Episode 5 AD 630-680

The Islamic Invasions

To conceive how the Mediterranean world of Antiquity transitioned to the new world of the European Middle Ages, the fate of the Graeco-Roman Near East first needs to be understood.
We have long ago forgotten that the Near East and North Africa were once integral to Graeco-Roman society and civilization. Indeed, North Africa, Egypt and Syria were not peripheries, they were not alien add-ons to the Roman Empire, but lay at its very heart as a society and a polity.
This reality, which we have lost sight of, was long remembered, was ‘known’, by Christendom through much of the Middle Ages.
The focus and strivings of the people of the Middle Ages, both in Europe and in the remains of the Roman Empire, to regain the lost half of their cultural realm cannot be understood unless we appreciate this.
This episode describes the first phase of the Islamic conquest of the Roman Orient. It was a barbarian invasion like all the others, but with one crucial difference: these barbarians wanted the wealth and the power of the civilization that they had conquered, but not its culture, values and way of life: they had brought their own.


  • The unusual historical character of the Islamic Conquest.
  • Union of the Arabian tribes under a new religion and the projection of their warlike tribal mode of life outwards.
  • Raiding, ‘razzia’, the traditional necessity and honour of the tribes.
  • To their north lay the soft underbellies of Roman and Persian worlds. The extensive Roman fortifications facing east were irrelevant.
  • The conquest of the cities on the Tigris concluded, the Arabs invaded Roman Syria.
  • The catastrophe of the battle of Yarmuk. Roman Syria lost at a stroke. South-east Asia Minor now the new Roman frontier, for centuries to come.
  • Arabs turn to invade Roman Egypt. Siege of Roman fortress of Babylon and the loss of Alexandria. The rich province of Egypt is lost.
  • The Arabs as an army of occupation in societies much larger and more sophisticated than theirs. Their deliberate self-separation. They take over the Roman tax bureaucracy.
  • Continuation of the way of life of the conquered Graeco-Christian populations. The seasonal razzias in all directions. Central Asia Minor permanently laid waste.
  • Muslims learn the importance of sea power. Catastrophic destruction of the Roman fleet at Phoenix. Beginning of the breakup of the civilisational integrity of the Mediterranean.
  • The Roman Empire crippled. The Emperor attempts to remove the capital to Sicily or perhaps Carthage. Assassinated. Constantinople remains the capital.
  • Muslim razzias and then invasion into Roman Africa (Tunisia/Algeria).
  • First Muslim siege of Constantinople fails.

Now with the audio-only version included

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