Skip to comments.Who Really Killed the Pax Romana?
Posted on 08/13/2012 11:05:09 AM PDT by wtd
The title of this thread "Who Really Killed the Pax Romana?" refers to a recent post at Gates of Vienna Blog written by Baron Bodissey. The Baron reviews the book Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited: The History of a Controversy by Emmet Scott.
If you have an interest in the subject of the Greco-Roman legacy and Islam as they relate to the sudden decline of medieval Europe this book will expose the linkage between Islam's destructive forces at that time and have you reconsider the implications of current events related to Islam today.
Scott argues that the collapse of Latin-Greek civilization in Western Europe happened not in the 5th century during the migrations of the Goths, Vandals and other Germanic peoples, but was delayed until the 7th century.
Among other evidence of continuity after the fall of Rome, Scott writes the the barbarian kings issued coins with the face of the Eastern Roman Emperor on them until about 640AD. He also shows that learning, long distance trade, building, intensive agriculture, and other facets of Latin-Greek culture continued until about that date.
Archeologist cited in the book have found serious soil erosion only after that same 640 date. This is true not only for all of Western Europe but also for North Africa and much of the Middle East.
So, what happened in the Mediterranean world about that time? The Arab-Islamic conquests. Which effectively forced trade across the Mediterranean to be given up, the abandonment of coastal agriculture, and the building of the first castles near the sea. The pirate raids and looting carried out by the Arabs destroyed Roman civilization, not those Germans, who only wanted to benefit from the culture they took over.
The above paragraphs were quoted from Amazon's reviews which are good . . .but to really whet the appetite for this highly recommended book, treat yourself to the long awaited review by Baron Bodissey over at Gates of Vienna blog. You won't be disappointed.
Teaser: History illustrates how the Islamic wave disrupted commercial sea trade routes so it is NO coincidence that the Reconquista kicked off simultaneously with Columbus' effort to seek an eastern sea route to China. If Al Andalus were really the tolerant paradise of coexistance under Islamic rule - the Reconquista would make no sense. If the rise of Islam was so generous and tolerant and willing to safeguard ancient science and literacy . . .why have Islamic societies consistently remained overwhelmingly illiterate in third world lifestyles?
Read Baron Bodissey's review of Emmet Scott's book to begin piecing together this civilizational puzzle for yourself.
You mean the conclusion of the reconquista kicked off the voyages of discovery? I hope that is what you meant.
Actually, it was the conquest of Constantinople that was the trigger. No Constantinople, no access to the Spice Road, pressing desire to go the long way around.
The fall of Constantinople was important historically. Economically it was about as inconsequential as can be imagined.
Constantinople for more than a century before its fall was only a minor city-state, surrounded and totally overshadowed by the Ottoman Empire, of which it was a vassal.
Western Europe had been cut off from the Orient for many centuries by Muslim states: Turkish, Mamluk, Fatimid. It was the policies of those states with regard to trade that affected spice prices in Europe. Frequently they got stupidly greedy and raised prices to the point that they strangled trade.
Why did Constantinople get the works?
That's anywhere from the late 500s to the early 700s ~ actually before the Moslems showed up in the South.
The earlier non-Celtic kingdoms simply weren't up to the problem and collapsed.
Time moved slower in those days, and then there was that problem of some serious depopulation going on in Northwestern Europe starting in 535AD. That too has a Cornish component. They began relocating to a now empty Brittany ~ and in fact had to replant all the grapes there and in the upper reaches of the Rhone Valley ~ a climate anomaly had pretty much wiped out agriculture in the area ~ just follow the trail of the fellows who told the tales of immediate post Roman Britain ~ they left their stories, their names, and their cultural legacy all over the place.
Then there were plagues, periods of warming, periods of cooling, too much rain, too little rain, war, rumors of war, and probably more than one comet involved PLUS volcanoes in Iceland went off several times.
As they say just one thing after another. It was sufficiently brutal to allow the Arabs at Mecca and Petra to slip out of their desert fastness into the civilized world and begin to 'Takeover'.
Why? Because it was the centre of trade for the entire eastern mediterreanean.
Combined with Trabizond (the end of the road), they were still responsible for significant trade even towards the end.
Stymied in his ambitions to get Protestants in England to attend Catholic services he assembled the Catholic kingdoms fronting the Mediterranean and sailed off to destroy the Turks ~ which he did. He didn't liberate the Balkans but the Turks were no longer able to keep Western Europeans from sailing into Eastern harbors.
Next thing you know he died in 1598 and his son, Philippe II/III came up with a brilliant solution to the American problem. That problem was it's impending depopulation to a point where no one could conduct any sort of trade in the region.
Philippe II/III proposed to the principle powers that North America be divided up among his relatives in Russia, France, Portugual, Spain and Scotland. A large but otherwise desolate region (we know it as the Eastern Seaboard) would be parceled out to Protestants.
This was all put into a document called the Treaty of London (1604). There's a lot of detail in it including how Protestants should behave in Catholic areas, and how Catholics should behave in Protestant areas.
Sounds trivial to us but in the 17th century this was incredibly advanced thinking.
With everybody in Europe behind the idea of developing North America, mass migrations began, agriculture resumed, the world was saved and the King of Spain retired to a gentleman's life of leisure and travel. He just didn't have the fire his father had, but then again, he wasn't his father's man.
Leaping ahead several centuries, the European powers dismantled the Ottoman Empire and its former claims and created several dozen new countries out of the former Islamic Caliphate.
The Jews returned to Israel ~ after nearly 2,000 years. The atom bomb was invented. Lots of stuff happened!
Why? Because it was the centre of trade for the entire eastern mediterreanean.
Combined with Trabizond (the end of the road), they were still responsible for significant trade even towards the end.
“Economically it was about as inconsequential as can be imagined.”
Trabizond was the second largest trading city in the mediterranean. I’ll give you one guess as to the first.
Sure, they were much less powerful than they had been before, but still, they were an incredible prize.
That’s nobody’s business but the Turks!
Thank you, wtd
" And then there was the concept of Holy War, which did not exist in Christianity until it was borrowed from Islam (pages 240-242):
We have found that in the years after 600 classical civilization, which was by then synonymous with Christendom, came into contact with a new force, one that extolled war as a sacred duty, sanctioned the enslavement and killing of non-believers as a religious obligation, sanctioned the judicial use of torture, and provided for the execution of apostates and heretics. All of these attitudes, which, taken together, are surely unique in the religious traditions of mankind, can be traced to the very beginnings of that faith. Far from being manifestations of a degenerate phase of Islam, all of them go back to the founder of the faith himself. Yet, astonishingly enough, this is a religion and an ideology which is still extolled by academics and artists as enlightened and tolerant. Indeed, to this day, there exists a large body of opinion, throughout the Western World, which sees Islam as in every way superior to, and more enlightened than, Christianity.
Muslim conquests in the Near East, Africa, Turkey, and Europe itself disrupted trade connections and the sense of Europe or the West or Christendom centered on the Mediterranean. The way was open for Charlemagne and a new empire in the Frankish territories. Rome had finally fallen and Northern Europe came into its own as the core of Christendom.
I certainly hope the book gives Henri Pirenne the credit due him, but it's not really a crude who-done-it with a predictable Muslim villain. Something definitely happened to Rome before the Muslims came along. People didn't theorize about the change or seriously begin to build something new until circumstances made the.
History illustrates how the Islamic wave disrupted commercial sea trade routes so it is NO coincidence that the Reconquista kicked off simultaneously with Columbus' effort to seek an eastern sea route to China.
Clearly Columbus can be tied to the decline of Muslim power in Spain. You needed to have ports to make the trip, but this was all 700 or so years after Muslim conquests disrupted those routes to begin with.
If Al Andalus were really the tolerant paradise of coexistance under Islamic rule - the Reconquista would make no sense.
First, in the real world tolerance is a relative thing. A political order can be much more tolerant than another, while it's less tolerant than a third system.
Secondly, politics are about power. Indeed, much of religion was about power in those days. What rulers and clerics did wasn't always a reflection of how they were treated by others, but of what their aspirations were and what they thought they deserved.
Mostly the Gothic Wars, especially the third one. Belisarius under Justinian cleaned out the Vandal occupation of Rome's former breadbasket and then continued into the Italian peninsula leaving a tremendous power vacuum behind that the eastern Empire simply did not have the manpower to fill. Rome was sacked, occupied, besieged, and completely emptied for a period of a couple of days. That must have been one of history's weirdest sights for anyone who got left behind in the ghost city.
It was obvious to anyone who watched Ostia decay that no grain from northern Africa was a foot on the western Empire's throat. The Arabs weren't even the first to realize that. Controlling those sea lanes meant that Rome had to look northward and eastward for its very sustenance. And after Narses got through with the Ostrogoths there wasn't much left to fill the power vacuum at all until a bunch of tribal Arab horsemen came along.
Great stuff (which you knew perfectly well, and thanks for the leading question...) ;-)
I have also read Pirenne's book on the subject. Scott examines Pirenne's hypothesis through the dual lens of archaeology and Islamology and presents tons of archaeological data to support this work.
Read Baron Bodissey's review of Scott's book and decide for yourself if it sparks an interest in examining Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited: The History of a Controversy.
Without reservation, I wholeheartedly recommend both.
The Epilogue -- The termination of the papyrus supply to Europe, as a cultural event, cannot be overestimated. Indeed, it has hitherto been radically underestimated. Papyrus, a relatively cheap writing material, had a thousand uses in an urban and mercantile culture. And, as we saw in Chapter 15, it was the material upon which was preserved the vast majority of the learning and thinking of the ancients. The loss of papyrus led inexorably to the loss of the bulk of classical literature -- irrespective of the efforts of churchmen to preserve it on parchment.
|GGG managers are SunkenCiv, StayAt HomeMother & Ernest_at_the_Beach|
Methinks you miss my point.
Every single item of the Eastern trade goods that changed hands at Constantinople, which was indeed a center of commerce right up to the end, though its commerce was almost completely controlled by that time by Italians, had first to transit a Muslim state. When Constantinople fell, nothing changed in this regard, therefore its fall was not consequential with regard to whether Western countries could get spices and other eastern goods without using Muslim middlemen.
Trebizond is on the Black Sea, not the Med.
Would love to see a link to the text of the Treaty of London.
Minor problem with this theory.
After the Ostrogoths and Byzantines had fought back and forth across the peninsula several times, Italy had been largely depopulated.
There was little or nothing to buy food from overseas with, not to mention few merchants, especially specizliaing in bulk goods such as grain, and the few remaining people in Italy could certainly be supported by local agriculture, if there was any.
But the Byzantine temporary conquest of Africa did indeed leave a power vacuum that the Arabs took advantage of. Although the ease of conquest by Belisarius was an indication that the Vandals weren’t much of a power bloc anyway.
I think the above description is rather polyannish.
Constantinople...today it is known as Istanbul. I had a fellow I worked with (he was with a supplier company) who was from there...I took great liberties with him in referring to his ‘home town’ as Constantinople. He did not like it much...kept trying to tell me it was ‘Istanbul’. :)
There was, in support of your objection, a serious deterioration of the ability of the North African grain fields to support farming anyway. The Vandals had been terrible proprietors and the eastern Empire simply did not have the manpower to fill the vacuum. But it was undeniable that when Ostia died, Rome was crippled - Theoderic certainly thought so, and he was in a position to know. What his successors were squabbling over was a shell of what he once ruled.
The sea routes of communication had certainly changed - that was the original topic - but were undeniably still vital to trade on the Italian peninsula, and their control was contested by Muslim pirates nearly as long as Muslim armies threatened the land routes. And not just by Muslims. Constantinople would, I suspect, come to view Venice in a very different way by the time of the Fourth Crusade, a viper nurtured in its bosom whose army ended up sacking the place. After that, the Turks, and the whole thing began over again.
However, with a bit of searching you will run into several that give you most of the text IN ENGLISH.
One of them is on a site that has many other treaties so it has this clunky cross referencing deal ~ but that will give you explanations of why this and what is that!
I haven't looked it up in several months, but it's there ~ the FOUNDING DOCUMENT FOR what became the UNITED STATES.
The history is actually quite clear. Constantine moved the capitol and center of Rome during his reign. The Roman empire did not fall until the fall of Constantinople, they just lost their territory in Western Europe. Western Romans moved to Gaul and eventually merged with the Franks under Charlemegne while some remained in Briton and merged with the modern day Welsh and in fact fought with them against the Saxon. The history is true in that the fall of the Western territories did bring upon the Dark Ages in Western Europe (with the exception of Charlemegne’s reign and the reign of Alfred in England), but Constantinople continued to thrive. Justinian did reconquer much of the Western territories, but then was stopped short due to plague.
Large cities without nearby agricultural resources, distant grain growing regions and long-distance bulk product merchants have an obvious symbiotic relationship.
Knock any one of the three out and the other two collapse.
Nobody was going to grow massive amounts of grain in North Africa with nobody to sell it to and no way to get it to market.
This is similar to early American grain crops on the frontier. No way to get the grain to market, so they converted it to whiskey, which was much smaller in bulk. Not a problem after development of steamboats and canals, and eventually railroads.
Of course, distillation wasn't around in Late Classical/Early Dark Ages times, so it wasn't an option for them.
True but in the overall ‘Eastern Med’, it was still number 2.
Once the Muslims owned both, they controlled the entire spice road and had no other competitors. This is why they were able to increase the prices.
Once they did that, they made it economical to go the long way around to bypass the middle man so to say.
FWIW, the Fourth Crusade is not nearly as simple a story as it is usually portrayed. It was originally launched to reinstate the “legitimate” emperor as against a “usurper.” The Crusaders undertook this mercenary job due to extreme financial distress.
Things deteriorated and the allies fell out and the conquest took place, but I think there is little actual evidence that the Pope or Venice or the Crusaders set out initially to conquer the Eastern Empire. They wanted to fight the Muslims and got sidetracked.
Yeah, I guess it might be a little tough to get much farming done right around then...
Actually, at the time of the Fourth the Seljuqs were out of the picture in the Levant, or on their way out. They had been replaced in Syria and Egypt by the Ayyubids, founded by the famous Saladin, who was a Kurd, 20 or 30 years before.
Also, the Mongols didn’t show up in the area for something like 40 years.
Something I have always found fascinating is the foreshortening effect of history. The farther in the past something is, the closer together the events appear to us in time, making events spread out over 50 or 75 years appear to be almost contemporaneous. Even though we don’t think of the Vietnam War or Great Depression as being last week, we do tend to think of ancient events happening over a similar timespan as close together.
I agree with the time compression illusion, although in fact we depend on point events - battles, etc - to place a temporal framework on this sort of thing that has its own illusion of granularity that isn't really justified by the quality of record-keeping at the time. These days we're better at that, but we still have the challenge of communicating that information forward unmarred by historical revisionism. And there's an awful lot of that about.
You are quite correct in most of what you say.
However, I would contend that the Mongols were very different from the Huns, Scythians and other previous steppe nomad conquerors. Most of them were nomadic tribes that moved more as peoples than as armies or as state actors with a strategic plan of conquest.
The Mongols, OTOH, were brilliant at military and political strategy and had a definite plan for conquering the rest of the world. They moved like lightning across the steppe and most other tribes could not get away in time, leaving them the options of annihilation or submission and joining the Mongol armies.
While there were of course various refugee groups fleeing the Mongols, I don’t think there was anything like the westward billiard ball effect lasting a century or more that was created by the Han defeat of the Hsiung-nu (sp?).
Looked up the date. The Mongol invasion of Khwarezm started in 1220. That is the reasonable date for Mongol activities in central and western Asia, as previously they had been limited to the other side of the Pamirs.
Interestingly, Jerusalem was sacked by a refugee Khwarezmian army in 1244, with the Christians massacred and the Jews driven out.
Good stuff. I’m sort of glad I wasn’t around in the 13th century. Everytime you hear someone bleat “just imagine a world without guns” I do...and shudder...
Thanks for this thread and for all the knowledgeable comments. Fascinating stuff and grist for future research.
Damn good point. Lots of morons imagine a world without guns would be a world without violence.
You might be interested in an SF series called Dies the Fire by SM Stirling.
Suddenly one day all high-energy processes: nuclear, high-energy chemical reactions like gunpowder, internal combustion engines, even high pressure steam engines just stop working. So functioning technology is back to about the 13th century. People still know how to do advanced stuff, it just doesn’t work.
Utopia does not result. Quite the reverse. Very well worked out,IMO.