Ap review 600ad – 1450ad stay focused on the big picture

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AP REVIEW 600AD – 1450AD


As you review the details of the civilizations in this chapter, stay focused on the big-picture concepts and ask yourself some questions, including the following:

  • Do cultural areas, as opposed to states or empires, better represent history? Cul­tural areas are those that share a common culture, and don't necessarily respect geographical limitations. States, like city-states and nation-states (countries), and empires, have political boundaries, even if those boundaries aren't entirely agreed upon.

  • How does change occur within societies? As you review all the information in this chapter, you'll notice a lot of talk about trading, migrations, and invasions. Pay attention to why people move around so much in the first place, and the impact of these moves. And, don't forget, sometimes change occurs within a society because of internal developments, not because of external influences. Pay attention to that too.

  • How similar were the economic and trading practices that developed across cul­tures? Pay attention to monetary systems, trade routes, and trade practices. How did they link up?



In the seventh century, Islam took hold in the Middle East. This faith was mono­theistic, like Judaism and Christianity. The followers of Islam, called Muslims, believe that Allah (God) transmitted his words to the faithful through Mohammad, whose followers began to record those words in what came to be called the Qur'an (to recite; also spelled Koran). Muslims believe that salvation is won through submission to the will of God, and that this can be accomplished by following the Five Pillars of Islam. These five pillars include: (1) confession of faith (There is no God but God and Mohammad is his messenger), (2) prayer five times a day, (3) charity to the needy (almsgiving), (4) fasting during the month-long Ramadan, and (5) pilgrimage to Mecca at least once during one's lifetime.

Islam shares a common history with Judaism and Christianity. It accepts Abraham, Moses, and Jesus as prophets (although it does not accept Jesus as the son of God), and holds that Mohammad was the last great prophet. Like Christians, Muslims believe that all people are equal before God and that everyone should be converted to the faith. Early on, Islam split into two groups: Shia (Shiite) and Sunni. The split occurred over a disagreement about who should succeed Mohammad as the leader (caliph) of the faith.

Allah Be Praised: Islam Tokes Hold

Growing up in the city of Mecca in the Arabian desert (present-day Saudi Arabia), Mohammad was exposed to many different beliefs, in part because Mecca lay on the trade routes between the Mediter­ranean and the Indian Ocean. He was exposed to both Judaism and Christianity as a child, as well as the many polytheistic faiths that had traditionally influenced the region. Once he began preaching the monotheistic religion of Islam he came into conflict with the leaders of Mecca, who had both a religious and economic interest in wanting to maintain the polytheistic shrines that attracted pilgrimages and brought wealth to the community. Persecuted, and threatened with death, Mohammad and his followers fled to Medina in 622 C.E. in what is known as the hijra (which also marks year 1 on the Muslim calendar). Mohammad and his followers found support in Medina and, in 630, he returned to Mecca and destroyed the pagan shrines-except for the Ka'ba, which became the focal point of Muslim pilgrimage.

From there, Islam spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula and beyond. Islam came to be officially practiced in Muslim culture, similar to the way the tenets of Christianity were practiced in the Roman and Byzantine Empires. As Islam spread rapidly through the Middle East and Africa, and toward Europe, Christian leaders became increasingly alarmed.

The Empire Grows as the Religion Splits

When Mohammad died unexpectedly in 632, Abu Bakr, one of his first followers in Mecca, became caliph, the head of state, military commander, chief judge, and religious leader. The caliph as a sort of emperor and religious leader in one. He ruled an empire, but he also made pronouncements on religious doctrine. The Islamic empire was what's known as a theocracy, a religious government. It was ruled by a caliph, tat is why the theocratic Islamic Em­pire was referred to as a caliphate. In these early years, the growth of Islam was inextricably linked to the growth of this empire.

As time went on the caliphs began to behave more like hereditary rulers, like those in a monarchy, except that there was no clear line of succession, which caused a great deal of trouble down the road. The fourth caliph, Ali, was assassinated and was succeeded by his son, Hasan. But under pressure from a prominent family in Mecca, Hasan relinquished his title, making way for the establishment of the Umayyad Dynasty. This dynasty would enlarge the Islamic Empire dramatically, but it would also intensify conflict with the Byzantine and Persian Empires for almost a century.

During the Umayyad Dynasty, the capital was moved to Damascus, Syria, although Mecca re­mained the spiritual center. Also during the Umayyad reign, Arabic became the official language of the government; gold and silver coins became the standard monetary unit; and conquered subjects were" encouraged" to convert to Islam in order to establish a common faith throughout the empire. Those that didn’t convert were forced to pay a tax.

The Islamic Empire grew enormously under the Umayyads. Numerous times during the early eighth century, the Umayyads attacked the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, but failed to overthrow that regime. That didn't stop them from going elsewhere, and in 732 C.E., the Islamic Empire began to make a move on Europe, by way of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain). At the time, Muslims held parts of southern Iberia and southern parts of Italy, while Christians dominated all the regions to the north. Charles Martel, a Frankish leader, stopped the Muslim advance (Battle of Tours) in its tracks as it tried to advance toward Paris, and so the Islamic Empire never flourished in Europe beyond parts of Spain and southern Italy. (More on the Franks and their activities a little later in this review.)

Despite the success of the Umayyad Dynasty (the Dome of the Rock was built in Jerusalem during this time), problems with succession started to emerge. Eventually, the Muslims split into two camps, Shi'ite and Sunni. Shi'ite (Shia) Islam holds that Mohammad's son-in-law, Ali, was the rightful heir to the empire, based on Mohammad's comments to Ali. Sunnis, in contrast, though they hold Ali in high esteem, do not believe that he and his hereditary line are the chosen successors; rather, they contend that the leaders of the empire should be drawn from a broad base of the people. This split in Islam remains to this day.

As the Shia began to assert themselves more dramatically, the Umayyad Dynasty went into de­cline, and ultimate demise. In a battle for control of the empire, the Umayyad Empire was defeated (punctuated by the slaughter of some members of the family). It was replaced by the Abbasid Dynasty.

The Abbasid Dynasty: Another Golden Age to Remember

The Abbasid Dynasty reigned from 750 to 1258, that is, until the Islamic Empire was defeated by the Mongols (more on them later). Throughout this time, like all major empires, the Abbasids had many ups and downs, but they oversaw a golden age, from the early to mid-ninth century, during which the arts and sciences flourished. The Abbasids built a magnificent capital at Baghdad, which became one of the great cultural centers of the world.

Like most of the other ancient civilizations we've discussed so far, the Islamic Empire was built around trade. The merchants introduced the unique idea of credit to the empire's trade mechanisms to free them of the burden-and the danger- of carrying coins. Manufacturing played an important role in the expansion of the Islamic Empire. Steel, for example, was produced for use in swords. Islamic advancements were also seen in the medical and mathematics fields. Mohammad al-Razi, for example, published a massive medical encyclopedia, which was unlike anything compiled before it. And Islamic math­ematicians expanded the knowledge they had learned from India; their contributions are especially noteworthy in algebra.

It might surprise you to learn that the Islamic Empire is also often credited with playing a sig­nificant role in preserving Western culture (the Byzantines did this too.) In contrast to European civilizations during the Middle Ages, which were highly decentralized and dismissive of their ancient past, the Arabs kept the western heritage of the region alive. For example, when the Muslims encountered the classic writings of ancient Athens and Rome, including those of Plato and Aristotle, they translated them into Arabic. Later, when Muslims and Christians battled for control of the Levant (present-day Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and points north and south) during the European Crusades, Europe found its own history among the other treasures preserved in Arabic libraries and museums. This again demonstrates how the interaction between two peoples (even when violent) can lead to trade and cultural exchange.

The Muslims, similar to the Romans, were often tolerant of the local customs of the areas they conquered-although Christians and Jews were often persecuted. More flexibility in this area contributes to rapid growth of an empire. The Sufis, Islamic mystics, were its most effective missionaries. By al­lowing, and even encouraging, followers to practice their own ways to revere Allah, and by tolerating others who placed Allah in the framework of other beliefs, the Sufis succeeded in converting large numbers of people to Islam.

Women and Islam: For Better, for Worse

Before Islam in Arabia, women traditionally did not have property rights or inheritance rights; rather, women were essentially viewed as property themselves-of men. This institutionalized low status for women eventually led to a culture in which baby girls were seen as less valuable than baby boys. Tragically this often translated into female infanticide, the killing of an unwanted baby girl.

The Qur'an, the sacred book of Islam, established between 651 and 652, changed much of this.

Although women remained subservient to men and under their direction and control, they began to be treated with more dignity, and were considered equal before Allah. If a man divorced his wife, he would have to return her dowry to her. More important, infanticide was strictly forbidden. And women gained influence within the home-and in early Islamic society, women sometimes had influence outside it. Khadija, Mohammad's first wife and boss, had been a successful business­woman,

Men were permitted to have as many as four wives, as long as they were able to support them and treated them equally. Legally, women were treated unequally; a woman's testimony in court, for example, was given only half the weight of a man's. Restrictions for women even included what they wore: They had to be veiled in public-although this custom began in Mesopotamia and Persia, Islamic society adopted and adapted it. Over time, Islamic society became more structured and more patriarchal. Notice that as most societies become more structured women get the shaft.

The Fall of the Islamic Empire: The Mongol Menace

The Islamic Empire regularly endured internal struggles and civil wars, often arising from the dif­ferences between the Sunni and Shi'ite sects. But the Muslims also faced external problems, caused by the Persians, Europeans, and the Byzantines. It would be their most distant enemy, however, the Mongols, who would defeat them. In 1258, the Mongols overran the Islamic Empire and destroyed Baghdad, thereby signaling the end of the Abbasid Dynasty. Its people would flee to Egypt, where they remained intact but powerless. Eventually, the Ottoman Turks would reunite Egypt, Syria, and Arabia in a new Islamic state, which would last until 1918.


Developments in Europe became quite complicated during the Middle Ages, which is the period after the fall of Rome and before the Renaissance. The Roman Empire, and eventually Christianity, was divided into two factions that split. Ultimately, the eastern Roman Empire, centered in Constantinople, became the highly centralized government known as the Byzantine Empire; whereas, in the west, the empire collapsed entirely, although the religion retained a strong foothold (absence of government=strong religion).

As you review the events in this region, the important points to remember are: (1) the Byzantine Empire was a lot more centralized and organized than the western empire, and (2) both practiced Christianity, though not in the same way.

The Byzantine Empire: The Brief Details

The Byzantine Empire was distinct from the Roman Empire. It used the Greek language; its archi­tecture had distinctive domes; its culture in general had more in common with Eastern cultures like those of Persia; and its brand of Christianity became an entirely separate branch known as Orthodox Christianity.

Contrasting Issue: Europe at the time was fragmented into small feudal kingdoms with limited power and less cultural and intel­lectual advancement. The Byzantine Empire, like the Islamic Empire to the south, was significantly different. The Byzantine emperors ruled by absolute authority, especially over the economy. The Byzantines also used coined money.

Under Justinian, who reigned from 527 to 565, the former glory and unity of the Roman Empire was somewhat restored in Constantinople. The region flourished in trade and the arts. Constanti­nople and Baghdad rivaled each other for cultural supremacy. The Justinian period is perhaps most remembered for two things: (1) the Justinian Code, a codification of Roman law that kept ancient Roman legal principles alive, and (2) the flowering of the arts and sciences, evident in the construction of major buildings and churches, most notably Hagia Sophia. The Byzantines are also remembered and admired for their mastery of the mosaic art form they used to decorate churches.

Roman Catholicism and Byzantium disagreed over the sacrament of communion and whether priests should be allowed to marry, and the use of local languages in church. They also disagreed over the placement of icons during worship. In 1054 C.E., unable to reconcile their differences, the pope excommunicated the patriarch of Constantinople, who did the same to the pope. From this point forward, Orthodoxy influenced the East and Roman Catholicism influenced the West.

Impact of Orthodoxy on Russia & Why Russia Would Be Culturally Different from Western Europe

In the ninth century, the Slavic peoples of southeastern Europe and Russia were converted to Chris­tianity by St. Cyril, an Orthodox Christian, who used the Greek alphabet to create a Slavic alphabet (Cyrillic Script) that to this day is used in parts of the region. Most of these areas were not part of the Byzantine Empire itself, but were influenced by it. When Vladimir, a Russian prince from Kiev, abandoned the traditional pagan religion and converted to Christianity, he also considered Islam, Judaism, and Ro­man Catholicism. Rumor has it that he chose Orthodoxy because its churches were so beautiful and the religious placed no restrictions on when or what he could and could not eat.

The dominance of Christian Orthodoxy in this region is significant because while Western Europe followed one cultural path, Eastern Europe followed another, and this had a tremendous impact on the development of Russia. The Russian Orthodox Church was aligned with Byzantine, not Roman traditions. As a result of this, and the Mongol invasion (coming up soon), Russia became culturally different from the other great powers of Europe, which grew out of the Roman Catholic tradition (shows cultural diffusion along different lineage).

Franks_versus_the_Muslims'>Meanwhile Out West: The Franks versus the Muslims

The best place to begin a discussion of political developments in Western Europe in the Middle Ages is with the Franks. After the classical Roman Empire fell apart, due in part to invasions from Germanic tribes, these tribes settled throughout Western Europe. Most of the tribes converted to Christianity relatively quickly, though politically they continued to run their own programs. They formed alliances and expanded, sometimes enough to be considered kingdoms. The most significant of these early kingdoms was the Franks.

The Franks were a Germanic tribe that united under the leadership of King Clovis in the late fifth century. He built a rather large empire that stretched from present-day Germany through Belgium and into France. He converted to Roman Catholicism. His new empire did help the various peoples of Western Europe solidify under a common· culture, which made it easier for them to unify against Muslim invasions, which in the eighth century took over parts of Spain. Charles “The Hammer” Martel led the revolt against the advancing Muslim armies defeated them at the Battle of Tours in 732. This is a significant battle because it permanently halted the Muslims as they never moved further north after this point in history.

Martel then founded the Carolingian Dynasty. When it came time for his son, Pepin “The Short”, to take the reins, Pepin chose to have his succession certified by the pope, a significant step that sent the clear signal that an empire's legitimacy rested on the Roman Catholic Church's approval.

Charlemagne:_The_Empire_Strikes_Back____Holy_Roman_Empire'>Charlemagne: The Empire Strikes Back

Holy Roman Empire: Central Europe around the Thirteenth Century

In the centuries following the breakup of the Roman Empire, no true empire existed in Western Europe. The Franks had built a large kingdom, but it could hardly be considered an empire by his­torical standards. It would be Pepin's son, Charles, who would revitalize the concept of the empire in Western Europe. Like his father, Charles was crowned by the pope in 800 and became known as Charlemagne ("Charles the Great").

The empire Charlemagne built would come to be called the Holy Roman Empire upon the corona­tion of Otto the Great in 962. It's important to point out that this empire had little in common with the original Roman Empire, other than the fact that power was once again centralized and Rome began to think of itself again as a world center. It was relatively small compared to the original Roman Empire. It included northern Italy, Germany, Belgium, and France. Neverthe­less, it marked the beginning of Western European ambition in terms of empire-building, especially among those in the church.

Under Charlemagne, a strong focus was placed on the arts and education with a much more religious tone. Much of this effort centered in the monasteries under the direction of the church. Although Charlemagne was very powerful, his rule was not absolute. Society was structured around Feudalism (more on feudalism shortly). Charlemagne had overall control of the empire, but the local lords held power over the local territories. Because Charlemagne did not levy taxes, he failed to build a strong and united empire. After his death the empire was divided among his three grandsons according to the Treaty of Verdun in 843.

During this time, Western Europe continued to be attacked by powerful invaders, notably the Vikings from Scandinavia (the Vikings in particular were fierce warriors and seamen). Remarkably, however, in spite of the Viking’s regular victories they, too, were converted to Christianity. This continued in a pattern of invading tribes assimilating to a common civilization in Western Europe because of religion, not political power. By the middle of the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church had become the most powerful institution in Western Europe and one of the most powerful institutions in the world.

European Feudalism: Land Divided

Feudalism, the name of the European political and social system of the Middle Ages, had a strict hierarchy. At the top was a king, who had power over an entire territory, called his kingdom. Beneath him were the nobles, who in exchange for military service and loyalty to the king were granted power over sections of the kingdom. The nobles, in turn, divided their lands into smaller sections under the control of lesser lords called vassals. Below the vassals were peasants, who worked the land. For this system to work, everyone had to fulfill obligations to others at different levels in the hierarchy: to serve in the military, produce food, or serve those who were at a higher level.

The estates that were granted to the vassals were called fiefs, and these later became known as manors. The lord and the peasants lived on the manor. The mutually beneficial relationship between the lord and the peasant became known as manorialism. The peasants worked the land on behalf of the lord, and in exchange the lord gave the peasants protection and a place to live. Many of the manors were remarkably self-sufficient. Food was harvested, clothing and shoes were made, and so on. Advances made in the science of agriculture dur­ing this time helped the manors to succeed. Such advances were called the three-field system (one for the fall harvest, one for the spring harvest, and one not-seeded) and the mold-board plow. In this way, manors were able to accumulate food surpluses and build on the success.

Conflicts erupted between feudal lords on a regular basis (this is where the term feud comes from). The etiquette of these disputes and rules of engagement was highly refined and flowed from the code of chivalry, an honor system that strongly condemned betrayal and pro­moted mutual respect. Most of the lords (and knights, who were also considered part of the nobility) followed the code of chivalry.

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