Questions of Periodization

Nature and causes of changes

  • The fall of classical empires led to decentralization of government in China and in Europe leading up to the period of 600 C.E. - 1450.  The collapse of the Han dynasty in China opened the door to the spread and appeal of Buddhism into China, since the Confucian authority was no longer centralized.  In the Western Roman Empire, the fall of the west left a power vacuum that set the stage for the rise of fragmented regional kingdoms. 
  • In India, the tradition of weak centralized power coupled with the Hindu caste system contributed to the social stability after the fall of the Gupta empire.
  • The Indian Ocean trade route becomes more prosperous as a result of the collapse of classical empires in Rome and China, which had helped secure the overland trade routes.
  • The rapid growth of Islam after 600 shaped events and societies in parts of Africa, Europe and Southwest Asia.

New Empires and Political Systems

  • Umayyad Caliphate (661 C.E.) - The Umayyad clan took control of the Islamic caliphate after the fourth caliph.  They were based in Damascus and established a hereditary monarchy.  They built their empire by conquering Syria, Persia, Egypt, North Africa, Spain and parts of the Byzantine Empire in West Asia.  The set up a bureaucratic structure that used local administrators.  Cultures were tolerated as long as they obeyed the rules of the caliphate, and payed a special tax and did not revolt.  Arabic was the language used for trade and government.

  • Abbasid Caliphate - They moved the capital to Baghdad, which was the second largest city in the world then.  The size made it difficult to control, and their empire was weakened due to the heavy use of slaves, known as Mamluks.  The Mamluks served in the army and eventually weakened the Abbasid rule.  By the mid 9th century, the Abbasid Caliphate had been broken into smaller states, but Islam was the cultural continuity.  Areas under Muslim control were known as "Dar al-Islam".

    Muslim merchants spread improved irrigation in the region, which led to increases in food production and population.  Cities flourished and manufactured pottery, fabrics and rugs.  Paper was introduced from China, and they set up paper mills.  Mosques, hospitals, schools and orphanages were set up throughout the empire, which allowed for the spread of intellectual ideas such as algebra, Greek learning, and latitude and longitude.  The House of Wisdom sought out Greek and Persian texts, which were translated into Arabic.  Universities were also established, such as those in Toledo, Cordoba, and Granada.

    Women - In early Islamic society, Islam appealed to women because they had equal status in the eyes of God.  Women could keep their dowries as wives and female infanticide was prohibited.

  • Byzantine Empire (4th century - 1453 C.E.) - This was a continuation of the Eastern Roman Empire and is the only survivor of the classical period.  Emperor Justinian (527-565) attempted to reconquer the western portion, but failed.  He did succeed at codifying Roman laws (Justinian's Code).  He controlled religious and political life and replaced Latin with Greek as the official language.  The Byzantine Empire was a strong centralized hereditary monarchy.  It had an effective military and a bureaucracy the answered to the emperor.  The empire was administered by dividing it into themes - military districts - controlled by generals.  The Emperor was considered the head of the church and appointed the patriarch.  This concept was called caesaropapism. In 1054, the Roman Pope and Byzantine Patriarch excommunicated each other and the Christian church split into the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.  Eastern Orthodox Christianity spread into Russia and Slavic territories, while Catholicism spread into Western Europe.

    Its central location on the Mediterranean Sea allowed trade to flourish, especially in the capital of Constantinople.  Silk worms were smuggled out of China, which allowed the Byzantines to develop a silk industry, while artisans produced glassware, linen, jewelry, gold and silver.  Socially, people could move up through military service, but this was rare. 

  • Swahili Coast (Around 900 - 1500) - The Swahili city-states were trade centers in eastern Africa.  Their growth was due largely to the increase in trade along the Indian Ocean Basin.  Bantu settlers on the coast and Arab merchants who traded along the east African coast interacted to create city-states such as Mogadishu, Sofala, and Kilwa.  Swahili is a language that blends Bantu and Arabic.  Merchants traded gold, slaves and ivory for pottery, glassware, and textiles from Persia, India and China.  City-states were governed by kings, who controlled the trade, as well as the taxes.  Wealthy merchants often converted to Islam, but did not give up their own religions or traditions.

  • Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 C.E.) - After fall of Han, 400 years of regional kingdoms ruled China.  The Sui dynasty (581 - 618 C.E.) was short lived, but reestablished centralized rule, began construction of the Grand Canal, and set the stage for the post-classical Tang Dynasty.

    The Tang was focused on scholars than soldiers, but did expand to TIbet and Korea.  It completed the Grand Canal, which led to increase in trade within China.  Tang rulers supported Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism.  Confucian beliefs solidified the government through the use of the civil service examination system.  Chang' an became a cosmopolitan capital visited by foreign diplomats from the Byzantine and Arab Worlds, and boasted a population of 2 million people by 640.  This dynasty began to decline due to higher taxes creating tension with the population.  Peasant rebellions led to more independent regional rule and the abdication of the Emperor.

    Tang rulers set up military garrisons to protect the Silk Road Trade.  The equal field system was established to try to limit the power of wealthy landowners.  This gave peasants land to farm in return for tax in grain, but it failed to weaken the power of large landowners.  Tang policies also influenced the spread of Buddhism, but saw a backlash toward the end of the dynasty because Buddhism was seen as a foreign religion.  This weakening of Buddhism led to the development of Neo-Confucianism.

    Women - Marriages were arranged within their social classes.  Upper class women could own property, move about in public and remarry. Women could inherit property in the absence of male heirs.  Poetry flourished (Li Bai and Du Fu)

  • Song Dynasty (960 - 1279 C.E.) - The Song reestablished centralized control over China, and maintained the civil service exam system.  The civil service exam system provided upward mobility for males, though the expense of preparation was only afforded by the wealthy.  The Song de-emphasized the military and instead focused on creating a scholar-based government.  They also reestablished the tribute system in which neighboring peoples had to pay tribute to keep peace.

    Economically, the Song saw many important developments.  Fast-ripening rice from Champa (Vietnam) doubled rice production, and trade along the completed Grand Canal connected the northern and southern areas of China.  The population increased and the capital of Kaifeng became a manufacturing center for cannons, movable type printing, water-powered mills, looms and high quality porcelain.  Minted coins were used and were eventually replaced with paper money, while merchants used "flying cash" as credit for trade.

    The Southern Song established a capital at Hangzhou, where commerce grew.  The Song also used cotton sails and compasses to build a strong navy and the ability to ship more goods to the rest of the world.  Song goods traveled as far as east Africa and the power of the Song shifted south.

    Women - Women could keep dowries and had access to new jobs such as merchants.  Upper class women were subject foot-binding, which was seen as a sign of wealth and status.  This increased restrictions in the freedom of women.
  • Early Ming Dynasty - The Ming dynasty established Chinese rule after the defeat of the Yuan dynasty in 1368.  The dynasty began under Hongwu.  The Ming attempted to destroy all traces of Mongol rule and began by reinstating the civil service examination system.  Central authority was tightened as well.  The Ming relied on mandarins, a class of powerful officials, to implement their policies on the local level.  They used conscripted labor to build irrigation systems, which led to increase in agricultural output.  They did not actively promote trade, but private merchants traded manufactured porcelain, silk and cotton.

    Under the Ming, the Chinese sought to reestablish a presence in the Indian Ocean by imposing control over trade.  They sent a massive naval expedition to establish tribute states and impress foreigners.  These expeditions were led by Zheng He, a Muslim eunuch who led 300 ships with 28,000 troops.  He sailed  around Southeast Asia and out to East Africa.  In 1433, Zheng He's expeditions were ended and his records destroyed.  Pressure from Confucian officials convinced the emperor that the expeditions were unneeded and too expensive, and that China should focus on internal stability by protecting the northern border.

  • Mongol Empires (Around 1200 - 1550 C.E.) - The Mongol Empires began as nomadic pastors led by Temujin, later named Genghis Khan after uniting the Mongol clans.  They built their empire through conquest and intimidation, mobilizing the entire male population in time of war.  Genghis Khan is believed to have said, "Submit and live.  Resist and die."  The Mongols built the largest empire in world history, controlling Central Asia, Tibet, Northern China, and Persia.  In 1215, the Mongols destroyed present-day Beijing.  After the death of Genghis Khan, his empire was divided amongst his four sons into the Yuan, the Persian Ilkhanates (Khanate of Central Asia and the Ilkhan Empire), and The Golden Horde in Russia.  The Mongols attempted to invade Japan, but failed due to typhoon winds that destroyed their fleet.  The large empire lasted only a few generations, as the Mongols did not have a large population to maintain the vast territories.  Overspending and inflation, plus weak leadership after Kublai Khan led to the decline of the Mongols.

    Yuan Dynasty (China) - Kublai Khan defeated the Southern Song and China fell under foreign rule in 1279.  He created a Chinese style dynasty with a fixed and regular tax system. Foreigners were in charge of the government and the Chinese were consciously separated from the Mongols.  Through Mongol protection and pacification of overland trade routes, trade grew under the Yuan.

    The Ilkanates (Middle East) - Kublai's brother Hulegu defeated the Abbasid Caliphate in 1258.  The Mongols employed local bureaucrats to govern and converted to Islam by 1295.  Local rulers were permitted to rule as long as they kept order and paid taxes. Unlike in China, the Mongols mixed with the local people.

    The Golden Horde (Russia) - The Mongol ruler Batu conquered and ruled Russia.  He kept local rulers in place to administer, and Russian bureaucrats collected taxes from the peasants.  Missionaries were allowed to visit, but the Mongols converted to Islam. 

  • Aztec Empire (Around 1400 - 1521) - The Mexica were the last great Mesoamerican culture prior to the arrival of the Europeans.  They were originally migrant nomads who settled in the valley of central Mexico to found the city of Tenochtitlan.  They used their fighting skills to control the areas around Lake Texcoco and establish a tribute system with surrounding  city-states.  The Aztec had a strong military tradition, and they were ruled by absolute rulers.  Their economy was agricultural based, and they used cacao beans as currency.  Religiously, the priestly class oversaw rituals which involved bloodletting and human sacrifice.

  • Inca Empire (Around 1400 - 1540) - The Inca empire was based in the South American highlands.  The Incas conquered a large area and absorbed many tribes into their empire.  In 90 years, the empire grew to cover 3,000 square miles from north to south.  They were a centralized empire with a capital city in Cuzco, Peru.  The used an extensive irrigation system and terrace farming to adapt to the rugged Andean terrain.  Their religion was based on the worship of the sun and other deities.  Society was patriarchal and there were few rights for women.

  • Sudanic States - One area impacted by the increase in interaction throughout the period was western Africa.  The empires of Ghana and Mali profited from Trans-Sahara trade, and leaders adapted Islam from merchants.  These empires gained their wealth by controlling and taxing all trade across the Sahara, especially the trade of gold.

  • Sultanate of Delhi (1206 - 1526) - Afghan Turks invaded India and started to govern.  The Delhi Sultanate was ruled by Turkic and Afghan dynasties who introduced a strong Muslim presence in India.

  • Russian Empire -

Continuities and breaks within the period

Throughout the time period, religion was the unifying cultural element in many societies.  In Europe, Christianity provided cultural continuity in the absence of strong centralized rule, while Islam united the Middle East and North Africa.  Societies continued to assert male authority over women.  Long-distance trade continued to grow throughout the period, although there were temporary interruptions due to the bubonic plague.

The Islamic World

The Rise and Role of Dar al-Islam

  • Cultural and economic unifying force in Eurasia and Africa. 
  • Islam provided social continuity during and after the rule of the caliphates
  • Spread through military conquest, trade and missionary activity - Sufis most active missionaries
  • Tolerance for other beliefs allowed it to spread
  • Simple message of what to do and not do
  • Appealed to the poor due to charity focus and inclusion as spiritual equals
  • Universal civilization
  • Merchants influence over trade routes allowed Islam to spread throughout North Africa and the Indian Ocean basin.

Islamic Political Structure

  • After Mohammad, disagreement over succession leads to split between Shia (should be descendant of Mohammad) and Sunni (should be the wisest member of the strongest tribe.
  • Caliph was hereditary monarchy
  • Strong military - employed use of slaves into military

Art, Science and Technology

  • Islam stressed the value of knowledge - House of Wisdom in Baghdad is example, concept of modern libraries
  • Concept of latitude and longitude
  • Translated Greek works of literature and teachings of Aristotle; other works from the ancient world survived due to Islam
  • Art and architecture forbid the use of images - focus was on geometric patterns and calligraphy
  • Period considered the Islamic Golden Age
  • Improved Chinese paper making techniques
  • Universities set up to study science, chemistry, astronomy, mathematics, physics and medicine
  • Book of One Thousand and One Nights - most famous fiction work
  • Wrote epic poetry, philosophy novels

Interregional Networks and Trade

Developments and shifts in interregional trade, technology and cultural exchange

The period of 600-1450  saw a large increase in volume of long distance trade.  Overland trade included luxury goods, such as silk and precious stones, while sea lanes carried larger, bulkier goods such as steel, stone, coral and building materials.

Trans-Sahara Trade

  • Increase in use of trade route during this period (began to use route at end of previous era)
  • Use of camels, caravans, Berber traders increased contact with Muslims - connected West Africa with Muslim world and beyond
  • SSA had lots of gold, little salt - Mediterranean had little gold, lots of salt
  • Led to increase in wealth of Ghana, which controlled the gold trade coming from the south
  • Ghana provided ivory, slaves, horses, cloth and salt - Kings converted to Islam in 900s
  • Mali absorbed Ghana and controlled all trade into Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Mansa Musa makes pilgrimage to Mecca using route
  • Major cities on route included Timbuktu and Gao

Indian Ocean Trade

  • Linked China, India, Southeast Asia, Arabia and East Africa
  • Cities located strategically grew 
  • Volume increased as a result of decline of overland routes
  • Safe environment for markets, welcomed all merchants, and charged reasonable fees
  • Magnetic compass spread from China and led to increase in maritime trade and exploration

Silk Roads

  • Continued to be used and saw the most volume during this period
  • Mongols controlled and protected route
  • Bubonic plague spread over Silk Roads and led to decrease in its use

Economic Innovations

  • Paper money
  • Flying Cash (letters of credit) in China
  • Serfdom in Europe - peasants have right to work land, but not leave land
  • Manors in medieval Europe

Missionary Activities

  • Buddhism
    • Stricter, Theravada spread into Southeast Asia; Mahayana into central Asia and China
    • Buddhist traveled on Silk Roads and adapted to polytheism
    • Tibet, Buddhist become popular - combined shamanism with importance of rituals
    • Monks, merchants and missionaries adapted Buddhism to political ideas of Confucianism and Daoism
    • Appealed to people as an avenue to personal salvation
    • Chinese Buddhism spreads into Korea, then Japan (blended with Shinto beliefs)
    • Able to merge with local beliefs due to lack of organized church
  • Christianity
    • Missionary religion from the start - like Buddhism
    • After fall of Roman Empire, missionaries spread religion to Northern Europe
    • Pope sponsored missionary campaigns to convert Germanic people
    • Eastern Orthodox Church spreads Christianity into Eastern Europe and Russia
    • Syncretism - Pagan heroes or holy figures incorporated as saints; Winter Solstice celebration became Christmas
    • Nestorian Christianity spread into Persia - allowed by Islamic conquerors
    • Received little or no support in East Asia
    • Jesuit Missionaries - Matteo Ricci attempts to spread religion into China
  • Islam
    • Spread through military conquest, trade and missionaries
    • Sufis were most active after 900
    • Sufis spread Islam into Southeast Asia, Southern Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia and India
    • In SSA, introduced Islam to ruling class trough trade - allowed syncretism

Contact Between Major Religions

Impact of Mongol Empires

  • Huge areas of Asia and Europe under one rule - Pax Mongolia
  • Mongol rule united two continents and allowed relatively safe passage of trade and ideas over the Silk Roads by eliminating tariffs
  • Silk Roads reached their peak
  • Paper money spread from China

Political Systems and Cultural Patterns

East Asia

  • China's expansion - expanded their influence into Vietnam, Tibet, Korea and Japan
  • China's influence on the surrounding areas - Promoted the spread of Buddhism into Korea, Japan and Vietnam.
  • Change and Continuity in Confucianism
    • maintained a focus on the family and relationships
    • Under Tang, Buddhism influenced Confucianism, leading to Neo-Confucianism
    • Civil service exam based on Neo-Confucian teachings - stressing self-discipline, filial piety and obedience to rulers


  • Apex and decline of the Maya
  • Rise of the Aztec (See summary at top of page)
  • Rise of the Inca (See summary at top of page)

Restructuring Europe

  • Decentralization in medieval society
    • After fall of Western Roman Empire, Europe lacked central authority
    • Attempts at centralization - Franks under Clovis and Carolingian empire of Charlemagne
    • Franks used Church to strengthen their legitimacy 
    • Feudalism developed - vassals exchange military service and loyalty for land; lords and vassals compete for power - central authority is weak
    • Catholic Church was cultural unifier - centralized belief
    • By 13th century - Church owned one third of land in Western Europe
    • Feudal states were the only way to defend against invaders
  • Division of Christianity
    • Eastern Orthodox Church under the Patriarch of Constantinople
    • Roman Catholic Church under the Bishop of Rome (The Pope)
  • Revival of cities
    • Increase in food production due to heavy plow leads to population growth
    • Trade along Black Sea grows


  • Sudanic Empires
    • Ghana
    • Mali
    • Songhay
  • Swahili City-states
    • Trade centers in eastern Africa. 
    • Mogadishu, Sofala, and Kilwa
    • Merchants traded gold, slaves and ivory for pottery, glassware, and textiles from Persia, India and China. 
    • Governed by kings, who controlled the trade, as well as the taxes. 

South Asia and Southeast Asia

  • Delhi Sultanate
  • Vietnam

Arts, Science and Technology

Demographic and Environmental Changes

Impact of Migrations

  • Vikings
  • Turks
  • Aztecs
  • Mongols
  • Arabs

Consequences of the Plague

Growth and Role of Cities

Diverse Interpretations

Cultural Areas versus States as Unit of Analysis

Sources of Change: Nomadic Invasions versus Urban Growth

World Economic Network?

Common Patterns in New Opportunities and Constraints on Elite Women

Major Comparisons and Analyses

Examples of What Students Need to Know for the MC Section