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The Saracenic Conquests; Karl the Great; the Holy Roman Empire.

Medieval history. From end of western empire to the discovery of America (a.d. 476-1492). From Partition of Western Roman Empire to Treaty of Verdun (a.d. 476-843).
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Of all the revolutions which have had a permanent influence upon the civil history of mankind, there is none more remarkable, none that could be less anticipated by human prudence, as to its origin, extent, and duration, than the material and moral conquest effected by Mohammedanism, the religious faith styled Islam. The human agents of this marvellous religious and political change were the Arabs or Saracens, the only people of Semitic race that have played a great part in history since the days of Carthage. The religion which was founded by Mohammed is the last of three great religions which have come out from among Semitic nations. All of these faiths expressly taught the unity of God, and forbade the worship of idols. Judaism, Christianity, Islam - these are the three, and the last may be briefly defined as a confused, imperfect form of the second, in its ethical essence of resignation to the Divine will. Islam means, in fact, "Denial of Self," complete submission to the will and service of Allah, in the articles of faith, commands, and ordinances revealed to and put forth by Mohammed. It acknowledges four great teachers of mankind: Abraham, the friend of God; Moses, the prophet of God; Jesus Christ, the Word of God; and Mohammed, the Apostle of God. Islam is certainly better than Judaism, as recognising the miracles, the teaching, and the Messiahship of Jesus Christ. It is a reformed Judaism, eminently adapted to be a civilising and elevating religion for barbarous tribes, as being a step upward, but not a step so high as the lofty and spiritual advance claimed from the adherents of Christianity. Its cosmopolitan character in being not, like the exclusive Judaism, confined to one nation, but extended to the whole world, and its preaching of a practical brotherhood, the social equality of all Moslems, give the new religion a vast attraction in the immediate bribe of admittance to a social caste. The morality taught in the Koran, meaning "the best reading," "the matter to be read," is of a very high character, including the virtues of benevolence, liberality, modesty, forbearance, patience, endurance, sincerity, frugality, decency, straightforwardness, love of peace and truth, and, especially, trust in God and submission to His will. The vices specially denounced are injustice, pride, falsehood, revengefulness, avarice, prodigality, suspicion, and debauchery, and gambling is held to be so wicked that no gambler's testimony is valid in a court of law.

Such was the religion that, in the first half of the 7th century, arose in Arabia, a region-which had for ages remained in a strange solitude, undisturbed by the conquests of Alexander, unsubdued by the arms of Rome. There, about a.d. 570, Mohammed was born at Mecca, son of a poor merchant belonging to the powerful tribe of the Koreish, the most famous of all the descendants of Ishmael, and the head of the tribes whose centre of worship and of tribal sovereignty was Mecca. The old patriarchal faith of the days of Abraham had become a degrading idolatry, and some hundreds of images were displayed to view and worship in the Kaaba or temple at Mecca. The young Mohammed passed his youth, like David, in the tendance of sheep, and was soon noted by his family and friends as shy, meditative, and trustworthy. His temperament was nervous, excitable, and sympathetic; he was subject to ecstatic dreams and occasional epileptic fits. His person, in mature manhood, was that of a middle-sized, rather thin, broad-shouldered, strongly built man, fair-skinned for one of his race; with black curly hair flowing round a massive head, lit up by large jet-black eyes, overhung with thick lashes. A large, well-formed, slightly bent nose, and a long beard gave further dignity to his appearance. When he was 40 years of age, after long brooding over the idolatry of his people, and the concomitant vices of such worship, and urged by dreams and asserted revelations on which can pass no judgment, Mohammed came forth as a religious reformer, proclaiming his creed with the assertion of the existence of an almighty, all-wise, all-just, merciful, everlasting, indivisible Deity, whose favour was to be obtained chiefly by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Resurrection, judgment, heaven, and hell were articles of faith. Like other prophets, the Arabian messenger of Allah had at first little honour among his own kindred and countrymen, his earliest adherents being his loving wife Kadija, many years his senior, a lad named Ali, and a freedman whom the new prophet adopted as his son. He was well acquainted with Judaism, but his knowledge of Christianity was probably confined to a few apocryphal books. In four years' time a small body of followers had been gained, but the Meccans arose at last in wrath against the man who denounced the ancestral idols, and in July, 622, he and a small band of adherents fled from Mecca to Medina. This flight -begins the Mohammedan era styled the Hegira, or "departure." From this time the new faith was aided by the use of the sword, and the religious fanaticism of its adherents, belonging to a peculiarly susceptible race, was powerfully stimulated by the belief that death in the cause ensured admission to Paradise. Worldly ambition and religious zeal were combined in the souls of the warriors, and the annihilation of the mocking Jews of Medina was followed by the conquest of Mecca, the destruction of all the idols, and the establishment as a system of the Jehad or "Religious War," by which all men had given to them the choice of "the Koran, the Tribute, or the Sword." The prophet's life was ended at Medina by fever in 632, as he was preparing to march beyond the borders of Arabia. The character of the founder of Islam was a mixture of sincerity and imposture, benevolence and cruelty, real enthusiasm and cunning calculation. He was human, and his career was sullied by errors and crimes, but he has now ceased to be regarded as a mere inventor of pretended revelations. His really heroic character was adorned by great virtues, and, upon the whole, he well deserved the extraordinary influence which he acquired over his followers. The faults and failures of Mohammedanism are due to the founder's ignorance, and to his grievous error in quarrelling with the Jews and Christians through a feeling of jealousy, instead of endeavouring to secure their aid as allies against idolatry.

Before describing the conquests achieved by the armed adherents of Islam, a religion now numbering 200,000,000 of believers, we may note some causes of its incipient success. The way for a purer faith among a serious and reflecting people, as the Arabs were, had been in some measure prepared by Jewish and Christian teaching. Mohammed skilfully incorporated tenets, usages, and traditions which he found existing around him, and he attracted men by the simplicity of the creed, and of the ritual, with its fastings, pilgrimages, regular prayers and ablutions, abstinence from intoxicating liquors, and almsgiving. A visible standard of practice was thus set up, and the believer was encouraged to win Heaven by a steady adherence to a system of discipline within every man's reach. This reformed Judaism swept swiftly over Africa and Asia partly because, inferior as it was to Christianity at its best, it was decidedly superior to the Christianity then prevalent in those regions. The pure religion of Jesus Christ had been set aside for abstruse metaphysical dogmas. The Christian teachers were striving against the vices of a licentious age by demanding too much from human nature. They extolled the celestial merit of celibacy and the angelic excellence of virginity. The road to holiness lay through the sordid seclusion of a monastic cell. The people had become really polytheists, worshipping a crowd of martyrs, saints, and angels. The upper classes were effeminate and corrupt; the middle classes were overwhelmed by taxation; and the slaves were without hope in the present or the future. On such a world the new faith of Islam came like a blast of pure air from the desert, making an end of vain theological disputes, artificial virtues, religious follies and frauds, and perverted moral sentiments. It set manliness against monkishness. It gave hope to the slave, brotherhood to mankind, and a due recognition to the fundamental facts of human nature. Islam, at the outset and at its best, swept away a mass of corruption and superstition like a consuming and purifying fire, and it was assuredly not by the sword alone that it attained so rapid and enduring a hold upon a large portion of the human race, spreading itself, within a century from its founder's death, over Syria, Persia, northern Africa, and Spain.

The successors of Mohammed in religious and temporal authority were styled Caliphs (or Khalifs, Califs), the first being the wise and good Abu-bekr, father of the prophet's favourite wife Ayeshah, elected by an assembly of the faithful. All men who were approached by the armies were called upon to embrace the new faith, to pay tribute for the keeping of their old faith, but with the abolition of idolatry, or to die. Omar (634-644) conquered the rich province of Syria, defended though it was by numerous armies and fortified cities, and the Caliph had scarcely returned thanks for the accomplishment of this success when his lieutenant Amrou announced the entire reduction of Egypt. Eastwards over Persia the hosts of Islam made their way from the Tigris to the Oxus, putting an end to the Sassanian dynasty and to the ancient and famous religion of Zoroaster. Under Othman (644-656) the conquest of northern Africa was continued. Civil wars between rival claimants and sects arose among the Saracens, but before the close of the 7th century the possessions of the Greek (Byzantine) Empire in the north of Africa were subdued to the Atlantic Ocean. The Berbers, accepting the faith of Islam, along with the people of Punic, Greek, and Roman descent, became united with the Arabs or Saracens as "Moors." Christianity almost vanished from northern Africa, the only instance in which that faith has disappeared after being thoroughly established. The sacred city of Kairwan was built inland about 50 miles to the south of Carthage, which place was utterly destroyed in 698.

The Greek Empire, in its eastern dominions, was assailed at a time when it had been enfeebled by long warfare with Persia. The conquest of Syria and Palestine has been noted. The emperors Constans II. and Constantine IV., who reigned from 642 to 685, checked the progress of the Saracens, being aided by quarrels among their foes. In 673 a mighty Moslem armament assailed Constantinople by way of the Dardanelles, and invested the imperial city for four years. The enemy were at last defeated by sea and land, and the Caliph sued for peace and restored his conquests in that region. A time of anarchical trouble then came in the empire, and the Saracens were successful in parts of Asia Minor. A long course of tyranny in Constantinople was ended in 717 by the accession of Leo the Isaurian, an able general. With a demoralised army and an empty treasury, he had soon to meet a more formidable attack of the Saracens than that which had been dealt with 40 years before. A vast army marched across Asia Minor to the Hellespont, and a fleet carrying as many more, in all nearly 200,000 men, sailed from Syria by the AEgean Sea. Constantinople was to be closely besieged, but Leo went forth from the Golden Horn with, galleys and fireships carrying the famous and dreaded. "Greek fire," and prevented investment on the northern end of the Bosphorus. The plan of starvation failed against the ample stores of food laid in, and the Saracens, in an unusually hard winter for that region (717-718), suffered terribly, with the loss of many thousands of men, from a frost of 12 weeks' duration. In the spring large reinforcements arrived for the besiegers, but the fireships of Leo burnt the Egyptian fleet as it lay at anchor, and a sudden attack cut to pieces a body of Saracens on the Asiatic shore. The Bulgarians, old foes of the empire, now gave aid by coming down from the Balkans, and routing a Saracen army of observation near Adrianople. The enemy were wearied out, and thus ended the last great Saracen enterprise against Constantinople, though for centuries longer there were frequent border-struggles between the emperors and the caliphs. It is probable that Leo the Isaurian thus conferred as great a benefit upon Christendom as that which will be soon narrated. The victorious Saracens of Syria and the more distant East rapidly degenerated through success. The vices of luxury fell upon the abstemious Arabs of the desert in the fruitful valleys of Damascus and Bassora, and the Mohammedan sovereigns of those regions, enriched by the tributes of enslaved peoples, lost strength and energy in a sensual life.

We have seen the corrupt condition of the Visigoths in Spain at the time when they were confronted, beyond the Straits of Gibraltar, by the hardy, fervent warriors of Islam, flushed with conquest of all the territory from the Nile to the western ocean. Attracted by reports of the beauty and richness of the land, its pastures and rivers, olives and vines, cities and palaces, Musa, the governor of northern Africa under the Caliph of Damascus, sent Tarif, one of his generals, in 710, with a small force, to make a preliminary raid on the coast of Andalusia. This leader landed at the place called from him Tarifa, the southernmost town of Europe, still of quite Moorish aspect, with its Alcazar or palace and battlemented Arab walls. The town is also of interest as having given rise to the word "tariff," or table of customs-regulations, from the duties collected at the port by the Moors. In a short time Tarif returned, having plundered Algegiras, with good news as to the defenceless condition of the country, and then Musa sent a larger force, about 7,000 men, under another leader, Tarik, whose name is immortalised in that of the great Rock near which he disembarked, the Gibraltar corrupted from the Arabic Gebel-al-Tarik, or Tarik's hill. The invader was soon met by the whole force of the Goths under their king Roderick, who was returning from the suppression of a rising among the Basques in the north. The two armies met in 711 on the banks of a little river near the Guadalete, which runs into the Straits hard by another spot of undying renown, Cape Trafalgar. Tank's army had been increased, by a reinforcement of 5,000 Berbers, the true Moors, of Mauretania, the modem Morocco, to 12000 men faced by six times the number under Roderick. The d.fference between such free-born soldiers as the Berbers and Arabs, and a host of ill-treated slaves, was now shown. A seven-days' desperate battle at the place, north of Cadiz, called Xeres de la Frontera, familiar to us from the district's wine called "sherry," ended in the total defeat of the Goths. Roderick, "the last of the Goths," a hero of Spanish ballad-poetry, was seen no more, but the finding of his horse and sandals on the river-bank, on the day after the battle, makes it probable that his drowned body was carried out to sea. This one victory ended the kingdom of the Visigoths in Spain, and placed the fairest provinces of the land, for nearly eight centuries, under the rule of the Moslem. A little Christian (Gothic) kingdom, under its prince Pelayo, or Pelagius, existed in the north, the realm of Asturias, afterwards Leon. It was at the battle of Covadonga, a name regarded by the Spaniards as that of Marathon by the ancient Greeks, that the first victory was gained, in 718, by the Christians over the Moors, and it was thus that, among the rugged mountains of the north, the germ of future Spanish nationality was kept alive.

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