A World Divided Western Kingdoms, Byzantium, and the Islamic World, ca. 376-1000

A World Divided
Western Kingdoms, Byzantium,
and the Islamic World,
ca. 376-1000
A World Divided
The Big Picture
Ostrogothic Kingdom
Visigothic Kingdom
Umayyad Dynasty
Merovingian Dynasty
Carolingian Dynasty
’Abbasid Dynasty
A World Divided
Political Disintegration of the Roman Empire
– Sixth Century: By the 500s, the Roman Empire could no longer
be counted on to protect people within carefully guided borders.
It had ceased to exist as a political and military entity.
– In the West: In the Western portion of the old empire, Germanic
invaders set up new kingdoms and converted to Christianity. The
popes in Rome increasingly wielded greater authority.
– In the East: In the eastern portion, the Byzantine Empire
asserted control, making Greek rather than Latin the language of
government. The Byzantines also reached out more to the Slavs
on their northeast frontier, rather than the Germanic peoples to
the northwest, bringing the Slavs into their sphere of influence.
Further east, a new prophet arose out of Arabia.
The Making of the
Western Kingdoms
Life in a Germanic Clan and Family
– Who were the Germani?: Who were the people
who invaded the Italian peninsula and became
dominant in western Europe? What were their
cultures and societies like?
The Making of the
Western Kingdoms
Life in a Germanic Clan and Family
– Indo-Europeans from Scandinavia: Around 500 B.C.E., these tribes
began to migrate from Scandinavia into the regions around the Baltic Sea
and into what is now Germany.
– Evolving Groups: As the Germanic tribes fanned out and settled, they
began to develop subtle differences, forming different groups: the Visigoths
(western Goths), Ostrogoths (eastern Goths), Franks, Burgundians, Saxons,
– Clans: Since they all came from a relatively small area of Scandinavia,
they shared many similar traits, most notably a clan-based structure in the
areas of settlement. Kinship groups could be as big as 100,000 people, with
20,000 warriors.
– No Written Record: The Germanic tribes had no written language of their
own, so scholars have to rely on Roman accounts of this people, as well as
what can be figured out from archaeological digs.
The Making of the
Western Kingdoms
A Gothic mummy, having been preserved in a peat bog
Photo credit:  Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen, Schloss Gottorf, Archaologisches Landesmuseum
The Making of the
Western Kingdoms
Life in a Germanic Clan and Family
– Marriage: Men and women had clearly defined roles, with men
taking care of cattle and most agricultural production, with
women maintaining the household and doing some agricultural
labor. Wives shared in their husband’s property. The Roman
historian Tacitus described them as devoted husbands and wives.
– Polygyny: Scarce records suggest that pre-Christian German
men practiced polygyny, as many wives and more children
would increase their influence within the kinship network.
– Women’s Position: As healers of the sick and keepers of
medicinal knowledge, women were often ascribed with the
powers of prophecy. Female elders were influential in the clan
The Making of the
Western Kingdoms
Life in a Germanic Clan and Family
– Adultery: Cases of adultery were treated harshly as they threatened the
kinship structure, such as a mummy of a fifteen-year-old girl who was
drowned, having been blindfolded and shaven bald.
– Clothing: German people dressed very differently than Romans. Men wore
trousers, long-sleeved jackets, and a flowing cape, as well as elaborately
designed jewelry of gold and silver. Women wore ankle-length dresses
colored with vegetable dyes, as well as jewelry depending on their social
– Diet and Agriculture: The German people raised cattle but seldom ate
meet as the animals’ milk was too valuable. They invented a heavy plow
pulled by an oxen team that could turn over the hard clay soil of northern
Europe. But they often could not grow enough grain for their needs since
the growing season was short, and wars frequently brought famine. Women
only grew to just under 5 feet, while men on average stood 5’6”.
The Making of the
Western Kingdoms
Heroic Society
– Warrior Culture: Like the ancient Greeks, warfare and heroism played a
large role in Germanic culture, and the Roman observers noted their
constant belligerence.
– Epic Poetry: Germanic poets composed oral epics much like the Greeks
had, most famously the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf, which tells the story of a
monster-killing hero, and provides a glimpse into Germanic warrior
culture, where warriors would gather in halls to drink and boast of their
feats. A trove of Anglo-Saxon treasures found in England from about 675
seem to back up the descriptions of Beowulf’s society.
– Warrior Bands: Each clan had a chieftain who served as priest, main
judge, and war leader, although he always consulted with the clans’ most
elite warriors. Small bands of about 30 independent of a broader leadership
would often carry out raids on neighbors, and the deeds of these groups
seemed to be a source of much of the bragging.
The Making of the
Western Kingdoms
Infiltrating the Roman Empire, 376-476
– Increasing Cooperation: While fierce fighting perennially
broke out on the Roman borders, Romans and Germans
increasingly found opportunities to cooperate by the 300s.
Ironically, many German warriors became mercenaries guarding
the Roman border.
– The Huns: In the late 300s, a Mongolian tribe known as the
Huns came sweeping out of the central Asian steppes. The Huns
were fearsome warriors even by German standards. Many
Germans swept southward into the empire to find safer ground
from the threat of the Huns, such as the Visigoths who sacked
Rome in 410 B.C.E.
The Making of the
Western Kingdoms
Infiltrating the Roman Empire, 376-476
– Federate Treaties: The Romans could no longer pay for a massive
army along its borders, so it started looking for cheaper alternatives.
Federate treaties made tribes official allies. They would have
permission to live within Roman borders if they agreed to fight Roman
enemies when called upon. The Visigoths, for example, took up this
deal to defend northern Italy against their traditional enemies, the
Vandals. This led to the further blending of Germans and Romans.
– Arian Christianity: Some federate tribes practiced paganism, but
many practiced Arian Christianity, which had been outlawed by the
mainstream church. Arius had believed that Jesus was not a full-fledged
part of the Holy Trinity, not having a separate existence from God the
Father. Arianism became a source of pride and identity for many
Germans, leading to tensions with orthodox Christians.
The Making of the
Western Kingdoms
Infiltrating the Roman Empire, 376-476
Loss of Provinces
– Great Britain: Around 407, the Romans recalled troops from
Great Britain to come back and defend Italy. Christian Celtic
Britons were left alone to defend themselves from invaders from
Scandinavia and Scotland.
– North Africa: The Vandals, who had invaded from the north and
settled in North Africa, had become federates, but then broke
away from Rome to create their own kingdom, with Carthage as
their capital.
Germanic Invasions, Fifth Century
The Making of the
Western Kingdoms
Did Rome “Fall”?
– Transformation: Most scholars argue that
“transformation” is a more appropriate term than “fall,”
which would mean a sudden, cataclysmic event.
– Last Emperor Deposed: The military leader Odovacar
deposed the last Western emperor in 476. It is unclear what
Odovacar’s ethnicity was; he was mostly likely a Germanic
leader from a tribe who had joined the Huns. He disdained
the dual-emperor system, and symbolically shipped the
imperial regalia off to Constantinople, and then appointed
himself regent of Italy.
The Making of the
Western Kingdoms
Did Rome “Fall”?
A Two-Way Transformation
– Romans: The declining roman population had allowed plenty of room
for the Germanic people to move in. Urban life decayed, as Germans
preferred rural life. Wealthy Romans failed to pay taxes, Germans did
not collect them, and the empire’s infrastructure began to fall into
disrepair. Romans even switched from dressing in a toga to the trousers
symbolic of rural life.
– Germans: Germans were transformed by Roman influence, moving
away from paganism and Arian Christianity to orthodox Christianity. In
southern Europe, Germanic peoples began to speak Latin-influenced
Romance languages instead of their native Gothic tongue. The blend
created a whole new culture, which would become the Medieval West.
The Making of the
Western Kingdoms
Rise and Fall of a Frankish Dynasty
– Christian Merovingians: In the late 400s, Germanic Franks in the
former Roman province of Gaul consolidated the Merovingian
Kingdom (named for a legendary ancestor, Merovech).
– Clovis: The best remembered ruler of this dynasty was Clovis (r. 485511), who brutally murdered members of his own family to consolidate
his rule. This tradition continued, with subsequent assassinations of
Merovingian prince and princesses.
– Conversion to Christianity: Unlike other Germanic leaders, Clovis
converted to orthodox rather than Arian Christianity. Like Constantine,
he promised to convert if he won a battle under the sign of the cross.
This eventually led to closer ties between Germanic peoples and
Roman Christianity.
The Making of the
Western Kingdoms
The Baptism of Clovis
Figure 6.4
Photo credit:  Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris
The Making of the
Western Kingdoms
Rise and Fall of a Frankish Dynasty
– Fall of Merovingians: Subsequent Merovingian monarchs were
not as competent as Clovis. Often children inherited the throne,
died young, and leaving it to another child. Real power laid in
the hands of the “mayors of the palace,” an office under the
control of another noble family, the Carolingians.
– Charles Martel and Pepin: This Carolingian leader won a great
victory at Tours in 732 over invading Muslim forces. His son,
Pepin the Short (r. 747-768), craved a royal title, so he courted
Pope Zachary (r. 741-752) asking him to give legitimacy to his
rule as king, thus forging a close bond between the Roman
Church and future Frankish kings.
The Making of the
Western Kingdoms
Accomplishments and Destruction in Italy, ca. 490-750
– Theodoric and the Ostrogoths: Theodoric (r. 493-526), an Ostrogothic
leader, overthrew Odovacar, the ruler who had deposed the last Roman
– Fostering Learning: Theodoric’s court was a center of learning and writing.
Boethius, author of the The Consolations of Philosophy, was a high official in
Theodoric’s court, although he was imprisoned for an accusation of treason,
and wrote his famed work there. He was later executed. The monk Dionysus
Exiguus calculated the date of the original Easter—Christ’s rising—and based
the calendar which we still use on that date (he was slightly off—we know
think Christ was born around 4 B.C.E.).
– Historical Writing: Dionysus Exiguus’s pupil, Cassidorus (490-585) wrote
the Origins of the Goths, claiming that the Goths had a rich history interwoven
with and as significant as that of Rome.
The Making of the
Western Kingdoms
Accomplishments and Destruction in Italy, ca. 490-750
– Fall of Ostrogoths: Thoedoric’s daughter, Amalasuintha, succeeded him, but
was murdered. Byzantine Emperor Justinian saw her death as an opportunity
to retake Italy and reunite the Empire.
– Lombards: Justinian had overburdened his resources, and his attempt to
regain Italy failed at the hands of a fearsome Germanic people known as the
Lombards, or “Long Beards.” In 568, they moved south into the Italian
peninsula and conquered most of it. The Lombards were much less
Romanized than the Ostrogoths. Pepin conquered their territory in northern
Italy in the mid-eighth century
– “Donation of Pepin”: When Pepin conquered northern Italy, the Byzantines
asked for the land back. But he refused, and gave a piece of the territory to the
pope in thanks for the support of his rule. This “donation” was the beginning
of the Papal States, earthly territory directly controlled by the Pope.
The Making of the
Western Kingdoms
The Visigoths in Spain, 418-711
– Visigothic Weaknesses: The Visigoths, like the Ostrogoths,
had ben Arian Christians, and had no connection to Rome.
Their tendency toward political assassination greatly
weakened their government. Visigoths also persecuted Jews
living in their territory. They were eventually conquered by
Muslims invading from North Africa around 711 C.E.
– Islamic Iberia: Christian Iberians would spend the next 700
years trying to re-conquer the peninsula back from the
The Making of the
Western Kingdoms
The Growing Power of the Popes
– Power of the Church: As central authority fell away in Western Europe,
people looked to bishops to do what secular officials had done.
– Petrine Doctrine: Previous popes had based Rome’s central authority from
the fact it was the capital of the Empire. But as the Empire fell away, they
turned to the Petrine Doctrine. In the Gospel of Matthew, one passage has
Christ saying that Peter, later the first Bishop of Rome, is the rock on
which “I will build my church,” and that Peter is given the keys to heaven
by Christ. The emperors in the east disagreed with this interpretation.
– Pope Gregory the Great (r. 590-604): This pope did more to consolidate
papal power than any other. He took over the day-to-day administration of
Rome and used church revenue to feed the poor. He directed the defense of
the city when the Lombards invaded. He settled disputes outside of Italy
and extended his influence across Western Christiandom.
The Making of the
Western Kingdoms
Monasteries: Peaceful Havens in a Chaotic World
– Benedict of Nursia (ca. 480 – 543): During his chaotic lifetime, many
men and women sought refuge in monasteries or convents. This Italian
founded an order of monks, and his sister, Scholastica, founded
convents for women. He believed that individuals need guidance of a
community, and eschewed fasting or flagellation.
– Irish Christianity: A Romano-British Christian named Patrick (ca.
390-461) was captured and enslaved by Irish raiders. He believed that
his mission was to convert pagan Ireland, and set up a series of
monasteries to do so.
– Conversion of Britain: Pope Gregory, a monk, was interested in
converting the Anglo-Saxons of Britain. He sent monks to Britain in
597. Those monks encountered the ones in Ireland, who had developed
a slightly different practice. In 664, this conflict was resolved when
both Irish and British monks agreed on the supremacy of rome.
The Byzantine Empire
Separation of the Byzantine Empire
– Gradual Separation: Constantine planted the roots of the
break, but it was a gradual process that happened over time.
– Strong Defenses: After the sack of Rome in 410, Emperor
Theodosius II built strong walls that kept the city safe during the
turbulent 400s and for the next 1000 years. Those in the city
watched from safety as Germanic tribes burned surrounding areas
and the Huns invaded.
The Byzantine Empire
Justinian and Theodora, r. 527-565
– Justinian’s Early Life: Born a peasant near Macedonia, Justinian’s
path to become emperor because he was adopted by an uncle in the
royal court, since the uncle recognized his talents. His uncle became
emperor, and when he died in 527, Justinian became emperor.
– Theodora: The most influential person in Justinian’s court was his
wife, Theodora, who had humble origins, performing as an actress and
dancer, capturing the emperor’s attention.
– Nika Riot: Two political factions that supported different chariot
racing teams broke out in a riot, allying themselves together to throw
out Justinian. Theodora counseled Justinian to confront the rioters, and
he put the revolt down brutally, killing as many as 30,000 and crushing
any political opposition.
The Byzantine Empire
Justinian and Theodora, r. 527-565
– Rebuilding the City: The city was devastated by the riot, and Justinian
embarked on a rebuilding campaign that included a massive church, known
as the Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom).
– Legal Codification: Justinian also created an impressive legal code.
Roman law had become immensely complicated and even contradictory
since the time of the Republic’s Twelve Tables, so the emperor reorganized
and clarified them. It survived in Europe in this form until about the
thirteenth century.
– Reconquering the West: Justinian tried to reconquer the Western
territories of the Empire that had fallen to Germanic tribes, but his attempt
eventually failed due to Roman resentment over more taxation and the
eventual invasion of the Lombards. His rule over North Africa was more
popular—he was preferred over the Arian Vandals—but his control did not
last long there, either.
Justinian’s Conquests, 554
The Byzantine Empire
Constantinople: The Vibrant City
– Trading Hub: The city was made wealthy since it sat on the trade
route with the Far East. Chinese silks and spices passed through,
which brought a profit to those that resold these goods.
– Lucrative Industries: The Byzantines also produced luxury items
like expensive fabrics, glassware, and ivory pieces. The royal court
held a monopoly on silk production.
– Wealth Not Shared: Wealth was held by a small group of elites.
The Byzantines abandoned the Roman practice of paying for the
food of the poor, but there were some royal charity institutions.
– Chariot Races: The great race track—called the hippodrome—
could seat 40,000, and played a similar role to what the Colosseum
had played in Rome.
The Byzantine Empire
Military Might and Diplomatic Dealings
– Provincial Organization: Constantinople itself, within its safe walls,
was under civilian control, but the control of the provinces was give to
military men.
– The Army: The military was well paid, thoroughly armed, and highly
professional. Archers shot from far distances, who were followed by
the heavy cavalry, who were highly armored and could fight with
lances, bows and arrows, and swords. The cavalry in turn was
supported by an efficient infantry. The whole force was about 120,000
men at its height. Byzantium also had a strong navy, and a carefully
guarded secret weapon: “Greek fire.”
– Diplomacy: Byzantines often used bribes and tricks to get their ways
with other states. Spies, lies, and money were used, as well as strategies
to turn enemies against each other.
The Byzantine Empire
Breaking Away from the West
– Move to Greek: Justinian was the last emperor to use Latin as the
language of governance. In 600s, the Byzantine bureaucracy changed
to Greek. At the same time, Germanic peoples forgot how to speak and
write Greek, leading to a cultural split. The Western Church started to
use Latin exclusively (early Christian scriptures had been in Greek).
– Question of Leadership: The question of who would lead the Church
was driving the East and West apart.
 Byzantines Emperors: They were Caesaropapists, claiming that they
led both church and state.
 Roman Popes: Claimed supreme leadership through the Petrine
The Byzantine Empire
Breaking Away from the West
– Icons: In the 400s ad 500s, the tradition of painting religious icons—
images of Jesus, Mary, and the saints—became popular in the east.
People believed these were windows to the divine that could bring
divine help.
– Iconoclasm: Byzantine emperor Leo III (r. 717-741) ruled all icons
destroyed, in both east and west, since he equated the practice as
worshipping idols, which is forbidden in the Old Testament. The sale of
icons were also a major source of income for monasteries, which the
emperor saw as too powerful. A flurry of iconoclasm (meaning “icon
breaking”) occurred in the East.
– Defiance in the West: Pope Gregory II (r. 715 – 731), defied Leo’s
order to destroy icons, exacerbating tensions between Constantinople
and Rome even further.
The Byzantine Empire
Breaking Away from the West
A Byzantine icon of the crucifixion
painted between 9th – 13th century C.E.
The Byzantine Empire
Orthodox Church
– Moving toward Separation: The church grew further divided until it
eventually became two separate churches: The Orthodox Church in the
East and the Catholic Church in the West.
– The Pentarchs: Church leaders in the East rejected the idea of the
supremacy of the pope, and instead thought that the church should be
led by the bishops, of the five chief cities: Rome, Constantinople,
Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch. Known as the Pentarchs, they
would meet to discuss matters of doctrine.
– The Final Break: Decisions made by popes alone were rejected by the
other Pentarchs. The pope and the patriarch of Constantinople
excommunicated each other in 1054, creating a permanent break.
The Byzantine Empire
Converting the Slavs, 560 - ca. 1000
The Slavs: Tribes of this
people—Serbs, Croats, and
Avars—began settling
along the Danube River,
what had been the northeast
border of the Roman
Empire, beginning in the
500s. The Byzantines
referred to them as
“Sclaveni.” The word
“Slav” became a proud
identification in the East,
but took on the meaning of
“slave” in the West with
wars along the GermanicSlav border in the 800s.
The Danube River
The Byzantine Empire, Eighth Century
The Byzantine Empire
Converting the Slavs, 560 - ca. 1000
– Kievan Rus: In the 800s, Scandanavian raiders established a
kingdom in Kiev (now in the Ukraine), ruling over a Slavic
people. “Rus” became the basis for the name “Russian.”
– Cyril and Methodius: In 863, Byzantine Emperor Michael III
(842-867) sent two missionaries to the Slavs. They realized it
would be difficult to convert a people without a written
language, so they created one. They developed a Slavonic
written language based on the Greek alphabet, which became
known as the Cyrillic alphabet.
The Byzantine Empire
Converting the Slavs,
560 - ca. 1000
Kievan Rus
ca. mid-900s
The Byzantine Empire
Converting the Slavs, 560 - ca. 1000
– Conversion of Russia: Christianity was brought to the Kievan
Rus through a deal between Prince Vladimir of Kiev (r. 9781015) and Byzantine emperor Basil (r. 976-1025). Basil
wanted to bring the eastern Slavic state under the Byzantine
sphere of influence.
– Princess Anna: Vladimir struck a deal: if the he could have
the emperor’s sister, Anna, as a bride (despite already having
several), he would convert his people to Orthodox Christianity
and give military aid. Basil went forward with the deal.
The Byzantine Empire
Converting the Slavs, 560 - ca. 1000
– Catholic Conversions among the Slavs: The popes also sent
missionaries among the Slavs, and converted certain tribes—
including the Poles, Bohemians (later known as Czechs),
Hungarians, and Croats—to Catholic Christianity. These tribes also
learned the Latin alphabet, not the Cyrillic.
– “Golden Age”: By the tenth century (900s), the Byzantine Empire
entered a period of prosperity and security, having absorbed the
Bulgarian kingdom to the north, and extending its power from the
Adriatic to Black Sea. The west remained in contact with the
Byzantines, and owed them a great deal: for Justinian’s legal code,
for the preservation of ancient Greek knowledge, and for being a
military buffer against a great rising power in the east.
The Arabian Peninsula
In the early 600s, the Arabian
peninsula was not a part of the
Byzantine or Persian Empires. It
had settled populations in cities,
but also nomadic Bedouins, who
herded goats and used camels as
transportation. The Arabs were
pagans, worshipping natural
objects and sites. During a period
of wars between Byzantium and
Persia, traders rerouted their trade
through the Arabian peninsula for
safety’s sake, bringing the Arabs
into contact with new ideas like
monotheism, which they picked
up from Christians and Jews.
The Prophet
– Mecca: The already wealthy city—which housed a shrine sacred to
Arabs, the Ka’bah, a fallen meteorite—became even wealthier due to
the increased trade caused by the Persian/Byzantine wars.
– The Prophet Muhammad (570-632): An orphan who grew up in
Mecca, he became a merchant who married a wealthy woman and had
several children. In his fortieth year (610), he began to have visions,
with the first being an angel. He was told to be the apostle to his
people, and had 114 revelations over the next twenty years.
– The Qur’an: Accounts of the revelations were collected after the
Prophet Muhhammad’s death and recorded in scripture, which served
as the basis of the book known as the Qur’an (sometimes written as
“Koran” in English).
The Religion
– Relation to Judaism and Christianity: Muhammad believed the same
god as the Christians and Jews had spoken to him, and that five major
prophets come before him: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. The
Jews had ignored Jesus, and the Christians had added too many layers of
theological complexity.
– Faith: The word “Islam” means “surrender to God.” To convert, one only
needs to testify: “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his
Prophet.” The most basic principles of the religion are the “Five Pillars of
– No Images of the Divine: Unlike Christian churches, no images of the
divine were allowed in mosques or scriptures. Instead, Muslims use
elaborate geometric patterns to decorate places of worship (the iconoclasm
movement in the Byzantine Empire may have been influenced by Islam),
creating some of the most beautiful non-representational art in the world.
Lutfallah Mosque
Isfahan, Iran
1600s C.E.
The Five Pillars of Islam
① Profession of Faith: To convert to Islam, one must profess the faith and adhere to
a strict monotheism. For example, the Christian Trinity (the Father, the Son, the
Holy Spirit) is seen as a violation of pure monotheism.
② Prayer: Muslims pray five times a day, and are called to a mosque to prat together
every Friday by a human voice (not bells as with Christians or horns as with
③ Almsgiving: Muslims must give a portion of what they earn to the needy, and this
donation purifies the rest that they earn.
④ Fasting: During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims do not eat anything during
the day, but feast and celebrate at night. It is time of concentrating on spiritual and
family matters.
⑤ Pilgrimage: Every Muslim must make a trip to the holy city of Mecca once in his
or her life. This journey is called the Haj.
The Spread of Islam
– Ignored in Mecca: Few people in Mecca paid attention when
Prophet Muhammad began to tell of his visions, especially since
the pagan worship of the Ka’bah brought profit to the city.
– Hijra: In 622, the Prophet and a small group of his followers
trekked to the small city of Medina, some 250 miles from
Mecca. There they managed to convert many Bedouins, who
began to focus their warfare against the unbelievers rather than
on each other, unifying them into a powerful force.
– Return to Mecca: The Prophet returned triumphant to Mecca
and convinced the city’s leaders that his message was real. He
kept the Ka’bah, convinced that the meteor was sacred to Allah
The Spread of Islam
– Caliphs: The Prophet’s closest followers declared themselves
caliphs, or his deputies. The first four caliphs rapidly spread
Islam, conquering wide swathes of territory. Only a century after
the Prophet’s death, Islam spread from Spain to India. Many
non-Arabs were converted, making it necessary for them to learn
– Battle of Tours: In the summer of 732, Islamic forces crossed
the Pyrenees Mountains that now border Spain and France,
moving quickly into the Merovingian kingdom of the Franks.
The great general Charles Martel decisively beat the Islamic
forces on a field near Tours, in what is now central France, and
the latter retreated across the Pyrenees.
The Expansion of Islam to 750
The Spread of Islam
– Reasons for Success: Despite being stopped at Tours, the overall
success of the Islamic forces was remarkable. Why did they succeed?
The Bedouins previously had been great warriors, but were never
unified in the way that Islam united them. The warriors believed they
were fighting in a war sanctioned by God, a holy war that they called
jihad, and may have forced pagans to be converted or killed.
– Jihad: The concept of jihad is complex because it has accrued many
layers of meaning over time. Muslims identified two kinds: The
“greater jihad” was the individual struggle against base desires, while
the “lesser jihad” was the military struggle against infidels. The jihad
against nonbelievers was a constant state of war at first, but the
meaning changed over time.
Creating an Islamic Unity: Unifying Elements
Uniform Culture: Islam quickly transformed the areas it conquered,
creating a uniform culture and society across vast expanses.
– Language: Arabic became the language of business,
government, and literature.
– Prayer and Pilgrimage: These shared customs and experiences
helped to create a sense of unity.
– Law: Muslim law was based on the Qur’an and the Sunna, a
collection of traditions based on the life of the Prophet, and led
to uniform enforcement across Muslim lands.
– Trade Networks: Regions ranging from India throughout the
Mediterranean were connected by trade. The use of Islamic coins
and even bank checks came into wide practice.
The Gracious Life
– Blending of Traditions: Muslim households blended traditions
from the Bedouins and the Persians.
– Women: Wealthy Persians could have an unlimited number of
wives, but the Qur’an limited a man to four. Unlike in pagan
Arabia, women had access to divorce and could inherit and keep
property. Women were secluded from men indoors, and
outdoors, continued the pagan Arab tradition of wearing heavy
veils. Women also presided over the household slaves.
– Daily Life: Muslims began to eat at tables rather than sit crosslegged on the floor like Bedouins. The Qur’an forbids alcohol,
but some Muslims would drink wine. They also learned chess
from the Persians.
Muslims in Spain Playing
Figure 6.12
Photo credit:  Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid
Forces of Disunity
– Shi’ite Muslims: In the mid-600s, the Prophet’s son-in-law and cousin,
’Ali, was made caliph. He believed that there should be equality
between all Muslims and no special status for ethnic Arabs, who first
spread Islam. He also thought the caliphs should be spiritual leaders—
imams—rather than governors and tax collectors.
– ’Ali’s Death: He was assassinated in 661, but followers of his idea of
the caliphate persisted. Those that follow ’Ali are called Shi’ites.
Husayn, one of ’Ali’s sons, was also murdered by followers of the new
caliph. Shi’ites consider the caliphs after ’Ali as illegitimate, since they
were not relatives of the Prophet.
– Umayyad caliphate:
– ’Abbasid caliphate:
Forces of Disunity
– Umayyad Caliphate: After the murder of ’Ali, the caliphate was taken
over by the Umayyad family, creating a dynasty that lasted a century
and based itself in Damascus. One Umayyad caliph wanted to
deemphasize Mecca, so he built the Dome of the Rock mosque in
Jerusalem, the place where the Prophet ascended to heaven.
– ’Abbasid Caliphate: In 750, the Abbasids overthrew the Umayyad
caliphate. This new caliphate wanted to make the caliph a more
spiritual rather than political figure, and also moved the capital from
Damascus to Baghdad, a newly built city on the Tigris River, perfectly
position to benefit from the trade with the Far East. By the 900s, it was
the administrative center of Islam and housed 1.5 million people. Only
Constantinople rivaled it. The Umayyads contained to rule in Spain,
and the Shi’ites did not recoginze the ’Abbasids either.
Islam, ca. 1000
Heirs to Hellenistic Learning
– Translations: By the 700s, Muslim scholars had translated scientific and
philosophical works from Persians, Greek, and Syriac into Arabic. The
’Abbasids supported scientific endeavors.
– Medicine: Muslim physicians were the best in the Western world, blending
ancient knowledge with empirical observation. Advances included a
treatment for smallpox; surgeries for cancer, vascular conditions, and
cataracts of the eye. They also used a range of anesthetics.
– Mathematics: Muslims brought “Arabic numerals” from India, eliminating
Roman numerals and allowing more advanced mathematics. They perfected
the use of decimals and fractions, and invented algebra.
– Literature: The Qur’an itself, written in rhyming verse, is a vast literary
achievement. The most famous work of fiction, however, was A Thousand
and One Nights, which was set in the Baghdad court of an ’Abbasid caliph in
the late 700s.