Monday, September 28, 2020


Here, in the pile of rubble left where such a haughty villa once stood, was dramatic illustration of how profoundly Italy had slumped from her one-time greatness into impotence and poverty.

-          Millennium, Tom Holland

This was ninth-century Italy, a few centuries removed from the greatness of Empire.  But it wasn’t just impotence and poverty – if only it was merely these.  Across vast swaths of Italian countryside, nothing of value remained – the bones picked almost clean, as Holland puts it.   But Pope John VIII put it more directly at the time:

“Behold, the towns, castles, and estates perish – stripped of inhabitants.”

The Saracen slave trade was in full swing, operating on a “near-industrial scale.”  Great flotillas of ships, tens-of-thousands of captives loaded for transports to the markets of Africa.  The word Saracen had become synonymous with Muslim during these centuries, more specifically describing Muslim Arabs.

Something about Pope John VIII: much of his papacy was devoted to halting and reversing Muslim gains in southern Italy.  Unable to gain assistance from the Franks or Byzantines, he strengthened the defenses of Rome.

He was also unable to generate meaningful support from Christians in southern Italy, these Christians having formed alliances with the Muslim invaders and slave traders.  Things didn’t end well for John:

John VIII was assassinated in 882 by his own clerics; he was first poisoned, and then clubbed to death. The motives may have been his exhaustion of the papal treasury, his lack of support among the Carolingians, his gestures towards the Byzantines, and his failure to stop the Saracen raids.

Returning to Holland: this slave trading was a real business, the division of labor being quite well developed; savagery, yes, but also a system:

Some would guard the ships, others prepare the irons, others bringing in the captives.  Some even specialised in the rounding up of children.  The natives too – those with the determination to profit from the slavers rather than to end up as their victims – had their roles to play.

Italian Christians were hunting down their fellow Christians.  The city of Amalfi was particularly noted for its role in such actions, exchanging slaves for gold dinars.  Naples is also noted.  Through this trade, these regions slowly pulled themselves out of the general poverty of the broader region – only at the cost of their souls.

Already in the ninth century, the markets of Naples had grown so bustling that visitors commented on how they appeared almost African in their prosperity.

Amalfi, perched on a cliff, would turn the city into a hub of international trade; merchants from this city could be found throughout the Mediterranean, flush with Saracen gold.  As the trade developed, the slavers would eventually receive official backing from the rulers of Sicily.  Some Christian leaders would come to believe that these depredations were driven by something more sinister than greed (and I have noted a similar possibility in our time):

Christendom, it appeared to them, was being systematically drained of her lifeblood: her reservoir of human souls.

And as their numbers diminished, the numbers of the enemy would increase.  Erchempert, a Benedictine monk of the Abbey of Monte Cassino in Italy, would comment:

“For it is the fate of prisoners of our own race, both male and female, to end up adding to the resources of the lands beyond the sea.”

Profit was certainly the immediate motive; but with official sanction from the rulers, the entire endeavor took on the air of religiosity.  The Christian captives were being spiritually disciplined, a jihad – the eternal struggle to spread the faith.

The backwardness of the Christians in southern Italy only proved the idea that God had abandoned these “infidels.”  It was the natural order of things that God would send the Muslims to correct the situation.

Many Christian slaves would convert – bringing the prospect of freedom and some measure of dignity; of course, many would not.  In addition, free Christians under Muslim rule were forced to pay a tax, a dhimmi.  And here lies a real paradox: it was the Muslim states with the largest number of Christians that could most readily afford jihad.

By this time, Muslims would rule over North Africa, southern Europe in both Italy and Spain, and to the borders of Constantinople – all regions that were recently Christian.  With the Muslims to the south and southeast, Vikings to the north and west, and Hungarians to the East, this time, perhaps, was the darkest time for Christendom since the earliest Apostolic age.


  1. Like any good serial, this builds up to a climax and then cuts off, leaving me to wonder what happens next. Can I assume a continuation to satisfy my curiosity? What DID happen to the Christians?

    1. I do plan to continue. But we cannot answer definitively what happened. Sure they advanced for a time, but they have been retreating for the last couple hundred years.

      There is another book that gives a definitive answer, however there are many interpretations about what, exactly, that answer means!



    3. Given my lack of success at building a larger audience, you would think I might try a different approach!


    4. You could have a huge, world-wide audience if you posted on the same level as Kim Kardashian or Cardi B, but in your case, quality is better than quantity. Besides, you don't know who your message is reaching. Most of those who read your posts don't respond in any tangible manner. Your audience is almost certainly far larger than what you see.

  2. Wow that must have been an insane time to be a Christian. No wonder they believed the Second Coming was near.

    Today's Western elites, like those in early Medieval Italy apparently, are very willing to sell us all into slavery, so long as it benefits them. Except they've done it in an ingenious way such that many believe they getting more freedom.

    "If we look back for comparison to anything of which human history gives us a type or experiment, we see that the modern free system of industry offers to every living human being chances of happiness indescribably in excess of what former generations have possessed. It offers no such guarantees as were once possessed by some, that they should in no case suffer. We have an instance right at hand. The Negroes, once slaves in the United States, used to be assured care, medicine, and support; but they spent their efforts, and other men took the products. They have been set free. That means only just this: they now work and hold their own products, and are assured of nothing but what they earn. In escaping from subjection they have lost claims. Care, medicine, and support they get, if they earn it. Will anyone say that the black men have not gained? Will anyone deny that individual black men may seem worse off? Will anyone allow such observations to blind them to the true significance of the change? If anyone thinks that there are or ought to be somewhere in society guarantees that no man shall suffer hardship, let him understand that there can be no such guarantees, unless other men give them—that is, unless we go back to slavery, and make one man's effort conduce to another man's welfare." - William Graham Sumner

    1. Great quote.

      Quietly the Basic Income Guarantee has been introduced, under the cover of these corona payments for not working. That plus universal health care and food stamps. All bases are covered.

      Turning a large portion of the masses into individuals with no meaning in life. Such individuals cause no trouble. They end up in suicide - directly, or through alcohol and drugs.

    2. Lincoln (spit on dirt) put it more succinctly: root hog or die.

      Many people thought that the persecution against Christians in the first and second centuries.
      Many people thought that the Black Plague was the end of the world.
      Many people thought WW1 was end of the world.
      Many people thought WW2 was the end of the world.
      They all have one thing in common, they were living through their horrible times.

      If there is going to be a rapture there still will be a lot of suffering to go through and that is why I think so many Christians are stupid, thinking that they will spared from any "difficulties" leading to the Second Coming.

    3. I think Sumner merits more attention than he gets. I'm interested in him because he was one of those powerhouse libertarian voices who's life witnessed almost the entire great shift in liberals that was occurring (from laissez faire to Leviathan) from the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century.

      Here's a quote from an essay on Sumner (available at Mises) which is particularly relevant to our wider conservation of late:

      ***Sumner gave no systematic attention to the problem of limiting and balancing political power. However, he did argue that the only way to do so was through inherited institutions, mores, and laws. Such could only be wrought by historical evolution within particular polities. For Sumner, liberty was a historical achievement, the product of gradual historical-cultural development; and Burkean prescription, particularism, and inheritance were more important than constitution making de novo or theoretic speculation. Liberties “are safe only when guaranteed against all arbitrary power and all class and personal interest” by means of “laws and institutions.” He had no faith that liberty could be secured, or government limited, by means of political architecture: "It will do no good to heap law upon law, or to try by constitutional provisions simply to abstain from the use of powers which we find we always abuse. How can we get bad legislators to pass a law which shall hinder bad legislators from passing a bad law?" He also insisted that the health of liberty depended upon the moral character and habits of the people empowered to govern. Self-government required “vigilance,” “exertion,” and self-discipline. Without
      those qualities, the people will be governed by others, and their vote will mean nothing.***

      Honestly, the more I look into this guy, the more I like him. A proto-Austrian on sound money. An anti-imperialist. An anti-interventionist in domestic policy. A critic of democracy. An ordained Episcopalian priest (not sure if he kept his faith though). Though he was not an anarchist, he was definitely a minarchist.

      Sorry, this is getting off topic!

    4. *conversation (spelling error above)


      I think Christianity often goes off the rails when it focuses too much on Christ's return. It seems to lead to Millenarian hysteria and a neglect of duties in the here and now.

      "root hog or die"

      It is impressions like this that give people the idea that Sumner was a 'Social Darwinist', but I think he was just more of a realist. He wasn't against helping those on the lower rung; he just wanted people to recognize that their are 'rungs' (inequality) naturally and we shouldn't use the government to help these people. It should be done through private voluntary acts of charity.

    5. "In escaping from subjection they have lost claims."--from the quote by Sumner above.

      If this is true, then it would seem that in the making of claims, people would revert back to a system of subjection (subjugation).

      Since State power grows in direct proportion to the "claims" made against it, it would appear to be so. Many people have some "claim", thinking that they are benefiting, but don't realize that they are actually locking the shackles themselves around their own ankles.

      All that money comes with strings and those strings are meant to tie you up into a neat little package.

    6. ATL

      "...he did argue that the only way to do so was through inherited institutions, mores, and laws."

      Yes. The institution that has failed us most - and we all have contributed, in one way or another, to that failure - is the institutional church.

    7. Roger, as you note: they are screaming that government isn't doing enough for them. This is why the wealthy elite and the masses of ill-educated rioters and screamers are all on the same side.

      Plus both groups hate Christianity....

    8. It seems that WGS did lose his faith and his later writing became very pessimistic. To be fair, to those who had the prescience to see what was coming in the early 20th century, like he did, being pessimistic was the only rational option.

      But maybe that is one of the chief earthly benefits of the Christian faith: it offers a means of being hopelessly optimistic when seemingly all hope is lost.

  3. The "jizya" was a tax paid by non-Muslims in lieu of military service. Performance of military service earned an exemption.

    It should be noted that all of us who currently reside in Western countries pay a "jizya" insofar as a portion of our taxes go to fund the military. We give up wealth in exchange for protection. Another "jizya" is that portion of our property taxes which funds the police.

    While the argument that states with large numbers of Christians provided more wealth for jihad is true, it's equally true that it provided fewer soldiers on the battlefield. I'm not sure how the math on that works out.

    As regards slavery, while bad Muslims were selling slaves, good Muslims were freeing them, as advocated by the Qur'an, as a good deed and an expiation of sins.

  4. There is a modern-day Sicilian idiom "pigliato dai turchi". It translates to "taken by the Turks". It means to be caught by surprise.

  5. "Dhimmi" refers to the status that converted Christians were assigned by their Islamic masters, who levied a tax against them. Dhimmitude is a form of second class citizenship.

    "Jizzya" is the term for the tax itself. I just thought this should be brought to Your attention for clarity's sake and to keep the facts surrounding Islamic conquest and their jihads straight.

    For the devout Muslim, even to this day, none can rest until the entire House of War -- everyone outside of Islam, the Infidels and Non-Believers -- is brought into the fold of Dar El-Islam, the House of Islam, converted to Islam or put to death in their struggle to reject Islam.

    This is a war that will continue to be fought, just as long as Islam continues to grow and gain acceptance across the globe. It is a war for the very survival of Western Civilization, a war between Christianity and Judaism on one side and Islam and Her Communist allies on the other side, a strange alliance indeed, but an alliance nevertheless that is joined in their mutual hatred for Christianity and the freedoms enjoyed by most of the Western world.

    Neither Islam nor the various factions of today's Marxists can tolerate anything or anyone that stands in the path of their agenda to implement something akin to a New World Order, with them in control of all. ~ Justin O Smith

    1. "...a war between Christianity and Judaism on one side..."

      Are you sure about this?