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This blog does what it says on the box. It quite simply narrates, from the start to the present day, a history of the world, and virtually everything of note in it. Follow the saga that the World's story is, by checking in for our daily updates! Contact us at worldhistoryblog@yahoo.co.uk

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The Indus Civilisations

A view of houses among the ruins of Mohenjo-Daro. Many large covered drains were constructed with corbelled arches. These drains ran beneath streets and lanes and were large enough for workmen to enter and clear any obstructions.

The first expansion of civilisation beyond the Middle East was to the Indian Subcontinent. From about 2500 BC to 2000BC there flourished in the Indus Valley an interesting and unique civilisation with strong ties to Mesopotamia. Its cities have been uncovered mainly in present day Pakistan. The two main centres uncovered so far were Mohenjo-daro in the south and Harappa in the north.

The big cities were well planned, with a citadel to the west and residential quarries to the east. Mohenj0-daro covered an area of 60 hectares and possessed an impressive bathing installation most likely for ritual use. In Harappa, large granaries have been found north of the citadel, with adjoining workers' quarters which indicate a relatively high standard of living. Wheat and barley were grown, also peas, sesame and cotton and perhaps also rice. Buffaloes and fowl were the usual domestic animals. Tools were made of bronze.

Thousands of seals have been found, many with an inscription but no writing on sherds uncovered. The pictures on the seals show some gods and various animals, such as tigers, elephants, rhinoceroses and buffaloes. Maritime trade with Mesopotamia seems to have been lively. Archaeologists have assumed that the Sumerians influenced the early Indus valley civilisations. overland trade was plied with Persia and Afghanistan. No signs of writing have been uncovered in the upper (later) layers of these sites and the local civilisations seem to have declined and disintegrated around 2000BC.

India was invaded from the Northwest after 1500BC. The newcomers formed the eastern branch of the great Indo-European movement, which left a common cultural heritage from Greece, through Asia Minor and Iran to India. They called themselves "Aryans". They arrived via Central Asia and entered India from the northwest. They moved only slowly down the Indus valley and eastwards along the Ganges. They were cattle-owning half nomads.

For a long time, agriculture, and not urban life, was typical of the Vedic culture (as their civilisation was called). Its language was Sanskrit, used by the educated upper classes, in which the Vedic literature is composed. Initially, this was an oral tradition - like the Iliad in Greece; its creations were written down only much later. Most of what we know of Aryan culture derives from the Rig-Veda, a collection of hymns transmitted orally by the Brahmans - the priestly caste. Other collections of hymns also survived. The great epic poems of Sanskrit, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, came much later, around the late first millennium BC.

The Aryan settlers tried not to mix with the dark-skinned older inhabitants of India. Although they did not succeed, they thereby initiated the caste system, which strikingly, for three millennia has survived all the changes in Indian society.

The roots of present-day Hinduism too, go back to Vedic culture. Some of the original deities mentioned in the Rig-Veda were Indra, Mitra and Varuna. Their names had also been mentioned in the inscriptions of the Middle Eastern Mitani Empire, showing the common roots of the early Indo-European cultures. In the Mahabharata such later deities as Krishna and Vishnu are already mentioned. The Aryan settlers made another important contribution by clearing land in the Ganges valley, for large scale agriculture.

The fully historical period in India begins around 600BC with the reintroduction of writing. Northern India was divided at that time into several separate states, none of which was of great size of importance. Thus Alexander the Great, on reaching India in 327 BC, did not have to face any unified resistance. But after his death there arose a strong state: the Maurya Empire (321-185BC), which subjected to its rule a greater part of India than any other state, prior to the arrival of Islam and the British.

The formation of the ancient Egyptian state

Egyptologists in the early twentieth century interpreted the formation of the Egyptian state as a Darwinian process: the desiccation of the Sahara forced people into the Nile Valley, which gradually led to the development of villages, then ‘chiefdoms’. Over time, the chiefdoms were absorbed into two major Kingdoms, Upper Egypt (the Nile Valley), and Lower Egypt (the Delta). The two were united by the king Meni, who heads the Egyptian king lists. This process appears to have been achieved largely through military action and political marriages.

The formation of Egyptian civilization should be seen within a context of evidence from the whole of north-east Africa and western Asia. The evidence from Nubia shows a parallel development of stratified society there, and strong contacts with Upper Egypt, just as the evidence from the Delta indicates trade and contacts with Western Asia and Mesopotamia. In Upper Egypt the phases are named after the important site of Naqada, just north of Thebes. Our knowledge of the Predynastic era has been greatly enhanced by two sites of excavation – Nekhen and Aydos.

Early excavations at Nekhen found major monuments, such as ceremonial mace heads and slate palettes, which had been dedicated by the early ‘proto-pharaohs’, ‘Scorpion’ and Narmer. Many of the regalia and attributes of the pharaonic monarchy appear in the later Naqada phases: crowns, the bull’s tail attached to the belt, sandals, mace of club, flail and staffs. The evidence suggested that Nekhen rose to be the dominant kingdom of Upper Egypt and eventually conquered the north. More recent material excavated in the cemetery of Abydos suggests that the region of Tjeny may have supplanted Nekhen as the most important place in Upper Egypt a century or more before unification

In the Naqada II period (3800-3300 BC), there were major centres throughout Upper Egypt from Nekhen in the south to Abydos and Matmar, extending into northern Middle Egypt. By this phase, there was increasing social stratification to be seen in the cemetery sites at Abydos, Naqada and Nekhen. The elite burials are increasingly large and complex, employing mud-brick in their construction, and their contents reveal wide-ranging trading contacts with Nubia ad the Delta, and through the Delta with western Asia and Mesopotamia.

It is unclear what brought about this social change. Some archaeologists suggest that the more limited land available in Upper Egypt could have led to conflict and competition, hence providing the impetus for social complexity. The Naqada culture appears to have developed as the environment became more arid, forcing the cattle herders of the margins into the Nile Valley, where the population consisted mainly of fishermen and hunter gatherers. Indeed, the Egytian kingship displays strong similarities with that of East African cattle cultures.

Another important factor was the development of long-distance trade, and exploitation of resources. The Naqada II phase shows the beginning of urban centres as elite residences and also ceremonial and production centres. There is considerable evidence for craft specialization and for trade in gold and copper from the Eastern Desert. Seal impressions suggest the beginning of the administrative system. In the second half of the Naqada II phase the towns at Naqada and Nekhen were enclosed with walls, protecting the new centres of wealth.

The external contacts of Upper Egypt are important. The old idea of the ‘Dynastic Race’ has been abandoned now, but contacts with Sumer and Elam re revealed by artistic themes. How these contacts were effected is still controversial, and they may have been indirect. It is easier to document the very strong links with the culture of Lower Nubia.

In the Delta region, the dominant culture is named after the two sites of Maadi near Cairo and Buto in the western Delta. This Maadi-based culture had strong links with Canaan in South western Asia. There were also settled groups of people from the same regions, indicated by the local production of south Levantine vessels at Buto itself, and the evidence of a small number of houses of the Canaanite Beersheba culture on the outskirts of the Maadi settlement. There were certainly trading links across Sinai and exploitation of Sinai’s resources.

In the late Naqada II period, the Upper Egyptian culture expanded Northwards into that of Maadi-Buto. There is no evidence to indicate that this was a military conquest as was previously assumed. The result was a single state (the Naqada III phase) and an homogenous culture throughout Egypt. Large quantities of imported Canaanite storage and wine jars are not found in tombs. Vine cultivation was introduced into the Delta towards the end of the Naqada II period, and became an important feature of Egyptian agriculture. The Egyptians bureaucratic system also manifests itself at this time, with standardized and locally made wine jars in royal and elite burials.

What did the Renaissance do for us?

The Renaissance was one of the great moments of the human spirit, comparable perhaps only to Athens in the times of Pericles. It was also the first time that Europe noticeably moved ahead of all other contemporary civilizations. As usual, the background was economic.

The Italian trading cities, especially Venice and Genoa, had taken the lead in international trade since the crusades. After the fall of Acre in 1291, Venice received its share of the goods from the Spice Islands and the far East through ports of Egypt, while Genoa plied more the northern route, through the Black Sea ports. This trade was profitable also to other towns in Italy. The Medicis of Florence, for instance, were important bankers and textile merchants, with branches from London to Venice, who handled the Papal finances and loaned enormous sums to the ruling houses of Europe. Indeed, they did so well that they became the rulers of Florence.

The court of Lorenzo the Magnificent was perhaps the most important centre of the 15th century Renaissance. But the Medicis were not alone. The German Fuggers had by the early 16th century, an even bigger banking and trading business, centred in Augsburg. In the 15th century France, Jacques Coeur developed a business empire of similar size and importance. This new wealth created a new middle class first in Italy, then beyond the Alps. New tastes, and a growth of “lifestyle” culture replaces simpler medieval standards. Town houses and country mansions were built with windows, elaborate ceilings, painted walls, and carpets. Artists, architects and craftsmen came into their own in this environment.

Italy became the school of Europe just as Athens had been the school of Greece. She produced great poets and writers such as dante, Petrarch, Bocaccio and Ariosto; scholars such as Niccolo Machiavelli and Pomponazzi; architects like Filippo Brunelleschi, Donata Bramante and Andrea Palladio; and of course some of the greatest sculptors of all time, including Verocchio, Donatello, and Michelangelo among their number; above all perhaps are the painters – men such as Giotto, Raphael, Giorgione, Botticelli, Leonardo da vinci and Titian. This scholarly atmosphere created the quintessential ‘genius’ that we call today, the Renaissance man; the polymath who is a jack of all trades, be they scientific or humanistic, and master of all. The Renaissance also created a new self-reliance in Europe. Until the 15th century, Europe had been the docile pupil of Greece and Rome. Now its thinkers dared to strike out on their own.