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nnture as the seats of political power; the one, Alexandria, the port on the Mediterranean, the seat of the Greek power, and the spot that seized upon the political intelligence of the Great Alexander—that still bears his name, and the same at which letters are disembarked for delivery on that Indus which was the scene of the most adventurous and memorable of his conquests. The other locality marked out by nature for a capital of Egypt is near the apex of the Delta or split of the Nile, which invited a foundation of Memphis and Cairo at a point most convenient for the internal navigation of Egypt. In this wonderful river we see the factotum of Egyptian life; its soil-bringer, its irrigator, and its navigable canal.
Thebes, although in a rich part of the valley of the Nile, seems to have a less distinct and unmistakable vocation to be the locality of a capital of Egypt. Four thousand years have passed over the ruins of Thebes, and yet the monuments of the ancient Egyptians seem indestructible, and Thebes is one colossal monument of the cradle of the arts and sciences. But the life of Thebes is destroyed; a few vendors of mummies and trinkets taken from the tombs, a few peasants—some clothed in the winding-sheets of defunct Thebans— are all that remain of the city of Sesostris. In Alexandria, the ruins of the capital of the Greek period are not only less colossal, but have been successively dilapidated, destroyed, and buried; but its life appears to be indestructible. Nature, bountiful of every territorial wealth to the wonderful valley of the Nile, has been a niggard of those secure ports which enable this singular country to exchange her natural productions for the manufactures of other lands, and of this advantage Alexandria has the advantage.
Comparatively little is heard of Alexandria during the ages of the Pharaohs, for Egypt being at that time not only, as now, a land of great agricultural production, but at the same time the seat of arts, sciences, and manufactures, there did not exist the same necessity for an opening towards the Mediterranean, the shores of which were for the most part inhabited by barbarians or semi-barbarous nations. The existence of the canal connecting the Nile with the Red Sea showed the antiquity and importance of the trade with the Indian seas—all the most ancient authorities concurrently testifying to the antiquity and importance of the trade in spices and manufactures with the Indian peninsula and its adjoining archipelago.
With the slow growth and spread of eiviliz ition round the northern coasts of the Mediterranean, we find Alexandria rising in importance until she became not only the seat of the Greek power in Egypt, but subsequently the second city in the Roman empire, with a population of 700,000 souls; and the city of St. Mark and St. Athanasius became the metropolis of the Christian church of Africa, and the seat of an eclectic philosophy that attempted to reconcile the doctrines of Christianity with the revived Platonism of that period.
But to whatever extent intellectual culture be carried, muscular vigour is indispensable to independence, and the prime of the life of an empire seems to be that in which the muscular and nervous power of its inhabitants are in a state of equilibrium. Such was the age that immediately preceded that of Augustus; such, too, in Greece was the period of a few generations while Leonidas conquered at Thermopyla; and Socrates taught at Athens. But a period arrives when the nervous greatly preponderates over the muscular system, when vigour is effete, when religion generates to formalism, when law is without justice, when original production ceases, when civilization becomes imitative. Then comes in operation the law that animal vigour, like water, must find its level. An inundation of barbarian physical force takes place, and an ancient empire is submerged. Such was the fate of Egypt at the Arab invasion; and history shows that Egypt, from physical causes more than most other countries, is subject to change masters. The mountains that in other countries are green and wooded are here sandy and sterile. Man cannot here dwell among the hills, but must live in the plains where there is a rapid consumption of vital force. Nature has refused to the Egyptians that salutary infusion of vigour derived from those who are brought up in mountains; hence, from physical causes, Egypt presents the spectacle of races always enslaved by more vigorous races. The Shepherd Kings of its ancient history were clearly vigorous strangers. The Persians, the Greeks, th' Romans were also strangers that successively ruled Egypt; and such too were the Arabs, with whose conquest the modern history of Egypt commences.
A scrupulous regard for truth and love of personal and political independence, skill in horsemanship, constant exercise in arms, and frequent locomotion were the characteristics of the early Arabs. Islamism, after the advent of Mohammed, became the cementing element of their various tribes. Their simple virtues, their fearless valour, and their ignorance of the political and military science of the Greek empire, is briefly expressed by their own memorable saying, that they had "turbans instead of diadems, tents instead of walls, swords instead of intrenchments, and poems instead of written laws," while they could reproach the degenerate Christians that "their men had not the heart to be generous, or their women the heart to deny."
Mohammed and his eloquence was the vivifying soul of the Arabs of that period. This wonderful being was distinguished by an excited imagination and a firm belief in the doctrine he taught. As Socrates spoke with prophetic confidence, so spoke Mohammed of his revelations, saying, if the sun were set against him on his right hand and the moon against him on his left, he would not desist. His aberration arose from his ignorance of true primitive Christianity. Had he lived in the time of our Saviour, and heard from His lips the doctrines of the sermon on the mount, and then gone abroad among the Arabs with the matchless eloquence which was his gift, how truly he would have merited the title of Prince of the Apostles!
The Christians of his period offered a complete contrast to the Arabs. They had departed from the Christianity of Christ; there was corruption of the state and corruption of the individual. They had a vast body of jurisprudence and theology, but neither morality, religion, nor vital political force, and therefore Egypt and Syria were, without any arduous struggle, the first portions of the civilized world on which the Arabs built the foundations of Islamism.
U. S. Mao., No. 342, Mat, 1857. o
The Arab conquest of Egypt took place in the eighteenth year of the Hegira, or anno domini 639. It was with only a hundred camels, fifty slaves, and thirty horses that the Arab colonization of Egypt was begun by Kaisaby Ebu Kelthoom near the spot now occupied by the more modern city of Cairo. Fostat, or the city of tents, was the name given to this first capital of the Arabs under Amru, and here was reared the first mosque devoted to Islamism. "This land belongs to me," said Kaisaby, "but let it henceforth belong to Islamism." There was no grandeur or ceremony on these days; all pomp was left to the court of Constantinople, but there was the zeal, the bravery, and the simplicity of men employed in beginning a great political and religious system which, after the lapse of twelve centuries, was to count its votaries by tens of millions. Amru himself held the ropes of the scaffold while the keystone of the Kibleh was put in, and he it was that gave it its easterly direction; a pulpit, too, was constructed by Amru. But Omar the caliph would hear of no such adventitious distinction. "Do not," said Omar, "suppose that you may sit on a loft or a pulpit with the Moslems at your feet."
But soon the primitive simplicity of the Arabs was changed to luxury and convenience. Fostat rapidly increased in population, and became a considerable city and the seat of lieutenants of the Abbaside caliphs of Bagdad. The Arabs had entered Egypt as barbarians, but the luxury and the art of the Greeks had, in the course of two centuries, exerted a considerable influence on their manners; for although the supremacy of this lively and accomplished nation had fallen at the period of the Arab invasion, yet they had remained in considerable force at Alexandria, and had communicated to the Arabs much of their knowledge of the conveniencies of civilization, which was the germ of entirely new and graceful forms as well in architecture as in domestic life.
But the political edifice raised by the Arabs was fragile and insecure, arising from a peculiarity in the Moslem system, and that is the preponderance of the emotional over the ratiocinative in the nature of Mohammed, producing in his system an organic and inherent tendency to repel advancement in political and other sciences, and therefore contrasting with Christianity, which is the highest exposition of the laws of the universe. Hence, if I may so express myself, the Church of Islam has in it a peculiar character of tenacious coherence; but the State was in a perpetual fermentation and frequent agitation, and a century after the Augustan age of Haroun ErrReshid and Mammoon, the political edifice of Bagdad crumbled to pieces, and Ahmed Ebn Touloun, a Turkish Mameluke, or slave, became lord of Egypt.
It is at this period that the Turks with their strength of will appear upon the scene, for at this period the caliphs employed Turkish mercenaries as regularly as the popes had their Swiss. It is strength of will and a determination to rule that distinguishes this race, for all history shows that the Turks are a nation in whom the muscular predominates over the nervous system. These are the men of strong will and strong arms who have ruled and still rule the best part of Asia, and whose civilization is almost entirely imbibed from the races below them. So the separation of Egypt from the caliphate was merely the revolt of a vigorous Turkish slave against an Arab sovereign.
Ahmed Ebn Touloun was a soldier and a statesman; his son and successor was a voluptuary, and so his dynasty passed away, and after an interregnum of anarchy, the Fatimite caliphs ascended the throne of Egypt. These persons represented themselves to be the true descendants of Ali, the son-in-law, and of Fatimah, the daughter of Mohammed. Ali was the great name invoked for centuries by the opponents of the house of Abbas at Bagdad, and to this day the Aliite line of the Imaumate is considered the true and orthodox one by all the sect of Shea, to which Persia and a portion of Syria still adhere, but the pretensions of these Fatimite caliphs was contested by the house of Bagdad as well as by all its adherents.
It was, however, Moezz, the first of these Fatimite caliphs, resident in Egypt, who built and named the city of Cairo proper. Moezz had been in possession of a considerable territory in Northern Africa, and the invasion took place in the year 969 of the Christian era, the force being to a considerable extent composed of Sicilian Saracens, and the town was constructed by each troop of mercenaries building a street for itself—the names of which to this very day remain, after a lapse of nine centuries; but in these primitive days Cairo had little to show of the splendour and luxury which became general in the time of the Mameluke sultans, the streets being narrow, dark, and filthy, while Fostat subsisted on its manufactures of parchment and cross-bows, and its river commerce.
But a new set of monarchs came upon the scene ;the famed Mameluke sultans, who began with Saladin, he having founded the Eyoubite dynasty in the year 1171 of the Christian era. This celebrated prince was the ablest of all the monarchs of Egypt. He built the castle of Cairo, he rebuilt the walls of the city, and was the founder of the great military school which enabled the Moslems to repel all the efforts of the Franks to possess themselves of the Holy Land. His armies were composed of Kurds, Circassians, and Greeks, Saladin himself being a Kurd; but the great bulk of the armies of the Mameluke sultans was composed of Turks, and it is altogether a popular error to suppose that the Arabs had much to do with the expulsion of the Franks from the Holy Land. Although the Fatimite dynasty of caliphs was annihilated, and although the sultans of Egypt acknowledged the spiritual supremacy of the caliphs of Bagdad, yet their political rule was absolute in Egypt and in Syria. The sovereign power was regarded as a ray of the divinity, and it was by a miraculous effect of the sovereign that order was supposed to exist; for Mohammed, having received his power from God, and the successors or caliphs having succeeded to him, the sultans invested by the caliphs were regarded as the lawful depositories of power. Thus the people was bound to obedience and to blind execution of his orders, but the sultan was bound to virtue—his first duty being the prosecution of war against the infidels. In his person he was to be free from pride, avarice, or falsehood; he was to repress anger and loquacity, and to be patient and just.
But the practice of the Mameluke sultans was very far from corresponding with this acknowledged theory of moral and political duties. The subsequent history, until the conquest of Egypt by Sultan Selim in 1517, presents nothing but a series of acts of lust, murder, and rapine. The dynasty of Saladin melted away in 1250, and was succeeded by the so-called Baharite, or Turkish sultans, who were again succeeded by others, mostly of Circassian origin.
But so rapidly did they expel each other from power that the average reign of each did not exceed five or six years. The monarchy, not being hereditary, but elective, was exposed to all the evils of this unhappy form of government, which allowed the youngest adventurer to hope for supreme power, which hindered the oldest and most popular warrior, living for the good of his people in the conscious security that his family would succeed on his decease. There were, however, some bright exceptions to the fleeting character of the regal power in Egypt, and no sooner does the power seem secure for a few generations in one family than a golden age seems to cast its effulgent radiance on the capital. Such was the fourteenth century, when the power was held by the house of Kalaon, comprising father, son, and grandson—a period in the history of Cairo which is bright and luminous compared with those that followed and preceded it.
During the long wars with the Crusaders, all the material wealth, and human vigour of Egypt, under northern rulers, was expended in the attempt to expel the Franks from the Holy Land. It was Sultan Kalaon who finally drove the Christians out of Acre, their last great stronghold in Syria; and, being now at ease, the rest of his days were spent in directing the resources of the two countries, in repairing the fortresses, and in beautifying Cairo, then the capital of the state, comprising both Egypt and Syria: the great hospital and mosque of Cairo being to this day a splendid monument of his munificence, notwithstanding the dilapidation of its endowment. His son, Mohammed el Nasr, although less of a warrior, is more than any other monarch identified with the edification and embellishment of Cairo. The wealthy emirs, having no longer heavy wars to sustain with the Latins, built palaces, mosques, and baths in all directions, under the encouragement of a monarch who held a splendid court, and who delighted in architecture and in poetry. It was Mohammed el Nasr who might almost say, like Augustus, that he found Cairo built of brick and left it built of marble. This was the period of transition from the heavy old style of C.iiro, with its dead walls covered with gypsum, to the light and elegant Saracenic, which rivalled Granada, and captivated the imagination of the Venetians; and it was Hassan, the son of this Mohammed el Nasr, and grandson of Kalaon, that erected the great mosque which bears his name, and which, by the grandeur of its lines and the colossal simplicity of its effect, gives dignity to the memory of this remarkable family, which arrests the attention of the passing historical student. The fourteenth century was the prime of the imperial