The Venture of Islam: The Expansion of Islam in the Middle Periods - Conscience and History in a World Civilisation / Edition 1

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The Venture of Islam has been honored as a magisterial work of the mind since its publication in early 1975. In this three-volume study, illustrated with charts and maps, Hodgson traces and interprets the historical development of Islamic civilization from before the birth of Muhammad to the middle of the twentieth century. This work grew out of the famous course on Islamic civilization that Hodgson created and taught for many years at the University of Chicago.

In this concluding volume of The Venture of Islam, Hodgson describes the second flowering of Islam: the Safavi, Timuri, and Ottoman empires. The final part of the volume analyzes the widespread Islamic heritage in today's world.

"This is a nonpareil work, not only because of its command of its subject but also because it demonstrates how, ideally, history should be written."—The New Yorker

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226346854
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/1977
  • Series: Venture of Islam Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 476
  • Sales rank: 786,678
  • Product dimensions: 5.94 (w) x 9.04 (h) x 1.03 (d)

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The Venture of Islam, Volume 3: The Gunpowder Empires and Modern Times

Conscience and History in a World Civilization

By Marshall G. S. Hodgson

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 1974 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-34685-4


The safavî Empire: Triumph of the Shî'ah, 1503–1722

The military patronage states of the Later Middle Period, growing out of Mongol notions of greatness, had begun to take advantage of the political openings that appeared in a politically amorphous network of personal contracts and patron relations presided over by the Sharî'ah and by the amîrs. In contrast to China, where the Mongol notions of empire had little future, in Islamdom they found excellent soil. Such notions could fully mature and create great stable bureaucratic empires only after gunpowder weapons and their specialized technology attained a primary place in military life. This happened between about 1450 and 1550. The new empires that resulted all had some degree of Mongol tradition in their background—even the Ottomans had first appeared under Mongol overlordship—and their institutions bear considerable family resemblance.

But they were not merely the culmination of the military patronage state. To some degree, I think, they marked a resurgence in Islamdom of ideals associated with agrarian predominance: of the ideal of the great absolute monarch, in particular, and of stable class stratification, as against the universal egalitarianism embodied in the Sharî'ah and given paradoxical expression in the international political order of the amîrs. The contrast shows but a slight shift of emphasis, for even the amîrs' states had been essentially agrarian, yet it is perceptible. In the Ottoman empire in Europe and the Indo-Timurî empire in India, a strongly agrarian outlook was only natural; but even the central empire, the safavî empire, though the Sawâd no longer played a significant economic role (the Iraq was more important for its shrines from the past than for its current agricultural production), seems to have been marked by an unusually great investment in irrigation works on the Iranian plateau itself. However, this is largely conjectural. We know next to nothing of safavî economic and social history.

The change was introduced almost abruptly by a series of events which were focused, naturally enough, in the central lands of old Islam. The most spectacular event was the rise of the Safavî: empire itself and its imposition of Shî'ism in the centre of Islamdom. This rise, then, coincided with a series of other events, some of which were in part repercussions of the safavî: movement: the expansion of the Ottoman state into a major empire, the erection of the Timurî empire in northern India, the Özbeg conquests in the Oxus basin, and, further afield, the Russian conquests in the Volga regions, the Portuguese penetration into the Southern Seas, and the renewal of 'Alid government in Morocco and thence across the Sahara. Cumulatively these changes amounted to a far-reaching realignment of political forces.

The realignments of gunpowder times: the Portuguese

In the Later Middle Period gunpowder was used for a variety of minor purposes—including military ones—in many parts of the Eastern Hemisphere. From generation to generation its military usefulness was improved almost everywhere. From being of value chiefly for the noise it could make as a means of causing fright—perhaps its original purpose—it came to be used for the propulsion of missiles; in the fifteenth century it was gradually replacing, at least in the Muslim lands and in Christian Europe, the older siege machinery for the purpose of breaking down walls. About 1450, simultaneously among the Ottoman Turks in eastern Europe and among the western Europeans, artillery was shown to be a decisive weapon in siege warfare, and the value of the isolated fortress declined rapidly. Artillery soon became a major factor in field battles as well; meanwhile, hand guns, which an individual foot soldier could carry, were developing in western Europe to such a point that at the end of the century, there, the infantrymen armed with hand guns had become a decisive military arm. The hand-gun troops seem to have been a specially European development; they early had a central role in both Muslim and Christian Europe; they spread more gradually in other parts of Islamdom. But the command of siege and field artillery quickly came to be of fateful significance politically throughout the Dar al-Islâm.

The military use of gunpowder, in its various forms—as is often the case with a basically new weapon—called for a variety of reorganizations in the pre-Modern armies; therewith it put in question any elements of the social pattern that had depended upon the military organization. This did not necessarily mean that old military orders must always give place to new ones; it did mean that there was a crucial struggle in many cases between old corps wishing to retain their special privileged character and new corps that might be in a position to upset this; and adaptability in the use of new weapons would often be decisive in such struggles. Moreover, the implications of the changes in weapons were not restricted entirely to military organization. The relative expensiveness of artillery and the relative untenability of stone fortresses gave an increased advantage over local military garrisons to a well-organized central power which could afford artillery—not always a decisive advantage, to be sure. Perhaps at least as important was that gunpowder weapons seemed to imply, evidently from the start, a continuous development of new techniques; already in thirteenth-century China, military invention followed invention at an unprecedented pace. Those had an advantage who could afford to be abreast of the latest improvements. (This was a foretaste of characteristics of technical specialization which were later to mark off Modernity.) Such advantages for rulers with resources brought with them extensive possibilities for general political change.

Gunpowder was doubtless not the one great decisive factor in the political and social—and ultimately cultural—realignments that occurred in the three generations following 1450; but it played a distinctive role, and perhaps was the most easily identifiable single occasion for them. Probably almost as important was the secular change of balance within Islamdom as a whole between the lands of old Islam in the mid-Arid Zone and the newer lands, often more stably agrarian, which now loomed large in the total Islamicate society—and even the secular deterioration of agricultural prosperity between Nile and Oxus. Nor can we ignore such more specific events as the Portuguese interference in Indian Ocean trade and the advance of Muscovite Russian power. But techniques of gunpowder played a role in both Portuguese and Muscovite advances. The increasingly zealous growth of arîqah Shî'îsm among the Turkic tribes, which also played a role, was itself perhaps a reaction to the political plight of Islamdom in the Later Middle Period. We are not yet in a position to understand the full background of the realignments which took place in the Islamicate society after the advent of gunpowder as a principal weapon.

Some of their consequences are easier to trace. We have already noted some consequences of the new situation in the Maghrib and the west Sûdânic lands: consequences that can be traced largely to the new role of gunpowder in building empires. The Portuguese and Castillian advance in Spain and across onto the Maghrib coast had transformed the Maghrib's politics—henceforth it was no longer Berber-sprung dynasties from the interior that were to rule there, but representatives of the cities and their armed forces. The greater part of the Maghrib, following the interests of its ports, turned to the Ottomans. But in the far west of the Maghrib, in Morocco, where the agricultural hinterland went deeper and the chief cities were well inland, the Portuguese thrust evoked a more independent reaction. The Maghribî sharîfs (descendants of the Prophet—and more particularly of that Idrisîd family under which Morocco had first maintained its independence against the upstart 'Abbâsids) had been coming to represent the piety of Islam as disseminated from the cities, in emulation or rivalry with the arîqah piety that was also spreading among the tribes. Under the leadership of a family of sharifs, the Moroccans rallied their forces to repel the Portuguese from their coasts—and incidentally to rebuff Ottoman attempts at rounding out their own hegemony. The new Sharîfian empire in turn, well armed and victorious at home, had found an outlet for its energies in an unprecedented expedition (1591) across the Sahara into the Sûdânic lands, where gunpowder weapons were a disastrous novelty. We have noted that this expedition led to the ruin of Timbuctu. However, the economic base of the Sharîfian empire, isolated between the Atlantic and the Sahara, was not great enough to sustain its forces and to rebuild its conquests. The Atlantic trade to Guinea, monopolized by the Portuguese, more and more rivalled that of the Sahara to the same southern regions. The Sudan was left to its own devices, saddled with a persistingly disruptive new military class; and Morocco itself relapsed into a jealous independence.

A more far-reaching consequence of the new day, and particularly of the Portuguese thrust, was the realignment of forces in the Southern Seas. The advent there of the Portuguese was spectacular, though in itself it had only limited long-term effects. During the fifteenth century, the Portuguese had not only opened trade with the Guinea coast, but pushed down considerably south of the Congo along the western African coast. In 1498 Vasco da Gama was able to sail round the south coast of Africa, so linking the Portuguese trade routes on the west coast with the Arab trade routes long established on the east coast of Africa; and so launching the Portuguese into the trade of all the Southern Seas, which was already linked with that of the east African coast. From 1501, the Portuguese Christians established the pious policy of ruining Muslim trade in the Indian Ocean. Or, to speak more realistically, they tried to cut off that part of it that led up the Red Sea to Egypt, the Mediterranean, and Venice, which Lisbon now saw as its great commercial rival; and to exact protection money from any other shipping that could be sufficiently terrorized. In the surprise of their first advent, they had some success. Seafaring in the Atlantic had led the Portuguese to develop more powerful naval equipment than prevailed in the Indian Ocean, where long runs were less necessary (only Chinese vessels were as large and strong, or even larger). This technical advantage, together with a vigorous home government, more than counterbalanced the effect of their distance from their bases in West Africa.

Conditions of the Later Middle Period had not favoured concerted Muslim political action. Trade in the Southern Seas was largely in the hands of numerous more or less independent Muslim trader cities, over which the inland powers had relatively little control in many cases. In an area like Malaysia, for instance, the chief figure in the town, the 'sultan', was likely to be essentially a merchant, who might even monopolize the trade of a given port and rule that port, and sometimes was also able to control other ports at a distance.

Into this picture the Portuguese traders fitted with ease. And without concerted Muslim action, they were in a position to put the Muslims on the defensive. The relatively low cost of an all-water route without middlemen, together with the exclusive control over it the Portuguese exercised for three generations, enabled them to tap concertedly most of the growing Occidental market. Hence what was in itself a small kingdom could become the commercial outlet of what amounted to a large empire; Lisbon had commercial resources far greater than any one Muslim port. The common discipline which a corporative spirit allowed the Portuguese kingdom to exercise over its merchants—which ensured that the Portuguese continued to act as a single power even remote from home—was reinforced by a Christian fanaticism in men used to anti-Muslim crusading in the western Mediterranean, so that they felt a special solidarity in hostility to all the various nationalities of Muslim traders. Then they had incidental advantages. At first, in some cases, not only their naval equipment but also their artillery seems to have been better than that then in use in the Southern Seas, where gunpowder weapons were only then being introduced from the lands farther north. And their west African bases were as inaccessible to the stronger Muslim land empires as the inland strongholds of those empires were to the sea-based Portuguese. In sum, the Portuguese played the role of a gunpowder empire in the Southern Seas, being able to turn the technical advantages of centralization in the new military age to as good use at sea as did the other empires on land.

In consequence, the Portuguese proved stronger at sea than any one Muslim power that faced them, especially westward from Ceylon, while the several interested Muslim powers were never able to maintain an adequately lasting coalition against the intruders. In 1508, the Mamlûks and Gujarâtîs had together defeated the Portuguese; but in 1509, at Diu in Gujarat, the allied fleet was destroyed. By then the Mamlûk régime was in serious trouble at home, and this defeat was never retrieved. By 1511 the Portuguese were established with their own fortified trading posts at Hormuz (at the mouth of the Persian Gulf), Goa (on the west coast of the Deccan), and Malacca, at the straits leading into the South China Sea. In 1538 an Ottoman-Gujarâtî coalition broke up too soon to prevent another Portuguese victory, which confirmed the Portuguese position.

The Portuguese held, for the most part, only a certain number of key ports here and there; most ports continued in Muslim (or Hindu) hands, either independent or subject to inland rulers. Muslims, Hindus, and Chinese continued to maintain an important trade. But the Portuguese were powerful enough to prevent, for some time, any long-distance trade that seriously rivalled their own exports to Europe, and in particular to cut down drastically the trade up the Red Sea to Egypt. (Some of this seems to have been diverted to the Persian Gulf and overland routes; but even the Red Sea trade was restored within the century.) A severe, if chiefly temporary, blow was dealt to Muslim power in the Southern Seas and to some areas of Muslim mercantile prosperity, especially that of Egypt and certain Arabian cities.

The decisive effect on Islamicate life of the Portuguese arrival in the Southern Seas has been much exaggerated in European historical writing, as I see it, for three reasons. First, the oceanic expansions of the time had decisive impact on the western Europe of the time; and Europeans have tended to read the rest of world history as a function of European history. (Moreover, Western sources naturally tell us more about Western than about other activity.) Second, the seventeenth-century advent of Dutch, English, and French did come to have, after a time, truly momentous import; and, since the Portuguese were, in some sense, the forerunners of these later movements, the significance that Western traders had in the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is projected back to the beginning of the overall development. (In a purely Western perspective, it is hard to see the difference in world-historical role between a gunpowder empire such as the Portuguese, based on a development almost universal in citied life at the time, and the later Western sea empires based on radically new departures no longer shared with the rest of the world.) Finally, the effects on Muslim lands seem to have been greatest precisely in those lands nearest the West, in the eastern Mediterranean, which, for reasons that have been cited elsewhere, have tended to stand for the whole of Islamdom in the minds of many Western scholars.

The realignments: the land empires (1498–1526)

Meanwhile, a decisive series of events, coming at a crucial point in military development, crystallized a new alignment of great land empires. The enthusiastic Turkic Shîtism which had been gathering force during the fifteenth century among various tarîqah orders in the region around Azerbaijan and Anatolia launched a movement which at the time attracted far more attention among most Muslims than did the Portuguese coup. The leaders of the safavî arîqah at Ardabîl had cultivated good relations with Shî'î elements far and wide, especially among Turkic pastoral tribes, and led many of them in ghâzî raids against the Christian Georgians and Circassians of the Caucasus region. They had also managed to make an enemy of the most powerful family in the whole area, the chiefs of the Ak-koyunlu "White-sheep') tribal dynasty, sultans in Mesopotamia and western Iran. In 1500, Ismâ'îl, the sixteen-year-old heir to the safavî pîrship, was able to muster sufficient followers to set out to avenge his father's death at Ak-koyunlu hands; by 1503 he controlled not only Azerbaijan, where he placed his capital at Tabriz, but all western Iran and the Tigris-Euphrates basin. He was now not only pîr but shâh, king.


Excerpted from The Venture of Islam, Volume 3: The Gunpowder Empires and Modern Times by Marshall G. S. Hodgson. Copyright © 1974 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

List of Charts
List of Maps
Book Five: Second Flowering: The Empires of Gunpowder Times
Prologue to Book Five
I. The Safavi Empire: Triumph of the Shi'ah, 1503-1722
II. The Indian Timuri Empire: Coexistence of Muslims and Hindus, 1526-1707
III. The Ottoman Empire: Shari'ah-Military Alliance, 1517-1718
IV. Before the Deluge: The Eighteenth Century
Book Six: The Islamic Heritage in the Modern World
Prologue to Book Six
I. The Impact of the Great Western Transmutation: The Generation of 1789
II. European World Hegemony: The Nineteenth Century
III. Modernism in Turkey: Westernization
IV. Egypt and East Arab Lands: Revival of the Heritage
V. Iran and the Russian Empire: The Dream of Revolution
VI. Muslim India: Communalism and Universalism
VII. The Drive for Independence: The Twentieth Century
Epilogue: The Islamic Heritage and the Modern Conscience
A Selective Bibliography for Further Reading
Glossary of Selected Terms and Names
Index to Volume III

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