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Coptic Identity and Ayyubid Politics in Egypt, 1218–1250

Coptic Identity and Ayyubid Politics in Egypt, 1218–1250

Kurt J. Werthmuller
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Coptic Identity and Ayyubid Politics in Egypt, 1218–1250
    Book Description:

    Using the life and writings of Cyril III Ibn Laqlaq, 75th patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, along with a variety of Christian and Muslim chroniclers, this study explores the identity and context of the Christian community of Egypt and its relations with the leadership of the Ayyubid dynasty in the early thirteenth century. Kurt Werthmuller introduces new scholarship that illuminates the varied relationships between medieval Christians of Egypt and their Muslim neighbors. Demonstrating that the Coptic community was neither passive nor static, the author discusses the active role played by the Copts in the formation and evolution of their own identity within the wider political and societal context of this period. In particular, he examines the boundaries between Copts and the wider Egyptian society in the Ayyubid period in three “in-between spaces": patriarchal authority, religious conversion, and monasticism.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-380-2
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    While the expanse of Greater Cairo had likely spread into a metropolitan whole by the early thirteenth century ce, several urban centers still competed within its orbit for prominence. Al-Qahira, Cairo’s namesake, had originally served as the Fatimid dynasty’s sanctuary and seat, but had already been gradually giving way to the residential public when Saladin opened it up fully after the installation of his own Ayyubid system in the 1170s. In 1183–84 meanwhile, Saladin’s workers completed the construction of his massive citadel, which had become a familiar sight by the thirteenth century, gazing down on the action below from...

  5. 1 Approaching Non-Muslim Identities in Islamic History
    (pp. 9-28)

    Much reference has been made in historical literature to the fate of non-Muslims throughout medieval Islam, generally in overarching and starkly positive or negative terms. Most such writings have either argued thatdhimmicommunities thrived during the period in question, making the Islamic Middle Period a ‘Golden Age’ for non-Muslims, or they have characterized this historical context as an era of besieged ‘dhimmitude.’ Not only are such designations at either end of the spectrum over-simplified, but they also tell historians little about the social, political, and religious complexities of life among the medieval Christians of Egypt and the varied relationships...

  6. 2 State, Society, and the Copts under the Fatimids, Ayyubids, and Bahri Mamluks, 969–1382 ce
    (pp. 29-54)

    Before turning to the specific setting of the mid- to late Ayyubid era and the patriarchate of Cyril III ibn Laqlaq, it will be useful to consider the wider context of medieval Egypt and the massive political and social changes that swept over the region from the rise of the Fatimid Isma‘ilis in the mid-tenth century, through the Crusade-troubled Ayyubid period, to the apex of the Bahri Mamluk dynasty in the fourteenth century. I do intend in this chapter to give an exhaustive narrative of each of these three periods, but rather to provide an overview of the approach of...

  7. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  8. 3 Patriarchal Authority
    (pp. 55-74)

    Thus we return to the central figure of this book: Cyril III ibn Laqlaq, the seventy-fifth patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria and in many ways the poorest of examples of the medieval patriarchate.¹ His time in office occurred at one of the lowest points of that community under Ayyubid rule, as the Frankish Crusaders continued to harass the Nile Delta and all Egypt, including the local Christians, suffered the political, economic, and social consequences. His patriarchal ambitions clearly exacerbated these local tensions, in that he sought office in consultation with the Ayyubid authorities and, in consequence, restored...

  9. 4 The Politics of Conversion and Apostasy
    (pp. 75-102)

    Of all the areas of interaction between the Christian and Muslim communities of Egypt throughout the Middle Ages, few were as contentious and controversial as inter-confessional converts. There is little surprise, of course, in the fact that throughout the Islamic Middle Period—as well as in the preceding period of early Islam and the successive generations up to the present—non-Muslim communities continually struggled with the prospect of maintaining their integrity in the face of societal, religious, and economic pressures. Conversion to Islam was one of the chief among such pressures, and a tempting prospect to many: it clearly attracted...

  10. 5 Monks and Monasticism
    (pp. 103-128)

    In 357, Athanasius of Alexandria, the “father of Christian orthodoxy,” completed his groundbreaking biography of St. Anthony (251–356), which detailed his ascetic retreat into the Egyptian desert—fraught with demonic battles, physical hardship, and spiritual excellence—and inspired droves of the Christian faithful to flock to the monastic lifestyle. Athanasius colorfully recounted in his text that even the great enemy Satan himself was awed (and dismayed, naturally) by the masses of ascetics who had come to crowd the fledgling ascetic communities that set out to emulate Anthony: “The name of Christ is gone out into all peoples, all regions,...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 129-134)

    The great irony of the strange career of Cyril ibn Laqlaq is that his attempts at extending the reach and prestige of the regional, internal, and even spiritual prestige of the Coptic patriarchate—embodied in his letters to Ignatius of Antioch and the emperor of Ethiopia, the “bearers” of Christian converts, and the monks of St. Anthony’s respectively—resulted in a weakened patriarchal office. While his correspondence with the patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church leaves no hint as to the conclusion of the controversy, the historical record demonstrates no discernible impact of the Coptic patriarchate beyond the borders of...

  12. Appendix 1: Timeline of Patriarchs of Alexandria and Ayyubid Rulers of Egypt
    (pp. 135-136)
  13. Appendix 2: Transcriptions and Translations of Cyril III ibn Laqlaq’s Correspondence
    (pp. 137-152)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 153-174)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 175-182)
  16. Index
    (pp. 183-190)