Lebanon's History

Medieval Lebanon

| The Arab Conquest, 634-36 |
| The Umayyads, 660-750 |
| The Abbasids, 750-1258 |
| Impact of Arab Rule |
| The Crusades, 1095-1291 |
| The Mamluks, 1282-1516 |
| Summary |


The Arab Conquest, 634-36

The followers of the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam, embarked on a movement to establish their religious and civil control throughout the eastern Mediterranean from their base in the Arabian Peninsula. Their determination to conquer other lands resulted both from economic necessity and from religious beliefs, which imbued them with contempt for death.

Calling for a jihad (holy war) against non-Muslims, the Prophet's successor, Caliph Abu Bakr (632-34), brought Islam to the area surrounding Lebanon. Dividing his forces into three groups, he ordered one to move in the direction of Palestine, one toward Damascus, and one toward the Jordan River. The Arab groups under General Khalid ibn al Walid defeated the forces from in 636 at the Battle of Yarmuk in northwestern Jordan.

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The Umayyads, 660-750

After the Battle of Yarmuk, Caliph Umar appointed the Arab Muawiyah, founder of the Umayyad dynasty, as governor of Syria, an area that included present-day Lebanon. Muawiyah garrisoned troops on the Lebanese coast and had the Lebanese shipbuilders help him construct a navy to resist any potential Byzantine attack. He also stopped raids by the Marada, a powerful people who had settled in the Lebanese mountains and who were used by the Byzantine rulers to prevent any Arab invasion that would threaten the Byzantine Empire. Concerned with consolidating his authority in Arabia and Iraq, Muawiyah negotiated an agreement in 667 with Constantine IV, the Byzantine emperor, whereby he agreed to pay Constantine an annual tribute in return for the cessation of Marada incursions. During this period some of the Arab tribes settled in the Lebanese and Syrian coastal areas.

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The Abbasids, 750-1258

The Abbasids, founded by the Arab Abul Abbas, replaced the Umayyads in early 750. They treated Lebanon and Syria as conquered countries, and their harshness led to several revolts, including an abortive rebellion of Lebanese mountaineers in 759. By the end of the tenth century, the amir of Tyre proclaimed his independence from the Abbasids and coined money in his own name. However, his rule was terminated by the Fatimids of Egypt, an independent Arab Muslim dynasty.

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Impact of Arab Rule

Arab rule under the Umayyads and Abbasids had a profound impact on the eastern Mediterranean area and, to a great degree, was responsible for the composition of modern Lebanese society. It was during this period that Lebanon became a refuge for various ethnic and religious groups. The presence of these diverse, cohesive groups led to the eventual emergence of the Lebanese confessional state, whereby different religious communities were represented in the government according to their numerical strength.

The ancestors of the present-day Maronites were among the Christian communities that settled in Lebanon during this period. To avoid feuds with other Christian sects in the area, these followers of Saint John Maron moved from the upper valley of the Orontes River and settled in the picturesque Qadisha Valley, located in the northern Lebanon Mountains, about twenty-five kilometers southeast of Tripoli.

Lebanon also became the refuge for a small Christian group called Melchites, living in northern and central Lebanon. Influenced by the Greek Christian theology of Constantinople, they accepted the controversial decrees of the Council of Chalcedon, the fourth ecumenical council of the church held in 451. As a result of missionary activity by the Roman Catholic Church, some were later drawn away from this creed and became known as Greek Catholics because Greek is the language of their liturgy. They lived mainly in the central part of the Biqa Valley.

During the Arab era, still another religious faith found sanctuary in Lebanon. After Al Hakim (996-1021), the Fatimid caliph of Egypt, proclaimed himself an incarnation of God, two of his followers, Hamza and Darazi, formulated the dogmas for his cult. Darazi left Egypt and continued to preach these tenets after settling in southern Lebanon. His followers became known as Druzes; along with Christians and Muslims, they constitute major communities in modern Lebanon.

Under the Abbasids, philosophy, literature, and the sciences received great attention, especially during the caliphate of Harun ar Rashid and that of his son, Al Mamun. Lebanon made a notable contribution to this intellectual renaissance. The physician Rashid ad Din, the jurist Al Awazi, and the philosopher Qusta ibn Luqa were leaders in their respective disciplines. The country also enjoyed an economic boom in which the Lebanese harbors of Tyre and Tripoli were busy with shipping as the textile, ceramic, and glass industries prospered. Lebanese products were sought after not only in Arab countries but also throughout the Mediterranean Basin.

In general, Arab rulers were tolerant of Christians and Jews, both of whom were assessed special taxes and were exempted from military service. Later, under the Ottoman Empire, the practice developed of administering non-Muslim groups as separate communities called millets. In the late-1980s, this system continued; each religious community was organized under its own head and observed its own laws pertaining to matters such as divorce and inheritance.

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The Crusades, 1095-1291 The occupation of the Christian holy places in Palestine and the destruction of the Holy Sepulcher by Caliph Al Hakim led to a series of eight campaigns, known as the Crusades, undertaken by Christians of western Europe to recover the Holy Land from the Muslims. The first Crusade was proclaimed by Pope Urban II in 1095 at the Council of Clermont-Ferrand in France. After taking Jerusalem, the Crusaders turned their attention to the Lebanese coast. Tripoli capitulated in 1109; Beirut and Sidon, in 1110. Tyre stubbornly resisted but finally capitulated in 1124 after a long siege.

Although they failed to establish a permanent presence, the Crusaders left their imprint on Lebanon. Among the conspicuous results of the Crusades, which ended with the fall of Acre in 1291, are the remains of many towers along the coast, ruins of castles on hills and mountain slopes, and numerous churches.

Of all the contacts established by the Crusaders with the peoples of the Middle East, those with the Maronites of Lebanon were among the most enduring. They acquainted the Maronites with European influences and made them more receptive to friendly approaches from Westerners. During this period the Maronites were brought into a union with the Holy See, a union that survived in the late 1980s. France was a major participant in the Crusades, and French interest in the region and its Christian population dates to this period.

Bitter conflicts among the various regional and ethnic groups in Lebanon and Syria characterized the thirteenth century. The Crusaders, who came from Europe, the Mongols, who came from the steppes of Central Asia, and the Mamluks, who came from Egypt, all sought to be masters in the area. In this hard and confused struggle for supremacy, victory came to the Mamluks.

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The Mamluks, 1282-1516

The Mamluks were a combination of Turkoman slaves from the area east of the Caspian Sea and Circassian slaves from the Caucasus Mountains between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea. They were brought in by the Muslim Ayyubid sultans of Egypt to serve as their bodyguards. One of these slaves, Muez-Aibak, assassinated the Ayyubid sultan, Al Ashraf Musa, in 1252 and founded the Mamluk sultanate, which ruled Egypt and Syria for more than two centuries.

From the eleventh to the thirteenth century, the Shia Muslims migrated from Syria, Iraq, and the Arabian Peninsula and to the northern part of the Biqa Valley and to the Kasrawan Region in the mountains northeast of Beirut. They and the Druzes rebelled in 1291 while the Mamluks were busy fighting European Crusaders and Mongols, but after repelling the invaders, the Mamluks crushed the rebellion in 1308. To escape from repression and massacres by the Mamluks, the Shias abandoned Kasrawan and moved to southern Lebanon.

The Mamluks indirectly fostered relations between Europe and the Middle East even after the fall of the Byzantine Empire. The Europeans, accustomed to luxury items from the Middle East, strongly desired both its raw materials and its manufactured products, and the people of the Middle East wished to exploit the lucrative European market. Beirut, favored by its geographical location, became the center of intense trading activity. Despite religious conflicts among the different communities in Lebanon, intellectual life flourished, and economic prosperity continued until Mamluk rule was ended by the Ottoman Turks.

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Summary

The seeds of Lebanon's religious strife and civil war in the 20th century were planted during the Middle Ages.

Christianity arrived in the 4th century A.D., while Lebanon was ruled by the eastern Roman Empire, whose capital was Byzantium. Most Lebanese Christians are members of the Maronite Church, founded by St. Maro of Syria. The church follows the Roman Catholic religion but has its own priests.

In a development that would later tear Lebanon apart, the religion of Islam emerged, founded by the prophet Mohammed. Muslim soldiers leave Arabia in the early 7th century A.D. to conquer much of the Middle East, including Lebanon. Featuring an emphasis on conversion and expansion, the Muslims conquered Lebanon in the 7th century. More than half the Lebanese people today are Muslims.

Two branches of Islam emerged, the Shi`ite and the Sunni, which had different views on how new leaders of Islam should be chosen. Shi`ites believed that only descendants of Mohammed should be leaders. Sunnis believed elected caliphs (religious leaders) should have power.

A Sunni group, the Umayyads, gained control of Lebanon and ruled for 100 years. Then another Arab family, the Abbasids, gained control. Christians took to the mountains to maintain their identity during this time of strong Muslim leadership. Under the Muslims, Lebanon propspered as a shipping center, producer of glass, textiles, wood and pottery, and as an intellectual center.

Also under Arab rule, the language of Lebanon became Arabic.

Lebanon provided ships and sailors to the Umayyads, their rulers, in their wars with the Byzantines. Byzantium kept trying to gain parts of northern Lebanon.

Crusading Christians from Europe wanted to recapture Israel, Christianity's birthplace, from the Muslims. During a series of attacks, the crusaders captured Tripoli, Beirut, Sidon and Tyre in the early 11 00s.

But in 1187. the Mamluks defeated the Christians and took control of Lebanon. The Mamluks had been soldier-slaves in Egypt who ended up conquering their masters. Their realm also included Syria and they ruled until the beginning of the 1500s.

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Source:
Federal Research Division - Library of Congress (Edited by Thomas Collelo, December 1987)
Encyclopedia Britannica



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1997-2001 by Ayman Ghazi
ayman@ghazi.de
Last changes: September 30, 1997