Chapter 2 New Civilizations in the Eastern and Western Hemispheres, 2200–250 b c. e

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New Civilizations in the Eastern and Western Hemispheres, 2200–250 b.c.e.


After studying this chapter students should be able to:

10. Describe the response of the peoples of early China, Nubia, Celtic Europe, and Central America to the challenges of their environments.

20. Explain the basis of power, status, and wealth in each of the societies treated in this chapter.

30. Discuss the influence of older cultural centers on the development of Nubian and Celtic society.

40. Analyze change over time in China, Nubia, Celtic Europe, and Central America in terms of the significance of their varying environments; the roles of bronze, horses, and chariots; and the phenomenon of interdependence.


I0. Early China, 2000–221 b.c.e.

A0. Geography and Resources

10. China is divided into two major geographical regions: the steppe, desert, and high plateau west and northwest; and the eastern zone, more suitable for settled agriculture.

20. The eastern zone is subdivided into two areas: north and south. The northern area includes the Yellow River Valley and has a dry, cold climate; the southern area includes the Yangzi Valley, has plentiful rainfall, and is relatively warm.

30. China’s natural resources include timber, stone, and metals. The loess soil and cool climate of the north are suitable for growing millet; rice may be cultivated in the warmer and rainier south.

40. Agriculture in this region required the coordinated effort of large numbers of people.

B0. The Shang Period, 1750–1045 b.c.e.

10. Pre-Shang China was a land of Neolithic communities. Pigs, chickens, and millet were domesticated; silk textiles were developed; and bronze metallurgy was begun (ca. 2000 b.c.e.)

20. There are no contemporary documents to confirm the existence of the legendary Xia dynasty. Later documents concerning the Xia may be referring to one of the late Neolithic societies of the Yellow River Valley.

30. The Chinese writing system (Chinese characters) developed during the Shang period. The Chinese writing system of today is directly related to the writing of the Shang dynasty. The chief written remains are oracle bones used in divination.

40. Shang religion centered on a supreme god, Di, who could not be approached directly but could be reached indirectly through the ruler’s ancestors. This made the ruler a link between heaven and earth, and provided a rationale for authoritarian rule

50. The Shang elite was a warrior aristocracy who enjoyed hunting and warfare. They fought with bronze weapons and rode on horse-drawn chariots. Kings ruled directly over the core area of their kingdom and exercised indirect rule over peripheral areas.

C0. The Zhou Period, 1045–221 b.c.e.

10. The Zhou territory was a dependent state of the Shang. They defeated the Shang in the eleventh century b.c.e. and adopted many elements of Shang culture. The two founders of the Zhou were Wen, who led the resistance movement against the Shang, and his son, Wu, who attacked the Shang capital and assumed the throne as first ruler of the dynasty. The Zhou invoked their own deity, Tian (“Heaven”) and introduced the concept of the “Mandate of Heaven” in order to justify their rule.

20. The Zhou dynasty is subdivided into two periods: the Western Zhou and the Eastern Zhou. In the early years of the new dynasty, King Wu created a land distribution system similar to the feudal system of Europe’s Middle Ages.

30. Early Zhou rulers constructed a new capital city, and other urban centers followed. Built in a grid pattern aligned with the north polar star, the design followed their ancient belief in feng shui to maintain harmony. Religion played a large role in both public and private life. Women were expected to live a life of subservience.

40. The Eastern Zhou period was characterized by a decline in the strength of the central government as regional elites began to rule their territories as independent states, often fighting with each other until there was a gradual consolidation into a smaller number of larger, more powerful kingdoms. Warfare during this period contrasted with the earlier noble endeavors led by the elite. The later Zhou saw the development of larger armies made up of conscripted farmers, as well as larger numbers of causalities.

50. Technological advances in warfare were adopted by the Zhou from people of the northern steppes. They learned how to fight on horseback and to replace bronze with iron and steel. Advances in government came from a new class of educated men who became bureaucrats and who recorded data for the rulers, administered the government’s business, and offered advice to rulers.

D0. Confucianism, Daoism, and Chinese Society

10. Confucianism and Daoism had their roots in the chaos of the late Zhou period. Confucianism was founded by Confucius and assumes that human nature is essentially good; has a hierarchical view of the universe, society, and the family; and is concerned with establishing the moral foundations of government. Confucius was not influential in his own time, but Confucianism later became the dominant political philosophy of imperial China.

20. Daoism is said to have been founded by Laozi. Daoism assumes that the universe is in constant flux, that there are no absolute moral standards, and that people should take the world as they find it. Daoism developed into a complex system of popular beliefs and magic, and many Chinese have drawn on both traditions, though Daoism might appear at odds with Confucianism.

30. In society, the Eastern Zhou period saw the development of the three-generation family and the development of the concept of private property, including privately owned land. Women were more firmly subordinated to the patriarchal hierarchy; their subordinate position was justified by the concepts of yin and yang.

E0. The Warring States Period

10. The late Zhou era is called the Warring States Period (480–221 B.C.E.) because of the scale and intensity of warfare between the states. By the beginning of the third century B.C.E., only seven major states remained, each seeking security by building walls and large armies and experimenting with military organization, tactics, and technology. Some of the wars were against non-Chinese people living on the margins of state territory; some were fought to increase territory.

20. The most innovative of the major states was the kingdom of Qin on the western edge of the Central States, its location making it vulnerable to barbarian attacks. In the middle of the fourth century B.C.E., Lord Shang, leader of the Qin government, helped develop the Legalist school of political theory. Shang believed that Confucian beliefs that solutions could be found in the past and concern for subjects’ opinions were mistaken. He maintained that a strong ruler should trust his own judgment and use any means necessary to compel obedience. Legalists were willing to sacrifice personal freedom for the state.

30. To strengthen the ruler, Lord Shang weakened the nobility by abolishing many of their privileges and breaking up large estates.

II0. Nubia, 3100 b.c.e.–350 c.e.

A0. Early Cultures and Egyptian Domination, ca. 2300–ca. 1100 b.c.e.

10. Nubia is located in the Nile Valley from Aswan south to Khartoum and forms a link between tropical Africa and the Mediterranean world. Nubia’s natural resources included gold, semiprecious stones, and copper.

20. The development of civilization in Nubia was spurred by the need for irrigated agriculture and by its trading relationship with Egypt. Nubian culture and Egyptian culture developed through a process of mutual influence and borrowing.

30. Early Nubia carried out trade with Old Kingdom Egypt, and the northern part of Nubia was occupied by Egypt during the Middle Kingdom period.

40. In the southern part of Nubia, the Kingdom of Kush developed by 1750 b.c.e. Kush was noted for its metalworking and construction.

50. Egypt invaded Kush during the New Kingdom period. The results of Egyptian occupation included the brutal exploitation of Nubian laborers and the imposition of Egyptian culture on the Nubian people.

B0. The Kingdom of Meroë, 800 b.c.e–350 c.e.

10. A Nubian kingdom arose in the eighth century b.c.e., and for a time the Nubians ruled Egypt as the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty (712–660 b.c.e.)

20. The Nubian kingdom had its capital at Napata from 660 b.c.e. to the fourth century. The Napata period is characterized by continued Egyptian cultural influence, including the use of Egyptian hieroglyphs and pyramids.

30. In the fourth century b.c.e., the kingdom moved its capital to Meroë, which was better located for both agriculture and trade. Egyptian cultural influence waned during the Meroitic era.

40. The ruling dynasty of Meroë practiced a matrilineal family system, and queens often were influential.

50. The city of Meroë dominated trade routes, used reservoirs to catch rainfall, and became an important center of iron smelting.

60. Meroë declined due to a combination of factors: a shift in trade routes, the rise of the kingdom of Aksum, and the depredations of camel-riding nomads.

III0. Celtic Europe, 1000–50 b.c.e.

A0. The Spread of the Celts

10. Celtic civilization originated in Central Europe in the first millennium b.c.e.

20. Around 500 b.c.e., the Celtic groups began a rapid expansion in several directions.

30. The Celts shared cultural traits, but there was no Celtic “state.”

B0. Celtic Society

10. Celtic society was divided into an elite class of warriors, professional groups of priests and bards, and the common people.

20. The warriors owned land and livestock and monopolized wealth and power.

30. The priests, called Druids, were teachers and judges as well as religious leaders.

40. Celts were successful farmers and engaged in trade, shipbuilding, and metallurgy.

50. Celtic women were involved primarily in child rearing, food production, and some crafts.

60. Celtic women, particularly elite women, enjoyed more freedom than their Middle Eastern, Greek, and Roman counterparts.

C0. Belief and Knowledge

10. The Celts worshiped a large number of gods and goddesses.

20. In Celtic mythology, the barrier between the natural and the supernatural world was quite permeable.

30. In the first three centuries c.e., Roman conquest and Germanic invasion halted the development of Celtic society.

IV0. First Civilizations of the Americas: The Olmec and Chavin, 1200–250 b.c.e.

A0. The Mesoamerican Olmec, 1200-400 b.c.e.

10. The Olmec, the most important Mesoamerican preclassic civilization, were at their strongest between about 1200 and 400 b.c.e.

20. Major centers of Olmec civilization were located along the coast of Mexico.

30. The use of raised fields provided the agricultural surpluses the Olmec needed to sustain urban centers.

40. The center of early Olmec civilization was located at San Lorenzo. San Lorenzo was surpassed by La Venta around 900 b.c.e., which, in turn, gave way to Tres Zapotes around 600 b.c.e.

50. Large earthen mounds dominated Olmec urban centers.

60. It is likely that Olmec political structures were built around some form of kingship.

70. Olmec power rested on the control of certain commodities and the popularity of their religious practices.

80. Given their limited technology, Olmec architecture was very impressive.

90. The Olmec played a role in the early development of writing and astronomy.

B0. Early South American Civilization: Chavín, 900–250 b.c.e.

10. Chavín was the first major urban civilization in South America.

20. Chavín was politically and economically dominant between 900 and 250 b.c.e.

30. A combination of military strength and the appeal of its religious system explains Chavín’s influence and control over its territory.

40. Chavín possessed all the essential characteristics of later Andean civilizations, including a clan-based system of labor.

50. The evidence suggests that increased warfare led to the fall of Chavín around 200 b.c.e.

V0. Comparative Perspectives

A0. Differences Among Civilizations

10. The flood-prone rivers and lack of dependable rainfall in the north China plain led to authoritarian central governments to organize large labor forces needed to dig and maintain irrigation channels and build dikes.

20. A strong state was needed in Nubia for protection from desert nomads and from Egyptian rulers who coveted Nubian resources.

30. The fertile lands and adequate rainfall of continental Europe led to a more fragmented organization for the Celtic peoples than for peoples in other regions.

40. The Olmec of Mesoamerica and the Chavín of South America lived in ecological zones that required them to share their resources and products through trade networks. Both cultures were led by ruling elites who gathered wealth and organized labor for building projects.

B0. Differences Between Hemispheres

10. The Eastern Hemisphere contained a larger number of plant and animal species that could be domesticated than did the Western Hemisphere.

20. The north-south axis of the Eastern Hemisphere contained similar climatic zones, making it easier for the spread of domesticated plants and animals. The Western Hemisphere’s north-south axis contained more variations in climate, making it difficult for species to spread.


10. Compare the political system and the political philosophies of China to those of Egypt and Mesopotamia. How does ideology develop in response to political and social crises?

20. How did trade and other peaceful cultural interaction influence the cultural development of the civilizations discussed in this chapter? How important are trade and the influence of other cultures to the development of these various civilizations?

30. How did war and imperial expansion influence the development of the civilizations discussed in this chapter?

40. How did elites in Nubia, Mesoamerica, and China gain access to and maintain control over essential raw materials? What factors might account for the different strategies adopted by elites in different times and places?

50. Ask students to discuss the problem of sources. What sources do historians use in order to understand the history of the civilizations of the Late Bronze Age? What are the advantages and limitations of the various available sources? How do the available sources and the lack of sources shape our understanding of this period of history?


10. Examine the significant differences or similarities between the political systems of Egypt and China.

20. Research the technologies of shipbuilding and navigation, 1200–250 b.c.e.

30. Compare the roles of women in Celtic and Middle Eastern societies in the Iron Age.

40. How does the history of Nubia illustrate the importance of geography, environment, and environmental change in the development of civilizations?


The following Internet sites contain written and visual material appropriate for use with this chapter. A more extensive and continually updated list of Internet resources can be found on The Earth and Its Peoples web site. Refer to The Earth and Its Peoples web site section located at the beginning of this manual for information on how to locate the text homepage.

Metropolitan Museum of Art online collections (Asian Art)

Chinese culture (P. Halsall, Brooklyn College)

Ancient Nubia: Egypt’s rival in Africa (University of Pennsylvania)

Olmec art

The Olmec

Mesoamerican sites and cultures (Minnesota State University, Mankato)

South American sites and cultures (Minnesota State University, Mankato)

Chavin de Huantar

Simon James’s Ancient Celts page

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