Critical steps in the development of civilization involved the transition of organized groups of humans from hunter-gatherers to food producers. The movement of peoples into the river valleys of the ancient Middle East was the primary stimulus to the formation of cities. Mesopotamia, the land between the rivers, was the first river valley civilization. Here written language and law developed in response to difficult and dynamic conditions. By contrast, Egypt developed in an almost serene setting, isolated from the rest of the world by sea and desert. Ultimately, this isolation was broken and Egypt became a major military power; other military empires arose as Egypt became exhausted from fighting the Hittites who originated in what is today Turkey. Persia came to dominate the region by the mid-sixth century B.C.E. Meanwhile, tiny Hebrew kingdoms centered in modern-day Israel developed a vision of God that would exert a powerful influence on Western religion and culture. The uncompromising commitment to monotheism among the Jewish people directly influenced the shape of Christianity and Islam. The other major civilizations of this period stressed the supernatural powers of many different gods who appeared to care very little for humans.
After reading this chapter you should understand:
- The origins of civilization in the transmission of culture and the creation of cities.
- The nature of the first civilizations in Mesopotamia and Egypt.
- The development of military empires by the Hittites and Assyrians.
- The creation of the Persian Empire.
- The achievements of Palestinian peoples: Canaanites, Phoenicians, and Israelites.
- The differing outlooks and philosophies of ancient civilizations, particularly the distinction between the relationship between people and nature, and the role of one or more deities.