The Rise and Influence of Islam

1.    The Caliphate was a unified Islamic civilization presided over by a leader called a Caliph who succeeded the prophet Muhammad in the leadership of the Dar al Islam. It was a new form of governance in the sense that the Caliph who was given the mandate of power embodied religious, military, and political authority in a single figurehead, rather than there being a separate entity representing each of these aspects of power. The consolidation of all of these facets of power into a single Caliph under the monotheistic Islamic religion gave him the authority to centralize a large area of influence originally comprised of varying tribal identities that practiced polytheism and worshipped different gods, as well as giving him the ability to centralize the ever-expanding Islamic caliphate as the Muslim world extended its influence into different cultural zones.

2.    The Abbasid caliphate borrowed many Persian political traditions after the Islamic world extended its influence to the deteriorating Sassanid empire, establishing this caliphate as a synthesized state. The Abbasid caliphate adopted the Persian “cult of the king” notion, and the Abbasid Caliph became an absolute ruler called the “shadow of God on Earth”. He became an untouchable, powerful entity who could only be approached through as complex ritual system, and he was endowed with the preference and reverence of Allah himself. The high esteem with which the Caliph was held, and the religious justification of his power, reflects the political tradition of the Persian kings of old.

3.    Islam facilitated trade by protecting merchants under Islamic Sharia law as the Dar al Islam expanded its influence. Specialists called Ulamas aided in the interpretation of the law across the vast reaches of the Dar al Islam, providing a theoretical consistency in law across Islamic civilization, and judges called Qadis heard cases and settled disputes among Muslims. These two types of specialists provided a protective systematic framework of trade dispute settlement, encouraging merchants to engage in trade due to lower risks associated with trade. The emergence of credit and banks also occurred across the Dar al Islam, which sped up trade by allowing merchants to borrow from a future profit and overcome a time limitation when trading goods. Additionally, Islam itself has a positive view of mercantilism, because its founder himself, Muhammad, was a merchant. Regional differences in trade include the type of goods traded in the regions influenced by the Islamic world. In West Africa, salt was traded along Trans-Saharan routes. In northern Europe, Muslims traded with members of the Hanseatic League for furs. On the Swahili Coast, influenced by Islam, bulk items like spices were transported across Indian Ocean routes.

4.    Arab and Berber migrations across North Africa were facilitated by the movement of people and goods, such as ivory, gold, and slaves, along Trans-Saharan trade routes. This trade was facilitated by the introduction of the camel, which had remarkable adaptations to arid climates, as well as the camel saddle, which allowed the camel to carry valuable goods by distributing the weight of cargo evenly across its back. This increased the volume and efficiency of Trans-Saharan trade, and as this trade increased, the ethnic groups participating in this trade, including the Arabs and the indigenous African Berber tribes, migrated across North Africa and came into contact with one another.

5.    Muslim Merchant diasporic communities formed in the Indian Ocean region; for example, an enclave of Muslim merchants could be found living in Calicut on the coast of South Asia. The effect of the establishment of these communities was cross-cultural exchange between South Asian people and Muslim merchants who took up residency near important Indian Ocean trade hubs, as well as the facilitation of trade between the Muslim world and South Asia, because diasporic communities served as links for  merchants from different regions that bridged the ethnic and cultural gaps between two regions.

6.    Because of the Dar al Islam, Indian numerals and the concept of zero diffused to other cultures and became what we know as “Arabic numerals” today. Greek thought was also preserved by the network of Muslim schools, and as the Dar al Islam came into contact with Western Europe during that region’s Dark Ages, Muslims reintroduced Europeans to their own culture; for example, translations of the works of Aristotle were transported from Baghdad to areas of Europe. The technology of the astrolabe was also invented by Muslims and diffused throughout trade routes because of its use by maritime merchants to determine position relative to the horizon. The Chinese compass, or “south-pointing needle” was an invention adopted by the Dar al Islam, which was then spread along trade routes via its use in trade. The camel saddle, which increased efficiency of land-based trade in arid environments, as well as the lateen sail and the Hindu dhow, which increased the efficiency of maritime trade, were also adapted and diffused by the Muslim world.

7.    Intellectually, the coming of Islam to Iberia reintroduced Greek thought, including the ideas of philosophers such as Aristotle, to the area. Architecturally, the influence of Islam in Iberia was evidenced by the presence of mosques, the inclusion of ribbed vault designs as structural support and as added emphasis to dramatic heights in places of worship (as in the mosque Cordoba), and the building of minarets, a style of tower with Islamic origins. Culturally, the coming of Islam suppressed some of the rights of the Christians and Jews living in Iberia, but these groups were not prevented from practicing their faith, and still had some religious freedom, even if it was regulated. Since Islam in Iberia did not outright prevent Christianity or Judaism, the cultural consequence of its incursion was a mix of three different cultures and religions which coexisted in one region.

8.    Sugar, cotton, and citrus fruits, which were improved or developed in India, are some of the main crops which spread across the Dar al Islam. The economic effect of the exchange of these important crops between Arabia, the Middle East, North Africa, and Iberia was an increase in interregional commerce and the establishment of these crops as important local and international exports of the Islamic empires.

9.    While Islam in its original form treated women as the equals of men, gender roles changed as Islam was influenced by other cultures. After Islamic incursion into the territory of the degrading Sassanid empire, Muslims absorbed many Persian cultural practices, including the practice of veiling women, which had its origins in Mesopotamian culture. This practice indicated the heightening patriarchy of Islam. From such cultural practices, it can be seen that, as a consequence of Islam, gender roles changed such that men were seen as superiors to women.

10.    The journals of Ibn Battuta exhibit the syncretism between Muslim beliefs and indigenous beliefs such as animism and shamanism as the influence of Islam expanded across regions. This syncretism can be seen in Ibn Battuta’s shock at the religious practices of Africans which were not purely Islamic; for example, women participated in commerce and conversed with men whom they were not related to.

Byzantine Empire

1.    The Byzantine Empire was highly centralized under an emperor endowed with both political and religious authority. The empire’s official religion, Orthodox Christianity, allowed it to operate under a system of Caesaropapism, where the emperor served as the political head of state as well as the head of the Orthodox Church. It combined political traditions from its past by instituting a system of law, an idea borrowed from the Romans. Roman laws were updated by discarding those that were obsolete to develop the Code of Justinian, which like Roman law before it, centralized a large empire comprised of a diverse group of people by establishing order and security across the extents of Byzantine influence. Justinian, the creator of this code of law, infused it with the Byzantine empire’s own innovations by synthesizing his code with Christian morality and Christian views on issues such as divorce, homosexuality, and adultery. The idea of Caesaropapism in which the emperor was given both political and religious authority was also an invention of the Byzantine empire.

2.    The Byzantine empire facilitated trade by increasing the number and diversity of the groups of people participating in trade as the empire expanded. In the classical period, emperor Justinian’s temporary conquest of parts of Northern Africa and Italy connected the Byzantine capital Constantinople with trade hubs like Alexandria in Egypt, Tripoli, Crete, and Sicily. The Byzantine empire was also a source of grain and textile imports for the Italian city-states, and it connected Arabia to Mediterranean trade. Additionally, the Byzantines influenced the importance of Kiev in Russia as a commercial city due to its position connecting Constantinople to the fur trade in Novgorod and Scandinavia.

3.    In the Byzantine empire, the emperor, endowed with both religious and political power, held the highest societal status, and under him in social status were generals who were in charge of a military district and oversaw the administration and defense of a province, or theme. The lower class which was obedient to a general controlling a theme consisted of free peasants, who served as soldiers under the general in exchange for land. This system, called the theme system, was a form of labor which provided peasants with an incentive for increased grain production and provided a reason for loyalty to their general, as they were serving in the military to defend their own land.

4.    Byzantine culture came to influence Kiev, Russia, and Novgorod through the relay trade of tools and other goods in exchange for furs along trade routes between Constantinople and Novgorod that passed through Kiev. Byzantine monotheism came to influence Russia when Vladimir I, the leader of Kievan Rus, realized the incredible power of monotheism in centralizing an empire, and converted to Orthodox Christianity. This Byzantine religion was most appealing to him because it allowed the consumption of alcohol unlike Islam, and it came from a centralized empire rather than the Roman Catholicism of the fallen, decentralized, western half of the Roman empire. From this influx of Byzantine influence also came the Byzantine idea of Caesaropapism, which allowed the Russian leader to have both political and religious power, establishing him as a strong leader.

5.    Free peasant revolts in the Byzantine empire were caused by peasant dissatisfaction with the taxes that they had to pay. As the economic stability of the Byzantine empire declined, the tax burden on the peasants increased as the government desperately sought to support its military. This increased tax burden made it hard for peasants to keep their land, and this struggle was coupled with increased greed from nobles who wanted to take land away from free peasants and force them into Serfdom. Thus, revolts such as the one led by Basil the Copper Hand, who was punished for impersonating a dead general by having his hand removed, arose, though they were shut down by the Byzantine army which greatly outmatched the peasant armies.

China’s Recovery and Influence

1.    Emperor Yangdi of the Sui dynasty facilitated economic growth by mobilizing hundreds of thousands of peasants to undertake a massive engineering project; the peasants built the Grand Canal which connected the Yellow River in northern China to the Yangtze river in the south. This connected the populated north of China to the rich, fertile land in the south, bringing enormous agricultural surplus to the north and allowing the government to project its power into the south and tax this wealthy area.

2.    The Tang dynasty borrowed the political tradition of a Confucian bureaucracy from the Han dynasty that existed in the classical period, because it was an effective means of centralizing power by using officials whose livelihood depended upon obedience to the government rather than using aristocrats whose interests were local. The Tang also reinstated the civil service exam to evaluate students of Confucian philosophy who aspired to a job in the bureaucracy. While noting the successes of the previous Han dynasty, the Tang also realized the weaknesses of the Han empire, and so they combined their borrowed techniques with innovations of their own. The Tang prevented the peasant revolts that had caused the downfall of the Han dynasty by establishing the Equal Field System, a system of taxation which distributed land to families based on their need and the fertility of the land. Essentially, the government owned all land and simply temporarily lent it to farmers, and this government ownership of land prevented unequal distribution of land that occurred when a disproportionate amount of land fell into the hands of the wealthy aristocrats in China.

4.    The Tang Emperor of China sent out numerous military expeditions to the northwest in order to defend Chinese borders against nomadic peoples, and to gain control over trade routes to the west. The expeditions were halted by the Abbasid dynasty at the battle of Talas but brought new ethnic groups into Chinese cities. These ethnic groups served as a link between China and the people of the Central Asian Steppes, and allowed for China’s capital, Chang’an, to become encompassing of a wide variety of groups of people, with large communities of non-Chinese citizens who lent money, owned shops, and traded various goods and Buddhist relics. The creation of paper money during the Song Dynasty also facilitated trade, as these paper notes, known as “flying money”, were less bulky and easier to carry than huge stacks of copper coins, thus increasing the efficiency of trade. The Song government standardized paper money in 1024 and provided a serial number on each note.

5.    Buddhism diffused from Tang China into Korea and Japan via China’s military expansion and establishment of Korea as a tributary state as well as by cross-cultural exchange occurring along trade routes in which China had a large presence. As Buddhism diffused to Korea and Japan, it was modified in such a way that the Buddha himself came to be revered as a god, and it also flourished more in Korea and China as it was not synthesized with patriarchal and hierarchal views of social structure present in Confucian-influenced China. Thus, Buddhism became much more liberal in Korea and Japan in its promotion of gender equality and social equality as anyone could obtain spiritual peace by following the eightfold path recommended by Buddhism.

6.    As a result of Tang incursions in Southeast Asia and China’s temporary conquest of Vietnam, champa rice diffused into China. This rice increased agricultural production in China by allowing more than one rice harvest to be planted in a season. The capabilities of champa rice to increase production would be even more profoundly embraced by the Song dynasty, which produced massive agricultural surpluses that fueled intense urbanization. Exchange between China and India that influenced Chinese “Southernization” introduced the crops of sugar, indigo, and cotton to China as well. As a result, sugar became an important crop cultivated in southern China, and the establishment of cotton and indigo cultivation gave rise to the blue-black clothing worn by Chinese peasants.

7.    The Tang introduced the Equal Field System, a system of taxation which distributed land to peasant families based on their need and the fertility of the land. In this system, the government owned all land and simply distributed it out to farmers and reassessed the land when the patriarch of a farming family died. This practice of land distribution for the agricultural use of peasant families kept a disproportionate amount of land from falling into the hands of local aristocrats, thus preventing peasant revolts and the formation of local power bases.

8.    Japan intentionally chose to attempt to emulate Chinese state practices in the Taika Reforms, in which they sought to establish Confucianism and a bureaucracy similar to that of China, with an army comprised of peasant soldiers whose ultimate service was to the emperor. They also introduced the equal field system of agricultural structure in an attempt to mimic the success of the Tang Dynasty.

9.    Peasants revolted in China because they were tired of Mongol rule after the establishment of the Yuan Dynasty under Kublei Khan, and their resentment was worsened by the constant flooding of the Yellow River, coupled with other natural disasters. In the 1340s, the Red Turban Rebellion began, and after 30 years of war against the Mongols, who were already constantly fighting themselves, the peasants successfully ousted the Mongols and a Buddhist monk claimed the mandate of heaven and established the Ming Dynasty.

10.    The Song took advantage of a new variety of rice, Champa rice, from Vietnam, which could bring in two to three harvests in a single season, allowing them to produce the same surpluses as the Tang on a much smaller territory. The massive agricultural surpluses produced led to a population surge in China from about 45 million people during the Sui dynasty to 150 million during Song rule. Densely populated cities began to form, and China became highly urbanized, with its cities featuring gardens, city squares with guards, taverns, bars, luxury shop items, brothels, teahouses, restaurants, and large markets.

11.    Xian, also known as Chang’an, played a large role in trade because it was the eastern end of the Silk Roads, through which flowed valuable luxury commodities, and it was the northern end of the Grand Canal, which allowed the transfer of lucrative agricultural products cultivated in southern China to the more densely populated north and to other civilizations via interregional trade routes. The cosmopolitan nature of Chang’an also made it home to many different ethnic groups and diasporic communities that facilitated trade by providing a link of familiarity to visiting merchants from foreign civilizations.

12.    During Song rule, Confucianism changed to become more actively patriarchal, with increased suppression of the role of women in society. Though Confucianism in the past already taught a gentle patriarchy in which a woman was subordinate to her husband and sons, the advent of Neo-Confucianism during the Song dynasty heightened the position of women as subordinates to men; one Neo-Confucian inspired saying, for example, is “A woman’s duty is not to control or take charge.” This change implies a social change in gender roles, an increased patriarchal society in China.

Western Europe

1. During this time period, Western Europe was extremely politically decentralized. The idea of Feudalism as a form of governance arose in this period of decentralization, as Viking and Magyar invasions of Western Europe made the need for security clear. This form of governance provided security by placing peasants known as Serfs under the administration of a landlord who funded a class of knights that protected the Serfs in exchange for obligatory agricultural work and occasionally military service from the peasant class. Western Europe was once united under an emperor, Charlemagne, whose political power was legitimized by the ideology of the divine right of kings, the idea that the king is given the right to rule by God himself. Charlemagne was crowned emperor by the Roman Catholic Pope himself.

2.    Environmental factors which stimulated agricultural production in Europe included natural irrigation provided by abundant rainfall in the spring and summer. The introduction of the heavy plow in Western Europe increased agricultural production by allowing farmers to cultivate the wet European lowlands and plow heavy soils. Additionally, the use of oxen allowed for the pulling of heavy plows and contributed to the communal nature of agriculture and animal husbandry up until the French Revolution. The three-field rotation system also stimulated agricultural production in Europe by dividing arable land into three fields with crops rotated in a three year cycle, where seasonal plantings occupied two fields and one field was left fallow. This was a more efficient method of agricultural production as compared to the classic Mediterranean two-field farming system.

3.    The Crusades were militarily a huge disaster for Christians; however, they allowed for Western Europeans to come into contact with the Dar al Islam, and vicariously, through the Dar al Islam, with Asia. They were introduced for the first time to coffee, tea spices, Arabic numbers (which made commerce more efficient), silk, and sugar, important staples of trade between Asia and the Islamic world. Pepper became used as a show of one’s culture and status in Europe if one could eat ground pepper, and it was also believed to be an aphrodisiac. Games such as chess diffused to Western Europe as a result of the Crusades, which were synthesized with Feudalism and adopted into European culture. The introduction and cultivation of spinach and beans also contributed to Europe’s economic revival by providing a supplement for meat. Contact with Muslims during the Crusades also served to reintroduce Western Europe to its own culture in the form of the works of Greek philosophers such as Aristotle which had been translated and studied in the Islamic world.

4.    Urbanization expanded with increased agricultural production due to clearance that allowed an increase in the amount of arable land; this increased agricultural production led to an increase in population that expanded urbanization. The introduction of new technologies and agricultural techniques facilitated this expansion. However, climate change such as the Little Ice Age, a period of cooling which negatively affected agricultural output, the spread of disease such as the bubonic plague, and agricultural decline due to a lack of political authority that provided security, caused the contraction of urbanization as cities declined.

5.    Labor was organized in Feudal Western Europe as a system of coerced labor, a means of forcing a subordinate to do work for a superior, known as Serfdom. In this system, the lowest class, known as Serfs, worked a certain plot of land as a form of tax under the rule of a Lord who protected them with a class of knights in return for their labor.

6.    Trade leagues were created during this time such as the Hanseatic League of northern European states, in which the nations participating protected trade and provided economic unity to the region. The Hanseatic League had its own court system to settle trade disputes, and in would protect any of its members with a collaborative military force gathered from other members of the league. This protection of trade and the introduction of economic unity to the area increased the efficiency of the trade of furs, timber, and fish from the area.

7.    In the Italian peninsula, an organization of city-states played a large role in Mediterranean trade. These city-states could become rather large as they prioritized gaining control over the contado, the region surrounding the key city of the Italian city-state. These individual city-states were decentralized but dominated the trade in luxury goods in the 14th century and managed trade along Mediterranean routes in the postclassical period.

8.    In Roman Catholicism, Mary’s importance endowed women with cultural prestige, and women in Western Europe had a higher societal role than their Muslim and Byzantine counterparts. Women played important roles in craft guilds and commerce in Western Europe, though they still did not have property rights, and the ‘gentle patriarchy’ taught in Christianity (such as the notion that wives should submit to their husbands as their superiors) was still present in Western Europe.

Mongols and Nomads

1.    The Mongols were able to overcome tribal loyalties via complex military organization. Genghis Khan organized fighting men into an arban, a group of ten soldiers who lived, fought, and trained together, and he purposefully chose men for an arban that were members of different tribes. Loyalty for these soldiers thus became the arban rather than their tribal identities, because they formed tight bonds by facing life or death situations together. Their loyalty was also reinforced by the rules of engagement which stated that if one member of the arban fled in battle, the other nine soldiers would be executed, and if one member was captured by the enemy, the other nine couldn’t return from battle until he was rescued. Genghis Khan also encouraged his generals to intermarry with women of conquered tribes, which blended bloodlines and made it difficult to identify with a singular tribe. By overcoming tribal identities, the Mongols were able to centralize their empire under complex military organization and blended bloodlines; this centralization, coupled with incredible military power, especially that of the Mongolian cavalry, established the power of the Mongol empire.

2.    The Mongol empire was organized into a basic dynastic rule, in which the most powerful members of the empire were Genghis Khan’s direct relatives, known as the “Golden Kin”. These elites used intermediaries in a bureaucracy to rule their vast empire. Local elites of conquered people would serve as a connection between the Golden Kin and their respective regions. Below these local elites were peasants and craftsmen who performed the labor and made goods in the vast Mongol empire. The Mongols devised a fixed system of taxes which they imposed upon peasants to support their empire, which eventually led to peasant unrest and revolts such as that of the Red Turban rebellion in China.

3.    The Black death was spread across Eurasia because of the Mongols, whose migrations transferred the Bubonic plague from China across Eurasia to Italian merchants and other groups across a vast reach of land. The Mongols also spread the technologies of gunpowder, of Chinese origins (it was discovered by Daoist alchemists), and block printing, also of Chinese origins, across the expanses of Eurasia that it controlled.

4.    The Mongol Empire, for the first time, unified the entire extent of the Silk Roads under a single empire. In this empire, trade was protected by the Mongol code of law known as the Great Yassa, and trade was streamlined by the destruction of unnecessary cities along Eurasian trade routes. This process resembled that of pruning a tree of unnecessary branches, allowing the ‘branches’ or cities that remained to be trade hubs of increased importance. Overall, the destruction of unnecessary cities and the protection of trade under a codified system of law increased the efficiency of trade across Mongol-controlled Eurasia and decreased the risks associated with trade.

West Africa

1.    The migration of Bantu-speaking people across Africa, which lasted for about 2000 years, influenced the cultural and linguistic basis of Sub-Saharan Africa. This migration allowed ironmaking technology and crops such as bananas to diffuse across Sub-Saharan Africa, and allowed also for the diffusion of language. In Africa, greater than 300 languages are spoken that have their origins in the Bantu language, including Swahili, a supposed blend of Bantu and Arabic, spoken on the East coast of Africa. The root language of the Bantu people created a common linguistic structure across African dialects which allowed for some mutual understanding between tribes.

2.    The economic consequence of the spread of Islam into West Africa was increased trade in the region in gold, ivory, salt, and slaves. The religion of Islam greatly facilitated trade wherever it spread because it was welcoming of merchants and its Sharia law protected the endeavors of merchants. Politically, the introduction of Islam brought about the formation of the first African empires, such as Ghana, because the monotheistic religion broke the tribal identities of various African groups, which were based upon loyalties to various polytheistic gods, and Islam endowed a leader with religious, military, and political power under a single figurehead. Socially, the introduction of Islam did not have  much effect on the role of women, as women continued to participate in commerce and interact with their male counterparts, a shock to Muslim travellers such as Ibn Battuta. Culturally, the values of Islam were synthesized with previous cultural practices in Africa; this was upsetting to Ibn Battuta as the religious practices of Africans were not wholly Islamic.

3.    In West Africa, centralized forms of governance emerged with the introduction of the first empires, including Ghana and Mali. The introduction of these empires was facilitated by the spread of Islam, which allowed a leader to embody religious, political, and military power in a single figurehead. In Ghana, kings from the Soninke family ruled the empire and asserted their power through the claim that the Soninke king personally had rights over all gold nuggets, which became a form of taxation in the empire. In the Mali empire, kings called Mansas ruled a centralized empire, and their strong rule provided security, as noted by Ibn Battuta after his visit to the capital of Mali in 1352.

4.    Economically, Timbuktu, located on the north bend of the Niger River, was of importance because it was a gateway that connected Sub-Saharan Africa to trade across the Sahara Desert. It was an important hub for the trade of salt and gold, two of Africa’s most important items of commerce. Religiously, Timbuktu was important as a city of Islamic scholarship. The mosque in Timbuktu had a library where Muslim scholars, theologists, and jurists could study.

The Americas

1.    Among the Incans, a highly centralized form of governance emerged in which a powerful ruler called an Inca was believed to have a godlike status. This Inca also owned all land across the empire, theoretically at least, and extended his power to his subjects through an elaborate bureaucratic system. The Inca further established his preeminence through the building of an elaborate system of roads. The Aztecs were also ruled by a central ruler, a monarch, in Tenochtitlan, but unlike the Inca, this monarch did not have absolute power. The Aztecs also did not have an elaborate bureaucratic system like the Incans, but rather there was a council of aristocrats who would make decisions. Unlike the Inca, who established legitimacy through elaborate infrastructure and religious prestige, the legitimacy of Aztec rule was established by military victories and elaborate rituals, and by an achievement-based system in which members of the military were given rewards and prestige for furthering the Aztec cause.

2.    In the Maya and Aztec civilizations, prodigious temples were built in cities, and so these cities served as the sites for religious ceremonies, such as human sacrifice to these cultures’ various gods, that were central to their civilization. In the Incan civilization, cities also held cultural importance as they were sites of large, ornate temples. Economically, Mesoamerican cities facilitated trade, as is seen in the connection of the Incan capital of Cuzco to all other parts of the empire via an elaborate system of roads and bridges. Mesoamerican cities could also be centers of agricultural production, as seen in Aztec Tenochtitlan, where the chinampa agricultural method was put to use, and beds of mud were raised out of lake Texcoco to grow crops such as maize and the cacao bean.

3.    Mesoamerican networks of trade were connected via an elaborate system of roads, such as the Inca system of roads which is 25,000 miles in length. Mesoamerican networks of trade tended to be land-based and did not extensively take advantage of beasts of burden as seen in land-based Eurasian trade. Along these trade routes, luxury items with a high value to bulk ratio, such as gemstones, exotic bird feathers, turquoise, and cacao were traded among regions.

4.    The Peruvian waru waru agricultural innovation helped support large populations in the high altitude Andes regions where water was scarce. By raising up soil beds, the Peruvians allowed fluvial water, or rainwater, to collect around their crops, thus preventing drought, providing a means of irrigation, controlling erosion, and ultimately allowing for increased agricultural production that could support larger populations. In Mesoamerica, the Aztecs developed the chinampa agricultural system, a process of scraping up mud from the bottom of Lake Texcoco into small islands of arable land, essentially the opposite of the system used in Andean regions. The chinampa system of agriculture allowed for the cultivation of maize, beans, squash, tomatoes, and peppers in the wetland environment of the lake upon which the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, was built.

5.    In the Andean region, a new form of coerced labor known as mita emerged, a system of Incan Corveé labor, or unpaid, obligatory labor. Mita labor was a type of tribute owed to the Inca government; often this was the completion of large state projects. For women, tribute could be given in the form of pottery, jewelry, or textiles.

Interregional Networks and Exchanges

1.    In China, Trans-Eurasian trade was facilitated by the inclusion of many ethnic groups into major trade hubs such as Chang’an, which allowed merchants to more comfortably trade in the area due to links of cultural familiarity in foreign areas of exchange. The Byzantine empire facilitated Trans-Eurasian trade by serving as a connection between the Arab and Mediterranean world with the Bosporus channel, trading furs with members of the Hanseatic League in Northern Europe, and broadening the diversity of the groups of people participating in Trans-Eurasian trade as its empire expanded. The Islamic Caliphates facilitated trade by encompassing the expanses of the Dar al Islam under a single system of Sharia law which protected merchants and provided a consistent method of trade dispute settlement; in a similar fashion, the Mongol empire, which controlled the entirety of the Silk Road routes at its height, facilitated trade by protecting merchants under the Mongol code of law, the Great Yassa, which applied to the entire length of the Silk Roads.

2.    The formation of caravanserai along the Silk Roads improved caravan trade by giving traveling merchant caravans a place to rest and swap animals for the next leg of their journey if needed, as well as providing merchants with food and water in the extreme conditions of central asia. The invention of camel saddles improved caravan trade along the silk roads by increasing the volume of goods that could be carried along the routes, and the practice of animal husbandry with the Bactrian and Dromedary camel produced an animal which was well-suited to travel along the harsh climate of the Silk Road routes, with increased stamina and a longer life, increased the volume and efficiency of Silk Road trade as well.

3.    Between 600 and 1450, one factor which increased commercial activity was the creation of forms of currency, issued and legitimized by a government. The issuing of a currency meant that people could exchange any good with anyone when they desired to sell it; the recipient of the good did not need to have another item to barter that was desired by the seller of a good. The introduction of paper currency further increased commercial activity as it was a form of currency that was less bulky and cumbersome to carry than metal coins, and it was thus safer and more efficient to exchange and carry across long distances. The introduction of systems of banking and credit further increased commercial activity by allowing merchants to borrow from a future profit to make present transactions, increasing the rate of commerce. Commercial activity was also increased during this time by the formation of trade leagues or alliances such as the Hanseatic League, which protected trade with a court system and  military force in all the Northern European states which it encompassed. In the centralized states of Eastern Eurasia, the management of state commercial projects such as China’s Grand Canal also increased commercial activity.

4.    The transfer of disease took place along trade routes; for example, the spread of the Bubonic Plague or Black Death across Eurasia was facilitated by the interregional movement of people along trade routes during the expansion of the Mongol empire, which brought the plague from China across Eurasian trade routes to Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and then to Italian merchants who spread it to Western Europe.

5.    One state-produced currency in this time period was the paper currency of the Song dynasty, which affected the economy by making trade more efficient. This currency was less heavy and bulky than metal coins and therefore less cumbersome to carry, making long-distance trade more efficient and safe, as merchants did not have to carry large quantities of heavy coins.

6.    The south-pointing needle, or compass, originated in China and was utilized by Muslim maritime merchant who allowed for its spread to other areas across Eurasia. The astrolabe was a Muslim invention which also diffused along maritime trade routes due to its use in determining one’s location at sea. The astrolabe and compass greatly increased the efficiency of maritime trade. The camel saddle, most likely of Arabian origins, diffused along land-based routes especially in arid climates like that of Northern Africa and Sub-Saharan africa. The camel saddle greatly increased the volume of land-based trade by allowing a camel to be loaded with a large quantity of items. Paper-making technologies also diffused along trade routes after the Muslims learned the secrets of papermaking from Tang China at the battle of Talas. The diffusion of papermaking technology had a profound impact on the intellectual development of civilizations by allowing documents and books to be produced.

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