Chapter 1 Classical antiquity and the rise of Islam

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Classical antiquity[edit | edit source]

Animated map of Rome
     Roman Republic     Roman Empire     Byzantine Empire (until 530)     Western Roman Empire
The Byzantine Empire through the centuries
Five Diadochi kingdoms, c. 301 BC after the Battle of Ipsus:      Kingdom of Ptolemy I Soter (Ptolemaic Kingdom)      Kingdom of Cassander (Macedonia)      Kingdom of Lysimachus (Thrace, Asia Minor)      Kingdom of Seleucus I Nicator (Seleucid Empire)      Epirus
At around 200 BC, Parthia (yellow), the Seleucid Empire (blue), and the Roman Republic (purple)

Classical antiquity (also the classical era, classical period or classical age) started in the 8th century BC, and is centered on the civilizations around the Mediterranean Sea, and especially focused on the Greco-Roman world of ancient Greece and ancient Rome.

It had a reemergence of written sources after the Late Bronze Age collapse (circa  1200 and 1150 BC), with cultural collapse which included Mycenaean Greece (which led to the Greek Dark Ages), the Kassites in Babylonia, the Hittite Empire in Anatolia and the Levant, and the New Kingdom of Egypt.

Archaic period[edit | edit source]

Archaic Greece (circa 8th to 5th centuries BC) was the first period of classical antiquity. Until the discovery of the Mycenaean Civilization, it was the first known period of Greek history. Coming out of the Greek Dark Ages, Greek city-states began to develop; these included Athens (Athína), Sparta (Spárti), Corinth (Kórinthos), Thebes (Thíva), Syracuse (Siracusa), Aegina (Égina), Rhodes (Ródos), Árgos, Erétria, and Elis. Archaic Greece ended with the second Persian invasion of Greece (480–479 BC).

Around the Mediterranean Sea, there were peoples such as Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Assyrians; Archaic Greece; and Etruscans and the Roman Kingdom in Italy. According to legend, Rome was founded on 21 April 753 BC by Romulus and Remus, twin descendants of the Trojan prince Aeneas; they were suckled by a she-wolf in infancy, and Remus was killed either by Romulus or by one of his supporters.

Classical Greece and Hellenistic period[edit | edit source]

Classical Greece was roughly during the 5th to 4th centuries BC. After the fall of the Athenian tyranny in 510 BC, Cleisthenes put Athens on a democratic footing in 508 BC.

The Greco-Persian Wars (499–449 BC) progressed to the first Persian invasion of Greece (492–490 BC), in which Persia conquered Macedon and Thrace, and established supremacy over the Aegean Sea. In the second Persian invasion of Greece (480–479 BC), the famous Battle of Thermopylae (480) took place, where King Leonidas and 300 Spartans fought to the death to guard a retreat. After Thermopylae, Xerxes of the Achaemenid Empire ordered the Destruction of Athens. Following Greek victory in the second invasion and Greco-Persian Wars, Macedon, Thrace and Ionia would gain independence from Persia.

After the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC), Greece came under the hegemony of Sparta. Spartan hegemony ended with the Battle of Leuctra (371 BC), with the rise of Thebes and Athens. This was followed by a expansion of Macedonia under Philip II of Macedon (who reigned 359–336 BC). Classical Greece ended in 323 BC with the death of Alexander the Great, who had acquired a huge Macedonian empire which included much of Greece and the Middle East, including the Persian Achaemenid Empire.

Hellenistic period (323 BC onward) started with the death of Alexander the Great. The Diadochi (Greek "successors" of Alexander the Great) fought over and carved up Alexander's empire into several Hellenistic kingdoms after his death. It ended with the emergence of the Roman Empire, particularly signified by the Roman conquest of Greece in 146 BC, and the Roman conquest of Ptolemaic Egypt (and death of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony) in 30 BC, following the Battle of Actium in 31 BC.

Roman Republic and Empire[edit | edit source]

Roman Republic (traditionally dated 509 BC to 27 BC) began with the overthrow of the Roman Kingdom and Roman monarchy. During Roman Republic, Rome's control greatly expanded, from around the city to over most of the Mediterranean world.

Towards the end of the republic, great generals gained control, including Marius and Sulla. The First Triumvirate (60–53 BC) was an alliance of Julius Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus. Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon and precipitated Caesar's Civil War (49–45 BC), in which he defeated Pompey. After Caesar was assassinated (44 BC), Octavian (Caesar's adopted son and heir), Mark Antony (Caesar's lieutenant), and Lepidus, would form an alliance called the Second Triumvirate. Caesar's assassins Brutus and Cassius were defeated by Mark Antony and Octavian in the Liberators' civil war (43–42 BC). Octavian became the first emperor as Augustus (27 BC) ending the republic, after the Battle of Actium (31 BC) and his defeat of Mark Antony and Cleopatra.

Roman Empire (1st century BC to 5th century AD) was founded in 27 BC by Augustus (formerly Octavian). But Rome had acquired imperial character from the 130s BC with the acquisition of Cisalpine Gaul, Illyria, Greece and Hispania; and with the acquisition of Iudaea, Asia Minor and Gaul in the 1st century BC.

The first period of the Roman Empire was known as the Principate (27 BC–284 AD), characterized by the reign of a single emperor (princeps). The early period of the Principate was called the Pax Romana ("Roman Peace", 27 BC–180 AD), a time of relative stability, with the empire at its greatest extent in 117 AD. The Julio-Claudian dynasty (27 BC–68 AD) was followed by the Year of the 4 Emperors (68–69), the Flavian dynasty (69–96), the Nerva–Antonine dynasty (96–192), the Year of the 5 Emperors (192–193), the Severan dynasty (193–235), and the Crisis of the Third Century (235–284).

The Byzantine Empire (395–1453), or Eastern Roman Empire, survived the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476.

Iranian Plateau[edit | edit source]

Before the Sasanian Empire (224 to 651 AD), empires of the Iranian Plateau included:

  • Achaemenid Empire (550 BC–330 BC) was the first Persian Empire, established by Cyrus the Great in 550 BC with the conquest of the Median, Lydian and Babylonian empires. It fell to the Empire of Alexander the Great after the defeat of Darius III.
  • Seleucid Empire (312 BC–63 BC) was a Hellenistic period empire founded by Seleucus I Nicator following the division of the Empire of Alexander the Great. Mithridates I of Parthia conquered many of their lands. The Greco-Bactrian Kingdom (256 BC–125 BC) seceded from the Seleucid Empire.
  • Parthian Empire (247 BC–224 AD) was founded by Arsaces I of Parthia, who led the Parni tribe (an Iranian people) from the region of Parthia. It would expand over the territories of the Seleucid Empire. It was succeeded by the Sasanian Empire.

Late antiquity[edit | edit source]

Late antiquity followed the Crisis of the Third Century (235–284 AD), and ended with the early Muslim conquests (622–750 AD). It was the last period of classical antiquity, and overlaps with some of the Early Middle Ages.

Crisis of the Third Century, and Tetrarchy[edit | edit source]

The Roman Empire in 293 under the Tetrarchy
Invasions of the Roman Empire

The Crisis of the Third Century (235–284 AD) was a period of great political instability in the Roman Empire; over a 50-year period there were at least 26 claimants to the title of emperor, mostly from prominent generals. During this period, Aurelian (emperor 270–275) reunited the Roman Empire, by his reconquest of the Palmyrene Empire and the Gallic Empire; this earned him the title "Restorer of the World" before he was assassinated.

The crisis was ended with the ascension of the Roman Emperor Diocletian in 284 AD; this began the Dominate, the so-called "despotic" later phase of imperial government, following the earlier period known as the Principate (27 BC–284 AD). Diocletian attempted the Tetrarchy (293–313 AD), which divided the Roman Empire into east and west; two senior emperors (the augusti) ruled each division, along with two junior emperors and designated successors (the caesares).

The tetrarchic system broke down with the Civil wars of the Tetrarchy (306–324); Constantine the Great gained control of the entire empire, after defeating Maxentius (an usurper in Rome) at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge (312 AD), and Licinius (the augustus of the East) at the Battle of Chrysopolis (324 AD). Constantine is thought to be the first Christian Roman emperor, and was instrumental in the creation of the Nicene Creed. He expanded the empire, and founded Constantinople and the Constantinian dynasty.

Migration Period[edit | edit source]

Migration Period was a period of barbarian invasions of Europe. They can be seen as beginning with the invasion of Europe by the Huns in 375, and ending with the conquest of much of Italy by the Lombards by 568; but sometimes it is extended from circa 300 until circa 800.

There were invasions by the Huns, but also by Avars, Slavs and Bulgars. The Hunnic Empire (370s–469) included much of Eastern Europe and western Asia, and was unified under Attila. Huns may have been Turkic.

This contributed to movements in Germanic peoples, particularly Goths (including the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths), Vandals, Anglo-Saxons, and Franks. Other Germanic peoples affected included Lombards, Burgundians, Suebi, Frisii, and Alemanni.

Fall of the Western Roman Empire[edit | edit source]

Theodosius I (379–395) was the last emperor to rule the Roman Empires in both east and west, and after that the empire would permanently divide again into the Western Roman Empire and Eastern Roman Empire (or Byzantine Empire).

The fall of the Western Roman Empire was in 476, when non-Roman Odoacer deposed Romulus Augustulus and became King of Italy (476–493). Later on, Italy became part of the Ostrogothic Kingdom (493–553), before Italy fell to the Byzantine Empire.

The fall in 476 can in part be attributed to the migration during the Migration Period, especially Goths and other non-Roman people entering the empire after fleeing from Huns. Other factors included the weakening of the army and the economy; ineffective rule of the emperors and civil administration; and internal struggles for power.

Byzantine Empire[edit | edit source]

Justinian the Great
Byzantine (purple) and Sasanian (yellow) empires, and vassal states, in 600 AD

Byzantine Empire (395–1453), or Eastern Roman Empire, continued after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Earlier in 324, Constantine the Great moved the seat of his empire from Nicomedia to Constantinople (formerly called Byzantium, later called Istanbul). Sometimes characterized as the "New Rome", Constantinople became the capital of the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Empire was oriented towards Greek rather than Latin culture, and characterized by Orthodox Christianity.

Under the Justinian Dynasty (518–602), the Byzantine Empire reached its greatest extent since the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The expansion resulted largely from the Wars of Justinian the Great (Justinian I), who ruled between 527–565, and expanded it over North Africa, southern Spain, and Italy (including Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica). It also included the Balkan peninsula, Anatolia, and the Holy Land. In this period, the Plague of Justinian (541–542 AD) had a profound effect on the population of the empire, with an estimated 25–50 million deaths.

Many territories were later lost to the Islamic Caliphates during the early Muslim conquests (622–750). The Byzantine Empire had been weakened by the ongoing Byzantine–Sasanian wars (285 to c. 628), against the Persian Sasanian Empire; this included the 626 siege of Constantinople. After the fall of Sasanians, at the first and second Arab sieges of Constantinople (674–678 and 717–718) the Umayyad Caliphate was defeated by the Byzantine Empire.

The Byzantine Empire would continue uninterrupted until the Sack of Constantinople (1204), when it was succeeded by the Empire of Nicaea (1204–1261). Constantinople was retaken in 1261, and the Byzantine Empire would then continue until the Fall of Constantinople, in 1453 to the Ottoman Empire.

Sasanian Empire[edit | edit source]

The second Persian Empire was the Sasanian Empire (224 to 651 AD), also called the Sassanid Empire or Neo-Persian Empire, and officially called the Empire of Iranians. It was founded by Ardashir I of the House of Sasan, and it succeeded the Parthian Empire. The Sasanian Empire was great rivals were the Greco-Romans, and fought many wars against them in the Byzantine–Sasanian wars (285 to c. 628).

The Sasanian Empire itself was toppled in 651 by the Rashidun Caliphate in the Muslim conquest of Persia.

Islam and the Islamic Golden Age[edit | edit source]

Early Muslim conquests (622–750):      Prophet Muhammad (622–632)      Rashidun Caliphate (632–661)      Umayyad Caliphate (661–750)
Al-Khwarizmi, the father of algebra
The human eye according to Ibn al-Haytham

Islam is an Abrahamic monotheistic religion: the central message is that there is only one God (called Allah), and that Muhammad is his prophet, whose scriptures called the Quran are the word of God; later teachings, called the sunnah, are composed of hadiths (sayings). Followers are usually called Muslims.

Early Muslim Conquests and caliphates[edit | edit source]

The Early Muslim Conquests (or Arab conquests) created unification of the Arabian Peninsula, and a century of large and rapid expansion into north Africa, Iberia, and the Middle East and beyond. It saw the collapse of the Sassanid Empire, and the Byzantine Empire lost many territories. It can be divided into:

  1. Conquests of Muhammad (622–632): including Islamic expansion in Arabia. Muhammad lived c. 570 to 632. Khalid ibn al-Walid (585–642) was Muhammad's great general.
  2. Rashidun Caliphate (632–661): including the conquests of the Levant, Egypt, and the neo-Persian Sasanian Empire.
  3. Umayyad Caliphate (661–750): including the conquest of Sindh, Maghreb, and Hispania and Septimania (al-Andalus).

A caliphate is a state under the leadership of a caliph, an Islamic steward who claims to be a successor to Muhammad. Islamic rulers also include sultans (who rule over sultanates), and emirs (who rule over emirates). After the Early Muslim Conquests, the two most significant caliphates were:

  1. Abbasid Caliphate (750–1258), and the Islamic Golden Age.
  2. Ottoman Caliphate (1517–1924), a later caliphate of the Ottoman Empire (1299–1922), an empire of the Late Middle Ages and modern period.

The Fatimid Caliphate (909–1171) was the only significant Shia (specifically Isma'ilism) caliphate, and had territories in northern Africa, Egypt, and the Middle East.

Shia–Sunni divide[edit | edit source]

Soon after the death of Muhammad, Muslims were divided into two major Islamic branches: Shia and Sunni Islam. Shias (also called Shi'ites) believed that the early caliphs should only have been members of Muhammad's family; so they only recognise the Shia imams as being legitimate.

The Battle of Karbala (680), where the supporters and relatives of Husayn ibn Ali (Muhammad's grandson and Shia imam), were defeated by a larger force of the caliph Yazid I (of the Sunni Umayyad caliphate), solidified the Shia-Sunni divide. The Shias were instrumental in the Abbasid Revolution (747–750), the overthrow of the Umayyads by the Abbasids, but the Abbasid Caliphate was Sunni.

From the eighth century, Arab and Iranian dynasties were both Sunni and Shia; Turkic dynasties were dominated by Sunni Islam. The Safavid conversion of Iran to Shia Islam, over the 16th through 18th centuries, turned Iran, which previously had a Sunni majority, into the spiritual bastion of Shia Islam. Today the majority of Muslims are Sunni, with Shia majorities only in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Lebanon, and Azerbaijan.

Islamic Golden Age[edit | edit source]

The Islamic Golden Age occurred during the time of the Abbasid Caliphate (750–1258), a Sunni caliphate that succeeded the Umayyad Caliphate. For many years the Abbasids ruled from the city of Baghdad, and it became a central hub for learning and culture.

During the Islamic Golden Age, science, economic development and cultural works flourished in the Middle East. The translation movement continued, which was the translation of texts into Arabic, especially from Persian and Greek. They learned how to make paper from the Chinese, and built many paper mills in Baghdad. This would lead to thirty-six libraries in Baghdad, including the House of Wisdom (the Grand Library of Baghdad).

Great scholars of the Islamic Golden Age include:

  • Al-Khwarizmi was a Persian scholar who made great advances in algebra, the Arabic being "al-jabr". He also developed and popularized Hindu–Arabic numerals.
  • Ibn al-Haytham was an Arab scholar described as the "father of modern optics"; he was the first to describe sight as light reflecting from an object and then entering the eyes.
  • Jabir ibn Hayyan was known as the "father of chemistry", making advances in alchemy, cosmology, numerology, astrology, medicine, magic, mysticism and philosophy.
  • Ibn al-Nafis was an Arab physician who first to described the pulmonary circulation of the blood.
  • Avicenna (Ibn Sina) was a Persian polymath who wrote the hugely influential The Canon of Medicine and The Book of Healing.
  • Al-Zahrawi was an Arab physician, surgeon and chemist, and is considered as the "father of surgery". He described over 200 surgical instruments, and used catgut for internal stitching.
  • Al-Razi was a Persian polymath and physician, and an early proponent of experimental medicine.
  • Omar Khayyam was a Persian mathematician, astronomer, and poet, who devised a very accurate solar calendar.
  • Ismail al-Jazari was an Arab polymath who wrote The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices, describing many mechanical devices.
  • Nasir al-Din al-Tusi and Al-Battani greatly advanced trigonometry.

Early fragmentation of the Islamic world[edit | edit source]

Map of the fragmented Abbasid empire in 892, with areas under direct control (dark green), and areas under autonomous rulers (light green)
Fatimid Caliphate (909–1171) was a major Shia Caliphate that opposed the Sunni Abbasid caliphate
Saladin (of the Ayyubid dynasty) ended the Fatimid Caliphate, and captured Jerusalem from the crusaders in 1187
Middle East (c. 970) during the Shia Century, with the Buyids, Hamdanids, and Fatimids

The Abbasid Caliphate had succeeded the Umayyad Caliphate in 750, and would survive until 1258. But by about 892 and the death of Al-Mu'tamid, the Abbasid's direct rule was reduced mostly to Mesopotamia and western Arabia, with other autonomous rulers adhering to nominal Abbasid suzerainty, but with de facto independence. This created political fragmentation of the Islamic world, with much instability in dynasties and territories.

Later on Abbasid political power would further diminish, especially with the rise of the Iranian Buyids and Seljuk Turks. But the Abbasids would be recognized as caliphs by most dynasties that followed, and there were also later political revivals.

Middle East outside of Egypt[edit | edit source]

Other than the Abbasid Caliphate, there was many other Islamic dynasties in the Islamic world. Prominent Arab dynasties of the Middle East included:

  • Hamdanid dynasty (890–1004) was an Arab dynasty of Shia Islam in northern Mesopotamia and Syria.
    • It would fall to the Uqaylid dynasty (990–1096), a Shia Islam Arab dynasty.
  • Jarrahids (circa 970s to to early 12th century), an Islamic Arab dynasty, ruled Palestine, Transjordan and northern Arabia.
  • Mirdasid dynasty (1024–1080), an Arab Shia Islam dynasty, controlled the Emirate of Aleppo.

The Iranian Intermezzo was the rise of Iranian Muslim dynasties (mainly Persians and Kurds) in the Iranian plateau after domination by the Arabs. Iranian dynasties included:

  • Buyid dynasty (934–1062, also known as Buwaihids, Bowayhids, Buyahids, or Buyyids) was a Shia Iranian dynasty, which would rule lands in Mesopotamia and Persia during this time.
    • Kakuyids (1008–1141) were related to the Buyids.
  • Other Iranian dynasties tended to be more Sunni Islam, and included the Samanids (819–999), Tahirids (821–873), Saffarids (861–1003), Sajids (889–929), Ziyarids (930–1090), and Sallarids (942–979).

The Shia Century was the period of vitality by major Shia Islam dynasties starting in the tenth century, especially the Hamdanids, Fatimids (of Egypt and to the west), and Buyids. During this period, Shia polities controlled most of the Islamic world, including its core areas. The Abbasid Caliph, the supreme Sunni leader, and Baghdad came under the control of the Buyids; while the Sharif of Mecca was under the control of the Fatimids.

It ended with the Sunni Revival, a rival of Sunni political power. The Buyid control of Baghdad ended in 1055 with the Seljuk Turks. The rise of Turkic and mamluk dynasties of Sunni Islam also ended the Iranian Intermezzo. They included the Seljuk Turks (and Zengids), Ghaznavids, and Khwarazmians.

Egyptian dynasties[edit | edit source]

After the decline of Abbasid rule, Egypt had a succession of dynasties:

  • Tulunid dynasty (868–905) was a mamluk Sunni dynasty of Turkic origins. With the splintering of Abbasid rule they became the first independent dynasty to rule Egypt, as well as much of Syria, since the Ptolemaic dynasty.
    • Tulunid dynasty would fall to the Abbasid Caliphate.
  • Ikhshidid dynasty (935–969), a Turkic mamluk Sunni dynasty, followed the Abbasid rule in Egypt and the Levant.
  • Fatimid Caliphate (909–1171) was an Arab and Berber Caliphate of the Isma'ili-Shia. Starting in North Africa and Sicily, it spread to Egypt, the Holy Land, and western Arabia, but lost its territories to the west.

The Fatimid Caliphate Of Egypt would later be taken over by dynasties of Sunni Islam:

  • Ayyubid dynasty (1171–1260) ended Fatimid Egypt; it was founded by Saladin, who had risen to be vizier of Fatimid Egypt. The Ayyubids were eventually overthrown by the Mamluk Sultanate.
  • Mamluk Sultanate of Cairo (1261–1517), which lasted until the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1517.

Further west[edit | edit source]

Arab dynasties to the west included:

  • Córdoba (756–1031): the Sunni Umayyads held on to al-Andalus (Iberia) as the Emirate of Córdoba, which became the Caliphate of Córdoba in 939.
    • It then split into smaller states called taifas; al-Andalus was later ruled by the Almoravid dynasty and Almohad Caliphate. The Reconquista was the reconquest of Iberia by Christians.
  • Idrisid dynasty (788–974), a Shia Moroccan dynasty that gained Morocco.
  • Aghlabid dynasty (800–909), a Sunni Arab dynasty that gained Ifriqiya (north-central Africa).
  • Fatimid Caliphate (909–1171), see above for details.

In North Africa outside of Egypt, the Fatimid Caliphate was followed by the Berber Zirid dynasty (973–1148); this opened the way for other North African Berber dynasties, such as the Almoravid dynasty, Almohad Caliphate, Zayyanid dynasty, Marinid Sultanate, and Hafsid dynasty.

Mamluk dynasties[edit | edit source]

Mamluk (or mameluke, literally "possessed") commonly refers to slave soldiers of the Arabs. They included enslaved Turkic peoples, but also enslaved Egyptian Copts, Circassians, Abkhazians, and Georgians. With time they became a powerful military knightly class, and would found many Muslim dynasties

Dynasties founded by mamluks included the Tulunids (868–905), Ikhshidids (935–969), Ghaznavids (977–1186), Khwarazmian dynasty (1077–1231), Mamluk dynasty of Delhi (1206–1290), Mamluk Sultanate of Cairo (1250–1517), and Mamluk dynasty of Iraq (1704–1831).

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