Although the geopolitical history of the Middle East is basically seamless, I have chosen to end this book with the end stage of the decline of the Sassanid Empire. The account of its final destruction is an integral part of the story of the conquest of the core and much of the periphery of the Middle East under the banner of Islam, which emerged out of the Arabian Peninsula with extraordinary force at a time when the major regional powers, Byzantium and Persia, were exhausted from centuries of almost continual geopolitical struggle. I hope to provide a geopolitical treatment of the period from the rise of the prophet Muhammad and the Arab empires to the domination of most of the region by the Ottoman Turks in a subsequent vol-ume.
It is my contention that familiarity with the period covered in this book is crucial to an understanding of the contemporary Middle East, because it was during this long period that the seeds of the diverse religions and cultures of the region were sown in the geopolitical soil of the region. As has been shown, the use of religion as an instrument of the state for political purposes has its roots in ancient Greece, and has continued to serve as a force for both national cohesion and regional division ever since.
Geopolitically, we have seen that there are no significant natural frontiers in the Middle East from its eastern reaches into Central Asia to the Mediterranean in the west. As a consequence, the political and military leaders of the states of the region have always been obsessed with the problems of physical security, and have struggled mightily to create buffer zones to provide some strategic depth in which to repel aggressors. Viewed from the perspective of the early history of the region, one can begin to see most clearly that the boundaries of the contemporary states that fill it are all