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Ancient History: Week 1

The Neolithic Revolution

1. The Paleolithic Era
2. The Neolithic Revolution
3. Early Mesopotamian culture: Sumer

We use the term “Paleolithic,” or “Old Stone Age” to denote human society and human
culture during the era after hominids (that is, human-like apes) began using tools but
before homo sapiens (i.e., modern humans) turned to agriculture.

Thus, the Paleolithic age extended from ca. 2 million years ago, when hominids first
picked up stone, wood and bone implements, to about 10,000 BCE, which saw the advent
of the so-called “Neolithic” or “New” Stone Age. As I noted a few moments ago, this
second ‘stone age’ saw the advent of agriculture, and it lasted about 6-7000 years
(between 10,000 and 3500 BCE).

During the “Old Stone Age,” a number of higher primate species and subspecies vied for
survival in the comparatively harsh environmental conditions of the era. Two of the most
famous sub-branches of the homo sapiens family, Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons
managed to survive until as recently as 30-20 thousand years ago.

Cohabiting the planet with the ancestors of modern human beings, these close-cousins
shared much of the same biology and many of the same behavioral and social
characteristics with us.

Among the most important was the use of stone and other tools—Indeed, it was this
ability that gave the Stone Age its evocative name (i.e., this was the first time that human
beings extended their physical abilities through the use of material adjuncts, i.e., tools
made of stone, wood, bone, antler, tusk, hide, plant matter and other natural resources).

Anyway, as Paleolithic populations migrated around the globe they continued to undergo
minor evolutionary changes that helped them adapt to extreme environments. For
example, it is during this period that scientists believe that one such change was skin
pigmentation.

The dark color of today’s indigenous inhabitants of the tropics (and presumably of all
early humans who evolved there) appears to be an adaptation that reduces the harmful
effects of the harsh tropical sun.

At some point, possibly as recently as 5000 years ago, very pale skin became a
characteristic of Europeans living in northern climes that had far less sunshine, especially
during the short days of the winter months.

The loss of pigment enabled the skin of light colored peoples to produce more vitamin D

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from sunshine, though it also exposed Europeans to a greater risk of sunburn and cancers
of the skin.

Anyway, as distinctive of skin color might seem, in the grand scheme of things, it
actually represents a comparatively minor biological adaptation. As many commentators
point out, what is far more remarkable is that the widely-dispersed human population
varies so little from place to place.

Indeed, instead of adapting to different climatic and environmental conditions through
biological adaptation, modern humans have responded to the physical challenges of their
environment by altering their diet or adopting new forms of clothing and shelter.

That is, they have adapted to their conditions by changing their cultural circumstances.

What do we mean by the word “culture” at this early date?

Usually we think of culture as the artistic and literary expression of a society or
civilization. We think of the “culture of the Renaissance” or “post-Modern cultural
ideas”. We tend to think of a society’s culture as the special genius of a particular people
to express their common values, their common aesthetic, etc.

In a wider sense however, culture can simply mean “learned patterns of action and
expression”, the skills and ideas that are deliberately passed from one generation to the
next. Using this definition, culture can include both material objects such as dwellings,
clothing, tools and crafts or non-material things such as values, beliefs and languages.

And at some point in the long story of humanity (almost certainly during the Paleolithic
era), something extraordinarily momentous happened: culture surpassed raw animal
instinct as the primary tool in humanity’s survival kit.

The skills and values that one generation learned from the elders of the previous
generation became more important as a societal coping mechanism than the evolutionary
strategies that early hominids had relied on to that point.

As you can no doubt surmise, most human activity during the Paleolithic era centered on
the gathering and processing of food items. Food is among the most fundamental daily
requirements of the species and human communities from time immemorial have sought
new and ingenious ways to reduce energy output and increase caloric intake.

Throughout the Paleolithic, humans continued to forage for vegetable foods such as
fruits, leaves, seeds and grasses as their primate ancestors had done for millions of years.

However, it was during this period that hominids acquired a taste for meat. And while
comparatively difficult to metabolize, animal flesh contains a highly nutritious cocktail of
proteins, minerals and B vitamins.
Initially, early humans probably scavenged the carcasses of creatures killed by other

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predators. This was a dangerous game, however, as animals are rarely more territorial
than when it comes to food.

When humans decided a) they liked meat and b) they didn’t want to wait for some sabre-
toothed cat to leave the last vestiges of a rotting carcass, a number of important cultural
developments happened in quick succession. Indeed, scientists believe that the use of
tools and the formation of close-knit social groupings occurred at this point in our early
development.

The first crude tools made their appearance with Homo habilis, a late hominid that was
particularly adept at making tools. Homo habilis fashioned razor-sharp blades using
obsidian (a volcanic rock) and other minerals by chipping and flaking the edges of the
stone. Such tools were highly effective for skinning and butchering the carcasses of
larger animals, making it easier to transport the meat back to distant campsites.

Early hominids also used stone “choppers”, tools that chopped or crushed open bone, so
that one could get at the nutritious marrow deep inside. The fact that such tools have
been found at great distances from volcanoes suggests that proto-humans carried these
items with them as they traveled.

Of course the most skillful hunter of the hominid primates was Homo sapiens. They
tracked and killed large animals (including bison, mammoths and mastodons) throughout
the world. Their success as hunters reflected their superior intelligence and
communications abilities and the fact that of all the hominid species, homo sapiens made
the most finely crafted tools.

They appear to have expertly chosen rocks for flaking, rejecting those which were flawed
or imperfectly shaped. They even prepared blades which they later attached to wooden
shafts, thereby creating some the world’s earliest defensive weaponry: spears (I say
defensive because it kept the hunter at a distance from his prey).

Using similar methods and materials, they created a number of other tools as well: axes,
knives, saws, pounding instruments, piercing tools, etc.

Such technology in fact made humans so successful as hunters that they appear to have
caused or contributed to a series of early ecological crises. Between ca. 40000 and 13000
years ago, the great elephantine species of America, Europe and northern Asia
(mammoths and mastodons) went extinct. Other animals soon followed: in the Americas,
giant bison, camels, ground sloths, stag moose, saber-tooth cats disappeared.

Of course, because these extinctions coincided with the last Ice Age, it’s difficult to
determine precisely how much human involvement contributed to the problem.

Another food-related innovation (or tool) of the Paleolithic period was the use of fire.
Humans realized very early that both meat and vegetables become tastier and easier to
digest when cooked over a fire. The first cooked foods were probably found by accident

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after wildfires, though paleontologists now think that early humans might have set fires
deliberately to cook the fruits of their labors (as early as 1.5 million BCE).

2) The Neolithic Revolution

--Early humans lived the Paleolithic life for many, many millennia (indeed, of all the
historical or pre-historical periods that homo sapiens has lived through, the Old Stone
Age lasted the longest)

--However, at some point close to 10-12000 years ago (it happened at different times in
various parts of the globe), human society underwent a profound process of
transformation.

--indeed, it counts as one of the most fundamental cultural and social realignments of the
entire history of our species—it’s just that important.

--I’m speaking, of course, about the so-called “Neolithic Revolution” (i.e., New Stone
Age).

--recently, some anthropologists and archeologists have challenged the name “Neolithic”
on the grounds that, while there were adaptations and modifications in the design and use
of stone tools, this was not an essential component of the cultural and technological
transformation.
--i.e., the “New Stone Age” isn’t about stones at all

--These modern scholars would prefer to call the period: “The Stone-Age Agricultural
Revolution,” in recognition of the central change of this era
--And indeed, whether you call it the Neolithic Period, the Era of Stone-Age Agriculture
or some other name, the fact remains that 10-12,000 years ago, humanity underwent a
profound change both in terms of how we met our nutritional requirements and how we
considered our relationship with the natural world

So what happened?

Well…we can’t really know the beginnings of agriculture.

--It’s been surmised, however, that early humans probably became farmers gradually,
over the course of hundreds of generations.
--perhaps early foragers adopted seasonal camps near prime food sources and began to
deliberately scatter the seeds of plants that they especially liked.
--they probably learned that some plants liked marshy soil while other preferred sandy
earth.
--they probably began to clear away non-edible, competing plants (i.e., weeds)

--this sort of semi-cultivation probably supplemented the other food sources of early
humans for a number of generations

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--however, in the process, they must have eventually realized that they were spending
more and more time living in a single fertile location and far less time out on the hunt

--of course, such a lifestyle modification required adaptation from the old ways: the
emergence specialized tools
--this is what alerted archeologists to the fact that something new and important was
going on around 10000 BCE
--in soil strata from 10-12000 yrs ago, they began to find specialized stone tools that were
designed expressly for agricultural purposes: devices for turning soil, implements for
cutting wheat, mortars for pulverizing grain.

--at this early stage, however, farmers weren’t using scythes or sickles to clear fields for
planting: instead they used fire 1) to clear undergrowth, 2) as a natural fertilizer

--soon, farmers also began to distinguish between various strains of wild grain; over
many centuries, they developed domesticated varieties of wheat, oats, millet, barley and a
host of other grains
--they also learned that by alternating crops between grains and pulses (i.e., beans and
peas), they could re-energize the soil

--another Neolithic method for restoring nutrients to the soil was something called
swidden agriculture in which crops are rotated from field to field on an annual or longer
basis. By allowing fields to remain fallow, or dormant, the soil’s nitrogen content would
soon return to pre-cultivation levels.

--as to the plants that were first cultivated: this depended largely on geography. Certainly
grains such as barley, wheat, rye, corn and seeds such as rice and quinoa were amongst
the first vegetable foods to be deliberately planted

--however, these weren’t the only crops. Some of the most important sources of plant-
based food came a little later when early humans began to push back the limits of
temperate forests and tropical jungles: yams, cassava and other crops

--this sort of late stone age farming appears to have begun at different dates in different
parts of the globe, for example: 1) Middle East, 10000 BCE, 2) southern Europe, 6000
BCE, 3) Nile Valley, 5000 BCE, 4) the Americas, 5000 BCE (all dates approximate)

--of course, developments in agriculture were just one part of the food-gathering
revolution. Also important was the domestication of various animal species.

--first animal to be domesticated was almost certainly the dog. Coaxed into camp-sites
with offers of meat-scraps and bones, the sensory abilities and predatory instincts of
canines soon became apparent to human communities.
--so, trained to assist in the hunt for wild game, the dog quickly became a companion
animal for human societies throughout the globe

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--next after the dog, it appears that ungulates of the sub-order bovidae: that is, cattle,
sheep, goats and other hoofed ruminants (i.e., animals that chew cud).
--they too were probably lured to human habitations by the promise of easy food. And,
generally docile, they accepted human control in exchange for a steady food supply

--and while it’s difficult to determine the precise date for the domestication of animals,
selective breeding for desired characteristics can be given an approximate time-line: it
seems that humans began the process of engineering various physical characteristics (ie,
increased milk production, woolly coats, etc) some time between 7000-3000 BCE

--once cattle became tame enough to be yoked to plows, they became essential to
successful grain production; as an added bonus, their droppings could be used to increase
crop yields by restoring vital minerals and amino acids to depleted soil.

1. Intro: Çatal Hüyük

One important consequence of the agricultural revolution of the Neolithic Era was the
development of comparatively large human communities (i.e., villages, towns and,
eventually, cities).

The hunter/gatherer culture of the Paleolithic Era had no need of such communities.
Indeed, surplus population was undesirable because hunting communities relied on the
delicate balance of predator and prey and the habit of relocation (i.e., moving on
whenever resources were depleted).

Pastoralists and farmers, however, generally grouped together. They did this for a variety
of reasons.

The first reason: they required a tier of secondary, specialized workers to produce the
tools of their profession: 1) smiths: ploughs, rakes, hoes (and other earth turning devices);
2) potters: pottery (for storage); 3) weavers: textiles, etc

The second reason: As sedentary farmers, they also tended to place more emphasis on
religion; thus they increasingly required spiritual expertise and guidance in the form of a
professional priestly class (one which could intervene between humanity and the spiritual
forces which brought sun, rain and the cycle of the seasons).

The third reason: because surplus was the point of farming (i.e., farming ensuring that
you had enough food to last through a drought or some other natural calamity),
agricultural producers were vulnerable to attack from competing groups of pastoralists as
well as from hunters/gatherers who fell on hard times.

Thus there was a defensive purpose to such early social impulses.

Two of the earliest recorded human settlements were both in the Middle East: Jericho (in
modern Israel, 8000 BCE) and Çatal Hüyük (in Turkey, 7000 BCE).

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In early towns such as these, people lived what was essentially an agricultural life. They
would leave their mud or timber huts daily and labor under a hot sun in the surrounding
fields.

A small portion of the town’s population would create goods or provide specialized
services.

--at Catal Huyuk, for example, there is evidence of pottery making, basket weaving, cloth
making as well as weapons making, beadwork and leatherwork.
--there is even evidence of long-distance trade: the workers of the town created a number
of products using local obsidian—tools, weapons, mirrors, ornaments.

--of course agriculture was dominant: produced barley, wheat, legumes and other
vegetables; kept pigs, goats and sheep.
--at this early stage, they still relied on wild animals and ate a variety of goods from
throughout the area (acorns, wild game, wild grasses)

--perhaps the most striking finds at Catal Huyuk are those that reveal religious practices.
--there is a religious shrine for every two houses!!
--at least forty rooms that have been excavated contained little altars or shrines
--they are decorated with: wild bulls, leopards, female breasts, handprints, etc.

--rituals appear to have included: burning grains, legumes and meat as sacrificial
offerings (no live animal sacrifice).
--statues of plump female deities abound, suggesting that locals venerated a fertility
goddess of some sort and there appears to have been a large female priestly class at Catal
Huyuk

2. What do we mean by “civilization”?

--As you can see, something entirely new was going on in places like Catal Huyuk and
Jericho (which unfortunately I won’t get a chance to talk about today)
--the creature known as Homo sapiens sapiens was beginning to adopt some frankly
complex social behaviors, not the least of which was town life.
--this requires: cooperation, tolerance, trust, interdependence—all on levels previously
unheard of.

--at this point in the human story, roughly 8000 BCE, humanity was on the verge of
something approximating the human category we call “civilization”

--however, what do we mean by the term?
--value-laden (i.e., the word carries moral baggage about which sorts of behaviors are
those of advanced peoples and what might be considered “primitive” or pre-modern ways
of thinking and acting).

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--in the past, the term “civilization” has been used to excuse or justify the worst sort of
atrocities (i.e., abuse, violence against indigenous peoples the world over).

--however, we might still use it as a useful category so long as we jettison the assumption
that so-called “civilized” peoples are somehow more moral, better or superior to early
peoples.
--indeed, I hope that one thing that you will discover in the next few weeks is just how
sophisticated and complex early human societies were…

Anyway, modern anthropologists and historians have arrived at the following set of
criteria for what constitutes a “civilization”: 1) cities serve as administrative centers; 2)
political system based on the control of a defined territory rather than on kinship
connections; 3) a significant number of people engaged in specialized non-food
producing activities; 4) status distinctions (often linked to wealth), 5) monumental
building, 6) a system for keeping permanent records, 7) long-distance trade, 8) artistic
and scientific achievement

3. Ancient Mesopotamia: Sumer

--the earliest societies in which these traits are apparent developed in the floodplains of
Asia and Africa: the Tigris and Euphrates in Iraq, the Indus in Pakistan, the Yellow (or
Huang He) in China and the Nile in Egypt and Sudan.

--while such locations could be extremely threatening to human lives and property, they
also brought great benefits: the periodic flooding of the world’s great rivers served to
irrigate parched soils and to leave behind extremely fertile deposits of silt on agricultural
lands.
--to protect themselves and channel these powerful forces of nature, people living near
rivers responded by creating new technologies and new forms of political and social
organization.

--of all the early societies, the peoples of Mesopotamia were amongst the first to respond
to the challenge of living in river valleys by organizing themselves into something
resembling a civilization
--where does the word Mesopotamia come from? (i.e., Greek, meso = between, in the
midst of; potamos = river. So Mesopotamia = “the land between the rivers”)
--it embraces all the lands adjacent to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and together with
ancient Syria and Palestine, forms the geographic area that we know as “the Fertile
Crescent.”
--the Tigris and Euphrates rise in the mountains of eastern Anatolia (i.e., Turkey) and
empty into the Persian Gulf. Along the way they meander through hills, grasslands,
deserts and swamps.
--most of Mesopotamia, therefore, lies within the boundaries of modern Iraq, though
parts of it extend into western Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

--the earliest people to inhabit this region during the “historical period” (what is the

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difference between history and pre-history?) were a group known as the Sumerians.
--it is they who, in the words of one historian, created the “archetypes of civilized life” in
the Fertile Crescent.
--by this I mean that they were the ones who dictated and defined the earliest elements of
Mesopotamian society, and that those who came after them (including groups that we
know as the Akkadians, the Babylonians, the Chaldeans, the Assyrians and others),
developed many of their political, social and cultural institutions on the Sumerian model.
--in the same way that Roman society looked to Greece as a source of inspiration, or in
the same way that the US and Canada developed political and cultural models on pre-
existing European ideas, so too did the Babylonians and the Assyrians use Sumer as the
basis for many of their cultural ideas.
--it is largely for this reason that I’m going to start our discussion of the Ancient World
with Sumer

--well, sometime after ca. 3500 BCE, the Sumerian people began to exploit the potential
of the lower Tigris-Euphrates Valley.
--they built up a confederacy of city-states (i.e., independent, self-governing cities
together with their suburbs and outlying areas)
--these included towns such as Ur, Uruk, Eridu and Langash. It’s reckoned that each of
them contained between 10 and 50,000 people: positively huge by ancient standards
(digression on Ur…name of anything prototypical—i.e., the “Ur-text” is the oldest
manuscript of a given book; the “Ur-form” of an idea or concept, etc).

--even though they built cities, Sumerian people were primarily agricultural, sustaining
themselves on many of the crops that we discussed for the Neolithic period,
--however, by aligning themselves together and recognizing their fundamental need for
interdependence, they managed to create a civilization that survived for more than 1500
years (i.e., 3500-2000 BCE)

--they were successful largely because the Sumerian city-states took Neolithic agriculture
several important steps further than their forbears.
--for example: they parceled out land in tracts of almost geometrical regularity, ensuring
that most everyone in the community had enough land to feed him/herself—and, of
course, they even had surplus for the various specialized workers of the culture.
--moreover, to increase yield, the Sumerians were amongst the first to engage in large-
scale irrigation: they developed a system of canals, dykes and dams that channeled the
flood water of the Tigris and Euphrates into basins, controlled the flow, and then directed
the water to individual peasant farms.
--in addition to this, the Sumerians built a network of efficient roads and navigable
waterways to move surplus agricultural products, trade goods and people around their
territory
--and trade they did.
--because they managed to accumulate such impressive food surpluses, the Sumerian
towns could sustain a commercial and artisan class that produced goods that were
saleable far and wide.
--Surplus food commodities could also be sold, with the result that for more than a

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millennium, Sumerian cities became the largest, wealthiest and best defended cities that
the world had ever known to that point.

A. Sumerian Cities

--for example, archeological research confirms that, at its height in the 2nd millennium,
the city wall at Uruk was nearly 6 miles (10 km) in circumference. It enclosed more than
1000 acres and contained more than 900 defensive towers.
--W/in the walls of Uruk there were thousands of peasants hovels (most of them made
from mud bricks, wattle and daub or other, more perishable substances).

--and, because they were the products of early urban planning, Sumerian cities were often
rectangular in shape, surrounded, as I say, by high, wide walls. Inside the city gates,
there were broad avenues used for religious processions or victory parades.

The largest buildings in Sumerian civilization were the ziggurats, temple-pyramids that
soared toward the heavens. Their sloping sides had terraces, or wide steps, that were
sometimes planted with trees and shrubs. On top of each ziggurat stood a shrine to the
chief god or goddess of the city (these structures were the basis of Tower of Babel story).

The civic rulers of Sumeria (called ensi) lived nearby, in magnificent palaces with
spacious courtyards. They were sort of “mayor-priests” who intervened between the
pantheon of Sumerian gods and normal folk. They coordinated the various temple
activities within the city walls and assigned work on public buildings and on the various
water control installations.

The ensi also controlled the foreign policy, deciding whether his city would wage war
against a neighbor, whether peaceful relations would be maintained, who would be the
city’s major trading partners and what sort of goods would be made available for trade.

The Sumerian army was under the strict control of the ensi and, as commander-in-chief,
he dictated every aspect of military service from training to pay to military discipline to
terms of service.

Over time, these ensi evolved into hereditary rulers.

Everyone in the Sumerian cities recognized the supreme earthly authority of the ensi, and
he was given gifts and other tokens of esteem from his people.

B. Cuneiform writing

Sumer’s most enduring contribution to Mesopotamian and subsequent civilizations was
probably its writing system called “cuneiform”, one of the earliest writing systems.

By 3200 B.C., the Sumerians employed a sharp-pointed instrument- called a stylus - to
inscribe wedge-shaped characters on soft clay tablets, which were then hardened by

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baking.

Reading and writing in cuneiform were difficult because the Sumerian alphabet consisted
of about 550 characters. Sumerian scribes had to go through years of strict schooling to
acquire their skills. Nevertheless, cuneiform was widely used in the Middle East for
thousands of years.

Because they left records, we know much about their government, economy, literature
and religion.

One of the most important literary efforts of Sumerian culture was the Epic of
Gilgamesh, the earliest recorded story in human history.

The work is a collection of stories about a hero-king named Gilgamesh. On his journeys
he meets the sole survivor of a great flood that destroyed the entire world, he subdues the
wild-man Enkidu and then fights against the “Bull of Heaven”. Throughout the work, he
looks for eternal life.

However, by the end of the story, Gilgamesh has learned the greatest truth of all- that
even heroes must die.

The story, which was known not only to the Sumerians but also to the Babylonians, the
Assyrians and the Greeks, provides a fascinating glimpse into the religious and spiritual
assumptions of Mesopotamian culture.

Like most ancient peoples, the Sumerians were polytheistic, worshipping many gods.
These gods were thought to control every aspect of life, especially the forces of nature.
Sumerians believed that gods & goddesses behaved like ordinary people.

These gods ate, drank, married, and raised families. Although the gods favored truth and
justice, they were also responsible for violence and suffering.

To Sumerians, their highest duty was to keep these divine beings happy and thereby
ensure the safety of their city-state. Each city-state had its own special god or goddess to
whom people prayed and offered sacrifices of animals, grain, and wine.

People celebrated many holy days with ceremonies and processions. The most important
ceremony occurred at the new year when the king sought and won the favor of Inanna,
the life-giving goddess of love.

The ensi participated in a symbolic marriage with the goddess. This ritual, Sumerians
believed, would make the new year fruitful and prosperous.

Like the Egyptians, the Sumerians believed in an afterlife. At death, they believed, a
person descended into a grim underworld from which there was no release. The gloomy
Sumerian view of an afterlife contrasts with the Egyptian vision of the Happy Field of

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Food.

Possibly differences in geography help account for this contrast. The floods of the Tigris
and Euphrates were less regular and more destructive than the Nile floods. As a result,
Sumerians may have developed a more pessimistic view of the world.

Anyway…these are some of the dominant features of the early phase of Mesopotamian
culture. Next class I want to talk about later manifestations:

Akkadian Kingdom (2350-2150 BCE)
Old Babylonian Kingdom (2150-1500 BCE)
Assyrian Kingdom (1300-900 BCE)
Chaldean Period (600-540 BCE)

--I’ll be concentrating on the middle two

Ancient--Mesopotamia

1. What do we mean by “civilization”?
2. Ancient Mesopotamia: Sumer
A. Sumerian Cities
B. Cuneiform Writing/Gilgamesh

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3. A Golden Age? Akkad and Babylon

===
Sumerian Kingdom (3500-2200 BCE)
Akkadian Kingdom (2400-2100 BCE)
Old Babylonian Kingdom (1900-1500 BCE)
Assyrian Kingdom (1300-900 BCE)
Chaldean Period (600-540 BCE)

1. What do we mean by “civilization”?

--As you can see, something entirely new was going on in places like Catal Huyuk and
Jericho
--the creature known as Homo sapiens sapiens was beginning to adopt some frankly
complex social behaviors, not the least of which was town life.
--this requires: cooperation, tolerance, trust, interdependence—all on levels previously
unheard of.

--at this point in the human story, roughly 8000 BCE, humanity was on the verge of
something approximating the human category we call “civilization”

--however, what do we mean by the term?
--value-laden (i.e., the word carries moral baggage about which sorts of behaviors are
those of advanced peoples and what might be considered “primitive” or pre-modern ways
of thinking and acting).

--in the past, the term “civilization” has been used to excuse or justify the worst sort of
atrocities (i.e., abuse, violence against indigenous peoples the world over).

--however, we might still use it as a useful category so long as we jettison the assumption
that so-called “civilized” peoples are somehow more moral, better or superior to early
peoples.
--indeed, I hope that one thing that you will discover in the next few weeks is just how
sophisticated and complex early human societies were…

Anyway, modern anthropologists and historians have arrived at the following set of
criteria for what constitutes a “civilization”:
1) cities serve as administrative centers;
2) political system based on the control of a defined territory rather than on kinship
connections;
3) a significant number of people engaged in specialized non-food producing activities;
4) status distinctions (often linked to wealth),
5) monumental building,
6) a system for keeping permanent records,
7) long-distance trade,
8) artistic and scientific achievement

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9) institutionalized religion

What do you think of these criteria? Are there others? Do some of these not belong (for
instance can you have civilization without monumental building)?

2. Ancient Mesopotamia: Sumer

--the earliest societies in which these traits are apparent developed in the floodplains of
Asia and Africa: the Tigris and Euphrates in Iraq, the Indus in Pakistan, the Yellow (or
Huang He) in China and the Nile in Egypt and Sudan.

--while floodplains can be extremely threatening to human lives and property, they can
also bring great benefits: the periodic flooding of the world’s great rivers served to
irrigate parched soils and to leave behind extremely fertile deposits of silt on agricultural
lands.
--to protect themselves and channel these powerful forces of nature, people living near
rivers responded by creating new technologies and new forms of political and social
organization.

--of all the early societies, the peoples of Mesopotamia were amongst the first to respond
to the challenge of living in river valleys by organizing themselves into something
resembling a civilization
--but where does the word Mesopotamia come from? (i.e., Greek, meso = between, in the
midst of; potamos = river. So Mesopotamia = “the land between the rivers”)
--it embraces all the lands adjacent to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and together with
ancient Syria and Palestine, forms the geographic area that we know as “the Fertile
Crescent.”
--the Tigris and Euphrates rise high in the mountains of eastern Anatolia (i.e., Turkey)
and empty into the Persian Gulf. Along the way they meander through hills, grasslands,
deserts and swamps.
--most of Mesopotamia, therefore, lies within the boundaries of modern Iraq, though
parts of it extend into western Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

--the earliest people to inhabit this region during the “historical period” (what is the
difference between history and pre-history?) were a group known as the Sumerians.
--it is they (the Sumerians) who, in the words of one historian, created the “archetypes of
civilized life” in the Fertile Crescent.
--another historian, equally insistent on giving Sumer its due proclaimed: “History begins
in Sumer”

--these and similar claims intend to convey the notion that the Sumerians were the ones
who dictated and defined the earliest elements of Mesopotamian society, and that those
who came after them (including groups that we know as the Akkadians, the
Babylonians, the Chaldeans, the Assyrians and others), developed many of their
political, social and cultural institutions on the Sumerian model.

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--i.e., in the same way that Roman society looked to Greece as a source of inspiration, or
in the same way that the US and Canada developed political and cultural models on pre-
existing European ideas, so too did the Babylonians and the Assyrians and the Akkadians
and the Chaldeans (and even the Hebrews) use Sumer as the basis for many of their
cultural ideas.
--it is largely for this reason that I’m going to start our discussion of the Ancient World
with Sumer

--well, sometime after ca. 3500 BCE, the Sumerian people began to exploit the potential
of the lower Tigris-Euphrates Valley.
--they built up a confederacy of city-states (i.e., independent, self-governing cities
together with their suburbs and outlying areas)
--these included towns such as Ur, Uruk, Eridu and Langash. (digression on Ur…name
of anything prototypical—i.e., the “Ur-text” is the oldest manuscript of a given book; the
“Ur-form” of an idea or concept, etc).

--it’s reckoned that each of these cities contained between 10 and 50,000 people: while
that might seem tiny by modern standards, it’s positively huge by ancient standards
--of course, even though they built cities, Sumerian people were primarily agricultural,
sustaining themselves on many of the crops that we discussed for the Neolithic period
--however, by aligning themselves together and recognizing their fundamental need for
interdependence, they managed to create a civilization that survived for more than 1300
years
--indeed, the Sumerian period in Mesopotamia lasted from roughly 3500 to 2200 BCE

--the Sumerians were successful largely because their city-states took Neolithic
agriculture several important steps further than their forbears.
--for example:
1) they parceled out land in tracts of almost geometrical regularity; this ensured that
almost everyone in the community had enough land to feed him/herself—and, of course,
they even had surplus land that could accommodate the dietary needs of the various
specialized workers of the community.
2) moreover, to increase yield, the Sumerians were amongst the first to engage in large-
scale irrigation: they developed a system of canals, dykes and dams that channeled the
flood water of the Tigris and Euphrates into basins, controlled the flow, and then directed
the water to individual peasant farms.
3) in addition to this, the Sumerians built a network of efficient roads and navigable
waterways that allowed them to move surplus agricultural products, people and trade
goods around their territory with great efficiency

--in turn, these developments allowed the Sumerians to become some of the foremost
traders of the ancient world
--indeed, because they managed to accumulate such impressive food surpluses, the
Sumerian towns could sustain a commercial and artisan class that produced a wide
variety of specialized goods that could be sold throughout the Near East
--not only did they sell finished goods, the Sumerians also sold surplus commodities such

15
as grain and produce
--the result of all of this was that for more than a millennium, Sumerian cities became the
largest, wealthiest and best defended cities that the world had ever known to that point.

a. Sumerian Cities

--for example, archeological research confirms that, at its height in the 2nd millennium,
the city wall at Uruk was nearly 6 miles (10 km) in circumference. It enclosed more than
1000 acres and boasted more than 900 defensive towers.
--W/in the walls of Uruk there were thousands of peasants houses (most of them made
from mud bricks, wattle and daub or other, even more perishable substances).

--and, because they were the products of early urban planning, Sumerian cities were often
rectangular in shape, surrounded, as I say, by high, wide walls. Inside the city gates,
there were broad avenues used for religious processions or victory parades.

--the largest buildings in Sumerian civilization were the ziggurats, temple-pyramids that
soared toward the heavens.

--built in receding tiers (or steps) upon a rectangular, oval, or square platform, the
ziggurat was a form of pyramid.

--the core of the ziggurat was made of sun-baked, clay bricks (in some cases more than
1,000,000 bricks), while the façade was decorated with specially-decorated bricks that
glistened in the sun

--the façades of the ziggurats were often glazed in different colors and some scholars
believe that the colors have some sort of cosmological significance.

--the number of tiers ranged from two to seven, with a shrine or temple at the summit.

--access to the shrine was provided by a series of ramps on one side of the ziggurat or by
a spiral ramp from base to summit

--it should be noted, however, that the Mesopotamian ziggurats were not places of public
worship or ceremonies; instead Sumerians believed them to be dwelling places of the
gods.

--so, the ziggurat mediated the relationship between gods and humans and thus each city
had its own ziggurat.

--however, only the priests were permitted inside the ziggurat and it was their
responsibility to care for the gods and attend to their needs. As a result, the priestly class
became very powerful members of Sumerian society.

--they were called ensi, and they lived near the ziggurats, in magnificent palaces with

16
spacious courtyards. The ensi were sort of “mayor-priests” who intervened between the
pantheon of Sumerian gods and normal folk. They coordinated the various temple
activities within the city walls, they assigned work on public buildings and regulated the
construction of the various water installations.

--the ensi also controlled the foreign policy of the city; he decided whether his city would
wage war against a neighbor, whether peaceful relations would be maintained, who
would be the city’s major trading partners and what sort of goods would be made
available for trade.

--the Sumerian army was under the strict control of the ensi and, as commander-in-chief,
he dictated every aspect of military service from training to pay to military discipline to
terms of service.

--over time, these ensi evolved into hereditary rulers

--everyone in the Sumerian cities recognized the supreme earthly authority of the ensi,
and he was given gifts and other tokens of esteem from his people.

b. Cuneiform writing

Sumer’s most enduring contribution to Mesopotamian and subsequent civilizations was
probably its writing system called “cuneiform.” This, of course, is one of the earliest
writing systems known to humanity.

By 3200 B.C., the Sumerians employed a sharp-pointed instrument- called a stylus - to
inscribe wedge-shaped characters on soft clay tablets, which were then hardened by
baking.

Reading and writing in cuneiform were difficult because the Sumerian alphabet consisted
of about 550 characters. And thus, Sumerian scribes had to go through years of strict
schooling to acquire their skills. Nevertheless, cuneiform was widely used in the Middle
East for thousands of years.

Because they left records, we know quite a bit about Sumerian government, economy,
literature and religion.

For example, one of the most important literary efforts of Sumerian culture was the so-
called Epic of Gilgamesh, the earliest recorded story in human history.

Though there are many surviving copies of the story, the fullest version was written on
twelve stone tablets that were found in the ruins of the library of an Assyrian king.

The library was destroyed by the Persians in 612 B.C., and so unfortunately all the tablets
are damaged.

17
The work is a collection of stories about a hero-king named Gilgamesh and his
companion, the wild-man Enkidu. On their journeys the two men meet a variety of
characters, including: 1) the sole survivor of a great flood that once destroyed the entire
world, 2) a creature known as the “Bull of Heaven”, 3) the ancient guardian of a great
cedar forest, as well as various heroes, gods, demons and villains.

It is an exciting book that still resonates with modern readers. And at the heart of it all is
Gilgamesh’s search for eternal life.

At every juncture he tries to find a way of defeating death, however, by the end of the
story Gilgamesh has learned the greatest truth of all—that even heroes must die.

To give you an idea of how the stories in Gilgamesh resonate, let me tell you a little about
the Gilgamesh flood story. I think you will find elements of it familiar:

According to the Epic, Gilgamesh ran into the sole survivor of the great flood and
convinced him to tell his story. It went like this…

Apparently, the gods were angry with humanity and resolved, at a secret assembly, to
destroy all mankind. They decided they would send a great flood to drown out all of
creation, and swore not to tell any human of their plan.

However, the god Ea (who, according to Sumerian myth had created humanity) went to
the house of a wise old man named Ut-nap-ish-tim and began to speak to the walls (i.e.,
he was in full hearing of Utnapishtim, but resolved to keep the letter of the agreement…).

He told the walls what the gods were planning, and suggested that the walls should build
a giant boat to protect themselves against the flood.

Then Ea told the walls to take every living creature on to the boat and remain there until
the waters receded

Well, the black clouds arrived, and the thunder god Adad rumbled within them; the earth
split like an earthenware pot, and all the light turned to darkness. The Flood was so great
that even the gods were frightened. According to the poem:

The gods shook like beaten dogs, hiding in the far corners of heaven,
Ishtar screamed and wailed:
"The days of old have turned to stone:
We have decided evil things in our Assembly!
Why did we decide those evil things in our Assembly?
Why did we decide to destroy our people?
We have only just now created our beloved humans;
We now destroy them in the sea!"
All the gods wept and wailed along with Ishtar,
All the gods sat trembling, and wept.

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The Flood lasted for seven days and seven nights, but finally light returned to the earth.
On the morning of the eighth day, Ut-nap-ish-tim opened a window in his boat and
discovered that the entire earth had been turned into a flat ocean; all humans had died.

At length, however, Ut-nap-ish-tim's boat came to rest on the top of a mountain; it lodged
firmly on the mountain peak just below the surface of the ocean and remained there for
seven days. According to Ut-nap-ish-tim’s account, on the seventh day:

I released a dove from the boat,
It flew off, but circled around and returned,
For it could find no perch.
I then released a swallow from the boat,
It flew off, but circled around and returned,
For it could find no perch.
I then released a raven from the boat,
It flew off, and the waters had receded:
It eats, it scratches the ground, but it does not circle around and return.
I then sent out all the living things in every direction and sacrificed a sheep on that very
spot.

Well, according to the story, the gods could smell the odor of the sacrifice and begin to
gather around Ut-nap-ish-tim. Furious that one of the humans had survived, the gods
accused Ea of treachery; but Ea convinced the rest of the gods to be merciful. They seized
Ut-nap-ish-tim and his wife and blessed them:

“At one time Ut-nap-ish-tim was mortal.
At this time let him be a god and immortal;
Let him live in the far away at the source of all the rivers.”

At the end of his story, Ut-nap-ish-tim offers Gilgamesh a chance at immortality. If
Gilgamesh can stay awake for six days and seven nights, he, too, will become immortal.
Gilgamesh accepts these conditions and sits down on the shore; the instant he sits down
he falls asleep….

Gilgamesh, which was known not only to the Sumerians but also to the Babylonians, the
Assyrians, the Greeks and many other ancient cultures, provides a fascinating glimpse
into the religious and spiritual assumptions of Mesopotamian culture (and gives us an
indication of just how interdependent most of these societies were).

Stories like Gilgamesh tell us that, like most ancient peoples, the Sumerians were
polytheistic, worshipping many gods. These gods were thought to control every aspect of
life, especially the forces of nature. Sumerians believed that gods & goddesses behaved
like ordinary people.

These gods ate, drank, married, and raised families. Although the gods favored truth and

19
justice, they were also responsible for violence and suffering.

To Sumerians, their highest duty was to keep these divine beings happy and thereby
ensure the safety of their city-state. Each city-state had its own special god or goddess to
whom people prayed and offered sacrifices of animals, grain, and wine.

People celebrated many holy days with ceremonies and processions. The most important
ceremony occurred at the new year when the king sought and won the favor of Inanna,
the life-giving goddess of love.

The ensi participated in a symbolic marriage with the goddess. This ritual, Sumerians
believed, would make the new year fruitful and prosperous.

Like the Egyptians, the Sumerians believed in an afterlife. At death, they believed, a
person descended into a grim underworld from which there was no release. The gloomy
Sumerian view of an afterlife contrasts with the Egyptian vision of the Happy Field of
Food.

Possibly differences in geography help account for this contrast. The floods of the Tigris
and Euphrates were less regular and more destructive than the Nile floods. As a result,
Sumerians may have developed a more pessimistic view of the world.

Anyway…these are some of the dominant features of the early, Sumerian phase of
Mesopotamian culture. And, as I noted earlier, the Sumerian phase of Mesopotamian
culture lasted until roughly 2200 BCE.

3. Ancient Mesopotamia: a) Akkad and b) Babylon

a) Akkad

--around that time (i.e., between 2400 and 2200 BCE) the cities of middle Mesopotamia
began to jockey for political and military dominance, and a new player, the city of Akkad
(or Agade), began to extend its control throughout the region
--Akkad was located about 100 km (60 miles) north of the ancient city of Ur, about half
way between the Tigris and the Euphrates, though its precise location remains unknown
--Akkad’s first great ruler, Sargon (sometimes called Sargon the Great), worked to bring
all of Mesopotamia under the control of his royal dynasty
--Sargon lived between ca. 2330 and 2280 BCE and his greatest claim to fame is
probably the fact that his name is the earliest human name known to history

--between 2400 and 2100 BCE, Sargon and his heirs conquered virtually all the cities of
Mesopotamia and put their stamp on the region
--for example, the Akkadians insisted that all the defeated cities of the Euphrates
watershed must tear down their walls and install an Akkadian governor
--this governor was given wide-ranging authority over trade, religion and municipal
regulations: his power was reinforced or supplemented by large garrisons of Akkadian

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troops
--in return for their faithful service, the Akkadian kings gave their soldiers large tracts of
land in the conquered territories: this had the effect of 1) stabilizing the Akkadian
presence throughout Mesopotamia, and 2) giving the troops a tangible, personal reason
for maintaining domestic security

--once firmly in power, the Akkadians worked to bring uniformity to their growing
empire:
1) Sargon implemented a system of standard weights and measures;
2) he ordered that cuneiform should be used throughout the kingdom;
3) standardized formats were used on all official documents (i.e., documents related to
taxation, military documents, documents related to large-scale public works projects
[dams, reservoirs, roads, temples, etc.]).

--however, for reasons that are not entirely clear, the Akkadian empire began to
deteriorate around 2100 BCE
--it seems that a series of factors conspired against the late Akkadian rulers: 1) civil
unrest in the cities, 2) warring tribes at the borders of the kingdom, 3) environmental or
demographic factors
--whatever the reasons, by 2100, the heirs of Sargon were overthrown and a series of
small successor kingdoms competed for the crumbs of Akkadian civilization

b) Babylon

--for almost 200 years, various small cities and states competed with each other as well as
with invaders from outside Mesopotamia for a share of power in the Ancient Near East
--and when the dust finally settled around 1900 BCE it was a group known to history as
the Babylonians who exercised political control throughout the region
--they established their capital at Babylon, a town near the ancient city of Akkad, and
from their capital, the Babylonians presided over Mesopotamia for more than 4 centuries

--of all the successors to the Sumerians, it was the Babylonians who evolved the most
elaborate, most politically-complex culture in Mesopotamia
--and while there were a number of Babylonian rulers who contributed to the increasing
complexity of Mesopotamian society, one name stands above all the others:
Hammurabi, or, Hammurapi of Babylon: I’d like to spend a few moments telling you
about Hammurabi and his importance to Babylonian culture

Hammurabi

--we don’t know precisely when King Hammurabi was born, though the dates of his reign
appear to have been 1792-1750 BCE
--the evidence seems to suggest that he began his reign as little more than a local priest-
king, an ensi (i.e., one of those municipal officials I told you about earlier)
--however, over the course of an extraordinarily successful reign, he managed to extend
his authority over a huge swath of territory, one that encompassed all the old Akkadian

21
territories and even more besides
--indeed, by the end of his reign, he was the undisputed master of all Mesopotamia

--of course, Hammurabi is most famous for promulgating a code of laws that bear his
name: i.e., the “Code of Hammurabi”
--while this was by no means the earliest body of royal legislation to issue out of
Mesopotamia, it was certainly one of the most comprehensive law codes of the ancient
world

--indeed, many of the traits that made Hammurabi a successful warrior-king also made
him a great legislator
--for example, Hammurabi appears to have a meticulous governor, someone who was
preoccupied with every detail of his government; he also appears to have had a profound
interest in administration and a desire for control
--fortunately, this tendency was balanced by an equally strong passion for what we might
call the principles of social justice

--for example, when he ascended the throne of Babylon, he issued a proclamation
forgiving people’s public and private debts: he simply said, “no one owes anyone
anything—we’re going to start from scratch”
--if you were a lender, you might have been outraged, but if you were a borrower, you
would have been over the moon with happiness
--and, like now, there were far more borrowers than lenders; it was a staggeringly popular
decision
--Hammurabi also renovated all of Babylon’s ziggurats and other temples; he gave
special attention to the temple of Marduk, Babylon’s patron and an extremely popular
local deity
--both of these measures brought Hammurabi instant popularity, and allowed him to
consolidate his power at home

--with the city of Babylon secure, Hammurabi was able to concentrate on foreign affairs
--in a five year period, he managed to conquer or subdue most of the lands to the south
and east of Babylon
--he installed Babylonian governors and garrisons throughout the region
--later, he pushed north and west, until, by 1760 BCE, he had built the largest empire the
world had known up to that time
--it encompassed most of modern Iraq as well as portions of Iran, Syria and parts of
southern Turkey

--throughout it all, he imposed his own form of royal justice, the document I mentioned a
few moments ago, the “Code of Hammurabi”

Code of Hammurabi

--Hammurabi’s law code was discovered slightly more than a hundred years ago, in 1901,
when archeologists were digging through the remains of a Babylonian city named Susa,

22
in what is now southwestern Iran
--during the course of their investigations, they came upon an 8 foot tall stele of black
granite
--at the top, the stele bore a picture of the bearded god Shamash, seated on his throne;
Shamash (or Utu) was the god of the sun, who, by virtue of his light, sees all things from
heaven
--he is the equivalent of Zeus, or Odin (a father figure)
--Shamash holds a scepter (an ancient symbol of royal and divine power) in his right
hand
--facing him is Hammurabi; the king holds one hand to his lips as he receives legal
enlightenment from his god
--the message is clear, with the stele Hammurabi dispenses not only his own will, but also
that of the gods

--while the image is an excellent example of Babylonian art, it is the rest of the stele that
captures the attention and imagination of historians
--here, the ancient sculptor has inscribed an exhaustive list of the laws and punishments
of Hammurabi’s kingdom

--the stele, which is now located in the Louvre Museum in Paris, originally contained 282
numbered laws written in the Old Babylonian language; unfortunately, some of the
granite has been chipped away, so at least 34 of the laws are missing

--of those that remain, the focus is on laws concerning theft, farming (or shepherding),
property damage, women's rights, marriage rights, children's rights, slave rights, murder,
death, and injury.
--it’s a positive goldmine of information on the values, mores and everyday life of
Babylonians in the 2nd millennium BCE
--the document anticipates a wide range of legal and social problems: false accusations,
bad legal decisions, the ransom of prisoners of war, penalties for sexual misconduct,
penalties for shoddy construction work, medical malpractice, etc.
--it even deals with such arcane topics as what to do with victims of shipwreck who
appear in your community

--significantly, the code stipulates that punishments should be different for different
classes of offenders and victims.
--so, if a slave kills another slave, there’s one penalty, but if a slave kills an aristocrat
there’s quite another
--similarly, if a woman of child-bearing years is assaulted, there’s one form of
recompense, if the woman is beyond menopause, there’s another penalty

--by modern standards, the laws seem rather harsh
--for example, they do not accept excuses or explanations for mistakes or fault
--this was largely because the Code was on display for everyone to see (i.e., we think that
there were probably similar stele in all the towns and villages of Babylon)
--because of this, Babylonians contended that no one could plead ignorance of the law as

23
an excuse.
--even those who were illiterate (the great majority of the population) could have the law
read to them—so there was absolutely no excuse for anyone to transgress the law

--also, the punishment for many crimes (even crimes that we might consider
comparatively minor) was death or disfigurement
--for example: “If a son of a…prostitute say to his adoptive father or mother: ‘You are not
my father, or my mother,’ his tongue shall be cut off.”
--or: “If any one steal the property of a temple or of the court, he shall be put to death,
and also the one who receives the stolen thing from him shall be put to death.

--what made this law code so appealing to the general populace was the fact that it was
written at all
--even though the laws were harsh, at least people now had a legally defined relationship
with the king, his agents and with each other
--average Babylonians were no longer subject to the whims or capriciousness of
individual kings or aristocrats
--they now knew what their legal obligations to the state were, and they knew, at least for
the most part, how to avoid running afoul of the law

--this was probably a tremendous advancement over previous legal relationships of the
ancient world

--anyway, Hammurabi was, in many respects, the archetypal Mesopotamian ruler of the
Babylonian era
--by this, I mean that while he was remote, detached and entirely supreme, Hammurabi
also had a deep and abiding concern for the welfare of his subjects
--he built up the fortunes of his people, he extended his empire and he sent out embassies
to all the corners of the known world
--he inaugurated (or initiated) a system of government that would be measured in
centuries rather than in decades
--by this, I mean that through his many political successes and legal reforms, Hammurabi
laid the foundations for a system of government (and a view of civilization) that would
far outlive his dynasty
--in their turn, the Assyrians, the Chaldeans, the Persians and the successors of Alexander
the Great would all use models of government that had been developed during the
Sumerian, Akkadian and Babylonian periods

The City of Babylon

--of course, Hammurabi didn’t live to see what might be considered his greatest
contribution to global culture: I’m speaking of course of the city of Babylon itself
--under Hammurabi, the city had its first beginnings as an imperial capital
--however, over the course of the next 1200 years, it would become one of the foremost
cities of the ancient world: a centre of government, a seat of learning, a vital repository of
ancient culture and ideas

24
--while during the ancient period it was never home to more than 50,000 people at any
given time, Babylon was, nevertheless, the greatest city of the world (at least before
Rome)
--by 1600 BCE, the city was graced with a great number of well-designed public
buildings and sturdy private dwellings, sweeping tree-lined boulevards and public
squares
--it contained shops and markets and hostels and auditoriums (for both sporting events
and theatre)
--at the centre of it all was the great Ziggurat of Marduk, possibly the largest ziggurat
ever constructed; indeed, this structure is probably the inspiration for the biblical “Tower
of Babel” (what is this?)
--while we don’t know its precise dimensions of Marduk’s ziggurat, excavations at other
sites seem to suggest that it probably had a footprint of more than 300’ by 300’, and that
it probably rose more than 300’ in the air
--so, while not as big as the biggest Egyptian pyramids, it was, nevertheless, a structure
of immense proportions

--anyway, over the course of time, a number of rulers extended the size and scope of
ancient Babylon until it became a showcase of the ancient world
--in the 8th century BCE, the Babylonians appear to have built one of the greatest
monuments to their civilization, the so-called “Hanging Gardens of Babylon” one of the
Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
--according to one Greek observer:
The Garden is quadrangular, and each side is four plethra (approx. 400 feet?)
long. It consists of arched vaults which are located on checkered cube-like
foundations.. The ascent of the uppermost terrace-roofs is made by a stairway...

--another writer claimed:
The Hanging Garden has plants cultivated above ground level, and the roots of the
trees are embedded in an upper terrace rather than in the earth. The whole mass is
supported on stone columns... Streams of water emerging from elevated sources
flow down sloping channels... These waters irrigate the whole garden saturating
the roots of plants and keeping the whole area moist. Hence the grass is
permanently green and the leaves of trees grow firmly attached to supple
branches... This is a work of art of royal luxury and its most striking feature is that
the labor of cultivation is suspended above the heads of the spectators.

--well, this is what the Greeks claimed
--modern researchers aren’t entirely sure whether the Hanging Gardens ever really
existed
--instead, they suggest that the Greeks were simply describing a view of the entire city of
Babylon, not a separate, identifiable pleasure garden
--regardless, it seems that Babylon must have been an extraordinary place, even by
modern standards of architecture and urban planning

--Seven Wonders

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1) Pyramids at Giza
2) Hanging Gardens of Babylon
3) Statue of Zeus at Olympia
4) Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
5) Mausoleum of Halicarnassus
6) Colossus of Rhodes
7) Lighthouse of Alexandria

Ancient--Mesopotamia: Babylon

1) Akkadian Kingdom
2) Babylonian Kingdom
3) Assyrian Kingdom

Sumerian Kingdom (3500-2200 BCE)

26
Akkadian Kingdom (2400-2100 BCE)
Babylonian Kingdom (1900-1500 BCE)
Assyrian Kingdom (1300-900 BCE)
Chaldean Period (600-540 BCE)

Sumer (cont’d)

Stories like Gilgamesh tell us that, like most ancient peoples, the Sumerians were
polytheistic, worshipping many gods. These gods were thought to control every aspect of
life, especially the forces of nature. Sumerians believed that gods & goddesses behaved
like ordinary people.

These gods ate, drank, married, and raised families. Although the gods favored truth and
justice, they were also responsible for violence and suffering.

To Sumerians, their highest duty was to keep these divine beings happy and thereby
ensure the safety of their city-state. Each city-state had its own special god or goddess to
whom people prayed and offered sacrifices of animals, grain, and wine.

People celebrated many holy days with ceremonies and processions. The most important
ceremony occurred at the new year when the king sought and won the favor of Inanna,
the life-giving goddess of love.

The ensi participated in a symbolic marriage with the goddess. This ritual, Sumerians
believed, would make the new year fruitful and prosperous.

Like the Egyptians, the Sumerians believed in an afterlife. At death, they believed, a
person descended into a grim underworld from which there was no release. The gloomy
Sumerian view of an afterlife contrasts with the Egyptian vision of the Happy Field of
Food.

Possibly differences in geography help account for this contrast. The floods of the Tigris
and Euphrates were less regular and more destructive than the Nile floods. As a result,
Sumerians may have developed a more pessimistic view of the world.

Anyway…these are some of the dominant features of the early, Sumerian phase of
Mesopotamian culture. And, as I noted earlier, the Sumerian phase of Mesopotamian
culture lasted until roughly 2200 BCE.

3. Ancient Mesopotamia: a) Akkad and b) Babylon

a) Akkad (2400-2100 BCE)

--around that time (i.e., between 2400 and 2200 BCE) the cities of middle Mesopotamia
began to jockey for political and military dominance, and a new player, the city of Akkad
(or Agade), began to extend its control throughout the region

27
--Akkad was located about 100 km (60 miles) north of the ancient city of Ur, about half
way between the Tigris and the Euphrates, though its precise location remains unknown
--Akkad’s first great ruler, Sargon (sometimes called Sargon the Great), worked to
bring all of Mesopotamia under the control of his royal dynasty
--Sargon lived between ca. 2330 and 2280 BCE and his greatest claim to fame is
probably the fact that his name is the earliest human name known to history

--between 2400 and 2100 BCE, Sargon and his heirs conquered virtually all the cities of
Mesopotamia and put their stamp on the region
--for example, the Akkadians insisted that all the defeated cities of the Euphrates
watershed must tear down their walls and install an Akkadian governor
--this governor was given wide-ranging authority over trade, religion and municipal
regulations: his power was reinforced or supplemented by large garrisons of Akkadian
troops
--in return for their faithful service, the Akkadian kings gave their soldiers large tracts of
land in the conquered territories: this had the effect of 1) stabilizing the Akkadian
presence throughout Mesopotamia, and 2) giving the troops a tangible, personal reason
for maintaining domestic security

--once firmly in power, the Akkadians worked to bring uniformity to their growing
empire:
1) Sargon implemented a system of standard weights and measures;
2) he ordered that cuneiform should be used throughout the kingdom;
3) standardized formats were used on all official documents (i.e., documents related to
taxation, military documents, documents related to large-scale public works projects
[dams, reservoirs, roads, temples, etc.]).

--however, for reasons that are not entirely clear, the Akkadian empire began to
deteriorate around 2100 BCE
--as I mentioned last day, it seems that a combination of factors conspired against the late
Akkadian rulers: 1) civil unrest in the cities, 2) warring tribes at the borders of the
kingdom, 3) environmental or demographic factors
--whatever the reasons, by 2100, the heirs of Sargon were overthrown and a series of
small successor kingdoms competed for the crumbs of Akkadian civilization

b) Babylon (1900-1500 BCE)

--for almost 200 years, various small states competed with each other as well as with
invaders from outside Mesopotamia for a share of power in the Ancient Near East
--and when the dust finally settled around 1900 BCE it was a group known to history as
the Babylonians who exercised political control throughout the region
--they established their capital at Babylon, a town near the ancient city of Akkad, and
from this city, the Babylonians presided over Mesopotamia, with some interruptions, for
more than 8 centuries

--of all the successors to the Sumerians, it was the Babylonians who evolved the most

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elaborate, most politically-complex culture in Mesopotamia
--and while there were a number of Babylonian rulers who contributed to the increasing
complexity of Mesopotamian society, one name stands above all the others:
Hammurabi, or, Hammurapi of Babylon: I’d like to spend a few moments telling you
about Hammurabi and his importance to Babylonian culture

Hammurabi

--we don’t know precisely when King Hammurabi was born, though the dates of his reign
appear to have been 1792-1750 BCE
--the evidence seems to suggest that he began his reign as little more than a local king, an
ensi (i.e., one of those municipal officials I told you about last class)
--however, over the course of an extraordinarily successful reign, he managed to extend
his authority over a huge swath of territory, one that encompassed all the old Akkadian
territories and even more besides
--indeed, by the end of his reign, he was the undisputed master of all Mesopotamia

--of course, Hammurabi is most famous for promulgating a code of laws that bear his
name: i.e., the “Code of Hammurabi”
--while this was by no means the earliest body of royal legislation to issue out of
Mesopotamia, it was certainly one of the most comprehensive law codes of the ancient
world

--indeed, many of the traits that made Hammurabi a successful warrior-king also made
him a great legislator
--for example, Hammurabi appears to have been a meticulous governor, someone who
was preoccupied with every detail of his government; he also appears to have had a
profound interest in administration and a desire for control
--in today’s parlance, he was a “micromanager”
--fortunately, this tendency was balanced by an equally strong passion for what we might
call the principles of social justice

--for example, when he ascended the throne of Babylon, he issued a proclamation
forgiving people’s public and private debts: he simply said, “no one owes anyone
anything—we’re going to start from scratch”
--if you were a lender, you might have been outraged, but if you were a borrower, you
would have been over the moon with happiness
--and, like now, there were far more borrowers than lenders; it was a staggeringly popular
decision
--Hammurabi also renovated all of Babylon’s ziggurats and other temples; he gave
special attention to the temple of Marduk, Babylon’s divine patron and an extremely
popular local deity
--both of these measures brought Hammurabi instant popularity, and allowed him to
consolidate his power at home

--with the city of Babylon secure, Hammurabi was able to concentrate on foreign affairs

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--in a five year period, he managed to conquer or subdue most of the lands to the south
and east of Babylon
--here, he installed Babylonian governors and garrisons
--a little later, he pushed north and west, until, by 1760 BCE, he had built the largest
empire the world had known up to that time
--it encompassed most of modern Iraq as well as portions of Iran, Syria and parts of
southern Turkey

--throughout it all, he imposed his own form of royal justice, the document I mentioned a
few moments ago, the “Code of Hammurabi”

Code of Hammurabi

--Hammurabi’s law code was discovered slightly more than a hundred years ago, in 1901,
when archeologists were digging through the remains of a Babylonian city named Susa,
in what is now southwestern Iran
--during the course of their investigations, they came upon an 8 foot tall stele of black
granite
--at the top, the stele bore a picture of the bearded god Shamash, seated on his throne;
Shamash (also called Utu) was the god of the sun; and because he is the bringer of divine
light, Babylonians believed that he could see all things from heavenly throne
--in many ways, he is the equivalent of Zeus, or Odin (a father figure)
--anyway, on the stele Shamash holds a scepter (an ancient symbol of royal and divine
power) in his right hand
--facing him is Hammurabi; the king holds one hand to his lips as he receives legal
enlightenment from his god
--the message is clear, with the stele Hammurabi dispenses not only his own will, but also
that of the gods

--while the image is an excellent example of Babylonian art, it is the rest of the stele that
captures the attention and imagination of historians
--here, an ancient sculptor has inscribed an exhaustive list of the laws and punishments of
Hammurabi’s kingdom

--the stele, which is now located in the Louvre Museum in Paris, originally contained
282 numbered laws written in the Old Babylonian language; unfortunately, some of the
granite has been chipped away, so at least 34 of the laws are missing

--of those that remain, the focus is on laws concerning theft, farming, property damage,
women's rights, marriage rights, children's rights, slave rights, murder, death, and injury.
--it’s a positive goldmine of information on the values, beliefs and everyday affairs of
Babylonians in the 2nd millennium BCE
--the document anticipates a wide range of legal and social problems; it discusses such
matters as: false accusations, bad legal decisions, the ransom of prisoners of war,
penalties for sexual misconduct, penalties for shoddy construction work, medical
malpractice, etc.

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--it even deals with such arcane topics as what to do with victims of shipwreck who
appear in your community

--significantly, the code stipulates that punishments should be different for different
classes of offenders and victims.
--so, if a slave kills another slave, there’s one penalty, but if a slave kills an aristocrat
there’s quite another
--similarly, if a woman of child-bearing years is assaulted, there’s one form of
recompense, if the woman is beyond menopause, there’s another penalty

--by modern standards, the laws seem rather harsh
--for example, no allowance is made for mistakes or faults
--there is no room for excuses or explanations

--the reason that Hammurabi didn’t allow even minor breaches of the law was because
the Code was on display for everyone to see (i.e., there were similar stele in all the towns
and villages of Babylon)
--so, because of this, Hammurabi appears to have believed that because his laws were in
plain view, no one should try to plead ignorance
--even those who were illiterate (i.e., the great majority of the population) could have the
law read to them—so there was absolutely no excuse for anyone to transgress the law

--also, the punishment for many crimes (even crimes that we might consider
comparatively minor) was death or disfigurement
--for example: “If a son of a…prostitute says to his adoptive father or mother: ‘You are
not my father, or my mother,’ his tongue shall be cut off.”
--or: “If any one steal the property of a temple or of the court, he shall be put to death,
and also the one who receives the stolen thing from him shall be put to death.”

--what made this law code so appealing to the general populace was the fact that it was
written at all
--even though the laws were harsh, at least people now had a legally defined relationship
with the king, his agents and with each other
--average Babylonians were no longer subject to the whims or capriciousness of
individual kings or aristocrats
--they now knew what their legal obligations to the state were, and they knew, at least for
the most part, how to avoid running afoul of the law

--this was probably a tremendous advancement over previous legal relationships of the
ancient world

--anyway, Hammurabi was, in many respects, the archetypal Mesopotamian ruler of the
Babylonian era
--by this, I mean that while he was remote, detached and entirely supreme, Hammurabi
also had a deep and abiding concern for the welfare of his subjects
--he built up the fortunes of his people, he extended his empire and he sent out embassies

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to all the corners of the known world
--he inaugurated a system of government that would be measured in centuries rather than
in decades
--indeed, through his many political successes and legal reforms, Hammurabi laid the
foundations for a system of government (and a view of civilization) that would far outlive
his dynasty
--in their turn, the Assyrians, the Chaldeans, the Persians and even the successors of
Alexander the Great would all use models of government that had been developed during
the Sumerian, Akkadian and Babylonian periods

The City of Babylon

--of course, Hammurabi didn’t live to see what might be considered his greatest
contribution to global culture: I’m speaking of course of the city of Babylon itself
--under Hammurabi, the city had its first beginnings as an imperial capital
--however, over the course of the next 1200 years, it would become one of the foremost
cities of the ancient world: a centre of government, a seat of learning, a vital repository of
ancient culture and ideas
--and while it was never home to more than 50,000 people at any given time, Babylon
was, nevertheless, the greatest city of the pre-modern era (well, at least before Rome)
--for example, by 1600 BCE, the city was graced with a great number of well-designed
public buildings and sturdy private dwellings; it contained sweeping, tree-lined
boulevards and breezy public squares; it held a majestic array of terraced gardens where
date-palms swayed and exotic animals prowled
--it contained shops and markets and hostels and auditoriums (for both sporting events
and theatre)
--at the centre of it all was the great Ziggurat of Marduk, possibly the largest ziggurat
ever constructed; indeed, this structure is probably the inspiration for the biblical “Tower
of Babel” (what is this?)
--while we don’t know its precise dimensions of Marduk’s ziggurat, it probably had a
footprint of more than 300’ by 300’, and it probably rose more than 300’ in the air
--so, while not as big as the biggest Egyptian pyramids, it was, nevertheless, a structure
of immense proportions

--anyway, over the course of time, a number of rulers extended the size and scope of
ancient Babylon until it became a showcase of the ancient world
--in the 8th century BCE, the Babylonians appear to have built one of the greatest
monuments to their civilization, the so-called “Hanging Gardens of Babylon” one of the
Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
--according to one Greek observer, the geographer Strabo:
The Garden is quadrangular, and each side is four plethra (approx. 400 feet?)
long. It consists of arched vaults which are located on checkered cube-like
foundations.. The ascent of the uppermost terrace-roofs is made by a stairway...

--another writer claimed:
The Hanging Garden has plants cultivated above ground level, and the roots of the

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trees are embedded in an upper terrace rather than in the earth. The whole mass is
supported on stone columns... Streams of water emerging from elevated sources
flow down sloping channels... These waters irrigate the whole garden saturating
the roots of plants and keeping the whole area moist. Hence the grass is
permanently green and the leaves of trees grow firmly attached to supple
branches... This is a work of art of royal luxury and its most striking feature is that
the labor of cultivation is suspended above the heads of the spectators.

--Strabo goes on to tell us:

The ascent to the highest story is by stairs, and at their side are water engines, by
means of which persons, appointed expressly for the purpose, are continually
employed in raising water from the Euphrates into the garden.

--Strabo touches on what, to the ancients, was probably the most amazing part of the
garden.
--you see, Babylon rarely received rain and for the garden to survive it would have had to
been irrigated by using water from the nearby Euphrates River.
--That meant lifting the water far into the air so it could flow down through the terraces,
watering the plants at each level. This was probably done by means of a "chain pump."

--a chain pump is two large wheels, one above the other, connected by a chain.
--buckets are hung from the chain
--below the bottom wheel is a pool with the water source
--as the wheel is turned, the buckets dip into the pool and pick up water
--the chain then lifts them to the upper wheel, where the buckets are tipped and dumped
into an upper pool
--the chain then carries the empty buckets back down to be refilled.

--the pool at the top of the gardens could then be released by gates into channels which
acted as artificial streams to water the gardens
--the pump wheel below was attached to a shaft and a handle
--by turning the handle slaves provided the power to run the contraption.

--now, construction of the garden wasn't only complicated by getting the water up to the
top, but also by having to avoid having the liquid ruin the foundation once it was released
--since stone was difficult to get on the Mesopotamian plain, most of the architecture in
Babel utilized brick.
--the bricks were composed of clay mixed with chopped straw and baked in the sun.
--the bricks were then joined with bitumen, a slimy substance, which acted as a mortar
--these bricks quickly dissolved when soaked with water
--for most buildings in Babel this wasn't a problem because rain was so rare
--however, the gardens were continually exposed to irrigation and the foundation had to
be protected.

--the Greek historian, Diodorus Siculus, stated that the platforms on which the garden

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stood consisted of huge slabs of stone (otherwise unheard of in Babel), covered with
layers of reed, asphalt and tiles.
--according to him, over this the Babylonians put
a covering with sheets of lead, so that the moisture which drenched through the
earth might not rot the foundation. Upon all these was laid earth of a convenient
depth, sufficient for the growth of the greatest trees. When the soil was laid even
and smooth, it was planted with all sorts of trees, which both for greatness and
beauty might delight the spectators.

--modern researchers aren’t entirely sure whether the Hanging Gardens ever really
existed
--instead, they suggest that the Greeks were simply describing a view of the entire city of
Babylon, not a separate, identifiable pleasure garden
--regardless, it seems that Babylon must have been an extraordinary place, even by
modern standards of architecture and urban planning

--Seven Wonders
1) Pyramids at Giza
2) Hanging Gardens of Babylon
3) Statue of Zeus at Olympia
4) Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
5) Mausoleum of Halicarnassus
6) Colossus of Rhodes
7) Lighthouse of Alexandria

c) Assyria (1300-900 BCE)

In the northern section of the Tigris River of Mesopotamia, in what is now Iraq, the
ancient territory of Assyria was once a formidable empire.

Named for Ashur, the original capital of the region, Assyria was populated around 2000
BC by Semitic-speaking individuals from the southwest.

The area was organized after 1900 BC, as the Assyrian influence spread northward into
Anatolia (the region now known as Turkey) through trading and the development of
colonies in this area.

However, by 1800 BC, the Assyrians were driven to the south and out of Anatolia, by the
Hittites, a group of Indo-European speaking people from north of the Black Sea.

Assyrian strength in Mesopotamia continued to decline as the empire of Babylonia
increased in power in the region and tended to usurp the position of the Assyrians.

By 1550 BC, the Kingdom of Mitanni, an empire founded by Indo-Iranians (also called
Aryans), seized control over the Assyrians.

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The Assyrians did not manage to gain their independence from the Mitannis until 1365
BC.

After gaining their independence in 1365, and until 800 BC, the Assyrians managed to
increase their dominance in northern Mesopotamia.

By the time the control of the Assyrians began to wane in 800, numerous sections of the
Middle East had fallen under their control at one time or another, if only temporarily.

These sections include Anatolia, Syria, Palestine, Persia (on the Iranian plateau), and
Egypt.

During the rule of Ashurbanipal (668-26), a recession occurred in Assyria, weakening the
empire. By 612, the Mede, a group from Iran, and Babylonians worked together and
destroyed one of the principle centers of power in Assyria, the city of Nineveh.

Assyrian Art

Assyrian art preserved to the present day predominantly dates to the Neo-Assyrian
period. Art depicting battle scenes, and occasionally the impaling of whole villages in
gory detail, was intended to show the power of the emperor, and was generally made for
propaganda purposes. These stone reliefs lined the walls in the royal palaces where
foreigners were received by the king. Other stone reliefs depict the king with different
deities and conducting religious ceremonies. A lot of stone reliefs were discovered in the
royal palaces at Nimrud (Kalhu) and Khorsabad (Dur-Sharrukin). A rare discovery of
metal plates belonging to wooden doors was made at Balawat (Imgur-Enlil).
Assyrian sculpture reached a high level of refinement in the Neo-Assyrian period. One
prominent example is the winged bull Lamassu, or shedu that guard the entrances to the
king's court. These were apotropaic meaning they were intended to ward off evil. C. W.
Ceram states in The March of Archaeology that lamassi were typically sculpted with five
legs so that four legs were always visible, whether the image were viewed frontally or in
profile.
Since works of precious gems and metals usually do not survive the ravages of time, we
are lucky to have some fine pieces of Assyrian jewelry. These were found in royal tombs
at Nimrud.

Astronomy
There is ongoing discussion among academics over the nature of the Nimrud lens, a piece
of rock crystal unearthed by Austen Henry Layard in 1850, in the Nimrud palace complex
in northern Iraq. A small minority believe that it is evidence for the existence of ancient
Assyrian telescopes, which could explain the great accuracy of Assyrian astronomy. The
Nimrud Lens is held in the British Museum

Assyria and Babylon Compared

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During the period when they were competing for dominance in Mesopotamia, the
neighbouring sister-states of Babylonia and Assyria differed essentially in character.

Babylonia was a land of merchants and agriculturists; Assyria became an organized
military camp.

The Assyrian dynasties were founded by successful generals; in Babylonia it was the
priests whom a revolution raised to the throne.

The Babylonian king remained a priest to the last, under the control of a powerful
hierarchy; the Assyrian king was the autocratic general of an army, at whose side stood in
early days a feudal nobility, aided from the reign of Tiglath-pileser III onwards by an
elaborate bureaucracy.

His palace was more sumptuous than the temples of the gods, from which it was quite
separate.

The people were soldiers and little else; even the sailor belonged to the state. Hence the
sudden collapse of Assyria when drained of its fighting population in the age of Assur-
bani-pal.

Ancient History—Egypt:
The Old and Middle Kingdoms

1. The Gift of the Nile
2. Divine Kingship and ma’at
a) kingship
b) ma’at
3. The Old and Middle Kingdoms (2650-2200 BCE; 2200-1650 BCE)
a) government

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b) religion

--No place exhibits the impact of the natural environment on the history and culture of a
society better than ancient Egypt.
--located at the point where Africa and Asia meet, Egypt is protected by two primary
barriers: 1) the desert on either side of the Nile Valley; 2) the harborless, marshy seacoast.
--and while Mesopotamia was wide open to migration and invasion, and was dependant
on imported goods for its survival, the isolation of Egypt together with its wealth of
natural resources combined to create a unique culture that for very long periods of time
had very little to do with the outside world.

1. The Gift of the Nile

--the primary and fundamental natural feature of Egypt is, of course, the mighty river that
bisects the nation into two elongated halves.
--I’m speaking, of course, of the Nile—the world’s longest, and perhaps most evocative
river.

--the Nile originates in Lake Victoria, between the modern-day countries of Uganda and
Tanzania, as well as in several tributaries that begin in the hills of central Africa
--the river flows northward through Sudan and Egypt until its broad delta empties into the
Mediterranean west of the Sinai peninsula.

--in antiquity, just as today, more than 90 % of the Egyptian population lives in the
alluvial lands that straddle the river
--this is because the remainder of the country (again, more than 90%) is a bleak and
barren wasteland of desert, rocks and mountains.
--there are oases and waterholes scattered throughout the desert (the Egyptians call them
wadi), but these are generally too small to sustain any sort of large scale settlement.

--so inhospitable is the Egyptian desert that ancient Egyptians used to distinguish
between the so-called “Black Land” (the lush, fertile river valley) and the “Red Land”
(i.e., the desert).

--so important was the Nile River to its existence, the ancient Greek historian, Herodotus
(about whom I’ll be telling you more later), called the land of Egypt, “the Gift of the
Nile”.

--from earliest times, the river was the primary means of travel and communication, and
the most important cities were located considerably upstream.
--and because the river flows from S to N, Egyptians and others called this southern part
of the country “Upper Egypt”. The northern part they called “Lower Egypt”

--Throughout most of its history, the southern boundary of the land of Egypt was the so-
called “First Cataract” (i.e., the first of a series of rapids that extend southward through
Sudan)

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--at times, Egyptian control extended south into Kush, or Nubia (in modern Sudan) but
for the most part, as I say, the first cataract was the southern border of Egypt

--and, while the hot, sunny weather of the Sahara would seem to favor agriculture, rain
rarely falls south of the Nile Delta, so seed crops were entirely dependant on river water
for their growth
--from earliest times, therefore, water engineering and irrigation has been a prominent
feature of Egyptian life.

--each September (since the ancient of days) the Nile has flooded its banks, spreading
water and silt throughout the low-lying basins that exist on both sides of the river
--fortunately for Egyptian farmers, the September flood occurred at precisely the right
time for irrigation (unlike in Mesopotamia)
--the farmers would simply watch the flood from high ground, and when it receded late in
the month, they would descend to sow their crops.
--perhaps this is why many Egyptian creation myths feature the emergence of human life
from fertile, swampy soil.

--the height of the flood usually determined how successful that year’s grain harvest
would be and so from time immemorial, Egyptian peasants have gathered on the banks of
the river to examine the so-called “Nilometers” that are placed at regular intervals along
the shore (i.e., stone steps with incised units of measure)

--in addition to grain and vegetable crops, the Nile supplies Egypt a wide variety of
useful products: the reeds and rushes along its banks were used to make sails, rope and a
kind of writing surface called papyrus (from which we get the word “paper”)
--hunters pursued game along the banks of the river, fishermen netted or caught fish
--building stone could be quarried up river and floated downstream for a variety of
architectural purposes
--clay from the riverbed was used to make bricks
--and deposits of gold, turquoise and other minerals could be located not far away in the
Sinai.

--the rich natural and mineral wealth of Egypt drew large numbers of settlers from all
over; this process accelerated after ca. 5500 BCE when the Sahara, which to that point
had been relatively fertile grassland or savannah, dried up into desert.

2. Divine Kingship and ma’at

a) Divine Kingship

--before long, this increase in population produced new, more complex levels of political
organization, including an indigenous form of early kingship.
--traditionally, the first king of Egypt was a ruler from the south named Menes; although
some modern scholars question whether Menes was a historical or a mythological figure;
--nevertheless, the “idea” of his reign is generally regarded as a pivotal event in the early

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history of the country.
--and, whether or not there was an actual historical figure named Menes, the early
Egyptian kings quickly became the “Rulers of the Two Lands”, i.e., Upper and Lower
Egypt—and they were depicted with two crowns and other implements symbolizing the
unification of the country at a very early date.
--this is unlike Mesopotamia, where you’ll remember the various city-states lived
together in a loose confederacy (that occasionally coalesced around a strong ruler).

--the system that historians use to organize Egyptian history is based on 30 dynasties
(i.e., sequences of kings from the same family)
--these dynasties presided over Egyptian affairs between ca. 3200 and 332 BCE, when the
last Egyptian monarch fell to the Macedonian (i.e., late Greek) ruler, Alexander the Great
--the rise and fall of the Egyptian dynasties often reflects the dominance of one part of the
country over another: so, sometimes the north was in ascendancy and other times, the
south held power.
--at a broader level, historians and Egyptologists divide Egyptian history into the
following categories: the Old Kingdom (roughly 3000-2100 BCE), the Middle Kingdom
(2000-1600 BCE) and the New Kingdom (1500-1050 BCE)
--each of these periods of centralized political power and stunning cultural achievement
punctuated by short periods of fragmentation and cultural decline

--the central figure of the Egyptian state was the king, who was actually called pharaoh
only during the New Kingdom era (i.e., after ca. 1500 BCE).
--throughout the Old and Middle Kingdoms he was referred to simply as the “king of
Egypt”.

--nevertheless, from the time of the Old Kingdom, Egyptians considered their king a
divine presence: a god who had left the ethereal realms to dwell among mere mortals.
--he (or more rarely, she) was the incarnation of two important deities: 1) Horus (the king
of the gods) and 2) Re (the Sun God)

b) Ma’at

--Egyptians believed that the king had been sent to them by the other gods in order that
he might preserve or maintain the so-called “ma’at,” the divinely sanctioned order of the
universe

--in fact, ma'at, for Egyptians, ma’at occupied a strange zone between concept and
goddess
--the idea of ma’at was personified into a sort of divine character like Horus and Re, but
she wasn’t really worshiped like a goddess
--her name, literally, meant 'truth' in Egyptian: and it appears that she represented order,
balance and justice personified.
--she was harmony, she was correctness or rightness, she was what things were supposed
to be.

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--it was thought that if Ma'at didn't exist, the universe would descend into a sort of
primordial chaos, an unformed stew of cosmic randomness

--and this was scary/shocking to Egyptians because they believed that the universe was,
above everything else, an ordered and rational place.
--they believed that it functioned with predictability and regularity; the cycles of the
universe, like the cycles of the river, always remained constant and true
--similarly, in the moral sphere, Egyptians believed that purity was rewarded and that sin
was punished. So, at both a moral and physical level, the universe was in perfect balance.
--because of ma'at, the Egyptians knew that the universe (and everything in the universe)
worked according to a divinely ordained pattern, or plan

--it was very much like the Greek concept of the logos (a term which means order,
stability and regularity): "In the beginning was the logos, and the logos was with God and
the logos was God." - John 1:1 (Logos was the 'Word', another name for Jesus).
--just as the logos of Christendom bound together every created thing, so to in Egypt,
there could be nothing without the ma'at.

--so, maintaining the ma’at was the central, vital preoccupation of the king, and because
of this, the king became a conduit, or an indispensable link, between the people and the
realm of the Egyptian gods
--the king’s benevolent and serene government ensured the prosperity and welfare of the
Egyptian people: if he misbehaved, the other gods would punish him, if he acted
generously and piously towards the gods and his people, Egypt would be blessed many
times over.

--indeed, so central was the king to the Egyptian idea of good government that his death
provoked widespread anxiety and elaborate efforts to ensure his safe passage on his
perilous journey to rejoin the gods in their celestial home.
--massive amounts of money and resources were poured into rituals connected with his
death: 1) the construction of royal mausoleums, 2) elaborate funerary rites, 3) votive
offerings of food and other articles

--the earliest rulers (i.e., before the Old Kingdom) were buried in large, flat topped
rectangular tombs that were made of mud bricks
--however, around 2600 BCE, Djoser, a 3rd Dynasty king, ordered the construction of a
spectacular stepped pyramid (i.e., a ziggurat) at the royal town of Saqqara near
Memphis.

--by the 4th Dynasty, however, Egyptian kings ordered their architects to fill in the steps
of the ziggurat to create the smooth-sided, geometrically advanced pyramids that have
come to symbolize ancient Egypt
--between 2550 and 2490 BCE the pharaohs Khufu, Khefren and Menkaure erected
large memorial pyramids at Giza, several miles north of Saqqara on the west bank of the
Nile
--these are some of the largest stone monuments ever to have been built by human hands:

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Khufu’s pyramid originally reached a height of 480 feet (146 meters), and remained the
tallest human structure until the completion of the Eiffel Tower in 1889.

--what is perhaps more amazing is the method of construction: for the most part, the
Egyptians relied on *stone* tools: bronze tools were in use during this period, but the
metal was too expensive and too rare for everyday use.
--for machinery they relied on simple levers, pulleys and rollers of varying shapes and
description.
--what made the pyramid projects viable was an almost unlimited supply of human
muscle power: in order to create a pyramid within the life of a single Egyptian king, a
staggering amount of human resources would have been deployed.
--historians figure that much of the building must have been carried out during the
flooding of the Nile, when agricultural workers couldn’t go down into the fields even if
they had wanted to.
--and although work on the pyramids appears to have been compulsory, it also seems that
most Egyptians saw such labor as a form of religious worship and probably didn’t mind
all that much.
--it is also interesting to note that the age of the Great Pyramids lasted only about a
century, after which a number of smaller monuments were built, but nothing to match the
great pyramids at Giza.

3. The Old and Middle Kingdoms

a) Government

--but how were building projects on such a massive scale directed and administered?
--what sort of bureaucratic machinery existed to organize and direct such labor?
--to answer this question, let’s talk briefly about the Egyptian governmental and
administrative apparatus during the Old and Middle Kingdoms

--the kings of Egypt usually placed their dynastic capitals in the region where they first
built up a power base.
--so, during the Old Kingdom, the Egyptian capital was located at Memphis, near the
apex of the Nile delta (and close to the site of modern Cairo).
--during the Middle and New Kingdoms, power shifted south to Thebes, which lies much
closer to the first cataract.

--at these centers, the kings of Egypt developed a large and complex bureaucracy, one
that kept precise and detailed records of the resources of the country.
--the administrative structure began at the village level, where local officials kept track of
the resources and manpower of the community
--above the level of the village officials, there were district or provincial administrators
who coordinated public works projects, irrigation, agricultural affairs and other regional
issues
--at the top of it all, a central bureaucracy directed the provincial administrations
--the central bureaucrats, working at Memphis or Thebes, kept track of land, labor,

41
agricultural products and people, and extracted as much as 50% of total revenues in tax.

--the money that the bureaucracy scooped up was used to subsidize the royal palace, to
pay for the bureaucracy and the army, as well as to build and maintain temples and other
aspects of the Egyptian infrastructure (i.e., roads, canals, river ports, etc).

b) Hieroglyphs

--one of the key characteristics of the Egyptian bureaucratic class was literacy, and by the
early Dynastic period (i.e., the Old Kingdom), the Egyptians developed a complex
written system of symbols and pictures called hieroglyphs or hieroglyphics.
--each symbol could stand for an entire word, a syllable or a vowel sound or even a
consonantal cluster.

--here is the symbol for Akhenaten, an important
pharaoh from the New Kingdom era
--could be expressed left to right, right to left; could
be expressed up-down
--often the Egyptian desire for symmetry intruded on their writing system: on
monuments, statues, we often see the same passage written twice: once facing left,
another time facing right

--the meaning of these symbols remained unclear until the late 18th century (i.e., 1799)
when a French official (during the Napoleonic era) discovered an ancient stone panel
which recorded the same statement 3 times: once in Greek, a second time in demotic
Egyptian (i.e., Egyptian words using a Greek spelling) and a third time in Egyptian
hieroglyphs.
--this panel is known as the Rosetta Stone (after the city where it was found), advanced
our understanding of Egyptian history and Egyptian culture immeasurably
--for the first time, scholars could hear the voices of the Egyptians themselves
--they could read the hieroglyphs by translating from the Greek, and they could hear the
sounds that the hieroglyphs stood for when they matched the symbols with the demotic
Egyptian
--it’s actually a rather boring document, it’s a decree that affirms the royal cult of King
Ptolemy V (from 196 BCE).

--nevertheless, it provided access to a host of other documents, documents which told us
about: 1) Egyptian religion, 2) Egyptian literature), 3) the economy and government, 4)
diplomatic relations

--this was because the Egyptians used hieroglyphics (2 types, one ornamental, the other
cursive) for a variety of purposes: tales of adventure and magic, love poetry, religious
hymns, technical manuals, etc
--armies of scribes made copies of documents for the priests, nobles, merchants,
administrators, technicians and other literate peoples

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--to get an idea of how sophisticated the Hieroglyphics system became, let’s look at a
symbol called the “Eye of Horus”
--Horus, represented as the falcon-headed god, was an important god in Egyptian legend.
--the symbol representing his eye, was a powerful symbol used to protect from evil.
--pronounced "udjat" by the Egyptians, the Eye of Horus represents a human eye with the
cheek markings of a falcon.

--the 'Rx' symbol which is used even today by pharmacies and in medicine has its origins
in the Eye of Horus.

--in ancient Egypt, however, “the Eye of Horus” was used to express mathematical
fractions
--fractions were created by combining sections of the Eye of Horus symbol.
--each section of the symbol had a different value.
--the complete Eye of Horus with all parts in place has a value of 1.
--but each individual line had its own value:

Separated sections with fraction
values --so, to get the value 5/8, you would write down the
line for ½ and the line for 1/8
--to get a value of 33/64, you would write down ½ and 1/64, and so on…

--it might seem a little cumbersome to us, but using this system, bureaucrats could
express most any fraction they wanted: they could write memoranda where ¾ of a grain
shipment was placed in one silo and ¼ was placed in another
--they could draw up contracts where 9/32 of a field was given to a certain farmer or
where 9/16 of a pasture was given to a certain temple priest

--anyway…one of the main reasons that the country was so well administered was that
throughout most of its history (i.e., throughout the Old and Middle Kingdoms), Egypt
practiced an isolationist foreign policy.
--rather than expending valuable resources in wasteful imperialistic ventures, most
Egyptian monarchs concentrated on the internal government of the nation

--thus, throughout the Old and New Kingdoms, Egyptian contacts with the outside world
were limited; the kings maintained polite relations with the other advanced civilizations

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of the region (i.e., Mesopotamia, Israel, Nubia, Greece), but for the most part, they were
only interested in maintaining the flow of commodities that were unavailable at home.
--so, for example, Egyptians would trade with the towns and cities of the Levant
(especially cedar); in return, Egypt would send gold, papyrus and surplus grain.

--the situation was rather different when the pharaohs turned their gaze to the south
--this was because the countries which existed there (i.e., Nubia, Ethiopia, Yemen) were
Egypt’s primary trading partners
--it was largely from these regions that Egyptian craftsmen got the materials they need to
make the exquisite treasures that they buried along with their dead pharaohs
--so, from the wealthy little villages of the Horn of Africa, and from the bustling port
towns of Arabia, Egypt received a constant stream of precious metals such as gold and
silver, rare commodities like ivory, incense and ebony

--but despite this highly advanced trading relationship with the south, the fact remains
that Egypt remained, for the most part, isolationist; to give you an idea of how isolationist
Egypt was, consider the fact that any foreigner in their midst was technically considered
an enemy of the pharaoh.
--there was no political/diplomatic category called “allies”

c) Religion

--of course, government and trade do not a civilization make, and much of the talent and
creative energy of the Nile Valley civilization was devoted to religious and spiritual
systems
--as I stated earlier, the religious ideals of the Egyptians were rooted in the landscape and
physical geography of the Nile Valley, and in a vision of cosmic order that their natural
environment evoked

--so, the constancy and regularity of the environment (i.e., the sun rising daily in a
cloudless sky; the river flooding at regular, yearly intervals; bountiful harvests), all of this
persuaded Egyptians that the natural world was a place of recurrent cycles and
continuous renewal
--this imbued Egypt with a world-view in which the concept of “ma’at” was central, but
this was by no means the limit of their cosmological system
--let me give you an elaboration of the religious/spiritual ideology of the Egyptians
during the Old and New Kingdoms to give you an idea of what was in the Egyptian mind:

--so far as we can tell, the people of the Nile thought of the sky as a great ocean
surrounding the inhabited world
--through this ocean traveled Re (or Ra), the great sun god of the Egyptians
--on a daily voyage from the east to the west, Ra made a majestic progress through the
brilliant African sky
--at night, he traversed the underworld, battling demons and giant serpents all the way
--of course, his triumph over the forced of darkness was foreordained, and every morning
he would emerge fresh from his titanic battle, eager to light the way for the sons and

44
daughters of the Nile

--in another popular story, the god Osiris, was slain by his brother Seth, the god of chaos
--Seth then dismembered the corpse of his brother and scattered the pieces to the four
corners of the earth.
--Osiris’s wife and sister, Isis, was disconsolate at the loss of her husband, and so she
spent months searching for the various body parts and when she finally found the last
piece, she reassembled him and brought him back to life
--meanwhile, their son, Horus, searched for the murderer, and, when he found Seth, he
took revenge on his uncle.
--Horus challenged Seth to a fight, and in the epic contest that followed, the two gods
battled each other for more than 80 years
--during the conflict, Seth ripped out Horus' left eye and Horus tore off Seth's testicles.
--eventually, Horus emerged victorious and Seth was sent to live with Ra

--meanwhile Osiris was installed as king of the Underworld, and became one of Egypt’s
most popular and enduring gods
--his ability to “triumph over death” gave Egyptians hope of a new life in a world beyond
the regular confines of time and space
--he became a sort of redeemer figure

--well, during the Old Kingdom, these two stories (i.e., Re and Osiris) began to inform
the cult of divine kingship
--remember, as I told you earlier, the pharaoh was seen as the human incarnation of both
Horus (the son of Osiris) and Re (the sun god).
--this gave the Egyptian monarch a dual association: 1) return of the dead to life; 2) the
life-giving and regenerative associations of the sun god
--thus, he became not only a king, but also the chief priest of Egypt, and he intervened
with the gods on behalf of his land and people

--thus, Egyptians erected fabulous temples and cult-centers at hundreds of sites up and
down the Nile
--they established priesthoods to the various deities of the Egyptian pantheon,
--they lavished money on building projects associated with the gods and goddesses
--they held elaborate rituals and feasts on high holy days of the Egyptian calendar

--all of this religious activity was designed for a single purpose: to appease the gods and
to assist people in their hazardous journey from the point of death to the Underworld
--all people had to make this journey, and many dedicated their lives to ensuring a safe
passage

--they would store up whatever food-stuffs and treasure they were able to amass
--they became obsessed with the state of the cadaver, and in the hopes of preserving the
human body in as “fresh” a state as possible, they began to develop their skills in a
process that we call mummification

45
--this is how it worked: shortly after death the body would be taken to a tent known as
the place of purification.
--there the corpse would be thoroughly washed in a solution of natron (this is a naturally
occurring compound of sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate)
--after this, the body was taken to another tent known as the house of beauty.
--here the actual mummification process would take place.

--first, the viscera (i.e., internal organs) were removed and dried; they were then rinsed,
bandaged and placed in so-called canopic jars or parcels which were subsequently placed
with the body.
--these canopic jars would be decorated with the images of the "four sons of Horus"
--after the removal and preservation of the internal organs, dry natron would be molded
over the corpse and inserted into the body cavity, in order to assist desiccation.
--the body would then be left to thoroughly dehydrate for some forty days

--once the body was completely dried, the temporary stuffing would be removed, and the
body cavity would be re-stuffed and packed out with bags of fresh natron, resin-soaked
bandages and various sweet smelling aromatics.
--the brain cavity was filled with resin or linen, the openings in the skull packed with
linen bandages and very often, artificial eyes were added.

--the whole body was then coated in a preservative resin, and cosmetics were applied to
the face in order to give the body a “life-like” appearance.

--at the end of the process, the body was completely bandaged and amulets were inserted
between the wrappings according to instructions found in the Egyptian Book of the Dead

--finally, the corpse was ready for its voyage to the underworld
--and, after a perilous trip through various demonic challenges, the dead person would
arrive at the place of judgment: Egyptians believed that at this point, their heart (long
considered the seat of the personality, the intellect and emotion) would be weighed on a
set of divine scales.
--if it passed this test, they would be permitted to reach the ultimate blessed destination: a
land of food and luxury…

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Ancient History—Egypt:
The New Kingdom

1. The Hyksos Invasion (ca. 1800-1570 BCE)
2. The New Kingdom
a) Akhenaten and Atonism (1367-1350 BCE)
b) Nefertiti and Tutankhamen

--the familiar political and cultural patterns of ancient Egypt continued, more or less
unchallenged and unchanged, for almost 16 centuries
--indeed, between ca. 3200 and 1650 BCE, the people of the Nile lived according to a
political cycle that was as regular as the yearly flooding of the great river
--from his lavish royal courts at Thebes or Memphis, the serene, all-powerful monarch of
Egypt continuously fostered the enviable peace and prosperity of his happy people
--when one king died, there was wide-spread weeping and lamentation; a great, cathartic
and ostentatious fuss was made over his burial and then, in his stead, another king would
rise up to maintain and preserve the sacred ma’at

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1. The Hyksos Invasion

--however, while Egyptian civilization flourished behind its bulwark of sand and sea,
momentous changes were taking place throughout the ancient Near East, changes that
would leave their mark even on rich, insular Egypt
--and these changes involved the enormous and remarkable migrations of various
unsettled peoples of Mesopotamia and the Fertile Crescent, peoples who spoke, for the
most part, a group of languages that we refer to as “Semitic”: as a category, this group
can include: Babylonians, Akkadians, Phoenicians, Canaanites, Arabs, Ethiopians and
Jews

--we don’t know the precise origins of Semitic peoples; we know that by 1800 BCE they
lived throughout Mesopotamia, Syria and Palestine, however, we can only guess at their
earliest geographic origins
--many scholars put these origins in the Arabian peninsula; they maintain that the
ancestors of the Semites probably gathered on the banks of the Persian Gulf and spread
out from there

--according to various Mesopotamian and other sources, a number of nomadic Semites
began to move throughout the Fertile Crescent around 1800 BCE
--one group, a band of pastoralists known as the Hyksos, moved gradually from their
Mesopotamian homeland into the area that we know as the Nile Delta
--we’re not entirely sure how to translate the term “Hyksos”: it’s been translated
variously as “Shepherd Kings,” “Rulers of Foreign Countries,” and “Kings of the
Uplands”
--they were also known as the Aamu, which could mean “People of the East” or “Asians”

--and while I’ve described their migration to Egypt as “gradual”, from the perspective of
those who lived along the Nile it was anything but.
--indeed, according to one Egyptian, a priest named Manetho:
“A blast of God smote us; and unexpectedly from the regions of the East invaders
of obscure race marched in confidence of victory against our land. By…force they
easily overpowered the rulers of the land; then they burned our cities ruthlessly
and razed to the ground the temples of the gods; they treated all the natives of
Egypt with a cruel hostility -- massacring some and leading into slavery the wives
and children of others .....”

--while we have to take into consideration Menetho’s nationalistic tendencies and the
possibility that he was exaggerating, it nevertheless seems clear that the Hyksos did in
fact come as conquerors
--very soon after their arrival, they established a capital at the town of Avaris, a port-city
in the northeastern part of the Nile Delta
--recently, archeologists have confirmed that Avaris was indeed occupied by a people
who exhibited specifically non-Egyptian cultural traits.
--for example, in the archeological strata that date from 3800 years ago, we find evidence

48
of non-Egyptian occupation: the layout of the town and the configuration of the houses
don’t conform to any known Egyptian patterns
--as well, the way in which they buried their dead also seemed different
--indeed, the Hyksos appear to have buried their dead inside the city walls (i.e.,
intermixed with the living community); this is a practice that was completely unknown to
the Egyptians—as you know, they preferred to bury their dead in separate necropolises
far outside the city walls of their communities

--the physical evidence also confirms that over the next 2 centuries (i.e., between 1800
and 1600) the Hyksos began building other communities, gradually moving south toward
Memphis at the apex of the Delta
--and, once they occupied Memphis in about 1670 BCE, the Hyksos became the de facto
rulers of large portions of the Egyptian world

--for about 100 years, the Hyksos appear to have presided as kings over most of Lower
Egypt and parts of the Upper Kingdom as well
--in fact, it’s been suggested that Hyksos’ rule over Egypt during the 17th and 16th
centuries BCE provided the basis for the biblical story of Joseph

--you might remember that Joseph is considered one of the most important and famous of
all the Hebrew patriarchs; he is best known for his “coat of many colors” and his ability
to interpret dreams
--according to the bible, Joseph was the son of Hebrew parents, Jacob and Rachel
--however, as a youth, he was stolen into bondage and sent as a slave into Egypt
--before long, (according to the bible) the pharaoh recognized Joseph’s amazing
interpretive abilities, and he set him up as a sort of viceroy over Egypt

--well, the story is quite long and involved, and I don’t have time to go into all of the
details (if you’re interested see Genesis, chapters 37-39)
--what is important here is the fact that historians and biblical scholars think the Joseph
narrative contains elements of a much bigger story: the arrival of a Semitic people in
Egypt, a Semitic people who would go on to have an extraordinarily long relationship
with the indigenous people of the region

--before moving on to a discussion of the New Kingdom, we might want to talk a little bit
about how the Hyksos managed to subdue the great armies of the Pharaoh
--indeed, when we think of the Egyptians, we often think about the might and power of
the Egyptian army
--however, in their relationship with the Hyksos, the Egyptians were at a decided
disadvantage
--and it was all a matter of superior technology on the part of the invading Semites

--like other Semitic confederacies, the Hyksos were amongst the earliest to experiment
with new forms of metal working
--in fact, scholars think it was they who brought the secret of making bronze with them
into Egypt

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--what is bronze?
--it’s the alloy you get by mixing copper with tin
--this mixture is much stronger than copper alone, and with it, the Hyksos had a
tremendous technological advantage:
1) bronze tools made the Hyksos much better farmers than the Egyptians: their ploughs
and hoes and rakes were much sharper and more durable than traditional Egyptian farm
implements
2) as well, bronze technology gave the Hyksos an advantage on the battlefield: not only
did they use bronze offensively in their weapons (i.e., spears, swords, arrow-tips), they
also incorporated bronze into their armour: this gave them a defensive edge as well

--thus, when they met the armies of the pharaoh on the battlefield, the Hyksos troops
were better able to inflict death and injury (and better able to absorb wounding strikes
from Egyptian swords and arrows)

--the Hyksos also appear to have had other military advantages:

1) it appears that they were amongst the first to use horse-drawn chariots:
--chariots were developed because at this early stage in the horse’s domestication, it was
too light and too fragile to bear the weight of a fully armored warrior
--chariots gave the Hyksos a battlefield mobility that was unavailable to the Egyptians;
and because they were usually manned by two warriors, one could concentrate on
steering while the other concentrated on firing a weapon
--as a further advantage, because the Egyptians hadn’t used the horse for military or
agricultural purposes, many soldiers were afraid of the animals and fled the field
whenever the chariots approached their defensive lines

2) the Hyksos also developed the composite bow at a very early date. As the name
implies, composite bows are made of various laminates: in this case, the Hyksos
combined wood and horn to produce a bow that was far more powerful than a bow made
from a single piece of wood. A trained archer could launch an arrow much further with a
composite bow than with simple bow

--so, while the Hyksos were in many respects culturally-backward when compared to the
Egyptians, their superior agricultural and military technologies allowed them to utterly
dominate the armies of the Pharaohs.
--with bronze weapons, chariots and the new arrow-launching technology, there was no
way that the Egyptians could hope to mount a serious battlefield challenge to the Semitic
newcomers

--gradually, however, it appears that the Hyksos were absorbed by the dominant culture
of the Egyptian people
--the seductive rhythms of the Nile seized the Hyksos, and before long, they too had
come to worship Ra and Osiris and Isis and all the other gods of the Egyptian pantheon
--before long, they too began to measure the flood, write in hieroglyphs and venerate the

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pharaoh

2. The New Kingdom

--and as the Hyksos were being lulled into the eternal cycles of the river, another process
was under way in the south
--here, a group of ambitious new rulers began pushing against the Hyksos and their
political stronghold in the north
--by ca. 1572 BCE, these rulers had captured Thebes, by ca. 1570 BCE they had pushed
the Hyksos out of the Nile Delta, and by the mid 1560s BCE they had extended their rule
to include parts of Nubia and Sudan in the south, and Palestine and Syria in the northeast

--this dynasty of pharaohs, known to history as the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Dynasties
would ultimately include some of the most remarkable kings of the Egyptian world
--for example, this is the era of Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti
--it is the era of Tutankhamen (i.e., King Tut)
--it is the era of Ramses the Great (i.e., some scholars think this is the pharaoh of the
biblical story of Moses)

--so, with the expulsion of the Hyksos, we see the beginning of a vigorous, expansive
period in the history of the Egyptian people
--it’s a period known to history as the New Kingdom, and in many respects, it represents
the blazing noon-day of Nile Valley civilization
--I say this because it was a period when a series of audacious warrior-pharaohs greatly
extended the wealth, power and prestige of Egypt
--and it differed from earlier periods in two very important respects: 1) a conscious
program of imperialism; 2) widespread use of slave labour (for the first time in Egyptian
history)

--one of the most extraordinary and remarkable of the New Kingdom kings was a
pharaoh who began his life as Amenhotep IV, but who is better known to history as
Akhenaten, (ruled between 1367 and 1350 BCE)
--let me tell you a little about him

Akhenaten

--despite the fact that he would become one of the most intriguing and important
pharaohs in the entire history of the Egyptian people, Akhenaten began his life as
something of an outcast
--the reasons for this are a little unclear, though apparently it had something to do with
his fragile health
--based on an examination of his mummified remains (as well as artistic depictions of
him), scientists believe that Akhenaten suffered from a relatively rare genetic disorder
called Marfan Syndrome, a condition that damages the body's connective tissue.
--symptoms include a series of irregularities such as: a very short torso, a long head, (as
well as elongated neck, arms, hand and feet), pronounced collarbones, a pot belly, heavy

51
thighs, and poor muscle tone.
--those who inherit it are often unusually tall and are likely to have weakened aortas that
can rupture without warning.
--those who suffer from the condition tend to die at an early age

--so, perhaps because of this unfortunate malady, very few expectations were placed on
the young prince, and, for the most part, he appears to have been ignored by the rest of
the family.
--indeed, he never appeared in any royal portraits; he was never taken to public events; he
never received honors; he was never mentioned on monuments and he wasn’t even
allowed to enter the royal priesthood at Thebes (a traditional destination for younger sons
of the pharaoh).
--it was as if the gods had deserted him.
--in fact, he had only one champion, one ally, during his long and lonely childhood: this
was his mother Queen Tiy, who happened to be a descendant of the Hebrew people
--in fact, it was largely through her influence that when the old pharaoh died, Akhenaten
managed to secure the Egyptian throne for himself
--given his previous pariah (or outcast) status, this was a rather amazing turn of events,
and the situation became even more astounding as Akhenaten consolidated his hold on
the imperial throne

--I say this because soon after his ascent to the Egyptian throne, it seems that Akhenaten
underwent some kind of profound spiritual, or psychological, transformation
--he claimed that he had received a powerful vision from some heavenly source
--in this vision, he saw the disc of the sun shining brightly between two mountains

--he interpreted this vision as a divine revelation
--he announced that the previously obscure god Aton was trying to communicate with
him (Aton is regularly depicted in Egyptian art as a solar disc)
--after further visions, Akhenaten declared, much to the consternation and amazement of
the Egyptian priests and the ruling class, that Aton was the one, true god
--he claimed that the other gods (i.e., Ra, Osiris, Hawthor, Isis, Horus and all the others)
were, in fact, demons and that they should be avoided at all costs

--then, he sent stonemasons up and down the length of the Nile with orders to chisel out
the names and images of all the other gods from every inscription they could find
--the special target of his purge was the great temple at Thebes, from whose priesthood he
had been excluded so many years before
--he shut down the Theban temple, and then ordered the closure or destruction of every
traditional cult site in Egypt
--he diverted the revenues of the temples to the royal coffers and then seized all their
property

--in a campaign of righteous anger and vengeance, he tried to overturn the 2000 year old
religious foundations of Egyptian culture and implant monotheism in a culture that had
no monotheistic tradition

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--he even established a fabulous new capital and dedicated it to Aton
--this was the city of Akhetaten, on the eastern bank of the Nile, about half-way between
Memphis and Thebes
--here, he adopted a radically new architectural and artistic program, one that he intended
to be pleasing to his god
--he ordered that all paintings of the royal family should be naturalistic, they should
depict the pharaohs as mortals, not as gods themselves
--the new paintings contrasted sharply with the rigid postures and overly-dignified poses
of traditional Egyptian art
--similarly, in terms of his architectural program, he instructed that royal buildings and
monuments should not seek to glorify the royal family; instead, they should conform to
the principles of his new religion, one which has been called Atonism by modern
scholars

--and while it was largely the product of Akhenaten’s self-conscious attempt to utterly
transform the religious orientation of Egyptian culture, it seems that Atonism soon
acquired a large, devout following

--we have evidence that it penetrated the popular mind; especially in the popular songs
and hymns that were written to Aten:

O living Aten, creator of life,
You rise in splendour on the horizon of heaven!
When you have dawned in the eastern horizon,
You fill every land with your beauty.
You are lovely, great, radiant,
And high over every land;
Thy rays embrace the lands,
To the limit of all that you have made.
Being the true Ra, you reach the limits of the earth,
You bend them for your beloved son;
And though you are far away, your rays are on earth,
And though you are in men’s faces, no one knows thy going.

--well…Akhenaten’s revolutionary movement didn’t endure for very long after his death,
and soon after he was placed in his royal mausoleum, the tide of reaction began
--the capital was moved back to Thebes, the traditional priesthoods and sacred colleges
were reopened, revenues began to flow back in to the coffers of the great temples
--and before long, a new band of stonecutters were sent out to erase the name of Aton
from the various monuments of the Egyptian world
--a few scraps of the cult of Aton remained, but by and large, Egypt returned to the Old
Ways and the Old Beliefs
--the experiment in monotheism was over

Queen Nefertiti

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--before finishing this section on the New Kingdom, I should probably say a few words
about Akhenaten’s primary wife, Queen Nefertiti
--the name Nefertiti means, “The beautiful one has arrived,” and indeed, since the time of
her reign more than 3000 years ago, she has been considered one of the most alluring
women of the ancient world
--surviving images of Nefertiti seem to convey an elegance and poise that are quite
disarming

--of course, she was much more than just a good-looking woman
--unfortunately, we don’t know much about her childhood, and the earliest data at our
disposal comes from the period after she had married Akhenaten

--from the outset, it seems, she supported her husband’s beliefs and sought to help him in
his quest to transform Egypt into a monotheistic society
--to that end she changed her name to Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti, which means: “The Aten
is radiance of radiance [as] the beautiful one has come.”
--new research confirms that Nefertiti was probably one of Egypt’s most powerful queens
--she is frequently depicted wearing the royal crown of the pharaoh as well as in scenes
of battle.

--Egyptologists speculate that because Akhenaten was born with so many crippling
deformities, Queen Nefertiti probably exercised a large measure of control over the
events of the kingdom, and that she might even have been a sort of “co-pharaoh” with her
husband

--the evidence for this:
1) her name frequently appears alongside her husband’s on royal documents
2) there are actually far more images of Nefertiti than there are images of Akhenaten
3) she was buried in a tomb of royal scale

--whatever her initial status might have been, it appears that she might have met a sad end
--very soon after the death of Akhenaten, she disappears from the historical record
--historians think a variety of things might have happened to her:
1) she might have died
2) she might have fallen out of favor with her husband and been sent into some form of
exile
3) she might have fallen out of favor with the next generation of rulers (i.e., after her
husband’s death, during the period when the old cults were being restored, perhaps
Nefertiti had few royal allies on whom she could rely)

--complicating matters is the fact that her body was never found
--it’s thought that friends or allies might have brought her body to the “Valley of the
Kings” soon after her death as a way of preventing overly-zealous reformers from
desecrating her grave
--if this is the case, there is the tantalizing prospect that one day, Egyptologists might find

54
her mortal remains

Conclusion

--well, the New Kingdom survived the deaths of Akhenaten and Nefertiti by more than 3
centuries
--however, by about 1000 BCE, Egypt began a long, steady process of decline
--it succumbed to disintegration from within and to attacks from without
--so, from about the turn of the first millennium BCE, Egypt was ruled, for the most part,
by foreign dynasties or foreign peoples: Libya, Mesopotamia, Persia, Greece, Rome
--there were intervals between these periods of foreign domination, during which the
Egyptians tried to recapture the creative spirit of earlier times
--however, this spirit always seemed to elude them

--after more than 2000 years of vibrancy and vitality, the Egyptian world descended into
decay, marginalization and irrelevance
--and, in its last few centuries, it became a shell of what it had previously been

Egypt and Persia

Egypt:

1. Akhenaten
2. Nefertiti

Persia:

1. Intro
2. Geography
3. Cyrus the Great (550-530 BCE)
4. The Growth of the Empire down to Cambyses (530-522 BCE)
5. Darius (522-486 BCE)

--and as the Hyksos were being lulled into the eternal cycles of the river, another process
was under way in the south
--here, a group of ambitious new rulers began pushing against the Hyksos and their
political stronghold in the north

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--by ca. 1572 BCE, these rulers had captured Thebes, by ca. 1570 BCE they had pushed
the Hyksos out of the Nile Delta, and by the mid 1560s BCE they had extended their rule
to include parts of Nubia and Sudan in the south, and Palestine and Syria in the northeast

--this dynasty of pharaohs, known to history as the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Dynasties
would ultimately include some of the most remarkable kings of the Egyptian world
--for example, this is the era of Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti
--it is the era of Tutankhamen (i.e., King Tut)
--it is the era of Ramses the Great (i.e., some scholars think this is the pharaoh of the
biblical story of Moses)

--so, with the expulsion of the Hyksos, we see the beginning of a vigorous, expansive
period in the history of the Egyptian people
--it’s a period known to history as the New Kingdom, and in many respects, it represents
the blazing noon-day of Nile Valley civilization
--I say this because it was a period when a series of audacious warrior-pharaohs greatly
extended the wealth, power and prestige of Egypt
--and it differed from earlier periods in two very important respects: 1) a conscious
program of imperialism; 2) widespread use of slave labour (for the first time in Egyptian
history)

--one of the most extraordinary and remarkable of the New Kingdom kings was a
pharaoh who began his life as Amenhotep IV, but who is better known to history as
Akhenaten, (ruled between 1367 and 1350 BCE)
--let me tell you a little about him

Akhenaten

--despite the fact that he would become one of the most intriguing and important
pharaohs in the entire history of the Egyptian people, Akhenaten began his life as
something of an outcast
--the reasons for this are a little unclear, though apparently it had something to do with
his fragile health
--based on an examination of his mummified remains (as well as artistic depictions of
him), scientists believe that Akhenaten suffered from a relatively rare genetic disorder
called Marfan Syndrome, a condition that damages the body's connective tissue.
--symptoms include a series of irregularities such as: a very short torso, a long head, (as
well as elongated neck, arms, hand and feet), pronounced collarbones, a pot belly, heavy
thighs, and poor muscle tone.
--those who inherit the condition are often unusually tall and are likely to have weakened
aortas that can rupture without warning.
--those who suffer from the condition tend to die at an early age

--so, perhaps because of this unfortunate malady, very few expectations were placed on
the young prince, and, for the most part, he appears to have been ignored by the rest of
the family.

56
--indeed, he never appeared in any royal portraits; he was never taken (so far as we
know) to public events; he never received honors; he was never mentioned on
monuments and he wasn’t even allowed to enter the royal priesthood at Thebes (a
traditional destination for younger sons of the pharaoh).

--it was as if the gods had deserted him.

--in fact, he had only one champion, one ally, during his long and lonely childhood: this
was his mother Queen Tiy, who happened to be a descendant of the Hebrew people
--it was largely through her influence that when the old pharaoh died, Akhenaten
somehow managed to secure the Egyptian throne for himself
--given his previous pariah (or outcast) status, this was a rather amazing turn of events,
and the situation became even more astounding as Akhenaten consolidated his hold on
the imperial throne

--I say this because soon after his ascent to the Egyptian throne, it seems that Akhenaten
underwent some kind of profound spiritual, or psychological, transformation
--he claimed that he had received a powerful vision from some heavenly source
--in this vision, he saw the disc of the sun shining brightly between two mountains

--he interpreted this vision as a divine revelation
--he announced that the previously obscure god Aton was trying to communicate with
him (Aton is regularly depicted in Egyptian art as a solar disc)
--after further visions, Akhenaten declared, much to the alarm and amazement of the
Egyptian priests and the ruling class, that Aton was the one, true god
--he claimed that the other gods (i.e., Ra, Osiris, Hawthor, Isis, Horus and all the others)
were, in fact, demons and that they should be avoided at all costs

--so let’s make this completely clear: in one fell swoop Akhenaten was trying to overturn
the 2000 year old religious foundations of Egyptian culture
--in essence, then, he was trying to implant monotheism in a culture that had no
monotheistic tradition

--well, one of the first acts of his new religious programme: he sent stonemasons up and
down the length of the Nile with orders to chisel out the names and images of all the
other gods from every inscription they could find
--the special target of his purge was the great temple at Thebes (you’ll remember that he
had been excluded from the priesthood at Thebes when he was a boy)
--so, he shut down the Theban temple, and then ordered the closure or destruction of
every traditional cult site throughout Egypt
--he diverted the revenues of the temples to the royal coffers and then seized all their
property

--he even established a fabulous new capital city and dedicated it to the new god
--this was the city of Akhet-aten, on the eastern bank of the Nile, about half-way
between Memphis and Thebes

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--here, he adopted a radically new architectural and artistic program, one that he intended
to be pleasing to his god
--he ordered that all paintings of the royal family should be naturalistic, that artists should
depict the pharaohs as mortals, not as gods themselves
--so, these new paintings contrasted sharply with the rigid postures and overly-dignified
poses of traditional Egyptian art
--similarly, in terms of his architectural program, he instructed that royal buildings and
monuments should not seek to glorify the royal family; instead, they should conform to
the principles of his new religion, one which has been called Atonism by modern
scholars
--because his new religion was a solar cult, he ordered that none of the new temples
should have a roof: instead, they should be places where the sun shone with full intensity

--and though his new religion was largely the product of Akhenaten’s self-conscious
attempt to transform the spiritual environment of Egypt, it seems that Atonism soon
acquired a fairly large, devout following

--for example, we have evidence that the new faith penetrated the popular mind
--indeed, there are a number of hymns and popular songs that were expressly dedicated
to Aten:

O living Aten, creator of life,
You rise in splendor at the horizon of heaven!
When you have dawned in the eastern sky,
You fill every land with your beauty.
You are lovely, great, radiant,
And high over every land.

Your rays embrace the lands
To the limit of all that you have made.
Being the true Ra, you reach the limits of the earth,
You bend them for your beloved children;
And though you are far away, your rays are here on earth,
And though you are in men’s faces, no one knows thy going.

--well…unfortunately for Akhenaten and those who began to espouse the religion, this
revolutionary new movement didn’t endure for very long after the pharaoh’s death, and
soon after he was placed in his royal mausoleum, the tide of reaction began

--the capital was moved back to Thebes, the traditional priesthoods and sacred colleges
were reopened, revenues began to flow back in to the coffers of the great temples
--and before long, a new band of stonecutters were sent out to erase the name of Aton
from the various monuments of the Egyptian world
--a few scraps of the cult of Aton remained, but by and large, Egypt returned to the Old
Ways and the Old Beliefs
--the experiment in monotheism was over

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Queen Nefertiti

--before finishing this section on the New Kingdom, I should probably say a few words
about Akhenaten’s primary wife, Queen Nefertiti
--the name Nefertiti means, “The beautiful one has arrived,” and indeed, since the time of
her reign more than 3000 years ago, she has been considered one of the most alluring
women of the ancient world
--surviving images of Nefertiti seem to convey an elegance and poise that are quite
disarming

--of course, she was much more than just a good-looking woman
--unfortunately, we don’t know much about her childhood, and the earliest data at our
disposal comes from the period after she had married Akhenaten

--from the outset, it seems, she supported her husband’s beliefs and sought to help him in
his quest to transform Egypt into a monotheistic society
--to that end she changed her name to Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti, which means: “The
Aten is radiance of radiance [as] the beautiful one has come.”
--new research confirms that Nefertiti was probably one of Egypt’s most powerful queens
--she is frequently depicted wearing the royal crown of the pharaoh as well as in scenes
of battle.

--Egyptologists speculate that because Akhenaten was born with so many crippling
deformities, Queen Nefertiti probably exercised a large measure of control over the
events of the kingdom, and that she might even have been a sort of “co-pharaoh” with her
husband

--the evidence for this:
1) her name frequently appears alongside her husband’s on royal documents
2) there are actually far more images of Nefertiti than there are images of Akhenaten
3) she was buried in a tomb of royal scale

--well, whatever her early status might have been, it appears that she might have met a
sad end
--very soon after the death of Akhenaten, she disappears from the historical record
--historians think a variety of things might have happened to her:
1) she might have died
2) she might have fallen out of favor with her husband and been sent into some form of
exile
3) she might have fallen out of favor with the next generation of rulers (i.e., after her
husband’s death, during the period when the old cults were being restored, perhaps
Nefertiti had few royal allies on whom she could rely)

--complicating matters is the fact that her body was never found
--it’s thought that friends or allies might have brought her body to the “Valley of the

59
Kings” soon after her death as a way of preventing overly-zealous reformers from
desecrating her grave
--if this is the case, there is the tantalizing prospect that one day, Egyptologists might find
her mortal remains

Conclusion

--well, the New Kingdom survived the deaths of Akhenaten and Nefertiti by more than 3
centuries
--however, by about 1000 BCE, Egypt began a long, steady process of decline
--it succumbed to disintegration from within and to attacks from without
--so, from about the turn of the first millennium BCE, Egypt was ruled, for the most part,
by foreign dynasties or foreign peoples: Libya, Mesopotamia, Persia, Greece, Rome
--there were intervals between these periods of foreign domination, during which the
Egyptians tried to recapture the creative spirit of earlier times
--however, this spirit always seemed to elude them

--after more than 2000 years of vibrancy and vitality, the Egyptian world descended into
decay, marginalization and irrelevance
--and, in its last few centuries, it became a shell of what it had previously been

Ancient—The Persian Empire

1. Intro
2. Geography
3. Cyrus the Great (550-530 BCE)
4. The Growth of the Empire down to Cambyses (530-522 BCE)
5. Darius (522-486 BCE)

1. Introduction

--for the last few classes we’ve been looking at some of the early river valley civilizations
that grew up along the floodplains of two of the world’s most important watersheds
--first, we looked at the culture of Mesopotamia, home to a number of important ancient
cultures: the Sumerians, the Akkadians, the Babylonians and others
--here we saw some of the prototypes for civilized life in the ancient Near East,
prototypes that would ultimately appear in various places throughout the Eurasian
landmass
--indeed, the cultural models that appeared along the banks of the Tigris and the
Euphrates (and here I’m thinking of the various technological, political, religious and
legal systems that emerged), well, these were dispersed throughout western Asia, the

60
Mediterranean and beyond
--consequently we’ll see many of these systems, often in slightly altered form, in Greece,
Rome and other cultures as well

--it’s a similar situation with the second society that we looked at: the one that grew up
along the banks of the Nile
--again, many of the philosophical, scientific and religious ideals of ancient Egyptians
would ultimately go on to become the common intellectual and cultural furniture of other,
subsequent civilizations
--for example, when we discuss Alexander the Great in a couple of weeks, we’ll look at
how the great Macedonian prince and his successors manipulated many of the religious
and cultural ideals of Egyptian life to extend their political control over Palestine, the
Sinai and the Nile Valley
--likewise, when we come to discuss religious developments during Rome’s imperial
period, we’ll look at how the cult of Isis (and other Egyptian beliefs) quickly spread
throughout the Roman world (i.e., during the second and third centuries CE)

--so, while they’re intrinsically interesting and worthy of study for their own sake, I’ve
introduced these cultures to you, so that you’ll be able to recognise their contributions to
Greece and Rome

--well, it’s in a similar spirit that I introduce Persian culture to you
--as you’ll see over the course of the next few weeks, in many ways, the culture of the
ancient Mediterranean intersects with Persian

--before moving on to discuss Greece and Rome, I want to look at one other Near Eastern
people: the Persians
1) the Persians became the primary rival of the Greek city states during the 5th century
BCE; in a week or two, we will be studying the great epic struggle between the Greeks
and Persians: a war that was fought for control of Asia Minor and the Balkans
2) under the so-called Seleucid dynasty (i.e., the heirs to Alexander the Great), Persia
would be briefly incorporated into the political orbit of the Mediterranean world
3) the Persians would also become one of Rome’s most important and enduring nemeses:
throughout the late Republic and most of the Imperial period, Persia was a menacing
presence just beyond Rome’s eastern boundary
4) Persian culture came to have a profound influence on the culture of the Mediterranean
world; three of its major religions (Zoroastrianism, Mithraism and Manichaeism) would
greatly influence the theology of western faiths such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam

--so for all these reasons, I’d like to spend a few classes discussing this fascinating and
important empire

2. Geography of Persia

--the “land of Persia” is located on the northern shore of the Persian Gulf, directly east of
the Mesopotamian kingdoms

61
--this is the area that we know today as Iran
--it is a stark land of looming mountains and trackless deserts
--at the heart of the country is a broad, dusty plateau that stretches almost from the shores
of the Gulf right up to the Caspian Sea
--since prehistory, the topography and geographical position of the country have made it a
virtual highway between East and West
--thus, throughout its history, wave after wave of tough, wild and nomadic people have
swept across its inhospitable landscape
--indeed, the very harshness of the environment has been one of the major forces urging
people on: they kept moving from east to west in order to escape the searing climate and
the lack of resources

--however, even though there’s very little water sources or agricultural land,
archeological evidence confirms that, by about 2000 BCE, a series of small towns and
villages emerged along the migration routes between east and west

--these towns were certainly present when the ancient Iranians descended into this
parched territory from the steppes of Central Asia around 1000 BCE
--the Iranians were an Indo-European speaking people and their migration was part of
much broader movement of peoples between ca. 2000 and 1000 BCE
--some of the Indo-Europeans moved into northern India and displaced the indigenous
population, others moved into Asia Minor and the Balkans; others went even further west
into what is now Germany, France and Spain
--as I suggested a moment ago, all of these wanderers spoke a common language, one
which modern linguists refer to as “Indo-European”
--this group of languages is probably based on a single original form, but today the group
includes such diverse tongues as Gaelic, English, Portuguese, Latin, German, Russian,
Iranian, Sanskrit, etc.

--anyway, these Indo-European Iranians were originally herders and pastoralists, who,
like the Hyksos in Egypt, developed horsemanship and bronze working long before the
other indigenous peoples of the region
--thus, these nomadic shepherds were able to quickly defeat the earliest inhabitants of the
region and to consolidate their hold over the area that would eventually become Iran

--and gradually, the Iranians began to coalesce into 2 main groups: 1) the Medes, who
lived in the land immediately south of the Caspian Sea; 2) the Persians, who settled
nearer to the body of water that we know as the Persian Gulf
--by ca. 700 BCE, the two confederacies dominated the region, and began to fight for
supremacy amongst themselves
--and with this struggle between the Medes and the Persians around 700 BCE, we see the
first stirrings of what would become the mighty Persian Empire

--so…how did it begin?

3. The Founding of the Empire by Cyrus the Great

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--well, to answer that question, we have to look to the story of one man, a king whom
history knows as “Kuraš” or “Cyrus the Great”
--let me tell you about him
--what we know of Cyrus comes to us largely from the pen of one of Greece’s most
esteemed early historians, Herodotus
--Herodotus is the author of The Histories, a work that is generally regarded as the first
historical book in all of history

--in this work, Herodotus claimed that the great Persian monarch, Cyrus, had an
extraordinary rise to power
--and while many of the details are probably embellished, it is nevertheless a fascinating
and instructive tale:

--it seems that before Cyrus was born, his grandfather King Astyages of the Medes had a
disturbing dream
--in it, he dreamt that his daughter Mandane (who was Cyrus’s mother), emitted a vast
quantity of urine; she produced so much water that she deluged Astyages’ capital city and
then drowned out all of Asia
--well, Astyages was perplexed by this vision, so he decided to take his dream to the
Median priests (i.e., the so-called magi–this comes from the Persian word magush) and
ask them what it all meant
--after carefully considering the significance of the dream, the magi warned the king that
because of his daughter, the kingdom of the Medes would be put in dire circumstances

--frightened by what they told him, Astyages decided to give Mandane in marriage to a
Persian king named Cambyses
--he figured that with his daughter safely out of the kingdom, the prophetic dream
couldn’t come true

--well, Mandane and Cambyses were not married more than a year when Astyages once
again had a dream; this time he saw a vine issuing from Mandane's womb, and this vine
eventually strangled the whole of Asia.
--again, the magi saw this dream as a bad omen and they told the king that if Mandane
had a son, he would grow up to usurp Astyages’ throne

--so, Astyages sent for his pregnant daughter and kept her under tight guard until the child
was born.
--he then gave instructions to a Median nobleman named Harpagus, namely, that he
should kill the baby and dispose of the corpse
--well, as you might expect, Harpagus had misgivings about the task, and decided not to
kill the baby

--instead, he called for a herdsman (a shepherd) and ordered him to carry out the king's
command, adding that he would be severely punished if the child was allowed to live.
--it just so happened, however, that the herdsman’s wife had recently given birth to a still-

63
born child, and the couple decided to keep the royal infant and bring it up as their own.
--the couple then presented Harpagus with the corpse of their still-born baby, claiming
that it was the prince who they were supposed to dispose of

--(I might mention that) in another version of the story, instead of giving the baby to the
shepherd, Harpagus exposed the infant on a hillside, figuring that at least he was giving
the baby at least half a chance at survival
--very soon, a wild dog came along and took pity on the boy
--she adopted the infant as her own, and suckled him for a number of months along with
her puppies
--in this version, it was only at this point that the shepherd and his wife entered the story
(i.e., they discovered the dog and boy together, took both home)

--anyway…as so often happens in stories of this sort, Cyrus soon developed into an
outstanding young boy, and he quickly began to develop the royal qualities of leadership.
--for example, one day, during a game with other children, Cyrus was chosen to play
king.
--because of the royal blood coursing through his veins, Cyrus quickly “got into the role”
and in the course of the game, he beat the son of a nobleman because the boy refused to
take orders from him.
--well, the father of the badly beaten boy complained to King Astyages, who in turn
called for Cyrus in order to punish him.
--when Cyrus was brought before him, Astyages quickly discovered that this was not the
son of a herdsman, but was instead his own grandson, the son of Mandane
--Astyages was outraged at the duplicity of his nobleman, Harpagus (i.e., the one who
had given the boy to the shepherd so many years before)
--as a punishment, King Astyages ordered that the son of Harpagus should killed and
roasted over a fire, and that Harpagus should eat the cooked remains of his dead son
before an assembly of Median nobles
--and, after consulting the magi, the king allowed Cyrus to return to Persia and to his real
parents.

--well, as you can imagine, Harpagus went mad with fury
--he vowed to avenge his son's death and began to encourage Cyrus to seize King
Astyages’ throne.
--and, because Cyrus had his own reasons for hating his grandfather, Harpagus’ scheming
quickly began to bear fruit
--Cyrus went out into the towns and villages, he rode out into the countryside;
everywhere he went, he persuaded the Persian and Median tribespeople to support him in
his coming insurrection
--with such powerful and widespread support, Cyrus quickly succeeded in overthrowing
his grandfather and then became the ruler of the united Medes and Persians

--well, it’s impossible to determine just how much of the foregoing story is
embellishment
--historians think that the rough contours of the story might be accurate, but that the

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details are a little far-fetched
--so, it seems likely that Cyrus unified the Persians and the Medes after rebelling against
his grandfather, but he probably wasn’t raised by dogs

4. Growth of the Empire

--anyway…whatever route Cyrus took to power, it seems that by 550 BCE he had
vanquished his grandfather and consolidated his victory
--and, in the 20 years between 550 and 530 BCE, he did nothing less than redraw the map
of western Asia
--in 546, for example, he sent his cavalry into Asia Minor, where they utterly decimated
the indigenous people (Greeks, and a culture called the Lydians); it was said that the
smell of Cyrus’s camels caused a panic amongst the opponents’ horses
--by 544, all the cities of Asia Minor were in the hands of the Persians

--a few years later, Cyrus’s troops swept into Macedonia, where, through a combination
of intimidation and diplomacy, he managed to subject the entire region to Persian
domination
--indeed, he installed his son, Cambyses, as the King of Babylon
--this would mark the first time in almost 3000 years that a foreign monarch sat on the
throne of a Mesopotamian kingdom

--well, Cyrus died like the warlord he was: in the saddle
--and in his wake, Cambyses, rose to take his father’s place
--the son would govern between 530-522 BCE
--perhaps to honor his father’s memory, perhaps to put his own stamp on the growing
Persian Empire, Cambyses also pursued an aggressive imperialistic policy
--however, Cambyses decided to set his sights on a much richer prize: Egypt

--and, in a series of extremely bloody battles, the Persians under Cambyses managed to
incorporate the Kingdom of the Nile into the growing Persian Empire
--Cambyses declared himself pharaoh of Egypt in 526
--as was the case with Macedonia, the Persian triumph over the Egyptians marked the
beginning of the end for an ancient civilization

--well, Cambyses didn’t live long enough to see the fruits of his labour, as he was
assassinated on an expedition back to the Persian homeland in 522

--in the wake of the murder, the Persian world was submerged into a vicious civil war,
one that involved dozens of Cyrus’ and Cambyses’ uncles and cousins
--at length, one man emerged victorious
--he was a king who would become one of the most influential and important monarchs
of the ancient world
--I’m speaking, of course, of “Darayavauch,” or “Darius the Great”

5. Darius the Great (522-486 BCE)

65
--well, if Cyrus gave birth to the Persian Empire, and if Cambyses had grandiose plans to
extend it, then it was Darius who presided over the apogee (or high water mark) of
Persian civilization
--Darius was actually a distant cousin of Cyrus, but was, nevertheless a member of the
so-called Achemenides dynasty (i.e., the dynasty to which Cyrus and Cambyses
belonged)
--he became king, as I said, during the power struggle that grew up in the wake of
Cambyses’ assassination

--from the beginning of his reign, Darius pushed the borders of the Persian empire even
further: in the east, he extended Persian control right up to the Indus River (i.e., between
Pakistan and India)
--in the west, he sent his troops as far as the Danube River (indeed, the Persians were one
of the first peoples to build a bridge over the Danube
--further to the south, he established a string of forts throughout Thrace (i.e., Bulgaria
and the northeastern part of modern Greece)
--by 500 BCE, Darius was on the doorstep of Thessalonica, one of the northern
provinces of mainland Greece

--Darius was also interested in building up Persia’s maritime capabilities
--accordingly, he dispatched fleets into the waters of the Indus Delta, the Red Sea, the
Black Sea and the eastern Mediterranean
--he even built a canal between the Nile and the Red Sea so that his navies could be
moved or redeployed from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean with relative ease

--next, he turned to the administration of his growing sphere of influence
--first, he moved his capital westward from the traditional Persian homeland to the city of
Susa, on the frontier between modern Iraq and Iran
--this was closer to the centre of his expanding empire, and presumably, he could govern
Persia more efficiently from this location
--next, he ordered his engineers to repair and extend an important0 military road that had
initially been built by his predecessor, Cyrus
--this road extended from the capital city at Susa, up the Tigris River, across Anatolia
almost to the shore of the Mediterranean at Sardis in western Turkey
--this was the so-called Persian Royal Road, and it represented one of the greatest public
works projects that the world had ever known (indeed, at its height, the road extended
more than 1600 miles from east to west)
--at intervals along this road were over 100 rest stops and horse relays (i.e., places where
riders could exchange an exhausted horse for one that was well rested)
--these stations aided the king’s official messengers who traveled the route in a manner
that was very similar to the Pony Express
--according to sources, the entire distance, from Susa to Sardis could be covered in seven
grueling 24-hour days.
--so, if there was trouble at any point along the road, the royal court at Susa would hear
about it within the week

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--it was an amazingly efficient transportation and communication route

--in fact, the Persian king’s messengers were so dedicated to their task that the Greek
Historian Herodotus claimed: “There is nothing in the world that travels faster than these
Persian couriers…Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness of night prevents them
from accomplishing the task proposed to them with the very utmost speed”

i) Administration and Satrapies

--it was also Darius who divided the Persian world into 20 individual provinces, or
satrapies (sing. satrapy, pl. satrapies)
--over each satrapy there was a governor, or satrap, who was usually related to the king
by blood or marriage
--so, for example, Egypt became a separate satrapy, as did Babylonia, Armenia, Palestine
and so on
--the satrap’s court was a miniature version of the central court at Susa
--and, because the satrapies quickly became hereditary, these provincial administrators
quickly acquired a great amount of knowledge about local conditions and they developed
close connections with the local native elite
--and the further a province was from the centre at Susa, the more independent and
autonomous the satraps became
--this type of administration also brought significant numbers of Persians from the centre
of the empire to the provinces, with a net result of acculturation
--that is, through intermarriage and other forms of cultural and technological exchanges,
the Persian way of doing things was dispersed throughout the empire from the banks of
the Indus, to the Danube and from the deserts of Sudan to the steppe country of Scythia

ii) Court Life

--above it all, the king presided from his sumptuous court at Susa
--the first thing a foreign observer would have noticed about the Persian king’s domestic
space, apart from the fabulous wealth that was everywhere on display, was the presence
of large numbers of women and children
--a number of sources point to this fact, including Herodotus’s Histories as well as the
biblical book of Esther
--the reason for such large numbers is that the Persian king traditionally had numerous
wives, and in turn, each wife usually had a significant number of children

--the wives of the Persian kings have traditionally been portrayed as schemers and
connivers: indeed, many stories imply that the queens of Persia used intrigues and
machinations to try and put their own children on the throne
--however, a recent study suggests that this view is an over-generalized stereotype, and
that in fact, royal Persian women played an important role protecting family members
and in mediating conflicts (both domestic and external)
--as well, new research seems to indicate that many of the kings wives were politically
influential, possessed substantial property holdings, traveled and were prominent on

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public occasions

--in addition to the royal family, the king’s entourage included several other groups:
1) the sons of Persian aristocrats; they were brought to Susa for two reasons: i) to be
educated; ii) to serve as hostages against their parents’ good behaviour
2) noblemen; these were expected to attend the king whenever he commanded it
3) the central bureaucrats
4) the royal bodyguard
5) non-noble courtiers and slaves

--the net effect was deeply impressive
--when diplomats met the king, they very often saw hundreds, or even thousands, of
people in attendance
--each of them showed profound deference and obedience to the increasingly remote
figure of the king
--as the decades wore on, the Persian king became more aloof, more splendid and more
majestic
--his full title became: “The Great King, King of Kings, King in Persia, King of
Countries”
--and he referred to everyone, even the Persian nobility as “my slaves”
--anyone who approached him had to ensure that their head never rose above the level of
the king’s head
--and no one could contradict anything he said
--the king owned vast tracts of land throughout his empire
--some of it he parceled out to his noble subordinates
--these gifts were called “bow lands,” “horse lands,” or “chariot lands” and in return for
the gift, a Persian noble was expected to provide the king with military service whenever
he was called upon to do so

--of course, the king reserved the best land for himself, and so, scattered throughout the
empire he had a large number of orchards, pleasure gardens and hunting preserves
--some of these estates were referred to as paradayadam (lit. “walled enclosure”), which
has come into English as the word “paradise”
--and indeed, these lush, verdant oases must have been particularly impressive, situated
against the backdrop of sand and dust

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Ancient—The Persian Empire

1. Intro
2. Geography
3. Cyrus the Great (550-530 BCE)
4. The Growth of the Empire down to Cambyses (530-522 BCE)
5. Darius (522-486 BCE)

1. Introduction

--for the last few classes we’ve been looking at some of the early river valley civilizations
that grew up along the floodplains of two of the world’s most important watersheds
--first, we looked at the culture of Mesopotamia, home to a number of important ancient
cultures: the Sumerians, the Akkadians, the Babylonians and others
--here we saw some of the prototypes for civilized life in the ancient Near East,
prototypes that would ultimately appear in various places throughout the Eurasian
landmass
--indeed, the cultural models that appeared along the banks of the Tigris and the
Euphrates (and here I’m thinking of the various technological, political, religious and
legal systems that emerged), well, these were dispersed throughout western Asia, the
Mediterranean and beyond
--consequently we’ll see many of these systems, often in slightly altered form, in Greece,

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Rome and other cultures as well

--it’s a similar situation with the second society that we looked at: the one that grew up
along the banks of the Nile
--again, many of the philosophical, scientific and religious ideals of ancient Egyptians
would ultimately go on to become the common intellectual and cultural furniture of other,
subsequent civilizations
--for example, when we discuss Alexander the Great in a couple of weeks, we’ll look at
how the great Macedonian prince and his successors manipulated many of the religious
and cultural ideals of Egyptian life to extend their political control over Palestine, the
Sinai and the Nile Valley
--likewise, when we come to discuss religious developments during Rome’s imperial
period, we’ll look at how the cult of Isis (and other Egyptian beliefs) quickly spread
throughout the Roman world (i.e., during the second and third centuries CE)

--so, while they’re intrinsically interesting and worthy of study for their own sake, I’ve
introduced these cultures to you, so that you’ll be able to recognise their contributions to
Greece and Rome

--well, it’s in a similar spirit that I introduce Persian culture to you
--as you’ll see over the course of the next few weeks, in many ways, the culture of the
ancient Mediterranean intersects with Persian

--before moving on to discuss Greece and Rome, I want to look at one other Near Eastern
people: the Persians
1) the Persians became the primary rival of the Greek city states during the 5th century
BCE; in a week or two, we will be studying the great epic struggle between the Greeks
and Persians: a war that was fought for control of Asia Minor and the Balkans
2) under the so-called Seleucid dynasty (i.e., the heirs to Alexander the Great), Persia
would be briefly incorporated into the political orbit of the Mediterranean world
3) the Persians would also become one of Rome’s most important and enduring nemeses:
throughout the late Republic and most of the Imperial period, Persia was a menacing
presence just beyond Rome’s eastern boundary
4) Persian culture came to have a profound influence on the culture of the Mediterranean
world; three of its major religions (Zoroastrianism, Mithraism and Manichaeism) would
greatly influence the theology of western faiths such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam

--so for all these reasons, I’d like to spend a few classes discussing this fascinating and
important empire

2. Geography of Persia

--the “land of Persia” is located on the northern shore of the Persian Gulf, directly east of
the Mesopotamian kingdoms
--this is the area that we know today as Iran
--it is a stark land of looming mountains and trackless deserts

70
--at the heart of the country is a broad, dusty plateau that stretches almost from the shores
of the Gulf right up to the Caspian Sea
--since prehistory, the topography and geographical position of the country have made it a
virtual highway between East and West
--thus, throughout its history, wave after wave of tough, wild and nomadic people have
swept across its inhospitable landscape
--indeed, the very harshness of the environment has been one of the major forces urging
people on: they kept moving from east to west in order to escape the searing climate and
the lack of resources

--however, even though there’s very little water sources or agricultural land,
archeological evidence confirms that, by about 2000 BCE, a series of small towns and
villages emerged along the migration routes between east and west

--these towns were certainly present when the ancient Iranians descended into this
parched territory from the steppes of Central Asia around 1000 BCE
--the Iranians were an Indo-European speaking people and their migration was part of
much broader movement of peoples between ca. 2000 and 1000 BCE
--some of the Indo-Europeans moved into northern India and displaced the indigenous
population, others moved into Asia Minor and the Balkans; others went even further west
into what is now Germany, France and Spain
--as I suggested a moment ago, all of these wanderers spoke a common language, one
which modern linguists refer to as “Indo-European”
--this group of languages is probably based on a single original form, but today the group
includes such diverse tongues as Gaelic, English, Portuguese, Latin, German, Russian,
Iranian, Sanskrit, etc.

--anyway, these Indo-European Iranians were originally herders and pastoralists, who,
like the Hyksos in Egypt, developed horsemanship and bronze working long before the
other indigenous peoples of the region
--thus, these nomadic shepherds were able to quickly defeat the earliest inhabitants of the
region and to consolidate their hold over the area that would eventually become Iran

--and gradually, the Iranians began to coalesce into 2 main groups: 1) the Medes, who
lived in the land immediately south of the Caspian Sea; 2) the Persians, who settled
nearer to the body of water that we know as the Persian Gulf
--by ca. 700 BCE, the two confederacies dominated the region, and began to fight for
supremacy amongst themselves
--and with this struggle between the Medes and the Persians around 700 BCE, we see the
first stirrings of what would become the mighty Persian Empire

--so…how did it begin?

3. The Founding of the Empire by Cyrus the Great

--well, to answer that question, we have to look to the story of one man, a king whom

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history knows as “Kuraš” or “Cyrus the Great”
--let me tell you about him
--what we know of Cyrus comes to us largely from the pen of one of Greece’s most
esteemed early historians, Herodotus
--Herodotus is the author of The Histories, a work that is generally regarded as the first
historical book in all of history

--in this work, Herodotus claimed that the great Persian monarch, Cyrus, had an
extraordinary rise to power
--and while many of the details are probably embellished, it is nevertheless a fascinating
and instructive tale:

--it seems that before Cyrus was born, his grandfather King Astyages of the Medes had a
disturbing dream
--in it, he dreamt that his daughter Mandane (who was Cyrus’s mother), emitted a vast
quantity of urine; she produced so much water that she deluged Astyages’ capital city and
then drowned out all of Asia
--well, Astyages was perplexed by this vision, so he decided to take his dream to the
Median priests (i.e., the so-called magi–this comes from the Persian word magush) and
ask them what it all meant
--after carefully considering the significance of the dream, the magi warned the king that
because of his daughter, the kingdom of the Medes would be put in dire circumstances

--frightened by what they told him, Astyages decided to give Mandane in marriage to a
Persian king named Cambyses
--he figured that with his daughter safely out of the kingdom, the prophetic dream
couldn’t come true

--well, Mandane and Cambyses were not married more than a year when Astyages once
again had a dream; this time he saw a vine issuing from Mandane's womb, and this vine
eventually strangled the whole of Asia.
--again, the magi saw this dream as a bad omen and they told the king that if Mandane
had a son, he would grow up to usurp Astyages’ throne

--so, Astyages sent for his pregnant daughter and kept her under tight guard until the child
was born.
--he then gave instructions to a Median nobleman named Harpagus, namely, that he
should kill the baby and dispose of the corpse
--well, as you might expect, Harpagus had misgivings about the task, and decided not to
kill the baby

--instead, he called for a herdsman (a shepherd) and ordered him to carry out the king's
command, adding that he would be severely punished if the child was allowed to live.
--it just so happened, however, that the herdsman’s wife had recently given birth to a still-
born child, and the couple decided to keep the royal infant and bring it up as their own.
--the couple then presented Harpagus with the corpse of their still-born baby, claiming

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that it was the prince who they were supposed to dispose of

--(I might mention that) in another version of the story, instead of giving the baby to the
shepherd, Harpagus exposed the infant on a hillside, figuring that at least he was giving
the baby at least half a chance at survival
--very soon, a wild dog came along and took pity on the boy
--she adopted the infant as her own, and suckled him for a number of months along with
her puppies
--in this version, it was only at this point that the shepherd and his wife entered the story
(i.e., they discovered the dog and boy together, took both home)

--anyway…as so often happens in stories of this sort, Cyrus soon developed into an
outstanding young boy, and he quickly began to develop the royal qualities of leadership.
--for example, one day, during a game with other children, Cyrus was chosen to play
king.
--because of the royal blood coursing through his veins, Cyrus quickly “got into the role”
and in the course of the game, he beat the son of a nobleman because the boy refused to
take orders from him.
--well, the father of the badly beaten boy complained to King Astyages, who in turn
called for Cyrus in order to punish him.
--when Cyrus was brought before him, Astyages quickly discovered that this was not the
son of a herdsman, but was instead his own grandson, the son of Mandane
--Astyages was outraged at the duplicity of his nobleman, Harpagus (i.e., the one who
had given the boy to the shepherd so many years before)
--as a punishment, King Astyages ordered that the son of Harpagus should be killed and
roasted over a fire, and that Harpagus should eat the cooked remains of his dead son
before an assembly of Median nobles
--and, after consulting the magi, the king allowed Cyrus to return to Persia and to his real
parents.

--well, as you can imagine, Harpagus went mad with fury
--he vowed to avenge his son's death and began to encourage Cyrus to seize King
Astyages’ throne.
--and, because Cyrus had his own reasons for hating his grandfather, Harpagus’ scheming
quickly began to bear fruit
--Cyrus went out into the towns and villages, he rode out into the countryside;
everywhere he went, he persuaded the Persian and Median tribespeople to support him in
his coming insurrection
--with such powerful and widespread support, Cyrus quickly succeeded in overthrowing
his grandfather and then became the ruler of the united Medes and Persians

--well, it’s impossible to determine just how much of the foregoing story is
embellishment
--historians think that the rough contours of the story might be accurate, but that the
details are a little far-fetched
--so, it seems likely that Cyrus unified the Persians and the Medes after rebelling against

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his grandfather, but he probably wasn’t raised by dogs

4. Growth of the Empire

--anyway…whatever route Cyrus took to power, it seems that by 550 BCE he had
vanquished his grandfather and consolidated his victory
--and, in the 20 years between 550 and 530 BCE, he did nothing less than redraw the map
of western Asia
--in 546, for example, he sent his cavalry into Asia Minor, where they utterly decimated
the indigenous people (Greeks, and a culture called the Lydians); it was said that the
smell of Cyrus’s camels caused a panic amongst the opponents’ horses
--by 544, all the cities of Asia Minor were in the hands of the Persians

--a few years later, Cyrus’s troops swept into Mesopotamia, where, through a
combination of intimidation and diplomacy, he managed to subject the entire region to
Persian domination
--indeed, he installed his son, Cambyses, as the King of Babylon
--this would mark the first time in almost 3000 years that a foreign monarch sat on the
throne of a Mesopotamian kingdom

--well, Cyrus died like the warlord he was: in the saddle
--and in his wake, Cambyses, rose to take his father’s place
--the son would govern between 530-522 BCE
--perhaps to honor his father’s memory, perhaps to put his own stamp on the growing
Persian Empire, Cambyses also pursued an aggressive imperialistic policy
--however, Cambyses decided to set his sights on a much richer prize: Egypt

--and, in a series of extremely bloody battles, the Persians under Cambyses managed to
incorporate the Kingdom of the Nile into the growing Persian Empire
--Cambyses declared himself pharaoh of Egypt in 526
--as was the case with Mesopotamia, the Persian triumph over the Egyptians marked the
beginning of the end for an ancient civilization

--well, Cambyses didn’t live long enough to see the fruits of his labour, as he was
assassinated on an expedition back to the Persian homeland in 522

--in the wake of the murder, the Persian world was submerged into a vicious civil war,
one that involved dozens of Cyrus’ and Cambyses’ uncles and cousins
--at length, one man emerged victorious
--he was a king who would become one of the most influential and important monarchs
of the ancient world
--I’m speaking, of course, of “Darayavauch,” or “Darius the Great”

5. Darius the Great (522-486 BCE)

--well, if Cyrus gave birth to the Persian Empire, and if Cambyses had grandiose plans to

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extend it, then it was Darius who presided over the apogee (or high water mark) of
Persian civilization
--Darius was actually a very distant cousin of Cyrus, but was, nevertheless a member of
the so-called Achemenides dynasty (i.e., the dynasty to which Cyrus and Cambyses
belonged)
--he became king, as I said, during the power struggle that grew up in the wake of
Cambyses’ assassination

--from the beginning of his reign, Darius pushed the borders of the Persian empire even
further: in the east, he extended Persian control right up to the Indus River (i.e., between
Pakistan and India)
--in the west, he sent his troops as far as the Danube River (indeed, the Persians were one
of the first peoples to build a bridge over the Danube
--further to the south, he established a string of forts throughout Thrace (i.e., Bulgaria
and the northeastern part of modern Greece)
--by 500 BCE, Darius was on the doorstep of Thessalonica, one of the northern
provinces of mainland Greece

--Darius was also interested in building up Persia’s maritime capabilities
--accordingly, he dispatched fleets into the waters of the Indus Delta, the Red Sea, the
Black Sea and the eastern Mediterranean
--he even built a canal between the Nile and the Red Sea so that his navies could be
moved or redeployed from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean with relative ease

--next, he turned to the administration of his growing sphere of influence
--first, he moved his capital westward from the traditional Persian homeland to the city of
Susa, on the frontier between modern Iraq and Iran
--this was closer to the centre of his expanding empire, and presumably, he could govern
Persia more efficiently from this location
--next, he ordered his engineers to repair and extend an important military road that had
initially been built by his predecessor, Cyrus
--this road extended from the capital city at Susa, up the Tigris River, across Anatolia
almost to the shore of the Mediterranean at Sardis in western Turkey
--this was the so-called Persian Royal Road, and it represented one of the greatest public
works projects that the world had ever known (indeed, at its height, the road extended
more than 1600 miles from east to west)
--at intervals along this road were over 100 rest stops and horse relays (i.e., places where
riders could exchange an exhausted horse for one that was well rested)
--these stations aided the king’s official messengers who traveled the route in a manner
that was very similar to the Pony Express
--according to sources, the entire distance, from Susa to Sardis could be covered in seven
grueling 24-hour days.
--so, if there was trouble at any point along the road, the royal court at Susa would hear
about it within the week
--it was an amazingly efficient transportation and communication route

75
--in fact, the Persian king’s messengers were so dedicated to their task that the Greek
Historian Herodotus claimed: “There is nothing in the world that travels faster than these
Persian couriers…Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness of night prevents them
from accomplishing the task proposed to them with the very utmost speed”

i) Administration and Satrapies

--it was also Darius who divided the Persian world into 20 individual provinces, or
satrapies (sing. satrapy, pl. satrapies)
--over each satrapy there was a governor, or satrap, who was usually related to the king
by blood or marriage
--so, for example, Egypt became a separate satrapy, as did Babylonia, Armenia, Palestine
and so on
--the satrap’s court was a miniature version of the central court at Susa
--and, because the satrapies quickly became hereditary, these provincial administrators
quickly acquired a great amount of knowledge about local conditions and they developed
close connections with the local native elite
--and the further a province was from the centre at Susa, the more independent and
autonomous the satraps became
--this type of administration also brought significant numbers of Persians from the centre
of the empire to the provinces, with a net result of acculturation
--that is, through intermarriage and other forms of cultural and technological exchanges,
the Persian way of doing things was dispersed throughout the empire from the banks of
the Indus, to the Danube and from the deserts of Sudan to the steppe country of Scythia

ii) Court Life

--above it all, the king presided from his sumptuous court at Susa
--the first thing a foreign observer would have noticed about the Persian king’s domestic
space, apart from the fabulous wealth that was everywhere on display, was the presence
of large numbers of women and children
--a number of sources point to this fact, including Herodotus’s Histories as well as the
biblical book of Esther
--the reason for such large numbers is that the Persian king traditionally had numerous
wives, and in turn, each wife usually had a significant number of children

--the wives of the Persian kings have traditionally been portrayed as schemers and
connivers: indeed, many stories imply that the queens of Persia used intrigues and
machinations to try and put their own children on the throne
--however, a recent study suggests that this view is an over-generalized stereotype, and
that in fact, royal Persian women played an important role protecting family members
and in mediating conflicts (both domestic and external)
--as well, new research seems to indicate that many of the kings wives were politically
influential, possessed substantial property holdings, traveled and were prominent on
public occasions

76
--in addition to the royal family, the king’s entourage included several other groups:
1) the sons of Persian aristocrats; they were brought to Susa for two reasons: i) to be
educated; ii) to serve as hostages against their parents’ good behaviour
2) noblemen; these were expected to attend the king whenever he commanded it
3) the central bureaucrats
4) the royal bodyguard
5) non-noble courtiers and slaves

--the net effect was deeply impressive
--when diplomats met the king, they very often saw hundreds, or even thousands, of
people in attendance
--each of them showed profound deference and obedience to the increasingly remote
figure of the king
--as the decades wore on, the Persian king became more aloof, more splendid and more
majestic
--his full title became: “The Great King, King of Kings, King in Persia, King of
Countries”
--and he referred to everyone, even the Persian nobility as “my slaves”
--anyone who approached him had to ensure that their head never rose above the level of
the king’s head
--and no one could contradict anything he said
--the king owned vast tracts of land throughout his empire
--some of it he parceled out to his noble subordinates
--these gifts were called “bow lands,” “horse lands,” or “chariot lands” and in return for
the gift, a Persian noble was expected to provide the king with military service whenever
he was called upon to do so

--of course, the king reserved the best land for himself, and so, scattered throughout the
empire he had a large number of orchards, pleasure gardens and hunting preserves
--some of these estates were referred to as paradayadam (lit. “walled enclosure”), which
has come into English as the word “paradise”
--and indeed, these lush, verdant oases must have been particularly impressive, situated
against the backdrop of sand and dust

77
Persia—Religion

1. Zarathustra and his faith
2. The “Off-shoots”:
a) Mithraism
b) Manichaeism

1. Zoroaster and his faith

--well, as I mentioned towards the beginning of the last class, the Persians were
extremely important in terms of their contributions to the religious life of the ancient
world
--in fact, many of the religious ideas that circulated in the theologies of various Near
Eastern, Mediterranean (and even modern Western) religions ultimately have as their
source the spiritual ideas of the Iranian people
--and, I think, the Persian contributions to the theology of subsequent religions is one of
the most enduring and intrinsically fascinating parts of ancient Iranian culture
--so, I think that we should probably spend some time talking about it

--in the first place, it should be noted that the dominant religious system of the Persians
(i.e., the one I’m going to describe in a moment) is ancient
--in fact, it was already highly developed when Cyrus, Cambyses and Darius began their
conquests in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE
--scholars think that its roots can be traced back into the 15th century BCE (i.e., more than
3500 years ago), when the Iranians were still tending their flocks in the steppe country of

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central Asia
--and perhaps it was the very antiquity of the Iranian religion that proved so appealing, so
persuasive, to those whom the Persians conquered
--indeed, in the words of one historian “So strong was its appeal, and so ripe were the
conditions for its acceptance, that it spread quickly throughout most of western Asia”

--and, wherever the Persian religion went, it turned the doctrines of other faiths
completely inside out
--wherever it went, it triumphed over, or displaced religious beliefs that had been held for
ages
--so, what was the Persian religion all about?

a) Zarathustra

--well, even though its roots can be traced back into the remote past, the real founder of
the Persian religious system was a cattle-herder and prophet named Zoroaster (the Greek
form) or Zarathustra (the Persian form), who probably lived around 600 BCE
--apparently, the name translates as “the yellow (or old) camel”
--while we might not think of this as the most distinguished of names, it was nevertheless
intended to convey ideas of wisdom and preciousness (old age was respected; camels
were expensive)
--anyway, Zarathustra is the primary founder of the Zoroastrian religion, a faith that can
also be called Mazdaism (for reasons that will become clear a bit later)

--unfortunately, not much is known about Zarathustra’s life
--what we do know comes to us largely from the holy books of the Zoroastrian religion;
these are called: the Avesta , a collection of poetry, biographical material and ethical
teachings
--the Avesta contains a collection of poems called the Gathas which appear to be the most
ancient texts of the Zoroastrian world

--from these books (and from later Greek sources), it appears that Zarathustra grew up in
a rural area, perhaps in what is now the northeastern part of modern Iran (i.e., perhaps in
what is now Azerbaijan)
--apparently, for reasons that aren’t quite clear, as a young man, Zarathustra was kicked
out, or expelled, from his original home, and was forced to wander around for a number
of years with a small group of followers
--one of the Gathas from this period records Zarathustra’s lamentable situation; in it, he
says:
To what land should I turn? Where should I go?
…Neither the community I follow pleases me,
nor do the wrongful rulers of the land...
I know... that I am powerless.
I have but a few cattle and…a few men

--finally, however, Zarathustra found an ally in the king of Bactria, a small territory in

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what is now modern Afghanistan
--his quick wit, his prophetic abilities and a pronounced gift for poetry quickly won over
the royal family, and it appears that Zarathustra became a sort of “court prophet” to the
Bactrian king
--he lived in the royal compound, got married and had a number of children
--for the remainder of his life, he served the king: he preached, he prophesied, he wrote
the Avesta and he entertained the Bactrian nobles with inspired poetry readings
--all in all, it was quite a comfortable life
--we don’t know when or how he died, though there is a later tradition that Zarathustra
was killed by a foreign enemy while praying in a Zoroastrian sanctuary (temple)
--however, because this story appeared so late (i.e., many centuries after his death),
historians and religious scholars can’t be sure of the authenticity of the tale

b) Zoroastrianism (Mazdaism)

--but what did Zarathustra believe, and how did his teachings come to have such a
profound influence on other religions of the ancient world?
--well, let’s deal with the first question first and then move on to the second

--it appears that Zarathustra was entirely convinced that he was an intermediary (or
prophet) between humanity and the one true god, a deity known to the Persians as Ahura
Mazda (which means “Wise Lord”)
--Zarathustra taught that Ahura Mazda was the only god worthy of worship
--indeed, Ahura Mazda was the creator of heaven and earth, he was the sovereign law
giver, he was the centre of nature, he was the judge of the entire world
--he represented goodness, and justice and light

--and, as might befit the Lord of Creation, Ahura Mazda was surrounded by six angelic
beings, or entities, which Persians called the “Beneficent Immortals”
--these were Ahura Mazda’s winged messengers: they praised him, they intervened for
him in earthly affairs, they did his bidding whenever they were asked
--in many respects, they look very much like the “choirs of angels” that surrounded the
Christian god in Medieval and early modern European depictions

--well, if Ahura Mazda was the embodiment of light and goodness, then at the other end
of the spectrum we have Ahriman, a being of infinite evil
--like the Christian devil, Ahriman was once a being of light who freely chose to be
separated from the great god Ahura Mazda
--also like the Christian Satan, Ahriman is surrounded by a large group of demonic
followers, and in fact, these followers are referred to in ancient Persian as daevas (i.e., the
ultimate source of the English word “devil”)

--so, on the one side you have Ahura Mazda who embodies the principles of light, truth
and righteousness, and on the other side you have Ahriman, who presides over a realm of
darkness and evil

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--well, according to Zoroastrian doctrine, from the beginning of time these two divine
presences have been locked in a desperate, titanic battle for supremacy of the universe
and for the souls of all humankind
--though Zoroastrians believe that the two are evenly matched, they also believe that
Ahura Mazda’s triumph is foreordained, that he will ultimately defeat Ahriman and his
demonic army
--they maintain that on the last great day, Ahura Mazda will cast Ahriman into a fiery
abyss as the dead are raised up from their graves and judged according to their earthly
deeds
--the righteous will enter a divine pleasure garden, a celestial paradayadam (remember?
This is the Persian word for a garden/ the source of our word “paradise”)
--the wicked, of course, will be sent along with Ahriman to the flames of hell
--however, evil people will ultimately be redeemed, because in the Zoroastrian world-
view, the torments of hell do not last for ever

--this whole scenario is what we call a dualistic worldview
--what do I mean by “dualism” in this context?
--well, all of the other religions that existed up until that time maintained that the gods
were capable of both good and evil
--that is, most ancient people thought that the gods acted more or less like human beings,
so, depending how a god such as Ishtar or Isis was feeling, it could be generous, kindly or
angry
--it depended entirely on the situation and the mood of the particular god
--the Zoroastrians, however, were the first to maintain that divine personalities were
incapable of acting in a manner that was contrary to their essential nature
--so, Ahura Mazda, being essentially good, could only be good
--Ahriman, being entirely evil, could only act evil
--it was intrinsic to who they were

--this made Zoroastrianism unique amongst religions of the ancient world, and in fact,
historians believe that even Judaism adopted many of its early beliefs from this ancient
Persian religious system
--for example, until the ancient Hebrews encountered Zoroastrians on the banks of the
Tigris and the Euphrates during their Babylonian exile, Judaism had little tradition of
messianism
--that is, ancient Jews don’t appear to have believed that they were waiting for the
emergence of a messiah
--instead the Hebrew religion acquired this idea from a Zoroastrian concept called the
saoshyant
--the saoshyant was a figure in the Gathas who helped Ahura Mazda defeat the forces of
evil; it’s believed that this concept appealed to many of the Jews who were living in
Mesopotamia during the exile, and that they soon came to apply it to their religion

--even the Jewish idea of hell was probably influenced by Zoroastrian notions
--indeed, it seems that before contact with the followers of Zarathustra, Hebrews believed
that hell was a dull, wind-swept place called Sheol (very much like the Greek concept of

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Hades), it was only after contact with the Zoroastrians that they adopted the more
familiar idea of a burning, fiery pit of hell
--there are a number of other examples of this kind of “cross-pollination” as well

--well, religious scholars maintain that the dualism inherent in the Zoroastrian faith also
made it one of the first moral or ethical religions of the human past
--indeed, even though it presented a cosmic view in which everyone is saved in the end, it
also put a tremendous emphasis on ethical, upright behaviour
--this was so that morally righteous people will not have to spend even a moment in the
horrible pit of hell

--thus, Ahura Mazda (and his prophet Zarathustra) commanded that people should be
truthful, that they should love and help people to the best of their abilities, that they
should befriend the poor and that they should practice hospitality
--so, in the religious texts of the Zoroastrians, we see some of the first instances of moral
ideas that would eventually become quite common later on
--for example, according to the Avesta, “whosoever shall give meat to one of the faithful,
he shall go to Paradise”
--in fact, Zarathustra commanded that his followers should meet an ethical standard that
was very much like later Christian attitudes
--and throughout the Zoroastrian texts there are admonitions against: pride, anger,
adultery, lust, laziness and a host of other behaviors
--Zarathustra ordered that his followers couldn’t accumulate wealth and that they couldn’t
lend money at interest
--there’s even an early version of the Golden Rule
--according to the Avesta, “One shall not do unto another whatever is not good for one’s
own self”

--well, this is the essential form of the Zoroastrian religion
--it was practiced widely throughout western Asia from ca. 1500 BCE to ca. 650 CE
--around that time (650 CE), it was supplanted by the Islamic faith, which, as you know,
came to dominate the entire region
--nevertheless, the religion did survive, and even today, there are probably about 200,000
followers of Ahura Mazda worldwide
--most of them were kicked out of Iran during Islamic Revolution of the 1980s
--they now live in India, where they are referred to as the Parsees

2. The “Off-Shoots”

--well, the religion of Zarathustra couldn’t remain untouched for very long
--just as Zoroastrianism had affected other faiths wherever it traveled, so too was the
Persian religion influenced by a number of outside forces
--for example, as Zoroastrianism traveled throughout Iran, it began to incorporate a
number of primitive superstitions and magical ideas; indeed, it was largely during this
period that the great priesthoods of the magi (or magush) began to flourish
--and, as the years passed, a number of alien faiths in Mesopotamia and other places

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began to make additional modifications so that before long, there was a proliferation of
many different Zoroastrian sects and cults

a) Mithraism

--the oldest of these cults is a system called Mithraism, which ultimately became one of
the most widespread and influential religious sects of the ancient world
--it is called “Mithraism” after its chief god, Mithras (or Mitra, in Persian)
--originally, Mithras was one of Ahura Mazda’s chief lieutenants, one of his helpers in the
cosmic battle against the forces of evil
--he was a sort of angelic figure (who intervened between humanity and Ahura Mazda),
but ultimately became a kind of miracle worker and redeemer
--and around 400 BCE, a number of Persians and Mesopotamians began worshipping
Mithras in his own right

--according to the most ancient stories concerning Mithras, he was the son of Ahura
Mazda and was born on December 25 to his virgin mother (in a cave)
--because he was born in a cave, the name petra or Peter, became especially important to
his cult following, and it was said that just like the Christian Peter, Mithras held the “keys
of the kingdom of heaven”

--soon after his birth, three Iranian priests, or magi, brought gifts to him and his mother
--as he grew up, he led an exemplary life and performed many miracles and healings
--for example, it was said that Mithras raised the dead, healed the sick, made the blind
see, and he cast out devils
--according to the stories that have been left to us, Mithras also called on a band of 12
followers, these followers were so loyal to him, that on the night before he returned to
heaven, they shared a final dinner with him
--as well, he insisted that his followers be purified by baptism and that they should
participate in a type of sacrament in which bread and wine were especially prominent

--well, Mithraism clearly shared a number of superficial similarities with the story of
Jesus, and it’s interesting to note, that this offshoot of Zoroastrianism entered the
Mediterranean world about 2 centuries before Christianity
--it became popular amongst Romans by about the 1st century BCE, and drew its converts
from the lower classes of Roman society as well as from the military, foreigners and
slaves
--ultimately, it rose to become one of the most important religions of the Roman world,
and was a direct competitor with Christianity for the attentions of the Roman people

--by the end of the 3rd century CE, however, its strength waned considerably
--modern scholars have suggested that Mithraism’s exclusion of women probably
accounted for its precipitous decline, especially when other faiths such as Christianity
were actively seeking female participation

--well, as I say, it’s not hard to see the superficial resemblance between Christianity and

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Mithraism
--however, this doesn’t mean that the two religions were identical or that one was an
offshoot of the other
--nevertheless, it probably means that Christianity, as the younger of the two religions,
probably borrowed a number of its externals from Mithraism, while at the same time
preserving its own sense of philosophical integrity and distinctness

Manichaeism

--while Manichaeism as an independent religious system has all but died out in the
modern age, during its Silk Road heyday it was one of the fastest growing and most
influential religions around
--even today, we can see the residue of Manichaean theology and Manichaean ideas in
many religions, most notably Christianity, Islam and Buddhism

--so, let me tell you a little about the Manichaean faith

--as your textbook notes, the Manichaean religion was first preached by the Persian
prophet whom tradition calls Mani
--however, the name Mani is not a personal name
--instead, like the name “Christ” which means “the Anointed One” or the name “Buddha”
which means “the Enlightened One,” the name “Mani” is a title of respect, and it
probably means something akin to “the King of Light” or even “the Illustrious”
--in fact, we don’t know what Mani’s given name was, though he apparently was
descended from a wealthy family whose roots straddled the territory between Babylon
and Persia (i.e., the modern border between Iran and Iraq)
--his dates are approximately 216-276 of the Common Era

--anyway, as a boy, Mani was a follower of Zoroastrianism
--however, Mani also came under the spell of other faiths, other philosophies:
--the camel-pullers, the silk merchants and the copper traders whom Mani no doubt
encountered as a young man, brought with them news and stories of the outside world
--these nameless wayfarers, or others under their influence, no doubt told Mani about the
hanged carpenter of the Roman world, or about the young prince of northern India who
rejected all worldly attainments and instead became a wandering ascetic
--thus, at a very early age, Mani was deeply influenced by Christianity (which was
entering Persia from the west) and Buddhism (which was entering Persia from the east)
--before long, Mani began to view the three faiths as part of a world system: he regarded
Zoroaster as the prophet of Persia, he regarded Buddha as the prophet of India and he
regarded Jesus as the prophet of the Mediterranean world

--however, Mani also began to think that he was the only one who saw a connection
between the three religions
--increasingly, therefore, he began to see the need for a single prophet of all humanity,
one who would bring together the three great faiths of the Silk Road and unite them in a
syncretic blend that reflected the needs of an increasingly cosmopolitan world

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--and of course, increasingly, he began to view himself as that prophet
--as Mani himself once declared: “Just as Buddha once came to India, and Zoroaster
came to Persia, and Jesus came to the lands of the West, so there comes in the present
time, this prophecy through me, the Mani, the prophet of the land of Babylonia",
--he began to call himself the "Apostle of the true God” and to preach his faith
throughout his homeland and beyond

--the faith he preached was actually quite simple, even elegant
--like Zoroastrianism, it was a dualist religion
--that is, Mani and his followers viewed the world as the site of a cosmic struggle
between the forces of good and evil, light and dark
--in fact, according to the Manichaean system, the created world came into existence
quite by accident: it’s the product of the titanic battle between unseen forces
--the only reason that we can see light and shadow mingled together in this world, is that
light and shadow are currently in a contest in the next world to see which will ultimately
dominate the cosmos

--importantly, Mani associated light with the idea of spiritual awareness and darkness
with the material world:
Light = Goodness = Spiritual Awareness
Dark = Evil = Material World

--thus, he urged his followers to reject mundane, or worldly, pleasures, which he believed
weighed down the soul and entangled it in the snare of matter
--instead, he said, humans should strive to rise up towards the light

--towards this end, Mani promoted a highly ascetical lifestyle
--he encouraged his followers to abstain from meat and dairy, that they should eat
vegetables sparingly, they should not marry or engage in sexual intercourse
--in addition to this he prescribed prayers and vigils, fasting and a strict moral code
--the faithful were divided into two groups: 1) the elect, 2) the hearers
--the first group is hardcore, the second is devout, but less rigorous
--if they lived according to the precepts of Mani’s faith, both groups looked forward
eternal salvation, life after death and union with the forces of light

--from the beginning, Manichaeism was a zealous missionary religion
--Mani himself traveled throughout the Near and Middle East preaching his gospel and
trying to convert people to his faith
--he traveled east and west along the Silk Road, he dispatched apostles along the route
and he corresponded widely with followers of his new religion
--in fact, he is supposed to have been a great painter, and at Bamiyan (the same place
which housed the giant Buddhas), there are several wall paintings (i.e., frescoes) that are
attributed to him—so he appears to have traveled as far as northern Afghanistan
--by the time of his martyrdom in 276, he left a flourishing church: one with its own
services, liturgies and rituals

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--after his death, Mani’s followers continued to preach the religion
--in fact, Manichaeism spread with extraordinary rapidity throughout both the east and
west.
--so, for example, we know that it reached Egypt by ca. 250 CE, and that it was
flourishing at Rome by 280
--in fact, by 300 CE, there were several Manichaean monasteries in Rome and throughout
the cities of the western Empire
--a Christian writer, named Hilary of Poitiers, was so concerned about the spread of
Manichaeism in southern France that, in the middle of the 4th century CE, he wrote
several letters and essays condemning it
--of course, the most famous follower of Manichaeism in the west was St. Augustine of
Hippo (who I’m going to be telling you about in the lecture on Christianity)
--Augustine was probably the most important Christian thinker between the time of St.
Paul and that of Martin Luther
--yet, for more than ten years before his conversion to the Christian faith, Augustine was
a follower of Mani’s religion
--he details his experiences with the Persian religion throughout the pages of the
Confessions, his most famous work

--Manichaeism also found a purchase in the east
--traveling along the Silk Road, Mani’s religion found its way to northern India, western
China and even Tibet
--in fact, it became the dominant religion of Tibet until the 13th century, when it was
supplanted, or replaced, by Buddhism
--in its heyday, Manichaean monasteries and churches could be found throughout the far-
flung reaches of eastern Asia: at Chang’an, Luoyang and all the major cities of medieval
China and India

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The Earliest Greek Civilisations

1. Minoan Crete (3500-1600 BCE)
2. Mycenaean Civilisation (2000-1100 BCE)
3. The Dark Ages (1100-750 BCE)

The Origins of Greek Culture: Geography

--we in the west are heirs to a great many ancient civilizations: Asian, African, European
--however, we owe a special debt to the Greeks and the Romans
--and the Greeks, especially, warrant being studied in their own right
--although they borrowed heavily from the cultural traditions of the Near East, Egypt and
elsewhere, they fashioned these elements into an extraordinary culture, a keystone of
western civilization
--the ancient Greeks gave birth to philosophy, political ideologies and scientific thought
and also created noble poetry and brilliant art
--of course, the were a quarrelsome, competitive lot, just as prone to destructive
behaviour as they were to the creative impulse
--and, for the next 5 weeks, we’re going to be exploring the grandeur and the complexity
of their world
--we’re going to look at the fundamental contours of Greek civilization and Greek
thought: politics, religion, philosophy, artistic traditions and a number of other aspects

--but before we go on to discuss the history and the culture of the Greeks, I want to pause
and discuss the setting
--I want to give you an idea of the scope and scale of ancient Greek society; I want you to
see the canvas on which the many great dramas of the ancient world were played

Geography

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--first, let me tell you that the Ancient Greeks referred to their country as Hellas, they
called themselves Hellenes (the adjective form, therefore, is Hellenic)
--“Greece” is the name that the Romans used for the Hellenic peoples, it’s not a name that
they themselves recognized until much, much later
--now, the term Hellas did not signify a united country, it didn’t refer to a place with
distinct boundaries
--instead, it referred collectively to all the places where the Hellenic people had settled
over the course of their long history
--so, it included the Greek mainland as far north as the Macedonian border (i.e., the
territory that we consider the modern country of Greece), however, it also came to
include a number of other areas as well:
1) the islands of the Aegean Sea (i.e., the Cyclades and the other small islands)
2) the large island of Crete
3) the western coast of Asia Minor

--at the height of Greek power in the 5th century BCE the Hellenic territories also
incorporated:
1) trading colonies along the Black Sea Coast
2) colonies in southern Italy and Sicily
3) settlements in North Africa (including towns in modern Tunisia, Libya and Egypt)
4) settlements along the Mediterranean coast of France and Spain as far west as the
Pillars of Hercules

--taken together, the territories of ancient Hellas (i.e., mainland, islands, colonies)
comprised a total land area of about 50,000 square miles—approximately the size of
modern England
--however, the geographic centre of their extensive realm was not located on land or in
any territory, but rather, in the middle of the Aegean Sea
--so, when we consider the shape of the ancient Greek world, we should probably think
of it as a ring of lands surrounding the Aegean rather than as a peninsula with a number
of spores and off-shoots

--and, of course, the Greek world was completely and utterly dominated by the sea
--indeed, when we think of Greece, many of our primary associations are aquatic
--we tend to think of a sun-bleached, rocky shores that are washed by the deep cobalt
waters of the Aegean
--we think of seas studded with shimmering islands; porpoises leaping alongside the
prows of fast-moving little ships; schools of fat tuna racing through deep-sea channels
--we think of the epic voyages by Odysseus, Jason and Aeneas
--we think of octopus, squid and scallops dripping with olive oil and lemon

--and these images are borne out by the facts
--for example, in ancient times no one lived further than about 35 miles from the ocean,
and most Greeks actually lived much closer than this (i.e., within 10 to 15 miles)
--the ocean was a vital conduit between the various cities and towns of the Hellenic

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world, and served as the primary transportation and communications corridor
--indeed, given the state of Greek infrastructure (even at the height of Hellenic
civilization) it was much more economical to ship goods by boat than by oxcart or any
other mode of terrestrial transport

--the Greek reliance on the Aegean and on the other bodies of water that surrounded them
had a profound effect on the shape of Hellenic civilization. For example:
1) at a basic, everyday level, the sea contributed substantially to the diet of Hellenes: fish
and other types of seafood became a vital component of the Greek diet at a very early
date
2) as well, because of their reliance on the ocean, the Hellenes became some of the best
sailors in the ancient world; indeed, because they regularly communicated with other
parts of the Hellenic world, the Greeks focused on shipbuilding, navigation, meteorology,
naval warfare
3) also, most of the main towns and cities of the Greek world all faced the sea and were
oriented towards the open water; in fact, of all the major cities, only Sparta lay
significantly inland
4) all of this, in turn, contributed to the mythological and aesthetic systems of the Greeks:
from stories about Poseidon, Icarus and Prometheus to vase painting and other artistic
pursuits, oceanic themes dominated Hellenic culture
--so, when we talk about Hellas, we’re talking about a profoundly maritime culture

--and, based on the description that I’ve given you, the Hellenic world can be divided into
four main geographical zones: 1) the Greek mainland, 2) the Islands, 3) Asia Minor, and
4) the Colonies
--let me talk a little bit about each of them

i) the Greek Mainland

--since ancient times, the mainland of Greece (what we sometimes call the “Greek
peninsula”), has been famous for its beauty, its complexity and its variety
--the landscape is ribbed with mountains, and in fact, more than 40% of the peninsula
rises above 1600 feet (i.e., 500 meters)
--the whole peninsula is indented by long gulfs and innumerable bays
--the mountains and inlets have the effect of dividing the Greek mainland into countless
small segments
--because it’s difficult to travel overland between these small segments, there emerged a
significant degree of physical separation and isolation throughout the Greek-speaking
world
--except in times of extreme political pressure (i.e., when the Persians invaded in the 5th
century BCE) most of the country remained fragmented into hundreds of little city states

--we can divide the mainland into 3 sections: 1) Northern Greece, 2) Central Greece, 3)
the Peloponnesus

1) Northern Greece: throughout much of its history, Greeks regarded the north of the

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country as a hinterland, a kind of back-water that contributed very little to the cultural life
of Hellenic civilization.
--there are five primary regions in the north: Thessaly, Epirus, Macedonia, and Thrace
(show where they’re located: Epirus in the west, Thessaly hugging the Aegean,
Macedonia to the north of Thessaly, Thrace in the northeast—modern Bulgaria)
--of the four regions, only 2 really warrant mention at this point: Thessaly and Macedonia
--Thessaly contained the largest pockets of agricultural land in ancient times, and
therefore became the “breadbasket” of ancient Greece
--Macedonia was characterized by broad plains; while most Greeks considered
Macedonians Hellenic only in the remotest sense, the territory would become very
important during the 4th century BCE
--this is where King Philip of Macedon and Alexander the Great heralded from
--the dividing line between Macedonia and Thessaly was Mt Olympus—the highest
mountain in all of Greece, and long considered the seat of the Greek gods

2) Central Greece: this is the area that stretches from Thermopylae in the north to the
Gulf of Corinth in the south
--while it is mountainous in the west, most of the territory in central Greece is rolling,
open country that is suitable for farming and grazing
--many of the great landmarks and cities of ancient Greece were in this part of the
country
--for example, this is where the famed Mt Parnassus (i.e., home of the Oracle of
Delphi) was located
--it’s also where Mt Helicon is located (i.e., where the Muses dwelt)
--of course, it’s also where a number of important Greek city-states were located: Thebes
(i.e., the site of the Oedipus stories) is the capital of Boeotia; Athens (with its port of
Piraeus) is the dominant city of Attica

3) The Peloponnesus: this is a peninsula that is joined to central Greece by the so-called
Isthmus of Corinth; on either side of the isthmus there are large gulfs: the Gulf of
Corinth in the west, and the Saronic Gulf in the east
--the Peloponnesus is tremendously important region, the site of the early high
civilization of the Mycenaeans, it’s the location of the earliest Olympic Games, and it’s
the territory in which one of the major conflicts of the Greek world, the so-called
Peloponnesian War, was fought
--the Peloponnesus contains a number of geographic regions, the most important of
which are Laconia, the Argolid and Arcadia
--we’ll be talking about the Argolid next day, as this was the centre of Mycenaean
civilization, the Bronze-Age city of Mycenae, the Lion Gate and the great shaft grave
associated with the hero, Agamemnon, are all located in the Argolid
--later we’ll be talking about Laconia, whose capital city, Sparta, produced one of the
most fascinating cultures of the Greek-speaking world

ii) The Islands

--Hellenic culture also flourished on many of the islands that dotted the Aegean Sea

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--from Crete and Rhodes in the south, to Lesbos and Samothrace in the north, Greek
colonists brought Hellenic physical culture as well as Greek political and philosophical
ideas to these sparkling little outcroppings of land
--in fact, so central were the islands to the Greek imagination that the Hellenes set many
of their greatest stories on the shores of the Cycladic Isles
--for example, it was said that the great gods Apollo and Artemis were born on the island
of Delos
--according to another legend, the goddess Aphrodite emerged from the bubbling surf
and waded ashore at the island of Cythera

--in fact, it is not a stretch to say that European civilization began in the Greek Islands
--indeed, next class (later this class) we’re going to begin our examination of Greek
history and culture by looking at Minoan civilization which appears to have first
sprouted up on the islands of Crete and Thera (referred to today as Santorini)

iii) Asia Minor

--Hellas also included the western shore of Asia Minor (which today belongs to Turkey)
--this territory is physically very similar to the Aegean seaboard of mainland Greece,
though the climate and the growing conditions are much more gentle
--the region is watered by several small rivers and the soil is much more conducive to
agriculture
--so, from a very early date, Hellenic colonists sought out suitable areas for settlement on
the shores of Asia Minor, and several of Greece’s most important and famous cities were
located here
--these include cities such as: Ephesus, Smyrna, Miletus, Pergemon

--I should also mention that Asia Minor is where the fabled city of Troy was located
--it was strategically situated in northwest Anatolia, near the Dardanelles (i.e., the
channel that joins the Aegean Sea with the Black Sea)
--this is the point where Asia and Europe meet
--it is also the site of the Battle of Troy, which, according to Homer and later writers was
fought over the fate of Helen, the daughter of Zeus and Leda
--a more probable source for the conflict was control of the Dardanelles and the lucrative
Black Sea trade routes

iv) the Colonies

--well, speaking of the Black Sea, this leads me to the fourth area for consideration,
namely, the Greek colonies

--while the Hellenic world was centered on the Aegean, throughout much of its history, it
also extended out into other areas
--so, for example, there were a number of towns on the Black Sea
--these were primarily trading centers, places where Hellenic merchants sold their wares,
and in return bought items that could be sold back home

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--thus, there was a heavy traffic of merchant ships up and down the coast of what is now
Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine and Russia
--of course, these colonies also supplied the rest of Greece with wheat

--even more lucrative, from the Hellenic perspective, were the Greek trading-centres in
the far south
--at Cyrene in Libya and at Naucratis in the Nile Delta, Greeks merchants engaged in
high volumes of commercial traffic with various North African cultures
--gold, precious stones, papyrus, textiles and all manner of luxury items were bought and
sold in the market-places of these colonial outposts
--in return, the Greeks sold vast quantities of wine and olive oil to the peoples of Saharan
Africa
--there was also a more or less constant exchange of ideas: while there were never any
formal alliances, the Greeks and the Egyptians shared cordial relations
--the intellectuals of Nile Valley civilization were happy to transmit mathematical and
scientific ideas in return for Greek knowledge of international affairs, philosophy and
other areas of Hellenic expertise

--Greece also had a great number of military and merchant colonies in the far west, along
the coast of southern Italy, on the island of Sicily (which together the later Greeks
referred to by the Latin name “Magna Graecia”) as well as in coastal France and Spain
--while many of these had been captured from the Greeks’ only rivals in the western
Mediterranean, the Phoenicians, a number of the towns were established for the first
time by the Greeks themselves
--as was the case for the Black Sea colonies, the western colonies supplied the Aegean
homeland with large amounts of grain and other commodities

1. Minoan Crete (3500-1600 BCE)

--so, as I told you during the last lecture, Greek society began to make a shift from the
Neolithic Age to the Bronze Age around 3500 BCE
--and it’s been convincingly argued that part of the reason for this was that new settlers
were arriving around that time from other, more civilized regions, places like Syria and
Asia Minor
--these new immigrants, like the Hyksos in Egypt, appear to have brought with them a
wealth of metallurgical technology, particularly the secret for making bronze (which,
you’ll no doubt remember is an alloy made from copper and tin)

--for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, it appears that this group first concentrated their
settlement on the Aegean island of Crete
--indeed, there is a considerable amount of archeological evidence to suggest that Cretan
metal-workers were the first in the Aegean basin to produce durable bronze tools and
weapons
--this gave Crete a great technological advantage over other areas in the Aegean basin,
and led directly to the establishment of comparatively large urban communities—the first

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ever to exist on European soil
--the four main ancient cities of Crete, all of them dating from early in the 3rd millennium
BCE, were: Knossos, Mallia, Zakro and Phaistos
--what is perhaps most interesting about these early cities is the fact that, until 1901, no
one knew they were there

--the story of their discovery is fascinating
--it all began when a British scholar named Sir Arthur Evans decided to follow up on
the theories of another celebrated archeologist, Heinrich Schliemann, who had
discovered the fabled city of Troy in the final decades of the 19th century
--Schliemann discovered Troy by first arguing that many of the ancient myths of the
Greek world were, in fact, distorted memories of real historical events
--working on this assumption, he found both Troy and the ancient city of Mycenae (both
of which we’ll be talking about a little later)
--Schliemann was also convinced that the legendary realm of King Minos was buried
beneath the hills of northern Crete, and so he planned an expedition to the region in the
late 1880s
--unfortunately, at that time, the island of Crete was a possession of the Ottoman Empire
and Turkish officials remembered how Schliemann and his wife had stolen a number of
archeological treasures at Troy; thus, they steadfastly refused to give him permission to
dig at the Knossos site
--well, by 1901 the situation had changed considerably: Schliemann was dead and the
Greeks were now governing the island of Crete
--so Arthur Evans, who was a kind of academic disciple of Schliemann, decided he would
go to the island and investigate
--working at Knossos, he and his team unearthed a spectacular palace complex, one
which was far more advanced and far more elaborate than anything Europeans had ever
produced before
--during the course of their dig, Evans and his team uncovered multi-story buildings that
had originally been illuminated by a series of sophisticated light-wells; they uncovered
vibrant frescoes and the remains of Europe’s earliest indoor plumbing
--they also found Europe’s oldest paved roads and some of the earliest written records
from anywhere on the European peninsula
--as the discoverer of this culture, Evans decided to call it Minoan, after the king who I
mentioned a few moments ago (King Minos)

--he argued that when the Greeks themselves came upon the ruins of Minoan civilization
in ancient times, they tried to make sense of the site by creating the myth of the
Labyrinth, the Minotaur (and Theseus and Ariadne)

[the story goes as follows: King Minos and King Aegeus were brothers.
--Aegeus ruled over Athens, while his brother ruled over Crete.
--because Minos had offended the great sea-god Poseidon, the god made Minos’s wife go
mad: Poseidon made the poor woman lust after a bull.
--consumed with passion, she ordered the master craftsman, Daedalus, to make for her a
hollow wooden cow; she would climb inside and present herself to the bull.

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--well…it’s a sordid story; she gets pregnant, and bears an abominable child: the so-
called Minotaur: it has the body of a man and the head of a bull (though during the
European Middle Ages, the image was reversed: it had the body of a bull and the head of
a man)
--alarmed at the existence of such a creature, Minos has Daedalus create a large maze to
contain it: this of course is the Labyrinth
--well, the years go by and the King of Athens (i.e., Aegeus) finds itself in debt to his
brother—King Minos; to pay the debt, Minos orders that Aegeus should send 7 maidens
and 7 young men every nine years to feed the Minotaur
--one year, King Aegeus’s son, Prince Theseus, finds himself among the chosen victims
--so Theseus sails off to Crete, but before he does so, he promises his father that upon his
return he would change the sail of his ship from black to white if he’s been successful in
defeating the Minotaur
--when he gets to Crete, King Minos’s daughter, Princess Ariadne, falls in love with
Theseus and resolves to help the young prince defeat the Minotaur
--well, as I’m sure you know, Ariadne gives Theseus a ball of yarn to unwind behind him
as he moves through the Labyrinth
--this way, when he defeats the creature, he’ll be able to find his way out
--well, Theseus enters the maze; after walking around for some time, he meet the
Minotaur, defeats it, and finds his way out of the maze
--once he is free, he claims his new bride and leaves the island for good
--of course, he proves to be very fickle, and even before he gets back to Athens, Theseus
abandons his new wife on one of the Cycladic islands

--and, on returning to Athens, Theseus forgets to switch his black sail with a white one
--thus, Aegeus, who has been watching their approach from a cliff, believes his son is
dead, and, in agony, he hurls himself into the sea
--the sea was subsequently named after him (i.e., the Aegean Sea)]

--well, that’s the myth
--however, since the time of Arthur Evans, historians have learned a great deal about the
reality of life in ancient Crete
--for example, the archeological record indicates that Minoan culture flourished between
about 2600 and 1600 BCE
--after the latter date, a series of calamities befell Minoan civilization and the whole
island witnessed a period of steady and uninterrupted decline

--so, what was this earliest Greek society like?
--before answering this question, I should caution that most of what we know about the
Minoans comes to us through archeology, pictorial representations (i.e., frescoes and
vases) and from comparisons with other ancient civilizations (i.e., Egyptian,
Mesopotamian, Indo-European, etc.)

--it’s not that the Minoans didn’t leave written records
--in fact, they left two types of script: an earlier form called Linear A (used between
1800 and 1450 BCE), and a later form called Linear B (used between 1450 and 1200

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BCE)
--in a similar fashion to the cuneiform system of Mesopotamia, these scripts were pressed
into wet clay with styluses and were sometimes baked in ovens to make them more
durable
--however, while scholars can read the later form of writing (Linear B), they have made
little headway in deciphering the earlier script (Linear A)
--the reason for this is that while Linear B is a syllabic system (i.e., the symbols stand for
the various sounds contained in a word), Linear A is hieroglyphic (i.e., symbols tend to
stand for entire words)
--it’s far more difficult to translate complete words than it is to figure out the syllables of
a proto-Greek language
--also, there are far fewer samples of the earlier script, Linear A, to work with
--this means that, while we have a number of records dating from the period of Minoan
civilization’s decline, we have very few sources from the time when the culture was
flourishing

--anyway…these are some of the limitations that have been imposed on scholars who
want to understand the nature and complexity of Minoan civilization
--and based on the available evidence, we can say the following with a degree of
certainty:

--from earliest times, Minoan culture was based around central palaces at places such as
Knossos, Mallia and Phaistos (i.e., the towns I mentioned earlier)
--the opulence of these structures and their endurance (i.e., the fact that they survived for
more than a millennium) suggests a number of things:

--first, there must have been an intense and prolonged concentration of economic and
cultural resources at each of these sites
--that is to say, there must have been a flourishing economy throughout the greater part of
Minoan history, and it seems that this sort of prolonged social stability led to the
emergence of strong artistic and cultural traditions

--moreover, for the palaces to succeed, they must have controlled much of the economic,
social, military and religious activity of the surrounding society
--history suggests that the best way to accomplish this is through social stratification
--this is where an elite class governs and controls the resources of the community and a
group of compliant subordinates produce and distribute these resources according to the
dictates of their superiors

--all of this is to say that Minoan civilization probably developed in much the same way
as some of the other cultures that we’ve studied to this point

--however, there are a number of anomalies and oddities about Minoan culture that are
certainly worth mentioning

--for example, throughout most of their history, the Minoans didn’t build city walls,

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defensive towers or any of the other fortifications so prominent in the cultures of Egypt
and Mesopotamia
--this suggests one or two things about Minoan culture:
1) the various towns of ancient Crete probably formed a confederacy or union at some
point early in their history;
2) they viewed their island home as a defensive perimeter in and of itself;
3) they relied on their navy for protection;
4) they had little fear of amphibious invasion
--it might even suggest that the culture favored diplomatic solutions to military ones

--also, Minoan religion appears to have been profoundly goddess-centered
--this is anomalous (or untypical) because, even though many other Neolithic cultures
featured female deities, by the time that most of them reached the Bronze Age stage of
development, they largely abandoned their goddesses in favor of masculine deities
--in Crete, however, the goddess survived

--and judging from the frescoes, figurines and vases that have survived, the goddess was
the central devotional figure in Minoan religion
--the evidence also suggests that priestesses (i.e., female clerics) were the most important
religious leaders in Minoan communities and that they conducted an elaborate and
enthusiastic series of rituals in the various shrines of the Minoan world: in temples, in
caves, and on mountaintops throughout the island

--another important difference between Minoan culture and the cultures of other parts of
the ancient world is the quality and nature of Minoan artistic expressions
--and Minoan art and architecture are distinct: distinctly beautiful, distinctly graceful,
distinctly functional and distinctly compelling

--let’s take as an example Minoan painting and frescoes
--the spacious palaces of the Minoan world were positively festooned with scores of
lively paintings—paintings which, in the words of one historian, are worthy of any
modern gallery today
--they tend to feature charming natural motifs; prominently figured are dolphins,
octopuses, monkeys, bucking goats and sheep as well as large groups of lithe young
Minoan aristocrats
--most of the human images depict handsome, well-proportioned young people, most of
them in their mid to late teens
--the human scenes also concentrate on sporting events such as boxing, fishing and a
ritual that historians call “bull-jumping”
--in one especially famous fresco, called the “bull-jumping fresco”, three young Minoans
(a male and two females) are engaged in an amazing feat of acrobatics
--as a bull charges at the young athletes, they grab the horns and propel themselves into
the air and over the bull’s head
--they land, either sitting or standing, on the back or haunch of the bull
--it’s an extraordinary show of athletics

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--the scenes depict a culture that is exuberant, vibrant and tremendously playful
--there is a sensuality and vivaciousness that is extremely seductive and compelling
--unfortunately, your textbook doesn’t have any images of the Minoan world, but I
strongly suggest that you type in “Minoan Art” at the Google Image browser

--so, what happened to Ancient Minoan civilization?
--why did Knossos not go on to become one of the leading cities of Classical Greece?
--why are Mallia and Phaistos not remembered as flourishing urban centres of the
Hellenistic world?

--well, the answer is complicated
--it seems that two phenomena intersected around 1600 BCE to bring about the collapse
of Minoan civilization: 1) the eruption of the island of Thera (modern day Santorini),
and 2) the growing power of another Aegean people, the Mycenaeans

--the island of Santorini lies about 70 miles (120 km) due north of Crete
--it is a volcanic island that, while dormant, is still active today
--in 1630 BCE, the island erupted in a volcanic explosion, the likes of which the earth
only sees about once every 10,000 years
--scientists figure that it caused a tsunami more than 50 feet high, and scattered ash
throughout the Aegean basin to a depth of 10 ft
--it sent plumes out as far as the Black Sea, Syria and the Nile Delta
--it affected weather and crop patterns for more than a decade

--Santorini itself is fascinating
--around 1880, researchers learned that the Minoans had colonized the island in ancient
times, and that the colony was destroyed by the volcano’s eruption along with the rest of
the Minoan world
--however, it wasn’t until 1967 that researchers realized just how much of the ancient
island had been covered
--the loose ash had gradually solidified into a deep, rocky blanket over the entire island
--anything organic that had been covered by the ash slowly rotted away
--at first, researchers were stymied: they kept finding these strange odd-shaped holes
throughout the layers of pumice
--finally, they realized that these were places where organic matter had simply
disintegrated over the centuries, leaving the entire island like a giant Swiss cheese
--the holes in this “cheese” were in fact a kind of “injection mold”: by pumping in Plaster
of Paris, the archeologists created perfect replicas of what these holes had originally
contained: wooden furniture, vases and other objects
--they appeared just as they had on the day that the volcano erupted
--unlike at Pompeii, there were no human remains: it appears that people living on the
island had ample warning that the volcano was about to blow
--nevertheless, because of the wealth of archeological findings, Santorini has been called
the “Minoan Pompeii”
--these remains have greatly expanded our understanding of certain aspects of Minoan
life and culture

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--anyway, the eruption of Thera was one of the greatest volcanic explosions ever
recorded, and it appears to have obliterated the palaces and the farms of Minoan Crete

--and, unfortunately for the Minoans, at around the same time that Thera erupted, another
phenomenon was getting under way across the Aegean Sea
--on the Peloponnesus and throughout the Aegean Basin, a group whom we refer to as
“the Mycenaeans” were just beginning their rise to dominance

--and it seems that the Mycenaeans finished what the eruption of Thera had begun
--that is to say, in the wake of the volcano’s eruption, these new, aggressive Bronze Age
warriors took advantage of Crete’s woes and decided to invade the island
--throughout Crete, they overran the palace compounds, they placed themselves in charge
of the sprawling agricultural estates and they used the island as a base of operations for
one of their favorite pastimes: pirate raids against Mediterranean commercial traffic (i.e.,
capturing and sinking Egyptians and Phoenician ships)
--the Minoans, because of the many difficulties that the volcano inflicted on their society,
were completely unable to respond to the Mycenaean challenge
--so they submitted themselves meekly to Mycenaean rule, and soon afterwards their
culture declined into more or less complete oblivion

--so, who were these Mycenaean marauders?

2. Mycenae (2000-1100 BCE)

--well, even though they were probably ethnically and culturally related to the Minoans,
the people of Mycenaean Greece appear to have been very different from their cousins
across the Aegean
--their culture was clearly more aggressive, violent and war-like
--so, whereas the Minoans were primarily farmers, fishermen and artists, the Mycenaeans
were, at heart, soldiers

--however, like the Minoans, we’re not entirely sure where the Mycenaeans originally
came from
--there’s evidence to suggest that they entered the Greek homeland from Asia Minor or
the Balkans some time around 2000 BCE, and it seems that they continued to live as
rugged pastoralists (shepherds) for a number of centuries

--however, between 1700 and 1600 BCE, there was a sharp increase in levels of
Mycenaean civilization
--for example, it was during this period that:
1) the early Mycenaean kings began to solidify their control over the entire Aegean basin
2) they began to trade with (and plunder) other nations
3) they developed or borrowed a number of military technologies (metalworking,
chariots)

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--one of the most prominent (and intrinsically interesting) features of Mycenaean culture
from this early date is the monumental architecture that they began to build

--you see, while the Minoans built sophisticated, elegant undefended palaces that were
decorated in a light-hearted, even sprightly manner, the Mycenaeans built walls,
buildings, fortifications and monuments on a grandiose, gargantuan scale

--for example:
1) cyclopean walls: these are the typical enclosures around Mycenaean towns and
fortresses. They’re built of huge boulders, some in excess of 100 tons (in one picture I’ve
seen, the boulders are the bigger than a Toyota pick-up that’s parked next to the wall).
The boulders are expertly cut and then dry-fit against one another. That is, they’re
placed together without any bonding or adhesive product, and they’re so tightly stacked
that you couldn’t get a sheet of paper between them. They really are an engineering
marvel. So massive were these walls, that later generations thought that they must have
been built by the Cyclopes, the one-eyed giants of Greek myth

The best example of this type of wall is seen at Mycenae, the largest city (capital) of the
Mycenaean world. Here Mycenaean stonemasons built the Lion Gate, a massive stone
entryway into the heart of the city. Carved above this famous gate are two fierce leonine,
or cat-like, creatures—these appear to loom over those who pass beneath the lintel.

2) megarons: the Cyclopean walls often enclosed one of the other great buildings of the
Mycenaean world: the so-called megarons. The megaron was a kind of grand throne
room where Mycenaean kings greeted their subordinates and petitioners. They were
square or rectangular in shape with an open, round hearth (i.e., fireplace) at the centre of
the room. Smoke from the hearth escaped through a large aperture in the ceiling. Around
the hearth there were four giant pillars. The walls and the ceiling were heavily decorated
with murals and intricate geometric patterns. At the end of the room, the Mycenaean
king sat on a raised dais.

The net effect was one of opulence and splendor.

3) tholos tombs: of all the architectural wonders of the Mycenaean genius, it is perhaps
the tholos tomb that is the most distinctive. These huge burial chambers, which are
scattered throughout the Mycenaean world, were reserved for kings and members of the
aristocracy. Tholos tombs are buried under hills and are accessed by long passage ways
that are cut into the hillside. The passage is called the dromos. The tomb itself is a
gigantic, conical beehive that was fashioned out of cyclopean stones. The doors of these
great funerary monuments appear to have been made of solid bronze—unfortunately,
none of these have survived

--these sorts of structures, the cyclopean walls, the megarons and the tholos tombs, were
meant to be imposing, they were meant to intimidate
--those who built them wanted people to know that the Mycenaean kingdom was a place
where hierarchy and order were fundamental values of the community, it was a place

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where military precision was a cardinal virtue, it was a place where people obeyed the
laws without question

--at the top of Mycenaean society was the so-called wanax, which means “king” or
“overlord” or “dictator”
--while we can only guess at the limits of his power and authority, it nevertheless appears
that he ruled over an entire city and region, and that he had a number of subordinates and
court officials
--most of those who filled these sorts of roles appear to have been military officers and
warrior-aristocrats
--now, we know the names of the offices, but we don’t know much about their duties; for
example, we know that the wanax was assisted by three types of administrators: the
lawagetas (commanders), the telestai (priests) and the korete (regional administrators, or
governors)
--however, we don’t know what kind of relationship these officials had with their king (or
with each other for that matter)
--at the local level, Mycenaean towns and villages were presided over by an official
called the pasireu (i.e., magistrates); again, though, we don’t know much about his roles
or his relationship to the central administration (the term pasireu will become important
later on—it evolves into basileus, the Greek word for “king”)

--we do know that Mycenaean society was protected by a warrior class who were
generally considered subordinate to the wanax and his officials
--these warriors were called the hequetai (an early Greek form of the Latin word equites,
meaning “knight” or “mounted warrior”)
--this is the source of our word “equestrian” (of or pertaining to horses)
--this class appears to have dominated Mycenaean society: they were the ones who
defended against outside incursions, they were the ones who went on pirate raids against
foreign shipping, they were the ones who were chosen as palace officials and
administrators

--anyway…in at least one respect, Mycenaean society was organized along the lines of
Minoan culture: namely, it was centered around central palace complexes
--most scholars believe that one of the main palaces was at Mycenae, a town in the north-
eastern part of the Peloponnesus
--there were, however, a number of regional towns as well; some of these included:
Thebes, Athens, Tiryns and Pylos

--these palaces, whether they were located at Mycenae or at Thebes, were the centre of
the Mycenaean world
--and they were also absolute hives of business and manufacturing
--masons, potters, carpenters, goldsmiths—craftsmen of all kinds—worked under the
supervision of palace officials and scribes
--using Linear B (which the Mycenaeans had “borrowed” from the Minoans), the scribes
kept careful notes on supply and production levels, manufacturing waste, technical

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improvements, and so on
--we have a number of records in which scribes indicate, for example, accidental dents in
chariots, imperfections in pots or vases, mishaps where supplies have been lost or ruined

--so, in addition to being the residence of the wanax, these palaces appear to have
important mercantile centres and were absolutely vital to the Mycenaean economy
--for more than 400 years (from 1600 to 1200 BCE), the palaces kept Mycenaean
civilization afloat; they financed all the piracy and imperialism, they financed weapons
development, they financed the royal court itself
--it was a robust and lively, if somewhat violent, period in the long history of the ancient
Greeks

--then, shortly after 1200, and probably within the span of two or three generations, the
powerful Mycenaean world came to an abrupt and fiery end
--the palaces of central and southern Greece, from Thessaly to the southern tip of the
Peloponnesus, were suddenly and irretrievably destroyed
--some centres, such as the cities of Mycenae and Tiryns, appear to have attempted
recovery, but they were destroyed again shortly afterwards—never to be repaired

--by 1100 BCE, the Mycenaeans had abandoned most of their farmlands and fled to the
wild, western reaches of the Greek peninsula
--they left ruined palaces, depopulated lands and, most importantly, they left a mysterious
void in Greek history, one that has never been successfully filled or explained
--indeed, even today, no one really knows what happened to the Mycenaean Greeks

3. The Dark Age (1100-750 BCE)

--there are a number of theories:

1) peasant revolt: some scholars think that Mycenaean civilization collapsed due to a
series of peasant uprisings throughout the Mycenaean world. The theory goes that
farmers and laborers were increasingly exploited throughout the Aegean basin and that
ultimately they rose up against the warrior elite. The only problem here is that surely
people would have rebuilt after the insurrections were put down.

2) economic collapse: this theory argues that the Mycenaean trade petered off towards
the end of the 13th century BCE, and that the palaces couldn’t afford to replenish their
supplies of raw materials for manufacture.

3) environmental degradation: others suggest that changes in the climate might have
contributed to poor harvests or changing patterns of fish migrations, etc. As the climate
changed, the land-base couldn’t sustain such a large population and, thus, Mycenaean
society went into a tailspin.

--until very recently, historians also suspected that, while any or all of these factors might
have contributed to the decline of Mycenaean civilization, the situation was compounded

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by invasions from the outside
--two groups were identified as the possible culprits: 1) the Dorians, and 2) the Sea
Peoples
--it was suggested that, around 1150 BCE, the Dorians (a Greek speaking people who
supposedly lived in the far north), swept across the Mycenaean world from north to south
destroying everything in their wake
--it was also theorized that a mysterious group called the “Sea People” might have
invaded
--this shadowy confederacy was mentioned (rather ambiguously) in both Egyptian and
Greek records; it was said that they swamped the Greek world, before moving on to Asia
Minor, Syria and northern Egypt around 1100

--the only problem with the invasion theory (either one) is that none of the supposed
invaders bothered to stay in Greece once they dislodged the Mycenaeans
--in fact, between 1100 and 750, it looks as though the Greek peninsula was simply
abandoned, depopulated

--as it stands, there is no satisfying answer to the problem of Mycenaean collapse

--nonetheless, with these sorts of puzzling questions, we enter the era known as the
“Greek Dark Age,” a period which extends from about 1100 to 750 BCE

--during this extensive period, the Greeks who did remain on the Hellenic peninsula
appear to have lived a fairly sedentary, non-urbanized, agricultural life
--as I noted a moment ago, most towns and villages were abandoned, and it seems likely
that people returned to a nomadic life in small tribal groups
--some folks might even have taken to the sea and migrated to the islands in the Aegean

--during this period, the Greeks appear to have abandoned all forms of writing: there are
no clay tablets or inscriptions from this period, and no indication that they might have
switched to another medium (i.e., papyrus or hide)
--and, not only did they abandon writing and most crafts, they also abandoned their large
commercial networks
--they virtually stopped trading with Asia Minor, the Middle East, and Egypt; in fact, they
seem to have stopped trading with one another as well
--fortunately for the Greeks, however, none of the great powers of the ancient world had
ever been interested in Europe or the Aegean, so the Greek Dark Ages, were probably a
time of peace.
--and this long breathing-space allowed the Greeks the leisure to slowly redevelop an
urbanized culture.

--so, despite the bleakness of the situation, the Greeks began to slowly urbanize in the
latter part of the Dark Ages
--this early urbanized culture would produce, at the very close of the Dark Ages, the
single greatest accomplishment in the Greek view of themselves: the poetry of Homer

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--not only are the two epic poems of Homer (i.e., the Iliad and the Odyssey) windows
into the distant Mycenaean past, they are also one of the defining moments in Greek
culture; for the Greeks will turn to these poems throughout their history to define
themselves culturally, politically, and historically

--this is where we’ll pick up next class

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