The Arab conquests

January 22 2007

The Moslem Arabs had not left Arabia by the time of Muhammad’s death in 632. He himself had fought in military campaigns within Arabia.

But by 641 they had conquered Syria, Iraq, Palestine and Egypt from the East Roman Empire. The southern part of Iraq was conquered from Persia.

By 651 they had conquered Persia, as far north-eastward as Merv inclusive, extinguishing the Sasanian Persian Empire. Merv is now in Turkmenistan: one of Iran’s three eastern neighbours, along with Afghanistan in the middle, and Pakistan in the south.

In 653 the Armenians and Georgians (both ex-Roman and ex-Persian Armenian and Georgian subjects) had surrendered.

Between 647 and 698 they conquered north west Africa from the East Romans – who under Justinian had reconquered it from the barbarians.

In 661-71 they conquered Tokharistan (Bactria), which the Persian Empire had won from the Ephthalite Hun Empire. This put the Islamic state astride the overland route between India and China via the Oxus-Jaxartes basin.

In 706-15 they went on to conquer Transoxiana, which had been the Turkish steppe-dwellers’ share of the Ephthalite Empire. Here they suffered a setback, but in 739-41 they conquered the whole of Transoxiana definitively.

In 710-12 they extinguished the Visigothic Kingdom in Spain.

Simultaneously in 711 they were conquering Sind and the southern Punjab, up to and including Multan.

On four fronts, they were defeated.

On the sea.

The fifth Caliph, Mu’awiyah I (ruled 661-80), recognized that, in order to conquer Asia Minor and to extinguish the East Roman Empire, the Arabs must take Constantinople and that, to take it, they must wrest from East Roman hands the naval command of the Mediterranean. In 669 Mu’awiyah built a fleet, and in 674-8 his forces besieged Constantinople by both sea and land; but this siege turned into a disaster for the Arabs. The East Roman fleet had been armed with napalm (“Greek fire”), and with the apparatus for discharging it, by a refugee Syrian technician. A second Arab siege of Constantinople in 717-18 was an equally disastrous failure.

In Asia Minor.

In 741 they were brought to a halt along the line of the Amanus range [in southern Turkey]. The “Mardaites” of the Amanus were “insurgents” from the Arab standpoint, but for the East Roman Empire they were loyalists. In 677 they gained a temporary foothold in the Lebanon. The Arabs did eventually carry their frontier beyond the Amanus to the Taurus, but they never won a permanent foothold beyond that line. [Does that mean Amanus or Taurus?]

As they pressed north from Spain.

In 732 the Arabs failed to conquer Gaul. Before reaching the Loire, they were checked at Poitiers.

Beyond the Caucasus.

In 737/8 they failed to conquer the empire of the Khazar nomads, between the Volga [which flows into the Caspian] and the Don [which flows into the Sea of Azov].

Mankind and Mother Earth, OUP, 1976, posthumous

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