EARLY CIVILIZATIONS AND THE DAWN OF THE MEDIEVAL AGE 1.0 Introduction History is an account of man’s achievements during the last five thousand years. Though man has been on this planet for about 500,000 years, history only covers a part of this period. The reason for this is that history is essentially based on written documents However the art of writing become known to man, only after 3000 B. C. 1.1 History : Meaning and Importance The word ’history’ is derived from the Greek noun ’historia’ meaning ’inquiry or research.’ Aristotle regarded it as a “systematic account of a set of natural phenomena, whether or not chronological ordering was a factor in the account.” The term “history” has now come to be applied to accounts of events that are narrated in a chronological order, and deal with the past of mankind.
Learning by inquiry about the past of mankind was later developed into a discipline by the Greek historians Thucydides and Heredeotus (who is popularly known as ’Father of History’). E. H. Carn defined history as an “unending dialogue between the present and the past.” Jawaharlal Nehru observed that man’s growth from barbarism to civilization is supposed to be the theme of history.” Will Durant called history “a narrative of what civilized men have thought or done in the past time.” World history is primarily concerned with the evolution of mankind. It traces the whole story of man as well as of his progress in civilization a culture from the dim past up to the present day. It indicates his failures and his successes, describes his laws and his wars, and reveals his religions and his arts. It gives an account of the significant developments that took place in the past with reference to the countries and the men and women who played a noteworthy part.
Thomas Carlyle, a famous historian of the French revolution regards world history as the “biography of great men.” The importance of history is in its capacity to help one to draw conclusions from the past events. It may be said that history is to the human race, what memory is to each man. It sheds the light of the past upon the present, thus helping one to understand oneself, by making one acquainted with other peoples. Also, as one studies the rise and fall of empires and civilizations, the lessons of the past help one to avoid the pitfalls of the present. History makes one’s life richer by giving meaning to the books one reads, the cities one visits or the music one hears.
It also broadens one’s outlook by presenting to one an admixture of races, a mingling of cultures and a spectacular drama of the making of the modern world out of diverse forces. Another importance of history is that it enables one to grasp one’s relationship with one’s past. For example if one wonders why the U.S. flag has 48 stars or why Great Britain follows monarchy, one has to turn to history for an answer. History is of immense value to social scientists engaged in research. Thus the political scientist doing research on the parliamentary form of government, has to draw his materials from the treasure trove of history. It preserves the traditional and cultural values of a nation, and serves as a beacon light, guiding society in confronting various crises.
History is indeed, as Allen Nerins puts it, “a bridge connecting the past with the present and pointing the road to the future.” 1.2 Pre-historic Period According to W.N. Weech, “The story of mankind forms only a small fragment of the earth’s long life, and little of the fragment has been set down in written history.” Though history reveals the story of mankind for about five thousand years, much is known of man’s past of a period even prior to the invention of the art of writing. This period, for which written historical records are not found, is known as pre-history. Knowledge about this period is based on the relics of the past, such as tools and weapons, fossils and rocks, fallen buildings and standing monuments.
Archaeologists and the anthropologists are able to reconstruct the story of mankind right from man’s first appearance on this earth, on the basis of a few human skulls and bones found in different parts of the world, as also on the tools and weapons used at that time. Pre-history is divided into 3 periods, according to the materiel used for making tools, namely, 1. The Stone Age (50,000 BC to 4000 BC), 2. The Bronze Age (4000 to 2000 BC), and 3. The Iron Age (1500 BC onwards). The Stone Age is divided into two periods, the Old Stone Age or the Paleolithic Age (50000 to 12000 BC) and the New Stone Age or the Neolithic Age (12000 to 4000 BC). This distinction is based on the stone implements which were crude, rough and unpolished in the Old Stone Age, and they were pointed, smooth and polished in the New Stone Age. The Old Stone Age is also considered to be the Age of food-gatherers, while the New Stone Age is referred to as the Age of food producers. The Age of civilization began to dawn towards the end of the Neolithic Age. 1.3 Early Civilizations World history gives a picture of the progress of civilization, which denotes the material progress achieved by man in the economic, political, moral and psychological spheres.
Civilization comes from the Latin word ’civitas’ meaning city. According to H. A. Davies “Civilization implies settlement in definite territories, the building of cities, the evolution of ordered methods of government, the development of trade and commerce, and a capacity for progress which is unrestricted.” The earliest civilizations developed almost simultaneously in the three great river valleys of the Tigris and the Euphrates called Mesopotamia, the Indus (now in Pakistan) and the Nile in North Africa in Egypt. The Egyptian civilization is probably the oldest known to man. The world acknowledges the contribution of the Egyptians who were the first to give one a calendar and a shadow-clock to measure time; a census and postal system; glass; paper and ink. Distinctive Egyptian architecture emerged during the period 4000-30 BC. The best representatives of this architecture are Egypt’s tombs, pyramids and temples.
The fertile land of Mesopotamia was only a part of a narrow but fertile strip of land which was called the ’Fertile Crescent.’ It was open to invasion by so many tribes that it became a melting pot of cultures namely the Sumerian, the Babylonian, the Assyrian, the Chaldean and a host of others. The Sumerians who occupied the lower portion of the Tigris Euphrates Valley, excelled in metal-works, gem-carving and sculpture. Their weapons, vessels and jewelry had humans and animals carved on them. They were also excellent in the art of making seals that they used in trade and commerce, to indicate the identity of a merchant. The Babylonians or Amorites had a famous king Hammurabi who gave to his people and the world, the earliest code of laws. The Babylonians achieved great success in science. Their special field was astronomy. The Assyrians set up for the Persians an example in the management of a vast expire.
Secondly, Assyria established a military organization and built an empire on its strength. This served as a lesson for the Romans in later days. Thus the Assyrians influenced later-day cultures. The Chaldeans made wonderful contributions in the field of astronomy. They were the first to make this subject a methodical and systematized science. The Phoenicians, who occupied the narrow strip of land between Syria and the Mediterranean Sea, were carriers of cultures. They blended the cultures of Egypt and Babylonia, thus becoming a link between the East and the West. The Hebrews made great contributions in the spiritual and ethical spheres. The two great religions of Judaism and Christianity are based upon their philosophy. Will Durant has rightly remarked, “the numerically and geographically insignificant Jews gave to the world one of its greatest literatures, two of its most influential religions, and so many of its profoundest men.” India also passed through the Stone Age, the Iron Age and the Copper Age.
Paleolithic remains were found in the Deccan and Southern India, while Neolithic sites were found almost all over India. Exhibit 1.3 The main centers of the Indus Valley civilization India’s story was supposed to begin with the arrival of the Aryans. However the discovery of buried cities like Harappa and Mohenjodaro, made historians aware of a very prosperous and advanced civilization belonging to the non-Aryan people in the Indus Valley. The Aryans, arrived in India around 1500 BC, drove away the original inhabitants of the lands, the non-Aryans or Dasyus, and settled in the fertile land of the Sapt-Sindhu. The Rig Veda, the Yajur Veda, the Sama Veda and the Atharva Veda are the sources for the history of the Aryans. The Rig Vedic society had the family as its unit. The king or ’rajan’ was the protector of the people.
He worked with the help of a council of ministers. Society was divided into certain classes based on profession, namely Brahmans (Priests and teachers), Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaisyas (trades) and Sudras (Menial workers). The Brahmanical religion required numerous ceremonies and sacrifices. The two religions, Jainism and Buddhism arose as a revolt against Brahmanism. The Mauryan Empire (324187 BC) came into power under Chandragupta, a great conqueror and administrator, who built the first great empire in India’s history. One of its rulers was Ashoka, who is regarded as one of the greatest kings in the world.
He gave up conquest, at the height of his glory, and ruled according to the principles of ’Dharma’. H. G. Wells regards Ashoka as one of the greatest monarchs of history. The Gupta Age (320 526 AD) is called the Golden Age or the Augustan Age of ancient India. Its great emperors such as Chandra Gupta I, Samudra Gupta and Chandra Gupta II, brought great progress and prosperity to the country. The Vardhana Empire was established after the fall of the Guptas. One of its greatest kings was Harsha, a great warrior, an able administrator, and a patron of art and learning. The Chinese civilization is certainly one of the oldest in the world. One of the important dynasties was the Chou dynasty, during whose rule, there lived the two great philosophers, Confucius and Lao-Tze. Lao-Tze established Taoism, an abstract, speculative philosophy. Confucianism became extremely popular, since it was essentially a religion of morals.
The Chinese made valuable contributions to the history of mankind, such as the art of making paper, the invention of black ink, the mariner’s compass a gun-powder, as well as the art of silk-weaving. The Great Wall of China, one of the wonders of the modern world, was built in 214 BC by the Qin dynasty to prevent Mongol and Turkish attacks from the North. It was extended towards the West by the Han dynasty. It is the only man-made structure that can be spotted from the moon with the naked eye. The Greeks and the Romans laid the foundations on which the edifice of the European civilization was built. The contribution of Greece was spiritual rather than material.
The Greek language, with its rich literature is a great legacy from Greece to the west. The Greeks learnt the alphabet of 22 consonants from the Phoenicians. By adding the vowels, they gave to the west, the alphabet as is used currently. The Greeks gave the earliest lessons in direct democracy: freedom of speech and thought. They made an inestimable contribution to philosophy. The foundations laid by Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle should be regarded as the basis of western philosophy. Rome, a city covering seven hills, later made its inhabitants the masters of an empire extending to the Tigris and Euphrates in the east, the Rhine and Danube in the north and the Sahara in the south. Rome is well known in history for the administration of an empire, the maintenance of peace through law and justice, its military strategy and for its transmission of the classical Greek heritage to the west.
Were it not for Rome, the Barbarians would have wiped out the achievements of the Greeks from human history. The Romans who left a legacy of laws were also known for the building of roads, bridges and aqueducts. Ernest Barker rightly remarks that “Rome built a culture, Greek in origin, but Roman in application and result.” Both Greece and Rome blended harmoniously to give the world a well-balanced society. There is a lot of controversy over the origins of the Indians in America.
The existence of Indians in the American continent, the various tribes, languages, customs and occupations reveal that much before the Europeans set foot in the ’new’ world, an entire civilization existed in the Americas. Historians claim that the archaeological history of the Indians goes back to more than 30,000 years. As Betty and Ian Ballantine put it: “By the time Columbus landed in the ’New World’, it was a very old world that already had seen entire civilizations rise and fall through the centuries. These linked continents were, by then populated by some 75,000,000 people who spoke 2,000 distinct languages…”
Conflicting theories exist on the origin of the Indians in America. But the credit for the most scientific explanation for the origin of Indians goes to a Jesuit missionary called Josi de Acosta. As far back as 1589, de Acosta stated that small groups of hunters might have migrated from Asia to America, a million years before the Spaniards set foot the American coast. These Indians might have left their Siberian homeland either in search of food or due to war between the tribes. These migrating tribes might have followed animals (now extinct) to reach America, via the landmass that bridged Siberia and Alaska. This theory is supported by the following facts: 1. Geographers say that there was indeed a thousand-mile long land bridge stretching between Siberia and Alaska. 2. Fossil bones from human ancestors – like the Neanderthals have not been found in America. This is evidence enough that physiologically, modern humans first arrived in America. 3. Archaeologists in Asia claim that humans did not appear in Siberia until 35,000 years ago. Though no definite date for the arrival of Indians in America has been established, one can safely conclude that they arrived there some time after the first humans made an appearance in Asia. 4.
Also climatic conditions favored migration. About 20,000 years ago, as the last ice Age made its appearance on Earth, huge glaciers covered the entire regions of Canada. Due to these glaciers a lot of water was concentrated and the water levels in the oceans went down, revealing a 1,000-mile landmass between Siberia and Alaska. Geographers have called this landmass the Bering Land Bridge or Beringia. Further, due to the glaciation much of the natural vegetation shifted southwards. The animals that are today found in cold regions followed them. For instance, the reindeer, lemmings etc. then lived in places that are extremely warm for them today. Archaeological evidence shows that the walrus existed in parts of Virginia during that age. The first American Indians were hunters and gatherers who stayed in bands of twenty to fifty people. Through the centuries, these Indians (called ’Clovis’ by archaeologists) lived and adapted themselves to the new geographical conditions after the Ice Age. And about eleven thousand years ago, these tribes died.
But the others who separated from the ’Clovis’, to exploit the resources of the grassland survived and continued to adapt. Before the first Indians disappeared, hundreds of tribes spread out in the continent, and developed their own language and culture. Many American Indian tribes today attribute their ancestry to the ’Clovis’ Indians. Then some of these tribes settled due to various objective and subjective factors. And from these settled villages, rose great civilizations in about 1500 BC. These civilizations emerged in the South American Continent, where environmental conditions were best suited. The earliest of these civilizations was that of the ’Olmecs.’ The Olmec was not just a separate culture entity that arose in the Gulf of Mexico; it was also a religion that spread to most of the civilized parts of South America. This religion consisted of symbols, rituals and spirits. The main god of the Olmec religion was the Rain God, a figure with both human and jaguar-like features. This Rain God was worshipped by later civilizations like the Aztecs, the Mayans etc. Civilizations like the Olmec, the Zapotec and the Maya shared many things in common.
Chief among them was their calendar system. American civilizations had a calendar system that consisted of 2 calendars: a solar year of 365 days and the ritual cycle of 260-days. The two calendars worked in such a way that they converged once every fifty-two years. For the native Americans this convergence every 52 years was very auspicious, thus celebrated through public ceremonies to mark the event. Another important civilization was at Teotihuacan, with its majestic pyramids. Not very far from Mexico City, this civilization flourished in 150 BC and lasted for a millennium. Teotihuacan was a well planned city, neatly divided into neighborhoods knows as ’barrios.’ Besides Pyramids (600 totally), the town also had beautifully carved temples, along with a huge market place. The civilization grew due to its vast stretches of irrigated fields.
The power of the Teotihuacan declined sometime before 750 AD. By AD 800, the people from the city migrated towards the east and the South and soon the city was abandoned. The reasons for the decline of this ancient city could be rebellion or because their fields had been overused thus lowering the produce. Later, new civilizations emerged. Among them were the Toltecs, with their capital city called Tula. This city soon became a center for soldiers and merchants who controlled the entire region of ancient Mexico and Central America. The Toltecs were followed by the Aztecs. The Aztec Empire is considered to be one of the greatest in South America. The Maya: The Mayas were contemporaries of the Olmecs.
While the latter civilization declined and disappeared, the Mayas, by AD 300 had developed a remarkably advanced culture, which flourished till AD 900. From the ruins, scholars have gathered that the Mayans had built huge and aesthetically beautiful temples. Besides their monumental architecture, the Mayans had also advanced in astronomy, recording their observations in screen folds (books made of lime covered bark paper). Mayan writers also wrote calendrical religious inscriptions on ceramic vessels. These inscriptions and records reveal that the Mayans had a well-developed script. Known to be a peaceful people, who believed in the policy of ’live and let live,’ this civilization buckled under the onslaught of the weapon wielding Spaniards. In North America, the Indians did not settle down to do agriculture due to the climatic conditions. Thus, they did not make the advances their counterparts made in the South American continent. There were various tribes like Beaver, Chippewe, Cree, Chowo, Yellow Knife, Mohegans, etc. Since the growing season was too short for agriculture, they gathered plants, nuts and berries. Hunting and fishing were the chief activities.
As far as shelter was concerned, nomadic tribes used portable ’tepees’; while the others built strong log homes to stay. Communal sharing extended to land use, the hunt and the home. Although one particular family ploughed a piece of land, they did not own it. It belonged to the entire tribe. The women especially from the Iroquois tribe played a major role in political matters. In this tribe (Iroquois) which lived in villages, married men stayed or joined the family of their wires. And while the women did the farming, the men went out to hunt, fish and war. So influential was the authority of the women in this tribe, that they sometimes prevented military expeditions by refusing to supply food or footwear. Within the tribe, there was a healthy spirit of competition in hunting, fishing and fighting, children were brought up on egalitarian values. Without any written laws or jails, order and discipline was maintained, by way of ostracism.
Though civilized, their lack of technological knowledge – especially in the used of weapons, rifles, etc. and a lack of unity between the various tribes were the 2 main reasons for their inability to resist the European onslaught in the New World. Initially, these tribes accepted the white foreigners in their midst, and helped them to adjust and learn about their new environment. However, soon a bitter struggle ensued. For as European settlements increased, land grabbing and the control of fur trade at the expense of the native Indians caused a long, bloody war in the north. Not content with cattle raising and sugar plantations, the Spanish Monarchy wanted wealth to fill their coffers. Moreover, rumors were afloat about the existence of civilizations in Mexico and South America, known for their wealth. 1.4 The Dark Age The Dark Age began in the fourth century with the coming of the Barbarians who invaded the mighty Roman Empire and destroyed it.
They brought about great destruction. However even during the Dark Age, which lasted up to, the eleventh century, rulers like Charlemagne, the king of the Franks and Alfred the Great, the king of England, brought some enlightenment. Further, Constantinople, the seat of the Eastern Roman Empire, continued to shed the light of civilization and culture. During the sixth century, Arabia shot into prominence under the new religion of Islam. The Arabs were galvanized into a mighty power that conquered country after country, thus building up a large Islamic empire. 1.5 The Medieval Period The Medieval period began in Europe with the end of the Dark Age and thus law and order was restored. It lasted from the 11th century to the 14th century Europe, which had experienced anarchy during the Dark Age, gradually recovered and built a new culture, which was a combination of the features of the ancient cultures of Greece and Rome, and those of the life of the barbarians. Christianity played an important role in the generation of medieval European civilization, which had several achievements. Feudalism, an organization based on land tenure, was an important feature of this period. During the Middle Ages, there was the growth of a national identity in Europe.
Nations like England, France, Hungary, Denmark, Norway and others sprung into being. At this time, guilds were organized in cities and town. The church provided spiritual food to the people and rendered useful social service. Liberal arts were studied and universities were established. A vast mass of literature was produced in Latin and in the vernaculars. New styles of art and architecture developed and much progress was achieved in Science. Thus, during this formative period, Europe and Asia fell victims to the cruel nomadic hordes of the Mongols. The Mongol rule established a link between the east and the west thus Europe was enriched by the impact of the Chinese civilization. The Ottoman Turks became prominent in the 11th century. The Turks had a great ambition to conquer Constantinople and in 1453, Sultan Muhammad II attacked it successfully. The fall of Constantinople is regarded as a great landmark in world history, as it marked the beginning of the modern times. In India the medieval period extended from the death of Harsha in 647 AD, to the Mughal invasion in 1526 AD. It was a period of transition that witnessed the rise of several states.
The Rajputs played an important role in North India, until the Muslim invasion. The Arabs were the first Muslims to come to India. Three centuries after the Arab invasion, the Turks established their power in India. The Muslim dynasties ruling India, during the medieval period, with Delhi as their capital, were the Slave, the Khilji, the Tughlak, the Sayyid and Lodi. The two kingdoms that rose to power in the south were the Hindu kingdom of Vijaynagar, established in 1336, and the Bahmani kingdom of the Muslims, established in 1347. Babar, a descendant of Timur (a great leader of the Mongol-Tartar hordes), became the founder of the Mughal Empire in India. 1.6 Dates & Events 5000 BC – Development of Civilizations begin in the Nile river valley. Sumerians establish their first agricultural settlements in the river valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates. 4500 BC – Metal Works begin in both Egypt and Sumer. 4000-3500 BC – Sumer : First towns are established. 3760 BC – Early use of bronze is recorded in Egypt and Sumer. 3500 BC – Two kingdoms of Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt flourish side by side. The earliest known numerals and Hieroglyphic script are invented. Development of the Mastaba, a burial pit covered by a brick platform. It was the forerunner of the pyramid. 3200 BC – Sumerians begin to develop cuneiform writing, the oldest writing system.
2690 BC – Indus valley civilization 2630 BC – Step Pyramid in Egypt. 2600 BC – Papyrus used in Egypt. Before this the Egyptians wrote on stone 2575 – 2134 BC – The Old Kingdom. 2551 BC – Khufu becomes Pharoah and builds the Great Pyramid at Giza. 1500 BC – End of Indus Valley civilization. The beginning of the Shang Dynasty in China. 2040-1640 BC – The Middle Kingdom. 1550-1070 BC – The New Kingdom. People from Palestine settle there. 1200 BC – Aryans in India. 1140 BC – First Phoenician colony in Africa at Utica. 1116 BC – Assyrians conquer Babylon. 1000 BC – Rig Veda compiled in India. 800 BC – Development of India’s caste system. 752 BC – Foundation of Rome. 612 BC – End of Assyrian empire. 563 BC – Birth of Buddha. 551 BC – Birth of Confucius. 507 BC – Democracy is established in Athens. 279 BC – Asoka founds the first Indian Empire. 27 BC – Augustus becomes the first Roman Emperor. 306 AD – Constantine I becomes the emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire. 320 AD – Chandragupta founds the Gupta dynasty in India. 324 AD – Constantine reunites the Roman Empire. 330 AD – Constantine founds Constantinople, on the sight of the Greek city of Byzantium, as the capital of his empire (Istanbul). 1.7 Points To Remember History : Meaning and Importance History is the account of events narrated in a chronological order, and deal with the past of mankind. It connects the past with the present and shows the way to the future. Pre-historic Period This is the period for which written historical records are not found. It is divided into the Stone, the Bronze and the Iron Age.
Early Civilizations Civilizations imply the progress of mankind in all fields. They occurred mainly due to the flourishing of peoples around the rivers: Tigris, Euphrates, Indus and the Nile. Egyptian – the earliest known civilization Mesopotamia – This ’Fertile Crescent’ became a melting pot of cultures of mainly the Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians and the Chaldeans, which made various contributions. Phoenicians They served as a link between the Egyptians and the Babylonians, thus connecting the east to the west. Hebrews They are credited with having given the world spiritual philosophies upon which Judaism and Christianity are based. Indus Valley Prior to the arrival of the Aryans in the Indian sub-continent, there a highly civilized society of the Dasyus had been existing. The history of the Aryans is chronicled in the four Vedas: Rig Veda, the Yajur Veda, the Sama Veda and the Atharva Veda. The Aryan period was followed by a number of important dynasties and India reached the height of glory in the Gupta Age, also known as the Golden Age.
China An important dynasty of ancient China is the Chou dynasty which brought forward two important philosophers: Confucius and Lao-Tze. They gave Confucianism and Taoism respectively. The Chinese civilization can be credited with the art of making paper and silk-weaving, and the invention of ink, gun-powder and the mariner’s compass. Greece This formed the foundation of European culture. It presented the world with the modern alphabet, the concepts of democracy and philosophy as well as the most important philosophers like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Rome Not only did they preserve the Greek heritage against the Barbarians, they also contributed in the field of administration in an important way. Emperor Constantine made Christianity one of the official languages of the Roman Empire. The Dark Age It lasted through the fourth to the eleventh centuries with the barbarians invading and destroying the Roman Empire completely.
Such kings as Charlemagne and Constantinople formed the saving grace of civilization at this time of barbarism. At the same time, Islam was becoming a dominant religious influence spreading from the Arab land. Medieval Age Medieval Europe was characterized by a number of important concepts: nationalism, feudalism, progress in Science, new styles of art and architecture, vernacular literature. It recorded the first signs of modernism. Medieval Asia the invasion of the Mongols on Europe and Asia served to provide a Chinese influence on these cultures. With the Turks plundering Constantinople, the modern times were ushered in. The most important event to occur at this time in India was the advent of Islam.