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A History of the Ancient Near East ca. 3000-323 BC

A History of the Ancient Near East ca. 3000-323 BC


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A History of the Ancient Near East ca. 3000-323 BC by Marc Van De Mieroop is an excellent resource for anyone interested in the region of ancient Mesopotamia. His writing style is very accessible and the chapters are carefully constructed to provide a reader with a comprehensive understanding of the subject under consideration. Regarding the rise of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, for example, the author goes into great detail regarding the political and social climate of the period of the 8th century BCE. An excerpt:

References to warfare against tribal groups are plentiful in other texts [besides the letters of Borsippa]. Parts of the anti-tribal rhetoric, accusing them of purely hostile and destructive behavior, probably resulted from the usual megative attitude toward newcomers of the residents of ancient cities. But the highly unstable nature of the period and its warlike character cannot be denied (212).

The book explores the history of Mesopotamia through an examination of the rise of the cities and contribution to the formation of states and culture. The three sections are The City States, Territorial States, and Empires with between four and six chapters to each section. By the end of the book, a reader has a very comprehensive knowledge of the subject while also enjoying the work of a talented writer and historian. Highly recommended.

About the Reviewer

A freelance writer and former part-time Professor of Philosophy at Marist College, New York, Joshua J. Mark has lived in Greece and Germany and traveled through Egypt. He has taught history, writing, literature, and philosophy at the college level.


ISBN 13: 9780631225522

Van De Mieroop, Marc

This specific ISBN edition is currently not available.


  • A straightforward and concise narrative of the complex history of the ancient Near East.
  • Addresses political, social, and cultural developments.
  • Contains in-depth discussion of key texts and sources, including the Bible and the Epic of Gilgamesh.
  • Includes a selection of Near Eastern texts in translation.
  • Accompanied by plentiful maps and illustrations.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

This book presents a clear, concise history of the extraordinarily multicultural civilizations of the ancient Near East. Beginning with the emergence of writing around 3000 bc, the narrative ranges from the origins of the first cities in Mesopotamia, through the growth of the Babylonian and Hittite kingdoms, to the Assyrian and Persian empires. It ends with the transformation of the ancient Near East by the conquests of Alexander the Great. Incorporating the most recent discoveries and scholarship, the book provides both an account of political and military events and a survey of the cultures and societies of the ancient Near East. The straightforward, accessible text is accompanied by plentiful maps and illustrations, and contains a selection of Near Eastern texts in translation. Each chapter includes a key research question or text, such as the use of the Bible as a historical source, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and the Assyrian royal annals. It is essential reading for anyone interested in this crucial period in world history.

Marc Van De Mieroop is Professor in the Departments of History and Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University, New York. He has written numerous articles and books, including The Ancient Mesopotamian City (1997) and Cuneiform Texts and the Writing of History (1999).


  • An accessible chronological narrative that draws on a range of historical sources
  • Offers an up-to-date survey of ancient Egypt’s history from its origins to its domination by the Roman Empire
  • Considers social and economic life and the rich culture of ancient Egypt
  • Places Egypt’s history within its regional context, detailing interactions with Asia and Africa
  • Engages students with various perspectives on a range of critical issues with the Key Debate section included in each chapter
  • Makes the latest discoveries and scholarship accessible to a wide audience

We
are all warriors. Each of us struggles every day to define and defend
our sense of purpose and integrity, to justify our existence on the
planet and to understand, if only within our own hearts, who we are and
what we believe in. Do we fight by a code? If so, what is it? What is
the Warrior Ethos? Where did it come from? What form does it take today?
How do we (and how can we) use it and be true to it in our internal and
external lives?

The main problems addressed by the contributors of this volume are: the sixties as a generational clash the redefinition of the political as a consequence of the ideological challenges posed to the status-quo by the sixty-eighters the role of Utopia and the de-radicalization of intellectuals the challenges to imperialism (Soviet/American) the cultural revolution of the sixties the crisis of 'really existing socialism' and the failure of "socialism with a human face" the gradual departure from the Yalta-system the development of a culture of human rights and the project of a global civil society the situation of 1968 within the general evolution of European history (esp. the relationship of 1968 with 1989).

In contrast to existing books, it provides a fundamental and unique synthesis of approaches on 1968: first, it contains critical (vs. nostalgic) re-evaluations of the events from the part of significant sixty-eighters second, it includes historical analyses based on new archival research third, it gathers important theoretical re-assessments of the intellectual history of the 1968 and fourth, it bridges 1968 with its aftermath and its pre-history, thus avoiding an over-contextualization of the topics in question.

  • Shows how powerful states - stretching from western Iran to Greece and from Turkey to Sudan - jointly shaped the history, society, and culture of this region through both peaceful and military means
  • Offers a straightforward narrative, current research, and rich illustrations
  • Utilizes historical data from ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hittites, Mycenaeans, Canaanites, and others
  • Considers all members of these ancient societies, from commoners to royalty - exploring everything from people’s eating habits to royal negotiations over diplomatic marriages

As seen on The Joe Rogan Experience!

A groundbreaking dive into the role psychedelics have played in the origins of Western civilization, and the real-life quest for the Holy Grail that could shake the Church to its foundations.

The most influential religious historian of the 20th century, Huston Smith, once referred to it as the "best-kept secret" in history. Did the Ancient Greeks use drugs to find God? And did the earliest Christians inherit the same, secret tradition? A profound knowledge of visionary plants, herbs and fungi passed from one generation to the next, ever since the Stone Age?

There is zero archaeological evidence for the original Eucharist – the sacred wine said to guarantee life after death for those who drink the blood of Jesus. The Holy Grail and its miraculous contents have never been found. In the absence of any hard data, whatever happened at the Last Supper remains an article of faith for today’s 2.5 billion Christians. In an unprecedented search for answers, The Immortality Key examines the archaic roots of the ritual that is performed every Sunday for nearly one third of the planet. Religion and science converge to paint a radical picture of Christianity’s founding event. And after centuries of debate, to solve history’s greatest puzzle.

Before the birth of Jesus, the Ancient Greeks found salvation in their own sacraments. Sacred beverages were routinely consumed as part of the so-called Ancient Mysteries – elaborate rites that led initiates to the brink of death. The best and brightest from Athens and Rome flocked to the spiritual capital of Eleusis, where a holy beer unleashed heavenly visions for two thousand years. Others drank the holy wine of Dionysus to become one with the god. In the 1970s, renegade scholars claimed this beer and wine – the original sacraments of Western civilization – were spiked with mind-altering drugs. In recent years, vindication for the disgraced theory has been quietly mounting in the laboratory. The constantly advancing fields of archaeobotany and archaeochemistry have hinted at the enduring use of hallucinogenic drinks in antiquity. And with a single dose of psilocybin, the psychopharmacologists at Johns Hopkins and NYU are now turning self-proclaimed atheists into instant believers. But the smoking gun remains elusive.

If these sacraments survived for thousands of years in our remote prehistory, from the Stone Age to the Ancient Greeks, did they also survive into the age of Jesus? Was the Eucharist of the earliest Christians, in fact, a psychedelic Eucharist?

With an unquenchable thirst for evidence, Muraresku takes the reader on his twelve-year global hunt for proof. He tours the ruins of Greece with its government archaeologists. He gains access to the hidden collections of the Louvre to show the continuity from pagan to Christian wine. He unravels the Ancient Greek of the New Testament with the world’s most controversial priest. He spelunks into the catacombs under the streets of Rome to decipher the lost symbols of Christianity’s oldest monuments. He breaches the secret archives of the Vatican to unearth manuscripts never before translated into English. And with leads from the archaeological chemists at UPenn and MIT, he unveils the first scientific data for the ritual use of psychedelic drugs in classical antiquity.

The Immortality Key reconstructs the suppressed history of women consecrating a forbidden, drugged Eucharist that was later banned by the Church Fathers. Women who were then targeted as witches during the Inquisition, when Europe’s sacred pharmacology largely disappeared. If the scientists of today have resurrected this technology, then Christianity is in crisis. Unless it returns to its roots.


  • An accessible chronological narrative that draws on a range of historical sources
  • Offers an up-to-date survey of ancient Egypt’s history from its origins to its domination by the Roman Empire
  • Considers social and economic life and the rich culture of ancient Egypt
  • Places Egypt’s history within its regional context, detailing interactions with Asia and Africa
  • Engages students with various perspectives on a range of critical issues with the Key Debate section included in each chapter
  • Makes the latest discoveries and scholarship accessible to a wide audience

Dozens of maps provide a clear geography of great events, while timelines give the reader an ongoing sense of the passage of years and cultural interconnection. This old-fashioned narrative history employs the methods of “history from beneath”—literature, epic traditions, private letters and accounts—to connect kings and leaders with the lives of those they ruled. The result is an engrossing tapestry of human behavior from which we may draw conclusions about the direction of world events and the causes behind them.

reveals three millennia of history (c. 3500–500 bc) in a single work. Liverani draws upon over 25 years’ worth of experience and this personal odyssey has enabled him to retrace the history of the peoples of the Ancient Near East. The history of the Sumerians, Hittites, Assyrians, Babylonians and more is meticulously detailed by one of the leading scholars of Assyriology.

Utilizing research derived from the most recent archaeological finds, the text has been fully revised for this English edition and explores Liverani’s current thinking on the history of the Ancient Near East. The rich and varied illustrations for each historical period, augmented by new images for this edition, provide insights into the material and textual sources for the Ancient Near East. Many highlight the ingenuity and technological prowess of the peoples in the Ancient East. Never before available in English, The Ancient Near East represents one of the greatest books ever written on the subject and is a must read for students who will not have had the chance to explore the depth of Liverani’s scholarship.


History of the Ancient Near East

This book is exactly what it advertises itself to be: a clear, concise, single-volume history of the ancient Near East. It covers prehistory, Sumer, Babylon, Assyria, the Hittites, the Elamites, Persia and more. It contains some nice illustrations and a very thorough guide for further reading.

This reads like a textbook (which it is, I assume), with text boxes and short, easily digestible sections. Any historian dealing with this period is confronted with a lack of written documentation, which n This book is exactly what it advertises itself to be: a clear, concise, single-volume history of the ancient Near East. It covers prehistory, Sumer, Babylon, Assyria, the Hittites, the Elamites, Persia and more. It contains some nice illustrations and a very thorough guide for further reading.

This reads like a textbook (which it is, I assume), with text boxes and short, easily digestible sections. Any historian dealing with this period is confronted with a lack of written documentation, which necessarily makes the history a little thin. And the writing is nothing special (again, it reads like a textbook). But if you're looking for a relatively brief single-volume history of the ancient Near East, this will get the job done. 3 stars. . more

Yay for using textbooks to stack my GR challenge stats!

Anyhow, I feel mildly dishonest rating this because I didn&apost actually read everything. It&aposs pretty dry, and I didn&apost have time for some of the middle chapters. I would say that I&aposll go back and read them, but. I won&apost. I&aposll take it to class for discussion tomorrow, then move my bookmark to our next book and leave it on the shelf until it&aposs time to sell it.

But as far as the actual content goes, what I read of it at least - it&aposs not terrible Yay for using textbooks to stack my GR challenge stats!

Anyhow, I feel mildly dishonest rating this because I didn't actually read everything. It's pretty dry, and I didn't have time for some of the middle chapters. I would say that I'll go back and read them, but. I won't. I'll take it to class for discussion tomorrow, then move my bookmark to our next book and leave it on the shelf until it's time to sell it.

But as far as the actual content goes, what I read of it at least - it's not terrible. For a book which is barely 300 pages, including diagrams and photos, and covering almost three thousand years of history in a fairly large and active area, it's pretty good, really. The problem is that the size and broadness of it meant that nothing really was explained thoroughly. A lot of paragraphs were long lists of who conquered what and when they did it. I kind of skimmed those. The interesting things, for me, were the tidbits of sociological information hidden away in between lists of battles. History that's just a list of 'and then x happened and then y' is not appealing to me I like the human element, the information (or even just speculation) about how people lived. I understand that such information isn't always available in the study of the Near East, but to be honest I don't see the point of lists of battles and surely there's enough sociological information for a tad bit more elaboration.

In the end, well. it isn't leisure reading, but there are worse textbooks. . more

This was the go-to book for the ancient Near East during my undergraduate days, and it’s pitched perfectly at that level – complex enough to inform and meet the demands of a first degree, simple enough to be easily readable for a student with that level of understanding. By all means, one can go looking and find a book that is even more in-depth and technical, but that’s not this book’s purpose. Conversely, the language is lucid enough that in my estimation a non-student could tackle it, althoug This was the go-to book for the ancient Near East during my undergraduate days, and it’s pitched perfectly at that level – complex enough to inform and meet the demands of a first degree, simple enough to be easily readable for a student with that level of understanding. By all means, one can go looking and find a book that is even more in-depth and technical, but that’s not this book’s purpose. Conversely, the language is lucid enough that in my estimation a non-student could tackle it, although they might find the length and dryness takes them a little while to get through. Mieroop is well-respected in his field, and this book really encapsulates why. I’m not sure I’d ever do a cover-to-cover re-read, but I can definitely see myself consulting the book again.

Although written as a textbook, Marc Van De Mieroop’s history of the ancient near east is a good introduction for anyone with an interest in this subject. Civilization starts here, with the invention of writing and the development of the first city states around 3000 BC. After that it was a complicated whirl of cities and empires, kings and warlords, invasions and conquest, as one dynasty succeeded another every few generations. Cities were laid waste, populations massacred or enslaved, and rule Although written as a textbook, Marc Van De Mieroop’s history of the ancient near east is a good introduction for anyone with an interest in this subject. Civilization starts here, with the invention of writing and the development of the first city states around 3000 BC. After that it was a complicated whirl of cities and empires, kings and warlords, invasions and conquest, as one dynasty succeeded another every few generations. Cities were laid waste, populations massacred or enslaved, and rulers emerged, flourished for a time, and then died, usually violently, and were replaced by other petty tyrants. Yet through it all, despite the violence that runs like a red thread through the history of the region, life went on. Crops were planted, children and livestock raised, and gods by the bushelful came and went, with their priests always taking their share and more.

It was a long, slow process, but over time the dynasties started to learn from their predecessors, and slowly civilization advanced. The key to this, of course, was writing, and the cuneiform script developed by the Sumerians at the very beginning of the rise of cities was used for the records of many languages and cultures across the region for two thousand years. This allowed knowledge to accumulate, meaning rulers could manage more people across wider regions, and that span of control gradually increased from city states to regional powers to vast empires.

The book’s structure reflects this increase in power. It is divided into three sections: Part 1 covers the city states, Part 2 the territorial states, and Part 3 the empires.

Part 1 begins with a mention of what is known of ancient Mesopotamia before the rise of the first cities, then discusses the early dynasties. Even then the kingships were chaotic and transitory, reminding me of the comments in the Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldun, dating from 1377 of our era. He made the point that most dynasties last only three generations. The first rises from a lowly place, is accustomed to privation, and through alliances, ruthlessness, and cunning seizes power. The second generation is raised in the palace and becomes sedentary and pleasure loving, but there is still strength in the line, a legacy of having been tutored by their fathers. By the third generation the rulers become decadent and torpid, having never known hardships or the need to lead or show courage. Loyalty toward them dissipates and they are soon displaced by a tough new dynasty which starts the cycle over again.

And so it went in the ancient Near East. The ruling houses and cities come and go with such frequency that it is like reading the list of begats in the Book of Genesis.

Even at an early date commercial, diplomatic, and military contacts spread throughout the region, ranging from what is now western Iran to Egypt and the Mediterranean, Syria, Anatolia as far north as the Black Sea, and east to the Zagros mountains. And even then the populations were a complex mix of sedentary and migratory peoples. Occasionally, even the nomads would raise a powerful leader who would conquer the cities and his family would rule for a few generations before being replaced.

With Part II the book entered more familiar historical ground and discusses the rise and fall of large regional powers, such as the Hittites and the Elamites, the Mittani, the Kassites, and the Assyrians. The difference here was that the territory was more stable than in the previous era, although the actual ruling families were still frequently and bloodily replaced. War, however, was a constant, and just as one city state had conquered it neighbors, the great territorial powers were always on the alert for weaknesses they could exploit, and one by one they were merged, conquered, or displaced by new populations. The ones that remained survived long enough to be destroyed in the great civilizational collapse of around 1200BC, the one Egyptian sources attribute to the Sea Peoples, and which extinguished ancient civilizations in Crete, Greece, Syria, and Anatolia, and left Egypt so weakened it abandoned its imperial ambitions in the Levant for centuries.

Part III sees the rise of the great empires and brings the timeline up to the age of Alexander the Great. From the ashes of the Dark Ages that resulted from the previous destruction the Neo-Assyrians swept across the ancient lands and built a huge empire that conquered Egypt, most of eastern Anatolia, and all of Mesopotamia into western Iran, and included the great dynasties of Sargon II, Sennacherib, and Ashurbanipal. But it too was destined to last only about a century and a half before its rulers descended into luxury and decadence, and were overthrown by the Medes, who ruled for a few generations before being replaced by the more vigorous Persians, who met their end at the hands of Alexander of Macedon. There has always been speculation about what Alexander might have accomplished if he had not died at age 32 in 323 BC, but a look at the broad sweep of history says that his empire too would never have outlived him.

The ancient Near East has much to teach us about history and civilization, the rise and fall of one great power after another, the strengths and frailties of rulers, the dogged persistence of the common people, and the power of the written word to unite and empower generation after generation. There were glorious artistic triumphs and terrible wars, brilliant statecraft and unbounded hubris. People, in short, have not changed at all since the first cities arose around the Tigris and Euphrates.
. more


A History of the Ancient Near East: Ca. 3000-323 Bc

Praise for second edition: "There is no longer any possible excuse for any undergraduate curriculum in ancient history not to offer a course of Ancient Near Eastern history under the pretext that there would be no adequate, accessible, and affordable textbook." Scholia Reviews The additions to this volume have only added to its immense worth as both a textbook and a scholarly volume. Bryn Mawr Classical Review Praise for the first edition: "Marc Van De Mieroop′s introduction to the history of Iraq and the Asiatic Near East is suited to first–year undergraduates in ancient history, the archaeology of Western Asia and ancient Near Eastern studies generally, and to all others who need an up–to�te summary of what happened before the Greeks." Times Higher Education Supplement "I do not know of any other handbook of similar size that can compete with Van de Mieroop′s book in philological competence, in historiographic method, and in expository clearness." Mario Liverani, in Orientalia This text deserves a place on the shelves of ancient historians and archaeologists, and it will certainly have pride of place in reading lists for courses in Mesopotamian history. Norman Yoffee, University of Michigan As a textbook on Mesopotamian history, particularly the period from c.3000 BC to 612 BC, this book has no English–language equivalent This should be standard reading, therefore, for all students and scholars in the field. Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Marc Van De Mieroop has taught ancient Near Eastern studies at Columbia University, New York and now also teaches at the University of Oxford. He has written numerous books and articles including King Hammurabi of Babylon: A Biography (Blackwell, 2004).

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Book Review: “A History of the Ancient Near East ca. 3000-323 BC”, Second Edition, Marc Van De Mieroop, 2004 & 2007.

Will anything of the history of today’s age be accessible to future historians? Perhaps not, unless we begin inscribing our histories on clay tablets. For it is cuneiform written on clay tablets, from the earliest historically-accessible period of the ancient Near East, to almost its very latest, that determines the amount and quality of what we know of the area called the cradle of civilization. Papyrus disintegrates, though not as quickly as paper. Electronics require for their preservation and retrieval machines and programs capable of accessing electronic media whose methods of storage and retrieval can change as frequently as an iPhone cycle. It is no dim irony that our successors many generations hence may one day know more about ancient Mesopotamia than they know about us.

Even so, the knowledge we have, especially of the very earliest civilizations, especially outside of whatever was the ascendant culture of the moment, or of cultures that wrote very little down (e.g., the Elamites), is spotty, at best. We know the names of kings and of conquests and of the relationships between and among kingdoms best. We know less well, but still passably good, the living conditions and economy, and social stratifications of the kingdom’s subjects. We are often lost as to the reasons empires so frequently and quickly appeared on the scene, or why they just as frequently and quickly fell.

For example, Assyria got its start as a small state centered on the city of Assur in the fourteenth century (ca 1350 BC). It grew to a “substantial territorial state and leading player in regional affairs” by the eleventh century. Its power and influence held stable or declined until the ninth century, when it embarked, haltingly at first, on a vast expansion program that ultimately yielded an empire stretching from western Iran to the Mediterranean and from Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) to Egypt by the late seventh century.

It was Assyria that, in the late eighth century (ca 720) conquered Israel after its ruler, Hoshea, eventually chafed at the Assyrian bridle, and refused anymore to pay tribute. A succession of three Assyrian kings laid siege to Israel’s capital for three years the last, Sargon II, turned the Kingdom of Israel (which had earlier split from the Kingdom of Judah) into the province of Samaria with his victory. He then scattered the ten tribes of Israel throughout northeastern Syria and western Iran, and the world (except that part of it that is Mormon) never heard from them again. Foreign populations less antagonistic to Assyria were settled in Samaria, undoubtedly at least part of the reason Jesus was later able to use the example of a good Samaritan as proof to the Jewish mind that nationality is not always a proper demarcation line for ascertaining good and evil. The Jews in Judah had to have hated the influx of foreigners who replaced their cousins in Israel, so to hear of a good one had to have made for a powerful example.

Assyria turned out to be as ephemeral as the ten lost tribes it vanquished. In 640 BC, it was at the height of its empire. Thirty years later, it was gone, never to be heard from again. Nobody really knows why. All we have are speculations, the most trenchant of which, according to Mieroop, involves the structure of the empire itself. Assyria, like the Mongols to come, built their empire on military conquest. Unlike the Mongols, they were not particularly capable administrators. They were domineering and brutal to the peoples they conquered, only interested in the profits they might accumulate, caring little for the tedious tasks of building a governing infrastructure. They elicited no loyalty from the peoples they conquered. No Judean or Babylonian or Median, etc. wished to be Assyrianized, as would later willingly happen with Hellenization during the Roman occupation of the Near East. To put it bluntly, Assyria as an empire was a brute of few redeeming qualities. It fell, according to subsequent accounts by the peoples it had conquered (as there were no Assyria or Assyrians around to offer an explanation), as a matter of divine retribution, which sounds about right, in an edifying, if not explicatory way.

Mierhoop covers roughly three thousand years of Near Eastern civilization, from the beginnings of history (if ‘history’ requires cities and states, a sedentary lifestyle, and written records thereof) with Uruk, ca 3500 BC, to the conquest of Alexander of Macedon, ca 330 BC. What a remarkably tumultuous procession of peoples, rulers, empires and states over the course of that span! We in the West think that life comes at us quickly and furiously. But for roughly the last century of Western history geopolitical boundaries have hardly changed. Hegemonies have seen gradual erosion and accretion around the margins, but the New World Order, as George H.W. Bush decreed the post-Cold War era, an idea which should apply to the era beginning with the fin de siècle, has been remarkably stable. Yes, millions died in wars, but the wars did little to change the international power structure. The Russian Empire has existed in one configuration or another for a millennium. The Chinese empire for two. Even the colonization of the New World proceeded as an extension of the stability once the borders were resolved a couple of hundred years after colonization, they pretty much stayed put.

Nothing of the ancient Near East was so stable. To take the history of Palestine in the first millennium as example, over the span of roughly two hundred years, Assyria wiped the ten tribes of Israel from history then it collapsed, never to be heard from again Babylonia rose to prominence and conquered Judah, sending its residents into exile, and finally, Persia conquered Babylonia and Palestine, among other areas, allowing the return of the exiles. That’s a lot of history in a little time. Were history to come again as fast and as furious the Western mind would likely be whipsawed into vertigo. Maybe Francis Fukuyama was right, but should have extended his analysis backward. In contrast to the ancient Near East, it seems that the end of history and the last man came with the Industrial Revolution.

(We can archaeologically corroborate some of the Biblical history—the foregoing story of Palestine being one example—but Mierhoop cautions that biblical history had a purpose other than recitation of historical truths, so one should be careful when using it as a historical text).

Why such tumult? People are more likely to fight when there’s something to be gained thereby (but there is ample evidence that people also fight just because), which helps explain the constant flux of imperial ascension and decline in the ancient Near East once the new means of economy, sedentary agriculture, was firmly established. And it helps explain the conflicts of the twentieth century once the Industrial Revolution definitively ushered in a new economy of life. Maybe, but that too is mere speculation.

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves history, but particularly those of the Judeo-Christian tradition who would like to know, like I did, what is archaeologically known of the context in which the Jewish state and religion arose. To take one pertinent example, Mierhoop explains that the economy of sedentary agriculture mandated that the cultural and political elite of the cities were supported by the agricultural production of the surrounding countryside (not unlike things are today), which often left the farmers and laborers in debt to the urban elite (also, eerily similar to today). Several biblical stories, (including in the Torah and Nehemiah, among others), imply similar circumstances prevailed in Judea during the era.

The Jubilee year described in Leviticus where debts were wiped out and lands returned to their original owners was not unique to the Jews. New rulers over all the Near East often did the same or something similar upon ascension to the throne. Debts piled up—mainly the obligation to pay taxes to the central authorities in the cities—that people had no hope of paying. New kings would try to gain favor with the people by canceling debts, or reducing them to a manageable level. The kingdom’s creditor class would pay the expense of the king buying the loyalty of his subjects and freeing up enough money that the hinterlands could pay the taxes needed to run the kingdom. That the Jews explicitly provided for such a reconciliation perhaps makes them unique, but only in that regard. All the kingdoms of the age were doing as much because all the kingdoms of the age had recurring cycles of inequitably large income stratification that would need to occasionally be adjusted. (Would that Barack Obama had enacted an American Jubilee once it became clear in 2009 that a great many Americans had debts they had no hope of paying. He’d have only damaged the bankers who had caused the mess in the first place. Instead, the bankers kept their shirts and the plight of the poor grew ever more desperate.)

Mierhoop has written an excellent primer on the history of the Ancient Near East, which, because of cuneiform writing, is the first area for which a history can be written. He ably and artfully explains what we know of the epoch, what we know we don’t know, and the holes in our knowledge about which we can only speculate. He writes from the perspective of an academic, but never slips into unintelligible-to-the-layman jargon, instead writing clearly and carefully in a readily-accessible manner. He provides a smorgasbord of facts but not so many to occlude the big-picture view of the birth pangs of civilization in the ancient Near East. A careful, studious reading of the book is well worth the time and effort.


A History of the Ancient Near East ca. 3000 - 323 BC

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A History of the Ancient Near East ca. 3000 - 323 BC 2nd Edition by Marc Van De Mieroop and Publisher Wiley-Blackwell (STMS). Save up to 80% by choosing the eTextbook option for ISBN: 9781444327090, 1444327097. The print version of this textbook is ISBN: 9781405149112, 1405149116.

A History of the Ancient Near East ca. 3000 - 323 BC 2nd Edition by Marc Van De Mieroop and Publisher Wiley-Blackwell (STMS). Save up to 80% by choosing the eTextbook option for ISBN: 9781444327090, 1444327097. The print version of this textbook is ISBN: 9781405149112, 1405149116.


Contents

Due to the sparsity of sources throughout the "Dark Age", the history of the Near Eastern Bronze Age down to the end of the Third Babylonian Dynasty is a floating or relative chronology.

The major schools of thought on the length of the Dark Age are separated by 56 or 64 years. This is because the key source for their dates is the Venus tablet of Ammisaduqa and the visibility of Venus has a 56/64 [ clarification needed ] year cycle. More recent work by Vahe Gurzadyan has suggested that the fundamental 8-year cycle of Venus is a better metric [1] (updated [2] [3] ). However, some scholars discount the validity of the Venus tablet of Ammisaduqa entirely. There have been attempts to anchor the chronology using records of eclipses and other methods, but they are not yet widely supported. The alternative major chronologies are defined by the date of the 8th year of the reign of Ammisaduqa, king of Babylon. This choice then defines the reign of Hammurabi.

The "middle chronology" (reign of Hammurabi 1792–1750 BC) is commonly encountered in literature, including many current textbooks on the archaeology and history of the ancient Near East. [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] The alternative "short" (or "low") chronology is less commonly followed, and the "long" (or "high") and "ultra-short" (or "ultra-low") [1] chronologies are clear minority views. A recent analysis combining dendrochronology and radiocarbon dating supported the middle chronology as most likely. A further refinement by the same group shifted that to the "low-middle chronology" 8 years lower. [9] [10] [11] As mentioned below, at present there are no continuous chronologies for the Near East, and a floating chronology has been developed using trees in Anatolia for the Bronze and Iron Ages. Until a continuous sequence is developed, the usefulness of dendrochronology for improving the chronology of the Ancient Near East is limited. [12] [13] [14] [15] For much of the period in question, middle chronology dates can be calculated by adding 64 years to the corresponding short chronology date (e.g. 1728 BC in short chronology corresponds to 1792 in middle chronology).

The following table gives an overview of the competing proposals, listing some key dates and their deviation relative to the short chronology:

Chronology Ammisaduqa Year 8 Reign of Hammurabi Fall of Babylon I ±
Ultra-Low 1542 BC 1696–1654 BC 1499 BC +32 a
Short or Low 1574 BC 1728–1686 BC 1531 BC +0 a
Middle 1638 BC 1792–1750 BC 1595 BC −64 a
Long or High 1694 BC 1848–1806 BC 1651 BC −120 a

The chronologies of Mesopotamia, the Levant and Anatolia depend significantly on the chronology of Ancient Egypt. To the extent that there are problems in the Egyptian chronology, these issues will be inherited in chronologies based on synchronisms with Ancient Egypt.

Inscriptional Edit

Thousands of cuneiform tablets have been found in an area running from Anatolia to Egypt. While many are the ancient equivalent of grocery receipts, these tablets, along with inscriptions on buildings and public monuments, provide the major source of chronological information for the ancient Middle East. [16]

Underlying issues Edit

While there are some relatively pristine display-quality objects, the vast majority of recovered tables and inscriptions are damaged. They have been broken with only portions found, intentionally defaced, and damaged by weather or soil. Many tablets were not even baked and have to be carefully handled until they can be hardened by heating. [17]

The site of an item's recovery is an important piece of information for archaeologists, which can be compromised by two factors. First, in ancient times old materials were often reused as building material or fill, sometimes at a great distance from the original location. Secondly, looting has disturbed archaeological sites at least back to Roman times, making the provenance of looted objects difficult or impossible to determine.

Key documents like the Sumerian King List were repeatedly copied over generations, resulting in multiple variant versions of a chronological source. It can be very hard to determine the authentic version. [18]

The translation of cuneiform documents is quite difficult, especially for damaged source material. Additionally, our knowledge of the underlying languages, like Akkadian and Sumerian, have evolved over time, so a translation done now may be quite different than one done in AD 1900: there can be honest disagreement over what a document says. Worse, the majority of archaeological finds have not yet been published, much less translated. Those held in private collections may never be.

Many of our important source documents, such as the Assyrian King List, are the products of government and religious establishments, with a natural bias in favor of the king or god in charge. A king may even take credit for a battle or construction project of an earlier ruler. The Assyrians in particular have a literary tradition of putting the best possible face on history, a fact the interpreter must constantly keep in mind.

King Lists Edit

Historical lists of rulers were traditional in the ancient Near East.

Covers rulers of Mesopotamia from a time "before the flood" to the fall of the Isin Dynasty. For many early city-states, it is the only source of chronological data. However many early rulers are listed with fantastically long reigns. Some scholars speculate that this stems from an error in transcribing the original base 60 arithmetic of the Sumerians to the later decimal-based system of the Akkadians. [19]

This list deals only with the rulers of Babylon. It has been found in two versions, denoted A and B. The later dynasties in the list document the Kassite and Sealand periods. There is also a Babylonian King List of the Hellenistic Period in later part of the 1st millennium. [20]

Found in multiple differing copies, this tablet lists all the kings of Assyria and their regnal lengths back into the mists of time, with the portions with reasonable data beginning around the 14th century BC. [21] When combined with the various Assyrian chronicles, the Assyrian King List anchors the chronology of the 1st millennium.

A list of Indus Valley Civilization kings was compiled by Laurence Waddell, but it is not generally accepted or well regarded by mainstream academia. [22]

Chronicles Edit

Many chronicles have been recovered in the ancient Near East, most fragmentary but when combined with other sources, they provide a rich source of chronological data. [23]

Found in the library of Assurbanipal in Nineveh, it records the diplomacy of the Assyrian empire with the Babylonian empire. While useful, the consensus is that this chronicle should not be considered reliable. [24]

While quite incomplete, this tablet provides the same type of information as the Assyrian Synchronistic Chronicle, but from the Babylonian point of view. [25]

The Sumerian King List omits any mention of Lagash, even though it was clearly a major power during the period covered by the list. The Royal Chronicle of Lagash appears to be an attempt to remedy that omission, listing the kings of Lagash in the form of a chronicle. [26] Some scholars believe the chronicle to be either a parody of the Sumerian King List or a complete fabrication. [27]

Royal inscriptions Edit

Rulers in the ancient Near East liked to take credit for public works. Temples, buildings and statues are likely to identify their royal patron. Kings also publicly recorded major deeds such as battles won, titles acquired, and gods appeased. These are very useful in tracking the reign of a ruler.

Year lists Edit

Unlike current calendars, most ancient calendars were based on the accession of the current ruler, as in "the 5th year in the reign of Hammurabi". Each royal year was also given a title reflecting a deed of the ruler, like "the year Ur was defeated". The compilation of these years are called date lists. [28]

Eponym (limmu) lists Edit

In Assyria, a royal official or limmu was selected in every year of a king's reign. Many copies of these lists have been found, [29] [30] with certain ambiguities. There are sometimes too many or few limmū for the length of a king's reign, and sometimes the different versions of the eponym list disagree on a limmu, for example in the Mari Eponym Chronicle. There is now an Assyrian Revised Eponym List which attempts to resolve some of these issues. [31]

Trade, diplomatic, and disbursement records Edit

As often in archaeology, everyday records give the best picture of a civilization. Cuneiform tablets were constantly moving around the ancient Near East, offering alliances (sometimes including daughters for marriage), threatening war, recording shipments of mundane supplies, or settling accounts receivable. Most were tossed away after use as one today would discard unwanted receipts, but fortunately for us, clay tablets are durable enough to survive even when used as material for wall filler in new construction.

A key find was a number of cuneiform tablets from Amarna in Egypt, the city of the pharaoh Akhenaten. Mostly in Akkadian, the diplomatic language of the time, several of them named foreign rulers including the kings of Assyria and Babylon. Assuming that the correct kings have been identified, this locks the chronology of the ancient Near East to that of Egypt, at least from the middle of the 2nd millennium.

Classical Edit

We have some data sources from the classical period:

Berossus, a Babylonian astronomer during the Hellenistic period, wrote a history of Babylon which was lost, but portions were preserved by other classical writers.

This book provides a list of kings starting at around 750 BC in Babylon and forward through the Persian and Roman periods, in an astronomical context. It is used to help define the chronology of the 1st millennium.

Not having the stability of buried clay tablets, the records of the Hebrews have a great deal of ancient editorial work to sift through when used as a source for chronology. However, the Hebrew kingdoms lay at the crossroads of Babylon, Assyria, Egypt and the Hittites, making them spectators and often victims of actions in the area. Mainly of use in the 1st millennium and with the Assyrian New Kingdom.

Astronomical Edit

A record of the movements of Venus during the reign of a king of the First Babylonian Dynasty. Using it, various scholars have proposed dates for the fall of Babylon based on the 56/64-year cycle of Venus. The mentioned recent work suggesting that the fundamental 8-year cycle of Venus is a better metric, led to the proposal of an "ultra-low" chronology. [32]

Eclipses Edit

A number of lunar and solar eclipses have been suggested for use in dating the ancient Near East. Many suffer from the vagueness of the original tablets in showing that an actual eclipse occurred. At that point, it becomes a question of using computer models to show when a given eclipse would have been visible at a site, complicated by difficulties in modeling the slowing rotation of the earth (ΔT). One important event is the Nineveh eclipse, found in an Assyrian limmu list q.e. "Bur-Sagale of Guzana, revolt in the city of Ashur. In the month Simanu an eclipse of the sun took place." This eclipse is considered to be solidly dated to 15 June 763 BC. Another important event is the Ur III Lunar/Solar Eclipse pair in the reign of Shulgi. Most calculations for dating using eclipses have assumed the Venus Tablet of Ammisaduqa to be a legitimate source. [1] [33]

Dendrochronology Edit

Dendrochronology attempts to use the variable growth pattern of trees, expressed in their rings, to build up a chronological timeline. At present, there are no continuous chronologies for the Near East. A floating chronology has been developed using trees in Anatolia for the Bronze and Iron Ages. Until a continuous sequence is developed, the usefulness for improving the chronology of the Ancient Near East is limited. [12] [13] [14] [15] The difficulty in tying the chronology to the modern day lies primarily in the Roman period, for which few good wood samples have been found, and many of those turn out to be imported from outside the Near East. [15]

Radiocarbon dating Edit

As in Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean, radiocarbon dates run one or two centuries earlier than the dates proposed by archaeologists. It is not at all clear which group is right, if either. [34] Newer accelerator-based carbon dating techniques may help clear up the issue. Another promising technique is the dating of lime plaster from structures. [35] Recently, radiocarbon dates from the final destruction of Ebla have been shown to definitely favour the middle chronology (with the fall of Babylon and Aleppo at c. 1595 BC), and seem to discount the ultra-low chronology (same event at c. 1499 BC), although it is emphasized that this is not presented as a decisive argument. [36]

Other emerging technical dating methods include rehydroxylation dating, luminescence dating, and archeointensity dating (geomagnetic). [37] [38]

Synchronisms Edit

Egypt Edit

At least as far back as the reign of Thutmose I, Egypt took a strong interest in the ancient Near East. At times they occupied portions of the region, a favor returned later by the Assyrians. Some key synchronisms:

    , involving Ramses II of Egypt (in his 5th year of reign) and Muwatalli II of the Hittite empire. Recorded by both Egyptian and Hittite records. [39]
  • Peace treaty between Ramses II of Egypt (in his 21st year of reign) and Hattusili III of the Hittites. Recorded by both Egyptian and Hittite records. [40] (Amenophis III) marries the daughter of Shuttarna II of Mitanni. There is also a record of messages from the pharaoh to Kadashman-Enlil I of Babylon in the Amarna Letter (EA1–5). Other Amarna letters link Amenhotep III to Burnaburiash II of Babylon (EA6) and Tushratta of Mitanni (EA17–29) as well. (Amenhotep IV) married the daughter of Tushratta of Mitanni (as did his father Amenhotep III), leaving a number of records. He also corresponded with Burna-Buriash II of Babylon (EA7–11, 15), and Ashuruballit I of Assyria (EA15–16)

There are problems with using Egyptian chronology. Besides some minor issues of regnal lengths and overlaps, there are three long periods of poorly documented chaos in the history of ancient Egypt, the First, Second, and Third Intermediate Periods, whose lengths are doubtful. This means the Egyptian Chronology actually comprises three floating chronologies.

Indus Valley Edit

There is much evidence that the Harappan civilization of the Indus Valley traded with the Near East, including clay seals found at Ur III and in the Persian Gulf. [41] Seals and beads were also found at the site of Esnunna. [42] In addition, if the land of Meluhha does indeed refer to the Indus Valley, then there are extensive trade records ranging from the Akkadian Empire until the Babylonian Dynasty I.

Thera and Eastern Mediterranean Edit

Goods from Greece made their way into the ancient Near East, directly in Anatolia and via the island of Cyprus in the rest of the region and Egypt. A Hittite king, Tudhaliya IV, even captured Cyprus as part of an attempt to enforce a blockade of the Assyrians. [43]

The eruption of the Thera volcano provides a possible time marker for the region. A large eruption, it would have sent a plume of ash directly over Anatolia and filled the sea in the area with floating pumice. This pumice appeared in Egypt, apparently via trade. Current excavations in the Levant may also add to the timeline. The exact date of the volcanic eruption has been the subject of strong debate, with dates ranging between 1628 and 1520 BC. Radiocarbon dating has placed it at between 1627 BC and 1600 BC with a 95% degree of probability. [44] [45] [46] Archaeologist Kevin Walsh, accepting the radiocarbon dating, suggests a possible date of 1628 and believes this to be the most debated event in Mediterranean archaeology. [47]


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