The State of the Middle East in the year 1040

A Map of the Region and parts of Africa and Europe

Map adapted from

Light green denotes the Arab Caliphates, dark blue the Roman Empire and light blue areas of the Roman Empire that were not firmly held.

The capital of the Roman Empire had been moved from Rome to Constantinople in 330 CE but the state kept the same name even after the city of Rome was lost to the Goths in the fifth century. Eventually Greek replace Latin as the official language. Modern historians call that state the Byzantine Empire but that was never a name used by the state itself. Christianity had become the official religion and not only pagans and Jews but also Christian heretics were persecuted. No separation of church and state there. No secular learning was allowed.

Originally, the empire relied on an army of freeholders who in exchange for owing land they had take arms when needed. But by the eleventh century most of these people had become tenant farmers and the Empire had to rely of mercenary soldiers for its defense. Most of the mercenaries were foreigners from Northern Europe or Asia.

North Africa and the Middle East were lost to the Arabs in the seventh century with the rise of Islam. The Arabs also took Spain from the Visigoths. There was dissension in the Arab world and by the tenth century there were three caliphates with capitals in Cordoba (Spain), Cairo, and Baghdad. At that time Islam was a more liberal religion than Christianity. Jews and Christians of various sects were free to practice their respective creeds provided they paid a tax. There was a flourishing of secular learning with translations of the Greek and Roman classics into Arabic.Each of the three capitals had a library with hundreds of thousands of manuscripts. This was the time of the Arab Golden Age.

By the tenth century the Arabs also relied on mercenaries, especially Turkish slave soldiers, the Mamluks. Not surprisingly, the Mamluks acquired significant political power. But that was only the beginning of Turkish influence in the region. Eventually, a Turkish state (the Ottoman Empire) came to dominate the region from the fourteenth to the twentieth century.

First lecture of the Spring Term of 2015: Turks and Byzantine Decline

Middle East History Main Page