Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Persian Wars, 546-323BCE

A. The Athens-Sparta Rivalry--these two cities were the pre-eminent Greek city-states of the Archaic and Classical periods.  The different  character of these two cities underscores the diversity of human societies, even when they share similar climates and cultures.

1. Sparta--Sparta's unique (to Greece) solution for handling the conundrum of an exploding population and lack of arable land--the annexation of Messenia and the enslavement of its population--changed Sparta politically and, eventually, culturally.

a. Land near Sparta and Messenia was divided into several thousand lots and assigned to Spartan citizens. The helots (the enslaved population of Messenia) worked the land and turned over a portion of  what they grew to their Spartan masters who, being freed from the work of food production, could spend their lives  in military training and service.

b. The Spartan army was undoubtedly the finest in  Greece, far superior, militarily, than the citizen militias of the other city-states. Military training  for Spartan boys began at age seven, when they were taken from their families and placed in barracks, under strict discipline, often placed in conditions of deprivation, to prepare them for such conditions on the battlefield.

c. A Spartan male's whole life was subordinated to the military needs of the state. Sparta essentially stopped the cultural clock at about 500BCE, and took no part in the flowering of Greek culture that occurred during the Archaic period.

d. Sparta's military might was largely used to ensure that there was no uprising of the helots; after proving  their bravery and military skill early in the Archaic period, Sparta's military prowess became a given, and few rivals felt the need to test it. The need to remain in close range of Sparta meant that the city-state adopted a cautious and isolationist foreign policy.

2. Athens--Athens was also fairly unique in Greece. It lies in a fairly prosperous region, with a larger plains area suitable for the cultivation of grain and olive trees, which also supported numerous villages and several larger towns--all of which became satellites of Athens.

a. Political turmoil--by 594BCE, Athens was on the verge of a civil war, as aristocratic families vied for control of the city. To reduce this growing conflict, a respected member of the elite class, Solon, was given extraordinary powers as a lawgiver. First, he divided Athenians into four classes, based upon the annual yield of their farms. Those members of the top three social classes were granted the right to hold political office, while members of the lowest class could not. While this arrangement cannot really be classified as democracy, it did break the political stranglehold wealthy aristocratic families had exercised in Athens.

b. Continued political turmoil--despite this broadened political base, political turmoil continued in Athens until 546BCE, when an aristocrat named Pisistratus seized power as a tyrant. To strengthen his position and weaken the power of the other members of the aristocracy, Pisistratus began a major building program (he is responsible for the construction of the Temple of Athena on the Acropolis) to provide public space in the city that, in conjunction with an expanded program of festivals, religious processions, play performances, athletic contests, and the equivalent of modern-day "poetry slams" to entice people in the hinterland to identify with Athens, were he was most popular. In large part, this strategy worked, and he was able to pass on the leadership of the city on to his son.

c. Pericles and Athenian Democracy--the son of Pisistratus proved to be somewhat less popular, and in the last decade of the sixth century BCE, with the assistance of Sparta, the Athenians turned out the ruling family. By the middle of the fifth century (between 460 and 450BCE), Pericles and his political allies took the last step in the evolution of Athenian democracy, and transferred all power to popular organs of government: the Assembly, the Council of 500, and the People's Courts. Now men of moderate or small means could participate fully in the political process, even filling the highest positions, because government officials were now paid, so they could afford to take time from work. the focal point for governing Athens quickly became the  Assembly, where several times a month proposals were debated, decisions were made openly, and any citizen could speak to the issues of the day.

B. Wars Between Persia and Greece, 546-323BCE--this series of wars was probably more meaningful to the Greeks, who saw the Persians as a threatening enemy, while Persia was more concerned with rivals to the east.

1. Early Encounters, 546-499BCE--Cyrus' conquest of Lydia in 546BCE led to the subjugation of the Greek city-states on the Anatolian coast. In the years that followed, local groups or individuals who collaborated with the Persians ruled their home cities with minimal Persian interference as satraps. All of this changed with the Ionian Revolt, when the Greeks and other subject peoples on the western frontier of the Persian Empire took up arms to wrest control from Persia. After five years and a massive infusion of troops, the rebellion was finally put down.

a. First Persian War, 490BCE--Darius dispatched his army to punish  Eretria and Athens, the two mainland city-states that had aided the Ionian rebels. Eretria was betrayed to the Persians, and the survivors were marched of to permanent exile in southwestern Iran. The Athenians probably would have suffered a similar fate, but their hoplites defeated the more numerous but lighter-armed Persian troops at the battle of Marathon, 26 miles from Athens.

b. Second Persian War, 480BCE--Darius' son and successor, Xerxes, led a huge invasionary force consisting of the Persian army, contingents from all the peoples of the empire, and a large fleet of ships drawn from maritime subjects. This huge force met little initial resistance from Greek city-states, who chose to submit "earth and water" rather than face the possibility of annihilation. The city-states in the southern part of the Greek peninsula rallied under the leadership of Sparta in the Hellenic League, and 300 Spartans slowed the advance at Thermopylae long enough to allow their allies to escape certain death or capture. The Persian army continued its advance, sacking Athens. Shortly afterward, the Persian navy was lured into the narrow straits near Salamis, where their superior numbers and maneuverability were neutralized, and suffered a devastating defeat. The following spring, in 479BCE, the Persian army was defeated at Plataea, and the Persian threat largely receded. Keeping a large army in the field far from friendly territory proved impossible one the Persian naval superiority was wiped out proved to be impossible.

c. On the Offensive--Athens stubborn refusal to submit, and the vital role its navy had played in defeating the Persian advance--coupled with the losses Sparta had suffered at Thermopylae, and Sparta's preferred isolationist stance--made Athens the natural choice to lead a counter-offensive to liberate those Greek states still under Persian control. The formation of the Delian League (477BCE),  initially a voluntary alliance of Greek states and led by Athens, permitted  them to sweep the Persians from the waters of the eastern Mediterranean within twenty years.

2. The Height of Athenian Power--the reluctance of other Greek states to continue to supply troops for this enterprise allowed Athens to transform the Delian League from a voluntary association to a means of dominating the other city-states.

a. Naval technology--Athens transformed naval technology with the development of the trieme, a sleek, fast vessel that was powered by 170 rowers, in addition to its sail power. This new naval technology is also a reflection of the changed Athenian political climate; while hoplites had provided their own armor, and thus had been part of the middle class, rowers came predominately from the lower orders, and their importance to ensuring the supremacy of the trieme made it difficult to deny them greater political power.

b. Pre-eminent Trade Center--Athen's port, Piraeus, became the most important commercial center in the eastern Mediterranean, and Athens  did not hesitate to use its naval power to promote its economic interests. Subject states were forced to pay tribute, and Athenian political leaders like Pericles used this tribute money to build monuments and temples on the Acropolis--as well as buildings throughout the city, thereby transferring the tribute money to the citizens of Athens though wages and goods for buildings these structures.

c. Cultural achievements--were also supported by the profits of empire. Wealthy Athenian (who profited directly from the empire) paid for the production costs of the tragedies and comedies performed at state festivals. The most creative artists  and thinkers in the Greek world were thereby attracted to Athens, including a sculptor by the name of Socrates, who enjoyed the attention he received from deflating the pretensions of those who thought themselves wise. This propensity, along with the coterie of young men he attracted while performing in this way, led to his downfall, especially his lack of contrition despite the seriousness of the charges (to others, that is). Although Socrates himself wrote nothing, one of his students, Plato, did write down his recalled Socratic dialogues, eventually moving to write his own interpretation of the conversations Socrates directed over the major questions discussed during  these dialogues--the nature of truth, knowledge, justice, and wisdom, among others.

4. Inequality in Classical Greece--Athenian democracy was enjoyed by a relatively few men, perhaps 30,000 to 40,000, out of a total population in Athens of some 300,000 people.

a. Slave--slaves made up possibly one-third  of the population of Classical Athens, and did nearly all of the word; in fact, it was the labor of slaves that made it possible for Athenian men to engage in the democratic process. Greeks like Aristotle rationalized the institution of slavery by arguing that the barbaroi lacked the capacity to reason, and thus were better off under the direction of rational Greek owners--an argument that would be made again and again in history to legitimize slavery.

b. Women--the status of women varied from state to state in Classical Greece. Ironically, women were perhaps the most free in Sparta, where they were expected to raise strong virile children, and enjoyed a level of visibility  and outspokenness that shocked other Greeks; in Athens, women were perhaps the most oppressed, where men attempted to confine them to the home to reign in their alleged promiscuousness. In Athenian society, the main role of women was to produce children, and preferably male children, since female offspring were more likely to suffer from infanticide.

5. Failure of the City-State and the Triumph of Macedonia

a. Peloponnesian War (431-404BCE)--resentment towards the high-handed attitude of Athens led a number of other city-states, under the direction of Sparta, to begin the two-decade long Peloponnesian War. During the early years of the conflict, Athens refused to engage the invading army outside the walls it had constructed to connect it to the port of Piraeus; the hoplites that made up the bulk of the attacking force would have to withdraw during the year to harvest the crops at their farms. With the financial assistance of Persia, however, Sparta was able to build a navy to defeat the Athenians, and Sparta quickly assumed Athens place as the most despised city-state because of its own haughty attitude. The skirmishing continued in Greece until the king of Persia brokered the King's Peace in 387BCE. Problems in the eastern portion of the empire diverted Persian attention elsewhere,  but the position of the King of Persia as the guarantor of the status quo kept the Greek city-states in a weakened condition.

b. Philip of Macedonia--Philip II transformed his previously backward kingdom of Macedonia into the premier military power in the Greek world. He refined the hoplite battle tactics, and incorporated and coordinated the use of cavalry and infantry together. His military engineers developed the early catapults,  which transformed siege warfare. By 338BCE, Philip brought this new technology to use against a coalition of Greek city-states, defeating them and then establishing the Confederacy of Corinth to attack Persia. He had just established a bridgehead on the Asiatic side of Hellespont when he was killed by assassins in 336BCE

c. Alexander the Great--used the military innovations of his father, and the avowed goal of revenging Xerxes invasion of Greece, to roll through the Persian Empire, eventually reaching the Indus Valley. Also demonstrating that he could learn from his avowed enemy, he maintained the framework of the Persian administration, while replacing the administrators themselves with those personally loyal to him--while at the same time, marrying several well-connected Persian and Iranian women,  and adopting Persian-style dress and some customs--much to the dismay of the Macedonian nobility. His death in 323BCE  ended this controversy.

C. The Hellenistic Sythesis, 323-30BCE

1. The Three Kingdoms--the short-lived Macedonian dynasty was broken into three kingdoms after Alexander's death:  Seleucid, Ptolemaic, and Antigonid.

a. Selucid--took over the bulk of the empire, and promptly lost great portions of it--the Indus Valley and Afghanistan,  and most of Iran by the middle of the second century BCE. From their capital is Syrian Antioch, the Selucid monarchs controlled Mesopotamia, Syrian, and parts of Anatolia

b. Ptolemies--ruled Egypt, which was more homogenous than the Selucid kingdom, and easier to control. The Ptolemies ruled from Alexandria, planned by Alexander himself. The Ptolemies were happy to collect taxes from the rich agricultural lands, but did little to attempt to integrate Egyptians into the kingdom; only the last Ptolemy ruler,  Cleopatra (51-30BCE) even bothered to learn the Egyptian language.

c. Antigonids--ruled over the ethnically homogeneous region of Macedonia and northern Greece. While they maintained garrisons in the southern part, and the threat of invasion kept the southern city-states in line, they did not control southern Greece. The southern city-states banded together in various alliances, except for Sparta and Greece. Sparta continued to believe its own myth of invincibility, even while losing battles to Macedonia, and Athens was content to remain neutral, an educational center.

2. Alexandria--was the premier city of the Hellenistic Age, the center of learning, culture, and Greek-style democracy.

D. Conclusion

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Persians and the Greeks

A. The Rise of Persia

1. Geography and Resources--present-day Iran (which contains ancient Persia) is bounded by the Zagros Mountains to the west, the Caucus Mountains and the Caspian Sea to the northwest and north, the mountains of Afghanistan and the Baluchistan Desert to the east and southeast, and the Persian Gulf to the southwest. Many of these features provide natural barriers to the threat of attack, although Persia was susceptible from the northeast, which the nomads from Central Asia took advantage of. Iran is characterized by high mountains at the edge of the region, salt deserts in the interior depressions, and mountain streams draining into interior salt lakes and marshes. This land could not support a very large population in the ancient era.

a. Irrigation--in the first millenium BCE, irrigation enable people to move down from the mountain valleys, and open the plains to  agriculture.  To irrigate the hot, dry plains, however, the channels had to be built underground. Constructing and maintaining these channels was very labor intensive, and helped to create the conditions for a  more hierarchical society.

2. The Achaemenid Empire

a. Cyrus (Kurush)--the son of a Persian chieftain and a Median princess, Cyrus united the various Persian tribes, and overthrew the Median monarch around 550BCE. His victory should probably be seen as less of a conquest, and more of an alteration of the relationship between the two groups, since Cyrus placed both Persians and Medians in positions of responsibility and retained the framework of the Median governing structure.

b. Persian expansion--during the next two decades from 550BCE, Cyrus redrew the map of Western Asia. In 546BCE, his  army defeated the kingdom of Lydia, all of Anatolia (including the Greek city-states. In 539BCE, the Persian army swept into Mesopotamia and overthrew the Neo-Babylonian dynasty that had  ruled since the decline of Assyrian power. Rather than run roughshod over the conquered  peoples, however, Cyrus incorporated local leaders--both political and religious--into his colonial power structure.

c. Cambyses--succeeded his father in 530BCE, upon his father's death. Cambyses set  his sights  on Egypt, which the Persian army was able to conquer of several bloody battles. The Persian army then explored further south to Nubia, and west into Libya. Contemporary records indicate that Cambyses  ruled much as his father had, although the Greeks maintained  he was cruel and capricious (in keeping with their general view of Persians).

d. Darius I--Cambyses died in 522BCE without a clear heir; after a great deal of political turmoil, Darius, a distant cousin of the deceased king, seized the throne. Darius ruthlessly put down several attempted rebellions while consolidating his hold on the country. During his reign, Medes began playing a diminished role,  because Darius filled most governmental positions with Persians. Darius extended Persian influence eastward as far  as the Indus Valley, and westward into Europe, where he bridged the Danube river.

2. Imperial Organization

a. Persian Satraps--Darius divided the empire into 20 districts, and assigned a satrap (or royal governor) to each one. These satraps were usually connected to the royal family either through kin relationship, or  through marriage. Satraps were allowed to pass their positions on to members of their families. This fostered the fact that the families  of  the  satraps living in the districts they governed, becoming familiar with local conditions and customs, and forming  connections with local elites.

b. Tribute--Darius set the amount that each district was responsible for contributing to Persia each year, usually paid in precious metal. Some of this money was spent on internal improvements  like roads, but much of it was simply hoarded by the king. This took money out of circulation, and the resulting inflation made it more difficult to meet tribute levels, among other financial difficulties. As a result, a gradual economic decline began in the Persian Empire around the fourth century BCE.

c. Mobile Capitol--the king and his court moved with the seasons, living in luxurious tents while on the road between residence in a series of palaces in both Mesopotamia and Iran. The king traveled with an extensive entourage, including the sons of noble families  (both to see to their education, and as hostages to ensure good behavior on the part of the relatives), many nobles themselves, the central administrations (including the treasury,  the secretariat, and the archives),  the royal bodyguard, and  lots of courtier and slaves to do all the heavy lifting.

d. Administrative Capitol--was centrally located at Susa, the ancient capitol of Elam, in present-day southwestern Iran near the border with Iraq.

e. Ceremonial Capitol--was located in Persepolis, home to a series of palaces, audience halls, treasury  buildings, and barracks. Construction in Persepolis was begun by Darius, and finished by his son,  Xerxes;  they were inspired by the great Assyrian kings who created the great fortress-cities as advertisements of the power and wealth.

3. Ideology

a. Perhaps best depicted by the relief sculptures found at the ruins of Persepolis, which depict the multitude of subjects coming forth willingly with a portion of their wealth to pay tribute,

b. Darius' claim to the throne was tied to his belief  that Ahuramazda had called him forth to be king--and convincing others to believe this, as well.

4. Religion

a. Zoroastrianism--the origins of the religion are fairly obscure. Piecing it together from a variety of sources, Zoroastrianism was founded by a man named Zoroaster (Zarathustra), who probably lived in eastern Iran between  1700 and 500BCE. Zoroaster taught that the world had been created by Ahuramzda in a state of perfection, but that this perfection had been damaged by the attacks of Angra  Maiyu, the "hostile spirit." Good and evil then struggle  for thousands  of years, with good destined to prevail. Darius brilliantly joined the moral theology of Zoroastrianism to political ideology, by in essence claiming for himself the divinely ordained  mission of the empire, to bring all the scattered peoples of the world back together again under a regime of justice, and thereby restore the perfection of creation.

b. In keeping  with this Zoroastrian worldview, Persians were sensitive to the beauties of nature and venerated its beneficial elements, like water (which was not to be tainted by human excrement) and fire.

c. Zoroastrianism was one of the great religions of the ancient world. It was one of the earliest monotheistic religions, held humans to high ethical standards, and promised eternal salvation. It probably had great deal of influence upon the development of Judaism, and therefore indirectly on the development of Christianity; the concepts of Heaven and Hell, God and the Devil, reward and punishment, and the Messiah and End Time all appear to be its legacies.

B. The Rise of Archaic Greece, 1000-500BCE

1. Geography and Resources--while Greece benefited from a Mediterranean climate, the rocky, mountainous land could not support  a very large population in the ancient world, and resulted in the Greeks establishing colonies around the Mediterranean.

a. Summers are hot and dry in the regions, because a prevailing weather front prevents Atlantic storms  from entering the Mediterranean;  in the winter, the front dissolves and ocean storms roll in, making the weather cool and wet.

b. Southern Greece is a dry and rocky land, with small plains areas separated by low mountains. To the east  of the Greek peninsula, the Aegean Sea is home to hundreds of small islands, populated from early times. People could sail from Greece to Anatolia almost without losing sight of land.

c. Greek farmers were almost entirely reliant upon rainfall for growing crops. Farmers planted grain (mostly barley, since it is hardier than wheat) on the plains, and olives and grapes on the sides of mountains.

d. The Greek mainland has a deeply pitted coastline with many natural harbors. This fact, coupled with the lack of navigable rives in the country and the need to import most trade goods, drew many  Greeks to the sea.

2. The Greek "Dark Age"

a. Mycenaean Culture--largely and adaptation to the Greek terrain of the imported institutions  of Middle Eastern palace-states

b. Causes for decline--perhaps tied to the after-effects of the Trojan War? A long, costly battle, and may have resulted with Greeks returning home with the bubonic plague.

c. Ionia--the Greek city-states were established along the west coast of Anatolia before and after the Trojan War

d. Isolation--during this Dark Age era, the Greeks were largely isolated from the rest of the world. Importation of needed trade materials steeply declined, which further impoverished the people.

e. Phoenician traders--the Greeks were reconnected to the world through trade with the Phoenicians, who also brought their alphabet, which the Greeks modified (designating some symbols for vowel sounds, which the Phoenicians had not utilized). The Greeks quickly moved on from commercial uses for this innovation to create literature, writing down oral traditions they had long told each other.

3. The Nature of the Polis--polis is another name  for city-state, and designated not only a particular city, but also included the hinterland that surrounded the city.

a. Physical features--the polis utilized the physical features of the landscape it was  built on. A hilltop "acropolis," often surrounded by a wall, offered refuge in an emergency, and acted  as the seat of government. Each polis also had an agora, a square where citizens met to ratify the decisions of their leaders, assemble before marching off to war--or just to get goods at the market.

b. Hoplite warfare--each polis  was jealous of its independence, and suspicious of its neighbors. By the early seventh century BCE,  the Greeks has developed a new form of warfare, called hoplite, which utiliized heavily armored infantrymen fighting in close formation. Hoplites were farmers called to service  for short periods of time; this development helped to shape the development of the polis, because the morale of the hoplites was boosted by giving them rights as citizens, so they had some voice in the government of the polis.

4. Political development--while kings ruled in the Mycenaean Age, during the Archaic period a new kind of political system began to develop in the Greek polis.

a. Tyrants--power in the Greek city-state devolved from kings to the aristocracy.  Disgruntled aristocrats, acting  as  tyrants, had to appeal to persons in the lower orders of society to obtain, or regain, political power. This itself quickly devolved  in to democracy

5.  Sparta--Sparta had a rather unique development as a polis, since it had no overseas colonies. Instead, Sparta conquered and enslaved the people of nearby Messenia, enslaving their fellow Greeks, whom they now referred to as helots. Constantly in fear of an uprising of these helots, Spartan society became completely militarized. Boys were taken from the families at age seven and place in barracks, where they were severely disciplined, and taught the arts of war.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Middle East and the Western Mediterranean

A. The Assyrian Empire, 911-612BCE

1. The Assyrian Army--peasant farmers, accustomed to defending themselves from raiders from the mountains to the north and east, and the arid plains to the south, provided the foot soldiers for the revival of Assyrian power. These farmers joined the Assyrian army because of promises of land, and the labor to work that land (slaves, and other indentured peasants from the larger landholding class), as well as the wealth to be gained from sacking those cities and villages the army conquered. After early successes,the king could then use propaganda about his favor among the gods in order to gain support for the continuation of these battles, and to gain new recruits.

2. God and king--the Assyrian belief system was predicated upon the idea that the Assyrian gods chose their king; even though the king chose his successor, that decision did not take hold until these gods demonstrated their support through oracles, revealed through their priests--and agreed to by the Assyrian nobles.

a. The king was also the main military commander, supervised the state religion, attended elaborate rituals in both public and private, adjudicated disputes between subjects, managed a large ring of spies, and oversaw the upkeep of temples. He made no major decisions without consulting the gods, who again demonstrated their judgment through oracles. Military success was, of course, the means of demonstrating the correctness of the oracle, and proof that Ashur (the leading Assyrian god) superiority over other gods in the region.

3. Conquest and Control--superior military organization and technology explains much of the Assyrian success.

a. Professional army--although the initial successes of the Assyrian army was because of the skill and espirit de corps of these farmer/soldiers fighting for more land, they were soon  replaced with professional soldiers--both Assyrians and selected subject people--that at times exceeded more than half a million troops.

b. Weaponry--Assyrians were skilled in the manufacture of iron, and used it in a variety of weapons. These weapons, in combination with the use of horses, allowed the Assyrians to overwhelm most of their opponents.

c. Tactics--the Assyrians were able to innovate in the area of combat engineering, constructing tunnels under the walls of cities, building portable towers for archers, using battering rams against locked city gates.

d. State terror--Assyrians used extremely harsh measures to inhibit resistance to their attempted conquests--burning people alive, skinning people, and beheadings were just a few of the tactics they used.

e. Mass deportation--they removed thousands of conquered people from their homes, a tactic that was part of the Assyrian effort to soften resistance to their rule. While this seems quite harsh to us today, it should be noted  that this was common practice over much of the Middle East at this time.

f. Paying for conquest--the expense for all of this was born by those conquered, who were required to pay tribute and taxes for the Assyrian cost  of conquest--and for the elaborate castles and temples that were built in Ashur to demonstrate the greatness of the Assyrian king.

g. Effectiveness--the effectiveness of these policies can be judged by the fact that, while the Assyrians could control the area immediately around Ashur, their ability to control areas further away required a near constant state of warfare.

4. Assyrian Society and Culture--the Assyrians were hierarchially directed, with the king at the top, nobles, priests, and government officials at the next rung of the social ladder, and at the bottom were most Assyrians and conquered peoples.

B. Israel, 2000-500BCE

1. Significance--although its neighbors probably viewed it as relatively insignificant, since the area controlled by the Israelites was relatively small, not terribly strategic, and only "controlled" by them for a relatively short period of time. Nevertheless, the invention of Judaism, which begat both Christianity and Islam, has made Israel much more prominent than its modest history during this era would suggest.

2. Origins, Exodus, and Settlement--the information we know about the early history of Israel comes from a variety of sources, including the royal annals of Egypt and Assyria.  Much information also comes from the Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible (or the Old Testament, for Christians).

a. Tanakh--is a compilation of several collections of materials that originate with different groups and advocate particular interpretations of past events. Traditions about the Israelites early history were long transmitted orally, and not until the 10th century BCE were they written down; the text we have today dates from the 5th century BCE, and largely reflects the viewpoint of the priests who controlled the Temple in Jerusalem.

b. The history of ancient Israel follows a familiar pattern in the ancient Middle East: Nomadic pastorlists, occupying marginal land between inhospitable desert and settled agricultural area; Sometimes engaging in trade, but also occasionally stealing from nearby farms and villages; eventually settling  into agricultural life themselves.

c. Father Abraham--Israelite tradition claims its founding from a man named Abraham, who rejected idol worship in favor of the Israelite god Yahweh. Abraham's son Isaac and grandson Jacob succeeded him as leader of this small group. Jacob's squabbling sons (from several wives) sold their youngest  brother into slavery into Egypt.

d. Exodus--Joseph became very successful in Egypt, and was well-placed to help his people when drought struck their country. The Egyptians, however, thought  little of these rough herders, and with building projects looming, chose to enslave this group. This enslavement lasted until Moses, raised with the royal family after his fortuitous rescued from the Nile River, was able to lead the Israelites out of Egypt after Yahweh cursed the land with ten different plagues.

e. Wandering in the Desert--on the way back to reclaim Israel, Moses stopped at Mt. Sinai to make a sacred covenant with Yahweh. In his absence, the Israelites immediately began worshiping other gods, incurring Yahweh's wrath, and cursing themselves to wander in the desert for forty years.

f. Back to Canaan--the Israelites claimed to have conquered several Canaanite towns (including, most famously, Jericho), but this contention is not supported by archeological evidence. The period around 1200BCE (when the Israelites arrived) is one of great disturbances throughout the region, with governments in turmoil, and a great number of people on the move. We do know there was not a great cultural break in these cities in Canaan, so it seems most likely that, except for religious practices, the Israelites largely assimilated into Canaan society.

3. Rise of the Monarchy

a. Conflict with the Philistines--the  troubles in the region that brought the Israelites to Canaan also  brought a people called the Philistines, who had a series of conflicts with the Israelites. This led to an Israeliste religious leader named Samuel to annoint the first Israelite king, Saul, around 1020BCE. When Saul was killed in battle, he was succeeded by David (1000BCE), who in turn was succeeded by his son, Solomon.

b. Solomon ruled ca.  960-920BCE, and during his reign the Israelite  monarchy reached its apex. Solomon consolidated the political and religious centers at Jerusalem, building an impressive Temple, and installing priests to offer sacrifices to Yahweh. The Temple priests became quite wealth as a result of this arrangement, which emphasized the growing inequality gap between the rich and poor in Israelite society--and making way the path for a series of fiery prophets who condemned this arrangement.

4. Fragmentation and Dispersal--this growing inequality gap contributed to the fragmentation of Israelite society.

a. Death of Solomon--around 920BCE, along with the resentment fostered by inequality, continued royal demands for money and labor for elaborate building projects, and the neglect of tribal prerogatives, led to splitting the kingdom in two: Israel in the north, with its capital at Samaria; and  Judah in the south, in the area around Jerusalem. These two kingdoms were sometimes allied, and other times  at war.

b. The final formulation of monotheism takes place at this time, but many Israelites were still attracted  to the ecstatic religious practice around the worship of the Canaanite storm god Baal and the fertility goddess Asherah--although later prophets condemned this practice.

c. The Assyrian Threat--although the two kingdoms were reunited in the attempt, resistance proved futile to the invasion of the Assyrians in 721BCE. The Assyrians invaded and quickly conquered Israel, destroyed the kingdom, and exported most  of the people living there (as they did all areas they conquered). Judah was able to hold  out for another century, alternating resistance with paying tribute.

d. The Babylonian Captivity--this is the beginning of the Jewish Diaspora (the migration of Jews around the world). Most did so well in their new homes that they turned down an offer from the Persian king Cyrus to return to their homeland 50 years later--although a small group did return, rebuild a more modest Temple, and edited the Tankh into its present form. This group was unable to re-establish Israelite control in the region, however.

C. Phoenicia and the Mediterranean, 1200-500BCE--Phoenicia is the name given to them by the Greeks; they called themselves the Canaanites.

1. Phoenician City-States--the problems around 1200BCE caused several Canaanite cities to be destroyed, and the Canaanite cities that remained were on the coast. By 1100BCE,  the Canaanite territory had shrunk to a narrow strip in present-day Lebanon, between the mountains and the coast. From this vantage point, the Phoenicians began to engage in trade, which spurred the development of  the port city of Tyre, which was located on an offshore island.

2. Expansion into the Mediterranean--after 900BCE, Tyre turned its attention westward, and established a colony on the island of Cyprus. Being hemmed in by an aggressive Assyrian opponent, merchants and officials in Tyre looked westward to expand and establish colonies like Gades (Cadiz) at the Straits of Gibraltar, Sardinia, Sicily, Malta, and Carthage.

3. Rise of Carthage--the most important of these Phoenician colonies was located in northern Africa, near the present-day city of Tunis.

a. By 500BCE, Carthage had a population of roughly 400,000 people, making it by far the largest city in the ancient world.

b. Political organization was dominated by merchants, rather than by birth. This aided Carthage in avoiding the political conflict that created difficulties in Greek city-state and in Rome. Carthage concentrated on maintaining sea lanes, and ensuring that they received the lion's share of the "carrying trade."

4. War and Religion

a. Carthage did not attempt to rule a huge land area; in fact, it only directly controlled an area sufficient to provide food for its population, and allowed the other Phoenician outposts a great deal of  autonomy. Army service was not required of the population.

b. The two major gods--storm god Baal Hammon   and female fertility god Tanit, were powerful and capricious entities that had to be appeased--sometimes by the sacrifice of the children of their followers.

D. Conclusion--by 650BCE, Assyrian stood unchallenged in Western Asia. Its now lengthy border, and the ill-will fostered by the brutal methods used to get and keep this empire were already at work undermining it. The emergence of two new groups of people in the region--the Chaldaens and the Medes (an Iranian people), would eventually work to topple the Assyrian control, and open new opportunities.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mediterranean Culture, Part One

I. The Cosmopolitan Middle East, 1700-1100BCE

A. Western Asia

1. Babylonia--Babylon had gained political and cultural ascendancy over the southern plain of Mesopotamia under the dynasty of Hammurabi in the eighteenth and seventeenth centuries BCE. After this, a people called the Kassites, from the Zagros Mountains to the east migrated into southern Mesopotamia. The Kassites retained names in their native language, but otherwise embraced Babylonian language and culture, and inter-married with the native population. During the 250 years of rule, the Kassites defended the core area and traded for raw materials, but did not pursue territorial conquest.

2. Assyria

a. "Old Assyrian" kingdom--as early as 2000BCE, the city of Ashur on the northern Tigris River anchored a busy trade route stretching north to the Anatolian Plateau, in what is now central Turkey. Assyrian merchant families settled outside the walls of the Anatolian cities to trade textiles and tin for silver.

b. "Middle Kingdom"--engaged in campaigns of conquest and expansion of its economic interest.

3. Hittites--emerged from what is now central Turkey, with their capital located in Hattusha (near present-day Ankara). The Hittites became perhaps the foremost power in the region because of two technical innovations:

a. Horse-drawn chariots, which gave them greater mobility than their opponents

b. Iron weapons--which made their weapons more deadly than their opponents. The methodology or iron manufacture was a closely held secret among the Hittite until the conquest of much of the area of the Middle East was complete.

4. Mesopotamian culture--came to dominate most of Western Asia: Akkadian was the language of diplomacy and communication between governments; cuneiform became the basis upon which most other written languages were constructed; and the list could continue on. Mediterranean myths, legends, and styles of art and architecture were widely imitated in the region.

B. New Kingdom Egypt, 1532-1070BCE

1. Decline of the Middle Kingdom--after flourishing for almost four hundred years, the Middle Kingdom declined during the seventeenth century BCE. Central authority began to breakdown, with local officials in the countryside becoming more independent, and new groups of people migrating into the Nile Delta region,  less likely to follow edicts from Memphis and Thebes.

2. Reign of the Hyksos--although we are not exactly sure who the Hyksos were, or where they came from, they were able to overcome the Egyptians in their own country through their mastery of two technological innovations:

a. Horse-drawn chariot

b. Compound bow

3. Reunification--after decades of conflict, Kamose and his son Ahnose were finally able to overcome the Hyksos, remove them from power, and establish their own claim to the throne.

4. Expansionist--while the Old Kingdom and the Middle Kingdom had been largely content to maintain the core area of their respective kingdoms, the shock of a century of foreign rule spurred the kings of the New Kingdom, initially, to seek to expand into new territory--north  into Syria-Palestine, and south into Nubia

a. Reign of Hatshepsut--the first woman to rule in Egypt. Opposition to her rule is indicated by the fact that  her name was  chiseled off buildings and memorials, and that statues commemorating her were pulled down.

5. Akhenaten--followed his father Amenhotep III to the throne. Akhenaten's significance it that he is the earliest known person to advocate the concept of monotheism--the belief in a single god. He closed all temples except those dedicated  to Aten. Aten was the sun, and was unique in the Egyptian pantheon in that he had no anamorphic form--Aten simply existed. Questions exist as to how much Akhenaten did this because of his religious belief, and how much a factor his attempts to limit the power of the priestly class as a rival to his own.

a. During Akhenaten's reign, expansion of Egyptian territory halted, as he concentrated on building temples to the glory of Aten.

b. After Akhenaten's death, the other temples re-opened and the god Amon was once again proclaimed the chief god.

c. Akhenaten did not produce a male heir, and was instead succeeded by the nine-year-old Tutankhamen:

Tutankhamen is famous today not only as the butt of an elaborate Steve Martin joke, but also because his grave was one of the few not broken into by grave robbers in the ensuing centuries, and remained intact until its discovery in the 1920s

6. Ramessides Dynasty--came to power after the brief reign of Tutankhamen; the greates of the Ramessides rulers was Ramesses II. Ramesses embarked on a program of both monument building and territorial conquest.

a. Ramesses II fought the Hitties to a draw at Kadesh; the subsequent peace negotiation proved quite favorable to Egypt and Ramesses II's interests.

C. The Aegean World, 2000-1100BCE

1. Minoan Crete--by 2000BCE, the island of Crete was home to the first European civilization to have a complex political and social structure, as well as advanced technologies like those found in western Asia

a. Palaces--there were three minor palaces beside the main palace located in Cnossus. All lacked fortifications, however, leading one to assume that Crete was unified politically.

b. Legend of King Minos and the Minotaur.

2. Mycenaean Greece--the legend of King Minos ties the emergence of Mycenaean culture to that on Crete--and the fact that that culture was at one time subservient to the parent culture, but eventually superseded it.

a. The importance of trade--the modern conception of trade obscures its aggressive beginning. People did not simply put goods in a ship, sail off to foreign lands, lay their goods out on the beach, and wait for customers to show up. Trade often grew out of its predecessor--tribute. Tribute was the result of victory on a field  of battle