Posted: Thursday, June 21, 2012
Born in Mecca and raised in Medina, the two most holy sites of Islam, the fifth caliph, Abd Al Malik Ibn Marwan, spearheaded the creation of many of the institutions that centralized the Islamic empire around his capital in Damascus and asserted its independence from Byzantine traditions.
Posted: Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Although al-Walid ibn Yazid, known as al-Walid II (r. 743–744), ruled for only a year, he is nonetheless one of the most colorful Umayyad caliphs. A grandson of Abd al-Malik, builder of the Dome of the Rock, he is recorded in historical sources as a proverbial man about town. His behavior was considered so profligate that he was passed over in succession to grandfather's throne. Instead, his uncle Hisham became caliph and al-Walid retired to his desert qasr to pass his time in song and pleasure among a retinue of his favorite drinking companions.
Posted: Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Emperor Heraclius (ca. 575–641) came to power in 610 after instigating an overthrow of the reputedly tyrannical Emperor Phokas. Entering Constantinople, so the story goes, Heraclius captured Phocas and demanded: "Is this how you have ruled, wretch?" The belittled emperor replied, "And will you rule better?"
Posted: Thursday, May 3, 2012
At the age of seven, Symeon Stylites the Younger expressed his religious fervor by ascending a pillar (stylos). In 541 he moved to a pillar located at a site called the Wondrous Mountain, eleven miles west of Antioch, Syria. Ascetic monks like Symeon, known as "stylites," resided on the top of tall pillars—where they were exposed to rain, snow, and wind—as a way to disengage from the sinful world.1 The men attracted a number of pilgrims, as evidenced by several tokens featuring images of stylites.
Posted: Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Scholars have debated whether Saint Shenoute of Atripe lived from 332–451 or 350–466—an astonishing length of time in either case—but all agree that he was one of the most important monastic reformers the Coptic Church has ever known.
Posted: Thursday, April 5, 2012
Struggles of succession plagued the community of Muslims in the decades after the Prophet Muhammed's death in 632 A.D. The first four Muslim leaders, known as the Rashidun, or "Rightly Guided" caliphs, did not succeed by birth, but rather were chosen by council or because of a personal relationship to the Prophet. The period was marked by strident disagreements about legitimacy of individual caliphs and about the proper practice of Islam.
Posted: Thursday, March 22, 2012
Few figures embody the transitional spirit of the seventh and eighth centuries A.D. as fully as does John of Damascus. His life gives a sense of the multicultural milieu of the early Islamic city and its diverse population of Christians and Muslims, Arabs and Greeks.