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  • Aryan › Who was
  • Arthashastra › Who was
  • Ghosts in Ancient Japan › Origins

Ancient civilizations › Historical places, and their characters

Aryan  › Who was

Definition and Origins

Author: Cristian Violatti

The term “ Aryan ” has had a history filled with controversy. The source of the English word Aryan comes from the Sanskritword ārya , which is the self-designation used by the Vedic Indic people who migrated into the Indian subcontinent about 1500 BCE. The Sanskrit term has a cognate in the Iranian word arya , which is also a self-designation. Both the Sanskrit and the Iranian terms descend from a form ārya that was used by the Indo-Iranian tribes to refer to themselves, a tem which is also connected to the source of the country-name Iran, from a phrase meaning “Kingdom of the Aryans”.


The original meaning of the term is unknown and different meanings have been proposed, the most common being “nobleman”. During the 19th century CE, it was proposed that this was not only the Indo-Iranian tribal self-designation but also the self-designation used by the ancestors of all Indo-Europeans, which is a theory no longer accepted. “Aryan” then came to be used as a synonym of Indo-European. Some time later it was further proposed that the ancestor of the Indo-European people had their homeland located in northern Europe , implying that Indo-Europeans were originally of a Nordic racial type.Thus, “Aryan” developed yet another, purely racial meaning, probably one of the most familiar meanings today.


Before the time of the Aryan migration into the Indian subcontinent, there was a highly developed civilization in ancient Indiaknown as the Indus Valley Civilization , which was located in what is Pakistan and northwest India today, on the fertile flood plain of the Indus River and its vicinity. The earliest evidence of religious practices in this area dates back approximately to 5500 BCE, farming settlements began around 4000 BCE, and around 3000 BCE there appeared the first signs of urbanization . By 2600 BCE, dozens of towns and cities had been established and between 2500 and 2000 BCE the Indus Valley Civilization was at its peak. The evidence suggests that the Indus Valley Civilization had social conditions comparable to Sumeria and even superior to the contemporary Babylonians and Egyptians.
By 1500 BCE the Aryans migrated into the Indian subcontinent. Coming from central Asia, this large group of nomadic cattle herders crossed the Hindu Kush Mountains and came in contact with the Indus Valley Civilization. This was a large migration and used to be seen as an invasion, which was believed by some scholars to be behind the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilization; this hypothesis is not unanimously accepted today.

Map of the Indus Valley Civilization

Today scholars have a different understanding of how things developed. We know that a process of decay was already underway in 1800 BCE; some say that the Saraswati River was drying up, others that the region suffered catastrophic floods.The consequences of either event would have had a catastrophic effect on agricultural activity, making the economy no longer sustainable and breaking the civic order of the cities. The evidence supporting the decline of the Indus River Civilization is compelling: Writing started to disappear, standardized weights and measures used for trade and taxation purposes fell out of use, the connection with the Near East were interrupted, and some cities were gradually abandoned.


Linguistic studies have shown that as the Aryans migrated into the Indian subcontinent, the Aryan language gained ascendency over the local languages. They also gradually adopted an agricultural lifestyle which was widely established by around 1000 BCE. Despite the fact that we have no historical records of this periods, we have a mythical record in the form of religious literature known as The Vedas , one of the most important religious books in Indian history. Stories about military conflicts and other hostilities are recorded in the Vedas , but the historical reliability of this episodes is uncertain.

Arthashastra  › Who was

Definition and Origins

Author: Cristian Violatti

The Arthashastra is the title of a handbook for running an empire , written by Kautilya (also known as Chanakya , c. 350-275 BCE) an Indian statesman and philosopher, chief advisor and Prime Minister of the Indian Emperor Chandragupta , the first ruler of the Mauryan Empire . The title Arthashastra is a Sanskrit word which is normally translated as The Science of Material Gain, although Science of Politics or Science of Political Economy are other accepted translations for Kautilya's work.


The Arthashastra summarizes the political thoughts of Kautilya. This book was lost for many centuries until a copy of it, written on palm leaves, was rediscovered in India in 1904 CE. This edition is dated to approximately 250 CE, many centuries after the time of Kautilya, but the main ideas in this book are largely his. The book contains detailed information about specific topics that are relevant for rulers who wish to run an effective government. Diplomacy and war (including military tactics) are the two points treated in most detail but the work also includes recommendations on law, prisons, taxation, irrigation, agriculture, mining, fortifications, coinage , manufacturing, trade, administrations, diplomacy, and spies.
The ideas expressed by Kautilya in the Arthashastra are completely practical and unsentimental. Kautilya openly writes about controversial topics such as assassinations, when to kill family members, how to manage secret agents, when it is useful to violate treaties, and when to spy on ministers. Because of this, Kautilya is often compared to the Italian Renaissance writer Machiavelli, author of The Prince , who is considered by many as unscrupulous and immoral. It is fair to mention that Kautilya's writing is not consistently without principles in that he also writes about the moral duty of the king. He summarizes the duty of a ruler, saying, “The happiness of the subjects is the happiness of the king; their welfare is his. His own pleasure is not his good but the pleasure of his subjects is his good”. Some scholars have seen in the ideas of Kautilya a combination of Chinese Confucianism and Legalism .
Kautilya's book suggests a detailed daily schedule for how a ruler should structure his activities. According to his view, the duties of a ruler should be organized as follows:
• First 90 minutes, at sunrise, the ruler should go through the different reports (revenue, military, etc.).
• Second 90 minutes, time for public audiences.
• Third 90 minutes for breakfast and some personal time (bath, study, etc.).
• Fourth 90 minutes for meeting with ministers.
• Fifth 90 minutes for correspondence.
• Sixth 90 minutes for lunch...
Kautilya goes on to describe an exhausting schedule in which the king has roughly four and half hours to sleep and the rest of the time is almost entirely involved in running the kingdom.


The Arthashastra offers a list with the seven components of the state: The king, the ministers, the country (population, geography and natural resources), fortification, treasury, army, and allies. Kautilya goes on to explain each of these individual components and stresses the importance of strengthening these elements in one's kingdom and weakening them in the enemies' states by using spies and secret agents.
One of the most interesting ideas presented by Kautilya is the “ Mandala theory of interstate relations”. A mandala is a schematic visual representation of the universe, which is a common artistic expression in many Asian cultures. Kautilya explains that, if we can imagine our kingdom in the centre of a circular mandala, then the area surrounding our kingdom should be considered our enemies' territory. The circle surrounding our enemies' territories belongs to our enemies' enemies, who should be considered our allies since we will share many interests with them. The circle surrounding our enemies' enemies territory will be the allies of our enemies. Kautilya then goes on analysing twelve levels of concentric circles and offers detailed advice on how to deal with each state according to the layer they belong to in the mandala construct.
The various types of foreign policy are also explained in the Arthashastra : peace, war, neutrality, preparing for war, seeking protection and duplicity (pursuing war and peace at the same time with the same kingdom).

Mauryan Empire


Kautilya was a pioneer in diplomacy and government administration. His merit was based not only on
coming up with very important practical advice for government, but also in organizing his theories in a systematic and logical fashion. Kautilya's political vision had a heavy influence on Chandragupta, the first Indian ruler who unified Northern India under a single political unit for the first time in history. Even today, the Arthashastra is the number one classic of diplomacy in India and, within this category, it is one of the most complete works of antiquity. A number of institutions in India such as universities and diplomatic offices have been named after Kautilya in honour of his work. Even important political figures like Shivshankar Menon, who became the National Security Advisor of India in 2010 CE, have been influenced by Kautilya's ideas.

Ghosts in Ancient Japan  › Origins

Ancient Civilizations

Author: Mark Cartwright

Ghosts ( obake or yurei ) appear in ancient Japanese folklore and literature , usually in moral tales designed to both warn and entertain but they were also an important element of ancestor worship. If the deceased members of a family were not honoured, they could bring havoc to the daily lives of those who had forgotten them. There was not much one could do to avoid ghosts, demons, and goblins, and the only safeguard against harm was prayer or relying on the protection of the Shintogods or Buddha . Still, these spirits are not always evil and their powers can be negated; sometimes they can even be converted to do good if subjected to the proper spells and rituals.

Demon Ridge-end Tile, Nara


A belief in ghosts in Japan goes back to the indigenous Ainu people who considered spirits a manifestation of a person's evil side. Known as takup, they could appear in dreams and pass on messages from the dead or lead the individual on a spiritual journey. It was thought that if while undertaking such a journey the sleeper awoke before 'returning' to their body then they would die.
The belief in spirits or kami , such an integral part of the Shinto religion , also has a long history in Japan. Prominent or unusual natural features such as mountains, springs, and odd-shaped rocks are considered the manifestation of a kami , often even a prominent god. Buddhism too, with its preoccupation with the afterlife, also brought to Japan stories from China of ghosts and goblins, many of whom personified the temptations and obstacles to reaching enlightenment. Clearly, then, in Japanese culture there was, and for many there still is, an entirely distinct world from that of the living, and ghosts are the medium by which these two worlds occasionally come into contact with each other.


In ancient Japan, individuals, after death, were thought to be transformed into spirits, and it was important for the living to honour the spirits of their ancestors. This could be done by prayers and small offerings at a shrine built for that purpose in the family home. If the spirits of ancestors were not so honoured and remembered, then they could become 'hungry spirits' or gaki(also spelt gakki ) who are perpetually hungry and thirsty, have huge bellies, and torment the living by bringing bad luck and illnesses. At the same time, ancestors could help protect the fortunes of the living; stories of ghosts of dead mothers caring for their still living children were particularly common.


Forests were considered the home of goblins known as tengu who cast spells on those who do not watch their step. They have the body of a man with wings and a menacing beak on their red face. Tengu masks are often worn today during Shinto festivals when individuals perform their role as temple guardians. Tengu are particularly partial to abducting children and waylaying Buddhist priests, tempting them away from the faith and converting them to Shintoism.

Japanese Tengu Figure


Even water sources had their own supernatural element in the water sprites or kappa . They were envisioned as small, childlike imps. They have a distinctive appearance being covered in blue-green scales and webbed feet and hands. Even more bizarre is the hollow in the tops of their heads in which they keep water as sustenance for when they are distant from a river.Eating their victims and especially partial to the liver, they can, in contrast, sometimes offer help to the passerby. The best way to avoid harm is to offer the kappa a very low bow, he will then return the honour and so spill the water from his head, thus becoming too weak to do any mischief.


Oni , or demons, are creatures just about everywhere who, without morals, cause mischief and disaster, although, they can be converted to the right path. The number of oni was greatly increased following the introduction of Buddhism into Japan from the 6th century CE onwards. There are two types of oni , those which dwell in the underworld and those in the heavens. The former type usually have a red or green body, the head of a horse or ox, and ride a flaming chariot . Their job is to take souls down to hell. Other oni have no physical form but can be heard when they speak, sing or whistle. Oni were famed for their swordsmanship, and none more so than their king Sojobo, who trained the famous 12th-century CE warrior Minamoto no Yoshitsune in the art.
Some oni were associated with specific diseases, some were thought to possess animals which can then possess people (especially the fox or racoon), and it was believed that women ruled by jealousy or without feelings were transformed into demons. Oni and most other supernatural beings can sometimes offer gifts and teach people skills, so too, they can be banished or eliminated by spells and rituals performed by those in the know.

Japanese Oni Figure


Another group of ghosts was warriors or even entire armies killed in battle . One such episode is the disastrous defeat of the Taira clan and the young Emperor Antoku at the Battle of Dannoura in 1185 CE during the Genpei War . A ghost of a samuraiwarrior was said to have reappeared at the site and asked for a blind lute ( biwa ) player called Hoichi to play for him the Heike Monogatari , which tells the story of the battle. Only after several nights of playing, when an abbot followed the lute player, was it discovered that Hoichi, playing in the rain by a memorial stone for the fallen, had, in fact, no audience.


Another category of spirits is those individuals who suffered some sort of injustice during their lives. Perhaps the most famous example of these 'restless' spirits is the scholar Sugawara no Michizane, aka Tenjin (845-903 CE), who was badly treated at court and exiled. A wave of devastating fires and plague shortly after his death hit the imperial capital which many took as a sign of revenge by Tenjin. The impressive Kitano Temmangu shrine at Kyoto was built in 905 CE in his honour, and Tenjin became the patron god of scholarship and education. The story illustrates the common theme of Japanese ghosts that they were not necessarily unjustly wicked and in most cases could be appeased if given appropriate honours.


Besides the obvious haunts of ghosts such as temples and graveyards, there were several other places besides forests and rivers where one might be unfortunate enough to come across a malevolent ghost. Mariners of the world are noted for their superstitions, and one type of ghost in Japan sometimes followed fishermen and ships at sea. The ghost would demand from the sailors a bucket without a bottom, and if they were not given this offering, they would flood the boat. On land, meanwhile, the spirits of those who died in the mountains were thought to haunt the slopes and entice climbers to their doom. Clearly, for the ancient Japanese the world was a potentially dangerous place with ghouls and goblins around every corner and you had to have your wits about you to make sure you were not ensnared in their schemes to upset the natural order of everyday life.
This article was made possible with generous support from the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation .
Article based on information obtained from these sources:
with permission from the Website Ancient History Encyclopedia
Content is available under License Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported. CC-BY-NC-SA License

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