All posts by Emma Greene

The Most Important Primary Characteristic of an Ancient State – An Urban Setting

In my opinion, the most important primary characteristic of an Ancient State is urbanization. The location of a settlement is key to the future success of the state. The ideal metropolis would be close enough to a body of water that trade would be enabled, but far enough inland so that if an invasion was to take place, it would not be a surprise. A perfect example of this strategic planning can be seen in Ancient Egypt: the Nile River provided a trading route from upper to lower Egypt – in fact it still does to this day – and the proximity to the Mediterranean Sea was an excellent choice to create trade routes between Egypt, Italy, Greece, the area that would become the Ottoman Empire, western Africa and Southwestern Europe.

In addition to having unrestricted access to trade routes, a successful state would be centered in an area where it would be the actual center of a larger governing body. Its peripheral centers would have to be proficient in self managing for the most part, but be close enough to the core to ensure that the core still had control over them all the time.

A large population is essential for an urban metropolis to succeed. Obviously, an ancient state does not pop up overnight with a population of 100,000 people. It usually started out as a sedentary community made up of a group or several groups of hunter gatherers-turned farmers. The area would amass more and more people as time went on, by which time the settlers would have begun to build actual houses instead of tents and/or temporary living arrangements. Fields would have been planted for permanent food supply, some sort of irrigation would have been constructed, and more and more people would migrate to the area to settle down. Soon, the area would have been in need of more space for the growing number of people wanting to live there, and periphery communities would have been established. These would generally have their own leader, who would report to the central figurehead back in the core city. Once the city got to be a certain size, it would have most likely been involved in some type of warfare with neighboring cities. Because of this, there would have been a need for an army of sorts, made up of people who could defend the city and perform attacks on invaders if necessary.

Overall, an ancient state had no chance of survival if it did not have a strategic location that would be beneficial in regards to trade, a growing population, and a need for a strong defense team to keep the city from collapsing

Agriculture – The Foundation of the Ancient State

In my opinion, intensive agriculture is the most important primary characteristic of a state. Really, there can be no chance of a successful state if there is no source of food. According to the lectures, the birth of agriculture took place in the Fertile Crescent of the Near East around 11,000 years ago, most likely because of how rich the soils were there. However, agriculture didn’t happen at the same time around the world; it took time for each individual ancient state to figure out a method that worked for them. The changing climate also played a major role in the emergence of agriculture. At the beginning of the Holocene Epoch, there was a mass melting of continental glaciers, and this led to the overall temperature warming up, faster in some areas than others. Some of the glacial sediment that was deposited while the glacier was melting had contributed to the possibility of planting crops in some areas.

Each of the ancient states we studied over the semester demonstrated a mastery of agricultural practices, and that is a huge reason why these states were so successful. Not only was agriculture important to feed the citizens of these states, but also some foods that were plentiful could be traded to surrounding areas for foods that could not be grown in that specific area. Agricultural practices near bodies of water would have been relatively simple because of the rich soil, but attempting to plant crops in soil that had no capability to sustain a growing plant would have been impossible. Because of this, and because of the changing climate throughout the year, farmers had to be knowledgeable in irrigation practices as well as what crop to plant and when. Irrigation is just as important as agriculture, so much that one of the theories for the emergence of ancient states is irrigation. Perhaps the most famous example of how connected irrigation and agriculture are is the Ancient Egyptians, and how they manipulated the Nile River to be able to water their crops no matter how far inland they were planted. Soon after, other ancient states either adopted the Ancient Egyptian method or came up with their own way to ensure that their crops would be watered.

It was interesting to see how much specific crops have changed thanks to modern genetic modification; for example, wheat, corn and barley used to look drastically different than they do today. Because of this, they might not be as healthy as they were in ancient times before genetic modification.

Modern impact of Indus Valley religion and ideology

The Indus Valley religion was widespread, and many of the basic tenets have found their way into modern day religions. During the Harappan period, Hinduism found its roots in the Indus River Valley region. Stonework found by architects has shown images of one of the Hindu gods known as the Shiva Lingam. There was also an animistic aspect of the Indus Valley religion, and this was determined after finding evidence of gods being depicted with bull-like horns and other animistic features. However, there is no evidence that a religious temple was built and existed in the Indus River Valley.

Almost everyone knows what a swastika looks like and if you ask someone on the street, they will most likely tell you that it was invented by Adolf Hitler during World War II. Sadly, they are wrong. There is evidence that the Indus River Valley was one of the first civilizations that used the symbol of the swastika. Historians have been unable to interpret in which way the Indus River Valley people used the swastika. This symbol was not used for anti-Semitic purposes by the Indus River Valley people, unlike Adolf Hitler, who gave the symbol its infamous reputation. Rather, it was used as common symbol by many Southeast Asian civilizations at the time. However, the purpose of the symbol and the reason for its use cannot be determined by the evidence found that support the existence of this civilization.

There is also evidence to show the Buddhism may have acquired some of its roots in the Indus River Valley. Many of the statues found by archaeologists were in positions that can now be determined as yoga positions. The movements in yoga are closely related to the positions required for meditation in the Buddhist style. There are also early examples of Jainism. One such object is a four-faced human seal, which is a common symbol used by the religion of Jainism. This religion believed strongly in non-violence.

The Indus Valley religion helped define a civilization that existed thousands of years ago, as well as many of those that came after it. Some of the religions that the Indus River Valley civilization influenced were Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism. Some artifacts have also shown images of the swastika being portrayed; however, very little evidence has been found to help historians understand why and how this symbol was used by the people of the Indus Valley civilization. Due to the vast size of this group, its religious outreach was extensive as it expanded and influenced religions that are still presently followed by modern day religious people.

Emma Greene Blog Post 2 – Hammurabi/Hammurabi’s Code

Hammurabi was a great military leader who transformed a small city-state into one of the greatest empires the world has ever known. He was also an administrator. It is said that he personally oversaw navigation, irrigation, agriculture, tax collection, and the erection of many temples and other buildings in Mesopotamia.

He often wrote about all the stuff he did in some 55 letters that were discovered, and the letters give a glimpse into what he had to deal with as the king of an eventual empire; on the side, Hammurabi had to deal with floods, making changes to the Babylonian Calendar and taking care of livestock.

Hammurabi built only the second extensive empire in Mesopotamia, and ruled it justly by first allowing the leaders of the city-states he’d conquered to continue to rule over their city-states. He in turn ruled over them with laws that were fair enough to keep his reign as the first king of the Babylonian Empire relatively peaceful.

 

The most recognizable ancient artifact from this time period has got to be the Code of Hammurabi stele on which 282 laws, or judgments, are written in Akkadian Cuneiform script. The stele has a bas-relief at the top that depicts Hammurabi standing before the throne on which it is believed the sun god Shamash (also the god of justice), or as some have speculated, even Marduk, the patron deity of the city of Babylon, sits. It is this illustration that tells the story of how Hammurabi came to be the authority on what were dubbed the dinat mesarim or “just verdicts”.

 

Hamurabi’s code dealt with every aspect of Mesopotamian life, from trade to incest, and it is where the Lex Talionis or “Law of Retaliation,” or the “eye for an eye, tooth for tooth” deal first appeared. The Code of Hammurabi also introduced the idea of the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven, which gave the accused and accuser the opportunity to present evidence.

No doubt when we look at certain offenses and the corresponding punishments, Hammurabi’s judgments may seem severe by our standards, seeing as how the punishments varied from disfigurement (he really was quite literal when he said an eye for an eye) to just plain old death:

“If anyone steals the minor son of another, he shall be put to death.”

 

And although Hammurabi introduces his Code as a tool that stops the strong from oppressing the weak, it still maintained the social classes:

“If a man strikes the cheek of a freeman who is superior in rank to himself, he shall be beaten with 60 stripes with a whip of ox-hide in the assembly.”

Under Hammurabi’s rule, Mesopotamians enjoyed a time during which all sorts of amenities flourished, marking the Babylonian Empire as one with strong influences still seen today. When he died, no one was able to do what he did as well as he did, but it was going to be okay, because he is  still talked about today and we are living by many laws he set in stone that continue to define our humanity.

 

Emma Greene Blog 1

For my first blog post, I decided to do something a little different. I looked up “Frequently asked questions about Ancient Egypt”, picked a question at random, and this is my attempt to answer that question!

The question I found most interesting was “How did Ancient Egypt influence the daily life in the [modern] USA”? Well, there are numerous aspects of modern culture, not just in the USA but throughout the world, that are derived from the Ancient Egyptians. For example: everyone knows what an obelisk is, it’s the tall tower with the pointy top that makes up the Washington monument. But did you know that the Egyptians were the first ones to use an obelisk as a monument? They were so impressive and awe-inspiring that cultures all over the world immediately adopted the practice of erecting them. Obelisks can be found in modern day United States and Egypt, Ethiopia, Rome, Peru, Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey), England, France and Vatican City.

Another architecturally important concept taken from the Ancient Egyptians are the well-known columns that adorn the outside of both Federal and county court houses. You might be thinking that the Greek used columns in architecture before the Egyptians, but this is erroneous; the Egyptians used columns in their designs almost 2000 years before they showed up in Ancient Greece. In addition, you may recognize the modern day symbol of justice as a blindfolded woman holding a scale. In Ancient Egypt, the same symbol appears, but the woman holds the symbol of truth, which emphasizes the concept of justice, which is “Search for the truth”.

One thing that I think is fascinating is that the modern day abbreviation for prescription (Rx) can be derived from the eye symbol of Horus.

Also, it has been discovered that the Egyptians have been celebrating Easter for over five thousand years. It was initiated to celebrate the death and burial of Osiris (also called Ausar) on a Friday and his resurrection the following Sunday. Modern Christians have since adopted the timing, theme and details, but replaced Osiris with their own deity.

The Ancient Egyptians have managed to influence much of modern culture all over the world. There is even a pyramid on the back of our one dollar bill with the eye of Horus on top, as if is reminding us that Ancient Egypt was one of the first modern civilizations in the world and we shouldn’t forget it.