1. Compare the Arab and Seljuk conquests of the Middle East. How did each group of conquerors control their own followers and supporters and govern their new subjects? Can these conquests be put into a long-term context? Hint: don’t dwell overlong on sequences of events, though it is fine if you want to examine an event as part of a broader analysis of a larger historical process.
The history of the Middle East tells a story of continuous conquer and seemingly One cannot help but recall the Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun, and detect his analysis of historical cycles in the all but systematic rise and fall of ruling forces within this region of the world. Two influential ruling states of the Middle East, the Arab empire and Seljuk empire, inevitably fell prey to the vicious cycle of conquer. From their rise to power to their stance on ruling conquered peoples to their inevitable demise, the Arab and Seljuk empires shared many similarities. Yet, there were also many vast differences that made their respective periods of reign immensely different.
The Islamic empire began its conquest in about the seventh century, CE. This came directly on the back of a recent decline in the ruling power of several major empires. The Roman empire in the west and the Sasanian empire to the north and east were growing ever weaker. Illness and plague had torn through these empires, especially Rome. Such high mortality rates ravaged these ruling states, leaving political and economic arenas in ruins. Yet, plague was not the only thing working against the Roman and Sasanian empires. They were also setting each other up for disaster. For many, many years the late Roman empire and Sasanian empire had been fighting relentlessly for the land north of the Arabian Peninsula. However, since neither side volunteered to back down and give up the land that was so important to both of them, the end result was merely these major empires beating up each other for years. On top of all of this, they also found themselves falling attack from barbarian tribes to the north. With military forces exhausted on these various fronts, the late Roman and Sasanian empires were inevitably setting up conditions ripe for disastrous outcomes. When the Arab empire, equipped with strong group feeling and high aspirations, began its conquest, the deteriorating forces of the late Roman and Sasanian empires were all but helpless against the new and very powerful threat. This is not to say that the Arab conquest was not a great feat by the expanding Islamic empire. However, the condition of those empires surrounding them is something that cannot be overlooked.
As the Seljuk Turks rose to power, they faced a similar scene as the Arabs did. However, the Arabs themselves were, in this case, one of those struggling empires. Existing now only in small, divided states, the Arabian empire had lost most, if not all, of the strong group feeling that had made them such an unstoppable force during their conquest and following years of prosperity. After increasingly strong tension between the caliphate and various social and political groups, several religious uprisings, such as that of the Buyids and Fatimids, and the struggle of the Zanj Revolt, the Arabs found themselves on a steeply sloped decline. The Byzantine empire was also suffering hardships in this period. Economic problems and civil war weakened the Byzantine empire significantly immediately preceding the introduction of the Seljuk conquest. By the time Seljuk ruler Arp Arsalan led his forces into Anatolia for the infamous Battle of Manzikert, the Byzantines were unable to defend themselves and lost the majority of Anatolia to the Seljuks. Just as in the Arab’s rise to power, the Seljuk empire was established at a historically optimal time. The major powers of the region were suffering many different things that greatly hindered their ability to defend themselves from the conquest of the...
Links: can be made between the way in which each ruling state governed conquered peoples. The Arabs did not force their authority upon the groups of people they had conquered in the ways that past empires had. The Arabs were tolerant of other religions and cultures. They did not force groups to change their beliefs or assimilate to Arab lifestyles. Instead they allowed practice of any monotheistic religion, , and established garrison towns to separate Arab armies from the people they had conquered. Although, as with any empire, the Arabs had their own wellbeing foremost in their minds, they did give the people they ruled many individual choices that were not available in most previous empires.
Similarly, the Seljuks also established a much more lax governance than usual. After the Seljuk victory at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, hordes of nomadic tribes began to spill into the newly Seljuk-controlled lands of Anatolia. However, instead of forcing these tribes to settle into towns, so as to be able to implement their control more easily and efficiently, the Seljuks allowed them to remain nomadic and establish themselves wherever they pleased.
Finally, the way in which each respective empire mounted their decline and fall was strikingly akin. By the middle to late 800’s, the Islamic empire began to show rifts in their social and political structures. Problems started to arise between the caliphate and several groups within the empire. The army, which by this time consisted mainly of mamluk soldiers, began losing loyalty and often manipulated the caliph to satisfy their own interests. The caliph had also lost legitimate control over governors of various states. These governors paid no attention to the fact that they were still technically under the rule of the caliphate. They refused to return to Baghdad after their allotted time of governance and even began to appoint their sons as successors. The governors had become rulers of their own small states in virtually every way. Conflict also arose with the ulama over the created or eternal nature of the Qur’an. In turn, several religiously motivated rebellion groups began gaining power and taking over land. The Buyids, who were Twelver Shi’ites, conquered most of Iraq and Iran, and even took over Baghdad in 945, though they did not kill the caliph. The Fatimids were another group, although they were Sevener Shi’ites. They conquered Egypt and the surrounding lands, building and establishing the city of Cairo as their capital. With these various groups controlling vast areas of land while strongly opposing each other, the empire was weak and very vulnerable to invasion and conquer.
In a similar way, the Seljuks were divided from within before their inevitable demise. After the conquests of Arp Arsalon and his predecessors, the
Sultan Malik Shah established a golden age for Seljuk rule. However, this lasted no more than Malik Shah’s lifetime. When he died, it was unclear who of his many sons was to become the next sultan. They began a great debate over the subject, never truly reaching an agreement. Finally, the sons of Malik Shah split the empire into pieces, formed several small Seljuk states. However, it did not end there. Since several sons believed themselves to be legitimate heirs of the entire Seljuk empire, the various states continually fought between one another, exhausting military forces and further weakening Seljuk rule. By the time the Crusaders entered the Seljuks’ land from the west (and, in time, the Mongols from the east) the divided Seljuk empire was not strong enough to properly defend themselves.
Although the similarities between the Arab and Seljuk empires are strikingly clear, there were also several major elements that separate the two ruling powers. First was their control of pastoral tribes. The Arab empire, through the bond established by the introduction of Islam, united all nomadic pastoral tribes under one rule and created a group feeling that kept them loyal to the governing power of the empire. The Seljuks, on the other hand, established no firm rule over nomadic tribes. When Anatolia was conquered in 1071, great masses of nomadic tribes flooded into the region. However, the Seljuks made no effort to organize or settle these tribes so as to establish a better rule over them. Instead, they allowed the tribes to remain nomadic. Another difference is each respective empire’s use of the Islamic religion. Islam was the binding force for the Arabs. It was what allowed for such a strong group feeling to be established. However, once they began to conquer other peoples, there was no desire to convert those people to Islam. In the eyes of the Arab people, being a Muslim gave a person a higher sense of personal and social status. Yet, if they were to convert large masses of non-Arab people to Islam, it would lose much of its superiority. The Seljuks did not feel this way at all. As converts themselves, spreading Islam as widely as possible could only benefit them. This is the reason that a huge amount of people converted to Islam immediately after the fall of the Islamic empire and into the Seljuks’ reign.
Conquest and power shifts can be seen in every era of Middle Eastern history. Two such conquering forces were those of the Arabs and the Seljuks. Many striking links can be made between these two groups. From their rise to power to their governing approach to their demise, the Islamic and Seljuk empires followed a very similar path. Yet, they were in other senses very different authorities as well. This can be seen when contrasting their actions with nomadic tribes as well as their use of the religion of Islam. Both the Arabs and Seljuks were great ruling powers in the Middle East. They both played a significant role in the history of one of the most interesting areas of the world.
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