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

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