Introduction to Expanding Cultural Exchange (300–1000)

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Introduction to Expanding Cultural Exchange (300–1000)

In the first centuries AD, the Roman Empire—the foremost European power—was threatened by invaders. Migrating Germanic and Slavic peoples, such as the Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Vandals, and Lombards, overran the imperial borders in the third, fourth and fifth centuries. With the Roman army stretched thin, the empire divided itself into western and eastern regions in AD 395, but the invasions only grew more frequent and violent. The Huns of the Eurasian steppes, led by the infamous Attila (406?–453), sent mounted warriors to plunder cities in the Eastern Empire, then turned west and attacked Gaul (modern-day France) in 451. The Western Empire collapsed in 476, when the last emperor surrendered Rome to the invading Germanic tribes.

The Eastern, or Byzantine Empire, carried on, developing its own culture and style of government. The emperor Constantine I (d. 337) had moved the imperial capital in 330 from Rome to the former Greek colony of Byzantium, which he renamed Constantinople. (The city is now called Istanbul and is the capital of Turkey.) Constantine is also known as the first Roman emperor to embrace the Christian religion. For three centuries after the fall of the Western Empire, the Byzantine emperor became the secular leader of the Christian world.

Meanwhile, the pope in Rome assumed duties and privileges usually reserved for monarchs, including the formation of diplomatic and military alliances. For example, on Christmas Day of the year 800, Pope Leo III (d. 816) declared the Frankish king Charlemagne (742–814) emperor of the Romans. Historians consider this the founding event of the Holy Roman Empire, a political federation that lasted in a variety of configurations until the early nineteenth century.

In the Near East, the prophet Muḥammad (c. 570–632) proclaimed the new faith of Islam, and his followers defended the religious movement by force of arms. By the time of the prophet’s death in 632, his followers had conquered most of the Arabian peninsula. His successors advanced the faith into Syria, Palestine, and Mesopotamia. United under the Umayyad dynasty, Arab Muslims built an empire ranging from Central Asia, across the Mediterranean coast of Africa, and into Spain. In 750 Umayyads were overthrown by the ʿAbbāsids, who moved the empire’s capital from Damascus to Baghdad. The ʿAbbāsids presided over a golden age of Islamic culture and scholarship, and Baghdad became one of the world’s major cultural centers.

In the ninth century, a state named Kievan Rus emerged out of tribal wars in northern Eurasia. The city of Kiev became a cosmopolitan trading center, and Kievan Rus expanded until it had subsumed more territory than any European power. The Kievan prince Vladimir I (c. 956–1015) married the sister of the Byzantine emperor, Basil II (c. 958–1025). He cemented this alliance with Byzantium by converting to Christianity and introducing it to the region in 988, laying the foundation for the Russian Orthodox Church.

Political advances were not limited to Europe and the Middle East. In Mesoamerica, the city-state of Teotihuacán developed an advanced civilization distinguished by elegant urban planning. In East Asia, the Goguryeo Kingdom, a powerful state on the border of present-day China and Korea, developed a sophisticated bureaucratic structure, and the Khmer Empire dominated the areas now known as Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and southern Vietnam. In South Asia, the Gupta Empire ruled over India’s golden age. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the first formalized state to arise was the Empire of Ghana. With rich reserves of iron ore, this warrior society forged potent weapons with which to subdue neighboring clans.

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Introduction to Expanding Cultural Exchange (300–1000)

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Introduction to Expanding Cultural Exchange (300–1000)