Tuesday, May 10, 2011


I really hated writing that long paper (mostly).  This next one is much more my speed.  I have to write two three pagers, choice of three questions, to finish up with my History of Islam class (which turned out to be way more interesting than I ever would have thought).

Here's the first one:

This paper is a comparison of the Arab and the Saljuq conquests.  For this paper the term “Arab conquest” covers the period from Muhammad’s death in 632 C.E. until approximately 750 C.E. 
            The death of Muhammad was, in Lapidus’ words, unexpected.  Muhammad had recited the contents of the Qur’an to his followers over the course of more than a decade, including a great deal regarding how society should proceed, the roles of men and women, the penalties to be imposed for various transgressions, but nothing whatsoever regarding who should lead the community once he was no longer available.  Perhaps he felt that they should solve that problem for themselves.  In any case, his death created the possibility of dissolution of the community.  The Khazraj, a leading Medinan clan before Muhammad’s arrival, elected their own new chief.  Some of the Bedouin tribes, which Muhammad had brought into the community through a combination of force and persuasion, also began to reconsider their allegiance.  Leaders within the community conceived the idea of a succession and elected Abu Bakr, a close companion of Muhammad to be the first Caliph (successor). 
            Abu Bakr’s first task was to reestablish the unity of the Umma (community of Muslims).  The Khazraj bought into the succession; the tribes that did not were re-conquered.  This re-conquest put eastward and southerly pressure on non-aligned Arab tribes resulting in an expansion of the territory under Muslim control.  Abu Bakr also sent forces north to secure and extend the frontier, leading to the absorption of Syria into the Muslim orbit. 
            As the territory controlled by the Caliphate spread they began to mobilize the conquered pastoral tribes to expand the area of dominance.  They did this by sharing the spoils with them.  Their successes brought them into conflict with the Byzantine and Sasanian empires, which led eventually to the destruction of the Sasanian Empire and the taking of the territory south and east of the Mediterranean Sea, though the Byzantine Empire was not actually defeated and remained a threat on the frontier.  Lapidus attributes the military success of the Caliphate largely to the fact that both established empires were weakened (and perhaps overextended) by decades of war.  The people of the newly conquered territory accepted the commercial benefits created by the new arrangement and embraced Islam. 
            Administration of the new empire rested on two principles: keeping the Bedouins from pillaging farmland and working with the elites of the newly conquered societies.  The Caliphate established Amsar, military garrisons, at strategic locations to keep the Bedouins under control and to keep the soldiers out of the cities, where they might create civic disorder.  Islam was a unifying factor in keeping the populations under control, especially since no one was forced to convert.  Instead, local customs were allowed to continue, just as local leaders were permitted to retain leadership positions.  In this way the Caliphate could turn its attention to administration and expansion rather than putting down rebellions. 
            Tax collecting went on as always, with the system already in place being adopted by the Caliphate.  In Iran, for example, this meant the Sasanian combination of both land and poll taxes.  The general rule was the conquered people, especially peasants, workers and merchants paid taxes to the conquering soldiers, and the landowners and administrators.  Always the Caliphate was the supreme taxing authority, allowing the regional governors and soldiers a “cut.”
            The Saljuq conquerors came onto the scene in the mid eleventh century.  By this time the unity of the first hundred years after Muhammad’s death was only a memory.  The Caliphate still existed but the line of succession was no longer clear.  Ali, the fourth Caliph, had “lost” the Caliphate before his death leading to the Umayyad dynasty.  The Umayyads were eventually replaced by the Abbasids, a line tracing back to an uncle of Muhammad and seen by Muslims as more legitimate than the Umayyads, who had become nothing more than a military dictatorship (or at the very least were perceived as such by Muslims).  The Saljuq were actually a family of Oghuz Turks, led by brothers Tughril and Chagri Beg.  They came out of the central Asian steppe, crossing the Oxus River in 1025 and moving west.  In 1040 they defeated the Ghaznavids and ruled Khurasan.  Continuing west they moved into Iran, defeated the Buwayhids, continued into Baghdad and took control of the Caliphate.  By 1071 they had reunited the Muslim empire from Khurasan to the Mediterranean, even defeating the Byzantine army, capturing the Emperor and opening Anatolia to Turkish invasion.  The Saljuqs sought to rebuild the bureaucracy and sponsor Muslim religious activity as a means of acquiring legitimacy.  They were ill equipped to rule as bureaucrats, however, and when the brothers died, successors split the newly reunited empire into smaller territories.  Like the Arab Caliphs before them, the Saljuqs tried to adopt the governing institutions of their predecessors, most notably the raising of slave armies whose loyalties were bought with land grants.  Problems of succession, however, led to the breakdown of centralized power and left the various smaller regimes too weak to effectively defend their borders and hold territory.  By the middle of the eleventh century they began to succumb to Mongol invasions. 
            The similarities between the Arab and the Saljuq conquests, then, are military superiority, payment of their armies through taxation of the conquered people and the eventual loss of control due to problems with the succession.  The differences are the use of Islam as a unifying force by the Arabs and only a mostly unsuccessful attempt to do so by the Saljuqs and the defeat of the Byzantines and the taking of Anatolia by the Saljuqs, something the Arab Caliphate had repeatedly failed to accomplish. 


  1. "...payment of their armies through taxation of the conquered people."

    Perhaps that is something the US should try.

    Let us know the grade you get on the assignment.

  2. Thanks Whit. ; )

    We are just about one step away from that now, don't you think?

  3. NAC,
    Wasn't the taxation bit sort of Bush's plan to finance the Iraq war?

  4. Sort of, at least. I know I remember hearing that Iraqi oil would pay for the whole thing. But that might have come from Rumsfeld.

  5. I don't know if I'll learn individual grades for these, Whit. I have an "A" going and if I get the A for the course I'll know they were good enough. Should know in about a week.