History Podcasts

Were there any well known royal dynasties that did not in some way cite religious mandate for their rule?

Were there any well known royal dynasties that did not in some way cite religious mandate for their rule?

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

Most of the royal rulers in the last 2000 years seemed to be strongly relying - as one of the sources of their power - on the notion that they hold "divine rule"/"sanction of god"/"mandate of heaven" etc…

Examples abound - from Pharaoh in Egypt to Christian monarchs in Europe to Chinese Emperors to even Alexander the Great's supposedly half-gold ancestry.

I was wondering if there was an example of a monarch who ruled 100% purely based on secular basis, with zero claims to religious mandate.

  • Ideally, should be a dynasty, e.g. a succession of heirs on the throne.

  • 20th century socialist/communist dictators don't count, even if Kim family of North Korea can be described as royalty from a certain angle.

  • If possible, I'd prefer a non-obscure and non-trivial example.

    A king of 2 villages with population totaling 500 people on some remote island is not quite what I was looking for.

    Let's say a lower bound is 50000-100000 subjects, a geographical area of at least 87 square kilometers (the size of Manhattan island if anyone cares), and the combined reign of the king and ideally his heirs exceeds 30-60 years.

King Cnut of Denmark once hosted an experiment that proved he was not divine, when the tide disobeyed his order. He had heirs too, separately for each throne, though.

Also, the entire culture of Japan in the middle-ages doesn't really approach the concept of divinity and God in the same way as Western culture did, so it could be argued that the Japanese emperor did not rule because of god, but because of his family connections. The Japanese emperors did gather their own divinity as time passed, as can be seen by Emperor Hirohito's denouncement of his divinity at the end of World War 2. So there is one emperor at least who is not there because of god, and made a point of denouncing the relation between the two.

Since the gods were thought to be creators of the world, it was quite difficult for ancient people to think the gods were unrelated to the power in some manner. Any leader (not only king but also a general) had to convince their people and soldiers that the gods were at least loyal to their side to maintain good morale. Also in the ancient states often the only two branches of power were the religious one and executive one, thus the inauguration was performed by the supreme priest as the second-important figure in the state.

That said, the Roman emperors did not claim the divine mandate. Their power was in theory delegated by the people and senate of Rome. You of course heard that they were proclaimed "divine" sometimes, but usually post-mortem, and this was a honor conferred by the decision of the senate (and did not imply the dead were gods but just god-like). There were also temples of the "Emperor's genius", genius being a minor god, personal protector of the emperor (all people were thought to possess a genius as well). That is the people just honored the personal protector of the emperor so that his life to be safe.

Some emperors just like other noble Romans traced their ancestry to gods, but this was never used to justify their special rights to the power.

But I am not sure that this case falls under your request because the empire was officially a republic until the reign of Heraclius who after he defeated the Sassanid Empire adopted the title "King of Kings" (Basileos Basileon) which was previously held by Khosrov II, the defeated Sassanid king. It should be noted meanwhile that adopting a foreign royal title was not that charged in Roman Empire/Republic where sometimes even republican officials could receive a royal title from local barbarian tribes as a sign of loyalty. Thus it could be argued that even after Heraclius the power was in theory delegated to the emperor by the three forces combined: the people, the army and the church (the first emperor whose coronation involved the Patriarch though was that of Leo I the Thracian, before Heraclius).

The eastern title "King of Kings" was not religious in nature though. It just meant the king was recognized as the supreme king by other peer kings.

If we look deeper in the history, the ancient Greek kings were just gens elders. Take for example, Sparte where initially was four and later two tribes with their respective "kings", the two considered the equal kings of Sparta. I think the most ancient concept of "king" was exactly that of a tribe's elder, the head of a family.

There was the rulers of the Gupta Empire. As I said in a previous answer, the empire existed from 3rd century A.D. and 550 A.D & the main dominant 'religion' of the empire was a nontheistic branch of Hinduism called classical Mimamsa that believes the gods only exist as ideas, not real beings, and doing rituals/social duties are how one lives a better life and represent dharma, so you literally couldn't claim to be a monarch because 'the gods wanted me on the throne'. The empire was about 660,000 square miles in size around 440 AD. Allahabad Pillar inscription mention that rulers of several frontier kingdoms all paid tribute the Gupta monarchs. These rulers, in turn, provided education, built roads, and issued money in the form of gold coins. The monarchs also remained leaders due to their military innovations which helped to protect the empire from enemies like the Huna peoples. So basically, being good logistic leaders, warriors, and scholars (as well as tolerance of minorities who didn't believe in their nontheistic Hindu philosophy) legitimized their rule.

There could be different notions of "god-santioned power" so I will list them.

  1. The king is thought to originate from gods by his ancestral line or claimed that the gods directly interacted with the originator of the dynasty and gave them the right to rule. This is the most strong idea of the god-santioned power.

  2. The gods consented to the king's rule. In many ancient republics and monarchies there was a rite after the king's election by the people and/or choosing the heir in a monarchy, which was intended to test whether the gods accepted and loyal to the pretender. It was usually a chance-based experiment through which the gods should express their will. This kind of god-santioned power meant that the gods were loyal only to the current ruler and not to the dynasty as a whole.

  3. There is a usual religious rite of becoming a king, like a marriage for example. The ceremony does not mean the gods somehow support exactly this ruler, but rather intended to make the ruler to take responsibility before the face of the god(s). If he becomes a bad ruler, he may face punishment in afterlife. The ceremony usually takes form of an oath, promise, possibly involving a religious scripture. This form of rite is used in many modern republics as well, such as the United States for example, where the president makes an oath on the Bible.

I think the most ancient form was the form 2 which still can be found in savage tribes. This possibly came after some disasters or contested power which indicated that the gods were not always positive regarding the ruler.

The form 1 evidently came with rise of large national states where the idea of a king as a family leader did not work any more. The people (sometimes consisting of conquered peoples) heeded an explanation why this dynasty is better for all, not just for their relatives.

The third form originated from form 1 when the dynastic lineage was interrupted or with the order changed to the republic. The king was not able any longer base his power on a divine origin.

Sometimes the form 1 was skipped and form 2 directly converted to form 3 either when a capable ruler went into conflict with clergy who previously could manipulate the outcomes or when the society became multi-religious so that an oath before the own gods of the ruler could convince even those who belonged to a different religion that he will keep the promise.

Muslim monarchies generally don't rely on any divine mandate or right, just pragmatic concerns (i.e. obeying the ruler is the best way to preserve peace and ensure God's laws are implemented).

The ruler is expected to apply the divine law (Shari'ah) but this is a duty on the ruler and a condition for his legitimacy rather than vice versa. Generally, Muslim scholars/ideologists justified the right to rule on the basis of a ruler's ability to command loyalty from the centers of power, e.g. a powerful clan (this loyalty base was called shawka which roughly means strength or backbone). Naturally, nothing proves shawka better than actually winning power, and if your shawka is based around a clan than that will tie in nicely with hereditary rule.

It's then a question of Shari'ah law as to when it becomes permissible to revolt against a ruler who fails in his obligations but the consensus has always been that obedience is required except in the most extreme cases. For example the scholars of Islamic Iberia (Al-Andalus) supported deposing their local monarchs in favor of the Almoravids of Morocco because they believed the latter were the only hope for protecting the Muslims from the Christian kingdoms. In modern times, King Saud of Saudi Arabia was deposed by the royal family in favor of his brother Faisal. The religious scholars supported this decision and issued their own edict, which cited nothing more than the consensus of the royal family and the religious scholars and the need to avoid strife.

There were attempts to come up with something like a divine mandate, e.g. the jabriyya movement in the Umayyad era, which said that objecting to Umayyad rule was tantamount to objecting to God's will since he caused them to be in power, but this did not catch on. It was also said that the Mongol conqueror of Baghdad was warned that executing the last Abbasid caliph would bring forth calamities and divine retribution but other (Shi'ite) scholars reassured him that this had no basis. It was more of a folk belief than an official ideology.

Finally, I should mention that Twelver Shi'ism believes the twelve Imams to be divinely appointed, but this is purely theoretical; only the first two held political power (and the second one promptly abdicated “for the greater good”) and the doctrine was only formulated after their time.

See Patricia Crone, Medieval Islamic Political Thought and Hugh Kennedy, Caliphate: History of an Idea

All of them were blessed by the clergy, (if not, they would have too little power to be kings). So, in some way all had that mandate, because it was foolish not to get it. Maybe, somebody refused. So, we need an actively atheistic king… even in Napoleon's empire clergy blessed the power of the Emperor. I think, not only the king, but the rulers, who hadn't sacred power were early Bolshevik's chiefs - Sverdlov and Lenin. Because, they were sacred in their, communistic religion, they didn't need any blessing from the opponents.

An official king, that was not officially sacred (but had his blessings) was Jiri z Podebrad - the czech king after Husits' Wars. He was simply elected. ruled for 13 years. His son wasn't a king.

Most lesser rulers in the German Empire were not kings, but suit your demands. "Simple" counts, princes and so on. They were not sacred, could not heal by touch and so on. Their power over people was absolute, but not over clergy - it was too powerful there and then. And their countries were often larger than Manhattan or even Rod Island and a dozen had more than a million people.

Royal intermarriage

Royal intermarriage is the practice of members of ruling dynasties marrying into other reigning families. It was more commonly done in the past as part of strategic diplomacy for national interest. Although sometimes enforced by legal requirement on persons of royal birth, more often it has been a matter of political policy or tradition in monarchies.

In Europe, the practice was most prevalent from the medieval era until the outbreak of World War I, but evidence of intermarriage between royal dynasties in other parts of the world can be found as far back as the Late Bronze Age. [1] Monarchs were often in pursuit of national and international aggrandisement on behalf of themselves and their dynasties, [2] thus bonds of kinship tended to promote or restrain aggression. [3] Marriage between dynasties could serve to initiate, reinforce or guarantee peace between nations. Alternatively, kinship by marriage could secure an alliance between two dynasties which sought to reduce the sense of threat from or to initiate aggression against the realm of a third dynasty. [3] It could also enhance the prospect of territorial acquisition for a dynasty by procuring legal claim to a foreign throne, or portions of its realm (e.g., colonies), through inheritance from an heiress whenever a monarch failed to leave an undisputed male heir.

In parts of Europe, royalty continued to regularly marry into the families of their greatest vassals as late as the 16th century. More recently, they have tended to marry internationally. In other parts of the world royal intermarriage was less prevalent and the number of instances varied over time, depending on the culture and foreign policy of the era.

It was not until the study of genetics began in the early twentieth century that the harm caused by inbreeding was recognized. For modern observers, it is easy to see its relation to royal biological problems, most noticeably in the case of the last Spanish Habsburg monarch, Charles II of Spain, incapable of procreation and suffering from a pronounced underbite – the Habsburg jaw.


Emperor Taizu’s empire was one of military discipline and respect of authority, with a fierce sense of justice. If his officials did not kneel before him, he would have them beaten.

Taizu was considered a suspicious ruler who transformed his palace guard into a form of secret police to root out betrayals and conspiracies. In 1380 A.D., he began an internal investigation that lasted 14 years and brought about 30,000 executions.

So deep was his paranoia that he conducted two more such efforts, resulting in another 70,000 killings of government workers, ranging from high government officials to guards and servants.

What is Dynastic China?

People have lived in what is China today for two million years: the earliest human occupation in China is Niwehan, a Homo erectus site in Hebei province in northern China. A long Paleolithic period ended about 10,000 years ago, followed by Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods, ending about 2,000 years ago. Dynastic China, which is defined as the period in which powerful families ruled much of China, is traditionally marked as beginning with the Xia dynasty during the Bronze Age.

Like Egyptian chronology, with its "kingdoms" interlaced with intermediate periods, dynastic China faced various challenges that led to chaotic, power-shifting periods referred to by terms like "six dynasties" or "five dynasties." These descriptive labels are similar to the more modern Romans' year of the six emperors and year of the five emperors. Thus, for example, the Xia and Shang dynasties may have existed concurrently rather than one after the other.

The Qin Dynasty starts the imperial period, while the Sui Dynasty begins the period referred to as Classical Imperial China.


After the collapse of a united China under the Han dynasty in 220 due in large part to the Yellow Turban and the Five Pecks of Rice rebellions, China eventually coalesced into the Three Kingdoms. Of these, Cao Wei was the strongest, followed by Eastern Wu and Shu Han, but they were initially in a relatively stable formation. After a 249 coup by Sima Yi, the Sima family (司马氏) essentially controlled Cao Wei and the conquest of Shu by Wei rapidly followed.

Following a failed coup by the ruling Cao family against the Sima family, the final Cao ruler abdicated. Sima Yan then founded the Jin Dynasty as Emperor Wu of Jin and the conquest of Wu by Jin occurred in 280, ending the Three Kingdoms period and reuniting China.

The Jin dynasty was severely damaged after the War of the Eight Princes from 291–306. During the reigns of Emperor Huai and Emperor Min, the country was put into grave danger with the uprising of the northern non-Han people collectively known as the Five Barbarians, when numerous nomadic tribal groups resettled in China's north and northwest who had been heavily drafted into the military then exploited the civil wars to seize power. [2] Their armies almost destroyed the dynasty in the Disaster of Yongjia of 311, when the Five Barbarians sacked Luoyang. Chang'an met a similar fate in 316.

However, a scion of the royal house, Sima Rui, Prince of Langya, fled south of the Huai River to salvage what was left in order to sustain the empire, establishing himself as Emperor Yuan. Cementing their power in the south, the Jin established Jiankang on the existing site of Jianke (now Nanjing) as their new capital, renaming the dynasty as the Eastern Jin since the new capital was located southeast of Luoyang.

In the north, the Five Barbarians established numerous kingdoms, leading to the period being known as the Sixteen Kingdoms. Eventually, the Northern Wei conquered the rest of the northern states in 439. Although the Eastern Jin and successive southern dynasties were well-defended from the northern states by placement of naval fleets along the Yangtze, there were still various problems faced with building and maintaining military strength. The designation of specific households for military service in the tuntian system eventually led to a falling out in their social status, causing widespread desertion of troops on many occasions. Faced with shortage of troop numbers, Jin generals were often sent on campaigns to capture non-Chinese people in the south in order to draft them into the military. The Eastern Jin dynasty fell not because of external invasion, however, but because General Liu Yu seized the throne from Emperor Gong and establishing himself as Emperor Wu of Liu Song (r. 420–422), which officially began the Northern and Southern dynasties.

The Northern dynasties began in 439 when the Northern Wei conquered the Northern Liang to unite northern China and ended in 589 when Sui dynasty extinguished the Chen dynasty. It can be divided into three time periods: Northern Wei Eastern and Western Weis Northern Qi and Northern Zhou. The Northern, Eastern, and Western Wei along with the Northern Zhou were established by the Xianbei people while the Northern Qi was established by Sinicized barbarians.

In the north, local Han Chinese gentry clans had consolidated themselves by constructing fortified villages. A clan would carve out a de facto fief through a highly cohesive family-based self-defense community. Lesser peasant families would work for the dominant clan as tenants or serfs. This was a response to the chaotic political environment, and these Han Chinese gentry families largely avoided government service before the Northern Wei court launched the sinicization movement. The northern gentry was therefore highly militarized as compared to the refined southern aristocrats, and this distinction persisted well into the Sui and Tang dynasties centuries later. [3]

Rise of Northern Wei (386–535) and the Sinicization movement Edit

In the Sixteen Kingdoms period, the Tuoba family of the Xianbei were the rulers of the state of Dai (Sixteen Kingdoms). Although it was conquered by the Former Qin, the defeat of the Former Qin at the Battle of Fei River resulted in the collapse of the Former Qin. The grandson of the last prince of Dai Tuoba Shiyijian, Tuoba Gui restored the fortunes of the Tuoba clan, renaming his state Wei (now known as Northern Wei) with its capital at Shengle (near modern Hohhot). Under the rule of Emperors Daowu (Tuoba Gui), Mingyuan, and Taiwu, the Northern Wei progressively expanded. The establishment of the early Northern Wei state and the economy were also greatly indebted to the father-son pair of Cui Hong and Cui Hao. Tuoba Gui engaged in numerous conflicts with the Later Yan that ended favorably for the Northern Wei after they received help from Zhang Gun that allowed them to destroy the Later Yan army at the Battle of Canhe Slope. Following this victory, Tuoba Gui conquered the Later Yan capital of Pingcheng (modern-day Datong). That same year he declared himself Emperor Daowu.

Due to Emperor Daowu's cruelty, he was killed by his son Tuoba Shao, but crown prince Tuoba Si managed to defeat Tuoba Shao and took the throne as Emperor Mingyuan. Though he managed to conquer Liu Song's province of Henan, he died soon afterward. Emperor Mingyuan's son Tuoba Tao took the throne as Emperor Taiwu. Due to Emperor Taiwu's energetic efforts, Northern Wei's strength greatly increased, allowing them to repeatedly attack Liu Song. After dealing with the Rouran threat to his northern flank, he engaged in a war to unite northern China. With the fall of the Northern Liang in 439, Emperor Taiwu united northern China, ending the Sixteen Kingdoms period and beginning the Northern and Southern dynasties period with their southern rivals, the Liu Song.

Even though it was a time of great military strength for the Northern Wei, because of Rouran harassment in the north, they could not fully focus on their southern expeditions. After uniting the north, Emperor Taiwu also conquered the strong Shanshan kingdom and subjugated the other kingdoms of Xiyu, or the Western Regions. In 450, Emperor Taiwu once again attacked the Liu Song and reached Guabu (瓜步, in modern Nanjing, Jiangsu), threatening to cross the river to attack Jiankang, the Liu Song capital. Though up to this point, the Northern Wei military forces dominated the Liu Song forces, they took heavy casualties. The Northern Wei forces plundered numerous households before returning north.

At this point, followers of the Buddhist Gai Wu (蓋吳) rebelled. After pacifying this rebellion, Emperor Taiwu, under the advice of his Daoist prime minister Cui Hao, proscribed Buddhism, in the first of the Three Disasters of Wu. At this late stage in his life, Emperor Taiwu meted out cruel punishments, which led to his death in 452 at the hands of the eunuch Zong Ai. This sparked off turmoil that only ended with the ascension of Emperor Wencheng later that same year.

In the first half of the Northern Wei dynasty (386–534), the Xianbei steppe tribesmen who dominated northern China kept a policy of strict social distinction between them and their Chinese subjects. Chinese were drafted into the bureaucracy, employed as officials to collect taxes, etc. However, the Chinese were kept out of many higher positions of power. They also represented the minority of the populace where centers of power were located.

Widespread social and cultural transformation in northern China came with Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei (reigned 471–499), whose father was a Xianbei, but whose mother was Chinese. Although of the Tuoba Clan from the Xianbei tribe, Emperor Xiaowen asserted his dual Xianbei-Chinese identity, renaming his own clan after the Chinese Yuan (元 meaning "elemental" or "origin"). In the year 493 Emperor Xiaowen instituted a new signification program that had the Xianbei elites conform to many Chinese standards. These social reforms included donning Chinese clothing (banning Xianbei clothing at court), learning the Chinese language (if under the age of thirty), applied one-character Chinese surnames to Xianbei families, and encouraged the clans of high-ranking Xianbei and Chinese families to intermarry. Emperor Xiaowen also moved the capital city from Pingcheng to one of China's old imperial sites, Luoyang, which had been the capital during the earlier Eastern Han and Western Jin dynasties. The new capital at Luoyang was revived and transformed, with roughly 150,000 Xianbei and other northern warriors moved from north to south to fill new ranks for the capital by the year 495. Within a couple of decades, the population rose to about half a million residents and was famed for being home to over a thousand Buddhist temples. Defectors from the south, such as Wang Su of the prestigious Langye Wang family, were largely accommodated and felt at home with the establishment of their own Wu quarter in Luoyang (this quarter of the city was home to over three thousand families). They were even served tea (by this time gaining popularity in southern China) at court instead of yogurt drinks commonly found in the north.

In the year 523, Prince Dongyang of the Northern Wei was sent to Dunhuang to serve as its governor for a term of fifteen years. With the religious force of Buddhism gaining mainstream acceptance in Chinese society, Prince Dongyang and local wealthy families set out to establish a monumental project in honor of Buddhism, carving and decorating Cave 285 of the Mogao Caves with beautiful statues and murals. This promotion of the arts would continue for centuries at Dunhuang and is now one of China's greatest tourist attractions.

The Northern Wei started to arrange for Han Chinese elites to marry daughters of the Xianbei Tuoba royal family in the 480s. [4] More than fifty percent of Tuoba Xianbei princesses of the Northern Wei were married to southern Han Chinese men from the imperial families and aristocrats from southern China of the Southern dynasties who defected and moved north to join the Northern Wei. [5] Some Han Chinese exiled royalty fled from southern China and defected to the Xianbei. Several daughters of the Xianbei Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei were married to Han Chinese elites, the Liu Song royal Liu Hui (刘辉), married Princess Lanling (蘭陵公主) of the Northern Wei, [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] Princess Huayang (華陽公主) to Sima Fei (司馬朏), a descendant of Jin dynasty (266–420) royalty, Princess Jinan (濟南公主) to Lu Daoqian (盧道虔), Princess Nanyang (南阳长公主) to Xiao Baoyin (萧宝夤), a member of Southern Qi royalty. [12] Emperor Xiaozhuang of Northern Wei's sister the Shouyang Princess was wedded to The Liang dynasty ruler Emperor Wu of Liang's son Xiao Zong 蕭綜. [13]

When the Eastern Jin dynasty ended Northern Wei received the Han Chinese Jin prince Sima Chuzhi (司馬楚之) as a refugee. A Northern Wei Princess married Sima Chuzhi, giving birth to Sima Jinlong (司馬金龍). Northern Liang Xiongnu King Juqu Mujian's daughter married Sima Jinlong. [14]

Split into Eastern Wei (534–550) and Western Wei (535–557) Edit

In that same year of 523 a revolt of several military garrisons, the Rebellion of the Six Garrisons (Liu Zhen) was caused by a food shortage far north of Luoyang. After this was suppressed, the government had 200,000 surrendered garrison rebels deployed to Hebei, which proved later to be a mistake when a former garrison officer organized another rebellion in the years 526–527. The cause of these wars was the growing rift between the governing aristocracy which was increasingly adopting Chinese-style sedentary policies and lifestyles and their nomadic tribal armies who continued to preserve the old steppe way of life. [15]

The Wei court was betrayed by one of their own generals, who had the empress dowager and the young emperor thrown into the Yellow River while establishing his own puppet ruler to maintain authority. As conflict swelled in the north between successive leaders, Gao Huan took control of the east and Luoyang (holding Emperor Xiaojing of Eastern Wei as a puppet ruler) by 534, while his rival Yuwen Tai took control of the west and the traditional Chinese capital of Chang'an by 535. The Western regime was dominated by the sinicized nobles and their Han Chinese bureaucrats while the Eastern regime was controlled by the traditional steppe tribes. [15]

Northern Qi (550–577) and Northern Zhou (557–581) Edit

Eventually, Gao Huan's son Gao Yang forced the Eastern Wei emperor to abdicate in favor of his claim to the throne, establishing the Northern Qi dynasty (551–577). Afterward, Yuwen Tai's son Yuwen Jue seized the throne of power from Emperor Gong of Western Wei, establishing the Northern Zhou dynasty (557–580). The Northern Zhou dynasty was able to defeat and conquer Northern Qi in 577, reunifying the north. However, this success was short-lived, as the Northern Zhou was overthrown in 581 by Yang Jian, who became Emperor Wen of Sui.

With greater military power and morale, along with convincing propaganda that the Chen dynasty ruler Chen Shubao was a decadent ruler who had lost the Mandate of Heaven, the Sui Dynasty was able to effectively conquer the south. After this conquest, the whole of China entered a new golden age of reunification under the centralization of the short-lived Sui dynasty and succeeding Tang dynasty (618–907).

The core elite of the Northern dynasties, mixed-culture, and mixed-ethnicity military clans, would later also form the founding elite of the Sui and Tang dynasties. Hence, they tended to have a flexible approach to steppe nomads, viewing them as possible partners rather than intrinsic enemies. [16]

The Jin were succeeded by a series of short-lived dynasties: Liu Song (420–479), Southern Qi (479–502), Liang (502–557) and Chen (557–589). Because all of these dynasties had their capital at Jiankang except Liang, they are sometimes grouped together with Eastern Wu and Eastern Jin as the Six Dynasties. The rulers of these short-lived dynasties were generals who seized and then held power for several decades but were unable to securely pass power of rule onto their heirs to continue their dynasty successfully. Emperor Wu of Liang (502–549) was the most notable ruler of his age, being a patron of the arts and of Buddhism.

Under the later waning leadership of the Chen dynasty, the southern Chinese were unable to resist the military power amassed in the north by Yang Jian, who declared himself Emperor Wen of Sui and invaded the south.

The Southern dynasties, except for the last Chen dynasty, were strongly dominated by the shijia, the great families, who monopolised political power until the mid-6th century. This class was created by Cao Cao during the late Han dynasty when he attempted to consolidate his power by building an endogamous military caste of professional soldiers. This led to the rise and usurpation of the Sima family who ruled the Jin dynasty, and subsequent leaders were similarly unable to bring the other great families in line. [17] When the Jin dynasty fled south, the weakness of the central government was greatly exacerbated, and the great families who accompanied the Emperor in his flight, along with the most wealthy clans of earlier settlers along the Zhejiang coast, were the primary power of the Eastern Jin. With the greatly increased importance of proving one's pedigree to receive privileges, there was a rise in compiling of genealogy records, and the great families moved to legally outlaw intermarriage with common families. The lower class Northern migrants were forced to become "guests" (dependents) of the great families who established private guard forces. When the Eastern Jin attempted to draft the dependents of the great families, they were quickly overthrown. [18]

The southern aristocracy declined with the rise of the Indian Ocean trade in the mid 5th century, which led to the court revenues shifting to trade and the disappearance of the caste by the Chen dynasty. [19] As landowning aristocrats were unable to convert cash from the produce of their estates, the resurgence of trade and the money-based economy forced them to break up and sell their lands to the burgeoning merchant class. Influential merchants increasingly occupied political offices, displacing the old aristocrats. On the other hand, the economic developments also drove peasants, unable to cope with inflation or to pay taxes in cash, to become mercenary soldiers, wandering through the country selling their services to the warring princes and plundering the populace. These upheavals devastated the south which eased the fall of the south to the Sui dynasty. [20]

Liu Song (420–479) Edit

Liu Song founder Liu Yu was originally a leader of the Army of the Northern Garrison (Chinese: 北府軍 ) that notably won the Battle of Fei River in 383. In 404, he helped suppress Huan Xuan's rebellion, leading to his dominance over the Eastern Jin court. In order to gain popularity to take the throne he led expeditions against the Sixteen Kingdoms, capturing Shandong, Henan and, briefly, Guanzhong by 416. He gave up Guanzhong to try to take the throne. Because he believed in a prophecy saying there would be one more emperor after Emperor An, he deposed the former and, soon afterwards, his replacement, Emperor Gong in 420, ending the Eastern Jin dynasty.

Even after crowning himself Emperor Wu, Liu Yu remained frugal. However, he did not care for education and trusted unsavory people. He felt that the nobility had too much power, so he tended to appoint the lower classes to government positions and gave military power to imperial kinsmen. Ironically, because the imperial kinsmen stabilized their military power and wished to gain political power, Emperor Wu was afraid they would have thoughts of usurping the throne. Thus, he also frequently killed his kinsmen.

After the death of Emperor Wu, his son Emperor Shao ruled briefly before being judged incompetent and killed by government officials led by Xu Xianzhi, replacing him with Emperor Wen, a different son, who soon killed the officials who supported him. Emperor Wen's reign was a period of relative political stability because of his frugality and good government the period was called the Reign of Yuanjia (Chinese: 元嘉之治 ).

In 430, Emperor Wen started a number of northern expeditions against Northern Wei. These were ineffective because of insufficient preparations and excessive micromanagement of his generals, increasingly weakening the dynasty. Because of his jealousy of Tan Daoji, a noted leader of the Army of the Northern Garrison, he deprived himself of a formidable general to the great delight of the Northern Wei. Thus, they were unable to capitalize when Northern Wei suffered the Wuqi Incident. Starting in 445, Northern Wei, taking advantage of Liu Song's weakness, made major incursions in the lands between the Yangtze and the Huai (modern Shandong, Hebei, and Henan) and devastating six provinces. Emperor Wen lamented that if Tan were still alive, he would have prevented Northern Wei advances. From then on, Liu Song was in a weakened state.

Emperor Wen was assassinated by Crown Prince Shao and Second Prince Jun in 453 after planning to punish them for witchcraft. However, they were both defeated by Third Prince Jun, who become Emperor Xiaowu. proved to be licentious and cruel, supposedly committing incest with the daughters of an uncle who had helped him gain the throne his rivals also claimed he had incest with his mother. This led to two rebellions by the imperial clan, one of which saw him slaughter the inhabitants of Guangling. The following ballad gives an idea of those times:

遙望建康城, Looking toward Jiankang city 小江逆流縈, the little river flows against the current 前見子殺父, in front, one sees sons killing fathers 後見弟殺兄。 and behind, one sees younger brothers killing older brothers [note 1]

Emperor Xiaowu died naturally in 464 and was succeeded by his son, who became Emperor Qianfei. Emperor Qianfei proved to be similar to his father, engaging in both kin-slaughter and incest. In a scandalous move, because his sister complained about how it was unfair that men were allowed 10,000 concubines, he gave her 30 handsome young men as lovers. His uncle Liu Yu, the Prince of Xiangdong, whom he called the "Prince of Pigs" for his obesity, eventually assassinated him and became Emperor Ming.

Emperor Ming began his reign by killing all the descendants of Emperor Xiaowu, and his suspicious nature resulted in the loss of the provinces north of the Huai River, which were only briefly regained in the other Southern dynasties. Emperor Ming's young son became Emperor Houfei. The political situation was volatile. General Xiao Daocheng slowly gained power and eventually deposed Emperor Houfei in favor of his brother, who became Emperor Shun. After defeating the rival general Shen Youzhi, Xiao forced Emperor Shun to yield to throne and crowned himself Emperor Gao of Southern Qi, thus ending the Liu Song dynasty.

Southern Qi (479–502) Edit

Though distantly related, the Southern Qi and the following Liang dynasty were members of the Xiao (蕭) family from Lanling (蘭陵, in modern Cangshan County, Shandong). Because Emperor Gao had a low social standing, he earned the disdain of nobility. His style of governance was similar to the early style of the Liu Song dynasty and was very economical. He died in the fourth year of his reign and his heir, who was only 13 years younger than him, succeeded him as Emperor Wu of Southern Qi. Emperor Wu made peace with the Northern Wei, content to protect his borders. This period of peace was known as Yongming Administration (永明之治). He also used government secretaries (典簽官) appointed with provincial governors and members of the imperial clan to monitor them.

The short reigns of Emperor Wu's grandsons, Xiao Zhaoye and Xiao Zhaowen (his first son predeceased him), were dominated by Xiao Luan, Emperor's Wu's first cousin. He killed them in turn and crowned himself as Emperor Ming of Southern Qi. Using the government secretaries, he slaughtered all the sons of Emperors Gao and Wu. Emperor Ming soon became very ill and started following Daoism, changing his whole wardrobe to red. He also passed an edict making officials try to find whitebait (銀魚). He died in 498 and was succeeded by his son Xiao Baojuan, who killed high officials and governors at whim, sparking many revolts. The final revolt in 501 started after Xiao Baojuan killed his prime minister Xiao Yi, leading his brother Xiao Yan to revolt under the banner of Xiao Baojuan's brother who was declared Emperor He of Southern Qi. Xiao Baojuan was killed by one of his generals during the siege of his capital at Jiankang, and after a short puppet reign by Emperor He, Xiao Yan overthrew the Southern Qi and established the Liang dynasty.

Liang (502–557) Edit

Emperor Wu was economical, worked hard at governing, and cared for the common people. His early reign was known as Reign of Tianjian (天監之治). The Liang dynasty's military strength gradually surpassed the strength of the Northern Wei, who suffered internal strife due to their policy of sinicization. In 503, the Northern Wei invaded but were defeated at Zhongli (modern Bengbu). Emperor Wu supported the Northern Expeditions but did not aggressively take advantage of his victory in 516 at Shouyang due to heavy casualties. Given the excessive kin-slaughter in the Liu Song and Southern Qi dynasties, Emperor Wu was very lenient to imperial clansmen, not even investigating them when they committed crimes. Because he was very learned, supported scholars, and encouraged the flourishing education system, the Liang dynasty reached a cultural peak. An avid poet, Emperor Wu was fond of gathering many literary talents at court, and even held poetry competitions with prizes of gold or silk for those considered the best.

In his later years, however, sycophants surrounded him. Three times he dedicated his life (捨身) to Buddhism and tried to become a monk, but each time he was persuaded to return by extravagant court donations to Buddhism. Furthermore, since Buddhists and Daoists were exempt from taxation, nearly half of the population fraudulently named themselves as such, badly damaging state finances. Imperial clansmen and officials were also greedy and wasteful.

Emperor Wu was willing to accept generals who defected from Northern Wei. So when Northern Wei suffered major revolts in their northern garrison towns, he sent his general Chen Qingzhi to support the pretender Yuan Hao. Despite the fact that Chen was only given 7,000 troops, he still managed to defeat army after army and even captured Luoyang, the capital of Northern Wei. Ultimately, Chen was insufficiently supplied and was defeated by troops ten times his size. After the Northern Wei split into Eastern and Western Wei, Emperor Wu granted asylum to rebel Eastern Wei commander Hou Jing, sending him on Northern Expeditions against Eastern Wei. After some initial successes, Liang forces were decisively defeated. Rumors abounded that Emperor Wu intended to give Hou as a peace offering. Despite Emperor Wu's assurances, Hou decided to rebel in the name of Xiao Dong, the grandson of the former crown prince Xiao Tong who died in 531 and was removed from crown prince because of conflicts with his father. Hou surprised Emperor Liang by besieging the Liang capital at Jiankang. Attempts by Liang forces to break the siege failed, and Emperor Wu was forced to negotiate a ceasefire and peace. However, Hou thought that peace was unsustainable, so he broke the ceasefire and captured the palace, leading to the slaughter of the nearby populace. Emperor Wu was starved to death and after the short puppet reigns of crown prince Xiao Gang and Xiao Dong, Hou seized power and established the Han dynasty.

In spite of conquering Jiankang, Hou essentially only controlled the nearby areas. The rest of the Liang dynasty lands were under the control of members of the imperial clan. Their squabbling amongst themselves weakened their efforts to defeat Hou. In the end, Xiao Yi with the aid of his generals Wang Sengbian and Chen Baxian defeated Hou, crowning himself Emperor Yuan of Liang. His brother Xiao Ji based in Sichuan was still a major threat. Emperor Yuan asked for assistance from Western Wei to defeat Xiao Ji, but after subduing Xiao Ji, they kept Sichuan. Due to a diplomatic faux pas, he incited the anger of Yuwen Tai, the leading general of Western Wei, which resulted in him being deposed and dying. Western Wei set up the puppet state of Western Liang with capital at Jiangling. Northern Qi also had designs on the Liang throne and sent an expedition under the banner of a cousin of Emperor Yuan. Chen Baxian and Wang Sengbian set up the last surviving son of Emperor Yuan, Xiao Fangzhi, as Liang ruler, but he was not given the imperial title. After some defeats to the forces of Northern Qi, Wang Sengbian allowed their pretender, Xiao Yuanming to establish himself as Emperor Min of Liang. However, Chen Baxian was displeased with the arrangements, and in a surprise move killed Wang and deposed Emperor Min in favor of Xiao Fangzhi who became Emperor Jing of Liang. After a short reign, Chen deposed Emperor Jing and took power himself as Emperor Wu of Chen in 557.

Chen (557–589) Edit

Emperor Wu of Chen came from the region of Wu (a region near modern-day Shanghai). At that time, due to the Hou Jing rebellion, the Qiao and Wu clans were greatly weakened, and many independent regimes emerged. Emperor Wu could not pacify all the independent regimes, so he adopted conciliatory measures. After the sudden death of Emperor Wu, his nephew Chen Qian took power as Emperor Wen of Chen. After the fall of Liang, the general Wang Lin had established an independent kingdom based in modern-day Hunan and Hubei provinces and was now starting to cause trouble. Wang Lin allied with Northern Zhou and Northern Qi to conquer the Chen capital at Jiankang. Emperor Wen first defeated the combined forces of Northern Qi and Wang Lin before preventing the forces of Northern Zhou from entering the South at Yueyang. Furthermore, through Emperor Wen's extensive efforts at good governance, the economic situation of the South was greatly improved, restoring his kingdom's national strength.

Following the death of Emperor Wen, his son, the weak-willed Chen Bozong, took power and became Emperor Fei of Chen. His uncle, Chen Xu, after essentially controlling the country through his short reign, eventually deposed him and took power as Emperor Xuan of Chen. At that time, the Northern Zhou intended to conquer Northern Qi and thus invited the Chen dynasty to help. Emperor Xuan agreed to help because he wanted to recover the lost territories south of the Huai River. In 573, he sent general Wu Mingche to assist the effort in two years, he managed to recover he lost territories south of the Huai River. At the time, Northern Qi was in a precarious situation with little military strength and Emperor Xuan could have taken advantage of the opportunity to entirely defeat Northern Qi. However, he only wanted to protect his territories south of the Huai River. Northern Zhou instead took advantage of Northern Qi's weakness and following their defeat of Northern Qi, in 577, they sent troops to the territories south of the Huai River, where they decisively defeated the Chen dynasty forces. The Chen dynasty was in imminent danger.

In a stroke of fortune, Northern Zhou's Emperor Wu suddenly died and his general Yang Jian attempted to take the throne. This stopped the southern advance of the Northern Troops. The respite was short though as after Yang Jian defeated his rival General Yuchi Jiong, he usurped the throne from Emperor Jing of Northern Zhou and established the Sui dynasty, crowning himself Emperor Wen of Sui. He proceeded to invade the south to reunify China. Emperor Xuan had just died and his incompetent son Chen Shubao (Houzhu of Chen) took power. He was licentious and wasteful, resulting in chaos and corruption in the government many officials heavily exploited the people, causing great suffering. In planning tactics to defeat the Chen dynasty, Emperor Wen of Sui took the suggestion of his general Gao Jiong and waited until the South were harvesting their crops to entirely burn the farmland, crippling the strength of the Chen dynasty. In 588, Emperor Wen of Sui sent his son Yang Guang (who would become Emperor Yang of Sui) to finally vanquish the Chen dynasty. Chen Shubao relied on the natural barrier of the Yangtze River and continued as always with his festive and licentious activities. The next year, Sui forces captured the Chen capital of Jiankang. Chen Shubao and his favorite concubine Zhang Lihua attempted to hide in a well but eventually were captured by Sui forces, thus ending the Chen dynasty.

During the Northern and Southern dynasties, the Yangtze valley transformed from a backwater frontier region with less than 25% of China's population to a major cultural center of China with 40% of China's population, and after China was subsequently unified under the Tang dynasty, they became the core area of Chinese culture. [21]

Qin Dynasty Unification

Qin Shi Huang worked quickly to unify his conquered people across a vast territory that was home to several different cultures and languages. 

One of the most important outcomes of the Qin conquest was the standardization of non-alphabetic written script across all of China, replacing the previous regional scripts. This script was simplified to allow faster writing, useful for record keeping.

The new script enabled parts of the empire that did not speak the same language to communicate together, and led to the founding of an imperial academy to oversee all texts. As part of the university effort, older philosophical texts were confiscated and restricted (though not destroyed, as accounts during the Han Dynasty would later claim).

The Qin also standardized weights and measures, casting bronze models for measurements and sending them to local governments, who would then impose them on merchants to simplify trade and commerce across the empire. In conjunction with this, bronze coins were created to standardize money across the regions.

With these Qin advances, for the first time in its history, the various warring states in China were unified. The name China, in fact, is derived from the word Qin (which was written as Ch&aposin in earlier Western texts). 

2. Architecture And Art

Egyptian culture reaches back into the 5th millennium b.c., when neolithic settlements existed in the Faiy û m region at Deir Tasa and Beni Sal â ma (Merimda). About 3600 b.c. a new, much more advanced culture originated at Gerza and other sites in the north. This chalcolithic period produced some copper pots and some amulets representing gods in the shapes of various animals. Villages turned into towns and districts (the so-called nomes). Two powerful states developed along the banks of the Nile: Upper Egypt in the south, embracing 22 nomes and Lower Egypt or the Delta land in the north, embracing 20 nomes. Each of these had its totemic symbols of animals or flowers.

Protodynastic Period. During this period (c. 2850 – c. 2615 b.c.) the two Egypts were united in a single kingdom by Menes, also called Narmer, who was, according to the historian Manetho of the 3rd century b.c., the founder of the First Dynasty. This event is documented with great aesthetic, as well as historic, value by one of the earliest objects of Egyptian ar ṭ the Palette of Narmer (Cairo Museum) (see kingship in the ancient near east). Egyptian palettes were plates on which cosmetics were prepared, especially the cosmetic made of powdered malachite mixed with oil, which served as a germicidal eye paint similar to the black ointment that is still put on eyelids in the fly-infested regions of the modern Orient. This 22-inch slate object is decorated on both sides. On one side the king is depicted wearing the tall, white crown of Upper Egypt, as he is about to smite a foe with his lifted mace, while two enemies are fleeing below. The reverse shows Narmer crowned, wearing the red crown of Lower Egypt and surveying two rows of decapitated enemies, whose heads are neatly placed between their feet. Above him the cow heads symbolize the goddess Hathor, protectress of Narmer. Below, the intertwined long necks of two mythical animals form the container in which the ointment was mixed. Even in this early work the convention that was to rule Egyptian art for centuries is already present. The ruler, since he was considered divine, towers high over his vizier and his soldiers. The bodies are represented from the front, whereas the head and legs are seen in profile. This characteristic persists throughout the entire history of Egyptian relief sculpture and painting.

Artistically, the history of Egypt can be divided into three periods corresponding to the Old, the Middle, and the New Kingdoms. The first, called also the Pyramid Age, lasted from c. 2850 to c. 2140 b.c. Since his life was ruled by religion, the art of the Egyptian naturally reflected his faith.

Old Kingdom. Belief in an afterworld, for which he prepared during his whole lifetime, in a resurrection, and in a last judgment necessitated the preservation of his body. According to his prominence in society the Egyptian built his tomb: in the shape of a truncated pyramid called the mastaba or, as in the case of Djosher, the first king of the Third Dynasty, a series of five mastabas on top of one another, which formed his so-called Step Pyramid at Saqq â ra (see egypt). Out of this structure the true pyramids developed.

Pyramids. The best-known pyramids are those of Khufu (Cheops), Khafra (Chephren), and Menkaure (Mycerinos) at El G î za. The largest one is the pyramid of Khufu, originally 481 feet high (some of it now covered by sand), on which about 100,000 men labored for 30 years, usually during the period of inundation, when agricultural work was at rest. The core is of yellow limestone, the funeral chamber is lined with granite, and the outer casing, now almost completely stripped off, was once of exquisitely fitted, polished, white limestone that reflected the sun, the sacred emblem of which was a pyramidal shape — a fitting memorial because the kings considered themselves sons of Ra (Re), the sun god. Next to the pyramid a mortuary temple, of which only the foundations are left, was erected. Since tombs were sealed after the body was laid to rest, the temple was used for memorial services. Khafra, who succeeded Khufu, erected a sphinx next to his pyramid as a symbolic guardian of the tomb. The sphinx is a composite figure, lion-bodied with a human head representing the king wearing the linen headdress and the cobra, emblems of royalty. East of the pyramid is Khafra's mortuary temple, to which a causeway once reached from the Nile.

Tombs. Inside the tomb, whether pyramid of king or mastaba of noble, arrangements were made for the comfort and entertainment of the soul of the deceased. The Ka, or life force, was believed to live on in the shape of a bird, the manifestation of the soul after death, called the Ba, and to visit the tomb periodically until the time for last judgment, when the deceased would have to account for his deeds. His heart was balanced against truth before the assembly of gods. If the judgment were favorable, he would become a transfigured spirit and exist in a sphere beyond humanity if not, he was annihilated by demons. The visiting Ka needed a likeness of the deceased into which it could enter, so portrait statues were placed in each tomb. Those of the kings and nobles were highly stylized and idealized, as, for example, Khafra or the courtier Rahotep and his wife, Nofret. All three statues are in the Cairo Museum. The artist worked from a rectangular block of stone as it came from the quarry, and the result is almost cubistic simplicity. The figures of Rahotep and Nofret were polychromed the man has a brownish tan all over his body, whereas his lady, who is dressed in a white sheath and wears lavish jewelry, has a light olive complexion. Their eyes are made of crystal, on which the iris is painted, so that they have a startlingly lifelike appearance. The representations of commoners were much more realistic for example, the limestone figures of the Seated Scribe in the Louvre, whose flabby body witnesses to a sedentary occupation, or the wooden statuette of the portly Ka-aper (Sheikel-Beled, "the mayor"), now in the Cairo Museum.

The walls of the tomb chamber were decorated by polychromed relief sculpture or painting, representing the property or favorite occupations of the deceased. Ti, a court official whose tomb is at Saqq â ra, is represented on a hippopotamus hunt, standing up in his reed boat, while his servants attack the animals with spears. Fish swim in the water below, and the papyrus thicket is alive with birds and small beasts above their heads. Another relief from the same tomb represents cattle herded across a river a herdsman carries a newborn calf, whose head is turned back anxiously toward its lowing mother. It is interesting to observe that, whereas the figure of the deceased Ti is stylized, the herdsmen and especially the animals are quite realistic on these limestone reliefs. A variation in wood is the relief of Hesire in the Cairo Museum, which comes from his brick mastaba at Saqq â ra and shows a high degree of technical accomplishment.

Painting at that time was used mostly as an accessory to relief. The painter did not wish to create an illusion rather he achieved an effect of polychrome harmony. Illustrated papyrus copies of the book of the dead also are found in the tombs. They served as magical passports that recalled the virtues of the deceased and pleaded for eternal life. They established the formal, archaic style of painting in the Old Kingdom.

Middle Kingdom. During the Middle Kingdom (c. 1989 – 1776 b.c.) the traditional forms of architecture and sculpture were used, and mortuary temples and pyramids were erected but none of them was as impressive as those at El G î za. Sesostris I caused an obelisk to be raised in Heliopolis as a homage to the sun. The pyramidion on top, like the pyramids, was an emblem of the sun. Most of the great architectural projects of this time have disappeared because of rebuilding by rulers of the New Kingdom. In the minor arts the Middle Kingdom reached a very high technical excellence, of which the magnificent collection of jewels in the Metropolitan Museum, New York City, bears witness.

New Kingdom. This period (c. 1570 – c. 1150 b.c.), which began after the Hyksos invaders had been driven out of the country, was architecturally the most brilliant period in Egyptian history. The pharaohs built vast temples instead of the huge pyramids to immortalize their names. Plunder of the tombs cautioned the rulers to hide rather than expose their last resting places. These were still magnificently appointed, containing beautiful reliefs, paintings, and all the paraphernalia the Ka might desire but they were cut deep in the rock and hidden from covetous eyes. The so-called Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens near Thebes contain the most grandiose of these rock-cut funeral vaults but the tombs of nobles at El Ashraf and Deir-el-Medina, though smaller, are artistically just as important and interesting because of their less formal and, at times, impressionistic decoration representing daily life.

Hatshepsut's Temple. The mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut at Deir-el-Bahri is one of the most conspicuous monuments of its kind (see temples). She wished to firmly establish her divine origin in order to sustain her unprecedented position as Lady Pharaoh. Colonnaded porticoes built of white limestone, terraces planted with trees and flowers imported from Punt, which had to be watered laboriously, attempted to transform the arid cliff landscape into an earthly paradise of the sungod Amon-Ra. The noble Senmut, Hatshepsut's chief architect, built sanctuaries to Anubis, the jackal-headed god of the dead, and to the sky-goddess Hathor. The main shrine was dedicated to amon, and under this the Queen planned her own resting place. However, because of difficulties in cutting the rock, her mortuary chapel was built south of the main sanctuary. She also caused two obelisks to be erected at Karnak, one of which, the largest in all Egypt, is still standing it is 97 ½ feet high and contains 180 cubic yards of granite.

Thutmose III, the stepson whom Hatshepsut kept from ruling, avenged himself by decapitating all the Queen's likenesses, erasing her name, and letting her beautiful gardens die.

Temples at Karnak and Luxor. On the eastern shore of the Nile the huge temples of Karnak and Luxor bear witness to the building zeal of the rulers during the Empire Period (1570 – 1211 B.C.). Usually the approach to the temple was from the river, along a processional way lined by guardian spirits, sphinxes, or rams. The pylon gate was formed by two towerlike stone structures with sloping sides decorated by laudatory reliefs and chased vertically to form flag bases for banners. Cedar doors covered by bronze, gold, or electrum led into the colonnaded forecourt, where the public festivals were held. Beyond it was the hypostyle hall, or hall of appearances, the roof of which was supported by rows of columns. Behind the hall was the small inner sanctuary of the god, to which only the priests were admitted. Within the sacred precinct were also the priests' offices, treasury, and storerooms.

Building on the enormous temple of Amon at Karnak went on for centuries. Within the sacred precinct are smaller temples to Khonsu and Ptah, deities of procreative power, and a sacred lake. The great hypostyle hall was started by Seti I and completed by his son, RamsesII. It is 54,000 sq. feet, the largest columnar hall in the world. It has 16 rows of columns, the two central ones of which supported the clerestory. The height of each column is 79 feet the diameter is 11 ¾ feet each papyrus capital could accommodate 100 standing men. Like Karnak, the temple of Luxor is dedicated to Amon-Ra. Amenhotep III built the first temple, but Ramses II made many additions, among others six colossal granite figures of himself, two obelisks, and an avenue of sphinxes leading to Karnak, which are presently being excavated. Within the sacred precinct there is a chapel of Alexander the Great, the remains of a Christian shrine, and a mosque each era has thus paid homage to divinity.

Temples of Ramses II and III. The mortuary temple of Ramses II, the Ramesseum, was built on the opposite side of the Nile, west of Thebes. Even today the grandeur of the ruins, covering 870 by 570 feet, amazes the visitor. Behind the temple are a series of granaries covered by barrel vaults constructed of mudbrick, probably the earliest vaults in the history of architecture. Nearby, at Mad î net Habu, Ramses III built his mortuary temple, which is, in concept, similar to that of his predecessor but much better preserved. A series of two courts with statues of the king led to the hypostyle hall, which was followed by smaller halls leading to the sanctuary. A small palace with audience hall and apartments opened to the south of the main court. The thick stone wall surrounding the precinct had fortified gates on western and eastern sides. The gateways contained apartments in the upper stories. The sculptural decoration was enlivened by rich paint, which is especially well preserved in the sheltered places.

At Abu Simbel, between the second and third cataracts of the Nile, Ramses II caused a temple to be hewn out of the rock above the river. Four colossal portraits of the king (64 feet high) decorate the front, and a smaller representation of the sun-god stands above the entrance. By the legs of the sitting colossi eight small figures represent the Pharao's mother, his beloved wife, Nefertari (a Hittite princess), and their children. The door leads into a great hall, 55 by 50 feet, beyond which is a smaller room and a sanctuary with cult statues of Ramses himself, the sun-god Ra-Harakhti, and the chief gods of Thebes and Memphis, Amon and Ptah. Adjacent is the smaller temple of Queen Nefertari, decorated by six colossi (30 feet high), of which four represent Ramses II, and two, the Queen. The interior contains two small halls dedicated to the cow-goddess Hathor, goddess of love, music, and dance. The construction of the Asw â n High Dam, which was to transform the Nile to the south into Lake Nasser, threatened these monuments with inundation. At the completion of the dam, the water level would be 120 feet above the heads of the colossi of Ramses II. To save Abu Simbel for posterity, a $36 million project was undertaken whereby the temples and statues were cut into sections and reassembled as much as possible in their ancient form on a plateau 200 feet above the original site. Forty-eight nations of the world responded to the plea of the United Arab Republic to help salvage these important cultural treasures. The U.S. donated $12 million to the cause.

Naturalism. New Kingdom sculpture, while traditional in its frontality and poses, shows a tendency toward naturalism and portrait likeness. Although Hatshepsut is represented on her statue that is now in the Metropolitan Museum as enthroned and wearing the formal headdress and short, pleated linen skirt of a ruler, she is made to appear femininely delicate both in features and in body. Realism was practiced during the reign of Amenhotep IV, who changed his name to akhnaton, "useful to Aton." He was unique among ancient Egyptian rulers for his monotheism. He rejected the Egyptian pantheon and proclaimed Aton, represented by the sun disk, the sole deity (see sun worship). The new capital that he built at Tell el ‘ Am â rna he called Akhet-Aton, "Horizon of Aton." Search for truth was his doctrine, and this is mirrored in the numerous portraits of Akhnaton, which show a remarkable lack of flattery the philosopher-poet king is depicted with a slight paunch typical of a man of sedentary habits. His lovely wife, Nefretiti, and his daughters were the subjects of several works of art. The painted limestone bust of the queen in Berlin is the best known of these, but several unfinished portraits have been found that bear witness to her exquisite beauty. Warm family devotion is depicted on a relief in Cairo, which represents the royal spouses seated, holding their children on their laps, the king kissing one in the background the sun extends its beneficent rays toward them, and each ray ends in a blessing hand. Tutankhamon, who married one of these princesses, had to renounce Akhnaton's monotheism after a religious upheaval and return to the cult of the old gods of Egypt. The tomb of this young ruler, discovered in 1922, yielded the richest find yet of minor art objects, jewelry, lamps, furniture, chariots, etc.

At Thebes, the reliefs of the tomb of Ramose, who was vizier during the rules of Amenhotep III and his son, Akhnaton, reflect the transition from refined formality, as depicted by the festive gathering in which his brother takes part, to a realistic style, which is illustrated by the later decoration of the burial chamber, representing the funeral procession with priests, offerings, and professional mourners.

Late Period. Relief became progressively flat and turned into deeply incised contour lines with only slight modeling during the late period. Nevertheless, the traditional Egyptian style survived the Greek and Roman conquests and their enormous influence over the art of the provinces. The temple of Isis on the small island of Philae, which is now under water during a great part of the year (because of the Aswan Dam), was started by Ptolemy II in the 3rd century b.c. but its decoration continued during Roman rule as the cult of Isis became popular with the Romans. It was closed finally by Justinian in a.d. 543. The Horus temple at Edfu (c. 200 B.C. ) is another example of the survival of traditional architecture and sculpture in Ptolemaic times.

Egyptian Paintings. Painting in the New Kingdom was often applied directly, and the relief was omitted. Earth colors and mineral pigments were used with the al secco technique. Gum arabic, egg white, glue, wax, or honey served as medium. The figures were sketched in with a red or black outline there is evidence that a grid was used for proportions. After the application of the color, the contour was outlined again with red and white lines. When the subject matter was mythological or ritual, as it usually was when a royal sepulchre was decorated, the drawing was based on traditional conventions resembling the style of the Book of the Dead. When it was biographical, depicting the favorite events of the life of the deceased, as in the more than 400 private tombs near Thebes, the artist invented his own iconography, and the result was a free, lively style of genre painting. These scenes of banquets, musicians, beautiful ladies, pleasure gardens with pools full of carp and lotus flowers, hunters, fishers, harvesters, and artisans at their toil all present posterity with a valuable document that reflects the high civilization of ancient Egypt.

Bibliography: k. lange and m. hirmer, Egypt, Architecture, Sculpture, Painting in Three Thousand Years, tr. r. h. boothroyd (London 1956). a. mekhitarian, Egyptian Painting, tr. s. gilbert (New York 1954). w. s. smith, The Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt in Pelican History of Art, ed. n. pevsner (Baltimore 1958). s. bosticco and h. w. m Ü ller, Encyclopedia of World Art (New York 1959) 4:572 – 710 plates 319 – 392. j. wilson, The Burden of Egyp ṭ An Interpretation of Ancient Egyptian Culture (Chicago 1951). s. lloyd, The Art of the Ancient Near East (New York 1961).

Sui Dynasty

The Sui Dynasty (581-618 CE) was a brief one with only two reigning emperors but it managed to unify China following the split of the Northern and Southern Dynasties period. As had happened previously in Chinese history, a short-lived dynasty made important structural changes which paved the way for a more long-lasting successor, where culture and the arts flourished, in this case, the Tang Dynasty. Reforms in government, the civil service administration, laws and land distribution helped restore and centralise imperial authority. At the same time, the regime became infamous for its immorality, huge public spending projects, and military follies, which combined to bring rebellion and, ultimately, its overthrow.

The Unification of China

In the late 6th century CE China was still beset with warring states who incessantly vied with each other for greater wealth and power. The three centuries of disunity would finally come to an end in 581 CE when one commander, known then as Yang Jian (aka Yang Chien), seized government from his military base in Guanzhong and unified the north. Not just a talented general, Jian was well-connected, and when his daughter married the heir of the Northern Zhou dynasty, he was given an imperial connection. The heir had died in 580 CE which allowed Jian to declare himself regent. To ensure no revival or rebellion would knock him off his newly acquired throne, Jian had 59 members of the royal Zhou family murdered and then set his sights on the south in 588 CE.


Giving his new state the name of Sui, after his father's fiefdom, Jian amassed an army of over half a million and a huge fleet which included five-decked ships capable of carrying 800 men. Sailing down the Yangtze River, he swept all before him and captured Nanjing within three months. By 589 CE the south had fallen. China was a single state once again, with its capital at Chang'an, and Jian, who would become known as Emperor Wendi, established a short-lived but important dynasty in the development and history of China.

Sui Achievements

The Sui Dynasty consisted, then, of only two emperors: Wendi (aka Wen or Wen-ti), who reigned 581-601 CE, and his son Yangdi (aka Yang Guang or Yang-ti) who reigned from 604 to 618 CE. Aided by such figures as the great military commander Yang Su, the emperors consolidated their control over a unified China and expanded their territory. They also improved and centralised the administration system, established a single, unified, and less complex law code, and introduced land reforms. The old Nine Rank System of officials was abolished and, instead, local prefects were selected on merit which was demonstrated in their performance in civil service examinations held in the capital. Officials were then sent to provinces different from their birth to reduce local corruption and abuse of personal connections. For the same reason, their term of office was limited to three or four years. All religions were tolerated and supported with imperial handouts so that another potential source of division was minimised. Just as the Qin Dynasty had prepared China for the more durable and successful Han Dynasty, the Sui were paving the way for another golden age of Chinese history in the form of the Tang Dynasty.


An example of the important Sui land reforms was the extension of the Equal Field System (Jun tian) which had been first introduced in the late 5th century CE by Emperor Xiaowen of the Wei. Emperor Wendi applied the system to all of China in 582 CE. Designed to ensure small farmers did not get swallowed up by large estate owners, the government allocated a plot of land which could be worked during the farmer's working lifetime (up to 59 years of age). When he retired or died the majority reverted back to the state, and a small part could be inherited by his offspring. In another measure to help poorer farmers, extra granaries were built and filled (with tax in kind) which were reserved for destitute farmers in times of natural disaster or poor harvests.

Sign up for our free weekly email newsletter!

In practice, unfortunately, much of the state's good intention towards lowly farmers was lost thanks to corrupt local officials who were bribed by larger landowners to falsify records and claims. Still, the concept was established that all such land, in effect, belonged to the emperor, and the Equal Field System was more successfully applied to new territory acquired by conquest which the Chinese aristocracy had no prior claim to.

Rather less useful to the ordinary populace was the Sui's big spending on their own palaces and other public building projects in the major cities of Chang'an, Luoyang, and Yangzhou. It did not help matters that Wen maintained three capital cities: Luoyang, Daxing, and Jiangdu, or that he kept a harem of thousands within the pornographic-covered walls of his Maze Pavilion pleasure palace.


One of the costliest projects was the construction of a massive canal to join the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers, the so-called Grand Canal. Built by conscripted labour, it was certainly grand at 40 metres (130 ft) wide and with a road running along its length. The project would eventually see three canals built, and although there was much hardship amongst the labourers tasked with building them, they did help to further connect northern and southern China. The canals proved a vital method for transporting troops and the grain tax from the south to north, where there was much less grain. Critics would later say the immoral Yangdi only wanted the canals so that he could travel around China at ease on his barges pulled by hundreds of beautiful young women, but the Tang emperors, for one, would be eternally grateful for the project. The road network was also improved and extended by Yangdi, another step forward in creating a unified China.

Military Campaigns

Sui China was not without its threats from neighbouring states, and the Great Wall was a notable point of defence against the Eastern Turks (Tujue) and so was extended and reinforced. The Sui were nothing if not ambitious, though, and they were not merely interested in protecting their borders but also dramatically expanding them. Things went well in the south with Sui armies conquering territory from the Annam and the Champa in southern Vietnam. There, in the early years of the 7th century CE, they successfully dealt with armies fielding war elephants by putting their crossbows to good use, terrifying the elephants which then stampeded back on their own lines. The elephants may not have accounted for many Chinese lives, but malaria certainly did, as most of the army was from the northern provinces of China and it was their first and fatal encounter with tropical diseases.

A Sui expedition met with even greater disaster in 598 CE when it attacked the kingdom of Goguryeo (Koguryo) in Korea and northern Manchuria. Goguryeo, perhaps sensing China's ambitions, had already made sorties into Sui territory but now it faced a massive invasion force. As it happened, the Chinese ran out of supplies, hit heavy rains, and had to return home. A second invasion was launched in 611 CE, this time by sea but was destroyed in a storm. Going for third time lucky, the Sui attacked again in 612 CE, this time with Yangdi leading the army in person. The great Korean general Ulchi Mundok was up to the task, though, and masterminded a resounding victory at the Battle of Salsu River. According to legend, of the 300,000-strong Sui army, only 2,700 ever returned to China. Two more attacks were rebuffed in 613 and 614 CE. Finally, Goguryeo had had enough and built a 480 km (300 miles) long defensive wall in 628 CE so as to deter any further Chinese ambitions. The lack of victories in Korea could be blamed on no one else but the commander who had led them, the emperor himself. Yangdi's prestige and reputation were dealt a fatal blow.



The defeat to Goguryeo and the hardships endured by the Chinese peasantry led to widespread rebellion in 613 CE, which was only fuelled by more military losses, this time to the Eastern Turks. The rebellions rumbled on until 617 CE. When Yangdi was assassinated by the son of one of his own generals, the Sui dynasty fell and the government was taken over by one Li Yuan, later to be known as Gaozu and founder of the Tang Dynasty. Emperor Yangdi, meanwhile, became the subject of critical Chinese historians who probably exaggerated his immoral rule as one of absolute tyranny and corruption. The last emperor had to be bad in order to justify the loss of his Mandate of Heaven.

Yangdi's father fared rather better in the historical record, largely thanks to his early support for Confucian and Taoist scholars, and his patronage of Buddhist temples which led to him becoming known as the “Cultured Emperor”. The difference in the two Sui emperors' lasting reputation is rather indicative of the period itself which is praised for its contribution towards unifying and modernising China but at the same time pilloried for its excessive waste and neglect of the welfare of the Chinese people.


The emergence of the Mongol dynasty dates to 1206, when Genghis Khan was able to unify under his leadership all Mongols in the vast steppe lands north of China. Genghis began encroaching on the Jin dynasty in northern China in 1211 and finally took the Jin capital of Yanjing (or Daxing present-day Beijing) in 1215. For the next six decades the Mongols continued to extend their control over the north and then turned their attention to southern China, which they completed conquering with the defeat of the Nan (Southern) Song dynasty in 1279. The final consolidation came under Genghis’s grandson Kublai Khan (reigned 1260–94).

The Mongol dynasty, which had been renamed the Yuan in 1271, proceeded to set up a Chinese-style administration that featured a centralized bureaucracy, political subdivisions, and a rationalized taxation system. Yuan was the first dynasty to make Beijing (called Dadu by the Yuan) its capital, moving it there from Karakorum (now in Mongolia) in 1267. The Yuan rebuilt the Grand Canal and put the roads and postal stations in good order, and their rule coincided with new cultural achievements including the development of the novel as a literary form. The vast size of the empire resulted in more-extensive foreign trade and foreign intercourse than at any other time before the modern period.

Unlike other rulers of China, the Mongols were never totally Sinicized, which proved to be an important factor in their downfall. They continued to maintain their separateness from the native population and utilized foreigners, such as the European traveler Marco Polo, to staff the government bureaucracy. Revolts in the mid-14th century led to the final overthrow of the Yuan in 1368, making it the shortest-lived major dynasty of China. The administrative centrality of the Yuan was continued by the succeeding Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911/12) dynasties, giving those later Chinese governments a more authoritarian structure than that of previous Chinese dynasties.

Arab-Muslim Period (began in 642 A.D.)

In 642 A.D., Arabic language and culture replaced Egyptian language and culture. Egypt was one of the Islamic world’s cultural and intellectual centers. A succession of caliphates ruled Egypt until Napoleon conquered Egypt. At this time, scholars rekindled interest in the language and culture of Egypt. Today, the Arab nation of Egypt is a tourist destination for those interested in Egypt’s history.

Click here to discover more about the Fall of Ancient Egypt


  1. Courtland

    You can search for a link to a site with a huge number of articles on the topic that interests you.

  2. Cashel

    Response intelligibility

  3. Tangakwunu

    It seems to me the brilliant thought

Write a message