Friday, February 5, 2010
Yesterday, while poking around the Wikipedia, I came up on this surprising fact: the well-known Yin-Yang symbol that you see to the right is attested in European sources seven hundred years before it appears in Asian ones!
The symbol's earliest documented occurrence is on Roman soldiers' shields. Apparently each Roman army unit decorated its shields with a distinctive pattern by which it could be identified. A book written around 400 AD called the Notitia Dignitatum shows many such patterns, some of which are pretty much identical to the modern Asian Yin-Yang symbol. The symbol first appears in Chinese records only in the 11th century.
China did not have anything like the European Dark Ages, so its ancient history is better known than the Western one. If an idea appears in the comparatively scant record of Western antiquity, but is absent from the more voluminous record of Chinese antiquity, then chances are high that this idea originated in the West.