hist1002 the ancient near east

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					  HIST1002 Tradition and Transformation in Western History

                 The Ancient Near East:
                 Mesopotamia & Egypt

2012/10/8                  Prof. Frederick Hok-ming CHEUNG
Ancient civilizations
   Mesopotamia (Tigris & Euphrates Rivers)
   Egypt (Nile)
   (China [Yellow River])
   (India [Indus River])
Ancient civilizations
   civitas (Latin) = city
   Bronze Age
   Tin, copper, + use of metal tools/weapons
   Mesopotamia
   4,000 to 2,800 B.C.
Mesopotamia: location
   meso = middle
   potamoi = rivers
   = between the rivers (Tigris & Euphrates)
   The Tigris-Euphrates Valley was a long strip of fertile
    lowlands with a highland region to the Northeast and the
    Arabian Desert to the Southwest
   Soil = rich, because of flooding each year
   BUT, also “uncertainty”! + wars
   Therefore: “insecure”
   Many Gods – polytheism
Mesopotamia: nature and threats
   In Sumer, the Sumerians were pessimistic
   Perhaps because of nature (violent & unpredictable, with
    wars and flooding)
   (No matter how they tried, they could never really tame the
    unpredictable floods and Mother Nature!)
   + sometimes, drought
   + extreme contrasts (long weeks of blistering heat, then,
    torrential rain which caused floods)
   +furious wind & suffocating dust storms
   + periodic conquests by nomadic peoples from the Northeast
Mesopotamia: gods
   Therefore, = insecure & helpless
   Many Gods of Nature (mountains, trees, rivers, stones,
    wind, sky, earth, sun, moon, etc.) = invincible power
   Men were only “play things and slaves to the gods.”
Mesopotamian literature
   Mesopotamian literature = darkness & gloom
   For example, Epic of Gilgamesh
   A powerful tragedy that describes a Sumerian hero’s
    courageous but fruitless search for immortality and
    includes an early version of the flood version
   Gilgamesh (the hero)
   Love, conflict,
   friendship & loyalty,
   joy & sorrow,
   courage & fear
   and ultimately, the horror of mystery of death
   Gilgamesh, King of Uruk (at first, proud tyrant), then God
    Anu sent Enkidu (or Engidu) fought with Gilgamesh; the
    two became inseparable friends
   Together, they fought against monsters
   Then, because Gilgamesh refused Goddess Ishtar’s love,
    thus, hatred, and Enkigu died
   Enkidu described afterlife = dark and gloomy
   Many Gods (polytheism)
Mesopotamia: gods
   Chief deity: Anu (sky god)

   Earth Goddess: Inanna (fertility)
   God of Storms: Enlil (destruction, force, wildness, and
Mesopotamia: Mathematics
 Decimal (10) system
 Decade = 10 years
 Decameron          (by Bocaccio)

   + also 6, 60, 600, 3600
   (12)
   (360)

   weight & measure
   addition & subtraction
   fraction
Mesopotamia: Lunar calendar
   Ziggurats: terraced temples (to heaven); architecture of
    clay-bricks (because stone and thick wood were scarce
    in Mesopotamia)

   Sumerian writing: temple scribes, wedge-shaped marks,
    inscribed on clay tablets, called “cuneiform”

   Cuneus (Latin) = wedge

   So, “History begins at Sumer”

   (i.e., with written sources)
Mesopotamia: politics
   Hierarchy: priests, nobles, freemen, & peasants (majority)

   2,370 to 2,230 B.C. Political unification under Akkadian King Sargon

    then Northeast unrest again

   then, 2,100 B.C., Kingdom of Ur

   then, the Amorites from Syria built Babylon

   The Ablest of the Amorite kings of Babylon was Hammurabi (c.
    1,792-1,750 B.C.) conquered all, thus, the Babylonian Empire

   Hammurabi created a political structure of exceptional efficiency
Mesopotamia: law
   Law Codes of Hammurabi: based on a series of earlier
    shorter Sumerian codes and customs;

   “protected” people

   Enforcement of the law made all men subject to know

   reflected “active & complex commercial life”
   harsh,
   a high degree of authoritarianism
   retributive justice (for example, “an eye for an eye, a
    tooth for a tooth”)
Mesopotamia: law
   #196 If a man destroys the eyes of another man, they shall destroy
    his eyes;

   #197 If he breaks a man’s bone, they shall break his bone;

   #198 If a man knocks out a tooth of a man of his own rank, they
    shall knock out his tooth

   (Later, Hebrew laws, too, #24 “Wherever hurt is done, you shall give
    life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
    burn for burn, bruise for bruise, wound for wound.”)

   Then, about 1,750 to 1,550 B.C., Northern invasion again by the
Egypt (埃及)
   The Egyptian civilization, centering on the Nile 尼羅河
    valley, developed around c. 4000B.C., and political
   c. 3200 B.C.
   Old Kingdom (c. 2850-2200 B.C.)
   Egyptian civilization:
   Dignified, self-confident, & optimistic
    ( Mesopotamia - Pessimistic)
   Perhaps because of political stability & continuity
   + weather, climate, soil, Nile
   Herodotus (希羅多德) [西方史學之父] Greek historian,

     “Egypt is   the gift of the Nile”
     Egyptian    hymn: “Hail to thee, O Nile.”
     Rich soil
     Because of annual flooding (predictable)
     Famous for astronomy
     Solar calendar
     365 days / year
     (more efficient than the lunar calendar of   the
     numbers (1-9)
   Physiology
   Medicine (especially, surgery) (外科手術)
   Sculpture
   Architecture
      Pyramids 金字塔

   The Old Kingdom
   c. 2700-2200 B.C.
   Middle Kingdom
   c. 2050-1800 B.C.
Indo-European Invasion
   c. 1750-1550 B.C.
   The “Hyksos” brought horses and chariots into Egypt
    (new military techniques)
New Kingdom
   c. 1550-1150B.C.
   under Akhnaton (pharaoh 法魯王), c. 1379-1361 B.C.
    “almost monotheism”
   “Monotheism”, the belief in one God, is a system we take
    for granted today, but for thousands of years,
    “polytheism”, the belief in many Gods, was much more
    common (or “normal”). We tend to think of polytheism, it
    provided the fundamentals of religion: explanation. In
    fact, in some ways it did it better, for a polytheistic
    system, there is no need to explain the existence of evil,
    or why God lets the wicked prosper and the good suffer.
To Aton
   Thou appearest beautifully on the horizon of heaven,
   Thou living Aton, the beginning of life!
   ……
   O sole god, like whom there is no other!
   Thou didst create the world according to thy desire.
To Aton
   Akhnaton deliberately rejected other gods & had a new
    god (“a single, all-powerful, & merciful creator”)
   = the Aton
   = a solar disc
   = god of all men,
   = god of the universe
   = creator of the world
   = essence of ma’at (truth)
To Aton
   “O sole god, like whom there is no other! Thou didst
    create the world according to thy desire whilst thou wert
   Theological revolution?
   Or political?
   trying to destroy the ever-increasing power of priesthood?
   BUT once Akhnaton died,
   Egypt returned to polytheism
   Yet, Akhnaton’s theory probably had influenced the
    Hebrews who were then slaves in Egypt.
   Universe was orderly & benevolent
   Ma’at = truth, justice, harmony, balance, righteousness
   Re: sun-god
   (+ pharaoh 法魯王 is a living god)
   Osiris: a great & benevolent pharaoh god killed by a
    brother, but miraculously resurrected by Isis (sister? Wife
    ─ magical)
   ∴theme of death & resurrection
   perhaps ∵ vegetation cycle (4 seasons) “Nature” 大自然
Mesopotamia and Egypt: Similarities
        Mesopotamia                     Egypt
1. River-Valleys             Nile
Euphrates & Tigris
2. Agriculture               Rich soil ∵floods
Rich soil ∵floods
3. Kings + priests           Pharaohs + priests

4. Weather / environment /   Weather / environment /
nature                       nature
Mesopotamia and Egypt: Differences
      Mesopotamia                Egypt
Without control     Kinder floods – annually
                    with control
                    Winds: softer
                    Sky: clearer
Open to attack      Surrounding deserts =
                    protection from outside
                    ∴political stability
∴insecure           ∴secure, confident, pragmatic
Pessimistic         Optimistic
Mesopotamia and Egypt: Differences

       Mesopotamia                          Egypt
                              ∴confident affirmation of life
                              & life after death
                              ∴elaborate burial procedure
                              e.g. mummification (木乃伊)
                              & pyramids金字塔
Polytheism (more natural or
much easier to explain
ancient happenings)

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