History of South Sinai in the Byzantine and Islamic Periods

Sinai was a borderland, often raided by early nomadic tribes. Many fortresses were built in the peninsula; some of them, like Ras Raya fortress and Deir el-Wadi monastery-fortress in el-Tor, were on the Red Sea coast, to protect Roman ships trading with India and the Far East.
 Christianity spread rapidly in the peninsula and Christian pilgrims soon reached the holy places that were believed to witness the passage of Moses.The earliest account is the Travelogue by Egeria; a Spanish pilgrim who visited Sinai in 382 AD. A Bishop of Pharan (modern Feiran) named Nectarios is mentioned as early as the end of the 4th century.
 Sinai was mostly populated by Greek Orthodox Christians. In the second half of the 6th century, Emperor Justinian built the famous Monastery of St Catherine on the site of a previous tower and chapel erected by the Empress Elena, mother of Emperor Constantine. The monastery from the 7th century onwards housed the Archbishop of Sinai.
 With the Arab conquest of Egypt, and being granted a letter of protection by Prophet Muhammad, the Monastery, and in general the Christian holy places of Sinai, did not suffer much destruction. St Catherine area was also venerated by Muslims. In the Fatimid Period, a mosque was built inside the monastery and another one was built on the peak of Mount Sinai. In the Ayyubid Period, Salah el-Din built a fort on a small island near modern Dahab to protect Egypt and Darb el-Hajj (the Pilgrimage route) against raids from the East. Several rulers were also concerned with the safety of the travel routes within the Sinai Peninsula specially that of Darb el-Hajj.

 

Selected Bibliography

 

CANER, F. (ed.), History and Hagiography from the Late Antique Sinai. Liverpool University Press, Liverpool, 2010.
HOBBS, J. J. Mount Sinai. University of Texas Press, Austin, 1995.
VALBELLE D. & BONNET C. (a cura di). Le Sinaï durant l’antiquité et le Moyen Âge: 4000 ans d’Histoire pour un désert. Actes du colloque. «Sinaï» qui s’est tenu à l’Unesco du 19 au 21 septembre 1997, Errance, Paris, 1998.


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