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Rise of Islam, Fall of Rome, and Cultural Exchange

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    Rise of Islam, Fall of Rome, and Cultural Exchange in The Indian Ocean from the 5th to 7th Century AD.

    The rise of Islam, the fall of Rome, and the complications of Christianity in Europe and Africa are all intertwined. At their core, these events truly shaped our modern society. As Europe encountered the major cultural centers of Axom and Meroe, and as the cultural exchange that comes unavoidably from trade, things began to change drastically in the world. It is the purpose of this paper to examine, in a broad stroke, the relationship between Africa and Europe, and between Christianity and Islam during the middle three centuries of the first millennia.

    The Hellenistic Diaspora, the first step towards contemporary thinking, economics, politics, and religion, was the result of the conquests of the Near East and Egypt by Alexander the Great, the founding of Greek cities throughout the region, and the creation of the Hellenistic kingdoms by Alexander's successors. This Hellenization was largely effected by political and military power and the development of commerce, but its vehicle was the introduction of Greek schools, cultural institutions, and religious syncretism. Next came Roman reception of Greek culture. Here we have the opposite phenomenon to that of the Hellenization of the East. The military and political conquerors adapted to their own society features of the Greek culture they dominated. There was resistance on both sides: prolonged military resistance in Greece, Asia Minor, and Africa, and cultural resistance on the part of traditional Romans to the debilitating effects of Greek lifestyles.

    There followed the emergence of Christianity as a new form of discourse. Christianity is itself a development of the classical world, employing the Greek language, but drawing heavily on Hebraic elements and setting itself in sharp opposition to the cultural and social values of the Greco-Roman world. "Among the mature," Saint Paul says (I Cor. 2.6), "we do impart wisdom, although it is not wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away." But the Christian attitude was always ambivalent. A powerful feature of Christian rhetoric was the conversion of the pagan gods into evil spirits, led by the figure of Satan. Fear of paganism and the insidious attraction of the Greek and Roman gods to artists and writers has continued throughout subsequent history as an obstacle to the full reception of the classical tradition, only partially mitigated by allegorical approaches (Hussien, 132).

    The next stage in change was the Decline of Urban Centers in the seventh and eighth centuries. The experience of classical history was not a model for imitation in the present world, and the fall of Rome was commonly regarded as a just act of God in bringing the new Christian order into the world. Finally, there was the Rise of Islam (Verharen, 459). Islam was not only the greatest danger to Christianity in the Middle Ages, but also the greatest threat to the classical tradition of Europe, for it acknowledged no significant debt to the classical world, rejected its art, and neglected its languages and culture in favor of a new, all-sufficing revelation. The exception to this, of course, is the Arabic transmission of some knowledge of Greek philosophy, primarily the Aristotelian body of work (Verharen, 466).

    Socioeconomic systems invariably operate within geographical and ecological constraints on the social actions that are possible (given existing technologies) and probable (given earlier developmental trends [path dependency] and cultural perceptions of opportunities and threats) at any one time. For this reason, history displays a wide range of results of the interaction of societies and their environment. At the same time, however, evolving environmental factors can also extend the boundaries of both the possible and the probable by acting as focusing devices that powerfully influence the direction that societies take in their search for technological innovations.

    In the sixth century Byzantium conquered all Italy, holding the southern part for a half millennium, to the eleventh century. The rise of Islam caused new complications; the Saracens took western Sicily with Palermo as their base; in 846 they actually conquered Italy up to Rome, where they sacked the Basilica of Saint Peter; and by expansion held all Sicily for two centuries. With this is connected the consideration that Egypt probably received its culture from Ethiopia; principally from the island Meroe, which, according to recent hypotheses, was occupied by a sacerdotal people. "Ethiopia," from the Greek word for "baked," referred to areas the ancients called Nubia and Axum. Meroe, set among the cataracts of the Nile below Egypt, was a traditional seat of power in ancient Nubian cultures. For Hegel to say that his "orientalized" Egypt "probably received its culture from Ethiopia" is to admit the possibility of the Black African origins of Egyptian civilization.

    If the Athenians had seen the reasons for restraining force, Meroe would not have become a figure for the whole imperial enterprise. Immediately after the destruction of Meroe, the slaughter of its men, and the enslavement of its women and children, the further circulation of Athenian power along the coast of the Mediterranean brings its army to Sicily and the debacle there. If assumptions about circulation, force, and intellectual prowess really connect the confrontation at Meroe with roots as deep as the Odyssey, recognition of the link is made possible partly by the comparison of Greek materials with Chinese, where the patterns in question are clearer.

    While exchange between independent societies will always have an impact on all of the polities involved, the beneficial multiplier effects of the two-step economic process just described will disproportionately affect societies in which imports consist mostly of raw resources while exports consist mostly of value-added goods. This is so because economic diversity, employment, and skills expand doubly as a result of the need to process both the imports and the exports in those societies. This, in turn, is significant for the development of sociopolitical complexity in such societies because the division of labor generates incentives for cooperation between diverse individuals with common interests, as well as incentives for competition between societal factions with conflicting or overlapping interests (Schaberg, 186).

    The trade and cultural exchange throughout the Indian Ocean brought forth philosophy and politics into Europe. Primordial matter, the forms, the demiurge, and the principle of becoming have an eternal, independent character in Plato, however, although all form a unity in Egyptian cosmogony. There did not exist in Egyptian cosmogony a period designated as zero, at which point the being, matter, arose out of nothing, out of nonbeing; being, in Heidegger's and Jean-Paul Sartre's sense, is eternal (Snobelen, 392).

    While Europe received politics from Africa, Africa received religion, in part from Europe. Despite the changing political ideologies, basic tenets of Ethiopia's foreign policy have remained the same and some of these are worth examining for they are based on false assumptions and unexamined ideas. One of these which continued to shape the country's external behavior relates to Ethiopia's self image as a Christian island in the sea of Muslims and the corresponding portrayal of the neighboring countries as historically fixed potential or actual enemies. Find more papers at

    It is truism to say that religious discord have been very important in coloring history of the Horn of Africa in general and that of Ethiopia in particular. The rivalry between Islam and Christianity in the region has a very long history indeed. Christianity was first introduced into Ethiopia when King Ezana was converted in the early part of the 4th century AD. In the 6th century AD Islamic faith was also successfully spreading especially in southern part of present day Ethiopia where local population were attracted to Islam as a new ideological force of resistance against the territorial expansion of the Christian kingdom from the north. The kings that ruled Ethiopia since early times had frequently tried to undertake forced conversion with a view to uprooting the Muslim population. This was despite the fact that Islam was as well established in the region as was Christianity.

    Works Referenced

    • Guillermo, Algaze. “Intitial Social Complexity in Southwestern Asia”. Current Anthropology. April, 2001. v42. i2. p199(5).
    • Hussien, Seifuddin. “Islam, Christianity and Ethiopia’s Foreign Policy”. Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs. April, 1997. v17. i1. p129(11).
    • Schaberg, David. “Travel, Geography, and the Imperial Imagination in Fifth-Century in Athens and Han China.” Comparative Literature, Spring, 1999. v51 i2. p152(40).
    • Snobelen, Stephen “A Further Irony: Apocalyptic Readings of Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”. Canadian Journal of History. Dec, 1998. v33. i3. p387(30).
    • Verharen, Charles C.”The new world and the dreams to which it may give rise” .Journal of Black Studies. Mar, 1997. v27. i4. p456(36).

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