Sally Fitzgibbons Foundation

Beginning the Academic Essay

The Byzantine Empire was the remaining land of the Eastern Roman Empire that fell in 450 AD. Constantine I, rebuilt the empire, reintroduced Christianity and moved the capital to Constantinople. The Byzantine Empire had many enemies who included the Persians, European barbarians, and central Asian nomads. With the help of the Christian Church, they solidified and solved their problems. Through a system of tithes, the Christian Church received a lot of money and their sense of religious unity helped the government increase its power over the people. On the other side, Islam began in Mecca in 610 A.D. after Mohammed experienced an angelic visitation from Angel Gabriel. Muhammad made it his life mission to spread and teach what was dictated on the Qur’an. After his death, the Muslim community had no leader as he left no successor. This is when caliphs were born, which became the leaders of caliphates. Caliphates grew rapidly through conquest and used religion to further expand and govern (Jones).
Although the Islamic Caliphate and Byzantine Empire had substantially different legal systems, they were quite similar when using religion to govern during the post-classical period. Both empires appointed their religious leaders as the political leader, united people through religion to justify expansion, and gained public support for embracing the religion which made it easier to govern.
To begin with, the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic Caliphates appointed their religious leaders as political leaders too. The Byzantine Empire used a system of Caesaropapism, where the Emperor is also the head of the Church, therefore, the state and church are intertwined (Jones). The church was viewed and treated as a department of state or as part of the government. The Byzantine government had a lot of control over the church. They chose the Patriarch of Constantinople which included bishops, priests, and patriarchs. These religious authorities had to give specific sermons which encourage Christians to follow and support the government (“Byzantine Religion”). For the Islamic Caliphates, their leader was called a caliph or “successor of Muhammad.” The caliph was in charge of the political and religious affairs, their duty was to maintain peace and uphold the law, and they had to be linked, by blood, to Mohammed’s Quraysh tribe. After Muhammad’s death, the only guidance he left were the laws of Islam itself, saying the religious and political aspects had to operate as one (Hays).
The Byzantine Empire and the Islamic Caliphates used religion to unite people and then expand their territories. After the eastern Roman Empire fell in 450 AD, the Byzantine Empire took that land under its power. Even though Rome, which was part of the Byzantine Empire, already practiced Christianity, the Byzantine government further strengthened its relationship with the church, to later get advantages from the institution. The empires goal was to further expand their territory and eventually gain control of the land that the Western Roman Empire had lost before, with the help of the Church (“Byzantine Religion” ). To do this, under Emperor Justinian used Christian teachings to spread the faith and gain control of new territories. The Church had a lot of money and a sense of unity which helped the government in many ways. Leaders were able to mobilize armies to defend the religion which led to further expansion of territory (Jones).
Similarly, the Islamic caliphate used their beliefs and ideas to expand their territory. Islam began small in Mecca before spreading to all Middle East and North Africa. After Muhammed died, Muslims used the excuse of a Jihad or holy war to spread their faith and expand their territory. The Muslim army was quick and successful, which was the main reason they expanded. However, as the Arabs offered generous terms in return that Islam would be practiced on conquered places, their people were gladly joined and followed the government orders. The Islamic administration was simple and honest, something that was not common at the time. As people were tired of the corruption and persecution that happened in many empires, they preferred to join the Islamic Caliphate. Also, many passages from the Quran indicate how the military should act against non-muslims, which was in a peaceful, nonviolent matter(“Early Rise Islam”).
For a government and country to operate well, everyone has to be on the same page. As the government and the population supported the Christian Church and followed their beliefs, everyone has the same idea. This helped the government gain public support and prevent any revolutions. Emperor Leo used religious reforms in an attempt to retain followers that were lost during the Roman Empire’s decline. He sent missionaries to spread the faith and encourage people to convert to Christianity. He was able to get to Russia where he converted the Kievan Varangian rulers of the Slavs to Christianity. They also managed to spread the Greek language and Roman imperial system through their empire (Jones).
The Islamic Caliphate and Byzantine Empire had substantially different legal systems. The Islamic Caliphate followed the laws written in the Sharia Law. This law combines elements from the Quran, Muhammad’s life and assorted legal precedents (Jones). Muslims followed these laws because they believed everything that was written in the Quran and Sharia was true and right. They also believed only God could make laws (Hays), therefore they can’t follow any laws coming from any human being or government with a democracy (Schirrmacher). On the other hand, the Byzantine Empire took the Roman law and codified it. They did this because the people were already used to the Roman laws as the Byzantine Empire obtained the old Roman territory. They did make some changes, but they were minimal to ensure that the population would coincide with the government and avoid possible problems. (Jones).
In conclusion, the Byzantine Empire and Islamic caliphate used religion to develop, expand their territory, govern peacefully and keep the people united. They did this by appointing their religious leaders as political leaders, spreading religion while expanding territory at the same time and creating a sense of unity between the people and the government through the practice of religion.

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