Ancient History: An Overview

History, the story of humanity, really begins with writing. We cannot know what people thought, and only to a limited extent can we know what they did and how they lived before writing was invented. Much of what we understand about the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods is based on archeological digs and what conjectures can be made from them. But with the advent of writing, even in the form of clay tablets with seeming chicken scratches etched into them, we suddenly have a window into the mind of ancient man. Remarkably, in many ways, it is a mind not unlike our own.

What constitutes civilization? When driving out in the country people profess to look for signs of civilization, which they take to mean a fast food restaurant and a well-stocked grocery store. Historically, civilization is defined by the following factors:

  • Organized state with understood boundaries.
  • Political institutions to run the state.
  • Economic specialization of individuals within the economy.
  • Development of arts.
  • Intellectual careers open to individuals.
  • Stratification of social class (could be based on birth, achievement, education, etc.)
  • Advancements in architecture, usually involving public buildings.

Civilization has had many advantages. The ability to marshal large economic and military forces can provide physical protection as well as amenities for its populations. By the same token, those same forces can be used in a negative way, destroying individual initiative or even whole populations such as in the Soviet Union and National Socialist Germany in the 1900s. Yet the good has far out-weighed the bad. Without civilization the infrastructure that provides roads, bridges, inventions, phones, homes, and more would be impossible. Ancient history is really the story of how civilization came about. Though it seems an inevitable process, it need not have happened. Society may never have developed beyond a rudimentary stage. Until just recently in world history many peoples still lived lives much as Thomas Hobbes described in his book Leviathan, "nasty, brutish, and short".

The kernel or seed from which all civilization grew seems to have come from one place, the cradle of civilization: Mesopotamia.

Mesopotamia: Cradle of Civilization

Ancient Egypt: The Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms

The Hittites: Kingdom and Empire

Minoan Culture

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