A welcome broadening of our understanding of antiquity.
In the ancient world, there was a remarkably diverse environment of ideas, knowledge, and beliefs existing among the Mediterranean, the Middle East, India, and China. Scott (Classics and Ancient History/Univ. of Warwick; Delphi: A History of the Center of the Ancient World, 2014, etc.) focuses on developing relationships between and within communities from the 6th century B.C.E. to the 5th century C.E. That period was characterized by a significant rethinking of political ideas, societal governance, and interpersonal relationships. The author divides the book into three sections covering political systems, wars, and religion. Of course, the earlier in time a historian searches for sources, the fewer are available, but Scott boldly dives into any and all sources. What little is available was written long after events and was influenced by the chroniclers’ time and tendencies. Many readers of Western history are woefully ignorant of events in China, India, Bactria, and the Seleucid and Ptolemaic empires. In this period, wars and political strife did not necessarily lead to collapse. Instead, within the chaos, societies evolved and mutated into fragile new ideologies, subject to both growth and revision. As Antiochus III drove Ptolemy IV out of the Levant, Hannibal almost took over the Roman Empire and Philip V of Greece pretty much got nowhere except to keep switching alliances. In China, the head of the Qin state rejected Confucianism for its opposite, legalism, until it was replaced by the Han dynasty. While violent wars tied ancient worlds together, only two great empires emerged with nothing but instability between. The nomadic peoples, by nature moving with all their goods, also brought religion, from China into India as Christianity moved east across the Silk Road.
Scott teaches us that the past is a work in progress influenced by political and religious ideas and powerful rulers and individuals, and he proves that we need to continue to study and learn.