Archive for the ‘1100s’ Category


Kilwa (900s to 1700s), also called Quiloa or Kilwa Kisiwani, was the richest city in eastern Africa from 1000 to 1500. Today no one lives there. It is just some broken down buildings in a nearly forgotten corner of Africa.

Kilwa stood on an island on the coast of what is now south-eastern Tanzania. Then it was in the land of the Zanj. Only the old buildings remain. Even the book that once told its story, the Kilwa Chronicle, is lost (though parts of it appear elsewhere). But the society of Kilwa has lived on, becoming the pattern for Swahili-speaking Africa.

Kilwa was the first city in eastern Africa to have a domed building, the city’s great mosque. It also had its largest stone building, the palace of Husuni Kubwa with a hundred rooms.

Kilwa grew rich by trading the gold, iron and men of Africa for the riches of the east: the cloth and jewels of India, the porcelain of China and the spices of the Indies.

It was a beautiful city built of stone and coral. Ibn Battuta, the Marco Polo of the Arab world, arrived there in 1331. He was amazed by its beauty.

The people were black Muslims who spoke Swahili. But by the time the Portuguese arrived in 1500 half the people were Christians from India and Abyssinia.

The city was founded by Ali bin al Hasan. He came in the 900s on a ship from Shiraz (south-western Persia).

Kilwa was as far south as Arab traders would go. Like Timbuktu, Kilwa got rich by controlling the trade between the Arabs and its part of Africa.

Its glory days came to an end in 1500 when the Portuguese arrived. It was Cabral who first came, on the same voyage in which he discovered Brazil. Two years later Vasco da Gama arrived and asked for tribute. In 1505 Francisco de Almeida came and destroyed the city, taking it outright. He built Gereza, a fort that later became a prison.

Some years later the Portuguese lost Kilwa to the Arabs. Later it was ruled by Zanzibar. But the city never recovered: the Portuguese had taken control of trade with the east.

In the 1700s Kilwa did see something of its old wealth return by selling slaves to Brazil. But then in the early 1800s the British brought an end to even that. Kilwa died. There was no reason to go there any more.

You can still see the remains of the mosque, the Kubwa palace, the old Portuguese fort and some other buildings. They are falling apart with the wind and the rain and the years.

It is not a tourist attraction, though the curious do show up from time to time.

In 1981 UNESCO made it a World Heritage Site, one of the several hundred places in the world worth preserving – not that UNESCO has any money to save what is left of Kilwa.

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Byzantine empire


The Byzantine Empire (476-1453) never called itself that. That is a name made up by the French 400 years later. The Byzantines called themselves Romans: when Rome fell, in 476, the richer, eastern, Greek part of the Roman empire still stood. It did not fall for good till nearly a thousand years later in 1453. Its glory days were from 500 to 1000.

There is no real break between the Roman and Byzantine empires – they are just names. But because the Byzantine empire was Greek and Christian it is hard to see it as the same empire that Augustus had founded. And yet even Justinian, its most famous ruler, spoke mostly Latin and, unlike us, considered the loss of the west as only a passing thing.

At the heart of the empire stood the city of Constantinople. It was one of the largest cities in the world at the time. Constantine I had founded it in 330 as the “New Rome”. It became the seat of Roman power in the east.

Just as the law, religion and ways of Rome form the foundation of the West, so the Byzantine empire forms the foundation of eastern Europe and especially Russia. Russia is the daughter of the Byzantine empire and Moscow the third Rome.

The Western system of laws (except for the English-speaking world, which follows common law) is Byzantine. Justinian made Roman law into something that can apply to Christian society in his Corpus juris civilis.

The Byzantine empire was the universal state of the Christian world until two things happened:

  1. Charlemagne was made the ruler of the west in 800 by the pope.
  2. The Christian church broke in two in 1054 into Catholic and Orthodox churches.

From this point on the Byzantine empire was simply a Greek empire. Even its religion was no longer a universal faith.

In the 500s Justinian sent Belasarius to take back the west. He conquered quite a bit of it, but he left the cities of Italy in ruins. Most of what he conquered was soon lost.

The First Crusade was called in 1095 to save the empire: Romanus IV lost the battle of Manzikert to the Turks and was in danger of losing all of Anatolia and Constantinople itself. The Crusaders drove back the Turks before going on to the Holy Land to conquer kingdoms of their own.

The Fourth Crusade broke the empire’s back. The Crusaders took over Constantinople in 1204 and set up the Latin empire. It was short-lived – the Byzantines took back Constantinople in 1261. But from 1261 till 1453, when Constantinople fell to the Turks, the empire was no longer an empire – just a kingdom centred on Constantinople.

The Fourth Crusade also destroyed a great deal of Greek learning and literature.

Better dates for the Byzantine Empire would be from 395 to 1204. That is when it was an empire and when it had its own emperors. As late as 395 the western and eastern Roman Empire still had a common emperor.

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The Crusades (1095-1291) were wars Christians had fought against Muslims to take back the Holy Land, especially Jerusalem. All the gains made in the first hundred years were lost in the second hundred.

There were nine numbered Crusades altogether. The first five were called by the pope. Most Crusaders came from what is now Britain, Germany, Italy and especially France. The Byzantine Greeks, like the Muslims, called them all “Franks”, and did not think much of them.

In the late 1000s the Turks had taken over the Holy Land from the Arabs. Christians pilgrims could no longer freely come and go. They were thrown in prison, sold as slaves or killed. Even worse, in 1071 the Turks defeated the Byzantine Empire at Manzikert and were on the march to Constantinople. The Byzantine emperor desperately asked the pope for help.

In 1095, Pope Urban II called the First Crusade 

It was a huge success for the Crusaders. They took Jerusalem in 1099 in a terrible bloodbath, killing men, women and children. They also took Edessa, Tripoli and Antioch. These four cities each became the centre of a Crusader state. Christians ruled Jerusalem for 88 years (1099-1187). Some Crusader states lasted well into the 1200s.


But there was a fifth city that the Crusaders failed to take that was the key to all the rest: Damascus. Failing to take Damascus, each Crusader state fell in time.

In 1187, Saladin, a Kurd, led the Muslims to take back Jerusalem. The Christians never got control of Jerusalem after that. Later Crusades failed or scored only small successes.

In 1291 the last Crusader states fell.

Not all Crusades made it to the Holy Land:

  • 1204: the Fourth Crusade, led by Venice, burned Constantinople and set up a short-lived Latin Empire.
  • 1212: the Children’s Crusade ended with the children either lost at sea or sold as slaves in Egypt

What the First Crusade had done to slow Turkish advance into Christian lands, the Fourth Crusade had undone 109 years later. The Byzantine Empire was never more than a small kingdom after that. It also destroyed any chance of bringing the Catholic and Orthodox churches back together, a split that lasts to this day. Only the Turks stood to gain.

Book burnings:

  • 1109: over 100,000 books burned in Tripoli
  • 1204: hundreds of works by Ancient Greeks lost forever as the last surviving copies burn in Constantinople.

The Crusades were not considered to be a great event in the Muslim world at the time. It was nothing compared to the threat Egypt presented by going Shia under the Ismailis. No one thought to push the Crusaders into the sea till they began to threaten Mecca and Medina.

It was not seen as a crime against the Muslim world till the 1900s when Western armies returned. Some see Israel as a latter-day Crusader state. If it lasts as long as the Kingdom of Jerusalem it will fall in 2036.

Body count: 1.0 million. (The Reconquista of Spain, for comparison, killed 7 million).

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