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The Roots of Western Civilization

Chapter Summary

      This chapter traces the rise of civilizations in the Middle East over a period of three thousand years and the contributions that these cultures and empires made to Western civilization. In Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Mediterranean, we see the development of agriculture and technology accompanied by the emergence of great cities and stratified societies. Art, religion, warfare, law, and, most importantly, writing gained sophistication as these ancient cultures interacted with each other. The ideas of the earliest civilizations were taken up by the cultures that followed. Writing was crucial because it facilitated this process of cross-fertilization.


Chapter Outline

  1. Before Western Civilization
    For hundreds of thousands of years before written history, humans made advances in the use of tools, created art, and developed agriculture, which led to a shift from nomadic hunting and gathering patterns of living to more sedentary ways of life.
                  1. Trade
    1. Out of Africa: The Paleolithic Period, 600,000-10,000 B.C.
      1. Trade networks
      2. Cave art
      3. Stone monuments
    2. The Neolithic Period: The First Stirrings of Agriculture, 10,000-3000 B.C.
      1. Domestic animals
      2. Middle East plants and animals
      3. Population growth
      4. Slavery
      5. New Warfare
  2. Struggling with the Forces of Nature: Mesopotamia, 3000 - ca. 1000 B.C.
    In the Tigris-Euphrates Valley, people developed a complex society that made advances in religious ideas, political organization, and the use of writing.
                  1. Bronze Age
    1. The Origins of Western Civilization
      1. Administration
      2. Economic functions
    2. Life in a Sumerian City
      1. Trade
      2. Families
      3. Women's work
    3. Gods and Goddesses of the River Valley
      1. Sumerian pessimism
      2. Sargon
      3. Individual longings
    4. The Development of Writing
      1. Cuneiform
      2. Written records
    5. Laws and Justice
      1. Code of Hammurabi
      2. Women and children
    6. Indo-Europeans: New Contributions in the Story of the West
      1. Indo-European languages
      2. Mounted warriors
      3. Contributions
      4. Hittites
  3. Rule of the God-King: Ancient Egypt, ca. 3100 - 1000 B.C.
    In the Nile Valley, a less unpredictable environment than that of the Tigris-Euphrates Valley led to the establishment of a more stable and optimistic culture than in Mesopotamia.
                  1. Nile Valley
    1. Prosperity and Order: The Old Kingdom, ca. 2700 - 2181 B.C.
      1. Preserving order
      2. Trade
      3. Family life
    2. Hieroglyphs: Sacred Writing
    3. Pyramids and the Afterlife
      1. Scribes
      2. Afterlife
      3. Burial rituals
    4. Changing Political Fortunes, ca. 2200 - 1570 B.C.
      1. Famine
      2. Middle Kingdom
      3. Egypt conquered
    5. Political Expansion: The New Kingdom, 1570 - 1085 B.C.
      1. Egyptian Empire
      2. Hatshepsut
      3. Empire building
    6. The Religious Experiment of Akhenaten, ca. 1377 - 1360 B.C.
      1. Akhenaten's Religion
    7. The Twilight of the Egyptian Empire, 1360 - ca. 1000 B.C.
  4. Merchants and Monotheists: The Peoples of the Mediterranean Coast, ca. 1300 - 500 B.C.
    Two other peoples made significant contributions to Western civilization: the Phoenicians developed an alphabet; the Hebrews turned away from the polytheism of other ancient cultures to embrace monotheism.
    1. The Phoenicians: Traders on the Sea
      1. Trading colonies
      2. Phoenician alphabet
    2. The People of the One God: Early Hebrew History, 1500 - 900 B.C.
      1. Patriarchs
      2. Hebrew Scriptures
      3. Establishing a Kingdom
      4. Dividing a Kingdom
    3. A Jealous God, 1300 - 587 B.C.
      1. The Covenant
      2. Hebrew laws
      3. Prophets
      4. "God's punishments"
    4. Judaism in Exile
      1. "Second temple" Period
      2. Hebrew contributions
  5. Terror and Benevolence: The Growth of Empires, 1200 - 500 B.C.
    With the spread of iron-forging technology also came changes in warfare and the successive emergence of three great empires, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and the Persians.
    1. The Age of Iron
      1. Iron Age
    2. Rule by Terror: The Assyrians, 911 - 612 B.C.
      1. Governing an empire
      2. Preserving learning
      3. Fall of Assyrians
    3. Babylonian Rule, 612 - 539 B.C.
      1. Culture and commerce
      2. Astronomy and mathematics
    4. Rule by Tolerance: The Persian Empire, ca. 550 - 330 B.C.
      1. Persian administration
      2. Coins
      3. Zoroastrianism


The Chapter in Perspective

      This chapter traces the rise of the sophisticated cultures in the Middle East over the course of three thousand years that made significant contributions to Western civilization. During the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods, the earliest humans developed skills with tools, began to cultivate plants, and domesticated animals. Following this period, two great cultures emerged; one in the Nile Valley, and the other in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley. Egyptians and Sumerians were remarkable for the complexity of their societies, their architectural achievements, their legal codes, and for the development of writing systems. The Phoenicians, with their alphabet, and the Hebrews, with their monotheism and concern with ethics, also made lasting contributions. Finally, the successive empires of the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians made further innovations based upon the ideas of their predecessors about warfare, ways of governing, and culture. The Persian kings had united the region by 500 B.C. to create an empire that encompassed the diverse cultures and heritages that had participated thus far in the making of Western civilization.

  1. Based on the experiences of preceding empires, what do you predict will happen to the Persian empire? What are some of the challenges that will face new empires in the same region?
  2. What kinds of problems will people such as the Jews face under new rulers? What strategies from their past may help them overcome these problems?

Chapter 1 teaches students:

  • the pre-historic evolution of the ancestors of human beings beginning ca. 600,000 B.C., and the origins of tool-using modern humans ca. 40,000 B.C. in sub-Saharan Africa
  • the organization of pre-historic human groups by kin and religion
  • how, in Mesopotamia, agriculture and animal husbandry brought about the population growth needed for the foundation of cities, with their labor and social specialization
  • the complexity of daily life in Sumerian cities, and the unique roles of slaves, women, priests, workers and rulers
  • the rise of Mesopotamian kingship; the growth of empires
  • the use of religion by the Akkadian conqueror Sargon to unite and pacify Akkadians and Sumerians
  • how the prosperity of Egypt gave way to crisis and invasion
  • Phoenician trade, colonization, wealth and writing
  • the development of monotheism among the ancient Hebrews; how they developed social cohesion despite exile and diaspora; the use of the Bible as a historical source
  • the influence of Zoroastrianism, with its emphasis on both good and evil as active forces, on Jewish and Christian theology

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