An Influential Religion and a Vast Empire

With 1.9 billion followers, today Islam is one of the world’s largest religions, second only to Christianity with 2.4 billion. Islam also dominates most of the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia. But how did this religion grow to dominate so much of the world?

Symbol of Islam known as the “Crescent and the Star.”

Muhammad the Prophet was born in 570 AD in the city of Mecca, modern-day Saudi Arabia. At 24 years old, Muhammad married a wealthy widow, who helped him to become a prosperous merchant. When he was 40 years old, Muhammad started to claim to have what he described as the “ringing of a bell” in his head. After some time of this, Muhammad, believing he was phrophetic, began to preach on the street the one true God (Allah). After turning down bribes to keep quiet from Mecca’s polytheistic authorities, he was persecuted. Muhammad was disowned by most of his family and fearing for his life, fled to Yathrib, later known as Medina, the city of the prophet. The people of Yathrib received him better than in Mecca with many of them converting to Islam. Muhammad was appointed ruler over the city and soon afterwards a series of wars broke out between Mecca and Medina. Eventually, Muhammad and his forces captured Mecca with Medina occupying the city. In celebration of his victory, Muhammad led a pilgrimage to Mecca with his followeres. This is known as the Hajj, which Muslims still take today. Not long after the march to Mecca, Muhammad died.

The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Israel, where Muslims believe Muhammad ascended into heaven.

There are five pillars, or practices, of the Islamic religion which every Muslim must follow. These are Shahada, Salat, Fast of Ramadan, Zakat, and the Hajj. The Shahada is the Muslim declaration of faith in which the person proclaims, “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His prophet.” This proclamation is said during one’s conversion and daily prayer. The Salat is the main Islamic prayer, said five times during day at dawn, noon, afternoon, evening, and night. This prayer differs slightly according to the time of day. Next is the Fast of Ramadan. During this fast, Muslims celebrate the revealing of Islam’s holy book, the Quran, to Muhammad. Muslims are not allowed to eat or drink from sunrise to sunset for a whole month. However, fasting is pardoned for young children, pregnant women, the sick, or the elderly. The Zakat is almsgiving where Muslims are required to give at least 2.5% of their pay (excluding taxes) to the poor. The last of the five pillars is the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. Every Muslim must take this journey at least once in their life. Once there, the pilgrims complete multiple ceremonies, including walking seven times around the Kaaba, walking between two mountains, and pretending to stone the Devil.       

Muslim pilgrims at the Kaaba shrine in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

As the Islamic religion spread throughout the Middle East, so did their empire. The first leader or Caliph of the Islamic Empire was a man named Abu Bakr, who was the father-in-law of Muhammad and one of the first converts to the religion. As Caliph, he fortified Islam’s control over the Arabian Peninsula. The second ruler of the Rashidun Dynasty was Umar, who was a good friend of Muhammad. Sadly, he didn’t rule for long before being assassinated by the Persians in 644. After his untimely death, a man named Uthman succeeded him. Uthman expanded the empire to include Armenia, Persia (Iran), and parts of Afghanistan. In the last period of his reign, rebels rose up in the empire. Following a few years of this rebellion, Uthman was killed by the revolutionaries and was replaced by Ali, who was the fourth and final Caliph of the Rashidun Dynasty. Ali was the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad and the first male convert to Islam. Some people argued that Ali was the first rightful Caliph and that the three before him were illegitimate rulers. This controversy led to a split in the religion creating two sects. Sunnis make up 75-90% of the modern Islamic population and believe that Ali was the fourth legitimate Caliph, not the first. Shias make up 10-20% of the modern population and believe that Ali was the first rightful Caliph and that the three before him were illegitimate. Like Umar, Ali’s life ended in assassination. Over the next 500 years, the Muslims would slowly chip away at land belonging to the Byzantine Empire and, in 1400, would finally fall completely to the Ottoman Empire, the successor of the Islamic Empire. In 1918, after WWI, the Ottoman Empire would be split up into the modern countries of the Middle East.

Map of the Islamic Empire’s expansion. The yellow is land acquired during Umayyad Dynasty, which succeeded the Rashidun Dynasty.

Islam’s influence stretches over the entire globe, some due to the vastness of their former empire. The religion, particularly impacting most of the land outside of the West, Islam is still the second largest religion in the world.

Great Defenders and Holy Composers

In the first centuries of the church, men called Church Fathers forever changed the course of Christianity by defending against heresies and spreading the faith. Many of these Fathers are sainted by both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Origen of Alexandria, St. Basil the Great, and St. Polycarp are three important and imperative men of the early Christian Church.

While Origen of Alexandria is not a saint, he is considered a Church Father. He was born around 184 AD and spent the first half of his life working in Alexandria, Egypt. As a priest he wrote around 6,000 works and preached on every part of the Bible. Origen isn’t sainted because some of his views were proclaimed as heretical by the Fifth Ecumenical Council. Origen was said to have believed in the predestination of souls, which is the belief that everyone, even demons and Satan himself, would eventually receive salvation. He also supported the view of a hierarchy within the Trinity, that is the Father at the top, followed by the Son, and then Holy Spirit. And although he was against the Gnostic heresy, he apparently believed in the inherent evil of all material creation, the core principle of the Gnostics. On top of these accusations, he was said to have castrated himself. In 250, Origen was tortured for his faith and in 253 died of his wounds. Even though Origen is not a saint, he is a Church Father because of his works and martyrdom for Christianity. 

Origen of Alexandria.

St. Basil the Great was born in 330 AD and served as the bishop of Caesarea, in modern-day Israel. Basil is one of the three Great Hierarchs of Orthodoxy along with St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory Naziazus. He’s also a Cappodocian Father with Gregory Naziazus and Gregory of Nyssia. As a bishop he fought the heresy of Arianism, the belief that Christ is not fully God, wrote the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great (which served as the regular Sunday Orthodox Liturgy until being edited and reformed by St. John Chrysostom), and helped destroy Arianism by participating in the writing of the Nicene Creed during the First Ecumenical Council of 325. Being a saint in both the Catholic and Orthodox churches, Basil is glorified mostly because of his fierce defense of Christianity against Arianism. In addition to this, Basil is also the Patron Saint of monasticism, exorcism, education, liturgists, and the country of Russia.

Icon of St. Basil the Great.

A disciple of John the Apostle and bishop of Smyrna, St. Polycarp, whose name means “much fruit,” was born in AD 65. During his time as bishop of Smyrna, he wrote the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians in which he strongly warns the Church of Philippi about heresy and apostasy. Polycarp is one of the three Apostalic Fathers alongside Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch. Receiving the holy crown of martyrdom in 155, he was burned at the stake. However, when the saint was not touched by the flames, he was stabbed to death.

Orthodox icon of St. Polycarp.

By their writings, example, and works these three prominent fathers, Origen, St. Basil the Great, and St. Polycarp helped spread the Christian faith to the world, crush heresies, and compose influential writings.

Roman Wars Part 1

  • 1st Samnite War (343-341 BC)
  • 2nd Samnite War (326-304 BC)
  • 3rd Samnite War (298-290 BC) 
  • Pyrrhic War (280-275 BC) 
  • 1st Punic War (264-241 BC)
  • 2nd Punic War (218-201 BC)
  • 3rd Punic War (171-168 BC) 

This is a list of major Roman Wars during their history. I decided to write this because I’ve been learning about them in history lately.

The Romans fought very many wars to get their massive empire. They fought so many wars that there was always a war going on. It was unlikely if there wasn’t a war. Because of this, I will only write some of the major ones. In Italy, there were many different tribes. The Etruscans, the Samnites etc. They also had to put down many different rebellions throughout their vast empire. Lots of different Empires also threatened the too, but the Romans eventually came out victorious. 

Roman Empire, around the time of Christ. This map is after Carthage was conquered.

1st Samnite War (343-341 BC) 

The Samnites were a neighboring, small tribe that lived next to the Romans. The Samnites decided to attack the Sidicini tribe. The Sidicini were a very small tribe and so they asked for help from another tribe, the Campanians. In the coming battle, the Samnites defeated the Campanians and so the Campanians asked Rome for help. Campanian ambassadors began to travel to Rome and plead for them to help them. They Campanians persuaded the Romans saying that they if the Romans didn’t help them, than the Samnites would just get stronger and eventually conquer Rome. There was one thing, the Romans already had an alliance with the Samnites and wanted to stay loyal to it. The Campanians, hearing that the Romans refused their proposal, surrendered to the Samnites. The Samnites sent Envoys to Rome and told the Roman Senators that they should keep their hands off their land. Also they told them their intentions of Invading the local Capua tribe. The Samnites said they would burn all of the Campanians land too. After the Roman Senators heard all of this, they decided to wage war against the Samnites. At the first battle, the Battle of Mount Gaurus the Romans had a victory.

Map of the Italian tribes.

The second battle, the Battle of Saticula, almost was a Samnite victory when the commander Cornelius Cossus was being trapped. Fortunately, a small Roman detachment went on a hilltop to distract the Samnites, giving time for the rest of the troops to retreat. The Samnites gathered a lot of men and laid siege to the city of Suessula, Campania. The Samnites were underprepared, and were foraging for food, when a Roman force attacked them and forced them to retreat. In 342 BC, the Romans and the Samnites negotiated for peace, ending the war. 

2nd Samnite War or Great Samnite War (326-304 BC) 

The Second Samnite War started for multiple reasons. One of them was that the Romans had set up a colony in Campania breaking the treaty. The colony was in a town called Fregellae and was supposed to be in Samnite territory. The town was probably supposed to be controlled by the Volsci tribe but the Samnites had conquered it in the past. Another reason was that Paleopolis, a Samnite city, had attacked local Romans living in Campania. Two leading men, in the Samnite city of Naples, arranged a plot to give the city over to the Romans. After this happened the Romans were able to take 3 other Samnite towns. Alifae, Callifae, and Rufrium. Also 2 more tribes, the Lucanians and the Apulians allied with the Romans. In 325 BC, the Vestini tribe allied with the Samnites and when news of this reached Rome, they sent troops and ravaged the Vestini countryside, taking the towns of Cutina and Cingilia. In 324 BC, the Samnites wanted peace and a treaty was signed, but not even one year later, the war started back again. Gaius Pontius, the Samnite commander moved his army to Caudine Forks then sent several men disguised as shepherds grazing their flocks toward Calatita. They lied and told them that the Samnites were going to go attack their ally Lucera. The Romans were marching to Lucera and had to pass through Caudine Forks, which was where the Samnites were located. These were small, dirt roads in the Apennine Mountains. Soon, the Romans were completely surrounded by the Samnites.

The battle of Caudine Forks.

The Samnites forced them to surrender, give up their weapons, and leave Samnite territory. In 316 BC the Romans laid siege to the Samnite city of Saticula near the border of Campania. From 316-314 BC there were many battles, and in 314, the Romans took troops to the city of Sora. It was a very difficult city to take because of its position, but a Samnite deserter told the Romans how to take it. The Romans did eventually take it. From 312-308 BC the Etruscan tribe entervend. At the time, this tribe was probably the second strongest, the Romans being the first strongest. From 307-304 BC the war started to wind up. These final battles were mostly in the land of Samnia and Apulia. In 304, the Samnites sent ambassadors to Rome to negotiate peace. 

3rd Samnite War (298-290 BC) 

In 299 BC, the Etruscan tribe prepared for war with the Romans. The reason was that the Romans set up a colony very near to their territory in the next-door tribe of Umbria. However, the Gauls invaded the Etruscans territory before the Etruscans could go to war with Rome. So the Etruscans gave money to the Gauls so that they would stop conquering their land. The Romans made an alliance with the Picente Tribe. The Picentes were worried about the Senone Gauls (A different tribe of Gauls) and the Pretutti, who were both allied with the Samnites. The Romans decided to invade Etruscia and then the Samnites invaded Rome. In 297 BC after about a year of fighting had taken place, a few city-states in Etrusca had thought about suing for peace. After this, the Romans moved their armies out of Etrusca then moved all their forces to Samnium. For Months, the Romans ravaged the Samnites land. The Romans kept fighting until they pushed the Samnites out of their own territory. One Samnite commander, Gellius Egnatius went to Etrusca and convinced them to fight on their side. The Romans invaded Etrusca again, but couldn’t get any victories. Also, the Samnites started raiding Campania which was basically a colony of Rome. The Umbrians and the Gaulls had also joined the Samnites and the Etruscans. The four allies travel to Sentinium. The Samnites devised a plan and that was for two of the forces to attack the Romans head on, and the other two to destroy their camp during the battle. Unfortunately, two Samnite deserters informed the Romans of their plan. The Etruscans and the Umbrians went to go guard their land leaving the Samnites and the Etruscans to take on the Romans.

The battle of Sentinum.

In the Battle of Sentinum the Samnites and their allies were devastated leaving 20,000 of their troops dead, and only 8,000 Romans dead. After this defeat the rest of the war the Samnites slowly lost. The Samnites surrendered and were finally conquered in 290 BC. 

Pyrrhic War (280-275 BC)

The Pyrrhic War was fought between The Hellinestic states (Greece) and Rome. The War is named after the Greek Commander Pyrrhus. There is also a saying that comes from the war and that is a “Pyrrhic Victory” which means that you won the battle at too high of a cost. It was called Pyrrhic because the commander, Pyrrhus, won most of the battles but suffered many casualties. A Greek named Plutarch said “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.” Because of the heavy casualties when they won. The war started because the Tarentum tribe asked Greece to come fight with him against Rome. After this, two Roman consuls marched on general Pyrrhus. They came to a point near a river and prepared to fight. For hours and hours, the battle still raged on with no clear winner. The Greeks sent in battle elephants, and these frightened the Roman horses. The battle was starting to get in favor of the Greeks, so the Romans retreated. In 279 BC, the Greeks invaded Apulia. The Romans went to a town called Asculum, which was near where Pyrrhus was encamped. The battle commenced and lasted one or two days. On some accounts, it said the Romans won. On another it said Pyrrhus won. In this battle Pyrrhus lost a great deal of troops.

Statue of Pyrrhus of Eprius.

From 278-275 BC, Pyrrhus invaded Sicily, which was not very successful. After this campaign Phyrrus was finished in the last battle, the battle of Beneventum. 

1st Punic War (264-241 BC) 

The war began because the Romans and the Carthiginians were both big empires trying to expand their territory.

City of Carthage.

Most of the war was fought in and near Sicily. Also, some of it was in Africa and Iberia (Modern day Spain, Gibraltar, and Southern France.) The Romans attacked forts and cities in Sicily like Messina, Akragas, Mylae, and Sulci. The battles in Sicily were from 264-257. Most of the cities that the Romans captured they would sell the inhabitants into slavery. From 256-255 the fighting would be in Africa. The Romans launched an invasion into North Africa, mostly in modern day Tunisia. While the Roman fleet sailed through the Meditarianian sea, one of the largest sea battles in history took place when the Carthaginians went to meet them. It was the battle of Cape Ecnomus.

The battle of Cape Ecnomus.

The Romans launched a massive attack on the Capital city of Carthage, Tunis. Tunis is also the modern day capital of Tunisia. Luckily, the Carthaginians repelled it. From 255-241 the war went back to Sicily. In 255 BC, the Carthaginians recaptured Akragas. The Romans had a major victory capturing Panormus. (Modern day Palmero, capital of Sicily.) In 250, the Cartaginians tried to take Panormus with their battle elephants but were repelled by the Romans raining javelins down on them. The Romans started two nine year sieges on two of the Carthaginians strongholds at Lilybaeum and Drepana. The Carthaginians did have a major naval victory at the battle of Phintias. In 243 the Romans built back their fleet and in the battle of the Aegates Islands they destroyed the Carthaginian navy which made the Carthaginians sign the treaty of Lutatius ending the war. 

2nd Punic War (218-201 BC)

In 218 the Carthaginian general Hannibal, invaded Roman Sicily. The Romans responded to by capturing Malta. Hannibal’s brother Hasdrubal also started a campaign in Iberia (Spain, Portugal, and Southern France.) Hannibal was sent to Iberia where he then moved his army north into Gaul (France) and took a route through the middle of the land. In fall Hannibal reached the Alps mountain range and crossed using Elephants.

Hannibal crossing the Alps.

In modern day Piedmont, Italy the Roman troops were in their winter barracks and Hannibal surprised them. This delayed the Roman invasion into Africa. Hasdrubal invaded southern Italy and was helped by some of the Native tribes. He met Roman troops at Cannae and had a great victory there. After the battle most of Rome’s allies left the war and the Samnites joined the Carthaginians. Hannibal’s other brother, Mago was also a general in the Carthaginian army. For 11 year most of the fighting took place in Southern Italy and by 207 Hannibal was almost pushed out of Southern Italy.

Bust of Hannibal.

In 207 Hasdrubal had a failed attempt to invade Italy and in 203 Mago had failed also. In 204 Publius Cornelius Scipio had invaded North Africa so Hannibal was welcomed back. His brother, Mago had died on a ship while coming back from Iberia. By 201 Scipio had taken North Africa forcing the Carthaginians to surrender. 

3rd Punic War (171-168 BC) 

The third Punic war basically consisted of just one battle. It was the siege of Carthage. The Romans after they had one their victory in the 2nd Punic war kept demanding harsher and harsher negotiations and finally the Carthaginians had enough of it. They formed an army under command of Hasdrubal so the Roman army tried to siege out Carthage but the walls were really strong. The Siege lasted for years with intense fighting between the two sides.

General Hasdrubal.

Hasdrubal had any Roman POW tortured to death. In 146 the Romans launched the main assault on the city and burnt it to the ground. All of the citizens were turned into slaves and 10s of thousands of soldiers were captured. The once great empire of Carthage had been destroyed.