The Life of the Prophet Muhammad


Muhammad was born into the trading society of Mecca in 570. He was a part of one of the dominant tribes, the Qu'raish (Adler, p.184). Mecca was a great trade city and was a stopping place for merchants and businessmen of all races, religions, and countries. In general, it was open to the world. Although Mecca continually struggled for supreme power and went through many leaders, Mecca's strength was the ability of the people to form a common mind for the "common good" (Watt, p.50).

Not much is known about this man during the first forty years of his life other than the fact that he married a rich widow and later they had a daughter, Fatima, who became the wife of the great warrior, Ali (Ibid., p.186). However, around 610, Muhammad claimed that after meditating in the desert God had revealed many messages to him concerning life. These revelations came from the angel Gabriel, who Muhammad claimed God had used to call him to publish his religion (Guillaume, p.96). Muhammad's revelations were written shortly after his death and they are now called the Qur'an.

After these experiences in the desert, Muhammad claimed to be a prophet of God with the great desire to guide others by God's message. So, he began to preach to those around him in 617 (Ibid., p.100). The people of Mecca at this time were involved in a religion called Ka'aba meaning "black stone," in which they literally worshipped a black stone. Those following this religion believed that many objects, other than the black stone, possessed spirits and power. Therefore, Muhammad's message asserting the lordship of Allah was not well received at first. The people called him a sorcerer and false prophet and claimed that he was possessed (Watt, p.102) and in 622 Muhammad was forced to flee Mecca. He had been condemned by Meccan authorities who held to Ka'aba (Guillaume, p.124). This escape is now called the year of the Hegira ("Flight") and marks the first year on the Muslim calendar (Adler, p.185).

Muhammad found refuge in the rival city of Medina where he was accepted and gathered a fairly large following. Even in Mecca he had some followers and people all over were accepting his message, but, from Medina, he issued a holy war against Mecca. After eight years, Muhammad captured Mecca and became the ruler. He implemented the divine orders he believed he was called to carry out and retained the pilgrimage to Mecca as part of his religious restoration (Watt, p.151).

Muhammad was born poor, but he died known as the founder of the great religion of Islam, and was considered a "poet, an inspired prophet with a fearless heart (Dermenghem, p. 37)." Muhammad died in 632 with the majority of the Arabian Peninsula under Islam, a word which literally means "submission." However, he didn't claim to be a revolutionary or innovator -- but to complete the work of the Jewish Christian prophets (Ibid., p.70).


Adler, Philip J., World Civilizations, (Minneapolis; West Publishing Company, 1996).

Dermenghem, Emile, Men of Wisdom: Muhammad and the Islamic Tradition, (London; Harper and Bros., 1958).

Guillaume, A., The Life of Muhammad, (London; Oxford University Press, 1955).

Watt, Montgomery, Muhammad at Mecca, (London; Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1953).

Orthodox Caliphate (Mecca and Medina)




Omar was the second Caliph of the four patriarchal Caliphs of Islam.  A caliph was a successor to the Prophet and the head of the Muslim community.  He was the most notable figure of Islam. Omar’s strong will, direct attitude, and unambiguous style helped him to expand the Islamic Empire with great speed.  He was especially known for his energy of will, piety, wisdom and great ability of organization that helped to make him the second only to the Prophet Muhammad in authority and prestige.  Muhammad himself even said “If God had willed that there be another prophet after me, Umar would have been he” (Bowker, 1002).  As a note, Umar and Omar are the same person, but different authors use different forms of his name.  While Omar was administrator of the Empire he was able to organize great conquests and was able to convert his empire to Islam four years before Hijrah.

 During Omar’s Caliphate, he was the ideal model for attempting the restoration of a “pure Islamic state."  This era was known as the Golden age of Islamic religion.  Many Muslim religious and political institutions arose to be models for future generations.  An example of an institution that arose is the Diwan.  The Diwan was a form of Welfare state by which annual stipends were paid to all Muslims from the public treasury.  The office of judge was formed, also known as the qadi. In addition to the aforementioned advances, military gausions were formed which later transformed into great cities of Islam, for example Kufa and Fustat.  Some of the religious advances that took place during Omar’s reign is the standardization of the text of the Qur’an, a religious ordinance of nightly prayers in the month of Ramadan, and the Hijra calendar.

 A lot of organization was introduced into the Arabian society.  Some ordinances such as the prohibition of Arabs to own land were also introduced.  Arabs were primarily prohibited to own land in order to be a permanent fighting force, carrying Islam to the ends of the earth (Glasse 408). Tribal classification was implemented for several reasons such as individual pay, military organization, tax regulation, and home settlements.  Loyalty of Tribal leaders was deeply encouraged for persuasion on religious grounds as well as the restoration to a policy of “Conciliation of  Hearts,” services in return for promises of extra booty (Bowker 1002).

Omar was assassinated in 23/644 in the city of Madina by Abu Lu’la’ah Firoz, a Persian slave of the governor of Basra, Mughirah ibn Shu’bah.  When the slave complained to Omar about his duties, Omar did not pay much attention to him.  As revenge, the slave stabbed Omar in the Mosque before the day breaking prayer. While on his deathbed he appointed a council, Abd ar-Rahman ibn’Awf, the Shura, Zubayr, and elected a new Caliph, Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas. On his deathbed he also said, “ It would have gone badly with me if I had not been a Muslim” (Glasse 407).


Bowker, John. The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. Oxford University Press, New York, 1997.

Glasse, Cyril. Concise Encyclopedia of Islam. Harper Collins, San Francisco, 1989.

Waines, David. An Introduction to Islam. Cambridge University Press, Great Britain, 1995.

Omayyad Caliphate (Damascus)


Husayn and Alids are massacred at Karbala


The Shi'ites are a small faction of the Muslim population marked by their dedication to martyrdom, who today control only the nation of Iran.  These people originally lived in Kufa, modern-day Iraq, and resisted being under the rule of the Syrians. The Shi'ites consist of the followers of the descendants of an ancient Muslim ruler, 'Ali, whose power as a leader was usurped and initiated this movement within the Islamic nation.  In 680, a Shi'ite revolt was brutally suppressed at the battle of Karbala.  The members of 'Ali's family were brutally murdered.  Modern Shi'ites view the loss of this battle not as a disaster, but as Hasayn's deliberate sacrifice, designed to awaken the Muslim population to the sour, selfish state of the Muslim leadership.  The battle has, therefore, become the single most important event in Shi'ite history and has made martyrdom an enduring part of their religion.

Muhammed, the renowned founder and prophet of the Muslim religion, was replaced after his death by Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman.  These leaders were older than, but less closely related to, 'Ali, the son-in-law, cousin, and adopted brother of Muhammed.  Because of this, a small faction of Muslims thought that 'Ali should have assumed the throne after Muhammed's death and not the other men.  After Uthman's death, 'Ali was made "Caliph", the successor to political leadership. 'Ali married Muhammed's daughter, Fatima, and had two sons, Hasan and Husayn. The eldest, Hasan, succeeded 'Ali and gave up the Caliphate to Mu'awiya, the more powerful governor of Syria, but retained the Imamate, the religious leadership of the Muslim world.  According to tradition, Hasan was then poisoned by his wife at Mu'awiya's behest.  His younger brother, Husayn, succeeded him at the age of 46 in 49/669, and roughly ten years later Mu'awiya died to leave his son Yazid with the Caliphate.

     Yazid was known as a drunkard and as one who did not follow the Muslim law. As a result, the Kufans wanted Husayn, still the Imam (religious leader), to come and rule in their city.  If the Kufans could succeed, their city would become very powerful, independent of Yazid.  Husayn decided to leave Mecca where he had been living to fulfill the Kufan's request, although many of his advisors told him not to go since he had little military support.  Husayn set out to restore the religious leadership amidst this advice, taking fifty armed men and the women and children of his family with him.

     While Husayn was on his way to answer the call of the Kufans, Yazid jumped ahead of him and set up a governor in Kufa to put down the would-be rebellion.  This governor executed some suspected supporters of Husayn, paid off other followers, and sent Al-Hurr (a young military leader), with a thousand men to prevent Husayn from entering any city in the area.  Husayn responded to Al-Hurr by showing him the letters he had received from the Kufans and sharing his water with Al-Hurr's thirsty soldiers.  Then Husayn led the entire group in prayer.  He acquiesced to the order to leave and started traveling,  reaching the plains of Karbala on Muharram 2nd 61 (October 2nd 680).  Al-Hurr's army followed Husayn and interestingly enough, was moved to join Husayn's group where he remained throughout the battle.  The next day four thousand troops showed up under the leadership of Ibn Sa'd with the purpose of making Husayn swear allegiance to Yazid before allowing him to return to Mecca.  This army cut off Husayn's party from water to force them to comply; at this point Husayn asked his family and friends to leave, but they would not.  Husayn told Ibn Sa'd that he wanted to leave to go to Arabia and would cause no trouble.  But Ibn Sa'd had been promised another position if he got Husayn to surrender to Yazid's leadership, and if Husayn did not, Ibn Sa'd would be relieved of his position.  Consequently, on October 10th, the meager army with the prophet Husayn was attacked and slaughtered by the large army accompanying Ibn Sa'd.  Husayn went forward carrying his infant son in his arms and begged for water for him; the army responded by shooting the child through the throat with an arrow.  Then the army converged upon Husayn and murdered him.  The women and children were taken captive and the dead fighting men's heads were put on spears and paraded around Kufa.  Husayn's head was eventually sent on to Yazid in Damascus.  Husayn had one son left to him and his sister begged his life from the governor of Kufa.  Yazid eventually released the captives, probably because he was already hurting his political position by having killed Husayn, the founding prophet's grandson.

     Shi'ites today interpret Husayn's actions as sacrificial.  It was vital for Husayn, as the Imam and religious leader, to let himself be mistreated in order to make the statement that any ruler who governed by military force instead of by the authority of Allah was wicked.  That is why this event, and therefore martyrdom, is still celebrated by Shi'ites today. Consider Ashura, the commemoration of Husayn's martyrdom, when Shi'ite men hit themselves in the forehead to make themselves bleed. "It would be difficult to exaggerate the impact and importance of the martyrdom of Husayn for Shi'ites.  Although it was the usurpation of 'Ali's rights that is looked upon by Shi'ites as the event initiating their movement and giving it intellectual justification, it was Husayn's martyrdom that gave it its impetus and implanted its ideas deep in the heart of the people" (32-33, Momen). The Shi'ites are still traditionally an oppressed faction of Islam, being persecuted by the majority Sunnis.  They remain less educated, poorer, and often more militant than the other groups in Islam.


Moojan Momen,.An Introduction to Shi'i Islam: The History and Doctrines of Twelver Shi'ism, (Oxford; George Ronald, 1985). 

Abd al-Malik Builds the Dome of the Rock


The Dome of the Rock is located on Temple Mount on the eastern side of Old Jerusalem, and is the third most holy place in Islam. Built by Abd al-Malik in 72/691 AD, the Dome of the Rock stands atop the site where, according to Muslims, the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven after his Night Journey. When the sanctuary was under construction, Mecca was being occupied by a challenger to the Caliphate, Abd Allah Ibn az-Zubayr. Abd al-Malik decreed that the Dome of the Rock, rather than the Ka’bah, be the goal of the Muslim hajj (pilgrimage); this decree was annulled with the reconquest of Mecca.

The Dome of the Rock is an oblong building; although it was built by Syrian craftsmen trained in the Byzantine tradition, it is often cited as the first major example of Islamic architecture. The dome is now covered with aluminum and topped with a gold crescent. It contains splendid designs noted for their Byzantine/Syrian motifs. Calligraphic decorations (as used in much Islamic art) dominate the interior and the exterior (240 meters total). These inscriptions are all Koranic verses about Jesus and his relationship to Jerusalem. Both the exterior and the interior of the Dome have undergone continual restoration and renovation over the years.

Below the sanctuary is a prayer chamber accessible by a stairway (there is also a larger prayer area on the main floor). From the prayer chamber one can see a crack in the rock that, according to Muslim tradition, split when the prophet ascended and the rock wished to follow. There is also supposedly a handprint visible on the rock, from the angel Gabriel holding the rock back. The cave is called Bi’r al arwah, the "well of the spirits." According to legend, the cave is the site where the Ark of the Covenant was hidden during the destruction of Jerusalem, and it may stand there still. There are many traditions associated with the cave. According to the Talmud, the cave is the center of the world, under which lies an abyss where the waters of the flood still rage.

The shape of the Dome of the Rock is very important in its significance in Islam. It is a symbol of ascent to heaven by the Prophet and by man. The octagonal structure is a step in the mathematical series going from a square (symbolizing the fixity of earthly manifestation) to a circle (symbolizing the perfection of heaven). Traditional baptismal fonts are also this shape; in saint’s tombs, the lower part is square, and there is an octagon drum inserted as a transition between the cube and the dome, to symbolize the saint as the link between man and God. The octagonal structure of the Dome of the Rock became the model for domed sanctuaries and saint’s tombs from Morocco to China.

The Dome of the Rock is a holy place in Judaism and Christianity as well as in Islam. It stands on Temple Mount, which is also the site of the Jewish Wailing Wall, the most holy Jewish shrine. Temple Mount is also called Mount Mariah; the site where most of the kings of Judah were crowned. The site on which it was built is thought to be the site where Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac, and also where Melchizedek the priest sacrificed. It is thought to be the site of Adam’s tomb; Jacob was said to have anointed it. As mentioned above, it is thought to be a possible site of the Ark of the Covenant. It is also thought to be the possible site of Solomon’s temple, the culmination of revelations of Moses and Jesus in the restoration of the primordial Abrahamic unity (Islam). Because it is thought to be the site of Solomon’s temple, Judaism forbids entrance; it could be the site of the holy of holies, the inner sanctuary in Jewish temples. No one but one priest is ever allowed entrance, and him but once a year, for it contains the presence of the living God. Jews believe that the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem will occur on its original site – where the Dome of the Rock now stands.


Images from A. Farooki's Islamic Multimedia Gallery <>


Berney, K. A., and Trudy Ring, Ed. International Dictionary of Historic Places, vol. 4: The Middle East and Africa. Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, Chicago 1996.

Eliade, Mircea, Ed. in chief. The Encyclopedia of Religion, vol.1. Macmillan Publishing Co., New York 1987.

Glasse, Cyril, Ed. The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam. Harper San Francisco, 1989.

Wuthnow, Robert, Ed. The Encyclopedia of Politics and Religion. Congressional Quarterly, Inc. Washington, D.C. 1998.








Muslims Attack Constantinople


Wall of Constantinople

(The walls of Constantinople, built by Theodosius II in the fifth century, protected the city from invaders for more than a thousand years, and are still standing today.)

Around the year 700 AD, the Byzantine Empire was in turmoil and disarray. This was due to continual raids which had drained the empire's resources. This situation changed for the better as Leo III the Isaurian allied with Ardavasdus (strategos of Armeniakon) and seized the throne from Theodosius III in 717. This change in power occurred at a crucial moment, as Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, was soon to be invaded by Arabs, Avars, and Bulgarians. The Arabs were the main concern to the Byzantine Empire. Because of the chaos, which had existed in Constantinople since the death of Constantine IV, the Arabs had made sizable advances in Asia Minor and were now ready to strike again. In August of 717, the Arab siege of Constantinople commenced. Leo III cleverly reorganized the empires military forces against the invaders. He led victories in Asia Minor and attacked the Arabs from the rear. While Leo III was leading triumphantly in Asia Minor, Greek Fire was repelling the Arab naval forces.

Perhaps the main reason for the successful defense of Constantinople was the recent development of Greek Fire. As such, it is necessary to take an in-depth look at the phenomenon, which may have saved the Byzantine Empire from the attack of the Arabs. Greek Fire was a secret weapon of the Byzantine Empire; so secret was this weapon that little is known about the specifics of it to this day. It is rumored to have been developed by Syrian engineer, Callinicus, in 673. The "liquid fire" was shot out of pressurized bronze tubes, which were mounted on the prows of their galleys and on the walls of Constantinople. When Arab ships were hit, they would burst into flames on contact. This could be considered a type of primitive flame-thrower. The secret composition of Greek Fire was handed down through successions of emperors. Although still unknown, it is believed that it was composed of chemicals such as liquid petroleum, naphtha, burning pitch, sulfur, resin, quicklime and bitumen. There was also some other secret ingredient.

After a year of fighting and sustaining heavy losses, the Arabs retreated from Constantinople in August of 718. Leo III had successfully defended Constantinople and his theme system was now completely operational and provided continued strength against future Arab raids, none of which threatened Constantinople again during his reign.


Image of the wall of Constantinople from Romiosini: Hellenism in the Middle Ages "The Fight to Survive" <> maintained by Nikoloas Provatas and Yiannis Papadimas. Used by permission.


Romiosini: Hellenism in the Middle Ages. Maintained by Nikoloas Provatas and Yiannis

Alexander, Paul J. The Patriarch Nicephorus of Constantinople. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957.

Gerostergios, Asterios. St. Photios the Great. Belmont, Massachusetts: Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 1980.

Spodek, Howard. The World's History. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall Inc., 1998.



The Battle of Tours:


October 10, 732 AD marks the conclusion of the Battle of Tours, arguably one of the most decisive battles in all of history.

A Moslem army, in a crusading search for land and the end of Christianity, after the conquest of Syria, Egypt, and North Africa, began to invade Western Europe under the leadership of Abd-er Rahman, governor of Spain. Abd-er Rahman led an infantry of 60,000 to 400,000 soldiers across the Western Pyrenees and toward the Loire River, but they were met just outside the city of Tours by Charles Martel, known as the Hammer, and the Frankish Army.

Martel gathered his forces directly in the path of the oncoming Moslem army and prepared to defend themselves by using a phalanx style of combat. The invading Moslems rushed forward, relying on the slashing tactics and overwhelming number of horsemen that had brought them victories in the past. However, the French Army, composed of foot soldiers armed only with swords, shields, axes, javelins, and daggers, was well trained. Despite the effectiveness of the Moslem army in previous battles, the terrain caused them a disadvantage. Their strength lied within their cavalry, armed with large swords and lances, which along with their baggage mules, limited their mobility. The French army displayed great ardency in withstanding the ferocious attack. It was one of the rare times in the Middle Ages when infantry held its ground against a mounted attack. The exact length of the battle is undetermined; Arab sources claim that it was a two day battle whereas Christian sources hold that the fighting clamored on for seven days. In either case, the battle ended when the French captured and killed Abd-er Rahman. The Moslem army withdrew peacefully overnight and even though Martel expected a surprise retaliation, there was none. For the Moslems, the death of their leader caused a sharp setback and they had no choice but to retreat back across the Pyrenees, never to return again.

Not only did this prove to be an extremely decisive battle for the Christians, but the Battle of Tours is considered the high water mark of the Moslem invasion of Western Europe.



A Dictionary of Battles, Eggenberger, David. Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1967

Battlefields of Europe, Edited by David Chandler. Hugh Evelyn Ltd,1965

The Cambridge Medival History Volume IV, Planned by J.B. Bory, M.A., F.B.A., edited by J.R.Tanner, Litt.D., C.W. Previte-Orton, M.A., Z.N. Brooke, M.A. New York The MacMillan Company, 1923

Abbasid Caliphate (Baghdad)







Battle of Talas River


For much of the early 700s, the Chinese Empire, under the T'ang dynasty, was successful in its foreign affairs. They recovered crucial lands they had previously lost and stabilized the Tibetan frontier. They secured trade routes through central Asia and contained threats from the Khitan and Hsi peoples. In the late 740s, Chinese troops claimed lordship over Kabul and Kashmir of India. But their string of victorious campaigns could not last forever, as China discovered at Talas River in 751.

Islam's widespread emergence coupled with China's over-expansion, led to the Battle at Talas River, the only battle between Arab Muslim forces and the army of the Chinese Empire. The Chinese troops were led by Kao Hsien-chih, who had been successful in battles in Gilgit and in the Farghana region. But his success did not carry over, as the Muslim armies were victorious. The Muslims chose not to pursue the Chinese into central Asia.

While the battle in itself was of minor importance, its ramifications on the future were very significant. The Arabs were put in a position to extend their Islamic influence throughout central Asia and its silk routes. The T'ang (in China) lost a good amount of power and their westward advance was halted. Muslim shipping in the Indian Ocean improved, which restricted the ocean's contacts with Hindu and Buddhist areas. The Muslims were never able to take control of the Himalayan northern borderlands. Paper manufacturing, an unexpected byproduct from the Battle of Talas, was first spread to Samarkand and Baghdad, then from there carried to Damascus, Cairo, and Morocco, and finally entered Europe through Italy and Spain. This diffusion originated when Chinese prisoners who knew how to make paper, an art discovered in China at least 650 years earlier, were taken by the Arabs at the Talas River. But most importantly, the Battle of Talas led to the An Lushan revolt, which broke out in 755. This rebellion paralyzed China for years and weakened the Tang dynasty until it collapsed a century and a half later.


Twitchett, Denis, The Cambridge History of China (Cambridge University, Cambridge, 1979).

McNeil, William, The Rise of the West (University of Chicago, Chicago, 1963).

Kennedy, Hugh, The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphrates (Longman, London, 1986).

Garraty, John A. and Gay, Peter, The Columbia History of the World (Harper and Row; New York, 1972).

The Crusading Era


The crusades were a series of military expeditions by western European Christians to the Middle East in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The crusaders saw themselves as trying to free the Holy Land from the rule of the Muslims. The crusades were mainly directed toward Jerusalem and the Christian shrine of the Holy Sepulcher. There were eight major crusades.

The cause of the crusades is an issue of debate. It is widely believed that the crusades were purely holy wars, but many other motivating factors were actually involved. The crusades arose out of the feudal society of the eleventh century, and they offered crusaders freedom, adventure, and the possibility of economic gain. Also, the crusades were a defensive act against the flourishing Muslim state, which Christians perceived as a threat to their faith and their way of life.

The first crusade started when the Byzantine Emperor, Alexis Comnenus, requested aid from the west against the Muslims. Instead of just sending troops, Pope Urban II invited his people to engage in a holy war to take back Jerusalem. Peter the Hermit, a monk and priest, also began preaching the crusade (he even led an army during the first crusade that was defeated by the Turks). As a result, Alexis received crusaders in answer to his request, and the first crusade was born in 1095.

The volunteer crusaders faced an imposing task: crossing thousands of miles of unfamiliar territory to fight against unknown countries. Yet because of their great fervor, the crusaders managed to take Antioch in 1098. The crusaders took Jerusalem in 1099, killing 10,000 Jews and Muslims. The crusaders set up the Crusader States along the coast of Palestine and built up the cities they had conquered.

The third Crusade (1189-1192) was a response to the capture of Jerusalem. In 1187 Saladin, a great Muslim warrior and founder of the Ayyubid dynasty in Egypt, had recaptured Jerusalem. Unlike his Christian opponents, Saladin did not sack the city upon his victory. This Crusade was led by Frederick Barbarosa, the Holy Roman Emperor, King Richard I of England and King Philip II of France, three of Europe's most powerful monarchs. It accomplished little.

Over the next hundred years, many more crusades were launched, but the crusaders never again experienced great success. They ruled small areas of the coast until their final defeat by the Mamluks at Acre at the end of the thirteenth century. Overall, the crusades were a military failure. To the Arabs, they were just one more annoying barbarian invasion, not nearly as much of a threat as the Mongols were later.

Although many people were killed during the crusades, there were many positive results for both the east and the west. The most obvious result of the crusades was the establishment of trade routes between east and west, which in turn resulted in positive contact between the cultures. Although the pope initially tried to ban trade with the Muslims, he backed down in 1344, and a flourishing trade market was born that benefited the economy of both cultures. The combination of these cultures resulted in the invention of the windmill, the compass, gunpowder, and clocks. Scholarly exchange took place. For example, Muslim architects began to imitate the European pointed arch, while Europeans learned Greek medicine from the Muslims. Muslims and Europeans learned new military techniques from one another. As a result of learning new military strategies and uniting themselves against one cause, the Muslims developed a stronger religious nation. The crusades also accelerated the decline of feudalism and the Byzantine empire.


The First Crusade: 1096-1099

·         Alexus Comnenus asked for mercenaries to defend Constantinople. Instead he received perhaps 12,000 commoners intent on liberating Jerusalem. The European nobility marched on Jerusalem.

The Second Crusade: 1147-1149

·         Originally preached by Bernard of Clairvaux. Only a few Greek islands were taken.

The Third Crusade: 1189-1192

·         Led by Frederick Barbarosa, Richard I of England and Philip II of France. Resulted in a truce which gave Christians access to Jerusalem and the Holy Places.

The Fourth Crusade: 1202-1204

·         Instead of marching on Jerusalem, this crusade was diverted to Constantinople. The city remained in Latin hands until 1261.

The Albigensian Crusade: 1208

·         Preached by Pope Innocent III against the Albigensian heretics in southern France.

The Children's Crusade: 1212

·         Preached by Stephan of Vendome and by Nicholas of Koln. One group reached Marsailles and was sold into slavery; the other turned back.

The Fifith Crusade: 1218-1221

·         An attack on Egypt.

The Sixth Crusade: 1228-1229

·         Led by Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor. He negotiated a treaty which led to Christian control of several important holy sites, including Jerusalem. Jerusalem was retaken by Muslim mercenaries in 1244.

The Seventh Crusade: 1248-1254

·         Led by King Louis IX of France (Saint Louis). He captured the Egyptian city of Damietta, but was himself taken captive in the battle for Cairo. He was eventually ransomed.

The Eighth Crusade: 1270

·         An unsuccessful attack on Tunis.


Collier's Encyclopedia, (New York, P.F. Collier Inc., 1993)

Dictionary of the Middle Ages, Ed. Joseph R. Srayer (New York; Charles Scribner's Sons, 1984) Vol. 4

Islam and Islamic History in Arabia and the Middle East: The Crusaders

The Christian Crusades Positively Impacted the East and the West

The Crusades

The Crusades: A Defensive Gesture

The Encyclopedia Americana International Edition (Grolier Inc., 1988)

The New Encyclopedia Britannica, (Chicago, Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 1992) Vol. 3

Omayyad emirate in Spain (Cordova)


Abd-ar-Rahman I founds the Emirate of Cordova


In 711 a Berber Muslim army, under their leader Tariq ibn-Ziyad, crossed the Strait of Gibraltar from northern Africa into the Iberian Peninsula. Roderick, last of the Visigoth kings of Spain, was defeated at the Battle of Rio Barbate. By 719 the invading forces were supreme from the coast to the Pyrenees. Their progress north was arrested at a battle fought in France, between Tours and Poitiers, in 732 by the Frankish ruler Charles Martel. The first years of their rule, the Moors, as the Berber conquerors came to be known, held the peninsula (except for Asturias and the Basque country) as a dependency of the Province of North Africa, a division of the caliphate of Damascus. After 717 the country was ruled by emirs, appointed by the caliphs, who were frequently neglectful of their duties; misrule resulted in the appointment and deposition of 20 successive emirs over the next 40 years. This state of affairs was ended by a struggle between the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties for control of the caliphate. The last of the Spanish emirs, Yusuf, favored the Abbasids, but the local officials of the empire supported the Umayyads. The Umayyad faction invited Abd-ar-Rahman I, a member of the family, to become the independent ruler of Spain. In 756 Abd-ar-Rahman founded the powerful and independent emirate, which later developed into the caliphate of Cordova.

Ferdinand I of Castilla proclaims himself "Emperor of Spain," beginning the "Reconquista"


During the establishment of Moorish power, a remnant of Christian rule was preserved in the northern portion of the Iberian peninsula. Pelayo, a Visigothic chieftain, founded the most important Christian state of the northern peninsula, the small kingdom of Asturias, about 718. Pelayo's son-in-law, Alfonso, conquered nearly all the region known as Galicia, recaptured most of Leon, and was then crowned Alfonso I, king of Leon and Asturias. Alfonso III greatly extended these territories during his reign, which ended in 910. During the 10th century the region of Navarre became an independent kingdom under Sancho I. As the kings of Leon expanded their domains to the east in the early 10th century, they reached Burgos. Because of the castles built to guard the frontiers of newly acquired territory, this region became popularly known as Castilla, or Castile. Under Count Fernan Gonzalez the region became independent of Leon, and in 932 the Count declared himself the first king of Castile. In the 11th century Sancho III, king of Navarre, who also conquered Leon and Castile, captured a considerable part of Aragon from the Muslims and in 1033 he made his son, Ferdinand I, king of Castile. This temporary unity came to an end at Sancho's death, when his domains were divided among his sons. The most prominent of Sancho's sons was Ferdinand, who acquired Leon in 1037, took the Moorish section of Galicia, and set up a vassal county in what is now northern Portugal. With northern Spain consolidated, Ferdinand, in 1056, proclaimed himself emperor of Spain (from the Latin Hispania), and he initiated the period of re-conquest from the Muslims.


The Safavid Empire




The Ottoman Empire


·         ca. 1243: Turkish nomads settle in Asia Minor

·         1299-1326: Osman I

o    1301: Osman declares himself sultan and establishes the Ottoman Empire

·         1345: Seljuk Turks first cross the Bosporus

·         1389: Ottomans defeat Serbs at Kosovo

·         1402: Tamerlane defeats Ottomans at Ankara

·         1451-1481: Mohammed the Conqueror

o    1453: Constantinople is conquered.

·         1520-1566: Sulayman II the Magnificent

o    1526: Battle of Mohacs

o    1529: First Siege of Vienna

·         1571: The Battle of Lepanto

·         1641-1687: Reign of Mohammad IV

o    The devsirme is abolished.

o    1656-1676: Reforms of the Korprulu viziers

o    1683: Second siege of Vienna

·         1703-1730: Cultural revival under Ahmed III

·         1774: Trety of Kucuk Kaynarca

·         1792: Treaty of Jassy

·         1793: Selim III proclaims the "New Order"

·         1798-1799: Napoleon attempts to conquer Egypt.

·         1804: First Serbian Uprising.

·         1815: Second Serbian Uprising.

·         1822-1830: Greek War of Independence

·         1826: Massacre of Janissaries; Ottoman fleet is sunk at Navarino

·         1829: Treaty of Adrinople

·         1839: Hatt-i Serif of Gulhane; the Tanzimat Period begins.

·         1841: The Straits Convention

·         1853-1856: The Crimean War

·         1876: The Ottoman Constitution is proclaimed.

·         1878: Congress of Berlin: Serbia and Montenegro are granted independence. Bulgaria is granted broad autonomy.

·         1908: The Comittee of Union and Progress (The Young Turks) is formed.

o    The Ottoman Constitution is restored.

o    Austria annexes Bosnia and Herzegovina

·         1912-1913: The First Balkan War

·         1913: The Second Balkan War

·         1914: The Ottoman Empire enters World War I as one of the Central Powers.

·         1915: The Armenian Massacre

·         1919-1924: End of the Ottoman Empire

o    1919: Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) lands at Samsun

o    1923: The sultanate is abolished and Turkey is declared a republic

o    1924: The office of caliph is abolished

The Fall of Constantinople


The siege of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire and one of the most heavily fortified cities in the world, took place in 1453. Sultan Mehmed II, ruler of the Ottoman Turks, led the assault. The city was defended by, at most, 10,000 men. The Turks had between 100,000 and 150,000 men on their side. The siege lasted for fifty days. The Turks employed various important war tactics in taking over the city. They used huge cannon to destroy the walls, warships were used to the cut the city's sea defense. They also used an extensive infantry to engulf the city.

After using his heavy artillery to form a breach in the wall, the fist attack was launched upon Constantinople on a May morning at 1:00 a.m. The shout of men could be heard miles away. This fist attack was led by the Bashi-bazouks. They tried to attack the weakest point in the walls. They knew they were outnumbered and out skilled, but they still fought with passion. After fighting for two hours, they were called to retreat.

The second attack was brought on by the Anatolian Turks from Ishak's army. This army could easily be recognized by their specialized uniforms. This army was also more organized than the first. They used their cannons to blast through the walls of the city. By using trumpets and other noises they were able to break the concentration of their opponents. They were the first army to enter the city. The Christians were ready for them as they entered. They were able to massacre much of the army from this attack. This attack was called off at dawn.

Before the army was able to gain strength and order, another attack feel upon them. Mehmet's favorite set of troops called the Janissaries started to attack. They launched arrows, missiles, bullets, stones and javelins at the enemy. They maintained perfect unity in this attack, unlike the other attempts. This battle, at the stockade, was a long tiring battle for the troops. The soldiers fought in hand-to-hand combat. Someone had to give. It was the Christians. The Turks remembered a port called the Kerkoporta. They noticed it had accidentally been left open by the Christians. The Christian army frequently used that gate to try to penetrate the flank of the Turkish army. They stormed the gate, but the Christians were able to stop them before completely entering the city.

While battles were being fought on land, the Turks were also trying to take control of the sea. Many ships were placed in the Golden Horn and off of the Marmora shore to help siege the city. Many of the soldiers came from these ships to aid the army on land. Once the signal was sent, troops flooded off of these ships to take down the harbor walls and start looting the city.

The City was now completely taken over by the Turks. Mehmed renamed the city Istanbul. To further glorify the city he built mosques, palaces, monuments and a system of aqueducts. The city was now officially claimed for Islam. New rules and regulations came about for the conquered. The Greeks were to form communities within the empire called milets. The Christians were still allowed to practice their religion, but had to dress in distinguishing attire and could not bare arms. So came the end to the great city of Constantinople.


Harris, William H & Levey, Judith S. The New Columbia Encyclopedia. (New York; Columbia University Press, 1975).

Runciman, Steven. The Fall of Constantinople. (London; Cambridge University Press, 1965).

Sulayman the Magnificent


Sultan Sulayman the Magnificent, as he is known in the West, is known by the more noteworthy title of al-Kanuni, the Lawgiver, to his Muslim nation. He was responsible for bringing the Ottoman Empire (al-Dawlat al-‘Uthmaniyyah) to its zenith of territorial possessions as well as cultural, religious and political prestige. His rule lasted from 1520 to 1566 and he was a contemporary of the Hapsburg Empire's Charles V, England’s King Henry VIII and France’s King Francis I.

Sultan Sulayman began his reign by strengthening Ottoman power in Europe. He captured the city of Belgrade from the Hungarians in 1521, ridding the Balkans of any Christian threat south of the Danube River. The next year he led his army and navy to eliminate the Knights of St. John, who were engaged in terrorizing Muslims from their pirate’s nest on the Aegean island of Rhodes. In 1526, the mighty Sultan mobilized his forces for a push into Hungary. The Hungarian King Louis II tired in vain to stop the armies of Islam but was completely crushed, along with his military, at the Battle of Mohács in southern Hungary. Sulayman’s forces pushed on after their victory to capture the cities of Buda and Pest. Using these two Hungarian cities as his base, the Sultan launched an attack on the city of Vienna in 1529. Only the arrival of winter saved the city from falling to the Ottomans. Over the next decades Sulayman was engaged in campaigns against the Safavid Persians in the East as well as occasional outbreaks of violence with the Hapsburgs in Central Europe.

Sulayman the Lawgiver used the periods of peace to see to the stability of his empire. He was key in developing the secular laws that held together the multi-ethnic and multi-religious population of the Ottoman Empire. He was surrounded by the most able of advisers, most notably Ibrahim Pasha (who was of Greek origin) and Mehmed Pasha Sokolović (who was of Serb descent). Like most of the other Sultans of the empire, Sulayman was a deeply religious man who held fast to his Islamic beliefs. Among the innumerable civic works he constructed, he was responsible for the erection of several great mosques that still stand today.

The Sultan prepared his last campaign in an effort to protect Muslim lands in the Balkans from the marauding and undisciplined soldiers of Christian Europe. In 1566 he took to the head of Ottoman forces in Hungary and laid siege to a band of Hungarian bandits who were held up in the fortress of Szigetvar. While the fortress was successfully stormed by the undaunted military skill of the Janissaries, the Sultan succumbed to illness and died. He left this world having more than doubled the size of the empire that his father left to him some forty years earlier. And he secured the growth of Islam among the people of the Balkans by ensuring another century and a half of peace and prosperity in that region.


Doraş, Sabahattin. Osmanli Zaferleri (İstanbul,Osmanli Yayınevi, 1988)

Handžić, Mehmed. Islamizacija Bosne i Hercegovine i porijeklo bosansko-hercegovačkih muslimana (Sarajevo, Knjižeria Kayan, 1990)











Jan III Sobieski: 1674-1696
And The Siege of Vienna of 1683


One of the most important battles of the 17th century was the battle of Vienna, which was fought on September 12, 1683. The outcome of this battle would have a profound effect on the future of Eastern, if not of all, Europe. The Battle of Vienna was mainly fought by the Turks, with about 15,000 Tatars on their side, against a less numerous combination of Polish, German, and Austrian forces. The Turkish forces were led by the Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa, an ambitious man, but who wasn't a very good general judging by the number of battles he had lost. The opposing forces were led by Jan Sobieski. On May 21, 1674, Sobieski was elected king as John III by the Diet. This was after the death of King Michael Wisniowiecki the previous year, on November 10. Sobieski was an intelligent, talented, and a brave man. He was also a patriot of Poland and always wanted the best for his country.

Since about March the Turks were preparing for an attack on the Hapsburg capital, Vienna, and were gathering their forces together rather rapidly. By June, they had invaded Austria, and King Leopold and his court fled to Passau. On July 14, the Turks reached Vienna. They laid siege to the great city. One of the disadvantages that the Turks had was that they did not have sufficient heavy artillery. The defenders fought bravely but their food supply and their ammunition were growing low. The Turks had made some breaches in the walls but their effort was hindered by the barricades erected by the people of Vienna.

Earlier that year on March 31, 1683, King John III had signed the Treaty of Warsaw with the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold. In this treaty, it was agreed to come to one's aid if the Turks attacked either Krakow or Vienna. Following his agreement in the treaty and the appeal of the pope, Sobieski marched to Vienna with an army of about 30,000 men. Sobieski said that his purpose for going to Vienna was "to proceed to the Holy War, and with God's help to give back the old freedom to besieged Vienna, and thereby help wavering Christendom."

Upon reaching Vienna, he joined up with the Austrians and Germans. Sobieski planned to attack on the 13th of September, but he had noticed that the Turkish resistance was weak. When he ordered full attack, he completely surprised Kara Mustafa. Sobieski and his husaria, which is Polish heavy cavalry, alongside with the cooperation of all army, played an important role in the victory. Sobieski with his husaria charged toward Kara Mustafa's headquarters and seeing this, Mustafa's army fled in panic. Even so, the Turkish army suffered heavy losses. This victory freed Europe from the Ottoman Turks and their invasions and secured Christianity as the main religion in all of Europe.

After the Battle Jan Sobieski entered Vienna in glory. The King and his Polish army had won lots of fame after their victory. Jan III Sobieski was not only looked upon as the savior of Vienna, but as a savior of the whole Europe from the Ottoman Turks.



Hoffman, Paul, The Vienesse: Splendor, Twilight, and Exile (New York; Anchor Press, 1988)

Steven, Stewart, The Poles (New York; Macmillan Publishing Co. Inc, 1982)

Halecki, Oscar, A History of Poland (New York; Dorset Press, 1992)

Wimmer, Jan, The 1683 Siege of Vienna (Warsaw; Interpress, 1983)

Zamyoski, Adam, The Polish Way (London; Butler & Tanner Ltd, 1987)

Durant, Will & Ariel, The Age of Louis XIV (New York; Simon and Schuster, 1963)

Fernandez-Armesto, Felipe, The Times Illustrated History of Europe (London; Times Books, 1995)

Edited by: Margaret Telma, Von Steuben High School, Chicago, IL
Researched by: Wojtek Chrzanowski, Von Steuben High School, Chicago, IL
  Written by: Karolina Walczyk, Von Steuben High School, Chicago, IL
13 October 1998

The First Balkan War


The First Balkan War was started by an alliance made up of Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia, and Montenegro. It was a desire to liberate their kinsman and a response to repressive policies of the Young Turks (Ottoman Empire). The Balkan League agreed to ally themselves to take the offensive.

March 13, 1912, Serbia and Bulgaria signed a treaty which assigned northern Macedonia to Serbia, and southern Macedonia to Bulgaria. The two also contemplated war against Austria as well as Turkey if Austria destroyed the status quo. In May 1912, Greece and Bulgaria signed a similar treaty making use of military actions against Turkey. Montenegro's attachment to the league was secured by an informal arrangement with Bulgaria and Greece, and a treaty with Serbia concluded in September 1912.

On October 8, 1912, Montenegro declared war against the Turks, and 10 days later the allies entered the war. Within a few weeks, Turkey had been pushed back to maintaining the defense of Constantinople. Albania, Epirus, Macedonia and Thrace were now possessions of the Balkan States. Serbia had also reached the Adriatic at Durazzo, which gave them an important sea port. Both Austria and Italy were opposed to this acquisition because they feared that a Serbian port on the Adriatic would ultimately become a Russian port. Also, Austria and Italy could not allow this because it might threaten the Hapsburg Monarchy.

While fighting took place at Adrianople, Scutari, and Janina, the armistice was signed, and a peace conference met at London in December, 1912. The negotiations broke down when a coup d'etat occurred at Constantinople which brought into power a group of men who were determined upon resistance. The war resumed in Spring of 1913. Adrianople, Scutari and Janina fell, and the fighting ended. The Treaty of London ended the First Balkan War on May 30, 1913. Turkey ceded all possessions in Europe to the allies west of a line from Enos on the Aegean Sea to Midia on the Black Sea, with the exception of Albania. The Great Powers began to draw the lines of a new Albanian State. Turkish sovereignty over Crete was withdrawn and it was united with Greece. The Aegean islands which Greece occupied were left to the Great Powers.

The Treaty followed with a quarrel over the spoils of war and causes the Second Balkan War.


Schevill, Ferdninand. History of the Balkan Peninsula, Frederick Ungar Publishing Inc. New York 1966.

Gewher, Wesley. The Rise of Nationalism in the Balkans, 1800-1930, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1931.

Jelavich, Barbara. Russia's Balkan Entanglements 1806-1914. Cambridge University Press, London 1991.

Wolff, Robert Lee. The Balkans in our Time. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. 1956.

World War I


The Road to War: 1890-1914

The Course of the War: 1914-1918

The Aftermath

The Armenian Massacre


The first genocide of the 20th century is one that has gone by largely unnoticed. Still denied by many Turks, the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1916 accounts for the death of one and a half million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

The first step in this annihilation was to disarm the Armenians in the army, place them into labor battalions and then kill them. Then, on April 24, 1915, the Armenian political and intellectual leaders were gathered and killed. Finally, the remaining Armenians were called from their homes, often in a house by house search. Many men were shot immediately or thrown into prison, only to be tortured to death later. The rest of the men, and the women and children were told they would be relocated, and then marched off to concentration camps in the desert between Jerablus and Deir ez-Zor. Here, they would starve and thirst to death in the burning sun. Prisoners were starved, beaten, raped and murdered by unmerciful guards.

During the march, Armenians were denied food and water. They were driven along by the soldiers day after day, all on foot. They were beaten or left to die if they could not keep up with the caravan. The authorities in Trebizond, on the Black Sea Coast, sometimes loaded Armenians on barges and threw them overboard. Some of the women on the march were forced to strip naked and walk in this condition under the burning sun.

Many other women were seized by Turkish officers or civilian officials and made a part of their harems. Others were sold in the market as were many children, but only to a Moslem purchaser.

The Ottoman Government has tried to justify this crime against an entire race by making three main contentions; the first one being that the Armenians took up arms and joined the Russians as soon as the latter crossed the Ottoman frontier. The battle usually cited is the "Revolt of Van." The deportations were ordered only after this outbreak, according to the Ottoman Government. There was no Armenian revolt at Van, however. The Armenians merely defended the quarter of the city in which they lived, after it had been attacked by Turkish troops. The Turks even fired the first shot at Van on April 20, 1915. More importantly, deportations started happening on April 8, before any alleged revolts.

The second contention was that there was a group of revolutionary Armenians who wanted to overthrow the Ottoman Government and deliver them into the hands of the Allies. Disarming, imprisoning, executing and deporting a whole people helped to squelch this movement before it had fully started, according to the Ottomans.

The third contention is based on revenge. The Armenian civil population in the Ottoman Empire suffered because of the Armenians volunteering with the Russian Army. These volunteers, however, owed no allegiance to the Turks at all. Through territorial acquisitions and free immigration, Russia had acquired sovereignty over less than half of the Armenian race by 1914.

The Turkish government today denies that there was an Armenian genocide and claims that Armenians were only removed from the eastern "war zone." The genocide, however, occurred all over Anatolia (present-day Turkey), and not just in the so-called "war zone." At the time, the genocide was condemned by representatives of the United States, British, French, Russian, German, and Austrian governments.


Bryce, James Viscount, Arnold J. Toynbee, Herbert Adams Gibbons, Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, Fridjhof Nansen, Eds. An Anthology of Historical Writings on the Armenian Massacres of 1915. (Lebanon: HAMASKAËNE Press).

"The Armenian Genocide." http://www-

"The Armenian Genocide: Its Most Valuable Lesson." Holocaust Studies Center.

"Fact Sheet: Armenian Genocide." (April 3, 1996). Knights of Vartan Armenian Research Center. The University of Michigan-Dearborn.