The most obvious of these forces for change continue to be great migrations. Their fundamental pattern does not change much for a thousand years or so after 2000 BC, nor does the ethnic cast of the drama. The basic dynamic was provided by the pressure of peoples of Indo-European linguistic stocks on the Fertile Crescent from both east and west. Their variety and numbers grow but their names need not be remembered here even if some of them bring us to the remote origins of Greece. Meanwhile, Semitic peoples dispute with the Indo-Europeans the Mesopotamian valleys; with Egypt and the mysterious ‘Peoples of the Sea’ they fight over Sinai, Palestine and the Levant. Another group of northerners establishes itself in Iran - and from it will eventually come the greatest of all the empires of the ancient past, that of sixth-century Persia. Still another branch of these peoples pushes out into India. These movements must explain much of what lies behind a shifting pattern of empires and kingdoms stretching across the centuries. By the standards of modern times some of them were quite long-lived; from about 1600 BC a people called Kassites from Caucasia ruled in Babylon for four and a half centuries, which is a duration comparable to that of the entire history of British overseas empire. Yet, by the standards of Egypt such polities are the creatures of a moment, born today and swept away tomorrow.
It would indeed be surprising if they had not proved fragile in the end, for many other new forces were also at work which multiplied the revolutionary effects of the wanderings of peoples. One of them which has left deep traces is improvement in military technique. Fortification and, presumably, siege-craft had already reached a fairly high level in Mesopotamia by 2000 BC. Among the Indo-European peoples who nibbled at the civilization these skills protected were some with recent nomadic origins; perhaps for that reason they were able to revolutionize warfare in the field, though they long remained unskilled in siege-craft. Their introduction of the twowheeled war chariot and the cavalryman transformed operations in open country. The soldiers of Sumer are depicted trundling about in clumsy four-wheeled carts, drawn by asses; probably these were simply a means of moving generals about or getting a leader into the melee, so that spear and axe could be brought to bear. The true chariot is a two-wheeled fighting vehicle drawn by horses, the usual crew being two, one man driving, the other using it as a platform for missile weapons, especially the composite bow formed of strips of horn. The Kassites were probably the first people to exploit the horse in this way and their rulers seem to have been of Indo-European stock. Access to the high pastures to the north and east of the Fertile Crescent opened to them a reserve of horses in the lands of the nomads. In the river valleys horses were at first rare, the prized possessions of kings or great leaders, and the barbarians therefore enjoyed a great military and psychological superiority. Eventually, though, chariots were used in the armies of all the great kingdoms of the Near East; they were too valuable a weapon to be ignored. When the Egyptians expelled the Hyksos, they did so by, among other things, using this weapon against those who had conquered them with it.
Warfare was changed by riding horses, too. A cavalryman proper not only moves about in the saddle but fights from horseback; it took a long time for this art to be developed, for managing a horse and a bow or a spear at the same time is a complex matter. Horse-riding came from the Iranian highlands, where it may have been practised as early as 2000 BC. It spread through the Near East and Aegean well before the end of the next millennium. Later, after 1000 BC, there appeared the armoured horseman, charging home and dominating foot-soldiers by sheer weight and impetus. This was the beginning of a long era in which heavy cavalry were a key weapon, though their full value could only be exploited centuries later, when the invention of the stirrup gave the rider real control of his horse.
During the second millennium BC chariots came to have parts made of iron; soon they had hooped wheels. The military advantages of this metal are obvious and it is not surprising to find its uses spreading rapidly through the Near East and far beyond, in spite of attempts by those who had iron to restrict it. At first, these were the Hittites. After their decline iron-working spread rapidly, not only because it was a more effective metal for making arms, but because iron ore, though scarce, was more plentiful than copper or tin. It was a great stimulus to economic as well as military change. In agriculture, iron-using peoples could till heavy soils which had remained impervious to wood or flint. But there was no rapid general transfer to the new metal; iron supplemented bronze, as bronze and copper had supplemented stone and flint in the human tool kit, and did so in some places more rapidly than others. Already in the eleventh century BC iron was used for weaponry in Cyprus (some have argued that steel was produced there, too) and from that island iron spread to the Aegean soon after 1000 BC. That date can serve as a rough division between the Bronze and Iron Ages, but is no more than a helpful prop to memory. Though iron implements became more plentiful after it, parts of what we may call the ‘civilized world’ went on living in a Bronze Age culture. Together with the ‘Neolithic’ elsewhere, the Bronze Age lives on well into the first millennium BC, fading away only slowly like the smile on the face of the Cheshire cat. For a long time, after all, there was very little iron to go round.
Metallurgical demand helps to explain another innovation, a new and increasingly complex inter-regional and long-distance trade. It is one of those complicating inter-reactions which seem to be giving the ancient world a certain unity just before its disruption at the end of the second millennium BC. Tin, for example, so important a commodity, had to be brought from Mesopotamia and Afghanistan, as well as Anatolia, to what we should now call ‘manufacturing’ centres. The copper of Cyprus was another widely traded commodity and the search for more of it gave Europe, at the margins of ancient history though she was, a new importance. Mine-shafts in what was to be Yugoslavia were sunk sixty and seventy feet below ground to get at copper even before 4000 BC. Perhaps it is not surprising that some European peoples later came to display high levels of metallurgical skill, notably in the beating of large sheets of bronze and in the shaping of iron (a much more difficult material to work than bronze until temperatures high enough to cast it were available).
Long-range commerce turns on transport. At first, the carriage of goods was a matter of asses and donkeys; the domestication of camels in the middle of the second millennium BC made possible the caravan trade of Asia and the Arabian peninsula which was later to seem to be of ageless antiquity, and opened an environment hitherto almost impenetrable, the waterless desert. Except among nomadic peoples, wheeled transport probably had only local importance, given the poor quality of early roads. Early carts were drawn by oxen or asses; they may have been in service in Mesopotamia about 3000 BC, in Syria around 2250 BC, in Anatolia two or three hundred years later and in mainland Greece about 1500 BC.
For goods in quantity, water transport was already likely to be cheaper and simpler than transport by land; this was to be a constant of economic life until the coming of the steam railway. Long before caravans began to bring up to Mesopotamia and Egypt the gums and resins of the south Arabian coasts, ships were carrying them up the Red Sea and merchants were moving back and forth in trading vessels across the Aegean. Understandably, it was in maritime technology that some of the most important advances in transport were made.
We know that Neolithic peoples could make long journeys by sea in dug-out canoes and there is even some evidence of navigation from the seventh millennium. The Egyptians of the Third Dynasty had put a sail on a sea-going ship; the central mast and square sail were the beginning of seamanship relying on anything but human energy. Improvements of rigging came slowly over the next two millennia. It has been thought that these made some approach to the fore-and-aft rigging which was necessary if ships were to sail closer to the wind, but for the most part the ships of antiquity were square-rigged. Because of this, the direction of prevailing winds was decisive in setting patterns of sea-borne communication. The only other source of energy was human: the invention of the oar is an early one and it provided the motive power for long sea crossings as well as for close handling. It seems likely, though, that oars were used more frequently in warships, and sail in what it is at a very early date possible to call merchantmen. By the thirteenth century BC, ships capable of carrying more than 200 copper ingots were sailing about the eastern Mediter ranean, and within a few centuries more, some of these ships were being fitted with watertight decks.
Even in recent times goods have been exchanged or bartered and no doubt this was what trade meant for most of antiquity. Yet a great step was taken when money was invented. This seems to have happened in Mesopotamia, where values of account were being given in measures of grain or silver before 2000 BC. Copper ingots seem to have been treated as monetary units throughout the Mediterranean in the late Bronze Age. The first officially sealed means of exchange which survives comes from Cappadocia in the form of ingots of silver of the late third millennium bc: this was a true metal currency. Yet although money is an important invention and one which was to spread, we have to wait until the eighth century BC for the Assyrians to have a silver standard for the first coins. Refined monetary devices (and Mesopotamia had a credit system and bills of exchange in early times) may help to promote trade, but they are not indispensable. Peoples in the ancient world could get along without them. The Phoenicians, a trading people of legendary skill and acumen, did not have a currency until the sixth century BC; Egypt, a centrally controlled economy and of impressive wealth, did not adopt a coinage until two centuries after that, and Celtic Europe, for all its trade in metal goods, did not coin money until two centuries later still.
Meanwhile, men exchanged goods without money, though it is hard to be sure quite what this means. Although there was an important rise in the volume of goods moved about the world, by 1000 BC or so, not all of this was what would now be termed ‘trade’. Economic organization in ancient times is for a long time very obscure. Any specialized function - pottery-making, for example - implies a machinery which on the one hand distributes its products and, on the other, ensures subsistence to the specialist by redistributing to him and his fellows the food they need to survive, and perhaps other goods. But this does not require ‘trade’, even in the form of barter. Many peoples in historic times have been observed operating such distribution through their chiefs: these men presided over a common store, ‘owning’, in a sense, everything the community possessed, and doling out such shares from it as were required to keep society working smoothly. This may be what lay behind the centralization of goods and supplies in Sumerian temples; it would also explain the importance of the recording and sealing of consignments deposited there and hence the early association of writing with accounting.
As for economic exchange between communities, confident generalization about its earliest stages is even more hazardous. Once into the era of historical record, we can see many activities going on which involve the transfer of commodities, not all of them aimed at monetary gain. Payment of tribute, symbolic or diplomatic gifts between rulers, votive offerings, were some of the forms it took. We should not rush to be over-definite; right down to the nineteenth century ad the Chinese empire conceived its foreign trade in terms of tribute from the outside world and the pharaohs had a way of translating trade with the Aegean into similar notions, to judge by tomb paintings. In the ancient world, such transactions might include the transfer of standard objects such as tripods or vessels of a certain weight or rings of uniform size which therefore present at an early date some of the characteristics of currency. Sometimes such things were useful; sometimes they were merely tokens. All that is wholly certain is that the movement of commodities increased and that much of this increase in the end took the form of the profitable exchanges we now think of as commerce.
New towns must have helped such changes. They sprang up all over the old Near East, no doubt in part because of population growth. They register the successful exploitation of agricultural possibilities but also a growing parasitism. The literary tradition of the alienation of countrymen from the city is already there in the Old Testament. Yet city life also offered a new intensity of cultural creativity, a new acceleration of civilization of which one sign is the spreading of literacy. In about 2000 BC, literacy was still largely confined to the river-valley civilizations and the areas they influenced. Cuneiform had spread throughout Mesopotamia where two or three languages were written in it; in Egypt the monumental inscriptions were hieroglyphic and day-to-day writing was done on papyrus in a simplified form called hieratic. A thousand years or so later, the picture had changed. Literate peoples were then to be found all over the Near East, and in Crete and Greece, too. Cuneiform had been adapted to yet more languages with great success; even the Egyptian government adopted it for its diplomacy. Other scripts were being invented, too. One, in Crete, takes us to the edge of modernity, for it reveals a people in about 1500 BC whose language was basically Greek. With the adoption of a Semitic alphabet, the Phoenician, the medium of the first western literature was in existence by about 800 BC, and so, perhaps, was its first surviving expression, in what were later called the works of Homer.
Such themes make nonsense of chronology; they register changes lost to sight if history is pinned too closely to specific countries. Yet individual countries and their peoples, though subject to general forces and in more and more frequent contact, also become increasingly distinct. Literacy pins down tradition; in its turn, tradition expresses communal selfconsciousness. Presumably tribes and peoples have always felt their identity; such awareness is much strengthened when states take on more continuing and institutionalized forms. The dissolution of empires into more viable units is a familiar story from Sumer to modern times, but some areas emerge time and time again as enduring nuclei of tradition. Even in the second millennium BC, states are getting more solid and show greater staying power. They were still far from achieving that extensive and continuing control of their peoples whose possibilities have only fully been revealed in modern times. Yet even in the most ancient records there seems to be an unchecked trend towards a greater regularity in government and greater institutionalizing of power. Kings surround themselves with bureaucracies and tax-collectors find the resources for larger and larger enterprises. Law becomes a widely accepted idea; wherever it penetrates, there is a limitation, even if at first only implicit, of the power of the individual and an increase of that of the law-giver. Above all, the state expresses itself in military power; the problem of feeding, equipping and administering standing professional armies is solved by 1000 BC.
When such things happen, the story of governmental and social institutions begins to escape from the general categories of early civilization. In spite of a new cosmopolitanism made possible by easier intercourse and cross-fertilizing, societies take very diverse paths. In the life of the mind, the most conspicuous expression of diversity is religion. While some have discerned in the pre-classical era a tendency towards simpler, monotheistic systems, the most obvious fact is a huge and varied pantheon of local and specialized deities, mostly coexisting tolerantly, with only an occasional indication that one god is jealous of his distinction.
There is a new scope for differentiation in other expressions of culture, too. Before civilization began, art had already established itself as an autonomous activity not necessarily linked to religion or magic (often so linked though it continued to be). The first literature has already been mentioned and of other sides of the mind we also begin to see something. There is the possibility of play; gaming-boards appear in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Crete. Perhaps men were already gambling. Kings and noblemen hunted with passion, and in their palaces were entertained by musicians and dancers. Among sports, boxing seems to go back into Bronze Age Crete, an island where a unique sport of bull-leaping was also practised.
In such matters it is more obvious than anywhere else that we need not pay much heed to chronology, far less to particular dates, even when we can be sure of them. The notion of an individual civilization is less and less helpful over the area with which we have so far been concerned, too. There is too much interplay for it to bear the weight it can do in Egypt and Sumer. Somewhere between about 1500 and 800 BC big changes took place which ought not to be allowed to slip through the mesh of a net woven to catch the history of the first two great civilizations. In the confused, turbulent Near East and eastern Mediterranean of the centuries around 1000 BC a new world different from that of Sumer and the Old Kingdom was in the making.