WK 8 notes

Mohammad (570-632 CE)     Mecca       Quarysh clan


From his first revelation in 610 CE, Mohammad sees himself as God’s new prophet


622 CE, invited to come to Medina to serve as its chief judge (the Hijra)

Subsequently converts the local population


630 CE, takes control over Mecca, returns to Medina, begins to convert the desert tribes


Basic premises of Islam (“surrender to God”), as laid out in the Koran (which combines a retelling of stories from the Old Testament, a narrative of the teachings of Jesus, and the revelations made to Mohammad: 


There is only one God, Allah, who is universal and eternal.

All the Jewish prophets and Jesus were prophets of Allah

Mohammad is the last of God’s prophets and reveals Allah’s final teachings

All must surrender to God (those who surrender to God are called Muslims)

God wants you to pray, fast, and visit Mecca, as he instructed through his prophet

God wants you to follow God’s laws, which include protecting and aiding the poor


As with early Christianity, there was no clergy in early Islam.  The only authoritative teachings were those of the prophet as recorded in the Koran.  After Mohammad’s death, his legal rulings and sayings [hadith] were compiled into the Sunna (“guide to good practice”); the cannon of the Sunna and Koran took shape over several hundred years (as had the Hebrew and Christian bibles).


632 CE, after Mohammad’s death, his secretary Abu Baikir became caliph (his successor, the head of the faith)  [territory ruled by the caliph = caliphate.


630s under leadership of Abu Bakir, Arabs expanded into Persian and Roman ruled lands in the region, created an empire and converted local peoples to Islam


640s-650s, after death of Abu Bakir, infighting among his successors.  In 656 Mohammad’s son-in-law Ali  took power.  Ali argued that the caliph was the leader of the entire muslim religious community (the Umma).  He was murdered in 661.  The subsequent Sh’i (Party of Ali), argued that Ali preached the correct practice and that only members of Mohammad’s family line could be Caliph.


The Caliph after Ali, named Mu’awiya, funded a new dynastic line of Caliphs called the Umayyads.  They conquered the entire middle east, North Africa, and Spain.  Built state that used Arabic language, Arab and Syrian governors, and forced “infidels” to convert.


BUT “people of the book” (Jews and Christians) did not have to convert and were protected if they paid taxes and followed the laws of the Caliphate.




Abbasid Revolution = uprising vs the Ummayads in 750 CE, led by Abdul Abba, which led to the creation of a new dynasty of Caliphs (the Abassids, who ruled until the 1200s)


Abbasids used local elites (not just Arabs and Syrians) to rule their provinces, based on the principle of the equality of all Muslims before God.  (So, unity based on faith, not ethnicity).  They also moved the capital from Syria to Baghdad.


Abssid government complex:  daily government business run by the Wazir, who directed the Treasury and Army.  Provinces ruled by appointed governors, localities by appointed judges.


In the 800s, internal conflicts in the royal court gave the army and bureaucracy considerable power (army increasingly dominated by Turks)


Three big cultural trends in 800s-900s: 


1) great ethnic diversity within huge empire;


2) growing split between Sunni and Shi’a.   Shi’a= only lineal descendants of Ali who are exemplars of Islam can be Caliph; Sunni = what matters if “right practice,” not lineage.


3) state promoted scholarship (translation of Greek, Persian, Indian texts into Arabic, etc); Islamic scholars saw themselves as linked to the legacies of the Greek, Roman, and Persian empires  (not as a culture separate from the great western imperial cultures).


In the 600s-700s, Byzantine Roman State could not stop the Arabs from seizing their territory in the Middle East and North Africa, and in the early 700s Constantinople was in danger.


Emperors Leo III (r. 717-741) and Constantine V (r. 741-775) reorganized the Byzantine Roman Army and prevented a complete collapse.  But this required giving up any effort to reestablish rule over the Roman West.


Again, near collapse in mid 800s, but the empire was saved this time by Basil I (r. 867-886), a soldier who seized power and reorganized the army.  SO, able leadership at points of extreme crisis was a critical factor in preventing a total defeat at the hands of the Caliphate.


In the 600s-700ss, Byzantium’s rulers faced the twin problem of how to increase the emperor’s power and how to pay for the army. 


Leo and Constantine addressed this by creating the “theme” system.  They recruited soldiers from the frontier regions and re-settled them on farms in the frontier districts (the districts were called “themes”).  Each district had its own civil/military commander, who governed the reserve soldier-farmers, who served in the army instead of paying taxes.  So the emperor could keep a small (cheaper) standing army and have a huge reserve army on the frontier that paid for itself. 


Leo and Constantine also reformed the growing state bureaucracy, which they recruited from all social classes and paid well (while reducing the power of each post)—this made the civil service a better tool for the emperor while also making it less dangerous to his power.


Another IMPORTANT point is that the emperors, following on principles laid out in Justinian’s law code, claimed that they ruled their lands as their “patrimony.”  They claimed that God had given them responsibility for all of their subjects, who were their property.  (This was similar to the idea that the father in the Roman family had imperium over his children.)  


So, the Byzantine emperors claimed, their rule was Absolute.  NOTE that Byzantium had no Senate, no assembly, no constitution.  (... and also no Pope!)


But religion was central to Byzantine culture.  Two big points to keep in mind:


1)      The Emperor claimed to have the right to guide eastern Christian religious life.  (Example—the issue of Iconoclam and the conflict between Leo III/Constantine V with the Pope over who led the Christian community

2)      There were increasingly important differences between Eastern and Western Christian practices (Example, Greek vs Latin liturgy and Bible; differences over symbols re. Trinity and Eucharist).  By 800, each sides viewed the other as heretics.





Visgoth Spain, Italy and the British Isles


a)      Spain:  weak state after fall of Rome, until the late 500s.  In the late 500s, a “Roman Christian” [Catholic] King (Leovigild) unified the territory and drove out the Arian Christians. 


One reason this new unified monarchy was strong is that had full support of Roman church.


In early 700s, Muslim invasions drove the Christian monarchy out, and only northwest Spain was still under Christian rule.  (That is the context for the Song of Roland, which describes a battle in northwest Spain in 778.)


Spain would be divided between Christian and Islamic kingdoms until the late 1400s.


b)     Italy:  a patchwork of Germanic kingdoms--Lombards in central Italy, Franks in North.  (Muslim rule established in the south in the 700s).   As in Spain, conversion to Roman Christianity gave these states the support of the church hierarchy, which provided Kings with able administrators.


In mid-700s, when the Lombard monarchy tried to force Papacy to recognize royal authority, the Papacy turned to the Franks for help.   Pipin III and his son Charlemagne defeated the Lmbards and set the Papacy up as territorial ruler of Rome and other districts (Church justified this with forged “Donation of Constantine”).


c)      British Isles:  New waves of Germanic invasions set up rule of Anglo-Saxon territorial kings over previous invaders, and triggered conflict between the existing Irish church and the church authorities of newly converted kings.  EG, king of Kent (in the south) was guided and aided by Roman Christian missionaries, while king of Northumbria (in north) looked to the Irish church.  The Roman church “won” that contest in the late 600s, and became a leading factor in state administration, education and economic development. 


But there still was no unified British kingdom.  Terrirorial kings (Essex, Wessex, Northumbria, Mercia) continued to war for power.  A single king (Offa, of Mercia) finally did win power in the late 700s, but in the early 800s Viking invaders destablilized that state.  And in 865 the Vikings conquered England.  When King Alfred the Great drove the Vikings out of most of England in 870s-890s, that was a key step towards unified monarchy.




The Carolingian dynasty


a)      Merovingian dynasty:   established by Frankish King Clovis (r. 481-511), ruled over Gaul and much of central Europe.


Administration built on old Roman bureaucracy, but also on good relations with the Church and monastic orders, which were economic powers as well as centers of religion and education.


Merovingians gave monastic orders land on northern borders, as tool to increase control over territory (led to conversions and new bishoprics).  That shifted center of kingdom to NW, by 700s capital in Paris.


Late 600s, civil war between competing aristocratic families led to rise of Charles Martel (in 717).  Martel ruled as “mayor” with figurehead king.  Made alliances with Benedictines (etc) and Papacy, which helped spread power of his state.


b)     Carolingians:  Martel died in 741.  His son Pepin took his place, at first behind the scenes.  751, Pipin declared self King of Franks (with support from Pope and Benedictines).  Papcy/monks key to his legitimacy as “protector of the Church.”


768, Pepin’s son Charlemagne became king.  Brilliant military leader (spreads Frankish empire).  Full support from Papacy, since he also was spreading Roman Christian faith.



c)      Relationship with Church a key to political power.  Charlemagne protected the Papacy, and the Pope allowed him to treat the Church administration as his subordinates (and use them for administrators).


796, Charlemagne got Leo III elected Pope/ 800, Leo crowned Charlemagne as “Roman Emperor.”  (He did not rule Byzantium, though!)


Charlemagne really believed God had anointed him to protect the Christian community, that this was his first duty, and that it included guiding his subjects towards correct practice.  He took active role in conversions, in form of liturgy, monastic orders, appointment of clerics, tithing, etc.


d)     Charlemagne developed system of administration that built on Merovingian courts, taxes and tolls, and strengthened royal power.  Sent royal “missions” to the provinces; took grand tours of his lands.



Esp. imp:  he broke kingdom into territories administered by high ranking aristocrats called Counts, who served as governors and judges.  They swore  loyalty to him (collected taxes, served in battles, giving of gifts, etc); in return, they had power over the peasants and commoners. 


e)      Charlemagne recognized importance of literacy for the state, was a patron of schools (run by the church) and scholarship.  That led to the Carolingian renaissance.


Decline and division after death of Charlemagne’s son Louis the Pious