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Middle Eastern Civilizations 3500 BCE- 395 CE
Mesopotamia and Egypt
Two of the world's first great civilizations developed along the mighty river systems in
Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt at roughly the same time (Mes. 3500 BCE, Egypt 3100 BCE)
The Mesopotamians developed along the Tigris-Euphrates river system in Asia
The Egyptians developed along the Nile River in Africa
People in both civilizations learned to use the natural environment to their advantage by
controlling the floodwaters of the river and working the rich soils along the banks
A constant food supply freed labour for other pursuits, which led to the development of thriving
cities, temples and empires
Mesopotamia - Cradle of Civilization
The ancient Sumerian city-state of Ur is in present day Iraq, along the Tigris-Euphrates valley
Ur was once a place of magnificent courts, sophisticated society, soldiers, servants, musicians
Mesopotamians had a profound belief in an afterlife and a desire to take some earthly belongings
to the world after death
Sumer, Babylon, Assyria and Chaldea were some of the great empires of this era
Ancient Mesopotamia was in Iraq; Syria and Turkey (Persian Gulf to Tigris-Euphrates)
Meso means middle, potamas means river
Part of the fertile crescent, this side of the world's first permanent farming villages
Sumerians lived in independent city-states ruled by separate kings
Each city-state had its own government, laws and military
They managed their own affairs independently
By 3500 BCE the population was about 4000
By 3000 BCE the population was about 24 000
The various city-states existed independently but on occasion small battles were fought for
control over land or irrigation rights
During conflict, the king of a city-state acted as the head of the army
Sumerian armies used chariot pulled by donkeys; held two men who hurled javelins
Sumer was ruled by Sargon of Akkad, known as Sargon the Great
During his 35 year reign, he attacked other city-states, Egypt and Ethiopia
Sumerians developed the first known form of writing known as cuneiform
They made advances in science, mythology and written literature
The Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest known piece of literature in the world
Nomads known as the Amorites established themselves in Babylon
The Babylonians were great traders with their ships travelling to India and Africa, their caravans
to Persia and Asia Minor
The Babylonians were famous for one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and took great
pride in the physical appeal of their city-state
Trade routes between Mesopotamia and surrounding areas were established
The economic success brought the Assyrians political influence and after many wars and
conquests, the Assyrians dominated all of Mesopotamia
They were fierce people known for committing wartime atrocities against unarmed civilians and
for treating conquered armies with cruelty
Assyrian kings viewed professional armies as essential to conquests and thus created large armies
The army was divided into units: foot soldiers, charioteers, cavalry and archers
Mercenaries (hired foreign soldiers) were added to local armies when necessary
Assyrians had learned the secret of making iron and used this knowledge to male arrows and
lances of superior quality
Assyrian kings expanded the territory to include Damascus, Israel and Egypt
King Ashurbanipal (668 - 626) was the most powerful and the cruelest
All conquered people (civilian or military) were treated cruelly
Territories were plundered and he used these gains to enrich his own surroundings (gold, ivory
and silver)
Ashurbanipal also showed much interest in science and math
He constructed a garden and a zoo at his palace
He had a library stocked with over 22 000 clay tablets
After the collapse of the Assyrian empire, Babylon became an important city once again
The Chaldeans, a Semitic people settled here about 1000 BCE
Their king, Nebuchadnezzar transformed Babylon into one of the most beautiful cities of the
Nebuchadnezzar was a warrior king, with notable stories retold in the Christian bible
He conquered Judah, Jerusalem and he captured many Jews as slaves
Was also known as a great builder
This empire stood until 549 BC when the powerful Persians became the new rulers of a growing
international world
The early years of city-states saw free citizens elect an assembly to run the government
The assembly consisted of two houses: an upper house which contained the wealthiest citizens
and a lower house which contained soldiers
These elected members chose the judges, who were responsible for enforcing the laws and for
selecting military leaders at wartime
Kings did not appear until foreign invaders became a concern and a strong leader was needed
Kings were called lugals and thought of themselves as living representatives of gods (known as a
government of theocracy)
Lugals major responsibility was to provide defense of the city-state
The other vital responsibility was to supervise the development and maintenance of the irrigation
works, which were essential to the economic survival of the city-state
Early Sumian kings were elected, but as theocracy grew the crown passed from father to son
This was the beginning of dynasties or hereditary monarchies
Assyrian religious leaders has less political power than in Sumer
There was clear separation between government and religion
Temples, palaces and monuments were built for the king's use , not to honour a particular god
The king was however bound to certain religious customs (fasting for five days once a month
Law and Justice
One of Mesopotamia's most significant contributions to the advancement of civilization was in
the field of law
The codes developed by the Sumerians and the Babylonians were an attempt to collect, organize
and record all existing laws so there would be one common code for all citizens
One code gave legal protection to peasants and commoners as well as nobles but the laws were
applied differently to different classes of people
Nobles were treated harshly as better behaviour was expected from them; peasants usually were
fined or punished phosically
Hammuribi, king of Babylon created a code of 282 different laws which were organized under
headings such as trade, family, labour, real-estate and personal property
The code distinguished between a minor and a major crime; established that the state is
responsible for enforcing the law and confirmed that social justice should be guaranteed to all
Promoted the idea that the punishment should fir the crime, "an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth
(if a house collapsed and killed the owner, the builder was put to death)