|The Story of the Middle Ages|
|by Samuel B. Harding|
|Relates the history of the Middle Ages simply, directly, and entertainingly. The material is well-arranged and the selection of topics is excellent. Special attention is given to presenting the life of the people—peasant, noble, and court. A unique and valuable book. Ages 11-14 |
FRANKS AND MOHAMMEDANS
HILE the descendants of Clovis were struggling with
one another for his kingdom, and while the Church was
gaining in wealth and in power, a danger was arising in
the East that was to threaten both with ruin.
This danger was caused by the rise of a new religion
among the Arabs. Arabia is a desert land for the most
part; and the people gained their living by wandering
with their camels and herds from oasis to oasis, or
else by carrying on trade between India and the West,
by means of caravans across the deserts. The people
themselves were like grown-up children in many ways.
They had poetic minds, and impulsive and generous
hearts; but they were ignorant and superstitious, and
often very cruel. Up to this time they had never been
united under one government, nor had they all believed
in the same religion. Some tribes worshiped the stars
of heaven, others worshiped "fetiches" of sticks and
stones and others believed in gods or demons called
"genii." If you have read the story of Aladdin and his
wonderful lamp, in the "Arabian Nights," you will know what
 were like. Arabia is so near Palestine
that it will not surprise you to hear that the Arabs
had also learned something of the religion of the Jews,
and of the Christians. But until the seventh century
after Christ, the Arabs remained, in spite of this, a
rude and idolatrous people, without any faith or
government which all acknowledged.
In the seventh century came a change. The Arabs then
became a united people, under one government, and with
one religion. And under the influence of this religion
they came out from their deserts and conquered vast
empires to the East and to the West, until it seemed
as though the whole of the known world was to pass into
The man who brought about this change was named
Mohammed. He belonged to a powerful tribe among the
Arabs, but his father and mother had died before he was
six years of age. He was then taken care of by his
uncle, who was so poor that Mohammed was obliged to
hire out as a shepherd boy, and do work that was
usually done by slaves. When he was thirteen years old
his uncle took him with a caravan to Damascus and other
towns of Syria; and there the boy caught his first
glimpses of the outside world. When he grew up he
became manager for a wealthy widow who had many camels
and sent out many caravans; and at last he won her love
and respect, and she became his wife. When Mohammed
established his new religion she became his first
convert, and to the day of her death she was his most
faithful friend and follower.
Mohammed had a dreamy and imaginative nature,
 and when
he had become a man he thought much about religion.
Every year he would go alone into the mountains near
his home, and spend a month in fasting and prayer. At
times he fell into a trance, and when he was restored
he would tell of wonderful visions that his soul had
seen while his body lay motionless on the earth.
When Mohammed was forty years old, a vision came to him
of a mighty figure that called him by name and held an
open book before him, saying, "Read!" Mohammed
believed that this was the angel Gabriel, who came to
him that he might establish a new religion, whose
watchword should be:
"There is but one God, and Mohammed is his Prophet!"
 When he began to preach the new faith, Mohammed found
few converts at first. At the end of three years he
had only forty followers. His teachings angered those
who had charge of the idols of the old religions, and
Mohammed was obliged at last to flee from the holy city
of Mecca. This was in the year 622 A.D., and to this
day the followers of Mohammed count time from this
date, as we do from the birth of Christ.
After this Mohammed gained followers more rapidly, and
he began to preach that the new religion must be spread
by the sword. Warriors now came flocking into his camp
from all directions. Within ten years after the flight
from Mecca, all the tribes of Arabia had become his
followers, and the idols had everywhere been broken to
pieces. Then the Mohammedans turned to other nations,
and everywhere they demanded that the people should
believe in Mohammed, or pay tribute. If these demands
were refused, they were put to death.
Mohammed could neither read nor write, but his sayings
were written down by his companions. In this way a
whole chestful of the sayings of the Prophet was
preserved, written on scraps of paper, or parchment,
on dried palm leaves, and even on the broad, flat
shoulder-bones of sheep. After Mohammed's death these
sayings were gathered together and formed into a book;
in this way arose the "Koran," which is the bible of
Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Jesus were all recognized as
prophets in the Koran; but Mohammed is regarded as the
latest and greatest of all. The Koran teaches that
those who believe in Mohammed, and live just
shall enter Paradise when they die. They will there
dwell in beautiful gardens, where they shall never be
burned by the rays of the sun, nor chilled by wintry
winds; and there under flowering trees they shall
recline forever, clad in silks and brocades, and fed by
delicious fruits, which beautiful black-eyed maidens
bring to them. To win Paradise the Mohammedan must
follow certain rules. Five times a day he must pray
with his face turned in the direction of the holy city
Mecca; he must not gamble or drink wine; and during the
holy month, when Mohammed fasted, he too must fast and
pray. But the surest way to gain Paradise and all its
joys, was to die in battle fighting for the Mohammedan
faith. This teaching helps to explain why the
Christians found the Mohammedans such fierce and
Within a hundred years after the death of Mohammed, his
followers had won an empire which stretched from the
Himalayan Mountains to the Red Sea, and from the Red
Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. All of Southwestern Asia,
and all of Northern Africa, were under their rule; and
they were preparing to add Spain also, and perhaps all
Europe, to the lands where the "call to prayer" was
In the year 711 A.D., a Mohammedan general named Tarik
led the first army of Moors and Arabs across from
Africa to Spain. Near where he landed was a huge
mountain of rock, on which he built a fortress or
castle; and from this name it is still called
"Gible-Tarik," or Gibraltar, the mountain of Tarik.
Spain at this time was ruled by the West-Goths; but
they were weakened by quarrels, and idleness, and
not able to resist the fierce Moors. Near a little
river in Southern Spain the great battle was fought.
For seven days the Christian Goths, under their King,
Rodrigo, fought against the Mohammedan army; but still
the battle was undecided. On the eighth day the
Christians fled from the field, and Spain was left in
the hands of the Mohammedans.
Long after that day an old Spanish poet sang of that
battle in words like these:
"The hosts of Don Rodrigo were scattered in dismay,
When lost was the eight battle, nor heart nor hope had they;
He, when he saw that field was lost, and all his hope was flown,
He turned him from his flying host, and took his way alone.
"All stained and strewed with dust and blood, like to some smouldering brand
Plucked from the flame, Rodrigo showed; his sword was in his hand,
But it was hacked into a saw of dark and purple tint:
His jeweled mail had many a flaw, his helmet many a dint.
"He climbed into a hill-top, the highest he could see,
Thence all about of that wide rout his last long look took he;
He saw his royal banners, where they lay drenched and torn,
He heard the cry of victory, the Arab's shout of scorn.
"He looked for the brave captains that led the hosts of Spain,
But all were fled except the dead, and who could count the slain?
Where'er his eye could wander, all bloody was the plain,
And while thus he said, the tears he shed ran down his cheeks like rain:
" 'Last night I was the King of Spain—to-day no king am I;
Last night fair castles held my train—to-night where shall I lie?
Last night a hundred pages did serve me on the knee—
To-night not one I call my own—not one pertains to me.' "
 This battle destroyed the power of the West-Goths. It
also marks the beginning of the rule of the Moors in
Spain, which was to last until the time of Queen
Isabella and Columbus.
The ease with which the Moors conquered Spain made them
think it would be an easy thing to conquer Gaul also.
So within a few years we find their armies crossing the
Pyrenees to carry war into that land. But here they
met the Franks, and that people was not so easy to
overcome as the Goths had been.
You have already seen how Clovis built up a strong
kingdom in Gaul and Germany; and then how the power
slipped away from the hands of his descendants, until
they became mere "do-nothing" kings. The real power
was now in the hands of the great nobles who acted as
the King's ministers. The chief of these was called
the "Mayor of the Palace"; and at the time when the
Moors came into Spain this office was handed down from
father to son in a powerful family, which possessed
rich estates in the Rhine valley, and could command a
multitude of warlike followers.
Three years after the Moors had crossed over into
Spain, the old Mayor of the Palace died, and the office
passed to his son Charles. This was a serious time for
the kingdom of the Franks. Civil wars now broke out
anew among the nobles; the Saxons from Germany broke
into the kingdom from the North; and the Moors were
pressing up from Spain into the very heart of France.
The young Mayor of the Palace, however, proved equal to
the occasion. The civil wars were brought to an end,
and all the Frankish lands were brought under his rule.
The heathen Saxons were
 driven back to their own
country. Then, gathering an army from the whole
kingdom, Charles marched, in the year 732, into
Southern France to meet the Moors.
He found their army near the city of Tours, laden with
the booty which they had taken. The Moors expected
another victory as great as the one which had given
them Spain; but they found their match in Charles and
his Franks. All day long the battle raged. Twenty
times the light-armed Moors, on their fleet horses,
dashed into the ranks of the heavy-armed Franks; but
each time Charles and his men stood firm, like a wall,
and the enemy had to retreat. At last the Moors gave
up the attempt; and when day dawned next morning the
Franks found that they had slipped off in the night,
leaving behind them their tents and all their rich
This battle forever put an end to the conquests of the
Moors in France. It was this battle also, perhaps,
that gave Charles his second name, "Martel," or "the
Hammer"; for, as an old writer tells us, "like a hammer
breaks and dashes to pieces iron and steel, so Charles
broke and dashed to pieces his enemies."
At all events, the fame which Charles Martel won by his
actions, and the ability which he showed as a ruler,
enabled him to leave his power to his two sons when he
died. Again there was a war between the Mayors of the
Palace and the nobles who ruled over portions of the
kingdom, but again the Mayors of the Palace won. Then,
when quiet was restored once more, the elder of the two
sons of Charles gave over his power to his brother
Pippin, and entered a
monas-  tery, in order that he might
spend the rest of his years in the holy life of a monk.
This left Pippin as the sole Mayor of the Palace.
There was still a Merovingian prince who sat on the
throne, but he was a "do-nothing" king, as so many had
been before him; and he only said the words that he was
told, and did the things that were given him to do.
Of course this could not go on forever. Every one was
getting tired of it; and at last Pippin felt that the
time had come when he might safely take the title of
king. First, messengers were sent to the Pope to ask
his opinion. The Pope was now eager to get the aid of
the Franks against the Lombards in Italy; so he
answered in the way that he knew would please Pippin.
"It is better," he said, "to give the title King to the
person who actually has the power."
Then the weak Merovingian King was put off the throne
and shut out of sight in a monastery; and Pippin was
anointed with the sacred oil, and crowned King in his
place. As long as he lived he ruled as a strong and
just king. When he died, the crown went to his
children, and after them to his children's children.
In this way the crown of the Franks continued in the
family of Pippin for more than two hundred years.
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