Ancient Civilization

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V.  Ancient Civilizations:  4000 B.C.E. - 1200 B.C.E.


Ancient Civilizations flourished in the period between 4000 to 1200 BCE.  These cultures are sometimes called Bronze Age Civilizations.

Civilizations became possible when irrigation systems were developed that significantly increased the total food supply so that tens of thousands of humans could, for the first time, live closely together in city-states and centrally controlled kingdoms.  The earliest civilizations were all located on rivers.

The earliest civilizations are:
    Mesopotamian Civilization about 4000 BCE on the Tigris Euphrates River
    Egyptian Civilization about 3500 BCE on the Nile River
    Minoan Civilization on the Island of Crete about 2500 BCE
    Indus River Civilization on the Indus River about 2300 BCE
    Civilization of North China about 2200 BCE.

The map below shows the earliest centers of civilization in the world.

Some of these early centers of civilization continue to shape the culture realms of the world today.

Our focus in this course is centered on the earliest civilizations in Mesopotamia and Egypt, which helped to shape the Western tradition.

VI.  Ten General Characteristics of Civilization


1.  Irrigation Agriculture


2.  City States


3.  Temples, Priests, Organized Religion


4.  Development of Writing Systems


5.  Citadel, Royal Palaces, Kings & Bureaucracies


6.  Organized Warfare, creation of Empires


7.  Social stratification, classes


8.  Increase in trade, commerce, artisans


9.  Monumental architecture


10.  Metallurgy:  Bronze Age Civilizations 

    VII.  Mesopotamia 4000-1600 BCE

Mesopotamian Civilization--Is the name given to a group of cultures that flourished on the Tigris Euphrates Rivers in modern-day Iraq.  The Sumerians were the first to develop city-states and irrigation systems.



Development of early Sumerian City-States 3500 - 2800 B.C.E.

Cities may have begun as theocracies.


Irrigation Agriculture


City-States:  Nippur, Eridu, Ur, Uruk, Umma, Lagash, Shuruppak    


Temples built on a stepped tower called a ziggurat    


Invention of wheel led to carts; about 3,000 B.C.


Cuneiform writing system developed


Concept of Number.  Number system based on 60, hexagesimal    


Gods:  An, Enlil, Enki, and Ninhursaga.
    An:  god of the sky.
    Enlil:  god of the wind.
    Enki:  god of the earth, but also of            rivers, wells, & canals.
    Ninhursage:  goddess of soil, mountains, &
    Inanna (Ishtar): goddess of love


Early Dynastic Period of Sumer 2800 - 2370 B.C.E.

Epic of Gilgamesh, tells tale of King of Uruk


Akkad 2370 - ~2100 B.C.

Sargon I, ~2340, is first empire builder.


Naram-Sin is grandson of Sargon I


Guti, possibly a neighboring people living in the mountains, attack and destroy empire about 2100


Sumerian Revival; 3rd Dynasty of Ur 2125 B.C. - 2000 B.C.

City-State of Lagash under its ruler Gudea


Ur-Nammu, founder of the Third Dynasty of Ur, establishes his empire for about 100 years. Decline after 2000 B.C.


Elamites and Amorites attack city of Ur and destroy its empire.


Sumerians disappear as a separate people, but their language remains as a language of religion and literature until the days of Alexander the Great.


Amorite Kingdoms and the Old Babylonian Empire ~2000 - 1550 B.C.

Amorite City of Isin


Amorite City of Larsa


Amorite City of Babylon defeats its rivals and created the Old Babylonian Empire, which lasted for almost 300 years.


Hammurabi, ~1792 - 1750 B.C., is the sixth king of the Amorite rulers of Babylon.  He the greatest of the Amorite kings and establishes his empire over Sumer and most of Mesopotamia.


Legal Code of Hammurabi is a collection of 282 laws based on earlier Sumerian legal codes.  It helps to preserve Sumerian Culture.


About 1600 B.C., the Old Babylonian Empire fell to invading Hittites, Hurrians, and Kassites from outside the region.  These are probably Indo-European peoples.


The First Historically Documented Migration of Peoples and the Resulting Regression of Culture. 
The fall of the Old Babylonian Empire and the resulting Dark Age marks the beginning of the end of the Ancient Period of History.  The new Indo-European Invaders found a number of kingdoms.


VIII.  First Indo-European Migrations (Voelkerwanderung): ~1600 BCE

Hurrians created the Kingdom of Mitanni 1800 - 1350

Kassites ~1600 - 1100 B.C. settled in Babylon.  Kassite Dynasty in Babylon 1550 - 1100 B.C.E.

Hittites ~1750 -  1200 B.C. settled in Anatolia (modern day Turkey).  From ~1400 - 1200, they ruled a powerful empire that competed and warred with the New Kingdom of Egypt.


IX.  Egyptian Civilization:  3100 - 1070 BCE


Egyptian Civilization--is the name given to the culture that flourished on the Nile River.

    Egypt is the "Gift of the Nile."  Nile starts in the Lake Victoria and the highlands of Ethiopia.  It flows north some 4,000 miles to the Mediterranean Sea.  Ancient Egypt included the 750 miles from Aswan to the Sea.  The Nile used to flood regularly each year during September and October.  In modern times, Gamel Nasser built the Aswan High Dam, which has stopped the regular inundations.

    Ancient Egypt was divided into:

        Upper or Southern Egypt
        Lower or Northern Egypt

    Ancient Egyptians also differentiated between the Black land--the fertile area around Nile--and the Red land--the desert cliffs and plateaus bordering the valley.

    In Hellenistic times, Egyptian history was divided into thirty-one dynasties from the first to the last deriving from Alexander the Great's conquest. 

The legendary pharaoh Menes (about 3100 BCE founded the First Dynasty when he unified Upper and Lower Egypt.  Cleopatra of the Ptolomaic (XXXI) Dynasty was the last pharaoh.  After 30 B.C., Egypt became a Roman Province.

      Early Dynastic (I & II) ~3100 - 2700 B.C.
        Menes founder of the First Dynasty

      Old Kingdom (III-VI) ~2700 - 2150 B.C.
        Djoser, III dynasty, built the first six step pyramid of stone.
        Snefru, founder of IV Dynasty, built first true pyramid.
        Khufu (Cheops) built largest pyramid ever.
            Cheops Pyramid:  481 feet high; 756 feet square at base:
                13.1 acres; 2.3 million stone blocks weighing average
                2.5 tons each;  10,000 workers labored over 20 years;
                built on plateau of Giza near Memphis.
        Khafre (Chephren), built pyramid and also Sphinx
                Sphinx:  part lion and part human
        Menkaure (Mycerinus)
, built pyramid

        Country divided into Nomes

        Solar cult.  Belief in an afterlife.  Mummification

      First Intermediate Period (VII-X) 2150 - 2040 B.C.

      Middle Kingdom ((XI & XIII) 2040 - 1640 B.C.
        XI Dynasty centered of Thebes,
            defeated X Dynasty based near Giza; reunifed Egypt.

        Amunemhet I, founder of XII Dynasty.
            New capital city near Memphis, the old capital

        Pharaoh is never as absolute as he appears to have been during the period of the Old Kingdom.  This is a more sophisticated society.  More diverse.  More power centers.  More commercial.

      2nd Intermediate Period and Hyksos Invasion (1640-1550 B.C
        XIII - XVII Dynasties.
            Overlapping Dynasties
                XIII Dynasty divides.  Western Delta ruled by XIV
                Dynasty.  XIII moved from Memphis to Thebes becomes
                XVII Dynasty.  Eastern Delta taken over by Hyksos, who
                form XV Dynasty.  Minor Asiatic Kings form XVI Dynasty.

     New Kingdom or Imperial Egypt (XVIII- XX) 1550-1070 B.C.
        Ahmose is founder of XVIII Dynasty.  Egyptian Imperialism
        Pharaohs built rock graves in Valley of the Kings.

        Amunhotep IV initiated a brief religious revolution.
            Changed his name to Akhenaten (Ikhnaton)
            His wife Nefertete
            Aten is made into the creator god.  Aspects of monotheism.
            New capitol of Akhetaten (near Amarna north of Thebes).
            Shortly after his death, reversion to old gods.

        Tutankhaten changes his name back to Tutankamun. Died 1323 B.C.
            Only grave in Valley of the Kings so far that was found
            not robbed by modern archeologists.

        Horemheb, a military commander, seized kingship.
            Passed control to Ramses I, his own military commander,
            who founded
XIX Dynasty.

        Ramses II
            Abu Simbel
            Battle of Kadesh on the Orontes River
                against Hittites in 1285 BC
            Treaty Between Egypt and Hittites.  Diplomatic letter.

    Third Intermediate Period (XXI - XXIV) 1070 - 770 BC

    Late Period (XXV XXX) 770 - 332 BC

    Greco-Roman Period 332 BC - 395 AD

        After the XX Dynasty (1070), Egypt goes into decline.  It becomes a rich province in someone else's empire:  Assyrian, Persian, Hellenistic, Roman, Arab, Turkish, British

    Cleopatra VII was the last pharaoh of Egypt.  

X.  Second Indo-European Voelkerwanderung:  1200 BC

     Medes, Persians, Dorian Greeks, Sea People


XI.  Classical  Civilizations:  1200 B.C. - 500 B.C.

The Assyrian Empire 1360 - 612 B.C.
        First Assyrian Empire
        Second Assyrian Empire ~1000 - 612
            Nineveh and Nimrod
            Conquest of Syria-Palestine 732 - 722 BC
            Destroyed Israel 722 BC
            Conquest of Egypt 671 BC
            By 665 BC, Assyria controlled Mesopotamia, western
                Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt
            Fierce military reputation
            Uprising by Medes, Persians, Babylonians, and Egyptians
            Nineveh Destroyed 612 BC

        Canaan and Phoenecia (modern day Lebanon)
            Semitic language speakers
            Adopted Egyptian writing and simplified it
            Created Alphabet
            Sidon and Tyre
            sea faring people
            Colonized.  Carthage
            Influenced the Greeks
            conquered by Persia

      Hebrews  (See separate Web Pages)
        Prehistory ~1900 - 1300
            Abraham, Isaac, Jacob or Israel
            12 sons (tribes) of Israel
            Joseph in Egypt
        Historical Period begins with Moses and Twelve Commandments (in writing)

            Moses, Aaron, and the Conquest of Canaan ~1300 - 1020
            Kingdoms of Israel and Judah 1050 - 586 BC
            Babylonian Captivity 586 - 538 BC
        Second Temple Period 538 BC - 70 AD


     The Chaldaean or Neo-Babylonian Empire 612 - 539 B.C.
            Conquered by Persians in 539 BC

     The Persian Empire  600s - 323 B.C.
            Achaemenid Dynasty
                Cyrus II the Great, 559 - 530 BC
                    Overthrew overlordship of Medes
                    Defeated Croesus of Lydia
                Cambyses II, 530 - 522 BC
                Darius I, the Great,  521 - 485 BC
                Xerxes, 485 - 465 BC

                Darius III, 336 - 330 BC
                    last of the dynasty is defeated by Alexander the Great

Hellenic Period
See the Web pages on Greece. 
Hellentistic Period
Alexander III, the Great, 356 - 323 B.C., conquers the entire Persian empire.
He establishes the Hellenistic Period of History.  
Roman Period

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Modified May 22, 2009
Copyright Dr. Harold Damerow
Senior Professor of Government and History
Union County College
Cranford, NJ 07016