Today we’re going back to the Postclassical Era in the East, or as I like to call it, “Yes We Khan!”. We’ll look at the rise of Islam, four great Chinese inventions, and figure out why no one ever learns about African history. And then we’ll get to one of my favorite figures in all of world history and the only person to successfully invade Russia in the winter (challenge accepted)…
Act 1: The Rise of Islam
Act 2: Cue up Toto, We’re Talking about Africa
Act 3: Thanks China for all of the Useful Things
Act 4: Here Comes the Mongols…
So, Islam has firmly established itself in the Middle East. India and China are trucking along shifting between centralized rule and a variety of competing states. And the Mongols have given most of Eurasia a fresh start. Meanwhile, the reunited Silk Road trade has allowed Asian innovations to reach Europe, who has recently had its eyes opened to the outside world again and is eager to find out what else is out there. Who knows? Maybe that compass and gunpowder will come in handy after all…
Today we’re going back to the Medieval or Postclassical Era in the West, or as I like to call it “That Time Europe Lost Its Mind.” We’ll look at how people reacted to the barbarian invasions, who reunified western Europe, and how they dug their way out of the dirt hole they jumped into when Rome fell.
Last episodes we explored the classical empires but now they’ve fallen, which brings us to the aptly named Postclassical Era from 600 to 1450 C.E. This one is definitely the most difficult era to simplify. Because while the other eras have overarching themes that are common for most of the world, in the postclassical era everyone is sort of doing it their own way.
Classical empires have collapsed and have been replaced by different things around the world. The Middle East becomes a caliphate – or Islamic empire – and expands into Africa and India; China continues its dynastic cycle; and in Europe, there is essentially anarchy. Ultimately, the Mongols will do us a favor for our narrative and wipe the slate clean.
So Europe is on the rise, kings are becoming powerful again, and the economy is growing. People have had their eyes opened to the wider world thanks to the Crusades and are looking outward. And it’s at this point, in the early 1300s that they’re also hearing rumors of an incredibly rich king from Africa who has been spreading his wealth all across the continent on his way to Mecca. But more on that next week.
Europe fell apart but is slowly putting itself together. But what was going on in the east? Islam is on the rise and filling the power vacuum left behind from the collapse of classical empires. China hides away and invents everything and Africa develops into an important trading hub. But the real story is going to be a group of nomadic barbarians who ravage Eurasia and leave the seeds of modern civilization in their wake.
Join us as we explore the Classical Era in the East (600 BCE – 600 CE). We’ll look at India now that we can read their writing, see how China used political philosophy to set itself up for the next two millennia and figure out why all of these massive empires collapsed.
And then onto China, where a guy named Shi Huangdi basically sets up China to dominate the next 1 ½ millennia but gets a bad rap because he killed a few Confucians. Finally, we’ll figure out how these incredible, powerful classical empires finally fell. Short answer: the Huns.
So, at the end of the Classical Era, the Mediterranean Region has an enormous power vacuum after the fall of Rome and there isn’t a lot of long-standing cultural unity that helps them stay together and weather the storm. Meanwhile, India and China are well accustomed to periods of chaos – whether it be localized rule or warring states – and their belief systems of Hinduism and Confucianism will make it easier to remain united even when new powers step in. And a new power is going to rise in the East in a trading city called Mecca.
But first, we’ll move into the Postclassical Era, often called the Medieval Era in European history. We’ll see it all: moats, chariot racing riots, torture devices, and a little piece of paper called the Magna Carta.
Forgot everything about the classical era from high school history class? Of course you did! Let’s review Persia, the Greco-Persian Wars, Athens and Sparta, Alexander the Great, and the Roman Republic and Empire!
Today we are looking at an era in history that comes up in modern conversation all the time. Some relics of this era have made a reappearance lately, like the Olympic Games and the Silk Road (although that second one has turned waaay darker than the one we’re going to talk about today. Thanks internet.) Others, like the Coliseum or the Great Wall, are literally still standing and show up in your Facebook news feed to remind you that some friends your age apparently don’t ever have to go to work? What?
Today we’re going back to The Classical Era, or as I like to call it, “That Time Everyone Plagiarized Persia.” We’ll figure out why Cyrus and Alexander were so Great; how Athens got all that nice stuff and why the nation of Iran was so upset with Gerard Butler.
comparing the ancient and classical eras
First, how is the classical era different from the ancient era? What changes at around 600 BCE?
The key word is complexity. These new civilizations are built on the foundations of the Ancient Era River Valley Civs but they have grown up and are far more complex.
World religions develop during this time period, detailed written records become far more common and trade expands from being between adjoining regions to being hemispheric. For example, we used to think that trade routes like the Silk Road were never really traveled end-to-end, instead there were various nomadic groups who hadn’t given up the paleolithic lifestyle who would facilitate trade along the way. But just a few years ago, archaeologists discovered what could be the remains of an ancient Chinese person in London – which would mean that there was at least one instance of someone traveling the entire Silk Road from end to end.
But the most important way that this era is different is that the smaller kingdoms of the ancient era have grown, expanded, and taken over outside groups – they have become empires.
So what has been going on in the east while everyone was fighting over the Mediterranean Sea? India will unite again and – yay! – this time we can read their writing! China will rise. And then, for some reason, all of these impressive empires will fall.
Today we’re going back to the Ancient Era, or as I like to call it, “Ain’t No River Valley Wide Enough”. We’ll look at the Neolithic Revolution, what it takes to be civilized, and some high points of the major river valley civilizations. If nothing else, you’ll learn how to exploit ancient Chinese philosophy to become their emperor, which could come in handy if you ever develop time travel. This is Anti-Social Studies; I’m Emily Glankler; settle in, and let’s go back in time…
So, across Africa and Asia river valley civilizations grow. And as power continues to be consolidated by these semi-divine leaders, they are also going to start looking outside of their own kingdom for expansion opportunities. And an “up-and-coming” region called Europe is going to make its first appearance in world history.
Forgot everything about the ancient River Valley Civilizations from high school history? Of course you did – it’s ancient! Let’s review the society, politics, interaction with the environment, culture, and economy of Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley and China!
Forgot all the requirements to be a civilization from your high school history class? Of course you did! Let’s review the definition of a civilization including a surplus, institutions, and record keeping!
After the Neolithic Revolution comes the rise of civilization which really just means that there are more of things than there were before and they’re more complex. But historians do this annoying thing where they create lists to quantify what it means to be a civilization. Historians have tried to turn history into a science whenever possible because trying to understand people, and the decisions they make, and the nonsense that ensues is really overwhelming.
Forgot everything about the Neolithic Revolution from high school history? Of course you did! Let’s review the paleolithic era, the discovery of agriculture, domestication of animals, and the impact of sedentary life on our world today!
History that we can really understand starts with an event called the Neolithic Revolution, which is just a fancy term for the discovery of agriculture. Before this occurred, we were living in the Paleolithic Era (Paleo = Old, Lithic = Stone). Essentially, humans were nomadic hunter-gatherers who lived in small kinship tribes. If you have a friend who’s on the Paleo diet, then I’m sure you’ve heard them talk about this ad nauseum already. Humans may have eaten healthier but they also died way earlier, so they just didn’t live long enough to develop all the diseases that we have now. So, yeah they ate whole grains but they also died at 28 – you win some you lose some.
The year is 1162. Europe and the Middle East are in a lull between the 2nd and 3rd Crusade. China has just transitioned into it’s Southern Song Dynasty after another military conquered the northern part of China. And in Mongolia, a boy named Temujin is born. Let’s talk about the Mongols.
The two main Chinese dynasties during this time period are the Tang and the Song. We could talk about them individually, but for our purposes we really just need to focus on four inventions that were developed over these two dynasties that were really great. They’re called, wait for it, The Four Great Inventions.