lasted from the collapse of the Western Part of the Roman Empire
until 1453, when the Ottoman Turks broke through the walls of
Constantinople and looted the city. The empire reached its height
under the rule of Justinian in 565. At that point, Justinian conquered
the areas the Germanic tribes took from the western half of the
Roman Empire. However, in the 7th century, Slavic tribes,
Avars and Bulgars, and Persians invaded the Balkan Peninsula.
Also, Germanic Lombards moved into northern Italy, and the Visigoths
drove the Byzantines from Spain. Emperor Heraclius was able to
take the lands that the Persians took back. However, the Empire
no became vulnerable to the Muslim Arabs, who were seeking to
propagate their new faith. By the middle of the 7th
century, they took Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and North Africa.
In 717, they besieged Constantinople, but the Byzantine fleet
was able to fight them off with their new weapon Greek
fire. Then, from the late ninth to the early eleventh century,
the Empire grew stronger and took the offensive against the Muslims.
However, in 1071, the Normans from France took Italy, the Seljuk
Turks defeated the Byzantines in Asia Minor. But, the Seljuk Empire
soon broke up due to internal dissensions. To take advantage of
the Seljuk weakness, the Byzantines appealed to the Latin Christians,
who undertook a series of Crusades. However, in 1204, during the
Fourth Crusade, the Latin Christian knights who were greedy for
wealth, and Venetian merchants who were eager to gain control
of the rich Byzantine trade, decided to take Constantinople rather
than fight the Muslims. They looted the city, destroying sacred
books, vandalizing churches, and carrying huge amounts of gold,
jewels, Christian relics, and works of art back to Western Europe.
They also seized islands along Constantinoples major trade
routes. They also tried to force Latin forms of Christianity on
the Byzantine Greeks. The Byzantines resisted for 60 years, and
finally drove the Latin Christians away in 1261. However, the
Byzantine Empires power was drastically weakened, and the
Ottoman Turks took advantage. By the early 15th century,
all the Byzantines had left were Greece and Constantinople. However,
in 1453, the Ottomans conquered Constantinople, signifying the
end of the Byzantine Empire, after ten centuries. One thing still
preserved from the Byzantines is the Corpus Juris Civilis,
the body of law edited by Justinian. In the 12th century,
it was gradually reintroduced into Western Europe, where it became
the basis of common law in many European lands.
The Greek (Eastern) Orthodox Church was the predominant
church in the Byzantine Empire. This split occurred because
the pope resisted domination by the Byzantine emperor, while
the Byzantines denied the popes claim to authority over
all Christians. Both churches quarreled over ceremonies, holy
days, the display of images, and the rights of the clergy. The
final break came in 1054. The Christian church split into the
Roman Catholic in the west, and the Greek (Eastern) Orthodox
in the east. This division continues even today.
Justinian was the Byzantine emperor
from 527 to 565. He married Theodora, an actor who was the daughter
of a bear trainer in the circus. He usually relied on advice
from her in a number of crises. During his reign, Byzantine
forces retook the lands in the western Mediterranean that had
been conquered by Germanic invaders. He also retook North Africa
from the Vandals, part of southern Spain from the Visigoths,
and Italy from the Ostrogoths, establishing a western capital
at Ravenna. He is also known for appointing a commission of
scholars to collect and codify Romes ancient laws and
the commentaries of learned jurists. The result of this was
the Corpus Juris Civilis.
Heraclius was the Byzantine emperor
from 610 to 641. He was able to regain Syria and Palestine,
which were taken by the Persians. He also crushed the Persians
near the ruins of the ancient city of Nineveh in 627.
The Lombards, Avars, and Bulgars,
were tribes that attacked and took land from the Byzantines
in the 7th century. The Avars and Bulgars, who were
Slavic tribes originally from central Asia and settled the Black
Sea region, invaded the Balkan Peninsula. The Lombards were
a Germanic tribe that moved into northern Italy by the late
6th century. They conquered the areas that the Byzantines
had taken from the Ostrogoths.
The Normans were a tribe from
the area of France that threatened the Byzantines in the late
11th century. In 1071, they drove the Byzantines
The Seljuk and Ottoman Turks
were tribes from central Asia who settled Asia Minor. The Seljuk
Turks came first. In 1071, the same year that the Normans attacked,
they conquered the Byzantines in Asia Minor and subjugated most
of the peninsula, which was the heart of the empire. They also
conquered the Arabic lands of Syria, Palestine, and much of
Persia. However, internal dissensions led to its breakup. The
Ottoman Turks came in the 14th century. They drove
the Byzantines from Asia Minor and conquered mush of the Balkans,
leaving the Byzantines with only Greece and Constantinople.
In 1453, they broke through Constantinoples great walls
and looted the city, signifying the end of the Byzantine Empire.
They reached their height in the 16th century, as
they conquered Egypt, North Africa, Syria, and the Arabian coast.
They also conquered much of Hungary in the 1520s, and besieged
Vienna in 1529. However, they were unable to keep the vitality
that had kept the Muslim world more advanced than Western Europe
for most of the Middle Ages. The Ottomans collapsed 4 centuries
later, in 1917, by the English during World War I.
Islamic Civilization was the
second civilization to arise after Romes fall. It was
based on the new religion of Islam, which emerged in the 7th
century among the Arabs of Arabia. Its founder was Mohammed.
The Koran, the book that Muslims believe to contain the words
of God as revealed to Mohammed, sets Islamic standards of morality
and rules governing daily life. This Muslims view their religion
as the completion and perfection of Judaism and Christianity.
They regard the ancient Hebrew prophets as sent from God and
value their messages about compassion and the oneness of humanity.
They also regard Jesus as a great prophet but do not consider
him divine. They see Mohammed as the last and greatest of the
prophets and believe that he was entirely human, not divine.
By the year 630, Islam covered the cities of Medina and Mecca.
From 632 to 661, under the rule of the first 4 caliphs, the
Arabs overran the Persian Empire, seized some of Byzantiums
provinces, and invaded Europe. However, the push northward lost
momentum and was halted in 717 by the Byzantines at Constantinople
and in 732 by the Franks at the battle of Tours, in central
France. By that time, The Islamic State was a theocracy, in
which government and religion were inseparable, and there was
no distinction between secular and spiritual authority. God
was viewed as the source of all law and political authority
as the caliph as his earthly deputy. Divine law regulated all
aspects of human relations. A ruler who did not enforce Koranic
law failed in his duties. Islam was more than a religion. It
was also a system of government, society, law, and thought that
bound its followers into an all-encompassing community. However,
in the 11th century, the Seljuk Turks conquered the
Arabic lands of Syria, Palestine, and much of Persia, where
the political power was exercised by Seljuk sultans while the
Abbasid caliphs remained the religious and cultural leaders
of Islam. Through the 12th century, the Muslims lost
Sicily and most of Spain to Christian knights, and European
Crusaders took some of the kingdoms in the Near East. In the
13th century, the Mongols from central Asia invaded
led by Genghis Khan. By 1227, when Genghis died, the eastern
part of the Muslim world had fallen to the Mongols. In 1258,
the Mongols invaded Baghdad, slaughtering 50,000 people, including
the last Abbasid caliph. Their advance westward was finally
stopped by Egyptian forces in Palestine in 1260. By the beginning
of the 14th century the Muslims recaptured the last
Christian State founded by the Crusaders while the Mongols remained
in Persia. However, in the 16th century, the Ottoman
Turks, who had adopted Islam, conquered the remaining Islam
Mohammed, who lived from 570
to 632, was a prosperous merchant in Mecca. When he was bout
40 years old, he believed that the angel Gabriel visited him.
Mohammed, transformed by this vision, was convinced that he
had been chosen to serve as a prophet. He had begun to win followers,
but the rulers of Mecca would not accept this new faith. To
escape persecution, Mohammed and his group of followers left
for Medina in 622. This is known as the Hegira, or the
"breaking of former ties," and is one of the most
important events in Muslim history. This date has become year
one of the Muslim calendar. There, he gained converts and won
respect as a judge. He tried to convert Jews, but they did not
accept him as a prophet and mocked his unfamiliarity with the
Old Testament and the learned writings of the rabbis. Mohammed
actively persecuted Arabian Jews because of this, expelling
several thousand from Medina, seizing Jewish property, beheading
about six hundred Jewish men, and enslaving women and children.
However, he later permitted the Arabian Jews the free exercise
of their religion and guaranteed the security of their property.
In 630, he returned to Mecca, who surrendered without a fight.
However, he died two years later in 632.
Abu Bakr was Mohammeds
friend and father-in-law. In 632, after Mohammeds death,
he became his successor, or caliph. A caliph was regarded as
the defender of the faith, whose power derived from Allah, and
governed in accordance with Muslim law as defined in the Koran.
Shia is a branch of Islam
that maintains that the descendants of Mohammed, starting with
Ali, his cousin and son-in-law and the fourth caliph, not the
existing caliphs. Ali had been murdered in 661, his older son
in 669, and his younger son, Husain, in the massacre in 680,
along with some of his followers and relatives. This massacre
produced a passionate devotion to the house of Ali. The anniversary
of Husains death is the most important religious holiday
in the Muslim calendar to the Shiites. Because suffering
and martyrdom are central to Shia, Shiites have
had great appeal to the oppressed masses of Muslim society.
They view Ali and his descendants as Imans, holy men, innocent
of all sin, the most excellent of beings, selected by God to
inherit Mohammeds spiritual and political powers. The
leading branch of Shia, known as the Twelvers, hold that
counting from Ali there were twelve Imans. The 12th
one is still alive but remains in hiding, and one day he will
return as a messianic leader, the Mahdi, and will set the world
right with the guidance of God. This form of Shia has
been the official religion of Iran since the 16th
The Five Pillars of the faith
are obligations that the faithful must obey, and are considered
to be an essential feature of Islam. They are:
- A Muslim must accept and repeat
the statement of faith: "There is no God but Allah, and
Mohammed is his prophet."
- At least five times a day,
the believer must face the holy city of Mecca and pray.
- Muslims have a religious duty
to be generous to the poor.
- During the holy month of Ramadan,
believers should not eat or drink between sunrise and sunset.
- Muslims are expected to make
at least one pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca.
A Jihad is a holy war
that Muslim warriors believed they were engaged in. The purpose
of a jihad is to spread Islam to nonbelievers. It was
believed that those who died in the jihad were assured
a place in paradise. It was considered one of the principle
reasons for expansion.
Muslim civilization entered its
Golden Age during the 8th and 9th centuries.
Islamic civilization creatively integrated Arabic, Byzantine,
Persian, and Indian cultural traditions during this time. Muslim
science, philosophy, and mathematics, based on the achievements
of the ancient Greeks, made brilliant contributions to the sum
of knowledge at a time when Latin Christendom had lost much
of Greco-Roman through and culture. The Muslims acquired Greek
learning from the older Persian and Byzantine civilizations,
which had kept alive the Greek inheritance. Muslim scholars
and scientists performed the great historical task of preserving
the philosophical and scientific heritage of ancient Greece
by translating Greek works into Arabic and commenting on them.
In mathematics, Muslims acquired the concept of zero and "Arabic"
numerals from India, and passed these ideas to the West. Mathematicians
did original work in algebra and trigonometry too. Muslim astronomers
corrected the observations made by ancient astronomers, particularly
Ptolemy. Physicians became the best-trained and most skillful
doctors of the time, building on the medical knowledge of the
Greeks. Surgeons performed amputations removed cancerous tissue,
devised new medicines, and used anesthetics in performing operations.
The best Muslim hospitals had separate wards for fevers, surgical
cases, eye diseases, and dysentery. Also, Muslim doctors recommended
humane treatment for the mentally ill. Also, in the 9th
century, a medical encyclopedia was written. It mentioned items
such as measles, kidney stones, poisons, skin diseases, and
ways of maintaining ones health. His work was translated
into Latin and widely consulted in Latin Christendom. Several
Muslim thinkers employed the categories of Greek philosophy
to explain Muslim doctrines.
Tamerlane was a Muslim emperor
who ruled in the late 14th century, and ruled until
1404. He was a bloody conqueror, and cowed opposition with huge
pyramids built from the skulls of thousands of slaughtered victims.
The Mongols were a group that
lived in central Asia. They expanded both eastward and westward
under the rule of Genghis Kahn. He led archers mounted on fast-moving
ponies across Asia into Muslim lands. By his death, his empire
owned the eastern half of the Islamic civilization. In 1258,
the Mongols stormed Baghdad, plundering and killing with savage
fury. They continued to march into Syria, but were stopped by
Egyptian forces in Palestine in 1260.
The Kingdom of the Franks was
formed in the 5th century by Clovis, who united the
various Frankish tribes and conquered most of Gaul. Before he
did this, there several Frankish tribes settled in the Rhine
River valley in the 4th century, and expanded into
Roman territory. In 496, he made the official religion of his
kingdom Catholicism. However, after his death in 511, the Franks
suffered hard times. In the 7th century, the real
rulers of each Frankish realm were the kings chief officers.
One of these, Pepin II of Heristal, ruled over Frankland from
687 to 714. He became the founder of the Carolingian dynasty.
His son, Charles Martel, ruled from 717 to 741. He is known
for defeating the Muslims at the battle of Tours in 732, after
they had crossed the Pyrenees into Gaul and advanced northward
along an old Roman road. After him, Boniface, a prominent bishop,
with the approval of the papacy and his nobles, crowned Pepin
the Short. In 753, Pope Stephen II journeyed across the Alps
to anoint Pepin as king of the Franks and appeal to him to protect
the papacy from the Lombards. Pepin invaded Italy, defeated
the Lombards, and turned over captured lands to the papacy.
This donation made the pope ruler of the territory between Rome
and Ravenna, which became known as the Papal States. The alliance
between the Franks and the papacy continued through the next
ruler, Charlemagne (Charles the Great), who ruled from 768 to
814. He destroyed the Lombard kingdom and declared himself king
of the Lombards, added Bavaria to his kingdom, and compelled
the Saxons to submit to his rule and convert to Christianity.
Although he was a powerful ruler, his administration was very
primitive. He divided the empire into about 250 counties administered
by counts, who were nobles personally loyal to the ruler, and
were usually from powerful families. They served as generals,
judges, and administrators, implementing the kings decisions.
He also created missi dominici (royal messengers) to
supervise the counts, who were made up of two laymen and a bishop
or abbot. They made annual journeys to the different counties.
Their purpose was to prevent counts and their subordinates from
abusing their power and undermining Charlemagnes authority.
On December 25, 800, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne emperor
of the Romans. Although it is not certain what the significance
of this event was, the title certainly signified that the tradition
of a world empire still survived, despite the demise of the
Western Roman Empire three hundred years earlier. However, after
his death in 814, his son, Louis the Pious, was not able to
hod things together. Besides having to deal with the Frankish
nobles, who sought to increase their own power at the emperors
expense, he also had to deal with his rebellious sons. After
his death in 840, the empire was divided among the three surviving
sons. The Treaty of Verdun in 843 gave Louis the German the
eastern part of the empire, which marked the beginning of Germany.
Charles the Bald received the western part, which was the start
of France. Lothair received the Middle Kingdom, which extended
from Rome to the North Sea. This kingdom became a source of
controversy between France and Germany into the 20th
century. During the 9th and 10th centuries,
the Muslims attacked the Franks from bases in North Africa,
Spain and Sicily. The Magyars crossed the Carpathian Mountains
in the 9th century and established themselves on
the plains of the Danube. From there they launched raids into
parts of France. They withdrew to Hungary and adopted Christianity
after being defeated in Germany in 933 and in 955. However,
another group continued to attack, the Vikings. They raided
the coasts and river valleys of Western Europe. These attacks
heightened political insecurity and accelerated the process
of decentralization that had begun with the decline of Rome.
During these times, Counts viewed their counties as their own
land, and the inhabitants came to view the count as their ruler.
Nobles exercised public power formerly held by kings, an arrangement
that was later designated as feudalism. In instances where great
lords failed to protect their territories from neighboring counts
or from invaders, power was even further fragmented. In other
areas, local nobles chipped away at a counts authority
in his county. In other regions, power went to the castellany,
the land close to a lords castle.
There were essentially three
parts to the feudal system. There was the clergy who prayed,
lords who warred, and peasants who toiled.
The Magyars were members of a
tribe from central Asia, linguistically related to Finns and
Turks, who migrated through Europe and settled on the plains
of Danube. From there they launched raids into northern Italy,
western Germany, and parts of France. However, they withdrew
to Hungary, ceased their raids, and adopted Christianity after
being defeated in Germany in 933 and in 955.
The Vikings were members of another
tribe in Scandinavia. From their ships, they raided the coasts
and river valleys of Western Europe. Being superb seamen, they
crossed the North Atlantic and settled in Iceland and Greenland.
From there, they landed on the coast of North America. They
also produced rich poetry, excelled at crafts, and contributed
greatly to the revival of trade in the High Middle Ages. They
also plundered, destroyed, raped, murdered, devastated villages,
ruined ports, and decimated the population in pursuit of slaves,
jewels, and precious metals.
David Pollack's Home Page