Eastern Thoughts Part 1
Part I – History
Europe’s Origin from Roman Gaul and Mesopotamia 1
The Nation of France changed from Roman Gaul, which once was an area of many little towns and settlements north and west of the Italian peninsula. When the Roman Empire collapsed, a diversity of tribes from the Old Civilization of Mesopotamia and Europe competed for control over this region. In time the Franks achieved political supremacy here and conferred it their historically famous name of ‘France’.
Franks were a Germanic tribe of mixed peoples. They came from local tribes, and intermixed with emigrants from far-off lands. Many had conquered the area and intermarried with Gauls. Therefore some people from surrounding lands spoke a Celtic language. The Bretons also spoke a Celtic language specific to Brittany. The connection between the two Brittany’s is old.
In around 500 BC, when the Celtic Gauls arrived in what today is Brittany, they named the peninsula Armor (land of the sea). The interior was Argot, the wooded country. During the sixth century, the Celtic Britons, driven out of England by the Angless and Saxons, emigrated to Armorica and gave it a new name, Little Brittany, which in time became just Brittany, or Bretagne in French. Britain, across the English Channel, remained Grande Bretagne, big Brittany. The Belges and the Gascons spoke a Latin-like language spoken all along the Pyrenees. In the beginning, the Franks were a minority in the region, but overtime became great politically and culturally. The Roman Empire later left its cultural mark on France also.
In another geographic area, Merovingians originated from Mesopotamian warrior Judaic-Egyptian tribes. Over many older centuries they picked up a famous aura of inscrutability and mystique. In time, through endogamy with the European local upper class tribes, they became a dynasty of Frankish kings and ruled shifting areas of present-day France and Germany. Their rule lasted from the 5th to the 8th century AD. Leadership among the early Merovingians was based on mythical descent. They asserted constitutional rights through divine patronage.
For centuries, multiple Merovingian kings ruled their kingdom -not unlike the early Roman Empire, which was created as a single realm but ruled collectively by several kings. Meanwhile the Franks in Europe intermarried with other local tribes, and, produced a homogeneous French culture.
Merovingian Dynasty and Canaan 2 3
Canaan is a historic Semitic-speaking region roughly similar to the Levant (modern-day Egypt, Israel, Palestinian territories, Lebanon, and the western parts of Jordan and Syria). Canaan was of geopolitical importance in the Late Bronze Age in the Amarna Period when under the Pharaoh Akhenaton, also known as Rehobaum: 1352-1336 BC. This was a period when Egyptian, Hittite Empire and Assyrian Empires converged. Historically they confirmed being under King Solomon, the 10th century son of King David alias Amenhotep III (1390-1352 BC). Amenhotep IV or Rehobaum, the son of Solomon made this period in history mysterious. For some mysterious reason, he handed over to him the task of converting Polytheistic Canaan into a Monotheistic religion.
Rehobaum alias Amenhotep IV changed his pharaonic name to Pharaoh Akhenaton, married Nefertiti among other wives, parented six daughters, and set up a new religion. After Rehobaum changed his name to Akhenaton, he disbanded the benefiting Egyptian priesthoods and Solomon’s many gods. Now he declared the Sun (Aten) as the sole God. Unfortunately his reign lasted only a decade. During his 35th year Akhenaton’s son Smenkhkare became Pharaoh.
Smenkhkare married his sister Meritaten, who was Akhenaton’s eldest daughter. She was perhaps serving Egypt as her father’s Great Royal Wife. Smenkhkare and Meritaten shared a brief reign. Smenkhkare had also married Ankhesenpaaten. She was queen when Tutankhamen became the pharaoh. This was the Amarna Period when under Amenhotep III4 (Solomon) and his son Rehobaum (crowned Amenhotep IV), polytheism was changed, to monotheism. Its brief lifetime lasted only under Pharaoh Akhenaton and his Queen Nefertiti.
The Egyptians, including the Pharaoh Amenhotep III alias Solomon, had traditionally worshiped a pantheon of gods represented as human or animal-headed creatures. Some gods were specific solar gods ‘Re’. This Sun god played an important role in the Pharaonic State Religion. The Universal Power of the Sun (fire in space admixed with matter, water and air) fitted well with prevailing ideas of ‘supreme power’ of the king within Egypt and beyond its borders.
With the establishment of Akhenaton’s new religion, solar gods from another geographical location (India) and perhaps another time, became prominent in Egypt. Akhenaton raised the Aten (Sun) to the position of the ‘only god’. Through art and texts, there was enduring evidence of closer ties between king and Sun. During this Amarna Period, it was stressed the king was the only link to God: the Sun. Commonplace people were encouraged to centre their attention in the worship of Akhenaton and the royal family. Over the following four decades, most traditional gods were abandoned. Teams of workers were sent around the temples of Egypt where they chiselled out the names and images of older gods wherever they cropped up in Canaan.
The ‘natural philosophy’ of Akhenaton’s religion was about a monotheistic religion worshipping the Sun as God. Like the Hindus and Buddhists before him, awe and wonder of the natural world was extolled in Canaan. Since ancient times the universal power of the Sun as it rose and set was celebrated with the Gayatri Mantra in the East. Ensconced in the Rig-Veda from long before 2000 BC, it was credited to the sage Valmiki. It was always an important part of the Hindu Canon and chanted when the sun rose, was present or was setting.
Therefore the Amarna Period was perhaps a time when the polytheistic tribes of Mesopotamia like the Merovingians migrated to other parts of neighbouring lands where the worship of the Compassionate form of Gayatri, the Mother of the Vedas, was practiced as the ‘Black Virgin’. Meditating on the Glory of the Creator who created the Universe was worthy of Worship because the Sun was embodying Knowledge and Light.
Establishing the Merovingian Dynasty as a line of Frankish Kings in Gaul came from a mythical or mysterious ancestor Meroveus, who gave them a beginning in the line of Frank kings with Clovis. According to tradition, Merovech5 was born of two fathers. Europa was already with a child from King Clodio when Merovech’s mother went swimming in the ocean. While in the water she was either seduced or raped by an unknown marine creature. It was a sea-beast who was part bull and part fish who came from the Kingdom of Neptune. This creature fertilised Queen Europa a second time. When Merovech was born he had two different bloods running through him: the blood of Frankish rulers and that of an aquatic creature.
By this dual blood Merovech was said to have various superhuman powers. The whole Merovingian Dynasty was wrought with an aura of magic, sorcery and the supernatural. They were compared to Merlin, and often called ‘the sorcerer kings’. They were reputed to be able to heal by the laying on of hands, and had clairvoyant as well as telepathic powers. They were also rumoured to have a spell which promoted longevity.
Another legend about the Merovech came from the Old Semitic Phoenician Civilizations (1200-146 BC). The tale was widespread on the western coastal parts of the Fertile Crescent of Lebanon. They believe Europa was Canaan’s daughter. Canaan, the son of Poseidon (Greek god of the Sea), supposedly disappeared; princess Europa was not only a beautiful daughter of her a godly father, but her father’s favourite.
One day a servant came into the palace and told Europa that a beautiful white bull had appeared mysteriously on the beach. Intrigued, Europa went to see the beautiful, tame and playful creature. Europa wrapped garlands of flowers around its horns, and frolicked beside it. Encouraged its gentleness, she climbed the creature and to her utter delight it ran about the beach. Then, unexpectedly, the creature ran toward the ocean. The bull ran into the waves and out to sea. Europa’s handmaiden watched in helpless horror as the princess disappeared off into the distance.
Herodotus (484-425 BC) the old Greek historian born in Turkey wrote the story of Europa was based on a genuine incident. Europa was a historic public figure. The tale began with kidnapping Europa and finished by the myth of the Quinotaur, who sired a race of sacred kings. For the Greek scholars, the sea bull of the Europa saga is seen as Zeus, the god traditionally associated with and as a bull. The figure of the sea bull has been traced directly to the figure of Dragon. An alternate name of Zeus was Dyaus, or Dragon was Daonos. They were different labels, applied by different cultures at different times to essentially the same figure.
The kings of most ancient cultures, in time became their gods. Overtime, the gods of dominant cultures became the gods of less dominant ones. And so it was: that a sea bull of Europa was the Quinotaur of the Merovingian kings. Because Quinotaur was the famous father of European monarchs, and their mother was Europa, they named their continent Europe.
The Merovingian dynasty when in Europe was not a central government like those of old Egypt or ancient Rome. It was made up of several large kingdoms with cultural and linguistic affiliation. Governance was based on exchange of favours; in exchange for room and board and a share of booty each ruler captured they promised allegiance. Warriors swore loyalty and service6.
King Clovis (466-511)7, was the first Merovingian king who united all the Frankish tribes under one Dynastic ruler who passed down kingship from generation to generation. That arrangement changed leadership from group of royal chieftains to a single power. They eventually progressed into a feudal system which would later characterize medieval Europe: the king’s bonded slaves would offer military service in exchange for sizable tracts of land where they would build their own estates.
In return the vassals would create their personal retinues of loyal men, who would take up arms for the lord in exchange for housing and a share of the food grown on the land and the loot gathered during intertribal skirmishes. The land grants given by the ‘king’ were not permanent. Leaders of followers had the power to revoke any grants. That power over them kept the vassals ‘faithful’.
The Merovingians civilization8 came down from nomadic warriors. Their idea of domination and success was not to build cities or learn to read and write. Violent barbarous culture of plunder and pillage among the many tribes, eventually gave way to a literate and sophisticated civilizations.
Clovis named Paris his capital city and his seat of government in the year 511AD. By the end of the sixth century the Merovingians stretched out south and east, by taking over three kingdoms: Aquitaine in the southwest, Burgundy in the southeast, and Austrasia in the northeast. The ‘History of Gaul’ written around 593 to 594 by Gregory of Tours was his eyewitness account of Merovingian rule.
Salic Law which excluded women the right to succeed to the throne or inherit land was the Merovingian Legal Code ((500-751 AD). It was founded by Clovis I, based on an ancient Civil Roman Law and written in Latin. Although it barred women from ruling, it allowed educating women from powerful families. Well-informed women wielded great influence on government of the day through their menfolk.
Meanwhile, the Church offered education as an alternative to marriage. Women could enter the scholarly cloistered world and have the skill of rising to power as an abbess. Nuns therefore became the best-educated citizens of their time. A famous illustration was when the Burgundian princess Clothilda married Clovis in 492 and persuaded him to convert to Christianity. From then forwards, France was a Christian nation. The church and state worked together as two arms of the same authority. This collaboration would last many centuries to the present-day.
The Merovingian rulers were eventually triumphed over because they failed to consolidate France into a centrally controlled state. A previously unknown Arnulfing family first rose to power. Their family reign was called Carolingian because so many Arnulfing men were named Charles (Carolus in Latin).
Carolingian Dynasty 9
By the end of the eighth century, the Carolingian rulers succeeded in uniting all the Franks under one central government. They progressively expanded into Merovingian holdings and created a Carolingian Empire. They conquered the Italian peninsula and expanded west towards the Elbe River in the north and the Danube River in the south.
During the shattering of the Western Empire, then rife with splintering of moral values, Pope Leo III (750-816), the head of the Catholic Church crowned the French king Charlemagne Emperor. He arranged an elaborate public ceremony in Rome and personally crowned his Emperor. He was motivated by the wish to arrogate to him the “right to appoint king” and spread papal authority to papal, church and crown lands. Meanwhile he also encouraged the study of Christian texts in Latin. This Carolingian Renaissance set up the need for high educational standards for monks and priests. By standardizing worship services in all parishes, Leo III launched a Christian Renaissance which would be lasting.
By 843, the Treaty of Verdun divided Charlemagne’s empire between his three grandsons. The West Francia became the modern nation of France, while in East Frank-land, Germanic culture would dominate. East Francia was absorbed into the Holy Roman Empire, which in 1871 would become the nation of Germany. Lotharingia, the central and smallest division, later became the region of Lorraine. These chronological events would become historically important. For at least four hundred years the French and Germans intermixed into a common ethnic, cultural, and historical event.
By the seventh century, a money economy replaced the earlier barter system of trade. Merovingian coins minted for trade exchange became popular in France. Surprisingly the region slumped economically under this Merovingian initiative – this, despite competent monetary administration. The turn-down was because of 200 years of military invasions, bad weather, and a decline in international trade. The rise of Carolingians in France came with a slow economic recovery. There was now a flourishing mercantile economy. Despite centuries of church and political interference Europe set in motion a gradually thriving economy after 1000 AD. The feudal system was breaking down and private enterprise emerging as a power.
By the end of the ninth century, the system of delegating royal authority to vassals (now called counts) of administrative divisions of the country was breaking down. Those with extensive lands began calling themselves dukes and assumed royal authority. The dukes were difficult to control and kingdoms were built up with heavily fortified castles. Their purpose was to protect the duke and his followers from foreign invasion and from regional and local rivals.
Starting in the 7th century, Vikings – the Norse tribes of warriors, merchants and pirates attacked France regularly. Both bandits and merchants settled along the shores of the English Channel. The Normans called this area Normandy. In 911, after unsuccessfully attacking Chartres and Paris, the Viking leader Rollo converted his ethnic group to Christianity. He swore loyalty to France, in exchange for permission to settle permanently in Normandy as his own kingdom.
Islam Encroaches Civilizations 10
Islam, the religion that would temporarily unify ‘many’ came from scattered pearl-wisdom of mystics from all over the Near East. In the Crucible of Light writings by saints, strewn from all over the Universe, were collated and presented in classical writings as tools for self-development. Although authoritatively, Islam was founded in the 7th century AD, this ‘new’ monotheistic religion of Prophet Mohamed, took its roots in the Judeo-Christianity of old polytheistic Egypt. Islam’s further expansion was almost immediately characterized by many vicious conquest and enforced changeovers.
By the 10th century, this significant ‘new religion’ and its splitting up took hold of many parts of the world. Many ethnic Arab tribal groups practicing polytheism changed. They were now a unified sect under one central government in Egypt.
Although approved Islam began as a monotheistic religion with an official language of Arabic, it changed to become culturally and artistically Persian. As the 10th century AD came to a close, many successive empires recorded the history of the Muslim Empire. It became increasingly diverse and cosmopolitan. It added Turkish, Persian, and African cultural fundamentals to Arabian ones.
African civilizations 11 of the first millennium were Nubians along the River Nile from northern Sudan to southern Egypt; Axum of Ethiopia; Kingdom of Ghana (750-1076 AD) extending from Mauritania, Mali to Senegal; and to Egypt -the land placed mainly within North Africa. Foreign invasions, religious conversions, and international trade were the many interactions between these civilizations.
India meanwhile emerged from a five-hundred years of ‘Dark Ages’ before entering the age of the Gupta Dynasty. With the fall of the Gupta Empire (320-550 AD), Indian Civilization once again entered a chaotic period. Muslim invasions and internal strife broke up and reshuffled independent Indian kingdoms within India. A fragmented political status of India persisted for ten centuries. Invaders were granted status of host. A feudal system was introduced. Feudalism became the central governing principle of India. Invaders slaughtered people of foreign lands. Fiefdoms were encouraged to create legal and social systems that benefitted the conqueror. Feudalism rested on an unsettled system of land and estate governance. Rulers inflicted insane dreams of self-glory on masses of peasants who were slaughtered liberally. Land revenue governance gradually erased thriving entrepreneurial trade and economy.
Muslim contact with India began in the seventh century. Interaction of Muslim culture with the Hindu way of life, backed by the superimposition of Muslim rule in India, eventually caused a superficial veneer of a common Indian culture seen in all spheres of life, in architecture, painting, music, and literature. In social institutions of marriage ceremonies, eating habits, in gourmet cuisine, and sartorial fashions Hindus and Muslims always led their own lives. To this date in the twenty-first century, they mostly exist alone from each other, except for friendships. Even living together for a thousand years has not welded Hindus and Muslims into one people.
Islamic rule in India lasted almost 1000 years. Hinduism continued to develop and change despite their dissimilarities, confrontation and reunions. Old Hindu (Vedantic) ideas and concepts gradually became part of new spiritual awakenings through Buddhism, Jainism.
From Roman to Byzantine Empire (527-7l7 AD) 12
The Byzantine Empire of the Middle Ages was once the eastern half of the late Roman Empire that survived a barbarian invasions of the fifth century. They were therefore direct heirs of the Roman Empire. The Eastern Roman Empire would carry relics of the Roman Empire for some 1000 years (330-1453 AD). Its capital remained in Constantinople until it fell to the Turks. Over time, the Eastern post-Republican old Roman Civilization became a chiefly Greek Empire and adopted its culture. Its subjects spoke Greek, worshipped in Greek Orthodox Christianity, and their priests wore beards. The turning point from Roman to Byzantine civilization came in the reign of Justinian I (527-565).
Justinian I was a Byzantine Roman Emperor born of peasant stock. His nephew sought to revive his uncle Justinian as Roman emperor at Constantinople whom he succeeded. Justinian was determined to restore the Roman empire by recovering the lost provinces of the West, by codifying and rationalizing the legal system, and by reforming the administration. All this, he thought, depended on God’s favour, and this he resolved to win by suppressing heresy and paganism. His first aim was achieved through his great general Belisarius, who recovered Africa from the Vandals, occupied Rome, and overthrew the Ostrogothic kingdom in Italy. Part of Spain was freed from the Visigoths. In his reorganization of Roman law, Justinian set up a commission to codify the work of previous jurists. Throughout his reign Justinian carried out many reforms. In religion, Justinian reinforced the penalties against heretical Christian sects, Jews, and pagans, and strove to achieve orthodoxy throughout the empire.
This “last of the Roman emperors” tried to reclaim the Western empire, and almost wrecked the eastern empire while paying tribute to keep the Persians quiet in the east, persecuting Nestorian theologians in Syria, Palestine and Egypt and alienated the population against the central government. A devastating plague decimated the population when Justinian died. The next two centuries saw the Byzantines constantly beset by waves of invaders coming from the north, the east, and the west. Centuries of fighting between themselves, Byzantines, Franks and Arabs brought about the end of the Roman Empire in the East.
A serious threat to the Byzantines came from the distant east. From around 600 AD severe hostility between Byzantines and Persians led to life-and-death struggle lasting a quarter century. Persians overran Syria, Palestine and Egypt while the nomadic Avars in the north tore through Greece and the Balkan Peninsula. Constantinople was almost all that remained after withstanding a siege by the combined Persian and Avar armies. Fortunately, the stout walls of Constantinople held against enemy assaults, and the emperor Heraclius, emerged to save the empire. He struck deep into Persia, crushed them and the Byzantine Empire was saved, even if both empires were by then thoroughly exhausted.
Unfortunately, a much more serious threat suddenly appeared. The Arabs, united and inspired by their new religion, Islam, swept in like a desert storm. The Persian Empire was subjugated in its entirety. The Byzantines watched Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and North Africa fall to the Arabs. Arabs pressed on toward the coveted prize of Constantinople itself. Once again, the city’s fortifications held out. After a four-year siege, the invaders were driven back. The use of a new secret weapon, ‘Greek Fire’, sent the Arab ships into wild uncontrollable flames. The chemical became the Byzantine ‘secret’ defence weapon for centuries. It is believed ‘Greek Fire” was a natural petroleum amalgam.
In 7l7 AD a new emperor, Leo III, from southern Asia Minor, came to the throne. Another huge Arab army was descending on Constantinople. Byzantine fortifications and ‘Greek Fire’ threw the Arabs in full retreat. The end of this siege was the beginning of stabilization for the empire’s borders and internal development. Fighting would continue with the Arabs, but mainly in the form of sporadic border raids. To the north, a powerful Bulgars kingdom of semi-nomadic from Eastern Europe became as serious a threat as the Arabs for the next 350 years. Eventually, the Bulgars would settle down. They would adopt Christianity when they were conquered by the Byzantines.
Byzantines by now were stripped of all their lands except in Asia Minor, some parts around Constantinople, Sicily, and in parts of Italy. They were still surrounded by aggressive neighbours. They were no longer a Roman Empire in anything but name and a few Italian holdings. Historically they were a Byzantine Empire. Unfortunately, just as Arab pressures were starting to ease, a cloud of religious controversy descended on the empire. The new issue, Iconoclasm13, concerned the icons (religious images) the Church used to depict Christ and the saints.
Iconoclastic use of images for veneration was declared idolatry. Leo III and several of his successors moved to abolish this form of idolatry by seizing the icons and destroying them. Iconoclasm touched off violent reactions and riots swept the empire. Relations between church and state were strained. Palace intrigues and murders centred on the icon issue.
When an iconodule empress, Irene came to the throne, she blinded her son and disbanded several of the best regiments of the army. The troops were mainly iconoclasts. This damaged the empire’s ability to defend itself. Weakness invited raids from its neighbours. After over a century of turmoil (726-843), the images were restored and the empire pursued a more stable course, undisturbed by major religious controversies.
Imperial centuries (750-1025)14: Disturbances of the seventh and eighth centuries left a different Byzantine Empire from the one that Justinian had ruled. The empire was much smaller, which deprived the government of valuable revenues, but being more compact it was easier to defend. The recent turmoil of iconoclasms made the Byzantine Empire a more ethnically, culturally, and religiously united realm. The largely Aramaic speaking “heretics” of Syria, Palestine, and Egypt were now under Muslim control. A mainly Greek speaking populace united by the same religious views was also more cohesive. They followed a resettlement policy. They took hundreds of thousands of the Slavic people from the Balkans and resettled them on the empty lands in Asia Minor. These industrious folks became loyal subjects and excellent soldiers for the Byzantine state. This revived the fortunes of the Byzantine Empire through the resettlement policy.
The Byzantine army carried on the old Roman tradition of excellence. Its army core consisted of mobile and versatile regiments of cavalry, known as cataphracts, who were heavily armed with bows. They relied on shock tactics of western knights to drive back the enemy. The Byzantines also fielded light cavalry plus heavy and light infantry who were useful in different types of terrain, especially on hills and mountains. Recruitment was done according to village, each village being responsible for supplying a quota of peasants armed and ready for service. This system was superior to that of Western Europe where the more troublesome and ambitious nobles were responsible for and in control of defence.
The Byzantines were skilful in diplomacy, especially against the less sophisticated cultures to the west and north. The first principle of Byzantine diplomacy was to turn two neighbours against each other and let them fight for Byzantine interests even though they might not realize they were doing just that. Constantinople, the capital city was the crossroads of much of the trade of the civilized world then. A ten percent toll on all imported goods from this trade raised sizable revenues.
The government kept monopolies on such goods as silk, grain and weapons. It kept tight control on all the craft guilds, by strictly regulating their quality of handiwork, wages, prices and competition. Because of this protection, Byzantine industries flourished and its goods were among the most prized and sought after in the Mediterranean. The firm foundations of administration, defence, and economy laid by the Isaurian (Syrian) and Amorian (Roman) dynasties (7l7-867) bore fruit under the Macedonian (Slavic) dynasty, which took the Byzantine Empire to the height of its power. The century and a half from 867 to 1025 saw a succession of excellent emperors who upheld the stability of the empire internally while expanding its borders.
In 863, a major Arab invasion was annihilated. It set the stage for the steady advance of Byzantine armies against the Muslims. The Byzantines even had their eyes set on retaking the Holy Land and Jerusalem. The Byzantines were the power of the Near East, but after Basil II’s death everything started going wrong.
Byzantines15 civilization created little that was new or unique, being largely absorbed in copying the literary forms of ancient Greece. Byzantine missionaries spread Greek Orthodox Christianity and civilization northward into Eastern Europe, especially Russia. They passed Greek civilization to Western Europe by way of Muslim Spain. This helped lay the foundations of the present-day scientific tradition. The Byzantines survived because three Emperors ruled one after the other allowing the Byzantines to grow stronger once more.
Arab Empire (632-750 AD) 16
Prophet Mohammed’s death shocked many Arabs who had credited divine qualities to the prophet. To ease their doubts, Mohammed’s chief follower Abu Bakr, addressed the crowd in Mecca: “Whichever of you worships Mohammed, know that Mohammed is dead. But whichever of you worships God, know that God is alive and does not die.” Their nerves soothed and their faith reassured, the Arabs struck out on a path of conquest almost unparalleled in its scope and speed.
In the beginning, the Muslims were tolerant of Christians and Jews, charging only a special tax, instead of forcing them to convert. The Arabs’ first victims were the Byzantines and Persians. When Arabs advanced eastward into Persia, they were exhausted by prolonged war with the Byzantines. However, as it developed the Persian culture would now re-emerge as a major influence on Islamic civilization. In 711 AD they extended their rule into Central Asia and beat a Chinese army. By 750 AD, the Islamic Empire had stretched from Spain in the west to north India and the frontiers of China in the east. It was the most far-flung empire of its day.
It began with the first distinctive problem of Prophet Mohammad’s Islam. Who should be caliph and spiritual but a secular successor to Mohammed? The first four caliphs were elected by a tribal council of elders and referred to as the Orthodox Caliphs, ruling from 632 to 661 AD. However, clandestinely tribal and clan jealousies were unrelenting. Of the four Orthodox Caliphs, only Abu Bakr (632-634) died a natural death. Eventually, the Umayyad clan took over and set up the Umayyad Dynasty (661-750). From then on, the dynastic principle of one family choosing the caliph would dominate. That would over time gradually transform Islamic history.
However, not everyone saw the Umayyads as rightful rulers of Islam. Some known as Shiites felt that only descendants of Ali, the last Orthodox Caliph and a member of Mohammed’s family, should be caliph. Meanwhile, those who felt any Arab could be caliph were known as Sunnites. The Sunnite-Shiite split is still one of the major causes dividing the Muslim world to this day.
In 750 AD a revolt led by Abbas, a governor of Persia, overthrew the Umayyads and set up the Abassid Dynasty (750-1258)17 . Abbas was a ruthless man who worked to exterminate the Umayyad clan. He even invited eighty Umayyads to a banquet and had them murdered at the table. He ordered covering dead bodies so he could finish his meal in peace. One Umayyad member of the clan did survive. Abd-al-Rahman, who escaped Abbasid agents made his way across the Mediterranean by using disguises and trickery. He arrived in Spain and founded an Independent Umayyad dynasty. This first crack in the unity of the Islamic state (Sunni and Shia) would never be unified again.
From the start, the Independent Umayyads agreed on adjusting their ruling and lifestyle with the Byzantine and Persian system. Their freshly created empire would always be encouraged to follow the host country. They moved their capital from Mecca to a more central location of Damascus in Syria. They adapted Byzantine and Persian bureaucratic methods of using relay riders for faster communication between all parts of the Shiite territories. Over time many Umayyad units later copied the Sunnite Abbasid centralizing policies.
Meanwhile Umayyads took governmental, political and lawmaking training from experienced Persians, Greeks, Jews, and other non-Arabs experts who were also given positions of responsibility. Their second Caliph Omar (582 – 644) a Shiite, would share his bread and dates with any messenger. Omar’s strong will, direct attitude, and unambiguous style helped him to expand the Islamic Empire with great speed. He was especially known for his energy of will, piety, wisdom and great ability of organization that helped to make him the second only to the Prophet Muhammad in authority and prestige.
While Omar was administrator of the Empire he could organize great conquests and could convert his empire to Islam four years before Hijrah. During Omar’s Caliphate, he was the ideal model for taking on the restoration of a “pure Islamic state.” This era was known as the Golden age of Islamic religion. Omar was murdered in 644 in Medina by a Persian slave who stabbed Omar in the Mosque before the day breaking prayer. While on his deathbed he appointed a council and elected a new Caliph.
Symbolic of the changes going on in Muslim government and culture was the new capital the Abbasids built: Baghdad. Just as Constantinople was the crown jewel of the Christian world, so Baghdad became the gem for Sunni Islam.
Islamic Civilization 19
The period of 750-1000 was a cultural Golden Age for Islam. Desert tribe members from Arabia assimilated older cultures and infused new life into them. Orderliness and resulting prosperity of Arab rule came from India, China and lands along the Indian Ocean. Arabs flourished as go-betweens in a trade that involved silks and porcelains from China, gems and spices from India, slaves and gold from Africa, and enslaved European captives and furs from Europe. The Italian city-states would later adopt Islamic feudal practices and become the premier centres of business in Europe in Frankish lands in the 9th and 10th centuries.
Arabs assimilated Indian, Persian, and Greek cultures and fused them into Muslim civilization: from India, the Arabs picked up the evolution of mathematics: the place value of digit and zero. From the Persians, the Arabs inherited art and literature. Poetry also flourished, because Arabs already had a strong poetic tradition before the conquests. Greeks also contributed substantially to Muslim culture. Faraway and distant contributions were especially made in the fields of philosophy, math, science, and architecture.
Strangely, Mohammed had said ‘nothing wastes the money of the faithful more than building’. Nevertheless, Muslims were great builders who owed much of their architectural skill and style to the Greeks. Arab rule and civilization provided economic stability and the spread of their unique architectural knowledge.
Rise of medieval Papacy (900-1300) 20
Problems of the medieval Catholic Church began with the death of Pope Formosus in 856 AD. A personal enemy became the new pope, had Formosus’ body dug up and put on trial. Formosus was convicted of unlawfully seizing the papal throne. His body was stripped, fingers on his right hand cut off, and his body thrown into the Tiber River. Not surprisingly, the rest of the Church staff whether, bishop, archbishop, abbot down to the lowliest monks and parish priests, were all bursting with corruption. The Church’s huge wealth, and 20-30% of the land in Western Europe, was the predicament. With little money, the main source of wealth and power was limited to the papacy. It made the Church an object of political ambitions by nobles throughout Europe. Europe’s nobles practiced the feudal system and were warriors by trade. They ignored the religious interests of Pope and Church.
Even in such troublesome times (910-1073) during the Church’s continuing cycle of corruption 21 there were always men of religious conviction, determined to set the Church back on its spiritual path. Reform started in the monasteries, and in this case it began in the monastic house founded at Cluny, France in 910 AD. The Benedictine monks of Cluny placed themselves directly under the pope’s power and far from the reach of local gentry and lords. That meant the monks had independence from all outside authority. They were Benedictines Cluniac monks. Their agenda of reforms was widely adopted and over the next 150 years, Cluniac reforms spread to hundreds of monasteries across Western Europe.
The emperors saw church reform as a way to weaken the power of the nobles trying to control church lands and elections. Meanwhile, devout bishops and abbots looked to the German emperors for protections from ambitious nobles. The church affiliated emperor, Henry III, even appointed four reform popes. One of them, Leo IX, carried out many reforms against simony (selling church offices), clerical marriage, violence, and overall moral laxity among the clergy.
He felt strong enough to struggle against the Greek Orthodox patriarch in Byzantine Constantinople, thus causing an East-West Schism within the Church in 1054. That schism, during the Rise of Medieval Papacy between (900-1300 AD), was never healed. Since then, the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches have functioned as two separate Churches. By the mideleventh century, the popes were again taken seriously as a real moral force in Western Europe. However, a storm was about to break that would destroy relations between Church and Empire.
The Investiture Struggle (1073-1122) 22
In 1056, the reform Church’s main ally and guardian, Henry III, died leaving a child, Henry IV, as his successor. This deprived the Church of imperial protection until the young emperor came of age. As a result, the popes sought new allies, from Normans in Southern Italy and dukes of Tuscany in Northern Italy. Both were enemies of the German emperors, thus creating a tense situation between the popes and Henry IV, when he came of age. Adding to the tension was the creation of the College of Cardinals whose job was to meet in private to elect a new pope. It kept the German emperors out of participation, although they still could veto any choice the College of Cardinals made.
Another problem was Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085), a reformer who agitated to replace imperial with papal control of Church elections. Growing tension between pope and emperor finally erupted in the 12th century ‘Investiture Struggle’ over who controls Church elections and gives bishops and abbots their symbols of their power. The stakes in this fight were high on both sides. Henry IV (1050-1105) needed control of the bishops and abbots to uphold effective control of his empire. He was Holy Roman Emperor from 1084 to 1105; as German King from 1056 to 1105 he continuously struggled for absolute power with Pope Gregory VII. The Church had to fulfil its spiritual mission but also wanted control over the Emperor. The power struggle led to excommunicating Henry IV twice. There was also the larger question. Who was the real head of the Christian world? Was it the Universal Empire or the Universal Church?
The Investiture struggle was a bitterly fought conflict on both sides. Pope and King stirred each other’s subordinates into revolt. The reform bishops appointed by the emperor, supported him against the pope. The pope stirred the German nobles into rebellion against Henry IV. When Henry IV and his bishops declared Gregory a false pope, Gregory excommunicated Henry IV. Excommunication released a ruler’s vassals from loyalty to him until he did penance. As a result, Henry did such penance by standing barefoot in the snow outside the pope’s palace at Canossa.
Pope Gregory was later driven from Rome and died in exile in the Norman kingdom, while Henry’s reign ended with Germany torn by civil war and revolts. Compromise was reached and only clergy elected new bishops and abbots, but in the presence of an imperial representative who invested the new bishop or abbot with the symbols of his worldly power. Although the struggle between popes and emperors continued for centuries, the popes had won a major victory, suggesting the Church’s rising power and a matching period of decline for Germany.
Papal Monarchy at its height (1122-1300) 23
Papal victory in the Investiture Struggle and the higher status it brought the popes led to many people turning to the Church to solve their problems, in particular legal ones. Canon (church) law and courts were generally seen as being more fair, lenient and efficient than their court’s legal system.
More the Church’s prestige grew; the more its bureaucracy grew, leaving them less free for spiritual affairs. By and large they were good popes. The most powerful of these popes, Innocent III (1199-1215), even claimed the clergy were the only true full members of the Church.
Growing power and wealth again diverted the Church from its spiritual mission and led to growing corruption. The rising power of kings triggered bitter struggles with the popes over power and jurisdiction. Popes used dubious means to fight rebellious kings by freely using excommunication, explicitly declaring anti-papal Christian enemies, extracting forced loans from bankers, selling Church services to gain wealth, simony, appointing several chiefs per office position for money, and amassing land-wealth. Ruination of the Church’s reputation undermined its power and authority. It therefore led to the Protestant Reformation and shattered Christian unity in Western Europe.
Crusades (1095-1291) 24
First Crusade (1095-99): There were several reasons for the Crusades happening when they did. The expanding power of Western Europe in the eleventh century and better agricultural techniques triggered a population expansion. Many landless younger sons of nobles and a series of bad harvests provided the incentive to find land elsewhere. Europe’s expanding frontiers, in Spain, in Southern Italy and Sicily, and by Germans in Eastern Europe, led them to look towards the Middle East. By the eleventh century, a new people -the Seljuq Turks, replaced the Arabs in the Islamic world. They over-ran Asia Minor after crushing the Byzantine army at Manzikert (1071). They seized Palestine from the Shiite Fatimids of Egypt.
These conquests led to pleas for help from the West for help. The Christian pilgrims to Palestine suffered mistreatment at the hands of Turks and the Byzantine emperor. Alexius I wanted mercenaries to reconquer Asia Minor and reunite the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, which had split since the schism of 1054. The rising power of the Church created a rising tide of piety in Western Europe that expressed itself in pilgrimages to Palestine even before the Turks seized it.
This rising tide of godliness let loose a broader movement demanding Church reform. It was led by the popes and caused the Investiture Struggle with the German emperors over control of election of Church officials. There were larger self-serving ambitions of Pope Urban II. If the pope could lead all Christendom in a crusade to recover the Holy Land (Palestine), his moral authority would surpass that of the German Emperor.
Therefore, in 1095, at the French town of Clermont, Pope Urban II preached the First Crusade to free the Holy Land from the Turks. His speech struck a nerve, because thousands enthusiastically “took the cross”. Crusaders went to the Holy Land believing that such a journey and killing non-Christians in defence of the faith would earn them forgiveness for their sins. Poverty and greed also played their role. Going on crusade offered them both the opportunity to win such lands and forgiveness for their sins.
However, many desperately poor peasants set off for the Holy Land without making any plans or supplies for the march. These undisciplined mobs, known collectively as the ‘Peasants’ Crusade,’ gained followers in each village through which they passed. Their growing numbers created ever mounting supply problems. Violence erupted as they turned to pillaging for food. Brutality was usually turned against local Jews, and thousands were either killed or forced to flee their homes.
The more organized and disciplined crusading nobles made their way to Constantinople, but in isolated groups. This allowed the emperor Alexius I to deal with them in smaller units. They were coached on collecting relics and mechanical wonders and any lands formerly held by the Byzantines. These measures of plunder helped Alexius recover part of Asia Minor, notably the city of Nicaea. However, there was growing tensions with the Roman Catholic Crusaders who felt they were victims of Greek Byzantine trickery.
The crusaders saw their first serious fighting in Asia Minor. Helped by the turmoil caused by a Murder of Malik Shah in 1092, and the Turks’ expectation that European knights would be easy prey, the armed cavalry of trained crusaders defeated the Turks in their first battle. Despite many difficulties faced, the crusaders fought their way across Asia Minor. The constant bickering between its leaders of French, English, Germans, and Italians nobles made chances of continued success unworkable. Still when push came to shove, the army insisted on putting aside their quarrels and marching on towards Jerusalem.
The crusaders endured desert heat and shortages of food and water while besieging Jerusalem. They faced a large Egyptian army coming to relieve the city. After marching barefoot in the desert heat around Jerusalem, the crusaders launched an assault. What followed was one of the worst massacres in history, spurred on by religious frenzy and combined with frustration from the hardships of the preceding three years. Foucher de Chartre (948-1000) who recorded the First Crusade in Latin graphically described how the crusaders used religion to justify this ghastly event. The success of the First Crusade was a remarkable feat, but it was stained with the blood of thousands of innocent Muslims and Jews.
Kingdom of Jerusalem (1099-1187) 25
The crusaders had much going against them. They were surrounded and outnumbered by hostile Muslim states that eventually united against the Christian invaders who were already suffering a severe workforce shortage. After many years, the original crusaders adapted to local ways. They resembled the Muslims, kept harems with veiled women, set aside chapels and allowed Muslim neighbours to worship jointly.
The crusaders transplanted the feudal system from Europe. Instead of one unified kingdom, they founded four separate states: the kingdoms of Jerusalem, of Edessa, Antioch, and Tripoli. This prevented the cooperation and unity needed against the surrounding Muslim enemies. Despite all these hardships, the crusader states did well, even expanding their territory in the early decades of the 1100’s. Europe was still enthusiastic and kept a constant stream of reinforcements going to the Holy Land. However, as the surrounding Muslim states unified against the common enemy, the tide started to turn.
The first crusader state to fall was Edessa in 1144, which quickly triggered the Second Crusade to recover it. It was led by Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany. This crusade defeated the crusaders’ army, leaving Edessa in Muslim hands for good. The next forty years saw Egypt and Syria unified in a strong Muslim state under the skillful leadership of Salah-ad-din (1171-1250) which means ‘Righteousness of Faith’.
Saladin who hated the Shiites set up a Sunni regime in Shiite Egypt in 1171 by killing the last Shiite Fatimid caliph of Egypt. He tightened the noose around the beleaguered crusader states and finally destroyed the crusader forces at the Battle of Hattin in 1187. Sequentially, Jerusalem and most of the coastal cities of Palestine and Syria soon fell into Saladin’s hands who would allow the setting up of a Sunnite Ayyubid dynasty.
In 1163 Nur ad-Din (1118-1174) the power hungry Syrian and devoted enemy of the Crusaders, sent for his most trusted general, Shirkuh and his young warrior nephew Saladin. Saladin, a devout Muslim, was only interested in a Sunni revival in Egypt and driving away the crusaders (Second 1147 and Third 1193 Crusades) out of the Middle East. He also struggled against the Shiites who were led by Rashid al-Din.
By the 1040s, governors in North Africa had all converted to Sunni Islam and declared their independence from the Shia Fatimid caliph. Meanwhile Fatimid Shiite territory, once confined to Egypt, scattered all over. In the face of the aggressions from the Sunni force led by Shirkuh, the Fatimid caliphate allied with the Crusaders in Jerusalem, for self-preservation. He died and was replaced by Saladin who became Egypt’s new sultan. After annihilating the Shiite Fatimids in Egypt, Saladin was interested in a Sunni revival in Egypt and in driving the crusaders out of the Middle East. Saladin also embarked on creating an empire of his own.
With 700 horse riders he rode from Cairo in 1174. He crossed deserts and picked up support from Turks, Kurds, and Bedouins among others. He set up control over many cities in Syria. He struggled with Shiites, led by Rashid al-Din Sinan (1132-1192), also known as the ‘The Old Man of the Mountain’. He was the leader of the Ismaili religious sect of Shiites in Syria. They wanted him dead.
In 1182, Saladin began his move against the Crusaders. His motives were both his devotion to Sunni Islam and dynastic aggrandizement. He defeated the Crusaders at the Battle of Hattin in northeastern Israel. That victory was followed by the reconquest of various Crusader towns. He laid siege to Jerusalem and offered it generous terms of surrender, which were rejected.
This brought on a series of crusades that failed to take Jerusalem or hold it for any great time. The Third Crusade (1187-92), led by the famous warrior king of England, Richard “the Lionhearted”, managed to take the coastal city of Acre after a prolonged siege. However, despite a march down the coast and various exploits, including a hard fought victory against Salah-a-din at Arsuf, Richard failed to take Jerusalem. Saladin did grant Christian pilgrims free access to the Holy City to worship, something he would have been willing to do anyway.
After 88 years of Christian rule, Saladin allowed many to leave but most Christian foot soldiers were sold into slavery. With Jerusalem secure, Saladin called up Jews to resettle in the city. Jews responded to his request. In 1193, at the age of 55, Saladin died of yellow fever. He had given his wealth to charity. He left behind only one gold piece and forty-seven pieces of silver; he had given the rest away to charity.
Later crusades strayed further from their goal of Jerusalem. The Fourth Crusade (1202-4) was diverted because of growing tensions with the Byzantines over the growing Italian stranglehold on Byzantine trade. The Fourth Crusade set in motion the final decline of the Byzantine Empire. Relations between the Byzantines and Western Europe, had been worsening for some time, but grew much worse. The Fifth Crusade (1228-9), led by Frederick II of Germany, did manage to negotiate the surrender of Jerusalem, but without fortifications. As a result it fell back into Muslim hands soon after Frederick returned home.
The Sixth Crusade (1248-50) under Louis IX of France (Saint Louis) was directed against Egypt in the hope of being able to trade it for Palestine. The strategy would have worked except that Louis refused to negotiate with the Muslims when they were ready to give in. Then the Nile flooded, disease set in, and the entire French army was captured and forced to ransom itself from captivity. The Seventh Crusade (1270), also led by Louis IX, was directed to cut off Muslim trade in the Mediterranean between Tunis and Sicily. Once again, disease did its work, this time claiming Louis, who died with the words “Jerusalem, Jerusalem” on his lips.
After this, interest in the crusades fizzled out. Europe had changed dramatically in the 200 years since Urban II had preached the First Crusade. A money economy had raised Europe’s standard of living and people more interested in comforts and not holy wars in distant lands. Also, the corrupt popes had cheapened and tarnished the image of the church and the crusades. The cost was that church lost a good deal of support. Meanwhile, the crusader states along the coast of Palestine were gradually being worn down by Muslim pressure.
A brief hope of delivery presented itself with the Mongols. While on a rampage across Asia, they shattered one Muslim army after another. However, in the Battle of Ayn Jalut (1260), the Sunnite Mamluk sultan of Egypt, crushed the Mongols and stopped their advance. This also sealed the fate of the crusaders who had encouraged the Mongols. In 1291, the last of their strongholds, Acre, fell after a desperate siege.
Despite their failure, the crusades opened Europeans’ eyes to a broader world beyond Europe, stirring interest and more tolerance of other cultures. An influx of Arab texts and translations of classical Greek and Roman literature created a secular outlook that helped lead to the Italian Renaissance in the 1400’s.
The Arabs passed on knowledge in math, astronomy and geography. Papermaking, refining of alcohol and sugar stimulated an increased want for luxury goods from the East. When they lost control of these trade routes they embarked on a series of voyages of exploration in search of shorter and cheaper routes to get those luxuries. In the process, Africa was circumnavigated, Asia was thoroughly mapped, and the Pacific Ocean, the Americas, and Australia were discovered.
For the Arab world, the Crusades had less positive results. Since 1000 AD the Arab world had been assaulted by Turks, Crusaders, and Mongols. The struggle of whether to modernize and make compromises with Western culture still divides the Arab world today.
Holy Roman Empire of Germany (911-1500) 26
The Holy Roman Empire founded in Germany differed from that of France and England. By 1300 AD, these two countries were on their way to developing their individual national monarchies, while Germany was breaking up into feudal anarchy. This was because Germany was tied to the old and outdated idea of a universal Roman Empire that claimed dominion over all of Europe. This put it into conflict with the Catholic Church, which had its own claims to universal dominion over land and rulers.
The following centuries were a long struggle between popes and emperors. It exhausted the empire, destroyed the emperors’ authority in Germany, and left Europe in the power of independent princes and church prelates. The quickly emerging fragments of nation-states left little room for a universal empire. Such an empire had some appeal in the time of the Carolingian Charlemagne who as King of the Frank and Holy Roman Emperor incited a cultural Carolingian Renaissance of the Middle Ages.
The Saxon Dynasty 27
The breakup of the Merovingian Germanic Frankish Empire of the ninth century created two main states: West Frankland, which would become Carolingian France, and East Frankland, which would become a defeated Merovingian to Carolingian Germany. The death of Louis the Child in 911 stopped the German branch of the Carolingian dynasty, forcing the German nobles to choose a new ruler. They recognized the need for a strong monarchy to protect them against the nomadic Magyars to the East. Germanic nobles chose the rulers of Saxony as their king. In the following century, the Saxon dynasty (919-1024) set up one of the strongest of the early medieval monarchies. The Saxons based their power on the twin pillars: of holding land and preserving alliance with the Church.
Meanwhile, the Saxon rulers supported the spread of the French Benedictine reforms into Germany, as a means to weakening the power of local nobles. In 961 the pope and Italian bishops called in the Saxon ruler, Otto I, to defend them against their enemies. In return for this favour, the pope crowned Otto Roman Emperor. From this time until 1806, the imperial dignity would belong to the rulers of Germany, known afterwards as the Holy Roman Empire.
The Germanic Salian Dynasty of Four German Kings (1024-1106), which succeeded the Saxons, depended on controlling Church officials and large amounts of land to preserve and build its authority. The rising power of the nobles made it compulsory to create a more efficient administration. The Salians used peasants whom the Church for knight service to the emperor. The bishops and abbots gave them ministerial use, but not possession of land. The Germanic Salian emperors used ministerial officials for various military and civil services, and kept them dependent on the emperor. They also mined for silver from the mines in the Hartz Mountains.
Their power and policies made the Salians unpopular in Germany, especially with the nobles. However, by 1075, the emperor Henry IV was the strongest monarchy in Western Europe. He had extensive lands, a permanent capital at Goslar, money revenues, and a body of servants loyal to the king. Unfortunately, the emperors’ support of the Church reforms had raised the power of the popes also. For self-preservation, Pope and Church would challenge the emperors’ control over Church elections in (1075-1122).
When Pope Gregory VII excommunicated Henry, the German nobles rebelled against their emperor and elected a new ruler. Rebellions, civil war, and anarchy tore through Germany and Italy. Pope Gregory VII died in exile, but his successors continued the struggle. When Henry IV died, his successor, Henry V, managed to reach a compromise settlement, but the damage was already done.
The anarchy and wars of half a century allowed the German nobles to assert their independence. Great nobles became independent princes, and lower nobles became their vassals. Bishops and abbots granted fiefs in return for military service. Free peasants disappeared. Even the ministerial were forced to break their bonds to the empire and became vassals. The empire started to fragment. German emperors, seeing themselves as Roman emperors, neglected Germany and concentrated on building their power in Italy. As a result, Germany fell apart. This would encourage the emperors to concentrate further on Italy while ignoring Germany.
Falling apart of Salian Germanic Dynasty 28
This process of splintering hastened under the Hohenstaufen dynasty, was started with its first emperor, Frederick I Barbarossa (1152-1190). Frederick tried to reassert imperial power in the rich cities of Lombardy in northern Italy. After some early successes, he was defeated. Frederick did however manage to seal a marriage alliance of his son to a Norman princess of Southern Italy and Sicily. He also had some success in controlling the cities in Central Italy. This accomplishment alarmed the popes who became enemies of the Hohenstaufen emperors surrounding them.
Frederick Barbarossa died while on Crusade in 1190. His son and successor Henry VI, married to Constance of Sicily who was even more involved in Italian politics. He had to spend several years putting down a rebellion of Norman nobles who did not want a German ruler. Although Sicily made the empire a well organized, wealthy state, it also kept the emperors out of Germany; thus allowing the Germanic Dynasty to break up even further.
The last great “German” emperor, Frederick II (1196-1250) came to the throne as a baby. After a stormy childhood, under the guardianship of pope Innocent III and threatening German nobles, he came to the throne in his own right. Frederick was a medieval character. He kept Muslim advisers, a harem, and a menagerie of exotic animals. His irreligious ways shocked contemporaries. Even his crusade where he gained Jerusalem through negotiation, rather than fighting with the Muslims, did not seem ‘quite Christian’.
The Germanic Frederick grew up in Sicily and considered Germany too cold and bleak for a home. He spent only two years of his reign there. His policy there was to keep it quiet so he could concentrate on building his power in Italy and fighting the popes. Because of his unusual ‘wants’, he granted further privileges to the German nobles to calm them. The last vestiges of imperial control therefore fell into the hands of nobles. They were granted full powers of governance over their individual lands. The discontented popes stirred up rebellions against Frederick in both Italy and Germany. Although Frederick kept his power in Italy, he never succeeded in breaking the popes’ power. Even after his death in 1250, the emperors’ fight with the popes continued.
The popes finally emerged victorious in their struggle against the German emperors. They broke the ring of enemies surrounding them by inciting rebellions in the cities to the north and bringing in the French royal prince, Charles of Anjou, to overthrow Frederick’s son in Sicily and Southern Italy. The pope forced loans out of the Italian bankers by threatening to ruin them. The popes’ defeat of the emperors also served to tarnish their own reputations and that of the Church.
By 350, the German monarchy became purely elective way of working. By 1500 Germany was a patchwork of 300 independent states, nominally united under the empire. Even after its unification in 1871, the memory of these humiliations would largely decide Germany’s foreign policy and be an underlying cause of the two world wars in this century.
Black Death and its Impact (1300-1450) 29
In the 1300s, Europe entered a period of turmoil that shook medieval civilization to its foundations and paved the way for a modern world as nation-states. Introducing Capitalism, not only shook the Catholic Church but gave birth to the Protestant Reformation. Amid recurring famines, outbreaks of plague, peasant and worker revolts, rise of religious heresies, challenges to the Church’s authority, and long-drawn Hundred Years War between France and England, became a period of stress. The ‘change’ resulted from better farming methods. New agricultural techniques caused a dramatic rise in population and rising demands for food and fuel.
Irritating these problems was a change of climate. In the 1300’s the climate turned colder and wetter than usual, resulting in floods and early frosts. The Baltic Sea froze over in 1303 and 1316. The resulting malnutrition made people born during that time especially susceptible to disease. This in turn made many immune-deficient individuals susceptible to the Black Death.
Bubonic plague spread from China to the Black Sea where Italian merchants would trade for silks and spices so valued in Europe. The Asian black rats, which carry fleas that carry the plague, hitched a free ride across Asia to Europe. The Black Death had arrived.
The Plague quickly spread through Italy in 1347, France in 1348, and the Low Countries, England, and Scandinavia in 1349. By 1350, it had wiped out Europe’s population. The Hundred Years War was interrupted by the plague, and stopped Italy’s economic boom and rural to urban migration for construction. Most rationalization of the Black Death made many fretful about divine retribution.
Without any effective cures, people looked for scapegoats. Many blamed the Jews. Germany and the Low Countries saw bad outbreaks of violence. By 1350, few Jews remained in those areas. The plague hit Europe six more times by the 1450s. Some 30-40% of Europe’s population was lost.
Long-term effects of the Black Death created a higher standard of living; nobles and clergy who were landowners became urban workers. This higher standard of living led to a more even wealth distribution. Recovery of the economy became obvious after 1450.
Popular Late-medieval Uprisings 30
Peasant and urban worker revolt was a sign of the times in the 1300’s and 1400’s. Plague created a 70% labour shortage in cities. Workers and peasants demanded higher wages for their labour, which nobles and guild masters strongly opposed. The Black Death had severely drained the tax base and caused kings to raise taxes to meet expenses from chronic warfare debts of that age. Heavier tax loads triggered a series of urban and peasant revolts across Europe. A combination of these many reasons sparked a sudden uprising which took the church and political authorities by surprise. Many were killed or fled to the safety of local towns or their castles.
In peasant revolts, the unexpected success of their uprising encouraged other peasants to join and vent their frustrations on their lords with incredible ferocity and cruelty. The rebellion would sweep the countryside like wildfire, destroying any opposition in its path. Eventually, the authorities gathered forces and crushed the rebellion in an aftermath of massacres and executions. Workers created protective organizations for higher wages and better working conditions.
The most serious of rebellion of labourers took place in Florence (1378) and lasted four years). Victory for the authorities came with severe reprisals. The savagery of revolts and the atmosphere of fear and hatred led the ruling classes in cities to support princes and tyrants who could then set up law and order. In Flanders, dukes of Burgundy set up law and order under their strong autocratic rule. The security of this collective power and wealth in the hands of rulers supported the cultural flowering of Renaissance
Decline of Church and Nobles 31
The Black Death also created a huge population loss in the cities, collapse of the urban grain markets, and loss of source of income for noble and church landlords. This especially hurt the nobles and clergy, whose incomes were still based on land and on selling surplus grain in the towns for needed cash.
Both nobles and clergy resorted to selling freedom to their serfs. This raised some quick cash, but deprived them of future revenues, which contributed to their decline and rise of kings and nation-states. Serfs were transformed into peasantry with more incentive to work harder. A more even distribution of wealth contributed to a revival of agriculture, towns, and trade. Rich merchants set up cottage industries and sold their goods outside the guilds’ restrictive rules. The merchants found out a new economic system: capitalism.
The Church had several other dubious fund-raising alternatives. Selling indulgences to buy time-out of Purgatory after one died, was one such simony. These practices led to growing public discontent. As a result, the Church would experience serious challenges to its authority.
Avignon Papacy or the “Babylonian Captivity” (1309-77) 32
Growing power of kings and popes led to rising tensions against authority and jurisdiction. Although they had won their struggle with the emperors in Germany, the popes were less successful in dealing with the rising power of the French and English monarchies. The popes had a habit of rewarding their Italian supporters with church offices all across Europe. Both common people and local native clergy resented this and looked to the king for help against these Italian clergy.
Meanwhile, during their struggle with the Holy Roman Empire, the popes had granted kings the right to collect church taxes in return for aid against the German rulers. When war broke out in 1294 between France and England, both countries’ kings justified collecting church taxes for their own wars. Pope Boniface VIII refused to let Philip IV of France do this. Philip and his agent, Nogeret, planned to subject the pope to the inquisition for crimes. When this plan failed, Nogeret and the pope’s enemies in Rome kidnapped Boniface. Although he was soon rescued by loyal followers, he died a few days later.
The College of Cardinals, probably feeling pressure from the high-handed acts of the French king and his agents, elected a French person, Clement V, as the new pope. Clement set out for Rome, but never made it there, stopping at Avignon. For the next 70 years (1309-77), the popes, all of whom were French born, stayed in Avignon. During this period the popes came under increasing criticism for being corrupt and under the thumb of the French kings. The Avignon papacy symbolized the decline of the medieval papacy. The ‘Babylonian Captivity’ of Popes, with the Hundred Years War then going on, also triggered challenges to papal authority from: church councils and popular heresies.
The Great Schism 33
The resentment the Babylonian Captivity aroused against the Church grew worse when the popes tried to move back to Rome. By the 1370’s, the turmoil of the Hundred Years War was making life at Avignon increasingly dangerous. The capture and ransoming of Pope Innocent VI by a company of English mercenaries convinced Pope Gregory XI to move to Rome. France was at war with England. It took Gregory three tries to get into Rome, but he quickly decided he wanted to return to Avignon. Pope Gregory XI died before he could get out. For the first time in 70 years, Rome was where papal election took place and the Roman mob clamoured outside for an Italian pope.
Under such pressure, the College of Cardinals elected an Italian, Urban VI, as the next pope. He was a violent and bigoted man whose actions drove all but three cardinals back to Avignon where they elected a second pope. As a result began the Great Schism, a period of turmoil when the Church was divided in its loyalty between two lines of popes, -a French and an Italian. Each pope refused to recognize the other and even excommunicated each other and their followers excommunicated by one pope or the other. With neither pope willing to resign, something had to be done. A council was called at Pisa, Italy in 1409. It deposed the two rival popes and elected a third. Unfortunately, the original pope did not recognize the council’s power to depose a pope, and the Church now had three popes. A church council was called at Constance, Switzerland. All three popes were deposed, and a fourth, Martin V, was elected. Although one of the deposed popes was held in Avignon until 1429, the Great Schism ended here.
There was also discontent within the ranks of the clergy. The Babylonian Captivity also caused popular discontent in the form of heresies. John Wycliffe who translated the Bible into English rejected the mainstays of Catholic practices of confession, penance, pilgrimages, veneration of saintly relics, excommunication, Church ownership of property, and the gap in status between the clergy. He abolished these since there was no mention of them in the Bible. Eighty-five years later, another reformer named Martin Luther would lead another revolt against the Church. The break, known as the Protestant Reformation, would be permanent and alter the course of European and world history.
Nothing better epitomizes the turmoil of the Later Middle Ages than the prolonged and desperate struggle between France and England known as the Hundred Years War. Although, on the surface, the issues concerned who held territories and the French throne, there were deeper issues in the struggle. The two nations were emerging from a feudal and dynastic governmental state. There was a growing cultural assertion of English nation and culture. The tide turned to favour the English.
Treason and Subversion by Churchianity during Crusades 34
Pope Urban II35 addressed a multitude at the Council of Clermont in 1095 appealing to let Western Christendom march to the aid of their Byzantine associates in the East. Many Crusaders joined assured by churchian promises of discharge from penance, and a wish to see Holy Places. Others united with fitting champions of greed for power and loot that might come their way while on the journey. But the trophy sought was the City of Jerusalem. By tactical manoeuvring, Crusaders did at first break down its defences. They poured into the city and a bloody massacre followed to save the Holy Land from the Islamic ‘infidel’. The response to Pope Urban’s preaching exceeded his expectations. Urban was not mainly concerned with Jerusalem. He had wanted to improve relations with the Byzantine Emperor, Alexius Comnenus of Constantinople, and promote the union of the Eastern and Western Churches.
In Western France, after the waning of royal power under Merovingians and later the Carolingians, knights were tasked to defend Christian peoples against their internal and external foes. The Church began to bless all weapons of warfare. Ideas of eleventh century Holy War against the Muslim ‘infidel’ gained currency. In due course, Pope Gregory VII (1073-85)36 reconceptualised the use arms in the hands of the military classes. They were to be used in the service of the vicar of St Peter. His ‘Crusading’ plan of 1074 was to use the crusaders to help Eastern Churches against Saracen Sunni Muslim and Seljuq attacks. He took the step of associating religious summons and military enterprise with the idea of a pilgrimage.
When the Crusaders responded to Pope Gregory’s call, they were given a distorted purpose. The general objective of the Crusade was to set free the Eastern Churches and identify the Crusades as Holy War to recapture Jerusalem. They were defending Christian peoples against the heathen or they were on a mission to recover Christians’ land the heathen unjustly seized. Crusading carried the promise of specific spiritual benefits.
The Crusades began at the close of the eleventh century when William Rufus was King of England (1056-1100), when Henry IV was still Emperor of Germany (1050-1106), and when Anselm (1033-1109) was reigning at Canterbury as the spiritual head of the English Church, which was ten years after Hildebrand – Pope Gregory VII (1015-1085) had closed his turbulent pontificate.
During the First Crusade (1096-1099), two hundred thousand disorderly rabbles set out with Peter the Hermit, an assistant monk of Pope Urban II. They arrived in Constantinople with only twenty thousand men. The rest perished on the way. Of about five hundred thousand men enlisted from under prominent feudal princes, only twenty-five thousand remained after the conquest of Jerusalem. The crusaders numbered many heroes, but hardly a single general.
There was no military discipline among them: they knew nothing of tactics or strategy; they fought pell-mell in groups among themselves. Individually they were gallant and brave, and performed prodigies of valour with their swords and battle-axes; but there was no direction given to their strength by leaders.
The Second Crusade (1145-1149) commanded by an Emperor Conrad III of Germany (1093-1152) and a King Louis VII of France (1120-1180), proved equally unfortunate with the added loss of two hundred thousand men. The armies were annihilated in many irrational sieges, for which crusaders neither had the education to fight nor proper weapons to use.
The Third Crusade (1189-1192), also known as the ‘Kings Crusade, was the most famous. It began in 1189 under the leadership of Philip Augustus of France (1165-1223), Richard the Lionheart of England (1157-1199), and Frederic Barbarossa of Germany (1122-1190). They were three great monarchs of their age but were also unsuccessful. Feudal armies learned nothing in one hundred years of foreign warfare.
They endured greater difficulties, while combating with abler enemy generals. They met valid army leaders like the Shiite Hasan i Sabbah (1050-1124) and the Sunni Saladin who in missionary zeal defended their faith. Hasan promoted the idea that in Life ‘nothing is real or forbidden; everything is allowed’ because Human Existence is an illusion. They became known as the Band of Hashashins (later mis-represented by the West as a Secret Society of Assassins who indulged in hashish). Saladin an Arab Sunnite hated the Shiites and destroyed their Fatimid centre of learning in Egypt before chasing the Christians from Jerusalem.
Christian presence in Jerusalem was with a hidden motive. The leading actors of the Crusade Wars were Christian Templars and Hospitalliers who had secret agendas to pick up the treasures buried in Solomon Temple. With the help of Hashashins acting as spies, they continued their clandestine search for Solomon’s hidden treasures.
Meanwhile an array of feudal forces in the Middle Ages wasted its strength and committed many mistakes. Philip was a wily leader, and Richard truly lionhearted, but neither had the general-ship of Saladin. Though they triumphed at Tiberius, Jaffa, Caesarea and Acre, their gains were not the result of great military feats. More blood was shed at the famous siege in Acre, which lasted three years. One hundred battles took place under its walls. Jerusalem, which was retaken by the Sunni Saracens, remained in their hands, and was never reconquered by the Europeans.
The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204), incited by Pope Innocent III (1160-1216) three years after the end of the Third Crusade, ended with divisions in States of Christendom (Catholicism of Rome, Eastern Orthodoxy of Constantinople and the Nicene Creed of 4th century AD), without weakening the power of the Sunni Muslim Saracens.
The Fifth Crusade (1228-1229), commanded by the Emperor Frederic II of Germany (1194-1250) was diverted from the Holy Land and spent its force on Constantinople. The Byzantine Empire was by then in the last stages of ruin. A naval attack was made by the Venetians in revenge for treacheries and injuries of the Greek emperors to former crusaders. Venetians brought back treasures from Constantinople, by pillaging that city and slaughtering fellow Christians on their way to kill the “infidel,” which came a far second in Venice’s calculations. Venice gradually grew to be a major empire by owning trade routes while the Crusaders were warring with the Muslim infidels.
During the Sixth Crusade (1248-50) ships entered Egyptian waters and crusaders captured Damietta in1249, on the banks of the Nile. By then, conditions within the city were increasingly desperate with dwindling food supplies.
The Battle of Fariskur was the last major battle of the Seventh Crusade (1248-1254). It was fought between the Crusaders led by King Louis IX of France (later Saint Louis) and Egyptian forces led by a Kurdish Sunnite, Turan Shah(?-1250) the son of Ayyubid Dynasty. The result was the complete defeat of the crusader army and the capture of Louis IX. The last of these miserable wars was the most unfortunate of all.
The saintly monarch of France perished, with most of his forces, on the coast of Africa. The ruins of Carthage were the only conquest. Europe was sickened over the losses and defeats of nearly two centuries, during which five millions lost their lives.
Famine and pestilence destroyed more than the sword. Before disheartened Europe could again rally, the last strongholds of the Christians were wrested away by the Muslims. Gallant but unsuccessful defenders were treated with every inhumanity, and barbarously murdered despite truces and treaties.
Such were the famous Crusades. All were marked by prodigious personal valour. All were disgraceful events for the want of unity of action and the absence of real leadership. They point to the enormous waste of forces, and the apparent waste of nature and fruits of the earth. It was a time of transition between the time when men roamed in forests and the time when they cultivated the land. All the good which resulted to Europe from the temporary possession of Constantinople was the introduction into Europe of Grecian literature and art.
In the Middle East, there was cost in lives and money, but no permanent conquest of the Holy Land. Islam was not slowed. Crusades only hastened the fall of the Byzantine Empire. The divided and quarrelling Muslim powers found temporary unity against the Europeans, but in the long run a distraction made them more vulnerable to invasions in the thirteenth century by Mongols from Central and Northern Asian steppes of Mongolia. Finally, relations between Muslims and Christians disappeared. Respect almost disappeared. When hostility took political expression among Muslims, it birthed a new political radicalism with a militant edge.
Results of Crusades 37
The Crusades weakened the power of barons who embarked in wars. Their rigid fanaticism recoiled and undermined their own system of feudalism. Fetters of serfs and slaves were broken unintentionally but effectually. To gratify churchian passion for punishing infidels, the barons were obliged to grant concessions to towns and villages which they once ruled with an iron hand.
The baron had to pay his own expenses, which were heavier than expected. Sometimes he was taken captive for ransom paid in cash, as was the case of Richard of England, who on his return from Palestine was imprisoned in Austria for one third of all the gold and silver of the realm. Village guilds had money but merchants and mechanics despised the nobility. Monasteries and some nobles had money and they parted from their wealth only when guilds were given new privileges, charters of freedom to do business in towns and making concessions to peasantry.
The barons returned from the wars much poorer than when they went away. Each land-owning noble was obliged to economize, but his feudal family refused retrenchment. Artisans formerly poor were now belonging to leading guilds. They became enriched by supplying needs of barons, growing cities and for goods for trade. With the end of each Crusade there were fewer serfs to be trodden down. They became a new breed of a “middle class”. Feudalism did not recognize or understand a middle class in larger villages and towns.
The growth of cities and urbanisation came simultaneously with the decay of feudalism. Nobles became impoverished while merchants became enriched. They began building ships in shipyards for the Crusaders to venture into wars. Florence, Pisa, Venice, Genoa, Marseilles became centres of wealth and of increasing political importance. Through expansion of commerce the ships increased in size. Merchandise was brought from Asia to Europe and taken from Europe to other parts of the world. Seeds and roots of new fruit trees and vegetables arrived in Europe. Knowledge of silkworms from China and India led to creating the silk fabric woven in Italian and French villages.
The Venetians learned from the Tyrian the art of making glass. The Greeks brought in gunpowder. Architecture of churches became less sombre and more graceful and beautiful like Arabic style. Ornaments of Byzantine churches and palaces were brought to Europe. Houses became more comfortable, churches more beautiful, and palaces more splendid. Manners improved and communication became more polished. Chivalry borrowed its courtesies from the East.
From Constantinople Europe received the Greek philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, in the language in which it was written. Greek scholars came to Italy to introduce their literature. Study of Greek philosophy gave a new stimulus to human inquiry, and students flocked to the universities. They went to Bologna to study Roman law, as well to Paris to study Scholastic philosophy. Thus the germs of a new civilization were scattered all over Europe.
With the shock feudalism received from the Crusades, central power was once more wielded by kings. Standing armies supplanted the feudal rabble of serfs and slaves. Military science of Romans and Saracens was studied and revived. With an overall development of energies in every field of human labour, new hopes and ambitions spread among the people. Interest in spiritual power became less forbidding and dismal, because wealth and freedom bred less fear in their Lives.
The Crusades changed conditions of all facets of society in the thirteenth century, but they triggered individual and collective change. Barbarians had brought feudalism from Germany and bore fruit but when barons wasted their strength in Asia, serfs became self-employed entrepreneurs. The Crusades found new uses for their experiences. Citizenry scattered its experiences to gradually heal the nations of Europe. Enterprises of all types succeeded against the apathy of convents and castles that still imagined they had control over the people. Villages became urbanised into towns where manufacturing began in factories and industries thrived.
Modern merchants were born in Germanic and Italian cities, which began capitalism by supplying the necessities needed by the crusaders over nearly a century. Feudalism ignored the power of trade and barons gradually discovered rivals in the merchant-prince. Feudalism disdained art, but increased their wealth by turning their fiefs into carpenters and masons during their feudal tenure. They would later come together and defy their old masters. They left their feudal estates for the higher civilization of cities, and built urban homes for the merchants instead of castles for nobles. Handicrafts found different types of employment.
The marked progress of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries affected the natural development and evolution of the Germanic races. Burdened by the suffocating influence of church and politics and their hunger for power, peasants, city workers and the middleclass society rebelled against church and monarchy. In Western Christian history, these centuries were interrelated and interconnected with the Crusade Movement of the Middle Ages. A chronic Holy War against the Muslims by the crusading masses was a hunger for more land in a feudal society.
Competing religions of both Islam and Christianity drew many retaliating crusaders into Asia, where other creeds like Shia’ism and Sunnism flourished. Jihad spread within a Europe preoccupied by greed and Islam infiltrated lands of the Christian fold.
Constantinople and Solomon’s Temple 38
The First Crusade was preceded by the Peasants’ Crusade which lasted barely six months in 1096. It was an inglorious prelude to the Holy War with which Peter the Hermit (1050-1115) is traditionally credited. His chief assistant, Walter the Penniless, led 12,000 disqualified irregulars who were moved by faith and famine.
Meanwhile a German priest named Gottschalk headed another equal band from all sides of Germany. An exodus took place, in which whole population of villages enrolled in the Battle of the Cross, with little armour beyond staff and sickle and wooden swords. They expected miraculous triumph against the infidels with the help of a host of imagined angels.
After disgracefully molesting the Jews of Central Germany they advanced along the Danube River, where they suffered and inflicted suffering on everyone in travels through Hungary and Bulgaria. Finally they descended on Constantinople like a cloud of locusts. They were hardly what Alexius had asked in his appeal for help against the Saracens. The bewildered Byzantine Emperor transported them to Anatolia, where Turkish sabres cut them down at Nicaea in 1096. A few escaped back to European shores and waited for the imminent feudal militias.
Meantime, four regular armies were being mustered to follow the old pilgrim routes to Constantinople for the official Crusade. A vanguard of Lotharingians and Rhinelanders under Frankish Godfrey of Bouillon and his brother Baldwin arrived by Hungary at the walls of the Byzantine Empire capital of Constantinople in 1096. They followed the route of Carolingian Charles the Great, the first Holy Roman Emperor believed to have gone to fight the infidels.
He was followed by Normans from South Italy, numbering 10,000 knights and 20,000 career soldiers. The campaign was started with the capture of Nicaea. Once within the confines of northern Syria, the Crusaders aimed at seizing Antioch. The morale of the host, weakened by heat and hunger, was revived by the miracle of the discovery of the sacred lance with which a Roman legionary had pierced the Lord’s side during the Passion. It was found hidden in a chapel at Antioch.
In ecstasy the remaining Crusaders finally perceived the Holy City in the early days of June 1099. Christians had only just recovered Jerusalem from the Sunni Turks with the help of members of the Fatimid Shia Caliphate. An Egyptian garrison of proved fighters was left on guard. Despite the bold defence of the city, it became obvious that its downfall was only a matter of time. Arriving Christian reinforcements of men and material from Genoese galleys at Jaffa sealed the doom of the Saladin’s Sunni Muslims. A war of systematic extermination and fierce massacre followed. Killing and slaying went into the Temple of Solomon, where the slaughter was so great that men waded in blood to their ankles.
Each marauder claimed as his own in for ever the particular house which he had entered, with all it contained. Then the pilgrims reached the city warily and boldly killed the citizens. They penetrated the most distant and out-of-the-way places and broke open the most private apartments of the foe. As the city became quieter and the tumult subsided, the bloodthirsty and bloodstained pilgrims laid aside their arms and, with tearful sighs and heartfelt emotion, advanced to pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Old ‘Pagan’ Culture 39 becomes Churchian in Byzantine Empire 40
The power of emperors was based on the build-up of powers from republican offices and support of the local army. Roman emperors refused to be considered “kings”. By the time of Diocletian (244-305) they were both emperor and “monarchs”(284-305). Imperial succession was declared hereditary if acceptable to the army and the bureaucracy. The Eastern (Byzantine) emperors adopted the formal title of ‘king.’ The title of Emperor was reserved for the last native rulers of the Sassanid Empire (531-579) before Arab conquests of Persia. In fact over time, two-thirds of Eastern Roman Empire and Persia embraced Islam.
Besides their churchian pontifical office, Frankish kings were made emperors and given divine status: at first after their death, but later from their accession. As Christianity prevailed over paganism, the emperor’s religious status changed to that of Christ’s regent on earth. Their Empire’s status was seen as part of God’s plan to Christianize the world.
The Western Roman Empire was dealt fatal blows in the Italian Peninsula in 475 and 476. Dividing the empire into Western and Eastern was formally abolished as a separate entity by Emperor Zeno. Zeno’s successors ruled from Constantinople (modern Istanbul) until the conquest of that city by the Ottoman Turks in 1453.
In 323 AD Constantine created a ‘Caesar’ by raising his third son Constantine II and enforcing taxation reforms that would create extreme hardship for the citizens. The Byzantine economy under the father was the most advanced in Europe for many centuries. When Constantine V succeeded his father as sole emperor in 741, his reforms of 765 AD marked the beginning of a revival that continued until 1204.
Constantine V (718-775) ascended the throne at the age of twenty-two as emperor for the Byzantine Empire. Shortly after his succession, Constantine lost possession of Constantinople through the treachery of his brother-in-law Artavasdos, who assumed the title of emperor, and kept possession of the throne for two years. Artavasdos increased his influence by favouring the Greek Orthodox Church.
Constantine was preoccupied with a civil war with his brother-in-law while Saracens pushed further into Europe with frequent random incursions. In the emerging middle class populace of the Byzantine Empire few individuals had any scruples of violating the political constitution of their country. If self-serving activity could increase their power nothing was forbidden.
Bulgarians who also fought for Constantinople were more dangerous enemies than the Saracens, though their power was inferior. The Bulgarians looked on war as the most honourable means of picking up wealth and profit. To resist their incursions, Constantine repaired all fortifications and fortified passes with guards. Constantine then gradually rooted out and looted these bands.
The habitual barbarity of legal punishments by Constantine V was an ever-ready torture against enemies of his authority. His dealings with the Saracens for an exchange of prisoners, was one of the earliest examples of exchanges between the Muslims and the Christians. These became frequent happenings on the Byzantine borders. These conventions also saved lives of many Christian prisoners, led to exchange of knowledge and culture, and made future wars between the Saracens and Byzantines less barbarous.
The bigotry of his reign was displayed in the abhorrence his council had against three of the most distinguished and virtuous advocates of image-worship: Germanus the Patriarch of Constantinople, George of Cyprus, and John Damascenes, the last of the fathers of the Greek Church.
The political dependence of many of the cities to Rome was not withdrawn from the empire until a new emperor of the West was created by Charlemagne (742-814)41 , who threw off Constantine’s authority ((718-775). Wars wiped out Europe’s population and Greeks, Slavs and Christians were imported to Constantinople. Venice gradually became a playground for the upper crusts of society. They were intermixed Turks, Greeks and Germans.
The origin of the middle class was taking birth and artisans of all types were taking shape. From the 10th century until the end of the 12th, the Byzantine Empire projected an image of luxury. Explorers and trekker of the area were impressed by the wealth collected in their capital of Constantinople. All this would change with the arrival of the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204), which would be an economic catastrophe.
According to Joseph Raya42, the survival of the Empire in the East assured an active role of the Emperor in the affairs of the Church. The Byzantine state had inherited from the Greeks and Roman ‘pagan’ times their organizational and monetary routine of administering religious affairs. That expertise and routine was applied to the Christian Church. It followed the pattern set by Eusebeus (263-339 AD)43 of Palestine.
Eusebius’s history was not written to record the deeds of the church after Jesus’s ascension. His history traced the rise of Christianity during the first three centuries from Jesus to Constantine. He wanted to show that with Constantine’s conversion (306-337), Christianity had reached the pinnacle of humanity’s long climb. Just as Eusebius was writing about churchianity’s defeat of paganism, Arius (256-336) from Libya was gaining followers teaching, “There was a time when the Son was not”44. He emphasised on the ideology of the relationship of man and God. The argument spread throughout the empire, promising to rip the church in two. Constantine was God’s chosen instrument not dissimilar to Moses. Eusebius saw both Constantine and Moses as God’s servants.
Constantine called the First Ecumenical Council of the Christian Church held at Nicaea in 320 AD. At the council he condemned Arianism which denied that Jesus was of the same substance as God and that he was only the highest of created beings. This was viewed as heretical by most Christian churches. He instead drew up the Nicene Creed. It made a formal statement of doctrine of the Christian faith. It defended its orthodoxy and denied Arianism. Eusebius urged both sides to close the fissure.
Eusebius was enthralled with the early Christian Church teachings of the Greek theologian scholar Origen (185-254), who has been criticized for 1800 years for his belief the Trinity as a hierarchy, and not identicalness. Therefore Eusebius was less concerned with Arius’s ‘heresy’ than the threat of inequality causing disunity in the church. When Arius was censured, Eusebius who thought the entire debate brought Christianity the “most shameful ridicule” was among the first to ask that he be reinstated.
With finality he wrote to the Emperor in Rome that as Christ’s representative or messenger, he was responsible for spreading Christianity among pagans. Their purpose was to carry out the “externals” of the religion, such as administration and finances. He also wrote a 15-volume denunciation of paganism called ‘Preparation’, and ‘Demonstration of the Gospel’.
Eusebius was less a mediator of knowledge and perhaps more a mediator of propaganda. He stated Emperor Constantine of a fourth-century church brought in “a state of uniform harmony.” He called Jews “a people who had slain the prophets and the Lord Himself.” He did however allow his readers a glimpse into the church in its first three centuries. Eusebius was not only a recorder of history, but he was one of the key players at a significant turning point for the church. His era was marked by the “Great Persecution” under Diocletian and his co-rulers (303-311)45, converting Emperor Constantine (312) 46, and the First Council of Nicaea (325) 47 .
About many events of his time, Eusebius wrote an eyewitness record of the adaptation of paganism into Churchianity and labelled it rituals of Christianity by getting rid of pagan professionals and authority: “We saw with our own eyes the houses of prayer [pagan] thrown down to the very foundations, and [their] divine and sacred Scriptures committed to the flames in the market-places, and the shepherds [guides] of the churches basely hidden here and there, and some of them captured ignominiously, and mocked by their enemies”.
He was born around 260 and presumably grew up in Caesarea of Palestine, where he came under the influence of Pamphilius48, a learned teacher from Alexandria. Pamphilius was a devoted student of Origen who wrote commentaries on the Scriptures. The library of the martyred Bishop Alexander of Jerusalem (251) provided the basis of Eusebius’s learning. Pamphilius was imprisoned in 308. Eusebius visited him often and the two wrote five volumes of ‘A Defence of Origen’ together. When Pamphilius was later beheaded for his heretical beliefs, Eusebius called himself “Eusebius [son or disciple] of Pamphilius.”
Eusebius’s moderate stance on Arianism (250-336) 49 about the relationship of God to the Son, earned him temporary excommunication. His fanatical support of Constantine as a messenger of God. like Jesus and Moses, put the biggest blot on his legacy. Eusebius had lived through terrible persecution. Constantine’s conversion to Christianity promised an end to such horrors, but it began an era unprecedented church strength and oligarchy
Byzantines: Saracens in Holy Land 50
Sybilla (1160-1190), queen consort of Sicily, heir and queen of the kingdom of Jerusalem from 1186 to 1190, married the French adventurer Guy de Lusignan and knight caused dissension among the crusaders when he became king of Jerusalem. Guy was hated when he came to the throne in 1186 and was therefore unable to exercise any real control over Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Queen Sybilla’s chief concern was to check the progress of Saladin’s armies as they advanced into the kingdom.
Guy was sent to the front with the entire fighting strength of the kingdom, but his inability to cooperate with the other crusader knights was fateful. Saladin routed them at the Battle of Hattin in 1187. Guy was among the prisoners. By September 1187, Saladin was besieging the Holy City, and Sybilla personally led the defence. Jerusalem surrendered in October, and Sybilla was allowed to escape to Tripoli with her daughters.
Guy was released from his imprisonment in Damascus in 1188, when Saladin realized that returning him would cause strife in the crusader camp. The queen joined him when they marched on Tyre in 1189, the only city in the kingdom that had not fallen. After about a month spent outside the city’s walls, the queen followed Guy when he led a vanguard of the newly arrived Third Crusade against Muslim-held Acre, wanting to make that town the seat of kingdom. Guy besieged the town for two years. During the stalemate, Sybilla died in an epidemic which was sweeping through the military camp. Her two young daughters had also died some days earlier. Acre was afterwards conquered in July 1191, mostly by troops brought by Philip II of France and Richard I of England. The conquest of Jerusalem by Saladin brought her rule to a speedy end.
Saladin’s delivery of an attack on Jerusalem was of equal spirit to that which had fired the Christians of the First Crusade. For Muslims also Jerusalem was a holy place. In 1187 Guy de Lusignan was defeated and Jerusalem was taken by the Sunni Saracens. The fall of Jerusalem sent a shock wave throughout Christendom. Three monarchies of Europe: of England, France, and Germany, collected revenues and armies for the Third Crusade. To recover Jerusalem, the first aim was to set up a base on the coast of Palestine in Acre.
Philip sailed straight for Acre but Richard’s fleet 51 was scattered by a storm and he took refuge in Crete and Rhodes. Three of his ships wrecked on the shores of Cyprus. Crews who escaped were taken prisoners by Isaac Komnenos, the Cypriot ruler from 1184 to 1191. One English ship reached the harbour with Johanna, the Queen of Sicily, on board. She was Richard’s sister. Threats were made to induce the princesses to land. When Richard’s remnant fleet reached the port he heard of the outrages inflicted on his shipwrecked subjects and the insults to his sister. He instantly assembled his forces to avenge Isaac’s wrongs. The island of Cyprus eventually became a convenient base for Richard’s operations in Palestine and a source of men, treasure, and timber for his campaign. It was reported that Isaac, having rebelled against his emperor, was later secretly in league with the Sunni Saladin.
The conquest of Cyprus by Richard had far-reaching results. It was the first step in subjecting the eastern empire to the crusades. It was followed fifteen years later by the capture of Constantinople by the crusaders. There was then an explicit division of the unstructured empire into feudal fiefs. For Cyprus, it was the beginning of domination by western powers which would last nearly 400 years. Introduction of the feudal system by Franks and the Byzantine Church into an island which had until then been Orthodox in its faith, left its citizens bewildered.
Indigenous Cypriots realised their old freedom was in danger and in an attempt to regain their independence; they proclaimed a monk as an emperor of Cyprus. The Cypriots were defeated and their leader hung. A Cypriot revolt caused Richard to regard Cyprus a doubtful gain. Being greatly in need of money for carrying on the campaign in Palestine, he sold the island to the Knight Templars.
In the intervening time, the Sunni Saracen Caliphs had picked up States that were loosely organized. They found it difficult to keep its diverse parts together52. The Byzantine Empire, on the other hand, was kept strictly under central control. It could be conquered, but had a much greater stamina to hold together. Despite Christian and Muslim hostilities warfare did not seriously interfere with commercial interaction between the peoples of the two Empire states.
Reciprocal influence of culture flowed constantly between them. Both sides kidnapped and imprisoned educated captives who were well treated. Knowledge was exchanged between Byzantines of East Europe and the Saracen from Baghdad. The capitals of the two Empires learned and outmanoeuvred each other in magnificence, art, and cultivating science. Oriental Umayyad influences from Shiite Persia were already affecting the Greek Byzantine Empire since the third century. They continued to work throughout the Sunni Abbasid period (750-1258 AD). Together they fused as one of the many ingredients of Byzantine civilization.
Between the 6th and 11th centuries the church of Constantinople became the richest and most influential center of Christendom. The Patriarchate of Constantinople remained the center of the Orthodox world. The Greek Orthodox Church remained the most stable in the Byzantine Empire. A diverse culture spread by trade and conquest to Italy and Sicily, where it existed in an adjusted form through the 12th century. This would become the formative influence on Italian Renaissance.
In the Byzantine state, the emperor was the sole and absolute ruler, and his power was regarded as having divine origin. Officials were arranged in strict order around the emperor, and depended on imperial will for their ranks. In the 8th and 9th centuries civil service made up the clearest path to aristocratic status, but, starting in the 9th century, the civil aristocracy was rivalled by an aristocracy of nobility. The 11th-century politics were dominated by competition between the civil and the military aristocracy.
The last emperor in Constantinople who used Latin as his primary language was Justinian I in the 6th century53 . Greek was the most widely spoken language. It was the language of scholarship and the arts, and for trade between provinces and with other nations. The last coins with Latin inscriptions were minted in the 11th century. Byzantium protected Western Europe from many destructive forces. Constantly under attack, it shielded Western Europe from Persians, Arabs, Seljuq Turks, and the Ottomans. The Byzantine-Arab Wars54 was a key factor behind the rise of Charlemagne. It became a huge stimulus to feudalism and economic self-sufficiency.
Shia’ism Unravels into Sects
In 750 AD, the Shiite Umayyad caliphs (661-750 AD) were replaced by the Sunni Abbasid caliphs, who murdered all of the surviving Umayyad men but one who fled to Spain. The Abbasids were less interested in the Mediterranean coast than the Umayyads. Abbasids therefore concentrated themselves more on the plains of Iraq and Iran. They were less present along the coast of Israel, Syria, and Lebanon, and Egypt. In 762 AD the Abbasids moved their capital from Damascus in Syria to the new city of Baghdad in Iraq. Baghdad became an international confluence of different people who spoke Aramaic, Arabic, and Persian. Many different groups of people lived there with Arabs, Persians, Jews, and Greeks. Many gods were worshipped in the midst of a monotheistic Islamic majority.
The Pre-Islamic Period existed as an Arabic Civilization in 33 islands around Bahrain in the Arabian Peninsula since 6000 BC. From the time of Prophet Muhammad (570-632 AD) to the Imamate of Imam Jaffar al-Sadiq, (600-765 AD) was the ‘Arabian Period’. It witnessed Caliphates of the first four Caliphs, a bitter battle at Karbala (680 AD), as well as the rise and fall of the Umayyad (661-750 AD) and Abbasid (750-1258 AD) dynasties. In 1021, after the death of Imam al Hakim (996-1021) – also known as Mansur Ali, and after the first Fatimid Imam was born on Egyptian soil, the previously undisclosed sect of Shia’ism was ‘openly’ through an institute of learning in Egypt.
They were a monotheistic community later also founded in Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan. The Shiites were also known as ‘Sons of Grace’. They were a secretive tightly-knit religious sect whose origins could be traced in Egypt over 1000 years before the birth of Prophet Mohammad. Once they declared themselves as a sect of Islam, they followed an eclectic system of doctrines and thrived in Fatimid Cairo. During the oppressive rule of later Abbasid caliphs, the Shia Imams were heavily persecuted and held prisoners. Their followers secretly interacted and consulted their Imams through foot soldiers and trustworthy sincere messengers.
Meanwhile, family members and close friends of Prophet Mohammad demanded transmissible political rights of power to rule all adherents of Islam. After four transmissible hereditary claims over Islam, schisms would create far-reaching effects on the history Islam of the Middle Ages. They are felt to this day in the 21st century.
The Shiites believed only proven scholars with excellence in ‘seeking knowledge’ (A’immah) had the ethical principles to be Caliphs. They would have the capacity to transform the hearts and minds capable of leading the flock. All other caliphs, whether elected or not, were usurpers because Muhammad had counselled his congregation about his successor’s qualification: ‘To whomsoever I am Mawla, Ali is his Mawla’.
In Shia belief, the word ‘Mawla’ meant ‘protector of the faith at a place of intercession.’ Historically, Mawla means either and noble master, vicar, guardian, protector or supporter who has authority over believers. Quran uses the word Mawla as ’emancipated slave or helper’, or a ‘loved friend’ who is prearranged and therefore ‘qualified to lead the prophet’s flock’. The Sunnis believe, the word simply means beloved or revered one.
Hasan ibn Ali (624-680) the grandson of the Prophet and elder son of Muhammad’s daughter Fatima belonged to the group of the five most holy people of Shi’as. They were those over whom Muhammad spread his cloak while calling them “The People of the House.” He was considered to be the rightful heir to Muhammad’s position of leadership. In Shi’a practices ‘Ali is the first Imam to teach the correct interpretation of Islam, and therefore the successor of Muhammad.
Within Shi’a Islam various sects came into being because they differed over their Imams’ successions. Each successional dispute brought a different ‘sect’ within Shiite Islam. Each Shi’a sect followed its own particular Imamic dynasty. When the dynastic line of the original Imam ended with no heir, then either the last Imam or his unborn successor was believed to have gone into concealment: called Occultation.
Hussain another grandson of Prophet Mohammad sacrificed his life and the lives of many of his family members and friends, to save the teachings of Islam from utter distortion and destruction. Hussain was known for his strong faith in Islam, truthfulness, self-righteousness. With seventy two of his men against an army of thirty thousand, he sacrificed himself for all the freethinking people of his time. He encapsulated all the teachings of Islam within a short span of time, in Karbala, creating a beacon of light for the truth seekers of all times.
Hassan and Hussain were under 5 years old when Muhammad died. He reportedly said “Hassan and Hussain are the Leaders of the Youths of Paradise. Hussain is from me and I am from Hussain. Allah befriends those who befriend Hussain and He is the enemy of those who bear hostility to him.
“O my son, thy flesh is my flesh and thy blood is my blood; thou art a leader, the son of a leader and the brother of a leader; thou art a spiritual guide, the son of a spiritual guide and the brother of a spiritual guide; thou art an Apostolic Imam, the son of an Apostolic Imam and the brother of an Apostolic Imam; thou art the father of nine Imams, the ninth of whom would be the Qa’im (the last infallible spiritual guide).”
Now, the Shi’a majority of adherents are the Twelvers. They are Isthnashiri Shi’as55. The isthnashiri sect chose Imam Hussein ibn Talib (626-680), as their leader. He was the second son of Fatima (Mohammad’s daughter) and Ali and the second grandson of Prophet Mohamed. Meanwhile, the Nizari Shi’as became known as the “Ismailis”. Those known as the “Bohras” was a schism within this sect.
The Druze56 were Shi’a who separated from the Ismailis57 just before the Dawoodi Bohras58 did and after the death of the Fatimid Imam and Caliph Hakim. These Shi’a Seveners sect no longer exist. Another small sect is the Shi’a Zaydis also known as the Fivers who do not believe in Occultation.
When Imam Hassan died, the office of Divine Leadership was transferred to the ‘Last Luminous Pearl of the Household of the Holy Prophet, Imam al-Mahdi.’ Although His Eminence did not appear among the people, some people in whom he had trust and confidence were allowed to visit him and present him the problems and questions of the Shiites. They then communicated to the people the guidance and commands of the Divine Luminous Light.
The Tenth Imam al-Hadi said to his followers about him: “Whatever he says to you he says so on my behalf, and whatever he does he does on my behalf.” This representation continued till 254 AD when Imam al-Hadi died. Then, the Eleventh Imam is reported to have praised the character of Abu ‘Umari who became the deputy of the Twelfth Imam, who reportedly said, “From now on, no one will see me, unless and until Allah makes me appear. My reappearance will take place after a long time. Men will by then become cruel and inconsiderate, and the world will be full of injustice and violence.”
The honour of seeing Imam al-Mahdi was not exclusive to some special Shiite scholars only. Many devout Sunnis and illiterate people also had this honour and opportunity to meet him. Valuable writings of Imam al-Mahdi during the major occultation are the most important guidance for his Shiites followers.
In 941AD the fourth deputy of the Shia imams announced an order by al-Mahdi, the deputy would soon die and the deputyship would end and the period of the Major Occultation would begin. The fourth deputy died six days later and the Shi’a Muslims continue to await the reappearance of the Mahdi. According to the last letter of al-Mahdi to Ali ibn Muhammad “Henceforth no one will see me unless Allah makes me appear.” During the Minor Occultation it is believed that al-Mahdi59 keeps contact with his followers. Whenever the believers faced a problem, they would write their concerns and send them to his deputy.
Another view is the Hidden Imam is on earth “among the body of the Shia” but “disguised.” “Many stories” exist of the Hidden Imam “revealing himself to prominent members of the ulama.” According to the majority of Shi’as, namely the Twelvers Isthnashiri there are rightful successors to Muhammad. Each Imam was the son of the previous Imam except for Hussein ibn Ali, the brother of Hassan ibn Ali.
The Ismailis differed greatly from the Twelvers because of having a living Imam for centuries after the last Twelvers imam went into concealment. The Ismaili line of Imams for both sects (The Nizari and the Mustali) continued undivided until Mustansir Billah (1094). Imam Mustansir Billah was born in Cairo in 1029AD. He would become the eighth Fatimid Caliph at the early age of seven years, and reign as Imam and Caliph for a period of more than years.
During his reign, political unrest amidst a massive earthquake contributed to much of the insecurity and economic instability throughout the Fatimid territory of Egypt. Notable personalities who lived during the ‘Alamut Period’ included among others Hassan bin Sabbah (1050-1124), Nasir Khusrau (1004-1088), and Omar Khayyam (1048-1131). At the death of Imam Mustansir Billah, a split took place among the Shi’as. The seceders came to be known as the Shia ‘Bohras’, who became followers of Caliph Mustali.
After his death the line of the Imamate separated into the Nizari and Mustali dynasties. The line of Imams of the Mustali Ismaili Shia Muslims of Bohras continued up to Amir ibn Mustali. After his death they believe their Imam went into concealment. In the absence of an Imam they are led by a missionary who manages the affairs of the Imam-in-Concealment until re-emergence as the Imam.
The line of Imams of the Nizari Ismaili Shia Muslims 60 (also known Agakhani Ismailis) continues to their present living 49th hereditary Imam. They are the only Shia Muslim community today led by a current and living Imam. The Sufi Shi’as still argues only descendants of Ali could lead Islam.
Nizari Shiites Hashemite
Imam Nizar was born in 1045AD in Cairo. He would succeed his father as the 19th Imam of the Ismailis at the age of 51 years. Between 1094 and 1097, Al-Mustali, the younger half-brother of Imam Nizar, in a wave of political ambitions became the leader of the seceding sect of the Ismailis, the Bohras. Realizing the reality of this, Imam Nizar, on the death of his father Imam Mustansir Billah, left Cairo for Alexandria in Egypt. Here he found support and loyalty of both the governor and the ‘qadi’ (Muslim judge) of Alexandria.
The Nizari Ismaili schism and Saladin’s need to wipe out the Shi’from Egypt and other areas where they lived would centre itself towards Alamut. For over 150 years, they would park themselves here. In Jerusalem among other places, they worked with Christian Crusader Knights as spies against the Sunni forces of Saladin who hated all Shiites. Hassan bin Sabah meanwhile took possession of the fort in Alamut in Northern Iran in 1090.
Hasan bin Sabbah (1034-1124) took possession of the fort of Alamut in Iran in 1090. His immediate concerns were to refortify Alamut, provide for it food and water supply, irrigate the field in the valley, buy bordering castles, erect forts at strategic points, institute economic and social reforms and unite the Ismailis. Thus, he succeeded in setting up the Nizari Ismailis rule in Alamut. It appears from the fragments of the historical sources that, the Ismailis used green as their colour. Hasan bin Sabbah is reported to have hoisted a green flag for the first time on the summit of the Alamut.
The Ismaili rule in Alamut 61lasted for 171 years (1090-1256). In its early period, three hujjats were the rulers of Alamut: Hasan bin Sabbah (1090-1138); Kiya Buzrug Ummid (1138-1138); and Muhammad bin Kiya Buzrug (532/1138-554/1160). Eight Imams flourished during the Alamut rule: Hadji bin Nizar (1097-1136); Mohtadi bin Hadji (1136-1157); Kahir (1157-1162); Hasan Ala Zikrihis Salam (1162-1166); Ala Muhammad (1166-1210); Jalaluddin Hasan (1210-1221); Alauddin Muhammad (1221-1255) and Ruknuddin Khairshah (1255-1257).
Imam Ruknuddin Khairshah (1255-1256) reigned as Imam for two years only. He was murdered by the Mongols. After the ‘Alamut Period’ of 150 years, the Mongols not only managed to destroy the entire Ismaili State (the scientific instruments, observatories, libraries, and thousands of houses and buildings), but were also responsible for the death of 80,000 Ismailis.
The Mongols rebuilt Alamut and Lamasar and held them for their own use. When the Mongol Helagu left Iran to battle against Baghdad, Ismaili commanders in remote areas surrendered. After Ruknuddin Khairshah’s assassination and the massacre of the Ismailis in 1257 they searched for a successor. A group of Ismailis led by Ruknuddin Khairshah’s son Abu Daulat, managed to take possession of Alamut in 1275. According to Tarikh-i Guzida (1:583), “They held Alamut for one year before they were again dislodged by a force sent against them by Hulegu’s son and successor of Abaqa in 1282.”
The post Alamut Period is an obscure dark interlude in the Ismaili history. While the Seljuqs and Crusaders both employed murder as a military means of disposing of factional enemies, during the Alamut period almost any murder of political significance in the Islamic lands was credited to the Ismailis.
During the medieval period, Christian and Western academic bias against Ismailis contributed to the popular view that they were a radical Muslim community of murderers62 . Believed to be trained for the precise murder of enemies, by the 14th century, European view on the topic had not advanced beyond tales of unfounded information from Knights and the Crusaders.
Ismailis, also known as Hashemite, to mean having common ancestry with Prophet Muhammad became known by Europeans as Assassin who was addicted to ‘hashish’. They had taken on the meaning of “professional murderer”. In 1603 the first Western publication on the topic of the Assassins was authored by a court official for King Henry IV and was mainly based on the narratives of Marco Polo (1254-1324) from his visits to the Near East. While he assembled the accounts of many Western travellers, the author failed to explain the etymology of the term Assassin.
In 1838 the infamous Assassins were finally linked by Orientalist scholar Silvestre de Sacy to the Arabic hashish. Ironically, the first known use of the term ‘hashishin’ has been traced to 1122 AD when the Shiite Fatimid Caliph al-Amir 63 employed it in derogatory reference to the Syrian Nizaris to mean outcasts or rabble. The spread of the term was further facilitated through military encounters between the Nizaris and the Crusaders. Their chroniclers adopted the term and disseminated it across Europe.
The legends of the Assassins had much to do with the training and instruction of Nizari fida’is, famed for their public missions during which they often gave their lives to eliminate adversaries. They worked as spies for the Crusaders against the Sunni invasions. Assassinating key figures including the Seljuq vizier Nizam al-Mulk provided encouraging impetus to others in the community who sought to hire Nizari assassins to prevent political aggression.
In fact, both Crusader Knights and the Shia Seljuq Turks who in the 11th and 12th centuries lived along the periphery of the Muslim World, employed assassination as a military means of disposing of factional enemies. Yet during the Alamut period almost any murder of political significance in the Islamic lands became misleadingly attributed to the Ismailis. Thus, for centuries the Nizari Ismaili community was regarded a radical and heretical sect known as the ‘Assassins’. Originally, a “local and popular term” first applied to the Ismailis of Syria, the label was orally transmitted to Western historians and thus found itself in their histories of the Nizaris.
Political and historical differences between Shiite and Sunni Islam become relevant when one understands their differences are based on beliefs, practices and laws that govern them. Shia’ism, from its beginning faced with the problem of succession to their concept of “Imammat” The Twelvers, are called so because they believe in 12 Imams: (1)Ali ! (2) Hasan ! (3) Husayn ! (4) Zainul Abedin ! (5) al-Baqir ! (6) al-Sadiq ! (7) al-Kadhim ! (8) ar-Ridha ! (9) at-Taqi ! (10) an-Naqi ! (11) al-Askari ! (12) al-Mahdi.
The Fiver varies, because they believe in the first 5 Imams: (1)Ali ! (2) Hasan ! (3) Husayn ! (4) Zainul Abedin ! (5) Zayd bin Ali. Zayd bin Ali was the brother of al-Baqir and son of Zainul Abedin, his followers are called the Zaydi. The general beliefs of the Fivers are closer Sunni Islam, as opposed to Shiaism.
Another variant are the Seveners, also called the Ismaliis, Nizaris or Agha Khani etc. (1)Ali ! (2) Hasan ! (3) Husayn ! (4) Zainul Abedin ! (5) al-Baqir ! (6) al-Sadiq ! (7) Ismaiil. These people accept Ismail, rather than his brother Musa al-Khadim as their Imam. Only this branch of Shia’ism has a currently living Imam, in the person of Aga Khan IV.
The Nizari Ismailis gradually made many changes to their beliefs due to their Indian surroundings. By the nineteenth century its popularity was fully revived after a long period of relative obscurity. Today it has a worldwide following, mostly consisting of businesspeople from the Indian subcontinent. Today there are about 20 million Khojas, with 2 million living in Pakistan.
Those Nizari who accepted the caliphate of al-Mustali became known as the Mustali, and they remained in Egypt until the fall of the Fatimid dynasty in 1171. From there the movement went to Yemen where they split again, with some remaining in Yemen and others moving to India. Those who went to India became known as Bohras.
Today Mustalian Ismailis are mainly to be found in the Indian province of Gujarat, but there are also communities in Arabia, the Persian Gulf, East Africa, and Burma. All together, they number several hundred thousand.
Doctrine of Qiyamah 64 65
Jesus’ Christianity and Pre-Prophet Mohammed’s Shiite Islam was always a period of deep learning carefully designed for the serious spiritualist who treated and experienced God in His transcendence and immanence. For ages the mystical experience was distinctly defined in Vedic Scriptures, Zoroastrianism and in ‘pagan’ literature from Greek, Roman and Egyptian times.
Dante’s Divine Comedy was an example of medieval literature written when firm and unambiguous attitudes were created by deep thinkers of all cultures. Universal Thought needed learning, critical insights without personal or institutionalized prejudice. Islamic Sufism66 was an example of such universal mysticism and jealously guarded by Nizari Ismailis.
The Alamut Period in Ismaili history67 marks a time when the community made great strides in education, the sciences, economics, politics, as well as the religious sciences. When threatened by the Mongol empire, the Imam of the Time sent a message of peace to these imminent invaders, which was promptly dismissed by them in great contempt.
Despite these uncertain times, because of the Imam’s patronage of science and learning, intellectual activity flourished greatly, and attracted many scholars from outside the Fort of Alamut. The orthodox Sunni Muslims had responded to the doctrine of Qiyamah by breeding the Shiite Muslims had violated the Islamic Shariah. To avoid secular marginalization and later suffer from isolation and economic hardship, Imam Jalaluddin Hassan forced his people against preaching the doctrine of qi yama to the public. He encouraged the knowledgeable sages to adopt such rare practices only in solitude with the few spiritually advanced. That was also the common tradition and practice with many Sufi and Druze traditions in the past.
Imam Jalaluddin Hassan played a significant role in explaining Qiyamah, first declared by his grandfather Mowlana Ala Zikrihis Salaam in 1164AD. The Imamate of Imam Ala Muhammed spanned about 44 years -a span of time (1166-1210) that saw the succession of three Pirs one after the other, namely, Pir Salaamuddin, followed by Sayyid Solehdin alias Sayyid Muhammed Noorbaksh, followed by Pir Salaahuddin. But even inside of Alamut there were some who denied mysticism of experiencing ‘One in Many and Many in One’; they therefore succeeded in killing a sage..
The Imam died of poisoning and was buried in Alamut in 1210AD. Born in Alamut, Mowlana Imam Ala Zikrihis Salaam (1163-1166) is known to have declared the Yaum el-Qiyamah or Day of Resurrection on the 19th of Ramazan in 1164). On that day, he made the following Farman to the Jamat: “I am your Imam-e-Zaman, I am Hasan bin Qahir bin Mohtadi bin Hadi bin Nizar bin Mustansir Billah. The line of our succession will continue till the end of this world. I am pleased with your obedience and fealty. You have made in the past great sacrifices, which I accept and bless you for. Today I have explained to you the Law (Shariat) and its meaning. During the reign of Imam Qahir, the Imam once again began to govern both religious and temporal powers, the latter of which had been entrusted hitherto in the hands of an appointed prime minister or dai during the period . In taking over temporal rule from Muhammed bin Kaya, the third territorial ruler and hujjat at Alamut -the first two having been Hassan bin Sabbah and Kiya Buzrug Ummid, respectively. Imam Qahir appointed Muhammed as his vizier and the latter served until his death in 1162.”
During the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed, and for some years afterwards, Islam was a united faith. But by the 650s AD, Islam had split into two main sects which fought bitterly with one another. Both Sunnis and Shiites still exist today and they are still fighting. The Shiite sect began in the 650s, when ‘Ali, the son-in-law of Mohammed, became Caliph. Many Arabs supported the Umayyad Mu’awiyah, who became Caliph when ‘Ali was murdered in 661 AD. The losing side and supporters of ‘Ali, became known as the Shiites.
Without any political power anymore, Shiites began to look for religious power and support from anybody else in the Islamic Empire who felt left out by the Caliph Mu’awiyah and the Sunnis. Many of the Mawali, non-Arab people who had converted to Islam, became Shiites, though many Arabs were Shiites as well. Politically, Shiism became revolt against the Arab upper class. When the Abbasids got into power in 750 AD, they were at first Shiites, and for the next several hundred years Shiites controlled the Islamic Empire. Even when the Fatimids took over Egypt and North Africa, they were Shiites too.
When the Turkish slave-guards, then Seljuqs and then Ayyubid took over from 950 onwards, they were a majority. Rulers of the Islamic Empire were then on Sunnis, except in the center of West Asia (modern Iran and Iraq), where Shiites were the majority.
In India, Mughals who were of Persian lineage were Sunni. Many Mughals subscribed to Sufistic views. Mughal courts were knowingly or unknowingly instrumental in some religious reawakening among scholars and thinkers, especially Sufi saints of India. Emperor Akbar (1542-1605) introduced a new religion called ‘Din-i-Ilahi’ which consisted of good elements from other religions. He had set up a sprawling kingdom through military conquests but was best known for his religious broad-mindedness. He was dyslexic and therefore could not read or write. Akbar practiced tolerance between Hindus and Muslims. Introducing Din-i-Ilahi helped him to promote this tolerance.
Seljuq Turk 68 Rogues
The emergence of the Turks from Mongolia during the 6th to 13th century was gradual, unexpected and uncharted at a timeline when the Byzantines were gradually overtaken by the Turkish conquests. Each consecutive wave puzzlingly made its “first” appearance in history. Turkish tribes invaded many lands as rogue warriors, and settled in the conquered new regions. They were called Mongols, Turks, Seljuqs or Khazars, depending on the timeline of a particular invasion.
Whether as Khazars, or one of many other such groups, the Seljuqs were Turks. The first historical mention of Turks is in Chinese accounts of a great empire set up by a confederation of nomads in the 6th century AD. By adopting whatever religion or politics the host country practiced, Seljuqs gradually but progressively created possessions stretching from north of the Great Wall in the east to the Black Sea in the west.
This first expansion out of Mongolia was soon followed by the appearance of a mysterious and powerful realm thought to be Turkish in origin – this was the empire of the Khazars, occupying the western part of the territory of Mongolia. The Khazars surprised their host assemblage by converting as a whole to Judaism in the 8th century. Meanwhile, Turkish tribes to the east of the Khazars settled around the cities of Bukhara and Samarkand in Uzbekistan.
They too surrendered to whatever was powerful politically and to local religious influence that prevailed. Their natural religion was shamanism but they converted to Sunni Islam within the third Muslim Abbasid caliphate in 762 which was based in Baghdad (Iraq). At other instances they aligned with the Shiites.
There were two Islamic Empires by 762 AD. The more powerful Arab Sunni Abbasid Caliphate (661-762) had its headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq. The Abbasids ruled most of the Muslim world from Iraq. Their reign lasted from 750 to 1258 AD during which time a Muslim Civilization was gradually settled on the River Tigris.
The Shia Umayyad caliphate led by Muhammad and his brother Ibrahim towards Medina in 762 AD was a Shiite Persian Empire. There was by then the Umayyad Caliphate with its headquarters at C?rdoba, Spain. Umayyad Caliphate was the second of the four major Shia Islamic caliphates set up after the death of Muhammad. The caliphate was administered by the Umayyad dynasty, from Mecca. The Umayyad family first come to power under the third Caliph (644-656), founded by Mu’awiyah ibn Abi Sufyan, the governor of Syria. Syria remained Umayyads’ main power base after that and Damascus was their capital.
The Umayyads meanwhile continued their Muslim conquests, incorporating lands into their Muslim world. Non-Muslim population were given autonomy. Their judicial matters were dealt with in accordance with their own laws and by their own religious heads or their appointees. Muhammad had stated clearly during his lifetime that each religious minority should be allowed to practice its own religion and govern itself.
That policy continued. Relations between Muslims and Christians were good, except when Umayyads were involved in frequent battles with the Christian Byzantines. Prominent positions were held by Christians, some of whom belonged to families that had served in Byzantine governments. Employing Christians was part of a broader policy of religious tolerance that was called for by the presence of large Christian populations in the conquered provinces, especially in Syria.
In the intervening time, rivalries between the Arab tribes caused unrest in the provinces outside Syria. Kurdish Seljuq rogues helped the Abbasid Sunni Arabs in their warfare against the Umayyads. Idealism of the righteous Umayyad clan shifted. Constant confrontation with the Sunnis exhausted their resources and workforce. Umayyads were finally toppled by the Abbasids with the help of rogue Turkish Seljuqs of Mongolia.
The Shiite Caliphate of Cordoba, which lasted until 1031 fell because of instability and civil wars preceding the final collapse of the Umayyad Caliphate. Through the many rise and fall of these empires, the Turks played an increasingly important role, both as tribal allies and as slaves in Persian armies. Gradually the Turks began to carve out territories for themselves.
Although Islam experienced a golden age of art and culture under Prophet Mohammad’s uncle Abbas, the Abbasid Dynasty from Baghdad only lasted from 750-1258. The empire gradually fell apart as Arabs, province after another, broke away. Weak caliphs of smaller sized empires and the disaffection of Shiites led to their break-up. The Seljuq Turks arrived to revitalize them.
The Turkish tribesmen had started infiltrating Abbasids (850 AD) as Mamluks slaves and mercenaries. They lived in Sunni Abbasid garrisons and blended in their society but at the same time stayed together. The most successful Turkish tribe in Islam, were the Seljuqs. The victorious Seljuqs therefore took over most of the Byzantine heartland in Asia Minor, which is still called Turkey. The Byzantine emperor, Alexius I, called for mercenaries to help him reclaim Asia Minor from the Turks. Instead, he got the First Crusade.
The Seljuqs meanwhile expanded their activities against the Shiite Fatimids -the sect of Nizari Shiites who became branded under the misnomer of The Assassins. This group was centred in a mountain fortress and led by ‘Hassan-ibn-al-Sabah’, also known as the ‘Old Man of the Mountain’. Determined to stop the advance of the Sunnite Seljuqs, he launched a campaign of political terror and murder that has become legendary.
Hassan’s followers showed remarkable determination and ability to infiltrate the most tightly guarded palaces and reach their intended victims with their poisoned daggers. Among the victims was the Seljuq sultan, Malik Shah, in 1092. His death amid the First Crusade created enough turmoil in the Seljuq realm to allow the Crusaders to take Palestine. Despite these setbacks, the Seljuqs restored their power in Asia Minor. Their state, the Sultanate of Rome, thrived throughout the 1100’s. However, Seljuqs were later attacked by Mongols.
In the early 1200’s, a Mongol leader Genghis Khan united the various Mongol tribes in Central Asia into a fearsome war machine. Striking at incredible speed riding on horses up to 100 miles a day, they burned a path of destruction from China to Europe and the Muslim world unsurpassed until the wars of the twentieth century. Cities daring to resist them were methodically destroyed and their populations put to the sword.
The defiance of the Assassins brought the wrath of the Mongols on the Muslim world. In 1245, the Mongols crushed the Seljuq army at Kose Dagh. In 1258, they sacked Baghdad and killed the last in the line of Abbasid caliphs. The Egyptian sultan Baibars finally halted the Mongols’ relentless advance in 1260. The Mongols eventually settled down and even adopted Islam in the Muslim areas where they ruled. However their rampage had far-reaching effects on the Turks and the Islamic world.
Rise of the Ottoman Turks (1000-1565) 69
On the frontier between the Turks and the Byzantines were various warlike groups of ghazis (holy warriors) for their efforts against the Christians. As long as the Sultanate of Rome was intact, they held back both the Seljuqs and Byzantines. Ghazi bands were free to raid at will. Among them was Osman who gave his name to the great Turkish state of Ottoman. His successes against Byzantines brought conquests and plunder which attracted more ghazis. Tough Turkish cavalry soldiers were originally young boys taken from Christian subjects and raised as devout Muslims slaves, but given high status. Trained to a high efficiency, they eventually ruled the battlefields from Persia to Eastern Europe. The Ottoman sultans stressed on their religious position and claim of leadership in Islam. For one thing, they were ghazis fighting for the faith. Later, they would control the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, as well becoming the last claimants to the Sunni Abbasid caliphate. In 1345, they got involved in a Byzantine civil war in Europe. Once they had crossed into Europe, they were there to stay.
By 1400, the Ottomans subdued other ghazis in Asia Minor and were poised to take Constantinople. They had already depopulated and terrorised Asia Minor and Islamised Greeks from the 11th to the 15th centuries. Disaster struck when the last major eruption of nomadic tribes from Central Asia burst on the scene.
Their leader Timur the Lame conquered and destroyed everything from India to Russia. In 1402, he destroyed the Ottoman army. His aims were to loot and plunder. Ottoman Empire broke up but only on Timur’s death. The Ottomans were by then able to reassert their control in Asia Minor and Europe. By 1453, they were at the walls of Constantinople, ready to claim that prize.
The siege of Constantinople was the last heroic stand of the Byzantine Empire. It saw the destructive power of the newly emerging gunpowder technology being used alongside old style siege towers, galleys, and crossbows. For Europe, the fall of Constantinople meant old trade routes to the East were shut. That helped spur Portuguese exploration around Africa and Columbus’ famous voyage to America. The fall of Constantinople also caused Greek scholars to flee to Italy. History helped to stimulate the Italian Renaissance. Through default, the Byzantines still lived on. For Islam, Ottoman Turks had arrived as a major power and for the next century and a half, they would terrorize the Christian world.
The century after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the death of Suleiman in 1566 saw the Sunni Ottoman make an unbroken series of conquests on both Christians and neighbouring Shia Muslim states. Mohammed II (1451-1481), the Sunni conqueror of Constantinople, continued his path of conquest, bringing the Balkan Peninsula south of the Danube River under his control.
The Sunni sultan Selim I (1512-1520), concentrated on his Muslim neighbours. To the east was a revived Persia under the Shiite dynasty of the Safavids. In 1514, Turkish superiority in artillery and firearms ensured the Persian cavalry were swept away by the Ottomans’ massed gunfire. Persians, learning from this, changed their strategy. They lay waste the land under threat, before the Ottoman advanced, so the invaders would have nothing to sustain them. This proved effective, and a stable uneasy, frontier emerged between the Persian (Shia) and Turkish (Sunni) realms. For 640 years the Empire was the dominant political, cultural and military force in the Middle East.
Rivalry broke out against the Mamluk dynasty in Egypt. In 1516, the Ottomans once again used their firepower with terrible effect. The unpopular Mamluk rule quickly collapsed and Ottoman rule extended into Palestine, Egypt, and Arabia, thus giving the sultan control of Islam’s holiest places.
The reign of Suleiman (1520-66) was the high point of Ottoman expansion. His energies were directed in the holy war against the Christians in Europe and across the Mediterranean. The road to Vienna lay open, and it was here the Ottoman advance into
Europe ground to a halt. The siege was the Turks’ first major defeat. A new frontier emerged between Christian and Muslim worlds, guarded by a complex and expensive series of fortresses on each side. By the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire had declined and left with both Sunnis and Shi’as fighting and killing each other. They still do!
Early Christianity till 300 AD 70
Western Civilization was and still is linked to the history of the Judeo-Islamic-Christian beliefs but not their cultural systems. Many political and historical influences were self-destructive on Christian thought. Jesus recognized the Deceiver and great Enemy of humanity (Ego’s) influence when self-opinionated Peter rebuked him for talking about his upcoming crucifixion. The Bible says about the most evil of all spirits: “Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he [Jesus] turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan (ego): thou art an offence unto me: for thou savours not the things that be of God, but those that be of men (Matthew 16:22-23).”
Arrogance and a sense of smugness has therefore created in human race a feeling of ‘divine right’ to rule for God’s side as His equal or his superior. Separation of soul from ego is deeply rooted in humanity. Medieval Christian monasteries became notable by producing stalwarts who identified religion as a relationship between humankind and the supernatural.
During the Middle Ages, Churchianity and political manoeuvring played a dominant role in their medieval life, their faith and culture. The daily lives of the people were largely controlled by Churchian dictates. Politics were deliberately intertwined with the Church and played on the gullibility of the faithful. Christianity, which began with the Western Roman Empire and Byzantine Greek Orthodoxy still flourishes but in a depreciated state as Churchianity. It still bridges the ancient world and its civilization to the medieval world, including the present.
In its basic form, Christianity is a simple religion centring on the brief life of a humble Jew, Jesus. At the age of 33, Jesus was brutally executed on a cross because of his teachings. On the third day after his execution, he rose from the dead, but forty days later, after appearing to other disciples and followers, he ascended into Heaven with a promise that sometime in the future he would return.
Early history 30-3ll AD Jesus’ ministry left a message of love, forgiveness, and eternal salvation for all people while on their search for The Christ within. His apostles were encouraged to spread his strict view to both Jews and non-Jews. At first, such preaching was confined to pagans and worldly Jews.
There was a brief resurgence of a Christian-Jewish Movement. A turning point came with St. Paul of Tarsus (5-67 AD)71, saw Christianity as a religion for all peoples: Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews). Therefore, he started spreading the message throughout the Roman world. The Christian religion grew in popularity during its first century and a half (30-180). There were occasional persecutions in these early years, for their refusal to worship the Roman emperor and state gods.
The ruling Romans saw it as a sectarian offshoot of the Jewish religion. Sometimes refusal to follow the Roman dictat was seen as an act of treason. During the period of peace (Pax Romana72), persecutions were few and intermittent, and most were allowed to practice their religion without interference. In the third century all that changed.
The Great Persecutions73: The third century was a time of intense anarchy. Civil wars, barbarian invasions, and plague wracked the empire and threatened its existence. This affected Christianity in two different ways. Firstly, the widespread inconvenience of the time caused many to question the truth of their old pagan religions whose gods did not protect Rome anymore. People started turning to the new Christianity. Cults worshipping the Persian Mithra, Asia Minor’s earth goddess Cybele, and Egypt’s Trinity of Isis, Horus, and Osiris gained in popularity.
The third century anarchy was also because of more intensive extermination and subjugation of Christians. As long as the Roman Empire was peaceful and prosperous, the Christian refusal to pay homage to the emperor and state gods was overlooked. However, when things started falling apart, Romans blamed Christians for abandoning the old gods who in turn abandoned Rome.
The late third and early fourth centuries saw periods of intense persecutions. The worst crimes occurred under the Roman Emperor Diocletian and his successors from 303 to 3ll AD. Ironically, persecutions gave Christians publicity, won them widespread sympathy and many new converts. On the heels of its darkest hours of persecution came the Church’s greatest victory: legalization and acceptance of Christianity as the state religion within the Western Roman Empire.
Constantine and triumph of the Church 74
In 3ll, Roman Emperor Constantine declared toleration for Christianity in the Western half of the Roman Empire. When he took over the eastern half of the Roman Empire in 323, he also legalized it there. The Christian Church (Roman and Byzantine) quickly became the dominant religion in the dying old Roman Empire, largely from the favour presented on it by Constantine and his successors.
Christianity was well organized much like the Roman Empire. Diocletian had divided the empire into four large districts called prefectures. The Church also had five main centres where Church patriarchs lived. Four of these centres (Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria) were in the East. The fifth patriarchal center, Rome, was destined to become the most influential.
In the 7th century, the papacy would fraudulently retroactively claim Emperor Constantine had granted his Palace and property to the Church in the 3rd century75 . Rome therefore became the capital of the empire where Peter, the most important of Jesus’ disciples, started Rome’s first Christian congregation. After 600 AD Rome was free of control by the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) emperors. Byzantine popes had made life more dangerous for Rome’s popes (patriarchs). Roman and Byzantine Churches now had more freedom to expand their influence when more peaceful times came after 1000 AD.
Oligarchy by State and Church
The Donation of Constantine was one of the best known forgeries in European history. The document pretended to be written in the early fourth century, to Pope Sylvester I (314 – 335) and his successors. It gave the church large areas of land, political power, and religious authority. The fake document ‘Donation’, was written somewhere between 750 and 800 AD in Latin during the coronation of the German King Pippin the Short in 754 when he was also king of the Franks.
A more popular view states the Donation was fabricated in the mid eighth century at the command of Pope Stephen II. Their intent was to communicate the Pope approved the transfer of the great European crown from the Merovingian dynasty to the Carolingians. In return King Pepin would give the Papacy rights over Italian lands, and reinstate what Constantine had granted.
It was Pope Leo IX in the mid eleventh century who produced a document of the Donation as “evidence.” From then on it became a common weapon to carve up power in the struggle between the church and secular rulers. Its legitimacy was rarely questioned, although there were dissenting voices.
In 1440 a Renaissance Humanist called Valla published a work: the ‘Discourse on the Forgery of the Alleged Donation of Constantine’. Once Valla had published his proof, the Donation was seen as a forgery. Valla’s attack on the Donation helped promote humanist study, and helped undermine the claims of a church. In a small way these shenanigans helped lead to the Protestant Reformation started by Martin Luther King. Catholicism had by then become the state religion of the empire76 .
Paganism inducted into Catholicism
In 393 the Emperor Theodosius ordered public worship in pagan temples be ended throughout the empire. Churchianity had triumphed, but its success would also bring problems. The root of the Church’s problems 77 began in the third century. By creating a more decentralized Church, it drove Christian-Pagans into hiding. Persecutions led to a triumph of hypocritical Christianity as a State Religion and publicity attracted switchovers for the sake of acceptance and need for membership with the popular vote. Former pagan intellectuals joined the Church and Greek philosophies were suddenly added to Christianity. Religious disputes started spreading to monasteries.
The most confusing facade of papal Christianity was the environment it had invented about the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and their triune relationship with one another and the Whole. The most serious disputes centred on the relationship of the divine and human natures of Jesus. Constantine II meanwhile had unleashed a new controversy78 that threatened to tear apart the Roman Empire. Constantine and even the later ruling emperors would not tolerate integrating their powerful authority with churchian demands, disputes and heresies.
There emerged an unfortunate pattern in religious disputes that made correct solution almost impossible to achieve. This would lead to arguments and even bloodshed. Unfortunately managing heretical doctrine usually backfired into the imperial persecution of dissenting sincere Christians. Such imperious activity backfired on papacy during the following century.
The Roman Empire had tied its fortunes securely with the Papal Church. Their religious and political policies had gradually become tightly interwoven. Tolerating religious heresies was seen as tolerating political treason. From 300 to 1700, religion and politics79 went hand in hand, and any decision made in one realm had serious implications in the other realm as well. Together Church and State had suppressed followers of Jesus in Galilee, the strategic location between Egypt, Syria, and Palestine. The ministry of John the Baptist, which preceded Jesus’ by six months, ran from 26 to 29 AD. It was his calling to prepare the people for the factual appearing of the expected Messiah.
At least five of his twelve disciples were living in the region when Jesus called them to become apostles. Nineteen out of the thirty-two parables Jesus gave were spoken in Galilee. Twenty-five of Jesus’ thirty-three great miracles were performed in the area. Jesus’ first public miracle was at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, as well as his last one, performed on the seashores of Galilee, after his resurrection. It was from Galilee that Jesus gave his well-known message known as “the sermon on the mount” (Matthew 5-7; Luke 6:20-49).
Meanwhile, shifting power from Galilee in Northern Israel to Constantine’s Rome led to strong undercurrents of resentment and rebelliousness against the Roman church and government. The purity of the Church’s membership was seriously diluted. When the more tolerant Arab Muslims invaded these provinces in the 600’s, instead of meeting stiff Christian resistance, they found the populace welcoming them against political Roman oppression.
Devout members of the Jesus’ Ministry wanting to purge Roman Catholic Church of such worldliness retreated into the desert to live pure Christian lives away from worldly temptations80 . Some performed incredible feats of endurance, abstinence from food. Some became famous “super-hermits” and their Jesus-like actions spread. Short lives through brutal deaths under Roman rule ensured that Jesus’ message would spread across Judea and the Byzantine Empire.
Christianity first spread in the mainly Greek-speaking Eastern half of the dying Roman Empire. In the 1st century liturgical services were based on repeating evangelical actions of Jesus. Many Jesus-like devout followers copied actions and attitudes of Jesus. Committed followers of empathy, love and need to share their faith were called Brother Christians. They moved out to the desert to share in their holiness. Overcrowding of dessert communities led to resistance to ideals in the form of self-focused hypocrisy. The habituated Pharisees among them differed in their beliefs and about Jesus’ conception of human life.
The self-righteous redefined morality instead of receiving blessings God had given them. Need for a Jesus-like life led to forming organized communities called monasteries. In the East, St. Basil set up the first monastic rule. In the West, it was St. Benedict who arrived at a more moderate idea of a monastic order known -the Benedictine Rule. A new monk took three vows: poverty (no material possessions), chastity (clean living), and obedience (to God and the superiors in the monastery). The monks worked around the monastery and in the fields, in the belief that idle hands are the devil’s playground. The moderate expectations of the Benedictine Rule led to the spread of their monasteries all over Western Roman Catholic Europe.
Monasteries became centres for social and economic relief in the Dark Ages. Many ‘pagan intellectuals’ moved into the monasteries, fleeing the growing anarchy of Roman Church and State. Over time, ‘pagan’ classical training of that ‘pagan culture’ was incorporated into monasteries and forever preserved during the tumultuous Middle Ages of Church and State oligarchy. Throughout these Middle Ages, contributions made by monasteries became important part of theology and rituals practices followed even in the 21st century. As the Roman Empire faded from history, Churchianity survived as a contribution to Western Culture without understanding the preserved theology of the Old monasteries.
The Dark Ages 81
Break-Up of the Roman Empire in the West left a patchwork of ruined Germanic kingdoms ruled by the Germanic ((Indo-European) general, who called himself the King of Italy after Odovacar (480) annexed Sicily and Dalmatia. King Alaric (370-410) of the Visigoth tribes sacked Rome and held Spain and southern Gaul. King Genseric in 439 AD entered North Africa and set up the realm of the Vandals. Meanwhile, Britain was divided between the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, known to us simply as the Anglo-Saxons. And the rest of Gaul gradually fell under the sway of tribes called Franks. .
Converging interests come together on Italy:
With the fall of the Roman Empire, the Indo-European Germanics (German, Dutch, and Scandinavian) migrating tribal rulers and East Roman Byzantine emperors from Constantinople (Turkey) began converging. The ‘barbarian’ Semitics displaced from the Eastern Mesopotamian Civilization was looking for new lands, titles, and an affiliation centre within the Roman politico-religious lands.
Meanwhile, the nomadic Visigoths, a Germanic tribe, entered as allies of Rome. They settled in Gaul (France, Belgium, and Switzerland) and Spain as part of a political arrangement with Rome. They were employed to remove their deadly common enemy, the barbarian nomadic from North Central Asia (Huns). They were the warlike nomadic Asian herdsmen from the steppes of Mongolia, sometimes called Seljuqs who would create their own Empires whoever they adjusted with and then overpower their host enemies.
The Germanic kings wanted Roman titles for two basic reasons. They had sincere respect for the accomplishments of Rome and its vast empire, their sophisticated network of roads and system of aqueducts. Firstly, even if they currently had contempt for the unwarlike lingering inhabitants, they still stood in awe of the past Roman achievements and wanted to carry it on. Secondly, the air of holding Roman titles made the Germanic rulers look more like legitimate rulers of Roman natives now under them. This was especially important since most of these tribes were Arian nobility facing Roman Catholic hostility.
Emperors in Constantinople felt the lands in the West were rightfully theirs and kept their claim until they were strong enough to take them back. Meanwhile they played different tribes against one another. Inn 487, the Ostrogothic king, Theodoric, led his people into Italy, which they conquered. Theodoric’s rule in Italy for over 200 years allowed Germanic tribes to absorb Roman culture. Although the Ostrogoths were Egyptian Arian Christians (250-336 AD), Theodoric showed tolerance for his Roman Catholic subjects who formed most of the population. He had swamps drained, harbours dredged, and aqueducts repaired. Because of this enlightened rule, Italy, became self-sufficient for the first time in 500 years.
In 527, Justinian I was the last Greek and Latin-speaking, clean shaven Roman emperor. He saw things from a Roman point of view and worked to restore the old boundaries of the empire. He used the Eastern Roman Empire’s resources to reconquer the West. The Catholics hated Arian Christian rulers and for twenty years waged warfare up and down Italy.
In the end, Justinian conquered Italy, but it was a costly victory. A devastating epidemic of Bubonic Plague left the Eastern Byzantine Empire exhausted and open to 200 years of invasions from all directions, which nearly destroyed it. Three years after Justinian’s death in 565, the Lombards invaded from the north and conquered half of the peninsula. Rome meanwhile passed from a city of Caesars, to the city of Popes.
Italy would remain fragmented into warring states for 1300 years until its final reunification in 1871. The social structure of the old Roman lands largely continued as before. There remained nobles on country estates who would intermarry with the ruling Germanic nobles. This blending created a new ruling class of rulers by 700 AD. The late imperial trend where peasants sought protection from nobles was resurrected in return for their freedom.
Bishops suddenly began running their own courts, hospitals, hostels for travellers, supervised agriculture to receive church revenues from its lands, and became the major patrons of new buildings and religious structures. As government funds declined, soldiers were paid with land instead of money. Kings, nobles, and bishops typically kept their own private armies of retainers, and began private feudal armies of a later age.
Rise of Franks (500-841) 82
For 300 years, Europe’s destiny was tied with a new power, the Franks, a 3rd century confederation of tribes from Western Germany which included ancient Merovingians, and tribes from Austrasia (Eastern France), Neustrasia (English Channel) and Burgundy (Central France). This tribe finally helped in the breakup of the old Roman Empire but also occasionally served as loyal allies, defending Rome’s Rhine frontier against the invasions. BY 451 the Western Empire was unravelled, and the Franks started taking northern and western Gaul. It was at this time the first of great Frank kings, Clovis, emerged. Clovis was only fifteen when he came to the throne in 48l. He was a ‘pagan’ like the rest of the dominant polytheistic Merovingians, who were Sun Worshippers of the Black Virgin.
Despite his youth, Clovis (466-511 AD)83 was ambitious and a capable ruler. In a desperate move to influence the course of a battle against the Merovingians, Clovis prayed to the Christian gods to give him victory in return for his changeover to Christianity. The Franks prevailed against the enemies and Clovis kept his promise. He became a Catholic Christian like his Roman subjects, while the rest of the Germanic tribes remained Arian Christians. The Franks under Clovis and immediate successors expanded control at the expense of the Merovingian Arian Christian kingdoms. By 600 AD Frankish rulers and Roman subjects united. The Catholic faith made the Frankish kingdom the largest and most powerful of the Germanic states. The Franks succeeded in replacing the weakening Roman Empire in the West
The earlier Frankish kings (Merovingians) followed their tradition of sharing the state and king’s property into kingdoms and their loot with their clan and between their sons. Because of this, civil wars plagued the Frankish kingdom into the early 700’s. Luckily, new officials, called mayors of the palace, emerged to rebuild the Frankish state. One of these mayors of the palace, Pepin of Heristal, reunited the Frankish kingdom and laid the foundations for a dynasty of Carolingians in the Middle Ages.
While the Frankish kingdom under Merovingians and then Carolingian Dynasties had been wrecking themselves in civil wars and palace intrigues, a power was rising in the East: the Muslim Arabs. United and inspired by their new religion, Sunni Islam, swept the east and Shiites conquering North Africa and Spain while marauding Seljuk’s were raiding southern Gaul. In 733, a Frankish palace mayor Charles Martel turned back Muslims at the Battle of Tours. Introducing the Mongolian tradition of saddle, strap and stirrups, allowed Frankish riders the ability to ride a horse more efficiently. These Ottoman warriors gained a reputation as the fiercest fighters in Western Europe. Franks were in alliance with kings with Church. A common helping hand between church and politics, when needed, added to their political strength.
This was especially true for the Carolingian Franks who were connected with the pope. Merovingian Franks ruled the fragmented land piecemeal. Charles Martel and his son, Pepin rebuilt the Frankish state as mayors of the palace. Pepin sought to unite land, and crown, with the power with church authority. In 752 the Lombards invaded Italy. Pepin helped the pope against these enemies. In return Pepin was made king of Frankish lands. Pepin shaved the Merovingian tradition of a king’s long hair and declared himself the new king, officially setting up the Carolingian dynasty of a ruling family of Franks.
Charlemagne (768-8l4) 84
A legendary figure in Medieval Europe was Pepin the Short’s son, Charles, or Charlemagne. Physically he was of gigantic size, strong-willed and controlling by nature, which helped him to assert authority to hold together an empire consisting of primitive rabble of Merovingians and other tribes. His conquests and tries to revive Roman culture under Carolingian Renaissance revived Roman imperialism for governance. He expanded his frontiers by battling the Lombards in Italy, the Muslims in Spain, the Avars (equestrian races from around Caucuses and Russia) in Germany and Saxons in Germany. Enforced changeover to Christianity was by the sword. By the end of his reign, Charlemagne’s empire contained most of Western Europe: France, Germany, Austria, half of Italy, the Low Coastal Countries of NW Europe, and Denmark.
Although Charlemagne ruled his empire efficiently, there were few trained officials to rule and too many lands for to run effectively. Delegating power to local nobles who ruled, even if periodically checked by him, failed to create a lasting government even if under fewer exceptional kings. When he died, his empire fell apart. His brutal conversion techniques came with being a patron of revival of old Greek and Roman literature. He was eventually crowned Roman emperor by the pope on Christmas Day 800 AD three centuries after the end of the Roman Empire in the West. The revival held no real importance until 961 when the ruler of Germany, Otto I, was crowned emperor. For some 850 years, Germany was the Holy Roman Empire and would be a source of problems for Germany. The later years were neither holy, nor Roman, nor empire-like.
Falling apart of Carolingians (8l4-1000) 85
Charlemagne’s’ death sent Western Europe into its darkest centuries ever. The money from the Arab Muslims dried up as the caliphs in Baghdad spent themselves into bankruptcy. A decline of trade caused a reversion to a land-based economy and a weaker government. Arabs and Vikings turned to raiding and piracy, which weakened the Frankish economy and state. A growing dependence on mounted knights for state defence meant a growing dependence on nobles to provide knights and soldiers. There was no money to pay knights and nobles, and king had to give them land. That regenerated wealth in the form of crops, making nobles independent of the king’s authority and more rebellious. These rebellions invited invasions, and more revolts..
Within the ruling family, Charlemagne’s successor, Louis the Pious, was a weak king who allowed matters to get out of control. He followed the old Germanic custom of dividing Europe. He bartered off Europe into three states among his three sons as if it was his ‘personal’ property. Ruling without accountability set the stage for civil wars. Internal bickering split the Frankish realm into three states: West Frankland (modern France), East Frankland (modern Germany), and Lotharingia, (modern Lorraine). French Lorraine (Lothringen) was a former province of France and remained a source of conflict between its neighbours until it ceded to Germany in1871. Civil wars forced kings to give away more and more royal lands for military support. In the end there were many independent states under self-regulating nobles, in a weakened economy, and turmoil at courts – thus inviting rogue invasions.
From the south the Muslims devastated parts of Italy and southern France. From the east the Hungarian Magyar nomadic horse riders defeated the Franks and founded the kingdom of Hungary. From the north came Viking raids and invasions and tore up the Frankish state into pieces and just about overwhelmed England. In 9ll, the Viking chief Rollo was permitted to rule Normandy in return for military service to the crown. By 1000 AD, France was a patchwork of some 55 independent principalities. The king was a nominal ruler of all this, and a new political order emerged: Feudalism.
Western Europe was by then a backwoods frontier compared with the real centres of civilization in the east. Constantinople’s location between the Aegean and Black Seas was ideal for controlling trade between trade routes that converged there to link Asia and Europe.
Commerce during Middle Ages 86
The title of Emperor (Imperator) carried with it the role as protector of the Catholic Church. As the papacy’s power grew during the Middle Ages (5th to 15th centuries), Popes and emperors came into conflict over church administration. During this 1000-year span came the fall of the Roman Empire (476 AD) and the beginning of European Renaissance. It was a life timeline of the ordinary person under feudalism, the ascent of the Carolingian Empire, the birth of Crusades inspired by the Catholic Popes, Mongolian and Arab invasion of Europe, mixed with legends of Heraldry and Chivalry by Knights of the Round Table. The most notorious event of this time is bubonic plague which started in the early 1330s in China.
Medieval China (5th to 15th century) was one of the busiest of the world’s trading nations. An outbreak of plague in China spread to western Asia and Europe. In October of 1347, several Italian merchant ships returned from a trip to the Black Sea, one of the key links in trade with China. When the ships docked in Sicily, many of those on board were already dying of plague. The disease struck and killed people with terrible speed. The Italian writer Boccaccio said its victims often “ate lunch with their friends and dinner with their ancestors in paradise.” A terrible killer was loose across Europe, and Medieval Medicine had nothing to combat it. In winter the disease disappeared, but only because fleas-which were now helping to carry it from person to person-were dormant then.
Each spring, the plague attacked again, killing new victims. After five years 25 million people were dead-one-third of Europe’s people. Even when the worst was over, smaller outbreaks continued, not just for years, but for centuries. The survivors lived in constant fear of the plague’s return, and the disease did not disappear until the 1600s.
Medieval society never recovered from the results of the plague. So many people had died there were serious labour shortages all over Europe. This led workers to demand higher wages, but landlords refused those demands. By the end of the 1300s peasant revolts broke out in England, France, Belgium and Italy. The disease took its toll on the church as well. People throughout Christendom had prayed devoutly for deliverance from the plague. Why hadn’t those prayers been answered? A new period of political turmoil and philosophical questioning lay ahead.
Medieval Society and Historical Figures who influenced Dante 87
Medieval Society was complex. Like in modern times, it was governed by laws, and people had rights and obligations. A legal framework of land tenure, taxation and fiscal immunities were also in existence then, both for urban organization and a rural one. A feudal system had relationship laws between lords and peasants, and between feudal lord and the king. Military organization was based on units of hereditary aristocracy and their households, but also i bodies of professional soldiers.
The Church services secured influence over the populace and with it came wealth because extensive possessions. Besides teaching people religion, the Church was also a governing body, exercising its jurisdiction by controlling and punishing the unruly. It was the main educational agency in the society but also ruled the duties of a monarch. To enforce justice, and protect the lands from invaders, armies were needed. The abbots and bishops who were rulers of these estates. They maintained order, held the courts, and raised the army. They were judges and officials of the king, and had power to condemn criminals to death. They directed the schools, collected the feudal dues, and made war and peace. The powers kings once held gradually passed into the hands of the nobles, and the feudal customs determined the political, social, and economic relations within the Middle Ages society.
European feudalism was based on the practice of commendation, the holding of fiefs, and grants of immunity. Commendation was the act by which a free man accepted to be a vassal, commending himself to a more powerful member of the society, like a noble, a bishop, or an abbot. The vassal promised to serve his lord faithfully, in war or with advice, and did not lose his position as a free man, or sink on the social scale. The lord was bound to support and protect his vassals, and did his best to have as many as possible. In the later Middle Ages the old feudal society was changed by the emancipation of serfs. The lords who needed large sums of money sold to their serfs. This custom spread, because to a certain extent landowners had to compete for laborers. In most of France, the worst burdens of serfdom disappeared by the beginning of the thirteenth century. The life of the peasants was still hard, but eventually they all became freemen. Serfs who became members of the clergy were freed at the same time, and many rose to high positions, even to the Papal throne.
With the towns and merchant class gaining importance in the medieval society, the old order of feudalism began to change. The merchants and generally the burghers became so wealthy that the kings decided to have them as allies in their power struggle against the nobles. Throughout the Middle Ages the upper classes were engaged in trade. The manorial lord sold the produce of his estates, and at fairs and markets purchased everything he needed for himself and his family. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, noblemen and bishops, abbots and kings themselves had ships which were doing trade with foreign countries for their profit. What strengthened the position of traders in the Medieval society was their organization into powerful and wealthy Guilds, which also consolidated even more the political position of the towns.
By the wealth and influence of their Guilds, the town-dwellers’ position within the Middle Ages society became influential and powerful. By different means, from buying or taking advantage of political instability, they secured more privileges, until the towns became in self-governing communities. Many Universities took Guilds as models, like the University of Paris. The right to teach belonged to the masters of their individual expertise or profession. In a guild, an apprentice had to work a number of years and to prove their skills before they became full members. Medieval society was not a primitive one. Modern institutions were in part shaped during the Medieval times.
Medieval History shapes Dante’s Divine Comedy Hassan ibn-al-Sabbah
An eleventh century Sunni to Shiite Ismaili convert, Hassan ibn-al-Sabbah (1050-1124), also known as “the Old Man of the Mountain,” appeared in Islamic Persia. For nearly fifty years he led the struggle against both Sunni orthodoxy and Turkish rule. Persecuted and hunted, he therefore set up the mountain fortress of Alamut, which “became the greatest training centre of fanatical politico-religious assassins the world has known.” (Franzius). Hassan sent young men (fida’is or “devoted ones”) singly or in small bands to kill military, political, and religious leaders aligned against him.
Such was the suicidal fanaticism of Hassan’s skilled killers that it was widely believed they must be motivated by hashish. They were called “hashish-eaters,” shortened in Arabic use to Assassins of Hassan” (Franzius). While always on the alert against Sunni infiltrators from Sunni camps under Saladin, they also worked with the Knight Crusaders in Jerusalem. Unknown to Hassan, the Knights were clandestinely searching for gold and riches hidden in Solomon’s Temple. These riches were later in the possession of Knights Templar in Cyprus, and Europe. Through murder and intrigues Kings of France made many efforts to recover it from the Knights Templar.
Since the 16th century, Templar enemies who exist to this day were made assassination targets. Methods of assassination and their symbolism do not coincide with the factual history of Hassan ibn-al-Sabbah’s trained Assassins. Over time, ‘assassin’ came to mean one who killed an unsuspecting victim without warning.
The original sense of a political purpose for an assassination was never lost, and became increasingly strong. Political motivation distinguished assassination from other deadly violence. Political motives, were often hidden or unclear, and could not merely be inferred from the political significance or prominence of a target (Kirkham, Levy, and Crotty).
The Knights Templar 88
According to accepted wisdom, two French knights, Hughes de Payens and Godfrey of St. Omer, founded the original Knights Templar or the Poor Knights of Christ who began digging under the Temple of Solomon around 1118 AD. They traveled to the Holy Land and approached King Baudouin (or Baldwin I) King of Jerusalem. They were taking with them the blessing and sponsorship of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a prominent member of the Cistercian Order of Monks. He was also the spokesperson for all of Christendom in that era.
Supposedly, their objective was to protect pilgrims traveling to and from the Holy Land (area around biblical region of Palestine, Bethlehem, Jordan River and Jerusalem). After the first Crusade pilgrims allegedly were attacked by assorted Muslim (Saracen) thieves and bandits. Evidently King Baudouin, himself a former crusader, was delighted at the prospect of safe passage for the pilgrims. He promptly presented them with a wing of his palace, to use as their headquarters. However, what happened after that is open to speculation.
The numbers of the fledgling Knights Templar Order were swiftly made up to nine in total. Then for the following nine years, almost nothing is known about them. All that is certain is: no new members were admitted, and although they made occasional patrols on the pilgrim trails, the original nine were seldom seen to leave their quarters.
Their quarters donated by King Baudouin were connected with the ruins of Solomon’s Temple. The warrior monks appeared to have spent their time digging under the temple for treasure: both material and spiritual. Details about these items secreted away in Solomon’s Temple were mentioned in “The Dead Sea Scrolls”. The “copper scrolls’ were found at various sites, but especially in Qumran, a site on the West Bank of Israel. The starting point of the Order of Warrior Templar Monks had little to do with protecting pilgrims and a lot to do with gathering political information on Saladin’s Movements, with the help of Hassan ibn-al-Sabbah’s trained spies and finding Solomon’s fortune.
So, who sent them and why? It is worth noting that Templars were, due to their strict discipline and religious fervor, probably the most feared and efficient fighting men in the Christian world. They were therefore held in high regard even by their sworn enemies the Muslims who were themselves fierce and disciplined warriors. It was from this mutual respect with the Saladin’s Sunni warriors, that they learned their considerable pharmacological and metalworking skills.
This probably resulted in the Templars absorbing some of the spiritual beliefs of Hassan ibn-al-Sabbah’s Shiite Islam, which had it been generally known, would not have found much favour with the church authorities. It was during this time that Templars, because of their wealth and influence began operating a form of a banking system. A pilgrim would deposit money with a local preceptory where he was issued with an encrypted letter. This letter he took with him on his journey and on arrival in the Holy Land, the letter was taken to a Preceptory House of Knights Templar. There money was returned to the pilgrim depositor.
Following the fall of the fortress of Acre in 1291, the last Christian bastion in the Holy Land, the Templars fought to the last man. They lost their goals and ambitions for their existence in the Holy Land. They were only too aware of their shaky position. The order therefore regrouped and made their headquarters on the island of Cyprus where some members of the Shiite Hashemite Islamic members had also continued to call home-base.
Here, the Knights Templars turned their attention to Europe, trying to devise a method to justify their continued existence. Due to their unique position, they continued to attract recruits and the attendant ‘gifts’ that came with them. Since they no longer had to finance the heavy costs of battle, their wealth accrued from King Solomon’s Temple, grew quickly. The organization soon became incredibly wealthy, and became bankers to the rest of the Christian world. Their wealth, influence and power were to prove their eventual downfall.
The Order of Knight Templars owed its rapid growth and popularity to the great passions of the Middle Ages. Stories of religious fervour and martial prowess were rampant even before the Templars proved their worth. Ecclesiastical authorities heaped them with spiritual and temporal favours. The popes took them under their immediate protection. Much of their accumulated property was assimilated into the Roman Catholic Church estates. Personal gains made by Templars were exempted from all taxation.
That brought about conflict with the clergy of the Holy Land. Their church coffers were diminished and they had become inoperative. As early as 1156 the clergy of the Holy Land tried to restrain the privileges of all military orders. However Rome ignored every objection raised by the Holy Land. Holy Land churches objected to the temporal benefits which the Order received from sovereigns of Europe. Such arrangements allowed Templars to act as temporal sovereigns.
The Templar Knights had a Secret Commandery in every state, including England and Pennsylvania. In France there were forty-two command centres. In Palestine it was with sword the Templars extended their possessions of the defeated Saracens (Muslims). Castles were built between 1140 and 1217 to command and prevent strategic corrupt sea-coast invasions.
In these castles, were both monasteries and cavalry-barracks. The life of the Templars was full of contrasts. They were both monks and disciplined soldiers. As an army they were never numerous. There were only 400 knights in Jerusalem at the zenith of their prosperity. They were a picked body of men who, by their noble example, inspired the rest of the Christian forces.
They were a terror to the Saracens. These frequent slaughters made it difficult for the order to increase in numbers. It also brought decadence of the true crusading spirit. All that was required of a new member was a blind obedience, as imperative in the soldier, as in the monk. To prove his sincerity, he was subjected to a secret test concerning the nature of which nothing has ever been discovered, although it gave rise to the most extraordinary accusations. The great wealth of the order may have contributed to a certain laxity in morals, but the most serious charge against it was its insupportable pride and love of power. European incursions, conquests, and colonies as far away as Indonesia and the Americas would make the Knights’ assets look like ‘small potatoes’.
However, the Knight Templars were soon opposed by the Order of Hospitaller (1113-1309) which had in its turn become military and later became rivals of the Templars. This ill-timed interference multiplied the internal and public dissentions. Meanwhile, the formidable power of Saladin (1138-1193) threatened the existence of the Roman Christian (Latin) Kingdom. While the Templars sacrificed themselves with their customary bravery in this final struggle, they were, nevertheless, responsible for the Fall of Jerusalem, to Saladin. To put an end to this rivalry between Muslim and Christians powers made alliances. King Richard signed a treaty with Saladin allowing Christians in the Holy Land and thus ending the Third Crusade. Saladin was a chivalrous knight whose humanity often prevailed over his natural hostility for Christians. Saladin was neither a Turk nor an Arab, but a Kurd, and therefore, like the crusaders themselves, of the Persian stock.
Knights of Christ become Victims of Oligarchy:
The Poor Knights of Christ and Temple of Solomon with the Hospitalliers belonged to the greatest Monastic Crusading Orders in Medieval history. The Templars got their name from the Temple of Solomon, on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The fates of Templars and Hospitalliers, however, would be different. Templars are today remembered for the manner of their end rather than for what they did during the Crusades. Unlike the Hospitalliers, the Templars were not a charitable order, but were conceived from the first as a military force, to protect pilgrims against Islam. In this capacity, the Templars staffed various castles in including Lebanon, north of Palestine (Galilee), in the Jordan Valley, and southeast of the Dead Sea.
The Templars later also got into financial services, where with a letter of credit a traveller could have ready access to funds in distant places. Templars therefore became an international banking concern. Kings were interested in these large sums of cash with the Templars. Some had already borrowed and were in debt. A particularly ruthless greedy was King Philip IV of France. After robbing and expelling Lombard bankers and the local Jews, Philip conceived a scheme of suppressing the descendant families of Templars, many of whom had died twenty years earlier, vainly defending the last Kingdom of Jerusalem against the Mamluks. He began by accusing them of outrageous crimes, and then confiscating their wealth.
This was done in a show of legitimacy because the Templars worked directly under the authority of the French Pope. Philip had already showed how he dealt with Popes. In 1303 his agents kidnapped, assaulted, and humiliated Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303), thus hastening his death. Only an independent and fearless Pope could then be expected to stand up to Philip, and Boniface’s second successor, Clement V (1305-1314) did try.
Philip then simply arrested all the Templars in France, including the Grand Master, Jacques de Molay. Unbroken in spirit himself, de Molay invited two Knights Templar to appear with him before the Throne of God. They were accused of outrageous blasphemies, heresies, and unspeakable secret rites, and, questioned under torture. Many Knights confessed to such activities. With such confessions, Philip got the Pope to order a general seizure of Templars and their possessions everywhere.
Pope Clement went with events. Eventually de Molay was suddenly burned at the stake, without Papal announcement. Despite the appalling and outrageous nature of these events, the most interesting thing about the Templars continues to be the charges begun by Philip and the stories that have continued to build on them, even today.
It is not uncommon to find people even now casually affirming that Templars had developed a secret neopagan society with sensational, orgiastic practices. Much of this, however, is not of recent origin, since the Masons, undoubtedly with their own secrets rites and principles, liked the idea that they were drawn from refugee Templars. There is no evidence for this, but a couple centuries of Masonic assertions have built up a certain venerable weight behind it.
Dan Brown’s books involve notions the Templars found something important on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the Masons carried on the task of the Templars in preserving what was found. His take is the Templars simply found documents testifying to various noncanonical truths of early Christianity: that Jesus is not God, he married Mary Magdalene, and had children who later became, or married, the Merovingian Kings of the Franks. This “bloodline” was the true meaning of the Holy Grail. The “bloodline” now seems to be a popular take on the Grail legends.
The Priory of Sion
The origins of this shadowy organization are far from clear-cut. It was either set up following the death of the Merovingian dynasty in the seventh century AD, or it has existed only from 956 as a natural successor to the Order of Sion which was founded in 1090AD. The Priory was created with one objective: to restore the Merovingian House to the throne of France and the continent of Europe.
It was also suggested the Priory was directly responsible for the existence of the Knights Templar whose military wing they are asserted to have been. There is ample evidence the Templars were in existence from 1115. History books tell The Order of Sion had its own abbeys: one on Mt. Sion in Palestine and others throughout the Holy Land. The abbey on Mt Sion was called ‘Notre Dame do Sion and was in use until 1291, when it was seized by the Muslims. Each Priory had its own Grand Masters. They included; Jean de St. Clair, Nicholas Flamel, Sandro Filipepi (better known as Botticelli), Leonardo da Vinci, Robert Fludd, Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo, Claude Debussy, Jean Cocteau, and more recently, Pierre Plantard de Saint Clair.
Of these grand masters, there were a number who favoured strong scientific and alchemical beliefs; it is known for example that Flamel, an alchemist, with the assistance of some Spanish rabbi’s, translated the text of the ‘Abra Melin’ ritual89 .
The Merovingian Dynasty
The involvement of this early French royal house was linked with churchian, papal and political issues and included other diverse reasons. As far is known, the Merovingians descended from a Germanic tribe, the Sicambrians, who collectively were known as the Franks. This people were also referred to as the ‘Long Haired Kings,’ and ‘The Sorcerer Kings’. They bore classic tall, blond, Germanic looks, and from the fifth to the seventh centuries ruled parts of what is now Germany and France. According to tradition, one ‘Merovee’ sometimes referred to as Merovech, founded the dynasty. According to the attendant mythology he had two fathers, one was human enough, but the other was allegedly a sea creature, or at least amphibious: a ‘Quinotaur’. It was seemingly from this heritage the Merovingian reputation for the having supernatural abilities arose.
According to the seminal work, ‘The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail’, the Priory was formed with the express purpose of restoring the deposed Merovingian dynasty to the throne of France and Europe. This was also to be achieved by especially appointed ‘Rex Deus’ families (Jesus’ bloodline), the Sinclair’s (Rosslyntemplars)90, the builders of Rosslyn Chapel91 were one such family.
The Knights Templar who were the Priory’s military wing searched for, and probably found both actual and spiritual treasures beneath the Temple of Solomon. What the treasures were is still hotly debated, but consensus suggests that they comprised a fortune in gold and artifacts, and the lost gospels of Jesus Christ. The Priory therefore would have had access to at least some of the spoils and documentation, enough to finance any of its plans.
The Shia Nizaris were already a settled Ismaili state in Persia. They lived among the medieval Turko-Persian Empire. Over the following decades the Nizari Shia mixed with the local population, adopted the Persian culture and gained control over vast areas. They had no Islamic tradition or strong heritage of their own. They adopted the cultural language and religious interpretation their leaders (Imams).
With the arrival of Sunni Islamism in Shia dominated Persia, many were driven from the land and parked themselves in castles. The Near the Holy Land, both Nizaris and Crusaders worked together as spies for each other against Sunni Invaders. Both employed murder as a military means of disposing factional enemies. During the Alamut Period under Hassan bin Sabbah who lived in the Alamut fortress and controlled the Nizari Ismaili State of Alamut, almost any murder of political significance in the Islamic lands was rightly or wrongly credited to the Ismailis.
However the military approach of the Nizari Ismaili State of Alamut was largely a defensive one, with strategically chosen sites that avoided confrontation wherever possible, without the loss of life. But the defining characteristic of the Nizari Ismaili state was that it was scattered geographically throughout Persia and Syria.
The Alamut castle bought by Hassan bin Sabbah92 in northern Persia therefore was only one link of strongholds throughout the regions where Ismailis could retreat to safety if necessary. The long post-Alamut period then became obscure in the Ismaili history for the longest time. Large number of Ismailis began coming to the fortress and Hussein Mahdi (a Shia martyr who refused loyalty to anyone but Allah) was compelled to open his doors because of a growing influence of Ismailis in the vicinity.
By 1090 Hassan bin Sabbah, most of Alamut’s garrison and many the inhabitants had embraced Ismailism. Alamut was known as daru’l hijra (place of refuge) for the Ismailis. Hulegu Khan (1217-.) the Mongol commander reduced the fort of Alamut. The fortress of Alamut offered a desperate resistance to the onslaughts of the Central Asian hordes. By 1256, they plundered and then set fire to its building and its library. The Mongol destroyed the Ismaili library containing one and one half million volumes. The Ismaili rule in Alamut lasted for 171 years (1090-1256). In its early period, three ‘Hujjats of Allah’ were the rulers of the Alamut: Hassan bin Sabbah (1090-1138); Kiya Buzrug Ummid (1138); and Muhammad bin Kiya Buzrug (1138-1160)
Hassan bin Sabbah trained his army based on Three Principles of cautious existence, based on a strong set of values, which governed their lives and of their Society. The beliefs have existed since Ancient Times. They are: First, never to harm an innocent person; second, to hide from obviousness and become one with the crowd; third, never to compromise the safety of the Brotherhood.
These principles permeated every aspect of a Hashimite’s daily normal life. It was a life-struggle for ‘peace in all things’. Its work was carried out as duties towards humanity for peaceful existence, even if it meant through political and strategic assassinations. It was hoped that killing one individual would lead to the salvation of thousands. They fought for those who did not have the abilities, resources or knowledge to speak against those who misused their power. Since even before 2500BC there were two ways to enter the Ancient Hashimite’s Order: being born into it or through recruitment. Training and testing over a long period of time was to ensure a candidate’s honour, honesty, bravery and truthfulness.
Got to Part 2 – Dante’s biography
1 World Geography according to Asterix.openscroll.org/geography
3 The Enduring Enigma of Rennes-le-Chateau by Alan James; www.bibliotecapleyades.net/merovingians
4 Amenhotep III – Egypt Exploration Society; Faculty.uml.edu/ethan spanier/
6 Biblical Links Connections: dancingfromgenesis.gomer
7 Clovis I: en.wikipedia.org.wiki
8 The Merovingian Mythos: and its roots in the Ancient Kingdom of Atlantis
9 Carolingian Dynasty; www.answers.com/topic/caroloingians
10 The Legacy of Islam: Edited by the late SIR THOMAS ARNOLD nd ALFRED GUILLAUME M.A. Oxon., Principal of Culhani College Formerly Professor of Oriental Languages in the University of Durham OXFORD AT THE CLARENDON PRESS I931
11 Great African Civilizations: Ezinearticles.com
12 Byzantine Empire – History.com Articles/topics
13 Byzantine Iconoclasm: en.wikipedia.org
14 The Imperial Centuries: www.flowofhistory.com/units/births
15 Byzantine Empire-Simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/
16 The Great Islamic Conquests: www.flowofhistory.com/units
17 Islamic History:www.religionfacts.com/islam/history
18 Umayyad Caliphate: en.wikipedia.org/wiki
19 Islamic Civilization; www.historyguide.org/ancient/lecture18
20 Rise of Medieval Papacy; www.flowofhistory.com/units
21 High and Later Middle Ages; www.flowofhistory.com/category
22 Investiture Controversy; en.wikipedia.org/wiki
23 Christianity in the Middle Ages; www.exampleessays.com/viewpaper
24 The Crusades; www.historyworld.net//wrldhis
25 The Crusades and Their Impact; www.flowofhistory.com/units/west
26 The Holy Roman Empire of Germany; www.flowofhistory.com/units/west
27 Medieval German History: The Saxon Dynasty
28 Salian Franks; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salian
29 Impact of the Black Death – Global Impact; geography.about.com/…AND Black Death-en.wikipedia.org/wiki;
30 Popular Revolt in Medieval Europe: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
31 Decline of Feudalism – Middle Ages; www.middle-ages.org.uk/
32 Avignon Papacy; www.historytoday.com /historical-dictionary
33 Great Schism; en.wikipedia.org/wiki
34 From Jihad to Crusades – Answering Islam; www.answering-islam.org/History/crusades
35 Pope Urban II; en.wikipedia.org/wiki
36 Pope Gregory VII; en.wikipedia.org/wiki
37 Results of Crusades-Medieval blogspot.ca
38 The Lost Treasure of Solomon’s Temple; -Spirit of Things; www.abc.net.au/radionationals
39 Paganism; www.crystalinks.com; 40 Paganism: Past & Present – Ancient Roman Religion; library.thinkquest.org/
41 Charlemagne; www.historyguide.orh/ancient/charlemagne
42 Joseph Raya; en.wikipedia.org/wiki; 43 Eusebius; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
44 Arius; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
45 Diocletian Persecution; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
46 Constantine the Great and Christianity; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
47 First Council of Nicaea; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
48 Pamphilius; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
49 Arianism; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
50 Infidel: www.exampleessays.com/viewpaper;
51 Richard the Lion-heart’s Conquest of Cyprus; en.wikipedia.org/wiki
52 The Struggle with the Saracens; www.archive.org/stream/
53 Justinian I; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
54 Arab-Byzantine Wars; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
55 Twelver; en.wikipedia.org/wiki
56 Druze; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
57 Ismailism; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
58 Dawoodi Bohras: en.wikipedia.org/wiki
59 Mahdi: en.wikipedia.org/wiki
60 Nizari Shia Ismailis and Alamut Period; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History
61 Alamut Castle; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
62 Assassins and Christian/Saracen Crusades; www.nizariismaili.com/modules
63 Rise and Decline of the Fatimid Empire; www.ismaili.net/Source/1359b/
64 The Doctrine of Qiyamah; www.islamawareness.net/Deviant/Ismailis;
65 Last Judgement & Resurrection – Divine Mother (Holy Spirit): Adishakti.prg/divine_message/
66 Sufism: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
67 Ismaili History 600 – Alamut Period; Ismaili.net/heritage/node/17928/
68 History of Seljuq Turks; www.answers.com/topic/seljuq-and-ottoman-turks
69 Rise of Seljuq & Ottoman Turks; www.flowofhistory.com/units/asia/
70 History of Early Christianity; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
71 Paul the Apostle; en.wikipedia.org/wiki
72 Pax Romana; en.wilipedia.org/wiki
73 Diocletianic Persecutions; en.wikipedia.org/wiki
74 Rise of the Christian Church; www.flowofhistory.com/units/birth
75 History of the Papacy; wwwbible-only.org/English/Catholicism/paps.html
76 Constantine and Christianity – a State Religion; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
77 The Early Middle Ages; www.flowofhistory.com/
78 The Early Middle Ages: www.flowofhistory.com/category;
79 Spread of Christianity at sword point from 300 AD; askville.amazon.com/
80 The Early Middle Ages; www.flowofhistory.com/
81 Dark Ages; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
82 Rise of the Franks (500-8410) ;www.flowofhistory.com/units/
83 Clovis I: www.en.wikipedia.org.wiki
84 Charlemagne; www.flowofhistory.com/units/
85 Carolingian Empire; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
86 Middle Ages: Commerce; www.en.wikipedia.org.wiki/
87 Medieval Society; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
88 The Real History of Nazarenes and Bible; www.bibliotecopleyades.net
89 Book of Abramelin; en.wikipedia.org/wiki
90 Sinclair – Rosslyn Templars; www.rosslyntemplars.org.uk/index
91 Rosslyn Chapel; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
92 Hassan bin Sabbah; en.wikipedia.org/wiki