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Chapter Summaries


Hansen/Curtis, Voyages in World History, 1e, Ch03

Summary

Between 2600 BCE and 100 C.E. South Asia was usually not unified politically. During rare intervals of unity, such as the period of the Mauryan Empire, rule was decentralized. However, political fragmentation did not result in cultural disunity. Cultural elements, particularly Vedic [VAY-dick] religion and Buddhism [BOOD-iz-um], bound together people living under various rulers in different regions.

What evidence survives of social stratification at the Indus Valley Society sites? How did the Indo-Aryans [ARE-yunz] describe the social stratification in their society?

People of the Indus Valley Society (2600-1700 B.C.E.) lived in enormous, socially stratified cities. The wealthy built bigger houses and more lavish graves than the poor. Because their writing system remains undeciphered, we do not know exactly how they understood these social differences.

Between 1500 and 1000, the Indo-Aryans entered north India and created a forerunner of the modern caste system. The late hymns of the Rig Veda [RIG VAY-duh] equate four social groups, called varna, with parts of a mythic body: at the top, Brahmins [BRAH-minz] form the mouth, warriors, the arms, farmers and merchants, the thighs, and servants, the feet. Different people, even within South Asia, understood this system in various ways, and it evolved over time.

What were the main teachings of the Buddha?

The Buddha's teachings challenged the Vedic religious and social system. According to the Buddha, one could escape suffering through the Four Noble Truths. Buddhism welcomed members of all social groups. Merchants often embraced the religion because they could make large donations to the Buddhist order and thus improve their social position.

° Why did Ashoka [uh-SHO-kuh] believe that supporting Buddhism would strengthen the Mauryan [MORE-ee-ahn] state?

Ashoka made extensive donations to the Buddhist order because he wanted to realize the Buddhist ideal ruler. Presiding over a ceremonial state, Ashoka sponsored religious observances and building programs to encourage his subjects to support his dynasty. His approach influenced numerous subsequent rulers who hoped to lead by example.

• Who were the main actors in the Indian Ocean trade? What type of ships did they use? along which routes? to trade which commodities?

Although high mountains separated India from the rest of Eurasia in ancient times, people, goods, and ideas flowed into it. Carnelian [kar-NELL-ee-uhn] and lapis lazuli [LAP-iss LAZ-you-lee] from South Asia have been found in Mesopotamia and Egypt, suggesting active trade networks linking South Asia to the outside world in at least 2600 B.C.E. The trade continued long after the Mauryan collapse at the end of the second century B.C.E. Traders, both foreign and Indian, sailed to Indian Ocean ports in dhows and purchased a wide range of goods. Few traveled beyond India to China.

Unlike any South Asian ruler before or since, Ashoka erected stone pillars bearing his inscriptions all over his empire. Some forty years later, the founder of the Qin° [CHIN ] dynasty in China also carved pronouncements on gigantic rocks, as we shall see in the next chapter.



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