As the second millennium began on the Eurasian continent, vibrant civilizations were concentrated in China, India, and the Islamic World. The sword symbolizes the 11th century, not because the 11th was any more violent than other centuries of the millennium, but because it was riven by fundamental divisions within and between many cultures. Among these divisions were conflicts between China and her neighbors, conflicts connected with the expansion of Islam, and conflicts within the Christian world. The sword also represents cleavage, separation, and insularity. Such was the case in Japan, where ties with outside cultures were diminishing or virtually non-existent. Yet despite violence and separation, the 11th century was marked by vibrancy, creativity, and a great deal of cultural transfer, especially in the Islamic World and in East Asia.
As the world began a new millennium in the 11th century, only within Christendom did the word "Millennium" have much significance. Only there was chronology counted from Christ's birth. The rest of the world marked time in other ways, a fact which symbolizes the world's cultural and regional disconnectedness during this period: although cultures met, touched, interacted, and exchanged, for the most part they remained separated and separate. Looking at Eurasia, there were in the 11th century four great cultural constellations-China, the Muslim World, India, and Christendom. China considered herself the center of the universe, dominant in the world of technology, and home to a vibrant internal market and culture. When outsiders attacked, China often survived by absorbing her enemies rather than beating them on the battlefield. Yet, China was set off from the rest of the world by barriers, some geographical like the Takla Makan Desert. Meanwhile, Islam expanded, absorbed and preserved Greco-Roman science and arts, and then produced a brilliant synthesis of Islamic and neighboring cultures. Such a cultural fusion is richly reflected in the Spanish city of Cordoba. India, to the east, was also affected by Islamictravellers and conquerors who occupied northern India in 1000 AD. Eleventh century India, a relic of a former great civilization that had produced two world religious traditions was, at one time, at the forefront of the sciences. Nowhere, except perhaps Ireland, in the 11th century is isolation more evident than in Japan. After centuries of borrowing from China, Japan in the 11th century solidified her imperial tradition in splendid isolation. Separation occurred also within Christendom. In 1054, a split that had been brewing for centuries, finally forever divided Christendom between East and West, Orthodox and Catholic. The East became more vulnerable to Islam while the West entered the second millennium unencumbered, ready to begin the creation of a dynamic new society that formulated institutions and ways of thought that were destined to change the course of world history.
Segments – 11th Century
CHINA - Summary
In China, barbarians from the north swept down to seize some
of China's wealth. In the course of this invasion, the bustling,
cosmopolitan city at the heart of China-Kaifeng-was sacked.
had become self-absorbed.
SPAIN - Summary
The Islamic World was a young and vigorous civilization in the
11th century. Over the preceding four hundred years, the
warriors of Islam had conquered vast tracts of territory. Once
converted by traders, the nomadic tribes of the Sahara and
central Asia proved to be even more zealous evangelists than
their mentors. During this century, Turks displaced Arab rulers
in Asia and Egypt, and real military expansion occurred on
many fronts, including sub-Sahara Africa, North Africa,
Afghanistan and Spain. Muslim traders also extended and
consolidated Islamic influence. They operated across great
distances, connecting the African continent to the Middle East,
Christendom and Asia. At the heart of the western Islamic
world lay Cordoba. Like many Islamic cities, it boasted
hundreds of gardens, shops and baths. It was a mirror of
JERUSALEM - Summary
Christendom was also on the fringes of the greater civilizations,
and in the 11th century was split irrevocably into two separate
geographic and ideological factions. The West held the wealthy
Eastern Church in contempt, while the more urbane Eastern
Church considered the Christians of the west to be barbarians
of little faith. In 1054, years of political wrangling reached a
climax. The Pope in Rome issued a document formally
excommunicating the Eastern Church. It was a rift that would
create divisions within Europe for centuries after. At the time, it
appeared that prospects for this part of the world in the future
were dim. However, the drive to clear the forests and spread
the Christian faith into the corners of the continent proved to be
a powerful force of revival later in the millennium. Rapid
expansion would begin on all frontiers-the seeds of Western
dynamism were already in hand.
12th Century – Century of the Axe
In CNN's MILLENNIUM, the Century of the Axe was an age of ambitious building, as world populations beeomed and cities thrived. Filmmakers chose the axe as a fitting symbol for the twelfth century because people used it to clear the land for food and housing, thereby transforming and remodeling the world. Some builders created monuments to their gods. Other individuals chose not to build but insead worshipped the land that gave them sustenance.
According to MILLENNIUM's filmmakers, the twelfth century was most conspicuously the century of the axe in Western Europe, but other parts of the globe displayed innovative building and creativity. In Western Europe, life and building rebounded after centuries of stagnation under feudalism. In France, ever more elaborate churches were constructed; in Italy, a frenzy of city-state building reflected growing competition between independent city-states over trade and wealth. In other quite distant parts of the world, building of other types took place. In Ethiopia, Christian temples were carved out of mountains and the Chaco Canyonin the Americas, the Ancient Pueblo people built complex, urban-like structures on canyon floors. And for the twelfth century hunter-and-gatherer culture of the Aborigines in Australia, the axe is symbolic of artistic creativity and control over the environment.
Segments – 12th Century
AMERICA - Summary
In North America, a civilization arose which transformed a
semi-desert into a cultivated landscape. The Ancient Pueblo
peoples of the Southwest imposed a new geometry on the
landscape. At Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico,
stand the ruins of what was once a complex of structures with
more than 800 rooms. The rooms were stacked on top of one
another in a huge semi-circle, a plan that the Pueblo people
devised and kept to for 200 years. The timbers that supported
the vast roofs of the dwellings were brought by hand from
forests over 60 miles away.
Around the buildings lay carefully cultivated fields with crops of
maize and squash. To allow crops to grow in such an arid
environment, the Pueblo people created an ingenious system of
irrigating channels. Dug deep into the rocks and dirt of the
surrounding mesa tops, these channels captured droplets of
rain from passing storms or melting snow. The water then fed
into fields where it was retained by built-up earth around each
plant. This "waffle" irrigation system sustained a growing
population for several hundred years. But after a series of
persistent droughts towards the end of the twelfth century,
even these levels of ingenuity could not help the settlement. It
was eventually abandoned.
FRANCE - Summary
In northern France, forests were cleared at faster and faster
rates. As the population grew, the pressure for land increased.
Churches and houses were usually made of timber, but as the
number of suitable trees dwindled the structures had to change.
At St. Denis in Paris, Abbot Suger dreamed of rebuilding the
old abbey. His inspiration was a mystical vision of heaven. He
envisioned slender stone columns, huge windows, and a mighty
roof that would draw the eye upward toward heaven.
Skeptics told Abbot Suger he would never find trees large
enough to stretch across such an expanse, but he persevered.
He finally found twelve trees tall enough to span the roof and
was able to build his dream cathedral. St. Denis, a mixture of
stone and wood, was completed in Suger's lifetime. However,
it would go through several renovations; as cathedrals
continued to expand, more and more stone was used. The
construction of St. Denis sparked the beginning of the new
style of "Gothic" architecture. Over the next 150 years,
cathedrals sprang up throughout Europe.
ETHIOPIA - Summary
While churches sought to rise to the sky in Europe, in Africa
they were being carved out of the earth. In the highlands of
Ethiopia during twelfth century, a man called Lalibela rose to
power, was crowned King, and went on to establish a
Christian empire spanning the highlands and stretching to the
sea. His ambition was to build a religious state and a spiritual
center to rival Jerusalem. He claimed to have been shown - in
a vision - the most holy of churches in Heaven. He ordered
tools be made to carve temples out of the rock like those he
Craftsmen toiled in the stony mountains for over twenty-four
years to create these unique rock churches. Some of Lalibela's
motivation to build these unusual structures stemmed from a
desire to claim legitimacy. He belonged to a dynasty that had
seized the throne and the churches helped him gain acceptance.
His efforts paid off: today he is revered as a saint and his shrine
attracts a continuous flow of pilgrims. While all religions at one
time or another have constructed shrines and physical symbols
to serve an ideological purpose, striking awe into to the layman
and establishing the clergy's direct connection to the power of
God, Lalibela clearly lacked legitimacy and used these temples
to insure his leadership.
ITALY - Summary
In the twelfth century, cities grew worldwide. In Italy, a
booming economy and population explosion meant increased
demand for goods and space. People gathered in cities to
trade and settled in increasingly cramped spaces. Despite
feuding between factions within cities, a spirit of citizenship
emerged. In many towns and cities republics were established,
consuls were elected, and citizens assigned rights. Residents
were proud of their cities and strove to make them more
glorious than their neighbors'. In Sienna, in Tuscany, an event
known as the Palio originated and became a tradition. This
bi-annual bareback horse race round the central piazza
for the rivalries among different quarters of the town.
AUSTRALIA - Summary
In Australia in the twelfth century, the Aboriginal culture
flourished. Though they did not build, the Aboriginal' creativity
centered around art: they endowed every landmark with
sacred significance and celebrated it with rituals. The journeys
of ancestors were retraced again and again over centuries; a
physical pilgrimage through artistic celebrations. The
Aborigines' universal language was art. For forty thousands of
years they created paintings in galleries of rock intended to be
overlaid by other artists over time.
Aborigines left their mark on the land in other subtle ways. Fire
was a core technology, and they used it to modify the
wilderness by burning sections and clearing it for grazing
animals. Fire sticks were used to chase animals out of their
burrows. They did not cultivate crops, but instead gathered
foodstuffs offered up by the land. Aboriginal culture developed
a detailed and crucial knowledge of what was edible and
exactly where it was to be found. Aboriginal society survived in
isolation until Europeans began to colonize in the 18th century.
13th Century – Century of the Stirrup
Early in the thirteenth century, the Mongols became a formidable power in Asia. Their new, bureaucratic way of organizing their army - by tens, hundreds, thousands - broke up the older Klan groupings. While horses and stirrups had been familiar for centuries, the Mongol's skilled horsemanship made them powerful and profoundly changed the course of history. Thus, the filmmakers of MILLENNIUM chose the stirrup as the symbol of for the thirteenth century.
The symbol of the stirrup captures the essence of the rise of the Mongols and their remarkable thirteenth-century advance across Eurasia. It also evokes the importance of travel along the reopened transcontinental Silk Road which transported both goods and knowledge. Few areas of Eurasia were untouched by the Mongols, but their advances and conquests meant different things to different peoples. For western Europe, the Mongols were the means of transmission of important knowledge and goods that a century later would enable Europeans to set sail across oceans. For China, Mongols established their rule but not cultural subjugation. The Mamluks in Egypt gained fame as the first to successfully defeat the Mongols, thereby protecting Mamluk Islamic culture. And for the Mongols themselves, their horse-riding prowess meant the beginning of the end of nomadic existence and control of the Eurasian steppe.
Segments – 13th Century
MONGOLIA - Summary
In the Century of the Stirrup, the Eurasian landmass was
transformed by the emergence of a new force in history: the
Mongols. Genghis Khan founded an empire that would
eventually stretch from China to the Middle East, blocked only
by the Mamluks in Egypt. While regular caravan travel
between China and Mongolia began in 101 B.C.E., after the
creation of the Mongolian Empire the trails connecting the East
to the West became safe to travel. As the "Silk Road"
flourished, Chinese knowledge flowed westward, stimulating
new approaches to science and religion.
Genghis Khan grew up among the Mongols, then rose quickly
to prominence, proving himself to be an extraordinary leader.
He quickly dominated the tribes of Central Asia and then went
on to conquer parts of Northern China and the Islamic world.
He used terror tactics to scare people into submission, sparing
only skilled artisans if a town failed to surrender. Once a land
was conquered, however, the Mongols were very tolerant
rulers, allowing other faiths and traditions to continue. The
method of Genghis Kahn's leadership was so strong that the
army and empire he founded continued to grow after his death.
CENTRAL ASIA - Summary
The Mongols enforced law and order across Central Asia,
policing a network of routes connecting East and West. They
built post stations throughout the empire from which messages
were carried at high speed across vast distances. The hostile
impressions some foreign visitors formed changed as they
spent more time with the Mongols. William of Rubruck found
that in Karakorum, the main Mongol city, there were "very fine
craftsmen in every art, and physicians [who knew] a great deal
about the power of herbs and diagnose[d] very cleverly from
the pulse." The religious tolerance Rubruck discovered would
have been unimaginable in Europe at that time.
CHINA - Summary
Kublai Khan continued the work his grandfather, Genghis
Khan, had begun. But he also made significant land gains in
China, achieving a prize that had eluded the Mongols for
decades. Kublai Khan eventually rejected the harsh life of the
steppes and built a luxurious palace complex in what is
present-day Beijing; the poet Samuel Coleridge called it
Xanadu. A visiting Venetian named Marco Polo recorded his
impressions of the palace¹s grandeur: "the walls are of gold and
silver. It glitters like crystal and the sparkle of it can be seen
from far away." The Khan had many concubines and the
women in his court held great sway over him. When Kublai's
senior wife died, he lost the will to rule and retreated into a life
of increasing decadence. In 1368, the conquered Chinese
seized the opportunity to regain their independence.
EGYPT - Summary
After the rule of Kublai Khan ended, others followed China's
lead and challenged the myth of Mongolian invincibility. The
Mamluks in Cairo, Egypt, were the first soldiers to halt the
Mongol military advance west. Their leader was a man called
Baybars, who, like Genghis, excelled on the battlefield. He led
an elite mounted corps that trained on the polo fields. At the
battle of Ain Julut, in Palestine, the Mamluks dealt the Mongols
Islam from further Mongolian domination. While not a defeat
for the Mongol army as a whole, this small-scale battle had
great symbolic significance. Much of the architecture in Cairo
today dates back to the Mamluk era when a secure empire
ensured flourishing trade. Cairo remained a leading cultural
center within the Islamic world.
EUROPE - Summary
Europeans who had contact with Eastern knowledge often
embraced new ways of thinking. A scientific revolution
resulted, as Europeans began to explore and test the laws of
nature. Frederick II of Sicily conducted numerous experiments,
including disemboweling men to see how their digestive
systems worked. Working in Paris, France, and Oxford,
England, Roger Bacon dissected human eyes. His discoveries
contributed to the invention of spectacles. A new religious
movement encouraged people to regard the natural world as a
thing to be loved and studied rather than feared. But these
innovative movements would be stalled in the following century
as disease and climatic change wiped out much of the
14th Century – Century of the Scythe
The 14th century was an age of dynamic interaction between the great cultures of the world. But some of the promise of the previous century was cut short by climate change, plagues, and peasant revolution. Even so, obstacles to progress in China, the Islamic world, and Christendom created opportunities for previously marginalized parts of the world. The empires of Mali and Java, for example, flourished in this period. The "scythe" of this century was death itself, which swept through many parts of the world, either by disease or through imperial expansion.
For MILLENNIUM's filmmakers, the 14th century demonstrates an important aspect of world history: its dissynchronous nature. In other words, not all parts of the globe experience things simultaneously. Certainly this was true in the 14th century when Europe and China were laid low by disease, climatic change, and socio-political dislocation, even as in Africa (Mali), Central Asia (Uzbekistan), and Indonesia (Java) empires flourished.
Segments – 14th Century
EGYPT - Summary
Cairo was one center particularly hard-hit by disaster. At ten
times the size of Paris or London, Cairo was one of the
greatest cities in the world. But it lost 20,000 people a day to a
mysterious and devastating disease called the Black Death.
The bubonic plague was a pest-borne bacterial infection, which
originated in Central Asia and spread along the flourishing
trade routes both to the East and West. Christendom was
especially hard hit. People struggled to understand why the
disease had struck. Many looked for scapegoats. Jews were
massacred and heretics burned. But when people noticed that