Sumer and Sumerian Civilization.
The term Sumer is used today to designate the southern part of ancient Mesopotamia. From the earliest date of which there is any record, S Mesopotamia was occupied by a people, known as Sumerians, speaking a non-Semitic language. The questions concerning their origin cannot be answered with certainty. Some evidence suggests that they may have come as conquerors from the East (possibly from Iran or India). At any rate, as modern excavations have shown, there was in the 5th millennium B.C. a prehistoric village culture in the area. By 3000 B.C. a flourishing urban civilization existed. Sumerian civilization was predominantly agricultural and had a well-organized communal life. The Sumerians were adept at building canals and at developing effective systems of irrigation. Excavated objects such as pottery, jewelry, and weapons show that they were also skilled in the use of such metals as copper, gold, and silver and had developed by 3000 B.C. fine artistry as well as considerable technological knowledge. The Sumerians are credited with inventing the cuneiform system of writing. Between the years 3000 and 2340 the kings of important Sumerian cities, such as Kish, Uruk, and Ur, were able from time to time to extend their control over large areas, forming various dynasties. However, Mesopotamia was also the home of a group of people speaking Semitic languages and with a culture different from that of the Sumerians (see Semite). From the earliest times the Semites were in contact with Sumerian culture, and the increasing Semitic strength, which was already present in the north, culminated in the establishment (c.2340) of the Akkadian dynasty by Sargon, who for the first time imposed a wide imperial organization over the whole of Mesopotamia. This conquest gave impetus to the blending, already long in progress, of Sumerian and Semitic cultures. After the collapse of Akkad (c.2180) under the pressure of invading barbarians from the northeast, peace and civilization were maintained only in Lagash, under Gudea. However, the Sumerians were able to recover their political prestige and had a final revival under the third dynasty of Ur (c.2060). After this dynasty fell (c.1950) to the W Amorities and the Guti, a tribe from Elam, the Sumerians were never again able to gain a political hegemony. With the rise of Hammurabi, the control of the country passed to Babylonia, and the Sumerians, as a nation, disappeared. 1
See C. L. Woolley, The Sumerians (1929, repr. 1971); S. N. Kramer, The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character (1971), Sumerian Mythology (1973), and In the World of Sumer (1986). 2
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Babylonia was an ancient empire of Mesopotamia. The name is sometimes given to the whole civilization of S Mesopotamia, including the states established by the city rulers of Lagash, Akkad (or Agade), Uruk, and Ur in the 3d millennium B.C. Historically it is limited to the first dynasty of Babylon established by Hammurabi (c.1750 B.C.), and to the Neo-Babylonian period after the fall of the Assyrian Empire. Hammurabi, who had his capital at Babylon, issued the code of laws for the management of his large empire--for he was in control of most of the Tigris and Euphrates region even before he defeated the Elamites. Babylonian cuneiform writing was derived from the Sumerians. The quasifeudal society was divided into classes--the wealthy landowners and merchants and the priests; the less wealthy merchants, peasants, and artisans; and the slaves. The Babylonian religion (see Middle Eastern religions) was inherited from the older Sumerian culture. All these Babylonian institutions influenced the civilization of Assyria and so contributed to the later history of the Middle East and of Western Europe.
The wealth of Babylonia tempted nomadic and seminomadic neighbors; even under Hammurabi’s successor Babylonia was having to stave off assaults. 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.
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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Hammurabi, fl. 1792-1750 B.C., king of Babylonia. He founded an empire that was eventually destroyed by raids from Asia Minor. Hammurabi may have begun building the tower of Babel (Gen. 11.4), which can now be identified with the temple-tower in Babylon called Etemenanki. His code of laws is one of the greatest of ancient codes. It is carved on a diorite column, in 3,600 lines of cuneiform; it was found (1902) at Susa and is now at Paris. The code, which addresses such issues as business and family relations, labor, private property, and personal injuries, is generally humanitarian. One severe feature, however, is the retributive nature of the punishment, which follows an eye for an eye literally. Much of the code is drawn from earlier Sumerian and Semitic laws, which seem to provide the basis for its harshly punitive nature.
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The Ancient Empire of the Nile
The valley of the “long river between the deserts,”
with the annual floods, deposits of life-giving silt, and year-long growing
season, was the seat of one of the earliest civilizations built by humankind.
The antiquity of this civilization is almost staggering, and whereas the
history of other lands is measured in centuries, that of ancient Egypt
is measured in millennia. Much is known of the period even before the actual
historic records began. Those records are abundant and, because of Egypt’s
dry climate, have been well preserved. Inscriptions have unlocked a wealth
of information; for example, the existing fragments of the Palermo stone
are engraved with the records of the kings of the first five dynasties.
The great papyrus dumps offer an enormous amount of information, especially
on the later periods of ancient Egyptian history. 12
Among the many problems encountered in Egyptology, one of the most controversial is that of dating events. The following dates have a margin of plus or minus 100 years for the time prior to 3000 B.C. Fairly precise dates are possible beginning with the Persian conquest (525 B.C.) of Egypt. The division of Egyptian history into 30 dynasties up to the time of Alexander the Great (a system worked out by Manetho) is a convenient frame upon which to hang the succession of the kings and a record of events. In the table entitled Dynasties of Ancient Egypt, that accompanies this article, the numbers of the dynasties are given in Roman numerals, and the numeral is followed by the dates of the dynasty and a notation of famous monarchs of the era (each of whom has a separate article in the encyclopedia). Since there are many gaps and periods without well-known rulers (occasionally without known rulers at all), those are given simply with dates or are combined with better-recorded periods. 13
The Old and Middle Kingdoms
A high culture developed early, and the Old Kingdom is notable for artistic and intellectual achievements (see Egyptian architecture; Egyptian art; Egyptian religion). From the beginning there was a concept of the divinity or quasi-divinity of the king (pharaoh), which lasted from the time that Egypt was first united (c.3200 B.C.) under one ruler until the ultimate fall of Egypt to the Romans. According to tradition, it was Menes (or Narmer) who as king of Upper Egypt conquered the rival kingdom of Lower Egypt in the Nile delta, thus forming the single kingdom of Egypt. In the unified and centralized state created by Menes, the memory of the two ancient kingdoms was preserved in formalities of administration. Trade flourished, and the kings of the I dynasty appear to have sent trading expeditions under military escort to Sinai to obtain copper. Indications show that under the II dynasty, trade existed with areas as far north as the Black Sea. 14
The III dynasty was one of the landmarks of Egyptian history, the time during which sun-worship, a new form of religion that later became the religion of the upper classes, was introduced. At the same time mummification and the building of stone monuments began. The kings of the IV dynasty (which may be said to begin the Old Kingdom proper) were the builders of the great pyramids at Giza. The great pyramid of Khufu is a monument not only to the king but also to the unified organization of ancient Egyptian society. The V to the VII dynasties are remarkable for their records of trading expeditions with armed escorts. Although Egypt flourished culturally and commercially during this period, it started to become less centralized and weaker politically. The priests of the sun-god at Heliopolis gained increasing power; the office of provincial rulers became hereditary, and their local influence was thereafter always a threat to the state. 15
In the 23d cent. B.C. the Old Kingdom, after a long and flourishing existence, fell apart. The local rulers became dominant, and the records, kept by the central government, tended to disappear. Some order was restored by the IX dynasty, but it was not until 2134 B.C. that power was again centralized, this time at Thebes. That city was to be the capital for most of the next millennium. 16
The Middle Kingdom, founded at the end of the XI dynasty, reached its zenith under the XII. The Pharaoh, however, was not then an absolute monarch but rather a feudal lord, and his vassals held their land in their own power. The XII dynasty advanced the border up the Nile to the Second Cataract. Order was preserved, the draining of El Faiyum was begun (adding a new and fertile province), a uniform system of writing was adopted, and civilization reached a new peak. After 214 years the XII dynasty came to an end in 1786 B.C. In the dimly known period that followed, Egypt passed for more than a century under the Hyksos (the so-called shepherd kings), who were apparently Semites from Syria. They were expelled from Egypt by Amasis I (Ahmose I), founder of the XVIII dynasty, and the New Kingdom was established. 17
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At various times in its history Greece included all of Epirus, Macedonia, and Thrace, part of Asia Minor, and Magna Graecia. Archaeological remains show that Greece had a long prehistory, dating from the Neolithic Age (c.4000 B.C.). By the Bronze Age (c.2800 B.C.) important cultures had developed. The Aegean civilization had several phases, two of the most important being the Minoan civilization and the Mycenaean civilization. These cultures had disappeared by 1100 B.C. The Greek-speaking Achaeans migrated into the Peloponnesus during the 14th and 13th cent. B.C. The Aeolians and the Ionians apparently preceded the Dorians, who migrated into Greece before 1000 B.C. The Ionians, moving forth, possibly as refugees, possibly as conquerors, settled in the Ionian Islands and on the shores of Asia Minor, which became a part of the Greek world.
is an ancient Cretan culture representing a stage in the development of the Aegean civilization. It is named for the legendary King Minos of Crete. The culture was divided by Sir Arthur Evans into three periods that include the whole of the Bronze Age: Early Minoan (c.3000 B.C.–2200 B.C.), Middle Minoan (c.2200 B.C.–1500 B.C.), and Late Minoan (c.1500 B.C.–1000 B.C.). Early Minoan saw the slow rise of the culture from a neolithic state with the importation of metals, the tentative use of bronze, and the appearance of a hieroglyphic writing. In the Middle Minoan period the great palaces appeared at Knossos and Phaestus; a pictographic script (known as Linear A) was used; ceramics, ivory carving, and metalworking reached their peak; and Minoan maritime power extended across the Mediterranean. Toward the end of the period an earthquake, and possibly an invasion, destroyed Knossos, but the palace was rebuilt. During this period there is evidence of a new script (Linear B) at Knossos, which argues the presence of Mycenaean Greeks. Other luxurious palaces existed at this time at Gournia, Cydonia (now Khánia), and elsewhere. Knossos was again destroyed c.1500 B.C., probably as a result of an earthquake and subsequent invasion from the Mycenaean mainland. The palace at Knossos was finally destroyed c.1400 B.C., and the Late Minoan period faded out in poverty and obscurity. After the final destruction of Knossos, the cultural center of the Aegean passed to the Greek mainland (see Mycenaean civilization). 1
See Sir Arthur J. Evans, Palace of Minos (4 vol., 1921–25, repr. 1964); J. D. S. Pendlebury, Archaeology of Crete (1939, repr. 1963); S. Hood, The Minoans (1971); R. H. Simpson, Mycenaean Greece (1982); A. Harding, The Mycenaens and Europe (1984). 2
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is an ancient Aegean civilization known from the excavations at Mycenae and other sites. They were first undertaken by Heinrich Schliemann and others after 1876, and they helped to revise the early history of Greece. Divided into Early Helladic (c.2800-2000 B.C.), Middle Helladic (c.2000-1500 B.C.), and Late Helladic (c.1500-1100 B.C.) periods, the chronology roughly parallels that of the contemporary Minoan civilization. The Mycenaeans entered Greece from the north or northeast c.2000 B.C., displacing, seemingly without violence, the older Neolithic culture, which can be dated as early as 4000 B.C. These Indo-European Greek-speaking invaders brought with them advanced techniques in pottery, metallurgy, and architecture. Mercantile contact with Crete advanced and strongly influenced their culture, and by 1600 B.C., Mycenae had become a major center of the ancient world. The exact relationship of Mycenaean Greece to Crete between 1600 and 1400 B.C. is extremely complex, with both areas evidently competing for maritime control of the Mediterranean. After the violent destruction of Knossos c.1400 B.C., Mycenae achieved supremacy, and much of the Minoan cultural tradition was transferred to the mainland. The Mycenaean commercial empire and consequent cultural influence lasted from 1400 to 1200 B.C., when the invasion of the Dorians ushered in a period of decline for Greece. Events from 1100 to 900 B.C. are extremely obscure, but by the 9th cent. B.C. the centers of wealth and population showed a decisive shift. Although the Mycenaeans had certain innovations of their own, they drew much of their cultural inspiration from the Minoans. The great Mycenaean cities -- Mycenae, Tiryns, Pylos, Thebes, Orchomenos -- were noted for their heavy, complex fortifications and the massive, cyclopean quality of their masonry, while Minoan cities were totally unfortified. Mycenaean palaces were built around great halls called megara rather than around an open space as in Crete. Unlike the Cretans, the Mycenaeans were bearded and wore armor in battle. Their written language, preserved on numerous clay tablets from Pylos, Mycenae, and Knossos, appears to be a form of archaic Greek linguistically related to ancient Cypriot. The presence of this script, known as Linear B, at Knossos c.1500 B.C. indicates that Mycenaean Greeks had invaded and dominated Crete during the Late Minoan period before the final collapse c.1400 B.C. The works of Homer have been radically reevaluated since the archaeological discoveries of Mycenaean Greece. He is now considered to give admirable glimpses of the culture of the late Mycenaean civilization of the 12th cent. B.C. (see Achaeans).
See W. Taylour, The Mycenaeans (1964); A. E. Samuel, The Mycenaeans in History (1966); G. E. Mylonas, Mycenae and the Mycenaean Age (1966); W. A. McDonald, Progress into the Past (1967); J. Chadwick, The Decipherment of Linear B (2d ed. 1968).
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