a very long history of ancient times
chapter 01 : the Paleolithic Era.
First Humans / Prehistory
Prehistory refers to the time before we have a written record of what happened. What we now know we have learned through two different disciplines:
archaeology and anthropology.
Until we have a time machine, this is the best we can do.
...are scientists who study objects that were made by humans. These objects are known as artifacts. Artifacts can be tools, instruments, pottery, buildings, weapons, etc.
So if you made something really cool in shop class, then don’t use it. Bury it. A thousand years from now, you’ll be giving a future archaeologist the chance to discover something cool. And on the very likely chance that between now and then an electromagnetic pulse has wiped out all electronics from Utah to Nevada and everywhere in between, then that precious little shop tool you made just might be the defining artifact that allows some intrepid archaeologist to write a book defining our entire century for the last several hundred years. Bury deep, bury deep. But not too deep.
...are scientists who are interested in the cultural parts of human history, such as:
-what people in a culture wore
-what people ate
-how they learned and created customs
-how they developed languages
So if you baked something really cool in the kitchen, then don’t eat it (see above paragraph under “Archaeology”)
...showed up around Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia. We think.
The Paleolithic Ere is also known as "The Old Stone Age.’ If you’re trying to sound smart, use “Paleolithic.” If you’re trying to make sense, use “Old Stone Age.”
Because early on, humans made simple things out of stones.
They also banded together in small societies. They did super fun stuff like hunting and gathering and moving a lot.
They did not hunt and gather for fun. They didn’t have time for fun. They had time only for survival. This is what we have learned from the archaeologists and anthropologists. We have to trust them until the time machine tells us different.
Toward the end of this Era, humans began to make art and form religious behaviors. This was both good and bad.
Cool Stuff They Made:
stone spearheads attached to sticks for large animals and bad humans
bow & arrow (see: William Tell, Robin Hood, Legolas)
harpoons and bone fishhooks for fish, sea animals, and slow mermaids
baskets for gathering and carrying berries and cool-looking rocks
small statues from stone and ivory
bone flutes for playing birthday music
Paleolithic humans were hunters and gatherers. This concept is difficult to explain, but I’ll try:
This meant they hunted. Men did the hunting.
This meant they gathered. Women did the gathering. Berries, nuts, and plants to eat; poison ivy for practical jokes, etc.
Hunting and gathering meant they had to move from place to place and follow grazing animals and the changing seasons. Always chasing the dream. Except they didn’t have time to dream. They were too busy hunting and gathering and moving from place to place. Chasing the dream.
So they had no permanent homes. Sad.
Words And Ideas You Oughta Know
B.C. = Before Christ
BCE = Before the Common Era (same as B.C.)
A.D. = Anno Domini “in the year of our Lord”
CE = the Common Era (same as A.D.)
Homo sapiens sapiens = wise, wise human
Nomads = move from place to place
One way humans communicated was by telling stories and myths. Myths were basically stories people made up to try and make sense of the world. They are often entertaining than the scientific explanations, which is why I would rather read a collection of myths than an encyclopedia of geologic terminology.
For art, they used animal fat to make paint. Ideally the fat was from dead animals who died quick and painless deaths of old age. Most of their art shows animals during a hunt. Because they were hunters and gatherers. Sadly, there is more art of the hunters than the gatherers. Or maybe the hunters tended to do more of the artmaking and painting.
As they say, winners write the history books.
And apparently, the hunters paint the paintings.
Eventually, all eras must end. That brings us to The Great Migration.
This is really where long distance travel begins. Why? To visit long-lost relatives? Sadly, no.
Humans begin to explore other continents (all of them besides Antarctica!) because they need to follow animals.
Because they’re hunters and gatherers!
Because that’s what they think they need to do in order to survive. And maybe it is. We’re not going to Monday-morning quarterback without a time machine. It is sad though, that there are no notable or famous vegetarians from this period.
So they slog around looking for wet climates that have lakes and fertile land. A little phenomena we call The Ice Age cools things down a bit and pushes our ancestors toward warmer regions...
...where they look for areas with fertile soil for growing their own food. You read that right. They’re thinking more and more about using the soil to make food, instead of just gathering and hunting…
Lennon and McCartney or McCartney and Lennon?
Hunting and gathering or gathering and hunting?
Things to argue about.
Chapter 02 : the NEOLITHIC ERA
8000 BCE to 4000ish BCE
Again, it’s simpler to refer to this as “The New Stone Age.” But you’ll sound much smarter if you say “Neolithic.” Your call.
This is where technology really takes a mastodon leap forward. Not like, silicon and faxes and stuff, but more along the lines of precious metals. By the time this Era ends, metal tools are a totally normal thing. Way cool.
Bronze Age (started 3000 BC)
Iron Age (started 1500 BC)
Humans transition from being nomadic to being more sedentary as they find warm, fertile places to grow food and settle down. We don’t have records of their body mass index, but we can conjecture with absolute certainty that they probably got fatter. Gathering and hunting can really burn the calories. But farming is pretty awesome too.
They discovered that grinding grains makes flour, which can be used to make bread. If I had been around then, I would have been so excited that I would have borrowed some paint to paint a portrait of the bread inventor. Yum.
They also made a huge discovery! Plants grow better in fertile soil! I feel that it took them too long to discover this, but good for them for finally figuring it out.
Long springs and summers are ideal for growing food. They figured this out, and they also taught themselves irrigation systems, which helps to create surplus food, which means more is produced than is consumed. Meaning…
...that communities could expand and not need to move around. And people start to have free time as they can start to specialize in different areas (division of labor). A totally awesome concept.
...some began to become artisans, who are workers skilled in a single craft, like breadmaking.
Humans tame wild animals, such as goats, pigs, and sheep for milk, meat, and wool. I would love to have filmed the first human to successfully domesticate a goat. Good for her.
Inventions : The Wheel
So now people can move around. Oh, yeah, along with the wheel, the Sumerians figured out sails, which meant people could start bartering and trading with other communities.
Primitive types of government are developed to help regulate trade and other human activities. Villages grow into towns, towns into cities, and leaders are appointed or...take power.
Many monarchs (kings and queens) claim a divine right to rule.
Social classes (most important to least important). This is called a hierarchy. Sad.
Civilizations develop around 4500 BCE
As life becomes more sedentary, people are able to spend more time thinking and developing ideas on astronomy, mathematics, engineering, teaching, writing, and lawmaking.
Writing is very important. It allows for the keeping of records for food harvests and goods to be traded, laws, prayers, family trees, shopping lists, etc.
Instead of just having to rely on oral tradition, stories are able to be recorded in writing. Painters and sculptors illustrate stories about religion and nature and by decorating buildings and temples. Perhaps the first graffiti artists are born in this era. Perhaps an ancestor of Banksy. If you haven’t watched Exit Through the Gift Shop, then you definitely should, unless you’re under 17. In that case you shouldn’t. Because it’s rated R. Sorry. Really sad.
In summary, the first civilizations are formed around Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus Valley, China, and Central America.
And what is a civilization? Seriously, you don’t remember? Sad. I will write it here so you will never forget.
Civilization is basically workers + writing + art + government
chapter 03 : Mesopotamia.
[ FIRST CIVILIZATIONS ]
3000 BCE - 612 BCE
Ancient Mesopotamia, a land in the Middle East now known as Iraq, is called the Cradle of Civilization because it's where the first one was birthed by a people called the Sumerians around 3000 BCE. Give or take a thousand years.
Humans found this a perfect place for agriculture and trade because it's a valley between two rivers: the Tigris and the Euphrates. They called it The Fertile Crescent because the land was so fertile and it covered a crescent-shaped area from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf. They learned to irrigate and farm large areas of land.
Mesopotamia = "between rivers"
Never forget this.
Their innovative irrigation techniques on these fertile floodplains led to the development of complex societies, which in turn led to the creation of writing, migration, trade, and the development of ever-more “...powerful city-states, kingdoms, and empires.”
The ‘complicated society’ part began arising around 3500 BC.
Around 2000 BC, similar types of civilizations began popping up in the Indus River Valley (Pakistan) and China.
Around 1200 BC, civilizations began developing in the Americas.
China and the ongoing debate over “the first”
China has the oldest continuous written historical record that goes back 3500 years. We’ll talk about them soon.
But back to Mesopotamia for now.
So there were three major kingdoms to rise from this area of the Mediterranean:
Babylonian - founded around 2300 BC
Hittite - around 1800 BC?
Egyptian - around 3100 BC
Irrigation systems were developed around 5000 BC, but it wasn’t until 3000 BC that the food surpluses led to the development of complex societies, and the dawn of the written word...which takes us the edge of history, as opposed to (before-written language) pre-history.
chapter 04 : Sumerians.
[ FIRST CIVILIZATIONS ]
Remember, there were several major kingdoms to rise from early Mesopotamia. It can get confusing because there was a lot of overlap and interaction, and available historical records are frequently a mix of facts and mythology. Some of the important early kingdoms and civilizations included the following:
The Sumerians relied on annual floods to deposit rich soil onto their riverbanks every spring. They became masters of irrigation and drainage to control water flow. They should be posthumously awarded engineering doctorates.
But when floods destroyed areas, they began developing explanations for why destructive things happened...remember my little explanation of myths an era or two back?
They hoped that if they obeyed and served the gods that they would get a good harvest. They built ziggurats to the important gods or goddesses of each city. Yes, they were polytheistic - they believed in multiple deities. A deity is like a god or a pharaoh. Except we’re not to the Egyptians yet, so disregard that reference.
Sumeria was a theocracy. Priests held an important role, because they believed gods ultimately ruled the land. Kings ruled by divine right. Sort of like me as a father. I answer to no one. Except the children’s mother.
There were huge gaps between the powerful and the powerless. This meant life was good for some, and not good for some. And in between for others. As often happens with progress, or “progress,” there were a lot of good things that happened as a result of the society hierarchy, even though there were obvious...not good things.
But the good things: for example, the kings and priests and important people needed to be kept happy, so many specialized jobs and occupations developed in order to meet the needs of a growing society: bakers, brewers, coppersmiths, woodworkers, etc.
And perhaps most important...scribes.
Writing & Education (3000ish BCE)
Around 5,500 years ago, Sumerians created the first primitive form of writing called cuneiform. It was based on making wedge-shaped impressions with reeds on soft clay tablets, then drying them out in the sun.
They were able to keep records write stories and poems, and very importantly, start to write down laws. It took a long time to write cuneiform, so specialized workers called scribes had to be trained. They were good at patience. Hear that, children and impatient non-children? Scribes studied at schools and became teachers, lawmakers, and leaders. Thanks to them, we have records of their lives in words.
Yes, Sumerians started the very first schools. They were so awesome.
Stuff the Sumerians either invented or were super good at
Systems of laws and government
System for telling time
The Wheel. Yeah, that.
Their ingenious irrigation techniques enabled them to expand and absorb other villages into their various cities, which meant steady flows of food and trade. As they expanded, this brought them into increased conflict with other cities, which led to alliances and power brokering and the rise of the city-state.
City-states were cities that were politically independent - they had their own governments, armies, and kings. They bartered with each other, exchanging, for example, timber and imported copper for wool and wheat. Priests and religious temples acted as regulators and intermediaries with the gods.
They also fought with one another for land and water. SPOILER ALERT: eventually this led to their downfall.
Sumeria Falls / Akkadia Rises (2300 BCE)
King Sargon I is considered the first great king in history. He led for 50+ years and united the city-states. Oh yeah, he's also the one who took down the Sumerians. Why did they go down? Remember about those city-states that kept fighting with one another over stupid rivalries? Well, when a kingdom is constantly fighting with itself, does it make it stronger, or weaker?
That seems like a simple answer, and it is. But kingdoms and nations throughout history have failed to realize this, time and time again. So the Sumerians went down to Sargon because they couldn’t stop fighting with each other. And he got the glory of building a massive empire; an empire that inspired later rulers to try and copy him and his control over the entire Mesopotamian region.
Akkadians spoke a Semitic language. This was a group of languages that spread throughout North Africa and Southwest Asia. For example, Arabic is a Semitic language.
chapter 05 : the Hittites.
[ FIRST CIVILIZATIONS ]
(remember, we’re still talking about the early Mesopotamian kingdoms)
Ah, the lovely and gentle Hittites. They formed a quiet commune in what was then Anatolia.
By “quiet commune” I mean “fearsome warriors.” They swept down and plundered Babylon.
Spoiler alert: they plunder Babylon in 1595, but don’t annihilate it completely) with their nifty two-wheeled chariots. None of those slow-moving four-wheelers. After sacking Babylon, they use that booty to pile up an empire in what is now Turkey and go on to create a fearsome empire. Perhaps the world’s first. They live hard, fight hard, and eventually die hard.
But first, things they were good at and why they’re important:
They made things with iron using advanced techniques. This is a big deal because they help pioneer the use of iron (replacing bronze) to forge all kinds of weapons and tools.
Along with other civilizations, they used horses to travel and migrate, which in turn helped spread technologies around such as the wagon and wheel.
They were half of the world’s peace treaty. Them and Egypt, following the Battle of Kadesh in 1274. The long version is that both sides claimed victory. Ramses II because Egypt sort of prevailed in the actual battle. Muwatalli because, well...because the Hittites didn’t lose. Different ways to frame the same event.
“I won.” and “I didn’t lose.”
This was important because it showed the idea that big civilizations could agree to formally decide whether they were or were not at war.
Good times end though, and less than a century later, around 1200 BC, the Hittite empire ended by a different bloody sword when northern seafarers defeated them, scattering them into different city-states.
We don’t know a whole lot about the Hittites because the cuneiform records largely deal with kings and war and winning battles, rather than day-to-day existence and culture.
When the Hittites went down, there was a void. And where there is a void, there is a power-hungry country ready to fill it. But before we move to the Assyrians...first, one more Mediterranean civilization: Babylon. We’ll have to back up a little, because remember, these are overlapping histories we’re talking about. They didn’t happen in a vacuum, and they didn’t happen one after another.
So let’s jump back 700 years or so.
chapter 06 : Babylon.
[ first civilizations ]
Mediterranean Kingdom, 1700s BC
The Old Babylonian Empire, part of the western half of the Fertile Crescent, lasted from 1792 to 1234 BC.
We already know, thanks to my spoiler concerning the Hittites, that they plunder Babylon in 1595. But something good happens before that something awful. Something good called Hammurabi.
Babylon existed before King Hammurabi in the 1700s, but he's the bloke who made them powerful. So he's the guy history remembers. Sometimes sadly that's how history works most of the time.
King Hammurabi created the Babylonian Empire. Under his rule beginning in 1792 BC, they built roads to encourage trade and travel, but he is most famous for taking the Sumerians’ ideas about the legal system and creating a list of 282 laws called Hammurabi's Code.
THE FIRST TIME LAWS ARE ALL WRITTEN OUT!
Pretty much built on the concept of 'an eye for an eye.' Some great ideas, such as a main one:
"the strong shall not oppress the weak"
Even in this first codified system of laws, men held all the power, which is what we call a patriarchal society. Men could punish women and children. Interestingly, there were all kinds of specifics about fines and exile and horrible forms of execution, but nothing about imprisonment.
That was the good news. It helped things together for a while, but rulers were starting to learn that building an empire is different than keeping an empire together. Good things end, and in 689, the Babylonian empire was destroyed, but guess what and *spoiler alert*... maybe not destroyed for good! Read on to find out...
Assyria The Empire (Circa 1400 BCE)
Yep, this is the kindly civilization that crushed Babylon. But first:
Located in the northern part of Mesopotamia (now northern Iraq), it was easy for outsiders to get into and attack (flat ground, no giant mountains or forests, etc.), so they had to become skilled warriors. Instead of waiting to be attacked, Assyria went on the offensive and began conquering lands from the Nile River (modern day Egypt) to the Persian Gulf. They destroyed Babylon in 689 after a bunch of resistance. Sad. But hold on…
...eleven years later they felt bad, or some sort of remorse, and rebuilt it eleven years later.
King Sargon II was the most important leader of Assyria (722-705 BCE). Kings ruled with absolute power, which meant the king did whatever he wanted. Whoa. It’s good to be king.
Another important king was Ashurbanipal, although some consider him overrated because of how much he inherited from previous rulers. Nevertheless, he ruled over the largest amount of territory and built a giant library.
The greatest Assyrian leader may have been Tiglath Pileser III. He built a brutal and massive army that was the biggest the world had ever seen. He conquered a huge territory after bringing his country back from near-destruction and built the largest empire the world had known.
Did the Assyrians do anything important besides take over other countries? It’s debatable. A couple other items of note:
They developed a system of communication using horses and riders
They developed a far-reaching trade networks that reached to the Mediterranean.
They built city walls that were 85 feet thick, which is worth mentioning.
Nineveh, their capital, was a center of learning and...
...they had ONE OF THE WORLD'S FIRST LIBRARIES!!!!!!
Sadly (for them) they were eventually defeated by the Medes, Persians, and Scythians. Like amateur historian Kurt Vonnegut said many times...
…and so it goes.
Babylon Pt. II : The Neo-Babylonian Empire (626 BCE)
The Second Babylonian phase was the New Babylonian Empire This was around 626ish to 539 BCE. Don’t try to memorize those dates though. Just try to remember the right century, within a century or two.
This is where Babylon rises...AGAIN! This time under the Chaldeans, who were masters of mathematics and astronomy. At least masters until Aristotle showed them up. But it’s okay, he got shown up later by Copernicus and Galileo. But let’s not skip ahead two thousand years anymore.
Babylonians were the first to identify five of the other planets. Earth was the one humans were most familiar with at the time.
Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn
They figured this out by assigning workers every night to chart their movement. Brilliant.
Under Nebuchadnezzar II, Babylon was awesome. Population of 250,000, with massive palaces and and temples and houses. They loved to conquer other places and build. Oh, how they loved to build.
Remember the first civilizations like this:
The Sumerians had already done a little bit of writing down laws, but Hammurabi compiled all his kingdom’s laws into a complete legal code.
The greatest song ever about prison is System of a Down’s Prison System. It has nothing to do with Hammurabi.
chapter 07 : africa.
[ first civilizations ]
3100 - 32 BCE
Egypt was one of the first river-valley civilizations and was located along the Nile River, the longest in the world. Interestingly, it flows over 4,000 miles from south to north before emptying in the Mediterranean Sea.
What is the difference between an ocean and a sea? Seriously, you should know that. Go look it up.
Every year, the Nile flooded and left rich, dark soil on the riverbanks. This area was great for farming, which meant food surpluses and a population of healthy eaters. Sweet.
Because they had to pay attention to annual flooding, Egyptians became very good at recording dates and creating a calendar and using numbers to track data. They were numbers geeks, which meant they would have loved using spreadsheets if they had had computers. But they didn’t. If they wanted them, they should have chosen to be born later.
So the Nile River was great for transportation and communication.
A Sampling Of Egyptian Gods
Hali, god of the Nile
Amon-Re, king of the gods
Osiris, god of the underworld
Isis, Osiris’s wife
...and hundreds of other ones
The plain at the mouth of a river.
Succession of rulers from the same family.
Title given to ancient Egyptian kings.
Thirty-one different dynasties over 3,000 years. There were three main periods. See if you can memorize them in less than six months. Challenge yourself. They are as follows:
The Old Kingdom
The Middle Kingdom
The New Kingdom
Good luck. Anyway, whatever the pharaoh decided was law. He had total power. So much power, he was considered a god. How much power do you think a ruler should have in order to effectively rule?
Old Kingdom (2700-2200 BCE)
King Menes united Egypt under one dynasty when he joined Upper and Lower Egypt. During this period, many great pyramids for pharaohs and their families were built. The largest of these, the Great Pyramid at Giza, took 20 years, 100,000 workers, and over 2000 stones to build.
The Great Sphinx was a giant statue that was half man and half lion. It was built to protect the Great Pyramid. Because farmers couldn’t work during the flood season, they were put to work building pyramids. We might call this “mandatory volunteerism.” Egyptians used their advanced understanding of mathematics, especially geometry, to build these. And they used their advanced understanding of human psychology to get farmers to build them in their free time.
Middle Kingdom (2100-1800 BCE)
This was a stable period of expansion. Nubia (also known as Kush) was an area south of Egypt that was conquered. Pharaohs gave aid for important public projects, such as draining swamps and digging canals. There is a phrase in politics known as “draining the swamp” that some politicians like to throw around. The world would be better if many of those politicians were to wander around an actual swamp and get lost. I feel confident the farmers-turned-pyramid builders and canal diggers would agree with me on this one.
New Kingdom (1500 - 1000 BCE)
The ascension to power of Thutmose III marked the beginning of the New Kingdom. He was a mostly peaceful leader who encouraged trade, which introduced ivory and incense to the region.. Incense smells so good, but ivory. Really? Sad. Although he was mostly peaceful and was careless with elephant’s rights, he led an army of 20,000 to extend Egypt’s lands into Syria and Palestine and was a decent leader overall, as far as totalitarian leaders go.
King Tutankhamen - possibly known to you as King Tut, or even more simply, Tut - became pharaoh at nine years old and ruled from 1333 to 1323. He died at 19. Sad. He was buried in a tomb with over 5,000 expensive objects that were meant to go with him to the afterlife. He was mummified via their process of body preservation, because Egyptians believed the soul could continue its life after death so therefore, it still needed a body to use.
They learned a great deal about human anatomy and physiology and medicine from their use of mummification. If you feel like interesting reading, do some Google-sleuthing on Howard Carter and his team, the ones who discovered the tomb centuries later. And their untimely demises. Then ask yourself if you’re beyond superstition.
Greatest Events In History : Exodus
Religious sleuths and scholars have also dated the possibility of the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt to somewhere in here, circa the 13th century. This was to have a massive and lasting impact on the world because it led to the Ten Commandments and covenant established between the the people of Moses (Israelites) and God, which led to the formation of the three world’s great monotheistic religions and their accompanying moral influences that, thousands of years later, still affect the lives of billions of people.
Anyway. Back to the end.
The New Kingdom collapsed in 1070 and eventually, Alexander the Great of Macedonia conquered the country around 331. Queen Cleopatra the VII was the last Macedonian ruler in 51 BC after waging war with the Roman Empire (oh Julius, oh Marcus).
After her, Egypt would not be independent for another 2,000 years. Sad.
Egyptians had some beautiful illustrations, but they tended to usually look similar. They were expected to follow a formula, as opposed to coming up with unique ideas. For instance, portraits often show a person in a half-profile pose. Not a whole lot of variety. Sad.
Hieroglyphs / Writing
Egyptians invented hieroglyphics, picture-like symbols for writing. They were complicated to learn and use. Only members of the upper class were trained as scribes. Sad.
Initially, Egyptians wrote on clay tablets, but later moved to papyrus, a type of paper made from the papyrus plant. Unfortunately, papyrus plants no longer grow in Egypt. Sad.They wrote their history and achievements on these, which have been a valuable insight for historians to study in learning about their culture. Someday, post-time machine, we’ll be able to verify which scribes were truth-tellers and which ones were LIARS!
These dates are rough. I wasn’t there.
Development of hieroglyphics for communication
Pyramid building. And the Sphinx.
King Menes unites the Upper and Lower Kingdoms of Egypt.
Fall of Babylon. Persia’s Achaemenid Empire takes it down.
Alexander the Great conquers Egypt.
Cleopatra dies. Egypt falls to the Roman Empire. Sad.
Death, resurrection, birth of Christianity
For a thousand years, give or take a few, the Bantu people drifted east and south from West Africa. This is known as a slow migration.
Why? For the same reasons many people did: to find fertile land and good grazing.
They were super good metalworkers and adept at making iron tools and weapons. This was a good thing, because it meant as they kept moving, they could either have cool metal tools to give to their new neighbors if they were friendly, or if they weren’t, they had cool metal weapons to take them out with.
Kush / Nubia
2000 -1500ish BCE
The Kingdom of Kush (also: Nubia) is today called Sudan. It was located just south of Egypt on the Nile River (the long one). The Kushies, or Kushites, used to be farmers, but eventually figured out they could do better as traders. They made iron tools and weapons and traded with Rome, Arabia, and India. What did they get in return?
Sadly, ivory and slaves. Bad. But also gold and ebony. Not as bad.
The Phoenicians set up this nifty city in North Africa. It was a massive trading empire and had colonies all over the place. It was super powerful for 600 years or so. But then, throughout a series of three wars with Rome that involved snow, Alps, elephants, and a non-cannibal general called Hannibal, they fell. They fell hard. As in *spoiler alert* demolished. Memo: if you live in the United States, your country (also mine) has been around less than 250 years. Just as a reminder of the temporal nature of power.
Choose your leaders well.
Fortunately, we know a bit about African history because of oral histories. This means stories that were passed down from one generation to the next by word of mouth. This is great because it means we have something.
It would be even better if we had written records with more details and specifics about the great continent of Africa during this time period. But we’ll take what we can get. Until someone finally mass markets a time machine that will let us fill in some of the details.
chapter 08 : Phoenicians and Israelites.
3100 BCE - 32 BCE
Who had a long list of gods?
Who loved to sail the seas?
Who were known being
A) super good traders and
B) creating a simple and usable alphabet?
Sorry, it was not the Vikings. The whole alphabet thing should have clued you in. It was the Phoenicians.
They lived on some great real estate on the Mediterranean, but despite having a lovely home base, they just loved to sail the ocean blue in their big ships. Their territory covered a large part of what is now Lebanon, but also included smaller portions of present-day Egypt to the south and present-day Syria to the north.
What did they trade? Not silicon, not polar bears, and not moon rocks. But close. They loaded up their ships with purple dye and lumber from their cedar forests and in return, picked up spices, olives, and figs.
Regarding Alphabet. Not Google’s parent company. The actual alphabet. Phoenicians invented (or stole) 22 characters for their alphabet. Moving to a spelled-out system of words instead of simply using pictures was a major advance in communication because it’s simpler and faster to learn, which made it possible for them to communicate and trade with an ever-expanding number of peoples and languages.
Their alphabet spread as they visited different lands. Spoiler alert: the Greeks borrowed liberally from the Phoenicians’ alphabet, and later the Romans borrowed liberally from the Greeks’ alphabet.
1100-Ish To 700 B.C.
If you’ve ever read Leviticus, heard the story of David and Goliath, watched the Paul Newman movie Exodus, listened to a Golda Meir biography, eaten a bagel, or paid the slightest attention to current affairs, then you’ve probably heard of the country of Israel. It’s real. But this is about Israel a while back.
The Israelites were south of their Phoenician, alphabet-inventing neighbors. They weren’t slackers though; historians are super happy that they were so good about writing things down. Teamwork! One country invents an alphabet, one country writes down brilliant and helpful stuff for later peoples. Anyway, they wrote down their sacred teachings in a collection of books called the Torah. If you love great stories, inspiring sayings, and occasional examples of stuff not to do, then you should definitely read it.
A defining characteristic of Israel was monotheism. They worshiped a single God. Spoiler alert: Abraham, a flawed hero you can read about in the Torah, was asked by God to leave Mesopotamia around 2000 BC. He and his large entourage of family, friends, and animals headed to what they called the Promised Land. A place called Canaan. If you’re looking on a modern map of the last thousand years or so, you’ll see that Canaan falls into the territories of (modern) Israel, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories.
They had some adventures and good times in Canaan,, but then things went south. Literally south. They headed down to Egypt to avoid dying from starvation. Pesky famines. Eventually they were welcomed by the Egyptians, who were strong proponents of mandatory unpaid labor with no benefits and more stick than carrot.. Some, such as myself, call this slavery. Which is not only bad, it is evil, vile, and wicked.
Finally, a hero rose. A flawed hero. A flawed hero is a hero that makes mistakes and isn’t perfect, but is good at heart and try hard to do the right thing in the face of great adversity. Moses is one of history’s greatest flawed heroes. He was asked by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. He said yes, with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.
After some grumbling, some plagues, and a not-insignificant parting a of certain Red-colored Sea, they embarked on a multi-year journey of grumbling, fighting, and adventures to reach the Promised Land.
This messy mass of events occurred somewhere in the 1450ish to 1200ish range. That would be B.C. If it was A.D., then we’d be talking about the Renaissance just around the corner…
Another super-flawed hero was David. He even has his own song. He took down a giant with a slingshot, although technically it may have been the removal of the giant’s head with his own sword after being zapped in the forehead with a stone that actually did him in. Anyway, sort of like how Moses helped get his people out from under Egypt’s thumb, David helped get them out from under the Philistines’ thumb.
He went on to become a great king, albeit a king who made some unfortunate and despicable decisions (see: Bathsheba and her husband). He pulled Israel together into a unified nation made Jerusalem its capital in 1000 BC. Exactly 1000 BC. I don’t know the exact day.
David’s son Solomon went on to rule during Israel’s golden age, although there are some vigorous debates amongst scholars over exactly when Solomon’s reign was. Whenever it was, he built a bunch of cool buildings, including a massive and opulent Temple of Jerusalem.
He died around 931 BC and things went south. This time, not literally south. Metaphorically. The country split in two: the kingdom of Israel in the north and the kingdom of Judah to the south.
For the next long while, a bunch of unfortunate events (if the Israelites are the protagonists) happened. Divided nations are generally weaker then they would be if they simply got along. The two kingdoms took one hit after another. First from the Assyrians, then from the Chaldeans, then off to Babylon to be mandatory unpaid workers again for a while.
But then a fortunate thing happened: the Persians took over. There was a great deal of conquering and land disputes during this time period, apparently. Anyway, the Persians were awesome, in this particular instance anyway, because they let the Israelites return to their homeland and rebuild Jerusalem. The Persians weren’t too awesome about other things (see: Leonidas, Thermopylae), but in this instance, they were.
Eventually, the Israelites became known as the Jewish people. Their religion is called Judaism.
Judaism is based on a promise between the Israelites and their God. Remember, they were monotheistic, not like the Sumerians, Phoenicians, Egyptians, and pretty much everyone else.
This promise stated that Abraham and his people would have lots of land and be kings and have good stuff happen as long as they followed God’s laws.
God’s laws are contained in a little pair of stone tablets known as The Ten Commandments. If you don’t have access to the original, you can frequently find them written out on paper. Specifically, in the book of Exodus, and sometimes in courtrooms. Other laws are written about in Leviticus, but though they’re entertaining and horrific to read about, probably don’t place them on the same level as the Ten Commandments.
Also, *spoiler alert* there’s a spot in the New Testament (not part of the Torah) where some tricksters are trying to trick Jesus and they ask him what is the greatest of the commandments. His answer is awesome, and I’m not going to tell you. But you should totally read the whole NT sometime. It’s got some good stuff too.
The Ten Commandments are Judaism’s laws, given by God to Moses, on how to behave toward God and each other. Despite often being controversial and FREQUENTLY being misinterpreted and used out of context, they are a fantastic bit of guidance for helping make your life easier and better. Seriously. Good luck.
Thank you, Moses, for not dropping them on your hike down Mount Sinai.
The Romans also stole a lot of other things from the Greeks besides alphabet stuff. Smart people steal well. And the Romans stole well. More on that later.
If you feel like some light reading about stuff not to do, the entire book of Leviticus is a good place to start.
Evil and vile are anagrams of each other. That might be helpful to know someday
What are the differences among bad, evil, and wicked? For example, is Darth Vader evil or wicked? Is Emperor Palpatine evil or wicked? Note: these figures, to the best of my research, are neither Phoenician nor Israeli.
All kinds of intrigue surrounding Solomon and his ascension. See: Bathsheba, Adonijah, Absolom, etc. Seriously, how can you not love ancient history after reading the book of Exodus?
A euphemism is phrasing something in a certain way that makes it sound better than what actually happened. So when I say “...they took a hit,” what I mean is that the Chaldeans completely destroyed Jerusalem and shipped them off to Babylonia. So the reality might be a little worse than the lazy slang phrase took a hit. Sorry.
Persia is now known as Iran
Mesopotamia is now known as Iraq
Sometimes people use a fancier word for promise: covenant
Mt. Sinai is the mountain where God gave Moses the commandments. It’s a good story, and it’s around this time that the Israelites are doing a bunch of grumbling. After reading Exodus, try making a commitment to not grumbling for an hour or so.
chapter 09 : India.
Is it right, is it fair that India and China get lumped together into the same unit?
No. And that is my point. History is not fair. And I am not an historian. I am somebody who likes history and learns about it from reading and studying the work, research, and writings of actual historians, and filtering it through my own understanding, personality, and importantly, cultural and personal outlook. I was born and raised and still live in the western hemisphere and that is the world I know best. It is the world I have experienced.
There is much I would like to continue learning about other cultures, and especially from the eastern hemisphere and the ways it has influenced the world. It is sadly often under-represented in western history books...just as the history lessons of other countries will generally focus on a history from their perspective. As a spoiler and sidenote, if Persia had actually defeated the Greek city-states in the 400s BC, the western hemisphere would likely look very different than it does today. Would that be a good thing or a bad thing? I don’t know. It would be a different thing. What I am writing about here though is my impressions of big impressions that have made their marks on history, and it is through my lens.
I will do my best to include the impressions and chronologies of civilizations I am less familiar with, and ideally this may help spark an interest in learning more. I am continuing to absorb and learn more about the eastern hemisphere and have a lot of catch-up. So here we go. India and China.