"Post-classical" redirects here. For the film editing style commonly used in American films since the 1960s, see Post-classical editing
, as used in world history, generally runs from about 500 AD to 1500 AD (roughly corresponding to the European Middle Ages
). The period is characterized by the expansion of civilizations geographically and development of trade networks between civilizations.
The Diamond Sutra
, of Dunhuang
, China was published in 868 AD as the first printed book using woodblock printing
techniques. This image is a front piece for the book which was instrumental in spreading East-Asian Buddhism
). Post-classical times were an era of religion. Matters of faith took part in the development of political power and in the personal lives of most ordinary people in both the Old
and New World
. Geographic regions were often divided based on a location's religious affiliation.
The period is also called the medieval era, post-antiquity era, post-ancient era, or pre-modern era.
Terminology and periodization
Post-classical history is a periodization
used by historians employing a world history
approach to history, specifically the school developed during the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Outside of world history, the term is also sometimes used to avoid erroneous pre-conceptions around the terms Middle Ages
and the Dark Ages
), though the application of the term post-classical
on a global scale is also problematic, and may likewise be Eurocentric
The post-classical period corresponds roughly to the period from 500 AD to 1450 AD.
Beginning and ending dates might vary depending on the region, with the period beginning at the end of the previous classical period: Han China
(ending in 220 AD), the Western Roman Empire
(in 476 AD), the Gupta Empire
(in 543 AD), and the Sasanian Empire
(in 651 AD).
The post-classical period is one of the five or six major periods world historians use:
- early civilization,
- classical societies,
- early modern,
- long nineteenth century, and
- contemporary or modern era. (Sometimes the nineteenth century and modern are combined.)
is synonymous with the Middle Ages
of Western Europe, the term post-classical
is not necessarily a member of the traditional tripartite periodisation
of Western European history into classical
The historical field of world history
, which looks at common themes occurring across multiple cultures and regions, has enjoyed extensive development since the 1980s.
However, World History research has tended to focus on early modern globalization
(beginning around 1500) and subsequent developments, and views post-classical history as mainly pertaining to Afro-Eurasia
Historians recognize the difficulties of creating a periodization and identifying common themes that include not only this region but also, for example, the Americas, since they had little contact with Afro-Eurasia before the Columbian Exchange
Thus recent research has emphasised that "a global history of the period between 500 and 1500 is still wanting" and that "historians have only just begun to embark on a global history of the Middle Ages".
For many regions of the world, there are well established histories. Although Medieval Studies
in Europe tended in the nineteenth century to focus on creating histories for individual nation-states, much twentieth-century research focused, successfully, on creating an integrated history of medieval Europe.
The Islamic World likewise has a rich regional historiography, ranging from the fourteenth-century Ibn Khaldun
to the twentieth-century Marshall Hodgson
Correspondingly, research into the network of commercial hubs which enabled goods and ideas to move between China in the East and the Atlantic islands in the West—which can be called the early history of globalization
—is fairly advanced; one key historian in this field is Janet Abu-Lughod
Understanding of communication within Sub-Saharan Africa or the Americas is, by contrast, far more limited.
Recent history-writing, therefore, has begun to explore the possibilities of writing history covering the Old World, where Human activities were fairly interconnected, and establish its relationship with other cultural spheres, such as the Americas and Oceania. In the assessment of James Belich
, John Darwin
, Margret Frenz
, and Chris Wickham
Global history may be boundless, but global historians are not. Global history cannot usefully mean the history of everything, everywhere, all the time. […] Three approaches […] seem to us to have real promise. One is global history as the pursuit of significant historical problems across time, space, and specialism. This can sometimes be characterized as ‘comparative’ history
. […] Another is connectedness, including transnational relationships. […] The third approach is the study of globalization […]. Globalization is a term that needs to be rescued from the present, and salvaged for the past. To define it as always encompassing the whole planet is to mistake the current outcome for a very ancient process.
A number of commentators have pointed to the history of the earth's climate
as a useful approach to World History in the Middle Ages, noting that certain climate events had effects on all human populations.
The Post-classical era saw several common developments or themes. There was the expansion and growth of civilization into new geographic areas; the rise and/or spread of the three major world, or missionary, religions; and a period of rapidly expanding trade and trade networks.
Growth of civilization
First was the expansion and growth of civilization into new geographic areas across Asia
, and western South America
. However, as noted by world historian Peter N. Stearns
, there were no common global political trends during the post-classical period, rather it was a period of loosely organized states and other developments, but no common political patterns emerged.
In Asia, China continued its historic dynastic cycle
and became more complex, improving its bureaucracy. The creation of the Islamic Empires established a new power in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia
. Africa created the Songhai
kingdoms in the West. The fall of Roman civilization not only left a power vacuum for the Mediterranean and Europe, but forced certain areas to build what some historians might call new civilizations entirely.
An entirely different political system was applied in Western Europe (i.e. feudalism
), as well as a different society (i.e. manorialism
). But the once East Roman Empire, Byzantium, retained many features of old Rome, as well as Greek and Persian similarities. Kiev Rus' and subsequently Russia began development in Eastern Europe as well. In the isolated Americas, Mesoamerica saw the building of the Aztec
Empire, while the Andean region
of South America saw the establishment of the Wari Empire
first and the Inca Empire
Spread of universal religions
Siege of Acre
(1191; picture from 1280.) Religious wars were common in post-classical times. One of the largest was the Crusades
Religion that envisaged the possibility that all humans could be included in a universal order had emerged already in the first millennium BC, particularly with Buddhism. In the following millennium, Buddhism was joined by two other major, universalising, missionary religions, both developing from Judaism
: Christianity and Islam. By the end of the period, these three religions were between them widespread, and often politically dominant, across the Old World.
- Buddhism spread from India into China and flourished there briefly before using it as a hub to spread to Japan, Korea, and Vietnam; a similar effect occurred with Confucian revivalism in the later centuries.
- Christianity had become the State church of the Roman Empire in 380, and continued spreading into northern and eastern Europe during the post-classical period at the expense of belief systems that Christians labelled pagan. An attempt was even made to incur upon the Middle East during the Crusades. The split of the Catholic Church in Western Europe and the Orthodox Church in Eastern Europe encouraged religious and cultural diversity in Eurasia.
- Islam began between 610 and 632, with a series of revelations to Muhammad. It helped unify the warring Bedouin clans of the Arabian peninsula and, through a rapid series of Muslim conquests, became established to the west across North Africa, the Iberian Peninsula, and parts of West Africa, and to the east across Persia, Central Asia, India, and Indonesia.
Trade and communication
Finally, communication and trade across Afro-Eurasia
increased rapidly. The Silk Road
continued to spread cultures and ideas through trade and throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa. Trade networks were established between West Europe, Byzantium, early Russia, the Islamic Empires, and the Far Eastern
In Africa the earlier introduction of the Camel allowed for a new and eventually large trans-Saharan trade
, which connected Sub-Saharan West Africa to Eurasia. The Islamic Empires adopted many Greek, Roman, and Indian advances and spread them through the Islamic sphere of influence, allowing these developments to reach Europe
, North and West Africa, and Central Asia. Islamic sea trade helped connect these areas, including those in the Indian Ocean
and in the Mediterranean
, replacing Byzantium in the latter region. The Christian Crusades into the Middle East (as well as Muslim Spain and Sicily
) brought Islamic science, technology, and goods to Western Europe
Western trade into East Asia was pioneered by Marco Polo
. Importantly, China began the sinicization (or Chinese influence) of regions like Japan,
Korea, and Vietnam through trade and conquest. Finally, the growth of the Mongol Empire
in Central Asia established safe trade such as to allow goods, cultures, ideas, and disease to spread between Asia, Europe, and Africa.
The Americas had their own trade network, however theirs was limited by the lack of draft animals and the wheel. In Oceania
some of the island chains of Polynesia
also engaged in trade with one another.
During Post-classical times, there is evidence that many regions of the world were affected similarly by global climate conditions; however, direct effects in temperature and precipitation varied by region. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
, changes did not all occur at once. Generally however, studies found that temperatures were relatively warmer in the 11th century, but colder by the early 17th century. The degree of climate change which occurred in all regions across the world is uncertain, as is whether such changes were all part of a global trend.
Climate trends seemed to be more recognizable in the Northern
than in the Southern Hemisphere
Reconstructed depth of Little Ice Age
varies among studies. Anomalies shown are from the 1950–80 reference period.
The Medieval Warm Period
from 950 to 1250 occurred mostly in the Northern Hemisphere, causing warmer summers in many areas; the high temperatures would only be surpassed by the global warming of the 20th/21st centuries. It has been hypothesized that the warmer temperatures allowed the Norse to colonize Greenland, due to ice-free waters. Outside of Europe there is evidence of warming conditions, including higher temperatures in China and major North American droughts which adversely affected numerous cultures.
After 1250, glaciers began to expand in Greenland, affecting its thermohaline circulation
, and cooling the entire North Atlantic. In the 14th century, the growing season in Europe became unreliable; meanwhile in China the cultivation of oranges was driven southward by colder temperatures. Especially in Europe, the Little Ice Age had great cultural ramifications.
It persisted until the Industrial Revolution
, long after the Post-classical Period.
Its causes are unclear: possible explanations include sunspots
, orbital cycles of the Earth
, volcanic activity
, ocean circulation
, and man-made population decline
This timetable gives a basic overview of states, cultures and events which transpired roughly between the years 400 and 1500. Sections are broken by political and geographic location.
Dates are approximate range (based upon influence), consult particular article for details
Middle Ages Divisions, Middle Ages Themes
History by region in the Old World
Djenne Terracotta Equestrian (13th–15th century), within the Mali Empire
During the Postclassical Era, Africa
was both culturally and politically affected by the introduction of Islam and the Arabic empires.
This was especially true in the north, the Sudan region
, and the east coast. However, this conversion was not complete nor uniform among different areas, and the low-level classes hardly changed their beliefs at all.
Prior to the migration and conquest of Muslims into Africa, much of the continent was dominated by diverse societies of varying sizes and complexities. These were ruled by kings or councils of elders who would control their constituents in a variety of ways. Most of these peoples practiced spiritual, animistic religions. Africa was culturally separated between Saharan Africa (which consisted of North Africa
and the Sahara Desert
) and Sub-Saharan Africa
(everything south of the Sahara). Sub-Saharan Africa was further divided into the Sudan
, which covered everything north of Central Africa
, including West Africa
. The area south of the Sudan was primarily occupied by the Bantu peoples
who spoke the Bantu language
. From 1100 onward Christian Europe
and the Islamic World
became dependent on Africa for gold.
After 650 approximately urbanization expanded for the first time beyond the ancient kingdoms Aksum
. African civilizations can be divided into three categories based on religion:
- Christian civilizations on the Horn of Africa,
- Islamic civilizations which formed in the Niger River valley in West Africa, and on the coast of East Africa, and
- traditional societies which adhered to native African religions. South of the Sahara African kingdoms developed based on continental trade with one another through land based routes and generally avoided sea trade.
Sub-Saharan Africa was part of two large, separate trading networks, the Trans Saharan trade which bridged commerce between West and North Africa. Due to the huge profits from trade native African Islamic empires arose, including those of Ghana
In the 14th century, Mansa Musa
king of Mali may have been the wealthiest person of his time.
Within Mali, the city of Timbuktu
was an international center of science and well known throughout the Islamic World, particularly from the University of Sankore
. East Africa was part of the Indian Ocean trade network
, which included both Arab ruled Islamic cities on the East African Coast such as Mombasa
and Traditional cities such as Great Zimbabwe
which exported gold, copper and ivory to markets in the Middle East, South Asia, and Southeast Asia.
Medieval ploughing. Most Europeans in the Middle Ages were landless pesants called serfs
who worked in exchange for military protection. After the Black Death
of the 1340s, a labor shortage caused serfs to demand wages for their labor. Drawing from 1300
Later in the period, the creation of the feudal system
allowed greater degrees of military and agricultural organization. There was sustained urbanization
and western Europe
Later developments were marked by manorialism
, and evolved into the prosperous High Middle Ages
After 1000 the Christian kingdoms that had emerged from Rome's collapse changed dramatically in their cultural and societal character.
The term "Middle Ages" first appears in Latin in the 15th century and reflects the view that this period was a deviation from the path of classical learning
, a path supposedly reconnected by Renaissance
In the 5th century, the Middle East was separated by empires and their spheres of influence; the two most prominent were the Persian Sasanian Empire
, centered in what is now Iran
, and the Byzantine Empire
). The Byzantines and Sasanians fought with each other continually, a reflection of the rivalry between the Roman Empire and the Persian Empire seen during the previous five hundred years.
The fighting weakened both states, leaving the stage open to a new power.
Meanwhile, the nomadic Bedouin
tribes who dominated the Arabian desert saw a period of tribal stability, greater trade networking and a familiarity with Abrahamic religions or monotheism.
The Hagia Sophia
in Constantinople was the center of the Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire
After Muhammad introduced Islam, it jump-started Middle Eastern culture into an Islamic Golden Age
, inspiring achievements in architecture
, the revival of old advances in science and technology, and the formation of a distinct way of life.
Muslims saved and spread Greek advances in medicine
, and ethics
that would later finds it way back to Western Europe.
The dominance of the Arabs came to a sudden end in the mid-11th century with the arrival of the Seljuq Turks
, migrating south from the Turkic homelands in Central Asia. They conquered Persia, Iraq (capturing Baghdad in 1055), Syria, Palestine, and the Hejaz
This was followed by a series of Christian Western Europe invasions. The fragmentation of the Middle East allowed joint European forces mainly from England
, and the emerging Holy Roman Empire
, to enter the region.
In 1099 the knights of the First Crusade
and founded the Kingdom of Jerusalem
, which survived until 1187, when Saladin
retook the city. Smaller crusader fiefdoms survived until 1291.
In the early 13th century, a new wave of invaders, the armies of the Mongol Empire
, swept through the region, sacking Baghdad in the Siege of Baghdad (1258)
and advancing as far south as the border of Egypt
in what became known as the Mongol conquests
The Mongols eventually retreated in 1335, but the chaos that ensued throughout the empire deposed the Seljuq Turks. In 1401, the region was further plagued by the Turko-Mongol
, and his ferocious raids. By then, another group of Turks had arisen as well, the Ottomans
Thanjuvur Peruvudayar Temple ( Big Temple) constructed by Rajendra Chola
. Picture by Prakash Chidambaram.
There has been difficulty applying the word 'medieval' or 'post classical' to the history of South Asia. This section follows historian Stein Burton's definition that corresponds from the 8th century to the 16th century, more of less following the same time frame of the Post Classical Period and the European Middle Ages.
Until the 13th century, there was no less than 20 to 40 different states on the Indian Subcontinent which hosted a variety of cultures, languages, writing systems and religions.
In the beginning of the time period Buddhism
was predominant throughout the area with the short lived Pala Empire
on the Indo Gangetic Plain
sponsoring the faith's institutions. One such institution was the Buddhist Nalanda University
in modern-day Bihar, India
a center of scholarship and brought a divided South Asia onto the global intellectual stage. Another accomplishment was the invention of the Chaturanga
game which later was exported to Europe and became Chess
In Southern India, the Hindu
Kingdom of Chola
gained prominence with an overseas empire that controlled parts of modern-day Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Indonesia
as oversees territories and helped spread Hinduism into the historic culture of these places.
In this time period, neighboring areas such as Afghanistan
, Southeast Asia
were under South Asian influence
From 1206 onward a series of Turkic Islamic invasions
based from modern day Afghanistan and Iran conquered massive portions of Northern India, founding the Delhi Sultanate
which remained supreme until the 16th century.
The Delhi Sultanate introduced Islam to the conquered populations for the first time. Native religions fared differently, Buddhism declined
in South Asia vanishing in many areas but Hinduism survived and reinforced itself in areas conquered by Muslims
. In the far South the Kingdom of Vijanyagar
was not conquered by any Muslim state in the period. The turn of the 16th century would see the rise of a new Islamic Empire – the Mughals
and the establishment of European trade posts by the Portuguese
From the 8th century onward Southeast Asia stood to benefit from the trade taking place between South and East Asia, numerous kingdoms arose in the region due to the flow of wealth passing through the Strait of Malacca
. While Southeast Asia had numerous outside influences India
was the greatest source of inspiration for the region. North Vietnam as an exception was culturally closer to China for centuries due to conquest.
Since rule from the third century BCE North Vietnam continued to be subjugated by Chinese states, although they continually resisted periodically. There were three periods of Chinese Domination
that spanned near 1100 years. The Vietnamese gained long lasting independence in the 10th century when China was divided
with Tĩnh Hải quân
and the successor Đại Việt
. Nonetheless, even as an independent state a sort of begrudging sinicization
occurred. South Vietnam was governed by the ancient Hindu Champa Kingdom
but was annexed by the Vietnamese
in the 15th century.
The spread of Hinduism
and maritime trade between China and South Asia
created the foundation for Southeast Asia's first major empires; including the Khmer Empire
from Cambodia and Sri Vijaya
from Indonesia. During the Khmer Empire's height in the 12th century the city of Angkor Thom
was among the largest of the pre-modern world due to its water management. King Jayavarman II
constructed over a hundred hospitals throughout his realm.
Nearby rose the Pagan Empire
in modern-day Burma, using elephants as military might.
The construction of the Buddhist Shwezigon Pagoda
and its tolerance for believers of older polytheistic gods helped Theravada Buddhism
become supreme in the region.
In Indonesia, Srivijaya
from the 7th through 14th century was a Thalassocracy
that focused on maritime city states and trade. Controlling the vital choke points of the Sunda
and Malacca straits
it became rich from trade ranging from Japan through Arabia. Gold, Ivory and Ceramics were all major commodities traveling through port cities. The Empire was also responsible for the construction of wonders such as Borobudur
. During this time Indonesian sailors crossed the Indian Ocean
; evidence suggests that they may have colonized Madagascar
Indian culture spread to the Philippines
, likely through Indonesian trade resulting in the first documented use of writing in the archipelago and Indianized kingdoms
Over time changing economic and political conditions else where and wars weakened the traditional empires of South East Asia. While the Mongol Invasions
did not directly annex Southeast Asia the war-time devastation paved way for the rise of new nations. In the 15th century the Khmer Empire was supplanted by the Thai Ayutthaya Kingdom
and Sri Vijaya
was overtaken by the Majapahit
and later the Islamic Malacca Sultanate
In China public examinations gave citizens the opportunity to be employed by the Imperial Government through meritocracy
The examination system reached its maximum effectiveness in the 11th–12th centuries. Painting from Ming dynasty
The time frame of 500–1500 in East Asia's history and China in particular has been proposed as an accurate classification for the region's history within the context of global Post-classical history.
There has been an attempt made in college courses to adapt the Post-Classical concept to Chinese terms.
During this period the Eastern world
empires continued to expand through trade, migration and conquests of neighboring areas. Japan
went under the process of voluntary sinicization
, or the impression of Chinese cultural and political ideas.
sinicized because their ruling class were largely impressed by China's bureaucracy.
The major influences China had on these countries were the spread of Confucianism, the spread of Buddhism, and the establishment of centralized governance.
In the times of the Sui
and Song dynasties
(581–1279), China remained the world's largest economy and most technologically advanced society. Inventions
such as gunpowder, woodblock printing and the magnetic compass were improved upon. China stood in contrast to other areas at the time as the imperial governments exhibited concentrated central authority instead of feudalism
China exhibited much interest in foreign affairs
, during the Tang and Song dynasties. From the 7th through the 10th Tang China was focused on securing the Silk Road
as the selling of its goods westwards was central to the nation's economy.
For a time China, successfully secured its frontiers by integrating their nomadic neighbors such as the Gokturks
into their civilization.
The Tang dynasty expanded into Central Asia and received tribute from Eastern Iran.
Western expansion ended with wars
with the Umayyad Caliphate
and the deadly An Lushan Rebellion
which resulted in an deadly but uncertain death toll of millions.
After the collapse of the Tang dynasty and subsequent civil wars
came the second phase of Chinese interest in foreign relations. Unlike the Tang, the Song specialized in overseas trade and peacefully created a maritime network and China's population became concentrated in the south.
Chinese merchant ships reached Indonesia, India and Arabia. Southeast Asia's economy flourished from trade with Song China.
With the country's emphasis on trade and economic growth, Song China's economy
began to use machines to manufacture goods and coal as a source of energy.
The advances of the Song in the 11th/12th centuries have been considered an early industrial revolution
Economic advancements came at the cost of military affairs and the Song became open to invasions from the north. China became divided as Song's northern lands were conquered by the Jurchen people
By 1200 there were five Chinese kingdoms stretching from modern day Turkestan to the Sea of Japan including the Western Liao
, Western Xia
, Southern Song
Because these states competed with each other they all were eventually annexed by the rising Mongol Empire
This section explains events and trends which affected the geographic area of Eurasia
. The civilizations within this area were distinct from one another but still endured shared experiences and some development patterns
Maps depicting the Eastern Hemisphere
Map of the Eastern Hemisphere 500 AD
Map of the Eastern Hemisphere 800 AD
Map of the Eastern Hemisphere 1200 AD.
Mounted warriors pursue enemies. Illustration of Rashid-ad-Din's Gami' at-tawarih. Tabriz (?), 1st quarter of 14th century.
The Mongol Empire emerged from the unification of nomadic tribes in the Mongolia
homeland under the leadership of Genghis Khan
, who was proclaimed ruler of all Mongols in 1206. The empire grew rapidly under his rule and then under his descendants, who sent invasions
in every direction.
The vast transcontinental empire connected the east
with the west
with an enforced Pax Mongolica
allowing trade, technologies, commodities, and ideologies to be disseminated and exchanged across Eurasia
The empire began to split due to wars over succession, as the grandchildren of Genghis Khan disputed whether the royal line should follow from his son and initial heir Ögedei
, or one of his other sons such as Tolui
, or Jochi
. After Möngke Khan
died, rival kurultai
councils simultaneously elected different successors, the brothers Ariq Böke
and Kublai Khan
, who then not only fought each other in the Toluid Civil War
, but also dealt with challenges from descendants of other sons of Genghis.
Kublai successfully took power, but civil war ensued as Kublai sought unsuccessfully to regain control of the Chagatayid
Letter from the Mongolian-Persian Ilkhanate
to France, 1305. The Chinese style stamp was used outside China as the official symbol of the Khans and their messengers
The Battle of Ain Jalut
in 1260 marked the high-water point of the Mongol conquests
and was the first time a Mongol advance had ever been beaten back in direct combat on the battlefield. Though the Mongols launched many more invasions into the Levant, briefly occupying it and raiding as far as Gaza after a decisive victory at the Battle of Wadi al-Khazandar
in 1299, they withdrew due to various geopolitical factors.
By the time of Kublai's death in 1294, the Mongol Empire had fractured into four separate khanates or empires, each pursuing its own separate interests and objectives: the Golden Horde
khanate in the northwest; the Chagatai Khanate
in the west; the Ilkhanate
in the southwest; and the Yuan dynasty
based in modern-day Beijing
In 1304, the three western khanates briefly accepted the nominal suzerainty of the Yuan dynasty,
but it was later overthrown by the Han Chinese Ming dynasty
The Genghisid rulers returned to Mongolia homeland and continued rule in the Northern Yuan dynasty
All of the original Mongol Khanates collapsed by 1500, but smaller successor states remained independent until the 1700s. Descendants of Chagatai Khan
created the Mughal Empire
that ruled much of India in early modern
The Silk Road
Central Asian Buddhist Monks, the Silk Road allowed for the exchange for ideas as well as goods. A Caucasian looking Buddhist
teacher possibly Sogdian
instructs an East-Asian monk. Dated from the 9th century near Turfan, Xinxiang, China
The Silk Road was a Eurasian trade route that played a large role in global communication and interaction. It stimulated cultural exchange; encouraged the learning of new languages; resulted in the trade of many goods, such as silk, gold, and spices; and also spread religion and disease.
It is even claimed by some historians – such as Andre Gunder Frank
, William Hardy McNeill
, Jerry H. Bentley
, and Marshall Hodgson
– that the Afro-Eurasian world was loosely united culturally, and that the Silk Road was fundamental to this unity.
This major trade route began with the Han dynasty
of China, connecting it to the Roman Empire and any regions in between or nearby. At this time, Central Asia exported horses, wool
, and jade
into China for the latter's silk; the Romans would trade for the Chinese commodity as well, offering wine in return.
The Silk Road would often decline and rise again in trade from the Iron Age to the Postclassical Era. Following one such decline, it was reopened in Central Asia by Han Dynasty
General Ban Chao
during the 1st century.
The Silk Road was also a major factor in spreading religion across Afro-Eurasia. Muslim teachings from Arabia and Persia
reached East Asia. Buddhism spread from India, to China, to Central Asia. One significant development in the spread of Buddhism was the carving of the Gandhara
School in the cities of ancient Taxila
and the Peshwar
, allegedly in the mid 1st century.
The route was vulnerable to spreading plague. The Plague of Justinian
originated in East Asia and had a major outbreak in Europe in 542 causing the deaths of a quarter of the Mediterranean's population. Trade between Europe, Africa and Asia along the route was at least partially responsible for spreading the plague.
There is a popular theory that the Black Death was caused by the Mongol conquests. The claim is that the direct link that it opened between the East and West provided the path for rats and fleas that carried the disease.
Although there is no concrete historical evidence to this theory, the plague is considered endemic on the steppe.
There were vulnerabilities as well to changing political situations. The rise of Islam changed the Silk Road, because Muslim rulers generally closed the Silk Road to Christian Europe
to an extent Europe would be cut off from Asia for centuries. Specifically, the political developments that affected the Silk Road included the emergence of the Turks, the political movements of the Sasanian and Byzantine empires, and the rise of the Arabs, among others.
Chinese-Song-era tapestry, Chinese Silk was carried west over large distances and sold for large profits.
The Silk Road flourished again in the 13th century during the reign of the Mongol Empire, which through conquest had brought stability in Central Asia comparable to the Pax Romana
It was claimed by a Muslim historian that Central Asia was peaceful and safe to transverse
"(Central Asia) enjoyed such a peace that a man might have journeyed from the land of sunrise to the land of sunset with a golden platter upon his head without suffering the least violence from anyone."
As such, trade and communication between Europe, East Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East required little effort. Handicraft production, art, and scholarship prospered, and wealthy merchants enjoyed cosmopolitan cities.
The Silk Road trade played a role in spreading the infamous Black Death
. Originating in China, the bubonic plague
was spread by Mongol warriors catapulting diseased corpses into enemy towns in the Crimea
. The disease, spread by rats, was carried by merchant ships sailing across the Mediterranean that brought the plague back to Sicily, causing an epidemic
Nevertheless, after the 15th century, the Silk Road disappeared from regular use.
This was primarily a result from the growing sea travel pioneered by Europeans, which allowed the trade of goods by sailing around the southern tip of Africa and into the Indian Ocean.
Westerner and Arab practicing geometry 15th century manuscript
The term post-classical science
is often used in academic circles and in college courses to combine the study of medieval European science
and medieval Islamic science
due to their interactions with one another.
However scientific knowledge also spread westward by trade and war from Eastern Eurasia, particularly from China by Arabs. The Islamic World also benefited from medical knowledge from South Asia
In the case of the Western World and in Islamic realms much emphasis was placed on preserving the rationalist Greek Tradition of figures such as Aristotle
. In the context of science within Islam there are questions as to whether Islamic Scientists simply preserved accomplishments from Antiquity
or built upon earlier Greek advances.
Regardless, Classical European Science was brought back to the Christian Kingdoms due to the experience of the Crusades
Literate culture and arts
12th century illustration from the Tale of Genji
, the world's first novel.
Italy, 8th century Ut Queant Laxis
Within Eurasia, there were four major civilization groups that had literate cultures and created literature and arts, including Europe, the Middle East, South Asia and East Asia. Southeast Asia could be a possible fifth category but was influenced heavily from both South and East Asia literal cultures. All four cultures in Post-Classical Times used poetry
. Throughout the period and until the 19th century poetry was the dominant form of literary expression. In the Middle East, South Asia, Europe and China great poetic works often used figurative language. Examples include, the Sanskrit Shakuntala
, the Arabic Thousand and one nights
, Old EnglishBeowulf
and works by the Chinese Du Fu
. In Japan, prose uniquely thrived more than in other geographic areas. The Tale of Genji
is considered the world's first realistic novel written in the 9th century.
Musically, most regions of the world only used melodies
as opposed to harmony
. Medieval Europe was the lone exception to this rule, developing harmonic music in the 14th/15th century as musical culture transitioned form sacred music (meant for the church) to secular music.
South Asian and Mid-Eastern music were similar to each other for their use of microtone
. East-Asian music shared some similarities with European Music for using a pentatonic scale
The Postclassical Era of the Americas can be considered set at a different time span from that of Afro-Eurasia. As the developments of Mesoamerican and Andean civilization differ greatly from that of the Old World, as well as the speed at which it developed, the Postclassical Era in the traditional sense does not take place until near the end of the medieval age in Western Europe. As such, for the purposes of this article, the Woodland period
and Classic stage
of the Americas will be discussed here, which takes place from about 400 to 1400.
For the technical Postclassical stage in American development which took place on the eve of European contact, see Post-Classic stage
Maps depicting the Western Hemisphere
Cultural areas of North America prior to European Contact
Cultural areas of South and Central America prior to European contact, (in Spanish).
As a continent there was little unified trade or communication. Advances in agriculture spread northward from Mesoamerica
indirectly through trade. Major cultural areas however still developed independently of each other.
Norse Contact and the Polar Regions
Authentic reconstruction of Norse site at L'Anse aux Meadows
. Photo provided by Dylan Kereluk.
The Norse arriving from Greenland settled Greenland from approximately 980 to 1450.
The Norse arrived in southern Greenland
prior to the 13th century approach of Inuit Thule people
in the area. The extent of the interaction between the Norse and Thule is unclear.
Greenland was valuable to the Norse due to trade of ivory that came from the tusks of walruses. The Little Ice Age
adversely affected the colonies and they vanished.
Greenland would be lost to Europeans until Danish Colonization
in the 18th century.
The Norse also explored and colonized farther south in Newfoundland Canada
at L'Anse aux Meadows
referred to by the Norse as Vinland
. The colony at most existed for twenty years and resulted in no known transmission of diseases or technology to the First Nations
. To the Norse Vinland
was known for plentiful grape vines to make superior wine. One reason for the colony's failure was constant violence with the native Beothuk
tribe who the Norse referred to as Skraeling
After initial expeditions there is a possibility that the Norse continued to visit modern day Canada. Surviving records from medieval Iceland indicate some sporadic voyages to a land called Markland
, possibly the coast of Labrador, Canada
, as late as 1347 presumably to collect wood for deforested Greenland.
Mississippi Pipe bowl chunkey player EthnM
In northern North America
, many hunter-gatherer
societies thrived in the diverse region. Native American tribes
varied greatly in characteristics; some, including the Mississippian culture
and the Ancestral Puebloans
were complex chiefdoms. Other nations which inhabited the states of the modern northern United States and Canada had less complexity and did not follow technological changes as quickly. Approximately around the year 500 during the Woodland period
, Native Americans began to transition to bows and arrows from spears for hunting and warfare.
Technological advancement however was uneven. During the 12th century was the widespread adoption of Corn as a staple crop in the Eastern United States
. Corn would continue to be the staple crop of natives in the Eastern United States and Canada until the Colombian Exchange
Stonework Mesa Verde National Park Colorado
In the eastern United States, rivers were the medium of trade and communication. Cahokia
located in the modern U.S State of Illinois
was among the most significant within the Mississippi Culture. Focused around Monks Mound
archaeology indicates the population increased exponentially after 1000 because it manufactured important tools for agriculture and cultural attractions.
Around 1350 Cahokia was abandoned, environmental factors have been proposed for the city's decline.
At the same time Ancestral Puebloans constructed clusters of buildings in the Chaco Canyon
site located in the State of New Mexico
. Individual houses may have been occupied by more than 600 residents at any one time. Chaco Canyon was the only pre-Columbian site in the United States to build paved roads.
Pottery indicates a society that was becoming more complex, turkeys for the first time in the continental United States were also domesticated. Around 1150 the structures of Chaco Canyon were abandoned, likely as a result of severe drought.
There were also other Pueblo complexes in the Southwestern United States. After reaching climaxes native complex societies in the United States declined and did not entirely recover before the arrival of European Explorers.
At the beginning of the global Post Classic Period, the city of Teotihuacan
was at its zenith, housing over 125,000 people, at 500 A.D it was the sixth largest city in the world at the time.
The city's residents built the Pyramid of the Sun
the third largest pyramid of the world, oriented to follow astronomical events. Suddenly in the 6th and 7th centuries, the city suddenly declined possibly as a result of severe environmental damage caused by extreme weather events of 535–536
. There is evidence that large parts of the city were burned, possibly in a domestic rebellion.
The city's legacy would inspire all future civilizations in the region.
At the same time was Classic Age of the Mayan Civilization
clustered in dozens of city states on the Yucatán
and modern day Guatemala
The most significant of these cities were Chichen Itza
which often fiercely competed with its neighbors to be the dominant economic influence in the region.
The Mayans had an upper caste of priests, who were well versed in astronomy, mathematics and writing. The Mayan developed the concept of zero, and a 365-day calendar which possibly pre-dates its creation in Old-World societies.
After 900, many Mayan cities suddenly declined in a period of drought.
Aztec Bloodletting, priests conduct a heart sacrifice, from the Tudela Codex, 16th century.
The Toltec Empire
arose from the Toltec
culture, and were remembered as wise and benevolent leaders. One priest-king called Ce Acatl Topiltzin
advocated against human sacrifice.
After his death in 947, civil wars of religious character broke out between those who supported and opposed Topiltzin's teachings.
Modern historians however are skeptical of the extent of Toltec and influence and believe that much of the information known about the Toltecs was created by the later Aztecs as an inspiration myth.
In the 1300s, a small band of violent, religious radicals called the Aztecs
began minor raids throughout the area.
Eventually they began to claim connections with the Toltec civilization, and insisted they were the rightful successors.
They began to grow in numbers and conquer large areas of land. Fundamental to their conquest, was the use of political terror
in the sense that the Aztec leaders and priests would command the human sacrifice
of their subjugated
people as means of humility and coercion.
Most of the Mesoamerican region would eventually fall under the Aztec Empire.
On the Yucatán Peninsula
most of the Mayan People
continued to be independent of the Aztecs but their traditional civilization declined.
Aztec developments expanded cultivation, applying the use of chinampas
, irrigation, and terrace agriculture
; important crops included maize
, sweet potatoes
, and avocados
In 1430 the city of Tenochtitlan
allied with other powerful Nahuatl
speaking cities- Texcoco
to create the Aztec Empire otherwise known as Triple-Alliance.
Though referred to as an empire the Aztec Empire functioned as a system of tribute collection with Tenochtitlan at its center. By the turn of the 16th century "flower wars
" between the Aztecs and rival states such as Tlaxcala
had continued for over fifty years.
South American civilization was concentrated in the Andean region which had already hosted complex cultures since 2,500 BC. East of the Andean region, the natives were generally semi nomadic. Discoveries on the Amazon River Basin
indicate the region likely had a pre-contact population of five million people and hosted complex societies.
Around the continent numerous agricultural peoples from Colombia
steadily advanced from 500 AD until European contact.
Temple of the Sun, Machu Picchu, Peru, provided by David Broad.
During Ancient times
the Andean Region had developed civilizations independent of outside influences including that of Mesoamerica
Through the Post Classical era a cycle of civilizations continued until Spanish contact
. Collectively Andean societies lacked currency, a written language and solid draft animals enjoyed by old world civilizations. Instead Andeans developed other methods to foster their growth, including use of the quipu
system to communicate messages, lamas to carry smaller loads and an economy based on reciprocity
Societies were often based on strict social hierarchies and economic redistribution from the ruling class.
In the first half of the Post Classical Period the Andean Region was dominated by two almost equally powerful states. In the North of Peru was the Wari Empire
and in the South of Peru and Bolivia there was the Tiwanaku empire
both of whom were inspired by the earlier Moche People
. While the extent of their relationship to each other is unknown, it is believed that they were in a Cold-War with one another, competing but avoiding direct conflict to avoid mutual assured destruction
. Without war there was prosperity and around the year 700 Tiwanaku city hosted a population of 1.4. million.
After the 8th century both states declined due to changing environmental conditions, laying the ground work for the Incas to emerge as a distinct culture centuries later.
In the 15th century the Inca Empire
rose to annex all other nations in the area. Led by their, sun-god king, Sapa Inca
, they slowly conquered what is now Peru
, and built their society throughout the Andes cultural region. The Incas spoke the Quechua languages
. The Incas used the advances created by earlier Andean societies. Incas have been known to have used abacuses
to calculate mathematics. The Inca Empire is known for some of its magnificent structures, such as Machu Picchu
in the Cusco region
The empire expanded quickly northwards to Ecuador, Southwards to central Chile. To the north of the Inca Empire remained the independent Tairona
and Musica Confederation
who practiced agriculture and gold metallurgy.
Maps depicting Oceania
Colonization of East Polynesia, and dispersal to more remote islands (including Hawaii, Easter Island, and New Zealand)
Separate from developments in Afro-Eurasia
and the Americas the region of greater Oceania
continued to develop independently of the outside world. In Australia
, the society of Aborigines
changed little through the Post Classical Period since their arrival in the area from Africa around 50,000 BC. The only outside contact were encounters with fishermen of Indonesian
Polynesian and Micronesian Peoples are rooted from Taiwan
and Southeast Asia
and began their migration into the Pacific Ocean
from 3000 to 1500 BC.
During Post-classical Times the Micronesian
and the Polynesian
peoples constructed cities in some areas such as Nan Madol
. Around 1200 AD the Tu'i Tonga Empire
spread its influence far and wide throughout the South Pacific Islands, being described by academics as a maritime chiefdom which used trade networks to keep power centralized around the king's capital. Polynesians on outrigger
and colonized some of the last uninhabited islands of earth. Hawaii
, New Zealand
and Easter Island
were among the final places to be reached, settlers discovering pristine lands. Oral Tradition
claimed that navigator Ui-te-Rangiora
discovered icebergs in the Southern Ocean
In exploring and settling, Polynesian settlers did not strike at random but used their knowledge of wind and water currents to reach their destinations.
On the settled islands some Polynesian groups became distinct from one another. A significant example being the Maori
of New Zealand. Other island systems kept in contact with each other, such as Hawaii
and the Society Islands
. Ecologically, Polynesians had the challenge of sustaining themselves within limited environments. Some settlements caused mass extinctions of some native plant and animal species over time by hunting species such as the Moa
and introducing the Polynesian Rat
Easter Island settlers engaged in complete ecological destruction of their habtiat and their population crashed afterwards possibly due to the construction of the Easter Island Statues
Other colonizing groups adapted to accommodate to the ecology of specific islands such as the Moriori
of the Chatham Islands
Europeans on their voyages visited many Pacific Islands in the 16th and 17th century, but most areas of Oceania were not colonized until after the voyages
of British explorer James Cook
in the 1780s.
End of the period
Genoese world map
, 1457 it suggests the possibility of sea travel to India from Western Europe though this had not yet been done at the time.
The largest change came in terms of trade and technology. The global significance of the fall of the Byzantines was the disruption of overland routes between Asia and Europe.
Traditional dominance of Nomadism
in Eurasia declined and the Pax Mongolia
which had allowed for interactions between different civilizations was no longer available. China, which had previously engaged in expansion and innovation became isolationist in the 14th century under the Ming
and would remain so until the Industrial Revolution
. Western Asia
and South Asia
were conquered by gunpowder empires
which successfully utilized advances in military technology but closed the Silk Road
Europeans – specifically the Kingdom of Portugal
and various Italian explorers – intended to replace land travel with sea travel.
Originally European exploration merely looked for new routes to reach known destinations.
Portuguese Explorer Vasco De Gama
traveled to India by sea in 1498 by circumnavigating Africa around the Cape of Good Hope
India and the coast of Africa were already known to Europeans but none had attempted a large trading mission prior to that time.
Due to navigation advances Portugal would create a global colonial empire
beginning with the conquest of Malacca
in modern-day Malaysia
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