Category Archives: Civilisations Series

Civilisations #22: The Gupta Empire

“The Gupta Empire, founded by Maharaja Sri Gupta, was an ancient Indian realm that covered much of the Indian Subcontinent from approximately 320-550 CE. Gupta rule, while solidified by territorial expansion through war, began a period of peace and prosperity marked by advancements in science, technology, engineering, art, dialectics, literature, logic, mathematics, astronomy, religion, and philosophy.

Gupta Empire Origins
The Gupta Empire was believed to be a dynasty of the Vaishya caste, the third of the four Hindu castes representing merchants and farmers. Founded by Sri Gupta c. 240-280 CE, there are contradictory theories regarding the original homeland of the Guptas. Historians believe Sri Gupta and his son may have been Kushan vassals, or rulers who swore allegiance to the Kushan Empire. Sri Gupta’s son and successor, Ghatotkacha, ruled from c. 280-319 CE, while his son, Chandragupta, ascended the throne around 319 and ruled until 335 CE.

Chandragupta married princess Kumaradevi from the Kingdom of Magadha, which was one of the Mahajanapadas (or great countries) of ancient India during the 4th century CE. With a dowry and political alliance from the marriage, Chandragupta conquered or assimilated the kingdoms of Magadha, Prayaga, and Saketa. By 321 CE, he established a realm stretching along the Ganges River to Prayag, the modern-day city of Allahabad, in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Hindus believe the god Brahma offered his first sacrifice after creating the world at Prayag.

Gupta Empire Expansion
Samudragupta succeeded his father, Chandragupta I, in 335 CE, and ruled for about 45 years. He conquered the kingdoms of Ahichchhatra and Padmavati early in his reign, then attacked neighboring tribes, including the Malwas, Yaudheyas, Arjunayanas, Maduras, and Abhiras. By his death in 380 CE, Samudragupta had incorporated over 20 kingdoms into his realm, and extended the Gupta Empire from the Himalayas to the Narmada River in central India, and from the Brahmaputra River that cuts through four modern Asian nations to the Yamuna— the longest tributary of the Ganges River in northern India.

To celebrate his conquest, Samudragupta performed the royal Vedic ritual of Ashwamedha, or horse sacrifice. Special coins were minted to commemorate the Ashvamedha, and the king took the title of Maharajadhiraja (or “King of Kings”) even higher than the traditional ruler’s title of Maharaja.

According to the Gupta records, Samudragupta nominated his son, Prince Chandragupta II, born of Queen Dattadevi, as his successor. However, his eldest son, Ramagupta, may have been his immediate successor until he was dethroned by Chandragupta II in 380 CE.

Gupta Empire Of Chandragupta II
After gaining power, Chandragupta II expanded the Gupta Empire through conquest and political marriages until the end of his reign in 413 CE. By 395 CE, his control over India extended coast to-coast. At the high point of his rule, Chandragupta II established a second capital at Ujjain, the largest city in the modern state of Madhya Pradesh in central India. Ujjain, on the eastern bank of the Kshipra River, remained an important political, commercial, and cultural hub through the early 19th century.

Vikramaditya is the name of an emperor of ancient Indian legend, characterized as the ideal king known for generosity, courage, and as a patron of scholars. A number of historians believe that some of these legends are based on Chandragupta II, who is thought to have adopted the title of Vikramaditya.

In the legends, Vikramaditya is said to have thwarted an invasion by the Saka, a group of eastern Iranian nomadic tribes, also known as Scythians, and gained the title of Sakari, or Enemy of the Saka. Chandragupta II conquered the western Indian region of Malwa after defeating the Western Kshatrapas, a branch of the Sakas, as well as expelling the Kushana Empire from the northern Indian city state Mathura. These victories were likely transposed onto the legendary character of Vikramaditya.

Chandragupta II issued gold coin types introduced by his father, Samudragupta, but also introduced several new types of coins, differentiated by the designs on the face of each coin line, such as the Archer or the Tiger-Slayer. He was also the first Gupta king to issue silver coins.

One of the most curious structures in Delhi, India (an iron pillar dating back to the 4th century CE) bears an inscription stating that it was erected as a flagstaff in honor of the Hindu god Vishnu, and in memory of Chandragupta II. The pillar, made of 98% wrought iron, is considered a highlight of ancient Indian achievements in metallurgy; it has stood more than 1,600 years without rusting or decomposing.

Despite the expansion of the Gupta Empire through war, there were numerous examples of cultural sophistication during the Gupta era, with architecture, sculptures and paintings surviving as reminders of the creativity of the time. Under Gupta rule, a number of notable scholars thrived, including Kalidasa, considered the greatest poet and dramatist of the Sanskrit language; Aryabhata, the first of the Indian mathematician-astronomers who worked on the approximation for Pi; Vishnu Sharma, thought to be the author of the Panchatantra fables, one of the most widely-translated, non-religious books in history; and the Hindu philosopher Vatsyayana, author of the Kama Sutra.

The period of Gupta rule, especially the reign of Chandragupta II, is still remembered as the Golden Age of India.”

Source: https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-hccc-worldcivilization/chapter/rise-of-the-gupta-empire/

Civilisations #21: The Romanovs

“The House of Romanov was the second major royal dynasty in Russia, and arose after the Rurikid Dynasty. It was founded in 1613 with the coronation of Michael I and ended in 1917 with the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II. However, the direct male blood line of the Romanov Dynasty ended when Elizabeth of Russia died in 1762, and Peter III, followed by Catherine the Great, were placed in power, both German-born royalty.

Roots of the Romanovs
The earliest common ancestor for the Romanov clan goes back to Andrei Kobyla. Sources say he was a boyar under the leadership of the Rurikid prince Semyon I of Moscow in 1347. This figure remains somewhat mysterious with some sources claiming he was the high-born son of a Rus’ prince. Others point to the name Kobyla, which means horse, suggesting he was descended from the Master of Horse in the royal household.

Whatever the real origins of this patriarch-like figure, his descendants split into about a dozen different branches over the next couple of centuries. One such descendent, Roman Yurievich Zakharyin-Yuriev, gave the Romanov Dynasty its name. Grandchildren of this patriarch changed their name to Romanov and it remained there until they rose to power.

Michael I
The Romanov Dynasty proper was founded after the Time of Troubles, an era between 1598 and 1613, which included a dynastic struggle, wars with Sweden and Poland, and severe famine. Tsar Boris Godunov’s rule, which lasted until 1605, saw the Romanov families exiled to the Urals and other remote areas. Michael I’s father was forced to take monastic vows and adopt the name Philaret. Two impostors attempting to gain the throne in Moscow attempted to leverage Romanov power after Godunov died in 1605. And by 1613, the Romanov family had again become a popular name in the running for power.

Patriarch Philaret’s son, Michael I, was voted into power by the zemsky sober in July 1613, ending a long dynastic dispute. He unified the boyars and satisfied the Moscow royalty as the son of Feodor Nikitich Romanov (now Patriarch Philaret) and the nephew of the Rurikid Tsar Feodor I. He was only sixteen at his coronation, and both he and his mother were afraid of his future in such a difficult political position.

Michael I reinstated order in Moscow over his first years in power and also developed two major government offices, the Posolsky Prikaz (Foreign Office) and the Razryadny Prikaz (Duma chancellory, or provincial administration office). These two offices remained essential to Russian order for a many decades.

Alexis I
Michael I ruled until his death in 1645 and his son, Alexis, took over the throne at the age of sixteen, just like his father. His reign would last over 30 years and ended at his death in 1676. His reign was marked by riots in cities such Pskov and Novgorod, as well as continued wars with Sweden and Poland.

However, Alexis I established a new legal code called Subornoye Ulozheniye, which created a serf class, made hereditary class unchangeable, and required official state documentation to travel between towns. These codes stayed in effect well into the 19th century. Under Alexis I’s rule, the Orthodox Church also convened the Great Moscow Synod, which created new customs and traditions. This historic moment created a schism between what are termed Old Believers (those attached to the previous hierarchy and traditions of the Church) and the new Church traditions. Alexis I’s legacy paints him as a peaceful and reflective ruler, with a propensity for progressive ideas.

Dynastic Dispute and Peter the Great
At the death of Alexis I in 1676, a dynastic dispute erupted between the children of his first wife, namely Fyodor III, Sofia Alexeyevna, Ivan V, and the son of his second wife, Peter Alexeyevich (later Peter the Great). The crown was quickly passed down through the children of his first wife. Fyodor III died from illness after ruling for only six years. Between 1682 and 1689 power was contested between Sofia Alexeyevna, Ivan V, and Peter. Sofia served as regent from 1682 to 1689. She actively opposed Peter’s claim to the throne in favor of her own brother, Ivan. However, Ivan V and Peter shared the throne until Ivan’s death in 1696.

Peter went on to rule over Russia, and even style himself Emperor of all Russia in 1721, and ruled until his death in 1725. He built a new capital in St. Petersburg, where he built a navy and attempted to wrest control of the Baltic Sea. He is also remembered for bringing western culture and Enlightenment ideas to Russia, as well as limiting the control of the Church.”

Source: https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-hccc-worldcivilization/chapter/the-romanovs/

Civilisations #20: Ancient Carthage

“Ancient Carthage was a North African, Phoenician civilization that lasted from c. 650 BCE to 146 BCE. They were defeated by the Romans in 146 BCE. Carthage eventually extended across northern Africa and into the south of modern-day Spain.

Culture
Carthaginian religion was based on Phoenician religion (derived from the faiths of the Levant), a form of polytheism. Many of the gods the Carthaginians worshiped were localized, and are now known only under their local names.

Carthage produced finely embroidered silks, dyed textiles of cotton, linen,and wool, artistic and functional pottery, and perfumes. Its artisans worked expertly with ivory, glassware, and wood, as well as with metals and precious stones. It traded in salted Atlantic fish and fish sauce (garum), and brokered the products of almost every Mediterranean people. In addition to manufacturing, Carthage practiced highly advanced and productive agriculture, using iron ploughs, irrigation, and crop rotation.

Carthaginian commerce extended by sea throughout the Mediterranean, and perhaps into the Atlantic as far as the Canary Islands, and by land across the Sahara desert. According to Aristotle, the Carthaginians and others had treaties of commerce to regulate their exports and imports.The empire of Carthage depended heavily on its trade with cities of the Iberian peninsula, from which it obtained vast quantities of silver, lead, copper and—most importantly —tin ore, which was essential for the manufacture of bronze objects by the civilizations of antiquity.

Carthaginian trade-relations with the Iberians (and the naval strength that enforced Carthage’s monopoly on Iberian trade and that with tin-rich Britain), made it the sole significant broker of tin and maker of bronze in its day. Maintaining this monopoly was one of the major sources of power and prosperity for Carthage; Carthaginian merchants strove to keep the location of the tin mines secret. In addition to its role as the sole significant distributor of tin, Carthage’s central location in the Mediterranean and control of the waters between Sicily and Tunisia allowed it to control the eastern peoples’ supply of tin. Carthage was also the Mediterranean’s largest producer of silver mined in Iberia and on the North African coast; after the tin monopoly, silver was one of its most profitable trades.

Carthage also sent caravans into the interior of Africa and Persia. It traded its manufactured and agricultural goods to the coastal and interior peoples of Africa for salt, gold, timber, ivory, ebony, apes, peacocks, skins, and hides. Its merchants invented the practice of sale by auction and used it to trade with the African tribes. In other ports, they tried to establish permanent warehouses, or sell their goods in open-air markets.

Carthage obtained amber from Scandinavia, and from the Celtiberians, Gauls, and Celts they got amber, tin, silver, and furs. Sardinia and Corsica produced gold and silver for Carthage, and Phoenician settlements on islands, such as Malta and the Balearic Islands, produced commodities that would be sent back to Carthage for large-scale distribution. The city supplied poorer civilizations with simple products (such as pottery, metallic objects, and ornamentations), often displacing the local manufacturing, and meanwhile brought its best works to wealthier civilizations (such as the Greeks and Etruscans). Carthage traded in almost every commodity wanted by the ancient world, including spices from Arabia, Africa and India. It also participated in the slave trade.

Military And Warfare
The military of Carthage was one of the largest military forces in the ancient world. Although Carthage’s navy was always its main military force, the army acquired a key role in the spread of Carthaginian power over the native peoples of northern Africa and southern Iberian Peninsula, from the 6th century BC to the 3rd century BC. Carthage’s military also allowed it to expand into Sardinia and the Balearic Islands. This expansion transformed the military from a body of citizen-soldiers into a multinational force composed primarily of foreign mercenary units.

Ancient Carthage was almost constantly at war with the Greeks or the Romans. One set of wars was called the Punic Wars. They were fought with Rome from 265 BCE to 146 BCE. The main cause of the Punic Wars was the conflict of interest between the existing Carthaginian Empire and the expanding Roman Republic. The Romans were initially interested in expansion via Sicily (at that time a cultural melting pot), part of which lay under Carthaginian control. At the start of the first Punic War, Carthage was the dominant power of the Western Mediterranean, with an extensive maritime empire. Rome, meanwhile, was the rapidly ascending power in Italy, which still lacked the naval power of Carthage.

It was during the Second Punic War that the Carthaginian leader Hannibal launched his famous overland attack on Rome. By the end of the third war, which began in 149 BCE, many hundreds of thousands of soldiers from both sides had been lost, and Rome succeeded in conquering Carthage’s empire. The Romans completely destroyed Carthage, and became the most powerful state in the Western Mediterranean. During this period, Rome emerged as the dominant Mediterranean power and one of the most powerful cities in classical antiquity. The Roman victories over Carthage in these wars gave Rome a preeminent status, a status it would retain until the 5th century CE.”

Source: https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-hccc-worldcivilization/chapter/ancient-carthage/

Civilisations #19: The Chimú

“The Chimú were a culture that lasted from approximately 900 CE until 1470 CE along the northern coast of modern-day Peru, centered in the city of Chan Chan. This is not to be confused with the Early Chimú, a related group also known as the Moche that lived in the region until about 800 CE.

The Inca ruler Tupac Inca Yupanqui led a campaign that conquered the Chimú around 1470 CE. This was just fifty years before the arrival of the Spanish in the region. Consequently, Spanish chroniclers were able to record accounts of Chimú culture from individuals who had lived before the Inca conquest. Similarly, archaeological evidence suggests Chimor, the large coastal swath of land inhabited by Chimú culture, grew out of the remnants of Moche culture. Early Chimú ceramics in a high-sheen black, along with detailed and intricate precious metalworking, shared many of the same aspects as Moche craftsmanship.

The mature Chimú culture developed in roughly the same territory where the Moche had existed centuries before, which made the Chimú another coastal culture. It was developed in the Moche Valley south of present-day Lima, northeast of Huarmey, and grew to include central present-day Trujillo, where the bureaucratic and artisanal capital of Chan Chan developed.

The Chimú expansion also incorporated many different ethnic groups, including the Sicán culture, which lasted independently until 1375. At its peak, the Chimú advanced to the limits of the desert coast, to the Jequetepeque Valley in the north, and Carabayallo in the south. Their expansion southward was stopped by the military power of the great valley of Lima.

Agriculture And Bureaucracy
The Chimú expanded and gained power over their 500-year growth through intensive farming techniques and hydraulic works, which joined valleys to form complexes. A few of these landmark agricultural techniques included the following:

Huachaques: These sunken farms included the removal of the top layer of earth and allowed farmers to work the moist, sandy soil underneath.
Walk-in wells, similar to those of the Nazca, were developed to draw water.
Large reservoirs were developed to retain water from river systems in this arid climate where water was an essential resource.
These systematic changes increased the productivity of the land, which multiplied Chimú wealth and likely contributed to the formation of a bureaucratic, hierarchical system.

The Chimú cultivated beans, sweet potatoes, papayas, and cotton with their reservoir and irrigation systems. This focus on large-scale irrigation persisted until the Late Intermediate period. At this point, there was a shift to a more specialized system that focused on importing and redistributing resources from satellite communities. There appears to have been a complex network of sites that provided goods and services for Chimú subsistence.

Many of these satellite areas produced commodities that the Chimú population based in the capital of Chan Chan could not. Some sites relied on marine resources, such as fish and precious shells. However, after the advent of agriculture, more sites developed further inland, where marine resources were harder to attain. These inland communities began raising llamas as a supplemental source of meat, but by the Late Intermediate period and Late Horizon, inland sites started to rely on llamas as an essential transportation and food resource.

Artisans
The capital of Chan Chan likely developed a complex bureaucracy due to the elite’s controlled access to information. This bureaucratic center imported raw materials from across Chimor, which were then processed into prestige goods by highly skilled artisans. The majority of the citizens in each ciudadela (walled cities in the capital of Chan Chan) were artisans. In the late Chimú, about 12,000 artisans lived and worked in Chan Chan alone. Artisans played an essential role in Chimú culture:

They engaged in fishing, agriculture, craft work, and trade.
Artisans were forbidden to change their profession, and were grouped in the ciudadela according to their area of specialization.

Archeologists have noted a dramatic increase in Chimú craft production over time, and they believe that artisans may have been brought to Chan Chan from other areas taken as a result of Chimú conquest.

Pottery And Textiles
Though their textiles were multicolored, their pottery and metalwork are known for being monochromatic. The pottery is often in the shape of a creature, or has a human figure sitting or standing on a cuboid bottle. The shiny black finish of most Chimú pottery was achieved by firing the pottery at high temperatures in a closed kiln, which prevented oxygen from reacting with the clay.

Deities
The Chimú worshipped the Moon (Si) and considered it the greatest and most powerful of the deities. It was believed to be more powerful than the Sun, as it appeared by night and day, and was deeply linked with patterns in weather, fertility, and the growth of crops. Sacrifices of spondylus shells and other precious items were made to the Moon. Devotees sacrificed their own children on piles of colored cotton with offerings of fruit and chicha. They believed the sacrificed children, normally around the age of five, would become deified.

Animals and birds were also sacrificed to the Moon in order to appease this powerful entity. Two of the stars of Orion’s Belt were considered to be the emissaries of the Moon. The constellation Fur (the Pleiades) was also used to calculate the year and was believed to watch over the crops.

The Sun was associated with stones called alaec-pong (cacique stone). These stones were believed to be ancestors of the people in the areas they were found. They were also considered to be sons of the Sun deity. Along with the Sun, the Sea (Ni) was also a very important deity, and sacrifices of white maize flour, red ochre, and other precious items were made to it. Prayers for fish and protection against drowning were also offered. Shrines (called huacas) developed in each district across Chimor, dedicated to an associated legend, deity, or cult of belief, depending on the region.

The Fall Of The Chimú
The end of the Chimú was brought about in the 1470s. They were conquered by the Inca ruler Tupac Inca Yupanqui, who led a fierce and well organized army northward. The Chimú were considered the last substantial rival culture standing in the way of the Inca conquest of the region.

Source: https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-hccc-worldcivilization/chapter/chimu/

Civilisations #18: The Southwestern Culture

“Overview
The greater Southwest has long been occupied by hunter-gatherers and agricultural settlements. This area, comprised of modern-day Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Nevada, and the states of Sonora and Chihuahua in northern Mexico, has seen successive prehistoric cultural traditions since approximately 12,000 years ago. Three of the major cultural traditions that impacted the region include the Paleo-Indian tradition, the Southwestern Archaic tradition, and the Post-Archaic cultures tradition. As various cultures developed over time, many of them shared similarities in family structure and religious beliefs.

Southwestern Agriculture
Southwestern farmers probably began experimenting with agriculture by facilitating the growth of wild grains such as amaranth and chenopods as well as gourds for their edible seeds and shells. The earliest maize known to have been grown in the Southwest was a popcorn varietal measuring one to two inches long. It was not a very productive crop. More productive varieties were developed later by Southwestern farmers or introduced via Mesoamerica, though the drought-resistant tepary bean was native to the region. Cotton has been found at archaeological sites dating to about 1,200 BCE in the Tucson basin and was most likely cultivated by indigenous peoples in the region. Evidence of tobacco use and possibly the cultivation of tobacco, dates back to approximately the same time period.

Agave, especially agave murpheyi, was a major food source of the Hohokam and grown on dry hillsides where other crops would not grow. Early farmers also possibly cultivated cactus fruit, mesquite bean, and species of wild grasses for their edible seeds.

Paleolithic peoples utilized habitats near water sources like rivers, swamps, and marshes, which had an abundance of fish and attracted birds and game animals. They hunted big game—bison, mammoths, and ground sloths—who were also attracted to these water sources. A period of relatively wet conditions saw many cultures in the American Southwest flourish. Extensive irrigation systems were developed and were among the largest of the ancient world. Elaborate adobe and sandstone buildings were constructed, and highly ornamental and artistic pottery was created. The unusual weather conditions could not continue forever, however, and gave way in time, to the more common arid conditions of the area. These dry conditions necessitated a more minimal way of life and, eventually, the elaborate accomplishments of these cultures were abandoned.

During this time, the people of the Southwest developed a variety of subsistence strategies, all using their own specific techniques. The nutritive value of weed and grass seeds was discovered and flat rocks were used to grind flour to produce gruels and breads. The use of grinding slabs originated around 7,500 BCE and marks the beginning of the Archaic tradition. Small bands of people traveled throughout the area gathering plants such as cactus fruits, mesquite beans, acorns, and pine nuts. Archaic people established camps at collection points, and returned to these places year after year.

The American Indian Archaic culture eventually evolved into two major prehistoric archaeological culture areas in the American Southwest and northern Mexico. These cultures, sometimes referred to as Oasisamerica, are characterized by dependence on agriculture, formal social stratification, population clusters, and major architecture. One of the major cultures that developed during this time was the Pueblo peoples, formerly referred to as the Anasazi. Their distinctive pottery and dwelling construction styles emerged in the area around 750 CE. Ancestral Pueblo peoples are renowned for the construction of and cultural achievement present at Pueblo Bonito and other sites in Chaco Canyon, as well as Mesa Verde, Aztec Ruins, and Salmon Ruins. Other cultural traditions that developed during this time include the Hohokam and Mogollon traditions.

Family And Religion
Paleolithic peoples in the Southwest initially structured their families and communities into highly mobile traveling groups of approximately 20 to 50 members, moving place to place as resources were depleted and additional supplies were needed. As cultural traditions began to evolve throughout the Southwest between 7,500 BCE to 1,550 CE, many cultures developed similar social and religious traditions. For the Pueblos and other Southwest American Indian communities, the transition from a hunting-gathering, nomadic experience to more permanent agricultural settlements meant more firmly established families and communities. Climate change that occurred about 3,500 years ago during the Archaic period, however, changed patterns in water sources, dramatically decreasing the population of indigenous peoples. Many family-based groups took shelter in caves and rock overhangs within canyon walls, many of which faced south to capitalize on warmth from the sun during the winter. Occasionally, these peoples lived in small, semi-sedentary hamlets in open areas.

Many Southwest tribes during the Post-Archaic period lived in a range of structures that included small family pit houses, larger structures to house clans, grand pueblos, and cliff-sited dwellings for defense. These communities developed complex networks that stretched across the Colorado Plateau, linking hundreds of neighborhoods and population centers.

While southwestern tribes developed more permanent family structures and established complex communities, they also developed and shared a similar understanding of the spiritual and natural world. Many of the tribes that made up the Southwest Culture practiced animism and shamanism. Shamanism encompasses the premise that shamans are intermediaries or messengers between the human world and the spirit worlds. At the same time, animism encompasses the beliefs that there is no separation between the spiritual and physical (or material) world, and that souls or spirits exist not only in humans, but also in some other animals, plants, rocks, and geographic features such as mountains or rivers, or other entities of the natural environment, including thunder, wind, and shadows.

Conclusion
Although at present there are a variety of contemporary cultural traditions that exist in the greater Southwest, many of these traditions still incorporate similar religious aspects that are found in animism and shamanism. Some of these cultural traditions include the Yuman-speaking peoples inhabiting the Colorado River valley, the uplands, and Baja California; O’odham peoples of southern Arizona and northern Sonora; and the Pueblo peoples of Arizona and New Mexico.”

Source: https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-hccc-worldcivilization/chapter/southwestern-culture/

Civilisations #17: Arabian Cities

“Although the majority of pre-Islamic Arabia was nomadic, there were several important cities that came into being as centers of trade and religion, such as Mecca, Medina (Yathrib), Karbala, and Damascus. The most important of these cities was Mecca, which was an important center of trade in the area, as well as the location of the Kaaba (or Ka’ba), one of the most revered shrines in polytheistic Arabia. After the rise of Islam, the Kaaba became the most sacred place in Islam.

Islamic tradition attributes the beginning of Mecca to Ishmael’s descendants. Many Muslims point to the Old Testament chapter Psalm 84:3–6 and a mention of a pilgrimage at the Valley of Baca, which is interpreted as a reference to Mecca as Bakkah in Qur’an Surah 3:96. The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus, who lived between 60 BCE and 30 BCE, wrote about the isolated region of Arabia in his work Bibliotheca historica, describing a holy shrine that Muslims see as Kaaba at Mecca: “And a temple has been set up there, which is very holy and exceedingly revered by all Arabians.” Some time in the 5th century, the Kaaba was a place to worship the deities of Arabia’s pagan tribes. Mecca’s most important pagan deity was Hubal, whose idol had been placed there by the ruling Quraysh tribe and remained until the 7th century.

The City of Mecca
In the 5th century, the Quraysh tribes took control of Mecca and became skilled merchants and traders. In the 6th century, they joined the lucrative spice trade, since battles in other parts of the world were causing traders to divert from the dangerous sea routes to the more secure overland routes. The Byzantine Empire had previously controlled the Red Sea, but piracy had been increasing. Another previous route, which ran through the Persian Gulf via the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, was also threatened by exploitations from the Sassanid Empire, and disrupted by the Lakhmids, the Ghassanids, and the Roman–Persian Wars.

Mecca’s prominence as a trading center eventually surpassed the cities of Petra and Palmyra. Historical accounts also provide some indication that goods from other continents may also have flowed through Mecca. Camel caravans, said to have first been used by Muhammad’s great-grandfather, were a major part of Mecca’s bustling economy. Alliances were struck between the merchants in Mecca and the local nomadic tribes, who would bring goods—leather, livestock, and metals mined in the local mountains—to Mecca to be loaded on the caravans and carried to cities in Syria and Iraq. Historical accounts provide some indication that goods from other continents may also have flowed through Mecca. Goods from Africa and the Far East passed through en route to Syria. The Meccans signed treaties with both the Byzantines and the Bedouins to negotiate safe passages for caravans and give them water and pasture rights. Mecca became the center of a loose confederation of client tribes, which included those of the Banu Tamim. Other regional powers such as the Abyssinian, Ghassan, and Lakhm were in decline, leaving Meccan trade to be the primary binding force in Arabia in the late 6th century.

The harsh conditions and terrain of the Arabian peninsula meant a near-constant state of conflict between the local tribes, but once a year they would declare a truce and converge upon Mecca in a pilgrimage. Up to the 7th century, this journey was undertaken by the pagan Arabs to pay homage to their shrine and drink from the Zamzam Well. However, it was also the time each year when disputes would be arbitrated, debts would be resolved, and trading would occur at Meccan fairs. These annual events gave the tribes a sense of common identity and made Mecca an important focus for the peninsula.

The City of Medina (Yathrib)
Although the city of Medina did not have any great distinction until the introduction of Islam, it has always held an important place in trade and agriculture because of its location in a fertile region of the Hejaz. The city was able to maintain decent amounts of food and water, and therefore was an important pit stop for trade caravans traveling along the Red Sea. This was especially important given the merchant culture of Arabia. Along with the port of Jidda, Medina and Mecca thrived through years of pilgrimage.

During the pre-Islamic period up until 622 CE, Medina was known as Yathrib, an oasis city. Yathrib was dominated by Jewish tribes until around 400 CE, when several Arab tribes gained political power. Medina is celebrated for containing the mosque of Muhammad. Medina is 210 miles (340 km) north of Mecca and about 120 miles (190 km) from the Red Sea coast. It is situated in the most fertile part of the Hejaz territory, where the streams of the vicinity converge. An immense plain extends to the south; in every direction the view is bounded by hills and mountains.

In 622 CE, Muhammad and around 70 Meccan Muhajirun believers left Mecca for sanctuary in Yathrib, an event that transformed the religious and political landscape of the city completely. The longstanding enmity between the Aus and Khazraj tribes was dampened as many tribe members, and some local Jews, embraced Islam. Muhammad, linked to the Khazraj through his great-grandmother, was agreed on as civic leader.

The Muslim converts native to Yathrib—whether pagan Arab or Jewish—were called Ansar (“the Patrons” or “the Helpers”). According to Ibn Ishaq, the local pagan Arab tribes, the Muslim Muhajirun from Mecca, the local Muslims (Ansar), and the Jews of the area signed an agreement, the Constitution of Medina, which committed all parties to mutual cooperation under the leadership of Muhammad. The nature of this document as recorded by Ibn Ishaq and transmitted by Ibn Hisham is the subject of dispute among modern Western historians. Many maintain that this “treaty” is possibly a collage of different agreements, oral rather than written, of different dates, and that it is not clear when they were made. Other scholars, however, both Western and Muslim, argue that the text of the agreement—whether it was originally a single document or several—is possibly one of the oldest Islamic texts we possess.”

Source: https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-hccc-worldcivilization/chapter/arabian-cities/

Civilisations #16: Nubia

“Nubia: Introduction

Nubia is a region along the Nile river located in what is today northern Sudan and southern Egypt. It was one of the earliest civilizations of ancient Northeastern Africa, with a history that can be traced from at least 2000 BCE, and home to one of the African empires. There were a number of large Nubian kingdoms throughout the Postclassical Era, the last of which collapsed in 1504 CE, when Nubia became divided between Egypt and the Sennar sultanate, resulting in the Arabization of much of the Nubian population. Nubia was again united within Ottoman Egypt in the 19th century, and within the Kingdom of Egypt from 1899 to 1956.

Kush
Before the 4th century, and throughout classical antiquity, Nubia was known as Kush, or, in Classical Greek usage, included under the name Ethiopia (Aithiopia). Mentuhotep II (21st century BCE founder of the Middle Kingdom) is recorded to have undertaken campaigns against Kush in the 29th and 31st years of his reign. This is the earliest Egyptian reference to Kush. The Nubian region had gone by other names in the Old Kingdom. During the New Kingdom of Egypt, Nubia (Kush) was an Egyptian colony, from the 16th century BCE. With the disintegration of the New Kingdom around 1070 BCE, Kush became an independent kingdom centered at Napata in modern central Sudan.

Control Of Egypt
Alara, a King of Kush who is the first recorded prince of Nubia, founded the Napatan, or Twenty-fifth, Kushite dynasty at Napata in Nubia, now the Sudan. Alara’s successor Kashta extended Kushite control north to Elephantine and Thebesin Upper Egypt. Kashta’s successor, Piye, seized control of Lower Egypt around 727 BCE, creating the Twenty-fifth dynasty of Egypt.

Piye was defeated by the Assyrian king Shalmaneser V and then his successor Sargon II in the 720s BCE.
The power of the Twenty-fifth dynasty reached a climax underPiye’s son, Taharqa. The Nile valley empire was as large as it had been since the New Kingdom. New prosperity revived Egyptian culture. Religion, the arts, and architecture were restored to their glorious Old, Middle, and New Kingdom forms. The Nubian pharaohs built or restored temples and monuments throughout the Nile valley, including Memphis, Karnak, Kawa, and Jebel Barkal. It was during the 25th dynasty that the Nile valley saw the first widespread construction of pyramids (many in modern Sudan) since the Middle Kingdom. Writing was introduced to Kush in the form of the Egyptian-influenced Meroitic script circa 700–600 BCE, although it appears to have been wholly confined to the royal court and major temples.

Between 674 and 671 BCE the Assyrians began their invasion of Egypt under King Esarhaddon. Assyrian armies had been the best in the world since the 14th century BCE, and they conquered this vast territory with surprising speed. Taharqa was driven from power by Esarhaddon and fled to his Nubian homeland. However, the native Egyptian vassal rulers installed by Esarhaddon as puppets were unable to effectively retain full control for long without Assyrian aid. Two years later, Taharqa returned from Nubia and seized control of a section of southern Egypt as far north as Memphis from Esarhaddon’s local vassals. Esarhaddon’s successor, Ashurbanipal, sent a Turtanu (general) with a small but well-trained army that once more defeated Taharqa and ejected him from Egypt, and he was forced to flee back to his homeland in Nubia, where he died two years later.

Taharqa’s successor, Tanutamun, attempted to regain Egypt. He successfully defeated Necho, the subject ruler installed by Ashurbanipal, taking Thebes in the process. The Assyrians, who had a military presence in the north, then sent a large army southwards. Tantamani was routed, and the Assyrian army sacked Thebes to such an extent that it never truly recovered. Tantamani was chased back to Nubia, and never threatened the Assyrian Empire again. A native Egyptian ruler, Psammetichus I, was placed on the throne as a vassal of Ashurbanipal.

Move To Meroë
Aspelta, a ruler of the kingdom of Kush from c. 600 to c. 580 BCE, moved the capital to Meroë, considerably farther south than Napata, possibly in 591 BCE. It is also possible that Meroë had always been the Kushite capital. Historians believe that the Kushite rulers may have chosen Meroë as their home because, unlike Napata, the region around Meroë had enough woodlands to provide fuel for iron working. In addition, Kush was no longer dependent on the Nile to trade with the outside world. They could instead transport goods from Meroë to the Red Sea coast, where Greek merchants were now traveling extensively.

In about 300 BCE the move to Meroë was made more complete when the monarchs began to be buried there, instead of at Napata. One theory is that this represents the monarchs breaking away from the power of the priests at Napata. Kushite civilization continued for several centuries. In the Napatan period, Egyptian hieroglyphs were used; at this time writing seems to have been restricted to the court and temples. From the 2nd century BCE there was a separate Meroitic writing system. This was an alphabetic script with twenty-three signs used in a hieroglyphic form (mainly on monumental art) and in a cursive form. The latter was widely used. So far, some 1278 texts using this version are known. The script was deciphered, but the language behind it is still a problem, with only a few words understood by modern scholars.

Kush began to fade as a power by the 1st or 2nd century CE, sapped by the war with the Roman province of Egypt and the decline of its traditional industries. Christianity began to gain over the old pharaonic religion, and by the mid-6th century CE the Kingdom of Kush was dissolved.

Various pharaohs of Nubian origin are held by some Egyptologists to have played an important part towards the area in different eras of Egyptian history, particularly the Twelfth dynasty. These rulers handled matters in typical Egyptian fashion, reflecting the close cultural influences between the two regions.

The eventual influx of Arabs and Nubians to Egypt and Sudan had contributed to the suppression of the Nubian identity following the collapse of the last Nubian kingdom around 1504. A major part of the modern Nubian population became totally Arabized, and some claimed to be Arabs. A vast majority of the Nubian population is currently Muslim, and the Arabic language is their main medium of communication in addition to their indigenous old Nubian language.

On account of the Kingdom of Kush’s proximity to Ancient Egypt—the first cataract at Elephantine usually being considered the traditional border between the two polities—and because the Twenty-fifth dynasty ruled over both states in the 8th century BCE, from the Rift Valley to the Taurus mountains, historians have closely associated the study of Kush with Egyptology. This is in keeping with the general assumption that the complex sociopolitical development of Egypt’s neighbors can be understood in terms of Egyptian models. As a result, the political structure and organization of Kush as an independent ancient state has not received as thorough attention from scholars, and there remains much ambiguity, especially surrounding the earliest periods of the state.”

Source: https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-hccc-worldcivilization/chapter/nubia/

Civilisations #15 : The Bantu Migration

Bantu Migration: Background
The Bantu expansion is the name for a postulated millennia-long series of migrations of speakers of the original proto-Bantu language group. The primary evidence for this expansion has been linguistic, namely that the languages spoken in sub-Equatorial Africa are remarkably similar to each other. Attempts to trace the exact route of the expansion, to correlate it with archaeological evidence and genetic evidence, have not been conclusive. Many aspects of the expansion remain in doubt or are highly contested. The linguistic core of the Bantu family of languages, a branch of the Niger-Congo language family, was located in the adjoining region of Cameroon and Nigeria. From this core, expansion began about 3,000 years ago, with one stream going into East Africa, and other streams going south along the African coast of Gabon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Angola, or inland along the many south-to-north flowing rivers of the Congo River system. The expansion eventually reached South Africa as early as 300 CE.

The Expansion
It seems likely that the expansion of the Bantu-speaking people from their core region in West Africa began around 1000 BCE. Although early models posited that the early speakers were both iron-using and agricultural, archaeology has shown that they did not use iron until as late as 400 BCE, though they were agricultural. The western branch, not necessarily linguistically distinct, according to Christopher Ehret, followed the coast and the major rivers of the Congo system southward, reaching central Angola by around 500 BCE. Further east, Bantu-speaking communities had reached the great Central African rainforest, and by 500 BCE, pioneering groups had emerged into the savannas to the south, in what are now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, and Zambia.

Another stream of migration, moving east by 1000 BCE, was creating a major new population center near the Great Lakes of East Africa, where a rich environment supported a dense population. Movements by small groups to the southeast from the Great Lakes region were more rapid, with initial settlements widely dispersed near the coast and near rivers due to comparatively harsh farming conditions in areas further from water. Pioneering groups had reached modern KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa by 300 CE along the coast, and the modern Limpopo Province (formerly Northern Transvaal) by 500 CE.

Effects Of The Bantu Migration
Archaeological, linguistic, genetic, and environmental evidence all support the conclusion that the Bantu expansion was a long process of multiple human migrations. Before the expansion of farming and pastoralist African peoples, Southern Africa was populated by hunter-gatherers and earlier pastoralists. The Bantu expansion first introduced Bantu peoples to Central, Southern, and Southeast Africa, regions they had previously been absent from. The proto-Bantu migrants in the process assimilated and/or displaced a number of earlier inhabitants that they came across, including Pygmy and Khoisan populations in the center and south, respectively. They also encountered some Afro-Asiatic outlier groups in the southeast, who had migrated down from Northeast Africa.

In Eastern and Southern Africa, Bantu speakers may have adopted livestock husbandry from other unrelated Cushitic- and Nilotic-speaking peoples they encountered. Herding practices reached the far south several centuries before Bantu-speaking migrants did.

Between the 13th and 15th centuries, the relatively powerful Bantu-speaking states on a scale larger than local chiefdoms began to emerge in the Great Lakes region, in the savanna south of the Central African rainforest, and on the Zambezi river where the Monomatapa kings built the famous Great Zimbabwe complex. Such processes of state-formation occurred with increasing frequency from the 16th century onward. This was probably due to denser populations, which led to more specialized divisions of labor, including military power, while making outmigration more difficult. Other factors included increased trade among African communities and with European and Arab traders on the coasts, technological developments in economic activity, and new techniques in the political-spiritual ritualization of royalty as the source of national strength and health.

By the time Great Zimbabwe had ceased being the capital of a large trading empire, speakers of Bantu languages were present throughout much of Southern Africa. Two main groups developed—the Nguni (Xhosa, Zulu, Swazi), who occupied the eastern coastal plains, and the Sotho-Tswana, who lived on the interior plateau.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, two major events occurred. The Trekboers were colonizing new areas of Southern Africa, moving northeast from the Cape Colony, and they came into contact with the Xhosa, the Southern Nguni. At the same time the area in modern-day KwaZulu-Natal was populated by dozens of small clans, one of which was the Zulu, then a particularly small clan of no local distinction whatsoever. In 1816, Shaka,
one of the most influential monarchs of the Zulu Kingdom, acceded to the Zulu throne. Within a year he had conquered the neighboring clans and had made the Zulu into the most important ally of the large Mtetwa clan, which was in competition with the Ndwandwe clan for domination of the northern part of modern-day KwaZulu-Natal.

Currently, 300-600 ethnic groups in Africa speak Bantu languages and are categorized as Bantu peoples. It is not known how many Bantu language exist today, but Ethnologue counts 535. They are spoken mostly east and south of present-day Cameroon, that is, in the regions commonly known as Central Africa, Southeast Africa, and Southern Africa. Parts of the Bantu area include languages from other language families.”

Source: https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-hccc-worldcivilization/chapter/the-bantu-migration/