A Comprehensive Guide to World History/3300 - 1200 BCE

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The Bronze Age[edit | edit source]

Before the Bronze Age, humans started to form the early steps to civilization. Most people lived in small tribes composed of multiple bands or lineages. Humans slowly started to abandon their nomadic lifestyles, and started creating permanent settlements. Most importantly, they started to develop crop farming and cultivation. The previous reliance on an essentially nomadic hunter-gatherer subsistence technique was increasingly replaced by a reliance upon the foods produced from cultivated lands. These developments lead to the growth of settlements, since the increased need to spend more time and labor in tending crop fields required more localized dwellings. This evolution of nomadic to agricultural life is known as the Neolithic Revolution, which was the lead in to the Bronze Age.

Writing emerged in many different cultures in the Bronze Age. Examples are the cuneiform writing of the Sumerians, Egyptian hieroglyphs, Cretan hieroglyphs, Chinese logographs, and the Olmec script of Mesoamerica. The Chinese script likely developed independently of the Middle Eastern scripts, around 1600 BC. The pre-Columbian Mesoamerican writing systems (including Olmec and Maya scripts) are also generally believed to have had independent origins. It is thought that the first true alphabetic writing was developed around 2000 BC for Semitic workers in the Sinai by giving mostly Egyptian hieratic glyphs Semitic values

Unquestionably, the Bronze Age can attest to the rise of the first civilizations. While the use of stone tools wasn't completely erased by the Bronze Age, their use was starting to be largely replaced by copper and bronze tools. The Bronze Age was the start of the heavy usage of metal and devolving trade routes, and many civilizations were linked by trade. Most of the early civilizations started around the banks of rivers. The soil surrounding rivers was moist and fertile, allowing crops to grow in areas that were arid and desert, like the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia, the Nile river valley of Egypt, and the Indus river valley in India. The small farming settlements of these rivers began to be able to grow a surplus of food from the excellent farming conditions. Now with out worry of trying to supply for just a small community, a surplus allowed more people to move in. As the number of inhabitants grew, they came to build cities, to create writing systems, to experiment in techniques for making pottery and using metals, to domesticate animals, and to develop complex social structures involving class systems. Bronze Age cultures differed in their development of the first writing. Cultures in Mesopotamia (cuneiform) and Egypt (hieroglyphs) developed the earliest viable writing systems. These early cultures will be our first stops in our tour of history, taking us to six of the earliest human civilizations, and others that also arose along the way.

Ancient Near East[edit | edit source]

The ancient Near East was the home of early civilizations within a region roughly corresponding to the modern Middle East: Mesopotamia (modern Iraq, southeast Turkey, northeastern Syria and Kuwait), ancient Egypt, ancient Iran (Elam, Media, Parthia and Persia), Anatolia/Asia Minor (modern Turkey and Armenia), the Levant (modern Syria, Lebanon, Israel, State of Palestine and Jordan), Cyprus and the Arabian Peninsula. The ancient Near East is studied in the fields of Near Eastern archaeology and ancient history. It begins with the rise of Sumer in the 4th millennium BCE, though the date it ends varies: either covering the Bronze Age and the Iron Age in the region, until the conquest by the Achaemenid Empire in the 6th century BC or Alexander the Great in the 4th century BCE.

The ancient Near East is considered the cradle of civilization. It was the first to practice intensive year-round agriculture, it gave the rest of the world the first writing system, invented the potter's wheel and then the vehicular- and mill wheel, created the first centralized governments, law codes and empires, as well as introducing social stratification, slavery and organized warfare, and it laid the foundation for the fields of astronomy and mathematics.

Mesopotamia[edit | edit source]

In the narrow sense, Mesopotamia is the area between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, north or northwest of the bottleneck at Baghdad, in modern Iraq; it is Al-Jazīrah (“The Island”) of the Arabs. South of this lies Babylonia, named after the city of Babylon. However, in the broader sense, the name Mesopotamia has come to be used for the area bounded on the northeast by the Zagros Mountains and on the southwest by the edge of the Arabian Plateau and stretching from the Persian Gulf in the southeast to the spurs of the Anti-Taurus Mountains in the northwest. Only from the latitude of Baghdad do the Euphrates and Tigris truly become twin rivers, the rāfidān of the Arabs, which have constantly changed their courses over the millennia. The low-lying plain of the Kārūn River in Persia has always been closely related to Mesopotamia, but it is not considered part of Mesopotamia as it forms its own river system.

Mesopotamia, south of Ar-Ramādī (about 70 miles, or 110 kilometres, west of Baghdad) on the Euphrates and the bend of the Tigris below Sāmarrāʾ (about 70 miles north-northwest of Baghdad), is flat alluvial land. Between Baghdad and the mouth of the Shaṭṭ al-ʿArab (the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates, where it empties into the Persian Gulf) there is a difference in height of only about 100 feet (30 meters). As a result of the slow flow of the water, there are heavy deposits of silt, and the riverbeds are raised. Consequently, the rivers often overflow their banks (and may even change their course) when they are not protected by high dikes. In recent times they have been regulated above Baghdad by the use of escape channels with overflow reservoirs. The extreme south is a region of extensive marshes and reed swamps, hawrs, which, probably since early times, have served as an area of refuge for oppressed and displaced peoples. The supply of water is not regular; as a result of the high average temperatures and a very low annual rainfall, the ground of the plain of latitude 35° N is hard and dry and unsuitable for plant cultivation for at least eight months in the year. Consequently, agriculture without risk of crop failure, which seems to have begun in the higher rainfall zones and in the hilly borders of Mesopotamia in the 10th millennium BCE, began in Mesopotamia itself, the real heart of the civilization, only after artificial irrigation had been invented, bringing water to large stretches of territory through a widely branching network of canals. Since the ground is extremely fertile and, with irrigation and the necessary drainage, will produce in abundance, southern Mesopotamia became a land of plenty that could support a considerable population. The cultural superiority of north Mesopotamia, which may have lasted until about 4000 BCE, was finally overtaken by the south when the people there had responded to the challenge of their situation.

The present climatic conditions are fairly similar to those of 8,000 years ago. An English survey of ruined settlements in the area 30 miles around ancient Hatra (180 miles northwest of Baghdad) has shown that the southern limits of the zone in which agriculture is possible without artificial irrigation has remained unchanged since the first settlement of Al-Jazīrah.

The availability of raw materials is a historical factor of great importance, as is the dependence on those materials that had to be imported. In Mesopotamia, agricultural products and those from stock breeding, fisheries, date palm cultivation, and reed industries—in short, grain, vegetables, meat, leather, wool, horn, fish, dates, and reed and plant-fiber products—were available in plenty and could easily be produced in excess of home requirements to be exported. There are bitumen springs at Hīt (90 miles northwest of Baghdad) on the Euphrates (the Is of Herodotus). On the other hand, wood, stone, and metal were rare or even entirely absent. The date palm—virtually the national tree of Iraq—yields a wood suitable only for rough beams and not for finer work. Stone is mostly lacking in southern Mesopotamia, although limestone is quarried in the desert about 35 miles to the west and “Mosul marble” is found not far from the Tigris in its middle reaches. Metal can only be obtained in the mountains, and the same is true of precious and semiprecious stones. Consequently, southern Mesopotamia in particular was destined to be a land of trade from the start. Only rarely could “empires” extending over a wider area guarantee themselves imports by plundering or by subjecting neighboring regions.

The raw material that epitomizes Mesopotamian civilization is clay: in the almost exclusively mud-brick architecture and in the number and variety of clay figurines and pottery artifacts, Mesopotamia bears the stamp of clay as does no other civilization, and nowhere in the world but in Mesopotamia and the regions over which its influence was diffused was clay used as the vehicle for writing. Such phrases as cuneiform civilization, cuneiform literature, and cuneiform law can apply only where people had had the idea of using soft clay not only for bricks and jars and for the jar stoppers on which a seal could be impressed as a mark of ownership but also as the vehicle for impressed signs to which established meanings were assigned—an intellectual achievement that amounted to nothing less than the invention of writing.

Mesopotamia has had several cultures and civilizations take up its company through out its history, starting with Sumer. Along the way, some of the first empires arose, and Mesopotamia soon became one of the biggest centers of population in the Bronze Age.

Sumer[edit | edit source]

No people has contributed more to the culture of mankind than the Sumerians. And yet, it is only comparatively recently that we have built up a knowledge of the existence of this ancient culture. Sumer was a civilization in southern Mesopotamia that was most likely permanently settled between 5500 and 4000 BCE by non-Semitic people who could have spoke the Sumerian language. Like many early civilizations, Sumer was founded by agriculture on the banks of rivers, Euphrates and Tigris. Creating and maintaining irrigation canals for the frequent flooded rivers demanded a high amount of physical labor. These intensive agriculture practices also demanded themselves a concentrated area of population in order to remain effective. A food supply is needed in order for a population to remain stable, which could have gave rise to permanent year-round urban settlement in the area of Sumer. However, much of Sumers' history has been lost forever to the sands of time. Only around 2500 BCE did a logographic system of writing come about, and only a handful of the clay tablets used to record said data have survived. For Sumerians, the clay writing tablets would quickly out live their usefulness after being sun hardened, as no more information could be written on them. Not worried about preservation of minor records, many clay writing tablets were used as scrap, thrown in with other scrap bits of clay and mud brick, and used as foundation leveling for buildings. In doing so, the passage of history has forever trapped the knowledge of the Sumerians in the realm of the unknown.

Life and Culture of Sumer[edit | edit source]

In the early Sumerian period, the primitive pictograms suggest that pottery was very plentiful, and the forms of the vases, bowls and dishes were manifold; there were special jars for honey, butter, oil and wine, which was probably made from dates, and one form of vase had a spout protruding from its side. Some of the vases had pointed feet, and stood on stands with crossed legs; others were flat-bottomed, and were set on square or rectangular frames of wood. The oil-jars - and probably others also - were sealed with clay, precisely as in early Egypt. Vases and dishes of stone were made in imitation of those of clay, and baskets were woven of reeds or formed of leather. A feathered head-dress was worn on the head. Beds, stools and chairs were used, with carved legs resembling those of an ox. There were fire-places and fire-altars, and apparently chimneys also. Knives, drills, wedges and an instrument which looks like a saw were all known, while spears, bows, arrows and daggers (but not swords) were employed in war. Tablets were used for writing purposes, and copper, gold and silver were worked by the smith. Daggers with metal blades and wooden handles were worn, and copper was hammered into plates, while necklaces or collars were made of gold. And, finally, time was reckoned in lunar months.

There is considerable evidence that the Sumerians loved music, which seems to have been an important part of religious and civic life in Sumer. Instruments of Ancient Mesopotamia include harps, lyres, lutes, reed pipes, and drums. Many of these were shared with neighbouring cultures. The vocal tone or timbre was probably similar to the pungently nasal sound of the narrow-bore reed pipes, and most likely shared the contemporary "typically" Asian vocal quality and techniques, including little dynamic changes and more graces, shakes, mordents, glides and microtonal inflections. Singers probably expressed intense and withdrawn emotion, as if listening to themselves, as shown by the practice of cupping a hand to the ear (as is still current in modern Assyrian music and many Arab and folk musics).

Though women were protected by late Sumerian law and were able to achieve a higher status in Sumer than in other contemporary civilizations, the culture was male-dominated. The Code of Ur-Nammu, the oldest such codification yet discovered, dating to the Ur-III "Sumerian Renaissance", reveals a glimpse at societal structure in late Sumerian law. Beneath the lu-gal ("great man" or king), all members of society belonged to one of two basic strata: The "lu" or free person, and the slave (male, arad; female geme). The son of a lu was called a dumu-nita until he married. A woman (munus) went from being a daughter (dumu-mi), to a wife (dam), then if she outlived her husband, a widow (numasu) and she could then remarry.

Sumerian was the language of ancient Sumer. Sumerian is an agglutinative language, meaning that words could consist of a chain of more or less clearly distinguishable and separable affixes and/or morphemes.

Sumerian is a split ergative language. It behaves as a nominative–accusative language in the 1st and 2nd person of present-future tense/incompletive aspect (AKA marû-conjugation), but as ergative–absolutive in most other forms of the indicative mood. Similar patterns are found in a large number of unrelated split ergative languages (see more examples at split ergativity). In Sumerian the ergative case is marked by the suffix -e and the absolutive case (as in most ergative languages) by no suffix at all (the so-called "zero suffix"). Example of the ergative pattern: lugal-e e2 mu-un-du3 "the king built the house"; lugal ba-ĝen "the king went" (the transitive subject is expressed differently from the intransitive subject, as it takes the suffix -e). Example of the nominative–accusative pattern: i3-du-un (< *i3-du-en) "I go (away)"; e2 ib2-du3-un (< *ib2-du3-en) "I build the house" (the transitive subject is expressed in the same way as the intransitive subject, as both verbs take the same 1st person singular suffix -en).

Sumerian distinguishes the grammatical genders human/non-human (personal/impersonal), but it does not have separate male/female gender pronouns. The human gender includes not only humans but also gods and in some cases the word for "statue". Sumerian has also been claimed to have two tenses (past and present-future), but these are currently described as completive and incompletive or perfective and imperfective aspects instead. There are a large number of cases: absolutive (-Ø), ergative (-e), genitive (-(a)k), dative/allative ("to, for") (-r(a) for human nouns, -e for non-human nouns), locative ("in, at") (-a, only with non-human nouns), comitative (-da), equative ("as, like") (-gin), directive/adverbial ("towards") (-š(e)), ablative ("from") (-ta, only with non-human nouns). The naming and number of the cases varies in the scientific literature.

Another characteristic feature of Sumerian is the large number of homophones (words with the same sound structure but different meanings), which are perhaps pseudo-homophones, as there might have been differences in pronunciation such as tone or some phonemic distinctions that are unknown. The different homophones (or, more precisely, the different cuneiform signs that denote them) are marked with different numbers by convention, "2" and "3" being often replaced by acute accent and grave accent diacritics respectively. For example: du = "go", du3 = dù = "build".

Cuneiform script is one of the earliest known systems of writing, distinguished by its wedge-shaped marks on clay tablets, made by means of a blunt reed for a stylus. The name cuneiform itself simply means "wedge shaped", from the Latin cuneus "wedge" and forma "shape," and came into English usage "probably from Old French cunéiforme."

Sumerians believed in an anthropomorphic polytheism, or the belief in many gods in human form. There was no common set of gods; each city-state had its own patrons, temples, and priest-kings, however they were not exclusive. The gods of one city were often acknowledged elsewhere. Sumerian speakers were among the earliest people to record their beliefs in writing, and were a major inspiration later Mesopotamian mythology, religion, and astrology. These deities formed a core pantheon; there were additionally hundreds of minor ones. Sumerian gods could thus have associations with different cities, and their religious importance often waxed and waned with those cities' political power. The gods were said to have created human beings from clay for the purpose of serving them. The temples organized the mass labor projects needed for irrigation agriculture. Citizens had a labor duty to the temple, though they could avoid it by a payment of silver.

Sumerians believed that the universe consisted of a flat disk enclosed by a dome. The Sumerian afterlife involved a descent into a gloomy netherworld to spend eternity in a wretched existence as a Gidim (ghost).

The universe was divided into four quarters.

   To the north were the hill-dwelling Subartu who were periodically raided for slaves, timber, and raw materials.
   To the west were the tent-dwelling Martu, Semitic people living as pastoral nomads tending herds of sheep and goats.
   To the south was the land of Dilmun, a trading state associated with the land of the dead and the place of creation.
   To the east were the Elamites, a rival people with whom the Sumerians were frequently at war.

Their known world extended from The Upper Sea or Mediterranean coastline, to The Lower Sea, the Persian Gulf and the land of Meluhha (probably the Indus Valley) and Magan (Oman), famed for its copper ores.

Ziggurats (Sumerian temples) each had an individual name and consisted of a forecourt, with a central pond for purification.[37] The temple itself had a central nave with aisles along either side. Flanking the aisles would be rooms for the priests. At one end would stand the podium and a mudbrick table for animal and vegetable sacrifices. Granaries and storehouses were usually located near the temples. After a time the Sumerians began to place the temples on top of multi-layered square constructions built as a series of rising terraces, giving rise to the Ziggurat style.

It was believed that when people died, they would be confined to a gloomy world of Ereshkigal, whose realm was guarded by gateways with various monsters designed to prevent people entering or leaving. The dead were buried outside the city walls in graveyards where a small mound covered the corpse, along with offerings to monsters and a small amount of food. Human sacrifice was found in the death pits at the Ur royal cemetery where Queen Puabi was accompanied in death by her servants. It is also said that the Sumerians invented the first oboe-like instrument, and used them at royal funerals.

The Sumerians adopted an agricultural mode of life as by perhaps as early as c. 5000 - 4500 BCE the region demonstrated a number of core agricultural techniques, including organized irrigation, large-scale intensive cultivation of land, mono-cropping involving the use of plough agriculture, and the use of an agricultural specialized labour force under bureaucratic control. The necessity to manage temple accounts with this organization led to the development of writing.

Sumerian agriculture depended heavily on irrigation. The irrigation was accomplished by the use of shaduf, canals, channels, dykes, weirs, and reservoirs. The frequent violent floods of the Tigris, and less so, of the Euphrates, meant that canals required frequent repair and continual removal of silt, and survey markers and boundary stones needed to be continually replaced. The government required individuals to work on the canals in a corvee, although the rich were able to exempt themselves.

The Sumerian Farmer's Almanac, dated to around 1700 to 1500 BCE, is a cuneiform clay tablet made by a farmer for his son. The document has prime importance in the history of agriculture and its techniques. The document consists of a series of instructions for the purpose of guiding one throughout their yearly agricultural activities.

The instructions start with the flooding of the fields in the spring and ending with the cleaning and winnowing of the freshly harvested crops. The Sumer's soil was parched so irrigation was important. The almanac instructions began with advice concerning putting water into the fields and caring for the ground. The farmer was instructed to have his help prepare in advance all the necessary farming implements and tools. The farmer was instructed to make sure that he had an extra ox for the plow. The instructions were that before plowing, the farmer should have the ground broken up twice by the mattock and once by the hoe. The hammer was to be used to pulverize the clods. The farmer was instructioned to make sure he had a good manager to control the laborers to make sure they didn’t slough off.

The instructions from the Sumerian Farmer's Almanac were for the farmer to plow eight furrows to each strip of land, which was approximately 20 feet long. Plowing and sowing was carried on simultaneously. It was done with a seeder. A plow was used that had an attachment that carried the seed. A container dropped the seed through a narrow funnel down to even depths of just plowed furrows. The depth was to be that of the width of two fingers and if not the plow was to be adjusted to make it come out this way.

The furrows that had been plowed straight this year were to be plowed diagonal the next year and vice versa. The almanac gives instructions for the farmer to pray to Ninkilim, the goddess of field mice and vermin. This was so the pests would not harm the grain when it would start growing. There were special instructions on when to water the growing grain. There were three different watering times. If the farmer spotted reddening of the wet grain it was the dreaded samana-disease that endangered the crops. If the crop came out of this, then there was to be a fourth watering which usually yielded an extra ten percent.

When the farmer was to harvest the barley, he was not to wait, but was to harvest just at the right moment. This was when the barley stood tall and did not bend over under its own weight. Three men were to do the harvesting as a team using a reaper and a binder. The threshing was done by means of a sledge for a period of five days. This was a device drawn back and forth over the heaped-up grain stalks. The barley was then "opened" with an "opener". A team of oxen drove this primitive machine to crush the barley-(sheaves). The barley, kernels and sheaves, were then winnowed-(of the sheaves) with pitchforks and laid on sticks to make clean.

The writer of the Sumerian Farmer's Almanac said that the agricultural instructions were not his, however those of the god Ninurta, the son and "true farmer" of the leading Sumerian deity, Enlil.

No architectural profession existed in Mesopotamia; however, scribes drafted and managed construction for the government, nobility, or royalty. The Mesopotamians regarded 'the craft of building' as a divine gift taught to men by the gods. The Tigris-Euphrates plain lacked minerals and trees. Sumerian structures were made of plano-convex mudbrick, not fixed with mortar or cement. Mud-brick buildings eventually deteriorate, so they were periodically destroyed, leveled, and rebuilt on the same spot. This constant rebuilding gradually raised the level of cities, which thus came to be elevated above the surrounding plain. The resultant hills, known as tells, are found throughout the ancient Near East.

The Sumerians were the first society to create the city itself as a built form. They were proud of this achievement as attested in the Epic of Gilgamesh which opens with a description of Uruk, its walls, streets, markets, temples, and gardens. Uruk itself is significant as the center of an urban culture which both colonized and urbanized western Asia.

The construction of cities was the end product of trends which began in the Neolithic Revolution. The growth of the city was partly planned and partly organic. Planning is evident in the walls, high temple district, main canal with harbor, and main street. The finer structure of residential and commercial spaces is the reaction of economic forces to the spatial limits imposed by the planned areas resulting in an irregular design with regular features. Because the Sumerians recorded real estate transactions it is possible to reconstruct much of the urban growth pattern, density, property value, and other metrics from cuneiform text sources .

The typical city divided space into residential, mixed use, commercial, and civic spaces. The residential areas were grouped by profession. At the core of the city was a high temple complex always sited slightly off of the geographical center. This high temple usually predated the founding of the city and was the nucleus around which the urban form grew. The districts adjacent to gates had a special religious and economic function .

The city always included a belt of irrigated agricultural land including small hamlets. A network of roads and canals connected the city to this land. The transportation network was organized in three tiers: wide processional streets, public through street, and private blind alleys. The public streets that defined a block varied little over time while the blind-alleys were much more fluid. The current estimate is 10% of the city area was streets and 90% buildings. The canals; however, were more important than roads for transportation.

The materials used to build a Mesopotamian house were the same as those used today: mud brick, mud plaster and wooden doors, which were all naturally available around the city, although wood could not be naturally made very well during the particular time period described. Most houses had a square center room with other rooms attached to it, but a great variation in the size and materials used to build the houses suggest they were built by the inhabitants themselves. The smallest rooms may not have coincided with the poorest people; in fact, it could be that the poorest people built houses out of perishable materials such as reeds on the outside of the city, but there is very little direct evidence for this.

The Sumerians developed a complex system of metrology c. 4000 BCE. This metrology advanced resulting in the creation of arithmetic, geometry, and algebra. From c. 2600 BCE onwards, the Sumerians wrote multiplication tables on clay tablets and dealt with geometrical exercises and division problems. The earliest traces of the Babylonian numerals also date back to this period. The period c. 2700 – 2300 BCE saw the first appearance of the abacus, and a table of successive columns which delimited the successive orders of magnitude of their sexagesimal number system. The Sumerians were the first to use a place value numeral system. There is also anecdotal evidence the Sumerians may have used a type of slide rule in astronomical calculations. They were the first to find the area of a triangle and the volume of a cube.

Discoveries of obsidian from far-away locations in Anatolia and lapis lazuli from Badakhshan in northeastern Afghanistan, beads from Dilmun (modern Bahrain), and several seals inscribed with the Indus Valley script suggest a remarkably wide-ranging network of ancient trade centered around the Persian Gulf. The Epic of Gilgamesh refers to trade with far lands for goods such as wood that were scarce in Mesopotamia. In particular, cedar from Lebanon was prized. The finding of resin in the tomb of Queen Puabi at Ur, indicates it was traded from as far away as Mozambique. The Sumerians used slaves, although they were not a major part of the economy. Slave women worked as weavers, pressers, millers, and porters. Sumerian potters decorated pots with cedar oil paints. The potters used a bow drill to produce the fire needed for baking the pottery. Sumerian masons and jewelers knew and made use of alabaster (calcite), ivory, iron, gold, silver, carnelian, and lapis lazuli.

The almost constant wars among the Sumerian city-states for 2000 years helped to develop the military technology and techniques of Sumer to a high level. The first war recorded in any detail was between Lagash and Umma in 2525 BCE on a stele called the Stele of the Vultures. It shows the king of Lagash leading a Sumerian army consisting mostly of infantry. The infantrymen carried spears, wore copper helmets and carried leather or wicker shields. The spearmen are shown arranged in what resembles the phalanx formation, which requires training and discipline; this implies that the Sumerians may have made use of professional soldiers.

The Sumerian military used carts harnessed to onagers. These early chariots functioned less effectively in combat than did later designs, and some have suggested that these chariots served primarily as transports, though the crew carried battle-axes and lances. The Sumerian chariot comprised a four or two-wheeled device manned by a crew of two and harnessed to four onagers. The cart was composed of a woven basket and the wheels had a solid three-piece design.

Sumerian cities were surrounded by defensive walls. The Sumerians engaged in siege warfare between their cities, but the mudbrick walls were able to deter some foes.

Examples of Sumerian technology include: the wheel, cuneiform, arithmetic and geometry, irrigation systems, Sumerian boats, lunisolar calendar, bronze, leather, saws, chisels, hammers, braces, bits, nails, pins, rings, hoes, axes, knives, lancepoints, arrowheads, swords, glue, daggers, waterskins, bags, harnesses, armor, quivers, war chariots, scabbards, boots, sandals, harpoons and beer.

Early Sumerian History[edit | edit source]

By the late 4th millennium BCE, Sumer was divided into about a dozen independent city-states, which were divided by canals and boundary stones. Each was centered on a temple dedicated to the particular patron god or goddess of the city and ruled over by a priestly governor (ensi) or by a king (lugal) who was intimately tied to the city's religious rites.

The Sumerian king list is an ancient text in the Sumerian language listing kings of Sumer, including a few foreign dynasties. Some of the earlier dynasties may be mythical; the historical record does not open up before the first archaeologically attested ruler, Enmebaragesi (ca. 2600 BCE), while conjectures and interpretations of archaeological evidence can vary for earlier events. The best-known dynasty, that of Lagash, is omitted from the kinglist.

According to the Sumerian kinglist, Eridu was the first city in the World. The opening line reads,

     "[nam]-lugal an-ta èd-dè-a-ba
     [eri]duki nam-lugal-la"
     "When kingship from heaven was lowered,
     the kingship was in Eridu."

Eridu (present day Abu Shahrein, Iraq) was considered the first city in the world by the Sumerians and, certainly, is one of the earliest recorded cities. Eridu was founded around 5400 BCE, and was believed by the Sumerians to have been created directly by the gods, as stated above in the kinglist. The future city-states of Mesopotamia looked back on Eridu as a golden-age metropolis. The city of Eridu features prominently in Sumerian mythology, not only as the first city and home of the gods, but as the locale to which the great goddess Innana traveled in order to receive the gifts of civilization which she then bestowed upon humanity from her home city of Uruk. The Eridu Genesis (composed c. 2300 BCE) is the earliest description of the Great Flood, pre-dating the biblical book of Genesis, and is the tale of the good man Utnapishtim (also known as Atrahasis or Ziusudra) who builds a great boat by the will of the gods and gathers inside 'the seed of life'. The Eridu Genesis may have been the first written record of a long oral tradition of a time around 2800 BCE when the Euphrates rose high above her banks and flooded the region.

The city was an important center for trade as well as religion and, at its height, was a great 'melting pot’ of cultures and diversity, as evidenced in the various forms of artistry found among the ruins. Eridu was abandoned intermittently over the years for reasons which remain unclear and, finally, left behind completely sometime around the year 600 BCE. The great Ziggurat of Amar-Sin in the center of the city has been associated with the Biblical Tower of Babel from The Book of Genesis and the city itself with the Biblical city of Babel. This association springs from archaeological discoveries (the claim that the Ziggurat of Amar-Sin more closely resembles the description of the Biblical Tower) and a reading of the Babylonian historian Berossus (c. 200 BCE) who seems to be clearly referring to Eridu when he writes of 'Babylon’. Today the ruins of Eridu are largely wind-swept sand dunes, and little remains to remind a visitor of the once mighty city which was founded by the gods.

After a flood occurred in Sumer, kingship is said to have resumed at Kish. The earliest Dynastic name on the list known from other legendary sources is Etana, whom it calls "the shepherd, who ascended to heaven and consolidated all the foreign countries". Etana is estimated to have lived around 3000 BCE. Among the 11 kings who followed, a number of Semitic Akkadian names are recorded, suggesting that these people made up a sizable proportion of the population of this northern city. Afterwards, although its military and economic power was diminished, Kish retained a strong political and symbolic significance. Just as with Nippur to the south, control of Kish was a prime element in legitimizing dominance over the north of Mesopotamia (Assyria, Subartu). Because of the city's symbolic value, strong rulers later claimed the traditional title "King of Kish", even if they were from Akkad, Ur, Assyria, Isin, Larsa or Babylon. One of the earliest to adopt this title upon subjecting Kish to his empire was King Mesannepada of Ur. A few governors of Kish for other powers in later times are also known. Kish continued to be occupied through the pre-Babylonian, old Babylonian, Kassite, and Neo-Assyrian Empire and Neo-Babylonian periods, and into classical Seleucid times, before being abandoned.

The dynasty of Lagash, though omitted from the king list, is well attested through several important monuments and many archaeological finds.

Although short-lived, one of the first empires known to history was that of Eannatum of Lagash, who annexed practically all of Sumer, including Kish, Uruk, Ur, and Larsa, and reduced to tribute the city-state of Umma, arch-rival of Lagash. In addition, his realm extended to parts of Elam and along the Persian Gulf. He seems to have used terror as a matter of policy—his Stele of the Vultures has been found, showing violent treatment of enemies. His empire collapsed shortly after his death. He is notable for the policy of having deliberately introduced the use of "terror" as a weapon against his enemies.

The Akkadian Empire[edit | edit source]

The Akkadian Empire was a Semitic empire centered in the city Akkad and its surrounding region in Mesopotamia which united all the indigenous Akkadian speaking Semites and the Sumerian speakers under one rule within a multilingual empire. During the 3rd millennium BCE, there developed a very intimate cultural symbiosis between the Sumerians and the Semitic Akkadians, which included widespread bilingualism. Akkadian gradually replaced Sumerian as a spoken language somewhere around the turn of the 3rd and the 2nd millennia BCE (the exact dating being a matter of debate). The precise location of Akkad had been lost to the sands of time. Its possible it was in the area of Sumer, but possible other locations lay along, or east of the Tigris.

Life and Culture of the Akkadian Empire[edit | edit source]

The population of Akkad, like nearly all pre-modern states, was entirely dependent upon the agricultural systems of the region, which seem to have had two principal centers: the irrigated farmlands of southern Iraq that traditionally had a yield of 30 grains returned for each grain sown and the rain-fed agriculture of northern Iraq, known as the "Upper Country."

Southern Iraq during Akkadian period seems to have been approaching its modern rainfall level of less than 20 mm (1 in) per year, with the result that agriculture was totally dependent upon irrigation. Before the Akkadian period the progressive salinisation of the soils, produced by poorly drained irrigation, had been reducing yields of wheat in the southern part of the country, leading to the conversion to more salt-tolerant barley growing. Urban populations there had peaked already by 2,600 BCE, and ecological pressures were high, contributing to the rise of militarism apparent immediately before the Akkadian period (as seen in the Stele of the Vultures of Eannatum). Warfare between city states had led to a population decline, from which Akkad provided a temporary respite. It was this high degree of agricultural productivity in the south that enabled the growth of the highest population densities in the world at this time, giving Akkad its military advantage.

The water table in this region was very high and replenished regularly—by winter storms in the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates from October to March and from snow-melt from March to July. Flood levels, that had been stable from about 3,000 to 2,600 BCE, had started falling, and by the Akkadian period were a half-meter to a meter lower than recorded previously. Even so, the flat country and weather uncertainties made flooding much more unpredictable than in the case of the Nile; serious deluges seem to have been a regular occurrence, requiring constant maintenance of irrigation ditches and drainage systems. Farmers were recruited into regiments for this work from August to October—a period of food shortage—under the control of city temple authorities, thus acting as a form of unemployment relief.

The Akkadian government formed a "classical standard" with which all future Mesopotamian states compared themselves. Traditionally, the ensi was the highest functionary of the Sumerian city-states. In later traditions, one became an ensi by marrying the goddess Inanna, legitimising the rulership through divine consent.

Initially, the monarchical lugal was subordinate to the priestly ensi, and was appointed at times of troubles, but by later dynastic times, it was the lugal who had emerged as the preeminent role, having his own "é" or "palace", independent from the temple establishment. By the time of Mesalim, whichever dynasty controlled the city of Kish was recognized as šar kiššati, and was considered preeminent in Sumer, possibly because this was where the two rivers approached, and whoever controlled Kish ultimately controlled the irrigation systems of the other cities downstream.

As Sargon extended his conquest from the "Lower Sea" (Persian Gulf), to the "Upper Sea" (Mediterranean), it was felt that he ruled "the totality of the lands under heaven", or "from sunrise to sunset", as contemporary texts put it. Under Sargon, the ensis generally retained their positions, but were seen more as provincial governors. The title šar kiššati became recognized as meaning "lord of the universe". Sargon is even recorded as having organized naval expeditions to Dilmun (Bahrein) and Magan, amongst the first organized military naval expeditions in history. Whether he also did in the case of the Mediterranean with the kingdom of Kaptara (possibly Cyprus), as claimed in later documents, is more questionable.

With Naram-Sin, Sargon's grandson, this went further than with Sargon, with the king not only being called "Lord of the Four Quarters (of the Earth)", but also elevated to the ranks of the dingir, with his own temple establishment. Previously a ruler could, like Gilgamesh, become divine after death but the Akkadian kings, from Naram-Sin onward, were considered gods on earth in their lifetimes. Their portraits showed them of larger size than mere mortals and at some distance from their retainers.

One strategy adopted by both Sargon and Naram-Sin, to maintain control of the country, was to install their daughters, Enheduanna and Emmenanna respectively, as high priestess to Sin, the Akkadian version of the Sumerian moon deity, Nanna, at Ur, in the extreme south of Sumer; to install sons as provincial ensi governors in strategic locations; and to marry their daughters to rulers of peripheral parts of the Empire (Urkesh and Marhashe). A well documented case of the latter is that of Naram-Sin's daughter Tar'am-Agade at Urkesh.

During the 3rd millennium BCE, there developed a very intimate cultural symbiosis between the Sumerians and the Akkadians, which included widespread bilingualism. The influence of Sumerian on Akkadian (and vice versa) is evident in all areas, from lexical borrowing on a massive scale, to syntactic, morphological, and phonological convergence. This has prompted scholars to refer to Sumerian and Akkadian in the third millennium as a sprachbund. Akkadian gradually replaced Sumerian as a spoken language somewhere around the turn of the 3rd and the 2nd millennium BCE (the exact dating being a matter of debate), but Sumerian continued to be used as a sacred, ceremonial, literary and scientific language in Mesopotamia until the 1st century CE.

Sumerian literature continued in rich development during the Akkadian period (a notable example being Enheduanna). Enheduanna, the "wife of Nanna [the Sumerian moon god] and daughter of Sargon" of the temple of Sin at Ur, who lived around 2285–2250 BCE, is the first poet in history whom we know by name. Her known works include hymns to the goddess Inanna, the Exaltation of Inanna and In-nin sa-gur-ra. A third work, the Temple Hymns, a collection of specific hymns, addresses the sacred temples and their occupants, the deity to whom they were consecrated. The works of this poetess are significant, because although they start out using the third person, they shift to the first person voice of the poet herself, and they mark a significant development in the use of cuneiform. As poetess, princess, and priestess, she was a personality who, set standards in all three of her roles for many succeeding centuries.

The empire was bound together by roads, along which there was a regular postal service. Clay seals that took the place of stamps bear the names of Sargon and his son. A cadastral survey seems also to have been instituted, and one of the documents relating to it states that a certain Uru-Malik, whose name appears to indicate his Canaanite origin, was governor of the land of the Amorites, or Amurru as the semi-nomadic people of Syria and Canaan were called in Akkadian. It is probable that the first collection of astronomical observations and terrestrial omens was made for a library established by Sargon. The earliest "year names", whereby each year of a king's reign was named after a significant event performed by that king, date from the reign of Sargon the Great. Lists of these "year names" henceforth became a calendrical system used in most independent Mesopotamian city-states. In Assyria, however, years came to be named for the annual presiding limmu official appointed by the king, rather than for an event.

The Akkadian Empire's History[edit | edit source]

Speakers of the Akkadian language seem to have already been present in Mesopotamia at the dawn of the historical period, and soon achieved pre-eminence with the first Dynasty of Kish and numerous localities to the north of Sumer, where rulers with Akkadian names had already established themselves by the 3rd millennium BCE. The king Sargon has often been cited as the first ruler of a combined empire of Akkad and Sumer, although more recently discovered data suggests there had been Sumerian expansions under previous kings, including Lugal-Anne-Mundu of Adab, Eannatum of Lagash, and Lugal-Zage-Si.

Sargon of Akkad, defeated and captured Lugal-Zage-Si in the Battle of Uruk and conquered his empire. The earliest records in the Akkadian language date to the time of Sargon. Sargon was claimed to be the son of La'ibum or Itti-Bel, a humble gardener, and possibly a hierodule, or priestess to Ishtar or Inanna. One legend related of Sargon in Assyrian times says that

"My mother was a changeling, my father I knew not. The brothers of my father loved the hills. My city is Azurpiranu (the wilderness herb fields), which is situated on the banks of the Euphrates. My changeling mother conceived me, in secret she bore me. She set me in a basket of rushes, with bitumen she sealed my lid. She cast me into the river which rose not over me. The river bore me up and carried me to Akki, the drawer of water. Akki, the drawer of water, took me as his son and reared me. Akki the drawer of water, appointed me as his gardener. While I was gardener Ishtar granted me her love, and for four and (fifty?) ... years I exercised kingship."

Later claims on behalf of Sargon, that his mother was an "entu" priestess. The claims might have been made to ensure a descendancy of nobility, considering only a high placed family can be made such a position.

Originally a cupbearer to a king of Kish with a Semitic name, Ur-Zababa, Sargon thus became a gardener, responsible for the task of clearing out irrigation canals. This gave him access to a disciplined corps of workers, who also may have served as his first soldiers. Displacing Ur-Zababa, Sargon was crowned king, and he entered upon a career of foreign conquest. Four times he invaded Syria and Canaan, and he spent three years thoroughly subduing the countries of "the west" to unite them with Mesopotamia "into a single empire."

However, Sargon took this process further, conquering many of the surrounding regions to create an empire that reached westward as far as the Mediterranean Sea and perhaps Cyprus; northward as far as the mountains (a later Hittite text asserts he fought the Hattian king Nurdaggal of Burushanda, well into Anatolia); eastward over Elam; and as far south as Magan — a region over which he reigned for purportedly 56 years, though only four "year-names" survive. He consolidated his dominion over his territories by replacing the earlier opposing rulers with noble citizens of Akkad, his native city where loyalty would thus be ensured. Trade extended from the silver mines of Anatolia to the lapis lazuli mines in Afghanistan, the cedars of Lebanon and the copper of Magan. This consolidation of the city-states of Sumer and Akkad reflected the growing economic and political power of Mesopotamia. The empire's breadbasket was the rain-fed agricultural system of northern Mesopotamia (Assyria) and a chain of fortresses was built to control the imperial wheat production.

Images of Sargon were erected on the shores of the Mediterranean, in token of his victories, and cities and palaces were built at home with the spoils of the conquered lands. Elam and the northern part of Mesopotamia were also subjugated, and rebellions in Sumer were put down. Contract tablets have been found dated in the years of the campaigns against Canaan and against Sarlak, king of Gutium. He also boasted of having subjugated the "four quarters" — the lands surrounding Akkad to the north, the south, the east and the west. Some of the earliest historiographic texts suggest he rebuilt the city of Babylon in its new location near Akkad.

Sargon, throughout his long life, showed special deference to the Sumerian deities, particularly Inanna, his patroness, and Zababa, the warrior god of Kish. He called himself "The anointed priest of Anu" and "the great ensi of Enlil" and his daughter, Enheduanna, was installed as priestess to Nanna at the temple in Ur.

Troubles multiplied toward the end of his reign. A later Babylonian text states;

"In his old age, all the lands revolted against him, and they besieged him in Akkad "...but "he went forth to battle and defeated them, he knocked them over and destroyed their vast army".

It refers to his campaign in "Elam", where he defeated a coalition army led by the King of Awan, where he forced the vanquished to become his vassals. Also shortly after, another revolt had been made;

"the Subartu the upper country—in their turn attacked, but they submitted to his arms, and Sargon settled their habitations, and he smote

them grievously".

Sargon had crushed opposition even at old age. These difficulties broke out again in the reign of his sons, where revolts broke out during the 9-year reign, Rimush (2278–2270 BCE), who fought hard to retain the empire, and was successful until he was assassinated by some of his own courtiers. Rimush's elder brother, Manishtushu (2269–2255 BCE) succeeded and reigned for a period of 15 years. The latter king seems to have fought a sea battle against 32 kings who had gathered against him and took control over their country of what is today the United Arab Emirates and Oman. Despite the success, similarly to his brother, he seems to have been assassinated in a palace conspiracy.

Manishtushu's son and successor, Naram-Sin (2254–2218 BCE), due to vast military conquests, assumed the imperial title "King Naram-Sin, king of the four quarters", the four quarters as a reference to the entire world. He was also for the first time in Sumerian culture, addressed as "the god of Agade", in opposition to the previous religious belief that kings were only representatives of the people towards the gods. He also faced revolts at the start of his reign, But quickly crushed them.

Naram-Sin also recorded the Akkadian conquest of Ebla as well as Armanum and its king. Armanum location is debated, historian Adelheid Otto identify it with the Citadel of Bazi – Tall Banat complex on the Euphrates River between Ebla and Tell Brak, others like Wayne Horowitz identify it with Aleppo, and while most scholars place Armanum in Syria, Michael C. Astour believes it to be located north of the Hamrin Mountains in northern Iraq.

To better police Syria, he built a royal residence at Tell Brak, a crossroads at the heart of the Khabur River basin of the Jezirah. Naram-Sin campaigned against Magan which also revolted; Naram-Sin, "marched against Magan and personally caught Mandannu, its king", where he instated garrisons to protect the main roads. The chief threat seemed to be coming from the northern Zagros Mountains, the Lulubis and the Gutians. A campaign against the Lullubi led to the carving of the famous "Victory Stele of Naram-Suen", now in the Louvre. Hittite sources claim Naram-Sin of Akkad even ventured into Anatolia, battling the Hittite and Hurrian kings Pamba of Hatti, Zipani of Kanesh, and 15 others. This newfound Akkadian wealth may have been based upon benign climatic conditions, huge agricultural surpluses and the confiscation of the wealth of other peoples.

The economy was highly planned. Grain was cleaned, and rations of grain and oil were distributed in standardized vessels made by the city's potters. Taxes were paid in produce and labour on public walls, including city walls, temples, irrigation canals and waterways, producing huge agricultural surpluses.

The Akkadian Empire's Collapse[edit | edit source]

The Empire of Akkad collapsed in 2154 BCE, within 180 years of its founding, ushering in a Dark Age period of regional decline that lasted until the rise of the Third Dynasty of Ur in 2112 BCE. By the end of the reign of Naram-Sin's son, Shar-kali-sharri (2217–2193 BCE), the empire had weakened. There was a period of anarchy between 2192 BCE and 2168 BCE. Shu-Durul (2168–2154 BCE) appears to have restored some centralized authority, however he was unable to prevent the empire eventually collapsing outright from the invasion of barbarian peoples from the Zagros Mountains known as the Gutians.

Little is known about the Gutian period, or how long it endured. Cuneiform sources suggest that the Gutians' administration showed little concern for maintaining agriculture, written records, or public safety; they reputedly released all farm animals to roam about Mesopotamia freely, and soon brought about famine and rocketing grain prices. The decline coincided with severe drought, possibly connected with climatic changes reaching all across the area from Egypt to Greece. The Sumerian king Ur-Nammu (2112–2095 BCE) cleared the Gutians from Mesopotamia during his reign.

Eventually the Guti were overthrown by Utu-hengal of Uruk, and the various city-states again vied for power. Power over the area finally went to the city-state of Ur, when Ur-Nammu founded the Ur III Empire (2112–2004 BC) and conquered the Sumerian region. Under his son Shulgi, state control over industry reached a level never again seen in the region. Shulgi may have devised the Code of Ur-Nammu, one of the earliest known law codes (three centuries before the more famous Code of Hammurabi). Around 2000 BCE, the power of Ur waned, and the Amorites came to occupy much of the area, although it was Sumer's long-standing rivals to the east, the Elamites, who finally overthrew Ur. In the north, Assyria remained free of Amorite control until the very end of the 19th century BC. This marked the end of city-states ruling empires in Mesopotamia, and the end of Sumerian dominance, but the succeeding rulers adopted much of Sumerian civilization as their own.

Assyria[edit | edit source]

Assyria was a major Semitic kingdom, and often empire, existing as an independent state for a period of approximately nineteen centuries from c. 2500 BCE to 605 BCE, spanning the Early Bronze Age through to the late Iron Age. Of the early history of the kingdom of Assyria, little is positively known. The Assyrian King List mentions rulers going back to the 23rd and 22nd century BC. The earliest king named Tudiya, who was a contemporary of Ibrium of Ebla, appears to have lived in the mid-23rd century BCE, according to the king list.

The city of Ashur, together with a number of other Assyrian cities, seem to have been established by 2600 BCE, however it is likely that they were initially Sumerian dominated administrative centres. In c. the late 26th century BC, Eannatum of Lagash, then the dominant Sumerian ruler in Mesopotamia, mentions "smiting Subartu" (Subartu being the Sumerian name for Assyria). Similarly, in c. the early 25th century BC, Lugal-Anne-Mundu the king of the Sumerian state of Adab lists Subartu as paying tribute to him.

Of the early history of the kingdom of Assyria, little is positively known. In the Assyrian King List, the earliest king recorded was Tudiya. In initial archaeological reports from Ebla, it appeared that Tudiya's existence was confirmed with the discovery of a tablet where he concluded a treaty for the operation of a karum in Eblaite territory, with "king" Ibrium of Ebla (who is now known to have been the vizier of Ebla for king Ishar-Damu). This entire reading is now questionable, as several scholars have more recently argued that the treaty in question was not with king Tudiya of Asshur at all, but rather with the unnamed king of an uncertain location called "Abarsal".

Tudiya was succeeded on the list by Adamu and then a further thirteen rulers (Yangi, Shuhlamu, Harharu, Mandaru, Imshu, Harshu, Didanu, Hanu, Zuabu, Nuabu, Abazu, Belu and Azarah). Nothing concrete is yet known about these names, although it has been noted that a Babylonian tablet listing the ancestral lineage of Hammurabi seems to include the same names from Tudiya through Nuabu in a heavily corrupted form.

The earliest kings, such as Tudiya, who are recorded as kings who lived in tents, may have been independent Akkadian semi-nomadic pastoralist rulers. These kings at some point became fully urbanised and founded the city state of Ashur.

During the Akkadian Empire (2334–2154 BCE) the Assyrians, like all the Akkadian Semites (and also the Sumerians), became subject to the dynasty of the city state of Akkad, centered in central Mesopotamia. The Akkadian Empire founded by Sargon the Great, claimed to encompass the surrounding "four quarters". The region of Assyria, north of the seat of the empire in central Mesopotamia had also been known as Subartu by the Sumerians, and the name Azuhinum in Akkadian records also seems to refer to Assyria proper.

Assyrian rulers were subject to Sargon and his successors, and the city of Ashur became a regional administrative center of the Empire, implicated by the Nuzi tablets.

During this period, the Akkadian-speaking Semites of Mesopotamia came to rule an empire encompassing not only Mesopotamia itself but large swathes of Asia Minor, ancient Iran, Elam, the Arabian Peninsula, Canaan and Syria.

Assyria seems to have already been firmly involved in trade in Asia Minor by this time; the earliest known reference to Anatolian karums in Hatti, was found on later cuneiform tablets describing the early period of the Akkadian Empire (c. 2350 BCE). On those tablets, Akkadian traders in Burushanda implored the help of their ruler, Sargon the Great, and this appellation continued to exist throughout the Assyrian Empire for about 1,700 years. The name "Hatti" itself even appears in later accounts of his grandson, Naram-Sin, campaigning in Anatolia.

Assyrian and Akkadian traders spread the use of writing in the form of the Mesopotamian cuneiform script to Asia Minor and The Levant.

However, towards the end of the reign of Sargon the Great, the Assyrian faction rebelled against him; "the tribes of Assyria of the upper country—in their turn attacked, but they submitted to his arms, and Sargon settled their habitations, and he smote them grievously".

The Akkadian Empire was destroyed by economic decline and internal civil war, followed by attacks from barbarian Gutian people in 2154 BCE.

The rulers of Assyria during the period between c. 2154 BCE and 2112 BEC once again became fully independent, as the Gutians are only known to have administered southern Mesopotamia. However, the king list is the only information from Assyria for this period.

Most of Assyria briefly became part of the Neo-Sumerian Empire (or 3rd dynasty of Ur) founded in c. 2112 BCE. Sumerian domination extended as far as the city of Ashur, but appears not to have reached Nineveh and the far north of Assyria. One local ruler (shakkanakku) named Zāriqum (who does not appear on any Assyrian king list) is listed as paying tribute to Amar-Sin of Ur. Ashur's rulers appear to have remained largely under Sumerian domination until the mid-21st century BCE (c. 2050 BCE); the king list names Assyrian rulers for this period and several are known from other references to have also borne the title of shakkanakka or vassal governors for the neo-Sumerians.

The first written inscriptions by 'urbanised' Assyrian kings appear in the mid-21st century BEC, after they had shrugged off Sumerian domination. The land of Assyria as a whole then consisted of a number of city states and small Semitic Akkadian kingdoms, some of which were initially independent of Assyria. The foundation of the first major temple in the city of Ashur was traditionally ascribed to king Ushpia who reigned c. 2050 BC, possibly a contemporary of Ishbi-Erra of Isin and Naplanum of Larsa. He was reputedly succeeded by kings named Apiashal, Sulili, Kikkiya and Akiya (died c. 2026 BCE), of whom little is known, apart from much later mentions of Kikkiya conducting fortifications on the city walls, and building work on temples in Ashur.

The main rivals, neighbors or trading partners to early Assyrian kings during the 22nd, 21st and 20th centuries BCE would have been the Hattians and Hurrians to the north in Asia Minor, the Gutians and Turukku to the east in the Zagros Mountains of northwest Iran, the Elamites to the southeast in what is now south central Iran, the Amorites to the west in what is today Syria, and their fellow Sumero-Akkadian city-states of southern Mesopotamia such as Isin, Kish, Ur and Larsa.

Like many city-states in Mesopotamian history, Ashur was, to a great extent, an oligarchy rather than a monarchy. Authority was considered to lie with "the City", and the polity had three main centres of power — an assembly of elders, a hereditary ruler, and an eponym. The ruler presided over the assembly and carried out its decisions. He was not referred to with the usual Akkadian term for "king", šarrum; that was instead reserved for the city's patron deity Assur, of whom the ruler was the high priest. The ruler himself was only designated as "the steward of Assur" (iššiak Assur), where the term for steward is a borrowing from Sumerian ensi(k). The third centre of power was the eponym (limmum), who gave the year his name, similarly to the later archons and consuls of Classical Antiquity. He was annually elected by lot and was responsible for the economic administration of the city, which included the power to detain people and confiscate property. The institution of the eponym as well as the formula iššiak Assur lingered on as ceremonial vestiges of this early system throughout the history of the Assyrian monarchy.

In approximately 2025 BCE (long chronology), Puzur-Ashur I (perhaps a contemporary of Shu-ilishu of Larsa and Samium of Isin) is speculated (on the basis of his name being Akkadian rather than Hurrian) to have overthrown Kikkiya and founded a new dynasty which was to survive for 216 years. His descendants left inscriptions mentioning him regarding the building of temples to gods such as Ashur, Adad and Ishtar in Assyria. The length of his reign is unknown.

Shalim-ahum (died c. 2009 BCE) succeeded the throne at a currently unknown date. He left inscriptions in archaic Old Assyrian regarding the construction of a temple dedicated to the god Ashur, and the placement of beer vats within it.

Ilushuma(c. 2008–1975 BEC) took the throne in c. 2008 BCE, and is known from his inscription (extant in several copies) where he claims to have "washed the copper" and "established liberty" for the Akkadians in Sumerian city-states as far as the Persian Gulf. This was at first taken to imply that he made military campaigns into Southern Mesopotamia, however more recent scholarship has taken the view that the inscription means he supplied these areas with copper from Hatti, and that the word used for "liberty" (adduraru) is usually in the context of exemption from tariffs.

"The freedom of the Akkadians and their children I established. I purified their copper. I established their freedom from the border of the marshes and Ur and Nippur, Awal, and Kish, Der of the goddess Ishtar, as far as the City of (Ashur)."

Assyria had long held extensive contact with Hattian, Hittite and Hurrian cities on the Anatolian plateau in Asia Minor. The Assyrians who had for centuries traded in the region, and possibly ruled small areas bordering Assyria, now established significant colonies in Cappadocia, (e.g., at Kanesh (modern Kültepe) from 2008 BEC to 1740 BCE. These colonies, called karum, from the Akkadian word for 'port', were attached to Hattian cities in Anatolia, but physically separate, and had special tax status. They must have arisen from a long tradition of trade between Assyria and the Anatolian cities, but no archaeological or written records show this. The trade consisted of metals (copper or tin and perhaps iron; the terminology is not entirely clear) being traded for textiles from Assyria.

Erishum I(c. 1974–1935 BCE) vigorously expanded Assyrian colonies in Asia Minor during his long reign, the major ones appearing to be at Kanesh, Ḫattuša (Boğazköy) (the future capital of the Hittite Empire) and Amkuwa (Alisar Höyük), together with a further eighteen smaller colonies. He created some of the earliest examples of Written Law, conducted extensive building work in the form of fortifying the walls of major Assyrian cities and the erection of temples dedicated to Ashur and Ishtar. It is from his reign that the continuous limmum lists are known, however there are references to the eponym-books for his predecessors having been destroyed at some point.

Ikunum (c. 1934-1921 BCE)built a major temple for the god Ningal. He further strengthened the fortifications of the city of Assur and maintained Assyria's colonies in Asia Minor.

Sargon I (c. 1920-1881 BCE)succeeded him in c. 1920 BCE, and had an unusually long reign of 39 years. It is likely he was named after his illustrious predecessor Sargon of Akkad. He is known to have refortified the defences of major Assyrian cities, and maintained Assyrian colonies in Asia Minor during his reign. Apart from this, little has yet been unearthed about him. At some point he appears to have withdrawn Assyrian aid to southern Mesopotamia. It was during his reign in Assyria that the initially minor city-state of Babylon was founded in 1894 BCE by an Amorite Malka (prince) named Sumuabum.

Puzur-Ashur II (c. 1881-1873 BCE) came to the throne as an already older man due to his fathers long reign. Little is known about his rule, but it appears to have been uneventful.

Naram-Suen (c. 1872-1818 BCE) ascended to the throne in 1872 BCE, and is likely named after his predecessor Naram-Sin of the Akkadian Empire. Assyria continued to be wealthy during his 54 year long reign, and he defeated the future usurper king Shamshi-Adad I who attempted to take his throne.

Erishum II (c. 1818 - 1809 BCE) was to be the last king of the dynasty of Puzur-Ashur I, founded c. 2025 BCE. After only eight or nine years in power he was overthrown by Shamshi-Adad I, an Amorite usurper who claimed legitimacy by asserting descent from the 21st century BCE Assyrian king, Ushpia.

The Amorites were successfully repelled by the Assyrian kings of the 20th and 19th centuries BCE. However, in 1809 BCE the native Akkadian king of Assyria Erishum II was deposed, and the throne of Assyria was usurped by Shamshi-Adad I (1809 BCE – 1791 BCE) in the expansion of Semitic Amorite tribes from the Khabur River delta.

Although regarded as an Amorite by later Assyrian tradition, Shamshi-Adad's descent is suggested to be from the same line as the native Akkadian speaking ruler Ushpia in the Assyrian King List. He put his son Ishme-Dagan on the throne of a nearby Assyrian city, Ekallatum, and maintained Assyria's Anatolian colonies. Shamshi-Adad I then went on to conquer the kingdom of Mari (in modern Syria) on the Euphrates putting another of his sons, Yasmah-Adad on the throne there. Shamshi-Adad's Assyria now encompassed the whole of northern Mesopotamia and included territory in central Mesopotamia, Asia Minor and northern Syria. He himself resided in a new capital city founded in the Khabur valley in northern Mesopotamia, called Shubat-Enlil.

Ishme-Dagan(1790 - 1751 BCE) inherited Assyria, but Yasmah-Adad was overthrown by a new king called Zimrilim in Mari. The new king of Mari allied himself with the Amorite king Hammurabi of Babylon, who had made the recently created, and originally minor state of Babylon into a major power. It was from the reign of Hammurabi onwards that southern Mesopotamia came to be known as Babylonia.

Assyria now faced the rising power of Babylon in the south. Ishme-Dagan responded by making an alliance with the enemies of Babylon, and the power struggle continued without resolution for decades. Ishme-Dagan, like his father was a great warrior, and in addition to repelling Babylonian attacks, campaigned successfully against the Turukku and Lullubi of the Zagros Mountains (in modern Iran) who had attacked the Assyrian city of Ekallatum, and against Dadusha, king of Eshnunna, and the state of Iamhad (modern Aleppo).

Hammurabi, after first conquering Mari, Larsa, and Eshnunna, eventually prevailed over Ishme-Dagan's successor Mut-Ashkur, (1750 - 1740 BCE), and subjected him to Babylon c. 1750 BCE. With Hammurabi, the various karum colonies in Anatolia ceased trade activity — probably because the goods of Assyria were now being traded with the Babylonians. The Assyrian monarchy survived, however the three Amorite kings succeeding Ishme-Dagan, Mut-Ashkur (who was the son of Ishme-Dagan and married to a Hurrian queen), Rimush (1739 - 1733 BCE) and Asinum (1732 BCE), were vassals, dependent on the Babylonians during the reign of Hammurabi, and for a short time, of his successor Samsu-iluna.

The short lived Babylonian Empire quickly began to unravel upon the death of Hammurabi, and Babylonia lost control over Assyria during the reign of Hammurabi's successor Samsu-iluna (1750 - 1712 BCE). A period of civil war ensued after the deposition of the Amorite king of Assyria Asinum, (a grandson of Shamshi-Adad I) in approximately 1732 BCE by a powerful native Akkadian vice regent named Puzur-Sin, who regarded Asinum as both a foreigner and a former lackey of Babylon. A native king named Ashur-dugul seized the throne in 1732 BCE, probably with the help of Puzur-Sin. However, he was unable to retain control for long, and was soon deposed by a rival claimant, Ashur-apla-idi. Internal instability ensued with four further kings (Nasir-Sin, Sin-namir, Ipqi-Ishtar and Adad-salulu) all reigning in quick succession over a period of approximately six years between 1732 and 1727 BCE. Babylonia seems to have been too powerless to intervene or take advantage of this situation.

Finally, a king named Adasi (1726 - 1701 BEC) came to the fore c. 1726 BCE and managed to quell the civil unrest and stabilise the situation in Assyria. Adasi drove the Babylonians and Amorites from the Assyrian sphere of influence during his reign, and Babylonian power began to quickly wane in Mesopotamia as a whole, also losing the far south of Mesopotamia to the Sealand Dynasty, although the Amorites would retain control over a much reduced and weak Babylonia itself until 1595 BCE, when they were overthrown by the Kassites, a people from the Zagros Mountains who spoke a language isolate and were neither Semites nor Indo-Europeans.

Adasi was succeeded by Bel-bani (1700–1691 BC) who is credited in Assyrian annals with inflicting further defeats on the Babylonians and Amorites, and further strengthening and stabilising the kingdom.

Little is currently known of many of the kings that followed such as; Libaya (1690–1674 BCE), Sharma-Adad I (1673–1662 BCE), Iptar-Sin (1661–1650 BCE), Bazaya (1649–1622 BCE) (a contemporary of Peshgaldaramesh of the Sealand Dynasty), Lullaya (1621–1618 BCE) (who usurperped the throne from Bazaya), Shu-Ninua (1615–1602 BCE) and Sharma-Adad II (1601–1599 BCE). However, Assyria seems to have been a relatively strong and stable nation, existing undisturbed by its neighbours such as the Hatti, Hittites, Hurrians, Amorites, Babylonians, Elamites or Mitanni for well over 200 years.

Assyria appears to have remained strong and secure; when Babylon was sacked by the Hittites and subsequently fell to the Kassites in 1595 BCE, both powers were unable to make any inroads into Assyria, and there seems to have been no trouble between the first Kassite ruler of Babylon, Agum II, and Erishum III (1598–1586 BCE) of Assyria, and a mutually beneficial treaty was signed between the two rulers.

Shamshi-Adad II (1585–1580 BCE), Ishme-Dagan II (1579 - 1562 BCE) and Shamshi-Adad III (1562 - 1548 BCE) seem also to have had peaceful tenures, although few records have thus far been discovered about their reigns. Similarly, Ashur-nirari I (1547–1522 BCE) seems not to have been troubled by the newly founded Mitanni Empire in Asia Minor, the Hittite empire, or Babylon during his 25-year reign. He is known to have been an active king, improving the infrastructure, dedicating temples and conducting various building projects throughout the kingdom.

Puzur-Ashur III (1521–1498 BCE) proved to be a strong and energetic ruler. He undertook much rebuilding work in Assur, the city was refortified and the southern quarters incorporated into the main city defences. Temples to the moon god Sin (Nanna) and the sun god Shamash were erected during his reign. He signed a treaty with Burna-Buriash I the Kassite king of Babylon, defining the borders of the two nations in the late 16th century BC. He was succeeded by Enlil-nasir I (1497–1483 BCE) who appears to have had a peaceful an uneventful reign, as does his successor Nur-ili (1482–1471 BCE).

The son of Nur-ili, Ashur-shaduni (1470 BCE) was deposed by his uncle Ashur-rabi I (1470-1451 BCE) in his first year of rule. Little is known about his nineteen-year reign, but it appears to have been largely uneventful.

The emergence of the Mitanni Empire in the 16th century BCE did eventually lead to a period of sporadic Mitanni-Hurrian domination in the latter half of the 15th century. The Mitanni are thought to have conquered and formed the ruling class over the indigenous Hurrians. The Hurrians spoke a language isolate, i.e. neither Semitic nor Indo-European.

Ashur-nadin-ahhe I (1450-1431 BCE) was courted by the Egyptians, who were rivals of the Mitanni, and attempting to gain a foothold in the Near East. Amenhotep II sent him a tribute of gold to seal an alliance. It is likely that this alliance prompted Saushtatar, the Mitanni emperor, to invade Assyria, and sack the city of Ashur, after which Assyria became a sometime vassal state, with Ashur-nadin-ahhe I being forced to pay tribute to Saushtatar. He was deposed by his own brother Enlil-nasir II (1430-1425 BCE) in 1430 BCE, possibly with the aid of the Mitanni, who received tribute from the new king. Ashur-nirari II (1424-1418 BCE) had an uneventful reign, and appears to have also paid tribute to the Mitanni Empire.

The Assyrian monarchy survived, and the Mitanni influence appears to have been sporadic. They appear not to have been always willing or able to interfere in Assyrian internal and international affairs.

Ashur-bel-nisheshu (1417–1409 BCE) seems to have been largely independent of Mitanni influence, as evidenced by his signing a mutually beneficial treaty with Karaindash, the Kassite king of Babylonia in the late 15th century. He also undertook extensive rebuilding work in Ashur itself, and Assyria appears to have redeveloped a sophisticated financial system during his reign.

Ashur-rim-nisheshu (1408–1401 BCE) also undertook building work, strengthening the city walls of the capital, however it is likely that he paid tribute to Mitanni.

Ashur-nadin-ahhe II (1400–1393 BCE) also received a tribute of gold and diplomatic overtures from Egypt, possibly in an attempt to gain Assyrian support against Egypt's Mitanni and Hittite rivals in the region. However, the Assyrian king appears not to have been in a strong enough position to challenge the Mitanni.

Eriba-Adad I (1392-1366 BCE), a son of Ashur-bel-nisheshu, ascended the throne in 1392 BC and finally broke the ties to the Mitanni Empire.

There are dozens of Mesopotamian cuneiform texts from this period, with precise observations of solar and lunar eclipses, that have been used as 'anchors' in the various attempts to define the chronology of Babylonia and Assyria for the early 2nd millennium BC (i.e., the "high", "middle", and "low" chronologies.)

Ancient Egypt[edit | edit source]

Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. It is one of six civilizations globally to arise independently. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BCE (according to conventional Egyptian chronology) with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh. The history of ancient Egypt occurred in a series of stable Kingdoms, separated by periods of relative instability known as Intermediate Periods: the Old Kingdom of the Early Bronze Age, the Middle Kingdom of the Middle Bronze Age and the New Kingdom of the Late Bronze Age.

Egypt reached the pinnacle of its power during the New Kingdom, in the Ramesside period where it rivalled the Hittite Empire, Assyrian Empire and Mitanni Empire, after which it entered a period of slow decline.

The success of ancient Egyptian civilization came partly from its ability to adapt to the conditions of the Nile River valley. The predictable flooding and controlled irrigation of the fertile valley produced surplus crops, which supported a more dense population, and social development and culture. With resources to spare, the administration sponsored mineral exploitation of the valley and surrounding desert regions, the early development of an independent writing system, the organization of collective construction and agricultural projects, trade with surrounding regions, and a military intended to defeat foreign enemies and assert Egyptian dominance. Motivating and organizing these activities was a bureaucracy of elite scribes, religious leaders, and administrators under the control of a pharaoh, who ensured the cooperation and unity of the Egyptian people in the context of an elaborate system of religious beliefs.

The many achievements of the ancient Egyptians include the quarrying, surveying and construction techniques that supported the building of monumental pyramids, temples, and obelisks; a system of mathematics, a practical and effective system of medicine, irrigation systems and agricultural production techniques, the first known ships, Egyptian faience and glass technology, new forms of literature, and the earliest known peace treaty, made with Hittites. Egypt left a lasting legacy. Its art and architecture were widely copied, and its antiquities carried off to far corners of the world. Its monumental ruins have inspired the imaginations of travelers and writers for centuries. A new-found respect for antiquities and excavations in the early modern period by Europeans and Egyptians led to the scientific investigation of Egyptian civilization and a greater appreciation of its cultural legacy.

Life and Culture of Ancient Egypt[edit | edit source]

Most ancient Egyptians were farmers tied to the land. Their dwellings were restricted to immediate family members, and were constructed of mud-brick designed to remain cool in the heat of the day. Each home had a kitchen with an open roof, which contained a grindstone for milling grain and a small oven for baking the bread. Walls were painted white and could be covered with dyed linen wall hangings. Floors were covered with reed mats, while wooden stools, beds raised from the floor and individual tables comprised the furniture.

The ancient Egyptians placed a great value on hygiene and appearance. Most bathed in the Nile and used a pasty soap made from animal fat and chalk. Men shaved their entire bodies for cleanliness; perfumes and aromatic ointments covered bad odors and soothed skin. Clothing was made from simple linen sheets that were bleached white, and both men and women of the upper classes wore wigs, jewelry, and cosmetics. Children went without clothing until maturity, at about age 12, and at this age males were circumcised and had their heads shaved. Mothers were responsible for taking care of the children, while the father provided the family's income.

Music and dance were popular entertainments for those who could afford them. Early instruments included flutes and harps, while instruments similar to trumpets, oboes, and pipes developed later and became popular. In the New Kingdom, the Egyptians played on bells, cymbals, tambourines, drums, and imported lutes and lyres from Asia. The sistrum was a rattle-like musical instrument that was especially important in religious ceremonies.

The ancient Egyptians enjoyed a variety of leisure activities, including games and music. Senet, a board game where pieces moved according to random chance, was particularly popular from the earliest times; another similar game was mehen, which had a circular gaming board. Juggling and ball games were popular with children, and wrestling is also documented in a tomb at Beni Hasan. The wealthy members of ancient Egyptian society enjoyed hunting and boating as well.

The excavation of the workers' village of Deir el-Madinah has resulted in one of the most thoroughly documented accounts of community life in the ancient world that spans almost four hundred years. There is no comparable site in which the organisation, social interactions, working and living conditions of a community were studied in such detail.

Cuisine[edit | edit source]

here are few precise accounts of how many meals were eaten, but it has been assumed that the wealthy would have two or three meals a day; a light morning meal, a larger lunch and dinner later in the evening. The general population would most likely eat a simple breakfast of bread, and a main meal with beer in the early afternoon.

Depictions of banquets can be found in paintings from both the Old Kingdom and New Kingdom. They usually started sometime in the afternoon. Men and women were separated unless they were married. Seating varied according to social status, with those of the highest status sitting on chairs, those slightly lower sat on stools and those lowest in rank sat on the bare floor. Before the food was served, handwashing basins were provided along with perfumes and cones of scented fat were lit to spread pleasant smells or to repel insects, depending on the type. Lily flowers and flower collars were handed out and professional dancers (primarily women) entertained, accompanied by musicians playing harps, lutes, drums, tambourines, and clappers. There were usually considerable amounts of alcohol and abundant quantities of foods; there were whole roast oxen, ducks, geese, pigeons, and at times fish. The dishes frequently consisted of stews served with great amounts of bread, fresh vegetables and fruit. For sweets there were cakes baked with dates and sweetened with honey. The goddess Hathor was often invoked during feasts. Food could be prepared by stewing, baking, boiling, grilling, frying, or roasting. Spices and herbs were added for flavor, though the former were expensive imports and therefore confined to the tables of the wealthy. Food such as meats was mostly preserved by salting, and dates and raisins could be dried for long-term storage. The staples bread and beer were usually prepared in the same locations, as the yeast used for bread was also used for brewing. The two were prepared either in special bakeries or, more often, at home, and any surplus would be sold.

The predynastic cuisine differed from later eating habits due to changes in climate. Egypt went from being a lush region to a drier climate. Initially, there was plenty of game such as antelope, gazelle, hippo, crocodile, ostrich, waterfowl, and fresh and saltwater fish. Smaller game like sheep, goats, cattle, and even hyenas were eaten. However, by dynastic times (around 3000 BCE) the availability of game had decreased considerably and was by then primarily a sport of the affluent, even though small game often would supplement the diet of the poor. The New Kingdom was a period with innovations in diet due to foreign trade and warfare. Pomegranates were introduced and almonds were imported. It is also possible that apples and apricots were imported on a small scale, and by Greco-Roman times quinces, pears, plums, peaches, filbert, walnut, pine nut, and pistachios were introduced.

Honey was the primary sweetener, but was rather expensive. There was honey collected from the wild, and honey from domesticated bees kept in pottery hives. A cheaper alternative would have been dates or carob. There was even a hieroglyph (nedjem/bener) depicting a carob pod that bore the primary meaning of "sweet; pleasant." Oils would be made from lettuce or radish seed, safflower, ben, balanites and sesame. Animal fat was employed for cooking and jars used for storing it have been found in many settlements.

Egyptian bread was made almost exclusively from emmer wheat, which was more difficult to turn into flour than most other varieties of wheat. The chaff does not come off through threshing, but comes in spikelets that needed to be removed by moistening and pounding with a pestle to avoid crushing the grains inside. It was then dried in the sun, winnowed and sieved and finally milled on a saddle quern, which functioned by moving the grindstone back and forth, rather than with a rotating motion. The baking techniques varied over time. In the Old Kingdom, heavy pottery molds were filled with dough and then set in the embers to bake. During the Middle Kingdom tall cones were used on square hearths. In the New Kingdom a new type of a large open-topped clay oven, cylindrical in shape, was used, which was encased in thick mud bricks and mortar. Dough was then slapped on the heated inner wall and peeled off when done, similar to how a tandoor oven is used for flatbreads. Tombs from the New Kingdom show images of bread in many different shapes and sizes. Loaves shaped like human figures, fish, various animals and fans, all of varying dough texture. Flavorings used for bread included coriander seeds and dates, but it is not known if this was ever used by the poor.

Other than emmer, barley was grown to make bread and also used for making beer, and so were lily seeds and roots, and tiger nut. The grit from the quern stones used to grind the flour mixed in with bread was a major source of tooth decay due to the wear it produced on the enamel. For those who could afford there was also fine dessert bread and cakes baked from high-grade flour.

Along with bread, beer was a staple of the ancient Egyptians and was drunk daily. Like most modern African beers, but unlike European beer, it was very cloudy with plenty of solids and highly nutritious, quite reminiscent of gruel. It was an important source of protein, minerals and vitamins and was so valuable that beer jars were often used as a measurement of value and was used in medicine. Little is known about specific types of beer, but there is mention of, for example, sweet beer but without any specific details mentioned. Conical pottery from pre-dynastic times has been found at Hierakonpolis and Abydos with emmer wheat residue that shows signs of gentle heating from below. Though not conclusive evidence of early beer brewing it is an indication that this might have been what they were used for. Archeological evidence shows that beer was made by first baking "beer bread", a type of well-leavened, lightly baked bread that did not kill the yeasts, which was then crumbled over a sieve, washed with water in a vat and then left to ferment. There are claims of dates or malts having been used, but the evidence is not concrete.

Microscopy of beer residue points to a different method of brewing where bread was not used as an ingredient. One batch of grain was sprouted, which produced enzymes. The next batch was cooked in water, dispersing the starch and then the two batches were mixed. The enzymes began to consume the starch to produce sugar. The resulting mixture was then sieved to remove chaff and yeast (and probably lactic acid) and was then added which began a fermentation process that produced alcohol. This method of brewing is still used in parts of non-industrialized Africa. Most beers were made of barley and only a few of emmer wheat, but so far no evidence of flavoring has been found.

Vegetables were eaten as a complement to the ubiquitous beer and bread, and the most common were long-shooted green scallions and garlic and both also had medical uses. There was also lettuce, celery (eaten raw or used to flavor stews), certain types of cucumber and, perhaps, some types of Old World gourds and even melons. By Greco-Roman times there were turnips, but it is not certain if they were available before that period. Various tubers of sedges, including papyrus were eaten raw, boiled, roasted or ground into flour and were rich in nutrients. Tiger nut (Cyperus esculentus) was used to make a dessert made from the dried and ground tubers mixed with honey. Lily and similar flowering aquatic plants could be eaten raw or turned into flour, and both root and stem were edible. A number of pulses and legumes such as peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas were vital sources of protein. The excavations of the workers' village at Giza have revealed pottery vessels imported from the Middle East, which were used to store and transport olive oil as early as the 4th Dynasty.

The most common fruit were dates and there were also figs, grapes (and raisins), dom palm nuts (eaten raw or steeped to make juice), certain species of Mimusops, and nabk berries (a species of the genus Ziziphus). Figs were so common because they were high in sugar and protein. The dates would either be dried/dehydrated or eaten fresh. Dates were sometimes even used to ferment wine and the poor would use them as sweeteners. Unlike vegetables, which were grown year round, fruit was more seasonal. Pomegranates and grapes would be brought into tombs of the deceased.

Meat came from domesticated animals, game and poultry. This possibly included partridge, quail, pigeon, ducks and geese. The chicken most likely arrived around the 5th to 4th century BCE, though no chicken bones have actually been found dating from before the Greco-Roman period. The most important animals were cattle, sheep, goats and pigs (previously thought to have been taboo to eat because the priests of Egypt referred pig to the evil god Seth). Beef was generally more expensive and would at most have been available once or twice a week, and then mostly for the royalty. However, excavations at the Giza worker's village have uncovered evidence of massive slaughter of beef, mutton and pork, such that researchers estimate that the workforce building the Great Pyramid were fed beef every day. Mutton and pork were more common. Poultry, both wild and domestic and fish were available to all but the most destitute. The alternative protein sources would rather have been legumes, eggs, cheese and the amino acids available in the tandem staples of bread and beer. Mice and hedgehogs were also eaten and a common way to cook the latter was to encase a hedgehog in clay and bake it. When the clay was then cracked open and removed, it took the prickly spikes with it.

Architecture[edit | edit source]

Due to the scarcity of wood, the two predominant building materials used in ancient Egypt were sun-baked mud brick and stone, mainly limestone, but also sandstone and granite in considerable quantities. From the Old Kingdom onward, stone was generally reserved for tombs and temples, while bricks were used even for royal palaces, fortresses, the walls of temple precincts and towns, and for subsidiary buildings in temple complexes. The core of the pyramids came from stone quarried in the area already while the limestone, now eroded away, that was used to face the pyramids came from the other side of the Nile River and had to be quarried, ferried across, and cut during the dry season before they could be pulled into place on the pyramid.

Ancient Egyptian houses were made out of mud collected from the Nile river. It was placed in molds and left to dry in the hot sun to harden for use in construction.

Many Egyptian towns have disappeared because they were situated near the cultivated area of the Nile Valley and were flooded as the river bed slowly rose during the millennia, or the mud bricks of which they were built were used by peasants as fertilizer. Others are inaccessible, new buildings having been erected on ancient ones. Fortunately, the dry, hot climate of Egypt preserved some mud brick structures. Examples include the village Deir al-Madinah, the Middle Kingdom town at Kahun, and the fortresses at Buhen and Mirgissa. Also, many temples and tombs have survived because they were built on high ground unaffected by the Nile flood and were constructed of stone.

Thus, our understanding of ancient Egyptian architecture is based mainly on religious monuments, massive structures characterized by thick, sloping walls with few openings, possibly echoing a method of construction used to obtain stability in mud walls. In a similar manner, the incised and flatly modeled surface adornment of the stone buildings may have derived from mud wall ornamentation. Although the use of the arch was developed during the fourth dynasty, all monumental buildings are post and lintel constructions, with flat roofs constructed of huge stone blocks supported by the external walls and the closely spaced columns.

Exterior and interior walls, as well as the columns and piers, were covered with hieroglyphic and pictorial frescoes and carvings painted in brilliant colors. Many motifs of Egyptian ornamentation are symbolic, such as the scarab, or sacred beetle, the solar disk, and the vulture. Other common motifs include palm leaves, the papyrus plant, and the buds and flowers of the lotus. Hieroglyphs were inscribed for decorative purposes as well as to record historic events or spells. In addition, these pictorial frescoes and carvings allow us to understand how the Ancient Egyptians lived, statuses, wars that were fought and their beliefs. This was especially true when exploring the tombs of Ancient Egyptian officials in recent years.

Ancient Egyptian temples were aligned with astronomically significant events, such as solstices and equinoxes, requiring precise measurements at the moment of the particular event. Measurements at the most significant temples may have been ceremonially undertaken by the Pharaoh himself.

Art[edit | edit source]

Much of the surviving art comes from tombs and monuments and thus there is an emphasis on life after death and the preservation of knowledge of the past. Symbolism also played an important role in establishing a sense of order. Symbolism, ranging from the pharaoh's regalia (symbolizing his power to maintain order) to the individual symbols of Egyptian gods and goddesses, is omnipresent in Egyptian art. Animals were usually also highly symbolic figures in Egyptian art. Colors were more expressive rather than natural: red skin implied hard working tanned youth, whereas yellow skin was used for women or middle-aged men who worked indoors; blue or gold indicated divinity because of its unnatural appearance and association with precious materials; the use of black for royal figures expressed the fertility of the Nile from which Egypt was born. Stereotypes were employed to indicate the geographical origins of foreigners

The Size the people are drawn indicates often relative importance in the social order. The king, or pharaoh, is usually the largest figure depicted to symbolize the ruler’s superhuman powers. Figures of high officials or tomb owner are usually smaller, and in smallest scale are shown servants and entertainers, animals, trees, and architectural details.

Ancient Egyptian art forms are characterized by regularity and detailed depiction of gods, human beings, heroic battles, and nature, and a high proportion of surviving works were intended to provide solace and utility to the deceased in the afterlife. Artists endeavored to preserve everything from the present as clearly and permanently as possible. Ancient Egyptian art was created using media ranging from papyrus drawings to pictographs (hieroglyphics) and include funerary sculpture carved in relief and in the round from sandstone, quartz diorite and granite. Ancient Egyptian art displays an extraordinarily vivid representation of the Ancient Egyptian's socioeconomic status and belief systems. Egyptian art in all forms obeyed one law: the mode of representing Pharaohs, gods, man, nature and the environment remained consistent for thousands of years.

All Egyptian reliefs were not painted, and less prestigious works in tombs, temples and palaces were just painted on a flat surface. Stone surfaces were prepared by whitewash, or if rough, a layer of coarse mud plaster, with a smoother gesso layer above; some finer limestones could take paint directly. Pigments were mostly mineral, chosen to withstand strong sunlight without fading. The binding medium used in painting remains unclear: egg tempera and various gums and resins have been suggested. It is clear that true fresco, painted into a thin layer of wet plaster, was not used. Instead the paint was applied to dried plaster, in what is called "fresco a secco" in Italian. After painting, a varnish or resin was usually applied as a protective coating, and many paintings with some exposure to the elements have survived remarkably well, although those on fully exposed walls rarely have.[3] Small objects including wooden statuettes were often painted using similar techniques.

Many ancient Egyptian paintings have survived due to Egypt's extremely dry climate. The paintings were often made with the intent of making a pleasant afterlife for the deceased. The themes included journey through the afterworld or protective deities introducing the deceased to the gods of the underworld (such as Osiris). Some tomb paintings show activities that the deceased were involved in when they were alive and wished to carry on doing for eternity. Egyptian paintings are painted in such a way to show a profile view and a side view of the animal or person.

The monumental sculpture of Ancient Egypt is world-famous, but refined and delicate small works exist in much greater numbers. The Egyptians used the distinctive technique of sunk relief, which is well suited to very bright sunlight. The main figures in reliefs adhere to the same figure convention as in painting, with parted legs (where not seated) and head shown from the side, but the torso from the front, and a standard set of proportions making up the figure, using 18 "fists" to go from the ground to the hair-line on the forehead.

Ancient Egyptians used steatite (some varieties were called soapstone) and carved small pieces of vases, amulets, images of deities, of animals and several other objects. Ancient Egyptian artists also discovered the art of covering pottery with enamel. Covering by enamel was also applied to some stone works.

Different types of pottery items were deposited in tombs of the dead. Some such pottery items represented interior parts of the body, like the lungs, the liver and smaller intestines, which were removed before embalming. A large number of smaller objects in enamel pottery were also deposited with the dead. It was customary to craft on the walls of the tombs cones of pottery, about six to ten inches tall, on which were engraved or impressed legends relating to the dead occupants of the tombs. These cones usually contained the names of the deceased, their titles, offices which they held, and some expressions appropriate to funeral purposes.

Papyrus was used by ancient Egyptians (and exported to much of the ancient Mediterranean world) for writing and painting. Papyrus is relatively fragile, lasting at most a century or two in a library, and though used all over the classical world has only survived when buried in the very dry conditions of Egypt, and even then is often in poor condition. Papyrus texts illustrate all dimensions of ancient Egyptian life and include literary, religious, historical and administrative documents.