A Psi Phi (ΨΦ) Society–Fall Session–2019……the meeting was at the usual place with 5 members in attendance….
The Land Of Firsts
I can remember when the Middle East was seldom in the news….those days I was studying in university in subject I did not realize would become so important to the discourse.
Let us look at the region we call the Middle East…..a region rich in history and tradition.
So many of history’s firsts were invented in this region…..written word and math……
The Sumerian civilization (known also as Sumer) was one of the earliest civilizations in the world. This ancient civilization emerged in the region of southern Mesopotamia (modern day southern Iraq), between the Tigris and Euphrates River. The Sumerian civilization began around the 4th millennium BC and ended around the 24th century BC, when the whole of Mesopotamia came under the control of the Akkadian Empire .
The Sumerians re-emerged during the 22nd century BC and ruled southern Mesopotamia once more. The Third Dynasty of Ur that they established, however, did not last for long and fell after about a century. Although Sumerian dominance in Mesopotamia ended definitively this time, its numerous innovations benefitted subsequent Mesopotamian civilizations , and its legacy can still be felt even today.
To begin with the notion of civilization was first tried in the area (there is some dispute of the claim of first) but for the most part I agree with the Fertile Crescent as the “cradle of civilization”….
Sumer, located in Mesopotamia, is the first known complex civilization, developing the first city-states in the 4th millennium BCE. It was in these cities that the earliest known form of writing, cuneiform script, appeared around 3000 BCE. Cuneiform writing began as a system of pictographs. These pictorial representations eventually became simplified and more abstract. Cuneiform texts were written on clay tablets, on which symbols were drawn with a blunt reed used as a stylus. Writing made the administration of a large state far easier.
These developments led to the rise of territorial states and empires. In Mesopotamia there prevailed a pattern of independent warring city-states and of a loose hegemony shifting from one city to another.
Once civilization is up and running smoothly comes the next step…the first empire…..
pectacular things were happening in Mesopotamia in the period we call the Early Bronze Age, particularly in the southern part of it, commonly called Babylonia. It was here that the wealthy, sophisticated Sumerian civilization developed, its growth and prosperity greatly spurred by the invention of writing. A magnificent assortment of beautifully wrought items, like those unearthed from the so-called royal tombs of Ur and now on display in the British Museum, testifies to the high level of craftsmanship of the Sumerian civilization at its zenith.
In the wake of the Sumerian Early Dynastic period ( 2900–2334 BC), there arose in southern Mesopotamia the first great empire in Near Eastern history—the Akkadian empire ( 2334–2193 BC) founded by Sargon, which at its peak extended through the whole of Mesopotamia, and north-westwards into south-eastern Anatolia. Early Bronze Age Mesopotamia’s archaeological remains and prolific tablet-finds provided rich and exciting fields of investigation for archaeologists, historians, and linguists alike.
Once the empires were established they must be defended….so the first professional armies were found in the Fertile Crescent…..
In 745 BC the Assyrian King, Tiglath-Pileser III, established a standing army…..
However there is some disagreement n the first standing Army……but most agree that it was in the region of the Middle East…..
Once great empires were established then came another first….the first diplomatic correspondence….
The Amarna Letters are a body of 14th century BCE correspondence exchanged between the rulers of the Ancient Near East and Egypt. They are perhaps the earliest examples of international diplomacy while their most common subjects are negotiations of diplomatic marriage, friendship statements and exchanged materials. The name “Amarna Letters” derives from the place where the tablets were found: the ancient city of Akhetaten (built by order of the Pharaoh Akhenaten), but nowadays known as Tell el-Amarna, in Egypt.
They are the first international diplomatic system known to us, i.e. they contain rules, conventions and institutions responsible for communication and negotiation. Although in the early third millennium BCE there was already another form of relationship, this was merely straightforward written communication between Mesopotamia and Syria. With time, this form added some rules, based on necessity and developed the beginning of diplomatic mechanisms, which would culminate in the Amarna system. Thus, diplomacy was created to be used as a tool in the process of creating an empire.
When empires clashed in conflict the results were another first…….Then there was the very first Peace Treaty….between Egypt and the Hittite Empire….
Ramesses II (The Great, 1279-1213 BCE) ruled Egypt for 67 years and, today, the Egyptian landscape still bears testimony to the prosperity of his reign in the many temples and monuments he had built in honor of his conquests and accomplishments. There is virtually no ancient site in Egypt which does not mention the name of Ramesses II and his account of his victory at The Battle of Kadesh in 1274 BCE is legendary. Among his greatest moments as pharaoh, however, is not an act of war but one of peace: the signing of the first peace treaty in history.
While there does exist an earlier treaty, known as the Treaty of Mesilim, between the Mesopotamian cities of Umma and Lagash, dated to 2550 BCE, scholarly consensus rejects this as an actual peace treaty and defines it as a Treaty of Delimitation (meaning a treaty which sets borders or boundaries). Further, as the Treaty of Mesilim is actually a written agreement between the gods of Umma and Lagash, and not between the rulers of the city or those rulers’ representatives, it cannot be considered an actual peace treaty. The Treaty of Kadesh of 1258 BCE, then, holds the distinction as the world’s first peace treaty.
For comparison the Treaty of Mesilim……
According to the museum
, the two cities were disputing over a fertile area called Gu’edina or the ‘Edge of the Plain.’ Around 2400 B.C. Enmetena, king of Lagash, had the pillar erected to stake his claim to the territory. Rachel Campbell-Johnston at The Times
reports it is likely the earliest written evidence of a border dispute and is also the first time the term “no man’s land” is used.
Personally I think the treaty with the Hittites was more a peace treaty than the Treaty of Mesilim…..but make up your own mind.
The next first is the Declaration of the Persian king, Cyrus the Great……on human rights……
In 539 BCE, Persian troops under Cyrus the Great entered the city of Babylon, which they took without encountering any resistance. On 29 October 539 BCE, Cyrus himself entered the city and proclaimed himself “king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four corners of the world,” after which he placed the Cyrus Cylinder, the world’s first declaration of human rights, under the walls of Babylon, in the foundations of the temple of Esaglia. The text of the cylinder denounces Babylon’s previous leader, Nabonidus, glorifies Cyrus, and describes how he improved the lives of the people of Babylon. Upon conquering Babylon, Cyrus is said to have proclaimed, “Today, I announce that everyone is free to choose a religion. People are free to live in all regions and take up a job provided that they never violate other’s rights.”
This acknowledgement of human rights and freedom of religion—made more than 2,500 years ago by perhaps the most powerful man on Earth at the time—was an astounding example of benevolence, tolerance, and mercy. True to his word, Cyrus respected the customs and religions of the lands he conquered. Upon conquering Babylon, he is said to have freed the Jews there from captivity. (You would think that the Israelis would celebrate this…after all they celebrte a wandering for 40 years in a desert)
The Next “First” was a canon of laws…..the Hammurabi Code”…..
Hammurabi was the sixth king in the Babylonian dynasty, which ruled in central Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) from c. 1894 to 1595 B.C.
His family was descended from the Amorites, a semi-nomadic tribe in western Syria, and his name reflects a mix of cultures: Hammu, which means “family” in Amorite, combined with rapi, meaning “great” in Akkadian, the everyday language of Babylon.
In the 30th year of his reign, Hammurabi began to expand his kingdom up and down the Tigris and Euphrates river valley, overthrowing the kingdoms of Assyria, Larsa, Eshunna and Mari until all of Mesopotamia was under his sway.
The first ten laws of the “code”……
1. If a man commits a murder, that man must be killed.
2. If a man commits a robbery, he will be killed.
3. If a man commits a kidnapping, he is to be imprisoned and pay 15 shekels of silver.
4. If a slave marries a slave, and that slave is set free, he does not leave the household.
5. If a slave marries a native (i.e. free) person, he/she is to hand the firstborn son over to his owner.
6. If a man violates the right of another and deflowers the virgin wife of a young man, they shall kill that male.
7. If the wife of a man followed after another man and he slept with her, they shall slay that woman, but that male shall be set free.
8. If a man proceeded by force, and deflowered the virgin slavewoman of another man, that man must pay five shekels of silver.
9. If a man divorces his first-time wife, he shall pay her one mina of silver.
10. If it is a (former) widow whom he divorces, he shall pay her half a mina of silver.
Then there is the science and technology firsts…….
- The Wheel
- The Sail
- The Corbeled Arch/True Arch
- Irrigation and Farming Implements
- Time and Clocks
- Astronomy and Astrology
- Medicinal Drugs and Surgery
Fast forward to Islamic Golden Age, 750-1258, and a host of first as well……
- Advancements in mathematics, including the birth of algebra and new insights into geometry and trigonometry.
- The origins of the scientific method, along with the development of chemistry, physics, and astronomy as discrete fields of inquiry.
- The invention of the modern “teaching hospital” and a medical encyclopedia that served Europe for the next 600 years.
- The preservation and translation of the world’s great literature, from the Hadith (or sayings of Muhammad) to the master works of Greece and Rome.
- Ontological philosophy that served future Jewish, Christian, and Muslim theologians concerned with the nature of God and the relationship between faith and reason.
The region today may be a hot bed of violence and may be it has always been so, as so many believe, but that does not ever diminish the accomplishments of the people of the Middle East.
More firsts…the Sumerians lead the way……
The Sumerians were responsible for many of the most important innovations, inventions, and concepts taken for granted in the present day. They essentially “invented” time by dividing day and night into 12-hour periods, hours into 60 minutes, and minutes into 60 seconds. Their other innovations and inventions include the first schools, the earliest version of the tale of the Great Flood and other biblical narratives, the oldest heroic epic, governmental bureaucracy, monumental architecture
, and irrigation techniques.
This draft was written in September and above article published 09 October……so is someone looking over my shoulder?
The meeting let out we had a good talk, good meal and excellent wine…..Winter Session Session TBA…..
I Read, I Wrote, You Know
“Lego Ergo Scribo”