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According to a mix of legend and historical record, the Ancient Roman civilisation spanned from the mythical foundation of Rome as a town in 753 BC by the twin brothers Romulus and Remus, to the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD at the hands of Germanic tribes, led by Odoacer/Odovacer.
In between its birth and demise, the Republic and then Empire covered a vast territory, controlling the Mediterranean region and incorporating much of Europe as well as parts of West Asia and North Africa. Roman expansion spread a common tongue and culture, a vast transport and trade network, technological innovation and Roman law.
Though gone as a power, much of Rome’s legacy continued after the fall of the Empire.
Narrated by Sir Ian McKellen, The Road To Rome documents the journey of three authors of historical fiction as they walk from Naples to Rome dressed as Roman soldiers to raise money for charity. Their exploits raised over £25,000 in donations for charities Médecins Sans Frontières and Combat Stress.Watch Now
This animated GIF shows the growth of Ancient Rome from the establishment of the Roman Republic as a city-state in 509 BC to its fullest extent as an Empire and subsequent decline. The timescale of the map ends at the start of the reign of the Byzantine or East Roman Emperor Justinian, who ruled from 527 to 565 AD.
This GIF was created by Wikimedia commons user Roke
The Republican period is shown as maroon, while the united Empire is purple. The Eastern and Western Roman Empires are represented as wholly distinct from 405 AD onwards, with the West as blue and the East as green. At the final phase there is no blue on the map at all.
Dan talks to Simon Elliott about Septimius Severus, about his Northern Campaigns and the true story of this savage 3rd century invasion of Scotland.Listen Now
The Alchon Huns, also known as the Alchono, Alxon, Alkhon, Alkhan, Alakhana and Walxon, were a nomadic people who established states in Central Asia and South Asia during the 4th and 6th centuries CE.  They were first mentioned as being located in Paropamisus, and later expanded south-east, into the Punjab and central India, as far as Eran and Kausambi. The Alchon invasion of the Indian subcontinent eradicated the Kidarite Huns who had preceded them by about a century, and contributed to the fall of the Gupta Empire, in a sense bringing an end to Classical India.  
The invasion of India by the Huna peoples follows invasions of the subcontinent in the preceding centuries by the Yavana (Indo-Greeks), the Saka (Indo-Scythians), the Palava (Indo-Parthians), and the Kushana (Yuezhi). The Alchon Empire was the third of four major Huna states established in Central and South Asia. The Alchon were preceded by the Kidarites and succeeded by the Hephthalites in Bactria and the Nezak Huns in the Hindu Kush. The names of the Alchon kings are known from their extensive coinage, Buddhist accounts, and a number of commemorative inscriptions throughout the Indian subcontinent.
The Alchons have long been considered as a part or a sub-division of the Hephthalites, or as their eastern branch, but now tend to be considered as a separate entity.   
From 1993 to 2001, The Best College Football Player ESPY Award was presented annually to the collegiate American football player adjudged to be the best in the United States in a given calendar year. Running back Gerard Garrison Hearst (born 1971), playing for the University of Georgia, was the first winner of this historic award. History, including the history of college football, is one of the most interesting subjects students study. Human history spans back thousands of years. Due to this fact, there is a huge range of eras and subjects to choose from. Trying to narrow down a particular subject and topic can be difficult.
With such a long period, and a multitude of different subjects, how can you pick one topic to study? Fear not, we can help! In the text below, we have created a list of top history research paper topics. Using these custom topics, you can create awesome history papers.
The American Civil Rights Movement
The 1963 March on Washington participants and leaders marching from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. Photograph by Rowland Scherman (1937–).
People such as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks helped push forward the American civil rights movement. This movement is one of the most important eras of modern history and helped provide African American minorities with greater rights and equality. There is a wealth of information available, and the whole movement was highly documented. This creates an excellent academic subject and has fantastic scope for writers.
World War II
German advance into Belgium and Northern France, 10 May-4 June 1940, swept past the Maginot Line (shown in dark red). Map by Paul Siebert.
World War II remains the deadliest conflict in human history. That in itself provides scope for a series of professional college papers. When you delve deeper into the conflict, however, there are literally hundreds of different topics to pick. You could, for example, concentrate on a series of specific battles such as the Russian front. Alternatively, you could look at military generals and strategy. To make things easier, there is a plethora of online material you can use as research.
The American Civil War
Map of Confederate territory losses year by year. Map by the Office of the Chief of Military History, United States Army – American Military History, Army Historical Series Perry-Castañeda Library Map of the Civil War 1861-1865 Map Collection.
As far as important historical events go, The American Civil War is certainly the most important in the countries short history. This war changed the very fabric and makeup of the country. The North and South fought in various theatres for control of the country – each side had different political and cultural ideologies with the central theme being the enslavement of black people.
The rise and fall of the Roman Empire
Animated map of the Roman Republic and Empire between 510 BC and 530 AD. Map by Roke (d).
The Roman Empire was one of the largest in the world. In antiquity, Rome was the center of the universe. It was a cultural haven. Emperors ruled over vast swathes of land throughout Asia and Europe. Furthermore, epic battles and campaigns were fought to vie for control of whole countries. This is certainly an interesting subject. Remember that you could hire an online research paper writer to help with subjects such as these. The Roman Empire spans a large time period, and thus, additional help could be required.
The Cold War Arms Race
United States and Soviet Union/Russia nuclear weapon stockpiles. Map created by User:Fastfission first by mapping the lines using OpenOffice.org’s Calc program, then exporting a graph to SVG, and the performing substantial aesthetic modifications in Inkscape.
After World War II, tensions soothed and the world had peace. This peace was temporary, however. New major world powers emerged, vying for control and notability – the United States, Russia, and China. Various different de-factor conflicts arose as a result, such as the Vietnam War. Furthermore, each major power poured huge funds into developing their military branches and weapons of mass destruction.
A history of the Crusades
First editions (publ. Cambridge University Press)
During the Middle Ages, major powers in Europe embarked upon a number of religious crusades. These crusades had the aim of introducing Christianity to the Middle East and retaking the holy city of Jerusalem. This period of ancient history is truly interesting – there is a myriad of different crusades to study. Moreover, you can look at feudal states in Europe, and the different leaders who gathered their forces to journey to the holy land.
Black Death in Medieval Europe
Spread of the Black Death in Europe and the Near East (1346–1353). Map by Flappiefh.
Another fascinating period of Medieval Europe that provides excellent topics is the outbreak of the Plague. The Black Death remains the most devastating pandemic in human history. It is estimated that 75 to 200 million people died as a result of the plague in Eurasia during the 12 th and 14 th centuries. For history topics, students can look at the origins of the plague, how it spread across Europe, and how medieval doctors attempted to cure this fatal disease.
Portrait of George Washington (1732–99) by Gilbert Stuart (1755–1828).
The United States has an intriguing history. One aspect of US history that provides excellent subjects for papers is US Presidents. Each US President has brought something different and changed the makeup of the country. From George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln, to Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama – there is so much potential research material.
The Space Race
The Soviet Union achieved an early lead in the Space Race by launching the first artificial satellite Sputnik 1 (replica shown) in 1957. Photograph by NASA.
For decades, humans have tried to travel into the stars and explore space. This effort provides an interesting historical subject to study. From the 1950s and onwards, we have achieved some magnificent feats – Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon, for example, in 1969. The space race saw different world powers pouring money into the development of their space programs.
Best college football players ever
Hearst with Georgia in 1991. Photograph by Rod Hayes.
College football is a fantastic subject to study and is one of the most popular sports in the United States and has created some magnificent athletes. Looking at the best college football players ever provides a myriad of interesting historical topics.
Hopefully, your head is now bursting with awesome ideas for history papers. As you can see, there is a myriad of different subjects – from the best college football players of all time to World War II, and the Space Race. The above topics are just a small sample of the ideas you can utilize – if you take time, there are literally hundreds of useful subjects to choose from. Question for students (and subscribers): What topics have you used for college history essays? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Kelleher Storey, William. Writing History: A Guide for Students. Oxford University Press, 2015.
The Editors of Sports Illustrated. Sports Illustrated College Football’s Greatest (Sports Illustrated Greatest). Sports Illustrated, 2016.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by Rod Hayes of University of Georgia’s Eric Zeier (jersey #10) running the option with teammate Garrison Hearst (jersey #5) against the Kentucky Wildcats, is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.
“But I don’t want to go among mad people," Alice remarked. "Oh, you can’t help that," said the Cat: "we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad." "How do you know I’m mad?" said Alice. "You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn’t have come here.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Europe 500 BCE
The Iron Age Celts and their relatives dominate much of Europe, whilst in the Mediterranean lands a number of brilliant city-state civilizations, most notably the Greeks, now flourish.
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What is happening in Europe in 500BCE
This map shows the history of Europe in 500 BCE. The Iron Age has spread throughout the region, and has given rise to the brilliant civilization of the Ancient Greeks.
Iron Age Europe
Over the last few centuries the coming of the Iron Age to Europe has led to a large growth in populations throughout the continent, as well as great advances in culture.
Civilizing influences from the Middle East began again to be felt by the peoples of south-eastern Europe in the centuries after 1000 BCE. Phoenician merchants developed new trading networks across the Mediterranean Sea. They brought with them knowledge of the great civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt – and also an important new tool, alphabetic writing.
A brilliant new civilization
On the coasts and islands of the Mediterranean Sea – of Greece and the Aegean, Italy and Sicily, the southern coasts of France and Spain, and north Africa – hundreds of city-states now flourish. The driving force behind this is the colonising activities of the Greeks.
The emergence of the Classical city-state in the Mediterranean world has allowed one of the most brilliant civilizations in all human history to develop, that of ancient Greece.
Most have rejected their old tribal kings and adopted a republican style of government. They provide a fruitful environment for advances in many branches of endeavour: artistic, intellectual and political.
This form of government is now spreading to other peoples in the Mediterranean region: it is about now that the small city of Rome, in central Italy, ejects its kings and becomes a republic.
In the north
To the north, the Celts now cover western Europe from Spain in the west to Britain in the north. Peoples closely related to them, both ethnically and culturally, dominate central Europe.
A period of unrest and civil wars in the 1st century bc marked the transition of Rome from a republic to an empire. This period encompassed the career of Julius Caesar, who eventually took full power over Rome as its dictator. After his assassination in 44 bce , the triumvirate of Mark Antony, Lepidus, and Octavian, Caesar’s nephew, ruled. It was not long before Octavian went to war against Antony in northern Africa, and after his victory at Actium (31 bce ) he was crowned Rome’s first emperor, Augustus. His reign, from 27 bce to 14 ce , was distinguished by stability and peace.
Augustus established a form of government known as a principate, which combined some elements from the republic with the traditional powers of a monarchy. The Senate still functioned, though Augustus, as princeps, or first citizen, remained in control of the government. Under Augustus, Rome began to prosper once again, and the emperor came to be looked upon as a god. Thereafter, all good emperors were worshiped as gods after death. Among the beloved rulers of Rome were Trajan (reigned 98–117), Hadrian (117–138), Antoninus Pius (138–161), and Marcus Aurelius (161–180). Decadent, cruel men also rose to power: Caligula (37–41) and Nero (54–68) were so loathed that their reigns were struck from the official Roman records.
It was during the rule of Tiberius (14–37) that Jesus Christ was crucified. Thereafter, Christians were tolerated at best—but often tortured or killed—until the reign of Constantine I (312–337). In 313 an edict of toleration for all religions was issued, and from about 320 Christianity was favoured by the Roman state rather than persecuted by it. But the empire was dying. The last of Constantine’s line, Theodosius I (379–395), was the last emperor to rule over a unified Roman Empire. The Western Empire, suffering from repeated invasions and the flight of the peasants into the cities, had grown weak compared with the East, where spices and other exports virtually guaranteed wealth and stability. When Theodosius died, in 395, Rome split into Eastern and Western empires.
The West was severely shaken in 410, when the city of Rome was sacked by the Visigoths, a wandering nation of Germanic peoples from the northeast. The fall of Rome was completed in 476, when the German chieftain Odoacer deposed the last Roman emperor of the West, Romulus Augustulus. The East, always richer and stronger, continued as the Byzantine Empire through the European Middle Ages.
World 500 BCE
Some of the greatest thinkers in all world history are living at this time. Their teachings will have a lasting impact on the history of humanity, right up to the present day.
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World history in 500 BCE - the classical world takes shape
At this time, many of the classical civilizations of the ancient world enter their period of greatness: Greek, Chinese, Indian and Israelite civilizations all experience a burst of creativity, each producing thinkers who will profoundly shape the future course of world history. The Buddha in India, Confucius in China, the Greek philosophers of the Ionian school, and the Jewish prophets of ancient Israel – all lay down modes of thought whose influence is still with us today.
Technology and culture
Over the past few centuries, Iron Age technology has been spreading far and wide in the Eastern Hemisphere. It has now reached South East Asia, and is rippling down into Africa. Wherever it arrives it replaces the Stone Age tools used by farmers for millennia. This allows agricultural productivity to rise, populations to expand, towns and cities to grow, and civilization to advance. It is one of the great turning points in global history.
At the same time, the use of alphabetic scripts has been becoming widespread. The Aramaean script is now used throughout the Middle East. Its employment is fostered by the rise of huge imperial states in the region, and the transfers of population that this has involved.
Beyond the Middle East, the closely-related Sanskrit script has evolved amongst the Aryans in India. To the west, Phoenician traders have carried the alphabet to the Greeks, Italians (including of course the Romans) and other peoples of the Mediterranean.
The Middle East
In the Middle East, the past few centuries have seen the rise and fall of a succession of great empires – the Assyrian, the Neo-Babylonian and the Median. Now the Persian empire rules, the largest empire so far.
Europe and Asia
The Celts are now coming to dominate France and other parts of western Europe, populating it with their hill forts and warlike chieftainships.
In the steppes of central Asia, the nomadic horsemen have become a major threat to the settled civilizations of Eurasia. In the East, these “barbarians” have already had an impact on Chinese history by helping break up the unified Zhou kingdom into numerous different states and in the West, deep raids by the Cimmerians have caused much destruction.
North of the Black Sea, the Cimmerians have been replaced as the dominant people by the Scythians, whose tribes are fanning out over a huge area from eastern Europe to central Asia. In the Easter steppes it was the Quanrong – probably related to the later Xiongnu (Huns) – who seem to predominate.
In Africa, Iron Age farming has taken root amongst the Bantu peoples of the West African rainforest. They have started expanding outwards from their homelands.
Civilization is penetrating inner Africa from the north via the kingdom of Nubia, becoming more “African” as it travels.
In the Western Hemisphere, several centers of the Olmec civilization of Mexico have experienced a mysterious development, with the ritual burial of great sculptures accompanying the destruction of their communities. Nevertheless, by now the Olmec culture’s influence has spread over a large area of central America.
Far to the south, the Chavin civilization, the first of a long series of urban cultures in the Andean region of South America, has appeared.
For details of the different civilizations, click on the relevant timeline above.
More ‘Dig Deeper’ links may be found in the regional maps. To access, click on the markers in the world map.
Europe 500 CE
The western Roman empire has fallen to German invaders, but the eastern Roman empire remains intact.
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What is happening in Europe in 500CE
This map shows the history of Europe in 500 CE. The Roman Empire survives in the east, but the western provinces have fallen to a group of German tribes.
The Roman Empire in decline
The past three centuries have seen the Roman Empire experience many changes. The great days of ancient Rome are past, and the city of Rome itself has ceased to be the seat of political power. Emperors have spent more and more time close to the frontiers, to deal with the ever increasing threats, both from beyond the frontiers and from their own armies.
During the 4th century a dramatic transformation was set in train when the emperor Constantine (reigned 311-337) converted to Christianity. Under his successors Christianity became the official religion of the empire. Constantine also founded a new imperial capital, Constantinople.
The fall of the Roman empire in the west
During the 5th century the western provinces of the empire were overrun by German tribes. A number of Germanic kingdoms were established here, and their territories expanded to cover the entire territory of the former western empire. For a time, the whole of Western Europe was threatened by the fearsome Huns, a people from the central Asia who, under their king Attila, looked as if they might take over the whole Roman empire. In the event, however, they were defeated by a coalition of Romans and Goths (451).
Finally, in 476, the last Roman emperor in the West abdicated. This left the kingdoms of the Visigoths, the Burgundians and the Franks to divide Gaul between them, while the Visigoths and Seubi shared the Iberian Peninsula. North Africa has been occupied by another German tribe, the Vandals. Southern Britain is being settled by north German peoples who came to be known to history as the Anglo-Saxons.
By this date, even Italy, the heartand of the old Roman empire, is under barbarian rule, with the king of the Ostrogoths ruling from Ravenna, formerly the seat of the western Roman emperors.
The fall and survival of Roman civilization
Graeco-Roman civilization has taken a major hit in these former Roman provinces, and society is experiencing huge changes. The city-based way of life enjoyed by the Romans is in steep decline.
The shrunken towns are now dominated by Christian bishops, who have proved to be the only figures capable of protecting the townsmen in these turbulent times.
The Roman Empire is far from extinct. It has shrunk to its eastern half, but, governed from its capital of Constantinople, it remains powerful and prosperous. Here, Roman civilization continues to thrive, though in an altered form as it morphs into Byzantine civilization. Above all, the Christian Church has a huge influence on its society and culture.
Europe in the Middle Ages (a PowerPoint bird’s eye view of a thousand years of history)
Medieval Europe I: 400 CE to 1000 CE (a more in-depth coverage of the early Middle Ages)
Mesopotamia (from the Greek, meaning 'between two rivers') was an ancient region located in the eastern Mediterranean bounded in the northeast by the Zagros Mountains and in the southeast by the Arabian Plateau, corresponding to modern-day Iraq and parts of Iran, Syria, and Turkey and known as the Fertile Crescent and the cradle of civilization.
The 'two rivers' of the name refer to the Tigris and the Euphrates and the land was known as 'Al-Jazirah' (the island) to the Arabs as a fertile land surrounded by water. The term "Fertile Crescent" was coined by Egyptologist J.H. Breasted (l. 1865-1935) in 1916 to describe the region at the north-end of the Persian Gulf, associated with the biblical Garden of Eden.
Mesopotamia was the home of many different civilizations spanning thousands of years which contributed significantly to world culture and progress. Many of the aspects of daily life taken for granted in the present day, such as writing, the wheel, a code of laws, the sail, the concept of the 24-hour day, beer-brewing, civil rights, and irrigation of crops all were first developed in the land between two rivers which was home to the great Mesopotamian civilizations.
The Cradle of Civilization
Unlike the more unified civilizations of Egypt or Greece, Mesopotamia was a collection of varied cultures whose only real bonds were their script, their gods, and their attitude toward women. The social customs, laws, and even language of the Sumerian people differs from the Akkadian Period, for example, and cannot be assumed to correspond to those of the Babylonian Civilizations it does seem, however, that the rights of women (during some periods), the importance of literacy, and the pantheon of the gods were indeed shared throughout the region, though the gods had different names in various regions and periods.
As a result of this, Mesopotamia should be more properly understood as a region that produced multiple empires and civilizations rather than any single civilization. Even so, Mesopotamia is known as the “cradle of civilization” primarily because of two developments that occurred there, in the region of Sumer, in the 4th millenium BCE:
- the rise of the city as recognized today.
- the invention of writing (although writing is also known to have developed in Egypt, in the Indus Valley, in China, and to have taken form independently in Mesoamerica).
The invention of the wheel is also credited to the Mesopotamians and, in 1922 CE, the archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley discovered “the remains of two four-wheeled wagons, [at the site of the ancient city of Ur] the oldest wheeled vehicles in history ever found, along with their leather tires” (Bertman, 35). Other important developments or inventions credited to the Mesopotamians include, but are by no means limited to, domestication of animals, agriculture and irrigation, common tools, sophisticated weaponry and warfare, the chariot, wine, beer, demarcation of time into hours, minutes, and seconds, religious rites, the sail (sailboats), and legal codes. Orientalist Samuel Noah Kramer, in fact, has listed 39 `firsts' in human civilization that originated in Sumer. These include:
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The First Schools, The First Case of `Apple Polishing', The First Case of Juvenile Delinquency, The First `War of Nerves', The First Bicameral Congress, The First Historian, The First Case of Tax Reduction, The First `Moses', The First Legal Precedent, The First Pharmacopoeia, The First `Farmer's Almanac', The First Experiment in Shade-Tree Gardening, Man's First Cosmogony and Cosmology, The First Moral Ideals, The First `Job', The First Proverbs and Sayings, The First Animal Fables, The First Literary Debates, The First Biblical Parallels, The First `Noah', The First Tale of Resurrection, The First `St. George', The First Case of Literary Borrowing, Man's First Heroic Age, The First Love Song, The First Library Catalogue, Man's First Golden Age, The First `Sick' Society, The First Liturgic Laments, The First Messiahs, The First Long-Distance Champion, The First Literary Imagery, The First Sex Symbolism, The First Mater Dolorosa, The First Lullaby, The First Literary Portrait, The First Elegies, Labor's First Victory, The First Aquarium.
Archaeological excavations starting in the 1840s CE have revealed human settlements dating to 10,000 BCE in Mesopotamia that indicate that the fertile conditions of the land between two rivers allowed an ancient hunter-gatherer people to settle in the land, domesticate animals, and turn their attention to agriculture and the development of irrigation. Trade soon followed, and with prosperity came urbanization and the birth of the city. It is generally thought that writing was invented due to trade, out of the necessity for long-distance communication, and for keeping more careful track of accounts.
Learning & Religion
Mesopotamia was known in antiquity as a seat of learning, and it is believed that Thales of Miletus (l. c. 585 BCE, known as the 'first philosopher') studied there. As the Babylonians believed that water was the 'first principle' from which all else flowed, and as Thales is famous for that very claim, it seems probable he studied in the region.
Intellectual pursuits were highly valued across Mesopotamia, and the schools (devoted primarily to the priestly class) were said to be as numerous as temples and taught reading, writing, religion, law, medicine, and astrology. There were over 1,000 deities in the pantheon of the gods of the Mesopotamian cultures and many stories concerning the gods (among them, the creation myth, the Enuma Elish). It is generally accepted that biblical tales such as the Fall of Man and the Great Flood (among many others) originated in Mesopotamian lore, as they first appear in Mesopotamian works such as The Myth of Adapa and the Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest written story in the world. The Mesopotamians believed that they were co-workers with the gods and that the land was infused with spirits and demons (though `demons' should not be understood in the modern, Christian, sense).
The beginning of the world, they believed, was a victory by the gods over the forces of chaos but, even though the gods had won, this did not mean chaos could not come again. Through daily rituals, attention to the deities, proper funeral practices, and simple civic duty, the people of Mesopotamia felt they helped maintain balance in the world and kept the forces of chaos and destruction at bay. Along with expectations that one would honor one's elders and treat people with respect, the citizens of the land were also to honor the gods through the jobs they performed every day.
Men and women both worked, and “because ancient Mesopotamia was fundamentally an agrarian society, the principal occupations were growing crops and raising livestock” (Bertman, 274). Other occupations included those of the scribe, the healer, artisan, weaver, potter, shoemaker, fisherman, teacher, and priest or priestess. Bertman writes:
At the head of society were the kings and priests served by the populous staff of palace and temple. With the institution of standing armies and the spread of imperialism, military officers and professional soldiers took their place in Mesopotamia's expanding and diverse workforce. (274)
Women enjoyed nearly equal rights and could own land, file for divorce, own their own businesses, and make contracts in trade. Contracts, business arrangements, and correspondence were written in cuneiform script on clay tablets and signed with an imprint from a person's cylinder seal, which was one's form of identification. Once the tablet dried, it was sometimes placed in a clay envelope and sealed again so only the recipient could read the letter or contract. Cuneiform script was used in writing Semitic languages, such as Babylonian, or others like Sumerian and remained in use until replaced by alphabetic script. Receipts for goods received were also written on cuneiform tablets (as everything was, including literature) and these have all lasted much longer than documents written on papyrus or paper.
The earliest beer receipt in the world comes from Mesopotamia, known as the Alulu Receipt (c. 2050 BCE), written in the city of Ur. The early brewers of beer and wine, as well as the healers in the community, were initially women. These trades were later taken over by men, it seems, when it became apparent they were lucrative occupations. The work one did, however, was never considered simply a `job' but one's contribution to the community and, by extension, to the gods' efforts in keeping the world at peace and in harmony.
Buildings & Government
The temple, at the center of every city (known as a ziggurat, a step-pyramid structure indigenous to the region), symbolized the importance of the city's patron deity who would also be worshipped by whatever communities that city presided over. Every city had its own ziggurat (larger cities, more than one) to honor their patron deity. Mesopotamia gave birth to the world's first cities in history which were largely built of sun-dried brick. In the words of Bertman:
The domestic architecture of Mesopotamia grew out of the soil upon which it stood. Unlike Egypt, Mesopotamia –especially in the south– was barren of stone that could be quarried for construction.” The land was equally devoid of trees for timber, so the people “turned to other natural resources that lay abundantly at hand: the muddy clay of its riverbanks and the rushes and reeds that grew in their marshes. With them, the Mesopotamians created the world's first columns, arches, and roofed structures. (285)
Simple homes were constructed from bundles of reeds lashed together and inserted in the ground, while more complex homes were built of sun-dried clay brick (a practice followed later by the Egyptians). Cities and temple complexes, with their famous ziggurats, were all built using oven-baked bricks of clay which were then painted.
The gods were thought to be present in the planning and execution of any building project and very specific prayers, recited in a set order to the proper deity, were considered of utmost importance in the success of the project and the prosperity of the occupants of the home.
Whichever kingdom or empire held sway across Mesopotamia, in whatever historical period, the vital role of the gods in the lives of the people remained undiminished. This reverence for the divine characterized the lives of both the field worker and the king. The historian Helen Chapin Metz writes:
The precariousness of existence in southern Mesopotamia led to a highly developed sense of religion. Cult centers such as Eridu, dating back to 5000 BCE, served as important centers of pilgrimage and devotion even before the rise of Sumer. Many of the most important Mesopotamian cities emerged in areas surrounding the pre-Sumerian cult centers, thus reinforcing the close relationship between religion and government. (2)
The role of the king was established at some point after 3600 BCE and, unlike the priest-rulers who came before, the king dealt directly with the people and made his will clear through laws of his own devising. Prior to the concept of a king, the priestly rulers are believed to have dictated the law according to religious precepts and received divine messages through signs and omens the king, while still honoring and placating the gods, was considered a powerful enough representative of those gods to be able to speak their will through his own dictates, using his own voice.
This is most clearly seen in the famous laws of Hammurabi of Babylon (r. 1792-1750 BCE), but a ruler claiming direct contact with the gods was quite common throughout Mesopotamian history, most notably in the Akkadian king Naram-Sin (r. 2261-2224 BCE) who went so far as to proclaim himself a god incarnate. The king was responsible for the welfare of his people and a good king, who ruled in accordance with divine will, was recognized by the prosperity of the region he reigned over.
Still, even very efficient rulers, such as Sargon of Akkad (r. 2334-2279 BCE), had to deal with perpetual uprisings and revolts by factions, or whole regions, contesting his legitimacy. As Mesopotamia was so vast a region, with so many different cultures and ethnicities within its borders, a single ruler attempting to enforce the laws of a central government would invariably be met with resistance from some quarter.
The History of Mesopotamia
The history of the region, and the development of the civilizations which flourished there, is most easily understood by dividing it into periods:
Also known as The Stone Age (c. 10,000 BCE though evidence suggests human habitation much earlier). There is archaeological confirmation of crude settlements and early signs of warfare between tribes, most likely over fertile land for crops and fields for grazing livestock. Animal husbandry was increasingly practiced during this time with a shift from a hunter-gatherer culture to an agrarian one. Even so, the historian Marc Van De Mieroop notes:
There was not a sudden change from hunting-gathering to farming, but rather a slow process during which people increased their reliance on resources they managed directly, but still supplemented their diets by hunting wild animals. Agriculture enabled an increase in continuous settlement by people. (12)
As more settlements grew, architectural developments slowly became more sophisticated in the construction of permanent dwellings.
Pottery Neolithic Age (c. 7,000 BCE)
In this period there was a widespread use of tools and clay pots and a specific culture begins to emerge in the Fertile Crescent. Scholar Stephen Bertman writes, “during this era, the only advanced technology was literally 'cutting edge'” as stone tools and weapons became more sophisticated. Bertman further notes that “the Neolithic economy was primarily based on food production through farming and animal husbandry” (55) and was more settled, as opposed to the Stone Age in which communities were more mobile. Architectural advancements naturally followed in the wake of permanent settlements as did developments in the manufacture of ceramics and stone tools.
Copper Age (5,900 – 3,200 BCE)
Also known as The Chalcolithic Period owing to the transition from stone tools and weapons to ones made of copper. This era includes the so-called Ubaid Period (c. 5000-4100 BCE, named for Tell al-`Ubaid, the location in Iraq where the greatest number of artifacts were found) during which the first temples in Mesopotamia were built and unwalled villages developed from sporadic settlements of single dwellings. These villages then gave rise to the urbanization process during the Uruk Period (4100-2900 BCE) when cities rose, most notably in the region of Sumer, including Eridu, Uruk, Ur, Kish, Nuzi, Lagash, Nippur, and Ngirsu, and in Elam with its city of Susa.
The earliest city is often cited as Uruk, although Eridu and Ur have also been suggested. Van De Mieroop writes, “Mesopotamia was the most densely urbanized region in the ancient world” (as cited in Bertman, 201), and the cities which grew up along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, as well as those founded further away, established systems of trade which resulted in great prosperity.
This period saw the invention of the wheel (c. 3500 BCE) and writing (c. 3000 BCE), both by the Sumerians, the establishment of kingships to replace priestly rule, and the first war in the world recorded between the kingdoms of Sumer and Elam (2700 BCE) with Sumer as the victor. During the Early Dynastic Period (2900-2334 BCE), all of the advances of the Uruk Period were developed and the cities, and government in general, stabilized.
Increased prosperity in the region gave rise to ornate temples and statuary, sophisticated pottery and figurines, toys for children (including dolls for girls and wheeled carts for boys), and the use of personal seals (known as Cylinder Seals) to denote ownership of property and to stand for an individual's signature. Cylinder Seals would be comparable to one's modern-day identification card or driver's license and, in fact, the loss or theft of one's seal would have been as significant as modern-day identity theft or losing one's credit cards.
Early Bronze Age (3,000 – 2119 BCE)
During this period, bronze supplanted copper as the material from which tools and weapons were made. The rise of the city-state laid the foundation for economic and political stability which would eventually lead to the rise of the Akkadian Empire (2334-2218 BCE) and the rapid growth of the cities of Akkad and Mari, two of the most prosperous urban centers of the time. The cultural stability necessary for the creation of art in the region resulted in more intricate designs in architecture and sculpture, as well as the following inventions or improvements:
a number of specific and momentous inventions: the plough and the wheel, the chariot and the sailboat, and the cylinder-seal, the single most distinctive art form of ancient Mesopotamia and a pervasive demonstration of the importance of property ownership and business in the country's daily life. (Bertman, 55-56)
The Akkadian Empire of Sargon the Great was the first multi-national realm in the world and Sargon's daughter, Enheduanna (l.2285-2250 BCE), the first author of literary works known by name. The library at Mari contained over 20,000 cuneiform tablets (books) and the palace there was considered one of the finest in the region.
Middle Bronze Age (2119-1700 BCE)
The expansion of the Assyrian Kingdoms (Assur, Nimrud, Sharrukin, Dur, and Nineveh) and the rise of the Babylonian Dynasty (centered in Babylon and Chaldea) created an atmosphere conducive to trade and, with it, increased warfare. The Guti Tribe, fierce nomads who succeeded in toppling the Akkadian Empire, dominated the politics of Mesopotamia until they were defeated by the allied forces of the kings of Sumer.
Hammurabi, King of Babylon, rose from relative obscurity to conquer the region and reign for 43 years. Among his many accomplishments was his famous code of laws, inscribed on the stele of the gods. Babylon became a leading centre at this time for intellectual pursuit and high accomplishment in arts and letters. This cultural centre was not to last, however, and was sacked and looted by the Hittites who were then succeeded by the Kassites.
Late Bronze Age (1700-1100 BCE)
The rise of the Kassite Dynasty (a tribe who came from the Zagros Mountains in the north and are thought to have originated in modern-day Iran) leads to a shift in power and an expansion of culture and learning after the Kassites conquered Babylon. The collapse of the Bronze Age followed the discovery of how to mine ore and make use of iron, a technology which the Kassites and, earlier, the Hittites made singular use of in warfare.
The period also saw the beginning of the decline of Babylonian culture due to the rise in power of the Kassites until they were defeated by the Elamites and driven out. After the Elamites gave way to the Aramaeans, the small Kingdom of Assyria began a series of successful campaigns, and the Assyrian Empire was firmly established and prospered under the rule of Tiglath-Pileser I (r. 1115-1076 BCE) and, after him, Ashurnasirpal II (r. 884-859 BCE) consolidated the empire further. Most Mesopotamian states were either destroyed or weakened following the Bronze Age Collapse c. 1250-c.1150 BCE, leading to a brief "dark age".
Iron Age (1000 – 500 BCE)
This age saw the rise and expansion of the Neo-Assyrian Empire under Tiglath-Pileser III (r. 745-727 BCE) and that Empire's meteoric rise to power and conquest under the rule of great Assyrian kings such as Sargon II (r. 722-705 BCE), Sennacherib (r. 705-681 BCE), Esarhaddon (r. 681-669 BCE) and Ashurbanipal (r. c. 668-627 BCE, who conquered Babylonia, Syria, Israel, and Egypt). The Empire suffered a decline as rapid as its rise due to repeated attacks on central cities by Babylonians, Medes, and Scythians in 612 BCE.
The tribes of the Hittites and the Mitanni consolidated their respective powers during this time which resulted in the rise of the Neo-Hittite and Neo-Babylonian Empires. King Nebuchadnezzar II (r. 605/604-562 BCE) of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem (588 BCE) during this period and forced the inhabitants of Israel into the “Babylonian Exile”. He was also responsible for extensive construction in Babylon, creating famous buildings such as the Ishtar Gate and the Great Ziggurat (the "Tower of Babel"). The fall of Babylon to Cyrus II of Persia (the Great, r. c. 550 - 530 BCE) in 539 BCE effectively ended Babylonian culture.
Classical Antiquity (500 BCE – 7th century CE)
After Cyrus II took Babylon, the bulk of Mesopotamia became part of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, and this period saw a rapid cultural shift in the region including a number of changes, most notably the loss of the knowledge of cuneiform script. The conquest of the Persians by Alexander the Great in 331 BCE brought Hellenization of the culture and religion but, even though Alexander tried to again make Babylon a city of consequence, its days of glory were now in the past.
After his death, Alexander's general Seleucus I Nicator (r. 305 - 281 BCE) took control of the region and founded the Seleucid Empire (312 - 63 BCE) which ruled until 63 BCE when the land was conquered by the Parthians who were, in turn, dominated by the Sassanians who established the Sassanian Empire (224 - 651 CE). The Sassanians honored the legacies of earlier Mesopotamian civilizations and preserved their contributions.
Between the Parthian Empire (247 BCE - 224 CE) and the Sassanians, the Roman Empire established itself in the region in c. 198 CE, (though Rome had arrived earlier in 116 - 117 CE but withdrew). The Romans improved the infrastructure of their colonies significantly through their introduction of better roads and plumbing and brought Roman Law to the land. Even so, the region was constantly caught up in the wars various Roman emperors waged, first with the Parthians and then Sassanians, over control of the land.
The ancient culture of the region, preserved by the Sassanians, was devastated by the conquest of Mesopotamia by Muslim Arabs in the 7th century CE which resulted in the unification of law, language, religion and culture under Islam. Aspects of the culture were retained but, as Bertman notes, “With the Islamic conquest of 651 CE the history of ancient Mesopotamia ends” (58). Today the great cities that once rose along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are largely unexcavated mounds or broken bricks on arid plains, and the region of the Fertile Crescent has steadily dwindled into areas resembling wastelands due to human factors (such as overuse of the land through agricultural pursuits or urban development) and climate change.
The legacy of Mesopotamia endures today through many of the most basic aspects of modern life such as the sixty-second minute and the sixty-minute hour. Helen Chapin Metz writes,
Because the well-being of the community depended upon close observation of natural phenomena, scientific or protoscientific activities occupied much of the priests' time. For example, the Sumerians believed that each of the gods was represented by a number. The number sixty, sacred to the god An, was their basic unit of calculation. The minutes of an hour and the notational degrees of a circle were Sumerian concepts. The highly developed agricultural system and the refined irrigation and water-control systems that enabled Sumer to achieve surplus production also led to the growth of large cities. (4)
Urbanization, the wheel, writing, astronomy, mathematics, wind power, irrigation, agricultural developments, animal husbandry, and the narratives which would eventually be re-written as the Hebrew Scriptures and provide the basis for the Christian Old Testament all came from the land of Mesopotamia.
As noted, Kramer lists 39 `firsts' from Mesopotamia in his book History Begins at Sumer and yet, as impressive as those `firsts' are, Mesopotamian contributions to world culture do not end with them. The Mesopotamians influenced the cultures of Egypt and Greece through long-distance trade and cultural diffusion and, through these cultures, impacted the culture of Rome which set the standard for the development and spread of Western Civilization. Mesopotamia generally, and Sumer specifically, gave the world some of its most enduring cultural aspects and, even though the cities and great palaces are long gone, that legacy continued into the modern era.
In the 19th century CE, archaeologists of varying nationalities arrived in Mesopotamia to excavate for evidence which would corroborate the biblical tales of the Old Testament. At this time, the Bible was considered the oldest book in the world and the stories found in its pages were thought to be original compositions. The archaeologists who sought physical evidence to support the biblical stories found exactly the opposite once the ancient clay tablets were discovered and it was understood that the marks on them were not designs but a form of writing.
These cuneiform tablets were deciphered by the scholar and translator George Smith (l. 1840-1876 CE) in 1872 CE and this opened up the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia to the modern world. The story of the Great Flood and Noah's Ark, the story of the Fall of Man, the concept of a Garden of Eden, even the complaints of Job had all been written centuries before the biblical texts by the Mesopotamians.
Once cuneiform could be read, and the ancient world of Mesopotamia opened up to the modern age, it transformed people's understanding of the history of the world and themselves. The discovery of the Sumerian Civilization and the stories of the cuneiform tablets encouraged a new freedom of intellectual inquiry into all areas of knowledge. It was now understood that the biblical narratives were not original Hebrew works, the world was obviously older than the church had been claiming, there were civilizations which had risen and fallen long before anyone previously thought and, if these claims by authorities of church and schools had been false, perhaps others were as well.
The spirit of inquiry in the late 19th century was already making inroads into challenging the paradigms of accepted thought when Smith deciphered cuneiform but the discovery of Mesopotamian culture and religion encouraged this further. In ancient times, Mesopotamia impacted the world through its inventions, innovations, and religious vision in the modern day it literally changed the way people understood the whole of history and one's place in the continuing story of human civilization.
Invasion of Alexander
The king of Macedonia invaded Persia
In January 334 B.C.E, The king of Macedonia: Alexander, Invaded Persia and began a series of campaigns that lasted ten years. Alexander broke the power of Persia in a series of decisive battles. He subsequently overthrew the Persian King Darius III and conquered the Achaemenid Empire in its entirety. Alexander was an admirer of Persian Kings and especially Cyrus the Great. He conquered Persia but the Persian culture conquered him. He married with the Persian Princess Roxana and ordered all his generals and 10,000 of his soldiers to follow suit in a mass Persian wedding. Alexander tried to emulate the Persian court customs and attempted to create a new culture, a mixture of both Persian and Hellenistic.
Alexander and the Greek Seleucids Burning & Plundering Persepolis in Persia
Alexander paid tribute to Cyrus the Great at his tomb. This shows how much Emperor Cyrus was respected, even in the eyes of his fierce enemies. When Alexander returned several years later and saw the Ruins of Persepolis, he regretted his act deeply.
Roxana (Roxanne) was the Persian princess of Bactria and the daughter of a nobleman named Oxyartes. She married the King of Macedonia: Alexander when he professed his love for her in the fortress around 327 B.C.E. Roxana bravely accompanied him on his campaign in India in 326 B.C.E. She bore him a posthumous son called Alexander IV Aegus, after Alexander’s sudden death. Roxana and her son became victims of the political intrigues of the collapse of the Alexandrian Empire. They were protected by Alexander’s mother, Olympias, in Macedon, but her assassination in 316 B.C.E. allowed Cassander to seek kingship. Since Alexander IV Aegus was the legitimate heir to the Alexandrian empire, Cassander ordered him and Roxana assassinated around 309 B.C.E. This is a factual based portrait and the historically accurate Roxanna.
Alexander past away
Although a masterful general, he lacked administrative skills. Shortly after his death in 323 B.C.E., his empire was divided among his contesting generals. An important legacy of his conquest of Persia was the introduction of the Persian imperial practices into the West. Many of these practices particularly those relating to state administration and the rule of law were later adopted by the Roman Empire.
The Seleucid Empire
Seleucid Dynasty was established by one of Alexander’s generals. After Alexander’s conquest, Persia fell under a foreign occupying force. The subsequent Seleucid Empire was obviously not Persian, but Greek. They did not arrive with the intent of evolving Persian culture, but rather to dominate it, use it, and overwhelm it with another culture: Greek. Some of the results were positive, in so much as Greek culture is as rich as ours and has much to offer. Nevertheless, since it set out to overwhelm and subjugate Persian culture instead of simply enriching its foundations, it can be viewed only as a foreign occupation. Fortunately, it did not succeed. The Persians gradually defeated the Greek Seleucids and consolidated their control over all of Persia and restored Persian culture.
Parthians gradually defeated the Greek Seleucids and consolidated their control over all of Persia
Anafiotika is a charming small cluster of homes built on the slopes of the Acropolis above the Plaka. To reach Anafiotika, continue up the steps between Kouklis and the Byzantine church of St Nicholas. Wandering the streets is a joy and if you continue to your right, you can walk along the road that overlooks Athens whilst leading to the entrance for the Acropolis.
A slice of old Athens: Anafiótika
The main arteries of Pláka, above all Adhrianoú, home of the Manchester United beach towel and “Sex in Ancient Greece” playing cards, can become depressingly touristy. For a break, climb up into the jumble of streets and alleys that cling to the lower slopes of the Acropolis. Here, the whitewashed, island-style houses and ancient churches of the Anafiótika quarter proclaim a cheerfully architect-free zone. There’s still the odd shop, and taverna tables are set out wherever a bit of flat ground can be found, but there are also plenty of hidden corners redolent of a quieter era. A particularly good view of this area can be had by following the paths that track around the base of the Acropolis, above the buildings.