Part One – MAN IN ADOLESCENCE
It begins with the origin of man. Creation myths survive from around the world which claim man was seeded on the Earth through supernatural intervention, best expressed in the west through the Creation Account in Genesis. This was popularly believed until recent times. But now evolution has replaced the supernatural.
Fundamental to modern man is our close genetic relationship to the apes. We shared a common ancestor about ten million years ago, with man entering a separate lineage three to four million years ago. This was Australopithecus Afarensis, or southern ape, bipedalism beginning to show (i.e. walking on two legs), allowing us to evolve dextrous forelimbs for manipulation of our environment.
Evidence of Australopithecus Afarensis came from Ethiopia, including the female skeleton, Lucy, from 3.5 million years ago. He disappears about 1.7 million years ago, replaced by homo habilis, meaning ‘man the toolmaker.’ Thought to be the first clearly human ancestor, fossil evidence has been found in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, although some experts would differ from this human classification. With a rounded skull with enlarged brain, he has a more human face. Rudimentary stone tools have been found close to his remains.
About the same time, a progression – homo erectus – appeared in Asia, but this may have been an off-shoot of the evolutionary line, wiped out by competition from modern man or catastrophe such as a meteor collision. But the remains of an approximately 12 year old boy found at Nariokotome, Kenya, dated to 1.7 million years ago, is only slightly different from a modern boy.
And soon we have the first appearance of Homo sapiens, or ‘man the thinker.’ He had a great advantage in his technology. Australopithecus Afarensis could only survive in warm climates, as in Africa. Home sapiens went on to fashion clothing, fire and shelter, allowing him to move out of Africa, to colder climes.
There are two theories for the dispersal of Homo sapiens throughout the world. The first argues that he appeared independently in different regions, but the most accepted theory is the Out-of-Africa model, where he moved out of the continent approximately 125,000 years ago.
In Europe he is first known as Neanderthal Man, named after the discovery of his skeleton in the Neander Valley near Dusseldorf in 1856. He could think; he ritually buried his dead, suggesting religious forms. But being short and stocky, he wasn’t fully modern. But 35,000 years ago another migration began. This was Cro-Magnon Man, a skeleton found in the Cro-Magnon cave of Les Eyzies in the Dordogne in 1868.
First appearing in Africa 100,000 years ago, he was fully modern, and with his appearance, Neanderthal Man disappears. And soon man went on to develop his technology, culture and agriculture.
Two million years ago our ancestors lived on the African savannas. A small, frail species it is doubtful he hunted, having a stable diet of seeds and berries, and a little meat scavenged from the remains of food killed by larger carnivores. This lifestyle required cunning, and it was most likely this trait that led to our ascendancy.
His hands were becoming increasingly dexterous and, walking erect, he used stone, bone and wood to dig, cut and pulverise. Interestingly, no weapons have been found from this period – only tools, fashioned by chipping one stone with another, leading to the chipped hand-axe a million years ago as his migrations began.
In these harsh climates early man would shelter in caves, yet sites at Terra Amata in France and Kostenki in Russia show temporary shelters made of Brushwood, early use of fire and rudimentary tools as early as 400,000BC. The Zhoukoudian caves in Beijing show definite use of fire from about 500,000BC, and also evidence of Homo Erectus (here dubbed Peking Man) using tools as early as 700,000BC.
Evidence of weapons for hunting appears about 200,000BC, yet by 35,000BC modern man in Europe was using engineered tools and weapons such as knives, spearheads and harpoons of bone, fishhooks and even musical instruments such as flutes. Spiritual life was also present, evidenced by cave art and rudimentary statuary.
Up to about l0,000BC, when the last ice age ended, man was nomadic, following the herds for food. Females gathered and males scrounged and hunted. But as the Agricultural Revolution began man slowly left his hunter/gatherer existence. As the glaciers retreated they cultivated farming stock and arable land. This was arguably helped by the hunting to extinction of the great herds, forcing them to change their habits.
BIRTH OF AGRICULTURE
By 8,000BC static village communities appear, enabled by the harnessing of wild plant species such as wheat, rice and maize to sustained, organised growth in fields. Combined with the domestication of cattle, sheep and pigs, the farmer came into being, producing wool, milk and meat, further advancing by adapting livestock to beasts of burden. Spiritual life seems to have become endemic to this process, deities representing natural elements such as wind, and taking on seasonal aspects. The movement of the sun-god told them when to plant and harvest, mingling with early science to build wood and then stone henges.
This gave power to priesthood through knowledge, and as transportation improved, villages grouped together forming large scale communities with a dual leadership of priest and chief.
In the Fertile Crescent of the eastern Mediterranean additional problems had to be faced. Farming began in the foothills, but with few trees, stone building began. This required a greater engineering and administrative skill, with more advanced villages appearing about 7000BC, creating the first known towns.
Two of these were Jericho in the Jordan Valley and Catal Huyuk in Turkey. First settled around 9000BC, Jericho housed 2,000 people by 7000BC. It had a circular stone tower in its centre with a stone wall and ditch for defence. Stone bowls and clay ovens were used, and several shrines have been found.
Catal Huyuk was larger. With tighter packed houses, it had less defences and homes were entered through the roof. Jewellery, mirrors, frescos and woven materials have been found here in abundance, suggesting it was the centre of a long distance trading network.
THE BIRTH OF TRADE
The lifeblood of such towns was the closeness of running water – rivers – for agriculture. But the size of the supply limited growth. Hence, by 5000BC Catal Huyuk was abandoned, the people moving down from the foothills to the plains, especially between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in present Iraq. Known as Mesopotamia, seasonal floods led to great mythologies and immense engineering skills, combining irrigation for the fields with ways of diverting flood waters.
Although securing water for agriculture, these advanced communities lacked essential raw materials, so trading on a large scale began with smaller communities. This increased their wealth, and urbanisation began proper.
By 4000BC copper ore was mined in places like Timna in Israel, leading to metallurgy, producing ornaments, tools and weaponry of superior quality. This was the prime factor of advancement, soon entering the Bronze Age with the mixing of copper and tin, and, by 1200BC, the Iron Age.
Trade and increasing social complexity required better forms of communication. Hence, by 3000BC writing was well established. Memory was no longer enough for recording trade or myth.
Scratches and knots were used as recording methods as early as 6000BC, but now hieroglyphics appeared. This led to cuneiform, a series of geometric shapes forming representative language on clay tablets, scribed by split reeds. Used by the Sumerians by 2500BC, structure was formed with an early alphabet. By 600BC the ancient Greeks had turned this into an alphabet we can understand today.
As these advances were on-going, the veil of pre-history was slowly being drawn back, and in its wake came an explosion of human experience.
In the previous chapter we saw how agriculture, trade, metallurgy, stonemasonry and writing led to accelerated advancement towards urbanisation in the Fertile Crescent. The process also occurred in the Nile delta and by the Indus and Yellow rivers. However, the Fertile Crescent became the cradle of western civilisation, known as Mesopotamia, meaning between the rivers.
Cities first appeared here around 3500BC. The best known was Uruk in the south. Covering 250 acres with at least a 50,000 population, a 9 mile wall surrounded it and at its centre were a number of towers known as ziggurats.
GODS AND CULTURE
The home of the Sumerians, Uruk was the centre of mythology turned into organised religion, later adapted by the Akkadians with the sky god Anu heading a trinity with Enlil, god of storms and Ea, god of water. Inanna, daughter of Anu, was goddess of war, love and fertility. Her sister, Ereshkigal, was goddess of death, whom her sister visits but comes back to life.
This set the standard for most mythologies, a trinity of gods ruling the elements, with a female fertility goddess who often visits death, representing the death and rebirth of yearly agriculture.
Finally written – almost certainly from much earlier oral tradition – as an epic poem in cuneiform on 12 clay tablets about 1200BC, Gilgamesh now appears; a half divine, half human king who battles with Enkidu to attain immortality.
He fails, realising his arrogance and that man must die, but do great work in life.
The Epic of Gilgamesh makes a king a god, allowing great authority, and giving a spiritual dimension to the need to obey your king and work. A heroic story that was to be repeated in many different cultural forms, it was the first great political tract.
FROM SYMBOL TO EMPIRE
Writing and stonemasonry represented this purpose through the symbol, anchoring society into a common purpose, with morality offering guidance. With such a myth to go alongside agriculture and technology, Uruk became the first known city-state based on a social hierarchy of masters, priests and worker/warriors.
Agriculture now provided a surplus, leading to wealth in the ruling class. Trade exploded, disputes settled with conflict. Armies first appeared to protect the crop, but now the idea of standing armies and empire grew. And Uruk was the centre of this first empire, similarities in statuary during the period suggesting it traded as far as Iran, Asia Minor (Turkey) and into India.
EMPIRES COME AND GO
By 2350BC the Akkadians under their leader, Sargon, had infiltrated the south from northern Mesopotamia, infiltrating Sumerian culture and creating an empire around the still undiscovered city of Akkad in central Mesopotamia.
Sargon ruled for forty four years, his empire moving into Syria and eastern Asia, his dynasty lasting for nearly a century before revolts led to a rebirth of the Sumerian empire based around Ur. A small, strongly bureaucratic empire, it lasted until about 2100BC, but eventually gave in to the pressure of migrations of Semitic-speaking peoples from the far north.
The Akkadians had been the first of the Semitic language speakers to take power, and later migrants would include the future Arabic and Hebrew. But now came successive periods of control from differing peoples including the Elamites from Iran, Amorites from Syria, the Assyrians, and the Hittites from modern-day Turkey, until finally the city of Babylon rose to power.
BIRTH OF BABYLON
Facing pressure in the north from further migrations, Babylon rose in the south, under the Amorite King Sumu-abum in 1894BC. The great Babylonian king Hammurabi appears by 1750BC, at first a warrior, but guaranteeing Babylonian ascendancy for a millennium by use of administration, if not Hammurabi’s dynasty. Stopping the Assyrians, the empire spread, taking rising cities such as Nineveh.
Central to Hammurabi’s rule was Hammurabi’s Law, found inscribed on a column in Susa in 1901, and codifying for the first time absolute rules for a high society, detailing not only criminal law but civic and family law, such as rules for wages and divorce. Representation of the people also appeared, with local notables having a say, but the laws propelled Babylon towards the modern with its importance on property. This was identified as the rock bed of society, and the trade it caused. Slavery was essential to such wealth creation, and waring had the additional advantage of providing more slaves, thus increasing wealth.
BABYLON’S ROCKY RIDE
The first Babylonian empire ended about 1595BC, Babylon sacked by the Hittites, migrating from Turkey, and bringing weaponry based on iron. This was more advanced than the Amorite Babylonians, allowing them to establish an empire that lasted until attacks by unknown Aegean sea raiders about 1200BC.
Into this chaos came the Aramaens, bringing their language, Aramaic, and the Elamites, who sacked Babylon in 1158BC. Babylon rallied and defeated the Elamites, Nebuchadnezzar I briefly reinvigorating the Babylonian Empire. However, a dark age then settled upon the region, lasting until 900BC when Assyria became a growing influence, Shalmaneser III extending the empire from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf.
In 853BC armies from Damascus, Israel, Arabia and Egypt opposed him at the Battle of Qarqar, halting the expansion, but Sargon II moved the Assyrians into Syria and Palestine by 705BC.
Expansion had caused many revolts. Sennacherib, becoming king in 704BC, tried to keep the empire together, but the Chaldeans now exerted influence around Babylon. In 6O4BC, Nebuckadnazzer II became the Chaldean Babylonian king, defeating the Assyrians and bringing Syria into the empire. Going on to engage the Egyptians, Babylonians also went on to control Jerusalem.
BIRTH OF PERSIA
Babylon itself underwent a Renaissance. Massive rebuilding began, including the Hanging Gardens, making Babylon the largest city in the known world. The Temple of Marduk, a huge ziggurat, was built, thought to be the source of the Biblical Tower of Babel. However, Indo-European migrations began into the region from the Caucasus, settling in Iran.
Known as the Medes, their empire went on to stretch from the Caspian Sea to India. In the 6th century BC, Cyrus the Great formed the Achaemenid dynasty which expanded into the Fertile Crescent subjugating the Assyrians and ending the Babylonian Empire, capturing Babylon in 539BC.
By 533BC Cyrus had formed the Persian Empire, hammering on the doors of India and Asia Minor. Eventually from the west came the mighty ancient Greeks. But before telling that story, we must look to another civilization, along the banks of the Nile.
Ancient Egypt was a land of mystery. The home of the great pyramids, raising architecture to wondrous proportions – the people who could raise armies to make the world shudder – they were nonetheless a primitive, peasant country throughout the period, living in mud huts and only achieving subsistence farming.
Building was restricted to great temples, never devising cities as in the eastern Mediterranean, the wealth and splendour being restricted to a tiny ruling class. And it was all to do with geography.
The area was populated by semi-nomadic peoples who turned to agriculture about 6000BC. At the time, Egypt was a long, narrow country, huddled on the banks of the Nile. The Nile flooded annually, and an uneasy relationship developed, reflected in their mythology.
The Earth was a bank of ground surrounded by dangerous waters. These were represented by the father of the gods, Nun. From Nun arose the sky Goddess, Nut, portrayed as a woman astride Egypt on her hands and knees. The sun was the god, Atum, entering Nut’s mouth at night and being reborn each morning through her womb.
Into this mythology strode Osiris, god of agriculture, rebirth and death, and his son, Horus. A pharaoh was Horus when alive, and became Osiris upon death. Life and death were embodied in the same person, yet whereas life was temporary, death was eternal.
Hence, the Books of the Dead, the fascination for mummification, elaborate tombs – the Egyptians were infatuated with death, and thus overpowered the importance of life and denied any possibility of real advancement. Egypt was quite simply a cult of the dead.
This aside, we know a lot about Egyptian history because of their hieroglyphics and monument building. Beginning with the Pre-Dynastic Period, ancient Egypt is split into the Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, New Kingdom and the Late Period, interspersed by three Intermediate Periods.
This time scale is split into some 30 dynasties. During the first Pre-Dynastic Period we find the Upper and Lower Kingdoms. In about 3100BC, Menes, king of Upper Egypt, subjugated the Lower Kingdom, building Memphis as capital, about 12 miles from present day Cairo. Beginning the Old Kingdom, hieroglyphics, stonemasonry and metallurgy began to appear.
Most of the pyramids were built during this time, beginning with the stepped pyramid at Saqqara, built by the high priest Imhotep for the pharaoh, Zoser. Around 2589-2566BC Khufu had the Great Pyramid of Giza built.
This was the height of Royal power, the Pharaoh being a god, but by 2200BC local governors gained influence, the country descending into a number of petty kingdoms.
The pyramids were forgotten, tombs becoming rock-cut. Into this decline, the Nile became low, suddenly useless for irrigating the land, bringing famine. The First Intermediate Period began.
COMINGS AND GOINGS
The chaos was increased by Libyan migrants from the west, but as Thebes grew in power, the Libyans were expelled and the petty kingdoms subjugated, bringing about the renaissance of craftsmanship that was the Middle Kingdom.
Land reclamation schemes expanded Egypt, further accelerated by the conquest of Nubia to the south, bringing an abundance of gold. However migrations of the Semitic Hyksos caused the Second Intermediate Period. By 1550BC the New Kingdom had been instituted by the death of pharaoh, Kamose, the Thebans kicking out the Hyksos, but their ideas had by then become entrenched.
Materially, this brought the wheel and Bronze Age to Egypt. But it also caused a change in consciousness. Under Thutmose III, and reaching its height under Amenhotep III, Egyptians thought of political and trading expansion.
Building the temple of Karnak and thinking in terms of the sun god as a single deity – for a period under Akhenaton, Tutankhamun’s father, there was a cult of the One God – Egyptian armies moved out in all directions under a number of warrior pharaohs. This expansion came to a height under Rameses II when he fought the indecisive Battle of Kadesh against the Hittites in 1274BC.
Agreeing to respect each other’s territory, Egypt moved south in search of further gold for its rejuvenated monumental projects. These included the huge seated stone figures at Thebes known as the Colossi of Memnon. However, by 1050BC Rameses III failed to hold back pressures from inside and outside Egypt, leading to the Third Intermediate Period.
Conquests and monument building had led to economic down turn, internal civil unrest became rife, including the first known industrial action by workers. Raids by the unknown ‘peoples of the sea’ caused instability, and Libyans again began infiltrations, but peaceably this time, leading them to establish their own dynasty from 930-730BC. Egypt had been lost to the Egyptians, an Egyptian rarely again becoming leader, the country ruled by Ethiopians, Persians and, from 333BC, the Greeks, whose last leader, Cleopatra, lost Egypt to the Romans in 30BC.
Ancient Greece …..