Historical Relationship of 12 Periods in Western Civilization Literature Review

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Western Civilization

MESOPOTAMIA

Historical and Geographic Background -- The word Mesopotamia is Greek and means "the land between two rivers," in this case, the Tigris and Euphrates river systems. This area is considered to be the cradle of civilization, in that it is one of the first verifiable areas of organized urbanization and domestication of plants and animals. Modern scholarship has extended the actual area of influence for Mesopotamia as far north as parts of Southeastern Turkey and parts of Khuzestan, forming a much larger area of influence for organized civilization (Dlott, 2007). The Sumerian period (from the indigenous peoples: Sumerians and Akkadians) dominated the Middle Eastern region from approximately 3100 BC to the fall of Babylon in 539 BC. During this period, of course, there were a number of peaks and valleys within the civilization, but the establishment of many of the basics of modern culture was established within that time period (law, medicine, formal writing, mathematics, etc.). The Mesopotamian Civilization encompassed much of what is now modern Iraq, parts of Iran, and Turkey, and into some of the mountains of Armenia (Pollock, 1999).Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Relationship to Previous Periods -- Because the Sumerian civilization is one of the first recorded, current archaeology does not have a documented precursor. Instead, because of the evidence, it is likely that hunter-gatherers decided to experiment with some of the grains that grew naturally around the banks of the two rivers, and found that with the proper husbandry, they could have a more regular source of food than relying on daily foraging (Dalling, 2006). Around 10,000 years ago, it appears that the tribes of this region began to plant crops; possbly because of a climate change, possibly due to a particularly mild winter, or other social issue that caused them to remain in one place for longer than a few weeks or months. This was more of a strategy for survival, scholars believe, than a planned out series of events. Because of the lack of artifacts, it is difficult to say just why hunters and gatherers in this region turned to agriculture. One theory indicates that in settled areas that were developed around a political or religious hierarchy populations increased, infant mortality decreased, and the division of labor was less demanding. More controversial is that the practice of infanticide decreased since children could now be used in rudimentary agricularual activities instead of burdening the tribal structure. Additionally, as populations grew more pressure existed on the local food supply, requiring more coordination and organization that eventually led to political leadership (Kreis, 2006).

Contribution(s) to Western Civilization -- There are numerous "firsts" for Mesopotamia: the invention of writing and record keeping (in cuneiform); basic architecture (city planning and building of ziggurats (pyramids); establishment of domestication techniques for flora and fauna; the basis of religion, myth, and literature; the establishment of a Code of Law (Code of Hammurabi, c. 1780 BC); formation of formal government; economic rules and regulations; technology (copper working, glass making, water storage, irrigation); formal medical system including written diagnosis and planning (Museum, 2009). The Hammurabi Code though was the first important record of humans granting contracts, rights to families and other individuals, and even though a patriarchal society, to understand a primitive concept of utilitarianism and segregation of rights (Van De Mieroop, 2005). Of major importance, though, for Mesopotamia was the invention of writing and keeping records. Farmers needed to keep inventories of their livestock, products, grain yields, etc. And once commerce began, it was important to find a way to use some sort of "token system" in which to account for trade goods. Out of this grew a rather advanced system of writing, which then led to even more cognitive advances -- literature, formal religion, and a way to pass down cultural activities from generation to generation in ways other than oral traditions (Woods, 2006).

ANCIENT EGYPT

Historical and Geographic Background -- There is some archaeological evidence through rock carvings that there were hunter gatherer populations that roamed the area around the Nile river as early as 10,000 years ago (8,000 BC). Around that time the climate began to change in the upper Sahara region and early tribal people migrated to the Nile River where they, like those in Mesopotamia, developed and settle agricultural economy and centralized society in the fertile areas surrounding the Nile. In fact, the Ancient Egyptian name for their country was Kemet, meaning black land, and referring to the fertile soil around the Nile flood plain. Ancient Egypt had fluid boundaries, depending on the level of aggression and conquest. However, the country always maintained a strong base and relationship to the areas surrounding their sacred river (Bard, 2000).

Relationship to Previous Periods -- The Kemet Civilization coalesced around 3150 BC when both upper and lower Egypt unified under the first pharaoh (King). The political and economic unification was important because it allowed an actual country to exist with statecraft, political and social goals, and a sense of shared culture. In many ways, Egypt was the logical continuation of Mesopotamia, and there were many similarities in political and social development. However, despite both civilizations existing simultaneously, it was Egypt that lasted longer (until about 31 BC when Rome formally annexed the land), and formed the basis of the Great Mediterranean Civilizations (Dodson, 2004). Ancient Egypt was successful, and for such a lengthy period of time, partially because it was able to adapt to the varying conditions of the Nile Valley. It was therefore important to establish a hierarchy of prediction of flooding, planting times, harvest times, storage of grain for lean years, all of which required a more advanced political and social hierarchy which engendered mathematics, writing, administration, and a stratification of labor, including scribes and overseers (James, 2005).

Contribution(s) to Western Civilization - Because the Egyptian civilization was considered old when the Greeks matured, it had 3,000 years to develop new ideas and technology. Egypt, however, developed a more sophisticated social and legal system than Sumer, advanced writing to the art of hieroglyphics (which allowed for poetry, literature, and greater flexibility), a solar and lunar calendar (based on agricultural needs), advanced architectural and artistic expression (contemporary builders are still awed by the pyramids), sophisticated shipbuilding and medical skills (recent finds show empirical knowledge of anatomy, injuries, and treatment), astronomy, and a fully develop numeric system that included geometry.

It also appears that Egypt was one of the first major experiments of monotheism. Belief in the power of the afterlife was a central tenet in Egyptian life, and much time and effort was spent on the creation of a set of guidelines that would help the aristocracy in their new life after death. Partially for this reason the society developed and maintained an elaborate set of burial customs and for the wealthy mummification was the highest form of honor (Mummies and Mummidication, 2003). Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV) ruled for 17 years, roughly 1351-1334 B.C. And abandoned traditional polytheism for worship of Aten, a solar deity. After his death, however, traditional religious practices were restored (Aldred, 1991). The legacy of Egypt, for a variety of reasons (the library, cultural exchange, etc.) passed from Egypt to Greece, and then Greece to Rome (Siliotto, 1998). There remains, however, a controversy surround the race of ancient Egypt in that in the 18th and 19th centuries, many depictions of the ancient Egyptians are of more Caucasian bent, when it is far more likely that, like modern Arabs, they were of a darker skin tone, and some closer to Ethiopian even Nubian Black (Trafton, 2007).

ANCIENT GREECE

Historical and Geographic Background -- The civilization of Greece centered around the Ionian peninsula, a rocky, rather unarable land just west of modern Turkey. Because of population growth, the early Greeks expanded their lands by a factor of 10 or more and produced an extremely viable civilization from about 800 BC through coexistence with Rome until the modern period. Because of their seafaring nature, the early Greeks were in contact with the other civilizations around the Mediterranean (Egypt, Phoenicia, Babylon, etc.). They were a vital people who took much from the older cultures and developed it (technology, science, even art) (Freeman, 1996). Eventually, Greek colonization reached as far north as present day Ukraine, as far west as France and throughout the Turkish and southern Black Sea lands. These colonies played a vital role in the spread of Greek influences (language, culture, politics, etc.) and established long-distance trading networks which boosted the economy of Ancient Greece and, later, made it easier for Rome to simply subsume (Hansen, 2006).

Relationship to Previous Periods - There were a number of early civilizations centered in and around the Mediterranean that were part of the Iron and early Bronze Ages. The Minoans, for instance, based on the Island of Crete, were primarily traders whereas the Mycenaean Greeks (1600-1100 BC) advanced through warfare and conquest. It was this combination that solidified and became the early Greek culture (Castleden, 2005). Greek civilization is divided into several periods… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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