History of the Ancient and Medieval World - Vol. 7

History of the Ancient and Medieval World - Vol. 7

History of the Ancient and Medieval World - Vol. 7

History of the Ancient and Medieval World - Vol. 7


Beginning with prehistory and continuing to the brink of the European Renaissance, this reference set offers readers comprehensive coverage of a diversity of ancient and medieval civilizations and cultures. In addition to the Greeks and Romans, it introduces readers to the Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Phoenicians, Jews, Hittites, among many others.


From the sixth century BC to the fourth century AD, several new currents of religious thought developed. In contrast to the polytheism of ancient cults, in which adherents worshiped a number of gods, many of the new religions were either monotheistic—as in Judaism and Christianity—or based on the concept of an impersonal god—as in Buddhism and Daoism (Taoism).

In India the Brahmanistic beliefs that would develop into Hinduism have been traced to the Indo-European settlers in the northeast of the subcontinent. The historical figure of Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, is believed to have lived during the sixth century BC, teaching that life is suffering and liberation is achieved through self-purification. Buddhism was adopted as the official religion of the empire of Asoka in the third century BC and spread east to China, Southeast Asia, Korea, and Japan, where it developed into several different variants, or “vehicles.” The most important of these are Mahayana, or “great vehicle,” and Ch'an, or Zen.

Buddhism in East Asia competed with Confucianism and Daoism. The Confucianism of the Chinese philosopher Confucius was a humanistic moral philosophy in favor around 500 BC. Daoism, based on the teachings of the legendary Lao-tzu, is also thought to have originated about 500 BC. Where Confucianism focused on proper actions, Daoism held metaphysical ideas about the natural flow of events. As Buddhism penetrated the upper echelons of Chinese society in the early centuries AD, it turned away from asceticism, adopting some of the moral aspects of Confucianism, the metaphysics of Daoism, and Chinese ideas about the cosmos.

In 598 BC the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II took over Jerusalem and deported its Jewish elite to his kingdom. In the late sixth and early fifth centuries BC, many Jews returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple. However, after the conquest of Judaea by Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC, many of the prominent Jews adopted Greek customs and abandoned traditional ways, separating into factions that disagreed about the acceptance of Greek culture and religion. After the Maccabee revolt of 164 BC Jerusalem was ruled by a Jewish council of priests and religious leaders, but there was disagreement over acceptance of foreign conquerors and doctrines. In the first century Jewish Zealots revolted against the Roman Empire, while the Essenes withdrew completely.

Christianity grew out of the divisions within Judaism. In the centuries following the death of Jesus of Nazareth, Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire. Roman emperors attempted to suppress Christianity, which was eventually adopted as the official religion of the empire and later the leading religion of Europe. Although the Jews of Judaea would be dispersed throughout the world, their precepts ensured a cohesive religion. Islam would replace Christianity in much of North Africa and western Asia in the seventh century AD, and while the practice of Buddhism in India waned in favor of Hinduism, it remained a major influence throughout the rest of Asia.

Suzanne Helm, Ph.D. Ancient Near East and Classical Art and Archaeology . . .

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