Byzantine Egypt

Byzantine Egypt

Byzantine Egypt ,Byzantium was an ancient Greek city located at the entrance of the Bosphorus (in modern Turkey). It was rebuilt by Constantine the great and became, therefore, known as Constantinople (city of Constantine). In 330, it became the capital of the Roman Empire of the East. This displacement of the capital was due to the following reasons:


Byzantine Egypt


1-The eastern part of the Roman Empire was already becoming more important than its western part. It was necessary to relocate the capital to another city in the eastern part of the empire. 

2-Rome was already a well-known center of paganism. With the spread of Christianity, Rome had to be replaced by a new capital. 

3-Constantinople had easy access to the Danube and the Euphrates. It could be supplied from the rich gardens of Roman Asia. 

4-The Roman Empire was already expanding, and Rome became too far from the frontiers. A new location for the capital was necessary. Constantinople was much easier to protect than Rome, which was continuously attacked by the Germanic tribes. 

5- Constantine the Great was himself born in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. 


Constantine the great governed both the eastern and western parts of the empire. Egypt became ruled by Constantinople within the framework of the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Period in Egypt spans from the 4th to the 7th century AD. During this period, Christianity was finally accepted as a religion in Egypt. The arrival of the Arabs into Egypt in 641 marks the end of the Byzantine Period. 

Byzantium art
Byzantine Egypt


Christianity started in the East….in Jerusalem (Palestine), where Jesus was born. This was during the reign of the Roman Emperor Augustus (27BC-14AD). Jesus spent most of his lifetime in Nazareth (Galilee). Christianity was introduced into Egypt through:

-The Jews of Alexandria: who were in contact with their relatives in Palestine. It was through them that the Alexandrians knew about Jesus-Christ and his miracles.

2-The Roman soldiers stationed in Egypt who had already adopted Christianity.

3-Merchants visiting Alexandria for trade: who had adopted Christianity or at least heard about it through their visits to Jerusalem. 

4-Saint Mark: He was the first missionary of Christianity. He arrived in Alexandria during the reign of Emperor Nero. He founded the School of Alexandria for the teachings of Christianity. 


-Why did Christianity spread quickly throughout Egypt?

1-The Christian values in the teachings of Jesus, such as the love for God, the renunciation of violence, and the forgiveness of sins attracted many people to adopt the new faith. 

2-The Christian missionaries used the Greek language to spread the new religion. Greek was already a widespread language by that time. 

3-Christianity was at first regarded by the Romans as a sect of Judaism. It was only when Christianity continued to grow in popularity that the Romans saw it as a threat.


Persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire

Contrary to popular belief, the Romans were normally quite tolerant of other religions. They would have been tolerant towards Christianity were it not for some of the practices of Christians who rejected public festivals, refused to take part in the imperial cult, and avoided public office. This was at a time when the Roman Emperor was worshipped as a god. By refusing to pay proper homage to the emperor, or the official Roman gods, Christians were considered guilty of treason. 

In the first two centuries of Christianity, no general laws were issued against the Church. Early Christians were, however, subject to local discrimination in the Roman Empire. In the third century, emperors began to issue general laws against Christians. They were forced to sacrifice to Roman gods or face imprisonment and execution

Byzantine Egypt

Edicts of Tolerance

The First Imperial Edict of Tolerance: was issued by the Roman Emperor Gallienus in 261. As a result of the edict: 

1- Christians enjoyed nearly 40 years of peaceful coexistence. 

2-Christians were allowed to practice their beliefs without being attacked by the pagans. 3-Christianity grew more popular. 

4-Big churches were built in many cities, for example at Ehnasia (Beni Suef). 

5-Wealthy Christians also held important posts (jobs). 


Persecution under Diocletian 284-305


In 303, a number of persecutory edicts were issued by Emperors Diocletian, Maximian, Galerius, and Constantius (Tetrarchy). By means of these edicts, churches were destroyed, their properties were confiscated and the holy scriptures were burned. Christians were forced to comply with traditional Roman religious practices, and to sacrifice to the Roman gods.

In Egypt, the persecution was so intense that the Coptic Church dates its years to the ‘Era of Martyrs’, starting from the first year of the reign of Diocletian 284. In 305, Diocletian abdicated, and his successor Galerius continued the persecution. 

The oppression finally ended in 311 with the issuing of the Second Edict of Tolerance in Serdica in 311 by the Roman Emperor Galerius.  


The Edict of Milan 313 

The so-called “Edict of Milan” was issued by two emperors: Constantine I and Licinius. By means of this edict, they acted in accordance with the Edict of Galerius issued in 311 to stop the persecution of Christians. 

Some historical studies have shown that the so-called “Edict of Milan” was in fact a letter sent in 313 by Emperor Licinius to the governors of the provinces in the eastern empire directing them to execute the orders of the Edict of Tolerance of Galerius and to grant religious liberty to all religions. 

Through the edict of Milan, Christianity became recognized as a legal faith in the Roman Empire, and the Christians were able to retrieve their confiscated properties. 


The Arian Controversy

The Dispute on the Nature of the Trinity


The Arian Controversy was a disagreement that started in the late 3rd century in Alexandria over the nature or status of the son/Logos and its relation to the nature of God. This dispute lasted for over 55 years. As a result of this, the Church became divided into two opposing groups.

The controversy had begun when a priest and a theologian named Arius proposed the view that the logos was a creature, begotten by God out of “nonexistence”, and thereby was subject to change, capable of vice and virtue just as human beings were. This meant that there was a time when the logos did not exist. 

The pope of Alexandria heard Arius’ views in a debate and decided that he was erroneous, and commanded Arius to cease this teaching. Arius, however, continued expressing his views, and so the controversy gradually grew. 

In 319, the Pope of Alexandria deposed Arius and his associates through a council of about 100 Egyptian bishops.

Arius fled to Palestine hoping to find sympathy and support for his views. The bishop of Nicomedia brought pressure on the bishop of Alexandria to reinstate Arius. 

In response, Alexander claimed that Arius’ denial of the divinity of the logos/son was blasphemous. 

Alexander held that the logos/son was eternally generated from the father, irrespective of time, comes “from God himself” rather than from “nonexistence”, and is changeless and perfect. This position evoked from the Arians the accusation that Alexander was teaching two coequal Gods, two “unbegottens”. 


Constantine, in an effort to provide a peaceful and successful resolution to this debate, summoned all the empires’ bishops to the city of Nicaea in Asia Minor for what was to become the first universal council of the church. 

This council, assembled in 325, has lived in Christian tradition as the one whose confession of faith defined the very foundation of orthodoxy. The great majority of the bishops who attended were from the East. The bishops represented three schools of thought. A small number led by the bishop of Nicomedia supported Arius. 

Another small group supported the bishop of Alexandria. The majority were conservatives. Constantine himself was present at the assembly and dominated its proceedings. The council decided that Arius should be deposed from his office and exiled. His followers were accused of heresy. 

In 328, Alexander the bishop of Alexandria died, and Athanasius became the bishop of Alexandria. Emperor Constantine realized that the Council of Nicaea did not end the Arian controversy. He decided to recall Arius and his followers from their exile to the Church, providing that they accept the Nicene Creed. 

Athanasius refused to accept Arius and his followers back in the Church. In 335, another council was held in Tyre. The council decided that Athanasius would be deposed and exiled. 


In 336, Arius died suddenly in Constantinople before a formal ceremony was to restore him to his office, and his adverse Athanasius died later on in 373. The dispute, however, continued between the followers of Athanasius and the followers of Arius.


The Conflict between the Copts and the Rulers of Byzantium

The political and religious conflict between the Copts of Egypt and the Byzantine rulers started when the patriarchate of Constantinople began to rival the patriarchate of Alexandria. The dispute centered on the nature of Jesus Christ and whether he has one nature (Monophysite) or two natures. (Dyophysite). 

Three Ecumenical Councils were held to solve the dispute between the Coptic Church of Alexandria and that of Byzantium. Those were the Councils of Nicaea, Constantinople and Ephesus. 

In 451, a fourth council was held in Chalcedon (in Turkey) to decide on the nature of Christ. The Coptic Church was represented by Dioscorus of Alexandria. He insisted that there is in Christ only one nature. 

The council rejected Dioscorus’ opinion, and declared that Christ had two natures and that he was equally human and equally divine. 

Dioscorus was deposed of his office and exiled. The Coptic Church refused to accept the council’s decree and rejected the bishop sent to Egypt. Henceforth, the Coptic Church was in schism from the Church of the Byzantine Empire. 


For nearly two centuries, Monophysitism (one nature of Christ) in Egypt became the symbol of national and religious resistance to Byzantine authority. 

The Egyptian Church was severely persecuted by Byzantium. Churches were closed, and Coptic Christians were tortured and exiled. The Coptic Church continued to appoint its own patriarchs and refused to accept the patriarchs sent by Constantinople. 

Egypt after the Council of Chalcedon


In 451, following the Council of Chalcedon, the Church of Alexandria divided into two groups: the Melkites and the Jacobites. 

1- The Melkites: those who accepted the terms of the Council of Chalcedon. 

2- The Jacobites: those who did not abide by the terms of the Council of Chalcedon.  


The Jacobites rejected being called Monophysites. Monophysite according to the Council of Chalcedon means: to believe that Jesus has one nature. The Jacobites insisted that the Council of Chalcedon gave an improper interpretation for the term Monophysite.  


According to the Egyptian Church: Jesus is perfect in his divinity, perfect in his humanity. His divinity and his humanity were united in the one nature called: “the nature of the incarnate word”. Two natures united in one without mingling, without confusion, and without alteration. The majority of the Egyptians were Jacobites. This led to their persecution by the Byzantines, which continued until the Arab conquest of Egypt. Byzantine Egypt tour-inegypt

Byzantine Egypt

Byzantine Egypt,Byzantine Egypt tour-inegypt

Byzantine Egypt tour-inegypt

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