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mediterranean hist

HIST 207 Ancient Mediterranean
Classical History: What does classicus mean?
Texts → literature & history
A quote from the textbook:
“The past is always defined by the present.”
Etymology of “civilization” “medeniyet” medine: medenīyet: Şehrīlik, terakki, temeddün
Lat. civis
/civilis Eng. civil
Some major issues we will bear in mind when we are reading for this course and
talking about its topics:
• Interaction of cultures
• How cultures persist and/or change
• How surplus is accumulated and used to sustain civilization.
The Ancient Near East – Who searched for the past there?
Biblical “archaeologists”: to prove the truth of Biblical narratives
After the mid-20th century archaeologists started looking into ordinary men’s lives,
connections between cultures, relationships between center and periphery.
Sumer from Akkadian sumerum
3500-2300 BC very poor region in natural reserves: no stones, timber, metals.
But the soil is amazingly fertile: it is 4-5 times more fertile than areas with rain only
What is a tell? Arabic: ‫تَل‬, tall, “mound” or “small hill”, Turkish “höyük”
Tell Barri
The citadel of Aleppo
Eridu on the Euphrates from the Ubaid Period (6500-3800 BC)
Temple to Enki (earliest part dated to 4900 BC)
Enki: (a) shaper of the world, (b) embodiment of wisdom
Graveyard at Eridu dated to c 3800 BC: for “elites” ??priests
But lots of grave objects like obsidian beads and lapis lazuli beads
lapis lazuli
Eridu looks like the very earliest city. It may even have started as a sort of
pilgrimage center for the cult of Enki. But it probably had no walls, because none
had been discovered that was dated to the earliest period.
After the Ubaid Period in Sumerian history, comes the Uruk Period.
(a) Much much more crowded cities (b) Some control must have spread to the
surrounding regions (c) Monumental buildings (c) Bureaucratic seals for the officials
have been found: “cylindrical seals”
(d) For the first time: Primitive writing, proto-cuneiform c 3100 BC :
Two sheep ?to Goddess Inanna
Early writing tablet recording the allocation of beer
(e) In the records we come across so many varied professions.
(f) very distant posts like those at Habuba Kabira (Tell Qanas) 1300 km away from
Uruk, a bit east of Aleppo.
When Uruk as a center lost importance, other cities started becoming prominent.
“Writing” began to spread first as “logograms”: (push the cc button for subtitles)
Video link: https://youtu.be/HyjLt_RGEww
That video gives a summary of the very first stages of the evolution of writing.
3000 BC first real texts in the “Sumerian” language: (a) unrelated to all the other
languages in the region, (b) but for centuries to come it was considered superior,
more formal, and more ceremonial.
Shuruppak NW of Uruk, after reading its tablets: (a) much more conservative society,
(b) lots of lists of things
Invention of the wheel! Late 4th millennium
Discovery of the bronze: requires copper and tin.
Bronze age starts c 3000 BC – until c 1000 BC
Tin is crucial, Sumer got it from central Asia.
“Royal” Cemetery of Ur
Shows evidence of the further development of long-distance trade rules
Watch this video for the Standard of Ur from the so-called “Royal” Cemetery of Ur:
Video link: https://youtu.be/Nok4cBt0V6w
Increasingly more signs of warfare. Some of the kings are now obviously warrior
kings. In earlier ages, kings could be just priests or administrative leaders. C 2500 BC
more and more warrior kings are seen. The first example is King (lugal) Mesilim of
Kish (today’s middle Mesopotamia, where Tigris and Euphrates are very close to each
other—close to the future site of Babylon). This area was called Upper Mesopotamia
in contemporary records. Mesilim was said to have had “divine parentage”. But
what does it mean?
Many firsts: (a) “warrior-king” (b) palace (c) documented slavery (d) law code
“Kings are shepherds of the people” in the Law Code of Urukagina, who was king in
Lagesh c 2350 BC.
First record of the establishment of kingship:
Ea opened his mouth to speak, saying a word to the Lady of the Gods: ‘You are Beletili, the mistress of the great gods. You have created man the human. Fashion now the
king, the counsellor-man. Gird the whole of his figure sweet. Make perfect his
countenance and well formed his body!’
The Lady of the Gods fashioned the king, the counsellor man. They gave to the
king the task of doing battle for the great gods. Anu gave him his crown, Enlil gave
him his throne, Nergal gave him his weapons, Ninurta gave him his corona of
splendour, The Lady of the Gods gave him his features of majesty, Nuska
commissioned counsellors, stood them before him. (Translation: Andrew George)
2330 BC Sargon “the Great” of Akkade
Semitic-speaking first people
First suppressed southern Mesopotamian plains, and the Sumerian cities there, later
directed its attention to NW.
Cuneiform tablets are now written in Akkadian, which is a Semitic language, but
Sumerian still lives, and is actually more prestigious, probably becomes the language
of priesthood and religion.
This is also the first period when the written material left from then are more
important sources than non-written material.
Sargon’s “empire” relied on continuous conquests. About 70 years or so after
Sargon’s death the Akkadian empire fell to Gutians, who arrived from the Zagros
Watch this video for the Victory Stele of Naram-Sin, one of the last Akkadian rulers
Video link: https://youtu.be/OY79AuGZDNI
South Mesopotamian cities re-flourished: This period was called the IIIrd Dynasty of
Ur a last period of Sumerian rule.
“Ziggurats” are from this period.
A lot of religious texts from this period talk about “kings serving gods”
Also first traces of texts indicating music as an important component of worship, etc.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is also from this period. But the surviving version is from much
For an excellent summary of the Epic of Gilgamesh you are invited to enjoy the third
episode of the podcast Literature and History:
In order to listen to the episode:
Tablet 11 which contains a text of the Story of the Flood which has many similarities
to the Flood Narrative in the Genesis:
The Epic of Gilgamesh became a very successful popular story. We know this
because it was translated into so many different languages, including even Hittite.
C 2000 BC marks around the time when the Sumerian civilization really declined. In
2004 BC Elamites sacked Ur.
2000-1600 BC the first/ Old Babylonian Civilization.
Hammurabi: 1760s BC invaded South Mesopotamia. Then the East and then further
NW, conquered Mari in the mid-Euphrates, but stopped at the approaches of region
around Aleppo which was called Yamhad.
Hammurabi Law code in Akkadian
(a) Royal propaganda
(b) No reference to Hammurabi’s law-code in any subsequent legal text
(c) he likens himself to a shepherd.
Archives of Mari: Gives a picture of the ancient Near East
So many trading city-states, rivaling each other
Open trade is necessary, that means, no kingdom is closed to interaction with the
outside but this makes them vulnerable to invasions
Around 500 city names, but not all of them are attested archaeologically.
Yamhad was apparently an important state, but its capital Aleppo remains
unexcavated under the citadel of Aleppo.
Old Babylonian Society was apparently very commercial-minded.
Literature very important and distinct texts are from this period
The Enuma Elish, the Babylonian epic of creation, date not certain, between 15th-12th
“oceans are first created”—Thales uses this idea later.
Babylonian contributions to subsequent civilizations:
(a) Astronomy and mathematics, (b) 1800-1600 BC multiplication and division, (c)
calculation of squares and cubes
These are all necessary of land surveying and engineering
(d) Calculation of time: 1 hour = 60 minutes = 3600 seconds. Base of 60, because it can
be divided by so many different numbers.
So 1° = 60 minutes in angles also.
After about 2000 BC states started experimenting in new scripts.
Around 1500 BC first alphabet in Canaan
22 consonants, at Ugarit, north of Canaan, 1200 BC
Somewhere between the 1300-1000 BC the Phoenicians developed the alphabet.
From the Phoenicians the Greeks developed the first real alphabet around 9th/8th c.
In real northern Mesopotamia c 1900 BC Assyria emerged.
Hamrin Mts a bit N of Tikrit physically divides Mesopotamia N and S halves.
The central city is named Ashur which is also their national god’s name. Ashur was
not discovered yet.
Assyrian kings are known to be Ashur’s vice-regents, representatives on earth. But
apparently a committee form by the aristocratic families actually ran the country.
Assyrian merchants are all over the place. They formed special neighborhoods in
Hittite and Syrian Mesopotamian cities. An Anatolian example to them is
The Hittites
C 1830 BC in Anatolia, the dynasty of Kussara established their rule. Hattusas
became their capital and they called themselves “People of the Land of the Hatti”
Old Kingdom 1600-1400 BC
II. New Kingdom 1400-1200 BC
Biblical Hittites must be after 1200s.
In the New Kingdom, first the King Tudhaliya expanded the kingdom at the expense
of the Mitanni in Northern Syria. And then he expanded towards the West and
probably contacted the Mycenaean Greeks.
1275 BC Kadesh Treaty with Egypt.
Hittite Kings were diplomats but also dominant states men, suzerains over other
1. They make peace with people they conquer, claiming it is the pleasure of the
Hittite King.
2. Vassal kings were expected to visit Hattusas regularly and bring gifts, they also
sent reports from their own regions.
3. The Hittite king traveled around in Anatolia and acted as God’s vice-regent.
4. Very multilingual empire, 8 different languages were found in the royal archives
at Hattusas. Very open to different cultural influences from abroad. Cuneiform
was adopted as well as hieroglyphs.
All these kingdoms had (1) amazing sumptuous “palace cultures”, (2) chariot culture,
elites used chariots, (3) kings continuously sent each other gifts.
This system all collapsed right after the turn of the 13th c BC.
In some sort of “Bronze Age Collapse.”