Page:The Harvard Classics Vol. 51; Lectures.djvu/25

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15
HISTORY

roads of Rome were going to ruin; boundaries of military states barred old channels of intercourse. Under these conditions civilization could only be more localized, weaker than before. And in fact the Teutonic kingdoms pursued for some time an extremely checkered course.


THE RISE OF ISLAM

Then came, in the seventh century, a new and even more terrible blast of devastation. Mohammed arose, created Islam, and started the great movement of Arab conquest. Within almost a few years of his death the fanaticized hosts of Arabia and the East were knocking at the gates of Constantinople, and swept westward along the southern shores of the Mediterranean until the Atlantic barred their steps. They turned to Spain, destroyed the Visigothic kingdom, crossed the Pyrenees, and reached the center of Gaul before they were at last checked. The Franks under Charles Martel defeated them at Tours in 732, and perhaps by that victory saved Christendom. Had the Arabs succeeded in this last ordeal, who knows what the result might not have been? As Gibbon characteristically wrote: "A victorious line of march had been prolonged above a thousand miles from the rock of Gibraltar to the banks of the Loire; the repetition of an equal space would have carried the Saracens to the confines of Poland and the Highlands of Scotland; the Rhine is not more impassable than the Nile or Euphrates, and the Arabian fleet might have sailed without a naval combat into the mouth of the Thames. Perhaps the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Mahomet."

On the wreck of the Arab hopes the descendants of Charles Martel founded a monarchy which blazed into ephemeral power and glory under Charlemagne. In the year 800 the greatest of Prankish rulers revived the imperial title, and was crowned by the Pope in the basilica of St. Peter's. But the old Empire could not be resuscitated, nor for the matter of that could the Prankish monarchy long maintain the preeminent position it had reached. A new visitation was at hand, and Charlemagne before he died saw the hori-