The Abbasid Caliphate was the third of the Islamic caliphates to follow Mohammed after he died (631). The Abbasids unlike the Umayyads could claim descent from Mohammed's family. The Dynasty began with Mohammed's youngest uncle, Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib, who gave the dynasty it name. Their close kinship to Mohammed proved a persuasive matter to many of the Muslim faithful. Al-'Abbas had been a loyal Companion of the Prophet. During the reign of Umar II, Muhammad ibn 'Ali, a great-grandson of al-'Abbas had begun to proselytize in Persia (718). His goal was to return the caliphate to the family of the Prophet -- the Hashimites. The Abbasids in their rise to power became associated with client Muslims--the mawali. They were foreigners who converted to Islam after the conquest. As foreigners they could not be incorporated into Arab kinship-based society. They had to be voluntarily included or adopted by a clan, essentially becoming 'clients'. While they were Muslims, they were second-class citizens. The Arabs for thir part both city dwellers and bedouins who acquired the civilization of the people they conqured adding an Islamic overlay and Arab traditions (8th century). The Abbasids founded a new capital at Baghdad (762). This reflected a shift in world view. The Umayyads had focused on the West and the Mediterranean world. The Abbasids shifted to the East, especially devlopments in Persia and Transoxania. While the great age of Islamic expansion ended wih the Umayyads. It was the culture of Abbasid Caliphate that led it to be known as the Golden Age of Islam--the pinnacle of Arab culture. The Caliphate became a bustling center of world commerce and culture at a time that the civilization of the West was mired in the Dark Ages. After the fall of Rome, Christian Europe descended into what became known as the Dark Ages. In contrast there was an outpouring of learning and culture in the Islamic world. And this was not just religious learning. Baghdad in particular became a renowned center for learning, including science, mathematics, philosophy and literature--especially poetry. An important part of Arab learming was all the ancient texts. Renounded universities, libraries, and public baths were built at Baghdad. The House of Wisdom/Books became the great repository for texts from the known world, rivaling and probably exceeding the Great Library at Alexandria. Jews played an important role in part as translators. Compated to the Christian West, the Caliphate was notble for its toleration of religious divesity. One of the ironies of the modern world is that the Islamists who want to recreate th glories of the Caliphate are at odds with the defining keys to their sucess--toleration and learning. I find it fascinating the number of Muslims that are aware of the glories of the artistic and scientific glories of the Calphate, but have given no thought as to why the modern Arab and cwider Muslim world is a scientific black hole. Over time the military power of the Caliphate eroded, but its reputation as a great center of learning contined even aftr military defeats at the hands of the rising Seljuk Turks (1055). The Caliphate's response to the Crusaders was ineffectual. In the final years of the Caliphate, religious hardliners began to gain in influence, but it was the Mongols who sacked Baghdad that finally destroyed the Abbasid Caliphate (1258). And as the turns of history would have it, this roughly coinsided with the blossoming of the Renaissance in Italy and the rise of the Christian West.
The Abbasid Caliphate was the third of the Islamic caliphates to follow Mohammed after he died (631). The Abbasids unlike the Umayyads could claim descent from Mohammed's family. The Dynasty began with Mohammed's youngest uncle, Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib, who gave the dynasty it name. Their close kinship to Mohammed proved a persuasive matter to many of the Muslim faithful. Al-'Abbas had been a loyal Companion of the Prophet. During the reign of Umar II, Muhammad ibn 'Ali, a great-grandson of al-'Abbas had begun to proselytize in Persia (718). His goal was to return the caliphate to the family of the Prophet -- the Hashimites. The Abbasids in their rise to power became associated with client Muslims--the mawali. They were foreigners who converted to Islam after the conquest. As foreigners they could not be incorporated into Arab kinship-based society. They had to be voluntarily included or adopted by a clan, essentially becoming 'clients'. While they were Muslims, they were second-class citizens.
Americans and Europeans are generally of the outlines of Western Civilization beginning with the Nesopotamia and Egypt and thn th glories of classical Greece and Rome. After the fall of Rome, Christian Europe descended into what became known as the Dark Ages and then a slow emerg of ecinomic and cultural life with the rest of the medieval era. Much less known is the history of the Caliphate which dominated the Middle East an North Africa during the medieval era with aazzeling level of culture and toleration. Only when the Caliphate colided with Chistian Europe such as in Spain and southern Draneabd the Crusades do the Caliphate appear in many European history books. But in fact the Caliphate had a subtantial imoact on Europe and the Renaissance which began during the late medieval era. And the 500 yeat life of the Abbasid Caliphate played a critical role in the development of learning tht led to the modern world. The stunning fact is that the rise occurred in the Christian West and not the Arab or wider Muslim world.
The Arabs were before Mohammed bedouin desert nomads. Under the Caliphate they became both city dwellers who acquired the civilization of the people they conqured adding an Islamic overlay and Arab traditions (8th century). The Abbasid Empire became a multicultural, cosmopolitan stew. The Abbasid were a well educated, socailly mobile society.
The Abbasids founded a new capital at Baghdad (762). Damascus had been the capital of the Caliphate that developed after Mohammed's death. Baghdad before the Abbasids had been a small unimportant Christian village on the west bank of the Tigris River. It was, however, near the ruins of the old Persian capital--Ctesiphon. Baghdad was a Persian name. The Abbasids built the famed circular City of Peace (madinat al-salam). Baghdad became an international trading crossroad, a multi-cultural hub between Europe, India, and China. The Caliphate controlled the trade routes between East and West, a very lucrative posution for a trading people. Baghdad become became a center not only for trade, but education and learning of all kinds, incluging architecture, mathamatics, religion, and sciene. It was the location for the famed House of Wisdom.
The move to Baghdad reflected a shift in world view. The Umayyads had focused on the West and the Mediterranean world. The Abbasids shifted to the East, especially devlopments in Persia and Transoxania. At the height of its power, the Abbasid Caliphate streached from the Atlantic (Morocco and Spain) east to well into Central Asia. Important centers included Baghdad, Cairo, and Cordoba.
The Abbasid Caliphate like Byzantium as a cultural bridge between the ancient world and the Renaissance. The Abbasids had an advantage over the West. The advance of the classical world lost to the West were not lost to the Islamic world, but collected, translated and added to by Abbasid scholars. There was nothing like the Abbasid Translation Project and House of Wisdom in the West.
The Abbasids did not fundamentally change the direction of Islamic governance. The Abbasids were as autocratic as the Umayyads had been. Some charge that they were worse. And they proved vengeful as well. They proceeded to wipe out the Umayyad lineage as best they could. They also attempted to suppress the Shiites and Khorasanis who had allied themselves with the bbasids to depose the Umayyads. There was no protection of rights of individuals written into law to protected targeted groups or individuals. Nothing like Magna Carta emerged during the Abbasaid era to protect even the nobility. all were subject to the will of the Caliph. A cebtral problem with abbasid and other Islamic governence is that the Koran mndated a theographic state with no separation between mosque and state. As the caliph was both a political and religious leader there was little room for discent. And the idea of individul rights never emerged. There were several reasons for this. The most important reasons were: 1) ceasorpopism and 2) autocracy. Democracy and human rights in the west emerged in the at first narrow space created by the conflict between church and state and between the monarchy an nobility. This did not occur in he Islamuc caliphate. There was no space between church and states, rather ceasorpopish was afopted. The head of state and the religious head were one and the same. And the caliph was a more autocratic ruler than most Christian monarchs who had parliaments to contend with. The Abbasids once in power surrounded themselves with pomp and ceremony. They seoarated themselves from the public by a veritable wall of officials and eunuchs. The Abbasids pursued a serious centralization of power. The Arabs when they emerged from Arabia still had a high degree of tribal democracy. Mohammed had begun the centralization of power in his effort to end intra-Aran conflict. The Umayyads had accelerated the process and under the Abbasids the phenomenon of tribal democracy disappeared for good.
The Arabs were a trading people and it it is thus not surprising that trade was at the center of the Abbasid economy. Baghdad became a center for not only the arts and sciences, but also of trade. Important trading routes went through Badhdad. The Abbasids have been escribed as an economic powerhouse: They created and modified existing trade routes. Geography was an important factor here. Their territory stood between Europe and the east--both India and China, And thus they dominted these lucrative rade routes. There were also routes within the Abbasid Empire. One particularly important route was the newly developed route from Basra to Mecca. [Stanley] As more and more conquered people converted to Islam, increasingly large numbers of peopled desired to make the pilgrimage to Mecca--a reuirement for the faihfull. Developing Basra into a major port was vital for the development of trade routes. As it brought produvts from India and Africa into the hert of the Empire. It was also part of the reason for moving the capital to Baghdad which had a connection to Basra over the Euphrates River. The worldwide supply of precious metal in circulation increased with new production of gold from Sudan (late-8th century). Gold ivory, slaves from Africa transported by caravan across the Sahara Desert reached Egypt, Syria, and Mesopotamia [Salisbury] Arab mstery of the Induan Ocean and planting of trading posts in East Africa also expanded maritime trde. By moving to Baghdad, a more important location for trade, the Abbasids economy benefitted through expanded trade. They improved their commercial contact with the world. Abbasid currency (cpinage) became a vital part of worlf trade. .
Slavery was an important aspect of the Abbasid Caliphate. It was not, however, a major part of the work force as had been the case in the clasical society of Greece and Rome. This was the case for the same reason that slavery was not central to the economies of Mesopotamia and Egypt. The heart of the economy was the rural peasantry. Agriculture was the basis of almost all ancient societies and produced most of the society's wealth. And the peasantry had very limited rights or social status. Nor did many actually own the land they worked. Many were tied to the land in serf-like arrangemnbts. While not slaves, the peasantry were only marginally above slaves in the social structure. Slave women were conqubines and used for the harem --the separate part of a Muslim household reserved for wives, concubines, and female servants. The harems of the Sultan could be huge. Slaves were used as household servants. They were also used as tutors for children of well-to-do families. Slaves rose to serve the Caliph in important roles in administration and a range of roles in public affairs. The number of slaves is unknown. A limiting factor was the fact that the Koran discourages the enslvement of Muslims. The Zanj Rebellion clearly shows that the numbers were substabtial. This was a major slave uprising that lasted for more than a decade (869-83). It began in Basra, the major entreport for Africabs caoyured for the slave trade. The captive Africans were known as Zanj. It was one of the most serious abd vicious of the mny rebellions that plagyed the Abassid Caliphate. Ali ibn Muhammad led the rebellion. Historians diifer, but some authors maintain that the huge effort need to supress the Zanj severely weakened the Abbasids and their ability to prevent the subsequent dsintegration of their empire. The two earlier caliphates used warriors from the varius Arab tribes to fight their wars. Under the Abbasids this changed. Arab warriors proved a phenomenal fighting force, but they carried with them an inherent problem--loyalty. The Abbas family could not always count on the loyalty of the other tribes. The Abbasid sollution to this was to begin using people with slave origins as soldiers and even some as officers. The advantage here was that slave soldiers did not have conflicting tribal loyalties.
While the great age of Islamic expansion ended wih the Umayyads. It was the culture of Abbasid Caliphate that led it to be known as the Golden Age of Islam--the pinnacle of Arab culture. The Caliphate became a bustling center of world commerce and culture at a time that the civilization of the West was mired in the Dark Ages. In contrast there was an outpouring of learning and culture in the Islamic world. And this was not just religious learning. Baghdad in particular became a renowned center for learning, including science, mathematics, philosophy and literature--especially poetry. Matamatical achivements included the invention of algebra and advancs in geometry and trignometry. Medical advamces were paricularly impressive. The Abbasids invented the teaching hospital, The me medical encyclopedia preapared by Ababasis doctors was for 600 years used in Europe and better than anything the Europeans themselves produced. Scientific achievements were made in astronomy, biology, chemistry, and physics. The Abbasids came very close to inventing the scientific method. There were also imprtant geographical works. Al-Idrisi compiled a world atlas with the most accurate maps of the day (10th century). [Al-Idrisi] Several tavelers accounts provide invaluable accounts. We thus have views of the Mediteranean to Cetral Asia. The accounts Ibn Battuta are especiall important as his travels took him from Morocco into the Middle East in the wake of the Mongol invasion (14th cenury). An important part of Arab learming was the collction and training of the ancient texts a well as the acquisition of contemprary works. Renounded universities, libraries, and public baths were built at Baghdad. The House of Wisdom/Books became the great repository for texts from the known world, the greatest collection of the day. The Abbasid philosophers, scientists, mathamaticians, inventors, and poets created a body of learning and inspiration that pved the way for the European Renaissance.
Arab society before Mohammed was nomadic with limited cultural development. Education was very basic and largely informal. In the cities to the extent that there was any form of education, well-to-do families employed tutors or owned slaves to teach their sons, bur rarely their daughters to read and write, basic math, use of the bow and arrow, and to be manly. With the advent of Islam, nust more focus on religion began as well as traditional values incorporated into Islam like hospitality and new values like charity. Girls in prosperous families were expected learn household skills as well as the basics of religion at home from their mothers. Some girls learned aesthetic refinements like music, dance, and poetry. The majority of children lived in the cojntryside and worked the land or pursued a nomadic existnce. They learned stills at the hand of thir fathers. There was vurtually no formal education for them. As Islam deceloped, mosques open kuttabs or mosque schools which children in the towns or villages might attend. Here the primary focus was on memorizing the Koran. Other forms of learning included listening to Kornic readers in mosques or from informal exchanges, nostly within families. Boys in towns and villiages might begin apprenticeships at an early age, perhaps around eight years of age. This was in part because few schools existed. Here they would work to master a craft or other skill. Clever boys desiring more in life would first memorize the Koran. Then at about 12-13 years of age they would seek a teacher with some understanding of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) who would take them in, normally for a fee. Unless the child lived in Mecca or Medina, this often required leaving home. Aspiring students would gather around these teachers in mosques and learn the teacher's idea approach to law. This meant mostly listening without a great deal of questioning and rarely debate. With the phmomenal success of Aran armies and conquering of much more cultured and educated people throughout the Levant and Persia, this bgan to change. nd by the time that the Abbasid's seized control of the Islamic empire (750), considerable cultural development occurred requiring a more intense and systematic approach to education. As a result, we begin to see the developmnt of a primary schoool system as well as higher eduction. The system developed by the Abbasids remained the the educational system throughout the Middle East and North Africa until the 20th century.
The early Abbasid caliphs had an unusual hobby for medieval rulers--they collected books. One historian sees the books they collected and the House of Wisdom where they were archived ans studied as the engine that drove the stunning achievements of the Abbasid Caliphate. [Gearon] Only a ruler could collect very many. Before printing, books were very expensive, they had to be produced and copied by hand. And they were xpensive to transport. They were heavy and a load of books ould replace a valuable carravan load of highly valuable spices or silks. Caliph Abu Ja'far Al-Mansour (Al-Mansur) negan the collection (r754-75). It was Al-Mansour who built the round city of Baghdad. He collected books he came across travels, campaigns and expeditions. But he also purchased books from people who brought them to Baghdad. His son Caliph Mohammad Al-Mahdi continued the collction (r775-85). And finally his son, Caliph Haroun Al-Rasheed (Harun Al-Rashid) also collected books (r786-809). These caliphs came across books during their travels, campaigns and expeditions. Al-Rasheed not only continued the collection, but he built the magnificent Scientific Academy (Majma' ‘Ilmi). Their huge collection was housed there. And the works were not only housed there. This mean the preservation and translation of a huge body of classical works. They were translated into Arabic. Arabic became a common language for science much as Latin was in the West, although it was also the common spoken language. So this vast storehouse of knowledge was available to scholars throughout the Caliphate. The collection included works on a wide range of subjects. They included work on the archetctire, the arts, mathamatics, medicine, philosophy, religion, and science, and the sciences. The caliphs collected books in all languages. [Jawad and Susa, p. 130.] And they were tranlated into Arabic--the Translation Project. Two of the most imprtant translators were Hunayan Ibn Ishaq and al-Kindi. The collection included the works of classical scholars as well as contemprary works and this included a growing number of works by Arab scholars. The Scientific Academy became known as the House of Wisdom (Bayt Al-Hikma and Dar Al-Hikma). It became a nassive collection like the modern collections of the British Library, the Nationale Bibliotheque, and the Library of Congress. It rivaled a probably exceed the collection of the Great Library at Alexandria. The House of Wisdom was, however, far more than a mere library. It was an Academy for the Arts and the Sciences where from all over the Calipahte came to discuss and debate issues concerning the collected works. The result was important original thinking. Scholars, artists, theologians, scontists, and other thinkers flourished at a time that Europe was just emerging from the Dark Ages.
The Abbasids not only built a new capital at Baghdad, but then built another new city north of Baghdad-- Samarra. The name was an abbreviation of “He who sees it rejoices”. Both were beautiful cities. Samara actually replaced Baghdad as the capital for a few years (836–83). The first three centuries of the Abbasid Caliphate are widely seen as the Golden Age of Islamic civilization. Baghdad and Samarra became both the cultural and commercial capitals of the entire Islamic world. Thus the arts that emerged innthe capital were enormously influential throughout the Islanic world. While learning has to be the greatest glory of the abbasid Caliphate, there were alo important chievements in the arts. A distinctive Islamic style emerged that influenced the arts throughout the Islamic world. Surely the most imprtant artistic achievement of the Abbasids an wider Islamic world was architecture. This was perhaps arvhitecture more than any other artistic endevor is a fusion of both art and science. Thus the monumental advances in learning fed fed into Abbasid architecture. Second only to architecture wwre the Abbasid achievements in literature, especilly poetry. Artistic achievement was not limited to architecture amd literature. We also see important achievements in caligraphy, ceramics, dance, literature and music. The Umayyads were responsible for little in the decorative arts (pottery, glass, metalwork), but under the Abbasids such work florished and included items fashioned in stone, wood, and ceramics. Artisans in Samarra denied the ability to work on human or even animal depictions, developed an innovative method of carving surfaces permitted curved, plant-like forms and repitive geometric patterns. Therewas also beautiful caligraphy. They became known as arabesques which became a virtual signatur of Islmic art. There were also important developments in ceramic decoration. The Abbasids developed luster painting which resulted in the production of ceramic wih a metallic sheen. It was particulrly popular for tiles to adorn buildings. Weaving was another important art. The term Persian carpet is somewhat of a misnomer because neautiful carpers were not jus resticted to Persia and made famous by the flying carpers of he 'Arabian Nights'. The Abbasid era is seen as a period that disseminated artistic styles and techniques to distant Islamic lands creating what is now seen as Islamic arts.
Surely the most imprtant artistic achievement of the Abbasids an wider Islamic world was architecture. This was perhaps arvhitecture more than any other artistic endevor is a fusion of both art and science. Thus the monumental advances in learning fed fed into Abbasid architecture. This included beautiful mosques, military building, and hanging gardens. The Alhambra is one of the great acievements of Islamic architects. >br>
Second only to architecture wwre the Abbasid achievements in literature, especilly poetry. The greatest literary works of the Abbasids were poetry. There were differetvforms and iverse subjet matter. This included Arabic verse, love poetry, and wine songs. Poetry played an important role in the bulti-cultural Abbasid cultural area. Perhaps the three most powerful poets were: Abu Nuwas, Abu Tammam, and al-Mutanabbi. Poetry is, however, the most difficult form of literature to translate because part of the pleasure and inagery comes from the meter or sound pattern. And this is impossible to replicate in translations. The best known Abbasid literary work is Arabian Nights which imortalized Caliph al-Rashid who built the House of Wisdom. This epic work is believed to have first appeared in written form (10th century). The original oral inspiration may have been Persian. It did not reach its final form until (14th century). There is no one defintive version. The number and type of tales vary among different manuscripts. Persian polymath Omar Khayyam (1048-1131) is probably the best known poet of the Abbasid era. Although by his era the Abbasids had lost control of most of Persia, but Khayyam lived and worked within what might be called the Abbasid cultural area. Al-Jahiz is commonly seen as the most accomplished author of Arabic prose. He authored some 200 known works.
Artistic achievement was not limited to architecture amd literature. We also see important achievements in painting an caligraphy. There was also beautiful caligraphy. They became known as arabesques which became a virtual signature of Islmic art. There were also important developments in ceramic decoration. The Abbasids developed luster painting which resulted in the production of ceramic wih a metallic sheen. It was particulrly popular for tiles to adorn buildings.
we note achievemnts in the performing arts, dance and music.
The Umayyads were responsible for little in the decorative arts (pottery, glass, metalwork), but under the Abbasids such work florished and included items fashioned in stone, wood, and ceramics. Artisans in Samarra denied the ability to work on human or even animal depictions, developed an innovative method of carving surfaces permitted curved, plant-like forms and repitive geometric patterns.
Weaving was another important art. The term Persian carpet is somewhat of a misnomer because neautiful carpers were not jus resticted to Persia and made famous by the flying carpers of he 'Arabian Nights'.
Compated to the Christian West, the Caliphate was notble for its toleration of religious divesity. One of the ironies of the modern world is that the Islamists who want to recreate the glories of the Caliphate are at odds with the defining keys to their sucess--toleration and learning. Jews played an important role in part as translators.
The vast Caliphate which the Umayyads helped to create began to disentegraye under the Abbasids. The vast distances involved made it difficult to maintain central control. What occurred was that provincial governors began declaring independent caliphates and their own dynasties. Some had limited impact such as al-Andalus. The Seljuks were very different because they were so close to the Abbasids.
The Arab–Byzantine wars were a series of wars between the mostly Arab Muslims and the Byzantine Empire (7th- 11th centuries). The wars as opposed to raiding began with the the initial Muslim conquests under the Rashidun and Umayyad caliphs wjo outsted the Byzantines from the Levant and Egypt (7th century). Unlike the Umayyads, the Abbasid caliphs did not pursue an active program of conquesrs and the borders between the two empires stabilized. The Byzantines retaimed their hold on Anatolia. The Abbasids for whatever reasons seem to have been content with the territorial limits inherited from the Umayyads. The Abbasid foreign campaigns tended to be retaliatory or preemptive. [El Hibri, p. 302.] Annual raids against the Byzantines were a minor exception. These were notv full scale wars, but the raids on the Byzantium remained wee of somevimportance domestically. These annual raids were almost discontinued dollowing the Abbasid Revolution (750). They wre resumed with renewed vigour (about 780). These wr the only Abbasid military campaigns in which the Caliph himself or his sons participated in person. [Kennedy, pp. 105-06.] The rise of the Seljuk Turks destroyed the Abbasid military capacity. And the occupation Seljuk occupation of Anatolia meant that the remaining Abbasid teritory was separated from the Byzantines (11th century).
The Seljuq Dynasty or Seljuk Turk Empire was founded by Al-e Saljuq. It was an Oghuz Turk Sunni Muslim dynasty that ecolved into a Persian caliphate and laid the basis for the Turko-Persian tradition of the medieval West and Central Asia. The Seljuqs established both the Seljuk Empire and Sultanate of Rum, which at their heights stretched from Anatolia through modern Iran. Unlike the lost of western provinces, the emergence of the Seljuks as an important state had a huge impact. Not only was there a loss of territory, but there was a loss of control of trade roots which had very substantial economic consequences. While the Abassids lost control of their former provinces, they retained their Islanic spiritual authotity. The new caliphates like the Seljuks (the Tulunids/Ikhshidids, Hamdanids, and others) acknowledged the Caliph as the nominal head of state and the a religious authority as successor of the Prophet. Even aghdad was lost for aime. The Turkish leader Tughril captured Baghdad from the Buyids, a Persian dynasty (1055). He acted under the under commission of the Abbasid Caliph al-Qa'im. The Seljuqs respected the Abbasid Caliphs, but did not allow them to rule. While the military power of the Abbasid Caliphate eroded, its reputation as a great center of learning contined even after military defeats.
Persian scholars and artists had important roles in the intellectual achievements of the Abbasid Caliphate. Persians alsp played important political roles, given important court posts. This reflects the fact that the Arabs while notable rulers were a largely primitive people. They turned to the much more cultured Persians in building the institutions needed to run an expansive enpire. As a result, pre-Islamuc Iranian customs and traditions adopted by the Arab-ruled Islamic Caliphate in Baghdad. The military power of the Caliphate began to decline by the later part of the 9th century. As a result, the Caliphate began to lose control over Persian where Turkish dynastices began to exert independemce (10th century). Caliphs appointed governors administer frontier provinces, but these governors gradually bedan to establish their own small kingdomes. Some of these new dynasties and kingdoms included: the Tahirids in Khurasan (820-73), the Samanids in Khurasan and Transoxiana (819-1005). The largest such kingdom was the Ghaznavids which conquerd Khurasan, Afghanistan and northern India (977-1186). The Buwayids from Gilan took Baghdad (945). This allowed to seize political power from the Abbassid caliphs. The Turks had a role during the Caliphate. Abbassid Caliphs conscripted them to serve as their personal guard. From this central position in the Caliphate, Tirkish commanders began to exercise power, often acquiring positions of influence. One of these commanders seized power (976) and founded the Ghaznavid dynasty (977-1186). The Ghaznavids were unable to resist another Turkish people originating in central Asia--the Seljuks. The Seljuks were a nomadic people named after Seljuk, a tribal leader who converted to Islam. Toghrul Beg became Sultan (1038) and defeated defeated the Ghaznavids. He sacked Isfahan (1051) and conquered Baghdad from the Buwayids (1055). He was named protector of the caliph and strongly promoted Sunni Islam. While the Seljuks were a Turkish people, they permitted a revival of Persian culture. They also promoted scientific inquiry. The power of the Seljuks gradually declined in the 12th century, especially the later part of the century. Power devolved from the central authority to provincial govenors who attempted to establish their own dynasties. One of the most important provinces was Khorassan which was was governed by the princes of Khwarezm (1153). They established a kingdom extending in the east from the frontiers of China to those of Afghanistan in the west. Khwarezmi armies reached the Zagros Mountains (1217). The Khwarezm conquered large areas, but were not successful in establishing a powerful unifed state at a time when China was driving the Mongol peoples west. .
The Caliphate's response to the Crusaders was ineffectual. They were no longer an immportant militry power. Somewhat lke the Vatican, they had only a minor military capability, but considerable influnce and religious authority. As a result when the Christian West attempted to retake the Holy Lands, there was minimal ressiatance from the abbasid Caliphate. Rather the resistance came from the Seljuk Turks and Egypt.
Mongol Leader Genghis Khan moved from the Asin Steppe into Central Asia carving out a huge empire. Those wjo surrendered became Mongol subject. Those wjo resisted were massacered. When he besieged Herat, described as the bread basket of Central Asia, he reportedly killed over 1.6 million people because they resisted (1221). For some time Genghis did not invade deep into the Muslims lands. There were some raids and massacres on the borderlands.
His successor, Ogedei, continued to spare the Islamic world which had made inroads into Central Asia.
The Great Khan, Mongke, have his brother Hulagu Khan an army with ordes to conquer the Middle East (Persia, Syria, and Egypt) and destroy Islam (1255). The Abbasid Caliphate was an after thought as it was not a miltary power of any importance. Hulagu personally hated everything associated with Islam. Some historians believe that his Buddhist and Christian advisors influenced his attitude toward Islam. Hulagu caught the Islamic middle East at aime that it had a limited capability to resist. The once great Abbasid Caliphate was a shell of its former glories and power. It controlled little more than Baghdad. Persia had ;argely disentegrated with the implosion of the Khwarazmian Empire. The Ayyubid state founded by Salah al-Din loosely controled parts of modern Iraq and Syria. Salah al-Din’s descendants in Egypt had been overthrown and the Mamluk Sultanate recently established. Hulagu commaned a massive, highly effective aemy and encountered minimal resistance. While Bagdad was no longer the capital of a vast empire, it was a city of enormous cultural and religious importance.
There were libraries of enormous importance. The famed House of Wisdom had been an engine for learning and culturl advancembt. Baghdad had once attraced the most intelligent scientists, thinkers, mathematicians, and linguists of the Islamic world. The caliphs continued to be patrons of literature, science, and the arts. The Abbasids no longer had an army, but meerly a kind of body guard for the Caliph. The Islamic world still wa a major cultural force, but the important centers of learning abd scienbce were now found in Cairo, al Andalus (Muslim Spain), and India. The Mongols after conquering Persia arrived at Bafgdad with a firce of some 150,000 men (1258). The resulting seige lasted only 2 weeks. The Mongols entered the ciy and proceeded to sack it (Fbruary 10). A week of pillage, destruction, rape, and slauhter ensued.
One question to consider is when the Islanic Goldem Age ended. Here it is important tonnote that the Abbasid and Islamic Goldren age are not synonamous. Historians often site the Mongol invasion as the end of the Abbasid Goldren Age. The Mongols are often given as the reasom for the destriction of Muslim science. The end of Islamic Golden ge is much more complicated. By the time the Mongols sacked Baghdad, the Abbasid Goldren Age had long passed. A lot of the cutting eds=ge scientific work had ossed to other Muslim cnters like India, Cairo, and al Andalus. And there were other contributing factors beyond the Mongols. One factor was changing belief patterns and assigning greater emphasis to faith in the faith verus reason debate. Other factors include shifting finances. [Gearon]
And as the turns of history would have it, this roughly coinsided with the blossoming of the Renaissance in Italy and the rise of the Christian West.
We find it fascinating the number of Muslims that are aware of the glories of the artistic and scientific glories of the Caliphate, but have given no thought as to why the modern Arab and wider Muslim world is a scientific black hole.
Gearon, Eamonn. "The history and achievements of the Islamic Goldem Age," The Great Cources.
(El) Hibri, Tayeb. "The empire in Iraq, 763–861", in Chase F. Robinson, The New Cambridge History of Islam, Vol. 1: The Formation of the Islamic World, Sixth to Eleventh Centuries (Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 269–304.
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