The struggle for domination of the Mediterranean has been on from time immemorial. In ancient history the Phoenicians and the Assyrians of the East fought with the Greek and Roman powers of the West. After the two great world religions: Christianity and Islam established, the IslÄmic caliphate of the east and the Byzantine Empire and its subsidiaries of the West took up the battle for the suzerainty of the Mediterranean.
The fortunes of war changed from one side to another over the course of time. However, in three landmark battles in the struggle of political dominance between Christianity vs Islam, if the results had gone the other way, the looser could have gained unprecedented dominance that may have altered the course of world history.
Battle of Tours
The Battle of Tours, also known as the Battle of Poitiers that took place in October 732 C.E. Here, Charles Martel, the Frank stopped the Muslim juggernaut that had started from the deserts of Arabia and with a hundred years had brought the entire Middle East, North Africa and Spain under its fold. The expansionist Muslim army under the general Abdul Rahman al Ghafiqi, the Umayyad governor-general of Spain crossed the Pyrenees and proceeded north towards the River Loire.
Beyond Charles Martel, there was no great power to stem the Muslim advance and had Abdul Rahman won the day, France, Germany, England and Netherlands would probably have become part of the Umayyad caliphate. Spain still remained an IslÄmic country for over 500 years after the Battle of Tours and had Tours had gone the other way, perhaps the reconquisita would never have happened.
The noted historian Edward Gibbon remarks in his epic work “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” (Chapter LII)
“A victorious line of march had been prolonged above a thousand miles from the rock of Gibraltar to the banks of the Loire; the repetition of an equal space would have carried the Saracens to the confines of Poland and the Highlands of Scotland; the Rhine is not more impassable than the Nile or Euphrates, and the Arabian fleet might have sailed without a naval combat into the mouth of the Thames. Perhaps the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Mahomet.”
While Tours is widely popular, most people have not heard of its anthesis, the Battle of Ayn Jalut that took place in 1260 CE.
The Mongols under Chengis Khan had devastated the IslÄmic lands of Central Asia and reduced the magnificent Abbasid capital of Baghdad to rubble. The Mamelukes of Egypt was the sole remaining Muslim power in the world. Shortly after ending the Abbasid caliphate, the Mongols eyed Egypt and send out a force under their general Ketbuga.
While the kings of the world shivered on hearing of the Mongols, the Mameluke sultan of Egypt, Qutuz and his brave and wily general, Baybars took on the Mongols head on at the landmark battle of Ayn Jalut (The Eye of Goliath), not too far from where David defeated Goliath. History repeated itself and the lesser army of Qutuz and Baybars won the day, annihilated the dreaded Mongol army and turned the tide against the Mongols irreversibly. The Crusaders were also swept away in the process.
Many historians tend to mistake Aynb Jalut as a battle between a Buddhist-Mongol force and an IslÄmic force. However, the fact remains that the Mongol commander Ketbuga was a Christian and had the Crusaders as his ally. Although the IslÄmic states had gained hegemony over the Crusader states by this time, the Crusaders were still strong and a decisive battle could have turned the tide irrevocably. Had Sultan Qutuz and his general Baybars lost Ayn Jalut, there was no army standing in the way of the Mongol-Crusader hordes from reaching the holy cities of Makkah and Medina, or overrunning the remaining Muslim lands of North Africa. With such a complete domination, a revival of the Muslim power under the Ottomans would probably not have taken place.
The Battle of Vienna
The Muslims got a second chance to wrest the European heartland from Christendom, this time from the other side. The first siege of Vienna took place in 1529 under the Ottoman caliph Suleiman the Magnificent. Suleiman I had defeated King Louis II of Hungary at the Battle of Mohacs in 1526 and came knocking at the gates of Vienna in 1529, but had to retreat owing to the inclement weather and the fact that Suleiman had exhausted his resources. However, this siege is not considered as a potential game changer by many historians as Suleiman was not in place to advance further even if Vienna had fallen.
The historian Toynbee nevertheless opines that "The failure of the first [siege of Vienna] brought to a standstill the tide of Ottoman conquest which had been flooding up the Danube Valley for a century past."
The landmark battle that could have still made Europe a predominantly IslÄmic continent was the second Ottoman attack on Vienna, popularly known as the Battle of Vienna that took place in 1683. Grand vizier Kara Mustafa led the Ottoman offensive. He would have carried on, taken Vienna and pressed beyond had he not run into Jan Sobeski, the king of Poland. Through skill and clever strategy, John Sobeski drove away the Ottomans. The point to note is that the Holy Roman Emperor and almost all the western powers of note had their stakes in the battle, and had Vienna fallen, there was no obstacle in the way of Kara Mustafa reaching Rome.