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A SHORT HISTORY OF CIVILIZATION I
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The human race may be related to a prehuman species, or “hominid”, that lived 4 million years ago in east Africa. A critical distinction between hominids and other apelike creatures was the ability to stand upright on two feet, freeing the arms and hands for other uses. Man became a creature that uses hand-held tools. Modern man, “homo sapiens”, was a creature with enlarged cranial capacity related to a hominidic race that developed in Africa about 100,000 years ago.
The last Ice Age, which began 75,000 years ago, initially kept most of its population confined to warm climates. Certain groups ventured out into the cold, moving north to Europe and east through southern Asia as far as Australia. Most far-ranging were those peoples, ancestors of the American Indians, who crossed a land bridge connecting Siberia with Alaska perhaps as early as 25000 B.C. but more likely around 10000 B.C. The last Ice Age came to an end in the period between 12000 and 10000 B.C. The earth’s human population, then numbering about 4 million persons, was dispersed to six continents.
The earliest human societies consisted of families and tribal groups engaged in hunting, fishing, and other food-gathering activities. Those late Paleolithic peoples roamed land and sea in search of game. Their garments were made of animal skins and fur. They used chipped-stone tools, including arrowheads and scraping devices, and articles made of bone. The Neolithic revolution, which took place with the waning of the Ice Age, brought the arts of farming, spinning and weaving, pottery manufacturing, bows and arrows, and use of domesticated animals. Agricultural techniques increased the food supply allowing humanity to devote time to other arts.
Six to seven thousand years ago, copper implements began to be used instead of implements made of stone. Copper and tin mixed together produced bronze, a more malleable alloy. Iron smelting was introduced about three thousand years ago. With their food planted in the ground, people began to live in settled communities. Population densities increased.
Historians debate whether agriculture was invented in a single place on earth or in several places. Archeologists excavating a site at Abu Hureya in northern Syria have discovered that an abrupt change took place there about 9,500 years ago. Digging into the ground, they found that the soil suddenly changed from brown clay to a mass of black material enriched with plant parts, indicating that a farming village had been built on top of an earlier settlement. The evidence suggests that its inhabitants, returning to this area after a recurrence of cold weather, suddenly possessed a knowledge of more than 150 different species of plant life indigenous to scattered places in the Middle East.
Some speculate that the rapid development of agricultural knowledge was due to a “communications revolution” brought on by trade in artifacts and materials including obsidian and marine shells. A site excavated at Catalhoyuk in southern Turkey has revealed a settlement with 5,000 to 10,000 inhabitants which was a center of trade in obsidian. Perhaps 9,000 years old, this bull-worshiping community may have been the world’s first city.
The Earliest Civilized Societies
In the period between 4500 and 3500 B.C., urban settlements appeared in an area reclaimed from the swamp in the lower basin of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Another group of cities arose along the Nile. Pressed by natural adversity, these Sumerian and Egyptian peoples drained the swamps, constructed ditches, and irrigated fields. Such an enterprise, requiring a collective effort, produced a ruling class to administer the projects. The governing elite ruled by the authority of a local god; their function was to mediate between it and the community. The earliest Sumerian settlements were the cities of Uruk, Ur and Eridu. Uruk, the oldest, may have been founded around 4300 B.C. It grew sixfold in population between 3500 and 3000 B.C. and came to occupy 1,000 acres.
In Egypt, the settlements appeared more suddenly, suggesting Sumerian influence. Settlements appeared both in the lower Delta region and in the Nile valley of Upper Egypt, to the south. The urbanization that began in the 4th millennium B.C. brought the first monarchies, a more stratified type of society, specialized occupations, expanded commerce and trade, ideographic writing, legal and accounting systems, walled cities, large-scale wars, and more elaborate burial arrangements.
Western historians have taught that Egypt and Mesopotamia were the cradles of civilization. However, it is possible that a sophisticated type of society appeared at an earlier date in India. Several verses in the Rig Veda refer to the winter solstice as beginning in Aries, which would be consistent with astronomical conditions in the 7th millennium B.C.
We do know, anyhow, that a highly developed civilization existed in India prior to the Aryan invasion of the 16th Century B.C. Archeological ruins excavated at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro reveal the remains of a technologically advanced culture that existed in the 3rd millennium B.C. Its cities were laid out in a regular grid of streets, with ample provision for water supply, drainage, and public baths. Its people enjoyed a diet of wheat and barley, and wore cotton clothing. Its undeciphered script was perhaps of Dravidian origin. Seals found from this period indicate early Shiva worship. Pre-Aryan Indian society expanded from its place of origin in the Indus and Sarasvati valleys to include territories near the Ganges River. This civilization disappeared in the period between 2000 and 1800 B.C. as the Sarasvati river dried up.
The civilization of China developed around 2000 B.C. on the site of an earlier Neolithic culture. Its relatively sudden appearance suggests contact with other cultures. Rulers of the Xia and, later, Shang dynasties established kingdoms in the basin of the Yellow river where they undertook modest irrigation projects. The first city-state, Erliton, was founded in 1900 B.C.
As in other places, the social classes became sharply differentiated by wealth. Warring kings fought for territory, and the strongest ones gained imperial dominion over territories in northern China. During the Shang period (16th to 11 centuries B.C.), horse-drawn chariots were introduced to the practice of war. A Chinese script was developed; its inscriptions can be found on oracle bones used for divination. Skilled artisans produced bronze vessels with a distinctive three-legged style. Powerful monarchs, accompanied by sacrificed slaves, were buried in lavish tombs. Chinese peasants cultivated rice as well as wheat and millet. They owned pigs and water buffalo.
The Shang monarchy was overthrown in 1027 B.C. by the Chou, a vassal state located in the Wei River valley to the west. Continuing the culture of the previous regime, Western Chou kings ruled first from the capital city of Hao (near Xi’an) until 771 B.C. and then, as the Eastern Chou dynasty, from Loyang until 256 B.C.
Roughly contemporary with early Chinese society, the Minoan civilization flourished on Crete and neighboring islands as a satellite of the Sumerian. A forerunner of Greek civilization, it is known for its naturalistic fresco paintings and ceramic art. King Minos, after whom this society is named, built a palace at Knossos about 2000 B.C. The Minoans, rich in copper, conducted an active trade across the Mediterranean sea with the Egyptians, Greeks, and Lebanese until their civilization was destroyed through a series of natural and man-made disasters around 1200 B.C.
Another center of commerce was the Persian Gulf, where trade in grain, oil, copper, textiles, precious metals, and pearls flowed between cities in Mesopotamia, northeast Arabia, and western India during the early 2nd millennium B.C. This trade ended with the demise of the Harappan society in India. The Elamite empire, situated to the north of the Persian Gulf in Iran, was a political and commercial power until it was destroyed by the Assyrians in 640 B.C. The Hittites, in present-day Turkey and northern Syria, were an Indo-European people who established a great empire in the 14th and 13th centuries, B.C. They were first to use weapons made of iron. The Minaean and Sabataean kingdoms of southern Arabia were also important civilizations starting in the late 2nd millennium B.C.
Civilization, defined here in terms of the tendency to build political and commercial empires, came to the other continents later than this. In sub-Saharan Africa, a prosperous trading empire arose in Ghana in the 3rd or 4th century A.D. which lasted for more than a thousand years. This was followed, in the 13th and 14th centuries, by the empire of Mali in the bend region of the Niger river; and by the Songhai empire, in the next two centuries. A Nubian dynasty ruled Egypt in the 8th and 7th centuries, B.C. until pushed back into the Sudan by the Assyrians. There, from its capital city of Meroë, the empire of Kush controlled lands watered by the Upper Nile river until the 4th century A.D., when it was conquered by the Ethiopian kingdom of Axum. The art of iron smelting gave it a military advantage over other African peoples.
In the Americas, a large ceremonial center was constructed at La Florida in Peru around 1700 B.C. This society had already begun to use irrigation and terraced farming. The Andean culture produced excellent textiles, pottery, and metal tools. The Olmec civilization arose independently in southeast Mexico about this time. This society is known for creating huge stone heads and pottery with jaguar motifs. It developed the first Meso-American script. Both New World societies produced new varieties of foods, tobacco, and other useful plants.
The First Mideastern Empires
World history in its first epoch follows the course of progress toward larger forms of political organization. A momentous event was King Narmer’s conquest of Lower Egypt (near the Nile delta) around 3100 B.C. Then king of Upper Egypt, Narmer became the first Pharaoh, wearer of a “double crown”. When we think of Pharaonic Egypt, we envision the massive stone monuments which these people left behind, such as the great pyramids or the Temple of Luxor. The pyramids at Gizah were tombs of Pharaohs belonging to Fourth Dynasty (2613-2495 B.C.). The mummified bodies of these great kings and their attendants were adorned with jewels and were provisioned with food to prepare for eternal life.
The pyramids, like the ziggurat temples in Mesopotamia, were artificial mountains whose steps extended towards heaven. They became symbolic of solar rays used by the dead kings to join the sun-god Re. Once considered to be living gods, the Pharaohs later claimed the title “son of Re”. Pharaoh was considered to be a god, begotten by Re on a human mother in a nonphysical act. With some interruptions, pharaonic dynasties gave Egypt political unity and stability for three millennia. Pepi II, who ruled for 94 years, was the last Pharaoh of the Old Kingdom. He died in 2184 B.C.
The rites required for each departed king spawned a new contingent of priests who were a drag on the economy. Local princes, who had once been Pharaoh’s officers, gained a hereditary right to their positions. They took control of the native Egyptian army and were able to thwart Pharaoh’s attempt to regain power with Nubian mercenaries.
The local princes reigned until the reestablishment of central government in the Middle Kingdom (1991-1786 B.C.) This pharaonic dynasty, which moved its capital to Thebes, did not revive the burdensome funeral practices of its predecessors. Its rulers built fortresses, not pyramids. However, they were unable to withstand the Hyksos invasion from Syria. Hyksos nomads ruled northern Egypt until 1567 B.C., when Ahmose I reunified the country and established the New Kingdom (1575-1087 B.C.). Egypt became a military power, seeking to control threats from Asia Minor. Pharaohs of the New Kingdom include Ramses II (believed to be the Pharaoh in Exodus), “King Tut” (Tutankhamen), and the religious visionary Ikhnaton. In the 1st millennium B.C., a Libyan regime ruled Egypt, followed by Nubians, Persians and Greeks. Cleopatra VII was the last ruler of the Greek Ptolemaic dynasty. With her death by suicide in 30 B.C., Egypt became a Roman province.
Political unification came more slowly in Mesopotamia. King Urukagina of Lagash (2378-2371 B.C.), conquered the neighboring city of Umma and established the first empire of Sumerian city-states. He was overthrown by another king, Lugalzaggisi, who annexed new territories to the north and west. Lugalzaggisi’s empire was, in turn, conquered by a Semitic-speaking king, Sargon of Agade (2371-2316 B.C.) Sargon’s Kingdom of Sumer and Akkad included most of the territory between the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea.
This dynasty lasted until 2230 B.C., when Gutaean highlanders, infiltrating from the northeast, took control of the empire. Amorite tribes founded the city of Babylon during this period. Gutaean rule (2230-2120 B.C.) came to an end at the hand of a native Sumerian, Utukegal of Uruk. The king of Ur then seized power and established a dynasty which lasted until 2006 B.C. Next, Elamite subjects revolted, sacking the city of Ur. The empire was partitioned among several successor states, including Elam, Isin, Mari, Babylon, and Assyria. King Hammurabi of Babylon (1792-1750 B.C.) reunited most of these provinces in a nine-year military campaign. Though rich in cultural achievements, this Babylonian empire barely outlived Hammurabi’s death. Then, Kassite barbarians attacked Babylon and the empire again splintered.
The Middle East was plagued by frequent wars during the millennium that followed the fall of Hammurabi’s empire in 1743 B.C. When the Hittite king, Mursilis I, sacked Babylon in 1595 B.C., that gave the Kassites an opportunity to take control of the city. Their revived Sumerian empire lasted until 1169 B.C. After expelling the Hyksos kings from Egypt in the mid 16th century B.C., Pharaohs of the New Kingdom conquered lands in Syria and Palestine to forestall future invasions from that region.
The Hittites became militarily aggressive in the 14th century B.C. By 1300 B.C., its empire was as powerful as Egypt’s. The two military powers fought for control of Syria. The Hittites defeated Egypt at the battle of Kadesh (1286-85 B.C.) but later reached a peace settlement with the Egyptians partitioning Syria. This may have been the first time in history that two civilized empires went to war against each other. Meanwhile, Assyria was attacking settlements in Babylonia. To the west, Mycenaean Greeks destroyed Minoan palaces on Crete.
Though its political structure was weak, the Babylonian civilization which existed during this period was culturally strong. Its mythology, science, and written language permeated the Near East. Even Pharaohs used the Akkadian language when communicating with their Asian subjects.
A prominent theme of world history in the first epoch was recurring conflict between peoples living in civilized societies and barbarian nomads who preyed on their wealth. The nomads were remnants of preagricultural society who hunted for their food or tended herds of grazing animals. A thousand years of breeding had given them a new military weapon in the form of horses large and strong enough to support human riders. Used to disciplined migrations from one pasture ground to another, these nomads from the steppe were skilled at waging mobile war. Like a vibrating membrane stretched across the Eurasian continent, their raids and migrations from the unsettled interior touched scattered societies in China, India, Egypt, and the Middle East.
In periodic incursions, the barbarians would encroach upon lands belonging to the settled peoples, sack the cities, pillage and steal. After attacking and defeating the civilized societies, the barbarian tribes sometimes settled down among them as a ruling class. It was customary then for the conquering barbarians to absorb the conquered people’s culture. If, on the other hand, the civilized society was strong enough militarily, it repelled the invasion.
The barbarian aggression came in waves. There was, for instance, a time of nomadic restlessness in the first half of the 2nd millennium B.C. when Hyksos warriors from Canaan invaded Egypt, Mitanni tribes occupied Mesopotamia, Hittites and Kassites attacked Babylon, and unknown barbarians destroyed the ancient Minoan palaces on Crete. Sanskrit-speaking Aryans invaded northern India, overthrowing the earlier Dravidian society and establishing a caste system. The classical Vedic literature dates from this period.
Another wave of barbarian invasion came between 1250 and 950 B.C., as diverse people migrating into the eastern Mediterranean region destroyed the Minoan and Hittite societies and put the Egyptian empire under stress. The attack upon Egypt came from Berbers and Libyans to the west, “seas peoples” from the northeast, Amorites, Philistines, and, perhaps, Israelites. Achaean and Dorian tribes meanwhile attacked the Mycenaean settlements in Greece. The Hittite empire was overrun by Thracians, Phrygians, and Assyrians.
There was a third wave in the 8th and 7th centuries B.C., when Cimmerian nomads moved westward and camel-riding Arabs attacked the Assyrian empire. In 6th century B.C., Celtic tribes migrating from northwestern Europe invaded Italy, Greece, and Romania, briefly occupying the city of Rome.
Militarism in the Middle East
As the settled people grew strong enough to withstand these nomadic pressures, the historical focus shifted to military competition between nations. Civilized nations such as the Phoenicians, Chaldaeans, Hebrews, and Greeks were formed from the hordes of people migrating into the east Mediterranean region towards the close of the 2nd millennium B.C.
The kingdom of Assyria emerged from the rubble to become the dominant Near Eastern power. With Egypt weakened and the Hittite empire ruined, Assyrian armies in the course of three centuries conquered Aramaean cities in Syria, besieged the kingdom of Urartu (Armenia), destroyed the city of Babylon, and set a puppet ruler on the throne of Egypt. Assyrian treatment of conquered peoples was cruel. A rebellion broke out in Babylonia. Babylonians, Medes, and Persians joined forces against Assyria taking its capital city, Nineveh, in 612 B.C. The Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar were briefly the strongest power; then, the Medes. But, before long, a new empire had gained control of the whole region. Cyrus II, king of Persia, supplanted the king of Media in 550 B.C. He then conquered the kingdom of Lydia and, in 538 B.C., the neo-Babylonian empire. Cyrus’ son, Cambyses, conquered Egypt in 525 B.C.
The Achaemenian empire of Persia was the largest, richest, and most powerful political empire seen to date. While adopting the religion of Zoroaster, its rulers followed a policy of religious tolerance towards subjected peoples including the Hebrews. Darius I (521-486 B.C.) seized the throne through assassination of Cyrus’ second successor, Smerdis. Darius divided the empire into twenty satrapies which were responsible for local administration. He added Thrace and northwestern India to its territories and dug a canal between the Nile river and the Red Sea. A system of well-maintained roads connected cities within the empire. A mistake was Xerxes’ decision to invade European Greece in 480 B.C. A coalition of Greek city-states, led by Athens, repelled that invasion.
A century and a half later, Macedonian and Greek armies under Alexander the Great, in turn, invaded Persian territory in Asia. Alexander’s army defeated the Persian forces under Darius III at the battle of Isis in 333 B.C. For the next decade, Alexander engaged the Persians and other foes in a series of victorious battles, conquering not only Persian provinces in Iran and Babylonia, but in Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan, and parts of northern India as well.
Alexander’s generals established royal dynasties in these various domains after their leader’s untimely death in 323 B.C. City-states in southern Greece promptly revolted against Macedonian rule but were suppressed. Then the Macedonian generals fought among themselves. Macedonia had to contend both with opposition from the Greek Aetolian Confederation and Celtic migrants from the north before succumbing to the Romans in the 2nd century B.C. Seleucus I acquired most of Alexander’s far-flung territories in Asia. His troops were soon expelled from the Indus Valley by Chandragupta, founder of the Mauryan empire. In the mid 3rd century B.C., the Seleucid empire was further reduced by the Parni barbarian occupation of Parthia and the secession of a Greek province in Uzbekistan.
Another of Alexander’s officers, Ptolemy I, founded a dynasty in Egypt and the southern half of Syria. This was perhaps the strongest of the Hellenic dynasties. Ptolemy’s capital at the new city of Alexandria became a center of learning and trade. Seleucid emperors tried repeatedly but failed to wrest southern Syria from Egyptian rule. Conflicts between the southern Greek states and Macedon were equally inconclusive.
Though the successor states to Alexander’s empire were weakened by continual warfare, they effectively spread Greek culture within their vast territories. Starting with Philippi in eastern Macedonia, Alexander and his father, Philip II, together founded more than 300 new cities. These cities were self-contained carriers of Greek culture. Typically, each had its own agora (market), theater, and gymnasium, which were public gathering places. The gymnasium housed intellectual as well as physical activities.
Greek culture in the form of visual images, philosophy, and written language became associated with the social elite in each community. The common people tended to stick with their local traditions. Tensions between the hellenizers and local religious traditionalists underlay the Maccabean rebellion in Judaea. While Seleucus, like Alexander, encouraged mixing between the Greek and local peoples, the Ptolemaic regime kept important government posts in Greek hands. Social integration went furthest in the eastern part of Seleucus’ empire which became the Bactrian kingdom. Athens remained the center of philosophy and drama. In addition to the Aristotelian and Platonic schools of philosophy, the Epicureans and Stoics attracted a broad following in the Hellenic world.
While Greek dynasties controlled the domain of Alexander’s conquests, the center of geopolitical gravity meanwhile shifted to the western Mediterranean region. The Greeks had established colonies in Sicily and southern Italy during the 8th and 7th centuries B.C. The Phoenician colony of Carthage in north Africa attacked Greek settlements in Sicily in 480 B.C., but was defeated by an alliance led by Syracuse and Agrigentum.
Syracuse made a bid to unify Italy during the reign of Dionysius I (405-367 B.C.). This failed because of conflict with Carthage and other Greek states. Dionysius II invited Plato to Syracuse to apply his political theories. However, in 344 B.C. Timoleon of Corinth overthrew Dionysius II and then forged an alliance between the Greek cities which expelled the Carthaginians from Sicily. After that, Greek fortunes in Italy went into a decline despite military assistance from mainland Greece. The Etruscans, a hellenized remnant of the extinct Hittite civilization, were a rising power in northern Italy during the 7th and 6th centuries B.C. Tarquin kings ruled the city of Rome for more than a century. The Etruscan bid to conquer Italy failed because they, too, were unable to maintain an effective alliance of city states. Additionally, Celtic tribes from beyond the Alps overran their domain.
Rome’s Emergence as a World Power
Once freed of Etruscan rule, Rome concluded peace treaties with Carthage which helped it to wage successful wars of aggression against its neighbors. Roman power doubled through the capture of the Etruscan city of Veii and its territories in 393-88 B.C. A war against the Samnite confederation between 343 and 272 B.C. and defeat of the Latin and Campanian federations in 335 B.C. brought more land under its control. By 264 B.C., Rome had unified peninsular Italy. In the process, the Roman government broke treaties with several states including Carthage.
A war between Rome and Carthage between 264 and 241 B.C. brought much destruction but left Italy and most of Sicily in Roman hands. Rome now enjoyed naval supremacy in the western Mediterranean region. A second set of conflicts broke out in 221 B.C. From a base of operations in Spain, Carthaginian armies led by Hannibal marched with elephants across the Pyrenees and Alps mountains into the Po Valley of northern Italy. Hannibal’s armies thrice defeated their Roman counterparts in brilliantly executed battles. In the end, however, the Romans successfully defended against the Carthaginian invaders. Roman armies under Publius Cornelius Scipio counterattacked in Spain and, in 202 B.C., captured Carthage itself.
Rome controlled most lands bordering the western Mediterranean sea at the beginning of the 2nd century B.C. By the end of that century, the eastern shores would be added to its territories. A war broke out between the Greek Aetolian League and an alliance headed by Macedon in 220 B.C. Macedon became allied with Carthage, and Aetolia sided with Rome. After Hannibal’s defeat, Rome, with Aetolia’s help, defeated the Macedonians at Cynosecephalae in 197 B.C. and stripped Macedon of her possessions in southern Greece and Asia Minor. Rome inflicted a similar defeat upon Sparta in the same year.
In 192 B.C., Aetolia and the Seleucid empire together went to war against Rome. It took the Romans two years to defeat the Seleucid emperor Antiochus III at Magnesium-under-Sipylus, and three years to defeat Aetolia. The Seleucid empire was forced to cede land to Rome and pay a heavy indemnity. The Aetolian League was effectively finished. Finally, Rome liquidated the kingdom of Macedonia in a hard-fought war lasting from 171 to 168 B.C. Alexander’s homeland became a Roman province. Rome’s reputation as a military power was now so great that a single warning from a Roman diplomat caused the Seleucid emperor Antiochus IV to vacate Egypt in 168 B.C.
Rome’s object then was to cut down potential military rivals; it made no attempt to build its own empire for another hundred years. Rome had won the struggle for geopolitical advantage through a combination of shrewd diplomacy and military might. To gain control of Italian territory, it would make alliances to ensure peace with a powerful adversary while picking off smaller states one by one. Then Rome would jilt the ally when its services were no longer needed. Additionally, its constitution proved attractive to peoples living in politically backward states. The system of dual citizenship helped to harmonize local and imperial interests.
Customarily, the Roman oligarchs supported their wealthy counterparts in other states. This assured them of support from a powerful fifth column in enemy nations. Roman society was itself split sharply between the rich and poor classes. The rich acquired their wealth as landowners, tax-farmers, speculators, and government creditors. Increasingly, small farmers joined the ranks of the poor as they were pressed into military service and their neglected farms were picked up by wealthy speculators. To address this injustice, Tiberius Gracchus in 133 B.C. proposed and enacted a law that would limit the size of land holdings. Aristocrats in the Roman Senate assassinated him.
The continuation of plutocratic government led to an economy based on slave labor and private armies comprised of recruits from the poorer classes. The slaves, taken captive in war, were put to work on large plantations that raised cattle and sheep or cultivated olives and grapes. Slave uprisings took place in Sicily, Greece, and on the island of Delos during the late 2nd century B.C. A slave army led by a gladiator named Spartacus overran much of the Italian countryside between 73 and 71 B.C.
While serving as Consul, the Roman general Caius Marius raised an army of paupers with the understanding that he would look out after their interests in exchange for military service. Thus began a period of rule by revolutionary warlords lasting from 108 to 30 B.C. A triumvirate which consisted of Pompey the Great, Julius Caesar, and Marcus Crassus took control of the Roman government in 60 B.C. Pompey completed the Roman conquest of Armenia, Syria, and Judaea before losing out to Caesar in a power struggle. Crassus was killed in a battle with the Parthians in 53 B.C. Julius Caesar extended Roman rule to lands north of the Alps in a successful military campaign. He then became sole dictator in Rome and acted in that capacity for two years before being assassinated by two colleagues in 44 B.C.
A new triumvirate emerged consisting of Mark Antony, Lepidus, and Caesar’s adopted nephew Octavian. Octavian defeated Antony and Cleopatra, Egypt’s last queen, in a naval battle at Actium in 33 B.C. He located Caesarion, the teenage son of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, and had him killed. Now possessing absolute power,
Octavian became the first Roman emperor. Octavian, or Augustus Caesar, developed a new form of Roman government based upon a deified state, a professional army, and civil servants. Augustus reformed the system of private armies by employing career soldiers. He replaced private tax collectors and administrators with a “Caesar’s household” of slaves and freedmen to serve as his personal staff. Modestly limiting his own title to “princeps of the Senate”, Augustus nevertheless tolerated the cult of emperor worship which his uncle had begun. He developed a three-step process by which individuals from defeated nations might become Roman citizens. The Roman Senate, a relic of republican government, was keeper of Rome’s traditional ways, but the real power belonged to emperors enjoying the support of the armed forces.
Roman governments had traditionally been reluctant to assume direct responsibility for governing conquered lands. Augustus and his successors organized the Roman empire as an association of autonomous city-states that were restrained from going to war against each other. The central government in Rome provided for their common defense against external enemies. Forsaking further conquests, Augustus sought to establish defensible borders for the empire. His attempt to extend its territory to the Elbe river came to grief when Germanic tribes annihilated three Roman armies at the Teutoburg forest in 9 A.D. The border fell back to the Danube river. Rome’s depopulation which had begun in the 1st century B.C. now limited military options.
Between 114 and 117 A.D., the emperor Trajan tried to conquer Armenia, Babylonia, and Mesopotamia from the Parthians. Those expeditions ended in disaster. Trajan’s successor, Hadrian, pulled back to the Euphrates river. Military tension continued along the southeastern border after the Parthian king was overthrown by his vassal, Shahpuhr I, who founded the Sasanian dynasty. Shahpuhr thrice defeated Roman armies, capturing the emperor Valerian in 260 A.D. However, a counterattack delivered by Rome’s ally, the prince of Palmyra, drove the Persians back. The Romano-Persian wars of 337-60 A.D. were likewise inconclusive.
The Julian dynasty of emperors came to an end in 68 A.D. with the death of Nero. After three decades of military rulers, Rome was governed by five “wise and temperate” emperors whose combined reign lasted until 180 A.D. The last, Marcus Aurelius, is remembered for a book of philosophical Meditations. The reign of his son, Commodus, marked the beginning of a series of despotic emperors and military usurpers who were generally hostile to Christianity. Many lasted for only a year or two.
The exceptions were Diocletian (284-305 A.D.) and Constantine I (306-337 A.D.) These two able emperors created a mobile army to deal with insurrections and invasions, restored the debased Roman currency, resurveyed the land and adjusted taxes. Constantine I split his vast empire into two administrative districts. He established a new capital city for the eastern half in 330 A.D. It was called Constantinople. The period between 250 and 311 A.D. had seen an intense effort by Roman emperors to suppress Christianity. However, Galerius rescinded an anti-Christian edict on his death bed in 311 A.D. Two years later, Constantine adopted a policy of religious tolerance. Alaric, king of the Visigoths, sacked Rome in 410 A.D. The last western emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed in 476 A.D.
Hunnish and Scandinavian Eruptions
The western Roman Empire, headquartered in Rome, showed signs of internal weakness in the late 4th century A.D. Big landowners diverted the peasants’ agricultural surplus from the tax collector to themselves. The government became a dictatorship under the control of the military high command.
After the Visigoths defeated the Roman armies at Adrianople in 378 A.D., Rome’s European frontier was severely exposed. The Visigoths had been driven into Roman territory by advancing hordes of Alanic and Ostrogothic tribes who had, in turn, been dislodged from their east European homelands by Huns moving west. East Germanic tribes broke through the Roman defenses on the Rhine river around 406 A.D. The Vandals from Jutland traveled across southern Europe to Spain and, in 429 A.D., crossed over to north Africa where they established a maritime empire. Ostrogoths and Lombards spread havoc in Italy. Angles, Saxons, and Jutes occupied Britain. With the West Roman Empire ravished by other barbarian tribes, Attila and his hordes invaded northern Italy in 452 A.D. Reportedly, Pope Leo I persuaded him not to attack Rome. Attila withdrew from Italy and died a year later.
Chinese society had felt Hun pressure a full century before Rome fell. In 316 A.D., an attacking horde of Hsiung-nu (Hun) barbarians overthrew the Western Chin dynasty and partitioned northern China between several successor states. A half century later, another Hun tribe migrated into the territory between the Don and Volga rivers, dislodging the Visigoths and setting in motion the migration of Germanic tribes across Europe. A remnant of Attila’s horde settled down in western Hungary.
Ephthalite Huns defeated and killed the Sasanian emperor Peroz in 484 A.D., forcing the Persians to pay tribute to them for almost a century. Then an alliance between Persians and Turks overthrew the Ephthalite empire and partitioned its territories. White Huns attacked and shattered the Indian Gupta empire in 455 A.D. Most of this empire fell within ten years, although a remnant of the Gupta dynasty continued in Bengal until 544 A.D. Descendants of the Hunnish warriors, converted to Hinduism, survived in the Rajput aristocracy which dominates the state of Rajasthan in northwestern India.
The Frankish king Clovis began to build a Gallic empire in the late 5th century A.D. He conquered the Alamanni tribe along the Rhine in 496 A.D., defeated the Spanish Visigoths in 507 A.D., and by the time of his death in 511 A.D. controlled all of Gaul except Provence. His successors annexed Thuringia and Burgundy. Clovis and his heirs embraced the Roman Catholic Christianity unlike most other Germanic kings who had converted to the Arian faith.
After acquiring a huge domain, the Merovingian dynasty of Clovis became internally weakened because of its practice of dividing territory among several heirs upon a monarch’s death. The Arnulfing family, majordomos in the Merovingian household, effectively ran the government. One of its members, Pippin III, requested that Pope Zacharias recognize his family’s claim to the throne. Upon obtaining a favorable response to this request, Pippin deposed the Merovingian king and began his own Carolingian dynasty. When the Lombards captured Ravenna in northern Italy and threatened to take Rome, Pope Stephen II requested Frankish aid. Pippin sent troops to Italy and defeated the Lombards in 756 A.D.
Pippin’s son, Charles, became sole ruler of the Franks in 771 A.D. when his brother, who was co-ruler, unexpectedly died. Charles, today known as Charlemagne, annexed the Lombard kingdom in Italy in 773-74 A.D. He exterminated the Avars in Hungary between 791 and 805 A.D. A more difficult military task was the conquest of Saxony between 772 and 802 A.D. This brought Charlemagne’s empire in direct contact with the Danes, who responded by launching naval raids upon its territories. The empire now encompassed most of present-day Germany, France, Italy, and the Benelux countries.
For all practical purposes, Charlemagne had revived the West Roman Empire. In recognition of that fact, Pope Leo III crowned him Emperor of the Romans on Christmas Day 800 A.D. Because the East Roman emperors retained the right to that title, Charlemagne made certain territorial concessions to Byzantium to obtain its recognition and consent. His empire lacked a corps of literate administrators, so Charlemagne brought in the Northumbrian cleric, Alcuin, and others to establish palace and cathedral schools. Itinerant inspectors kept a close watch on local officials. After Charlemagne’s death in 814 A.D., these officials assumed power. Charlemagne’s heir, Louis the Pious, divided the empire among his three sons. Problems grew worse with Viking and North African pirates.
The Viking eruption of the 9th and 10th centuries A.D. was a consequence of Charlemagne’s conquest of Saxon territory, which had been a buffer zone between the Scandinavian barbarians and Roman civilization. Its first casualties were Christian monasteries along the coast of Britain, Ireland, and France. In 880 A.D., Rhos adventurers from Sweden on the Baltic Sea navigated the inland waterways of Russia to reach the Caspian Sea. Another group of Scandinavians sailed across the North Atlantic ocean to Greenland, Iceland, and Vinland in North America.
Despite their ferocity, the king of West Francia, Charles the Simple, invited Scandinavian seafarers in 911 A.D. to settle the coast of Normandy on condition that they converted to Christianity. King Alfred of England had made a similar proposition to Danish invaders in 878 A.D. The Scandinavian immigrants proved receptive to the Frankish culture and religion. The seeds of several future European nations were sown in this period. The modern nation of France took shape as the Counts of Paris successfully defended against Scandinavian attackers between 885 and 887 A.D. Rhos Swedes settling at the cities of Novgorod and Kiev gave Russia its name. In 1066 A.D., descendants of the Norman settlers successfully invaded England. English dynastic history usually begins with this event.
Continuation of the Roman Empire in the East
The East Roman empire, headquartered in Constantinople, did not fall when Germanic barbarians overran the western territories controlled by Rome. This government was staffed with professionals loyal to the state rather than big landowners. It had a citizen rather than mercenary army. The East Roman emperors of the 5th century A.D. were able administrators and legal reformers who kept state finances under control. They built a wall around their capital city and made strategic concessions to the barbarian invaders that allowed them to survive. Among the Byzantine emperors, the best-known may be Justinian I (527-565 A.D.) who built the church of Hagia Sophia and codified Roman law. This emperor also reconquered northwest Africa from the Vandals, drove the Ostrogoths from Italy and Illyricum (Dalmatia), and restored Roman naval superiority in the Mediterranean sea. However, the 26-year campaign against the Ostrogoths drained the imperial treasury. Ruinous taxes were imposed upon the Levantine provinces. Lombard tribes invaded Italy seven years after the Ostrogoths had been expelled. During the war of 572-91 A.D. against the Sasanian Persian empire, Slavs and Avars entered the Balkan provinces unopposed. Though later expelled, the Slavs returned during the Romano-Persian war of 604-28 A.D. This time, they stayed.
In 633 A.D., Islamic armies led by Mohammed’s successor Abu Bakr attacked both the East Roman and Sasanian empires, exhausted from their recent war. The Persian empire was destroyed. The East Roman empire survived with great loss of territory. The Arabs laid siege to Constantinople in 674-78 A.D. and again in 717-18 A.D. but were unable to penetrate its walls. Another military threat came from the Slavic settlers in the Balkan peninsula after Turkish-speaking Bulgars occupying land between the Danube river and Black Sea had founded a rival state. The Romans and Bulgarians competed for the allegiance of Slavic peoples in that region. Constantine V was unable to destroy the Bulgarian state in a twenty-year war but the Byzantine empire did later subjugate most Slavs living on the Greek peninsula. Another lengthy war was waged against Paulician Christians in the northeast.
The result of the frequent warfare was depopulation. This worked to the advantage of the peasants who comprised the militia defending the empire against Arab raids. After the loss of Sicily to the Moslems, the East Roman government needed to prevent its Sicilian and Bulgarian opponents from making contact. However, it made few attempts to recover its former possessions in the Mediterranean other than Crete.
Through that turmoil, the East Roman empire developed a distinctive culture that combined Greek and Slavic elements. Its society retained the religion shared with west Europeans but reverted to exclusive use of the Greek language. In the 4th century A.D., the Cappadocian Christian fathers, St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Gregory Nazianzene, produced a body of neo-Attic Greek literature which became a model for future writings. A Syrian Jewish convert to Christianity, Romanus the Composer, was instrumental in creating the Byzantine style of music and liturgical poetry.
A cultural renaissance took place during the 9th century administration of Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, who sent scholar-missionaries to Khazar Turks in the Ukraine. They brought with them the Glagolitic alphabet which had been developed for Slavic peoples in Greece. The Khazars were committed to Judaism, so the Byzantine missionaries moved on to the Slavic principality of Great Moravia (Czechoslovakia). When the Frankish church cracked down on this mission, refugee clergy next went to Bulgaria. Here a new script, Cyrillic, was developed as a simpler alternative to the Glagolitic alphabet. This script was used by subsequent Slavic converts to Orthodox Christianity.
As the first millennium A.D. drew to a close, the Byzantine Greek culture and religion had spread northward into Russia, despite its earlier settlement by Swedes. Prince Vladimir of Kiev was baptized in this faith in 989 A.D. Vladimir then married Emperor Basil II’s sister Anna. His religious conversion brought Greek art and liturgy into Russia, along with the Cyrillic alphabet. Meanwhile, high taxes combined with crop failure in the severely cold winter of 927-28 A.D. forced many peasants to sell their land to big landowners. Landlord-aristocrats in Asia Minor, supported by the peasants, engaged in five insurrections against the imperial government between 963 and 1057 A.D. The government launched military offensives against Moslem bases in Sicily and Crete and, with the help of mercenary soldiers, finally conquered Bulgaria. However, this 40-year war was financially ruinous. The peasant militia which had served the empire so well in defensive actions was not motivated to fight for imperial expansion. Not long after the Roman government reoccupied Syracuse, adventurers from Normandy captured key positions in southern Italy. Saljuq Turks who had been menacing Armenia took Emperor Romanus IV prisoner in 1071 and soon controlled most of the empire’s former territories in Asia Minor.
The East Roman empire was now under attack from Norman Christians as well as Ghuzz barbarians and Saljuq Turks of the Rum kingdom. The First Crusade (1095-99) brought western Christian armies to Constantinople. Emperor Alexis I tried to enlist their help in ousting the Turks but the European princes were mainly interested in capturing Jerusalem. A Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem was established in 1099. However, Saladin took the city back less than a century later. The Third Crusade (1189-92), undertaken in response to that event, failed to retake the city from the Moslems. After Western businessmen were massacred in Constantinople, the Normans retaliated by sacking Thessalonica. Serbia and Bulgaria threw off Byzantine rule.
The Fourth Crusade (1202-04) was diverted from its original purpose into a scheme to overthrow the imperial dynasty. An army of Venetians and French crusaders assaulted, captured, and looted Constantinople in 1204. The Venetians took valuable land possessions, while a Frenchman, Baldwin I, became Emperor of Constantinople. Seceding Greek city-states in Asia Minor then set up their own empire at Nicaea. The Nicaean Greeks and Bulgarians together laid siege to Constantinople, which fell in 1261.
The Nicaean Greeks regained Constantinople at the cost of losing most of their Asian lands to the Ottoman Turks. Serbia was also becoming a major power in Europe. If that were not enough, a civil war broke out within the East Roman empire between 1341 and 1347 reflecting both theological disagreements and conflict between large and small landowners. The empire was doomed.
Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus realized that he needed the support of western Christians. He and several successors recognized the Pope’s ecclesiastical authority. An Act of Union with the western church was signed by the Emperor and top religious officials at Florence in 1439. However, the mass of Eastern Orthodox clergy and laity rejected this agreement. Most Greeks preferred Ottoman rule to domination by western Christians. The Russian Orthodox hierarchy repudiated the Metropolitan who had signed the agreement in Florence and replaced him with a Russian native.
The Turks meanwhile tightened their land blockade. The East Roman empire came to an end when the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople in 1451 A.D. The Turkish rulers gave the Patriarch of Constantinople political authority over the non-Moslem communities. Greeks played a leading role in the political and commercial life of the ensuing Ottoman empire.
Parthian, Kushan, and Sasanian Empires
When Roman power was at its peak in the 2nd century A.D., four contiguous political empires controlled much of the Old World. Besides Rome, there were the Parthian empire in Persia, the Kushan empire in Afghanistan and northwestern India, and the eastern Han empire in China. These four empires extended across north Africa and Europe through southern Asia to the Far East. To their north was a wilderness extending from Scandinavia and Germany to Mongolia and Siberia; to their south, the Saharan and Arabian deserts, southern and eastern India, southeast Asia, and Indonesia. Rome and China, at the extremities, were dimly aware of each other’s existence. The Parthian and Kushan empires, occupying a middle position, were in direct contact with the others. Their merchants acted as middlemen for overland trade.
This was the culmination of CivI. Each of the four empires was ruled by hereditary monarchs exercising nearly absolute power. Each empire, representing a consolidation of political and military power among warring kingdoms, brought peace and stability to its region. This situation came to an end with the Hun uprisings, which overthrew the Eastern Han dynasty of China in the 3rd century A.D. and destroyed the West Roman empire two centuries later.
Of the four empires, only the Chinese had not been touched by Alexander’s conquests in the 4th century B.C. The Roman, Parthian, and Kushan empires were heirs of Greek civilization. All three fell at least partially within the vast territory which Seleucus had inherited from Alexander but could not retain. Long afterwards, Greek culture continued to have a strong influence in those places. Mixed with local traditions, it became an element in the syncretizing process of creating world religions. Bactria (northern Afghanistan) went farthest with the hellenizing process. The Kushan empire, located there, became a cultural cauldron in which Greek philosophy and visual art transformed Buddhism into a religion of personal images. The realism of Praxiteles was applied to images of the divine. It was this Buddhism, in the Mahayana form, which penetrated China beginning in the 2nd century A.D.
As Rome conquered western lands possessed by the Greek dynasties, so the Parthian and Kushan empires began with nomadic invasions in the eastern part of the Seleucid empire. Parni nomads from Türkmenistan, led by Arsaces, freed themselves from Seleucid rule around 250 B.C. and established the Parthian kingdom in northeastern Iran. Kin to the Scythians, they were horsemen and archers of great ability. In 141 B.C., the Parthians under Mithridates I conquered Media and Babylonia from the Greeks. They took the Seleucid emperor Demetrius II prisoner when he tried to regain the lost territory. The Arsacid dynasty moved its capital to Ctesiphon, a suburb of Seleucia-on-Tigris.
The Romans fared no better against Parthian arrows. An army led by Marcus Crassus was annihilated when it invaded Mesopotamia in 53 B.C. Trajan’s attempt in 114-17 A.D. to annex Armenia, Mesopotamia, and Babylonia ended in disaster. Neither, however, were the Parthians able to make significant inroads into Roman territory. Hadrian set the Roman Empire’s eastern boundary at the Euphrates river. The Arsacid Parthian dynasty lasted until 224 A.D. when its last emperor, Artabanus V, was overthrown and supplanted by his Persian vassal, Ardeshir I, founder of the Sasanian (Second) Persian empire.
The Kushan empire was formed in 48 A.D. with the invasion of northwest India by another nomadic people, Kushans or Yüeh-chih, living in Bactria. The process began when a Greek governor of Bactria seceded from the Seleucid empire in 250 B.C. and established a separate kingdom. Exploiting a power vacuum with the collapse of the Mauryan dynasty, the Bactrian Greeks seized parts of northern India around 200 B.C. However, the Greek princes fought among themselves.
In a weakened state, their kingdoms were overrun sixty years later by Saka (Scythian) nomads driven southward by the Yüeh-chih from Gansu in western China. Although the neighboring Parthians were also attacked, they managed to divert the Sakas to an area in southern Afghanistan from which they overran Greek settlements in the Indus Valley. The Parthians subsequently imposed their rule upon the Indian Saka states. Around 100 B.C., the Yüeh-chih invaded and occupied Bactria, then under Saka rule. Part of this tribe, the Kushans, moved into the Indus Valley in the 1st century, A.D., conquering both the Partho-Sakas there and an independent Saka state farther south. Their empire thus encompassed Bactria and northwest India on both sides of the Hindu Kush. During the nearly two centuries of its existence, the Kushan empire was a bridge between the Indian and Chinese cultures.
After Ardeshir I overthrew and supplanted the Parthian Arsacid dynasty in 224 A.D., Sasanian Persia attacked the Roman empire’s eastern provinces but was driven back from all but Armenia. The Kushan empire fell to Ardeshir’s armies in 241 A.D., though a remnant may have lasted in the Kabul Valley until the 11th century A.D. Before gaining political power, the Sasanid family had been hereditary priests of Anahita, an Iranian water goddess later associated with Ahura Mazda, the Zoroastrian chief god, in the Magian cult. Zoroastrianism in Magian form became the official religion of the Sasanian empire.
However, another major religion, Manichaeism, appeared during the reign of Shahpuhr I (242-273 A.D.), when a Persian prophet named Mani was given permission to preach. Kartir, a Zoroastrian priest seeking to uphold Zoroastrianism as the Sasanian state religion, persuaded Shahpuhr’s second successor, Vahram I, to arrest and execute Mani. The Sasanid emperors saw themselves as successors to emperors of the pre-Greek Achaemenian dynasty who had made Persia a world power. Their military aggression directed against the Romans, Armenians, Kushans, and others was intended to restore the Persian empire to its former greatness.
The Sasanian and Roman empires were engaged in a military and religious struggle for nearly four centuries. The Romano-Persian war of 337-60 A.D. ended inconclusively. The Roman emperor Julian was killed while invading Persia in 362. His successor, Jovian, had to cede five Armenian provinces to Persia in order to extricate the Roman forces. Christians living in Persia were suspected of being a Roman fifth column. The reverse was true, from a Roman perspective, of Manichees living in the Roman empire. Shahpuhr II began persecuting Christians in 339 A.D. The persecution was lifted a half century later.
In 440 A.D., Emperor Yazdigerd II ordered all his subjects to convert to the Zoroastrian religion, causing a series of revolts in the Armenian provinces. In 484, Ephthalite Huns occupied eastern territories belonging to the former Kushan empire. Emperor Peroz was killed in battle, and the Persians had to pay tribute to the Huns. This military disaster caused a social revolution in Persia. A communistic sect of the Manichaean religion, Mazdakism, stirred the poor masses in opposition to the Zoroastrian clergy and wealthy noblemen. When emperor Kavadh I converted to this religion, its program was put into effect.
One of Kavadh’s sons, later Khusro I, persuaded his father to disavow Mazdakism. He then proceeded to crush this sect. As emperor, Khusro I (531-79 A.D.) decentralized the military and instituted certain economic reforms to alleviate conditions that had caused the Mazdakite movement. Allied with the Turks, he overthrew the Ephthalite empire in 563-67 A.D. It was partitioned along the lines of the Oxus river. In 572, Khusro began a war with the East Roman empire which lasted for 18 years. The war’s unpopularity caused his son and successor, Hormizd IV, to be murdered. The East Roman emperor, Maurice, unseated the Persian usurper and put Hormizd IV’s son, Khrusro II, on the throne. Emperor Maurice then was killed in a mutiny. To avenge his benefactor’s death, Khrusro II invaded the East Roman Empire.
This last Romano-Persian war, lasting from 604 to 628 A.D., was the bloodiest of all. It ended, upon Khusro II’s death, with a treaty restoring territories to the situation before the war. Weakened by this conflict, the Sasanian empire was in no shape to withstand the Arab armies which attacked Persia in 633 A.D. The Islamic conquest was complete by 651.
The Aryan conquerors of India built a new society on the ruins of an earlier civilization when they invaded this region in the middle of the 2nd millennium B.C. A system of hereditary castes determined its class structure. Brahman priests controlled the rituals believed necessary for a prosperous and healthy life. There was a rich religious literature written in the Sanskrit language consisting of hymns, rituals, poetic narratives, and philosophical discussions.
A second wave of nomadic immigrants entered northwest India around 600 B.C. The political center of gravity moved eastward from the Indus to the Ganges valley. A group of small kingdoms there was ruled by descendants of the Aryan warriors. The two strongest were Kosala (Uttar Pradesh) and Magadha (Bihar) in the northeast. The ruler of the Magadha kingdom, Bimbisara, attempted to create an empire. It was in this environment of small warring states that the religious thinkers Mahavira and Buddha lived and preached during the late 6th century B.C.
In 518 B.C., the Persian emperor Darius I invaded and annexed the western part of the Indus Valley. In 478 B.C. Prince Vijaya sailed from Gujarat to the island of Sri Lanka where he founded a Singhalese kingdom. Alexander the Great penetrated deep into the Indus Valley in 327-25 B.C. and left several garrisons.
Around 322 B.C., Chandragupta I, founder of the Mauryan empire, expelled the garrisons which Alexander had left in northwest India. He went on to conquer the kingdom of Magadha. In 305 B.C., Seleucus I attempted to recover the lost Indian territories but was defeated by Chandragupta’s army. (After making peace with the Indians, Seleucus purchased 500 war-elephants for use in a forthcoming campaign against Antigonus I of Macedon.)
Chandragupta received certain Greek territories in exchange. His grandson, Asoka, conquered the southeastern kingdom of Kalinga in 261 B.C. Asoka’s empire now included most of the Indian subcontinent with the exception of the southern tip. After defeating Kalinga, the emperor suddenly repented of further conquests and became a lay member of a Buddhist order. He spent his remaining years promoting Buddhism and issuing moral edicts. His government was an intrusive, authoritarian bureaucracy bent on ethical reform. It tried to curb wasteful rituals and improve economic efficiency. Much of what we know about Asoka comes from multilingual inscriptions in stone slabs which he placed about his realm. The Mauryan empire began to disintegrate not long after Asoka’s death in 232 B.C. and was extinguished in 185 B.C.
India was again divided into warring kingdoms during the next five hundred years. During the 2nd century B.C., Greek princes of Bactria occupied a part of northern India until Saka nomads overran their territories. The kingdom of Kalinga regained its freedom and became militarily aggressive. The Sunga dynasty, founded by the general who had assassinated the last Mauryan emperor, took possession of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh including Pataliputra, Asoka’s former capital city. Another dynasty, the Andhras, controlled most of the Deccan in south-central India. Saka principalities, satraps of the Kushan empire, occupied the west coast of India, south of the Indus Valley. The Kushan empire itself controlled the northwest region. This empire and the Andhra kingdoms were both destroyed around 224 A.D. A period of political instability ensued. During this time, Indian culture and religion were undergoing a major transformation.
Sanskrit literature experienced a revival under the Sunga and Kanva dynasties (185-27 B.C.) Mahayana Buddhism, a savior religion, developed from the original Buddhist teaching. The classic Tamil writings on ethics and statecraft were composed. New gods were added to the Hindu pantheon as Brahman authority was affirmed.
During the 4th century A.D., a fortuitous marriage reunited northern and southern Bihar. The Gupta dynasty thus began with the rule of another Chandragupta in 320 A.D. His son, Samudragupta, and grandson, Chandragupta II, enlarged its domain in the Jumna-Ganges basin and conquered the western Saka satrapy with its capital at Ujjain. This empire included northern India east to west but did not extend south beyond the Vindhya mountains.
Though territorially less extensive than the Mauryan, the Gupta empire was no less culturally distinguished. The Guptas were Hindu Brahmans who were tolerant of other religions. Samudragupta surrounded himself at court with accomplished artists and scholars. Indian sculpture, literature, and astronomy then reached new heights. The Sanskrit poet and playwright, Kalidasa, lived during this time, as did Vatsyayana, author of the Kamasutra. The Laws of Manu, written around 400 A.D., are the classical expression of Hindu law. The game of chess was invented and the so-called “Arabic” numerals were first used. White Hun invasions between 455 and 544 A.D. extinguished this culturally brilliant society although it was briefly rekindled during Emperor Harsha’s reign in the early 7th century A.D.
The Gupta dynasty ruled India’s last indigenous empire. Thenceforth the prevailing pattern was that of foreign invaders from the north seeking to penetrate the Indian subcontinent and being assimilated by the Hindu culture. The Ephthalite Huns overran territories in the Oxus-Jaxartes basin. When Persians and Turks overthrew this northern kingdom in 563-67 A.D., many Huns migrated to India where their descendants, the Rajputs, became hereditary princes. Emperor Harsha reunited northern India in 606-12 A.D. His bid to expand southward was defeated by Palakeshin II of the Chalukya dynasty in 620, which was, in turn, defeated in 642 by the rival Pallava dynasty of southeast India. The Tamil-speaking Pandya kingdom continued to hold the southern tip of India throughout this period.
Indian refugees from the Huns brought Hindu and Buddhist culture to southeast Asia and Indonesia. Tibet came within India’s cultural orbit after an Indian script, adapted to the Tibetan language, was used to translate Mahayana Buddhist texts into Tibetan. That happened when a Tibetan army, incited by a Chinese diplomat, successfully invaded India to punish a usurper after Harsha’s death in 647 A.D. and was “captured” by the Indian culture.
Indian political history following the decline of the Gupta empire is complicated by regional compartmentalization and a plurality of states. A Chinese Buddhist who visited India in the 7th century A.D. reported seventy different kingdoms. In the southeast, the Pandya and Pallava kingdoms were the dominant powers until the 10th century. The Chola kingdom, which defeated the Pallavas in 897, took control of the south-central region for the next three centuries. They were in the best position to reunite Hindu India in the period when the Moslems were encroaching upon Indian territory from the northwest.
However, the Chalukyas, to the north, engaged the Chola empire in a protracted struggle until both sides were exhausted. That left the door open to the Moslems. Rajput clans, descendants of the White Hun invaders, controlled northern India after King Harsha’s death. The Chalukya dynasty in Maharashtra governed the Deccan (south-central) region from the mid 6th century until 752, when they were overthrown by the Rashtrakuta, previously a tributary state. This dynasty lasted until it was, in turn, overthrown in 973 by Taila II, who revived the Chalukyan empire. During the 8th century, two new dynasties appeared in northern India, the Pratriharas of Rajasthan and Palas of Bengal, which lasted until the 11th and 12th centuries.
Moslem armies which had overrun southwest Asia reached India in 711 A.D. and seized lands in the lower Indus valley. The Hindu kings made no serious move to evict them. The Turkish Emir of Ghazni defeated a coalition of Indian princes in 991 and extended Moslem rule to include lands east of the Khyber Pass. His successor, Mahmud, pushed the frontier forward to Lahore and conducted raids into the Jumna-Ganges basin and in Gujarat. Then, Ghoris from Afghanistan, who had been converted to Islam in 1010 A.D., supplanted the Ghaznavid dynasty. Moslem armies completed their conquest of the Jumna-Ganges basin and Bengal between 1192 and 1202 A.D.
Muhammad Ghori appointed a slave-viceroy who ruled his kingdom until a ruler of the Khwarizm, ex-vassals of the Saljuq Turks, ended that dynasty in 1215. Though India escaped Mongol destruction, the Mongols’ self-styled successor, Tamerlane, sacked Delhi in 1398-99 and slaughtered 80,000 inhabitants. Previously, the Moslems had conquered the Deccan and attempted to move the capital of their empire from Delhi to that region. Islamic states in the Deccan became an independent empire ruled by the Bahmanid dynasty. These broke up into five states in the period between 1482 and 1512 A.D. Several of these states formed an alliance which overthrew the Hindu empire of Vijayanagar in 1555 A.D.
A descendant of Tamerlane, Babur, invaded northern India from Afghanistan in 1525, where he established the Mogul dynasty. Babur’s son, Humayun was evicted from India, but he successfully reentered in 1555. Humayun’s son, Akbar, expanded the empire, created an efficient administration, and promoted reconciliation between Moslems and Hindus.
Some of Akbar’s successors took a less benign view of subjected peoples. Aurangzeb reimposed the poll tax on non-Moslems, put a Sikh guru to death, and provoked a rebellion among the Rajputs. He also imposed Mogul rule upon the independent Moslem states in the Deccan and down to India’s southern tip. A Hindu counteroffensive emerged in the form of the Maratha light cavalry which conquered Mogul territory and reestablished a Hindu kingdom under their leader, Shivaji.
After Aurangzeb’s death in 1707, the Mogul empire rapidly disintegrated. Great Britain and France fought for commercial domination of India. Robert Clive’s victory over the French at the battle of Plassey in 1757 decided that contest in favor of the British. The British East India Company became de facto rulers of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa when they assumed responsibility for provincial revenue collection on behalf of the Mogul empire in 1757-65. A century later, the government of India was transferred to the British crown.
The Far Eastern Chinese society, in contrast to India’s, maintained a large degree of political unity during more than two thousand years following the creation of its first political empire in 221 B.C. The Xia, Shang, and Western Chou pre-imperial dynasties, lasting until 771 B.C., were kingdoms in northwest China which enjoyed hegemony over neighboring states. The Eastern Chou dynasty, headquartered at Loyang, continued until 256 B.C. During that time, a number of large states arose at the periphery of the empire. The Chou ruler was reduced to ceremonial functions.
After the central government lost control of its vassals, these states went to war against each other. Their number decreased from three hundred to twenty. By 506 B.C., there were seven large states surrounding the city of Loyang. They fought for control during the three centuries between 506 and 221 B.C. known as the “period of the warring states.” Alliances were formed and broken. After 453 B.C., the states improved their armies by replacing hereditary officers with ones of proven ability. Prince Hien of Ch’in militarized the peasant class. War was transformed from a contest between chariot-riding aristocrats to massive infantry battles. In the final phase, between 230 and 221 B.C., the kingdom of Ch’in conquered its rivals.
The King of Ch’in, Shih Hwang-ti, became the first Chinese emperor. Embracing the Legalist philosophy, he was determined to improve society by issuing and enforcing laws. This emperor replaced the hereditary nobility with appointed officials, set up a system of provincial administrations, adopted standard weights and measures, standardized the Chinese script, began construction of the Great Wall to protect the northern border, and created a centralized civil service. His government established the legal framework for peasants to own and transfer land. Its army acquired crossbows and replaced chariots with cavalry.
In keeping with his strict reforms, Shih Hwang-ti burned books from schools of philosophy other than Legalism and even proposed burying their scholars alive. The result was to create a unified nation which was organized by an unambiguous set of principles. On the other hand, the abrupt creation of a national bureaucracy and suppression of competing philosophies antagonized those who had previously enjoyed favor and power. Its population depleted from war, the peasants were further oppressed by taxes and corvées. The Ch’in empire, too ambitious in its reach, lasted only thirteen years. The first emperor died in 210 B.C. while on an inspection tour. A general insurrection took place a year later, aimed at restoring the old order.
Liu P’ang, founder of the Han dynasty, was the winner in the civil war that followed. Instead of reversing the first emperor’s policies, he continued them in a more moderate form. Liu P’ang dismantled the fiefs by requiring that all sons, not just the oldest, inherit their father’s lands. Repudiating the Legalists, he promoted first the Taoist and then the Confucian philosophy. In 196 B.C., Liu P’ang ordered the imperial districts to send their brightest young men to the capital to be selected for administrative posts by passing an examination. A subsequent emperor, Wu-ti, based the examination upon knowledge of the Confucian classics. The structure was in place for a system of government that served most subsequent dynasties.
Although Liu P’ang reappointed lesser nobility, these titles were rewards for faithful government service and could be revoked. The real power was held by the emperor, on one hand, and the Confucian bureaucracy, on the other. This bureaucracy consisted of many separate departments and overlapping functions, which constituted a checks-and-balances system. Even the emperor’s conduct could be criticized by an official known as the “censor”. The emperor’s household had its Inner and Outer courts, including relatives, eunuchs, harems, and high officials.
The Han dynasty, founded by Liu P’ang, is divided into a Western Han (141-31 B.C.) and an Eastern Han (25-220 A.D.) period. The Confucian scholar-administrators established themselves in the first period as a privileged class. They effectively controlled the imperial government and took it upon themselves to decide as well whether a dynasty still enjoyed the Mandate of Heaven. Additionally, the Confucian administrators used their governmental positions to enrich themselves by taking land from the peasants.
Under the Han dynasty, peasants could be forced to contribute one month’s free labor to the government and was subject to two years’ conscription for military service. As in Roman society, peasant-farmers who neglected their land while fighting wars often lost it to rich speculators. The new class of Confucian landlords added to the burden. An imperial decree issued in 6 B.C. proposed to limit individual landholdings, but the administrator-landlords made sure that the decree was not carried out. The Western Han dynasty fell in 9 A.D.
Wang Mang, a relative of the royal family, usurped power and tried to carry out agrarian reform. He, too, was stymied by the Confucian bureaucracy. Peasant armies known as the “Green Woodsmen” and “Red Eyebrows” staged an uprising in the Shandong province. In 25 A.D., a powerful landlord and warlord named Kwang-wu restored the Han dynasty and suppressed the peasant revolt. Since its capital was moved from Changan east to Loyang, this became known as the Eastern Han dynasty. The Confucian bureaucrats remained in power.
Not surprisingly, the same problems that had bedeviled the Western Han dynasty resurfaced. Rents were raised on the peasants. The imperial examinations were conducted dishonestly. Many peasants took refuge on the big landowners’ estates while others fled to southern China. In 184 A.D., a Taoist physician organized a nationwide peasant revolt known as the “Yellow Turban” rebellion. This lasted nine months before it was crushed by an alliance between big landlords and the regular army. The Eastern Han empire split into three kingdoms controlled by warlords in 220-22 A.D.
A period of civil disorder followed which lasted more than three centuries. Mahayana Buddhism entered China. The warm, marshy southern region attracted an influx of population. The Chinese empire was briefly reunified in 265-80 A.D., but fell apart ten years later. Then nomadic barbarians invaded northern China and established kingdoms there. A branch of the Chin family reestablished the (Eastern) Chin dynasty in southern China. Five imperial dynasties held that region, including north Vietnam, against barbarian attacks from the north. By 439 A.D., the T’o-pa “Wei” dynasty had conquered all the other kingdoms in northern China. Its sinified tribesmen became major landowners.
The Wei emperor undertook substantial agrarian reform. Every able-bodied peasant was given a plot of land of minimum size and peasant associations became collectively responsible for tax payments. However, the Wei dynasty was overthrown in 535 after several unsuccessful attempts to conquer southern China. Sui Wen-ti, founder of the Sui dynasty, did reunite the country in 589 A.D.
The Sui dynasty lasted only 37 years. Its second emperor, Sui Yang-ti, undertook construction of the Grand Canal linking the Yellow and Yangtze rivers. His heavy demand for corvée labor led to peasant revolts and civil war during which the emperor was assassinated by his bodyguard. Then Li Yüan and his son established the T’ang dynasty (618-906 A.D.), arguably China’s most glorious.
The T’ang emperors, like the Han, continued the Sui program but at a more moderate pace. Their capital city, Changan, near Xi’an became a culturally vibrant metropolis of 800,000 persons with a cosmopolitan flavor. T’ang poetry, calligraphy, and sculpture achieved their classic expression. Commercial activities flourished. Silk weaving, porcelain manufacture, shipbuilding, and papermaking were brought to a high level of art. Korean and Japanese intellectuals flocked to the T’ang capital and picked up such cultural elements as chop sticks and kimono dress. The Japanese even built a replica of Changan at Nara in 710 for their own first capital.
In 626, Li Yüan’s middle son, later known as T’ai-tsung, murdered his two brothers and deposed his father to assume the imperial throne. However, this filial usurper was an able and intelligent ruler until his death in 649. An ambitious young woman named Wu, who had belonged to T’ai-tsung’s harem, managed to become the new emperor’s concubine a year later, and then empress five years later. When this emperor died in 683, Empress Wu put her grown son on the throne, then demoted him and put another son on the throne, and finally assumed the throne herself. She was overthrown in 705.
The T’ang dynasty reached a cultural peak during the reign of her grandson, Hsüan-tsing, who ruled from 713 to 755. However, its military and political fortunes went into a decline. In 751, Arab armies defeated the Chinese near Samarkand. An Lu-shan, military governor of a northern province, launched a rebellion against the central government in 755 which, lasting nine years, devastated the Chinese population. Though weakened, the T’ang lasted another century and a half. A reform of land taxation in 780 stabilized government finances. A revived cadre of Confucian scholars allowed the Chinese nation to survive the brief period of anarchy. Confucian and Taoist partisans attacked Buddhism and other foreign religions.
Heavy taxation and homelessness sparked peasant revolts in the late 9th century A.D. The T’ang dynasty expired in 907 A.D. when a warlord named Zhu Wen entered Changan and forced the emperor to abdicate. During the period of Five Dynasties, continual war devastated society. The next dynasty, the Sung, arrived a half century later. Chao K’uangyin, commander of the imperial guards under the later Chou, mutinied and declared himself emperor. Now threatened by Khitan and Tangut barbarians in the northwest, the Chinese empire made peace by paying tribute. The central government consolidated the regional military commands to prevent future rebellions. An energetic and courageous administrator, Wang An-shih (1021-86), instituted several reforms. He revamped the imperial examinations, provided low-interest loans to peasants, abolished the system of corvée labor, reformed the tax on land, and brought back the peasant militia. The Sung period continued the cultural brilliance associated with the T’ang. When Jürchen barbarians conquered the Sung capital of Kaifeng in 1126, the empire lost all its territory north of the Yangtze river. The Sung dynasty continued in south China until Mongol armies under Kublai Khan conquered its remaining territory in 1273-79 A.D.
The Mongols were the first barbarian tribe to conquer China in its entirety. Kublai Khan moved his capital from Qaraqorum in Mongolia to Peking in 1260-67. Mongol armies overpowered the southern Sung empire, taking its capital in 1276. Gunpowder was used in its defense. The Mongols’ Yüan dynasty, lasting from 1260 until 1368 A.D., was perhaps the least representative of all Chinese dynasties. Its ruling class remained aloof from the Chinese population. This nomadic people despised the sedentary Chinese and never accepted their culture. During the conquest, they had ruined the agricultural infrastructure of northern China causing mass starvation. Yüan emperors employed foreigners rather than Confucian scholars in top administrative positions. They cordially received diplomats from Moslem countries and the West.
The Yüan dynasty was, of course, unusual because its power extended well beyond the frontiers of China. The Mongol territories extended from Manchuria and north Vietnam to lands adjoining Syria and Hungary. Even so, naval expeditions against Japan and Java failed. Local revolts spread through China in the 1340s. The winner among the competing warlords was Chu Yüan-Chang, founder of the Ming dynasty. By 1382, he had evicted the Mongols from China.
The Ming dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.) revived the earlier pattern of Chinese society. Examinations based on the Confucian classics again became the route to top positions in the imperial government. Fearing another Mongol-style invasion, Ming emperors kept a close eye on nomadic tribes in the northwest. Emperor Yung-lo (ruled 1403-24) conducted five military campaigns against them. Briefly, a Mongol leader besieged Peking but could not penetrate its walls.
In 1414, Ming armies reconquered Annam (Vietnam) but this nation became independent fourteen years later. Korea and Tibet remained Chinese tributaries. The Portuguese and Dutch established trading posts in southern China. European missionaries and scholars were received at the imperial court. Emperor Yung-lo commissioned a massive encyclopedia of Chinese culture to be written, which filled 11,000 volumes. He also sent a large fleet of sailing ships to ports throughout the Indian Ocean on seven separate expeditions between 1405 and 1433 A.D. Later emperors turned reclusive and xenophobic. Wan-li (1573-1620) retreated to interior parts of the Forbidden City, effectively leaving the eunuch administrators in control. The last Ming emperor committed suicide in 1644 as Manchu forces attacked Peking.
The last imperial dynasty, the Manchu or Ch’ing, brought to power a sinized group of hunters from Manchuria belonging to the Jürched people. At the beginning of the 17th century, a Jürchen chief, Nurhachi, had united a previously divided group of tribes and conquered much of Manchuria with a tightly organized army. Nurhachi proclaimed himself emperor of the Later Chin dynasty in 1616. Rebellions broke out in Ming China. In 1644, a Ming general enlisted help from the Manchurians to quell the rebellion. Pouring into northern China, they quickly occupied Peking and made it their capital. Between 1675 and 1683, Manchu armies subdued the remaining Ming forces which had retreated to the south. While the new dynasty continued the Chinese form of government, the Jürched people held themselves apart from the Chinese as a ruling class.
Two emperors, K’ang-hsi (1661-1722) and Ch’ien-lung (1736-1796), both able military and political leaders, dominated this period. Under the Manchu regime, the Chinese government resisted territorial encroachment from Czarist Russia, conquered Taiwan, and discouraged western influence. However, the Europeans obtained commercial concessions from China. By the end of the 19th century, they had reduced the empire to political impotence. The last Chinese emperor, Henry Pu Yi, who reigned between 1908 and 1912, died under communist rule in 1974.
East and Southeast Asia
The nations strung out along the perimeter of east and southeast Asia are cultural satellites of the two central powers, India and China. Indian culture spread peacefully to neighboring areas through trade, immigration, and religion. Its sphere of influence spread to southeast Asia with emigration following the Huns’ destruction of the Gupta empire in the 5th century A.D. Many fled from the Pallava kingdom taking with them the Grantha script.
The spread of Chinese culture was more a projection of China’s political power. The lands under its influence were taken by military conquest or the lure of Chinese civilization. China’s satellites include Korea, Japan, and North Vietnam. India’s include Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Malaya, Cambodia, and Indonesia. There is an overlay of Islamic culture in Malaya and the southeast islands. Tibet, positioned between the two powers, has been politically annexed to China though it shows the influence of Indian religion.
An ancient Hindu kingdom was founded in Champa (south Vietnam) by Indian adventurers in 192 A.D. The Han emperor, Wu-ti, had annexed Nam-Viet (north Vietnam) in the 1st century B.C. Champa was an independent kingdom until the 12th century when it became a vassal of the Khmer empire. This kingdom was conquered in 1471 by the Annamese empire to the north. The northern Vietnamese people were Mahayana Buddhists under Chinese influence. They had been a part of China until the fall of the T’ang dynasty. Reconquered by the Yüan and Ming emperors, they regained their independence in 1428.
The Khmer empire of Cambodia rose to power in the period between the 9th and 12th centuries under a dynasty of god-kings. Its chief monument is the temple complex at Angkor Wat constructed by Suryavarman II (1113-1150). The T’ai kingdom on its eastern border destroyed the Khmer state between 1350 and 1360. These T’ais were descendants of a people from Yunnan in western China who had migrated southward and formed a tightly organized state at Ayut’ia in 1350. They conquered Cambodia, lower Burma, and much of the Malay peninsula. East of Thailand, Burmese tribesmen migrating from the northwest overcame the native Mon people of Burma and established the empire of Pagan in 1044. The Mongols destroyed it in 1287.
Unlike the agriculturally based societies of southeast Asia, the peoples who inhabited the Indonesian islands made a living primarily from trade. Sea vessels traveling between India and China had to pass through the Straits of Malacca or Sunda, located at opposite ends of Sumatra. The Sumatran empire of Srivijaya prospered by intercepting and taxing ships in its territorial waters. It was the strongest power in the region between the 7th and 9th centuries A.D. The Indian Cholas and the Javanese were important rivals. Kings of the Shailendra dynasty ruled Java until the 8th century. They have left a Buddhist monument carved in a hill at Borobudar. These monarchs were replaced by the Hindu Sanjaya dynasty. The Singosari kingdom of east Java, which arose next in the 9th century, ruled over an expanded part of the Indonesian archipelago until the late 13th century.
The Mongols attacked Java in 1293 during an internal rebellion. The late king’s son-in-law, Vijaya, welcomed their help in defeating the rebels and then treacherously turned on them. After the Mongols were defeated, Vijaya founded the Majapahit empire, which dominated a broad area in the 14th century. In 1403, a Shailendra prince named Paramesvara married a Majapahit princess and founded the city of Malacca. After he converted to Islam, Malacca became a base for propagating this religion.
The Chinese emperor Han Wu-ti first established military outposts on the Korean peninsula in 109-08 B.C. They were destroyed after the East Han empire fell in the 3rd century A.D. However, the northern Korean state of Koguryo adopted Mahayana Buddhism and Chinese-style public administration around 372 A.D. Numerous Koreans claiming Chinese ancestry emigrated to Japan in the 5th and 6th centuries. In the 7th century, T’ang emperors conquered the states of Koguryo and Paekche with the aid of Silla kings. Silla then expelled the Chinese.
The unification of Korea under local rule did not prevent Chinese culture from continuing to gain influence there. Mahayana Buddhism and the Chinese script both took root during that period. The Silla kingdom was overthrown at the end of the 9th century. The Koryo dynasty, which suppressed Buddhism in favor of Confucianism, then ruled Korea until the Mongols arrived in 1231. Finally, the Yi dynasty came to power in 1392. This regime lasted until 1910. A vassal of Manchu China, the “hermit” kingdom of Korea existed in nearly total isolation from the rest of the world.
Japan became sinified during the period of the T’ang dynasty. Its imperial government, headquartered first at Nara and then at Kyoto, copied the Chinese model. However, Japanese society did not have enough educated persons to staff a central government effectively, so the power devolved to provincial governors. Also, the powerful influence of the Fujiwara family and of Buddhist priests encroached upon the emperor’s authority. Provincial gentry opposed to the Fujiwaras set up their own feudal governments around the country. After prolonged civil war, the Minamoto family defeated their rivals. Their leader, Yoritomo Minamoto, established a military dictatorship at Kamakura known as the shogunate in 1185. He did not seek to become emperor but the leader of a parallel government which exercised the real power. This new dynasty of warriors reformed the courts and restored peace to society. It presided over a cultural blossoming and repelled the Mongol naval attack against Japan in 1274 and 1281. Emperor Go-Daigo attempted a coup d’état in 1331. The shogunate was then transferred to the Ashikaga family in Kyoto. Their rule broke down after two centuries. Civil war took place in the streets of Kyoto.
Beginning in the middle of the 16th century, three warlords restored the shogunate and brought peace to the country. The first, Oda Nobunaga, seized power after winning a battle with another warlord who had marched on Kyoto. After ruling for twenty years, he was assassinated in 1582. One of Nobunaga’s lieutenants, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, sought to avenge this death. After becoming shogun in 1590, he invaded Korea intending later to attack the Ming dynasty. The invasion was repelled.
Hideyoshi used shrewd strategies to foil potential opponents. He ordered all non-samurai to turn in their swords to make a gigantic metal statue of Buddha while also using Christian missionaries to fight Buddhist soldiers. Hideyoshi wanted his son to succeed him, but, after his death in 1598, an associate, Tokugawa Ieyasu, gained the upper hand. As shogun, Ieyasu moved the capital to Tokyo. He kept the other samurai in check by forcing them to maintain two residences and so incur a great expense. Finally, Ieyasu expelled the Portuguese missionaries from Japan. This arrangement preserved the peace for 250 years while Japan was closed to the outside world. Then, in July 1853, the American admiral Matthew Perry brought a fleet of gunboats into Tokyo bay, forcing the shogunate to reopen this nation. The imperial dynasty was restored in 1868.
When Hernando Cortés conquered the Aztec empire of Mexico in 1519-21 A.D., he arrested the growth of a militaristic state in an expansive phase. The main civilizations of the Americas were concentrated in Mexico and Central America, on one hand, and along the Pacific coast of South America, on the other. The Olmec and Chavín societies unified those two regions in the first half of the 1st millennium B.C.
The first great empire of the Americas, the Mayan, flourished in Guatemala and the Yucatán peninsula of Mexico beginning at the time of Christ or, perhaps, in the next three centuries. In its classical period, this culturally rich society lasted about four hundred years. Its capital at Teotihuacán was the largest Meso-American city existing before the Spanish conquest. The Mayan people were distinguished by their mathematical and astronomical knowledge and their art. Teotihuacán was violently destroyed around 600 A.D. The Mayan culture continued in outlying jungle areas even after its ceremonial centers were abandoned. In South America, two cities - Huari in Ecuador and Tiahuanaco in Bolivia - began forming their own empires around 600 A.D. Between them, they controlled two thousand miles of coastal territories from Ecuador to northern Chile. These empires lasted about two centuries.
The classical Mayan civilization of Meso-America fell around 900 A.D. The next significant society in that area was the Zapotec society, located in the Oaxaca province of southern Mexico. The Toltec people gained political ascendancy in the Valley of Mexico around 900 A.D. Their capital city was Tula, just north of Mexico City. Toltec in the Aztec language means “skilled worker”, suggesting architectural prowess. Many ruins of temples, palaces, and pyramids adorned the Toltec capital. The founder of Tula, Topíltzin, was expelled by political opponents. He fled towards the eastern coast. Legend had it that this exiled Toltec king would return some day from the sea as the feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl. In fact, a conqueror by the same name in the Mayan language founded a small empire on the northwest coast of the Yucatán peninsula in 987, which lasted until 1224.
The Aztecs migrated from the desert of northern Mexico in the late 12th century. Around 1325, they settled on the west edge of Lake Texcoco, where, for defensive reasons, they created a Venice-like city on piles in the middle of the lake. This became Tenochtitlán, or Mexico City. In South America, a number of large cities including Chanchán and Cuizmanco exercised political power in the “urbanizing age” between 1000 and 1430 A.D.
The Aztecs took the first step in building an empire around 1430 when their leader, Itzcoatl, formed a military alliance with two neighboring city-states. During the next ninety years, the Aztec confederation conquered thirty city states. The purpose of these wars was to loot, exact tribute, and gather captives for religious ceremonies involving human sacrifice, not to create a politically integrated society. For, the Aztecs believed that the gods needed to be liberally fed with human hearts to maintain the universe. By 1519, this military machine controlled a territory extending from the Atlantic to Pacific oceans between southern and central Mexico.
The Incas of Peru had begun to build their empire around 1438 when the ruler of Cuzco repelled an attack from the Chanchas. His son, Pachacuti, then set about to conquer the Chanchán territory as well as that of other Andean peoples. A hundred years later, the Inca empire between the Andes mountains and Pacific ocean was so large that a second capital, Quito, had been added to administer the northern part. A civil war was in progress between royal brothers in these two capitals when Francisco Pizarro arrived in 1532, which the Spaniard shrewdly exploited. Likewise, Cortés’ war of conquest in Mexico was materially aided by provincial peoples who hated the Aztecs.
Note: This page reproduces Chapter 4 of Five Epochs of Civilization by William McGaughey (Thistlerose, 2000).
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