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The Age of God-Kings: TimeFrame 3000-1500 BC…
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The Age of God-Kings: TimeFrame 3000-1500 BC

by Time-Life Books

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I was very happy to come across the entire series of these books all available for a very low price at my local Goodwill. This is the first volume that I've read in this series thus far and I was very impressed. I purchased the books largely for the purpose of using them in my children's home school education in history and they have been a great help thus far in that endeavor. These books contain just the right amount of detail, some wonderful imagery, and are written on a level that can be enjoyed and understood by even very young children. I plan to continue throughout this series and throughout my children's home schooling years and these books will definitely continue to be a very valuable asset in the future. ( )
  davidpwithun | Sep 16, 2011 |
1. SUMER. The editors describe the Tigris-Euphrates valley as it existed 9,000 years ago, as unredeemable wasteland drained by two sluggish brown-water rivers. Nomads followed the herds and birds the world over, but in Sumer, they were the first to break the primordial pattern. As early as 8500 BC agricultural villages formed in the hilly rain-fed north. By the 7th millenium BC, Jericho flourished at the north end of the Dead Sea, using water diversion techniques. Catal Huyuk sprang up about 6500 BC near a field of obsidian, with domesticated animals. The idea of irrigation spread rapidly. By 3000 BC, along the length of the valley, magnificent cities sprawled on the riparian banks.

The Sumerians were the ones to develop agriculture on a truly grand scale. They cultivated vast plains in the alluvial desert. A system of government emerged and a unified nation was forged with a uniform system of measurement, trading, writing, and ritual.

Sumerians migrated into the valley, which was one of the most fertile on earth. the alluvium is free of stones and stumps, and was intermittently enriched by fresh silt from spring floods. The farmers breached the natural levees built up along the river, formed mud dams, and dug long canals to irrigate crops over the torrid rainless summers. This work "demanded cooperation from the entire community." [12]

Bountiful harvests pushed the Sumerians toward specialization and trade -- the division of labor which is the mark of civilizations. The deep loam of the plain contained no metals, but with trade the Sumerians obtained ores of copper, tin and iron. By 3000 BC they were plowing with a bronze blade, and they were pursuing the sciences and literature. They invented the wheel for locomotion, tripling the load an animal could haul. Traders bartered huge surpluses of grain and wool for the raw materials Sumer lacked. [18]

The priesthood developed a cosmology which explained the world. The religion was so powerful that it endured for 3000 years, influencing all successors. The gods were numerous, endowed with human emotions, and they were not equal. Their conduct filled men with chronic anxiety and dependence upon the priesthood, which could find answers in the omens. The origin of men -- molded of clay to serve as slaves for the gods. Temples were the most prominent structures in the cities, often reaching skyward in stepped ziggurats of mud brick.[14]

Both men and women served in leadership positions. Through secular and priestly administrations, the Temple of Lagash in 3000 BC was providing daily bread and beer for 1,200 people.

The needs of religion, commerce, and government mothered the most extraordinary achievement of Sumer: WRITING. They printed figures on their most abundant raw material -- clay. As early as 8000 BC small clay tokens were being used to keep inventories, and cone-shaped bills of lading often accompanied trade goods. Sumerians improved on the system, first with pictographs, then symbols, then puns and phonetic abstractions. With about 600 characters, Sumerian scribes could express virtually any idea.[19] Eventually they wrote in horizontal lines using a wedge-shaped stylus -- the cuneiform writing. The concept of a public school arose from the writing system. Although the authors state that "students tended to come from high-ranking and wealthy families, and, from all available evidences, were male." [20] That is almost certainly not true -- it is gainsaid by almost all the literature and depictions of women, often in positions over men. Sargon of Akkad, one of the great kings, was from humble origins, and his daughter was a priestess of Ishtar. [35] And the authors admit that "Every Sumerian adult...had the ability to write his or her name with exquisite style."[21; also example of a woman writing 37, and worship of powerful female gods 42].

The Epic of Gilgamesh is a 3,500-line poem about a real ruler of Uruk. The tales foreshadow themes found later in the Bible and classical Greece. Gilgamesh wanders the earth like Odysseus. Another myth presents a survivor of a great flood who built an arc. Many tablets contain prosaic advice.

The mathematical system of calculation was based on 60, which can be divided by 12. [20] Traces survive among us in the 60 minute hour and the 360-degree circle.

The Akkadians and Babylonians who eventually conquered and re-united a fractious Sumer, eventually destroyed its polity. However, the conquerors adopted the culture--the religion, the writing, the art, the literature and the educational system. [The editors curiously claim that only the Sumerian language was not adopted. [36] This appears to be an error in the sense that in fact Sumerian remained as a "sacred language" into the next millenium. It was only extinct as a secular language.]

A seven-foot tall stela containing the epochal Code of Hammurabi is written in cuneiform after 1800 BC.

Sumer eventually fell to internecine warfare as the countryside was infiltrated by the Amorites, a Semitic shepherd tribe. The Amorites increased in numbers, eventually overrunning the city-states one at a time, and destroying them. [36]

WRITING SYSTEMS. The editors illustrate the history with beautiful examples of early writing from across the middle east, Judea, and Egypt.

2. PHAROAHS.

The world's second great civilization arose along the Nile. Around 5200 BC (2000 years after Mesopotamians began cultivating soil), an influx of settlers drifted into the Nile River Valley with livestock and domestic varieties of barley and wheat. They displaced the nomadic inhabitants, and they diverted the waters.

As in Sumer, "that effort yielded two things crucial to the development of civilization: an agricultural surplus and a spirit of collective discipline." [55]

The editors acknowledge that Egyptian celebrated feats of a god-king named Menes who first unified the communities may be "the accomplishments of a succession of...shadowy kings".[56] The union would mature in relative isolation, bordered by deserts on the flanks, a vast sea to the north, and cataracts to the south. The river itself, unlike the erratic shifts of the Sumerian delta, rose and fell in its secure bed with a regularity that encouraged planning and harmony.[56]

Prevailing northerly winds enabled sailors with sails to ply the Nile against the current. Trade flourished, and the state was not exhausted with wars. The culture became obsessed with mortuary rituals. The people were buried in the dry desert sand which preserved them naturally. The pharoah required additional shielding, as the god-king was part of the cosmic order. [59] Monumental sun-baked brick structures, eventually becoming stone and marble, were stocked with a vast array of offerings. As many as 580 members of the court of Djer, who ruled around 2900, were killed to carry on his service. [59] Eventually, the bloodbath was supplanted by increased attention to embalming, canopic jars, and decorative crafts, with even more monumental mastabas. Curiously, in spite of what appears to be genuine religious conviction, it was a religion which constantly faced the bane of tomb raiding, and shifting allegiances in the half-animal pantheon, with several appearances of a sun-god, Re.[63]

The work contains a description of daily life. Bread and brew staples for the peasants, while wealthy families enjoyed opulent pleasures in spacious homes built around open courts equipped with beer and wine fermented on the premises. Slaves and servants wore little more than a breechcloth. Feasts were "boisterous affairs", with the celebrants serenaded by musicians.

All aspects of life were subjected to meticulous "record-keeping" -- and because of the dry conditions, much of the papyrus texts are clearly legible even today. Formal hieroglyphs, symbols for things, ideas, and sounds, served through the centuries. Unlike the Sumerians who moved fairly rapidly from pictographs to wedge-shaped cuneiform abstractions, the Egyptians clung to the elegant cumbersome formalities even after the condensed cursive hieratic style was introduced for everyday notation. [67] Papyrus, a trade secret, was one of ancient Egypt's primary exports through Roman times.[68] "Being a scribe was one of the few avenues to advancement in this rigidly stratified society". [69] As in other great civilizations, "the priesthood was a fountainhead of scholarship and science".[69] Evenso, the pantheon is bewildering -- a multitude of gods depicted as animals. Juvenal: "What monsters are revered by demented Egypt?" The important goddess Tawet was represented with the head of a hippo, the back and tail of a crocodile, the claws of a lion, and the breasts of a woman. The rituals were tied to personality cults around a pronounced sense of a spiritual after-life: a place free of hunger, disease, and war.

The attention to sacred goals surpassed the material. In contrast to Mesopotamia where commerce came early to a merchant middle class, in Egypt, the word for merchant did not even exist until well into the 2d millenium. Foreign trade was the monopoly of the Pharoah himself.[79]

Yet of all religions of the first civilizations, "that of the Egyptians was perhaps the most benevolent, the most flexible, and the most hospitable". [71] It was certainly tolerant of others. Lacking a book of sacred writ or commandments, it offered a unifying principle known as "maat", personified by the goddess of the same name. The concept is translated as "Justice", as well as Truth, order and righteousness.

3. EMPIRE ON THE AEGEAN -- Crete.

Is it just me, or is this little island everyone's favorite empire? Brave in their sport (bull-jumping) more than in war, which they seemed to detest, they made a friend of the sea and it protected them from invaders.[98] They used the sea to launch the first merchant marine, and from trade, built a broadly middle class life without parallel anywhere else. [106, ff]

After a thousand years of civilization, they succumbed at last only to an earthquake. Their existence was forgotten--for 33 centuries--until Arthur Evans uncovered the ruins in 1900, more or less by accident. Thinking he was on the trail of a long-forgotten language, he unearthed what turns out to be the fine and enormous multi-tiered stone-block palace of Knossos.[100]

Slavery does not appear to be part of the Minoan social structure. The classes lived comfortably together, enjoying public facilities.[108]

The Minoans built vessels superior to any other craft on the Mediterranean. Their most revered deity was the mother goddess. [101, 118] A priestess sat upon the oldest throne of Europe.[105] Marriage rites are officiated with warmth, and dancing led by acrobatics. [109] Many musical instruments were played -- the stringed cithara, the rattling sistrum, and the double pipes, and everyone sang in a chorus. "Minoans worshipped nature." [118]

The monarchs seem possessed of a modesty one rarely sees on the Continents. "No stately monuments or sculptured effigies celebrate them."[105] Palaces served as civic centers [106], and the coast was filled with the large multi-level homes of prosperous sea-farers.

4. STIRRINGS IN ASIA - Indus River (Pakistan); Southeast Asia; Yellow River (China).

No understandable written language, and a remarkable disinterest in record-keeping of the past, but a series of cultures so stable and self-sufficient that it appears to continue to this day. [129]

INDUS [130] - huge complexes at Mohenjo-daro and Harrappa

"Most settlement in the ancient world appear to have grown up haphazardly, with winding streets that might have started as footpaths and with structures placed largely according to the builder's whim. But in the Indus culture, each town and city seems to have been laid out according to a pattern...the principal streets ran as straight as spear shafts." [133] There were no grand entrances or stately facades. Prosperous families lived not much differently from their more modest neighbors. All Indus people had "indoor plumbing", with ingenious public sewers.[133]

First people to grow cotton and weave the fibers into textiles. Dyed cotton cloaks were standard dress in the Indus valley.[134] The people revered animals, and practiced a high level of husbandry. Crafts were made in the homes, and most of the weapons were used for hunting rather than conquest or war. [134] An instinct for commerce ran deep.[135] However, they built no palaces, nor any large temples. [139] For all their bustling trades, public works and shared amenities, the seat of government, and their religion, remains in doubt. Early effigies of adorned mother goddesses, apparently continued into Harappan times, and practices survive in rustic Indian villages to this day.[139] Cleanliness was a passion. [140]

The Harappan civilization endured 500 years without perceptible change. Few cities in history have displayed such tenacity--Mohenjo-daro was rebuilt many times after floods, but always along the same street lines and housefronts.[140]

Sometime in the 19th century BC, the Indus cities slipped into permanent decline. No single cause seems to be responsible. Climate may have changed, the river bed shifted, and irrigation projects eventually leaching salts up from the water table. Loggers may have felled the trees, causing reduced rainfall. Trade may have withered as a result of pillaging tribes infiltrating from Baluchistan. All we know is that a shambles of slums engulfed the granaries that had belonged to the polity.[141]

KHORAT PLATEAU/ THAILAND

As early as 7000 BC, the people of Southeast Asia began planting crops.[144]. Sometime in the fifth millenium BC, tribes of hunters and gatherers in the jungles established villages throughout the area. [141]
The settlers of the Khorat practiced highly sophistiacted manufacturing skills quite unexpected in an isolated land of small villages. While farming rice, they became ingenious at ceramics and metallurgy.[144]

Even more surprisingly, the Khorat people built no cities, erected no temples, appointed no rulers. They developed no rigid social stratification and no system of writing. The rice farmers produced the finest bronzes the world has ever seen, and they did it for a thousand years.[145] ( )
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Photographs and text describe the birth of civilization in Sumer, the pharoahs in Egypt, the Aegean Empire, and civilization in Asia.

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