The Neolithic Revolution is the term given to the development of agricultural societies. This revolution in economic, political, and social organization began in the Middle East as early as 10,000 B.C.E. and gradually spread to other centers, including parts of India, North Africa, and Europe. With the rise of agricultural forms of economic production, humans were able to remain settled more permanently in one spot and increase their levels of specialization regarding particular economic, political, and religious functions. Additionally, the emergence of agriculturally based societies caused a massive increase in the sheer number of people in the world. However, most evidence suggests that gathering and hunting peoples resisted agriculture as long as they could. By about 3000 B.C.E., metalworking had become common in the Middle East. Like agriculture, knowledge of metals gradually fanned out to other parts of Asia and to Africa and Europe. Metalworking was extremely useful to agricultural and herding societies. Agricultural peoples had the resources to free up a small number of metal tool makers who specialized in this activity and exchanged their product with farmers for food. This civilization originated in the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in a part of the Middle East called Mesopotamia. It was one of the few cases of a civilization that started from scratch—with no examples from any place available for imitation. This civilization progressed mostly due to the accomplishments of the Sumerians, the most influential people in the Tigris-Euphrates region. By about 3500 B.C.E, the Sumerians had developed the first known human writing, cuneiform. They also were characterized by the development of astronomical sciences, intense religious beliefs, and tightly organized city-states. The Sumerians improved the region's agricultural prosperity by learning about fertilizers and using silver to conduct commercial exchange. Their ideas about divine forces in natural objects were common among early agricultural peoples; a religion of this sort, which sees many gods in aspects of nature, is known as polytheism. Sumerian political structures stressed tightly organized city-states, ruled by a king who claimed divine authority. Here was a key early example how a civilization and political structures combined. The government helped regulate religion and enforce its duties; it also provided a system of courts for justice. Kings were originally war leaders, and the function of defense and war, including leadership of a trained army, remained vital. The Sumerians eventually succumbed to the Akkadians, who continued much of the Sumerian culture in the Tigris-Euphrates region, and the Babylonians, who developed Hammurabi's code. It laid down the procedure for law courts and regulated property rights and duties of family members, setting harsh punishments for crimes. This focus on standardizing a legal system was one of the features of early river valley civilizations. Three dynastic cycles—the Zhou, the Qin, and the Han—covered many centuries of classical China. The dynastic patterns begun in classical Chinese history lasted until the early part of the twentieth century. A family of kings, called a "dynasty," began ruling China with great vigor, developing solid political institutions, and encouraging active economies. Each dynasty over time grew weaker, tax revenues declined, and social divisions occurred as the population outstripped available resources. In addition, internal rebellions and sometimes invasions from the outside contributed to each dynasty's decline. As the ruling dynasty began to falter, usually another one arose from the family of a successful general, invader, or peasant and the pattern started anew.
The Zhou dynasty (1029-258 B.C.E.) expanded the territorial boundaries of China by seizing the Yangtze River valley. The territory from the Yangtze to the Huang is often called the "Middle Kingdom," blessed with rich cropland. They promoted Mandarin as the standard language. The Zhou did not establish a strong central government but ruled instead through alliances with regional princes and noble families. This led to vulnerabilities that plagued the Zhou: the regional princes solidified their power and disregarded the central government. When the Zhou began to fail, philosophers sought to explain the political confusion. One of these, Confucius, became one of the most important thinkers in Chinese history. His orderly social and political philosophy became an important doctrine of the Qin and Han dynasties. The next dynasty, the Qin, (221-202 B.C.E.) was begun by the brutal but effective emperor Shi Huangdi. He consolidated his power, built the Great Wall, conducted a census, standardized weights and measures, and extended the borders of his realm to Hong Kong and northern Vietnam. Upon his death, massive revolts broke out and by 202 B.C.E., the Han dynasty (202 B.C.E.-220 C.E.) was established. The Han rulers lessened the brutality of the Qin but maintained its centralized rule. Early Han leaders, like Wu Ti, expanded Chinese territory and set up formal training, based on Confucian philosophy, for bureaucrats. During a long decline, the Han faced invasions and eventually fell to outside forces, especially the Huns. By the sixth century C.E., the Han too collapsed, but not before they had established distinctive political and cultural values that lasted into the twentieth century.
202 BC - 220 CE, the Han Dynasty began after the Qin Dynasty. After the death of the tyrannical Qin emperor, peasant revolts led to the establishment of the Han Dynasty. Early Han rulers greatly expanded the territory of the empire, pushing into Korea, Indochina, and central Asia. There reign went as far as India, which allowed the Hans to have contact with Indian civilization. The most famous Han ruler was Wu Ti. Wu encouraged peace within the empire, as well as peace with others. This peace was extremely helpful as it led to huge growths in prosperity for China; the government treasuries were filled with wealth and people had enough to eat. The Han Dynasty employed a strong bureaucracy and also encouraged Confucian philosophy. The dynasty met its downfall when numerous nomadic groups, like the Huns, bean invading. Also, central power began to weaken. The Han Dynasty's legacy was eternal, however. Even today, Chinese can still identify themselves as "Han Ren" or "People of the Han". The Han Dynasty helped mold distinctive political structures and cultural values. Important reasons for India's distinctive path lie in geography and early historical experience. India's topography shaped a number of vital features of its civilization. The vast Indian subcontinent is partially separated from the rest of Asia (and particularly from East Asia) by northern mountain ranges. Mountain passes linked India to civilizations in the Middle East. Though it was not as isolated as China, the subcontinent was nevertheless set apart within Asia. The most important agricultural regions are along the two great rivers, the Ganges and the Indus. During its formative period, called the Vedic and Epic ages, the Aryans (Indo-Europeans), originally from central Asia, impressed their own stamp on Indian culture. During these ages, the caste system, Sanskrit, and various belief systems were introduced.
By 600 B.C.E., India had passed through its formative stage. Indian development during its classical era did not take on the structure of rising and falling dynasties, as in China. Patterns in Indian history were irregular and often consisted of invasions through the subcontinent's northwestern mountain passes. As a result, classical India alternated between widespread empires and a network of smaller kingdoms. Even during the rule of the smaller kingdoms, both economic and cultural life advanced. The Maurya and Gupta dynasties were the most successful in India, run entirely by Indians and not by outside rulers. The greatest of the Mauryan emperors was Ashoka (269-232 B.C.E.). The Guptas did not produce as dynamic a leader as Ashoka, but they did provide classical India with its greatest period of stability.
Classical India did not develop the solid political and cultural institutions the Chinese experienced, nor the high level of political interest of Greece and Rome. Its greatest features, still observable today, were political diversity and regionalism. The Guptas, for example, did not require a single language for all their subjects. The development of a rigid caste system lies at the heart of this characteristic. In its own way, the caste system promoted tolerance, allowing widely different social classes to live next to each other, separated by social strictures. Loyalty to caste superseded loyalty to any overall ruler. Religion, particularly Hinduism, was the only uniting influence in Indian culture.
Two major religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, marked classical India. Hinduism, the religion of India's majority, is unique among world religions in that no central figure is credited for developing it. Hinduism encouraged both worldly and mystical pursuits and was highly adaptable to varying groups. Buddhism was founded on the teachings of an Indian prince, Gautama, later called Buddha, or "enlightened one." Buddha accepted many Hindu beliefs but rejected its priests and the caste system it supported. Buddhism spread through missionaries into Sri Lanka, China, Korea, and Japan. Classical India also produced important work in science and mathematics. The Gupta-supported university at Nalanda taught religion, medicine, and architecture, as well as other disciplines. Indian scientists, borrowing ideas from Greek learning provided by Alexander the Great, made important discoveries. Still more important were the mathematical advancements, including the concept of zero, "Arabic" numerals, and the decimal system. Indian artists created shrines to Buddha called stupas and painted in lively colors. Greece and Rome featured an important variety of political forms. Both tended to emphasize aristocratic rule but there were significant examples of democratic elements as well. Politics was very important in the classical Mediterranean civilizations and offer similarities to Confucian values, yet the variety of political forms reminds the historian of India. There was no single Greek political style, but democracy is the most famous. Classical Mediterranean political theory involved ethics, duties of citizens, and skills, such as oratory. Governments supported an official religion, but tolerance of other faiths was the norm. The exception, Christianity under the Roman Empire, occurred because Christians refused to place state first in their devotion. The greatest political legacies of the Mediterranean cultures were an intense loyalty to the state, a preference for aristocratic rule, and the development of a uniform set of legal principles. Decline in Rome was multifactorial. Population declined, leadership faltered, the economy flagged, tax collection became more difficult, and, as a result and perhaps most significantly, despondency pervaded much of the citizenry. The decline in Rome was more disruptive than in China or India and was more pronounced in the Western portion of the empire than in the eastern. In Italy, Spain, and points north, the fall of Rome shattered unities and reduced the level of civilization itself. Emperors Diocletian and Constantine slowed the spiral of decay but only temporarily; the latter moved the capital to Constantinople and allowed Christianity. When Germanic tribes invaded in the 400s, there was little power or will to resist. In the eastern half, a remnant of the empire survived as the Byzantine Empire. In earlier days of the Roman Empire, two Middle Eastern civilizations, the Parthian and then the Sassanid, attempted to revive the Persian Empire. Each served as bridges between the Mediterranean the East. The Sassanids were in turn overthrown by Islamic Arab conquerors.
The fall of Rome differed from China's and India's declines. For instance, no single civilization rose to replace Rome, although several smaller governments claimed to be its inheritor. In addition, Rome's fall was fragmentary, collapsing in the Western empire long before the Eastern side did.
The Peloponnesian Wars were a series of conflicts between Athens and Sparta's Peloponnesian League between 431 and 404 B.C.E as the two city states vied for for control of the Greek peninsula and the surrounding islands. The conflict can be divided into three stages: the Archidamian War, during which Athens took advantage of Sparta's repeated invasions of Attica to plunder the Peloponnesian coastline, a second period of war following collapse of the treaty of Nicas, and a the third period, the Ionian war, in which Sparta, supported by Persia, instigated and supported various rebellions in Athens' empire, eventually ending with the destruction of the Athenian fleet. As a direct result of this war, the Athenian city state never again regained its power as it had been at its height, and provided ample opportunity for Macedonian kings (notably Philip II) to conquer cities throughout the northern peninsula. Roman statesman and general, who led expeditions into Gaul and Britain, so ensuring Rome's safety from Gallic invasion. Famously, Caesar returned to Rome without disbanding his army and in direct contravention of the dictation of the Senate, from which we derived the phrase, "to cross the Rubicon". The ensuing civil war left Caesar in power by 45 B.C.E, whereupon he claimed full dictatorial rights by 44 B.C.E, sparking disloyalty amongst his allies and culminating in his assassination on the 15th of March, 44 B.C.E, an event known as the Ides of March. Caesar's leadership brought considerable reforms to the Roman Republic, as well as leading to its official end and paving the way to the Roman Empire and the autocratic system, in which Augustus Caesar would be his successor. A combination of external weakness and invasion led to the decline of classical civilizations in China and then India. From 200 to 600 C.E., all three classical civilizations collapsed entirely or in part, and all three were invaded by outside groups from central Asia. The central Asian nomadic Huns attacked all three classical civilizations. About 100 C.E., the Han dynasty began serious decline. Weakened central government, social unrest led by overtaxed peasants, and epidemics were the most prominent sources of decline. These combined to make the government unable to stop invading nomads. However, by 600, China revived, first with the brief Sui dynasty and later (and more gloriously) with the Tang. Confucianism and bureaucracy revived. Unlike those in Rome, the cultural and political structures in China were too strong to be fully and permanently overturned. The decline in India was not as drastic as in China. By 600, Huns destroyed the Gupta Empire. For several centuries, no native Indian led a large state there. Hinduism gained ground as Buddhism, unappealing to the warrior caste, declined in its native land. After 600, Islam entered India and Arab traders took control of Indian Ocean trade routes. What survived was Hinduism (Islam never gained adherence from a majority of the population) and the caste system. Buddhism altered as it traveled beyond India, and Buddha himself became more of a savior figure than a teacher of a way. Women in China were especially drawn to this faith in that many felt it led to a more meaningful life. Ultimately, with the revival of dynasties in China, Buddhism was persecuted, but it remained a minority current. It had a greater influence in Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Christianity played a major part in the formation of postclassical civilizations in eastern and western Europe. It emphasized missionary activity even more than Buddhism did. Its beginnings were in the early days of the Roman Empire, near the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. Jesus preached compassion with great conviction and charisma, but in his lifetime he had relatively few followers. Over time, his message of the spiritual equality of all people and an afterlife of heavenly communion with God replaced the comparatively unsatisfying traditional polytheistic religion of the Romans. Later Christians, Paul most notably, saw themselves not as part of a reform movement within Judaism but rather as a new religion. The writings of Paul and other Christians became known as the New Testament in the Christian Bible. By the time Rome collapsed, Christianity had demonstrated immense spiritual power and solid organization. For example, Benedict formed a monastery in Italy that became the template for other groups of monks and nuns. Christianity had particular appeal to women, who were offered leadership opportunities in convents and who were encouraged to worship together with men, which was unlike the practices in many faiths of the time. Islam will be featured in greater detail in upcoming chapters. With Buddhism and Christianity, the Islamic faith completes the roster of world religions, with most of the earth's population following one of these three belief systems today. Polytheistic faiths continued to exist, especially in Hinduism and Daoism. Muhammad, the last of the prophets, could not have a successor possessing his attributes. He had not established a procedure for selecting a new leader. After a troubled process Abu Bakr was chosen as caliph, the leader of the Islamic community. Break-away tribes and rival prophets were defeated during the Ridda Wars to restore Islamic unity. Arab armies invaded the weak Byzantine and Persian empires where they were joined by Bedouins who had migrated earlier.
Arab victories for a time covered old tribal internal divisions. The murder of Uthman, the third caliph, caused a succession struggle. Muhammad's earliest followers supported Ali, but he was rejected by the Umayyads. In the ensuing hostilities, Ali won the advantage until he accepted a plea for mediation at Siffin in 657. Ali lost the support of his most radical adherents, and the Umayyads won the renewed hostilities. The Umayyad leader, Mu'awiya, was proclaimed caliph in 660. Ali was assassinated in 661; his son, Husayn, was killed at Karbala in 680. The dispute left permanent division within Islam. The Shi'i, eventually dividing into many sects, continued to uphold the rights of Ali's descendants to be caliphs.
Muslim invasions from the seventh century added to the complexity of Indian civilization. Previous nomadic invaders usually had blended over time into India's sophisticated civilization. Muslims, possessors of an equally sophisticated, but very different, culture were a new factor. The open, tolerant, and inclusive Hindu religion was based on a social system dominated by castes; whereas Islam was doctrinaire, monotheistic, evangelical, and egalitarian. In the earlier period of contact, conflict predominated, but as time passed, although tensions persisted, peaceful commercial and religious exchange occurred in a society where Muslim rulers governed Hindu subjects.Although Muslims came as conquerors, early interaction with Indians was dominated by peaceful exchanges. The main carriers of Islam were traders and Sufi mystics, the latter drawing followers because of similarities to Indian holy men. Their mosques and schools became centers of regional political power providing protection to local populations. Low and outcast Hindus were welcomed. Buddhists were the most numerous converts. Buddhist spiritual decline had debased its practices and turned interest to the vigorous new religion of Islam. Others converted to escape taxes or through intermarriage. Muslim migrants fleeing thirteenth and fourteenth century Mongol incursions also increased the Islamic community. Byzantine political patterns resembled the earlier Chinese system. An emperor, ordained by god and surrounded by elaborate court ritual, headed both church and state. Women occasionally held the throne. An elaborate bureaucracy supported the imperial authority. The officials, trained in Hellenistic knowledge in a secular school system, could be recruited from all social classes, although, as in China, aristocrats predominated. Provincial governors were appointed from the center, and a spy system helped to preserve loyalty. A careful military organization defended the empire. Troops were recruited locally and given land in return for service. Outsiders, especially Slavs and Armenians, accepted similar terms. Over time, hereditary military leaders developed regional power and displaced aristocrats who were better educated. The empire socially and economically depended on Constantinople's control of the countryside. The bureaucracy regulated trade and food prices. Peasants supplied the food and provided most tax revenues. The large urban class was kept satisfied by low food prices. A widespread commercial network extended into Asia, Russia, Scandinavia, western Europe, and Africa. Silk production techniques brought from China added a valuable product to the luxury items exported. Despite the busy trade, the large merchant class never developed political power. Cultural life centered on Hellenistic secular traditions and Orthodox Christianity. Little artistic creativity resulted, except in art and architecture. Domed buildings, colored mosaics, and painted icons expressed an art linked to religion. The Catholic Church in the first centuries after 500 was the single example of firm organization. The popes headed a hierarchy based on the Roman imperial model; they appointed some bishops, regulated doctrine, and sponsored missionary activity. The conversion of Germanic kings, such as Clovis of the Franks, around 496, demonstrated the spiritual and political power of the church. It also developed the monastic movement. In Italy, Benedict of Nursia created the most important set of monastic rules in the sixth century. Monasteries had both spiritual and secular functions. They promoted Christian unity, served as examples of holy life, improved cultivation techniques, stressed productive work, and preserved the heritage of Greco-Roman culture. Western Europe remained politically divided. The Holy Roman Empire's territories in Germany and Italy were controlled by local lords and city-states. The pope ruled in central Italy. Regional units prevailed in the Low Countries. In strong feudal monarchies, power was limited by the church, aristocratic military strength, and developing urban centers. King John of England in 1215 was forced to recognize feudal rights in the Magna Carta. Parliaments, bodies representing privileged groups, emerged in Catalonia in 1000. In England a parliament, operating from 1265, gained the right to rule on taxation and related policy matters. Most members of societies were not represented, but the creation of representative bodies was the beginning of a distinctive political process not present in other civilizations. Despite the checks, European rulers made limited progress in advancing central authority. Their weakness was demonstrated by local wars turning into larger conflicts, such as the Hundred Years War of the fourteenth century between the French and English. Korea, because of its proximity to China, was more profoundly influenced over a longer period than any other state. But, despite its powerful neighbor, Korea developed its own separate cultural and political identity. Koreans descended from hunting and gathering peoples of Siberia and Manchuria. By the fourth century B.C.E., they were acquiring sedentary farming and metalworking techniques from China. In 109 B.C.E., the earliest Korean kingdom, Choson, was conquered by the Han, and parts of the peninsula were colonized by Chinese. Korean resistance to the Chinese led to the founding in the north of an independent state by the Koguryo people; it soon battled the southern states of Silla and Paekche. After the fall of the Han, an extensive adoption of Chinese culture—Sinification—occurred. Buddhism was a key element in the transfer. Chinese writing was adopted, but the Koguryo ruler failed to form a Chinese-style state. Mongol males were trained from youth to ride, hunt, and fight. Their powerful short bows, fired from horseback, were devastating weapons. The speed and mobility of Mongol armies made them the world's best. The armies, divided into fighting units of 10,000 (tumens), included both heavy and light cavalry. Harsh discipline, enforced through a formal code, brought punishments and rewards for conduct. Another unit, employing spies, secured accurate information for campaigns. New weapons, including gunpowder and cannons, were used. In 1517, Luther taught that only faith could gain salvation, and he challenged many Catholic beliefs, including papal authority, monasticism, and priestly celibacy. He said that the Bible should be translated into the vernacular. Luther resisted papal pressure and gained support in Germany where papal authority and taxes were resented. Princes saw an opportunity to secure power at the expense of the Catholic holy Roman emperor. They seized church lands and became Lutherans. Peasants interpreted Luther's actions—he vehemently disagreed—as a sanction for rebellion against landlords. Urban people thought Luther's views sanctioned money making and other secular pursuits. Other Protestant groups appeared. In England, Henry VIII established the Anglican Church. Frenchman Jean Calvin, based in Geneva, insisted on the principle of predestination of those who would be saved. Calvinists wanted the participation of all believers in church affairs and thus influenced attitudes toward government. They also stressed education to enable believers to read the Bible. The Catholic Church was unable to restore unity, but much of Europe remained under its authority. The Catholic Reformation worked against Protestant ideas, revived doctrine, and attacked popular beliefs. A new order, the Jesuits, spearheaded educational and missionary activity, including work in Asia and the Americas. Brazil became the world's leading sugar producer. The growth and processing of sugar cane required large amounts of capital and labor. Brazil, with a single crop produced by slave labor, was the first plantation colony. In its social hierarchy, white planter families, linked to merchants and officials, dominated colonial life. Slaves, composing about one half of the total population at the close of the seventeenth century, occupied the bottom level. In-between was a growing population of mixed origins, poor whites, Indians, and Africans who were artisans, small farmers, herders, and free workers. Portugal created a bureaucratic administrative structure under the direction of a governor general that integrated Brazil into the imperial system. The cores of the bureaucracy were lawyers. Regional governors often acted independently and, along with the governor general, reported directly to Lisbon. Missionaries had an important role; they ran ranches, mills, schools, and church institutions. During the seventeenth century, Brazil became the predominant Portuguese colony. It remained closely tied to Portugal; there were no universities or printing presses to stimulate independent intellectual life.