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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Alexandria

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a famous city of Egypt, and, during the reign of the Ptolemies, the regal capital of that kingdom. It was founded by Alexander the Great: who being struck with the advantageous situation of the spot where the city afterward stood, ordered its immediate erection; drew the plan of the city himself, and peopled it with colonies of Greeks and Jews: to which latter people, in particular, he gave great encouragement. They were, in fact, made free citizens, and had all the privileges of Macedonians granted to them; which liberal policy contributed much to the rise and prosperity of the new city; for this enterprising and commercial people knew much better than either the Greeks or the Egyptians how to turn the happy situation of Alexandria to the best account. The fall of Tyre happening about the same time, the trade of that city was soon drawn to Alexandria, which became the centre of commercial intercourse between the east and the west; and in process of time grew to such an extent, in magnitude and wealth, as to be second in point of population and magnificence to none but Rome itself.

Alexandria owed much of its celebrity as well as its population to the Ptolemies. Ptolemy Soter, one of Alexander's captains, who, after the death of this monarch, was first governor of Egypt, and afterward assumed the title of king, made this city the place of his residence, about B.C. 304. This prince founded an academy, called the Museum, in which a society of learned men devoted themselves to philosophical studies, and the improvement of all the other sciences; and he also gave them a library, which was prodigiously increased by his successors. He likewise induced the merchants of Syria and Greece to reside in this city, and to make it a principal mart of their commerce. His son and successor, Ptolemy Philadelphus, pursued the designs of his father.

In the hands of the Romans, the successors of the Macedonians in the government of Egypt, the trade of Alexandria continued to flourish, until luxury and licentiousness paved the way, as in every similar instance, for its overthrow.

Alexandria, together with the rest of Egypt, passed from the dominion of the Romans to that of the Saracens. With this event, the sun of Alexandria may be said to have set: the blighting hand of Islamism was laid on it; and although the genius and the resources of such a city could not be immediately destroyed, it continued to languish until the passage by the Cape of Good Hope, in the fifteenth century, gave a new channel to the trade which for so many centuries had been its support; and at this day, Alexandria, like most eastern cities, presents a mixed spectacle of ruins and wretchedness,—of fallen greatness and enslaved human beings.

Some idea may be formed of the extent and grandeur of Alexandria, by the boast made by Amrou: "I have taken," said he, "the great city of the west. It is impossible for me to enumerate the variety of its riches and beauty. I shall content myself with observing, that it contains four thousand palaces, four thousand baths, four hundred theatres or places of amusement, twelve thousand shops for the sale of vegetable foods, and forty thousand tributary Jews."

It was in Alexandria chiefly that the Grecian philosophy was engrafted upon the stock of ancient oriental wisdom. The Egyptian method of teaching by allegory was peculiarly favourable to such a union: and we may well suppose that when Alexander, in order to preserve by the arts of peace that extensive empire which he had obtained by the force of arms, endeavoured to incorporate the customs of the Greeks with those of the Persian, Indian, and other eastern nations, the opinions as well as the manners of this feeble and obsequious race would, in a great measure, be accommodated to those of their conquerors. This influence of the Grecian upon the oriental philosophy continued long after the time of Alexander, and was one principal occasion of the confusion of opinions which occurs in the history of the Alexandrian and Christian schools. Alexander, when he built the city of Alexandria, with a determination to make it the seat of his empire, and peopled it with emigrants from various countries, opened a new mart of philosophy, which emulated the fame of Athens itself. A general indulgence was granted to the promiscuous crowd assembled in this rising city, whether Egyptians, Grecians, Jews, or others, to profess their respective systems of philosophy without molestation. The consequence was, that Egypt was soon filled with religious and philosophical sectaries of every kind; and particularly, that almost every Grecian sect found an advocate and professor in Alexandria. The family of the Ptolemies, as we have seen, who after Alexander obtained the government of Egypt, from motives of policy encouraged this new establishment. Ptolemy Lagus, who had obtained the crown of Egypt by usurpation, was particularly careful to secure the interest of the Greeks in his favour, and with this view invited people from every part of Greece to settle in Egypt, and removed the schools of Athens to Alexandria. This enlightened prince spared no pains to raise the literary, as well as the civil, military, and commercial credit of his country. Under the patronage first of the Egyptian princes, and afterward of the Roman emperors, Alexandria long continued to enjoy great celebrity as the seat of learning, and to send forth eminent philosophers of every sect to distant countries. It remained a school of learning, as well as a commercial emporium, till it was taken, and plundered of its literary treasures by the Saracens. Philosophy, during this period, suffered a grievous corruption from the attempt which was made by philosophers of different sects and countries, Grecian, Egyptian, and oriental, who were assembled in Alexandria, to frame, from their different tenets, one general system of opinions. The respect which had long been universally paid to the schools of Greece, and the honours with which they were now adorned by the Egyptian princes, induced other wise men, and even the Egyptian priests and philosophers themselves, to submit to this innovation. Hence arose a heterogeneous mass of opinions, under the name of the Eclectic philosophy, and which was the foundation of endless confusion, error, and absurdity, not only in the Alexandrian school, but among Jews and Christians; producing among the former that specious kind of philosophy, which they called their Cabala, and among the latter innumerable corruptions of the Christian faith.

At Alexandria there was, in a very early period of the Christian aera, a Christian school of considerable eminence. St. Jerome says, the school at Alexandria had been in being from the time of St. Mark. Pantaenus, placed by Lardner at the year 192, presided in it. St. Clement of Alexandria succeeded Pantaenus in this school about the year 190; and he was succeeded by Origen. The extensive commerce of Alexandria, and its proximity to Palestine, gave an easy entrance to the new religion, and when Adrian visited Egypt, he found a church composed of Jews and Greeks, sufficiently important to attract the notice of that inquisitive prince. The theological system of Plato was introduced into both the philosophical and Christian schools of Alexandria; and of course many of his sentiments and expressions were blended with the opinions and language of the professors and teachers of Christianity.

Alexandria was the source, and for some time the principal stronghold, of Arianism; which had its name from its founder, Arius, a presbyter of the church of this city, about the year 315. His doctrines were condemned by a council held here in the year 320; and afterward by a general council of three hundred and eighty fathers, held at Nice, by order of Constantine, in 325. These doctrines, however, which suited the reigning taste for disputative theology, and the pride and self-sufficiency of nominal Christians, better than the unsophisticated simplicity of the Gospel, spread widely and rapidly notwithstanding. Arius was steadfastly opposed by the celebrated Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, the intrepid champion of the catholic faith, who was raised to the archiepiscopal throne of Alexandria in 326.

This city was, in 415, distinguished by a fierce persecution of the Jews by the patriarch Cyril. They who had enjoyed the rights of citizens, and the freedom of religious worship, for seven hundred years, ever since the foundation of the city, incurred the hatred of this ecclesiastic; who, in his zeal for the extermination of heretics of every kind, pulled down their synagogues, plundered their property, and expelled them, to the number of forty thousand, from the city.

It was in a ship belonging to the port of Alexandria, that St. Paul sailed from Myra, a city of Lycia, on his way to Rome, Acts 27:5-6 . Alexandria was also the native place of Apollos.


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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Alexandria'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wtd/a/alexandria.html. 1831-2.

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