Unit 2 — 600 to 1450
An upheaval of everything once known, this time period wiped many
tiles off the board and implanted chaotic super-forces the world had
never known before.
Mongols? Islam? The dog-eat-dog world of feudalism?
This marked the beginning of the connective tissue wrapping around
the Eurasian world.
The Islamic World
Rise of Islam
A new religion related to Judaism and Christianity took hold in the Middle East. It was monotheistic, and based on the
idea that Allah (God) told his will to Mohammad, whose followers recorded the words into the Qu’ran. Muslims abide
by the Five Pillars of Islam. This religion is very popular in the region even today, and it was continuously a
significant part of world history.
Islamic Empires and Caliphates
He was the founder, a prosperous merchant from Mecca (note that Islam has many laws that are beneficial to
merchants, ex. Islamic merchants cannot “cheat” you, thus increasing Islamic merchant business and attracting
the next 22 years with his family, Muhammad and his family gathered a religious community but were forced out of For
Mecca by local religious authorities. Their forced flight was called Hegira, a key event in Islamic history; it is the beginning of the Muslim calendar. They flourished in Medina, went back to Mecca, and converted the city. After he
died, Islam remained and grew.
The caliphates that followed Muhammad had not only strife between two theocratic groups, but were
essentially theocracies, as the leader ruled over both religious and political realms.
The last of the first four caliph’s son, Hasan succeeded the title of caliph. During this dynasty, the capital was
moved, Arabic became the official language of the government, gold and silver coins became the standard
monetary unit; and conquered subjects were “encouraged” to convert to Islam in order to establish a common faith
throughout the empire. If you didn’t, time to pay taxes! The Islamic Empire grew tremendously. They failed to
overthrow Constantinople, though. Problems with succession started to emerge and they split into two camps: the
Shiites (Shias) and the Sunnis.
Shiites: they hold that Mohammad’s son-in-law, Ali, was the rightful heir, based on Mohammad’s comments
Sunnis: though they hold Ali in high esteem, the do not believe that he and his hereditary line are the chose
successors. They believe that leaders should be drawn from a broad base of people.
They reigned until the Mongols defeated them. Arts and sciences flourished, and they built a awesome capital at
Baghdad, which became one of the great cultural centers of the world. They were built around trade; the merchants
introduced the idea of credit to free them from the burden and danger of carrying coins. They also developed bills
and receipts. The manufactured steel for swords. Medical and math advances were also seen; for example,
Mohammad al-Razi published a massive medical encyclopedia. The Abbasid army defeated the T’ang Chinese army
for the control of the Silk Road (unimportant except for the fact that they learned how to make paper, which spread
from east to west through prisoners of war or travellers; used for bureaucratic purposes).
Spreading Influence - Middle East and Africa. One of the primary forces spreading Islam was the Sufi
missionaries, basically brotherhoods of Islam. They were able to make it very adaptable to customs all around
different ethnic groups (syncreticism!), successfully spreading Islam in North Africa, around the Middle East, and
later sub-Saharan Africa. Many merchants around the Indian Ocean Trading Network converted because it would
attract more business, since Muslim merchants “don’t cheat.” Soon, the IOTN’s major trading ports were Muslim
cities. Despite all these cultural differences, Islam had the concept of the umma (think Pan-Arabism) and the ulama
(Islamic scholars) unifying Muslim people together.
Notice that Islamic nations are very traditional and rely on the traditional religious laws of the Shari’a and stuff.
Powers in the East
*Note: PR groups Tang and Song together; i.e. “The Tang and Song also built an extensive
transportation and communication network, including canals.”
Political Structure. The Tang continued to use civil service exams and a merit-based bureaucracy, a continuity from
the Han Empire. As a result, the government officials hired were not only loyal but efficient. Although everyone
could try for a position, powerful families had the funds to purchase all the Confucian study materials and would
have the time to study to succeed on the exams.
Economic Problems. Although agricultural reforms did improve food output, the taxes that the emperor put on both
the peasants and the elite caused rebellions. Inflation was common as “flying money” was printed in huge
Decline. The Empire became so large that local warlords gained more and more power, and then it collapsed. Not to
mention that nomadic groups would always pester the Chinese borders.
China was reunified under the Song Dynasty and Emperor Taizu. China developed printing processes, which
facilitated the spread of its literary accomplishments throughout Asia, and later influenced the development of
literature in Korea and Japan. China was relatively stable during the height of the dynasty. Why? Because of the bureaucratic system that was based on merit through the use of the civil service examinations. They kept the CSE’s
focused on Confucian principles, which created a large core of educated, talented, and loyal government workers.
Note that the Song Dynasty was just about to experience an industrial revolution during this time. That is, until the
Yuan and Ming dynasties came.
After Mongol rule, the Chinese had become distrustful of everybody. They never left their original cultural values.
The Ming dynasty kicked out the Mongols and at first encouraged diplomatic relationships with others (think Zheng
He, using huge treasure ships to awe people). However, these were not very successful except for the fact that
China had acquired some tribute states. Therefore, the Ming closed off communication and trade with everyone, so
absorbed they were in their ethnocentrism and isolationism.
Buddhists and Muslims generally got along and traded, but Muslims and Christians had serious issues with each
other. (Besides, Buddhists were peaceful with everyone, anyway. Except maybe the Tibetan monks who killed their
Also, neo-Confucianism developed! It’s basically a combination of Buddhism and Confucianism. Notice how
important Confucianism remains even beyond Han China. (The flood of Buddhist beliefs was simply too much for
China to deal with, so the Tang just made a compromise.) Neo-Confucianism continued expanding into the Song
Japan also adopted forms of Buddhism, as did Tibet. Note that these integrated Buddhist beliefs into pre-existing
The Mongol Invasions
The Beginning of the Mongols The Mongols started off as a pastoral group, domesticating animals like horses. Notice that many groups in the
Central Asian steppes have great experience with horseback riding and have lots of strong cavalry! The difference
between the Mongols and other nomads was that Mongols were semi-nomadic, meaning that they did occasionally
settle and grow some agriculture, moving around in large elaborate tents called yurtas. Eventually, the Mongols
were expanding their conquered land and controlled an extraordinary amount of territory. Why? Well, they wanted