|“||If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined||”|
—Pyrrhus of Epirus
|“||The gods have given to man no sharper spur to victory than contempt of death.||”|
Pyrrhus, Heir of AlexanderUpon consolidating his position as ruler, Pyrrhus did everything in his power to improve his claim as the candidate best suited to restore Alexander's empire. He married Alexander's daughter Helen in order to bolster his claim to the throne and prepared his military to conquer his rivals. Requests from his Italian possessions to beat back the Romans and Carthaginians were tacitly ignored for now, as Pyrrhus felt the other rivals were more of a concern. By 299 BC Pyrrhus marched into Macedonia to put an end to the rule of the Antigonids, another competing dynasty.
Pyrrhus quickly showed why he considered himself to be Alexander's rightful heir as he swiftly brushed aside Macedonian forces. His army was typically of lesser quality than his Macedonian opponents but he succeeded through the use of Italian light cavalry and Illyrian skirmishers to destroy the enemy's flanks while his Epirote pikemen held the line. By 298 Pyrrhus was in Pella while the Antigonid king was on the run in Thrace and Bithynia. Ownership of Alexander's lavish tomb in Aegea bolstered Pyrrhus' credibility and prestige, and he often visited the tomb to "ask Alexander for guidance."
With relatively little resistance, Pyrrhus conquers the rest of Greece and begins pushing through Thrace when he is forced to return home after a bout of sickness and possible Greek revolt. Hopes of Antigonid resurgence proved unfounded as Pyrrhus managed to continuously beat his opponents on the field. The Greek cities could not match him in battle but they tried again and again. While Pyrrhus was now forced to hold his new territories together, more opportunities, and enemies, soon appeared before him.
The Return of the Argeads
Soon, however, Pyrrhus faced two problems, one at home and one farther abroad. Back in Macedonia, Alexander IV, as the heir of Alexander, began to gather influence and prestige for himself, as he had more of a claim to the throne than Pyrrhus did. Assassinating the young pretender was not an option as doing so would likely have condemned Greece and Macedonia into civil war. Pyrrhus had to find a solution to the legitimacy problem in his own kingdom before it consumed him.
Another problem more abroad was the reign of his rival Ptolemy, who had obtained the lion's share of Alexander's former empire. He ruled over a realm from Cyrene to Elam, holding the major territories of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Syria as well as Alexandria and Bucephala, the two capitals established by Alexander himself. Ptolemy thus held the strongest claim through governing over the largest share of Alexander's empire. Like the rest of the Diadochi, Ptolemy desired to annex the rest of the empire. Pyrrhus thus desired to weaken his eastern rival while he was distracted with border struggles against Seleucus, another Diadochi.
Through his effective conquest of Greece, Pyrrhus had obtained the ships of the Macedonian and Athenian navies. Merging those with his own, Pyrrhus soon gathered together a large expedition to spread his own influence east and obtain a base for further campaigns. His fleet departed from Athens in 290 BC and arrived in Egypt not soon after. His navy thrashed much of the Ptolemaic navy and his troops established a beachhead in the Nile Delta shortly after.With Ptolemy away in Babylon to deal with Seleucus' invasion of Mesopotamia, Pyrrhus was able to drive his garrisons from the realm of Egypt by 285 BC. He celebrated in the lavish palaces of Alexandria and donated to its places of learning to commemorate his victory. To help curb his competition, Pyrrhus placed Alexander IV as the ruler of Egypt so as to remove him as a threat so close to home. Pyrrhus envisioned that Alexander IV would be only a client to weaken Ptolemy and when both were sufficiently exhausted Pyrrhus would depose of them both. However, events closer to home once again forced Pyrrhus to return home before he could continue his campaign and ensure Alexander IV's perpetual weakness.
However, Alexander IV did not turn out to be the weak ruler that Pyrrhus had envisioned. While he was nowhere near as great as his father, Alexander did command some respect as a result of his blood and his tacit alliance to Pyrrhus. The native Egyptians, while still unhappy with another foreign ruler, respected him as a pharaoh of the 29th Dynasty that his father established. With enough political acumen and the advice of generals that Pyrrhus had left behind, Alexander IV managed to secure his borders and prevent any reconquest from Ptolemy and his successors.
A Pyrrhic War
Farther in the Italian provinces of Pyrrhus' realm, many Greek residents felt threatened by the Samnites, Romans, and Carthaginians, all of whom had seized Greek territory in the last few years. Both Neapolis and Syracuse had fallen, leaving Taras as the only major Greek city in Italy. The Italian Greeks resented being in such danger while Pyrrhus led campaigns farther west and demanded that Pyrrhus defend them and reclaim their lands. Otherwise, they threatened, they would take their defense into their own hands.
Concerned that his western flanks were in danger and hoping to forestall insurrection in his lands, Pyrrhus gathered together a force and sailed to Taras to begin preparations to reclaim Sicily and other lost territory. News spread rapidly of his arrival and both the Carthaginians and Romans viewed him as a threat to their growing power. They arranged a military alliance in haste and began preparing to resist the Greek king, who feared that they would take Sicily and Neapolis from them.Pyrrhus arrived in southern Italy in 280 BC shortly after defeating a Celtic invasion and was soon well-received. Pyrrhus began military operations against the Romans, hoping to defeat them before advancing against the Carthaginians, who he believed to be the bigger threat. Pyrrhus marched against Rome and defeated them at both Asculum and Venusia but failed to take the city, although he did reclaim Neapolis for a short time. Each battle, while victorious for Pyrrhus, cost him dearly and depleted his forces. Pyrrhus' forces were augmented by the Samnites, who had recently been subjugated by the Romans only a few years before.
With the Romans temporarily on the back foot and dealing with a Samnite rebellion, Pyrrhus moved on to Sicily. Syracuse opened its gates in 278 BC to Pyrrhus, who quickly forced out the Carthaginian garrison and moved farther west to conquer the island. Despite Carthaginian resistance, Pyrrhus moved against Lilybaeum, the final Carthaginian stronghold in Sicily. While Pyrrhus was successful in crushing any army Carthage sent against him, his losses were such that he felt unable to conquer Lilybaeum and complete his victory, even with Sicilian levies. Forced to pull back, the Carthaginians followed him doggedly, always losing yet forcing costly victories upon the Greeks.
Rising pressure from both the Carthaginians and the Romans forced Pyrrhus to make several decisions regarding what lands to protect and what lands to abandon. Regardless of his choices, his territory in Italy was getting smaller and his ability to resist was being sapped by so many costly victories. Eventually, at the Battle of Kroton in 275 BC, Pyrrhus defeated a joint invasion by the Romans and Carthaginians but at such high cost that he realized further victories would be impossible. Rome and Carthage refused to negotiate and as such Pyrrhus retreated back to Greece, hoping that he could recover and have further success there. Carthage would regain control of Sicily and Rome would conquer the Italian Greek cities within three years, ending any chance of a Greek resurgence in Italy.
Farther east in Persia and Mesopotamia, the affairs of the Greek successor states were constantly in flux. Seleucus had finished his expeditions into India and returned with an alliance and several hundred war elephants for use in his further campaigns. Ptolemy lounged in Babylon, still recovering from the loss of Egypt to Pyrrhus and his apparent Argead puppet. Despite this, Ptolemy still had considerable strength in Syria and Mesopotamia and both rulers still entertained the notion of uniting Alexander's former empire. A clash between the two was inevitable.The two sides battled each other for many decades but neither really gained an advantage over the other. Seleucus was successful in reinforcing his dominant position in Persia and Media but was ultimately unable to wrest Mesopotamia from Ptolemy. Conversely, Ptolemy wasn't able to advance into the Persian heartland despite aid from the Attalids, who also feared the possibility of Seleucid dominance. In addition, both realms began to suffer unrest as Iranian tribes began to push on the northeastern Seleucid borders and the Jews began agitating about foreign gods being worshiped in their capital of Jerusalem. In addition, a migrating group of Celts led by another man named Brennus began migrating to Anatolia after being defeated by Pyrrhus in 281 BC. A coalition formed between the Attalids, Antigonids, and Ptolemy were enough to defeat them at the Battle of Dioclea, ending the Celtic invasion.
With the strength of both nations sapped, the geopolitical landscape began to change. The farthest Seleucid provinces broke off and became the Greek Kingdom of Bactria while the Parthians, one of the Iranian tribes, began to intrude upon northeastern Persia. With much of their military power focused in central Persia and Media, the Seleucids were unable to react to these threats for some time. Additionally, the Jews and Phoenicians chafed under the rule of the Ptolemies, but were too close to centers of Greek power to revolt successfully. Both realms were established with the goal of unifying Alexander's empire but ironically their struggles to do so only made them more unstable that before.
The Argolid Hegemony
However, the greatest unifier of them all, Pyrrhus, had another problem in his efforts to maintain his hold over the Greek world. In his absence the southern Greeks began to chafe under his rule. Compared to Alexander, Pyrrhus was respected but not nearly revered, as Alexander had conquered the Greeks but led them to the ends of the earth. Former powers like Athens and Sparta began to conspire against him. Places like Crete, already infamous as an island of brigands, began to be even more restless.
When open revolt began in 271 BC, Pyrrhus readied his forces for another campaign. The cities of Athens, Sparta, Corinth, and Argos had risen against him and raised armies of their own. Calls for help from other Diadochi went out but only the Antigonids were interested, given the feud they had between them and Pyrrhus. Pyrrhus requested help from Alexander IV, but he received no reply. WIth little other choice, Pyrrhus marched south, hoping to defeat the Greek cities before returning north and ending the Antigonid threat once and for all.
Pyrrhus broke the Athenians in battle but couldn't afford to wait them out in a siege. Moving into the Peloponnese, he laid siege to Sparta in 270 BC but withdrew as the Argives and Corinthians closed in and he wanted to fight them in the field. At the Battle of Thyrea in the same year, Pyrrhus faced a united army of Spartans, Corinthians, Argives and the remnants of the Athenians. He was able to break the ranks of all but the Argives, who resisted firmly and would not rout. Just when he was about to hit their flanks and force them to either run or be cut down, Pyrrhus was hit by a rock thrown by an Argive soldier and fell from his horse, breaking part of his spine. His forces pulled back to defend their king, giving the Argives the opportunity to withdraw with much of their force intact yet giving Pyrrhus his final victory.
Pyrrhus died soon after the battle as a result of his injury. His son Helenus succeeded him to the throne, but he didn't have the military aptitude that either Alexander or Pyrrhus had. Pyrrhus' generals soon withdrew from southern Greece, as they feared that morale was too low and the Argives still had much of their force intact. Argos became the dominant power in southern Greece, as the other cities had their militaries largely destroyed, allowing Argos to establish the last period of the traditional Greek hegemonies. Helenus and his successors would eventually lose Macedonia back to the Antigonids and continue to struggle against both them and the Argolid Hegemony for many decades more.
In Italy, the rising power of Rome was still strong, having just recently incorporated the region of Campania and the city of Neapolis after victory over the Samnites in the Second Samnite War. Despite this victory, tensions between the two powers remained noticeable, and relations between Rome and its northern Etruscan neighbors were also increasingly fraught as the Romans gained more power and territory. Eventually, these agreements would be broken and the fragile peace was shattered.By 298 BC, open war returned to Italy. The Samnites and Etruscans entered into an informal alliance to curb Roman power, and in their quest they also brought in their Umbrian and Celtic allies as well. Rome was not caught off guard and readied its armies to do battle against its multiple foes. The Romans had allies of their own, namely the Lucanians who feared Samnite power and the inability of the Greeks to maintain safety. In order to combat multiple enemies, the Romans split their forces in two, one for the Samnites and the other for the northern coalition.
By 290 BC, the Romans stood victorious over all their foes. Samnium was occupied and annexed by the Republic, as was half of Umbria. Etruscan power had been completely broken but they were allowed a small degree of independence for the time being, while the Gauls had been forced back from central Italy once again. Upon concluding this war Rome was the undisputed power in Italy for the time being, with only Carthage and the Greek states to rival it for dominance over the western Mediterranean.
Conquest of the South
However, Roman power was not absolute and many feared and resisted its riss to power. In particular, the Greek cities of southern Italy feared Roman expansionism ever since the occupation of Neapolis and saw them as little better than the Samnites. As a result, the Greek states continuously pressured their leaders for increased protection against the Romans and the Carthaginians, who had recently conquered the island of Sicily and the greatest Greek city of the west, Syracuse. No official response came, and eventually the Italian Greeks issued a declaration, saying that either their Aeacid protectors would assist them or they would secede from their decrees. With little choice, Pyrrhus arrived in southern Italy in 280, sending the Romans into a bit of a panic.
The Carthaginians were concerned as well, as Pyrrhus' arrival meant a potential war of liberation for all Greek territories, and as a result they entered into a close alliance with Rome to defeat the Aeacid king. However, it became very apparent that Pyrrhus was nearly just as skilled as Alexander was, as he managed to defeat any army the allied forces threw at him, albeit with heavy losses, and even occupied both Syracuse and Neapolis, restoring Italian Greek faith. Roman officials were flummoxed, as they could never defeat Pyrrhus in the field and were at a loss as to what to do.
Eventually, a solution presented itself. The superior Carthaginian fleet began to slowly constrict Pyrrhus' ability to move between Sicily and Italy, and whenever he was in Sicily the Romans would strike and vice-versa with the Carthaginians. Eventually, unable to move freely as he wished and unable to completely replenish his losses after each battle while his opponents could, Pyrrhus tried to force the issue at the Battle of Kroton in 275 BC. While he defeated both allies, his losses were so extreme that he was forced to withdraw, commenting that if he should win one more battle he would be undone. From this war the term "Pyrrhic War" has entered into common dialogue as a victory where the cost was too great. Pyrrhus soon returned to Greece to recover and engage in battle once more, but Italy was lost. Carthage soon re-asserted its rule over Sicily and Rome conquered the southern Italian city-states one by one until the last, Taras, fell in 272 BC, completing Roman conquest of the Italian south.
When Loyalty Runs Thin
While Rome and Carthage had maintained a powerful alliance for the duration of the Pyrrhic War, as it was then referred to, disputes between the two soon began to mount. Carthage, while claiming sovereignty over the entire island of Sicily, was never able to completely pacify it thanks to continued resistance from local Greeks and Italians. Pyrrhus' death likely ended whatever catalyst enabled the alliance's continuation. Rome, while formally allied to Carthage, felt unease and the presence of a neighboring powerful state and it's likely Carthage felt the same way. However, Carthage was too weak to conduct any direct action and Rome's immediate attention was sapped by putting down an Etruscan resurgence in the north, finally annexing the region into the Republic.
Tensions over Sicily finally began to take a turn for the worse when the northern Italic tribes of Sicily around the city of Messina revolted against Carthaginian control and appealed to Rome for protection. Rome was divided as to how to react, as they typically undertook any reasonable request for assistance as a means of spreading their influence but this was the first time it would be against a major ally. Faced with growing popular demand to intervene, the Roman Senate decided to initiate war and take the fight against their former Carthaginian comrades despite their initial reluctance.
War broke out in due course and the Romans were able to easily send over a large army to Sicily before the Carthaginians could react, perhaps because they themselves were not expecting an attack from their close ally. This army would win several key battles against the Carthaginians, forcing them away from Messina and even occupying Syracuse as the Greek parts became more and more restive. However, Carthage maintained the naval advantage in both number and tactics, forcing the Romans to be creative with their campaigns and to minimalize naval combat until the Roman fleet was advanced enough. Eventually, the Romans gained the upper hand after the Battle of Agrigentum in 262 BC and developed the corvus boarding ramp to apply Roman martial superiority at sea. Roman invasions in the Carthaginian homeland were ultimately not successful and quite costly, but the Romans did manage to evict Carthaginian forces from Sicily, annexing it and taking its first steps as a seafaring power.
Rome was elated by the victory, although privately some were concerned of the implications of making war against such a close ally. Conversely, Carthage was shocked and angered by what they felt was an unjustified betrayal and would take many years to recover from this defeat. Carthage's inability to pay its mercenaries after the war led to another armed conflict, the Mercenary War, where Carthage eventually defeated its former mercenaries with a citizen army based on Roman and Greek tactics. During this war Corsica and Sardinia also slipped from Carthage's grasp into the hands of Rome, angering the Carthaginians further and encouraging their expansion into Spain and Africa. Rome likewise was mostly distracted by other wars in Cisalpine Gaul and Illyria and thus unable to either further weaken or placate Carthage.
The Punic War
While the peace treaty was established between the two powers, tensions had not yet entirely cooled off from the war. Carthage still seethed at its loss of its island territories and sought to make up for it through expansion in Spain, where the Barcid dynasty of Kings made up for its previous failures in Sicily. In order to avoid another war, both Rome and Carthage attempted to sign various treaties demarcating the limits of their influence, thus in theory ending the competitive expansion between the two powers.
Carthage's new professional army obtained considerable success in its conquests in Spain, but it is here that the second war broke out. A city on the Spanish coast wrote to Rome claiming that Carthage had attacked them and asked for assistance. As this city was within the Roman sphere of influence as dictated by treaty, Rome felt obligated to respond. Carthage did not respond to any diplomatic messages forwarded by Rome, and thus Rome responded by declaring war in 218 BC. Carthage was immediately outraged at what they saw as yet another betrayal meant to limit Carthaginian territory and thus resolved to teach Rome a lesson and correct them for their errors.
Carthage had little control over the sea beyond its own harbors and thus had to resort to more drastic measures to combat the Roman power. As a result, Carthage built up its forces in Spain and prepared to march across southern Gaul and the Alps in order to strike at the Roman cities in Italy while hopefully breaking up its system of alliances and cripple the Roman power to expand too far outside of Italy. While most Roman forces expected an attack in Sicily or the nearby isles, Carthaginian troops were already marching at Italy's northern frontier. When this became apparent, Rome scrambled to gather together armies to fight against Hannibal's advancing force.
In the years before, Rome had effectively conquered the regions of Cisalpine Gaul and Umbria, consolidating their hold over northern Italy. While Hannibal had suffered considerable losses to his troops and elephants during the crossing, he was able to recoup his losses from mercenaries and disaffected residing in recently conquered Roman territory. Hannibal was able to swiftly push the Romans out by use of his superior cavalry, but the Romans instead rallied and desired to prevent his access into Umbria and Etruria. They ultimately failed to do so in several costly battles.
Hannibal tried to rally several cities and allies to revolt against Roman authority. While he was successful in gathering the Cisalpine Gauls and some Samnites against the Romans, the most noticeable success was swaying the city of Capua over. Hannibal now had a cadre of allies that would help sustain his campaign. Conversely, the Romans, while eager to defeat Hannibal in battle, understood their folly and thus refused to directly engage him, instead focusing against Carthage's allies both in Italy and in Spain. Roman forces were much more effective in this regard, depriving Hannibal of allies and resources faster than he could obtain them. By 206 BC, most of Carthaginian Spain and Italy had been overrun, with only a few holdouts and Hannibal's increasingly small army to resist.
By 206 BC Rome held the upper hand and began to close in, conquering Spain, pushing against Africa, and allying with Numidia, which desired to resist Hannibal and his Carthaginian dominance. Hannibal was forced from Italy and at considerable cost to what little remained of the Carthaginian navy sailed back to Africa. At the Battle of Zama in 202 BC, Hannibal was finally defeated by Scipio of the Romans, who was then given the title Africanus for his victory and pressured to become Rome's first Dictator-for-Life. The Romans established a cruel peace upon the Carthaginians, who were forced into bankruptcy, deprived of military, and Hannibal's political influence was reduced to nothing and the Carthaginian Senate given all the power. While Carthage managed to regain some element of economic strength, its power was broken.
The Rise of Rome
While Rome was at war with Carthage, other machinations farther east also demanded its attention. Just as Rome and Carthage had established an alliance to defeat Pyrrhus, Carthage and Epirus formed an alliance in 216 BC to try to limit Rome's growing power. Epirus, still ruled by the Aeacids, tried to instigate rebellion in Illyria and sent armies to occupy Roman garrisons in the area. Rome treated Epirus as a secondary threat, especially while Hannibal was in Italy, but as the new Roman strategy of avoiding Hannibal in battle and targeting other enemies, Epirus came back into Rome's view.
Despite this new attention, Rome was still more focused on seizing Carthaginian Spain and stamping out rebellion in Italy. While some reinforcements were sent to Illyria to prevent insurgency and protect Roman fortresses, Rome primarily relied upon diplomacy to handle the Epirote threat. The Antigonids, while successful at reclaiming some areas of Thrace from the Aeacids following Pyrrhus' death, still desired to reclaim Macedonia where they had originally ruled. The war with Rome gave them an opportunity to strike back against Epirus. The Argolid Hegemony, farther south in Greece, also had motives for supporting Rome.
Battles between Rome and Epirus were rare at first, with most Epirote attention focused against the Antigonids and the Argolid Hegemony. For much of the war in Greece, neither side held the advantage even as Epirus fought on two different fronts. Epirote attempts to involve other allies such as the Attalids failed to materialize. The increasing addition of Roman forces, eager to fight opponents weaker than Hannibal, eventually put on more pressure than Epirus could resist and Epirus was conquered and divided by 207 BC. The Antigonids were successful in reclaiming Macedonia, the Argolid Hegemony seized Beoetia and the rest of the Peloponnes, and the Roman Republic annexed Aetolia, Thessaly, and Epirus proper.
The success of the war gave Rome a solid foothold within Greece and the Central Mediterranean. With its main rival of Carthage humbled and its traditiional foe in Greece eliminated, Rome was now the undisputed power of the Mediterranean, with only some potential of resistance from Hellenic Egypt and Syria, both of were more concerned with the other rather than the rising Republic. While some areas managed to resist direct Roman authority such as the more mountainous areas of the Alps and northern Spain, few in the Mediterranean were spared some sort of control or influence by Rome. This vast political and trade power would continue to rise and eventually come to blows with the tribes of the north and the powers of the east.
The Arabian situation continued to develop, with most of the conflict taking place in the south. Nabataea continued to regain its prominence through trade and an avoidance of joining the conflicts between the Diadochi. Fortunately, the Nabataean kings and merchants were able to use the struggles between the Argeads and the Ptolemies to secure its independence.
Sabaea continued to decline in the southern lands while rival kingdoms like Himyar and Qataban maintained their rise, especially after the former annexed the latter. Saba, desparate to restore control, tried to exercise more and more influence over southern Arabia, tried to gain alliances with other neighboring states such as early Axum, Nabataea, and the Hadhramaut tribes. While largely unsuccessful, the Sabaeans were able to forstall their decline and retain a modicum of influence over southern Arabia as well as push northwards towards sacred lands by occupying the city of Najran. Further conflict would occupy, albeit delayed.
Rise of the Maurya
The Maurya Empire continued its rise to dominate all of the Indian subcontinent. With the Seleucids allied and their attention towards the western lands anyway, Maurya and his descendants had relatively free reign to do as they pleased within India. To that end, Maurya and his advisors continued their campaigns of conquest, launching several expeditions south and eventually conquering most of the Deccan region by the start of the century. Chandragupta Maurya's successor, Bindusara, continued the campaigns to pacify the southern lands and also quelled revolts along the Empire's western border. By the end of Bindusara's reign all of India except for Kalinga to the east and a few remnant kingdoms to the south was ruled by the Maurya. Jainism came to prominence at the Maurya court at this time, but this would be short lived.
An Imposition of Faith
Bindusara was himself followed by his son Ashoka, who took the throne in 268 BC. Eager to continue the legacy that his father and grandfather had established, Ashoka quickly declared war against Kalinga and deployed his forces. While there was little hope that Kalinga could resist the full might of the Maurya Empire, it nonetheless resisted with all that it had. By the time the war was over a full year later, over three hundred thousand were dead and the population of Kalinga were devastated from the aftermath. Touring his new possession, Ashoka could not but help feel remorse for his actions.
As a result, Ashoka soon converted to Buddhism, which had already begun to dominate much of the capital region where it had been founded. Now eager to spread his newfound faith rather than within the borders of his Empire, Ashoka settled in to bring this religion to the rest of the world and develop his empire along the way. Not much longer after his decision much of Northern India was Buddhist. Missionaries were sent south, even to the kingdoms that he did not possess, west, to the lands of the Greeks, and east, to Nusantara and Indochina. While the Greeks were less willing to adopt the new faith, it found many adherents in the other realms, although none of them adopted it with such fervor as had northern India.
During this time Buddhism began to fragment into several different schools of thought, largely a peaceful process. In Ceylon and Indochina, the more monastic form of Theravada dominated after a dispute on the nature of specific Buddhist canonical texts. The other side eventually became the Mahayana which was much more focused on the ability of the individual to obtain enlightenment through ritual as opposed to Theravada, which remained centered on the ability of monks to do the same through religious fulfilment. While the smaller kingdoms in Ceylon and Indochina followed Theravada, the Maurya Empire and many of its successors would support Mahayana and spread it far.
Ashoka, himself, would die in 232 BC, leaving the Empire to his sons. None of them proved to be as astute or influential as Ashoka, Bindusara or Chandragupta, but they would manage to hold the Empire together, with increasingly poor results, for another several decades. Most importantly, however, was that spread of Buddhism, which would soon become a global religion unrivaled for some time thanks to the efforts of Ashoka and his successors. Even to this day Buddhism is one of the three major world religions by both size and number of adherents.
Early Reign of the Xin
The Kâi Dynasty had recently fallen and the next dynasty was yet to rise. Pang Juan, the general who had assassinated the last Kâi Emperor Sun Bin, held the capital for a few years but, for reasons unknown, never declared himself Emperor. Contemporary Chinese records and the official accounts of the succeeding Xin Dynasty suggest that he was perhaps seeking to build up support amongst Tianjing's court but was unable to. In particular, the Duke of Yansheng, the direct descendant of Confucius who held considerable influence amongst both the courts and lower classes, opposed him not for his decision to overthrow the Emperor but his methods.
As a result, China fell into a period of instability where Pang Juan could not hold the country yet there was no central authority that could direct it. Fears of a collapse and a return to the infighting of the Zhou Dynasty plagued people's minds and the fields became vacant, spreading concerns of famine. After nearly seven years of this instability and stagnation, a young general and noble named Ying Ji gathered his forces and crushed the former Imperial guard of Pang Juan, taking the capital of Tianjing for himself. To consolidate his power, Ying Ji declared himself Emperor of the Xin Dynasty in 301 BC, marrying a female member of the former Sun family to further gain loyalty from some former Kâi retainers.
Upon obtaining his power, the new Emperor regained control over the regions of China, including the particularly restless ones in the south and began to tighten Imperial authority over those areas even as they slowly became more and more Chinese and less "barbaric" as the Kâi Emperors had known them to be. Expeditions farther south also reached the Pearl River Delta and Chinese settlers began to occupy much of the southern lands. These victories restored confidence in the power of the Imperial government and the new Xin dynasty could continue to do well for itself, launching smaller and less successful expeditions towards what is now Korea and Jurchenia.
As with the previous Kâi Dynasty, the Xin Dynasty was vastly wealthy and was considered by its neighbors to be cultured, perhaps insufferably so. Fine bronzework and jewelry were made at this time, as well as great chariots and carriages. Literature and poetry filled the palaces of the great cities and temples to the Chinese gods as well as schools to Confucian thought were constructed alongside them. External faiths, largely Buddhism from India but also occasionally Greek polytheism and Zoroastrianism from Bactria, were considered and rejected by the Xin courts. Tribute was established from the proto-Korean kingdoms as well as tribes from what is now Vietnam and southern Mongolia.
As a result China held considerable influence throughout the Serica region and was regarded by its subjects, before and even more so, as the center of the world, with the capital of Tianjing at its core. Powerful Xin emperors and armies defeated nomads who hoped to seize control over the vast wealth and sedentary lifestyle that China's lands provided as well as the smaller kingdoms and tribes that forsake the tribute and tried to challenge the authority of the Xin. Some scholars consider this period to be the first instance of Chinese isolationism, where no drastic measures were made for frequent expansion even though the state could easily have done so.
In Anahuac, the western reaches remained under the effective dominion by the Zapotec while the east was the center of continued Mayan development, focused on the two cities of Mirador and Tikal. Both cities had vast networks of alliances and sophisticated societies driven by advanced terrace agriculture. Communication between east and west was infrequent, although there was still evidence of cultural mingling, as more western aspects like ball courts began to be constructed in Mayan cities. Evidence of war between the Zapotecs and their Olmec vassals and the Mayan city-states has not been found.
With both the Zapotecs and Mayans apparently more interested in reinforcing their regional control rather than battling each other, both sides expanded away from each other. The Zapotec attempted to defeat their Mixtec rivals but were only mildly successful at weakening Mixtec power. The Mayan cities, when they were not busy at war with each other, began to expand north into the sparsely settled Yucatan peninsula. For much of this century, local Anahuac states were more interested in consolidating their power and cultural development rather than engage in empire building. With both the Zapotec and the Mayan city-states unable to defeat each other or their rivals, the situation remained static until the rise of new powers.
In the valleys of Peru, the Chavin culture continued its apparent decline. As mentioned earlier, it is not known exactly what caused the decline, but it would appear that violent conflict was not the principle factor. By mid century, the Chavin culture effectively ceased to exist as a political force, whether by city-states or a unified realm. It would take hundreds of years before the next period of cultural development would emerge and continue to shape the people of Peru.