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.
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.
Out of Africa: The Paleolithic Period, 600,000-10,000 B.C.
The Neolithic Period: The First Stirrings of Agriculture, 10,000-3000 B.C.
Middle East plants and animals
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
The Origins of Western Civilization
Life in a Sumerian City
Gods and Goddesses of the River Valley
The Development of Writing
Laws and Justice
Code of Hammurabi
Women and children
Indo-Europeans: New Contributions in the Story of the West
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
Prosperity and Order: The Old Kingdom, ca. 2700 - 2181 B.C.
Hieroglyphs: Sacred Writing
Pyramids and the Afterlife
Changing Political Fortunes, ca. 2200 - 1570 B.C.
Political Expansion: The New Kingdom, 1570 - 1085 B.C.
The Religious Experiment of Akhenaten, ca. 1377 - 1360 B.C.
The Twilight of the Egyptian Empire, 1360 - ca. 1000 B.C.
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.
The Phoenicians: Traders on the Sea
The People of the One God: Early Hebrew History, 1500 - 900 B.C.
Establishing a Kingdom
Dividing a Kingdom
A Jealous God, 1300 - 587 B.C.
Judaism in Exile
"Second temple" Period
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.
The Age of Iron
Rule by Terror: The Assyrians, 911 - 612 B.C.
Governing an empire
Fall of Assyrians
Babylonian Rule, 612 - 539 B.C.
Culture and commerce
Astronomy and mathematics
Rule by Tolerance: The Persian Empire, ca. 550 - 330 B.C.
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.
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?
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