The Middle East holds a significant place in the history of civilization, being recognized as the birthplace where the first major settlements emerged over 9,000 years ago.
Archaeological and anthropological findings indicate that agriculture originated approximately 11,500 years ago in regions that encompass present-day Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. It was in these areas that the first permanent settlements were established, initially taking the form of small villages.
During the 24th century BCE, the Akkadian Empire, led by the renowned figure Sargon the Great, exerted control over territories spanning the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what is now Iraq. Their influence extended southwards into the Arabian Peninsula and encompassed the present-day Gulf states.
The legendary tales surrounding Sargon’s origins vary, with one narrative suggesting he was placed in a river as a baby and later discovered and raised by a laborer, while other historians propose he was the son of a gardener. Sargon later established the largest unified political entity known to the world at that time.
The Akkadians spoke a Semitic language closely related to modern languages such as Arabic, Hebrew, and Amharic. Compared to other civilizations of the Near East during that era, we have considerable knowledge about the Akkadians, thanks to their use of pictorial depictions in stone reliefs and the development of cuneiform writing.
Among their notable achievements, the Akkadians pioneered the use of postal systems, constructed roads to facilitate trade, implemented widespread irrigation systems for agricultural purposes, and introduced the concept of empire itself. Their influence and innovations left a lasting impact on the ancient world.
The Kingdom of Israel
Although the Kingdom of Israel was relatively small and existed for a relatively short period, its cultural significance cannot be overstated. The kingdom encompassed a narrow coastal strip along the eastern Mediterranean, spanning parts of modern-day Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.
Despite its size, the Kingdom of Israel played a pivotal role in the development of the Abrahamic faith and the Old Testament. Our understanding of this kingdom primarily comes from the accounts found in the books of the Old Testament. According to these texts, the kingdom was established under the rule of King Saul, who is credited with unifying the scattered tribes of Israel and subduing neighboring peoples. Saul was succeeded by renowned figures like King David and King Solomon.
The impact of the Kingdom of Israel extends far beyond its physical boundaries. Through the religions of Judaism and Christianity, which hold the Old Testament as a foundational text, the traditions associated with the kingdom continue to be practiced and revered to this day. Additionally, figures such as the prophets and kings mentioned in the Old Testament hold significance in Islam, as well as other faiths including Mandaeism, the Druze religion, and Bahaism. Their enduring influence testifies to the legacy of the Kingdom of Israel.
The Achaemenid Persian Empire
The Achaemenid Empire, founded by Cyrus the Great in the 6th century BCE, stands as the first significant Persian empire in history.
Until its downfall at the hands of Alexander the Great, who also dismantled the Achaemenid state, this empire held the distinction of being the largest the world had ever witnessed. Its dominion extended from the borders of Greece in the Aegean to present-day Pakistan in South Asia.
From their capital in Persepolis, located in central Iran, the Persian emperors governed over a diverse and relatively tolerant society. Their reign set the standards for imperial opulence in the Middle East, a legacy that endured well into the 20th century.
Cyrus the Great is celebrated in biblical accounts for liberating the Jews from Babylonian captivity following his conquest of that empire. The achievements of the Achaemenid Empire included the establishment of complex bureaucratic systems to govern its vast territories and the construction of a network of roads connecting distant Achaemenid regions.
The Egyptian Empire
While Egyptian civilization traces its roots back to at least 3100 BCE, the territorial aspirations of earlier dynasties primarily focused on the Nile Delta and regions further south along the Nile River.
However, during the New Kingdom era, spanning approximately from 1570 BCE to 1069 BCE, the Ancient Egyptians experienced a transformative period. Fueled by their immense wealth and organized military, they expanded their dominion beyond their traditional borders. The Egyptian empire not only extended southward into Sudan but also reached into the Near East, encompassing territories as far north as southern Turkey.
This era marked a flourishing of diplomatic relations between Egypt and its neighboring regions. Diplomatic correspondences became commonplace, addressing matters of trade, military cooperation, royal marriages, and the exchange of gifts. Notably, this period saw the formation of the earliest recorded peace treaty in history, signed in 1269 BCE. The treaty, a consequence of Egyptian expansionism, emerged following the intense Battle of Kadesh and was agreed upon by Hattusili III of the Hittites and Ramses II.
The Babylonian Empire
The Babylonians, an ancient Semitic people, rose to power and inherited much of the territory once controlled by the Akkadians.
Their rule unfolded in two distinctive periods: the first was the Old Babylonian Empire, spanning from 1894 BCE to 1595 BCE, and the second was the Neo-Babylonian Empire, lasting from 626 BCE to 539 BCE, until their ultimate defeat at the hands of the Persians.
The Babylonians made notable strides in various fields, particularly in mathematics, where they excelled in the development of trigonometry and astronomy. Their mathematical achievements include the introduction of a sexagesimal system, which divided time and angles into units of 60. This legacy remains ingrained in our modern system of time measurement, with 60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour. Additionally, the Babylonians left a significant imprint on the field of law, often cited as one of their most renowned contributions.
The Babylonian civilization stands as a testament to their intellectual prowess and enduring contributions in diverse disciplines, shaping our understanding of mathematics, astronomy, and the principles of legal systems.