Saturday 30 April 2016

Bronze Age Collapse

In the late Bronze Age of the Middle East, a diplomatic community of empires maintained a thriving international system based on bronze. Between 1200-1050 BC, the record of these powers hint at tumult and upheaval - then most simply fall eerily silent, signifying a dark age of history.

The Hittite of old kingdom formed in Anatolia(modern Turkey) in the 17th century BC, But declined due to infighting. The new kingdom emerged in the 15th century and expanded to challenge first Mittani and then Egypt. Their capital, Hattusa was destroyed around 1180 BCand was unearthed at Bogazkoy at central Turkey.

Hittite capital

The kingdoms of late Bronze Age - Babylonia, Mittani, Elam, Egypt, Mycenae, Alashiya and the Hittite empire were potent powers, whose might was based on their war chariots. Where their frontiers met, they fought, but they made no attempt to conquer each other's core territories, so relative stability was maintained for four centuries from 1600 - 1200 BC.

The great powers of Middle East c.1350 BC

The key to this stability was the need for supplies of copper and tin to make bronze for weapons and tools.Copper was abundant, but the source of tin at the time was in distance Afghanistan. So the states quickly formed diplomatic community based on intensive correspondence and dynastic inter marriage.

The collapse began in 1200 BC. The first sign was that Mycenaean citadels in Greece were destroyed most likely by Northern invaders. Around 1180 BC the Hittite Empire abruptly disappeared from history.  

Egypt's New kingdom declined and eventually fragmented in 1069 BC. Babylonia's wars with Assyria and Elam resulted in Babylon's Kassite dynasty dissolving in 1154 BC. Assyria also fell silent by 1050 BC for over a century.

Rameses III battles the Sea People

Pharaoh Rameses III smites his enemies in his battle against the "Sea People" during the 12th century BC. Long blamed for Bronze Age collapse, the Sea Peoples may have been opportunists attacking weakened states.

After 1050, there are simply no records at all and the period 1050-934 BC is termed a "dark-age". This period is one of the most hotly debated subjects in ancient history. Out of he Bronze Age kingdoms mentioned above only Assyria and Elam returned from the Dark Age.

After the collapse, new kingdoms including the Hebrew states of Israel and Judah, were founded in the former territory of the Bronze Age powers.

Iron Ore was more readily accessible than the ingredients for Bronze, but the transition to the Iron economy was highly disruptive, so the great powers stuck with Bronze.


Monday 25 April 2016

Building For Eternity

The construction of monuments, such as temples, palaces and tombs, was one of the key features of developing civilizations. Most monuments had religious functions and were intended to legitimize the position of rulers who built them by connecting them with the gods.

Tombs in pre-dynastic Egypt (before 3100 BC) were simple, sand covered pits. Early royal tombs were elaborations pf this model, covering a rock cut chamber with a monument of sand.

Mud brick platforms called huacas appeared around the coast of Peru from 4000 BC. Used as ritual sites, they were often build in pairs.

The Pyramids built in Egypt were not isolated structures, but parts of mortuary(memorial) temple complexes. Egyptians believed that their kings became gods when they died so the tombs were dedicated to their worship.

Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut

After Old Kingdom came to an end, fewer pyramids were built and attention transferred to the mortuary temples like above. These were often built at foot of cliffs, which were possibly viewed as natural pyramids.

Pharaohs gained such prestige from their building schemes that some even appropriated the projects of their predecessors, erasing their names and claiming them as their own.

Ziggurats such as this reconstructed example were wall stepped towers attached to major temples and were also used as stellar observatories. They provided an unbroken view across the plain of Mesopotamia. 

Great Ziggurat of Ur

Ancient temples were not only places of worship, but also important centers of administration. Most were part of large tracts of land that provided considerable income and trading power. Before it was destroyed at the end of 7th century BC, the temple of Ashur - the city at Assyria's ancient heart - was the richest in the world.

Most ancient societies used corvee labor to provide a regular supply of unskilled laborers. They worked on state building projects for a set amount of time each year instead of paying taxes in the form of money or produce.

The decreasing size of pyramids after the 4th dynasty is probably due to an increase in number of projects, rather than evidence that the 4th dynasty's grand projects had bankrupted the kingdom.

In Mesoamerica, Olmecs built pyramid shaped mounds in 1000 - 500 BC. Successive cultures in the region built pyramid temples. To them, everything possessed a spirit, and mountains were particularly powerful beings, so places of worship were created in their image.

Great Pyramid, Chichen Itza

The Greeks and Romans continued the monumental tradition. In Europe the building of stone monuments was revived by medieval Christian Church.



Friday 15 April 2016

The Realm Of Osiris Part II

The Egyptians came to believe that human body consisted of three spiritual parts. First, the ka, was part of a kind of "soul". The ba  formed another part of the "soul " , in another terms , an individual's personality. Finally, the akh was the form in which a deceased person existed in the afterlife, when ka and ba were reunited.

It was typically believed that ka and ba were released from the body at death and needed to find each other again in the afterlife in order to create a happy, eternal akh.

Osiris sitting in judgement

This papyrus scene, from The Book of the Dead of Any(1550 - 1069 BC), shows Osiris deciding Any's destiny in a ceremony believed to take place after death. Any's heart is weighed against the feather of Ma'at, goddess of truth and justice.

After death, embalmers washed the body, preferably in water from the Nile. They then removed the intestines,stomach , liver and lungs and placed them in four vessels called canopic jars.

Canopic Jars

The brain was removed through nostrils, but the heart considered to be the source of intelligence, was left in place. The Body was then stuffed in linen (to keep its proper shape and appearance) and made whole again. It was soaked with preservative salts and decorated with protective charms.

The body was then wrapped in linen bandages, placed in a coffin, and buried along with other amulets or items from everyday life to provide comfort in afterlife.

The Cult Of Aten -  During the period of Egypt's new kingdom(1550-1069 BC), when Osiris worship was at its peak, the 18th dynasty pharaoh Akhenaten created a break away cult of his own. He decided to worship the Sun's disk, in the form of a god called Aten. This cult, was one of the first examples of a single god(monotheism). 

Akhenaten's chief wife Nefertiti
 worshiping Sun's rays 

By the Ptolemaic period in Egypt, (323 - 40 BC) the cult of Osiris had began to fade and the cult of Serapis was on the rise. This combined the cults of Osiris and the sacred bull Apis.

Cults of Osiris and Isis lived on  in various provinces of the Roman Empire , with temples to Isis built in Roman London and Pompeii. 

Osiris lives on today within the "secret society" known as Free Masons. Some of their believes and symbolism are connected to the figure of Osiris, partly as a way of evoking a sense of order and mystery rooted in ancient wisdom.


Saturday 9 April 2016

The Realm Of Osiris Part I

The growth of the cult of Osiris, king of the dead, was immensely important to the ancient Egyptians. Osiris gradually became the dominant figure among a cast of potentially vengeful gods. These gods had strong moral codes, so living a good and honest life was vital if you were to gain eternity.

Items found in graves from pre-dynastic Egypt(before 3100 BC) suggest that, even then, Egyptians performed death-related rituals. Belief in Osiris is thought to have begun in the Nile delta region and may have been a god of agriculture, linked with fertility and the afterlife. By 2400 BC he had become associated with death and resurrection of the ruler.

Before Osiris, the cult of Ra, god of sun and bringer of life held a center stage. Ra is depicted with a falcon's head on which is carried the sun.

Ra, the sun god

Egyptians believed that the god Osiris judged them on the lives they had led and those who have lived "good life" would attain a happy eternity beside gods. He was thought to preside over complex burial rituals, including embalming and mummification which they devised to ensure a passage through the underworld to a afterlife.

Tradition held that Osiris was the son of Geb, god of the Earth, and Nut, goddess of the sky, and that once he was king of Upper Egypt. His grandfather was Ra and his brother was Set, god of chaos.

Osiris was husband(and brother) of Isis and father of Horus who was god of sky and protector of ruler of Egypt.

 Myth also told that jealous and vengeful spirit of Set trapped Osiris in a coffin-like chest and threw it in river Nile, and became king. Isis found and hid the body of her husband, only Set to rediscover it and tear it apart. Isis resembled his body and bound it in bandages and he became the first mummy.


"Homage to thee, Osiris, lord of eternity, king of gods, whose names are manifold."


Friday 1 April 2016

Europe's First Civilization

The first civilization to make it's mark in western Europe was the Bronze Age culture of the Minoans, based on Mediterranean island of Crete. Frescoes in the grand palaces depict a highly sophisticated way of life, and hint at a society where women played an unusually dominant role for the times.

Dating back to 6500 BC, the Neolithic people of Crete probably originated in Asia Minor. Their simple life centered around rearing livestock, growing crops and making basic pottery. During the 3rd millennium BC, trading towns on Cretan coast expanded.

The Minoan civilization, named after Minos, a mythical king of Crete flourished between 3000 and 1400 BC peaking around 1600 BC, during the late Bronze Age. They are often credited with having developed the first "navy" albeit used for trade rather than war.

The major cities on Crete were Knossos, Phaistos, Mallia and Zakros, of which Knossos was the most opulent. Around 1700 BC, the Knossos palace complex was destroyed by an Earthquake or an Invasion.

Knossos Palace

The Knossos palace fresco reveals the perilous art of bull-leaping in which young men and women took turns to somersault over a bull's back.

All Minoan gods were female and one of the most popular was the "Snake-goddess", depictions of whom have been found in the ruins of houses and small palace shrines.

The bull image is widespread being linked to King Minos. According to legend, his failure to sacrifice a bull sent by the sea god Poseidon caused his wife to give birth to a Minotaur - a creature that was half men, half bull.

Minotaur Statue

The rich and highly successful Minoan civilization started to wane around 1500 BC, but it's complete demise took hundreds of years. The Thera eruption in 1600 BC may have resulted in loss of Cretan fleet, making Crete more vulnerable to outside powers and influence.

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