632 AD : The Islamic prophet Mohammed dies in Medina, and Abu Bakr is selected af the First Khalifa, or Caliph (deputy). The desert Bedouin tribes and urban dwellers of Arabia come into conflict after the Prophet's death, and rival sects are founded. Abu Bakr dispatches his most fearsome commander Khalid (ibn al'Walid), known as the Blade of Allah, who summarily slaughters the infidels and heretics wherever he finds them, for as the Qu'ran reads, "...in the shade of scimitars is Paradise prefigured."

633 AD : Al-Muthanna (ibn Haritha), chief of the Banishaiban clan, steals into Persian Mesopotamia and begins siege of Hira (which he takes on camelback) and then drives his army west to Damascus. 700,000 Christian troops are dispatched from Constantinople by Emperor Heraclius in response; most of them are slaughtered in the desert outside the city. "Infidels they came, infidels they departed."

635 AD : Damascus falls after Khalid and his army arrives. He then leads his troops into Jordan and defeats the Byzantine army massed against him at Battle of Yarmuk.

638 AD : The Islamic armies swarm Jerusalem after a 600 day siege of the city and soon control most of the Holy Land.

640 AD : Arabian troops cross into Egypt, and by September control Alexandria. Amr (ibn Al'as), the general now in command, writes back to the Caliph in Mecca, "We entered the city, every man having to veil their eyes from the sunlight glaring off the marble and gold."

649 AD : Arabs take Cyprus and begin a naval war with the Byzantine Empire.

653 AD : The lessons of the Prophet are for the first time officially compiled into the Koran (Qu'ran) while all other unauthorized literature is immediately suppressed. The First Jihad erupts.

656 AD : The Third Caliph Uthman (ibn Affan) is assassinated in Medina by religious sectarians, and two opposed armies of the faithful mass at Siffin, in Syria, copies of the Qu'ran spiked to the tips of their lances.  The Syrian side carries the day as Islam schisms effectively into the Sunni (who believe the Caliph line to be legitimate) and the Shi'a (who believe Ali ibn Abu Talib, Mohammed's cousin, to be the true spiritual successor. This schism, however, and Talib, have nothing to do with Taliban (ta-fathah), which is Arabic for "student", as most of them are graduates from various orthodox Islamic institutions). Syrians were Sunnis, the Persians Shi'a. (The Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s was fought along exactly the same religious grounds, with Iraq as Sunnis, Iran as Shi'as). Many thanks, yaqub0r, for the etymology.

661-667 AD : Islamic armies besiege Constantinople for the first time. The city becomes a battleground between Islam and Christendom for the next 900 years.

670 AD : Under Caliph Mu'awiya, the Moslem armies march 10,000 cavalry across Egypt, through Libya and into Tunisia.

685 AD : Civil war erupts in Persia, with two opposed Caliphates, one in Damascus, the other in Medina.

711 AD : The Arab general Tarik moves his troops into the Gothic kingdom of 'occupied' Spain, completely surprising the northern Goths at Guadalete, who retreat into Gaul (France).*

714 AD : Seville and Medina surrender to another Arab general, Musa.

722 AD : Tarik, under the order of Emir Yazid, brings his forces across the Pyrnees mountains, marching on Toulouse, which manages to barely hold its territory with the help of the Duke of Aquitaine.

733 AD : Arab armies now reach as far as Poitiers, in Gaul, where a loose confederacy of troops are brought together by the Franks, Belgians and Germans.

762 AD : The re-construction of Baghdad, the Alexandria of Arabia, as scholars flock there from around the known world seeking access to the amassed literature there. The Caliph al-Ma'mun (scholar, astronomer, theologian) establishes the library/translation center/school. the Bait al-Hikmah ('House of Wisdom'), where all the Greek, Roman and Alexandrian classics of poetry, science and philosophy are transcribed and preserved through the Middle Ages. It also is the beginning of The Arabian contribution to Cryptology.

778 AD : Charlemange crosses into Spain, 'liberating' Saragossa and Barcelona.

788 AD : Jihad is declared against the Frankish Charlemange.

844 AD : Viking ships begin attacking the Moslems in Seville, Moorish armies retreat to the stronghold city of Cordoba, where they remain until their expulsion by the Portugeuse in 1492.


Ironically, the only other instance of such cultural foresight in the history of the world is taking place at the same time, on remote wind torn islands of the coast of Northern Ireland, where bands of Celt hermits, recently converted to Christianity, are undertaking the translation of hundreds of Persian, Byzantine and Spanish texts, brought to them by religious refugees displaced by plagues and wars throughout the 7th and 8th centuries. The Book of Kells and the Lindisfarne Gospels are two examples of the literature produced by the meeting of Middle Eastern and Irish culture. For further reading, see Thomas Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization (NY: 1995), a knotted history of 'extreme' monasticism and the fragile transmission of ideas in a dark time (despite the book's clich?characterizations of the Irish as unchanging, nature-loving heathens and Cahill's neo-conservative social views).

* The temptation to make a Goth joke here (with Killing an Arab) at the Cure's expense, is almost overwhelming...

Years later, a young friar named Gerbert (who will become Pope Silvester II) visits the libraries of Cordoba when the city is ruled by Abd-Al Rahman. The Pope will remark these were some of the finest libraries the world had known, and to which Europe had little access. Not long after this statement, once Silvester' s successor is chosen, the Crusades begin, a concerted effort by European leaders, in particular the Church, to recover science and learning.

On the passing of Various sciences and philosophies from Rome to Syria and Arabia to Moorish Spain to Europe

Bacon, Roger, 1214?-1294. Fr. Rogeri Bacon Opera quaedum hactenus inedita. London : Longman, Green, Longman and Roberts, 1859. See in particular chapter 25 of the 'Opus Tertium', p. 88, for the embarassment of Europe's ignorance of Arabic.

Brown, Peter Robert Lamont. The world of late antiquity: from Marcus Aurelius to Muhammad. London, Thames and Hudson, 1971. 216p. with index and chronology. See in particular Chapter XVI : 'A Garden Protected By Our Spears' : The Late Antique World Under Islam, p. 189- 203.

Burnett, Charles. The introduction of Arabic learning into England / Charles Burnett. London : British Library, 1997.

Davis, D. G. "Christianity and Pagan Libraries in the Later Roman Empire," Library History, 2, v. 1 (1970), 1-10.

Dill, Samuel, 1844-1924. Roman society in the last century of the Western Empire. London, Macmillan, 1899. 451p.

Harris, Michael H. History of libraries in the western world. Metuchen, N.J. : Scarecrow Press, 1995. 301p. See especially Ch. 6, "Byzantine and Moslem Libraries," p. 75 - 83, on transmission of texts through the various cultures from Romanized Syria to Islamic Spain over several hundred years.

Leo, Africanus, ca. 1492-ca. 1550. The history and description of Africa and of the notable things therein contained, written by al-Hassan ibn Mohammed al-Wezaz al-Fasi, a Moor, baptized as Giovanni Leone, but better known as Leo Africanus. Done into English in the year 1600 by John Pory, and now edited, with an introd. and notes, by Robert Brown. New York, B. Franklin 1963?, 3 v. 1119p. Al Wazzan is now believed to be Leo Africanus's real name, but he wrote this history during his 'Christian' period and stay at the Vatican (after being ransomed to Italy by Sicilian pirates). He later returned to Islam and Egypt, but provided Renaissance Europe with one's of its most comprehensive pictures of Arabic culture upto this period.

Reynolds, L. D. (Leighton Durham) Scribes and scholars : a guide to the transmission of Greek and Latin literature Oxford : Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1991. 321p. See in particular p. 51- 83 on the Iconoclast controversy, Justinian's expulsion of the Neo-Platonists from Athens and the translation of the Greeks into Arabic. The monks of Ireland also being figure heavily in this period (c. 700 AD), see p. 90.

Makdisi, George. The rise of humanism in classical Islam and the Christian West : with special reference to scholasticism / Edinburgh : Edinburgh University Press, 1990.

Photius I, Saint, Patriarch of Constantinople, ca. 820-ca. 891. The library of Photius... London, Society for promoting Christian knowledge; New York, Macmillan, 1920. This is essentially a catalogue of lost books, known as the Myrobiblion, from one of the most esteemed scholars of Byzantium, written to his younger brother just before Photius' death, it describes the long vanished books and the libraries of the East firsthand. Photius was also an ambassador from the Eastern Empire to the Court of the Caliph al- Muta Wakkil in Baghdad around 855 AD.

Western views of Islam in medieval and early modern Europe : perception of other / edited by David R. Blanks and Michael Frassetto. New York : St. Martin's Press, 1999. 235p.

Southern, R. W. (Richard William), 1912- Western views of Islam in the Middle Ages. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1962. 114p.

On the Library of Alexandria and its fate under Moslem rule

Canfora, Luciano. The vanished library translated by Martin Ryle. Berkeley : University of California Press, 1989.

Blum, Rudolf, 1909- Kallimachos : the Alexandrian Library and the origins of bibliography translated from the German by Hans H. Wellisch. Madison, Wis. : University of Wisconsin Press, c1991. 282p. El-Abbadi, Mostafa. The life and fate of the ancient Library of Alexandria Paris : UNESCO,1990. 250p. See in particular, p.88- 102, on the mingling of Greek, Roman, Perisan and Arabic materials, as well as a close examination of the historical sources discussing the collection's eventual dispersal and destruction.

Epistola ad Philocratem. The letter of Aristeas, London : Society for promoting Christian knowledge. New York : The Macmillan co., 1918.

Fraser, P. M. Ptolemaic Alexandria. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1972. 3 v.

Parsons, E. A. The Alexandrian library; glory of the Hellenic world, its rise, antiquities, and destruction. -- Amsterdam : American Elsevier Press, 1952

Theim, Jon. "The Great Library of Alexandria Burnt : Towards the History of a Symbol," Journal of the History of Ideas, 40, 4 (1979), 507 -26.

On the emergence of Arabic Book Culture and Taste

Averro?, 1126-1198. Tahafut al-tahafut = The incoherence of the incoherence / translated from the Arabic with introd. and notes by Simon van den Bergh. London : Oxford University Press, 1954.

Bashiruddin, S. "Fate of Sectarian Libraries in Medieval Islam", Libri, v. 17 (1967), p. 149-162. Wonderful article, until you read Mackensen's 1935 article in the American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literature, entitled "Moslem Libraries and Sectarian Propaganda" and realize the 1967 piece is almost word for word plagiarism.

Inayatullah, S. "Bibliophilism in Medieval Islam," Islamic Culture, 12 (April 1938), 154-169.

Mackensen, Ruth Stellhorn . 'Arabic Books and Libraries in the Umaiyad Period', American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literature, v. 52 (1935) : 245-53. Ms. Mackensen's essays are amazing in their clarity and historical rigor, easily some of the best English material written on the subject.

---- . 'Background of the History of Moslem Libraries', American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literature v. 51 (1934) : 22-33, 105-110; v. 52 (1935) : 114-25.

---- . 'Four Great Medieval Libraries of Baghdad", Library Quarterly, v.2 (1932), 279-199.

Sibai, Mohamed Makki, 1945- Mosque libraries : an historical study London ; New York : Mansell, 1987. 174p.

On the Expansion of the Islamic World in the Medieval Era

Beveridge, H. "The Papermills of Samarkand," Asiatic Quarterly Review, v. 30, p. 160-164.

Butler, Alfred Joshua, 1850-1936. The Arab conquest of Egypt and the last thirty years of the Roman dominion. Oxford Clarendon Press 1902. 563p.

Collins, Roger, 1949- The Arab conquest of Spain, 710-797 New York : B. Blackwell, 1989.

Innis, Harold. Empire and Communications Toronto : University of Toronto, 1971. See in particular p. 116-131 for the transmission of the Iconoclastic heresy, the use of paper and Sufi mysticism throughout Islam and into the West.

Le Strange, G. (Guy), 1854-1933. Baghdad during the Abbasid caliphate from contemporary Arabic and Persian sources, London, Oxford University Press,1924.

Norris, H. T. The Arab conquest of the Western Sahara : studies of the historical events, religious beliefs and social customs which made the remotest Sahara a part of the Arab world (Longman ; Beirut, Lebanon : Librairie du Liban, 1986)

Saunders, J. J. (John Joseph), 1910-1972. A history of medieval Islam / London : Routledge, 1978. See in particular chapter 12, 'Civilization of Medieval Islam', p. 187 -204.

On the Legacy of Al-Andalusia

Burckhardt, Titus. Moorish culture in Spain / translated by Alisa Jaffa. Lahore : Suhail Academy, 1997.

Calvert, Albert Frederick, 1872-1946. Moorish remains in Spain : being a brief record of the Arabian conquest of the Peninsula ; with a particular account of the Mohammedan architecture and decoration in Cordova, Seville & Toledo / New York : J. Lane, 1906.

Dannenfeldt, Karl H. "The Renaissance Humanists and the Knowledge of Arabic," Studies in the Renaissance, v.2 (1955), 96-117. This is a really clever essay, pulling in just about every figure from the period on both the European and Islamic sides.

Imamuddin, S. M. Some aspects of the socio-economic and cultural history of Muslim Spain, 711-1492 A.D. Leiden E.J. Brill 1965. See in particular p. 136-191 outlining the policies of free education, book hunting and visiting scholars set in place by Caliph Hakim II (c. 970).

Introduction of Arabic philosophy into Europe / edited by Charles E. Butterworth and Blake Andr? Kessel. Leiden ; New York : E.J. Brill, 1994.

The literature of Al-Andalus / edited by Maria Rosa Menocal, Raymond P. Scheindlin, and Michael Sells. New York : Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Sordo, Enrique. Moorish Spain: Cordoba, Seville, Granada. London : Elek, 1963. See especially the images and descriptions provided for the interrelation of Hispanic-Judiac, Roman Christian, Visigothic Pagan and Arabic Moslem cultures which all co-existed in Spain for several centuries, p. 18-55.

Titley, Noram. "Islam" from The book through five thousand years: a survey London ; New York; : Phaidon, 1972, p. 51-83.

Makdisi, G. "The Scholastic Method in Medieval education: an inquiry into its origins in law and theology," Speculum, v. 49 (4), 640-661.

McCabe, Joseph, 1867-1955. The splendor of Moorish Spain, London, Watts & co. 1935

Vernet, Juan. "The Legacy of Islam in Spain" from Al-Andalus : the art of Islamic Spain / New York : Metropolitan Museum of Art : Distributed by H.N. Abrams, 1992. p. 173-187.

"The Contributions of the Arabs" from The infinite in the finite / Alistair Macintosh Wilson. (New York : Oxford University Press, 1995)

A.D. 1000 : a world on the brink of apocalypse / Richard Erdoes ; intro. by Karen Armstrong. (Berkeley, Calif. : Seastone, c1998)