Chapter 1 - The Origins

What is history and why do we study it?

  1. History is the effort to reconstruct the past.
    1. The past must be understood so we can understand the factors that shape us today.
    2. Historians reconstruct the past by posing questions about it and then attempting to answer them by studying primary and secondary sources.
      1. Herodotus, the "father of history," joined the two concepts of inquiry and research.
      2. Historians must assess the validity and perspective of each source they study.
  2. Interpretation is often affected by the values and attitudes of the times.
    1. Historians seldom have all of the facts.
    2. Interpretation is often affected by the values and attitudes of the times.
  3. Social history, the study of the basic details of daily life, is a relatively new interpretive process.
  4. Civilization means a people's shared way of thinking and believing.
  5. Western means the ideas, customs, and institutions that set western civilization apart from others.

From caves to towns

  1. The Paleolithic period began in about 400,000 B.C. and lasted until about 7000 B.C.
    1. It began when primitive nomadic hunters began to make primitive stone tools and live in caves.
    2. Because they contribute little to our understanding of history, they are regarded as part of the study of anthropology--the study of pre-historic peoples.
  2. The Neolithic period means an age when new stone tools came into use and people began to live with advanced agriculture, towns, and cities. (ca 7000-3000 B.C.)
    1. Agricultural surpluses led to population growth, the rise of towns, and trade
    2. Farming led to walled villages with governmental organization.
    3. Stonehenge settlement in England is an example of a Neolithic society that pooled its resources and created a intellectual environment--but without written language.

Mesopotamian civilization

  1. Mesopotamia is the name for the land between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.
    1. By about 3000 the people of Sumer (the Sumerians) established a number of cities and made Mesopotamia the "cradle of civilization."
  2. The invention of writing and the first schools
    1. Pictograph writing was the forerunner of cuneiform writing.
    2. Sumerian cuneiform evolved from a pictographic system to an ideogram system and then to a phonetic system.
    3. Scribal schools were centers of learning and culture.
  3. Mesopotamian thought and religion
    1. In mathematics the Mesopotamians developed the concept of place value.
      1. They emphasized practical uses for math, such as construction of buildings.
    2. In medicine, evil spirits were believed to cause sickness, and treatment was by magic, prescription, and surgery.
    3. The Mesopotamians believed in a hierarchy of anthropomorphic gods who used nature to punish society.
      1. They believed in myths, such as one similar to the book of Genesis, to explain how the universe began.
      2. Another myth, the poem--The Epic of Gilgamesh--explains the creation of earth.
  4. Sumerian society
    1. Sumerian society was made up of nobles, free clients, commoners, and slaves.
    2. The king was supreme, and kingship was hereditary.
    3. The nobility--the king and his family, the chief priests, and the high palace officials--controlled most of the wealth and held most of the power.
    4. The commoners were free and had a political voice.

The spread of Mesopotamian culture

  1. In 2331 B.C., Sargon, a Semitic chieftain, conquered Sumer.
    1. He spread Mesopotamian culture throughout and beyond the Fertile Crescent.
    2. He established the city of Akkad--as the symbol of his empire.
  2. The triumph of Babylon
    1. Babylon's position as a center of commerce helped Hammurabi unify Mesopotamia.
      1. He conquered Assyria, Sumer, and Akkad.
      2. He made Marduk the god of all Mesopotamians, thus making Babylon the religious center of Mesopotamia.
    2. Hammurabi's genius enabled Babylon to become the cultural center of Mesopotamia.
  3. Life under Hammurabi
    1. Hammurabi's code was based on several principles.
      1. Equality before the law did not exist: there were milder penalties for members of the aristocracy than for commoners and slaves.
      2. When criminal and victim were social equals, the punishment was equal to the crime.
      3. Individuals represented themselves, fair trials were guaranteed, and judges could not change a verdict.
      4. The law provided protection for the consumer.
      5. The code contains many laws about farming, irrigation, crops, and animals.
      6. Marriage was a business arrangement between the groomtobe and his future fatherinlaw.
      7. Husbands had absolute power; he could sell his wife and children into slavery, but wills and legal documents tell us that family life was happy and women engaged in business.

Egypt: land of the pharaohs (3100-1200 B.C.)

  1. The Nile River shaped Egyptian life, society, and history
    1. Egypt was known as the "gift of the Nile": annual flooding made crop raising easy and Egypt prosperous.
    2. The Nile unified Egypt because it was its central highway.
    3. Egypt was nearly selfsufficient in raw materials.
  2. The godking of Egypt
    1. Egypt was politically unified under a king, or "pharaoh."
    2. The political unification of Egypt began the period called the Old Kingdom (2660-2180 B.C.)--a period of prosperity and cultural growth.
    3. The Egyptians worshipped many gods--the most powerful were Amon and Ra.
    4. The Falcon-god Horus was the lord of the sky--and it was believed that he united Egypt and bestowed divinity on the pharaoh.
    5. The Egyptian view of afterlife and renewal of life is connected to the gods Osiris and Isis.
    6. These stories, including that of Anubis, the god of mummification, were preserved in the Book of the Dead.
    7. The pharaoh was customarily buried in a massive pyramid, with all things needed in afterlife.
  3. The pharaoh's people
    1. Social mobility existed, but most people were tied to the land and subject to high taxes.
    2. The regularity of climate and farming gave calm and order to society.
    3. Peasants could be forced to work on pyramids and canals and to serve in the pharaoh's army.
    4. The pharaoh's role was to prevent internal chaos, which could lead to war and invasion.
  4. The Hyksos in Egypt (1640-1570 B.C.)
    1. About 1800 B.C., Semite (Hyksos) nomads began to push into Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Syria from the Arabian peninsula.
    2. Their "invasion" of Egypt was probably gradual and peaceful--although one tradition has it that their invasion was brutal.
  5. The New Kingdom: revival and empire in Egypt (1570-1200 B.C.)
    1. The pharaohs of the Eighteenth Dynasty created the first Egyptian empire.
      1. The pharaoh Akhenaten was interested in religion, not conquests.
      2. He and his wife, Nefertiti, believed that the sungod Aton was the only god.
      3. They attempted to impose monotheism on Egypt, but it was unpopular and failed to take hold.

The Hittite empire

  1. The Rise of the Hittites
    1. Hittites were a part of the massive IndoEuropean migrations that began around 2000 B.C.
      1. The term IndoEuropean refers to a large family of languages spoken throughout most of Europe and much of the Near East (see Figure 1.2).
      2. The original home of the IndoEuropeans may have been central Europe.
    2. Hittite diffusion into Anatolia was peaceful, characterized by intermarriage and alliance.
  2. Hittite society
    1. Hattusilis I led the Hittites to conquer Anatolia and then moved eastward as far as Babylon.
    2. Hittite society was headed by a royal family and an often rebellious aristocracy.
    3. The Hittites assimilated the Mesopotamian culture.
  3. The era of Hittite greatness (ca. 1475-1200 B.C.)
    1. Through the use of iron for weapons and through wise diplomacy, the Hittites came to control much of the Near East.
      1. They defeated the Egyptians at the battle of Kadesh (ca. 1300 B.C.), and then formed an alliance with them to prevent future wars.
      2. The Hittites made peace with the Egyptians and then the Babylonians--all of which made for an important exchange of ideas in the Near East.
    2. The Hittites provided the Near East with an interlude of peace.

The fall of empires and the survival of cultures (1200 B.C.)

  1. Political chaos
    1. In the late thirteenth century B.C., invaders destroyed both the Hittite and the Egyptian empires.
      1. The "Sea Peoples," part of a larger movement of people, dealt both empires a serious blow.
  2. Cultural endurance and dissemination
    1. Palestine, Syria, and Anatolia absorbed Sumerian and Egyptian social, economic, and cultural patterns.
    2. But even before this, Palestine and Syria had walled towns and traded internationally.
    3. The Egyptians found the Phoenicians were advanced in shipbuilding.
    4. In northern Syria, Semite cities were common and cultural exchange with Mesopotamia occurred.
    5. Anatolia also follows this pattern: native cultures that adopted Egyptian and Mesopotamian culture--while introducing new technologies and ideas.


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