Christianity: 800 to 900AD

Political Milestones: 800AD to 900AD

It did not take long after his Papal coronation in December 800AD for the new “Holy Roman Emperor”, Charlemagne, to stamp his iron fist on more of Western Europe. In 804AD, in conclusion to his 30 year “Saxon War”, he finished subjugating most of Germany. This was the first time since the second century that Western Europe had been unified, a feat that would be later attempted by the Hapsburgs, Napoleon and Hitler. After the death of Charlemagne in 814AD the kingdom was eventually divided between his three grandsons, who took up territory that would later coalesce into the modern states of Italy, Germany and France. 

With Charlemagne’s forces having re-occupied Northern Spain down to Barcelona, and Constantinople now impenetrable, the Muslim armies decided to push up through the centre of Europe. In 810AD they conquered Sicily. By 826 they were in control of Crete and by 838AD they were in control of Southern Italy. From this base the Muslims were able to sack parts of Rome itself in 846AD, including the Vatican and St Peters Basilica, a feat the modern terrorist group ISIS declared it would repeat soon. By 869AD they were in control of Malta, only to be driven out by Byzantine forces in 880AD. Italy, however, would never be seriously troubled by Islam as it was also prized by the Franks, the Normans, the Byzantines and local Italian strongmen.     

A significant feature of this era was the huge expansion of pagan Viking influence on Northern and Western Europe. Why did the Vikings come from nowhere and conquer half of Europe? Charlemagne’s conquests in Saxony and Scandinavia, and his attempts at violent conversion to Catholicism, are often cited as reasons for the vengeful retaliation of the Vikings into Catholic and Celtic Europe. After successful raids into England, Scotland and Ireland, the Vikings were successfully harassing the coast of France by 830AD. Their campaigns continued down the Atlantic coast of Europe and by 844AD they sacked and occupied Muslim controlled Seville in southern Spain. By 859AD they were in Morocco and controlled Ireland. In the 860’s the conquered much of England, with Alfred the Great defending his lands valiantly. As these Norse peoples enlarged their territories they came to be known in France as the “Normans”. By 885AD they were in control of Paris. Not lacking ambition or seafaring skills, they soon pushed down into Byzantine Europe, Russia (to be the first to unite this area), the Ukraine, Belarus, and across to unoccupied Iceland (874AD), Greenland (900AD) and Canada (985AD). There is even evidence of their deep incursions into the Islamic world via the Caspian Sea.

Viking Raids across Europe devastated local economies and trade between countries. The Vikings effectively cut Europe in half and destroyed trade and communication to Asia Minor and the Middle East. Their aggression in battle and their skill in commerce are well known. Lesser known is their love of democracy. Their parliaments, called “Things”, were the first in Europe since the Roman Republic. Women were also allowed to divorce their husbands. As pagans they decimated Catholic Europe and brought to an end the era of Celtic missions.

As the Holy Roman Empire pushed further south into Spain, liberated lands created a new enemy of the Muslims in what came to be known as the kingdom of Castile under Alfonso the Third. Both his rule and this crown would prove long lasting and eventually push all Muslims out of Spain 500 years later. In Constantinople Emperor Basil’s rise to power ushered in two centuries of stable rule, the Byzantine golden era.  

Over in Asia political events were more subdued, with only a few minor waves of forced migration. It was during this era that the Cambodian Hindu kingdom of Angkor Wat began its rise to glory under King Kambu. In China Gunpowder had been invented early in the century, as was printing and newspapers. In the Middle East Al-Khuarizmi invented algebra in 820AD and Muslim scholars translated the Greek classics into Arabic, ushering in the great Muslim era of learning.

In Africa the Zimbabweans were building their version of the acropolis, and in Mexico the Mayans were reaching their imperial, scientific and architectural heights. In South America the Tiwanaku Empire, cantered on the Titicaca basin, was also reaching its zenith. It was a time when the world, except for Europe, was humming along nicely. As a result of this era of peace outside Europe Asia’s population grew strongly to be well over half of all humanity.  

Spiritual Milestones: 800AD to 900AD

Choose your persecutor: Viking, Catholic, Muslim, Chinese, or Byzantine! This was a century of cruel and sustained persecution of Christendom all over the super-continent from multiple countries, kingdoms and religions. 

With Charlemagne’s coronation in 800AD, the Papacy cemented its power to confer kingship in Europe, a prized position it would guard jealously for many centuries, and which would destroy any last links to its New Testament roots. State and Church, corruption and greed, power and money, would now walk hand in hand through Europe for the next thousand years, eventually destroying the credibility of Christianity in the face of Humanist philosophical attack. Catholic Europe now set about the work of subduing the Celtic Church, by force if necessary. 

The Vikings also did great damage to the defenceless Celtic missionary movement during this century. In 806 they destroyed the Iona monastery in Scotland, the first of many. The fragmentation of Christianity and true Christian witness under the cruel hand of the Vikings cannot be under-estimated.

In 825AD, with increased persecution under Islam, many Syriac Christians migrated to the south west coast of India to join the Malabar Church. The oldest surviving church buildings in India date from this era. Islamic persecution intensified in 847AD when the Abbasid Caliph, Mutawakkil, began a savage 14 year persecution of Christians and Muslim sects. Many of the churches in Iraq were destroyed and massive forced conversions were common. In Egypt the Copts rose up yet again against Islamic persecution but were brutally defeated and massacred. By 837AD most churches in Egypt were destroyed and the majority of Egyptians were now Muslim. At this point in history roughly 40% of all Christians lived under Muslim rulers and the trickle of conversions to Islam now became a flood.

Not to be outdone, the Byzantines launched a major persecution of the reformist Paulican movement within their province of Anatolia in 847AD. There were over 100,000 martyrs. Amazingly, at around the same time, leaders in Eastern Europe were embracing orthodox Christianity. In 845AD the Czech leadership was baptised, and in 864AD, Boris, Czar of the Bulgars was also baptised, bringing his people with him.

Outside the reach of the Vikings, Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims, Christianity was now the principal religion of Central Asia from the Caspian Sea to China, yet completely cut off from European Christianity. The only knowledge Europeans had of Christians in the east were now evolving into vague legends. In 842AD the Chinese Emperor launched its third persecution of Buddhists, Nestorian Christians and any other “foreign” religion. Around 45,000 monasteries, containing over 265,000 nuns and monks, were closed down and confiscated. Nestorian Christianity inside China now went into a decline from which it never recovered until the 20th Century.

The century ended with roughly 240 million people on planet earth. Approximately 140 million lived in Asia, 15 million in Africa, 30 million in the Middle East, and 30 million in Europe. Some 40 million people came under the governing umbrella of a mostly politicised or stagnating Christianity full of top heavy institutional power.