Civilizations have risen and fallen in various regions of the world during different epochs in which they existed. The most notable and successful ones were the Medieval Western Roman Civilization, the Medieval Byzantine Civilization and the Medieval Arab Civilization. This essay seeks to evaluate their relative levels of success in respect to political stability, military strength, economic prosperity, cultural originality and human rights.
- Political Stability
Political stability in essence refers to the durability and the integrity that a current regime holds in its area of jurisdiction. These civilizations were responsible for the administration of large swathes of territory consisting of subjects from a vast array of cultures, races , religion and ethnicity but still managed to create cohesion in the midst of this diversity.
The Medieval Western Roman Civilization , with its capital in Mediolanum , followed the Roman Empires ideal of having a single ruler. The political stability of this civilization was also strengthened by the establishment of a legal code, the Corpus Juris Civilis, which was overseen by the emperor Justinian (492-565). This civil law code was responsible for creating the basis for legal systems and also acted as a front for democracy, promoting stability among the vast empire.
In Medieval Byzantine Civilization, political stability was taken very seriously. This was best illustrated during the reign of Justinian (527-565 CE) who made attempts at uniting the whole of the Roman Empire under one ruler (Luttwak 58). This led to the annexation of the wealthy provinces in Italy, Libya and the Visigothic Dynasty in Spain. All were put under Roman law ( including the Justinian Corpus Iuris) and Roman institutions and an official language in the name of Latin established. This unity was celebrated by the building the church of Holy Wisdom which is commonly referred to as the Hagia Sophia in its political capital in Costantinopole.
Political stability in the Medieval Arab Civilization was mainly drawn from the use of Islam as a common religion among the Arabs. The Muslims were expected to observe the teachings found in the Holy Koran together with Five Pillars of Faith, Sobriety and Temperance. Strong and able leadership from Caliphs such as Harun al-Rashid (786 to 809) saw the expansion of the empire into North Africa and further westwards into the Iberian Peninsula.
The military might of these three empires was responsible for their permeation in the areas they had conquered. The real test in the military strength of a civilization was its ability to maintain a strong hold on the annexed territory.
The Medieval Western Roman Civilization had a professional and heavy infantry that was responsible for maintaining order and quelling any rebellion or armed resistance. These legions were responsible for the invasion of the territory held by the West Germanic Tribes and it is their military prowess that led them to victory over the Cimbri and Teuton tribes of the West Germanic territories in the year 113 BC. The standardization in their military, which included battle lines and war strategy was the source of their military success as compared to the largely disorganized Germanic tribes.
The Medieval Byzantine Civilization had the Eastern Roman Army as a primary military body together with a Byzantine Navy. The army was disciplined, organized and followed military strategies in the battle field. Under the very able leadership of Emperor John II Komnenos successful military campaigns were launched into the lands in Egypt, Italy and Hungary (Meri and Bacharach 292). The well-equipped and highly effective Komnenian army was also responsible for the conquest substantial territories from their traditional enemies who were the Turks.
The Medieval Arabic Civilization was also a force to reckon with militarily in the vast empire that stretched from Spain to India. Military outfits such as the Rushidun army were well equipped with weaponry, protective gear such as the helmets and well organized. The Rushidun army was responsible for successful incursions such as the conquest of Roman Syrian (633-638), Anatolia and Coptic Egypt(641-644).
The economic success in the Medieval Western Roman Civilization was mainly dependant on mining, transportation systems and commerce. The Danubian provinces produced gold and lead while the Roman sea vessels navigated the Mediterranean sea with the various commodities that would be difficult to transport on land. Organized commerce was also a factor that led to steady economic growth with the rise of protected land and sea routes together with the establishment of standard weights and measurements.
The Medieval Byzantine Civilization in the east under Emperors such as Constantine the Great and Constantius II were known to be heavy investors in economy. This was apparent in their ability to afford large professional armies and mercenaries as compared to the Western Roman Empire. The state was responsible for issuing coinage and also exercised formal control over the interest rates and activities of corporations. This ensured that taxes were paid especially during trade in goods that the state had interest in such as silk thus creating a sustainable economic environment where commerce would thrive.
The Medieval Arab Civilization had a highly developed economic system that consisted of advanced concepts, investment techniques and economic developments. An example is the Hawala system which was ostensibly an early value transfer system that was informal. The organization in activities from the trading, the contract system of the merchants to the establishment of currency in form of cheques and promissory notes ensured the establishment of a well organized economic system that would thrive under optimal conditions.
The origins of the Medieval Western Roman Civilization had been based largely on the formative civilizations that came from the Mediterranean basin. The Hellenistic culture consisted of traditions fused by Alexander the Great and his successors from the Egyptian, Greek and Syrian traditions. The architecture consisted of arches and domes that were well engineered such as the Aula Palatina of Trier in Germany that was part of the Roman Province known as Gallia Belgacia.
The Medieval Byzantine Civilization consisted people who spoke Greek even when the empire was located in present day Turkey. The people here from the many conquered tribes learnt the Roman culture and literature that was to Romanize them. The centre of culture here was the Christian Church that was led by the Emperor. The Byzantine life was organized according to the Christian Rituals and holidays. Buildings here were of more geometric complexity and stones were used in the decoration of public structures together with sheets of alabaster.
The Medieval Arab Civilization was centered on Islam as the de facto religion of the Caliphate. Every activity undertaken from wars of conquest to celebrations were all in the Islamic fashion coined from the Holy Koran. The minarets and arches that towered above the mosques was one of the greatest feats that this culture is remembered for due to their magnificence. The hypostyle architecture which consists of rows of columns in the Great Mosque of Samarra in Iraq still baffles modern architects up to date due to its high level of architectural design.
Human rights in the Medieval Western Civilization were not based on ones social or political standing but on the religion of the state which was Christianity. The Romans were Christians who saw themselves under immediate threat of attack by the heathens. Human rights did not depend on the race or ethnicity of the subjects, but the religion which they subscribed to. Converts were treated according to the Roman set of Human Rights.
Medieval Byzantine Civilization was similarly based on religion when it came to human rights (Beihammer, et al. 50). Byzantine law and codes only protected those who had converted to Christianity and this meant that all those who were not followers of this new religion could not enjoy the same rights. Human rights cut across the board for individuals of any race or ethnicity as long as they subscribed to Christianity.
The Medieval Arab Civilization followed the Islamic common law ( Hanson 99). The Islamic law followed the presumption of innocence of the accused until proven guilty as Caliph Umar during the 7th Century. Human rights were adhered to and an emphasis was put on human dignity, juristic personality, equality before the law and individual freedom.
In conclusion, it is from the past civilizations that human beings can look at in a quest to understand where present systems emanated from. Past Civilizations are thus a very important reference point in History.