Few now would accept that the conquest of Roman territory by foreign invaders was a guillotine brought down on the neck of classical civilisation. The transformation from the ancient world to the medieval is recognised as something far more protracted. Roman power may have collapsed, but the various cultures of the Roman empire mutated and evolved. Yet it is a curious feature of the transformation of the Roman world into something recognisably medieval that it bred extraordinary tales even as it impoverished the ability of contemporaries to keep a record of them.
The fall of the Roman empire and the rise of Islam
He was hardly exaggerating: the decline and fall of the Roman empire was a convulsion so momentous that even today its influence on stories with an abiding popular purchase remains greater, perhaps, than that of any other episode in history. It can take an effort, though, to recognise this.
In most of the narratives informed by the world of late antiquity, from world religions to recent science-fiction and fantasy novels, the context provided by the fall of Rome's empire has tended to be disguised or occluded. Consider a single sheet of papyrus bearing the decidedly unromantic sobriquet of PERF It was uncovered back in the 19th century at the Egyptian city of Herakleopolis , a faded ruin 80 miles south of Cairo.
Herakleopolis itself had passed most of its existence in a condition of somnolent provincialism: first as an Egyptian city, and then, following the conquest of the country by Alexander the Great, as a colony run by and largely for Greeks. The makeover given to it by this new elite was to prove an enduring one.
A thousand years on — and some years after its absorption into the Roman empire — Herakleopolis still sported a name that provided, on the banks of the Nile, a little touch of far-off Greece: "the city of Heracles". PERF too, in its own humble way, also bore witness to the impact on Egypt of an entire millennium of foreign rule. It was a receipt, issued for 65 sheep, presented to two officials bearing impeccably Hellenic names Christophoros and Theodorakios and written in Greek.
But not in Greek alone. The papyrus sheet also featured a second language, one never before seen in Egypt. What was it doing there, on an official council receipt? The sheep, according to a note added in Greek on the back, had been requisitioned by "Magaritai" — but who or what were they? The answer was to be found on the front of the papyrus sheet, within the text of the receipt itself. The "Magaritai", it appeared, were none other than the people known as "Saracens": nomads from Arabia, long dismissed by the Romans as "despised and insignificant".
Clearly, that these barbarians were now in a position to extort sheep from city councillors suggested a dramatic reversal of fortunes. Nor was that all. The most bizarre revelation of the receipt, perhaps, lay in the fact that a race of shiftless nomads, bandits who for as long as anyone could remember had been lost to an unvarying barbarism, appeared to have developed their own calendar.
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But it was also, so the receipt declared in the Saracens' own language, "the year twenty two": 22 years since what? Some momentous occurance, no doubt, of evidently great significance to the Saracens themselves. But what precisely, and whether it might have contributed to the arrival of the newcomers in Egypt, and how it was to be linked to that enigmatic title "Magaritai", PERF does not say.
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We can now recognise the document as the marker of something seismic. The Magaritai were destined to implant themselves in the country far more enduringly than the Greeks or the Romans had ever done. Arabic, the language they had brought with them, and that appears as such a novelty on PERF , is nowadays so native to Egypt that the country has come to rank as the power-house of Arab culture. Yet even a transformation of that order barely touches on the full scale of the changes which are hinted at so prosaically.
A new age, of which that tax receipt issued in Herakleopolis in "the year 22" ranks as the oldest surviving dateable document, had been brought into being. This, to almost one in four people alive today, is a matter of more than mere historical interest. Infinitely more — for it touches, in their opinion, on the very nature of the Divine. It was the prompting hand of God, not a mere wanton desire to extort sheep, that had first motivated the Arabs to leave their desert homeland. Such, at any rate, was the conviction of Ibn Hisham, a scholar based in Egypt who wrote a century and a half after the first appearance of the Magaritai in Herakleopolis, but whose fascination with the period, and with the remarkable events that had stamped it, was all-consuming.
No longer, by AD , were the Magaritai to be reckoned a novelty. Instead — known now as "Muslims", or "those who submit to God" — they had succeeded in winning for themselves a vast agglomeration of territories: an authentically global empire. Ibn Hisham, looking back at the age which had first seen the Arabs grow conscious of themselves as a chosen people, and surrounded as he was by the ruins of superceded civilisations, certainly had no lack of pages to fill. What was it that had brought the Arabs as conquerors to cities such as Herakleopolis, and far beyond? The Rise and Fall of Society.
Description This is the story of the greatest empire the world has ever known. Simon Baker charts the rise and fall of the world's first superpower, focusing on six momentous turning points that shaped Roman history. Welcome to Rome as you've never seen it before - awesome and splendid, gritty and squalid.
Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire (Series) - TV Tropes
From the conquest of the Mediterranean beginning in the third century BC to the destruction of the Roman Empire at the hands of barbarian invaders some seven centuries later, we discover the most critical episodes in Roman history: the spectacular collapse of the 'free' republic, the birth of the age of the 'Caesars', the violent suppression of the strongest rebellion against Roman power, and the bloody civil war that launched Christianity as a world religion.
At the heart of this account are the dynamic, complex but flawed characters of some of the most powerful rulers in history: men such as Pompey the Great, Julius Caesar, Augustus, Nero and Constantine. Putting flesh on the bones of these distant, legendary figures, Simon Baker looks beyond the dusty, toga-clad caricatures and explores their real motivations and ambitions, intrigues and rivalries. The superb narrative, full of energy and imagination, is a brilliant distillation of the latest scholarship and a wonderfully evocative account of Ancient Rome. People who bought this also bought.
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