The End of the First Millennium

In the year 1000, there were 80 million people who lived in the Middle Kingdom of China. Of these, about half were registered residents of the world's largest administrative entity at that time, the Sung Dynasty. These people all lived south of the Great Wall. Their capital was in Kaifeng, a great trading city&emdash;by far the largest in the world, with a population of more than 1 million people, including several thousand Jews and other important traders such as the Sogdians.

The administrators of the Sung were highly literate and were part of the world's only meritocracy. Chinese technology included the extensive use of paper and printing with movable type; the production of silks; and the sale of exotic spices and tea. There were astronomical laboratories, paper currency, vast irrigation systems, and gunpowder.

Nearly all peoples within several thousand miles paid tribute to the Sung government. These tributaries included the highly developed government in Kyoto, which had an emperor, the titular head of tens of millions of Japanese people. The Japanese had successfully copied and used nearly all the Chinese technology; plus they had a continuous administrative structure that was older than that of the Chinese.

The largest geographic domain in the world belonged to Islam, a religion that was firmly established from the important trading and university city of Cordoba in Spain to the Indus River. The Islamic capitol was Baghdad, probably two-thirds the size of Kaifeng. There were Chinese traders living in Baghdad. Islamic religious life included extensive literary, scientific, mathematical, and technological learning. Trade, using gold currency, was carried on throughout the religious territory. Important traders included Jews, of whom more than half a million lived in Islamic lands.

The second most extensive geographic empire was that of the Vikings, a north Baltic people with a deep democratic heritage. The Vikings conquered, dominated, and settled in all areas of the Baltic and North Sea, from Greenland to England to northern France. The Vikings include the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Normans, Norse, Swedes, and the Rus. Denmark was the nominal political center.

The Vikings had extensive trade settlements as far south as Sicily and as far east as Kiev. They regularly traded and settled on the great rivers of Russia down to the Black Sea and left graffiti on the walls of their stores in Constantinople. Their technology included the best sailing and navigational vessels of their time and a simple written language for trade and religious ceremonies. Their government was based on elected representatives who met for many months every year and chose government agents and judges to act between legislative meetings.

Between Islam and the Viking-dominated realms were settled several million Jews, including converts in the large area of the Kazar, a people whose settlement stretched from the Black Sea to the Caspian to modern Poland. The Jews had the highest literacy rate of any people at the time. They conducted, by mail, a millenium-old religio-intellectual dialogue that spanned the world from Cordoba to the upper Rhine to Eygpt to central Persia.

In the Americas, there were probably less than thirty million people. Two extensive empires existed without a written language and with no currency. One was the Toltec in modern Mexico and Mesoamerica, with a population of up to ten million; the other was the Inca, covering 2,000 miles from the Isthmus of Panama to the southern end of modern Peru. The Incas were just gaining control in their area, replacing the earlier Huaris.

Other civilizations of the time include the Kievian Russians, who populated a large territory but were weak and under attack by the Pechenegi who controlled south Russia. The Hausa and Fulani were large tribes of traders in Africa who traveled regularly from the small Tekrur state in West Africa through the large Bornu empire in the central sub-Sahara and to the Luba territories around Lake Victoria. The Hausa and Fulani traders carried salt, gold, and copper. There were also two independent kingdoms in the Ethiopian region: the Axumite, a two-thousand-year-old dynasty that traded throughout the Arabian Gulf, mostly in ivory, and the small empire of the Sidamas. In the year 1000, Queen Judith (an Ethiopian Jew) was dismembering the Axumite empire. The total population in Africa was probably under thirty million.

East Africans in the year 1000 traded with Indonesians, who traveled from Java, where the largest active temple of the time existed (the Temple of Shiva) at Prambanan. The East Africans also traded with Indians who traveled from the Gujerat and Malabar coasts.The largest Indian empire belonged to the Colas, a Tamil people who controlled a large area from the 18th parallel in the north to Ceylon in the south, including the Malabars. The ruler in 1000 was Rajaraja I, who was probably the most powerful and expansion-minded man in the world during his day.

A particularly large Islamic group at the time, which had its own culture, was the Turks. Their central empire of the Ghaznavids extended from the Tigris River to the Indus. There were separate Bulgarian and Seljuk Turkish people in adjacent areas.

Hindu and Buddhist influence, which originated in India, was important in the civilizations of the large rice-growing cultures of the Khmers, whose capitol was Angkor, and the Champas, located in modern Vietnam.

Europe was a tribal area with many small entities and some commonality in their Christian religion. All of Europe had fewer than 30 million inhabitants. The largest population was in the Byzantine Empire, with its capital in Constantinople. It extended from Venice, the only European trading port, to most of modern Turkey.

Trade goods and associated knowledge covered the land mass and seas from Greenland to Singapore. Some people kept their knowledge local (that included some Chinese technology); most others didn't. Iron was actively used nearly everywhere, and silk was widely traded, as were spices, jewels and dyes. Except for unique foods in the Americas, most other foods and drinks were known in wide geographic regions where climate permitted their use. Most knowledge was accessible to anyone who wanted it. Life span had common patterns, with high mortality at birth for mother and offspring and fairly high mortality during childhood. Those who lived past age 21 had an average lifespan of age 65.

How has the world changed since then?

Michael Phillips, 1999


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