II. Ancient and Classical Periods, 3500 B.C.E.–500 C.E. > A. Global and Comparative Dimensions > 2. The Growth of Civilizations, 2000–300 B.C.E. > c. The Axial Period
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
c. The Axial Period
Increasing interregional trade, development of political institutions capable of ruling large areas, and emergence of new world-views transformed the ancient civilized societies of the Eastern Hemisphere. The result was the existence by 300 B.C.E. of distinctive regional civilizations in China, South Asia, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean basin.  1
The transformation of ancient societies was accompanied by important redefinitions of world-views in the civilized regions. Thinkers created the “axes” around which philosophical and religious thought revolved for the next two thousand years.  2
Ethical monotheism in the Middle East was developed especially by ZARATHUSTRA or Zoroaster in eastern Persia, probably about 600 B.C.E. but possibly earlier; Zoroastrianism (See Economy, Technology, Society, and Culture) spread in the Persian Empire starting in the 6th century B.C.E. Ethical monotheism also arose among the HEBREW PROPHETS in Palestine (See c. 1020–1000), starting in the 8th century B.C.E. and spreading as Jewish people migrated in later classical empires.  3
HINDU traditions of belief and social organization developed in the emerging Aryan society of India, with the early sacred hymns or Vedas and the Brahman priesthood providing the foundations by 700–500 B.C.E. The composition in the 8th to the 4th centuries B.C.E. of the Upanishads (See 800–c. 550) provided systematic interpretation of the Vedas and are the foundation for much of later Indian philosophical thought.  4
BUDDHISM (See 550–321) developed in India in these same centuries, beginning with the teaching career of GAUTAMA SIDDHARTHA, the BUDDHA (c. 542–483 B.C.E.), as a rejection of Brahman dominance and the caste system. The development of Hinduism and Buddhism created the distinctive world-views of Indian civilization by the end of the Axial era.  5
CONFUCIUS (See Confucianism) lived during the 6th century B.C.E. in China, in a time of great political instability as the Zhou dynasty's control disintegrated. His teachings provided a philosophical base for social loyalty and obedience. At this same time, other world-view alternatives were defined. Among them were DAOISM (See Daoism), which is usually traced to the legendary teacher Laozi who lived around 600 B.C.E., the egalitarian teachings of Mo-Zi (c. 471–391 B.C.E.), and the authoritarian LEGALISM, most fully articulated by the later Han Fei (d. 233 B.C.E.).  6
GREEK PHILOSOPHY represents the intellectual culmination of the transformations in the eastern Mediterranean societies of the Mycenaeans and Dorians. Socrates (469–399 B.C.E.), Plato (427–327 B.C.E.), and Aristotle (384–322 B.C.E.) provided the basis for the main traditions of Greek philosophy emerging from the Axial age (See Economy, Technology, Society, and Culture).  7
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.