Ancient History the Ancient Histories of Mesopotamian Term Paper

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Ancient History

The ancient histories of Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations have much in common. Both regions were inhabited since prehistoric times by nomadic groups, which began to settle down in towns and villages by around 6000 BCE. Consistent settlements soon grew into larger cities; in both Egypt and in Mesopotamia, these cities became city-states with complex lifestyles and forms of government. Some of the first written languages were created simultaneously in these regions: in Mesopotamia the Sumerians developed cuneiform and later the Babylonians and Assyrians used pictographs. The ancient Egyptians developed their unique hieroglyphics. Both these ancient cultures had sophisticated arts, such as fine pottery, ceramics, sculpture, and paintings. Both these cultures also had irrigation systems to provide the arid regions with the ability to grow crops. Egypt and Mesopotamia were both fed by major rivers: in Egypt's case it was the Nile and in the case of Mesopotamia it was the Tigris and Euphrates. These rivers flooded at certain times of year, making irrigation systems even more useful.

The cities that sprouted up in both these regions were independent city-states. However, by 3150 BCE, the northern and southern parts of Egypt became unified under one ruler. This did not occur in Mesopotamia, which was inhabited by various groups throughout the years like the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Sumerians. However, the people of Mesopotamia, like those in Egypt, traded heavily with neighboring people.

To compare Mesopotamia, especially ancient Babylon, with ancient Egypt, it is helpful to examine the reigns of Hammurabi and of Akhenaten. Akhenaten ruled Egypt during the 18th Dynasty, about 1350 BCE. His leadership was completely unorthodox and totally transformed Egyptian religious, cultural, political, and social life. The main transformation that occurred with Akhenaten was in the realm of Egyptian religion. From the great pantheon of Egyptian gods, Akhenaten chose to worship a single god, Aten. Therefore, he changed Egyptian religion from being polytheistic to monotheistic. The pharaoh might have done this for political reasons, to become a more powerful ruler. Because Akhenaten declared that only he could contact the sun god Aten, he stripped power from the high priests. His decision to worship one god may also have been inspired by Hebrew culture. Akhenaten had also changed his name from Amenhotep IV to Akhenaten to show his reverence for the sun god Aten. Akhenaten's reforms did not last long and were more popular with the wealthy elite than with the common people. Moreover, he neglected many of his political duties when he formed his cult; most notably he neglected foreign relations.

Hammurabi ruled the region of Babylon in Mesopotamia at around 1800 BCE, a few centuries earlier than Akhenaten ruled in Egypt. Babylon became the most powerful city-state in Mesopotamia because Hammurabi conquered many neighboring city-states and united several of them. His reforms were mostly political, unlike those of Akhenaten. However, he did try to unite the people of Babylon under one religion. Hammurabi is most notable for his code of law, which covered justice in many aspects of daily life and is famous for the "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" clause. The code of law emphasized consistent penalties for crimes, many of which were petty but relevant to Babylonian life.

Hammurabi's rule ushered in the "Golden Age of Babylon," in which the government provided improvements to irrigation systems, taxation systems, and even government-sponsored housing. The reign of Hammurabi was ended by a Hittite invasion. Akhenaten's rule did not cause a golden age, but did create what historians call the "Amarna Interlude," which was a revolutionary time in ancient Egypt. The capital of Egypt was temporarily moved during that time and new art styles emerged.

2. Pericles, often called the "Father of Democracy" was born in 490 BCE. He was the son of an Athenian politician and became a renowned orator and statesman. When he assumed political leadership in the city-state of Athens, Pericles significantly expanded the power and scope of Athens. More importantly, however, he created a direct democracy in which all freeborn males could participate in political decisions. Athens was already ruled by an assembly of men, rather than a monarch, but Pericles enabled any man, regardless of his family name or wealth, to become a member of the Assembly. This type of democracy is direct, as opposed to representative. The Athenian-style democracy lasted until 404 BCE, when Sparta successfully defeated Athens. Pericles did not invest as much into military causes as diplomatic ones; knowing that Sparta was an immense military power, he chose to align with some of Sparta's rivals rather than bolster the Athenian army. The Athenian army was comprised totally of volunteer citizens. The "Age of Pericles" is also known as the "Athenian Age," or the "Classical Age," and during this time, the arts and culture flourished. Although the Athenian Assembly was only open to men, and could not include freed slaves or women, it was nevertheless a great experiment in self-governance by the people. The Athenian democratic policies of Pericles are mirrored by the Roman Republicans.

However, the Roman Republic differed from the democracy of Athens in several ways; namely, Rome's Republic was a representative democracy at best. In fact, Rome's Republic differed from Athenian democracy in most part because only the elite served in the upper echelons of government.

In theory, all freeborn men were allowed to serve in public positions, but in practice, only the wealthy class, known as the patricians, rose to power. The great majority of people, known as plebeians, became disgruntled as a result, which caused much political instability and led to the downfall of the republic. The Republican era in Rome ended when the first emperor came to power around the first century BCE. Rome first became a Republic after the demise of the monarchy in about 509 BCE, so it was sandwiched between monarchy and imperial rule.

Unlike in Athens, where the Assembly was the fundamental political entity that entailed all the central powers of government, in Rome the Republic was more stratified and hierarchical. The Athenian Assembly had the sole ability to approve of or veto a state decision; the Assembly also selected most public officials directly, and served as the main court and court of appeals. Pericles did make citizenship laws more restrictive, requiring that both parents be born in Athens rather than just one. However, the Assembly under Pericles was comprised of all male citizens, regardless of their social class.

The Roman Republic was a complex structure of government was formed that was comprised mostly of patricians, or the wealthy class. Therefore, the Republic can be called an oligarchy, in which a body of elite people rules as representatives of the masses. There were popular elections of officials, just as in Athens, though most powerful public officials in the Republic were patrician. At the top of the Roman Republic were the consuls, who were two patricians serving one-year terms. They initiated legislation and were also heads of the judicial and military branches of government. Unlike Athens under Pericles, the army was a central issue for the Romans.

Although the Roman Republic approached a representative democracy, it was more of a government of elitist men than a true democracy. The Roman Republic caused much class conflict between the patricians and the plebeians and this period was actually tumultuous. In Athens, on the other hand, Pericles introduced a system of political reforms and created a direct democracy, albeit one that was only open to men. Athens during Pericles experienced a Golden Age which was shattered by external forces, not like the internal ones that shook Republican Rome.

3. Livy, a historian under the patronage of Rome's first Emperor, Augustus, attributed the "downward plunge" of the Roman Empire to "the gradual relaxation of discipline." In reality the Roman Empire's evolution was more complex than this. The legend of Romulus marks the beginning of the Roman Empire, around 753 BCE, when Etruscan civilization that formed the early Roman culture. The historical founding of Rome was around 625 BCE. Begun as a monarchy, Rome evolved into a Republic, and then an empire. Severe class conflicts caused several civil wars and the assassinations of many public officials. Dictators like Sulla also rose to power during the course of the history of the Roman Empire. Slave revolts and other problems continued to plague Rome, so that when the neighboring barbarian tribes invaded, Rome was too weak to resist. Rome eventually amassed territories from the Mediterranean and Northern Africa all the way to Northern Europe, but in 476 CE the last Roman Empire ruled. However, Rome survived as a fragmented Empire after the rise of Christianity and the creation of the Holy Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire.

Augustus Caesar (also known as Julius Caesar, Octavian, or simply Augustus) essentially ended the civil wars around 29 BCE. The period between his rule and the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180 CE is commonly referred to as the Pax Romana or Roman Peace because of the relative absence…[continue]

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