Political Milestones: 900AD to 1000AD
China’s era of peace disintegrated early in the 900’s. With the demise of the Tang Dynasty in 907AD, the Han peoples plunged into civil war for seven decades. It was only in 979AD that they would be re-united under the Sung dynasty. To their east the Kingdom of Koryo, from where we get the name Korea, rose to power in 935AD.
At the same time in Europe the Frankish kingdoms were also in disarray. The Normans played havoc in the west, while the Eastern Frankish Empire disintegrated into a large number of landed strongholds under the umbrella of the Papacy. The now largely Germanic Holy Roman Empire would be the abiding strength of the Papacy until Martin Luther’s rebellion some 500 years later.
Brewing ominously in Central Asia were developments that, three hundred years later, would have devastating consequences for all civilizations and religions from China to Europe. In Mongolia the Khitan Empire was founded in 916AD and it would eventually expand to include lands from Northern China to Kazakhstan. From its ashes would arise Genghis Khan.
In the Muslim world the new Fatmid Caliphate emerged in North Africa in 909AD. It would eventually conquer Egypt and Arabia. In 932AD the Buyid dynasty took control of Persia, to be followed by the Afghan Ghaznavid dynasty in 972AD. Their combined ambitions took Islamist armies into Hindu North India for the first time, while their navy raided and sacked Hindu and Buddhist settlements all around the Indian sub-continent. In Sub-Saharan Africa the powerful tribes of Ghana-Mende were able to defeat Berber incursions and in so doing managed to restrict Islam to North Africa.
The Vikings evolved rapidly during the Ninth Century. In the west they were in permanent control of Northern France, but lost several decisive battles against the Saxons in England and would eventually be absorbed into their culture. In the north east of Europe they gained control of the vitally important waterways of the Volga and the Danube. Indeed Russian history dates from the 960’s when the Vikings began to be called the Rus after uniting what is now Eastern Russia. While this was happening, many of their leaders back in Scandinavia were absorbing Christian culture, in both of its heavily polluted Catholic and Orthodox variations. By 980AD they were settling Greenland.
In the very final decades of the new century the Spanish Castilians, under Alfonso the Fourth, pushed the Muslim Moors further south. By 985AD the small castle of Madrid was taken, as was the nearby strategic Moorish capital of central Spain, Toledo.
Spiritual Milestones: 900AD to 1000AD
Perhaps it would be best to begin this section by explaining how a small Muslim minority in heavily Christian centres like Persia, Central Asia and North Africa could, over time, virtually eradicate the Christian faith from these parts of the world. These changes took three hundred years and were largely complete by the end of the first millennium.
After violent subjugation of local peoples in the late sixth and early seventh centuries, there was minimal persecution, which kept rebellion to a minimum. As time went on tolerance evaporated under a regime of discriminatory laws and taxes. Dhimmini (non- Muslims) had to pay triple the tax of their Muslim neighbours. They had to wear special clothing and were forbidden to ride animals. The jobs available to them were severely limited, which drove them into poverty. The legal system gave them no protective rights against crimes committed against them by Muslims. For most who were nominal or cultural Christians, the only way to avoid discrimination for both them and their children was to convert. This process was largely completed in North Africa and the Middle East by 1000AD. The Central Asian region would take another four hundred years.
Fourteen hundred years later it is truly amazing that Egypt and Armenia are still 12% and 94% Christian respectively, when all other Middle Eastern churches collapsed over a millennium ago. Their proud history of spiritual and cultural resistance to onerous Muslim rule dates back to the very arrival of the invading Islamists.
There were several “bright” spots for the advance of Christianity in Eastern Europe during this era of history. By 916AD, the Christianisation of the Czechs and Bulgers was largely complete thanks to the valiant work of Cyril and Methodius late in the 800’s. These two men, though rising out of the Byzantine Orthodox religious culture, not at all known for its missionary vision, understood the New Testament mandate. Both were talented linguists who translated scripts and scripture into local Slavic languages. They were also humble men, who operated in often hostile catholic parts of Europe. Like the Celts before them, they won the hearts and minds of locals. The Orthodox Christianity of Eastern Europe is largely a result of their efforts. By 945AD those that followed them had taken Orthodox Christianity to the Ukraine, Bulgaria Scandinavia, Poland and western Russia, but their methods reverted to typical Byzantine force. To illustrate; in 988AD, Vladimir, the ruler of Kyiv-Rus (in typical Viking fashion) introduced Orthodox Christianity to his realm by ordering a compulsory baptism of all his subjects!
Not to be outdone by their Orthodox cousins, the Catholics were busy winning the Hungarian, Prussian and Baltic tribes. By 999AD Bohemia was fully Catholic.
In 920AD the Christian message had somehow reached Burma, but we will never know who the hardy soul was that made first contact. Above them and to the north of the Himalayas, many of the Kerait, Merkit and Naiman Mongolians were embracing Nestorian Christianity. They spread its influence extensively through the Turkic and Mongolian peoples. In China, decades of turmoil and severe persecution finally led to the complete eradication of the foreign Nestorian faith by 970AD. Due to the influence of the above mentioned Mongolian tribes, it would be introduced 200 years later.
The world’s population topped a quarter of a billion for the first time during this century, but Christianity, chained to its onerous political and cultural shackles, kept shrinking. What began as a world-changing spiritual revolution by the Son of God against entrenched religious power, control, injustice and indifference, had itself degenerated into the very thing it once stood against. Christianity had fallen into a deep sleep. The kingdom of God had been subverted from within and without to become a kingdom of men, power, fossilised institutions and worst of all, simply another religion.