HY 1010, Western Civilization I 1

Course Learning Outcomes for Unit I Upon completion of this unit, students should be able to:

3. Discuss key individuals in Western culture. 3.1 Identify key figures instrumental in the establishment of early civilization. 3.2 Identify actions, innovations, and/or events by influential individuals. 3.3 Discuss how notable individuals through 510 B.C.E. influenced the modern world.

Course/Unit Learning Outcomes

Learning Activity


Unit Lesson Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Unit I Assessment


Unit Lesson Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Unit I Assessment


Unit Lesson Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Unit I Assessment

Reading Assignment Chapter 1: Origins to 1200 B.C.E. Chapter 2: Small Kingdoms and Mighty Empires in the Near East, 1200–510 B.C.E.

Unit Lesson Today, when we refer to the West, its meaning can vary greatly depending on context, location, and familiarity of an individual. Looking at a globe, west may appropriately refer to the left of any specific point for some people; for others, it can serve as a reminder of a specific time and place, such as the American Western frontier. In the context of world history, the West is a shorthand reference to not just a location but a people, a socioeconomic tradition, and a common ancestry that traces its lineage to the earliest examples of life and society. In Unit I, we will focus on these earliest traces of world culture and witness the emergence of the organization of national, cultural, and societal segregation from a time when they did not exist. To start, when looking at the earliest evidence of culture, it is necessary to understand why periods of time are labeled. Starting in the 19th century, science and the humanities worked together to distinguish and divide periods for ease of reference. This division is central to geology and archaeology being able to classify millions of years of undocumented history into an understandable form. Historians primarily focus on periods with proven inhabitants, whether the proof is in terms of written, artistic, or artifactual evidence. The terms Old Stone and Paleolithic refer to the period from as early as 3.4 million years ago up to 9000 Before Common Era (B.C.E.), while New Stone and Neolithic refer to the period directly following (McKay et al., 2017).



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Old and New Stone Eras There is argument concerning how long ago the earliest hominid (i.e., erect two-legged mammal) began to resemble what we today call human. Looking at the Old Stone era, the years it encompasses reflect a period in which there is evidence of use of weapons and simple tools, such as hooks, traps, leather coverings, and flint for fire. For modern researchers, the mention of stone is a reference to the materials primarily found in artifacts from the era. Scientists and archaeologists today suggest that Homo sapiens (i.e., thinking humans), who are considered the direct ancestors of humans today, began to emerge around 200,000 years ago based on evidence found in an area we now consider as East Africa; approximately 7,000 years ago, they had migrated into Eurasia (McKay et al., 2017). Later advances would allow for sea travel and migration to more distant land masses, including Australia 50,000 years ago and the Americas 15,000 years ago, when the world warmed enough for such migration to occur. The divide between the Old Stone and New Stone eras is the first evidence of the introduction of agriculture around 9000 B.C.E. (McKay et al., 2017). While these dates and time spans seem very specific, we must remember that not all civilizations rose at the same rate, and the level and type of technology will vary depending on the region, population, and geographical nature of any set place. As migration was essential for survival, due to factors such as climate and the availability of food, evidence is less concisely located than it would have been if it were limited to the boundaries of an ancient city. What historians do find, though, are symbols of cultural development from artifacts, such as crude carvings, early forms of musical instruments, and even jewelry. With these, we can even see the earliest traces of religion being taught and passed on from generation to generation (McKay et al., 2017). The earliest evidence of the New Stone era can be found in a region of the current Middle East that is traditionally referred to as the Fertile Crescent. With the climate being of a type that allowed for rampant growth of grains and steady migrations of animals, this region was ripe for the earliest forms of permanent settlement, such as Çatal Hüyük, one of the oldest towns ever found by archaeologists. The Fertile Crescent remains a very busy region today, encompassing much of the modern Middle East. It would not be long, however, before similar population centers would be seen to emerge throughout Eurasia and Africa. With the establishment of permanent buildings also came new evidence of cultural progression. The harvest of grains required not only tools to till soil, but it also required woven goods for collection and pottery for storage and transportation of water. Like early shelters, these innovations became early artistic canvasses that can show historians a lot about priorities, civic processes, and cultural teachings. Pastoralism, or the system of domesticating livestock for food and other beneficial products, was also now possible with permanent structures. The labor, meat, and products from domesticated animals only made farming more productive, which allowed for growing populations. As these institutions grew, so did early divisions in population along socioeconomic hierarchies—the earliest versions of “haves and have-nots.” Those with greater resources—key figures who were often the heads of large families or landowners—could choose how their resources were utilized. In exchange, they could exert dominance over those in need, which would then establish structure and order, leading to complex societies that included political and religious institutions. In many cultures, men would be tasked with the role of provider, including hunter and farmer, while women were often relegated to the role of raising children. At this time, the heads of families were generally older men, creating what is today known as a patriarchy. While not universal, the male-dominated society would become common throughout Eurasia and Africa during this period (McKay et al., 2017). Effects of Trade With the emergence of urbanization throughout varied geographies, trade soon became common. Just as happens today, not every desired item could be cultivated in every region, so the transport of goods and

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consumables, such as spices, metals, and even slaves, became a major business. With trade, artisans too began to thrive. What trade also did was spread knowledge, such as religious ideas, news of powerful lands, and techniques for societal improvements. One such improvement was the smelting of copper from ore to create stronger tools and weapons. As the smelting process improved, and with the addition of other metals, a new period of civilization emerged, called the Bronze Age (ca. 3000–1200 B.C.E.). One of the more frequently spread ideals would be that of religion. Whether to answer questions about the world or to aid in policing a people, religion was a significant factor in every blossoming society. While most regions would have their own variations of stories and traditions, many general beliefs became common, notably the idea of different natural phenomena being intentionally directed by a collection of divine figures or gods. This concept of many gods and goddesses, each with an individual purpose, is called polytheism. One of the earliest true cultural regions would be Mesopotamia. Located within the Fertile Crescent, it included a variety of growing cities as well as some new cultural staples, such as temples (including ziggurats), irrigation networks, and, by 2500 B.C.E., a writing and numbering system known as cuneiform. Due to its location, the Sumerian region especially prospered. It is commonly associated with early use of the wheel, roads, and hydraulic projects to tame its surrounding rivers for expanded use and resources. The Sumerian religion, too, would inspire what is considered the first epic poem, The Epic of Gilgamesh, which focuses on a hero- king and his search for answers to the enduring questions of humanity (McKay et al., 2017). The growth and prosperity of some cities also brought some notable early leaders. Whether due to the need for more lands or simply the desire to control a new territory, early militaries were common among the growing cities. The Akkadian Empire, north of Sumer, is understood to have had the first permanent army for these purposes. Starting in 2331 B.C.E., the Akkadian king Sargon would greatly expand his holdings, including the takeover of significant parts of Sumer (McKay et al., 2017). Hammurabi of Babylon (r. 1792–1750 B.C.E.) also established his power through military prowess, but he is best remembered historically for an innovative system of laws, known as Hammurabi’s law code. While this law code may be considered harsh or even barbaric by modern standards because it called for punishments that were often literally equal to the crime, the actions covered by individual laws provide modern historians with a good sense of normal life and concerns from the people. These include topics such as the quality of the work done by merchants and artisans; family issues concerning children, marriage, and adultery; and criminal negligence of responsibility. Other examples of Mesopotamian culture include a wide variety of additions to understood mathematics and even celebratory festivals (McKay et al., 2017).

Noah’s Ark, Epic of Gilgamesh, and “Syncretism”

How do the striking similarities between the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark and the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh reveal how cultures shaped each other? Why do we always look for similarities and differences when studying the past? Click here for an example of how to compare cultures when learning and writing about history.

Computer reconstruction of the great ziggurat built in the city of Ur in what is Iraq today (wikiwikiyarou, 2006)

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Ancient Egypt Perhaps the most recognizable civilization of this period would be that of the Egyptians. While divided between an upper and lower kingdom through much of its history, Egyptian society was built around and dependent upon the Nile River. Symbols and beliefs were strikingly different in many aspects from other cultures around the Fertile Crescent, but the Egyptian culture still relied on some cultural norms, such as the ability to predict and control the Nile, military, law, agriculture, writing (two distinct forms), the importance of family, trading routes, polytheist beliefs, and a strong central political authority—the pharaoh. A pharaoh depended on these traditions and needed to embody integrity, justice, and truth, which were considered the staples of harmony, known as ma’at. A pharaoh’s ability to serve in this role made him considered a literal god-king—a divine presence overlooking and blessing the people. Some of the most iconic symbols of the people’s devotion and worship of these divine rulers would be their ceremonial mummification process, symbolic hieroglyphic writing, and grandiose pyramids constructed to serve as peaceful resting places for the pharaohs throughout eternity. Historians today are still able to learn much thanks to the careful preservation of divine figures and an Egyptian climate favorable to the preservation of buildings, artifacts, and documents. One such document is the Book of the Dead, which outlines the core beliefs about the afterlife and details that reflect the Egyptians’ direct involvement and association with numerous distinct gods. In 1570 B.C.E., Egypt’s successful defense against the Hyksos—invaders from the North—would usher in a period called the New Kingdom. This would be a prosperous period but one that was often marred by battle with rival societies. There was no shortage of notable leaders, and this period would set the scene for two in particular (McKay et al., 2017). The first was Akhenaton (r. 1351–1334 B.C.E.), who attempted to change the polytheist tradition to a monotheistic one focused only on a sun god known as Aton; however, any success he had with this would revert after his death (McKay et al., 2017). The second was his successor and son, who would become arguably the most well-known king in the culture’s history: Tutankhamun (r. 1333–1323 B.C.E.). While his reign and impact at the time were not outrageously notable, the discovery of his tomb in 1922 by archaeologist Howard Carter would capture the world’s attention. Buried underground in the largely hidden Valley of the Kings, this tomb was found nearly intact, providing modern historians with knowledge, artifacts, and treasures that were not present in other surrounding tombs because they had been stolen by thieves (McKay et al., 2017). One of the more dangerous threats to the Egyptians would be the Hittites. They came from the northern areas and were known for aggressive military action and infighting among leadership. In what is perhaps the most notable conflict of this early period, the Battle of Kadesh (1274 B.C.E.) ultimately ended in a stalemate after fierce attacks by both sides (McKay et al., 2017). In 1258 B.C.E., a peace was established between Egypt’s Ramesses II and the Hittite king Hattusili III, turning enemies into allies against the growing threats in nearby lands. Despite the seemingly monumental alliance between Egypt and the Hittites, less than a century later, invaders known as Sea Peoples from what is presumed the Mediterranean would remove all traces of the Hittite empire, aided by expansion from the Assyrians. Egypt would retaliate and survive, but its golden age would come to an end as new threats emerged (McKay et al., 2017). In 727 B.C.E. the Kush kingdom from the South would be pushed into the Nile Valley, and a century later, they too would be pushed out by Assyrian expansion. Further to the north and east, in Canaan (now Lebanon), another power would emerge from the Mediterranean waters, this time through dominant trade. Known as the Phoenicians or Purple People—a reference to their proclivity for coloring fabric, their most influential trade items included wine, animals, precious metals, and even a new form of alphabet that emphasized sounds instead of meanings (McKay et al., 2017). Just as the smelting of copper with other metals replaced stone, so too did the discovery of a strong iron smelting process lead to the end of the Bronze Age in approximately 1100 B.C.E. The Iron Age is understood to have emerged from the Fertile Crescent, but with trade routes now settled throughout the known world, it

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would not be long before the iron technology, which was both more effective and cheaper than bronze, would become the standard everywhere. Hebrew Culture The Phoenicians were not the only Canaanite society that would come to challenge the established culture. Originally hailing from the states of Israel and Judah, a new religion that was purely monotheistic would begin to spread throughout the diverse region. Unlike the brief Egyptian conversion to monotheism by Akhenaton, in which he still considered himself divine as pharaoh, the Hebrew religion believed in one single divine being: Yahweh. Central to the Hebrew faith is the Covenant, or agreement to worship only Yahweh as His chosen people. The series of texts (originally scrolls that would become sacred to this new religion) would come to be known by a number of names, including the Hebrew Bible and the universal term “Old Testament,” by other cultures who would adopt these writings as foundations for their faith. (We will discuss these “Abrahamic faiths” in later units.) The first five books are commonly known as the Torah, though this term can also be used to describe the entire set of writings depending on context. These writings describe everything from traditions to daily practices to principles of society. Among the strengths of this new religious group would be their success in overcoming the Philistines despite seemingly invincible odds. King Saul’s (ca. 1025) bloodline included other notable leaders: David (r. ca. 1005–965 B.C.E.) and his son Solomon (r. ca. 965–925 B.C.E.), each of whom guided the culture to new heights despite strife, gaining their reputation for wisdom under the guidance of Yahweh (McKay et al., 2017). Despite these heights, the Hebrew culture, like many in that region, would face significant external aggressions and pressures that would sometimes remove them from their established base in what is now Jerusalem. These would include an attack by the Assyrians in 722 B.C.E. and the forcible relocation in 587 B.C.E., known as the Babylonian Captivity. The Hebrew religion remained strong despite these many times of struggle largely due to their faith, which reinforced that their bond and strength as a culture did not depend on a place or a king, as many other cultures did, but only on following the instructions of Yahweh. It would be this sense of strength that would help to expand the culture and give birth to other major faiths in the coming centuries (McKay et al., 2017). Rising Empires For the Assyrians, the Hebrew people were only one of many cultures that came under attack. Emerging in the 9th century B.C.E. in northern Mesopotamia, the Assyrians aggressively expanded their borders to envelop at least parts of Phoenicia, Israel, Mesopotamia, Syria, and Babylon. After a period of relative stability, the rise of the Iron Age would again spark the motivation to expand, particularly under the leadership of kings Adad-nirari II (r. 911–892 B.C.E.), Shalmaneser III (r. 858–823 B.C.E.), Sargon II (r. 721–705 B.C.E.), Sennacherib (r. 705–681 B.C.E.), and Hezekiah (r. ca. 715–686 B.C.E.). Known today as the Neo-Assyrian Empire, the northern half of the Arabian Peninsula along with Babylonia, Syria, and Phoenicia would fall (McKay et al., 2017). Perhaps the most notable leader of this period would be Queen Shammuramat, or Semiramis (r. 810–806 B.C.E.), known for a range of attributes from her wisdom and patronage to her legendarily lecherous behavior. While there is evidence of siege machines, the success of the Assyrian military was not based in technology or tactics as much as it was in sheer size, with upwards of 70,000, most marching with spear or bow and fortified armor. Biblical record does emphasize one very important outlier in the Assyrian history— the inability to capture Jerusalem in the eighth century B.C.E., which the Hebrew tradition interprets as a symbol of the influence and power of Yahweh. This mighty empire, however, would fall quicker than it rose, by the hand of an alliance between the Babylonians (now Neo-Babylonians) and Medes, from Northern Iran, in 612 B.C.E. From this fall though, another even more powerful force would soon rise (McKay et al., 2017). Nebuchadnezzar II (r. 604–562 B.C.E.) led the Neo-Babylonians into Jerusalem, destroying the city, and oversaw the Babylonian captivity of the Hebrew people. With the goal to resurrect and supersede even the great king Hammurabi, this new culture would embrace grandeur, including the Hanging Gardens of legend. However, plague and ill management of trade made them vulnerable to an unlikely enemy—their once-ally the Medes, who now sought support from modern Iran: the Persian Empire. Having defeated the greatest

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threat, the Persian king Cyrus the Great (r. 559–530 B.C.E.) conquered the Medes but did not enslave and slaughter; instead, he united the populations (McKay et al., 2017). What set Cyrus apart from many of the figures before him was his desire to secure his border and broaden his empire by means of tolerance and benevolence toward new allies. He did this while keeping a heavily defended core of localized administrators called satraps to ensure Persian influence and culture, though often allowing native cultures to exist as well in these territories. This approach spread his legend throughout the ancient states and allowed him to collect great wealth and influence by controlling and communicating across vast lands, including key ports and trade routes. By assuming the role of liberator rather than conqueror, he oversaw the emergence of the largest empire in history to that point. Among those liberated by Cyrus were the Hebrew people, who were allowed to return to Jerusalem. They were even given resources to rebuild the temple destroyed by the Neo-Babylonians. Emergence Following Cyrus would first be his son, Cambyses (r. 530–522 B.C.E.). Then, after the questionable death of Cambyses, Darius I (r. 521–486 B.C.E.) assumed power. Both Cambyses and Darius continued the expansion of the Persian lands. While Persian force eventually hit an insurmountable wall, most famously with Xerxes’ (r. 486–465 B.C.E.) failed attacks against the Spartans, the empire continued to thrive until a Greek general named Alexander surpassed even Cyrus (McKay et al., 2017). It could be argued that neither Cyrus nor Darius had the potential to influence the world as much as another Persian figure has—a preacher named Zoroaster. Starting around 600 B.C.E., Zoroaster became the core personality of a religious movement that taught all people that they had the free will to choose between a benevolent life following Ahuramazda, a divine figure exemplifying truth and creation, or a darker path often affiliated with another figure, Angra Mainyu. This religious fervor was dubbed Zoroastrianism (active still today and known as Parsis), a dualist religion unlike any before it but one that grew steadily as the Persian Empire expanded. Symbols and ideas from this teaching were even utilized by the Persian kings (McKay et al., 2017). Aside from the figures of divinity, Zoroastrianism would borrow concepts from multiple previously established religions, including the Egyptian gods and Judaism, while remaining a unique concept. This religion became so popular that it too influenced other religions and traditions. It remains active today despite the emergence of other, larger mainstream religions in communities around the globe. At this point, the common elements of civilization—trade, politics, religion, communication, art, military—have emerged in many areas around the globe. However, as of this point, there is not yet a clear distinction of what is meant by Western culture. As we move into the next unit, this line begins to be drawn. Already by this point, core ambitions that still drive modern cultures have started to show themselves. Going forward, it is important to pay attention to how these ambitions begin to divide and separate populations and how influences, such as location, geography, and even climate, truly begin to affect these common elements.

References Colavito, J. (n.d.). The epic of Gilgamesh: Adapted and modernized from the translation of William Muss-

Arnolt. Retrieved from http://www.jasoncolavito.com/epic-of-gilgamesh.html McKay, J. P., Hill, B. D., Buckler, J., Crowston, C. H., Wiesner-Hanks, M. E., & Perry, J. (2017). A history of

Western society: From Antiquity to the Enlightenment (12th Concise ed., Vol. 1). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

[Photograph of the Flood Tablet]. [ca. 700–800 B.C.]. Retrieved from

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10755114 Wikiwikiyarou. (2006). Ziggurat of Ur [Image]. Retrieved from


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