600 ce – 1450 ce the Life of Muhammad

Muslim Caliphates of the Post-classical Era

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4. Muslim Caliphates of the Post-classical Era

You need to know the general characteristics of the Muslim Caliphates, especially in terms of expansion of influence, the blending of cultures, and the influence of Islam on conquered peoples. Additionally, you will need to understand how Muslim advances in science and math had an impact on the West.


Specific characteristics

Significance/general patterns


        • 661 CE: Umayyad family comes to power (Sunni)

        • capital in Damascus, Syria

        • emphasized Arabic ethnicity (Arabs more privileges than non-Arab Muslims)

        • People of the Book allowed freedom of worship

        • Poverty gap, sometimes caused rebellions

        • Overthrow of dynasty in 750 CE

        • Islam blends government with religion

        • Muslim caliphates worked to expand Muslim influence in Africa, Asia, and Europe through military campaigns

        • Muslims preserved Western traditions that were lost to Europe at that time

        • Muslim advances and innovations had a profound affect as they spread to Europe by means of trade (and later, the Crusades)

        • Social structure: increasing poverty gap that led to rebellions

        • Women in Islam: as Muslims came into contact with other civilizations, particularly Mesopotamia and India, they tended to adopt more restrictive ideas about women

        • The teachings of Islam reached most of the world’s population at that time and all major trade routes ran through Muslim lands

        • None of these caliphates succeeded in bridging the gap between Sunni and Shi’ite



        • 750 CE: Abbasids come to power (Shi’ite)

        • capital at Baghdad, Iraq

        • equal status for all Muslims

        • trade increased

        • preservation and use of ancient Greek, Roman, and Persian philosophies (logic, art, architecture, literature); advances in math and science

        • adoption of Indian “Arabic” numerals; transmission of these numbers to the West

        • discoveries: astrolabe, maps of stars, optic surgery

        • growth of cities

        • emphasis on learning; universities built

        • art: calligraphy, arabesques for writing and pottery; new architecture: minarets; literary achievements

        • Religion: mystic Sufis establish missions to spread Islam

        • High taxes

        • Territory so large, hard to manage: kingdoms arose within empire, headed by Sultans

        • Sultan of Persia took control from Abbasids, eventually conquered by Seljuk Turks

        • Official end of Abbasids with the Mongol invasions in the 13th century


        • 711 CE: Berbers from North Africa conquer Iberian Peninsula, allies of Umayyads

        • Expansion into Western Europe, stopped with defeat at Tours (in France, 732 CE)

        • capital at Cordoba

        • preserved Greco-Roman traditions and blended them with new advances from the Muslim world

        • Prosperity through trade

        • Impact of Arabic culture on Spain/Europe (words and knowledge)

Mamluk Dyansties

        • 13th century: Mamluks establish control over Egypt after fall of Abbasids

        • Mamluks: converts to Islam, strict observance of Islam

        • Maintain the security of trade routes through Egypt, allow Egypt to be prosperous and powerful until Egypt’s fall to the Ottomans

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