The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 18c (part 7)

The Islamic raiders have now reached Egypt, and approach Babylon fortress, on the Nile.  The bitter ideological infighting of the past century has left the country and its rulers at odds, and both hate the Emperor Heraclius. The Persian war has stripped the country of soldiers, and left societal bonds weakened.  So the Prefect of Egypt is willing to cut a deal for his own corrupt ends with the handful of tribal raiders before him. 

The “prefect al-Muqawqas” is not named by Eutychius, nor is his exact  office given, and for  good reasons.  In fact his name was Cyrus, the augustalis or viceroy, and, far from being a Jacobite, he was Eutychius’ predecessor as the Melkite patriarch from 628-643.  There is more about him in al-Tabari and Abu Salih.[1]

11. In Egypt the prefect al-Muqawqas was receiving the kharāğ[2] on behalf of King Heraclius.  He was a Jacobite and he hated the Rum.  But it had never crossed his mind to express his Jacobitism for fear of being killed.  He had also not sent to Constantinople the money that he had collected in Egypt during the siege of Constantinople by Kisra, and therefore he was afraid that, if he fell into the hands of King Heraclius, he would surely be put to death.  So he tried to deceive the Rum by saying to them:  “The Arabs have had reinforcements, we cannot do anything against them, and we will find no way out if they besiege us.  They will kill us for sure.  Let’s open the gates of the citadel, and gather the fighters, then go out from the citadel and get out onto the island.  There we will encamp and the sea will make us an effective defensive barrier.”  The Rum went out, with al-Muqawqas and a group of Coptic notables, from the southern gate of the citadel, while others stayed to fight against the Arabs.  They embarked on the boats, came onto the island – today a place of artisans – and cut the bridge that was used when the Nile flooded.  Then al-Muqawqas sent word to Amr ibn al-‘As and said:  “You came into our country and we have fought for a long time.  For too long a time you have now been in our territory.  You are surrounded by the Nile and you are prisoners at our mercy.  Send us therefore one of your men who is your representative so that we can hear what you have to say and maybe reach an agreement that satisfies us and you, and so put an end to this war. ”  When the messengers of al-Muqawqas presented themselves to Amr ibn al-As, he sent them back to al-Muqawqas along with Obaida ibn as-Samit.  Obaida was of black complexion.  When he came to al-Muqawqas, he led him to a seat and said:  “What do you want from us, now, tell us.”  Obaida replied:  “For how things are done between us, there are only three possibilities, and it’s up to you to choose the one you like the most.  This my chief has ordered me to repeat, and the prince of believers ordered him to say this.  You may embrace our religion, namely Islam, and in this case you will become our brothers, we shall be united in good as well as in bad times.  If you do this, we will stop fighting against you and will not let anyone do you harm or dare to go up against you.  If you refuse to do this, you will pay us the tribute that we deem convenient, every year and forever, and we will defend you from all those who attack or try to harass you by laying claim upon your territory, upon you and upon your property.  But if you accept our guarantee we will give you a deal which we deem legal.  If you refuse even this, there will be between us and you only the judgment of the sword.  We are all willing to die, to the last, in order to obtain what we want from you.”

Al-Muqawqas replied:  “To embrace your religion is not possible [for us];  I myself personally, and my Coptic friends, can agree to accept a peace pact, but the Rum have refused to agree to make peace with you, saying:  ‘We never do such a thing!'”Al-Muqawqas behaved in this manner because of treachery and deceit, in order to drive out the Rum from the citadel and then accept peace, in order to keep the money that he had collected.

  1. [1]See F. Nau, “La politique matrimoniale de Cyrus (le Mocaucas) patriarche melchite d’Alexandrie”, in Le Muséon 45 (1932), pp. 1-17.
  2. [2]Or kharaj – This is the name of the Islamic land tax, initially imposed only on non-Muslims.  In this content it means the land tax.

7 thoughts on “The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 18c (part 7)

  1. Roger – off topic I know, but do you have a view on the authenticity or otherwise of the so called Covenants of Mohammed? I think they are later forgeries for several reasons, the most glaring being that the Covenant to the Monks of Mt Sinai was reportedly written in 623 AD but the area didn’t come under Muslim control until at least 640 AD (so I believe). So why would Mohammed grant exemption from the jizya tax which the monks were not yet subject to?

  2. This is an interesting question. I was previously unaware of this “Covenants of Mohammed” thing, which seems to be an initiative by a certain John Andrew Morrow to collect various “letters of Mohammed” granting guarantees (e.g. to the monks of Sinai). I have seen the Sinai item, which did not look like an original letter to me (but could well be a copy). I have always assumed that it was a medieval forgery – such things were commonplace in the period in Western Europe. Indeed paleography itself as a discipline came into being under the ancien regime, in response to challenges to the authenticity of medieval charters.

    I don’t know enough about the period, or the items, or their history, or the scholarship, to offer an opinion. Morrow’s book looks unscholarly to me, from what I see on the web, but that could be quite unfair. I’d rather not venture an opinion.

  3. Thanks. I am sorry to hear they are not something you have studied. My interest in them is that I believe they are being used to spread a falsely benign image of Mohammed by Islamic apologists, in particular Craig Considine who always refers to them as factual:

    https://craigconsidinetcd.com/2015/12/19/under-the-government-of-prophet-muhammad/

    If you are interested in the subject here is my unscholarly response to Morrow’s book, which might at least be a place to start from:

    https://ecawblog.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/mohammeds-apocryphal-covenants/

  4. I am puzzled now. This post is about Islamic history, and about events taking place shortly after the two events I mentioned above.

    To my untutored mind the anomaly I highlighted proves that the Covenant to the Monks of Mt. Sinai must be fake, and by extension the other five which appear to be copies. Is it not a matter of concern that people are using Morrow’s pseudo-scholarship, misguidedly or mendaciously, to promote a false view of Mohammed to help facilitate the spread of Islam in the West today?

    I think it possible that with your expertise you could confirm the issue one way or the other, if you would take a look, thereby helping to discredit this canard.

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