The vast majority of ancient civilizations were polytheistic. The religions of all of Mesopotamian and Mediterranean empires were polytheistic with the exception of Hebrews and Christians.
In the east, Aryan religions, Hinduism, and traditional Chinese systems were polytheistic. Some Buddhist sects were polytheistic, as were some Daoist sects.
Polytheism had a major impact on the development of civilization: it was the center or art and architecture in most civilizations, with many pieces and buildings dedicated to various gods.
Because the practice of polytheism was complicated and filled with rituals, it led to the rise of a priestly class, whose members controlled most of the communication between the people and their gods. These civilizations became dependent on an elevated group of people who shaped rigid social structures.
Confucianism was developed specifically for the Chinese culture, and was widely practiced throughout China from around 400 B.C.E. onward.
Because Confucianism was an ethical, social, and political belief system, it was compatible with other religions. This flexibility allowed Confucianism to flourish.
Government leaders embraced Confucianism to create an orderly society.
Its widespread acceptance led to a distinctive Chinese culture in which communities became extremely tight-knit; members had duties and responsibilities to many others in the community from birth to death.
Confucianism only evolved within the context of the Chinese culture.
Some Chinese practiced Daoism, from around 500 B.C.E. onward.
Daoists advocated the formation of small, self-sufficient communities and served as a counterbalance to Confucian activism.
As an advocate of harmony with nature, Daoism promoted scientific discoveries and which therefore allowed Daoists to become great astronomers, chemists, and botanists.
Daoism is notable because it coexisted with Confucianism, Buddhism, and Legalism in China. It added to the complexity and uniqueness of China and other Eastern civilizations as separate and distinct from the Western world.
Eastern civilizations, most notably in India, China, and Southeast Asia, practiced Buddhism.
Buddhists followed the four noble truths:
All life is suffering
Suffering is caused by desire
One can be freed of this desire
One is freed of desire by following the Eightfold Path
Buddhism rejected social hierarchies of castes and therefore appealed strongly to members of lower rank. It applies to almost anyone, anywhere and consequently spread rapidly to other cultures throughout Asia.
When Ashoka, the Mauryan Emperor, converted to Buddhism, the religion took off as a major force in Asia.
In India, Buddhism was reabsorbed into Hinduism
Buddhism spread throughout Asia via trade routes, intertwining numerous Asian cultures.
Originally a splinter group of Jews practiced the religion, but it quickly expanded into the non-Jewish community and throughout the Roman Empire.
In the early days, Christianity was spread by Jesus’ disciples and by Paul of Tarsus.
Emphasizes compassion, grace through faith, and the promise of eternal life regardless of personal circumstances.
Appealed largely to the lower classes and women. By the third century C.E., Christianity had become the most influential religion in the Mediterranean basin and was the official religion of the Roman Empire.
The digging of canals and irrigation ditches, stone-cutting, plowing, and metal-working were implemented by civilizations to change their surroundings for their own benefits.
Calendars and sundials were significant in the human quest to predict and control nature for its own purposes.
As major belief systems developed, civilizations became less interested in appeasing the gods and more interested in internal peace. Their focus of concern shifted from the need for bodily protection to the need of internal protection.
Really Old Stuff Around 600 C.E. To Around 1450
Throughout the period, the Persians and Arabs dominated the Indian Ocean Trade. Their trade routes connected ports in western India to ports in the Persian Gulf, which were in turn connected to ports in eastern Africa.
Since sailors often married local women, cultures began to intermix rapidly. Many sailors took foreign wives home and created bilingual and bicultural families.
The Silk Road connected China to the Mediterranean cultures in the early days of the Roman Empire. It was heavily used during the reign of the Mongols as well.
It carried silks, porcelains, papers, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, and food. The East met West on the Silk Road.
The Hanseatic League
The Hanseatic Leauge was a collection of city-states in the Baltic and North Sea regions of Europe that banded together in 1241 to establish common trade practices, fight off pirates and foreign governments, and essentially establish a trade monopoly from the region to much of the rest of the world.
Resulted in a substantial middle class in northern Europe and set a precedent for large, European trading operations that affected the Dutch and English.
In the Middle Ages, the Islamic Empire expanded, and the Moors conquered much of Spain. The Christians felt threatened by the Muslim expansion, especially as Islam became entrenched in areas that Christians identified with historically.
In 1096, Pope Urban initiated the First Crusade in response to the success of the Seljuk Turks who took control of the Holy Land. The Pope wanted Jerusalem and was hoping that winning over the land would help reunite the Roman Catholic Church with the Eastern Orthodox Church in Constantinople which had spilt fifty years beforehand.
While the crusaders managed to capture the Holy Land, it quickly fell back into the Arabs’ hands. By 1204, four crusade failures pushed the two churches even further from each other.
The Crusades prove that even the efforts of conquest and expansion that fail to reach their goals still have a major impact on world history, leading to interaction between cultures that otherwise might not interact.
State-run factories Surgical instruments Magnetic compass Distilled alcohol Water clock Mechanical pendulum clock Cotton sails Guns and cannons Water-powered mills Modern soap formula Terrace farming Chess Porcelain Algebra Paper currency Astrolabe and sextant Moveable type Universities Gunpowder cannons Paper mills China Islamic World
Europe became a powerful force during this time period as they adapted through 3 key innovations: gunpowder weapons, navigation and ship-building technology, and the printing press.
The Chinese and Japanese returned to more traditional lifestyles in order to maintain stability, and the Muslims, allowed innovations in shipping and weaponry to pass them by as they retained powerful land-based empires.
The biggest impact of new technologies was the expanded knowledge of the world that resulted from exploration. Europeans established new overseas trading empires, transforming the interactions of the entire world.
Europeans fought wars with one another and with places they wished to conquer.
Increased contact meant the spread of new ideas and technology and exposure to even more new cultures, consequently transforming education and religion.
The establishment of new Protestant Churches in northern Europe increased the king’s and nation-state’s power.
Religious conflicts led to increased migrations from northern Europe and the resettlement of large numbers of colonists in the New World.
While European exploration was ultimately external, it was internal as well, with the Renaissance pushing Europe to explore its own history and the Protestant Reformation exploring Europe’s relationship with God. During the Scientific Revolution, Europe explored the universe and its laws. In the Enlightenment, Europe explored rights of man and the appropriate role of government. The Commercial Revolution led Europe to explore its potential.
Unlike China and Japan, which largely looked inward, and unlike the Islamic world, which didn’t take to the seas, Europeans were dynamic in this time period. Because they had the technology, political motivation, and financial structure, they were able to quickly explode onto the world scene.
European monarchs ruled absolutely during this time period, adopting controlling, ethnocentric attitudes with regard to the cultures they dominated.
China and Japan were highly organized, confident civilizations. The contingencies of Europeans on their shores were modest. Japan and China desperately sought to preserve their own cultures.
In Africa, societies were fragmented. No centralized power existed, so the Europeans were harder to fend off. Europeans didn’t look to dominate the whole continent, and instead traded goods and abducted slaves one-by-one.
In the Americas, civilizations became quickly overwhelmed by European technology and disease.
In The Ottoman Empire and Arabia, interaction with Europe was limited because they weren’t as dependent on overland routes in their efforts to trade with India and China.