Christian History Project. This site contains the text of 12 volumes on the history of mankind over the last 2,000 years written from a 'collectively-denominational' Christian perspective.

Fall of Alexandria |
The jewel of Egypt

Fall of Alexandria is drawn from Chapter Ten, beginning on page 270, of Volume Five, The Sword of Islam of the twelve-volume historical series The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years. If you would like to order this book please visit

Wealthy and powerful, second city of the empire, the metropolis of Alexandria dazzles its conquerors

Fall of Alexandria - The jewel of Egypt

Fall of Alexandria - The jewel of Egypt
The medieval Qait Bey Fort (above) was begun in 1480 on the site of the great Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Built in 290 B.C., the lighthouse was damaged by a series of earthquakes before its stones were used as a foundation for the fort. The city once produced huge warships for the Egyptian, Roman, and later Byzantine and Muslim navies.

Nothing could have prepared Egypt’s new Muslim overlords for the splendor, wealth, and sheer size of the metropolis of Alexandria. Founded by Alexander the Great in 331 b.c., it was the second city of the Byzantine Empire (after Constantinople itself), and the conduit through which flowed much of the trade between the Mediterranean, Africa and the Orient.

With the flowering of the empire under Justinian, a large number of new churches were built during the sixth century that reflected the power and wealth of the orthodox church. By the time of Heraclius, a century later, the Coptic patriarchate had become just as powerful, and even wealthier. It maintained its own trading fleet, and formed the most powerful institution in the city.

Alexandria was noted for its intellectual, artistic and cultural life. The study of Christian theology flourished there, and students from all over the empire attended its faculty of medicine. It was a center of craftsmanship in glass and metal, and the Alexandrian school of sculpture was foremost in the world.

As the Mediterranean’s busiest port, shipbuilding was a major industry. In addition to large and small merchant vessels, the shipwrights of Alexandria built great battleships–floating fortresses that could carry a thousand men. The city also produced the best ropes in the world; made from a special hemp developed in Egypt.

In 290 b.c. a great lighthouse was built at the harbor entrance, to aid navigation. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it contained a huge mirror that reflected light (from a meticulously tended fire) that could be seen thirty-five miles offshore. The lighthouse was damaged by several earthquakes, but stood until 1480–when it was finally demolished to build a fort on the same site.

Equally famous was Alexandria’s great library, containing seven hundred-thousand scrolls, and held to be the greatest repository of knowledge in the ancient world. It was partially destroyed during a fire begun by troops of Julius Caesar in 48 b.c., but more yet was lost during the fourth century. That it no longer existed in the twelfth century is fact, but who finally destroyed it is a question that perplexes historians even today.

One story suggests that the caliph, Umar, when asked what should be done with the library, ordered “if what is written in [the books] agrees with the Qur’an, they are not required: if it disagrees, they are not desired. Destroy them therefore.” And they did. For six months the books were used as fuel, to heat the city’s public baths.

This is the end of the Fall of Alexandria category article drawn from Chapter Ten, beginning on page 270, of Volume Five, The Sword of Islam. To continue reading more about Fall of Alexandria from The Christians, Their First Two Thousand Years we suggest experiencing the rest of the book, complete with hundreds of magnificent illustrations, by ordering it at