Friday, November 19, 2010

Creating an Empire: The Han of China

As the West grew in power from the fall of Alexander in Babylon to the rise of Augustus in Rome, China was thriving in its first Golden Age. The Han Dynasty, descended from the peasant rebel Liu Bang in 206 BCE, grew in strength and power in the aftermath of the Qin Dynasty, the first imperial family of China and the namesake of the empire. But today, while the country may be known as China (Qin-a), the people are predominantly known as the Han, after the dynasty that came to be China's most successful.

Liu Bang, First Emperor of Han Dynasty
The Han Dynasty is divided into three periods, and has one short break in it. Like most Chinese Imperial Dynasties, the Han Dynasty is first and foremost a family, all descended from the founder, Liu Bang. As the controlling power of China, the Han Dynasty ruled for around 400 years, from 206 BCE until 220 CE. It was interrupted briefly by the Xin Dynasty, from 9 CE until 23 CE. However, that dynasty was founded by a regent of a Han emperor and is often considered a tangent from the Han Dynasty rather than an independent dynasty. In 25 CE, the senior line of the family—the Western Han—died out, and the Eastern Han succeeded to the throne. Finally, in 220 CE, the Han finally lost control of China and the empire dissolved into the Three Kingdom Period, although the Shu Han continued to rule as one of the three kingdoms.

In a rather common twist in Chinese history, the founder of the Han Dynasty never reigned over all of China. In the rebellion against the Qin, Liu Bang took on the title of Huangdi (Emperor) but it was his descendants that fully unified China. Liu Bang moved the capital of China to Chang'an (modern: Xi'an), a place that remained the Chinese capital for many centuries. The Western Han maintained direct control of western China, while they held the eastern portions as tributary kingdoms, ruled by regional vassal kings. Within 50 years, all the vassal kings of the east were Han family members, put in place to maintain order while ensuring loyalty to the Han throne. Still, the Han relatives rivaled each other for the imperial throne, forcing the Han dynasty to centralize power further by reducing the size of vassal kingdoms and by taking direct control of those kingdoms' governmental functions. Ultimately, the kingdoms became little more than revenue-producing fiefs, with control held directly by the Han emperor, although the kingdoms system was never entirely abolished by the Han.

The Han Empire of China, c. 87 BCE
The early part of Han history is dominated by nomadic invaders and court intrigue. The Xiongnu had unified the lands north of the Great Wall and had begun using Han weapons against China directly. Despite marriage alliances and trade agreements—not to mention payments of tribute—the Xiongnu continued to invade China. In 119 BCE, after numerous defeats and setbacks, Emperor Wu defeated the Xiongnu and sent them fleeing into the Gobi Desert of Mongolia. China gained access to valuable lands just north of the Great Wall while also protecting its northern border. This opened up new trade routes to the West, including Greek, Indian, and African ports. The Han Empire flourished with this new influx of wealth and trade, setting it up as the first true Golden Age of China. At the turn of the millennium, China's population was approaching 60 million.

Wang Mang, only Emperor of Xin Dynasty
Things started to go badly when the wife of Emperor Yuan, Wang Zhengjun, started her own short-lived dynasty of emperor wannabes. Wang Mang, her nephew, served as regent for Emperor Ping and Liu Ying, but he eventually grew power-hungry and overthrew the young Liu Ying in 9 CE. Wang became the founder of the short-lived Xin Dynasty, but he accomplished very little during his reign. Oddly, a natural disaster ruined everything for him. Silt pile-up in the Yellow River caused it to branch and flood nearby farmlands, causing thousands of peasants to be displaced. They joined together and rebelled against Wang Mang, eventually breaking into his palace and killing him. A Han representative, Gengshi, attempted to reclaim the throne for the Han in 23, but he was deposed and assassinated, being replaced by another relative, Liu Penzi, who served as puppet emperor for a few months. Emperor Guangwu, another Han relative, was a distinguished war hero and was urged to take the imperial throne, reestablishing the Han dynasty, although it was from thence known as the Eastern Han.

Guangwu moved the capital to Luoyang and fought for another decade to establish his rule in China. During the Xin Dynasty and its aftermath, the Xiongnu had reconquered lands in the north, causing the early Eastern Han dynasty to parallel the early Western Han in many ways. The Xiongnu were defeated a second time in 81 CE, whereafter they fled into the hills and ceased pestering China. Han China, meanwhile, had shifted its focus on to reclaiming lost lands in the West. After fighting with the large Kushan Empire that sat between China and the Parthian Empire, the Han Dynasty finally incorporated the Tarim Basin into their empire. The Silk Road route was reestablished, and it is thought that traders from Rome made it all the way to China. Emissaries to Rome seem to have been unsuccessful, although the true extent of Rome-China trade is still uncertain.

The Han Dynasty reached its height during the reign of Emperor Zhang (75 – 88 CE). Its fall began soon after. Eunuchs, the common sterile officials of the imperial palace, were prone to intrigue, and often in Asian history one hears of a eunuch leading the overthrow of a dynasty. And so it was with the Han of China. One hundred years of intrigue between young and naive emperors, queen mother-regents, and ambitious eunuchs caused the Han family to become quarrelsome and untrustworthy. Emperor Ling, who ruled in the 170s and 180s, left the entire government to his eunuchs, spending his free time playing with his concubines and participating in military parades. The Han Dynasty had reached its ultimate low in decadence and decay.

In the last decades of the second century CE, student armies had risen up against Han politics. While the rebellions were subdued, smaller groups continued to grumble and cause trouble. More seriously, though, the militias that the Han emperors had used to subdue the riots remained active, and ambitious generals began to use their new armies to fight against the Han, rather than with them. The generals convinced the emperors that the eunuchs were plotting against them, and in 199 CE, 2,000 eunuchs were killed when some generals invaded the imperial palace. The generals became emperor-makers, deposing the emperor in favor of his brother. They burned Luoyang to the ground and returned the Chinese capital to Chang'an. The last Eastern Han Emperor, Xian, had no true power outside of his generals. One such warlord, Cao Cao of Wei, took the emperor under his wing and fought to covertly take over the empire. He died in 220, but his son, Cao Pi, convinced Xian to renounce the throne in favor of him and retire. The empire fell into disarray, with Cao Pi of Wei taking one portion, the Wu taking another, and a scion of the Han taking a third. The Han dynasty, as imperial rulers of China, came to an inglorious end.

The Shu Han Empire, during the Three Kingdoms period of China, c. 250 CE

The short-lived Shu Han Dynasty ruled just in the western-most portion of China during the Three Kingdoms period. It survived primarily because of its rugged location in the hills, mountains, and jungles of southwest China. The family was a distant scion of the senior line and technically had a better claim than the Eastern Han, though they never pushed that claim until the fall of Xian. The Shu Han lasted only 43 years. In 263 CE, the Wei dynasty, which ruled east of them, conquered and defeated the second and last Shu Han emperor. The Han Dynasty at last came to an ultimate end, although many descendants surely survived the conquest. Today, the people are all "Han", and it is very likely that most also descend from the Han Dynasty. Thus, the Han became the first imperial blood to flow freely throughout China.

It seems strange that one of the greatest and best-known Chinese dynasties was so fraught with corruption and intrigue, but so it is with many great empires. Somehow, out of this disorder and confusion, China became a world power worth reckoning. It is because of the Han that it became known to the West and became something to desire 1300 years later by explorers and treasure-hunters. China's place as a dynastic entity is without question, and the Han dynasty is one important link in a long chain of ruling houses. But most importantly, China's Han Dynasty proves that a dynasty provides impetus for centralization, even when the members of the dynasty are not all that decent of people.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Righteous Path to Coronation (Crusader States)

Royalty is generally born royal, but that doesn't mean that a royal is guaranteed a throne when he or she comes of age. In most cases, younger children in western Europe had to find other routes to power, which often ended with them in a monastery, convent, or fighting foreign wars. One of the hardest things to do, though, is make your own kingdom. Yet that is what happened time and again during an era we know today as the Crusades, named after the cross banner soldiers took with them to war. Despite the common idea of the Crusades occurring in the Middle East, they actually occurred across Europe. Crusades could be called against heretics (Albigensian Crusade) or against invaders (the Spanish Reconquista). They even could be redirected mid-steam and turn on an ally (the Fourth Crusade). Throughout all of this, though, was the strange and rather unique historical instance of people rising up from pettiness to become royalty.

The Reconquest of Hispania
Oddly, this little-discussed series of battles had far more important consequences for Europe than the primary Crusades ever did. While the First Crusade occurred in 1095, the first war against the Muslims in Europe began in the early 700s in the Visigoth Kingdom of Hispania, which now is Spain and Portugal.

The Visigoths
The Visigoths were the western tribe of the Goths who sacked Rome in the 400s before being granted land in southern France. After increasing conflicts with the Merovingian Franks, they moved into Iberia-proper and thoroughly sullied the old inhabitants and declared themselves kings under the Balti Dynasty. After everything was good and united and everyone went Christian (first Arian, then proper), the Balti line died out and the Visigothic kingdom became an elective monarchy. Then the Moors (Muslims) came! By 721, the last Visigoth king was deposed and the Moors ruled all of Spain, except for a small little rebellious kingdom in the Pyrenees Mountains.

The Kingdom of Asturias
A Visigoth named Pelayo stood firm against the Moors and, in 718, managed to retain the independence of a small region in the hills which was named Asturias, over which he became its first king. It became a rallying point for the Carolingian rulers led by Charles Martel, Pepin the Short, and Charlemagne. It is generally considered the first kingdom of the Reconquista and the first Crusader state. It grew slowly, reaching first along the north-west coast of Galicia before moving south into León. In 925, the kingdom officially moved its capital to León and became…

The Kingdom of León
León was much larger and held the most power in the region, but other states also were established nearby as vassals of the Carolingian Empire against the Moors of the Umayyad Caliphate of Córdoba.
Spain during the Reconquista

The Kingdom of Pamplona (later Navarre)
Pamplona was right in the path of these marauding armies, trampled and beaten by both Carolingians and Muslims. Eventually, the regional Basque leader of Pamplona declared that he had had enough and Íñigo Arista became the first king of Pamplona in 824. Pamplona became a pawn in rival politics and remained so for most of its existence. Despite having inherited at various times larger neighboring territories, Pamplona never rose to the prominence of the other Spanish states. Indeed, its placement made it an excellent target to attack but a terrible position to attack from. And so Navarre, as it became known, continued a troubled existence until Ferdinand II of Aragon conquered the southern portion of it in 1512, and the northern portion was inherited by the French royal family and eventually dissolved in 1620. 

The Marcher States of Catalunya & the Kingdom of Aragon
Many small counties were created by the Carolingians in southern France and north-eastern Iberia to retake lands conquered by the Moors. They encompassed an area that even today speaks a Romance language known as Catalan. Thus, the region was called Catalunya. There were many counties, beginning in 785 with the County of Girona. Urgell, Osona, and Cerdanya came next in 798. In 801, the County of Barcelona, which would become the capital of Catalunya, was founded. Other counties, such as Aragon, Berga, Besalú, Conflent, Empúries, Manresa, Pallars, Ribagorça, and Rosselló were also created. Eventually, these states broke away from their French masters and went off on their own. Most were slowly inherited by the counts of Barcelona, who had the strongest power-base in the region. However, some counts also began to pay allegiance to the kings of Pamplona, who ruled just to the north-west of Catalunya. In a short time, most of the comital families had married each other, and a short-lived matrix of dynasties ruled each others' kingdoms in sometimes confusing arrays. Eventually, Aragon was inherited by the Navarese royal family, who broke it off as a separate kingdom in 1035. The Aragonese kings eventually married into the Barcelona royal family in 1150, unifying Catalunya with Aragon and creating the Crown of Aragon, a constituent part of the Kingdom of Spain after 1555.
Counties of the Hispanic March

The County & Kingdom of Castile
Castile begun its long career as a county of Asturias and León, differentiating it from its Marcher cousins who were controlled initially by France, and then later by Navarre. Castile had the primary benefit of being the center-most of all the Reconquista counties, and therefore it was the most vulnerable to attack but also the most likely to gain land as the Crusaders ventured south into Moorish lands. And this is exactly what happened. In 931, the county established autonomy from León and established its own dynasty under the House of Lara. Eventually, that family married into the Leónese royal family, the House of Jimenez, which came to rule both Castile and León. Castile became a kingdom after the king of León died and split the kingdom between his sons in 1065. In 1072, the kingdoms of Castile and León were permanently united under a dynastic union.

The Kingdom of Castile & León
The largest of the Reconquista kingdoms, Castile & León continued its progress southward, eventually conquering the last of the Moorish strongholds, the Kingdom of Grenada, in 1492. During that time, the Queen of Castile & León, Isabella II, married the king of Aragon (who was also count of Catalunya), Ferdinand II. After Isabella's death in 1504, Ferdinand went on to conquer southern Navarre, thereby establishing the present-day borders of Spain. Their daughter, Juana, and grandson, Charles I, became the first queen and king of a united Spanish monarchy in 1516.

The County & Kingdom of Portugal
Henry, Count of Portugal
I have not forgotten the one hold-out to this amalgamation of nation-building. The County of Porto Cale was originally an Asturian county created in the far west south of Galicia. Much like Castile, its  goal was to drive southward into the Moorish west coast and claim lands. Also like Castile, this benefited the county greatly as Portugal today is nearly three times its original intended borders. The first county was founded in 868 by Vimara Peres and a short-lived dynasty began under his descendants and relatives. In 1071, the king of Galicia (a component part of León that sometimes was subdivided to a younger son) killed the last count and claimed the title King of Portugal. Then, in 1096, the new king Alfonso VI gave his daughter, Theresa, to the Henry of Burgundy and named him Count of Portugal as a dowry gift. Their son, Afonso, declared Portugal's independence from León in 1139, and fought to keep that independence in the succeeding centuries. Except for a brief period from 1580 until 1640, Portugal has remained an independent state.

The Principality of Andorra
This is really more a sidenote than anything, but one other Reconquista state still exists in Iberia today, and that is Andorra. Tradition states that Charlemagne granted Andorra its first charter, and that it was later codified in 1278. After many centuries of infighting between which count legally ruled Andorra, it was agreed that the Bishop of Urgell and the French Count of Foix would co-rule the state. Foix eventually was inherited by the king of Navarre, who eventually became the king of France, a kingdom which was eventually overthrown; and so today, Andorra is ruled by the Bishop of Urgell in Catalunya and the President of France, an agreement that keeps Andorra blissfully out of most people's minds.

The Conquest of the Holy Land
Yes, another long post. Reclaiming the Holy Land from the Muslim invaders was always a goal of the Crusaders, even during Carolingian times. But it took a certain degree of daring to venture from England, Italy, France and Spain to Turkey and Syria in an attempt to take back something for Christianity that was never really lost. The Muslims were generally negotiable people and allowed Christians to visit the holy places in the Middle East. But the Christians became upset when taxes were levied against them and when Muslims controlled their most holy pilgrimage sites. Thus began the long series of Crusades that ended in utter defeat for the Christians of western Europe.
The Crusader States of the Levant

The County of Edessa
The majority of the Crusader states were founded during and following the First Crusade. Edessa, founded in 1098, was the very first of those states. Baldwin of Boulogne was the first count and legitimately ascended to the throne, being the adopted heir of the previous Greek Orthodox count of the territory. The counts intermarried with Armenian nobility and endeared themseves to the Christians living in the region. But the counts did not have good relations with their crusader state neighbors. When the Seljuk Turks began to take over the territory, the other states didn't come to its aid. It was conquered by the Turks in 1150; the first crusader state was also the first to fall.

The Principality of Antioch
Placed at a much better location that Edessa, on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, Antioch was also founded in 1098 out of pieces of Seljuk and Byzantine territory. It was under constant threat from the Turks, who valued the location as a sea port and strategic crossroads. Despite numerous promises that Antioch would be returned as a vassal of the Byzantine Empire, it eventually became a vassal of Jerusalem. In 1138, the Byzantine Emperor himself led an army and conquered Antioch, returning it to his authority. It remained a western-controlled Byzantine province until 1268, when the Baibars, allies of the Mongols, sacked and conquered the territory.

The Kingdom of Jerusalem
Melisende, Queen of Jerusalem
The most famous of the Crusader States, Jerusalem was also the most important. It is thus ironic that Jerusalem itself was rarely a part of the kingdom. It was established in 1099 under Godwin of Boulogne, brother of Baldwin of Edessa. When it was first formed in the First Crusade, it was little more than a bunch of city states, but the kings quickly unified the lands until they resembled a state close to that of Israel and Lebanon today. Over the next century, people from all over Europe moved to the kingdom of Jerusalem to populate it with pious "Latins" as they were then known. Acre became the most important city in the kingdom and also acted as a last refuge in its final years of existence. The kingdom stayed in the family of Boulogne until it passed through Queen Melisende to the House of Anjou, ancestors of the kings of England. Under constant threat from the Seljuk east, the Angevin kings married into the Byzantine royal family hoping for an alliance to save them. But Egypt was being reinvigorated under Saladin and the Byzantine emperor died, ending the alliance between the two regional powers. In 1187, Jerusalem fell and the people of the kingdom fled in all directions. Those who could, bribed their way back to Europe. Those who could not were sold into slavery. The Third Crusade was launched in 1189 but it failed to take back anything important for Jerusalem. Richard the Lionheart negotiated peace with Saladin and pilgrims were allowed to visit Jerusalem again. The capital of the kingdom, though, was not at Acre.

The Kingdom of Acre
The successor state of Jerusalem, Acre remained a rallying point for crusaders seeking to reclaim Jerusalem. The Fourth Crusade failed to even reach Acre, however, and hopes fell. The Sixth Crusade succeeded in retaking Jerusalem, but they couldn't hold it for long. Eventually, Mamluks from Egypt invaded the remains of the kingdom and took Tripoli in 1289 and Acre in 1291. The last vestiges of the kingdom were conquered in 1302 and the kingdom ceased to exist. During all this time, the kingdom remained in a fairly logical dynastic progression, eventually descending through the hands of the Imperial Hohenstaufen family before passing into the royal family of Antioch.

The Kingdom of Cyprus
Conquered in the Third Crusade by Richard the Lionheart, Cyprus provided an excellent safe-haven for invasions on the mainland. It was first given to the dispossessed consort of Jerusalem, Guy, under the House of Lusignan. It remained in their hands for most of its history. As the Holy Land returned to Muslim control, Cyprus became a waypoint on the Silk Road for merchants traveling from Genoa in western Italy. In 1428 it was forced to become a vassal of the Mamluks of Egypt, and the last queen, Cornaro, finally sold it to Venice in 1489.
The Capture of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, 1204

The Latin Empire
When the Crusaders sacked Constantinople in 1204, they claimed the title of Roman Emperor for themselves, dividing the empire between many of the important leaders of the crusade. Ultimately, it was a fairly short-lived empire that spread its seeds of titles and then quickly declined as Byzantine forces retook their conquered land. Baldwin I of Hainault became the first emperor, and the title stayed in the family for the 60 years of the empire's existence. Constantinople fell to the Byzantines in 1261 and the empire quickly crumbled, although small satellite states remained for many centuries.

On this note, I will finish. There are many more Crusader states in European history. Here is a mostly exhaustive list of them:

Other Eastern States:
• Tripoli
• Cilicia
• Thesselonica
• Achaea
• Athens
• Naxos (or the Archipelago)
• Philippopolis
• Rhodes (and, later, Malta)

Baltic Crusader States:
• Estonia

Only a few of these states actually materialized into modern states: Spain, Portugal, Andorra, and Estonia are the primary ones. But each was created for a specific reason and became a rallying point for Christians to retake lands they considered rightfully (even if inaccurately) theirs.

The Grand Scheme of Things (Concepts and Theories)

Over the course of the past year, I have been developing a theory behind dynastology that may bring its importance to the forefront of certain circles of the field of social science. Ultimately, I argue that dynasties are an essential building-block toward the creation of a republic. That's right, I just jumped from a monarchy to a monarch-less republic in a single sentence! The idea came to me while I was pondering things for many long hours at Buck Bay mini golf at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, my current employment until I finally get my dream job, whatever that may be. Anyway, let's discuss the idea that I formulated. Thanks goes to my anthropology class for first putting this nugget into my brain.

Basically, government forms over time to suit the people that are governed. Certain styles suit different peoples, but all eventually lead to a republic. Once a republic is born, it can revert back to other states, but at some point, all governments will achieve a republic, if only for a while:

Governmental transition from nomadic communalism to a republic:

  • Nomadic tribes settle down, eventually causing authority to settle on a
  • Big Head, who is elected to lead aspects of the society until he becomes a
  • Chieftain, who maintains the authority of a Big Head full-time and may eventually establish a
  • Monarchy, where he is the ultimate authority in the society, eventually passing the title to his heir which creates a
  • Dynasty, wherein a single family rules, which helps to centralize the state even while the dynasty slowly grows corrupt, which leads to an
  • Autocratic government, which breeds contempt among the people, leading to an effort to rein in power, either by revolution, which can cause a
  • Republic, wherein the people rule directly or through intermediaries chosen for the task, or through constitutional reforms by elected officials within the monarchy, who slowly grow in power to eventually make a
  • Constitutional monarchy, which eventually finds the monarch to be unnecessary, thereby forming a
  • Republic

Storming of the Bastille, Paris, France, 1789

As you can see, the dynasty is the single most important part in this transition from nomadic tribe to a republic. A single corrupt leader, monarch or dictator, can be dealt with and a new one will take his or her place. But a dynasty is semi-permanent and slowly looses the loyalty of the people through centralization, corruption, and decadence. As you can see in the French Revolution, people grow weary of decadence and may react violently if it continues for too long. Even in the American colonies, which were colonies of Britain, the people reacted to the increasing centralization of power in London and the corruption rampant in the colonial governments. In both cases, the autocratic governments were not listening to the people, and so the people rebelled, overthrew the dynasty (not just the monarchy, but the entire system of inherited power) and installed a republic.

Other countries have taken different paths. Most eastern European states such as Greece, Yugoslavia, and Romania had kings during the first half of the 20th century. But one -by -one, the governments asked the monarchs to step down, despite their considerable limitations as constitutional monarchs. Ultimately, the people fear that a constitutional monarch will take on autocratic powers, so they depose that monarch before it's too late.

My theory further states that a predictable cycle develops after a republic is declared:

  • The Republic grows stagnant and corrupt, causing the people to become needy for a centralizing force, which can allow for a
  • Dictator to come to power, often in the form of an autocratic president or prime minister, who can either return the country (voluntarily or forcibly) to a
  • Republic or constitutional monarchy, or take on regal bearings and turn it into a
  • Monarchy, which then repeats the process above.

The Rikstag Parliament of the Weimar Republic after the Nazis gained a majority, 1933
Thus the system can continue. Spain and Germany followed this exact path. Both were republics in the 1930s but dictators rose to power—Franco and Hitler—who kept some of the republican systems in tact but destroyed the very things that made it a republic: the democratic power of the people! When Franco finally died, he returned the country to the previous dynasty in the form of Juan Carlos, expecting the grateful king to continue Franco's dictatorship. Instead, Juan Carlos slowly -but -surely restored the democracy of the state and became a constitutional monarch, largely voluntarily. Hitler, on the other hand, never seemed to have planned for a continuation of his "reign". When he died and the allies occupied Germany, both governments—the Americans’ and the Soviets’—installed republican governments. The Soviets, of course, installed a "People's Republic" which was mostly another dictatorship under the vassalage of Moscow, while the other Allies installed a true republic, which eventually outlasted its neighbor and unified the state. In both cases, a democracy returned.

Yet how important is the dynasty to this system? Well, it certainly is not that necessary once a country becomes a republic. But many countries have yet to reach that point and countries can always reinstall a monarch years (or centuries) later. In fact, many European countries have large pro-monarchy parties that wish to reinstall a previous dynasty as constitutional monarchs, since they do provide nice figureheads to stick on a coin. Ultimately, the dynasty is what forms the country. It's up to the country to keep it that way. Think of the development of Europe during the past 1000 years. Spain began as hardly anything, yet piece -by -piece, mostly through dynastic marriages in the House of Ivrea and Trastamara, it became one large country, even inheriting Portugal for a spell. France is another amalgam of different territories unified through the dynastic politics and marriages of the House of Capet. Italy, on the other hand, was conquered by the House of Savoy and forced into becoming one country, but the dynasty was still the glue that held it together. And Germany, a quite populous state today, began as more than 300 micro- states that slowly were inherited or conquered by a few larger states before being ultimately consumed by Prussia and the House of Hohenzollern.
Territorial Divisions of Modern-Day France

Austria, Russia and the Ottoman Empires, perhaps, provide the saddest cases in point. All were formed from a great diversity of peoples that could not get along entirely yet somehow did. The dynasties were the glue that held them together. Yet the House of Habsburg's war against the Allies in 1914 brought it into conflict with its Slav and Magyar populations, ripping the nation to pieces. The House of Romanov's oppression of the people finally went too far when the people were forced to fight in Europe for something they did not understand. And the House of Osman spent so many centuries backstabbing and bickering, that the people didn't know whom to follow anymore, so they just up and started their own states. In all three cases, the governments were overthrown by the people because the dynasty that had formed them had let them down. This is what happens to dynasties: they are there to let the people down. A monarch can be replaced, but a dynasty is a part of the country itself. When a dynasty falls, the government changes.
The Former States of the Austrian Empire, 1914 and 1994 (Russia should read Ukraine)

 The last thing I discovered in this theory is where former colonial states belong. Most of them are technically republics but with varying degrees of dictatorships and autocracies in place. That is because they never were able to develop through the progression. The West came in during the 18th and 19th centuries and simply replaced the native governments with their own. Thus, while many of the African and South American governments were anything from nomadic leaderless tribes to autocratic dynastic states, they never made their own jump to a republic. The republic was forced on them. Thus, they skipped a step...or five. A country cannot do well in the world today if it skipped steps. The more steps it skips, the more likely it will fail. That explains why so many African countries do not function like proper republics: they never experienced the transition from their former governmental type to their current. And, in most cases, they never had a dynastic monarchy to unify the country into one people. While the Bretons, and Provençal and Lorrainers and Burgundians and Gascons are all today self-proclaimed as French, the many tribes of South Africa do not see themselves as South Africans, rather they see themselves as Zulus or Boers or some other tribe. They are not a stable nation because they never were built up by a dynasty to rally around.
Tribal Divisions in Nigeria and Cameroon. Note where the international borders are placed.
Thus, the dynasty is the glue that unites the people, even once the dynasty itself is gone. Today, I very much doubt anyone in Germany would claim that they are Germans because of the House of Hohenzollern. But that dynastic house glued Germany together and holds it there today. It was they who made the German ethnicity a reality. And it was the House of Hanover that made the American ethnicity a reality, because it was THAT dynasty's politics that forced our creation.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Prophet's Legacy (Quraish)

It would be a huge oversight to ignore the place of Islam in this study of Dynastology. Of all the dynasties that have lasted through the ages, none has been more divided than that of the family of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam.

Banu Hashim (The House of Hashim)
Muhammad receiving his vision from the angel, Gabriel
The family of Muhammad was known as the Quraish tribe, and it became prominent in the late 6th century around the trading city of Mecca on the Red Sea. Muhammad's clan was known as the Banu Hashim after his great-grandfather, Hashim, who was the patriarch and founder of the subsequent dynasty. In a strange twist, Muhammad was a dead-end dynastically, because he only left one surviving daughter, Fatima, behind when he died in 632 CE. Luckily, Fatima married back into the family, and this very fact helped create the largest divide in Islam to this day.

Muhammad was very successful in spreading his message across Arabia, and his expansive and influential family was one of his best tools. Naturally, his death signaled a transition toward rule by a dynasty. From the very start, dynastic quarrels began to affect Islam and divide it between two camps:

The Rashidun (Rightly-Guided) Caliphs
The first four Caliphs (successors) of Islam were non-hereditary. Rather, they were elected from among the members of Banu Hashim for the position. Abu Bakr was the father-in-law and a relative of Muhammad and was chosen as the first Caliph. Another father-in-law and relative, Umar, came next. Uthman, a third cousin of Muhammad and possible son-in-law through a short-lived daughter, was the third Caliph. Unlike the other two Caliphs, Uthman was a part of Banu Umayya, a clan descended from Umayya, the older brother of Hashim. All three of these people helped expand the Islamic Empire begun by Muhammad, while also centralizing the Islamic teachings into books such as the Quran. The non-hereditary nature of the Caliphate followed tribal traditions from southern Arabia, but conflicted with the feelings of another group of individuals, descended from the last Rashidun Caliph, Ali. The supporters of the Caliphate became known as the Sunni and they are the larger and more Orthodox branch of Islam.
Rashidun Caliphate, c. 650

The Imamate of Ali
Ali, 1st Shi'a Imam and 4th Rashidun Caliph
Ali was the last Rashidun Caliph, but to the Shi'a, or the "followers of Ali", he was the first Imam. He was a devoted follower of Muhammad who married Fatima, one of Muhammad's daughters. He was also a member of the Banu Hashim and a first cousin to the Prophet. This placed him in a very privileged category, so much that even today he is recognized by both Shi'a and Sunni Muslims as sharif, or a descendant of Muhammad. As caliph, Ali was persecuted and attacked and eventually assassinated. His son and successor, Hasan, was to become the next Caliph, but trickery and deception lost him the title before he was ever formally endowed with it. Thus the Imamate developed separately from the Caliphate, with the descendants of Ali leading the Shi'a branch of Islam, and the Caliphs leading the Sunni branch. Over time, divisions arose within the ranks of the sharif and Shi'a Islam split into ever smaller parts. The one thing that binds them all together is their mutual descent from the Prophet, but many things keep Shi'a Muslims different not just from the Sunni, but from each other.

The Twelvers
Today, the largest branch of Shi'aism is the Twelvers (85%). They believe that the twelfth Imam went into hiding and will return during the End Times to help Jesus and the other prophets defeat Satan. Throughout much of Islam's history, Twelverism was not prominent, but today it is practiced primarily in Iran and Iraq, the two strongholds of Shi'aism, partially because it is where the original imams lived and preached.

The Zaydi or Fivers
The earliest rivals of the Twelver Shi'a were the Zaydi, followers and descendants of Zayd, brother of the fifth Twelver imam. The Zaydi recognize Zayd as the true fifth imam. They are the most tolerant of the Shi'a sects and the closest to the Sunni religious practices. Today, Yemen contains the largest Zaydi population and it is not ascendant in any other region. The only prominent dynasty descended from the Zaydi were the Idrisids of Morocco who briefly overthrew the Ummayad Caliphs of Córdoba and claimed the title of caliph themselves during the 10th century. The emphasis of the Zaydi was on the constant presence of the imam, in contrast to the hidden nature of the Twelver imam. Thus the Imams of Yemen, claiming descent from a son of Hasan, ruled Yemen continuously until 1962 when they were overthrown and Yemen became a republic.

The Ismailis or Seveners
Another rival sect of Shi'aism developed when a group recognized the elder brother of the seventh Twelver imam as their imam. Thus began the historically most important Shi'a group, the Ismailis, named after the founder, Ismail. The Ismailis rose to prominence when they challenged the Abbasid Caliphate in North Africa and established the Fatimid Caliphate in opposition to it. The Fatimids became the only Shi'a to establish a Shi'a empire and place a hereditary claim on the caliphate. The Fatimids ruled Egypt from 909 until 1171, and during their tenure, they eventually captured the rest of North Africa and even Mecca, Medina and much of Palestine. The empire slowly fell apart as first Turks then Crusaders ate away at its eastern flanks, while Moors from the east retook North Africa. The Fatamid Empire's lasting achievement was damaging the Abbasid Caliphate so much that they were never able to fully recover.
Fatimid Caliphate, c. 950
Aga Khan IV, 49th Imam of the Nizari Ismaili Shi'a
The Ismaili did continue, although at a reduced capacity. The largest branch of the Ismaili, the Nizari, continued using the city of Alamut as their base of operations. They developed a group of highly skilled warriors called Hashashin (Assassins) who would covertly kill rivals (see Prince of Persia). Eventually Alamut was overtaken by the Ilkhanate and the Ismaili were forced to spread throughout the Islamic world, never to centralize again. Three different branches of Ismaili developed: the Nizari, the Mustaali, and the Druze. Each is unique in that it claims a different Fatamid caliph as its last common imam. Today, the Nizari are by far the largest Ismaili sect and are ruled by the 49th Nizari Imam (which includes all the Fatamid Caliphs), Aga Khan IV. Aga Khan is a respected secular and religious leader who has been knighted by numerous foreign governments, was born and raised in Switzerland, and is almost as famous in Islamic countries as the Dali Lama is in Buddhist ones.

Other Hashimite families
Although the families themselves practice Sunni Islam, there are numerous families in the world today who claim descent from Muhammad through his daughter, Fatima. The Hashimite dynasty of Jordan (and once Iraq and the Hejaz) are the most prominent in world affairs, but the royal family of Morocco also claims Hashimite descent. Indeed, most people who claim the title Imam can at least claim to be descended from Ali, since it is a requirement of being an imam, much like being a Levite was a requirement of being a Jewish priest. Thus, there are a great many people today that may well be descended from the many descendants of Ali and Fatima.

The Sunni Caliphate
Soon after Ali's death, the Caliphate took a very different turn that it never reversed from. Until the 16th century, the caliphs remained members of the Quraish tribe and thus were related distantly by blood and more closely by marriage to Muhammad and the first four caliphs. A succession of two different families of the Quraish tribe ruled Sunni Islam until the Ottoman Turks of Anatolia finally captured the last caliph and took the title for themselves.

The Ummayad Caliphate
The first family were known as the Ummayads and, if that name sounds familiar, they were descended from a brother of Uthman, one of the Rashidun Caliphs. Muawiyah I was the first ruler of the Ummayad dynasty, despite being the second Ummayad caliph. Ali's son, Hasan, was to be proclaimed caliph in 661 CE, but Muawiyah convinced the people to elect him to the title instead. The Ummayads set up their base of operation at Damascus and ruled the caliphate for a hundred years, from 661 until 750 CE. Islam reached its farthest extent into western Europe during this time, eventually threatening even Paris before being pushed back by Charles Martel. In the east, the Ummayads pushed the borders of Islam across Afghanistan and into the Indus River Valley, eventually conquering or converting what today is most of Pakistan.
Umayyad Caliphate, c. 750

The dynasty is separated into three parts: the Sufyanids, the Marwanids, and the Spanish Marwanids. The Sufyanids were the first three caliphs and descended from the brother of Uthman. They ruled the Caliphate until 684 when the last caliph died. After that time, the power base transitioned to the Marwanids, founded by the fourth Ummayad caliph, Marwan I. The dynasty faced some tough opposition from other relatives, including the descendants of Ali and the grandson of Abu Bakr. Once the family troubles were mostly overcome, the Ummayads focused their attacks on Constantinople, a place that would be the focus of Muslim sieges for centuries to come. Problems developed again between the families of the Quraish tribe, and the House of Abbas, a member of Banu Hashim, became the Ummayads' chief rival. In 750, the last Ummayad caliph of Damascus was killed in battle. The majority of the family was killed by the Abbasid conquerors, although one son fled to Spain.

That son, Abd ar-Rahman I, established an emirate at Córdoba in Spain around the year 756. He and his sons ruled from Córdoba for 250 years in direct opposition to the Abbasid caliphs in Baghdad. In 929, Abd ar-Rahman III proclaimed himself Caliph, further antagonizing the Abbasids and the Fatimids. Córdoba was under constant threat from the "legitimate" caliphates of North Africa and from the reconquista Christian forces from northern Iberia. The caliphate was for a short time – 1016 until 1023 – overthrown by the Hummudid dynasty of Morocco, which descended from the Shi'a Idrisid dynasty. The Ummayads returned and ruled for another eight years before Iberia finally fell to pieces in what is today known as the taifa period. This period lasted in some form or another until the Catholic forces of Ferdinand II and Isabella I conquered the Kingdom of Grenada in 1492, ending the last trace of Muslim rule in western Europe.

The Abbasid Caliphate
The Abbasids descended from Muhammad's uncle, Abbas, and slowly rose to prominence as the Ummayads fell from favor among the Sunni Muslims. To win support, the Abbasids converted to Shi'aism to win the support of the Shi'as, only to return to Sunni Islam once they defeated the Ummayads. Almost immediately after defeating the Ummayads, the Abbasids spread their empire further. They ventured into Central Asia, defeating Tang Chinese forces at the Battle of Talas. The Chinese slaves brought back to Baghdad built the first paper mills in the west. The Abbasids relocated the Caliphate capital from Damascus to Baghdad to better centralize their power. In addition, the Abbasids replaced Arab bureaucrats with Persian ones, changing the face of Islam in many ways over the next centuries. The Golden Age of Islam reached its height under the Abbasids, as culture, literature, philosophy, science, and technological advances all brought the Caliphate far beyond all other world powers. But even during its height, the roots of the Abbasids' demise were being planted.During the 800s and 900s, small emirates began seeking autonomy from the centralized Caliphate. One by one, groups broke off from the Caliphate, recognizing the caliph over religious matters but ignoring his secular demands. The Seljuks of Persia were the first to overtake the Caliphate, forcing the Abbasids to rule through a conquering power. But the bigger problem was the Mamluks, slaved soldiers of Turkish origin who had taken over Egypt by defeating the Fatamids. Ultimately, the Mamluks proved to be the salvation for the Abbasid Caliphate, since Hulagu Khan sacked Baghdad in 1258, forcing the Abbasids to flee. While the Ilkhanate established itself in Iraq and Persia, the Abbasids settled down as religious leaders in Mamluk-controlled Cairo, where they remained until the Ottoman Conquest of Egypt in 1519. The last caliph of the Quraish tribe was Al-Mutawakkil III, who continued in his position as caliph until 1543, when he died and the titles passed to the Ottoman Sultans.
Abbasid Caliphate, c. 850

No other Quraish clan was recognized as caliph after the fall of the Abbasids, and today, the majority of the Quraish clan claims are by Shi'a groups or those descended from Shi'a groups. As an interesting aside, the Córdoban caliphs married a number of Christian princesses, and a few Christian princes married Córdoban brides, meaning that the blood of the Quraish clan runs through many Europeans as well as Arabs and North Africans. Indeed, due to the vast number of children produced by Muhammad's descendants and his relatives, it is highly likely that most people in the western world can claim Quraish descent.

Unfortunately today, there is no centralized Arab state from which interpretations of law could come forth. Instead, Muslim states are scattered throughout the world, with some still ruled by those who claim direct descent from Muhammad. Although the actual genealogies may be fictive, there is little doubt that their claim is correct. Thus the Prophet's eternal legacy is being, quite possibly, one of the most likely common ancestors for most of humanity. Now that is a strange thought indeed.
Quraish Tribe Family Tree with Ummayaad and Abbasid Caliphs


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