What does the Epic of Gilgamesh



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Chapter 2:

Early Societies in Southwest Asia and the Indo-European Migrations



Chapter 2 Reading Questions:

  1. What does the Epic of Gilgamesh tell us about the culture in which it emerged? The stories explained the themes of friendship, loyalty, ambition, fear of death, and longing for immortality.

  2. What was the significance of the need for irrigation to the political development of Mesopotamia? Mesopotamia receives little rainfall, but the Tigris and Euphrates brought large volumes of fresh water to the region. Early cultivators realized that by tapping these rivers, building reservoirs, and digging canals, they could irrigate fields of barley, wheat, and peas. Small scale irrigation soon began. Artificial irrigation led to increased food supplies, which in turn supported a rapidly increasing human population and attracted migrants from other regions.

  3. What were the underlying principles of Hammurabi's code of laws and what does the law code tell us about the kind of society that existed in Mesopotamia at the time? Hammurabi’s code of laws established high standards of behavior and stern punishments for violators. They prescribed death penalties for murder, theft, fraud, false accusations, and more. The concept of lex talionis, “the law of retaliation,” was what the code focused on. It shows the society was strongly patriarchal.

  4. Why were the Assyrians such formidable conquerors? They built a powerful and intimidating army by organizing their forces into standardized units and placing them under the command of professional officers. The Assyrians appointed these officers because of merit, skill, and bravery rather than noble birth or family connections. They supplemented infantry with cavalry forces and light, swift, horse-drawn chariots.

  5. What were the technological innovations of the early Mesopotamians and how did they contribute to the development of the culture and to its overall economic prosperity? They contributed bronze kit and iron metallurgy, the wheel, shipbuilding, and trade networks. The wheel kit became a standard means of overland transportation. Shipbuilding allowed for maritime trade.

  6. What were the social strata in ancient Mesopotamia and, in general, what roles did women play? In early Mesopotamia the ruling classes consisted of kings and nobles who won their position because of their valor and success as warriors. Closely allied with the ruling elites were priests and priestesses, many of whom were younger relatives of the ruler. Mesopotamian society also included less privileged classes of free commoners, dependent clients and slaves. The society was strongly patriarchal. Women, however, made their influence felt in Mesopotamian society.

  7. What is the significance of the development of cuneiform writing to the Mesopotamian culture and the surrounding areas? They could keep track of commercial transactions and tax collections. Mesopotamians relied on writing to communicate complex ideas about the world, the gods, human beings, and their relationships with one another.

  8. Compare and contrast the history of the early Jewish community and the Phoenician culture. How did the Mesopotamians influence each? Jews descended from southern Israelites who inhabited the kingdom of Judah. They organized several small Jewish states as tributaries to the great empires that dominated SW Asia after the 6th century B.C.E. They also built a distinctive religious community based on their conviction that they had a special relationship with Yahweh. The Phoenicians were north of the Israelites kingdom in Palestine. They occupied a narrow coastal plain between the Mediterranean Sea and the Lebanon Mountains. They did not establish a unified monarchy but rather organized a series of independent city-states ruled by local kings. They showed greater interest commercial opportunities than in state-building.

  9. What were the origins and early development of the Indo-Europeans? Ancient languages displayed similarities. All the Indo-European speakers were all descendants of ancestors who spoke common tongue and migrated from their original homeland. As migrants established their own separate communities and lost touch with one another, their languages evolved along different lines.

  10. Discuss where and how the Indo-European cultures spread through Eurasia. The original homeland of Indo-European speakers was probably the steppe region of modern-day Ukraine and southern Russia, the region just north of the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. After the domestication of horses, Indo-European speakers exploited the grasslands of southern Russia. Horses also provided a huge military advantage. Horses also provided a means of expansion. The speakers experienced a population explosion causing expansion. The most influential Indo-European migrants were the Hittites.


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