HIST 111 Chapter 1 Lecture The First Civilizations The Peoples of Western Asia and North Africa

HIST 111 Chapter 1 Lecture The First Civilizations The Peoples of Western Asia and North Africa


So today, we’ll be
talking about chapter 1, and it’s called The
First Civilizations. We’ll be talking
about the peoples of Western Asia
and North Africa, in particular, because
this map you’re looking at is a migration map. And it shows the
oldest human migrations around 200,000 years ago
coming out of Africa, and then spreading around
into more recent years. And most recent
years on the map here are around the
furthest northern part of the northern hemisphere,
when nomadic peoples were crossing the Bering
Strait into North America. First, I’d like to
give a brief overview of the evolution of man. The first hominid, hominid
meaning those who walk upright, were called the
australopithecines. And these
australopithecines have been carbon dated at three
to four million years old. And so these are the oldest
walking upright fossils that we have. Now, the next oldest,
the australopithecines continued to exist. And we have some
more recent fossils from australopithecines. But the next step
is Homo habilis. And these people,
and they can be distinguished from
australopithecines by the shape of the
skull, resembling more human-like features. Still, however prolonged
facial features, smaller cranial cavity. But these people date back to
one to four million years ago. And then Homo
erectus more recent. But then we belong to the
subspecies Homo sapien. And this is the most
recent, in terms of human evolutionary
development. Now, among Homo sapiens, I
guess living alongside them, were another species
called Neanderthals. But the Homo sapiens eventually
overtook the Neanderthals. And while there are still
people with features resembling some of these ancient
humans, Homo sapiens today are the only remaining
human species. The others died out. Homo sapiens with the
largest cranial cavity, us, are the ones who endured. And now of these nomadic
peoples, what did they do? How did they survive? These peoples were
hunter gatherers for eons, untold
amounts of years. And we don’t know a
lot of specific details about their way of life because
they left behind no written evidence. We have artifacts
from these people. We have fossils from these
people, but no writing. And that is because these people
traveled constantly and were always in search of food. And so their day-to-day
lives consisted of digging up plants, gathering
roots and nuts and berries and edible food for
consumption, making basic tools. This would have been called
the Paleolithic Era, or the Old Stone Age. And then finally, finding
safe places to rest. We often refer to
these people as cavemen because they would live
in whatever shelter they could find. And they never had
permanent dwellings because they would
always be moving from place to place as food
availability would change. Now, it is during this time,
during the Paleolithic Era, that fire was discovered
and that basic tools were discovered. And the reason we know this is
because we have found evidence of human-made fire and we
have found some of these tools next to burial sites of
these most ancient peoples. Now, again, in terms
of cultural activities, we know very little
beyond what we can infer from the limited evidence. But we have found some
paintings, particularly in caves. For example, the caves in France
that have been discovered that contain paintings that
are over 40,000 years old. Maybe you’ve seen
pictures of some of these cave paintings
of animals or people, 40,000 years old. Those are the oldest
human artistic creations known to man. Now, from 10,000 BCE forward,
we know a little more, because it was during this time
that farming was discovered. And we call it the
Neolithic Revolution. In fact, farming
is distinguished, from the time before farming,
as an entirely new portion of history. The reason being is that
it changed life forever. Now, it doesn’t
mean that everyone stopped hunting and
gathering and began farming. In fact, there are
modern hunter gatherers and there are present
day nomadic peoples. Now, the first
farming settlements were in the Middle
East in a place called the Fertile Crescent. In fact, the oldest
farming settlement, and if you’re a fan
of the Old Testament, you may be familiar with
this, the oldest settlement is between two rivers called
the Tigris and Euphrates. Does anybody know what
their significance is in the Old Testament? The Tigris and Euphrates. It’s where the
Garden of Eden was in the first chapter of Genesis,
between these two rivers. And perhaps the
significance there is that it was the site
of the oldest farming settlement in Mesopotamia,
which literally means “the land between the rivers.” Now, again, the Middle
East has the distinction of containing the oldest
farming settlements, but Mesoamerica and India
also contain ancient farming settlements, dating back to
about 7,000 or 5,000 BCE, respectively. But also, you see that there
are ancient settlements throughout the world,
and this occurred in a non-linear fashion,
meaning that people didn’t just set up in Mesopotamia and
go, well, this sounds nice. Hey, I’m going to
go check out India. It just occurred as
people would migrate and would find suitable
places to live. And I’d like to look
briefly at this map. And so what we’re
looking at here is, again, a migration
map, but this one has a little more detail. And you see that
around 5,000 BCE, these highlighted
areas represent the only permanently
settled areas in the world that we know of. So in 5,000 BCE, there weren’t
a lot of people on this planet. And those few who
did not live in settled communities wander the
vast expanses of the earth, trying to survive. And then as we go forward, you
see more and more settlements, until finally, by the year zero,
not fully populated, but more so than previous. But I wanted to
show you an example. This is the oldest cave
painting known to man. It was discovered in
some caves in France. And what I think is
neat here is what we can learn from
this oldest image is of domesticated animals. I don’t know if you’re an
animal lover, like I am, but I think it’s cool that
the oldest image we made is of domesticated animals. Now, taming wild
animals would have served a practical purpose. Dogs can help in search of food. Horses can obviously
help with plowing, even in farming communities, and
of course, the search for food. Or even in farming communities,
the production of food would have been not
only a daily effort, but a daily cause of concern. Famines were not uncommon
in the ancient world. But domesticated
animals included, according to the picture
even, horses, dogs, goats, and even pigs. In fact, to own a large number
of pigs in the ancient world was [AUDIO OUT] Now, people eventually evolved. Civilization evolved. People settled down from
their nomadic lifestyles and began to dwell in villages. And this served a
practical purpose as well. Nomads tended to travel in
small groups, typically united by family relationships. And so they traveled in
clans of small family groups for survival and for safety. And farming settlements
operated in the same way, because farming
provided the opportunity to produce much more food
than hunting or gathering. And so nomadic
peoples would commonly raid farming settlements and
steal food and livestock. And so these settlements would
group together for protection. We also know from these
farming settlements, in fact, the earliest
form of writing is called cuneiform,
dating back to Mesopotamia, these early Sumerian
civilizations. We know that these
civilizations were patriarchal, meaning male-dominant. Now, as these
farming communities became more sustainable,
eventually they were able to produce
a surplus of food. And this means that not
everyone has to farm to survive. In fact, more people can
engage in other activities, and this allows
for specialization. For example, if half of
your people are farmers, the other half could focus
on crafts, like metalworking, weaving, basket making,
government, or even defense. And with this ability
to specialize, instead of having to
focus daily on survival, allows for technological
development. But it’s also at the
Neolithic Revolution that mankind began to
have a profound impact on the environment, because
the earliest form of farming is called slash
and burn farming. If you go into an area with
a high degree of rainfall, it’s heavily forested. Well, the easiest way
to clear the forest, if you are around this
fall, is to set it on fire and burn it to the ground. The woods burn, the trees
fall, clear all of that, and you start a farm. It’s much easier than
cutting these trees by hand. It’s much faster. And that’s called
slash and burn farming, and that’s the most ancient
form of clearing land. Sadly, slash and
burn farming is still used in some parts
of the world today. So one of your essay
questions this week is going to focus
on characteristics of civilization. And so if that’s something
you’d like to write about, maybe you’ll find this
information useful. So with farming
comes sophistication. And what do we mean when we
talk about the sophistication? What do we mean when we
talk about the advancement of civilization? Well, number 1, an urban focus. That means more people
living in community. Political and
military structure. That means organization,
governance, and defense. Anytime you have more than
one person in a group, there need to be
guidelines about how to behave within that group. For example, thank you
for wearing clothing. It’s a societal norm
that we clothe ourselves. It wasn’t always written down. It’s just an expectation. But again, this would be
a part of civilization. And the new social structure
based on economic power. The pure middle
structure of society, with the wealthy at the top and
the many at the bottom, that is a basic element
of civilization, is that there is a
structure to society. And then finally, development
of more complexity in a material sense. For example, the
hunter gatherer might have had a few handful of
tools that could have carried. It’s amazing to think that
life went on for eons that way. And they might have
been able to carry a day or two’s worth of food. But that would have been
the extent of their material wealth. However, a farmer,
living in a village, could acquire a reasonable
amount of wealth and property and family, et cetera. Next in civilization, we see a
distinct religious structure. And what I mean by
there is that when we get people living together
in settled communities and this specialization
of labor, eventually people develop
systems for writing and keeping records. And these records contain
stories of the myths of their religious beliefs. And then finally, new
and significant artistic and intellectual activity,
that people actually have leisure time to
devote to self-betterment and to enjoyment. Now, these river
valley civilizations were always around rivers,
hence the name river valley civilizations. And the oldest ones
include the river valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates,
like I mentioned before; the Nile River. I’m sure you’ve heard of
Egypt and its importance in the ancient world. These two areas led to the
civilizations of Mesopotamia– again, meaning land
between the rivers– and the civilization of Egypt. But these weren’t
the only two places where civilization developed. We also have the
Indus River Valley, which, of course, is now
today the country of India. The Indus River goes from the
mountains in the Himalayas, where it starts, and then
flows all the way down to the Arabian Sea. But also, some of the
most ancient civilizations developed in China
around the Yellow River, and in other places, like
Central Asia and Peru. But another question we
have to ask ourselves is, why did civilization develop? What is the inherent
value, if you will? Well number 1, there
was a challenge. There was a need
for civilization, and that basic need
came from survival, that grouped together, we can do
more than we can individually. And with civilization,
as I said previously, came political and military
and social structures. But again, we have
to ask ourselves, what was a purpose
originally of religion? What did that serve? And we also have to think about
how little these ancient people knew about the
world around them. For example, even Aristotle,
the Greek philosopher, thought there were only
four basic elements. Our periodic table has
far more than four. And so we knew so little
about the world around us, and so much of it was
ascribed to mystery. Mystery can lead to
superstition, to myth. And finally, that
big yellow ball in the sky, which features so
prominently in our daily lives, becomes Ra, the sun god. And so for a moment, I’m going
to focus on the ancient Near East, really, at a place
called the Fertile Crescent. And so yeah, here, you
see the Red Sea much more zoomed in than what we were
looking at before class. But yeah, so we’re going
to be particularly talking about the region of Palestine
and the area of Mesopotamia around Tigris and Euphrates. So this is really the modern day
Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, et cetera. And we’ll start
with Mesopotamia. The most ancient
city-states were populated by a people
called the Sumerians. And these city-states were in
a region called Mesopotamia. Now, these cities, I’m
using the word city-state because each city served as
an independent political unit. Because the logic is group
together with your neighbors for safety and don’t
trust anyone else, because resources are
so limited and conflict comes from limited resources. I hope I don’t live long enough
to see conflict over water, but I fear that this may
happen in our lifetime if population continues to grow. You see, these cities
were surrounded by walls and defensive towers,
which could protect the people. And then the farmland would be
in the surrounding countryside. And so the logic was
the nomads and invaders come to attack, they destroy
and loot the farm, and take whatever is growing, but
the people are safe inside. At the center of each of
these cities is a temple. They’re shaped in the
form of a pyramid. These are called ziggurats. Each of these cities
had their own local god, be it Asher, or
Beelzebub, or Yahweh. Each of these peoples
had their own god, and with that, they
formed an identity. Leadership often originated
in two different sources. In some of your
more warlike states, the king was the strongest,
the most powerful, who could dominate his people. In some of the more
advanced societies, you often had a
theocracy, where the king might be someone who claimed
communion with the gods. So if the big, yellow sun
is the most powerful god you can think of,
if someone claims to be able to
communicate with the sun and explain why it
didn’t come out today and why it’s not going
to help me grow my crops today, I’m going to
listen to that person, because if they can
make the sun come out, I need that to survive. And so often, kingship
was divine in origin. Economies were
primarily agricultural, though trade and
commerce did exist, even in the ancient world. There were basic social
groups in the ancient world, the nobility, the common
folk, and yes, slavery is an ancient institution. And next, I wanted to zoom
into the most ancient city that we know of. This is a modern
aerial photograph of the city-state of Ur. Located in the center of
the city is the temple. And this is what the
temple looks like today. It is in ruins. But if you look at what the
original structure might have looked like– they’ve recreated
what they think it looked like– you see this ziggurat shape. So at the very top,
the priest would claim to commune
with whatever gods the city worshipped and would
bring down to the people the will of the gods. Now, this city also– and we’ve dug these places
up, not me personally, but others have– contained a royal cemetery
where the kings and queens would be buried. It contained a high
priestess, where a woman of great
religious authority lived. You can even see the remnants
of the surrounding wall that protected these people. But then here is where
the actual temple, where we’re looking at here, stood. Now, as I said, conflict,
just like today, often originated from limited
resources, particularly farmable land and water. Now, the first conqueror,
the first person to build an empire, or attempt
to unite these city-states, was a person named Sargon, who
established the first empire, conquered even Mesopotamia,
these walled city-states we were just looking at. Now, when his empire fell,
just 200 years after his life, the city-states returned to
their divided, independent ways. This area was finally
reunited in 1792 BCE. And by the way, we know this
because these people have left behind forms of writing. For example, the Sumerians
left the earliest forms of writing that we know of
and it’s called cuneiform, and we can actually
read it and decipher it. And so we know the
story of Sargon, and we know approximately
when his empire fell, and we know that the
Babylonians reunited the area under a king named
Hammurabi, who established the new capital of Babylon,
which is the modern day city of Baghdad. Now, Hammurabi imposed a
very strict system of rules. And by the way, one of your
forum topics for this week is all about the
Code of Hammurabi. So if that’s
something you’d like to read about and write
about for your forum post, this may be relevant. In Hammurabi’s code, he
established strict justice, harsh justice. In fact, it was
Hammurabi who first said an eye for an eye,
a tooth for a tooth. And then later, that was put
into the book of Leviticus. Penalties were doled
out according to class. This is not 14th
Amendment equality under the law type of stuff. This is if you were a
Babylonian free male and you committed a crime,
you were treated differently than if you were a female
and committed a crime, or if you were a slave
and committed a crime. It also laid out rules for
marriage and the family, and even regulations of social
and sexual interactions. This ancient Babylon is
famous for one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. This is a depiction of the
Hanging Gardens of Babylon. But next, a little about
the culture of Mesopotamia. This region is often
prone to natural disaster. Rivers can dry up
in this arid region. Famine can lead to
desperation and starvation. And with no understanding
of meteorology and no understanding of
geology or the seasons, aside for a basic primitive
understanding, these phenomena were scribed
to acts of God, or gods, usually, because most of these
people were polytheistic. In fact, Mesopotamia alone
contained around 3,000 gods and goddesses. The most prominent
I’d like to introduce you to are the god of the sky,
the god of the wind, of earth, and finally, the mother. Among 3,000 others, these
were the most prominent. But again, it’s during this
time that writing was developed. The oldest form we know of
is cuneiform, translated meaning wedge-shaped. Because when you look at it– I think I’ve got a
picture to show you– it literally looks
like chicken scratch. It’s difficult to decipher
if you’re not a linguist. And the purpose of this
was to keep records, to communicate ideas. Much of it, in fact, is
rather boring ledgers of business transactions. It’s not that exciting, right? The oldest form of writing
are largely spreadsheets. Oh, yeah. They’ll always be around. However, some of
it is fascinating. The oldest story dates
back to the Sumerians. It’s called the
Epic of Gilgamesh. It tells of a man who challenges
a mighty king with superpowers, wrestles the king
to a standstill, and the two respect each other’s
power and become friends. It’s a neat story of
competition and heroism, and a little bit
of superhero stuff, but also a good
moral to the story. Again, that’s the oldest
story in the world. Look up Epic of Gilgamesh if
you want to read more about it. The Sumerians also
developed a system of mathematics and astronomy,
a basic number system. They also began to chart
the heavenly constellations. Some you can decipher
with the naked eye. Even without my glasses, I can
see the Big and Little Dipper. I can see Orion
and Orion’s Belt. And they even came up with a
calendar based on the 12 lunar months, plus an extra month
because they didn’t quite understand the fact that we
have 365.25 days each year. And so next, let’s
jump over to Egypt. When you talk about
Egypt, the Nile River dominates the conversation. Egypt became a prosperous
region because the lower Nile in the northern part of Egypt
near the Mediterranean Sea fans out into a delta. And that delta, where the river
becomes many different rivers before it reaches the sea, is
an extremely fertile region in the midst of a great desert. And that makes the Egyptians
rather wealthy for their time. The river would flood every
year in a rather predictable fashion, and that
served not only as their source of fresh
water, but it would also, each time it would flood, it
would wash down rich silt, or soil, which would
be good for farming. This led to abundant harvests. In fact, in the
Old Testament, when it talks about Abraham’s
grandson Jacob, who had 12 sons who were living
in a region near Egypt, were starving because there
was a great famine in the land. Because these rivers, typically,
they would dry up, or whatnot. And as the story goes, Joseph
had been sold into slavery and then invited his brothers
to come to Egypt to live, and that’s the legend
of how the Jews came to Egypt in antiquity. Now, Egypt doesn’t
have everything. In fact, Egypt had a lot
of things going against it. They had no natural
barriers for defense. . They are a bridge way
between three continents, Europe, Asia, and Africa. People are always passing
through this rich and fertile land. And so as such, the
Egyptians are always getting conquered by
different peoples. It becomes difficult
to keep up with who they’ve been conquered by. But in Egyptian civilization,
the importance of religion is essential to understanding
the Egyptian culture. Egyptians were certainly
polytheistic, again, meaning they believed in many
gods, excuse me, of prominence or the sun gods
and the land gods. The Egyptian rulers were
called the son of Ra, Ra being the god of the sun. And these rulers were
considered his offspring. So leadership was meant
to be divine in origin. That’s convenient, right? If God made you boss,
then, supposedly, no human would have the right to
take that power from you. Now I’m going to briefly go over
the course of Egyptian history, and I’m going to summarize
here, for time’s sake. There was an age of
prosperity and splendor. People worshipped the
pharaohs as divine. Great tombs were built
for these pharaohs, meant to be symbols of their power,
but also vehicles to transport them to the afterlife, terms to
contain their wealth for when they were resurrected. In fact, I wanted to show
you the inside of one of these tombs. This is King Tut,
the famous boy king. He was eight years
old when he died. He has been well preserved. In fact, he’s a
better world traveler than I am because he hops
from museum to museum. I saw him most
recently in Chicago. Inside his tomb, are these
many different treasures. The drawings on this wall may
be symbols of the Egyptian moon god. But also, next to him
were cases, like this, to hold his organs. Now, of course, he was a boy. He might have even
had models or toys. But these toys also had
a religious significance. For example, this
boat was believed to have helped him
travel into the new life. And this sarcophagus was so well
made that when it was opened, his face was largely preserved. But as soon as it hit the
air, it began to decompose. So can you imagine a tomb
built thousands of years ago that was airtight,
and we can’t even build a phone case
that’s airtight anymore? Well, a little further in
Egyptian history, a time known as the Middle Kingdom. This is the real golden age,
a time of stability and trade, a time of expansion, when
the Egyptians actually went on to conquer whole
different countries, such as Nubia, or
adding in new regions, like Palestine and Syria. The pharaoh’s main
concern during this period of history known as
the Middle Kingdom was to build great public
works, to give his people jobs, but also to glorify himself. And his main concerns
were to provide for the welfare of his people. But in the next period
of Egyptian history we call the New
Kingdom, which began with Queen Hatshepsut, who
oversaw much of this material prosperity. And then Amenhotep, and then,
of course, King Tut and Ramses. And these people
presided over the time known as the New Kingdom. And so some
significant events that occurred during this
time, number 1, the empire came to an end around this time. It was eventually dominated
by other groups of people. And that’s the general
story of Egypt. Since they lived between
three major continents, they were always
being conquered. In fact, they eventually became
a province of the Greeks, when Alexander the
Great conquered them, and then, finally,
a province of Rome when Alexander’s empire
disintegrated and then was re-conquered by the Romans. Now, a little about the
culture and daily life of ancient Egypt. There was a hierarchical
structure to life. In fact, society looked just
like the tombs of the pharaohs. It was a pyramid. The pharaoh was at the
very top of the pyramid. But next, you have priests,
and then you have nobles. And there was a middle class of
merchants and skilled workers, but most people were
commoners, often, in many cases, bound to
the land they lived on, which was often owned by Nobles
whom they had to pay taxes to. So if you will,
most people rented. And they paid taxes to
these kings and nobles in the form of the crops
that they produced. And they could be conscripted
into military service or forced into public works
labor for building project. Now, art served a spiritual
purpose, as well as a functional one. Their form of writing was
often in the form of drawing, or hieroglyphs. And these are sacred writings,
often on papyrus, the oldest form of paper, made from reeds. And though they never
had a developed alphabet, these symbols conveyed
ideas, and can now be interpreted and
deciphered and contain the history of the Egyptians,
according to their scribes. But as I said previously,
nomadic peoples did not cease to exist. In fact, as these river
civilizations were developing, nomadic peoples still continued
to travel the world in search of food and resources,
and then taking what they could from others. And one group of these people
were the Indo-Europeans. They spread to Europe, to
India, to Northwestern Asia. In fact, if you
are Caucasian, you are a descendant
of Indo-Europeans, these nomadic peoples
who populated the earth and traveled much
longer even than many of these rare civilizations. Some of these wound up
settling in Asia Minor, some around Turkey. Some formed the kingdom
of the Hittites. In fact, many of these
people, these nomadic peoples, developed some of the most
ancient advanced weaponry. It was, in fact, the Hittites
who first used iron weapons. Another group, the Hyksos,
who conquered the Egyptians, first use the chariots. And these people were constantly
at war with one another because resources
were so limited. In fact, the Hittites,
even though they were the first to
develop iron tools, were eventually destroyed by
other Indo-European groups. The next group I’d like
to talk about briefly is a group known
as the Phoenicians. These were
Semitic-speaking people who live in the
region of Palestine. They were known as sea
traders and colonizers. In fact, they were
the ones who developed the first primitive alphabet. Another group,
the Jews, commonly referred to as the, quote,
“children of Israel,” because the legend that
Abraham, their patriarch, met a covenant with
their God that they would be the children of
Yahweh and that he would be their protector. The Jewish people were
the first monotheistic, meaning those who
believed in only one god, and their religion, named after
the most prominent of the 12 tribes, is called Judaism,
after the tribe of Judah. They would have a heavy
influence on Christianity, as well as Islam. And they became a distinctive
people, even still today, dating back to 1,200 BCE. But they would eventually
develop a nation over time, until it was conquered by the
Babylonians around 350 BCE. But they were known
as the Israelites. Just wanted to look at three
systems of writing here and trace the evolution
briefly with you. The Phoenicians here, I
like to look at the letter A ’cause it was the simplest to
interpret and it’s at the top. The Phoenicians had a
basic form of the letter A, which, by the way, a little
fun fact about the letter A. If you turn it upside
down, it looks like a cow. In fact, that’s how some
believe it originated, was the mark of how
many animals were inscribed on a tree or a fence
post on someone’s property. Anyway, and then the
Greeks developed it into a more modern form,
almost recognizable. And then, of course,
modern English. OK, so into Palestine and
into the first Millennium BCE. Let’s talk about the
Jews, just briefly. This is a painting of Abraham,
patriarch of the Jewish people. This is him moving his family on
these herds from the city-state of Ur to the land of Canaan,
where they lived around what is Israel today,
until they went to Egypt. Now, the kingdom of Israel
was for a very brief time, in terms of history, several
lifetimes, if you will. It was originally united
under King Saul, who perished in battle,
who passed on his power to a young boy, King David. When he perished, passed on
his power to King Solomon. And really, Solomon is
where the story begins. Because under Solomon,
the Israelites saw their peak of prosperity. For a brief time, they
controlled all the land of Palestine, with
Jerusalem as their capital. Solomon built the temple of God,
where the Ark of the Covenant was supposedly stored,
until it was lost. Yeah, the ark from Raiders
of the Lost Ark, like the Ark was in this temple. But when Solomon died,
even as small a kingdom as we’re talking about– I mean, roughly the size of
Western Carolina, folks– still broke up. Broke up into different parts,
kingdom of Israel in the north and the land of
Judah in the south. But eventually, all
of these peoples would be defeated by the
Assyrians, the most warlike and bloodthirsty of
the ancient peoples. The Hebrews were
captured at this time. Were deported from
their own land, and only two of the tribes
remained for a period of time to resist. But eventually, the Assyrians
were defeated by the Chaldeans, later known as the Babylonians,
but who also went in and destroyed the
city of Jerusalem, along with the temple. And that’s the last we saw
of the Ark of the Covenant. So no more 10 commandments,
no more Ark of the Covenant, all that good stuff. Until later, the Chaldeans
were conquered by the Persians under King Darius, who was known
as a much more tolerant ruler, and in fact, allowed the Jews
to return to their homeland, allowed Nehemiah to
rebuild the temple, and they were allowed to do
their own thing, effectively, until they were conquered
by Alexander the Great. It’s the disadvantage of
living between three continents in a fertile soil area. Everyone else
wants what you got. And so these people were
frequently conquered. Here’s an ancient depiction
of the Temple of Jerusalem under the time of Solomon. A little about this religion. These people were monotheistic. They worshiped the
God named Yahweh. It’s the god of the Jews. The same God, if you’re a
Christian, would be Yahweh. Now, this God is believed to be
omnipotent and just and good, and expected the
same of His people, except for the omnipotence. But expected obedience or
he would punish His people. And the Old Testament is
full of really nasty stories where God would
punish His people. In the book of
Exodus, he makes them drink gold and die from it. He curses them with plagues,
just punishes them really nasty ways from time to time. Now, there are three aspects
of the Jewish religion in antiquity. There’s the
covenant, the promise that God made Abraham the
Jews believe they still live under this covenant. This promise of, obey me
and I will be your God and you’ll be my people. There is the law. In fact, it’s
known as the Torah, the books of Genesis,
Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Then there are the prophets,
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel,
Amos, so on and so forth. And these prophets interpreted,
or claimed to have interpreted, the will of God. And then there’s
Charlton Heston, right? You know the old movie? OK. 10 Commandments. Notices he’s been doing
his tricep workout. Yeah, I just thought
that picture was awesome. And this is the Torah. This is actually looks today. This is a very old copy. In fact, this copy
is on parchment and it would be rolled
out in a scroll. And so this copy of the
first five books of the Bible is very old, and it would be
used in a synagogue today. And again, it tells the story
of Abraham and his descendants and how they would be faithful
and how they sometimes screwed up. I mean, Abraham, for
example, told the pharaoh, hey, you can sleep with my wife. And apparently, he
was punished for that. There’s all kinds of
just interesting stories. They just continue
to do stupid things, and they get punished,
or whatever, a plague. Yeah. I wish I had more time to
tell you about the Assyrians, but briefly, these are
the most warlike people. These were the dark empire,
the evil ones, if you will. They were great conquerors. They developed a well
organized military machine. They had a very large
army that was well organized with chariots
and iron weapons, that modern technology. They could take down walled
cities with masked ladders, or sappers digging
tunnels under walls. They also often laid siege to
cities and starved them out. And they used terrorism
to often cause cities to surrender without a fight. They built up a large empire,
including Mesopotamia, parts of Iran, Asia
Minor, Syria, Palestine, and of course, even Egypt. Those poor guys, always
getting conquered. The Assyrians built
a mighty empire. But nothing compared to the
Persian Empire, because you see, the unfortunate
reality is that if you’re going to be this bad
of people, you’re going to make people very upset. In fact, eventually, the
Medes and the Persians rebelled against the Assyrian
Empire and overthrew them. Well, because they were
pretty nasty people. This is an inscription
from a very ancient drawing of the Syrian people, how
they would pile up the heads and count the dead. They would force the slaves, who
were their conquered enemies, to grind up the bodies
of the defeated, I don’t know, for
consumption or what. Here’s a relief for a
carving in stone of one of the famous kings
of these Syrians, Ashurbanipal, killing
a lion with a spear. This would be a handy
piece of propaganda. If you’re going to rule the most
warlike and bloodthirsty people on earth, you better be a
badass yourself, just saying. And briefly, this just
depicts aspects of war. You see the ladders
here they could use. You see the tunnelers could
use, shields they developed, which could resist arrows and
all kinds of nasty things. So these people
fell to the Persians under Cyrus the
Great, who became King of the Persian Empire. Was known for his
wisdom and compassion and had a reputation for mercy. In fact, he was
the one who allowed the Jews to return to their
home and rebuild the temple and said, believe whatever
you want to believe. That’s not my concern. In fact, under one of
his later successors, Darius, the Persian Empire
became the largest of its time, developed an effective system
of government, unified people, even had an interstate highway
system called the Royal Road. But of course, I just
wanted to remind you these people did come to
power through conquest, as you see here. But yet, once they
conquered, they had a reputation for
tolerance and peace, as you can see
from this picture. This is an example of cuneiform. In fact, this inscription
contains the Code of Hammurabi, the oldest form of law. But I wanted to talk
briefly about how the empire was divided. You see, the emperor Cyrus
established an effective system of government, 20
different provinces, each ruled by the
governor, called a sat rep. And each of these
governors, effectively, governed their state as an
independent political unit. Each of these governors
would collect the taxes from their people and would
distribute their share to the central government,
would command and raise armies, if necessary, for
the defense of the empire. But each of these provinces
were united by this Royal Road. And all people, no matter
which province you belonged to, were considered subjects
of the Persian Empire. The empire itself had a standing
professional army of units organized by 10,000. Again, here’s an inscription
of one of these Persian kings. Unlike Ashurbanipal killing
a lion with a spear, this man is seen in a much more
kindly and beneficent stature. I wanted to show you an
example of a Persian gold coin. In fact, this has Cyrus’s
image inscribed on it, dating back from
the 5th century BC. And speaking of tolerance,
under a tolerant ruler, you have new ideas. And one of these new
ideas was Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism is a
belief that life consist of a cosmic struggle
between good and evil, and that humans are given
free will and the power to choose between
right and wrong. And guess what? That a soul is judged by
a single monotheistic god, according to their
deeds in life. In fact, Zoroastrianism,
the prophet lived in 660 BC. Judaism was formalized by the
Torah’s written form in 350 BC. This guy heavily influenced
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. So for example, where did
the concept of good and evil come from? Ask Zoroaster. Where did the concept
of monotheism come from? Was it these oral
traditions that were eventually formalized
during the Babylonian captivity in 350 BC? Or was it the
predecessor Zoroaster? How about the concept of the
judgment in an afterlife? Does that originally come
from the Book of Revelation, written in AD 90, or would
it have originated here in 660 BCE? There’s a picture of
Zoroaster, strutting his stuff.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *