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- Religious Views in Mesopotamia and Egypt
- The Mandate of Heaven and Confucianism
- Democracy in Greece
- The Achaemenid Dynasty
- The Caste System in India
- Emperor Qin Shi Huang
- Economic Productivity and Prosperity (Inventions and Manufacturing) of the Chinese during the Han Dynasty
- Chinese Civil Service Examinations
- Olmec and Mayan Civilizations
- Related History essays
There is a clear distinction between civilization and culture. While culture refers to customs, ideas, institutions and values shared by a society, civilization can be defined in relation to a large population sharing a common culture and occupying a vast territory. Civilization does neither refer to intelligence and creativity of people nor their moral and spiritual values.
Civilization has a distinct characteristic that assumes the position of a bridge that separates histories. In other words, it occurs in a given period or era such as the Paleolithic age, Neolithic age and Bronze Age. Different activities and developments occur at different times. For instance, the first stone tools were developed during the Paleolithic era 2.5 or 2.6 million years ago. On the other hand, the Neolithic era was a period the marked the introduction of technology to human lives. Due to the use of technology, this era is also called the new Stone Age. It was also marked with the rise of farming activities and, therefore, it led to the adoption of agriculture. Although, the use of stone tools had marked a significant development in human lives, this period ended when metal tools were discovered.
During the agricultural revolution, domestication of plants, such as fruits and vegetables, and animals was developed. The invention of metal tools helped in making work easier; they were used in such activities as digging. Moreover, the Sumerians were the first to invent wheels that played an important role in transportation. As men became more civilized in domestication of crops, the need to cater for other basic elements such as permanent settlement areas and security appeared. In addition, with food availability the human population increased and therefore, people had a tendency to live in areas with sources of water and with soils that could sustain farming activities.
Religious Views in Mesopotamia and Egypt
Representatives of ancient Mesopotamia civilization had symbolized the diversity of their universe in naming many gods. Over the years, the concepts of gods changed along with the fortunes of the people who worshipped them. The concepts of deities in Mesopotamia changed over centuries. The religious views unlike those of the Egyptians did not retain their hold. One of the most significant differences is that the Egyptians believed in immortality and that is the reason why they built pyramids especially for the members of the ruling class. They believed that there was life after death for the righteous. In relation to the belief of life after death, funeral rituals in Egypt were conducted in an elaborate religious way.
In addition, the Mesopotamians were not as unified as the Egyptians in their culture. There were diverse cultural practices in Mesopotamia: different people had their own languages and customs. Often, a common language acts as a unifying factor. In Egypt priests provided guidance and religious practices; however, pharaohs were treated as gods who ruled over a large empire. On the other hand, in Mesopotamia, the rulers who had the same status as the pharaohs served the interests of their people by overseeing government projects. Their priests had both religious and economic powers.
The Mandate of Heaven and Confucianism
The concept of the Mandate of Heaven became part of the political rationale for every dynasty in China starting from the Zhou dynasty to the 20th century. Initially, the mandate of heaven starts with the formation of a new dynasty responsible for political and economic growth in the country. These included such activities as restoration of peace, appointment of loyal officers, repair of defensive walls and construction of roads and canals. However, after several generations came to pass, the dynasty representing the government starts to age. The aging dynasty has characteristics of political decadence. The corrupt officials despite losing direction in governing the provinces impose heavy taxes on the citizens. Thus, because of such political vices within the ruling forces, the dynasty loses the Mandate of Heaven leading to serious consequences. The latter include rebellions fomented by neglected peasants, destructive floods and earthquakes, severe famine, invasion, of armed bandits etc. Similarly to general elections in China aimed at correcting the failures of previous governments, a new dynasty claims the Mandate of Heaven. As a result, the political wheel starts to rotate all over again.
In addition, Confucianism is linked to the concept of the Mandate of Heaven. For example, when a dynasty starts to age, it is characterized by negligence of loyal officers to their people although they still expect to collect taxes from them. Similarly, Confucianism explains how a social relationship between superiors and inferiors should be. People who are treated as being inferior must show absolute loyalty and obedience to their superiors. For instance, an aging dynasty becomes corrupted and selfish and neglects the citizens even though it still continues to impose and collect heavy taxes. However, Confucianism also demonstrates similarity with a new dynasty that claims the Mandate of Heaven. For instance, an emperor should show kindness to his people, as he assumed the position of a loving father who takes care of his family. With assistance of his loyal officers, he is involved in community projects such as redistribution of land to peasants and irrigation projects.
Democracy in Greece
In Greece, a democratic government was based on the foundations of cooperation and protection. For example, men were the only ones who had political rights such as voting. However, their parents had to be born in Athens. On the other hand, women and slaves had no political rights whatsoever. Women lived under the rule of women. The presence of an established judicial system and councils further promoted the growth of democracy. The magistrates played an important role in ensuring that the rule of law was practiced. The representatives of the People’s Assembly debated and passed laws and made decisions related to national issues. A further practice of democracy was exercised in the council which was mandated to prepare the laws prior to their discussion and passing in the People’s Assembly. The Athenians were also involved in democratic processes and could debate the laws before they were passed. The major reason for a more rapid democratic growth in Greece as compared to other areas is because all citizens were treated with equality. This principle was much emphasized in the People’s Court or the Heliaea where people who infringed the laws were judged.
Further, the way in which children were raised in Athens played a significant role in the growth of democracy. When compared to Spartan children, the Athenian ones were involved in fewer activities. For instance, at the age of 7 years, a boy in Athens would be expected to start schooling. Most schools taught children how to practice democracy. On the other hand, Spartan boys at the same age were taken away from their homes and were placed in military barracks. At the age of 20 years, men in Sparta were assumed to be soldiers and were sent to the frontiers to keep the borders safe. In case of attack, these soldiers would not use democracy to face the enemy; rather they used military tactics they learnt. Therefore, it was much easier for democracy to be practiced among the Athenians as compared to the Spartans.
The Achaemenid Dynasty
The Achaemenid Dynasty was founded by the Cyrus the Great (558-530 B.C.E.). Achaemenid ruled for many years because of the following reasons. For instance, he formed a federal system of government in order to make it easier to administer 23 provinces. Each province relied on its available resources for growth and development. Secondly, the first human rights charter was established under his administration. The most important provisions of the charter included the political formulization of racial, linguistic and religious equity. It also required that all slaves and people who were deported were allowed to return to their motherlands. Moreover, all the destroyed temples were to be rebuilt. Achaemenid introduced the following innovations: standardization of coins, equitable taxes and universal law etc. Throughout 23 provinces, the same currency was used as a medium of exchange; therefore, it became easier to conduct business activities. As a result, the economy and the status of the dynasty flourished. Secondly, citizens living in different provinces were supposed to pay equal taxes thus preventing rebellions due to unfair collection of taxes. In this way, the political stability of the dynasty was not threatened. Furthermore, the citizens were governed using the same law, therefore maintaining peace that is a valuable tool in ensuring the survival of any administration.
Zoroastrianism also played an important role in the long years of Achaemenid rule. Although people were living in different provinces, they were unified by the religion: Zoroastrian religious practices had important teachings making people believe in one god, Ahura Mazda. They also believed that there were two forces that determined the fate of their lives; good and evil. Often, it is easier for an administration to survive for a long time if there are common religious practices that act as a unifying factor. On the other hand, it is difficult to rule a country that is characterized by interfaith conflicts.
The Caste System in India
The caste system appeared in India because of one ancient belief among the Hindu, according to which every individual is born into a particular caste. This is like a social subgroup that determines the rank and the role of an individual in the society. The caste system followed a hierarchical order; the top position was occupied by the Brahmins, followed by the Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra castes. The most unique aspect of the caste system is that the membership is inherited and cannot be changed. Each of the castes was assigned particular religious obligations that their members had to follow obediently. For instance, intermarriages between members of different castes were not allowed. Meals were also shared within the members of the same caste.
The Dalits were categorized as untouchables and did not belong to any caste. Even though, the Hindus believed in reincarnation, after death the untouchables were not reincarnated. These people had a tradition of performing worst jobs such as handling corpses and garbage, and therefore, their touch would defile caste Hindus. Although, the caste system was abolished, the Hindus are still organized in social classes. People still marry people of the same social status.
Emperor Qin Shi Huang
King Cheng, also known as Qin Shi Huang, was the first emperor in China. He reigned in 221 -210 B.C.E. He played an important role for the unification of China by ensuring that there were standardized weights and measurements. Qin Shi`s achievements included the formation of a strong government with 36 military districts with a strong army. The transportation system was notable because of a good road network. The means of communication featured universal symbols and therefore it was easier for the administration to communicate with their people. Texts in Chinese were written on bones, bamboo and silk clothes. In addition, the most historical foundation during the years when China was under the rule of Qin Shi Huang is the Great Chinese Wall that is 1,500 miles long.
The formation of a strong government helped Qin Shi to unify the Chinese. First of all, when there is an effective administration, it easier to locate resources for development. Secondly, efficient leadership means that citizens are able to access job opportunities especially when there is a reliable transportation network. Moreover, the formation of a disciplined armed force ensured that the Chinese would be protected from external attacks. The Great Chinese Wall consists of a series of fortifications that served for keeping watch over the enemies that would try to attack China and therefore, people were not fear for their safety. They were able to carry out their economic activities made even easier by the use of standard coinage.
Economic Productivity and Prosperity (Inventions and Manufacturing) of the Chinese during the Han Dynasty
Driven by government policies that used tax incentives to promote large families, the population of the empire increased rapidly. This growth in population created the need for a large and efficient bureaucracy to maintain the Han dynasty in a proper working order. Unfortunately, the emperor Han was unable to resolve all problems left by the previous rulers. For instance, court factionalism remained a serious problem that undermined the efficiency of the central government. Secondly, despite his efforts, Han rulers failed to restrain the great aristocratic families from playing a dominant role in political and economic affairs. Furthermore, the failure to curb the power of the wealthy clans eventually became a major factor in the collapse of the dynasty.
Unknowingly, Han rulers contributed to their own problems by adoption fiscal policies that eventually led to greater concentration of lands in the hands of the wealthy. They were aware that a free peasantry paying taxes directly to the state would both limit the wealth and power of the great noble families and increase the states` revenues. However, there were difficulties in preventing the recurrence of inequities. Although food production increased steadily due to the use of new farming methods and iron tools, the growing population led to decrease in the size of lands that each family owned.
During the reign of Han, China`s prosperity and productivity increased. The most significant changes were witnessed in the expansion of manufacturing processes and inventions. The empire directed many efforts at manufacturing weapons that would be used to attack their enemies. Improvements in transportation included expansion of roads, modernization of bridges and post stations for changing horses. The Han Empire relied on waterways for bulk transportation and, therefore, new canals were dug to facilitate the moving of goods from one end of the vast empire to the other. Additionally, Chinese commercial exchanges with people in Central Asia began to expand dramatically. Horses were of particular significance because Chinese military personnel had learnt the importance of cavalry in their battles against their enemies. The members of the loyal families used horses as a measure of prestige. The Han Empire also had remarkable silk products that were exported to other countries. The most important invention during this period was the invention of paper.
Chinese Civil Service Examinations
The Civil Service Examination in China was categorized into three groups: Cultivated Talent, Elevated Man and Presented Scholar. The Cultivated Talent was conducted at the county level. It is equal to the degree courses taken in most higher learning institutes today. The county exams were followed by the Elevated Man and the Provincial exam. When compared to the current education system in many universities, the provincial exam gives a candidate the qualification to obtain a master’s degree. Lastly, the Presented Scholar refers to an exam done at the capital level. After a candidate passes this exam, he or she becomes a PhD holder. Three exams were done in a sequential order: at the county, provincial and then capital level.
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Unlike other world bureaucracies, the Chinese civil service examinations were aimed at improving the moral education of civil service officers and especially the judicial officers. Although, passing these exams did not necessarily imply the administrative competence of an individual, the successful candidates could be confident that they owed no one a favor. One of the unique differences between the previous and current exams is that such examination system was aimed at attracting public service intellectuals who would otherwise attack the government. Furthermore, these exams were a standard means of ensuring integrity within the government systems. It was a unique way of preserving the integrity of the system. For instance, it prevented members of loyal families solely to occupy prestigious position, especially judicial ones. In other words, the civil service exams closed the gap between the low-level and high-ranking public officers.
Olmec and Mayan Civilizations
The richness and complexity of the Olmec and Mayan civilizations featured distinctive artistic styles. In addition to their accomplishments in artwork, they pioneered in economy, writing, astronomy and math. Economically, the Maya developed and perfected an agriculture-based economy and by the first century B.C, they lived in small agricultural villages. They cultivated food crops such as maize, beans and squash while cash crops included vanilla, sisal and cotton. They also made ropes, mats and clothing using cotton and sisal fibers. The Maya also traded extensively by land and sea with people from far north and south. In addition, an understanding of higher mathematics was one of the bases upon which the Maya civilization was built.
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Similar to the Egyptians, the Olmecs also constructed pyramids. They also had great passion for astronomy and had unique knowledge of the sky. Their priests recorded astronomical observations and passed them down from one generation to another. As a result they developed an extremely accurate calendar that predicted the coming of eclipses and the revolutions of Venus to an error of one day in 6,000 years. Moreover, the Maya had highly developed civilization. They were advanced in architecture, weaving, pottery and stone carving. Stones used for carvings were carried by rafts to the city. The powers and characteristics of their particular deities were often tied to their astronomical identities in the heaven. Some areas in Mexico currently use the calendar created by the Maya. They also introduced mathematics and hieroglyphic writing. Apart from farming activities, the Maya had excellent artwork for decorating magnificent ceremonial architecture such as temple-pyramids and palaces.
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