The decline of the Arabian empire

Forty six years after the flight of Muhammed from Mecca, his disciples appeared in arms under the walls of Constantinople. For seven years (668-675) the forces of the Caliph Moawiyah attempted by siege and by assault to take the capital of the empire; but though the courage and vigilance of the reigning emperor, who disgraced the name of Constantine, held out little hope to his subjects, the solid and lofty walls, the enthusiasm of religion, the fear of falling into the hands of the infidel, and the use of Greek fire, kept the city inviolate. The Saracens withdrew their forces and consented to pay a tribute to the Roman emperor (677).

During this first siege, Abu Ayub, one of the last of the companions of Muhammed, died, and was buried within the shadow of the city walls. During a period of 780 years till the conquest of Constantinople by Mohammed II, the place of his burial was neglected and unknown. A seasonable vision, however, revealed the holy spot at the foot of a wall; and the mosque of Ayub has been deservedly chosen for the symbol and martial inauguration of the Turkish sultans.

The second siege of Constantinople was attempted by the caliph Soliman (715). Again, after a siege of thirteen months, the same factors, together with the assistance of an army of Bulgarians, once more compelled the Moslems to retire in confusion.

The Greek fire, which was employed so successfully in the two sieges of Constantinople, was the invention of a native of Heliopolis, in Syria. One kind of this Greek, or marine, fire was undoubtedly gun-powder. Its manufacture was preserved by interest and superstition about 400 years by the Romans of the East. It was at length discovered, or stolen, by the Mahomedans, and, in the Holy Wars of Syria and Egypt, they retorted an invention contrived against themselves on the heads of the Christians.

Constantinople and the Greek fire might exclude the Arabs from the eastern entrance of Europe; but in the west, on the side of the Pyrenees, the provinces of Gaul were threatened and invaded by the conquerors of Spain (721). The weaknesses of the last of the Merovingian kings had almost dissolved the kingdom of the Franks. Gaul was divided among the tributary chiefs. This disunion seemed to favour the cause of the Moslems, and not even the heroic conduct of Eudes (Odo), Duke of Aquitaine, served to restrain the fortunes of the Saracens. After two attempts the south of France, from the mouth of the Garonne to that of the Rhone, assumed the manners and religion of Arabia. But these narrow limits were scorned by the spirit of Abderane. He besieged Arles, after crossing the Rhone, destroyed an army of Christians that attempted the relief of the city and, overrunning the provinces of Aquitaine and Burgundy, at length reached the banks of the Loire.

FRANCE and Christendom were saved by Charles, the illegitimate son of the elder Pepin, mayor, or duke, of the Franks. Carefully awaiting his opportunity, he met the enemy in the centre of France between Tours and Poitiers. The battle lasted seven days. Abderane was slain, the forces of the Saracens were dissolved by discord, and the morning of the eighth day saw the camp of the Moslems deserted. The victory of the Franks was complete, and the conquest of Gaul was never resumed by the Arabs. But for the victory at Tours, the Koran might now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Muhammed.

A series of domestic disputes dissolved the union of the Mahomedan empire. The succession was disputed by three parties, distinguished by their dress. The Ommiades, who wore white, triumphed until 750, when the Abbassides, whose dress was black, and who supported the cause of the descendant of Abbas, the uncle of the prophet, mounted the throne. In the proscription of the Ommiades that followed, one of the royal family escaped, usurped the throne of Spain, and established at Cordova (756) a monarchical system which remained to his descendants for 250 years. His example was followed by the Fatimites of Egypt, who wore green, and supported the cause of the real, or pretended, descendant of Fatima.

THE Abbassides maintained with Oriental magnificence their seat at Bagdad, which had been built on the eastern bank of the Tigris by Al Mansur. In the West the Ommiades of Spain supported with equal pomp the title of Commander of the Faithful. Their success, and the great increase of luxury consequent on that success, served to rob the Saracens of their martial ardour. They turned from war to the study of science and medicine and, though they scorned the wisdom of Greece and Rome, their discoveries in astronomy, anatomy, botany, chemistry and medicine were considerable. Universities were established at Bagdad and Cairo, and in Spain three hundred writers and seventy public libraries attested the progress of learning.

The wars of the romantic Haroun al Raschid against the Romans (781-805), the conquest and desolation of all the land from the Euxine to the island of Cyprus, the establishment of the Saracens in Sicily (878), and the invasion of Rome and the sack of St. Peter's (846), completed the success of the Mussulman arms before the decline of the Arabian Empire began. The introduction of Turkish mercenaries into Bagdad to support the throne of the Abbassides led to an outbreak of military licence (841-870). The Turks made and unmade caliphs, and domestic peace was only obtained by the dispersion of this force and the relaxation of strength and discipline. So uniform are the mischiefs of military discipline, that I seem to repeat the story of the Praetorians of Rome.

The establishment of nine separate independent dynasties within the empire hastened its downfall, and by the middle of the tenth century the caliphs of Bagdad were reduced by the internecine strife of their military guards to the primitive simplicity of the founder of their faith. Despoiled of their armour and their silken robes, they fasted, they prayed, and studied the Koran and the tradition of the Sunnites, bore with religious fortitude the triumphs of the insolent Fatimites, and witnessed the recovery of Antioch, the cities of Cilicia, and Cyprus by the Greeks, and a revival of the Roman fortunes.

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