The age of past millennia has a vivid hold on our imagination. It was a world that is recognizably ours, yet exotic and romanticized. This is the chapter of Roman conquerors, Jesus Christ and the Buddha, and knights in shining armor. Despite a budding age of reason, it was still a world of magic in most people’s minds.
In classical education, many of our foundational ideas about the world came from the literature of the -1st millennium. Yet that was a time when history was still lost in the mists of mythology. Many ancient texts were a mish-mosh of fact and fancy, undated oral traditions, contemporary political concerns, and the world’s first philosophy. In a post-enlightenment world, it is important for us to understand the context behind ancient texts so we can read them with a critical eye.
The most powerful new forces of history in the last few millennia were empires and world religions. Section II discusses these institutions in the abstract. Sections III and IV chronicle the empires and world religions of ancient history, a time that was characterized by land-based expansion throughout Eurasia. The first “modern” empires established by European overseas colonialism are the subject of section VII. In between, section V discusses the “Middle Ages” in Eurasia. Section VI provides a rare look at the ancient – medieval history of the non-Eurasian world. Finally, section VIII turns to a different theme, the progress of reasoned thought, which is such a crucial lead-in to chapter 2.
To help visualize the scale of a millennium, imagine an hourglass 200 feet tall, about the height of the Tower of Pisa.
- King Arthur image by N. C. Wyeth (1922), Public domain. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Boys_King_Arthur_-N._C._Wyeth-_p16.jpg (accessed and saved 6/15/16). ↩
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