Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 1.djvu/856

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ASIA


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ASIA


reduced to three great groups, or races, viz.: (1) the Mongolian, or Turanian, to which belong all the inhabitants of the whole Northern Asia and as far south as the plaias bordering the Caspian Sea, in- cluding China, Tibet, the Indo-Malayan peninsula, Japan, Korea, and the Archipelago, making by far the largest part of the population of Asia. The Mongo- lian race is characterized by its yellow skin, black eyes and hair flat noses, oblique eyes, short stature, with little hair on the body and face. (2) The Aryan, or Indo-Iranian group, to which the great majority of European peoples belong. It extends over the whole of Southern and part of Western Asia, embracing the Hindus, the Iranians, the Medo- Persians, the Armenians, the Caucasians, and the inhabitants of Asia Minor. (3) The Semitic, which extends over the whole of South-western Asia, and comprises the Arabs, the Assyro- Babylonians, or Mesopotamians, the Syrians, the Jews, and the entire Mohammedan population of Asiatic Turkey.

The nvmierous languages spoken in Asia may be roughly classified as follows: (1) The Turanian branch, to which belong the Mongolian, the Manchu, the Chinese, the Japanese, the old Turkish, and Tatar. (2) The Aryan, or Indo-Iranian, to which belong most of the hundred and twenty languages and dialects of India, especially the old Sanskrit, the Ira- nian, or old Persian, which is the language of the Avesta and of the Acha?menian inscriptions, the Ar- menian, the Georgian, and a considerable part of modern Persian. (3) The Semitic group, to which belong the ancient languages of the Assyrians and Babylonians, the various, but mostly extinct, old Chanaanitish dialects, the Hebrew, the Phoenician, the numerous eastern and western Aramaic dialects, known as Syriac, and represented nowadays by the modern Chaldean and neo-Syriac dialects iised by the Nestorians of Kurdistan, Persia, and Mesopo- tamia, and finally Arabic, which in various forms and dialects is spoken throughout Arabia and by the great majority of the Mohammedan populations of Hindustan, Persia, Mesopotamia, and Syria, as well as by most of the Christians of the two last-men- tioned countries.

History of Asia. — At what period man first made his appearance in Asia we do not know, al- though there have been various and conflicting theories advanced as to when that event took place. The general opinion now entertained by scholars is that somewhere from the fifth to the seventh millennium b. c, Asia was chiefly peopled by two great races, viz., the Semitic and the Mon- golian, or Turanian. The former occupied the south-western portion of Asia, that is to say, the lands lying on the south-east corner of the Medi- terranean and contiguous to the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, including Syria, Phoenicia, Palestine, Arabia, and the extensive regions watered by the Rivers Euphrates and Tigris, afterwards composing the two mighty empires of Babylonia and Assyria; the latter occupied the regions of Northern and Eastern Asia, stretcliing inward from the coast of the Pacific Ocean and including Japan, China, and the districts to the west and south contiguous to China. At about the same period, some of the Turanian tribes of Northern and Central Asia pressed their way to the west, invaded Persia, and puslied as far south-west as the Persian Gulf and Babylonia, where they .soon overcame the native Semites, subjugating thoin to their rule and power, and forcing upon them their own Turanian religion and civilization. The existence and supremacy of this Turanian element in the southern part of the Tigris-lMiplirates valley is historically attested by the old Babylonian inscriptions, by their .system 01 writing, language, civilization, and governing dynasties. Scholars have given the name of Tu-


ranians, or Akkadians, or better Sumerians, to this foreign invading element, and they are all agreed that their power and authority remained uncontested for about two thousand years, i. e. till about the beginning of the third millennium B. c, when the native Semitic Babylonians, aided perhaps by numerous Semitic immigrants from Arabia and Chanaan into Babylonia, overthrew the Su- merian power, uniting North and South Babylonia into several Semitic confederations, and, later on, into one united Semitic Babylonia.

At the same time, various Semitic nationalities be- gan to develop in Arabia, .Mesopotamia, and Chanaan. Towards the first half of the second millennium B. c, Assyrian power made its first appearance, and suc- cessfully contested with Babylonia the supremacy over Western Asia. Towards 1200 b. c. the Israel- itish tribes invaded and settled in Chanaan. In 60.5 B. c. Ninive, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, fell by the hands of Nabupalassar, of Babylonia, and Cyaxares, of Media; and with its fall the powerful Assyrian Empire came to an end. Less than a century later Babylon itself was captured by Cyrus (538 B.C.) and the whole of Western Asia passed under the Medo-Persian power of Cyrus, Cambyses. and Darius till the time of the triumph of the Mace- donian army under the command of Alexander the Great (330 b. c). After the Seleucida", Western Asia passed into the power of the Parthian, Arsacid, and Sassanian dynasties of Persia, and remained so till the advent and the sweeping triumph of the Moham- medan armies in the seventh century of the Christian Era. While the Sassanian kings held their power and authority over the whole region east of the Euphrates, the Romans had absolute power over Syria, part of northern Mesopotamia, and Asia Minor. Arabia, on the other hand, had successfully resisted permanent foreign encroachments, and the numerous tribes of that peninsula continued to be governed by their own sheikhs, princes, and kings. The South Arabian kingdoms, those of Yemen. Himyar, Saba, and Ma'an, were in continuous struggle against one another and especially against the Abyssinians of Ethiopia. Towards the middle of the seventh century of the Christian Era the Mohammedan armies, having united the numerous Arab tribes into one Mohammedan Arabia, crossed into SjTia, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Armenia, and Persia. In less than fifty years the whole of Western Asia was completely reduced by the Moslem armies, and remained so until about the middle of the thirteenth or the opening of the fourteenth centurj', when the Tatar and Mongo- lian armies of the terrible Jenghiz Khan, Temur Lang, and their successors swept over all Western Asia, overthrowing the Abbasid dynasty in Irak, and that of the Seljuks in Asia Minor. Soon after. Western Asia passed into the power of the Ottoman Turks who have succeeded in maintaining their authority intact over the same regions till our own day.

The Mongolian tribes of Northern Asia seem to have grown as early as the second millennium b. c, into various kingdoms and nationalities, such as the Chinese, the Japanese, the Tatars, with their distinct kingdoms and dynasties. The history and the development of these north and east Asiatic kingdoms are, comparatively speaking, of little importance for the international historj' of civilized Asia, inasmuch as their power and influence did not materially or permanently alTect the development and the destinies of the near East. Even the Tatar and Turcoman hordes, who for the last six centuries have held under their sway the destinies of Western Asia, soon adopted the Mohammedan religion and civilization.

Unlike their European bretltren, the Aryan tribes of Southern .\sia and Iran did not play a \ery im- portant part in the pages of history. Witli the f\-