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Peoples and Empires of Ancient Mesopotamia Essay

The development of empires and civilizations in ancient Mesopotamia was not a random event. Neither was it caused by what anthropologists call ‘cultural diffusion. ’ Much of Mesopotamia, prior to 4900 B. C. , was isolated from other civilizations, particularly Egypt and India. The author presented five factors which led to the formation of civilizations and empires in the region. Here were as follows: 1) The fertility of the Tigris-Euphrates delta enabled communities to produce excess goods (surpluses). Communities exchanged their excess goods. This allowed the formation of trade centers in the region.

Trade centers were relatively economically prosperous, and at times, politically demanding. These ‘centers of power’ became increasingly protective of their interests. In time, these centers would become the backbone of the first empires in history; 2) The Tigris-Euphrates River allowed the establishment of a system of writing which facilitated trade and communication. This system of writing is called ‘cuneiform’; 3) Mesopotamia itself was a center of trade and commerce. Goods from India and the Far East flowed from the region to the gates of the Pillars of Hercules. This made the region economically prosperous.

Even during the 4th century A. D. , this region had been coveted by both Rome and the Sassanian Empire; 4) The relative dependencies of the city-states in the region allowed the formation of temporary alliances, which in the future would transform into small kingdoms. In the beginning, the coalescence of these city-states was purely economic in nature. The invasion of the Aryan peoples in the 3rd century millennium forced the city-states to form fragile military alliances. In time, these military alliances were controlled by major city-states, notably Ur, Babylon, and Nineveh; 5) The conflicts among prominent city-states greatly weakened the security of the region.

External threat was a constant problem. This enabled Sargon I to consolidate the various city-states into one political entity – the first empire in history. Much of Nardo’s accounts of ancient Mesopotamia were derived from ancient historical materials and accounts of ancient historians, particularly Herodotus and Josephus of Alexandria. Nardo also added the commentaries of modern day historians particularly Toynbee, Wells, and Smith. Nardo synthesized the accounts of both ancient and modern historians to form a vivid and critical evaluation of ancient Mesopotamia.

However, much of Nardo’s arguments were essentially a repetition of earlier assertions particularly those of Wells and Toynbee. For example, Nardo’s assertion that the ‘relative dependencies of city-states allowed the temporary formation of military alliances in the region’ was taken from Wells’ concept of ‘fragile unions. ’ The concept of ‘fragile unions’ asserted that ‘an early formation of economic units becomes the linchpin for more solidifying form of coercive association. ’ Nardo’s style of presenting these accounts did not give justice to his main points in the book.

The accounts served only as supplementary references to his main points, instead of using them as actual proofs. This may be due to the following reasons: 1) Nardo intended the book to be read by young adults, not social scientists and historians. Hence, Nardo simplified many of the historical accounts presented in the book to effectively communicate his point to the intended audience; 2) Nardo did not have the highly intuitive mind of a very capable historian (like Toynbee and Kagan). His style of analyzing historical documents was overtly simplistic and deterministic.

It was as if the individual was simply reading a narration of historical events. Nardo’s inability to present new arguments on the history of Mesopotamia may be due perhaps to his profession. He was a high school teacher by profession, not a qualified historian. However, the book reflected the materials and concepts studied in class. Much of the history of the ancient East is wholly connected to the history of Western Europe (for example, the Crusades). The foundation of western civilization can be traced back to the origins of ‘civilization’ itself in ancient Mesopotamia.


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