Updated on the 1st and 15th of every month
An Upside-Down History of the World [Japanese]
[Chapter 3] The Origins of Monotheism

Part 1: A Human Hypothesis
34 The Crusades for Jerusalem

The origin of the word “paper” may be “papyrus”, but papyrus is in no way paper. The inventors of the groundbreaking foldable material were the people of the Chinese civilization.

It was the year AD 751. Doctrinal differences, not notions of ethnicity and race, had split the Islamic empire into three caliphates. Its most powerful caliphate, the Abbasid dynasty, had just defeated the great army of China’s Tang dynasty in the Battle of Talas, just one year after the caliphate’s founding. It also happened to be one of the most pivotal events in the history of culture and recording information. Chinese paper artisans were taken as prisoners of war, leading to the transmission of paper-making technology to Islamic and eventually European societies.

Today’s Western society is afflicted with one historical bias. The origin of the word “paper” may be “papyrus”, but papyrus is by no means paper. Papyrus, the material on which to write, is nothing more than plant fibers pasted together. To fold it is to damage it. This is why papyrus must be rolled onto scrolls. Paper, however, is made up of pulverized plant fibers, and is, in a way, molded, giving it the major advantage of being foldable in any direction. With it, humankind was able to make the first codex (book), an invention that would become one of the greatest catalysts of civilizational development of all time. But this achievement belongs to the Chinese people, not the Egyptians or Europeans.

Meanwhile, medieval Europe was in the midst of the “Dark Ages.” Knowledge of geometry, astronomy, and chemistry and the like, sciences developed in Greece and transmitted to Rome, experienced a stagnation under the church’s influence. The international best-seller-turned-movie The Name of the Rose by the late Italian novelist, Umberto Eco (1932-2016) sets the stage.

The people who inherited and developed this Greco-Roman knowledge were Muslims of the Islamic Empire. Remember, Arabic numerals is an Islamic invention. It’s the result of Muslim mathematicians’ desire to create a replacement for the cumbersome Roman numerals.

The Western World, however, seems to have wanted, in large part, to forget this, along with the fact that, long ago, there was a time, once, when it was far inferior to China and the Islamic Empire in the fields of math and science. It seems much of the West, the great inventor of the steam engine and colonizer of the world, would prefer some of the more flattering aspects of its history be more readily recallable—mainly, that it has become the world’s “winner.”

The Crusades and Heretical Prejudice

Of course, history tells us the West hasn’t always dominated in science and technology. Certainly, the West’s status as “winner” hasn’t helped propagate historical truth. But neither has the West’s monotheistic bias to view others as pagans. It’s the bias that those who do not believe in the “right” god are in no way capable of having developed technology and skills superior to those who do believe in the “right” god.

Such thinking only accelerated during the Crusades.

Before the Crusades, antagonism between Christians and Muslims was relatively rare. We know this thanks to the life of Spain’s national hero, El Cid. El Cid, however, is a title, a title that began as a dialectal Arabic word and that later became an old Castilian loan word, meaning “Lord” or “Master.” His real name was Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (c. 1043 – 1099).

El Cid was a nobleman who hailed from Reino de Castilla (the Kingdom of Castile), a region that would eventually become a part of modern-day Spain. Despite being ordered into exile multiple times by a daft king who loathed his squeaky-clean image, Rodrigo was backed by a coterie of admiring subordinates who accompanied him on his conquest of the kingdom-city of Valencia on the Iberian Peninsula where, in 1094, he successfully recaptured the city from Islamic powers. It’s what propelled Rodrigo to legendary status. He became a holy knight who inspired an epic poem to be passed down generation to generation.

Not surprisingly, the story also inspired the Hollywood film “El Cid”, staring Charleston Heston, and gave life to a legendary scene: El Cid, shot dead with an arrow and strapped to his horse, famously drives the enemy to flee.

Though his conquest of Valencia would make him known for generations to come as the hero who defeated the Muslims, Rodrigo got along well with those of Islamic faith and fought alongside them in battle. At the very least, we know he didn’t hold the common belief that Muslims were “heretics.”