Friday, May 29, 2009

History of the World, Condensed Version, Part II, Clearly Hampered By My Having Studied Mostly Just Western Civ.

By the way, that "Clearly Hampered[...]" in the post title is not meant to be flip or sarcastic. The "History of the World" is the sarcastic part. A lot of "Histories of the World" have been written, and a lot of histories of Western civilization which are not much different, or actually more all-encompassing. I'm very ignorant of the majority of the world which lies outside of the scope of Western civilisation, and I'm a pretty typical Westerner in that regard. I've begun to learn a little about the rest of the world but it's just been baby steps.

So if you're understanding me clearly, my referring to these modest posts as a "History of the World" will make you smile wryly. What I'm trying to do here is to make some very general remarks about what I believe I know about certain things I find interesting. This is in part an exercise for me to see how well I can summarize some things. It is one of the quirks of the culture in which I live is that such remarks are sometimes referred to as world history. There is a lot of hubris in our culture.

To back up chronologically from the end of Part I of the Condensed Version: By several tens of thousand of years ago, humans had migrated from Africa into Asia, Europe and Oceania.

If you want to start an argument, bring together several dozen anthropologists and archaeologists selected entirely at random and bring up the question of when humans first migrated to the Western Hemisphere. That should start a nice vigorous argument for you.

Most anthropologists and archaeologists seem to agree that humans crossed the land bridge from Siberia to Alaska 10 or 12 thousand years or so ago. The disagreements begin when the questions are: did humans come to the Western Hemisphere earlier than that? How much earlier? Did they come by other routes in addition to the land bridge? Perhaps by boat across the Pacific from Asia?

Archaeologist A will present an object and say it is an artifact formed by human hands in the Wesern Hemisphere 20, or 30, or 40, or 60 or 60 thousand years ago. Archaeologist B will regard this statement by Archaeologist A and assert that it shows that A is engaged in wishful thinking as opposed to science, and that the object occurred naturally and show no evidence of having been shaped by human hands.

I don't know whom I should believe.

Meanwhile, back in Western Civ.: after the hegemonies of the Sumerians and Egyptians and Babylonians and Hittites and Assyrians and Neo-Babylonians and Persians, Alexander the Great created the Hellenistic world by conquering land as far eastward from Greece as Afghanistan and parts of India. His vast empire fragmented after his death, but in many parts of it the rulers continued to be Greek for a while. Meanwhile, both east and west of Egypt, as far west as Spain certainly, the Phoenicians had an empire as well. They were good sailors, and some people have speculated that in ancient times they sailed to the Western Hemisphere, although that seems extremely far-fetched to me. The Phoenicians had been a major power at least as far back as the eighth century BC, but not long after Alexander, who ruled his empire in the second half of the fourth century BC, the Phoenicians, and the Greeks, had a new rival for control of the Mediterranean: the Romans. In the third and seconds centuries BC Rome, which as late as 500 BC had been not much more than a village which managed to throw off the overlordship of the Etruscans, finished conquering the Italian peninsula, then conquered Phoenicia and Greece. In 30 BC the last bit of Mediterranean coastline not yet in Roman hands passed to them from Egypt, from Cleopatra, the last Pharaoh and a descendant of one of Alexander's generals.

The Israelites had rebelled against the Greek successors of Alexander, and they rebelled against the Romans. In AD 70 the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed, and in 73 AD the Jewish revolt came to an end when the Romans took the fortress of Masada. In the next several centuries Christianity, a sect arising from Judaeism, gradually spread throughout the Roman Empire until in the fourth century AD it became the official state religion and all other religions began to be persecuted and stamped out. In the fifth century Germanic tribes overran the western part of the Empire, and from this point on, only the eastern part continuously survived, until AD 1453. In a major example of the Western hubris I referred to above, to this day many otherwise well-educated Weserners continue to refer to the end of the weserrn part of the Roman Empire as the end of the Roman Empire, and refer to the surviving eastern part as Byzantium, as if it were not in fact the Roman Empire.

Things went very poorly in the West for several centuries which we usually, and I think quite rightly, call the Dark Ages. Some people use the terms "Dark Ages" and "Middle Ages" synonymously. I think it makes more sense to use "Dark Ages" for the period between 476, when Romulus Augustulus, the last Western Emperor, surrendered to Odoacer, a Germanic chieftain, and 800, when Charlemagne, in an act by no means free of unrealistic connotations, was crowned Emperor by the Pope, and to use the term "Middle Ages" to describe the entire time between the fal of the western part of the Empire until the Rennaissance: say, 1350 in Italy, and later as you head north.

End of Part II of the Condensed Version

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