1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/'Amr-ibn-el-Ass

ʽAMR-IBN-EL-ASS, or ʽAmr (strictly ʽAmr b. ʽĀs), one of the most famous of the first race of the Saracen leaders, was of the tribe of Koreish (Qureish). In his youth he was an antagonist of Mahomet. His zeal prompted him to undertake an embassy to the king of Ethiopia, in order to stimulate him against the converts whom he had taken under his protection, but he returned a convert to the Mahommedan faith and joined the fugitive prophet at Medina. When Abu Bekr resolved to invade Syria, he entrusted ʽAmr with a high command. ʽAmr soon perceived that his troops were not sufficient for a serious battle. Reinforced by Khālid b. al-Walīd, whom Abu Bekr sent in all haste from Irak to Syria, he defeated the imperial troops, commanded by Theodorus, the brother of Heraclitus, not far from Ramleh in Palestine, on the 31st of July 634. When Omar became caliph he made Khālid chief commander of the Syrian armies, ʽAmr remaining in Palestine to complete the submission of that province. It is not certain that ʽAmr assisted Khālid in the siege of Damascus, but very probable that he took part in the decisive battle of Yarmūk, 20th of August 636. After this battle he laid siege to Jerusalem, in which enterprise he was seconded a year later by Abu Obeida, then chief commander. After the surrender of Jerusalem ʽAmr began the siege of Caesarea, which, however, was brought to a successful end in September or October 640 by Moawiya, ʽAmr having obtained Omar’s sanction for an expedition against Egypt. Towards the end of 639 he led an army of 4000 Arabs into that country. During his march a messenger from Omar arrived with a letter containing directions to return if he should have received it in Syria, but if in Egypt to advance, in which case all needful assistance would be instantly sent to him. The contents of the letter were not made known to his officers until he was assured that the army was on Egyptian soil, so that the expedition might be continued under the sanction of Omar’s orders. Having taken Farama (Pelusium), he advanced to Misr, north of the ancient Memphis, and besieged it and the strong fortress of Babylon for seven months. Although numerous reinforcements arrived, he would have found it very difficult to storm the place previous to the inundation of the Nile but for treachery within the citadel; the Greeks who remained there were either made prisoners or put to the sword. On the same spot ʽAmr built a city named Fostat (“the encampment”), the ruins of which are known by the name of Old Cairo. The mosque which he erected and called by his own name is described in Asiatic Journal (1890), p. 759. ʽAmr pursued the Greeks to Alexandria, but finding that it was impossible to take the place by storm, he contented himself with blockading it with the greater part of his army, and reducing the Delta to submission with the rest. At the end of twelve months Alexandria sued for peace, and a treaty was signed on the 8th of November 641. To ʽAmr acting on Omar’s command has been attributed the burning of the famous Alexandrian library. (See Libraries and Alexandria.) Not only is this act of barbarism inconsistent with the characters of Omar and his general, but the earliest authority for the story is Abulfaragius (Barhebraeus), a Christian writer, who lived six centuries later. After the conquest of Egypt ʽAmr carried his conquests eastward along the North African coast as far as Barca and even Tripolis. His administration of Egypt was moderate and statesmanlike, and under his rule the produce of the Nile Valley was a constant source of supply to the cities of Arabia. He even reopened a canal at least 80 m. long from the Nile to the Red Sea with the object of renewing communication by sea. Removed from his office by Othman in 647, who replaced him by Ibn abi Sarh, he sided with Moawiya in the contest for the caliphate, and was largely responsible for the deposition of Ali (q.v.) and the establishment of the Omayyad dynasty. (See Caliphate, section B.) In 658 he reconquered Egypt in Moawiya’s interest, and governed it till his death on the 6th of January 664. In a pathetic speech to his children on his deathbed, he bitterly lamented his youthful offence in opposing the prophet, although Mahomet had forgiven him and had frequently affirmed that “there was no Mussulman more sincere and steadfast in the faith than ʽAmr.”

Sir W. Muir, The Caliphate (London, 1891); E. Gibbon’s Decline and Fall; M. J. de Goeje, Mémoire sur la conquête de la Syrie (Leiden, 1900); Butler, Arab Conquest of Egypt (Oxford, 1902); art. Egypt, History, Mahommedan Period.