The Political History of the Middle East

The Middle East is a very important region in the world, not just economically with massive oil reserves in the Persian Gulf, but many important inventions originated from this area. The wheel, if the wheel hadn’t been invented then those massive oil reserves would have more oil in them because most automobiles are powered by gasoline, an oil product. From world religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to how many minutes are in an hour, many of the things that we use or believe in today came from a region known as the Middle East.

The world’s first farmers settled in a region known as the Fertile Crescent which stretched from what is now the nation of Israel to the Persian Gulf. This was the birthplace of civilization. Around 5000 B.C., a civilization known as Sumer emerged. Sumer was composed of many city-states in what is now southern Iraq. Sumerians arguably invented the wheel and the plow, as well as Cuneiform, the world’s first writing. Sumer prospered for two millennia, but went in decline before a man named Sargon of Akkad seized control of the Fertile Crescent, including Sumer.

By doing this Sargon made a milestone in history, he successfully forged the first empire, or many nations or groups ruled under a single authority. Sargon’s empire lasted around 300 years, from around 2340 to 2190 B.C., until the empire either collapsed from the Gutians, a barbaric people from east of the Zagros Mountains, invading Akkad or a very severe drought that is hypothesized to may have happened. Sumer received a brief renaissance, but collapsed due to a shifting population and salinity, or salt, becoming more common in the soil.

By around 1800 B.C, a man named Hammurabi grew Babylon from being a small town to being an empire stretching from the Persian Gulf along the Euphrates River to what is now central Iraq. Hammurabi also made a written code of law called the Code of Hammurabi, which set a specific set of laws and punishments for breaking them. The famous saying, “An eye for an eye”, was from the Code of Hammurabi. The saying means that if someone were to gauge someone else’s eyes out, their eyes would be gauged out as punishment. After brief Assyrian rule, the Neo-Babylonian or Chaldean empire was formed. Nebuchadnezzar II supposedly built the hanging gardens for his wife who missed her homeland of green hills and valleys, although this is probably a myth.

At around 550 B.C., a man named Cyrus the Great founded the Persian, or Achaemenid Empire. In 50 years, the empire stretched as far west as Northern Greece and Egypt and as far east as what is now Pakistan and Afghanistan. During its peak, the empire became strong and organized. Darius I of Persia crushed nine uprisings during the first three years of his reign, divided his empire into twenty satrapies, or provinces, and built many miles of roads to connect his empire. The Achaemenid Empire only went into decline after the mighty Persians lost a war to the Greeks. Around 200 years later, a man named Alexander the Great forged an empire from Macedonia that controlled regions as far west as Greece and Libya and as far east as India. The empire was short-lived though, as Alexander died of a fever at age 33.

By A.D. 117, The Roman Empire was the major power in the Middle East. During this time two powers, Parthia and Rome, were competing to insert a puppet into Armenia, each empire getting their turn at the game, but Rome controlled Armenia for more than Parthia did. The Parthian empire encompassed what is now Iran, Iraq, and Turkmenistan, and was an economic and cultural powerhouse being on the Silk Road that led from China to Syria.

By A.D. 565, 89 years after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Byzantium had been a successful heir to the Roman Empire by reconquering much of the Western Roman Empire under Justinian while still having a strong foot in the Middle East. Unfortunately for the Byzantines, Sassanid Persia had a much more centralized military than Parthia, and chipped away at The Eastern frontier of Byzantium, on top of the fact that Justinian’s regained land in Italy was being lost to the Lombards.

Islam was a new religion founded in the seventh century A.D., was quickly gaining hold in the Middle East and North Africa by empires known as Caliphates. The Umayyad caliphate had extended its reach into Spain, and what is now Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Although smaller in area, the Abbasid Caliphate was considered a golden age. Most notably, checks, zoology, and hospitals were invented. Also, all but one western instrument had a predecessor in the Middle East.

During the twelfth century A.D., a series of “Holy Wars” called the Crusades were waged by Christian Nations such as England, France, and The Holy Roman Empire against the Islamic Caliphates to take control of Jerusalem, or the “Holy Land”. Only the first was a Christian victory, and Crusader states in the eastern Mediterranean were formed. By the thirteenth century, those states were recaptured by the Muslim caliphates. Between the years 1256 to 1335, what is now Iran, Iraq, and Eastern Turkey were under Mongol rule. After Genghis Khan’s grandson, Kublai Khan died in 1294, the enormous Mongol Empire, second only in size to the British Empire, began to decline and fall apart. After many years of Mongol rule, the Persians rebelled in 1335 and became free of Mongol control. By the mid-nineteenth century, Persia was under control of the Safavid Empire.

After the fourth crusade being a disaster and exile for the Byzantine Empire, the countdown for Byzantine destruction was begun. On Tuesday, May 29, 1453, the Byzantine Empire was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. The Ottomans founded their own empire that at its peak in 1683, controlled lands as far north as what are now the nations of Ukraine and Hungary in the north, Algeria in the west, Eritrea and Yemen in the south, and Armenia and Iraq in the east. As the industrial revolution commenced, Ottoman power grew weaker until its dissolution after the First Word War in 1918. From then after a brief war the nation of Turkey was formed. Radical reforms occurred, such as outlawing polygamy and changing the Turkish language to using the Roman alphabet.  Britain controlled mandates in Israel, Jordan, and Iraq, while France controlled mandates in Syria and Lebanon.

During the Second World War there was not much of a war in the Middle East, except for a campaign in Egypt that didn’t even push to Alexandria and Iran being seized by allied forces as a staging ground to combat the Nazi advance in the U.S.S.R. In 1948, three years after the second world war ended, Israel became an independent nation and soon after the Six-Day war ushered after surprise Israeli airstrikes in Egypt. After the war, Israel occupied the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, The Disputed Gaza strip and Palestine, and the Golan Heights in Syria. During the late twentieth century, Iran faced radical reforms, including the changing of name from Persia to Iran. By 1982, Israel had given back the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. The twenty-first century saw two wars so far, the war in Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and war in Iraq after suspicion that the nation was building weapons of mass destruction, although none were found. More recently, however, is the nuclear testing in Iran. In early 2014, Iran detonated a weapon of mass destruction, possibly nuclear, just one-hundred miles outside Tehran, the nation’s capital.

History of China

When many Americans hear the word “China” come out of someone else’s mouth or buys an item and realizes the item is made in China, they tend to think the item is poor quality. What they may not realize is that many of the things Americans take for granted were invented in China and, in some cases, had predecessors that were not nearly as efficient and easy to produce. China has had a very long and turbulent history. From foreign invasion and communist revolution to what rocketry, not rockets launching into space but rockets like fireworks, were originally used for and a theory that the Chinese reached South America before Columbus, all sorts of things have happened in China.

Around 5000 B.C., China was inhabited by a farming culture on the Yellow River called the Yangshao. The Yangshao lived in Pit Houses, which are houses with the living space in a shallow pit and the roof is on the ground. Their successors, the Longshan, began to cultivate rice and wheat and lived further south, where the rain was plentiful. Over the next thousand years, civilization grew and gave birth to the Xia Dynasty. The dynasty’s existence is somewhat debated, because the only evidence of the dynasty existing is written texts, which is why some archaeologists think the Xia Dynasty was mythical. Those texts do mention a man named Wu the Great, who stopped the Yellow River from flooding by inventing an irrigation system. After Wu’s tremendous success, he was chosen to be the next king of the dynasty.

The Shang Dynasty succeeded the Xia and lasted from around 1600 to 1000 B.C. Although 100 years shorter than the Xia, the Shang Dynasty is thrust into a Bronze-Age civilization with cities occupying thousands of people. The Shang were overtaken by the Zhou state and the Zhou Dynasty was formed. The Zhou was the longest dynasty in Chinese history, but most of the Zhou period was actually almost like a long civil war. From around 500 to 221 B.C., the states of China were at constant war with each other. The Zhou government was technically in charge, but didn’t have a strong hold like they did in 1000 B.C. Confucius lived during this time and spread his philosophies throughout China in the 500s B.C., including an early version of the golden rule.

By 221 B.C., the Qin state conquered every other Chinese state and established the first imperial dynasty in Chinese history. The emperor, Qin Shihuangdi, formerly Zheng, was a ruthless ruler who melted weapons and made statues of himself instead of putting his nation’s defense first, and although the Great Wall was built during his reign, the Chinese were ashamed of it, because of the sheer number of people that died building the wall. The now-famous life-sized terra-cotta warriors were built to protect Qin in the afterlife for when he died, so he would still be content even if he couldn’t find his elixir that would grant him immortality, which is actually how he died, taking an elixir supposedly giving him immortality but actually poisoning him instead.

By 200 B.C., the Han Dynasty ruled China, and significantly expanded into Korea, Western China, and present-day Mongolia. The Han Dynasty is considered a “Golden Age” in Chinese history. Trade on the Silk Road flourished, Buddhism began to emerge in China, and the magnetic compass and paper were also invented as well. The dynasty lasted for around 420 years, but in 220 A.D., collapsed due to poor leadership. The fall of the Han Dynasty led to political instability, with many states and armies competing for control. Some, such as the Jin Dynasty, lasted longer than others, but no single dynasty was able to control and unify China for the next 361 years. For the last hundred years, China was split between two kingdoms, one in the north, and the other in the south, each politically and culturally different from each other. By 581 A.D., the Sui Dynasty briefly unified China before the Tang Dynasty arose in 618 A.D.

The Tang dynasty was the second “Golden Age”, in Chinese history. The empire expanded deep into central Asia, matching no other Chinese-led dynasty in history. The Capital of the Tang, Chang’an, was considered a marvel in architecture, and the Koreans and Japanese built cities extremely similar to Chang’an in their territories. The only empress in Chinese history was Wu Zeitan, reigned during the prosperous era of the Tang. The Song dynasty followed the Tang and made revolutionary accomplishments. The world’s first gun was invented by lacing gunpowder and pebbles in a bamboo stick and lighting the gunpowder, sending the pebbles through the air at fast speeds, which aided their survival for seventy more years against the Mongols, who conquered the north of China in the early thirteenth century. The Song also had civil service exams, which tested the merit of the people who signed up to work for the government rather than aristocrats in the Tang. By 1279, Genghis Khan’s grandson, Kublai Khan, had conquered the Song. Marco Polo visited the Mongol Empire during Kublai Khan’s reign and was esteemed by Kublai Khan and was hired to administer salt trade. The Mongols had control of China until 1368 when the Chinese rebelled and established the Ming Dynasty.

The Ming Dynasty was a highly sophisticated nation with a standing army of at least 1 million men, rivaling that of the United States, Russia, and North Korea today. China today has twice as many men. In 1644, the Manchus in what is now Manchuria, invaded China and founded the Qing Dynasty. The Qing expanded to what is now Mongolia, Korea, the Amur and Sakhalin Oblasts of Russia, the Primorsky Krai of Russia, eastern Kazakhstan, and Nepal.  The Qing were resented by the Chinese. Chinese Males had to wear their hair in a queue, or pigtail, and females had their feet tightly bandaged at age five so their feet would grow improperly as a sign of submission. In the late nineteenth century, the Qing were facing revolts led by Sun-Yat-Sen of the Kuomintang and in 1912, the last emperor, the seven year old Pu-Yi, was forced to abdicate.

In 1931, Japan invaded Manchuria and set up a puppet state with Pu-Yi as the puppet ruler of Manchukuo. Japan then fledged a full invasion of China in 1937, swiftly capturing Nanking, Beijing, and Shanghai. The Japanese invasion halted the war between Communists and Nationalists, or Kuomintang in China. Japan went further into Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. Only when the United States intervened did the Japanese Military get pushed back. After the two atomic bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered. The war between the Communists and nationalists continued, but the Nationalists were vastly outnumbered and fled to Taiwan, while China became a communist state under Mao Zedong. China enforced the one child policy in 1979, and boosted its economy to one of the greatest on earth today, alongside Japan, India, Germany, and the U.S.