West civ fall 2010 lecture 1

The Ancient Near East and Egypt

 Human Origins:  dominant theory = African origins, multiple waves of migration and diffusion tied to climate and environmental conditions

 Paleolithic Era (about 40,000-11,000 BCE):  hunter-gatherer cultures world-wide; stone, bone and wooden toolmakers; small bands (probably minimal division of labor), probably animistic.     

 Neolithic Era (about 11,000-4,000 BCE):  environmental changes (end of last Ice Age) probably fostered first fixed settlements; slow evolution of agriculture and livestock husbandry.  Many locations had fixed populations, but first very large agricultural settlements were in the Fertile Crescent (present-day Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel).

 KEY = “The Neolithic Revolution”: development of agriculture and livestock husbandry, from about 8,000 BCE. 

 Reliable food source/food surplus linked to population increases.  Bigger populations (villages, towns) allowed for more complex division of labor, which led to a more complex social structure and more complex trade between communities (and probably more elaborate systems of governance and religion). 

 Mesopotamia circa 6000-1500 BCE (the “birth of history”):  focus on territory between the Tigris River and Euphrates River. 

 The Ubiad:  By about 6000 BCE, farming culture known as Ubiad built irrigation ditches and canals for agriculture; settled large farming villages and built stone temples. (Some historians believe that the priesthood effectively ran the communities and their economies).

 Uruk Period (4300-2900 BCE):  By about 4300 BCE, some villages had grown into cities and controled smaller villages and towns = a “city-state.”  Best known = Uruk, in southern Mesopotamia region known as Sumer (people of region called Sumerians).   Some 40,000 people in walled city, with complex division of labor (agriculture, artisan crafts, textile manufacturing, warehousing, merchant trade, etc.).  Economy used slave labor (about ½ of population) as well as free labor.  Large temples were center of urban life. 

 In each city state, Temples were major landowner and priests were key economic and political administrators.   Ruling class of powerful families (an aristocracy); power probably dominated by priesthood (until the rise of Kingship).  THEOCRACY:  government based on the religious administration, no distinction between “secular” political and religious power.

 Sumerian Religion: Like other aspects of history, religion changed and developed over time.  POLYTHEISM = system of belief in many gods.  Early Sumerian religion, gods represent natural forces, remote from humans; tied to agriculture (note link of both to mathematics, astrology, calendars).  Later, gods given human-like qualities and personalities.  Sumerians thought gods care about JUSTICE, but also viewed humans as servants and could be vengeful and capricious. 

The First Written Records:  By 4000 BCE, picture-symbols pressed into clay used to record tax payments and economic transactions; by 3300 BCE, temple scribes used flat clay tablets for records;  by 3100, symbols used to represent sounds and write words (cuneiform).  Writing required knowing hundreds of symbols, so literacy limited to professional scribes.  Writing used for religious texts, economic records, legal documents, but also to tell stories (e.g., the stories of the 1500 gods of Sumer, but also of Gilgamesh, etc).

 Emergence of Kingship (2900-2500 BCE):  kings probably had origins as military leaders in wars between city states (term Lugal = “big man”).  Claim to lead as the “chosen” of a city’s chief gods (see the Gilgamesh story in documents!), eventually became more powerful than the priesthood and made kingship hereditary.  

 Power and wealth became more concentrated among elites; free population shrunk; number of “debt slaves” increased.

Use of religion and history to legitimate kingship:  Kings of Sumer claimed that hereditary kingship stretched back to creation, linked authority to religion and to history (kings chosen by gods/kings have ruled since beginning of time).  Examples:  building great temples to honor patron gods; built huge palaces and tombs; compiled chronologies called Kings Lists.

Kings claimed that the gods “anointed” them to preserve justice and order, and so kings claimed to be the executers of laws that (supposedly) came from the gods.  (Example:  documents “Laws of Ancient Mesopotamia)

Link between warfare and control over resources and trade:  City-states in Early Dynastic Period engaged in constant warfare, mostly over land (irrigated farm land) and water and over control of trade routes.  Sumer had few natural resources, and depended heavily on trade goods. (Spoils of war also included slaves.) Leading wars was an important duty of kings.  (See Gilgamesh story!) 

Link between war and technology:  Beginning in the 4000s BCE, Sumerians imported copper to forge tools and weapons; around 3000 BCE, they imported knowledge of smelting Bronze = harder and sharper tools and weapons.  About same time, Sumerians started using wheels for carts; by 2600 BCE, wheeled armored carts became important weapons in Sumerian warfare. 

In 2500-2300 BCE, constant warfare between city states weakened all of the Sumerian city states. 

The First Empire:  The Akkadians (2300-2160 BCE):  Akkadians, a Semitic (language group) people who lived to the north of Sumer in Mesopotamia.  Heavily influenced by culture/ borrowed technology (etc) from Sumerians.   In the 2350s BCE Akkad, under King Sargon, invaded and conquered Sumer, unified whole region under Akkadian rule in an Empire that lasted for 2 generations.  Synthesis of cultures—e.g., 2 sets of gods—but after 2 generations they blended into 1 common culture with 2 languages.

 The Gutian Invasion:  Akkadian Empire declined after death of Sargon’s grandson (Naram-Sim), and in 2160 BCE Sumer/Akkad was invaded by the Gutians, a people from what is now Iran.  By 2100, the Gutians had been absorbed into Akkadian/Sumerian culture, and the region again witnessed warfare between city states.   

 The Ur Dynasty (2100-2000 BCE):  Around 2100, the city of Ur under its King Nammu began conquering the other city states in the region and built a new empire, which lasted three generations.  The Ur kings used the methods of the Akkadian rulers:  centralized power based upon military force, royal control over the economy and trade, and the use of religion and the arts to legitimate and glorify the king’s power.   The Ur empire fell apart in the third generation, in part due to weak leadership—eventually the last Ur king was overthrown by his own appointed general (a kind of military coup d’état), who was an Amorite (not a Sumerian).  

 Post- Ur:  200 years of fighting between Amorite-ruled city states.  The Amorites who now ruled Sumer spoke their own (Semitic) language, Amorite, but used Sumerian cuneiform for writing and adopted other elements of Sumerian culture (kept Sumer's gods, who they worshiped along with their own; absorbed and assimilated Sumerian art and technology; continued to tell the Sumerian mythic stories, and especially the Tale of Gilgamesh).  From 2000 to 1800 BCE, the Amorite kings of city states carried out almost constant warfare against one another to control water, land, and trade routes (just as the Sumerian city states had for a thousand years). 

 The “Old” (Amorite) Babylonian Empire (1790s-1500s BCE): Beginning in 1792 BCE, the Amorite king of Babylon (in central Mesopotamia)—Hammurabi--turned Babylon into the region’s new dominant power and built a new empire. 

 Hammurabi’s use of diplomacy and war:  Played other powerful city-states off of each other, encouraging them to war while he shifted alliances to his own advantage.   (First king to use diplomatic correspondence; first to keep a diplomatic archive.)  1780s BCE, Hammurabi began conquering other city-states weakened by constant warfare. 

 Hammurabi’s use of religion:  Like previous kings, Hammurabi linked himself to a patron god (Babylon's patron god was Marduk).  He set up Marduk as the "chief god" of all lands under his rule; peoples in the conquered lands still had their own gods/patron gods, but all had to recognize Marduk as the "first among the gods."  (Marduk, the god of Babylon, ruled of all the other gods; Hammurabi, King of Marduk's city, therefore ruled all other cities in Babylon’s Empire.) 

Hamurabi’s use of law:  Previous kings had decreed law codes (e.g., Shulgi of Ur in 2100 BCE).  Hammurabi's "Code" was similar—it claimed to be the gods’ will, but actually reflected judgments made by kings in various legal cases.   Hammurabi's innovation:  carving laws on stone monuments ("stela") placed in major cities/ tablets distributed to his administrators, as a guide for settling other legal cases. 

 The code (see document!) gives lots of information on Babylonian society (for instance, about property ownership, legal differences between social castes, the status of women, marriage practices, divorce, attitudes towards sex, etc.).  Laws (like religious system) legitimated the king and increased his authority (Marduk kept order in the heavens/Hammurabi kept order on earth). 

Babylon's economy was based upon agriculture using irrigation with water from the Tigris and Euphrates.  The king and the gods (the temples) owned most land; aristocrats had great estates.  As in Sumer, the temples coordinated the collection, storage and distribution of grain. 

As in Sumer, craft production and commerce concentrated in the cities.  Extensive international trade--Babylon's bought, sold, and traded goods with peoples as north as the Caspian Sea, as east as “Pakistan,” and west as Egypt.

Babylonian social structure was extremely hierarchical.   Top = tiny minority of “aristocrats” (military, religious, and government officials and big merchants).  All served the King (and the gods).  Beneath the elite, but free people= artisans, petty merchants, and farmers "attached" to the temples or to the royal palace.   Bottom =slaves.  (Slavery in Babylon was more wide spread and harsher than in Sumer; slaves branded like cattle). 

Stability of Hammurabi's unified Amorite Empire:  lasted over 200 years.  Legacy:  1) united empire under one chief god (still polytheistic); 2) unified, effective system of centralized government.  

  Egypt circa 5000-1600 BCE

 Water, agriculture, and civilization:  As in Mesopotamia, in Egypt human manipulation of water resources (the Nile River) was the key to agricultural development and the rise of urban life.

 Pre-Dynastic Egypt (5000-3000 BCE: Egyptians probably a blend of many peoples who migrated to the Nile Valley.  Oldest villages  approx. 4750 BCE.   Two regions of settlement:  North (Lower Egypt) and South (Upper Egypt).  By 3500 BCE, large farming and trading centers in the Nile Delta of Lower Egypt had created a common culture; by 3000 BCE, walled cities in Upper Egypt had formed their own confederation. 

 Unification, Kingship and Religion in the Archaic Period (3000-2700s BCE):    Little known about early kings who first tried to unify Egypt (e.g., the Scorpion King).  Early kings already insisted that they were manifestations of the gods like the sky god Horus (i.e., actually divine themselves), rather than just human favorites of the gods.   That would be important to kings’ claims to actually rule over the entire land.

 Egyptians saw their ruler as a god and their land as the center of the world/the only civilized land, surrounded by barbarians.   Polytheistic religion built around cycle of life and death (parallel to cycle of seasons, endlessly repeating).  Every day the sun goddess Nut gave birth to the sun god Ra, who disappeared every night onto the land of the dead.  The aim of life/faith was to keep the world running in harmonious orderly cycle (Ma’at, after goddess of order). 

 Believed that the souls of the dead went to the underworld and were judged by the god Osiris; if he found in their favor, they would be reborn as part of Osiris and be immortal.  Death and burial rituals all built around those beliefs. Myths of all gods included stories of birth, death, and rebirth (9 “original” gods, e.g., Osiris, Isis (his wife/sister), Horis (their son), Seth (their brother). 

Writing in ancient Egypt (hieroglyphs):   Priests of the Egyptian gods wrote prayers and spells, etc., using a system of pictographs “inked” on to “paper” scrolls.   At first the symbols were “literal” images of objects, but they became more and more abstract—could be used to express ideas, actions, etc.  But they did not become a full phonetic system (based on sounds of words).   Literacy at first limited to priests, who acted also as government scribes; over time, a more simplified system of writing developed, still based on hieroglyphs, that was used by common people as well.

 Old Kingdom (2686-2160)

 Centralized government:  By 2715 BCE, all Egypt had come under the rule of one king (kings later called Pharaohs).   King ruled through appointed governors, large bureaucracy of literate officials who collected taxes, ran the economy, diplomacy, etc.—Priests were part of government bureaucracy. 

 Public building projects:  Chief bureaucrats were in charge of huge public projects, which required organization of labor and materials—e.g., canals, temples, royal tombs, pyramids.

 Social Structure:  royal family at top; aristocratic elites (priests, bureaucrats) who had land, wealth, slaves; free urban and rural population of craft workers, traders, farmers (the majority); slaves.

 Collapse:  Weak rulers circa 2200s allowed local governors and temple priests (e.g., at Temple of Ra) to increase their own power.  Egypt collapsed into chaos in about 2170 BCE; divided between two separate kingdoms (north , an south).  That situation came to an end in 1983 BCE, when Upper Kingdom king Mentuhotep II conquered the Lower Kingdom and reunited all Egypt under one ruler. 

"Middle Kingdom" Egypt (1983-1795 BCE): the united state founded by Mentuhotep differed from the Old Kingdom:  Old Kingdom capital in Memphis in the north; Middle Kingdom capital in Thebes in the south.  New dynasty portrayed itself as "traditional Egyptian," but also influenced by Nubian culture (e.g., matriarchal lineage).

Egypt as world power:  Under Mentuhotep's 11th dynasty) and Pharaoh Amenemhet the 12th dynasty), Egypt changed its approach to the outside world.  Had treated outsiders as barbarians; now looked at the rest of the world as a danger to be conquered and defended against.  Egypt became aggressively imperialist.   

Egypt now conquered and absorbed territory to the south, including Nubia; moved armies into Palestine and Syria (force them to become vassal states).

New role for King:  The nature of pharaoh's rule changed, too.  Still considered a god, but no longer distant from the world of ordinary men--legitimacy based in part from the idea that he protected his people and guarded Egypt from external threats.  One of those threats was Babylon, which competed with Egypt for power during the 13th dynasty (circa 1780s-1630s BCE).