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(Solved) we have studied the world of the Middle Ages and how information


we have studied the world of the Middle Ages and how information was transmitted across continents from Mongol and Islamic conquests, trade, and other forms of interaction. In addition, we have addressed the following course objectives:

  • Identify and critically analyze the influence of society in the Middle Ages upon those that would follow and evolve into nation-states by examining socio-economic, religious, and political influences.
  • Comprehend the influences of religion, philosophy, and economics in the development of civilizations during this period that led to the later Western European Renaissance, Reformation, and Colonization.

World History I

 


 

Forces of Unity and Division in the Middle

 

Ages

 

We left off, both in the east and in the west, at approximately 500 CE? and the civilizations of

 

the world are in a shambles. In the west, the individualism that has characterized their culture has

 

created a series of divided kingdoms in modern day France, Spain, Germany, Italy, and Britain?

 

unified only by a Christian faith but little else. The Eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantines)

 

guard the vulnerable land routes into Europe from an expanding Persian Empire. In the east, the

 

collectivism that characterizes their cultures has created large kingdoms that rise and fall as one

 

dynasty or group takes control after another, but all the while, the people identify themselves as

 

Chinese, or Indian, and thus are able to continue to expand culturally regardless of what group

 

has taken control politically. In short, the search for stability has created a west divided

 

politically into competing identities but united religiously, and an east that is united culturally but

 

without identities binding them to a state or empire. This is, to a great degree, why the modern

 

world features a European continent still split between many nations while China and India are

 

among the largest single nations in land area and are the top two nations in population.

 

In Europe, the people identified themselves by their nation as they competed and traded within a

 

system called Feudalism. The idea was that people on the lowest rungs of society, the peasants,

 

owed taxes and military service to their lords who, in turn, owed service and support to the

 

nobles who, in their turn, were loyal to a king. These systems built off of the splintering of

 

Western Europe after the fall of Rome. Tribes of Gauls, Franks, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Vandals,

 

Burgundians, and Celts slowly coalesced into kingdoms in France, Spain, and Italy?a process

 

that made them all Western and Christian (as the church continued to spread and convert) but

 

gave them different cultures centered on their new kingdoms. This spread and interchange was

 

facilitated by trade. Merchants with goods and peasants with crops were able to use the old

 

Roman network of roads to trade across the borders of various kingdoms in every method from a

 

system of barter?where one side traded a good to another side for a different good (a primary

 

method of giving to the established Christian churches)?or in trade based on local currencies

 

(Geary, 196-198). The movement of goods and, as a consequence, culture and religion was also

 

facilitated by wars as kingdoms conquered each other, united, disbanded, and stole from each

 

other. The early invasions by a group called the Huns (no relation to another group of Huns that

 

took down India as we saw last week), also helped in this process by forcing people to move,

 

furthering communication, and opening trade as they conquered areas of Europe and were, in

 

turn, driven back or assimilated into the hardening cultures of the emerging kingdoms. But, by

 

750 CE, there were other outsides forces of culture and religion that would introduce important

 

changes to Europe in a big way?

 

The first of these forces were the Arabs and the spread of their culture and a new religion, called

 

Islam, from the Arabian Peninsula in about 650 CE. We?ll cover more about them and the

 

religion that animated their shockingly swift conquests in our presentation for this week but, for

 

now, the immediate effect was that the area now known as Spain and Portugal fell to the

 


 

Muslims and would stay under their rule for the next 1,000 years and be called Andalusia. This

 

conquest helped harden the divided western nations of Europe into larger kingdoms as they

 

sought unity to overcome a, for them, strange and powerful enemy. Not only that, it provided an

 

avenue for the exchange of goods and ideas between Islam and the West in a process that would

 

lead Europe out of the ?Dark Ages? and into a cultural Renaissance.

 

India felt the wrath of an ascendant Islam as well. With a series of kingdoms controlling areas

 

that were once united by the Gupta Dynasty, India was still a powerful center of trade between

 

the east and the west. But there was no impetus in Indian culture to explore or conquer given that

 

the prevailing religious systems were Hindu, which had no strong belief in the conversion of

 

others, and Buddhism, which did not place much stock in material gains whether economic or

 

political (White, 18-19). Hemmed in by the Himalayas to the north, the fractious kingdoms of

 

Southeast Asia to the east and then a conquering force of Muslims from the west, India held on

 

as a series of minor kingdoms, without much cohesion, until the coming of the Mongols in the

 

1500s CE.

 

China did not suffer much from Islamic conquests but it felt their influence strongly. In 500 CE,

 

after the fall of the Han Dynasty, China was divided with the Northern Wei holding a larger and

 

unified empire apart from the various competing dynasties in the south. By 618 CE, China was

 

united under the Tang Dynasty and embarked on a series of cultural and political achievements

 

that brought wealth to the area, political power, and moved Chinese culture to other areas

 

ranging from Korea and Mongolia to Southeast Asia and Japan. Trade flourished with the

 

kingdoms of India and elsewhere but there were some economic problems that would weaken

 

China. The first was that the Muslim conquests through the Middle East, parts of India, and into

 

Europe had broken many sea routes for foreign trade leaving only the dangerous ?Silk Road? to

 

get through Asia to Europe over land. Second, the Chinese had the same religions and

 

philosophical biases that prevailed in India and, thus, exploration was not emphasized and trade,

 

while still profitable, was made the province of experienced outsiders like merchants from India

 

and the Muslim Arabs (White, 17). By 979 CE, the Tang had fallen to the Song Dynasty which

 

let much of its former territory go to bordering tribes but, by 1215 CE, they had embarked on an

 

era of technological achievement that included advanced shipbuilding, paper based printing, and,

 

critically, gunpowder. The Islamic conquests forced Tang China to redraw its lines of influence

 

and trade with destabilizing consequences for its economy before, with new systems and trading

 

partners, it could find wealth and become more advanced under the Song.

 

Though the Indian and Chinese civilizations felt the effects of Islamic conquests from 600 ? 900

 

CE, they had, as a matter of their culture and religious beliefs, largely accepted the reality of

 

Muslim control of areas of their territories or over the trade routes that helped each area prosper.

 

But by 1100 CE, the divided nations of Western Europe were ready to do something to change

 

the situation. In 1095 CE, the reigning Pope of the Catholic Church, Urban II, called for a

 

crusade of all believers to remove the Muslims from the areas of the Middle East that were

 

considered sacred to both Christians and Jews. Though Europe was divided between several

 

competing nations, the call was a popular one and the various kings, emperors, and Feudal

 

nobles formed a large army to bring the fight to the Muslims. In all, there were seven Crusades

 

called under different Popes with different goals, and after nearly two hundred years of

 


 

intermittent fighting, they were unsuccessful. The effects of the Crusades were, however, critical

 

to the development of Europe and the world? and are still felt today.

 

As we?ve noted before: where there is trade there is war. But the opposite is also true, where

 

there is war there is also trade. The First Crusade was successful and was able to carve out

 

thoroughly European territory in the heart of Islam. These ?crusader states? carried on commerce

 

with the local population and intermingled to the degree that Islamic ideas, discoveries, and

 

technological advances?whether developed by them or brought from other lands?pervaded

 

European thought and began the gradual process of ?awakening? that was the European

 

Renaissance. Further, some practices of the Catholic Church (notably the practice of

 

?indulgences?) were made extremely popular, and public, with devastating effects for the unity

 

of Christianity by the time of the Reformation. And, finally, the divided nations of Europe gave

 

vent to the religious and economic values they held by demonstrating that they could move

 

masses of people, by ship and land, to faraway places in the name of Gold and God? an

 

important cultural feature that helps us understand the exploration and colonization efforts that

 

Europeans made just two centuries after the last of the crusades as they continued to search for

 

ways to trade and communicate with areas (India and China) that were cut off by areas of

 

Muslim control.

 

Islam was merely the first, as we noted above, of the forces that placed pressure on the societies

 

of the east and west? the second were the Mongols. An ancient and tribal people, the Mongols

 

inhabited the plains northwest of China and spent most of their history in conflict between rival

 

clans. Enter Genghis Khan. Born at the time when Europe was engaged in its various crusades

 

against Islamic control of the ?holy land,? Genghis rose to unite the various clans of the Mongols

 

into an epic fighting force that swiftly conquered lands belonging to China, in the east, India to

 

the southwest, and eventually into eastern Europe. By the time of his death in 1227 CE, Genghis

 

had created one of the largest empires in world history. Though his unified empire quickly fell

 

apart after Genghis?s death, the effects of the Mongols were felt everywhere? Islamic lands

 

were conquered for a time, including the seat of the Islamic Abbasid Caliphate at Baghdad in

 

1258 CE in an orgy of violence that saw the city reduced in power and size, not recovering until

 

well within the 20th century. Northern India suffered as well though the ruling Mongols were

 

assimilated into the Mughal Dynasty, the creators of the Taj Mahal, that eventually reunited the

 

bulk of the Indian Deccan and survived until 1858 when it was replaced by direct British rule.

 

China followed a similar course in that the conquering Mongols were assimilated into Chinese

 

culture and became the Yuan Dynasty under Kublai Khan and expanded its territory through a

 

series of wars carried on by him and his heirs. The Yuan Dynasty devoted itself strongly to

 

science and trade, reestablishing the ?Silk Road,? and creating the impetus for Marco Polo to

 

visit the Yuan court, bring information about the east to Europe and, through his writings, inspire

 

later explorers like Christopher Columbus to find a way to the east, past Muslim held lands, by?

 

maybe?sailing west? And that brings us back to Europe.

 

Though the Mongol incursions were brutal, the fighting was short lived and Mongol control even

 

shorter since Europe was simply too far for later Mongol leaders to exert much control over any

 

areas they conquered. But the effect of the Mongols and their large empire created two important

 

aspects that would forever impact western culture. The first was the unobstructed trade that could

 

be carried on from east to west. While beneficial, it allowed for the passage of plague in the same

 


 

direction, the worst of which was known as the ?Black Death? that killed off about 25% of

 

Europe?making the survivors just that much more resistant to diseases. The other was the

 

movement of technology and ideas. The Mongols had picked up gunpowder from China and

 

metallurgy from India and the Islamic lands to create the first cannons (Weatherford, xxiii) which

 

would revolutionize warfare and slowly put an end to the stone walled castles of Europe. More

 

than this, however, was the combining of knowledge that came from the expansion of Islam and

 

the Mongols that brought new ideas, or re-awakened old ones, to Europe giving rise to the

 

Renaissance.

 


 

A Liberal Arts Tradition: Muslims, Mongols,

 

and the Spread of Knowledge

 

When we think of Islam and the Mongols we are often thinking of a reactionary attitude toward

 

modern knowledge, on the one hand, and bloodthirsty conquerors, on the other. But with the

 

advent of each one on the world stage, this was far from the truth. Each one exhibited a true

 

?liberal arts? tradition ? defined as a concern for diverse subjects (like history, literature, art,

 

philosophy, mathematics, and science) compiled into a way or method of thought across these

 

subjects?that forever impacted the development of the modern world and every society they

 

touched.

 

But that was later? Islam and the Mongols were two radical explosions that shook the world six

 

hundred years apart. In the early 600s CE, as we have seen, Western individualist cultures had

 

created a Europe fractured between rival identities unified only in Christian beliefs under a

 

solidly dominant universal church, Catholic, that often suppressed scientific inquiry that

 

challenged, or seemed to challenge, its authority. In the East, China and India were well ahead of

 

the west in the sciences and mathematics, trade, and art under unified cultural identities and

 

religions over which various dynasties and kingdoms were overlaid. When Islam exploded out

 

from the Arabian Peninsula and conquered lands from Europe to India, it occupied a central

 

position through which ideas and advances were moved from one area to another and, in the

 

process, expanded upon to create new information and bring to light discoveries both ancient and

 

innovative. Islam united Africa with Europe, India and Asia, and brought knowledge to Europe

 

through Spain and through the Byzantine Balkans north of Muslim controlled areas in the Middle

 

East (Duchesne, 12).

 

While the list of things that Islam invented, discovered, or passed along to Europe is absolutely

 

huge, let?s look at just a few examples so we can understand the Muslim way of preserving old

 

information, reviving it, and making new discoveries in relation to it. Let?s look at medicine?

 

Greek and Roman thinkers, notably the Greek Hippocrates and the Roman Galen, had very

 

definite ideas about the structure of the human body and treatment of various ailments. Islamic

 

scholars inherited these traditions and combined them with their own discoveries and

 

observations?in some of the world?s first universities where knowledge was based on evidence

 

and scholars trained in various disciplines (a tradition you are inheriting right now!)?and made

 

more comprehensive and correct details of human anatomy (Ahmed, 72-75). In addition to

 

medicine, Islamic thinkers also created more detailed and exact ways to calculate the position of

 


 

a person on the Earth by using the sun, moon, and stars. Called an Astrolabe, the device was

 

originally invented by the Greeks but improved by the Muslims with their greater understanding

 

of the heavens. Introduced into Europe, it was perfected to account for the problems of ocean

 

navigation making longer overseas journeys possible. This progression demonstrates how

 

Europeans were able to take classical knowledge from the Greek and Roman periods, revived

 

and expanded by Islam, into forms that eventually made Europe a powerhouse of invention,

 

science, philosophy, art, and exploration. Of course, all of this was based to a large extent on

 

mathematics. Islamic mathematicians took from the Indians the concept of zero and their

 

numbers to create more advanced forms of calculations (it is from the Arabs that we get the word

 

?algebra? for example) that informed Muslim architecture and other sciences that were passed on

 

to Europe in every way from the architecturally correct dome to methods of inquiry and evidence

 

that were essential to Renaissance thinkers like Leonardo da Vinci.

 

The Mongols, six centuries later, were also a prime mover in the exchange of ideas. We saw in

 

the previous lecture how they combined the metallurgy from India and Persia (under Islamic

 

control) with gunpowder from China (used largely for fireworks) into the prototypes for

 

chemically based projectile weapons. This, of course, had huge implications for Europe as

 

castles built to withstand wooden siege engines and armies based on muscular power were

 

slowly made obsolete by the force of gunpowder projectiles and bombs. Also, it helped break the

 

Feudal model of society when men of lowly birth, like peasants, were able to take down highly

 

trained knights in metal armor both through gunpowder weapons and, as a precursor, crossbows

 

based around torque (a Greek concept passed to Europe by Islam) instead of highly trained

 

muscle. But, even more than this, their conquest of the central areas of Asia united the Chinese in

 

the east with the Europeans in the West and made one continuous line of communication and

 

trade that did not pass through borders?alleviating for a short time the problem of Muslim

 

control over the primary trade routes between the east and west?that made for the exchange of

 

ideas, knowledge, and disease from one end of the world to the other. In contrast to Islam which

 

took the ideas of the past, expanded upon them, and then spread them to other areas, the Mongols

 

made the preservation and distribution of knowledge, in an appreciation for various cultures and

 

ideas that is the heart of modern Liberal Arts education?paramount as a way to increase trade

 

and communication opportunities. Let?s go back to medicine as an example? The Mongols

 

overran China and learned of the Chinese practice of acupuncture and combined that with the

 

more sophisticated knowledge they received from Islamic doctors?themselves drawing upon a

 

Greek and Roman tradition of medicine?and blended these ideas to create some of the first

 

large hospitals where doctors were trained at universities in several techniques and theories (a

 

Muslim idea) and, as was the case with Kublai Khan in China, used Europeans as teachers

 

(Weatherford, 229).

 

The world of Islam was one in which knowledge, traditions, and ideas of different cultures were

 

synthesized in institutions of learning and spread throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia in a

 

tradition that mirrors the liberal arts emphasis that we see in modern universities today. This is

 

the primary reason you, right now, are taking a course in World History when your major area of

 

academic focus is not history. For Islamic thinkers, all knowledge had value and by being

 

familiar with many things, we make ourselves better at whatever our primary field happens to be.

 

The Mongols made knowledge from other cultures mobile, and while they invented little, they

 

blended each area into something new and then created institutions from healthcare to commerce

 


 

that exemplified new and better ways to use and access information. You, right now, are a part of

 

this tradition too as you learn of events far away in both place and time over a system of

 

technology that can reach you wherever you may be? communicated to you through writing

 

(our first information technology) which was revived, both east and west, by the conquests,

 

discoveries, and use of information that the Mongols and Muslims gifted to the world of the

 

Middle Ages.

 


 

 


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