Ancient History & Civilisation


American Oriental Society: Thirteen lines from J. A. Brinkman’s “Through a Glass Darkly: Esarhaddon’s Retrospects on the Downfall of Babylon,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 103, No. 1. Used by permission of American Oriental Society, University of Michigan.

American Oriental Society: Ten lines from “The Death of Sennacherib,” translated by R. C. Thompson and quoted by Emil Kraeling in Journal of the American Oriental Society, University of Michigan.

Bar-Ilan University Press: Five lines from Three Sulgi Hymns: Sumerian Royal Hymns Glorifying King Sulgi of Ur, translated by Jacob Klein, Copyright © 1981, Bar-Ilan University Press. Used by permission of Bar-Ilan University Press, Ramat-Gan, Israel.

Cambridge University Press: Ten lines from “The Cyrus Cylinder” from The Cultures Within Ancient Greek Culture: Contact, Conflict, Collaboration by Carol Dougherty and Leslie Kurke, Copyright © 2003. Used by permission of Cambridge University Press.

CDL Press: Six lines from Before the Muses: Anthology of Akkadian Literature, Vol. I, and eight lines from Before the Muses: Anthology of Akkadian Literature, Vol. II, translated by Benjamin R. Foster. Used by permission of CDL Press.

Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature: Twelve lines from Gilgames? and Aga, nineteen lines from The Cursing of Agade, ten lines from APraise Poem of Ur-Namma (Ur-Namma C), twelve lines from The Lament for Urim, and seven lines from Išbi-Erra and Kindattu (Išbi-Erra B) (segments A, B, D, and E), translated by J. A. Black, G. Cunningham, J. Ebeling, E. Fluckiger-Hawker, E. Robson, J. Taylor, and G. Zólyomi. Used by permission of the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature, The Oriental Institute, University of Oxford.

George Allen and Unwin, Ltd: Four lines from “The Rigveda,” translated in The Beginnings of Indian Philosophy by Franklin Edgerton, Copyright © 1965, Harvard University Press, reverted to the original publisher, George Allen and Unwin, Ltd. Used by permission of George Allen and Unwin, Ltd.

Indiana University Press: Excerpts from The Grand Scribe’s Records by Ch’ien, Ssu-ma, edited by William H. Nienhauser, Jr., Copyright © 1994. Used by permission of Indiana University Press.

Johns Hopkins University Press: Ten lines from Hesiod’s “Works and Days,” Theogony, Works and Days, Shield, translated by Apostolos N. Athanassakis, Copyright © 2004, Johns Hopkins University Press. Used by permission of Johns Hopkins University Press.

Oxford University Press: Seven lines from “The Middle Kingdom Renaissance” by Gae Callender, from Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Copyright © 2000, edited by I. Shaw. Used by permission of Oxford University Press.

Oxford University Press: Eleven lines from Myths from MesopotamiaRevised, Copyright © 1989, edited by Stephanie Dalley. Used by permission of Oxford University Press.

Oxford University Press: Excerpts from Greek Lives, edited by Robin Waterfield, copyright © 1999, Oxford University Press, and excerpts from Histories, edited by Robin Waterfield, Copyright © 1998, Oxford University Press. Used by permission of Oxford University Press, UK.

Oxford University Press: Two lines from New History of India by Stanley Wolpert, Copyright © 2004, Oxford University Press. Used by permission of Oxford University Press, US.

Penguin Group: Twenty-five lines from The Epic of Gilgamesh, translated with an introduction by N. K. Sandars, Copyright © 1972, N. K. Sandars. Used by permission of Penguin Group, UK.

Penguin Group: Excerpts from The Early History of Rome: Books I–V of the History of Rome from Its Foundation by Livy and translated by Aubrey de Selincourt; Copyright © 1960, Estate of Aubrey de Selincourt. Used by permission of Penguin Group, UK.

Smith and Kraus Publishers: Thirty-eight lines from “The Persians,” Aeschylus: Complete Plays, Volume II, translated by Carl Mueller, Copyright © 2002, Smith and Kraus Publishers. Used by permission of Smith and Kraus Publishers.

Sterling Lord Literistic Inc: Eighteen lines from Virgil’s The Aeneid, translated by C. Day Lewis, Copyright © 1953 by C. Day Lewis. Used by permission of Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc.

University of California Press: Three lines from Babylonians by H. W. F. Saggs, Copyright © 2000, University of California Press. Used by permission of University of California Press.

University of Chicago Press: Excerpt from I. M. Diakonoff, Early Antiquity, translated by A. Kirjanov, Copyright © 1999. Used by permission of Chicago Distribution Services, a division of The University of Chicago Press.

University of Chicago Press: Excerpts from Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, Vol. I: Historical Records of Assyria from the Earliest Times to Sargon by Daniel D. Luckenbill, Copyright © 1926, University of Chicago Press. Excerpts from Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, Vol. II: Historical Records of Assyria from Sargon to the End by Daniel D. Luckenbill, Copyright © 1927, University of Chicago Press. Excerpts from The Annals of Sennacherib by Daniel D. Luckenbill, Copyright © 1924, University of Chicago Press. Used by permission of University of Chicago Press.

University of Chicago Press: Five lines from A Babylonian Genesis, translated by Alexander Heidel, Copyright © 1951, University of Chicago Press. Used by permission of University of Chicago Press.

University of Toronto Press: Seven lines from Rulers of Babylonia from the Second Dynasty of Isin to the End of Assyrian Domination (1157–612 BC) by Grant Frame, Copyright © 1995, University of Toronto Press. Used by permission of University of Toronto Press.

University of Toronto Press: Four lines from Assyrian Royal Inscriptions by Albert Kirk Grayson, Copyright © 1972, University of Toronto Press. Used by permission of University of Toronto Press.

Wolkstein, Diane: Four lines from “Wooing of Inanna,” Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, Copyright © 1983. Published by permission of Diane Wolkstein.

1 There are other problems with the king list, including missing pieces where the tablets are broken, and the apparent elimination of rulers who are attested to by inscriptions and other independent evidence; still, the list is the best guide we have to the distant past of the Sumerians.

2 In many histories, these villagers are not called “Sumerians.” Historians have reserved that name for the culture that occupied the Mesopotamian plain from about 3200 BC onwards, because for many years the evidence seemed to suggest that while early villages did exist from about 4500 BC on, the Sumerians themselves were a distinct group who invaded from the north and took over sometime after 3500 BC. However, more recent excavations and the use of technology to sound the land below the water table shows that Sumer was occupied long before 4500 BC. Closer examination of the remains that are accessible to archaeologists shows that a foreign invasion did not impose a new culture over the “native Mesopotamians”; early villages have the same patterns of house building, settlement, decoration, etc., as later “Sumerian” villages. It is much more likely that the earliest villagers were joined by peoples wandering down from the north, up from the south, and over from the east, not in one overwhelming invasion, but in a constant seepage of settlement. Despite this, the old names for the most ancient Sumerian settlements have stuck; the people in the lower Mesopotamian plain are called “Ubaid” for the period 5000–4000 BC, and “Uruk” for the period 4000–3200 BC. Another period, called “Jemdat Nasr,” has been suggested for 3200–2900 BC, although these dates seem to be in flux. The settlements before 5000 are referenced, variously, as Samarra, Hassuna, and Halaf. These eras, based partly on innovations in pottery styles, are named after archaeological sites where the most typical remains of the period were first identified. (Linguists use a different set of names, just to confuse the issue; the Ubaid people become “Proto-Euphrateans,” for example.) I find it simpler—and more accurate—to use “Sumerian” throughout.

3 This is not quite the same as explaining the rise of bureaucracy by the need to control large-scale irrigation systems; as Jared Diamond points out in Guns, Germs, and Steel, the centralized bureaucracies of cities were generally well in place before “complex irrigation systems” formed, and “in the Fertile Crescent food production and village life originated in hills and mountains, not in lowland river valleys”. The formation of bureaucracies was necessary before those systems could be properly built and maintained; and the fact that “civilization” had its beginnings in the hills, which were far less hospitable than the river valleys, demonstrates my point.

4 Inanna is known as Ishtar, slightly later, by the Semitic peoples of Mesopotamia; she evolves into the goddess of both love and war, a combination fairly common in ancient times.

5 In some versions, the Sumerian Noah-figure is named Ziusudra.

6 When the Sumerian flood story was first translated, most historians assumed that the Genesis account was derived from it; further study of the substantial differences between the two stories suggests that they are far more likely to have arisen separately from the same source event.

7 This view of the universe has been somewhat dented by proof that unrepeatable catastrophes do in fact afflict the earth and, quite often, change the climate or bring an end to an entire species: for example, the asteroid thought to have ended the Cretaceous period. For a layman’s overview of ancient global disasters, see Peter James and Nick Thorpe, Ancient Mysteries.

8 Of the four rivers named in Genesis 2—Pishon, Gihon, Hiddeqel, and Perat—it appears that Pishon and Gihon disappeared, while Hiddeqel became known as Idiglat, later the Tigris, and Perat (“Great River”) as Uruttu, later the Euphrates. Modern English translations of Genesis 2 tend to cheat and translate Hiddeqel ( ) as “Tigris” and Perat ( ) as “Euphrates.”

9 Like early Sumerian history, early Egyptian history before about 3000 BC (“predynastic Egypt”) is divided into archaeological periods, each period defined partly by pottery styles, and named after towns where typical pottery was found. The earliest settlements, from about 5000 to 4000, are called Badarian. Between 4000 and 3000 BC is known as the Naqada Period, and was once divided into three phases: the Amratian, which runs from 4000 to 3500 BC; the Gerzean, from 3500 to 3200 BC; and the Final Predynastic, from 3200 to 3000 BC. Some Egyptologists divide Naqada into two periods, Naqada I (ends 3400) and II (3400–3200 or so). Yet others label 4000–3500 as Naqada I, 3500–3100 as Naqada II, avoid the labels Amratian and Gerzean altogether, and assign yet a third period, Naqada III, to 3100–3000—a century also sometimes called Dynasty0. Since there is little reason to think that Egyptian culture is somehow unrelated to these earlier settlements of the Nile valley, I will use “Egyptian” throughout. (It was once traditional to suggest that Egyptian culture came from outside the Nile valley and was brought by invaders around 3400, but continued excavations have not supported this theory.)

10 Some studies of predynastic Egypt mention two Scorpion Kings; Scorpion II is the first empire-builder. An earlier king, Scorpion I, may have ruled in the south, but apparently made no effort to unite the country; he may be buried in the tomb at U-jat Abydos.

11 There is, naturally, an ongoing debate about this. From 1500 BC on, inscriptions call the unifier of Egypt “Meni.” This could be the “Menes” of Manetho, the “Narmer” of the palette, a later king named Aha, or—a suggestion which will probably gum up the identification of Egypt’s unifier permanently—it could even be a grammatical form meaning “The one who came.” Whoever he is, he seems to have spearheaded the unification of the two kingdoms.

12 Many of the king lists, found on tomb or palace walls, are clearly written to boost the reputation of one pharaoh or another; the Turin Canon, written about 1250 BC, is a reasonably independent listing that seems to preserve a much older oral tradition.

13 In the Indian cosmology, the previous three ages of Gold, Silver, and Copper (Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, and Duapara Yuga, respectively) had each seen spiritual awareness diminish by one quarter; the Iron Age, being the fourth, is the most wicked of all.

14 There is not total agreement among ancient Chinese accounts about this arrangement of Three God-Kings followed by Three Sage Kings. In some accounts, three Demigod Kings—Fu Hsi, Shennong, and Kan Pao, the thresher of grain—are followed by Five Emperors, who are Huangdi, Ti K’u (the maker of musical instruments), Yao, Shun, and Yü, who founds the semilegendary Xia Dynasty. The Xia Dynasty is followed by the Shang in 1776, the first dynasty for which significant historical records exist.

15 Any Western account of Chinese history is complicated by the fact that no system of transcription of Chinese characters into the Roman alphabet is universally accepted. The Wade-Giles system, devised between 1859 and 1912 by two Cambridge men named (not surprisingly) Wade and Giles, was widely used until 1979, when the government of the People’s Republic of China officially chose the Pinyin (“Chinese Phonetic Alphabet”) system in order to try to standardize the spelling of Chinese names in other languages. Pinyin has not entirely caught on, however, in part because the Wade-Giles romanizations became so well known that many Westerners found the Pinyin versions of Chinese names disorienting (the I ching becomes Yi jing; the Yangtze river becomes the Chang Jiang) and in part because many Chinese terms have become familiar to non-Chinese readers in forms which are neither Wade-Giles nor Pinyin. For example, the northeastern region of China is properly called Tung-pei in Wade-Giles romanization and Dongbei in the Pinyin system, but most historians seem to have given up the battle and just call it by its sixteenth-century name, Manchuria.
Since Pinyin (so far as I can judge) seems the most accurate of the systems, I have tried to use Pinyin whenever possible. However, when another version of a name seems to be so much more familiar that the Pinyin version might cause confusion, I have defaulted to the better-known spelling (as with the Yangtze river).

16 The development of writing is a subject on which volumes have been written; this chapter is only an attempt to put it within its historical context. For a more detailed account written by an actual expert in linguistics, try Steven Roger Fischer’s A History of Writing; for a readable account of the earliest systems of writing and their development, see C. B. F. Walker’s Cuneiform: Reading the Past, as well as the second volume in the series, Egyptian Hieroglyphs: Reading the Past by W. V. Davies.

17 Archaeologists refer to the period of Sumerian history which stretched from 4000 to about 3200 BC as the Uruk Period, a designation which refers to a certain type of pottery characteristic of these years rather than directly to the city of Uruk itself. The name Early Dynastic Period is generally assigned to the years 2900–2350 in Sumerian history. The period is often subdivided into ED I (2900–2800), ED II (2800–2600), and ED III (2600–2350).

18 During Meskiaggasher’s reign, a tiny statue of Inanna stood in the Eanna complex, probably on an altar. The statue’s face, known as the Mask of Warka, was dug up in 1938. It was stolen from the Iraqi National Museum in April of 2004, in the looting that took place during the U.S. invasion. The culprit, ratted out by a neighbor, admitted to Iraqi police that Inanna’s head was buried in his backyard; in September of the same year, police dug it up with a shovel and returned it to the Ministry of Culture.

19 In other words, Sumer had been in the Copper Age and out of the Stone Age for some time. These particular designations are like moveable feasts, changing from civilization to civilization. So the Copper Age of Sumer ran from around 5500 to 3000 or so, at which point smiths began to make bronze and Mesopotamia moved into the Bronze Age; for northern Europeans, who learned much later how to work soft copper into tools and weapons, the Stone Age lasted longer, and the Copper Age stretched until 2250 or so, so that the Bronze Age began seven hundred years later than in Sumer.

20 Enmebaraggesi is the first Sumerian king whose reign can be estimated; he was on the throne roughly around 2700, which allows us to date Gilgamesh’s life as well. See chapter 3, frontmatter.

21 The sequence of rulers seems to have run something like this:

22 Traditionally, the eight kings of “Dynasty 1” are Narmer, Hor-Aha, Djer, Djet (sometimes called Wadj), Den, Adjib, Semerkhet, and Qaa. Hor-Aha is probably Narmer’s son, the pharaoh known to Manetho as Athothis. Given the lack of certainty over Narmer’s actual identity, it is possible that Menes should be identified with Hor-Aha rather than with Narmer (in which case Manetho’s Athothis would have to be Djer). As a way of dealing with this, some sources will list Narmer as belonging to a sui generis “dynasty” nicknamed “Dynasty 0” along with the Scorpion King. I have maintained the identification of Narmer/Menes, so I’ve eliminated any reference here to “Dynasty 0.” The Scorpion King didn’t begin a royal line, so he should remain in predynastic Egypt, where he belongs. (Dating the ancient dynasties of Egypt is an uncertain business. I have here generally followed the dating used by Peter Clayton in his Chronicle of the Pharaohs, although I’ve rejected his “Dynasty 0.”)

23 Some Egyptologists hold that the earliest pharaohs were buried at Saqqara and had honorary tombs also constructed at Abydos, so that they could rest in both north and south; opinion now seems to favor Abydos as the sole royal burying ground for the First Dynasty.

24 When considering Egyptian theology, it is useful to keep in mind Rudolf Anthes’s observation that “Egyptian religion is…completely free of those logics which eliminate one of two contradictory concepts” (“Egyptian Theology in the Third Millennium B.C.”).

25 Yes, I am aware that this is not actually possible. But it would be shocking.

26 The world of the Sumerian dead was a particularly unpleasant place. So far as we can tell, the Sumerian afterlife was carried on in a kind of underground realm neither truly light nor completely dark, neither warm nor cold, where food was tasteless and drink thin, a place where (according to one Sumerian poem) all of the residents wandered around totally naked. It was a place reached across a river that devoured flesh, a world so distant and unpleasant that Gilgamesh refused to allow Enkidu to enter it for an entire week after his death, until the need for burial became imperative.
Enkidu, my friend…
For six days and seven nights I wept over him,
I did not allow him to be buried
Until a worm fell out of his nose.
(Tablet X of Epic of Gilgamesh, translated by Stephanie Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia, Chapter Eleven) An eternal existence in this gray and unattractive place was a horrific prospect for any Sumerian.

27 Except for Djoser, the Third Dynasty kings are just as obscure as those of the Second Dynasty.

28 During the 1980–1988 war between Iran and Iraq, Saddam Hussein used the greatest ziggurat at Ur—the ziggurat of Ur-Nammu—as a base for a battery of antiaircraft guns; it was higher to the heavens than any surrounding spot.

29 Building a place for the god to set his feet remains a constant in ancient Near Eastern forms of worship, right up to the building of Solomon’s Temple, which featured two bronze pillars, each twenty-seven feet high, at its portico. The south pillar was called, in Hebrew, he establishes and in him is strength; in all likelihood they were meant to serve as symbolic pedestals for the God of Abraham. (Their presence in 1 Kings may suggest that Solomon’s attempt to build the temple was less than theologically pure; see chapter 45.)

30 Herodotus refers to Khufu by the Greek name Cheops.

31 Similar battle scenes are shown on the Standard of Ur, the other memorable war monument from Sumer in the years between 3000 and 2500 BC. Found in the Royal Graves of Ur, a set of graves that date from the Early Dynastic III Period (2600–2350), the Standard—still brightly colored after all these millennia—shows phalanxes of soldiers, war-chariots, and even forms of armor: cloaks that appear to be sewn over with metal circles. Lagash was not the only city to engage in highly organized and specialized warfare.

32 When Sumerian scholars proposed this interpretation of the cuneiform sign, the sign itself was immediately adopted as a logo by the Liberty Fund, simply proving that no good social reform goes unexploited.

33 The line here is literally “My city is Azupiranu,” but Azupiranu is not a real city; as the Assyriologist Gwendolyn Leick points out, it refers to the mountainous area in the north where aromatic herbs (azupiranu) grow. See Leick’s Mesopotamia: The Invention of the City, Chapter nine.

34 As anyone who has ever been to Sunday School will immediately wonder what possible relationship this has to the story of Moses, I have speculated on this in chapter 32.

35 Sharrum-kin, elided to Sharken, is spelled Sargon in Hebrew; it appears in Isa. 20: 1 (in reference to Sargon II, who adopted his great predecessor’s name fifteen hundred years later, around 700 BC), and the Hebrew rendering has become the best-known version of the name.

36 Sargon’s accession is tentatively dated to 2334, a date which is reached by counting seven hundred years backwards from the reign of the Babylonian king Ammisaduga; the date 2334 may be off by as much as two hundred years. However, it has become the traditional dividing point in Mesopotamian history between the Early Dynastic Period (2900–2334) and the Akkadian Period (2334–2100).

37 Gen.10:10 makes specific reference to Babylon, Uruk, and “Akkad, in Shinar.”

38 Neither of these names originate with the Harappan civilization itself. “Hara” is a later name for Shiva, a divinity who may or may not have been worshipped this far back, and “Mohenjo-Daro” means “Mound of the Dead,” a name given to the city’s ruins by its excavators.

39 For readers who may be too young, or too literate, to recognize the reference: the Borg, the scariest civilization ever invented, threatened the entire universe in various episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The Borg were cyborg creatures linked together in a collective, with a mass identity so strong that they were unable to use the word “I.” They rumbled through the universe sucking other cultures into the collective and making them Borg, while announcing, “We are Borg. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.” They were entirely unstoppable until the scriptwriters of the eighth Star Trek movie apparently got drunk and gave the collective an individual identity, at which point the crew of the Enterprise mopped them up (Star Trek: First Contact). For an explanation of why this all has intellectual value, see The Well-Educated Mind, Chapter Twenty.

40 Manetho gives Khafre the name Suphis II; Herodotus calls him Chephren.

41 The lion and falcon appear combined into one creature in a predynastic carving, but the creature looks entirely different and has come to be known as a “griffin.”

42 Herodotus calls Menkaure by the Greek name Mycerinus. He also tangles up the geneaology, making Khafre (“Chephren”) the brother of Khufu (“Cheops”), and then identifying Menkaure as Khufu’s son rather than his grandson.

43 The Pyramid Text inscriptions eventually migrate to the tops and sides of coffins and become the Coffin Texts; from the coffins, they travel to papyri and become the well-known Book of the Dead, which elaborates on the destiny of the soul after death. This, however, is not fully developed until the New Kingdom, nearly a thousand years later.

44 The Greeks called these governors nomarchs and their provinces nomes, and the anachronistic names have become traditional.

45 The plagues visited on Egypt just before the Exodus numbered ten, with the tenth as the most devastating: this may also reflect an understanding of the number ten as an intensifier of sorts. (See the footnote on Chapter Thirty-Two for another example.)

46 A Palestinian parallel may be the city of Jericho, which fell to Israelite attack and had a curse laid on it by Joshua, the Israelite leader (Josh.6:26); likely because of its reputation as a cursed city, Jericho, one of the world’s oldest cities, was deserted for several centuries before it was reoccupied. The biblical account treats the rebuilding of Jericho, which takes place under the rule of the wicked Ahab of Jericho, as a further sign of the corrupt times; apparently the builder used human sacrifice to guarantee that the walls built on evil-omened ground would remain standing (see 1 Kings 16:34).

47 The traditional dating of Abraham’s lifetime is 2166–1991 BC, based on a straightforward reading of the Masoretic text. There is, naturally, no agreement whatsoever on this. The text itself makes other readings possible; Genesis is a theological history, not a political chronicle, and does not provide an exact chronology. No archaeological evidence points irrevocably to Abraham; scholars comparing the world of Genesis 14 to ancient Mesopotamian conditions have come up with birth dates ranging from 2166 to 1500 BC, or have argued that he never existed at all. In keeping with my general practice up to this point, I have retained the traditional dating, but it ought to be held very loosely. However, Abraham’s adventures fit well into the world of 2100 BC, as the rest of this chapter should make clear.

48 The familiar “Jehovah” is a non-name. The name God gives to himself when speaking to Abraham is YHWH (see, for example, Gen. 15:7); this name, later known as the “Tetragrammaton” in Greek, is thought by some linguists to be related to the Hebrew verb that expresses existence (see, for example, Jack M. Sasson, Hebrew Origins: Historiography, History, Faith of Ancient Israel,Chapter Eight). The name simply consists of the four consonants; the Masoretic text of Genesis has no vowels anywhere, since the reader was meant to insert these as he went. Vowels were added to the Hebrew text much later to help fix its meaning; at this time, the name was rendered YAHWEH. However, to avoid impious use of the name, many readers subsituted the name ELOHIM (the generic “my lord”) when they reached YAHWEH. From about 1100 on, scribes unfamiliar with Hebrew began with increasing frequency to insert the ELOHIM vowels into the YHWH consonants, yielding the nonsensical YEHOWIH, which eventually travels into English (by way of Latin) as JEHOVAH.

49 The chronology in the Genesis account is ambiguous. Either Abram heard the call of God in Ur, convinced his father to head for Canaan, and then got sidetracked to Haran; or else Terah headed towards Canaan for other reasons and then got sidetracked to Haran, where Abram then received the divine command to strike back out in the original direction. Both readings of the text itself are possible. I merely note this so that I won’t get (any more) letters accusing me of not having read my Bible.

50 This name originates with religion scholar Mark Smith, who suggests using it because it is not as horribly anachronistic as every other name used for the early inhabitants of the area. (See The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel, frontmatter.)

51 In “Canaan,” the eras after prehistoric times are divided (based on pottery styles) into Early Bronze I,3300–2850; Early Bronze II/III, 2850–2400; and Early Bronze IV, 2400–2000.

52 The theory was once that Amorites had mounted an armed invasion, which would account for such a drastic change in lifestyle; but since there does not seem to be any change in the culture of the area, this is unlikely.

53 See chapter 48 for the entry of the “Chaldeans” into Assyrian and Babylonian history.

54 Muslims still practice male circumcision, or khitan, which tradition traces back to Abraham. Tradition says that the Prophet was born circumcised, but Muslim scholars disagree about the meaning of this miracle. Since the Qur’an does not specifically command circumcision, the practice is less strongly mandated in Islam than in Judaism; scholars disagree over whether circumcision is wajib, an obligation, or sunna, a custom. See M. J. Kister, “‘…and He Was Born Circumcised…’: Some Notes on Circumcision in Hadith,” in Oriens 34 (1994), frontmatter.

55 Technically, salinization involves not only the accumulation of salt, but an actual chemical reaction that changes the soil’s mineral content; it is “the process by which soluble chemical salts accumulate in soils and change their chemical composition” (D. Bruce Dickson, “Circumscription by Anthropogenic Environmental Destruction,” in American Antiquity 52:4[1987], Seventy-Nine). Dickson points out that the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates are also high in calcium, magnesium, and sodium, which tend to precipitate soluble salts out of the soil.

56 Compare this with the wandering populations that later occupied the North American continent, who could move across a practically unlimited expanse of fertile land (R. L. Carneiro, “A Theory of the Origin of the State,” Science 169 [1970], Chapter Eighty). The McKaslin Clan

57 Even today, something like 60 percent of the previously fertile land of Iraq (the country which now claims much of Mesopotamia) is uncultivable because of centuries of built-up salt and chemicals.

58 The time from the fall of Ur through about 1600 BC is generally called the Old Babylonian Period, an incredibly inaccurate designation since Babylon doesn’t become an important city until the reign of Hammurabi, beginning in 1792, and even after this doesn’t dominate the whole Mesopotamian plain for another thirty years or so.

59 The traditional start of Shamshi-Adad’s reign is 1813; this may not be quite right, but it serves as one of the benchmarks of ancient history.

60 Using the name “China” is an anachronism, like using “Iran” for the territory of Elam (which is something I’ve tried to avoid). During this millennium, the states that lay on the eastern part of the Asian continent were called by the names of their ruling families. However, it’s marginally easier to justify the use of “China” for this area than the use of “Iran” for the Elamite lands, since the country of China has been coterminous with the land where the ancient Xia state lay for so very long (something certainly not true of modern Iran, which had its borders drawn in the twentieth century in places that do not match any of the ancient countries that occupied the same land).

61 Compared with the divisions of Mesopotamian history, the traditional archaeological divisions of Chinese history are pure simplicity: the Yang-shao culture (5000–3000) was followed by the Longshan culture (3000–2200), the Bronze Age (2200–500), and then the Iron Age.

62 Until these excavations, carried out in the late 1950s, historians widely assumed that the Xia Dynasty was entirely legendary; archaeology has demonstrated that there was indeed a Yellow river kingdom during the traditional Xia dates. The relationship between the Erlitou site and the Xia dynasty is still a matter of debate, although the connection is primarily questioned by Western historians and archaeologists (see Li Liu and Xingcan Chen, State Formation in Early China, frontmatter).

63 The previous dynasty had bee the Simash. This dynasty was named after its first king, Eparti; it is also referred to as the Sukkalmah, or “grand regent,” Dynasty, possibly so named because the Elamite king ruled with the help of a viceroy (the “grand regent”) whose succession was governed by unbelievably complicated rules.

64 The original account by Manetho is lost, but the Jewish historian Josephus preserved it by copying parts of it, word for word, into the work Against Apion.

65 Josephus actually translates the word used by Manetho as “shepherds.” He deduces, incorrectly, that the term “Hyksos” comes from the Egyptian hyk, or “captive,” and that the Hyksos were thus connected to the Israelite captivity in Egypt; in fact, it refers not to an invading race, but narrowly to the warrior-chiefs who rose up to claim rulership over Egypt; “chieftain” or “prince of the hill country” is closer to the sense of the word.

66 The early history of Crete is conventionally divided into the Prepalatial Period (3200–2000), before the building of palaces began; the Protopalatial, or First Palace, Period (2000–1720); the Neopalatial, or Second Palace, Period (1720–1550; it runs to 1450 if the eruption of Thera is placed in 1520 rather than 1628[see the footnote on Chapter Twenty]; and the Final Palatial Period (1550[1450]–1350).

67 The Library was generally attributed to Apollodorus, a Greek historian who lived in Athens around 140 BC; it is probably not by him.

68 The date of the eruption of Thera continues to be a topic for much argument. Radiocarbon dating of volcanic ash suggests a date around 1628. There is also evidence from tree rings in various places around the Northern Hemisphere suggesting that their growth was interrupted around 1628, which is certainly a possible result of a massive eruption such as may have taken place at Thera. However, there is no definitive way to link this for certain with the Thera eruption. Archaeologists argue that the eruption can’t have happened in 1628 because the archaeological period (based on pottery styles) during which the eruption occurred ended about thirty years after the eruption; if Thera erupted in 1628, this period (called LM IA) must have ended around 1600; but the similarities between LM IA pottery and those of other cultures which traded with Crete suggest that LM IA went on until around 1500. This is a simplification of J. Lesley Fitton’s condensed overview of the debate between 1628ers and 1530ers; for the overview itself, see Fitton’s Minoans, frontmatter-Chapter One; for a recent survey of all the various theories, in way more detail than most of us need, see Paul Rehak and John G. Younger, “Review of Aegean Prehistory VII: Neopalatial, Final Palatial, and Postpalatial Crete,” in American Journal of Archaeology 102:1 (1998), Chapter nine–Part III.

69 It is impossible to make a more positive assertion, thanks to the fact that at least four different dates have been suggested for the eruption of Thera, and that archaeologists also disagree on the dates of the Minoan decline. (The landscape is further confused by the sheer number of different specialists who have gotten in on the act: historians, archaeologists, vulcanologists, and oceanographers, all using different methods and quarrelling over the results.)

70 Much has been written, some serious and some not so serious, about the possibility that the eruption of Thera and the sinking of the island’s center is the source of Plato’s description of the lost island of Atlantis, which sank into the sea after violent earthquakes and floods; Plato calls Atlantis the strongest sea power in the region, which is a possible connection to the Minoan civilization. While this sort of speculation is fascinating, unfortunately I don’t have room in this history to treat even real civilizations in detail, let alone investigate imaginary ones.

71 The early twentieth-century theory that the Aryans swept in and conquered the Harappan cities through sheer might had more to do with politics than evidence; European scholars were anxious to find that the Aryans, with their European roots, were superior in every way to the natives of the Indian subcontinent. This motivation has also colored English understanding of the word arya, which (although it refers to a particular people group) probably did not originally bear the implication of “pure.” As historian Stuart Piggott points out, it very likely bears the connotation “noble” (as opposed to “servant-class”); the invading Aryans, setting themselves up as conquerors, became the ruling class in the lands where they settled.

72 This people group is often called “Indo-European,” a not terribly helpful designation that means they weren’t Semitic, Elamite, or Egyptian. “Indo-European” is primarily a linguistic term, referring to commonalities between the languages spoken across Europe and down into India which are not shared by the Semitic languages, by Egyptian, or by Elamite. (Incidentally the Minoans are still a wild card in this four-way division; they are probably Indo-Europeans who migrated from Asia Minor over to Crete, but it’s possible that they represent a fifth, totally different people group. The languages of the Far East fall into an entirely separate category.)

73 The standard Mesopotamian chronology follows the Old Babylonian Period (the reign of Hammurabi’s dynasty, 1800–1600) with the Kassite era (1600–1150 BC).

74 Kahmose’s place in the family is not entirely clear; he may have been Sequenere’s brother, since there appears to have been a substantial gap in age between Kahmose and Ahmose, who comes next (Aidan Dodson and Dyan Hilton, The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, Chapter Thirteen).

75 These four mummies, along with fifty-two more, survived in good shape because they were gathered up and hidden in two groups by Egyptian priests around 1000 BC; the priests hoped to protect them from the increasingly destructive threat of tomb robbers. The first group was discovered in 1881, the second in 1898.

76 Tuthmosis I was likely the first pharaoh to use the Valley of the Kings, but because his mummy itself hasn’t been identified (and his name appears on two different Valley sarcophagi), some scholars believe he was buried elsewhere.

77 Historian James Henry Breasted was the first to call Tuthmosis “the Napoleon of Ancient Egypt,” a title which has stuck.

78 This is the first appearance of the city of Megiddo, which had been a crossroads since the days of Abram, as a place of strategic importance. Thanks to its location, Megiddo would be the site of further crucial battles, the last fought in the twentieth century. In Rev. 16:16, armies gather at Megiddo, which the Greek text calls “Armageddon,” just before the destruction of the world.

79 No Mitanni archives have been discovered, which means we have no king list, no correspondence to speak of, and no way to establish a definitive king list; all constructions of a Mitanni royal succession are open to question.

80 The term “Greek” is anachronistic. The classical civilization of “Greece” comes much later; but “Greece” is a convenient name for the peninsula, which, like China, is a fairly well defined geographical area. Also there is a connection, however weak and mythological, between the Mycenaean cities and the culture of classical Greece; the Mycenaeans are, most likely, the people Homer calls the Achaeans (or, elsewhere, Danaans or Argives: the earliest of the “Greek” heroes). For an extensive discussion of Greek origins and the timetable of Mycenaean culture, see William Taylour, The Mycenaeans.

81 The exact relationship between the Homeric epics (the Iliad and the Odyssey) and the early cultures on the Greek peninsula is not at all clear. And since archaeologists, historians, and literary scholars all have their own theories, all based on different materials, the relationship is not likely to grow much clearer. Nevertheless it seems safe to assert that the epics, like the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Chinese histories, were passed down orally for many generations and reflect, however weakly, a much earlier time.

82 There is an ongoing debate about this. Amenhotep III’s mother, Mutemwai, cannot be absolutely identified with Artadama’s daughter, but there are strong arguments in her favor (for one, she was not Tuthmosis IV’s chief wife).

83 See chapter 15, Chapter Eleven.

84 See chapter 28, Twenty-Three.

85 The 1446 date is based on a straightforward reading of 1 Kings 6:1, which claims that 480 years passed between the Exodus and the building of Solomon’s temple (c.966). Other suggestions for the pharaoh of the Exodus are Rameses II (chapter 34), whose massive building programs provide a good match for the tasks given to the Israelites in slavery, and his successor Merneptah (chapter 38), who is the first pharaoh to make explicit reference to the Israelite nation as such; his victory stele from 1207 reads “Israel is devastated, her seed is no more, Palestine has become a widow for Egypt” (quoted in Peter Clayton, Chronicle of the Pharaohs, p. 157). It is actually difficult to see how this quote might line up with a massive departure of the Israelites from Egypt, even though it does testify to the early existence of the Israelites as a recognized people.

86 For at least a century, the theory that Akhenaten trained Moses in monotheism and then set him loose in the desert has floated around; it still pops up occasionally on History Channel specials and PBS fund-raisers. This has absolutely no historical basis, and in fact is incredibly difficult to square with any of the more respectable dates of the Exodus. It seems to have originated with Freud, who was certainly not an unbiased scholar in his desire to explain the origins of monotheism while denying Judaism as much uniqueness as possible.

87 It is from this point that historians date the Assyrian “Middle Kingdom.”

88 The salutations in the letters found at Akhenaten’s city (the “Amarna letters”) do not always make clear which king is writing to which king; in this case, Assur-uballit names himself, but simply calls the pharaoh Great King of Egypt. Because of this ambiguity, and because absolute dating of all of these ancient monarchs is impossible (we can only line them up against each other, and then only when they address each other by name), slightly different reconstructions of the relationship between the countries are possible.

89 The destruction was so complete that it is only with great difficulty (and uncertainty) that we can even reconstruct Akhenaten’s reign, so details of his rule vary from historian to historian.

90 You might wonder why, considering the double break in bloodline after Tutankhamun (and possibly before him, since his lineage is not at all clear), Manetho does not begin a new dynasty with either Ay or Horemheb. The short answer to this is that the general chaos at the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty wreaked havoc not only on the succession itself, but on its later records. Ay took over some of Tutankhamun’s monuments as his own; Horemheb did the same to Ay; and the two best-known versions of the Egyptian king list skip straight over Tutankhamun and Ay and go straight to Horemheb. He appears as the last pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty primarily because he claimed that his wife was a sister of Akhenaten’s chief wife, which (barely) qualified him as an heir through the female line; and because he did his best to wipe out all traces of Akhenaten, Tut, and Ay, adding their years of reign to his own so that king lists engraved under his patronage go straight from Amenhotep III to Horemheb. Later, though, he is occasionally listed as the founding pharaoh of the Nineteenth instead of the last of the Eighteenth. Or you may not have wondered this at all.

91 Most archaeologists assign the first five layers of occupation (Troy I–V) to the years between 3000 and 1900 BC. Troy VI stood on the site between 1900 and 1300 BC and was flattened by an earthquake; Troy VIIa was built on the ruins, but burned down (possibly as a result of siege) around 1240 BC. Troy VIIb was rebuilt over the ashes, but never achieved a very high standard of sophistication and wilted away. By 1100 BC or so the site was abandoned and left unsettled for four hundred years. The Greeks built a city on the site around 700 BC, well after the development of the Trojan War epic tales, and called it Ilion; archaeologists call Ilion Troy VIII. The Romans took the Greek city over in the first century BC (Troy IX, the city’s last major occupation).

92 J. Lesley Fitton notes, “A complex literature covers the date of the final destruction at Knossos, and no consensus has yet been reached” (Minoans,). By any reckoning, though, Knossos had ceased to be a power center around 1450, and never regained its former importance.

93 Scholar J. A. G. Roberts points out that the sacrifices were often multiples of ten, which perhaps goes to my theory in chapter 15 that the number ten could serve as an intensifier of sorts.

94 Complicated linguistic calculations have led most scholars to agree that the hymns of the Rig Veda, first written down around 600 BC, entered the process of oral composition sometime between 1400 and 1100 BC (for a brief explanation, see Stanley Wolpert’s chapter “The Aryan Age” in A New History of India). Given this date, it is notable that even the earliest of the stories in the Rig Veda say nothing about the existence that these tribes presumably led up in the deserts of central Asia, north of the mountains; this must signify a large gap of time between the settlement along the Indus and the first of the oral tales preserved for us in the Rig Veda.

95 From the time of Tukulti-Ninurta’s great-grandfather on, the Assyrian kings began to keep detailed accounts of all military campaigns fought during each year of their reign; these provide much of our information about Assyria’s conquests at this time (the other details come from letters found at Nineveh, now in the British Museum; see Jorgen Laessoe, People of Ancient Assyria, for a fuller description of the nature of the source material).

96 The chronology is difficult, but Tukulti-Ninurta is probably the king called Nimrod in Gen. 10:10: a mighty hunter and warrior whose kingdom included Babylon, Erech, Akkad, and Nineveh, the same expanse as that claimed by Tukulti-Ninurta for Assyria. Weirdly enough, this Hebrew version of the name of the Assyrian great king has become an English synonym for a foolish and ineffectual man (“What a nimrod!”). The only etymology I can find for this suggests that, thanks to some biblically literate scriptwriter, Bugs Bunny once called Elmer Fudd a “poor little Nimrod” in an ironic reference to the “mighty hunter.” Apparently the entire Saturday-morning audience, having no memory of Genesis genealogies, heard the irony as a general insult and applied it to anyone bumbling and Fudd-like. Thus a distorted echo of Tukulti-Ninurta’s might in arms bounced down, through the agency of a rabbit, into the vocabulary of the twentieth century.

97 The technique of “counting by hand” was varied, once or twice, in earlier battles, when the soldiers apparently decided to cut off penises and bring them for accounting instead (making for one particularly interesting relief, in which a scribe is comparing the hand-count with the penis-count to see if they agree).

98 It seems that most of the Chinese and Indian history that we’ve covered to this point would also fall within a dark age, but the term tends to be used only when written records have been kept and then trail off, rather than for times before written accounts are widely used.

99 This is Nebuchadnezzar I, who is less well known than his namesake Nebuchadnezzar II; it is the latter king (c.605–561 BC) who captured Jerusalem, rebuilt Babylon, and (according to tradition) built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon for his homesick wife.

100 See chapter 38.

101 Wen and Wu appear as Wenwang and Wuwang in the Pinyin system; “Wang,” or “king,” becomes the suffix of all royal Zhou names. I have used “King Wen” and “King Wu” instead.

102 Ancient Chinese chronicles mingle history and philosophy to an extent that makes them difficult to use as sources for a traditional historical narrative. Perhaps the oldest Chinese text is the philosophically oriented I ching (Pinyin Yi jing, Book of Changes). The bulk of it is traditionally ascribed to the founder of the Shang Dynasty; valuable commentaries were added to it during the Warring States Period (475–221 BC). The next continuous Chinese texts available to us come from the time of Confucius (551–479 BC). The Shi jing (Classic of Poetry) contains305 poems collected (according to tradition) by Confucius, who is also credited with the first chronological Chinese history, the Ch’unch’iu (Pinyin Chun qiu, or Spring and Autumn Annals); this history covers events from 722BC until just before the end of Confucius’s lifetime. Sometime between 475 and 221 BC, an anonymous commentator added additional notes to the Ch’un-ch’iu; these are known as the Tso chuan (Pinyin Zuo zhuan). In the fourth century BC, the Shu ching (Pinyin Shu jing, also known as the Shang shu or Official History), came into circulation; it was a compilation covering history from the days of the Sage Kings down to the end of the Western Zhou Period. In 124 BC, these “Five Classics” (the I chingShi jingShu ching, and Ch’un-ch’iu, plus a text dealing with rites and rituals called the Li ching) were placed together as a central program for the training of Chinese scholars and became known collectively as the Wu ching. Sima Qian, writing between 145 and 85 BC, used all of these as sources.
Other useful sources for China’s ancient history include the so-called Bamboo Annals (Zu shu jinian), copies of Eastern Zhou records from the years 770 to 256 BC; and the Guanzi, a collection of anonymous historical essays written (probably) between 450 and 100 BC and put together into one book by the scholar Liu Xiang in 26 BC.
Finally, historical information can be found in the “Four Books” (Si shu) published around AD 1190. The Four Books are a collection that includes two chapters from the Li ching, published separately and attributed directly to Confucius; the writings of Mengzi, the most famous disciple of Confucius; and a collection of Confucius’s sayings called Lun yu and generally known in English as the Analects.

103 The Zhou Dynasty is generally divided into two. The first half, the period when the Zhou capital city was in the western part of the kingdom, is known as the Western Zhou and stretched from c.1100 to 771 BC.

104 The scholar Li Xueqin points out that Confucius calls the whole town Chengzhou, a name which other histories occasionally use. Chengzhou was technically the name of the entire city, which consisted of the twinned towns Loyang and Wangcheng; Wangcheng was the “king’s town,” the western area of the city where the later king P’ing and his successors resided. (See Li Xueqin, Eastern Zhou and Qin Civilizations,) For clarity’s sake I have chosen to use Loyang throughout.

105 The Mahabharata is a massive work, the longest known epic poem in any language; its shortest version has eighty-eight thousand verses. It developed over a long period of time and exists in several versions; plus it contains multiple myths, fables, and philosophical digressions which are unrelated to the main narrative. For the purposes of this history, I have used the free translation made by Chakravarthi V. Narasimhan as vol.71 of the “Records of Civilization: Sources and Studies” project and published separately by Columbia University Press as The Mahabharata: An English Version Based on Selected Verses. Other translations may differ in their presentation of the story’s details.

106 As the tale is told in the Mahabharata, the queen mother has a little secret of her own: Vyasa is actually her son, born to her before her match with the king of Kuru, and then sent secretly away. As the story unwinds, she reveals the circumstances of his birth: when she was only a young girl, another wise man cornered her on a boat while she was crossing a river and “prevailed over” her, after promising her that she would still be a virgin afterwards, a useful pickup line unfortunately available only to magicians. (The queen mother also adds, apropos of nothing, “Till then my body had emitted a revolting odour of fish, but the sage dispelled it and endowed me with the fragrance that I now have”—a detail which we should perhaps leave unexplored.)

107 Although the details of the war may be mythical, there is archaeological proof for the spreading dominance of one particular clan or ruling group over the others. Right around 900 BC or so, the traditional date for the great war, the simple pottery which seems to have been native to Hastinapura and the surrounding areas was replaced by a much more sophisticated kind of ware: PGW, or painted grey ware, thrown on a wheel and painted with patterns and flowers. Slightly later, a similar but distinctive pottery, called Northern Black Polished Ware, appeared: this NBPW overlapped the center of the PGW area, and extended a little farther to the south and much farther to the east. (See John Keay, India: A History,, and Hermann Kulke and Dietmar Rothermund, A History of India.) These pottery remains suggest that two related but different sets of settlers came in from the outside and settled in native territory, and that one of the settler groups then took over territory that belonged to the other. This is not so different from the tale told by the Mahabharata.

108 There were actually thirteen tribes of Israelites: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Ephraim, Manasseh, Benjamin, Dan, Asher, Gad, and Naphtali. Technically, the twelve sons of Jacob—Abraham’s great-grandsons—were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Gad, Asher, Joseph, Benjamin, Dan, and Naphtali. However, Reuben lost his position as first-born by sleeping with his father’s concubine Bilhah, the mother of his half-brothers Dan and Naphtali. Instead, his father Jacob decided to recognize Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, as clan leaders; in this way, his deathbed blessing still encompassed twelve “sons” and their families. Despite this, Reuben’s clan retained its position as a Hebrew tribe. The number twelve is maintained by two different strategies: when the tribes are named for the purposes of recruiting soldiers or distributing land, the tribe of Levi is left out, since its men were all called to be priests and so neither fought nor owned land; and when all the tribes are reckoned up by ancestors, Levi is included but the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh are counted as half-tribes, the “descendants of the sons of Joseph.” (See Num. 1:20–53.)

109 “Israel,” the name by which the Hebrew nation was known once it had settled into Canaan, was the new name given to Jacob by the angel of the Lord when they wrestled at the stream of Peniel; it meant He struggles with God.

110 Like the Exodus, the Conquest has been assigned widely varying dates across a span of centuries. Like the Exodus, the Conquest has also been rejected entirely by some scholars, who prefer to interpret the archaeological evidence as indicating a gradual invasion carried out by various small groups of Hebrew invaders. Since the evidence is inconclusive, the debate will continue; the account in Joshua is the clearest guide we possess to the establishment of an Israelite kingdom in Canaan.

111 1000 BC, around the time of David’s rise, is the conventional beginning of the Iron Age in the ancient Near East. Anthropologists have suggested that knowledge of ironworking spread eastwards from Mycenae along the sea routes, during the days of the Dorian invasion. Colin McEvedy notes that this is “compatible with…the Bible’s story of the Philistines’ attempt to keep the Israelites in a position of military inferiority by forbidding them to manufacture any sort of iron tools” (The New Penguin Atlas of Ancient History,).

112 The tallest man in history was Robert Wadlow, who topped out at eight feet, eleven inches. As of this writing, the tallest man living is Leonid Stadnik of Ukraine, who stands eight feet, four inches and is still growing (thanks to a pituitary disorder). Nine feet is an unlikely height, though, probably an approximation; in a day when the average Israelite man probably stood five and a half feet high, seven feet would have been staggeringly huge.

113 In the rhetoric of Near Eastern politics, the identity of the Jebusites has become a charged issue: Yassir Arafat, chairman of the Palestinian Authority, claimed descent from the Jebusites (identified as a people originally from Arabia) and insisted that David, the first great Jewish king, took the city from his people, the rightful owners, by force. (Arafat’s claim is documented by Eric Cline inJerusalem Besieged: From Ancient Canaan to Modern Israel, among other places.) Israeli politicians responded by holding festivals celebrating the founding of Jerusalem by David (Cline).

114 Historians date the “New Assyrian Empire,” Assyria’s last and most powerful incarnation, to the reign of Ashurnasirpal II.

115 Right around the time of Jezebel’s murder, the king of Tyre, Jezebel’s grandnephew, had to fight off various challenges to this throne. He ended up by purging the royal family of all possible competitors. According to the tradition set down well after the fact by the Greek historian Timaeus (c.270 BC), one victim of the purge was his brother-in-law; his sister, Jezebel’s grandniece Elissa, managed to escape her brother’s assassins and fled across the Mediterranean, along with a loyal band of followers. They landed on the coast of North Africa in 814 and founded a Phoenician colony there, the city of Carthage. Elissa, under the Greek version of her name—Dido—later became a central character in Virgil’s epic tale, the Aeneid. Although most of this story is probably myth, it does reflect some very contemporary realities: unrest in the royal family of Tyre may have been related to Jezebel’s death; the unrest may have also had something to do with the looming threat of Shalmaneser III’s successor on the eastern horizon; and the story of Jehu shows that the purging of a royal family was a common occurence in ancient Near Eastern palaces.

116 The smaller tribes were Bit-Sha’alli and Bit-Shilani. In the Chaldean language, which is not documented from this period, bit apparently meant “household of”; the rest of each tribal name referred to an ancestor from which the tribe was descended (see H. W. F. Saggs, Babylonians,). This shows a common heritage with the Western Semitic Israelites, both in tribal organization and in language; the Hebrew word for “household” was bet.

117 The works of Ctesias, who was a physician and a learned man, come to us only secondhand; the manuscripts have disappeared into dust, but a later Greek historian, Diodorus, borrowed large chunks of Ctesias’s accounts and credits him with them. Diodorus is much given to fantastical tales, and it is difficult to know exactly how much of “Ctesias’s accounts” should actually be credited (or debited) to the earlier writer.

118 Historians generally divide Greek history into the Dark Age (1150–750 BC), the Archaic Period (750–490), the Classical Period (490–323), and the Hellenistic Period (323–30). Archaeologists, who base their very ancient chronology on shifts in styles of art and pottery rather than on recorded events, use a slightly different division; the early years of the Dark Age are known as the Submycenaean Period (1125–1050) and the later years as the Protogeometric Period (1050–900), while the emergence from the Dark Age is called the Geometric Period (after a pottery style) and is divided into the Early (900–850), Middle (850–750), and Late Geometric (750–700). These chronologies can be found in a number of standard reference works, including Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History by Sarah B. Pomeroy et al.

119 As this is a history rather than a literature survey, I am here resisting the urge to go deeper into the question of Homeric authorship, the structure of the epics, their language, their take on heroism, what they reveal about early Greek worship of the gods, and so on. These are subjects which could fill not one book, but many. Since they already have, I will refrain.

120 Italy was not a country until 1861, so to call the peninsula “Italian” at this point in history is more than stretching a point. However, like China, the Italian peninsula has been identified with the same culture and its descendents since very ancient times, so I will use “Italian” for convenience. (In the nineteenth century, when the Italian states were governed by Austria, the Austrian statesman Clemens von Metternich remarked that “Italy is merely a geographic expression”; he was immediately proved wrong, since Italian agitation for national identity erupted almost directly afterwards, but the comment applies much more accurately to the eighth century BC.)

121 The archaeological division of the peninsula’s history labels 2000–900 BC as the Bronze Age, with the period of the Greek Dark Age (1200–900 BC) assigned to the Late Bronze Age. The Iron Age begins around 900 BC.

122 The identification of these languages, many of which are known only from a fragment or two of an inscription, and their relationship to each other is one of the elements which has gone into identifying the differences between the Iron Age Italian cultures. But it is a highly specialized field with its own lingo, so beyond the scope of this particular book. T. J. Cornell has a very compressed but helpful introduction to the whole subject in The Beginnings of Rome.

123 A study of the Greek pantheon is beyond the scope of this book; I will just note that although cultic activity in honor of the gods had been going on for centuries, the Iliad and Odyssey are the earliest Greek works which show us anything about the personality and motives of Zeus and company, demonstrating that by 800 BC or so the pantheon had undergone quite a bit of development, elaboration, and ritualization.

124 Judith Swaddling, curator of Greek and Roman antiquities at the British Museum, laments that there is no contemporary parallel to Olympia. Americans are better off; simply imagine a pro football game opened with prayer and played for the glory of God, with an altar call at halftime. Add in a presidential candidate flipping the initial coin, and you’ve got all three elements of the ancient games: religion, sport, and politics.

125 Classicist R. M. Ogilvie points out that the two sons of the Greek god Poseidon were put out onto the river Enipeus, and then were found and raised by animals; Remus’s vault over the walls of Rome resembles the legends of Oeneus and Toxeus or Poimander and Leucippus.

126 See chapter 18, Chapter Fifteen.

127 See chapter 41, Thirty Five.

128 Tiglath-Pileser I reigned c.1115–1077. Tiglath-Pileser II probably reigned 966–935, during a time of chaos in Assyria’s records and just before Ashur-dan II began to push the Aramaeans back out of the country. See chapter 47, Forty-Five.

129 The exact retelling of Tiglath-Pileser III’s conquests is complicated by the very poor state of his records, many of which were in the form of reliefs destroyed by later kings who used the stone slabs as building materials. “Extant records,” to quote H. W. F. Saggs, “are so fragmentary that different reconstructions are possible, and academic throat-cutting still continues…” ( The Might That Was Assyria, Chapter Eight). This is one possible reconstruction.

130 The knot, as many readers will already know, was called the Gordian Knot; it seems to have received this name thanks to another tradition which held that Midas’s father Gordius, not Midas himself, was the wagon-rider. However, as Ernest Fredericksmeyer points out, the historian Arrian puts Midas in the wagon; in this he was followed by Plutarch and others, and Alexander himself believed this version of events (“Alexander, Midas, and the Oracle at Gordium,” Classical Philology 56:3 [1961], 160–168).

131 Students of modern history will recollect that a not-so-charming and peculiarly British movement whose adherents called themselves “British Israelites” grew up during the nineteenth-century renewal of interest in national identity. With practically no historical or geographical support, British Israelites proposed that the ten tribes had travelled across the Caucasus Mountains and ended up in Britain, which made white Western Christians of British descent the “true Israel.” This served to act as a justification for anti-Semitism, weirdly enough, since the Jews of the present-day were labelled as pretenders. This is completely ridiculous simply from a political standpoint, given that Sargon II would never have allowed any sort of mass exodus of the Israelites; his whole goal was to destroy their identity as a nation. The ten tribes of Israel were not “lost,” as though they had been misplaced in toto and could be rediscovered. They were very efficiently destroyed.British Israelitism faded in the twentieth century, but has made a very ugly comeback in the so-called Christian Identity movement of the United States. I was startled to receive, only a few years ago, from a then-neighbor out in rural Virginia, a set of “teaching videos” from a Christian Identity “church” in the Midwest laying out, in great detail, how the Jews are actually “Edomites” cursed by God, and Caucasians are the true Jews, the chosen people of God. My attempt to explain that the supposed difference between cursed and non-cursed humans rested on a mistranslation of the Hebrew words for “man” was totally fruitless; it must have sounded like sophistry. This idiotic theology is alive and well.

132 This is the most likely reconstruction, given Sargon’s own accounts and inscriptions, but the exact actions of Assyrian armies at any given time are speculative: “The diversity of geographical reconstructions inspired by the account of [this campaign],” writes Assyriologist Paul Zimansky, “is a tribute to Assyriological ingenuity and Assyrian obscurity” (“Urartian Geography and Sargon’s Eighth Campaign,” in Journal of Near Eastern Studies 49:1[1990, frontmatter).

133 The Semitic name Merodach-baladan is used in the biblical accounts; as king of Babylon, Merodach-baladan took on the name Marduk-apla-iddina II. He sometimes appears in histories of Babylonia as Merodach-baladan II, a composite name.

134 This is Merodach-baladan’s royal Babylonian name.

135 The campaign of 701 is recorded in Sennacherib’s own annals, in 2 Kings, and in Isa. 36–37; it is also reported by Herodotus and Josephus. Some non-Assyrian chronicles also mention a second campaign against Jerusalem at the end of Sennacherib’s reign (a campaign not recorded elsewhere). None of these sources gives a perfectly clear view of the order of events. What follows is a probable reconstruction of the sequence.

136 The Eastern Zhou Period (771–221 BC) is further divided into two parts. The years 771–481 are known as the Spring and Autumn Period, after the account compiled by Confucius; it covered historical events from the beginning of the Eastern Zhou through Confucius’s own lifetime, and was called Spring and Autumn Annals ( Ch’un-ch’iu, or Pinyin Chun qiu). The second half of the Eastern Zhou, 403–221 BC, is known as the Warring States Period. The years 481–403 were occupied by complete chaos (see chapter 62, Chapter Sixty). These divisions are widely but not universally used by historians.

137 There are multiple versions of the names of these states. In an attempt to reduce confusion, I have chosen to use distinct spellings for the major players rather than trying to hold to one system of transliteration. Other maps and histories most often use the following variants: Qi (Ch’i); Chu (Ch’u); Ch’in (Qin); Jin (Chin, Tsin); Yen (Yan); Lu (no variant); Wey (Wei, We); Cheng (Zheng); Sung (Song); Wu (no variant); Yueh (no variant); and Zhou (Chou).

138 The Duke of Qi, who was a contemporary of King Hsi, shares the same first name as Hsi’s grandfather King Huan; I will simply call him the Duke of Qi to avoid confusion.

139 The identity of the culprits remains a mystery. Isa. 37: 38 reads, “One day, while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer cut him down with the sword.” Adrammelech and Sharezer may possibly refer to Sennacherib’s sons Ardi-Ninlil and Nabu-shar-usur, but there is no way to know for certain. The Babylonian Chronicle reads, simply, “His son killed Sennacherib, king of Assyria, in a rebellion.” Esarhaddon never names the culprits who killed his father, and since Sennacherib’s inscriptions certainly do not name all of his sons, we are ultimately left in the dark.

140 This is probably why fantasy writer Robert E. Howard borrowed their name, in the 1930 s, for the mythical warrior tribe that lived on a mythically distant past Earth, apparently, at some time between the drowning of Atlantis and the rise of the first pharaohs of Egypt. Their champion, Conan the Cimmerian, is better known as Conan the Barbarian, thanks to his movie incarnation. His most famous speech (in answer to the question “What is best in life?” he gets to intone, “To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of the women”) reveals a slightly more bloodthirsty point of view than that held by the average historical Cimmerian. On the other hand, the real Cimmerians did in fact make their way in the world by driving away enemies before them. Their exact origin is unknown, although they most likely did not come from north of the Black Sea as Herodotus claims (see Anne Katrine Gade Kristensen, Who Were the Cimmerians, and Where Did They Come From?, frontmatter).

141 The exact relationship between Nabopolassar and Merodach-baladan is unclear; great-nephew is the best possibility, but there is no direct proof.

142 See chapter 41, Thirty-Five.

143 Cyrene was an unremarkable city until the fourth century BC, when it blossomed into a center of scholarship; it also became the home to many exiled Jews and gained fame for medieval hagiographers as the home city of Simon of Cyrene, the bystander who was pressed into carrying Jesus’s cross and the father of Saint Rufus of Rome.

144 The oldest son of the senior twin, Eurysthenes, was named Agis; so the line of kings descended from Eurysthenes were called the Agiads. The junior twin, Procles, was succeeded by his eldest son, Euryphon, and so the junior line of kings became known as the Eurypontids. The Agiads and the Eurypontids ruled Sparta together until 192 BC.

145 Plutarch’s description of Spartan life comes in his study of the life of Lycurgus, a legendary Spartan prince (brother to one king and uncle to the next) who single-handedly put Sparta’s law code into place and then retired from public power and starved himself to death in order to show that he did not crave power. Plutarch himself says that there is absolutely no proof that Lycurgus ever existed, and he probably is entirely mythical; the scope of the laws he supposedly invented, the cultural institutions he was said to have put single-handedly into place, and his other accomplishments (he is credited with assembling the fragments of Homer’s epics into a single tale, a most unlikely event) are none of them possible for a single man. But it is intriguing that Spartan tradition found it necessary to put a human face on the origins of the Spartan law system; it suggests a certain discomfort with the severity of the laws, even as those laws were followed.

146 This is a roundabout source, to say the least; Eusebius is quoting the Greek grammarian Castor, whose original accounts (probably dating from around 200 BC) have been lost; and the original chronicle of Eusebius itself has been lost, surviving only in a Latin translation made by the Roman churchman St. Jerome around AD 365, and in an Armenian translation from the sixth century (both of which preserve overlapping but different parts of the text). It is still the most direct account we have of the earliest Athenians.

147 Draco’s law on homicide is the only one which directly survives, and even it is in fragments. However, the other laws in his code are mentioned frequently by Greek writers, and enough can be reconstructed from these references to give us a good idea of their content.

148 Etruscan history is generally divided into five periods: the Villanovan (900–700 BC); the Orientalizing (700–600), so named because Etruscan culture was borrowing heavily from the Greeks to the east; the Archaic (600–480), the height of Etruscan political power; the Classical (480–300), which saw the beginning of a decline in Etruscan might; and the Roman (300–100), during which the Romans became entirely dominant both politically and culturally.

149 See map on Chapter Fourteen.

150 The pharaohs of the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty are known by both Greek and Egyptian names. I have used the Greek names since these are more familiar. The Egyptian names are Psamtik I (Psammetichus I), Nekau (Necho II), Psamtik II (Psammetichus II), Wahibre (Apries), Ahmose II (Amasis), and Psamtik III (Psammetichus III).

151 See chapter 41, Thirty-Six.

152 The book of Jeremiah, which is one of our main sources for the Egyptian-Judean-Babylonian confrontation, groups Jeremiah’s predictions of doom thematically rather than chronologically; this prophecy comes after his account of Jehoiakim’s death and Hezekiah’s succession, but comparison with the events in2 Kings and2 Chronicles seems to place it before Hezekiah’s accession. Cf. Jeremiah 37,2 Kings 24: 7 (which says that the king of Egypt did not come back out of Egypt again after Jehoiakim’s reign), and2 Chron. 36:5–7. (The relationship between the chronologies of Kings, Chronicles, and Jeremiah remains an unsolved problem.)

153 Herodotus also says that Necho gave up digging the canal because of an evil oracle, and that it was completed by Darius; this is unlikely, as he also adds that Necho built a fleet of seagoing ships, which hardly seems to match up to his abandoning the canal. Darius probably repaired the canal and then took credit for it, which was one of the strategies which made him a Great King not only in deed but in reputation. Aristotle, Diodorus Siculus, Strabo, Pliny the Elder, Ptolemy, and other classical historians all mention the canal, although they differ on who dug it, who completed it, and where exactly it ran; apparently the canal was prone to silting (or sanding) up and required constant re-digging. A survey of the evidence for the canal is found in Carol A. Redmount’s “The Wadi Tumulat and the ‘Canal of the Pharaohs,’” in Journal of Near Eastern Studies 54:2 (1995), Chapter Thirteen-Chapter Fourteen.

154 The Great Pyramid of Giza (chapter 11) and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon are the first two of the Seven Wonders of the World, a list which was compiled by (among others) the architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, in his 1721 work Entwurf einer historischen Architektur; in this, Fischer was following the lead of the North African librarian Callimachus, who sometime around 260 BC wrote out a list of great wonders round the world (we don’t know what was on it, since the list was destroyed when the Library of Alexandria burned; see chapter 78, Seventy-Six). As the gardens were long gone by von Erlach’s day, he was clearly working from the descriptions in Berossus and Diodorus.

155 See chapter 18, Chapter Fifteen.

156 The Hebrew accounts call Apries “Hophra”; the passages which may refer to him are found in Jer. 44:30, Jer. 46:25, Jer. 47:26, Ezekie l29, and Ezek. 30:21–26.

157 The Hebrew name Evil-Merodach is the same as the Babylonian Amel-Marduk (which reveals that old Merodach-baladan was a worshipper of Marduk of Babylon).

158 The Greek historians, Herodotus most of all, are our most complete source of information for Persian and Median history. However, due to a long-running hostility between Greeks and Persians (which produced several wars and caused troubles for Alexander the Great), the Greeks almost universally portrayed Persians as lazy, pleasure seeking, and corrupt; anything good in Persian culture was attributed to Median influence. This allowed them to admire (for example) Cyrus the Great, even though he is Persian, because his education took place under the direction of his Median grandfather. This bias undoubtedly makes the Greek accounts much less reliable. More recent attempts to write Persian history have attempted to supplement the Greek accounts with careful studies of the structure of the Persian empire, based on the coins, inscriptions, and administrative documents left by the Persians themselves. Nevertheless, the Persians left no narrative history behind them, so the Greeks remain our only source for the actions taken by Persian people, as opposed to the shape of the empire in which they lived. (See Heleen Sancisi-Weerdenburg’s preface to Achaemenid History I.)

159 Many scholars have argued that Nabonidus’s absence from his palace is the source of the tale of Nebuchadnezzar’s madness. The exile from Babylon is the primary similarity between the two events, but there are also significant differences.

160 The archaeological periods in central Europe are (naturally) different from those both to the east and west. They are, generally speaking, the Neolithic Age (before 2400 BC), the Copper Age (2300–1800), the Early Bronze Age (1800–1450), the Middle Bronze Age (1450–1250), the Late Bronze Age (1250–750), and the Iron Age (750–400). (See, for example, Marija Gimbutas, “European Prehistory: Neolithic to the Iron Age,” in Biennial Review of Anthropology 3 [1963], Chapter Eight–Chapter Nine.) The Hallstatt culture was preceded by earlier Bronze Age settlements north of the Alps; archaeologists call these Bronze Age Indo-European cultures the Tumulus (characterized by the huge earthen mounds, or barrows, which they built over their dead), and the Urnfield (who cremated their dead and buried the bones in urns, not unlike the Villanovan and Latial tribes farther south; see chapter 49, Forty-Five). The development of these cultures into iron-using tribes, which coincided with the Etruscan rise to power and the Greek colonization of Italy, produced the Hallstatt (See Daithi O’Hogain, The Celts, chapter 1, and Gimbutas, Chapter Nine.)

161 Possibly the Carthaginians had a bone of their own to pick with the Phocaeans; excavations at Marseilles have suggested that Phoenician settlers built a trading post of their own at Massalia before the Phocaean arrival, which may have driven the older merchant colony away.

162 The traditional date for the expulsion of Tarquin the Proud, based on Livy’s account, is 509 BC, although Rome’s breaking away from Etruscan rule has been assigned dates as late as 445 BC. A detailed discussion of the evolution of Roman government after 509 BC is well beyond the scope of this work, but interested readers should consider consulting Gary Forsythe’s A Critical History of Early Rome (chapter 6, “The Beginning of the Roman Republic”) and H. H. Scullard’s A History of the Roman World, 753 to 146 bc (chapter 3, “The New Republic and the Struggle of the Orders”).

163 Two thousand years later, Fair Promontory was still a dividing line between armies. In 1943, the Axis forces in North Africa were forced into surrender when General von Arnim surrendered at Cape Bon—according to the Guardian (May 13,1943), “on the extreme tip of the peninsula.” Two days earlier, the Allied forces had “cut off Cape Bon from the mainland and penned its enemy garrison in the mountainous roadless interior of the peninsula,” while Allied naval and air forces blocked any attempts to evacuate Cape Bon by sea—a strategy which E. A. Montague, the Guardian war correspondent, referred to as Germany’s “hope of a Dunkirk” (after the evacuation of Allied troops from occupied France in 1940, in the face of the German advance). (In “End of organised resistance in North Africa: Von Arnim captured at Cape Bon,” Guardian, May 13, 1943.)

164 The general consensus seems to be that the earliest population of Britain entered the island all the way back before the change in climate that brought an end to the Ice Age, and was then isolated by the flooding of the land bridge between Britain and the mainland of Europe which occurred by 6000 BC (the same shift in water levels which pushed the head of the Persian Gulf northwards in the days of the early Sumerian cities). See chapter 1. What they did in their millennia of isolation, before the arrival of the Celts, is completely obscure to us.

165 Our best source for the very early history of the sixteen states is the Pali Canon (also called the Tipitaka), an enormous collection of Buddhist scriptures transmitted orally and set down in writing during the first centuryBC. The Pali Canon is divided into three sections: the Vinaya Pitaka, which prescribes the conduct of monks and nuns living in religious communities; the Sutta Pitaka, which consists of hundreds of teachings attributed to the Buddha (a “sutta” is a discourse or teaching) and is itself divided into five parts, called nikayas; and the Abhidhamma Pitaka, which is a systematic theology based on the teachings in the Sutta Pitaka. The Pali Canon is used by all four of the major schools of Buddhism (the Theravada, Mahasanghika, Sarvastivada, and Sammatiya) and is the solesacred scripture for Theravada Buddhism. The texts in the Pali Canon are concerned with spiritual practice, not politics; the history we can gather from them has to be gleaned from passing remarks or from stories told to illustrate the source of a particular Buddhist practice.

166 The most complete list is found in the sutta (teaching attributed to the Buddha) called the Visakhuposatha Sutta. The sixteen states and their alternate spellings are: Kamboja, Gandhar (Gandhara), Kuru (Kura, Kure), Pancala (Panchala), Malla (a kingdom that also included an alliance of eight clans called the Vajji or Vrijji Confederacy), Vatsa (Vatsya, Vansa), Kosal (Kosala), Matsya (Maccha), Surasena (Shurasena), Chedi (Ceti), Avanti, Ashuaka (Assaka), Kashi (Kasi), Magadha, Anga, Vanga. (See Anguttara Nikaya, VIIII.43, in Bhikkhu Khantipalo, trans., Lay Buddhist Practice; Romila Thapar, Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300, Chapter Fifteen; and John Keay, India: A History, Chapter Three.)

167 By 600 BC, the Rig Veda—the oldest collection of hymns from ancient Aryan times—had been joined by three other collections of hymns: the Samaveda (a selection of Rig Veda hymns specially arranged for ceremonial use by singers), the Yajurveda (a combination of Rig Veda hymns plus newer texts, used by priestly specialists called adhvaryu, who carried out particular acts during religious rites), and the Atharveda (a collection not only of hymns, but of spells and rites for use in everyday life). (John Y. Fenton et al., Religions of Asia, frontmatter.)

168 The word caste was a sixteenth-century invention of the Portuguese. Ancient Indians are more likely to have used the Sanskrit word jati (“birth”) for the divisions.

169 In the sixth centuryBC, Hinduism underwent massive new developments (not unrelated to the political shifts) and put out branches in three different directions. The Way of Action was a Hinduism particularly dominated by the priests, who emphasized that the role of every man and woman was to carry out the duties of the caste into which he or she was born. The Way of Knowledge focused, not on action, but on the achievement of high spiritual enlightenment through the study of upanishads, new teachings written down beginning around the time of the sixteen kingdoms. The Way of Devotion emphasized instead the worship of the highest deity in the Indian pantheon (either Shiva or Vishnu) as the center of the good life. All three traditions offer rebirth into a better human existence or (eventually) into a heavenly existence as a reward for those who excel in action, or in enlightenment, or in devotion.
This is a very simple summary of an immensely huge and complicated religious tradition. Religions of Asia by John Fenton et al. is a standard introduction that gives a slightly more detailed explanation of Hinduism’s development. Hinduism: A Very Short Introduction by Kim Knott is another good overview. A more detailed (and academic, although still readable) resource is Hinduism: Originis, Beliefs, Practices, Holy Texts, Sacred Places by Vasudha Narayanan.

170 Another simplified summary; for more, try the basic An Introduction to Jainism by Bharat S. Shah, or the more scholarly The Jains by Paul Dundas. The best-known modern follower of Jain principles is Gandhi, who made ahisma the center of his campaigns for nonviolent change. Gandhi was not himself a Jain, but grew up in a city where there was a large Jain population.

171 The traditional birth and death dates for both the Mahavira (599–527) and the Buddha (563–483) have been criticized in recent scholarship as about a hundred years too early, which would shift both men into the next century. Support for the later dates is widespread but not universal among scholars of India; as uncertainty remains, I have decided to use the traditional dates for the sake of consistency.

172 For more, try the basic Buddha by Karen Armstrong, and Michael Carrithers’s Buddha: A Very Short Introduction. A more comprehensive study of Buddhism is found in An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History, and Practices by Peter Harvey.

173 See chapter 43.

174 Jonathan Clements’s Confucius: A Biography is a good beginner’s guide to the life and times of the philosopher; the Analects are readable by non-specialists in either the 1938 translation of Arthur Waley (Vintage, 1989) or the more recent Simon Leys translation (W. W. Norton, 1997); An Introduction to Confucianism by Xinzhong Yao (Cambridge University Press, 2000) is a more detailed and academic guide.

175 Sun-Tzu’s dates are debated. His treatise the Art of War directly mentions the Yueh at the southeast, which tends to place it in the period after the Wu declaration of primacy and the Yueh objection: “Though according to my estimate the soldiers of Yueh exceed our own in number,” he writes, “that shall advantage them nothing in the matter of victory” (VI.21).

176 The accounts refer to this man as Smerdis or as Gaumata; it is also not always clear who is the moving force behind the usurpation, Smerdis/Gaumata (the false Bardiya) or his older brother, who is also referred to as the Magus, as he had a priestly function at the court.

177 According to other accounts, Bimbisara retreated from the kingship (which he handed over to his son) and ceased to eat. However, the amount of trouble that accompanied Ajatashatru’s accession suggests that the more brutal account is accurate.

178 The brothers Macedon and Magnes were (according to the geneaologies found in Hesiod’s fragmentary Catalogue of Women) sons of Zeus; they “rejoiced in horses” and “dwelt near Olympus,” both characteristic of the Macedonians. They were cousins of the Greeks because their mother, Thyria, was the sister of Hellen, father of the three legendary Greek heros Dorus (ancestor of the Dorians), Xuthus (Ionians), and Aeolus (Aeolians).
The relationship was not accepted, by Greeks, with a great deal of joy. They considered Macedonians uncouth and semibarbarian. Even the royal family, which was likely more Greek than any other Macedonian clan, had to argue for its Greekness. When Alexander I, son of the Macedonian king who ruled during Darius’s advance, went down to Olympia to compete in the sprint at the Olympic Games, his competitors complained that he shouldn’t be allowed to take part, since the games were only for Greeks. Alexander trotted out his genealogy and was eventually declared, by the Olympic officials, to qualify as a Greek. He then won the race, which suggests that his rivals were motivated by something more than racial pride. (Herodotus V.22.)

179 The exact dates for events in Persia and Greece between 520 and 500 are unclear; it may have been 510 or even a little earlier.

180 Behind this sentence lies a whole complicated series of events. With Hippias gone, a leader with aristocratic backing (Isagorus) and a leader with democratic backing (Cleisthenes) maneuvered for power. Isagorus appealed to Cleomenes, who returned to throw his support behind Isagorus and drove out seven hundred Athenian clans; then the Athenian masses rose up, threw out both the Spartans and Isagorus, and acclaimed Cleisthenes leader.This sort of convoluted negotiation within and between Greek city-states has its place in studies of the evolution of Greek forms of government, but if I were to continue to recount all of these internal events, this history would become impossibly long. From this point on, Greek crises that do not affect the broader world scene will be briefly summarized rather than covered in detail. Readers looking for a more comprehensive account of Greece’s political development would do well to consult Herodotus’s Histories, Aristotle’s Athenian Politics, or a standard history of Greece such as Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History by Sarah B. Pomeroy et al.

181 The Athenian politician credited with these reforms was Cleisthenes; he was himself aristocratic by birth, having belonged to the group of Athenians who went to Delphi and got on the good side of the oracle by building a temple, but Aristotle says that he had the loyalty of the masses.

182 This was the original long-distance run from Marathon. Plutarch, who lived centuries later, says that the victory of the Athenians over the Persians spawned another run: this one by Thersippus or Euclus (sources differ), who ran from the battlefield to Athens proper with news of the victory and died from his wounds as soon as he had delivered the message. This particular story may be true, although it may also be a myth based on the original run by Pheidippides (who is sometimes credited, probably erroneously, with the postvictory run). Whoever originally ran it (and at what distance), the feat of endurance is still remembered in the name of the longest modern Olympic footrace, the marathon.

183 There was never an “Athenian empire,” but many historians refer to 454 as the year when, for all practical purposes, the Delian League ceased to function as a “league” (an association of member cities) and became something more like an empire policed by the Athenian army.

184 The Peloponnesian War ran from 431 to 405. Some historians call the hostility between Sparta and Athens before the Thirty Years’ Peace the “First Peloponnesian War” and the fighting between 431 and 405 the “Second Peloponnesian War,” but since most direct fighting between the two armies took place in the second phase, I’ve chosen to name only one of the phases as an actual war.

185 Argument still rages over what the plague of Athens actually was. Thucydides makes no mention of the buboes which are usually described in accounts of bubonic plague. Typhoid is a possibility, but Thucydides does say that animals as well as humans suffer, which means that the epidemic may have been an animal disease which leaped hosts in the hot conditions of the Athenian summer of 430. John Wylie and Hugh Stubbs make a convincing case for tularemia, a bacterial infection which normally doesn’t spread from person to person, but which may well have mutated since its first appearance in 430 BC. The puzzle remains unsolved; see J. A. H. Wylie and H. W. Stubbs, “The Plague of Athens, 430–428 BC: Epidemic and Epizootic,” in The Classical Quarterly 33:1 (1983), frontmatter, for a summary of the various candidates.

186 There is some disagreement among scholars as to the exact dates of the Celtic attacks described in Livy.

187 We know the details of Shang Yang’s life from the brief biography set down by Sima Qian as chapter 68 of the Shih chi.

188 The exact location of Cunaxa is unknown. Plutarch says that it was “five hundred furlongs” from Babylon, and descriptions of the battle suggest that it lay on the banks of the Euphrates.

189 Xenophon, Ctesias, and Plutarch offer different versions of this encounter, which nevertheless all end up with Cyrus dead and Artaxerxes II alive but wounded.

190 This was not the end of fighting (naturally); in 366 the satraps in Asia Minor joined with Athens, Sparta, and Egypt to defy Artaxerxes II, but since the allies couldn’t agree on a strategy the revolt fell apart before Artaxerxes II had to do much about it. The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus calls this the “Great Revolt of the Satraps,” and although it was indeed extensive, the end result was more or less as though it had never happened (Diodorus Siculus XV.90).

191 “Panegyric festival” (a “gathering together”) was another name for “pan-Hellenic festival.”

192 This treaty was known as the foedus Cassianum, or “Cassius treaty.”

193 The Carthaginian habit of sacrificing children up to the age of ten is attested to in a number of classical authors, including Plutarch, Quintus Curtius Rufus (a first-century historian who used earlier, now-lost sources), and Cicero. The Canaanite (Phoenician) roots of this practice are mentioned in the biblical accounts, such as Deut.12:31, which tells the Israelites not to sacrifice their sons and daughters in fire as the “nations around” do because this is detestable to the God of Abraham. Excavation near the ancient ports of Carthage has revealed the remains of the victims, although the statue Diodorus mentions has never been found. See David Soren et al., Carthage, for a review of the archaeological and literary evidence.

194 Cornel-wood comes from Cornus sanguinea, the “European dogwood,” and is still used for making bows because it will flex without breaking.

195 Each stage of the battle is recorded in detail by Arrian (The Campaigns of Alexander, Book II) and Quintus Curtius Rufus (The History of Alexander, Book III), among others. I will not give a blow-by-blow description of Alexander’s battles here, but interested readers might see the readable Penguin translations of both books, done by Aubrey de Selincourt and John Yardley, respectively, for a more complete account.

196 I am, believe it or not, simplifying. There were other minor players on the scene: Laomedon in Syria, Philotas in Cilicia, Peithon in Media, Menander in Lydia, Eumenes in Cappadocia, Polyperchon in southern Greece, and a handful of others. Even the simplified version is enough to make one’s head spin, and the full story of the Wars of the Diadochi requires a flow chart to follow. I am here trying to chart a middle course between giving every detail of the war (incomprehensible except to the specialist, and pointless for this sort of narrative since the end result was that the minor players all disappeared from the scene) and the usual textbook practice of saying that Alexander’s empire was split into three parts, which is true but leaves a little too much unsaid.

197 This would be the case if, as the scholar Romila Thapar suggests, the “two seas” are the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal (Asoka and the Decline of the Mauriyas).

198 The question of the relationship between the languages of the south, which were labelled “Dravidian” by nineteenth-century linguists, and those of the north (the so-called Indo-Aryan languages), has been much muddied by politics, since later struggles for power in India were portrayed as a conflict between “natives” and “invaders.” The relationship remains totally unclear.

199 The “Third Emperor” is not recognized as a genuine Chinese emperor by many ancient sources.

200 This brings an end to the Ch’in Dynasty period (221–202) and begins the Han Dynasty period (202 BC–AD 220). Sources which do not recognize the legitimacy of the Third Emperor date these periods 221–206 and 206 BC–AD 220.

201 The Ptolemies are distinguished both by surnames and by numbers; for the sake of simplicity I have used only the numbers. The surnames of the Ptolemies in this chapter are: Ptolemy I Soter; Ptolemy II Philadelphus; Ptolemy III Euergetes; Ptolemy IV Philopator; Ptolemy V Epiphanes. Ptolemy I’s older son, Ptolemy Ceraunus, never got a number since he never ruled in Egypt, so I have retained his surname.

202 This history was later lost, but one of my own sources, Arrian’s The Campaigns of Alexander, is based on it; so Ptolemy’s voice is still audible even in this book.

203 The exact date of Ptolemy Ceraunus’s death is unknown.

204 Roman history is generally divided into the Kingdom (753–509), the Republic (509–31), and the Empire (31 BC–AD 476). The Republic is often subdivided into Early Republic (509–264), Middle Republic (264–133), and Late Republic (133–31). There is a fair amount of variation between scholars as to the exact years that these periods begin and end.

205 There were thirteen Seleucid kings named Antiochus. The surnames of the first five were Antiochus I Soter (“Savior,” possibly because he drove off the Gauls), Antiochus II Theos, Antiochus III the Great, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, and Antiochus V Eupater.

206 The ongoing trouble over the border is mentioned repeatedly in the biblical book of Daniel, which says that the “King of the North” and the “King of the South” will march against each other again and again with larger and larger armies (Dan. 11.2–29).

207 At the time of Antiochus III’s invasion, Parthia was ruled by Arsaces II, son of the original Parthian rebel king; Bactria had been taken away from Diodotus’s heirs by a usurper named Euthydemus.

208 This is an estimate; sources differ widely on the size of Hannibal’s army when he arrived in Italy.

209 Books XXI–XXX of Livy’s The History of Rome from Its Foundation (the Aubrey de Selincourt translation is published separately by Penguin Books as The War with Hannibal) provides a detailed, year-by-year account of all major battles in the Second Punic War.

210 This was a loathing of Rome as an entity, not necessarily a hatred for particular Romans. In the years after his exile from Carthage, Hannibal found himself in the same city as Scipio Africanus, who asked to meet him; the two spent some time amicably discussing military strategy, and Hannibal complimented Scipio on his ability as a commander (although he did remark that he himself was an even better general).

211 The books of 1 and 2 Maccabees are historical accounts in the Apocrypha proper, a set of biblical books which falls between the Old and New Testaments in the Christian Bible. These books were not universally accepted by the early church fathers as divinely inspired, and debate about their place in the canon continued until the sixteenth century. In 1546, the Catholic Council of Trent declared the Apocrypha proper “sacred and canonical,” but Protestants generally rejected these books.

212 In 165, Judas managed to bring the temple back under Jewish control, and set about ritually purifying it (the altar had been defiled, in the worship of Zeus, by having a pig sacrificed on it). According to 1 Macc. 4, the purification was finished and the temple rededicated in December 164, an event celebrated by the later Jewish festival of Hanukkah. According to the Talmud (a collection of written elaborations on the central texts of Judaism), the Maccabees did not have enough pure olive oil to use in the purification rituals, but the single flask that they used burned miraculously for eight days.

213 The years 206 BC–AD 9 are assigned by historians to the “Western Han,” or “Earlier Han,” Dynasty; a brief interruption between AD 9 and 25 separates this from the “Eastern Han,” or “Later Han,” Dynasty (AD 25–220).

214 “Xiongnu” is the Pinyin spelling; many histories still use the Wade-Giles “Hsiung-nu” instead.

215 “Wendi” is “King Wen” in Pinyin; the last syllable is the royalty marker. I have kept Pinyin spelling for most Han Dynasty monarchs, since it is easy to confuse their names with the names of the Chinese states.

216 Finley points out that this was markedly different from the Greek system, in which freed slaves became “free inhabitants who remained aliens in the political sphere” (Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology, Chapter Nine).

217 Marius’s original service in North Africa was as aide to the consul Metellus; Marius thought that Metellus was not bringing the war to a speedy enough end, and spent a year campaigning to be appointed in his commanding officer’s place.

218 The “Tiberius Gracchus” on behalf of the allies was a tribune named Drusus, who proposed that Rome give citizenship to all Italians, and also suggested that land be distributed to the poor. His reforms were blocked by the consul Philippus, who then arranged to have Drusus assassinated.

219 Eupator Dionysius of Pontus (132–63) is more commonly known as Mithridates VI, and Roman sources often call him Mithridates the Great; I have decided to use his less common names to avoid confusion with the Parthian king Mithridates II (123–88), who was also known as “the Great” and whose reign overlapped that of Mithridates VI of Pontus.

220 The first Roman gladiator fight is thought to have taken place in 264, when slaves were matched against each other as part of a private funeral festival.

221 It was also known as the Third Servile War. The Second Servile War had been fought against a slave revolt in Sicily in 104; it was put down in less than a year.

222 The offices of consul and tribune had been joined by a whole array of positions. Praetors were assistants to the consuls and helped them carry out their duties; quaestors ran the state finances; aediles were responsible for keeping up with public buildings and organizing festivals; governors ran Rome’s provinces; and censors supervised public behavior and punished the immoral (thus the English word “censorious”). Since Roman religion was state-run, religious officials also had secular duties; the Pontifex Maximus was a high priest who supervised the lesser religious officials (such as the flamines, who looked after the worship of specific deities, and the Vestal Virgins) and also kept Rome’s state annals.

223 All of these people were related to each other anyway, in a big Faulknerian mess of marriages. Caesar’s aunt was married to Marius. Caesar’s first wife was Cinna’s daughter, and his second wife was Sulla’s granddaughter (Pompeia Sulla, whose mother was Sulla’s daughter and whose father was a cousin of Pompey’s). Pompey’s second wife was Sulla’s stepdaughter, and his fourth wife was Caesar’s daughter, Julia. When Caesar broke Julia’s engagement, Pompey offered the jilted fiancéhis own daughter, even though she was already engaged to Sulla’s son. Crassus married his own brother’s widow and left it at that, although he was rumored to be carrying on an affair with one of the Vestal Virgins.

224 The opening words of Bello Gallico, the Gallic War, are Omnis gallia est divisa in tres partes, “All of Gaul is divided into three parts.” This became one of the best-known Latin phrases in the English-speaking world, since generations of Latin students had to translate Caesar as their first “real” Latin assignment.

225 Geoffrey of Monmouth says that one of the earliest kings of Britain was a man with the Welsh name Llur, who had three daughters named Koronilla, Rragaw, and Kordelia. To find out which of his daughters deserved the largest part of his kingdom, he asked which one loved him the most. Kordelia answered, “I will love you as a daughter should love her father,” which angered Llur tremendously; this, of course, was Shakespeare’s source for King Lear.

226 During Caesar’s invasion of Alexandria, his troops set fire to various parts of the city; several ancient authors say that the Great Library at Alexandria, the greatest collection of texts in the ancient world, burned down at this time.

227 Either way, he did not utter the famous Latin phrase Et tu, Brute?, which was invented by Shakespeare, fifteen hundred years later.

228 Internal Parthian politics are very obscure, and all reconstructions are uncertain; this is a probable course of events.

229 The priests in Jerusalem had divided into two groups, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The differences between them were mostly theological (chiefly, whether or not there would be a physical resurrection of the dead), but they formed distinct parties in the internal politics of Judea and Galilee. The Pharisees were the primary enemies of Jesus.

230 In his will, Tiberius actually named Caligula joint heir along with Tiberius Gemellus, one of the sons of the dead Drusus, but Caligula first had the will declared void and then had Gemellus killed.

231 Caratacus had been pushed back, but not defeated. Rome did not finally get rid of him until AD 49, when the queen of the Brigantes tribe, Cartimandua, agreed to trap and hand him over in return for Roman support.

232 The Roman army prepared for the siege of Jerusalem by gathering at the strategically located city of Megiddo (called “Armageddon” in the book of Revelation). The siege ended, eventually, with the destruction of Jerusalem, which lent Megiddo particular apocalyptic significance in the Jewish imagination.

233 Latin had no word for “emperor” as such; the English word is derived from imperator. The histories of Tacitus and Suetonius use the word princeps, which is often translated “emperor” even when it refers to Augustus or another early ruler of the Empire. For example, in Tacitus’s Annals I.7 he says that after Augustus’s death, the people of Rome were careful ne laeti excessu principis neu tristiores primordio, lacrimas gaudium, questus adulationem miscebant. The relevant phrase is translated, in the classic English version done by Church and Brodribb, “neither to betray joy at the decease of one emperor nor sorrow at the rise of another.” This tends to obscure the transition period in which republican ideals were slowly buried while the ruler of Rome mutated from First Citizen into Lord and God. I have chosen to use princeps before Domitian, and emperor afterwards, since it seems to me that his reign was the final transition point from one way of thinking to another.

234 The Augustan History is a collection of biographies of the Roman emperors who ruled after 117. Although these biographies are attributed to six different authors, much of the collection was probably written by others, and there is no way of knowing what sources were used. It is not terribly reliable, but for some of the emperors, it is the only source that provides biographical detail.

235 Roman emperors had two strings of names: birth names, and the names they chose when they were adopted as heirs. Other names were added when they acceeded to the imperial power. Antoninus Pius was originally named Titus Aurelius Fulvus Boionus Arrius Antoninus; when he was adopted he became Imperator Titus Aelius Caesar Antoninus; “Pius” was added to his name after his accession. Marcus Aurelius was Marcus Annius Verus at birth, became Marcus Aelius Aurelius Verus on adoption, and then became Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus on accession. Lucius Verus was born Lucius Ceionius Commodus, became Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus upon his adoption, and became Imperator Caesar Lucius Aurelius Verus Augustus as emperor. In an attempt to actually keep this readable, I have chosen to simply use the abbreviated popular designation of each emperor rather than striving for unintelligible accuracy.

236 This is a pocket definition only. A good historical survey of the development of Zoroastrianism is Mary Boyce’s Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, revised ed. (Routledge, 2001). A less academic introduction to the influence of the religion on surrounding cultures is Paul Kriwaczek’s In Search of Zarathustra: Across Iran and Central Asia to Find the World’s First Prophet (Vintage, 2004). Zoroastrianism is generally considered to be the world’s first creedal religion: one whose basic beliefs are defined in a set statement of faith.

237 The accounts left by Roman historians and by Shapur’s own inscriptions are so contradictory that any reconstruction of the results is uncertain.

238 Rome had had eight emperors since Elagabalus’s death in 222, four of whom ruled for mere months: Alexander Severus (222–235), Maximinus Thrax (235–238), Gordian I (238); Gordian II (238), Pupienus Maximus (238), Balbinus (238), Gordian III (238–244), and Philip (244–249).

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!