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B. C.

Victorious Athens (480 B.C.)

Themistocles, whose farsighted proposal that the Athenians should fight the Persians at sea rather than land, paved the way for a victorious Athens and the defeat of King Xerxes.

A victorious Athens was thanks to Themistocles, whose farsighted proposal that the Athenians should fight the Persians at sea rather than land, paved the way for the defeat of King Xerxes. Greece was threatened by the advance of the Persians, but even in the face of such a threat, the Greeks were unable to unite as a nation. The basis of Greek life was the “polis” or city-state and the concept of nationhood was completely foreign to this system. Eventually, however, a Hellenic league of Greek cities was formed, led by Athens and Sparta. In 480 the Persians were defeated at sea at Salamis and in 479 on land at Plataea. Had the Persians been the victors it is hard to tell how our civilization would have developed. Possibly democracy, as we know it, would never have survived. Paradoxically it was precisely because of Greece’s weakness — the independence of the city-state — that democracy, particularly in Athens, reached its highest peak of development. Thanks to Salamis it was handed on to future generations, enshrined in the legacy of Greece. The Assembly on the Pnyx, Athens’ “parliament hill,” was packed; this would be a crucial debate. The mighty Xerxes of Persia, with the greatest invasion force that Greece had ever seen, had crossed the Dardenelles and was now advancing inexorably across Thrace towards Macedonia. His engineers had even cut a canal through the peninsula of Mt. Athos for the safe passage of the force’s navy. The ruling dynasty of Thessaly had decided to collaborate with the invader and the Macedonians had given him earth and water in token of submission. The district of Boeotia was rife with Persian sympathizers. The Spartans were ready to make a stand against Xerxes; the crucial question was, where would they make it? Their traditional …

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The Collapse of Crete (524 – 480 B.C.)

With the collapse of Crete, the Mediterranean focus moves to Greece. The destruction of Knossos in 1450 B.C. precipitated the end of a brilliant period in Cretan civilization. The focus of power, subsequently lay on the Greek mainland, in the great fortress-cities of Mycenae and Tiryns. These cities were remembered in Homeric legend, in the poems of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Confirmation as fact of what scholars had credited merely as legend was provided by the excavation of the site of Homer’s “Mycenae rich in gold” by the German merchant-turned-archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann, in 1876. His discoveries there brought to light the “Mycenaean” civilization, which we now know to have been widespread in Greece from c. 1400 – 1200 B.C. It was the product of Indo-European settlers and these Mycenaean Greeks took control after the collapse of Crete, from where much of their culture originated, as the presence of Linear B tablets on both Crete and the mainland indicates. The Phaistos Disk The society which Homeric legend describes is not a society at its peak, as many scholars have noted, and the epics of “Homer” (whoever or whatever Homer might represent) foreshadow the downfall of the Mycenaean civilization. The decline of the Achaean Greeks was speeded-up by an abrupt end to their political supremacy, when the Dorian tribes swept southwards in about 1100 B.C. This may well have been part of a larger pattern of migrations that affected the western Mediterranean at about this time. The empire of the Hittites was overthrown and Egypt was attacked by the “Peoples of the Sea.” The Dorian invasion precipitated emigration of earlier Greek inhabitants from the mainland — Ionians from Attica fled to the coastal lands of Asia Minor, as did Aeolians from Thessaly; Achaeans moved into Arcadia and Cyprus. The Trojan Horse …

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Buddha, the Prophet of the East (524 B.C.)


The Buddha as he came to be known, was a young man, Gautama, who followed the usual pursuits of someone of his class. He hunted, played games, feasted and had many friends. He also inspired great personal devotion, which was to stand him in good stead later. Growing discontented with his life and determined to find enlightenment, he renounced his wealth and left Kapilavastu in order to lead an ascetic life, but Gautama found that this kind of existence, practiced in isolation, did not satisfy him. He believed that compassion for his fellow men should find practical expression. He returned to Gaya where he became the ‘fully-awakened”, or Buddha and he began to teach. Although Buddhism — the faith he founded — had not become supreme in India, it won many followers in Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Tibet and played a crucial role in the development of China and Japan. Shakravartin — “he who turns the wheel” — the ruler of the world, is shown in this marble relief of the school of Amaravati, dating from the first century B.C. or A.D. In the forested foothills of the Himalayas, in the region that is now central Nepal, there was born around the year 563 B.C. a man whose life and teachings were to have a profound influence throughout Asia and beyond. His personal name was Siddhartha, but he was known also as Gautama, the name of the family group to which he belonged. The Gautama family were Sakyas, one of a number of clans who inhabited the area between the river Ganges and the Himalayas, roughly to the northeast and northwest of the modern city of Patna. The young Gautama, who was later also to be called Sakyamuni, or “Sage of the Sakyas,” grew up in the hill town of Kapilavastu. …

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Assyria, Steppelands of Central Asia Sees New People Emerge and New Empires Rise (1191 – 524 B.C.)

Hittite inscription

The vacuum left in Western Asia by the passage of the Sea Peoples was soon filled. New peoples infiltrated into the devastated areas and settled there. Some cities like Alalakh and Ugarit were never rebuilt; others rose again from their ashes. Tribes of Phrygians from Europe and their kin, the Mushki or Moschoi, divided the Anatolian plateau between them, but remnants of the Hittite peoples still continued to survive under their rule. Others, remaining outside the Phrygian orbit, retained their old traditions in the cities of southeastern Anatolia, the Taurus mountains and the plains of North Syria. Here they built temples to the old gods of the Hittite empire and the inscriptions in their palaces are written in hieroglyphic script, the ancient writing that had coexisted with cuneiform since its beginning in Anatolia. In many of these “Neo-Hittite” states, however, the ruling element was soon Semitic, for camel-riding tribesmen from the North Arabian desert moved into settled areas and took control of cities, setting up a series of political states. Once established, they flourished on commerce, acting as middlemen between the Mediterranean coast and the cities of Babylonia and Assyria. Competition, however, was to be their downfall: they proved incapable of combining. Their historical inscriptions celebrate victories over rivals, whereas a much greater danger threatened them from across the Euphrates. Capture of Lachish Assyria Expands The Assyrians, now welded into a mighty military machine of formidable efficiency, were bent on expansion. One after another, as the Assyrian armies swept westwards, the Aramaean states crumpled and were swallowed up; one after another the cities of North Syria, Carchemish and Arpad, Hamath and Damascus fell and Israel and Judah paid tribute. The wealthy coastal cities of Phoenicia bought their freedom for a time, but they too were occupied and by the seventh …

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Ramses III Defeats the Sea People (1191 B.C.)

Battle between the Egyptians and the Libyans; detail from the relief in the temple of Medinet-Habou commemorating Ramses Hl's second Libyan campaign.

For several years the Sea Peoples from the north had been drawing closer and closer to Egypt. Syria and Libya fell to them and under the leadership of Mernera of Libya they began to prepare for an assault on Egypt itself. Merneptah, son of Ramses II, decided to take the initiative and attack first. His strategy was justfied by his resounding victory, but the Sea Peoples learned a lesson and devised a new tactic. They began to infiltrate the country in families and groups. Unknown to the Egyptian administration, a new onslaught of Sea Peoples was about to occur. Happily for Egypt there was a man equal to the situation in the person of Ramses III. In the eighth year of his reign, in 1191 B.C., Ramses III mobilized the Egyptian armies, together with their mercenaries, auxiliaries and allies, to halt an invasion of the Sea Peoples. Egypt was facing some of the toughest enemies in its history. Who were these mysterious Sea Peoples, as they are referred to in the official documents that chronicled the numerous campaigns fought against them during the reigns of Ramses II and Merneptah? Captive Sea Peoples held by the hair; from the Cairo museum. The Sea Peoples were nations of very diverse origins, engaged in joint expeditions of conquest and plunder. They included the Aqaivasha, who were probably Achaeans; the Tursha or Tyrrhenians; the Shakalsha or Zekel, who came from Sicily; the Shirdana or Sherden, who originated in Sardis or possibly Sardinia; the Denyen or Danaeans, originating from Greece; the Peleset, referred to in the Bible as Philistines; and the Louka or Lycians. These men, although from different stock, had one thing in common: Indo-European racial characteristics, with features astonishing to the Egyptians. They were “all northern peoples,” declare the Victory inscriptions of Merneptah …

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Hittite Empire and Egypt Threatened by Northern Invaders (1280 – 1191 B.C.)

Although the Exodus of the “children of Israel” from Egypt is rightly to be regarded as one of the greatest milestones in human history, in the context of the age in which they lived it must have seemed a very small, even trivial event. The Egyptians themselves would have regarded it as just one more tiresome episode in a constantly recurring situation. For centuries the bedouin tribesmen of Sinai and south Palestine had been permitted from time to time to bring their flocks to the fringes of the fertile Delta in search of pasture; whenever there was famine on the steppelands, the cry would go around, “There is corn in Egypt!” From time to time, when the nomads, grown numerous, sought to move farther in and settle, the army of Pharaoh would be sent to expel them from the borders once more. They had outstayed their welcome. Statues at Abu Simbel Archaeology has not yet provided any material remains that could throw light on the story of the sojourn in Egypt and of the Exodus. Circumstantial details contained in the narrative, however, and our knowledge of the wider history of the age, suggest that Joseph and Moses fit best into the context of the Nineteenth Dynasty, when the residence city of the Pharaohs was not Thebes or Memphis, but Pi-Ramesses in the eastern Delta, probably that same city called “Raamses” which the Hebrews are said to have helped to build. The Pharaoh of the Exodus in that case is likely to have been Ramses II, who founded this new city and embellished it with fine buildings and gardens. Egyptians harvesting corn The Reign of Ramses II Ramses II is one of the most impressive figures in the whole history of the ancient Near East. His long reign of sixty-seven years …

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Let My People Go! (Hebrews 1280 B.C.)

The parched desert lands of the Middle East recall the grim terrain crossed by the Israelites under Moses in the Exodus from Egypt. (The picture shows the cracked soil and sparse vegetation of the Negev, near the Dead Sea.)

The Hebrews were a nomadic people, some of whom settled in Egypt. They had their own God — Yahweh or Jehovah — and in this respect they differed little from the people around them. Yet the Israelites, led by Moses, were convinced that their God had promised them a land of their own and that they must leave Egypt and go to Palestine. Their God was essentially a god of battle and as such, invaluable as long as they were on the march. What would happen once they settled down? Inevitably there were attempts to worship local gods also, but the basic conviction that there was only one god — and a moral god at that — the God of Israel and that the Hebrews were his people, was never forgotten. For this reason the Hebrews are one of the most important peoples of antiquity. The Exodus or departure from Egypt was essential to the fulfillment of that role. The blazing heat of early summer beat down upon the rocks and sand of the vast and mountainous wilderness of Sinai. In a parched valley, far from any human habitation, a band of some hundred Hebrews, perhaps even some thousands of fugitives from the Nile Delta waited for the orders of their leader, Moses. These “children of Israel” (Hebrews) formed part of a group of tribes who had migrated into the Land of Canaan from the north several hundred years earlier. All Hebrews claimed a common ancestor in Abraham and all shared a common religious belief. Then famine had struck the land, probably in about 1650 B.C. Some of the tribes of the Hebrews had found food nearby; others, the ancestors of Moses’ group, had wandered as far as Egypt in the search for sustenance and they had remained there as …

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Palestine to Egypt – People Gain a National Identity and Settle New Lands (1400 – 1280 B.C.)

Cune form tablet from Tell el Amarna

Palestine was possessed by Egypt. In the year 1887 an Egyptian peasant, digging in the ruins of an ancient city on the banks of the Nile, came across some baked clay tablets impressed with cuneiform writing. In due course these tablets came into the hands of dealers and eventually their importance realized. The city had once been the capital of Egypt, for a brief time in the early fourteenth century B.C. and the tablets had come from the record office of the palace; they were letters, part of the files of the Foreign office, the correspondence of the potentates and princes of the Near East with their ally, or in some cases their overlord, the Pharaoh of Egypt. They are written in Akkadian: the language of diplomacy in this age, as it had been in the time of the Mari letters and we must imagine that in every prince’s palace, even in countries remote from Babylonia, there were scribes who could read and write the language and would translate the letters to their masters. The situation mirrored in these letters is a complex one. Tribute-bearers from Carchemish The kings of Babylonia and Assyria, the kings of the Hurrian kingdom of Mitanni and of the kingdom of Alashiya, which may be Cyprus, wrote to the Pharaohs as equals. They were bound to them by treaties of alliance cemented by marriage and some of the letters discuss the amount of dowry which they propose to give to a daughter who is to be sent to Egypt to swell the Egyptian king’s numerous harem. Rich presents were exchanged and the vassal was to send a gift of gold equal value. Avenue of rams at temple of Karnak This was, in fact, trade: an exchange of goods, value for value, on an official basis …

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The Aryan Invasion of India (c. 1400 B. C.)

Priest-king, or deity, from Mohenjo-daro, in the Indus Valley. The people of this pre-Aryan city were not the primitive barbarians of Aryan legend.

Aryan peoples from the North descended into India, radically affecting the native civilization, round about between 1750 to 1400 B.C. Some four thousand years ago in India, around the Indus Valley at Mohenjo-daro and farther north at Harappa, a civilization flourished rivaling those of Egypt and Mesopotamia. Streets were laid out at right angles, brick houses existed and an elaborate drainage system was installed. Writing had also been invented. Pottery was produced and there were certainly trading contacts with Mesopotamia. They were not simply invaders — though archaeology has produced evidence of fighting at Mohenjo-daro — but settlers. The Aryan invasions were infact migrations of peoples. Among other things they introduced the horse — hitherto unknown — to India, but much more significantly, they brought a new language and a new religion, whose effects are still profoundly important in India today. The Indian subcontinent, bounded on the north by the mountain ranges of the Himalayas and elsewhere by the ocean, has always been relatively immune from invasion. The would-be invader must show an extraordinary degree of resourcefulness and tenacity if such natural obstacles as these are to be overcome. On only two occasions in historical times has India been invaded: by the armies of Islam in the Middle Ages and by the British (a process of gradual infiltration rather than direct invasion) in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Of the “prehistoric” invasions, that of the Aryans in the second half of the second millennium B.C. has left the profoundest marks on Indian culture and may fairly be called a milestone in Indian history. The precise dates and conditions of the Aryan invasion, for reasons we shall discuss later, may still elude scholarship, but this much is clear, between 1750 and 1400 B.C. India was forced to meet the onslaughts of waves …

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Egypt Becomes an Imperial Power (1450 – 1400 B. C.)

Ship building in Egypt

We have seen that after the fall of Babylon in 1530 B. C. and the collapse of the Amorite kingdoms of the Euphrates area and North Syria, new peoples of different races entered the area and a new pattern of settlement developed. In the sixteenth and fifteenth centuries, the focus of our interest leaves the valley of the Two Rivers and is concentrated rather on Syria and Palestine and in particular on the new kingdoms which, with a population now partly Semitic (or “Canaanite,” the Biblical writers’ term) and partly Hurrian and often with an Indo-European aristocracy, were emerging as political entities. Their history is bound up with that of the rulers of Egypt, which now for the first time becomes an imperial power with widespread influence and far-reaching commerce. Egypt in the Lebanon The coastal plain of the Levant, later known as Phoenicia and the Syrian hinterland as far as the Beqa, that is to say, the valley dividing the mountain ranges of Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon, had for some centuries past been in contact with the civilization of the Nile Valley. Originally, Egyptian influence had been confined to Byblos, a well-favoured port north of the modern city of Beirut and the forested slopes behind; from here, since the earliest historic period and perhaps even earlier, the Egyptians had brought the long timbers of pine and cedar they needed for shipbuilding, which were conspicuously lacking in the valley of the Nile. Their interest had spread during the Middle Kingdom to include other parts of the Lebanon with which they established a trading relationship; in Palestine they may even have achieved some kind of military domination during the Twelfth Dynasty. Egyptian soldiers marching Egyptian influence had declined, however, as soon as the strong hand of the Twelfth Dynasty Pharaohs was withdrawn. …

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