Axial time

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In his historical and philosophical considerations, From the Origin and Goal of History (1949) , Karl Jaspers describes the Axial Age as the period from approx. 800 to 200 BC. BC. In this period of time that would have companies from four independent cultural spaces at the same time significant philosophical and technical made progress in terms of synchronous parallelism of cultures.

According to the hypothesis , Jasper's interpretation scheme would in turn have a formative influence on all subsequent civilizations . According to Jaspers, the spiritual foundation of contemporary humanity took place during this period. It produced the basic categories in which man still thinks today, and with it modern man in general. Jaspers speaks of an “axis of world history” that encompasses simultaneous developments not only in Europe but in large parts of the world.

Concept history

Although Karl Jaspers used the concept of the Axial Age for the first time, the idea behind it is older, dates back to the Age of Enlightenment and achieved a central meaning in cultural theories around 1900.

In 1771, Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron made the fundamental observation for the Axial Age thesis that Zarathustra , Confucius and Pherecydes were contemporaries and simultaneously brought about "a kind of revolution" in different parts of the world.

Thus Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron is considered to be one of the first pioneers for the theory of Axial Age. In 1771 he published a translation of the Avesta into French, which made the religious document traced back to Zarathustra available to European science for the first time. In the course of his translation work, Anquetil made the observation that was fundamental to the Axial Age thesis that Zarathustra, Confucius and Pherecyde were contemporaries and simultaneously brought about "a kind of revolution" in different parts of the world.

This observation was subsequently taken up several times and supplemented by other influential thinkers and founders of religions who were also contemporaries of this epoch, including Lao Tzu , Buddha , Parmenides and others. a.

The French sinologist Jean-Pierre Abel-Rémusat (1788–1832) placed Laotse , Pythagoras , Plato and Israel in the context of his considerations about the time of the axis. His representations of the similarities in terms of content are much more differentiated than the Anquetils. Two other thinkers Jaspers referred to were Victor von Strauss (1856) and Ernst von Lasaulx (1870).

Karl Jaspers' Axial Age Theory (1945 to 1949)

It was Karl Jaspers who "coined the term 'Axial Age' and presented not only the most differentiated phenomenology by far, but also the boldest, even most adventurous interpretation of the facts raised by Anquetil and others," insofar as he called the time at that time as the "Axis of World history "contemplated" about which everything revolves and which divides its course into before and after ".

For Jaspers, the assumption of an Axial Age is a way of looking at history in a larger context, but not - as happened through Hegel - as a process focused on Europe; The history of mankind is instead fed from a variety of sources from all regions of the world. Assuming an Axial Age, history is more than a loose, coincidental sequence of events, but it should not be limited to Europe as its ultimate center and goal.

In summary, according to Jaspers, western history in the great antiquity can be divided into two sections:

  • almost 3000 years Babylonia and Egypt until about the middle of the last millennium BC Chr .;
  • One thousand years of antiquity , based on the "breakthrough of the axis", the history of the Jews, Persians, Greeks, Romans, in which the West was consciously constituted, from the middle of the last millennium BC to the middle of the first millennium AD ( Lit .: Jaspers , P. 83).

The four cultures of the primary Axial Age (800–200 BC)

Jaspers says that with the reform movement of Jainism and Buddhism in India , Daoism and Confucianism in China , Talmudic Judaism and Zoroastrianism in the ancient Orient, and the philosophy of ancient Greece, religious and philosophical approaches were created from which the people still drew strength and hope. This step into the universal or into “spiritualization”, as Jaspers says, brought about a change in the whole of human existence.

China In China , where u. a. Confucius and Laotse were at work, all directions of Chinese philosophy arose (time of the hundred schools ).

India In India , which existed between 500 and 300 BC. BC was shaped by the teachings of the Buddha , were already with the older Upanishads 800–600 BC. The beginnings of nature philosophy and Hinduism emerged (see: Indian philosophy ). In diametrical opposition to Greek natural philosophy, the focus of Indian philosophy was on man and the question of the material carrier of life.

Orient In what was then Palestine, the biblical prophets brought from the eighth century BC BC with their prophecies an essential moment of the spiritual creation of the Axial Age. 521 to 516 BC In addition, the second temple was built in Jerusalem and the church was re-established with the support of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. Ezra was especially important after the return from the Babylonian captivity .

In Iran , Zarathustra taught in the 7th or 6th century BC, according to a widespread assumption that Jaspers makes his own. BC (e.g. 618-541) as founder of religion and priest-prophet the world view of the struggle between good and evil, embodied by the creator god Ahura Mazda and his opponent Ahriman . In the Iranian religion of Zoroastrianism , which is still widespread today, there is accordingly the contrast between Aša / old Persian Arta (= “truth”, “justice” and “good order”) and the (western) Druj / old Persian Drauga (= “lie”, “ Injustice ”, the“ evil ”and“ chaos ”) are of central importance.

Occident In Greece with the Homeric epics Iliad and Odyssey (around and shortly after 750 BC), the natural philosophers since the 1st half of the 6th Jhs. v. BC (e.g. the Milesians Thales , Anaximander and Anaximenes ) as well as in the 5th and 4th centuries BC. BC Socrates , Plato and Aristotle laid the foundations of today's European-Western worldview.

This development was continued in Rome by Cicero and Seneca , who after the establishment of Neoplatonism by Plotinus in late antiquity a . a. Augustine of Hippo , Proclus and Boethius followed (see also Philosophy of Antiquity ).

In ancient Greece , if only temporarily and largely confined to the Athens polis , an idea of freedom emerged that apparently had nowhere else in the world at that time. In this way, according to Jaspers , the ancient polis “laid the foundation of all occidental freedom consciousness, both in the reality of freedom and freedom-thinking ( cf. Solon ). China and India know no freedom in this political sense ”( Lit .: Jaspers, p. 88).

The great turning point of the Axial Age for the Occident in Jaspers' eyes lies in the fact that from the 6th century BC. This freedom of Greek thought, Greek people and the Greek polis had arisen, then proved itself in the Persian wars of the 5th century and then developed to its peak. With Herodotus , the father of European historiography , around the middle of the 5th century. v. Became aware of the contrast between the Occident and the Orient.

According to Jaspers, the Greeks founded the Occident as a spiritual category, but in such a way that it only exists by constantly focusing its gaze on the Orient, dealing with it and dissociating itself from it, processing what it has adopted into its own finally with the victory of Alexander the great over the Persian king Dareios III. around 330 BC Takes over political power from the east.

Modern mankind owes not only the concept and form of Western philosophy and science to the Greeks, but also an exemplary educational system. "Education is the happy adornment, the unhappy refuge," said the pre-Socratic Democritus (68 B 180 DK). For Pericles (in Thucydides 2,41,1) Athens is the place of education for the whole of Greece, and the individual Athenian citizens distinguish themselves from all other Greeks thanks to the qualities they have acquired (Thucydides 2,40–41).

In a discussion with the Sophists , Plato (428 / 27–348 / 47 BC) developed "the first systematically constructed educational program of European culture" ( Lit .: Christes 2000, Col. 151). The Greeks considered Paideia “the most precious good that is given to mortals” ( Menander , Monosticha 384 Jaekel near Plat. Nom. 644 b). In it they saw their cultural identity defined.

The Greek ideas of the Paideia lived on in the appropriation by the Romans. Cicero and Varro is Paideia meant the whole person for the purposes of education and the term humanitas translated into Latin ( Aulus Gellius , Noctes Atticae 13,16,1). In this way, Paideia received its humanistic form, which has shaped the rest of Western culture to this day, during the time of the Roman Empire .

Most of today's ancient historians have in the meantime broken away from this long-accepted dichotomy of the Orient versus the Occident, which Jaspers still took for granted; The orientalism debate since the 1980s has made a decisive contribution to this. Researchers like Josef Wiesehöfer consider the alleged opposition between “Greek freedom” and “oriental despotism” to be a misleading idea based on ignorance and prejudice: the Persian wars are by no means to be understood as a defense of the Greeks against enslavement by the Persians.

The secondary breakthrough of the Axial Age with a climax in late antiquity

Christianity For Jaspers, Christianity forms the most important link between the ancient Orient and western antiquity, be it the axis of world history for the consciousness of the western world, Christ . The Christianity as a Christian church is "perhaps the largest and highest form of organization human spirit that so far there was". The religious impulses come from ancient oriental Judaism , since Jesus is the last in the series of Jewish prophets and stands in conscious continuity with them, from the ancient world of Hellenistic Greece, however, the philosophical breadth and rationality, from the Romans the organizational energy and the Wisdom in the real ( lit .: Jaspers, p. 84).

With regard to its detachment from the Jewish roots, the development of a church organization and the development of a state religion that has been persecuted by the Roman state power into one that has risen to become the bearer of the Roman world empire in late antiquity since Constantine I , this is a secondary one, i.e. a renewed one at a different time Axial Age breakthrough .

Judaism too, Judaism experienced loud Jaspers with the Talmud , the biblical masterpiece of Judaism, a secondary breakdown of the Axial Age. It originated in oral and written tradition that goes back several centuries and was completed at the end of late antiquity around 500 AD.

Islam In ancient Arabia, the breakthrough of the Axial Age took place for the first time under the Prophet Mohammed around 610–632 AD with the foundation of Islam and the written fixation of the Prophet's revelations, which were made under the 3rd Caliph Othman (644–632). 56) 653 were compiled in a final, unchangeable, canonical review as the Koran , as the holy scripture of the Muslims, who see therein the word of the One God ( Allah ). Islam is the youngest of the three monotheistic world religions with over a billion followers today.

The final canonicalization of the writings of the Talmud, the New Testament and the Koran in late antiquity resulted in monotheism gaining acceptance in Europe and many other regions of the world.

Roman law The unique legal culture with which Rome made its specific contribution to the spiritual revolution of the Axial Age began with the Decemviri and also found its climax and culmination only in late antiquity.

On February 15, 438, the Codex Theodosianus was published as an official collection of the imperial decrees from 313 to 438 on public, private and canon law and has been in effect in the east since January 1, 439, after acclamation by the Senate (probably already on December 25, 438 ), also in the west of the Roman Empire. In 529 the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I published the Codex Iustinianus named after him , a collection of the law of Emperor Hadrian (117-138) until his time as the first part of the Corpus Iuris Civilis. He had it updated, expanded to include the (533 published digests) and published in a second edition on November 16, 534. This Corpus Iuris Civilis became valid in the West after the reconquest in 554 and served as the basis for the reception of Roman law in the Middle Ages and in modern times .

A thread from the first codification of Roman law can be traced back to the so-called Twelve Tables laws around 450 BC. BC, of ​​which Emperor Justinian had 27 fragments included in his " Digest ", up to the codifications of civil law in modern times, e.g. As the General Civil Code , the (valid in Austria since 1811) Civil Code (since 1804 claims in France and many other countries), and finally the Civil Code (since 1900 into force in Germany) that "thus a code" is, "Which arose directly from the scientific reception and processing of Roman law" ( Lit .: Waldstein, p. 37). The fact that almost all European states have the Roman legal culture, which has remained intact to this day, as a common basis for their legal systems, was and is an essential prerequisite for a real unity of Europe in the EU ( Lit .: Waldstein, pp. 34 and 39).

Greek philosophy and science Greek philosophy and science also experienced a brilliant re-bloom in late antiquity in the so-called Neo-Platonism . This philosophical direction, which was part of the school tradition of Plato, was founded by Plotinus around the middle of the 3rd century. AD in Rome. His students carried it on after his death in 270 AD.

Neoplatonism became the most important philosophical movement of late antiquity and conveyed Greek philosophy, especially the works of Plato and Aristotle, to the Middle Ages and modern times. After the attempt to restore paganism on a Neoplatonic basis under Emperor Julian (361–363 AD) had failed and the Christian Emperor Justinian I in 529 AD, the Platonic Academy in Athens was the last and still most important bulwark “pagan “Thoughts closed, seven pagan Neo-Platonists (including Simplikios and Damascius ) emigrated to Persia at the court of Chosraus I ; however, they soon returned to the Roman Empire. After the Arab-Muslim conquest (from 641 AD), their work there and Chosraus I's preoccupation with Greek philosophy played a major role in the fact that Greek authors translated into Aramaic (Syriac), from there into Arabic, and so for posterity were obtained.

But also the Christian theology of Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), who knew and used the work of Plotinus well, was strongly influenced by Neoplatonism. Its center was the Academy in Athens, stronghold of pagan, "pre-Christian" philosophy.

The most important representative of late ancient Neo-Platonism after Plotinus , Proclus , was the head of the Platonic School in Athens from AD 437 until his death in 485. His work can be seen as the end point of pagan philosophical thought and has decisively shaped the reception of Plato in European intellectual history. The most important Neoplatonic philosopher of the Latin West during the Migration Period was Boëthius (around 480-524 AD). As the last representative, he captured all of ancient education like in a burning mirror ( Lit .: Kappelmacher 1928, p. 215) and is considered the most important mediator of Greek philosophy to the Latin world since Cicero and to the Middle Ages before the Arabs.

Philosophy and education system in the Latin West in the late antiquity also includes the education system of the liberal arts. Paideia or humanitas achieved their canonical expression in a curriculum of educational subjects, the study of which was considered to be solely appropriate for a free person. The canon of subjects comprised the “seven liberal arts” (Greek enkýklios paideía, Latin artes liberales ), namely grammar, rhetoric, dialectics, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music (Boethius, De institutione arithmetica 1,1). They could be supplemented by studying philosophy as the culmination of the training.

As the last pagan encyclopaedist, Martianus Capella conveyed the seven liberal arts to the Middle Ages in 9 books with his textbook De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii (“Philologias Marriage with Mercury”) around 420 AD . Around the same time, Augustine (354–430 AD) placed the seven artes liberales at the service of the knowledge of God and thus legitimized the appropriation of pagan education by Christians.

At the end of antiquity, Cassiodorus (approx. 490–590 AD) and Isidore of Seville (around 560–636 AD) integrated the artes liberales into handbooks in which all the knowledge relevant to Christianity was collected . Initially subjects of instruction in monastery and Latin schools, in the late Middle Ages they became subjects of the artist faculty, which preceded the specialist courses in theology, medicine and law. When linguistics then flourished in the epoch of humanism, this helped them to achieve equal status as the humanities and made the artist faculty rise to the philosophy faculty ( lit .: Christes 1997, Col. 62–64 with further literature).

India In India In the so-called: the axis time experienced a renewed breakthrough in late antiquity. Gupta -time 320-500 AD, the "classic" evolved.. Hinduism today more than 800 million believers.

Review of the Jaspersian Axial Age

The Axial Age of Karl Jaspers and its Scientific Evaluation

Before Karl Jaspers became aware of the debate and brought the concept of the Axial Age to life, it went through about "20 stations", as the two researchers Dieter Metzler and Hans Joas were able to show, whereby references to one another were rarely made.

It was not until about 25 years after Jasper's book From Origin and Aim of History was published that the theory of the Axial Age was taken up again. The discourse was largely determined by the Israeli sociologist Shmuel N. Eisenstadt (1923–2010).

Jörg Rüpke examined her sense of religion in the Roman Republic in 2012. Michael Borgolte sees the Axial Age as "a significant turning point, the most important of which is of general importance".

Jaspers' ideas were very influential; However, many of today's historians are skeptical of the concept, as it is often based on ideas and assumptions that modern research has since rejected.

The German Egyptologist and Peace Prize winner Jan Assmann examined the Axial Age theory and the discourses that have been going on in this context since the 18th century in a study that was published in book form in 2018 under the title Achsenzeit. An archeology of modernity was published. According to Assmann, the term has recently been mistakenly treated increasingly as a "scientific matter of course" instead of a "philosophical thesis" in various research circles. On the one hand, Assmann shows that Jaspers' Axial Age theory does not stand up to any historical verification. On the other hand, he honors it as a "plea for a cosmopolitan humanism" based on "a comprehensive commonality of all cultures and religions". Formulated immediately after World War II, Assmann's thoughts were "the order of the day in a time when national, religious and ideological particularisms are regaining power and influence."

Axial Age Discourse in the working group around Shmuel Noah Eisenstadt (from 1970s)

Following Jaspers' preoccupation with the Axial Age theory, the discourse was idle for about 25 years. Shmuel N. Eisenstadt made it the basis of his cultural-sociological investigations, whereby he did not question the concept as such, but initially used the Axial Age as a "fixed epoch term". Eisenstadt founded an interdisciplinary working group in Heidelberg for his comprehensive Axial Age studies and organized scientific conferences on the subject. His approach to culture analysis ultimately led Eisenstadt to the extensive deconstruction of the Axial Age theory, which was based on the assumption of convergences and not on differences and historical peculiarities that interested him as a cultural analyst. It is thanks to Eisenstadt, according to Jan Assmann , to have paved the way to understand the Axial Age concept again as a heuristic that can be applied to different cultures, regardless of any time limitation.

See also


  • Karen Armstrong : The Axial Age. On the origin of the world religions, translated into German by M. Bayer and K. Schuler. Siedler, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-88680-856-4 .
  • Jan Assmann : Axial Time. An archeology of modernity. 1st edition. Verlag CH Beck, Munich, 2018, ISBN 978-3-406-72989-8 .
  • Hermann Bengtson : Introduction to Ancient History. 7th, revised and supplemented edition. 1975, esp. Pp. 1-7.
  • Robert N. Bellah , Hans Joas : The Axial Age and Its Consequences. Harvard University Press, 2012 together with
  • Johannes Christes : Artes liberales. In: The New Pauly . 2, 1997, col. 62-64.
  • Johannes Christes: Paideia. In: The New Pauly . 9, 2000, col. 151.
  • Shmuel N. Eisenstadt (ed.): Cultures of the Axial Age. Their origins and their diversity. Part 1: Greece, Israel, Mesopotamia, Part 2: Late Antiquity, India, China, Islam . Trans. V. R. Achlama and G. Schalit. Paperback edition Frankfurt am Main 1987, ISBN 3-518-28253-0 .
  • Michael Erler , Andreas Graeser (Ed.): Philosophers of antiquity. From the early days to the classic. An introduction. Darmstadt 2000.
  • Michael Erler, Andreas Graeser (Ed.): Philosophy of antiquity. From Hellenism to Late Antiquity. Darmstadt 2000.
  • Herbert Grziwotz , Winfried Döbertin : Walk through antiquity. Food for thought for a modern Europe . Darmstadt 2002.
  • Franz Helm: The political imperative: The meaning of the Axial Age. Passagen, Vienna 2017, ISBN 978-3-7092-0277-7 .
  • Éva Jakob , Ulrich Manthe : The law in Roman antiquity. In: Ulrich Manthe (Hrsg.): The legal cultures in antiquity from the ancient Orient to the Roman Empire . Munich 2003, p. 239 ff.
  • Karl Jaspers : From the origin and goal of history. Munich 1949 (with numerous new editions, e.g. 1963).
  • Hans Joas : What is the Axial Age ?: A scientific debate as a discourse on transcendence (Jacob Burckhardt talks on Castelen) . Basel 2014.
  • Alfred Kappelmacher : The literary plan of Boethius. In: Vienna Studies. Volume 46, 1928, p. 215 = M. Fuhrmann , J. Gruber (Ed.), Boethius, Darmstadt 1984, 71.
  • Paul Koschaker : Europe and Roman law. 2nd Edition. esp. v. M. Kaser, now in the 4th unchanged edition 1966.
  • Christian Meier : The emergence of the political among the Greeks. Frankfurt am Main 1980.
  • Philip Merlan : From Platonism to Neoplatonism. 2nd Edition. The Hague 1960.
  • Wilhelm Nestle : From Myth to Logos. Self-development of Greek thought. 2nd Edition. Stuttgart 1941.
  • Heiner Roetz : The Chinese Ethics of the Axial Age. A reconstruction under the aspect of the breakthrough to post-conventional thinking. Frankfurt am Main 1992.
  • Jörg Rüpke : Religion in Republican Rome. Rationalization and Ritual Change. New York 2013 Notice from the University of Erfurt
  • Arno Schmidt : The birth of the logos among the early Greeks. With etchings by Ernst Marow . Logos Verlag, Berlin 2002.
  • Bruno Snell : The discovery of the mind. Studies on the origin of European thought among the Greeks. 3. Edition. Hamburg 1955.
  • Wolfgang Waldstein : How the blind Justitia learned to weigh. In: W. Schön (Ed.): The beautiful mother of culture. Our foundations in the ancient world. Darmstadt 1996.

Web links


  1. ^ Matthias Bormuth (ed.): Open horizon: Yearbook of the Karl Jaspers Society 4/2017. Vol. 4 Yearbook of the Karl Jaspers Society, Wallstein Verlag, Göttingen 2018, ISBN 978-3-8353-4161-6 , p. 76 (
  2. Axial Time as an Event and History” by Dieter Metzler (PDF; 51 kB) - accessed on February 8, 2013 at
  3. Martin Riesebrodt: Ethical and exemplary prophecy . In: Hans G. Kippenberg, Martin Riesebrodt (Ed.): Max Weber's "Religionsystematik" . Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2001, ISBN 3-16-147501-1 , p. 193 .
  4. Jan Assmann: Axial Time. An archeology of modernity. 1st edition. Verlag CH Beck, Munich, 2018, p. 31.
  5. Jan Assmann : Karl Jaspers' theory of the axial age as a cultural-analytical heuristic. Original publication in: Offener Horizont. Yearbook of the Karl Jaspers Society 4, 2017, pp. 43–55 ( on here p. 45.
  6. Jan Assmann: Axial Time. An archeology of modernity. 1st edition. Verlag CH Beck, Munich, 2018, p. 31.
  7. Jan Assmann: Axial Time. An archeology of modernity. 1st edition. Verlag CH Beck, Munich, 2018, p. 54.
  8. Jan Assmann: Axial Time. An archeology of modernity. 1st edition. Verlag CH Beck, Munich, 2018, p. 14.
  9. Josef Wiesehöfer : Greece would have come under Persian rule ... The Persian Wars as a turning point? In: H. Brinkhaus, S. Sellmer (Ed.): Turning times. Hamburg 2002, pp. 209-232.
  10. Jan Assmann: Axial Time. An archeology of modernity. 1st edition. Verlag CH Beck, Munich, 2018, p. 13f.
  11. M. Borgolte: World history as a foundation history. Darmstadt 2017, p. 31.
  12. Jan Assmann: Axial Time. An archeology of modernity. 1st edition. Verlag CH Beck, Munich, 2018, p. 22.
  13. Jan Assmann: Axial Time. An archeology of modernity. 1st edition. Verlag CH Beck, Munich, 2018, p. 10.
  14. Jan Assmann: Axial Time. An archeology of modernity. 1st edition. Verlag CH Beck, Munich, 2018, p. 283.
  15. Jan Assmann: Axial Time. An archeology of modernity. 1st edition. Verlag CH Beck, Munich, 2018, p. 259.
  16. Jan Assmann: Axial Time. An archeology of modernity. 1st edition. Verlag CH Beck, Munich, 2018, p. 263f.
  17. Jan Assmann: Axial Time. An archeology of modernity. 1st edition. Verlag CH Beck, Munich, 2018, p. 266.