Key Questions

In this section, you will find a summary of all of the key questions found in this etext. As a reminder, the Key Questions for each module are listed below.  Make sure you address each of these to verify you understood the reading.

Module 1 Key Questions

First Civilizations

  • Why did the political, economic, social, and religious aspects of each culture develop as they did. What factors drove this development?
  • Why did people choose to settle? What form did these settlements take?
  • What types of government did they choose and was government necessary?
  • How was the government of Mesopotamia structured?
  • What was the role of the king, the bureaucracy, and the individual in that government?
  • How did rulers such as Sargon and Hammurabi (discussed later) use political power to shape, expand or transform Mesopotamian society?
  • What was governed by law under the rule of Hammurabi?
  • Why were certain things, such as irrigation, women and children regulated by law while other things (such as religion) were not mentioned?
  • Consider what is more successful in conquest: assimilation of those conquered or annihilation of their culture and why?
  • What were the major cultural differences between the Hittites and the Kassites?
  • How was the government of Ancient Egypt organized? What was the role of the pharaoh, the bureaucracy and the individual in that government?
  • In what ways did rulers such as Amenhotep IV and Tutankhamen challenge and transform the existing political order?
  • How was the economic life of Egypt influenced by geography, politics, and religion? In what ways did economics impact the survival of this civilization and did  it play a role in its eventual decline?
  • How was power physically manifest in the pyramids and the temple complexes?
  • How did the polytheistic belief systems of Ancient Egypt differ from that of Mesopotamia and how did it differ from the religion of the Hebrews (later)?  What factors (political, economic, social and cultural) might help to explain those differences?

Ancient India

  • How did the Indus Civilization share their information?
  • Where did the Harappan civilization come from and where did they go?
  • Why did the Harrapans use over 400 symbols in their written language? What topics were they writing about?
  • How does Hinduism during the Vedic period and the Upanishadic period differ? How does it remain the same?
  • How do the Indian religions compare to those of Mesopotamia? Egypt? The Hebrews?
  • How does Hinduism compare to Buddhism? What are the similarities and differences?
  • How does Hinduism compare to Jainism? What are the similarities and differences?
  • How did Vedic culture respond to Jainism? Was it accommodated?

Ancient China

  • What was the impact of China’s geography on the development of Chinese societies?
  • What made the region around the Yellow River a focal point of settlement?
  • Why were the Zhou (and not the Qiang) able to conquer Shang?
  • How was China was governed under the Western Zhou?
  • What caused the disintegration of an independent monarchy and the creation of a puppet government?


Module 2 Key Questions


  • What do the great palace complexes (and their surviving frescoes) constructed at Knossos, Phaistos, Haiga, and Triada reveal about the structure of Cretan society (including its government) and religion?
  • How was Crete unique from other Near Eastern civilizations, especially with regard to the roles of men and women? What were those roles and how did they differ from that of surrounding civilizations?
  •  How did the spread of Greek culture throughout the Aegean region lead to the advancement of the Iron Age?
  • What were the major cultural and political differences between the Spartans and the Athenians? What cultural patterns did they share that made them “Greek”?
  • How did Greek religious beliefs and practices differ from those of Egypt and Mesopotamia? What role did Greek gods play in those beliefs and practices?
  • How might you describe the relationship between the gods and the people? How did the relationship reflect the values and structure of Greek society?
  • What purposes did the Greek myths serve? Why are they an important window into the lives of the Ancient Greeks?
  • What role did trade play in the emergence and development of civilization in Ancient Greece?
  • How was slavery an essential component of the economic survival of the Greek communities?
  • Compare and contrast the governments of Sparta and Athens: what factors might account for the differences and similarities of those governments?
  • Who was Pericles? In what ways was his rise to, and exercise of power representative of the operation of Athenian democracy
  • What were the origins of The Persian Wars?
  • Why were the Battles of Marathon, Thermopylae and Salamis important?
  • In what ways did these wars impact the political, economic and social structure of Ancient Greece?
  • What were the origins of the Peloponnesian War?
  • What impact did this war (or rather series of wars and rebellions) have on both Sparta and Athens?
  • Who (if anybody) emerged victorious from this war and why?
  • In what ways did the philosophers (the Sophists, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle), the historians (Herodotus, Thucydides), the dramatists (Aeschulys, Sophocles, Euripedes, Aristophones) and the artist reflect the concerns and values of their society?
  • How and why were the kings Philip II and Alexander able to extend their control from Macedon throughout the Greek peninsula, the Persian Empire and, eventually, as far east as the Indus River?
  • In what ways did Alexander’s conquest reshape culture beyond Greece?


The Roman Kingdom

  • What impact did the geography of the Western Mediterranean, the Italian peninsula, and the Latium region have on the development of civilization in Rome?
  • In the myth, why did Romulus and Remus disagree and what was the act that caused their final fight?
  • In what ways did the Etruscans transform the political, social and economic structure of early Roman civilization?

The Roman Republic

  • In what ways did the Etruscans transform the political, social and economic structure of early Roman civilization?
  • What roles did the paterfamilias, the patricians and the plebs play in the structure of early Roman society?
  • Over time, the divisions between the patricians and the plebeians became more distinct, and their relationship more antagonistic. How were those differences, and the conflict they engendered, eventually resolved?
  • How did the Gracchi brothers, Tiberius and Gaius, attempt to address the social, economic and political issues that arose from Rome’ s constant expansion? What did their reform programs entail, and why were their programs important?

The Roman Empire

  • How did the emergence of Christianity affect life in the Empire? What challenges or threats to Roman political, social, economic and religious institutions did this religion pose?
  • It is commonly heard that Roman religion is elastic. What is meant by this? Is it an accurate statement? How elastic was it concerning Christianity? What were the breaking points?
  • How did the Romans incorporate conquered peoples into the republic and the empire? How did that treatment differ from that of other civilizations (especially Greece)? Why was it important to the success of Rome?
  • What were the social effects of expansion? What impact did the imperialistic ambition of Roman leaders have on the daily lives of the Roman people?
  • Roman culture was very much influenced by that of the Greeks. What are some examples of that influence?
  • What threat did the Jewish religion and people present to the empire?
  • What were the main causes of the rebellion in Judea? Who were the leading figures in the struggle?
  • By the late 3rd Century BCE, Christianity was established throughout the Roman Empire. Despite its growing importance, Christian leaders were divided on a number of issues. What were those issues and how did they impact the Christian community
  • Who were Diocletian and Constantine? In what ways did they attempt to address the crises facing Rome? Were those attempts successful? Why or why not?
  • Who were the barbarians and how did they contribute to the fall of Rome in the West?
  • What were the internal factors that made the once indominatable Rome now vulnerable to attack

Byzantine Empire

  • How was Constantinople ideally situated to develop into a great commercial center for the West? Describe the geography of the Byzantine Empire. What advantages or disadvantages did geographical location pose to the inhabitants?
  • What role did cities (and Constantinople in particular) play in the economic life of the Byzantine Empire?  What formed the basis of the Byzantine economy?
  • What role did the nuclear family play in the organization of Byzantine society?
  • Why and how did Orthodox Christianity provide the cultural cement that bound emperor and subjects together in the Byzantine Empire?
  • What was the iconoclastic struggle?  What was its impact have on the unity and survival of the Byzantine Empire?

Sassanid Empire

  • Did the Sassanids keep Persian culture alive? Are there any visible remnants, beyond archeological evidence, of their achievements? If so, what are they


Module 3 Key Questions


  • What was the structure of Bedouin society and its influence on the development of Arab-Islamic civilization?
  • In what ways did Islam transform the rights of women in Arabian society? How does the role of women in Islam compare to that of Christianity and Judaism?
  • What are the origins of Islam? How do the revelations of Allah through Muhammad and recorded in the Qur’an (Koran), differ from those of Judaism and Christianity?
  • What factors explain the rapid spread of Islam throughout the Arab world (both before and after the death of Muhammad)?
  • What caused the Shia and Sunni split? What lasting impact has the division had on the Arab world, and international politics
  • How did the Ottoman Turks become more powerful than the Islamic caliphs and why


  • Consider what we, as historians, can really know about ancient Africans without written documentation. How do we build the story of Africa?
  • Consider the longevity of the Meroitic kingdom of Kush. What tactics did they practice that allowed their kingdom to survive for so many centuries? Who were their trading partners, what were their products, and how did this network allow them to flourish even in geographic isolation?
  • How was Ghana was able to survive for so long and be respected by others such as the Arabians?
  • How were the East African states of Aksum and Great Zimbabwe different from and similar to the kingdoms of West Africa?

Module 4 Key Questions


  • What factors made the Goths the most successful of the barbarian peoples? What factors accounted for the successful reign of Theodoric? What factors accounted for the success of the Visigoths in Spain?
  • How does Anglo-Saxon rule/society in Britain compare and contrast with that of the Goths in Southern Europe. How might you explain any similarities or differences?
  • What are the origins of the Frankish people? How did Clovis seize and consolidate his power?
  • How did the Carolingian faction, under the leadership of Charles Martel, Pippin III, and Charlemagne acquire power and come to dominate much of the European continent?
  • What factors explain the disintegration of the Carolingian empire?
  • All of Europe was Christian by the time of Charlemagne, but how did they become so and how did Rome become the center of the Christian Church in the West?
  • What three fundamental changes transformed rural society in medieval Europe? What effects did those changes have on the peasantry?
  • What was the role of agriculture in the economic and social structure of Medieval Europe?
  • Describe the origins of the medieval aristocracy. In what ways did they represent a fusion of Roman and Germanic traditions?
  • What impact did the Carolingian Renaissance have on medieval scholarship and art/culture?
  • What was the role of missionaries in the spread of Christianity?
  • What role did monasteries play in medieval society?
  • What was the relationship between Christianity and politics  and how were they intertwined? How and why did the coronation of Charlemagne in 800 strengthen ties between state and the papacy?
  • What advancements in agricultural technology during the High Middle Ages allowed for more efficient farming and the greater production of food?
  • If you compare and contrast the life of the peasantry and the aristocracy during the High Middle Ages, what are the similarities and what are the differences?
  • What was the medieval university like that led to what scholars have termed the “twelfth-century renaissance”?
  • What were the key artistic and intellectual achievements of that renaissance and how did they reflect medieval urban life?
  • Compare and contrast the life of the peasantry and the aristocracy during the High Middle Ages.
  • Describe the medieval university that led what scholars have termed the “twelfth-century renaissance.”
  • Describe the key artistic and intellectual achievements of that renaissance and how it reflected medieval urban life.
  • What were the origins of the Crusades? What motivated the key players?
  • How and why did the purpose of the Crusades change over time?
  • Would you characterize the Crusades as successes or failures?
  • What was the lay investiture and how did the controversy surrounding it effect relations between emperors and the papacy?
  • What were the series of crises that swept the Church (and papacy) during the 13th Century? What effect did these crises have on the Church?
  • In what ways did the Church’s struggle to maintain a position of power in European politics and society affect religious, political and social life in Europe?

The Americas

  • How did the first peoples arrive on the American continents, and what explains the vast differences in cultures that developed?
  • How did ancient peoples of the Americas adapt to their environment and adapt the environment to themselves?
  • How were the peoples of the Americas similar to one another and how were they different?
  • What specific geographic features impacted their development?
  • How did the Mayans and Teotihuacan develop prosperous and stable societies in the Classical era?
  • Consider the pantheon of gods worshipped by these people. What is so important about these figures and why did they carry on long after the Toltecs had fallen?
  • What cultural aspects of Incan culture can be seen in their predecessors?
  • What made the Aztecs so successful in an area considered less-than-ideal geographically?


Module 5 Key Questions

The Development of India

  • What were the results of India’s encounters with Turks, Mongols, and Islam?
  • What were Rajaraja Chola’s and Rajendra Chola I’s goals for empire?  Were they successful?

Classical China

  • What were the social, political, and cultural consequences of unification of China under a strong centralized government?
  • What were the lasting accomplishments of the Sui and Tang Dynasties?
  • Consider the impact of Song rule on the Chinese culture. How did the civil service examinations and the scholar-official class shape Chinese society and culture?
  • What impact did Mongol conquest have on Chinese culture?


Module 6 Key Questions

Southeast Asia and Oceania

  • What elements of Chinese culture were adopted by the peoples of Southeast Asia? How did they adapt these elements to their own circumstances?
  • What it is about the culture of Southeast Asia that allows acceptance of Islam and how  was Islam adopted into the religious mix?
  • How was Polynesia – made up of hundreds of islands – actually settled?