Saturday, 24 June 2017

Norman Conquest of England

William II also known as William the Conqueror became seventh duke of Normandy in 1035, however it was not until 1060 that Normandy was securely under his control. Once it was done, he launched an attack on England six years later in September 1066 CE  decisively defeating and killing Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066.

Ruins of the Hasting Castle, East Sussex

Edward the Confessor was among the last kings Anglo Saxon kings who ruled England. Edward succeeded Cnut the Great's son Harthacnut, restoring the rule of the House of Wessex after the period of Danish rule since Cnut conquered England in 1016. Following Harthacnut's death on 8 June 1042, Godwin, the most powerful of the English earls, supported Edward, who succeeded to the throne. He was crowned at the cathedral of Winchester, the royal seat of the West Saxons, on 3 April 1043.

Winchester Cathedral

Edward's Norman sympathies are most clearly seen in the major building project of his reign, Westminster Abbey, the first Norman Romanesque church in England. This was commenced between 1042 and 1052 as a royal burial church, consecrated on 28 December 1065, completed after his death in about 1090, and demolished in 1245 to make way for Henry III's new building, which still stands.

Westminster Abbey

Edward the Confessor's reign led to the disintegration of royal power in England and the advance in power of the House of Godwin, Earl of Wessex. Until the mid-1050s Edward was able to structure his earldoms so as to prevent the Godwins becoming dominant. Godwin himself died in 1053 and although Harold succeeded to his earldom of Wessex, none of his other brothers were earls at this date. His house was then weaker than it had been since Edward's succession, but a succession of deaths in 1055–57 completely changed the picture.

Golden Wyvern of Wessex


In 1055 Siward of Northumbria died but his son was considered too young to command Northumbria, and Harold's brother, Tostig was appointed. In 1057 Leofric and Ralph died, and Leofric's son Ælfgar succeeded as Earl of Mercia, while Harold's brother Gyrth succeeded as Earl of East Anglia. The fourth surviving Godwin brother, Leofwine, was given an earldom in the south-east carved out of Harold's territory, and Harold received Ralph's territory in compensation. Thus by 1057 the Godwin brothers controlled all of England subordinate apart from Mercia.

St Wystan's Church, Repton

At the end of 1065 King Edward the Confessor fell into a coma without clarifying his preference for the succession. He died on 5 January 1066, but not before briefly regaining consciousness and commending his widow and the kingdom to Harold's "protection". He was crowned on 6th January 1066 in Westminster Abbey.

Harold Godwinson

In early January 1066, hearing of Harold's coronation, Duke William II of Normandy began plans to invade England, building 700 warships and transports at Dives-sur-Mer on the Normandy coast. Initially, William could not get support for the invasion but, as William received the Church's blessing and nobles flocked to his cause.

Coast of Dives-sur-Mer

In anticipation of the invasion, Harold assembled his troops on the Isle of Wight, but the invasion fleet remained in port for almost seven months, perhaps due to unfavourable winds. On 8 September, with provisions running out, Harold disbanded his army and returned to London. On the same day Harald Hardrada of Norway, who also claimed the English crown joined Tostig and invaded, landing his fleet at the mouth of the Tyne.

Harald Hardrada

The invading forces of Hardrada and Tostig defeated the English earls Edwin of Mercia and Morcar of Northumbria at the Battle of Fulford near York on 20 September 1066. Harold led his army north on a forced march from London, reached Yorkshire in four days, and caught Hardrada by surprise. On 25 September, in the Battle of Stamford Bridge, Harold defeated Hardrada and Tostig, who were both killed.

Battle of Stamford Bridge by Peter Nicolai Arbo

Throughout the summer of 1066, William the Conqueror assembled an army and an invasion fleet in Normandy. The fleet carried an invasion force that included, in addition to troops from William's own territories of Normandy and Maine, large numbers of mercenaries, allies, and volunteers from Brittany, northeastern France, and Flanders, together with smaller numbers from other parts of Europe. Although the army and fleet were ready by early August, adverse winds kept the ships in Normandy until late September. 

William the Conqueror crossed English Channel in September, 1066

After defeating Harald Hardrada, king of Norway and Tostig, Harold Godwinson left much of his army in the north, including earls Morcar and Edwin, and marched the rest south to deal with the threatened Norman invasion of William the Conqueror who had landed perhaps 7,000 men in Sussex, southern England. After landing, William's forces built a wooden castle at Hastings, from which they raided the surrounding area.

Coast of Sussex

The Battle of Hastings was fought on 14 October 1066 between the Norman-French army and the English army, beginning the Norman conquest of England. It took place approximately 7 miles (11 kilometres) northwest of Hastings, close to the present-day town of Battle, East Sussex, and was a decisive Norman victory. Harold Godwinson died during the battle and his death marked the end of Anglo-Saxon rule over England starting the rule of the House of Normandy.

Flag and Coat of Arms of House of Normandy

After waiting a short while, William secured Dover, parts of Kent, and Canterbury, while also sending a force to capture Winchester, where the royal treasury was. These captures secured William's rear areas and also his line of retreat to Normandy. William then marched to Southwark, across the Thames from London, which he reached in late November. Next he led his forces around the south and west of London, burning along the way. He finally crossed the Thames at Wallingford in early December and he was crowned at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066.

Dover Castle

William remained in England after his coronation and tried to reconcile the native magnates. The remaining earls – Edwin (of Mercia), Morcar (of Northumbria), and Waltheof (of Northampton) – were confirmed in their lands and titles. But the families of Harold and his brothers did lose their lands, as did some others who had fought against William at Hastings. As part of his efforts to secure England, William ordered many castles, keeps, and mottes built – among them the central keep of the Tower of London, the White Tower. 


Tower of London

Battle Abbey was founded by William at the site of the battle. According to 12th-century sources, William made a vow to found the abbey, and the high altar of the church was placed at the site where Harold had died. More likely, the foundation was imposed on William by papal legates in 1070.

Battle Abbey

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Abbasid Caliphate after Anarchy at Samarra Period

Anarchy at Samarra was the period 861–870 in the history of the Abbasid Caliphate. It was marked by extreme internal instability and the violent succession of four caliphs, who became puppets in the hands of powerful rival military groups chief among them being Turks. It inflicted great and lasting damage on the structures and prestige of the Abbasid central government, encouraging and facilitating secessionist and rebellious tendencies in the Caliphate's provinces.

Mosque of Ibn Tulun, Cairo,  884 CE

By the 870s Egypt became autonomous under Ahmad ibn Tulun. In the East as well, governors decreased their ties to the center. The Saffarids of Herat and the Samanids of Bukhara had broken away from the 870s, cultivating a much more Persianate culture and statecraft. By this time only the central lands of Mesopotamia were under direct Abbasid control, with Palestine and the Hijaz often managed by the Tulunids. Byzantium, for its part, had begun to push Arab Muslims farther east in Anatolia.

The Great Mosque of Herat, Afghanistan

At the end of the "Anarchy at Samarra", al-Muʿtamid ʿAlā ’llāh (15th Abbasid Caliph) ruled from 870 to 892. He was a largely a ruler in name only, power was held by his brother al-Muwaffaq, who held the loyalty of the military. Al-Mu'tamid's authority was circumscribed further after a failed attempt to flee to the domains controlled by Ahmad ibn Tulun in late 882. In 881, when al-Muwaffaq died, loyalists attempted to restore power to the Caliph, but were quickly overcome by al-Muwaffaq's son al-Mu'tadid, who assumed his father's powers.

Spiral minaret at Abu Dulaf, 15 km north of Samarra


al-Mu'tadid bi-llah sucseeded al-Muʿtamid as the 16th Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad from 892 until his death in 902. Despite his successes, al-Mu'tadid's reign was ultimately too short to effect a lasting reversal of the Caliphate's fortunes. The brief reign of his less able son and heir, al-Muktafi(17th Abbasid Caliph), saw the annexation of the Tulunid domains, but his later successors lacked his energy, and new enemies appeared in the form of the Qarmatians.

Minaret of Ibn-Tulun Mosque, the largest remaining building from the Tulunid period today.

al-Muqtadir bi-llāh became the 18th Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad and reigned from 908 to 932 at 13 being the youngest caliph. By the 920s, the situation had changed further, as North Africa was lost to the Abbasids. Outside Iraq, all the autonomous provinces slowly took on the characteristic of de facto states with hereditary rulers, armies, and revenues such as the Soomro Emirs that had gained control of Sindh and ruled the entire province from their capital of Mansura. Mahmud of Ghazni took the title of sultan, as opposed to the "amir" that had been in more common usage.

Mahmud of Ghazni

On the death of the former Caliph, al-Muqtadir, courtiers chose the late Caliph's brother al-Qahir to be 19th Caliph of the Abbasid Caliphate who ruled from 932 to 934 CE. Being tyrannical, his eyes were blinded, and he was cast into prison in 934 CE. He was succeeded by al-Radi bi-llah (20th Abbasid Caliph), reigning from 934 to his death in 940. The authority of the Caliph at this time extended hardly beyond the region of the capital city. Al-Radi is commonly spoken of as the last of the real Caliphs.

Gold dinar of Al-Radi

After death of Al-Radi, al-Muttaqi became the 21st Abbasid caliph ruling from 940 to 944. Of such little importance the Caliphate had become by now that when the previous Caliph died, Bajkam, amir al-umara (Amir of Amirs), contented himself with dispatching to Baghdad his secretary, who assembled the chief men to elect a successor. After the death of Bajkam, Muhammad ibn Ra'iq, Caliph's amīr al-umarāʾ, persuaded the Caliph to flee with him to Mosul.

Grand Mosque in Mosul

Al-Muttaqi was welcomed in Mosul by the Hamdanid dynasty, who organized a campaign to restore him to the capital. But, they assassinated Ibn Ra'iq, and having added his Syrian government to their own, turned their ambition towards Baghdad. The Hamdanid chief, with the title of Nasir al-Dawla, advanced on Baghdad with the Caliph. Being foreign mercenaries they were not able to hold Baghdad and had to return to Mosul after one year.  al-Muttaqi took up his residence at Raqqa while a Turkish general called Tuzun, entered Baghdad in triumph, and was saluted as amir al-umara.

Baghdad province

Tuzun(amir al-umara) installed the previous Caliph's cousin as his successor, with the title of al-Mustakfi as 22nd caliph of Abbasid Caliphate. He ruled from 944 to 946 CE. He was succeeded by al-Mutīʿ li-ʾllāh (23rd Abbasid Caliph) and ruled from 946 to 974. The Buwayhids under Mu'izz al-Dawla entered Baghdad in 945 and maintained their hold over one hundred years. The material position of the Caliphs throughout the Buwayhid reign was at its lowest ebb.

Manuscript from the Abbasid Era

At-Ta'i became the 24th Caliph of Abbasid Dynasty in 974 CE and remained till 991 CE. During his Caliphate, Syria was torn by contending factions — Fatimid, Turkish, and Carmathian; while the Buwayhid dynasty was split up into parties that were fighting among themselves. Also, Byzantine Emperor John Tzimisces stormed the east in a victorious campaign in 975. After holding the office for seventeen years, At-Ta'i was deposed in 991 by the Buwayhid emir Baha' al-Dawla.

Byzantine Eagle

Al-Qadir became the 25th Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad and ruled from 991 to 1031. He held the Caliphate for 40 years. It was during his Caliphate that Mahmud of Ghazni arose, threatening the empire. Al-Qadir died at eighty-seven years of age in Baghdad, and was succeeded by his son al-Qa'im who became the 26th Abbasid Caliph. He ruled from 1031 to 1075.

Mahmud of Ghazni receiving a richly decorated robe of honor from the caliph al-Qadir in 1000.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Abbasid Caliphate

The Abbasid Caliphate was the third Islamic Caliphate which was built and named after descendant of Muhammad's youngest uncle, Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib. They ruled as caliphs, for most of their period from their capital in Baghdad in modern-day Iraq, after assuming authority over the Muslim empire from the Umayyads in 750 CE.

Great Mosque of Samarra, Iraq

During Abbasid Revolution(749 - 751 CE), in early October 749 , Abu al-'Abbās as-Saffāh's(soon to be first Abbasid Caliph) rebel army entered Kufa, a major Muslim center in Southern Iraq, with priority to eliminate his Umayyad rival, caliph Marwan II. The latter was defeated in February 750 at a battle on the (Great) Zab river north of Baghdad, effectively ending the Umayyad caliphate, which had ruled since 661 AD. Marwan II fled back to Damascus, and was ultimately killed in Egypt that August.

Great Zab River

as-Saffāh established Kufa as the new capital of the caliphate, ending the dominance of Damascus in the Islamic political world. As-Saffāh's four-year reign was marked with efforts to consolidate and rebuild the caliphate. Jews, Nestorian Christians, and Persians were well represented in his government and in succeeding Abbasid administrations. He died of smallpox on June 10, 754

Abu al-'Abbas as-Saffah being declared Caliph

Education was also encouraged under the rule of Abbasid Caliphate, and the first paper mills, staffed by skilled Chinese prisoners captured at the Battle of Talas, were set up in Samarkand. Battle of Talas was a military engagement between the Arab Abbasid Caliphate along with their ally the Tibetan Empire against the Chinese Tang dynasty, governed at the time by Emperor Xuanzong. After a stalemate in several days of combat, the Tang lost the battle because the Karluks defected from the Tang side to the Abbasid side.

Battle of Talas

Al-Mansur succeeded his brother as-Saffah as the second Abbasid Caliph reigning 754 CE – 775 CE. One of the first change the Abbasids, under Al-Mansur, made was to move the empire's capital to Baghdad in Iraq. Baghdad was established on the Tigris River in 762.  In 756, Caliph Al-Mansur sent over 4,000 Arab mercenaries to assist the Chinese Tang dynasty in the An Shi Rebellion against An Lushan. When al-Mansur died on the hajj to Mecca in 775, the caliphate's treasury contained 600,000 dirhams and fourteen million dinars.

The Abbasid "Baghdad Gate" (8th. century) in Raqqa (Syria)

Al-Mahdi, son of al-Mansur succeded him as the 3rd Abbasid Caliph who reigned from 775 to his death in 785. In 775, a Byzantine envoy, Tarath, travelled to Baghdad to convey the congratulations of the Byzantine emperor to Al-Mahdi on his accession to the throne. Tarath was so pleased with the hospitality he received that he offered to put his engineering knowledge to use and build a mill that would generate annual profits, of 500,000 dirhams, equal to the cost of its construction. In 777 AD he put down the insurrection of Yusuf ibn Ibrahim in Khurasan.

Dirham of Al-Mahdi

Abu Muhammad Musa ibn Mahdi al-Hadi was the fourth Abbasid caliph who succeeded his father Al-Mahdi and ruled for one year from 785 until his death in 786 AD. He was very open to the people of his empire and allowed citizens to visit him in the palace at Baghdad to address him.


Harun al-Rashid was the fifth Abbasid Caliph. Younger brother of Al-Hadi, Al-Rashid ruled from 786 to 809, during the peak of the Islamic Golden Age. His time was marked by scientific, cultural, and religious prosperity. He established the legendary library Bayt al-Hikma ("House of Wisdom") in Baghdad in present-day Iraq, and during his rule Baghdad began to flourish as a center of knowledge, culture and trade. In 796, he moved his court and government to Raqqa in present-day Syria.

al-Rashid receiving a delegation sent by Charlemagne at his court. 1864 painting by Julius Köckert.

Rashid decided to focus on the rebellion of Rafi ibn al-Layth in Khorasan and died while there. While the Byzantine Empire was fighting Abbasid rule in Syria and Anatolia, military operations during this period were minimal, as the caliphate focused on internal matters, its governors exerting greater autonomy and using their increasing power to make their positions hereditary.

al-Amin, was the sixth Abbasid Caliph. He succeeded his father, Harun al-Rashid in 809 and ruled until he was deposed and killed in 813, during the civil war with his brother, al-Ma'mun. The civil war came to be known as the fourth Fitna. Caliph Harun al-Rashid, had named al-Amin as the first successor, but had also named al-Ma'mun as the second, with Khurasan(state) granted to him as an appanage. Later a third son, al-Qasim, had been designated as third successor. This war ended with a two-year siege of Baghdad and the eventual death of al-Amin in 813.

Depiction of Fourth Fitna

Al-Ma'mun became the seventh Abbasid caliph, who reigned from 813 until his death in 833. He ruled for 20 years of relative calm interspersed with a rebellion supported by the Byzantines in Azerbaijan by the Khurramites. He died on 9 August 833 near Tarsus. The city's major mosque (Tarsus Grand Mosque), contains a tomb reported to be his. He was not succeeded by his son, Al-Abbas ibn al-Ma'mun, but by his half-brother, al-Mu'tasim.

Tarsus Grand Mosque

al-Muʿtaṣim bi’llāh was the eighth Abbasid caliph, ruling from 833 to his death in 842. When al-Ma'mun died unexpectedly on campaign in August 833, al-Mu'tasim was well placed to succeed him, overriding the claims of his nephew. His rule marked the end of the strong caliphs. He strengthened his personal army with Turkish mercenaries and promptly restarted the war with the Byzantines. His military excursions were generally successful culminating with a resounding victory in the Sack of Amorium. His attempt at seizing Constantinople failed when his fleet was destroyed by a storm.

Siege of Amorium

al-Wāthiq Bi’llāh, became the ninth Abbasid caliph reigning from 842 until 847 AD. Al-Wathiq was the son of al-Mu'tasim by a Byzantine Greek slave, Qaratis. His reign was brief and unremarkable, being essentially a continuation of al-Mu'tasim's own, as the government continued to be led by the men al-Mu'tasim had raised to power.


al-Mutawakkil ʿAlā ’llāh was an Abbasid caliph(10th in line) who reigned in Samarra from 847 until 861. He succeeded his brother al-Wathiq. He continued to rely on Turkish statesmen and slave soldiers to put down rebellions and lead battles against foreign empires, notably the Byzantines. He was assassinated on on 11 December 861 by the Turkish guard with the support of his son, al-Muntasir which began the troubled period of civil strife known as "Anarchy at Samarra".

The spiral minaret in Samarra

al-Muntasir bi-llah (11th Abbasid Caliph) ruled in Baghdad from 861 to 862, during the "Anarchy at Samarra". Al-Muntasir's reign lasted less than half a year; it ended with his death of unknown causes on Sunday 7 June 862 at the age of 24 years. He was succedd by Al-Musta'in (12th Abbasid Caliph) who ruled from 862 to 866. Al-Musta'in was then succeeded by Al-Mu'tazz(13th Abbasid Caliph) in Baghdad and ruled from 866 to 869.

Dirham of al-Muntasir minted in Abbasid Samarra in 862

al-Muhtadī bi-'llāh (14th Abbasid Caliph) was chosen by Turks after the death of al-Mu'tazz. He ruled in Baghdad from 869 to 870. Al-Muhtadi turned out to be firm and virtuous compared to the last few Caliphs. If he had come earlier, he might have restored life to the Caliphate; however, by now the Turks held more power. His reign, however, lasted less than a year. After some disagreements and conspiracies, he was killed by the Turks in June 870. He was the last Caliph of "Anarchy at Samarra".

Dirham of al-Muhtadi, minted in Wasit in 869

Monday, 5 June 2017

Norman Architecture

Norman architecture is used for the buildings constructed by Normans from 10th to 12th century CE in the various lands under their dominion or influence. Because only shortly before the Norman Conquest of England (1066) did Normandy become stable enough to produce an architecture, the Norman style developed almost simultaneously in France and England.

Rochester Castle, Kent, South East England

The Norman arch was a defining point of Norman architecture. Grand archways were designed to evoke feelings of awe and were very commonly seen as the entrance to large religious buildings such as cathedrals. Hundreds of parish churches were built and the great English cathedrals were founded from 1083 CE.

Interior of Durham Cathedral

By 950's Normans(Vikings) were building stone keeps. They were among the most travelled people of Europe, exposed to a wide variety of cultural influences including the Near East, some of which became incorporated in their art and architecture. The construction of Church of Saint-Étienne at Caen begun in 1067.

Church of Saint-Étienne

Romanesque Architecture is an architectural style of medieval Europe characterized by semi-circular arches. Examples of Romanesque architecture can be found across the continent, making it the first pan-European architectural style since Imperial Roman Architecture.  The Romanesque style in England is traditionally referred to as Norman architecture. It developed in the 12th century into the Gothic style, marked by pointed arches.

Lessay Abbey, Normandy, France

Edward the Confessor was brought up in Normandy, and in 1042 brought masons to work on Westminster Abbey, the one of the first Romanesque building in England. In 1051 he brought in Norman knights who built "motte" castles as a defence against the Welsh. Following the invasion Normans rapidly constructed motte-and-bailey castles, and in a burst of building activity built churches and abbeys, as well as more elaborate fortifications including Norman stone keeps.


Oxford castle

Scotland also came under early Norman influence, with Norman nobles at the court of King Macbeth around 1050. His successor Máel Coluim III overthrew him with English and Norman assistance, and his queen Margaret encouraged the building church.

Dunfermline Abbey, Scotland

The Normans first landed in Ireland in 1169. The years between 1177 and 1310 saw the construction of some of the greatest of the Norman castles in Ireland. The Normans settled mostly in an area in the east of Ireland, later known as the Pale, and among other buildings they constructed were Swords Castle in Fingal (North County Dublin), Dublin Castle and Carrickfergus Castle in County Antrim.

Dublin Castle, Ireland

The Normans began constructing castles, their trademark architectural piece, in Italy from an early date. Besides the encastellation of the countryside, the Normans erected several religious buildings which still survive.

A shrine in Italy

Sicily's Norman period lasted from circa 1070 until about 1200. The architecture was decorated in gilded mosaics such as that at the cathedral at Monreale. The Palatine Chapel in Palermo built in 1130 is the perhaps the strongest example of this where the interior of the dome (itself a Byzantine feature) is decorated in mosaic.

Catania Cathedral, Sicily, Southern Italy
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