THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST TO 1200 BC
During the Neolithic (8000 - 4000 BC) agriculture developed in the uplands along a strip in the Middle East sometimes called the Fertile Crescent. Some groups settled down and cultivated crops while, of necessity, constructing permanent shelters which eventually were grouped to become villages, towns, and walled - cities with governments, armies and agricultural-based theologies. As the population increased and the climate further desiccated, a steadier water supply and more fertile soil was required. These same groups then moved down into the river valleys.
The major river valleys of the Middle East are the Tigris (to the northeast) and the Euphrates (to the southwest), a river system called by the Greeks Mesopotamia (meso- = between; potamia = rivers: land between the [two] rivers). These rivers flowed from the north, the source being the Armenian Plateau, south through relatively arid land to finally empty into the Persian Gulf (today they flow together before emptying into the Gulf, but then they emptied into the Gulf separately). Because of the scarcity of rain and the sometimes wild, always unpredictable and wide - spreading floods of the spring, and the deep marshes nearer the mouths, it was necessary for these groups to learn to control the water for drainage of the marshes, irrigation of their fields and control of the flooding through ditches, canals and dikes. The vastness of the task necessitated that this become a major function of government. This system helped create more land for cultivation, and greater crop yields, which meant an increase in population and an increasingly more complex government as well as allowed trade to develop.
Agriculture first reached the Mesopotamian valley in about 4500 BC. The earliest agricultural cultural network is called Ubaid (called by the Babylonians Subarians). They lived in settlements scattered widely over the lower half of the valley. Soon after, in 4000 BC, they learned how to work copper. This begins the Chalcolithic Age (chalco- = copper; lithic = stone age: copper and stone age). During this time, the Subarians developed writing from an original record - keeping system for trade. The next significant development came in about 3500 BC when the lower Mesopotamian valley was invaded by an Indo - European speaking people who are credited with creating what we call today a civilization. These people developed extensive irrigation works, thickly walled cities of mud brick with central temples (ziggurats, shaped something like Djoser's Step Pyramid in Egypt, though much earlier), a well - developed polytheistic (many gods) theology, governments run by priest - kings who saw to the collection of the lands yield and its redistribution to the people and the gods, the maintenance of the irrigation works and the public buildings, as well as organized the defense. Their excess production allowed for the development of trade with the other cities, as well as with distant lands like Egypt and the Indus Valley civilization. Most importantly, these people learned to mix copper with tin to create a harder metal called bronze, so that a new age, the Bronze Age began in 3100 BC.
Sometime around 3000 BC, records appeared which, though of a religious nature, recorded some facts about the people, and these records, along with the more numerous economic texts, allow a sketchy reconstruction of the history. These people called their land Sumeria, thus we call them Sumerians. They shared a common culture, identified themselves as a loosely united people who wrote about themselves, were able to adapt their environment to suit themselves, and lived in urban settings. Because of these things, we credit the Sumerians as the creators of what we call Civilization, a word based on the Latin Civitas, which means both state and citizenship. They were not, however, a united people. When intelligible records appear, the nation of the Sumerians was composed of several large city - states and many smaller ones. The larger cities, like Ur, Erech, Eridu, Kish and Lagash, were independent of each other. A large city, with the smaller cities and towns and surrounding farmland around them comprised a city - state. The city offered the peoples in the surrounding territory religious, economic and defensive leadership. The center of each of the main cities was the temple, a ziggurat, constructed of mud bricks for the patron deity. Though the people were polytheistic, they believed one special god protected the interests of their own city - state so they especially worshipped that one god. Later peoples of Mesopotamia worshipped a pantheon essentially Sumerian, but cultivated myths that their own particular god had come to head the pantheon, such as the Babylonian Marduk. These people believed that their god owned the land of their city - state and that they got their needs met by the favor of their god. All the produce and resources belonged to their god and was brought to the temple which was ruled by the priests as representatives of the gods on earth. A farmer turned over 2/3 of his produce to the temple. Priests in turn led the people in the proper worship of the god through the prayers, hymns, rites, rituals and festivals revealed to them by the gods. These priests administered the resources to see to the upkeep of the public works and for trade with other communities for resources not locally available. It was in those roles that the priests developed writing from a simple economic record - keeping system to one which could record the prayers, hymns, rites and rituals necessary to gain the god's favor.
The independent city - states often competed with each other for the domination of Sumer. They believed they were carrying out the will of their gods, who wanted domination over the other gods. When one city - state defeated another, they believed that their god had in fact gained domination over the others. As the fighting became more and more important and frequent, and more and more resources were devoted to this endeavor, permanent armies with permanent generals developed. Eventually, warfare became more important than the religion, and general - kings replaced priest - kings. This event probably occurred between 3100 - 3000 BC. King lists appeared at later time which listed general - kings back to this time. Before this date is recorded a world flood, and it from this that the Sumerians record their history. Another text, written later, is the Gilgamesh Epic about a general - king of Uruk who civilized a wild man, Enkidu, with whom he then went on an adventure to defeat the monster Humbaba, the Bull of Heaven, after which Enkidu died and Gilgamesh, cognizant of his mortality, sought out the plant of rejuvenation or immortality. He sought the survivor of the flood, Utnapishtim, who had immortality, and learned of a plant at the bottom of the sea which could give him rejuvenation also, but he then lost it to a serpent which ate it while Gilgamesh was washing the salt off in a fresh - water spring. The similarity of this epic with stories in the later Hebrews' Old Testament Genesis is obvious (figure 2).
These people invented many things which were passed down through later peoples to the Greeks, who handed it on through their conquest by the Romans to western civilization. Besides urbanization and organized government, the wheel and sail and trade and writing, there was their literary tradition of myths and epic literature mentioned above. Some see in the Gilgamesh Epic the Greek demigod Herakles. The similarities with the Hebrew Garden and Flood stories are apparent. They also developed a central fertility myth to explain the summer / winter cycle around the gods Dummuzi and Inanna (Dummuzi died and descended into the underworld whence Inanna rescued him and renewed spring, similar to the Osiris / Isis myth). To ensure the arrival of spring, the priests re-enacted the myth in a form of sympathetic magic, which laid the foundation for later western drama via the Greeks. Temple schools were established to train priests, who learned to read, write, and the semi-sciences used in the rites and rituals for the gods. Later this education was offered to those who could afford it. Girls' education was informal, generally directed toward the home and other practical matters. The Sumerians also developed the plow, a 12 month, seasonal calendar system, a computing system based on the sexigesimal system (6), arches, columns, ramps and terraces. In about 2050, Ur - Nammu wrote the first, though not particularly systematic, law code.
To the north, a Semitic - speaking people, founded the city of Akkad. In about 2350 BC, a humble soldier, Sargon, rose through the ranks to become king and then the 1st empire builder in known history. He conquered Sumer, then expanded his domain until his empire stretched from the Persian Gulf through Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean Sea. He called himself "Lord of the Four Quarters of the World." He exploited Sumer. He expanded her irrigation systems. He protected caravans traveling within his empire. Akkadian scholars adapted Sumerian writing to their own language and developed a new script, cuneiform (wedge writing) based on the Sumerian pictographic writing. They translated the Sumerian texts into Akkadian and passed them on to later generations. They absorbed Sumerian culture, adapted it, and passed it on. Sargon's sons were not as effective leaders as Sargon. Moreover, the volcanic activities from Thera in the east Mediterranean (@ 2200 BC) caused environmental changes to the Mesopotamian valley and devastated its agricultural output. The Akkadian empire collapsed and Sumer re-emerged in about 2150 BC as Zealand. Trade with the Indus Valley civilization was strong at this time. By 1900 BC, Zealand also disappeared and left a power vacuum in Mesopotamia. At this time Egypt was in the Middle Kingdom.
In about 2000 BC, the Amorites invaded what was the heart of Akkadia and established the city of Babylon. Their head deity was Marduk. These people adopted and adapted much of the Akkadian / Sumerian culture. But they did not gain domination over Mesopotamia until the time of Hammurabi, who came to power in 1792 BC. Hammurabi created the second empire in recorded history and called himself the “King of the Four Quarters of the World.” He divided his empire into sections and appointed governors responsible for clearing and maintaining the irrigation ditches, overseeing the royal and temple lands, and gathering taxes. Dishonest officials were punished severely. He reformed the old Sumerian calendar. Most importantly, he was interested in the administration of justice. He appointed a council to reform the laws "to cause justice to prevail in the land, ...", "to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak ...", "to further the welfare of the people ...." [During the Egyptian Middle Kingdom, the pharaohs were acting as the “Good Shepherds” of the people.] Hammurabi's law code contained 282 laws categorized under such headings as trade, family, labor, property (both real and personal). They were published on a stele (stone slab) on the top of which Hammurabi is depicted receiving them from the sun god Shamash (Apollo was a, but not the, sun god responsible for law). The law was founded on the concept of an "eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth", or equal vengeance (i.e., if a house collapsed and killed the owner, the builder also had to die). But it also distinguished between major and minor crimes and established the state as the enforcer of the law. Yet this law code appears to have been based on the earlier Akkadian / Sumerian laws. Soon after Hammurabi's death in 1758 BC, his empire collapsed due to weak leaders and strong invaders.
Another lifestyle had developed during the Neolithic, that of the nomadic herder. These people preferred to wander the land in search of pastures for their herds. Some herded bovines (cattle), but these required lots of grass and water. Others settled on sheep and goats or even camels, which required less fodder (food) and water. As the desiccation continued after the last Ice Age, they moved north and east onto the steppes of Asia. They tended to group by families and families related by a common distant ancestor (tribes). Because they were outside of civilized society (Enkidu?, Esau?, Cain?), they came to be called barbaros (in Akkadian this means wolf, an animal seen always to be lurking the fringes of settled lands; in Greek and Latin, and English today, it meant and means uncivilized individuals, i.e., those not sharing in the "accepted" culture). These same peoples also bred the small horse for strength and size and used them to move their goods on carts. During the 18th century BC, the horse and cart were brought together to create the war chariot. With this the nomadic herders invaded the civilizations of the river valleys: the Nile (Hyksos, 1750 BC), Mesopotamia and the Indus. These invasions continued until the 13th century BC. Some peoples, like the Mykenaeans of Greece, borrowed the idea and created the wealthy warrior class, called the aristocracy (oligarchy / plutocracy), due to the expense of the upkeep of the horse and the necessary accoutrements (equipment). Upper Mesopotamia was invaded by the Kassites, or Mitanni, who created a strong state around the city of Charcamesh in about 1600 BC. Sometime around 1550 BC, the Hittites settled in Asia Minor around the city of Khattusas. At about the same time (1600 BC), Homer's Mykenaean (Danoi) Greeks appeared. The Assyrians also appeared, though at this time they had only a small city, Assur, and their period of domination awaited the Iron Age.
The Hittites invaded what is now Asia Minor in about 1800 BC. There the tribes fought amongst themselves. Though they spoke an Indo - European language, they borrowed the prevalent Semitic culture in Mesopotamia. By 1550 BC, they came to be controlled by one tribe which established itself at Khattusas. Although at first the king was elected and helped by a council as an advisory board, quickly the kingship became hereditary, and the warrior class gained a higher social position than the priestly class. The Hittites then expanded their empire. They owed their success to the war chariot and their skill in employing both diplomacy, tricks and surprise attacks. They utilized a cavalry of nobles in war chariots fighting with the bow and arrow, the axe and short swords in conjunction with an infantry fighting with swords and spears. Whenever they conquered a city, they sacked and burned the city while enslaving the remaining population. Domestically, they issued a law code more humane than that of Hammurabi, instead requiring payments for the death of others. Their head deity was a sky god, Teshub. Politically, they came into frequent conflict with the Mitanni and Egyptians (Ramses I - Supiluliuma, Seti I - Muwatalis, Ramses II - Khatusilis, @ 1280 BC, and the 1st written treaty in history). There seems to have been close connections between the royal families of the Hittites and a land they called Ahiyawa, Homer's Achaeans, now known as the Mykenaeans. Letters between the kings called on each other for help on the west coast of Asia Minor.
The Mykenaeans inhabited modern Greece, the Aegean islands, and had colonies along the north Levant and western Asia Minor. They appeared about 1600 BC as Indo - European speaking invaders of the Helladic Greek culture. Their cultural predecessors were the Minoans of Crete. Though they spoke different languages, they shared much in common. They both traded in the east Mediterranean with Egypt, the Hittites, Canaanites, and other peoples of the area while constantly interacting with each other. Much of the Mykenaean culture seems to have come from the Minoans.
The Minoans inhabited the island of Crete, with colonies spread throughout the islands and the mainland of the east Mediterranean. The earliest remains on Crete date between 6000 and 4000 BC. They were typically Neolithic: farming and herding, structures of unworked stone, hand shaped and open fire baked pottery with stone tools. Copper implements, mainly religious and military implements, were added during the Chalcolithic. At this time Egypt's communities were aggrandizing their communities and the Sumerians invaded lower Mesopotamia. During the Bronze Age, Minoan culture became richer: structures were strong - walled, divided into rooms and the walls plastered and painted with frescoes; pottery was wheel - thrown and kiln - fired; the varieties of crops and animals herded widened; stone vessels and seal stones (used like signatures) appeared; but bronze does not appear until about 2500 BC. A general destruction of the island seems to have occurred in about 2200 BC (there is strong indications that the sacrifice of a young man to the earth goddess was used to avert the destruction, but the destruction brought the temple down on their heads). At this time Sargon created his empire and Egypt's Old Kingdom ended and 1st Intermediate Period began.
About 2000 BC, the Minoans began to build vast palaces as storage places for the produce of the land on the fertile plains. They seem to have believed the gods owned the land and their king was probably a priest - king. But these palaces were probably independent of each other and required a strong, centralized government both to build the palaces and to coordinate the collection and redistribution of the produce. Their writing, called Linear A, probably recorded in - going and out - going materials to and from the palaces. It was a variation of cuneiform writing, but cannot be read. They controlled the sea, holding a thalassocracy, or rule of the sea, and so did not fortify their palaces. They traded with Egypt and Syria (Ugarit, Byblos). But these palaces were leveled in about 1700 BC. Egypt was in its Middle Kingdom and 2nd Intermediate Period, while Zealand had fallen and the Babylonians had come and gone due to the invasions of the people with the horse drawn war chariot. The palaces were rebuilt soon after on a vaster scale. The Palace at Knossus, sometimes called the Palace of Minos, has a fantastic gateway, columns of inverted tree trunks, three stories with light and air wells, numerous frescoes and many painted double axe heads (in Greek, Labyris, hence Labyrinth). In the central court yard, religious ceremonies were performed by youths, male and female, jumping the backs of charging bulls, which were then sacrificed so the king could pour out liquid libations to the earth goddess. Their main deity seems to have been the mother earth, while the male aspect of fertility was represented by the bull and its fluids offered to the goddess. Men and women seem to have held about equal status in the state religion, and, perhaps, the society at large. he entire civilization was brought to an end in about 1450 BC when the volcano on the island of Thera, where they had a colony, now called Akrotiri, blew up. The tsunami was about 200 meters high. During this time, there were the reigns of Hatshepsut and Thutmosis IV in Egypt, while the Mitanni and Hittites were strong in Asia Minor and upper Mesopotamia.
Within 50 years, the Mykenaeans of Greece invaded and took control. They had been influenced by the Minoans and now took up their culture and adapted it to themselves (the palace system and Linear A, now Linear B and used to write Greek). Soon after they abandoned Crete for reasons unknown, though their culture in Greece continued. The Mykenaean Neolithic was also typical, as was the Chalcolithic. When the Bronze Age developed, the culture is called Helladic. But these people were invaded about 1600 BC by the Greek speaking Mykenaeans from the north. At this time, Kamose and Ahmose were expelling the Hyksos from Egypt.
The palace of Mykenae was excavated by Heinrich Schlieman in the late 19th century AD. He found within the walls 2 grave circles, A, dating about 1600 BC, and B, dating about 1500BC. Neither are directly associated with the palace itself, built about 1400 BC. Inside were shafts lined by stones, so well sealed that when Schlieman excavated them, bodies were found intact, but which decayed soon after when exposed to the air. The interred were warrior kings, buried with many gold objects (mostly weapons), their faces covered with gold "Death Masks", much like the masks on Egyptian coffins. Soon after the fall of Minoan Crete, palaces appeared in Greece, the largest at Mycenae. They were fortified with massive stone walls. Like the Minoan palaces, these were collection and redistribution centers for the surrounding countryside. The best example comes from the city of Pylos, destroyed (burnt) by the invasions of the Sea Peoples in about 1200 BC. Linear B tablets found here mention the gods Athena, Poisedon and the demigod Herakles. Here there was a king with a court of noble/warriors, who controlled parts of the surrounding lands ruled by the king. Under these were the lesser nobles, who served in the army and navy. There were also the skilled workers (artisans: scribes, metal - smiths, carpenters). Finally were the peasants (farmers) and slaves. The Mykenaeans spread their influence throughout the Mediterranean. They were known to the Egyptians, to the Canaanites (their chief city, Ugarit, was found when a farmer unearthed a Mykenaean tomb in his field and was connected with the nearby hill, or Tell). They settled parts of the west coast of Asia Minor and had many close, intimate connections with the Hittites. Supiluliuma (1380 - 1346 BC) sent an exile amongst the Mykenaeans. When Mursilis II (1345 - 1315 BC) became sick, he sent to the Mykenaean god on the island of Laspas (Lesbos, sacred to Apollo, Greek god of medicine). A Hittite text calls the people of the west Ahhiyawans = Homer's Axaiwoi = Achaians. They also mention a man, Tawagalawas (= EteFokleFns = Etewoklewos = Eteocles), and a man, Piyama - Radus (= Priam), causing trouble on the coast: The Ahhiyawan king was asked to take care of these troubles. The close relationship is revealed even more by this excerpt from a letter to the Ahhiyawan king: "he is the groom who has ridden with me in my chariot from my youth up; not only with me, but also with your brother and with Tawagalawas." Yet again, the texts mention an Ahhiyawan named Attarissiyas = Atreus?. Apparently the Ahhiyawans were an overseas people who controlled the Aegean and west coast of Asia Minor with close contacts with the Hittites, and a similar society and government.
Sometime around 1250 BC, the environment changed and weather patterns from Europe no longer reached Greece and the northern region of the Mediterranean. Instead they came from the arid Sahara of north Africa and the area suffered an intense drought: Asia Minor and the steppes of Russia also suffered. By 1200 BC, the peoples of these areas, known as the Sea Peoples, took to their ships and carts, and wandered in search of new lands. They destroyed the cities along the Levant (Ugarit, Sidon, Byblos, Tyre, Khattusas) and were barely held back from Egypt in the Nile Delta by Merneptah. Pylos was also destroyed. About 100 years later, Greece was invaded from the north by the Greek speaking Dorians. Only Athens seems to have been able to withstand these onslaughts. The Bronze Age came to an end as these invaders used iron weapons, first discovered but not fully exploited by the Hittites in about 1500 BC. The Mykenaean, Hittite and Egyptian empires came to an end. The Phrygians invaded Asia Minor and replaced the Hittites. A group within the Sea Peoples, the Peles, very probably the remnants of the Mykenaeans, settles the south of the Levant and became the Philistines (from whom the name Palestine was derived for the area). This was the beginning of the Iron Age (1200 BC).
1. What is the Fertile Crescent? How did his agriculture society develop?
2. What is Mesopotamia? Describe it. Why did man made down into the river valleys. What problems did he face and how did he overcome them?
3. When did agriculture reach Mesopotamia with which cultural group? What other developments were they responsible for?
4. When and by whom were these people overrun? Describe their pre-Bronze Age culture. When did it begin?
5. What significant event occurred in 3000? What factor goes into the term civilization rather than culture?
6. What were their chief cities? How were they related? Describe a typical Sumerian city-state (in Greek, a polis). What was the role of the priest king (theocracy)?
7. How did religion lead to inter-city warfare and the rise of the general-king? What is the literacy evidence? When did this occur? What is claimed to have occurred previously?
8. What is the Gilgamesh Epic? Describe it.
9. List the many of the cultural developments of the Sumerians. What is the significance of the Dummuzi and Inanna myth? Who gave us our first law code? When?
10. Describe the Akkadians and their empires, how they reacted to the Sumerian culture, what they did with it and what they added to human culture.
11. Why did the Akkadian civilization fade? What replaced it? With whom were they trading?
12. Write an outline of Amorite history and culture. Be sure to describe Hammurabi’s political organization and his law code.
13. Who were the nomads? Describe their lifestyle. What was their significant technological development and what was its consequence? What social class did they create? Why?
14. What peoples appeared where in the East Mediterranean about the second quarter of the second millennium BC?
15. Outline and describe Hittite history and culture, 1800-1200 BC. With which people were they usually in conflict? With which people did they seem to have close, friendly relations?
16. Who were the Minoans and where were they located? Describe their early culture. What happened in 2200 BC?
17. Describe the second phase of their civilization (2000-1700BC). Why did they fall?
18. Describe the last and final phase of their civilization (1700- 1450 BC). What two events brought the Minoans to a final end?
19. What was Mykenae? What were the grave circles? What was in them? And how were they related to the palace.
20. Describe Mykenaean civilization based on the evidence from Pylos.
21. Describe their relations with the Hittites.
22. What events coincided to bring an end to the Bronze Age? Which people then a appeared where? How did Egypt fare