The importance of christianity and islam in the creation and expansion of empires essay sample

When Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th Century AD, it became the most important influence in European history for over 1, 000 years, and this endured long after the Roman Empire itself had ceased to exist in the West. Christianity continued to play this vital role in the Holy Roman Empire created by Charlemagne, and all the later European empires as they expanded to the New World, Asia and Africa. From the time of Christopher Columbus onward, all the great conquerors and explorers asserted that the expansion of the Christian religion was one of the major goals, even though they also had more material interests like plunder, gold and slaves. Islam became the most formidable rival of Christianity among world religions, and from the time of the first Arab Empire created after the death of Muhammad down through the many wars with the Ottoman Empire, the two world religions struggled for control of the planet. Many wars have been fought in the names of these two religions, and many empires were founded and grow under their influence.
During the Late Empire after Constantine, Christianity became the official state religion, and after the time of Emperor Theodosius I, the only religion allowed. Edward Gibbon believed that the Western Empire was actually weakened by Christianity, such many Romans who still believed in the old gods or other religions withdrew their loyalty from the state. In addition, there were constant conflicts between different factions of Christians like the Gnostics and the Arians, and even when many of the German tribes were converted it was mostly to the Arian version, which was considered ‘ heretical’ and unorthodox by the Catholic Church. Diocletian, the last important non-Christian emperor, thought the new religion was divisive and had brought down the wrath of the gods. He attempted to destroy it completely and launched the most massive persecution against the Christians yet seen in the Roman Empire, but in the West Constantine and his family and supporters were already sympathetic to Christianity. After Diocletian abdicated, Constantine was the victor in the latest round of civil wars, and not only converted to Christianity but made it the official state religion. Indeed, the organization of the Catholic Church itself, with bishops controlling dioceses (provinces) under the control of a pope-emperor, was modeled after the Roman state.
Perhaps the most important thinker of the Late Roman Empire was the Christian theologian Augustine, Bishop of Carthage (Hippo) in North Africa. Alaric, king of the Visigoths, had once been an ally of the Romans and assisted them in defeating other Germanic invaders, but he turned on Rome when he concluded that his services had not been rewarded adequately, and in 410 AD captured the city of Rome itself. Augustine was a loyal Roman and duly appalled by such a development. In response, though, he wrote City of God, which reminded Christians that their true home was in heaven and that the Kingdom of God was eternal, regardless of the fate of earthly cities and empires. At the time of his deaths, the Vandals had already taken over most of North Africa and were besieging Hippo, so it was quite clear that the Western Roman Empire was in severe decline. Yet other empires and nations would eventually be founded in the name of Christianity, in Europe and overseas.
When Europe had fragmented and disintegrated into feudalism, the Islamic world was experiencing a Golden Age of science, philosophy, commerce, architecture and medicine, and also preserved much of the ancient Greek and Roman knowledge that had been lost in the West. Within 100 years of the death of Muhammad, the Arab-Islamic Empire had conquered a truly vast territory, from Spain to the borders of China, and come close to taking over all of Europe. For the Arabs, this was the Golden Age of science, medicine, philosophy and mathematics, to which they still look back longingly after centuries of being humiliated and controlled by other imperial powers. Over time, though, their empire fragmented and divided, and thus left itself open to conquest by other powers. Early Islam was a highly tolerant and pluralistic religion, and acknowledged that its teachings had a great deal in common with Christianity and Judaism. According to the Qu’ran , God is omnipotent and omniscient who created the entire universe in six days simply by willing them into existence. Islam offered redemption to those who believed in God and submitted to his will, as well as eternal punishment in hell for those who chose evil. Muhammad did not live to see the creation of this great empire and global religion, and at the time of his death the new faith had not yet spread out of Arabia. His main contribution to history therefore was to establish the basic principles of the new religion such as the Five Pillars and well as composing its most important book, the Qu’ran. He did not claim to be a miracle worker or a semi-divine being, but only the final Prophet in history who transmitted the true revelation of God to humanity. Christian Europe would continue to fight wars against the Muslims for centuries, and its explorers also sought out new trade routes to evade the regions under their control.
Every single one of the conquerors and explorers who sailed from Europe from the 15th Century onward claimed that spreading the Christian religion to the rest of the world was one of their primary goals. At the same time, they were also looking for new trade routes to avoid the areas controlled by the Muslim powers, which were still very formidable at that time. By accident of history, Spain established the largest and wealthiest empire in the New World in the 16th Century, while Britain and France only established their colonies in the 17th Century. Thanks to the voyages of Christopher Columbus from 1492 onward, and the conquest of Mexico and Peru by Hernan Cortez and Francisco Pizarro in the 1520s and 1530s, the Spanish Empire ruled all of South America except Brazil, Mexico and most of Central America, the western third of what later became the United States as well as Cuba, Florida, Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo. Columbus had not expected to find these two unknown continents that would later be called North and South America, since his main mission had been to find new trade routes to Asia, avoiding the regions controlled by the Turks. Indeed, it took Europeans at least a century to fully comprehend just how vast these territories really were, and even longer to discover that there was no water route from them to Asia. Gold and silver from these conquered territories made Spain the wealthiest country in Europe at the time, and arguably the first superpower, while Britain and France showed much less enthusiasm for overseas exploration and colonization in 16th Century, and had to be content with the regions of North America that appeared to be far less wealthy than New Spain. At the same time, Spain used its wealth from the New World to fight religious wars against the Protestants and stamp out the Reformation, since its Catholic Hapsburg rulers regarded its doctrines as ‘ heretical’
Columbus was hardly the hero that he was later portrayed to be, and like Cortez and Pizarro was ruthless in his treatment of Native Americans, even as they all claimed to be Christianizing them and saving their souls. Like all of them, he was insatiable in his desire for gold and silver, and began the practice of treating the indigenous peoples as slave labor. Due to warfare, disease epidemics and slavery in the 16th and 17th Centuries, the Native population fell by 80-90%, and in some areas was so decimated that African slaves were imported as replacement labor. Columbus himself was already familiar with the African slave trade from his time as a merchant and introduced this practice to the Americas. It became most-important in the sugar-producing areas like Brazil and the islands of the West ideas, and of course for the production of tobacco, cotton and rice in the southern areas of North America.