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The Mesopotamian Civilization and Ancient Egypt

This land of Ancient Iraq, called Mesopotamia and what we know of the fantastical history of Ancient Egypt never ceases to catch the imagination of scholars specializing in world history and the “B. C. anthropology”, so to speak. Both Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt make up huge narrations in history books, depicting the grandeur and glory of their times. With the continuous discovery of archeological evidence about these two civilizations, it still leaves us speculating about the details of their rise to power, their administration, superior culture and eventual demise.

What made these civilizations linger into unfading social memory is the force behind the people who built these societies. These forces reside upon their great rulers and we clearly remember them respectively as Akhenaten and Hammurabi. These “leaders” can be rightly called “pioneers” of world history, for they were one of the first ever recorded who produced the earliest marvels or breakthroughs of human history, which is a triumph of human will to adapt and change his/her environment.

Both were real “firsts” in their own right, even though each one lived around 500 years apart from each other. Their lives in these interesting time zones show a will of continuous progress by ancient societies. Akhenaten (d. 1336) can be called a pioneer even though he was not the first leader of Ancient Egypt. He did not even belong to the first ruling dynasty: according to Encyclopedia Brittanica (1991), he belonged to the eighteenth ruling dynasty. Assuming there were much Egyptian technology and progress done before his time, there was vast room for his own contributions.

This was in the field of Egyptian Philosophy. Some Egypt Scholars may intertwine this with Egyptian Religion, and he was more famous for this not just because he was the husband of the infamous Nefertiti (WorldBook, 1994). Wikipedia states that he is noted for the implementation of the worship for Aten, thus the first recorded acts of a monotheistic religion. This was a considerable breakthrough, knowing that the historical contexts of their neighboring societies started out as “pagans” or polytheists (ibid.

). It seems that monotheism was something new and extraordinary when Akhenaten imposed it, thus reflecting his administration style of centralizing power to his office and focusing worship to one supreme deity. The “Sun God” Egyptian image, popularized through Hollywood movies like The Mummy and Scorpion King may have traced its roots to the worship of Aten, for Brittanica further discusses that Akhenaten derived a monotheistic deity from the sun god Amon-Ra, already familiar among Egyptians before his reign.

If Akhenaten was a pioneer of a new kind of religion, Hammurabi can be considered the pioneer of social order and recordkeeping. Already famous for the “first written codes of law” (the Hamurabi Code), he is also famous for numerous contract tablets and personal letters attributed to him (Wikipedia). As the first person to implement recorded communication, he was able to make a binding agreement with his subjects in the form of written law, with an early system of punishment for guilty offenders (ibid.

). Both leaders were pioneers, but there are interesting contrasts. Curiously, both men had the will to preserve social order but the approaches were different. Akhenaten subscribed to the mystical aspect of humans to tame them and keep them in line with his “government”. A religion with one God was the way to keep order and solve civil problems. If Egypt was mystic, Hammurabi was pragmatic in Babylon. Not relying on religion, he devised a code to define the actual human conduct (not the Gods’).

He could have thought in his time, that the code should be written so everyone can remember. Democracy in Athens and Republican Rome Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome had a lot of things in common. Both had strains of Hellenism, though the Greeks could claim originality from its foundations and long lasting existence. Having a common socio-cultural origin naturally affected the development of their systems of governance. The Greek government model is a precursor to the Roman model, and the greatness of the Latin empire could not have existed without its Greek foundations.

The concept of democracy as pioneered by the Greeks originated from Athens. Compared to other city states like Sparta which maintained a standing army through compulsory training of its able citizens, Athens considered their male citizens free and politically empowered in the affairs of state (Hooker, 1996). According to Greece Scholars, these societal innovations were made possible when Athens achieved its golden age through the cunning and intelligence of Pericles. This Athenian hero was more than a military legend himself: he was a political reformist.

Brittanica states that he empowered only free-born males to exercise the right of representation in the Assembly, though it only made up a minority of the Athenian people. Robert Hooker of Washington State University claims that this minority was not even a representative democracy, but a rule of a minority, though he further states the Periclean Democracy “was the closest that human culture has come to an unadulterated democracy”. It was in its pure form when the Assembly was made up of a homogenous body, equally empowered to control the affairs of state.

There were probably no contrasting political interests because the members of the Assembly had common upbringings, and they belonged to one “class” in the social hierarchy. It is the political innovations of Rome, in all its glory, that emanates into our contemporary era of jurisprudence. Most legal concepts are cited in their Latin phrases, giving due respect to its creation in the period of the Caesars. But the development of the Roman political system, as compared to the Athenians, strikes a very interesting note to historians.

Michael Curtis describes this Etruscan political system as “complex and experimental”. He states that the Roman Republic, as history views it, “was based on the constant conflict between the patrician and the plebeian” (Curtis, 1981). This was a sign that in Republican Rome, various social stratas were asserting themselves as political units, fighting for control in society. Curtis further claims that the Plebeians composed the concilium, formed to protect them from the Patricians.

But their resolutions were always pending approval by the aristocratically dominated Senate, though it was later balanced by a growing number of Plebians members through the years. There really was “a complex balance of power” (ibid. ) between the masses and the aristocrats, culminating into the concept of the mixed constitution by Polybius, who argued that Roman Society, in its beginnings, was made up of “significant groups that possessed power, each connected and limited by the power of the others” (ibid. ).

Generally as historians put it, Republican Rome was a political terrain composed of power sharing, balance, compromises, social collectivity. The Roman Empire from its Origins to its Sacking The history of Ancient Rome is a story of color. Compared to Ancient Greece which may have a straightforward monotonous story of ascent, glory and decline, the events that shaped Rome were diverse in nature. Some are exciting, some are dark. Others are of majesty, some drab and warlike. The happenings from its origins to its sacking is a collection of multiple moods of civilization.

Livy is cited as the foremost source of Rome’s origins. He is known for his monumental work Ab Urbe Corbita Libri, known to be a 140-volume history of the great ancient empire, though a quarter of it has only survived. History Scholar John McKay considers Livy’s work as “the prose counterpart of the Aeneid”. Though it is difficult to determine the content’s facts from the legend, it became the authoritative source for pre-Caesar Rome due to its extensive discussion from Aeneas until the reign of Augustus (McKay, 1992).

Generally, Livy’s storytelling revolves around what scholars call the “age of kings”, when successive monarchs reigned over the area of the Palatine Hill, in what would develop as the Great City of Rome. Alfred John Church has translated a great deal of Livy’s work to tell about the Kings who laid the city’s foundations. He narrates the importance of the legend of the twins, Romulus and Remus. Accoridng to his book, Aeneas escaped with his people from the sacking of Troy and went to the Palatine Hill to establish a new city.

Aeneas’ descendant king was Amulius who massacred his nephews and left a virgin niece to survive. Legend says that this niece bore twins by the God Mars, Romulus and Remus, who were ordered killed by their grand uncle but were rescued by a she-wolf and the shepherd Faustulus. The twins grew up, formed a company of warriors and killed Amulius, intergrated the Sabines unto themselves and built a larger city. This city (Rome) had its name after Romulus and there are many versions of how and why he killed his twin brother. Yet it is said that Romulus laid important legal/social foundations.

After he was believed to be ascended to the heavens, King Numa succeeded him, pioneering the Roman Calendar system (Church, 1883). After him the Kings went on the ages to fight against hostile neighbors in the peninsula, until the King Tarquin came to the throne and encountered the famous Twelve Tables of Roman Law. This age also saw Lucius Tarquin, whose son Sextus was involved in the story of Lucretia To cite Curtis, the twelve tables are the culmination of the constant conflict between the patricians and plebians during this Age of Kings, and a formal balance of power between the Roman masses and aristocrats was finally realized.

This was the era of the early republic, where the Senate was functioning and two consuls represented the two levels of Roman society. The ages go on to the period of the triumvirates until Augustus, having asserted himself after Julius Caesar’s assassination, made himself emperor and implemented an era of peace. The age of peace was when the Roman culture flourished. Engineering projects were breakthroughs like the aqueducts and buildings such as the coliseum and arcade. Politics was at its height.

The republic was restored and a representative democracy was developed. But for all its pioneering fame and excellence in civilization, Rome was said to be doomed to fall, just like any society. But Kishlansky had a different persepective on this “fall”. Rome actually did not fall, it “transformed” (Kishlansky, 2001). He cites that during the 400’s A. D. , the expanded empire meant that vast numbers of soldiers with barbarian origins were integrated into the army. According to him, the Roman Military structure was no longer homogenous but ethnically diverse.

The Visigoths, Gauls, Vandals, Celts and some from Germania established themselves as official Roman warriors. They became Roman in culture and infused their ethnic flavors into the original Latin society at the same time (ibid. ). Kishlansky further described this fall, that after years of having ethnic divergence in the military and the rise and adoption of Christianity, the central Roman government lost its hold over its regiments who were fighting rival wars, breaking the empire apart The Byzantine Empire The Byzantine Empire is significant due to a number of reasons.

First, it was the center of Roman civilization when during the age of decline and the barbarian movements across Europe. Our references say that it became the bulwark of Classic Greek and Roman Heritage (Kishlansky, 2001). According to most documentation on this context, this begun when Emperor Constantine adopted Christianity as the official religion of the empire which caused rifts among Romans and barbarians who accepted it and opposed it. Constantine found a haven in Asia Minor, named the city Constantinople, and it became the center of urbanity and sophistication.

The surprising thing is when Western European civilization declined, their norms and life ways were transmuted to the East through people who wish to revive the old glory of Greece and Rome. Second is about the nature of this interesting “Eastern Civilization”, which was a cultural mixture that seems to be more alive than the Italian peninsula. Kishlansky discusses how Constantine “reaffirmed the imperial government, such that it existed for another thousand years” even though Europe shifted to the dark ages.

Historians call it the “hellenization of the east” and under Justinian, the new urbanity was a hybrid culture called “Byzantine”, the original name of Constanitine (ibid. ). Moreover, Kishlansky says that trade boomed during the period, such that it was also the center of silk and other luxury goods of the west. Third is its religious stance. Historians mention the great schism between the western and eastern ecclesiastical officials. The Roman Church was called the Orthodox, or the right way (ibid. ). Byzantine had their own way too, having their eastern orthodox dogma.

And there was Islam, the most interesting source of influence that shaped the Byzantine Empire. Sassanid’s forces were said to have helped weakened this Eastern state. The eventual decline of the Eastern Empire was also attributed to a number of reasons, all thoroughly discussed by Kishlansky. One was the mentioned rise of Islamic forces. Added to this was the granting of property and political power to the military generals of the Byzantine Empire, which caused them to dilute whatever government they had and shatter unity through rivalries. Another foreboding to the empire was later documented by Niccolo Machiavelli: the use of mercenaries.

Hired warriors have no loyalty and will fight for the highest bidder, as well as change sides to the enemy whenever profitable (Machiavelli). It is assumed that the Armenian, German and Norman mercenaries plundered the wealth of the empire while watching it lose wars (Kishlansky). The final deathblow to the empire was caused by the invading hordes from Mongolia. Kishlansky wrote that Genghis Khan killed the last caliph of Baghdad, giving rise to the Ottoman who sacked the Eastern Empire to its knees.

References:

Butterfield, B. (1996). Livy’s History of Rome. Retrieved January 16, 2008, from http://mcadams. posc. mu. edu/txt/ah/Livy/Livy01. html. Church, A. (1883). Stories from Livy. London: Seely, Jackson and Halliday. Curtis, M. (1981). The Great Political Theories. New York : Harper Collins. Freud, S. (1939). Moses and Monotheism. London : Hogarth Press. Hooker, R. (1996). The Athenian Empire. Retrieved January 11, 2008, from Washington State University Web site http://www. wsu. edu/~dee/GREECE/ATHEMP. HTM. Kishlansky, M. (2001). Civilization in the West. New York : Longman. Mckay, J. (1992). A History of World Societies. Boston : Houghton Mifflin.

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