An ambiguous term often used to denote more complex societies but sometimes used by anthropologists to describe any group of people sharing a set of cultural traits.
Socially transmitted patterns of action and expression. Material culture refers to physical objects, such as dwellings, clothing, tools, and crafts. Culture also includes arts, beliefs, knowledge, and technology.
The study of past events and changes in the development, transmission, and transformation of cultural practices.
Stone Age
The historical period characterized by the production of tools from stone and other nonmetallic substances. It was followed by the Bronze Age and more generally by the Iron Age.
The period of the Stone Age associated with the evolution of humans. It predates the Neolithic period.
The period of the Stone Age associated with the ancient Agricultural Revolution(s). It follows the Paleolithic period.
People who support themselves by hunting wild animals and gathering wild edible plants and insects.
Agricultural Revolutions
The change from food gathering to food production that occurred between ca. 8000 and 2000 B.C.E. Also known as the Neolithic Revolution.
Structures and complexes of very large stones constructed for ceremonial and religious purposes in Neolithic times.
The people who dominated southern Mesopotamia through the end of the third millennium B.C.E. They were responsible for the creation of many fundamental elements of Mesopotamian culture, such as irrigation technology, cuneiform, and religious conceptions, taken over by their Semitic successors.
Family of related languages long spoken across parts of western Asia and northern Africa. In antiquity these languages included Hebrew, Aramaic, and Phoenician. The most widespread modern member of the Semitic family is Arabic.
A small independent state consisting of an urban center and the surrounding agricultural territory. A characteristic political form in early Mesopotamia, Archaic and Classical Greece, Phoenicia, and early Italy.
The largest and most important city in Mesopotamia. It achieved particular eminence as the capital of the Amorite king Hammurabi in the eighteenth century B.C.E. and the Neo-Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in the sixth century B.C.E.
Amorite ruler of Babylon (r. 1792 - 1750 B.C.E.). He conquered many city-states in southern and northern Mesopotamia and is best known for a code of laws, inscribed on a black stone pillar, illustrating the principles to be used in legal cases.
In the governments of many ancient societies, a professional position reserved for men who had undergone the lengthy training required to be able to read and write using cuneiforms, hieroglyphics, or other early, cumbersome writing systems.
A massive pyramidal stepped tower made of mud bricks. It is associated with religious complexes in ancient Mesopotamian cities, but its function is unknown.
Small charm meant to protect the bearer from evil. Found frequently in archaeological excavations in Mesopotamia and Egypt, amulets reflect the religious practices of the common people.
A system of writing in which wedge-shaped symbols represented words or syllables. It originated in Mesopotamia and was used initially for Sumerian and Akkadian but later was adapted to represent other languages of western Asia. Because so many symbols had to be learned, literacy was confined to a relatively small group of administrators and scribes.
An alloy of copper with a small amount of time (or sometimes arsenic), it is harder and more durable than copper alone. The term Bronze Age is applied to the era- the dates of which vary in different parts of the world- when bronze was the primary metal for tools and weapons. The demand for bronze helped create long-distance networks of trade.
The central figure in the ancient Egyptian state. Believed to be an earthly manifestation of the gods, he used his absolute power to maintain the safety and prosperity of Egypt.
Egyptian term for the concept of divinely created and maintained order in the universe. Reflecting the ancient Egyptians' belief in an essentially beneficent world, the divine ruler was the earthly guarantor of this order.
A large, triangular stone monument, used in Egypt and Nubia as a burial place for the king. The largest pyramids, erected during the Old Kingdom near Memphis with stone tools and compulsory labor, reflect the Egyptian belief that the proper and spectacular burial of the divine ruler would guarantee the continued prosperity of the land.
The capital of Old Kingdom Egypt, near the head of the Nile Delta. Early rulers were interred in the nearby pyramids.
Capital city of Egypt and home of the ruling dynasties during the Middle and New Kingdoms. Amon, patron deity of Thebes, became one of the chief gods of Egypt. Monarchs were buried across the river in the Valley of the Kings.
A system of writing in which pictorial symbols represented sounds, syllables, or concepts. It was used for official and monumental inscriptions in ancient Egypt. Because of the long period of study required to master this system, literacy in hieroglyphics was confined to a relatively small group of scribes and administrators. Cursive symbol-forms were developed for rapid composition on other media, such as papyrus.
A reed that grows along the banks of the Nile River in Egypt. From it was produced a coarse, paperlike writing medium used by the Egyptians and many other peoples in the ancient Mediterranean and Middle East.
A body preserved by chemical processes or special natural circumstances, often in the belief that the deceased will need it again in the afterlife. In ancient Egypt the bodies of people who could afford mummification underwent a complex process of removing organs, filling body cavities, dehydrating the corpse with natron, and then wrapping the body with linen bandages and enclosing it in a wooden sarcophagus.
Site of one of the great cities of the Indus Valley civilization of the third millennium B.C.E. It was located on the northwest frontier of the zone of cultivation (in modern Pakistan) and may have been a center for the acquisition of raw materials, such as metals and precious stones, from Afghanistan and Iran.
Largest of the cities of the Indus Valley civilization. It was centrally located in the extensive floodplain of the Indus River in contemporary Pakistan. Little is known about the political institutions of Indus Valley communities, but the large scale of construction at Mohenjo-Daro, the orderly grid of streets, and the standardization of building materials are evidence of central planning.
A fine, light silt deposited by wind and water. It constitutes the fertile soil of the Yellow River Valley in northern China.
The dominant people in the earliest Chinese dynast for which we have written records (ca. 1750 - 1045 B.C.E.).
The people and dynasty that took over the dominant position in north China from the Shang and created the concept of the Mandate of Heaven to justify their rule. The Zhou era, particularly the vigorous early period (1045 - 771 B.C.E.), was remembered in Chinese tradition as a time of prosperity and benevolent rule.
Mandate of Heaven
Chinese religious and political ideology developed by the Zhou, according to which it was the prerogative of Heaven, the chief deity, to grant power to the ruler of China and to take away that power if the ruler failed to conduct himself justly and in the best interests of his subjects.
Western name for the Chinese philosopher Kongzi (551 - 479 B.C.E.). His doctrine of duty and public service had a great influence on subsequent Chinese thought and served as a code of conduct for government officials.
Chinese school of thought, originating in the Warring States Period with Laozi. Daoism offered an alternative to the Confucian emphasis on hierarchy and duty.
In Chinese belief, complementary factors that help to maintain the equilibrium of the world. Yang is associated with masculine, light, and active qualities; yin with feminine, dark, and passive qualities.
And Egyptian name for Nubia, the region alongside the Nile River south of Egypt, where an indigenous kingdom with its own distinctive institutions and cultural traditions arose beginning in the early second millennium B.C.E.
Capital of a flourishing kingdom in southern Nubia from the fourth century B.C.E. to the fourth century C.E. In this period Nubian culture shows more independence from Egypt and the influence on sub-Saharan Africa.
Peoples sharing common linguistic and cultural features that originated in Central Europe in the first half of the first millennium B.C.E.
The class of religious experts who conducted rituals and preserved sacred lore among some ancient Celtic peoples.
The first Mesoamerican civilization. Between ca. 1200 and 400 B.C.E., the Olmec people of central Mexico created a vibrant civilization that included intensive agriculture, wide ranging trade, ceremonial centers, and monumental construction.
The first major urban civilization in South America (900 - 250 B.C.E.).
A hoofed animal indigenous to the Andes Mountains in South America. It was the only domesticated beast of burden in the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans.
Iron Age
Historians' term for the period during which iron was the primary metal for tools and weapons. The advent of iron technology began at different times in different parts of the world.
A people from central Anatolia who established an empire in Anatolia and Syria in the Late Bronze Age. With wealth from the trade in metals and military power based on chariot forces, the Hittites vied with New Kingdom Egypt for control of Syria-Palestine before falling to unidentified attackers ca. 1200 B.C.E.
Queen of Egypt (r. 1473 - 1458 B.C.E.). She dispatched a naval expedition to Punt (possible northeast Sudan or Eritrea), the faraway source of myrrh. There is evidence of opposition to a woman as ruler, and after her death her name and image were frequently defaced.
Egyptian pharaoh (r. 1353 - 1335 B.C.E.). He built a new capital at Amarna, fostered a new style of naturalistic art, and created a religious revolution by imposing worship of the sun-disk.
Ramesses II
A long-lived ruler of New Kingdom Egypt (r. 1290 - 1224 B.C.E.). He reached an accommodation with the Hittites of Anatolia after a standoff in battle at Kadesh in Syria. He built on a grand scale throughout Egypt.
Prosperous civilization on the Aegean island of Crete in the second millennium B.C.E. The Minoans engaged in far-flung commerce around the Mediterranean and exerted powerful cultural influences on the early Greeks.
Site of a fortified palace complex in southern Greece that controlled a Late Bronze Age kingdom. In Homer's epic poems, Mycenae was the base of King Agamemnon, who commanded the Greeks besieging Troy. Contemporary archaeologists call the complex Greek society of the second millennium B.C.E. "Mycenaean."
Shaft Graves
A term used for the burial sites of elite members of Mycenaean Greek society in the mid-second millennium B.C.E. At the bottom of deep shafts lined with stone slabs, the bodies were laid out along with gold and bronze jewelry, implements, weapons, and masks.
Linear B
A set of syllabic symbols, derived from the writing system of Minoan Crete, used in the Mycenaean palaces of the Late Bronze Age to write an early form of Greek. It was used primarily for palace records, and the surviving Linear B tablets provide substantial information about the economic organization of Mycenaean society and tantalizing clues about political, social, and religious institutions.
Neo-Assyrian Empire
An empire extending from western Iran to Syria-Palestine, conquered by the Assyrians of northern Mesopotamia between the tenth and seventh centuries B.C.E. They used force and terror and exploited the wealth and labor of their subjects. They also preserved and continued the cultural and scientific developments of Mesopotamian civilization.
Mass Deportation
The forcible removal and relocation of large numbers of people or entire populations. The mass deportations practiced by the Assyrians and Persian Empires were meant as a terrifying warning of the consequences of rebellion. They also brought skilled and unskilled labor to the imperial center.
Library of Ashurbanipal
A large collection of writings drawn from the ancient literary, religious, and scientific traditions of Mesopotamia. It was assembled by the seventh-century B.C.E. Assyrian ruler Ashurbanipal. The many tablets unearthed by archaeologists constitute one of the most important sources of present-day knowledge of the long literary tradition of Mesopotamia.
In antiquity, the land between the eastern shore of the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, occupied by the Israelites from the early second millennium B.C.E. The modern state of Israel was founded in 1948.
Hebrew Bible
A collection of sacred books containing diverse materials concerning the origins, experiences, beliefs, and practices of the Israelites. Most of the extant text was compiled by members of the priestly class in the fifth century B.C.E. and reflects the concerns and views of this group.
First Temple
A monumental sanctuary built in Jerusalem by King Solomon in the tenth century B.C.E. to be the religious center for the Israelite god Yahweh. The Temple priesthood conducted sacrifices, received a tithe or percentage of agricultural revenues, and became economically and politically powerful.
Belief in the existence of a single divine entity. Some scholars cite the devotion of the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten to Aten (sun-disk) and his suppression of traditional gods as the earliest instance. The Israelite worship of Yahweh developed into an exclusive belief in one god, and this concept passed into Christianity and Islam.
Greek word meaning "dispersal," used to describe the communities of a given ethnic group living outside their homeland. Jews, for example, spread from Israel to western Asia and Mediterranean lands in antiquity and today can be found throughout the world.
Semitic speaking Canaanites living on the coast of modern Lebanon and Syria in the first millennium B.C.E. From major cities such as Tyre and Sidon, Phoenician merchants and sailors explored the Mediterranean, engaged in widespread commerce, and founded Carthage and other colonies in the western Mediterranean.
City located in present-day Tunisia, founded by Phoenicians ca. 800 B.C.E. It became a major commercial center and naval power in the western Mediterranean until defeated by Rome in the third century B.C.E.
Neo-Babylonian Kingdom
Under the Chaldaeans (nomadic kinship groups that settled in southern Mesopotamia in the early first millennium B.C.E.), Babylon again became a major political and cultural center in the seventh and sixth centuries B.C.E. After participating in the destruction of Assyrian power, the monarchs Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar took over the southern portion of the Assyrian domains.
Founder of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. Between 550 and 530 B.C.E. he conquered Media, Lydia, and Babylon. Revered in the traditions of both Iran and the subject peoples, he employed Persians and Medes in his administration and respected the institutions and beliefs of subject peoples.
Darius I
Third ruler of the Persian Empire (r. 521 - 486 B.C.E.). He crushed the widespread initial resistance to his rule and gave all major government posts to Persians rather than to Medes. He established a system of provinces and tribute, began construction of Persepolis, and expanded Persian control in the east (Pakistan) and west (northern Greece).
The governor of a province in the Achaemenid Persian Empire, often a relative of the king. He was responsible for protection of the province and for forwarding tribute to the central administration. Satraps in outlying provinces enjoyed considerable autonomy.
A complex of palaces, reception halls, and treasury buildings erected by the Persian kings Darius I and Xerxes in the Persian homeland. It is believed that the New Year's festival was celebrated here, as well as the coronations, weddings, and funerals of the Persian kings, who were buried in cliff-tombs nearby.
A religion originating in ancient Iran that became the official religion of the Achaemenids. It centered on a single benevolent deity, Ahuramazda, who engaged in a struggle with demonic forces before prevailing and restoring a pristine world. It emphasized truth-telling, purity, and reverence for nature.
The Greek term for a city-state, an urban center and the agricultural territory under its control. It was the characteristic form of political organization in southern and central Greece in the Archaic and Classical periods. Of the hundreds of city-states in the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions settled by Greeks, some were oligarchic, others democratic, depending on the powers delegated to the Council and the Assembly.
A heavily armored Greek infantryman of the Archaic and Classical periods who fought in the close packed phalanx formation. Hoplite armies- militias composed of middle and upper class citizens supplying their own equipment- were for centuries superior to all other military forces.
The term the Greeks used to describe someone who seized and held power in violation of the normal procedures and traditions of the community. Tyrants appeared in many Greek city-states in the seventh and sixth centuries B.C.E., often taking advantage of the disaffection of the emerging middle class and, by weakening the old elite, unwittingly contributing to the evolution of democracy.
System of government in which all "citizens" (however defined) have equal political and legal rights, privileges, and protections, as in the Greek city-state of Athens in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.E.
A gift given to a deity, often with the aim of creating a relationship, gaining favor, and obligating the god to provide some benefit to the sacrifice, sometimes in order to sustain the deity and thereby guarantee the continuing vitality of the natural world.
Heir to the technique of historia ("investigation/research") developed by Greeks in the late Archaic period. He came from a Greek community in Anatolia and traveled extensively, collecting information in western Asia and the Mediterranean lands. He traced the antecedents and chronicled the wars between the Greek city-states and the Persian Empire, thus originating the Western tradition of historical writing.
Aristocratic leader who guided the Athenian state through the transformation to full participatory democracy for all male citizens, supervised construction of the Acropolis, and pursued a policy of imperial expansion that led to the Peloponnesian War. He formulated a strategy of attrition but died from the plague early in the war.
Persian Wars
Conflicts between Greek city-states and the Persian Empire, ranging from the Ionian Revolt (499 - 494 B.C.E.) through Darius's punitive expedition that failed at Marathon (490 B.C.E.) and the defeat of Xerxes' massive invasion of Greece by the Spartan-led Hellenic League (480 - 479 B.C.E.). This first major setback for Persian arms launched the Greeks into their period of greatest cultural productivity. Herodotus chronicled these events in the first "history" in the Western tradition.
Greek and Phoenician warship of the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.E. It was sleek and light, powered by 170 oars arranged in three vertical tiers. Manned by skilled sailors, it was capable of short bursts of speed and complex maneuvers.
Athenian philosopher (ca. 470 - 399 B.C.E.) who shifted the emphasis of philosophical investigation from questions of natural science to ethics and human behavior. He attracted young disciples from elite families but made enemies by revealing the ignorance and pretensions of others, culminating in his trial and execution by the Athenian state.
Peloponnesian War
A protracted (431 - 404 B.C.E.) and costly conflict between the Athenian and Spartan alliance systems that convulsed most of the Greek world. The war was largely a consequence of Athenian imperialism. Possession of a naval empire allowed Athens to fight a war of attrition. Ultimately, Sparta prevailed because of Athenian errors and Persian financial support.
King of Macedonia in northern Greece. Between 334 and 323 B.C.E. he conquered the Persian Empire, reached the Indus Valley, founded many Greek style cities, and spread Greek culture across the Middle East. Later known as Alexander the Great.
Hellenistic Age
Historians' term for the era, usually dated 323 - 30 B.C.E., in which Greek culture spread across western Asia and northeastern Africa after the conquests of Alexander the Great. The period ended with the fall of the last major Hellenistic kingdom of Rome, but Greek cultural influence persisted until the spread of Islam in the seventh century C.E.
The Macedonian dynasty, descended from one of Alexander the Great's officers, that ruled Egypt for three centuries (323 - 30 B.C.E.). From their magnificent capital at Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast, the Ptolemies largely over the system created by Egyptian pharaohs to extract the wealth of the land, rewarding Greeks and Hellenized non-Greeks serving in the military and administration.
City on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt founded by Alexander. It became the capital of the Hellenistic kingdom of the Ptolemies. It contained the famous Library and the Museum, a center for leading scientific and literary figures. Its merchants engaged in trade with areas bordering the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean.
The period from 507 to 31 B.C.E>, during which Rome was largely governed by the aristocratic Roman Senate.
A council whose members were the heads of wealthy, landowning families. Originally an advisory body to the early kings, in the era of the Roman Republic the Senate effectively governed the Roman state and the growing empire. Under Senate leadership, Rome conquered an empire of unprecedented extent in the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.
Patron/Client Relationship
In ancient Rome, a fundamental social relationship in which the patron- a wealthy and powerful individual- provided legal and economic protection and assistance to clients, men of lesser status and means, and in return the clients supported the political careers and economic interests of their patron.
A term used to characterize Roman government in the first three centuries C.E., based on the ambiguous title princeps, ("first citizen") adopted by Augustus to conceal his military dictatorship.
Honorific name of Octavian, founder of the Roman Principate, the military dictatorship that replaced the failing rule of the Roman Senate. After defeating all rivals, between 31 B.C.E. and 14 C.E. he laid the groundwork for several centuries of stability and prosperity in the Roman Empire.
In ancient Italy, prosperous landowners second in wealth and status to the senatorial aristocracy. The Roman emperors allied with this group to counterbalance the influence of the old aristocracy and used the equites to staff the imperial civil service.
Pax Romana
Literally "Roman peace," it connoted the stability and prosperity that Roman rule brought to the lands of the Roman Empire in the first two centuries C.E. The movement of people and trade goods along Roman roads and safe seas allowed for the spread of cultural practices, technologies, and religious ideas.
The process by which the Latin language and Roman culture became dominant in the western provinces. Indigenous peoples in the provinces often chose to Romanize because of the political and economical advantages that it brought, as well as the allure of Roman success.
A Jew from Galilee in northern Israel who sought to reform Jewish beliefs and practices. He was executed as a revolutionary by the Romans. Hailed as the Messiah and son of God by his followers, he became the central figure in Christianity, a belief system that developed in the centuries after his death.
A Jew from the Greek city of Tarsus in Anatolia, he initially persecuted the followers of Jesus but, after receiving a revelation on the road to Syrian Damascus, became a Christian. Taking advantage of his Hellenized background and Roman citizenship, he traveled throughout Syria-Palestine, Anatolia, and Greece, preaching the new religion and establishing churches. Finding his greatest success among pagans ("gentiles"), he began the process by which Christianity separated from Judaism.
A conduit, either elevated or underground, that used gravity to carry water from a source to a location- usually a city- that needed it. The Romans built many aqueducts in a period of substantial urbanization.
Third-Century Crisis
Historians' term for the political, military, and economic turmoil that beset the Roman Empire during much of the third century C.E.: frequent change of rulers, civil wars, barbarian invasions, decline of urban centers, and near destruction of long-distance commerce and the monetary economy. After 284 C.E. Diocletian restored order by making fundamental changes.
Roman emperor (r. 312 - 337). After reuniting the Roman Empire, he moved the capital to Constantinople and made Christianity a favored religion.
A people and state in the Wei Valley of eastern China that conquered rival states and created the first Chinese empire (221 - 206 B.C.E.). The Qin ruler, Chi Huangdi, standardized many features of Chinese society and ruthlessly marshaled subjects for military and construction projects, engendering hostility that led to the fall of his dynasty shortly after his death. The Qin framework was largely taken over by the succeeding Han Empire.
Shi Huangdi
Founder of the short-lived Qin dynasty and creator of the Chinese Empire (r. 221 - 210 B.C.E.). He is remembered for his ruthless conquests of rival states, standardization of practices, and forcible organization of labor for military and engineering tasks. His tomb, with its army of life size terracotta soldiers, has been partially excavated.
A term used to designate (1) the ethnic Chinese people who originated in the Yellow River Valley and spread throughout regions of China suitable for agriculture and (2) the dynasty of emperors who ruled from 202 B.C.E. to 220 C.E.
A confederation of nomadic peoples living beyond the northwest frontier of ancient China. Chinese rulers tried a variety of defenses and stratagems to ward off these "barbarians," as they called them, and finally succeeded in dispersing the Xiongnu in the first century C.E.
The throne name of Liu Bang, one of the rebel leaders who brought down the Qin and founded the Han dynasty in 202 B.C.E.
Sima Qian
Chief astrologer for the Han dynasty emperor Wu. He composed a monumental history of China from its legendary origins to his own time and is regarded as the Chinese "father of history."
City in the Wei Valley in eastern China. It became the capital of the Qin and early Han Empires. Its main features were imitated in the cities and towns that sprang up throughout the Han Empire.
In China, the class of prosperous families, next in wealth below the rural aristocrats, from which the emperors drew their administrative personnel. Respected for their education and expertise, these officials became a privileged group and made the government more efficient and responsive than in the past. The term gentry also denotes the class of landholding families in England below the aristocracy.
Seasonal winds in the Indian Ocean caused by the differences in temperature between the rapidly heating and cooling landmasses of Africa and Asia and the slowly changing ocean waters. These strong and predictable winds have long been ridden across the open sea by sailors, and the large amounts of rainfall that they deposit on parts of India, Southeast Asia, and China allow for the cultivation of several crops a year.
Early Indian sacred "knowledge"- the literal meaning of the term- long preserved communicated orally y Brahmin priests and eventually written down. These religious texts, including the thousand poetic hymns to various deities contained in the Rig Veda, are our main source of information about the Vedic period (ca. 1500 - 500 B.C.E.).
Two categories of social identity of great importance in Indian history. Varna are the four major social divisions: the Brahmin priest class, the Kshatriya warrior/administrator class, the Vaishya merchant/farmer class, and the Shudra laborer class. Within the system of varna are many jati, regional groups of people who have a common occupational sphere and who marry, eat, and generally interact with other members of their group.
In Indian tradition, the residue of deeds performed in past and present lives that adheres to a "spirit" and determines what form it will assume in its next life cycle. The doctrines of karma and reincarnation were used by the elite in ancient India to encourage people to accept their social position and do their duty.
The Hindu concept of the spirit's "liberation" from the endless cycle of rebirths. There are various avenues- such as physical discipline, meditation, and acts of devotion to the gods- by which the spirit can distance itself from desire for the things of this world and be merged with the divine force that animates the universe.
An Indian prince named Siddhartha Gautama, who renounced his wealth and social position. After becoming "enlightened" (the meaning of Buddha), he enunciated the principles of Buddhism. This doctrine evolved and spread throughout India and to Southeast, East, and Central Asia.
Mahayana Buddhism
"Great Vehicle" branch of Buddhism followed in China, Japan, and Central Asia. The focus is on reverence for Buddha and for bodhisattvas, enlightened persons who have postponed nirvana to help other attain enlightenment.
Theravada Buddhism
"Way of the Elders" branch of Buddhism followed in Sri Lanka and much of Southeast Asia. Theravada remains close to the original principles set forth by the Buddha; it downplays the importance of gods and emphasizes austerity and the individual's search for enlightenment.
A general term for a wide variety of beliefs and ritual practices that have developed in the Indian subcontinent since antiquity. Hinduism has roots in ancient Vedic, Buddhist, and south Indian religious concepts and practices. It spread along the trade routes to Southeast Asia.
Mauryan Empire
The first state to unify most of the Indian subcontinent. It was founded by Chandragupta Maurya in 324 B.C.E. and survived until 184 B.C.E. From its capital at Pataliputra in the Ganges Valley it grew wealthy from taxes on agriculture, iron mining, and control of trade routes.
Third ruler of the Mauryan Empire in India (r. 273 - 232 B.C.E.). He converted to Buddhism and broadcast his precepts on inscribed stones and pillars, the earliest surviving Indian writing.
A vast epic chronicling the events leading up to a cataclysmic battle between related kinship groups in early India. It includes the Bhagavad-Gita.
The most important work of Indian sacred literature, a dialogue between the great warrior Arjuna and the god Krishna on duty and the fate of the spirit.
Tamil Kingdoms
The kingdoms of southern India, inhabited primarily by speakers of Dravidians languages, which developed in partial isolation, and somewhat differently, from the Arya north. They produced epics, poetry, and performance arts. Elements of Tamil religious beliefs were merged into the Hindu synthesis.
Gupta Empire
A powerful Indian state based, like its Mauryan predecessor, on a capital at Pataliputra in the Ganges Valley. It controlled most of the Indian subcontinent through a combination of military force and its prestige as a center of sophisticated culture.
Historians' term for a state that acquires prestige and power by developing attractive cultural forms and staging cultural forms and staging elaborate public ceremonies (as well as redistributing valuable resources) to attract and bind subjects to the center. Examples include the Gupta Empire in India and Srivijaya in Southeast Asia.
An early complex society in Southeast Asia between the first and sixth centuries C.E. It was centered in the rich rice-growing region of southern Vietnam, and it controlled the passage of trade across the Malaysian isthmus.
Silk Road
Caravan routes connecting China and the Middle East across Central Asia and Iran.
Iranian ruling dynasty between ca. 250 B.C.E. and 226 C.E.
Sasanid Empire
Iranian empire, established ca. 224, with a capital in Ctesiphon, Mesopotamia. The Sasanid emperors established Zoroastrianism as the state religion. Islamic Arab armies overthrew the empire ca. 640.
Device for securing a horseman's feet, enabling him to wield weapons more effectively. First evidence of the use of the stirrup was among the Kushan people of northern Afghanistan in approximately the first century C.E.
Indian Ocean Maritime System
In premodern times, a network of seaports, trade routes, and maritime culture linking countries on the rim of the Indian Ocean from Africa to Indonesia.
Trans-Saharan Caravan Routes
Trading network linking North Africa with sub-Saharan Africa across the Sahara.
Belt south of the Sahara; literally "coastland" in Arabic.
Sub-Saharan Africa
Portion of the African continent lying south of the Sahara.
Treeless plains, especially the high, flat expanses of northern Eurasia, which usually have little rain and are covered with coarse grass. They are good lands for nomads and their herds. Living on the steppes promoted the breeding of horses and the development of military skills that were essential to the rise of the Mongol Empire.
Tropical or subtropical grassland, either treeless of with occasional clumps of trees. Most extensive in sub-Saharan Africa but also present in South America.
Tropical Rain Forest
High-precipitation forest zones of the Americas, Africa, and Asia lying between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.
"Great Traditions"
Historians' term for a literate, well-institutionalized complex of religious and social beliefs and practices adhered to by diverse societies over a broad geographical area.
"Small Traditions"
Historians' term for a localized, usually nonliterate, set of customs and beliefs adhered to by a single society, often in conjunction with a "great tradition."
Collective name of a large group of sub-Saharan African languages and of the peoples speaking these languages.
One of the earliest Christian kingdoms, situated in eastern Anatolia and the western Caucasus and occupied by speakers of the Armenian language.
East African highland nation lying east of the Nile River.
City in western Arabia; birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and ritual center of the Islamic religion.
Arab prophet; founder of religion of Islam.
An adherent of the Islamic religion; a person who "submits" (in Arabic, Islam means "submission") to the will of God.
Religion expounded by the Prophet Muhammad on the basis of his reception of divine revelations, which were collected after his death into the Quran. In the tradition of Judaism and Christianity, and sharing much of their lore, Islam calls on all people to recognize one creator god- Allah- who rewards or punishes believers after death according to how they led their lives.
City in western Arabia to which the Prophet Muhammad and his followers emigrated in 622 to escape persecution in Mecca.
The community of all Muslims. A major innovation against the background of seventh-century Arabia, where traditionally kinship rather than faith had determined membership in a community.
Office established in succession to the Prophet Muhammad, to rule the Islamic empire; also the name of that empire.
Book composed of divine revelations made to the Prophet Muhammad between ca. 610 and his death in 632; the sacred text of the religion of Islam.
Muslims belonging to the branch of Islam believing that God vests leadership of the community in a descendent of Muhammad's son-in-law Ali. Shi'ism is the state religion of Iran.
Umayyad Caliphate
First hereditary dynasty of Muslim caliphs (661 to 750). From their capital at Damascus, the Umayyads ruled an empire that extended from Spain to India. Overthrown by the Abbasid Caliphate.
Muslims belonging to branch of Islam believing that the community should select its own leadership. The majority religion in most Islamic countries.
Abbasid Caliphate
Descendents of the Prophet Muhammad's uncle, al-Abbas, the Abbasids overthrew the Umayyad Caliphate and ruled an Islamic empire from their capital in Bagdad (founded 762) from 750 to 1258.
Under the Islamic system of military slavery, Turkic military slaves who formed an important part of the armed forces of the Abbasid Caliphate of the ninth and tenth centuries. Mamluks eventually founded their own state, ruling Egypt and Syria (1250 - 1517).
First known kingdom in sub-Saharan West Africa between the sixth and thirteenth centuries C.E> Also the modern West African country once known as the Gold Coast.
Muslim religious scholars. From the ninth century onward, the primary interpreters of Islamic law and the social core of Muslim urban societies.
A tradition relating the words or deeds of the Prophet Muhammad; next to the Quran, the most important basis for Islamic law.
King of the Franks (r. 768 - 814); emperor (r. 800 - 814). Through a series of military conquests he established the Carolingian Empire, which encompassed all of Gaul and parts of Germany and Italy. Though illiterate himself, he sponsored a brief intellectual revival.
Literally "middle age," a term that historians of Europe use for the period ca. 500 to ca. 1500, signifying its intermediate point between Greco-Roman antiquity and the Renaissance.
Byzantine Empire
Historians' name for the eastern portion of the Roman Empire from the fourth century onward, taken from "Byzantium," an early name for Constantinople, the Byzantine capital city. The empire fell to the Ottomans in 1453.
Kievan Russia
State established at Kiev in Ukraine ca. 880 by Scandinavian adventurers asserting authority over a mostly Slavic farming population.
A formal split within a religious community.
In medieval Europe, a large, self-sufficient landholding consisting of the lord's residence (manor house), outbuildings, peasant village, and surrounding land.
In medieval Europe, an agricultural laborer legally bound to a lord's property and obligated to perform set services for the lord.
In medieval Europe, land granted in return for a sworn oath to provide specified military service.
In medieval Europe, a sworn supporter of a king or lord committed to rendering specified military service to that king or lord.
The central administration of the Roman Catholic Church, of which the pope is the head.
Holy Roman Empire
Loose federation of mostly German states and principalities, headed by an emperor elected by the princes. It lasted from 962 to 1806.
Investiture Controversy
Dispute between the popes and the Holy Roman Emperors over who held ultimate authority over bishops in imperial lands.
Living in a religious community apart from secular society and adhering to a rule stipulating chastity, obedience, and poverty. It was a prominent element of medieval Christianity and Buddhism. Monasteries were primary centers of learning and literacy in medieval Europe.
Horse Collar
Harnessing method that increased the efficiency of horses by shifting the point of traction from the animal's neck to the shoulders; its adoption favors the spread of horse drawn plows and vehicles.
(1095 - 1204) Armed pilgrimages to the Holy Land by Christians determined to recover Jerusalem from Muslim rule. The Crusades brought an end to western Europe's centuries of intellectual and cultural isolation.
Journey to a sacred shrine by Christians seeking to show their piety, fulfill vows, or gain absolution for sins. Other religions also have pilgrimage traditions, such as the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca and the pilgrimages made by early Chinese Buddhists to India in search of sacred Buddhist writings.
Grand Canal
The 1,100 mile (1,771 kilometer) waterway linking the Yellow and the Yangzi Rivers. It was begun in the Han period and completed during the Sui Empire.
Li Shimin
One of the founders of the Tang Empire and its second emperor (r. 626 - 649). He led the expansion of the empire into Central Asia.
Tang Empire
Empire unifying China and part of Central Asia, founded 618 and ended 907. The Tang emperors presided over a magnificent court at their capital, Chang'an.
Tributary System
A system in which, from the time of the Han Empire, countries in East and Southeast Asia not under the direct control of empires based in china nevertheless enthralled as tributary states, acknowledging the superiority of the emperors in China in exchange for trading rights or strategic alliances.
Song Empire
Empire in central and southern China (960 - 1126) while the Liao people controlled the north. Empire in southern China (1127 - 1279; the "Southern Song") while the Jin people controlled the north. Distinguished for its advances in technology, medicine, astronomy, and mathematics.
A very large flat bottom sailing ship produced in the Tang, Song, and Ming Empires, specially designed for long-distance commercial travel.
A mixture of saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal, in various proportions. The formula, brought to China in the 400s or 500s, was first used to make fumigators to keep away insect pests and evil spirits. In later centuries it was used to make explosives and grenades and to propel cannonballs, shots, and bullets.
Term used to describe new approaches to understanding classic Confucian texts that became the basic ruling philosophy of China from the Song period to the twentieth century.
The Japanese word for a branch of Mahayana Buddhism based on highly disciplined meditation. It is known in Sanskrit as dhyana, in Chinese as chan, and in Korean as son.
Movable Type
Type in which each individual character is cast on a separate piece of metal. It replaced woodblock printing, allowing for the arrangement of individual letters and other characters on a page, rather than requiring the carving of entire pages at a time. It may have been invented in Korea in the thirteenth century.
The practice of identifying special individuals (shamans) who will interact with spirits for the benefit of the community. Characteristic of the Korean kingdoms of the early medieval period and of early societies of Central Asia.
Korean kingdom founded in 918 and destroyed by a Mongol invasion in 1259.
Aristocratic family that dominated the Japanese imperial court between the ninth and tenth centuries.
Kamakura Shogunate
The first of Japan's decentralized military governments (1185 - 1333).
Champa Rice
Quick maturing rice that can allow two harvests in one growing season. Originally introduced into Champa from India, it was later sent to China as a tribute gift by the Champa state.
A state based in the Indonesian island of Sumatra, between the seventh and eleventh centuries C.E. It amassed wealth and power by a combination of selective adaptation of Indian technologies and concepts, control of the lucrative trade routes between India and China, and skillful showmanship and diplomacy in holding together a disparate realm of inland and coastal territories.
A powerful city-state in central Mexico (100 B.C.E. - 750 C.E.). Its population was about 150,000 at its peak in 600.
Raised fields constructed along lakeshores in Mesoamerica to increase agricultural yields.
Mesoamerican civilization concentrated in Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula and in Guatemala and Honduras but never unified into a single empire. Major contributions were in mathematics, astronomy, and development of the calendar.
Powerful postclassic empire in central Mexico (900 - 1175 C.E.). It influenced much of Mesoamerica. Aztecs claimed ties to this earlier civilization.
An ethnic state in ancient Mesoamerica, the common political building block of that region.
A group of up to a hundred families that served as a social building block of an altepetl in ancient Mesoamerica.
Capital of the Aztec Empire, located on an island in Lake Texcoco. Its population was about 150,000 on the eve of Spanish conquest. Mexico City was constructed on its ruins.
Also known as Mexica, the Aztecs created a powerful empire in central Mexico (1325 - 1521 C.E.). They forced defeated peoples to provide goods and labor as a tax.
Tribute System
A system in which defeated peoples were forced to pay a tax in the form of goods and labor. This forced transfer of food, cloth, and other goods subsidized the development of large cities. An important component of the Aztec and Inca economies.
Important culture of what is now the southwest United States (700 - 1300 C.E.). Centered on Chaco Canyon in New Mexico and Mesa Verde in Colorado, the Anasazi culture built multistory residences and worshiped in subterranean buildings called kivas.
Form of political organization with rule by a hereditary leader who held power over a collection of villages and towns. Less powerful than kingdoms and empires, chiefdoms were based on gift giving and commercial links.
Andean lineage group or kin-based community.
Andean labor system based on shared obligations to help kinsmen and work on behalf of the ruler and religious organizations.
Civilization of north coast of Peru (200 - 700 C.E.). An important Andean civilization that built extensive irrigation networks as well as impressive urban centers dominated by brick temples.
Andean civilization culturally linked to Tiwanaku, perhaps beginning as a colony of Tiwanaku.
Name of capital city and empire centered on the region near Lake Titicaca in modern Bolivia (375 - 1000 C.E.).
Largest and most powerful Andean empire. Controlled the Pacific coast of South America from Ecuador to Chile from its capital of Cuzco.
System of knotted colored cords used by preliterate Andean peoples to transmit information.
A people of this name is mentioned as early as the records of the Tang Empire, living as nomads in northern Eurasia. After 1206 they established an enormous empire under Genghis Khan, linking western and eastern Eurasia.
Genghis Khan
The title of Temüjin when he ruled the Mongols (1206 - 1227). It means the "oceanic" or "universal leader." Genghis Khan was the founder of the Mongol Empire.
A way of life, forced by a scarcity of resources, in which groups of people continually migrate to find pastures and water.
Yuan Empire
Empire created in China and Siberia by Khubilai Khan.
Bubonic Plague
A bacterial disease of fleas that can be transmitted by flea bites to rodents and humans; humans in late stages of the illness can spread the bacteria by coughing. Because of its very high mortality rate and the difficulty of preventing its spread, major outbreaks have created crises in many parts of the world.
A "secondary" or "peripheral" khan based in Persia. The Il-khans' khanate was founded by Hülegü, a grandson of Genghis Khan, and was based at Tabriz in the Iranian province of Azerbaijan. It controlled much of Iran and Iraq.
Golden Horde
Mongol khanate founded by Genghis Khan's grandson Batu. It was based in southern Russia and quickly adopted both the Turkic language and Islam. Also known as the Kipchak Horde.
Member of a prominent family of the Mongols' Jagadai Khanate, Timur though conquest gained control over much of Central Asia and Iran. He consolidated the status of Sunni Islam as orthodox, and his descendents, the Timurids, maintained his empire for nearly a century and founded the Mughal Empire in India.
Rashid al-Din
Adviser to the Il-khan ruler Ghazan, who converted to Islam on Rashid's advice.
Nasir al-Din Tusi
Persian mathematician and cosmologist whose academy near Tabriz provided the model for the movement of the planets that helped to inspire the Copernican model of the solar system.
Alexander Nevskii
Prince of Novgorod (r. 1236 -1263). He submitted to the invading Mongols in 1240 and received recognition as the leader of the Russian princes under the Golden Horde.
Tsar (Czar)
From Latin Caesar, this Russian title for a monarch was first used in reference to a Russian ruler by Ivan III (r. 1462 - 1505).
Ottoman Empire
Islamic state founded by Osman in northwestern Anatolia ca. 1300. After the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire was based at Istanbul (formerly Constantinople) from 1453 to 1922. It encompassed lands in the Middle East, North Africa, the Caucasus, and Eastern Europe.
Khubilai Khan
Last of the Mongol Great Khans (2. 1260 - 1294) and founder of the Yuan Empire.
In Tibetan Buddhism, a teacher.
China's northern capital first used as an imperial capital in 906 and now the capital of the People's Republic of China.
Ming Empire
Empire based in China that Zhu Yuanzhang established after the overthrow of the Yuan Empire. The Ming emperor Yongle sponsored the building of the Forbidden City and the voyages of Zheng He. The later years of the Ming saw a slowdown in technological development and economic decline.
The third emperor of the Ming Empire (r. 1403 - 1424). He sponsored the building of the Forbidden City, a huge encyclopedia project, the expeditions of Zheng He, and the reopening of China's borders to trade and travel.
Zheng He
An imperialism eunuch and Muslim, entrusted by the Ming emperor Yongle with a series of state voyages that took his gigantic ships through the Indian Ocean, from Southeast Asia to Africa.
The Yi dynasty ruled Korea from the fall of the Koryo kingdom to the colonization of Korea by Japan.
The "divine wind," which the Japanese credited with blowing Mongol invaders away from their shores in 1281.
Ashikaga Shogunate
The second of Japan's military governments headed by a shogun (a military ruler). Sometimes called the Muromachi Shogunate.
Equatorial region between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. It is characterized by generally warm or how temperatures year-round, though much variations exists due to altitude and other factors. Temperate zones north and south of the tropics generally have a winter season.
Seasonal winds in the Indian Ocean caused by differences in temperature between the rapidly heating and cooling landmasses of Africa and Asia and the slowly changing ocean waters. These strong and predictable winds have long been ridden across the open sea by sailors, and the large amounts of rainfall that they deposit on parts of India, Southeast Asia, and China allow for the cultivation of several crops a year.
Delhi Sultanate
Centralized Indian empire of varying extent, created by Muslim invaders
Empire created by indigenous Muslims in western Sudan of West Africa from the thirteenth to fifteenth century. It was famous for its role in the trans-Saharan gold trade.
Mansa Kankan Musa
Ruler of Mali (r. 1312 - 1337). His pilgrimage through Egypt to Mecca in 1324 - 1325 established the empire's reputation for wealth in the Mediterranean world.
Region of western India famous for trade and manufacturing; the inhabitants are called Gujaratis.
Characteristic cargo and passenger ships of the Arabian Sea.
Swahili Coast
East African shores of the Indian Ocean between the Horn of Africa and the Zambezi River; from the Arabic sawahil, meaning "shores."
Great Zimbabwe
City, now in ruins (in the modern African country of Zimbabwe), whose many stone structures were built between about 1250 and 1450, when it was a trading center and the capital of a large state.
Port city in the modern south Arabian country of Yemen. It has been a major trading center in the Indian Ocean since ancient times.
Port city in the modern Southeast Asian country of Malaysia, founded about 1400 as a trading center on the Strait of Malacca.
A Persian-influenced literary form of Hindi written in Arabic characters and used as a literary language since the 1300s.
City on the Niger River in the modern country of Mali. It was founded by the Tuareg as a seasonal camp sometime after 1000. As part of the Mali Empire, Timbuktu became a major terminus of the trans-Saharan trade and a center of Islamic learning.
Latin West
Historians' name for the territories of Europe that adhered to the Latin rite of Christianity and used the Latin language for intellectual exchange in the period ca. 500- 1500.
Three-Field System
A rotational system for agriculture in which two fields grow food crops and one lies fallow. It gradually replaced the two-field system in medieval Europe.
Black Death
An outbreak of bubonic plague that spread across Asia, North Africa, and Europe in the mid-fourteenth century, carrying off vast numbers of persons.
Water Wheel
A mechanism that harnesses the energy in flowing water to grind grain or to power machinery. It was used in many parts of the world but was especially common in Europe from 1200 to 1900.
Hanseatic League
An economic and defensive alliance of the free towns in northern Germany, founded about 1241 and most powerful in the fourteenth century.
In medieval Europe, an association of men (rarely women), such as merchants, artisans, or professors, who worked in a particular trade and banded together to promote their economic and political interests. Guilds were also important in other societies, such as the Ottoman and Safavid Empires.
Gothic Cathedrals
Large churches originating in twelfth-century France; built in an architectural style featuring pointed arches, tall vaults and spires, flying buttresses, and large stained-glass windows.
Renaissance (European)
A period of intense artistic and intellectual activity, said to be a "rebirth" of Greco-Roman culture. Usually divided into an Italian Renaissance, from roughly the mid-fourteenth to mid-fifteenth century, and a Northern (trans-Alpine) Renaissance, from roughly the early fifteenth to early seventeenth century.
Degree-granting institutions of higher learning. Those that appeared in the Latin West from about 1200 onward became the model of all modern universities.
A philosophical and theological system, associated with Thomas Aquinas, devised to reconcile Aristotelian philosophy and Roman Catholic theology of the thirteenth century.
Humanists (Renaissance)
European scholars, writers, and teachers associated with the study of the humanities (grammar, rhetoric, poetry, history, languages, and moral philosophy), influential in the fifteenth century and later.
Printing Press
A mechanical device for transferring test or graphics from a wood block or type to paper using ink. Presses using movable type first appeared in Europe in about 1450.
Great Western Schism
A division in the Latin (Western) Christian Church between 1378 and 1415, when rival claimants to the papacy existed in Rome and Avignon.
Hundred Years War (1337 - 1453)
Series of campaigns over control of the throne of France, involving English and French royal families and French noble families.
New Monarchs
Historians' term for the monarchies in France, England, and Spain from 1450 to 1600. The centralization of royal power was increasing within more or less fixed territorial limits.
Reconquest of Iberia
Beginnings in the eleventh century, military campaigns by carious Iberian Christian states to recapture territory taken by Muslims. In 1492 the last Muslim ruler was defeated, and Spain and Portugal emerged as united kingdoms.
Zheng He
An imperial eunuch and Muslim, entrusted by the Ming emperor Yongle with a series of state voyages that took his gigantic ships through the Indian Ocean, from Southeast Asia to Africa.
Amerindian peoples who inhabited the Greater Antilles of the Caribbean at the time of Columbus.
Henry the Navigator
Portuguese prince who promoted the study of navigation and directed voyages of exploration down the western coast of Africa in the fifteenth century.
A small, highly maneuverable three-masted ship used by the Portuguese and Spanish for exploration of the Atlantic.
Gold Coast
Region of the Atlantic coast of West Africa occupied by modern Ghana; named for its fold exports to Europe from the 1470s onward.
Bartolomeu Dias
Portuguese explorer who in 1488 led the first expedition to sail around the southern tip of Africa from the Atlantic and sight the Indian Ocean.
Vasco da Gama
Portuguese explorer. In 1497-1498 he led the first naval expedition from Europe to sail to India, opening an important commercial sea route.
Christopher Columbus
Genoese mariner who in the service of Spain led expeditions across the Atlantic, reestablishing contact between the peoples of the Americas and the Old World and opening the way to Spanish conquest and colonization.
Ferdinand Magellan
Portuguese navigator who led the Spanish expedition of 1519-1522 that was the first to sail around the world.
Early sixteenth-century Spanish adventurers who conquered Mexico, Central America, and Peru.
Hernan Cortes
Spanish explorer and conquistador who led the conquest of Aztec Mexico in 1519-1521 for Spain.
Moctezuma II
Aztec emperor who died while in custody of the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes.
Last ruling Inca emperor of Peru. He was executed by the Spanish.
Francisco Pizarro
Spanish explorer who led the conquest of the Inca Empire of Peru in 1531-1533.