Political Milestones: 1000AD to 1100AD
The first few centuries of the second Millennium were once again dominated by Christian-Muslim friction. Only this time the Christians decided to use Muslim tactics and implement their own “Jihad”. The clash of civilizations took a century to develop, and this is the story of that tragic, but almost inevitable development. However, before we go there we must begin the century talking about the developments happening in the north-west coastlands of Europe as some well-known names appear at this time.
Very early in the new millennium the Viking explorer, Leif Erikson, is reputed to be the first official European to travel down the east coast of North America. Back in England there was a rebellion against Viking occupation when local Saxons massacred a large number of Danes in 1001AD. In retaliation, the Danes launched a full scale invasion, subduing all of England by 1016AD under King Canute. By 1028AD he had also conquered Norway. In 1042AD, the Saxons forced Canute’s successor to flee to Normandy in France. The Saxons ruled a restored England until the retaliatory Viking-Norman invasion of 1066AD under William the Conqueror. The Norman Conquest ushered in an era of continental influence on English culture that is still evident today in language, government, fortifications (Tower of London), literature, law and religion.
The now Catholic Viking-Normans were busy on other fronts too. In 1017AD they began a multi-decade struggle to free Southern Italy from five centuries of Byzantine and Muslim rule. The job on the mainland was complete in 1071AD, while Sicily and Malta were taken from Muslim rule in 1091AD. Because of these exploits the Normans cleared the Northern Mediterranean of Muslim control. Working with them was the city-state of Pisa, who took Sardinia from Muslim control in 1052AD. They began work on their famous cathedral and bell tower a decade later.
With geographic expansion built into the DNA of Islam, it was nothing but natural to expect them to continue conquering and occupying their borderlands. Thus, in 1001AD we see the Persian Ghaznavid, under Mahmud of Ghazni, attack and occupy all Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of the North Indian Punjab. They looted wealth from Hindu temples wherever they found them.
In 1028 the Oghuz Turks migrated from Central Asia into the Middle Eastern Abbasid Empire. It is from them that we see the rise of the fearsome Seljuk Empire, followed by the recent Ottoman Empire. Sadly, only two hundred years earlier they had been largely Christian. In 1040AD a branch of the Oghuz called the Seljuk Turks, began their conquest of Asia Minor. In 1071AD they defeated the Byzantine army and took most of Anatolia in modern day Turkey. This brought Islamic rule to the doorstep of Constantinople. These setbacks and the now restricted access to the holy sites in Israel under Seljuk rule were to be a catalyst for the first crusade twenty years later. Fear of expanding Islamic militarism was high on the minds of European kings once again.
In 1040AD a new and strongly Islamist kingdom also power came to the fore in North Africa. The Almoravids were a radical branch of Islam and went to defend, and expand the Islamic hold on Southern Spain in defiance of Catholic encroachment. By this time most people living in Southern Spain followed the Muslim faith. Without Almoravid support, Spain would have easily fallen to the Castilians before the end of the century. Because of them, it clung on for another 400 years. In 1086AD the decisive battle of Sagrajas was fought for the strategic city of Toledo, resulting in a military loss but a strategic victory for the Castilian Catholics. They held the city permanently and this marked the beginning of the end of Moorish rule in central Spain.
Late in the century, in 1095AD, Pope Urban the Second began stirring up support for a Catholic military campaign to rid Israel of Muslim rule. Jerusalem was considered holy to the Catholic Church and most Europeans at the time, and therefore a Christian land.
Spiritual Milestones: 1000AD to 1100AD
The conversion of the Slavic peoples early in the Eleventh Century was the only positive point of expansion in the Christian world at this time in history, if you can call their forced conversion a positive. By 1015AD the majority of the Rus had become Orthodox Christian, a situation that still exists today, despite seven decades of harsh atheistic rule in the Twentieth Century. By 1050AD Orthodox missionaries from Russia were converting the Latvians.
There were many setbacks for Medieval Christendom in this era. The greatest being the beginnings of the decline of Nestorian Christianity in Central Asia among the vast and powerful Turkic peoples. In 1020AD the Nestorian Church had 250 dioceses and upwards of 12 million Christians in its fold. Over 50% of many of the countries in this part of the world were Christian at some stage in their history. Why did this massive church completely die out? The answer lies in the lack of an indigenous form of Christianity in the local culture. Nestorian Christianity always used the Syriac language for church services and Bible translations. The gospel never came close to the heart of the local cultures.
To illustrate this vital point; the Armenians had the scriptures in their own language very early in their history and were allowed to develop their own culturally sensitive expressions of the Christian faith. They did not import their spirituality from abroad. In 1064AD Armenia was invaded again by Muslim armies. Over 1,000 churches were destroyed and over a 100,000 people were massacred. Yet the Armenia is still 94% Christian today, with 9% of these evangelical. But the Nestorian Christianity of neighbouring countries is gone forever.
The same result occurred in North Africa where the Berber church insisted, like the Catholics to their north, on using Latin for their church culture and Bible. Christianity was a shallow import from abroad. In contrast, down in Ethiopia the church used its own language in all aspects of its Christian expression. The Berbers fell quickly to a new ideology and Christianity was gone by 1000AD. They became the first non-Arab people to become completely Muslim. In contrast, the Ethiopians are still 60% Christian and 20% evangelical to this day. Footnote: Since the printing of the Bible in the Berber language in 1984, over 100,000 have returned to the Christian faith.
In 1054AD “The Great Schism” occurred between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. There had been petty differences in theology for many years, but in truth it was a division between rival power bases. The two branches had argued for many years over petty things like whether to used leavened or unleavened bread in communion. However, the real battle was over political control, with the Pope insisting on recognition as universal head of Christendom. When this was finally rejected, the Byzantine church was ex-communicated.
Very late in the century, in response to the rising tide of Islamic rule on the eastern edge of Europe, Pope Urban urged Catholics in Europe to rise up militarily and clear the holy Lands for Christian pilgrimage. So, in 1096AD almost a 100,000 men responded. Led by Norman knights, they carved a violent path right through Seljuk Anatolia to Jerusalem, slaughtering Jews and Muslims in the name of Jesus in the very city where Jesus died for the sins of the world. How sadly ironic.
It must be remembered that the Crusades were very much an event of their time. They were part pilgrimage, part conquest, part retaliation against Muslim conquest, part volunteer, part conscription, and part adventure. They were a marriage of church and state, a foreign concept to modern readers, but universal to all religions in the Medieval Period. They should be rightly condemned today as an affront to the spirit of the teachings of Jesus. However, it must be remembered that this was an era of extreme illiteracy and ignorance as to the true teachings of the Gospels. Both the Catholic mass and the Bible were in the dead language of Latin. Most simple Europeans had little idea of the true nature of Christianity or its pacifist history. In addition, given the continual lust for control of Europe by Islamic militarism, their actions, if not condoned, must be understood in a defensive context. At this time in history, Europeans could never have sent a secular army sent to fight anyone.
It is also important to note that history has conveniently forgotten that other crusades also took place at the western end of the Mediterranean with the Reconquista of Spain (718-1492AD), to the north of Europe against pagan kings in Estonia, Latvia, Norway and Finland (1193-1220AD), in the south of France against Cather heretics (1208-1241AD), as well as the six crusades in Israel.
The world ended the Eleventh Century with over 300 million people for the first time. Some fifty millions of these were inside the three stagnant medieval branches of Christendom. The slaughter of Christians was rare in these times except for the mass slaughter of the Armenians in an attempt to force them into Islam by the aggressive Seljuk Turks.