Airbrushed From History: The Founding of Russia, the Islamic Role in the European Renaissance, Mali, and Genghis Khan’s Pax Mongolica

History of the World Part 4 – The Middle Ages

BBC (2018)

Film Review

Episode 4 is my favorite as covers numerous topics airbrushed out of mainstream history textbooks.

It begins with the founding of the city-state of Kiev by Oleg of the Viking Russ tribe in 882 AD and his domination of the Dnieper River and the Black Sea and East-West trade out of Constantinople. Sixty years later, the King of Kiev Vladimir the Great would adopt the orthodox Christianity practiced in the Byzantine Empire.

The film goes on to describe the flourishing classical (Greek and Roman) learning in the Islamic Empires urban centers, particularly Cordova (in modern day Spain) and Bukhara (in modern day Uzbekistan).

A substantial portion of this episode focuses on the conquest of the largest land empire ever in the 12th and 13th century AD by the Mongol Genghis Khan. His main legacy was Pax Mongolica, which led to the reopening of the Silk Road, restoring land-based trade between Europe and Asia. This would lead to Venetian Marco Polo’s famous visit to China in 1275 AD, where he served 12 years as special advisor to the Mongol Chinese Emperor Kubla Khan.

The last empire discussed is the vast African empire of Mali, which was unknown to the western world until the emperor Mansa Musa (a devout Muslim) arrived in Cairo in 1324 with 60,000 followers. They were on a 2,000 mile pilgrimage to Mecca.

The film finishes by exploring the role of Muslim scholarship in the revival of ancient Greek and Roman knowledge in the Italian city states – and ultimately the European Renaissance. It uses as an example of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous fresco The Last Supper. The latter incorporates the laws of perspective, largely based on Muslim innovations in math and geometry, and the knowledge of human anatomy the Muslims inherited from the ancient Greeks.