Posts Tagged ‘Mesopotamia’

The Rise and Fall of the Akkadian Empire

March 26, 2015

The first great empire builder known to history was Sargon of Akkad who founded the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia. Dates are always uncertain in ancient times, but the best guess for the reign of Sargon seems to be from 2334 to 2279 BC, though some accounts have his death at 2215. He lived in the Sumerian city of Kish, though he was not a Sumerian but a member of the Semitic people later known as Akkadians. Sargon’s actual name, or title, was Sarru-kinu meaning true or legitimate king in the Semitic language he spoke. This name that he apparently adopted, his birth name is unknown, is a good indication that he was not the legitimate king but a usurper, which is indeed the case. According to legends, Sargon was the cup-bearer to King Ur-Zababa of King, also a Semite. Sargon apparently led a coup against Ur-Zababa, with the support of the goddess Inanna, or Ishtar as she was later known, and deposed and killed him.

Bronze head of a king, most likely Sargon of A...

Bronze head of a king, most likely Sargon of Akkad but possibly Naram-Sin. Unearthed in Nineveh (now in Iraq). In the Iraqi Museum, Baghdad. Height 30.5 cm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once secure in power at Kish, Sargon began a series of military campaigns against the other Sumerian city-states, eventually uniting all of Mesopotamia. He led his armies North, East, and West until he had conquered parts of Syria, Iran, and Asia Minor. Not content to rule from Kish, Sargon founded his own city, Akkad or Agade to be the new capital or his new empire. Thus his people came to be known as Akkadians and his empire the Akkadian Empire. The Akkadian Empire lasted a little under two centuries and then fell rather abruptly around 2154. A semi-nomadic and uncivilized people from the Zagros Mountains known as the Gutians invaded and conquered Mesopotamia, ending the Akkadian Empire and disrupting the economy and culture of the region in a century long dark age.

Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This account of the fall of the Akkadian Empire to barbarian invaders seems straightforward enough, but there must be more to the story. Why were the Gutians able to overcome their more advanced and civilized neighbors so easily? The Sumerians and Akkadians had been able to hold them off before. Why did the Gutians decide to leave their homes in the mountains and move to Mesopotamia instead of simply being content with raiding?
Archaeologists have discovered that the soil deposited in this period was dry and sandy, lacking traces of the activity of earthworms. It seems likely that there was a change in climate in the twenty-second century BC causing the entire region to become more arid. Agriculture failed due to the long lasting drought causing famine. The cities were overpopulated by famine and Mesopotamian civilization broke down under the strain. Meanwhile, the Gutians also suffered from the drought and left their homes to seek food and water in Mesopotamia. This change in climate probably affected much of West Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean region. It was during this period that the Old Kingdom in Egypt ended with Egypt falling into chaos.

We like to believe that we human beings are the masters of our destiny both as individuals and as nations. Most historical accounts of the rise and fall of empires attribute the fate of nations largely to human elements, what this or that king or statesman did, or these or those economic and social conditions. They do not like to give credit to nature for its contribution, yet nature in the form of changes of climate and epidemics has surely played a greater role in the course of history than many kings.

About a thousand years after the fall of the Akkadian Empire, around 1200 BC, there was another prolonged period of drought throughout Western Asia and North Africa, causing the collapse of every civilization in the area and vast movements of people. The Hittite Empire in Asia Minor, the Egyptian New Kingdom, the Mycenaean Greeks and others were swept away in the chaos. Assyria and Babylon in Mesopotamia survived but were weakened for more than a century. We perhaps retain dim memories of these dire years in Homer’s poems about the Trojan War and the Biblical accounts from Exodus to Judges.

Plague destroyed Athens’s chance of winning the Peloponnesian War with Sparta. Climate change may have been a leading factor in the decline of the Roman Empire in the West while also explaining the movements of Germans and Huns into Roman territories. Plague and short term climate change, perhaps caused by a volcanic eruption in the tropics during the reign of Justinian made his dream of reconquering the Western Empire impossible. The prosperous period known as the High Middle Ages coincided with the Medieval Warm Period. When the climate cooled and the Black Death appeared, the High Middle Ages ended.

This is part of the reason why I cannot take the warnings and alarmism of the environmentalists too seriously. The Greens seem to believe that nature has been in a state of perfect equilibrium for eons only to be disturbed by the coming of Homo sapiens. Human beings, and only human beings are responsible for any changes in climate or the environment. We are responsible for the degradation of the planet and only we can save the planet. This is all nonsense. The planet Earth has been around long before we appeared on the scene and will be around after we are extinct. The Earth doesn’t need us to save it. The effects of nature on the climate and the environment dwarf anything we could ever dream of doing. It really wouldn’t take much of a change in climate to bring our advanced civilization crashing down just like the Akkadian Empire and we would no more be able to stop it than they were.

That is not to say that we shouldn’t be concerned about the damage we do to our environment. It is never wise to foul one’s own nest, but let’s not deceive ourselves into believing we have more impact than we actually do.

Advertisements

The Decline and Fall of the Indus Civilization

May 29, 2012
English: Indus Priest/King Statue. The statue ...

English: Indus Priest/King Statue. The statue is 17.5 cm high and carved from steatite a.k.a. soapstone. It was found in Mohenjo-daro in 1927. It is on display in the National Museum, Karachi, Pakistan. Deutsch: „Priesterkönig“ gedeutete Steinfigur der Indus-Kultur aus Mohenjo-daro (Pakistan) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The earliest civilizations in history were the Sumerians in Mesopotamia, the ancient Egyptians and the Indus Civilization in Pakistan and India. Quite a lot is known about the first two, but the Indus Civilization is still a mystery. Their writing remains undeciphered so we do not know much about their history. We can’t even be certain of their ethnicity although it is very likely they were the ancestors of the Dravidian Indians. This civilization flourished for centuries but then collapsed quite suddenly from 1800-1700 BC. Evidently most of the inhabitants of the cities migrated eastwards. The cause of this collapse is unknown but this article in Yahoo news indicates that archeologists and historians are finding some answers.

The mysterious fall of the largest of the world’s earliest urban civilizations nearly 4,000 years ago in what is now India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh now appears to have a key culprit — ancient climate change, researchers say.

Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia may be the best known of the first great urban cultures, but the largest was the Indus or Harappan civilization. This culture once extended over more than 386,000 square miles (1 million square kilometers) across the plains of the Indus River from the Arabian Sea to the Ganges, and at its peak may have accounted for 10 percent of the world population. The civilization developed about 5,200 years ago, and slowly disintegrated between 3,900 and 3,000 years ago — populations largely abandoned cities, migrating toward the east.

“Antiquity knew about Egypt and Mesopotamia, but the Indus civilization, which was bigger than these two, was completely forgotten until the 1920s,” said researcher Liviu Giosan, a geologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. “There are still many things we don’t know about them.”

Nearly a century ago, researchers began discovering numerous remains of Harappan settlements along the Indus River and its tributaries, as well as in a vast desert region at the border of India and Pakistan. Evidence was uncovered for sophisticated cities, sea links with Mesopotamia, internal trade routes, arts and crafts, and as-yet undeciphered writing.
“They had cities ordered into grids, with exquisite plumbing, which was not encountered again until the Romans,” Giosan told LiveScience. “They seem to have been a more democratic society than Mesopotamia and Egypt — no large structures were built for important personalitiess like kings or pharaohs.”

Location of Harappa in the Indus Valley and ex...

Location of Harappa in the Indus Valley and extent of Indus Valley Civilization (green). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My high school history textbook theorized that the people of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro had a “Bronze-Age totalitarian” system of government because the cities and buildings were so similar to each other. It seems the authors were wrong.

The researchers’ conclusion is that the Indus Valley Civilization collapsed because of changing climates. If I am not mistaken, about this same time period, or somewhat earlier, the Sahara Desert was also becoming drier.

Some had suggested that the Harappan heartland received its waters from a large glacier-fed Himalayan river, thought by some to be the Sarasvati, a sacred river of Hindu mythology. However, the researchers found that only rivers fed by monsoon rains flowed through the region.

Previous studies suggest the Ghaggar, an intermittent river that flows only during strong monsoons, may best approximate the location of the Sarasvati. Archaeological evidence suggested the river, which dissipates into the desert along the dried course of Hakra valley, was home to intensive settlement during Harappan times.

“We think we settled a long controversy about the mythic Sarasvati River,” Giosan said.

Initially, the monsoon-drenched rivers the researchers identified were prone to devastating floods. Over time, monsoons weakened, enabling agriculture and civilization to flourish along flood-fed riverbanks for nearly 2,000 years.

I guess they should have paid more attention to their carbon footprint. Actually, the cause of the changing climate was entirely natural.

“The insolation — the solar energy received by the Earth from the sun — varies in cycles, which can impact monsoons,” Giosan said. “In the last 10,000 years, the Northern Hemisphere had the highest insolation from 7,000 to 5,000 years ago, and since then insolation there decreased. All climate on Earth is driven by the sun, and so the monsoons were affected by the lower insolation, decreasing in force. This meant less rain got into continental regions affected by monsoons over time.”

Eventually, these monsoon-based rivers held too little water and dried, making them unfavorable for civilization.

“The Harappans were an enterprising people taking advantage of a window of opportunity — a kind of “Goldilocks civilization,” Giosan said.

Eventually, over the course of centuries, Harappans apparently fled along an escape route to the east toward the Ganges basin, where monsoon rains remained reliable.

“We can envision that this eastern shift involved a change to more localized forms of economy — smaller communities supported by local rain-fed farming and dwindling streams,” Fuller said. “This may have produced smaller surpluses, and would not have supported large cities, but would have been reliable.”

This change would have spelled disaster for the cities of the Indus, which were built on the large surpluses seen during the earlier, wetter era. The dispersal of the population to the east would have meant there was no longer a concentrated workforce to support urbanism.

“Cities collapsed, but smaller agricultural communities were sustainable and flourished,” Fuller said. “Many of the urban arts, such as writing, faded away, but agriculture continued and actually diversified.”

They did have to put in a little something about global warming/climate change at the end of the article.

It remains uncertain how monsoons will react to modern climate change. “If we take the devastating floods that caused the largest humanitarian disaster in Pakistan’s history as a sign of increased monsoon activity, than this doesn’t bode well for the region,” Giosan said. “The region has the largest irrigation scheme in the world, and all those dams and channels would become obsolete in the face of the large floods an increased monsoon would bring.”

But this is an important point and I think a whole lot more research needs to be done on changes in climate in the past. I suspect that the rise and fall of empires has as much to do with the energy output of the sun and changing winds and currents as anything humans can do.

 

Ancient Dictionary

June 6, 2011
Assyrian cuneiform

Wonder what this says

After ninety years, a group of scholars at the University of Chicago have completed a dictionary of Ancient Assyrian. The details are in this article in Yahoo news. I think this is an amazing accomplishment and I wish I could get ahold of a copy. It’s interesting that according to the researchers people have changed much in the last 3000 years.

The Assyrian Dictionary gives us the key into the world’s first urban civilization,” he says. “Virtually everything that we take for granted … has its origins in Mesopotamia, whether it’s the origins of cities, of state societies, the invention of the wheel, the way we measure time, and most important the invention of writing.

“If we ever want to understand our roots,” Stein adds, “we have to understand this first great civilization.”

The translated cuneiform texts — originally written with wedged-shaped characters — reveal a culture where people expressed joy, anxiety and disappointment about the same events they do today: a child’s birth, bad harvests, money troubles, boastful leaders.

“A lot of what you see is absolutely recognizable — people expressing fear and anger, expressing love, asking for love,” says Matthew Stolper, a University of Chicago professor who worked on the project on and off over three decades. “There are inscriptions from kings that tell you how great they are, and inscriptions from others who tell you those guys weren’t so great. … There’s also lot of ancient versions of `your check is in the mail.’ And there’s a common phrase in old Babylonian letters that literally means `don’t worry about a thing.'”

This may not seem a very practical thing since the language died out around AD 100. Still, not everything has an immediate useful application and this project is more worthwhile than many I could think of.

A page from the dictionary


%d bloggers like this: