1. The proximity of the Silk Road caravan routes allowed Indians to serve as “middlemen” for the East-West trade, and to travel to Southern Asia. In so doing, they imported religions that had long been established on the Indian sub-continent, namely Hinduism and Buddhism. Trade was integral to the spread of Hinduism to Sri Lanka and Borneo, while the ancient tradition of Buddhist merchants and monks carried their religious tradition as far as China; in fact Buddhist philosophy was being transmitted via the Silk Road as early as the 2nd century B.C. (John Carroll University, 2012). Trade was also an important means of introduction for Islam in Southern Asia, with Muslim merchants making inroads quite early, particularly via the sea routes. Islamic military expansion was also a potent means of distribution. Muslim forces were active in India as early as the 7th century A.D., when the Sind was forcibly annexed to the Umayyad Empire. Large numbers of Muslim traders, farmers, holy men and military forced their way into India and other parts of Southeast Asia until, by the 11th century, Muslim rulers were well-established in the region (2012).
Hinduism and Islam have, in the long run, proven to be the most important and enduring of the three. Hinduism, the oldest of the three, has survived the philosophical success and remarkable spread of Buddhism as well as the aggressiveness of Islam military expansion, which spread the Word of the Prophet from Southeast Asia to Western Europe. Today, Hinduism, which traders spread throughout Southern Asia in the 1st century A.D. , remains the pre-eminent religious tradition in India and much of the region. Today, Islam is the world’s largest religion, with an estimated 2.2 billion devotees (Jones, 2011).
2. The Ming Dynasty was founded by Chu Yuang-chang in the 14th century. It arose from the chaos of an increasingly fragmented and militarized Chinese state, “an age of breakdown in which throughout most of the country the conduct of daily life increasingly depended on direct recourse to violence” (Fairbank, 11). This was the dawn of an era that succeeded the Mongol epoch and the saw the end of the Yuan dynasty. The Emperor Hongwu instituted reforms that reshaped the government’s administrative system, including the bureaucracy and the examination system in which civil servants had been traditionally selected. In 1380, Hongwu assumed direct control of the three departments and six ministries of government, consolidating the power of the Ming emperors. In 1421, Beijing was named the new capital, part of a massive building project that included the Forbidden City and the Grand Canal.
3. The imposition of the Spanish conquerors’ religion on native life was the most thoroughly impactful aspect of the conquest in Mesoamerica and in the Andes. The aim of the Spanish invaders was to exploit the riches of the New World, to enrich the Spanish Crown with gold, silver and any wealth that could be gleaned from the conquered lands. This was done, ostensibly, as part of a grand initiative aimed at converting the native Aztec, Mayan and Inca peoples to Catholicism, which had the effect of subverting ancient social, economic and political institutions and traditions. For example, the Aztec ritual of human sacrifice, a cornerstone of their religious tradition, was banned under the auspices of the Catholic church and its missionary representatives in Mexico (Pacific Lutheran University, 2012). Educational practices soon followed, as the all-powerful church abolished a remarkably sophisticated system in favor of a rudimentary form of Catholic instruction.
Subjugation of the Maya was a different matter, as this less centralized civilization had no true political center the conquest of which would undermine their civilization. As a result, the conquest of the Yucatan was more problematic, though because the Mayan class hierarchy paralleled that of Spain, the conquest essentially amounted to the trading of one stratified social system for another (Ballou, 2008). However, the Catholic church forced the Maya to sacrifice their ancient culture and religion “in the name of progress and salvation” (2008). Such was the fate of the Inca Empire, the conquest of which may have been the most wrenching of all. The Incan emperors ruled by divine right a far-flung empire, overseeing a devoutly religious system in which human sacrifice was widely practiced in order to stave off famine, disease and other misfortunes, a practice the Spanish Conquest brought to an end. Ultimately, the most impactful socio-political effect of the conquest was that it signaled the end of a rule that had not fully unified “the life, language and institutions” of the Inca Empire (SMU, 2012).
4. The Renaissance gave rise to dynamically progressive theories that transformed Europe and long-cherished traditions of the divine right of kings and the primacy of the Catholic church. At its base, the Renaissance was a movement that stressed human intellect and the employment of inquiry and experimentation to prove, or disprove, long-held beliefs about the world and man’s place in it. By the time Luther nailed his 95 theses on the church door at Wittenberg, Renaissance thinking had suffused much of Western Europe and engendered an atmosphere in which thought and debate were encouraged. Books and pamphlets, made possible by Gutenberg’s moveable type, informed debate thanks to the Renaissance, which “created a literate public eager for whatever came off the presses” (Kreis, 2009).
Ultimately, the Renaissance had helped to secularize European society, which, among other things, had the effect of introducing “the very powerful notion that man makes his own history” (Kreis, 2009). This empowering influence helped pave the way for a movement that challenged the single most powerful international institution the Western world had ever known: the Roman Catholic church. There had long been dissatisfaction with the church and its unilateral powers, which impinged on all aspects of life in Europe. The Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation provided the intellectual foundation upon which the authority of the church could be challenged. Renaissance humanism turned to the Classical World for the intellectual basis of wisdom and virtue, which provided the Reformation with its intellectual thrust (2009).
5. The Byzantine Civilization played a pivotal role in the evolution of Western civilization. As a bridge between Ancient Greek and Roman civilization and Europe, the Byzantines preserved the wisdom of the Classical world and, as such, made possible the Renaissance. Its existence as the hub of world trade was made possible by Byzantium’s great walls and its formidable geographic advantages. Physical security and military strength made it possible for the Byzantines to establish a money economy at a time when the European nation states’ economies were based on localized economies (McGillivray, 2007). Also in contrast to Europe, Byzantium’s wealth afforded an infrastructure that included public sewage and water systems, and a generally high standard of living (2007). Wealth and military power brought other advantages. “The widespread literacy and education among men and women of various segments of society would not be matched in Europe until, perhaps, eighteenth-century France” (2007).
Byzantium was able to protect itself for centuries from invasion by countless enemies from nearly every direction. During the same period, Western Europe was vulnerable to attack from Arabs, Vikings and others (McGillivray, 2007). The military backbone of the Byzantine Empire was its theme system, a provincial network that provided a ready and plentiful supply of manpower and taxes (2007). The Byzantines also far surpassed Europe in terms of education and religious inquiry. “At a time when scholarship in western Europe was almost nonexistent, Byzantine society featured a rich cultural life and widespread literacy among men and women of different classes” (2007).
Ballou, H. “Religion and the Maya.” Rivier Academic Journal. 4(2), Fall 2008.
Fairbank, J.K. (1988). The Cambridge History of China: Vol. 10. New York: Cambridge Univ.
“Inca Culture at the Time of the Spanish Conquest.” Southern Methodist University. 2012.
Retrieved 26 August 2012 from http://faculty.smu.edu.
Jones, H. “2.2 Billion: World’s Muslim Population Doubles.” Time. 27 January 2011.
Kreis, S. “The Protestant Reformation.” The History Guide: Lectures on Early Modern
European History. 3 August 2009. Retrieved 26 August 2012 from http://www.historyguide.org.
McGillivray, D. “The Byzantine Empire, Part One.” History World International. 2012.
Retrieved 26 August 2012 from http://history-world.org/Byzatines.htm.
“The Northern Silk Road: Religions.” John Carroll University. 2012. Retrieved 26 August
2012 from http://www.jcu.edu/faculty/nietupski.
“Spanish/Cortez’s Response to Sacrifice and Cannibalism.” Pacific Lutheran University. 2012.
Retrieved 26 August 2012 from http://www.plu.edu.