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Alexandria is a city in Egypt, founded c. 334 BCE and named after Alexander the Great.


The well-known Egyptian city of Alexandria is often called, "The Pearl of the Mediterranean." It ranks as the second largest city in Egypt, and is located only 225 km from the ancient city of Cairo.

Alexandria, also the birthplace of Cleopatra, its last ruler, was found by the Macedonian king Alexander the Great in about 331 BCE near the fishing village Rhakotis - a move clearly motivated both by political and commercial interests, since its location offered a natural harbor. Later, they erected a grand lighthouse on the Island of Pharos that came to be considered one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world.

Following Alexander's discovery, Alexandria soon became the capital of Graco-Roman Egypt, and later, the center of learning of the ancient world. Alexandria remained Egypt's capital for nearly a thousand years, until the Muslim conquest of Egypt in 641 CE when a new capital was founded.

Ancient Alexandria[]

In ancient times, Alexandria was no doubt one of the greatest cities of the ancient world, enjoying a very long period [over 1,000 years] of grandeur. Its decline in importance, however, was much shorter, lasting only centuries.

During the city's three earliest centuries, it was the leading cultural centre of the world, housing people of different religions and philosophical orientations. One of city's greatest accomplishments was its extensive library. Here, the city could proudly boast of having a collection of 500,000 volumes.

Another great achievement of Alexandria was its architecture. In terms of beauty and esthetics, Alexandria could easily compete with Rome and Athens. In time, it became the main Greek city of Egypt, with an extraordinary mix of Greeks from many cities and backgrounds.

In keeping with its role as the learning center for the ancient world, Alexandria was also the very first centre for Biblical studies. The Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek in Alexandria as early as 250 CE. It was in Alexandria that the Old Testament came to written in a form very close to its present one. Yet, Alexandria housed a major Christian community during early Christianity where it was noted for its scholarship and its high-quality copies of Scripture. Important historical figures such as St. Clement of Alexandria and Origen, debated and studied here. Finally, Alexandria was home to the largest Jewish community in the world.

The early Ptolemies kept the city in order and fostered the development of its museum into the leading Hellenistic center of learning (Library of Alexandria), but sought to maintain the separation of its three largest ethnicities: Greek, Jewish, and Egyptian. From this division arose much of the later turbulence, which began to manifest itself under Ptolemy Philopater who reigned from 221–204 BCE. The reign of Ptolemy VIII Physcon from 144–116 BCE was marked by purges and civil warfare.

Roman rule[]

The city passed formally under Roman jurisdiction in 80 BC, according to the will of Ptolemy Alexander but only after it had been under Roman influence for more than a hundred years. It was captured by Julius Caesar in 47 BCE during a Roman intervention in the domestic civil war between king Ptolemy XIII and his advisors, and usurper queen Cleopatra VII. It was finally captured by Octavian, future emperor Augustus on August 1, 30 BCE, with the name of the month later being changed to august to commemorate his victory.

Christian persecutions[]

Later rulers of this city would find themselves intolerant of the new religion of Christianity in or around 33 CE. Waves of persecutions of Christians would continue until the time of Constantine the Great when, in 313 CE, he and Licinius Augustus granted religious freedom to Christians throughout the Roman Empire. In addition, the Edict of Milan ordered the restitution of property confiscated from Christians. A portion of this edict reads,

"When I, Constantine Augustus, as well as I, Licinius Augustus, fortunately met near Mediolanurn (Milan), and were considering everything that pertained to the public welfare and security, we thought, among other things which we saw would be for the good of many, those regulations pertaining to the reverence of the Divinity ought certainly to be made first, so that we might grant to the Christians and others full authority to observe that religion which each preferred; whence any Divinity whatsoever in the seat of the heavens may be propitious and kindly disposed to us and all who are placed under our rule."

Christians fled to underground caves. Here, they sought to find refuge from the harsh persecutions that were taking place all around them. Many Christians suffered and died during this time, yet few, if any, forsook their faith. Archaeologists have discovered the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa (meaning 'Mound of shards' or 'Potsherds'), a historical archaeological site located in Alexandria, Egypt, physical evidence in support of the persecutions that once took place.


One source provides the following details about the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa on their site:

"The catacombs date from the Roman period and were allegedly discovered accidentally when a donkey fell into one of the underground tunnels."
"Deep inside the main shaft there is a series of rooms where the remains of the dead were kept. Now all that can be seen are the rectangular niches. There's a triclinium room, where feasts were held for funerals and on each death anniversary. Most of the walls are bare rock, but there are also some elaborate wall paintings."
"One of the more gruesome features of the Catacombs is the so- called "Hall of Caracalla"[1]. According to tradition, this was a mass burial chamber for the humans and animals massacred by order of the Emperor Caracalla Marcus Aurelius (April 4, 188 – April 8, 217), born Lucius Septimius Bassianus and later called Marcus Aurelius Antoninus and Marcus Aurelius Severus Antoninus. He was the eldest son of Septimius Severus and was Roman Emperor from 211 – 217. He was one of the most nefarious of Roman emperors" [2]. [Also see [1][3]

Notable figures from Alexandria's past[]

Clement of Alexander[]

A key figure in Alexandria's past was Clement of Alexandria (born Titus Flavius Clemens) (c.150 - 211/216). According to one source, Clement "was the first notable member of the Church of Alexandria, and one of its most distinguished teachers" [4]. He was a Greek theologian, born in Athens.

Clement studied and taught at the catechetical school in Alexandria until the persecution of 202 CE under the rule of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Origen, one of the early Church Fathers, was his pupil there. Information is not forthcoming as to where Clement died, but it is widely held that he probably died in Caesarea, Cappadocia.

Clement was converted to Christianity, rather than born into it; and was one of the first scholars to try to "synthesize Platonic and Christian thought." Only a few of Clement's works in this area survive. The Address to the Greeks sets forth the inferiority of Greek thought to Christianity. Appended to the text are two hymns, among the earliest Christian poems. His homily, Who Is the Rich Man? Who Is Saved? is a well-written fragment. The Miscellanies is a collection of notes on Gnosticism. He attacked Gnosticism, but he himself has been called a Christian Gnostic. Although Clement remained entirely orthodox, in his writing he strove to state the faith in terms of contemporary thought. [5]


Another notable figure of ancient Alexandria was Origen (ca. 182 -ca. 251). Origen was a Christian scholar and theologian and, as stated earlier, a highly distinguished Father of the early Christian Church. He is believed to have been born to a Christian family at Alexandria, and died at Caesarea. Origen studied under Ammonius Saccas and Clement of Alexandria. His writings are important as the first serious intellectual attempt to describe Christianity [6].

"To Origen, Christ was the center and all Scripture must be interpreted in his light."

An extremely important work by Origen was his Hexapla, a large edition of the Bible arranged in six columns. It contained the Hebrew text, a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew, the Septuagint, and the Greek versions by Symmachus, Aquila, and Theodotion. As one source notes, "The Hexapla was a great aid in the study of the Scriptures." All of Origen's work was, at least in theory, based on the literal text of Scripture, which he believed to be historical.

Origen remained outspoken and defensive in his admiration for martyrs, and many of his students suffered in the persecutions. His life was spared because many of the pupils that he taught were non-Christians. [7]

Saint Pantaenus=[]

Saint Pantaenus (d. ca. 200) was also a very important figure from Alexandria. One of the most significant things that he did was to found the Catechetical School of Alexandria, where Christian converts could become well-versed in Church doctrine in preparation of their Baptism. The school's major focus was on the interpretation of the Bible, the Trinity and Christology [the study of the Divine and Human Nature of Jesus];[2] and because of this, had a great influence on the development of Christian theology. [8] As far as is known, no writings of Pantaenus' exist. (Also see [9]) [3]

Alexandria's decline[]

Alexandria started to decline during the 4th century as it was weakened by insurrection, civil war, famine and disease. In 391, the Patriarch Theophilus destroyed all pagan temples in Alexandria under orders from Emperor Theodosius I. The Brucheum and Jewish quarters were made desolate in the 5th century. On the mainland, life seemed to have centered in the vicinity of the Serapeum and Caesareum, both which became Christian churches.

In 619, Alexandria fell to the Sassanid Persians. Although the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius recovered it in 629, in 641 the Arabs under the general Amr ibn al-As, captured it after a siege that lasted fourteen months.

Alexandria figured prominently in the military operations of Napoleon's expedition to Egypt in 1798. French troops stormed the city on July 2, 1798 and it remained in their hands until the arrival of the British expedition in 1801.The British won a considerable victory over the French at the Battle of Alexandria on March 21, 1801, following which they besieged the city which fell to them on 2 September 1801.

Mohammed Ali, the Ottoman Governor of Egypt, began rebuilding the city around 1810, and by 1850, Alexandria had returned to something akin to its former glory. In July 1882 the city came under bombardment from British naval forces and was occupied. In July 1954, the city was a target of an Israeli bombing campaign that later became known as the Lavon Affair. Only a few months later, Alexandria's Mansheyya Square was the site of a failed assassination attempt on Gamal Abdel Nasser]. [10]

Alexandria today[]

Today, Alexandria is a city with about 4.0 million inhabitants (2005 estimate). The city is a commercial and economic centre, and about 80% of all of Egypt's imports and exports go through its harbours. Alexandria is also a very important tourist resort, with a 20 km long waterfront, serving the rich and the middle class of Cairo where the summer heat can make life in the capital unbearable.


  1. ^ Zahraa Adel Awed (2006-05-18). "The Catacombs of Kom el-Shuqafa, the Mound of Shards, Part III: The Hall of Caracalla (Nebengrab):"
  2. Christology (from Christ and Greek -λογία, -logia) is a field of study within Christian theology which is concerned with the nature of Jesus the Christ, particularly with how the divine and human are related in his person. Christology is generally less concerned with the details of Jesus' life than with how the human and divine co-exist in one person.. Some essential sub-topics within the field of Christology include the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and the salvific work of Jesus (known as soteriology).
  3. Note:Pantaenus was the main supporter of Serapion of Antioch for acting against the influence of Gnosticism. Serapion of Antioch appointed him as a missionary of India. He visited in S.India.In addition to his work as a teacher, according to Eusebius of Caesarea, Pantaenus was for a time a missionary preacher, traveling as far as India,[4] where it was reported that he found Christians who were using the Gospel of Matthew.

External links[]

Christian Knowledge Base
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