|"Tigress Holding Man" Vessel
During the Neolithic period China had a number of fairly sophisticated cultures mainly along the banks of the Huang He River in the north of China. Notable cultures included the Longshan culture, which flourished in the late centuries of the third millennia BC and produced some extraordinary works of pottery. Other cultures such as the Erlitou, rose to prominence after 2000 BC but unfortunately, despite the obvious sophistication of these cultures, we have no reliable written records concerning them, leaving historian to puzzle over the archaeological evidence and the later traditions that may have been based on these cultures.
|Territory controlled by the Shang Dynasty
|Longshan Culture Vase
Their armies used chariots and were armed with bronze weapons and from the quality of that items discovered, these armies must have been formidable indeed. The political organisation was centralised under the figure of an emperor, although the regional lords held considerable power due to the difficult nature of communication over their large realm. The Shang were involved in almost continual warfare with their neighbours, who were represented as barbarians in the Shang documents but who shared certain cultural similarities with the Shang. The Shang moved capitals frequently and the last capital of the dynasty was at Anyang.
|Shang Oracle Bone
The Shang emperors and other high ranking members of society were often buried in lavish tombs with an assortment of grave goods. Often a number of humans (who may have been slaves, prisoners of war or soldiers to guard the emperor in the afterlife) were killed and buried in the tomb as well. It has been speculated (speculated being the important word here) that the later terracotta armies of later dynasties were a remnant of this tradition but with terracotta soldiers being used as substitutes for actual people. This practice strikes us today as distasteful but it was not an unknown practice in antiquity (certain Sumerian rulers were known to have practiced it).
|Trove of Oracle Bones
The later Shang emperors came under pressure fighting the Xirong people who lived east of Anyang and their vassals, the Zhou, became independent and a threat in their own right. Some archaeologists have speculated that there were volcanic eruptions or climate change in the last years of the Shang dynasty, affecting the harvests and causing starvation and discontent. Very little evidence has been found to prove these beliefs so far.
|Tomb of Fu Hao
The Zhou state rose up against their Shang overlords and the Shang armies were defeated at the Battle of Muye. While later sources state that large contingents of the Shang army defected to the Zhou they also state that the battle was extremely bloody, suggesting that there were few survivors of the loyal Shang soldiers. The triumphant Zhou armies marched on Anyang and the King Zhou, the last King of the Shang Dynasty, allegedly gathered up his treasures into his palace before setting fire to the building and dying in the conflagration. Thus, in 1046 BC the Shang Dynasty came to a violent and dramatic end and the long-lasting Zhou Dynasty began.
|Reconstruction of the Shang Palace at Anyang
Related Blog Posts:
Zhou Dynasty and the Warring States