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Global Tapestry

Development in the Americas

Post-Olmec and Chavin Civilizations:

  • After the Olmecs in Mesoamerica and the Chavin in the Andes declined, civilizations like the Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas emerged. Meanwhile, North America saw the rise of its first large-scale civilization. Knowledge about these cultures stems from archaeology, oral traditions, and post-1492 European writings.

  • Decline: By the 1600s, major Mississippian cities, including Cahokia, were deserted. Theories about this decline include environmental issues affecting agriculture or diseases brought by Europeans.

Mississippian Culture:

  • Location & Architecture: Originating in the 700s/800s in the eastern U.S., the Mississippian culture is named after the Mississippi River Valley. Notable for constructing vast earthen mounds, with Cahokia in southern Illinois being the largest.
  • Government & Society: This society featured a strict class hierarchy. A chief, known as the Great Sun, headed each major town, followed by priests, nobles, and then farmers, hunters, merchants, and artisans. Slaves were at the base. They were a matrilineal society, so leadership would pass through the female lineage.

Chaco and Mesa Verde Cultures:

  • Environmental Adaptation: Located in the southwestern U.S., these cultures innovated to tackle the arid climate. They devised water management techniques and, due to scarce timber, sought alternative building materials.
  • Architectural Innovations:
  • Chaco: They constructed extensive housing structures using stones and clay, some encompassing hundreds of rooms.
  • Mesa Verde: Inhabitants carved multi-level homes into cliff sides using sandstone bricks.
  • Decline: Both cultures waned in the late 13th century, possibly due to increasing aridity.
  • Public Duties: Commoners paid taxes, primarily in crops, and offered labor to the state. In times of war, citizens had to serve militarily. Despite the lack of a unified Mayan central government, dominant city-states often influenced their neighbors.

The Mayan City-States


  • City-States: The primary political structure was the city-state, each comprising a city and its surrounding region, and typically led by a king. If no male heir was fit to lead, women took charge.
  • Wars: Conflicts between city-states were frequent. Instead of territorial control, wars mainly aimed to extract tribute and secure captives for religious sacrifices.
  • Divinity of Kings: Kings claimed descent from gods, believing they'd merge with their godly ancestor upon death. These kings managed elite scribes and priests responsible for state administration. Though leadership generally transitioned from father to son, unsupported kings faced dethronement.

The Mayan City-States

  • Innovations: Mayans introduced the idea of zero in their numeric system, devised an intricate writing script, and produced rubber from rubber plant extracts.
  • Astronomy & Religion: Astronomy was central to both Mayan science and religion. Using pyramidal observatories like the one in Chichen Itza, they tracked celestial bodies and formulated a highly precise calendar, surpassing European counterparts of the era.
  • Religious Practices: Priests, who could be of any gender, officiated ceremonies to honor various deities, with sun, rain, and corn gods being paramount. Offerings, sometimes involving the sacrifice of war captives, were made to appease and seek favors from the gods.

Capital City:

  • Tenochtitlán, built on an island within a lake for defense, was among the world's most populous cities with around 200,000 residents. It had aqueducts for water supply, monumental structures like the Great Pyramid, and floating gardens (chinampas) for agriculture.

Aztec Empire

Government, Economy, and Society:

  • Tribute System: The Aztecs asserted dominance through a tribute system, extracting resources from the conquered. Local rulers served as tribute collectors, retaining their roles but now under Aztec oversight.
  • Provincial Administration: Conquered territories were organized into provinces, with Aztec warriors and officials stationed to ensure loyalty.
  • Hierarchy: Theocratic governance was central. The emperor, or the Great Speaker, was both a political and divine figure. Following him were the nobles, scribes, healers, merchants, peasants, and soldiers. The Aztecs also had slaves, some of whom were sacrificed in rituals.

Decline: By the late 15th century, the Aztec Empire faced various challenges:

  • Technological Constraints: Absence of advanced technology made agriculture labor-intensive.
  • Overexpansion: Their dedication to warfare and sacrificial rituals led to an overextended empire.
  • Rising Resentment: The Aztecs' demands for tribute and sacrifices bred discontent among subjugated peoples, making them ripe for rebellion. This vulnerability was exploited when the Spaniards arrived in 1519.

Aztec Empire

  • Religion: The Aztecs' religion was intricate and involved numerous deities with dual aspects. Rituals, feasts, and human sacrifices were integral. These sacrifices were seen as a repayment to the gods but also showcased the Aztecs' might.
  • Role of Women: Women were vital in the tribute system, primarily through cloth production. While many women focused on household duties, some were priestesses, healers, or merchants. Noblewomen, in particular, could even be scribes.

Inca Empire

Origins and Expansion:

  • In 1438, Pachacuti began consolidating tribes near present-day Cuzco, Peru, into the Incan Empire, which would span from modern-day Ecuador to Chile. By 1493, Huayna Capac, Pachacuti’s grandson, oversaw the empire, emphasizing governance over its vast territories.
Government, Economy, and Society:
  • Provincial Governance: The empire was divided into four provinces, each overseen by a governor and bureaucracy. Loyalty from conquered leaders was rewarded.
  • Mit’a System: Unlike the Aztecs’ tribute system, the Incas used the mit’a system, a form of mandatory public service. Men aged 15 to 50 were requisitioned for various tasks, including road construction.

Inca Empire


  • Sun Worship: The Incas, or “people of the sun,” revered the sun god, Inti. Inca rulers were viewed as earthly representatives of Inti.
  • Royal Ancestor Veneration: Dead rulers continued to "rule" posthumously. Their belongings, properties, and servants remained theirs. This dynamic drove successive rulers to expand the empire further.
  • Priestly Role: Priests played a central role, predicting events through various means. While human sacrifices were part of the religion, they weren't as frequent as those of the Aztecs.
  • Animism: The Incas believed inanimate objects or geographical features, known as huaca, possessed supernatural qualities.


  • Today, the Inca legacy endures, with Machu Picchu being a globally renowned archaeological site and major tourist attraction.

Inca Empire


  • Quipu: A system of knotted strings for recording numerical data and messages.
  • Agriculture: They developed terrace farming, using a technique called waru waru for efficient water management.
  • Infrastructure: The Inca were adept builders, constructing the Carpa Nan, a 25,000-mile network of roads and bridges, vital in their mountainous terrain.
  • Civil War: By 1532, the empire was fractured by a civil war following Huayna Capac's death.
  • Spanish Conquest: Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro arrived amidst this unrest. Various factors, including the civil war, European diseases, and Pizarro’s tactics, led to the empire’s fall by 1533. Although the core empire fell, some outposts resisted until 1572.

  • Unlike many Asian or European societies, Sub-Saharan Africa DID NOT centralize power.
  • Communities relied on kin-based networks.
  • Families self-governed.
  • A male chief would mediate conflicts and liaise with other groups.
  • Groups of villages united to form districts. Chiefs collaborated to address district concerns.
  • As populations grew, governance via kin-based networks became more complex.
  • Competition and conflicts increased between neighbors.
  • Smaller communities faced survival challenges.
  • Larger kingdoms became more prominent, especially after 1000.

Development in Africa (1.5)

Political Structures in Inland Africa

  • The migrations of Bantu-speaking people from west-central Africa significantly influenced Sub-Saharan Africa's development.
  • By 1000, the majority of the region had transitioned to agriculture.
  • This agricultural shift required more intricate political structures.

Introduction of Islam
  • Islam was introduced to the region by missionaries in the 14th century.

The Hausa Kingdoms

  • Before 1000, the Hausa ethnic group in modern-day Nigeria established seven states.
  • These states were connected by kinship but lacked central governance.
  • Flourishing city-states developed, each with its unique specialization.
  • Some were located in cotton-rich plains.
  • While the region was landlocked, external connections remained crucial.
  • The Hausa thrived due to the trans-Saharan trade.
  • One state, located to the west, focused on defense.
  • Due to the absence of a central authority, the states were vulnerable to external domination.

Political Structures of West and East Africa

General Overview

  • Both western and eastern African kingdoms thrived due to increased trade.
  • Gained wealth, political power, and cultural diversity.
  • Introduction of Islam added religious diversity, joining existing animism and Christianity.
  • Four significant kingdoms: Ghana, Mali, Zimbabwe, and Ethiopia.


  • Located between the Sahara and West African tropical rain forests; not in the modern-day Ghana location.
  • Founded during the 5th century.
  • Reached peak influence between the 8th and 11th centuries.
  • Traded gold and ivory with Muslim traders for items like salt and cloth.
  • Capital city: Koumbi Saleh, with a centralized government and iron-armed army.


  • Emerged after Ghana weakened due to wars by the 12th century.
  • Sundiata, the founder, likely a Muslim; built trade ties with North African and Arab merchants.
  • Thriving gold trade led to significant wealth.
  • Notable ruler: Mansa Musa, who left a mark during his pilgrimage to Mecca.


  • Located between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers, covering modern-day Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
  • Wealth built on agriculture, grazing, trade, and especially gold.
  • Traded with coastal city-states like Mombasa and was tied to the Indian Ocean trade.
  • Birth of the Swahili language, a blend of Bantu and Arabic.
  • Notable architectural feat: the Great Zimbabwe, a stone-walled city housing 20,000 people. It was abandoned by the end of the 1400s due to environmental degradation.


  • Axum kingdom thrived via trade with India, Arabia, the Roman Empire, and interior Africa.
  • Christianity spread to the region, with the rise of a new Christian-led kingdom in the 12th century. [religion: Coptic]
  • Notable architectural achievement: 11 massive rock churches.
  • Ethiopian Christianity evolved independently, blending traditional beliefs with Christian principles.

Social Structures of Sub-Saharan Africa

Community Structures

  • Rarely had strong central governments.
  • Social organization based on:
  • Kinship: Identification with a clan or family.
  • Age: Division of labor by age, creation of age grades or sets.
  • Gender: Different roles based on gender.
  • Men often took roles needing specialized skills (e.g., blacksmithing).
  • Women focused on agriculture, food gathering, domestic chores, and child-rearing.

Slavery in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southwest Asia

  • Slavery existed historically in various forms, such as prisoners of war or debtors.
  • Chattel Slavery: Slaves as legal property, common in the Americas.
  • Domestic Slavery: Household workers, seen in places like Classical Greece and Rome.
  • Debt Bondage: Slavery to repay a debt, seen in East Africa and some European colonies.
Indian Ocean Slave Trade:
  • Existed before the Atlantic Slave Trade.
  • Enslaved East Africans, called "zanj", worked on sugar plantations.
  • Notable event: Zanj Rebellion (869-883), one of history's most successful slave revolts.

Cultural Life in Sub-Saharan Africa


  • Integral to rituals, used for ancestor communication.
  • Unique rhythm patterns with percussive elements.
Visual Arts:
  • Often served a religious purpose.
  • Examples: Metal busts of rulers, Benin's intricate sculptures in iron and bronze.
Oral Literature:
  • Griots (male) and Griottes (female): Community storytellers.
  • Maintained vast knowledge of histories, family lineages, and tales of leaders.
  • Sung narratives with instruments, like the kora.
  • Griots' deaths equated to a loss of vast historical knowledge.
  • Griottes offered counsel and empowerment, especially to women in patriarchal settings.

Developments in Europe (1.6)

  • With the decline of the Roman Empire around the 5th and 6th centuries, Western Europe transitioned into the Middle Ages.
  • Trade dwindled and intellectual pursuits faded.
  • Numerous small kingdoms emerged, often clashing for territorial dominance.
  • Only the Roman Catholic Church remained powerful across most parts of Europe until the 16th century.
  • From 1000 to 1450, known as the High Middle Ages, there was a resurgence in learning and trade.
  • Scholars like Peter Abelard delved into classical thought, sometimes challenging Church views but remaining devout.

Feudalism: Political and Social Structures

  • Feudalism was a decentralized political framework based on a land-for-loyalty system.
  • Monarchs granted lands, or fiefs, to lords, making them vassals.
  • Lords then granted land to knights in return for military services.
  • Lords also provided land and security to peasants. In exchange, peasants farmed the land and paid tribute with crops, livestock, and obedience.
  • Land was the primary form of wealth.
  • The chivalric code, emphasizing honor, courtesy, and bravery, governed behavior.
  • Women were idealized but did not hold significant power or rights.

Manorial System

  • Large fiefs were also called manors, forming the backbone of the manorial system.
  • Manors were self-sufficient units, diminishing the need for external trade.
  • Typical manor components included churches, blacksmith shops, mills, and wine presses, as well as peasant homes.
  • Peasants, termed serfs, were not slaves but were bound to the land. They required permission for travel or marriage and paid tributes to their lords.
  • Serfdom was inheritable; children of serfs also became serfs.

Agricultrual Advancement

  • The closing phases of the Middle Ages saw increased arable land and agricultural efficiency.
  • The three-field system was introduced:
  • One field cultivated with food crops like wheat or rye.
  • Another field with legumes, enriching the soil with nitrogen.
  • The third field was left fallow yearly.
  • Technological advancements included windmills and specialized plows for different terrains, fostering population growth.

Political Trends in the Later Middle Ages

Monarchies Strengthen

  • Monarchies grew stronger at the expense of feudal lords, using their own bureaucracies and militaries.
  • This direct employment of bureaucrats and soldiers by the monarchy is contrasted with modern practices, where they serve the country, not the leader.
  • Lands under monarch control began to resemble modern European countries.


  • King Philip II (ruled 1180–1223) first developed a bureaucracy.
  • Philip IV (ruled 1285–1314) convened the first Estates-General, which advised the king and had representatives from three legal classes: clergy, nobility, and commoners.
  • The Estates-General had limited power as the clergy and nobility weren't regularly taxed.

Holy Roman Empire

  • German King Otto I was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 962.
  • The empire faced challenges, especially the lay investiture controversy over religious appointments, which was resolved in the Concordat of Worms (1122).
  • The empire weakened significantly after the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) and was dissolved in 1806 after Napoleon's invasion.

Norman England

  • The Normans, Viking descendants, settled in Normandy, France.
  • In 1066, William the Conqueror, a Norman, invaded England.
  • His rule led to the merging of Normans and Anglo-Saxons, creating modern English identity.
  • English nobles sought to curb monarchial power, leading to the Magna Carta in 1215 which established rights like jury trials.
  • The English Parliament was formed in 1265, growing in power and influence.

Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453)

  • A series of battles between England and France.
  • While the English initially saw success due to longbows, they ended up retaining only Calais in France.
  • The war contributed to national identities and introduced gunpowder weapons from China to Europe.

Education and Art

  • The Church founded the first European universities.
  • Most intellectual figures, such as philosophers and writers, were religious leaders.
  • Artwork was primarily religious, aiming to help the illiterate understand biblical themes.
Church and State Relations
  • The Church played a vital role in the feudal system and could exert pressure on lords.
  • It maintained an organizational structure reminiscent of the Roman Empire with a hierarchy led by the Pope in Rome. Bishops, serving as regional leaders, were subordinate to the Pope and oversaw local priests

Roman Catholic Church during the Middle Ages

The Great Schism (1054)

  • The Christian Church split into two branches:
  • The Roman Catholic Church in Europe
  • The Orthodox Church in regions from Greece to Russia
Church Dominance
  • The Roman Catholic Church was Europe's most influential institution, given the continent's political fragmentation.
  • Church officials were often the only literate individuals in communities. They were relied upon for reading and writing tasks.
  • Christianity provided a unifying identity as local vernacular languages started to replace Latin.

Reform and Corruption

  • Despite clergy vows of poverty and their community support, they held significant political sway. Some monasteries accumulated considerable wealth.
  • The combination of wealth and political power led to corruption in the 13th and 14th centuries.
  • By the 16th century, issues of corruption and theological disputes prompted reformers, like Martin Luther, to challenge the Church, leading to its further fragmentation.

Roman Catholic Church during the Middle Ages


  • While some Christian clergy retreated to monasteries for spiritual pursuits, these establishments played essential roles in Western Europe's economies, mirroring the agricultural and protective functions of manors.
  • Women could become nuns, holding significant influence within certain monastic settings.

Christian Crusades

Background and Motivation

  • The Crusades were attempts by European Christians to reclaim the Holy Land (Palestine) from Muslims. These sites were sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
  • Even though these lands were under Muslim control, European Christians had accessed them for centuries.
  • 11th-century social and economic trends amplified the desire to invade the Middle East. Due to primogeniture rules, many younger sons lacked wealth and land. Landed nobles saw crusading as an opportunity to channel the aspirations of these younger sons and restless peasants.
  • Merchants also wanted unrestricted access to Middle Eastern trade routes.

Catalysts for the Crusades (1095-1200s)

  • The combination of religious fervor, social factors, and economic desires led to the Crusades.
  • Political dynamics, especially conflicts between popes and kings, influenced the Crusades' trajectory. The Roman Catholic Church wanted more control and used spiritual incentives to recruit participants.
  • The Orthodox patriarch at Constantinople, concerned about the maltreatment of Christian pilgrims by Seljuk Turks, requested Pope Urban II's aid in recapturing the Holy Land.

First Crusade

  • The first of the major Crusades, it was the sole unequivocal Christian victory.
  • Europeans captured Jerusalem in 1099, but Muslim forces under Saladin retook it in 1187.
  • This Crusade catalyzed cultural exchanges between Europe and the Middle East. The more advanced Middle East attracted Europeans to its goods.

Fourth Crusade (1202-1204)

  • Venice agreed to ferry Crusaders to the Levant but wasn't fully compensated.
  • As a result, Venetians convinced the Crusaders to first attack Zara, an Italian city, and then Constantinople, Venice's significant trade rival.
  • This Crusade never reached the Holy Land, and the Levant eventually remained under Islamic control.

Economic and Social Change in Late Middle Ages Europe

Economic Shifts

  • Europe moved from local economic self-sufficiency to an interest in distant goods.
  • Marco Polo: The Venetian's tales of the East, especially his visit to Kublai Khan's court, piqued European interest in Asia and boosted cartography.
Social Evolution
  • Rising long-distance commerce reshaped Europe's social structure.
  • A new middle class emerged, known as the bourgeoisie or burghers, composed of shopkeepers, merchants, artisans, and small landowners.

Urbanization and Population Trends

  • Advanced agricultural practices, like the three-field system, resulted in food surpluses and population growth.
  • Despite increasing demand for labor on manors, several factors led to labor shortages:
  • The devastating Black Death killed up to a third of the European population.
  • The Little Ice Age from 1300 led to reduced agricultural output, increased diseases, unemployment, and social unrest.
  • Discrimination and scapegoating rose, with groups like Jews often being unfairly blamed for societal issues.

Jews in Medieval Europe

  • The Jewish population grew during the Middle Ages, particularly as Christian European powers overtook Muslim territories.
  • Jews brought business acumen and trading experience to places they migrated.
  • Due to the Roman Catholic Church's restrictions against Christians charging interest on loans, many Jews engaged in moneylending, promoting Europe's economic growth.
  • However, antisemitism was rampant. Jews were expelled from several European countries, pushing many to migrate to Eastern Europe.

Muslims in Europe

  • Muslims too faced prejudice. In 1492, Spain expelled non-converting Muslims.
  • Some fled to southeastern Europe, while the Ottoman Empire expanded its influence into the Balkans, resulting in a significant Muslim presence in countries like Albania, Kosovo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  • Religious Interactions
  • While Europe was majorly Christian, both Jews and Muslims played pivotal roles in society.
  • Jewish communities, often urban, acted as trade bridges between Christians and Muslims, linking Europe to the broader world.

Gender Dynamics

  • As Europe transitioned from an agrarian to a more urban society, patriarchal values intensified, leading to a decline in women's rights.
  • Women's education was limited, but some managed manorial accounts or joined religious orders, where they had more opportunities.
  • Women's rights in Islamic societies, especially in parts of Africa and Southeast Asia, were generally more equitable than in Europe.

Origin of the Term:

  • 15th and 16th-century intellectuals and artists believed they were in a new golden age.
  • Georgio Vasari, a 16th-century figure, used the term "rinascita" (meaning "rebirth") to describe the era.
Influence from Antiquity:
  • Renaissance figures believed their achievements were directly linked to Greek and Roman glories.
Renaissance vs. Middle Ages:
  • Historically, the Renaissance owed much to the intellectual and cultural achievements of the medieval era.
  • Despite its debts to the medieval period, Renaissance was distinguished by its unique contributions.



Contributions of the Renaissance:

  • Notable advancements in literature, art, philosophy, political, and historical thought.
  • Birth of modern individualism; emphasis on personal achievements versus medieval attributions to God.
Centers of Renaissance:
  • Initially began in the Italian city-states.
  • The invention of the printing press in the mid-15th century facilitated the spread to other parts of Europe, giving rise to the Northern Renaissance.
Cultural Distinctions:
  • Italian Renaissance: Primarily focused on secular concerns.
  • Northern Renaissance: Dealt with religious matters, laying the groundwork for the Protestant Reformation.

The Italian City-States
  • Center of Europe's economic, political, and cultural life during the 14th and 15th centuries.
  • During the Middle Ages, under nominal control of the Holy Roman Empire.
  • Residents largely decided their own fate, leading to vibrant and at times violent politics.
  • Conflict between old nobility (land-based wealth) and merchant families (wealth from 12th and 13th-century economic boom).
  • Presence of an urban underclass, the popolo, who sought wealth and political power.

Italian Renaissance


  • Humanism stressed the value and potential of the individual, leading to a focus on individual achievement and self-expression.
  • Francesco Petrarch considered the founder of humanism.
  • Petrarch's coined term “Dark Ages” for post-Roman cultural decline.
  • Rediscovery and direct reading of classical texts.
  • Civic humanists in Florence inspired by Petrarch.
  • Study of classical Greek reintroduced.
  • Revival of Greek essential to Renaissance: focus on works like Plato's.

Eastern Europe in the Late Middle Ages

  • Extensive trading of furs, fish, and grain linked Scandinavia, the Mediterranean, and Central Asia.
  • The central city-state was Kievan Rus (modern-day Kiev, Ukraine), which shared a cultural affinity with Byzantium due to their shared Orthodox Christianity.
  • The Mongol conquest in the 13th century distanced this region from the rest of Europe. Under the Mongols, local nobles were tasked with tax collection.
  • The nobles' ensuing wealth and power enabled resistance against Mongol domination.
  • By the late 15th century, Moscow's leader, Ivan the Great, achieved independence from the Mongols, laying the foundation for modern Russia.