Regional Interactions

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 19 October 2016

Regional Interactions

• As in the previous chapter, this time period witnessed a tremendous growth in long-distance trade due to improvements in technology. Trade through the Silk Road, the Indian Ocean, the trans-Saharan trade route, and the Mediterranean Sea led to the spread of ideas, religions, and technology. During the period known as Pax Mongolia, when peace and order were established in Eurasia due to the vast Mongol Empire, trade and cultural interaction were at their height.

• Major technological developments such as the compass, improved shipbuilding technology, and gunpowder shaped the development of the world.

AP EXPERT TIP When you are reading about a given situation, try to visualize where in the world those developments are taking place. Alternatively, reproduce a blank world map and take notes in the proper geographic region as you read.

• The movement of people greatly altered our world. Nomadic groups such as the Turks, Mongols, and Vikings, for instance, interacted with settled people—often because of their technology—leading to further change and development. One of the worst epidemic diseases in history, the bubonic plague (or Black Death), spread during this period due to the movement of people and their increased interaction.

• Religions such as Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism promoted the equality of all believers in the eyes of God. And though patriarchal values continued to dominate, the monastic life available in Buddhism and Christianity offered an alternative path for women.

• The spread of religion aided by the increase in trade often acted as a unifying force, though it sometimes caused conflict. Christianity and the Church served as the centralizing force in Western Europe, and throughout East Asia, the spread of Confucianism and Buddhism solidified a cultural identity. The new religion of Islam created cultural world known as dar-al Islam, which transcended political boundaries.

• The political structures of many areas adapted and changed in response to the new conditions of the world. Centralized empires like the Byzantine, the Arab Caliphates, and the Tang and Song dynasties built on the successful models of the past, while decentralized areas (Western Europe and Japan) developed political organizations that more effectively dealt with their specific conditions. The movements of the Mongols altered much of Asia’s political structure for a time, and recovery from that Mongol period introduced political structures that defined many areas for centuries to follow.


Tang Dynasty (618 to 907 CE)


Following the fall of the Han dynasty, China returned to rule by regional small kingdoms for the next 400 years. It was not until 581 CE that the Sui dynasty emerged, using Buddhism and the Confucian civil service system to establish legitimacy. The Sui dynasty started the construction of the Grand Canal and launched numerous campaigns to expand the empire. Rebellions overthrew the Sui in 618. The Tang dynasty that followed was more focused on scholars than on soldiers. It did, however, expand its territory beyond China proper to Tibet and Korea. It also completed the Grand Canal and offered support to Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism. The capital, Changan, was a major political center, which foreign diplomats visited from the Byzantine and Arab worlds. In the middle of the eighth century CE, Tang power declined as higher taxes created tension within the population. Peasant rebellions led to more independent regional rule and to the abdication of the emperor. After this, there was a period of rule by regional warlords for the next 50 years.


The dynasty established military garrisons, which allowed for the protection and security of Silk Road trade. An equal field system was established in which all peasants were given land in return for tax in grain and unpaid labor; at death they were to return the land to the government. Changan was a major trading center and cosmopolitan city. The West Market there flourished with Indian, Iranian, Syrian, and Arab traders and their goods. By 640 CE, its population reached 2 million, making it the largest city in the world. Neighbors, such as Japan or Siam, became tributary states to China.


Culturally, the Tang dynasty was heavily influenced by the spread of Buddhism. Empress Wu started a school dedicated to Buddhist and Confucian scholarship and art. Toward the end of the dynasty, Buddhism, a “foreign religion,” was attacked for its economic and political power. From 841 to 845 CE, an anti-Buddhist campaign destroyed many monasteries. In the wake of this backlash, neo-Confucianism developed: Confucian scholars wanted a new form of Confucianism that would limit foreign influence. The result was an integration of Buddhist and Confucian ideas. Some ideas included individual self-improvement, the goodness of human beings, and the goal to strive and perfect oneself. Women’s marriages during the Tang dynasty were arranged within their own social class, but upper-class women could own property, move about in public, and even remarry. Poetry flourished with such poets as Li Bai and Du Fu.

Song Dynasty (960 to 1279 CE)


By 960 CE, the Song dynasty had re-established centralized control over China. The civil service exam system retained great prominence, successfully checking the power of the aristocracy. The Song de-emphasized a military approach and instead re-established the tribute system with its nomad neighbors. This involved “paying off” the nomads with such gifts as bolts of silk to keep the peace. The Song, however, experienced military and economic problems. The scholar-controlled professional army was often ineffective, and too much paper money in circulation caused inflation. By 1126 CE, they had lost the northern half of the empire to nomads. The Southern Song continued to flourish until 1274, but military threats continued, and finally the greatest of all northern groups invaded in the 1200s, absorbing the Song dynasty into the new Mongol Empire.


Rice production doubled due to new fast-ripening rice from Champa. Internal trade from the Yellow Sea and Grand Canal flourished due to the increased number of merchants and the growth in population. The capital of Kaifeng became a manufacturing center with its production of cannons, movable type printing, water-powered mills, looms, and high-quality porcelain. China had more per capita production than any other country in the world. Minted copper coins were used as money and eventually were replaced with paper currency.

Officials collected taxes in cash—not goods—and letters of credit (known as flying cash) were used by merchants. The Southern Song established their capital at Hangzhou, and commerce soared. With their cotton sails and magnetic compasses, the Song had the most powerful navy in the world. As a result, the dynasty’s power shifted from the north to the south, and the Song became leaders in trade. Song goods made their way to Southeast Asia, India, Persia, and East Africa.


During the Song dynasty, women were entitled to keep their dowries and had access to jobs as merchants, but they also were subject to a practice called foot binding. The practice originated with the aristocratic class and was viewed as a sign of wealth and status. Girls as young as six had their feet bound in order to secure a better marriage.

Tang and Song Innovations

• The first use of the compass to aid maritime navigation

• A water-powered clock, demonstrating facility in mechanical engineering

• The invention of gunpowder—first demonstrated during the late 1000s CE, the explosive combination of sulfur and saltpeter would alter weapons technology forever and lead to the first cannons, rockets, and incendiary bombs.

• Philosophy—neo-Confucian thought delved into ancient texts and further codified traditional Chinese philosophy; it blended Confucianism with elements of Daoism and Buddhism.

• A printing press with movable type

• Stylized and symbolic landscape painting

• Paper money, letters of credit (flying cash)

JAPAN (around 800 to 1200 CE)


Japan’s geography as a group of islands led to the development of small isolated, independent communities. Clan members cooperated with each other much like a large, extended family. By the 600s, the Yamato clan had religious and cultural influence over other clans and wanted to copy China’s model of empire building. Its leaders began to call themselves emperors of Japan. The Fujiwara clan, which dominated between the ninth and twelfth centuries CE, sent emissaries to China and modeled their capital, Nara, on Changan. They could not, however, successfully introduce a Chinese-style bureaucracy, and a strict hereditary hierarchy developed instead.

During the Kamakura Shogunate (1185–1333 CE), the emperor and his court kept their capital in Kyoto, yet a military dictatorship existed, ruled by powerful landholding clans. A Japanese form of feudalism developed in which the Shogun—supreme general—controlled the centralized military government and divided the land into regional units based on military power. The regional military leaders were the daimyo, and the warriors who fought for them were the samurai. Over the centuries, the samurai military class developed a strict warrior code called bushido. The emperor remained in power throughout this period, but served only as a symbolic figurehead. Many Shoguns were overthrown but the emperor was not.


Japan was a predominantly agrarian society with a local artisan class of weavers, carpenters, and ironworkers. Trade and manufacturing developed more in the Kamakura Period, when it focused on markets in larger towns and foreign trade with Korea and China. Most people were peasants who worked on land that was owned by a lord or by Buddhist monasteries. Though their freedom was limited, peasants could keep what was left of their harvest after paying their tax quota. Those unable to pay their taxes became landless laborers known as genin and could be bought and sold with the land.


Japan adopted many foreign ideas but remained culturally true to its own traditions. According to Shinto, the religion native to Japan, everything possesses a spirit, or kami. Natural forces and nature were awe-inspiring, and shrines were built to honor kami. The first ruler from the Yamato clan claimed descent from the supreme Shinto deity, the Sun Goddess. Japan was also strongly influenced by Korea and China.

It adopted Chinese technology, Chinese script, and Buddhism (though Japan developed its own version of Buddhism, which added a strong aesthetic dimension, known as Zen Buddhism). In the Heian period (794 to 1185 CE), contact with China was cut off, and the culture turned to expressing Japanese values. Participating in a lavish court lifestyle, women dominated literature. The Tale of Genji, for instance, was written by Lady Murasaki. Wives inherited land from their husbands and often owned land, and priestesses dominated religious life. Over time, though, women lost power and influence.


Islam: The Religion

Prior to the spread of Islam, Arabs lived in separate, loyal, tribal groups and were often involved in overland and maritime trade. The city of Mecca later developed into an important religious site with a large influx of traders and pilgrims. The Kaaba, a black meteorite placed in the Great Mosque by Abraham, was in the center of the city, and most people worshipped idols. Muhammad was born in 570 CE in Mecca. When he was 40, the angel Gabriel appeared to him and revealed that he had been selected to receive a divine message that there was only one all-powerful and all-knowing God, Allah, and that Muhammad was to be God’s messenger. Muhammad preached that all people were to submit to Allah and that everyone was equal in the eyes of Allah.

Muhammad’s message was not met with enthusiasm in Mecca, and he fled to Medina in 622 CE, a journey known as the hegira. In Medina, he was viewed as a prophet and a political leader. Muhammad taught that he was the last of a long line of prophets from the Jewish and Christian scriptures that included Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus. In 630 CE, he and his followers returned to Mecca, captured the city, and destroyed religious idols. After his death, Muhammad’s revelations were written down by his followers in the Quran. The word Islam means “submission to God’s will”. Islam is a universal religion that is open to everyone. Islam appealed to women because they had equal status to men before God, they could keep their dowries as wives, and there was a prohibition on female infanticide.


By the time of Muhammad’s death, almost all of Arabia was under Islamic control. There was disagreement, however, over his successor. One group, the Shia, believed that the leader should be a descendant of Muhammad. The other group, the Sunni, preferred the community of Muslims to determine who would succeed him. The leader of the Muslims, the caliph, was both a political and spiritual leader.

Five Pillars of Islam

1. Statement of faith: There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger.
2. Pray five times a day facing Mecca.
3. Give alms (charity) to the poor.
4. Fast during the holy month of Ramadan.
5. Make a pilgrimage, or hajj, to Mecca during one’s lifetime if able.

After the first four caliphs, the Umayyad clan took control in 661 CE and transformed the caliphate into a hereditary monarchy, with its government centered in Damascus. They continued on to conquer Syria, Egypt, Persia, and Byzantine territory in West Asia, North Africa, and Spain. Their military skills, the soldiers’ commitment to Islam, and the promise of plunder helped them in these conquests. The Umayyad Caliphate set up a bureaucratic structure in which local administrators governed their areas. All cultures were tolerated as long as people obeyed the rules, paid their taxes, and did not revolt. Arabic became the language of administration, business, law, and trade.

The Abbasid clan overthrew the Umayyad dynasty in 750 CE and moved the capital of the empire to Baghdad, a political center and the second largest city in the world next to Changan. Eventually, the only remaining Umayyad prince settled in Spain and established a separate caliphate there. Berber tribesmen controlled much of the northern African coast, and the Mamluks revolted and gained control over Egypt from 1250 to 1517 CE. The term Dar al-Islam, or “all under Islam,” refers to those areas in which a Muslim is welcome.


Trade flourished throughout the caliphate and improved irrigation led to productive agriculture and an increase in tax revenues. Artisans flourished in the cities, making pottery, fabrics, and rugs. Paper was imported from China, and soon paper mills were set up. The vast Islamic empires also spread many types of agriculture, including sugarcane, citrus fruits, and coffee. Islam spread to West Africa through trans-Saharan trade, to East Africa and Southeast Asia through Indian Ocean trade, to Central Asia and China along the Silk Road, and to India through the migrations of the Turks.


Mosques, hospitals, schools, and orphanages were built throughout the empire. Intellectual achievements included the development of algebra, the concept of longitude and latitude, and the study of Greek philosophers such as Aristotle. The House of Wisdom, built in Baghdad in 830 CE, obtained Greek and Persian texts and translated them into Arabic. In art and architecture, the use of images was forbidden; instead, geometry and calligraphy were used to beautiful effect.

Byzantine Empire (300 to 1453 CE)


The Byzantine Empire, a continuation of the Eastern Roman Empire, was the only survivor from the classical age. The Roman Empire had officially been divided in 375 CE, with the western half severely weakened because the east produced the majority of grain and controlled the major trade routes. Emperor Justinian, who ruled from 527 to 565 CE, tried unsuccessfully to reconquer Western Rome. His Body of Civil Law (Justinian’s Code) was written, and he replaced Latin with Greek as the official language of the empire. The central government was a hereditary monarchy. It made law, had an efficient military, oversaw effective land distribution, and had a bureaucracy that answered to the emperor. The emperor was considered a co-ruler with Christ and appointed the patriarch. Military generals were appointed to rule, and free peasants were given land for military service.


Its location on the Mediterranean Sea contributed to strong trade in the Byzantine Empire. Silkworms were smuggled out of China, which allowed a Byzantine silk industry to develop. Artisans produced glassware, linen, jewelry, and gold and silver work.


Most people spoke Greek. In theory, there was social mobility through the bureaucracy, army, trade, or service to the Church, but in reality, mobility was limited. Constantinople was the political and intellectual center, with libraries containing Greek, Latin, Persian, and Hebrew texts. The Byzantine and Roman Christian churches had been growing apart since the fall of Rome, and a disagreement over the worship of icons—images of saints—was the final straw. The Pope and the Patriarch excommunicated each other, and in 1054 CE, the church officially split into the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. This Eastern Orthodox form of Christianity later spread to the Slavic people and Russia.


Western Europe—Early Middle Ages (around 500 to 1000 CE)


Western Europe remained politically decentralized. The Franks came closest to re-establishing imperial control with the leadership of Clovis and, later, the Carolingian Empire of Charlemagne. Europe developed a feudal system in which land was given to vassals in exchange for military service, allowing them to gain power. The centralizing power during this period was the Church, and by the 13th century, the Church owned one-third of all the land in Europe.


During this time, peasants became serfs; they had the right to work a portion of the land and could pass that right on to their children, but they could not leave the land. They could keep a portion of what they grew, but the majority of their earnings went to the lord. Serfs paid taxes for use of the lord’s mill, had to work on the lord’s lands, and had to provide gifts on holidays. These estates became large walled manors that were economically self-sufficient. They maintained mills, bakeries, and breweries. They had their own private armies served by armor-clad knights. The introduction of the heavy plow led to an increase in agricultural production.


Beginning in the 12th century, the code of conduct called chivalry developed. It stressed honor, modesty, loyalty, and duty. Monasteries were the dominant feature of social and cultural life, and they often had large landholdings. Monks preserved classical knowledge by hand-copying great literature and philosophical works.


Vikings (Dates of Influence—around 800 to 1100 CE)

The Vikings were a nomadic group who had settled in present day Scandinavia. In order to supplement their farm production, they conducted seasonal raids into Europe and ransacked towns. Using small and maneuverable boats, they terrorized coastal communities in France, Scotland, Ireland, and England. The Vikings eventually evolved from plunderers into traders and established communities in Scotland, northern France, and Eastern Europe. Scandinavia was gradually Christianized during this period.

These outstanding seafarers also traded actively throughout the North Sea and Baltic Sea. In the 800s, they colonized Iceland and Greenland, and around 1000 CE, they established a colony that lasted only a few decades in Newfoundland, modern Canada. The transplanted Viking settlements in France became known as Normans (or “Northmen”). In 1066 CE, a Norman lord named William from northern France invaded England with his army. He defeated the Saxons and established Norman power in what is now Britain.

Turks (Dates of Influence—around 1000 to 1450 CE)

The Turks, a pastoral nomadic group from the central Asian steppes, began gradually to migrate out of the steppes at the end of the first millennium. They were often hired by Muslim leaders as mercenaries, or hired soldiers. The Seljuk Turks, who had converted to Islam, invaded Abbasid territory and captured Baghdad in 1055. The caliph was left as the spiritual authority of the empire, but the Seljuk Sultan became the secular monarch. By 1071 CE, they defeated the Byzantine Empire and took most of Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). The Afghan Turks were nomads from Afghanistan and began a series of raids into India in the 10th century. They looted cities for gold and jewels and destroyed Hindu temples and then left. It wasn’t until the 12th century that they invaded and then started to govern. This started the Delhi Sultanate, which ruled northern India from 1206 to 1526 CE. These Turks introduced a strong Muslim presence in India.

Mongols (Dates of Influence—around 1200 to 1550 CE)

A second pastoral nomadic group from the central Asian steppes, the Mongols would go on to create the world’s largest empire. These nomadic herders’ lives revolved around their sheep, goats, and yaks for food, clothing, and shelter; their camels for transportation; and their horses for mobility. This clan-based society was organized around bloodlines. Genghis Khan successfully united the various Mongol tribes, and their greatest strength was their mobility and military power. Once united, Genghis led his troops into Central Asia, Tibet, northern China, and Persia. In 1215 CE, the Mongols attacked and destroyed present-day Beijing. The Mongol charge continued into Afghanistan and Persia, yet by 1227 CE, the Great Khan died, and his empire was divided amongst his four sons.


In 1276 CE, Genghis Khan’s grandson, Kublai Khan, defeated the Southern Song dynasty, and for the first time, China was under foreign rule. Khan created a Chinese-style dynasty, adopting the Chinese name Yuan for it, with a fixed and regular tax payment system and a strong central government. Foreigners, not Chinese, were employed in the bureaucracy, and the civil service exam was not used. The Chinese were subject to different laws and were separated from the Mongols. Connecting Beijing to Vienna was a communication system using horse relays and 1,400 postal stations. In time, overland and maritime trade flourished, and though the Mongols were not directly involved in the trade, they welcomed merchants and foreigners. Merchants converted their foreign currency to paper money when they crossed into China.


In 1258 CE, Kublai’s brother, Hulegu, defeated the Abbasid Caliphate. The Mongols in the Middle East employed local bureaucrats in the government and converted to Islam by 1295 CE. The local rulers were permitted to rule, as long as they delivered the tax revenue and maintained order. Though they did not support agriculture, they did facilitate trade, and Mongol culture often mixed with that of the conquered people. As the Mongols continued west, they met with their first and only major defeat. The armies of the Mamluks, a slave dynasty in Egypt, defeated the Mongols in 1260 CE and stopped the movement of the Mongols in that region.


The Mongol ruler Batu conquered and ruled Russia but kept a large number of the local rulers in power. The taxes on the peasants were heavy, but they were collected by Russian bureaucrats. Trade was supported, and although these Mongols were Muslim and conversion was encouraged, Christian missionaries were allowed to visit.


At the peak of Mongolian power, with huge areas of Asia and Europe under one rule, there was a period called the Mongol Peace. For about a century, Mongol rule united two continents and allowed for relatively safe trade and contacts between very different cultures. It did so by eliminating tariffs. During this period, the Silk Road trade reached its greatest height. Paper money—a Chinese innovation—was used in many parts of the empire. It was also common for the Mongols to convert to or adopt the local religions, or at least be religiously tolerant.


In 1274 and 1281 CE, the Mongols tried again to expand their empire—they invaded Japan. Typhoon winds destroyed their fleet both times, however. The Japanese believed these “kamikaze,” or “sacred winds,” had protected them. Despite great military accomplishment, the Mongol Empire lasted hardly three or four generations. While the Mongols were successful conquerors, they were poor administrators. Overspending led to inflation in different corners of the empire, and after the death of Kublai, leadership was weak and ineffectual. Rivalry among the successors of the great Khan further destabilized the empire, and the vast domain was divided among various generals. By 1350 CE, most of the Mongols’ huge territory had been reconquered by other armies.


West African Kingdoms

The introduction of the domesticated camel allowed for an increased flow of trade across the Sahara Desert, and as a result, Muslim and North African merchants began to establish commercial relations with West Africa.

Ghana (around 500 to 1200 CE)

Ghana was a regional state around the 400s or 500s CE, and an increase in trans-Saharan trade led to its growth in power and influence. By 800 CE the many farming villages in the area were united to create the kingdom of Ghana. It became an important commercial site and a center for trade in gold from the south, which it controlled and taxed. In return, it received ivory, slaves, horses, cloth, and salt. As Ghana’s wealth increased, it built an army funded by the tax on trade. In the 900s CE, the kings converted to Islam, which led to improved relations with Muslim merchants. Islam was not forced on the people, however, and traditional animistic beliefs continued to be important. Those who engaged in trade often converted to Islam. After 1000 CE, Ghana found itself under assault from northern Berbers and other tribal groups nearby. It was eventually absorbed by the West African kingdom of Mali. Mali (1235 to late 1400s CE)

The trans-Saharan trade in gold and salt continued to increase. Mali controlled and taxed all trade. The rulers honored Islam and provided protection and lodging for merchants. The Sundiata is an epic poem that tells how the first Mali emperor came to power; it was composed and recited by Mali griots or storytellers. The most famous Mali emperor was Mansa Musa, who ruled from 1312 to 1337. He built libraries, Islamic schools, and mosques throughout the kingdom. Timbuktu was the political capital and a regional cultural center of Islamic studies and art for all of West Africa. After 1350 CE, provinces began to assert their independence.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 19 October 2016

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