To speak of a legacy of Byzantine Egypt is perhaps to make, save in one respect, a suggestio falsi. The exception is in the sphere of religion. The catechetical school of Alexandria had indeed passed its zenith before the Byzantine Age, and though both the founder of the Arian heresy and its chief opponent claimed the city as their home, neither Arius nor Athanasius can be reckoned among the great formative influences of Christian thought. Cyril was statesman rather than thinker; and with Dioscorus and the monophysite schism the Egyptian Church fell out of the main stream of Christian development into an inglorious backwater. The great gift of Egypt to the Middle Ages was monasticism; and throughout the fourth century visitors flocked from the whole Mediterranean world, as formerly and in later days to see the remains of antiquity, so now to admire and converse with those 'athletes of God' whose austerities had caught the temper of the time. But religion, like art (of which, in this period, something might be said), lies outside the sphere of the present chapter. To law and administration such contributions of importance as Egypt had to render to the Roman world had been made before the empire fell to Diocletian, with whom, though Byzantium did not become the capital till the reign of Constantine, the Byzantine Age may be taken to begin. Politically and economically, whatever formative influences may have been germinating elsewhere, the history of Byzantine Egypt is in the main one of decline.
A legacy of a sort there is, however, even here; but it is a legacy rather to the historian than to the historic process. The papyri, of this as of earlier ages, are an unequalled source of information on social and economic conditions and illustrate one of the most momentous changes in the history of mankind.