Posted by: ken98 | September 24, 2012

Frankenstein, Lewis and Clark, Irrelevancies, Mohammed and Battles

Day 1109 – Ken here (M)(9-24-2012)
(DEF III, v.5, Ch.50, pp.200-210)(pages read: 2240)

How I feel coming upon the merest, smallest crumb of Roman History in this Third Volume of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall – It’s Alive! – Still from the film Frankenstein 1931

Hey there – feeling weak and sick but willing to blunder onward through Islamic history. I’d forgotten what Roman history was until the last paragraph of this week’s 10 pages where Gibbon mentions Heraclius. It was like giving a mostly-dead, dehydrated man a sip of cool, clean, glacier water. Suddenly I feel alive!

I know, I know… whine, whine, complain, complain. How I yearn for the long, snide but well-written asides on Roman Imperial Christianity and Roman Imperial monks, now that we are mired deep in the twilight of pre-literate Arabic history. And again, reading Gibbon – a man who was writing 230 years ago, is more of a sociological-anthropological study of Late Enlightenment English Historians than it is reading actual history. But we have some text to get through here – so onwards…

A Day of Battles

Today Gibbon takes us through the 1st 8 or 9 battles of Mohammed, from his difficult taking of Medina, to the rounding up of the Tribes of the Arabian Peninsula, to his first tentative assaults on the huge (but exhausted) Roman Empire of Heraclius. Rome will be surprisingly easy to capture – after Heraclius had successfully concluded the Persian Wars, won back the Middle East, destroyed the Persian dynasty, and alienated and exhausted most of his citizenry. Of course, the prostrate Persians will fall just as easily, maybe more easily – they barely had a central government back in place when the Bedouins hit them.

Emperor Heraclius

Tremissis of the emperor Heraclius (610-641) – the Roman who saw the wealthiest of his provinces lost to Islam – just after winning them all back from the Persians in a 20 year Gotterdammerung of Roman-Persian World War – poor guy – what a life he led

The conquests of Islam were NOT a foregone conclusion in the 620’s. Every forward move by the forces of Monotheism under Mohammed were blocked and questioned and opposed. The taking of Arabia was a long affair, more a matter of persistence and luck than blitzkrieg. The initial forays into Roman territory were little more than raids. After all, Mohammed’s forces were cobbled together with religious zeal and the prospect of unheard of plunder from raiding.

The Roman Empire was certain to field an army against them that was a war machine, backed by the strongest power in the Mediterranean, one that had just fought a 30 year war against one of the greatest powers in the hemisphere (Persia) and won. Arabs against Romans – well maybe it would have seemed (to the world at large) like the Afghans marching on Moscow. Raiding people expected. Booty, yes. Burnt towns, cattle, gold, slaves, jewelry yes, yes, and yes. But complete conquest? The world would have said, probably not. Mohammed was barely keeping his current forces loyal.

But in this case, the world would have been wrong.

The Story
Battle of Beder (623)
  • Mohammed defeats the Koreish of Mecca, harassing their caravan, taking all
  • The Koreish move to retaliate against the upstart Medinan state of Mohammed and his caravan-raiding propensities
  • remember – Mohammed is an exile of the city of Mecca, in exile in Medina since 622 a year ago – the Meccans are hunting him down like a quarry and expect to eliminate him once and for all

    Battle of Ohud (623)
  • Meccan Koreish attack the Medinans and Mohammed and win big – under Abu Sophian
  • Lack the forces to utterly take and obliterate Medina, return to Mecca

    Battle of the Nations – or The Ditch (625)
  • Koreish attack with overwhelming force with many nations under Abu Sophian – a broad alliance
  • Private quarrels, bad weather, and the alliance is broken

    Subjugation and Elimination of Jews in Arabia (623-627)
  • Jews at Medina asked to convert, refuse, they are stripped of wealth, not killed, but exiled all out of the city
  • Jews of Nadhiri, Koraidha, killed because they militarily opposed Moh.
  • Jews of Chaibar – live, but agree to give 1/2 income to Moh., soon after under Omar, transplanted to Syria in campaign to rid of Arabian peninsula of non-Muslims

    Submission of Mecca (629)
  • Moh. makes pilgrimage to Mecca
  • Stays for 4 days – not warring, retires
  • His example inspires Meccans to his side
  • Abu Sophian, Meccans present Moh. with keys to city
  • Frees the Koreish
  • Makes law no unbeliever may enter Mecca

    Conquest of Arabia (629-632) Honain, Tayef
  • Honain – at 1st goes badly – prophet rallies them, Koreish wait for Moh. Failure – Moh. wins
  • Tayef – fortress – siege – 60 miles sw of Mecca, Moh wins, gives huge gifts to Koreish, wins them over

    First Wars Against Romans (629-630) Battles of Muta, Tabuc
  • Muta – east of Jordan, alliance of Heraclius-Moh ends – many Moh. generals fall
  • Tabuc – long march across desert, lose men, take oasis near Roman border

    Muslim Conquests - 620s - 640s or soMuslim Conquests – 620’s through 640’s or so – the Green is Mohammed, the Pink and Purples, Persia and Rome – it was a slow (relatively) laborious process

    Illustration from 800 years later of Heraclius – Heraclius returned the cross in the 600’s but Helen the mother of Constantine supposedly found it in the early 300s – Bernat – Saint Helena and Heraclius taking the Holy Cross to Jerusalem


    The Tragedy of Heraclius

    The poignant thing about Heraclius and Mohammed is that Heraclius had just accomplished what Romans had been attempting for the last 500 years – the annihilation of the Persian Empire. What Gibbon writes about now is the hurricane of Arab/Islam martial activity that seemed to burst upon the Mediterranean from out of nowhere, but actually was a long, difficult, and indirect set of conquests starting with Mohammed in Medina and Mecca and only a handful of men.

    It ends of course, with almost all of the 1,300 year old Roman state converting to Islam, obedient politically and religiously to Mohammed’s successors. Seldom has history been more tragic and cruel on such an epic scale.

    Graphical Result of collision in Particle Accelerator at Fermilab in Europe Maybe what a future graph of interactions in a Historical Analysis of a 23rd Century History Student would look like – contingent, chaotic, partially predictable – this is actually a Graphical Result of a collision in the Particle Accelerator at Fermilab in Switzerland-France

    Last Word…


    On the Continuing Irrelevance of Gibbon, with Brief Observations on Our Own Inherent Future Irrelevance


    It always cracks me up now when I see a “scholarly article” as this one on Muslim Conquests in Wikipedia that features a quote from Gibbon the Historian (in caps) as if quoting a known authority. No competent historian lists Gibbon as a reference today. You could do it. But why? You’d have to make so many adjustments, changes, etc to his writing – adjusting for his viewpont, taking into account recent discoveries, undoing the considerable amount of prejudice and just plain inadvertent ignorance there is in his text – well, you’d end up using nothing at all of Gibbon and using all of the HUGE VOLUME of historical data produced in the last 50 years (we’re actually living in a kind of Historian’s Golden Age right now – although you don’t hear much about it).

    It’s pretty. It’s art. But it’s no longer really science. And certainly no longer history.

    And that’s O.K.

    Because we (the 21st cent. historians of the Roman past, we most likely will be just as useless to 23rd cent. historians (who will probably be mind-linking directly to vast data-centers exuding socio-anthropological-historico-cultural patternings tailor-designed for the very specific questions posed). Our infant-like, credulous, net-based data structures of the last 10 years will seem – quaint – to put the best spin on it possible, and – criminally negligent – if attacked by some righteous twenty-something historian in 2310’s who refuses to believe her/his remote ancestors could ever have been that naive.

    And that’s the stuff running through my head as I read Gibbon.

    Lewis and Clark Expedition Route - 1802-1804

    You could use Lewis and Clark’s journals from their exploratory Expedition to the Northwest that President Jefferson sent them on – you could use that to – with a great deal of extrapolation and thought – to navigate the Interstate and Federal and State highway systems and find your way in 2012 from St Louis to Seattle. You could do it. With a huge amount of work. But why? When youve got a 2012 Rand Macnally atlas with 200 years of research and map-work behind it to navigate over the same terrain? – this is why modern historians DONT USE Gibbon to navigate Roman history – – – Lewis and Clark Expedition Route – 1802-1804 – from Wiki

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