Timeline: 3rd Century BCE (300 to 201)

300  Taoists scoff at Confucianism's veneration of early Zhou kings and reject Confucianism's striving for virtue, belief in ritual and governmental regulation. They expect society to continue to be driven by greed and lust for power, and they advocate withdrawal from social strife. For ending strife and greed they advocate an end to profits. The Taoists seek serenity in the beauties of nature and in surrender to the will of heaven. They have a saying not fashioned to encourage technological and economic growth: He who does nothing accomplishes everything.

296  Zeno of Citium turns forty. He has founded a new school of thought: stoicism. Zeno believes that God is the father to all and that all men are therefore brothers. He looks forward to one great nation under divine laws to which everyone consents – a nation bound together by love. He believes in God's will, that God works in mysterious ways, that humanity sees only a tiny portion of God's plan. Believing that God plans all, he believes in facing all circumstances with resignation. He and his followers believe that self-discipline is the starting point of virtue and that freedom is a state of mind. For the Stoics, poverty and slavery affect only the body. The poorest slave, they hold, could be a king in his own soul.

291  Epicurus is turning fifty. He is founder of a school of thought opposed to cynicism and stoicism. His is a philosophy for people who have enough wealth to live a life of ease and have enough time to smell the roses. He too is against exposing oneself to strife. He is atheistic. He believes in an empirical approach to knowledge and explains why he thinks life is worth living.

290  The great library at Alexandria is founded. A new Hellenistic, cosmopolitan culture is rising in the wake of Alexander's empire. Commercial enterprises are growing. Merchant ships are bigger. From Marseille to India, Greek is becoming the language of business. Education and training are on the rise. Migrations are increasing and with it religious diffusions. Monotheism is on the rise with the belief that all of the gods worshiped across the world are really Zeus, that Zeus is the universal god. Slavery continues.

283  Ptolemy abdicates in favor of his twenty-five year-old son, Ptolemy II. To win support from the Egyptians the Ptolomies have created a cult that includes worship of the goddess Isis. Priests clad in white initiate people by submerging them in the Nile or in sacred water from the Nile, believed to remove one's sins. The daily routine of the priests faith includes ceremonies with the singing of hymns and sprinkling of sacred water. Members of the cult believe that they will be judged after death, and they hope that with death they will pass into an everlasting life.

279  Pyrrhon, founder of a school of thought called skepticism, turns forty. While a soldier with Alexander he had come into contact with a variety of cultures and conflicting beliefs. He is the ultimate cultural relativist, holding that equally valid arguments can be made on both sides of any question and that there is no way to know which point of view is correct. He takes an absolutist approach to knowledge, believing that because we can know nothing with certainty we know nothing at all.  Pyrrhon is left with intuition and faith. What matters, believes Pyrrhon, is living well and living unperturbed.

275  Rome wins its last war over who will dominate Italy, defeating the city of Tarentum and its ally, a former kinsman of Alexander the Great, Pyrrhus, of "Pyrrhic victory" fame.

264  Rome goes to war against Carthage, the result of a politician arousing the chauvinism of Roman citizens, overriding the Roman Senate's misgivings and breaking an old treaty with Carthage.

261  Asoka (Ashoka), grandson of Chandragupta Maurya, has been ruling the great Maurya Empire since around the year 273. He is disgusted by his wars of expansion and converts to Buddhism. He gives up the kingly pastime of hunting game and instead goes on religious pilgrimages. He supports philanthropies, advocates non-violence, vegetarianism, charity and tenderness to all living things. He proselytizes for Buddhism and promises no more wars of expansion. He keeps an army for defense. He maintains monarchical authoritarianism and the network of spies that he has inherited.

250  In Alexandria, most literate Jews cannot read Hebrew, and the Five Books of Moses are translated into Greek – a translation called the Septuagint. The translations are proclaimed to be miraculous creations, and a curse is announced against anyone who changes what has been produced. Jews in different areas need clarifications, and they ignore the curse and insert new words to fit local meaning.

250  In Greece an alarm clock is created – a water clock.

247  Parthians, from the steppe lands east of the Caspian Sea, have been establishing themselves in Persia, and their chief, Arcases, becomes king.

246  The governor for the Seleucus dynasty in Bactria declares Bactria's independence. The Seleucus dynasty continues to rule in Syria, Mesopotamia, Palestine and parts of Persia. Colonies that Alexander created are islands in a sea of eastern people, and Greek culture is diffusing with eastern cultures.

241  Twenty-three years of war between Carthage and Rome comes to an end. Many Romans believe that victory confirms that their city has been called on by the gods for a special destiny. Rome's concern for security has been raised. Rome wins control over Corsica and Sardinia. The Sardinians resist. Roman soldiers with trained dogs invade Sardinia, hunt down people and glut the slave market in Italy. A new saying emerges: "as cheap as a Sardinian."

240  To Japan's major southern island, Kyushu, migrants have brought, or are about to bring, a culture with iron, bronze, tool making and wet-rice agriculture. The migrants are perhaps from Korea – the shortest distance from the Asian mainland and where such ways of living exists.

233  Sometime around now, the scholar Han Feizi complains about people thinking that five sons are not too many. People are more, he writes, and wealth is less. "The life of a nation depends on having enough food, not upon the number of people."

233  The scholar Han Feizi kills himself or dies as a result of political intrigue, at the age of around 47. He had abandoned Confucianism, believing that moral example is not enough. He has followers known as Legalists. The Legalists see goodness as people cooperating with authority. Society, they believe, must be organized by the state. Seeing rivalries between states as a fact of life, the Legalists believe in strengthening the state, and some of them advocate expansion as a means of strengthening the state. Seeing Taoism and Confucianism as unessential and divisive, the Legalists favor restricting these.

230  Qin, the most eastern of the states in Zhou civilization, defeats the first of its rival states, Han, in a drive to unify all the states of Zhou civilization. Qin has been considered the most barbaric of states, mixed as it was with tribal peoples to the west. But it has been the most innovative and vigorous of the states, and it has been open to immigration, adding to its manpower.

221  Qin has defeated its other rivals: Chao, Wei, Ch'u and Yan. Qin's ruler takes the title of First Emperor – Shihuang-di. It is said that Heaven has given him the mandate to rule. The new and widespread unity gives birth to what will be called China.

218  The second war between Carthage and Rome begins, sparked by a clash of  interests between the two imperial powers in Spain. The Carthaginians, led by Hannibal, cross from Spain through Gaul and over the Swiss Alps into Italy.

217  At Lake Trasimenus, the Carthaginians kill all but a few Roman soldiers, and in the wake of this disaster, on December 17th, Rome introduces a festival to lift the morale of its citizens, a festival called Saturnalia for the god of agriculture, Saturn. The courts and schools close and military operations are suspended so that soldiers can celebrate. It is a time of goodwill and jollity that includes visiting people, banqueting and exchanging gifts.

213  Shihuang-di is trying to secure his rule. He is collecting weapons from all those not in his armies, and his agents are confiscating books thought to be dangerous. Books on agriculture, forestry, herbal medicine and divination are spared. Writings of Confucius and his followers are burned. Shihuang-di makes himself an enemy to Confucianists.

210  Shihuang-di dies and civil war erupts.

202  In China's civil war, Liu Bang, a former policemen, has been better at attracting support, and he defeats his brutal and ruthless rival, Xiang Yu. Having won the title Prince of Han, Liu Bang begins what is to be known as the Han dynasty.

202  After sixteen years of fighting, the second war between Carthage and Rome is about over. A Roman soldier runs a sword through the Greek scientist and philosopher, Archemides, at his home in Syracuse.

201  Rome defeats Carthage. Hannibal finds refuge with the Seleucid king in Syria, Antiochus III. Rome considers itself ruler on the Iberian Peninsula (Spain).

4th Century BCE (400 to 301) | 2nd Century BCE (200 to 101)

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