16 December 2015

Tea Party Anniversary

I recently finished an American History course at the local community college, just for fun. My final essay asked the rather open-ended question: “What historical events led to the American Revolution?” (© 2015 Professor Traci Hodgson). On the 242nd anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, I share with you my loquacious answer, for which I proudly received 13 of a possible 13 points. Instructor feedback was: “Overall a strong essay that mixes issues and attitudes with events very effectively.”

Although in hindsight the American Revolution seems to have been a foregone conclusion, it was far from a certainty virtually throughout the colonial period, and indeed during the War itself. Distance and temperament separated the colonists from the Mother Country, yet loyalties and devotions were decidedly divided. It took certain intolerable acts, including acts of the British Parliament named exactly so by the colonists, to generate sufficient resentment amongst enough of the people of the colonies to drive them to take up arms.

In February of 1763, the Treaty of Paris officially brought the French and Indian War to an end. France lost most of its North American holdings, giving control of Canada and the area between the Mississippi River and the Appalachian Mountains to Britain, and the area west of the Mississippi to Spain. As the British asserted control in the territory, clashes with Native American groups increased, leading to Pontiac’s Rebellion, an uprising of allied Native American tribes in the Midwest and Great Lakes regions.

By October of 1763, King George issued a Royal Proclamation forbidding colonial settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains (it also established governance in Quebec, Florida, and the South American island of Grenada). The colonists were angered by this restriction on their expansion as ever increasing numbers of farmers and pioneers sought to move west in the hopes of finding new land to cultivate, and to escape the increasing population density along the coastal areas.

By 1764, massive war debt and the cost of policing the colonies led the British government to pass the Sugar Act -a revenue raising measure- and the Currency Act, which forbade the colonies from issuing paper money. These edicts burdened the colonies with an onerous tax and eliminated an easier way of paying it. Coming in the midst of a post-war recession, the colonists began to resent what they considered Parliamentary indifference to their situation, taxes being passed without the consultation and approval of those paying them. The public outcry against “taxation without representation” began to take shape. Although they resisted these impositions, most colonists still considered themselves British citizens, and resented not so much the taxes imposed as the fact that they were imposed without consent.

In 1765, Parliament imposed the Stamp Act upon the colonies, which provided that paper materials such as pamphlets and newspapers, even playing cards, and certain necessary legal documents such as deeds, contracts, and licenses must bear a stamp purchased from the government in the form of a tax. To the colonists, this was abuse of power and a violation of their basic rights as British citizens. Protests in a number of places turned violent, including Boston, Massachusetts and Newport, Rhode Island, where local representatives of the British government were hanged in effigy. An assembly known as the Stamp Act Congress met, with delegates from nine colonies, drafting and delivering a Declaration of Rights and Grievances to England. While it protested the policies of Parliament and (indirectly) the King, it reaffirmed the colonists’ loyalties and responsibilities as British subjects.

In 1766, the unpopular Stamp Act was repealed, however, Parliament simultaneously issued the Declaratory Act, asserting its absolute right and authority to make and enforce laws binding upon the colonies. The following year, then-Chancellor of the Exchequer (Britain’s senior Treasury official) Charles Townshend spurred Parliament to issue a series of new taxes on imported goods in what came to be known as the Townshend Acts. As the colonies were dependent upon imports for a great many commodities and other necessities otherwise unavailable, these duties hit the colonies especially hard.

War began to appear likely in 1768 as the British sent warships and troops into Boston to quell the violence and support its embattled officials. The Sons of Liberty, a secret society of influential colonial men, agitated colonists to resist the enforcement of taxation, and to boycott taxed goods. A number of prominent political and military leaders of the Revolution and the early American government were members of the Sons, including Samuel Adams, Benedict Arnold, John Hancock, Paul Revere, and Patrick Henry.

On January 19, 1770 in New York City, a clash between British soldiers and angry townspeople resulted in the death of one citizen and numerous wounded on both sides. The situation grew truly ugly in March when a similar clash resulted in the shooting deaths of five Bostonian men in what was billed by colonial leaders as the Boston Massacre. In June of 1772, the anti-smuggling ship HMS Gaspee was pillaged and burned by a group of Rhode Island men after running aground off the coast.

In 1773, Parliament passed the Tea Act, an action giving favorable trade status to the British East India Company (BEIC), but leaving import taxes on the colonies in place. On December 16, 1773, a group of Patriots, disguised as Native Americans, boarded a BEIC tea ship anchored in Boston Harbor, dumping its valuable cargo into the bay, an event known to history as the Boston Tea Party.

The year 1774 saw Britain pass the aforementioned Intolerable Acts, which included the Boston Port Act, a direct response to the Boston Tea Party, closing Boston Harbor to shipping until restitution to the BEIC was made for its lost cargo. The Administration of Justice Act took trial jurisdiction against British government officials out of the hands of colonial courts. The Massachusetts Government Act, passed the same day as the Administration act, effectively revoked the colonial charter of Massachusetts, stripped election of the colony’s Executive Council from its citizens, and declared that the council be appointed by the King. The Quartering Act, passed a few weeks later, governed the quartering of British troops in private homes and public buildings: By agreement, according to the act; by force, according to the colonists. The Quebec Act, establishing governmental organization to the colony of Quebec, effectively removed control of the Ohio Territory from its elected assemblies.

By April of the following year, colonial forces would face off against the British Army at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, turning a smoldering resistance into a war of revolution. More than another year would pass before the colonies would declare their independence from the British Crown.

The American Revolution was not precipitated by a single act of provocation by either party, but by the accumulated resentment of more than a decade of actions, and enforcement of such, by the British government, or by the treason of many colonists, depending upon whose propaganda one consults. Even then, only a minority of colonists supported active military resistance against the Crown, and one-fifth remained loyal, many of them fighting their neighbors alongside the British Army. Both the eventuality and the outcome of the war were in doubt virtually until the signing of the 1783 Treaty of Paris and the evacuation of the remaining British troops from New York that November.

01 October 2015

#UCCShooting #Haiku

Sad return haiku.
Shootings at Umpqua College
Roseburg, Oregon.

30 September 2015

#History of World Civilization, Day Thirty

The Crusades

What were the causes and results of the Crusades?

The Crusades were a series of church-sanctioned military expeditions from Europe to the Holy Land between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries. Their purpose and results have been controversial subjects from the beginning. They have variously been described as holy wars, moneymaking ventures, quests for personal glory, land grabs, and atrocities. They had a profound effect on the cultural and political landscape of both Europe and the Middle East.

Although there were a number of minor crusades, some within Christendom for political reasons, what historians normally call the Crusades began as an assault on the Muslim holders of what Christians (mainly the Roman Catholic Church under various popes) considered the “Holy Lands,” most particularly Jerusalem, which had been under Muslim dominion since 637 AD. The Crusades were by no means simply Christians versus Muslims, however, as various nominally Christian factions fought with each other and against the Byzantine Empire. In 1204, a crusader army looted and pillaged Constantinople, fatally weakening the Byzantines, leaving them ripe for the picking by the Ottoman Turks in the fifteenth century. Nevertheless, the stated purpose of the Roman Catholic Church was to free “Christian” lands from the hands of Muslim usurpers. To this end, the popes used oaths of loyalty, admonitions of duty, and both indulgence and forgiveness of sins to coax European nobles and their vassals to undertake the arduous journey thousands of miles from home to fight the enemies of God.

Various religious/military orders arose from the crusades, most notably the Knights Templar, which became immensely wealthy before being outlawed by Pope Clement V at the behest of King Philip IV of France, likely because he owed the Templars –who were bankers as much as soldiers- enormous debts he could not pay. By declaring the Templars heretics, he not only cancelled his debts, but he and the church confiscated the immense holdings of the Templars. Despite this official persecution and the torture and murder of thousands of Templars, enough of them survived or disappeared to keep Templar legend alive, sometimes associated with Freemasonry. The outfitting and provision of huge armies led to significant economic benefits for traders in Europe and along the routes to Jerusalem. A number of Frankish and other crusaders, rather than liberating the lands they conquered, set up their own kingdoms. Enormous sums of wealth changed hands, both in pillage and trade. Fortunes were made and lost on all sides. The crusades were not an event, rather a series of events, with varying results and degrees of success and failure. The First Crusade captured Jerusalem after a siege and massacre in 1099 AD. It was reconquered by the Ayyubid Dynasty in 1187 AD, and but for a brief revival of the Kingdom between 1229 and1244 AD, it would remain largely in Muslim/Ottoman hands until the British overthrew the Ottomans in 1917 AD.

One of the most lasting results of the crusades was the Europization of the population of the Levant. Many of the European invaders stayed and intermarried with the local population, creating a significant Euro/Arab Roman Catholic population. After the British takeover, “Levantine” was a racial slur used to refer to “Christians” who had adopted Arab customs and dress. The Crusades also legitimized the use of military force by the church. This would have profound influence in the form of European internal wars of religion, and the indigenous peoples of the Americas under the Spanish Inquisition.

29 September 2015

#History of World Civilization, Day Twenty-Nine

Scholasticism and The Middle Ages

What was scholasticism? How did St. Thomas Aquinas influence medieval philosophy?

Scholasticism describes the intellectual effort of both Byzantine Christians and Muslim scholars to harmonize their sacred writings with the natural science and rationalism of the Ancient Greeks, particularly Aristotle. Aristotelian writings were being translated into Latin by monks and taken up by scholars in the greatest schools of the time.

Saint Thomas Aquinas was a Christian scholar at the University of Paris, who studied both the scriptures and Aristotle in meticulous detail. He found no contradiction whatever with the two philosophies. In his view, God created a rational, ordered universe. Of course, it could be expected to operate according to rational, discoverable, inviolable laws. Rather than disprove the Bible, science simply proved the greatness and wisdom of God to have created a universe of such precise and dependable order. Man’s ability to reason and discover this great order further demonstrated both his wisdom and his grace in gifting His highest creation with a small reflection of his intellect. Christians did not need to fear science, and some of the greatest scientists, astronomers, philosophers and mathematicians in history have been devout Christians: Roger Bacon, Copernicus, Brahe, Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Kelvin, George Washington Carver, Max Planck, Werner von Braun, Pascual Jordan, and 2007 Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry, Gerhard Ertl. Aquinas was among the first to prove a Christian need not check his brain at the door when opening his bible. Further, almost all early educational institutions, particularly in Western Europe and the New World, were founded by religious organizations.

What were the significant aspects of popular medieval religion?

Popular medieval Christianity was almost exclusively the province of the Roman Catholic Church. For centuries, until the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, the Catholic Church, through the Pope and his emissaries, archbishops, and bishops, were the sole authority on matters of doctrine and scripture. It was during this time that the church developed its sacraments, such as Catholic baptism (forms of baptism with water had been practiced since before Jesus’ time), the Eucharist, penance, Holy Orders (service), marriage, and others. It also developed and refined its most significant doctrines, like the Trinity (threefold nature of the Godhead; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), substitutionary atonement (Christ’s death paid the penalty for man’s sins), and future return (as described in the New Testament book of The Revelations). The veneration and worship of Mary as the eternally virginal Mother of God developed as an official doctrine. The church was the leading political, social, and educational institution of medieval life. The Roman Catholic Church amassed enormous wealth and land holdings, and the Pope wielded the true political power by virtue of his right to anoint kings and emperors. Disagreements over doctrine, liturgy, the authority of the church, and the Crusades led to a cataclysmic split in the church as East separated from West, and the Eastern Orthodox Church was born. This was also a time of harmonization, both Scholasticism, and the incorporation of native (often pagan) rites and festivals into Christianity to ease the transition for converted pagans. Christmas, in particular, was profoundly affected, and many of the traditions we associate with Christmas as the celebration of the birth of Christ, were actually Germanic winter festival customs.

28 September 2015

#History of World Civilization, Day Twenty-Eight

Medieval Catholicism

How did monasticism develop in early medieval Europe? What was the impact of monasticism?

Monasticism developed from a desire of devout Christian men to separate themselves from the corrupting influences of the world to a cloistered, protected environment where they could devote themselves to prayer and the study of the Scriptures. These independent, often self-sufficient groups built sanctuaries and supporting buildings where devotees could live ascetic, tightly controlled lives away from others who were not so strictly devoted. They were largely autonomous, perhaps being aligned with others of a particular Order and following similar rituals, but each making their own rules. Monks often took vows to demonstrate their devotion and eliminate potential distractions. Vows of poverty (avoiding ownership of property and money), chastity and celibacy (forbidden to marry or even have intimate contact with another person), sometimes even silence, not being allowed to speak for long periods of time. Monks became the scribes of their day, diligently copying previous copies of scripture and other church literature.

Identify the significance of Gregory I on the Medieval Catholic Church.

Shortly following the rise of monasteries for male followers, convents arose for the similar segregation of female separatists, known as nuns. They followed similar rules and vows, had their own Orders, and carried out various charitable missions, such as the care of widows and orphans. Monasteries and convents became focal points of religious education and study. Despite individual vows of poverty, these cloisters often housed great quantities of gold and silver items used in religious rituals. This wealth made them easy targets for Viking raiders. The naïve and pacifist priests and monks were slaughtered or taken into slavery as the pagan Norsemen ravaged across their lands, looting and burning, before returning to their ships with their plunder. As these communities rebuilt, they learned to fashion their sacred items of wood and stone, items of no value to the raiders. Some of these locations housed special relics, believed to be the bones of other body parts of particular saints, or objects associated with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. The most famous of these relics is the Holy Grail, a chalice believed to be the cup Jesus used at the Last Supper, or alternately a cup used by Mary to capture the blood of Jesus as he hung on the cross.

Both of these legends are ridiculous for a number of practical reasons. Jesus was being executed as a criminal. The soldiers supervising the execution would never have allowed anyone near the site for fear of inciting riot, or giving the condemned’s friends an opportunity to intervene. Collecting blood would have been anathema, both for the Romans, who would not have wanted to create a martyr, and for the Jews, for whom touching blood or dead flesh made them ceremonially unclean. The cup Jesus used at the Last Supper was borrowed from his host, would have been quite ordinary, like every other cup on the table, and was in all likelihood gathered up, washed, and put away with all the other dishes by the women who cleaned up after dinner. The line in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” was one of the most profoundly accurate lines in movie history: Selecting a plain earthen drinking cup, Jones proclaims: “This is the cup of a carpenter. Nevertheless, the Grail (and other relics, such as pieces of the cross, the lance used to pierce Jesus’ side, etc.) has inspired myth and legend for two millennia. Various parties have claimed to possess the Grail, or know where it is hidden, and claims of immortality to anyone worthy to drink from the cup (a somewhat subjective standard) have driven treasure hunters and devout believers alike.

27 September 2015

#History of World Civilization Tour, Day Twenty-Seven

Medieval Catholicism

Identify the significance of Gregory I on the Medieval Catholic Church.

The baby who would become Pope Gregory I (he resisted the title himself) was born to a patrician family in Rome about 540 AD. After his father’s death, he converted his family home into a monastery. In 579 AD, Pelagius II appointed Gregory his ambassador to Constantinople, where he wrote extensively and became popular amongst the city’s aristocracy. When Pelagius died of the plague in 590 AD, although he would have preferred to retire to his monastery, Gregory was elected Pope. He immediately sought to regain papal control over church doctrine. He strongly supported the catholic confessional, and encouraged all Christians to confess their sins to the priests and receive acts of penance to atone for them. He was a prolific writer and reignited an interest in evangelism. He made extensive changes to church liturgy, and reforms to the sacraments known as the Sacrementaria Gregoriana. The plainchant form was standardized in the West under Gregory, and is still known as Gregorian chant. Gregory was known for his generosity, and encouraging others to follow his example. He established an efficient administration of alms and strongly admonished priests to not simply let the poor come to the church for help, but actively seek them out. Gregory I is also known as Gregory the Great, and is considered the apostle of England and source of their evangelization. The Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, The Church of England, and Lutheran and Episcopal churches in America all celebrate a feast day in his honor.

26 September 2015

#History of World Civilization, Day Twenty-Six

Western Europe after the Fall of Rome

What were the significant aspects of the Carolingian Empire? What did Charlemagne accomplish?

The Carolingian Empire was a Frankish German attempt at the reunification of the Western Roman Empire. Though it failed to unite Europe for long, it set the stage for strong kingdoms in Germany and France, and decisively defeated an invading Umayyad Army at the battle of Tours in October 732 AD.

The Carolingian is best noted for the reign of Charlemagne (768-814 AD). He established his capital in Aachen, but spent most of his reign traveling his realm, which was governed at the local level by counts who were nominally beholden to the Emperor, but were responsible for most aspects of local rule and in practice were nearly autonomous. All church matters of the empire were managed by the office of the chaplain, the highest office in the imperial court below the emperor. Dominical Emissaries traveled the realm in pairs, ensuring good governance and adherence to imperial will and law. Vassals were usually noble sons who formed part of the imperial army. Charlemagne created the “scabatini,” a sort of early lawyer/judge, a group of which advised each count on legal matters.

Charlemagne exercised great control over imperial coinage, setting its value and materials. Private mints were suppressed and the name of the Emperor appeared on the coin, rather than the minter. Imperial edicts were issued in the form of capitularies, which had to do with the administration of church and state matters. Cavalry became in increasingly important part of the military, as horses provided swift movement of troops, and the introduction of the stirrup in the late eighth century made the horse a more effective fighting platform.

Ultimately, the central empire was simply not strong enough to overcome the encroachment of Vikings from the north, and the ambitions of regional governors. The empire fractured into three kingdoms in 887 AD, roughly corresponding to modern France, Italy, and Germany/Belgium.

Describe feudalism. What were the obligations of lords toward their retainers and the retainers toward their lords? What was the code of ethics and behavior among the ranks of the nobility?

Feudalism is a decentralized system of government wherein local or regional exercise control over a system of retainers, or lesser nobles, in a pyramid-type organization, sort of like a multi-level marketing scheme. A feudal king would require oaths of allegiance form various lesser, perhaps even rival, nobles, who would swear fealty to him in exchange for land, titles, and nominal protection. These lords ruled estates, sometimes vast, prosperous estates, and in turn would have a series of lesser nobles beholden to them in a similar fashion. At the bottom of the ladder, serfs, who were not quite slaves, provided the labor to work the fields, build and maintain the manor house and its supporting buildings, and supply military fodder for the battlefield. These manor houses often were the center of small, self-sufficient collectives, with attendant bakers, merchants, blacksmiths, etc. Serfdom, while not technically slavery, still left the peasants almost completely dependent on their lord for land to work, of which they would receive a small subsistence. A liege-lord might have several nobles whose allegiance he commanded, while he himself might owe fealty and service to multiple greater nobles. This could sometimes cause problems, as nobles found themselves sworn to fight for both sides of a dispute. The lords of these manor houses functioned much as governors, public works administrators, and judges of their territory. They derived their living off those on the social rungs below them. Those in the elite of such a fiefdom might amass great wealth and command large armies, all of whom were nominally in service to the king. Oaths of fealty, however, are only as good as the word of the oath-maker, and strategic changes of allegiance were common.

25 September 2015

#History of World Civilization, Day Twenty-Five

The Byzantine Empire

What elements did Byzantium inherit from the Roman Empire that helped it to survive?

The Byzantine Empire did not rise out of the dust by its own bootstraps. Rather, it was the successor to the Eastern Roman Empire, and survived the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fourth century AD. Byzantium benefited from the best road system the world had yet known, excellent lines of communication and trade, and a bureaucracy that helped the Empire establish itself. Roman systems of taxation helped finance the empire, while Roman architecture and engineering were heavily reflected in the infrastructure and dwellings of Byzantine cities. Roman style baths and parks were common features Although it lost significant lands in Syria and the Levant to Muslim conquest, it retained dominance in much of Anatolia, the Balkans, and Greece, and wielded considerable influence from Constantinople until it was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in the fifteenth century AD.

Describe the significance of Justinian's reign. What was his legacy?

Justinian I reigned from 527 to 565 AD as Emperor of the Byzantine Empire. He is known for several accomplishments, mostly related to his attempts to reconquer the lost Western Roman Empire. Though he partially succeeded in life, regaining much of Italy and North Africa, his conquests did not long survive him, and he is generally known as the last Roman.

Perhaps his most enduring legacy is a complete rewrite of Roman law known as the Corpus Iuris Civilis, or Body of Civil Law. Its imprint can still be seen in modern civil law in much of Europe. He also embarked on a grand building campaign, crowned by the Hagia Sophia, a massive church (later turned into a mosque) that was the central locale of Eastern Orthodoxy for centuries. He passed a number of laws protecting women’s rights. His reign faced a number of natural disasters, including devastating volcanic eruptions in the 530s that cause global cooling and widespread famine. An outbreak of bubonic plague in 542 AD killed millions, further weakening the empire.

Although Justinian’s efforts to get the band back together ultimately failed, his reign left an enduring stamp on the civilized world. His codification of Roman law influenced the civil code of Europe, and hence of Europe’s New World colonies ever since. The last Roman Emperor to speak Latin as a first language, Justinian marked the end of the Roman Era. However, his influence can still be seen in art, law, and architecture, as the Hagia Sophia remains one of the grandest buildings of the Middle Ages. He is still venerated as Saint Justinian in the Eastern Orthodox Church and some Lutheran churches recognize a feast day in his honor on 14 November.

24 September 2015

#History of World Civilization, Day Twenty-Four


What were the basic tenets of Islam, as taught by Muhammad?

The basic tenets of Islam are described in what Muslims call the Five Pillars of Islam. These are the basic beliefs that all Muslims must strictly observe in order to prove their devotion to the faith.

First, they must profess the “Shahadah,” or creed of Islam. “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger.” Islam is a monotheistic faith devoted to “Allah,” sometimes but not often referred to as “God,” as revealed in the Quran. Muhammad is believed to be the only direct messenger of Allah, although they nominally claim the history of Abraham (whom the Jews consider their father) and accept the authority of Judaism’s Old Testament prophets, except when they conflict with the Quran.

Second, believers must practice daily prayers, five times a day, at specific times if possible. These prayers are believed to be direct communication with Allah, expressing worship, devotion, and gratitude. They should be recited in Arabic and the worshipper must prostrate himself in the direction of Mecca, specifically facing the Ka’ba, located in the center of Islam’s holiest mosque, the Al-Masjid al-Haram, the holiest site in Mecca, which is the holiest city in Islam. The Ka’ba is a square building housing a black stone that, according to the Quran, was built by Abraham and his son, Ishmael. Some modern scholars believe the building was originally a pagan Nabatene temple.

Third, Muslims that can afford to must give Zakat (alms) to the poor and needy. This is a requirement, not a voluntary donation, and is reckoned as 2.5% of one’s assets per year. Devout Muslims are encouraged to give more as a voluntary offering called “sadaqah” (charity).

Fourth, Muslims must fast (abstain from eating food, sometimes from food and water) during the daylight hours of the holy month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the (lunar) Islamic calendar, corresponding to 18 June to 16 July in 2015 on the Gregorian calendar. Muslims fast for much the same reason some Christians do, to focus one’s attention on God, express dependence on and gratitude for one’s material blessings, and to encourage repentance from sin.

Fifth, at least once in the believer’s life, any physically and financially able Muslim must make the Hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca during the holy month of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last of twelve months in the Islamic calendar. Millions of pilgrims descend on Mecca every year for this enormous event, involving several rituals intended to mimic events in the life of Abraham. Since a 2009 census estimated a worldwide population of 1.57 billion Muslims, and in 2014, the Saudi Arabian government reported a little over 1.4 million pilgrims that year, it seems that it would take some 1,121 years for all of them to make the pilgrimage, even without duplicates. Clearly, a fair number of Muslims need to get on the stick.

Explain the success of Islam as it spread across Arabia and the entire Middle East. Why was Islam successful in converting and conquering so much territory in such a short period of time?

Despite a significant and enduring split in the seminal Muslim umma (the collective community of all Muslims) over the proper succession of the caliph following the death of Muhammad in 632 AD, Islam spread rapidly from its birthplace in Arabia. The doctrines of Islam, condensed into the Five Pillars, were relatively easy to learn and follow, even without years of studying the Quran. The extreme devotion of its followers should not be overlooked. Muslim merchants and travelers were not shy about discussing their faith, zealously sharing Islamic teachings with anyone who would listen, and many who would not.

A significant factor however, is a relatively unique religious concept known as “jihad.” The word literally means “struggle,” i.e. the struggle of Islam to convert non-Muslims. For many Muslims, however, the practical meaning was “holy war.” Muslim armies fought to subdue the lands they entered, spreading both the religious and political dominance of Islam as they conquered their neighbors. The Bentley text euphemistically refers to Islamic warriors “compelling” populations to “convert” to Islam. While in many places the new Islamic rulers were ostensibly lenient with people of other faiths, areas conquered by the Muslims did not doubt who was in charge, nor that it was beneficial for one’s prosperity, if not longevity, to at least profess Islam and keep one’s real beliefs out of sight.

Despite being most often outnumbered, Muslim armies were militarily successful in most conflicts. They were particularly adept at desert warfare, and zealous, if not fanatical. Two primary dynasties, the Umayyad and the Abbasid, ruled Islamic administration for more than 500 years. The rise of Muslim militarism came at an unfortunate time for their two primary opponents, the Byzantine and Sassanid (Persian) Empires, who were weakened by internal strife and external assault. By 800 AD, the Abbasid Empire controlled a huge swath Arabia, Central Asia, Persia, Syria, Egypt, North Africa, and has established a significant presence on the Iberian Peninsula.

Describe the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties. How were they different? What happened to these dynasties?

The Umayyad dynasty was founded following the First Muslim Civil War in 661 AD by Muawiya ibn Abi Sufyan, who had been governor of Syria. He established his capital in Damascus, not Mecca as previous caliphates had been. It was notably tolerant of non-Muslim populations, which enjoyed remarkable autonomy, albeit in a social class below Arab Muslims and Non-Arab Muslims. The empire treated non-Arab Muslims markedly different from Arab Muslims, which led to civil strife.

Expansion continued under the Umayyad, and at its peak it was the largest empire the world had yet seen, stretching from the Northern border of India through Persia, Arabia, Syria, North Africa, and most of the Iberian Peninsula. The caliphate became more of an administrative entity than a religious institution, although the Umayyad rulers were still devout Muslims who considered themselves the true and rightful leaders of Islam. Mass conversions in these conquered lands greatly increased the Muslim population, but reduced the numerical supremacy of Arab Muslims.

Heavy taxation, the increasingly lavish lifestyle of the caliphs, and the altered balance of power as well educated non-Arabs gained in number led to civil dissatisfaction with Umayyad rulers. Non-Arab Muslims resented the preferential treatment given to Arab Muslims, and felt this violated Islamic teachings of equality. Further, the Umayyad rulers led what ordinary Muslims considered greedy and luxurious lives, also in violation of the Quranic traditions. Non-Arab Muslims and non-Muslims found a common grievance in the blatant discrimination by the Umayyad, who forbade anyone who was not an Arab Muslim from holding political or most bureaucratic offices, living in certain areas, even wearing traditional Arab dress. A series of rebellions and a civil war over disputed succession culminated in the overthrow of the Umayyad by the Abbasid in 750 AD.

The Abbasid Dynasty claimed decent from Muhammed through his uncle, Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib. They styled themselves as returning the caliphate to the true bloodline, as well as turning the empire back to the teachings of the Quran, which they felt the Umayyad had abandoned. They moved the capital from Damascus to the newly established city of Baghdad on the Tigris River in modern Iraq. They achieved the overthrow of the Umayyad by uniting diverse factions; non-Muslim Arabs, non-Muslims, and Arabs who felt the Umayyad had become decadent and violated the teachings of the Quran.

This grand alliance almost immediately produced problems. The inclusive Abbasid angered the Arab Muslims. The Abbasid caliph delegated more authority to regional governors, known as viziers. Over the next few centuries, the Abbasid caliph steadily became more of a figurehead, as regional authorities claimed greater autonomy. Baghdad itself flourished as a center of wealth, art, and culture. The sole surviving member of the Umayyad family fled to Iberia and founded his own rival capital. The Abbasid shattered into dozens of de facto states, retaining nominal control from Baghdad until being overtaken by the Selijuq Turks in 1055 AD. The Turks were the real power behind the throne until the Abbasid Dynasty (as it was still euphemistically known) was finally extinguished by the Mongols in 1258 AD.

Both dynasties expanded the reach of Islam and the size of their empires, but by different means. The Umayyad expanded by conquest, and created a distinctively Arab caliphate by excluding non-Arab Muslims and people of other faiths. The Abbasid rose to power by forming a coalition of Umayyad enemies, and expanded their kingdom by inclusive policies and lenient delegation of authority. However, in some ways, their strategy backfired. They found it too difficult to exert even modest control and taxing authority over their far-flung territories. As history often records, a series of rebellions, civil war, and declarations of independence by regional caliphs left the Abbasid weakened, and the Selijuq Turks finally knocked them from the tree.

What was the status of women in the early centuries of Islam?

Early in the history of Islam, women enjoyed nearly equal status with men. While still a patriarchal society, women had rights uncommon to most classical societies. They could own property in their own names, operate businesses, inherit property, and initiate divorce proceedings. Dowries had to be paid directly to the bride, not her husband or male guardian. However, while men were allowed to have up to four wives (following the example of Muhammed); women were allowed only one husband at a time. As Islam grew and developed, the rights of women eroded and Islamic society and law became increasingly patriarchal. Muslims adopted veiling practices of Persian and Byzantine societies, eventually evolving into the hajib, covering everything except the face and hands in public.

How did Persia, India, and Greece influence the realm of Islam?

Islam has arguably been a religion of conquest since Muhammad himself led his armies against the Quraysh. It is unquestionably one of the most expansionist religions in history, and its broad and rapid spread brought it into contact with many diverse people groups. Whether benignly or not, the caliphate subjected much of the Eurasian and North African world to Islamic rule. Islam controlled the lands of Persian, Indian, and Greek culture, and each of these societies left their imprint on Islam, as it left its imprint on them.

From the Persians, the Muslims learned much about governing their newly founded empire. Persian methods of administration helped the caliphate integrate its holdings efficiently, maximizing economic, trade, and taxing opportunities. The Persian kings left a legacy of the king as a wise, benevolent shepherd of his people, who happened to also be an absolute dictator. Although Arabic was the official language of the empire, Persian was the language of the arts, and classic literature such as The Arabian Nights was collected at this time.

Although Islam would not make significant conquests in the Indian subcontinent until the twelfth century, trade and travel between the two domains flourished from the start of the Muslim expansion. The Indians had made significant advances in science, medicine, astronomy, and mathematics. Most importantly, Hindi gifted the Muslims, and the world, with numerals. This system of numbers greatly simplified calculations, with all sorts of applications from astronomy to bookkeeping. Indeed, for modern folk, it is hard to imagine a world without numbers. This computer would not exist, and students would still be inscribing their homework with quill and ink.

The Islamists also greatly admired Greek thinkers. Aristotelian rationalism greatly influenced Islamic thought, particularly in the Caliphate of Cordoba on the Iberian Peninsula. Greek science and mathematics, especially algebra, prepared the foundations on which Muslim advances would be built. It is nice to know that high school and college students have the Greeks to thank for that awful letter-based math course they are required to take.

Describe the political divisions in the Islamic world after Muhammad.

Muhammad left no instructions for choosing a successor after his death. In this vacuum, two schools of thought emerged that still bitterly divide Muslims today.

The majority of Muslims identify as Sunnis. Sunnis believed that the proper successor for the Prophet was his closest companion and father-in-law, Abu Bakr, and installed him as the first caliph. They subscribe to the belief that the leader of the community should reflect the consent of the community, much like the later European notion of the “consent of the governed.” Sunnis consider themselves the true, or orthodox version of Islam, and vigorously persecuted Shiites. The twentieth century president of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, was a Sunni Muslim, who reputedly destroyed Shiite holy sites and murdered thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Shiite civilians.

The Shia, a small but significant minority of Muslims, supported the divine appointment of Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali ibn Abi Talib as the first caliph (substitute) for Muhammad, and the first Imam. As the last and only true prophet of Allah, Muhammed had no heir who would inherit a position of equality, but merely a successor to lead Islam in his absence. Shia consider blood relation to Muhammad a necessary requirement for an Imam, and ascribe to them special divine dispensations for rulership, such as spiritual authority and infallibility. Although Ali actually served as the fourth caliph, his reign was short and he was assassinated while in prayer. His eldest son, Hasan, attempted to succeed to the caliphate, but his Sunni rival, Muawiyah, forced him to capitulate. Sunnis have dominated Islam ever since.

23 September 2015

World Civilization, Day Twenty-Three

Disease and the Fall of the Western Roman Empire

What were the long-term effects of the spread of disease along the silk roads?

The silk roads facilitated trade on a scale never before seen in the classical world. It brought products to markets that had never had access to such exotic goods. Unfortunately, it also brought access to biological agents to which these markets had never been exposed, and without natural antibodies and modern hygienic practices to protect the population, epidemic diseases spread largely unchecked, contributing to a significant decline in the population. In some places, as much as one quarter to one third of the population was killed. Some survivors abandoned cities and villages in hopes of getting away from the diseases, sometimes unwittingly spreading them further.

Declining populations led to declining trade, as there were fewer merchants, fewer consumers and fewer producers. Agricultural surpluses declined, as fewer workers were available to cultivate the formerly productive grounds. A decline in the food supply further weakened an already reeling population, as survivors needed extra food to regain their strength, only to find shortages, and occasionally famine. Societies turned inward, fearing interaction with other cultures, not knowing from where or why the plagues had come. Superstitious pantheists blamed angry, unappeased gods or evil spirits. Christians called them the judgment of God upon a wicked world, though some, like St. Cyprian of Carthage declared them a blessing, releasing Christians from the toil of mortal life into heavenly bliss.

Of course, modern man understands most disease-causing bacteria and viruses. The miraculous suppressive effects of proper hygiene, immunization, vaccination, and advanced medical treatment of the sick limit (but do not eliminate) the potential for uncontrolled pandemics. With a population of over 7 billion, it is safe to say humankind bounced back, but the epidemics carried by travelers of the silk roads marked a significant setback for the world population.

Describe the reasons for the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

Scholars differ over whether the Roman Empire succumbed more to outside invasion or internal degeneration. Plenty of suspects exist for both charges.

The rise of Christianity eroded both the Roman pantheon -the support of which had significant economic effects- and what scholars call the Roman “military spirit.” With its “love thy neighbor” and “turn the other cheek” philosophies, there was little incentive within Christianity toward aggressive militarism (at least until The Crusades, but that’s a discussion for later).

This could not have happened at a much worse time for the Roman military. Barbarian (i.e., non-Roman) hordes pushed relentlessly into Italy from the north, most notably the Visigoths. Rome increasingly had to rely on mercenaries, mostly German, to supplement their professional army. Since mercenaries are, almost by definition, not particularly loyal, this significantly weakened the Empire’s ability to fight off invaders and quell internal dissent. Later emperors drew their best troops inward in a “defend the vital organs” strategy. This left an ill-equipped, ill-trained defense on the field, just as their enemies were bringing a very potent offense into the game.

Epidemics killed millions of people throughout the empire, weakening Rome’s commercial trade, its tax base, and its agricultural production. Civil war further depleted the guarding of the Roman frontier, as legions had to be brought home to quell rebellions. Some scholars point to this internal strife, as well as the widening practice of granting Roman citizenship to just about anyone (it was formerly reserved for those who had performed military service), as resulting in a sort of “watering down” of what it meant to be Roman. A few discredited racist theories aside, many scholars attribute the decline, at least in part, to a general but ill-defined “moral decline.” Perhaps it is better to say “cultural decline.” Romans were a proud people who were distinctly and identifiably Roman. Many people residing in the Roman Empire were not “citizens.” Being a Roman citizen meant enjoying certain rights, and bearing certain responsibilities. If simply being geographically located within the borders makes one a citizen, especially one that can easily enjoy the benefits without the incumbent responsibilities, does the term “citizen” have any meaning at all? If Rome could lose its identity as Roman, what is to prevent the same thing from happening to any other nation? Rome fell when its people no longer had any concept that being “Roman” used to mean something special.

Life is not simple, and complex societies do not fall for simple reasons. A variety of factors: invasion, civil disruption, inadequate government, cultural decay, religious conversion, etc. led to the fall of the mightiest empire the world had yet seen. The Sumerians fell. Babylon fell. Persia fell. Classical Greece fell. The Roman Empire fell. All the dynasties of China fell. The Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas fell. The Ottoman Empire fell. The British Empire fell (or at least shrank significantly). The Soviet Union fell (although Vladimir seems to be trying to get the band back together for another tour). No law of nature, man, or God guarantees that the American culture will not fall.

22 September 2015

#History of World Civilization, Day Twenty-Two

Early Christianity

Why was Christianity successful in spreading throughout the Roman world?

From twelve to millions; from holding secret meetings for fear of being beaten and quite possibly killed, to being the law of the land, all in the span of a few centuries, Christianity has a unique history in the course of human religion. Call it “BC” and “AD,” or “BCE” and “CE,” the fact remains that for the past 1,500 years, the reckoning of time in all of earth history is cleaved in two (if slightly inaccurately) by the birth of a carpenter’s son in a little backwater town in Judea called Bethlehem sometime in 4 BC (probably NOT December 25th).

Part of Christianity’s success can be accounted for by the fact that it was not, strictly speaking, a “new” religion, built from scratch with no foundation. Christianity claims to be the continuation, or perhaps it is better to say fulfillment, of Judaism. Jesus of Nazareth and his followers proclaimed that He was, in fact, the prophesied Messiah, which the Jewish Old Testament predicted would come into the world to establish peace and a new, righteous kingdom in the lineage of David, their greatest king. Jesus thus had a ready-made audience of people who were expecting His arrival. Well, they were expecting someone’s arrival. As it turned out, He was not what most of them hoped He would be.

At the time of Jesus’ birth, Jerusalem, the ancient capital of Israel since King David conquered it from the Jebusites, was under Roman occupation. The situation was, at best, tense and occasionally brutal. Four main sects of Judaism had arisen during what biblical scholars call the “Intertestamental Period” –roughly 400 years between the last book of the Old Testament and the appearance of John the Baptist announcing the arrival of the Messiah. The Sadducees rejected not only most of the Old Testament –believing only the five books of Moses to be authoritative- but also the concept of resurrection of the dead. They were wealthy, educated, and Hellenistic, and generally tolerated Roman rule. The Pharisees were the Bible-thumpers, or rather, the Tanakh-thumpers, rigorous in their practice of the Mosaic Law (and their significant addition and expansion thereof), and scornful of those lesser Jews who were not as devout. The Essenes practiced a strict monastic lifestyle and were even more scornful of slackers than the Pharisees were. However, the ones causing the real problems for the Romans were the Zealots, Jewish resistance fighters who openly called for and tried to arouse a revolt. They hoped the Messiah would be a conqueror, overthrowing the Romans and liberating the Jews.

When Jesus did not meet the requirements of any of these four sects and was executed as a potential rebel by the Romans, most Jews went back to their daily lives, despite claims of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, which were never adequately refuted. However, those who did believe in Jesus as the Messiah (called “Christians” for the Greek word for Messiah: “Christos”) were a faithful, evangelical group. Jesus message of love, acceptance, forgiveness, and the promise of eternal life (salvation) resonated with many, who eagerly told their family, friends, and anyone else who would listen. Though they increasingly had to meet in secret, their numbers grew rapidly.

One of the crowning achievements of the Roman Empire was their magnificent system of high quality roads that made land travel across the empire easier than ever. Christian travelers, traders, and dedicated missionaries used these roads to carry the Gospel (good news) of Jesus to all parts of the empire. They won converts amongst not only Jews, but also other ethnic groups, generically called “gentiles” by the Jews. However, at that time, Christianity was still viewed by the Romans as a potential threat to the Pax Romana, by the Jews as a perversion of Judaism, and by pagan merchants as a threat to business. Persecution was rampant, and many Christians were killed (martyred) for professing Christ. All that changed in 312 AD when the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity (or at least claimed to). The following year, he issued the Edict of Milan, which legalized Christianity and ended official persecution. By 380 AD and the Edict of Thessalonica, Christianity was the official state religion of the Roman Empire, although by then, the Western Empire was crumbling under the weight of internal strife and the onslaught of the Visigoths from the Balkans.

21 September 2015

#History of World Civilization, Day Twenty-One

Roman Religion

What religious beliefs did Romans observe, especially before the coming of Christianity?

The Romans considered themselves a highly religious people, recognizing a pantheon of immortal gods that governed the universe and sometimes intervened in human affairs. There were gods at every level of the Roman worldview, gods of heaven, beneath the earth, and everywhere in between, including minor deities that watched over individual families. They were highly inclusive and adaptive. Many Roman gods have Greek prototypes, as the Romans, particularly the educated elites, greatly admired Greek philosophy and considered their culture the imperial heir of Ancient Greece. They had a well-developed mythology, wherein Aeneas, son of the fertility goddess, Venus, left the ancient city of Troy for the Italian peninsula. Legend held that Rome was founded by the semi-divine brothers, Romulus and Remus.

A variety of cults existed, dedicated to one god or another, sometimes in combinations through mythological marriages. Rome frequently adopted the gods and religious practices of conquered peoples, adapting them to Roman needs and sensibilities. The intellectual elite revered Greek philosophy, while the uneducated masses held to a variety of salvation cults. The Egyptian goddess Isis was extremely popular, particularly prior to the rise of Christianity.

Another popular cult, especially amongst the military, was dedicated to Mithras, who was thought to embody personal courage, discipline, and strength. There was no such concept in Roman philosophy as a “separation of church and state.” Emperors were anointed by the gods, and in fact, were gods themselves. Military commanders would pray and make sacrifices to various deities, often building temples to the deities they credited with granting them success on the battlefield. Defeat would be attributed to a failure to properly honor the gods of sufficiently sacrifice to them, and penitential commanders would make yet more oblations to atone for their failures. Rome as a whole took the success of its military expansion as a sign of divine blessing and destiny.

20 September 2015

#History of World Civilization, Day Twenty

The Roman Empire

How did the struggle between patricians and plebeians influence the development of the Roman Republic?

The early Roman Republic recognized a sharp class distinction, reckoned by birth, between patricians, or the wealthy ruling class, and plebeians, the ordinary folk. Patricians held more power in Roman assemblies, despite being outnumbered by plebeians, since a patrician’s vote counted more than a plebeian’s did. By coordinated effort, the patricians could attain a voting majority on any issue, regardless of plebeian votes. Originally, plebeians were not allowed to be priests, which were offices of significant religious and political influence. The plebeians felt justifiably marginalized. By 494 BC, they had had enough and plebeian soldiers refused to march against the Italic tribes with which Rome was at war. This began a period known as the Conflict of the Orders, as the plebeians sought political equality. Over a period of more than 200 years, they gradually gained additional rights, including the right to hold political offices, which granted them access to the Roman Senate. In 367 BC, a law was passed allowing plebeians to hold the consulship, a two-person office that was the highest political office in the Republic. In 342 BC, the Genucian law required that at least one of the consuls be a plebeian. By the end of the Conflict, being a patrician was mostly and honorary title. Despite this seeming gain in political power for the ordinary citizen, the practical effect was that a few plebeian families gained additional wealth and power, dominating the elected offices, while most plebeians remained ordinary, second-class citizens with little influence. Intentionally or not, they had simply created a parallel plebeian aristocracy, often no less wealthy than the patricians. This situation would remain until the revolution of Julius Caesar in 49 BC, when he ignited a civil war by marching his army across the Rubicon River (even in modern times, to “cross the Rubicon” means “to pass a point of no return”). Caesar’s victory ended the Roman Republic and founded the Roman Empire.

What were the repercussions of Rome's foreign conquests for the internal development of the Republic?

At its height, Rome controlled the entire Mediterranean Basin, Anatolia, most of modern day Western Europe, the Balkans, and about half of modern Britain. Rome needed to develop communication and trade routes to manage its far-flung holdings, and Roman road building is legendary. Strong, disciplined armies kept the peace. They also built a strong navy to protect the sea-lanes traders used to crisscross the Mediterranean Sea, which was essentially Lake Rome. Internal strife arose between the ruling aristocracy, known as patricians, and the (supposed) representatives of the common people, known as plebeians. It took a few hundred years, but the plebeians eventually achieved political equality.

The assimilation of diverse conquered ethnic and religious groups into Roman culture was eased by generous and lenient policies imposed by the Romans. As long as they paid their taxes and did not ally with Rome’s enemies, local groups were allowed great leeway in managing their affairs. Roman desire for order and justice led to the codification of Roman law, including concepts still practiced in the modern world, such as the right to a trial before a judge, and presumption of the innocence of the accused. Excellent roads also helped Rome achieve efficient taxation of outlying areas, which made Rome extremely wealthy. Unfortunately, this wealth exacerbated the problem of class differences, and Rome gradually discovered that a strong central administration could impose its will upon its lands easier than a representative republic. The republic died of impotence and the Roman Empire was born.

What were the economic and social changes brought about by the growth of the Roman Empire?

Economically, Rome became extremely wealthy. The Mediterranean Sea was effectively a Roman lake, through which uncountable tons of goods passed between all parts of the Mediterranean Basin. Ports along these coasts connected traders to further networks of land-based trade routes. Roman roads were the finest of the classical world, and they bore huge caravans of traders laden with the silks of China and spices of India and Southeast Asia headed west, and metals, grain, olive oil, wine, textiles and a host of other products headed east. Rome collected an Emperor’s ransom of taxes in this cornucopia. Private merchants also prospered as new markets opened ready to receive their wares. A strong military presence maintained the Pax Romana (Peace of Rome), making travel safer and more reliable, which reduced the risk of long distance transportation and the cost of doing business. Religious and political ideas spread as their evangelists travelled from one end of the empire to the other.

Unfortunately, this vast trade network was not without its downsides. Rapidly growing wealth created a rapidly growing gap between the wealthy elites and the common folk, although unlike China, many of Rome’s “peasants” were still Roman citizens, and even those of humble means enjoyed a standard of living a Chinese peasant would have considered positively decadent. Unequal distribution of wealth also meant unequal distribution of political power, even in an ostensibly representative republic. Bitter political battles ensued between aristocratic patricians and elected commoners (plebeians), resulting in hundreds of years of political conflict that gradually levelled the playing field somewhat.

Traders also carried unseen and uninvited guest with them, as well. Various communicable diseases at different times spread like wildfire amongst previously unexposed populations without natural immunities, who were defenseless against these invisible invaders. Epidemics raged, decimating whole villages, and leading to a significant decline in the population of the empire. Fewer people mean less trade, and less trade means less tax revenue. The wealth of Rome attracted other, more visible invaders, too. The Visigoths began making inroads in the Balkans. Rome’s once mighty military was increasingly reliant on foreign mercenaries and pacified tribes to supplement its highly trained, highly disciplined legions. The problem with mercenaries is they are, well, mercenaries, and not only were they militarily inferior to Roman legionaries, but those who can be bought can be bought again by someone else. The quality of Rome’s armies declined, beginning an irreversible trend of defeats that eventually cost Rome most of its territorial empire.

19 September 2015

#History of World Civilization, Day Nineteen

Greek Religion

Briefly describe Greek religion. What role did the Greek religious cults play in Greek society, and what were the leading cults?

Like almost all ancient cultures, the Greeks had a pantheon of dozens of deities. Primitive cultures simply deified the forces of nature because they did not understand them. The Greeks believed the earth formed spontaneously out of a primordial chaos. The earth then formed the sky and other forces of nature. The gods were created by these forces of nature and then procreated amongst themselves, producing lesser deities along family lines, much as humans do. Their highest god (though he was not an omnipotent, supreme god such as would be found in monotheism) was Zeus, the grandson of the union of the earth and sky, and the ultimate victor of a period of great warfare amongst the original gods. In addition to nature gods, they ascribed ideas to the gods, such as Apollo, the god of wisdom and justice.

Man has an innate desire for order, and like most ancient religions, their pantheon was an attempt to make sense of the world around them. Each polis had a patron god to which its citizens were devoted, developing their own rites and practices that bound the citizens together with a common tradition. Early observances were hyperactive, sometimes frenetic affairs, working worshippers into a highly emotional state, not unlike modern ecstasy religions. About the fifth century BC, the Greeks developed a new, calmer, more rational type of religious expression: the morality play. Through two primary plot devices -tragedy and comedy- playwrights sought to promote thoughtful reflection upon complex human emotions and interaction. The morality play is a time-tested art form, even in modern times. Twentieth century television shows such as “Star Trek” and “M*A*S*H” have been described as modern interpretations of classical morality plays. One episode of “Star Trek” even had the crew of the Starship Enterprise encounter the Greek god Apollo, finding him to be a member of a race of highly advanced alien beings that once visited earth at the time of the rise of Ancient Greece, whose citizens mistook them for gods.

The strengthening of the Hellenistic empires diminished polis-centered worship in favor of cultural and philosophical distinctions to address their devotees’ felt needs. These groups reflected the Greeks’ increasing reliance on human reasoning to explain life and nature. Three main schools of thought dominated Greek religious expression at this time. Epicureans sought to escape worldly pressures and find peace in pleasure, the satisfaction of having one’s needs met and being content with what they had. The Skeptics did not believe it was possible to have sufficient knowledge to draw hard and fast distinctions in politics, social issues, or morality, and thus held themselves aloof from the fray. The leading thinkers in Hellenistic philosophy and religion, however, were the Stoics. Rather than shrinking from the complex issues of a cosmopolitan society, they taught that the highest course of man was to assist his fellow man, and maintain an honorable and virtuous lifestyle in accordance with human reasoning and the natural world.

18 September 2015

#History of World Civilization, Day Eighteen

Greek Trade and Culture

Greek society depended heavily on trade. Who did they trade with and what were the commodities they traded? What was the impact of this trade?

The stony, mountainous terrain of the Greek peninsula does not lend itself to large, open fields of staple grains ancient Greece needed to feed its burgeoning population. It is ideal, however, for vineyards and olive groves, which cannot be grown in the hot, dry climes of the contemporary classical empires. Their nautical skills and abundant access to the sea made ship-borne trade a natural and profitable enterprise. Greek ships bearing coveted wine and olive oil made port at virtually every trading center in the Mediterranean, Aegean, and Black seas. They found ready markets in Egypt, where they found grain, vegetables, textiles, and African slaves. Anatolian and Syrian ports gave them access to greater supplies of grain, as well as the Indian spices and Chinese silks that had traveled west across the Persian Empire. The Black Sea in particular gave them access to more slaves, captured in southern Russia. Colonies along the Italian coast produced an abundance of copper, tin, iron, and zinc.

With no way to grow enough staple crops to feed its people adequately, Greece could not have reached the population levels it enjoyed without imported foodstuffs. Sophisticated Greek shipbuilding gave its trading partners the ability to ship greater quantities of goods, making trading more cost-effective and profitable. Unlike many other cultures, the Greek colonists remained loyal to their gods, culture, and philosophy, and proselytized Greek civilization throughout the classical world.

What were the major cultural contributions of classical Greece? Why are the Greeks still considered the cornerstone of the Western intellectual tradition?

Greek culture and philosophy can summed up in the word “humanism.” They saw everything from a human-centered point of view. Even their gods were more like special humans than superior, wholly different entities. The Greek philosophers were amongst the first thinkers to seek to understand the world from a strictly rational perspective that could be adequately understood and described by human reasoning. It was the foundation of what we now call the “scientific method.” Its emphasis was on observation, examination, reflection, and deductive reasoning. It was during this time that man first began to seek understanding by truly postulating, theorizing, and experimenting with the world around him. Adapting the Phoenician alphabet by adding vowel sounds, they created an extremely versatile writing system that enabled writers to communicate ideas more easily and clearly than any civilization to that time. They were exceptionally good students of other cultures’ understanding of science, astronomy, medicine, mathematics, geometry, and architecture. Although Greeks practiced chattel slavery, unlike many other societies, it was possible for skilled slaves could rise above their condition, gaining their freedom, attaining prominent positions, even be granted citizenship.

Greek philosophy was the foundation of what we now call the “scientific method.” The idea that man could observe and understand himself and the world around him originated with the great Athenian philosophers. They replaced the superstitious idea that the world was governed by capricious, often illogical and vindictive, deities. Although they retained pantheism, they conceived of the gods in human form, rather than humans being the imperfect creation of the gods. The Greek gods were subject to many of the same failings and foibles as humans, and Greek mythology, literature, and drama reflected these themes.

17 September 2015

#History of World Civilization, Day Seventeen

Philip and Alexander

Describe the impact of Philip of Macedon and his son, Alexander the Great.

Few father-son relationships have had as significant an impact on the civilized world as Philip II of Macedon and his son, Alexander III, whom history would brand Alexander the Great. The greatest rulers of the Argead Dynasty, a tribe that formed in the area of the polis of Argos in Southern Greece, history would revere their names indefinitely. Philip ascended to the Macedonian throne upon the death of his older brothers, Alexander II and Perdiccas. His military skills were legendary; however, he was also a skilled diplomat. By this combination of shrewd military preparation and diplomacy, he consolidated his rule of Macedon with devastating military victories over the Athenians and the Illyrians in 359-358 BC. He is credited with the invention of the Greek phalanx, a formidable infantry formation using tight ranks of highly disciplined soldiers armed with the sarissa, a 4 to 7 meter, iron-tipped wooden spear. Once the phalanx began advancing toward an opposing formation, it was virtually unstoppable.

For all this skill, however, Philip’s reign was relatively short on the world stage. He was assassinated in 336 BC by one of his own bodyguards, Pausanias. Historians differ over Pausanias’ motive, but at the time, Aristotle seems to indicate it may have been a personal offense by a member of Philip’s family. Later accounts paint a much more sordid picture, even involving Alexander himself in a wide conspiracy, though most scholars deem this unlikely.

In any event, Philip’s death elevated Alexander at the age of twenty to the throne of an already powerful kingdom boasting perhaps the world’s most formidable military. Alexander was already known for his tactical brilliance and personal fearlessness from his exploits as Philip’s regent during the elder’s absence on various military campaigns, putting down multiple rebellions and repulsing an Illyrian invasion. The aggressive, less diplomatic Alexander consolidated his hold on the Macedonian throne by ruthlessly eliminating potential rivals. Securely in command of the throne, he turned his attention to an expansive vision of Macedonian dominance. After quelling multiple revolts in the Balkans, he advanced into Asia. Passing through Central Anatolia, he paused at Gordium, the Phrygian capital, “solving” the previously unsolvable Gordian Knot, which prophesy held could only be untied by the future king of Asia. Not one to waste time or effort, legend holds Alexander simply hacked the knot in two with his sword.

By both siege and battle, he systematically conquered Ionia and Syria, decisively defeating the Persian Emperor Darius at Issus when Darius ignominiously fled the battle. Proceeding down the Levant, Alexander conquered Egypt, founding the ancient city of Alexandria, one of the most prosperous and cosmopolitan cities of the classical world.

Turning east, he advanced on Mesopotamia, again encountering the armies of Darius, defeating the Persians when Darius again fled at the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC. Alexander marched across Persia, capturing and looting the ancient capitals of the Achaemenid Empire, until Darius was captured and killed by one of his own kinsmen in Bactria, thus ending the Achaemenid Empire.

Founding cities, always named Alexandria, throughout the region of modern-day Afghanistan, Alexander had designs upon the Indian subcontinent. After years of unrelenting campaign, however, his army had had enough, and refused to go any further. Thus, the empire of Alexander, at its height, stretched from Greece to the Hyphasis River in Northern India.

Accounts of Alexander’s death in June 323 BC mostly center on poison and intrigue, common elements of Macedonian history. Various natural illnesses have also been proposed as likely causes. Whatever the circumstances, Alexander’s death at the age of 32 was sudden and shocking. His greatest attribute was tactical wizardry, not administrative prowess, and he left no great design to govern his enormous conquests. Although at his death he ruled an empire from Europe to India, it was fragmented into three parts, none of which was able to withstand the Roman conquest. The last, the Seleucid Empire, succumbed to the Roman ruler Pompey the great in 63 BC. Alexander’s legend, however, survives as arguably the most successful military leader of all time, and his tactics and strategy are still studied by modern military leaders.

16 September 2015

#History of World Civilization, Day Sixteen

Ancient Greece

Describe the nature and functioning of the polis. What were its positive and negative consequences?

Polis is the term used for the typical settlement built by the Greek civilization. Grecian government was organized at the local level into sovereign city-states. The polis was usually ruled by a proto-democratic assembly of its adult male citizens. A typical polis would consist of a walled city with a citadel, marketplace, temples, and other public buildings. Citizenship was reckoned by birth, and only adult males enjoyed full voting and legal rights. A polis was more than simply the area enclosed by the city walls, and included both the surrounding area (suburbs) and any colonies established by the citizens of that polis, however geographically distant they may have been. The independent nature of the polis made direct democracy possible, and the polis generally reflected the will of the majority of its citizens. Being autonomous, however, each polis was only as strong as its body of citizen soldiers to defend itself, which left it open to conquest by more powerful and ambitious neighbors and foreign invaders. Poleis occasionally allied themselves together for mutual defense, but the independent spirit of the populace made such alliances difficult and prone to squabbles. Some poleis vied for control of their regions, and at various times Sparta, Athens, Thebes, Corinth, and others were each the dominant force in the Greek peninsula.

Compare and contrast the Greek city-states of Sparta and Athens.

Sparta and Athens were both powerful city-states on the Greek peninsula, and both had their time in the sun dominating Greek culture. That is about where the comparison ends, as the politics, people, and philosophy of the two poleis were quite different. They were allies in the fight against the invading Persians, but their mutual ambitions to control the Greek mainland eventually came to blows in the Peloponnesean War of the late fifth century BC.

Spartan life was ascetic and militaristic, so much so that even in modern times, “spartan” means basic, minimal, devoid of luxury, etc. All men trained for war from age seven, and even women underwent a physical training regimen. All citizens, men and women, were trained to be disciplined and strong, and women enjoyed rights in Sparta seen nowhere else in the classical world. Spartan training was harsh, even brutal. Soldiers were intentionally given short rations to keep them hungry and encourage them to “be resourceful” (steal).

If Sparta was the hyper-militant survivalist with anger management issues, Athens was the laid back, freethinking hippie. Athens was the center of culture, the arts, education, and philosophy in the classical world. Athens took its name from its mythological patron goddess, Athena, the Greek goddess of many things to do with wisdom, knowledge, art, philosophy, etc. Athens was the birthplace of Western Civilization and political democracy. Almost all of the most revered Greek philosophers, historians, poets, and physicians were from Athens. Its access to the sea led to the development of a powerful navy, and a thriving, prosperous trade network. Despite the emphasis on education and philosophy, Athens boasted a formidable army, equipped similarly to the Spartans, and an even more powerful navy, while the nearly landlocked Sparta had almost none.

Why did the Greeks establish colonies throughout the Mediterranean world? Describe the significance of Greek colonization.

One of the foremost reasons for Greek colonization was overcrowding. The rocky, mountainous Greek peninsula made agriculture difficult, with the notable exception of grapes and olives, which do not provide a diet sufficient to support a large population. Greeks quickly discovered that other civilizations had plenty of grain to trade for their coveted wine and olive oil, and colonies facilitated this trade network.

There was no concerted, coordinated effort at Greek colonization. Rather, individual, autonomous poleis would send off members to establish trade outposts, retaining the culture and character of, and loyalty to, their mother poleis. As the Greeks fanned out, rarely venturing very far inland but dotting every available coastline with colonies, they carried their culture, philosophy, and religion with them, interacting with trading parties from all over the known world. Greece seems to be one of the most cohesive cultures of the ancient world. Their diaspora was as far-reaching and omni-directional as any previous civilization, yet their colonies remained identifiabely Grecian. While other civilizations intermarried with the native peoples upon whom they encroached, creating new, hybrid cultures, the Greeks heavily influenced their new lands, leaving the imprint we still call “Western Civilization” everywhere they went.

15 September 2015

#History of World Civilization, Day Fifteen

Early Mediterranean Civilizations

Who were the Minoans? Who were the Mycenaeans? How were the Mycenaeans influenced by the Minoans?

The Minoans were a civilization that developed on the island of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea. Archaeological evidence indicates they arose in the mid-fourth millennium BC, and reached their zenith from the mid-third to mid-second millennia BC. They were named for the mythical Aegean god-king Minos, who was associated with the Cretan city of Knossos. They were known to be builders of great, multi-story palaces. They were amongst the earliest sailors, traders, and colonizers of the Mediterranean Basin.

The Mycenaean culture arose about 1600 BC as the first advanced civilization on the Greek mainland. They are named after their most prominent city, Mycenae, which lay about 50 miles southwest of Athens. It dominated Greek culture on the Peloponnesus for about 500 years from the mid-to-late second millennium BC. Around 1200 BC, the Mycenaeans came into conflict with the Anatolian city of Troy in what became known as the Trojan War. This is the basis for the great epics of Homer, the Odyssey and the Iliad, though modern scholars doubt a single writer named Homer ever existed, and that the events described in the epics were largely mythologized. For a time, scholars doubted the war, or the even the city of Troy ever existed until 19th century German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann’s excavations in the modern day Turkey lent credence to the historicity of the city.

It is thought the Mycenaeans acquired much of their knowledge of building and architecture from the Minoans, with whom they had a thriving trade and cultural intercourse. Evidence of Minoan craftworks has been found on the Greek mainland, indicating that trade between Minoan artisans and Mycenaean olive and grape growers was strong. Mycenaeans borrowed significantly from the Minoan script known as Linear A, an as yet undeciphered form of Minoan glyphs, adapting it to their unique language. Around the mid-fifteenth century BC, the Minoan culture suffered some sort of catastrophic natural event, the specifics of which are not known, likely an earthquake or volcanic eruption. Minoan culture experienced a significant decline, and by 1420 BC, the Mycenaeans controlled the former Minoan sites on Crete. Mycenaeans are thought to have adapted many Minoan cultural, religious, and political ideas, rather than imposing a different order on their newly conquered lands, so the Mycenaean population on Crete bore a distinctive Minoan imprint.

14 September 2015

#History of World Civilization, Day Fourteen


What were the basic teachings of Zoroastrianism? Why is it considered a highly moralistic religion? How did Zoroastrianism influence other religions?

Zoroastrianism is a religious system that arose in ancient Persia sometime in the early second millennium BC. It is a monotheistic philosophy, believing in a single, creator god named Ahura Mazda. It was developed by the prophet Zoroaster (or Zarathustra) in reaction to the pagan, polytheistic religions on the ancient Indo-Iranians, and their rituals of animal sacrifice and the use of mind-altering substances. Zoroaster taught that only Ahura Mazda was worthy of worship, and any other seeming “deities” were evil spirits, servants of Angra Mainyu, the evil counterpart, or opposite of Ahura Mazda in a somewhat dualistic belief. Ahura Mazda rules his creation according to universal laws, the Daena, which is good, ordered, and perfect. Anything against the Daena is, by definition, evil, disorder, chaos, etc. Mortal beings must actively support the Daena by the three basic tenets of Zoroastrianism: Good Deeds, Good Thoughts, and Good Words. Humans are expected to participate actively in the battle between good and evil by observing the three tenets.

Since all Zoroastrian practice is focused on the actions, words, and thoughts of a person, moral uprightness is the paramount goal, and any failure of such is disorder, decay, chaos, etc. It is considered moralistic for its emphasis on good human behavior. Each person is directly responsible for his or her moral choices, and must actively make good moral choices. More than simply refraining from evil, they must not fail to do acts of good. To fail to do good deeds is to choose and empower evil. Earthly pleasures are allowed, so long as they are indulged in moderation and not by defrauding another.

Zoroastrians believe that creation will one day be remade by Ahura Mazda, in the final destruction of Angra Mainyu. All human beings, even those whose souls were cast into darkness for moral failure in life, will be joined with Ahura Mazda in a new, perfect world, free of defect. Scholars believe Christian eschatology recorded in the New Testament book of The Revelation was heavily influenced by this “new earth” concept, and the idea that the morally corrupt will be cast out into darkness. Christian concepts of fallen angels, or demons, resemble Zoroastrian beliefs of evil spirits as servants of Angra Mainyu. Islam eventually supplanted Zoroastrianism, but its emphasis on rituals, rules, and a strict code of conduct may have Zoroastrian roots. The Zoroastrian concept of Daena is closely related to the Buddhist concept of Dharma, and is often translated as such in Hindu.

13 September 2015

#History of World Civilization, Day Thirteen

Agriculture and Trade in Persia

What agricultural technologies and techniques did the Persians use to produce the large surpluses they needed to feed their huge population of nonfood producers?

One of the most successful and revolutionary agricultural technologies introduced by the Persians was the qanat. Essentially an underground pipeline, the qanat was a sloped tunnel with vertical shafts at intervals to move water from an aquifer to a city or agricultural field. Much of the land of the area occupied by modern Iran is arid and unsuitable to agriculture without irrigation. The qanat was an improvement on the irrigation canal by reducing water loss due to evaporation, and making it harder to block or divert. The modern Iranian city of Gonabad still uses a qanat built around the eighth century BC. Although not the first to discover it, the Achaemenids introduced cotton to Persia, where it grows well in the arid, somewhat poor soils, given sufficient irrigation at the proper stage of cultivation. Cotton became an important trade commodity to the centrally located Persians.

The Persian Empires were noted for being part of a trade route critical to the economy of the classical world. What did the rulers do to facilitate trade? Why was Persia geographically so important?

The Achaemenid Empire was instrumental in building and improving the road system that facilitated the relatively easy transport of trade goods through its vast geographic area. The centralized government of Persia provided the political stability, well-constructed roads, and a peacekeeping military presence that made travel across the Empire safer, easier, and faster. They built inns at intervals along these highways to serve the needs of both traders and their own traveling administrators. Commercial shipping along the Arabian, Mediterranean, and Black Sea coasts flourished as the world’s first true imperial navy provided security, and the Empire built great seaports from the Balkans to the Arabian Sea. Uniform taxation made the cost of doing business more predictable, encouraging investment in long distance commercial expeditions. Although coinage existed in the Lydian empire before the Achaemenid conquest, the Persian Emperor Darius I instituted one of the most widely circulated coins of the classical world, the Daric. Archaeologists have found gold Daric coins as far away as Italy.

Being centrally located between China, Southeast Asia, and the Indian subcontinent to the east, and Africa, Egypt, the Mediterranean, Anatolia/Ionia and Greece in the west, traders that wished to travel overland between the great civilizations at the extremes of the then-known world had little choice but to cross the Achaemenid Empire. Greek exports such as olive oil, metalwork, wines, and pottery, and Egyptian glass, cotton, grain, and vegetables moved east, while Chinese silks and porcelain and Indian spices moved west. Various regional foodstuffs moved both directions, while the Persians exported semi-precious stones, cotton, grain, and prized woven carpets. At the height of the Achaemenid Empire, it was the clearinghouse of the ancient world.

12 September 2015

#History of World Civilization, Day Twelve

World Civilization Tour, Day Twelve

Darius the Great

Why does the textbook say that Darius was "more important as an administrator than as a conqueror"?

The geographic footprint of the Achaemenid Empire was already quite large by the time Darius I ascended to the throne in 522 BC. Although he put down many rebellions, extended his borders east to the Indus River, and successfully reconquered the city of Thrace, his economic and cultural reforms led the Achaemenid Empire to its height of power under his rule. He reorganized the satrapies, implemented a new, standardized monetary system, and decreed that Aramaic would be the official language of the entire empire. He standardized laws, while allowing a measure of autonomy and local control, checked by a strong military presence and centralized policy-making. He directly appointed Persian satraps, but allowed them to utilize mostly local appointees in other, subordinate positions of administration, giving the diverse ethnic and cultural groups of his empire the sense that their voice and concerns would be heard in government, rather than suffering under a foreigner, ignorant of their history and customs, blindly imposing his will upon them. While a fervent adherent of, or at least believer in, Ahura Mazda (historians disagree about whether or not he was a devout Zoroastrian), he allowed a remarkable level of religious tolerance. He instituted a uniform, predictable system of taxation. People could plan better knowing when and how much tribute would be expected of them, as opposed to the irregular, sometimes onerous levies of his predecessors. He built and improved roads throughout the Empire, and created an early form of postal system not unlike the Pony Express of the American West over two millennia later. The time it took news and information to reach the Emperor from the farthest reaches of his realm, and for imperial decrees to be disseminated, decreased dramatically. Trade flourished under the economic standardization and political stability of Darius’ reign.

Militarily, he was less successful, suffering a legendary defeat at the hands of the Athenians in the Battle of Marathon, and ending his chances of annexing Greece. He did, however, successfully subjugate Macedon and a small number of Greek Islands. His economic, political, and cultural expertise distinguished him among Achaemenid rulers, however.

In what ways did Darius, and his successors, promote communication and commerce throughout the empire?

The Achaemenid emperors improved the lives of their subjects in several important ways, not the least of which was political stability on an immense scale. They built great networks of good roads, reducing travel times, and increasing comfort and safety for travelers, traders, government officials, and facilitating the rapid deployment of military forces. Darius developed a message relaying system utilizing waystations with fresh horses at given intervals, making communication exponentially faster and more reliable. Darius decreed that Aramaic be adopted as the official language of the empire, which made communication between diverse and far-flung ethnic groups easier. The imperial daric became the standard coinage of the Empire, making collection of taxes easier and more efficient, and encouraging trade, both within imperial borders and as a currency of recognized value in other lands. They built massive public works projects, temples, mausoleums, and irrigation systems that made formerly dry lands productive, and built canals, underground waterways, and a strong commercial fleet and navy. Standardized laws and currency made banking possible, and merchants and financiers profited from an increase in investment and the availability of credit.

11 September 2015

#History of World Civilization, Day Eleven

World Civilization Tour, Day Eleven

Empires of Persia

How did Cyrus manage to expand the Persian holdings so dramatically during his lifetime?

Cyrus II of Persia, also known as Cyrus the Great and Cyrus the Achaemenid, was born in the early sixth century BC in Anshan, Persia (modern day southwestern Iran). He is credited with founding the Achaemenid Empire, sometimes called the New Persian Empire, the First Persian Empire, or the Medo-Persian Empire. Cyrus reckoned his empire as the successor to the reign of Achaemenes, the (perhaps mythical) king of Persis who is believed to have ruled in the late eighth and early seventh centuries BC. Cyrus greatly expanded the empire from the footprint of Achaemenes, eventually ruling an area from the Balkans to the Indus Valley. His first accomplishment was a successful rebellion against the Median Empire ca. 550 BC. Following his victory, he spared the life of the Median king and married his daughter, thus pacifying several of the lesser Median territories. Cyrus was known as a master military tactician, which helped the empire conquer the Lydian and Neo-Babylonian Empires, as well. Military conquest was a primary factor in the Achaemenid Empire’s rapid expansion.

Perhaps more than a conqueror, however, Cyrus was known as a great administrator and the first ruler of the ancient territory to attempt to understand and incorporate the diverse ethnic and cultural societies he conquered. After conquering Babylon, Cyrus allowed the captive Jews to return to their homeland, and the Hebrew Tanakh refers to Cyrus as “The Lord’s Messiah” (chosen one).

Cyrus built a political infrastructure that standardized administration of his massive empire, while styling himself as their “liberator,” rather than their “conqueror.” The efficient and stable political environment allowed trade to flourish and the areas he ruled largely prospered under Achaemenid administration. He appointed Persian satraps, or governors, but allowed them to employ local ethnic officials to oversee administration in their area, and allowed the satrapies a certain measure of autonomy. He also built a powerful, uniformly trained army that kept the peace. He allowed a remarkable (for the time) level of religious and personal freedom, and has been hailed by many scholars (deservedly or not) as one of the earliest champions of human rights. The administrative system he established provided substantial political stability to a massive geographical area for centuries to come.

10 September 2015

#History of World Civilization, Day Ten

Dynastic China

What were the major achievements of the Qin and Han dynasties?

The Qin Dynasty was the first to unify China under a single, central government. They established a tradition of centralized government that dominated Chinese politics for thousands of years. The administrative state they imposed upon China brought political and economic stability and order, and encouraged investment and trade. They promoted economic development by standardizing laws, money, weights and measures, and building vast networks of roads and bridges to make travel and military movements easier. Most importantly, they imposed a standardized script that has lasted thousands of years, making cultural and linguistic differences communicable in a common written language. They employed thousands of impressed laborers in building defensive fortifications along the northern borders of their territory, a precursor to the massive Great Wall finished centuries later. They expanded their territory by subduing the nomadic tribes to the north and jungle tribes to the south. The Qin established the doctrine of Legalism as the dominant administrative philosophy of the empire, burning most contradictory literature and murdering thousands of scholars and critics.

The Han Dynasty arose after the fall of the Qin due to popular revolt. The peasant leader, Liu Pang, named the Dynasty after the Han River in his home province. While largely continuing the centralized administration of the Qin, the Han realized that the large, complex bureaucracy needed talented, educated administrators to function successfully. Although Legalist philosophy still guided the imperial court, Confucianism, suppressed under the Qin, became the dominant philosophy in education. The Han established China’s first University to recruit and train public servants. The Han Dynasty was an economically prosperous time in Chinese history, with agriculture, trade, and silk textiles flourishing. The Han extended Chinese influence to the west almost to Bactria (modern Afghanistan), and to the east onto the Korean peninsula. Advancements in iron metallurgy allowed the manufacture of better weapons, utensils, and farming implements. Paper was invented to replace bamboo and silk as a common writing medium. The oldest surviving piece of writing on paper in the world was found in a Han watchtower. The Han Dynasty was a time of great advancements in science, architecture, mathematics, engineering, and medicine. The ship rudder, seismometer, and three-dimensional maps were all invented or improved during the period of Han reign, as well as the use of negative numbers in mathematics. To finance the massive bureaucracy and military expansionism, the empire successfully nationalized salt and iron production. After about 200 years of rule, the Han suffered a brief period of usurpation by the Xin Dynasty, but reestablished itself about 16 years later and ruled China for another 200 years.

What were the reasons for the decline of the Han?

Rising wealth due to great agricultural success created a widening gap between the rich and the poor. Land ownership became concentrated in the hands of a few elite families, while the vast majority of citizens lived as peasants, often in miserable conditions. High taxes, military conscription, and income/lifestyle inequality fomented resentment amongst the lowest classes, while corruption and intrigue in the Imperial court angered societal elites, contributing to a turbulent series of rebellions. By the early second century AD, the empire had fractured into three warring factions, led by Cao Cao, Sun Quan, and Liu Bei. The constant battles for control of Emperor Xian and civil unrest amongst the peasantry eventually tore the empire apart, finally collapsing with the abdication of the throne by Xian to Cao Pi, son of Cao Cao, in December 220 AD.