Today in Middle Eastern history: the Battle of Heliopolis (640)

The Arab conquest of Egypt can be considered the third stage of the early caliphate’s expansion, after its early successes against the Byzantines and the Persians. It also presented a different challenge for the caliphate and its armies. While Egypt may be home to more Arabs than any other country in the world today, in the seventh century very few Arabs lived there, and virtually all of them were transient merchants. The Arabs had initially expanded into Syria and Iraq, places that were already home to large numbers of Arabs. They’d rapidly moved east as the Sasanian Empire collapsed, but the Sasanian Empire was, clearly, hanging by a thread politically. Invading Egypt, a place that was neither hanging by a thread politically nor home to large, potentially friendly population of Arabs, showed that those initial conquests were no fluke.

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