International School History - International Baccalaureate - MYP History

MYP4 Last update - 14 January 2018  
Unit 2 - Lesson 2 - Outside Christendom - The influence of the other
In our last lesson we looked at the way that economic and social development helped bring about new ways of seeing the world. How ‘who we are’ is determined by ‘what we are’. The development of towns in the Middle Ages created social classes and a new urban consciousness which over time weakened the feudal bonds and the power of the church. This lesson is concerned with another factor which often brings about change: outside influences and in particular for medieval Europe, Islam.

In the year 610, Muhammad began receiving what Muslims consider to be divine revelations, these revelations were collected together in the Quran (Koran). After Muhammad's death in 632, Islam spread largely though successful military conquest. By the 8th century, the Islamic empire extended from Iberia in the west to the Indus river in the east. Islamic society created many centers of culture and science and produced notable astronomers, mathematicians, doctors and philosophers during the Golden Age of Islam.


In the first video for this lesson, Jacob Bronowski in the classic 1970s documentary the Ascent of Man, calls these outside Islamic influences on medieval Europe a 'new impulse'. Bronowski explains how the arrival of the later European Renaissance came about through the influnce of Islam.  He explains how Islam was not a religion based on miracles but rather an 'intellectual content... a pattern of contemplation and analysis'. Of all the great contributions of Islam, Arabic numerals, algebra and alchemy (chemistry) and the practical application of theory to solving problem of travel (astrolabe) and urban design in the towns of Al-Andalus (Muslim Iberia.) were amongst the most important. Last lesson we examined the importance in the growth of medieval towns. Cordoba in Muslim Spain was a city of over half a million inhabitants with street lighting and running water. At the same time 10,000 Londoners lived in timber-framed houses and used the river as their sewer. (For more see BBC Bitesize)

Four key dates

Medieval Europe was known as Christendom. In 1000 A.D., European awareness of the world beyond western Europe was limited. But gradually, over the next 500 years the outside world began to penetrate and borders dissolved. There were also a number of key events which accelerated the breakdown of isolation and opened European society up to outside influences. We are going to look at four dates.

1085 - The Fall of Toledo.
1095 - The First Crusade
1206 - Genghis Khan becomes ruler of all the Mongols.
1453 - The Fall of Constantinople


Activity 1

Watch the introductory video about European geographical understanding and then consider the following questions here.


1085 - The Fall of Toledo.

In 1085,The Siege of Toledo was a key moment in the struggle between the Christians and Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula. The city was the capital of the Muslim Taifa kingdom of al-Andalus and its fall to King Alfonso VI of Castile spurred the Reconquista, the Christian conquest of Muslim Spain. Raymond of Toledo, Archbishop of Toledo from 1126 to 1151, started the first translation efforts at the library of the Cathedral of Toledo, where he led a team of translators who included Arabic speaking Christians, Jews and monks from the Order of Cluny. They translated many works, usually from Arabic into Castilian, and then from Castilian into Latin, as it was the official church language.  The work of these scholars made available very important texts from Arabic and Hebrew philosophers, whom the Archbishop deemed important for an understanding of several classical authors, specially Aristotle. As a result, the library of the cathedral, which had been refitted under Raymond's orders, became a translations center of a scale and importance not matched in the history of western culture. Gerard of Cremona was the most productive of the Toledo translators at the time, translating more than 87 books in Arabic science.

Of the many long term consequences one example may stand for many: Nicolaus Copernicus, the first scientist to formulate a comprehensive heliocentric cosmology, which placed the sun instead of the earth at the center of the universe, studied the translation of Ptolemy's astronomical Almagest. Ptolemy was a Greco-Roman mathematician and astronomer from the 2nd century AD. Copernicus also used the data for astronomical computing contained in the Alfonsine tables, of which he owned a copy after they were published in Venice in 1515. The Alfonsine tables provided data for computing the position of the Sun, Moon and planets relative to the fixed stars. The tables were named after Alfonso X of Castile, they had been compiled in Toledo.

Image result for toledo in 1085
Toledo, Spain.

Activity 2

'The Greek philosophers like Aristotle started from completely different assumptions to traditional Christian philosophy.' Explain what Robert Bartlett means by this, why the fall of Toledo was so important and how the Christian church responded.


1095, Pope Urban II launches the First Crusade.

The Crusades generally refers to the set of seven distinct campaigns over a 150 year period (A.D. 1095 to 1254) that were enacted to liberate the Holy Land from Muslim control. In 1071 the Ottoman Turks captured the Holy Land,  stopped pilgrimages and threatened the Eastern Orthodox Christian (Byzantine) church led from Constantinople . The Pope promised to help the Eastern Orthodox church. In 1095 he preached a sermon which called on all Christians to win back the Holy Land from the Muslims or Saracens as they were often called. This is what the Pope said:

‘Brothers, I speak as a messenger from God. Your fellow Christians in the east desperately need help. The Saracens have attacked them and have pushed deep into Christian land. They are killing great numbers of Christians. They are destroying churches and land. In the name of God, I beg you all to drive out these foul creatures. Your own land has too many people. There is not much wealth here. The soil hardly grows enough to support you. Set out for Jerusalem. Take that land from the wicked infidel and make it your own.  If you die on the journey or if you are killed in a battle against these Saracens all your sins will be forgiven at once. God Himself has given me the power to tell you this. Some of you have spent too much time fighting against your fellow Christians. But now you must fight the Saracens. Let bandits become soldiers. Soldiers who have been fighting for money must now fight for heavenly riches.’  Pope Urban II - 1095

Perhaps because of the religious sanction, the Crusades were fought with a brutality that was unusual, even for the Middle Ages. Even before the crusaders left Europe, crusaders massacred Jews, the traditional victim of Christian intolerance.  And when in the Holy Land, the whole population of cities like Antioch,  Ma'arrat al-Numan (see right) and Jerusalem, were slaughtered; of the massacre in Jerusalem, a contemporary observed, “The knights could hardly bear it, working as executioners and breathing out clouds of hot blood.”

The Crusades were certainly 'successful' in preventing the continued expansion of Islam and they had a number of consequences on Europe itself. Trade expanded, which resulted in particular benefits for Italian city states like Venice and their banking sector. It weakened feudal society because it help stimulate trade and a money economy; and, of course, many knights left Europe never to return. Moreover, returning Crusaders brought new tastes and increased the demand for spices, Oriental textiles, and other exotic items; and with the traded goods came the new ideas.

Activity 3

Using the videos and with reference to the words of Pope Urban II, explain why so many Europeans did 'take-up the cross' and go on Crusade.


1206, Genghis Khan, ruler of all the Mongols.

The Mongol Empire emerged from the unification of nomadic tribes in the Mongol homeland under the leadership of Genghis Khan, who was proclaimed ruler of all the Mongols in 1206. The empire grew rapidly under his rule and that of his descendants, who sent invasions in every direction. They are famed for their military prowess, but also for their savagery. Over time, however, the empire encouraged trade and guaranteed the safe passage of merchants. For the very first time information and ideas and goods and people could pass from Europe to China. The most famous route made possible was the silk road. Venice and neighboring maritime republics held the monopoly of European trade with the Middle East. The silk and spice trade, involving spices, incense, herbs, drugs and opium, made these Mediterranean city-states phenomenally rich.  Venetian merchants distributed the goods through Europe until the rise of the Ottoman Empire, which eventually led to the fall of Constantinople in 1453, (See below) barring Europeans from important combined land-sea routes. Perhaps the most famous traveler along this route was Marco Polo.

(Avove) the growth of the Mongol empire.

In 1270, Marco Polo (at seventeen years of age),  set off for Asia. He returned to Venice in 1295, with many riches and treasures. He had travelled almost 24,000 km. He was not he first European to travel to China, but his adventures were the first to be documented in a book Livres des merveilles du monde, also known as The Travels of Marco Polo, c. 1300. This book caused a sensation, inspired Christopher Columbus and many other travelers and encouraged the development of European cartography. When Colombus sailed in 1492, his missions were to reach Cathay, the land of the Grand Khan in China, and give him a letter from the monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. One other significant consequence, was that the Black Death that devastated Europe (and helped bring about the end of feudalism) in the late 1340s may have traveled from China to Europe along the trade routes of the Mongol Empire.

Activity 4

Using the videos and the text, explain why the Mongol Empire was important to eroding European isolation and also how it contributed to changed European perspectives of the world.


1453 - The Fall of Constantinople

As we saw at the start of the course, many historians consider the fall of Constantinople to mark the end of the Middle Ages. John Green on Crash Course History, even goes as far as to argue that the Roman Empire didn't fully collapse until 1453 (see right). Byzantium took on the name of Constantinople after its re-foundation under Roman emperor Constantine I, who transferred the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Byzantium in 330 AD. From the mid-5th century to the early 13th century, Constantinople was the largest and wealthiest city in Europe. Until 1453 it was the home to the Eastern Orthodox Christian church and the most important centre of learning with the greatest libraries of Greek and Roman literature in Christendom. When Constantinople was taken over by the Muslim Ottoman Turks, scholars and their libraries flooded western Europe, especially northern Italy. This would be one of the main causes of the Renaissance which was based on the rebirth of the interest in classical culture and civilization.


Concluding Activity

Design a revision diagram (table, mindmap, infogram...) about the importance of the four dates we have studied in today's lesson. You should focus on how each of these four factors contributed to making changes to the medieval world. The revision diagram needs to include the essential information needed by any essay writer: the main points, explanations and important facts.





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