Week 19 – Islam, Justinian


Muhammad claims he is receiving message from Allah, but his city, Mecca, is polytheistic and doesn’t want to accept his faith. Muhammad moves to another city, where he builds authority, declares war on Mecca and defeats it eventually. He uses his authority to proclaim his faith in Allah.

Koran (or Quran) was written between 609 and 632 (written from Muhammad’s 40s to the year of his death). We can read what God revealed to the final Prophet, Muhammad, through the archangel Jibril (Gabriel) over this period of time. It was written as scribes, which were put after Muhammad’s death together by his companions, who had rewritten it down together.

Islamic faith spread fast and caused problems for Europe, because of all the religious battles. Italy, Austria, Spain, France, Portugal, Hungary, Romania, Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Albania, Moldavia, Bulgaria, Greece, Poland, Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine and Russia were occupied by Muslims for a long time and it also took them a long time to recover from the occupation.

Islamic medicine was good at first, but eventually came to a stop because of their laws. They couldn’t perform any kind of dissections and that stopped their medical evolution.

Basic statement of the Islamic faith: there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet. You have to pray five times a day and fast during the month of Ramadan. You also have to do almsgiving: give 2.5% of what’s yours to hospitals etc.

Justinian (Byzantine empire)

The Nika revolt

The most significant revolt during Justinian’s ruling was the Nika revolt in 532. It happened in the Hippodrome, where fans would cheer on their favourite chariot teams screaming “Nika!”, meaning victory. There were red, white, blue and green teams. In Justinian’s reign, the most popular were the Blues and the Greens. Normally, the emperor would choose a team, too. Justinian favoured the Blues before; but now, because he wanted to remain above partisan politics, he didn’t choose any team, which was a mistake. When the chariot races were scheduled to begin, members of both teams tried to plead with the emperor. When he didn’t respond, they started to cry out “Nika!”. This ended in violence at the Hippodrome, and soon moved to the streets. The rioters released prisoners from the Constantinople’s police department and set the building on fire. After a while, a big part of the city was in flames.

Justinian tried to calm the crowd down, but no success. When he realised the revolt was out of hand, he wanted to escape, but his wife convinced him to stay, saying that an emperor shouldn’t flee. He then once more sent the troops to attack the rebels. From 30,000 to 35,000 people were slaughtered that day. Many of the ringleaders were captured and executed.

This revolt was overall horrific, and took years for the city to recover. There were arrests ongoing after the revolt, and many families lost everything because of their connection to the rebellion. The Hippodrome was shut down, and races were suspended for 5 years.

But for Justinian, it was to his advantage. He confiscated a number of wealthy estate, removed the officials he had agreed to remove and his victory over the rebels gained him new respect and admiration.

Justinian also wants to recapture Africa, Italy, Spain etc. and spread the Roman civilization and law. He won the battles in Africa, which encouraged him to retake Italy from Ostrogoths. Justinian eventually won, but this war went on for almost 20 years and devastated Italy. He also spent an enormous amount of money on his wars.

Another thing that Justinian did was price controls, when prices climbed through roof. In his speech he basically said to ignore the new economy and pretend like nothing has changed.

There was a writer called Procopius, who wrote a lot about Justinian. He wrote about his wars, building programs and more. Overall, he thought he was a good architect, but a terrible ruler.

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