India and the World
The thousand-year period between the eighth and the eighteenth century saw important changes in India and the world. New social and political forms rose in Europe as well as Asia. The new forms also,o had profound effects on the thinking and living patterns of the
These changes had an impact on India also since India had long-standing trade and cultural relations with countries around the Mediterranean Sea, and the various empires which arose in the area, including the Roman and Persian empires.
In Europe, the mighty Roman Empire had broken into two by the third quarter of the sixth century. The western part with its capital at Rome had been overwhelmed by the Slav and Germanic tribesmen coming from the side of Russia and Germany.
These tribes came in
many waves and indulged in a great deal of ravaging and plundering in the territories of the old Roman empire. But, in course of time, these tribes settled down in different parts of Europe, profoundly changing the character of the old population as well as the languages
and pattern of governments.
The foundations of many of the modern European nations were laid during this period as a result of the commingling of these tribesmen with the lo~al population. The eastern part of the old Roman empire had its capital at
This empire which was called the Byzantine empire~included most of eastern Europe as well as modern Turkey, Syria, and North. ~rica, including Egypt. It continued many of the traditions of the Rom-a11 empire such as a strong monarchy
and a }: highly centralized administration.
however, in belief and ritual, it had many differences with the Catholic Church in the West which had its headquarters at Rome. The church in the East was_c: and the Greek Orthodox Church. It was due to its efforts and those of the Byzantine rulers that Russia was converted to Christianity.
Byzantine Empire was a large and flourishing empire that continued to trade with Asia after the collapse of the Roman empire in the West. It created traditions of government and culture many of which were later absorbed by the Arabs when they overran Syria and
Egypt. It also acted as a bridge between the Greco-Roman civilization and the Arab world, and later helped in the revival of Greek learning in the West. It disappeared finally in the.e middle of the fifteenth century .
For centuries after the collapse of the Roman empire in the West, the cities virtually disappeared in western Europe. One cause of this was the absence of gold which the Romans had obtained from Africa and used for trade with the Orient. The period between the sixth 10th centuries.
However, this was also a period of agricultural expansion which prepared the way for the revival of city life from the tenth century, and growth of foreign trade. Between the twelfth and the fourteenth century, western Europe was again able to attain a high level of
A notable feature of the period was the growth of science and technology, the growth of towns, and the establishment of universities in a number of cities, such as Padua and Milan in Italy. The universitie~ played an important part in the growth of new learning and new ideas which were gradually lead to the Renaissance and the rise of a new Europe.
THE ARAB WORLD
The rise of lslam from the seventh century on wards was instrumental . in uniting the warring Arab tribes into a powerful empire. The-Arab empire founded by the early caliphs embraced, apart from Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, North Africa and Spain.
Following internal differences and civil war among the Arab tribes, in the middle of the eighth century the caliph at Damascus was displaced, and a new dynasty, called the Abb_asids came to power. They set up their capital ai ;~he newly founded city of Baghdad. The Abbasids claimed· to belong to the same tribe to which the Prophet
Muhammad belonged, and were for that reasoh considered holy. For about 150 years the Abbasid empire was one of the most powerful and flourishing empire in the world.
At its height, it included all the important centeres of civilization in the area, viz., parts of North Africa, Egypt, Syria, Iran and Iraq. The Abbasids controlled not only some of the most important regions of West Asia and North Africa but also commanded the important trade routes linking the Mediterranean world with India.
The safety and security which the Abbasids provided to these trade routes was an important factor for the wealth and prosperity of the people in the area, and of the splendour and magnificence of the Abbasid court.
The Arabs were keen merchants and quickly emerged as the most enterprising and wealthy merchants and seafarers in the world during the period. Numerous cities, With
magnificent buildings, both private and public, arose.
The standard of living and the cultural environment of the Arab towns could hardly
be paralled in any country in the world during the period. The Arabs also established the gold dinar and the silver dirham which became the currency of trade all over the world. This was made possible by the Arab access to African gold.
The Arabs also brought africa more closely into the Indian Ocean and Middle Eastern trade. Arab migrations and mercantile activity along the east coast of Africa increased enormously, extending up to Malindi, Zanzibar etc.
However, the Arab trade included large scale export of slaves, as also gold, ivory, etc; There was in Africa powerful Ethiopian kingdom of long standing which had many towns. The Ethiopians were engaged in the Indian Ocean trade across Aden to India. The Ethiopians, called Habshis, were Christians. They were closely allied to the Byzantine empire in the Indian Ocean trade. Their economic position weakened with the decline of the Byzantine empire.
EAST AND SOUTHEAST ASIA
China’s society and culture had attained a climax in the eighth and ninth centuries under Tang rule. The Tang rulers extended their overlordship over large parts of Sinkiang in Central Asia, including Kashgar. This helped in giving a fillip to the overland trade across
what is called the Silk Road.
Not only silk, but fine quality porcelain, and works in jade-a semi-precious stone-were exported to West Asia, Europe and India across this road. Foreign traders were welcome in China.
Many of them-Arabs, Persians and Indians-came to South China, across the land and the seas, and settled down in Canton. The Tang empire declined in the middle of the ninth century, and was replaced in the tenth century by another dynasty, the Sung, which
ruled over China for about one hundred years. Its growing weakness gave an opportunity to the Mongols to conquer China in the thirteenth century.
The Mongols wrought great death and destruction in China. But due to their highly disciplined and mobile cavalry forces, the Mongol rulers were able to unify north and south China under one rule for the first time. For some time, they also brought under their
sway Tonkin (north Vietnam) and Annam (south Vietnam). In the north, they overran Korea.
Thus, the Mongols established one of the largest empires in East Asia. The Venetian traveller, Marco Polo, who spent some time at the court of Kublai Khan, the most famous of the Mongol rulers of China, has left a picturesque account of his court. Marco Polo returned to Italy by sea, visiting Malabar in India on the way. Thus, already different
parts of the world were coming closer together, and their comercial and cultural contacts were increasing.
The countries of Southeast Asia had to meet the expansionist urges of some of the Chinese rulers, China having developed a strong navy by this time. But during most of the time, the Southeast Asian states remained independent. The two most powerful kingdoms which flourished in the region during the period were the Sailendra and Kambuja empires.
According to a ninth century Arab writer, the empire was so large that even the fastest vessel could not complete a round trip of it in two years. The Sailendra rulers had a powerful navy, and dominated the sea trade to China. The· Sri Vijaya empire was replaced by the Majapahit empire in the eleventh century.
It further extended the limits of the Sri Vijaya empire and continued till the fourteenth century. The Pallavas of south India also had a powerful navy. The Pallava navy· was especially active in the Bay of Bengal. The sea trade with the countries of Southeast Asia and China was so important that in the tenth century, a Chola ruler sent a series of naval expeditions to Sumatra and Malaya to keep the sea lanes of communications open.
Since the early centuries of the Christian era and even before; India had close trade and cultural contacts with the countries of the area. Many Chinese and Indian scholars visited Palembang, the capital of the empire, which was located in Sumatra, and which had been a Sanskrit and Buddhist center of study even earlier.
The rulers built magnificent temples during the period, the most famous of them being the temple of Borobodur in east Java dedicated to the Buddha. It is a whole mountain carved into nine stone terraces, surmounted by a stupa. Indian epics, such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are displayed in the panels of the temple. These epics continued to provide the themes for literature, folk-art, puppet-plays, etc.