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Which Did They Conquer First, The Roman Or The Byzantine?

Like many of today’s British Muslims, Sayyid Qutb believed that the West was waging war against Islam, and the only way to defeat the Crusaders was to return to 7th-century Islam, a time when mighty Muslim armies were on the march conquering large swaths [sic] of the Persian, Roman, and Byzantine empires. ~Christopher Orlet, The American Spectator

Large swathes of the Persian empire, indeed.  More like the whole of the Persian empire.  But you can see why Sayyid Qutb would be excited about the 7th century, if early Islamic armies conquered large swathes of both the Roman and the Byzantine empires, which would require either feats of time travel or the ability to conquer the same thing twice (no mean feat!).  It is at this point that I will indulge my Byzantinist pedant’s delight and remind Mr. Orlet and everyone else that the Byzantines called themselves Romans, considered themselves Romans and were considered to be Romans by their neighbours.  Byzantine was a name that they never used, except possibly for inhabitants of the City itself, and would not have accepted in its pejorative implications that their empire represented a somehow lower or lesser Roman empire.  This emphasis on being Roman later became tricky when the Carolingians set about continuing the Roman empire that was already doing very nicely in Constantinople, and western Europeans preferred to refer to the Byzantines derogatorily as Greeks or ‘Greeklings’ (Graeculi) to make it clear that they didn’t really believe them to be “real” Romans.  But in the 7th century there was only one Roman empire and it encompassed a large portion of the territory of the High Empire of the Antonines (obviously minus Gaul, most of Spain and all of Britain), and then subsequently lost quite a lot of that Roman territory to the Muslims. 

A pedantic point?  Perhaps.  But certainly no less ridiculous than an article dedicated to refuting the non-existent argument that the Iraq war created the threat of jihadi terrorism, which no one on this planet actually believes, and no less annoying than the tiresome claim that the war did not fuel jihadi terrorism because, gosh, jihadis take offense at lots of things.  That Mr. Orlet is unfamiliar with the specifics of 7th century history is not so surprising, since he is not all together on top of what is happening in the 21st century.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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