Religion and Politics in Ancient Asia

Ancient Civilizations in Asia


In Unit 2, we will explore the rise of early civilizations in Asia, including those along the Indus Valley in Pakistan and India and the Yellow River in China. As in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, civilizations originally grew along river valleys, but later developments involve the incursion of foreign groups and the establishment of new dynasties.

In ancient India, the Harappan civilization arose along the banks of the Indus River. Since their writing remains undeciphered, little is known of this early civilization, although sites such as Mohenjo-daro remain one of the earliest urban environments. By 1900 BCE, India had been invaded from peoples from central Asia who spoke an Indo-European language: the Aryans. Rich oral mythology, but a loose political organization plunged India into a period of uncertainty that would culminate with the invasion of Alexander the Great in 326 BCE.  After Alexander’s death, Chandragupta Maurya founded the Mauryan Dynasty (322–185 BCE), bringing India under political centralization for the first time.

The development of Bronze Age China (2000 – 500 BCE) followed what remains a mythical prehistory. The Xia, Shang, and Zhou Dynasties centralized power around a feudal state. The Shang Dynasty witnessed the birth of the Chinese script, which with modifications exists to this day. The ability of this feudal system to produce food surplus was limited by the use of human labor in agriculture (as opposed to domesticated animals). The Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BCE), China’s longest-lasting dynasty, claimed to have the right to rule based on the “Mandate of Heaven,” and we will see in later units how a succession of Chinese dynasties claimed and later lost this mandate, creating a Dynastic Cycle.




By the end of this unit, you will be able to:

1. Discuss the events that led to the establishment, expansion, and fall of the civilizations of Asia.

2. Describe how religion helped shape the establishment of civilizations and empires in Asia.


The image to the left is linked to an interactive map where you can see the approximate geographical location and learn more information about the civilizations discussed in this unit. If you are accessing this course from the Blackboard mobile application, you will need to visit the link or open the Interactive Map pdf listed below. •  Unit 2 Interactive Map •  Unit 2 Interactive Map Text Transcript



Topic 1

Unit Topic 1 – Ancient India


The original inhabitants of India and Pakistan, the Harappan civilization was conquered by the Aryans in the late second millennium BCE. The establishment of the Mauryan Empire witnessed one of the first unified states on the Indian subcontinent.

· Wallech, S., Daryaee, T., Hendricks, C., Negus, A. L., Wan, P. P., & Bakken, G. M. (2013). World history volume I: A concise thematic analysis (2nd ed.). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

1. Chapter 4: India- From the Indus to the Ganges, pp. 76-90

Overview of Indus Valley Civilization, particularly the Harappa. Video

Indus Valley Civilization: Crash Course World History #2

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Overview of the birth of Buddhism in India and the rule of the Mauryan emperor Ashoka. Video

Buddha and Ashoka: Crash Course World History #6

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Topic 2

Unit Topic 2 – Ancient China


Bronze Age China emerges from the mists of prehistory to create strong, centralized governments based on a feudal system. With the invention of writing in the Shang Dynasty to the extensive texts of the Zhou Dynasty, we learn about the religious and philosophical underpinnings of the political system.

. Wallech, S., Daryaee, T., Hendricks, C., Negus, A. L., Wan, P. P., & Bakken, G. M. (2013). World history volume I: A concise thematic analysis (2nd ed.). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

1. Chapter 5: China- The Yellow River Civilization, pp. 91-110

Overview of the artistic achievements of Bronze Age China.

. Department of Asian Art. (2004, Oct). Shang and Zhou Dynasties: The Bronze Age of China. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Timeline and summary of ancient Chinese history.

Overview of the history and civilization of Ancient China. (n.d.). TimeMaps.

Overview of ancient Chinese history, including the influence of political theology. Video

‎2,000 Years of Chinese History! The Mandate of Heaven and Confucius: World History #7

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Homework Due date May 10, 2017


Unit 2 Discussion: Religion and Politics in Ancient Asia


Choose a civilization from ancient China (Shang; Zhou; Han) and one from India (Harrapan; Aryan; Mauryan) and describe how religion contributed to the rise and fall of both civilizations. Describe the role religion played in the political system of the two cultures you have chosen. When responding to classmates, provide additional and new research to support or disprove their position. Make sure to use proper APA format for all citations provided and include a reference list for the citations you use.



Please use below link for APA format.

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