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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




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





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




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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Oct 15, 2019





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