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Review for April History Quiz
By David Pollack

Byzantine Civilization 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 Constantinople’s 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 Empire’s 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 pope’s 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 Rome’s 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 from Italy.

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 Constantinople’s 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 Rome’s 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 Byzantium’s 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 lands.

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 Mohammed’s friend and father-in-law. In 632, after Mohammed’s 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.

Shi’a 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 Husain’s death is the most important religious holiday in the Muslim calendar to the Shi’ites. Because suffering and martyrdom are central to Shi’a, Shi’ites 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 Mohammed’s spiritual and political powers. The leading branch of Shi’a, 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 Shi’a has been the official religion of Iran since the 16th century.

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:

  1. A Muslim must accept and repeat the statement of faith: "There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet."
  2. At least five times a day, the believer must face the holy city of Mecca and pray.
  3. Muslims have a religious duty to be generous to the poor.
  4. During the holy month of Ramadan, believers should not eat or drink between sunrise and sunset.
  5. 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 one’s 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 king’s 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 king’s 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 Charlemagne’s 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 emperor’s 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 count’s authority in his county. In other regions, power went to the castellany, the land close to a lord’s 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.

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