Saturday 27 May 2017

Duchy of Normandy

Normans were those descendants of Vikings or Norsemen who settled in Northern France(Frankish Kingdom), who under their leader Rollo, agreed to swear fealty to King Charles III of West Francia in 911 CE. The Normans founded the duchy of Normandy and sent out expeditions of conquest and colonization to southern Italy and Sicily and to England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.

Rollo's grave at the Cathedral of Rouen

The Duchy of Normandy, which began in 911 as a fiefdom, was established by the treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte between King Charles III of West Francia and the famed Viking ruler Rollo, and was situated in the former Frankish kingdom of Neustria. The treaty offered Rollo and his men the French lands between the river Epte and the Atlantic coast in exchange for their protection against further Viking incursions.

A castle in Normandy

William Longsword(c.893 – 17 December 942) was the son of Rollo and second ruler of Normandy, from 927 until his assassination in 942. Early in his reign, he faced a rebellion from Normans who felt he had become too Gallicised and too soft. In 933 Longsword recognized Raoul as King of Western Francia, who was struggling to assert his authority in Northern France. In turn Raoul gave him lordship over much of the lands of the Bretons including Avranches, the Cotentin Peninsula and the Channel Islands.

Statue of William Longsword

Richard I (28 August 933 – 20 November 996) was the son of William Longsword and third ruler of Normandy from 942 to 996. Richard either introduced feudalism into Normandy or he greatly expanded it. In 962, Theobald I, Count of Blois, attempted an invasion of Rouen, Richard's stronghold, but his troops were summarily routed by Normans under Richard's command, and forced to retreat before ever having crossed the Seine river. Richard was succeeded in November 996 by his 33-year-old son, Richard II, Duke of Normandy.

Statue of Richard I of Normandy

Richard II succeeded his father as fourth Duke of Normandy in 996 and reined till 1026. In 1000-1001, Richard repelled an English attack on the Cotentin Peninsula that was led by Ethelred II of England. Richard attempted to improve relations with England through his sister Emma of Normandy's marriage to King Ethelred. This marriage was significant in that it later gave his grandson, William the Conqueror, the basis of his claim to the throne of England. Richard II died on 28 Aug 1026 and his eldest son, Richard becoming the new Duke.

Statue of Richard II of Normandy

Richard III's short reign as fifth duke of Normandy lasted less than a year. It opened with a revolt by his brother and finished in his death by unknown causes. His brother laid siege to the town of Falaise, but was soon brought to heel by Richard who captured him, then released him on his oath of fealty. No sooner had Richard disbanded his army and returned to Rouen, when he died and the duchy passed to his younger brother Robert I.

Statue of Richard III of Normandy

Robert the Magnificent(1000–1035), was the sixth Duke of Normandy from 1027 until his death in 1035. Soon after assuming the dukedom,  Robert I assembled an army against his uncle, Robert, Archbishop of Rouen and Count of Évreux. His uncle left Normandy in exile but this resulted in an edict excommunicating all of Normandy, which was only lifted when Archbishop Robert was allowed to return and his countship was restored. Robert, by way of Constantinople, reached Jerusalem, fell seriously ill and died on the return journey at Nicaea on 2 July 1035. His son William, aged about eight, succeeded him.

Robert I of Normandy

William II also known as William the Conqueror became seventh duke of Normandy in 1035. He enjoyed the support of his great-uncle, Archbishop Robert, as well as the king of France, Henry I, enabling him to succeed to his father's duchy. But Archbishop Robert's death in March 1037 removed one of William's main supporters, and conditions in Normandy quickly descended into chaos. King Henry continued to support the young duke, but in late 1046 opponents of William came together in a rebellion centred in lower Normandy, led by Guy of Burgundy.

Château de Falaise, birthplace of William II

William built a large fleet and invaded England in September 1066, decisively defeating and killing Harold at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066. By 1075, William's hold on England was mostly secure, allowing him to spend the majority of the rest of his reign on the continent.

Sunday 21 May 2017

Emperors of Song Dynasty of China

Emperor Taizu of Song (r. 960–976) unified the empire by conquering other lands during his reign. He ensured administrative stability by promoting the civil service examination system of drafting state bureaucrats by skill and merit. The Song court maintained diplomatic relations with Chola India, the Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt, Srivijaya, the Kara-Khanid Khanate of Central Asia, the Goryeo kingdom in Korea, and other countries that were also trade partners with Japan.

Emperor Taizu of Song

Emperor Taizong of Song (939 – 997 CE), younger brother of first Emperor Taizu, became the emperor in 976 and remained on throne until his death in 997. He adopted the policies previously enacted by Emperor Shizong of the Later Zhou dynasty, which include increasing agricultural production, broadening the imperial examination system, compiling encyclopaedias and  expanding the civil service. He also reunified China proper by conquering Northern Han, the last kingdom in the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period.

Emperor Taizong of Song

Emperor Zhenzong of Song (968 – 1022 CE),  was the third emperor of the Song dynasty. He reigned from 997 to his death in 1022. He was the third son of Emperor Taizong. He  stressed the importance of Taoism at his imperial court. In 1004, the Khitans waged war against the Song Empire. Emperor Zhenzong, leading his army, struck back at the Khitans. Despite initial successes, in 1005, Emperor Zhenzong concluded the Shanyuan Treaty. The treaty resulted in over a century of peace, but at the price of the Song Empire agreeing to an inferior position to the Liao Empire.

Emperor Zhenzong of Song

Emperor Renzong of Song (1010 – 1063 CE), reigned for about 41 years from 1022 to his death in 1063, and was the longest reigning Song dynasty emperor.  He was the sixth son of his predecessor, Emperor Zhenzong. His reign marked the high point of Song influence but was also the beginning of its slow disintegration. The official policy of the Song Empire at the time was one of pacifism and this caused the weakening of its military. The Tangut-led Western Xia state took advantage of this deterioration and waged small scale wars against the Song Empire near the borders.

Emperor Renzong of Song

Emperor Shenzong of Song (1048 – 1085 CE), was the sixth emperor of the Song dynasty in China. He reigned from 1067 until his death in 1085. He sent failed campaigns against the Vietnamese ruler Lý Nhân Tông of the dynasty in 1076. Emperor Shenzong's other notable act as emperor was his attempt to weaken the Tangut-led Western Xia state by invading and expelling the Western Xia forces from Gansu Province. The Song army was initially quite successful at these campaigns, but during the battle for the city of Yongle, in 1082, Song forces were defeated.

Emperor Shenzong of Song

Emperor Zhezong of Song (1076 – 1100 CE),  was the seventh emperor of the Song dynasty in China. He reigned from 1085 until his death in 1100, and was succeeded by his younger brother, Emperor Huizong, because his son died prematurely. Emperor Zhezong was the sixth son of Emperor Shenzong. He ascended the throne at the age of nine under the supervision of his grandmother, Grand Empress Dowager Gao.

Emperor Zhezong of Song

Emperor Huizong of Song (1082 – 1135 CE), personal name Zhao Ji, was the eighth emperor of the Song dynasty in China. Born as the 11th son of Emperor Shenzong, he ascended the throne in 1100 upon the death of his elder brother. In 1126, when the Jurchen-led Jin dynasty invaded the Song dynasty during the Jin–Song Wars, Emperor Huizong abdicated and passed on his throne to his eldest son, Emperor Qinzong, while he assumed the honorary title of Taishang Huang (or "Retired Emperor").

Emperor Huizong of Song

The following year, the Song capital, Bianjing, was conquered by Jin forces in an event historically known as the Jingkang Incident.  The Jurchen ruler was Emperor Taizong. Emperor Huizong, along with Emperor Qinzong and the rest of their family, were taken captive by the Jurchens and brought back to the Jin capital, Huining Prefecture in 1128. Emperor Huizong died in Wuguocheng after spending about nine years in captivity.

Emperor Taizong of Jin

Emperor Qinzong of Song (1100 – 1161 CE),  was the ninth emperor of the Song dynasty in China and the last emperor of The Northern Song Dynasty. In 1141, as the Jin Empire normalised relations with the (Southern) Song Empire, he lived the rest of his life as a captive in the Jin Empire, which used him as a hostage to put pressure on the empire. He died as a sick and broken man in 1161. He was 61.

Emperor Qinzong of Song

Sunday 14 May 2017

Song Dynasty of China

Song Dynasty, established in 960 CE, reunited northern and southern China. It succeeded the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, coincided with the Liao and Western Xia dynasties, and was followed by the Yuan dynasty.

Song Painting

It was the first government in world history to issue banknotes or true paper money nationally and the first Chinese government to establish a permanent standing navy. This dynasty also saw the first known use of gunpowder, as well as the first discernment of true north using a compass.

Ancient Chinese Note

Emperor Taizu, the first emperor of Song Dynasty, promoted groundbreaking scientific and technological innovations by supporting such works as the astronomical clock tower designed and built by the engineer Zhang Sixun.

Chinese Time Keeper

From its inception under Taizu, the Song dynasty alternated between warfare and diplomacy with the ethnic Khitans of the Liao dynasty in the northeast and with the Tanguts of the Western Xia in the northwest.

The idealist Chancellor, Fan Zhongyan (989 – 1052 CE) under Emperor Renzong(the fourth Song emperor), was the first to receive a heated political backlash when he attempted to institute the Qingli Reforms, which included measures such as improving the recruitment system of officials, increasing the salaries for minor officials, and establishing sponsorship programs to allow a wider range of people to be well educated and eligible for state service.

Fan Zhongyan

The Song dynasty, under Emperor Shenzong(the sixth Emperor of Song)  managed to win several military victories over the Tanguts in the early 11th century, culminating in a campaign led by the polymath scientist, general, and statesman Shen Kuo (1031 – 1095 CE). However, this campaign was ultimately a failure due to a rival military officer of Shen disobeying direct orders, and the territory gained from the Western Xia was eventually lost.

Shen Quo

After Fan was forced to step down from his office, Wang Anshi (1021 – 1086 CE) became Chancellor of the imperial court. With the backing of Emperor Shenzong, Wang Anshi. Seeking to resolve what he saw as state corruption and negligence, Wang implemented a series of reforms called the New Policies. These involved land value tax reform, the establishment of several government monopolies, the support of local militias, and the creation of higher standards for the Imperial examination to make it more practical for men skilled in statecraft to pass.

Wang Anshi
The Jurchen, a subject tribe of the Liao, rebelled against them and formed their own state, the Jin dynasty (1115–1234). The Song official Tong Guan (1054–1126) advised Emperor Huizong (1100–1125) to form an alliance with the Jurchens, and the joint military campaign under this Alliance Conducted at Sea toppled and completely conquered the Liao dynasty by 1125.

Jurchen woodblock print

However, the poor performance and military weakness of the Song army was observed by the Jurchens, who immediately broke the alliance, beginning the Jin–Song Wars of 1125 and 1127. In the Jingkang Incident during the latter invasion, the Jurchens captured not only the capital, but the retired emperor Huizong, his successor Emperor Qinzong, and most of the Imperial court.

The remaining Song forces regrouped under the self-proclaimed Emperor Gaozong of Song (1127–1162) and withdrew south of the Yangtze to establish a new capital at Lin'an (modern Hangzhou). The Jurchen conquest of North China and shift of capitals from Kaifeng to Lin'an was the dividing line between the Northern and Southern Song dynasties.

Jin and Southern Song Dynasty

Religion in China during this period had a great effect on people's lives, beliefs, and daily activities, and Chinese literature on spirituality was popular. The major deities of Daoism and Buddhism, ancestral spirits, and the many deities of Chinese folk religion were worshipped with sacrificial offerings. Some assert that more Buddhist monks from India travelled to China during the Song than in the previous Tang dynasty (618–907).

Buddha head, China, early Song dynasty, 11th century AD

The Liaodi Pagoda, the tallest pre-modern Chinese pagoda built in 1055 and is the tallest brick pagoda in the world, was built as a Buddhist religious structure, yet it served a military purpose as a watchtower for reconnaissance. The pagoda stands at a height of 84 metres (276 ft), resting on a large platform with an octagonal base.

Liaodi Pagoda

Advancements in weapons technology enhanced by gunpowder, including the evolution of the early flamethrower, explosive grenade, firearm, cannon, and land mine, enabled the Song Chinese to ward off their militant enemies until the Song's ultimate collapse in the late 13th century. By the 14th century the firearm and cannon could also be found in Europe, India, and the Islamic Middle East, during the early age of gunpowder warfare.

Earliest known written formula for gunpowder, from the Wujing Zongyao of 1044 AD.

Monday 8 May 2017

Gupta Empire of India

The Gupta Empire was an ancient Indian empire founded by Sri Gupta. The empire existed at its zenith from approximately 320 to 550 CE and covered much of the Indian subcontinent. This period is called the Golden Age of India and was marked by extensive inventions and discoveries in science, technology, engineering, art, dialectic, literature, logic, mathematics, astronomy, religion, and philosophy.

Bhitargaon, one of the most complete surviving Gupta temples

Srigupta, considered founder of Gupta Empire reigned from 240 CE to 280 CE. His son and successor Ghatotkacha ruled presumably from c. 280–319. He challenged other feudal lords and conquered their lands. At the beginning of the 4th century, the Guptas established and ruled a few small Hindu kingdoms in Magadha and around modern-day Bihar.


Ghatotkacha (reigned c. 280–319 CE), had a son named Chandragupta (reigned c. 320–335 CE) (not to be confused with Chandragupta Maurya (322–298 BCE), founder of the Mauryan Empire.) He established a realm stretching from the Ganges River to Prayaga (modern-day Allahabad) by 321. He assumed the imperial title of Maharajadhiraja.

Chandragupta I with his queen as depicted on a coin 

Samudragupta (r. c. 335 – c. 380 CE) was the fourth ruler of the Gupta Empire and the son and successor of Chandragupta I. He took the kingdoms of Ahichchhatra and Padmavati early in his reign. He then attacked the Malwas, the Yaudheyas, the Arjunayanas, the Maduras and the Abhiras, all of which were tribes in the area. By his death in 380, he had incorporated over twenty kingdoms into his realm and his rule extended from the Himalayas to the river Narmada and from the Brahmaputra to the Yamuna.

Coin of Samudragupta, with Garuda pillar. British Museum.

He performed Ashwamedha yajna in which a horse with an army is sent to all the nearby territories of friends and foes. These territorial kings on arrival either accept the King's alliance, who is performing this yajna or fight if they don't. The stone replica of the horse, then prepared, is in the Lucknow Museum. The Samudragupta Prashasti inscribed on the Ashokan Pillar, now in Akbar’s Fort at Allahabad, is an authentic record of his exploits and his sway over most of the continent.

Ashok Pillar, Allahabad

Samudragupta was not only a talented military leader but also a great patron of art and literature. He conquered what is now Kashmir and Afghanistan enlarging the empire.  He was a firm believer in Hinduism and is known to have worshipped Lord Vishnu. He was considerate of other religions and allowed Sri Lanka's Buddhist king Sirimeghvanna to build a monastery at Bodh Gaya.

Mahabodhi temple, Bodh Gaya

Ramagupta was the elder son and immediate successor of Samudragupta and succeeded by his younger brother Chandragupta II who ruled from 375 until 415. He expanded his realm westwards, defeating the Saka Western Kshatrapas of Malwa, Gujarat and Saurashtra in a campaign lasting until 409, but with his main opponent Rudrasimha III defeated by 395, and crushing the Bengal (Vanga) chiefdoms. This extended his control from coast-to-coast, established a second capital at Ujjain and was the high point of the empire.


Despite the creation of the empire through war, the reign is remembered for its very influential style of Hindu art, literature, culture and science, especially during the reign of Chandragupta II. Some excellent works of Hindu art such as the panels at the Dashavatara Temple in Deogarh serve to illustrate the magnificence of Gupta art.

Dashavatara Temple, Deogarh

Close to the Qutub Minar is, an iron pillar, dating back to 4th century CE. The pillar bears an inscription which states that it was erected in the memory of Chandragupta II ( according to some accounts the pillar had been put up by Chandragupta II himself after defeating Vahilakas.). The pillar also highlights ancient India's achievements in metallurgy. The pillar is made of 98% wrought iron and has stood more than 1,600 years without rusting or decomposing.

Iron Pillar, Delhi

During this period, the Guptas were supportive of thriving Buddhist and Jain cultures as well, and for this reason there is also a long history of non-Hindu Gupta period art. In particular, Gupta period Buddhist art was to be influential in most of East and Southeast Asia. Many advances were recorded by the Chinese scholar and traveller Faxian (Fa-hien) in his diary and published afterwards.

Meditating Buddha from the Gupta era, 5th century CE.

Chandragupta II was succeeded by his second son Kumaragupta I who reined from 415 CE to 455 CE. Towards the end of his reign a tribe in the Narmada valley, the Pushyamitras, rose in power to threaten the empire. He is considered the founder of Nalanda University which on July 15, 2016 was declared as a UNESCO world heritage site.

Ruins of Nalanda University

Skandagupta, son and successor of Kumaragupta I is generally considered to be the last of the great Gupta rulers. He defeated the Pushyamitra threat, but then was faced with invading Hephthalites or "White Huns", from the northwest. He repulsed a Hun attack c. 455, But the expense of the wars drained the empire's resources and contributed to its decline. Skandagupta died in 467 and was succeeded by his agnate brother Purugupta.

Coin of Skandagupta period depicting himself

Following Skandagupta's death, the empire was clearly in decline. He was followed by Purugupta (467–473), Kumaragupta II (473–476), Budhagupta (476–495), Narasimhagupta (495—530), Kumaragupta III (530—540), Vishnugupta(540—550), two lesser known kings namely, Vainyagupta and Bhanugupta. In the 480's the Hephthalites broke through the Gupta defenses in the northwest, and much of the empire in the northwest was overrun by the Hun by 500. 

The Gupta period is generally regarded as a classic peak of North Indian art for all the major religious groups. The period saw the emergence of the iconic carved stone deity in Hindu art, as well as the Buddha figure and Jain tirthankara figures, these last often on a very large scale. The two great centres of sculpture were Mathura and Gandhara, the latter the centre of Greco-Buddhist art.

Vishnu reclining on the serpent Shesha (Ananta), Dashavatara Temple 5th century

The most famous remaining monuments in a broadly Gupta style, the caves at Ajanta, Elephanta, and Ellora (respectively Buddhist, Hindu, and mixed including Jain) were in fact produced under later dynasties, but primarily reflect the monumentality and balance of Guptan style. Ajanta contains by far the most significant survivals of painting from this and the surrounding periods, showing a mature form which had probably had a long development, mainly in painting palaces.

Ajanta Cave art
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