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Taifa Kingdoms

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The Iberian Peninsula saw the rise of numerous more or less independent Taifa Kingdoms after the collapse of the Caliphate of Cordoba in 1031. The period of Taifa Kingdoms also known as “the period of regional kings” strengthened the position of the Christian Kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula which started their expansion on the expense of Muslim lands. Taifa states were unable to defend themselves against the Christian Kingdoms on the north and the west, and were forced to seek help at the Almoravids, a Berber confederation that succeeded the Fatimid dynasty in Northern Africa.

Map of the Iberian Peninsula after the collapse of the Caliphate of Cordoba

Map of the Iberian Peninsula after the collapse of the Caliphate of Cordoba

The Almoravids under Yusuf ibn Tashfin defeated the Christian forces led by Alfonso VI of Castile in 1086. However, Almoravids afterwards subdued the Taifa Kingdoms and ruled the Muslim Spain until 1174 when they were overthrown by the Almohads, another Berber dynasty. The Almohads were defeated by a coalition of Christian kings under leadership of Alfonso VIII of Castile in the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212 which was a major turning point in the history of Reconquista.

Kingdom of Leon

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The Kingdom of Leon was established with the division of the Kingdom of Asturias among the sons of Alfonso III in 910. The first King of Leon became Alfonso’s eldest son Garcia I (910-914). He was succeeded by his brother Ordono II who was also King of Galicia in 914. On his death in 924 Kingdoms of Leon and Galicia passed to the third brother Fruela II, King of Asturias who moved the capital from Oviedo to the city of Leon. Thus the Kingdom of Leon is practically a continuation of Kingdom of Asturias.

Ramiro II of Leon

Ramiro II of Leon

The period from Fruela’s death in 925 until the accession of Ramiro II (931-951) was marked by a dynastic crisis. Ramiro II brought stability to the kingdom and defeated the Muslims several times but he could not prevent the establishment of Kingdom of Castile under Count Fernan Gonzalez (923-970) nor the rise of Navarre and County of Barcelona. Ramiro’s death was followed by an inner crisis which was caused by the struggles over the throne and the attacks of the Muslims of Al-Andalus.

The Kingdom of Leon retained its importance in the Iberian Peninsula until it was conquered by Fernando I of Castile and united with Kingdom of Castile in 1037. Ferdinand ruled both kingdoms as Fernando I of Leon until his death in 1065 when Kingdom of Leon renewed its independence. In 1072, Leon was reunited with Castile under Alfonso VI of Castile but the kingdoms were split again around 1195. However, Castile and Leon were permanently united by Fernando III of Castile in 1230.

Medieval Life and Society

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

Deposition of Romulus Augustulus, the Western Roman Emperor by Odoacer in 476 resulted in the collapse of the Late Antique political system and of its social structure. However, the social changes occurred already before the official Fall of Rome, while formation of the new social order known as feudal system evolved gradually as a combination of Roman social-economic system and tribal-military organization of the barbarian peoples who triumphed over Western Roman Empire.

The barbarian kings in Italy, Iberian Peninsula, France and elsewhere in Europe adopted the Roman titles and methods of government. Although they were practically independent they considered the Byzantine Emperor their suzerain. Feudalism developed in Western Europe in the 8th and 9th century and became the predominant political and social system by the 11th century. For that reason medieval society and related subjects are often referred as the Feudal society. The feudal system was not equal in all countries but there were certain common characteristics such as strict division into social classes: nobility, clergy and peasantry or “those who fight”, “those who pray” and “those who labour”.

Cleric, knight and serf

Cleric, knight and serf

The king was on the top of the hierarchy of an ideal medieval society. Beneath him was a hierarchy of nobles consisting from the nobles who held land directly from the king to those who held only a single manor. Landholding system which based on fiefs or landholding in exchange for providing military service and paying a homage to the overlord eventually evolved into a system of subinfeudation by which the recipient of the fief – the vassal granted part of his fief to one who then became his vassal. Thus evolved very complex relations within the class of nobility, while every noble was someone’s vassal and was bound by mutual ties of loyalty and service. Besides that it was not unusual for one being a vassal to several overlords, while even a king could have been a vassal to another king.

The peasants or serfs who represented the majority of the medieval population and worked for the landlords in exchange for use of his land and his protection were on the bottom of the medieval society. Instability and turmoils in the 9th and 10th centuries forced the remained free peasants to seek protection by the nearest powerful landlord in exchange for their labour and personal freedom. They accepted to became serfs and also granted serfdom of their descendants. Thus serfdom became inheritable, while the principal duty of the serfs according to the medieval perception was to work on the land on which they were bound and which placed them on the very bottom of medieval social hierarchy.

Clergy was placed very high in the medieval social order. The Christianity and the Church had an absolute monopoly over mentality of all social classes, while religious believes had great influence on all medieval institutions as well as on all aspects of life of a Christian. Vassal took his oath on the Bible or holy relics, while serfdom was considered to be determined by God with purpose of survival of humanity. Thus clergy played very important role in the establishment of feudalism, while its hierarchy was very similar to the hierarchy of feudal society. Besides that the Church held much land, while high church officials acted as feudal landlords and lived a leisurely life comparable to the life of high nobility.

The theory of the three classes of feudal society does not describe the whole medieval population. Besides fiefs some men held their land in allod and were without any obligations, while even the three classes of feudal society sometimes referred as “the estates of the realm” were not a homogenous group. Besides city population (bourgeoisie) which was not a part of the “feudal pyramid” medieval society also consisted of population which was in certain way excluded from the feudal order: Jews and other subordinate groups – lepers, homosexuals, disabled persons, foreigners, witches, heretics, beggars, unemployed and outlaws.

Medieval Conquerors and Invaders

27 Jul
July 27, 2012
Satellite view of the Arabian Peninsula

The Arabian Peninsula

The Byzantine Empire managed to repulse the barbarian invasions which destroyed the Western Roman Empire but had to face the Muslim conquests already in the first half of the 7th century. The rise of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula in the 630’s was followed by rapid Arab territorial expansion under Muhammad’s successors, the caliphs who were both religious and political leaders of the Muslim world.

The first to fall in the Muslim hands were the Sassanids, the Byzantine old rivals but the next to fall were the Byzantine territories: Syria, Palestine and Egypt. The Arabs established themselves as an important political and military power in the Mediterranean region by 661 but at the same time broke out serious inner conflicts which resulted in the split of Islam into the Sunni and Shi’a branches. The conflicts were provoked by disagreement over Ali’s (Ali ibn Abu Talib) right to the caliphate and resulted in the outbreak of a civil war known as the First Fitna which ended with Ali’s assassination and establishment of the Umayyads as the first Islamic dynasty.

The Byzantines took advantage of the civil war between the Sunni and Shi’a branches and retook the initiative. By using the so-called Greek fire, a flammable petroleum-based mixture which can not be put out with water, the Byzantines decisively defeated the Arabs in the Battle of Syllaeum in 678, forced them to lift the Siege of Constantinople and to pay tribute to the Byzantine Emperor. The Arab threat to the Byzantine Empire ceased for about three decades when the Umayyads laid siege to the Byzantine capital for the second time. However, the Arabs suffered another defeat and were forced to retreat in 718.

The Arabs continued their expansion in North Africa despite suffering defeat against the Byzantine Empire. Under Umayyads, the Arabs conquered the entire North Africa by the early 8th century, while the Berbers of northern Africa who converted to Islam invaded and conquered the Iberian Peninsula (with exception of the Kingdom of Asturias) between 711 and 718. The Umayyads invaded the Frankish territory several times from the Iberian Peninsula but Muslim conquests in Western Europe came to an end after the Battle of Tours in 732 in which Charles Martel decisively defeated the Muslim forces. However, it took seven centuries for the Christian Kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula to put an end to the Muslim rule in the Iberian Peninsula.

Muslim defeat in the Second Siege of Constantinople in 718 and in the Battle of Tours in 732 ended the Arab conquests in Europe with exception of conquest of the Byzantine Sicily and parts of Southern Italy by the Aghlabids of Ifriqiya (today’s western Libya, Tunisia and eastern Algeria) in 827. The Muslim rule in Sicily lasted until the Norman conquest in 1061, while the Arab Caliphate under Abbasid Dynasty which has overthrown the Umayyads in 750 began to decline in the early 9th century. Abd ar-Rahman I who escaped the massacre of the Umayyads established himself as an independent Emir in the Iberian Peninsula in 756, while the rise of local dynasties and decline of central authority resulted in fragmentation of the Arab Caliphate into a loose confederation of states under nominal authority of the Abbasid Caliphs.

Medieval Wars

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

Throughout the Middle Ages, wars were a regular occurrence. Whether it was the Byzantine Empire fighting the Persians (as in the Byzantine-Sassanid Wars), the Carolingians fighting each other (as in the Carolingian Civil War), the English fighting each other (as in the Barons’ Wars and the Wars of the Roses), or any number of other groups fighting each other, there was always someone at war with someone else. Often, groups would engage in a series of wars spanning decades or even centuries.

Many of these wars shaped Western history in key ways. The Reconquista recaptured the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors, leading to the creation of modern Spain and Portugal. The Saxon Wars led to the Christianization of large portions of Europe. The Carolingian Civil War resulted in the disintegration of the Carolingian Empire into the successor states which have evolved into modern-day France and Germany. The First Barons’ War contributed to the development of the Magna Carta. These conflicts, among others, shaped Western (and Near-Eastern) civilization for centuries, and are essential to understanding this period in history.

Medieval Europe (13th to 15th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The period from the Mongol invasion to the end of Reconquista from the 13th to the 15th century was characterized by great political changes. The Western Europe was marked by the emergence of centralized nation-states: England, France and the Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula, while Eastern Europe saw the rise of the Grand Duchy of Muscovy, a predecessor of the Russian national state.

At the same time when the Muslim rule in the Iberian Peninsula finally collapsed and Grand Duchy of Muscovy finally defeated the Golden Horde, Southeastern Europe and the Byzantine Empire were subjugated by the Ottoman Empire. The expansion of the Ottoman Empire had a great impact on the future development of the Balkan Peninsula but it greatly effected the rest of Europe as well.

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