1. How did the human race and human society develop?
2. Why did civilization develop in the area now known as the Middle East?
3. How did major institutions, such as agriculture, government, and religion develop,
around 10,000 BC?
4. What were the major contributions of the following empires of the Middle East:
Sumer, Assyria, Babylonia, Egypt, Phoenicia, and Israel?
Below is a guide. Use the internet to get more information.
There is considerable controversy about the
origins of the world and of humans. Every major
religious belief system has a creation story that
accounts for the origins of both, and one can find
many similarities in all of them. In the 1840s,
Charles Darwin proposed a theory that life on earth
began as very simple organisms which evolved
over many millions of years into more complex
plant and animal species, including humans,through which the “fittest” survived and the weakerspecies died off. Most recently, some scientists have sought to combine some ideas of creationism with ideas from Darwin’s theories, a theory they call intelligent design.
This lesson is not the opportunity to debate the origins of the world or of humans but to review a generally agreed upon historical account of the origins of human society and the development of those societies into the first civilizations that impacted the development of world civilization. Generally, most texts begin with a general view of the origins of human civilization with the arrival of Homo sapiens (“wise man”).
The first portion of development was the pre-historic period, the period before the invention of writing. After all, history is the writing down of human events and activities. Sometime around 11,000 to 9,000 BC, humans domesticated various species of plants and “discovered” agriculture which allowed them to change from small roving bands of humans to more stationary groups of dwellings that became villages, then towns, then cities.
As human society became more complex, so did the institutions of the growing communities of humans. Laws were needed to bring order to these societies. Government with officials developed to enforce the laws. Religion developed so people could begin to understand their existence in relation to the forces around them and explain why things occurred. War grew from small personal conflicts into conflicts between communities, then cities, then states and empires.
For us Americans the emphasis has been on the development of western civilization which came from the first civilizations established in the Middle East, a region often called the “cradle of civilization.” From your studies you will discover the rise of a succession of empires in the Middle East and in present-day Egypt, both of which ironically developed in river valleys. As you read and study, focus on the development of institutions in these early empires.
Around 10,000 BC, we find the first great kingdom in the valley of the Nile River, what became known as Egypt, The Nile River was (and still is) the center of life of Egypt as desert is found within miles of both sides of the rivers. Many of you many of you may already be familiar with Ancient Egypt—pharaohs, pyramids, hieroglyphics, mummies, the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Egypt was also the place where, according to
the Christian Bible, the ancient Hebrews (Israelites) lived after a great famine in the Levant and became slaves for 400 years.
Around 5,000 BC, we find the first of several successive empires in the area, known as the Fertile Crescent or Mesopotamia (Greek for “land between the rivers”), essentially the crescent-shaped basin formed by the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. These empires included Sumeria, Assyria, Babylonia, and Chaldea. Archaeologists have discovered many former sites of these successive ancient empires, confirming many of the ancient sites mentioned in the Christian Bible, such as Ur, the home of Abraham; Nineveh, a city visited by Jonah; and Babylon, the capital of the Babylonian, Chaldean and Medo-Persian empires.
Around 3000 BC ancient Greek states began forming in the eastern Mediterranean and Aegean Seas. The first civilization developed on the island of Crete and thrived on trade until either pirates or natural disasters destroyed the Minoan civilization. Some speculate that the tremendous volcanic eruption that destroyed two-thirds of Santorini, one of the Cyclades north of Crete, produced a tidal wave and earthquakes that also destroyed Knosses, the capital of Crete, and led to the demise of the Minoan civilization. Most believe that the demise of the Minoans resulted from the rise of the Mycenaeans.
After the demise of the Minoan civilization, the eastern Mediterranean saw the growth of the city-state Mycenae, centered in the eastern Greek peninsula, from 1600 to 1100 BC. Eventually, the Mycenaean civilization had encompassed most of present-day Greece and would come into conflict with other regional powers. One such power was Ileum, the Troy of the Greek poet’s epic poems, The Iliad and The Odyssey. These poems center on the ten-year siege of Troy by the Greek King Agamemnon and his brother Menelaus to recover the latter’s wife who had left him for the Trojan prince Paris and the voyage home of one of the chieftain (Odysseus (or Ulysses)) to Greece. Troy did exist, but in all probability the cause of the fighting was probably economic rivalries in the Aegean Sea.
As these great empires developed, a number of smaller but historically important states developed in the Middle East. Two that had significant influence on world history were Phoenicia (Canaan in the Bible) and Israel. Although Phoenicia was a small country, consisting of several city-states along the eastern Mediterranean Sea, its ships traveled throughout the Mediterranean Sea and possibly into the eastern Atlantic Ocean, and its sailors established colonies along both coasts, including Greece, North Africa (the most famous, Carthage, developed into a mini-empire that threatened an expanding Roman empire in the 200s BC), Sicily, and Spain. In addition to its colonies, Phoenicia developed a 24-character alphabet that the Greeks eventually adopted, greatly simplifying written language for the western world in contrast to the thousands of pictographs that the ancient Egyptians used for their hieroglyphics. The ancient Israelite gave the world the first monotheistic (belief in one god as almost every other ancient civilization worshipped many gods [polytheism]) religion and their writings about their beliefs and history.
These writings are known as the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, and their religious belief system, Judaism, became the basis for Christianity, established during the early Roman Empire by the teacher known as Jesus of Nazareth, and Islam, established in Arabia in the early 600s by Mohammad.