COSTP World History Project/Ancient philosophy and the development of Western political thought
Western philosophy is a line of related philosophical thinking, beginning in Ancient Greece, and including the predominant philosophical thinking of Europe and its former colonies up to the present day. The concept of philosophy itself originated in the West, derived from the ancient Greek word philosophia (φιλοσοφια); literally, "the love of wisdom" (philein = "to love" + sophia = wisdom, in the sense of theoretical or cosmic insight). However, many non-Western religions have adopted the term philosophy in reference to cosmic intellectual discourse analogous to Western philosophy.
Western philosophy has had a tremendous influence on, and has been greatly influenced by, Western religion, science, and politics. Indeed, the central concepts of these fields can be thought of as elements or branches of Western philosophy. To the Ancient Greeks, these fields were often one and the same. Thus, in the West, philosophy is an expansive and ambiguous concept. Today, however, what generally distinguishes philosophy from other Western disciplines is the notion that philosophy is a "deeper" and more rational, fundamental, and universal form of thought than other disciplines.
Reason was the key word for Ancient Greek philosophers. Through the use of rationalism, Greeks laid the foundations for both western science and humanities. For example, Democritus, an early Greek philosopher, through the use of reason, not technology, designed the concept of atomos, or the atom. He believed his small particle to be the building block of nature, and today, through the use of microscopes and other technology, we have verified his claims.
Agriculture led to several major changes. It allowed far larger population densities, which organized themselves into states. There are several definitions used for the term "state." Max Weber and Norbert Elias defined the state as an organization of people that has a monopoly on the legitimate use of force in a particular geographic area.
Borders delineate states - a prominent example is the Great Wall of China, which stretches over 6700 km, and was first erected in the 3rd century BC to protect the north from nomadic invaders. It has been rebuilt and augmented several times since.
The first states appeared in Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt and the Indus Valley in the late 4th and early 3rd millennia BC. In Mesopotamia, there were several city-states. Ancient Egypt began as a state without cities, but cities soon arose. A state needs an army to impose the legitimate use of force. An army needs a bureaucracy to maintain it. The only exception to this appears to be the Indus Valley civilization due to a lack of evidence of military force.
States appeared in China in the late 3rd and early 2nd millennia BC. Major wars broke out between states in the Middle East. The treaty of Kadesh, one of the first peace treaties, was concluded between the Hittites and ancient Egypt ca.1275 BC. Major empires came into being with conquered areas ruled by central tribes, such as Persia (6th century BC), the Mauryan Empire (4th century BC), China (3rd century BC), and the Roman Empire (1st century BC).
Clashes among major empires took place in the 8th century AD, when the Islamic Caliphate of Arabia (ruling from Spain to Iran) and the Tang dynasty of China (ruling from Xinjiang to Korea) fought for decades for control of Central Asia. The largest contiguous land empire was the Mongolian Empire in the 13th century. By then, most humans in Europe, Asia and North Africa belonged to states. There were states as well in Mexico and western South America. States continued to control more and more of the world's territory and population; the last 'empty' territories were divided among states in the Treaty of Berlin (1878 AD).
City and Trade[edit | edit source]
Vasco da Gama sailed to India to bring back spices in the late 15th century AD and early 16th century AD.
Agriculture also created, and allowed for the storage of, food surpluses that could support people not directly involved in food production. The development of agriculture permitted the creation of the first cities. These were centers of trade, manufacturing and political power with nearly no agricultural production of their own. The cities were parasites of a sort, absorbing agricultural products from the surrounding countryside, but providing, in return, manufactured goods and varying degrees of military protection.
The development of cities led to what has been called civilization: first Sumerian civilization in lower Mesopotamia (3500 BC), followed by Egyptian civilization along the Nile (3300 BC) and Harappan civilization in the Indus Valley (3300 BC). There is evidence of elaborate cities with high levels of social and economic complexity. However, these civilizations were so different from each other that they almost certainly originated independently. It was at this time that writing and extensive trade were introduced.
In China, proto-urban societies may have developed from 2500 BC, but the first dynasty to be identified by archeology is that of the Shang Dynasty. The 2nd millennium BC saw the emergence of civilization in Crete, mainland Greece and central Turkey. In the Americas, civilizations such as the Maya, the Moche and Nazca emerged in Mesoamerica and Peru at the end of the 1st millennium BC. Coinage was introduced in Lydia.
Long-range trade routes first appeared in the 3rd millennium BC, when Sumerians in Mesopotamia traded with the Harappan civilization of the Indus Valley. Trade routes also appeared in the eastern Mediterranean in the 4th millennium BC. The Silk Road between China and Syria began in the 2nd millennium BC. Cities in Central Asia and Persia were major crossroads of these trade routes. Phoenician and Greek civilizations founded empires in the Mediterranean basin in the 1st century BC, based on trade. The large scale transportation of commodities before the modern age was unique to the ancient Greek civilization. Arabs dominated the trade routes in the Indian Ocean, East Asia, and the Sahara in the late 1st millennium AD and early second millennium AD. Arabs and Jews also dominated trade in the Mediterranean in the late 1st millennium. Italians took over this role in the early 2nd millennium AD. Flemish and German cities were at the center of trade routes in Northern Europe in the early 2nd millennium AD. In all areas, major cities developed at crossroads along the trade routes.
Religion and Philosophy[edit | edit source]
Main articles: History of philosophy and Development of religion New philosophies and religions arose in both east and west, particularly around the 6th century BC. Over time, a great variety of religions developed around the world, with Hinduism and Buddhism in India, Zoroastrianism in Persia being some of the earliest major faiths. The Abrahamic religions also trace their origin to this time. In the east, three schools of thought were to dominate Chinese thinking until the modern day. These were Taoism, Legalism, and Confucianism. The Confucian tradition, which would attain predominance, looked not to the force of law, but to the power and example of tradition for political morality. In the west, the Greek philosophical tradition, represented by the works of Plato and Aristotle, was diffused throughout Europe and the Middle East by the conquests of Alexander of Macedon in the 4th century BC.
Major Civilizations and Regions[edit | edit source]
By the last centuries BC, the Mediterranean, the Ganges and the Yellow River became the seats of empires which future rulers would strive to imitate. In India, the Mauryan Empire ruled over much of the Indian subcontinent, while the Pandyas ruled the south of India. In China, the Qin and Han dynasties extended the rule of imperial government through political unity, improved communications and also notably the establishment of state monopolies by Emperor Wu. In the west, the Ancient Greeks established a civilization that is considered by most historians to be the foundational culture of modern western civilization. Some centuries later the Romans began expanding their territory through conquest and colonization from the 3rd century BC. By the reign of Emperor Augustus in the late 1st century, Rome controlled all the lands surrounding the Mediterranean.
The great empires rested on the ability to exploit the process of military annexation and the formation of defended human settlements to become agricultural centers. The relative peace they brought encouraged international trade, most notably were the massive trade routes in the Mediterranean sea that were developed by the time of Hellenistic age, with were unparalleled in volume of trade until modern times and the growth of the Silk Road. They also faced common problems, such as those associated with maintaining huge armies and the support of a central bureaucracy. These costs fell most heavily on the peasantry, whilst land-owning magnates were increasingly able to evade centralized control and its costs. The pressure of barbarians on the frontiers hastened the process of internal dissolution. The Han empire fell into civil war in 220 AD, whilst its Roman counterpart became increasingly decentralized and divided around the same time.
Throughout the temperate zones of Eurasia, America, and North Africa, large empires continued to rise and fall.
The gradual breakup of the Roman Empire, which spanned several centuries following the 2nd century AD, coincided with the spread of Christianity westward from the Middle East. The western part of the Roman Empire fell under the domination of various Germanic tribes in the 5th century, and these polities gradually developed into a number of warring states, all associated, in one way or another, with the Roman Catholic Church. The remaining part of the Roman Empire in the eastern Mediterranean was henceforth known as the Byzantine Empire. Centuries later, a limited unity was restored to western Europe through the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire, comprising a number of states in what is now Germany and Italy. In China, dynasties would similarly rise and fall. Nomads from the north began to invade in the 4th century AD, eventually conquering nearly all of northern China and setting up many small kingdoms. The Sui Dynasty reunified China in 581, and under the Tang Dynasty (618-907) China entered into a second golden age. However, the Tang Dynasty also splintered and, after about half a century of turmoil, the Northern Song Dynasty reunified China in 982. Yet, pressure from nomadic empires to the north became increasingly urgent. All of North China was lost to the Jurchen in 1141 and the Mongol Empire conquered all of China in 1279, as well as almost all of Eurasia's landmass, missing only western and central Europe and Japan. Northern India was ruled by the Guptas in these times. In southern India, three prominent Dravidan kingdoms emerged: Cheras, Cholas, and Pandyas. The ensuing stability contributed to herald the golden age of Hindu culture in the 4th and 5th centuries AD.
Vast societies also began to be built up in Central America at this time, with the Maya and the Aztecs in Mesoamerica being the most notable. As the mother culture of the Olmecs gradually declined, the great Mayan city-states slowly rose in number and prominence, and Maya culture spread throughout Yucatán and surrounding areas. The later empire of the Aztec was built on neighboring cultures and was influenced by conquered peoples, such as the Toltec.
South America saw the rise of the Inca in the 14th and 15th centuries. The Inca Empire of Tawantinsuyu spanned the entire range of the Andes and held its capital at Cusco. The Inca were prosperous and advanced, known for an excellent road system and unrivaled masonry.
Islam, which began in Arabia in the 7th century, was also one of the most remarkable forces in World history, growing from only a few followers to become the basis of a series of large empires in India, the Middle East, and North Africa.
In North East Africa, Nubia and Ethiopia, which both had long been linked to the Mediterranean world, remained Christian enclaves as the rest of Africa north of the equator converted to Islam. With Islam, came new technologies that, for the first time, allowed substantial trade to cross the Sahara. Taxes on this trade led to prosperity in North Africa and the rise of a series of kingdoms in the Sahel.
This period was marked by slow but steady technological improvements, with developments of influential importance such as the stirrup and the mouldboard plough arriving every few centuries.