Age of Empires - World Overview

          After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, conditions in Europe began to get worse. For this reason the period is often called the dark ages. Gradually, a new way of life called feudalism developed. Religion became so important the great Western armies marched toward Jerusalem to fight in the Crusades.

            It was also during this time that the religion of Islam came into being. Marked changes in China and Japan also occurred.


What happened to Eastern Europe?

            When the Western part of the Roman Empire fell to the invading German tribes the eastern part of the Roman Empire remain strong. The eastern capital city of Constantinople was a thriving trading city. The government was well organized, and the leadership was firm. The Eastern Roman Empire, too, accepted the Christian religion.

              After the split, the Eastern Roman Empire changed. Its name changed, too. The world began to know it as the Byzantine Empire. Traders from the Byzantine Empire went all over the world. Not only did they bring back cloth and spices they also brought back new ideas. These ideas became part of the Byzantine way of life.  The language changed also. Greek took place of Latin. As the church became the Orthodox Church. This religion eventually spread as far as Russia.

            While the Byzantine Empire was taking back lands lost when Rome fell, something happened in the Arab lands. Mohammed who died in 632 AD had started a new religion, Islam. Followers of this religion are called Muslims. The rules for Islam are found in the Koran, the Muslim holy book. Muslims believe in one god, Allah. They pray to him five times a day. Muslims are to treat other Muslims as brothers. They are not to drink or gamble. The Muslims also believe it is their duty to show everyone the true way to worship God. Muslims are to bring people of other religions to Islam. If people won't join on their own, the Muslims feel they can use war to spread their religion.

            Muslim armies took away much of the Byzantine Empire. Muslims also conquered much of northern Africa. Then they left Africa and invaded Spain. The Muslims living in Spain were called Moors. The Muslims also took land as far to the east as India.

            In spite of their warlike ideas, the Muslims did much good. Their Arabic language is still used today. They built roads and even had a postal service. They read, studied, and copied the writings of the Greeks.  It was because of this copying that many Greek ideas were not lost when the Roman Empire fell. The Arabic number system they used is what we use today. Such stories as the Arabian Nights are popular to this day.

            Muslim traders also traveled all over the world they knew. They carried ideas as well as goods with them. In fact, the people of Arabia were much better educated at that time than the people of Europe. Their advances in mathematics, medicine, astronomy, chemistry, and navigation would not be matched in Europe for centuries.


What of India, China, and the Eastern world?

            When the Muslims reached India in 674, they found Buddhists and Hindus already there.  During the years that followed, India was weak or strong depending upon the ruler. After a time, India split into many little states. Some states follow Buddhism. Others became Muslim or Hindu. War after war between the states of different religions followed. India became even weaker. Later, when powerful outside nations decided to take over India, the country could not defend itself.

            China had many of the same problems. For example, the first Chinese Emperor burned all the books containing the teachings of Confucius. Shi Huangdi thought this would keep the ideas of Confucius from weakening the Chinese people.

            Up to this time, China had been broken into small areas. About 220 BC Shi Huangdi brought China together. He set up uniform money, laws, and taxes all over the country. He also began the Great Wall of China to protect his people from invaders from the North. The Great Wall was over 1,500 miles long, 20 feet high and wide enough for road on along the top.

            People disliked paying high taxes. They revolted against the government. New leaders took over. The country grew larger as armies captured more and more land. But to pay for the army, taxes were raised again.  The nation grew weak. Mongol invaders captured much of northern China.

            Buddhism became firmly rooted in China during the third century A.D. Confucianism regained its place of importance.

            New leaders gave the Chinese people a better and stronger government. The Mongols were driven back to the lands north of China. Beautiful works of art were created. Books were printed for the first time in the world. Schools improved. China quickly became a better place in which to live.

            Many of China's idea spread to the island nation of Japan. The people there changed Chinese ideas to fit their own needs. They started the Shinto religion. The nation of Japan was ruled by the Emperor with great power and a strong army. After using many of China's ideas, Japan became uninterested in communicating with other countries. Japan stayed very much to its self for about 600 years. Later the United States is one of the first nations to trade with Japan.


African empires prosper

          Muslim traders from the Middle East and North Africa discovered the farming peoples of west Africa. These Muslims crossed the Sahara to barter, or trade.

            By about 700, the Empire of Ghana grew up in West Africa. Using iron tools and weapons, the empire grew. By 1000, a covered over 100,000 mi.².

           Arab traders set up their own town near the capital of Ghana. These traders brought wool, copper, and salt to trade for gold, ivory, cotton, and slaves.

            Ghana's Kings made traders pay a tax on the goods they brought to Ghana. Traders had to pay more tax on the goods they took home. So much tax was collected to pay for the cost of running the government and for the armies in time of war.

           Ghana was a powerful empire until 1087, when it was defeated in war. Mali became the second great Empire in west Africa. Good laws helped small Mali prosper.

           Arab traders taught Mali about money and credit. They also brought reading and writing to Mali. In 1324, the mansa, or Emperor, made a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Arabia. The influence of the Arab traders was so great that their Muslim religion has now spread to West Africa.

The Mali Empire conquered most of what had been Ghana, as well as other lands. Trade made Mali rich, as traders came from as far as Europe seeking gold.

Just as Ghana failed, so did Mali. By 1464, the Songhai Empire ruled the old Mali lands. The Songhai emperor combined African and Muslim ideas. He divided his nation into provinces and chose governors to rule them. He kept a full-time army and even had a navy on the Niger River.

In 1591, an army with guns and cannons from Morocco in North Africa defeated the Songhais. Three great African empires have come and gone, but the influence of Muslim Arab traders was never forgotten.



Decide whether each statement about African empires is true or false.

1. Mali was the first west African Empire.

2. Most Africans followed the Muslim religion. The mansa was Emperor of the Songhai.

3. Salt was an item Arab traders brought to west Africa.

4. Ghana grew rich from taxing the traders.

5. The Songhai Empire fell to an Army with guns and cannons.

6. Arab traders introduced money and credit in Mali.

7. The people of Ghana did not know how to use iron.

8.  The Sonhai Empire was divided into provinces.


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