.    THE FIRST CIVILIZATIONS (Pg. 11-26)    .



SUMERIA SETTLES. After a long time of nomadic wandering in small bands, some human groups found a reason to put down roots and stay. Why do civilizations arise near rivers? The first civilizations were both riverine: Egypt along the Nile, and Sumer in Mesopotamia, where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers meet the Persian Gulf. In both cases, good farmland was created when people came together to irrigate the rivers into the fields, where silt was deposited, helping crops grow. It was also necessary for flood control. This complex pattern of organization, and division of labor that came into being, did so because of cooperation. Individuals had to work together to get a big job like ditch, canal, dike and aquifer digging done. By 3500 B.C., a constellation of city-states were forming in Sumeria (Biblical 'Shinar'), while Egypt had many prosperous villages. Around 2800, a major disaster struck: a flood of epic proportions occurred, leaving a large layer of silt for archeologists to marvel at. This flood may have inspired the Enuma Elish (the later Babylonian creation story), which contained a story of a 'great flood,' also present in the Old Testament of the Bible. Neglected or overwhelmed levees allowed a huge torrent of water to inflict massive destruction and death, re-emphasizing the need for the people left over to cooperate together. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, an ark saved people from the flood, which is also the story of Noah.

TECHNOLOGY. Rude boats were used to travel along the rivers, and around 5000 wind power was used by the hoisting of primitive sails. As well, a great discovery was made, like that of fire, by accident. Some rocks were not broken when hit with a hammer but instead, they just distorted their shape. They were malleable. Metals were discovered. These free metals were and are rare, so they were used as oranaments and jewelry. They were prized automatically and had intrinsic 'value.' Soon, mixing metals to make the resulting metal even harder, was found... alloys were discovered. One alloy was made from copper and tin: bronze. Bronze was hard as rock, but could still be beaten back into shape if deformed or dulled. Bronze was rare and did not supplant stone. This was still the stone age, but progress was made. The Sumerians invented the wheel, and used it to haul mud-bricks to the worksite, and when they turned it sideways, they got the potter's wheel to work with their clay.


CITY-STATES. We have an enormous nation from sea to shining sea, but that is not the only political way to live. Sumerian city-states were totally independent, yet were rather similar to each other. Civilization is based on cities, even the word comes from 'civis', city. Each had a central temple where offerings could be made to the many city gods. Each shared common culture and language. Walls were built around each of the 12 cities. Outside the walls were farms, tied together by canals. Imagine each PHCC campus as a city-state, New Port Richey, Spring Hill, Dade City and Brooksville. Each are competitive yet trade rather peacefully with each other. People in each city had a special kinship, going through floods, storms and droughts together. Major Sumerian city-states: Ur, Lagash, Uruk, Kish, Eridu, Nippur. One great king of Uruk was Gilgamesh, who built a 6 mile wall around the city, and did many great works. He would later be the subject of many stories, and his story was enshrined in legend as the Epic of Gilgamesh.


SOCIETY. The grand triumph of Sumer was its food supply. Creativity played a part: the farming plow and the wheel were invented. Fermentation of grapes and soaked barley was found to produce wine and beer, which were more healthy to drink than water- the alcohol killed microorganisms. There was enough food so that some people could make crafts, learn trades and sell goods. These people formed a middle class, and the upper class was made up of priests-kings and their temple assistants, who were magical people who were in-touch with the spirits in nature (in trees, rivers, thunder, etc.) and could negociate with the city gods. The whole idea of 'kingship' came from the gods. These priest-kings also organized city affairs and trade. Major gods: Anu (primeval sea), Enlil (air), Enki (sweet water, wisdom), Ki (earth [Gaia]- as separate from Anu [Ouranos]), Utu (sun), Nanna (moon), Inanna (love-Ishtar). Large temples called ziggurats were built in the center of each city, for the patron deity of that city. The gods were attributed with the arbitrariness of the natural world. Instead of floods being caused by the melting of snow in the mountains a thousand miles north in Anatolia, the gods inflicted punishment on the Sumerians using floods. Because the gods were arbitrary and their behavior was without a pattern, flat-out worship and sacrafice was made- not to their ethical judgement, but to their raw power. In fact, when Sumerians asked the great question "Why are we here?" The answer given was, "To serve the gods." No ethical foundation, a simple power relationship. The gods were not just anyway.


CUNEIFORM. Sumerians invented writing, in a script called cuneiform, in which wedge shaped marks were applied to a wet clay tablet. The first writing was pragmatic: for trade and accounting. How much grain did guy A produce and how much mr. B? Records were kept of who owed what to whom, including to the state, and what deals were being made. At first pictures were drawn, but they became stylized and began looking more like symbols representing things and ideas. As for numbers, they went I, II, III, IIII, IIIII, IIIII I, IIIII II, etc. The magic numbers were 12, 60 and 360. The hours and minutes were devised too, 24 hours in the day/night is rather arbitrary- why not 48 hours with 30 minutes in each hour? Because the magic number is 12, so 12 hours of light and 12 of dark = 24. Also, 12 = a dozen. We still use the 24 hour day today, of course, and eggs still come in a dozen. And a circle? Think of geometry: the circle is made of 360 degrees circumference. That's enough to make you do a 180 and look back at the contributions of the Sumerians. Sumerian (and later Roman) numerals, I, II, III and so on, are literal, while our 1, 2, 3 are symbolic. Some jobs that were indicated were: canal digger, merchant, crop harvester, boat tower, brewer. Writing was a way to freeze speech- what was said and done in a single place and time. Stories could be written down now, and soon the Epic of Gilgamesh was.


LEGACY. Where they came from, we do not know. Their language was not related to any other. The art and statues of Sumerians do not conform to our ideals of beauty and grandur, but these squat and round men and women occupy a special niche in our history. The Sumerians still live today when we count the minutes (they divided an hour into 60 min.), and the hours (they made 12 hours equal one half day, and 24 a full day), write a document, quote the law or ride on wheels. History and literature began there, and civilization radiated from there outward and onward through time. By these origins, mankind rose above that which is profane, and took civilizing steps.


OTHERS. Besides nomadic pastoralist tribes wandering slowly around the ancient world, there were some other settled places. Jericho and Catal Huyuk made a living as trading centers, and the Canaanites around Jericho made aliving as traders, doing what traders do: skim off the top.





EGYPT. The longest continuous civilization in history, the most prosperous ancient civilization. Lucky for them, they had an automatic irrigation machine for their crops and land: for a few miles out on each side of the river, arose Egyptland as the lush and fertile 'Gift of the Nile.' If this land lacked forests and trees, it had fields of papyrus reeds, which would be used, after being pressed and dried, to write on. This thin strip was separated from Mesopotamia by 750 miles of rugged desert, linked by scanty caravan routes. Isolation was the key feature of Egypt's geography, so a quite unique set of cultural patterns could come about. Its long history is divided into the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms.


OLD KINGDOM. Narmer (Greek: Menes brought upper and lower Egypt together and created the first 'nation' out of the 100 or so villages up and down the Nile. During the Old Kingdom, which lasted a thousand years, the pyramids were built. This impressive, isolated, outward focused time, saw little conflict, and the people considered themselves to be living in paradise. In 2650 Djoser (Greek: Zoser's) chief architect was a genius named Imhotep. He built a series of mastabas one on top of the other: a step-pyramid. This great feat is still around: it is the oldest building in the world, and is called the Step-Pyramid of Sakkara. It also set a fashion: for the next 200 years, pharaohs built huge pyramid tombs. Taller than modern skyscrapers, the pyramids were constructed at a time when 95% of humanity was not yet out of the Stone Age. The greatest was built by King Khufu (Cheops) of the 4th Dynasty in 2500, standing at 481 ft. high, covering 13 acres, and built out of  over 2 million huge blocks of limestone, dragged to the worksite by laborers (no wheel invented yet in Egypt!). Originally coated with finer white limestone, the pyramids, smooth and white, must have looked otherworldly. Building the great public projects gave people a sense of the greatness of the pharaoh and of society, as well as making everyone feel a part of something greater, and providing a structure to life, codified in mythology. The commoners building the pyramids were not slaves, they were paid with food and shelter, and were more like army draftees: for a certain time in life, 3 months out of the year for a few years, one simply goes to Memphis or Giza and helps build the pyramid, palace or temple, just as in many countries today (but not the USA, which has an all-volunteer army), boys go for a time into service to their country. Khafre (Greek: Cepheren), son of Khufu, built a slightly smaller pyramid next to his father's, but added as a touch the Great Sphinx. After these, pyramid building went into decline- they were simply too expensive and difficult to build. Tombs would be more modest (but still filled with treasure).


BELIEFS. This optimism was buffered by the fact that unlike in Mesoptoamia where the afterlife was not something to look forward to, here it was, and one believed that the same jobs would need to be done there, so one was buried or mummified with all the things he would need. A farmer with a few tools and little figurines of cows. A pharaoh with a ton of gold and treasures. The balance of life, ma'at, was represented as a feather in art, and its continued stability (mirrored in the stability and eternal feeling of the Egyptian land), was what the pharaoh's primary mission on earth was. So, the pharaoh was worshipped as a god, and believed to be a certain god, Horus, while on earth. Once the body died, it was mummified and buried with a grand headdress and sarcophagus, that the soul (ka) might recognize its 'home' upon leaving the body. Pharonic power was present in language too, one did not 'speak to the pharaoh,' but 'in the presence of the pharaoh,' to the vizier.


EGYPTIAN GODS: Ra (sun), Osiris (the embodiment of the pharaoh in the afterlife), Horus (falcon son of Osiris and embodiment of the pharaoh in life), Isis (mother goddess), Anubis (jackal headed aide to Isis).


HIEROGLYPICS. Egyptian picture writing contrasted with Mesopotamian cuneiform, but accomplished the same goals. The walls of the temples of Karnak, Luxor and Dendera are filled with hieroglyphic writing, but how could modern archeologists read it? Scholars tried and tried but could not crack the code. Then in 1799, one of Napoleon's officers discovered the Rosetta Stone, with the same thing written in Egyptian, Babylonian and Greek. Jean Francois Champollion then solved the puzzle, and could read the secrets written on the walls.


MIDDLE KINGDOM. The Middle Kingdom lasted 300 years, and was a more introspective time. Power was decentralized and Egypt was carved into feudal realms, which caused some fighting among the nobles. Yet, literature such as the Book of the Dead elaborated religious themes, such as the weighing of the heart against the balance of ma'at in death, by the gods. Back on earth, a new capitol was built at Thebes, south of Memphis and Giza. Tombs were moved from huge pyramids to rockfaces and hidden underground places, such as the Valley of the Kings. The 365 day calendar was introduced based on the fact of the seasonal cycle being one year long, and the fact of their being (by coincidence) about 12 Lunar orbits each year, gave us the 12 months. If the Moon was twice as fast, we'd probably have 24 months with about 15 days each. The stars were studied as in Mesoptoamia, and special attributes given to the star Sirius and the constellation Orion.


HYKSOS. The power of the pharaoh was restored by Sesostris III of the 12th Dynasty, but something happened far away on the steps of southern Russia. Indo-Europeans there domesticated the horse and attached the Sumerian push-cart to it, creating a war chariot. This was improved in Anatolia by the most powerful Indo-European group, the Hittites. But their new technology was adopted by other tribes, including the nomadic Hyksos, who stormed across the Sinai desert into Egypt (and what a sight the white pyramids of Giza must have been to these nomads!). These charioteers adapted to the better culture of Egypt, but soundly defeated their army, who had never expected outsiders to come through the desert. The Hyksos stayed for over a hundred years, ruling Egypt (the 15th and 16 Dynasties were Hyksos rulers). Finally during Dynasty 17, in Thebes, a charioteer army was raised by Ahmose I, and the Hyksos were forced out, and followed by this new imperial Egypt. After annexing Canaan as a buffer against other nomads and Mesopotamia, Egypt was reborn as the New Kingdom. It was now that the Hebrews came through the desert under Joseph, from Canaan, where a famine spread across the land, and settled in the north (in the land of Goshen). Later they would become slaves to the New Kingdom pharaohs.


LEGACY. Both Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations influence the West through the Jews and the Greeks. The Jews had links with both regions and cultures, and the Greeks built off of these more ancient foundations. So before the West was 'born' in Greece, its roots were being laid here.



OTHER TRIBES ARRIVE. After 3000, bands and tribes wandered into Mesopotamia and the Levant, from places like the Zagros Mts. to the east. Most were Semitic, and some, like the Akkadians and Amorites, settled, attracted by being where the city-state 'action' was, and no doubt by the water of the rivers. Others, like the Hyksos, stayed nomadic. Internecine conflict in Sumeria between city-states weakened them all, and opened the way for these outsiders.

AKKADIANS. Weapons were simple: lances for thrusting and a shield for protection from other foot soldiers' lances. Fighting was all done hand to hand, until the Akkadians under their king Sargon the Great, brought in spears to throw- and even a primitive bow and arrow. These made him an invincible conquerer, and he built history's first empire in 2350. In so doing, they started the 'Age of Empires'. In point of fact, these early empires set a real standard: empires have been the most common form of political organization throughout history! These ancient ones: Akkadian, Babylonian, Hittite, New Kingdom Egyptian, Assyrian, New Babylonian and Persian, set a powerful trend.

EMPIRES. This first age of empires is sometimes called the 'international bronze age', as bronze weapons and tools were used throughout the Near East. The empires battled each other at times, and also used these metals to rule their subject peoples. In turn, century after century, between Sargon in 2350 and Alexander in 330, Mesopotamia will be ruled by one or another of these empires. Although it will seem to us like it happens fast, this is a desert mirage. The succession of empires usually happened quite slowly, amounting to a new 'wave' of conquerers every couple hundred of years or so. Would that our modern conquests were so infrequent. So, what is an empire? An empire is different than a kingdom because a kingdom is a realm where a king rules his own people. An empire is born when that king or country conquers another one, and rules that one too. Empires therefore have core lands where the strong base is, and periphery lands on the outskirts that have been conquered. Empire building was so attractive because a conquerer adds extra land to his country, and people, and taxes, and natural resources, and prestige. But why create empires? why invade countries, why expand frontiers? answer from 2000 bc to 1950 ad was to gain people, land, resournces, power money, prestige. touchstone of political success and prosperity. only after WWII and the industrial revolution did mand discover tht peace was a more efficient way to get the same thing. you dont have to dominate a people, just appeal to their tastes and sell them products. or work for someone who does this. Sargon builds the first empire by, as ruler of the Akkadians, now ruling the Sumerians too. Sargon built some imperial infrastructure, sending tradesmen west and east to Anatolia and Persia. He even boated on the Persian Gulf! This empire lasts a few lifetimes and falls into dissolution by 2100, when the city-states reverted to self-rule, and then to periods of domination of the region by one or another city, especially the long running Dynasty of Ur. During these centuries, both Akkadians and Sumerians were rather prosperous, with payments being recorded in animal trading, food and drink.



BABYLON. Another Mesopotamian tribe, the Amorites, repeated Sargon's feat and established a new empire in Mesopotamia around 1800. Called the 'Babylonian,' because it was centered on Babylon ('gate of god'). Babylon was made of mud-brick, as Mesopotamia had no stone, and the patron god of Babylon, Marduk, slowly replaced Enlil as chief god of the region. Babylonians tried to understand what the gods wanted through dream interpretation, but never could figure it out. The Sumerians, meanwhile, were 'absorbed' into other tribes (Akkadians, Amorites), and disappear from history as a separate identity, adding their culture and themselves to the new peoples. Speaking of death, when death came, a Mesopotamian believed he went to the 'land of no return' and ate dust and clay. This pessimistic outlook comes, perhaps, from the difficulty in predicting anything or understanding why things happen. But every year the priests would read the Enuma Elish creation story, showing how Marduk overcame chaos to create the world. The Babylonians used silver as a medium of trade, so it was easier to have some metal of exchangable value.

HAMMURABI. The great achievement of the Babylonians was to enshrine the Code of Hammurabi, given to him by Marduk, to use as his instrument of rule. And what a code it is: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, it legislates. Hammurabi’s Code 1762 BC. Mesopotamians believed them to be at the mercy of the gods’ arbitrary decisions. Hammurabi invoked the gods as his elevators. there were early sumerian codes, but the best is Hammurabi’s. “King of the 4 Quarters” “King of Justice”. Later it will enrich the Hebrew law system, inform the law of the hebrews, and consequently those of us today. Strict justice. eye for an eye. three official classes: noble (priest, gov’t official, warrior), freeman (merchant, artisan, professional, farmer) and slave (captured soldier, debtor, criminal). Offense against an upper class person was more severe. retaliation (eye for an eye) when members of a class committed crime against others of the same class, and vs lower classes, money payment. Burglary was common. steal goods from the temple? death. steal from a person? tenfold restitution. not able? death. looting a burning house? instant death by being thrown into that selfsame fire. You are the lawyer for yourself. bringing someone up on a murder charge? if you cant prove it, you are executed. false testimony? death. public officials were expected to catch burglers. sometimes they had to make restitution. builders built a house that collapesed? they were executed if someone died. strike your older brother? slavery. kick your mommy? slavery. got debts? sell your kids and wife into slavery for a specified length of time to pay them off. temple slaves were mostly women who did domestic work there. male slaves of the temple (royal slaves) built and fortified around the city. slaves could marry free men and women, participate in business and eventually purchase their own freedom. farmers paid in crops, so the code rules at length about landholding and tenant farming. if a landowner failed to keep dikes in good shape, he could be fined. all had to work together. your dike breaks? you pay or are sold into slavery. precise wages are specified to workers. marriage and family is covered. marriage is a legal and binding contract. women had a dowry, governed by the temple. patriarchy. failure to homemake was divorce material. cant bare children? divorce (but you get your dowry back). Only husbands were allowed to have affairs. Adulteress was thrown into the Euphrates. incest forbidden. father and daughter? father banished. son and mother? burned. get uppity with dad? hand cut off. how was it applied? regularly. after hammurabi, heavy taxes instituted and some cities rebelled, bureaucracy built up and swelled, and by 1500 collapsed.

It is from the Ur of this time (Ur of the Chaldees, another name for Babylonians), that Abraham sets out on his trek to the land of Canaan.



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