Alexandria - History

History





Raqd.t (Alexandria)
in hieroglyphs

Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great in April 331 BC as Ἀλεξάνδρεια (Alexandria). Alexander's chief architect for the project was Dinocrates. Alexandria was intended to supersede Naucratis as a Hellenistic center in Egypt, and to be the link between Greece and the rich Nile Valley. An Egyptian city, Rhakotis, already existed on the shore, and later gave its name to Alexandria in the Egyptian language (Egyptian *Raˁ-Ḳāṭit, written rˁ-ḳṭy.t, 'That which is built up'). It continued to exist as the Egyptian quarter of the city. A few months after the foundation, Alexander left Egypt and never returned to his city. After Alexander's departure, his viceroy, Cleomenes, continued the expansion. Following a struggle with the other successors of Alexander, his general Ptolemy succeeded in bringing Alexander's body to Alexandria, though it was eventually lost after being separated from its burial site there.

Although Cleomenes was mainly in charge of overseeing Alexandria's continuous development, the Heptastadion and the mainland quarters seem to have been primarily Ptolemaic work. Inheriting the trade of ruined Tyre and becoming the center of the new commerce between Europe and 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 Egypt's main Greek city, with Greek people from diverse backgrounds.

Alexandria was not only a center of Hellenism, but was also home to the largest urban Jewish community in the world. The Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, was produced there. The early Ptolemies kept it in order and fostered the development of its museum into the leading Hellenistic center of learning (Library of Alexandria), but were careful to maintain the distinction of its population's three largest ethnicities: Greek, Jewish, and Egyptian. 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 Physcon from 144–116 BC was marked by purges and civil warfare.

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. It was besieged by the Ptolemies in 47 BC during Julius Caesar intervention in the civil war between king Ptolemy XIII and his advisers, and the fabled queen Cleopatra VII. It was finally captured by Octavian, future emperor Augustus on 1 August 30 BC, with the name of the month later being changed to August to commemorate his victory.

In AD 115, large parts of Alexandria were destroyed during the Kitos War, which gave Hadrian and his architect, Decriannus, an opportunity to rebuild it. In 215, the emperor Caracalla visited 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. On 21 July 365, Alexandria was devastated by a tsunami (365 Crete earthquake), an event annually commemorated years later as a "day of horror." In the late 4th century, persecution of pagans by newly Christian Romans had reached new levels of intensity. In 391, the Patriarch Theophilus destroyed all pagan temples in Alexandria under orders from Emperor Theodosius I. The Brucheum and Jewish quarters were desolate in the 5th century. On the mainland, life seemed to have centered in the vicinity of the Serapeum and Caesareum, both of which became Christian churches. The Pharos and Heptastadium quarters, however, remained populous and were left intact.

In 619, Alexandria fell to the Sassanid Persians. Although the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius recovered it in 629, in 641 the Arabs under the general Amr ibn al-As captured it during the Muslim conquest of Egypt, after a siege that lasted 14 months.

After the Battle of Ridaniya in 1517, the city was conquered by the Ottoman Turks and remained under Ottoman rule until 1798.

Alexandria figured prominently in the military operations of Napoleon's expedition to Egypt in 1798. French troops stormed the town on 2 July 1798, and it remained in their hands until the arrival of a British expedition in 1801. The British won a considerable victory over the French at the Battle of Alexandria on 21 March 1801, following which they besieged the town, which fell to them on 2 September 1801. Mohammed Ali, the Ottoman Governor of Egypt, began rebuilding and redevelopment 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. In July 1954, the city was a target of an Israeli bombing campaign that later became known as the Lavon Affair. On 26 October 1954, Alexandria's Mansheyya Square was the site of a failed assassination attempt on Gamal Abdel Nasser.

The most important battles and sieges of Alexandria include:

  • Siege of Alexandria (47 BC), Caesar's civil war
  • Battle of Alexandria (30 BC), Final war of the Roman Republic
  • Siege of Alexandria (619), Byzantine-Persian Wars
  • Siege of Alexandria (641), Rashidun conquest of Byzantine Egypt
  • Battle of Alexandria, French Revolutionary Wars
  • Siege of Alexandria (1801), French Revolutionary Wars
  • Alexandria expedition of 1807, French Revolutionary Wars

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    Boris Pasternak (1890–1960)