It's Too Early To Tell
When asked about the chief consequences of the French Revolution, "It's too early to tell," Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai is said to have replied. None of us can see what directions the world will take, and events that seem monumental might turn out to be mere pebbles on the road of history. 2,000 years ago few could have predicted the success of a small religious group following the teachings of a Nazarean carpenter. Today Christianity is the biggest religion in the world.
There are some achievements so notable, so ground-shaking, we can feel their impact. Of course, not everyone changes the world for the better. Clearly, we could do with fewer Osama bin Ladens and more men and women, who, when given great power, directed it toward goals that benefited mankind.
Ramses the Great was the greatest ruler of Egypt, ruling for over 60 years until his death aged over 90 years old. Ramses inherited the throne in 1279BC. At the time Egypt was in a long drawn out war with the Hittites of Anatolia (now modern day Turkey). One of his first acts as Kings was to lead his army into battle at the Battle of Kadesh in 1274. It was however, a partial phyrric victory as, although he won, he failed to secure the town of Kadesh. Later he won more victories against the Hittities, taking towns as far north as in Syria. However, Ramses was aware of how stretched his army was. He knew it would be impossible to hold onto these vast territories so he sought to negotiate a peace treaty. This peace treaty was one of the first recorded peace treaties. It went beyond a mere cessation of hostilities but, made the Egyptian and Hittities allies; in which they promised to defend each other from attack. This peace treaty with their most powerful rival was instrumental in creating a long period of stability and abscence of conflict.
In the abscence of costly wars to fight, Ramses could concentrate on his desire to build extensive memorials and impressive buildings leaving people stunned at the power and majesty of Egypt. As was typical of Egyptian Kings, Ramses had several wives, but, his favourite was Nefetari. Unlike many Egyptian marriages of the time, Nefetari was not a relative, but a genuine love match. The tomb of Nefetari is one of the most impressive in the whole Valley of the Queens.
Alexander the Great was perhaps the greatest military commander of all time. During one decade, he conquered all of the known world leaving one of the world's most extensive empires. Alexander was born in the northern Greek kingdom of Macedonia, in July 356 BC. His parents were Philip II, King of Macedon, and his wife Olympias.
As a young child he was tutored by the great philosopher, Aristotle. Aristotle taught a variety of subjects including philosophy, poetry and ideals of government. To some extent, these ideals influenced Alexander when he was later governing conquered nations. Alexander had a love of music and books, when asked what is greatest possession was, Alexander replied Homer's Iliad. However, he also had a ruthless nature which he displayed on being crowned King. Alexander soon moved to have all potential challengers killed (including his infant half brother)- so he could be the undisputed King. When a friend was found guilty of treason, he also executed his innocent father (who had been a loyal general to Alexander).
On coming to the throne, Alexander united the warring factions in Greece, before leading his army into Persia. Although seemingly outnumbered, Alexander led his army to a decisive victory. It was said that during his reign, Alexander remained undefeated. After beating the Persians, Alexander led his faithful army further East until they came to the regions of Afghanistan and India. Again Alexander proved militarily successful and went onto establish cities in many different countries.
Although, Alexander was ruthless in eliminating rivals to the throne, his treatment of occupied territories was remarkably progressive and tolerant. Alexander forbid his troops from raping and pillaging, but, established new democratic governments, incorporating the local customs of the area. He allowed religious tolerance for the different religious groups.
Many stories tell of the loyalty and faith his army had in Alexander. Once they were returning across a desert with hardly any water left. It is said that Alexander's will alone, kept his troops focused on making the return journey. At one point, his army collected a small pitcher of water from the remaining supplies and offered it to Alexander. Alexander said nothing and disdainfully through the precious water into the sand. It was incidents like this which created a God-like image around Alexander. He himself said, it was only sleep and sex which reminded him he was a mortal. However, he enjoyed a passionate life of drinking, womanising and reveling. For a man seemingly invincible on the battlefield, he ironically died at the early age of 32.
Marcus Aurelius (121 - 180) was one of the great 5 Roman Emperors. He is widely regarded to be the model for a just Roman ruler. He combined statesmanship with a profound interest in stoic philosophy. His meditations reflect his thoughts on self enquiry and self-improvement. Marcus was born into an aristocratic family with strong ties to the Emperor. In 138, he was handpicked by Hadrian to be his successor. He was educated in the classical Latin and Greek texts of the day. He also became fascinated with Stoic philosophy and the writings of Epictetus. Epictetus was a former slave instrumental in developing stoic philosophy and the philosophy of calm detachment to the vagaries of life.
Hadrian died and Marcus Aurelius could have legitimately seized power. However, he decided to govern jointly with Lucius Verus being made joint emperor in the East. On a domestic front, Marcus generally implemented more progressive policies for the marginalised of society - slaves and women. At the time, Rome was constantly under attack from enemies in Germany and the Partian Empire in Syria. Much of Marcus Aurelius' meditations were written against the backdrop of war and death. He frequently pointed out the transitory nature of life and the importance of not fearing death.
Saladin is widely revered as the ideal of a Warrior-King - fierce in battle and generous to his enemies. He united the Muslim territories and succeeded in driving out the crusaders from the Holy city of Jerusalem. Saladin was born to a Kurdish family in Tikrit (Now part of northern Iraq). in 1171, he gained control over Egypt and then later Syria. Based in Damascus, Saladin united the disparate Muslim regions into a unified force. He was strict and ruthless in maintaining power. He used tremendous military and political skill to remain the unquestioned leader of the Arabs. By, 1177, Saladin had built up an army capable of taking on the crusaders.
The crusaders had controlled Jerusalem for many years. Its sack and murder of all inhabitants remained a painful memory for Muslims. To make matters worse, the current Christian occupiers of Jerusalem (under Raynald of Chatillon) would frequently harass Muslim pilgrims on the way to Mecca and Medina. Thus in 1187, Saladin bought his massive army to the gates of Jerusalem and at the battle of Hattin, his army destroyed the Christian army enabling him to retake the city. However, Saladin did allow the survivors of the city to flee to ships taking them out of the holy land.
The retaking of Jerusalem by Saladin, gave Richard the Lionheart a reason to start a new crusade. Richard the Lionheart arrived in the Holy Land in 1191 and defeated Saladin in the opening skirmishes. However, Richard was unable to retake Jerusalem and eventually returned to Europe without succeeding. Richard never met Saladin, though, through dealing with Saladin's brother, Richard came to respect and admire Saladin. He recognised his honour, courage and chivalry. Saladin also was generous in his respect of Richard the Lionheart. Although Saladin was a devout Sunni Muslim who reconquered Jerusalem for the Arabs, his name was held in wide regard throughout Europe - a rare occurrence for a Muslim in the medieval ages.
Leonardo Da Vinci is one the world's immortal thinkers, artists and philosophers. In several different fields he proved to be both innovative and several centuries ahead of his contemporaries. Born as illegitimate son of a Florentine noble and peasant woman Leonardo grew up in Vinci, Italy. In his formative years he developed a love of nature and from an early age displayed his remarkable talents and capacities.
In 1466 he moved to Florence where he entered the workshop of Verrocchio. His early style reflected his teacher, but he soon developed an artistic sense which went far beyond his teachers rigid style. His first work of great significance was the "Adoration of the Magi" commissioned by monks of San Donato a Scopeto. Although unfinished, the work was a masterpiece and introduced several new ideas. In particular he introduced the themes of movement and drama. He also pioneered the use of Chiaroscuro. This is the technique of defining forms through the contrast of light and shadow. This would be later used to great effect in the Mona Lisa.
In 1482 Leonardo went to the court of Ludovico Sforza for 16 years in Milan. Here he continued painting and also branched out into other interest such as engineering and anatomy. During this period he painted the famous "Madonna on the Rocks" and also "the Last Supper" This has been described as one of the greatest spiritual paintings. With Christ at the centre of the picture it embodies great feeling and action as Christ is about to announce his imminent betrayal. Unfortunately over the time the quality of the original painting has deteriorated despite frequent restoration attempts.
Akbar The Great (1542 -. 1605) was the greatest of the Moghul emperors, consolidating a large empire across India, and establishing a culture promoting the arts and religious understanding. Akbar was the son of Humayun, grandson of Babur, and became the third Moghul Emperor. Although the first part of his reign was taken up with military campaigns, Akbar displayed a great interest in a wide variety of cultural, artistic, religious and philosophical ideas. Akbar was also know for his religious tolerance and, although a Muslim, took an active interest in other religions.
Akbar came to the throne, aged 14, on the death of his father Humayun. For the next 20 years, he had to fight to defend and consolidate the Moghul empire. He faced threats from the Afghans in the North and from the Hindu King, Samrat Hemu. As Akbar was very young on ascending to the throne, the running of Moghul Kingdom was left to Bairam Khan an Afghan Shia Muslim. Bairam was a great military leader and helped secure the Moghul Empire. However, he was not liked by many for the absolute power he wielded and also the fact he was not a Sunni Muslim. At one point he was encouraged to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca. Akbar sent an army to escort Bairam Kham, but Bairam was annoyed at the ostracism of being sent on pilgrimage. Therefore, he turned on Akbar's army and was later captured. Bairam was taken to Akbar where many wanted him to be executed. However, Akbar refused to execute Bairam because had done much for him in the past. He forgave Bairam and allowed him to live at the expense of the court. Throughout his life, Akbar often showed mercy and forgiveness to his enemies - not least to his own brother who plotted against him.
Akbar was known to have many good qualities. He was fearless in battle and willing to risk his life. He was generous to friends and rewarded loyalty. In his diet he was quite frugal, preferring a vegetarian diet. He had a great interest in religion and encouraged representatives of different religions to come to his court to debate great religious ideas. Akbar felt that the different religions were compatible with each other - offering different approaches to the same goal. Towards the end of his life he tried to create his own religion - an amalgamation of different religious traditions. However, it never extended beyond his personality and soon faded away after his death.
Pax Romana was a period of relative peace in the Roman Empire for about two hundred years. What was so special about this besides the fact that it was peace for an empire that loved to fight and bloodshed was part of the daily life was what the peace brought forth. Out of all the quiet culture developed that today still is in use. Roads of amazing engineering were built and linked the far areas of the vast empire like no other before them. A postal system was refined and utilized like never before. Engineering explosion gave us the arch, plumbing, and so many more cultural advances that were the basis of many of the things that we use each and every day of our lives. This period of peace allowed the warring empire to settle down and adjust to its new size and all its new family members. It developed a legal system like no other. It created a culture that is envied today in many aspects. This peace helped lay down the foundations of our world today.
Nothing can compare to the age of the Renaissance. Ignorance was being pushed aside and the world was beginning to see the sparkle of the dew drop, the lure of a falling apple, and the wonder of a distant star. It was during this time that great men and women questioned tradition, standing believes, and learned that there was still a lot to learn in this great world. The earth was not the center of the universe. There were planets besides our own. There was a world of mathematics that had functioned just under the surface where no man had yet looked. There was beauty in colors that art began to acknowledge and share with the whole world. The Renaissance gave us new light into our world and pushed aside the Dark Ages where man was directed by superstition and fear. The Renaissance gave the unexplainable a face and a name. There would be no more fear. Curiosity was encouraged despite opposition from those that longed to remain in the past. The Renaissance was an awakening to the world and was the beginning of all our curiosity today.
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