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Chapter 9: Islam and the Eastern Roman Empire
The next significant event after the fall of the Western Roman Empire was the spread of Islam. It was founded by the "Prophet" Mohammed in the early 7th century.
9:1 And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit.
9:2 And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit.
The Arab armies, guided by the spiritual teachings of the Prophet and the Koran, went on to spread those teachings to the whole world.
9:3 And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power.
Their official purpose was not to conquer lands and plunder the wealth of the cities, but to convert the "infidels", those who did not believe in Allah and His Prophet.
9:4 And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads.
The Arabs' way of expanding their territory was not based on subjugation of local populations. Instead, with the aid of the Koran, they assimilated the people of the lands that they conquered. If they failed to convert the local populations, they would annihilate them. The formerly Christian areas of Syria, Palestine and Egypt, as well as all of North Africa and a large part of the Iberian peninsula, gradually became Muslim, and only a small part of the population remained Christian. Conversion to Islam was a painful process for the people who lived in those religious times.
9:5 And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man.
Mohammed started receiving his visions of the angel Gabriel in the year 610. In the year 613 he started preaching his new religion. Shortly after that, missions were sent to spread Islam to other lands. Mohammed assembled an army, which eventually occupied all of Arabia and, in the 630's, reached the borders of the Byzantine Empire. All of the cities of the Hellenistic world in the Middle East, like Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, etc., fell to the Muslims. The Muslim armies were unstoppable; they swept through North Africa and occupied the Iberian peninsula, reaching as far as southwestern France. This is what the Arab Caliphate looked like in 750:
The Arabs were defeated for the first time by the Frankish King Charles Martel in 732. In 750, the Abbasid dynasty came to power in Damascus, the Capital of the Caliphate, replacing the Umayyad one. However, Umayyad rule continued in the Iberian peninsula. In other words, after the year 750, the Caliphate was divided. Around 762-3, the city of Baghdad was founded and was made Capital of the new Abbasid Caliphate. The centre of gravity of the Caliphate thus moved further away from Europe. After that time, relations between the Caliphate and Christian Europe stabilized, and decline began to set in throughout the ever dividing Arab world. This is what the Arab world looked like at the end of the 9th century:
From 613 to 763, 150 years passed, or five prophetic "months", each comprising 30 years (according to the "day-year" principle of Ezekiel). If we use the ancient way of counting (i.e. counting both the first and last year and all in between), 150 years can be counted from 613 to 762. The actual time of continuous Arabian expansion was a few decades shorter, though, but, again according to the ancients' way of estimating time, a period of, let's say, four months and a few days would be counted as five months.
The Arabs did not wish to spend energy on keeping subdued peoples from revolting. The deal was "convert (and become one of us) or die". The Christians did not want to convert to Islam, and they certainly did not want to be killed by the Arab invaders. They wanted to keep their religion, even if they had to live under Muslim occupation. But that was not possible.
9:6 And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.
In this chapter, "death" means subjugation.
The Arabs were famous for their cavalry; Arabian horses are admired for their beauty and strength even today. Owing to their cavalry, they were conquering one territory after the other and seemed invincible. They wore turbans and, even though they were tough men, they had long hair.
9:7 And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle; and on their heads were as it were crowns like gold, and their faces were as the faces of men.
9:8 And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions.
9:9 And they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle.
Their most fearsome weapon was not their swords, but the teachings of the Koran, which gave them strength and courage to go on conquering, and helped them assimilate the inhabitants of the territories that they invaded. So, through these teachings, working their way into human minds slowly like poison, and not through the swiftness of the sword, did the Arabs succeed in their undertaking.
9:10 And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails: and their power was to hurt men five months.
They were led by the teachings of the Koran, which called for a conversion of both Jews and Christians to Islam.
9:11 And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon.
Islam proved destructive (Apollyon = destroyer) for both Jews and (mainly Greek Orthodox) Christians. That's why the "angel of the bottomless pit" has both a Greek and a Hebrew name. This is a point to remember for the analysis of chapter 16.
And so ends the Arabian "plague". After 763, the Caliphate was divided, was in decline, and never again gained the momentum it had before.
9:12 One woe is past; and, behold, there come two woes more hereafter.The Turks
The Eastern Roman, now Byzantine, Empire survived the advent of the Arabs, as well as that of other invaders. But it was not to survive the invasion of another fearsome people, the Turks.
9:13 And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God,
9:14 Saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates.
The tribe of the Seljuk Turks was founded by the warrior Seljuk, whose one son and three nephews founded the Great Seljuk Empire, stretching through Persia and Mesopotamia. In the late 1050's, the Caliph of Baghdad came under Seljuk "protection". In the year 1063, the Turkish Sultan Toghrul-Begh, Seljuk's nephew, died and was succeeded by his own nephew, Alp-Arslan. By 1064 the latter had crossed the Euphrates into the Empire. In 1067 he took the great city of Caesarea, in 1068 he took Iconium and, in 1071, he won a decisive victory at Mantzikert. From that day on, the Turks would cause Byzantine borders to shrink until May 29th, 1453, when Constantinople fell to another Turkish tribe, the Ottomans. The last "third" of the Empire was gone, and the third and final stage of the Empire's destruction was complete. Here is a map showing the Ottoman expansion:
9:15 And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men.
From 1063 to 1453 there were 391 years, using the ancient way of counting. A prophetic year (360 years) plus a prophetic month (30 years) plus a prophetic day (1 year) plus a prophetic hour (1 month) is 391 years and one month. From 1064 to 1453, though, 390 years can be counted. It is reasonable, though, to count from Alp-Arslan's ascension to power. I am also not sure about the exact time the definitive invasion of the Empire began, but it was either in 1063 or in 1064.
The Turks, in contrast to the Arabs, did not succeed in converting the Christians of the territories that they occupied to Islam. The Greeks, the Serbs, the Bulgarians, the Romanians and the Armenians were never assimilated by the Turks. So the Turkish presence in these formerly Byzantine territories was in fact an occupation force, and so it remained for many centuries, until the aforementioned peoples fought for and gained their independence. This long occupation is what is meant by the "slaying" of "the third part of men". The Arabs, having assimilated the local populations, never had to deal with such issues, and that's why it is said that they didn't engage in "killing". Likewise, after the invasions in the West (chapter 8), the invaders didn't keep the old inhabitants of the Western Empire in subjugation, but mingled with them, and that's why it is only said that a "third" of the trees, grass, etc. were destroyed, but the "third part of men" was not killed.
9:16 And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them.
The main Turkish groups responsible for the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire were (1) the Seljuks and (2) the Ottomans. In the original Greek text, it says "two myriads of myriads" and not "two hundred thousand thousand". A myriad (10,000) of Turkish soldiers (a myriad is often associated with an army, e.g. in Xenophon's "Descent of the 10,000"), multiplied by itself, because of the soldiers' bravery and effectiveness (a rather arbitrary move), produces 100,000,000 soldiers. If both Seljuks and Ottomans are accounted for, we have 200,000,000 soldiers (symbolically). And the Turks, like the Arabs, had a strong cavalry.
The Ottoman warriors wore mostly the colours red, blue and yellow ("fire, jacinth and brimstone"). This can be clearly seen in many drawings dating from Ottoman times. Here is a drawing of two Ottoman jenissaries and a military officer:
The siege of Constantinople was one of the first battles in history in which cannons and gunpowder were used (they had been used for the first time about a century earlier).
9:17 And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone.
Thus fell the last "third" of the Empire. The third and final stage of the Empire's destruction was thus complete, the other two being the invasions in the West and the Arab expansion.
9:18 By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths.
But the Ottomans' power lay not only in their cannons, but in the Koran as well. The Turks renewed the fervour for the spread of Islam, which had in the meantime died down.
9:19 For their power is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt.
The rest of Europe remained pretty much Christian, but it was a far from angelic Christianity. Pagan practices and superstitions were flourishing in the Church (see also chapters 2 and 12 for more on the metaphorical "idol worship" in the Church), crimes were being committed in the name of Christ and, most notably, spiritual "whoredom" abounded in these far from enlightened times, as is explained in the analysis of chapters 2 and 17.
9:20 And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk:
9:21 Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.
It was time for a spiritual awakening.