The birth of Islam not only gave rise to one of the largest religious movements on earth, but it also laid the framework for a military campaign that would see the Middle East and parts of Europe fall under its political dominion. Like so many religious faiths, Islam was initially a small sect of believers. Within 100 years following the death of the Prophet Muhammad, the Islamic Empire had spread throughout the Middle East and Islamic armies were moving into the territories of Christendom. The rapid expanse of the Islamic faith and the political regimes that followed would lay the groundwork for the future conflicts that occur even today.
By 600 AD, the Byzantine Empire had reacquired territory that had been lost when the Western Empire fell. The rise of Islam occurred during this period, and while the Byzantine’s had a premier military force, they lacked the size and strength to counter the armies of the Muslims. Muslim armies swept across North Africa and Egypt, seizing territory that had been reconquered by the Byzantines just decades earlier. Muslim armies also conquered the Holy Land, territory that had remained under Roman/Byzantine rule for seven centuries.
The Muslim expansion did not stop in North Africa and the Holy Land. Armies swept east into Persia, conquering the Sassanid Empire and pushing into the Indian subcontinent. In the West, Muslim armies laid siege to Constantinople and conquered the Iberian Peninsula. In 732 AD, Muslim armies invaded France and were met on the battlefield by the French army of Charles Martel. The Battle of Tours was the high-water mark for the Muslim’s in the conquest of the west. The French victory ensured that the Muslims would be pushed back to the Iberian Peninsula, and with the birth of the Reconquista, the first crusade to liberate Christian lands would be launched and would not see an outcome until the same year Christopher Columbus sailed to the Americas.
Look for more information regarding the history of the Muslim conquests in the upcoming Strategy & Tactics issue #294 with the article “The Muslim Conquest of Syria: 629-637” and join the conversation on Facebook!