EGYPT AND THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE
To speak of a legacy of Byzantine Egypt is perhaps to make, save
in one respect, a suggestiofalsi. The exception is in the sphere
of religion. The catechetical school of Alexandria had indeed
passed its zenith before the Byzantine Age, and though both the
founder of the Arian heresy and its chief opponent claimed the
city as their home, neither Arius nor Athanasius can be reckoned
among the great formative influences of Christian thought.
Cyril was statesman rather than thinker; and with Dioscorus
and the monophysite schism the Egyptian Church fell out of
the main stream of Christian development into an inglorious
backwater. The great gift of Egypt to the Middle Ages was
monasticism; and throughout the fourth century visitors flocked
from the whole Mediterranean world, as formerly and in later
days to see the remains of antiquity, so now to admire and con-
verse with those 'athletes of God' whose austerities had caught
the temper of the time. But religion, like art (of which, in this
period, something might be said), lies outside the sphere of the
present chapter. To law and administration such contributions
of importance as Egypt had to render to the Roman world had
been made before the empire fell to Diocletian, with whom,
though Byzantium did not become the capital till the reign of
Constantine, the Byzantine Age may be taken to begin* Politi-
cally and economically, whatever formative influences may have
been germinating elsewhere, the history of Byzantine Egypt is
in the main one of decline.
A legacy of a sort there is, however, even here; but it is
a legacy rather to the historian than to the historic process.
The papyri, of this as of earlier ages, are an unequalled source
of information on social and economic conditions and illustrate
one of the most momentous changes in the history of mankind.