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The Mediterranean and
Middle East, 2000-500 BCE
Tracy Rosselle, M.A.T.
Newsome High School, Lithia, FL
The Aegean World, 2000-1100 BCE
 Israel, 2000-500 BCE
 Phoenicia & Mediterranean, 1200-500 BCE
The Aegean world
The Aegean Sea is a pocket
of the Mediterranean
Sea between Greece
and Asia Minor, the
Latin term for
Anatolia (modern-day
Turkey). This region
of the world has been a
real hot spot
throughout world
history. Two early
civilizations – Minoan
and Mycenaean –
influenced the later
A note on geography
Southern Greece and the many islands of the Aegean have rocky, arid
landscapes, with small plains between hills  limited arable land.
Rough coastlines with natural harbors and neighboring small islands 
sea transportation very important, fast and cheap.
Commerce is key
What does the land produce? Grains, grapevines and
olive trees. Flocks of sheep and goats graze the
But with few deposits of metal and little timber,
Aegean peoples had to import these commodities
and other food from abroad  success of societies
therefore closely tied to commercial and political
relations with other peoples in the region.
Minoan civilization
Dominating trade in the eastern Mediterranean from about
2000-1400 BCE was the Minoan civilization, a seafaring
people living on the island of Crete.
Influenced by the older civilizations from Mesopotamia and
Egypt but evolving their own unique culture, the Minoans
were the first Europeans to have complex political and
social structures, and advanced technologies.
They had centralized government, monumental building,
bronze metallurgy, writing and recordkeeping (but the
writing, called Linear A, hasn’t been deciphered yet).
A bull in the basement
Archaeologists named the
civilization after King
Minos (MY-nuhs), who
was said to have ruled a
vast naval empire and to
have kept the monstrous
Minotaur (half-man, halfbull) beneath his palace in
a mazelike labyrinth
designed by the ingenious
inventor Daedalus (DEDih-luhs).
Bully for the bull
A fresco wall
painting found at
Knossos, the
Minoan capital. It
depicts bull leaping.
Many works of Minoan art show young men performing acrobatic leaps
over the horns of angry bulls. Was bull leaping a sport? Just a “fun”
activity? An initiation for young warriors? Or a religious ritual? Perhaps it
was all of these things.
Minoan culture
Minoans sacrificed bulls and other animals to their gods, and
there’s some evidence of human sacrifice.
Many artworks depict women and their role in religious
ceremonies, suggesting women held a higher rank than in
most other neighboring cultures.
Paintings, official seals and vases portray Minoans as
graceful, athletic people who loved nature and beautiful
objects, and enjoyed sports such as boxing and wrestling.
Minoan culture (cont.)
Egyptian, Syrian and Mesopotamian influences can be seen in
design of Minoan palaces, centralized government and
writing system.
No identifiable representations of Cretan rulers, however 
different conception of authority than in the Middle East?
No fortifications at the palace sites  limited exposure to
Had high-quality indoor plumbing.
Moanin’ the Minoan decline
Scholars believe Minoan culture died out when they could not
recover from natural disaster and possibly a subsequent
invasion of another people, the Mycenaean (my-suh-NEEuhn) Greeks.
In 1470 BCE a series of earthquakes rocked Crete, followed
by a volcanic eruption on a nearby island … which may have
spawned a tidal wave.
Unlike their recoveries from previous earthquakes, they had
trouble rebuilding, and some scholars believe Mycenaeans
invaded and deliberately destroyed houses and palaces.
Mycenaean civilization
Although Minoan cultural
influence was extensive
throughout the region, no
evidence shows Cretan
political control over the
Greek mainland.
The first advanced
civilization in Greece is
therefore called Mycenaean
because Mycenae (mySEE-nee) was the first
excavated site.
Migrations south
Most historians believe that speakers of an Indo-European
language ancestral to Greek migrated into the Greek
peninsula around 2000 BCE, blending with the indigenous
population to form the first Greek culture.
For centuries people there eked out a meager Stone Age
living, but around 1600 BCE conditions changed suddenly.
A rich civilization flourished until about 1150 BCE, when
Greek history entered a “Dark Age.”
The archaeological evidence
The appearance and dating of objects such as pottery and
crafted goods suggest Cretan merchants (Minoans) pioneered
trade routes throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East,
then admitted Mycenaean traders, who eventually supplanted
them in the 15th century BCE.
Numerous pots in the region would have carried wine and
olive oil.
Other possible exports: weapons, crafted goods, slaves and
mercenary soldiers.
The sea trade
Mycenaean sailors (as well as Minoans before them) may
have profited by transporting trade goods of other peoples.
Imports included grains, gold (prized by rulers), copper and
tin for bronze making, amber (a hard, translucent, yellowishbrown fossil resin used for jewelry) from northern Europe,
and ivory carved in Syria.
Trade and piracy were intertwined: the Mycenaeans were
tough, warlike, acquisitive  traded with the strong, took
from the weak.
Hilltop fortifications
The Lion Gate guards the
entrance to the massive
fortification wall surrounding
the citadel at Mycenae.
Walled community and beyond
A hilltop fort, or citadel, provided refuge in times of danger:
contained palace and administrative complex, rounded
courtyards, living quarters for royal family, offices,
storerooms and workshops; shaft graves for rulers and
leading families (and later grand beehive-shaped structures
made of stone and covered with mound of earth).
Houses for the aristocracy lay just outside the walls.
Peasants lived on lower slopes and the plain below, near the
land they worked.
Mycenaean government
Organized and coordinated grain production.
Controlled the wool industry from raw material to finished
 recorded flock numbers, accounted for sheared wool and
allocated it to spinners and weavers.
 Kept account of the production, storage and distribution
of cloth articles.
We know all this because their script, Linear B, is
recognized as an early form of Greek.
We know from the baked clay tablets ...
More than 4,000 Mycenaean tablets have been unearthed.
They show the Mycanaeans:
ran an extensive bureaucracy that kept track of people, animals and
objects in minute detail.
exercised tight control over the kingdom’s economy.
kept records of everything from the number of chariot wheels in
palace rooms and rations paid to textile workers, to the gifts dedicated
to various gods and the ships stationed along the coasts.
But they wrote down almost nothing about individuals – not
even the name of a single Mycenaean ruler – and very little
about their political and legal systems, social structures,
gender relations or religious beliefs.
Conflicting evidence
Was the political framework of Greece organized broadly
during the Mycenaean era?
There’s contradictory evidence:
Archaeological evidence and the Linear B tablets indicate
independent centers of power around Greece, not just at Mycenae.
In Homer’s epic poem the Iliad (which was composed in the seventh
century BCE but details the possibly real Trojan War of the 12th
century BCE), Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae, leads a great
expedition of Greeks from different regions against the city of Troy in
northwest Anatolia.
But the plot of the Iliad revolves around Agamemnon’s troubles
asserting control over other Greek leaders.
A wave of destruction
Around 1200 BCE, for reasons historians do not really
understand, civilizations – including the Mycenaeans,
Egyptians and Hittites – collided and began falling apart as
large numbers of people were on the move.
The Egyptians and Hittites (in Anatolia) were invaded by the
mysterious “Sea People” – who could be the Philistines or
possibly the Mycenaeans: Invaders listed on Egyptian
inscriptions include the Ekwesh, which could be a corruption
of Achaeans, a term Homer used frequently when referring to
the Greeks.
The Dark Age
When we say the Mycenaean civilization (or just about any civilization,
for that matter) “died out,” what we’re saying is the elite lost power –
their massive administrative apparatus disappeared.
Most of the people continued to carry on their ways, migrating to areas
not ravaged by war, mixing and melding their culture with others’ (a
thousand years later people were still worshipping gods mentioned in the
Linear B tablets).
But the Greek technique of writing was apparently lost for centuries
because only a few palace officials had known it … and the region as a
whole entered a period of poverty, isolation and decline in artistic and
technical knowledge.
Israel, 2000-500 BCE
The modern Jewish nation-state of Israel was created in 1948
… but the story of its creation goes back about 4,000 years,
beginning with the nomadic Hebrews (“Jews” and “Jewish”
were not common terms until the ninth century BCE).
The faith practiced by Hebrews – Judaism – is generally
considered to have been the world’s first monotheistic
religion (i.e., the first to devote itself exclusively to the
worship of one god).
Along with Christianity, which grew out of it, Judaism forms
a key foundation of Western society’s ethical, intellectual and
cultural legacy.
Abraham’s Covenant
According to Judaic tradition, the patriarch
Abraham, who lived near the Sumerian city of Ur,
entered into a covenant with the god YHWH (which
may have been pronounced Yahweh but was
considered too holy to say aloud, and is sometimes
rendered Jehovah).
YHWH swore to make the Hebrews – if they obeyed
his will – his “chosen people” and to lead them to
the “promised land” of Canaan (present-day Israel).
Not yet purely monotheistic?
By this time, the nomadic Hebrews had journeyed west and
were interacting with the more settled Canaanites, whose
city-states took up much of Palestine.
Even after making their covenant, Hebrews may have still
believed in the existence of other gods – ones to whom they
hadn’t pledged loyalty.
This was going on around 1850 BCE, and it wasn’t until
1000-400 BCE that Israelite religious leaders wrote the Torah
(“Teaching”), the Hebrew holy scriptures that also constitute
the first five books of the Christian faith’s Old Testament.
Enthralled by history
The Hebrew Bible is a book of history, myths and
laws written by Jews about their own past.
“We now have crossed a border in this story of mankind. Modern
scholars wrenched the history that you have read so far out of
stones and bones in digs, or scraps of writing left by folk who
didn’t care about their past. But now we meet a people whose
history enthralled them. They told it and retold it, no doubt
making many changes, and then they wrote it down.” – James
C. Davis, The Human Story
Abraham and his descendants, renewing
the faith along the way
Abraham  Isaac (sacrifice as test of commitment)
Isaac  Jacob (sees angels, ladder to heaven; name later
changed to Israel)
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – father, son, grandson – may have
been real … but some scholars believe it’s more likely they
were invented as a narrative device to personalize and
connect events involving many long-forgotten forebears. The
historical record seems alternately to confirm and fail to
confirm many accounts in the Bible.
Egypt and then Exodus
Around 1700 BCE, during a time of famine, Hebrews
migrated to Egypt.
Over time, became slaves of the Egyptians … until 13001200 BCE, when God is said to have commanded the prophet
Moses to lead his people out of Egypt (this is called “the
Exodus,” celebrated during Passover, the most important
Jewish holiday).
Moses took the Hebrews on a wandering, decades-long
journey through the Sinai Desert, heading for Canaan, where
the land flowed “with milk and honey.”
They’re not called “The Ten Suggestions”
While traveling across the
Sinai Peninsula, the Bible
says Moses climbed to the
top of Mount Sinai and
spoke with God.
He carried down two stone
tablets, on which YHWH
had written the Ten
The Ten Commandments
represented a new
Covenant and became the
foundation of the civil and
religious laws of Judaism.
The Bible gives conflicting
accounts, but the Israelites,
under the war leader Joshua,
either conquered or settled in
Canaan, the land God had
promised them (and the site of
modern Israel and the Palestinian
They were divided into twelve
tribes supposedly descended
from the sons of Jacob.
Click on the icon below
for an interactive look at
the Hebrew migrations
and settlement in Canaan.
From judges to kings
Each tribe of the “Children of Israel” installed itself in a
different part of the country, led by one or more chiefs who
had limited power but saw to the welfare of the people and
mediated disputes (hence, chiefs were “judges”).
They shared access to a shrine in the hill country at Shiloh,
which housed the Ark of the Covenant (containing the Ten
Commandment tablets).
Came into conflict with Philistines  need for stronger
central authority: Saul, the first king.
David and Solomon
King David (Saul’s son-in-law):
united the tribes and founded a dynasty.
established Jerusalem as the capital.
brought ark to the city, making it a religious as well as
political center.
was a skilled musician, and many of the religious songs
known as Psalms are attributed to him.
King Solomon (David’s son):
made Israel extremely prosperous by taking advantage of
its crossroads location in the Middle East.
built a great temple to glorify God and house the ark.
Heading for a split
Solomon’s reign, however, bred discontentment:
his people were mostly poor and frugal while he sat on an
ivory throne, drank from golden vessels, collected exotic
animals and had 700 wives and 300 concubines (his father
had only 20 in all).
his building projects required high taxes, and men were
forced to spend a third of their time working on the
Upon Solomon’s death (c. 922 BCE), the kingdom
split in two: Israel in the north and Judah in the
Trouble ahead
Next 200 years, Israel and Judah alternately had periods of
relative prosperity, difficulty.
The two kingdoms sometimes fought one another, sometimes
united against a common foe.
In 738 BCE, both began paying tribute (peace money paid by
a weaker power to a stronger) to the mighty Assyrian empire.
It didn’t work: the Assyrians soon conquered the northern
kingdom and Judah subsequently fell more than a century
later to the Babylonians.
The kingdom dies, but not the faith
Solomon’s temple was torn down (no one knows what
happened to the ark) and the Israelites were exiled to
When Persian empire defeats the Babylonians in 539 BCE,
Persian king Cyrus the Great allows 40,000 exiles back into
Jerusalem to rebuild the temple.
Most Jews by this time were already prospering well enough
in Babylon that they refused the offer by Cyrus  beginning
of Jewish Diaspora (Greek for “dispersion” or “scattering”).
But soon other empires come to dominate the region:
Alexander the Great in the third century BCE, and later the
Romans in the first century BCE.
An influential idea
In the face of their polytheistic conquerors, the Jews – guided
by prophets and priests (rabbis, or “teachers”) – remained
true to their monotheistic worship.
And this is the major takeaway from the story of Israel: The
emphasis on right conduct and the worship of one God is
called ethical monotheism – a Hebrew idea that has
influenced human behavior for thousands of years
through Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The latter two of
these, which we’ll discuss soon, are the proclaimed faiths of
more than half of the world’s 6.3 billion people.
A final word on Jewish principles
Talmud – collection of written Jewish laws and commentary
on them.
Legal practices operated on principle of retribution: “eye for
an eye” common throughout ancient Middle East.
Dietary restrictions (e.g., no pork or shellfish) and rules
governing sexual practices were very strict.
Women were respected in the home but society as a whole
rigidly patriarchal.
Hebrews practiced slavery on a limited scale … while
insisting on charity, social responsibility, concern for the
The Phoenicians
Phoenician trading ship
Historians refer to
a major element of
the ancient
population of
with and to the
north of Israel) as
though they
referred to
themselves as
Historians know far more about Carthage and other Phoenician colonies – from
Greek and Roman reports of their wars with western Phoenician communities –
than they do about the Phoenician homeland.
To the sea …
Many Canaanite settlements were destroyed by the
upheaval around 1200 BCE, and by 1100 BCE
territory had shrunk to a narrow strip of presentday Lebanon between the mountains and the sea.
Densely populated  turned to seaborne
commerce and new kinds of manufacture for
Encountered Greeks – who referred to them as
Phoinikes, or Phoenicians – sometime after 1000
Phoinikes could mean “red men” and refer to the
color of their skin … or it could refer to the highly
prized reddish-purple dye they learned to extract
from murex snails.
60,000 of
these needed
for just one
pound of dye!
Trade on me
Phoenicians – searching for raw materials and trade
opportunities – established a collection of city-state colonies
across northern Africa, the western Mediterranean, southeast
Spain, Sicily and Sardinia.
Traded many goods, from textiles and pottery to foodstuffs
and luxury goods (including artwork) …and timber,
especially cedar, logs of which they could float behind their
seagoing vessels.
Excellent shipbuilders and seafarers: first Mediterranean
people to venture beyond the Straight of Gibraltar, they
visited Canary Islands, coastal ports of Portugal, France and
even the British Isles to the north … and exploratory
adventures to the Azores and west coast of Africa to the
Around Africa?
The Greek
related the
feat of the
Africa –
2,000 years
before it was
Phoenician sailors claim it took more than two years to
journey from the Red Sea back around to the
Mediterranean, periodically stopping to plant and
harvest crops along the way.
Little is known about the internal affairs of most
Phoenician cities.
Names of kings are preserved, but the political arena
appears to have been dominated by leading merchant
By 500 BCE, the Phoenician colony of Carthage –
in present-day Tunisia along the middle portion of
the Mediterranean – was one of the largest cities in
the world. Population: roughly 400,000.
Carthaginian religion
Greek and Roman writers were fascinated by the
intriguing (some might say appalling) religious
practices of the Carthaginians.
Like the Mesopotamians, worshipped capricious
gods who had to be appeased.
Baal Hammon (BAHL ha-MOHN) was a male
storm-god …
… but truly central to their beliefs was Tanit (TAHnit), a female fertility figure.
Much worse than getting grounded
Originally practiced by the
upper classes, child
sacrifice in Carthage
became fairly
commonplace among the
broader population after
400 BCE.
Romans say male children
would be sacrificed in
times of crisis, but some
scholars argue these were
premature or ill babies.
A tophet (TOE-fet) was a walled
enclosure where thousands of small,
sealed urns containing the burned
bones of children lay buried.
Know your ABCs
The most important legacy
of the Phoenicians was
their phonetic system of
writing (using one sign for
one sound).
First two letters of
Phoenician alphabet:
aleph and beth!
Trade required quick and
easy records … alphabet
spread … Greeks adapted
it, added vowels.
Phoenicians fizzle
Phoenician homeland was defeated and captured by
Assyrians, then Babylonians and finally Persians.
Carthage would then engage in a long struggle with
the Romans for control of the western Mediterranean
in the first and second centuries BCE.
We’ll discuss the Punic Wars later when we get to
the Romans – after we tackle the Greeks and
Persians – but here’s a preview: Rome won.
The Earth and Its Peoples: A Global History (Bulliet
et al.)
Traditions & Encounters: A Global Perspective on
the Past (Bentley & Ziegler)
World History (Duiker & Spielvogel)
Patterns of Interaction (McDougal Littell, publisher)
The Human Story (James C. Davis)
AP World History review guides: The Princeton
Review, Kaplan and Barron’s