Printer Friendly

The emergence of a global society.

So much of what we take for granted in 2000 would have been unimaginable in 1000.

In our MTV culture, image and the moment are everything. Context and history are usually ignored. The approaching end of the millennium, however, provides an impetus for us to step back and reconsider history, to take stock of where we stand and how we got here. That is why The World & I is launching a 16-part series, starting with this issue and running through December 1999, examining the most significant developments of the past millennium in order to better understand our world today.

It is important to do this because, as a truly global society struggles to emerge, we face numerous obstacles and challenges. To meet these with any chance of success will not be possible without a grasp of the history and context from which they have emerged. This is particularly true since the end of the millennium has coincided with a profound change in the structure of geopolitics.

The end of the Cold War brought with it the demise of the bipolar global system it had generated. A multipolar system has taken its place, bringing to new prominence a disturbing range of regional and ethnic conflicts. Most of these conflicts are based in bitterly remembered and disputed history: Israeli versus Palestinian; Muslim versus Hindu in India; Protestant versus Catholic in Northern Ireland; Croat, Bosnian, Serb, and Albanian in Yugoslavia and its former territories are just a few examples. While an understanding of history alone will not resolve these conflicts, no solutions are likely in its absence.

A HISTORY OF CONFLICT AND CHANGE

The history of the past thousand years has been marked with its share of conflicts, but the period's most remarkable feature has been the degree of change that has taken place and the rapidly increasing pace at which it has occurred. If an educated person of any culture in the year 1000 had received a miraculous vision of the world in the year 2000, he might well have said: "You cannot get there from here." So much of what we take for granted would have been beyond his wildest imagination, let alone his comprehension.

To bring out the contrast, we open our series this month with "Life a Millennium Ago," written by Current Issues editor Robert Selle, which describes what daily life was like for one Baldred the shipwright. We will conclude the series next year with a look at all the inventions and developments of the past thousand years that have become part of our daily lives yet would have been inconceivable to Baldred.

Progress, then, is one key for understanding the past millennium. It is not an uncomplicated concept, but the first thing to note about it is that it is almost unique to the last few centuries of this millennium. Most societies for most of human history had little or no concept of change. Where they did, it was often change for the worse. Thus the philosopher Plato, whose classical Greek world has long been venerated in Western civilization as the origin and model of rational inquiry, regarded his world as the corrupted vestige of some prior golden age.

Learned men in Europe in the year 1000 were aware of the lost greatness of Rome. Recapturing the greatness of classical Greece and Rome was one of the motivating forces behind the Renaissance. Indeed, only in the last few centuries did Europeans begin to have a sense of having gone beyond the achievements of the classical world.

A NARROW WORLD

People in the year 1000, wherever they lived, had no concept of a world of unfolding and multiplying possibilities. Tradition ruled, and material circumstances were tightly constrained. What hopes of change people held rested largely m the life hereafter, depending on their religious faith. The vast majority of people survived through subsistence agriculture, where they were not pastoralists or hunter-gatherers. That means they were tied to the soil and to village life. Most people probably never traveled mote than a few miles from their village during their lifetime.

The agriculture of the time supported populations a fraction the size of today's. Europe's population, for example, was around 5 percent of its present level. AgriCultural surplus was only enough to support a tiny elite of warriors or scholar-priests, and literacy was known only among the latter. Travel was also the domain of a privileged few and was limited by the speed and stamina of a horse over land or the vagaries of wind and tide on the sea.

This picture changed only gradually through the first half of the millennium. During the second half, the pace of change began to pick up and has continued to quicken right up to the present. For educated Europeans, this soon became a self-conscious and self-confident process that gave birth to the idea of progress.

Essential to the appearance of the idea was the dramatic development of science that brought with it the sense that people could gain mastery over nature. The application of science through technology has transformed almost every aspect of human life, including, through industrialization, the way we live together in society. Consequently, several articles in the series will address the scientific revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and the revolution in communications.

As stated earlier, progress is not a simple concept. It implies the question, Progress toward what? To those caught up in the first flush of scientific discovery and rationalist enlightenment, the answer seemed self-evident. Human reason would not only unlock the secrets of nature but would provide the key for creating an ideal human society. Today we cannot be so sanguine. Attempts to create a utopian society, such as the French and Russian Revolutions, brought worse bloodshed and oppression in their wake.

The genocide and mass murders perpetrated by the political ideologies of the twentieth century were made more deadly by the perverted use of the fruits of science, and the organization that is a feature of industrialized society. The mastery that science gives us over nature has proved to be a double-edged sword if we lack mastery over our own nature. Whether we can attain that mastery is a challenge that will determine the shape of the future, added to which is the question of whether the earth itself can sustain the demand for resources and other impacts of our development.

UNPRECEDENTED PROGRESS

This has been the millennium of unprecedented progress, but it is progress that now approaches the year 2000 with a question mark. How we frame and answer the question will probably shape the early centuries of the next millennium. One thing we need to be aware of is that our technological achievements are unique in human history but that having achieved them is no guarantee that they will be maintained without vision and resourcefulness. We should remember how Rome appeared to those tenth-century scholars.

A second key for understanding the past millennium is globalization. A thousand years ago, there were regional civilizations that had limited contacts with one another. Concepts of the world and other cultures were vague and largely mythological. From around the middle of the millennium, however, European explorers began to reach out in their ships around the globe, until, in 1522, an expedition led by Ferdinand Magellan completed the first circumnavigation of the globe. At that time the Chinese had developed the same oceangoing sailing capacities and navigational abilities as the Europeans. It is one of history's enigmas that the Chinese consciously turned inward at that point, and it was left to Europeans to spearhead the age of exploration.

From that point, human beings have explored the planet systematically, penetrating the most inhospitable wildernesses, scaling the highest mountains, and plumbing the ocean depths. We have even gone beyond the bounds of Earth, placing men on the Moon and viewing our world in its round, blue serenity from space. Technology has shrunk our world and bound it more tightly through air travel and electronic communications. Four hundred years ago, it would have taken six months to voyage from Europe to the Far East, with every chance of dying en route. Today we make the trip in less than twenty-four hours and complain about the discomfort of long plane flights.

Trade and investment have become global, and the world is economically interdependent. When Asia's economies falter, Wall Street waits anxiously for the reverberations in the Western Hemisphere.

GLOBAL INTERDEPENDENCE

As with progress, to which it is first cousin, globalization, at the end of the millennium, comes with a question mark. Economically and technologically, the world is becoming increasingly integrated. At the same time, the clash of values between different groups has been exacerbated. The challenge for the future is for humanity to develop values that can sustain a global culture, or risk the destruction of technological achievements through the conflicts we cannot transcend. Again, history offers its lessons. The Greek city-states of the ancient world declined in great part because they could not stop waging their internecine wars.

Our series is entitled "Millennial Moments," but strictly speaking we will be talking about millennial processes, highlighted by key events and characters, with an emphasis on their consequences, particularly how they have helped make our world what it is today.

We will examine both transformations that have changed our material environment--such as the scientific and Industrial revolutions--and those that have changed our way of thinking about ourselves and our place in the world: the rise of limited government or the Reformation and its consequences are examples. A list of the 15 upcoming topics appears with this introduction. We will supplement our lead article each month with sidebars or short articles that describe significant events, discoveries, and inventions that outline the role and influence of important historical figures and describe parallel developments in non-European cultures.

Our chosen topics focus on European developments, for which we make no apology. It seemed that to do otherwise would falsify what has taken place in the past millennium, or turn the series into a collection of colorful anecdotes with no sense of the process and development that have occurred. The major developments that have made one world of our planet originated in the West. The impulse for exploration began and was pursued there. The intellectual inquiry that produced science and applied it in a technology that has now become globalized was a Western activity. The global economic system and ideas of political democracy and human rights that have outlasted their totalitarian competitors all originated from Europe and its prodigious offspring, America. Even the challenge to Western democracy posed by Marxism and taken up by many non-European dictators was a product of European thought.

WHITHER THE NEXT MILLENNIUM

This is not Western triumphalism. At the start of the millennium, there was nothing to suggest that Europe would play this role. It was backward in relation to Chinese and Arabic culture, and its future was in no way preordained. For much of the first half of the millennium, Europe was no more remarkable than other centers of civilization. Yet whatever was taking place there enabled it to play the role of the motor driving world history in the last 500 years. That inescapable fact makes Europe's earlier development inherently interesting.

All this is not to say that the world, now on the verge of a millennium, has witnessed the final triumph of Western values. Rather there is a fierce, worldwide debate about the values that should guide how human beings live with the technological products that originated in the West. This is not a simplistic clash of Western versus non-Western values. Many voices critical of the use we make of technology and the stresses inside Western societies come from within Western tradition, both rationalist and religious. Islam probably is the most vocal critic outside, but Iranian militants are not about to give up their PCs and cell phones and the other benefits of modern technology. The outcome of this debate--irreconcilable conflicts, or the emergence of some new basis for global harmony--is the question of the future.

Through this series we hope to promote a better understanding of how and how much the world has changed in the past millennium and how those changes have made us who we are. Through such understanding we believe that we will be better able to consider future change and evaluate more clearly the question, Change toward what?

RELATED ARTICLE: Millennial Moments: Upcoming Articles

* The Rise of Limited Government

* Columbus' Discovery and the Age of Exploration

* The Renaissance in Art

* From Gutenberg's Press to the Internet

* From Scholasticism to the Reformation and the Protestant Ethic

* From Feudalism to a World Made of Nations

* Galileo and the Scientific Revolution

* From Mercantilism to `The Wealth of Nations' and the Advent of Capitalism

* From the Steam Engine to Nuclear Power

* Rationalism and the Revolutionary Tradition

* Darwin's `Origins' and the Impact of Evolution

* From a Literary to a Visual Culture

* The Demise of Latin and the Development of English

* Change in the Family and the Role of Women

* What We Take for Granted

RELATED ARTICLE: LIFE A MILLENNIUM AGO

Life in medieval England was short and brutish, representative of much of the world at the time--but the English, having no standard of comparison, were happy and content withal.

The following story is fictional. But it accurately depicts England's culture in A.D. 1000 and is meant to provide a window on the life of the time.

Baldred the shipwright snapped awake in the predawn darkness. He smiled at how refreshed he felt after his long night's sleep beneath his eiderdown-filled linen quilt laid over a springy mattress stuffed with fragrant heather.

Absently scratching his louse-filled beard, he lay for some moments listening to the choir of birds in the trees around the village of Waterburg on England's North Sea coast. Baldred never failed to wake to the hymns they sang every morning to the pearling eastern horizon.

As he peered into the pitch blackness inside his house, a sudden fear seized him. It was September of the apocalyptic year 1000, and everyone--from the lowest peasant to the Benedictine monks at nearby St. Paul's Abbey to noble King Athelred--was certain this would be the year of Christ's return.

Baldred grasped the lucky amulet he always wore round his neck, rolled out of his wooden bed, crept to the rough oak door, and, holding his breath, pushed it ajar to peer at the sky. He immediately began to breathe easier, his fear subsiding, as he saw not Christ splitting the heavens asunder but a shaft of amber light from the as yet unrisen sun illuminating a cloudbank. No angels crowded the sky as a flock of pigeons careered above the treetops.

All was normal. Life could go on as usual for perhaps another day--for Baldred and his family and for the other roughly 2 million inhabitants of the British Isles. (In all the world at that time, there lived barely 350 million people.)

He threw open the door to admit the dawn's faint light and cool air. Like the others in the village, his house was built of double wattle walls insulated with lichen and moss and topped with a rush-thatched roof. The floor was of beaten earth.

He went to the kitchen hearth, blew a reed head into flame from the embers, and lit a tallow-fueled lantern made of translucent cow horn. It shed dancing lozenges of weak yellow light around the house's dim interior.

He walked over to where his wife was sleeping and stood over her, beaming. He adored Estrith--since long before they were betrothed with the mutual agreement of their parents, he at age 18 and she at 15.

"Wife, up with you! It's well-nigh noontime, and here you be abed!" he bantered, speaking in the British Isles' lingua franca, Old English, a tongue akin to German. "The sin of sloth will be your undoing!" She moaned sleepily with her eyes still closed, wrinkled her nose at him, and rolled over.

WOMEN'S `RIGHTS'

Baldred's smile widened. Most of the men in Waterburg were wont to cuff their wives from time to time--or worse--and many boasted of how they kept their spouses in line with their fists and a willow switch. At 5 feet 10, the shipwright was tall for the typical eleventh-century Englishman. Yet despite his bulging chest and arm muscles, he could barely bring himself to raise his voice, let alone his hand, to his mate during their occasional arguments.

And she was a well-behaved, respectful, responsible wife--seeming proof that his more gentle method of keeping her in line was not so remiss after all.

He knelt beside Estrith and gave her a playful bite on the cheek. She shrieked and rolled toward him, throwing her arms around his neck. "You wicked man!" she laughed.

He looked fondly into her eyes. At 27, she was still beautiful, though her honey-colored hair now had streaks of gray, wrinkles were tracking her face, and her grin was gap-toothed from the painful loss of several teeth. Even now, in the last couple of weeks, one of her molars had begun to throb incessantly and would probably have to be pulled by a monk who specialized in medicine.

Baldred, by contrast, had been blessed with seemingly perfect teeth. Hardly a dental problem had beset him in his life, while some men his age had lost every single tooth to rot and gum disease.

"Anyway, however she's aging," he thought, coming back to the present, "I do love this woman."

Then aloud he said with a twinkle in his eye, "Now look what you've done, wench, with your brassy voice. You've wakened the baby!" And indeed, little three-month-old Brynna was beginning to stir and whimper beside her. Estrith clamped the infant on her breast.

The shipwright regarded the little girl as she suckled daintily, thinking of his other children. Eleven-year-old Egbert and four-year-old Burgred, his two dear boys, were asleep on their beds in the next room. But his other two children, Chetel, the son who would have been nine, and Fendrith, the daughter who would have been eight, were in heaven.

Chetel had succumbed to a virulent diarrhea when he was just three. And Fendrith had been claimed only last year by an epidemic of the pox that had swept through the land. In both cases, all the herbs, prayers, and bloodlettings of the monks couldn't fend off the angel of death.

And Baldred's sister Aelfgifu, poor soul, had been stricken with leprosy years ago. Now she was forced, like so many other lepers in the area, to wander about begging and shunning human contact.

Not even a preparation of unicorn's liver and egg white, purchased at great price from a trader who swore an oath it was genuine, could restore her health. Nor could a visit to a local shrine, where she had touched the fingerbone of Saint Haakon that was ensconced in a reliquary there.

PERVASIVE CHURCH INFLUENCE

"All God's will," he thought sadly. "Who knows the mind of God?"--and then suddenly brightening as an image entered his mind--"except perhaps Abbot Alsi!" The good abbot had been in charge of St. Paul's for 15 years and was a wise, witty, and doughty man of God.

In fact, much of the reason why Baldred and the other 644 people of Waterburg--the biggest town for many leagues around--were able to bear the frequent deaths of children, affliction of diseases, crop-ravishing storms and droughts, and bone-chilling winters--was due to the prayer and medical-herb support of Abbot Alsi and his monks--and, of course, to the ministrations of Father Turuer, priest at the village's St. Patrick's Church.

St. Patrick's, with its Romanesque stone chancel, nave, and bell tower, was the center of much of the hamlet's life. Father Turuer--a tireless and pious man (although, unlike his monastic brethren, an unlettered one)--tended to the spiritual needs of his flock by presiding over daily masses, which everyone attended at least once a week.

A host of religious festivals was held throughout the year centering on the church, as well as a steady stream of baptisms, marriages, intercessory masses, and funerals. Waterburgians could expect to attend a church event every few days, on average.

Every three or four weeks, the upper crust of the village's citizens, among whom was Baldred, could also expect to be regaled at a feast, perhaps thrown by a rich merchant in honor of his daughter's marriage or by Earl Oswiu, lord of the local manor. They came to celebrate, for example, the corn harvest or a religious holiday like Michaelmas, which in fact was to be marked next week, God willing.

Baldred smiled at the thought of the rich wall hangings in the feast hall of the lord's huge oaken manor house and the gay spirit stirred by the minstrels, storytellers, fiddlers (Baldred himself was an accomplished one), and lute and pipe players. And his mouth began to water at the thought of the Michaelmas trestle tables that would be laden with jellied fish, chicken-and-pigeon pies, venison stew steaming in iron cauldrons, hares roasted on the spit, apple-raspberry crumble sweetened with honey, and clay jars of mead, goat's milk, and bilberry wine to wash it all down.

SOCIAL IMMOBILITY

Too bad neither he nor his sons nor his sons' sons could ever hope to be as wealthy or powerful as Earl Oswiu, he thought. Probably not even as well-off as Sihtric, Waterburg's boldest and most prosperous merchant. (Traders were envied for their money but were disdained for supposedly making it at the expense of the common people.)

But, Baldred mused, that's the way God made the world: Some were to be high born and some low, some well endowed and some poorly. All of society was bound together in a vertical, inflexible web of loyalty and obligation, with the king and his lords occupying the topmost strands, their thanes standing just beneath, followed on down by craftsmen, merchants, and peasants.

Those on the lower strands offered taxes to the lords and king; the thanes and other landholders had a duty to provide fyrdsmen, or soldiers, to the nobility; and nobles had an obligation to protect their subjects militarily and through the courts. God judged you by how you played your role that He had allotted you on life's stage.

"And what's before you to do this beautiful day, husband?" said Estrith, breaking into her man's straying thoughts.

He beamed at his wife and said, "I'm to continue work on that noble vessel down at the wharf, my rosebud. It's coming along nicely. And today Sihtric is paying me half what he owes me for the ship--probably 18 oxen and 24 sheep with 60 or so silver pence thrown in."

There was still no widespread cash economy in the world of A.D. 1000. Most business was done by barter. An oceangoing ship of oak strakes might have been worth 720 silver shillings. There were about five pence to the shilling and 48 shillings to the pound--which referred to a troy pound of silver, a precious metal that was worth far more then than it is a thousand years later.

"That's splendid!" said Estrith, her eyes shining. "Well be able to trade just one of those oxen for a virgin swarm of bees, a brace of pigs, and well-nigh a hundred chickens? She had a quick head for calculating costs and exchange values, which Baldred had found crucial in keeping his household debt-free.

"Then, another three oxen and the silver can serve as our tithe to the church this year--and six more oxen for our taxes to the king. That should do it!" she declared triumphantly.

He hugged her affectionately, careful not to upset the nursing baby. Then he grimaced, rose quickly, and announced, "Woman, I don't know about you, but I must hasten to the latrine at once. I'll return in a trice."

NATURE CALLS

With a cheerful wave, the shipwright trotted out the door and went a hundred yards down a path between several houses to the men's common latrine. The cool morning breeze brought him the reek of human waste well before he got to the site. Even at this early hour, his arrival disturbed a cloud of feasting flies. He squatted to relieve himself.

As he cleaned himself off with handfuls of sphagnum moss from a pile set there for that purpose, he surveyed the village placidly. In Waterburg, perhaps 120 houses were arranged in a rough semicircular clearing hacked from the forest on the coast. Other clearings had been chopped willy-nilly nearby and planted with various grains. Vegetables were raised mostly in people's personal gardens.

Back home, he noted that Estrith had wakened the boys. She set an iron pot on the hot coals to warm up the leftovers of last night's quail-and-bacon stew. When it was ready, she used a big wooden spoon to ladle the savory meal into wooden bowls made by Harald the carpenter on his ingenious foot-powered lathe.

After the shipwright said grace, they crossed themselves and then devoured the stew, biting with particular relish into the mushroom slices and hazelnuts, which they had gathered from the forest floor. Thick virgin forests covered most of the British Isles.

"So what will you be doing today, woman?" Baldred asked with mock roughness, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and pushing away his bowl.

"Well, I've got to grind the wheat and the rye," Estrith said with a toss of her head in the direction of the stone quern, a hand mill imported from the Rhineland that was her pride and joy. It stood on a table in the corner together with two sacks of grain. Wheat, rye, oats; and barley were raised on cleared land that was tilled with wooden, iron-capped, ox-drawn plows. All-iron plowshares were still a rarity, and steel ones were nonexistent.

"Then I've got to bake some bread," she said, nodding toward the family's outdoor clay oven. "And finally, I need to salt the ham and pork from the pig we killed. We don't want it going bad on us now, do we?"

"A full day," Baldred observed.

Then Egbert, a skinny but handsome boy with flowing blond locks, said, "Oh Mother, could you set a bit of that fresh ham aside to fry up for tonight's dinner? It would taste so good with the fresh bread!"

"And perhaps make some black pudding, to boot, from the pig's blood," Baldred said.

"Oh, you men!" chuckled Estrith. "I'll do what I can. Now off with you!"

Baldred was taking Egbert with him that day to work on the ship, so they departed, leaving little Burgred to help his mother with chores around the house, in the garden, and with the animals in the paddock and fowl coops.

GETTING DOWN TO WORK

Father and son had only a haft-mile to walk before they came to the wharf on the estuary that broached onto the sweeping North Sea. The water was now aglitter with topaz highlights from a sun that stood a handbreadth above the horizon.

And there was the ship that was to be Sihtric's, half-finished but already sleek, tall-prowed and fully 60 feet long, standing on blocks of stone on the beach with wooden rollers beneath. Baldred set his son to planing oak deck planks, and then he started work with his steel-headed adze and drawknife on smoothing an arrow-straight shaft of ash that would be the ship's mainmast.

The pair labored for hours, and the day heated up. The elder shipwright stripped off his rough wool shirt and wiped his brow, feeling above his brow ridge the thick welt of scar tissue from a glancing sword blow a bandit had dealt him nine years before.

Although the professional fyrdsmen were tasked with battling brigands as well as joining an army to repel foreign invaders, many ordinary citizens like Baldred were expected to turn out when the security situation demanded--especially in recent years to battle frequent incursions of marauding Danes. The shipwright kept an iron-tipped spear and stout shield at home for just this purpose.

Bands of thugs and thieves were to be found lurking here and there on roads around Britain, often making it perilous to move people or goods more than a few miles at a time.

Although there was an extensive system of roads from Roman times that was kept in fairly good repair, many British roads were mere muddy, rutted tracks, not as well maintained as those in public-minded Earl Oswiu's domain. This made travel and trade by sea far easier and safer in many regions, and there was a constant flurry of ships plying the coastal waters and rivers.

Baldred wondered at the bandits' prevalence. Theirs was certainly a dangerous profession, for when caught, a robber, after being duly tried in the local courts, was summarily hanged. There were no prisons in Britain, just town jails that served to hold suspects tilt trial. The punishment for all lesser lawbreakers was fining.

Egbert, noting that his father had ceased work, gestured at the blazing sun, now at its zenith, and asked, "Father, is it time yet for the midday meal?"

Baldred said it was, and the two went up to the coastal "highway" a few paces away and sat down in the shade of a huge beech. After the blessing, they drank deeply from a skin of water and began to munch on smoked herring, cheese, fresh leeks, and wheat bread.

Before long, a group of slaves and their overseer came trudging along the road, some leading a pair of oxen that were pulling a great wooden cart laden with bog ore. This was iron ore mined from deposits near the surface of bogs. The slaves trundled the cart into the forge yard of Cenwulf the blacksmith, just up the road, and stopped next to Cenwulf's ore-smelting clay furnace. They lazily began to unload the mineral into a pile next to a big mound of charcoal.

The shipwright idly wondered from whom Cenwulf had hired the slaves. Earl Oswiu of course had slaves, as did his various thanes, other minor landholders, and merchants. People became slaves by being captured on raids, as a punishment for serious crimes (especially if they couldn't pay the fine), by being born into slavery--or when their parents sold them into thralldom. Slave markets were to be found throughout the island.

THE MONASTIC TORCH

Baldred's attention was again drawn to the highway as Archdeacon Guthrum came into view. Educated in a monastery school farther south, he was secretary to Earl Oswiu. The great lord, like all his subjects, couldn't read or write, so he needed someone who could pen letters, keep records, and otherwise help conduct his affairs.

Monasteries were the sole places keeping the flame of scholarship burning. Monks translated and copied books and passed along knowledge of Latin, mathematics, geography, history, theology, and the like. The only way commoners learned about other lands and the history of their periodically fractured "country" was through the stories and ballads that were shared by minstrels.

Baldred and Egbert waved as Archdeacon Guthrum passed, and he smiled, mopping his brow, and returned their salutation.

Just as father and son were finishing their repast, Sihtric rode up on a powerful horse. "Ho there, you two shirkers!" he said merrily, his steed snorting.

Sihtric was a short, stocky man with a big stomach and ruddy face. He always bristled with energy, purpose, and good humor.

"Hello, sir!" the shipwrights chorused.

"A fine day for work!" Baldred observed.

"Yes, indeed! And how is my little sailing beauty coming along?" Sihtric queried, already leading the way down to the beach.

"Very well, as you can see, sir," Baldred said, and they proceeded to discuss the work that needed yet to be done and the schedule for accomplishing it.

The shipwright had heard that Sihtric would be using the vessel as a seagoing, not a coastal, ship--to trade with Scandinavia for precious soapstone, with the Rhineland for silver and querns, and with Brittany for premium gray slate for whetstones. At the time, although ships constantly crisscrossed the North Sea and English Channel, trade was sharply limited by the lack of a cash economy, the small size of the vessels, and the perilous nature of sailing.

Despite the danger, some bold sailors had even gone on adventures of exploration. Baldred had heard tales of the voyages of Erik the Red, who founded colonies in Greenland, and of his son Leif Eriksson, who had journeyed yet farther (to Nova Scotia) earlier in the year 1000.

The shipwright fleetingly wondered what it would be like to visit other sites on his island--or even to travel abroad. He, like virtually all the citizens of Waterburg, had never once left his village. But neither Baldred nor any other Briton put much stock in explorers' exploits. Instead, they were preoccupied with local issues.

His conversation with the shipwrights concluded, a satisfied Sihtric took his leave. "I'll send two slaves and my majordomo by your house this evening with your payment," he boomed before galloping away, leaving behind a cloud of shimmering dust.

As shipwright and son set to work again, Baldred paused for a moment to savor the sun and the air's salty tang.

"Life is good in Waterburg," he thought contentedly, fingering his drawknife's edge.

"Even if Christ comes tomorrow with shouts of triumph and amid trumpet calls, it will have been a good life--and will be better yet in heaven," he thought as he grasped the drawknife's handles, felt the edge bite into the wood, and expertly sliced off a long, thin aromatic shaving from the mast-to-be.

RELATED ARTICLE: A Moment in Time

* Life in A.D. 1000 England was characterized by few amenities , poor hygiene, and backbreaking work from dawn to dusk.

* Average life expectancy was only in the 30s, and medicine was primitive.

* The social hierarchy was rigidly stratified.

* Calls to arms were common--even for the lower classes--for warlike tribes on the Continent launched frequent raids.

* Everyone was deeply superstitious--and woefully ignorant of the "outside" world.

* Women and fewer privileges and a far lower status than men.

RELATED ARTICLE: CHINESE APOGEE

Though by no means every Chinese was educated--it was common for Chinese, even many women, to know how to read, write, and cipher.

While the son of Baldred the shipwright in A.D. 1000 was illiterate and could expect to live only into his 30s, many youths in China at the time were being schooled and had a life expectancy of 60 years or more.

Though by no means every Chinese was educated--poor folk, especially, had little access to schools, except those youngsters sponsored by wealthy relatives--it was common for Chinese, even many women, to know how to read, write, and cipher.

The best students were channeled into the civil service, which was developed as an elaborate support system for the emperors. Chen Tsung was ruler in the year 1000.

Chinese literacy was vastly increased by the mass production of paper from bamboo, hemp, and mulberry bark and the development of printing using woodblocks and movable type--though the latter was cumbersome, for 80,000 individual type symbols were required. Bookshops did a brisk business in every Chinese city.

For the emperor to communicate effectively with government representatives in the empire's outlying areas, an elaborate web of roads, bridges, and canals had been developed. An empirewide system of courier stations was set up, each with fresh horses for relay riders.

In the countryside, peasants used iron plows pulled by water buffalo, which allowed much-increased yields of rice, wheat, and millet.

Defending this fertile farmland from covetous outsiders required that all fit men serve in the army--sometimes for years on end.

China at that time was a land of invention. Many innovations were carried along the Silk Road to Europe, greatly influencing life there. Gunpowder, for example, added a new dimension to war. The harness for draft animals helped agriculture make a great leap forward. Ships equipped with a magnetic compass, sternpost rudder, and watertight buoyancy chambers could be launched on voyages of discovery.

Other Chinese inventions that helped change the world include paper money, clockwork, silk, porcelain, the seismograph, the irrigation machine, umbrellas, and the wheelbarrow.

Health was a major concern of the Chinese. Doctors were many and were required to undergo periodic testing of their knowledge of acupuncture, herbal medicine, and moxibustion (a pain relief treatment using heat from burning dried mugwort).

And, just like today, physicians realized the health benefits of regular exercise and counseled their patients to get plenty of it.

RELATED ARTICLE: REGAL CONSTANTINOPLE

The tight-knit, prosperous, well-educated Byzantine empire of Basil II was a far cry from Athelred's scruffy, ragtag realm in Britain.

The learning and culture of ancient Greece and Rome did not have to be rediscovered in Constantinople and its territories, for they were never lost.

The Orthodox Christian Byzantines prized education; to be unschooled was viewed as a disgrace. They preserved classical Greek literature, science, and language. Homer's Iliad and Odyssey were the most-quoted books in the empire after the Bible. And everyone was familiar with Euclid's geometry and with the fact that the world was round, for Eratesthenes had measured its circumference as 25,000 miles--nearly correct. Most boys aged 5 to 20 attended school or a university. And, while these were closed to females, many girls were home schooled to levels equal to those of their male counterparts. Though Byzantine women had less status than men, they had many more rights than did western European females. Slaves, too, were treated much better than in the ancient world.

Art was highly appreciated and promoted among Byzantines. The breathtaking church mosaics are especially valued today, but artists of the time were also adept at oil paintings, frescoes, illuminated manuscripts, and stone architecture.

The empire was defended by what was arguably the world's best army of the period. The soldiers were career professionals--the best-trained, most highly paid fighters anywhere. Deadly mounted archers always formed the first assault wave, sowing terror in the enemy's ranks. Byzantine horsemen were rigorously disciplined in maneuvers designed to bring phalanxes of 12-foot lances to bear on Turk, Saracen, and Bulgar forces. Each huge, three-masted warship was manned by 230 oarsmen and 70 marines.

The army had at its disposal a fearsome invention called "Greek fire," a liquid that could be spurted from tubes or thrown in clay-pot "bombs." It ignited on impact. The weapon is thought to have been a secret mixture of naphtha, sulfur, and saltpeter.

The rigid Byzantine economy was completely controlled by the government, which set all prices, wages, and work hours. It slapped a 10 percent levy on all imports and exports and imposed other taxes on consumer goods, inheritances, and land.

Religious life was all pervasive. It led to a vast array of philanthropic organizations and works. There were homes--supported by public and private charity--for travelers and pilgrims, orphans, the sick, and the elderly. Each orphan home, for example--and there were 40 in Constantinople alone-was headed by an orphanotrope. The official in charge of the orphanage system, known as the grand orphanotrope, was appointed by the emperor himself.

Altogether, then, Byzantine society could be considered modeled on the kingdom of God itself: an omnipotent ruler dominating an intricate society.

RELATED ARTICLE: THE MUSLIM PHENOMENON

The Islamic world of the year 1000 was a high-culture stew--a spicy blend of the knowledge and practices of Arabia, India, Persia, and Greece. It stretched from India to the Iberian Peninsula.

Arab science was in full flower. The Muslims were discriminating borrowers: From the Greeks, they had adopted Ptolemy's astronomy, Aristotle's biology, Galen's medical writings--indeed, the whole range of Hellenistic science and thought. From India, they adopted the decimal system and treatises on astronomy.

Arab mathematicians helped develop algebra by building on Greek and Indian ideas. Arabs also became renowned in alchemy and astrology-recognized sciences everywhere in those days.

The rulers of the time, together with a big merchant class, built up great riches, and many cities grew apace in size and wealth. Baghdad, for example, perhaps the leading city of the Islamic world, was one of the wonders of the age. Its bustling bazaars were bursting with Syrian apples, Arabian peaches, cucumbers and limes from Egypt, perfumes, incense, aloewood, ambergris, Chinese porcelain, musk, candles, juniper-wood furniture, silks, jewels, and hundreds of other goods from near and far.

All this was made possible by a robust and legendary trading system. By the year 1000, the Muslims' fast merchant dhows had been plying the seas around India, China, and Java for centuries, as they had been sharing the Mediterranean trade with Christian shipping.

Muslim law brought stability and unity to the Islamic world. In every city and village there was a qadi, a judge who was an expert on Muslim jurisprudence and who was the final word on enforcing the law of the Prophet.

Robert Selle is an editor in the Current Issues section of The World & I. Stefan Zimmers, a doctoral student at Georgetown University, served as an adviser for this article.
COPYRIGHT 1998 News World Communications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 
Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:includes a fictional account, 'Life a Millenium Ago'
Author:Kaplan, Morton A.; Selle, Robert
Publication:World and I
Date:Sep 1, 1998
Words:6864
Previous Article:Clinton's silenced dialogue on race.
Next Article:Do congressional hearings still matter?
Topics:

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters