Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds In this stage, we’re going to look at phase two. It’s the second part of ancient globalisation, which goes from about 10,000 BCE to up to about 1820. It’s all about what I like to call localising the globe. If phase one was about humanising the globe, in other words, putting humans all over the globe, phase two is about having parts of the globe become economically distinct. Cities and civilizations arising and staying in one place. The agricultural revolution is really what caused this. As we saw before, the warming of the climate made it possible to develop agriculture. And they call it the agricultural revolution, not because it was sudden. It probably took centuries at a time.
Skip to 0 minutes and 59 seconds But what it was was a revolutionary change in the way humans lived. It allowed consumption and production to gather in fixed places. If you will, instead of the consumption following around herds of animals, following around the production, the consumption stayed put, and the production was brought to the people in the form of agriculture. This had tremendous effects. It allowed cities to arise and allowed civilizations to arise. In essence, if you think about ancient history, this is phase two, when it all came about. Now, there’s an interesting thing, a chart here. I want to show you this map. The production/consumption clusters arose in river valleys first. Now, this came about for one very simple reason. Ancient agriculture didn’t have fertilisers.
Skip to 1 minute and 50 seconds And so if you farmed the land for more than a few years, the farm land became infertile. So your crops started getting smaller. But in river valleys, the annual flooding renewed the fertility of the soil, so humans could live in the same place for centuries at the time. It started first in the Nile Valley, Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, and the Yellow River Valley. And it’s interesting to see that they’re all about 30 or 35 degrees north, because this is a sweet part, where it’s not too cold, but it’s also not too hot.
Skip to 2 minutes and 28 seconds I’m going to do one other bit of background before I turn to the narrative of phase two. And that’s how the human population evolved. Now, as you can imagine, you can support way more people on farming than you could by hunting and gathering. As a result, the human population grew enormously to start with. Let me show you the chart here. This chart has world population from 10,000 BCE, when the agricultural revolution started, to the founding of the Roman Empire. And you see over at the left, what we have is the world population before agriculture was about a million human beings spread over the whole globe. With agriculture, that increased five-fold, up to about five million.
Skip to 3 minutes and 14 seconds And it stagnated, more or less, until there was one other big development. That was the development of metal– first, bronze. And bronze allowed humans to control their environment in a way they previously never could. But there was another big surge when iron was invented, because iron is much more plentiful, therefore much cheaper. And it allowed people to use iron in agriculture and all sorts of things, which allowed them to control their environment. And that led to the rising population, that big surge at the end. With that chart as background, I’d like to now talk about organising the discussion of this approximately 10,000-year-long period. That’s a lot of time to cover in two minutes.
Skip to 3 minutes and 58 seconds So what we’re going to do is break it up into three phases.
Skip to 4 minutes and 5 seconds Stage one was the rise of Asia, which went from about 10,000 BCE up to 200 BCE. Now, it’s worthwhile pointing out that during this time, 200 BCE, Asia still dominated the world economy. Writing, religion, military, laws, the wheel, the development of metal, all of those inventions were invented in Asia, thousands of years before the Roman and the Greek populations started Western civilisation. Asia also dominated the world at this time in terms of population. And since basically everybody was more or less at starvation, having a large population meant they dominated the world economy. So the rise of Asia was about the time of humans developing almost everything that we think about as modern civilisation.
Skip to 5 minutes and 3 seconds And almost all of it happened in these four river valleys. Stage two is just after the Silk Road opens up. And before the Silk Road opened up, the three clusters we saw before, the Nile River Valley, the Mesopotamia, and the Indus River Valley, they were connected and they were trading, even going back to the Stone Age times, because it was relatively easy to connect them, either by land or by coastal trade. But China was separated by the Tibetan Plateau and the rivers and jungles of Southeast Asia, so China had very little to do with the three western clusters.
Skip to 5 minutes and 44 seconds What really changed, why we’re going to call it stage two, was when the Silk Road opened up, and the whole Eurasian continent started trading with each other. Stage three is when Europe starts to rise. Let me take those one at a time.
Skip to 6 minutes and 5 seconds Stage one, the economic organisation of the four clusters was very steady, but the political organisation was ever changing. If you’ve taken any history course, you would have memorised endless kingdoms and empires. The interesting thing from our perspective though, in this course, is that the economic organisation of the world really didn’t change. It remains centred on these four clusters of production and consumption. Now, in this particular map, which I’m showing you, by about 500 BC, which is the beginning of the Roman Empire– I’m sorry, beginning of the Roman Republic– the three western clusters had kind of come together. And in this particular, you can see the Persian Empire had really connected most of those all under one control.
Skip to 6 minutes and 53 seconds This was just before Alexander the Great knocked over the Persians and took all of it. But you can see this cluster didn’t change very much.
Skip to 7 minutes and 4 seconds The simple geography of this was dictated by the fact that it was very, very hard to move anything. And as a consequence, all the activity took place near the river valleys, where the agriculture was developing and spread out. Stage two is the Eurasian integration. From about 200 BC to 1350, the world as we knew it at the time– they called it the Old World or the Known World– got integrated. And you can see here from this map, there’s a northern route, which went overland, through Tibet, through Iraq, and ending in what is now Jordan on the south and Istanbul in the north.
Skip to 7 minutes and 49 seconds But there was also a sea route, which was also called the Silk Route, Silk Road, which went down through Southeast Asia, to India, back up to the Middle East, and then over. Now, this road connected the world, the Old World, in some sense. But times were very difficult. At this time, it was very difficult to move goods. To give an example, many of you will have heard of Marco Polo. Now, Marco Polo went from Italy overland to China, across that red route. That took him three years. When he came back, he went on a sea route. That took two years. And most of the people in the convoy he left with died on the way.
Skip to 8 minutes and 33 seconds Travel at that time was very difficult. And so although the world was integrated, trade was extremely rare. It was really something for princes and pirates, for extremely wealthy emperors. It was mostly in curiosities or things that just didn’t exist locally.
Skip to 8 minutes and 53 seconds Stage three started with a terrible event, the Black Death. It rebooted the entire world. So the Silk Road globalised disease, in particular the Bubonic Plague. And it moved from East to West, arriving in Europe in about 1347. And it killed one out of four or one half of all Europeans in three years. Just imagine how that would upset your school. Imagine how that would upset your workplace if half or a third of the people died in the next three years. It was a complete trauma for human civilisation. The impact on the Islamic world was at least as great. But for a variety of reasons, it was much less on China and India.
Skip to 9 minutes and 38 seconds Now, what the Black Death did was transform European societies in a way that triggered progress. But it had the opposite effect on the Islamic world. This was the beginning of the rise of Europe. Now, nothing was sudden. But the rise of Europe, from the 14th century up to the 19th century, was based on really three new things. One was new thinking, the Renaissance, the Reformation, Enlightenment. New lands– in an attempt to go back to Asia, Europeans discovered America by mistake, going around Africa. And new foods and new diseases. When the Europeans arrived in the New World, they discovered all sorts of foods, like corn and potatoes, which helped the European population rise enormously.
Skip to 10 minutes and 32 seconds But the Europeans brought diseases to the New World, which almost completely wiped out the native population there. So after a couple of centuries, we had lots and lots of Europeans without very much land and two new continents, North and South America, with not too many people. That was the beginning of the European colonisation and the rise of the European civilisation, which, in essence, started to move the centre of gravity of global to the North Atlantic and away from Asia. But even in 1500, as you can see in this graph, Asia still dominated. By and large, people weren’t much above the poverty level, the starvation level. So world GDP and world population were approximately the same.
Skip to 11 minutes and 20 seconds And you can see in this graph, India and China were about half the world’s population and half the world’s economy. And if you add on the other bits of Asia, it’s about 2/3. Western Europe was quite small at the time and not dominant. So it’s important to keep in mind that even in the 1500s, Asia dominated the world economy. The next phase, all of that’s going to change.
Phase 2: Localising the globe
Phase Two: Localising the Globe (10,000 BCE to 1820)
Human existence changed radically with the invention of agriculture, and globalisation changed along with it.
From about 12,000 years ago, or 10,000 BCE, agriculture was developed. Although it is hard to precisely date its development, it is clear that it developed separately in many regions of the world. Most historians, however, believe that it first started in today’s Iraq, Iran and the eastern part of Turkey (the “fertile crescent”).
Agriculture’s most spectacular development, however, appeared in four river valleys located near to 30 degrees North latitude (the sweet spot of not too hot and not too cold). These were the Nile River, Mesopotamia, Indus River, and Yellow River.
The Agricultural revolution was a process that took centuries, so it wasn’t a revolution in the sudden sense of word but it had revolutionary implications for humankind. It enabled the rise of cities and then civilisations which in turn led to the development of almost every basic element of human civilisation – everything from writing and religion to laws and metal.
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© Richard E. Baldwin