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9 VI: Phil Booth (University of Oxford), The Second Arab Siege of Constantinople (717-18): Crucible of the Copts?


 In the late Umayyad period the first Islamic historians in Egypt began to retroject into the period of the Arab conquests an anachronistic distinction of subservient indigenous 'Copts' and hostile alien 'Romans'. This paper approaches the making of the distinction through the lens of the second Arab siege of Constantinople (717/18), the failure of which was in part caused through the political defection of Egyptian crews to the Roman side. It first sets out the various known sources for the Egyptians' role in events, including some hitherto unrecognised material in the Qurra archive. It then explores both the background and consequences of the siege in Egyptian perspective, arguing that an evident tightening of fiscal controls in the 710s and 720s should not be seen in light of shifting Christian-Muslim relations, but rather of preparations for the siege and its aftermath. The emergent distinction of 'Copt' and 'Roman' belongs in that same context.