Exam preparation materials


One of the most significant influences on cultural interaction and diffusion has been the expansion of empires and the intentional diffusion of religion. Keep in mind that when we say intentional diffusion of religion, we mean methods like missionary work or religious warfare. This is opposed to the natural spread of religious ideas that occurs when people come into contact with each other, like over the trade routes.

Here’s a quick listing of some of the examples discussed in this chapter.

· The Mongol expansion into Russia, Persia, India, and China

· The Germanic tribes into southern Europe and England

· The Vikings’ expansion from Scandinavia into England and western Europe

· The Magyars’ push from eastern Europe into western Europe

· The Islamic Empire’s push into Spain, India, and Africa

· The Crusades

· Buddhist missionaries to Japan

· Orthodox Christian missionaries into eastern Europe

When you think about it, the bulk of this chapter is about two things: the expansion of religion and empires leading to cultural contact, or the relative isolationism that resulted under the feudal systems in Europe and Japan. Another way to encapsulate this period: a time fueled by conquest and religious expansion. We’ve talked a lot about the efforts of expansionists that succeeded. We need to give you some more details about the efforts of some expansionists that didn’t succeed, namely, the crusaders.

The Playground Isn’t Big Enough for Two Bullies: Crusaders and Jihad

You’ll recall that in the Middle Ages, the Islamic Empire expanded, and the Moors conquered much of Spain. The Christians felt threatened by the expansion of the Muslims, especially as Islam became entrenched in areas that the Christians identified with historically. So, in 1096 C.E. Pope Urban initiated the First Crusade in response to the success of the Seljuk Turks, who took control of the Holy Land (present-day Israel and Palestine). The Pope wanted Jerusalem, the most important city in Christianity, to be in the hands of Christians. He was also hoping that the efforts would help reunite the Roman Catholic Church with the Eastern Orthodox Church in Constantinople, which had split apart 50 years before the start of the crusades. The crusaders immediately set out to conquer the Holy Land, and initially captured several cities, including Antioch and, most important, Jerusalem. However, both cities quickly fell back into the hands of the Arabs.

Through the year 1204 C.E., a total of four crusades failed to produce results, and the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church separated even further (five more crusades followed, but were not successful in achieving major goals). As mentioned earlier, in the Fourth Crusade the Catholic Church sacked Constantinople and established a short-lived Latin Empire there (most of the crusaders either died or returned to Europe). The impact on the Holy Land was violence and uncertainty. Most of the region remained in the hands of the Muslim Arabs, and the whole mess led to centuries of mistrust and intolerance between Christians and Muslims.

As you think about global interaction through conquest, there’s much to point out about the Crusades. First, the Crusades were not only motivated by religious beliefs and purposes. There were economic and political incentives as well. No doubt there were some who fought for religious reasons, especially in the early crusades, but the lure of empire and wealth was certainly a major factor for many.

Second, even to the extent that it was a religious effort, the Crusades illustrate that religion, when combined with conquest and feelings of superiority, can be a very bloody enterprise. The death, rape, pillaging, and slavery perpetrated in the name of religion was startling. The same, of course, was true of Islamic conquests in India, Persia, and Africa. Because the religiously devout are sometimes willing to be martyred for their beliefs, intentional religious expansionism can be just as devastating and powerful as a politically driven military invasion.

Third, and perhaps most importantly for the AP, the Crusades prove that even the efforts of conquest and expansion that fail to reach their goals still have a major impact on world history: They lead to interaction between cultures that might not otherwise interact. The Crusades put Europe back into the sphere of the Eastern Mediterranean for centuries. That interaction fueled trade and an exchange of ideas. It also led to western Europe’s rediscovery of its ancient past, which was being preserved by the Byzantine and Islamic Empires. That rediscovery fueled huge changes in Europe, which we’ll talk about in the next chapter.

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