Suiko

Suiko ruled Japan from 592 to 628 c.e. alongside her regent, the crown prince Shotoku Taishi. She was the daughter of Emperor Kimmei and his consort, a woman from the powerful Soga clan. After Kimmei’s death his son Bidatsu took the throne, and Suiko, his half sister, became his wife.

Bidatsu soon died, and another of Suiko’s brothers, Yomei, became sovereign until his death two years later. A subsequent power struggle over the throne ended in victory for the Soga as Sushun, one of Suiko’s half brothers, took the throne.

However, the head of the Soga clan, Umako, did not trust Sushun’s growing resentment toward the Soga, and Umako had him assassinated in 592 c.e. After his murder Umako asked her to accept the throne, which she conceded. Shôtoku became her regent and coruler.

Scholars used to emphasize Shôtoku’s role over Suiko’s in the governing of Japan, stating that Suiko merely served as the head priestess of the court kami worship. This is due in part to Chinese texts that focused more on Shôtoku’s activity. In Confucianism males rule over women, and thus the Japanese court may have used Shôtoku as the proper male representative in its relations with China.


It is also possible that Confucian scholars chose to write more about their interactions with the Yamato state through Shôtoku rather than Suiko. Some scholars note, however, that Suiko was active in sending the Yamato state’s first embassy to China in 600 and established relations with the Korean kingdom Silla in 621. Both Japanese and Korean sources demonstrate that Suiko was just as active as Shôtoku in her administrative rule over the Yamato state.

Suiko even asserted her rule against attempts by her uncle Soga no Umako to expand the Soga clan’s power. She rejected Umako’s request for more land, claiming that future scholars would castigate her for being a foolish woman if she allowed the Soga clan to obtain more power.

An overly powerful Soga clan encroaching on the power of the sovereign was said to be analogous to two kings in one kingdom, which was like having two Suns in the sky. Suiko’s death in 628 created a power vacuum that led to yet another showdown between the Soga and their rivals.

Crown Prince Shôtoku had died before Suiko, and Suiko died before declaring an heir. The Soga forged documents that stated Suiko preferred the Soga-backed candidate of her two remaining sons.

The forgery and authoritarian rule by the Soga, especially that of Iruka who used the military to eliminate his critics, pushed opponents to join forces in a coup. Iruka was assassinated in 645, bringing an end to Soga power.

Sumer


Sumer is the name for the region of southern Mesopotamia, between the Tigris and Euphrates (modern-day southeastern Iraq and Kuwait), settled during the third millennium b.c.e.

The Sumerians were a non-Semitic people whose place of origin and ethnic identity remains unknown. The Sumerian civilization may have been the first to invent writing. Sumerian early writing, called cuneiform, consisted of drawing pictures on clay tablets with a writing instrument called a stylus.

Originally used to keep economic and administrative records, the art of writing later expanded to include religious texts such as hymns, prayers, and myths. Due to their extreme age, these texts are often not fully understood by modern scholars.


According to some scholars the earliest form of government in Sumer appears to have consisted of something like a primitive democracy with elected leaders who occupied two main offices known as the en and the lugal.

In addition to these leaders, the government had a bicameral legislature consisting of two groups: a council of elders and a body of younger, military-aged men. The offices of the en and the lugal were not hereditary and would later be replaced by kings in the Early Dynastic Period (c. 2900–2300 b.c.e.). During the period of the monarchy the city-state was the main type of government.

Each significant city governed a small amount of territory, which also included smaller towns and villages. Some of the prominent cities include Kish, Lagash, Ur, Uruk, Eridu, and Nippur. Although each city was autonomous and had its own particular deity, the city of Nippur served as the religious center of Sumer.

Between c. 2334 and 2154 b.c.e. the empire of Akkad interrupted Sumerian control of southern Mesopotamia. Founded by Sargon of Akkad and ruled from the city of Akkad, this empire stood for nearly two centuries until it finally succumbed to internal anarchy and external pressure from a foreign people known as the Gutians.

After an interlude of a little over two centuries, the original Sumerian population reasserted itself and regained control c. 2112 b.c.e. The result was the Ur III dynasty, which was governed from the city of Ur. Sometimes called the "Sumerian renaissance", the Ur III period was a reestablishment of Sumerian power and culture.

This Indian summer of the Sumerian civilization featured building programs, the flourishing of the arts and literature, and the emergence of law codes. This revival did not last long, however. After about 100 years the Ur III dynasty fell in 2004 b.c.e., eventually to be replaced by the Babylonians.

Sumer left a lasting impression on the cultures that followed. Some of the inventions the Sumerians contributed include writing, the city-state, the wheel, legal documents, and schools.

Although the language of Sumer is not related to any other known language, it had some influence on Akkadian, the Semitic language that eventually became the dominant language of the ancient Near East. The influence of Sumerian culture, however, continued through the later periods of the Babylonians and the Assyrians in their mythology and historiography.

Sunzi (Sun Tzu)

Sunzi means "Master Sun" in Chinese. He was also known as Sun Bin (Pin) or Sun the Cripple because his feet were amputated as punishment for some crime. He was the putative author of a book titled Sunzi Bingfa (Suntzu ping-fa), or the Art of War of Sunzi, which analyzed warfare and strategy. He lived toward the end of the sixth century b.c.e. and led the army of one of China’s warring states to victory. In time Sun became almost a legend.

Several new groups of men gained prominence during the Warring States period (487–221 b.c.e.), when warfare among the Chinese states became intense and large scale. One group was the diplomats, who could negotiate successfully.

Another group was the professional warriors, because valor in battle provided one avenue of upward mobility for the officers and exemption from taxes and labor services and rewards for common soldiers. Strategists and tacticians were also in demand; Sunzi belonged to this group.

The Sunzi Bingfa opens thus: "The art of war is of vital importance to the state. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence under no circumstances can it be neglected". The work consists of 13 chapters: Laying Plans, On Waging War, The Sheathed Sword, Tactics, Energy, Weak Points and Strong, Variation of Tactic, The Army on the March, Terrain, The Nine Situations, Attack by Fire, and The Use of Spies. Each chapter is short and succinct.


For example, chapter 3, "The Sheathed Sword", opens this way: "To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting. In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy’s country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to capture an army entire than to destroy it ... Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy’s plans; the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy’s forces; the next in order is to attack the enemy’s army in the field; and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities".

The Sunzi Bingfa has been an influential book for Chinese generals since the fourth century b.c.e. It was first translated into French in 1782 and was translated into English in 1905. It has been used as a textbook in all Western military academies since the early 20th century and, more recently, in business schools because the strategies it offers are applicable to many endeavors.

Syracuse


In 421 b.c.e., with the establishment of the Peace of Nikias, Athens and Sparta managed to set a provisory truce on the Peloponnesian War (431–404 b.c.e.). However, a period of mutual suspicions and instability followed, which created new conflicts for both poleis and their allies.

In the winter of 415 b.c.e. the Sicilian city of Segesta decided to ask for Athenian support against their neighbor Selinus, which was helped by Syracusan forces. According to Thucydides (in his History of the Peloponnesian War), Athens agreed to organize and send 60 ships to the island under the joint command of Alcibiades, Nikias, and Lamakhos. Full power was granted to the three generals in order to assist Segesta.

Strong debates were held concerning the opportunity and the need of the expedition, and Nikias expressed his view against the inconvenience of sending troops far from Athens with an imperialist goal. However, the people supported Alcibiades in favor of the expedition.


Shortly before the departure of the fleet a shocking event interpreted as a bad omen took place: It is recorded that in one night almost all of the statues of Hermes in the city (known as the Hermai) were mutilated. This violent destruction of the busts was seen as a clear act of conspiracy against the state. Alcibiades was suspected in the episode, and claims for responsibility were presented against him. But he had a popular image and was not immediately charged.

The huge fleet, composed by Athenian and allied triremes, constituted the biggest military expedition ever conducted in classical Greece. They left Athens in June 415 b.c.e. and, after joining other forces in Corcyra, reached Sicily.

As soon as it was clear that Segesta had no money to support the military deployment, the generals clashed: Whereas Nikias proposed a return to Athens, Lamakhos wanted an immediate attack in Syracuse, and Alcibiades suggested some initial negotiations with the enemy. Informed about his condemnation in Athens, Alcibiades decided to escape to the Peloponnesian islands, where he contacted the Spartans.

However, the other two generals followed his plan and decided to put off the main attack. They settled their fleet in Catana, where Syracusan troops under the command of Hermokrates prepared for combat. A first encounter between cavalry forces occurred, and the Syracusans had to flee the battle camp.

During the winter both parties discussed alliances with different cities in Italy, reinforced their military capacity, and built defensive walls. Called in to help by the Syracusans, a Spartan contingent under Gylippos arrived in the city and successfully held some skirmishes with the Athenians, turning the tide. The Athenians received reinforcements from Demosthenes and Eurymedon. Nonetheless, this support was not enough to overcome the local horsemen.

A mistake by Nikias, who decided to postpone the Athenian homecoming, sealed their defeat: Syracusan and Spartan vessels took advantage of the situation, attacked the rival ships in the harbor, pushed them into the shore, and started a blockage. Athenians decided to leave camp, guided by Nikias and Demosthenes. But they were obliged to split troops in two, and after final encounters with Syracusans, both generals were forced to surrender (413 b.c.e.).

Many Athenians were massacred, a few escaped and asked for refuge in Catana, and the remaining were taken as prisoners under harsh conditions. The effects of this catastrophic expedition put the polis at stake.

Even if Athens was able to go on with the war against Sparta for another nine years, the truth is that the Sicilian disaster entailed an absolute loss of power and clearly represented the beginning of its final military and political decadence.

Syriac Culture and Church


The Syriac culture and church are found in northern Mesopotamia, between the Euphrates and the Tigris Rivers, dominated by the cities of Edessa, Nisibis, and Mosul (from west to east). Syriac, a form of Aramaic, was spoken throughout this area from the time of Jesus (Christ) of Nazareth to the 13th century c.e., when Arabic prevailed.

Its culture is often traced back to the Aramaic and Assyrian civilizations. Sebastian Brock, a noted Oxford scholar, calls the Syriac culture and church an authentic Semitic descendant of the biblical world and an ancient voice of early Christianity.

Beginning in the first century c.e. Christianity spread quickly in the Syriac region. The fifth-century Doctrina Addai tells of the disciple Addai sent by Thomas the Apostle to convert the people of Mesopotamia.


There are second-century Christian writings in Syriac such as the Odes of Solomon and the Acts of Thomas, and there is likelihood that other books only available in Greek or Coptic, such as the Pseudo Clementines and the Gospel of Thomas, were composed originally in Syriac.

The famed teachers Bardesanes and Mani, who founded their own widespread sects, began in the Syriac-speaking Christian communities. Many other groups and movements had their beginning here as well: the Elkesaites and the Mandaeans of southern Iraq and the Christian ascetics called the Encratites, the celibate and elusive "Sons and Daughters of the Covenant".

The principal Roman city of the region, Antioch, was its link to the West, while its link to the East was Persian Ctesiphon (Baghdad). Thus, the cradle of Syriac culture was on the frontier between the two empires and civilizations.

The effects of this geographic position were dramatic: The Syriac Church split in 484 according to its location, with the establishment of an autonomous (Assyrian) church in the Persian domain and the remaining (Syrian) church in the Roman domain.

Another split occurred in the sixth-century Syrian Church, with one side identifying with the adherents of Council of Chalcedon (Melkites), the other side dissenting (Syriac Orthodox).

All three Syriac-based groups claimed their biblical roots in Antioch, the city out of which Peter and Paul launched their missions. Their political affiliations varied: the Assyrians identified with the Persians, the Melkites with the Romans and Byzantines, and the Syriac Orthodox somewhere in the middle.

Among the Syrians, the Melkites were concentrated in urban and Hellenized areas (Antioch, Alexandria, and the Mediterranean coast), while the Syriac Orthodox were in the countryside and hinterlands.

The Syriac Orthodox adherents were not alone in their resistance to the Council of Chalcedon: Together with the Egyptians, the Armenians, the Georgians, and the Ethiopians, they formed the core of the ancient Oriental Orthodox Churches.

The divisions between the Melkites and the other Syriac churches were mainly a result of cultural, linguistic, and political factors rather than theology. The Syriac churches formally rejected the Chalcedonian Creed that Christ has two natures, divine and human, in one person as an innovation of the ancient traditions.

Their Byzantine (Melkite) opponents incorrectly held them to be Monophysites, heretics who believed that Christ had only one nature. In fact, the Syriac position was that "Christ is perfect God and perfect man" and was only slightly different from the Chalcedonian formula.

The fourth through the sixth centuries were the most prolific era for Syriac writers. During this time the language came to flourish in its classical forms of Jacobite (serto) and Eastern (Nestorian), together with Estangelo, the common written language.

The Syriac Bible, called the Peshitta, was written early enough in the development of Judaism and Christianity that it was one of the oldest witnesses to the scriptural text. The Diatessaron, attributed to Tatian, is an indispensable witness to the gospel texts of the New Testament.

Some of the notable religious writers of this period include Aphraates (fl. 336–345), Ephrem the Syrian (d. 373), Narsai (d. c. 503), Jacob of Sarug (d. 521), and Philoxenus of Mabbugh (d. 523). Their elevated prose and poetry manifest in metrical homilies and hymns, some of which spread into the Greek Church and the Latin Church.

The secular chronicles and histories of Syriac origin are valuable for filling in the gaps left by Latin and Greek works. Some of the outstanding early historians include John of Ephesus (c. 575–585), Pseudo-Zachariah Rhetor (c. 580), and Jacob of Edessa (d. 708).

By the early 600s Syriac missionaries had spread their religion as far east as China. The Assyrian Church maintained valuable connections to the silk and spice routes, so they were able to carry their religion into far-flung areas.

Syriac Orthodox villages and churches were oftentimes swallowed up by the Persian Empire as the Romans and Byzantines retreated toward the Mediterranean Sea. But they did not fight the new regime because they had experienced disparagement and persecution from their Melkite coreligionists and former Byzantine rulers.

By contrast, the Assyrians and the Syriac Orthodox often took positions of influence in science, administration, and education among the Persians, Muslims, and Mongols. Many scientific and philosophical books, otherwise lost to the West during the early Middle Ages, were transmitted from their Greek origins to the Arabs by way of the Syriac scholars.

Syriac missionaries are legendary for spreading Christianity into India, where their descendants are called Thomas Christians (because of their purported link to the mission of Thomas the Apostle). They follow customs that show affinities with Judaism. In fact the largest group of Syriac Christians resides in contemporary India.

Talmud

Talmud
Talmud
The Talmud of Judaism is a collection of commentaries. It is the extended and loosely organized elaboration of selected tractates of the Mishnah, an earlier religious book. Its contents are not limited by the Mishnah but often serve as the base for wide-ranging discussions.

Ancient rabbis found all kinds of reasons for recording their discussions on Talmudic topics, and this eventually became the constitution of medieval Jewish life. It is the source for the Torah among rabbinic Jews today, binding on orthodox Jews. Legal rulings within the Talmud are called the Halakhah, and the interpretations and the stories that support the rulings are the Haggadah.

Technically the Talmud means the whole body of rabbinic materials, namely, the Mishnah and its later commentaries, while the Gemara refers specifically to the commentary on the Mishnah. In common parlance, however, the Talmud refers to the Gemara, or commentary on the Mishnah, written between 200 and 600 c.e.

The writers of the Talmud are the "sages" of various periods of Jewish history. The rabbis before the Mish- nah are called the tannaim, from a Hebrew word meaning "teach" or "repeat". The rabbis who lived after the Mishnah are called the amoraim, from an Aramaic word meaning "discuss".


The sevoraim come after the amoraim, and their name comes from the Aramaic word for "reconsider" or "rethink an opinion". Finally come the geonim, from the Hebrew word for "learned", usually applied to the authoritative later teachers.

The Talmud loosely follows the organization of the Mishnah, divided into the orders or tractates, then chapters, and then paragraphs. The technique of developing the topic is to go over each phrase of the Mishnah and discuss it thoroughly. Sometimes digressions slip in and go on for pages before the Mishnah lines are taken up again.

For several generations sages debated and consulted about the meaning of the Mishnah. These discussions were collected and passed down orally or as makeshift documents. Additions and revisions and shifting within the collections meant that they were not standardized texts. Sometimes free associations of ideas and even extraneous materials were included and added to the confusion of the collections.

As time went on, rabbis felt free to comment on the original commentaries in order to give clarity and relevance. The earliest comments were mostly law related: brief, apodictic statements of law; later, comments were longer dialectical treatments of laws and principles.

There grew to be two centers where Jews compiled available Gemara into their own Talmuds: Palestine and Babylonia. The Yerushalmi, or Palestinian, Talmud mostly reflects the work of Galilean rabbis, and it was completed by the mid-fifth century c.e.

It is characterized by brevity and an absence of clarification and editorial transitions, which is in keeping with its early dating. Its discussions are seen as elliptical and terse, but occasionally dialogues arise and show development of argument and resolutions.

The Bavli, or Babylonian, Talmud was completed by the year 500 c.e. However, there are discussions that show development over a longer time period (450–650). The Bavli is far more worked out than the Yerushalmi. It is more sophisticated and technical and formal for introducing source materials, considering objections and counterobjections.

The sevoraim took a much bigger role in the Bavli, composing entire sections, especially introductions and transitions. In general, the Bavli is of a superior literary quality and logical clarity, and it is much longer. The last period of the Talmud teachers, the geonim, consists of Bavli authorities.

The Bavli leaves out a lot of the first order ("Blessings") because many of the issues concern obligations that do not apply outside Israel. Harder to explain is the Bavli’s fascination with the regulations concerning the Temple—not found in the Yerushalmi.

Otherwise, the two books of Talmud mostly cover the same ground. The Bavli gradually grew in its influence over the Yerushalmi. It is clear the Babylonian geonim of the latter part of the first millennium c.e. were more prestigious than the Palestinian rabbis.

Diaspora Jews gradually adopted the Bavli as their primary book. Palestinian Jewry declined, while the Diaspora communities spread throughout Spain, Portugal, and North Africa. Another blow to the Jews of Palestine and their Talmud was the crusades.

At a certain point the Talmud always meant the Bavli, and that Yerushalmi only applied where the Bavli was silent or ambiguous. And the momentum continued: It became the focus of more and better commentaries and larger numbers of scribes. Modern scholarship therefore has more to work with in terms of Bavli materials, while Yerushalmi is less polished and extensive.

Early Mishnah study and commentaries were oral, so that the Gemara was in the beginning an approximation of the spoken tradition. There is no reason, then, to speak of the "original Talmud", and there are many parallel texts in various centers of Jewry.

Standardization of text has come largely because of the Diaspora Jews’ adaptation to the modern world and eventually their access to the printing press and formation of education institutions. All these factors stood in favor of the Bavli. It is traditional to believe that Moses presented the Torah as the written laws for Israel but that his rulings about various applications of the written laws were passed on orally at the same time.

As medieval Judaism developed more and more oral laws to interpret the Torah and to expand its application, the rabbis gave credit to various legendary nonbiblical figures (the "Great Synagogue" officials, Hillel and Shammai and Yohanan ben Zakkai). The only historical person to corroborate this process is Judah ha-Nasi, who presided over the compilation of the Mishnah around the year 200 c.e.

The mode of composition is in dialogue form, a bit like the dialogue between Socrates and his followers. Questions regarding the Mishnah are introduced and then the dialogue seeks after causes and origins. The lengthy digressions are the Haggadah, while the conclusions are the Halakhah.

While this method may strike the modern reader as drawn out and boring, it actually is a novel way of dealing with the complexity and monotony of legal rulings. The Talmud contains the rejected as well as the accepted opinions of the rabbis.

The Talmud is a book of laws and opinions on the laws. Rarely does it appeal to the reader’s sense of inspiration and elevated speech. To the casual reader the rabbis appear as judges, teachers, and public administrators, and that was their role within the medieval Jewish community.

The personalities of the thinkers—the rabbis—were not important in the Talmud, but the legal chains of thought were. Their genre was the text commentary, and even today the Talmud text page contains the text surrounded by several later celebrated commentaries.

The religious current of the text is deeper and more satisfying. The law is a source of God’s creativity and thus a gift to Jews and a joy to fulfill. The task of the rabbi is to apply this law to every aspect of life, an opportunity and not a burden. In fact, by expanding the oral Torah, the rabbis were imitating what previously God accomplished through the written Torah.

Thus, study and application of Torah were engaging in a form of divine creativity. Everyone was expected to join in the creative process, whether it was the ascetic holy man who studied 20 hours per day, or the common Jew who studied Torah only at the Sabbath service.

Rabbinic skill was expressed in finely honed argumentation, and the argumentation became a sign of holiness. The rabbis taught that they became a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation" when they sufficiently studied and understood the Torah.

Rabbis were elected and rated according to their command of the Talmud. As medieval rabbis devoted themselves to Talmudic studies, they enhanced their stature as community leaders. As a result they had to work out their relationships with the political rulers of the lands where their Jewish followers were.

The Roman authorities, the Byzantine governors, and even the designated Jewish officials (the Jewish patriarchs and the exiliarchs) eventually had to accommodate the rabbis. Nonetheless, the rabbis kept a low political profile.

The rabbis found their niche in the internal religious life of the Jews (marriages, divorces, religious rituals, calendar, and the education of the youth). Their opinions were treasured much like medieval Christians valued the fathers of the church.

The Talmuds are the major sources of information about Jewish culture and religion in the period of late antiquity and the early medieval period. Often its pages reveal even earlier stages of Jewish life and culture—perhaps preserving fragments of teachers and teachings of the period after the last writings of the Bible and before the completion of the New Testament. The problem is that the Talmuds add layer upon layer of editing so that the original historical kernel cannot be identifi ed with certainty.

Another problem with determining the historicity of the Talmud came from outsiders: Christians often censored or destroyed copies of the Talmud in various regions of Europe. Often, in order to avoid destruction, Jews submitted the Talmud to censorship so that early rabbinic discussion of such topics as Jesus (Christ) of Nazareth or early Christianity was lost or scattered.

Tantrism

Vajrayana Buddhism, or Tantrism, is a form of Buddhist thought that has flourished in northern India and particularly Tibet. The term vajra is a Sanskrit word that can mean either "diamond" or "thunderbolt". Vajrayana Buddhism provides enlightenment in a single lifetime, rather than as a result of numerous incarnations as posited by other forms of Buddhism. These means, which are known as upaya, include meditation techniques, thought exercises, chanting, and sexual practices.

Like Mahayana Buddhism, Vajrayana Buddhism aims to recreate the experience of Gautama Buddha and to enable the individual to attain Buddhahood, rather than just to escape from the endless wheel of death and rebirth that is caused by attachment to the insubstantial things of the world, which is the goal of Theravada Buddhism.

Like the other forms of Buddhism, Vajrayana Buddhism also enjoins upon the follower to take such measures as proper behavior, abstinence from intoxicants, and supporting the monkhood. An alternative name for Vajrayana Buddhism is Mantrayana Buddhism, owing to the practice of reciting mantras to escape from the human desire to grasp illusory and impermanent sensory data as reality.

Vajrayana Buddhism developed from Mahayana (or Great Vehicle) Buddhism around the sixth–seventh centuries and was particularly influential until the 11th century. Tibetan adherents claim that Sakyamuni Buddha taught the tantras as secret texts that were preserved in writing some time after the sutras.


A tantra is a continuum that flows from fundamental ignorance to enlightenment, as well as being the text in which this message is recorded. Tantras include continua of the path, the ground, and the result. Three inner tantras, in addition to six outer tantras, once mastered, offer the capability of entering the Buddhahood.

This is managed through sophisticated mental techniques that facilitate the resolution of states of mental dissonance into one of enlightening union. The three inner tantras are the Mahayoga, Anuyoga, and Atiyoga, which are the generation stage, the perfection stage, and the Great Perfection (dzogchen) stage.

The Indian spiritual leaders Padmasambhaa, Vimalamitra, and Buddhaguhya (among others) introduced them. Their works have been subsequently collected in multiple-volume canons, notably in Tibetan translation by Buton Rinchendrub (1290–1364). The different collections of works gave rise to different schools of Vajrayana thought.

Vajrayana adherents stress the importance of the teacher-student relationship and the esoteric transmission of knowledge and upayas through that relationship. Not only is meditation involved but also ritual chanting, the drawing of mystical charts, and the practice of tantric sexual congress with female priests known as yoginis. The most well known repetitive chant is Om mane padme hum (ah, the jewel is indeed in the lotus), which when repeated can help the mind overcome dissonance.

Sexual congress is important in the quest for enlightenment because it is part of the attempt to resolve and unite opposing principles. In addition, as one of the Four Delights, it aims to unite bliss with emptiness, by means of liberating the body’s energy center to receive the pristine cognition of supreme delight.

In some cases tantric activities, including sexual yoga, became associated with occult activities and sacred drinking of alcohol. Tantrism on the island of Java, for example, included drinking and fornication with yoginis that rather scandalized some visitors, unaware of the purpose of the rituals.

Kertanagara (r. 1268–92), the last king of Singosari on Java, for example, was obliged to protect his people and demonstrate the legitimacy of his kingship by combating the demoniac energies loose in the land through seeking ecstasy through bouts of drinking and sexual congress. Kertanagara was unfortunately murdered in the course of one of these bouts. Tantric practices are also associated with Hinduism and differ from Buddhist tantrism accordingly.

Vajrayana Buddhism was infl uential in Tibet and India, but has also been practiced in Central Asia, China, Java, Nepal, and what is now Pakistan. In addition, the Mongols adopted aspects of Tibetan Buddhist practice and helped spread them through the Asian continent. Variations of tantric practice spread further, although often dissociated from the essence of Vajrayana Buddhism.

In aesthetic and artistic terms Vajrayana Buddhism has inspired the creation of the mandala, which is a representation of the universe employed in meditation. A series of concentric circles identifi es the individual and the womb and its connections with wider reality. Characteristic forms are found in China, Japan, and Tibet.

Tibetan versions are one form of thang-ka (tanka), which are cloth paintings that may be used in personal meditation, used for display, or in processions. They are created according to a series of strict canonical rules and began to appear from about the 10th century.

Teotihuacán

Teotihuacán
Teotihuacán

Located some 25 miles northeast of Mexico City in the Basin of Mexico, the massive ruins of the great city of Teotihuacán have long puzzled and intrigued observers. Despite more than a century of archaeological investigation, many mysteries remain about the people who built, ruled, and lived in this vast urban complex. The city was founded in the first century b.c.e., just northeast of Lake Texcoco, which lay at the basin’s center.

Its builders were most likely the former inhabitants of the ancient ceremonial center of Cuicuilco, at Lake Texcoco’s southwest corner, which was destroyed in the eruption of the volcano Xitle around 50 b.c.e. Construction on Teotihuacán began soon after the abandonment of Cuicuilco. The city flourished for the next 600 years, dominating most of the central highlands, before its partial destruction and abandonment around 650 c.e.

The city’s civic and ceremonial core was built in stages, from its beginnings in the first century b.c.e. to its completion by 300 c.e. Carefully designed in a grid-like pattern, the core was dominated by several towering structures connected by a broad avenue: the massive Pyramid of the Sun; the slightly less imposing Pyramid of the Moon; the Temple of Quetzalcoatl (Plumed, or Feathered, Serpent); and the large open-air Citadel. Scholars offer varying interpretations of its builders’ intentions regarding its orientation, with the Avenue of the Dead at 15.5 degrees west of south.


Some argue that it is aligned with solar equinoxes; others, with the constellation Pleiades; others, with the nearby Cerro Gordo volcano; still others have proposed mathematical relationships between the city’s orientation and the sacred 260-day calendar. All agree that its exacting alignment carried deep meaning for its designers and builders.

Its largest and oldest vertical structure, the massive Pyramid of the Sun, was built over a series of caves (discovered in 1971) whose interior chambers were modified and used extensively during the pyramid’s construction phase (1–150 c.e.).

In Mesoamerican mythology caves were linked to the underworld, the dwelling place of the gods, and the origin of creation, suggesting that the pyramid’s location held profound cosmological significance to its designers.

Estimates of the city’s population range from a low of 80,000, to a high of 200,000. During its first century its population grew rapidly, reaching perhaps 80,000 by 150 c.e., with many thousands of people from the Basin of Mexico migrating to the city.

Growth slowed in subsequent decades, with the city’s population reaching its height probably around 200 c.e. In the 200s and 300s a series of more than 2,000 apartment or residential compounds were built to house the city’s huge population.

The sizes and qualities of these compounds varied considerably, suggesting an intricate system of socioeconomic stratification based on wealth, occupation, status, and lineage. Most scholars agree that persons claiming a common lineage inhabited these compounds.

Different districts or neighborhoods within the city also varied widely. In some areas, specialized craft or artisan workshops predominated. Elsewhere, distinct ethnic enclaves are evident, most notably, a cluster of some dozen compounds evidently inhabited by Oaxacans from Monte Albán.

A "merchant’s neighborhood" has been identified near the city’s eastern perimeter. Throughout much of the city, however, it is difficult to identify specific qualities that defined its spatial demographics. While the remnants of walls can be found in various parts of the city, there is no evidence that the city as a whole was walled. An estimated two-thirds of the city’s inhabitants worked in agriculture, in the fields surrounding city, with the remainder engaged in various types of craft production.

The inhabitants of Teotihuacán employed a system of notational signs but had no system of writing comparable to the Maya during this same period. Scholars have identified no grammatical or phonetic elements in the notational system and thus do not know what languages its inhabitants spoke or what they called themselves.

Some scholars have proposed that its rulers sought to create a secretive, mysterious symbolism; others suggest that the signs’ meanings were probably clear to their creators and those who viewed them. The artistic style at Teotihuacán is repetitive, uniform, and somewhat stiff, in sharp contrast to the great variability of styles and motifs among the Maya city-states.

Religion was practiced in at least two distinct spheres: at the level of the household and village and at the level of the state. Village- and household-level religious practices focused on ancestors and deities linked to specific lineages. There is no evidence that these household- and village-level religious practices were in conflict with the state or that there was any organized or lower-class resistance to the state or ruling groups.

State religion was very distinct from village-level religion, emphasizing especially the cult of the Feathered Serpent, most graphically expressed in the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, with its hundreds of huge sculpted heads gracing its massive walls and stairs.

Other major state deities included what is commonly called Tlaloc, the rain god (though interpretations differ on whether this was indeed Tlaloc), the storm/war god, various death and underworld gods, and what E. Pasztory has termed the Great Goddess.

State religion focused on legitimizing the dominance of ruling groups and providing ideological underpinning for the state and its political, military, and ideological dominion within the Basin of Mexico and beyond. This was a highly stratified and militarized society with both extensive and intensive military capacities.

The city dominated the Basin of Mexico, though probably not much beyond it, and regardless of the extent of its direct rule, it carried enormous ideological prestige throughout Mesoamerica.

Perhaps providing a template for the later Aztec military, Teotihuacán’s armies were divided into military orders associated with particular creatures, such as the eagle and jaguar. Its military forces consisted of both commoners and elites that fought in disciplined groups and were highly effective in their use of dart- and spear-throwers (atlatl) and obsidianstudded clubs.

The city’s impressive military capacities and ideological prestige worked together to facilitate exchange and trade relations with neighboring polities. Trade routes, as far south as Central America and as far north as the present-day U.S. Southwest, linked the city to all of Mesoamerica’s significant polities.

Long-distance trade was especially active in prestige items, such as shells, ceramics, obsidian, mica, hematite, jade, turquoise, and cinnabar. Marketplaces within the city were especially important, some suggesting that the Great Compound was also the city’s central marketplace, with cacao serving as a form of currency.

Ritual human sacrifice was practiced at Teotihuacán, though the practice is depicted in the city’s artwork principally through portrayals of human hearts, some impaled on knives. Skeletons of sacrificial victims have been unearthed in the Pyramid of the Sun, the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, and other buildings.

The decline of the great city was rooted in longterm ecological crises, particularly water shortages, deforestation, and soil degradation, trends exacerbated by a series of invasions or attacks by nomadic or seminomadic peoples from the north. Between 500 and 600 these deleterious ecological processes had become irreversible.

Around 650 much of the city was destroyed by fire, probably by external assailants, and most of its buildings and compounds were abandoned. The core ceremonial area around the temples saw the greatest destruction, suggesting a conscious effort to incapacitate the city’s ritual and ideological power. By 750 the city was completely abandoned.

Some six centuries later, upon their arrival into the Basin of Mexico from the northern deserts, the Aztec would look upon the ruins of Teotihuacán as the dwelling place of the gods. Today Teotihuacán remains one of Mexico’s most popular tourist attractions.

Tetrarchy

The Tetrarchy, or "rule of four", was a reform of the Roman imperial government initiated by the emperor Diocletian in 286 c.e. This was a total change of the princeps system begun by the emperor Augustus Caesar in 30 b.c.e. Augustus, despite his name of "revered one", was addressed while emperor as "princeps", or "first citizen", and his imperial rule was built informally around government offices of the Roman Republic.

His true power had come from a combination of the office of tribune and his role in society as "first citizen". Diocletian, on the other hand, changed the position of Roman emperor from one cloaked in republican virtue and office into a full Eastern-style monarchy.

Access to the emperor was limited under Diocletian and he was addressed as "Dominus Noster", or "our lord". This change in the imperial system had two main goals. The first was a more efficient military command and control, and the second was an attempt to change the way the emperor was chosen.

Diocletian had good reason for instituting new changes for the Roman world. Prior to Diocletian’s imperial rule, beginning in 286, the Roman world had seen what historians now call the Crisis of the Third Century.


Since only 235 c.e., which had seen the death of the emperor Alexander Severus, Rome had been ruled by generals, by some accounts as many as 50. During the exceedingly short rules of these generals, Rome had been raided by Vandals and Goths and attacked outright on her eastern border by the Sassanid Empire.

While the Roman Empire was both politically and militarily unstable, Rome was also in terrible financial straits. The Roman Empire had seen years of hyperinflation due to the debasing of the coinage. When Diocletian came to power, he had ample reason to introduce reforms, reforms that some scholars say saved the empire for two more centuries.

This new imperial system was designed first to provide for an increased military command capacity within the empire. No longer would the Roman army sit only on the frontiers, but there would now be a "defense in depth" policy. The army would patrol the farthest reaches of the empire and also provide a defense for all Roman territory.

Diocletian secured these changes with two fundamental alterations to military policy. The first was a de facto division of the empire into an eastern and western half, with each half having its own emperor. Beneath these two emperors, who held the title of Augustus, were two junior emperors who held the title of Caesar. In all, the new imperial college would contain four members: two Augusti and two Caesari.

For the military this allowed for a total of four military commanders who could campaign on the very edge of empire, without the others having to worry about a victorious general being elevated to the rank of emperor by his troops. In addition to the edges of empire, there would be military resources and military commanders for the new defense in depth policy.

The imperial college was also intended to create a sense of stability in the empire. The political division between East and West was not intended to be a true division. In fact, all imperial decrees continued to be made in the name of all four men of the imperial college.

This allowed for a sense of stability during the sometimes-unstable transfer of power between Roman rulers. The previous princeps system of government had for hundreds of years left the empire with no formal way to choose a new emperor after the death of the previous reigning emperor.

Diocletian’s reforms sought to rectify this. In theory, when the senior Augustus died, his Caesar would be elevated and would in turn choose a new Caesar. In this manner the Caesar would gain both experience and legitimacy with the Roman populace.

In practice, however, Diocletian’s reforms did not even last for one full transfer. In order that he see his system of succession put into effect, Diocletian decided to retire after 20 years as emperor and forced his co-Augustus, Maximian, to retire as well.

When this occurred, each man’s Caesar was elevated to the imperial throne, and two new Caesari were chosen. Maximian did not agree to this forced abdication, and eventually he attempted to regain his position as head of the Western Roman Empire.

This failure by Maximian marked the beginning of the end of the Tetrarchy. By the end of Constantine the Great’s reign in 337, most of Diocletian’s reforms had failed. The rule of Constantine and his progeny was marked by civil war and competing imperial claims, just as had been the case before Diocletian’s reforms of 286.

Thebes

Thebes
Thebes

In the Iliad Homer famously described the city as "hundred-gated Thebes". However, Thebes is better understood as an entire site that encompassed the east and west banks of the Nile, containing temples and palaces, the dwelling-places of the living and the everlasting homes of the dead. On the east bank were the temples of Amun at Karnak and Luxor.

The ancient city lay to the east of the great temple of Karnak. As the temple expanded, the city had to move and was laid out on a grid plan. Across the river on the west bank, bordering the strip of cultivated fields, stood the mortuary temples of pharaohs from the Middle and New Kingdoms.

Behind them lay the cemeteries of the nobility, while beyond in the desert valleys, the tombs of kings and queens of Egypt. On the west bank was the village of skilled craftsmen and scribes, who worked on the royal tombs, their burial places, and those of commoners. In effect there were two Thebes, one for the living, the other for the dead.


Ironically, the mud-brick city of the living has long vanished under the fields and houses of the modern city of Luxor, while Thebes of the dead on the west bank remains one of Egypt’s primary tourist locations. It is one of the largest archaeological sites in the world.

Thebes lies about 400 miles south of Cairo, just south of the Wadi Hammamat where the Nile Valley comes closest to the Red Sea. The Egyptians called the town Waset, "dominion", and later simply Nìwt, "the city."

Although there are some remains from the Early Dynastic and Old Kingdom periods (3100–2181 b.c.e.), it was a small town, the capital of the fourth nome (district) of Upper Egypt. The Greeks would name it Thebes after the principal city of Boeotia in Greece. A family from the Theban nome ruled Upper Egypt at the close of the First Intermediate Period (2181–2055 b.c.e.).

One of these rulers, Mentuhotep II (2055–04 b.c.e.), gained control over all Egypt founding the Middle Kingdom. His mortuary temple lies beside that of the female ruler Hatshepsut, at Deir el-Bahri. Although subsequent pharaohs moved away from Thebes, the rulers of the Twelfth Dynasty (1985–1795 b.c.e.) made it the capital of Upper Egypt.

At the end of the Second Intermediate Period (1650–1550 b.c.e.), the local Theban princely family drove the Hyksos from Egypt and reunited the "Two Lands". This inaugurated the New Kingdom, the time of Thebes’s greatest glory and that of Amun, its god. The Eighteenth Dynasty (1570–1293 b.c.e.) ruled from Thebes, with the brief exception of Akhenaten (1350–44 b.c.e.).

The rulers of this dynasty built extensively at Thebes. The present temple of Amun at Karnak was begun at this time and endowed, enlarged, and embellished right down to the Greco-Roman period. The pharaohs of the Nineteenth Dynasty (1293–1185 b.c.e.) moved their capital to the eastern Delta, but Thebes remained a prestigious religious center and burial site.

Power inevitably passed into the hands of the high priests of Amun, who controlled a huge clerical corporation that owned land all over Egypt. By the end of the New Kingdom (1069 b.c.e.) the priesthood of Amun controlled two-thirds of all temple lands and 90 percent of Nile shipping.

Thebes was sacked and looted by the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal in 664 b.c.e. By this time the importance of the city even as a religious site had begun to diminish as successive foreign conquests, Persian, Greek and Roman, forced Egypt to look north to the Mediterranean.

On the east bank of the Nile stand the temples of Amun at Karnak and Luxor. The site at Karnak includes the temple of Amun, the temple of Mut (the Mother), his wife, and the temple of their son Khonsu, a moon god. To the north of the precinct of Amun sits the temple of Montu, the old falcon war god of Thebes. At the south, at the end of an avenue of sphinxes, is the temple at Luxor.

This is dedicated to Amun in his fertility aspect: It was called the "Place of Seclusion". It was the destination of the Theban Triad at the "Beautiful Festival of Opet", celebrated in the second month of the Inundation. Statues of Amun, Mut, and Khonsu were placed on their barques, loaded onto barges, and towed amid scenes of great jubilation from Karnak to Luxor.

Thebes of the dead on the west bank is a rich archaeological site. At Deir el-Bahri, the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut preserves the illustrated record of the expedition to the fabled land of Punt that she ordered.

There are several well-preserved mortuary temples including that of Ramses III at Medinet Habu. The Valley of the Kings contains the famous tomb of Tutankhamun, the tomb of Ramses VI with its astronomical ceiling, and that of Thutmose III. The Valley of the Queens holds the magnificently restored tomb of Ramses II’s chief wife, Nefertari.

Any Theban palaces, built of mud brick, have long since vanished. Even the grand palace of the opulent Amenophis III at Malqata on the west bank has disappeared. However, the site of the craftsmen and artisans’ village at Deir el-Medina and their tombs opens a window into the lives and hopes of ordinary Egyptians.