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Civilizations 1000-500 B.C.

(Image above from links do not work.  Text below from
The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition: Copyright © 2001 Columbia University Press.)

 Greece, 1000-500 B.C.




 Egypt, The New Kingdom to 500 B.C.

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Greece, 1000-500 B.C.

After the Dorian invasion, the peoples of Greece, under the influence of the divisive geography and the great variety of tribes, developed the city-state -- small settlements that grew into minor kingdoms. Homeric Greece (named for the great epic poet Homer) was dependent on the agriculture of relatively unproductive fields but was already open to the sea. Although the Greeks never rivaled the Phoenicians or the later Carthaginians and Romans as mariners, the sea offered them an opportunity for expansion and commerce. In the 8th, 7th, and 6th cent. B.C., the Greeks established colonies, many of which became separate city-states, from the Black Sea and the Bosporus (where Byzantium was founded) to Sicily, S Italy (Magna Graecia), Mediterranean France, the northern shores of Africa, and Spain. These colonies had a great influence on the history of the Greek mainland, where the city-states were developing in quarrelsome freedom.

Because of their independence, the cities developed separately. However, there was a general pattern of development, which varied somewhat in each particular instance. Monarchies yielded to aristocracies, which were in turn replaced by tyrants, who usually gained power by espousing the cause of the underprivileged and by using force. Although the tyrants usually tried to establish dynasties, the hold established by their families was short-lived. Pisistratus, Hipparchus, and Hippias in Athens and the later Gelon, Dionysius the Elder, and Dionysius the Younger in Sicily were typical tyrants.

On the Greek mainland the tyrannies soon yielded to oligarchies or to democracies tempered by limited citizenship and by slaveholding; it was in Greece that the idea of political democracy came into being. Solon established a democracy in Athens. Militaristic Sparta had a unique constitutional and social development. The warring city-states had a sense of unity; all their citizens considered themselves Hellenes, and religious unity gave rise to leagues known as amphictyonies, notably the great amphictyony centered at Delphi.

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Early in the 18th cent. B.C. the Hittites sacked Babylon and held it briefly. The nomadic Kassites (Cassites), a tribe from Elam, took the city shortly thereafter and held it precariously for centuries. Babylonia degenerated into anarchy c.1180 B.C. with the fall of the Kassites. As a subsidiary state of the Assyrian Empire (after the 9th cent. B.C.), Babylonia flourished once more. It was the key area in the attempted uprising against the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, and Babylon was sacked (c.689 B.C.) in his reign.

After the death of Assurbanipal, the last great Assyrian monarch, Nabopolassar, the ruler of Babylonia, established (625 B.C.) his independence. He allied himself with the Medes and Persians and helped to bring about the capture of Nineveh (612 B.C.) and the fall of the Assyrian Empire. He established what is generally known as the Chaldaean or New Babylonian Empire. Under his son, Nebuchadnezzar, the new empire reached its height (see Babylon). The recalcitrant Hebrews were defeated and punished with the Babylonian captivity. Egypt had already been defeated by Nebuchadnezzar in the great battle of Carchemish (605) while Nabopolassar was still alive. The empire seemed secure, but it was actually transitory. The steady growth of Persian power spelled the end of Babylonia, and in 538 B.C. the last of the Babylonian rulers surrendered to Cyrus the Great (see also Belshazzar). Babylonia became an important region of the Persian Empire.

See R. W. Rogers, A History of Babylonia and Assyria (6th ed. 1915); D. D. Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia (1926-27); G. R. Driver et al., The Babylonian Laws (1952-55); H. W. F. Saggs, Everyday Life in Babylonia and Assyria (1965, repr. 1987); J. Wellard, Babylon (1972).

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Assyria, ancient empire of W Asia. It developed around the city of Ashur, or Assur, on the upper Tigris River and south of the later capital, Nineveh.

Assyria’s Rise

The nucleus of a Semitic state was forming by the beginning of the 3d millennium B.C., but it was overshadowed by the greatness of Sumer and Akkad. Ashur was Assyria’s chief god, but the gods of the Babylonians and Hittites were also honored. In the 17th cent. B.C., Assyria expanded briefly, but it soon relapsed into weakness. The 13th cent. B.C. saw Assyria threatening the surrounding states, and under Tiglathpileser I Assyrian soldiers entered the kingdom centered about Urartu (Ararat; see Armenia), took Babylonia, and crossed N Syria to reach the Mediterranean. This empire was, however, only ephemeral.

The Ascendancy of Assyria

Assyrian greatness was to wait until the 9th cent., when Ashurnasirpal II came into power. He was not only a vigorous and barbarously cruel conqueror who pushed his conquests N to Urartu and W to Lebanon and the Mediterranean, but he was also a shrewd administrator. Instead of merely making conquered kings pay tribute, he installed Assyrian governors so that he could have more control over the empire.

Shalmaneser III (see under Shalmaneser I) attempted to continue this policy, but, although he exacted heavy tribute from Jehu of Israel and claimed many victories, he failed to establish hegemony over the Hebrews and their Aramaic-speaking allies. The basalt obelisk, called the Black Obelisk (British Mus.), describes the expeditions and conquests of Shalmaneser III. Raids from Urartu were resumed and grew more destructive after the death of Shalmaneser. Calah, the capital of Assyria during the reigns of Ashurnasirpal II and Shalmaneser III, has been excavated.

In the 8th cent. B.C. conquest was pursued by Tiglathpileser III. He subdued Babylonia, defeated the king of Urartu, attacked the Medes, and established control over Syria. As an ally of Ahaz of Judah (who became his vassal), he defeated his Aramaic-speaking enemies centering at Damascus. His successor, Shalmaneser V, besieged Samaria, the capital of Israel, in 722-721 B.C., but it was Sargon, his son, who completed the task of capturing Israel. Sargon’s victory at Raphia (720 B.C.) and his invasions of Armenia, Arabia, and other lands made Assyria indisputably one of the greatest of ancient empires.

Sargon’s son Sennacherib devoted himself to retaining the gains his father had made. He is particularly remembered for his warfare against his rebellious vassal, Hezekiah of Judah. Sennacherib’s successor, Esar-Haddon, defeated the Chaldaeans, who threatened Assyria and carried his conquests (673-670) to Egypt, where he deposed Taharka and established Necho in power. Under Assurbanipal, Assyria reached its zenith and approached its fall. When Assurbanipal was fighting against the Chaldaeans and Elamites, an Egyptian revolt under Psamtik I was successful.

Assurbanipal’s reign saw the Assyrian capital of Nineveh reach the height of its splendor. The library of cuneiform tablets he collected ultimately proved to be one of the most important historical sources of antiquity. The magnificent Assyrian bas-reliefs reached their peak. The royal court was luxurious. Assyrian culture owed much to earlier Babylonian civilization, and in religion Assyria seems to have taken much from its southern neighbor and subject (see Middle Eastern religions).

Assyria’s Decline

Despite the magnificence of Assurbanipal’s court, Assyria began a rapid decline during his reign. The military aspect of the empire was its most prominent feature, for Assyria was prepared for conflict from beginning to end. Because of the ever-present need for men to fight the incessant battles, agriculture suffered, and ultimately the Assyrians had to import food. The division of society into a fairly rigid three-class system was not unlike that of other early western Asian peoples (e.g., Babylonia), but it did not supply a solid base for the overgrown Assyrian state.

The lavish expenditures of Assurbanipal on warfare and building drained the resources of the empire and contributed to its weakness. The king of the Medes, Cyaxares, and the Babylonian ruler Nabopolassar, joined forces and took Nineveh in 612 B.C. Under the son of Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar, Babylonia was renewed in power, and the great-grandson of Cyaxares, Cyrus the Great, was to establish the Persian Empire, which owed much to the earlier Assyrian state.

See A. T. E. Olmstead, History of Assyria (1923, repr. 1960); D. D. Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia (2 vol., 1926–7, repr. 1968).

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is ancient territory occupied by Phoenicians. The name Phoenicia also appears as Phenice and Phenicia. These people were Canaanites, and in the 9th cent. B.C. the Greeks gave the new appellation Phoenicians to those Canaanites who lived on the seacoast and traded with the Greeks.

The geographic boundaries of the territory are vague, and the name Phoenicia may be applied to all those places on the shores of the E Mediterranean where the Phoenicians established colonies. More often it refers to the heart of the territory where the great Phoenician cities, notably Tyre and Sidon, stood (corresponding roughly to the coast of present-day Lebanon).


At the dawn of history in the Middle East, a people speaking a Semitic language moved westward and occupied a very narrow coastal strip of the E Mediterranean. Recent excavations of the Phoenician city of Byblos have somewhat clarified the date of settlement by revealing that trade existed between Egypt and Byblos c.2800 B.C. and also that other important Phoenician centers existed at this time at Jerusalem, Jericho, Ai, and Megiddo. In the 2d millennium the Phoenicians were pushed by the Jews farther westward along the Mediterranean.

Phoenician Dominance

By 1250 B.C. the Phoenicians were well established as the navigators and traders of the Mediterranean world, enjoying the commerce that had once been in the hands of the Aegeans. Their communities were organized into city-states; the greatest of these were Tyre and Sidon; others were Tripoli, Aradus, and Byblos. These were the home cities, but wherever the Phoenicians ranged across the Mediterrean they founded posts and colonies that later became independent states. Of these the most important were Utica and Carthage (founded in the 9th cent. B.C.).

The Phoenicians were more or less under the intermittent influence and control of the Egyptians, but with the weakening of Egyptian power in the 12th cent., Phoenician seamen came to dominate the Mediterranean. They went to the edges of the known world, trading from the Iberian Peninsula to the Dardanelles. Some authorities believe they went as far as Cornwall, seeking tin. There is evidence that in Egyptian service they may have sailed down the western coast of Africa, and possibly their ships even rounded Africa and reached the East Indies. The Phoenician carrying trade was enormous, and their wares were varied. They had an important monopoly on the great cedars of Lebanon from their homeland.

Phoenician Culture

The Phoenicians had a language and culture like those of other Semitic peoples in the general area and may be said to have been identical with the Canaanites of N Palestine except for the development of their seagoing culture. The Phoenicians made a variety of metal articles. They also colored cloth the famous Tyrian purple (Phoenicia is the Greek word for “purple”) with dye obtained from shellfish and were famous for their finely carved ivories. They worshiped fertility gods and goddesses generally designated by the names Baal and Baalat; sacrifice of the first-born, both of humans and of animals, was practiced. Astarte and Adonis were also known.

Phoenician artisans, who were skilled architects, were imported by the Egyptians, and Hiram, King of Tyre, lent assistance to Solomon in building. Their greatest contribution to Western civilization, however, was the development of a standardized phonetic alphabet, which was a great improvement over the more ambiguous cuneiform and hieroglyphic. The Phoenician alphabet served as a basis for the Greek alphabet and was a key factor in the development of Greek literature.


The great Phoenician cities were so well defended that they were able to withstand most of the attacks of the Assyrian kings. In the 6th cent. B.C., however, they submitted to the tolerant empire of the Persians, keeping their own autonomy but gradually being more and more absorbed into the Persian pattern. Phoenician sailors, architects, and artisans were all prominent in Persian service. They also served elsewhere, and Phoenician ships were in the Greek navy that defeated Xerxes I at Salamis.

The individuality of the Phoenicians was dwindling, and with the rise of Greek naval and maritime power the importance of the Phoenicians disappeared. They were, however, able in the 4th cent. B.C. to offer serious resistance to Alexander the Great, who took Tyre only after a long and hard siege (333–332 B.C.). In Roman times the cities continued to exist, but Hellenistic culture had absorbed the last traces of Phoenician civilization.

See G. Rawlinson, Phoenicia (1889, repr. 1972); R. Weil, Phoenicia and Western Asia (1980); S. Moscati, ed., The Phoenicians (1989).

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Egypt: The New Kingdom

The XVIII dynasty is the most important and the best-recorded period in Egyptian history. The local governors generally opposed both the Hyksos and the new dynasty; those who survived were now made mere administrators, their lands passing to the crown. Ancient Egypt reached its height. Its boundaries were extended into Asia, with a foreign province reaching the Euphrates (see Thutmose I). Letters known as the Tell el Amarna tablets are dated to this dynasty and furnish the details of the reigns of Amenhotep III and his son, Akhnaton. As Akhnaton neglected his rule in the pursuit of religion, letters from local rulers became increasingly urgent in begging help, especially against the Hittites. Of the rulers following Akhnaton in this dynasty, Tutankhamen is important for his law code and his enforcement of those laws through the courts. Architecture was at its zenith with the enormous and impressive buildings at and around Thebes.

Egyptian civilization seems to have worn out rapidly after conflicts with the Hittites under the XIX dynasty and with sea raiders under the XX dynasty. With a succession of weak kings, the Theban priesthood practically ruled the country and continued to maintain a sort of theocracy for 450 years. In the delta the Libyan element had been growing, and with the disappearance of the weak XXI dynasty, which had governed from Tanis, a Libyan dynasty came to power. This was succeeded by the alien rule of Nubians, black Africans who advanced from the south to the delta under Piankhi and later conquered the land. The rising power of Assyria threatened Egypt by absorbing the petty states of Syria and Palestine, and Assyrian kings had reached the borders of Egypt several times before Esar-Haddon actually invaded (673 B.C.) the land of the Nile.

Assyrian rule was, however, short-lived; by 650 B.C., under Psamtik, Egypt was once more independent and orderly. Greek traders became important, and their city of Naucratis, founded by Amasis II, thrived. Attempts to reestablish Egyptian power in Asia were turned back (605 B.C.) by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, and Egypt fell easy prey (525 B.C.) to the armies of Cambyses of Persia.

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