HIST 1111 PostClassical Period

Lecture 16, the post-classical period, post meaning, of course, after, the Latin phrase for ‘after’. The general outline of the post-classical period – the Gupta Empire in India, the Han Empire in China, and the Roman Empire in the Mediterranean have all collapsed. Arabs and Islam emerge as a new force in Eurasian history. Byzantium and China tend to be secondary to Islam in this period. Arab energy will wane, or diminish, by the end of this period. And at the same time, we’ll see the rise of another powerful force in world history, and that’s the Mongols. Civilizational centers – The Mediterranean, like I said in our last lecture, becomes fragmented. In the Arab world you have the Middle East, Central and South Asia, and the African Periphery as the Arab culture and Islam expands rapidly. And then of course, in Western Europe you have the feudal order emerging – decentralized, fragmented, hierarchy – a reciprocal system whereby everybody owes somebody something. The great land owners, the nobility, tend to dispense protection and land downward through the hierarchy. Up the hierarchy you go service, military service to the king or to the noblemen, and then of course, the vast peasantry supply food for this system in exchange for a plot of land and protection. Now we’re also going to see the emergence of Japan, Russia, and Northern Europe in this time period. The British Isles, Scandinavia, sub-Saharan Africa we’re going to look at, and of course, the Americas in the Western Hemisphere. The human web is going to expand now worldwide, and human complexity, the history of human complexity deepens. A couple of themes here – the spread of world religions, world religion is called that because of their vast impact around the globe. And of course, we have Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam. Judaism is often considered a world religion also because of its great influence on Christianity and Islam. These world religions are faiths that cross national and regional boundaries. Religions are organizing factors and they create unity among people. The post-classical world is given coherence and meaning by these world religions. These religions have an impact on art, obviously, and on culture. Innovation and money went into religion. It becomes a focus of people’s activities. World religions fundamentally redirected older expectations. Instead of promising divine help and assuring worldly prosperity and protection, as religions have previously done, now they focus on human aspiration towards an eternal, or transcendental, world of salvation, the afterlife, heaven, nirvana, reunion with Krishna, or paradise in India. Moral rules are reinforced by the fear of hell, or eternal damnation, or for the Hindus and the Buddhists, the fear of miserable and unending reincarnations, the transmigration of souls. Now another theme here in this period is the emergence of a world network, a systematic, commercial network of trade in the Afro-Asiatic world. Links of commerce across Asia, reaching Southeast Asia, Indonesia, the Philippines, as the web extends further and further to the peripheries. A commercial network now extends to include Japan, China, and of course, Korea. There’s Indian Ocean coast of Africa that now becomes included, and this is expanding Islamic trade network. There are caravan routes across the Sahara to the Mediterranean, from the Niger River Valley, where gold; salt; and slaves are transported across this vast desert. New technologies – We have new ships. We have new navigational devices. We have better cartography, better sails. I’m going to bring up something that Professor Sterns talked about in the lectures I mentioned at the beginning of this course, the lectures that I listened to in preparing for this course. He talks about three zones – a 1, 2, and 3. Zone 1 being sort of the center, the Arab world, Byzantium, India, China; zone 2 those newer civilizations along the periphery – Japan, Southeast Asia, Russia, sub-Saharan Africa, Northwestern Europe; and then zone 3 the Western Hemisphere and other sparsely populated areas. I want you to keep this idea, this concept of these zones in mind because later we’re going to talk about Immanuel Wallerstein’s world systems theory, and there will be points of comparison here. Let’s look at zone 3 for a moment, civilizational centers in Mexico and Peru. The human web is weaker here since transportation has lagged behind. There’s an absence of large domesticated animals in the Western Hemisphere as opposed to the Eastern Hemisphere. Of course, in the East we have cows and horses and mules and donkeys and oxen that are domesticated for human use. In the Western Hemisphere we have llamas and alpacas, small pack animals that cannot carry the sort of burdens that the domesticated animals of Eurasia can carry. Think about Polynesia, these voyagers have reached Easter Island in the Southern Pacific by about 400 of the Common Era, and may even have touched American shores. Polynesian sailors brought sweet potatoes back to the Pacific Islands. American Indian civilizations depended on storable grain, like maize, which is an early version of corn; this is supplemented by beans and squash, and in South American, supplemented by potatoes and quinoa. So we see these domesticated grains are sort of the foundation of civilization in the Western Hemisphere just as they are in the Eastern Hemisphere with wheat and with rice. Of course, in the Caribbean we have the Olmec civilization on the coast of Mexico, and this of course, will give way to the Mayan civilization, and then finally, to the Aztecs. A few words about the Mayan civilization – they produce raised fields that resembled Asian rice plantations. These were able to produce abundant crops and change the landscape – and this may be important. It rerouted water. The surplus of food is controlled by the elites, both political and religious. Well-organized labor built palaces and temples and plazas from stone. The Mayans devised a sophisticated system of writing, and devised a calendar that was quite accurate. Mayan decline – political disorders perhaps, a sudden shortage of resources, some have speculated drought may have been a factor in Mayan decline. Some have speculated that the Mayans damaged the environment causing massive erosion and precipitous loss of resources. So let’s draw some conclusions here, parallels from the Americas to Asia. Farmers had to learn when to plant and how to save seed for the next planting. Two kinds of religious rituals managed by priests made this possible. Careful observation of heavenly bodies allowed priests to determine the proper planting season. Other rituals – fasts, sacrifices, harvest festivals – effectively rationed consumption throughout the year, thus farming communities led by priests and regulated by religious rituals were better able to withstand disasters that arose from capricious weather, weeds, and other pests. So a quick look at the post-classical period across the globe. Thank you for your attention.

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