Chapter 14 Empires and Cultures of Asia thinking about history and geography

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Empires and Cultures of Asia


For centuries, Asia has been home to many civilizations. The time line and map show where some of them developed. Asian peoples between A.D. 1100 and A.D. 1650 used trade and military power to increase their influence. Many also constructed buildings that remain among the world's finest architectural achievements.



Geography of Asia

Focus Activity


How do the Himalayas affect the geography of Asia?


• archipelago

• monsoon


• Himalayas

• Mount Everest

• Tibetan Plateau

• Gobi Desert

Read Aloud

"The summer sun, who robbed the pleasant nights, and plundered [stole] all the water of the rivers, and burned the earth, and scorched the forest trees, is now in hiding; and the autumn clouds, spread thick across the sky to track him down, hunt for the criminal with lightning flashes."

Indian poet Amaru, writing in Sanskrit, described India's yearly change of seasons over 1,000 years ago. This change is a big event for many people across Asia. Many, in fact, depend on it for their lives.


Asia is the world's largest continent. It stretches from Saudi Arabia and Turkey in the west to the eastern parts of China and Japan. Asia has many regions. The continent is made up of areas called North, West, Central, South, Southeast, and East Asia. Each of these regions has a great variety of people and environments.

Asia includes many climates, landforms, peoples, and histories. Some of the ancient Asian civilizations you have already read about include Harappa, Mesopotamia, and Shang China.

A thin strip of land in northeastern Egypt is considered Asia's border with Africa. The Ural mountains separate North Asia from Europe. Asia has more mountains than any other continent. It also has the highest mountains. Not surprisingly, mountains greatly affect life on the continent. You will read about the world's highest mountain range in this lesson.



The Himalayas (him uh LAY uz) and neighboring mountains make up the heart of Asia. Many of the world's highest peaks are here, including the tallest of all—Mount Everest. The Himalayas form the southern border of the vast Tibetan Plateau. This plateau is a high mountain plain where more than a half dozen of the continent's powerful rivers begin. Locate the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas on the map below. Asia has several island chains off its shores. One of these chains is Japan. Find it on the map. Japan forms an archipelago (ahr kuh PEL ih goh). Archipelago is the word for such a group or chain of islands.


Asia is a land of extreme contrasts in geography. In addition to the highest mountains in the world, it has vast plains and deserts.

1. What mountain ranges border the Gobi Desert to the east and northeast?

2. What other deserts are in Asia?

3. Which coast of the Indian Subcontinent, the east or west, would be more likely to encounter flooding in the summer?



Himalaya means "snowy range" in Sanskrit. This vast range stretches across central Asia for 1,500 miles. Many of the peaks are over 25,000 feet high. Their immense heights form the world's highest natural wall.

The Himalayas and neighboring mountain ranges form a towering wall that divides India and Nepal from Tibet and China. The barrier makes movement through the region difficult.

The Himalayas have a big effect on the climate of much of Asia. They block clouds that blow north from the Indian Ocean. This causes large amounts of rainfall on the ocean-facing sides of the mountains and small amounts on their northern sides. In Cherrapunji, India, for example, an average of 38 feet of rain falls each year! By contrast, only a few inches fall on the other side, Tibet. Even less falls in the Gobi (GOH bee) Desert. This rocky, nearly treeless region in northern China is almost twice the size of Texas.


Plenty of rain is usually good news for Asia's many farmers. Throughout much of South Asia, though, most rain falls during only one season. The rest of the year remains dry. Rain clouds are brought to the region by seasonal winds called monsoons.

An Indian leader named Indira Gandhi once remarked, "for us in India scarcity [shortage of resources] is only a missed monsoon away." What she said is true for millions of people throughout Asia. Farmers count on the monsoons to bring water for their crops.

In India the months of November through May remain dry and, toward the end, intensely hot. During these months dry winter monsoons blow across South Asia from the northeast. From about June through October, however, moisture-bearing winds from the southeast and southwest sweep across the continent. These winds are the summer monsoons. Farmers joyfully

Rains brought by monsoon winds flood Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh (left). In Tibet camps are built on the high, drier plains (below).




Giant pandas live in bamboo forests in the high elevations of southwestern China.The bearlike animals eat bamboo shoots. Because there

is often a shortage of bamboo for the pandas to eat, panda numbers are limited. In the late 1980s scientists estimated that only about 600 pandas were left in the wild.


The chart provides information about the size and geography of Asia.

1. What is one condition that contributes to the limited population of the giant panda?

2. What percentage of the world's population lives in Asia?

greet the huge sheets of rain brought by summer monsoons that water their rice, sorghum, millet, and chickpeas, among other crops.

As long as the rain-bearing monsoon runs its normal course, farmers can count on successful harvests. An Indian proverb, however, warns "if the sky fails, the earth will fail." If too much rain falls, as often happens in some regions, flooding may result in loss of life and property.


From the chart on this page you can see that Asia has a large population. People in the many regions of Asia have adapted to the great variety of geographical features on the continent.

Some of these features—mountains, river valleys, and monsoons—helped create rich farmland on which people could live. In the following lessons you will read about some of the people who lived in these different environments.

Reviewing Facts and Ideas


• Asia, the world's largest continent, has more mountains than any other. These mountain ranges include the awesome Himalayas.

• The Himalayas block clouds blowing north from the Indian Ocean. As a result, large amounts of rain fall south of the mountains while little falls to the north.

• Seasonal winds called monsoons affect many Asians' lives. Important crops depend on rain the summer monsoons bring each year.


1. Why are monsoons important to farmers in South Asia?

2. How does the Tibetan plateau affect other regions of Asia?

3. FOCUS How is life in Asia affected by the Himalayas?

4. THINKING SKILL What conclusions can you make about life in Asia from the information in this lesson? On what facts did you base your conclusions?

5. GEOGRAPHY Look at the map on page 385. What major rivers begin on the Tibetan Plateau?



The Ottomans

Focus Activity


What was life like in the Ottoman empire?


• sultan

• grand mufti


• Osman

• Suleyman

• Sinan


• Istanbul

• Anatolia

Read Aloud

"In Baghdad I am the shah [king], in Byzantine realms the caesar, and in Egypt the sultan; who sends his fleets to the seas of Europe, North Africa, and India."

These words were written by a leader named Suleyman, who headed one of the world's biggest empires in the early 1500s. His capital was not Baghdad, nor was it a new city. Rather it was a city that had once been the capital of the Eastern Roman empire. That city was Constantinople.


The city once known as Constantinople is located in present-day Turkey. Now called Istanbul, the city crosses two continents. It extends across both sides of the Bosporus Strait, which separates Asia from eastern Europe. Anatolia, as Turkey was known during the Byzantine empire, has been home to some of the world's oldest civilizations. In Chapter 3 you read about the prehistoric city of Catal Huyuk, which thrived there over 8,000 years ago. In Chapter 9 you learned about the Roman emperor Constantine. He built Constantinople and its many Christian churches around A.D. 330.

For 1,000 years after Constantine built this city, the Byzantine empire remained a center of Christianity. In the 1300s, though, Anatolia was settled by a people called Turks. The Turks were Muslims from Central Asia. Within 150 years the Turks had made the city of Constantinople the capital of a new Turkish-led empire.



In 1301 Turkish warriors rallied behind a leader named Osman (OHZ mahn). He led them to their first major victory against the Byzantine empire. In honor of Osman's great skill as a leader, his followers called themselves "Osmanlis." In the next 150 years the "Osmanlis" became known as Ottomans. Their growing empire eventually surrounded the city of Constantinople.

The Battle for Constantinople

In 1453 Constantinople had the strongest defense of any city in Europe. It was surrounded on three sides by the sea. Attackers had to break through massive stone walls to get inside the city. Moats and ditches were built between the walls. Defenders could shoot from the tops of these walls.

The Ottoman empire also had strengths, though. Ottoman soldiers had the newest and largest cannons in Europe. These cannons hurled half-ton cannonballs more than a mile.

In the pre-dawn hours of May 29, 1453, the Ottomans fired heavily on the walls of Constantinople. Before the morning was over, Constantinople had fallen into Ottoman hands. After more than 1,000 years, the Byzantine empire was no more.

The Christian rulers of Europe, who once waged crusades against Islam, now had Muslim neighbors to the east. Those neighbors would be a powerful force in Europe for years to come.

Leadership of the Empire

When Constantinople became the new capital of the Ottoman empire in 1453, the Turks called the city Istanbul. This name comes from a Greek word meaning "in the city." Istanbul remained the empire's center until 1918. Today it is the largest city in Turkey.

During the 500 years of Ottoman rule, sultans, or supreme rulers, governed the empire. They passed control to their oldest or favorite sons. Religious leaders called grand muftis interpreted the laws of Islam and applied them to life in the Ottoman empire.

The Mosque of Suleyman is a striking sight in the landscape of Istanbul.



Under Sultan Suleyman I the Ottoman empire expanded its borders.

1. About how far is Istanbul from Jerusalem?

2. What major river in Asia runs along the eastern border of the Ottoman empire?


Between 1520 and 1566 the Ottoman empire reached its peak under Sultan Suleyman (SOO lay mahn). As you can see from the map, Suleyman's empire sprawled over three continents. It included Jerusalem.

Life in Istanbul

If "all roads led to Rome" during the Roman empire, all routes in the Ottoman empire—whether on sea or land—led to Istanbul. Coffee flowed into the city's coffeehouses from southern Arabia. Ships from Egypt brought rice and African gold. Butter, cheese, grain, and wheat, which helped feed the Ottoman army, were shipped across the Black Sea from present-day Ukraine, along with Russian furs.

Jews who had fled persecution in Spain now lived and worked in the city. So did Christians from all over Europe. Jews, Christians, and other non-Muslims worshiped freely in Istanbul.

At times Istanbul's non-Muslim merchants did business in the vast outer courtyard of Suleyman's palace. There they blended with the thousands of guards, weavers, armor-makers, horsetenders, and gardeners who worked for the sultan. Few, however, could enter the beautiful, walled-off garden and palace beyond the courtyard. The sultan lived and worked within these walls, along with his grand mufti and advisors, court musicians, painters, and poets. Almost all of Suleyman's assistants, soldiers, and closest advisers were slaves.

Government workers chose boys who were 8 or older to be slaves at the palace. The boys were trained to do many jobs. Some became craftworkers, surgeons, and architects.

One of the boys drafted into service, Sinan (suh NAHN), was the son of an Anatolian stoneworker. After years of training he became Suleyman's chief architect. He designed dozens of libraries, hospitals, and colleges for the sultan. Sinan also built buildings for Suleyman's wife, Harrem Sultan. Among these buildings were a school for orphans and a soup kitchen for the poor. Sinan's greatest achievement was the mosque he designed for Saleyman. It still stands in the center of Istanbul.



The battle for Constantinople in 1453 marked an important turning point in world history. 'It brought to an end the Byzantine empire and its 1,000-year-old link with ancient Rome. That battle also caused the center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity to give way to the Islam of the Ottoman empire.

Under Suleyman, the Ottoman empire grew and prospered on three continents—Europe, Asia, and Africa. A large mix of goods came to Istanbul from the empire's vast lands. Many different peoples came to Suleyman's capital as well. Enslaved youths from all over the empire rose through the ranks to carry out the sultans' laws.

The Ottoman empire lasted until 1922. Soon after the empire dissolved, the Turkish Republic was formed. Today the legacy of the Ottoman empire lives on. It can be found in the people and the grand mosques of southeastern Europe and Istanbul.


How did Suleyman's gardens change life in the Netherlands?

Suleyman, like most sultans, loved flowers. His favorites included flowers that European visitors had never seen before—tulips, named after the Turkish word for "turban:' A turban is a Muslim head-covering that is made by wrapping material around the head.

In the 1560s Austria's ambassador to Suleyman's court gave a handful of tulip bulbs to a Dutch gardener. When they bloomed, the rare flowers sparked a huge demand. In the early 1600s one bulb could fetch the price of an entire home or business! As time went on, prices dropped, but Dutch farmers continued to grow the turban-like flowers. Today the Netherlands is the world's largest producer of tulips.

Reviewing Facts and Ideas


• The Ottoman victory at Constantinople in 1453 ended the Byzantine empire and began a new era of Muslim rule in part of Europe.

• The Ottomans renamed the city of Constantinople, calling it Istanbul.

• The Ottoman empire was governed by leaders called sultans.

• During Suleyman's rule Istanbul drew products and peoples from across the empire. Non-Muslims were allowed to worship freely.


1. Who was Sinan? What were some of the buildings he designed?

2. Why was Constantinople a difficult city to conquer? What role did technology play in its defeat in 1453?

3. FOCUS How did Suleyman's palace in Istanbul affect life in the city?

4. THINKING SKILL Why was the battle for Constantinople a disaster from the point of view of the Byzantines? Why was it a triumph in the eyes of the Ottomans?

5. WRITE Write a paragraph explaining why the fall of Constantinople was an important event in history.



India Under the Moguls

Focus Activity


Who were the Moguls and what did they achieve?


• Akbar

• Shah Jahan

• Mumtaz Mahal


• Agra

• Taj Mahal

Read Aloud

In 1543 a prince was born in a desert near the Indus River, where his parents were on the run from enemy leaders. In his youth he became an expert hunter. He also battled what may have been seizures and a reading disorder. At the age of 13 he became ruler of his father's battered territory in India. This prince, whose name meant "Great" in Arabic, would build a powerful empire.


A powerful new empire began when Muslims from Central Asia began moving onto the Indian subcontinent. In Chapter 6 you read that Aryan princes gained control over much of the Indian subcontinent around 500 B.C. In the thousand years that followed, Hindu traditions became deeply rooted in India. Hindu rulers were challenged, however, by Muslim conquerors. By A.D. 1200 the fertile lands of the Indus plain had come under Muslim control.

The new sultans of the plain made Islam the law of the land. Hindus were called upon to pay a special tax, which cost ordinary workers as much as a month's wages. By law Hindus could no longer build any new temples. These and other rules caused anger among the large Hindu population. The result was more war, rather than peace. However, a new prince was about to bring big changes to the Indian subcontinent.



The conquerors you read about in the Big Picture were called Moguls. The Moguls were originally from Central Asia and may have been related to the Turks. In '1526 Moguls invaded the Indus plain. Within three years the Moguls controlled much of northern India. The map on this page shows you the region where the Moguls ruled. India's Mogul empire would grow even bigger during its 235-year rule. At one time it would cover most of the Indian subcontinent. Much of that growth would take place under Akbar, the ruler whose name meant "Great" in Arabic.

Akbar's Achievements

As you read in the Read Aloud, Akbar was made ruler of the Mogul empire when he was just 13. The year was 1556—when workers were completing Suleyman's mosque in Istanbul and shortly before Elizabeth I became queen of England.

At the age of 19, Akbar led an army into battle for the first time. Over the next 43 years he and his army fought many wars to expand the Mogul empire. During that time Akbar almost never lost a battle, and his fame as a brilliant commander grew.

Akbar offered no mercy to those who opposed him. At the same time he worked hard to improve life for those under his rule. He created a unified money system so that business would run smoothly throughout the empire. He varied the amount that farmers had to pay in taxes, based on how fertile their land was. Akbar also ordered government workers to build new canals and wells to help farmers.

Akbar's major changes, though, affected Hindus, the majority of people in India at that time. The changes helped to create a remarkable period of unity and power in Indian history.


By the year 1700 the Mogul empire had almost covered the entire Indian subcontinent.

1. What geographical features were near the Mogul empire's northern borders?

2. About how far is Delhi from Agra?

Tiger hunting was a favorite sport of Akbar.


Today only official buildings like the Hall of Public Audience (left) remain in Fatehpur Sikri. Akbar had the city built in 1570.


When he was 20, Akbar married the daughter of an important Hindu leader. The young emperor then hired his wife's father and other Hindus to work with him in his capital city of Agra. For the first time, Hindus became top officials in a Muslim-led government.

In 1579 the emperor passed a law that won him even more support among Hindus. That law did away with the tax that earlier Muslim leaders had forced all non-Muslims to pay. Akbar also allowed Hindus to build temples once more. These acts showed that the new emperor wanted Hindus to be treated more fairly under Mogul law.

Akbar himself had a strong interest in other religions. He had a special building constructed at his palace where Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and other religious leaders could meet and explain their beliefs. It is said that Akbar would pace back and forth on walkways above the building floor, listening to those sitting below. At times he would toss out questions that sparked heated debates.

The Leader's Interests

In addition to learning from such debates, Akbar learned from books in his library. The library included custom made translations of Hindu, Persian, Arabic, and Greek classics. Since he could not read, Akbar had someone read to him every day. His legendary memory helped him to remember most of what he heard.

Akbar also loved the beauty of arts and crafts. He paid fortunes to bring Asia's best painters, poets, musicians, and craftworkers to his palace. During the day he often visited the palace's 100 workshops. There experts made carpets curtains, weapons, jewelry, and paintings, among other things. It was not uncommon to see the emperor hammering iron, shaving camel hair, or discussing painting. At night musicians played for him and sometimes he joined in on drums.


Akbar oversaw the creation of many new buildings. Under his direction workers built several huge forts and new palaces.

In this painting an artist captured the creation of one of Akbar's palaces in Fatehpur Sikri. What does the painting tell you about how buildings were made in Akbar's time?



Painting from Mogul India depicting the building of Fatehpur Sikri, 1570

This painting is one of a series illustrating a biography of Akbar by his closest assistant. It shows ordinary people working together to create a lasting legacy of the Mogul empire.

Stone workers shape the stones used in construction.

Akbar inspects the soundness of the stonework.

Workers carry piles of bricks up to the bricklayers.

Lime is used to produce mortar.

Workers split beams to use for reinforcing stonework.



In 1605 Akbar died at the age of 63. As his legacy, he left behind one of the wealthiest and most powerful empires in the world at that time.

Akbar's grandson, Shah Jehan (SHAH juh HAHN) ruled the Mogul empire from 1628 to 1658. His name meant "Emperor of the World" in Arabic. In addition to expanding the empire, Shah Jahan spent immense fortunes constructing spectacular objects and buildings. His throne alone cost twice as much to make as the palace of Akbar in which it sat! The throne took seven years to build and was made of diamonds, pearls, rubies, and other jewels set in gold.

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