Chapter 5 The Classical Period: Directions, Diversities, and Declines by 500

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The Classical Period: Directions, Diversities, and Declines by 500 c.e.

Chapter Outline Summary


Cultural Exchange Between Civilizations?

Rome, India, China


Indian Ocean hub of trade

How much cultural exchange?

Similarities between Buddhism and Chrisitanity

Christian temple in India

Cultural exchange with other traders?

Southeast Asia and Buddhism

Southeast Asia and Hinduism

After decline of Rome, China, India

India continued trading

Eastern Roman Empire traders

Greeks and Persians

China renewal and trade

Arab traders

Chapter Summary

Defining end of classical period



North Africa


Consequences beyond borders

Sub-Sahara Africa

Northern Europe

Other parts of Asia

Three main issues

Why decline?

Why different patterns and results?

Significance: for the end and for new beginnings

Main themes



Declines between 250 and 500 C.E.

Response of major religions shaped following histories

Developments outside classical orbit

I. Expansion and Integration

550 and 400 B.C.E.

Seminal thinkers

China: Confucius and Laozi

India: Buddha

Mediterranean: Socrates

Methods of uniting expanding territories

China: centralization; focus on politics and political culture

India: local diversity; focus on key religious values

Mediterranean: local diversity; less popular cohesion

Territorial integration

China: government promotion of settlements, shared language among elites, etc.

India: southern spread of caste system and Hinduism

Mediterranean: local autonomy, tolerance, commercial interdependence, citizenship

Social integration

All three: assumption of social hierarchy

China: Confucian hierarchy

India: caste system

Mediterranean: elites to slaves

Only opposition: Buddha

Attempts at cross-class social cohesion

China: mutual respect, deference

India: shared religion, reincarnation

Mediterranean: civic rituals, aristocrat-client obligations

Lower-class/slave uprisings not uncommon

II. Beyond the Classical Civilizations

Changes in Classical Period

Northeastern Africa


Northern Europe

The Americas

Stage set for later links

A. Developments in Africa’s Kush and its Heritage

Southern Nile, Egyptian border

Independent existence by 1000 b.c.e.

Writing based on hieroglyphics

Center of iron working

Conquered Egypt by 750 b.c.e.

Divine kingship

Major cities

Defeated by Axum, c. 300 c.e.

Axum fell to Ethiopia

Axum and Ethiopia traded with eastern Mediterranean until fall of Rome

Jewish merchants introduced Judaism, Ethiopian Jews still exist

Greek merchants introduced Christianity, 4th century C.E.

End of Roman empire trade, end of extensive contacts

Growth of independent Christian church

Growth of world’s oldest continuous monarchy

Influence on sub-Sahara Africa

Not entirely known

Iron-working spread, expanding agriculture

Divine kingship appeared elsewhere

Not clear if related to Kushites

Kushite writing did not spread

Sub-Sahara Africa north of great jungles up to 500 B.C.E.

Extension of agriculture

Village life, similar to today

West Africa

Regional kingdoms formed toward end of classical period

First: Ghana

Trade with southeast Asia 100 C.E.

Spurred development of root crops

Spurred agricultural development

Spurred growth of kingdoms

Difficulties of expansion south

Dense vegetation

Diseases afflicting livestock

B. Japan and Northern Europe

Japan, 200 C.E.

200,000 years of migration from Korean peninsula ceased

Extensive agriculture



Tribal gods, ancestors

Social differentiation


By 400 C.E.

Regional states

Brought in scribes from Korea

Shintoism national religion by 700 C.E.

Worship of political rulers

Worship of nature, especially god of rice

Different from major classical religions and philosophies

Nationalization of politics between 400 and 600 C.E.

Basis of imperial house

Emperor worship

Onset of contacts with China

Northern Europe

Teutonic/Celtic/Slavic peoples

Modern Germany, England, Scandinavia, eastern Europe

Loosely organized regional kingdoms

Some, succumbed to Roman Empire

At empire’s end, regionalism reemerged

No written language

Exception where Latin had been imported

Agriculture primitive


Scandinavian skills in sailing

Expanded trade, pillaging after 600 C.E.

Religion, gods and rituals to placate nature

Later, influenced by Christianity

No unification

Until about 1000 C.E., most backward region of world

C. Central America

Olmec civilization 800 to 400 B.C.E.

Foundation for later civilizations

Central America

No writing

Massive pyramid religious structures

Maize cultivation, potatoes, other crops

Statues, icons of jade

Accurate calendar

Origins, end unknown

No trace after 400 B.C.E.

Artistic, religious influence on successor civilizations


Developed hieroglyphic alphabet

Built city of Teotihuacan for trade, worship

Migration, regional wars

Maya civilization emerges from 400 C.E. onward

Olmec, successors in Central America equivalent of river valley civilizations of Asia, Middle East

Similar civilization developed in Andean region of South America

Precursors to the Inca

Two early centers of civilization in the Americas

Developed in isolation from developments elsewhere

Lacked advantages of contacts: copying, reacting, etc.

Lacked technologies like wheel and iron working

Ahead of European development

D. Polynesia

1000 B.C.E., population of Polynesian islands

400 C.E. population of Hawaiian islands

Outrigger canoes

Brought pigs

Adapted local plants

Powerful local kings

Caste system

In sum, classical period for areas outside China, India, Mediterranean

Expanding agriculture

Early civilizations

Early contacts

Folded into world history after classical period

Toward end of classical period

Central Asian herders contact with China

Changes in political organization

Changes in goals for conquest

Role in trade East Asia and Middle East

Other herding groups

New technologies like the stirrup

Herding groups in general

Invaded major civilizations

Role in end of classical period

III. Decline in China and India

200 to 600 C.E., all three civilizations collapsed entirely or in part

Nomadic invasions

Rome fell to Germanic invaders

Germanic invaders were harassed by Asiatic Huns

Other Huns overran Gupta India

Similar nomads toppled Han China

Prior internal problems afflicted Rome and China

Gupta’s had not resolved region’s tendency to political fragmentation

A. The Han Collapse

Han decline in 1st century c.e.

Central control diminished

Bureaucratic corruption

Local rulers arbitrary

Free peasants over-taxed

Lost land

Became day laborers

Sold children into service

Daoist revolutionary effort

Yellow Turbans

184 c.e., revolution

30,000 students attack decadence

Disease devastated population, perhaps cut in half

Population drop

Prosperity drop

Imperial court: intrigue, civil war

Inability to push back invaders

Han fell

Three centuries of chaos

Regional rulers, weak dynasties

Buddhism imported

Threatened cultural unity

Only case of cultural import until 20th century

Late 6th century

Drove out invaders in the north

Sui dynasty reunited China

618, Tang dynasty

Glorious period

Confucianism and bureaucratic system revived

Signs from previous period

Buddhist minority

New styles in art and literature

No permanent disruption

Structures of classical China strong

Invaders had assimilated Chinese traditions

B. The End of the Gupta Empire

Decline less drastic than Han China

Gupta control over local princes weaker by 5th century

Huns invaded in fifth century

Integration of Huns

Indian warrior caste

“Rajput” regional princes

Cultural development

Buddhism displaced by Hinduism

Devi — mother god

High prosperity

7th century Muslim invaders

Little outright conquest

Some conversion to Islam

Strengthened Hinduism


Hindi vernacular

Distracted from science, math

Took control of Indian Ocean

India remained prosperous

Reduced Indian commercial dynamism

Empire gone

Hinduism and caste system remained strong

IV. Decline and Fall in Rome

180 C.E. symptoms of decline

Population declined

Army recruitment difficult

Arbitrary, brutal emperors

Economic hardship

Tax revenues less

Pervasive despondency

A. Symptoms of Decline

Constitutional crises

Weak emperors

Army intervention in politics


Southern Asia trade introduced diseases

Epidemics decimated population

Rome went from 1,000,000 to 250,000


Economic life deteriorated

Non-Roman army recruits (Germanic soldiers)

Need to pay soldiers

Little tax revenue

Spiral of decline

Cultural decline: cause or consequence?

Upper class devoted primarily to leisure

No more political devotion

No more economic vigor

Little cultural creativity

No new art or literary styles

No inventions, discoveries

Focus on textbooks

Simplified compendia

Added superstitions

Fewer children

Only area of cultural dynamism

Christian theologians

Could Rome have withstood plagues and invaders?

Cultural decline already was underway

Difficult times require vigorous cultural elites

B. Effort at Revival: An East/West Split

Course of decline

Political and economic decentralization

People sought military and judicial protection locally

Foreshadowed European manorial system

Estate system reduced Imperial authority

Estates sought self-sufficiency

Les trade

Cities shrank

Less revenue

Vicious circle

Attempt at recovery

Diocletian (284–305)

Economic regulation

Increased administration

Emperor worship

Persecution of Christians

Constantine (312–337)

Capital at Constantinople

Christian unity


Adopts Christianity himself

Eastern Empire remained effective unity

Christianity spread

East/West split worsened conditions in west

Attempts to regulate economy

Reduced production

Decline in tax revenues

Army deterioration

5th century Germanic invasions

Welcomed by many

Germanic invaders never more than 5% of population

Germanic kingdoms in western Roman territory by 425

Last Roman emperor deposed, 476

Comparison with China, India

No shared political culture

No bureaucratic traditions

No strong unifying religion

Christianity and Islam too late


Mediterranean unity ended

Split into 3 zones

C. The Early Byzantine Empire

Zone 1: Greatest continuity of late imperial Rome

Greek language

Roman authoritarian administration

Artistically creative

Active trade

Justinian (ruled 527 to 565)

Attempt to restore whole of Empire

Lost Italy, north African provinces

Compiled Roman Law “Justinian code”

Middle East

Parthian Empire

Thrived along Roman Empire’s border along Mediterranean

Relied on Persian styles

227, Persian rebellion ends Parthian Empire

Sassanid Empire: resurgence of Persian culture


Some conversion to Christianity

Persian style


Maintained Persian influence in eastern Middle East and India

Commercial, artistic bridge between Mediterranean and East

Byzantine Empire held border with Sassanid Empire

7th century Arab conquest of Sassanid Empire


Rome’s fall hardly touched Middle East

Arab onslaught did not destroy Persian culture

Byzantine Empire

Maintained late Roman Empire traditions

Maintained Christianity

Focused on western Middle East, Greece, southeastern Europe

D. Zone 2: Western Europe and North Africa

North Africa and southeastern Mediterranean

Regional kingdoms briefly

Christianity spread

Less uniform than in Byzantine empire or western Europe

Augustine, famous theologian, bishop in North Africa

North African Christianity split from main branches

Coptic Church of Egypt still exists

Later development of Islam and Arab empire

Western Europe

Italy, Spain, points north

Destruction of unity

Destruction of civilization itself

Germanic kingdoms emerge

Cities shrank

Trade almost disappeared

Vitality in spread of Christianity

No art or literature

Several centuries of lost knowledge

Christian scholars

Apologies for comparative lacks

Inferiority a long lasting theme

V. The New Religious Map

End of classical period not just about decay and collapse

200 to 600 C.E., rise of world’s major religions

Seeking solace


Political instability

Changed religious map

Christianity surged throughout Mediterranean with demise of Rome

Buddhism surged into eastern Asia

600, Islam emerges as the most dynamic force for next centuries

Religion reshaping world

Spread widely

Crossed cultural and political boundaries

Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam later

Emphasis on spirituality

Devotion to piety

Hope of afterlife

Importance of divine power

Responded to political instability and poverty


Hundreds of thousands of people

Asia, Europe, Africa


Maintaining larger religious claims

Syncretism: blend of old with new

Localized religious experience

A. Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism


Retained reincarnation

Retained combination of spiritual interest in union with divine essence

Retained rituals and ceremonies

Greater popular appeal after fall of Guptas

Expanded use of Hindi vernacular

Worship of mother goddess Devi


Minority faith in India

Monks divided the faithful into two categories

Minority who devote whole selves to spiritual devotion

Working people and do the best they can spiritually

Bodhisattvas and priests

Promise of nirvana through meditation

Promise of afterlife for ordinary people

Monasteries in India and Himalayas

Missionary expansion outside of India

Spread to China, Korea, Japan

Chinese Buddhism: Mahayana (Greater Vehicle)

Emphasis on Buddha as divine savior

Added imagery, temples, rituals, priests, etc.

Souls in heaven could answer prayers with aid

Avenue for ordinary people to become holy

Inspired new artistic interests in China, later, Japan

Example: pagoda

Syncretic example

Indian Buddhist “husband supports wife”

Chinese Buddhist: “husband controls wife”

Buddhism for Chinese women

Provided a soul


Despite original doctrine, no challenge to patriarchy

Patriarchy adapted to Buddhist doctrine

Confucian leaders’ response to Buddhism

Some interest in early revival of dynasties, general disapproval

Perception of spirituality, afterlife, Buddha worship

Distraction from political life

Pursuit of holy life threat to family order

Threat to loyalty to emperor

Drove out missionaries

Buddhism remained minority religion

Daoist response to Buddhism

Improved Daoist organization

New emphasis on practical benefits of magic

Incorporation of peasant beleifs

Growth of Daoism among peasants

Japan, Korea, Vietnam

Chinese style of Buddhism

Greatest lasting influence of Buddhism

Southeast Asia

Buddhism expanded here too

Form closer to original emphasis on meditation and ethics

B. Christianity and Islam

Christianity compared with Buddhism

Started smaller, grew bigger; one of two largest world faiths

Role in formation of eastern and western European civilizations

Similar emphasis on salvation and guidance by saints

Crucial differences

Christian church structure, copy of Roman Empire

Christian premium on missionaries, conversions

Christian insistence as the one truth, intolerance

Origins of Christianity


Rigidity of Jewish priesthood

Many Jewish reform movements

New interest in Messiah

New interest in afterlife for the virtuous

Jesus of Nazareth

Crystallized reform movement ideas

Believed to be Messiah

Sent by God to redeem human sin

Gentle and charismatic

Preached, gathered disciples

No expectation of new religion

Disciples believed in resurrection

Second Coming signified end of world, judgment

Second Coming didn’t happen

Disciples fanned out, began preaching

Supporters in various parts of Roman Empire


One loving god

Virtuous life: dedication to God and fellowship

Worldly concerns secondary

“Christ” Greek for “God’s anointed”

Christ’s sacrifice to prepare humanity for afterlife

Belief, good works, discipline of the flesh lead to heaven

Rituals, Christ’s Last Supper, lead to same goal


Greek and Roman gods sterile

Simple life and spiritual equality appealing especially to poor

Early fervor and rituals appealing


Roman Empire, ease of travel

Europe, Middle East, Persia, Axum, Ethiopia

Paul of Tarsus

Shift from Jewish reform to independent religion for all

Church structure: local groups selecting elders; city bishop

Parallel of provincial government structure


Writing, collecting work of disciples

New Testament of the Christian Bible

First three centuries of Christianity

Periodic persecutions

Christianity Gains Ground

10% of empire by 300

Constantine converts

Legalized Christianity

State interference

Invites new troubles

Easier to spread


Decaying empire, increases appeal of faith

Chaos freed bishops

Centralized bishopric, pope in Rome

Independent church


Imperial control, way of life

Two different church organizations east/west

Beliefs held in common

Trinity: Father, Son (Christ), Holy Ghost

Emphasis on single belief: anti-heretical, no competition

Formal theology

Augustine and others

Elements of classical philosophy

Christian belief

Addressed nature of free will, sin, punishment, faith

Brought rational thought together with faith


Example: Christ’s birth made to coincide with winter solstice


Mysticism in the Middle East

Monasticism in the West


Appealed to peasants

Developed Benedictine Rule

Spread to other monasteries and convents

Benedictine Rule

Discipline of work, study, prayer

Focused piety

Avoid divide between the saintly and the ordinary

Cross-class/cross social-group appeal

Like Hinduism in this respect

Appealed to elites and peasants alike

Equal importance of male and female souls

Men and women worshipped together

Big differences from classical Mediterranean culture



Spiritual equality

Relationship to state secondary

Anti-slavery, pro-brotherhood (later slavery, new context)

Respect for work

Sexual restraint

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

World religion

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


7th century

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

Contributing factors

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

Global Connections

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

Accelerated contacts

New difficulties

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

Chapter Summary

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 empires 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, Romes 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. Romes 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 Mediterraneans 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. Buddhisms 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 Christs 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 Empires 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.

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 Buddhas 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.
Directory: cms -> lib04 -> NJ01001118 -> Centricity -> Domain -> 179
179 -> Chapter 24 Industrialization and Imperialism: The Making of the European Global Order
179 -> Chapter 21 The Muslim Empires Chapter Outline Summary
179 -> -
179 -> Chapter 21 Section 1 a new Kind of Revolution
179 -> Part VI the newest stage of world history: 1914–present
179 -> Absolute Monarch Facebook Project
179 -> African Civilizations and the Spread of Islam Chapter Outline Summary I. African Societies: Diversity and Similarities
179 -> Chapter 4 Classical Civilizations in the Mediterranean and Middle East Chapter Outline Summary
179 -> Part I from Hunting and Gathering to Civilizations, 5 million–1000 B. C. E.: Origins
179 -> The Reforms of Tsar Alexander II carl Peter Watts examines a set of reforms which held out the prospect of modernising Russia but whose failure paved the way for revolution

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