12. Mesopotamia, Persia and Arabia

Known in Britain as the Middle East, this vast area was home to the Islamic faith, which swept away the late Roman Empire and, at its height, established its own Muslim civilisation in countries as far afield as Spain, the shores of the Danube and India. Britain had been involved in some of the crusading attempts to restore Christian control of Christ’s own country but, once that hope was extinguished, British interest in the region was purely as part of the Silk Road which brought exotic goods to Europe from the distant lands of the Indies and China. Britain began to resume regular contact with the region when the East India Company began trading with the East Indies. Trade was once again the precursor of later relationships, but apart from some treaties whereby Britain undertook to protect commerce and the ruling families with the might of the Royal Navy, Britain only established one quasi-colony, Aden, in the region in addition to some protectorates.

Britain became much more closely involved when oil was discovered in vast quantities throughout the region. British companies controlled most of the oil fields. New countries were carved out of the corpse of the Ottoman Empire after the Great War and Britain emerged as the governor, or major foreign influence, in the Persian Gulf and the ancient areas of Mesopotamia and Persia, which soon became known by their new names of Iraq and Iran. Although never part of the British Empire, these countries and the whole region played a major part in the later years of empire and are therefore included here.

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