Big differences from classical Mediterranean culture
Relationship to state secondary
Anti-slavery, pro-brotherhood (later slavery, new context)
Respect for work
Classical values preserved (aside from church organization and some philosophy)
Roman architectural styles, though simplified
Latin, language of church in west
Greek, language of church in east
Monastic libraries preserved classical and Christian learning
In west: northern Europe
In east: Balkans, Russia
Durable faith, drawing power, complexity
Devotion of many different kinds of people
Christianity and Buddhism became world religions at this time
Converts from different cultures, wide geographic area
Initially surpassed Christianity as world faith
Still rivals Christianity
No new world faith since
Not including secular faiths like communism
Religious world map
Most people believe in one of the great faiths
Regional belief systems relatively consistent over time
C. The Spread of the Major Religions
Classical period breakdowns: disease, invasion, etc.
Parallel developments stimulating religiosity
Classical period trade, travel
Crossing political and cultural borders
Stimulated focus on single divinity
Polytheism not entirely displaced
Reduced literal animism
D. The World Around 500 C.E.
Three primary themes for subsequent developments
1: Reworking key institutions and values after collapse
2: Integrating new religions as part or start of civilization building
3: Improved agriculture and new civilizations/contacts
Areas of classical civilizations would hold dominant positions
Increasingly challenged by spread of civilization in other areas
A. The Late Classical Period and the World
During classical period
Most developments within civilizations
Radiated trade, influences outward as well
India: south, southeast Asia
China: Korea, Vietnam
Nomadic merchants: Silk Road
As civilizations collapse
China–Rome overland: more dangerous
Indian Ocean shipping preferable
Porous borders: increase of movement
Missionaries, traders, invaders
New basis for connections among peoples of Afro-Eurasia
Buddhism from India to China to other parts of east Asia
Christianity from Roman Empire to northeast Africa and Armenia
The Classical Period: Directions, Diversities, and Declines by 500 c.e. The great civilizations of the classical period— Rome, India and China—were economically and culturally self-sufficient, nonetheless they traded extensively between themselves in the Indian Ocean. It is hard to determine how much cultural exchange was carried this way. Some cultural similarities may be no more than mere coincidences, while others are clear borrowings. What we do know is that Indian traders continued long after Gupta decline. We also know that the Persians, Greeks from the eastern Roman Empire, and later, the Chinese, rekindled competition for trade in the Indian Ocean. It would not be long before Arab traders proved even more important.
Chapter Summary. Between 200 and 600 c.e., the three great classical civilizations of Rome, Han China, and Gupta India collapsed or declined. All three suffered from invasions by nomads who took advantage of internal imperial weaknesses, however they did not follow the same pattern of decline or achieve the same results. At the same time, new great religions spread. The general collapse formed a significant break in world history. Many components of the classical achievement survived the period of decline, and new forms appeared as civilizations altered to meet changing conditions. The resulting change in civilization boundaries unleashed new forces that affected sub-Saharan Africa, northern Europe, and other parts of Asia. Developments outside the classical orbit had rhythms of their own during the classical period, and they would gain new prominence as the great civilizations faltered.
Expansion and Integration. The heritage of the classical civilizations features a host of new ideas, styles, technologies, and institutions. Many of these arose as part of the broad process of adjusting to the expansion of civilization. All three were inspired by the common need to articulate central values in their respective societies, and each developed its own means to unite their territories and societies as part of a larger process of generating a shared culture on the basis of which their expanding societies might operate. All the classical civilizations made some efforts to maintain a basic social cohesion while acknowledging inequality. On balance, however, some techniques may have worked better than others. The integration of Mediterranean society was slightly more tenuous than that of the classical civilizations of Asia.
Beyond the Classical Civilizations. Significant change occurred bearing some relationship to the classical world from outside the three great civilizations, specifically in northeastern Africa, Japan, and northern Europe. Elsewhere, most notably in the Americas, new cultures evolved in an entirely independent way. In all cases, changes during the classical period set the stage for more important links in world history later on.
Developments in Africa’s Kush and its Heritage. By 1000 B.C.E. the kingdom of Kush was flourishing along the upper Nile. It possessed writing, major cities, a divine king, iron working centers, and, briefly, in 750 B.C.E. the Kush even conquered Egypt. During the 3rd century c.e., Axum defeated the Kush, later Axum fell to Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s trade was cut off after Rome’s fall, but not before Jewish merchants had introduced Judaism and Greek merchants introduced Christianity. A Small Jewish sect still survives in Ethiopia as does an independent Christian church. Ethiopia itself grew to be the world’s oldest continuous monarchy until the 20th century. How much influence it had into sub-Saharan Africa is not clear. Knowledge of iron working spread, helping to expand agriculture, but Kushite writing did not, suggesting contact was limited. Toward the end of the classical era, regional kingdoms were forming in western Africa, leading to the first great state in the region: Ghana. Despite dense vegetation and the impact of African diseases on domesticated animals, agriculture spread slowly southward, preparing the way for a wave of African kingdoms, far to the west of the Nile. New crops introduced through trade with southeast Asia about 100 C.E., helped African farmers push into new areas.
Japan and Northern Europe. Japan, by the year 200 C.E., had established extensive agriculture and iron working, and had developed a regional political organization based on tribal chiefs and a tribal god, thought of as an ancestor. By 400 C.E., regional states had emerged and introduced writing from Korea. Japan’s religion, Shintoism provided for the worship of political rulers and the spirits of nature. Japan became increasingly more unified as a culture around 600 C.E., by this time they would enter the orbit of China.
The people inhabiting in what today is Germany, England, Scandinavia, and much of eastern Europe, relied on hunting and primitive agriculture, did not write, and lived in loosely organized regional kingdoms. Religious beliefs featured a host of gods and rituals designed to placate the forces of nature. This would all change, under the influence of Christianity. However, these shifts still lay in the future, and even conversions to Christianity did not bring northern and eastern Europe into the orbit of a single civilization. Until about 1000 C.E., northern Europe remained one of the most backward areas in the world.
Central America. The first American civilization was based on many centuries of advancing agriculture, expanding from the early cultivation of corn. In Central America, an Indian group called the Olmecs developed and spread from about 800 until they disappeared without a trace in 400 B.C.E. Left behind, are the artifacts of a complex civilization with strong religious, artistic, and scientific interests. The Olmecs developed monumental pyramids and an accurate calendar. Their successors soon developed a hieroglyphic alphabet and built the first great city, Teotihuacan, a center for trade and worship. The great Maya civilization was built on their foundation around 400 C.E. A similar early civilization arose in the Andes region in present-day Peru that would lead, later, to the civilization of the Inca. It is interesting to note that these civilizations developed independently, without the advantage of technologies such as the wheel or iron working, yet were considerably ahead of Europe during the same period.
Polynesia. Polynesian peoples had reached islands such as Fiji and Samoa by 1000 B.C.E. Further explorations in giant outrigger canoes led to the first settlement of island complexes such as Hawaii by 400 C.E. Agriculture, in sum, expanded into new areas during the classical period; early civilizations, or early contacts, were also forming. These developments were not central to world history during the classical period itself, but they folded into the larger human experience thereafter. The herding peoples of central Asia also contributed to world history, particularly toward the end of the classical period.
Decline in China and India. Between 200 and 600 C.E., all three classical civilizations collapsed entirely or in part. Internal political weaknesses and the incursions of nomadic invasions contributed to their demise.
Decline and Fall in Han China. The Han dynasty appeared to recover vitality during the 1st century c.e., but poor rulers and popular unrest fueled by landlord exploitation culminated in revolution. Daoist leaders, the Yellow Turbans, in 184 c.e. began an unstable period ending with the fall of the Han in 220. Nomadic invaders added to the disorder. For a time, Buddhism threatened cultural unity. No stable dynasty emerged for 350 years. Political revival occurred at the end of the 6th century when the Sui dynasty reunited China. The Tang dynasty succeeded the Sui in 618. During these troubled years, old values survived and China retained greater homogeneity than other civilizations. Many of the nomadic invaders, seeing that they had nothing better to offer by way of government or culture, simply tried to assimilate the Chinese traditions. China thus had to recover from a serious setback but did not have to reinvent its civilization
The End of the Gupta Empire. Gupta India was one of the most stable and peaceful world regions. Fifth-century Hun invasions reduced the decentralized empire’s cohesion. By 500, they controlled northwestern India. Gupta rule collapsed mid-century. India divided into regional dynasties ruled by princes called Rajput. Buddhism steadily declined before Hinduism. Worship of the mother goddess Devi spread widely. The caste system strengthened, assimilating invaders, and extending to southern India. The economy flourished, with new trade links opening to southern India and southeast Asia. An important threat to Indian cultural continuity came from the 7th-century expansion of Islam, as Muslim invaders entered northwest India and won converts. Hindu leaders responded to the Muslim threat increasing the emotional appeal of Hinduism and popularizing it through the Hindi vernacular. By the 8th century, Arab traders gained control of Indian Ocean commerce. the glory days of the Guptas were long past, however, India remained prosperous, and classical traditions survived particularly in Hinduism and the caste system.
Decline and Fall in Rome. The decline of the Roman Empire was already evident by 180 C.E. Emperors had begun to behave arbitrarily, army recruiting became difficult, and the economy, population, and tax revenues were in precipitous decline.
Symptoms of Decline. The Roman Empire, for many reasons, was in decline from the late 2nd century c.e. A shrinking population hindered army recruiting. Disputes concerning the role of the emperor and succession were complicated by recurrent intervention of the army in political life. Tax revenues shrank. Recurring plagues further decimated the population and disrupted economic life. Germanic soldiers were increasingly recruited to defend frontiers. In the midst of these problems, Rome’s upper classes turned from political service to pleasure-seeking lives. Cultural activity, except for works by Christian writers, decayed. Rome’s fall, in other words, can be blamed on large, impersonal forces that would have been hard for any society to control or a moral and political decay that reflected growing corruption among society’s leaders. Probably elements of both were involved.
An Effort at Revival: An East/West Split. As central authority declined, farmers seeking protection clustered around large landlords. The political decentralization was most pronounced in the western empire. Political power passed to landlords and the economy contracted. Tax revenues fell, trade declined, and cities shrank in size. Some emperors tried to restore central authority. Diocletian (284–305) improved administration and tax collecting, and increased controls on the economy. Constantine (312–337) established a second capital at Constantinople and accepted Christianity. The measures did not restore vitality to the empire as a whole. The eastern half flourished, but the western did not. Attempts to regulate the economy curbed initiative and lowered production. Many overburdened peasants welcomed the changes brought by the Germanic invasions of the 5th century. The last western Roman emperor was removed in 476. The end of the Roman Empire was more serious than was the case in China and India. Unlike China, Greece and Rome had not produced shared political culture and bureaucratic traditions that could allow revival. Nor had Mediterranean civilization generated a common religion that appealed deeply enough to maintain unity amid political fragmentation, as in India.
The Early Byzantine Empire. Rome’s collapse ended Mediterranean unity. Three zones emerged, each later producing distinct civilizations. The northeastern part of the empire continued as the vibrant, artistically creative, and commercially active Byzantine Empire, which incorporated Hellenistic and Roman patterns. Justinian attempted to make the empire whole again, but his lasting contribution was the compilation of Roman Law in the Justinian Code. The Byzantine Empire never controlled all of the Middle East. In the north, the Parthian Empire had flourished from Hellenistic times forward, until 227 C.E. when Sassanid Persians reasserted Persian authority over the Empire, revitalizing Zoroastrianism, Persian art, and manufacturing. Both the Parthian and the Sassanid empires served as bridges between the Greek-speaking world and India and China. The Sassanids were overthrown by the surge of Arab conquest that followed the rise of Islam, in the 7th century C.E.; neither Christianity nor Persian culture were destroyed.
Western Europe and North Africa. A second zone, in north Africa and along the Mediterranean’s southeastern shores, suffered serious disruption. Temporary regional kingdoms emerged. Although Christianity spread, it fractured into different sects. The famous theologian Augustine was a bishop in North Africa. The Coptic church in Egypt still survives as a small minority. North Africa eventually fell to Islam. In the third zone, modern Europe, the level of civilization declined: cities were decimated, trade almost disappeared. Regional Germanic kingdoms appeared. The only vital force was Christianity, but it was not able to sustain civilization. In the mire of Rome’s collapse, this part of the world forgot for several centuries what it had previously known.
The New Religious Map. The decline of the classical civilizations contributed to the growth of the three great world religions: Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam. All emphasized intense devotion and piety, stressing the importance of spiritual concerns beyond the daily cares of earthly life. All three offered the hope of a better existence after this life ended, and each one responded to new political instability and to the growing poverty of people in various parts of the civilized world. Buddhism and Christianity reshaped major portions of Europe and Asia, and, after its introduction in the 7th century, Islam became the most dynamic force in world history during the next several centuries. The spread of the major religions in Asia, Europe, and Africa, crossed many cultural and political boundaries, radically changing beliefs and expectations along the way. The religions themselves changed too, in a process called syncretism, taking on the features of individual civilizations even while maintaining larger religious claims.
Hinduism, Buddhism, and Daoism. Despite important common features, the major religions were very different. Hinduism, as we have seen, retained its belief in reincarnation and its combination of spiritual interest in union with the divine essence and extensive rituals and ceremonies. The religion did experience greater popular appeal after the fall of the Guptas, associated with the expanded use of popular languages and with the worship of the mother goddess Devi. Buddhism was altered more substantially than Hinduism as it traveled mainly beyond India’s borders, becoming only a small minority faith in India itself. Buddhism’s spiritual solace and cultural cohesion was increasingly attractive in this unstable period. Buddhists called bodhisattvas, promoting a life of meditation for the attainment of nirvana, popularized the idea of salvation. Chinese Buddhism, called Mahayana, emphasized Buddha as a savior god similar to the Christian Christ, and introduced temples, rituals, and ceremonies. Chinese cultural values, including subordination of women, were incorporated into Buddhism. Buddhism’s growing influence stimulated thought among Daoists; they formalized their religion and adopted beliefs about achieving immortality through good works. Confucian leaders, perceiving Buddhism as a threat to state loyalty, drove out Buddhist missionaries, rendering Buddhism a minority religion in China. Mahayana Buddhism proliferated in Korea, japan, and Vietnam. In parts of southeast Asia, it remained somewhat truer to earlier Buddhist concepts of individual meditation and ethics.
Christianity and Islam. Christianity moved westward, from its original center in the Middle East, as Buddhism was spreading east from India; eventually, Christianity became one of the two largest faiths worldwide. Despite important similarities to Buddhism in its emphasis on salvation and the guidance of saints, Christianity differed in crucial ways. Christianity, the heir to the legacy of Mediterranean religions and Roman traditions, emphasized church organization, gave more value to missionary activity, and claimed possession of exclusive truth. Christianity began as a Jewish reform movement, only gradually turning to missionary activity. The Christians believed that there was a single god who loved humanity, that virtuous life should be devoted to his worship, that all people were spiritually equal, and that Christ’s sacrifice permitted attainment of an afterlife. The message, its travels facilitated by Roman unity, satisfied unfilled spiritual needs present in the deteriorating empire. Under Paul of Tarsus, Christianity became a separate religion open to all and, paralleling the provincial government of the empire, was more formally organized. Finally, Christian doctrine became increasingly organized, as the writings of several disciples and others were collected into what became known as the New Testament of the Christian Bible.
During the first three centuries after Christ, Christianity gained ground. Despite government persecution, by the 4th century, Christianity had won over about 10 percent of the Roman Empire’s population. Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and made it an accepted faith. Rulers intervened in church affairs, particularly in the eastern empire where government remained strong. In the disorganized West, bishops created a centralized church organization under the authority of the pope—the bishop of Rome— that endured when the western empire collapsed. Doctrinal controversies abounded, though both East and West established certain shared beliefs against several heresies such as the Trinity. Augustine made major contributions in formulating a theology that incorporated elements of classical philosophy. As a syncretic religion, local polytheistic beliefs were incorporated into Christian practice. Mystics flourished, particularly in the Middle East. In the west, this tendency was disciplined by the institution of monasticism. Benedict created the Benedictine Rule for monks in 6th century Italy. Christianity continued to appeal to all classes, especially to the poor and women. It promoted a new culture differing from that of the classical world in its beliefs in spiritual equality and otherworldly emphasis. The state was accepted, but made second to religion, where the brotherhood of all Christians prevailed. Classical values endured, including philosophical themes, architectural styles, and the Latin language in the West and Greek in the East. Monastic libraries preserved classical literature. When the Roman Empire fell, Christian history was still in its infancy. The Western church would soon spread its missionary zeal to northern Europe, and the Eastern church would reach into the Slavic lands of the Balkans and Russia. Christianity truly had become a world religion: a faith of unusual durability and drawing power, one whose complexity wins the devotion of many different kinds of people. Islam, launched early in the 7th century, would initially surpass Christianity as a world faith The centuries after Christianity’s rise, the spread of Buddhism, and the inception of Islam would see the conversion of most of the civilized world to one or another of the great faiths. This produced a religious map that, in Europe and Asia and even parts of Africa, would not alter greatly until our own time.
The Spread of the Major Religions. The spread of major religions—Hinduism in India, Buddhism in east and southeast Asia, a more popular Daoism in China, Christianity in Europe and parts of the Mediterranean world, and ultimately Islam—was a vital result of the changes in classical civilizations brought on by attack and decay. Common difficulties, including invading forces and contagious epidemics, help explain parallel changes in separate civilizations. Trade and travel also provided common bonds. Numerous peoples in different societies left old beliefs and turned to concentration on a single divine force and a hope for an afterlife. Polytheistic beliefs and practices continued to flourish as part of popular Hinduism and popular Daoism, and they were not entirely displaced among ordinary people who converted to Christianity, Buddhism, or Islam. But the new religious surge reduced the hold of literal animism in much of Asia and Europe.
The World Around 500 C.E. Developments in many parts of the world by 500 C.E. produced three major themes for world history in subsequent centuries. First, and particularly in the centers of classical civilization, there was the task of reviving or reworking their key institutions and values. Second, in these areas, but also in other parts of Africa, Europe, and Asia, was the need to integrate new religious institutions and values into established civilizations or, use them as the basis for a new one. Finally, increased skill in agriculture and the creation of early civilizations or new contacts prepared parts of Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas for new developments in the centuries to come.
In the Wake of Decline and Fall.By 600 c.e. the major civilizations had altered in permanent ways. China maintained political cohesion; along with India, it preserved much cultural cohesion. In contrast, the Roman Empire disintegrated, and successor civilizations did not restore geographical unity or a unified classical culture.
GLOBAL CONNECTIONS: The Late Classical Period and the World. Classical civilizations influenced other regions. When they started declining, contacts both accelerated and became more difficult. Commerce across Eurasia became dangerous, but ocean connections rose, especially in the Indian Ocean. Porous borders were penetrated by traders, missionaries, and nomadic invaders. Thus the end of the period experienced important cultural exchanges across regions.
KEY TERMS Axum:a state in the Ethiopian highlands; received influences from the Arabian peninsula; converted to Christianity.
Shinto : religion of the early Japanese court; included the worship of numerous gods and spirits associated with the natural world.
Pastoral nomads: any of the many peoples, from the steppes of Asia that herded animals; transhumant migrants.
Celts: early migrants into western Europe; organized into small regional kingdoms; had mixed agricultural and hunting economies.
Germans:peoples from beyond the northern borders of the Roman Empire; had mixed agricultural and pastoral economies; moved into the Roman Empire in the 4th and 5th centuries c.e.
Slavs:Indo-European peoples who ultimately dominated much of eastern Europe; formed regional kingdoms by the 5th century c.e.
Olmec:cultural tradition that arose at San Lorenzo and La Venta in Mexico circa 1200 b.c.e.; featured irrigated agriculture, urbanism, elaborate religion, beginnings of calendrical and writing systems.
Polynesia:islands contained in a rough triangle with its points at Hawaii, New Zealand,
and Easter Island.
Yellow Turbans:Chinese Daoists who launched a revolt in 184 c.e, promising a golden age to be brought about by divine magic.
Sui:dynasty succeeding the Han; grew from strong rulers in northern China; reunited China.
Tang: dynasty succeeding the Sui in 618 c.e Rajput:regional military princes in India following the collapse of the Gupta Empire.
Devi: mother goddess within Hinduism; devotion to her spread widely after the collapse of the Gupta and encouraged new emotionalism in religious ritual.
Diocletian:Roman emperor (284–305 c.e); restored later empire by improved administration and tax collection.
Constantine:Roman emperor (321–337 c.e); established his capital at Constantinople; used Christianity to unify the empire.
Byzantine Empire: eastern half of the Roman Empire; survived until 1453; retained Mediterranean, especially Hellenistic, culture.
Mahayana: version of Buddhism popular in China; emphasized Buddha’s role as a savior.
Bodhisattvas:Buddhist holy men who refused advance toward nirvana to receive prayers of the living to help them reach holiness.
Saints: holy men and women in Christianity; their merit could be tapped by ordinary Christians.
Pope: Bishop of Rome; head of the Catholic church in western Europe.
Augustine: North African Christian theologian; made major contributions in incorporating elements of classical philosophy into Christianity.
Benedict:founder of monasticism in the former western half of the Roman Empire; established the Benedictine rule in the 6th century.