Time Period 2: Classical Era (500 BCE - 500 CE)

Important Readings:
Brief Review Notes on Classical Greece:

Brief Review Notes on Classical Rome:

Brief Review Notes on Classical China:

Brief Review Notes on Classical India:

Brief Review American Civilizations: Moche

Early American Civilizations Summary for All

Key Concept 2.1. The Development and Codification of Religious and Cultural Traditions
I. Codifications and further developments of existing religious traditions provided a bond among the people and an ethical code to live by.
A. The association of monotheism with Judaism was further developed with the codification of the Hebrew Scriptures, which also showed Mesopotamian influences. Around 600 B.C.E. and 70 C.E., the Assyrian and Roman empires, respectively, created Jewish diasporic communities and destroyed the kingdom of Israel as a theocracy.

  • Their sense of identity would follow them as foreign empires conquered the Hebrews and led them into captivity (see map at right). As captives of foreign empires, some cultural influence from their host civilizations was inevitable; nevertheless, even as diasporic communities the Hebrews attempted to preserve their identity through ceremonial and cultural traditions. This struggle to avoid assimilation helped maintain their identity but also sometimes brought them into conflict with their host cultures.
Forced migration of Hebrews during Assyrian and Babylonian captivity.

Judaism was the first clearly monotheistic religion. At the heart of the religion was a belief in a Covenant, or agreement, between God and the Jewish people, that God would provide for them as long as they obeyed him. The Ten Commandments set down rules for relationships among human beings, as well as human relationships to God. Because they were specially chosen by God, Jews came to see themselves as separate from others and did not seek to convert others to the religion. As a result, Judaism has remained a relatively small religion. However, its influence on other larger religions, including Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Islam is vast, and so it remains as a very significant "root religion
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B. The core beliefs outlined in the Sanskrit scriptures formed the basis of the Vedic religions — often known as Hinduisms — which show some influence of Indo-European traditions in the development of the social and political roles of a caste system and in the importance of multiple manifestations of Brahma to promote teachings about reincarnation.


II. New belief systems and cultural traditions emerged and spread, often asserting universal truths.
A. The core beliefs preached by the historic Buddha and recorded by his followers into sutras and other scriptures were, in part, a reaction to the Vedic beliefs and rituals dominant in South Asia. Buddhism changed over time as it spread throughout Asia — first through the support of the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, and then through the efforts of missionaries and merchants, and the establishment of educational institutions to promote its core teachings.

B. Confucianism’s core beliefs and writings originated in the writings and lessons of Confucius and were elaborated by key disciples who sought to promote social harmony by outlining proper rituals and social relationships for all people in China, including the rulers.
Three important belief systems (Confucianism, Daoism, and Legalism) emerged in China during the Warring States Period (403-221 BCE) between the Zhou and Han Dynasties. Although the period was politically chaotic, it hosted acultural flowering that left a permanent mark on Chinese history.

Confucius contemplated why China had fallen into chaos, and concluded that the Mandate of Heaven had been lost because of poor behavior of not only the Chinese emperor, but all his subjects as well. His plan for reestablishing Chinese society profoundly affected the course of Chinese history and eventually spread to many other areas of Asia as well.

He emphasized the importance of harmony, order, and obedience and believed that if five basic relationships were sound, all of society would be, too:

•Emperor/subject - the emperor has the responsibility to take care of his subjects, and subjects must obey
the emperor
• Father/son - the father takes care of the son, and the son obeys the father
• Older brother/younger brother - the older brother takes care of the younger brother, who in turn obeys him
• Husband/wife - the husband takes care of the wife, who in turn obeys him
• Friend/friend -The only relationship that does not assume inequality should be characterized by mutual care and obedience
• Confucius also defined the "superior man" - one who exhibits ren (kindness), li (sense of propriety), and Xiao (filial piety, or loyalty to the family).

Confucianism accepted and endorsed inequality as an important part of an ordered society. It confirmed the power
of the emperor, but held him responsible for his people, and it reinforced the patriarchal family structure that was
already in place in China. Because Confucianism focused on social order and political organization, it is generally
seen as a philosophy rather than a religion. Religions are more likely to emphasize spiritual topics, not society and

C. In the major Daoist writings (such as the Daodejing), the core belief of balance between humans and nature assumed that the Chinese political system would be altered indirectly.

The founder of Daoism is believed to have been Laozi, a spiritualist who probably lived in the 4th century BCE. The
religion centers on the Dao (sometimes referred to as the "Way" or "Path"), the original force of the cosmos that is
an eternal and unchanging principle that governs all the workings of the world. The Dao is passive - not active,
good nor bad - but it just is. It cannot be changed, so humans must learn to live with it. According to Daoism,
human strivings have brought the world to chaos because they resist the Dao. A chief characteristic is wuwei, or a
disengagement from the affairs of the world, including government. The less government, the better. Live simply, in
harmony with nature. Daoism encourages introspection, development of inner contentment, and no ambition to
change the Dao.
Both Confucianism and Daoism encourage self knowledge and acceptance of the ways things are. However,
Confucianism is activist and extroverted, and Daoism is reflective and introspective. The same individual may
believe in the importance of both belief systems, unlike many people in western societies who think that a person
may only adhere to one belief system or another.
Daoism also influenced the development of Chinese culture:
  • medical theories and practices,
  • poetry
  • metallurgy
  • architecture

D. The core beliefs preached by Jesus of Nazareth drew on the basic monotheism of Judaism, and initially rejected Roman and Hellenistic influences. Despite initial Roman imperial hostility, Christianity spread through the efforts of missionaries and merchants through many parts of Afro-Eurasia, and eventually gained Roman imperial support by the time of Emperor Constantine.

E. The core ideas in Greco-Roman philosophy and science emphasized:
  • 1. logic
    2. empirical observation
    3.the nature of political power and hierarchy.

III. Belief systems affected gender roles (such as Buddhism’s encouragement of a monastic life or Confucianism’s emphasis on filial piety).

IV. Other religious and cultural traditions continued parallel to the codified, written belief systems in core civilizations.

A. Shamanism and animism continued to shape the lives of people within and outside of core civilizations because of their daily reliance on the natural world.

B. Ancestor veneration persisted in many regions:
Know at least one illustrative example of regions where ancestor veneration persisted
  • Africa
  • The Mediterranean region
  • East Asia
  • The Andean areas

V. Artistic expressions, including literature and drama, architecture, and sculpture,show distinctive cultural developments.
A. Literature and drama acquired distinctive forms such as Greek tragedy or Indian epics - that influenced artistic developments in neighboring regions and in later time periods (such as in Athens, Persia or South Asia).

B. Distinctive architectural styles can be seen in

- India - Greece - Rome

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- Mesoamerican
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Art and architecture reflected the values of religions and belief systems.

  • Hindu art and architecture
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  • Buddhist art and architecture
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Buddhism spread to China around 500 BCE

  • Christian art and architecture
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Christianity appeared in Rome

  • Greco-Roman art and architecture


C. The convergence of Greco-Roman culture and Buddhist beliefs affected the development of unique sculptural developments
220px-BuddhaHead.JPG 230px-Buddha-Vajrapani-Herakles.JPG
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The convergence of Greco-Roman culture and Buddhist beliefs affected the development of unique sculptural developments.

Key Concept 2.2. The Development of States and Empires

I. The number and size of imperial societies grew dramatically by imposing political unity on areas where previously there had been competing states.
NOTE:Students should know the location and names of the key states and empires:
  • A. Southwest Asia: Persian Empires (such as Achaemenid, Parthian or Sassanid)
  • B. East Asia: Qin and Han dynasties
  • C. South Asia: Maurya and Gupta Empires
  • D. Mediterranean region: Phoenician and Greek colonization, Hellenistic and Roman Empires
  • E. Mesoamerica: Teotihuacan, Maya city-states
  • F. Andean South America: Moche


II. Empires and states developed new techniques of imperial administration based, in part, on the success of earlier political forms.
A. In order to organize their subjects, the rulers created administrative institutions, including centralized governments, elaborate legal systems and bureaucracies such as:

B. Imperial governments projected military power over larger areas using a variety of techniques, including diplomacy; developing supply lines; building fortifications, defensive walls and roads; and drawing new groups of military officers and soldiers from the local populations or conquered peoples.
  • Required examples of such techniques:
      • Diplomacy
      • Developing supply lines
      • Building fortifications, defensive walls, and roads
      • Drawing new groups of military officers and soldiers from the local populations or conquered people


C. Much of the success of the empires rested on their promotion of trade and economic integration by building and maintaining roads and issuing currencies.


III. Imperial societies displayed unique social and economic dimensions.

A. Cities served as centers of trade, public performance of religious rituals, and as political administration for states and empires such as:


1. Persepolis
2. Chang’an
3. Pataliputra
4. Athens
5. Carthage
6. Rome
7. Alexandria
8. Constantinople
9. Teotihuacan

B. The social structures of all empires displayed hierarchies that included
  • 1. cultivators
  • 2. laborers
  • 3. slaves
  • 4. artisans
  • 5. merchants
  • 6. elites
  • 7. caste groups.


Ancient Egyptian Social Structure

C. Imperial societies relied on a range of labor systems to maintain the production of food and provide rewards for the loyalty of the elites, including corvée, slavery, rents and tributes, peasant communities, and family and household production.
D. Patriarchy continued to shape gender and family relations in all imperial societies of this period.

IV. The Roman, Han, Maurya and Gupta empires created political, cultural and administrative difficulties that they could not manage, which eventually led to their decline, collapse and transformation into successor empires or states.
Between 200 and 600 C.E. all of the classical civilizations had fallen (the Han around 220, Western Rome in 476, and the Gupta in 550). There are several elements in common to the fall of these civilizations:
  • Political corruption and deterioration - The politics of all classical ages became corrupt and given over to factions and divisions. Bribery and favoritism were rife. Provinces came under the control of local leaders and empires decentralized.
  • The migration of the Huns - Droughts in central Asia forced a nomadic group called the Huns to migrate south and west during this time period. This brought them in contact with the settled classical civilizations. They placed pressure on the Han and Gupta, attacking their frontiers and raiding their lands. As they pushed westward, they forced Germanic peoples to put pressure on the Roman Empire.
  • Over-extension of borders - All empires found that their borders had grown so large that their military had trouble guarding them. Their imperial ambition out-stripped their resources. The Chinese could not effectively man the Great Wall with soldiers to keep out the Huns. Rome grew so large they could not raise the armies to protect its frontiers.
  • The spread of epidemics and disease - The trade routes that connected civilizations and allowed them to prosper also spread diseases. Han China and Rome lost thousands to disease, thus depleting their tax base just as they needed fund to protect their borders.


A. Through excessive mobilization of resources, imperial governments caused environmental damage such as:(deforestation, desertification, soil erosion, silted rivers) and generated social tensions and economic difficulties by concentrating too much wealth in the hands of elites.


B. External problems resulted from security issues along their frontiers, including the threat of invasions between:
  • Northern China and Xiongnu
  • Gupta and the White Huns
  • Romans, Parthians, Sassanids and Kushan

Key Concept 2.3. Emergence of Transregional Networks of Communication and Exchange
  • With the organization of large-scale empires, the volume of long-distance trade increased dramatically. Much of this trade resulted from the demand for raw materials and luxury goods. Land and water routes linked many regions of the Eastern Hemisphere. The exchange of people, technology, religious and cultural beliefs, food crops, domesticated animals, and disease pathogens developed alongside the trade in goods across far-flung networks of communication and exchange. In the Americas and Oceania localized networks developed.

I. Land and water routes created transregional trade, communication and exchange networks in the Eastern Hemisphere, while separate networks connected the peoples and societies of the Americas somewhat later.
NOTE: Students should know how factors, including the climate and location of the routes, the typical trade goods, and the ethnicity of people involved, shaped the distinctive features of the following trade routes.
  • A. Eurasian Silk Roads
  • B. Trans-Saharan caravan routes
  • C. Indian Ocean sea lanes
  • D. One of the following: Mediterranean sea lanes; American trade routes; or the north-south Eurasian trade routes linking the Baltic region, Constantinople and Central Asia


II. New technologies facilitated long-distance communication and exchange.

A. New technologies (such as yokes, saddles or stirrups) permitted the use of domesticated pack animals (such as horses, oxen, llamas or camels) to transport goods across longer routes.

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B. Innovations in maritime technologies (such as the lateen sail or dhow ships), as well as advanced knowledge of the monsoon winds, stimulated exchanges along maritime routes from East Africa to East Asia.


III. Alongside the trade in goods, the exchange of people, technology, religious and cultural beliefs, food crops, domesticated animals, and disease pathogens developed across far-flung networks of communication and exchange.

A. The spread of crops, including sugar, rice and cotton from South Asia to the Middle East, encouraged changes in farming and irrigation techniques (such as the development of the qanat system).

B. The spread of disease pathogens diminished urban populations and contributed to the decline of some empires (such as Rome or China).


C. Religious and cultural traditions, including Chinese culture, Christianity,Hinduism and Buddhism, were transformed as they spread.

PowerPoint Notes From Class
Introduction to Classical Empires:Greek and Persians

Roman and Chinese Classical Empires

Classical Indian Empires and the Decline of Classical Civilizations

Classical Religions and Influence on Architecture

Greek Philosophy Chart

Helpful Read on Philosophers

Ancient Greek Philosopher Helpful Website
Greek Philosophy Website

Vocabulary Unit 2:

Key Concepts Unit 2:

Key Concept Condensed Review Guide 2.1

Key Concept Condensed Review Guide 2.2

Key Concept Condensed Review Guide 2.3

Review Notes on Greece and Persia (reading)

Brief Notes on Classical China (reading)

Brief Notes on Classical India (reading)

Classical Philosophy Reading

Reading on Confucius

Classical Empires and belief systems:

Impact of Chinese Belief System on Urban Planning in Ancient China

Religious Impact on Classic Civilizations

Comparative Religion Chart To Complete:

READ: Decline of Classical Empires

Comparison Summary of Rome and China (read this)

Completed Venn Diagram of Rome and China

Great website about every empire and has an interactive timeline
Classical Period Timeline

Crash Course: The Persians and the Greeks
Crash Course: Alexander the Great
Crash Course: China
Crash Course: Buddha and Indian Empire
Crash Course: Roman Republic and Empire
Crash Course: Fall of the Roman Empire
Crash Course: Christianity and Judaism