B2 High-Intermediate AU 1251 Folder Collection
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NARRATOR: Humans civilizations have been wonderfully diverse
with an amazing variety of unique customs,
religious practices, social structures and technologies.
These differences are fascinating,
but Big History teaches us to look at the past differently,
to seek out commonalities and identify patterns
that unite seemingly unrelated phenomena.
Often this produces insights that are even more interesting.
One of the most important patterns we see
among agricultural civilizations is the need to expand.
Many agrarian civilizations grew to control
a lot of territory.
The Roman Empire at its peak controlled
around 2.5 million square miles,
the Persians more than three million square miles
and the Mongols a whopping 10 million square miles
with an empire stretching across Asia.
Though these empires existed in different places
and at different times, they shared a strong drive
to expand geographically.
And when they could no longer grow,
their territory shrank and eventually
their civilizations collapsed.
So why was geographic expansion so essential to their survival?
Maintaining a state was expensive.
Increasing the large populations required more infrastructure,
more resources as well as bigger governments and militaries.
Ambitious monumental architecture like the Pyramids
added even more expense because land productivity
had its limits and leaders could face rebellion
if they try to squeeze subjects too much
with heavy taxation.
There were limits to how much states could grow
using internal resources.
Thus growth necessitated taking what others had produced
rather than trying to increase productivity within the state.
During the era of agrarian civilizations
this type of military expansion was common.
We see it in civilizations around the world
with the Persians, the Romans, the Chinese dynasties
and with the Aztec and Inca empires in the Americas.
Large professional armies required food, weapons
and complex infrastructures like roads, forts
and defensive walls.
All of these came at great expense,
which itself increased the need for expansion.
Some military innovations lead to inventions
that would advance entire civilizations.
Iron is a good example.
The hard metal was initially used for weapons
but once iron plows appeared,
crop yields increased, and so did populations.
Roads, initially designed to move armies,
became important trade routes and building techniques
were refined after the construction of so many walls,
forts and watch towers.
Throughout this era, borders were constantly contested
but there was another side
to the interactions that took place.
Outposts and border regions often became centers
for commercial and technological innovation.
This was because different cultural groups
connected and many non-military exchanges occurred,
intensifying collective learning.
We see this accelerated change very clearly in Europe
when the Roman Empire splintered into a series
of small competitive states.
This increase in commerce and the exchange of ideas
drove a transition of power
from large agrarian civilizations
to these smaller commercial states.
The pace of collective learning further intensified.
Traditional agrarian civilizations in other parts
of the world lost power and in many cases were colonized
by the same European states with dramatic implications
for today's world.
Empires were shaped less by physical borders
and more by spheres of commercial influence.
The modern world had begun to take shape.
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Why Did Civilizations Expand? | Big History Project

1251 Folder Collection
TeacherJennifer Bryne published on December 12, 2014
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