Questions and Responses for Big History, Chapter 6
Early Cities (3500-800BCE). 1) What is the definition of civilization and why do some historians have a problem with using it? 2) Where were the first four urban civilizations and why did they develop along rivers? 3) What was, and remains, a problem for flood-irrigation over decades and centuries? 4) If the earth is the female element of creation, what is the male element, and why did the Sumerians think so? 5) What explains the downfall of sumer and its written language cuniform? 6) What do we retain from Sumer in our own culture? 7) What was the significance of Venus, or Inanna, to the Sumerians? 8) Why do we remember some of the kings, like Hammurabi (1792-1750 BCE) and Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 BCE) after Sumer's downfall? 9) What is signficiant about the Indus Valley civilization? 10) Why is more remembered about Egypt than the Indus valley? 11) What technology increased the potential for empires to rise? 12) What was so rare, about the Phonecian alphabet and what languages did it forshadow? 13) Why did the rise of cities lead to the rise of patriarchy? 14) What has recent recearch concluded regarding "diffusionst" theories of civilization spreading from one place to the rest of the world (i.e., Mesopotamia as the center)? 15) Why did the thesis of Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization cause so much controversy among scholars?
1) Civilization is derived from the Latin word, civitas, or city; but many historians had problems using it because the term, "uncivilized" was used derogatoraly to demean the people who the Romans or Europeans. After a century of warfare among "civilized nations," the most violent warfare in the history of humankind, many historians have begun to question wheter "civilized" people are actually more savage than hunter-gatherers. David Christian uses the term, agrarian civilization to connote the dependency of urban areas on rural hinterlands. 2) The first four urban civilizations were centered along the Nile, the Tigris and Euphrates, the Indus, and the Yellow rivers. These rivers provided the irrigation necessary for largescale farming and the mobility of the rivers themselves for transportation. 3) Salinization, or salt build-up in the soil was and remains a problem with larg-scale flood irrigation. Salinification can sterilize the soil. 4) Water was considered the male element, like sperm in the reproductive combination between male and female. 6) Historians and paleontologists speculate that drought and increased salinization from too much irrigation, pressures from the steppe horse nomads (Assyrians and Persians) were responsible for Sumer's collapse. The language continued as a trading language. 6) We retain parts of the Sumerian counting system based on 12 in our clock, calendar, degrees of a circle. 7) Venus, the brightest light in the West after the sun sets, was the goddess of love to the Sumerians. 8) Hammurabi created the first legal code that has reflections in Hebrew law as well. Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562BCE) captured Jerusalem and deported many Hebrews to Babolynia for what is known to Hebrews as the "Babolynian Captivitiy." Their enslavement lasted until Cyrus the Great led the Persians into Babylon and set the captives free. 9) The Indus is one of the first four agrarian civilizations in Afro-Eurasia. It had the first working sewer system, it laid the foundation for Hinduism, the sacredness of the cow; and the Indus, like Mesopotamia, it experienced salinization and deforestation which probably contributed to its downfall. 10) The written language of Egypt was deciphered while the Indus was not. The Egyptian civilization lasted at least a thousand years longer than the Indus and it played a large role in Hebrew history and was recorded in the Bible. Egyptian economy and culture was also central to much of the Mediteranean before the Roman Empire 11) The horse and chariot increased the potential for empires to rise because it improved military strategy and effectiveness against enemies, not longafter the horse (1500BCE), the smelting of iron (900BCE) and subsequent expansion of military capacity of empirial power even more. 12) The Phonecian alphabet was rare because it was based on phonetic sounds and not symbols for inherent meaning. The phonetic basis for the alphabet allowed it to be used by a number of languages, brom Hebrew to Greek and Arabic. It allowed sacred texts like the Hebrew Torah to become mobile, hence, liberating God from one location. In contrast, Chinese, Cuniform, Mayan, and Aztec languages remained based on pictographic symbols. 13) The rise of cities coincided with the rise of patriarchy because the surpluses generated by large-scale farms had to be protected militarily and managed with an ever increasing level of production in mind to support the military and a growing beuracracy. Women gave up power to more patriarchal institutions in part because of the privatization, and militarization of land, the need for more laborers (more babies). The increased production of calories made more babies possible and women became increasingly delegated to homelife. The myths of this time of transition showed the male gods increasingly dominant, exemplified in the story of the god-king Marduk waging war on Tiamat, the mother of all things, hacking her body to peices and fashioning a new world. The Hebrews rejected a goddess completely, calling the Canaanite fertility goddess, Astarte, an abomination to God. In Greek mythology, women become, not the parent to the child, but the nurse of the new planted seed that grows ("the parent is he who mounts"). 14) Recent research on civilization, especially evindence proving that civilizations in far-reaching parts of the world developed simultaneously with one another (not diffusing from one to another), basically shatterd the old "diffusionist" theory of civilization originating in one place (Mesopotamia) first and then moving to the rest of the world. 15) The thesis of Black Athena was controversial first of all because it proposed something that most of the European-centered scholarship for the last two centuries had not considered: the influence of Asia and Africa on the development of classical Greek and Roman civilizations. Ironically, thesis may have taken a position as extreme as the one it sought to disprove. That Europe developed a classical high political/philosophical/religious culture exclusive of influence from Africa (Egypt) and Asia (the Mid-East and Persia) is as narrow-minded as the Black Athena position that posits that almost everything in Greco-Roman culture comes from Africa and Asia. Reality must be in between the two positions.