The Shona is the name used to describe a number of tribes with similar cultures who have lived in the eastern part of Zimbabwe. The main tribes are the Zezuru, the Karanga, the Manyika, the Tonga-Korekore, and the Ndau. All speak Bantu and have survived in farming communities.

They made up some 80 percent of the population of Zimbabwe in the year 2006, with the president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe (prime minister 1980–87, president from 1987), being from the Shona, as was the prime minister of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, Bishop Abel Muzorewa.

There are also many Shona in neighboring countries: Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, and Zambia. Some also lived in the short-lived Republic of Venda, one of South Africa’s homelands or “Bantustans,” established 1979–94.

Traditionally the Shona were farmers of millet, sorghum, and maize, the last being their major staple food. They currently grow many other crops, including beans, groundnuts (peanuts), rice, and sweet potatoes.

For meat, the Shona hunt animals. Cattle are raised—not for beef but for milk, and also for a measure of wealth, especially for paying dowries. The main migration of the Shona to modern-day Zimbabwe was largely associated with finding grazing land for their cattle.

Living conditions largely consist of villages that involve clusters of huts around a central area where granaries and common cattle pens are located. Huts are made from mud and wattle, with thatched roofs, and generally accommodate extended families.

The kinship system involves exogamous clans, with family trees and traditions, succession, and inheritance generally following the male line, although a few groups of Shona in the north of the country are matrilineal. Chiefs who inherit their position in the male line run the villages.

In the ninth century the Shona built the great stone buildings of Great Zimbabwe, one of the most important archaeological sites in southern Africa. The word Zimbabwe, which became the name of the country, means “royal court,” and they were the centers of power in the land.

There are three sections that make up Great Zimbabwe: the Hill Complex, the Great Enclosure, and the Valley Complex. The Hill Complex has been called the Acropolis by some historians and was the center of royal events in the whole site. Although it has a number of enclosures, they were probably for animals rather than for protection.

Archaeologists have been able to show that it was built in a number of stages, and modified at different times. Some of the buildings collapsed, and the site was then leveled before new building work was started. The eastern section is known as the “ritual enclosure” and is connected with ceremonies involving Shona chiefs.

Large statues of carved soapstone birds looked over the site but were removed long ago. There is also some evidence of gold smelting in one section nearby. There are various theories for the small towers, with some scholars suggesting religious purposes, and others that they provided lookout positions.

The most famous part of Great Zimbabwe is the Great Enclosure, which is one of the most regularly photographed parts of the entire area, appearing regularly in books and on Rhodesian and Zimbabwe postage stamps. Nearly 255 meters in circumference and 100 meters across, it remains the largest surviving ancient structure in sub-Saharan Africa.

Scholars have long surmised it was a royal compound where the king’s mother and his main wives would reside. There was a belief that the large conical tower on the site held treasure, and it was marked on some plans as being the site of the royal treasury.

Many people have dug in the hope of finding gold, but it is also believed that it was the grain store for the king. The Valley Enclosures date from the 13th century and have yielded the largest amount of archaeological finds.

There was much speculation on whether the Shona actually built the enclosures at Great Zimbabwe, with some writers surmising that they were Arab, Egyptian, Ethiopian, Greek, Jewish, or Phoenician in origins. Some have sought to link them to the queen of Sheba or the legendary Prester John. Others have seen connections with the famed King Solomon’s mines.

However not a single archaeological link connects the ruins with any of these. Some Chinese porcelain, Persian crockery, and beads and a few trinkets from India were found, indicating that the people at Great Zimbabwe traded, probably through intermediaries such as the Arabs, with peoples in the Indian Ocean.

The first Caucasian to see Great Zimbabwe was Adam Renders, an American sailor, who arrived in the area in 1867. He married the daughter of an African chief and remained nearby until his death in 1881.

The first to write an account of the ruins was Carl Mauch, a German who came to Great Zimbabwe in September 1871. Subsequent travelers started taking pieces of the ruin away with them.

British archaeologist Gertrude Caton-Thompson spent three years working at the site in the 1930s and concluded that they were Bantu in style, and part of the legendary Shona civilization.

Great Zimbabwe remains the second most important tourist site in Zimbabwe, after Victoria Falls. In recent years Shona culture and customs has been revived with an interest in Shona wood and stone carving, and music.

Shinran - Buddhist Philospher

Shinran - Buddhist Philospher
Shinran - Buddhist Philospher

Shinran was a Japanese Buddhist philosopher who was primarily concerned with the fate of the mass of the people who would be unable to achieve enlightenment through their own efforts.

He emphasized the role of faith as a means of salvation and placed it in the context of action and attainment of enlightenment. His school of Buddhism was called the Jodo Shinsu (the True Pure Land), and it has become one of the largest such schools in modern Japan.

Shinran became a monk at childhood after the deaths of his parents and he studied at the Tendai school on Mount Hiei. He underwent a process of asceticism in the search for enlightenment but failed to achieve his goal in this way.

Granted a short sabbatical in the Rokkaku-do (Hexagonal Temple in Kyoto), he encountered Honen and was inspired to follow his Pure Land Buddhist form of belief, which held that calling out the name of the Buddha in true faith would be sufficient for people to achieve enlightenment in the practice known as nembutsu. Shinran abandoned his previous asceticism and became an advocate of nembutsu. When this was outlawed in 1209, he was exiled.

He subsequently married, despite the requirement for monks to remain celibate. His son, Zenran, followed him into the religious life but this led to conflict later when Shinran felt compelled to disown Zenran on the basis of the young man’s different (and hence heretical) religious beliefs.

Shinran spent around 20 years in Kanto after his exile, where he continued his studies, wrote extensive tracts, and attempted to convert the local people.

Shinran statue
Shinran statue

After the Kanto years, Shinran returned to Kyoto, where he then had a confrontation with his son, who had been leading followers in the absence of his father. Shinran died in Kyoto at the age of 90. His followers commemorated his life, in part with the creation of an organized form of his religious beliefs.

True Pure Land Buddhism focuses on the worship of Amitabha Buddha and anticipation of paradise lands to the west, where those saved by their worship will make their perpetual home.

Worshipping the Buddha as an individual is contrary to the Buddha’s own intention, since he considered that he had successfully eradicated his own ego and, therefore, there was nothing left to worship. Further the Buddha stressed the need for all people to search for and evaluate all stages on the road to enlightenment individually and systematically.

True Pure Land Buddhism, therefore, was far more democratic than the Buddhism of the Buddha himself and offered happiness in the next world to a much larger group of people. It could be used, therefore, as a powerful force for modernization and social reform.

An Lushan (An Lu-Shan) Rebellion

An Lushan (An Lu-Shan) Rebellion
An Lushan (An Lu-Shan) Rebellion

The An Lushan Rebellion (755–763 c.e.) occurred at the midpoint of the Tang (T’ang) dynasty, 618–909, and marked a significant turning point in the fortunes of the regime. The rebellion marked the Tang’s irreversible decline after one and half centuries of good governance, economic prosperity, and military success. An Lushan’s (703–757) beginnings were humble.

He was half Sogdian and half Turk, of the Khitan tribe, and was born beyond the Great Wall of China in present-day Manchuria. At an early age he was sold to a Chinese officer of the northern garrison and rose to the rank of general and commander of a region on the northeastern frontier of the Tang empire. By the mid-eighth century c.e. most of the frontier garrisons were under foreign (non–Han Chinese) generals.

An was introduced to the court of the aging Emperor Xuanzong (Hsuan-tsung, also known as Minghuang, or “Brilliant Emperor”) and rapidly ingratiated himself to his young favorite concubine, the Lady Yang (known by her title Yang Guifei, or Kuei-fei; Guifei means “Exalted Consort”) who adopted him as her son. Gross and fat, An became a frequenter at court events, entertaining the emperor and his harem with his clowning and uncouth behavior.

He was rewarded with the title of prince and given command of the empire’s best troops. Protected by Lady Yang and her brother who was chief minister of the empire, reports of General An’s treacherous intentions were not only unheeded by the emperor but the men who reported them were punished.

In 755 c.e. General An rose in rebellion. At the head of 150,000 troops, among them tribal units (he commanded a total of 200,000 troops), he marched from his base near modern Beijing toward the heartland of the empire. His success was immediate. The eastern capital, Luoyang (Loyang), fell.

With the main capital Chang’an (Ch’ang-an), poorly defended by unseasoned troops, Xuanzong and his court beat a hasty retreat, heading for refuge in the southwestern province of Sichuan (Szechwan). En route the dispirited troops escorting the emperor mutinied. They blamed Lady Yang and her brother the chief minister for their plight, killed him, and forced the emperor to hand Yang over to them and strangled her.

These humiliations led to the abdication of Xuanzong and the ascension of his son and crown prince as Emperor Suzong (Su-tsung). The doting, aged emperor’s love for his favorite, his neglect of his duties and indulgence in a sybaritic life with Lady Yang, the disastrous consequences of their love, their flight, and her tragic death have inspired many poems by famous Tang poets and were the subject of many paintings.

An Lushan’s troops entered Chang’an unopposed, and he proclaimed himself emperor, but his rebellion made little progress after that. He soon became blind and was murdered by his son in 757 c.e. The son, too, was murdered by one of his generals, and soon the rebellion degenerated into chaotic civil war as some of his early supporters defected and other rebels bands rose as opportunities offered.

The new emperor rallied loyal troops who outnumbered the rebels, but were scattered in different garrisons. He also obtained help from former vassals and allies, most notably from a Turkic tribe called the Uighurs and others in Central Asia, and even some Arab troops sent by the Islamic caliph.

Some of the help came at a high price, for example the Uighur khan who twice helped to recapture Luoyang was repaid by permission for his men to rampage through and loot the city, including the palaces and Buddhist temples, and which cost thousands of lives.

Peace was finally restored in 766; however, the empire would never recover its previous prestige and prosperity. The following are some important results of the rebellion:
  1. Growing importance of the army and military leaders. The army expanded to over 750,000 men. The military would remain a significant force, and regional commanders would become powerful and able to resist central control.
  2. Restructuring of provincial administrations that became semiautonomous through the remainder of the dynasty. This is especially significant in the decreasing amounts of revenue that local authorities would turn over to the central government, further curtailing its authority.
  3. Ending the land registration and distribution system in effect since the beginning of the dynasty that had ensured economic equity for the cultivators, maintained local infrastructure projects, and provided men for military service.
  4. Accelerating the large-scale shift of population from war ravaged areas in the Yellow River valley in northern China to southern provinces in the Huai and Yangzi (Yangtze) valleys whose productivity became crucial to the economy of the empire.
  5. Grievous loss of territory in the border regions because troops were withdrawn to defend the core of the empire. Central Asia was lost to Chinese control, as were Gansu (Kansu) and Ningxia (Ninghsia) Provinces. Both crucial links to the western regions. were lost to the rising Tibetan state.
Nothing about the An Lushan rebellion was inevitable. However, it caused enormous disruption to the Tang Empire and acted as a powerful catalyst for the changes that characterized the Chinese world. Although the dynasty survived until 909 c.e. it never regained the prestige and power it had enjoyed before the rebellion.

Mount Athos

Mount Athos
Mount Athos

Christian monasticism began in the eastern Christian world when St. Antony of Egypt, who exemplified the solitary form of monastic life, entered the Egyptian desert in the late third century c.e. Soon afterwards, Pachomius of Egypt and the Desert Fathers developed the communal life.

From here, early monasticism spread to Palestine, Syria, and the West. Monasticism’s birthplace was vastly affected by the Islamic conquests of the seventh and eighth centuries and declined in its wider historical significance. The heart of (Chalcedonian) Orthodox monasticism is Mt. Athos in northern Greece, on a rugged peninsula extending 35 miles into the Aegean Sea.

It is the easternmost of three such “fingers” that stretch out from the Chalkidike Peninsula. The name of this promontory is derived from its highest peak, the nearly 7,000-foot Mount Athos. The Orthodox refer to this region as the “Holy Mountain” because of its spiritual significance over the past millennium.

In the eighth and ninth centuries monks journeyed to Mount Athos to find refuge during the controversy of Iconoclasm when the state forbade icon veneration. By the later ninth century c.e. the area was already becoming known for its reputation for holiness. In 963 c.e. the monk Athanasios of Trebizond created the first communal monastery there, the Great Lavra.

Several Byzantine emperors supported Athanasios, endowing the monastery with wealth, privileges, and land. Other monasteries quickly followed. In less than 40 years, there were almost 50 monasteries, with the hegoumenos (abbot or presiding father) of the Great Lavra holding the preeminent position. Mount Athos sprouted communal monasteries as well as sketes, small groups of monks who lived separately from a general community but came together for worship and feast days.

Mount Athos was also home to many anchorites, or hermits. Monastic life, in all its variety, blossomed on Athos, but it did so with strict gender separation, for, in 1045 c.e., the emperor banned all females and even female animals. Women were, and still are, excluded both as members and even as visitors.

Patronage continued from Byzantine emperors as well as from Slavic rulers in Serbia, Bulgaria, and Russia. Mt. Athos became a truly international community where monks from all over the Orthodox world mingled together: Italians, Greeks, Georgians (Iveron Monastery), Russians (Panteleimon), Serbs (Chilandar), Bulgarians (Zographou), and Orthodox Armenians.

Theological ideas quickly passed, via Mount Athos, from one part of the Orthodox world to another. Such was the case in the 14th century when the controversy over Hesychasm (the “Jesus Prayer”) led to its defense by Athonite Gregory Palamas and its spread throughout Orthodoxy.

Its accumulated wealth made the peninsula attractive to invaders. In the 13th century Athos fell into the hands of western European crusaders and, after the 14th century, to the Ottoman Turks, who, after accepting tribute and depriving the monasteries of their estates outside, respected the autonomy of the region.

While Mount Athos was the heart of Orthodox monasticism, it was not the only center of monastic life—many other areas, Meteora in central Greece, for example, were well known. Monasteries (ranging in size from a few monks to hundreds) sprouted up wherever there were Orthodox communities.

So, not surprisingly, when the town of Mystras, located west of ancient Sparta, became an important Byzantine cultural and political center in the 13th–15th centuries c.e., monasteries (like the Brontocheion) appeared as well. Unlike Athos, however, this region lost its wider importance after the Ottoman conquest of 1460 c.e.

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms
Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms

Following the decline of Roman power in Britain, political power rapidly decentralized, and several small kingdoms emerged to fill the political vacuum. These kingdoms, called the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, competed among themselves and with Danish invaders for power from the late sixth through the ninth centuries. Eventually they melded into one large kingdom that governed most of England until the Norman Conquest of England in 1066.

Throughout the fourth and fifth centuries a number of Germanic peoples invaded England. Some came with military objectives in mind, but many others came as settlers, seeking peaceful colonization. These people came from several tribes, but the most famous were the Angels and Saxons, many of whom came as raiders and mercenaries seeking employment in Roman Britain’s undermanned military outposts. Beyond this, details of the invasion are unclear. The invaders stamped out all vestiges of Roman culture, but the complex transition to Anglo-Saxon England occurred gradually.

How many small kingdoms existed during the sixth and seventh centuries is unknown, but as larger kingdoms eliminated rivals, the number shrank. This consolidation of power has led historians to identify the movement toward a territorial state as one of the main themes in Anglo-Saxon history.

As post-Roman chaos subsided, Anglo-Saxon England painstakingly settled into seven or eight major kingdoms and several smaller ones. The kingdoms centered on the Thames, Wash, and Humber, the main entry points for the migrations. Factors influencing the shapes and formation of the kingdoms also included geography, defensibility, and the degree of resistance the inhabitants offered the invaders.

Four kingdoms developed around the Thames estuary. In the southeast, Kent arose with unique artistic, legal, and agrarian traditions, influenced by Jutish and, possibly, Frankish culture. West and northwest of Kent three kingdoms associated with the Saxon invasions developed: Essex (East Saxons), Wessex (West Saxons), and Sussex (South Saxons). Settlers who entered via the Wash founded East Anglia, forming groups called the North Folk and South Folk, whose territories became Norfolk and Suffolk.

Those who entered by the Humber formed Mercia, which dominated the Midlands, and Northumbria, north of the Humber River, that grew from the unification of the smaller kingdoms of Deira and Bernicia. These kingdoms are traditionally called the Heptarchy, a misleading term that implies seven essentially equal states. In fact at times many more than seven kingdoms existed, and the seven main kingdoms were rarely political equals.

Developments in the institution of kingship were vital in the political growth of the early kingdoms. Germanic peoples had a tradition of kingship, and as Roman institutions declined, they looked to their own heritage to replace Roman customs. The practical appeal of kingship is clear.

It offered strong personal leadership and the kind of governing that led to success during the Anglo-Saxon invasion and settlement. The post-Roman political situation demanded similar leadership. Christian tradition held up biblical kings as examples of good leadership, and as Anglo-Saxons converted, this bolstered Germanic notions about the institution.

By the mid-seventh century, royal houses had emerged, and a claim of royal lineage became necessary for a king to rule unchallenged. The bloodline was important, but other Western notions about kingship had not yet taken hold. The successor had to be both from the right line and the fittest to rule.

How closely related to the previous king he had to be was debatable, and the right of the eldest son to succeed, the right to pass the succession through the female, the rights of a minor or female to inherit, or the right of a king to choose his successor were not guaranteed. In case of a disputed succession, kingdoms were divided or shared, which was risky but preferable to feud or civil war.

Toward the end of the seventh century a group of leaders emerged known as Bretwaldas. The first Bretwaldas were kings whose actions gained them fame and reputation and who had the political and military power to reach beyond their borders and collect tribute from neighbors. According to Bede, by around 600 one king customarily received this title from his royal colleagues, giving him preeminence within the group.

The position shifted from one dynasty to the next, with changing political and military successes. At first the title was largely honorary, and it is unclear whether other kings listened to the Bretwalda’s demands, but as time passed the authority of the Bretwalda grew.

In the late sixth and early seventh centuries the eastern kingdoms had the political edge, but strong rivalries existed and power shifted frequently. England’s population and prosperity grew in the seventh century, and much of England converted to Christianity. A common language, common social institutions, and, eventually, a common religion counterbalanced the political and military turbulence but did not stop it.

As the seventh century progressed more powerful kingdoms absorbed smaller kingdoms, and by the end of the century Northumbria, Mercia, and Wessex dominated the island. Northumbria dominated affairs in the seventh century; Mercia led the way in the eighth century; and Wessex emerged to dominate the events of the ninth century.

After King Oswy’s (642–670) defeat of Mercia in 654, Northumbria exercised lordship over the other kingdoms. Although unable to control Mercia after about 658, Northumbria nevertheless remained preeminent through its great etika authority. For example, Northumbrian support ensured the Synod of Whitby’s (663) success in promoting Roman Christian traditions over the Celtic Church throughout England. However internal dissent and external defeats steadily drained Northumbrian political and military power. Unrest, violence, and political coups throughout the eighth century doomed Northumbrian culture, culminating with the Viking sack of Lindisfarne in 793.

Anglo-Saxon war
Anglo-Saxon war

Mercia began its rise under King Penda (628–654), and its political domination culminated under kings Ethelbald (716–757) and Offa (757–796). Many factors contributed to Mercia’s success. It held prosperous agricultural territory in the Trent Valley. The people in the east Midlands, the Middle Angles of the Fens, Lindsey, and around the Wash accepted the dynasty, as did settlers in the Severn Valley and along the borders of modern Chester, Shropshire, Herefordshire, and Gloucestershire.

London and East Anglia fell to Mercia as well. After the death of King Ine in 725, no effective resistance to Mercia remained in Wessex. Eventually it subdued Kent and threatened Canterbury. This success led Ethelbald to claim he was king of all Britain. The actions of Mercian rulers bolstered the concept of kingship.

Offa summoned papal legates, held church councils, created a new archbishopric in Lichfield, and asked the church to anoint his son Ecgfrith, all of which shows a practical desire to cooperate and benefit from relations with the church, but it also did much to strengthen his position and the theory of monarchy throughout the land.

Mercia retained power in the Midlands throughout the reigns of Cenwulf (796–821) and Ceowulf (821–823), but their popularity faded in the south and southeast following the harsh tactics they used in building a defensive system within England. Kent and East Anglia resented Mercian overlordship and led the way in uprisings in the early ninth century. The primary beneficiary of these uprisings was the kingdom of Wessex.

The rise of Wessex began with King Egbert (802–839), who defeated the Mercians in 825, winning control of Kent, Sussex, and Essex, and continued with the arrival of the Vikings. The Vikings had been making raids on England since the 780s, but in the mid-ninth century their attacks changed from raids to campaigns of conquest. In the 850s they stayed between campaign seasons, and by 865 thousands of Danes undertook a conquest that ended with their control over nearly all of England except Wessex.

Alfred the Great

Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great

Alfred the Great (r. 871–899) came to power just after the Danish onslaught started. He was a talented king, warrior, able administrator, patron of the arts, and a good political leader, but it was a desperate moment in Anglo-Saxon history. Danes controlled the most fertile parts of north and east England.

The south held out, but it seemed only a matter of time until it too fell. To buy time while he mustered his army Alfred made a truce with the Danes in 872. He then reformed his army, fortified towns, and built a navy to meet the Viking threat.

To control his kingdom Alfred depended upon his royal court, made up of bishops, earls, king’s reeves, and some important thanes. Councils, called Witenagemots, or Witans, discussed issues such as raising military forces, building fortresses, and finances.

The king made the decisions, but he relied on the Witan for advice, support, and help making decisions known. Ealdormen, noblemen of great status who managed the shires or districts of Wessex for the king, played especially important roles.

In 876, the Danish leader, Guthrum, renewed the attack on Wessex, and by winter 878 Alfred retreated to the Isle of Athelney. In the spring he took the fight back to the Danes, defeating Guthrum and forcing him to promise to cease his attacks on Wessex and convert to Christianity. Following this, Alfred repeatedly beat back Danish attacks and gradually regained lost territory.

Around 886, Alfred and Guthrum created a boundary running northwest, along an old Roman road known as Watling Street, from London to Chester that became the Anglo-Saxon–Danish border. The cultural influences of the Danish side, the Danelaw, affected England for centuries.

The boundary also freed a large section of Mercia from Danish control, and Alfred installed a new ealdorman to control the area and married his daughter to him, uniting the kingdoms and setting the groundwork for a united England. Clashes with Danes continued, but the most severe crises had passed by Alfred’s death in 899. Under his heirs, resistance to Vikings and pagan forces came to be associated with the royal house of Wessex.

From 899 to 1016 Alfred’s descendants held the throne. They continued developing royal institutions and expanded their power base. In the late 10th century new Viking attacks coupled with internal divisions among noblemen led to the overthrow of Ethelred “the Unready” (978–1016). The Witan installed a Dane as king of England. Canute (1016–35) successfully managed Denmark, Norway, and Anglo-Saxon England and became a powerful political figure in Europe.

While Canute ruled with a Scandinavian touch, creating nobles called “earls,” most Anglo-Saxon governing institutions functioned unchanged. He brought together Anglo-Saxon and Danish nobles and won the loyalty of the Witan. When Canute died his sons ruled briefly, but each died without heir, and the Witan selected Edward, the son of Ethelred, to be king.

Edward the Confessor (1042–66) was more Norman than Anglo-Saxon, because he lived from ages 12 to 36 in Normandy. He installed Norman nobles as advisers, a move deeply resented by the Anglo-Saxon nobles. The earls owed everything to Canute and were very loyal to him, but they owed Edward nothing. Resenting Norman influences at court, they soon began acting with autonomy.

Edward’s father-in-law, Godwin, earl of Wessex, and his son, Harold, led the opposition. Their lands made them more powerful than the king, and as their power grew, Edward became a figurehead. When Edward died childless in 1066, the Witan chose Harold as king, but he faced challenges from Norway and Normandy. William of Normandy proved too much for Harold at the Battle of Hastings, bringing an end to the Anglo-Saxon kingdom.

On the eve of the Norman Conquest, Anglo-Saxon England was prosperous and well-governed by 11th-century standards. It had a thriving church, effective military, and a healthy, growing economy. The English-Danish division caused diversity in legal and social traditions, but it possessed great unity for its time. Continental kingdoms rarely knew unity and experienced almost constant internal warfare.

By comparison, Anglo-Saxon England had evolved quickly from the days of the Heptarchy and through the rise of Wessex and unifying onslaught of the Danes to become the stable kingdom of 1066 that was so attractive to those who claimed it upon Edward the Confessor’s death.

Anglo-Saxon Culture

Anglo-Saxon Culture
Anglo-Saxon Culture

The Anglo-Saxons were Germanic barbarians who invaded Britain and took over large parts of the island in the centuries following the withdrawal of the Roman Empire. They were initially less gentrified than other post-Roman barbarian groups such as the Franks or Ostrogoths because they had less contact with Mediterranean civilization.

The Anglo-Saxons were originally pagan in religion. The main group, from northwestern Germany and Denmark, was divided into Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. German tribal affiliations were loose and the original invaders included people from other Germanic groups as well.

Although some of the early Anglo-Saxon invaders had Celtic-influenced names, such as Cedric, the founder of the house of Wessex, the Anglo-Saxons had a pronounced awareness of them-selves as different from the peoples already inhabiting Britain. Their takeover led to the integration of Britain into a Germanic world. Unlike other groups such as the Franks they did not adopt the language of the conquered Celtic and Roman peoples, but continued speaking a Germanic dialect.

The early Anglo-Saxons highly valued courage and skill in battle, as reflected in the most significant surviving Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf. Their pagan religion was marked by a strong sense of fatalism and doom, but also by belief in the power of humans to manipulate super-natural forces through spells and charms. They shared a pantheon with other Germanic peoples, and many Anglo-Saxon royal houses boasted descent from Woden, chief of the Gods. Their religion was not oriented to an afterlife, although they may have believed in one.

The Anglo-Saxons strongly valued familial ties—the kinless man was an object of pity. If an Anglo-Saxon was killed, it was the duty of his or her family to attain vengeance or a monetary payment, weregild, from the killer. Anglo-Saxon kinship practices differed from those of the Christian British, adding to the difficulty of the assimilation of the two groups. For example, British Christians were horrified by the fact that the Anglo-Saxons allowed a man to marry his stepmother on his father’s death. Anglo-Saxons also had relatively easy divorce customs.

The cultural differences between the Britons and the Anglo-Saxons were particularly strong in the field of religion, as British Christians despised Anglo-Saxon paganism. The Anglo-Saxons reciprocated this dislike and did not assimilate as did continental Germanic groups. The extent to which the Anglo-Saxons simply displaced the British as opposed to the British assimilating to AngloSaxon culture remains a topic of debate among historians and archeologists of post-Roman Britain.

The conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity owed more to missionary efforts from Ireland and Rome than it did to the indigenous British Church. Paganism held out longest among the common people and in the extreme south, in Sussex and the Isle of Wight.

Some Anglo-Saxons were not converted until the middle of the eighth century. Some peculiar relics of paganism held out for centuries. For example Christian Anglo-Saxon kings continue to trace their descent from Woden long after conversion. The church waged a constant struggle against such surviving pagan Anglo-Saxon customs as men marrying their widowed stepmothers.

anglo-saxon army
anglo-saxon army

Reconciling Irish and Roman influences was also a challenge, fought out largely on the question of the different Irish and Roman methods of calculating the date of Easter. Not until the Synod of Whitby in 664 did the Anglo-Saxon church firmly commit to the Roman obedience.

Conversion led to the opening of Anglo-Saxon England, until then a rather isolated culture, to a variety of foreign influences, particularly emanating from France and the Mediterranean. The leader of the missionary effort sent by Rome to Kent to begin the conversion, Augustine, was an Italian, and the most important archbishop of Canterbury in the following decades, Theodore, was a Greek from Cilicia in Asia Minor. Pilgrimages were also important in exposing Anglo-Saxons to more developed cultures.

The first recorded visit of an Anglo-Saxon to Rome occurred in 653 and was followed by thousands of others over the centuries. Since pilgrims needed to travel through France to get to Italy and other Mediterranean pilgrimage sites, pilgrimage also strengthened ties between Gaul and Britain.

Anglo-Saxon churchmen found out about innovations or practices in other places, such as glass windows in churches, and came back to England eager to try them out. Despite these influences, Anglo-Saxon Christianity also drew from Germanic culture.

Like other Germanic peoples the Anglo-Saxons tended to view the Bible and the life of Christ through the lens of the heroic epic. Christ was portrayed as an epic hero, as in one of the greatest Anglo-Saxon religious poems, The Dream of the Rood. The Dream of the Rood recounts the Crucifixion from the seldom-used point of view of the cross itself, and represents Christ as a young satria and the leader of a group of followers resembling a Germanic war band.

Another remarkable example of the blending of Germanic and Christian traditions is the longest surviving Anglo-Saxon poem, the epic Beowulf. Telling of a pagan satria in a pagan society, the epic is written from an explicitly Christian point of view and incorporates influences from the ancient Roman epic, Virgil’s Aeneid.

As the Anglo-Saxon Church moved away from dependence on outside forces, Irish or Roman, in the seventh and eighth centuries, the Christian Anglo-Saxon kingdoms produced their own saints, mostly from the upper classes. Anglo-Saxon saints such as Cuthbert (d. 687), a monk and hermit particularly popular in the north of England, attracted growing cults.

The highest point of Anglo-Saxon Christian culture was the Northumbrian Renaissance, an astonishing flowering of culture and thought in a poor borderland society. Northumbria was a kingdom in the north of the area of Anglo-Saxon settlement, an economically backward and primitive society even compared to the rest of early medieval Europe. It was also a place where Continental and Irish learning met.

The Northumbrian Renaissance was based in monasteries, and its most important representative was the monk Bede, a historian, chronographer, and hagiographer. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People is the most important source for early Anglo-Saxon history. Another Northumbrian was Caedmon, the first Anglo-Saxon Christian religious poet whose works survive.

Northumbria also displayed a rich body of Christian art, incorporating Anglo-Saxon and Celtic artistic influences, and some from foreign countries as far away as the Byzantine empire. An enormous amount of monastic labor went into the production of manuscripts.

Despite the importance of Northumbrian Renaissance, Northumbria was not the only place where Christian culture reached a high point. Another area was the West Country, where the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex encroached on the British territories of Devon and Cornwall. Curiously, Kent, still headquarters of the archbishop of Canterbury who claimed primacy over all the “English,” became a cultural backwater after the death of Archbishop Theodore in 690.

The influence of Anglo-Saxon Christianity and the Northumbrian Renaissance spread to continental Europe. Anglo-Saxons, in alliance with the papacy, were concerned to spread the Christian method to culturally related peoples in Germany.

The principal embodiment of this effort was the missionary Wynfrith, also known as St. Boniface (680–754), who was born in Wessex. His religious efforts began with assisting a Northumbrian missionary in an unsuccessful mission to the Frisians. He then went to Rome to receive authority from the pope.

Boniface made many missionary journeys into Germany, where he became known for converting large numbers of Germans, and for a physical, confrontational missionary style that included chopping down the sacred trees that were a feature of Germanic paganism. Many English people followed Boniface to Germany, where they exerted a strong influence on the development of German Christianity.

Boniface was also responsible for a reorganization of the Frankish Church to bring it more firmly under papal control. On another journey to Frisia angry pagans killed him. Anglo-Saxons, along with other people from the British Isles, were also prominent in the circle of learned men at the court of Charlemagne. The leading scholar at Charlemagne’s court, Alcuin of York, was a Northumbrian.

This high point of Anglo-Saxon Christian culture was terminated by the series of Viking raids and invasions beginning in the late eighth century. Unlike Christian Anglo-Saxon warriors, who usually respected monasteries, the pagan Vikings saw them as rich repositories of treasure, and monastic life virtually disappeared from the areas under Scandinavian control.

By the ninth century the leader of the English resurgence, King Alfred the Great of Wessex, lamented the passing of the golden age of English Christianity, claiming that there was hardly any one in England who could understand the Latin of the mass book. Alfred, an unusually learned king who had visited the European continent, made various attempts to restore English monasticism and learned culture.

He gathered in his court scholars from throughout the British Isles and the continent, as well as writing his own translations, such as that of Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy. Alfred also sponsored the translation of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History and other works from Latin into Anglo-Saxon. The period also saw the beginnings of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a record of current events kept in Anglo-Saxon, eventually at monasteries.

Like the political unification of England by Alfred’s descendants, the creation of this body of Anglo-Saxon literature contributed to the creation of a common Anglo-Saxon or English identity. There was very little parallel for this elsewhere in Christian Europe at the time, when learned writing was almost entirely restricted to Latin. Alfred’s patronage of men of letters was also important for the creation of his personal legend.

The unification of England did not end the Scandinavian impact on English culture, which revived with the conquest of England by the Danish king Canute in the 11th century. Canute, a Christian, respected the church and English institutions, and his reign was not destructive as the early Viking conquests had been. Scandinavian influence was particularly marked on the English language.

Since it was already similar to the Scandinavian tongues, Anglo-Saxon or Old English adopted loanwords much more easily than did Celtic languages such as Irish. Since it was necessary to use English as a means of communication between people speaking different Germanic tongues, many complex features of the language were lost or simplified. English would make less use of gender and case endings than other Germanic or European languages.

Although Alfred had hoped to revive English monasticism, the true recreation of monastic communities would only occur in the 940s, with royal patronage and under the leadership of Dunstan, a man of royal descent who became archbishop of Canterbury and a saint.

The English monastic revival was associated with the revival of Benedictine monasticism on the Continent, and the new monasteries followed the Rule of St. Benedict. Monasteries dominated the church in the united Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, with most bishops coming from monastic backgrounds and often serving as royal advisors.

The church generally prospered under the Eglish kings—large cathedrals were built or rebuilt after the damage of the Scandinavian invasions. The copying and illumination of manuscripts was also revived, and reached a high degree of artistic excellence in Winchester. Continental influences preceded the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. The penultimate Anglo-Saxon king, Edward the Confessor, who had spent many years in France, built Westminster Abbey in a Norman Romanesque style.

Although Anglo-Saxon culture was displaced from its position of supremacy after the Norman Conquest of 1066, it did not disappear. At least one version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle continued to be compiled for nearly a century, and Anglo-Saxon poetry continued to be composed.

Anglo-Norman Culture

Anglo-Norman Culture
Anglo-Norman Culture

The Anglo-Norman culture resulted from the fusion of the culture brought over with William the Conqueror when he killed the last English king of England, Harold Godwineson, at the Battle of Hastings in October 1066, with the culture that existed in England. In the 11th and 12th centuries the Normans not only conquered England but also established a kingdom in Sicily.

English culture had developed relatively independent of continental Europe since the time of the coming of the Angles and Saxons in the fifth century, who in turn had been influenced by the native British culture. British culture was a mixture of the Roman culture, which had come with the Roman conquest under Emperor Claudius (41–54), with that of the original Celtic inhabitants.

The English culture at the time of the Norman Conquest of 1066 was dominated by the warrior ethos that the Angles and Saxons had brought with them from mainly what is now Germany. Classics of this period were the poem of “The Battle of Maldon,” as well as the better-known saga of Beowulf.

Heaney describes this militaristic society when he writes of how “the ‘Finnsburg episode’ envelops us in a society that is at once honor-bound and blood-stained, presided over by the laws of the blood-feud ... the import of the Finnsburg passage is central to the historical and imaginative world of the poem as a whole.” The Anglo-Saxon tongue began to lose out to the Norman French, which also included the influence of Scandinavia, where the Normans had originally come from before settling in France in the 10th century.

It was the rising Anglo-Norman culture that created a pahlawan out of King Arthur. Based on earlier writings, authors like Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote History of the Kings of Britain between 1136 and 1138. Arthur was a native British chieftain who fought the Angles and Saxons, thus giving them little cause to celebrate him. But in seeking to give legitimacy to the Norman kings, writers like Geoffrey sought to trace the monarchy back to its earliest days and thus found inspiration in the earlier accounts of Arthur.

According to Helen Hill Miller in The Realms of Arthur, “the Anglo-Norman kings ... needed an independent source for their British sovereignty: as dukes of Normandy they were subject to the heirs of Charlemagne,” the kings of France. Geoffrey used accounts written by the monks Nennius in the ninth century and Gildas, who may have lived in the time of the historical Arthur, in the sixth and seventh centuries.

According to Helen Hill Miller in The Realms of Arthur, “by January 1139, a copy from his rather heavy Latin into Anglo-Norman verse was promptly undertaken at the request of the wife of an Anglo-Norman baron in Lincolnshire. By 1155, a further translation, likewise in verse, had been completed by Maistre de Wace of Caen, a Jerseyman who spent most of his life in France.”

Anglo-Norman dresses
Anglo-Norman dresses

Geoffrey wrote during the reign of Henry I (1100–35), perhaps the first Norman king to see himself as English first and Norman secondarily. Writing at the same time on Arthurian topics were Walter Map and Maistre [Master] Wace, who wrote the Roman de Brut and Roman de Rou.

Other writers applied themselves to building up the Anglo-Norman civilization. William of Malmesbury wrote Acts of the English Kings and On the Antiquity of the Church of Glastonbury. William, like Geoffrey, consciously fused the Normans with the Celtic past, because Glastonbury was the holiest site in Celtic Britain.

Tradition had it that Joseph of Arimathea, he who had given his tomb for Christ to be buried in after the Crucifixion, founded a small church at Glastonbury. The pious at the time also believed that Joseph, who traditionally in England had been seen as a merchant for English tin, had even brought the young Jesus (Christ) of Nazareth to visit Glastonbury.

The church served as another institution in building a rising new culture in England, as memories of the conquest of 1066 dimmed with the passage of time. Symbolic of this was the actual building of churches in the Romanesque architecture, which the Normans had mainly brought with them from France.

The institution of the church was put to use by Henry I. The Cistercian order of monks arrived in England in 1128 and began development of advanced agriculture and sheep raising. In order to cement the church as an instrument of royal development, the king named the great prelates who ruled the church, to assure their support for his reign. William began this policy after the conquest.

Along with the great bishoprics like York and Canterbury, monastic orders also flourished under Anglo-Norman rule and would be a central part of both English culture and economy until the monastic system was destroyed during the reign of Henry VIII (1509–47).

Using Normandy as a model, Henry I and the kings who followed him freely granted charters to towns, enabling the establishment of a town life that would be one of the hallmarks of England during the Middle Ages. London, where William built his White Tower, gained the ascendancy in England in commercial life that it still enjoys today. Towns, the estates of the great feudal lords, and the church establishments were the pillars that formed the foundation of the Anglo-Norman culture that arose after the conquest of 1066.

Feudalism, the system of lords holding their lands at the will of the king, really came to England with William, who granted land holdings to those Breton, French, and Norman warriors who had come with him to fight the Saxon King Harold in October 1066. By the end of Henry I’s reign in 1135, only some 70 years after the conquest, the fusion between the old and the new was complete, and the Anglo-Norman culture flourished in England.

Pre-Inca Civilizations in Andes

Pre-Inca Civilizations in Andes
Pre-Inca Civilizations in Andes

Building on the economic, political, cultural, and ideological-religious developments that shaped Andean prehistory from the Lithic Period to the mid-Early Intermediate Period, the eight centuries between 600 and 1400 c.e. saw the continuing expansion and contraction of kingdoms, states, and empires across large swaths of the Andean highlands and adjacent coastal lowlands. The three most prominent imperial states were the Huari, the Tiwanaku, and, later, the Chimor. These empires, in turn, laid the groundwork for the explosive expansion of the Inca Empire in the 15th century.

The Tiwanaku culture and polity, whose capital city of the same name was located some 15 kilometers southeast of Lake Titicaca, traced its origins to humble beginnings around 400 b.c.e., with the establishment of clusters of residential compounds along a small river draining into the giant lake.

For the next eight centuries, the nascent Tiwanaku polity competed with numerous adjacent settlements for control over the rich and highly prized land in the Lake Titicaca basin, until the mid-300s c.e., when it came to dominate the entire basin and its hinterlands.

Lake Titicaca and its surrounding basin represent a singular feature in the mostly vertical Andean highland environment. The largest freshwater lake in South America (covering some 3,200 square miles and stretching for some 122 miles at its longest) and the highest commercially navigable lake in the world (at an elevation of 12,500 feet), Lake Titicaca tends to moderate temperature extremes throughout the basin while providing an ample supply of freshwater and a host of other material resources, especially reeds, fish, birds, and game.

The basin itself covered some 22,000 square miles, significant portions of which were relatively flat and arable when modified with raised fields. All of these features rendered the zone unusually productive and highly coveted—not altogether unlike the Basin of Mexico—permitting it to support one of the highest population densities in all the pre-Columbian Americas.

Archaeologists divide Tiwanaku’s growth into five distinct phases extending over a period of some 1,400 years, until the polity’s collapse around 1000 c.e. Phases I and II saw the settlement’s gradual expansion on the southern fringes of the lake. Phase III (c. 100–375 c.e.) saw extensive construction within the capital city.

By Phase IV (c. 375–600 or 700), Tiwanaku had emerged as a true empire, dominating the entire Titicaca Basin and extending its imperial and administrative reach into windswept puna (high plains), throughout large parts of the surrounding altiplano, and south as far northern Chile.

Phase V (c. 600/700–1000) was a period of gradual decline, until the capital city itself was abandoned by around 1000. The empire’s economic foundations were agropastoral, combining intensive and extensive agriculture with highland pastoralism.

The dominant feature of the capital city, a structure called the Akapana, consisted of an enormous stone platform measuring some 200 meters on a side and rising some 15 meters high. Evidently the ritual and ceremonial center of the city and empire, the flat summit of the Akapana held a sunken court with elaborate terraces and retaining walls in a style reminiscent of Chiripa and other Titicaca sites.

A nearby structure, called Kalasasaya, prominently displayed the famous Gateway of the Sun, chiseled from a single block of stone and featuring the so-called Gateway God, which some scholars interpret as a solar deity.

A host of other buildings, walls, compounds, enclosures, and platforms graced the sprawling urban center, which housed an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 inhabitants. Like other Andean cities, Tiwanaku had no markets, its goods and services exchanged through complex webs of kinship networks and state-administered redistribution.

Covering a much larger territory than Tiwanaku was the Huari Empire, with its capital city Huari on the summit of Cerro Baul some 25 kilometers north of the present-day city of Ayacucho in the Central Highlands. The Huari state emerged toward the beginning of the Middle Horizon (c. 600 c.e.).

At its height, around 750 c.e., the empire spanned more than 900 miles along the highlands and adjacent coastal plains, touching the northernmost fringe of the Tiwanaku Empire to the south and extending to the Sechura Desert in the north.

The capital city, densely packed with walls and enclosures, covered around four square kilometers and is estimated to have housed some 20,000 to 30,000 people. The Huari elite ruled their vast empire through a series of administrative colonies or nodes that exercised political domination in the zones under Huari control.

The Huari Empire is perhaps best known for its extensive agricultural terracing and irrigation projects that spanned large parts of the highlands. Requiring enormous expenditures of labor, the Huari terraces, canals, and related reclamation projects transformed millions of hectares of steep arid hillsides into land suitable for cultivation.

Scholars hypothesize that the extensive terracing and irrigation works undertaken by the Huari state help to explain the empire’s survival through the periodic El Niño–induced droughts and floods that comprise a persistent feature of the highland and coastal environments, and that proved catastrophic for the Moche polity during the same period.

In order to acquire the vast amounts of labor necessary for the construction of such terraces, irrigation works, and other infrastructure, both the Huari and Tiwanaku Empires compelled subject communities to contribute substantial quantities of labor to the state —a kind of labor tax required of all subject peoples. Indeed, Andean polities were predicated on stark social inequalities and the division of society into two broad classes: elites and commoners.

Public works such as terraces, canals, roads, and urban monumental architecture were built by commoners from ayllus and communities compelled to devote specified quantities of time annually to such endeavors. The state and its agents reciprocated by ensuring military security, food security, and other benefits, a reciprocity rooted, at bottom, in a fundamentally unequal relationship between the sociopolitically dominant and dominated.

With the demise of both the Tiwanaku and the Huari Empires by the end of the Middle Horizon, the Andes entered a period of political decentralization and reassertion of local and regional autonomies. An important exception unfolded along the North Coast and its adjacent highland, where the powerful Chimor Empire emerged around 900 c.e.

With its capital at Chan Chan near the mouth of the Moche River, at its height in the Late Intermediate Period the Chimor Empire spanned nearly 1,000 kilometers from the Gulf of Guayaquil in contemporary Ecuador to the Chillon River valley on the Central Coast.

Like the Inca Empire that supplanted them in the mid-1400s, Chimor’s rulers deployed a combination of conquest and alliance-building to bring large areas of both coast and highland under their dominion. The capital city of Chan Chan was a huge urban complex, housing upwards of 35,000 people and covering at least 20 square kilometers, while its civic core encompassed at least six square kilometers and housed some 6,000 rulers and nobility.

During the Late Horizon, the young and powerful Inca Empire swept down from its highland capital at Cuzco to bring Chimor, and the rest of highland and coastal Peru, under its dominio.

Almoravid Empire

Almoravid Empire
Almoravid Empire

North Africa’s Berber tribes began converting to Islam with the commencement of the Arab conquests during the second half of the seventh century under the al-Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphates. Although Berber Muslims were active participants in the expansion of the Islamic state north from Morocco into Iberia, they remained subservient to Arab commanders appointed by the reigning caliph in the Middle East.

Around 1050 from the Sahara in Mauritania, the first major political-military movement dominated by Berbers, the Almoravids, began to emerge. This revolutionary movement was founded and led by Abdullah ibn Yasin al-Gazuli, a fundamentalist Sunni preacher of the Maliki legal school who had been trained at Dar al-Murabitun, a desert religious school in the Sahara.

Abdullah had begun his career as a preacher by teaching the Berber Lamatunah tribes in the Sahara, who had converted to Islam but remained ignorant of its intricacies, orthodox Sunni Islam. The origins of the Almoravid movement lay in the foundation by Abdullah of a small, militant sect that abided by a strict interpretation of Maliki Islamic law. To join Abdullah’s movement, new members were flogged for past sins, and infractions of Islamic law were severely punished.

The community was guided by the religious legal opinions of Abdullah and later by the legal rulings of Maliki jurists, who were paid for their services. In 1056 the Almoravids, who had developed into a strong and fanatical military movement, began to advance northward into Morocco, where they subjugated other Berber tribes and preached a strict version of Sunni Islam. Three years later, during a fierce war against the Barghawata Berber tribe, Abdullah was killed.

After the death of Abdullah, leadership of the Almoravid movement passed to two cousins, Yusuf ibn Tashfin and his cousin, Abu Bakr. In 1062 the city of Marrakesh was founded in southern Morocco, where it would serve as the Almoravid capital, followed in 1069 by the establishment of Fez.

Almoravid flame thrower
Almoravid flame thrower

Under Yusuf and Abu Bakr, the Almoravid Empire expanded eastward into Algeria by the early 1080s. The conquest of Morocco was completed by 1084, and by 1075 Almoravid forces had expanded into the West African kingdom of Ghana.

While the Almoravids continued to expand their realm in North Africa, Christian states in Iberia began to chip away at the Iberian Muslim states. Under the leadership of Alfonso VI, the duke of Castile, Spanish Christian forces forced the Islamic city-states in the south, including Seville and Granada, to pay him tribute.

In the late 1070s Iberian Muslims sent messengers to the Almoravids, requesting support against the Christians. However, it was not until 1086 that Yusuf crossed the Mediterranean into Iberia, where he defeated Alfonso VI’s army at Sagrajas.

Almoravid warrior
Almoravid warrior

Between 1090 and 1092 Yusuf established Almoravid authority over the Muslim states in southern Iberia, forming a strong line of defense against further Christian expansion. Although the Almoravid leadership did not favor the secular arts, such as nonreligious poetry and music, other forms of art and architecture continued to receive government support. Christian and Jewish communities residing in the south were persecuted, and the cooperation and intellectual collaboration that had once existed between Iberia’s Muslims, Christians, and Jews ended.

In 1106 Yusuf died of old age and was succeeded as Almoravid caliph by Ali ibn Yusuf. At the time of Yusuf’s death, the Almoravid Empire was at the height of its power, stretching across Morocco south to Ghana, north into Iberia, and east into Algeria. 

During his reign and that of his successor Ali, Maliki jurists served as paid participants in the government, and the influence of a strict version of Sunni Islam was increased. Although the Almoravids officially recognized the authority of the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad, Iraq, they ruled independently and without interference from Iraq. They also maintained generally cordial relations with the neighboring Fatimid Caliphate centered in Egypt.

Opposition to the Almoravid Empire had already taken root in North Africa by the time of Yusuf’s death. The Almoravid caliph Ali’s use of Christian mercenaries and foreign Turkish slave-soldiers raised the ire of a militant fundamentalist Berber movement, the Almohads, led by Muhammad ibn Tumart, a member of the Hargha tribe of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains. The Almohads opposed the influence of the Almoravids’ Maliki jurists, who Ibn Tumart argued had corrupted Sunni Islamic orthodoxy.

Almoravid ghazi
Almoravid ghazi

In 1100 Ibn Tumart returned to his native mountain village after spending years in Iberia and then further east studying Islamic theology, legal thought, and philosophy. He founded a mosque and school where he began to preach his interpretation of Sunni Islam.

Ibn Tumart ordered that the call to prayer and the sermons during Friday congregational prayers be delivered in Berber instead of Arabic, and it is reported that he wrote several religious treatises in Berber as well. The growing influence of the Almohads would continue and would come to threaten the authority and existence of the Almoravid Empire, which was further weakened in 1144 with the death of Caliph Ali.

It was during the reign of Ali that Almoravid power began to disintegrate, but it was under his successors that the empire would finally collapse. Faced with growing opposition in Iberia, the Almoravids were defeated in battle by Spanish, French, and Portuguese armies between 1138 and 1147, losing control of the cities of Zaragoza and Lisbon.

In Morocco, the Almoravid heartland, the increasing influence of the Almohads continued to loom, even after the death of Ibn Tumart in 1133. The successor to the Almohad throne, Abd al-Mu’min, supervised the tamat destruction of the Almoravid Empire, which finally collapsed in 1147 after the fall of its capital city of Marrakesh.