In the time period from 1000 B.C.E. – 500 C.E., large civilizations developed in present-day China and India, as well as in the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Northeast Africa. Many of these civilizations became major empires that spanned large portions of Afroeurasia.
These empires were organized around a core city center but reached well beyond urban areas through trade and imperial expansion over time.
People in these empires developed governments and militaries as well as networks for transportation and trade that connected diverse peoples across Afroeurasia.
A somewhat different version of empire was developing independently in the Americas during the same time period.
Lesson 2: What is the Recipe for an Empire: A Comparative Analysis
Era 3 was characterized by the rise of a series of important, large empires throughout Afroeurasia. These empires shared several significant characteristics.
Empires did not start from scratch; they emerged where large civilizations were already developed and where there were sufficient human and natural resources. Empires often changed hands, were conquered, or were absorbed by new empires.
Empires depended upon strong leadership and large armies. In addition, bureaucratic systems – systems of rules and government – were needed to control large territories and lots of people.
The development of trade and trade networks – especially roads – was important and ongoing and led to the exchange of goods as well as ideas and cultures.
Lesson 4: Social Hierarchy and Slavery in the Ages of Empires
With civilization and the development of empires, human societies also developed complex social hierarchies with small groups of people controlling most of the resources and power.
Slavery was part of these early social hierarchies, and slaves were at the bottom of the hierarchy. Slavery developed along with civilization, specialization, the development of agriculture, and a growing desire for cheap labor.
Slavery was organized differently in different places and at different times, but always revolved around forced labor and the unequal treatment of certain groups of people. In empires like Rome, slavery became an important part of the overall economy.
Slavery affected people differently, depending upon their place in the social hierarchy.
Lesson 5: The Emergence and Spread of World Religions
As larger civilizations formed at the end of Era 2 and the beginning of Era 3, new opportunities arose for the development and spread of common belief systems, both philosophies and world religions, which could appeal to a wide range of people.
The religions were “world religions” in that they united people with different cultures across different places. World religions are portable, as opposed to local religions that are more rooted to a specific place, and they spread through networks of contact and exchange.
These world religions offered belief systems that appealed to many people. For example, they offered salvation or new life in different forms to all people, even the poor. They also provided common values and practices that shaped government and facilitated trade and communication across different cultural regions.
Lesson 7: Connections and Contacts in Era 3: Exchanging Ideas & Technologies
Life during the Age of Empires in Afroeurasia (Era 3) was also characterized by increasing contact and connection that spread ideas, belief systems, commercial goods, and technologies between peoples across this vast region.
These exchange networks also connected people across different ecological zones; for example, nomadic peoples of the Asian steppes were in contact with agricultural peoples in river valley areas.
Stable empires needed ever-increasing access to new resources and ideas, so they created the conditions that allowed for trade to expand.
As exchanges increased, so did collective learning across the region. Technologies developed and spread, including iron, which lead to marked changes in human societies.
This unit explores the development and emergence of empires during the era from 1000 B.C.E. to 500 C.E. A focus is placed on the concept of empire and factors influencing the rise and fall of empires. One of the big challenges of this – and most units in history – is for the students to see connections within and among the content. The great danger is that this becomes a cultural or civilizational/empire cavalcade: one week we’re in classical China and the next week we’re in Ancient Rome. So, the teachers’ challenge is to keep the focus on the world historical problem: (1) What new forms of human community developed during this time and what were their characteristics? (2) What was the impact of new social organizations – particularly empires and world religions? (3) What factors led to the development of empires and how did they change human organization and interaction?
One of the tendencies for teachers is to emphasize the differences. They focus on some of the most interesting empires and delve deeply into topics highly interesting to students, such as the role of gladiators in Rome, styles of weapons and warfare, interesting cultural practices or differences between empires in different regions. To what end are these interesting tidbits taught? A focus on distinctive practices or famous leaders can, in many cases, lead to a lack of attention to the larger common patterns across empires. Again, we are looking at differences, but world history focuses on the larger human story – the story we all share.
In this unit we look at the common problems that people living at this time faced and the related factors that lead to the development of large-scale empires and the emergence of portable and more generalized belief systems. In this context, we focus on empires and the key characteristics that make a civilization into an empire. Further, we want students to understand how empires develop and how patterns of leadership, social hierarchy, technology development, and societal interactions changed in the process. Thus, the unit begins with connections back to the previous era and a brief review of the growth of civilization in Mesopotamia. Using this region as an example, students grapple with the characteristics of an empire.
As students proceed through the lessons, they use both timelines and maps to “see” changes in civilizations, and to investigate scale and the impact of geography on people and the formation of empires. They also engage with a range of primary documents to get a sense of social hierarchy, belief systems, and government during this era. Overall then, students develop an understanding of the historical concept of empire as it existed in this era and use specific case studies of empires, emperors, and other historical events/patterns to form a broad understanding of the global pattern in Afroeurasia during Era 3. At the end of the unit, students spend some time learning about societies in the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, and Oceania and compare their development to the growth of the Afroeurasian empires.