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Worst of Wikipedia/History of western Eurasia

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West Eurasia is an area bounded by the Sahara and the Indian Ocean to the south, the Atlantic to the west, and the Arctic Ocean to the north. Significant movements of people have entered the region from the East across the steppes. Nonetheless, the steppes have, for much of history, been lowly populated and so the interaction of West Eurasia with East Eurasia had been indirect.

Early Classical

Cyrus the Great after having successfully rebelled and overthrown the Median King, invaded Lydia in 546 BCE and conquered it. In 538 BCE he overran Babylonia. Along with the conquest of Egypt by his son Cambyses the Persian Empire reached an unprecedented size for West Eurasia. Cambyses' plans to continue west against Carthage came to nothing when the Phoenicians refused to participate - Carthage had taken pains to maintain its links with its mother city Tyre.

The Greco-Persian Wars (circa 500 BCE - 448 BCE) between the Persian Empire and the Greek city states, resulted in a stalemate and Persian Kings from them on chose a policy of divide and rule. This allowed Persia to regain control of the Ionian cities of Anatolia at the end of the Peloponnesian War but the policy was most successful during the Corinthian War. However Philip II of Macedon secured a hegemony over the Greek city states. In 334 Philip's son Alexander crossed into Asia, and in a series of campaigns conquered the Persian Empire. Though on his death, in 323, war between his generals divided his Empire, the Hellenistic age was marked by a spread of Greek culture and language thru much of Western Asia and Egypt.

By this period a large area of Europe including north Italy, France, parts of Iberia and the British Isles, was dominated by Celtic culture. In 279 BCE, a group of Celts led by Brennus invaded Macedon and broke thru Thermopylae, looting Delphi before being driven off. A section of them crossed over into Anatolia the next year and the area where they were to settle became known as Galatia. The Scythians the nomads who had till then dominated the steppe area north of the Black Sea, were driven out of the Balkans by Celtic tribes around this period. They were to come under pressure from the related Sarmatians from the East to whom they gradually succumbed over the next 100 years.

Rome had been gradually completing the conquest of Italy and the only major city to hold out in the south was Tarentum. When Tarentum stumbled into war with Rome, in 282 BCE, it appealed to Pyrrhus of Epirus. Pyrrhus also attempted to drive out the Carthaginians from Sicily but was eventually defeated at Beneventum. In 264 BCE Rome went to war with Carthage and in the course of the First and Second Punic War Rome secured dominance in the Western Mediterranean despite Hannibal's invasion of Italy. Philip of Macedonia had allied with Hannibal and because of this Rome went to war with Macedonia in 200 BCE. The resulting Second Macedonian War broke Macedonian power in Hellas.

The Seleucid Empire had been reestablishing its traditional preeminence in the Eastern Mediterranean under Antiochus III the Great taking the long coveted Coele-Syria from the Ptolemids after the Battle of Panium in 198 BCE. War between Antiochus and Rome broke out when Antiochus entered Greece in alliance with Aetolia. Driven out of Greece he was defeated at the Battle of Magnesia in 198 BCE.

Roman dominance

Magnesia secured Roman dominance in the Mediterranean region. The destruction of Carthage and Corinth in 146 BCE merely confirmed this. Despite this, Greek culture and religion remained dominant in the East Mediterranean. Indeed Greek Syncretism accommodated Roman Gods as merely the different names of Greek Gods - Celtic Gods were to be similarly co-opted later. On the other hand the revolt of the Maccabees in Judea was merely the rejection of Greek culture for which we have the most detailed records. Probably, the establishment of Parthian rule over Persia represented at the time a far more significant rejection of Greek culture even though the extent that it represented the reestablishment of Zoroastrianism to dominance is uncertain due to our lack of reliable sources. Greek artistic taste had already been spread by the conquests of Alexander, the Roman conquest of Greece was to spread it across much of Western Europe. Roman art did show other influences however such as Etruscan in Roman architecture.

Though Roman expansion seems quite unstoppable this was an unstable period. According to Peter Green, in this period a large number of people were enslaved due to the large number of wars and this explains the large number of slave revolts in this period. Piracy was on the increase because Rome cut down to size those navel powers who had kept piracy in check but was slow to take on the responsibility herself. During this period of roman expansionism arqueological evidence points ou to a great increase of the volume of trade in the mediterranean sea, with increased by 200% to 300%, from the 3th century Bc to the 1st century. This appears to indicate that the political unification of the mediterranean sea estimulated economic progress.

Roman dominance was so great that it was able to indulge in a series of civil wars without serious risk. Only Mithridates King of Pontus, was able to exploit Roman disunity, and during the First Mithridatic War (88 BCE-84 BCE) he overran Anatolia and sent an army to invade Greece which was defeated by Sulla in 85 BCE. Indeed, the rivalry between generals helped to fuel expansion as in Caesar's conquest of Gaul. In 53 BCE, the Roman general Crassus trying to match Caesar's prestige invaded Parthia but was killed at the battle of Carrhae - this was the first lasting check on Roman expansion. The era of civil wars came to end with Octavian's victory at Actium in 31 BCE and this is the point designated for the transition of the Republic to the Roman Empire. Along with the annexation of Egypt, Augustus expanded the Empire at a number of points, the most significant was the series of campaigns from 14 BCE to 8 BCE in Dalmatia and Panonia which pushed the Roman border up to the Danube along with and invasion of North Western Germany in 9 BCE. The revolt of the Danube provinces in 6 CE was to be suppressed but it was immediately followed by a German revolt and the defeat of Teutoburger Wald in 9 CE.

In the wake of the Teutoburger Wald disaster, Augustus faced reality and gave advice to his successors to stick to the borders he had achieved. That advice was in the main kept until the reign of Claudius. Under Claudius a number of vassel states were annexed and in 43 CE the island of Britain was invaded. The empire reached its maximum extent under Trajan who had completed his conquest of the Thracian kingdom of Dacia in 106 and in 113 launched a war against Parthia conquering Mesopotamia and placing the pliable Parthamaspates on the Parthian throne. On Trajan's death, however, Hadrian withdrew from Mesopotamia.

Even at its height Rome ruled less than half the West Eurasian region but dominates the history because the vast majority of the population, wealth and surviving written history were located within its borders. Beyond the borders, as well as the Celtic remnant in Ireland and Scotland, in Europe there were the Germans and Sarmatians - the Sarmatian Jazyges now grazed the Hungarian plains. The Venedes who Roman historians occasional mention may have been Slavs living further North or may have been some otherwise unknown people. To the West of the Parthians, the Tocharian speaking Kushans had established an Empire that extended into India some of whose rulers adopted Buddhism.

The Parthian weakness that had allowed the Romans to annex the area around Edessa as Upper Mesopotamia opened the way to Ardashir to rebel and overthrow the Parthian king in 224, so founding the Sassanid dynasty. Though Rome was weaker than in its goldem age, she was able to hold their own against them - not so the Kurshans who were overrun by the Persians.

In 235 Maximinus Thrax was proclaimed emperor by his troops which marks the start of the Crisis of the Third Century. Civil war was not new to the Roman Empire but instead of a brief succession dispute this period is notable for large sections of the Empire being ruled separately for prolonged periods. On some level West Eurasia again become a multi polar world. While Diocletian who was proclaimed Emperor in 284 may have ended the crisis he institutionalized a division of the empire, the Tetrarchy, that proved to be stable only so long as Diocletian was in place to keep it together. Renewed division ensued almost as soon as Diocletian resigned to ended when Constantine I (emperor) defeated his last rival at the Battle of Chrysopolis in 323. Constantine's elevation brought to prominence Christianity which quickly established it as the state religion - being adopted also by many Germanic tribes though they in the main followed the variant of Christianity Arianism which had been the orthodoxy at the time most of them converted.

By the middle of the 4th Century the Germanic Ostrogoths had established a large kingdom north of the Black Sea. According to tradition (or legend?) it was huge, extending to the Baltic Sea.

The Fall of Rome

In 376 the Huns attacked the Ostrogothic kingdom. The Ostrogoths were defeated and the defeated Germans were soon on the banks of the Danube clamoring to be allowed to cross into the safety of the Roman Empire. Valens the emperor based in Constantinople reluctantly agreed. His misgivings were confirmed when things got out of hand. In 378 the Roman army was defeated at the Battle of Adrianople and Valens killed during the rout. In the wake of the battle the Balkans were devastated but Theodosius I the new Eastern Emperor gradually recovered the Roman position and he successfully defeated rival emperors in the East. After his death a period of instability and Germanic incursions, especially in the Western half of the Empire, culminated in the sack of Rome by Alaric I of the Visigoths in 410. By now a quite a diverse number of Germanic tribes along with a group of Alans were residents of the Western Empire. Whenever a strong leader emerged at the head of the Empire these tribal groups were forced back into limited areas. Whenever the current Roman leader died a prolonged power struggle ensued which the tribal confederacies took advantage of. At least North Africa was safe from raids - until a Vandal-Alan tribal alliance crossed the straits of Gibralter in 429. Meanwhile the Huns north of the Danube had established a huge hegemony, forcing virtually all Germanic tribes outside the Roman Empire into submission. This did at least stabilize Germany to the extent that there were no new influxes of Germans until the Huns under Attila decided to invade the Empire themselves. The climax of the resulting conflict was when Flavius A�tius organized a mixed German-Roman force that forced Attila back at the Battle of Chalons, in 451.

In 453 Attila died in bed with his new wife. The hunish empire collapsed. Aetius who had long ruled in the name of the boy Emperor Valentinian III met his end when Valentinian now an adult, decided the only way he could become a true emperor was to kill Aetius. The result was the traditional Roman power struggle in which Valentinian lost his life and Germanic power grew beyond the point of no return. In 476 the German Odovacar staged a coup in which the current emperor, Romulus Augustulus was deposed. This is the traditional date for the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

Though Odovacar paid lip service to the authority of Eastern Roman Empire, Constantenople wasn't fooled and in 489 dispatched the Ostrogoths under Theodoric the Amal who established their own kingdom in Italy. This left the Eastern Empire intact but the Western Empire divided into four kingdoms. Along with the Ostrogoths in Italy the Visigoths ruled Spain, the Franks Gaul and the Kingdom of the Vandals and Alans, North Africa.

These changes changed Western Eurasia from an unipolar world to a multipolar world. In the area of the Western Roman Empire the centralized tax funded state defended by a standing army had been swept away. Christianity provided some continuity but the decline in secular literacy along with the increasing independence of the Papacy, no longer beholden to the Emperor, opened the way to a very different direction of development. (The Fall of the Roman Empire: Peter Heather)

A multipolar subcontinent

The Eastern Empire survived in part because its main rival the Sassanids had troubles of their own fending off attacks from the steppes by the White Huns. From the beginning of the 6th century the Sassanids began to contain this threat and were again able to be an annoyance to the Eastern Empire. Nevertheless the Emperor Justinian was able to dispatch Belisarius against the Vandals. Despite very forces he succeeded, Carthage falling in 533. Justinian�s next target the Ostrogoths who were only finally defeated in 552 at Busta Gallorum.

In 557 the Turks burst into the sub continent driving before them the Rouran and defeated the White Huns. This allowed the Sassanids to move their border up to the Oxus. The Rouran and the White Huns joined forces and as the Avars moved west and established a large hegemony north of the black sea. The Avars then expanded even further westward onto the Pannonian plain intervening on the side of the Lombards against the Gepids. The Gepids were crushed in 567 but the Lombards found their new neighbors too powerful for safety and abandoned their territory to descend on Italy capturing many of the inland cities that could not be supplied by sea.

In the north west the realm of the Franks under the Merovingians had become the dominant power but as it was often divided this did not have much wider impact.

Byzantine forces secured the Sassanid throne for Khosrau at the Battle of Zab in 591. Khosrau was now personally indebted to the Byzantine emperor Maurice and so with his rear secure he concentrated on defeating the Avars. However his stern discipline provoked a mutiny and he was murdered by the usurper Phocas. Khosrau then declared a war of vengeance against the murderer of his benefactor bringing Byzantium close to disaster so enabling Heraclius to overthrow Phocas. In a war of two decades Heraclius took Byzantium from the brink of collapse to the point where the Sassanids were forced to make terms in 628. These long years of warfare had almost no significant result - except to leave both the Sassanid and the Byzantine Empires exhausted.

Enter the Arabs

In 629 an Arab raid on Byzantine Syria was the harbinger of the onslaught by Arab armies against the exhausted Sassanid and the Byzantine Empires. United by the monotheistic religion Islam they inflicted decisive defeats on the Byzantines (Battle of Yarmouk in Syria) and the Persians (Battle of Kadisiya, 637). By 642 they had overrun Egypt and by 650 the Sassanid Empire had been completely conquered. The Arab Khalifate was marked by the complete lack of division between religion and statecraft. Hence the civil war that broke out in 656 was both dynastic and religious. This did at least give the Byzantines something of a respite but nonetheless they failed to prevent the Arab conquest of North Africa which they completed by 709. Many Berbers converted to Islam and these made up a large section of the force which crossed over in Visgothic Hispania in 711. After their defeat at the Battle of Guadalete the Visigoths were quickly overrun.

At least the Byzantines no longer had to worry about the Avars who had lost control over their Slav vassals but as these Slav tribes had overrun all the Balkans (including most of Greece) this did not help the Byzantines much and their only really sizable territory was Anatolia.

Though the Byzantine Emperor's rule over Rome was becoming more and more nominal he still expected the pope to jump as if he had. When Leo the Isaurian fearing that Arab victories could be due to their abhorrence of idolatry ordered the destruction of icons around 730. The resulting Iconoclastic controversy allowed the Pope to assert his independence culminating in his excommunication of the Emperor.

In the north west the Frankish realm was moving beyond its era of disunity. A massive raid from Islamic Spain culminated in the Battle of Tours , and this battle both demonstrated how Charles Martel had become king in all but name and further strengthened his authority. Charles Martel's son Pepin the Short gained the backing of the pope and became king in name as well in 751. Hence, when the Lombards started attacking the mini state that Pope had eased out of the Byzantine orbit, he was able to count on Pepin's aid.

In 750 the Khalifate the Abbasids ousted the Umayyads who had ruled since the assassination of Ali. One of the few Umayyads to survive the resulting bloodletting established an independent Emirate in Hispania. Across the water in Morocco, the Idrisids, who claimed descent from Ali, proclaimed a rival Khalifate.

Pepin was succeeded by his son Charlemagne in 771 and earned his epitat 'Great' by doing a lot of conquering. He overran the saxons, eliminated the Avars (in alliance with the turkic Bulgars) and took Barcelona from the Umayyads. The Lombards who couldn't resist bothering the Pope again got incorporated into the Frankish realm as well. In 800 he was proclaimed emperor by the Pope. The Frankish tendency to disunity, however, reasserted itself on the death of Charlemagne's son, Louis the Pious when Louis' three sons all got a share in 840.

Nikephoros I Phokas began the recovery for Byzantium of the Balkans by subduing inland Greece. Though he was to get himself killed in 811 trying to subdue the Bulgars, this marked the beginning of a trend that would lead to Byzantium securing in the Balkans territory to match their Anatolian heartland on the other side of the Aegean.

In 793 a band of Vikings raided Lindisfarne but the era of Viking raids really only got going in the middle of the 9th Century. Not only was most of the Atlantic seaboard affected but they also raided along the river system from the Baltic to the Black Sea, founding in the process the Russian Kingdom in 862 or so the legends tell. By contrast the rather small grant of land (Normandy) by the French King in 911 to a group of Vikings was to have a long term impact. The Normans soon began to speak French and became a force in their own right.

The seemingly unstoppable decline of the Abbasid Khalifate was checked for while when, in 905, Al-Muktafi overthrew the Tulunids and retook Egypt. To the East Persia had fallen into the hands of the Saffarid but in 900 they had been defeated by the Samanids who, at least outwardly, recognized the authority of the Khalif. Further to the East, in the magreb a new rival Khalifate was established, the Fatimid. Two Fatimid attacks on Egypt were beaten off in 914 and 919 by the Abbasids.

As the Viking raids subsided the Magyars arrived. Crossing the Caparthians they, in 896, occupied the Upper Tisza river, from which they conducted raids thru much of Western Europe. However, in 955 they were defeated by Otto of Germany at the Battle of Lechfeld. The defeat was so crushing that the Magyars decided that 'if you can't beat them join them' and in 1000 their King was accepting his royal regalia from the Pope. Otto on the strength of that victory was able to secure the tittle of Emperor. This German based Holy Roman Empire was to be the major power in Christian Europe for some time to come. As well as this "rebirth" of Western Roman Empire, the Eastern Roman Empire continued to be the up. Eastwards their rule was pushed as far as Antioch (taken in 969), while their conquest of the West Bulgarian Empire in 1018 meant they now controlled most of the Balkans. Part of the reason for this Byzantine success was their main rival, the Abbasid Khalifate completely collapsed. The Fatamids overran Egypt and Syria while the Buyids overran Iran and Mesopotamia. The Abbasid Khalifate lived on as merley spiritual authority to which the Buyaids were happy to defer to so long as it stayed spiritual. A third Khalifate appeared or rather was reborn in the West when the Umayyad Emirate that had expanded into Morocco proclaimed themselves as Khalifate in 929. But this was their highpoint. In little more than a 100 years the Khalifate had disintegrated and finally expired in 1031.

High Medieval

For some time Normans had been employed in the Byzantine-Lombard conflict in Southern Italy. With the capture of Melfi in 1040 by Robert Guiscard it was clear that the Normans were out of control and soon not only Southern Italy had been conquered by the Normans but also, the Emirate of Sicily. The stay at home Normans, not to be outdone, conquered England.

Having overthrown the Afghanistan based Ghaznavid Empire at the Battle of Dandanaqan in 1040, the Seljuks took Bagdad in 1055. In 1071 the Seljuks confronted the Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert. The Byzantines lost the battle and as a result the whole Anatolian half of their realm. The Byzantines finally were desperate enough to seek help from the Pope and if the First Crusade was not quite the help the Byzantines had in mind in did allow them to make a partial recovery. The crusade also allowed the Fatamids to recover Jerusalem only for them to lose it to the Crusaders shortly afterwards.

In 1055 a group of Berbers, the Almoravids recent converts to Islam, appeared out of the Sahara and captured the oasis of Sijilmasa. In 1062 they founded the city of Marrakech from which comes the name of the region Morocco which the Almoravids soon had overrun. In Hispania the fragmented Muslim rulers began to lose ground to the Christian princes to the North. The Muslim princes appealed to the Almoravids in 1086 and the Almoravids both stemmed the Christian advance and ended the fragmentation of the Muslim region of Spain by bringing it under their control. The magreb and Spain had till then been the home of opponents of the Abbasids (Fatamid, Umayyad) but the Almoravids broke this tradition by firmly recognizing the authority of the Abbasid Khalif.

The two major north Europe powers, Germany and France were both hamstrung by internal problems. The German emperors became locked in a duel with the pope over who should appoint prelates in Germany with the main Papal tactic being the backing of rival Emporers. In France, the Capetian kings had been reduce to a level of little more than barons. When they began to make a comeback they were faced with the Occitan dynasty the Plantagenets who having acquired the Kingdom of England had more resources than they. However the succession dispute between John Lackland and Arthur allowed the French King to gain control of much of the Plantagenet region and the Albigensian Crusade gave them control of Langudoc in 1228.

The Crusader States lasted so long as they did because Islam was so divided - first of all between Fatamid Egypt and the Seljuks and secondly due to the internal fragmentation of the Seljuks. The crusader luck ran out with the growing power of the atabeg of Mosul (atabeg was a regent for Seljuk prince). In 1154 the current Mosul ruler Nureddin took Damascus. Next target was Fatamid Egypt which despite aid from the crusaders fell in 1169. It was, however, Saladin the next sultan who rounded things off with conquest of Jerusalem in the wake of the Battle of Hattin. The fall of Jerusalem provoked the Third Crusade which achieved little in Palestine but took Richard Coeur de Lion out of circulation some time so allowing the French king to gain significant ground in his duel with the Plantagenents. The Fourth Crusade achieved a good deal more - by carving the Latin Empire out of the Byzantine Empire. It didn't last. Despite the fact that the Byzantine Emperor retook Constantinople in 1261 the damage to the Byzantines was more permanent - the crusades true "achievement".

The decline of the Seljuks proceeded sufficiently that the Abbasid Khalifate managed to establish secular rule in Mesopotamia. The defeat of the Fatamid Caliph would have made the Abbasids sole Khalifs were it not that Almohads had replaced the Almoravids in the west and had proclaimed themselves as a Khalifate. The change in rulers might have had an effect on the lives of Berber women (amongst the Berbers the Koran had not been interpreted as insisting on the veil - the Almohads disagreed) but had little effect in Spain where the Christian kingdoms continued to advance towards the South. They were however notable patrons of philosophers and of Averroes in particular who is said to have sown the seeds of the Renaissance.

In 1220 the Mongols crashed into Persia, at time ruled by Khwarezmids. In 1223 it was the turn of the Kievan Rus' who were defeated at the Battle of the Kalka River. The systematic conquest of Russia was to follow in 1237. In 1258 Baghdad was attacked and the Abbasid Khalif executed by being trampled under the hoofs of the mongol horses. What finally halted Mongol expansion was its internal problems and on the death of Kublai Khan in 1294 the empire fragmented. Two of the fragments, the Golden Horde in Russia and the Ilkhanate in Persia were themselves major West Eurasian powers. The Ilkhanate adopted Islam in 1295.


Industrial Revolution

Modern times


See also

History of Eurasia History of Europe History of the Middle East History of the Mediterranean region History of North Africa Classical antiquity