The onset of the seventh century saw a turning of the tide in the western world. The rise of Islamic power drastically changed much of the Western Hemisphere, with the Byzantine Empire unable to prevent the new enemy from taking much of their land. The spread of religion during the 7th century helped shape the Muslim world we know today, while in the East, one of China’s most famous dynasties first ascended the throne. In this article, we will look at 7 key events that took place during the 7th Century.
Tang dynasty of China begins (618)
Ruling China for almost 300 years (with one short interlude), the Tang Dynasty is regarded as one of China’s most important culturally. Its rise began during the ruling Sui Dynasty’s downfall in 611, a result of mass conscription for a series of failed attacks on modern-day Korea. Various rebel groups formed across the country, including a provincial governor of the Sui Emperor called Li Yuan. Under the guise of Sui loyalty, he rebelled, wanting to install the Emperor’s grandson on the throne. In 618, the Emperor was killed by a band of rebels and, sensing his opportunity, Li quickly changed his position, forced the grandson to yield the throne to him, and declared himself Emperor Gaozu, establishing the Tang Dynasty. From then until 628, he successfully quelled remaining rebel units and reunited China under the Tang banner.
Year One of the Islamic Calendar Begins (622)
The Muslim prophet Muhammad emerged into historical prominence in Mecca around the year 610, when the Qu’ran was said to be first revealed to him. He first started teaching in Mecca, before migrating in 622 to Medina along with his companion Abu Bakr, establishing the first Muslim community in the process. This event is a significant one in Islam known as the Hijrah, which marks the first year of the Islamic Calendar. Once Medina was converted, and Muhammad’s followers had arrived from Mecca to strengthen their cause, a series of wars across Arabia resulted in its conquest by around 630 when Mecca was taken. Muhammad died two years later, but the spread of Islam would continue under his followers.
The end of the Roman-Persian Wars (627)
In their various forms, the Romans and Persians had been warring almost constantly since the first century BC. 700 years later, now known as the Byzantine and Sasanian Empires respectively, the rising Arabic power brought about the end. For the first few decades, the Byzantines looked on the brink of collapse, being defeated in the Balkans, and losing territory to Persian attacks. However, the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius rebuilt the army and formed important allies, allowing them to survive a siege of Constantinople in 627, and launch a counter-attack in Mesopotamia later that year, finally ending their conflict with victory at the Battle of Nineveh. Despite this success, both sides were heavily weakened by the long-drawn-out final leg of their war, creating an opportunity for the rising Muslims. By 651 the Sasanian Empire was entirely conquered by the Arabs, and Byzantine had lost much of their territory.
The Muslim conquests begin (632)
Perhaps no event of the 7th century was more significant in shaping our modern world than the Muslim expansion, which established Islam as a major world religion and reshaped a huge region we associate with it today. Following the death of the Prophet Muhammad, a newly united Arabia, sandwiched conveniently between their weakened warring neighbors, took full advantage with swift and significant expansion. The Byzantine and Sasanian forces were regularly defeated, and much of their land was taken, first under the Rashidun Caliphate, established by Muhammad’s companion Abu Bakr, followed later in the 7th century by the Umayyads. These conquests began in 632, and by 641 the region of Levant was conquered, followed by Egypt a year later. By the middle of the 7th century, Mesopotamia and Persia were also under Muslim control, bringing an end to the Sasanid Empire in the process.
The beginning of the Umayyad Caliphate (661)
Emerging from a group of disjointed tribes to a powerful Empire in just 40 years, the Arabs growth caused conflict within, as different branches of Muhammad’s family fought for control. When Abu Bakr died in 634, his successor Umar was assassinated just ten years later, succeeded by Uthman who was himself assassinated in 656. The death of Uthman officially sparked a civil war known as the First Fitna. With the nation still expanding, the new Caliph Ali fought to keep control against rising opponents, gaining military success at the Battle of Nahrawan in 658. Nevertheless, he would suffer his predecessors’ fate when he was assassinated in 661. His son Hasan took his place, but with weakened support, he ceded later that same year to the chief instigator of the civil war, Mu’awiya, marking the end of the Rashidun Caliphate, and the formation of the Umayyad.
Arab siege of Constantinople (674-678)
With that settled, the Umayyad Caliphate resumed their expansion, setting their sights on Constantinople. Encouraged by a string of victories in the region in previous years, the Umayyads began putting the pieces in place from 672, forming a loose blockade and securing important sea lanes and began initial probing attacks, including raiding Crete in 675. Byzantine’s other enemies took full advantage in the north and east, and once again they were on the brink of collapse. Emperor Constantine IV realized that the Arabs needed to be defeated if his empire was to survive, so he engaged them head-on at both land and sea, defeating them in both encounters, with the latter being aided by the use of Greek Fire. The Umayyads abandoned the siege in 678 and faced a further civil war back home, giving the Byzantines some much-needed reprieve, at least on one front.
Bulgaria becomes independent of the Byzantine Empire (681)
Originating from the Volga region (modern-day west Russia), the Bulgars were first united in 632, and although this early nation disintegrated in 668 following pressure from the Khazars, some Bulgars remained, eager to settle, forming an alliance with Slavic tribes. Previously preoccupied by the Umayyads and unable to do anything about the Bulgar problem, Byzantine now turned its attention on the new enemy in 680 at the Battle of Ongal, but despite heavily outnumbering their opponents, they were routed. The Bulgars capitalized by seizing land to the south and forcing the exhausted Constantine IV to sue for peace. The previously nomadic Bulgars formed the First Bulgarian Empire, which the defeated Byzantine was forced to recognize as an independent nation, establishing a significant new power in the region.