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Reviews of Human Drama, Volume I: The Beginning to 500 C.E.

The Human Drama Teacher’s Guide

Table of Contents


General Introduction

Introduction to teaching Volume I of the Human Drama

The Historian’s Job

Marking Time
Maps Lie because they Lie
The Power to Name

Bessie the Cow: Strategies for Understanding Abstraction
A Bio Poem

Act One: The Origins of the Human Community (from earliest times of 3,500 BCE)

Introduction to Gathering, Scavenging and Hunting
How did Bipedalism Help us to Become Human? (Includes “a sense of mortality”

Pattern One: Agricultural Revolution Results in Two Ways of Life
Pastoral Nomads

Act II: Surplus, Specialization, Stratification and Cities (Third millennium BCE)

Introduction to Surplus, Specialization and Cities)
Surplus, Specialization and Hierarchy
Technology as an Agent of Change
Background Information about the Indus Valley Civilization
Sample Quiz on the Rise of Cities

Act Three: Nomadic Migrations and Invasions (Second millennium BCE)

Introduction to interaction between Settled Farmers and Herders
Nomad Settled Interaction: Using an Options schema to Restore Options People once had.
Pastoral Nomads on the Move
Area Specific Lessons
Power and Legitimacy, Shift from Settled Farmers to Invading Nomads
  in Mesopotamia in the 2nd Century BCE
Gilgamesh and Enkidu Become Friends: Mesopotamia”
What Does Hammurabi’s Code reveal about life in Babylonia in the 18th
  Century BCE?
Insight into the Lives of Women in Hellas During the 2nd Millennium
  BCE “Women and the Trojan War”

Pattern IV: Philosophic and Religious Developments: The Axial Age

Introduction to the Axial Age
Axial Age Pattern
Dualism, Monism and the Harmony of Opposites
Dear Abby Tests
Area Specific Suggested Lessons

Pattern V: The Growth of Empires

Introduction to Empires
Using an Outline to Evaluate an Empire
Options for Keeping the Bureaucrats Loyal
Legitimacy: What Gives a Ruler the Right to Rule?
Area Specific Suggested Lessons

Understanding Artha, one of the Four Aims of Life in Hinduism
Teaching about Dharma, Karma, Samsara with a Skit
What were Emperor Ashoka’s Sources of Legitimacy?
The Bhagavad Gita: Putting it all Together


World History Tests, Samples

Lesson Plans for The Human Drama

The Human Drama presents human history as if it were a play. The various major patterns that re-occurred in world history are called “Acts” and the way those patterns are presented in different times and places are called “Scenes.” After setting the stage and introducing various aspects writing and teaching about the past, Volume I, focuses on five important patterns that were important in different areas of the world during the period from the origin of life to 500 CE. 

There are several reasons why we have chosen this approach. One is the desire to return to history the options people had by presenting the past as an on-going drama that is continually unfolding. We want to try and immerse the readers into the milieu of a specific time and place, keeping in mind that the people living then did not know what was going to happen next: who would win the war; what natural disaster might strike; who would become the next ruler; what new jobs might open up. At each moment in the past, people face specific challenges and choices and they must determine what options they have and what they will do next. However, their choices are shaped by what each specific group understood about the world and the knowledge they had at that time.  

As in any good drama, we have tried to build in the element of suspense, encouraging students to try and figure out how the battles and elections and love stories will unfold. Instead of summarizing what will happen in a particular scene, we try and set the stage and examine some of the options and then let the story unfold. But there is another reason: we want to give agency back to the actors in the drama. If students can realize how the choices people made in the past changed the direction of history, they may realize that their choices  they are making now are also important, not just for their own lives but for their communities, country and the world. 

A second related insight we suggest you emphasize is change over time. The Human Drama is organized chronologically, and students will have the opportunity to revisit areas several different times to see the result of earlier choices and to identify new options.  Instead of treating civilizations as unchanging, we emphasize what causes things to change and how they change.  

We also hope to make it possible for students to compare and contrast what was happening in different areas of the world at roughly the same time, what options different people had, and what choices they made and why. Over the course of their world history study, your students will be asked to study the same pattern as it occurred in several different places, so it should be relatively easy for them to compare and contrast what was happening. And because they will look at what was happening in the same area in different time periods, they should be able to compare the major changes from one historic era to the next. 


Setting the Stage

These lesson plans are organized around various patterns.  You will find them most helpful for volumes one and two where these patterns or themes are first introduced.  If you start your study of world history with volume three or four, we recommend that you check to see if some of the material that introduces the patterns might be useful for your classes. We especially recommend that you consider using “The Power to Name” and “Bessie the Cow” as a way to deal with these issues throughout your study. We have also included a few supplementary lessons that we found particularly useful.   

The five patterns in Volume One are: Act One: The Origins of the Human Community, introduces the Agricultural Revolution and establishes settled farming and pastoralism.  Act Two: Surplus, Specialization and Cities, establishes the development of cities. Act Three: Nomadic Migrations and Invasions, focuses on the interaction between settled and nomadic people. Act Four:  The Axial Age, introduces major religious and philosophical questions and answers during the first millennium BCE. Act Five: Establishing a Synthesis in the Age of Empires; it offers a pattern for empires and examines the empires that developed in West Asia, the Indian Subcontinent; East Asia; and the Eastern Mediterranean.  In later volumes, you will find out how and where these and other patterns occurred and reoccurred. By the third and fourth volumes, your students will have been introduced to ten separate patterns that occur in different places all around the globe, as they study different variations within and among the different patterns and areas. We have also included a few individual lessons at the end of each volume that you may want to use with your students.

We hope that these different patterns and teaching suggestions will enhance your teaching of world history and will help your students both understand and retain their insights about the past.

Introductory Lesson One: Using Bessie the Cow to Understand Abstractions 

In teaching and learning about the past, teachers and students need to understand meaning of the concepts they are considering. The students’ understanding of a word or words must be similar to the definitions and meanings the teacher wants to convey.  If a teacher uses words such as grass, dog, house or tree, students and teachers will probably have a similar idea what the word means. However, when the teacher introduces more abstract words such as social structure, revolution, nationalism, balance of trade and legitimacy, the likelihood of the teacher and students having the same understanding will decline.  One sentence definitions often don’t help students understand abstractions. 

It is almost impossible to teach world history without referring to numerous abstract concepts. One excellent way to try and ensure that our students understand these concepts is by applying. S. I. Hayakawa’s Abstraction Ladder, referred to here as “Bessie the Cow.”  Professor Hayakawa identified seven levels of abstraction that we can use to help make an abstract concept clear. 

  1. Let’s assume we have been studying farming and we want our students to understand the concept of agricultural wealth.  “Agricultural wealth’ can seem pretty abstract to many students, so we decide to start with a black and white animal with four legs and a tail that students can imagine touching and smelling and hearing mooing, an animal we call “Bessie the Cow.” Bessie is at the bottom of the abstraction ladder, because she is very concrete and there is only one of her. 
  2. But then we notice that Bessie shares characteristics with other animals. Even though they are a different color and may be different sizes, they share so much in common that we call them all “cows.” That’s level 2. 
  3. As we move up to level 3 on the abstraction ladder, we add horses, chickens, goats and other farm animals and Bessie becomes part of a larger concept called “livestock.” 
  4. At level 4 livestock merges with other valuable things on the farm such as tractors, barns, fences, etc. and we can now talk about “farm assets.” 
  5. At level 5, farm assets combine with other valuable things such as bank accounts, stocks and bonds, land and jewelry to form the highly abstract level know as “Wealth.”

Many problems both teacher and students of world history have come from teachers’ use of abstract words which their students do not fully understand.  Teachers must be vigilant in initially using terms that are at the student’s level of abstraction. Talking about nationalism or colonialism without drawing upon the students’ actual experience with aspects of these concepts is like talking in a foreign language to many of our students. Simply giving a definition that uses other abstractions only confounds the problem. 

Choosing the correct level of abstraction means starting with ideas the student does understand and building on that understanding as we get more and more abstract. In world history, especially, the teacher will have to build up many concepts from the lower levels of abstraction and gradually move students to a higher level of abstraction. In other words, we must “Bessie” the concept.  In helping students understand abstract concepts, the following guide to decoding abstractions is suggested. This list goes from most concrete to most abstract. 

  1. The student’s own experience. 
  2. The experience of someone the student knows  
  3. A Simulation such as a banking exercise, “Brown and Blue Eyes”, “Fascism,” etc. 
  4. Viewing a film or video of an actual event that illustrates the concept.  
  5. Reading a first hand  source such as an enslaved person’s diary or soldier’s memoirs. 
  6. A good secondary source such as a biography or case study.  
  7. A selection of historic fiction such as All Quiet on the Western Front or The Inheritance of Loss.   
  8. The class textbook and teacher explanations (These are often filled with abstractions, but some offer concrete examples) 

Since world history can be one of the most abstract courses students will take, because it examines people and events and concepts far removed in time and space from the students’ experience, constantly sharing concrete examples is essential. Trying to find a more personal example of large abstractions such as the Mercantilism, The Protestant Reformation, Peasant Revolts and religious terms like Hinduism is both necessary and time consuming. Good world history teaching must be both very general and very local and  personal. 

One way to address the abstraction problem is to build up definitions of abstractions as the year progresses. To help achieve this goal, The Human Drama uses ten large re-occurring patterns in world history. As the year progresses, students can add to their understanding of these concepts, something like creating a layer cake.  The use of patterns also draws from the teaching of mathematics. In learning math students begin with addition and move on to subtraction. Then, using addition and subtraction, they learn multiplication and division. Each year math students build on the concrete levels of the years before as they gradually move to higher abstract levels. 

In our world history patterns, we introduce a new pattern for the first time with simple concrete illustrations. For example, in teaching the pattern of urbanization, we introduce the first cities in Sumer, Egypt and the Indus as examples and explain to students how surplus (an abstraction) makes specialization (another abstraction) possible, and that surplus and specialization leads to the development of cities. When urbanization is reprised later, we make the cities more complicated by introducing economic, social and political factors. Each time cities are reprised, we hope to deepen the analysis, introducing cosmic cities such as Beijing and even orthogenetic cities such Madurai in India. By the end of the course, most students should know what a city is and how it functions. Some will understand how cultural enclaves in cities form voting blocs and some won’t, but most should be able to recognize aspects of urbanization when they encounter them and know when they visit a city.   

Introductory Lesson Two: The Power to Name 

Background :The names we give people and groups reflect our perspectives and values. Less powerful groups often have to accept belittling or even insulting names. For example, many in China think of themselves as the People of Han, not Chinese, which reflects the Qin [Ch’in], the first dynasty to unite their land. When Romans called people Greeks, they meant dishonest traders. Greeks called themselves Hellenes.  For Indians in Asia the name of their homeland was “Bharat,” but the Greek word took hold and hence today there is a nation called “India.”

Historians struggle with the fact that the way we date event in the past reflects cultural values.  This lesson focuses naming areas or eras in world history.  It is designed to help students realize the power inherent in being able to give something a name. 

You will often encounter questions about “value-laden” and “value-free” statements in your study of the past. These concerns also apply to the power to name. As Thomas Scasz once stated, “In the animal world it is eat or be eaten. In the human world it is define or be defined.”  Clearly, the right to give something or some person a name reflects power. Often smaller or weaker groups and countries have to accept the names more powerful neighbors give them. 

Many people have fought for the right to name themselves. The first Spanish explorers to the Western Hemisphere called the people they met Indians, because they thought they had reached India, instead of calling them Aztec, Maya, Inca, Pequot, Madan or the other names these people called themselves. Europeans and Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries used “blacks” as a term of derision for African slaves. However, in the 1960s African Americans proudly took the term and, in doing so, reversed its original insulting meaning. Some young women today have decided to keep their maiden when they marry rather than take their husband’s name. 

The following quick introductory exercises can be used with pages 5-9 of The Human Drama that tries to help students become sensitive to the importance of names and terms. It could be used at any point in the year when issues of power or prejudice arise. It is especially important for all of us to realize that, when studying about people in the past, we need to think about what names signify, who used them, and why. 

Strategies: Ask students to think of the various names and nicknames they have, ones their family or good friends use, and ones grown-up use when referring to them. What is the basis of these names? Do they like them or resent them? Have students share some of their reactions.  

  1. Pair students up and have each pair think of names and terms that refer to various groups in the school such as jocks or nerds, groups in their neighborhoods, and ethnic and religious groups. Who made up these names? Are they signs of respect or derision? Who has the right to use them or keep them from being used? Why? 
  2. Discuss examples of people or groups who have resisted certain names or designations. Examples might include derisive ethnic names or terms such as negro or Black. Help students see that having the right to name signifies power.
  3. Have students review geographic examples from passages they have read  Some examples might include: The Indian Subcontinent; The Under-Developed World; The Developing World; The Far East; The Middle East; Sub-Sahara Africa; “Black Africa”; South Asia (India, Pakistan, Nepal & Sri Lanka);  China, Korea and Japan; North America; South America, The Middle Kingdom, Europe; the Non-Western World. The First World; The Third World. 
  4. How is the earth divided north and south? How is the earth divided east and west? Who got to decide where the Prime Meridian would be? Why does it go through Greenwich, England? Does that matter? To what does Eurasia refer?  To what does Afro-Eurasia refer? Are these useful terms? Why or why not? Who might object to them? Why? 
  5. What is the definition for a continent?  Why is India called a “subcontinent” but Europe is a continent?  
  6. What is the definition of a civilized person?  Of a civilization? Who gets to call an area a civilization? What is the definition of a primitive person? A primitive culture or area of the world? 
  7. What are the characteristics of an under-developed society? Who gets to name an area Under-developed? Developing? Developed?  The Free World?  The Third World?  Why?  Whose perspective do these terms reflect? Are these designations “value free”? Should they be? Why or Why not?


Act One: The Origins of the Human Community: Learning to Cooperate (from earliest times to 3500 BCE)

Pattern I: The Agricultural Revolution

A well-known world historian has argued that humans have undergone two major revolutions, the Agricultural Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. As a result of both of these revolutions, humans radically changed many aspects of their collective lives. 

The new discoveries that led to the Agricultural Revolution involved figuring out that seeds grow into new plants, and understanding how animals breed. This knowledge allowed some early humans to become settled farmers and survive by raising crops and some to become pastoral herders who bred flocks of animals.  Most of the the human community divided into these two different ways of life. 

The creation of settled farming began in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains in present day Iraq and rapidly spread across the globe.  From these early domesticated plants, humans in specific cultural areas began to specialize in growing the foods that thrived in their soils and climate. Within these food zones people attributed special powers to their particular staple and frequently established a goddess to preside over the production of that food. Corn, Cereal and Rice Goddesses were common across the world. 

The Agricultural Revolution resulted in farmers being able to grow more food than the community needed and the surplus led to specialization. Whereas in gathering and scavenging groups, almost everyone was expected to work to provide food, in farming communities effective cultivation made possible the release of a number of people who became specialist in other areas of work such as organizing and performing religious rituals, serving as administrators, keeping the records, becoming soldiers or merchants, etc. Because of the increasing abundance of food that farmers produced, farming populations dramatically increased in numbers making possible the development of towns and eventually cities. Food surplus and specialization became a vital factor in human history and those communities with the most effective farming techniques could release a large number of people from farming. 

The second major group that developed during the Agricultural Revolution was the pastoral herders who depended on their animals for most of their needs. The lives of nomads were fundamentally different than farmers and their cultural worlds demonstrate these differences. Until the pastoralists learned to control and train horses, they did not over very fare with their herds. By 4000 BCE they were on the move, transporting their tents and utensils as they moved with the animals. Nomads relied on their sheep, goats, and cattle for milk, meat and learned to protect them from wild animals and other hostile human groups. Nomads usually worshipped a form of sky divinity and fire was central to their rituals. Nomads honored the heroic warrior while farmers tended to live more peaceful lives. 

The fundamental differences between these two groups are the focus of this act. The long lasting interaction between farmers and nomads spans the centuries of human history and the values of each still contend in politics around the world.


Settled Agriculture                                  Pastoralism

  1. Settled, in permanent homes                Nomadic, temporary homes    
  2. Large, dense population                      Large, dense settlements  
  3. Organized by occupations/class          Organized by blood/clans
  4. Agricultural surplus                             Little surplus except cattle
  5. Men have some specialization             Most males are herders    
  6. Worship goddesses, earth                   Gods of storm, lightening, & war 
  7. Water is sacred                                     Fire is sacred
  8. Focus on farming                                 Focus on herding
  9. Relatively peaceful                              Develop military skills
  10. Main food is grains                              Main food is meat

Ideas to stress for this pattern:

  1. The role of seeds and the domestication of animals spread over Afro Eurasia. Geography played an important role in the development of these two ways of life. Farmers need good soil and adequate rainfall for their crops to grow; Pastoralist lived in areas with poor soil and inadequate rainfall for agriculture but where grasses their animals ate were plentiful. Students could make charts of where and when various plants and animals were first domesticated:  Potato and Bean – Latin America, Wheat – West Asia, Rice – Southeast Asia, Yams – West Africa. Animals:  Cow, Horse, Reindeer, Sheep, dog, etc. 
  2. Settled and nomadic people developed different cultural life-styles.  Nomad revered macho men and their animals; they worship sky gods; their homes and food supply are portable; status is based on ability courage and loyalty to one’s clan. Settled farmers usually worshiped the earth and mother goddesses, had complex divisions of labor and social stratification; surplus allowed many people to serve as priestesses, teachers, artists, musicians, administrators, scribes, etc. Introductory Activity:  Student might speculate on how they think pastoralists and early farmers lived. 

Possible activities:

Divide the class in half. One half will organize themselves as herders, the other half as settled farmers. Ask each group to consider how their group might have developed the following aspects of their lives.

Place of women; Selection of a leader; Who is most respected; Method of worship; Attitude toward other groups;  How work is organized; How many sub groups are formed?

Make a symbol for your group (flag, totem, etc.)


Possible Questions 

    1. How do nomads adjust to the environment in which they find themselves?
    2. How do farmers adjust to the environment in which they find themselves?
    3. What plants and animals used as symbols?
    4. If you were excavating an ancient site and discovered lots of mother goddess figures what conclusion might you draw about their way of life?
    5. Locate on a world map the areas of various nomadic and settled groups.
    6. Using the map research what major staple foods are still eaten in these areas.
    7. Make a map showing the spread of various crops around the world: tobacco, maize, potato, lemons, wheat, rice, yams, etc

Broader questions

  1. What are the enduring legacies of Nomadic herders in our life today? (going camping, horseback riding, meat eating, worship of sky gods.
  2. What are the enduring legacies of farming?  Surplus crops enable others to specialize, foundation for city life, makes possible the increase of population (Think of the Irish population after introduction of potato.)
  3. How do you think the nomads and settled will interact when they meet later in the human drama?

A Suggested Teaching Strategy:

Divide the class into five groups and have each group answer one of these questions. Students may refer to Act One, Scene One of The Human Drama as well as to outside sources.

  1. How do we know humans first developed in Africa?
  2. What was daily life like among gathering, scavenging and hunting people?
  3. Using a world map, trace the movement of the earliest people from Africa to the rest of the world. Use different colors to indicate different time periods.
  4. Describe how a hunting party probably organized itself to bring down a deer, giraffe or other animal. How was the meat distributed?
  5. Explain how the movement of gatherer-hunters gradually led to different physical characteristics of groups of people.
  6. What have been some of the consequences of the ability to make symbols and use language? What negative results derive from our ability to make symbols?

Sample Lesson: Changes New Technology Brings 

A digging stick may have been the first technology human beings created. The ability to start a fire rather than just using fire caused by lightning or spontaneous combustion was another early technological breakthrough. Some scholars argue that technology is what caused changes in the past. Innovations and inventions are certainly among the reasons for change, and changing circumstance lead to new inventions. 

Early in the course you might ask students to brainstorm a list of inventions that they feel have changed the way people live. If you do, save the list, and at the end of the course ask them to evaluate the inventions they listed. Which of those inventions proved important? What other invention would they add? 

This lesson provides a way for students to see the relation between new technology and social change. It can be used at any point in the year with any new innovation or technology. It you use the same format with different inventions, students can more easily compare and contrast the impact of various kinds of technology. 


  • Divide students into groups of three or four students. Give each group a large piece of blank paper and several magic markers. 
  • Once each group has settled in a section of the room, tell them to spread their paper out on the floor and draw a line down the middle of the paper. On that vertical line, have them write the name of the invention they are to consider. 
  • Then ask then to draw another vertical line that divides the space to the right of the invention in half and another vertical line to the left of the invention, dividing that portion of the paper in half. Their paper should now have four equal sections with the invention written in the middle. 
  • Next, have them label the far left-hand column “What was used before”; the next column “Methods and jobs replaced”; and then, to the right of the invention, label the third section “New jobs and goods that result” and over the final column “New inventions”. 
  • Now have the students fill in the sections with the appropriate information. 

You might introduce the exercise by having students practice with an invention such as the automobile or computer. They should quickly be able to point out what was used before and what changes and new inventions resulted from these two.  Some important innovations and inventions in the early centuries of world history might include:  

  • Stone points
  • Digging sticks 
  • Ax 
  • Irrigation techniques 
  • Cotton cloth (Indus Valley, 3rd millennium B.C.E.) 
  • Silk (China, 3rd or 2nd millennium B.C.E.) 
  • Iron tools 
  • Money 
  • Glass (ancient Egypt) 
  • Chariot (2nd millennium BCE) 
  • Pulleys, cogwheels, screws (Greece) 
  • Paper (Chinese 2nd century BCE) 
  • Printing  
  • Stirrup

Act II: The Development of Cities

The building of the world’s first cities was a major innovation in the human drama. With the development of cities, humans could specialize to a greater degree and free up thousands of people who could then work as artists, scribes and administrators¸ teachers, physicians and soldiers and many other jobs. People living in cities use written records that allow us to know how people lived long ago, what they thought and the world views that shaped their lives.

We focus this lesson of three of the first major urban centers: Sumer, Egypt and the Indus, Valley. Later in the year, students can explore more sophisticated concepts about urbanization such as special types of cities such as those that are sacred, cosmic, commercial, and political centers).

Pattern II: Cities and Civilizations

Characteristic of Cities

  1. Large population supported by outside resources
  2. Large, densely populated areas
  3. Diverse population, various ethnic, religious and occupational groups
  4. Surplus that led to and supports specialization
  5. Social stratification
  6. Interdependence and trade
  7. Social control – a government with rules
  8. Enough shared beliefs so leaders can maintain order
  9. The ability to keep records, usually writing
  10. Trade, internally, with countryside, and over long distances
  11. Large buildings, often an important display of the leaders’ power

Introductory Strategies
Have students brainstorm what city life is like. If they live in a rural area, ask students if they have ever visited a large city. What did they notice about the city? How is a city different from a small town?  What are the advantages and disadvantages of city life?


If students live in an urban area, they can be more specific: what did they have for breakfast, where did it come from? Why is it safe to walk on the streets?  Who has the most status in this city (mayor, baseball player, rich man, etc)? How long could they survive if trucks, trains, airplane and ships didn’t bring goods every day?

General discussion questions: 

  1. Where do cities develop?
  2. What geographic features are conducive to the development of cities? Why?
  3. What role does geography play in the life of cities?
  4. How can geography either facilitate or discourage long distance trade?
  5. What influence or importance does the layout of the city have on the lives of the people who live there?
  6. What does the layout of a city reveal about the values of the peoples who live there?
  7. What are some advantages and disadvantages to city life?

Questions about specific cities:


  • What are the major architectural structures such as the bath, ziggurat, pyramid, palace, granary, etc.;
  • What structures or areas symbolize the importance and sacredness of the city;
  • what food staples were the basis of the economy and how were they were procured, stored and distributed;
  • What was the city’s status system including the criteria for social stratification;
  • What made cooperation among large numbers of people in this area possible?
  • What was the relationship of this city to other cities and states (peaceful trade, war, isolation, etc)

Broader Questions:

  • What evidence can we use to evaluate large cities today?
  • How does the existence of diverse groups of people influence city life?
  • Identify contemporary centers of art, literature, music and general high culture in contemporary cities.  
  • What causes cities to decline? Where are some present locations where ancient cities one stood? 
  • Where are city-states thriving now?
  • Evaluate this statement: “The major historic developments have taken place in cities.”

Sample Lesson: The Importance of Surplus, Specialization and Hierarchy in Early Cities

Background for the students: Surplus was a key to the development of towns and cities. Surplus made specialization possible and with specialization came hierarchy. Although just about all human communities (and perhaps animal communities as well) have some form of hierarchy, the basis of respect and status have been different in different area of the world and at different times in history. The following teaching suggestions might be used to ensure that the students understand these concepts. 

Surplus was a key to the development of towns and cities. Once farmers were growing more food or raising more animals than they needed to support their families, they could swap some of their surplus for other items. People who wanted to perform other jobs could trade what they did (such as teaching or making pottery or performing religious ceremonies) with the farmers for some of that surplus food. Gradually people and families started to specialize in a particular job: farmers grew food; potters made clay objects; priest performed rituals; merchants organized trade, and the whole community became interdependent.

As specialization developed and communities increased in size, some people were needed to guard the surplus, protect the community and keep the peace.  The community was willing to support leaders and policemen and soldiers even though they didn’t produce anything. 

As towns and cities developed, people performed many different jobs that provided a variety of goods and services. All of the jobs were important for the community’s survival, but not all of them carried the same amount of r them carried the same amount of respect. As a result, hierarchy developed: some jobs were “higher” than other. Rulers and soldiers had more power than potters or farmers or those who collected the garbage. Priests who could influence the gods and goddesses often seemed to have a very special kind of power that others lacked Merchants became richer than farmers or teachers.

Strategies for teaching about specialization, surplus and hierarchy. To introduce this assignment, write three or four professions on the board such as lawyer, teacher, artist, banker, carpenter.  Ask the class which job has the most respect. Let students debate that a minute or two. Then ask them for the reasons one job has more respect than another. Hopefully they will disagree. Then tell them their homework assignment is to make a list of the various professions and jobs in their community, town or city and list them from most respected to least respected. 

  1. Next class, in small groups and then as a class, have them share their lists. 
  2. Ask students to explain the criteria they used for ranking the occupations. Have them discuss reasons for any disagreement in the ranking. For example, they might suggest they disagree with the ranking or with the whole idea of hierarchy. 
  3. Ask why hierarchy exists. Ask them what other criteria a society might use to rank its citizens. 
  4. Tell them to keep their list in their notebooks and use it during The Importance of the year to compare to the hierarchy in the societies they will be studying. 

Quiz on the Development of Cities 

This type of short answer quiz tests student ability to identify and define people, concepts, religious beliefs, etc. It also asks students to recognize similarities among various items.  The sample test below relies on information in Act Two of The Human Drama: The Development of Cities 

Directions: In each list, circle the item that does not fit.  Identify what the three (or more) other items have in common and on line B define or identify the item that does not fit. 

  1. Indus;      labyrinth       Tigris;      Nile;      “China’s Sorrow”      Euphrates  



  1. Ziggurat       Shiva,      Great Bath,       Pyramid;        Temple           

2A. ______________________________________________________________ 

2B. ______________________________________________________________

  1. Harappa,         Mandate of T’ien        Thebes,         Lothal,        Knossos       

3A. ______________________________________________________________ 

3B. ______________________________________________________________

  1. cataracts,        inundation,        tides           purity-pollution        

4A.  ______________________________________________________________ 


  1. Surplus;      specialization;       vizier          hierarchy       writing  

5A. ______________________________________________________________ 

5B. _____________________________________________________________ 

  1. planned cities,   city-wide drains,   same size bricks,   mummies,  no weapons  

6A. ______________________________________________________________  


  1. often  floods,    concept of Zero     cultivated easily    powdery so erodes  


7B. ______________________________________________________________  

  1. are nomadic   create a social hierarchy   have little surplus;   depend on herds   




Act III: Nomadic Migrations and Invasions

Pattern III: Interaction between Settled Farmers and Nomadic Herders  

The major nomadic groups during this period were:  Indo-Europeans, who were living on the Inner Asian Steppes included Aryans , Achaeans, Dorians, Hittites, Hurrians, Assyrians, Medes, Persians, Macedonians and. Etruscans 

Semites (from the Arabian Peninsula) included Akkadians, Amorites (Babylonians), Hyksos , Habiru (Hebrews) , Chaldeans, Bedouins, Arabs 

What Animals did they herd?  

  • Cattle: across the whole continent and in the Sahel south of the Sahara 
  • Camels: Desert zones of the Sahara Desert and the Arabian Peninsula 
  • Sheep and goats: Anatolian and Iranian plateaus, south of the steppe. 
  • Diverse herds of sheep, goats, horses, camels and donkeys 
  • Horses: Eurasian steppe from Black Sea to Mongolia. 
  • Horse, sheep, goats, cattle, camels 
  • Yak: Tibetan plateau 

Reasons Nomadic groups entered settled areas  

Factors Pushing Nomads out of the Steppe  

  • Changes in climate that reduces the amount of grazing land  
  • Increases in population so nomadic groups do not have enough food  
  • Diseases among herds that kill many of the animals  
  • Pressure from other nomadic groups pushing them from their homeland  

Factors Pulling the Nomads into Settled Areas 

  • Disruptions of normal trading relationships with settled areas  
  • Lure of food and other goods in settled areas  
  • Weakness in settled areas, inviting raids and invasions  

Other possible reasons 

  • New technology such as metallurgy and the invention of the chariot  
  • Charismatic leader  


Possible results of nomadic invasions  

  • Co-existence: Each group living separate in its own territory with limited exchanges. This was probably true 90% of the time.  
  • Nomads attempt to invade and are repulsed.  
  • Hit and run: Nomads attack and take what they want and return to the steppe. 
  • Salad Bowl: Nomads enter settled areas and settled down but do not mix with settled people.  
  • Melting pot: Nomads enter settled area and gradually mix with settled people.  
  • Nomads invade, settle down and dominate the settled area. 
  • Settled people adapt nomadic military values and/or skills (horses and chariots) and eventually drive nomadic invaders out.  
  • Nomads invade, settle down, conquer and build an empire. 

If nomads successfully invade and defeat the settled people but then gradually become just like the settled people, who conquered whom?

Lesson for Nomad-Settled Interaction: Using an Option Schema to Restore the Options People Had 

In studying history, it is important to return to people in the past the options that they had. Events were not preprogrammed to take place in a certain way. At each juncture, real human beings made decisions that affected what happened next.  

One way to impress this fact on students is to help them consider the possible options people had at specific times and to examine the choices people at those times and places made. Let’s consider a few of the key developments that you will probably be teaching during the early history covered in volume one of The Human Drama and suggest how you might create a list of possible options (an “option schema”) to teach about each development. 

One of the major patterns is the interaction between nomads and settled people. Your students may already have heard about the Germanic peoples who invaded Northwest Eurasia (what became Europe) in the early centuries of the first millennium CE or about the Vikings who raided Northeastern Europe several centuries later.  An earlier period of major interaction occurred in the early centuries of the second millennium BCE when both Semitic nomads from the Arabian Peninsula and Indo-European nomads from Central Asia moved into settled communities in the Euphrates, Tigris, Nile and the Indus river valleys. 

  • The first step in teaching what happens when nomads and settled people interact is to be sure students understand the differences between settled and nomadic ways of life. Settled, urban life is probably something almost all of your students understand, but many of them may have little idea how nomadic herders live. If that is the case, you may want to provide a “Bessie the Cow” type introduction. 
  • Ask your students if any of them have ever moved often. What was it like? What about going away for summer camp? What was that like? Have any of them lived on a ranch or with people who herded animals for a living? How was life there different from living on a farm or in a town or city? What did their herding friends think of farming or city life? 
  • If that doesn’t work and you can’t think of a simulation, you might assign students a reading or movie excerpt about cowboys. Ask them to imagine how city-dwellers might view the cowboys or other nomads. Why might they fear them? What might they want from each other?  Be sure to include geographic factors in the discussion. On what kind of land do nomads live? Where do farmers live? Where do you find cities? What role does geography play? How important is geography?  
  • You might show a film of a nomadic society such as “Mongol,” “The Weeping Camel,” or some other film about Mongolian society or show a portion of an American western film such as “Shane” to suggest how cowboys live and how the two groups view each other.  

Once you are sure students understand the differences between the lives of nomads and settled people, ask them to brainstorm what might happen if these two groups got together. Suppose the nomads tried to raid the settled areas or the settled people tried to take the nomads’ cattle? Would it be difficult for nomads to become city dwellers?  How about city dwellers becoming nomads? 

You are now ready to focus on the first historic period of extended interaction between nomads and settled people that occurred in the 2nd millennium BCE. After students have read “Setting the Stage”, pages 83-92 in The Human Drama, ask them to brainstorm what they think might have happened when these two groups met. Below are some suggestions: 

  • The two groups have nothing to do with one another. 
  • They occasionally trade goods: nomads have horses, other animals, meat and minerals. Settled people have food, especially grain, cloth, and tools. 
  • Nomads migrate into settled area and gradually mix with local people. 
  • Nomads try to raid and are repulsed. 
  • Nomads raid, take what they want and leave. 
  • Nomads raid, destroy and leave. 
  • Nomads raid, conquer and rule over settled people without mixing with them.
  • Nomads raid, conquer, but use existing leadership to rule. 
  • Nomads raid, conquer, rule, and eventually get thrown out. 
  • Nomads conquer, mix and establish a new kingdom. nomads conquer, mix and establish a new kingdom, but then another group of nomads invades and conquers them. 

Encourage students to refer to this list as they study the information in Act Three: Nomadic Migrations and Invasions


Act Four: The Axial Age

Pattern Four: The Axial Age

Introduction to the Axial Age 

Around 600 B.C.E., the interaction between nomads and settled people and the violent struggles that resulted spawned many questions. Some people living in the cities were disenchanted with the harsher qualities of urban life. The inequalities that flourished in urban life led to a division between rich landowners and increasingly poor urban workers and peasant farmers. People were tired of the seemingly constant wars and upset over the gross inequalities that seemed to benefit the rich and powerful, and many were seeking ways to create an orderly society that fostered peace and cooperation.  How could they develop ways to help the poor and weak survive? How could they tame the warrior and stimulate rulers and the well-to-do to treat those who were less fortunate as their brothers and sisters? People were also asking questions about the meaning of life and what happens when we die.

Across Eurasia from China and India into Persia, West Asia and Greece, thoughtful people were suggesting ways to limit warfare and inequality and trying to offer insights into what we label religious question. As these “wandering holy men” traveled through the countryside, they attracted followers who began to listen to their ideas. In general these teachers, such as Confucius, Lao Tzu, Mahavira, the Buddha, Zoroaster, Amos, Hosea, Cleisthenes and Plato, all addressed some of the same basic questions, but their answers grew out of the local cultural traditions in the societies in which each one lived. We use the term Axial Age because an ax axial idea, like the axial of a wheel, represents the central idea around which a group or society revolves.  This period of history was exciting because of the many new ideas that people were discussing.

The major goal of this act is to help students examine how and why people, all across the vast area of Eurasia, were seeking insights and ways to deal effectively with the challenges they were facing, insights that continue to inspire people today.

To help student think about the Axial Age, you might ask students to make their own lists of general problems and questions they have about our society. Some of the issues they may raise are:

  • Who is my neighbor? What responsibility do I have toward other people?  
  • What is the source of justice and law?  
  • How can we tame the military but still feel safe?  
  • How do we deal with insecurity and contingency?  
  • How do we know what is true? What is the source of truth?  
  • How do I address opposites: Dualism? Monism? Harmony of Opposites?  
  • If keeping order is the government’s primary responsibility, what can a government do to assure its subjects obey the rules?
  • Is life fair?  If not, why not? What should we do about inequality?
  • What is the major goal of life? What should we value most? Is life on earth our major concern or is there another reality? If so, what is it? 

The major goal of this act is to help students examine how and why people across the vast area of Eurasia strove to create insights and answers that might deal effectively with the new challenges they were facing, insights that continue to inspire people today.

The Major Thinkers during the Axial Age

West Asia  

  1. Zoroaster: Dualism and War  
  2. Hebrew prophets: Monotheism, justice and law 

Indian Subcontinent  

  1. Mahavira (Jains): Ahimsa and Tolerance (The Doctrine of Maybe)  
  2. Buddha: Snuff out desire, No ego or self, Have Compassion for all life.

Middle Kingdom (China)  

  1. Confucianism: Harmony in human relations;  Filial piety  
  2. Daoism: Flowing in harmony with the Dao, wu wai  
  3. Legalism: Order, laws and security 


  1. Ionian philosophers: Observe nature; use your reason and look to science   
  2. Greek polis: Arete and Democracy 

Major ideas  

  • The Priests: Life is in the hands of the gods, so let’s perform the rituals.  
  • Zoroaster: Life is a cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil, so choose good and fight against evil. 
  • Brahmanism: Observe caste hierarchy, do your dharma (proper actions) and build good karma.
  • Buddha: Life is suffering. Stop desire and follow my Eightfold Path. Mahavira: Things are not as they appear, so be tolerant, practice ahimsa (non-injury of anything), and be self-controlled. 
  • Daoists: Life is, so be; practice wu wei and welcome change as it comes. 
  • Confucius: Practice filial piety; strive for harmony and observe li (proper actions) and ren (proper thoughts)
  • Hebrew Prophets: Keep the covenant with the Lord and be obedient and merciful.

Sample Lesson for the Axial Age: Dualism, Monism and the Harmony of Opposites


One of the most important concepts addressed during the Axial Age is how people thought about opposites (see pages 155-157 and 175-178 in The Human Drama). We often hear someone ask: “Do you agree with me or not?”  “Are you with us or against us?’ “Is that right or wrong?”  Those are all examples of dualistic thinking. The key words are “either” and “or”. For dualists, an answer is either right or wrong. It’s either good or bad. A convict is either guilty or innocent. 

Most of us almost automatically think dualistically—we assume opposites reflect how ideas should be framed. Many of us were taught vocabulary words by giving opposites: I say “Hot; you say cold.”  “In,” you say “out.” “Happy—Sad.”  “Difficult—Easy”; true-false. 

One of the most important underlying beliefs in West Asia is dualism. Dualism found its first dramatic expression in the Persian faith called Zoroastrianism. Dualism soon became embedded in both Judaism and Christianity (and, as we shall see in Volume II, in Islam as well). It is reflected in pairs of opposites such as God and the Devil, good vs evil, and right vs wrong. Dualistic thinking in evident in much that we say and do in the United States: it is the basis for our legal system that seeks to establish guilt or innocence; our moral system of right and wrong; and it even underlies our reliance on true/false tests. 

Perhaps the most significant underlying belief from South Asia, in contrast to West Asia, is the idea or monism or the oneness of all things. In this system, opposites are ultimately absorbed and erased in a cosmic unity or Oneness. The early Vedic verses from India speak of the universe as a seamless web. In Rig Veda 10.90 Purusha, the Cosmic Man, who fills the entire universe, is sacrificed and become all the discreet parts of the universe. In another creation story, the Cosmic One falls apart and becomes everything in the universe. Instead of “either—or”, many people in South Asian think “both-and”. For example, when asked whether he was with the United States or against it during the Cold War, Prime Minister Nehru is quoted as having said: “Yes.” 

A third way to think about opposites is that they are in balance. This is a major view in East Asia where the Chinese developed the concept of Yin-Yang. Yin stands for soft, dark, moist, feminine, non-violent qualities while yang symbolizes the hard, bright, dry, masculine qualities. Rather than being in opposition or conflict, these forces are reciprocal and in harmony. One of them is not better than the other; both are important and together they constitute the whole. 

We do not mean to exaggerate the differences among dualism, monism and the harmony of opposites, but following Clifford Geertz, we suggest they provide certain “moods and motivation” for the people who view the world through these different lenses. Understanding these concepts will help your students as they examine the different world views presented during the Axial Age and throughout their study of the human drama.  

Strategies for teaching about opposites: 

  1. Ask your students to get a partner and make a list of opposites.  Have them take turns giving the first word and the other student giving its opposite. 
  2. Once you are sure the students understand what dualism means, introduce the idea of “ethical dualism” by asking them to think of opposites where one side is good and the other is bad.  Have them repeat the first exercise but this time make sure that the pairs they mention reflect values such as good-bad; right,-wrong; true-a lie; pretty-ugly, etc. 
  3. Give each student a thin strip of paper about 15 inches long. Tell them to write five to ten pairs of opposites on the strip, writing the “good” words on one side and the “bad” words on the other side.  Briefly have students share the pairs they chose and discuss any pairs over which there is disagreement over which is good and which is not good such as “man-woman”. 
  4. In order to illustrate a non-dualistic approach, ask students to fold their strips of paper so that they create a Mobius strip. Briefly discuss what happened to the distinctions between the pairs of opposites. 
  5. Have students discuss examples from contemporary life where people have made a clear distinction between options. Note the ones that make an ethical distinction. (For example, purple-orange as opposed to beautiful purple- ugly orange. Can something be both/and rather ?) 
  6. Ask the students to be looking for dualistic and non-dualistic examples in other classes, in conversations, on the TV, the Internet, in cartoons, magazines, true-false tests, etc.  Remind them of the statement President George W Bush made to the nations of the world shortly after 9/11: “You must either be with us or against us.”  Here is an example from a Christian hymn: 
  • Once to every man and nation 
  • Comes the moment to decide 
  • In the strife of truth and falsehood 
  • For the good or evil side.

Below is a sample tests for the Axial Age.  It uses a Dear Abby letter format and asks the students to reply as if they were the Abby that is being addressed in each letter.  Explain to the students that their grade will depend on how well they express the views of each Abby. 

“Dear Abby” test one for the Axial Age

Directions: On a separate sheet of paper, answer the follow letters. In each case, imagine you are the “Abby” to whom the letter is addressed and make sure your answer reflects that Abby’s worldview. That is, if the letter is address to Confucius, you must try to answer it as Confucius would have answered it. Try to answer each comment or question in the letter.  Be as specific as you can. 

  1. Dear Confucius Abby: 

My father is very unreasonable. He is so bossy. He always wants me to be doing things for the family when I want to hang out with my friends. I think his ideas are silly and old-fashioned, but he won’t listen to me.  Instead he orders me around. I’m sick of it. What should I do? 

Signed, Fed-up  

  1. Dear Amos Abby: 

I want very much to become rich and famous. After all, rich people are the ones with power in society.  I just found out about an apartment building I can buy. All I have to do is get rid of a few old people and a couple of widows who are living in the building, and I can make a great deal of money. I should be able to evict them without too much trouble, but just in case they give me a hard time, can you give me the name of a good lawyer I can contact? 

Sincerely, Soon to be Rich  

  1. Dear Buddha Abby: 

The army is offering me a full scholarship to college if I will serve in the military after I graduate. I want to go to college and become a success. I know the army will help me and I look forward to being a good soldier. Aren’t you happy for me? 

Signed, Sarge-to-be 

  1. Dear Mahavira Abby: 

I will soon be eighteen and want to go into the army. After all, it promises that every soldier can “be all that I want to be!” I know I’d make a brave fighter. I’m not afraid to kill. In fact, I am looking forward to fighting to defend my country against our enemies. Wish me luck! 

Signed, Fearless  

  1. Dear Lao Tzu Abby: 

Nothing I try to do seems to work out. I study hard for a test and I still do poorly. I try hard to impress my friends, and they still don’t like me. I obey all the rules, and I still get punished. Can you help me? 

Signed, Failing 

  1. Dear Cleisthenes: 

The people keep demanding more say in the government. And there are so many groups and they are all split into factions and don’t trust one another. What should we do? 

Signed, Leader  

  1. Dear Buddha, 

I’m fed up. There are so many things I want, but I never seem to get any of them.  I wish I could lose ten pounds because I know I’ll be happy then. I wish I were better looking. What do you recommend? 

Signed, Would be Dieter  

  1. Dear Legalist Abby: 

My son tried hard to get to school on time but the subway broke down. The teacher got mad at him and made him stay after school. That’s not fair. He was trying. And anyway, what’s the big deal about being a little late? Can you help me get that teacher fired? 

Signed, Mother

“Dear Abby” test two for the Axial Age

Directions: On a separate sheet of paper, answer the follow letters. In each case, imagine you are the “Abby” to whom the letter is addressed.  Try to answer each comment.  Be as specific as possible.

  1. Dear Confucius Abby: 

My father is very unreasonable. He is so bossy. He always wants me to be doing things for the family when I want to hang out with my friends. I think his ideas are silly and old-fashioned, but he won’t listen to me.  Instead he orders me around. I’m sick of it. What should I do? 

Signed, Fed-up  

  1. Dear Brahmin Abby: 

My father says I must become a carpenter just like he is even though I am only 25.  But I hate carpentry. In fact, I’m sick of everything and I think I’ll just drop out and go to the forest. Maybe in another life I’ll be born as the son of a soldier. 

Signed, Longing for rebirth  

  1. Dear Buddha Abby: 

I hear that you were a very successful person so I am writing to ask for your advice. I want to become the class president at my school. What tricks can you suggest that will help me get elected?  There is also a pretty girl I’d like to date.  What can I say to impress her?  I’ll know these things will make me very happy, so please answer me right away.  

Signed, Hopeful  

  1. Dear Buddha Abby: 

The army is offering me a full scholarship to college if I will serve in the military after I graduate. I want to go to college and become a success. I know the army will help me and I look forward to being a good soldier. Aren’t you happy for me? 

Signed, Sarge-to-be 

  1. Dear Lao Tzu Abby: 

I am trying to create a plan for me personal development.  I want very much to be the strongest guy in my class and work hard to develop my body.  I also want to make a plan for how to improve my grades so I can get into a good college. Can you suggest what I should do to improve?  

Signed, Planning  

  1. Dear Buddhist Abby:  

The halls in our school are such a mess.  The students throw candy wrappers, discarded food and used paper in the halls and leave their books and other belonging in there as well.  In addition, they shout down the halls to their friends, disturbing the classes, and many of them talk back to the teachers.  What advice can you give to us to try and improve our school?  

Signed,  A Teacher  

  1. Dear Legalist Abby: 

The halls in our school are such a mess.  The students throw candy wrappers, discarded food and used paper in the halls and leave their books and other belonging in there as well.  In addition, they shout down the halls to their  friends, disturbing the classes, and many of them talk back to the teachers. What advice can you give to us to try and improve our school? 

Signed,  The Principal 

  1. Dear Athenian Abby:  

The halls in our school are such a mess.  The students throw candy wrappers, discarded food and used paper in the halls and leave their books and other belonging in there as well.  In addition, they shout down the halls to their friends, disturbing the classes, and many of them talk back to the teachers.  What advice can you give to us to try and improve our school?     

Signed, Student Council President


Act Five: Establishing a Synthesis in the Age of Empires

Pattern Five: Characteristics of Empires

As more and more people began to live in cities and trade over vast areas, urban centers attracted nomads and urban-nomadic interaction increased. For the most part, these interactions were mutually beneficial: nomads trading horses and wood for food and manufactured goods. At other times, when nomadic life was threatened by such things as changes in climate, population shifts or attacks from other nomadic groups, nomads might invade cities to gain needed resources. Sometimes, instead of returning to the steppes, they conquered the settled areas and established new states. In the process, the nomads had to give up their nomadic way of life and settled down and the urban dwellers adapted some of the nomads’ military skills, including the chariot and horseback warfare.

Several of the states that developed became large enough to be identified as empires. These agricultural empires covered extensive areas of land and usually had a large diverse population that that the central government controlled.  The rise and fall of centralized states, as we have seen, had begun in Sumer in the Fertile Crescent under Sargon in about 2,300 BCE. It extended into Egypt after 1580 BCE, and then to other states in Mesopotamia such as the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Mauryan, Han and Roman empires. 

Obviously, the wishes of rulers and subjects conflict at many points. For the ruler to stay in power, he had to keep his demands on his subjects to a minimum. When he was seen as overly oppressive, subjects often revolted and had to be put down by armed force. When the revolt was successful, a new ruler might take over the government. 

When an empire was expanding, the soldiers usually could loot territories they conquered and carry off women and men as slaves.  In these early stages of expansion, empires gained wealth from conquering cities and rulers were less likely to impose heavy demands on their subjects. However, as an empire reached the limit of its expansion,  opportunities for looting and conquest diminished or ceased all together. Then the ruler often had to raise taxes and demand more corvee and military service from his subjects. In addition, as an empire matured, the rulers often got soft and greedy and the civil servants—the local bureaucracy that collected the taxes and kept order—became corrupt.

Gradually the vigor of the early period of conquest usually gave way to wasteful court life and the building of huge monuments that were intended to display the empire’s power and wealth. Increasingly large armies were necessary to protect the long borders and to keep order at home. Moreover, emperors often raised taxes on their own subjects and hired foreign mercenary soldiers to serve in the army, resulting in an army full of disloyal soldiers. 

Agricultural empires were, almost by definition, unstable and few of them lasted more than a couple of centuries before a new hardy nomadic group took over the decaying ruins of a given empire became the rulers of a new empire which then went  through the same process. In spite of all these attempts to enhance the longevity and power of any given empire, each grew and flourished only to decay and decline leaving deserted cities and crumbling monuments. Often all that remained were artifacts in museums that tourists visit, marveling at the power of that long lost empire. 

Although each of these empires was unique in the way it was organized and dealt with its subjects, they all shared certain characteristics. This pattern identifies some of the common characteristic of empires. In the interest of time, you may decide to give your students these lists. If time permits, it would be good to have your students create their own list of factors within each of these headings.  

What Rulers of Empires Want:  

  • Subjects who obey their orders and follow the rules.
  • Subjects who will willingly pay taxes.
  • Subjects who will serve in the army (usually young men from 15 – 40) 
  • Subjects who will serve in corvee labor units to work building  canals, walls, roads, bridges, etc.) 
  • Sources of economic strength either from labor, geographic position, natural resources or conquest. 
  • Subjects who will grow crops for sale and export.
  • Subjects who are loyal.

What Subjects Want:

  • Protection: to feel safe internally and from outside attacks 
  • Low or no taxes, either in kind (goods) or money
  • Little or no demand for corvee labor 
  • Do not have to serve in the military or send your brother, husband or sons to be soldiers 
  • Fair laws that are written down, publicly displayed and fairly enforced 
  • Perception that the system is fair and the bureaucrats and civil servants are honest.
  • Freedom from armed raids to take food and sons for army 
  • Economic prosperity: freedom to grow food produce or make items for trade 
  • Good roads and bridges, so it’s safe to travel and trade 
  • To be allowed to keep one’s own local culture, religion and way of life. 


Factors that Make an Empire Strong 

  • People feel the leader has legitimacy  
  • Succession: There is an orderly way to transfer power from one ruler to the next 
  • Ruler should control the army but not “rule from horseback” 
  • There are written laws that people obey 
  • There is an efficient bureaucracy: officers are willing and able to collect revenues without trying to build up their own power base 
  • Government can control the scholars 
  • Military is loyal to the ruler 
  • It  is possible to communicate effectively throughout the empire
  • Borders are easy to defend 
  • There is good agricultural land for growing crops 
  • The subjects are willing to sacrifice for the well-being of the empire 

Common Problems Empires Face

  • Succession: How to select the next ruler and ensure that the subjects feel he has legitimacy
  • Spoils: How to share the plunder and taxes fairly
  • Military: Getting people to fight and limiting the number of mercenaries
  • Controlling the Bureaucracy: Keeping local officials from building up their own power base

The creation of empires — large areas settled by diverse peoples that are under one centralized government — was perhaps the major political characteristic of the period from about 500 B.C.E. to 500 C.E. Ever since Sargon united the Sumerian city-states in 2300 B.C.E., military conquerors in Mesopotamia and the lands on the eastern border of the Mediterranean Sea tried to extend their rule over large areas and diverse people.  Often this control did not last much longer than the life of the conqueror, and soon another military leader would build up his power base, defeat the existing rulers and use his troops to control and protect the territory he now claimed. Sometimes the empire lasted several hundred years. 

Empires often have many of the same characteristics. Below is a suggested outline that your students can use to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of any empire. Instead of just giving your student this list, you may want to let them develop their own list or revise this list as you find topics that have been omitted or do not seem important or relevant. Your students can use copies of this outline throughout the year to record information they get from the text, from class discussion and from their individual research. If students use an outline like this repeatedly as they study and evaluate different empires, it should be relatively easy for them to work together and compare their information.  Such outlines should also enhance their ability to compare and contrast different empires and/or specific aspects of different empires over time and in different areas of the world. 


Evaluation of the __________________ Empire 

Physical Position and Strength 

  • Location, physical borders & ability to defend borders 
  • Population size and diversity 
  • Resources such as coal, iron, oil, etc. 
  • How self-sufficient is it? 

Strength of Ruler 

  • Personal qualities 
  • Source of his legitimacy 
  • Signs and symbols of the empire’s authority 
  • Relationship between the military and the ruler 
  • Strength and skill of local leaders &/or the bureaucracy 
  • Relationship between the government and the religious leaders 
  • Method for choosing a new leader 
  • Method for succession and transfer of power 

Sources of Control 

  • Role and strength of the military 
  • Nature of rules and means used to enforce them 
  • Role and importance of the Capital 
  • Role of the court, festivals, and religious rituals  

Attitude of Subjects 

  • Morale of the people 
  • Attitude toward taxation, military service, and corvee 
  • People’s perception of the rules and how they are enforced 
  • Willingness of subject to obey the rules 
  • Economic well-being & and distribution of wealth 
  • Cohesiveness and extent of identification with & support of the empire & ruler 

Role & Importance of the Bureaucracy 

  • Who can serve? Method of selection 
  • Where is their loyalty? 
  • Whose interests do they promote? 
  • How are they rewarded or punished?

Role & Importance of the Military 

  • Means of recruitment and soldiers’ motivation to fight  
  • Opportunities for further conquest 
  • Fighting techniques and weapons used 
  • Status and role in the society 
  • Loyalty to central government 
  • Role of mercenaries 

Economic Strength

  • Who controls the land?  
  • What is the tax base? What do the subjects think about the taxes? 
  • What other sources of revenue besides taxation does the government have?
  • Extent and importance of trade 
  • Public works that support agriculture and/or trade 
  • Means & safety of travel, contact and communication throughout empire 
  • Condition of roads and bridges 

Strategies for Dealing with Diversity 

  • What events or other means does the government use to create loyalty among the subjects? 
  • Are there efforts to promote, create or impose a uniform belief system?
  • What is the government’s attitude toward the diversity of the subjects?
  • What factors make the people willing to support the government? What makes the subjects angry at the government?

Which breakfast cereal symbolizes the diversity of the various empires?  Total (Everyone is the same); Great Grains (Different individuals); and Kellogg’s Variety Pack (Groups live separately and are held together with only light wrapping paper)?

Lesson One on the Age of Empires: Legitimacy: What Gives a Ruler the Right to Rule? 

Background: Empires have been a recurring aspect of world history. The creation of empires — large areas settled by diverse peoples that are under one centralized government — was perhaps the major political characteristic of the period from about 500 B.C.E. to 500 C.E. Ever since Sargon united the Sumerian city-states in 2300 B.C.E., military conquerors in Mesopotamia and the lands on the eastern border of the Mediterranean Sea tried to extend their rule over vast areas and diverse people.  Often this control did not last much longer than the life of the conqueror, and soon another military leader would build up his power base, defeat the existing rulers and station his troops to police the territory he now claimed. 

One very important aspect of an empire’s strength is whether or not the ruler — be he governor, king or emperor — has legitimacy. If he gives an order, will the people obey? But before you go any further, you may want to make sure you students understand the abstract concept of legitimacy. 

  1. Tell students to take out a piece of paper and write their name and the date on the top and pass their paper up to you. 
  2. Now tell them to take whatever money they have in their pocket or purse and send it up to you.  If someone objects, ask them why they were willing to obey your first order but not the second one. Would they do it if the principal told them give her/him their money? What if their parents told them to give them their money? Would they? Why or why not? Would they obey what a policeman told them to do? A doctor? A salesman in a store? What orders would they refuse to obey?  

Apply these examples about what makes you obey some orders and not others to the concept of legitimacy. Does their teacher have the right to order them around? Will they do what he/she tells them to do? If he/she has the right and power to give an order and expect it to be obeyed, then we can say he/she has legitimacy to give that command.

As a class or in small groups, ask students to suggest possible ways rulers might establish their legitimacy. Some of the options rulers have used include:  

    • Claiming to be divine or to have divine power. Being the spokesperson for a divine power. Marrying a goddess. Having the Mandate of Heaven. Claiming to be the Shadow of Divinity on Earth. 
    • Using lofty titles such as Caesar, Tsar, King, Emperor, Shogun, General, etc. 
    • Wearing special regalia such as a crown, robes, a special color, or sitting on a throne; Insisting your subjects bow down in your presence, standing or sitting on a higher level than your subjects; staying hidden from sight; 
    • Living in a grand palace or an elaborate capital where many impressive rituals are performed.
    • Being a successful military leader, commanding a large army and conquering new land. 
    • Using heredity: being related to the present ruler; being identified with a former ruling family or having an important ancestor. 
    • Being chosen by an elite group. 
    • Being elected to office by the people.  

You may want to have your students look for pictures of various rulers in textbooks, magazines or look at some pictures you provide. What symbols of authority do the rulers in those pictures use to underscore their legitimacy? How do these symbols compare with the items the students listed?  Ask students to be on the lookout for symbols of authority used by people they know such as their teachers, the principal, Scout leader, a policeman, a priest or minister, etc. In what ways are these symbols similar or different from the symbols they identified for political leaders?   

You may also want to ask your students to start a “Legitimacy” page in their notebooks. On that page, have them list the various symbols and signs of legitimacy they have already noted. Ask them to continue to write down the various ways different leaders that they study establish and enhance their legitimacy. 

Lesson Two for Age of Empires: Options for Keeping Bureaucrats Loyal 

Empires are one of the major themes during the early period of world history. Empires face many different challenges such as getting people to pay taxes and provide corvee, maintaining a strong military, promoting trade, enforcing laws and keeping the peace among diverse subjects. Not least among the challenges is keeping bureaucrats that help the rulers control his subjects, and also large landowners, loyal and preventing them from trying to build up their own power base and overthrowing the government. In fact, internal revolts were often a major cause of rulers losing  control.  

What is a Bureaucracy? The first step, as always, is to be sure students understand what a bureaucracy is.  (Remember “Bessie the Cow”.) You might ask the students to make a list of the kinds of jobs that must be done in order for a government to run smoothly, so taxes are collected honestly, so the people feel safe and secure, and the roads remain in good repair and travel is safe, etc. The people who work for the government and perform these jobs are often called “civil servants” or “bureaucrats” and they make up the bureaucracy. 

Who Should the Ruler Appoint? After making a list with your students of some of the jobs that a government must carry out, have your students brainstorm who a ruler should appoint to fill these jobs. Who is most likely to remain loyal and not try to take weaken his power?  Together with the students, make a list of possible candidates for the bureaucracy that a ruler might appoint. They might suggest:  

  • His relatives 
  • His friends or friends of friends 
  • People willing to work for small salaries 
  • Military experts 
  • Educated people 
  • People who have training and expertise for the particular job 
  • People with no personal loyalties in the area where they will serve 
  • People who know a lot about the areas where they will serve 

Why Might Bureaucrats Want to Overthrow the Rulers? To be sure the students understand why those who work for the government might want to revolt, you might be draw on student experiences in the student council, school clubs or outside organization where there is competition for leadership. Have they ever been part of one of these organizations and wanted to take over the leadership? What would they have to do to be successful? How could they build up their own support, that is, their power base? Have they ever been one of the leaders and had to deal with challenges to their control? What happened? If time permits or interest exists, you could plan a simulation or perhaps give students a first-hand account of the overthrow of a ruler. 

Which Options Should the Ruler Use? The next step is to have students brainstorm options leaders could use to keep bureaucrats, rich landowners and others from trying to overthrow the government.  The list might include:

  • Use members of the military
  • Use only family members and friends
  • Reward bureaucrats generously with grants of land and status if they are loyal. 
  • Punish the bureaucrats severely if they are disloyal. 
  • Order them killed if they are disloyal. 
  • Move them around the country or to different jobs so they cannot build up a power base. 
  • Make them spend some months in the capital between assignments. 
  • Appoint censors or spies to watch what they are doing and report back to you. 
  • Do not allow bureaucrats to own land or to marry. 
  • Use only slaves who have no families or any loyalty beside the leader. 
  • Only use eunuchs. 
  • Use educated foreigners with no connections to any subjects in the empire. 
  • Only select those who pass a test. 
  • Keep members of their families as “captives” in the capital. 
  • Make them “retire” for five years when a parent dies. 
  • Give them some say in the government. 
  • Other ideas? 

What Options Did Your Empire Use? After making a tentative evaluation of these and other options, have students evaluate the various options.  Then have students consider the range of possibilities that existed within the specific time and place they are studying. Which ideas were actual options at that time and in that place? For example, in 2012 a ruler cannot select eunuchs or slaves to serve in the bureaucracy, but during the Roman Empire these were two viable options. Because there were several empires before 500 C.E., you might want to assign groups of students different empires and instruct them to try and determine which options were possible in their empire and which options its leaders actually decided to adopt. Once they have completed the assignment, have students share their findings and conclusions with one another

Pattern Six: Cross-Cultural Encounters

Implicit in much of The Human Drama is the importance of cross-cultural encounters and the borrowing of ideas, beliefs, inventions and ways of acting from one area to another.  William McNeill, a renowned world historian, has stated “Encounters with strangers was central to world history because that was what forwarded innovation, always and inevitable.” (Mythistory, p. 79) Jerry Bentley, another well respected world historian, noted that “Cross-cultural interactions are remarkably effective agents for change. (Old World Encounters, p.5) Cross-cultural encounters leads to an exchange of ideas and often results in people adopting or adapting foreign cultural traditions.

Dr. Bentley has identified four periods of sustained cross-cultural encounters. There four periods were from 200 BCE to about 400 CE; from 500 CE to 1000 CE; from 1000 to 1350; and from 1500 to 1900 CE. By the twentieth century, cross-cultural encounters were world wide.  

Cross cultural encounters, whether they are the result of military invasion or contact with long distant traders or missionaries, often result in people changing some of their beliefs or values; they can introduce new diseases, spread the growth of new varieties of plants and animals, they can spread different religious and social beliefs and ways of acting and challenge existing ones; they can result in spreading diseases into new territories.  

Merchants living in diaspora communities frequently meet and trade with foreigners who have different ideas and ways of acting, some of which the merchants find appealing, and they made voluntarily adapt some of the new ideas or ways of acting. Sometimes changing what one believes or how one acts can result in a better job or lower taxes or other advantages. Political or social pressure can also result in people adapting foreign ideas or actions; so can military conquests.

Sometimes people voluntarily adopt new ideas and beliefs, and often they have been forced to do so. Sometime they are penalized if they to do not adopt the new beliefs or acts: their taxes may be raised, or their freedom or power may be reduced. Those who resist the new ideas sometime try to move away; some rebel; some even accept martyrdom rather than change their beliefs or actions.    

An important reason for welcoming and adopting new ideas is because they resonate with what a person already thinks or believes.  Dr. Bentley calls this process of adapting foreign ideas and actions “social conversion.” And social conversion usually results in syncretism, when people selectively borrow elements in the foreign culture that are similar to one’s own or which resonate with what already believes or how one already acts. In the process, people merge their own beliefs and actions with the news ideas and create a new cultural configuration. As we got further in the Human Drama, we can note some of the way foreign traditions and new ideas become intelligible, meaningful and even attractive in totally new settings and result in new cultural co