by Sanderson Beck
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Planet earth is a place of ever-changing experience. Yet of all the diversity of living species only the humans have developed artificial civilization that dominates the environment and uses sophisticated means of communication with art, technology, and writing that are passed on to future generations. To discuss the ethics of early humans before the appearance of this evidence is very speculative and uncertain. Nonetheless to understand ourselves better it is useful to have some ideas as to our origins. Readers may disagree or agree about the spiritual aspects of our being and its source in God or a creator, but the long process of evolution is fairly well proven now by the scientific research of the last century or so. What does the nature of our bodies and how they evolved reveal about our values?
As warm-blooded mammals our bodies must be constantly fed and protected from cold weather. To do this requires using resources of the environment. In our time excessive exploitation of the environment threatens our very survival, but in the ancient world with a small human population this was only rarely the case. The extension of childhood development and dependence on the mother for longer periods stimulated family values. The enjoyment of sexual relations at any time by creatures with brains large enough to make conscious choices brought greater emotional attachment, rivalry, jealousy, and social customs in mating. Much of human ethics is concerned with the morals of mating and the raising of children to understand the customary behaviors of the social group.
A few million years ago the need to gather more food led a resourceful primate to begin eating the flesh of other animals as other predators do. This led to the aggressive behavior of hunting in which group cooperation was found to be successful. The success of hunters and gatherers in some areas eventually brought about crises, which stimulated the development of agriculture, opening the great source of reliable sustenance that would bring about the birth of civilization in villages, towns, and cities. Instead of following herds, more people began to settle down in one place and tend their own animals as possessions. Animal food could be used especially in emergencies or between crops. Only recently are scientists discovering that eating animal products is less healthy for the human body, but old social habits are hard to break. The domestication of large animals also provided an interim technology to assist human labor and transportation before the industrial age replaced them with machines. Before force was organized for warfare, women were very likely equal partners with men; mothers may even have been worshiped for their ability to bear children and nurture them.
Skill using weapons in hunting animals could be turned against fellow humans in violent social conflicts and so was also valued by many aggressive humans in battles between one group and another even if individual violence within the group was discouraged. As clans of families and eventually tribes joined together to protect developing property such as animals, houses, fields, and irrigation systems, war became an organized activity to defend against marauding raiders. Stronger males naturally became leaders in these aggressive confrontations. Thus patriarchs developed sexist values in a male-dominated society. Cultures where the nurturing skills of women made them equal or superior tended to be those societies which were more "primitive" in the sense that they did not develop as much surplus wealth that needed forceful protection or were in isolated places where they did not have to fear encroachment. Those aggressive bands of raiders, who perverted hunting skills into plundering other human settlements, were surely the most violent and probably the most dominated by men.
The development of language and storytelling increased social cohesion that could now be passed on to other generations through oral tradition. Tribal loyalties gained continuity, and rituals were celebrated to strengthen emotional attachments to the group's cultural values. As population increased with successful agriculture, tribes with a common language interacted in cities and were often united by a social hierarchy headed by kings and priests. The lessons of Atlantean destruction, though attempts were made to pass them on through the Egyptians and Greeks, are controversial and mostly lost.
The earliest cities were built in the fertile crescent from Jericho to Catal Huyuk in Anatolia and especially along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Sumer. Here and concurrently in Egypt along the Nile developed the first great civilizations. Agriculture was enhanced with the use of metal, pottery, and the wheel. Writing promoted economic and political development in business, trade, law, government, education, and literature. Sumerian religion was important; priests gained power and wealth while women were exploited as temple prostitutes. Men dominated as kings and governors although women could hold important positions in the temples. The three classes distinguished in the laws of Sumerian society were the nobles (government administrators, army officers, and priests), the workers in farming and crafts, and the slaves who could earn their freedom. The development of written codes of criminal law and civil contracts were outstanding ethical developments for justice.
Governments were organized by city, and conflicts between cities and neighboring cultures led to the organized violence of war that eventually destroyed Sumerian civilization. The earliest historical Sumerian King, Mebaragesi of Kish, attacked and plundered Elam. The epic hero Gilgamesh first became famous as a King who successfully defended Uruk against an attack by Kish. According to the poem his using his office for the primitive sexual exploitation of women was stopped by the other hero Enkidu. The Uruk dynasty was overthrown by Ur's first King Mesannepadda. Ur's Lagash king Ur-Nanshe was constructive, and Ur experienced a century of great wealth. However, his grandson Eannatum fought and won wars with neighbors while killing many. Eannatum's nephew Entemena won back a disputed canal from Umma, made a treaty with united Uruk and Ur, and reigned so well that he was worshiped for a millennium, as people of Umma were allowed civil liberties in Lagash.
The corruption of greedy priests was reformed by Urukagina, who reduced taxes and stopped religious extortion. Unfortunately his Lagash was invaded by the army of Umma Governor Lugalzagesi, who conquered most of Sumer and ruled with fifty governors. Nonetheless he was defeated and captured by Sargon, who built the new capital of Agade and installed Akkadian governors. The Semitic Akkadian replaced Sumerian as the official language. Sargon expanded his empire by conquest of Elam, Mari, and Ebla. The reigns of Sargon, Rimush, Manishtusu, and Naram-Sin from 2390 to 2274 BC were filled with wars for copper, tin, silver, timber, stone, and slaves. Naram-Sin was criticized for bringing on the destruction of Agade by the Guti because he devastated the temple of Nippur.
The Guti ruled Mesopotamia for a century, during which Lagash’s Governor Gudea was known for building temples and purifying the city. In 2176 BC Uruk overthrew the Guti, but seven years later they were replaced by the third dynasty of Ur that lasted a century. Ur-Nammu rid the land of robbers and established written law codes based on equity and truth. His building projects were continued by his son Shulgi, who also campaigned militarily in the north and used diplomacy by marrying his daughters to governors in the east. His Sumerian government reached its height of power, even subduing the influence of the temples and private wealth as the state took over land and businesses. Sumerian literature celebrated anthropomorphic gods and goddesses and the divine gifts of civilization. However, in the 21st century BC the empire of Ur broke up as power shifted in the next century to cities such as Isin, Larsa, Eshnunna, Mari, Assur, and Babylon.
Hammurabi made Babylon the capital of a large empire by armed conquest, and he promulgated a strict law code with much capital punishment and retaliatory mutilation. The three Babylonian classes were the free awelu, the commoners dependent on the state, and slaves. Babylonians adopted most of the Sumerian religion and culture but added the powerful war god Marduk. After the death of Hammurabi, rebellion and wars soon reduced the Babylonian empire. Ammisaduqa reformed economic oppression by canceling debts and back taxes and by punishing officials and creditors who disobeyed. After the Hittites invaded Babylon and left, the Kassites took control and ruled fairly peacefully there for about four centuries, preserving Akkadian literature. Wars and power struggles still occurred in the region with the Assyrians, Mitanni, Hurrians, Hittites, and Egyptians. Babylonian literature emphasized creation stories, conflicts between deities, and the triumph of the new god Marduk. Ishtar (representing the planet Venus) stood for feminine qualities of love and friendship, and some poets expressed the value of justice and of returning kindness even to enemies.
Hittite civilization grew in Anatolia, beginning with much violence but eventually developing law codes and a council to advise the King. A Hittite army pushed back the expanding Egyptian empire at Kadesh about 1300 BC. The Hittites also added Sumerian and Babylonian deities to their own violent storm gods.
Egyptian civilization probably learned the use of seals and writing from the Sumerians. Being more isolated, their wars with the Asiatics in the east, Libyans to the west, and Nubians in the south were infrequent and less threatening. The first historical King in Egypt was about 3100 BC, as people prospered around the fertile Nile. When the north and south were united under one king, a powerful empire arose and continued for many centuries. As early as the 27th century BC the kings demonstrated their power by exploiting thousands of laborers in constructing the great pyramids, the largest buildings on Earth. These immense projects could not be sustained though, and later kings reduced their ambitions to more modest building. Egyptian religion was obsessed with the life after death, though this did give people an incentive to be just. Pepi II ruled Egypt for more than ninety years. Tomb inscriptions indicate the ethical values of honesty, justice, and caring for others. Nefer-rohu described the turmoil and violence of civil war. Instructions for Merikare advise him on the principles for ruling wisely and warn him that he will be judged after death.
The Old Kingdom period degenerated into violent strife, turmoil, and revolution until the Theban King Mentuhotep II re-united Egyptians about 2040 BC, founding the Middle Kingdom era. Sesostris III centralized power but allowed a middle class to develop. Again Egypt exploited its Nubian, Libyan, and Syrian neighbors for building materials, and Asiatic nomads were forced out of the eastern Delta. Egypt was stable for about three centuries before the Bedouin shepherds with improved weapons took over Memphis and ruled most of Egypt for a century, a conquest resented by Egyptians for turning their society upside down.
In the 16th century BC the Hyksos rulers were expelled, as Ahmose established the 18th dynasty and the New Kingdom, which expanded the Egyptian empire. Pyramids were no longer built as temples were separated from tombs, probably indicating more emphasis on life than on death, although the spiritual instructions in the Book of the Dead remained popular. The military leader Thutmose III conquered extensive territory in Asia as far as Kadesh in Syria and even crossed the Euphrates to defeat the Mitanni. Increased Egyptian wealth was based on imported slave labor. Egyptian society reflected a pyramid-like structure headed by the king or pharaoh, who ruled as a god over a militarized state governed by authoritarian administrators. Obedience was the rule unless bribery could corrupt. The needs of the people seem to have been met by their labor, but education was only for the elite. The failed religious revolution of Akhenaten did not seem to affect the ethics of the culture as the empire continued though perhaps a little weaker; his successors eradicated his reforms. Yet it can be argued that the weakening of empire was a benefit to humanity's freedom. The military leader Horemheb tried to instill discipline with harsh punishments.
Although Ramses II fought boldly at Kadesh in 1300 BC, the Egyptian empire was beginning to shrink as he had to accept co-existence with the Hittites in Syria. Invasions by the mysterious Sea Peoples in the 12th century BC not only devastated the Hittite empire but also forced the Egyptians back to their traditional Nile kingdom. Egypt continued as a regional power for several centuries. In the 8th century BC Nubians led by Piankhi took over Egypt, and the Kushites ruled Egypt until they were conquered by the Assyrian King Esarhaddon in 671 BC. Egypt revived under Psamtik fifteen years later; they were defeated by Babylonians under Nebuchadressar in 605 BC, fought back under Amasis, and were taken into the Persian empire for two centuries by Cambyses in 525 BC. Alexander and his Macedonian army conquered Egypt in 332 BC. After his death in 323 BC his General Ptolemy established a dynasty in Egypt that lasted until they were conquered by Julius Caesar and the Romans.
Much ancient wisdom came from Egypt. The invisible God was called Amen. The wise counsel of Ptah-hotep for a king is from the 25th century BC. A dialog between a man contemplating suicide and his soul indicates their spiritual view of psychology. Imaginative tales include Sinuhe's adventures in Palestine, a shipwrecked sailor, a peasant pleasing a king with his eloquent appeals for justice, and fantastic magicians. The Egyptian Book of the Dead provided a guidebook and preparation for what happens to the soul after the body dies. Realizing that they would be held to justice must have encouraged ethical behavior. The wise counsel of Amenemope and the tale of two brothers influenced Jewish literature.
Egypt's authoritarian monarchy did little to promote human
freedom, and their empire was based on military power and slavery.
Egyptians excelled in architecture, building, and surgery; yet
their belief in magic did little to promote science, although
it had some charm in literature. Egypt was a stable though static
society with apparently little interest in historical process
or the human interactions portrayed in theater.
The Hebrew Bible, which has had a tremendous impact on religion and ethics, tells us much about the people of Israel. Genesis combined ancient folktales with a religious message to produce a scripture of great influence. The six days of creation imply that the stages of evolution are part of a greater plan by a Creator, while the story of Adam and Eve reflects the increase in awareness that made the human species responsible for its ethical behavior. Developing self-consciousness is a major development in evolution, but the promise of eternal life is deferred. Violent conflicts between shepherds and farmers are indicated by Cain's killing Abel. The story of the primeval deluge taught obedience to God as did the account of Abraham's sacrifice of a ram. The story of Lot in Sodom emphasizes the importance of respecting hospitality. The patriarchs passed on their authority to their sons, and Jacob used a trick to gain the inheritance. The tale of Jacob's twelve sons explained how the Hebrews went to Egypt, and the skill of Joseph indicates the spiritual value of understanding dreams.
Moses led the Hebrews out of tyrannical Egypt in probably the greatest slave revolt of all time. He gave them laws that emphasized worshipping only one God. In the Torah the Lord (Yahweh) comes across not only as a jealous God but a cruel one as well. Nonetheless the ideas of following God's guidance and practicing ethical laws, such as the ten commandments, are great contributions to civilization.
Yet justifying the violent conquest of Canaan led by Joshua is questionable, and the intolerance of other religious beliefs and practices caused many needless conflicts and problems. The attempt to live by God's guidance through prophets gave way because of social violence to war-lords called judges and then to traditional monarchy, as Saul and David were made kings. David was a musician but surpassed Saul by killing tens of thousands instead of thousands. He established a kingdom ruled in glory by his wealthy son Solomon, who had the great temple built. The religious poetry of David and the wisdom of Solomon have inspired many. Some precepts of Israel's wisdom literature resemble those of Egypt's. The Proverbs contain wise ethical advice. The poignant story of Job attempted with religious faith to resolve the disparity of why the innocent and virtuous sometimes suffer. Yet the frequent wars between the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, even though they shared the same faith, indicate serious ethical and political limitations in this violent era. That even exalted prophets like Elijah could try to prove their "holiness" by causing many deaths reveals lack of respect for the value of human life. Not having learned ways of peace, Israel and Judah had to suffer from the greater power of empires like Assyria and Babylon.
Yet the messages of prophets like Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah attempted to teach people justice, mercy, and how to achieve peace. Isaiah prophetically advised Hezekiah to hold out against the Assyrian attack, and he later predicted that Assyria would conquer Egypt but would return to its own land. Jeremiah warned them not to resist the inevitable Babylonian conquest with violence, which would only make things worse; but he was imprisoned for his effort. Taken captive to Babylon, there Jews discovered and edited their religious writings. There Ezekiel and second Isaiah presented them with inspiring visions of redemption and a return, which was fulfilled by the generosity of the Persian Emperor Cyrus. After a remnant came back to Jerusalem, conflicts of religious customs still occurred; Ezra would not tolerate "foreign" wives, though Nehemiah showed charity. Jewish culture clung to its sacred scriptures and survived.
In Mesopotamia the Kassites were overthrown by Elam in the 12th century BC. Assyria and Babylon increased their power and became rivals for two centuries; then they fought the proliferating Aramaeans. Ashurnasirpal II (r. 883-859 BC) created an Assyrian empire by using cavalry, battering rams, and by deporting defeated enemies. The Sarduri dynasty in Urartu lasted a quarter of a millennium; but Assyrian King Tiglath-pileser III, who deported masses of people, defeated them in 736 BC. Babylonians and Elamites resisted the Assyrian imperialism of Sargon II (r. 721-705 BC). His son Sennacherib invaded Palestine and destroyed Babylon, and Sennacherib's son Esarhaddon conquered Egypt in 671 BC. The Assyrian military empire was based on slaves captured in war or sold for debt. Armed authorities taxed the people to pay for the military establishment in a society with little opportunity for social mobility; roles of women were especially confined.
Babylonians took over the Assyrian empire in 609 BC. Nebuchadrezzar II conquered Jerusalem in 597 BC and again in 586 BC; they deported people from Judah and elsewhere. Babylonians tolerated diverse cultures and religious views; but their empire was overthrown by the Persians when Cyrus II entered Babylon in 539 BC.
The Persians practiced a religion enlightened by the teachings of Zarathushtra, whose philosophy emphasized the wisdom of learning and following the good truthfully while avoiding the evils of injustice, lying, and harm. After Cyrus had conquered western Asia to the Aegean coast, he was killed invading the east. His son Cambyses II conquered Egypt. Parthian Governor Darius won the Persian throne and tried to rule justly; but the Ionian revolt provoked him into invading Greece in 490 BC. A second Persian invasion led by Xerxes in 480 BC was again defeated by Greeks fighting on land and sea. Frequent rebellions in the western portions of the Persian empire during the reigns of Artaxerxes (r. 464-424 BC), Darius II (424-404 BC), and Artaxerxes II (404-359 BC) caused difficult Persian-Greek relations. Alexander and his Macedonian army invaded Asia in 334 BC and conquered the entire Persian empire from Egypt to India before he died in 323 BC. The great wealth Persians had used for so long to hire Greek mercenaries and interfere in Greek conflicts was eventually captured and appropriated by the Hellenizers.
The Arsacid dynasty of the Parthian empire was founded in 247 BC. They struggled against the Seleucids and survived in the east. When the Romans defeated Seleucid King Antiochus III in 190 BC, Artaxias II founded an Armenian dynasty. Parthian King Mithradates II (r. 124-88 BC) made a trade treaty with China and invaded Armenia. Crassus led a Roman invasion into Parthia, but he was defeated and killed in 53 BC. Mark Antony also failed to conquer the Parthians. The Parthians practiced the Zoroastrian religion and continued to fight off the Roman empire.
In 224 CE Ardashir defeated the last Parthian King Artabanus IV and founded the Sasanian dynasty, reviving the Persian empire. Mani was called to be a prophet, and in 243 he converted the Governor of Khurasan. King Shapur I (r. 240-70) allowed Mani to preach throughout the Persian empire for ten years until resentful Zoroastrian priests changed his mind. King Bahram I imprisoned Mani and executed him in 274. Mani's disciples spread the Manichaean message despite persecution in the Persian and Roman empires. Mani left behind many writings and paintings, but most of them were destroyed. He taught that salvation from the darkness of matter and the body is found in the love and goodness of the Spirit, and he acknowledged the teachings of the Christ.
The Sasanians were also able to defend themselves from Roman imperialism, capturing Emperor Valerian in 260 and killing Emperor Julian in 363. Shapur II (r. 309-79) was elected Shah of Persia before he was born. In the 5th century Mazdak taught a communist doctrine of sharing, but he and his followers were persecuted by Khusrau I (r. 531-79) even before he became Shah. Khusrau reformed the land tax and promoted agriculture. Khusrau II (r. 590-628) greatly expanded the Persian empire to the west as far as Egypt, pushing back the Roman empire almost to Constantinople; but Byzantine Emperor Heraclius reconquered what had been lost and more, causing the Persian nobles to kill Khusrau II. The Muslim invasion from Arabia began in 633 and conquered the Sasanian empire in a decade.
Muhammad was born at Mecca in 570 and was an orphan at six. At 25 he married the wealthy Khadija, and in 610 he began having revelations that became the Qur'an. He criticized the worship of idols and was persecuted in Mecca, but he gradually gained more followers called Muslims. Abu Bakr converted many and freed some slaves. The Hashim clan protected Muhammad and was boycotted for two years. After his wife Khadija and his uncle Abu Talib died, protection was weakened. Muhammad claimed that the angel Gabriel took him at night to meet Moses in Jerusalem. Muhammad converted men of Yathrib, and a revelation gave Muslims permission to fight wrong-doers. When attempts were made to murder or capture Muhammad in 622, he migrated to Medina, where he bought a house. Jews were accepted as equals, but they were expected to contribute to the war against wrong-doers. The former slave Bilal was the first to call Muslims to prayer. Muhammad said they should not worship him but only God. He approved the stoning of a couple guilty of adultery. Muhammad married 'A'isha when she was nine. Prayers were now made facing Mecca instead of Jerusalem.
Raids were made against Quraysh caravans, and the prophet was given one-fifth of the booty for his family's needs and to distribute to the poor. Muhammad promised that his warriors who died fighting would enter paradise. He declared that a Muslim could not be the wife of a pagan. Twice Muhammad converted men intending to assassinate him. He was considered the first prophet allowed to take prisoners and spoils. After a Muslim woman was insulted by a Jew, killing resulted; then Muhammad ordered Muslims to kill Jews. Muhammad's daughter Fatima married his adopted son 'Ali, and Muhammad began marrying widows. Muhammad said his followers could use deception during war. In a large battle against the Quraysh Muhammad was wounded. After the defeat a revelation prevented Muhammad from mutilating thirty prisoners. The prophet had limited Muslims to four wives but made an exception for himself. After the Muslim army cut down their palm trees, the Bani Nadir Jews joined the Quraysh against Muhammad. An army three times the size of the Muslims' besieged them at Medina. Muhammad used intrigue to get the Qurayza to leave but then marched against them. After a siege Qurayza men were executed as the women and children were enslaved. Muhammad selected the beautiful Rayhana as his slave.
Muhammad wanted to make an unarmed pilgrimage to Mecca in 628 and agreed on a truce that helped the Muslim community double in two years. The prophet's message that Persian Shah Khusrau had died converted Yemen's Persian Viceroy Badhan when he learned it was true. During the truce Muhammad's army attacked the Khaybar Jews; those surrendering had to give up half their crops. After Muslim envoys were killed, Muhammad sent an army to attack Syria. Most Meccans converted when a Muslim army of 10,000 conquered the sacred city, destroying pagan idols. Soon an army of 30,000 was expanding the emerging Islamic state and collecting taxes. Muhammad prohibited usury and monopolies. He permitted slavery but ordered they should receive food and clothing equal to the owner's. He opposed artistic representations of humans and animals. Muhammad's last pilgrimage to Mecca was the first from which pagans were excluded. The prophet died in 632 and was succeeded by his closest friend Abu Bakr.
Muslims believe that Muhammad received the Qur'an from God though often the angel Gabriel speaks. Muhammad is the messenger warning all to worship the one God and nothing else. Charity and good deeds are encouraged, and those doing evil or disbelieving are often threatened with punishment in the fire of hell. The prophet advised respect for Jews and Christians and referred to stories from the Old and New Testaments, summarizing many of their teachings. Believers are reminded to pray five times a day, give charity, fast during the month of Ramadan, and not eat animals that died naturally nor pork. Believers are urged to fight wrong-doers and unbelievers.
Abu Bakr appointed Khalid to lead the army, and he defeated another prophet named Musaylima, who had raised a large army too. Muslim armies invaded Syria, and those who did not accept Islam or agree to pay higher taxes were killed. Khalid invaded Iraq and threatened the Persians with the same three choices. The Byzantine army was defeated in Palestine, and after a siege Damascus surrendered. In 634 Abu Bakr was succeeded by the ascetic 'Umar. He had mosques and prisons built, expelling Jews from Arabia to Syria. Non-Muslims in conquered lands were not allowed to carry arms, and Muslims were forbidden to cultivate the land there. Muslims defeated the Persian army in 637. That year 'Umar himself traveled to claim Jerusalem. Antioch paid 300,000 gold coins in 638, and the Persian empire was defeated in 641. Egypt was invaded, and Alexandria surrendered after a long siege in 642. Egyptian grain alleviated famine in Arabia. In 644 'Umar was assassinated by a Persian slave while praying. 'Uthman was elected Caliph because 'Ali would not agree to follow the precedents of the caliphs. 'Uthman appointed many of his Umayyad relatives, and their misrule was resented. Muslims invaded North Africa, and their newly organized navy conquered Cypress.
After 'Uthman lost the prophet's ring in 650, resentment grew because of decreasing spoils from conquest. Though 'Ali tried to protect him, 'Uthman was murdered in 656; 'Ali became Caliph. A civil war was fought in Basra. 'A'isha retired to Medina, and 'Ali moved the capital to Kufa in Iraq. The Umayyad Mu'awiya ruled Syria and Palestine. A compromise was opposed by the Kharijis, who tried to assassinate both leaders in 661. 'Ali was killed; but Mu'awiya was only wounded and persuaded 'Ali's successor to retire on a pension. 'Ali's son Husain and his supporters were massacred in 680, and Mu'awiya was succeeded by his son Yazid. In 683 Medina was destroyed, and Mecca was attacked in another civil war. Mukhtar took up the 'Ali cause called Shi'a and gave non-Arab Muslims equality, but he was defeated in 687.
Eventually Caliph 'Abd al-Malik unified the Islamic empire, making Arabic the official language. While the imperial army of al-Hajjaj subdued the east as far as India, 'Abd al-Malik's son al-Walid (r. 705-15) organized public charity in Syria and promoted building. The Muslim conquest of Spain took only two years and was completed in 713. The saintly Caliph 'Umar II (r. 717-20) reduced taxes, stopped wars of conquest, and tolerated Jews and Christians; unfortunately his reforms did not last. The Muslim invasion of Gaul was defeated by the Frank army of Charles Martel in 732. Caliph Hisham (r. 724-43) was unpopular for raising taxes. The 'Abbasids rose to power in Khurasan and moved west, replacing the Umayyads with their dynasty in 750.
At a banquet in 750 the 'Abbasids slaughtered eighty Umayyad leaders, but Rahman ibn Mu'awiya escaped to Spain and became an independent Governor there in 756. Al-Mansur (r. 754-75) used force and spies to consolidate his empire and built a new capital at Baghdad. Harun al-Rashid (r. 786-809) ruled at the height of ‘Abbasid wealth and power in Baghdad. He sponsored academies and translations from Greek and Sanskrit. As the basis of Islamic law al-Shafi'i added consensus and analogy to the Qur'an and the traditions of the prophet. After Harun's death the empire was divided between his two sons until Al-Ma'mun (r. 813-833) gained control. He promoted education and a less fundamentalist theology. Numerous conflicts between Sunnis and Shi'as as well as struggles for power over the next century eventually resulted in the Turk Buyids taking control of the Baghdad government in 945. Muslims dominated Spain, and Cordoba became the greatest intellectual center in Europe with a university and 400,000 books. North Africa was governed by the independent Idrisid dynasty in Morocco from 788 to 974. Shi'i Fatimids took over Egypt in 968 and then Syria for about a century. The Persian Samanids were ruling most of the east by the end of the 9th century.
Better paid Turkish cavalry defeated the Buyids' Daulami infantry, though 'Adud al-Daula promoted civilization from Baghdad until he died in 983. The Ghaznavid empire was founded in 977. Mahmud (r. 998-1030) ended Samanid rule in Iran and invaded India, while Caliph al-Qadir (991-1031) codified Sunni doctrine in Baghdad. In 1040 the Seljuq Turks defeated the Ghaznavids, whose kingdom shrunk to Afghanistan. Al-Qadir's son al-Qa'im survived the Shi'i Buyids but gave way to the Sunni Seljuqs, crowning Tughril-Beg in Baghdad in 1056. The Seljuqs decisively defeated the Byzantine army at Manzikert in 1071. Alp-Arslan had an army of 200,000 Turks, but he was assassinated by a prisoner and was succeeded by his son Malik-Shah (r. 1072-92). Both these Seljuqs were aided by the capable Vizier Nizam al-Mulk, who wrote Rules for Kings. Nizam and Malik-Shah were both murdered by the sect of Assassins in 1092. Nizam's book suggested that the best government was by one wise king, who would put in offices those with education and merit. Justice is most important and should be carefully monitored. He criticized the pre-Muslim Sasanians and also Shi'i heretics.
Firdausi's Shah-nameh is an epic poem meaning The Book of Kings based on chronicles; it focuses on the heroic deeds of Rostam and the struggles of Persian kingship after the Greek wars until the fall of the Sasanians to the Muslims. The horror of the violence is captured as fathers cause the death of their own sons. Only the wiser kings that practice justice bring peace.
Sufism arose in the 8th century; the woman Rabi'a remained celibate and sought God neither out of fear of punishment nor for hope of reward. Muhasibi emphasized self-discipline and moral psychology; he taught Junayd (d. 910), who developed Sufism as a theology. Al-Hallaj (858-922) drew attention by announcing that he is the truth; he sought martyrdom and was eventually executed. The Samanids in Khurasan and Transoxiana were more tolerant of the Sufi mystics. Abu Nasr as-Sarraj (d. 988) of Tus in Khurasan described seven stations of the Sufi way as repentance, watchfulness, renunciation, poverty, patience, trust, and acceptance. 'Abdullah Ansari (1006-88) taught Sufis in Herat, analyzing a hundred spiritual stations.
Al-Razi (865-925) was a physician, emphasized reason, and adapted
Platonic philosophy. Al-Farabi (870-950) was a Sufi and applied
Plato's political philosophy to Islamic culture. Saadia ben Joseph
(882-942) founded scientific Judaism and systematized the Talmud.
The Sora school of Talmud was closed in the middle of the
10th century, but the school at Pumbeditha lasted until 1040.
Miskawayh (c. 936-1030) applied the ethics of Aristotle, criticized
anti-social asceticism, and wrote a history of the world. Avicenna (980-1037) served the Samanids and fled from the Ghaznavids; he
wrote the most influential medical Canon. Avicenna was strongly influenced by Aristotle but wrote his own Islamic philosophy. Ibn Hazm (994-1064) was Vizier at Valencia and Cordoba. He wrote about romantic love in The Ring of the Dove and defended
the rights of women and slaves. He compiled an encyclopedic study
of comparative religion, and his ethical ideas were well expressed
in A Philosophy of Character and Conduct. Also in Spain
the Jews Ibn Gabirol and Bahya wrote valuable books on ethics.
Islamic urban culture is depicted in the Arabian tales of the1001 Nights, and the astronomer and mathematician 'Umar
Khayyam left behind Epicurean quatrains in his Ruba'iyat.
A civil war between Berkyaruq and Muhammad Tapar kept them from defending Muslims against the invasion of crusading Franks. The Egyptian army took over Jerusalem, but it was conquered by the crusaders in 1099. Zengi's army regained Edessa in 1149. Nur-ad-Din defended Edessa against the second crusade and later dispensed justice in Damascus. After Sanjar died in the east, none of the Seljuqs could unify the empire. Saladin gained control of Egypt in 1169 and made it Sunni. Saladin made treaties with Baldwin IV, Tripoli's Raymond III, and Bohemond III and sponsored schools. Raids by Reginald led to conflict, and Saladin's army took over Jerusalem and Acre before signing a three-year truce with England's Richard. Caliph an-Nasir (1180-1225) ignored the crusades and focused his diplomatic efforts in the east. Mongol Ogedei (r. 1229-41) invaded Persia, and Hulegu's Mongol army sacked Baghdad in 1258. The Mamluk dynasty ruled Egypt after 1250. Baybars won many victories, and the Mamluk army drove the crusaders out of Asia in 1291.
Al-Ghazali (1058-1111) taught jurisprudence and philosophy at the Nizamiya academy. He practiced Sufi exercises, and his books on philosophy and religion made Sufi mysticism acceptable to more people. He taught that a moral life is the basis for mystical intuition. He valued the use of reason with shari'a (Islamic law) and adapted Aristotle's ethics of the mean between extreme vices. Al-Ghazali believed that love is the highest virtue and recommended the golden rule.
Ibn Tufayl wrote the philosophical romance Hayy the Son of Yaqzan that describes a spiritual life on an isolated island. Averroes (1126-98) was a judge and a physician in Seville and Cordoba but is best known for his extensive commentaries on Aristotle. Averroes believed in the consensus of Islamic law but argued that the elite could benefit from philosophy. Nasir ad-Din Tusi (1201-74) was a prominent Shi'i jurist. He wrote a comprehensive Islamic ethics in 1235. He adapted the psychology and virtues of the Greeks. His stages of ethical development indicate a spiritual progression and deep mysticism.
Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) was born at Cordoba into a Jewish family that fled religious persecution to Africa and Palestine before settling in Egypt. He worked as a physician and even treated Saladin. Maimonides wrote the Code of Laws (Mishna Torah) and a digest of the Palestinian Talmud. He is most famous for applying rational philosophy to Judaism in his Guide for the Perplexed. In this work he advised against starting with metaphysics because it is too difficult; moral conduct is needed to moderate the passions of youth. He emphasized the value of prophecy. In ethics Maimonides recommended reducing desires and developing the intellectual faculties. Evils are only the relative opposites of true values such as life, health, wealth, and knowledge. God's creation is perfectly good, but the corporeal element contains the possibility of evil. In ignorance humans may harm themselves and others. He found that the most important precepts relate to learning and prayer. The son and grandson of Maimonides also wrote on ethics and were influenced by Sufism.
The Sufi Gilani (1077-1166) gave sermons on practical morality at Baghdad and distributed money he received to the poor. The mystical Persian philosopher Suhrawardi (1153-91) was called the master of illumination. Orthodox jurists, who disliked his theosophical views, got Sultan Saladin to order him executed. Ibn 'Arabi (1165-1240) emphasized the imagination and the perpetual transformation that leads to union with the real. The first great Sufi poetry was written in The Enclosed Garden of Truth by Sana'i of Ghazna. He recommended selflessness and becoming a friend of poverty in order to find the knowledge of God. Sana'i interpreted the symbols in dreams. 'Attar traveled widely, wrote biographies of Sufi saints, and completed his allegorical Conference of the Birds in 1188. The Hoopoe teaches the other birds how they can find the true king by withdrawing from attachment to the world. They travel through the seven valleys of the quest, love, understanding, independence, unity, astonishment, and finally nothingness. In the Book of God (Ilahi-nama) 'Attar conveyed his mystical teachings in various stories that a Caliph tells his six sons, who seek worldly pleasures and power.
Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207-73) was influenced by 'Attar and succeeded his own father as a religious teacher at the Seljuq capital of Iconium in 1231. Rumi developed the circling movements of the whirling dervishes and wrote mystical love poetry. He wrote six books of tales in his Masnavi, and his talks were written down in the Discourses. Rumi urged his readers to be free and love God in all. He considered God the first cause of everything. He found the divine in the inner voice. Rumi believed love makes all things better. He described the lust for wealth as a chain of fears and anxieties. To the mystic "There is no God but God" really means "There is nothing but God." In the Discourses Rumi suggested that one should serve God above the prince. He recommended mingling with friends, who have turned away from the world and toward God.
The Persian Sa'di was educated at the Nizamiya college in Baghdad,
and he published his Rose Garden in 1258, the year Baghdad
was conquered by the Mongols. In stories, poetry, and moral maxims
Sa'di commented on his times. He warned tyrants and noted that
people with a clear conscience have nothing to fear. He satirized
religious hypocrisy and wrote that the true qualities of a dervish
are praying, gratitude, service, obedience, alms-giving, contentment,
professing the unity of God, trust, submission, and patience.
In his Orchard Sa'di included ten chapters as doors of edification. His practical ethics emphasized justice. He advised a ruler that conciliating an enemy is better than conflict; but if he seeks malice, one may confront him because kindness to malice is an error. Instead of going to a prince, by putting aside desire one is a prince oneself. The soul must conquer the lower self.
The Oghuz warriors depicted in the Book of Dede Korkut valued honesty, courage, and family loyalty. Osman Ghazi (r. 1299-1326) founded the Ottoman dynasty, and his son Orkhan (r. 1326-60) expanded the Turkish nation by defeating the Byzantine army. Orkhan's brother Ala-ed-Din organized the Ottoman government with lower taxes on peasants. Christians were tolerated but had to pay more taxes than Muslims, who served in the military. Orkhan's son Murad I (r. 1361-89) expanded Turkish conquests to the west and made Adrianople the Ottoman capital, defeating Serbians and Hungarians in 1364. He began the devshirme system of training enslaved Christian boys to be Muslim soldiers called Janissaries. The Ottomans defeated the Serbians at Kosovo in 1389. Bayezid I (r. 1389-1402) had his brother killed and annexed Bulgaria, but he was defeated and killed by the conqueror Timur, whose plundering stretched from Egypt, Ankara, and Baghdad to Delhi in India. After a decade-long civil war with his brothers, Mehmed I (r. 1413-21) gained the throne, but his troops were defeated by Venice and Hungary. Murad II (r. 1421-51) invaded Transylvania.
Mehmed II (r. 1451-81) conquered Constantinople, vanquishing the Byzantine empire and renaming the city Istanbul. He annexed Serbia, and his army invaded the Morea (Greece), Bosnia, and Albania. Sultan Bayezid made truces with Hungary, Poland, Venice, and Egypt. Selim (r. 1512-20) won a power struggle with his brothers. His army defeated the Persians and took over Egypt in 1517. Sulayman (r. 1520-66) invaded Hungary in 1526 but was stopped at Vienna. He conquered Baghdad in 1534, and the same year former pirate Khayr al-Din captured Tunis. A naval victory over the Venetians made the Turks dominant in the Mediterranean. The Ottoman empire now included twenty ethnic groups and 21 governments. After more campaigns the Turks made peace with Persia in 1555.
While Selim II (r. 1566-74) drank, Grand Vizier Sokollu ran the government. Crusading Spain and Venice defeated the Ottoman fleet at Lepanto in 1571. Yet the Turks built a new fleet the next year, retook Cyprus, and made a treaty with Venice. The Sunni Ottomans went to war against the Shi'i Safavids in Persia 1577-90 and again 1610-12. In between the Ottoman empire fought the Hungarian war 1593-1606. Mehmed III (r. 1595-1603) had his nineteen brothers strangled. European commerce brought changes in weapons and the economy as inflation resulted from imported American gold and silver. Corruption increased, and military officers mutinied. Rebellions by peasants and local governors spread in the 17th century. After 1632 Murad IV used harsh measures to eradicate banditry, end the devshirme slave system, and reform corruption; he even tried to ban tobacco and coffee. Ibrahim (r. 1640-48) canceled the reforms as the rebel Jelalis took control over Anatolia. In 1656 Koprulu Mehmed became Vizier and tried to end corruption by executing 35,000 people. The Turks fought to expand their domain against Venice, Russia, Poland, and the Austrian empire, but their siege of Vienna in 1683 failed because of inferior artillery. The Ottoman empire lost territory to Europeans in the treaty of 1699 and even more to the Habsburg empire in 1718, while gaining Morea from Venice. The Turkish court began imitating European culture during the "tulip era."
In the 14th century Mongol rule of Persia by the Il-khans broke down in 1340. Though the Jalayarid dynasty took control at Baghdad, local warlords ruled in most areas. 'Ubayd-i-Zakani satirized this amoral era, and the poet Hafiz wrote poetry about wine and romance, symbolizing mystical love. Timur rose to power, married a Mongol princess, established a capital at Samarqand, and with a disciplined army conquered Herat and Qandahar before invading Persia in 1386. His plundering forces moved west and captured Baghdad. After conquering India in 1398, Timur came back to take Aleppo and Damascus before defeating Ottoman Sultan Bayezid at Ankara in 1402. Timur died while on his way to invading China in 1405. His son Shah Rukh won a struggle for power and governed the Timurid empire from Herat until 1447. Abu Sa'id (r. 1451-69) lost the western part of the empire to the Qara Quyunlu and Aq Quyunlu, but a Sufi persuaded him to reinstitute Islamic law. Turkman Uzun Hasan defeated the Qara Quyunlu and overcame the Timurid Abu Sa'id in 1469. Husayn Baiqara (r. 1469-1506) reigned during a peaceful era in Herat.
In 1501 Turkmen wearing red hats (qizilbash) helped young Isma'il establish the Safavid dynasty over Persia that made Shi'i Islam the dominant religion by persecuting Sunnis. Uzbek Khan Shaybani took over Herat from the Timurids; but he was defeated and killed by Isma'il at Marv in 1510. The Safavids did not use firearms against the Ottoman invasion of 1514 and were defeated. Tahmasp (r. 1524-76) continued the use of Iranian administrators and expanded the empire. Persian Shah 'Abbas (r. 1587-1629) made peace with the Ottomans in 1590 and bought new weapons from Europeans to drive back the Uzbek Turks. Then his army won back territory from the Ottoman Turks. 'Abbas centralized the empire and tried to eradicate Sunnis, moving the capital to Isfahan. Trading relations with the English and Dutch helped push out the Portuguese. Mir Damad established a school of hikmat (theosophy) at Isfahan, and Mulla Sadra taught his mystical ideas at Shiraz. Shahs kept future rulers confined to the harem, limiting their political experience. Though Baghdad and Qandahar were regained, the Persian government and army deteriorated in the 17th century. Intolerant Shi'i clerics persecuted all other religions.
Ancient Egypt has been discussed above. Civilization in Nubia established a capital at Napata in the 8th century BC. Black Nubians merged with Semites from Yemen to develop Ethiopia. Part of the Roman empire, Ethiopia adopted Christianity early. In the 12th and 13th centuries the Zagwe dynasty came into conflict with Muslim Egypt. The monk Ewostatewos encouraged agriculture and denounced the slave trade.
The Sahara desert was a natural barrier but was crossed on camels to trade salt, gold, and slaves. The Ghana empire had gold, but its capital Kumbi fell to the Almoravids in 1076. The Mali kingdom expanded; Mansa Musa (r. 1312-37) made a famous pilgrimage to Mecca and promoted Islam. Sonni 'Ali (r. 1464-92) of Songhay persecuted Muslims, recaptured Timbuktu, and conquered Jenne. Islam spread in Hausaland. Bantus flourished in southern Africa, and the Kikuyu lived in the eastern highlands, governing with councils of elders. The Great Zimbabwe was built in the 14th century.
Traditional African culture was passed on orally and emphasized family, clan, and tribe more than the individual. They revered the spirits of their ancestors and believed that those who do wrong are punished by God. Their healers sought to restrain the evil intentions in witchcraft. Taboos warned people not to do harm. The Hausa believe that a good person is truthful, trusting, generous, patient, prudent, courteous, respectful, wise, and just. Shame often regulated behavior. The Yoruba also had communal values. The Asante practiced discipline and trained priests, though their king still practiced human sacrifices. Secret societies operating at night used violence to protect the honor and standards of the community. Africans celebrated the rites of passage at birth, puberty, marriage, and death.
North Africa was colonized by Phoenicians from Tyre in the 8th century BC. Carthage was infamous for exacting tribute and sacrificing humans. Three Punic wars with Rome between 264 and 146 BC destroyed Carthage. Under the Roman empire Christianity spread in North Africa; but after 640 CE a Muslim invasion spread across North Africa and into Spain in 711. Most Berbers converted to Islam, although they often fought the Arab invaders. An independent Idrisid dynasty was founded in 788 in Morocco. The Aghlabid dynasty took over Tunis in 797 and conquered Sicily in 831. The Fatimids captured Qairawan from the Aghlabids in 909, deposed the last Idrisid ruler at Fez in 921, and took over Egypt in 968. Nomadic rebellions challenged Fatimid taxes.
The ascetic Maliki scholar Ibn Yasin led Guddala and Sanhaja tribes in the holy war of the Almoravids that conquered Sijilmasa in 1053. Yusuf ibn Tashfin led Almoravids in Morocco, took over Fez in 1069, and conquered most of Muslim Spain. His son 'Ali ibn Yusuf (r. 1106-43) followed Maliki advisors and persecuted Sufis. Ibn Tumart challenged 'Ali ibn Yusuf and led the Almohad movement, which emphasized the unity of God and the Qur'an. Almohads fought the Almoravids in Morocco and Spain, confiscating property from those who did not accept their doctrines. Almohad Caliph al-Nasir (r. 1199-1214) defeated the Almoravids by 1206. The Hafsids began ruling Ifriqiya and traded with Venice, Pisa, and Genoa. Hafsid al-Mustansir (r. 1249-77) tolerated Christians and was recognized as Caliph after the Mongols sacked Baghdad in 1258. Al-Mustansir made peace with crusaders Louis XI and Charles of Anjou and a commercial treaty with Aragon in 1271. Marinids fought the Almohads and conquered most of Morocco. Marinids and Hafsids introduced madrasas for students of Islamic law, countering the influence of the Sufi brotherhoods.
Mamluks were military slaves and took over Egypt during the crusades in 1250. Al-Nasir Muhammad (r. 1310-41) redistributed lands as fiefs, taxed agriculture, and lengthened the Alexandria canal. Muslim poets and scholars thrived in wealthy Egypt, but Christians were persecuted. Circassians like Barquq (r. 1382-99) replaced Turkish slaves. Barsbay (r. 1422-38) gained wealth by monopolizing sugar and taxing the spice trade from India. Egypt fought a war for five years against the Ottomans over Cilicia during the reign (1467-96) of Sultan Qait Bay.
Conflicts between the Hafsids in Tunisia, the Marinids in Morocco, and the Zayyanids in Tlemcen often disrupted the peasants. The Portuguese captured Ceuta in 1415 and by 1444 had set up a company in Lagos to exploit the African slave trade. Wattasid Muhammad al-Shaikh (r. 1472-1505) conquered Fez from the Marinid sharifs; but he had to recognize Europeans on the Atlantic coast. In 1471 the Portuguese began mining gold from Elmina on the Gold Coast, and by 1483 they had reached the Kongo and soon were trading with the Benin empire.
Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) served rulers in Fez, Granada, Bougie,
Tlemcen, Tunis, and Cairo. He wrote histories and described Islamic
civilization in his Introduction (Muqaddimah). He
warned that histories can be distorted. He believed that religious
laws and ethical rules are essential to maintaining justice and
stability. He observed how Bedouin civilization rose because of
group feeling ('asabiyya) that fosters courage, generosity,
forgiveness, tolerance, hospitality, charity, patience, respect
for teachers, and honesty. After a royal family establishes a
dynasty, group feeling fades as empire reaches its military limitations.
Increased expenses, luxury, and high taxes begin the decline.
Corruption sets in, and the worse govern. Eventually they are
overthrown by those with more solidarity.
The Ottoman Turks conquered Egypt in 1517 and sent pashas to govern it. Turkish officers collected taxes called "protection charges" and came into conflict with Arab shaykhs. In the 16th century Ethiopia fought wars against Muslim Adal, and in the 17th century they suffered civil wars.
Muslim corsair 'Aruj took Algiers from the Spanish in 1516, and his brother Khayr al-Din was appointed beylerbey by Ottoman Sultan Selim. He fought the Hafsids and sponsored piracy but left in 1536 to command the Ottoman navy. Spanish count Alcaudete in Oran exacted tribute but was defeated and killed by Turks in 1558. Turkish Janissaries governed Algiers and monopolized privateering, acquiring 25,000 Christian captives. Algeria became a military republic in 1671, but fourteen of the thirty deys elected in the next century and a half were removed by assassination. Military officers used the privileged makhzan tribes to collect taxes. As privateering profits decreased and taxes increased, Algerians complained about exporting wheat. The Darqawiyya Tariqa rebelled in the west from 1783 to 1805.
Turks conquered Tripoli in 1551 and Tunis in 1574; but in 1591 Tunisian officers revolted and forced the Ottoman Pasha to accept an elected dey. Murad Bey (r. 1612-31) gained the title Pasha and was succeeded by his son Humada Bey (r. 1631-1666). The Muradists profited from trade with Europe and monopolized agriculture. After a 20-year civil war, cavalry commander Husain ibn 'Ali gained power and was recognized as Pasha by the Ottomans in 1711.
After three kings were killed in the famous battle of Alcazarquivir in 1578, victorious Mawlay Ahmad (al-Mansur) ruled Morocco until 1603. He gained wealth by ransoming the 14,000 Christian captives and suppressed his opponents. Using firearms he got from the Turks, his army conquered the Songhay empire south of the Sahara Desert in 1591, importing gold and slaves. His death was followed by a civil war and a struggle between the Dala'iya shaykhs and 'Alawi sharifs until Mawlay Isma'il (r. 1672-1727) claimed religious authority as a sharif. He recruited black Africans into his army of 150,000 and by 1691 had consolidated his kingdom. When scholars protested his using slaves in the army, he arrested those who would not agree to his policy, confiscating their property.
Muhammad Ture (r. 1493-1528) founded Songhay's Askiya dynasty and implemented Islamic law with jihads. A Kebbi revolt made him leave Hausaland in 1515. He revived learning at Timbuktu. Dawud (r. 1549-82) also promoted Islam and won victories over the Mossi, Mali, Fulani, Arabs, and others. In 1591 a Songhay army of about 40,000 was defeated by 4,000 Moroccans with muskets. Askia Ishaq II agreed to pay Morocco a large annual tribute, as Gao and Timbuktu were occupied by troops.
Fulbe nomads and the Bambara revolted against the declining Mali empire, and the Kulibali family founded the Masasi dynasty. Kano and Katsina battled each other in the Hausaland until they made peace in 1650. Kwararafa attacked and plundered both cities in 1671. In the 16th century Bornu fought with the Bulala until Bornu mai Idris Alooma (r. 1571-1603) made peace. Trade helped him get Turkish military aid from Tripoli. Wars with Tuaregs afflicted Bornu with famines.
The Portuguese established sugar plantations worked by slaves on the island of Sao Tomé, which imported 76,000 slaves by 1600. The Dutch took Elmina and drove the Portuguese off the Gold Coast by 1642. The Dutch, English, and French competed for the slave trade and sent firearms to West Africa. War chiefs battled each other in this exploitation, and the Moors used British arms to overcome Wolof and dominate Futa Toro.
The Portuguese built forts at Sofala, Kilwa, and Mozambique by 1507. They battled Muslim traders and revolts sponsored by the Turks. The Portuguese built Fort Jesus at Mombasa in 1593; but Arabs from Oman drove them out a century later. Portuguese attempts to exploit East Africa for its gold, ivory, and slaves had little positive effect except for the foods they introduced from America. Madagascar supplied tens of thousands of slaves for the West Indies in the 17th century and for the French islands of Mauritius and Bourbon in the 18th century. The French also purchased slaves from east and central Africa, which suffered from conflicts caused by Bunyoro militarism.
By 1506 the Portuguese had converted the Kongo King to Catholicism, and they soon were exporting five thousand slaves a year. In 1571 the Portuguese chartered the royal colony of Angola at Luanda. For a century they fought over silver from the Ndongo mountains. By 1612 the Portuguese were shipping 10,000 slaves a year from Angola. In 1665 an Angolan army of 360 Europeans and 7,000 Africans defeated and killed Antonio and 400 Kongo nobles at Mbwila; but five years later the Portuguese failed to conquer the Kongo, which was exporting 15,000 slaves per year. From Mozambique the Portuguese tried to exploit the mineral resources of the mwanamutapa kingdom, but their violence often discouraged the Africans from helping them.
In southern Africa the Nguni cultivated the soil; the Khoikhoi kept herds; and the San (Bushmen) hunted and gathered. In 1652 the Dutch East India Company established a refreshment station at Table Bay. Forbidden to capture slaves, Riebeeck began importing them from Angola and Guinea in 1658. The Dutch used firearms and horses to win wars over cattle raiding and in 1677 forced the Cochoqua to pay an annual tribute of 30 cattle. The San and Khoikhoi lost their livelihoods and were reduced to being servants. The Company monopolized all commercial activity and fixed prices. Trekboers with Khoikhoi servants began wandering outside of the Company's control to find grazing land.
Social ethics developed in family life long before civilization. People found that living in larger groups increased cooperation and protection. Families helped resolve personal conflicts as parents settled squabbles between children. Family feuds could be lessened by the clan, which could also be called on for help against outside aggressors. Tribes organized clans together and could be united under a powerful chief. As population grew in regions by agricultural settlements, eventually towns and cities formed. The concept of leadership by a chief led to kingships, but many cities were governed by councils representing the tribes. As far as I can tell, every culture has some concept of justice or right. Larger societies found that laws could be defined and applied, if not equally to everyone, at least according to accepted principles. As these larger societies organized to defend themselves against others or to take advantage of others, the problem of massive violence in war became the major nemesis of civilization. Every major civilization has been dogged by this hostility, and efforts to develop awareness and effective institutions to solve this problem even in our time still have far to go.
Civilization developed size and power in the Near East, but the almost continual violence of warfare in societies ruled by kings promoted too much injustice and suffering to be stable and offer many people a good life. The oppression of war was extended by the slaves captured, and economic injustices also resulted in the poor being enslaved for debt. The Sumerians pioneered the development of civilization and law but suffered from the conflicts between cities. Egypt was an authoritarian society governed by power from the top. The spiritual leadership of Moses helped the Hebrews out of slavery; but their strong religious faith did not prevent conflicts with their neighbors. Assyria was especially militaristic and suppressed the rights of women. Persians benefited from the teachings of Zarathustra and became quite wealthy; but like Lydia's Croesus, their attempt to conquer the Greeks led to their own vanquishing by Alexander's Macedonians. Governments did attempt to achieve justice with laws, and advances were made in many fields of human endeavor. Occasional religious figures such as Akhenaten, Moses, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zarathustra, and many others less known to history inspired people with their wisdom, but their teachings were ignored by most amid the massive violence of war and the social injustices prevalent in the ancient Near East. Zoroastrian Persia revived under the Parthians and Sasanians, and both managed to defend themselves against Roman imperialism.
Muhammad is certainly one of the most influential individuals in the history of the world. He not only brought forth the Qur'an as the scripture for Islam, one of the world's most popular religions, but he also was the leader of the Muslims in their early development of an expansive empire. His ability to receive guidance from God in prayer, his generosity in providing charity, and his leadership have inspired millions. Yet in the tribal Bedouin milieu of raiding and revenge his example established an aggressive religious tradition that justifies the killing of unbelievers who do not submit to Muslim domination. He concurred with the harsh punishments of the age for crimes such as adultery and stealing, and he adopted the patriarchal polygamy and seclusion of women. His successors (caliphs) supervised the proselytizing expansion of Islam and the military conquest of Iraq, Persia, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, North Africa, and Spain. After his adopted son 'Ali was assassinated in 661, the Umayyad dynasty ruled the empire until they were overthrown in 750. Western Muslim expansion was stopped by the Franks in the west and by the Byzantines in Asia Minor.
The 'Abbasid dynasty won a civil war and ruled for nearly two centuries, reaching its height of wealth in the Baghdad of Harun al-Rashid (r. 786-809), who sponsored academies and literature. Muslims discovered the Greek philosophy of Plato and Aristotle as their own philosophers synthesized this wisdom with the Islamic law of the Qur'an and traditions of Muhammad. While European Christians were in the dark ages, Muslims were experiencing a renaissance that spread Arabic translations of Greek classics to the West through the great library in Cordoba. Al-Razi, al-Farabi, Miskawayh, Avicenna, Ibn Hazm, al-Ghazali, Averroes, and Nasir ad-Din Tusi wrote profoundly and extensively on philosophy and ethics. Jews were tolerated, and Moses Maimonides wrote great works in Arabic as well as Hebrew. Under the Seljuq Turks political ideas were developed by Vizier Nizam al-Mulk and others who wrote books of counsel for princes. Mystics called Sufis practiced the love of God in poverty, formed fraternal societies, and created inspiring literature, especially in the 13th century with the works of 'Attar, Rumi, and Sa'di.
For two centuries crusaders from western Europe invaded Palestine and nearby regions, causing wars, disruption, and animosity between Christians and Muslims. Armies led by Zengi, Nur-ad-Din, and Saladin fought back and kept the crusaders confined to a few cities. While Mongols invaded from the east in the 13th century, sacking Baghdad in 1258, the Mamluk slaves gained power in Egypt and led the effort that expelled the crusaders from Asia in 1291. These military clashes produced little value when the two cultures could have been learning from each other.
The long-lasting Ottoman empire of the Turks expanded the rule of Islamic law to the west and conquered the Byzantine empire by 1453. They captured boys from Christian families and trained them as Muslim soldiers called Janissaries, who exercised much control over the Sultan in Istanbul. Sulayman (r. 1520-66) invaded Hungary but was stopped at Vienna. The Ottoman empire would continue to struggle against the Hapsburg empire and the Russians in frequent wars for several centuries. In the 14th century Persia suffered from conflicts with the Mongols and the conquering Timur. Then the Safavid dynasty ruled a revived Persian empire in the 16th and 17th centuries with the Shi'i faith opposing the Sunni orthodoxy of the Turks. While Europe, stimulated by the Greek classics passed to them by Muslims and a thriving economy, experienced a powerful renaissance and modernizing reforms, the Islamic world seemed to be stuck in its medieval religious culture. Technological advances, which often were first developed in China, spread much faster in Europe than they did in the Mideast. Sailing ships going around Africa to India made the silk road through Persia less essential. Persia became more isolated, while the Ottomans gradually began to realize that European advances were causing them to lose battles.
The human species evolved in Africa, and ancient Egypt was a strong civilization that influenced the Mideast for centuries. North Africa was absorbed into the Roman empire and was converted to Christianity. However, in the 7th century Arab Muslims conquered North Africa. Islam soon became the dominant religion, and Christianity only remained prominent in Ethiopia. South of the Sahara Desert, black Africans continued their traditional tribal ways that affirmed the ethical and social values of the community. Islamic culture spread into West Africa and along the east coast. In North Africa the Fatimid dynasty became independent in Egypt, and the Almoravids and Almohads spread their doctrines in the Maghrib and Spain. The great philosopher of history, Ibn Khaldun, analyzed the rise and fall of Muslim civilizations, and his innovative ideas would be applied to all cultures. He found that zealous military aggression can create an empire; but when it reaches its practical limit, plundering must be replaced by taxes to support the overstretched military. Then corruption, greed, and materialism bring moral decay and decline.
In the 15th century the Portuguese sailing ships began encroaching into Africa and started the abominable European slave trade. Slaves had been traded in Africa, as they had in ancient Greece, Rome, and the Mideast; but the European slave trade in West Africa reached an atrocious scale as millions of men and some women were shipped to islands and America. Ottoman Turks conquered Egypt and most of North Africa in the 16th century; but Morocco remained independent, and others struggled for local autonomy. Competition between the Portuguese, English, Dutch, and French for gold and the slave trade in West Africa, gave local chiefs economic incentives to increase their power in wars in order to sell captives. This nefarious European influence caused untold suffering to Africans. On the east coast of Africa the Portuguese competed with Arabs and Turks for trade in gold, ivory, and slaves. In Angola and the Kongo the Portuguese tried to impose Christianity as they exploited the slave trade. In southern Africa the Dutch East India Company established a thriving colony at Cape Town in the 17th century, and the Boers gradually came into conflicts with native Xhosa over cattle ranges.
Morality and ethics derive from the ancient tribal ways of Africa by which human individuals work together in families and clans to take care of each other and prepare the next generation for community living. More formal laws and ethical philosophies evolved in the ancient Near East as the Sumerians developed law codes. Yet conflicts over acquired property and frictions based on differing religious beliefs and cultural traditions led to the massive violence of wars with increasing armies. Islam is a powerful religion; but from the beginning it has a history of aggression. Even though the word "Islam" means submission, it usually implies submission to God and not necessarily peace with one's fellow humans, especially "unbelievers" or "idolaters" of other religions. Yet most Muslims are peaceful and want peace, and many Sufis have shown and written about the ways of peace. In Africa the influence of European Christians, especially in the slave trade, was more pernicious than helpful. Although great religious leaders, sages, and philosophers have attempted to teach people how to get along with each other, our world still faces horrendous problems, especially in the Middle East and Africa. I believe that understanding the history and beliefs of various human cultures will help us to solve these problems with justice and compassion, and so I have written this book in order to give people access to the actual facts that can help them think for themselves.
This chapter has been published in the book Mideast & Africa to 1700.
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