Ancient History/Introduction

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What is Ancient History?[edit]

"Ancient" history is a rather vague term, but its generally accepted denotation is the period of history preceding the birth and beginnings of modern civilisation, in the first few centuries after the fall of Rome.

However, historians like to argue about what constitutes a historical period, and "ancient history" is understandably vast. The dawn of time and the Early Middle Ages are separated by a very large gap in time.

Some would argue that history refers to the development of human society. In this case, ancient history actually begins with the Paleolithic Era, from about 4.5 million years before the present until ten thousand years ago. This places the development of early hominids into modern-style humans within the compass of ancient history. Others believe that the origins of agriculture really mark the beginning of ancient history, with the domestication of the first food and fiber crops; this process began about 12,000 years before the present, near the end of the last Ice Age. Yet another school argues that the invention of writing and arithmetic, in Mesopotamia and China, around 4500 BC marks the beginnings of true ancient history.

A number of ending points may also be considered. In the western world, the end of the Roman Empire, traditionally dated to 476 CE, has often been declared a cut-off. However, this relegates all of world history between 475 CE and 1500 CE to a period usually called medieval history. The rise of Islam and the early development of science fall within this medieval period, but both are outgrowths of the work of the preceding millennia.

Start of the Book[edit]

By our measurements, this textbook began at 04:23, 1 January 2005 by User:24.18.206.57 as a redirect from the Modern History page. This page was one year later made into a book by being filed at template:new and soon after being marked at the Humanities bookshelf.

Themes[edit]

So far, no themes questions have been asked and none have been answered. The themes of the book have been modeled after those of the Modern History page.

  • Population [P] refers to groups of persons, such as ethnic or social groups.

In the ancient world, questions of population involve the movements of large numbers of people over great distances. The appearance of Neanderthal Man in many parts of Europe is one such type of movement; the Germanic invasions of western Europe in the early fifth century CE are another. When possible this will identify a people's conjectured point of origin, and attempt to track its movements both geographically and physically.

Population is often closely tied in western Europe and the Mediterranean littoral with questions of citizenship and eligibility to participate in the political system. One of the principal themes of Roman history, for example, is the way in which certain social classes and peoples were either included or excluded from the political process in Rome. During the Hellenistic Age, the idea of who was Greek expanded far beyond the genetic questions of who had come from the geographical region of Greece.

  • Governance [G] refers to rule over a population or populations. Many empires expanded in ancient history until many were sacked.

Governance deals with how a population ruled itself, and the nature of a population's laws and political customs. Many modern English words for governmental types -- monarchy, dictatorship, oligarchy, democracy, republic, syndicalism and tyranny -- actually come to us from Greek and Latin, since these nations experimented with all these types of government, with written and unwritten law, and with written and unwritten constitutions.

Governance is often ruled by internal and external considerations. Governments usually possess domestic policies, which determine how a nation's leadership acts towards people living within its borders. They also attempt to guide and direct relationships with other nations and people, through treaties and foreign policy.

  • Invention [I] refers especially to new or recovered technology.

Invention and Innovation may be equally appropriate terms here. In the modern world, many nations are aware of the same technologies, even if developing nations can not afford these technologies. Many people know what airplanes do, even if they have never flown in one. However, in the ancient world, in which factories were rare or non-existent, and most artisans labored to create objects in small workshops or at home, innovations took time to spread across cultural lines.

Historians of ancient history often use two terms to describe the process by which inventions pass from culture to culture. The first term is Independent Invention, meaning that two cultures developed a specific idea or technology, but did not learn of that technology from one another. Each culture invented that technology without knowing of the other culture's technological advance. For example, both China and Egypt invented paper of a sort; Egyptian papyrus was invented around 3000 BCE by pounding strips of a marsh reed into a flat surface, while Chinese paper was produced on screens from a mash of mulberry leaves or rice husks around 100 BCE. China knew nothing of Egyptian papyrus paper, so it independently invented paper, even though Egyptian examples already existed.

The other type of innovation is termed Cultural Diffusion, meaning that a culture invents a given technology and then that technology is passed hand to hand and mind to mind through teaching, learning, and borrowing, until it is accepted by another culture in a different geographical region. For example, the spinning wheel was invented in northern China in the fourth century CE, but it did not make an appearance in European households until the twelfth century CE. This advance in thread-making technology advanced year by year along the trade routes from China to Europe, making slow progress but infiltrating each house and culture it passed on the way.

  • Combat [C] refers to wars, battles, and other destructive competition. In ancient history, it is hard to say what was the deadliest war.

Combat in ancient times was conducted largely without the use of anything more elaborate than hand-to-hand weapons: swords, shields, armor, spears, and personal valor were the principal tools of battle. Weapons such as catapults often had to be invented first, before they could be put into use. Horses and camels trained for battle provided cavalry services to many armies, but the expense of maintaining animals for battle kept these forces small relative to the size of infantry forces.

In addition, prior to 1500 CE few nations or countries were able to maintain state monopolies on the use of military force. Arms and armor were relatively inexpensive, and private armies and navies existed even if they were not particularly common. Because of the nature of government, a charismatic leader in many places and times could raise a private army and go into the business of conquering a nation, or starting one of his own.

  • Trade [T] refers to any exchange of goods or services, from the exchange of some money for a slice of bread to the many camels crossing the Arabian Desert.

Compared to the present day, where masses of statistical data and reams of financial information are available, ancient times had little in the way of accurate economic information. Most production of goods occurred at the level of a workshop or household's cottage industry, rather than at the level of a factory or multi-national corporation. While some mercantile companies of a sort did exist, most trade at the international level was conducted by adventurous individuals or families, and it often occurred in a haphazard way.

At the level of local production in the ancient world, numerous types of commerce existed. The first type was barter in which goods are evaluated by the trading partners, and rough estimates of value are assigned to commodities; the commodities themselves are then exchanged, without the use of money. In medium of exchange commercial systems, buyer and seller agree on a value for a commonly available product, such as salt in ancient China or olive oil in ancient Greece, and other products' values are assessed in terms of measured units of that common substance. In specie commerce, a rare product such as gold or silver or precious stone which is small and relatively easily transported, becomes the valuation system. Specie systems often led in the ancient world to the creation of coinage in which coins of indefinite or nominal specie value become the medium of exchange. The most advanced system of trade, credit, did exist in the ancient world, but tended to be rare and reserved for financial transactions of stupendous size.