Tuesday, September 28, 2010
The Persians and the Greeks
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
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).
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.
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.
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"
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.
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.
Posted by Gregory M. Miller at 9:54 AM