- History of Alexandria
The history of
Alexandriadates back to the city's founding, by Alexander the Great. It was the seat of the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt, and quickly became one of the greatest cities of the Hellenistic world — second only to Romein size and wealth. It fell to the Arabsin 641 AD, and a new capital of Egypt, Fustat, was founded on the Nile. After Alexandria's status as the country's capital ended, it fell into a long decline, which by the late Ottoman period, had seen it reduced to little more than a small fishing village. The city was revived by Muhammad Ali as a part of his early industrialization program. The current city is Egypt's leading port, a commercial, tourism and transportation center, and the heart of a major industrial area where refined petroleum, asphalt, cotton textiles, processed food, paper, plastics and styrofoamare produced.
Alexandria was founded by
Alexander the Greatin 332 BC (the exact date is disputed) as polytonic|Ἀλεξάνδρεια ("Aleksándreia"). Alexander's chief architect for the project was Dinocrates. Ancient accounts are extremely numerous and varied, and much influenced by subsequent developments. One of the more sober descriptions, given by the historian Arrian, tells how Alexander undertook to lay out the city's general plan, but lacking chalk or other means, resorted to sketching it out with grain.
A number of more fanciful foundation myths are found in the
Alexander Romanceand were picked up by medieval Arab historians. The 14th century Arab historian Ibn Khaldunridiculed one where sea-monsters prevented the city's foundation, but were thwarted when Alexander descended below the sea in a glass box, and armed with exact knowledge of their appearance, goes on to erect metal effigies on the beach which succeed in frightening the monsters away.
Alexandria was intended to supersede
Naucratisas a Hellenisticcenter in Egypt, and to be the link between Greeceand the rich Nile Valley. If such a city was to be on the Egyptian coast, there was only one possible site, behind the screen of the Pharosisland and removed from the silt thrown out by the Nile, just west of the westernmost "Canopic" mouth of the river. The site also offered unique protection against invading armies: the vast Libyan desertto the west and the Nile Deltato the east. An Egyptian townlet, Rhakotis, already existed on the shore and was a resort filled with fishermen and pirates. Behind it were five native villages scattered along the strip between Lake Mareotisand the sea, so told according to a history of Alexander attributed to the author known as Pseudo-Callisthenes.
A few months after the foundation, Alexander left Egypt for the East and never returned to his city. After Alexander departed, his viceroy, Cleomenes, continued the expansion of the city.
In a struggle with the other successors of Alexander, his general, Ptolemy (later
Ptolemy I of Egypt) succeeded in bringing Alexander's body to Alexandria. Alexander's tomb became a famous tourist destination for ancient travelers (including Julius Caesar).
Though Cleomenes was mainly in charge of seeing to Alexandria's continuous development, the "Heptastadion" and the main-land quarters seem to have been mainly Ptolemaic work. Inheriting the trade of ruined Tyre and becoming the center of the new commerce between
Europeand the Arabian and Indian East, the city grew in less than a generation to be larger than Carthage. In a century, Alexandria had become the largest city in the world and for some centuries more, was second only to Rome. It became the main Greek city of Egypt, with an extraordinary mix of Greeks from many cities and backgrounds. [cite journal |first=Andrew |last=Erskine |journal=Culture and Power in Ptolemaic Egypt: The Museum and Library of Alexandria |title=Greece & Rome, 2nd Ser., |volume=Vol. 42, |issue=No. 1 |date=Apr. 1995 |pages=pgs 38–48  |quote=One effect of the newly created Hellenistic kingdoms was the imposition of Greek cities occupied by Greeks on an alien landscape. In Egypt there was a native Egyptian population with its own culture, history, and traditions. The Greeks who came to Egypt, to the court or to live in Alexandria, were separated from their original cultures. Alexandria was the main Greek city of Egypt and within it there was an extraordinary mix of Greeks from many cities and backgrounds.] Nominally a free Hellenistic city, Alexandria retained its senateof Roman times and the judicial functions of that body were restored by Septimius Severusafter temporary abolition by Augustus.
Alexandria was not only a center of
Hellenismbut was also home to the largest Jewishcommunity in the world. The Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Biblethe torah, was produced there. The early Ptolemies kept it in order and fostered the development of its museum into the leading Hellenistic centre of learning ( Library of Alexandria) but were careful to maintain the distinction of its population's three largest ethnicities: Greek, Jewish, and Egyptian.cite journal |first=Andrew |last=Erskine |journal=Culture and Power in Ptolemaic Egypt: The Museum and Library of Alexandria |title=Greece & Rome, 2nd Ser., |volume=Vol. 42 |issue=No. 1 |date=Apr. 1995 |pages=pgs 38–48 [42–43] |quote=The Ptolemaic emphasis on Greek culture establishes the Greeks of Egypt with an identity for themselves. […] But the emphasis on Greek culture does even more than this – these are Greeks ruling in a foreign land. The more Greeks can indulge in their own culture, the more they can exclude non-Greeks, in other words Egyptians, the subjects whose land has been taken over. The assertion of Greek culture serves to enforce Egyptian subjection. So the presence in Alexandria of two institutions devoted to the preservation and study of Greek culture acts as a powerful symbol of Egyptian exclusion and subjection. Texts from other cultures could be kept in the library, but only once they had been translated, that is to say Hellenized.
[…] A reading of Alexandrian poetry might easily give the impression that Egyptians did not exist at all; indeed Egypt itself is hardly mentioned except for the Nile and the Nile flood, […] This omission of the Egypt and Egyptians from poetry masks a fundamental insecurity. It is no coincidence that one of the few poetic references to Egyptians presents them as muggers.] Alexandrian Greeks placed an emphasis on Greek culture in part to exclude and subjugate non-Greeks. There were two institutions in Alexandria that were devoted to the preservation and study of Greek culture and which helped to exclude non-Greeks. In literature, non-Greek texts could only be kept in the library once they had been translated into Greek and notably, there were few references made to Egypt or native Egyptians in Alexandrian poetry; one of the few references to native Egyptians presents them as "muggers." There were large ostentatious religious processions in the streets that displayed the wealth and power of the Ptolemies, but also celebrated and affirmed Greekness. These processions were used to shout Greek superiority over any non-Greeks that were watching, thereby widening the divide between cultures. [cite journal |first=Andrew |last=Erskine |journal=Culture and Power in Ptolemaic Egypt: The Museum and Library of Alexandria |title=Greece & Rome, 2nd Ser., |volume=Vol. 42 |issue=No. 1 |date=Apr. 1995 |pages=pgs. 38–48  |quote=This procession is very revealing about Ptolemaic Egypt. In essence it is a religious procession, but its magnificence and its content transform it into something more than this. For anyone watching, whether they are foreigners, who might be paying a visit or there on a diplomatic mission, or Alexandrian Greeks or native Egyptians, the procession hammers out the message of Ptolemy’s enormous wealth and power. For Alexandrian Greeks, both those watching and those taking part, it will be a celebration and affirmation of Greekness. But it is even more than this it is also a procession shouting out Greek superiority to any native Egyptians who happen to be in the vicinity. Thus in a popular, visual form the procession embodies those same elements which were observed above in the case of the Library and Museum.] From this division arose much of the later turbulence, which began to manifest itself under Ptolemy Philopater who reigned from 221–204 BC. The reign of
Ptolemy VIII Physconfrom 144–116 BC was marked by purges and civil warfare (including the expulsion of Apollodorus) as well as intrigues associated with the king's wives and sons.
One of the earliest well-known inhabitants of Alexandria during the Ptolemaic reign was the geometer and number-theorist
The city passed formally under Roman jurisdiction in 80 BC, according to the will of Ptolemy Alexander but only after it had been under Roman influence for more than a hundred years. Julius Caesar dallied with Cleopatra in Alexandria in 47 BC and was mobbed by the rabble. His example was followed by
Mark Antony, for whose favor the city paid dearly to Octavian. Following Anthony's defeat at Alexandria at the Battle of Actium, Octavian took Egypt for his own, appointing a prefect who reported personally to him rather than to the Roman Senate. While in Alexandria, Octavian took time to visit Alexander's tomb and inspected the late king's remains. On being offered a viewing into the tombs of the pharaohs, he refused, saying, 'I came to see a king, not a collection of corpses'.
From the time of annexation and onwards, Alexandria seemed to have regained its old prosperity, commanding, as it did, an important granary of Rome. This fact, doubtless, was one of the chief reasons which induced Octavian to place it directly under imperial power .
115AD Alexandria was destroyed during the Jewish-Greek civil wars which gave Hadrianand his architect, Decriannus, an opportunity to rebuild it.
In 215 AD the emperor
Caracallavisited the city and, because of some insulting satires that the inhabitants had directed at him, abruptly commanded his troops to put to death all youths capable of bearing arms. This brutal order seems to have been carried out even beyond the letter, for a general massacre ensued. According to historian Cassius Dio, over 20,000 people were killed.
In the 3rd century A.D. Alexander's tomb was closed to the public, and now its location has been forgotten.
Late Roman and Byzantine period
Even as its main historical importance had sprung from pagan learning, Alexandria now acquired new importance as a center of Christian
theologyand church government. There Arianismcame to prominence and there also Athanasius, opposed both Arianism and pagan reaction against Christianity, experiencing success against both and continuing the Patriarch of Alexandria's major influence on Christianity into the next two centuries.
As native influences began to reassert themselves in the Nile valley, Alexandria gradually became an alien city, more and more detached from Egypt and losing much of its commerce as the peace of the empire broke up during the
3rd century AD, followed by a fast decline in population and splendor.
In the late
4th century, persecution of pagans by newly Christian Romans had reached new levels of intensity. Temples and statues were destroyed throughout the Roman empire: pagan rituals became forbidden under punishment of death, and libraries were closed. In 391, Emperor Theodosius Iordered the destruction of all pagan temples, and the Patriarch Theophilus complied with his request. One theory has it that the great Library of Alexandriaand the Serapeumwere destroyed about this time. The female mathematician and neoplatonistphilosopher Hypatiawas a prominent victim of the persecutions.
Brucheumand Jewish quarters were desolate in the 5th century, and the central monuments, the "Soma" and Museum, fell into ruin. On the mainland, life seemed to have centered in the vicinity of the "Serapeum" and " Caesareum", both which became Christian churches. The " Pharos" and "Heptastadium" quarters, however, remained populous and were left intact.
In 616, the city was taken by Khosrau II, King of Persia. Although the Byzantine Emperor
Heracliusrecovered it a few years later, in 641 the Arabs, under the general Amr ibn al-Asduring the Muslim conquest of Egypt, captured it decisively after a siege that lasted fourteen months. The city received no aid from Constantinopleduring that time; Heraclius was dead and the new Emperor Constantine III was barely twelve years old. Notwithstanding the losses that the city had sustained, Amr was able to write to the CaliphOmar, that he had taken a city containing "4,000 palaces, 4,000 baths, 12,000 dealers in fresh oil, 12,000 gardeners, 40,000 Jews who pay tribute, 400 theaters or places of amusement." In 645a Byzantine fleet recaptured the city, but it fell for good the following year.
Some claim that The
Library of Alexandriaand its contents were destroyed in 642 during the Arab invasion. [ [http://freecopts.net/english/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=343 The Free Copts - Who Burned the Historic Bibliotheca Alexandrina? ] ] Others deny this and claim that the library was destroyed much earlier, in 3rd century, due to civil war in the time of the Roman Emperor Aurelian. [cite book |last=Goldston |first=Robert |title=Sword of the Prophet |location=New York |publisher=The Dial Press |year=1979] The Lighthouse was destroyed by earthquakes in the 14th century, [http://ce.eng.usf.edu/pharos/wonders/pharos.html] and by 1700 the city was just a small town amidst the ruins.
Alexandria figured prominently in the military operations of
Napoleon's expedition to Egypt in 1798. French troops stormed the city on July 2 1798and it remained in their hands until the arrival of the British expedition in 1801. The British won a considerable victory over the French at the Battle of Alexandriaon March 21 1801, following which they besieged the city which fell to them on 2 September 1801.
Mohammed Ali, the Ottoman Governor of Egypt, began rebuilding the city around 1810, and by 1850, Alexandria had returned to something akin to its former glory. In July 1882 the city came under bombardment from British naval forces and was occupied (see
Egypt under Muhammad Ali and his successors).
In July 1954, the city was a target of an Israeli bombing campaign that later became known as the
Lavon Affair. Only a few months later, Alexandria's Manshia Square was the site of the famous, failed assassination attempt on the life of Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Mayors of Alexandria (since the implementation of the local-government act of 1960) [http://www.alex4all.com/governal/articl.php?id=3] :
Siddiq Abdul-Latif(Oct 1960 - Nov 1961)
Mohammed Hamdi Ashour(Nov 1961 - Oct 1968)
Ahmad Kamil(Oct 1968 - Nov 1970)
Mamdouh Salim(Nov 1970 - May 1971)
Ahmad Fouad Mohyee El-Deen(May 1971 - Sep 1972)
Abdel-Meneem Wahbi(Sep 1972 - May 1974)
Abdel-Tawwab Ahmad Hadeeb(May 1974 - Nov 1978)
Mohammed Fouad Helmi(Nov 1978 - May 1980)
Naeem Abu-Talib(May 1980 - August 1981)
Mohammed Saeed El-Mahi(August 1981 - May 1982)
Mohammed Fawzi Moaaz(May 1982 - Jun 1986)
Ismail El-Gawsaqi(Jul 1986 - Jul 1997)
Abdel-Salam El-Mahgoub(1997 - 2006)
Adel Labib(August 2006 - )
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.