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The Axial Age in the Ancient World

Irene Bloom :: Karl Jaspers, the German philosopher, writing in our own time — actually writing just in the middle of the twentieth century — in a book called The Origin and Goal of History, has an opening chapter which is called the Achsenzeit, the "Axial Age." Jaspers noted, really to his amazement, that in this same period, just in the period within which Confucius was living in the sixth, fifth centuries, an amazing series of developments were going on within the ancient world.

Robert Oxnam :: This period of time, spanning roughly the eighth to the third centuries before the Common Era, was the age of the prophets in Israel and of the philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle in Greece; it was the time when the classical Hindu texts, the Upanishads, were written; and it was a time when the historical Buddha, a contemporary of Confucius, lived in India; and when Laozi, the philosopher whose ideas became what is called Daoism, lived in China. Karl Jaspers calls our attention to the commonalities of these developments in so many parts of the world.


Karl Jasper's called this period the "Axial Age," which he said turned on a historical axis of the year 500 BCE.

Figures who lived between 800-200 BCE

  • Israel » Isaiah (770-700 BCE), followed by the "Age of Prophets," (650-500 BCE)
  • Greece » Socrates (469-399 BCE), Plato (427-347 BCE), Aristotle (384-322 BCE)
  • Iran » Zoroaster (ca. 600 BCE)
  • India » Buddha (563-483 BCE), the Hindu Upanishad texts written (ca. 550 BCE)
  • China » Confucius (551-479 BCE), Laozi (605-530 BCE)