Topics in Middle East History

Scope and Resources

Copyright ©2010, 2011 by T. Pavlidis



An often forgotten fact about the Middle East is that the region experienced neither the Industrial Revolution nor the Renaissance and at the end of World War I it was still stuck in the Middle Ages. In early 2009 there was a news item about a member of the Jordanian Royal family who said that the region was still Byzantine and added that Western leaders ignored that reality. One modern historian (Warren Treadgold) states in the preface of his book on Byzantium [WT97, p. xix] that "in its politics Byzantium often resembled a Middle Eastern dictatorship". Another historian (Bernard Lewis) is more emphatic: "In the course of the millennia Middle East bureaucracies, through many changes of government, religion, culture, and even script and language, show a remarkable persistence and continuity." [BL95, p. 182]. Lewis also observes that "In their administration, the Seljuks relied largely on Persians and on the well-entrenched Persian bureaucracy" [ibid, p. 92].

Thus it is important to go back to ancient times to understand the region because, compared to Western Europe, little has changed in the Middle East over the centuries.

The region has been ruled by several powers: the Persian Empire, the Hellenistic Kingdoms, the pagan Roman Empire, the Christian Roman Empire (known as the Byzantine Empire), the Arab Caliphate, and, finally, the Ottoman Empire. However, each new ruling power kept intact much of the governing structure of the previous ruler. Most changes tended to be in the direction of consolidating the ruler’s power. The more things changed the more they remained the same.


There have been numerous books on the subject (some are listed in the bibliography) and the purpose of these notes is to focus on those times and events that shaped the region. In several places I have inserted links to Wikipedia entries, but only after I read such entries and found them

A Timeline of Middle Eastern Powers
Appr. Period Years Power
550 - 330 BCE
Persians (Zoroastrian)
330 - 100 BCE
100 BCE - 300 CE
Romans (Pagan)
300 - 640 CE
Romans (Christian)
640 - 940 CE
Arabs (Muslim)
940 - 1040 CE
Persians (Muslim)
1040 - 1520
(Seljuk) Turks with Crusader and Mongol interludes
1520 - 1920
Ottoman Turks
1920 - 1950
Britain and France

to be reasonably  accurate. One of my sources is the classic work of Edward Gibbon "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" [EG]. Sometimes people ask whether this work has not been superceded by the results of scholarly research in the 230 years since it was published. My answer is that this has happened only in a few cases. Gibbon had relied on ancient authors and, with one exception, no major collection of ancient writings has been discovered in those years. The one exception is the collection of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Besides the general bibliography, there are sources listed within individual chapters. References to them have no hyperlink while references to the general bibliography have a hyperlink.

A particularly valuable resource is the web site of Professor Howard M. Wiseman of Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia. The following links are to his home page, his main history page, and his main Roman Empire page. The pages include numerous maps that show the ups and downs of the extent of the Roman and the competing empires. Readers may get a bird's-eye view of the world by visiting the Three Perspective Maps page. References to the maps in these essays are indicated by links labeled "Wiseman".

First Posted: October 13, 2010. Latest Revision: December 1, 2011.