Wednesday, October 27, 2021

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The Fall of Rome and the Invasions of the Musulmans

Some key reasons why Muslims were able to conquer half of Christendom

by Ferdinand III



One of the most remarkable myths about the Roman Empire, is the image of an implacably dominant Rome, whose society was an apogee of progress and stability, whose colossal presence throughout its Western empire was perceived as immanent and immutable.  While there is much to commend Roman engineering, building, urban development and planning, and the management of water, the truth is that Rome was an economic chimera, built around the military, premised on economically restrictive massive taxation, extraordinary tolling of trade and income, and a huge bureaucracy. 


It was a slave empire.  Innovation and technology were largely eschewed for slave labour.  It was also a latifundia empire.  A small cadre of families ran the empire post Julius Caesar, with civil wars the inevitable result.  It was a mercenary army post 250 A.D.  Germans ran and populated the military.  This guaranteed conflict and civil wars between generals and their followers who depended on the rapine and plunder of war for their wages and riches.  Rome was economically frail, the long trade links around the Mediterranean and beyond notwithstanding.  This must be true given that post 410 A.D. in Britain for example, when the legions left and after 476 A.D. in Italy, when Odoacer the Goth removed and pensioned off Romulus to a comfortable villa near Naples, there was felt in many parts of the former empire, an economic and social decline.  The centralised state and its tentacles had been removed.  It was not a ‘fall’ but a contraction as the Roman military, the central focal point of the economy, was basically shut down and replaced by localised German run kingdoms. 


However, no profound changes outside of Britain can be detected.  As Pirenne writes, ‘Considering matters as they actually, were, we see that the great novelty of the epoch was a political fact: in the Occident a plurality of States had replaced the unity of the Roman State.  And this, of course, was a very considerable novelty….There was no profound transformation except in Britain.’  Outside of the British isles, the Mediterranean world still dominated, now centred upon Constantinople, not Rome.  There would have been economic and social dislocation, and contractions due to the obvious changes in local and regional governance, power and even localised legal charters.  But the essential Roman character and the southern foci of Western Europe remained in place.  In many areas there was little to no changes, in some, incessant brigandage and small-scale conflicts.  In others, trade reorientation and dislocation.  In some areas urban centres declined, in others they remained the same.  In some locales the local Roman infrastructure of roads, bridges, baths and public buildings were abandoned, in others they were repaired and improved.  There was no ‘fall’ across the great diversity and distance of Western Europe. 


The greatest disruption until the triad of attacks from the Musulmans, Vikings and Avars (Huns), came from the Byzantines and Justinian’s invasions of North Africa and Italy, creating a savage war that marred the land for 40 years in the mid-6th century.  Socio-economic life in most of those areas must have been deranged.  But in France and elsewhere, life began to improve.  Recent evidence proves Pirenne wrong about the Merovingian dynasty which preceded the Carolingian.  Pirenne believed that the Merovingian empire decayed and was taken over by the successors to Charles Martel.  In this reading, the Merovingians are corrupt, distant, ineffective rulers, who dissipated the great wealth of their Frankish kingdom.  In actual fact it is now rather clear that the renaissance of Charlemagne was founded upon the wealth and riches of the Merovingians.


In any event, the most important point raised by Pirenne is the fact that Western Europe suffered a reversal and decline with the coming of the Musulman invasions in the 640s in which they conquered the southern and Christian half of the Mediterranean Roman empire, including taking the merchant navies and trading entrepots of Syria, the granaries and food depots of North Africa, the magnificent and rich urban areas of Spain and southern France, and the important islands in the Western Mediterranean.  The former Roman and Christian unity around the Mare Nostrum was shattered, trade linkages were ended, raw materials and supplies were now directed toward Baghdad, and urban plantations and ports along the Tyrrhenian and Adriatic seas were diminished and, in some cases, completely effaced.


The glaring truths are that the Roman empire was never as economically vibrant or as solid as historians and ‘experts’ maintain, and that the various ‘dark ages’, were economic and social contractions arising from war, invasion and plague.  The worst event was the Musulman invasion of the 7th century, which succeeded because in the 6th century, Eastern and Western Christianity had engaged in a colossally bloody and pointless civil war which exterminated 2 generations of men, from which the militaries of the combatants never fully recovered.  Added to this was the endless Byzantine war with Sassanid Persia, further depleting men, treasure and economic vitality.  Superimposed on these wars was a real pandemic plague in the 6th century which probably killed 30% of the population.  These are important and signal reasons why the Musulmans were able to conquer half of the Christian Roman empire in little more than 70 years.