Society as if it Were Essay

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New scholarship suggests that Byzantine Empire was as successful as was Rome in shaping modern Europe (Angelov, 2001).

Islamic Golden Age

The Islamic Golden Age (also called the Caliphate of Islam or the Islamic Renaissance) was a center of government and political, cultural and religious traditions that arose in the early 6th century AD from the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed and reached its height between the 8th to 13th centuries (Kraemer, 1992). The Golden Age was centered around the Saudi Arabian peninsula. Its first capital was Media; at its greatest extent, the Caliphate controlled all of the present day Middle East, northern Africa and parts of Spain, and extending to the Indus Valley. It was thus one of the few empires that rules over three continents (Kennedy, 2001).

After the end of the classical empires of the Middle East (such as Egypt and Assyria) the region was politically and culturally fragmented. The rise of Islam unified the region, partly around religion but also around the rise of agriculture over nomadism. One religious leader expressed it as "All Muslims are partners in three things: water, herbage, and fire" (Chaudry, 2003). While the Islamic world was becoming increasingly wealthy and stable, Europe was fragmenting into feudalism. Most of the learning in the world was going on in the Muslim world, which was home to the arts, engineering, philosophy, and medicine. Learning of all sorts was highly valued: "Muslim artists and scientists, princes and laborers together made a unique culture that has directly and indirectly influenced societies on every continent" (Turner, 1997).

The Crusades in 11th century helped encourage a blending of the Arabic and European cultures. The Golden Age was threatened as the Mongols began a series of invasions at the beginning of the 13th century. The Caliphate was further weakened by a series of plagues beginning in the seventh century (Applied History Research Group-University of Calgary, 1997). The legacy of the Caliphate remains strong in the modern claims of some groups as to the legitimacy of jihad against the West and much of the political tension in the Middle East. However, just as important is the heritage that the modern world enjoys of the learning and literature of the Golden Age (O'Leary, 1929).

The Crusades

The Crusades, European invasions of the Middle East from 1095 to 1291 were officially waged to restore Christian control to the Holy Land. However, as is true of most wars, there was more than one reason for the wars. and, as with most wars, at least some of the reason was economic. As capitalism replaced feudalism in Europe, European merchants wanted new markets for their good. The Papacy used the Crusades as a way to gain power over European kings and princes modern scholarship has uncovered numerous other motives: feudalism was morphing into cap (Riley-Smith, 1990). The Crusades brought new technology back to Europe along with the scholarship of the Middle East armies improved their methods for navigation and shipbuilding and even ways of preserving food so that armies could carry food with them (Asbridge, 2010).

There has been little political unity in Europe since the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fourth century. The Crusades helped return unity to Europe under a new form of Roman control -- that is, the control of the Pope. European forces won some of the Crusades, whilt Arab forces won others, including the Ninth Crusade, roughly 1271-72, which put an end to Crusader dominance of the area (Madden, 2005).

If one considers the Crusades from their formal goal of attempting to regain the Holy Land for the Papacy, they were a failure. But they were a success overall in that Europe was far stronger and unified afterward. The Catholic Church was also far stronger. There are still political echoes of the Crusades: The current war in Iraq can be seen as a descendant of the Crusades and much of Arabic fury over the existence of Israel as a Jewish state also arises from this centuries-old anger (the Crusades- Crusade Legacy, 2009). Finally, in many ways the Crusades established the foundations of the modern nation-state and opened up much of the world to European exploration and conquest -- including that of Asia, Africa and the New World (Stark, 2009).


The term Romanesque applies less to a political system than to an artistic and architectural term. This period from approximately 1000 to 1240 AD, and describes a style of the post-Roman Empire. This style was marked by rounded arches, barrel vaults, apses, and in Southern Europe Byzantine decorations (Atrisgerinko, 2005). Along with Roman style, the era also saw a rebirth (in some measure) of learning and science (Benson, 1982).

The Romanesque style furthered the traditions of both the Roman and Byzantine Empires. The Catholic Church was both powerful and wealthy during this period, and so it sponsored much of the art and architecture of this era even as it grew increasingly wealthy and powerful throughout this period (Grant, 1996). The artistic and craft developments of this period, which included the architectural advances as well as artistic advancements in metal, enamel and ivory work, detailed bronze and gold sculpture, illuminated manuscripts, stained glass, and embroidery (Toman, 2008).

The churches of this era were taller and stronger than their predecessors because of new building styles such as the use of symmetrical planning, ardent decoration, and ratio in design. Some of these buildings are still standing (Bannister, 2001).

The Gothic Era

Gothic art and architecture evolved from Romanesque art in the early-13th century. Centered in northern and Eastern Europe, it spread to some extent to the South. It was also primarily an artistic movement and was a gradual transition between the Romanesque and Renaissance (Charles, 2008). Most art and architecture of the time was religious telling stories from the Bible for audiences that could not read. The Church was still the primary patron of art (Gothic Art, 2010). As Europe became increasingly urbanized and universities began to grow -- along with the rise of a middle class -- "ordinary" people began increasingly to be the patrons of art. As cities grew, so did trade guilds, which often welcomed artists and helped them to become literate, learn how to keep accurate records, and gain patrons (Cahill, 2008).

The Gothic style is still seen today and certainly influenced other styles through the 18th century, especially in terms of masonry (Gothic Dreams - Appreciating a Cultural Legacy, 2009). The emphasis on the human form in art (and the human condition in literature) continued well into the modern era and helped to secularize art and society as a whole (Punter, 2001).

The Renaissance

The term "renaissance" generally refers to the European Renaissance movement of the 15th -- 17th centuries as Europe moved into the modern world -- although there were whispers of the Renaissance as early as the 12th century. The Renaissance helped revive Roman and Greek traditions in art, music, politics, culture, society and did so within the context of greater and greater urbanization. Capitalism was gaining a firm upper hand over feudalism and Europe was extending its power over the world through colonization (Starn, 1998).

Contact with Muslim traders taught European merchants new methods of trading, including new monetary methods. Italians, and especially Venetians traded between Europe and Arabia, trading spices even as they learned to use the decimal system and algebra. There was also a rise in science and astronomy and in medical research (Morris, 2008).

During the Renaissance, people moved from introspection to outward expression, a shift in politics, culture, the arts. Philosophy and science also advanced. But the Renaissance was not all light and progress: There were widespread wars and a rise in disease. These accompanied the path to Modernism (Looking at the Renaissance, 2007).

The Baroque

An art and architectural movement from the late 17th to early 18th centuries, the Baroque style was elaborate, flowery, and emotional. It was spread through the church, and yet was a primarily secular (Culture in the Baroque Era, 2008). However, there was a link between the decoration of Catholic churches and the Baroque. Elements of classical societies were included and there was an important upswing in scientific research. While borrowing from the past, the Baroque was also floating happily into the future, which would be humanistic, not religious (Friedell, 2009).

Baroque style fell out of favor because of its eleborateness. But the political structures and educational advancements of the time helped move Europe into the Modern age, with modern ideas of the state and the individual (Buci-Glucksmann, 1994). The Baroque era was home to the Scientific Revolution, which included both advances in knowledge as well as a shift to a new way of looking at the world. Butterfield stated that the "revolution turned the authority in English not only of the Middle Ages but of the ancient world…it outshines everything since the rise of Christianity and reduces…[continue]

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