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Archive for the ‘600s’ Category

Teotihuacan

teotihuacan1pTeotihuacan (fl. 300 to 700) was the ancient and holy city of Mexico, “the city where the gods were created”. At its height it had 160,000 people, making it the sixth largest city in the world at the time. In the centre of the city was the third largest pyramid of the world, the Pyramid of the Sun. Teotihuacan is about 40 km north-east of Mexico City.

We do not know what the city called itself. All we have is the Aztec name: Teotihuacan, “the city of the gods”. It was the seed of a civilization that had lasted more than a thousand years by the time the Spanish appeared. Only the Mayans were able to pass Teotihuacan in science and the arts.

The city fell in 700, destroyed by fire. Mexico fell into a dark age that lasted until the time of the Toltecs 250 years later.

In its day the city was the centre of religion and trade. It seemed to have been the centre of an empire too: it was rich yet had no walls and its gods demanded regular human sacrifice which meant fighting and ruling foreigners. Under one of their temples are 130 bodies.

We do not know what language the city spoke. It may have been Nahuatl, what the Aztecs spoke. None of its books have come down to our time.

Teotihuacan started out as a place where people journeyed to in order to worship the gods. In time it built huge pyramids to the gods and grew into a big city. It was ruled by priests who lived in palaces. On holidays the priests walked up the steps to the top of the pyramids and sacrificed humans to the gods.

The priests lived in the centre of the city. Further out were craftsmen and businessmen, who came from all over Mexico. About two-thirds of the people who lived in the city were farmers. They went out to work their fields in the morning and came back at night. Despite that the city did not grow enough food to feed itself but also needed trade and tribute to live.

The Street of the Dead is the main street. It is very wide and runs north to the holy mountain of Cerro Gordo. Along the street were the main temples, palaces and squares.  The two main temples were:

  • The Pyramid of the Sun at the centre of the city, the largest pyramid in Mexico and the third largest in the world. It is now 63 metres tall but once it was 73. The base 225 by 222 metres – about two Manhattan city blocks on a side.
  • The Pyramid of the Moon is to the north along the Street of the Dead. It is smaller, only 43 metres tall.

There is also the temple of Quetzalcoatl, a snake god with feathers seen in the sky as the morning star. The square in front of the temple can hold 100,000, more than half the city.

Under the city are caves and tunnels.

– Abagond, 2009.

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Muhammad

The Prophet Muhammad (570-632) was an Arab prophet who founded Islam, today the religion of a fifth of mankind. He wrote its holy book, the Koran. Islam says he is the Final Prophet and the Perfect Man, but he is in no way divine. He is the Paraclete promised by Jesus Christ in the Bible.

Unlike the founders of world religions, he fought battles and founded an empire. This has made Islam a very political religion.

He worked no miracles, but God spoke to him through the angel Gabriel. He wrote it all down word for word. That became the Koran. It is itself a miracle: no mere man could have written it. The Hadith has the sayings and deeds of Muhammad.

Islam says he is the Final Prophet and the Koran the perfect Word of God. The prophets that came before, like Noah, Abraham, Moses, Isaiah and Jesus, had their prophecies put in the Bible. But the Bible has been corrupted by men who, for example, made Jesus into the Son of God.

So Islam is not so much a new religion, but religion purified. It is Christianity, for example, without the priests, holy bread or Jesus as one of three gods.

Yet Muhammad did keep some of the old Arab religion, like the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Muhammad was a businessman from Mecca. Every year during the month of Ramadan (then always in summer) he went to the mountain to pray and fast. In 610 the angel Gabriel began to speak to him. It sounded at first like ringing, but in time he heard the words. Gabriel spoke to him till his death. Gabriel’s words have become the Koran.

When Muhammad got back to Mecca he told people what happened and gathered followers. They became the first Muslims.

In those days Arabs fought each other in an endless this for that. Arabs were divided by bloodlines into tribes and worshipped many gods. The Muslims were something new: a community based not on kin but on faith. They seemed like strange sort of tribe.

The Muslims soon became a threat to Mecca and its old ways of tribes and gods. They had to leave. Their flight to Medina, in the following summer in 622 is called the Hegira. This began the Muslim calendar. In Medina they built the first mosque, where they could pray.

In Medina the Muslims attacked traders on the way to Mecca. This led to war, which Muhammad won. By 630 Muhammad ruled Mecca and Medina.

Because Muslims promised not to fight each other, the Muslim part of Arabia was a region of peace. This made it stronger than the rest of Arabia, which was divided and consumed by countless little wars. So in time all of Arabia became Muslim and by Muhammad’s death it was united into one country.

In the hundred years after his death, Arabs went on to conquer lands from Spain to India. It was the start of the Arab Empire and the Muslim world.

– Abagond, 2006.

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Byzantine empire

byzantine

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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Islam

shahadah-a.jpgIslam (611- ) is the main religion in north Africa, south-west Asia, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia. Its believers, called Muslims, make up one fifth of mankind, second only to Christianity.

Muslims believe in the same God as the Jews and Christians, but where the Jews follow Moses and the Christians follow Jesus Christ, Muslims follow Muhammad, an Arab prophet from Mecca who lived in the 600s. Their holy book is the Koran.

The two main branches of Islam are Sunni and Shia. Nine Muslims in ten are Sunnis. Shia Islam is common in Iran and nearby countries.

Muslims do not believe that Muhammad was divine, but simply the last prophet of God before Judgement Day.

Moses and Jesus were holy prophets too, but their message, as it appears in Jewish and Christian scripture, was not faithfully recorded. Jesus, for example, was made into the Son of God by his followers when he was merely a prophet, a man.

Muslims have the same general view of the world as Christians and Jews: God created the word, Adam was the a first man, God warns us to change our ways by sending prophets, he lays down what we must do in his Holy Book and, on the last day, Judgement Day, he will judge us all: the good will go to heaven to be with God, the evil will go to hell to be with Satan. They believe in angels and honour Mary.

Where Christians put great stock in right belief, believing the right thing, and so have a history torn apart by heresies, Muslims, like Jews, put more stock in right practice, doing the right thing.

To be a good Muslim you must do five things:

  1. Believe that “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the Prophet of God.” Allah is Arabic for “the God” (al-Lah).
  2. Give one part in 40 of your income and wealth to the poor and to teach Islam.
  3. Pray five times a day. The prayer is in Arabic, but you can add your own personal prayers in your own language. You pray facing Mecca, the holy city, at sunrise, noon, the middle of the afternoon, sunset and nightfall.
  4. Fast during the ninth month, Ramadan. This means no food, no drink and no sex when the sun is up. If you are sick, travelling or will soon give birth, you can put it off to another month when you are able.
  5. Make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in your life if you can. Go in the twelfth month. There are certain events to take part in when you get there. Everyone wears simple, white clothes. Two million do it every year.

If you do these five things then you can, for example, believe that Muhammad is Plato for the masses and still be a Muslim in good standing. That is how important these five things are.

– Abagond, 2006.

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