Saturday 29 April 2017

Post Classic Mayan Period

The Post Classical Mayan period is the period between 950 CE to 1539 CE. It followed the Classic Maya collapse which was the decline of Classic Maya civilization and the abandonment of Maya cities in the southern Maya lowlands of Mesoamerica between the 8th and 9th centuries.

Chichen Itza

During the collapse, in the northern Yucatán, individual rule was replaced by a ruling council formed from elite lineages. In the southern Yucatán and central Petén, kingdoms declined; in western Petén and some other areas, the changes were catastrophic and resulted in the rapid depopulation of cities. Within a couple of generations, large swathes of the central Maya area were all but abandoned. Both the capitals and their secondary centres were generally abandoned within a period of 50 to 100 years.

Temple Complex in Tikal, Peten region

One by one, cities stopped sculpting dated monuments; the last Long Count date was inscribed at Toniná in 909. Stelae were no longer raised, and squatters moved into abandoned royal palaces. Mesoamerican trade routes shifted and bypassed Petén.

Mayan ruins of Tonina

The Postclassic Period was marked by changes from the preceding Classic Period. The once-great city of Kaminaljuyu in the Valley of Guatemala was abandoned after continuous occupation of almost 2,000 years. Across the highlands and neighbouring Pacific coast, long-occupied cities in exposed locations were relocated, apparently due to a proliferation of warfare.

Kaminaljuyu, Guatemala

Chichen Itza and its Puuc neighbours declined dramatically in the 11th century, and this may represent the final episode of Classic Period collapse. After the decline of Chichen Itza, the Maya region lacked a dominant power until the rise of the city of Mayapan in the 12th century. New cities arose near the Caribbean and Gulf coasts, and new trade networks were formed.

Ruins of Mayapan

One of the most important cities in the Guatemalan Highlands at this time was Q'umarkaj, the capital of the aggressive K'iche' kingdom. The government of Maya states, from the Yucatán to the Guatemalan highlands, was often organized as joint rule by a council. However, in practice one member of the council could act as a supreme ruler, while the other members served him as advisers.

The ruins of Q'umarkaj, with the ballcourt at left and the temple of Tohil to the right.

Mayapan was abandoned around 1448, after a period of political, social and environmental turbulence that in many ways echoed the Classic period collapse in the southern Maya region. The abandonment of the city was followed by a period of prolonged warfare, disease and natural disasters in the Yucatán Peninsula, which ended only shortly before Spanish contact in 1511.


On the eve of the Spanish conquest, the highlands of Guatemala were dominated by several powerful Maya states.The K'iche' had carved out a small empire covering a large part of the western Guatemalan Highlands and the neighbouring Pacific coastal plain. However, in the decades before the Spanish invasion the Kaqchikel kingdom had been steadily eroding the kingdom of the K'iche'.

A post-classic highland kingdom

Unlike the Aztecs and the Inca, the Maya political system never integrated the entire Maya cultural area into a single state or empire. Rather, throughout its history, the Maya area contained a varying mix of political complexity that included both states and chiefdoms. These polities fluctuated greatly in their relationships with each other and were engaged in a complex web of rivalries, periods of dominance or submission, vassalage, and alliances. At times, different polities achieved regional dominance, such as Calakmul, Caracol, Mayapan, and Tikal.

Mayan Stelae

From the Early Preclassic, Maya society was sharply divided between the elite and commoners. As population increased over time, various sectors of society became increasingly specialized, and political organization became increasingly complex. By the Late Classic, when populations had grown enormously and hundreds of cities were connected in a complex web of political hierarchies, the wealthy segment of society multiplied.

Steale showing Mayan Society

Under classic Maya rule, the king was the supreme ruler and held a semi-divine status that made him the mediator between the mortal realm and that of the gods. Maya political administration, based around the royal court, was not bureaucratic in nature. Government was hierarchical, and official posts were sponsored by higher-ranking members of the aristocracy; officials tended to be promoted to higher levels of office during the course of their lives.

Stela from Toniná, representing the 6th-century king Bahlam Yaxuun Tihl

Commoners are estimated to have comprised over 90% of the population of the Mayans, their houses were generally constructed from perishable materials, and their remains have left little trace in the archaeological record. Some commoner dwellings were raised on low platforms, and these can be identified, but an unknown quantity of commoner houses were not.

Sunday 23 April 2017

Umayyad Caliphate

The Umayyad Caliphate,  was the second of the four major caliphates established after the death of Muhammad. It was established by Muawiyah I in 661 AD. This caliphate was centred on the Umayyad dynasty, hailing from Mecca. The Umayyads continued the Muslim conquests, incorporating the Caucasus, Transoxiana, Sindh, the Maghreb and the Iberian Peninsula (Al-Andalus) into the Muslim world.

Dome of the Rock

At its greatest extent, the Umayyad Caliphate covered 11,100,000 km2 (4,300,000 sq mi) and 62 million people (29% of the world's population), making it one of the largest empires in history in both area and proportion of the world's population.


The Umayyad Caliphate was secular by nature. At the time, the Umayyad taxation and administrative practice were perceived as unjust by some Muslims. The Christian and Jewish population still had autonomy; their judicial matters were dealt with in accordance with their own laws and by their own religious heads or their appointees, although they did pay a poll tax for policing to the central state.

Muhammad had stated explicitly during his lifetime that Abrahamic religious groups (still a majority in times of the Umayyad Caliphate), should be allowed to practice their own religion, provided that they paid the jizya taxation. 

A jizya document from 17th century Ottoman Empire.

In 639, Muawiyah I was appointed as the governor of Syria after the previous governor died in a plague along with 25,000 other people.To stop the Byzantine harassment from the sea during the Arab-Byzantine Wars, in 649 Muawiyah I set up a navy manned by Christian sailors and Muslim troops. This resulted in the defeat of the Byzantine navy at the Battle of the Masts in 655, opening up the Mediterranean.

Arab-Byzantine War

After Caliph Uthman was assassinated in 656, his successor Ali failed to arrest and punish the perpetrators. Because of this, Muawiyah saw Ali as an accomplice and did not want to acknowledge Ali's rule. Their troops confronted each other in the Battle of Siffin in 657, which was finally resolved by negotiations. These negotiations made Ali's claim to the caliphate dubious and some of his supporters broke away into a group known as the Kharijites. 

Battle of Siffin

The Kharijite rebellion against Ali culminated in his assassination in 661. At the time, Muawiyah already controlled Syria and Egypt, and with the largest force in the Muslim realm, he laid the strongest claim on the caliphate. Muawiyah was crowned as caliph at a ceremony in Jerusalem in 661.


In 674, Umayyad naval and army forces under the command of Muawiyah's son, Yazid ibn Muawiyah, laid siege to the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, but were defeated when the Byzantines introduced Greek fire to the naval battlefield. This siege is even mentioned in the Chinese dynastic histories of the Old Book of Tang and New Book of Tang. Further west, the Umayyads were keenly aware of Sicily's strategic importance and Muawiya was the first caliph to begin raiding the island in 670.

Siege of Constantinople 

After Muawiyah's death in 680, conflict over succession broke out again in a civil war known as the "Second Fitna". Yazid became the Caliph as appointed by his father Muawiyah I and ruled for three years from 680 CE until his death in 683 CE. Muawiya II succeeded his father Yazid I as the third Umayyad caliph and last caliph of the Sufyanid line. He ruled briefly in 683/684 before he died. After making every one else fight, the Umayyad dynasty later fell into the hands of Marwan I, who was also an Umayyad in 684 CE. Ruling for less than a year in 684–685, and founder of its Marwanid ruling house, which remained in power until 750. 

Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan (646 – 705 CE) was the 5th Umayyad caliph. He was born in Medina, Hejaz. He was a well-educated man and capable ruler who was able to solve many political problems that impeded his rule. During his reign, all important records were translated into Arabic, and for the first time, a special currency for the Muslim world was minted, which led to war with the Byzantine Empire under Justinian II. 

First coin of Umayyad

Al-Walid ibn Abd al-Malik or Al-Walid I (668–715) was an Umayyad Caliph who ruled from 705 until his death in 715. His reign saw the greatest expansion of the Caliphate, as successful campaigns were undertaken in Transoxiana in Central Asia, Sindh, Hispania in far western Europe, and against the Byzantines.

Coins of Al-Walid I, found in Sistan

In the year 712, Muhammad bin Qasim, an Umayyad general, sailed from the Persian Gulf into Sindh in Pakistan and conquered both the Sindh and the Punjab regions along the Indus river. The conquest of Sindh and Punjab, in modern-day Pakistan, although costly, were major gains for the Umayyad Caliphate. 

Arab conquest of Sind

The Arabs under Umayyad Caliphate tried to invade India but they were defeated by the north Indian king Nagabhata of the Gurjara Pratihara Dynasty and by the south Indian Emperor Vikramaditya II of the Chalukya dynasty in the early 8th century.

The Umayyad Mosque, also known as the Great Mosque of Damascus, located in the old city of Damascus, is one of the largest and oldest mosques in the world. It is considered by some Muslims to be the fourth-holiest place in Islam. It was built by Al-Walid I , completed in 715 CE.

Umayyad mosque built by Al-Walid 

Sulayman bin Abd al-Malik (674–717) was an Umayyad caliph who ruled from 715 until 717. His father was Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, and he was a younger brother of the previous caliph, al-Walid I. He appointed Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz as his successor. Umar had a reputation as being one of the most wise, capable and pious persons of that era. 

Mosque in Damascus

Sulayman also sent a large army under Maslama ibn Abd al-Malik to attack the Byzantine capital, Constantinople. The siege of Constantinople occasioned hunger inside the city and among the besiegers. After the intervention of Bulgaria on Byzantine side it ultimately proved to be unsuccessful. Sulayman was on his way to attack the Byzantine border when he died in September 717.
Siege of Constantinople, 717 CE

Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz was an Umayyad caliph who ruled from 717 to 720. He was also a cousin of the former caliph, being the son of Abd al-Malik's younger brother, Abd al-Aziz. He was also a matrilineal great-grandson of the second caliph Umar ibn Al-Khattab. 

After the death of Umar, another son of Abd al-Malik, Yazid II (720–24) became caliph. Yazid is best known for his "iconoclastic edict", which ordered the destruction of Christian images within the territory of the Caliphate. In 720, another major revolt arose in Iraq, this time led by Yazid ibn al-Muhallab.

Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik (691 – 743) was the 10th Umayyad caliph who ruled from 724 until his death in 743. He was son of Abd al-Malik.  Hisham established his court at Resafa in northern Syria, which was closer to the Byzantine border than Damascus, and resumed hostilities against the Byzantines, which had lapsed following the failure of the last siege of Constantinople.

Arches in Resafa

Hisham was succeeded by Al-Walid II (743–44) to become the 11th Caliph of Umayyad Caliphate, the son of Yazid II. In 744, Yazid III, a son of al-Walid I, was proclaimed caliph in Damascus, and his army tracked down and killed al-Walid II. Yazid III has received a certain reputation for piety, and may have been sympathetic to the Qadariyya. He died a mere six months into his reign.

Yazid had appointed his brother, Ibrahim, as his successor, but Marwan II (744–50), the grandson of Marwan I, led an army from the northern frontier and entered Damascus in December 744, where he was proclaimed caliph. Marwan immediately moved the capital north to Harran, in present-day Turkey. A rebellion soon broke out in Syria, perhaps due to resentment over the relocation of the capital, and in 746 Marwan razed the walls of Homs and Damascus in retaliation. He he was the last Umayyad ruler to rule the united Caliphate before the Abbasid Revolution toppled the Umayyad dynasty.


As the constant campaigning exhausted the resources and manpower of the state, the Umayyads, weakened by the Third Muslim Civil War of 744–747, were finally toppled by the Abbasid Revolution in 750 CE.

Abbasid Revolution

Marwan suffered a decisive defeat by Abu al-'Abbas al-Saffah on the banks of the Great Zab called Battle of the Zab. At this battle alone, over 300 members of the Umayyad family died. Marwan fled, leaving Damascus, Jordan and Palestine and reaching Egypt, where he was caught and killed on August 6, 750. Marwan's death signalled the end of Umayyad fortunes in the East, and was followed by the mass-killing of Umayyads by the Abbasids.

Great Zab river

A branch of the Umayyad family fled across North Africa to Al-Andalus, where they established the Caliphate of Córdoba in Spain, which lasted until 1031 before falling due to the Fitna of al-Ándalus.

Cordoba, Spain

Monday 17 April 2017

Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period of China

The Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, also called Five Dynasties, was an era of political upheaval in 10th-century imperial China. During this period, five states quickly succeeded one another in the Chinese Central Plain, while more than a dozen concurrent states were established elsewhere, mainly in south China. Traditionally, the era started with the fall of the Tang dynasty in 907 AD and ended with the founding of the Song dynasty in 960.

The Later Liang (June 1, 907–923) was the first of the Five Dynasties during the period. It was founded by Zhu Wen(later Emperor Taizu of Later Liang), after he forced the last emperor of the Tang dynasty to abdicate in his favour (and then murdered him). The Later Liang would last until 923 when it was destroyed by Later Tang.

Emperor Taizu of Later Liang(Zhu Wen)

Tang, known in history as Later Tang, was the second and short-lived imperial dynasty that lasted from 923 to 937 during the period. The name Tang was used to legitimize itself as the restorer of the Tang dynasty (618–907). At its height, Later Tang controlled most of northern China.  Internal struggles typified the remaining ten years of the dynasty, ending with its toppling in 937 when rebels  stormed the capital with the help of Khitan troops, and founded the Later Jin.

Painting by Chinese artist Li Cheng (c. 919–967)

The Later Jìn, was third of the Five Dynasties the Five Dynasties. It was founded by Shi Jingtang. Liao, its original protector state, destroyed Later Jin by invading in 946 and 947, after Jin's second ruler, Shi Chonggui, fell out with them.

Emperor Gaozu of Later Jin(Shi Jingtang)

To fill the power vacuum, the jiedushi Liu Zhiyuan entered the imperial capital in 947 and proclaimed the advent of the Later Han, establishing a third successive Shatuo reign. This was the shortest of the five dynasties. Following a coup in 951, General Guo Wei, a Han Chinese, was enthroned, thus beginning the Later Zhou.

Butterfly and Wisteria Flowers, by Xu Xi (886–975)

After the death of Guo Wei in 951, his adopted son Chai Rong succeeded the throne and began a policy of expansion and reunification. In 954, his army defeated combined Khitan and Northern Han forces, ending their ambition of toppling the Later Zhou. Between 956 and 958, forces of Later Zhou conquered much of Southern Tang, the most powerful regime in southern China, which ceded all the territory north of the Yangtze in defeat.

Emperor Taizu of Later Zhou(Guo Wei)

Though considered one of the ten kingdoms, the Northern Han was based in the traditional Shatuo stronghold of Shanxi. It was created after the last of three dynasties created by Shatuo Turks fell to the Han-governed Later Zhou in 951. With the protection of the powerful Liao, the Northern Han maintained nominal independence until the Song Dynasty wrested it from the Khitan in 979.

Buddhist donatresses, Cave 98, Mo-kao Caves, Tunhwang, Five Dyasties era

Unlike the dynasties of northern China, which succeeded one other in rapid succession, the regimes of South China were generally concurrent, each controlling a specific geographical area. These were known as "The Ten Kingdoms".

The Kingdom of Wu (902–937) was established in modern-day Jiangsu, Anhui, and Jiangxi. It was founded by Yang Xingmi, who became a Tang Dynasty military governor in 892. The capital was initially at Guangling (present-day Yangzhou) and later moved to Jinling (present-day Nanjing). The kingdom fell in 937 when it was taken from within by the founder of the Southern Tang.

Wu Dai Warriors (907 CE -979 CE) - Warriors of the Five Dynasties

The Kingdom of Wuyue was the longest-lived (907–978) and among the most powerful of the southern states. Wuyue was known for its learning and culture. It was founded by Qian Liu, who set up his capital at Xifu (modern-day Hangzhou). Qian Liu was named the Prince of Yue by the Tang emperor in 902; the Prince of Wu was added in 904. After the fall of the Tang Dynasty in 907, he declared himself king of Wuyue. Wuyue survived until the eighteenth year of the Song dynasty, when Qian Shu surrendered to the expanding dynasty.

Qian Liu
The Kingdom of Min (909–945) was founded by Wang Shenzhi, who named himself the Prince of Min with its capital at Changle (present-day Fuzhou). One of Shenzhi’s sons proclaimed the independent state of Yin in the northeast of Min territory. The Southern Tang took that territory after the Min asked for help. Despite declaring loyalty to the neighboring Wuyue, the Southern Tang finished its conquest of Min in 945.

Wang Shenzhi

The Kingdom of Southern Han (917–971) was founded in Guangzhou (also known as Canton) by Liu Yan. His brother, Liu Yin, was named regional governor by the Tang court. The kingdom included Guangdong, Guangxi, and Hainan.

The Kingdom of Chu (927–951) was founded by Ma Yin with the capital at Changsha. Ma was named regional military governor by the Tang court in 896, and named himself the Prince of Chu with the fall of the Tang in 907. This status as the Prince of Chu was confirmed by the Later Tang in 927. The Southern Tang absorbed the state in 951 and moved the royal family to its capital in Nanjing.

The Kingdom of Southern Tang (937–975) was the successor state of Wu as Li Bian (Emperor Liezu) took the state over from within in 937. Expanding from the original domains of Wu, it eventually took over Yin, Min, and Chu. The kingdom became nominally subordinate to the expanding Song in 961 and was invaded outright in 975, when it was formally absorbed into Song China.

Southern Tang Royal Family

The smallest of the southern states, Kingdom of Jingnan (924–963), was founded by Gao Jichang.  Gao’s successors claimed the title of King of Jingnan after the fall of the Later Liang in 924. It was a small and weak kingdom, and thus tried to maintain good relations with each of the Five Dynasties. The kingdom fell to advancing armies of the Song in 963.

The Kingdom of Northern Han was founded by Liu Min , formerly known as Liu Chong  and lasted from 951 to 979. It has the capital at Taiyuan.

Kingdom of Former Shu (907–25) was founded after the fall of the Tang Dynasty by Wang Jian, who held his court in Chengdu. Wang was named military governor of western Sichuan by the Tang court in 891. The kingdom fell when his son surrendered in the face of an advance by the Later Tang in 925.

The Kingdom of Later Shu (935–965) is essentially a resurrection of the previous Shu state that had fallen a decade earlier to the Later Tang. Because the Later Tang was in decline, Meng Zhixiang found the opportunity to reassert Shu’s independence. Like the Former Shu, the capital was at Chengdu and it basically controlled the same territory as its predecessor. The kingdom was ruled well until forced to succumb to Song armies in 965.

Sunday 9 April 2017

Tibetan Empire

The Tibetan Empire existed from the 7th to 9th centuries AD when Tibet was unified as a large and powerful empire, and ruled an area considerably larger than the Tibetan Plateau, stretching to parts of East Asia, Central Asia and South Asia.

Tsaparang, the ruins of the ancient capital

From the 7th to the 9th century a series of emperors ruled Tibet. From the time of the emperor Songtsän Gampo the power of the empire gradually increased over a diverse terrain. By the reign of the emperor Ralpacan, in the opening years of the 9th century, it controlled territories extending from the Tarim basin to the Himalayas and Bengal, and from the Pamirs to what is now Chinese provinces of Gansu and Yunnan.

Namri Songtsen was the leader of a clan which one by one prevailed over all his neighboring clans. He gained control of all the area around what is now Lhasa, before his assassination around 618. This new-born regional state would later become known as the Tibetan Empire. The government of Namri Songtsen sent two embassies to the Chinese Sui Dynasty in 608 and 609, marking the appearance of Tibet on the international scene.

Emperor Songtsen

Songtsän Gampo(c. 604 – 650) was the first great emperor who expanded Tibet's power beyond Lhasa and the Yarlung Valley, and is traditionally credited with introducing Buddhism to Tibet. When his father Namri Songtsen died by poisoning Songtsän Gampo took control, after putting down a brief rebellion. 

Songtsan Gampo

Between 665–670 Khotan was defeated by the Tibetans, and a long string of conflicts ensued with the Chinese Tang Dynasty. With troops from Khotan they conquered Aksu, upon which the Chinese abandoned the region, ending two decades of Chinese control. They thus gained control over all of the Chinese Four Garrisons of Anxi in the Tarim Basin in 670 and held them until 692, when the Chinese finally managed to regain these territories. Emperor Mangsong Mangtsen married Thrimalö. The emperor died in the winter of 676–677, and Zhangzhung revolts occurred thereafter. In the same year the emperor's son Tridu Songtsen was born.

Tarim Basin

In 692, the Tibetans lost the Tarim Basin to the Chinese. Gar Thridringtsändrö defeated the Chinese in battle in 696, and sued for peace. From 700 until his death emperor Tridu Songtsen remained on campaign in the north-east, absent from Central Tibet, while his mother Thrimalö administrated in his name. In 704, he stayed briefly at Yoti Chuzang in Madrom on the Yellow River. He then invaded Mywa, which was at least in part Nanzhao but died during the prosecution of that campaign.

Yellow River

Gyältsugru, later to become King Tride Tsuktsän, was born in 704. Upon the death of Tridu Songtsen, his mother Thrimalö ruled as regent for the infant Gyältsugru. He was officially enthroned with the royal name in 712, the year that dowager empress Thrimalö died. By 750 the Tibetans had lost almost all of their central Asian possessions to the Chinese.In 755 Tride Tsuktsän was killed by the ministers Lang and ‘Bal. They were killed soon after.

The Caliphate and Türgesh became increasingly prominent during 710–720. The Tibetans were allied with the Türgesh . Tibet and China fought on and off in the late 720s. At first Tibet (with Türgesh allies) had the upper hand, but then they started losing battles. After a rebellion in southern China and a major Tibetan victory in 730, the Tibetans and Türgesh sued for peace. The Tibetans aided the Türgesh Kaghanate in fighting against the Muslim Arabs during the Muslim conquest of Transoxiana.

Modern Day Transoxiana, Uzbekistan

In 756 prince Song Detsän was crowned Emperor with the name Trisong Detsän at 13 years of age. In 755 China had been greatly weakened by the An Shi Rebellion, which would last until 763. There is a stone pillar, Lhasa Zhol Pillar, in the ancient village of Shöl in front of the Potala in Lhasa, dating to c. 764 CE during Trisong Detsen's reign. It also contains an account of the conquest of large swathes of northwestern China including the capture of Chang'an, the Chinese capital, for a short period in 763 CE, during the reign of Emperor Daizong.

Lhasa Zhol Pillar

Trisong Detsen is said to have had four sons. The eldest, Mutri Tsenpo, apparently died young. When Trisong Detsen retired he handed power to the eldest surviving son, Muné Tsenpo. Most sources say that Muné's reign lasted only about a year and a half. After a short reign, Muné Tsenpo was supposedly poisoned on the orders of his mother. After his death, Mutik Tsenpo was next in line to the throne. However, he had been apparently banished to the Bhutanese border for murdering a senior minister. The youngest brother, Tride Songtsän, was definitely ruling by 804 CE.

King Trisong Detsen

Under Tride Songtsän there was a protracted war with the Abbasid Caliphate. It appears that Tibetans captured a number of Caliphate troops and pressed them into service on the eastern frontier in 801. Tibetans were active as far west as Samarkand and Kabul. Caliphate forces began to gain the upper hand, and the Tibetan governor of Kabul submitted to the Caliphate and became a Muslim about 812 or 815. The Caliphate then struck east from Kashmir, but were held off by the Tibetans. In the meantime, the Uyghur Khaganate attacked Tibet from the northeast.

Monastery in Tibet, built under rule of Tride Songtsan

Tibet continued to be a major Central Asian empire until the mid-9th century. It was under the reign of Ralpacan that the political power of Tibet was at its greatest extent, stretching as far as Mongolia and Bengal, and entering into treaties with China on a mutual basis.A Sino-Tibetan treaty was agreed on in 821/822 under King Ralpacan, which established peace for more than two decades. A bilingual account of this treaty is inscribed on a stone pillar which stands outside the Jokhang temple in Lhasa.

Pillar at Jokhang Temple

The reign of Langdarma, was plagued by external troubles. A civil war that arose over Langdarma's successor led to the collapse of the Tibetan Empire. The period that followed, known traditionally as the Era of Fragmentation, was dominated by rebellions against the remnants of imperial Tibet and the rise of regional warlords.

Mural commemorating victory of General Zhang Yichao over the Tibetan Empire in 848
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