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 the lands from Egypt to 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 Sharia legal system, which unified trade and law in their vast empire, 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.
The Cultural Influence of Christianity: 500 – 1000AD
“The creation waits for the sons of God to be revealed” (Romans 8:19)
In the five hundred years leading up to the first millennium, some profoundly important social developments were taking place in Western Europe that are at once both invisible to the superficial historian, profoundly influential for succeeding eras, and in need of explaining.
This was the era in between the great Roman estates owned by the elite, and the feudalism of the high Middle Ages, also controlled by the elite. Peasants now had more control over their destiny than at any time for a thousand years. Contrary to popular myth, this era, commonly called the “Dark Ages” saw a steady rise in general living standards. Freed from the stifling economic grip of tyrants, innovations unknown to the ancient world began to emerge. Roman despots discouraged the poor from getting ahead, but a freer society, slowly building on Biblical concepts of the nature of man, and believed in the dignity of the individual, did not suppress the common man as much. Consequently, new technologies were quickly embraced and living standards for the vast majority rose. The great estates of the Roman era were broken up and peasants could now innovate. Here are a few of those innovations:
The far more productive horse replaced the slow and inefficient ox as the agricultural work animal of choice through the innovation of superior collars and horse shoes. In addition, wagons now had swivel axils and could carry far greater loads due to the invention of brakes. These developments facilitated greatly improved tillage of land and regional trade across mainland Europe for the first time. It was in this era that horses were ridden with real saddles for the first time, making horseback travel the preferred option. In the 6th Century the invention of the heavy wheeled plough added greatly to crop yields. The invention of the three-field tillage system was another huge advancement over the two-field system of the Romans. Crops could now be grown two thirds of the time.
Chimneys and glass windows made the home life of a peasant so much more comfortable than their ancestors, especially in winter. Improvements were also made to construction techniques, mining, smelting and the use of steel. Combined with the saddle, improvements in steel production turned the tide of Muslim advance into Europe by a much smaller Frankish army that used heavy cavalry for the first time at the battle of Tours in 732AD.
But the greatest technological innovation of this era was the emergence, for the first time ever in the history of man, of a non-human powered economy based on technological progress, something inconceivable in a slave-based society. Water mills were non-existent at the end of the Roman era, but ubiquitous by 1000AD, as were wind mills (some 5624 are recorded in the infamous Norman “Doomsday Book” of 1086AD). They were used for all means of commerce, not just food production and they greatly enhanced the productivity, and hence living standards of the ordinary person.
All of these inventions led to great increases in food production and food surpluses led to the growth of towns across Europe that were full of traders and artisans and specialists. These towns often grew up around the mills or around the great Monastic estates.
Speaking of Monastic estates, these religious institutions gave the world the very first version of capitalism, a concept unique to Christian civilisation that was later picked up by the Italian city states, before moving to the European lowlands and England. Many of the simple monasteries of the 5th century had, by the 10th century, grown into vast estates under the ownership of the Pope. The great advances in agricultural productivity of this era led to these estates becoming quite wealthy. Fir the first time in history wealth was not in the hands of the social elite or subject to the vagaries of inherited leadership, but in the hands of hard working, skilled labour. The Cluny reforms of 910AD led to competent management teams built on skill, not birth right, overseeing ever-increasing profits and a cash economy form a vast number of Monastic estates. By 1000AD the estates began to resemble modern large-scale corporate businesses.
The wealth of these estates was then loaned out to royalty and nobles in Europe’s first proto-banking system. From here it was a small step for the Catholic Church of the era to do a theological backflip and condone interest, profits, just prices, and the morality of commerce. The world of capitalism, banking and finance owes much to these estates. If it were not for this era of social, commercial and technological innovation the West would still look much like the nations of Islam and Asia. As broken as the church was in this era, the philosophy of Christendom was still transforming the world for the good, and laying foundations for the eras that would follow.
Finally, the very end of the millennium saw major two breakthroughs in the world of music. First there was the introduction of polyphonic music, and the first systemic work on music theory, by the French Benedictine monk, Ubaldus Hucbald (840-930AD). Under his research and writings, music became a rational science. Just over a hundred years later another Benedictine monk, Guido of Arezzo introduced modern musical notation. Western musical development from this point on was astronomical compared to other cultures.