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Seshat History of the Axial Age

Fairness and equity, universal rights and freedoms, representative, balanced, democratic governance, the notion that no one is above the law— these are ideas many of us cherish in the modern world. But where did they come from? According to some scholars, these features of modernity have their roots in the period between 800 and 200 BCE. In this “Axial Age,” they state, crucial intellectual, moral, and political changes took place more or less simultaneously in five core regions across Eurasia, reaching from present-day Greece, Israel-Palestine, Iran and India to China.

Seshat History of the Axial Age challenges the view that there was a single Axial Age in human history. Applying insights from a massive historical research project, Seshat: Global History Databank, the volume reveals that societies all over the world gravitated more strongly towards egalitarian ideals and constraints on political authority—traits usually associated with axiality—as they reached a tipping point in the evolution of social complexity.

In fourteen chapters, the authors survey earlier and later periods in history as well as developments in regions previously neglected in Axial Age discussions, thus expanding the Axial Age debate well beyond first-millennium BCE Eurasia. They explore whether there really was an Axial Age, where and when key changes that characterize modern life actually developed, and what drove societies to become more equitable and law-bound.


D. Hoyer, J. Reddish (eds.), Seshat History of the Axial Age, Beresta Books (2019)

Jenny Reddish © Verena Ahne

Jenny Reddish

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