On the mainland life seems to have centred in the vicinity of the Serapeum and Caesareum, both become Christian churches: but the Pharos and Heptastadium quarters remained populous and intact.
In 616 it was taken by Chosroes, king of Persia; and in 640 by the Arabians, under 'Amr, after a siege that lasted fourteen months, during which Heraclius, the emperor of Constantinople, did not send a single ship to its assistance.
Notwithstanding the losses that the city had sustained, 'Amr was able to write to his master, the caliph Omar, that he had taken a city containing "4000 palaces, 4000 baths, 12,000 dealers in fresh oil, 12,000 gardeners, 40,000 Jews who pay tribute, 400 theatres or places of amusement."
The story of the destruction of the library by the Arabs is first told by Bar-hebraeus (Abulfaragius), a Christian writer who lived six centuries later; and it is of very doubtful authority.
It is highly improbable that many of the 700,000 volumes collected by the Ptolemies remained at the time of the Arab conquest, when the various calamities of Alexandria from the time of Caesar to that of Diocletian are considered, together with the disgraceful pillage of the library in A.D. 389 under the rule of the Christian bishop, Theophilus, acting on Theodosius' decree concerning pagan monumcnts (see LIBRARIES: Ancient History).
The story of Abulfaragius runs as follows:--
John the Grammarian, a famous Peripatetic philosopher, being in Alexandria at the time of its capture, and in high favour with 'Amr, begged that he would give him the royal library. 'Amr told him that it was not in his power to grant such a request, but promised to write to the caliph for his consent.
Omar, on hearing the request of his general, is said to have replied that if those books contained the same doctrine with the Koran, they could be of no use, since the Koran contained all necessary truths; but if they contained anything contrary to that book.
they ought to be destroyed; and therefore, whatever their contents were, he ordered them to be burnt. Pursuant to this order, they were distributed among the public baths, of which there was a large number in the city, where, for six months, they served to supply the fires.