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History_of_Levant

'''The bronze age'''

The first cities started developing in southern [[Mesopotamia]] during the 4th millenium BC.  With these ties of religion began to replace ties of kinship as the basis for society.  Each city had a patron god, worshipped in a massive central temple called a ''[[ziggurat]]'', and was ruled by a priest-king (''ishakku'').  Society became more segmented and specialized and capable of coordinated projects like irrigation and warfare.

Along with cities came a number of advances in technology.  By around 3000 BC, writing, the wheel, and other such innovations had been introduced.  By now the SumerianPeoples of south Mesopotamia were all organized into a variety of independent [[City-State|City-States]], such as Ur and Uruk, which by around 2500 BC had begun to coalesce into larger political units.  By accomodating the conquered people's gods, religion became more polytheistic and government became somewhat more secular; the title of ''lugal'', big man, appears along side the earlier religious titles, although his primary duty is still the worship of the state gods.

This process came to its natural conclusion with the development of the first empires around 2350 BC.  A people called the [[Akkadians]] invaded the valley under Sargon I and established their supremacy over the [[Sumerians]].  They were followed by the empires of [[Ur]] (2200-2000) and the [[Old Kingdom of Babylonia]] (1800-1600).

Parallel developments were meanwhile occuring in [[Egypt]], which by 3100 BC had been unified to form the [[Old kingdom of Egypt|Old Kingdom]], and amongst the peoples of the [[Indus Valley]] in north-western [[India]].  All of these civilizations lie in fertile river valleys where agriculture is relatively easy once dams and irrigation are constructed to control the flood waters.

This started to change around the end of the third millenium as cities started to spread to the nearby hilly country: among the [[Assyrians]] in north Mesopotamia, the [[Canaanites]] in Syria-Palestine, to the [[Minoans]] in [[Crete]], and to the [[Hittites]] in eastern [[Anatolia]].  Around this same time various immigrants, such as the Hittites and [[Achaeans]], started appearing around the peripheries of civilization.

These groups are associated with the appearance of the light two-wheeled war chariot and typically with IndoEuropean languages.  Horses and chariots require a lot of time and upkeep, so their use was mainly confined to a small nobility.  These are the feudal "heroic" societies familiar to us from epics like the ''[[Iliad]]'' and the ''[[Ramayana]]''.

By around 1700-1500 most of the older centres had been overrun.  Babylonia was conquered by the Kassites and the civilization of the Indus Valley was annihilated by the [[Indo-Aryans]].  Their kin, the [[Mitanni]], subjugated Assyria and for a time menaced the Hittite kingdom, but were defeated by the two around 1350.  Various Achaean kingdoms developed in Greece, most notably that of [[Mycenae]], and by 1400 were dominant over the older Minoan cities.  And the semitic [[Hyskos]] used the new technologies to occupy Egypt, but were expelled, leaving the empire of the [[New Kingdom of Egypt|New Kindom]] to develop in their wake.

In 1200 BC all of these powers suddently collapsed.  Cities all around the eastern Meditteranean were sacked within a span of a few decades by assorted raiders.  The Achaean kingdoms disappeared, and the Hittite empire was destroyed.  Egypt repelled its attackers with only a major effort, and over the next century shrunk to its territorial core, its central authority permanently weakened.  Only Assyria escaped significant damage.

'''The iron age'''

The destruction at the end of the bronze age left a number of tiny kingdoms and [[City-State|City-States]] behind.  A few [[Hittite]] centres remained in northern [[Syria]], along with some Canaanite ([[Phoenician]]) ports that escaped destruction and now developed into great commercial powers.  Southern [[Palestine]] initially fell to the [[Philistines]], but by 1000 had been conquered by the [[Hebrews]].  And most of the interior, as well as [[Babylonia]], was overrun by [[Aramaeans]].

In this dark period a number of technological innovations spread, most notably iron working and the alphabet, developed by the Canaanites around 1500 BC.  Also around this time, the Hebrew religion developed into the first major [[Monotheism]], [[Judaism]], which is still practiced today.

During the 9th century the [[Assyrians]] began to reassert themselves against the incursions of the Aramaeans, and over the next few centuries developed into a powerful and well-organized empire.  Their armies were among the first to employ cavalry, which took the place of chariots, and had a reputation for both prowess and brutality.  At their height, the Assyrians dominated all of Syria-Palestine, Egypt, and Babylonia.  However, the empire began to collapse toward the end of the 7th century, and was obliterated by an alliance between a resurgent [[New Kindom of Babylonia]] and the Iranian [[Medes]].

The subsequent balance of power was short-lived, though.  In 550 BC the [[Persians]] revolted against the Medes and gained control of their empire, and over the next few decades annexed to it the realms of [[Lydia]] in [[Anatolia]], Babylonia, and Egypt, as well as consolidating their control over the Iranian plateau nearly as far as India.  This vast kingdom was divided up into various satrapies and governed roughly according to the Assyrian model, but with a far lighter hand.  Around this time [[Zoroastrianism]] became the predominant religion in [[Persia]].

'''The classical empires'''

From 492-449 BC the [[Persians]] made a series of unsuccesful attempts to conquer [[Greece]].  The civilization that had developed their since the end of the bronze age was organized along entirely different lines than those of the [[Middle East]], consisting of numerous small [[City-State|City-States]] fielding citizen militiae.  Nonetheless they banded together and proved quite capable of dealing with the massive armies of their foe.

By the fourth century [[Persia]] had fallen into decline.  The campaigns of [[Xenophon]] illustrated how very vulnerable it had become to attack by an army organized along [[Greek]] lines, but the Greek city-states had weakened each other irreparably through in-fighting.  However, in 338 BC the rising power of [[Macedonia]] overcame Greece, and under [[Alexander the Great]] turned its attention eastward.  Persia was conquered in little more than a decade.

Alexander did not live long enough to conciliate his realm, and in the half-century following his death (323) it was carved up by his feuding generals.  The [[Antigonids]] established themselves in Macedonia, the [[Ptolemies]] in Egypt, and various small principalities appeared in northern Anatolia.  The greater share of the east went to the descendents of [[Seleucus Nicator]].  This period saw great innovations in mathematics, science, architecture, and the like, and Greeks founded cities throughout the east, which grew to be the world's first major metropolises.  Their culture did not, however, reach very far into the countryside.

The [[Seleucids]] adopted a pro-western stance that alienated both the powerful eastern satraps and the Greeks who had migrated to the east.  During the second century BC the Greek culture lost ground there, and the empire began to break apart.  The province of [[Bactria]] revolted, and [[Parthia]] was conquered by the semi-nomadic [[Parni]].  By 141 BC the Parthians had established themselves as an empire, after the Seleucid model, and had conquered all of Iran and Mesopotamia.  The Seleucid kingdom continued to decline and its remaining provinces were annexed by the [[Roman Republic]] in 64 BC.

The [[Parthian]] nobility reacted against growing Roman influences around the turn of the millenium.  Throughout the next century there was a strong expansion of national culture and a dissolution in central authority.  In 114 AD Trajan temporarily occupied [[Mesopotamia]], and with the end of Hadrian's 40-year peace the two powers were at almost constant hostilities.  Mesopotamia was occupied again, but the Parthians recovered and pillaged the Roman provinces.  Shortly thereafter, though, the province of Persia rose up in revolt, and defeated the last Parthian emperor in 224. 

The new dynasty, the [[Sasanids]], restored central authority.  In this period [[Zoroastrianism]] developed into an organized religion with close ties to the new state.  Various sects of [[Christianity]] also spread throughout [[Iran]], and [[Manichaeism]] developed from the two religions; these were initially tolerated but later persecuted as the [[Romans]] followed the opposite route.  Conflicts with [[Rome]], and later the [[Byzantine Empire]], continued intermittently.

The [[Byzantines]] reached their lowest point under [[Phocas]], with the Sasanids occupying the whole of the eastern Meditteranean.  In 610, though, [[Heraclius]] took the thrown and began a succesful counter-attack, expelling the [[Persians]] and invading [[Media]] and [[Assyria]].  Unable to stop his advance, [[Khosrows II]] was assassinated and the Sasanid empire fell into anarchy.  Weakened by their quarrels, neither empire was prepared to deal with the onslaught of the [[Arabs]], newly unified under the banners of [[Islam]] and anxious to expand their faith.  By 650 they had conquered all of [[Persia]], [[Syria]], and [[Egypt]].

For subsequent history see [[History of Islam]].