Did Islam Destroy Classical Civilization?

By O'Neill, John J. | Comparative Civilizations Review, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Did Islam Destroy Classical Civilization?


O'Neill, John J., Comparative Civilizations Review


Introduction

Much of what I say in the article below goes so much against received wisdom that it might initially seem wrong, even obviously wrong. The notion, for example, that Christianity was inherently violent and intolerant is now so deeply ingrained that the reader might balk at the claim made here that this was not the case, and that violence and intolerance entered Christianity at a very specific time.

Also, the belief that Byzantium remained a flourishing outpost of classical civilization all through the "dark centuries" and into the fifteenth is so taken for granted that the reader will be shocked to find that Byzantium too had its "dark age" - a dark age perhaps even more obscure and impoverished than that of the west. Yet this is precisely what archaeology has now found.

For reasons of space I have not always been able to present the evidence in its fullness, complete with references etc., but the reader must understand that such evidence does exist, and is presented at length in my recently-published Holy Warriors. Here I have tried to answer some of the objections raised by the reviewers, but to answer them all, in the detail I would like, would take another book in itself.

Decline of Classical Civilization

One of the most enduring problems of history is the decline of Classical Civilization. How is it, scholars have long asked, that the civilization of Greece and Rome, which had endured over a thousand years, gave way to the world of the Medieval, an age which saw, for a while, the decline and apparent disappearance of the rationalist spirit of Greece and Rome?

In academic and journalistic literature and in the popular imagination, there is no mystery at all. After the Barbarian Invasions of the 5th century, we are told, the peoples of Western Europe reverted to living in thatched, wattle-and-daub huts. Cities were destroyed and abandoned, the art of writing virtually lost, and the mass of the population kept in a state of ignorance by an obscurantist and fanatical Church, which effectively completed the destructive work of the Barbarians. Into this darkened stage, the Arabs arrived in the 7th and 8th centuries like a ray of light. Tolerant and learned, they brought knowledge of the science of antiquity back into Europe and, under their influence, Westerners began the long journey back to civilization.

That, in a nutshell, is the story told in an enormous number of scholarly treatises and academic textbooks. It is a story implicitly accepted by a large majority of professional historians, both in Europe and North America; and yet it is a version of the past that is completely and utterly false. Indeed, it would be difficult to imagine a narrative further removed from what actually happened. And, shocking as it may seem, historians have known this for several generations. Why this knowledge has never been fully disseminated or integrated into academic thought is a moot point, but the fact that textbooks designed for schoolchildren and students of higher education can still be printed promoting the above version of events should be a cause of deep concern.

The Europe that Muslims Found

The truth is that when the Arabs reached southern Italy and Spain, they found not a bunch of primitive savages, but a highly sophisticated Latin civilization, a civilization rich in cities, agriculture, art, and literature, and presided over by completely Romanized Gothic kings. How do we know this? The Arabs themselves said so. On their arrival in Spain, Gothic Spain, the Muslim conquerors of 71 1 were astonished at the size and opulence of its cities. Their annalists recall the appearance at the time of Seville, Cordova, Merida and Toledo; "the four capitals of Spain, founded," they tell us naively, "by Okteban [Octavian] the Caesar." Seville, above all, seems to have struck them by its wealth and its illustriousness in various ways. "It was," writes Ibn Adhari,

among all the capitals of Spain the greatest, the most important, the best built and the richest in ancient monuments. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Did Islam Destroy Classical Civilization?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.