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Agricultural Revolution to the Fall of the Classical Age (8500 BCE to 600 CE)

August 13, 2019


As early as eighty five hundred years ago,
people found out that if you plant a seed and let it grow, it’s pretty much free food. People began to come together and live near
rivers, because irrigation wouldn’t be developed until much later. Towns such as Catal Huyuk grew, and with excess
of agriculture, jobs began to diversify and people were able to focus on things other
than just farming. One of these things was metal tools, first
copper, in 4000 BCE, with bronze soon after. Iron came later at around 1500 BCE, but metal
was useful because it was stronger than your average wooden tool. Not everyone in the world subscribed to this
whole agriculture thing. Nomads thought that plants were way overrated,
and decided to base their societies on animal husbandry. Agricultural civilizations called them barbarians,
but the nomads didn’t care. They were special in their own way. They were pretty good fighters, and whenever
they were low on food, they’d just pick up an axe, raid someone, y’know, the usual. Even though they had a rep for killing everyone,
they were actually peaceful and helpful to the agricultural peoples through trade. In terms of society, nomadic groups were patriarchal,
even though some respected women a whole lot more. Moving on to Mesopotamia: Basically, a couple
thousand years ago people moved to the Tigris and Euphrates river and set up shop there. They created the wheel, had cool art, and
were good at metalworking. The Mesopotamian state was based on city-states
with a divine king who ruled them all, and obviously, patriarchal. Fast forward fifteen hundred years to 3500
BCE, and the Sumerians, invaders of the region, ruled and created the first writing system,
cuneiform. Tablets of cuneiform, like the one on the
screen, may look like just some raccoon scratches on a rock, but I’m sure they told some pretty
cool stories. They were super into the whole “god” thing
as well, and constructed huge towers called ziggurats to show their devotion to the higher
powers (notice that its plural, because they were polytheistic). After another thousand years, the Babylonians
took over, and King Hammurabi, seeing that people just weren’t very nice, created the
first set of laws, dubbed Hammurabi’s code. Oh, yeah, and don’t forget that in 1200
BCE, Jews lived near the Mediterranean, under direct influence of the Babylonians, and presented
the world with the first monotheistic religion. The Egyptian civilization lasted for 3000
years because of their unity under their god-king, the pharaoh. The Egyptians are known well for their pyramids,
and the way that they’re oriented could lead into some serious conspiracy theories. Anyway, the pyramids are only further proof
that these early civilizations were not to be messed with, since they were the tallest
structures in the world for almost 4 millenia. Along the Indus River, a strong civilization
rose. One of the cities, Harappa, emphasized trade,
receiving items from all over; but maybe the most important part was that they actually
had toilets. Culturally, religious leaders were held in
high prestige. The Harappan people were also relatively conservative
and held onto their bronze technology even when better metals were found. One day, the Harappan civilization disappeared,
and no one really knows why. Spooky. To the East of the Indus Valley Civilization,
the Chinese people settled down near the Yellow River. The Shang were well organized, had a standardized
writing system, and was well advanced in technology and intellectual life. They created dikes, began ancestor worship,
and had a strong, expansionist army. They also had human sacrifice but hey you
do you. Ok so back to China, but this time during
the Classical Age. After the Shang fell, the Zhou dynasty, China’s
feudal age, rose. They pushed to the South, and were able to
conquer Yangzi River Valley. Now, they grew wheat in the north and rice
in the south. To legitimize their rule, Zhou emperors created
the Mandate of Heaven, which basically said that the heavens above had favored the emperors. However, once they fell out of favor, the
realm would crumble and the heavens would select a new leader. This became the fundamental basis to keep
the people from revolting. During this period, to strengthen cultural
unity, three main schools of thought rose. Confucianism stressed moderation, respect,
and virtue. Legalism taught that human nature was evil
and that the government suppressed this evil. And finally, Daoism taught balance between
nature and oneself. After the Zhou fell due to decentralization,
the Qin state rose and Shi Huangdi became the emperor of the realm. Ruthless and cruel, Shi Huangdi had huge construction
projects that resulted in the deaths of many. However, the Great Wall of China was effective
in keeping out invaders from the north. After the Qin, the Han dynasty took over China
and brought peace and prosperity. The bureaucracy was expanded and improved,
and examinations were taken to get to one of these highly valued jobs. The state also sponsored public works, intellectual
life, and trade. Socially, China still emphasized tightly knit
familial units and stressed obedience, generally towards the patriarch and males. They were serious. Talk back to your parents, and your life was
pretty much over. They also didn’t really like merchants because
the Chinese believe that all traders did was leech off someone else’s work and produced
nothing of their own. It’s also worth mentioning that the Chinese
were pretty good at inventing stuff, like gunpowder, silk, paper, and the compass, along
with others, all the while still depending on agriculture. After the fall of Harappa, Aryan migrants
flooded the subcontinent. When they arrived, they basically pulled a
European and considered the indigenous people inferior. An increased number of jobs and lead to social
stratification, with a various number of levels ranging from the top Brahmin to the bottom
Untouchables. Hinduism was pretty big, and so was the concept
of dharma, the principle of making the best of what caste you’re in. India primarily served as an important trans-Eurasian
trading hub. Due to constant invasions by Persia and
Alexander the Great, they were introduced to many cultures and concepts. The first big step in Indian history came
with the invasion of Alexander the Great. This guy literally just came in, conquered
a big amount of land, and left. So, there was a power vacuum left by him,
which was seized by Chandragupta Maurya, founding the Mauryan Dynasty. Life under the Mauryan dynasty was highly
autocratic, but they made great strides. Chandragupta’s grandson Ashoka, especially,
increased conquests by a significant amount. Although he seemed bloodthirsty, he later
converted to Buddhism, showing how he wanted peace. This gave a significant boost to Buddhism’s
popularity. After the Kushans invaded and destroyed the
Mauryan dynasty, they crumbled and the Gupta dynasty rose. However, the Guptas did not really see the
importance of having total control, and instead negotiated with local princes, leading to
a weak state. Finally, they too were overturned by the Huns,
and so ended the Classical Period in India. In 550 BCE, Cyrus the Great created the Persian
empire, spanning from Mesopotamia all the way to India. Their massive empire was tolerant of all peoples
and religions, as long as they submitted to Persian rule, and they built roads to connect
all the different parts of the empire together. One day, a man named Zoroaster had a revelation. He thought, “hey, life is a battle between
good and evil, so we should be good!” and then he thought, “that could totally be
a religion,” and so, Zoroastrianism was born. The Greeks had lived near the Mediterranean
since 1700 BCE, but had only become strong at around the 800 BCE mark. The Greeks lived in city-states with their
own government, and Athens, one of these city states, might be most well known for their
governmental system of a direct democracy. All citizens had a say. That is, except women, children, and slaves. Another city-state, Sparta, was probably most
well known for its rigorous military training and bloodshed, but that’s ok. As mentioned before, the Persians were getting
salty towards the Greeks, and launched an invasion. Sparta and Athens worked together to defend
Greece, eventually pushing the Persians back. After the Persian wars, Athens and Sparta
went head on in the Peloponnesian War to see who was stronger. Sparta won, but in reality, they just lost
by less. Through the chaos, a man by the name of Philip
of Macedonia conquered Greece and his son Alexander, conquered the Persian empire as well. Greece was pretty into the culture. Their religion was based on spirits and it
also explained unexplainable events at the time. For example, the God Helios supposedly rode
a chariot pulling the sun. The great minds of this period, Aristotle,
Homer, Cicero, and Socrates, among others, brought us philosophe and rational thought. A lot of science, drama, and mathematics was
going on. Then there was Heron of Alexandria who built
the first vending machine that dispensed holy water. What a time to be alive. Homosexuality in greece actually wasn’t
quite as taboo as in other regions… love who you love, y’know? Its cool, whatever boats your float. Ok onto Rome. Rome began as a monarchy in Italy as city-states
at around 800 BCE, but turned into a republic in 500 BCE. Rome had a strong army and expanded through
conquest, swallowing up Greece and most of the Mediterranean. In the Punic Wars, Rome fought Carthage, a
city in Northern Africa, and won. Following the wars, Rome salted the ground
in Carthage so nothing could ever grow there again. They were pretty salty towards the Carthaginians. Apart from the Greeks, the Romans were pretty
into architecture, building roads and aqueducts. More importantly, they had toilets. But all this engineering had its downsides. There was a lot of pollution and deforestation,
which led to erosion. Although not essential to your education,
I think it’s worth mentioning that the Romans didn’t have TP, because Joseph Gayetty invented
toilet paper 2000 years after, in 1857. Anyway, the Romans would use sticks with either
sponges or clothes, and would dip them into running water to clean themselves after defecating. What’s more concerning is that for the poor,
there were public sponges for everyone to use. Ok moving on. Eventually, due to corruption in the Senate,
civil wars were being fought in Rome, leading to the victory of a man, Julius Caesar. Caesar was like, “psh… equal power? I’m too good for that” and proceeded to
become a dictator. He brought peace with his power but people
got jealous of him and stabbed him 23 times. Let’s not forget that around 60 people promised
to stab him, so even back then, less than half of the people did their work in a group
project. Just thought I’d bring that up. Eventually, Augustus Caesar, Julius Caesar’s
grandson, seized the throne and named himself emperor. Rome’s government was less centralized than
that of Han China, but it relied on the military. Rome also had a lot of tolerance for religion
as long as your loyalties were to the state. However, the Romans weren’t so happy with
Christianity because the religion preached devotion to god over the emperor. But when the Roman was crumbling, a later
emperor, Constantine, tried to use the force of religion to unite the people. Yeah that didn’t work. Economically speaking, the Mediterranean didn’t
have good soil, so trade was important to get the grain that they needed. Thus, Merchants were treated far better in
both Rome and Greece than in China. Slaves were also important to Greece and Rome. Slaves usually worked as servants, miners,
or helped cultivate crops. Although women sometimes could hold positions
of power, they were always inferior to men. All the Classical Empires didn’t last forever,
though. In China’s case, due to bureaucratic corruption,
a period of unrest ensued, and along with nomadic invaders, the Han emperor fell. During this turmoil, people became more spiritual,
and Buddhism became more popular as Confucianism became less. In India, the incompetent rulers
were too weak to hold onto the Indian empire. It was divided into regional princes. India wasn’t as bad as China though, retaining
a strong economy. The amount of political confusion in Rome
was pretty bad to the point that they eventually just decided to split the empire into two. Pollution was a problem too, making a lot
of the land inarable. Then, since nobody could feed themselves,
some had to unleash their inner criminal and take matters into their own hands. Like the other civilizations, a nomadic group,
this time the Germanic tribes, took advantage of Rome’s overextension and weakness and
ultimately, the Roman empire crumbled. As you can see, all the empires of the classical
age fell due to both internal and external pressures. Weak rulers were unable to govern and barbarians
were always looking for a chance to invade. After all, some would argue that fall is inevitable.

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