Geography Pages

The Ancient World - City States - 5,000-2,000 BC

All boundaries, and borders of countries, are approximate

The territory controlled by a king or people varied from time to time, and was often disputed by other peoples. Even the coast-line has varied over the years, particularly in the Gulf of Persia. An approximation to the modern coast-line is generally used in the maps. The sites of some ancient cities and towns are now not known with certainty

map of Middle East - City States

Notes :
Not all the places and countries shown existed together at the same time
The colored regions show the "homeland" of an ethnic group or culture
At the height of each culture's importance, its territory and influence extended much further, overlapping or taking over its neighbors
In the case of cultures which developed city states (eg. Mycenaean, Sumerian) there was usually not just one king over the region, but each city had a "king" or governor
City states within the same culture often carried on wars against each other : this was true of both Mycenaean and Sumerian cultures

Cycladic Cycladic Culture, ca. 3,000-2,000 BC, was centered on the Cyclades - a ring of islands in the Aegean. The people were mainly sailors, either for fish or trade. The main artifacts which have been found are very stylized statues of human beings with no facial features other than a long nose, standing with arms across the chest.
There are no written records from this culture.
Minoan Minoans were centered on the island of Crete. They were sailors and traders, and appear not to have been warlike - their palaces were not fortified.
They flourished 2,400-1,450 BC.
Crete is subject to earthquakes and volcanic activity - palaces were destroyed by an earthquake ca. 1,370 BC, but were rebuilt. Their main palace complex was at Knossos. Their palaces were decorated with paintings of young men and girls somersaulting over bulls.
The Minoans spoke a language not related to Greek, and used an alphabet (Linear A, so-called because it was one of the first to be written in a straight line rather than in columns) which has not yet been deciphered.
Mycenaean Mycenaeans were a group of people who invaded Greece from the north, ca. 2,100-1,900 BC, bringing with them an Indo-European language which in process of time became Greek. They built citadels with walls of huge irregular stones. They learned the art of writing, probably from the Minoans, and developed another alphabet, Linear B.
The Mycenaean civilization seems to have been wiped out by catastrophes between 1,200 BC and 1,050 BC, and Linear B fell out of use.
Egypt Egypt was unified, probably by Menes (also called Narmer) who founded the first dynasty, ca. 3,100 BC. His capital was at Memphis.
Although there are some small artifacts from the first three dynasties, there are no monuments surviving from anything earlier than the 4th dynasty. The Egyptians at this time were not particularly warlike : they engaged in trade with seafaring peoples such as the Minoans, but to reach other countries by land meant a trek through the Sinai desert or along the sea-coast of the Mediterranean.
The pyramids and Sphinx at Giza date from the 4th dynasty, ca. 2,700-2,500 BC
Sumaria Sumerians settled in Mesopotamia ca. 4,000 BC. They spoke a language which seems to be unrelated to any other, and invented a method of recording ownership by making marks in wet clay. This became a system of cuneiform writing. "Cuneiform" means wedge-shaped, and describes the shapes of the marks used to make the symbols.
Their "homeland" was centered on the region of Ur and Uruk, but at the height of their civilization they spread as far as Mari and Asshur. Theirs was a culture of City States, with "kings" or governors in charge of each city, and different gods or goddesses "owning" the cities. Their building material was mainly mud-brick, formed and dried silimarly to adobes; wood and stone were scarce.
They recorded lists of kings, going back to days "before the flood", and also wrote epic stories of their hero Gilgamesh and their equivalent of Noah, Utnapishtim.
A series of royal tombs from the early dynastic period at Ur were discovered by Leonard Woolley in the 1930s. The kings, and at least one queen, had been buried with jewels and gold, and also with oxen, chariots, musical instruments, and human attendants who had gone to death with their rulers.
After the period of domination by the Akkadians and the general chaos which followed the break-up of their empire (see below), Sumer revived.
Ur-Baba, a governor of Lagash, gained independence for his city.
His successor, Gudea, is famous for the records and sculptures which have survived from his time.
The liberation of Sumer from the invading northern tribes took place ca. 2,120 BC, when the king of Uruk led a revolt which was brought to completion by Ur-Nammu of Ur.
Ur-Nammu founded the Third Dynasty of Ur (the Neo-Sumerian period). Ur remained the capital of Sumeria for the next 100 years; during this time the rulers engaged in great building programs for palaces and ziggurats (stepped pyramids which included temples and tombs).
Akkad Akkadians were a Semitic people who co-existed with the Sumerians, but who settled mainly to the north of the Sumerians. They learned the cuneiform system of writing from the Sumerians, and adapted it to their own language, Akkadian.
Sargon I became king of Akkad ca. 2,350 BC, and set about conquering the Sumerian city states. The site of Sargon's capital, Akkad (Agade) is not known with certainty, but is probably somewhere near (or beneath) Babylon.
Sargon conquered the neighboring Elamites, and set up a secondary royal city at Susa. He then led a force up the Euphrates and subdued the region of Nineveh. It is possible that in his time trade between Mesopotamia and the civilizations of the Indus valley (in India) was established.
Sargon's grandson, Naram-Sin (ca. 2,291-2,255 BC) was a great military leader who brought the northern territories of Mesopotamia and beyond under his control. A stele (carved stone slab) commemorating his victories is still in existence, showing him climbing over the bodies of fallen enemies, wearing a horned helmet and carrying a spear.
During the reign of Naram-Sin's successor, Shar-galli-sharri, the Sumerians revolted and some of the tribes to the north invaded the land. Agade was destroyed and the Akkadian domination came to an end. However, the Akkadian language, written in cuneiform, continued to be used as the means of communication between nations.
Elam Elam was a region of independent peoples (the Elamites) who were developing their own pictographs and a form of linear writing until they were invaded and brought under subjection by the Sumerians ca. 2,550 BC. Revolts and conflict between Elam and the nations of Mesopotamia continued for about 1,000 years, until Elam gained its independence ca 1,500 BC. The capital of Elam was Susa.
Hurrians The Hurrians lived in the northern hill country of Mesopotamia. They were spreading out into the surrounding countries throughout this period, until by the time of Abraham (ca. 2,000 BC) they were in control of Haran.
Hatti The "Hatti" were people who lived in scattered villages and towns in Asia Minor, and were developing skills as metal workers.
It is probable that during this period other peoples invaded from the north and settled among the "Hatti", even taking their name, and becoming the Hittites.
  Ugarit was a town with mixed Mesopotamian and Mediterranean cultures.
Ebla was the capital of a Semitic empire until it was sacked and burned by Naram-Sin of Sumeria ca. 2,250 BC. The "library" of clay tablets was baked by the fire, and survived to be discovered by archaeologists in 1975 - it contained more than 15,000 cuneiform tablets, including the earliest known bilingual dictionary. The tablets of Ebla are helping scholars trace the earliest forms of Semitic languages, including Hebrew.
Mari was a town with a largely Semitic population, which was over-run by the Sumerians and then by the Akkadians.
Harran was a center for trade and commerce. It had an ethnically mixed population which was dominated by the Hurrians
The Phoenicians were beginning to settle on the coast between Ugarit and Mount Carmel.
Canaanite tribes began to settle in what is now Israel.

Go here for the Time-line of Ancient History.

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Dr. Rollinson

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Portales, NM 88130

Last Updated: June 26, 2010

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