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346            Egypt and the Byzantine Empire
the time of crisis. The impression given by all the evidence is
that before ever the Arabs appeared in Egypt the country was
already spiritually lost to the empire and rapidly relapsing into
the Oriental world from which the conquests of Alexander the
Great had in large measure separated it.
At the end of 639, after extorting a reluctant consent from
the Caliph 'Omar, eAmr led an Arab army against Pelusium.
It numbered but four thousand men, far less than the Roman
army of Egypt, but the latter was dispersed and of poor quality,
and the division of authority within the country led to delay
and want of co-operation in the defence. The local governors,
appointed for their wealth rather than their administrative or
military capacity, were quite unequal to the situation, and the
mass of the people, though they hardly welcomed the invaders,
showed little enthusiasm for the cause of a government which
had impoverished and persecuted them. Nevertheless the Arabs,
more than once reinforced, had to fight hard against some of
the defending forces; but the incompetence of the Roman com-
manders and the poltroonery of Cyrus gave them victory in the
end. In September, 642, the Roman army withdrew from
Alexandria and the Arabs took possession of the city.
So ended the Graeco-Roman period of Egyptian history.
Egypt, impoverished though she had become, was still a rich
prize for the conquerors. Her corn helped to provide the allow-
ances to the Muslims, her tribute in gold to fill the treasury of
the Caliphs successively at Mecca, Damascus, and Bagdad, and
her administrative organization provided the Arabs with valu-
able lessons for their new task of imperial government. Some
things they modified. Taught by the success of their own
invasion, 'they substituted for the subdivision of Byzantine
Egypt an almost excessive centralization; they abolished auto-
fragia, ended the power of the nobles, and swept away municipal
government (though cthe city, the contributory villages and the
notables' still appear, so late as A.D. 710, as the three divisions