The End Of The Early Civilization Period

The Rise Of Civilization In The Middle East And Africa

Date:        1992





     The proliferation of spin-off civilizations brought important innovations

within the framework set by the achievements of the great progenitors in

Mesopotamia and Egypt. The simplified alphabet, the major cultural shift

described by the first great monotheistic system, and a number of quite

practical improvements - the introduction by another Mediterranean coastal

peoples, the Lydians, of coined money - considerably advanced the level of

civilization itself. The spread of civilization into Kush and into some

European portions of the Mediterranean, fed by deliberate expansion and

growing trade, also set the basis for the development of major civilization

centers beyond the original core. By 1000 B.C. the civilization zone initially

established by separate developments in Mesopotamia and Egypt had fanned out

widely, sketching the basis for later societies in the Middle East, Africa,

and parts of Europe.


     No sharp line divides the long early phase of the development of

civilization in the Middle East and North Africa from the next, classical

period; there was no total overturning by invasion, as would characterize the

first civilization in India. Developments such as the spread of the Kushite

kingdom, the survival of the Egyptian kingdom, or the elaboration of the

Jewish religion continued well into the final centuries B.C. Successive

empires in the Middle East would revive or preserve many features of the

Mesopotamian pattern.


     Around 1000 B.C., and for several centuries thereafter, there was a

somewhat pervasive pause in the development of civilizations in this general

region. The pause did not disrupt the Phoenician or Kushite expansion on the

fringes, nor did it shatter all civilized forms. But Mesopotamia did undergo

an unusual several-century span in which regional city-states and considerable

internal warfare brought political chaos. Egyptian politics were also

deteriorating. Early civilizations in Greece were overwhelmed (almost as

completely as their counterpart in India) by waves of invasions by

Indo-Europeans from eastern Europe. These invasions for a time reduced

politics to essentially tribal levels and virtually destroyed cultural

activities that depended on writing or elaborate workmanship.


     The waves of Indo-European invasion form the clearest breaking point.

These invaders were hunters and herders initially from central Asia, who

pressed into western Asia and Europe in successive waves. The Hittites were an

Indo-European people capable of assimilating Mesopotamian values to the extent

of setting up a major empire. They also pushed back the Egyptian sphere of

influence, launching the decline of the New Kingdom and also freeing up the

southeastern Mediterranean corner for the rise of smaller states such as the

Jewish kingdom. But by 1200 B.C. the Hittites were swept away by another

invading force of Indo-Europeans (the same group that interrupted civilization

in Greece).


     The Indo-Europeans, beginning with the Hittites, introduced iron use

which gave rise to more powerful weaponry and the possibility of

geographically more extensive empires based on military power. The first group

to exploit this new weaponry were the Assyrians, who began a pattern of

conquest from their base along the Tigris River. By 665 B.C. they had

conquered the whole of the civilized Middle East down to the Persian Gulf as

well as Egypt. This was a cruel people, eager to terrorize their enemies. The

Assyrians used iron, a strong and widely available metal, to arm more men more

cheaply than societies relying on bronze were able to do. Their empire was

unprecedentedly large and also unusually systematic as they collected tribute,

assimilated diverse cultural achievements, and even moved whole peoples (as

they did the Jews) in order to maintain control. The Assyrian state was not

long lived. By 612 B.C. it fell to a combination of pressures from invading

frontier tribes and internal revolt. A number of smaller successor kingdoms

followed, until another great eastern empire, the Persian, arose in 539 B.C.


     The key points are these: The characteristic boundaries of the early

civilizations that had lasted so long amid a relatively slow pace of change

were beginning to yield. Invading peoples brought new ideas. The

Indo-Europeans, for example, ignored the Mesopotamian or Egyptian beliefs

about the divine attributes of kings. Rather, kings were selected by councils

formed by nobles and the army. Also, where Indo-European culture took deep

root, as in Greece, political patterns would begin to diverge from those set

in the earlier civilizations of the region. Geographical boundaries were

shifting too. Egypt faded as a major independent actor, while the Middle East

was open to new empires with greater unifying potential than ever before; and

new centers of vitality were beginning to be sketched in Africa and along the

European coast of the Mediterranean.


     The stage was beginning to be shaped for the emergence of a new set of

civilizations, such as in Persia and Greece, that would build on earlier

precedents in many ways but advance new cultural and political forms. Based on

the new military technology brought by iron and on steady improvements in

shipping, these new civilizations would reach out to wider regions than the

early civilizations had usually managed. More extensive civilization zones and

new cultural and political principles, though both prepared by developments in

the early civilization period, would define the era of classical civilizations

in the Middle East and Mediterranean that began to emerge by about 800 B.C.

with the recovery of civilization in Greece and, soon, the rise of the great

Persian empire.


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