Middle Ages Empires - descriptions

approximate dates (AD)

years in leadership

Civilization (location)




Hindu -Gupta (India)

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Gupta was an empire in northern and parts of central and western India. The dynasty was founded by Chandra (Candra) Gupta I (r. 320–c. 330). The Gupta era was once regarded as India's Classical period, but new archaeological evidence has given the earlier Mauryan empire that designation. Nevertheless, the Gupta period is noted for the flourishing of Sanskrit literature (see Kalidasa), its sophisticated metal coins, its advanced mathematics (which made use of decimal notation and the numeral zero and at that time was more advanced than anywhere else), and its astronomical advances.




Byzantine (Turkey)*

This empire, in southeastern and southern Europe and western Asia, began as the city of Byzantium, which had grown from an ancient Greek colony founded on the European side of the Bosporus. The city was taken in AD 330 by Constantine I, who refounded it as New Rome or Constantinople. The area at this time was generally termed the Eastern Roman Empire. On the death of Constantine in 395, Theodosius I divided the empire between his two sons. The fall of Rome in 476 ended the western half of the Roman Empire; the eastern half continued as the Byzantine Empire, with Constantinople as its capital. The eastern realm differed from the west in many respects: heir to the civilization of the Hellenistic era, it was more commercial and more urban. Its greatest emperor, Justinian (r. 527–565), reconquered some of western Europe, built the Hagia Sophia, and issued the basic codification of Roman law. After his death the empire weakened.




Chinese -T'ang

The Chinese Tang dynasty that succeeded the short-lived Sui became a golden age for poetry, sculpture, and Buddhism. The Tang capital of Chang'an became a great international metropolis, with traders and embassies from Central Asia, Arabia, Persia, Korea, and Japan passing through. A Nestorian Christian community also existed there, while mosques were established in Guangzhou (Canton). The economy flourished in the 8th–9th centuries, with a network of rural market towns growing up to join the metropolitan markets of Chang'an and Luoyang. Buddhism enjoyed great favour, and there were new translations of the Buddhist scriptures and growth of indigenous sects, including Chan (see Zen). Poetry was the greatest glory of the period; nearly 50,000 works by 2,000 poets survive. Foreign music and dance became popular, and ancient orchestras were revived. The Tang government never completely controlled the northern Chinese border, where nomad tribes made constant incursions; periodic rebellions from the mid-8th century onward also weakened its power (see An Lushan Rebellion). In its later years, the government's focus was on eastern and southeastern China rather than Central Asia.




Islamic (Mediterranean)

The second of the two great Sunnite dynasties of the Islamic Caliphate, the 'Abbasids (750–1258) took their name from an uncle of the Prophet Muhammad, al-'Abbas, whose descendants formed one of several groups agitating for change under the Umayyad dynasty. The 'Abbasids claimed the Caliphate and enforced a more universal community of believers. This was symbolized by their movement of the caliphal capital from Damascus to Baghdad, an area closer to the geographic centre of the empire and nearer the Persian hinterland. Under their rule, Islamic culture flourished, new heights in philosophy and science were attained, and the period was widely seen as the "golden age" of the Islamic world. During that time, however, the Caliphate's authority slowly began to erode as regional power centres developed throughout the empire. Although central authority was intermittently reasserted by strong-willed caliphs, by the 13th century 'Abbasid authority was largely spiritual. The last 'Abbasid caliph was executed by Mongol invaders, but a shadow Caliphate (of dubious authenticity) continued into the early 20th century.




Byzantine (Turkey)*

"Byzantine" more accurately describes this Greek speaking medieval empire centered at Constantinople (rather than its bilingual Latin-Greek speaking 330 to 589 AD "New Rome" period above). After a period of decline from 600 to 900 AD, the Byzantine empire again grew rich and populous on trade. The long controversy over iconoclasm within the eastern church prepared it for the break with the Roman church (see Schism of 1054). During the controversy, Arabs and Seljuq Turks increased their power in the area. In the late 11th century, Alexius I Comnenus sought help from Venice and the pope; these allies turned the ensuing Crusades into plundering expeditions. In the Fourth Crusade the Venetians took over Constantinople and established a line of Latin emperors. Recaptured by Byzantine exiles in 1261, the empire was now little more than a large city-state. In the 14th century the Ottoman Turks began to encroach; their extended siege of Constantinople ended in 1453, when the last emperor died fighting on the city walls and the area came under Ottoman control.




Sung & Mongol (China)

The Chinese Sung (or Song) dynasty united the entire country until 1127 and the southern portion until 1279, during which time northern China was controlled by the Juchen tribes. .During the Sung, commerce flourished, paper currency came into increasing use, and several cities boasted populations exceeding one million people. Wang Anshi worked for more equitable taxation and state-centred solutions for China's problems. Widespread printing brought increased literacy and a broader elite, and private academies and state schools sent increasing numbers of candidates through the Chinese examination system. In the 12th century, Zhu Xi systemized Neo-Confucianism. The Sung was also an era of scholarship: groundbreaking treatises on architecture and botany were published, as was the famous history Zizhi tongjian ("Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government") of Sima Guang. Landscape painting is said to have reached its peak during the Northern Song, which was also famous for its magnificent architecture.

The Mongol or Yüan dynasty(1206–1368). Genghis Khan occupied northern China in 1215, but not until 1279 did Kublai Khan take control of southern China. The Mongols established their capital at Beijing (then called Dadu). They rebuilt the Grand Canal and put the roads and postal stations in good order. Paper money, which had had limited circulation under the Sung, came to be used throughout the empire. Advances were made in astronomy, medicine, and mathematics, and trade was carried out throughout the Mongol empire from the plains of eastern Europe across the steppes to Mongolia and China. Many foreigners came to China (notably Marco Polo), and many Chinese traveled to Iran, Russia, and even western Europe. The Chinese resented the Mongol conquerors, whose governmental system discriminated against them. Chinese artists demonstrated passive resistance by withdrawing and turning to personal expression. Literati painting became popular; the novel developed, and new dramatic forms also appeared. Disputes over succession weakened the central government from 1300 on, and rebellions were frequent, many connected with secret societies such as the Red Turbans. The dynasty was overthrown in 1368 by the future Hongwu emperor.

Descriptions above based on Britannica Online - Free Concise Encyclopedia, such as: http://www.britannica.com/ebc/article-9355997?query=Assyria&ct=

* Comment from a Greek viewer: I really wonder WHY Byzantines are TURKS. Sloan responds: Turkey is listed just as the current location. The Byzantines spoke Greek.

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