Early Arab Conquests towards Byzantine

social effects did the Early Arab Conquests towards Byzantine (632-750) has on Byzantine and Arab society?

Civilization is a process that takes time to reach the point of becoming a norm in the recipient society. From the inception and establishment of the world, it is clear there are several changes that took place. These changes resulted in the creation of the vast continuum of culture and beliefs evident in the society. The propagation of these changes comes in diverse forms, some of which are peaceful whereas others take a struggle to take root. In the ancient worlds, most of the civilizations happened by means of invasions and bloody struggles. As a result, these interactions, took a long period to adopt, and effect to occur. Among the ancient histories is the conquest of the Arabs to the Byzantine Empire.

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The Byzantine

The name ‘Byzantine’ derives from the Byzantium, which was an ancient colony of Greek, founded by the man, Byzas. It is the region on the European side of the Bosporus, -the strait linking the Black sea to the Mediterranean Sea (Dawson & Angus 9). Byzantium was the ideal location that served the transit between Europe and Asia Minor. In the period 330 AD, Constantine the Roman Emperor spotted Byzantine as the location for a new Roman capital. Therefore, Constantine established Christianity as the official religion in Rome and obscured the Jewish sect. Therefore, the name of Byzantine changed to Constantinople and the citizens thereof identified as Christians largely, despite many of them speaking Greek.

After the death of Emperor Constantine, the Roman Empire broke, with the Byzantine Empire remaining in the eastern side and less prone to attacks. Therefore, Constantinople, because of its location in the strait, it was hard to conquer the capitals defenses. It had stronger administrative center and internal stability in politics (Dawson & Angus 9). Byzantine was wealthy compared to the other states of that period. The eastern roman empire-initially known as the Byzantine Empire or Byzantium- survived even after the fall of Rome. The empire practiced the Roman rule of law and Roman political institutions. Its official language was Latin and Greek, and education was in Greek history, literature and culture. The religion was Christianity (Brownworth 71). The empire, under the rule of Justinian, conquered widely and stretched into far territories. After his death, the state remained with debts, financial constraints and the army too weak to maintain hold of the vast territory. Attacks by Persians and the slaves, combined with the political instability and the regression of the economy posed a threat to the Empire. A new, even more serious threat rose in the form of Islam, pioneered by the Prophet Mohammed in Mecca in 622 (Bagnall 56). In the year 634, the Muslim armies ventured their assault on the Byzantine Empire, storming into Syria at first.

The early Arabs

The initial Arabs are the people who lived in the region of Assyria. They are people who opposed the rule of Assyria in the 9th century, forming a coalition with other fighters against Assyria (Levi, & Ron 37). The popular Arab father is Yarab, who is supposedly the first ever man to speak in Arabic. Another view in history is that Arabs got the name from Mesopotamians, who called them GfArab, in West Semitic. The widely accepted view is that of Al-Masudi that Arab is the name given to the Ishmaelites of the Arabah valley.

The early Arabs were the tribes of the people that lived in Northern Arabia, and spoke the proto Arabic dialect. However, in the early days, people also became Arabs by the process of Arabization, which was in the form of intermarriages, adoption of the Arabic language and culture, or even both (Levi, & Ron 37). The Arab culture is highly identified and defined in relation to the religious identity. This is the rise of the Islam. Therefore, Arabs are, not defined by race, and Islam is the indigenous civilization of all Arabs. Islam as a religion came with the birth of the prophet Mohammed, who is the pioneer of the Muslim faith.

During the reign of Islam, while Mohammed was still alive, the Islam religion and culture took root in most of the regions in which they occupied. These include the surrounding northern Arabia, the Arabian region, in Assyria among other empires. All this they achieved through successful victories on the battlefield. The armies of Islam easily conquered the Arabian Peninsula then proceeded to take the homelands of their related neighbors. After the demise of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, in 632, the armies gathered and ventured into the non-Arab worlds, beginning with Egypt and the larger part of the Northern Africa region. They also extended their invasions to the Eastern Europe sides, getting into Spain by 711 (Nicolle 111). The conquests in the North Africa region were what brought the Arab invasion into contact with the Byzantine, who were in control of part of the Northern region at the time.

The conquests

The Byzantium Empire was in control of the Northern region before the Early Arabs came. Therefore, the influence in the region by Byzentium ruled for quite some time, however, the time the Arabs came, the Byzantine army was already weak, due to struggle with the Persia Empire, which left them weakened (Nicolle 167). Additionally, the bubonic plagues in Byzantine further weakened the empire; hence, the time for the invasion by the Arabs could not have been better. Initially, the Arabs were under the leadership of Umar bin al-Khattab were reluctant from invading the Byzantine Egypt, due to the risks involved (Van 69). However, the governor of Palestine and interim governor of Levant persuaded him to invade the region. The Byzantines were having attacks from the north by the Palestine, and moreover, the Egyptians and other conquered empires under their rule were unhappy, hence Umar saw it as the perfect opportunity to invade the Byzantine. They began by attacking the Byzantine lands weakly guarded, then moving into the central regions of the Egyptian region. However, the obstacle to the conquest was the fortification of the town of Pelusium by the Byzantine (Van 79). This caused Umar to retreat, willing to support Yemen to invade the territory; however, the Arabs still pursued the siege. The Byzantine army lacked reinforcements; hence, the overwhelming numbers of the Arabs largely caused them to show unwillingness to combat the Arabs, whose numbers was large due to the addition of the Bedouin tribesmen from Sinai. After a month long bloody siege, the undefeated Arab army marched into the territories of Byzantines by 717.

The nature of the interactions

The invasion by the Arab warriors resulted from a number of reasons. Among them, is the unity of the Islamic faith, which provided them a sense of common strength and cause. United as an army, they could easily stand to the opposition of the non-Arab rulers that for the longest time played them as unwashed, backward barbarians from the desert lands (Levi, & Ron 37). Additionally, the nature of the conquest was to show their might, over the communities that they sought to lead. The conquests provided the opportunity for the Arabs to glorify their religion; however, they did not have the desire to win converts to their religion. Despite having a string of victories over the provinces and territories they fought, Byzantines were the most resilient adversaries. However, the defection of their frontier territories to the Arabs, and the support of the Christians of Syria and Egypt to the Muslim invaders weakened the Byzantine resistance.

The effects on byzantine

The nature of the Byzantine conquests with the Arab initially was not in the open field battles. The Byzantines were always in the defensive, preferring to retreat into their strongholds of fortification. Only in 740, they started to launch the counterstrikes (Luttwak 87). The interaction between the two cultures resulted in a number of changes in both societies, with changes occurring in all aspects of the social practices of the societies. On the part of the Byzantine, before the invasion by the predominant Muslim Arabs, they were largely Christians. However, due to the heavy taxations by the Byzantine authorities, they supported the Arabs in the invasion. Therefore, in the process of supporting the Arabs, most of the Christians who supported the Arabs converted into Islam. This was the biggest blow to the Byzantine rule. The Christian practice in the empire received a blow, and largely retrogressed, leading to the spread of Islam religion into the empire.

Additionally, with the invasion ad interaction with the Arabs, led to the Byzantine intermarrying with the Arab people. Therefore, the practices of the Arab culture, such as the family unit crept into the society. Their form of worship changed, with less devotion to Christianity, although the Muslim did not force their religion on the people, most of them found themselves bound by the culture of Islam (Luttwak 198). The enslaved people in the society received light treatment from the lighter taxation by the Arabs; hence, they were able to manage their lives. The education system of the Byzantine region spread through to the other nations, with them adopting new words from the Arab language, hence enriching their language. The social status of the slaves improved, whereas that of the elite and those who fought against the invasion deteriorated as they lost control over their territories.

The effects on Arab society

The interactions between the Arabs and the non-Arab community resulted in several changes within the Arab society. At the time of the conquest, the Arab received support from the Christians of the Syrian and Egypt territories because the Arabs promised them less taxation as compared to that of the Byzentine (Rogan 157). Therefore, the Arabs, after the conquest was over, feared that the interactions between the Muslim and the non-Muslim community would lead to undesirable results. For this reason, the Umayyad sought to keep the Muslim worriers concentrated in the garrison towns and prevented them from mixing with the local population. This happened with the aim that the isolation would keep the Muslim warriors from assimilating the cultures of the subjugated communities. They knew that intermarriages meant conversion of the local people into Islam and, therefore, they could lose the taxable subjects, as they could tax their own people.

The attempt to isolate them had little opportunity to succeed. No sooner had the elite Arabs settled, than the interactions extensively took course. The Arabs intensively intermarried with the local populations of the areas they conquered (Rogan 157). Equally, significant effect to note is that an increasing number of the people voluntarily converted into Islam despite the fact that the Muslims did little to acquire converts. The conversion did not advance the converts much socially as they still paid property taxes though at a lower rate.

The interactions further resulted to changes in the social setting of the Arab and widening Islamic community. The social changes include the observable shifts in the positioning of the women in the family and society. Initially, the Islam rule believed in the domination of males, and this was widely the norm in the Middle East (Van 189). However, in the period of expansion the position of the women in the society was strengthening, prevailing over the domination of the males. Muhammad and the Quran stressed on the moral and ethical concerns of marriage as a unit; as opposed to the adulterous nature of the pre-Islamic Arabia. However, with the interaction with the new cultures, their practice and respect for the teachings of Islam faced a challenge as the practice of the other societies also seemed inviting to the Muslim elites, as well.

Among other practices, that the Arab adopted is some writing letters and symbols from the Greek culture of the Byzantine people. They also adopted the use of the concepts of mathematics and history study from the interaction with the Byzantine people. In their initial system, the number zero had little value; however, they got a new value for the digit zero and thus, were able to perform difficult computations beyond the previous system of using letters to signify numbers. Therefore, much of Arab literature received much influence from Persia and the empire they conquered. The Greeks also substantially contributed to the Muslim culture in the continuum of philosophy, science and architecture. The Muslims received architectural skills and their style of building from the Greek people of the Byzantine Empire (Van 219). For instance, the Moslem mosque and the Byzantine church of Hagia Sophia were very similar, drawing the relations between the two ancient cultures. The Arab adopted the games of Backgammon, Chess and Polo from the interaction during this conquest.


The conquest of the Early Arabs into the Byzantine Empire in the period from 632 to 750 began when the Arab army gained control over most of the neighboring territories. This interaction between the empires had several impacts in the social development of the empires. These effects on the different societies marked a period of civilization for both cultures, with each of the cultures adopting new traits and practices from the other. Therefore, the interaction influenced the two societies equally, the conqueror and the conquered.

Works cited

Bagnall, Roger S. Egypt in the Byzantine World, 300-700. Cambridge [u.a.: Cambridge Univ.

Press, 2007. Print.

Brownworth, Lars. Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western

Civilization. New York: Crown Publishers, 2010. Print.

Dawson, Timothy, and Angus McBride. Byzantine Infantryman: Eastern Roman Empire C.900-

1204. Oxford: Osprey, 2007. Print.

Levi, Scott C, and Ron Sela. Islamic Central Asia: An Anthology of Historical Sources.

Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010. Print.

Luttwak, Edward. The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap

Press of Harvard University Press, 2009. Print.

Nicolle, David. The Great Islamic Conquests Ad 632-750. Oxford: Osprey, 2009. Print.

Rogan, Eugene L. The Arabs: A History. London: Allen Lane, 2009. Internet resource.

Van, Bladel K.T. The Arabic Hermes: From Pagan Sage to Prophet of Science. Oxford: Oxford

University Press, 2009. Print.

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