Journey Across Time: The Early Ages Additional Summary

Jackson Spielvogel

Chapter 1: The First Civilizations

The modern world can attribute its understanding of the prehistoric and ancient world to the work of historians, archaeologists and anthropologists. Over time, these researchers have studied the behavior of humans, their interaction with the environment as well as the development of tools and language. Historians study the past by looking at written records which were first kept around 5500 years ago. However, prehistory, events which occurred before the invention of writing, is just as important and can tell us a great deal. Archaeology is a precise science which requires a particular skill set and specialized tools to find evidence of past civilizations underground. Anthropologists examine human behavior through art, artifacts and other evidence that demonstrates their relations to one another.

Early humans are described in terms of their survival strategies. The nomadic hunters and gatherers moved from place to place following their food; this was not a sustainable way of life. Fire proved to be a critical element in the survival of the paleolithic people, allowing them to survive the Ice Ages (approximately 100,000 BCE to 8000 BCE). Taming fire allowed people to adapt to their cold environment by providing warmth, light, a way to cook food, and a defense against predatory animals.

The Neolithic Age began circa 8000 BCE when nomadic groups became sedentary and learned to farm. This way of life proved to be much more practical and far more sustainable than the nomadic lifestyle. The greatest advance of this era was the domestication of plants and animals. Neolithic era people used animals for their meat, milk, hide in addition to using them for work such as pulling plows. Being sedentary also allowed people to specialize in jobs, develop tools and build more permanent shelters. Once sedentary groups became skilled, their groups grew into villages; most notable among the first villages were Jericho and Catal Huyuk.


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Chapter 2: Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt was a prosperous civilization characterized by a strong sense of religion, a stable government and vibrant arts.

Situated along the Nile in a fertile river valley, the Egyptians' geography was tremendously beneficial. Agriculture began along the Nile circa 5000 BCE. The Nile is the world's longest river, measuring over 4000 miles; it is the only river in the world that flows from south to north. The Nile River is characterized by cataracts, swiftly moving rapids, which proved an excellent natural defense. Other natural defenses included the delta marshes in the north, borders created by the Mediterranean and Red Seas, and vast desert land. Unlike the Mesopotamians who were unable to predict the flood cycles of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, the Egyptians successfully predicted when they needed to plant, irrigate and harvest their crops along the Nile. One of their ingenious inventions was the shadoof, a bucket affixed to long poles, which allowed them to collect water from the Nile and move it to the basins. The Nile also provided natural resources which were important to the civilization. Egyptians harvested the papyrus that grew along the banks of the Nile and used it to make baskets, rafts and sandals. They also learned to dry it into a paper-like product which is what they used to write on. Egypt's stable food source yielded a surplus which allowed the Egyptians to specialize in other kinds of jobs and to develop new skills. The majority of Egyptians were artisans, merchants and craftspeople.

Such success required a stable government to oversee activity and society in general. Initially, Egypt was broken up into villiages which were led by chiefs. Eventually, however, Egypt split into two separate kingdoms: Upper and Lower Egypt. These two regions were ultimately united by Narmer (also known as Menes) around 3100 BCE. In order not to alienate either kingdom, Narmer wore the double crown which was made up of Upper...

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Chapter 3: The Ancient Israelites

The history of ancient Israel is told in this chapter beginning with the first Israelites and then exploring the kingdom of Israel and the growth of Judaism.

Judaism is the world's oldest monotheistic religion. It began when Abraham, the patriarch, made a covenant with God. He led his people out of Ur in Mesopotamia and into Canaan, their promised land, where they were to settle as God's chosen people. As monotheists, the Israelites stood out at a time when virtually everyone with whom they came into contact practiced some version of polytheism. This difference made the Israelites a target in the ancient world where they were persecuted, enslaved and even killed.

The ancient Israelites were nomadic herders and traders who spoke Hebrew. According to biblical tradition, the Israelites left for Egypt in search of a more favorable climate after a severe drought in Canaan. Once they arrived, however, they were enslaved by the pharaoh. In order to prevent a rebellion, the pharaoh demanded that all Israelite baby boys be thrown into the Nile. One mother hid her son along the riverbank. He was found by the pharaoh's daughter who named him Moses. As an adult, Moses saw a burning bush and heard the voice of God telling him to lead his people out of Egypt. Moses appealed to the pharaoh who refused to free the Israelites. God sent a series of ten plagues which were so insufferable that the pharaoh finally acquiesced and freed Moses and his followers. This is known as the Exodus. On their return to Canaan, the Israelites traveled through the Sinai Desert. Atop Mount Sinai, Moses received the Ten Commandments from God which would serve as the Torah, the laws by which the Israelites would live.

Around 1000 BCE, the Israelites had to fight the Philistines who had been living in Canaan. In order to defeat them, the Israelites realized that they needed a leader to unite them against a common enemy. The first king...

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Chapter 4: The Ancient Greeks

It could be argued that the Greeks had the greatest influence of any ancient civilization on the development of the modern world. Their advances in literature, philosophy, art and architecture remain ubiquitous influences world-wide.

The development of Greek culture was heavily influenced by its geographic location. Whereas the Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations sprang up in river valleys, Greek culture developed amid a rocky, mountainous peninsula. Greece is surrounded by the Ionian, Mediterranean and Aegean Seas; these surroundings naturally lent themselves to the rise of an economy based on sailing, trading and fishing. The soil, however, was not conducive to farming, so the Greeks relied heavily on trade to obtain a lot of what they needed. Because of the mountainous landscape, the Greek city-states were all fiercely independent.

The Minoans were a people native to the island of Crete. The Minoans were successful traders and sailed as far away as Egypt and Syria. They traded the pottery they made for the metals and ivory, materials which were not indigenous to Crete. Circa 1900 BCE, the Mycenaeans, who were originally from central Asia, invaded Greece and ultimately became their first kings. These early kingdoms were centered around a fortified hilltop palace. Government officials collected taxes from artisans, farmers and merchants. Eventually, the Minoans sailed to the Greek mainland and the two cultures began to trade. Ultimately, the Mycenaeans surpassed the Minoans as the strongest seafaring people in the Mediterranean. Their most significant victory took place during the legendary Trojan War. By 1100 BCE, however, the Mycenaean civilization collapsed, giving way to the Dark Ages.

During the ancient Greece's Dark Ages, the culture grew only enough food to get by and did not maintain a food surplus. Craftsmen stopped teaching others their skills and people virtually ceased reading and writing. A great shift...

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Chapter 5: Greek Civilization

Ancient Greek culture was characterized by a flourishing of literature, art and architecture. The Greeks were polytheistic and believed that their gods controlled both nature and events in people's lives. Religion was so important to the Greeks that the majority of their building projects were temples. The Greeks believed that the twelve most important gods (Olympians) resided atop Mt. Olympus. These deities included Zeus (king of the gods and the sky), Hera (goddess of marriage), Hades (god of the underworld), Poseidon (god of the sea), Hestia (goddess of the home), Artemis (goddess of the hunt), Apollo (god of light), Hermes (the gods' messenger), Aphrodite (goddess of beauty and love), Ares (god of war) and Athena (goddess of...

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Chapter 6: Early India

Like ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, ancient India began in a fertile river valley. A subcontinent, India has a dynamic geography. Bordered to the north by the Himalaya Mountains, the highest mountains in the world, and by the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal to the south, India also has two significant rivers: the Ganges and the Indus. India is also home to the dry Deccan Plateau and lush plains. The Indian climate, however, is plagued by monsoons in both winter and summer.

Indian civilization first sprang up near the Indus River around 3000 BCE. Like the Nile River in Egypt, when the Indus flooded, it left behind rich, fertile soil which was excellent for farming. Such beneficial conditions led to a food surplus and...

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Chapter 7: Early China

Ancient China's geography, like virtually every other civilization, had a significant impact on the development of its culture. Inhabitants chose to settle mainly along the Huang He (Yellow) River and the Chang Jiang River. Floods were both beneficial and detrimental to the people; although many homes were destroyed, the floods also left behind a great deal of rich and fertile soil. These river valleys were virtually the only parts of China that were suitable for farming; most of the rest of the country was mountainous or desert-like.

Like the ancient Egyptians, the Chinese also ruled through a series of dynasties. The Huange He valley was the first area to be civilized and it was probably ruled by the Xia dynasty about...

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Chapter 8: The Rise of Rome

The geography of ancient Rome played a significant role in the empire's development. Located strategically in the Mediterranean and bordered by the Alps to the north, Rome had excellent natural defenses and resources. Unlike its neighbor, Greece, Italy was not as mountainous which meant that cities and towns were not as isolated. Italy also had much greater potential for agriculture which allowed for the sustaining of a larger population. Rome, located about fifteen miles up the Tiber River, was founded atop seven hills.

Early Roman civilization was influenced largely by the Greeks and Etruscans who settled there as well. Skilled craftsmen, the Etruscans were largely responsible for the creation of temples, buildings...

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Chapter 9: Roman Civilization

Ancient Roman culture was rooted largely in Greek culture. However, whereas "the Greeks loved to talk about ideas, to the Romans, ideas were only important if they could solve everyday problems."

As far as Roman art, though their architecture was quite similar, their sculpture was markedly different. While the Greeks focused on rendering perfect human forms in their sculpture, the Romans were more concerned with a realistic depiction of the subject "including wrinkles, warts, and other less attractive features." What the Romans added to architecture, however, was the arch and the dome. This allowed them to use fewer materials which also kept costs down. The Romans were also the first to use concrete for building which...

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Chapter 10: The Rise of Christianity

Beginning in 63 BCE., the Romans controlled Judaea which had formerly been Judah, one of the kingdoms of Israel. From 66 CE until they were finally defeated in 132 CE, the Jews rebelled against the Romans and fought for the preservation of their beliefs and ways of life. This era was complicated by the birth of Jesus who left his home in Nazareth and began preaching throughout the Roman-occupied lands of Judaea and Galilee. Jesus' teachings became wildly popular and soon he had a close-knit group of twelve followers: his disciples.

Jesus preached that God was going to rule the world and that in preparation for his arrival, people needed to repent for their sins. Jesus also told people that their adherence to Jewish laws...

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Chapter 11: Islamic Civilization

The seventh century witnessed a great deal of activity in the Arabian peninsula. Bedouins emerged as successful desert herders who lived off the land and off of the animals they had domesticated. Arab merchants usually traveled by caravan in order to avoid attacks by the Bedouins. The most important town was Mecca which was a hub of trade and spiritual activity.

In 570 CE, Mohammed was born in Mecca. He grew up to be a successful leader of a caravan and merchant who later married and had a family. Circa 610 CE, Mohammed grew dissatisfied with society so he went into seclusion to pray and meditate. Mohammed returned, claiming that he had been visited by an angel who told him to preach Islam, "'surrendering to the will of...

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Chapter 12: China in the Middle Ages

Following the fall of the Han dynasty, China had no centralized government for three centuries. More divided than ever, China found itself home to seventeen different kingdoms which were plagued by war and poverty. During this period of unrest, the people living on the Korean peninsula decided to reclaim their land after many years of Chinese occupation.

In 581 CE, a warrior named Wendi declared himself emperor and reunited China, founding the Sui dynasty. Wendi was succeeded by his son, Yangdi, who tried to expand China's territory in vain. Yangdi's greatest accomplishment, however, was the construction of the Grand Canal which linked the Chang Jiang and Huang He Rivers. This new trade route was critical to China's...

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Chapter 13: Medieval Africa

The geography of Africa was intimidating to travelers and traders, essentially cutting off the continent from interaction with other cultures and civilizations. However, Northern and Western Africa eventually prospered from trade when people began to form caravans using camels which had been introduced by the Romans. The salt and cloth from North Africa was traded for the gold and ivory native to West Africa. Rulers began to form empires which rivaled European kingdoms in terms of size and wealth.

The first African empire was Ghana which became powerful in the fifth century. Rulers taxed anyone wishing to pass through Ghana en route to somewhere else. This taxation filled Ghana's coffers and brought wealth to the...

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Chapter 14: Medieval Japan

Japan was somewhat isolated from the rest of the Asian continent because of its geography. Japan is made up of a chain of islands which are also very mountainous. The land is prone to earthquakes as well because many of the country's mountains are also volcanoes. Approximately one-fifth of the land is suitable for farming; as a result, the Japanese settled mainly along the coast in small villages where they could fish.

Japanese culture began to develop circa 5000 BCE. Early settlers began to establish fishing villages and were known as the Jomon culture. The Jomon were characterized by their distinct pottery. Around 300 BCE, they were surpassed by Yayoi culture who introduced agriculture to the Japanese mainland. The...

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Chapter 15: Medieval Europe

The fall of the Roman Empire had a dramatic effect on much of Europe. No longer united by the Roman emperor, many independent kingdoms sprang up. Early modern Europe's geography played a significant role its development. Rivers made transportation and trade significantly easier, while mountains isolated some lands from the rest of the continent.

The invasion of Germanic tribes in the fifth century was an influential factor in redistributing both land and power. The Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Vandals, Huns and Saxons were among the many tribes vying for control. The Franks controlled much of modern-day France. King Clovis, their ruler, converted to Catholicism, thus winning favor with the Romans inhabiting the land. Upon his...

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Chapter 16: The Americas

The first people in the Americas were nomadic hunters and gatherers. In Mesoamerica, people became sedentary around 10,000 years ago when they began farming. Among their first crops were pumpkins, peppers, beans and squash which were well-suited to the fertile soil and temperate climate.

The first sedentary cultures in the Americas arose around 1500 BCE in Mexico. The Olmecs created a stable and productive empire which thrived for nearly eight centuries. Trade was facilitated by the many rivers throughout the region. The Mayans were another settlement who benefited from trade. Despite their prosperity, around 900 C.E., the Maya abandoned their settlements and disappeared. The Toltec took over much of northern Mexico and...

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Chapter 17: The Renaissance and Reformation

As Europe emerged from the Middle Ages and the Black Death, people began to look back to the Greeks and the Romans for inspiration. The Renaissance ("rebirth") lasted from 1350 to 1550 and brought about a renewed focus on the arts. Despite the continued presence of the church in everyday life, most Europeans became more secular.

Italy was the center of the Renaissance. People began to gravitate towards cities where intellectual life was abundant. Italian city-states grew powerful through trade with the Byzantines, Turks and Arabs. The Italian merchants also traded with other European nations such as Spain, France and Holland. Florence and Venice emerged as the most powerful cities as a result of their prosperous...

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Chapter 18: Enlightenment and Revolution

Beginning in the fifteenth century, many European nations began dispatching explorers to investigate other parts of the world. In order to maximize their resources, the Europeans adopted new technology from those with whom they had contact. To safely navigate the Atlantic Ocean, the Europeans began using the astrolobe, which they learned about from the Arabs. This ancient Greek invention allowed them to determine latitude. The Arabs also introduced the Europeans to triangular-shaped sails which allowed them to sail more directly towards their destination. The Europeans also employed the compass which had been invented by the Chinese. These new inventions were introduced to the Europeans through trade and travel which, in turn,...

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