• If they had continued, Chinese maritime voyages could have had a profound impact on the course of world history. China was the richest, most prosperous, and most technologically advanced civilization in the world at that time, and it would be reasonable to think that, if the Chinese had aggressively competed with their European counterparts, they likely would have prevailed as the preeminent maritime power in the world. This would have had profound implications for the course of world history, most likely limiting the influence of Western Europe and of Christianity on other regions of the globe and increasing Chinese cultural, economic, and political influences beyond East Asia.
• The usefulness of counterfactual questions is debatable. They do allow one both to highlight the role of contingency in the course of human history and to highlight the difficulty of predicting the future because of contingency. Moreover, counterfactual questions go beyond mere speculation, because they encourage students to think of what was possible in light of known historical facts. Thus a good “what if” question can help scholars think their way into historical reality and to hone their analytical skills. Still, no one can fully predict what the consequences of a change in events would have been, and in any case, the reality of the situation as it happened is the subject of history.
• This chapter organizes societies in two ways. First, it organizes them into Paleolithic peoples, agricultural village societies, herding peoples, and established civilizations and empires. It then organizes those civilizations by region. • There are other alternatives, including organization by cultural region— Chinese, Indian, Islamic, Mesoamerican, and Christian. Another possibility would have been organization through webs of connections, starting with a single society and radiating out to an exploration of its nearer and more distant contacts.
• Several changes would undoubtedly have surprised a knowledgeable observer, including the emergence of Islam;
• the revival of China and Western Europe;
• the collapse of the Byzantine Empire;
• the emergence of Russia and the spread of Christianity into that region;
• the emergence of states in Southeast Asia;
• the emergence of Japan;
• the emergence of powerful empires in West Africa.
• However, some features would still be recognizable, such as the persistence of Paleolithic, agricultural village, and herding societies;
• the continuance, albeit at a more intense rate, of long-distance commerce and exchange;
• the persistence of broad cultural traditions, especially in the Mesoamerican, Andean, Chinese, European, and Indian civilizations.
• A global traveler of the fifteenth century might have predicted that Islam, Buddhism, and perhaps Christianity would continue to spread; • that the established cultural regions of China, India, the Islamic world, Christian Europe, the Andes, and Mesoamerica would continue to develop and expand; • that long-distance commerce and exchange would continue to have an important impact on the development of civilizations; • that empires would continue to have a growing influence on world history;
• that the regions occupied by Paleolithic, agricultural village, and herding societies would continue to shrink. • Precisely when these predictions were made would make a difference. Before 1492, the huge impact of Western European influence on the Americas would have been difficult to predict. • Before 1433, the relatively modest impact of Chinese overseas exploration would have been difficult to predict.
• The gathering and hunting people of the northwest coast of North America possessed permanent village settlements with large and sturdy houses, considerable economic specialization, ranked societies that sometimes included slavery, chiefdoms dominated by powerful clan leaders, and extensive storage of food; none of those features were part of Australian gathering and hunting societies.
• In West Africa, three distinct patterns of political development were taking shape among agricultural village societies, with the Yoruba people creating city-states; the kingdom of Benin taking shape as a small, highly centralized territorial state; and the Igbo peoples relying on other institutions—title societies, women’s associations, hereditary ritual experts serving as mediators, a balance of power among kinship groups—to maintain social cohesion beyond the level of the village. • In addition, the Yoruba, Bini, and Igbo peoples traded actively among themselves as well as with more distant peoples and changed from a matrilineal to a patrilineal system of tracing their descent.
• In the Americas, in what is now central New York State, an increased level of conflict among Iroquois peoples triggered a remarkable political innovation—a loose alliance or confederation among five Iroquois peoples based on an agreement known as the Great Law of Peace. The Iroquois League of Five Nations kept peace, adjudicated disputes, and operated by consensus. It also gave expression to values of limited government, social equality, and personal freedom. • The Iroquois developed a system that gave women unusual authority. Descent was matrilineal, married couples lived with the wife’s family, and women controlled agriculture. While men were hunters, warriors, and the primary political officeholders, women selected and could depose those leaders.
• In Central Asia, the Turkic warlord Timur constructed a significant empire that retained control of the area between Persia and Afghanistan during the fifteenth century. • Timur’s conquests, however, hid a more long-term change for the pastoral peoples of Central Asia, because his was the last great military success of nomadic peoples from Central Asia; in the centuries that followed, their homelands were swallowed up in the expanding Russian and Chinese empires. • In West Africa, pastoral peoples retained their independence into the late nineteenth century. • Groups like the Fulbe, West Africa’s largest pastoral society, generally lived in small communities among agricultural peoples;
• as they migrated gradually eastward after 1000 C.E., they maintained their distinctive way of life and a sense of cultural superiority that became more pronounced as they slowly adopted Islam. • Some Fulbe dropped out of a pastoral life and settled in towns, where they became highly respected religious leaders. • In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Fulbe were at the center of a wave of religiously based uprisings (jihads) that greatly expanded the practice of Islam and gave rise to a series of new states ruled by the Fulbe.
• Under the Ming dynasty, China recovered from the disruption caused by Mongol rule and the ravages of the plague to become perhaps the best-governed and most prosperous of the world’s major civilizations; • it also undertook the largest and most impressive maritime expeditions the world had ever seen.
• Political consolidation occurred in both China and Western Europe, but in China this meant a unitary and centralized government that encompassed almost the whole of its civilization, while in Europe a decidedly fragmented system of many separate, independent, and competitive states made for a sharply divided Christendom. • While both experienced cultural flowering, Europe’s culture after the Renaissance was rather more different from its own recent past than Ming dynasty China was from its pre-Mongol glory. • While both sent out ships to explore the wider world, their purposes in doing so were very different.
• Chinese exploration was undertaken by an enormous fleet composed of several hundred large ships, while European explorations were undertaken by expeditions made up of a handful of small ships. • European motivations for exploration included the desire for wealth from trade, the search for converts to Christianity, and the recruitment of possible Christian allies against the Muslim powers. China, by contrast, needed no military allies, required little in the way of trade, and had no desire to convert foreigners to Chinese culture or religion. • The Europeans sought to monopolize by force the commerce of the Indian Ocean and violently carved out empires in the Americas; the Chinese fleet sought neither conquests nor colonies. • China ended its voyages abruptly after 1433; the European explorations continued and even escalated.
• In terms of why China’s explorations were so different from their European counterparts, the fragmentation of political authority in Europe, unlike China’s unified empire, ensured that once begun, rivalry alone would drive Europeans to the end of the earth. • Much of Europe’s elite, including merchants, monarchs, the clergy, and nobles, had an interest in overseas expansion; in China, by contrast, the emperor Yongle was the primary supporter of the Chinese voyages of exploration, and after he passed from the scene, those opposed to the voyages prevailed within the politics of the court.
• The Chinese were very much aware of their own antiquity, believed strongly in the absolute superiority of their culture, and felt that, if they needed something from abroad, others would bring it to them. The Europeans also believed themselves unique; however, in material terms, they were seeking out the greater riches of the East, and they were highly conscious that Muslim power blocked easy access to these treasures and posed a military and religious threat to Europe itself.
• The Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal empires had Turkic origins, while the Songhay Empire did not. • The Ottoman and Safavid empires ruled over the heartland of the Muslim world, where a majority of their subjects followed Islam; the Mughal and Songhay empires ruled over regions where Islam was a minority faith. • The rulers of the Safavid Empire were the only ones to impose a Shia version of Islam as the official religion of the state.
• The Inca Empire was much larger than its Aztec counterpart. • The Aztec Empire controlled only part of the Mesoamerican cultural region, while at its height the Inca state encompassed practically the whole of the Andean civilization. • In the Aztec realm, the Mexica rulers largely left their conquered people alone, and no elaborate administrative system arose to integrate the conquered territories or to assimilate their people to Aztec culture. The Incas, on the other hand, erected a more bureaucratic empire.
• The Aztec Empire extracted substantial tribute in the form of goods from its subject populations, while the Incas primarily extracted labor services from their subjects. • The Aztec Empire had a system of commercial exchange that was based on merchants and free markets, whereas the Inca government played a major role in both the production and distribution of goods. • The authority of the state penetrated and directed the Incas’ society and economy far more than did that of the Aztecs.
• The ideology of state that gave human sacrifice great religious importance shaped the techniques of Aztec warfare, which put a premium on capturing prisoners rather than on killing the enemy. • Priests and rulers became interdependent, with human sacrifices carried out for political ends. • Massive sacrificial rituals served to impress enemies, allies, and subjects alike with the immense power of the Aztecs and their gods.
• The emperor was an absolute ruler and was regarded as divine. • In theory, the state owned all land and resources. • Subjects were organized, at least in the central regions of the empire, into hierarchical units of 10, 50, 100, 500, 1,000, and 10,000 people, each headed by local officials, who were supervised by an Inca governor or by the emperor. • An imperial office of “inspectors” checked on provincial authorities.
• Births, deaths, marriages, and other population data were carefully recorded. • A resettlement program moved one-quarter or more of the population to new locations. • Leaders of conquered peoples were required to learn Quechua, and their sons were removed to the capital of Cuzco for instruction in Inca culture and language. • Subject peoples were required to acknowledge major Inca deities, although once they did so, they were largely free to carry on their own religious traditions. • The Inca Empire played a major role in the production and distribution of goods.
• They interacted through webs of empire, large-scale political systems that brought together a variety of culturally different peoples; • through webs of religion that linked far-flung peoples; • and through long-established patterns of trade among peoples occupying different environments and producing different goods.