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Ancient Egypt: Pharaohs, Pyramids, Hieroglyphs, and Everything Else

Ancient Egypt, centered in North Africa in the Nile Delta, is arguably the most powerful and influential civilization of the ancient world. Its political structure, language, religious traditions, and philosophy dominated the Bronze Age and continued during its long twilight in the Iron Age until it was conquered upstart Mediterranean powers.

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The name ‘Egypt’ itself is a multi-lingual journey that tells of its influence on nearby cultures. “Egypt” comes from the Greek work Aegyptos,  the Greek pronunciation of the ancient Egyptian name ‘Hwt-Ka-Ptah’ (“Mansion of the Spirit of Ptah”), the original name of the city of Memphis.

Click here to see more posts in this category. Scroll down to read more about Ancient Egypt or click below to read up on specific topics.

Ancient Egypt: Timeline

(See main article: Ancient Egypt Timeline: From the Pre-Dynastic to the Late Periods)

Period

Date

Dynasty

Important People

Important Events

Late Predynastic 3100 BC – 2950 BC 0 Menes North and south Egypt united
Hieroglyphic writing developed
Early Dynastic 2950 BC – 2575 BC 1 Menes
Imhotep
Dzoser
Memphis capital of Egypt
First writing on papyrus
First pyramid built – step pyramid at Sakkara (Saqqara)
2
3
Old Kingdom 2575 BC – 2150 BC 4 Sneferu
Khufu (Cheops)
Sahure
Pepi I
Pepi II
Great pyramids and sphinx at Giza built
Sun God Ra worshipped at Heliopolis Mummification first used
Trade for cedar wood
Noblemen became more important
Pharaohs had less power
Fall of government at Memphis
5
6
7
8
First Intermediate Period 2150 BC – 1975 BC 9 Achthoes Book of the Dead created
Rebellions against the Pharaoh
Drought and famine caused by low rainfall
10
Middle Kingdom 1975BC – 1640 BC 11 Mentuhotep
Amenemhet
North and south Egypt reunited capital Thebes
Lower Nubia conquered
12
13
14
Second Intermediate Period 1640 BC – 1520 BC 15 Khyan Hyksos tribe took over north Egypt
Horse drawn chariot introduced
16
17
New Kingdom 1520 BC – 1075 BC 18 Ahmose I
Hatshepsut
Akhenaten
Nefertiti
Tutankhamen
Rameses I
Rameses II
Rameses III
Hyksos people expelled from Egypt
Hatshepsut first female Pharaoh
Temple at Karnak built
Valley of the kings used as burial site
Capital moved to Memphis
19
20
Third Intermediate Period 1075 BC – 715 BC 21 Shoshenk I Egypt divided again northern capital Tanis, southern capital Thebes
Shoshenk reunited Egypt
Egypt lost control of Israel and Lebanon
22
23
24
Late Period 715 BC – 332 BC 25 Nephrites I Egypt invaded by Libyans and Assyrians
Persians conquered Egypt
Alexander the Great conquered Egypt for Greece 332BC
26
27
28
29
30
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Ancient Egypt: Social Classes and Society

(See Main Article: Egyptian Social Classes and Society)

The ancient Egyptian people were grouped in a hierarchical system with the Pharaoh at the top and farmers and slaves at the bottom. Egyptian social classes had some porous borders but they were largely fixed and clearly delineated, not unlike the medieval feudal system. Clearly, the groups of people nearest the top of society were the richest and most powerful.

The Pharaoh was believed to be a God on earth and had the most power. He was responsible for making laws and keeping order, ensuring that ancient Egypt was not attacked or invaded by enemies and for keeping the Gods happy so that the Nile flooded and there was a good harvest.

The Vizier was the Pharaoh’s chief advisor and was sometimes also the High Priest. He was responsible for overseeing administration and all official documents had to have his seal of approval. He was also responsible for the supply of food, settling disputes between nobles and the running and protection of the Pharaoh’s household.

Nobles ruled the regions of Egypt (Nomes). They were responsible for making local laws and keeping order in their region.

Priests were responsible for keeping the Gods happy. They did not preach to people but spent their time performing rituals and ceremonies to the God of their temple.

Scribes were the only people who could read and write and were responsible for keeping records. The ancient Egyptians recorded things such as how much food was produced at harvest time, how many soldiers were in the army, numbers of workers and the number of gifts given to the Gods.

Soldiers were responsible for the defense of the country. Many second sons, including those of the Pharaoh often chose to join the army. Soldiers were allowed to share riches captured from enemies and were also rewarded with land for their service to the country.

Craftsmen were skilled workers such as – pottery makers, leatherworkers, sculptors, painters, weavers, jewelry makers, shoe makers, tailors. Groups of craftsmen often worked together in workshops.

Farmers worked the land of the Pharaoh and nobles and were given housing, food and clothes in return.

Some farmers rented land from nobles and had to pay a percentage of their crop as their rent.

There were no slave markets or auctions in Ancient Egypt. Slaves were usually prisoners captured in war. Slaves could be found in the households of the Pharaoh and nobles, working in mines and quarries and also in temples.

Ancient Egypt:  Houses

(See main article: Ancient Egyptian Houses: Domiciles From Pharaohs to Farmers)

Ancient Egyptian houses and their architectural styles were influenced by the environment, the wealth of their inhabitants, and the size of their household.

There are no forests in Egyept so wood is scarce and is not used for house building. The earliest inhabitants of ancient Egypt lived in huts made from papyrus reeds. However, it was soon discovered that the mud left behind after the annual flooding of the Nile (inundation) could be made into bricks which could be used for building. Bricks were made by mixing mud and straw and leaving them to dry in the sun.

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The ancient Egyptian houses of the poorest people used one row of bricks while those that were not so poor used two or three rows. Although mud brick houses were relatively cheap to make, they were not very strong and began to crumble after a few years.

The ancient Egyptian houses of the richest people were stronger because they could afford to build their home from stone.

Most houses had at least three rooms and all houses had flat roofs which formed part of the living area.

The farmhouse (above) has two floors. The upper floor is used for living space while the lower floor is used to store crops. A reed canopy has been made on the roof to provide shade.

Small windows can be seen at the top of the upper rooms. Windows and doors were covered with reed mats to keep out dust, flies and heat.

Egyptian Villa

The ancient Egyptian houses of the rich were often built around a central courtyard where flowers, fruit and vegetables were grown.

Some rich people’s houses had bathrooms and indoor toilets. Sewerage from rich and poor was disposed of by digging cess pits, throwing it in the river or in the streets.

From the time of the New Kingdom onwards, the rich generally had their own private well for fresh drinking water. Poorer people could use public wells that were constructed in various areas, however, many used water from the Nile or canals.

The Ancient Egyptians did not have much furniture. The most common item of furniture was a low stool, although many people, especially the poor sat on the floor. Rich people had beds and mattresses, while poorer people slept on a straw mattress or rug on the floor. The Ancient Egyptians did not have cupboards but stored things in reed baskets.

Ancient Egypt: Food

(See main article: Ancient Egyptian Food: Dining Like a Pharoah)

Egyptian food is surprisingly diverse considering the arid landscape from which it came. Although Ancient Egypt is a hot, desert country where the lack of water makes it difficult to grow crops and raise animals, the annual flooding of the river Nile (inundation) between the months of June and September made the Nile Valley one of the most fertile areas of the ancient world.

When the river flooded, mud and silt was deposited onto the surrounding area. This soil was rich and fertile and made good farming land. The main crops grown were wheat and barley.

ancient egyptian food

Wheat was made into bread which was one of the main ancient Egyptian foods eaten by both rich and poor ancient Egyptians. The picture (right) shows the bread-making process.

First the grain was made into flour. It was then made into dough with water and yeast which was placed into a clay mould before being cooked in a stone oven.

Barley was used to make beer. The barley was combined with yeast and made into a dough which was part-baked in a stone oven. It was then crumbled into a large vat, mixed with water and allowed to ferment before being flavoured with dates or honey. Recent evidence suggests that barley malt may also have been used in the process.

Beer was drank by both rich and poor.

Wine made from grapes, pomegranates and plums was enjoyed by the rich.

Ancient Egyptians hunting

The ancient Egyptian food of the rich included meat – (beef, goat, mutton), fish from the Nile (perch, catfish, mullet) or poultry (goose, pigeon, duck, heron, crane) on a daily basis. Poor Egyptians only ate meat on special occasions but ate fish and poultry more often.

The picture (above) shows ancient Egyptians hunting for fish and birds in the reeds that grew on the banks of the Nile.

Meat, fish and poultry was roasted or boiled. It was flavoured with salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, sesame, dill and fennel.

Meat, fish and poultry that was not eaten quickly was preserved by salting or drying.

A variety of vegetables were grown and eaten by the ancient Egyptians including onions, leeks, garlic, beans, lettuce, lentils, cabbages, radishes and turnips.

Fruit including dates, figs, plums and melons were eaten for dessert.

Ancient Egypt: Clothing

(See main article: Egyptian Clothing: Pharoahs to Commoners)

Egyptian clothing was made from locally-sourced materials—as were clothes from all ancient societies. Pastoral nomads created clothing from their livestock. AS one of the earliest agricultural societies,  the ancient Egyptians wore light clothes made from linen. Linen is made from flax – a plant which was grown along the Nile.

Once harvested, the flax was soaked in water until soft. The softened flax was then separated into fibres which were beaten before being spun into thread which was then woven into cloth.

All men wore a wrap-round skirt that was tied at the waist with a belt. Sometimes the material was wrapped around the legs as well. The length of the skirt varied depending on the fashion of the time – in the time of the Old Kingdom they were short while in the Middle Kingdom they were calf length. During the New Kingdom period it was fashionable to wear a pleated garment.

Clothing rich male Egyptian

Rich Egyptian men were able to afford the best quality linen which was very fine and almost see-through. Rich Egyptian men also wore as much jewellery as they could afford and decorated their clothes. They also wore headdresses for special occasions.

Egyptian women wore full length straight dresses with one or two shoulder straps. During the New Kingdom period it became fashionable for dresses to be pleated or draped. The dresses worn by rich Egyptian women were made from fine transparent linen. Like the men, rich Egyptian women decorated their clothes and wore jewellery and headdresses.

Ancient Egyptian children did not wear clothes until they were about six years old when they would wear the same clothes as men and women.

The Ancient Egyptians went barefoot most of the time but wore sandals for special occasions or if their feet were likely to get hurt.

The sandals worn by the poor were made of woven papyrus or palm while those worn by the rich were made of leather.

The picture shows the various styles of sandals worn.

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The Ancient Egyptians wore jewelry to show their wealth and also because they believed it made them more attractive to the Gods.

They wore rings, ear-rings, bracelets, decorated buttons, necklaces, neck collars and pendants.

Only the very rich could afford jewelry made of gold and precious stones. Ordinary people made jewelry from coloured pottery beads.

Ancient Egypt Make up

Egyptian men and women wore make up.

They used black kohl eyeliner to line their eyes and darken their eye lashes and eye brows. They coloured their eye lids with blue or green eye shadow made from powdered minerals.

Henna dye was used to color their lips and nails.

Ancient Egypt: Farming

(See main article: Egyptian Farming: Agriculture in the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms)

Egyptian farming was the bedrock of the ancient civilization, far more important than symbolic feats such as constructing massive pyramids. One of the reasons why the Ancient Egyptian civilization was so successful was the fact that they were able to farm the fertile soil around the Nile and produce their own food and cloth. The river Nile is the longest river in the World. The source of the river is in Burundi in Central Africa, it then flows through Sudan, Ethiopia and Ancient Egypt and empties into the Mediterranean sea.

During the early summer months the mountain region of Ethiopia experiences periods of heavy monsoon rainfall which increase the water level of the Nile causing it to flood in Egypt between June and September. The Egyptians call this the inundation. In 1889 work began on a dam to prevent the annual flood. The first Aswan dam was opened in 1902 but it proved to be insufficient and had to be raised twice in 1907–1912 and 1929–1933. In 1960 work began on a second dam, the Aswan High Dam which, since its opening in 1970 has prevented further floods.

The Inundation (Akhet) June to September

egyptian farming

When the river Nile flooded, water, mud and silt from the river was washed up over the river banks creating a fertile growing area. During the period of the flood the Egyptian farmers spent time mending and making tools and looking after the animals. Many farmers also worked for the pharaoh during this time building pyramids and temples.

Growing (Peret) October to February

Ancient Egypt plough

As soon as the flood began to recede the Ancient Egyptians ploughed the soil ready for sowing. They had hand ploughs or larger ones that were pulled by oxen.

Seeds were then sown into the newly ploughed soil. Goats and other animals then walked over the fields to push the seeds into the ground.

Crops grown included wheat, barley, flax, onions, leeks, garlic, beans, lettuce, lentils, cabbages, radishes, turnips, grapes, figs, plums and melons.

Harvest (Shemu) March to May

Ancient Egypt harvest

Grain was cut using a sickle. The cut grain was then tied into bundles and carried away.

Wheat was made into bread, barley was made into beer and flax was made into linen cloth.

Papyrus reeds that grew naturally along the banks of the Nile were used to make sandals, boats, baskets, mats and paper.

Fruit and vegetables were harvested when they ripened.

Cattle, goats, sheep, pigs, ducks, goats, and oxen were raised by farmers for their meat, milk, hides and also to help with Egyptian farming.

Ancient Egypt: Pyramids

(See main article: Pyramids: The Capstone of Pharaohic Power)

The Egyptian Pyramids are more than a massive tombstone for deceased pharaohs. The Ancient Egyptians believed that when a pharaoh died he became Osiris, the king of the dead. They believed that for the dead pharaoh to carry out his duties as king of the dead his ka (soul or spirit) which remained with the body, had to be looked after. The pyramid was in effect a manner of housing for the departed ruler.

egyptian pyramids

 

In order for the ka to survive, the dead pharaoh’s body was mummified and buried with all the things it would need for the afterlife.

This picture shows a funeral procession. The mummified pharaoh’s body is being carried to the tomb along with all the things that will be placed in the tomb for the ka – statues, furniture, pottery and the pharaoh’s favourite possessions.

Step Pyramid

The first Egyptian pyramid to be built was the Step Pyramid at Sakkara (Saqqara). It was built by Imhotep for the king Djoser.

The step pyramid was originally intended to be a large square mustaba (tomb) built over an underground burial chamber but further extensions were added making a six-layered step pyramid 62 metres in height.

Pharaoh’s continued to be buried in Egyptian pyramids until the end of the Middle Kingdom 1650BC when they began to be buried in tombs in the Valley of the Kings.

Giza Pyramids
About 100 Egyptian pyramids have been discovered in Egypt but the largest and most well known are the pyramids at Giza, near Cairo.

This picture shows the Great Pyramid, also know as Khufu’s Pyramid and Pyramid of Cheops (right), and the Pyramid of Khafre (above).

The Great pyramid is the largest pyramid and stands 146 metres high.

Pyramid Building
The Egyptian pyramids were built by skilled workers who were paid a wage. Farmers were often drafted to help with pyramid construction during the flood season.

There are many theories about how the Ancient Egyptians actually built the pyramids. It is believed that large blocks of stone were transported along the river Nile to the Giza site. They were then moved into place using sledges and ramps.

Great Pyramid Diagram

The entrance to the Great Pyramid leads to a descending passage about 1 metre wide and 1.2 metres high. The passage is at a 26 degree angle and leads to the subterranean chamber. It is believed that the subterranean chamber was either a false burial chamber to fool tomb robbers or that the king changed his mind about his final resting place.

An ascending passage, with the same dimensions as the descending passage leads upwards to the Grand Gallery. Another horizontal passage leads to the Queen’s chamber. The Queen’s chamber was never finished, the floor is uneven and the walls undecorated. It is believed that this was initially to be the king’s chamber but that the passage was too low and narrow for the king’s sarcophagus and was abandoned.

The Grand Gallery which leads directly to the King’s chamber is 48 metres long and 8.5 metres high. The King’s Chamber is 5.2 metres x 10.8 metres and 5.8 metres high. The inside of the chamber is polished pink granite. A granite sarcophagus is inside the chamber and this would have been where the king’s mummified body would have been placed.

Great Pyramid passage

One of the Great Pyramid passages as it looks today.

Ancient Egypt: Mummies

(See main article: Mummies in Ancient Egypt and the Process of Mummification)

The Ancient Egyptians believed that when a person died they made a journey to the next world. They believed that in order to live in the next world their body had to be preserved. A preserved body is called a mummy. While elaborate versions of this practice were only reserved for the highest levels of Egyptian society, mummification was a cornerstone of Egyptian religion.

After death a body begins to decompose. In order to prevent a body from decomposing it is necessary to deprive the tissues of moisture and oxygen.

The earliest Egyptians buried their dead in shallow pits in the desert. The hot, dry sand quickly removed moisture from the dead body and created a natural mummy. However, the Egyptians discovered that if the body was first placed in a coffin, it would not be preserved.

In order to ensure that the body was preserved the Ancient Egyptians began to use a process called mummification to produce their mummies. This involved embalming the body and then wrapping it in thin strips of linen.

Mummification

mummies

The mummification process took around 70 days and involved the following steps:

1. The body was washed

2. A cut was made on the left side of the abdomen and the internal organs – intestines, liver, lungs, stomach, were removed. The heart, which the Ancient Egyptians believed to be the centre of emotion and intelligence, was left in the body for use in the next life.

3. A hooked instrument was used to remove the brain through the nose. The brain was not considered to be important and was thrown away.

4. The body and the internal organs were packed with natron salt for forty days to remove all moisture.

Canopic Jars picture taken by photo Nina Aldin Thune

5. The dried organs were wrapped in linen and placed in canopic jars. The lid of each jar was shaped to represent one of Horus’ four sons. The picture (above) taken by Nina Aldin Thune shows from left to right –

Imsety, who had a human head – guardian of the liver
Hapy, who had the head of a baboon – guardian of the lungs
Qebehsenuf, who had the head of a falcon – guardian of the intestines
Duamatef, who had the head of a jackal – guardian of the stomach

Mummy case

6. The body was cleaned and the dried skin rubbed with oil.

7. The body was packed with sawdust and rags and the open cuts sealed with wax

8. The body was wrapped in linen bandages. About 20 layers were used and this took 15 to 20 days.

9. A death mask was placed over the bandages

10. The bandaged body was placed in a shroud (a large sheet of cloth) which was secured with linen strips.

11. The body was then placed in a decorated mummy case or coffin.

Through this process, mummies were interred into their tombs. Archeologists continue to find them at excavation sites throughout areas of ancient Egyptian settlements.

Ancient Egypt: Hieroglyphs

(See main article: Egyptian Hieroglyphs)

The Egyptians wrote in hieroglyphs using symbols for both numbers and words

Different symbols were used for the most commonly used words. For names and words without symbols they used the symbols below.

Hieroglyphic writing could be written in rows or columns.

They could be written from left to right or from right to left. If written from left to right the animals would be facing left and if written from right to left the animals would be facing right. Writing in columns was generally written from top to bottom.

a as a hieroglyph b as a hieroglyph c and k as hieroglyph d as a hieroglyph
a b c, k d
e and y as a hieroglyph f as a hieroglyph g as a hieroglyph h as a hieroglyph
e, y f, v g h
i as a hieroglyph j as a hieroglyph l as a hieroglyph m as a hieroglyph
i j l m
n as a hieroglyph o as a hieroglyph p as a hieroglyph q as a hieroglyph
n o p q
r as a hieroglyph s as a hieroglyph t as a hieroglyph u, w as a hieroglyph
r s t u, w
x and z as a hieroglyph ch as a hieroglyph sh as a hieroglyph th as a hieroglyph
x, z ch sh the

Ancient Egypt: Numerals

(See main article: Numerals)

The Egyptians wrote in hieroglyphs using symbols for both numbers and words

There were different hieroglyphs for 1, 10, 100, 1,000, 10,000, 100,000 and 1,000,000

Egyptian 1 =1
Egyptian 10 = 10
Egyptian 100 = 100
Egyptian 1000 = 1,000
Egyptian 10000 = 10,000
Egyptian 100000 = 100,000
Egyptian 1000,000 = 1,000,000

Numbers were written with the highest number first

For example:

1,111 = Egyptian 1000Egyptian 100Egyptian 10Egyptian 1
200,250 = Egyptian 100000Egyptian 100000Egyptian 100Egyptian 100Egyptian 10Egyptian 10Egyptian 10Egyptian 10Egyptian 10
1,122,132 = Egyptian 1000,000Egyptian 100000Egyptian 10000Egyptian 10000Egyptian 1000Egyptian 1000Egyptian 100Egyptian 10Egyptian 10Egyptian 10Egyptian 1Egyptian 1

Bibliography

(See main article: Bibliography)

Discovering Egypt – Mark Millmore

Pharaonic Egypt

Egypt, Secrets of an Ancient World – National Geographic

Ancient Egyptian Culture – Minnesota State University

Ancient Egyptian Culture – Eric Rymer

Egypt Daily Life – St Petersburg Times

Mummification – Egypt.com

You Wouldn’t Want to be an Egyptian Mummy – Salariya Book Company

Mummification in Egypt – Aldokkan

The Greeks – Discover Ancient Greece’s Timeline and History

(See Main Article: The Greeks – Discover Ancient Greece’s Timeline and History)

The Greeks, or Hellenes, are the natives of Greece and other countries around the Mediterranean Sea like Cyprus, southern Albania, Italy, Turkey, and Egypt. Ancient Greek civilization, the period following Mycenaean civilization (which ended about 1200 BCE) lasted up to the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE. It was a period of political, philosophical, artistic, and scientific achievements that formed a legacy with unparalleled influence on Western civilization.

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The Greeks

Of the Indo-European tribes of European origin, the Greeks were foremost as regards both the period at which they developed an advanced culture and their importance in further evolution. The Greeks emerged in the course of the 2nd millennium BCE through the superimposition of a branch of the Indo-Europeans on the population of the Mediterranean region during the great migrations of nations that started in the region of the lower Danube.

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Ancient Greece Timeline- The Greeks

(See Main Article: Ancient Greece Timeline- The Greeks)

Date

Summary

Detailed Information

2000 BCE First Settlers Wandering tribes begin to settle in Greece
1600 BCE Mycenaean Greece Bronze Age Greece was inhabited by the Mycenaean people. They took their name from the capital city of their land, Mycenae.
1194 BCE Trojan War The Trojan war between the Greeks and the Trojans (inhabitants of Troy) began

 

Trojan War - World History Encyclopedia

1184 BCE Trojan War The Trojan war ended when the Greeks used a wooden horse to invade and overrun the Trojan city of Troy
1100 BCE Dorian Invaders Mycenaean Greece was invaded by Dorian tribesmen from the north. The Dorians had iron weapons which they use to good effect to defeat and conquer the Mycenaeans.
c. 850 BCE Alphabet The Greek alphabet was developed from the Phoenician alphabet.
c. 800 BCE Homer Homer composed his poems – the Iliad and the Odyssey. The Iliad is an epic poem set in the Trojan War while the Odyssey tells the story of the adventures of Odysseus on his return from the Trojan war.
776 BCE First Olympic Games First recorded Olympic games. The games were held at Olympia. There was one event – the men’s 200m sprint.
743 BCE First Messenian War This was a disagreement between the Messenians and the Spartans that led to war
724 BCE First Messenian War The first Messenian war ended in victory for the Spartans
650 BCE Rise of the Tyrants The rule of aristocratic leaders was challenged by lesser aristocrats or wealthy tradesmen who wanted to overthrow the monopoly of the aristocrats. Known as tyrants they seized power from the aristocracy and took over rule in their stead.
621 BCE Draco’s Code of Law The laws of Athens had previously been a set of oral laws. Draco introduced a new set of harsher laws which were written down for all to read. For many crimes the punishment was death.
600 BCE Money The first Greek coins appeared.
508 BCE Democracy Democracy began in Athens.
495 BCE Pythagoras The philosopher and mathematician, Pythagoras, died in Metapontum.
490 BCE First Persian War The First Persian war began when Persia sent an invasion force into Athens in retaliation for its participation in a Greek raid on Persia.
490 BCE Battle of Marathon The Greeks defeated the Persians in the Battle of Marathon
480 BCE Second Persian War The Second Persian war began when Persia’s King Xerxes led an invasion force into Greece.
August/September 480 BCE Battle of Thermopylae The Persians defeated the Greeks in the Battle off Thermopylae
September 480 BCE Battle of Salamis The Greeks defeated the Persians in the Battle of Salamis
432 BCE Parthenon completed The Parthenon was completed. The temple was built in Athens to house a statue of Goddess Athena so that she could watch over the city.
431 BCE Peloponnesian Wars The Peloponnesian wars between Athens and Sparta.
404 BCE Peloponnesian Wars Athens lost the Peloponnesian Wars. The Athenian democratic government was removed and replaced by a ruling body of 30 tyrants.
403 BCE Democracy Democracy was restored to Athens.
399 BCE Socrates The philosopher Socrates, founder of philosophy, was charged with impiety (being disrespectful to the Gods) he was found guilty and executed.
380 BCE Academy The philosopher Plato, student of Socrates, founded the Academy in Athens.
359 BCE Philip II Philip II became King of Macedon
347 BCE Plato The philosopher, Plato, student of Socrates, founder of The Academy and author of The Republic died in Athens.
339 BCE Catapult The Catapult was invented at Syracruse
338 BCE Battle of Chaeronea Philip II, King of Macedon conquered Greece
338 BCE League of Corinth The League of Corinth, a federation of Greek states, was founded by Philip II to boost support against Persia.
336 BCE Alexander the Great Philip II, King of Macedon was assassinated – his son Alexander became King of Macedon. He was later known as Alexander the Great
335 BCE The Lyceum Aristotle founded the Lyceum in Athens.
333 BCE Persia Alexander conquered the Persians and declared himself King of Persia.
331 BCE Egypt Alexander conquered Egypt and made Alexandria the capital of his newly gained land
323 BCE Alexander the Great Alexander the Great died. His son had not yet been born so his conquered lands were divided between his top generals.
322 BCE Aristotle Aristotle, philosopher, mathematician, student of Plato, tutor of Alexander died in Euboea.
c. 265 BCE Euclid Euclid, the inventor of geometry, died.
212 BCE Archimedes The mathematician and engineer, Archimedes, was assassinated in Syracuse.
146 BCE Roman Empire The Romans defeated the Greeks at the Battle of Corinth and Greece became part of the Roman Empire

Ancient Greece – Ancient Olympics

(See Main Article: Ancient Greece – Ancient Olympics)

The Ancient Olympics were held at Olympia, one of the sacred places of the ancient god Zeus.

The earliest known record of an Olympic competition is 776BCE but it is thought that some kind of event may have been held for many years before that.

One legend states that the games were started by Heracles while another states that they were started by a king who wanted to bring peace to the region.

ancient olympics

Women did not compete in the ancient Olympics and married women were not even allowed to attend as spectators.

The male athletes did not wear any clothes and competed naked.

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At the first Olympic Games in 776BCE there was just one event – the Stade – a 200 metre (222 yard) race.

Other events were added over time and by 100BCE the games lasted for five days.

Ancient Olympic Events

Sprinting/Running

Combat/Fighting

Other

Stade/Stadion – 200 metres

Dialous – 400 metres

Dolichos – 4800 metres

Hoplitodromos – 400 or 800 metres in full armour

Boxing

Wrestling

Pankration – violent martial arts style

Chariot Racing – The winner was the owner of the chariot rather than the rider

Pentathlon – Wrestling, Stadion, Long Jump, Javelin, Discus

 

Winning an Olympic event was considered to be the greatest sporting achievement. The winner of each event was presented with an olive branch as a token of this achievement.

The Ancient games began to decline around 424BCE when Greece was at war with the Spartans and many young men had to go to war rather than devote themselves to athletics.

The games continued when the Romans invaded and conquered Greece but when Emperor Theodosius came to power he banned all non-Christian events including the Olympic Games.

How The Mythical Odysseus Tricked Troy

(See Main Article: How The Mythical Odysseus Tricked Troy)

Odysseus, the legend, the myth, the hero, and the king. Odysseus was known as an excellent speaker and a brilliant strategist. You have probably heard about him from the story of the Trojan horse. It is the stunning story of Agamemnon’s armies and their use of deception. Agamemnon sought revenge because the Trojan prince Paris took the wife of his brother, king Menelaus of Sparta. They fought for years against the Trojans, but the war seemed lost for Agamemnon and his allies. That is until Odysseus came to the rescue. Here’s his story.

Let’s start with the man behind this myth. Odysseus grew up as the son of Laertes and Anticlea. According to the myths Odysseus was the king of Ithaca and the leader of the Kephallenians. He was married to Penelope and had a son, named Telemachos. Odysseus was fortunate enough to be the favorite of Athena, the goddess of wisdom and battle. She was his savior many times and helped him through impossible situations. Athena also had a soft spot for Odysseus’ son, Telemachos, but Odysseus was her clear favorite. Odysseus can be described as ‘patient-minded’ and even as Zeus alike. Contrary to most thinkers, Odysseus was also a warrior, and a good one.

The Trojan war is one of the most popular myths about ancient Greece. Let’s start with how the Trojan war began. Like many things in Greek mythos, it began with the gods.

The queen of Troy, Hecuba, gave birth to a child. She called him Alexander. After the birth, Hecuba dreamed about the downfall of Troy because of her newborn baby. She had to give him away, and wolves took him to a shepherd. He grew up as a part of that Shepard family under the name ‘Paris’. Paris was chosen to decide whom to give a golden apple. He could choose from three goddesses: Hera queen of the gods, Athena, goddess of war, or Aphrodite, goddess of love. The last one promised him the most beautiful woman alive. He chooses Aphrodite. The other ones were furious and wanted to get revenge.

His destiny found him and he arrived at the city of Troy, where he challenged Prince Hector of Troy.  He lost that duel and Hector were going to kill Paris when Hecuba saw the birthmark on Paris’ chest. He was taken into the family and the downfall of Troy began.

After that Paris went to Sparta to strengthen their bonds with king Menelaus. The woman promised by Aphrodite was queen Helen of Sparta, Menelaus’ wife. They fell madly in love and Paris took her. Menelaus was furious and so was his brother, Agamemnon. Menelaus wasn’t much of a fighter; he didn’t even win Helen himself: Agamemnon did that for him. So Agamemnon went with his allies, to retrieve Helen through diplomatic solutions. Paris wasn’t willing to let her go. So Agamemnon gathered his allies, the Achaean kings; Achilles, Idomeneus, Ajax, and of course, Odysseus.

The Trojan war lasted for nine years, Agamemnon and his armies couldn’t take Troy because of the strategic location, thick walls, and impressive army, so they besieged it. Achilles and Ajax’s armies raided Trojan allies and farmers. Homerus said that Achilles conquered around 11 cities and 12 islands.

After nine years of besieging Troy, the armies mutinied because they wanted to go home.  Paris eventually fought a duel with Menelaus. Menelaus was winning and Aphrodite snatched him away from the battlefield, against all agreements between the gods. Because of that, the armies went fighting again.

So all seemed lost, and Troy seemed invincible until Odysseus came with one brilliant, final plan – the Trojan horse, a giant wooden horse. They left it at the beach with the inscription: ‘The Greeks dedicate this thank-offering to Athena for their return home’. The Trojans had to think that the armies were leaving and admitted that they could never conquer Troy. But in fact, it was filled with soldiers led by Odysseus himself. The rest of the armies burned down the camp and sailed away. The trick worked exactly as planned… Troy took the horse inside of their walls and started feasting, not knowing that they had just brought in their deaths. While all soldiers were getting themselves drunk, Odysseus and his soldiers got out of the horse and opened the gates just when Agamemnon’s whole army had returned.

A great massacre happened that night and day, and Troy was fallen thanks to the ingenious strategist Odysseus, king of Ithaca.

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The Romans: The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire

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The Romans and their empire at its height in 117 CE was the most extensive political and social structure in western civilization. By 285 CE the empire had grown too vast to be ruled by the central government at Rome and so was divided by Emperor Diocletian (284-305 CE) into a Western and an Eastern Empire.

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The Legend of Rome: Romulus and Remus

Romulus and Remus were twin brothers. Their father was Mars, the God of War, their mother was Rhea Silvia, a vestal virgin and daughter of the King, Numitor. Numitor’s brother, Amulius, had taken the throne from him and had forced Rhea Silvia to become a vestal virgin so that she would not have any children who might try to take back the throne.

When the boys were born, Amulius seized them, put them into a basket and threw them into the river Tiber. He hoped that they would drown. However, the boys were rescued by a she-wolf who fed the babies with her own milk and cared for them.

romulus and remus with wolf and shepherd

They grew up and were found by the shepherd Faustulus, who took them home and looked after them until they were grown up.

The two young men discovered who they really were and decided to kill Amulius and put their grandfather back on the throne. After doing this they decided to build a city of their own but could not agree where to build it. Remus favoured the Aventine Hill but Romulus wanted to use the Palatine Hill. They could not reach an agreement and so each began to build his own city enclosed with walls.

One day, Remus visited Romulus and made fun of his wall by jumping over it and saying how easily it could be breached. Romulus was so annoyed that he killed Remus and said the he would kill anyone who mocked his city or tried to break through the walls of Rome.

The legend says that Romulus became the first King of Rome in 753BC and populated his new city with runaway slaves and convicted criminals. He stole women from the Sabine tribe to provide wives for the slaves and criminals and to populate his new city.

The Sabine tribe were not happy about this and declared war on Rome. The war went on for many years but eventually the Sabine tribe and Romulus reached an agreement and the Sabines became a part of Rome under the Kingship of Romulus.

The legend ends by telling how Romulus was carried up to the heavens by his father, Mars, and was worshipped as the God Quirinus.

* Romulus and Remus illustration by: Jean-Pol GRANDMONT

When was Julius Caesar Born?

Julius Caesar | Biography, Conquests, Facts, & Death | Britannica

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The exact date of Julius Caesar’s birth is not known, but historians claim it to be on July 12 or 13, 100 or 102 BC in Rome. His parents were Gaius Julius Caesar (a praetor) and Aurelia and although he belonged to a noble family, they weren’t very influential or rich during this time. His aunt, Julia was the leader of the Popular faction, Gaius Marius’ wife.

Julius Caesar’s Youth

Caesar’s father died when he was only sixteen, leaving him as the head of the house. Rome at the time was very unstable, struggling to manage its influence and size. Caesar was already very ambitious and decided that his family would benefit most if he would become a  priest. He got himself nominated as Jupiter’s High Priest, but was required to not only be a patrician, but to also be married to one. This led him to break off his current engagement with a plebeian girl and to marry Cornelia, a patrician and daughter of a the influential Lucius Cinna (member of the Populares). Sulla, the Roman ruler at the time declared himself to be dictator of rome and started to purge his enemies systematically. He targeted Caesar, who fled Rome, but his mother’s family successfully convinced the ruler to lift his sentence. He was however no longer allowed to be a priest and Cornelia’s dowry was confiscated. With no other way to provide for his family, Caesar decided to join the army. From there he worked himself up until he, himself became dictator of Rome.

How Did Julius Caesar Die?

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How did Julius Caesar die? Julius Caesar died from being stabbed to death by a mob of conspirators in a place just next to the Theatre of Pompey, in 44 BC on the Roman Ides of March. At the time, Julius Caesar had been declared dictator by the Senate and had only served a year’s term. He has, however, already reformed the Senate in that short period and made changes in how local governments worked. He became very popular with the lower and middle-class Romans, but many senators despised him and were concerned about him having too much power as dictator. One of his biggest mistakes was to appoint two of his former enemies, Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus who ended up leading the plot to assassinate him.

How Julius Caesar’s Assassination Took Place

Over 40 people were involved in the plot to murder Julius Caesar, or, as they called it, commit tyrannicide. They organized a gladiator game and a meeting of the Senate. During the meeting, Casca struck at Ceasar with a dagger, after which Caesar acted in surprise. Casca called for help and the whole group, Brutus included, stabbed him. He tried to get away but was surrounded by a mob of about 60 men. He was stabbed 23 times, although only one of the wounds was fatal.

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What Caused the Fall of the Roman Empire?

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The main cause of the fall of the Roman Empire is still a topic of debate among historians, maybe because it is a symbol of what we fear about our own civilization. There are many different theories about why a superpower that ruled for 500 years crumbled and fell, but most scholars degree that it wasn’t one event, but a series of factors that caused a steady decline. Alexander Demandt, for example, had 210 different theories and even more emerged afterwards.

Possible Major Causes:

  • Conflict between the Emperor and the Senate
  • Weakening of the emperor’s authority (after Christianity the Emperor was no longer seen as a god)
  • Political Corruption – there was never a clear-cut system for choosing a new emperor, leading the ones in power to “sell” the position to the highest bidder.
  • Money wasting – the Romans were very fond of their prostitutes and orgies and wasted a lot of money on lavish parties, as well as their yearly “games”
  • Slave labor and price competition – Large, wealthy farm owners used slaves to work their farms, allowing them to farm cheaply, in contrast to smaller farmers who had to pay their workmen and could not compete price wise. Farmers had to sell their farms, leading to high unemployment figures.
  • Economical Decline – After Marcus Aurelius, the Romans stopped expanding their empire, causing in a decrease of gold coming into the empire. The Romans however kept spending, causing coinmakers to use less gold, decreasing the value of money.
  • Military spending – Because they wasted so much money and had to defend their borders all the time, the Government focused more on military spending than building houses or other public works, which enraged the people. Many stopped volunteering for the army, forcing the government to employ hired mercenaries, who were expensive, highly unreliable and ended up turning against the Roman Empire.
  • A stop in technological advancement – The Romans were great engineers, but did not focus on how to produce goods more effectively to provide to their growing population.
  • The Eastern Empire – The Roman Empire was divided in a Eastern and Western empire that drifted apart, making the empire easier to manage, but also weaker. Maybe the empire’s rapid expansion was its own downfall in the end.
  • Civil War and Barbarian Invasion – Civil war broke out in Italy and the smaller Roman army had to focus all of its attention there, leaving the borders wide open for the barbarians to attack and invade. Barbarian bandits made travel in the empire unsafe and merchants could not get goods to the cities anymore, leading to the total collapse of the empire

The Romans – Fall of the Empire

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The Fall of the Empire was a gradual process. The Romans did not wake up one day to find their Empire gone!

By AD369 the Empire was beginning to crumble for the following reasons:

The Government was running out of money.

The people had to pay very high taxes – up to a third of their money.

The rich were given grants of money and land which made them richer while the poor got poorer.

There was not enough money to pay for the army.

Barbarians from Germany called vandals were conquering parts of the Empire and there were not enough soldiers to fight back.

Although the outer edges of the Empire were well defended, there was no defence with in the Empire. This meant that once barbarians had broken through there was nothing to stop them marching to Rome.

The Roman network of roads allowed invaders an easy route to Rome.

No one had decided on a good way to choose an Emperor,. This meant that any general could march into Rome, kill the Emperor and make himself the next Emperor. In 73 years there were 23 Emperors and 20 of them were murdered.

Roman Society and Social Classes

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Roman society was clearly hierarchical, with legally defined privileges allotted to different classes and countless informal differences in attitudes toward the classes in everyday life.

In ancient Rome, the population was divided into two groups: patricians and plebeians.

Patricians

Plebians

The patrician class were the descendants of the most ancient and powerful noble families. They were landowners, lived in large houses and they had political power in the Senate.

The patricians married and did business only with people of their own class.

Plebeians were mainly artisans or peasants who worked the patricians’ land; they lived in apartments and they had no political rights.

If they were lucky plebeians could become clients (obedient servants) of a patrician family. They offered their services in return received the protection of the head of the patrician family, who became their patron.

 

Roman Society in the Era of the Empire 27BC – 1453AD

Below is the pyramid of Roman society, with the emperor at top and slaves at the bottom. Multiple layers existed between them. While it was possible to move up and down this social latter, as the categories were not immutable, changing one’s social standing was extremely difficult and only possible through meritocratic institutions such as the military.

The Emperor
Head of Roman society and ruler of all Rome

Patrician Families
Wealthy influential landowning families

Senators
Served in the Senate and governed Rome

Equestrians
Wealthy property owners who chose business over politics

Plebeians
Working class. Men without substantial wealth who worked for their living at jobs such as artisans, craftsmen, bakers etc

Freed Slaves
Slaves who had either been given their freedom or had paid for their freedom and now worked for their living.

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Slaves
Generally prisoners of war but sometimes abandoned children who were owned by their master

This article is part of our larger resource on the Romans culture, society, economics, and warfare. Click here for our comprehensive article on the Romans.

The Romans – Roman Government

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The Roman government took on my different forms from its centuries-long existence, back to its legendary founding. For the sake of brevity, this article will skip over its city-state and kingdom periods to focus on its republican and imperial periods. From the time of Julius Caesar, 48 BC, Rome and the Roman Empire was ruled by an Emperor. The Emperor was wise if he listened to the advice of the Senate but some chose to be dictators and do what they wanted rather than follow the Senate’s advice.

Before Julius Caesar took control in 48BC, the Roman Empire was not ruled by the Emperor but by two consuls who were elected by the citizens of Rome. Rome was then known as a Republic.

Roman Government in the Republic Period

People were divided into different classes. There were Patricians, Plebeians and Slaves.

Patricians were wealthy citizens of Rome. They usually lived in grand houses and had slaves to do their work for them. Because they were citizens of Rome they were allowed to go to the Assembly to vote.

Plebeians were not wealthy but they were citizens of Rome. They were usually craftsmen or tradesmen and they worked for a living. Because they were citizens of Rome they were allowed to go to the Assembly to vote.

Slaves had no money, no rights, no freedom and were not citizens of Rome. Because they were not citizens of Rome they were not allowed to go to the Assembly to vote.

Patricians and Plebeians met in the Assembly and voted for consuls, tribunes and magistrates. Women and slaves were not allowed in the Assembly and could not vote.

Roman Government: Consuls

The citizens of Rome voted for two consuls. They were elected to serve for one year. It was the Consuls job to govern Rome. They had to both agree on all decisions. After they had served their year they were replaced. They were not allowed to be consuls again for ten years.

Magistrates

The citizens of Rome voted for a number of magistrates. It was the magistrates job to keep law and order and also to manage Rome’s financial affairs. When magistrates retired they became senators and attended the Senate.

Tribunes

The citizens of Rome voted for tribunes. It was the tribunes job to make sure that the people were treated fairly.

Roman Senate

The Senate

Senators went to the Senate to discuss important government issues. Senators were retired magistrates and knew a lot about the government of Rome. It was the job of the senate to give advice to the two consuls. When Rome had an Emperor the senate still gave advice on governing Rome and the Empire.

 

 

 

Mesopotamia: Overview and Summary

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Mesopotamia is the region within the Tigris and Euphrates rivers located south of Anatolia and West of the Iranian plateau. It hosted the earliest large-scale civilizations, who bequeathed the earliest forms of organized government, religion, warfare, and literature. Mesopotamian civilizations flourished from the founding of the Sumerian Empire in 3100 BC to the fall of Babylon in 539 BC to the Achaemenid Empire.

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Governments of Mesopotamia

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Mesopotamian cities started as farming villages. Farming brought in surplus food and the population of the village began to grow. As the gods were the most important beings to the early Mesopotamians, priests, who mediated with the gods and divined their wills, became the most important people in the village. Slowly, priests took on a governing role.

Climate change intervened in this simple form of governance. In order for farming to continue producing adequate food, the villagers had to begin irrigating the crops. Irrigation required a substantial amount of labor in building and maintaining canals and dams. Organizing this labor required intelligent leadership. While priests were capable men, they now needed assistance from a secular leader who could guide communal labor.

By the time farming villages had grown into the great Mesopotamian cities, both priests and secular leaders were involved in governing the increasingly complex society of a city. The secular leader was called the lugal, the strongman. With specialization of labor—people finding lots of different jobs and tasks to do other than farming work—it made sense to have priests fully involved in keeping the gods happy while the lugal oversaw running the city.

Gradually the lugal became a powerful king who dominated governance of the Mesopotamian city-state. While most of his duties as king were secular, the king had religious responsibilities as well. He, as well as the high priest, was an intermediary between the gods and the people. Kings participated in religious rituals. Common Mesopotamians considered the king as the representative of the city’s patron god, the god’s overseer on earth, so to speak.

A king was expected to protect his city, to provide law, order and justice and to be a shepherd to the people, ensuring that widows and orphans were cared for. Kings formed dynasties and leadership passed from father to son. Women, in general, were not involved in politics, but there are instances of women ruling a city.

A city-state is a complex entity and running it involved a civil bureaucracy of government officials, tax collectors, scribes and ward bosses. Government officials took the tithes from farmers and other workers, they oversaw the communal labor necessary for maintaining aqueducts, irrigation canals and water resources. They assisted merchants and traders when necessary, seeing to a caravan’s protection.

Most kings sustained an active military that defended the city and went on military campaigns when the city needed more land or water resources. Kings also worked closely with the priesthood, both the en, the chief priest in charge of religious observances and the sanga, the priest involved in running the temple’s business concerns. It wasn’t until the Akkadians came to power, circa 2334 B.C., that Mesopotamian gained its first empire. For most of its history, Mesopotamian city-states each ruled its own area, ruled by a powerful king.

Sumeria

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Sumer’s history began long before humans invented writing to record historical events. Much of what we know of prehistoric Sumer was found in archeological ruins, which told of a people who gradually switched from a hunting and gathering society to a settled, agriculture-based culture. As agriculture could produce a surplus of food, people found they could devote their time to other work besides that in the fields. A surplus of food could also sustain a larger population, which congregated at first in small villages.

As time went on, many small villages became the first cities, one of them being Eridu, according to the Mesopotamians themselves. Scholars, however, consider Uruk to be the first city in history. Other Sumerian cities include Ur, Lagash, Adab, Kish, Larsa, Nippur, Kullah and Adab among others.

In 4000 B.C. came the first villages and the beginning of towns. By 3500 B.C., the Sumerian city-states began forming, all centered around temples to the gods. By this time, Sumerian people had invented writing, the wheel, irrigation and water control and sailboats. One of the names for Mesopotamia is the “cradle of civilization,” as the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers was the birthplace of civilization as we know it.

Sumer’s city-states were first ruled by priest-kings, known as Ensi. As society grew more complex, however, and city-states began battling over land and water rights, a secular kingship began, with the rule of a city-state in the hands of a Lugal, or strong man. The Lugal supervised wars and oversaw important trade with other lands. Trade brought in goods such as metal ores that were unobtainable in Sumer itself. It was probably the necessity of record-keeping in long-distance trade that spurred the development of cuneiform writing.

While the archeological record reveals the life of common Sumerians, the Sumerian King List provides some detail of Sumer’s kings. The King List, a cuneiform document that lists and briefly describes all the kings of the region beginning with Etana of Kish, who ruled c. 3100 B.C. A scribe in the city of Lagash wrote the document around 2100 B.C. at the instigation of a king who wished to legitimate his rule by connecting his name with the known kings and their great deeds.

Sumer’s city-states warred with each other continually for land, water rights and other natural resources. One king might create a larger alliance, but no one managed to rule them all until Eannutum of Lagash, who managed to subdue most of the city-states of Sumer under his rule. Lugalzagesi of Umma then held that proto-empire together until he was overthrown by Sargon the Great circa 2234 B.C. Sargon, a Semite rather than a Sumerian, originated from northern Mesopotamia. The Akkadian Empire dominated Sumer for the next 150 years. Sumer, however, would rise again during the Sumerian Renaissance of 2047-1750 B.C.

Sumer’s civilization provided the world with many firsts: first legal codes, court system, schools, proverbs, moral and ethical ideas, mathematical systems, libraries, bronze, writing, astrological signs, our division of time into hours and minutes and many technological innovations.

The Akkadian Empire

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No one knows who Sargon, the founder of the Akkadian Empire, was, nor the location of the fabled city of Akkad. Sargon himself believed he was the son of a temple priestess and an unknown father. Whatever his origins, Sargon conquered and ruled all of Mesopotamia and parts of Syria, Iran, Kuwait, Jordan, Turkey and perhaps, Cyprus, founding the world’s first true empire. His dynasty, including his sons Rimush and Manishtusu and grandson Naram-Sin, lasted for the next 140-150 years.

Sargon the Great

Sargon’s reign (2334 to 2279 B.C.) consisted of one military campaign after another. He set out to conquer the known world of his time, starting with northern and southern Mesopotamia. He began by overthrowing Lugalzagesi, the king of Umma, who had previously conquered the city-states of Sumer. Under Sargon’s rule, the empire was stabilized, which allowed road construction, improved irrigation and more access to vital trade routes. He also established a postal system for the empire.

Sargon reigned for 56 years, dying of natural causes. His deeds and life gave rise to legends told for a thousand years after his death. While Sumerians rebelled against the empire in Sargon’s lifetime, they raised him to the level of semi-divine after his death.

Sargon’s Sons Rimush and Manishtusu

Rimush came next to the throne in 2279 B.C. After Sargon’s death, Sumer’s cities rebelled and Rimush spent his first years crushing rebellions and restoring order. He also campaigned against Elam (part of modern-day Iran) and won, bringing that land’s riches back to Akkad. Rimush reigned for nine years before his death in 2271 B.C. Some speculate that he was killed by his brother, Manishtusu, who followed him on the throne.

Manishtusu’s reign also included crushing rebellions, but he was better known for establishing trade with Egypt and building the Ishtar Temple in Nineveh. He reigned for 15 years, but was killed in a palace conspiracy in 2255 B.C.

Naram-Sin

Naram-Sin, son of Manishtusu, came to the throne in 2261 B.C. He ruled the empire for the next 36 years as the Akkadians’ greatest king. He campaigned and conquered, yet kept order in the empire and expanded trade. Naram-Sin deified himself, writing his name with a sign that meant godhood.

An ancient text called “The Curse of Agade,” tells of a king who angered the gods by attempting to force them to answer him. The gods withdrew their support from this king, who scholars say is Naram-Sin. The story then tells of Naram-Sin marching on the temple of the great god Enlil in the holy city of Nippur, and tearing it down. Supposedly, Naram-Sin’s pride in deifying himself angered the gods to the point that they ended their rapport with Mesopotamia. Historically, Naram-Sin built temples, not destroyed them. Yet it is true that shortly after his reign, the Akkadian empire was ravaged by wars and famine. Mesopotamia entered a dark age.

While Naram-Sin’s reign was orderly and even spectacular, things in the empire began to break down shortly after his death in 2224 B.C. His successor, Shar-Kali-Sharri, fought his entire reign as the empire began to be overrun with Elamites, Amorites and invading Gutians. While drought and famine devastated the lands, the Gutian Invasion ensured the collapse of the Akkadian Empire in 2193 B.C.

King Hammurabi and His Code of Law

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Babylon reached its first height with the reign of the great King Hammurabi, an Amorite prince, the sixth of his dynasty. The Amorites were a semi-nomadic people who migrated east into Mesopotamia from Syria. During the reign of Hammurabi’s father, Babylon’s kingdom contained only a few cities: Babylon, Kish, Borsippa and Sippar. When Hammurabi took the throne, that began to change, although slowly at first.

In King Hammurabi’s first few years, he focused on his first primary objective: to improve the lives of his people through improving agriculture and irrigation (always a prime goal for Mesopotamian kings), strengthening his city’s defenses and building public spaces, roads and temples. His first act was a jubilee, a forgiveness of the people’s debts, which of course, made him popular among the people.

Elamites, a people located just to the east of Mesopotamia in what is today’s Iran, often raided into Mesopotamian territory. Hammurabi allied with Babylon’s rival city Larsa to defeat the Elamites, which they did. Hammurabi then instituted a tactic he was to use many times: he broke the alliance, quickly made alliances with other city-states, and proceeded to conquer Uruk and Isin, cities in thrall to Larsa. Hammurabi went on to conquer Lagash, Nippur and Larsa itself. Another favorite tactic was to dam up a city’s water supply, withholding the water until the city surrendered. Once southern Mesopotamia was under his control, Hammurabi turned his military campaigns to the north and west until all of Mesopotamia was conquered in 1755 B.C.

Even when he conquered cities, Hammurabi looked after the people under his governance. He made sure vital irrigation canals and dams functioned, maintained the infrastructure of the cities in his control and built splendid temples to the gods. While Sargon the Akkadian emperor continually had to put down revolts, the people under Hammurabi’s rule were not rebellious as Hammurabi governed well.

Hammurabi’s Law Code

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Hammurabi promulgated his Code of Law circa 1772 B.C. Hammurabi’s was not the first such law code, but it was the most famous and important. Previous law codes, such as that of Ur-Nammu, were made to rule over a single ethnic group, people all of the same family, more or less. By Hammurabi’s time, Babylon had become a large, cosmopolitan city with many different people rubbing shoulders on its busy streets. Hammurabi’s Law had to rule over nomads, Assyrian traders, aristocratic Babylonians, Elamite slaves and Sumerian housewives. His law code had to be simple, specific and direct. Hammurabi’s laws sought to avoid the blood feuds that could easily arise among people of different cultures.

To modern minds, Hammurabi’s laws are harsh; they established the principle of an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, literally. If a man took out another man’s eye in a fight, he then lost his own eye. Punishments for breaking the law included dismemberment, disfigurement and death. The lightest punishments were fines. Hammurabi had his Code inscribed on a stele, an eight-foot tall diorite rock where all could see the law. While harsh, Hammurabi’s law included the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

Assyrian Empire: The Old Kingdom

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Over the centuries of its long existence, the Assyrian empire expanded and grew only to fail and fall many times. Scholars divide Assyrian history into three main periods: the Old Kingdom, the Middle Empire and the Neo-Assyrian Empire. While Assyria ended as a political entity, Assyrians as a people still live today in parts of Iran and Iraq. Historically, the Assyrians were a Semitic people living in northern Mesopotamia who spoke Akkadian until the easier Aramaic language came along. The Assyrian Empire is considered the greatest Mesopotamian empire because of its size, the efficiency of its bureaucracy and it powerful military strategies.

Old Kingdom

The Assyrian story began in the city of Ashur in northern Mesopotamia. Although Ashur had been inhabited from 3000 B.C. onwards, scholars date the founding of the city to 1900 B.C. since that is the date of the extant ruins. Its early kings, who worshipped the god Ashur, were called the “kings who lived in tents,” which implies a nomadic people rather than a settled, agricultural one. Little is known about this time period (circa 1900 to 1791 B.C.). The information we do have is sourced in thousands of clay tablets, mostly containing letters from merchant families involved in trade with Anatolia (modern day Turkey).

Throughout the Old Kingdom era, at times Ashur and other Assyrian cities came under the control of the Akkadian empire under Sargon the Great. At other times, Assyria was a vassal state to Ur’s Third Dynasty in southern Mesopotamia. During this time, Ashur grew prosperous due to trade. Assyrian traders set up businesses in a trade colony they established in Karum Kanesh, Anatolia.

Merchant families from Ashur took wool and finished cloth to Kanesh, where they traded it for silver, tin and other metals. These merchants left some trusted members of the family in Kanesh to run things there, while older family members returned to Ashur. Thousands of clay tablets found in Kanesh discuss this profitable trade network. The wealth generated by this trade gave Ashur the strength and security necessary for eventual empire-building. Tin from Anatolia gave the Assyrians the opportunity to develop iron working to perfection. Assyria’s iron weapons would later give the Assyrian empire a great military advantage.

Assyria’s competitors in the Old Kingdom included Hittites, Amorites, Hurrians, Mitanni, Elamites as well as Babylonians and Sumerians. The Amorites began to settle in the area, taking vital resources needed by Ashur. An Assyrian king named Shamshi-Adad I (1813 to 1791 B.C.) succeeded in driving out the Amorites and uniting the Assyrian cities of Arbel, Nineveh, Ashur and Arrapkha. Along with the city of Nimrod, this was the core of the fledging Assyrian empire. Under King Shamshi-Adad I, the Assyrian trade network with Anatolia flourished, giving Ashur power and wealth. While stronger competitors prevented the empire’s growth, the Assyrian core cities were secure. The year after King Shamshi-Adad’s death, Hammurabi took the Babylonian throne and Assyria became vassals to the Babylonians during Hammurabi’s rule.

Assyrian Empire: The Middle Empire

(See Main Article: Assyrian Empire: The Middle Empire)

For a few centuries after the death of Shamshi-Adad I, Assyrian cities were subjugated by a succession of outsiders: Babylonians under Hammurabi, Hittites and Mitanni-Hurrians. From 1791 to 1360 B.C. control over Assyria passed back and forth, although Assyria itself remained more or less stable. After a power struggle between the Hittites and Mitanni, the Hittites successfully broke the power of the Mitanni in the region. Assyria then began to take control over territories that had belonged to Mitanni. The Hittites battled with the Assyrians, but the Assyrian king Ashur-Uballit stamped out any remaining Mitanni or Hittite control over northern Mesopotamia.

The Middle Empire

King Ashur-Uballit, who ruled from c. 1353 to 1318 B.C., succeeded in gathering all former Mitanni regions under his control. He also battled the Hurrians, Hittites and the Kassite king of Babylon. Ashur-Uballit married his daughter to the Babylonian king, angering the Babylonian people. They promptly slew the king and replaced him with a pretender to the throne. King Ashur-Uballit then invaded Babylon, killed the pretender and placed another Kassite royal on the throne. King Ashur-Uballit solidified his power by conquering any remaining Hittite or Mitanni rulers, finally taking control of the entire region for Assyria.

King Adad-Nirari I (1307 to 1275 B.C.) expanded the Assyrian empire in contrast to two proceeding kings who merely maintained control. King Adad-Nirari implemented the policy of deportation of segments of the population from one region to another, which remained a standard Assyrian policy from then on. This policy was meant to head off any uprisings by moving the potentially rebellious to other regions of the Assyrian empire. Although the deportees found their lives disrupted, the Assyrian intention was not to harm the people, but to make the best use of their talents where their skills were needed. The empire moved entire families along with their belongings and provided transportation and food.

Tiglath Pileser I

While Adad-Nirari’s son Shalmaneser and grandson Tukulti-Ninurta were cultured, competent and resourceful kings, after their reigns, the Assyrian empire simply maintained, neither growing nor declining. The entire Mesopotamian and Near East region entered what’s called the Bronze Age Collapse. For 150 years, from 1250 to 1100 B.C. all the Near East civilizations—the Egyptians, Greeks, Cyprians, Syrians, Mesopotamians—all disintegrated to a certain extent, except for the Assyrians who held steady. Scholars believe that drought and climate change caused this collapse, along with the attendant ills of famine, disruption of trade, wars and disease.

Tiglath Pileser I took the Assyrian throne in c. 1115 B.C. at the end of the collapse. An energetic king, Tiglath Pileser revitalized the Assyrian empire. He took military campaigns to Anatolia, conquering many regions there. He began lavish building projects in Ashur and established a library to contain his collection of scholarly cuneiform tablets. Under this king, culture, arts and trade all flourished. After King Tiglath Pileser’s death in 1076 B.C., later kings fought incursions by Amorites and Aramaeans, but managed to maintain Assyria’s borders. The empire once again entered a period of stasis, gradually shrinking due to internal rebellions and outside attacks.

The Neo-Assyrian Empire

(See Main Article: The Neo-Assyrian Empire)

For 300 years, from 900 to 600 B.C., the Assyrian Empire expanded, conquered and ruled the Middle East, including Mesopotamia, Egypt, the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, and parts of today’s Turkey, Iran and Iraq. Since around 1250 B.C., the Assyrians had started using war chariots and iron weapons, which were far superior to bronze weapons. These tools and tactics made the Assyrian army the most powerful military force of its time, both doctrinally and technologically advanced.

A series of kings from Adad-Nirari II (c. 912-891 B.C.) to Adad-Nirari III (811 to 806 B.C.) fought to expand the empire. The powerful Assyrian army conquered its enemies city by city, as it excelled in siege warfare as well as battlefield tactics. The Assyrians were the first army to contain a separate engineer corps. Assyrians moved mobile ladders and ramps right up against heavily fortified city walls. Sappers and miners dug underneath the walls. Massive siege engines became prized Assyrian armaments. Successfully taking city after city, the Assyrians extended their empire throughout the Middle East and down the Levant coast. After Adad-Nirari III’s reign, however, the empire again stagnated.

The final stage of the Assyrian empire began in 745 B.C. when Tiglath Pileser III took the throne. Tiglath Pileser III received the empire in a slump with a demoralized army and disorganized bureaucracy. He took control and began reorganizing all aspects of the empire from the army to the bureaucracy to re-conquering rebellious provinces. Tiglath Pileser ended military conscription, replacing it with levy requirements from the provinces and vassals. His reorganized army became the model for efficiency, training and tactics for any military coming later.

The Assyrian empire was renowned not only for its powerful military machine, but also for its progress in the arts, culture, medicine and education. While deportations of segments of conquered populations continued, all subjugated regions were accepted and treated as Assyrians.

Following Tiglath Pileser III, the Assyrian empire was ruled by Shalmaneser V, Sargon II and Sennacherib. Sennacherib’s reign (705 to 681 B.C.) welded the empire into an even greater force; he conquered provinces in Anatolia, Judah and Israel, even sacking Jerusalem. Sennacherib moved the capital of Assyria to Nineveh, where he built a splendid palace and exquisite gardens, which might have been the famous Hanging Gardens.

Sennacherib’s son, Esarhaddon and grandson Ashurbanipal both ruled well, if ruthlessly. They expanded the empire, consolidated its power and stabilized all the regions under their control. This security and stability allowed the arts to flourish. With the wealth that poured into Nineveh, artisans created many beautiful objects from jewelry to wrought iron temple gates. Ashurbanipal (668 to 627 B.C.) became the most literate of the Assyrian kings, collecting a vast library of cuneiform tablets from all over the known world.

Ashurbanipal was the last great Assyrian king. After his reign of 42 years, the huge empire began to fall apart. It had become too large, taxes were too high and entire regions rebelled. In 612 B.C., Nineveh itself was razed by a host of Persians, Babylonians and Medes. The great Assyrian empire was over.

 

 

 

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"Ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, And Mesopotamia" History on the Net
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November 26, 2022 <https://www.historyonthenet.com/ancient-egypt-greece-rome>
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