Ancient civilizations summaries



Ancient civilizations summaries


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Ancient civilizations summaries


Ancient Greece was perhaps the most brilliant and surprising of all civilizations.  Here at the dawn of western civilization Greece brought astounding innovations in politics ("democratic" participation), philosophy (rational analysis) and art (classical aesthetics).
The geography of Greece to some degree determined its civilization.  Greece is small, not characterized by large river valleys, mountainous and relatively barren, and surrounded by the sea.  It seemed fated to have small states separated by the mountains and to carry on trade exporting wine and olive oil and importing foodstuffs.
Although politically divided, Greek had a certain unity based on culture, language (they all spoke and wrote Greek) and religion (all worshipped the Olympian gods and met at Delphi and Olympia; the Greek pantheon included Zeus, Poseidon, Aphrodite and Athena; traditional Greek religion was a fairly typical polytheism).  The oracle at Delphi and the Olympic Games at Olympia (begun c. 776 BCE) were important foci of Greek culture.
The Minoans inhabited Crete in the 2nd millennium BCE: a wealthy, sophisticated, mercantile, good-living people with no walls around their cities.  Their art is characterized by pleasing, sensuous pictures done in bright colors.
The Mycenaeans, on the other hand, were a warrior people living in beautiful fortified mountain palaces on the Greek mainland.  It was probably they who conducted the expedition against Troy in the 13th century BCE.  Homer, who lived probably 600 years later at the end of the Dark Age, wrote his two great epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, based on memories of this historical war.  Homer was the basis of Greek education in the classical period.
When the Mycenaeans collapsed, Greece entered the Dark Age until about 750 BCE.  The level of civilization collapsed throughout the area as the Dorians invaded from the north.  Many Greeks emigrated to Ionia, the western coast of Turkey; once the crisis was over and prosperity restored, many others left to found colonies in the Black Sea, and particularly along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.  Greeks were particularly numerous in southern Italy and Sicily.  Most of the colony cities maintained ties with their mother cities in Greece.
The evolution of Greek politics and events in the historic period (700 BCE to about 300 BCE), and particularly in the Classical Age (500 BCE to 338 BCE).  The central institution of Greek politics was the polis, the small city-state of which there were many in Greece.  Politics were very important to the active political class (adult free males); ostracism was one of the worst punishments.  The armies of the Greek states were based on the hoplite (heavily armored) infantry, essentially a citizen army raised from farmers, artisans, shop owners, etc.  Their military important gave them extra leverage in politics.  The hiring of lower class Athenians to man the triremesin the Athenian navy gave political importance to common people.  Only a small percentage of the population of Athens were active citizens; they excluded women (restricted to domestic responsibilities), resident aliens and numerous slaves.
Athens was a wealthy commercial city, very sophisticated and open to foreign influences.  The 6th century saw much political conflict; the pattern was the formation of tyrannies that brought reforms edging the city toward increasing democracy.  The process culminated in the victory of the Athenian fleet (and the common rowers in the ships) in the Persian Wars.  The system them moved to democracy in the age of the famous Pericles.  Some of the institutions of Athens were rather extreme: all citizens (adult male freemen) could sit in the Assembly; polis officials were either elected by the Assembly or chosen by lot.  Sparta was quite different.  It was essentially a military camp where boys were separated from their families at the age of 7 and trained to be soldiers.  The city had a eugenics ideology to produce stronger soldiers (men were not supposed to have sex with their wives except when they were very "ardent!").  Women were childbearers and hometenders, but they actually had more freedom than Athenian women (they were allowed to exercise naked!).  Sparta was very provincial: the culture frowned on intellectual activities, precious metals, monumental buildings, travel abroad, etc.  Education was restricted to practical literacy.
The 5th century BCE was a time of great drama for the Greeks.  Herodotus was the historian of the Persian Wars.  The first Persian invasion came in 490 BCE; the Greek states (for once) formed a defensive confederation, and the Athenians defeated a Persian army at Marathon.  The second invasion came in 480 BCE.  The Persians fought through the Spartan/Greek defenses at the Battle of Thermopylae, but the invasion was defeated essentially by the Athenian naval victory at Salamis.  Thus began the gold age of Athens in which this city built an impressive empire of Greek states surrounding the Aegean Sea.  Athens rebuilt the Acropolis with tribute money collected from tributary states in their empires.  Other Greek states under the leadership of Sparta formed a counter-coalition.  War broke out in 431 BCE, beginning the Peloponnesian Wars; after the disastrous defeat of the Athenian invasion force in Sicily, Athens was finally defeated in 404 and subjected to a humiliating defeat.  The great Athenian historian Thucydides attributed the Athenian defeat to the hubris of Athens, which brought nemesis on their heads.  The Greeks however did not stop fighting among themselves, until their independence was taken away from them by Philip of Macedon in 338 BCE.
Greek sculpture owed much to Egyptian examples, but developed its own style: ideal naturalism that has had an enormous impact on art styles in Rome, Europe and elsewhere ever since.  Be sure to take a look at the bronze copy of Poseidon in front of the Sacramento Community Center.
Alexander the Great (d. 323 BCE), son of Philip, was one of the wonders of world history.  In a few years he confirmed his domination of Greece, invaded and subdued the entire Persian Empire (revenge for the Persian Wars and the burning of the Acropolis at Athens!); Alexander's armies even penetrated into Afghanistan and the Indus Valley in India.  His empire fell apart at his death, and was essentially divided into three parts by his top generals; the most famous were the Ptolemies in Egypt, of which Cleopatra was the last ruler.  The Hellenistic World (eastern Mediterranean and the Ancient Near East, c. 323 BCE - c. 100 BCE) had a certain unity despite its political instability.  The upper classes throughout this area tended to be Greeks, many of whom emigrated from Greece in this period; the international language was koine, a popular form of Greek.  The great majority of the local populations was not Greek and did not speak Greek.  There was a fruitful mixing of traditions that produced a dynamic culture.  They are famous for their scientists, particularly Aristarchus, who believed the earth was a sphere, and Eratosthenes, who measured the circumference with a simple but ingenious system bnased in Egypt; and Archimedes, a Sicilian Greek who discovered and developed many physical laws and the author of the California motto, "Eureka."  Perhaps the foremost philosophical school was the Stoics who: posited the existence of a single, more-or-less benevolent God; emphasized the importance of ethical behavior in order to achieve personal happiness; and who founded the idea of natural law that has had a major influence on western civilization and Christian philosophy.  The Hellenistic world was also the host for several mystery religions such as the Cult of Isis.  In a world where civic religions provided little emotional comfort, the mystery religions promised personal immortality achieved by some sort of communion with a savior figure (such as Isis or Mithras the Bull) followed by an ethically upright life.  There are obvious parallels between these mystery religions and Christianity that triumphed in the Roman Empire beginning in the 4th century.

Aeschylus' Oresteian Trilogy (458 BCE) tells us a great deal about Greek civilization.  Past events have a lot of influence on the action of Agamemnon.  The reader needs to know something about the forced cannibalism of Thyestes, the sense in which Helen caused the Trojan War, Agamemnon's sacrifice of Iphigenia at Aulis, and the course of the war.  Agamemnon is by far the most dramatic of the plays, but the three make a coherent thematic and dramatic whole; action is merely suspended after the first play.  Clytemnestra is perhaps the most dramatic and commanding of all female characters in Greek tragedy.  The Greeks were undoubtedly horrified by her male-like boldness, but to the modern eye, her will, resoluteness and personal power are more attractive.  We are horrified by her crimes and rebellion, but mesmerized by her stature and relentless will.  The story of the three plays takes the viewer from the old dispensation of the Furies in which crime is met by retribution (and on to infinity) to the new dispensation of the Olympian gods where differences must be settled by reason, accommodation and the rule of law.   The trilogy leads us from darkness to light, from savagery to civilization, and from vengeance to justice.  In the Eumenides Athena intervenes (in behalf of her father, Zeus?) and persuades the Furies to submit to the new order.  Athena and the Athenian jury finds Orestes innocent, and the goddess inaugurates an era of good will, peace and prosperity with (one hopes) the cooperation of the Furies who have been turned into chthonic fertility goddesses.  Incidentally, "uppity" women such as Clytemnestra have been returned to their true place, the hearth; Elektra is the model of the good girl; the Furies have been handled severely; Athena, admittedly the paragon of harmony, discussion and compromise, emphasizes her masculine characteristics.

Ancient Rome as the second part of the origins of Western Civilization.  Rome was much influenced by the Greeks, although Rome was more practical and less aesthetic and intellectual.  It is influential for its practical achievements of functional architecture and trans-national empire.  It originated in central Italy in Latium.  The overthrow of the Etruscan monarchy was dramatized by the Roman historian Livy, writing in about 70 CE.  His story of the 'Rape of Lucretia' demonstrated the civic virtue of the Roman Republic, the domestic skills and chastity expected of Roman matrons, and the bad reputation of monarchy in Roman culture. 
Afterwards, the Romans set up a republic which was largely aristocratic in nature.  The most powerful body was the Senate composed of patricians (nobles) and rich plebeians.  Many rich Romans, particularly the patrician families, derived their wealth from latifundia, large landed estates that often exploited slave labor for profit.  The tribunes, who were elected to defend the interests of the plebeians, were also very influential in the constitution.  The elected governing officials were primarily the two consuls, who were elected for one year and had the imperium (the power to command), the praetors, who were judicial officials, and the censors, who oversaw public morality and behavior.  Polished formal oratory was a famous Roman skill developed particularly by the immortal Cicero.  There was much political conflict but no political violence before the time of the Gracchi.
Roman expansion was rapid and efficient.  There was no preconceived plan, but the process seemed to build on its own momentum.  Roman success was due primarily to the excellence of the Roman army; look particularly at it supply organization and to the excellence of the Roman communications system (Roman roads).  Roman character and persistence also played a major role.  The stories of Horatio at the Bridge, Cincinnatus as temporary dictator, and the suicide of the noble Lucretia (all from the 2nd century CE Livy) illustrate Roman image of their republican virtue.  The Battle of Cannae (216 BCE in which an entire Roman army was destroyed by Hannibal) illustrates the point; rather than give up, Rome raised yet another army and then fought a guerilla war against the invincible Carthaginian.  The Romans also usually treated their conquered peoples well; e.g., they gave the Italians "allied" status and always the possibility of Roman citizenship; eventually all the free inhabitants of the empire were given citizenship (about 212 CE).  Expansion went in three stages: 1) absorption of the Italian peninsula, achieved by about 275 BCE; 2) absorption of the Carthaginian Empire, composed primarily of Sicily western North Africa and Spain, by the end of the Third Punic War (Cato - "Carthago delendum est!"); and 3) relatively painless annexation of the territories of the eastern Mediterranean including Greece, Asia Minor, Palestine and Egypt, by the end of the 2nd century BCE.
The Republic declined and disappeared in the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE.  The basic problem was a social crisis in Italy arising out of the growing gap between rich and poor, and the contrast between the growing power of the Roman state and the inefficient executive of the republic.  The Gracchi brothers tried to reform the social constitution of Rome in the 2nd century, but they made little progress and were assassinated by political thugs.  The taboo on political violence was broken!  About the same time the Roman army became politicized.  Marius found that to recruit enough soldiers, he had to hire professional soldiers; they were more loyal to their general than to the Roman state, and if the civilian leadership (the Senate) refused to grant concessions, the general could use his army against them to force compliance.  Sulla marched on Rome and once in power he conducted a reign of terror against his political opponents; he then retired from politics!  The process culminated in the career of Julius Caesar who, after military success in Gaul, "crossed the Rubicon" and had himself made dictator in Rome.  He was assassinated in 44 BCE by republican conservatives such as Brutus.  Caesar's death, however, did not stop the process.  It culminated in a confrontation between Marc Antony and Octavian (Julius Caesar's nephew) in which the latter defeated the former.  By this time public opinions was heartily sick of conflict and welcomed a statesmanlike winner.
Octavian (known as Augustus) installed a "restored republic;" he was a moderate who built up his constitutional power while maintaining traditional institutions such as the Senate, and traditional values such as marriage and the family.  Augustus was careful to maintain his connection to republican traditions.  He was a great supporter of literature and the arts.  45 years of peace and prosperity made him extremely popular, and there were no calls for a return to the old constitution upon Augustus' death in 14 CE.
The Empire (with a capital 'E') was prosperous and stable for its first 200 years, despite the rule of corrupt emperors like Caligula and Nero in the first century.  The "Good" Emperors of the 2nd century (e.g., Trajan, Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius) reigned over the golden era of Rome: the Roman Empire reached its greatest extension under Trajan; peace and prosperity everywhere; the Emperor built up his power at the expense of traditional bodies like the Senate; much of the strength of Rome was in the provinces such as Gaul and Spain.  The arts, while strong especially in literature (cf. Tacitus and Vergil), always took second place in Rome to practical accomplishments.The most impressive was perhaps architecture and engineering: Romans were able to build large, impressive and useful building by applying two engineering innovations -- the arch and concrete.  The skeleton of the Colosseum was constructed of aggregate (concrete) and it was covered with a skin of stone to make it "look Greek."
The Roman economy was highly dependent on slaves, and there was a widespread and justified fear in the empire of slave crime and revolt.  Spartacus' bloodily repressed slave revolt in 73 BCE was a case in point.  The Romans treated their slaves pretty cruelly.  There were a large number of poor in Rome, and the ruling classes and Emperor were concerned to keep them from getting politically active.  Partly as a result, Roman emperors always inaugurated their reigns with the construction of public works, most commonly baths, many of which are still standing in Roman cities.  The public baths were extremely elaborate and well equipped, and had facilities for all classes.  Juvenal talks about the usefulness of "bread and circuses."  As many as 200,000 Roman poor were on the dole, receiving free food from the state.  More famous were the circuses organized for the entertainment of the Roman populace.  The chariot races in the Circus Maximus would attract more than 100,000 spectators; and the slaughter of wild beasts and the gladiatorial combats in the Colosseum would attract as many as 60,000 spectators to watch gladiators battle to the death.  The policy appears to have worked, since the Roman mob never became involved in politics.
Meanwhile the Roman Empire after about 200 CE began to encounter problems including falling population (perhaps due to epidemic diseases?), falling production, inflation and declining efficiency from the Roman army.  The pressure on the frontiers increased in the 3rd century from incursions from various barbarian tribes including the Goths.  Diocletian and Constantine put through reforms that extended the life of the western half of the empire.  There were two main reforms: 1) divide the Empire into two distinct, though related, parts, the western, Latin empire ruled by an emperor in Rome and the eastern Greek empire ruled by an emperor in Constantinople, founded by Constantine. 2) increase the power of state regulation to save the economy: the state tried price and wage ceilings, and attempted to tie workers to their professions.  Although the latter reforms were generally not successful, the efforts of these two emperors extended the life of the western empire until the end of the 5th century.  Nb. This was also a momentous time for the Christians.  Diocletian launched a ferocious persecution against them that seemed for a while to be having success.  Constantine, however, reversed the policy, favored the Christian religion during his reign and converting on his deathbed.  Christianity became the official religion of state at the end of the 4th century.
The western, Latin half of the empire finally collapsed in the late 5th century (traditionally 476 CE), giving rise to numerous Germanic kingdoms in Western Europe that kept some of the Roman traditions such as language alive.  The eastern Roman Empire, however, continued to thrive as the Byzantine Empire ruled by the Emperor in Constantinople.  This empire had glorious days ahead, and did not disappear until the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

The Rise of Islam:  Reasons for studying Islam are so obvious that they don't bear repeating.  It was in any case one of the great late-emerging civilizations of the world.
Arabia before the time of Muhammad was a polytheistic, pastoral society with commercial cities such as Mecca and (later named) Medina.  There was much acquisitive commercial behavior in the cities, and since the society was organized on tribal lines, there was a lot of inter-clan political violence.  Muhammad (570-632) was born into a trading family in Mecca; he worked as a caravan manager before he became disillusioned with the secular values of his society.  He retired to caves outside the city where he received revelations from the Angel Gabriel; these revelations were later written down as the Qur'an.  In the hegira he fled to Medina, later overcoming his enemies by force and returning to Mecca where he died in 632.
The teachings of Muhammad are contained primarily in the sacred scriptures, the Qur'an, edited in the few years after his death, and the Hadiths, compilations of the prophet's sayings executed in the two centuries after his death.  Muhammad saw himself as bringing monotheism to the Arab peoples.  Muhammad considered Jews and Christians as privileged "people of the book," who would not be compelled to convert to Islam.  God had revealed himself to these two peoples, but they had distorted his message; in the post-Qur'anic tradition, Muhammad's revelation is the ultimate one, superseding the previous revelations.  Islam is first a religion of faith -- the believer must confess his faith daily: "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet."  It is also an ethical religion enjoining proper ritual and behavior in order to achieve salvation in Paradise (the disobedient will end up in Hell).  The Last Judgment is an indispensable part of Muhammad's teaching.  Students should learn the "Five Pillars of Islam."  Islam commands strict behavior in sexual ethics, honesty, charity, etc.  Men are allowed to have a maximum of four wives.  Women are enjoined to be modest in their dress and behavior, but seclusion and veiling of the face are not in the Qur'an.  Muslims had strict taboos against the consumption of pork and alcohol.  There is in Islam, as in Christianity, an important egalitarian element that tended to be diluted by the societies where the religion thrived.  In contrast to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism, there are many parallels between Christianity and Islam that strike the eye -- monotheism, strict ethical behavior, the importance of prophets and of scripture.  Differences include the Christian belief in the Trinity, the heavy Christian reliance on the clergy, and the Christian belief in the sacraments.
The political expansion of the Arabs and Islam was remarkable in the few decades following the death of Muhammad.  Arab imperialism was probably motivated by a combination of secular factors (desire for power, wealth, status from a people used to making raids to make a living) and religious enthusiasm derived from Islam.  Although the term 'jihad' has several meanings focused on everyman's struggle against evil, Muslims were enjoined to support the defense of Islam against its infidel enemies and to support its expansion; if you died in such a just war, you would go to heaven.  References to war in the Qur'an are usually defensive.
The victorious Arabs set up remarkable states and societies all the way from Spain (Arab armies were not successful in conquering France; defeated at the Battle of Tours in 732) to Central Asia.  A fateful succession crisis occurred in 661 with the assassination of Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law Ali; this lay the foundation of the historic split between Shiia and orthodox (Sunni) Muslims.  The Arab empires were ruled by caliphs (emperors) who exercised theoretically religious powers (as imams) along with their secular authority.  The first dynasty were the Umayyads, who had their capital in Damascus.  "More political than pious," they were overthrown in the 8th century by the Abbasids, who moved the capital to Bagdad.  There Persian influence was great.  The caliph's prime minister was called the vizier. Their rule was also more political and secular than pious (the steps to the caliph's throne were paved in gold; the caliph and his concubines bathed in pools of wine, homosexuality was common, etc.).  The most renowned Abbasid caliph was Harun al-Rashid (789-809), who reigned in a period of stability and prosperity and sponsored learning and the arts.  The dominance of the Abbasids in the Mideast was ended by the arrival of the Seljuk Turks in about the 11th century; they were followed by incursions from the Christians (the Crusades) the Mongols, Tamerlane, and the Ottoman Turks who stabilized the area beginning in the 14th century.
The Arab states were generally tolerant.  Jews, Christians and Persians were allowed to practice their religion and maintain their culture upon payment of a tax (Qur'an -- "there is no compulsion in matters of religion").  Conversions to Islam -- which eventually dominated the area -- came more or less voluntarily over a period of time, up to 200 years.  The result of this was the creation of an international Muslim culture with Arabs eventually making up only a minority of Muslims across the world.  Persian culture and intellectuals generally prevailed in the later years of the Abbasids.
Islam developed a remarkable diverse religious profile in the Middle Ages.  The Shiites emerged as a sectarian movement already in the 7th century; they claimed that they had the correct descent from Muhammad through Ali.  They tended to be "stricter" in their interpretation of the sacred texts than many Muslims; they favored esoteric and secret interpretations.  They were often resistant to political authority and more inclined to look for guidance from their religious leaders, the imams.  Their importance in places like Mesopotamia and Persia led to their persecution in some places in this period, and to the formation of the Sunni movement that stressed a "sensible" and reasonably broad interpretation of Islam that could be adopted by most Muslims.  The popularity of the Shiites was diminished somewhat by the popularity of the mystical Sufis in the later part of this period.  Sufis withdrew in some way from society, and attempted to enter into direct communication with God.  The Persian mystic poet Rumi (13th century) is the best known of the Sufi leaders: known for his monasteries and the practice of ecstatic dancing and music ("whirling dervishes"), he is still popular today among a small number of Sufi brotherhoods.  In modern Islam (about one billion adherents) Sunnis make up a majority of 85%, Shiites most of the rest.
The secular culture of the Arab world has also enjoyed popularity in the modern West.  Arab scholars were responsible for preserving much classical learning in their universities; when western medieval scholars were searching for reliable texts of Aristotle's work in the 12th century, they found them in Muslim Spain.  Arab mathematicians were also responsible for many inventions in mathematics: Arabic numerals, algebra, and the concept of zero.  The skeptical, secular poetry ("eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may die") of Omar Khayyam (The Rubaiyyat) appears to be influenced by Roman poetry; it also had an impact on modern western readers.  The famous "Arabian Nights", stories of romance and adventure (e.g., "Aladdin and the Magic Lamp") were first collected by Arab scholars around 1500 from oral sources; they were translated into French in the 18th century and then into English in the 19th century.  The "Arabian Nights" are secular adventure stories, where a desire for money and luxury play a big role.
Medieval Arab culture was brilliant, secular, diverse with intensely felt religious beliefs.  It was not afraid to borrow from other cultures.

India in the "medieval" period (c.350-c.1500) did not enjoy long-lived political unity, but excelled in religious developments and in its cultural dynamism.
The main instance of political unity occurred under the Gupta Dynasty that ruled northern India from about 320 to about 550 CE.  Chandragupta and Samudragupta were two of the kings.  The empire stretched "from sea to sea" across northern India.  The kings, who normally played musical instruments, were known as patrons of the arts (they even founded a university devoted to the fine arts), and as tolerant promoters of religious establishments, both Hindu and Buddhist, although the kings were Hindus.  The economy was quite prosperous in this period, as evidenced by the comments of Chinese visitor, Fu Xian, and the existence of a widespread gold coinage done in a pleasing style. 
The first main religious development was the rise of the popularity of Buddhism in the early period, and the split of the movement into two main wings.  The Theravada movement seems closer to the original inspiration of Gautama Siddhartha; it retained its ethical, philosophical orientation and stressed strict personal behavior and meditation, preferably in a monastery, as a means of escaping the wheel of life.  Mahayana Buddhism, on the other hand, developed the "religious", devotional, ritualist side of Buddhism.  They stressed that Buddha was a manifestation of God, and they recognized bodhissatvas, who were somewhat similar to Christian saints and who helped the common folk in their striving toward release.  The idea came originally from discussion of Siddhartha's life; the current bodhissatvas were preliminary incarnations of a second Buddha who would appear on earth at a future date.  Common people could aspire to become "arhants," or "worthies," who while not fully enlightened could attain nirvana.  Their nirvana resembled the Muslim/Christian idea more closely. 
Soon, however, the popularity of Buddhism began to decline in India.  Theravada Buddhism became dominant in Sri Lanka and in many areas of Southeast Asia, whereas Mahayana Buddhism migrated to China over the Silk Road and then on to Korea and Japan.
Perhaps the main reason for Buddhism's decline in India was the arrival of Islam on the northwest frontier in roughly the 9th century.  The Muslim ruler Mahmud of Ghazni, whose power base was in Afghanistan, extended his power over Northwest India in about 1000 CE.  Eventually Muslim rulers established their authority over Hindu subjects in the Delhi Sultanate that extended over the north part of India; it was visited by Ibn Battuta in the 14th century.  Large portions of the population of west, east, and north India were converted to Islam over the years, thus establishing the population base for Pakistan and Bangladesh.  The impact on Indian society was somewhat modest compared to the religious change.  Instead of abolishing castes, Muslim Indians set up their own castes thus preserving the system.  Every indication is that the Hindu custom of sati was preserved, although its frequency does not seem to have been great.  Muslim Indians did adopt the purdah (secluding and veiling their women), although not to the extent of the Arab areas of Islam.  Overall, while religion changed significantly, culture and society changed only incrementally.
The Sikhs, founded at the beginning of the 16th century by the guru Nanak, originally intended to combine the best of the Indian religions into a new one that would supersede the old.  The Sikhs believed in a single personal God; they rejected castes, images and pilgrimages, but maintained the concepts of karma and reincarnation; their sacred Golden Temple is in Amritsar.  Sikh men were not supposed to cut their hair (thus wearing it in a turban) and they all took the name of "Singh" (lion), whereas the women were named "Princess."  Most of Sikh history has been devoted to defending their autonomy.  They were friendly with the British, and not enthusiastic about being part of India after 1946.  Most Sikhs currently live in India with significant émigré communities (e.g., in Yuba City); Sikh militants demand a separate Sikh state in North India.
Indian culture is diverse, brilliant and sensuous: compared to Christian and Islamic culture, there is in India little opposition between sensuality/sexuality and spirituality.  The Gupta and post-Gupta period gave rise to the classic secular period of Indian arts.  Indian painting and sculpture dwelled fondly on female nudity (take a look at examples in the text), and the famous "Kama Sutra," composed in the 3rd century BCE, focused explicitly on enhancing the pleasure of partner sex and on the spirituality of sexual relations.  Kalidasa was the most famous author in the Gupta period.  He is famous for his poem "Cloud Messenger," which with its sensual evocation of nature, speaks of the author's nostalgia for his homeland.  His most famous play was Shakuntalathat speaks of the birth of a strong erotic love bond between a king and a maiden that he encounters in an enchanted forest.  Many parallels are drawn between the harmony and fertility of the forest on the one hand and the feelings and bodies of the lovers on the other.


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Ancient civilizations summaries

6th Grade Ancient Civilizations Vocabulary

General Vocabulary

People Vocabulary


  1. ancient (ancestor)
  2. civilization (civilize, civilian)
  3. culture (cultural)
  4. society (social)
  5. population (populated, populate, popular)
  6. religion (religious)
  7. ceremony (ceremonial)
  8. migrate (migration)
  9. settlement (settle, settler)
  10. village (villager)
  11. fossil (fossilized)
  12. evidence
  13. archaeologist (archaeology, archaeological)
  14. excavate (excavation)
  15. ancestors (ancient)
  16. prehistory / history (historical)
  17. timeline


Places Vocabulary

  1. geography
  2. landforms
  3. continent
  4. coast (coastline, coastal)
  5. island
  6. mainland
  7. peninsula
  8. mountain (mountainous)
  9. valley
  10. plain
  11. plateau
  12. climate
  13. tropical (tropics)
  14. temperate (temperature)


Economy Vocabulary

  1. trade (trader)
  2. trade routes
  3. land and sea routes
  4. economy (economic)
  5. agriculture (agricultural)
  6. farmer (farm, farmland)
  7. crops
  8. livestock
  9. domesticate (domestic)
  10. hunter (hunt (ed, s, ing))
  11. merchant
  12. market (marketing)
  13. import (importer, portable, porter, transport)
  14. export (importer, portable, porter, transport)

Political and Military Vocabulary

  1. invade (invasion, invader)
  2. conquer (conquered, conquest)
  3. military
  4. kingdom (king)
  5. empire (emperor)
  6. dynasty (dynamite, dinosaur)
  7. city-state
  8. scribe (script, inscribe, inscription)
  9. govern (governor, government)
  10. republic (republican)
  11. monarchy (monarch)
  12. dictator / dictatorship (dictate)



    1. Early People – Stone Age


  1. band
  2. hunter-gatherer
  3. migration (migrate, immigrant, etc)
  4. nomad
  5. extinct (extinction)
  6. glacier (glacial)
  7. agriculture (agricultural)
  8. livestock
  9. society (social)
  10. ancestors
    1. Early People – Stone Age Vocabulary Definitions


  1. band – a small group of people who live and work together
  2. hunter-gatherer – someone finds food by killing animals and gathering plants
  3. migration – the movement of people or animals from one area to another
  4. nomad – a person who moves his or her home and has no settled home
  5. extinct – no longer existing
  6. glacier – a large area of ice that lasts for many years
  7. agriculture – farming, growing plants and raising animals for food
  8. livestock – animals such as cows, sheep and pigs that are raised on farms
  9. society – a group of people living together and sharing rules and traditions
  10. ancestors – a relative who lived longer ago than a grandparent


List 1.1 Passage – Stone Age

            Archaeologists have studied evidence from the distant past to give us information about how early people lived.  Many early people were nomads who lived in small family groups called bands.  These bands of people migrated from place to place looking for food and safe shelter.  Many of the people were hunter-gatherers.  The word ‘hunter’ means that they killed animals for food.  They used tools made of sharpened stones and bones. This is where the term ‘Stone Age people’ comes from.  Some of the animals they hunted are now extinct; the mammoth is one example of an extinct animal.  The word ‘gatherer’ means that people collected plants and wildlife that could be eaten.  These early people migrated to areas where they could find enough food and adequate shelter to survive.  As the glaciers of the Ice Age slowly melted, some early people migrated north.  As the climate became warmer on the continent of Europe, people gradually found areas with enough food so that they could stay in one place for long periods of time. 
The societies of early people began to change and become more complex as they settled in one place.  They began practicing agriculture, growing crops and raising livestock as more stable sources of food.  People began to develop special skills, such as tool making.  As they cooperated and shared these skills in exchange for goods or other skills, societies developed so that people began to depend on each other in new ways.  The roots of our societies today can be found in these early agricultural communities of our ancestors.

    1. Early people – Southwest Asia


  1. government (govern, governor)
  2. civilization (civilized, civilian)
  3. monarchy (monarch)
  4. plateau
  5. plain
  6. drought
  7. irrigate (irrigation, (d, s, ing))
  8. silt
  9. scribe (script, inscribe, inscription, describe)
  10. social classes (society)
  11. empire (emperor)
  12. conquer (conqueror)
  13. barter
  14. merchants
    1. Early people – Southwest Asia Vocabulary Definitions


  1. government – a system a society uses to make laws and rules
  2. civilization – a large society (group of people) with organized religion, government and ways of learning
  3. monarchy – government by a single king or queen
  4. plateau – flat land at a high elevation
  5. plain – flat land at a low elevation
  6. drought – a long time where there is not enough rain
  7. irrigate – to bring water to a dry area using a system such as canals or ditches
  8. silt – soil or earth and small rocks carried and left behind by water
  9. scribe – someone who reads and writes for other people
  10. social classes – groups of people with particular roles or importance in society
  11. empire – a land of many people groups ruled by one ruler
  12. conquer – to take control of land and people by force
  13. barter – to exchange goods
  14. merchants – people who make a living buying and selling goods


List 1.2 Passage – Early People – Southwest Asia

      Archaeologists have found interesting remains of early civilizations in Southwest Asia in an area between two rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates.  This area is called the Fertile Crescent or Mesopotamia.  The northern part of the Fertile Crescent is a high, flat plateau; the southern part is a low, flat plain, covered with silt deposited by the two rivers.  This silt was rich soil for agriculture, but the climate was hot and soil was often dry because it rarely rained and there were often droughts.  At times the rivers flooded, bringing more silt, but this did not happen at the right times to grow crops successfully.  Farmers learned to irrigate their crops with water from the two rivers by digging canals and ditches.
The world’s first cities developed in Mesopotamia, and as people learned to live and work together, a complex civilization developed.  Governments developed to make and enforce laws.  People began to learn and use special skills that they shared with others in exchange for goods or services.  As people developed specialized occupations, social classes developed.  Merchants were people who bought and sold or bartered goods for a living.  A system of writing was developed and scribes were respected, educated people who wrote and read for others, since most people did not have these skills.
City-states kept growing throughout Mesopotamia, and conflicts began.  Gradually strong leaders conquered other city-states and gained more land and people to rule.  Sargon was an example of an early conqueror who used his army to conquer other people and establish an empire.


2.1.1 Africa – Egypt

  1. Egypt (egyptian)
  2. flood
  3. innundation
  4. emergence
  5. harvest
  6. delta
  7. desert (deserted)
  8. oasis
  9. agriculture (agricultural)
  10. crops
  11. irrigation (irrigate (d, s, ing))
  12. silt
  13. deposit
  14. fertile (fertilize, fertilzer, unfertile)


2.1.1 Africa – Egypt Vocabulary Definitions

  1. Egypt – a country in Africa along the northern part of the Nile River
  2. flood – water covers an area that is usually not under water
  3. innundation – the yearly flood in ancient Egypt
  4. emergence – the season when plants grew in ancient Egypt
  5. harvest – the season when plants are ripe and ready to be taken for food
  6. delta – land formed by silt at the mouth of a river
  7. desert – a dry area with little rainfall or water sources and few plants
  8. oasis – a small area with plants around a water source in a desert
  9. agriculture – farming, growing plants and raising animals for food
  10. crops – plants that are grown for food
  11. irrigation – a system of bring water to dry land using canals or other methods
  12. silt – soil or earth and small rocks carried and left behind by water
  13. deposit – to leave behind in a place
  14. fertile – conditions are good for growing plants


Egypt – List 2.1.1 Passage


            Egyptian history is an example of an ancient civilization that was influenced by the geography of the land.  The Nile River was the center of life in this area because much of the land away from the river was dry desert where there was little food and water to support life.  There were some oasis areas in the desert where there were small springs of water surrounded by some plants and sometimes trees, but these water sources were small and could not support many people or animals.  In contrast, the Nile River provided water for the people’s daily needs and for irrigation needed for successful agriculture.  The annual flood, which was called the innundation, left rich silt, or dirt, covering the land near the river. This silt made the land fertile for growing food.  The innundation was followed by the emergence, a season when the flood ended, and crops were planted and grown.  The third season was harvest, the time when food crops were gathered and stored.  The land at the delta of the Nile River was especially fertile because so much rich silt was deposited at the mouth of the river.

2.1.2 Africa - Egypt


  1. kingdom (king)
  2. pharoh
  3. nation-state
  4. decrees
  5. government officials
  6. nobles (nobility)
  7. prosperity (prosper, prosperous)
  8. hierogliphics
  9. reeds
  10. papyrus
  11. scribes (inscribe, inscription)
  12. religion (religious)
  13. after-life
  14. pyramids
  15. mummy
  16. preserving (preserve (d, s), reserve, preservation)


2.1.2 Africa – Egypt Vocabulary Definitions


  1. kingdom – an area ruled by a king
  2. pharoh - a ruler in ancient Egypt
  3. nation-state – an area with a united people and one government
  4. decrees – a command or order
  5. government officials – people who work in the government and have been given power and authority
  6. nobles – people in the highest social class
  7. prosperity – having money and being successful
  8. hieroglyphics – a system of writing using picture symbols
  9. reeds – grass-like plants that grow in water
  10. papyrus – a reed used to make paper, also the paper made from the reed
  11. scribes – people who write (and read) for other people
  12. religion – a system of beliefs and practices relating to one or more gods.
  13. after-life – life after death
  14. pyramids – a structure with triangle-shaped sides
  15. mummy – a preserved body
  16. preserving – treating something in a special way to make it last for a long time


Egypt – List 2.1.2 Passage

            Eqyptian rulers were called pharohs.  They ruled Egypt through three periods, the Old Kingdom (3100-2040 B.C.), the Middle Kingdom (2040-1532 B.C.), and the New  Kingdom (1532-1070 B.C.)  The pharohs were the leaders of the nation-state. Next in order of importance were nobles, wealthy families who were given power by the Pharoh,   priests, who had religious authority and knowledge, craftworkers, merchants and scribes, who had the ability to read and write, farmers and slaves.  The pharoh controlled the country and his decrees were law.  He chose government officials to enforce laws and to oversee the business of running the kingdom.  Egypt’s prosperity depended on strong government as well as on the Nile River as the source of food and water for the kingdom.   
Early in Egypt’s history, pharohs were considered to be gods and they had an important religious as well as government role.  The Egyptian religion included a strong belief in the after-life.  There were special customs for preparing the body after death for the after-life.  A preserved body was called a mummy.  Strong tombs were built to hold the bodies of pharohs or other important people.  By 2650 B.C., the pharoh’s tombs were being built in the famous pyramid shapes.  The pyramids are monuments that can still be seen in Egypt today.
Much of what we know about early Egyptian history comes from a system of writing called hieroglyphics. Scribes were educated to read and write, and held important positions in Egyptian society.   Hieroglyphics are preserved on the walls of tombs and other monuments.  The Egyptians also wrote on paper-like material called papyrus.  Papyrus was made from reeds, or water plants, that grew along the banks of the Nile River.  Papyrus documents still survive today.

2.2 Africa – Nubia

  1. cataract
  2. trade (trader, (d, s, ing)
  3. trade route
  4. trade network
  5. sea route
  6. land route
  7. ally (allied, alliance)
  8. conquest (conquer, conqueror)
  9. annex
  10. invasion (invade, (d, s, ing), innvader)
  11. massive (mass)
  12. independence (independent, depend)
  13. achievements (achieve, (d, s, ing), achiever)
  14. iron
  15. iron workers

2.2 Africa – Nubia Vocabulary Definitions

  1. cataract – a waterfall, where a river runs fast over rocks
  2. trade – the action of buying, selling or exchanging goods, especially between different areas or countries
  3. trade route – a path or way to travel between areas for the purpose of trade
  4. trade network – a system of connected trade routes
  5. sea route – a path or way to travel by sea
  6. land route – a path or way to travel on land
  7. ally – someone who supports you, helps you to achieve goals
  8. conquest – the process of taking power over an area and its people by force
  9. annex – to take over and join one area to another
  10. invasion – the process of going into an area and taking power by force
  11. massive - huge
  12. independence – freedom to act as you choose
  13. achievements – something important that you succeed at by skill and/or hard work
  14. iron - a mineral used to make many metal objects such as weapons, cars, etc.
  15. iron workers – people who work to make iron ore into a useable form for making iron objects

List 2.2 – Africa – Nubia

      The ancient kingdom of Nubia developed along the Nile River south of Egypt.  The southern part of the Nile River has high cliffs and rocky places where the water level drops suddenly at cataracts.  The land of Nubia had many natural resources that were valuable to the Egyptians, and strong trade connections developed.  Traders travelled along trade routes between Egyptian and Nubian cities.  The trade network included both land routes and sea routes. 
At first Egypt and Nubia were allies, who cooperated in trading and who exchanged and shared culture.  As Egyptian pharohs became powerful, they recognized that the wealth of Nubia could benefit Egypt.  So Egypt began the conquest of Nubia, invading and annexing the northern part of Nubia in about 1900 B.C..  By 1650 B.C. a powerful kingdom called the Kingdom of Kush had developed in the northern part of Nubia, and the people of Nubia had again gained their independence from Egypt.  By 750 B.C., Kush attacked Egypt in a massive invasion.  For almost a hundred years, Kushite pharohs ruled Upper Egypt. 
After Kushite rule in Egypt was defeated, the center of Kushite civilization moved south along the Nile to Meroe, a city near the sixth cataract.  Traders again set up trade networks and Meroe became a cultural and economic center.  During this time there was much technological development, including the development of processes for using iron ore to make tools and weapons.  Kushite iron workers became famous throughout Africa, Asia and Europe.

3.1 Asia – India and Persia

  1. empire (emperor)
  2. dynasty (dynamite, dinosaur)
  3. inscription (scribe, inscribe, (d, s, ing))
  4. sacred
  5. caste
  6. herd ((d, s, ing), herder
  7. famine (famished)
  8. monsoon
  9. destructive (destroy (d, s, ing))
  10. fortress (fort, fortify)

3.1 Asia – India and Persia Vocabulary Definitions

  1. empire – a land of many peoples ruled by one ruler
  2. dynasty – a series of rulers from the same family
  3. inscription – writing carved into a surface that lasts a long time
  4. sacred – relating to a god or a religion
  5. caste – a social class in India
  6. herd – a group of animals such as cows, pigs or deer that live together
  7. famine – a time when people starve because there is not enough food
  8. monsoon – a rainy season
  9. destructive – a word that describes something that destroys or damages something
  10. fortress – a strong structure built to protect people from enemies

List 3.1 Passage – Asia – India and Persia

      The history of ancient India was influenced by climate and geography, much like today.  Two large rivers, the Indus and the Ganges, flowed south from the Himalayan mountains.  Because of their importance, these rivers have been considered sacred throughout much of India’s history.  India’s climate includes two major seasons, the rainy monsoon caused by moist winds blowing from the Indian Ocean, and the dry season, when dry winds blow from Asia.  At times monsoon winnds can be so strong that they are destructive. Throughout it’s history, there have been times when the monsoons failed, causing periods of drought and famine, when many people starved from  lack of food.
India’s culture depended on agriculture.  Farmers grew crops and raised herds of cattle.  Many people lived in small agricultural villages.  Around 1500 B.C. Aryans migrated from the north and over time influenced Indian culture.  A caste system developed, in which people were born and lived in defined groups or classes.  They could not change to a different class.
Archaeologists have found evidence of early cultures in India, including inscriptions that give us clues to how people lived.  They have uncovered an early fortress at Mohenjo-Dara.  About 320 B.C. India was united under one ruler who formed the Maurya  Empire.  A second great empire, the Gupta Empire, began in 320 A.D. and the Gupta dynasty brought 200 years of peace and economic growth to India.
To the west, another famous empire was the Persian Empire.  Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of a great palace built by Darius, who was the Persian emperor from 522 B.C. to 486 B.C.

3.2.1 Asia – China

  1. dynasty (dynamite, dinosaur)
  2. emperor (empire)
  3. classes
  4. landlords
  5. legalism (legal)
  6. philosopher (philosophy)
  7. Confucious
  8. ancestor (ancient)
  9. ambassador
  10. Great Wall
  11. invaders (invade (d, s, ing), invasion)
  12. construction (construct, (ed, s, ing), destructive)

2.1 Asia – China Vocabulary Definitions

  1. dynasty – a series of rulers from one family
  2. emperor – a ruler of a large area of many groups of people
  3. classes – groups of people with particular roles in society
  4. landlords – people who own land or property and have power over the people who live there
  5. legalism – strictly following laws or rules
  6. philosopher - someone who thinks about the meaning of life
  7. Confucious – an ancient Chinese philosopher
  8. ancestor – a relative who lived longer ago than grandparents
  9. ambassador – someone who is sent to represent a country or a ruler
  10. Great Wall – a huge stone wall built in China in ancient times to protect territory
  11. invaders – people who enter an area and take power by force
  12. construction – building something

Chinese History – List 3.2.1 Passage

A series of emperors ruled China from 1600 B.C. to A.D. 220.  These emperors belonged to four families or dynasties of rulers, the Shang Dynasty, the Zhou Dynasty, the Qin Dynasty, and the Han Dynasty.  Under the emperors, Chinese society was divided into classes of people.  Landlords held and administered land, making sure that the people who lived on their land worked to produce food and goods.  These workers owed part of what they produced to the landlords, and the landlords owed taxes to the emperor. As time went on the emperors conquered more land and the size of the Chinese empire increased.  Each dynasty brought different characteristics or contributions to Chinese culture.  During the Shang Dynasty a system of writing was developed and bronze was first used to make weapons and containers.  The Zhou Dynasty brought improved ways of farming and the division of people into upper and lower classes.  A road system was created during the Qin Dynasty, and the construction of the Great Wall of China was completed as a defense against foreign invaders.  The first ruler of the Qin Dynasty,  Shi Huangdi, introduced a form of government called legalism.  This meant that there were many laws that were strictly enforced, often with a penalty of death for disobedience.  During the Han Dynasty, trade expanded, and ambassadors were sent to other countries to encourage profitable trade.  The government combined the teachings of the philosopher, Confucious,  with a less strict form of legalism.  The emperors believed that a strong government was important, but that an emphasis on personal virtues and strong family structure, including honoring of ancestors, would help the society to be orderly and strong.

3.2.2 Asia - China

  1. provinces                                                       
  2. standardization (standard)                                        
  3. weights (weigh (ed, s, ing), weight)
  4. measures (measure (d, s, ing))
  5. trade (trader, (d, s, ing))
  6. import (importer, (ed, s,ing), port, transport, porter, portable)
  7. export (importer, (ed, s,ing), port, transport, porter, portable)
  8. Silk Road
  9. caravans
  10. profits (profitable, (ed, s, ing))
  11. civil service
  12. trade route

3.2.2 Asia – China Vocabulary Definitions

  1. provinces – a political area of a country, similar to a state in the United States      
  2. standardization – the practice of making things of a certain type (such as money) alike                                          
  3. weights – objects used to measure how much things weigh
  4. measures – units or systems for measuring size of objects
  5. trade – the business of buying, selling or exchanging goods, especially between countries or areas
  6. import – to bring into a country
  7. export – to take out of a country
  8. Silk Road – the trade road between China and the Mediterranean Sea
  9. caravans – groups of people, sometimes travelling with vehicles and animals
  10. profits – money gained through business
  11. civil service – workers who run the business of a government
  12. trade route – a way or path used to transport goods for trade

Chinese History – List 3.2.2 Passage

As the Chinese empire became larger, it became necessary to divide it into areas or provinces so the emperor could govern well.  Shi Huangdi, first emperor of the Qin Dynasty, divided the country into provinces, which were political regions similar to states.  During the Han Dynasty, an emperor named Wu Di organized the first civil service, a group of government workers who helped to govern the provinces.  He also began a program of standardization in which things used across the country were made alike.  For example, the same coins, with the same values were used throughout the empire.  The system of writing, and the units used in weights and measures were also standardized.  Today we take standardization for granted.  We are all taught a standardized way of writing, measuring and valuing coins.  At that time in China, standardization was new and very helpful because it allowed improved communication and trade across the empire. 
In addition to increased trade within the empire, Chinese traders were importing and exporting goods for sale from other lands during the Qin Dynasty.  During the Han Dynasty, trade with the outside world increased.  The Han emperor, Wu Di sent an ambassador, or representative to a land to the west to try to negotiate peace with the people.  The ambassador returned with stories of goods the Chinese were very interested in, including horses.  This was the beginning of a trade route to the west.  It was called the Silk Road because traders brought Chinese silk to trade for products from other lands, including horses and lumber.  The journey was dangerous, but the profits were large.  Traders traveled in caravans for safety, and camels were used to carry many of the goods.

4.1.1 Europe – Ancient Greece

  1. harbor
  2. peninsula
  3. islands
  4. triremes
  5. mountainous (mountain)
  6. natural resources (nature)
  7. climate
  8. Minoan civilization
  9. legends/myths
  10. palaces
  11. archaeologists (archaeology)
  12. clay tablets
  13. merchants
  14. Mycenaeans
  15. cultural borrowing (culture)
  16. warriors (war, warring)
  17. plague

Ancient Greece – List 4.1.1 Passage
The land area of ancient Greece is mountainous, so it was difficult to travel from one area to another by land.  However, much of the area was close to the Mediterranean, Ionian, or Aegean Sea.  Ancient Greece included both peninsulas and islands, so the sea was an important influence on how the culture developed.  There were many fine, deep-water bays that provided natural harbors for fishing boats, trading ships, and large fighting ships that were called triremes.  The sea was an important natural resource, providing necessary  food, since most of the land had thin, poor soil that could grow only a few crops.  The sea also influenced the climate, bringing cool air in the hot summers and warm air during the winters.
An early kingdom on the island of Crete was called the Minoan civilization.  Legends and myths were told about this culture, but no one knew if there was any truth in the stories.  In recent years archeologists have found the remains of Minoan palaces, some with beautiful paintings on the walls.  They have also found clay tablets covered with Minoan writing, but they do not yet know how to read it!  Minoan merchants traded with people from another early culture, the Mycenaeans.  The Mycenaeans learned customs and ideas from the Minoans.  This was called cultural borrowing.  Eventually, the Mycenaeans were attacked by warriors from lands to the North or by invaders from the sea and their culture began to weaken.  It is also possible that plagues or disagreements among themselves led to the weakening of the Mycenaean civilization.

Vocabulary List 4.1.2 – Ancient Greece

  1. polis (Minneapolis, acropolis)
  2. acropolis (polis, Minneapolis)
  3. agora/marketplace
  4. tyrant (tyranny)
  5. aristocracy (aristocrat, aristocratic)
  6. assembly (assemble (d, s, ing))
  7. Spartans (Sparta, spartan)
  8. oligarchy (monarchy)
  9. Athens
  10. democracy (democratic)
  11. majority rule (major)
  12. leagues
  13. epics
  14. tragedy (tragic)
  15. comedy (comic)

List 4.1.2 Passage – Ancient Greece
Around 800 B.C. the people of Greece started building small towns that grew into cities.  A city and the nearby towns and farms was called a polis, or city-state.  Many cities built a strong fort, called an acropolis, on a high hill.  The acropolis often became a center of religion as well as a safe place.  Another important part of the city was the agora or marketplace, where people met to buy and sell goods and to discuss the news of the day.
In the early years of city-states, a king or tyrant ruled each city-state alone.  Over time, city-states developed new ways of governing.  In some city-states, powerful members of the aristocracy also took part in the government by meeting in an assembly to make laws.  One famous city-state, Sparta, became well known for their strong fighting power.  Spartan boys and girls received training to develop their physical strength and skills.  They were taught to obey leaders without question.  Most of the power in Sparta was held by the 30-member senate, and 5 chosen ephors who handled the daily governing.  These small groups formed an oligarchy since they held most of the power.
Athens was a less military city-state and citizens were encouraged to participate in government voting.  This was an early form of democracy in which decisions were made by majority rule.  This became the model for democracy here in the United States today.
In the later years of city-states, they began to join together into leagues to protect themselves against enemies.  Athens and Sparta eventually became the leaders of enemy leagues and were at war for many years,
The ancient Greeks wrote famous stories, poems and plays.  Homer wrote long story-poems called epics about the Mycenaean civilization.  Sophocles wrote serious plays called tragedies and Aristophanes wrote funny plays called comedies that are still read and performed today.

4.2.1 Europe – Ancient Rome

  1. arable
  2. extinct (extinction)
  3. volcano (volcanic)
  4. forum
  5. Italian Peninsula
  6. Balkan Peninsula
  7. monarchy (monarch)
  8. republic (republican)
  9. dictator/dictatorship (dictate (d, s, ing), dictation)
  10. consuls (consult (d, s, ing), consultation)
  11. senate (senator)
  12. patricians (patriarch, patriot)
  13. plebians
  14. tribunes (tribunal)
  15. veto (ed, es, ing)

List 4.2.1 Passage – Ancient Rome
The Roman Empire began in the Italian Peninsula, the location of present-day Italy.  This peninsula had more arable land than the Balkan Peninsula, so farming was important in this area.  One reason the land was good for farming was that the peninsula had a number of volcanoes, which made the soil rich with volcanic ash.  Most of these volcanoes have been extinct for thousands of years.
Rome was built on seven hills near the Tiber River.  A forum, where people met to trade goods and ideas, was located on the level ground near the river.  Early Rome had one ruler, and was governed as a monarchy.  Starting about 600 B.C., the Etruscans from the northern part of the peninsula took control.  By about 500 B.C. the Romans rebelled, and ended the Etruscan monarchy. Powerful Romans created a new form of government, with elected leaders.  This was called a republic.  Each year, the assembly of Roman citizens elected two consuls as leaders.  These leaders were advised by an elected group, called the senate.  In an emergency, the Romans could also choose a dictator, who had complete power to make decisions for up to six months. 
The powerful people of Rome, called patricians, were descendents of Rome’s earliest settlers.  They controlled the senate and considered themselves to be the most important people.  Other Roman citizens were the plebians.  The plebians wanted to share power, and by 494 B.C., they rebelled and elected their own leaders, called tribunes.  The patricians agreed to let the tribunes attend meetings of the senate.  They were given the power to vet, or refuse, to pass laws they did not like.
Words like republic and senate are still used today in the United States.  The Roman form of government was an early model for our present-day democratic form of government.

Vocabulary List 4.2.2 – Ancient Rome

  1. society (social)
  2. conquest (conquer (ed, s, ing), conqueror)
  3. enslaved (slave, slavery)
  4. census (consensus, consent)
  5. legion (legionnaire)
  6. basilica
  7. gladiator
  8. aqueduct (aquatic)
  9. canals
  10. civil war (civilian, civilize, civilization)
  11. Christianity (Christian)
  12. persecute ((d, s, ing), persecution)
  13. martyrs (martyred)
  14. barbarians (barbarous)
  15. invaded (invade (s, ing), invasion, invasive, evade)
  16. vandals (vandalize, vandalism)

List 4.2.2 Passage – Ancient Rome
As the years went by, the government of Rome changed.  In 44 B.C., Julius Caesar became dictator for life.  After his death, the struggle for power in Rome caused a civil war, and by 27 B.C., Augustus was the first emperor of Rome.  The government was no longer a republic, since the people were not represented by officials they voted for. 
As Roman society developed, the land area the Romans controlled increased.  The period of Roman conquest began about 500 B.C. The Roman army, which was organized into legions of up to 6000 men, became increasingly powerful.  Roman conquest included fighting many wars to defend Roman land, and also attacking surrounding areas such as Carthage and Greece.  Each time the Romans won, the land area they controlled grew larger.  Roman legions enforced Roman law throughout the empire.  They enslaved many of the conquered people and forced the slaves to build buildings and roads for the empire.  Large, marble government buildings were called basilicas.  Arenas were built for entertainment and battles between gladiators, slaves and prisoners, who were forced to fight, were popular entertainment.  Slaves also built aqueducts, which were systems of bridges and canals used to carry water to cities. 
The Romans believed in many gods.  As they conquered new lands and people, they included the gods and beliefs of these people into their own religious beliefs.  They felt that is was important that everyone show respect for their gods so that the empire would have success and prosperity.  In the first century, followers of a religious teacher called Jesus Christ, grew into a new religion called Christianity.  Christians disobeyed the Roman emperor by refusing to worship Roman gods or the emperor himself.  Because of this refusal, they were persecuted and many Christian martyrs were killed at the order of the emperor.
As time went on, the Roman Empire weakened because of problems within the empire and because of attacks from surrounding areas.  The empire had become so large that it was hard to govern it.  The people were forced to pay large taxes.  There were corrupt and weak leaders, including the emperors, and people lost respect for the government.  People from the North, called barbarians, invaded and captured Roman land.  The Vandals were a Germanic tribe of people who spread into what is now southwest Spain and Northern Africa, and invaded Rome in A. D. 455.  The Eastern part of the Roman Empire still existed, but the Western part of the Roman Empire had fallen.


  1. continent (continental, continue)
  2. nomads (nomadic)
  3. migrated (migrates, (ing), migration, migratory)
  4. mammoths (mammoth)
  5. land bridge – Beringia
  6. settled (settler, settlement)
  7. homeland
  8. climate
  9. landforms
  10. narrower (narrow, narrows)
  11. tropical zone (tropic)
  12. temperate zone (temperature)
  13. forests (forested, forester, deforested)
  14. plains
  15. mountain ranges (mountainous)
  16. coasts (coastal, coastline)
  17. cordilleras
  18. active/extinct volcanoes (volcanic)

List 5 Passage: Early People in the Americas

The continents of North and South America were settled by people much later than the continents to the east.  Scholars believe that nomads from the Asian continent migrated across an ancient land bridge called Beringia, that connected the two continents in the past.  These nomads may have been hunters following giant mammals that looked similar to modern elephants and that were called mammoths. 
The American continents include a wide variety of climates and landforms that influenced how early societies developed.  For example, people who settled homelands in the hot, tropical zone developed different kinds of shelter and needed different kinds of clothing than people who settled in the cooler temperate zones.  In addition to climate zones, landforms also influenced the way people lived.  For example, people ate different kinds of food depending on whether they lived in forests, on plains, in mountain ranges, or on coasts. 
        The southern part of the North American continent becomes narrower and is called Central America.  Much of Central America is in the tropical zone.  There are long mountain ranges called cordilleras where there are many active and extinct volcanoes.  Central America became the homeland to the early civilizations of the Olmecs, the Mayas,  the Aztecs, and the Incas.

5.1 Olmecs and Mayas

  1. lost cities
  2. traces (trace (d,ing))
  3. temple
  4. palace
  5. carved (carver, (ed, ing))
  6. innovations (novel, innovate)
  7. elite
  8. tumpline
  9. plaza
  10. ball court
  11. cenotes
  12. glyphs (hieroglyphics)
List 5.1 Passage: Olmecs and Mayas

            The Olmecs lived along the Gulf of Mexico as early as 1500 B.C.  Traces of their ceremonial centers and lost cities can still be seen today.  Olmec civilization included an elite class of people who held power and ordered the building of large structures such as temples and palaces.  The Olmecs carved huge heads from rock.  Some of these heads can still be seen today.  The Olmecs were creative people who developed many innovations such as mirrors made of polished iron ore and a hieroglyphic writing system.  Workers used a tumpline, which is a strap placed over the forehead, to carry heavy loads.  Tumplines are still used today in many parts of the world.
The Maya civilization built on ideas developed by the Olmecs.  The Mayas developed a system of writing using picture symbols called glyphs.  Archaeologists are still working to understand the glyphs. The Mayas also built temples, palaces, pyramids, plazas and ball courts.   Each king built a temple to worship the gods, and was later buried in it.  Plazas were large paved open-air areas that were places for people to gather.  Ball courts were built for a ceremonial ball game that was very popular.  In the Yucatan Peninsula, the Mayas built their cities near deep natural wells of water called cenotes.  Today, people from all over the world come to see the remains of Olmec and Mayan civilization.

5.2 Aztecs and Incas

  1. conquer (conquest)
  2. military force
  3. causeway
  4. chinampas
  5. offering to the gods
  6. sacrifice
  7. conquistador (conquest, conquer)
  8. cannons
  9. tribute
  10. peaks
  11. valley
  12. plateau

List 5.2 Passage: Astecs and Incas
The Aztecs and the Incas are two examples of civilizations that built great empires in the Americas before the Europeans came.  The Aztec people migrated from the north to a valley in central Mexico and built a great city on an island in Lake Texcoco.  They built causeways, or land bridges, to connect the island to the mainland.   They also built man-made island gardens called chinampas. During the 1400’s Aztec warriors conquered many other people using military force, and built a large empire.  The people they conquered had to pay tribute of food, clothing and other goods to the Aztecs.  The Aztecs made many offerings to their gods and believed that the gods demanded human sacrifice.  In battle, they tried to capture their enemies alive so that they could have slaves or so that they could sacrifice them during religious ceremonies.  In the 1500’s Spanish conquistadors used weapons such as cannons to defeat the Aztec ruler.  They built a new city over the ruins of the Aztec city.  This city later became Mexico City. 
        The Inca Empire began in a valley between the peaks of the Andes Mountains in the 1200’s.  It spread to include a large area on the South American continent from the Pacific Oceans to high plateaus in the Andes Mountains.  The Incas also conquered people by military force.  They built roads and causeways to connect parts of their empire.  In the 1500’s the Spanish conquistadors also defeated the Inca ruler with military force and trickery.
Traces of both Aztec and Inca culture are still seen today in the remains of their roads, buildings and monuments.  Traces of these cultures can also be seen in the traditions and language of people living in Mexico and Peru.


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Ancient civilizations summaries

Ancient Civilizations

  1. Byzantine and Islamic Worlds: Founded in 303 AD by Constantin as capital of Roman Empire . The Byzantine Empire began as the Roman Empire. Emperor Constantine founded the city of Byzantium on the site of a former Greek city-state, and made it the capital of the Roman Empire. The official founding date was 11 May, 330AD. He also decreed that Christianity would become the official religion, although at the start nobody was forced to be Christian. In later years, the worship of the old pagan gods was outlawed.

2. Celts: The Celt, also spelled KELT, Latin CELTA, plural Celtae, a member of an early Indo-European people who from the 2nd millennium BC to the 1st century BC spread over much of Europe. The people who made up the various tribes of concern were called Galli by the Romans and 'Galatai' or 'Keltoi' by the Greeks, terms meaning 'barbarian' (Celts, Celt, Celtic civilization). It is from the Greek 'Keltoi' that 'Celt' is derived.
1000-750BC - Proto-Celtic people of the Urnfield culture dominate much of Continental Europe. Also start to spread out over northern Asia as far as the frontiers of China. Development of the deliberate smelting of iron in the Middle East and China around the same time. Prompting the title 'The Iron Age' for this period.
3.  China: China is the world's oldest surviving nation. It is well over 4000 years old and shows no sign of leaving. Sometimes studying its history can be a long and confusing path. With each emperor and each dynasty it only seems to get more complicated. It is also hard to mark its beginning. Some say it started with the Hsia dynasty. Others claim that people had an organized society before them. Whatever the case, Chinese history can be a very interesting subject.
4. Egypt: Egypt was the longest-lived civilization in the ancient world. Their ancient culture along the Nile River in northeastern Africa began about 3,300 BC and thrived for over 3,000 years. Seasonal rains in the southern highlands inundated the Nile every year causing the river to overflow its banks. When the floodwaters receded, a layer of rich black topsoil covered the flood plain. This condition enabled the Egyptians to develop a successful farming economy.
5. Greece- Neolithic to the Classical Period. Covering important topics, such as Art and Architecture, Mythology, Wars, Culture and Society, Poetry, Olympics, History Periods, Philosophy, Playwrights, Kings and Rulers of Ancient Greece.

6. India: Two Parts:

  1. Maurya Empire- Almost all of the subcontinent was conquered by the Maurya Empire during the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE. It subsequently became fragmented, with various parts ruled by numerous Middle kingdoms for the next 1,500 years. This is known as the classical period of Indian history, during which India has sometimes been estimated to have had the largest economy of the ancient and medieval world, controlling between one third and one fourth of the world's wealth up to the 18th century.
  2. Gupta Empire.- Much of northern and central India was once again united in the 4th century CE, and remained so for two centuries thereafter, under the Gupta Empire. This period, witnessing a Hindu religious and intellectual resurgence, is known among its admirers as the "Golden Age of India". During the same time, and for several centuries afterwards, southern India, under the rule of the Chalukyas, Cholas, Pallavas, and Pandyas, experienced its own golden age. During this period, aspects of Indian civilization, administration, culture, and religion (Hinduism and Buddhism) spread to much of Asia.

7. Mesopotamia: Mesopotamia, the land between the rivers, derives its name and existence from the rivers Tigris and Euphrates. These two rivers created the Fertile Crescent in the midst of surrounding inhospitable territory. The space we call Mesopotamia is roughly the same as that of the modern country of Iraq.
About ten thousand years ago, the people of this area began the agricultural revolution. Instead of hunting and gathering their food, they domesticated plants and animals, beginning with the sheep. They lived in houses built from reeds or mud-brick, grouped in villages where they tended their crops. They built granaries to store their grain, and they began developing a token system to record trade and accounts.
8) Persians: The Persian Empire was one of the most successful empires of all time and set many landmarks that are still alive today. Persia is the historical name for the country of Iran. A Persian monarch is also named a shah. These are just some facts about Persia and it flourished through the years. Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, many Indo-European speaking clans (Persians) were scattered all over southwestern Iran.
9) Romans: Ancient Rome was a civilization that grew out of a small agricultural community, founded on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 10th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea, and centered at the city of Rome, it became one of the largest empires in the ancient world.[1]
In its centuries of existence, Roman civilization shifted from a monarchy to an oligarchic republic to an increasingly autocratic empire. It came to dominate South-Western Europe, South-Eastern Europe/Balkans and the Mediterranean region through conquest and assimilation.



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Ancient civilizations summaries

History 50 -- Class Summaries                                                                                Spring 2003


Background to Civilization -- the development of homo sapiens sapiens before the Neolithic Revolution.  Our species emerges in about 100,000 BCE, probably in East Africa, competes with Neanderthals, eliminates them; humans live in small communities where life is uncertain but simple and relatively egalitarian.  This is to change with the Neolithic Revolution.

            The Neolithic (Agricultural) Revolution, c. 8000 BCE -- the beginning trappings of civilization, e.g., a             technological revolution (pottery, bronze tools, the wheel, etc.) in which humans settled down, began to live in cities, and invented agriculture and animal husbandry.  Occurred in the Ancient Near East and spread to other areas..

            What are the ingredients of 'civilization?'  Urban (importance of commercial centers, capitals and administrative centers), complex and stratified (advanced division of labor leads to radical inequality among the sexes and classes), literate (starts off as record-keeping and then used in religion), things of the mind and spirit, including painting, sculpture, monumental architecture, epic poetry, etc.


Development of Civilization in Mesopotamia

            Why did it happen in Mesopotamia,/Sumer?  All the early civilizations occurred in river valleys -- water, transportation, fertile ground, long growing season.  Obviously requires organization to put the water to good use.

            Began with Sumerian city-states, which fell to Semitic (Akkadian) invaders after a few centuries.  The perils of disunity; the nomads enter the civilized areas.  Hammurabi the most famous of all Semitic kings, largely because of his law code.  Living around 1700 BCE, his capital was at Babylon.

            Mesopotamia was literate -- cuneiform: wedge-shaped characters on clay tablets which after a while are baked to make them last longer.  A pictographic writing system (similar in principle to the Chinese, but unlike the phonetic Phoenician system).  Used in the beginning for record keeping, but soon turned to religious and literary purposes.  The cuneiform system was used by successive nations in this period to express their language.

            The famous code of Hammurabi was found on a stele by 19th century archeologists.  Hammurabi protested much that he sought to protect the weak and the poor as well as the rich and powerful.

            Mesopotamian society was hierarchic with three castes and great inequalities.  There was a significant mercantile establishment that conducted trade with other parts of the Near East.  Agriculture was the main economic activity.  The legal code showed some signs of humanitarian fairness (e.g., the prevalence of fines instead of harsher punishments), but was basically harsh, employing the 'eye-for-an-eye' principle.  Women were primarily domestic creatures and second-class citizens, but the Code of Hammurabi does discuss their rights extensively and gives them some guarantees.

            Religion is the rather typical anthropomorphic polytheism of the ancient world; the main gods stood mainly for big natural forces.  Mesopotamian religion is quite pessimistic, perhaps reflecting the warfare and natural disasters common to the region (compare the much more favorable climacitc conditions in Egypt).  In the Flood Story from Gilgamesh Enlil sends the waters because earth people are making so much noise that he can't sleep at night (compare to Bible where God is angry at the Hebrews because they have misbehaved ethically and broken the covenant).  In "Lament for Ur" Enlil sends disasters to oppress Ur, but with no indication of why; the text says that he "hates" Ur.  There is no, or little, idea of an afterlife: in the epic Gilgamesh seeks eternal life, but is finally told that there is no such thing.  Death is dark, dank, inert; if there is some survival after death, it appears it would be better to be dead.


The Ancient Civilization of Egypt

Brief discussion of the NOVA website on the Internet.  The author argues that the pyramids were built by native Egyptians using their own labor, architects and technology; it is not necessary to posit unknown civilizations, etc. that mysteriously constructed these great monuments.  The author has also discovered the remnants of bakeries and fish-processing plants that prepared "loaves and fishes" for the Egyptian laborers drafted to work on the pyramids.

Egyptian geography was kind to Egypt.  The gentle flooding of the Nile brought water and nutrients to the soil on an annual predictable schedule.  Enormous amounts of warm weather and sunshine making for a long growing season. The Nile was an effective superhighway uniting Upper and Lower Egypt; a boat's progress upstream (south) enabled by northerly winds. Egypt was relatively isolated from exterior threats thus contributing to the famous stability and continuity of Egyptian civilization.

The rough chronology of Egyptian history: 1) the Old Kingdom in the middle of the 3rd millennium BCE; 2) the Middle Kingdom in the first part of the 2nd millennium BCE; 3) the New Kingdom in the second part of the 2nd millennium BCE; 4) various periods of foreign domination culminating in the Hellenistic Ptolemies and Cleopatra. The Romans take over in the first century BCE, followed by the Arabs in the 7th century CE.

The Old Kingdom is the classical period of Egyptian history.  The pharaoh reigned supreme over the land; he was a god himself and the key to a good relationship with the major gods.  Egypt was administered by an effective bureaucracy (look at the pyramids!), was primarily an agricultural economy, and was a hierarchical society with the bulk of the population being serfs under the rule of their landlords and who owed labor service to the state.  Egypt's form of writing was hieroglyphics that was used first for religious incantations but evolved into a general writing system.  Like cuneiform it was originally pictographic.  Modern archeologists were first able to decipher old hieroglyphics with the discovery of the Rosetta Stone by French archeologists in Egypt in 1799.  Later versions of Egyptian writing, known as hieratic and then demotic, usually appeared on papyrus rolls.

Ancient Egyptian religion was, like Mesopotamia's, polytheistic.  Re, the sun disc, was the chief god.  The story of Isis and Osiris points out 1) the presence of romantic relations between the sexes in Egyptian society, and 2) a pervasive search for immortality in this culture.  Osiris becomes the god of the Underworld after his "resurrection" by his wife.  The cult of Isis becomes very popular in the Roman Empire, and is perhaps a transition to adherence to Christianity.

In the Old Kingdom the pharaoh and the very rich were able to attain eternal life by going through elaborate funerary and burial rituals so as to identify themselves with Osiris.  This was particularly important for the pharaoh since Egypt needed an advocate in the afterlife.  Mummi-fication, incantations, amulets, scarabs, wall paintings, etc. were all important to achieve eternal life.  The mummy must be preserved since the spiritual ka must have a physical one to reside in in the afterlife; the mummy should also physically resemble the dead person, and preferably wall paintings should include the facial features of the dead.  The funeral chamber should be equipped with wall paintings and other artworks that provide the deceased with the necessities and pleasures of life; suitable prayers and incantations should be said to ease the deceased's passage to the afterlife.  Security of the burial chamber was of course indispensable; grave robbers were common even in ancient Egypt.

            There was little ethical content to the Old Kingdom formula for eternity, but in the New Kingdom good behavior was considered indispensable: souls recently died appeared before the Judge of the Dead and established that they had been morally good in their lifetimes.

Egyptian sculpture was very famous and influential. It had elements of realism, but the formulaic, stylized characteristics stand out.  The statue of Menkaure and his wife is stiff, formal and frozen (unlike "natural" Greek sculpture).  The iconography of painted subjects often included three simultaneous views in one depiction of a human subject, presumably to facilitate the ka's recognizing the person.

The New Kingdom was a time of change, at least more than usual in Egyptian history.  Famous rulers include Hathshepsut (Egypt's only queen and the builder of a spectacular funerary temple not far from the Valley of the Kings), and Ramses II, the great conqueror of the 13th century BCE.  Major changes:

            1) Egypt acquired an Empire, all the way from Syria and Palestine and up the Nile River to Nubia.  New military technology (bronze and wheeled chariots) is introduced.  It is in this period that the Hebrews are brought as slaves to Egypt.

            2) The power of the priest caste is greater than in the Old Kingdom, as witnessed by the great temple complexes at Thebes and Luxor (these were not burial chambers, but specialized buildings for the worship of the gods).  Pharaohs and others abandon the pyramids as too expensive and insecure, and instead bury (using more or less the same rites) in underground chambers carved in the cliffs of the Valley of the Kings.

            3) Akhnaton tries religion experiment in the 14th century BCE -- worship of the sun disc (Aton), who is essentially the only God.  An interesting experiment in monotheism that did not outlast the life of the pharaoh; the old rites and priests were restored under the reign of his successor, Tutankhamon, famous mainly because of the "good" fortune of having his tomb discovered and raided by the English archeologist Carter in the 1920's.


Ancient Civilization in India

Be familiar with the essential geography of India: its extent; the Ganges and Indus Valleys; the Deccan Plateau, the island of Sri Lanka; the monsoon climactic pattern in East India; India as unified more as social and cultural whole rather than politically; the present-day religious divisions of India.

The enigma of the Harappan Civilization in the Indus Valley: passed through the Agricultural Revolution about 6500 BCE, and then to civilization by the 3rc millennium BCE.  Western archeologists did not discover any remains until the 1920's.  The civilization seems in many ways similar to Sumer.  Agricultural economy, walled cities, autonomous city-states that traded and probably warred among themselves.  Two major cities -- Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. 

Harappa apparently went though a period of decay in the 2nd millennium BCE, and was progressively overrun by the Aryans, a subgroup of the Indo-European tribes (origins around the Black Sea) who migrated to areas such as Ireland, France, Germany, Italy and Greece in this period. The Aryans were relatively light-skinned and established themselves as a kind of elite over the dark-skinned native peoples, sometimes called Dravidians (descended from the Harappans?).  The peoples of southern India remained more dark-skinned.  The Aryans brought their chiefs (rajas) who often coalesced larger political units under maharajas.  They brought iron implements and turned the Ganges Valley into one of the great fertile regions of world agriculture.

The true Aryans had very little to do with the Aryan racial theories advanced by Nazis and other European and North Americann racists in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Mauryan Empire was created by Chandragupta Maurya at the end of the 3rd century BCE.  It was quite despotic in structure with a large army and bureaucracy.  The Mauryans followed the Hindu practice of ruling benevolently in the interests of their people.  Most of the information we have about his reign comes from the Greek writer Megasthenes.  The Greeks love to investigate and write!

The caste system in ancient India is a particularly rigid version of ancient hierarchical societies.  Much of it is based on color distinctions between upper caste Aryans and lower caste Dravidians.  The four main castes (brahmins, kshatriya, vaisya, sudras, and untouchables, the last of which is not really part of the caste system) are rigorously separated, not eating together, not intermarrying, performing assigned economic functions, etc.  The Untouchables perform the worst jobs and are true outcasts. (In the 20th century Mohandas Gandhi campaigned against the caste system.  Discrimination against the untouchables was outlawed by the 1946 Indian constitution.)

Women had a particularly low status in Ancient India (always considered minors, cannot own property, etc.).  Note the tradition of the sati where women are expected to sacrifice themselves on the funeral pyres of their husbands.  Codified by the Law of Manu.


The Ramayana provides opportunity for class discussion.  The discussion focused on four topics. 1) Rama as the "typical" Indian hero.  He was a great warrior, but also had important civilian virtues such as conscientiousness, concern for the well-being of his subjects, fidelity to his word, a certain amount of prudence....  He does make some mistakes (carelessly allowing Sita to be kidnapped, unjustly accusing Sita of infidelity, etc.), but they are always corrected, and he appears to learn from them.  2) Divine and mortal in the world of Indian myth.  The two are thoroughly mixed (contrast with modern secular assumptions of western society).  The world in peopled with devils.  Human and divine natures are often mixed as in the case of Rama (avatar of Vishnu) and Sita.  Combat takes place with supernatural weapons, incantations, mantras, etc.  If someone appears to you, you always ask the question of whether it is a supernatural illusion.      3) The status of women.  In general women should remain in the private sphere, stay at home.  They are powerful because of their influence over men (men don't resist female beauty); they are dangerous because of their willfulness and must be resisted.  Many of the bad decisions made by men in the story are because of the influence of women such as Kaikeyi and Soorpanaka (she is an asura).  Sita is the ideal of the woman, beautiful, sensible, restrained, virtuous, domestic and faithful.  4) Every person in the story is subject to dharma, his duty, his own moral code (which in Hindu tradition can vary from caste to caste).  The story is fascinated with moral debate of which there are several; characters stop fairly often to discuss what is right, wrong or proper; no one seems to have any compunction about speaking out on important subjects, e.g., whether it was proper for Rama to have killed Vali.  The story is a strong melodrama -- the good guys are clearly separated from the bad guys, and the former win in the long run; the story has a happy ending; even the evil characters tend to repent from their evil ways when they are dying.


Indian Religion has had a particularly powerful impact on the world.  Yoga, vegetarianism, and Zen Buddhism are quite popular in contemporary USA.

Hinduism is the original religion that grew out of the experience following the Aryan invasion.  Its classic texts are the Vedas and the Upanishads.  There was a great reform flux in Hinduism about the time of Siddhartha (6th century BCE).  It is very complex and constantly changing shape (e.g., just who are the chief gods in the Indian pantheon?).  It is polytheistic, the main gods often being Brahman (creation), Vishnu (preserver), and Siva (destroyer).  It has two sets of practices for ordinary Indians; 1) the way of sacrifice: accept success and comfort in the world and satisfy the gods with animal and other sacrifices; the priests are very important for knowing what you need to do to attain salvation; 2) asceticism, kind of the opposite extreme: deny oneself all pleasure of life -- sex, meat, comfort, etc., even some forms of self-mutilation.  Mostly brahmins are active here.  Modern-day yoga comes out of asceticism, although self-mutilation was not the norm among ascetics.

            Hinduism believes in reincarnation, i.e., the individual soul (atman) may move up the ladder of creation to final fulfillment, union with Brahman.  The scale more or less corresponds to the different ranks of the caste system, with animals listed below (the most exalted animal is the cow).  At each level the individual has a dharma that is peculiar to that stage; you accumulate karma while alive; if you have good karma, you may move on to the next stage through (apparent) death and reincarnation.  You eventually escape from the world to union in a "dreamless sleep" with Brahman.  It may however take a long time!

Buddhism.  Siddhartha Gautama, "The Buddha" founded this "religion," although he probably did not mean to found a new religion.  He was dissatisfied with Hinduism, which he found too complex, too hierarchical, and too extreme.  After living lives of secular enjoyment and then of extreme asceticism, he experienced "enlightenment" as a young man under a bo tree.  Buddhism is probably best seen as reformed Hinduism (admittedly a rather radical one).  Buddha accepted the Hindu ideas of karma, reincarnation and fulfillment, which he called nirvana.  Nirvana would bring peace and serenity as individuals renounced their individuality and dependence on material things.  He denied the objective existence of the individual soul, and proclaimed the individual and the material world an illusion; reality was spirit.  In his Benares Sermon, he proclaimed the Four Noble Truths and the Middle Way, in which he opted for a more consistent, simpler and egalitarian religious way: as an ethic he preached renunciation without self-mutilation.  Buddha did not claim to be God, but in later centuries, many of his followers did state that he was a worldly manifestation of the World Spirit.

            The spread of Buddhism was sure and persistent, although sometimes slow.  The Mauryan king Asoka, after spending his earlier years fighting, converted to Buddhism; thereafter, he ruled in a more public-spirited manner, and promoted Buddhism (missionaries and monasteries) throughout India.  He renounced public violence, and proclaimed tolerance in his reign; all "conquests" were to be made by persuasion.  He erected inscribed pillars throughout his domains to explain his values.  His son carried the religion to Sri Lanka.  Buddhism later spread to Asia: first to Southeast Asia (Thailand and Myanmar), and then over the Silk Road to China, where it became the quintessential Chinese religion.  From China it continued to Korea and Japan, and later to Indochina.  Buddhism became enrooted in India, but was never practiced by more than a small minority of the Indian population.

The Mauryan Empire split up shortly after the death of Asoka, and India returned to a 500-year period of political disunity.


Ancient China

The oldest continuous civilization (contrast with the instability of the West), although it originated at least a millennium after the older civilizations.

The geography of ancient China.  Civilization originated first on the Yellow River, later spreading to the Yangtze River Valley under the Zhou Dynasty.  China is relatively isolated from the rest of the world.

The mythology of the founding of China: the gifts brought by the gods Fu Xi, Shen Nung and Huang Ti.

The Shang Dynasty (c. 1700 BCE - 1100 BCE).  Grew up in North China.  Some speculation by archeologists that the civilization might be influenced by Indo-European invaders, whose remains have been discovered recently in Xinjiang Province.  Governance was largely feudal (aristocratic) in this period.  Contrast the tradition of bureaucratic central rule (typical of most phases of Chinese history) and a feudal system (government by personal relationship), which is much less effective as central government.  The Shang known for their bronzes.

Overthrown around 1100 BCE by the Zhou Dynasty: a bigger state that embraces the Yangtze Valley and which decreases the power of the nobility.  The state is more centralized, and the Emperor is thought to rule with the "Mandate of Heaven," (Tian Ming) by which he has responsibility to implement the laws of the universe in China.  If the Emperor doesn't do a good job, he is subject to being overthrown and replaced by a ruler who will do better.  The last phase of the Zhou was characterized by internal conflict, "The Era of the Warring States."  The economy was prosperous: development of a merchant class (closely supervised by the state) that exported silk products along the Silk Road; invention of coinage; technological innovations such as iron plowshares and natural fertilizer; a strong tradition of public works, especially to control flooding along the rivers and to provide irrigation water.

About this time the Chinese develop their ideographic and pictographic language that soon has thousands of characters.  Chinese never evolves into a phonetic system, partly because of the beauty of Chinese writing (calligraphy), but mainly because the written language is an important unifying force in China.  Development of a privileged and valuable class of scribes/scholars who make up the backbone of the future Chinese bureaucracy.  The high prestige of scholars and learning in traditional Chinese society.

The Hundred Schools of Ancient Philosophy.  Things going poorly in the late Zhou -- the period of the "Warring States."  This prompts a rethinking of the basics of ethics and political theory, and leads to the Golden Age of Chinese philosophy.  These thinkers interested less in religion, theology, metaphysics, etc., and more in principles of right behavior (ethics), and political and social theory.  They influence educated folk and intellectuals, and hardly at all the common people.

1) The most conservative of the schools was Legalism.  The most famous proponent was Han Fei, a noble educated under the Confucian system, who advised Shi Huangdi before he became Emperor; Shi Huangdi had him executed before taking over his ideas! Legalists believed that human nature was essentially destructive, and that the only way to attain a certain level of harmony and happiness was by detailed legal codes with draconian punishments that would deter anti-social behavior.  The most important political factor is doing the will of the ruler, not looking to some code of behavior.

2) By far the most popular and influential was Confucianism, developed by the great teacher Confucius in the 6th century BCE.  He was a pragmatist and a moderate, and concerned primarily with secular rather than religious issues.  Every individual has the duty to follow his dao (the way), which is the proper behavior for a person of that station; even the ruler must follow his dao, which was to see universal law brought down to earth.  If the individual does his duty, then the family does its duty, and so on up the line to the ruler.  He developed ethical values of humanity, which included compassion, empathy, the Golden Rule ("Do not do unto others as you would not have them doing unto you!") tending toward "serene repose" and "calmness of mind."  He thought the state must be reformed, mainly by giving preference to the meritorious, who would dominate the state at the expense of the nobles and those of hereditary influence.  The rule of merit became a key part of Chinese political tradition after Confucius.  The ruler was expected to reflect the virtues of the scholar -- an enlightened educated gentleman.  Confucians generally preached the value of tolerance. They stressed obedience to those in positions of authority -- children should obey their parents, peasants their lords, etc.\

3) Daoism has much less influence on ethics, social and political theory, and more on personal religion and ritual.  Daoism is individualistic and anarchic.  It is anti-rational and to some extent anti-social.  Individuals should seek to conform to their own dao by "inaction" and a kind of spontaneous conformity with the impulses of their own nature.  Daoism has certain resemblances with extreme manifestations of European Romanticism.  It is later influenced by Buddhism when it makes its way into China.  Daoism more or less leaves the political and social field open to Legalism and Confucianism.

Most of these religious movement have little to do with the common people, who maintain a sort of polytheism with an emphasis on honor and sacrifice to ancestors (so-called "ancestor worship").


The Qin Dynasty identified almost entirely with the rule of Qin Shi Huangdi, 221-206.

This was an attempt to set up in China a sort of totalitarian state, in which the state would dominate most areas of life.  The Emperor was a sort of megalomaniac who thought he could completely dominate Chinese society through an extreme application of Legalism.  He set up a highly centralized bureaucracy, and under his rule eunuchs became highly influential at the court.  The state made an attempt at thought control, and the historian Sima Qian reports book burnings and other measures to control the opinions of Chinese people.  Qin Shi Huangdi pursued an aggressive foreign policy pushing Chinese dominion south into Vietnam and constructing the first version of the Great Wall aimed at the nomadic horseman operating to the north. His megalomania demonstrated by his enormous tomb that was begun to be unearthed in the 1970's: so far terra cotta representations of 6000 palace guards have been uncovered with much more to come.  The scale of the tomb reminds one of the pyramids of ancient Egypt.  The Qin Dynasty collapsed within a couple years of the Emperor's death.

The Han Dynasty succeeded the Qin and lasted for about 400 years.  This restoration of a more traditional regime was met with great relief; Chinese historians have treated this period as one of the gold ages of China.  The Han maintained the Legalist framework of Qin law and administration, but did away with the thought control and persecution of dissent.  Confucianism with its moderation and its concern for the public welfare was adopted as a kind of official ideology.  In 165 BCE the first civil service exams were administered: henceforth, young people acquired jobs in the Chinese bureaucracy based on their knowledge of Chinese language and the classics.  The Han was a time of great prosperity: many technological innovations, for example in the are of ship navigation; maintenance of the imperial expansion of the Qin; pursuit of trade with points west along the Silk Road; the population of China climbed from about 20 million to about 50-60 million.  Problems set in in the last decades of the dynasty, with the Han disappearing in the 3rd century CE.  Court intrigues, especially centered around the eunuchs, became a problem in the central government.  The provinces saw an increasing impoverishment of the peasantry, and a rise of the influence of the nobility at the expense of the central government.

After the fall of the Han, the country entered a period of weakness and instability that lasted almost 400 years until the unification of China under the Tang in the 7th century.

The family had great importance throughout Chinese history.  An exception was under the Qin, who tried to reduce the significance of the family vis-à-vis the state, but official favor was restored under the Han.  The family was adopted by Confucianism as the center of its social philosophy: it was the most basic of the "five relationships" stressing filial piety and obedience.  Women remain quite subordinate and domesticated in Chinese society; as the poet says, "how sad it is to be a women." (p. 86)



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