First Civilizations Paleolithic Era to Agricultural Revolution

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First Civilizations

Paleolithic Era to Agricultural Revolution

Homo sapiens emerged in Africa between 100,000 and 400,000 years ago then migrated from Africa to Eurasia, Australia, and the Americas. These early humans were hunters and gatherers whose survival depended on the availability of wild plants and animals causing their lives to be greatly shaped by their environment. Through the development of culture, however, they began the process of overcoming the limits set by the physical environment. The beginning of settled agriculture (including permanent settlements) was a major step in the advance of civilization.

Paleolithic Era (Old Stone Age)

Neolithic Era (New Stone Age)

  • Were nomadic hunter-gatherers (migrated in search of food, water, shelter)

  • Invented the first tools, including simple weapons

  • Learned how to make fire

  • Lived in clans

  • Developed oral language

  • Created “cave art”

  • Developed agriculture

  • Domesticated animals

  • Used advanced tools

  • Made pottery

  • Developed weaving skills

Archaeologists study past cultures by locating and analyzing human remains, fossils, and artifacts by applying scientific tests such as carbon dating. Archaeologists continue to find and interpret evidence of early humans and their lives.

Stonehenge is an example of an archaeological site in England that was begun during the Neolithic and completed during the Bronze Age.

Ancient River Valley Civilizations

During the New Stone Age, permanent settlements appeared in river valleys and around the Fertile Crescent. These river valleys offered rich soils for agriculture, and they tended to be in locations easily protected from invasion by nomadic peoples. River valleys were the “Cradles of Civilization.” Early civilizations made major contributions to social, political, and economic progress.

Egypt—North Africa

Nile River Valley and Delta

Indus Valley (Harappa)—South Asia

Indus River Valley

Mesopotamia—Southwest Asia

Tigris and Euphrates River Valleys

China (Shang Dynasty)—East Asia

Huang He Valley

The Ancient River Valley civilizations were the world’s first states—kingdoms, empires, or city-states. They had centralized governments, which were often based on religious authority. Their hereditary political rulers (dynasties of kings, pharaohs, etc.) were usually the religious leaders as well or even treated like gods on earth. These civilizations developed written law codes such as the Code of Hammurabi (based on the idea of an eye for an eye) created by the Sumerians in Mesopotamia or the Ten Commandments, the law code of the Hebrews.

The early civilizations were able to create an increasing agricultural surplus because of better tools such as the plow made of bronze or iron and by developing irrigation techniques. Those that developed metal weapons found it easier to conquer their neighbors and increase their empire. With the surplus of food, these civilizations developed the world’s first cities since everyone no longer had to be farmers. People started doing other jobs, such as artisans, merchants, religious leaders, and government leaders. This is called specialization of labor. A rigid class system, where slavery was accepted, developed in these civilizations. The caste system in India is an example of this. Being located along rivers helped these civilizations trade in their region. The Phoenicians created a trading network throughout the Mediterranean Sea.
Most of these early civilizations practiced polytheism—the worship of many gods. The Hebrews, however, were the first to practice monotheism—the worship of one god.
The early civilizations developed various forms of language and writing systems. The earliest systems were pictograms where the symbols represented words or ideas. Sumerian cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphics are examples of pictograms. The Phoenicians developed an alphabet in which symbols stood for sounds. The English alphabet is based on the Phoenician alphabet.



Phoenician Alphabet

Some other early civilizations (2000 to 500 B.C.) included:

  • Hebrews settled between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River Valley (part of Fertile Crescent in Southwest Asia).

  • Phoenicians settled along the Mediterranean coast (part of Fertile Crescent in Southwest Asia).

  • Kush was located on the upper (southern) Nile River (Africa).

Cultures of Persia, India, and China

Persia, built on earlier Central Asian and Mesopotamian civilizations, developed the largest empire in the ancient world. The Persian rulers governed their empire by showing tolerance to conquered peoples. They developed an imperial bureaucracy to help control their large empire and built a massive road system to make communication and transportation across their empire easier. Zoroastrianism was the official religion of the Persian Empire

Classical Indian civilization began in the Indus River Valley and spread to the Ganges River Valley, then through the Indian subcontinent. It continued with little interruption because of its geographic location. Physical barriers such as the Himalayas, the Hindu Kush, and the Indian Ocean made invasion more difficult. Mountain passes in the Hindu Kush provided invasion routes into the Indian subcontinent.

The Indo-Aryan people invaded the area, creating a rigidly structured society (caste system) blended with native beliefs. This caste system was hereditary and influenced all social interactions and choices of occupations. It will be an important part of India’s main religion—Hinduism. Hinduism was an important contribution of classical India. It influenced Indian society and culture and is still practiced in India today. Buddhism was founded by Siddhartha Gautama in a part of India that is in present-day Nepal. It became a major faith when Asoka sent missionaries throughout Asia who spread Buddhism from India to China and other parts of Asia.

The Golden Age of classical Indian culture was during the Gupta dynasty. During this time, Indian people made significant contributions to world civilization. Some of their contributions included advances in mathematics, new textiles, and literature.

Classical China was centered on the Huang He (Yellow River) and was geographically isolated. Migratory invaders raided Chinese settlements from the North. Qin Shi Huangdi built The Great Wall of China as a line of defense against invasions. China was governed by a succession of ruling families called dynasties. Chinese rulers were considered divine, but they served under a Mandate of Heaven only as long as their rule was just.

Classical China made numerous contributions to world civilization. They developed a civil service system for hiring government workers. They created fine porcelain and silk and made the world’s first paper. The Silk Roads facilitated trade and contact between China and other cultures as far away as Rome. China was also the birthplace of religions such as Confucianism and Taoism. Chinese forms of Buddhism will spread throughout Asia.

Ancient Greece

Label the following on the map:

  • Mediterranean Sea

  • Aegean Sea

  • Black Sea

  • Dardanelles

  • Asia Minor

  • Europe

  • Macedonia

  • Greek Peninsula

  • Troy

  • Sparta

  • Athens

The mountains, seas, islands, harbors, peninsulas, and straits of the Aegean Basin shaped Greek economic, social, and political development and patterns of trade and colonization. The mountainous Greek terrain limited the available arable land for farming. Also because of the mountains, Greece did not unify with one central government. Instead, numerous independent city-states (polis) developed. The mountains offered some protection from invaders, but also hindered transportation and communication across the Greek peninsula. As the population of Greece grew, the search for arable land led to Greece colonization across the Mediterranean Sea, spreading Greek and Hellenistic culture.

The mild Greek climate helped to encourage public life for the people of the city-states. Taking part in civic and commercial events was seen as a responsibility of all Greek citizens. Only certain people could become citizens in the Greek polis. Free adult males had political rights and responsibilities of civic participation in government. Women, foreigners, and slaves had no political rights.
Mythology helped the early Greek civilization explain the natural world and the human condition. It was based on polytheistic religion that was integral to the culture, politics, and art in ancient Greece. Greek mythology was used to explain natural phenomena, human qualities and life events. Many symbols, metaphors, words, and idealized images in Western literature, art, monumental architecture, and politics come from ancient Greek mythology

Two of Greece’s leading city-states were Athens and Sparta. Athens eventually developed into a democracy. It had evolved from a monarchy, to an aristocracy, to tyranny, to a democracy. Athens was a direct democracy where it was the duty of all citizens to take part in public debate and the decision making process. This was the most democratic system of government the world had ever seen, although not everyone could participate in decision-making, and became a foundation of our modern democracies today. Athens emphasized education, culture, and the arts. Athens and their allies were known as the Delian League.

Sparta’s government was an oligarchy—rule by a small group. Sparta was a militaristic and aggressive society. Most of Sparta’s daily life centered on the military. This included their education, which emphasized physical and military training. Even women were expected to be able to help defend their homes. Sparta and their allies were known as the Peloponnesian League.
From 400 to 449 B.C., the Persian Wars united Athens and Sparta against the Persian Empire. Athenian victories over the Persians at Marathon and Salamis left the Greeks free from Persian control and gave the Greeks control of the Aegean Sea. Following the Persian Wars, Athens entered its “Golden Age” of cultural innovation.
Athens and Sparta eventually fought each other in the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) The war was caused in part by competition for control of the Greek world—Athens and the Delian League v. Sparta and the Peloponnesian League. After years of fighting, Sparta and the Peloponnesian League were victorious. The war resulted in the slowing of cultural advance and the weakening of political power and Greek defenses, making it a vulnerable target for invasion.

Athenian culture, during their “Golden Age” between the Persian and Peloponnesian Wars, became one of the foundation stones of Western civilization. The majority of Athens’ “Golden Age” happened during the leadership of Pericles. Previous tyrants like Draco and Solon had worked to reform Athenian government, but Pericles extended democracy. Most adult males had an equal voice in the governing of Athens. Also under Pericles’ leadership, Athens was rebuilt after destruction in Persian Wars.

Greek culture made numerous contributions to Western civilization.

The Greeks wrote epic poems about their mythology, life, etc.

Homer was their greatest poet. He wrote Iliad and the Odyssey.


The Greeks wrote the first dramas, which included comedies and tragedies

Aeschylus and Sophocles were two great playwrights.


The Greeks started to study the causes and effects of events rather than blaming the gods.

Herodotus and Thucydides were two of their greatest historians.


The Greeks made numerous scientific advances.

Hippocrates made many medical discoveries and Archimedes created many simple machines.


The Greeks created perfectly formed sculptures that emphasized the Greek values of order, balance, and proportion to capture the grace of the idealized human body.

Phidias was among their greatest sculptors.


The Greeks developed the majority of the geometry that we use today.

Pythagoras and Euclid were two of their greatest mathematicians.


The Greeks used various types of columns in their architecture. Their most famous building, the Parthenon, has Doric style columns


The Greeks were “Lovers of wisdom” who sought the truth in all areas believing that the universe works according to unchanging laws and that man can understand these laws through logic and reason

Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were among their greatest philosophers.

Following the weakening of the Greek defenses during the Peloponnesian War, Phillip II, King of Macedon, conquered most of Greece. Alexander the Great, his son, established an empire from Greece to Egypt and the boundaries of India. He extended Greek cultural influences which blended with Persian and oriental elements to create Hellenism. Hellenism will be spread throughout Alexander’s vast empire and across the Mediterranean through trade and colonization.

Ancient Rome 700 B.C. to 500 A.D.

Rome is centrally located on the Tiber River on the Italian peninsula in the Mediterranean Basin and distant from eastern Mediterranean powers. The Alps help provide protection from invasion while the Mediterranean helps with sea-borne trade and commerce.
Unlike Greece, Rome was able to create a strong centralized government. For the first 500 years of Rome’s existence, it was a republic (representative democracy) where citizens elect representatives to make political decisions for them. Citizens in the Roman Republic were made up of two basic groups of men—patricians and plebeians. The patricians were the powerful nobility who owned the majority of the land. The majority of the citizens were plebeians. Select foreigners were also allowed to be citizens. There were certain rights and responsibilities that came along with citizenship, such as paying taxes to support the Republic and serving in the military. Although women, most aliens (non-Romans living in the Republic), and slaves (Roman slavery was not based on race, but were typically captured in war) were excluded from the governing process, the Roman Republic made major strides in the development of representative democracy, which became a foundation of modern democracy. During the years of the Republic, the Patricians elected representatives to the Senate. Plebeians sent representatives to other Assemblies. Two Consuls were chosen to control the military. The laws of Rome were codified and known as the Twelve Tables. The principle of “innocent until proven guilty” comes from the Twelve Tables.
Rome’s main rival was Carthage. They competed for trade and control of the Mediterranean. They fought each other in the Punic Wars from 264 to 146 B.C. During the Second Punic War, Hannibal invaded the Italian Peninsula using elephants but was unable to capture Rome. The Third war resulted in Roman victory, the destruction of Carthage, and expanded trade and wealth for Rome. After the Punic Wars, Rome was able, over the next 100 years, to dominate the Mediterranean basin, leading to the diffusion (spread) of Roman culture. Roman culture will spread around the Mediterranean Basin (Africa, Asia, Europe, including the Hellenistic world of the Eastern Mediterranean) and Western Europe (Gaul, British Isles).
The Roman Republic, in the face of changing social and economic conditions, failed to survive and was replaced by an imperial regime, the Roman Empire.

In the mid-first century B.C., Julius Caesar was becoming a powerful military leader. He and two other men formed the First Triumvirate and planned on ruling Rome together. Following a civil war between Caesar and Pompeii, Julius Caesar emerged as the sole leader of Rome—First Consul. On March 15, 44B.C., Julius Caesar was assassinated by a group of Roman Senators led by Brutus.
A short time later, a Second Triumvirate was formed which included Octavian Augustus and Marc Anthony. Again there was a civil war between the Augustus led Roman legions and Marc Anthony and his Egyptian allies. Augustus won and became Rome’s first Emperor. He took the title Augustus Caesar.
The Roman Emperors used the imperial authority and the military to unify and enlarge the empire. There was no method to provide for the peaceful succession of Emperors, which would lead to later problems.
Augustus Caesar established the Roman Empire. Following Augustus Caesar, the Roman Empire enjoyed 200 years of peace and prosperity known as the Pax Romana. This was a period of expansion and solidification of the Roman Empire, particularly in the Near East.

Impact of the Pax Romana

Economic Impact

Social Impact

Political Impact

  • Established uniform system of money, which helped to expand trade

  • Guaranteed safe travel and trade on Roman roads

  • Promoted prosperity and stability

  • Returned stability to social classes

  • Increased emphasis on the family

  • Created a civil service

  • Developed a uniform rule of law


Greek Name

Roman Name













he Roman mythology was based on the Greek polytheistic religion. Like the Greeks, the Romans used their mythology to explain natural phenomena, human qualities and life events. The Romans used the Greek gods, but changed the names of most of them. One of the great works of Roman literature is the Aeneid written by Virgil. The Aenid is a myth, which tells the story of the beginnings of the Roman race.

Christianity spread around the Mediterranean basin during the Roman Empire. The Apostles, including Paul, carried Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. Persecution by Roman authorities slowed its progress, but it was eventually adopted and legalized by Emperor Constantine. As the Roman Empire declined in the West, the Church in Rome grew in importance, membership, and influence. The Church became an example of moral authority and loyalty to the church became more important than loyalty to the Emperor. The Church became main unifying force of Western Europe.

Conquests and trade spread Roman cultural and technological achievements throughout the Empire. Western civilization was influenced by the cultural achievements of Rome.
Roman architecture built upon the techniques of the Greeks. The Romans, however, developed the arch and the dome. They built the Colosseum for entertainment and aqueducts to transport fresh water to the city.




Latin was the official language of the Roman Empire. Even though Latin is considered a “dead language” today, it formed the basis of numerous other Romance languages including Spanish, French, and Italian.
Over a 300- year period, the western part of the Roman Empire steadily declined because of internal and external problems.

As the Roman Empire was weakening, Constantine moved the capital of the Empire from Rome to Byzantium, renaming it Constantinople. The Western Roman Empire will end in 476 A.D. when it ceased to have a Roman Emperor. The Eastern Roman Empire will survive as the Byzantine Empire.

World Religions

Judaism: The monotheism of Abraham became the foundation of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The Hebrews were the first to become monotheists. With the Diaspora, the Jewish people were exiled from their homeland of Jerusalem and Judea and spread throughout the region

Judaism—Religion of the Hebrews

Sacred Location

Sacred Book

  • Abraham made the covenant with God

  • Moses received the Ten Commandments from God


Torah—contains written records and beliefs of the Hebrews

Beliefs and Practices

  • Belief in one God (monotheism)—first monotheistic religion

  • Ten Commandments are a guide for moral and religious conduct

  • God made a covenant with the Hebrews that if they obeyed God’s laws, then they would be his chosen people

Christianity: The followers of Jesus spread Christianity throughout the Roman Empire, bringing it into conflict with Roman polytheism and eventually changing Western civilization. The Apostles, including Paul carried the religion throughout the Roman Empire. Roman authorities persecuted the Christians, but the religion was eventually adopted and legalized by Emperor Constantine. Early church councils established the Christian doctrine (beliefs and practices).


Sacred Location

Sacred Book

Jesus Christ who is seen by Christians to be the son of God


Bible—includes the Jewish Old Testament and the Christian New Testament about Jesus’ life and teachings

Beliefs and Practices

  • Monotheism

  • Jesus is both the son and the incarnation of God

  • Life after death in Heaven or Hell

  • Forgiveness and the Golden Rule—“do unto other as you would have them do unto you”

Islam: The revelations of Muhammad form the basis of the Islamic religion, a monotheistic faith. Islam will spread throughout Arabia then west through North Africa and into Spain. It will also spread east into Asia, particularly India and other parts of southeast Asia. Islamic traditions and customs developed over centuries and created a distinct Muslim culture.


Sacred Location

Sacred Book

Muhammad, the Prophet

Mecca and Medina were early Muslim cities; the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is also sacred.

Quran (Koran) is the word of God

Beliefs and Practices

  • Monotheism (Allah, Arabic word for “God”)

  • Followers of Islam are called “Muslim” which means “one who submits”

  • Five Pillars of Islam:

    • statement of faith—“there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his Prophet

    • pray five times each day

    • give alms to the poor

    • fast during Ramadan

    • pilgrimage to Mecca

Hinduism: Hinduism developed in the Indus Valley and is based on the religion of the Aryan invaders. Hinduism does not spread much beyond the subcontinent of India. The religion of Buddhism is a split from Hinduism.


Sacred Location

Sacred Book

  • Hinduism developed from the belief system of the Aryans

Ganges River

The Vedas and the Upanishads

Beliefs and Practices

  • Caste system in religious law based on occupations

  • Belief in many forms of one major deity, Brahma

  • Reincarnation: Cycles of rebirth

  • Karma: Future reincarnation based on present behavior

Buddhism: Buddhism was founded by Siddhartha Gautama in a part of India that is in present-day Nepal. It became a major faith when Asoka sent missionaries throughout Asia who spread Buddhism from India to China and other parts of Asia.


Sacred Location

Sacred Book

Siddhartha Gautama


There are various important Buddhist texts, but no one major book for you to know

Beliefs and Practices

  • Four Noble Truths—all of life is pain and suffering; pain and suffering is caused by human desires; to end pain and suffering, eliminate human desires; to end human desires, follow the Eightfold Path

  • Eightfold Path is a process to control one’s thoughts and actions to achieve Enlightenment

Confucianism and Taoism developed in China. They are considered religions, but are primarily just guides for one’s behavior. Both will blend to help form China’s social order, culture and values. The Yin and the Yang represent the harmony of opposites for Confucianism and Taoism.



  • Belief that humans are good, not bad

  • Respect for elders

  • Code of politeness, still used in Chinese society today

  • Emphasis on education

  • Ancestor worship

  • Humility

  • Simple life and inner peace

  • Harmony with nature

Shinto: Shinto is the ethnic religion unique to Japan. It coexists with Buddhism as the major religious traditions of Japanese culture. Shinto stresses the importance of natural features, the forces of nature, and of one’s ancestors.

The Middle Ages 500 to 1500 A.D.

Early Medieval Period

Early medieval society blended the classical heritage of Rome, Christian beliefs, and the customs of Germanic tribes. The Roman Catholic Church had a very large influence on Medieval Europe.

Frankish kings used military power to expand their territory. The main Frankish ruler was named Charlemagne. Charlemagne greatly expanded his empire through military conquest. Eventually, he made an alliance with the Catholic Church. In 800 A.D., the Pope crowned Charlemagne the Holy Roman Emperor. This signified the Pope’s authority over the Emperor and gave the church some political control and power in Europe. The alliance between Frankish kings and the church also helped to reestablished Roman culture in Western Europe.

Invasions by Angles, Saxons, Magyars, Muslims, and Vikings disrupted the social, economic, and political order of Europe.

  • The Angles and Saxons migrated from continental Europe to England.

  • The Magyars came to Hungary from Central Asia.

  • The Vikings, or Norsemen, invaded all areas of Europe including Spain, France, England, the Holy Roman Empire and Russia from Scandinavia. The Vikings were great explorers and traders as well as conquerors.

  • The Muslims will invade Europe from North Africa, controlling Spain for much of the Middle Ages.

Because of these invasions:

  • Manors with castles provided protection from invaders, reinforcing the feudal system.

  • Invasions disrupted trade, towns declined, and the feudal system was strengthened.

The decline of Roman influence in Western Europe left people with little protection against invasion, so they entered into feudal agreements with land-holding lords who promised them protection. This system is called feudalism. It is based on possession of land, mutual obligations, and defense of the realm. There was a rigid social structure of nobles and peasants that accompanied feudalism. Even though the feudal system was based on the labor of the peasants, they had no power. It was the nobles who had all of the political, military, and economic power.
Write a brief description of each of the following parts of the feudal system:

  • Nobles—

  • Vassals—

  • Serfs—

  • Fief—

  • Manor—

For feudalism to work, each member had obligations to fulfill. The nobles not only provide land to their vassals, but they also promise to protect them. The vassals promise to fight for their lord and provide him with a portion of what has been produced on their land. The serfs receive land to farm and protection from their lord in exchange for working on the lord’s land or giving him a portion of what they produced.

Late Medieval Period

European monarchies consolidated power and began forming nation-states in the late medieval period.


  • William the Conqueror, leader of the Norman Conquest, united most of England.

  • Common law had its beginnings during the reign of Henry II.

  • King John signed the Magna Carta, limiting the King’s power.

  • The Hundred Years’ War between England and France helped define England as a nation.


  • Hugh Capet established the French throne in Paris, and his dynasty gradually expanded their control over most of France.

  • The Hundred Years’ War between England and France helped define France as a nation.

  • Joan of Arc was a unifying factor.


  • Ferdinand and Isabella unified the country and expelled Muslim Moors.

  • Spanish Empire in the Western Hemisphere expanded under Philip II.


  • Ivan the Great threw off the rule of the Mongols, centralized power in Moscow, and expanded the Russian nation.

  • Power was centralized in the hands of the tsar.

  • The Orthodox Church influenced unification.

The Crusades were carried out by Christian political and religious leaders to take control of the Holy Land from the Muslims. They were started by Pope Urban’s speech calling for the recapture of Jerusalem from the Muslims. The First Crusade was successful in retaking Jerusalem. The Crusaders set-up Crusader-states, which were similar to their own small feudal kingdoms. However, the Muslims led by Saladin recaptured Jerusalem. Later Crusades were unable to take the city back. Instead, western Crusaders sacked Constantinople.

The results of the Crusades included:

  • Weakened the Pope and nobles; strengthened monarchs

  • Left a legacy of bitterness among Christians, Jews, and Muslims

  • Weakened the Byzantine Empire

  • Increased demand for Middle Eastern products

  • Stimulated production of goods to trade in Middle Eastern markets

  • Encouraged the use of credit and banking

End of the Middle Ages

Towards the end of the Middle Ages, Europe faced new groups of invaders. The Mongols invaded Russia, China and Muslim states in Southwest Asia, destroying cities and countryside and created an empire. Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, ending the Byzantine Empire

In the fourteenth century, the Black Death (bubonic plague) decimated the population of much of Asia and then the population of much of Europe. The Black Death caused a drastic decline in population, killing at least one third of Europe’s population. This led to a scarcity of labor and the freeing of towns from their feudal obligations. Trade was once again disrupted. For the first time since the fall of the Roman Empire, there was a decline in the power and influence of the Roman Catholic Church

Byzantine Empire and Russia

The capital of the Eastern Roman Empire was changed to Constantinople to provide political, economic, and military advantages.

The importance of the location of Constantinople and the role of Constantinople as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire:

  • Protection of the eastern frontier

  • Distance from Germanic invasions in the western empire

  • Crossroads of trade

  • Easily fortified site on a peninsula bordering natural harbor

  • Seat of the Byzantine Empire until Ottoman conquest

  • Preserved classical Greco-Roman culture

Under Justinian, the Byzantine Empire reached its height in culture and prosperity.
Influence of Emperor Justinian on the expansion of the Byzantine Empire:

  • Codification of Roman law which provided the basis for law codes in Western Europe

  • Reconquest of former Roman territories

  • Expansion of trade

Greek Orthodox Christianity and imperial patronage enabled the Byzantine Empire to develop a unique style of art and architecture.
Contributions of Byzantine art and architecture:

  • Inspiration provided by Christian religion and imperial power

  • Icons (religious images)

  • Mosaics in public and religious structures

  • Hagia Sophia (a Byzantine domed church)

Greek and Roman culture survived with the Byzantine Empire:

  • Continued flourishing of Greco-Roman traditions

  • Greek language (as contrasted with Latin in the West)

  • Greek Orthodox Christianity

  • Greek and Roman knowledge preserved in Byzantine libraries

Characteristics of the Eastern Orthodox and Western Roman Catholic Church:

Eastern Church

Western Church

  • Centered in Rome

  • Farther from seat of power after Constantinople became capital

  • Use of Latin language in the liturgy Division between Western and Eastern Churches

  • Authority of the Pope eventually accepted in the West

  • Practices such as celibacy eventually accepted in the West

Influence of Byzantine culture on Eastern Europe and Russia:

  • Trade routes between Black Sea and Baltic Sea

  • Adoption of Orthodox Christianity by Russia and much of Eastern Europe

  • Adoption of Greek alphabet to the Slavic languages by St. Cyril (Cyrillic alphabet)

  • Church architecture and religious art

Islamic Civilization 600 to 1000 A.D.
The revelations of Muhammad, the Prophet, form the basis of the Islamic religion, a monotheistic faith. It would be rapidly spread by Muhammad and his followers.
Spread of Islam:

  • Began in the cities of Mecca and Medina on the Arabian Peninsula

  • Across Asia and Africa, and into Spain

  • Geographic extent of first Muslim empire

Influence of geography on the rapid expansion of territory under Muslim in the first three centuries after Muhammad’s death rule:

  • Diffusion along trade routes from Mecca and Medina

  • Expansion despite great distances, desert environments, and mountain barriers

  • Spread into the Fertile Crescent, Iran, and Central Asia, facilitated by weak Byzantine and Persian empires

Political and cultural geography influenced economic, social, and political development in the early Islamic lands:

  • Political unity of the first Muslim empire was short-lived.

  • Arabic language spread with Islam and facilitated trade across Islamic lands.

  • Slavery was not based on race.

Major historical turning points marked the spread and influence of Islamic civilization:

  • Sunni-Shi’a division

  • Muslim conquest of Jerusalem and Damascus

  • Muslim defeat at the Battle of Tours

Early Islamic civilization was characterized by achievements in science and the arts that transformed the Islamic world and contributed to world civilization. Islamic civilization preserved and extended ancient Greek, Persian, and Indian learning.

Cultural and scientific contributions of Islamic civilization:

  • Architecture (Dome of the Rock)

  • Mosaics

  • Arabic alphabet

  • Universities

  • Translation of ancient texts into Arabic Scientific contributions and achievements

  • Arabic numerals (adapted from India), including zero

  • Algebra

  • Medicine

  • Expansion of geographic knowledge

Trade and Cultural Diffusion

During the Medieval Period, several major trading routes developed in the Eastern Hemisphere. Regional trade networks and long-distance trade routes in the Eastern Hemisphere aided the diffusion and exchange of technology and culture between Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Major trade routes in the Eastern Hemisphere from 1000 to 1500 A.D.:

  • Silk roads across Asia to the Mediterranean basin

  • Maritime routes across the Indian Ocean

  • Trans-Saharan routes across North Africa

  • Northern European links with the Black Sea

  • Western European sea and river trade

  • South China Sea and lands of Southeast Asia

Trade facilitated the diffusion of goods and ideas among different cultures:


  • Gold from West Africa

  • Spices from lands around the Indian Ocean

  • Textiles from India, China, the Middle East, and later Europe

  • Porcelain from China and Persia


  • Paper from China through the Muslim world to Byzantium and Western Europe

  • New crops from India (e.g., for making sugar)

  • Waterwheels and windmills

  • Navigation—Compass from China, lateen sail from Indian Ocean Ideas

  • Printing and paper money from China


  • Buddhism from China to Korea and Japan

  • Hinduism and Buddhism from India to Southeast Asia

  • Islam into West Africa, Central and Southeast Asia

Mayan, Aztec, and Incan Civilizations

The Mayan, Aztec, and Incan civilizations emerged in South America, Central America, and Mexico.

Characteristics of the Mayan, Aztecs, and Incan civilizations:

Mayan civilization

  • Located in the Mexican and Central American rain forest

  • Represented by Chichén Itzá

  • Group of city-states ruled by a king

  • Economy based on agriculture and trade

  • Polytheistic religion—Pyramids

Aztec civilization

  • Located in arid valley in central Mexico

  • Represented by Tenochtitlan

  • Ruled by an emperor

  • Economy based on agriculture

  • Polytheistic religion, based on warfare—Pyramids

Incan civilization

  • Located in the Andes Mountains of South America

  • Represented by Machu Picchu

  • Ruled by an emperor

  • Economy based on high-altitude agriculture

  • Polytheistic religion

  • Road system

Achievement of Mayan, Aztec, and Incan civilizations:

  • Calendars

  • Mathematics

  • Writing system


Influence of geography on Japan’s development:

  • Mountainous Japanese archipelago (four main islands)

  • Sea of Japan or East Sea between Japan and Asian mainland

  • Proximity to China and Korea

Chinese culture influenced Japan through its writing system, its architecture and Buddhism.

Summarize the Shinto traditions using the following information as a guide:

  • Ethnic religion unique to Japan

  • Importance of natural features, forces of nature, and ancestors

  • State religion; worshipping the emperor

  • Coexistence with Buddhism


African civilizations developed in sub-Saharan west and east Africa. States and empires flourished in Africa during the medieval period, including Ghana, Mali, and Songhai in West Africa, Axum in east Africa, and Zimbabwe in southern Africa. Trade brought important economic, cultural, and religious influences to African civilizations from other parts of the Eastern Hemisphere.

Characteristics of civilizations in sub-Saharan Africa during the medieval period:


  • Location relative to the Ethiopian Highlands and the Nile River

  • Christian kingdom


  • Location relative to the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers and the Indian Ocean coast

  • City of “Great Zimbabwe” as capital of a prosperous empire

West African kingdoms

  • Location of Ghana, Mali, Songhai empires relative to Niger River and the Sahara

  • Importance of gold and salt to trans-Saharan trade

  • City of Timbuktu as center of trade and learning

  • Role of animism and Islam


Wealth accumulated from European trade with the Middle East led to the rise of Italian city-states. Wealthy merchants were active civic leaders.

Benefits of the geographic location to northern Italian cities (Florence, Venice, and Genoa) during the Renaissance period:

  • Had access to trade routes connecting Europe with Middle Eastern markets

  • Served as trading centers for the distribution of goods to northern Europe

  • Were initially independent city-states governed as republics

New economic institutions developed during the Renaissance:

  • Church rule against usury and the banks’ practice of charging interest helped to secularize northern Italy.

  • Letters of credit served to expand the supply of money and expedite trade.

  • New accounting and bookkeeping practices (use of Arabic numerals) were introduced

The Renaissance produced new ideas that were reflected in the arts, philosophy, and literature. Patrons, wealthy from newly expanded trade, sponsored works, which glorified city-states in northern Italy. Education became increasingly secular.

Medieval art and literature focused on the Church and salvation; Renaissance art and literature focused on individuals and worldly matters, along with Christianity.
Classical knowledge of the ancient Greeks and Romans fostered humanism in the Italian Renaissance.

  • Celebrated the individual

  • Stimulated the study of Greek and Roman literature and culture

  • Was supported by wealthy patrons

Italian Renaissance artists and writers:

  • Leonardo da Vinci—Mona Lisa and The Last Supper

  • Michelangelo—Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and David

  • Petrarch—Sonnets, humanist scholarship

Machiavelli’s ideas about power as defined in his book, The Prince:

  • An early modern treatise on government

  • Supported absolute power of the ruler

  • Maintains that the end justifies the means

  • Advises that one should do good if possible, but do evil when necessary

With the rise of trade, travel and literacy, the Italian Renaissance spread to northern Europe. The art and literature changed as people of different cultures adopted Renaissance ideas. Northern Renaissance artists portrayed religious and secular subjects.

Ideas of the Italian Renaissance changed as they became adopted in northern Europe:

  • Growing wealth in Northern Europe supported Renaissance ideas.

  • Northern Renaissance thinkers merged humanist ideas with Christianity.

  • The movable type printing press and the production and sale of books (Gutenberg Bible) helped disseminate ideas.

Important artists and writers of the Northern Renaissance:

  • Erasmus—The Praise of Folly (1511)

  • Sir Thomas More—Utopia (1516)

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