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World History & Geography 1
Essentials of World History to 1500
What is history?
History is the story of human experience.
Why study history?• History shows us how the world works and how humans behave.
• History helps us make judgments about current and future events.
• History affects our lives every day.
• History is a fascinating story of human treachery and achievement.
What is geography?
Geography is the study of interaction between humans and the environment.
Why study geography?
• Geography is a major factor affecting human development.
• Humans are a major factor affecting our natural environment.
• Geography affects our lives every day.
• Geography helps us better understand the peoples of the world.
Overview of history and geography Page 1
Some basic concepts Page 2
Unit 1 - Origins of the Earth and Humans Page 3
Unit 2 - Civilization Arises in Mesopotamia & Egypt Page 5
Unit 3 - Civilization Spreads East to India & China Page 9
Unit 4 - Civilization Spreads West to Greece & Rome Page 13
Unit 5 - Early Middle Ages: 500 to 1000 AD Page 17
Unit 6 - Late Middle Ages: 1000 to 1500 AD Page 21
Overview: waves of history World history is the story of human experience. It is a story of how people, ideas, and goods spread across the earth creating our past and our present. To help us better understand this experience, we will divide history into four main eras: prehistory, ancient times, middle ages, and modern times. Our story begins during prehistory in east Africa where human life began. From Africa humans spread to Eurasia (Europe and Asia), to Australia, and finally to the Americas. Human migration was one of the great waves of history. During most of history, most humans made their living by hunting and gathering. Then about ten thousand years ago, people in the Middle East learned how to raise a wild wheat plant, and agriculture was born -- another big wave of history. No longer were humans constantly on the move searching for food. People could settle in one place, build cities, and make inventions like the plow, wheel, and writing. The complex societies that resulted are what we call civilization, another wave of history and the start of ancient times.
In terms of a human lifetime, waves of change moved slowly, and much stayed the same amid the changes. Waves of history were channeled over the earth by geography. The first civilizations arose in river valleys where rivers provided fresh water for raising crops and transportation for moving crops to market. Beginning in Mesopotamia, civilization spread west to Egypt and east to India. These three civilizations formed an early international trading network that eventually extended across the connected lands of Eurasia and North Africa, a vast region that lies in a temperate climate zone where most of the world’s people have lived since prehistoric times. More people meant more ideas, more inventions, and more diseases than in
other parts of the world. Waves of change took longer to reach sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas because they were separated from Eurasia by physical barriers of desert and ocean.
As agriculture replaced hunting and gathering, human population increased. People in civilized societies divided themselves into unequal social classes with priests and kings at the top. Wealthy landowners collected rent payments from poor farmers, men came to dominate women, and slavery became common.
In the grasslands of central Eurasia, nomadic people chose not to settle down and raise crops. They lived by herding animals from pasture to pasture with the seasons. They learned to ride horses, developed cavalry skills, and attacked settled communities. Sometimes these nomadic raiders conquered great civilizations.
During ancient times people in Eurasia invented many things that still define civilization today such as money, armies, iron, math, literature, democracy, and major world religions -- to name a few. Ancient times lasted for roughly 4,000 years, ending about 500 AD after nomadic raiders brought down great classical
civilizations in India, China, and the Mediterranean. The middle ages followed and lasted a thousand years.
Change spread to new places mostly through trading contacts. Some people welcomed change, while others avoided change and tried to maintain traditional ways. In the late middle ages, China was a superpower with the greatest navy in the world until China's rulers chose to limit contact with the outside world and dismantled the fleet. This choice opened the door for Europeans to make the great voyages of discovery that connected the world and began the modern era around the year 1500. Change was moving much faster now. Three centuries later, Europeans learned how to power machines by burning fuels, unleashing the Industrial
Revolution. This was another great wave of history.
At first, Europeans used their machines to dominate other peoples of the world who lacked advanced technology. Then Europeans turned their machines on each other, launching two suicidal world wars that ended European world dominance. The stream of time flows on. As always, we humans face challenges to our survival, but in our time the challenges are global. Communications and trade connect the world more closely today than ever before, but the world remains divided between the “haves” and the “have nots.” Our extensive use of technology is consuming much of the world’s resources and threatening the earth’s environment. History created our past and our present, but the future is up to us. There is no instruction manual for the future, but we have a guide that shows us how the world works and how humans behave. That guide is history.
Some basic concepts of history and geography
1. primary and secondary sources
We learn about the past from historians. But, where do historians get their information? Usually, they study primary sources, which are sources created at about the same time as the event being studied, often by people involved in the event. Examples of primary sources include artifacts uncovered by archeologists, art works, government records, diaries, letters, speeches, and newspaper articles. Historians also study secondary sources. These are sources created after the event by people not
involved in the event. Examples of secondary sources include history books, textbooks, and encyclopedias.
After historians examine their sources, they write histories based on their understanding of the truth. But, what they write may be influenced by their own opinions or by lack of information. It is not possible for historians to know everything about a past event, so they must rely on the evidence left behind in the form of primary and secondary sources. If new evidence is found, interpretations of history can change.
2. BC and AD
People in different parts of the world have adopted many ways to mark the passage of time. The Chinese calendar counts years from the reign of the mythical Yellow Emperor in 2698 BC. The Islamic calendar numbers years from 622 AD when Muhammad fled from Mecca. Both calendars are based on lunar cycles. The year 2000 in our calendar is 4697 in the Chinese calendar and 1421 in the Islamic calendar.
Our solar calendar comes from ancient Egypt. It was modified during the middle ages in Europe, and it has been adopted by most of the world for official purposes. Years are numbered from the birth of Christ: years before year 1 are designated BC for “Before Christ;” years after year 1 are designated AD, an abbreviation for the Latin term Anno Domini, which means “in the year of the lord.” AD years are counted forward from year 1; BC years are counted backward from year 1. Thus, 500 BC was earlier than 200 BC. In recent years, people who wish to avoid the reference to Christ have begun using the term BCE (Before the Common Era) to replace BC and CE (Common Era) to replace AD. The terms BCE and CE are used in some history books. The Student’s Friend uses the traditional terms BC and AD because they are more widely known in our culture, because there was no Common Era in history, and because non-Christians may object to the suggestion that the Christian era is the “common era” of humankind.
A hemisphere is any half of earth’s surface; the term comes from the Greek word for half a sphere. The equator (zero degrees latitude) divides the earth into the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere. The dividing line between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres is not so well defined, but it is
usually placed at the Prime Meridian (zero degrees longitude) or at 20 degrees west longitude. North and South America and surrounding waters are considered to be in the Western Hemisphere, while the continents of Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia are considered to be in the Eastern Hemisphere.
4. climate zones
The earth has three main climate zones: the tropics, the temperate zones, and the arctic and antarctic regions. Although local climates can vary considerably within zones, the tropics are generally the warmest areas of the earth because they are near the equator where the sun’s rays are most direct. The Tropic of
Cancer is an imaginary line that circles the earth at 23-1/2 degrees north latitude, the northernmost point reached by the sun during our summer (on the summer solstice). The Tropic of Capricorn lies at 23-1/2 degrees south latitude, the farthest point south reached by the sun during our winter (on the winter solstice).
The arctic and antarctic regions are located near the earth poles where the sun’s rays are least direct and weakest: thus these are the coldest areas of the earth. The Arctic Circle is an imaginary line that circles the earth at 66-1/2 degrees north latitude; the Antarctic Circle lies at 66-1/2 degrees south latitude.
Those areas of the earth that lie between the tropics and the arctic/antarctic regions are called the temperate zones, meaning areas where temperature and climate tend to be more moderate. Most of Asia, Europe, and North America lie within the northern temperate zone, which is a good place to grow crops.
This is where most of the world’s population has been concentrated since prehistoric times.
Unit 1 - Prehistory: Origins of the Earth and Humans
LOCATIONS: Europe, Asia, Africa, Antarctica, Australia, North America, South America, Ural Mountains, Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, Arctic Ocean, Great Rift Valley, Bering Strait, the tropics, arctic and antarctic regions, temperate zones
5. Big Bang theory
Most astronomers agree the universe probably began with an event similar to an explosion, a big bang. The universe is a term for all of outer space including the planets, stars, and galaxies. Galaxies are clusters of hundreds of millions of stars, and there are hundreds of millions of galaxies in the universe. Our world,
Earth, is located in the Milky Way galaxy, named after the milky-looking band of stars stretching across the night sky that is an edge-on view of our galaxy.
The Big Bang theory is supported by scientific observations that indicate galaxies in space are moving away from Earth. Astronomers use the speed of this movement to estimate the age of the universe at about 15 billion years. Many scientists accept a figure of about 5 billion years as the age of Earth.
Geographers divide most of the land surface of the earth into seven large landmasses called continents. The continents are Europe, Asia, Africa, Antarctica, Australia, North America, and South America. Antarctica is the only continent not settled by humans. The Ural Mountains of Russia are considered the dividing line between Europe and Asia. Europe and Asia form a single large landmass called Eurasia.
The continents, however, cover less than a third of the earth’s surface. Earth is mostly a water planet, and 97% of that water is found in the earth’s four oceans, the Pacific, the Atlantic, the Indian and the Arctic. Because ocean water is salty, it cannot be used for drinking, farming, or manufacturing. Far less
than 1% of the earth’s water is fresh water, water that is not salty and can be used to grow crops.
7. plate tectonics
According to the theory of plate tectonics, the earth’s surface is composed of about a dozen plates of solid material that slowly move as they float on a bed of magma, or molten rock. In other words, the surface of the earth resembles a cracked eggshell, and the pieces of the shell are moving. These plates include both
the ocean floor and the continents. The continents are simply high areas on the plates above sea level, so both the continents and the sea floor move with their plates. Earthquakes and volcanoes often occur at boundaries between plates as the plates push together, spread apart, or slide against one another. For example, the Pacific Plate is slowly grinding past the North American Plate in California creating enormous pressures along the San Andreas Fault that are expected to produce a major earthquake some time within the next few decades. Plate tectonics continues to shape the earth’s surface, as does erosion caused by wind and water. Scientists believe all of the present continents might have been together in a single large landmass long ago before they broke apart and drifted to their present
locations on the earth. This super continent of the past is called Pangaea.
8. Great Rift Valley
This is a valley in eastern Africa where two of the earth’s plates are spreading apart exposing the fossil remains of early humans. Fossils are the remains of living organisms that have been left behind after the living tissue has slowly been replaced by stone-like material that preserves the form of the original organism.
Scientists believe the Great Rift Valley might be where human life began and spread to other areas of the earth, making humans the most widespread species in the world. If so, we are all Africans. The Olduvai Gorge area of the Great Rift Valley has been the site of famous discoveries by the husband and wife team of Louis and Mary Leaky and other paleontologists. Until the 1960s, it was thought human life began in Asia until the Leakeys found older human fossils in Africa. (Paleontologists are
scientists who study the fossils of plants and animals.) The Leakey’s son, Richard, has written: “Humans are unique because they have the capacity to choose what they do…The most obvious product of our hands and brains is technology. No other animal manipulates the world in the extensive and arbitrary way that
humans do.” (Technology is a term for inventions and tools that help us do things better or more easily.)
Australopithecus was an extinct member of the hominid family, the biological family that includes modern humans. Australopithecus lived in Africa from about 4 to 1 million years ago. The first discovery of an early Australopithecus was made in the Great Rift Valley, the skeletal remains of a female now called Lucy. Because Australopithecus walked on two feet and had a relatively large brain, it might be considered an early human, although most scientists consider it prehuman. Walking upright was a big advantage; it gave Australopithecus a better view of the surrounding countryside, and it left both hands free to carry burdens
and to use primitive tools and weapons. Australopithecus is Latin for “southern ape.” (Many scientific terms in use today are derived from Latin, the language of the ancient Roman Empire.)
Culture is a term for the knowledge and achievements passed on from one generation to another to form the way of life shared by a group of people. Most people living in Europe and North America share a common culture known as Western Civilization, also called Western culture or simply the West. The East refers to Asia, Asian culture, or Eastern Civilization. (This use does not correspond to the hemispheres.)
Human culture may have begun with Homo erectus, another extinct member of the hominid family, who lived from about two million to a half-million years ago. Homo erectus is Latin for “upright human.” Homo erectus was the first hominid to leave Africa, migrating first to Asia and then to Europe. Homo erectus adapted to warm tropical climates and to freezing cold temperatures. Evidence from archeology indicates that Homo erectus developed a culture that included the
construction of shelters and the use of hand axes and fire and maybe spoken language. Fire was powerful; it meant that humans could keep predators away, eat better by cooking their food, and extend their habitat into colder climates. If the definition of human is the ability to create new inventions, Homo erectus might
qualify. (Archeology is the scientific study of the remains of past human life and human activities.) Perhaps the most important invention ever created by humans was spoken language. Language is a set of symbols that gives humans the capacity to communicate, cooperate, organize, and plan for the future.
11. Homo sapiens
This is the biological classification for modern humans. The earliest Homo sapiens were Neanderthals (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis), who developed about 400,000 years ago and went extinct shortly after encountering another human species with a more advanced culture including better weapons. The species that replaced Neanderthals was us, Homo sapiens sapiens. The term Homo sapiens is Latin for wise human.
From Africa, Homo sapiens spread over Eurasia and later reached Australia and America during Ice Ages when water locked in ice sheets lowered the level of oceans. Land exposed at the Bering Strait formed a “land bridge” where Asian peoples likely crossed to America while following wild game herds 15- 20,000 years ago. Other people might have migrated to America from Europe along the edge of ice sheets.
These travelers became the Native Americans of North and South America, the last continents to be occupied by humans. The arrival of these skilled hunters was followed by a die-off of large animals including horses and camels. A strait is a narrow body of water connecting two larger bodies of water. The Bering Strait, 50 miles wide, connects the Pacific Ocean to the Arctic Ocean between Russia and Alaska.
12. Stone Age
History has been divided into three eras based on the kinds of tools, or technology, that people used during these periods: the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age. By far the longest stretch of human history took place before and during the Stone Age, a period called prehistoric times, when people did not yet know how to read or write. The Stone Age began about 250,000 BC and ended about 4,000 BC when the
Bronze Age began in the Middle East. (These ages began at different times in different places.) During the Stone Age, people learned to use fire and make stone tools and weapons; they also developed spoken language and farming. The earliest discoveries of human art are also from the Stone Age. Paleolithic is a scientific term applied to the early Stone Age when humans made their living mostly by
hunting, scavenging, or gathering wild food such as nuts and berries. Neolithic means the late Stone Age when agriculture began, and copper tools were developed. (Neo means new; lithic means stone. Both terms come from Greek, another ancient language that contributed to the modern language we use today.)
Unit 2 - Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt: Civilization is Born
LOCATIONS: the Middle East, Mesopotamia, Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Israel, Mediterranean Sea, Sahara Desert, sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, Egypt, Nile river, Cairo
Before the Neolithic period, most humans made their living by hunting and gathering, which meant that humans were constantly on the move following wild game herds. This began to change about ten thousand years ago when people in the Middle East discovered they could plant and harvest a wheat plant they found growing wild. At about the same time, people began to domesticate wild animals, raising them for food and as a source of power that could pull wagons and plows. (Agriculture means farming and raising livestock.) People no longer had to follow the wandering animal herds; they could settle in one place, grow crops, and eventually build towns and cities. With permanent homes, people could collect more possessions, which
encouraged the invention of new technologies such as pottery making and looms for weaving. Because agriculture could support more people per square mile than hunting and gathering, human population jumped from about two million people during the early Stone Age to about 60 million during the late Stone Age. Farmers learned to grow more food than they needed for their own use, resulting in a surplus.
Agricultural surpluses made it possible to accumulate wealth, and they led to job specialization because not everyone had to raise food to make a living. Some people could specialize in non-agricultural work -- like making pottery, or becoming priests or government officials -- and be supported by others from the
agricultural surplus. Agriculture became the main source of wealth in most societies until the industrial age.
14. Jericho (JAIR-uh-koe)
Agriculture and irrigation began in an area of the Middle East called the Fertile Crescent that stretched from Iraq to Egypt. Villages grew near farmlands, and the world’s first known city developed at Jericho in Palestine around 8,000 BC. Walls were built around Jericho to protect its agricultural surplus from nomadic
raiders. Warfare, too, might have begun at Jericho. Agriculture developed later in China and the Americas. Agriculture and other technologies spread fastest in Eurasia for several reasons: much of the Eurasia lies in a temperate zone suitable for agriculture; Eurasia had more plants and animals that could be raised by
humans, and it had more people. Diseases, which often come from contact with animals, spread fastest in Eurasia too. Hunting and gathering declined as agriculture became the way most humans made their living.
Agriculture made civilization possible because it permitted humans to settle permanently in one place, build cities, and develop complex societies. Large groups of people living together encouraged job specialization, the development of government, and written language, all of which are important features of
civilization. Writing probably began as a way to record business dealings, especially the exchange of agricultural products. Cities and writing are considered the primary indicators of civilization. When people started to write, prehistoric times ended, and historic times began. Not everything about civilization was positive. Complex societies usually meant greater separation of people into classes based on social position or wealth. Often a wealthy class of aristocrats controlled the land and collected rents from poor farmers. Society became divided between the “haves” and the “have nots.” Civilized societies also tended to be more warlike and more patriarchal (male dominated) than hunter-gatherer bands in which everyone helped to supply food that ensured the group’s survival.
16. the Middle East
The Middle East is a popular term for a region that includes southwest Asia and northeast Africa, extending from Libya in the west to Afghanistan in the east. The terms Near East or Southwest Asia are sometimes used to describe parts of this region. We can trace our Western culture back to the beginnings of civilization in the Middle East. It was also the birthplace of three major world religions, Judaism,
Christianity, and Islam. Today the Middle East is important as the major oil-producing region of the world and as a hot spot of international tension that includes the Arab-Israeli conflict, which began after World War
II, and two recent wars fought by the United States against Iraq.
Located in the modern country of Iraq, Mesopotamia is known as the “cradle of civilization” because it is here the first civilization began around 3500 BC, a date considered the beginning of ancient times. Mesopotamia is a region, not a country, within the larger region of the Middle East. Regions are the basic units of geography. A region is an area of the earth with consistent cultural or physical characteristics. Regions may be large like the Middle East, or they may be smaller like Mesopotamia. Mesopotamia lies between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers; the name Mesopotamia means “between the waters” in Greek. Here farmers learned to build irrigation systems that turned the dry valley into a prosperous center of agriculture supporting many people. This is an early example of how humans can
change the natural environment. As settlements in southern Mesopotamia grew into busy cities, this area called Sumer became the world’s first civilization. The Sumerians built walled cities and developed the earliest-known writing called cuneiform, in which scribes (record-keepers) carved symbols onto wet clay
tablets that were later dried. The Sumerians are credited with writing the world’s oldest story, the Epic of Gilgamesh, about the life of a Sumerian king. The Sumerian number system was based on 12, which explains why we have 60-minute hours, 24-hour days, 12-month years, and 360-degree circles.
We can find the beginnings of religion in Neanderthal burials that included food and tools, presumably for use in the afterlife. Religion may have begun as a way to cope with misfortune and with the human awareness of death. Early religions usually worshiped several gods, a practice called polytheism. Religion was extremely important in Sumer where in the beginning priests were the most powerful
people in society. Later, warrior kings would take control. Priests supervised the worship of seven great gods: earth, sky, sun, moon, salt water, fresh water, and storm. Sumerians believed their gods lived in statues housed in temples including large pyramid-like structures called ziggurats. Priests fed the gods twice daily.
19. Code of Hammurabi
Because the fertile valley of Mesopotamia had no natural barriers for protection, its wealth attracted many raiders and conquerors over the centuries. Civilizations came and went amid much warfare. One of the most powerful civilizations to arise in Mesopotamia was Babylon (1900 to 500 BC).
Hammurabi was an early king of Babylon who created an empire by bringing much of Mesopotamia under his control. (An empire is a collection of states [countries] controlled by one ruler.) Hammurabi helped unite the Babylonian empire by publishing a set of laws known as the Code of Hammurabi, history’s first known written laws. He had the 300 laws of the code carved onto stone pillars for all to see, which
meant that nobody was above the law; it applied to everyone. The goals of Hammurabi’s Code included, “stable government and good rule...that the strong may not oppress the weak.” Babylon later became known for its hanging gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and for the decadent life-style of its people; “a Babylon” now means a place of corruption and sin. The
Bible mentions the Tower of Babel, probably a ziggurat, that the builders hoped would reach to heaven. In response to their arrogance, God confused the builders’ language so they could no longer understand one another’s speech. The Bible says this is how people in the world came to babble in different languages.
The Hebrews were an ancient people of the Middle East who established the kingdom of Israel at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea about 1000 BC. There they founded the religion of Judaism. Judaism was unusual because it worshipped only one God (monotheism). It was also a universal religion that could be worshipped anywhere; it was not tied to a particular place like the gods of Sumer. The Israelites were conquered by the Babylonians in the 500s BC and taken to Babylon in chains.
During the exile in Babylon, Jewish scribes began to write the Bible in effort to preserve Hebrew culture and religion. Laws contained in the Bible such as “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” have a basis in the Code of Hammurabi. Over the centuries since then, Jews have settled in many parts of the world, but they
have maintained their identity as a people. (The Jewish Bible is what Christians call the Old Testament.) The modern-day effort by Jews to regain their ancient homeland has resulted in conflict in the Middle East as Jews moved into Palestinian Arab lands and established the new nation of Israel.
21. Bronze Age
The Stone Age was followed by the Bronze Age when people learned to make bronze tools, ornaments, and weapons. Bronze is made by combining copper with tin, which produces a harder metal than copper alone, and it holds an edge much longer. The Bronze Age was a time of great invention; the wheel, plow, writing, money, cities, armies and chariots all came into use during the Bronze Age in Mesopotamia.
The Bronze Age is important in history as the period when civilization and writing began, marking the end of prehistoric times and the beginning of ancient times. In Mesopotamia, the Bronze Age lasted from roughly 4000 BC to the beginning of the Iron Age around 1000 BC
Not long after the world’s first civilization arose between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in Mesopotamia, civilization spread west to the Nile River valley of Egypt. Egyptians probably learned about irrigation, the plow, writing, and other technologies from Mesopotamia. Egypt is said to be a “gift of the
Nile” because the river provided irrigation water, fertile soils due to annual floods, and easy transportation by boat. Boats on the Nile were pulled north by the Nile’s current, and they sailed south with the prevailing winds. Egyptians considered the river sacred; it separated the “land of the living” on the east bank (where the sun rises) from the “land of the dead” on the west bank (where the sun sets). Egypt’s two main geographic features are the Nile and the Sahara Desert. Ancient Egypt was a long, narrow oasis along the river in the desert. It has been said, “geography is destiny,” and perhaps this was true in Egypt where the Nile was the lifeblood of the country, and the desert provided natural barriers to enemies
permitting ancient Egyptian civilization to last for 3,000 years, the longest in history (3100 BC to 30 BC). Ancient Egyptians had a polytheistic religion; their important gods included Ra, god of the sun and creator of life, and Osiris, god of rebirth. The struggle between Osiris and his evil brother Set represented
the eternal struggle between good and evil. Many works of art, literature, and architecture survive from ancient Egypt including huge tombs of the
pharaohs, the Sphinx, and the great pyramids near Cairo, Egypt’s modern day capital city. The ancient Egyptians also developed a 365-day solar calendar that is the basis for the calendar we use today.
Pharaohs were the kings of ancient Egypt who were worshipped as gods. Their wealth came from the bountiful agriculture made possible by the Nile. Egypt’s Pharaohs controlled strong central governments that built massive public works such as the irrigation systems that tamed the Nile’s floods allowing agriculture to
flourish in the desert. The pharaohs also built impressive temples and monuments that still stand today. Notable among Egypt’s pharaohs were Ramses II (Ramses the Great) who was a warrior as well as a builder of great temples and statues, and Queen Hatshepsut, the first important woman ruler in history. Cleopatra
was the last queen of the thirty-one dynasties, or ruling families, of Egypt.
The best-known pharaoh is Tutankhamen, or King Tut, who died at the age of eighteen. Although his reign was not very important, he became famous in our time for the discovery of his unplundered tomb in the 1920s, the only tomb of a pharaoh found intact. Grave robbers looted the other tombs centuries ago. Although Tutankhamen was a minor king, his tomb contained fantastic riches: over 5,000 objects in four
rooms including a spectacular life-like mask of solid gold that covered the head and shoulders of his mummy (his preserved body). King Tut’s tomb is one of the most impressive archeological discoveries of all time.
As societies grew larger, government became necessary to provide an orderly way to make decisions, to maintain public order through police and courts, and to supply services that were not provided by merchants. In the hot Egyptian desert, for example, lack of water could mean starvation and death. Only government
could ensure that all farmers received their fair share of water and that all farmers maintained their ditches so irrigation systems did not break down.
Today, governments still maintain public water systems, and they perform other functions not provided by business such as national defense and education. Major types of governments in history have included monarchies (kings & queens) based on rule by a royal family (dynasty), democracies based on rule by the
people, and dictatorships in which one person takes control of a nation, usually with help from the military.
Ancient Egyptians were preoccupied with religion and the afterlife. The status of priests in Egyptian society was just below that of pharaohs. For a person to enter the next life, the body had to be preserved through mummification and religious rituals performed by priests. Skilled embalmers prepared the body by
removing the vital organs, then drying and wrapping the body in strips of linen. Eventually, ordinary Egyptians were mummified, and archeologists have even discovered an ancient Egyptian cemetery filled with mummified cats. All Egyptians, including pharaohs, had an incentive for doing good during their lives;
the Egyptian religion held that good works were necessary to enter the afterlife.
The most famous burial tombs of ancient Egypt are the great pyramids at Giza near Cairo. These and other tombs were built to house the bodies of pharaohs for the afterlife. The pyramids are the oldest and the only remaining examples of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Without iron tools or wheeled vehicles, workers cut, moved, and lifted millions of limestone blocks weighing an average of 2.5 tons each.
Archeologists believe the workers who built the pyramids were not slaves, but valued members of society who lived in a nearby community with their families. Standing guard over the pyramids at Giza is the Sphinx, a great rock sculpture with the head of a pharaoh and the body of a lion. The age of pyramid
building in Egypt lasted from about 2700 BC to 1000 BC.
This was the ancient Egyptian system of writing that used pictures to represent words or syllables. Hieroglyphics preserved records of ancient Egyptian culture for thousands of years. Egyptians carved hieroglyphics into stone, and they wrote on papyrus made from a reed plant that was pressed and dried to make a paper-like material. Paper gets its name from papyrus. Papyrus was rolled onto scrolls, which made written records lightweight, compact, and portable. Modern people did not understand Egyptian hieroglyphics until the Rosetta Stone was discovered in
Egypt by Napoleon’s armies in the late 1700s. Carved into the Rosetta Stone was a message written in hieroglyphics along with a translation in Greek. Modern scholars understood Greek and used it to break the code of hieroglyphics. Now we can read about details of life in ancient Egypt ranging from love poems to surgical procedures. A “Rosetta Stone” has come to mean the key to understanding a difficult problem.
Egypt is located in the northeast corner of Africa, which is the second-largest continent after Asia. Africa’s major geographic features include the Sahara Desert in the north, the Kalahari Desert in the south, and tropical rain forests centered on the Congo River basin in south-central Africa. In eastern Africa are the
Great Rift Valley, the Nile river, and Africa’s highest mountain, Mt. Kilimanjaro. The savanna is a large land area in central and southeast Africa with grasslands and scattered trees. The savanna is home to many of the famed large wild animals of Africa including lions, giraffes, and elephants. The Nile is the longest river in the world. It originates in the highlands of central Africa and flows north
for more than 4,000 miles to the Mediterranean Sea where it forms a wide triangle-shaped delta in northern Egypt. Deltas are flat areas of land that sometimes form at the mouths of rivers where the rivers deposit sediment as they flow into the sea. Because of their abundant wildlife and plant life, deltas have always
attracted humans. Egypt’s two largest cities, Cairo and Alexandria, are located on the Nile River delta.
28. Sahara Desert
The Sahara Desert is about the size of the United States, which makes it the world’s largest dry desert. It extends from the Atlantic Ocean on the west to the Red Sea on the east, and it continues to grow to the south. The Sahara separates North Africa from sub-Saharan Africa. North Africa borders the Mediterranean Sea and includes the Sahara and lands lying to the north of the desert including the Atlas
Mountains and the modern countries of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt.
Sub-Saharan Africa is the land that lies south of the desert. It has sometimes been called “black Africa” because its people have darker skins than North Africans. Dark skin appears to be an adaptation to climate. People living in the tropics need more skin pigment to protect them from intense rays of the sun, while people living closer to the earth’s poles have paler skins to absorb more sunlight. It’s been estimated that it took something like 20,000 years for skin color to go from black to white as humans spread out from Africa. So race is only skin deep. People with black skins also live near the equator in India and Australia.
Unit 3 - Ancient India and China: Civilization Spreads East
LOCATIONS: India, China, Japan, Asia Minor (Turkey), East Asia, Indus River, Yellow River, the steppes, Silk Road, southern ocean trade route, Himalayas.
Asia is the world’s largest continent, sharing the landmass of Eurasia with Europe. The Ural Mountains of Russia are considered the dividing line between Asia and Europe. Asia was the site of three of the world’s earliest civilizations, in Mesopotamia, India and China. Today Asia has three-fifths of the
world’s population and the two most populous countries in the world, China and India. Because Asia is so huge, geographers have divided Asia into several regions. On the western side of Asia is the Middle East that includes Asia Minor (present day Turkey). Farther east is central Asia. To the south lies the Indian
subcontinent. On the eastern side of Asia are East Asia (sometimes called the Far East) and Southeast Asia.
Most of the country of India is a triangular-shaped peninsula that juts into the Indian Ocean. Due to its central location on the Indian Ocean between China and the Middle East, India became the ancient world’s largest trading center. India also gave the world important new ideas including the numbering system we use
today and the religions of Hinduism and Buddhism. Today India is the second most populous country in the world after China, and India is the world’s largest democracy. The capital of India is New Delhi. India and nearby countries form a region known as the Indian subcontinent or Southern Asia. After civilization first emerged in Mesopotamia and Egypt, it spread east to India. The earliest
civilization in India grew along the Indus River valley of western India around 2500 BC. The Indus Valley Civilization had a written language and large cities with sophisticated plumbing systems. These were the first people to grow cotton. Ships and overland trade caravans connected India to Mesopotamia and Egypt in an early international trading network. The Indus Valley Civilization lasted for about a thousand years and was replaced by a new culture ruled by nomadic raiders who moved in from central Asia.
31. the caste system
The chariot warriors from the north who took control of India are called Aryans. Because India’s early cities collapsed, and the Aryan invaders were illiterate (could not read and write), civilization was lost in India for several centuries. Nonetheless, the light-skinned Aryans from the north made themselves the ruling
class in the caste system, a social system that still has influence today. Under India’s caste system, people were born into permanent classes for life, and they could marry only within their own caste. There are four main castes with complicated rules of behavior: 1) the priests, 2) the warriors, 3) the
merchants, and 4) the common people, mostly peasants and laborers. Most people of ancient India were in the commoner class, which had limited rights. A fifth group, the Untouchables, was outside the caste system. Considered not human, Untouchables performed the worst jobs such as cleaning toilets and burying the dead. While the caste system may seem unfair to us today, it provided a means for different kinds of
people to live together peacefully, and it avoided the widespread slavery present in many ancient cultures.
Hinduism is the oldest major religion in the world today; it survived so long by changing and adjusting to new circumstances. To Hindus all religions are acceptable, and the practices of other religions may be included as part of Hindu worship. Hindus believe in an eternal and infinite spiritual principle called Brahman that is the ultimate reality and foundation of all existence. Brahman can take the form of many gods including Brahma the creator of the universe, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer. For Hindus, a proper life is unconcerned with worldly riches; the goal is to seek union with Brahman, a quest that may take many lifetimes. Hindus believe in reincarnation, meaning the soul never dies and may be reborn
again in a different body. Karma, all of the actions of a person’s life, will determine if a person returns in the next life at a higher level on the ladder of incarnation and closer to union with Brahman. Hinduism is the largest religion of India and a defining feature of Indian culture. Hinduism and the caste system served to maintain order among India’s many ethnic groups because each person knew his or
her place in society, and people who followed the rules could hope to move to a higher caste in the next life.
Not everyone in India was satisfied with Hinduism. In the 500s BC, a young Hindu prince raised in luxury became troubled by the suffering he saw in the world. He left his wife and infant son to become a wandering monk, seeking a way to end the suffering. After six years of solitary searching, he found an answer and began to teach. His followers called him the “Buddha” or “the enlightened one.”
Buddha taught that our life in the physical world is merely an illusion. When people let go of their worldly pain and worries, they can unite with the universal soul and achieve a state of complete peace called nirvana. Like Hindus, Buddhists believe nothing is permanent; life constantly moves through cycles of birth, death, and rebirth like the turning of a wheel. Although Buddha accepted the Hindu belief in
reincarnation, he taught that people could achieve nirvana from their actions in this life alone, and he rejected the caste system. For these reasons, Buddhism became popular among the lower classes in India. Today Buddhism is a major world religion. Although it began in India, Buddhism spread to the east and
declined in India as Buddhism was absorbed into Hinduism. Buddhists are now found in the greatest numbers in East Asia and Southeast Asia.
Centuries after the Indus Valley Civilization died, cities and civilization arose again farther to the east in the fertile Ganges river valley. India was torn by warfare between kingdoms until the first Indian empire was established in the Ganges valley by the Mauryan dynasty in 324 BC. Its greatest leader was Asoka, who extended his empire to the south in a bloody invasion that conquered all but the southern tip of India. Then Asoka had a sudden change of heart. He publicly announced his grief at the suffering caused by his armies, and he rejected violence. He even gave up hunting and eating meat. Asoka converted to Buddhism, and he spread Buddhist ideals throughout India and to neighboring countries. Legend says Asoka had 84,000 round Buddhist shrines called stupas constructed across India. Ruling India with Buddhist
ideals, Asoka’s government promoted the welfare of the people by kind acts such as digging new wells, building hospitals for people and animals, allowing freedom of religion, and easing harsh laws. It was during Asoka’s reign that India became the center of a vast southern ocean trading network when sailors from many Asian lands transported goods all the way from China to Africa and the Middle East.
35. Gupta Empire
Historians consider the Mauryan Empire and the Gupta Empire that followed (in the 300s and 400s AD) to be the greatest civilizations of India’s classical period. The reign of the Gupta Empire has been called India’s “golden age,” the high point of Indian history when art, drama, literature, and science flourished.
Gupta mathematicians invented the zero, an amazing number with no value that gives value to the place of other numbers. The zero made it possible to calculate numbers faster and more accurately, and it was adopted the world over. Doctors developed an inoculation against smallpox. Farmers learned how to turn the juice from sugarcane into dried sugar crystals that could be easily stored and traded over long distances.
Cotton from India clothed people across much of the ancient world. Gupta India was a land of wonders. The Gupta Empire declined in the early 500s AD when tribes of nomadic horsemen called Huns invaded from grasslands to the north, but the cultural patterns that developed during India’s classical period created a vital civilization in southern Asia that endures to this day.
36. nomadic raiders
People of ancient times developed four basic patterns for making a living. Some were still living by hunting and gathering, but most people lived in farming villages. Another group lived in cities supported largely by wealth from agriculture. A fourth group lived in pastoral societies; these were nomadic herders
of the grasslands who moved their domesticated animals -- sheep, goats, cows, and horses -- from pasture to pasture with the seasons. Pastoral people were mobile, and they developed military tactics to protect their animals from thieves.
Pastoral nomads of the steppes (grasslands of central Eurasia) became skilled at using horses in warfare, and they sometimes raided settled communities. These were the nomadic raiders who attacked Jericho, Sumer, the Indus Valley civilization, the Gupta Empire, and others. Many governments of Eurasia began with nomads sweeping in from the steppes. Centuries of warfare between nomadic raiders and civilized peoples
in Eurasia led to advancements in military organization and technology unmatched elsewhere in the world.
The world’s fourth great civilization also got its start along a river valley, the Yellow river of northeastern China where farmers grew millet and wheat. Farming later moved south to the Yangtze (YONG-zuh) river, where rice production led to an increase in China’s population. The land between the rivers became the center of Chinese civilization, the so-called “Middle Kingdom.” Early Chinese culture
grew in relative isolation due to physical barriers and long distances that separated it from other major civilizations of Eurasia. The world’s highest mountain range, the Himalayas, separated China from India. The Chinese have long believed in a philosophy that recognizes a fundamental balance in nature between opposite but complimentary principles called yin and yang. Examples include day-night, hot-cold,
wet-dry, and male-female. Central to Chinese philosophy and religion is a belief that people should avoid extremes and seek harmony with the balance of nature. (A philosophy is a system of basic beliefs about life.) With nearly one-fourth of the world’s population, China today is the world’s most populous country,
and it has a fast-growing economy. China was a superpower in the past, and many observers expect it to become a superpower again in this century. China and its neighboring countries of Mongolia, Korea, and Japan form a region bordering the Pacific Ocean known as East Asia or the Far East.
38. mandate from heaven
The Zhou (JOH) dynasty took control of China in 1122 BC and ruled for nearly 900 years. To give their government legitimacy, Zhou and later Chinese rulers claimed to rule with approval from the gods, a mandate from heaven. Although this claim was meant to enhance the emperor’s authority, it also established the right to overthrow an ineffective emperor. The emperor was expected to protect his people by ruling in a
way that pleased the gods. If trouble developed in the empire -- droughts or military defeats, for example -- people might say the emperor had lost his mandate from heaven, and the emperor could be overthrown. Over many centuries, China’s history experienced a recurring pattern. A ruling dynasty would start out
strong and gradually weaken over time until it was replaced by a new dynasty. Then the pattern would repeat. The Zhou rulers controlled their kingdom through a feudal system, meaning they divided the land into smaller territories and appointed officials to govern them. When the Zhou dynasty eventually weakened,
some of these territories developed into strong states that opposed the emperor and began fighting among themselves. These bloody conflicts lasted for over two centuries, a time called the “Warring States” period.
Confucius was born in 551 BC when Zhou rulers were losing control of their empire. He tried to return harmony to China with a philosophy based on devotion to the family, respect between the classes, high moral ideals, and learning. He emphasized individual duty and responsibility, what we might call a strong work
ethic. The family was the center of Confucian society with the father at the head. The mother and children owed total obedience to the father. Family ancestors were honored and not forgotten. Confucius promoted an orderly society in which people of higher rank were courteous to those below, and those of lower rank were respectful to those above. Confucius said a ruler should act like a good father and lead by example, not through power and harsh laws. “When the ruler does right, all men will imitate his self-control.” While the teachings of Confucius were not influential in his lifetime, they soon became a guiding philosophy of Chinese civilization, and they still exert a strong influence on Chinese culture today.
40. The First Emperor
One of China’s warring states, the Qin (CHIN) kingdom of western China, grew wealthy from agriculture based on extensive irrigation. With this wealth, the Qin ruler raised a powerful army and spent twenty years ruthlessly conquering China’s warring states. He declared himself First Emperor in 221 BC. Thus, it was the First Emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, who created the country of China and gave it its name.
In order to unify China, the First Emperor stripped the regional warlords of their power, and he forced them to move to the capital where he could control them. He also standardized the Chinese language, money, roads, and weights and measures. The First Emperor ruled with a philosophy that considered people selfish and evil by nature; he adopted strict laws and harsh punishments to keep people in line. He also tried to control what people could think. It is said he buried scholars alive, burned books including the teachings of Confucius, and he brutally eliminated those who disagreed with him.
41. Great Wall of China
Natural barriers protected China on three sides: oceans to the east and south, mountains and desert to the west. But, China’s northern border lay open to attack from Huns. The First Emperor ordered a number of individual walls joined together to form one great stone wall to defend China’s northern border from attack.
Hundreds of thousands of laborers worked on the Great Wall for years, and many workers died under the harsh conditions. Gates in the wall became centers of trade with the nomadic peoples who lived outside. The Great Wall still stands, but it has been repaired and rebuilt a number of times over the centuries. The First Emperor also built for himself a magnificent underground tomb, and nearby he buried a terracotta army of life-size soldiers to protect him for eternity. (Terra cotta is the brownish-orange pottery used today to make flowerpots.) One pit contained sculptures of 6,000 infantrymen (foot soldiers), and a second pit held the cavalry (mounted soldiers) complete with life-size horses, all arranged in battle formation. Each clay soldier was modeled after an actual soldier of the emperor’s army. One of the great archeological finds of the twentieth century, the terra-cotta army was uncovered accidentally in 1974 by a farmer digging a well. Hoping to find a way to avoid death, the First Emperor experimented with a number of potions until he
killed himself by accidental poisoning. The Qin Dynasty lasted for only fifteen years, but it began a Chinese tradition of strong central governments controlled by powerful rulers.
42. Han Dynasty
The harsh rule of the First Emperor was so unpopular that the Qin Dynasty was overthrown shortly after the emperor’s death. Following a period of civil war, the Han Dynasty took control of China in 206 BC. Han rulers adopted Confucian ideas about creating a respectful and orderly society, and they set-up a civil
service system to run the government with well-educated officials.
The Han Dynasty expanded China’s empire to the south and west, and it produced marvels that would change the world including the ship’s rudder, the magnetic compass, and paper. The four-hundred-year reign of the Han Dynasty was so successful that most Chinese still call themselves “the Han people.” The Han dynasty weakened, fell apart, and was replaced by three kingdoms in 220 AD. About a hundred years later, nomadic invaders took control of the Chinese heartland. The period of classical civilization in China had ended, but the Chinese were left with an enduring belief that China was the center of civilization.
43. the Silk Road
During the Han Dynasty, regular caravan trade began over the Silk Road, actually a network of trails that stretched 4,000 miles from China to the Roman Empire. Only the Chinese knew how to raise silkworms and weave silk; Chinese silk was worth its weight in gold in Rome. Europeans also acquired a taste for other Asian luxury goods including spices, a taste that would later send Columbus on his voyages of discovery.
The Silk Road was a two-way street. Asian goods were traded for Western goods, which flowed back along the Silk Road to China. Imports from the west to China included gold, silver, powerful horses, new foods, and the religion of Buddhism. Overland trade routes such as the Silk Road were pioneered by nomads nomads provided caravans with pack animals and protection. The Silk Road in the north joined with the southern ocean shipping routes to form a vast trading web that spread goods, technologies, and ideas between Asia, Europe, and North Africa
44. Iron Age
The Bronze Age was followed by the Iron Age. This is when people learned how to use a draft of air from a furnace or bellows to produce the hot temperatures needed to melt iron from iron ore and to shape it into tools and weapons. Iron was much stronger than bronze, and it was less expensive because iron ore was
easier to find than the tin needed to make bronze. Iron working not only meant better tools and weapons, it meant lots more of them, a major technological change.
Iron working probably began in the Middle East about 1200 BC and quickly spread far and wide. Iron had a big impact on agriculture and warfare. Iron plow blades and hoes made it possible to work heavier soils than before, extending agriculture into new lands. With more effective and less expensive iron weapons and armor, armies grew bigger and deadlier. The Iron Age continues to the present day, although some
might say we live in the “Industrial Age” or the “Information Age.”
Unit 4 - Ancient Greece and Rome: Civilization Spreads West
LOCATIONS: Greece, Crete, Black Sea, Athens, Persian Empire (Iran), Alexandria, Italy, Rome, Roman Empire, Carthage, Alps, Constantinople (Istanbul)
The first civilizations to develop in Europe were extensions of the early civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. Europe’s earliest major culture was the Minoan civilization of Crete, the largest of the Greek
islands. Minoan culture was strongly influenced by Egypt. Minoan civilization is the source of the Greek myth about the hero Theseus who entered the labyrinth (a maze) and slayed the Minotaur. Greece is a mountainous and rocky peninsula with little good farmland, but its long irregular coastline provided fine harbors. Many Greeks turned to the sea to make a living by fishing and trading. Greeks established colonies and dominated trade in the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Greek communities isolated by mountains developed into independent self-governing city-states that often fought one another. The leading city-states were Sparta with its strong military government and Athens, the present-day capital of Greece. The Greeks had a polytheistic religion; their gods lived on Mount Olympus. Greece is known for its classical civilization of 500 to 300 BC. Classical Greek culture, particularly that
of Athens, is famed for its beautiful arts, architecture, philosophy, theater, Olympic games, and for creating the first democracy. Classical Greece is considered the principal source of Western Civilization.
46. The Iliad and the Odyssey
Modern people still read literature from ancient Greece including the Iliad and the Odyssey, two epic (meaning long and heroic) poems by Homer. The Iliad takes place during the Trojan War when the Greeks used a large wooden horse with soldiers hidden inside to defeat the defenders of Troy in Asia Minor. The Odyssey recounts the adventures of the hero Odysseus who had to overcome many obstacles during his 10-
year voyage home from the war in Troy. These poems are the first literary works of Western Civilization. The heroes of Greek myths such as the Iliad and the Odyssey served as models of excellence for the ancient Greeks. In both poems, reason and wisdom are more powerful than physical strength. Homer’s poems were later the inspiration for a great outpouring of literature during the classical Greek age.
47. Persian Wars
Centered in present day Iran, the Persian Empire stretched from the Middle East to India; it was the largest empire the world had yet seen. The Persians tried to add Greece to their empire in the 400s BC, but the Greeks united long enough to defeat them. At the Battle of Marathon, Greeks repelled a larger invading
force of Persians, and legend says a Greek soldier ran nearly 26 miles from the battlefield to Athens where he died after delivering news of the victory. This legend is the basis for the modern marathon foot race. In fighting ten years later (480 BC), the people of Athens fled to the nearby island of Salamis after the
Persians conquered and burned Athens. The Persian king Xerxes had his throne placed on a hill where he could watch his fleet of 700 warships destroy the Greek navy of about 300 ships. Instead, Xerxes watched in horror as the Greeks lured his navy into a narrow strait that prevented many of the Persian ships from joining
the battle. The Greeks won the battle, and the Persian Wars soon ended. Because the victory at Salamis preserved Greek culture, some historians have called this “the battle that saved Western Civilization.”
A statesman named Pericles became the political leader of Athens following the Persian Wars. Although the wars had ended, Persia remained a military threat, and other Greek city-states paid money to Athens for protection. Pericles used this income to rebuild his burned-out city and to finance the construction of magnificent new buildings including the Parthenon. The Parthenon is a temple built to honor
Athena, goddess of wisdom and war and the patron goddess of Athens. The Parthenon is the main building on the Acropolis, a high point in Athens that was the center of Athenian life and a fortress against attack. Although the Parthenon is now in ruins, it is famed for its beauty and proportion. It is probably the most influential building in the history of Western architecture. The Parthenon has served as a model for important buildings in much of the world including the Lincoln Memorial in the United States. Like all classical Greek temples, the Parthenon was built with closely spaced columns that left little interior space.
The Greeks established a new kind of society by inventing the polis. The polis was an association of free male citizens who served as the soldiers who defended their city-state from attack, and they managed the government. The polis chose leaders to govern the city-state for a limited period of time, often a year. This
approach was quite different from other ancient societies in which government was headed by a king, and the people were separated by class into a small group of the rich and a large group of the poor. The democratic principals developed in the polis reached their greatest extent during the rule of Pericles in Athens where every citizen was expected to participate in government. Democracy is a form of
government in which power lies with the people who may exercise that power directly as they did in ancient Athens where all citizens could vote on new laws. Or, power may be exercised indirectly through elected representatives as we do in the United States. (“Democracy” comes from the Greek word for “the people.”) Most of the Greek city-states did not have democratic government, and even in Athens, citizens were a
minority of the population because women, slaves, and foreign-born persons did not qualify as citizens.
The ancient Greeks considered human beings to be the center of existence. Unlike other ancient cultures that were deeply concerned with religion, gods, and the afterlife, the philosophy and arts of classical Greece were concerned with the value of human beings on earth. This emphasis on humans can be seen in Greek art that portrayed the human body realistically. Art of the classical Greek period was much more realistic than the stiff, formal art of earlier eras such as the art of ancient Egypt and early Greece. Greeks strived for excellence in the way they conducted their daily lives. They believed that reason was the true source of knowledge and that a wise person was the best person. Reason, not emotion, should rule
our lives. This concern with human life, and the effort to improve humanity through reason, is called humanism. Greek humanism emphasized order in daily life, nothing in excess, a balance between extremes known as “The Golden Mean.” In school, for example, both the body and the mind were trained. Over two thousand years later, Greek humanism would shape the Renaissance and the Enlightenment in Europe.
51. Socrates (SOCK-ruh-tees)
Talented artists and thinkers were drawn to Athens during the Age of Pericles. One of the best known was the philosopher Socrates. He was famed for saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates encouraged his students to question accepted wisdom including government policies. But, the golden age of Athens was about to end as Athens went to war with Sparta. Early in the fighting, a plague of typhoid fever killed a third of the residents of Athens including Pericles. After 27 years of warfare, Athens was defeated and went into decline. Socrates was condemned to death by the citizens of Athens for neglecting the gods and corrupting the morals of the young. Many historians believe, however, that Socrates was made a scapegoat for the decline of Athens after its defeat by Sparta. Socrates did not leave behind written works; his philosophy was carried forward by his student, Plato.
Plato was deeply troubled by the death of his friend Socrates, and it caused him to question democracy; he warned that clever leaders could easily manipulate citizens who often know little about the important issues in society. Plato established a school called The Academy, the first real university. His most famous student
was the philosopher Aristotle whose ideas would dominate Western scientific thought for centuries to come.
52. Hellenistic Civilization
Despite the decline of Athens, Greece would again take the center stage of history with the conquests of Alexander the Great, a young man from the mountainous northern region of Greece called Macedonia. Alexander’s tutor was Aristotle, and his father was Philip of Macedon, who succeeded in conquering all of Greece in 322 BC, ending the independence of the Greek city-states. After his father died, Alexander took
control of Greece at the age of 20, but Alexander wanted more. Alexander succeeded in conquering Egypt and much of the ancient world, extending his empire all the
way to India. In the process, he defeated Greece’s old enemy, the Persian Empire. Alexander never lost a battle, but he became sick with fever and died at the age of 32. His empire fell apart and was divided among his top generals. After his death, a new culture emerged known as Hellenistic civilization, a blend of Greek, Persian, Egyptian and Indian influences that would flourish for centuries. Alexandria, Egypt, one of the cities founded by Alexander, had a great library that was the center of learning of the Hellenistic world.
53. Roman Empire
Rome, the capital of present-day Italy, was also the capital of the ancient Roman Empire. The Romans were a practical and hard-working people, and Rome’s sturdy farmers made good soldiers. Rome was only a small town on the Tiber River when Athens was at the height of its glory, but Rome grew to become a strong
city-state at about the time of Alexander the Great. The Romans adopted Hellenistic culture; their gods, arts, and architecture resembled those of the Greeks. At first, kings ruled Rome, and then about 500 BC, the Roman Republic was established with a law-making body called the Senate. Every year the Senate chose two of its members to serve as co-rulers, or consuls. For a time Rome was a democracy, although wealthy
upper-class patricians held more than their fair share of political power. Later, during a time of trouble in the republic, Julius Caesar seized control of the government. His successors took the title of emperor. At its height, the Roman Empire completely encircled the Mediterranean Sea, extending from the Middle East to the British Isles. Rome’s central location in the Mediterranean made it an ideal location for building a large Mediterranean empire and international trading network. It was said, “All roads lead to Rome.” The empire had a strong central government that produced massive public works including paved
roads, government buildings, baths, sports arenas, and aqueducts (water transport structures). As the years passed, the Roman Empire weakened, was divided into two parts, and eventually fell to nomadic invaders.
Carthage was an ancient city on the coast of North Africa, and it was a powerful rival of Rome. From 264-146 BC, Carthage and the Roman Republic fought three Punic Wars. During the second war, a general from Carthage named Hannibal led a huge army supported by war elephants from Spain through the Alps into Italy, a troop movement considered one of the greatest in history. Hannibal could not be stopped, and he
was threatening Rome when Roman armies attacked Carthage, forcing Hannibal to return to protect his homeland. Hannibal later poisoned himself rather than become a prisoner of the Romans. In the third and final Punic War, Roman armies burned Carthage to the ground and plowed under the remains. The people of Carthage were sold into slavery. With Carthage out of the way, Rome was free to
expand into new territories including Spain, Greece, and Egypt.
55. Julius Caesar
Turmoil came to the Roman Republic following the Punic Wars. Small farmers could not compete with cheaper agricultural products and slave labor imported from the conquered territories. Farmers lost their land to rich landowners and drifted to the cities. Mobs of poor people rioted in the streets of Rome demanding
more power. Civil war broke out when a successful general, Julius Caesar, moved his army out of Gaul (present day France) and marched toward Rome. Caesar won the civil war and became dictator for life in 48 BC, ending the Roman Republic that had existed for over 400 years. Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March (March 15th) in 44 BC by his friend Brutus and other senators opposed to Caesar’s dictatorship. Brutus and his fellow assassins wanted Rome to continue as a
republic. It didn’t. While some people believe Caesar was an arrogant tyrant, others give him credit for restoring order at a time when Rome’s republican government was no longer functioning effectively.
56. Pax Romana
During a trip to Egypt, Caesar fell in love with Cleopatra, the young queen of Egypt, and he brought her with him to Rome. After Caesar’s death, Cleopatra returned to Egypt, and civil war broke out again in Rome between Caesar’s supporters and his killers. Caesar’s friends won the struggle, and two of them took control of the empire, Octavian in the west and Antony in the east. When Antony traveled to Egypt, he too fell in love with Cleopatra. Although he was already married to Octavian’s sister, Antony married Cleopatra. In Rome, Octavian declared war on Antony and Cleopatra, and he eventually defeated their combined military forces. Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide. While alive, Cleopatra tried to keep Egypt great.
After her death, Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire, ending the 3,000-year reign of the pharaohs. Octavian became sole ruler of Rome and took the name Augustus, “the exalted one.” He proclaimed himself Rome’s first emperor and required his subjects to worship him as a god. He quietly stripped the Senate of its power, turning Rome into an empire disguised as a republic. Nonetheless, the reign of Augustus ended nearly a century of political strife in the Roman world, and it was the beginning of a 200-year-long period of peace and prosperity called Pax Romana, Latin for the “Roman Peace.”
57. Roman law
Rome’s empire grew to its largest size during the Pax Romana. How did Roman emperors control so huge an empire? One way was through a uniform system of law. Roman judges were required to weigh evidence fairly, and accused persons were considered innocent until proven guilty. The courts enforced legal contracts. These principles were later adopted in legal systems of other nations including the United States.
Roman law is one of the greatest legacies of the empire. The empire was also held together by a well-trained army, by communications based on an extensive road system, and by use of the Latin language. The Latin alphabet was derived from an earlier writing system developed by sea traders from Phoenicia on the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. From their travels, the Phoenicians learned about Sumerian
cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphics, writing systems that used hundreds of pictures or symbols to represent words or syllables. The Phoenicians looked for an easier way to communicate; they created just 22 symbols to represent spoken sounds. We call these symbols letters. Because the Phoenician Alphabet was simpler and more precise than picture writing, it spread to other cultures. It was adopted by the Greeks who
added vowels and by the Romans who modified the letters to become the alphabet we use today.
An arch is a curved opening that spans a doorway, window, or other space. The arch could span much greater distances than the column-and-beam architecture of the Egyptians and Greeks. Arches built side-byside created aqueducts; arches placed in front of one another formed large “vaulted” ceilings, and arches arranged in a circular pattern created domes. The arch was adopted on a large scale by the Romans who also developed the use of concrete as a construction material. The arch and concrete made it possible to construct public buildings with large interior spaces that could be used for practical purposes, not just as temples. One of the most impressive of these buildings is the Colosseum, a great arena of ancient Rome that
seated 50,000 spectators. Bloody and deadly contests were staged in the Colosseum for the entertainment of Roman citizens. Although the Colosseum is now in ruins, it remains a monument to Roman engineering. It is the best-known structure of the Roman Empire, and it is the symbol of the present day city of Rome. The Colosseum also symbolizes the decadence, or moral decay, of the later years of the Roman Empire.
59. Constantine the Great
By the fourth century AD, the Roman Empire was in confusion; it was running short of money and facing increasing pressure from raiders pushing in from the borders. In one 50-year period, 26 emperors reigned, and only one of them died of natural causes. At about this time a strong general named Constantine took control of the empire and tried to stop its decline. He is remembered as Constantine the Great.
Although Christianity had long been outlawed in the empire, Constantine legalized Christianity, and he ended the blood sports in the Colosseum. He also established Constantinople as the capital of the stronger eastern part of the Roman Empire, while Rome remained capital of the weakened western part of the empire.
Constantine ruled over both parts of the empire from Constantinople located on the Bosporus Strait, which connects the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. Constantinople was a prosperous crossroads of trade routes between Asia and Europe. Today, Constantinople is called Istanbul, and it is Turkey’s largest city.
60. Fall of Rome
Despite the best efforts of Constantine, the Roman Empire continued to decline after his death as nomadic warriors stepped-up their attacks. These nomads included the Huns who swept down from the steppes pushing other nomadic tribes ahead of them. The Visigoths sacked Rome in 410 AD, and the Vandals plundered Rome in 455. The Vandals were so destructive that “vandalism” comes from their name. The Romans considered these nomadic peoples to be culturally inferior and called them barbarians. Near
the end, the Roman Empire was in chaos, hiring barbarians to fight other barbarians.
The last emperor in the west was defeated in 476 AD, the date usually given as the Fall of Rome. It should be remembered, however, that the eastern portion of the Roman Empire lived on for another thousand years as the Byzantine Empire. Historians have long debated the causes of the Fall of Rome. Factors included a terrible plague, the decline of agriculture, heavy taxes, and a decadent upper class devoted to luxury and greed. Perhaps the more important question is not why Rome fell, but why it lasted so long.
Unit 5 - The Early Middle Ages, 500 AD to 1000 AD
LOCATIONS: Byzantine Empire, Scandinavia, Russia, Southeast Asia, Korea, Maya, Arabia, Mecca
61. the classical period
When people in the Western world speak of the classical period, they are usually referring to the classical cultures of ancient Greece and Rome. But in a larger sense, a classical period is a time when any culture undergoes significant advancement in fields such as philosophy or religion, government, the arts,
science, or technology. The term “classical” also implies a time when a culture develops distinctive and enduring features that help to define the culture and make it different from others. The three great classical civilizations of ancient times flourished between 1000 BC and 500 AD in India, China, and the Mediterranean. The Mauryan and Gupta dynasties gave India religious philosophies that focused on spiritual union and de-emphasized the concerns of this life. The Zhou, Qin, and Han
dynasties left China with a tradition of strong central governments headed by powerful rulers and a philosophy that promoted order, respect, learning and the importance of family. Greece and Rome gave Western Civilization a humanistic philosophy interested in improving life through reason and traditions of
citizen involvement in government and rule by law. These classical civilizations eventually weakened, and all three fell to nomadic invaders by about 500 AD, a date that may be considered the end of ancient times.
62. the middle ages
Historians do not agree about the best way to classify the eras of history, but many people use the term “middle ages” to identify the period between ancient times and modern times, a thousand years from approximately 500 AD to 1500 AD. In Western Europe, the early centuries of the middle ages are often called the Dark Ages because civilization was lost after the Fall of Rome, and Europe was torn by
widespread fighting among barbarian tribes. In China, civilization revived earlier than in Europe, and in India civilization was not entirely lost. In the Middle East, a powerful new Islamic civilization was about to be born. We shall begin our look at the early middle ages by examining the situation in Western Europe where civilization had fallen the farthest.
63. Germanic tribes
Although the Romans called them barbarians, German-speaking nomads defeated the Romans because the empire had grown weak, and it could no longer defend its vast borders. But the Germanic tribes were illiterate (could not read and write), and warriors were loyal only to their local chiefs, which made the development of nations or empires impossible. This was a time of much warfare between competing tribes and bands; the populations of cities declined as people fled to the countryside to escape the fighting. The loss of writing, cities, and government organization meant that civilization had largely ended in
Western Europe. As time went on, the barbarian chiefs would become nobles and kings, and these Germanspeaking tribes would evolve into the powerful kingdoms that ruled Europe later in the middle ages.
Christianity took hold in the Roman Empire as the empire was falling apart; today Christianity is the world’s largest religion. It is based on the Old Testament of the Bible and the teachings of Jesus, a Jewish holy man born in the Middle East during the reign of Augustus Caesar. Jesus encouraged his followers to be
kind to others and to reject violence. Christians believe those who accept Jesus as the Messiah (savior) may achieve eternal life in heaven. Jesus said he was the “Son of God.” Jewish leaders disagreed with this claim and other of Jesus’s teachings, and they had him placed on trial. Jesus was executed by Roman officials.
Later, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, which spread Christianity over a large area and made Christianity a major world religion. The Roman Catholic Church was one institution from Roman times that did not break down. During the Dark Ages, Latin-educated Catholics kept the flame of learning alive in Western Europe. Even the Germanic tribes converted to Christianity by about 600 AD.
Over time the bishop of Rome became accepted as the leader of the Catholic Church, the pope. Christianity was so central to life during the middle ages in Europe that Western Europe came to be called Christendom.
We begin to see civilization returning to central and Western Europe with the reign of Charlemagne, the Christian king of a Germanic people called the Franks. The Franks gave France its name. Charlemagne, or Charles the Great, established a large empire in central Europe. After his armies aided the pope, Charlemagne was crowned Roman emperor by the pope in the year 800. This attempt to revive the western
Roman Empire did not last long. After his death, Charlemagne’s empire was divided among his three sons. Two of these kingdoms formed the general outlines of today’s Germany and France. In addition to his success as a warrior, Charlemagne is remembered for his encouragement of learning. He needed writing to manage a large empire, and he surrounded himself with scholars. Charlemagne established schools, and he encouraged monks in monasteries to copy literature from the ancient Greeks and
Romans. Without this work, much of what we know about the classical world would have been lost forever. Monasteries were Catholic religious communities where monks raised their own food, operated schools and libraries, and copied books. The Catholic Church and several other religions still have monks and
monasteries; Buddhist monks with colorful robes and shaved heads are a common sight in parts of Asia.
Vikings were fierce warriors, traders and raiders from Scandinavia, present day Norway, Sweden and Denmark. During the 800s and 900s, Vikings terrorized much of coastal Europe and traveled far inland by river to loot, destroy, and slaughter. They conquered Normandy (land of the Northmen) in northern France where they settled down and converted to Christianity. Vikings traveled the stormy North Atlantic in excellent ships that could also navigate shallow rivers. The Vikings brought the adventurous spirit of ocean exploration to Europe. A Viking named Leif Erickson
was probably the first European explorer to discover North America, but little resulted from his visit.
Farming villages in Europe needed defense against waves of nasty invaders like the Vikings. The solution was mounted warriors called knights who could respond quickly to an attack. The invention of the stirrup gave knights a steady platform from which to fight while wearing heavy metal armor and using heavy weapons. Local lords (the nobility) hired knights to protect villagers because the villagers’ farms provided
the lord’s income. The farmers, called serfs, were not slaves but were poor and had few rights. The lord, in turn, owed military service and loyalty to the king who gave the lord his land. The king ruled his kingdom through these lords who controlled smaller territories within the kingdom. This kind of military and social system is called feudalism. Under feudalism, people owed service to those above, while those above owed protection to those below. Feudalism was a stage in the development of government between rule by tribes and rule by large nations with centralized governments that would come later. Conditions in Western Europe had gradually improved since the Dark Ages. The feudal system offered people some protection, and the church provided cultural unity and the hope of a better life in heaven. But Christendom was divided among many competing monarchies, and commercial activity was weak. In the early middle ages, Europe was still a backward society compared to the great civilizations of Eurasia.
68. Byzantine Empire
One of the world’s great civilizations was next door to Europe in the eastern part of the Roman Empire, the part that did not fall to barbarians. The eastern Roman Empire survived for another thousand years under a new name, the Byzantine Empire with its capital at Constantinople. The size of the empire fluctuated over
the centuries, but it generally included Greece and Asia Minor. Byzantine culture extended into Russia. Byzantine emperors served as head of both the Christian church and the state. Greek replaced Latin as the official language. Eventually the Christian church split into eastern and western branches, with Latinspeaking
Roman Catholics in Western Europe and Greek-speaking Orthodox Christians in the East.
Byzantine emperors promoted a style of art that featured beautiful mosaics. The best-known example of Byzantine architecture is the church of Saint Sophia (or Aya Sophia) constructed by emperor Justinian in Constantinople. Built in the shape of a cross with four equal arms, it was the model for Orthodox churches. Justinian also brought together all of the laws of the Roman Empire into a single legal code that became the basis for modern legal systems in Europe. Rules and customs in the Byzantine court became so complex that the term “byzantine” is now used to indicate any set of complicated laws or procedures.
Vikings traders moved into western Russia and developed river trade routes that reached south to Constantinople. Furs from Scandinavia were traded for luxury products from the Byzantine Empire. Many Russians visited Constantinople, and missionaries traveled to Russia spreading the Eastern Orthodox religion. Over time, the Vikings came to dominate the local Slavic people of Russia. One of Russia’s early rulers, a Viking descendent named Vladimir I, married the sister of a Byzantine
emperor, and he accepted Orthodox Christianty for himself and his people. Russia’s culture, including its art and architecture, began to resemble Byzantine culture. The Russian alphabet is derived from the Greek alphabet, and Orthodox Christianity is the main religion in Russia today.
70. Tang Dynasty (TONG)
In China, nearly four centuries of disorder followed the overthrow of the Han Dynasty by nomadic raiders in 220 AD. During this long period of unrest, Buddhism gained strength in China. China finally became united again under a new emperor in the early middle ages, and shortly thereafter the Tang Dynasty took control of China and returned China to greatness. Under the Tang, the ideals of Confucius were
revived; art and music flourished, and gunpowder and printing were invented. The Chinese first printed by carving words and pictures into blocks of wood, which were pressed against paper. Later the Chinese invented movable type with each character made from a single piece of hardened clay. Tang emperors tried to improve agriculture by reducing large estates held by aristocrats and giving land
to the peasants (poor and uneducated farmers). During the Tang period, China’s economy was enriched by the new Grand Canal dug between the Yellow and the Yangtze Rivers. Canal boats now linked the political center of north China with the prosperous rice-producing Yangtze River basin in the south. Safe and
inexpensive canal transportation brought more rice, precious goods, and taxes to northern China. The Tang dynasty lasted for three hundred years, from 618- 907 AD. It weakened and was replaced by the Song dynasty that continued China’s economic and cultural development for another three hundred years.
71. Southeast Asia
The spread of rice farming in Asia was one of the most important events of the middle ages. After a new and more productive variety of rice became available, large tracts of swampland and forest were converted to rice paddies. In China, population doubled between the 700s and 1100s. This new type of rice originated in Southeast Asia and reached China and India by ocean trade routes. The same routes brought
manufactured goods such as scissors and cooking pots to Southeast Asia.
Southeast Asia is a region comprised of two parts: the southeast corner of the Asian mainland and a large archipelago (chain of islands) between the Asian mainland and Australia. It includes the modern mainland countries of Vietnam and Thailand, and the island nations of Indonesia and the Philippines. Sailors of Southeast Asia were among the world’s most daring. During ancient times, they discovered
how to ride the monsoons, seasonal winds that blow toward the continent of Asia during the warm months and away from the mainland during the cold months. These sailors opened the southern ocean trade routes that connected the Indian trading network with the China trade network. By the early middle ages, they were
sailing two-thirds of the way around the earth from Africa to islands in the South Pacific.
72. Korea and Japan
As rice cultivation spread from the core civilizations of Asia, new societies began to develop in outlying regions. Rice growing became important in Korea about 100 AD, and rice took hold in Japan over a century later. Other imports from China and India soon followed. Buddhist monks brought reading, writing, and their religion first to Korea and then to Japan. Rulers in Korea and Japan organized central governments
based on the Chinese model. China was the standard by which other East Asian cultures were measured. Korea, a peninsula attached to the Chinese mainland, was strongly influenced by China. Japan, an archipelago separated from China by 500 miles of ocean, was somewhat less affected by Chinese culture. Both societies managed to maintain distinct cultures by blending Chinese influences with their own
traditions. As was true in most civilized societies during the middle ages, women in Japan had fewer rights than men. Nonetheless, upper class women studied art and music, and they learned how to read and write. Japanese women produced some of finest literature of the age including The Tale of Genji, believed to be the
first novel written in any language.
73. the Maya
Humans came late to the Western Hemisphere, and civilization started later here too. Native Americans were isolated from advancements in Eurasia, so they had to invent agriculture and civilization on their own. Agriculture appeared in Mexico and South America about 5,000 years after it began in the Middle East. The first civilization of the Americas was probably the Olmec culture of southern Mexico (1200 BC to 400 BC). The Olmecs raised corn, beans, and squash and are known for their sculptures of giant stone heads. The Maya civilization arose centuries later just east of Olmec lands. Maya city-states flourished between 300 and 900 AD in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico and northern Central America. The Maya improved on the achievements of the Olmecs to create the most advanced native civilization of the Americas. They used hieroglyphics to write on stone and in books made of bark paper. They created fine arts, a calendar of 365-1/4 days, and impressive pyramid-shaped temples in large cities. The Maya also practiced human sacrifice and apparently played a ball game that ended with the deaths of the losers. Many of the Maya depended on underground caverns for their water supply. Apparently, the Maya were too successful; it
appears they overpopulated their land, depleting it of natural resources, which lead to their decline.
One of the biggest events of the middle ages came out of the harsh deserts of the Arabian peninsula: the birth of Muhammad and his religion of Islam. Arabia was a land of camel caravans, a few trading cities, and fierce desert nomads called Bedouins. Bedouin tribes worshiped local gods and fought with each other.
Muhammad was born in the trading city of Mecca where he became a successful caravan trader and merchant. From his travels, Muhammad learned of Judaism and Christianity, religions with only one God. Although Muhammad was prosperous and respected, he wanted more than a life devoted to material wealth. He was troubled by inequality between rich merchants and poor nomads. Muhammad would often go off by himself to think and meditate. One day he saw a vision of the angel Gabriel who told him to
“recite” messages from God. Muhammad began to teach these messages, and eventually they were written in a holy book called the Quran. Muhammad’s teachings led to conflicts with the rulers of Mecca who threatened his life. In 622 AD, he fled to the nearby town of Medina where his religious teachings and wise advice gained him many followers. Muhammad also proved to be an effective military leader when his
followers battled forces from Mecca. In 630 AD, Muhammad and 10,000 followers returned to Mecca in victory. Muhammad died just two years later, but he is revered as the chief prophet or messenger of Islam.
Worshipers of Islam are called Muslims, their churches are mosques, and their God is Allah. The word Islam means “peace through submission to the will of Allah.” Those who submit to Allah may achieve eternal life in Paradise. Muslims believe Allah is the same God worshiped by Jews and Christians; Jesus is considered a prophet of Islam. Muhammad said Islam is a refinement of these two earlier religions.
Muslims do not have priests; they have a direct relationship with God. Muslims are required to help the poor and sick and are expected to be kind and generous to those of lower rank. Muslims face Mecca five times a day to pray, and they are encouraged to go on a pilgrimage (religious journey) to Mecca at least once during their lives. Muhammad taught that all men and women are equal before God; women in early Muslim
societies had more rights than women in many other cultures of the time. Muslim scholars developed the Shari’a (Shuh-REE-uh), a legal and moral code based on Islamic teachings that applied to government, business, and personal dealings. There was no separation between religion and government.
76. Arab conquests
Islam gave Arabia’s Bedouin tribes one God to worship, and it promoted equality among believers. The tribes experienced a unity they had never known before. Rather than fighting each other, they went on a spree of foreign conquest aided by fast Arabian horses and camels well suited to desert warfare. They conquered Persia to the east, parts of the Byzantine Empire to the north, and Egypt to the west.
Then they took a breather to quarrel over who was the rightful heir to Muhammad. After splitting into two sects, the Sunni and Shi’a, the Arabs resumed their conquests in northern India, North Africa, and Spain. But, when they tried to expand farther into Christian Europe, they were stopped by the Franks in the west and by the Byzantine Empire in the east. Although Arab warriors were united by Islam, they may have fought more for loot than for religion. In just a hundred years, Arabs created the largest empire since Rome.
Unit 6 - The Late Middle Ages, 1000 to 1500 AD
LOCATIONS: Holy Land, Swahili Coast, Timbuktu, Beijing, Mongol Empire, Istanbul, France, England, Andes Mountains, Aztec, Inca, Spain, Portugal
77. Abbasid Empire (uh-BA-suhd)
The Arab empire came under control of the Abbasid Dynasty in 750 AD. The great wave of Arabic conquest was over, and people of many lands were choosing to adopt Islam voluntarily. Muslim traders, sailors, and preachers carried Islam to new territories in Central Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia. People converted to Islam because it promised a close relationship with God and equality among believers, and Muslims enjoyed the benefits of membership in a large and prosperous society.
Abbasid rulers were tolerant of different peoples and open to new ideas. Jews, Christians, Hindus, and Buddhists enjoyed freedom of religion in Muslim lands. Muslims learned from the cultures they encountered. They preserved the works of Aristotle and other classical Greek writers. They adopted the zero-based numbering system of India. They acquired the compass and papermaking from China. And they
developed one of the most creative societies of all time. Islamic literature, art, and architecture flowered. Islamic civilization surpassed all others in science and technology and in size. But the very size of the Abbasid Empire made it difficult to govern. At the same time the Islamic world was reaching new heights of achievement, Abbasid rulers were losing control of their empire to non-Arabs. As the empire weakened, it broke into competing Islamic kingdoms and then fell to nomadic invaders.
78. the Swahili Coast
During the Abbasid dynasty, Muslim traders brought sub-Saharan Africa into closer contact with the rest of the world and spread Islam in the process. As Muslim traders developed trade links with cities in East and West Africa, the African rulers of these trade centers often converted to Islam. A string of prosperous
port cities grew along the east coast of Africa where the Swahili language was spoken. These Swahili Coast cities connected East Africa to the southern ocean trading network. Swahili ports traded gold, ivory, and slaves from Africa for goods including cotton from India, silk from Persia, and porcelain from China.
79. Empire of Mali
Islam came to West Africa with camel caravans crossing the Sahara Desert from North Africa. Camels could go no farther south than a band of savanna lying on the southern edge of the desert because camels sickened in wetter climates to the south. Trading cities such as Timbuktu grew and prospered where caravans stopped and exchanged salt and other goods from the north for gold from sub-Saharan Africa.
Several large states developed around these trading cities in the “hump” of West Africa. One was the Empire of Mali that thrived during the 1200s and 1300s. A Mali ruler, Mansa Musa, went on a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324 and distributed so much gold on his journey that the value of gold dropped in Egypt. Although Islam came to African trade centers, much of the interior of Africa was untouched by Muslim
culture. People there continued to follow traditional religions, and many lived in stateless societies without formal rulers. In stateless societies, the community or a council of families made decisions.
While the Abbasid dynasty was struggling to maintain control over its weakening empire, it faced a new threat from Europe. Roman Catholic popes encouraged Christian kings and knights to undertake military expeditions, or Crusades, to capture the Holy Land from the Muslims. The Holy Land is a region at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea where Jesus lived; it is also holy to Jews and Muslims. Christian
crusaders conquered much of the Holy Land, taking Jerusalem in 1099, but they were unable to hold it and were driven out by 1291. These two centuries of Christian invasions into Muslim lands are still remembered with bitterness today by many Muslims in the Middle East. Still, the Crusades probably had greater impact on Europe than on the Holy Land. Europeans had long been learning from Muslim culture, and now Europeans had first-hand knowledge of the more advanced Islamic world. Europeans acquired important technologies from Muslims including the “Arabic” numbering system (from India), the compass, and the astrolabe, an instrument for measuring latitude. These inventions now made it possible for European ships to sail far out to sea.
The Abbasid Empire fell when Mongols conquered the capital of Baghdad in 1258 and killed the caliph (emperor) along with some 800,000 Muslims. The Mongols were nomadic tribesmen and superb mounted warriors from central Asia who swept east toward China and west toward Europe under the brilliant but ruthless leadership of Genghis Khan and his successors. The Mongol conquests stopped just short of
Western Europe when a Mongol leader died and Mongol leaders had to return to Mongolia to elect a new khan. Genghis Khan’s grandson, Kublai Khan, completed the Mongol conquest of China. Kublai installed himself as emperor of China and established the present day capital of Beijing. The Mongols left their mark. It took time for many regions to recover from Mongol destruction. The Mongol defeat of the Abbasid Dynasty left the Muslim world fragmented, and Mongol control slowed
development in Russia. But, a Mongol law code established order across the vast Mongol Empire ushering in a period of peace and increased trade between East and West over the old Silk Roads. These trade routes also transported the fleas that carried the Black Death (bubonic plague) from China to the Middle East and
to Europe where it killed half the people of some areas. The Mongols were warriors, not administrators, and they did not develop the government institutions necessary to sustain an empire. Mongol unity withered in the late 1300s, and eventually the Mongols were absorbed into the cultures they had conquered.
82. Marco Polo
The Mongol invasions marked almost the last time in history that nomadic raiders would threaten civilization. Settled societies eventually gained the upper hand against nomads with superior military organization and firearms. Western Europe was spared from the Mongol conquests, and in some ways Europe benefited from the Mongols. The Mongol victories weakened Europe’s Muslim rivals, and when the
Mongols reestablished dependable trade along the Silk Road, Europeans acquired new knowledge and technology from the East including gunpowder weapons. In Europe, Venice, Italy grew wealthy as the main trading crossroads between East and West. In 1271, a teenager from Venice named Marco Polo left on a trading trip to China with his father and uncle. They visited the court of Kublai Khan, who gave bright young Marco a job as ambassador to outlying regions of China. Marco returned to Italy 24 years later and was serving as captain of a Venetian warship when he was captured and sent to prison in Genoa, Italy. Here he wrote what is probably the most influential travel book of all time, The Travels of Marco Polo. The book gave Europeans their first real knowledge of China, and about two centuries later it inspired another Italian, Christopher Columbus of Genoa, to set sail for Asia.
Although Kublai Khan ruled China, he failed to conquer Japan. In 1281, he sent a fleet of over 4,000 ships and 150,000 warriors against Japan. Japan appeared to be doomed until two days of typhoon winds destroyed much of the Chinese force. The Japanese called the storm kamikaze, or “divine wind.” At this time, warlords ruled Japan, and Japan had a feudal system very similar to the system in Europe.
Poor farmers were bound to a land-owning lord, and the lord protected his holdings with mounted professional warriors called samurai. Some members of the samurai class became rulers in their own right.
84. the voyages of Zheng He (JUNG HUH, sometimes spelled Cheng Ho)
The Chinese resented being ruled by Mongol outsiders. After the death of Kublai Khan, a revolt drove the Mongols from China and established the Ming Dynasty that lasted nearly 300 years. The Ming are known for their fine blue and white porcelain (or china) that was exported to much of the world. The Ming built the Forbidden City in Beijing as a new home for the emperor with beautiful palaces and gardens.
In the early 1400s, Ming emperors sent admiral Zheng He on seven big overseas voyages to demonstrate Chinese power and to collect treasure. On his first expedition, Zheng He commanded a fleet of 62 ships and 28,000 men. Some treasure ships were over 400 feet long, many times the size of the ships later
used by Columbus. These expeditions traveled as far as Arabia and east Africa, extending Chinese influence over much of the civilized world. But Ming court advisers began to argue that China could learn nothing from foreign “barbarians,” and China’s money would be better spent closer to home improving defenses
against Mongols and other nomads. The ocean expeditions stopped, and China’s fleet went into decline. China’s withdrawal from ocean exploration opened the door for the less-advanced civilization in Western Europe to explore and eventually dominate the world’s oceans.
85. Ottoman Empire
Following the Mongol disruptions, three new Islamic empires emerged to replace the fallen Abbasid Dynasty. They were the Ottoman Empire in the eastern Mediterranean, the Safavid Empire in Persia, and the Mogul Empire of India. (A Mogul ruler built the famous Taj Mahal that has become a symbol of India.) Of these three empires, the Ottoman Empire was the largest, and it lasted longest. The Ottomans were a
nomadic people from central Asia called Turks, who took control of Asia Minor and eventually extended their rule to Christian lands in southeastern Europe and Greece, and to Muslim lands in the Middle East and north Africa. The Ottoman Turks conquered the last remaining piece of the old Byzantine Empire when they took Constantinople in 1453. The Turks made the city their capital and renamed it Istanbul.
The Ottoman Turks were Sunni Muslims. Their neighbors in the Safavid Empire were Shi’a Muslims. The two empires battled for dominance, a struggle intensified by their religious differences. Today Shi’a Muslims remain concentrated in the vicinity of Persia, now Iran and Iraq, while Sunnis are a majority elsewhere. Distracted by conflicts with their rivals and by internal problems, the three Islamic empires paid
little attention to the growing commercial and technological strength of the kingdoms in Europe.
In Europe of the late middle ages, improvements in agricultural technology led to bigger populations and the growth of cities. Townspeople gradually won the right from their local lords to run their own city governments. Trade grew, and cities became important centers of manufacturing and commerce. Many of the goods traded in Europe were produced by self-employed craftspeople who formed organizations called guilds to regulate the price and quality of their products such as shoes or metalwork. Guilds were the forerunners of today’s labor unions. Guilds also became civic organizations that helped to run the towns. Some women began taking up trades like hat making or weaving that gave them greater financial independence. Merchants and craftspeople were becoming a new class in European society, a
middle class between the peasants and the nobility (lords and kings).
87. Hundred Years’ War
It might be said that two wars between France and England marked the beginning and the end of the age of knights and castles in Europe. The first of these wars was the Norman Conquest of England. In 1066, a duke from the Normandy region of northern France invaded and conquered England becoming the new English king, William the Conqueror. William used knights to help win his victory, and the Normans built
castles in England for protection from hostile locals. As a result, knights and castles became more popular. Several centuries later, William’s descendents claimed the legal right to the French throne. This and other causes led to the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453). In battle after battle, French knights were defeated
by English forces that included foot soldiers firing powerful longbows that filled the skies with deadly arrows. Most of France had fallen under English control when an illiterate, teen-age peasant girl showed up at the French court claiming that voices told her how France could be saved. That girl, Joan of Arc, led a
French army to victory over the English in a battle at Orleans, France in 1429. It was the turning point of the war. The French continued winning and finally drove the English from France in 1453. This is why Joan is loved by the French as their greatest patriot and why the English burned her at the stake. During the Hundred Years’ War, knights were made obsolete by guns and English longbows. Kings
replaced knights with paid armies. Castles became obsolete because cannons could destroy stone walls. The entire feudal system was breaking down as people in England and France developed loyalties to their countries rather than to local lords. In the process, the modern nations of France and England were born.
88. Gothic architecture
The Roman Catholic Church reached the height of its power and influence in the late middle ages. The most visible symbol of the church’s power were magnificent Gothic cathedrals built in the 1100s and 1200s including Notre Dame, Chartres, and Reims, all in France. The most prominent feature of Gothic architecture is the pointed arch, but Gothic is also known for soaring ceilings, walls filled with glass
windows, and flying buttresses. A flying buttress is an external, arched support for the wall of a building. Flying buttresses allowed builders to construct tall, thin stone walls filled with stained-glass windows. Glass was extremely important to Gothic cathedrals: it lighted the interior, its beauty seemed inspired by God, and
the Bible stories portrayed on the windows taught about religion at a time when most people were illiterate.
Renaissance means reawakening or rebirth, and it refers to a rebirth of learning from classical Greece and Rome. In the late middle ages, Italians became interested in learning about the glories of their ancestors in the Roman Empire. They searched for classical literature forgotten in monasteries, and they acquired classical works from Muslim and Byzantine scholars. Archeologists uncovered classical art and architecture. These discoveries brought ideas from non-Christian societies into a culture dominated by Catholic beliefs. Italians became interested in humanism, the concern with human values in this life as opposed to religious beliefs and the afterlife. Renaissance architecture abandoned the church’s Gothic style and adopted
the simplicity and balance of classical forms. Artists including Michelangelo and Da Vinci enriched Western art, Shakespeare wrote plays that explored human nature, and Gutenberg’s printing press spread Renaissance knowledge through cheaper books that gave people a reason to learn to read and write. The Renaissance began in Florence, Italy about 1350 and spread to Rome and finally to much of Europe before it
ended in the early 1600s. The Renaissance was a bridge between the middle ages and the modern world.
During the late middle ages, people of the Western Hemisphere continued to develop in isolation from the rest of the world. Agriculture had spread across much of the Americas, and Native American societies ranged from small bands of hunter-gathers to empires with millions of people. The two greatest empires of the time were the Aztec and the Inca. Both collected tribute (forced payments) from groups they conquered.
The Aztecs were a fierce and warlike people of central and southern Mexico who controlled their subjects through fear and military force. Their polytheistic religion practiced human sacrifice on a scale unknown elsewhere in history. The Aztecs built their capital on swampy marshland in what is now Mexico
City. Floating gardens provided the city’s food. When Europeans first saw the capital, they were amazed to find an island city of 150,000 people connected to the mainland by four great highways, causeways, and aqueducts. The city had a hundred-foot-high temple and a marketplace that attracted 60,000 people a day.
The Inca civilization was centered in present day Peru, but it grew to include most of the Pacific coast of South America between the Andes Mountains and the ocean. Inca agriculture was based on irrigation; farmers developed stepped terraces for growing crops on steep hillsides. The 3,000 mile-long Inca Empire was linked by the most extensive road system since the Roman Empire. Way stations built on main roads
provided travelers with places to stay at the end of each day’s journey. The Incas did not have writing as we know it; they kept accurate numerical records on knotted strings called quipu (KEE-pu). People living in the Americas had no way of knowing their long separation from Eurasia was about to end with consequences they could hardly imagine.
92. the great voyages of discovery
As the year 1500 approached, the world faced a turning point in history, but none were yet aware of it. Sailing ships and navigation technology had improved to a point that ships could sail anywhere in the world. The Eastern and Western Hemispheres still did not know each other existed, but the time had come for them
to meet. Who would make the introduction? Three civilizations had the necessary wealth and knowledge. The Islamic world was one of them, but it was weakened by the Mongol conquests, and it was preoccupied with local and regional matters. The Chinese civilization was another, but it had withdrawn from ocean exploration to deal with internal concerns. Only Christian Europe seemed eager to reach outward.
Europeans were hungry to explore. The Vikings had taught them how to sail the stormy Atlantic. The Crusades whetted their appetite for travel and adventure, and Marco Polo got them thinking about Asia. Europe also had the means to explore. The Renaissance brought European culture to a level of other advanced civilizations, and it gave Europeans a new sense of confidence. The competing kings of Europe were busy adopting new technologies and trade links to give them advantages over rival monarchs. In August of 1492, Spain sent Christopher Columbus into the Atlantic Ocean with a tiny fleet of three small ships to search for a western trade route to the spice islands of Asia, a voyage that finally connected the Eastern and Western Hemispheres. Sailing for Portugal, Vasco de Gama rounded Africa and connected
Europe to the Indian Ocean in 1498. In 1522, Magellan’s Spanish expedition circled the earth and connected the world. The world would never be the same. The middle ages were over, and modern times had begun.
Ver. 3.1.6 - Rev. 1/1/07
The pages describe significant people, places, events, and
concepts in the story of humankind. This information forms the core of our
study; it will be fleshed-out by classroom discussions, audio-visual materials,
readings, writings, and other activities. This knowledge will help you understand how the world works and how humans behave. It will also help you understand many of the books, news reports, films, articles, and events you will encounter throughout the rest of your life.
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Copyright © 1998-2007 Michael G. Maxwell
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