last Ephesus council.
A dispute erupted between the church of Alexandria
and that of Constantinople. The Alexandrian church adopted a Monophysitism
belief. Monophysitism is a belief that Christ has only one nature
with both divine and human attributes in it.
The council of Chalcedon decided to validate the Dyophysitism
belief. Dyophysitism is the belief that Christ has two natures, divine
and human which are inseparably united.
The outcome of Chalcedon was sending Alexandria off on its own path
to form the current Coptic Church. Dyophysitism is the belief of
current Catholic Church.
The outcome of the split was terrible on Christianity. The gulf
between the two tendencies widened after the council. Attempts to
unite both faiths were undertaken by some Roman emperors but they
all went to the wall.
Events went so fast. In Egypt people officially adopted the Coptic
language instead of the Greek language in an endeavor to be distinctive.
Things turned to be sort of struggle between the two faiths. After
the council, the patriarchate of Alexandria was headed by two popes;
one appointed by the Byzantine emperor, called a Chalcedonian pope
and was usually rejected by Egyptians. The other pope, known as
a Monophysite pope, was chosen by the people and rejected by the
Suddenly in 619 the Persians, Romans' old foes, conquered Egypt
and occupied for 10 years. The period was nothing but a continued
persecution of Egyptians. Thousands of monks were slain, others
were severely tortured.
In 628, a peace treaty was forged between the Persians and the Byzantine
Empire. This resulted in the Persians' withdrawal from Egypt.
After the liberation of Egypt, Emperor Heraclius (ruled 610-641)
attempted to formulate a creed to unite the two faiths, blending
Monophysitism and Dyophysitism in one faith; Monothelitism. Monothelitism
is the belief that Christ has two distinct natures, divine and human,
but with one will and activity. The new creed resulted into further
division between the two faiths. Neither Monophysitism nor Dyophysitism
approved the new creed.
Heraclius appointed one of his followers, Cyrus, a Chalcedonian, as
patriarch of Alexandria to help spread his new belief. Cyrus was given
both religious and civil powers which made him indeed very powerful.
Upon his arrival, Benjamin, the Monophysite patriarch of Alexandria,
left to a small desert monastery. Adding insult to injury, Cyrus
tried to carry his point by force. He started viciously to persecute
Egyptians and as usual the people persisted in their faith.
Meanwhile, the Arabs' power was starting to rise in the Arabian Peninsula.
The Coptic Language
In 639, Arabs decided to conquer Egypt. So an army commanded by general
Amr ibn El- Ãs
marched to the Egyptian land. The troops took Egypt gradually until
they reached Babylon
fortress (present-day old Cairo)
where a battle took place.
In 641, Byzantine Empire forged a treaty with Arabs surrendering Egypt
and in 642 Amr ibn El- Ãs finally overtook Alexandria. Copts
are said to have helped Arabs in their conquest,
hoping to see a rule that is more tolerant. Fortunately the conquering
Arabs didn't suppress Christians after invading Egypt.
Now a new era would begin. It would be very different than anything
ever happened in Egypt.