Thursday, June 15, 2017

Empires of the Fertile Crescent

Empires of the Fertile Crescent
The lack of unity among the Sumerian city-states made them vulnerable to attack not only by rival cities, but also by surrounding nomadic peoples who were attracted by the relative wealth of the cities. As these nomadic peoples interacted with the settled communities of the cities, they soon began to learn the skills of civilization. Combining this new knowledge with their own warlike skills, some began to conquer the cities of the Tigris-Euphrates and to create the first empires.

Fertile Crescent and Akkadians
Some time around 2330 B.C., the Akkadians, a people who also lived in Mesopotamia, conquered the Sumerians. The most powerful ot the Akkadian kings, Sargon, who ruled from about 2350 to 2300 B.C., established a great empire that extended as far west as the Mediterranean Sea. Although it only lasted about a hundred years, the Akkadian Empire was the first of many to take control of the area.

Around 1792 B.C., a powerful ruler named Hammurabi (ham»uh*RAUB»ee) came to power in the city of Babylon and conquered most of the upper Tigris-Euphrates Valley. More than just an outstanding military leader, Hammurabi was an outstanding political leader as well. He is best known for the Code of Hammurabi, a collection of laws compiled under his direction. Like the Akkadians, the Babylonians copied many aspects ot Sumerian culture, including their religious beliefs.

Sometime in the 1600s B.C., yet another group of warlike peoples, an Indo-European speaking group known as the Hittites, invaded the Tigris-Euphrates Valley from Asia Minor. The Hittites were among the first to use iron weapons. They also introduced a new, more reasonable set of laws than the harsher ones laid down in Hammurabi’s code. Yet, while they conquered Babylon, the Hittites were unable to hold the region for long and eventually withdrew to their new home base in Asia Minor.

After a prolonged period of further invasions by migrating peoples, about 900 B.C. the Assyrians, a Semitic-speaking people, began to expand their rule throughout the Fertile Crescent. Eventually, they conquered a vast empire that stretched from Egypt to the Iranian Plateau.

The Assyrians excelled in warfare. They were the first to make extensive use of cavalry units of soldiers mounted on horses. They also waged war ferociously, frequently killing their war captives and sometimes massacring the inhabitants of cities they conquered to instill terror in others. They ruled their empire through an efficient system of imperial bureaucracy. Governors ruled conquered territories and made regular reports to the king. To ensure loyalty, secret inspectors checked up on the governors and reported on their activities to the king directly. Like other conquerors before them, the Assyrians were influenced by the earlier patterns of Sumerian civilization. In fact, it was while excavating the great library of the Assyrian capital of Nineveh that modern archaeologists found a copy of the ancient Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest works of literature known.

The Assyrians’ tactics won them many enemies. Finally, in 612 B.C., an alliance of their foes, led by the Medes and the Chaldeans, captured and totally destroyed the Assyrian capital of Nineveh and put an end once and for all to Assyrian power.

Under the leadership of king Nebuchadnezzar (neb*uh«kuhd»NEZ»uhr), the Chaldeans conquered most of the Fertile Crescent. Babylon, their capital, once again became a large and rich city. After Nebuchadnezzar’s death, however, this brief revival of Babylonian power faltered and in 539 Babylon fell to yet another Indo-European speaking people from the Iranian Plateau, the Persians. Under their great rulers, Cyrus the Great and Darius I, the Persians created the largest empire yet seen, ruling the peoples of southwest Asia and Egypt with an efficient and generally tolerant imperial bureaucracy.


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