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10 Forgotten Nations That Once Ruled The Land

Rome annihilated Carthage to ensure it would never again rise as a major threat. The Ottomans forever ended Byzantium’s glory. The vast armies of Persia were repeatedly beaten back by the Greeks, subjugated by the might of Alexander, and destroyed by the rise of Islam. The fates of once great and proud nations fill the pages of history books—and then there are those forgotten powers even the history books seldom mention.

10 Burgundy Western Europe

France’s greatest historical rivals are often considered to be England or Germany. Yet, for a time, Burgundy was arguably its greatest opponent.

We’ve previously mentioned how Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne, divided the Carolingian Empire among his sons. His eldest, Lothair, received a vast swath of land that included what would become Burgundy. Over time, [amazon asin=0375758119&template=*lrc ad (left)]a powerful duchy evolved, controlling Burgundy proper, Alsace, Lorraine, Flanders, and Holland. At its height during the 15th century, it was one of the richest and most powerful states in Europe. The Burgundian’s rivalry with France knew no bounds—from betraying Joan of Arc to the English, to fighting on foreign soil during the War of the Roses.

For a time, it seemed that fortune favored Burgundy. Indeed, had history turned out differently, proper French might have been a mere dialect and Bourgignon the norm. The sudden death of Duke Charles the Bold on January 5, 1477 changed things entirely, raising the question of the Burgundian Inheritance. Charles’s only heir was his daughter, who was supposed to marry into the French royal house. Instead, she married Maximilian I, the Holy Roman Emperor and head of the House of Habsburg. In the subsequent race to claim the Burgundian lands, France merely traded one great rival for two more—Austria and Spain.

9 Novgorod Eastern Europe

The city of Novgorod, whose residents sometimes called it “Lord Novgorod the Great,” truly lived up to its name. Under the leadership of Alexander Nevsky, the Novgorodians vigorously defended their beloved city against [amazon asin=0547052103&template=*lrc ad (right)]invasions from Sweden and the Teutonic Knights. Though they were subjugated by the Mongols, they managed to retain a degree of independent rule and even rose to prosperity.

By the 14th century, Novgorod had become one of the busiest trading ports in Europe—an estimated 400,000 people lived in the city. The Novgorod Republic stretched from the Arctic Circle to the Ural Mountains. The people of Novgorod cherished their independence, beyond the grasp of autocratic kings.

Sadly, this state of affairs wouldn’t last forever. The Principality of Muscovy had long been jealous of Novgorod’s riches. Furthermore, Novgorod’s ties with Catholic Lithuania were anathema to the stern Orthodox doctrine followed by the Muscovites.

[amazon asin=1416552952&template=*lrc ad (left)]Ivan III, also known as “Ivan the Great,” invaded the city in 1471, subsequently annexing it in 1478. Nearly 100 years later, another Ivan, known to history as “Ivan the Terrible,” would lead his armies to massacre and exile many of Novgorod’s citizens, burning much of the city, and destroying priceless historical records. The glory of Novgorod was no more. It would be Muscovy (Moscow) that would become the center of Russian politics and society.

8 The Qara-Khitai Central Asia

During the 12th century A.D., the Khitan people, led by Yelu Dashi, fled west to escape the onslaught of the Jurchen tribes. Their Liao Dynasty empire in Northern China was no more, and they faced a grueling journey across the arid steppes to find a new place in the world.

By A.D. 1134, Yelu Dashi and his people had arrived in Balasagun, in modern-day Kyrgyzstan. Further conquests soon established a new empire—the Western Liao. Thanks to their Chinese heritage, the Khitan practiced[amazon asin=B001F34HT6&template=*lrc ad (right)] Buddhism mixed with Animist beliefs, while the majority of their new subjects were Muslim. Despite this, there was only harmony. In fact, some Muslims believed that their Khitan overlords were the “wall” between the Islamic world and the barbarous hordes beyond.

Decades of prosperity passed until the arrival of Kuchlug, a prince of the Naiman tribe of Mongolia, who had fled after his father was killed by Genghis Khan. Kuchlug, a Nestorian Christian, sought refuge among the Khitan and was even allowed to marry a Khitan princess. In A.D. 1211, Kuchlug usurped the throne, then began campaigns against neighboring Muslim kingdoms, forcibly converting captives to the Nestorian faith.

[amazon asin=B00INNP5VU&template=*lrc ad (left)]Seeing his chance, Genghis Khan sent his best lieutenants, Jebe Noyan and Subotai, to capture Kuchlug. Angered at the usurper’s actions, the Khitans readily welcomed the invaders. Kuchlug was defeated in battle and eventually beheaded in 1218. After the relatively peaceful conquest, the Mongols found that the formerly nomadic Khitan had become experts in statecraft and administration. They were assimilated into the Mongol Empire, not as soldiers, but as some of its finest civil officials.

The short-lived empire of the Khitan may have contributed to the legend of Prester John, a mythical Christian figure whom Crusaders believed would assault Muslim lands from the rear. Some historians claim that the Khitan’s earlier conquests helped fuel the legend, while other suggest that Kuchlug, as a Nestorian Christian, added to the stories.

The Khitan also had one more contribution to history. The old European name for China, “Cathay,” is derived from “Khitan.” Indeed, they were known in Europe as the “Qara-Khitai,” the “Black Cathays.”

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