The first full civilization emerged by 3500 B. C. in the Tigris-Euphrates valley in the Middle East. Relatively soon thereafter civilization developed along the Nile in Egypt, and later spread to other parts of the Middle East and one region in Africa. The advent of civilization provided a framework for most of the developments in world history. Additionally, the specific early civilizations that arose in the Middle East and Africa had several distinctive features, in political structure and cultural tone, for example. These features secured the evolution of these societies until the partial eclipse of he river-valley civilizations after about 1000 B. C. The early civilizations in the Middle East and North Africa served as generators of a number of separate and durable civilization traditions, which can still be found in civilizations around the Mediterranean, in parts of Europe, and even across the Atlantic. Both of these early civilizations formed around major rivers – the Tigris and Euphrates in Mesopotamia and the Nile in northeastern Africa. Explaining how civilizations emerged in the Middle East and then Africa requires a reminder of the conditions that contributed to change after 4000 B. C. and a ore precise definition of civilization. Once that is done, we can turn to the characteristics of Mesopotamian civilization, from its origins around 3500 B. C. until it experienced an important period of disunity around 1000 B. C. Next comes Egypt, the world’s second civilization in time, which again can be traced until about 1000 B. C. The two early civilizations had very different cultures and political structures reflecting their very separate origins. By 1000 B. C. both of these two early civilizations produced offshoots in eastern Africa, southern Europe, and additional centers in the Middle East.
These smaller centers of civilization made important contributions of their own, for example, the monotheistic religion created among the Jewish people in Palestine. Early Civilization In Mesopotamia Even the technological innovations that shaped the context for the rise of civilization took many centuries to win full impact. Soon after 4000 B. C. however, conditions were ripe for a final set of changes that constituted the arrival of civilization. These changes were based on the use of economic surplus and the growing needs of a coordinated regional network of villages. The Sumerians
The scene for the first civilization was the northeastern section of what we today call the Middle East, along the great rivers that led to the Persian Gulf. The agents were a newly-arrived people called the Sumerians. The first civilization developed in a part of the Middle East slightly south of the hilly country in which the first agricultural villages had emerged several thousand years earlier. Between the northern hills and the deserts of the Arabian peninsula, running from the eastern Mediterranean coast to the fall plain of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, lies a large swath of arable land called the Fertile Crescent.
The rivers rise in the spring, depositing immensely fertile soil. Rainfall was scant in the region, so as population pressure increased, farming communities began to find ways to tame and use the rivers through irrigation ditches. Construction of the ditches required improved tools that were not available much before 4000 B. C. , and from that point onward developments in the region were swift. Irrigation plus the fertility of the Tigris-Euphrates region generated substantial food surpluses promoting population growth and village expansion, as well as increasing trade and specialization.
The region was vulnerable in one respect: It was so flat that it was open to frequent invasion. By 3500 B. C. farmers in Mesopotamia, as the Tigris-Euphrates region is also called, were benefiting not only from rich agriculture, but also from flourishing pottery and obsidian tool production. The wheel had been introduced, and community coordination was steadily improving to support the irrigation network. The final boost toward establishing civilization was provided by the Sumerians, a people who had migrated into the area from the north around 4000 B. C. They settled in an area of about 700 square miles where they mixed with ther local races in a pattern of cultural mingling that has remained characteristic of the region. Sumerian culture early developed important religious values with centers of pilgrimage and worship. Well before 3000 B. C. many of these centers were provided with elaborately decorated temples, built with mud brick. Sumerians were impressed with the power of grim gods who ultimately controlled human destiny. Sumerian Culture And Politics Into this rich economy and culture writing – the most important invention between the advent of agriculture and the age of the steam engine – was introduced around 3500 B. C.
The Sumerian invention of writing was probably rather sudden, based on new needs for commercial, property, and political records including a celebration of the deeds of proud local kings. Writing was preceded by the invention of clay cylinder seals, on which little pictures of objects could be recorded. The earliest Sumerian writing simply evolved from these pictures baked on clay tablets, which were turned into symbols and gradually transformed into phonetic elements. The early Sumerian alphabet – set of symbols representing sounds – may have had as many as 2000 symbols derived from the early pictures. Before long writers began to use more bstract symbols to represent sounds which allowed Sumerians and their successors to reduce the alphabet to about 300 symbols. Sumerian writers used a wedge-shaped stick to impress the symbols on clay tablets. The resulting writing is called cuneiform, meaning “wedge shaped,” and it was used for several thousand years in the Middle East for many different languages. Cuneiform writing was difficult to learn, so specialized scribes monopolized most of it, but the Sumerians in fact believed that every object in nature should have a separate name to assure its place in the universe; knowing the name gave a person some power over the object.
Writing, in other words, quickly took on essentially religious purposes, allowing people to impose an abstract order over nature and the social world. Sumerian civilization lasted intact until about 2000 B. C. Its political organization was based on tightly organized city-states, where the agricultural hinterland was ruled by an urban-based king who claimed great authority. In some cases local councils advised the king. One of the functions of Sumerian states was to define boundaries, unlike the less formal territories of precivilized villages in the region. The government helped regulate religion and enforce its duties.
It also provided a system of courts for justice. Kings were originally war leaders whose leadership of a trained army in defense and war remained vital in Sumerian politics where fighting loomed large. Kings, the noble class, and the priesthood controlled considerable land. Slaves, conquered in wars with nearby tribes, were used to work this land. Sumerian political and social organization set up traditions that would long endure in this region. City-state government established a tradition of regional rule, that would often be overlaid by larger empires but would frequently return as the principal organizational form.
The reliance on slaves was maintained in the economy of many successor civilizations. Use of slaves along with the lack of natural barriers to invasion help explain recurrent warfare, for war was often needed to supply labor. At the same time, slavery in the Middle Eastern tradition was a variable condition, and many slaves were able to earn their own keep and even buy their freedom. The Sumerians, aided by regional political stability and the use of writing, added to their region’s economic prosperity. Agriculture gained as farmers learned how to cultivate date trees, onions, and garlic. Oxen were sed to pull plows, donkeys to carry goods. Wheeled carts helped transport goods as well. The Sumerians introduced the use of fertilizer and adopted silver as a means of exchange for buying and selling. Major cities expanded – one city reached a population of over 70,000 – with substantial housing units in rows of flat-roofed, mud-brick shops and apartments. More commonly, cities contained as many as 10,000 people. The Sumerians improved the potter’s wheel, which expanded the production of pottery. Because of the skill level and commercial importance involved, men began to take the trade away from women. The Sumerians also invented glass.
Trade expanded to the lower Persian Gulf and to the western portion of the Middle East along the Mediterranean. By 2000 B. C. the Sumerians had trading contacts with India. The Sumerians also steadily elaborated their culture, again using writing to advance earlier forms. By about 2000 B. C. they managed to write down the world’s oldest story, the Gilgamesh epic, which went back at least to the 7th millennium B. C. in oral form. Gilgamesh, a real person who had ruled a city-state, became the first hero in world literature. The epic describes a great flood that obliterated humankind except for a favored family who urvived by building an ark and producing descendants who formed a new race of people. The overall tone of the epic and of Sumerian culture (perhaps reflecting the frequently disastrous floods of the region) was somber. Gilgamesh does great deeds but constantly bumps up against the iron laws of the gods, ensuring human failure as the gods triumph in the end. The heroes, the wise men, like the new moon have their waxing and waning. Men will say, “Who has ever ruled with might and with power like Gilgamesh? ” As in the dark month, the month of shadows; so with-out him there is no light. O Gilgamesh, this was the meaning of your dream.
You were given the kingship, such was your destiny; everlasting life was not your destiny . . . Gilgamesh, why do you search? The life you seek you will never find. When the gods created the world, they made death a part of human fate. Along with early literature, Sumerian art developed steadily. Statues and painted frescoes adorned the temples of the gods, and statues of the gods decorated individual homes. Sumerian science aided a complex agricultural society, as people sought to learn more about the movement of the sun and stars – thus founding the science of astronomy – and to improve their athematical knowledge. The Sumerians employed a system of numbers based on units of 12, 60, and 360, which we still use in calculations involving circles and hours. They also introduced specific systems, such as charts of major constellations, that have been used for 5000 years in the Middle East and through later imitation in India and Europe. In other words, Sumerians and their successors in Mesopotamia created patterns of observation and abstract thought about nature on which a number of later societies, including our own, still rely. Religion played a vital role in Sumerian culture and politics.
Gods were associated with various forces of nature. At the same time gods were seen as having a human form and many of humanity’s more disagreeable characteristics. Thus the gods often quarreled and used their power in selfish and childish ways – which made for interesting stories but also created a fear that the gods might make life difficult and hard to control. The gloomy cast of Sumerian religious ideas also included an afterlife of suffering – an original version of the concept of hell. Because gods were believed to regulate natural forces such as flooding in a region where nature was often harsh and npredictable, they were more feared than loved. Priests played a central role because of their responsibility for placating the gods through proper prayers, sacrifices, and magic. Priests became full-time specialists, running the temples and also performing the astronomical calculations necessary to run the irrigation systems. Each city had a patron god, and erected impressive shrines to please and honor this god and other deities. Massive towers, called ziggurats, formed the monumental architecture for this civilization. Prayers and offerings to prevent floods as well as to protect good health were a vital art of Sumerian life. Sumerian ideas about the divine force behind and within natural objects – in rivers, trees, and mountains – were common among agricultural peoples. A religion of this sort is known as animism. More specifically, Sumerian religious notions, notably their ideas about the creation of the earth by the gods from a chaos of water and about divine punishment of humans through floods, continue to have force in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim cultures, all of which were born much later in the Middle East. Sumerian activities in trade and war spread beyond the regional limits of the civilization in the Middle East.
The adoption of portions of the Gilgamesh tale in later literature such as the Jewish Bible developed well to the west of Sumer. Even after Sumer itself collapsed, the Sumerian language was still used in religious schools and temples, showing the power of this early culture and its decidedly religious emphasis. What Civilization Meant The emergence of the world’s first civilization in Sumer brought to fruition the key features of this form of organization. Sumerian society certainly met the basic criterion of civilization in that it built on fairly regular economic surpluses. Sumerian farmers produced enough that they could e taxed in order to support a small but crucial number of priests and government officials. They produced enough to allow some trade and specialization, thus encouraging groups of artisans and merchants who did not farm. The Sumerian economy also stretched out along the great irrigation systems of the Tigris-Euphrates. One of the tasks of regional government was to elaborate and maintain these systems: regional coordination was thus a vital feature. The advent of civilization in Sumer also involved additional innovations building on the key features of surplus and coordination: the creation of ities beyond the scope of individual centers, such as Jericho, where at least several thousand people lived and considerable specialization developed; and the invention of writing. While these innovations were not found in all civilizations, they were vital in Sumer and other early centers such as Egypt and the Indus River. The Importance Of Cities In Middle-Eastern agricultural civilization (all civilizations were fundamentally agricultural until about 200 years ago), most people did not live in cities. The cities that existed were crucial, however, because they amassed wealth and power; allowed relatively easy exchange of ideas, ncouraging intellectual and artistic changes; and promoted further specialization in manufacture and trade. Early Middle-Eastern cities radiated considerable influence and power into surrounding countrysides. Cities also relied on broader attributes of civilization, the most notable being relatively extensive trade and political organization. Cities could not be founded until the Middle East produced a significant agricultural surplus above what farmer families needed to live on and had groups – merchants – to organize trade that brought food to the city and carried urban-made goods to the countryside and other cities.
Cities could not be founded until there was a sufficiently solid political organization – a government, with some recognized legitimacy, and some full-time officials – that could run essential urban services, such as a court system for disputes, and help regulate the relationship between cities and the countryside. Saying that early Middle-Eastern civilizations were based on cities, then, even when most people remained in the countryside as agricultural producers, is partly saying that civirizations had generated more elaborate trade and political structures than initial agricultural societies had managed.
This helps explain, also, why civilizations generally covered a fairly wide area, breaking out of the localism that described the economics and political activities of the initial agricultural communities. The Importance Of Writing The second key ingredient that emerged in the Middle East after 4000 B. C. was the invention of writing. Some historians and anthropologists urge against focusing too much on the development of writing, because concentrating only on this aspect, albeit important, can leave out some civilizations, such as the civilization of the Incas in the Andes region of South America, that produced ignificant political forms without this intellectual tool. We now appreciate the sophistication societies can attain without writing, and rate the division of early human activities between hunting and gathering and agriculture as more fundamental than the invention of writing. Writing was a genuinely important development even so. Societies with writing can organize more elaborate records including the lists essential for effective taxation. Writing is a precondition for most formal bureaucracies which depend on standardized communication and the ability to maintain some documentation.
Societies with writing can also organize a more elaborate intellectual life because of their ability to record data and build on past, written wisdom. For example, it is no accident that with writing many early civilizations began to generate more formal scientific knowledge. Societies before the development of writing typically depended on poetic sagas to convey their value systems, with the poetry designed to aid in memorization. With writing, the importance of sagas such as Gilgamesh might at first have continued but usually the diversity of cultural expressions soon increased ith other kinds of literature supplementing the long, rhymed epics. Some experts argue that the very fact of becoming literate changes the way people think – encouraging a greater sense that the world can be understood by organized human inquiry as opposed to a belief in whimsical magical spirits. Writing, in other words, can produce more abstract religious thinking and also secular thinking that seeks to describe nature and human affairs in nonreligious terms. Writing, like the existence of cities, certainly helps explain how civilizations could develop more extensive trading and political systems than hose of most earlier agricultural societies. As a basis for even small bureaucracies – and as a basis of record-keeping for merchant dealings beyond purely personal contacts – writing played a considerable role in extending the geographical range of key civilizations and in developing new forms of economic and political organization. It is vital to recognize, however, that the advent of writing in the early history of civilizations also created new divisions within the population, for only a small minority of people – mainly priests, scribes, and a few merchants – had time to master writing skills. Kush And The Eastern Mediterranean
Toward the end of the early civilization period, a number of partially separate civilization centers sprang up on the fringes of the civilized world in Africa and the Middle East, extending also into parts of southern Europe. These centers built heavily on the achievements of the great early centers. They resulted from the expansion efforts of these centers, as in the Egyptian push southward during the New Kingdom period and from new organizational problems within the chief centers themselves; in the Middle East, separate societies emerged during the chaotic centuries following the collapse of the Hittite empire.
Kush And Axum: Civilization Spreads In Africa The kingdom of Kush sprang up along the upper (southern) reaches of the Nile. Kush was the first African state other than Egypt of which there is record. This was a state on the frontiers of Egyptian activity, where Egyptian garrisons had been stationed from time to time. By 1000 B. C. it emerged as an independent political unit, though strongly influenced by Egyptian forms. By 730 B. C. , as Egypt declined, Kush was strong enough to conquer its northern neighbor and rule it for several centuries, though this conquest was soon ended by Assyrian invasion from the Middle East.
After this point the Kushites began to push their frontiers farther south, gaining a more diverse African population and weakening the Egyptian influence. It was at this point that the new capital was established at Meroe. Kushites became skilled in iron use and had access to substantial African ore and fuel. The use of iron tools extended the area that could be brought into agriculture. Kush formed a key center of metal technology in the ancient world, as a basis of both military and economic strength. Kushites developed a form of writing derived from Egyptian hieroglyphics (and which has not yet been fully deciphered).
They established a number of significant cities. Their political organization, also derived from Egypt, emphasized a strong monarchy with elaborate ceremonies based on the belief that the king was a god. Kushite economic influence extended widely in sub-Saharan Africa. Extensive trade was conducted with people to the west, and this trade may have brought knowledge of iron making to much of the rest of Africa. The greatest period of the kingdom at Meroe, where activities centered from the early 6th century onward, lasted from about 250 B. C. to A. D. 50. By this time the kingdom served as a channel for African goods – animal skins, bony and ivory, gold and slaves – into the commerce of the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Many monuments were built during these centuries, including huge royal pyramids and an elaborate palace in Meroe. Much fine pottery and jewelry were produced. Meroe began to decline from about A. D. 100 onward and was defeated by a kingdom to the south, Axum, around A. D. 300. Prosperity and extensive political and economic activity did not end in this region, but extended into the formation of a kingdom in present-day Ethiopia. The outreach of Kush is not entirely clear beyond its trading network set p with neighboring regions. Whether African peoples outside the Upper Nile region learned much from Kush about political forms is unknown. Certainly there was little imitation of its writing, and the region of Kush and Ethiopia would long remain somewhat isolated from the wider stream of African history. Nevertheless, the formation of a separate society stretching below the eastern Sahara was an important step in setting the bases for technological and economic change throughout much of upper Africa. Though its achievements flow less fully into later African development, Kush holds for Africa what Sumer chieved for the Middle East – it set a wider process of civilization in motion. The Mediterranean Region Smaller centers in the Middle East began to spring up after about 1500 B. C. Though dependent on the larger Mesopotamian culture for many features, these centers added important new ingredients and in some cases also extended the hold of civilization westward to the Asian coast of the Mediterranean. The smaller cultures also added to the diversity of the Middle East, creating a varied array of identities that would continue to mark the region even under the impetus of later empires, such as Rome, or the sweeping religion of Islam.
Several of these smaller cultures proved immensely durable and would influence other parts of the world as well. The Jews The most important of the smaller Middle Eastern groups were the Jews, who gave the world one of its most influential religions. The Jews were a Semitic people (a population group that also includes the Arabs). They were influenced by Babylonian civilization but also marked by a period of enslavement in Egypt. They settled in the southeast corner of the Mediterranean around 1600 B. C. , probably migrating from Mesopotamia. Some moved into Egypt where they were treated as a subject people.
In the 13th century B. C. , Moses led these Jews to Palestine, in search of a homeland promised by the Jewish God, Yahweh. This was later held to be the central development in Jewish history. The Jews began at this point to emerge as a people with a self-conscious culture and some political identity. At most points, however, the Jewish state was small and relatively weak, retaining independence only while other parts of the Middle East were disorganized. A few Jewish kings were able to unify their people, but at many points the Jews were divided into separate regional states. Most of Palestine came under oreign (initially Assyrian) domination from 722 B. C. onward, but the Jews were able to maintain their cultural identity and key religious traditions. Monotheism The distinctive achievement of the Jews was the development of a strong monotheistic religion. Early Jewish leaders probably emphasized a particularly strong, creator god as the most powerful of many divinities – a hierarchy not uncommon in animism – but this encouraged a focus on the father God for prayer and loyalty. By the time of Moses, Jews were urged increasingly to abandon worship of all other gods and to receive from Yahweh the Torah (a holy Law), he keeping of which would assure divine protection and guidance. From this point onward Jews regarded themselves as a chosen people under God’s special guidance. As Jewish politics deteriorated due to increasing foreign pressure, prophets sprang up to call Jews back to faithful observance of God’s laws. By the 9th century B. C. some religious ideas and the history of the Jews began to be written down in what would become the Jewish Bible (the Old Testament of the Christian Bible). Besides the emphasis on a single God, Jewish religion had two important features. First was the idea of an overall divine plan. God guided Jewish istory, and when disasters came they constituted punishment for failures to live up to divine laws. Second was the concept of a divinely organized morality. The Jewish God demanded not empty sacrifices or selfish prayers, but righteous behavior. God, though severe, was ultimately merciful and would help the Jews to regain morality. This system was not only monotheistic but also intensely ethical; God was actively concerned with the doings of people and so enjoined good behavior. By the 2d century B. C. , these concepts were clearly spelled out in the Torah and the other writings that were formed into the Old Testament of the Bible.
By their emphasis on a written religion the Jews were able to retain their identity under foreign rule and even under outright dispersion from their Mediterranean homeland. The impact of Jewish religion beyond the Jewish people was complex. The Jews saw God’s guidance in all of human history, and not simply their own. Ultimately all peoples would be led to God. But God’s special pact was with the Jews, and there was little premium placed on missionary activity or converting others to the faith. This limitation helps explain the intensity and durability of the Jewish faith; it also kept the Jewish people a minority ithin the Middle East though at various points substantial conversions to Judaism did spread the religion somewhat more widely. Jewish monotheism, though a landmark in world religious history, is noteworthy for sustaining a distinctive Jewish culture to our own day, not for immediately altering a wider religious map. Yet the elaboration of monotheism had a wide significance. In Jewish hands the concept of God became less humanlike, more abstract – a basic change not only in religion but in overall outlook. Yahweh had a power and a planning quality far different from the attributes of the traditional gods of the
Middle East or Egypt. The gods, particularly in Mesopotamia, were whimsical and capricious; Yahweh was orderly and just, and individuals could know what to expect if they adhered to God’s rules. The link to ethical conduct and moral behavior was also central. Religion for the Jews was a system of life, not merely a set of rituals and ceremonies. The full impact of this religious transformation on Middle Eastern and Mediterranean civilization would come only later, when Jewish ideas were taken up by the proselytizing faiths of Christianity and Islam. But the basic concept formed one of the legacies of he twilight period from the first great civilizations to the new cultures that would soon arise in their place. The Minoans The Jews were not alone among the distinct societies popping up in the eastern Mediterranean. Around 1600 B. C. a civilized society developed on the island of Crete. This Minoan society traded widely with both Mesopotamia and Egypt, and probably acquired many of its civilized characteristics from this exchange. Minoan society, for example, copied Egyptian architectural forms and mathematics, though it developed important new artistic styles in the colossal palace built in the capital city, Knossos.
The alphabet, too, was adapted from Egypt. Political structures similar to those of Egypt or the Mesopotamian empires emphasized elaborate bureaucratic con- trols, complete with massive record keeping, under a powerful monarch. Minoan navies at various points conquered parts of the mainland of Greece, eventually leading to the establishment of the first civilization there. Centered particularly in the kingdom of Mycenae, this early Greek civilization developed considerable capacity for monumental building, and also conducted important wars with city-states in the Middle East, including the famous conflict with Troy.
Civilizations in Crete and in Greece were overturned by a wave of Indo-European invasions, culminating around 1000 B. C. , that temporarily reduced the capacities of these societies to maintain elaborate art or writing, or extensive political or economic organizations. While the civilization that would arise later, to form classical Greece, had somewhat separate origins, it would build extensively on the memories of this first civilized society and on its roots in Egyptian and Mesopotamian achievements. The Phoenicians Another distinct society grew up in the Middle East itself, in what is ow the nation of Lebanon. Around 2000 B. C. a people called the Phoenicians settled on the Mediterranean coast. Like the Minoans, they quickly turned to seafaring because their agricultural hinterland was not extensive. The Phoenicians used their elaborate trading contacts to gain knowledge from the major civilization centers, and then in several key cases improved upon what they learned. Around 1300 B. C. they devised a much simplified alphabet based on the Mesopotamian cuneiform. The Phoenician alphabet had only 22 letters, and so was learned relatively easily. It served as ancestor to the Greek and
Latin lettering systems. The Phoenicians also upgraded the Egyptian numbering system. The Phoenicians were, however, a merchant people, not vested in extensive cultural achievements. They advanced manufacturing techniques in several areas, particularly the production of dyes for cloth. Above all, for commercial purposes, they dispersed and set up colonies at a number of points along the Mediterranean. They benefited from the growing weakness of Egypt and the earlier collapse of Minoan society and its Greek successor, for there were few competitors for influence in the Mediterranean by 1000 B. C. Phoenician ailors moved steadily westward, setting up a major trading city on the coast of North Africa at Carthage, and lesser centers in Italy, Spain, and southern France. The Phoenicians even traded along the Atlantic coast of Europe, reaching Britain where they sought a supply of tin. Ultimately Phoenicia collapsed in the wake of the Assyrian invasions of the Middle East, though several of the colonial cities long survived. The End Of The Early Civilization Period The proliferation of spin-off civilizations brought important innovations within the framework set by the achievements of the great progenitors in
Mesopotamia and Egypt. The simplified alphabet, the major cultural shift described by the first great monotheistic system, and a number of quite practical improvements – the introduction by another Mediterranean coastal peoples, the Lydians, of coined money – considerably advanced the level of civilization itself. The spread of civilization into Kush and into some European portions of the Mediterranean, fed by deliberate expansion and growing trade, also set the basis for the development of major civilization centers beyond the original core. By 1000 B. C. the civilization zone initially stablished by separate developments in Mesopotamia and Egypt had fanned out widely, sketching the basis for later societies in the Middle East, Africa, and parts of Europe. No sharp line divides the long early phase of the development of civilization in the Middle East and North Africa from the next, classical period; there was no total overturning by invasion, as would characterize the first civilization in India. Developments such as the spread of the Kushite kingdom, the survival of the Egyptian kingdom, or the elaboration of the Jewish religion continued well into the final centuries B. C. Successive mpires in the Middle East would revive or preserve many features of the Mesopotamian pattern. Around 1000 B. C. , and for several centuries thereafter, there was a somewhat pervasive pause in the development of civilizations in this general region. The pause did not disrupt the Phoenician or Kushite expansion on the fringes, nor did it shatter all civilized forms. But Mesopotamia did undergo an unusual several-century span in which regional city-states and considerable internal warfare brought political chaos. Egyptian politics were also deteriorating. Early civilizations in Greece were overwhelmed (almost as ompletely as their counterpart in India) by waves of invasions by Indo-Europeans from eastern Europe. These invasions for a time reduced politics to essentially tribal levels and virtually destroyed cultural activities that depended on writing or elaborate workmanship. The waves of Indo-European invasion form the clearest breaking point. These invaders were hunters and herders initially from central Asia, who pressed into western Asia and Europe in successive waves. The Hittites were an Indo-European people capable of assimilating Mesopotamian values to the extent of setting up a major empire. They also pushed back the Egyptian sphere of nfluence, launching the decline of the New Kingdom and also freeing up the southeastern Mediterranean corner for the rise of smaller states such as the Jewish kingdom. But by 1200 B. C. the Hittites were swept away by another invading force of Indo-Europeans (the same group that interrupted civilization in Greece). The Indo-Europeans, beginning with the Hittites, introduced iron use which gave rise to more powerful weaponry and the possibility of geographically more extensive empires based on military power. The first group to exploit this new weaponry were the Assyrians, who began a pattern of onquest from their base along the Tigris River. By 665 B. C. they had conquered the whole of the civilized Middle East down to the Persian Gulf as well as Egypt. This was a cruel people, eager to terrorize their enemies. The Assyrians used iron, a strong and widely available metal, to arm more men more cheaply than societies relying on bronze were able to do. Their empire was unprecedentedly large and also unusually systematic as they collected tribute, assimilated diverse cultural achievements, and even moved whole peoples (as they did the Jews) in order to maintain control. The Assyrian state was not long lived.
By 612 B. C. it fell to a combination of pressures from invading frontier tribes and internal revolt. A number of smaller successor kingdoms followed, until another great eastern empire, the Persian, arose in 539 B. C. The key points are these: The characteristic boundaries of the early civilizations that had lasted so long amid a relatively slow pace of change were beginning to yield. Invading peoples brought new ideas. The Indo-Europeans, for example, ignored the Mesopotamian or Egyptian beliefs about the divine attributes of kings. Rather, kings were selected by councils formed by nobles and the army.
Also, where Indo-European culture took deep root, as in Greece, political patterns would begin to diverge from those set in the earlier civilizations of the region. Geographical boundaries were shifting too. Egypt faded as a major independent actor, while the Middle East was open to new empires with greater unifying potential than ever before; and new centers of vitality were beginning to be sketched in Africa and along the European coast of the Mediterranean. The stage was beginning to be shaped for the emergence of a new set of civilizations, such as in Persia and Greece, that would build on earlier recedents in many ways but advance new cultural and political forms. Based on the new military technology brought by iron and on steady improvements in shipping, these new civilizations would reach out to wider regions than the early civilizations had usually managed. More extensive civilization zones and new cultural and political principles, though both prepared by developments in the early civilization period, would define the era of classical civilizations in the Middle East and Mediterranean that began to emerge by about 800 B. C. with the recovery of civilization in Greece and, soon, the rise of the great
Persian empire. Civilization: Drawbacks And Limits Because civilizations are by definition well organized compared to the societies that preceded them, it is not surprising that almost all history is about what has happened to civilized societies. We know most about such societies, and we are likely to be particularly impressed by their great art or powerful rulers. It is also true that civilizations tended to be far more populous than noncivilized societies. Because civilizations depend on some trade, they allow greater specialization that increases productivity and sustenance of larger populations.
Their political structure allows whole regions or even a number of regions to be unified. But the history of civilization does not embrace everybody. In the days of the river-valley civilizations, even long after Sumer, most inhabited parts of the world were not in the civilization orbit. There is inevitable confusion between defining a society as a civilization and assuming that civilization produces a monopoly on higher values and controlled behavior. In the first place, civilization brings losses as well as gains. As the Middle East moved toward civilization, distinctions based on social class and wealth increased.
This was clearly the case in Sumer, where social structure ranged from slaves, who were treated as property, to powerful kings and priests. Civilizations typically have firmer class or caste divisions and greater separations between ruler and ruled than “simpler” societies. Civilizations also often create greater inequality between men and women than noncivilized societies do. Many early civilizations, including those of the Middle East, went to considerable pains to organize the inferiority of women on a more structured basis than ever before, treating women as the property of fathers or husbands. Finally, as
Sigmund Freud noted, civilizations impose a host of restraints on people in order to keep them organized in a complex social unit. Such restraints can create a great deal of personal tension and even mental illness. “Civilization,” then, should not be taken as a synonym for “a `good’ or `progressive’ society. ” Furthermore, people in noncivilized societies may be exceptionally well regulated and possessed of interesting, important culture. They are not “merely” barbarians or uncouth wild men. Some societies that were most eager to repress anger and aggression in human dealings, such as several Eskimo roups, were not part of a civilization until recently. In contrast, many civilized societies produce a great deal of aggressive behavior and build warlike qualities into their list of virtues. While some noncivilized societies treat old people cruelly, others display respect and veneration. A civilized society does not invariably enhance the human capacity for restrained, polite behavior or an interest in the higher values of life. Civilizations do not even clearly promote greater human happiness. The development of civilization continued the process of enhancing human apacity for technological and political organization, and the production of increasingly elaborate and diverse artistic and intellectual forms. In this quite restricted sense, the term has meaning and legitimately commands the attention of most historians. Because of the power and splendor civilizations could provide, they did tend to spread as other societies came under their influence or deliberately tried to imitate their achievements. Early civilizations, however, spread slowly because many peoples had no contact with them and because their disadvantages, such as greater social inequality, might be repellent.
Thus the initial advent of civilization, while an important historical milestone, came in clearly circumscribed regions like the Tigris-Euphrates valley. The history of early civilization focuses attention on the generation of the first forms of civilized activity – writing and city administration – and on the construction of linkages in medium-sized geographical units. The Course Of Mesopotamian Civilization: A Series Of Conquests The general characteristics of civilization, from economic surplus to writing, cities, and social inequality, are vital, but must be combined with the specific qualities of particular civilizations such as those of
Mesopotamia, where writing was of a certain style; social organization was distinctive, for example, in the power of priests; and overall culture had some special qualities. A key ingredient of Mesopotamian civilization was frequent instability as one ruling people gave way to another invading force. The Sumerians, themselves invaders of the fertile river valleys, did not set up a sufficiently strong and united political force to withstand pressures from outside, particularly when other peoples of the Middle East began to copy key achievements, such as the formation of cities. Later Mesopotamian Empires Shortly after 2400 B. C. king from a non-Sumerian city, Akkad, conquered the Sumerian city-states and inaugurated an Akkadian Empire. This empire soon sent troops as far as Egypt and Ethiopia. The initial Akkadian ruler, Sargon I, the first clearly identified individual in world history, set up a unified empire integrating the city-states into a whole, and added to Sumerian art a new style marked by the theme of royal victory. Professional military organization expanded since Sargon maintained a force of 5400 troops. Extensive tax revenues were needed to support his operations. The Akkadians were the first people to use writing for more than commercial and temple ecords, producing a number of literary works. The Akkadian empire, however, lasted only about 200 years, and then it was overthrown by another invading force. Sumerian regional states reappeared, in what turned out to be the final phase of this particular civilization. It was then that the Epic of Gilgamesh was written. By this time, around 2000 B. C. , kingdoms were springing up in various parts of the Middle East, while new invading groups, including Indo- European tribes that came from the Balkans in southeastern Europe, added to the region’s confusion. A civilization derived from Sumerian culture spread ore widely in the Middle East, though political unity was rarely achieved in the expanded setting. Another new empire arose around 1800 B. C. , for the first time unifying the whole of Mesopotamia. This Babylonian Empire was headed by Hammurabi, one of the great rulers of early civilized history. Hammurabi set up an extensive network of officials and judges, while maintaining a separate priesthood. He also codified the laws of the region, to deal with a number of criminal, property, and family issues. Large cities testified to the wealth and power of this new empire. At the same time, Sumerian cultural traditions were aintained and elaborated. The famous Hammurabic code thus was built on earlier codifications by Sumerian kings. A Babylonian poem testified to the continued sobriety of the dominant culture: “I look about me and see only evil. My troubles grow and I cannot find justice. I have prayed to the gods and sacrificed, but who can understand the gods in heaven? Who knows what they plan for us? Who has ever been able to understand a god’s conduct? ” Finally, Babylonian scientists extended the Sumerian work in astronomy and mathematics. Scholars were able to predict lunar eclipses and trace the paths of some of the planets.
Babylonians also worked out mathematical tables and an algebraic geometry of great practical utility. The modern 60-minute hour and 360-degree circle are heritages of the Babylonian system of measurement. The study of astronogy is another Babylonian legacy. Indeed, of all the successors of the Sumerians, the Babylonians constructed the most elaborate culture, though their rule was not long-lived. The Babylonians expanded commerce and a common cultural zone, both based on growing use of cuneiform writing and a shared language. During the empire itself, new government strength showed both in the extensive legal system and n the opulent public buildings and royal palaces. The hanging gardens of one king dazzled visitors from the entire region. The Babylonian empire fell by about 1600 B. C. An invading Hittite people, pressing in from central Asia, adapted the Sumerian cuneiform script to their own Indo-European language and set up an empire of their own. The Hittites soon yielded, and a series of smaller kingdoms disputed the region for several centuries, between about 1200 and 900 B. C. This period allowed a number of regional cultures, such as the Hebrew and the Phoenician, to develop greater utonomy, thus adding to the diversity and the achievements of the Middle East. Then, after about 900 B. C. , another series of empires began in the Middle East, including the Assyrian Empire and later the Persian Empire based on invasions of new groups from central Asia. These new invaders had mastered the production of iron weapons and also used horses and chariots in fighting, sketching a new framework for the development of empires and a new chapter in the history of the Middle East and of civilization more generally. [See Head Of Sargon: This bronze head of Sargon, founder of the Akkadian ynasty, dates from about 2350 B. C. The elaborate metalwork displays the artistic talent acquired by leading craftsmen. ] Document: Hammurabi’s Law Code Hammurabi, as king of Babylon, united Mesopotamia under his rule from about 1800 to 1750 B. C. His law code, the earliest such compilation still in existence, was discovered on a stone slab in Iran in A. D. 1901. Not a systematic presentation, it was a collection of exemplary cases designed to set general standards of justice. The code provides vital insights into the nature of social relations and family structure in this ancient civilization.
Examples of the Hammurabic code follow: When Marduk commanded me to give justice to the people of the land and to let [them] have [good] governance, I set forth truth and justice throughout the land [and] prospered the people. At that time: If a man has accused a man and has charged him with manslaughter and then has not proved [it against] him, his accuser shall be put to death. If a man has charged a man with sorcery and then has not proved [it against] him, he who is charged with the sorcery shall go to the holy river; he shall leap into the holy river and, if the holy river overwhelms him, his accuser hall take and keep his house; if the holy river proves that man clear [of the offense] and he comes back safe, he who has charged him with sorcery shall be put to death; he who leapt into the holy river shall take and keep the house of his accuser. If a man has come forward in a case to bear witness to a felony and then has not proved the statement that he has made, if that case [is] a capital one, that man shall be put to death. If he has come forward to bear witness to [a claim for] corn or money, he shall remain liable for the penalty for that suit. If a judge has tried a suit, given a decision, caused a sealed tablet to be xecuted, [and] thereafter varies his judgment, they shall convict that judge of varying [his] judgment and he shall pay twelve-fold the claim in that suit; then they shall remove him from his place on the bench of judges in the assembly, and he shall not [again] sit in judgment with the judges. If a free person helps a slave to escape, the free person will be put to death. If a man has committed robbery and is caught, that man shall be put to death. If the robber is not caught, the man who has been robbed shall formally declare whatever he has lost before a god, and the city and the mayor in whose erritory or district the robbery has been committed shall replace whatever he has lost for him. If [it is] the life [of the owner that is lost], the city or the mayor shall pay one maneh of silver to his kinsfolk.
If a person owes money and Adad [the river god] has flooded the person’s field, the person will not give any grain [tax] or pay any interest in that year. If a person is too lazy to make the dike of his field strong and there is a break in the dike and water destroys his own farmland, that person will make good the grain [tax] that is destroyed. If a merchant increases interest beyond that set by the king and collects it, hat merchant will lose what was lent. If a trader borrows money from a merchant and then denies the fact, that merchant in the presence of god and witnesses will prove the trader borrowed the money and the trader will pay the merchant three times the amount borrowed. If the husband of a married lady has accused her but she is not caught lying with another man, she shall take an oath by the life of a god and return to her house. If a man takes himself off and there is not the [necessary] maintenance in his house, his wife [so long as] her [husband is delayed], shall keep [herself haste; she shall not] enter [another man’s house]. If that woman has not kept herself chaste but enters another man’s house, they shall convict that woman and cast her into the water. If a son strikes his father, they shall cut off his forehand. If a man has put out the eye of a free man, they shall put out his eye. If he breaks the bone of a [free] man, they shall break his bone. If he puts out the eye of a villain or breaks the bone of a villain, he shall pay 1 maneh of silver. If he puts out the eye of a [free] man’s slave or breaks the bone of a [free] man’s slave, he shall pay half his price.
If a man knocks out the tooth of a [free] man equal [in rank] to him[self], they shall knock out his tooth. If he knocks out the tooth of a villain, he shall pay 1/3 maneh of silver. If a man strikes the cheek of a [free] man who is superior [in rank] to him[self], he shall be beaten with 60 stripes with a whip of ox-hide in the assembly. If the man strikes the cheek of a free man equal to him[self in rank], he shall pay 1 maneh of silver. If a villain strikes the cheek of a villain, he shall pay 10 shekels of silver. If the slave of a [free] man strikes the cheek of a free man, they shall cut off his ear.