History and Islamic and European cultures

http://www.straightdope.com/columns/030606.html

At the risk of opening a can of worms, I’d like to start a thread similar to the previously canned thread. Perhaps the Tamarlanes of dopedom can correct my mistakes.

I think the OP of the thread, which referred to the Mongolian conquest, had a valid point. Regardless of the behavior of the Mongolians w.r.t. their conquered peoples, technological regression is not an uncommon side affect of conquests or protracted warfare.

Consider that the Western Roman empire regressed before the germanic peoples conquered its territory, and for a significant time period afterwards. The Eastern (Byzantine) empire entered its dark age while the under tremendous military pressure from the Islamic conquests and new peoples on its northern borders. A society under such pressure often does not have the resources to maintain schools, etc. It would not surprise me if the Mongolian conquests did not correlate with a regression in the conquered and neighboring Islamic societies.

Which brings up another point. Not all Europeans were barbaric, ill mannered hordes. The inhabitants of the Byzantine empire were equally shocked by the behavior of the western Europeans.

I’d also like to point out that the standard history we were taught in high school isn’t correct, at least not the “history” I was taught. I was taught that backwards western Europeans relearned their western heritage from the Islamic world, who had picked it up from the Roman Med. world, which led to the Renaissance. In the first place, one of the great legacies of the Byzantine world was the transmission of Greek learning from the East to the West. Learned Byzantines fleeing west as their world crumpled did much to pass on the Greek heritage. The role of the Irish in preserving the Roman tradition is covered nicely in the book “How the Irish Saved Civilization”.

In the second place, while the western Europeans of the 11th century were backwards in some regards, from slaughtering the inhabitants of Jerusaleem to not using utensils, they were not necessarily backwards technologically or economically speaking. What, with figuring out how to yoke a horse, to building cathedrals, the western Europeans made significant contributions. (A minor nit with a post in the previous thread. A horses can not pull as much as ox. But, it certainly can pull a plow, and pull it much faster.) Their economic condition seems backwards relative to the eastern Med world in modern eyes, but on the other hand, it was western Europe that supported sufficient numbers of the most expensive warriors - heavy calvary - that the Byzantines turned west looking for aid against the Seljuk Turks.

Western Eurpeans gained technological and economic primacy with the advent of science, and perhaps the conquest of the Americas. That implies primacy for about 500 years, which is comparable to periods of primacy elsewhere - including by the Islamic world.