Friday, June 24, 2016

The Western World in 300 Events: Event 21 - Egyptian Decline

Raids and attacks by the Nubians from the South and Philistines from the East greatly weakened the New Kingdom leading to a period of decline that would continue for the next half a millennium. The civilization was rife with internal conflict and this was greatly compounded by low flooding of the Nile that further damaged its economy (a possible early impact of climate change). Religious relations between the various power brokers were never fully resolved after the Amarna Period which further strained society. Like future Ancient civilizations (the Romans in particular) the Egyptians were forced to use foreign mercenaries to defend their territories. Situations of dual loyalty were a natural consequence of such policy.
In 940 BCE Egyptian was conquered by the Libyans who founded their own dynasty
(XXII). Two centuries later the Nubians overran Egypt establishing the XXVth dynasty.  Both Assyria (652 BCE) and Persia (525 BCE) would later dominate Egypt as well. Other foreign powers that controlled Egypt over the next two and a half millennium include the Macedonians, Romans, Arabs, Turks and British. 

The Western World in 300 Events:Event 20 - Rise and Fall of the Egyptian New Kingdom

The Egyptian New Kingdom, also known as the Egyptian Empire, marks the high point of Egyptian civilization and is the period of Ancient Egypt that is most portrayed in contemporary literature. The New Kingdom spans the time from 1550-1077 BC and covers dynasties XVIII to XX.
The New Kingdom represents an Egyptian Golden Age and was characterized by extended trade, military and empire expansion and revolutions in art, architecture and the sciences.
The table below lists some of the Important Pharaohs of the New Kingdom and their respective achievements. Dates given are those of the Pharaoh’s reign. Many of the pharaohs from this time period are buried in the Valley of Kings.

Key Achievement
Ahmosis I (1570-1544 BCE). XVIII Dynasty.
Gained control of Northern Egypt from the Hyksos
Hatshepsut (1473-1458 BCE). XVIII Dynasty.
Female Pharaoh. Re-established key trade networks. Explored the land of Punt. One of the greatest builders in Ancient Egyptian history.
Thutmose III (1479-1425 BCE). XVIII Dynasty.
Step-son of Hatshepsut. Known as the Napoleon of Ancient Egypt.  Expanded Egyptian power in the Levant.  Overlap in his early reign by Hatshepsut.
Amenhotep III (1388-1351 BC). XVIII Dynasty.
Known as the Magnificent king. He built the great Mortuary Temple.
Amenhotep IV aka Akhenaten (1351-1334). XVIII Dynasty.
Introduced a monotheistic religion (Atenism) focused on the worship of a solar deity. His famous consort was Nefertiti (who was a virtual co-ruler with him). Era of rule is known as the Armana Period and marked a key turning point in the theological development of Egyptian society (even if much of Akhenaten’s monotheistic reforms would be overturned later).
Tutankhamun (1333-1323). XVIII Dynasty.
The boy king. Believed to be the son of Akhenaten. With the support of the priestly order he re-established Egypt’s tradition of polytheism. His tomb was discovered, with all its riches, by the archaeologist Howard Carter in 1924.
Ramesses II the Great (1279-1213 BCE). XIX Dynasty.
Often considered the Pharaoh at the time of Moses. He was known as the Great Ancestor. Ramesses waged three Syrian Campaigns. The second of which contained the well documented but indecisive Battle of Kadesh (fought against the Hittites). He also campaigned in Nubia and Libya and concluded a Peace Treaty with the Hittities. Ramesses did much to erase the historical events surrounding the Amarna Period (One of the earliest episodes of politically motivated Historical Revisionism).  Like many of his predecessors Ramesses II was an avid builder. 
Ramesses III (1186-1155 BCE). XX Dynasty
Pharaoh noted for his wars against the Sea Peoples (seafaring raiders that are believed to have originated in Anatolia). The Ancient Philistines are believed to be Sea People.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The West - Its Significance

Much of the greatest achievements in science, medicine, government, philosophy, economics and human rights over the last millennium are the products of western thought. It is this pursuit that has ensured the transition and movement of our species to the most elevated level of progress in its collective history.

Western Civilization has a history plays out in the context of a survival  against the face of threats both internal and external. Driven by an obsession with progress the West has emerged as an active agent in the dynamic framework of human history and in so doing tells a story replete with characters, institutions, agents and states all acting against the back drop of the broadest of flourishing landscapes.

The story of the West can be divided into twelve attribute factors personified by the specific culture, time period or intellectual facet that so defines it. These are a. The Greeks b. The Romans c. The Judeo-Christian framework d. Invasion/Feudalism e. Renaissance/Reformation f. The Expansion g. Scientific Enlightenment h. Empire i. Industrialization j. Total War k. Transition and l. Fusion

While it is true that the West has built on ideas that may have had their genesis in the monoliths of China, India and the Near East – it is western ingenuity that has provided the wherewithal to advance these initiatives forward and so improve the human condition.

Suffice it to say the West serves as the Guardian of these great ideas whose preservation is essential to the maintenance of global civilization.

The Western World in 300 Events: Event 19 - The Hyksos Invasion

The Hyksos were a people of Western Asian origin who dominated large portions of Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period (the time between the Middle and New Kingdoms). They were related to the Canaanites and Hurrians and had names of a Semitic origin. The XVth, XVIh, Abydos and XVIIth dynasties are associated with the Hykos whose period of influence covers the time period of the 17th and 16th centuries BCE.

A technologically sophisticated people the Hyksos were known for their crop and animal breeding, bronze work/pottery and musical instruments. They introduced the horse and chariot to Egypt and made use of composite bows and battle axes when fighting. The fortification techniques that they employed were also advanced.

On a cultural level the Hyksos practiced horse burial and worshiped a storm god not to different to that of the Egyptian deity, Seth.

While their influence on Egyptian culture is unmistakable, Hyksos power would finally collapse when Ahmose I, the first pharaoh of the XVIIIth dynasty, drove the Hyksos out from Egypt.

The Western World in 300 Events: Event 18 - The Diversity of Egyptian Mythology

Like most ancient civilizations the Egyptians had more than their fair share of deities. Most were associated with everyday life sustaining features eg. The water. The sun, fertility etc. Several deities had significance on a regional level and were incorporated into the pantheon with the spread of Egyptian Civilization.

Table 2 below outlines some of the key figures and their principal area of influence.

Area of Influence
Point of Note
King of the gods. Shown with either a ram’s head or a man wearing an ostrich plumed hat.
Associated with the city of Thebes. Joined with Ra to form Amun-Ra.
Jackal head god of the dead and embalming
Watched over the dead. Associated with the process of Mummification.
God of the earth.
Shown as man lying below the arch of the goddess of the sky, Nut.
Goddess of love and joy.
Wife of Horus.
God of the Sky. Noted for Hawk head.
Pharaoh was seen as the living embodiment of Horus.
Protective goddess. Wife of Osiris. Mother of Horus.
Had a key role in Magic spells.
Protective goddess of the dead. Sister of Isis and Osiris and the sister/wife of Seth.
Also known as the Lady of the Mansion.

God of chaos
Predates the universe.
Sky goddess.
Arched back carries the stars. Sister/wife of Geb.
God of the dead. Ruler of the underworld.
Often depicted with a white cone headdress. Osiris was the god of resurrection and the Nile.

Craftsman god.
Creator god.
God of the Sun. Most important deity in Egypt.
Shown with hawk head and headdress with Sun disk.

Goddess of War
Has the head of a lioness.
God of Chaos
Constantly threatened harmony in Egypt.
God of writing and knowledge
Often depicted as an Ibis or a baboon holding a palette. Gave the gift of hieroglyphic writing.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Western World in 300 Events: Event 17 - The Rise of Early Europe

Although the core of the history of Western Civilization was centred on Europe itself in ancient times (at least until the emergence of the Greeks and Romans) Europe was very much the backwater of the emerging world sphere of influence.
The first humans entered Europe about 50,000 years ago and by 10,000 BC an extensive network of tribes (often characterized by lighter skins – a favoured genetic mutation in colder climates) were dominant over what was essentially a peninsula of the Eurasian super continent.
A farming revolution between 7000-2000 BC allowed for a burgeoning of population and by 5000 BC the Proto-Indian-European Culture appeared to be widespread. Almost all the European languages branch out from this tradition  (a notable exception is the Basque population of Northern Spain and Southern France).
There was extensive trade between various communities with the domestication of horses playing an important role in the dynamic. 

Table 1 lists the various sub-groups that make up the European patchwork of people and their subsequent arrival on the geographical scene (dated by archaeological discoveries).

European People
Time Period
Iberian – Spain and Portugal
c. 5000 BC
Finnic – Settled Northern Russia, Finland, the Baltic Coast
c. 4000 BC. Language Divisions about 3000 BC
Proto-Uralic People - Ural Mountains in Modern Russia
c. 4000 BC
Proto-Baltic-Slavic – Settled Modern Lithuania and Latvia + several modern Slav regions.
c. 3000 BC
Germanic – Germany and Scandinavia (not including Finland)
c. 3000 BC
Thracians – European Turkey, Northern Greece, SE Balkans and Romania.
c. 1500 BC
Minoans – Crete and Greek Peninsula
c. 1500 BC
Celts – Central Europe + British Isles.
c. 1300-1000 BC
Illyrians – Modern Albania
c. 1300 BC
Scythians – Southern Russia and the Ukraine
c. 1000 BC
Slavs – Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Poland, former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania and Albania.
c. 1000 BC
Magyars - Hungary
c. 1000 BC
Etruscans – Italian Peninsula. Most likely came from Anatolia (Modern Turkey)
800 BC

The Western World in 300 Events: Event 16 - The Phoenician influence

It can be argued that the Phoenicians, an ancient Semitic culture based on the Lebanese coastline, were one if not the most important maritime trading culture of the ancient world. As a civilization Phoenicia flourished between 1550 BC to 300 BC with first Byblos (the city which gave its name to the word Bible) and then Tyre serving as its capital. We have already spoken about the Phoenician phonetic language and its impact on global linguistics but it wasn’t just language that was transmitted by the Phoenicians. As early shipbuilders, they developed the Bireme and monopolized trade in the precious purple dye (used for royal clothing) that they obtained from the Murex snail. They also traded in cedar trees (prized for their shipbuilding wood) which existed in abundance in the Lebanese heartland.

The Phoenicians shared a Canaanite religion similar to that practiced by other groups in the Levant and set up colonies in Modern day Algeria, Cyprus, Greece, Italy (mainland plus Sicily), Libya, Malta, Mauritania, Morocco, Portugal, Spain, Tunisia and Turkey. The greatest of these colonies, Carthage (located in Tunisia) would grow to become a power in its own right (rivaling Ancient Rome in the 3rd  century BC). Most Phoenician cities were controlled by kings and followed a city-state model of government.