The Fall of Byzantium
Religion can hold an empire together but it can also tear it apart. The Greek Orthodox Church was one with the state of Byzantium and it prospered when the state prospered. The Latin Church never really played a similar role for the Roman Empire. When Christianity became the state religion in the west it tried to stay anonymous. When the Eastern Church of Byzantium sent out missionaries they were also considered ambassadors to the state so when the pagans were converted to Christianity they became allies to the state.
Religious dissent in the Byzantine Empire easily turned into political dissent and vice versa. The political stability in the Empire was affected by theological disputes. It seems that theological disputes were the favored Byzantium sport, even more so than chariot racing. Some of the disputes had dire, long-term results. One dispute within the church was between those that believed that Christ had two natures, human and divine, and those that believed he was just divine in nature. Those that believed he had one nature were called the Monophysites and those that believed he had two natures were called the Dyphysites. This dispute went on for a couple of centuries and became particularly bitter in the 7th century just when unity was needed most as a new and explosive force was bursting onto the world scene.
In the Arabian Peninsula a prophet named Muhammad had emerged and in just a few years he had united the fierce Arab war-like tribes into a confederation dedicated to spreading the message of Islam. Muhammad’s revelation was that there was only one God, Allah, and Muhammad was his prophet. There had been other prophets such as Abraham and Jesus but Muhammad said he was the last one and the only one to reveal the whole truth of what God was about. His religion was strict and simple with none of the complications that Christians had developed. It was straight...