Interesting Material on Byzantium & Persia

Occasionally, I go through the stats in WordPress to see who is backlinking The Declination. Doing so can be pretty eye opening. I’ve found more than a few detractors this way, and some very amusing social justice warriors. But I’ve also discovered fascinating intellectual material this way.

In the course of perusing my backlinks, I discovered a little-known blog call the House of DavidThis one is fascinating because the author delves deeply into a topic which has bothered me for most my life: just how was it that Islam conquered Sassanian Persia and most of Byzantium more or less simultaneously? Normally this question is answered in the West, at least, by primarily Greek sources. Those are useful, yes, but only paint part of the picture. The proprietor of House of David seeks to answer the question from Persian and Arabic sources, also.

The strangeness of this event cannot be overstated. As successors to the Romans (or as Romans themselves, depending on how you account them), the Byzantines were masters of siege craft. Certainly the Theodosian walls impress well enough. Being consummate engineers of fortifications, Roman forts and walled cities dotted the empire, and for the most part, the Romans were excellent at defending them. The Byzantines continued the tradition of effective defense throughout most of their history, as they were under near-constant assault from all sides.

Hannibal himself found the Romans impossible to conquer, even when winning most of the important field battles. And when much of the Western Empire fell apart, it was due not to siege warfare, but to what might be called a refugee migration situation gone to pot. Modern Europe, it should be noted, ought to be paying very close attention to that portion of their history.

Now, one might say the Persians were able to do it, at least temporarily during the Sassanian war of the early 7th century. And that is true enough, though the Romans still emerged triumphant even then. But the Persians had long experience fighting Romans. They were no strangers to dealing with Roman fortifications and siege craft. Despite the feudal nature of their army (think of dehgans like predecessors to medieval feudal nobility), it was powerful and well organized.

The Arabs, on the other hand, had little organization along those lines. Neither, it should be noted, did they have experience storming Roman forts and cities.

In some cases, of course, there was treachery from some of the Byzantines themselves, most notably in Egypt. But in other cases, such as the Exarchate of Africa, local Byzantine resistance was absolutely fierce. The wars in North Africa absolutely devastated the place. It never recovered after this. So complete was this devastation and desolation that Carthage, which bounced back even after the Romans razed it, never recovered from it. Even conquest by the Vandals had not been so terrible.

And still, after the Byzantines themselves lost much of North Africa, the native Christian Berbers continued to resist for some time under a supposed witch-queen named Kahina. And Byzantine resistance remained for a time around Cueta even after Carthage was destroyed, where the possibly-apocryphal Count Julian was said to have finally thrown in with the Muslims in order to avenge himself upon the Visigoths.

Yet the Arab steamroller moved on.

The final triumph of Byzantine siege craft could be seen in the twin Arab sieges of Constantinople, both beaten back effectively by the Byzantines. So why did they lose so completely everywhere else?

It’s a mystery that has defied satisfactory explanation. Some would say that the Persian war exhausted both countries, and that is true to some extent. Persia spiraled into internecine warfare, and was ruined by Heraclius. But Persia never had the defensive depth that Rome did. Persia was more reliant upon the land-holding nobility, and they were a better offensive force than a defensive one. The Byzantines, meanwhile, had won the war, and Heraclius was (at least according to Greek sources on the matter) still able to field massive armies who, ostensibly, had great experience in the Persian war.

Byzantium was weakened economically by the war, at least to some extent. But militarily, it may have actually been stronger.

So how did a bunch of relatively disorganized Arabs, with little experience, overrun Byzantium and Persia in a way that even Alexander the Great would have gawked at?

The purveyor of House of David has more then a few theories and ideas about how this could have been done, and what may have been going on. And there’s a ring of truth to a lot of it. It ties in well with what is going on today in the West, namely that the bureaucracy and the nobility may have, in effect, sold out their own country for personal profit. That in Byzantium, at least, the bureaucracy may have deliberately sacrificed Rome’s old empire for the sake of what we might call proto-globalization of trade.

The idea of globalists selling out nations for profit, of course, has a long tradition. To them, nations are collections of people, they are arbitrary social constructs (like gender is an arbitrary social construct to them, also). So for them, selling out a country is more or less the same thing as selling your pizza shop. It’s just a pizza shop. Who cares? If you can make more money closing your business and selling off the assets, no big deal, right?

Except countries are not pizza shops. And the things you wind up selling off are people. Sometimes very literally, in the case of Islam.

I don’t want to go on a long lecture on that topic, though. I’ll save that for another day. As to whether or not I believe this theory, I don’t know. It has a ring of plausibility to it, but I’m not familiar enough with the primary sources to say. However, it is interesting, at the very least.

Suffice it to say I have been reading more of this man’s musings on Islamic and Persian history, and they are fascinating. It’s a very different perspective than reading all this from the translated Greek sources. There are a great many posts worth reading on there. Here are a few more.

Enjoy.

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