Civilizations and Empires in Southwest Asia World History

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Civilizations and Empires in Southwest Asia

  • World History

  • Mr. Dunham

Civilization Arose in the Fertile Crescent

Why is it important for people (especially farmers) to settle near rivers & streams?

  • Farmers need their villages near water because they need it for their crops.


  • The region between the Tigris River and the Euphrates River is known as Mesopotamia.

  • One of the first villages to emerge was Sumer. The villagers were called Sumerians.


  • Sumer was neither a city nor a country. Rather, it was a collection of separate cities with a common way of life. They shared a common culture.

What defines the term “Civilization?”

  • Five Traits that are Essential for a Civilization

    • 1. The Growth of Cities
      • Not Just Population growth, but also a center of trade emerges for a larger area. Farmers, Merchants, Traders bring goods to market in the cities.
    • 2. Specialized Workers
      • Workers became skilled in one particular job.
        • Ex. Artisans: Workers who made goods by hand.
        • Farmers were able to produce more than what was needed for themselves. They had a surplus of crops and were able to trade their extra goods for a different good or service. (An end to subsistence farming.)
    • 3. Record Keeping/Writing
      • Enables people to make records of data. Merchants needed accounts of debts and payments.
        • The Sumerians created Cuneiform, which is a system of writing with wedge-shaped symbols. (Around 3,000 B.C.)

Cuneiform Tablet

  • Imprints of the signs, called cuneiform, were made by pressing a wedge-shaped stylus into wet clay.

Cuneiform Tablet & Tools

Cuneiform Translation Table

Five Traits Essential for a Civilization Cont.

  • Five Traits Essential for a Civilization Cont.

    • 4. Advanced Technology
      • The Sumerians were skilled in science & technology.
        • Ex. Invention of the wheel, plow, sailboat.
        • Use of bronze (mixture of copper & tin).—”Bronze Age”
    • 5. Complex Institutions
      • Having an organizational system to run a city. (This is a key trait that is essential for a civilization.)
        • Government is an example of a complex institution.

Fertile Crescent Disadvantages

  • 1. Water Problems- Unpredictability of floods and water dries up quickly.

Polytheism- A belief in many gods.

  • The Sumerians were polytheists. They believed that their gods were a lot like them except they were immortal and all-powerful.

    • Anu- “God of Heaven”
    • Enlil- “God of Clouds & Air”
    • Ea- “God of Water & Floods.
  • Afterlife: Sumerians believed that their souls went to “the land of no return,” a gloomy place between the earth’s crust & the ancient sea.

Who ruled Sumer?

  • Priests & Kings

    • Priests had power because they “knew how to please the gods” and keep the city safe.
    • Sumerians began by choosing a strong warrior to lead them into battle. These leaders eventually became kings. Kings became a hereditary position.

Sumer’s Downfall

  • For 1,000 years (3,000-2,000 B.C.) the city-states of Sumer were at war with one another.

    • All the fighting weakened the city-states so much that they could no longer ward off attacks from outsiders (nomads).
    • 2,000 B.C. Nomadic raiders swept through Ur, leaving it in ruins, thus ending the last of the great city-states.

1930 aerial photograph of the ziggurat at Ur by Leonard Woolley.

Photograph of the ziggurat after partial restoration.

Drawing of original ziggurat design by Leonard Woolley.

Turning Point In History: “Hammurabi’s Code”

  • Around 2,000 B.C. a group of nomadic warriors known as the Amorites invaded Mesopotamia.

    • The Amorites established Babylon as their capital city.
  • Hammurabi (1792-1750 B.C.) was a powerful and influential king.

    • Babylon’s civilization was becoming so complex that there was a need for written laws to help resolve disputes.
    • Hammurabi established a collection of laws that became known as “Hammurabi’s Code.”

Purpose of Hammurabi’s Code

  • There are 282 specific laws.

    • 88 Laws deal with marriage, family, property.
  • 3 Fundamental Principles:

    • 1. Principle of Retaliation to punish crimes. (Eye for an Eye)
    • 2. Principle of Punishment (Double Standards existed between social classes).
    • 3. Principle that the Government had a responsibility for what occurred in society.


  • Around 1100 B.C. the Phoenicians were the most powerful traders around the Mediterranean Sea.

    • 300 Phoenician cities sprouted up around Africa’s Mediterranean Sea
    • The highly prized purple dye for which the Phoenicians were renowned was extracted from a gland of the murex snail.  Each snail yielded only a drop of yellow liquid which darkened on exposure to light.  Processing required slow simmering for about two weeks.  Up to 60,000 snails were needed for each pound of dye.

Phoenician Contribution: Around 900 B.C. the Phoenicians developed a writing system with 22 symbols (versus the 600 symbols in Cuneiform).

  • Phoenician Contribution: Around 900 B.C. the Phoenicians developed a writing system with 22 symbols (versus the 600 symbols in Cuneiform).

  • The alphabet is born!!

Jews & Monotheism

  • Monontheist: A person who worships one god.

  • The Jews were one of the smallest groups in the ancient Fertile Crescent, but their influence on history was far-reaching.

  • Moses & Ten Commandments

    • By the laws set forth to Moses, God demanded a high standard of moral conduct from human beings. This emphasis on justice , morality, and an individual relationship with God set Judaism apart.
    • These ideas marked the birth of a set of religious traditions, the impact of which has lasted for thousands of years.
  • Capable Kings:

    • Saul, David, Solomon – Their kingdom…Israel.

Iron Age Begins

  • Shift from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age

Iron Age Continued…

  • Why make the change from Bronze to Iron?

    • Iron is a harder metal. An iron sword could pierce through a bronze shield.
    • Iron is a more common metal. Easier for people to obtain=cheaper too!
  • The development of Iron paved the way for an “Age of Empires.”

Assyrian Empire Rises and Falls (850-612 B.C.)

  • Iron Age enable the Assyrians to conquer and rule a large empire.

    • Iron Swords and Iron Pointed Spears which made for well equipped warriors.
    • The Assyrians were known for their military tactics because they were the most disciplined army to date.
    • The Assyrians had shown that it was possible to build an empire based on fear and harsh government.

Persian Empire (550 – 350 B.C.)

  • The Persian Empire was a giant empire that arose in Southwest Asia that was built upon tolerance and wise government. (Unlike the Assyrians)

  • In 550 B.C., Persian King Cyrus defeated several neighboring kingdom to mark the beginning of the Persian Empire.

    • In 11 years (550-539 B.C.) Cyrus conquered all of the Fertile Crescent and most of Asia minor.
    • Cyrus believed that when his army marched into a defeated city, that there would be no looting or destroying of any buildings/temples.
    • Cyrus believed that it was wise leave local customs and religions alone.

Cyrus the Great Video!!

Persian Empire Cont…

  • King Cyrus was killed in 530 B.C. and then his son, Cambyses, took over for 8 years. Cambyses died of a wound suffered by a sword.

  • Cambyses successor was Darius who governed the fragile empire by using absolute power.

    • Darius used two important tools to hold the empire together.
      • Excellent Road System called the “Royal Road System
      • Standardized Coinage.—The whole empire had a universal money system to trade with.

What we covered recently?

  • 5 Key traits that define “Civilization”

  • Rise of civilization in the Fertile Crescent – Sumerians.

  • Hammurabi’s Code (Babylon)

  • Phoenecians – Alphabet

  • Jews – Monotheism

  • Assyrians – War Tactics (Use of Iron & Force)

  • Persians – Lasting Empire, “Royal Road”

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