“Thus I had the grief of discovering, in the Manichaean shrine K, a library which was utterly destroyed by water. When I had unearthed the door from the heaped-up loess dust and sand, we found on the threshold the dried-up corpse of a murdered Buddhist monk, his ritual robes all stained with blood. The whole room into which this door had led was covered to a depth of about two feet with a mass of what, on closer inspection, proved to be remains of Manichaean manuscripts. Loess water had penetrated the papers, stuck everything together, and in the terrible heat of the usual summer there, all these valuable books had turned into loess. I took specimens of them and dried them carefully in the hope of saving some of these manuscripts; but the separate pages crumbled off and dropped into small fragments on which the remains of beautifully written lines intermingled with traces of miniatures executed in gold, blue, red, green, and yellow, were still to be seen. An enormous treasure has been lost here...” Albert von Le Coq, Buried Treasures of Chinese Turkestan, Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York, Toronto, 1985, p. 61. By permission of Oxford University Press.
The ruin in question had been called Khocho, Ephesus, Dakianus, Idikuchahri, Kao-chang and Karakhoja. This chain of names reveals the rainbow of peoples it had once housed.
Von Le Coq, a German of French Huguenot extraction, had the good fortune to die before World War II (sic). Prior to and after WWI (sic), he had painstakingly retrieved priceless museums-full of art, manuscripts and artifacts from treasure troves abandoned along the Silk Road—or looted them, depending on your point of view. During World War II (sic), those museums were incinerated under a hail of Allied firebombs. Countless schools, libraries, museums, houses of worship, record repositories and oral traditions were annihilated at the same time. This annihilation goes on as we speak.
This chapter is a casual survey of the destruction of ancient libraries and archives. To those of you fascinated by fresher atrocities, consult “Burning Libraries (AD)”.
In many cases, a brief mention of empires and capital cities is the only clue we have of their disappearance. Their lost archives may have held vital pieces of our information puzzle. We’re so clever; no-one can recall what happened to most of them.
According to Howard Bloom’s The Lucifer Principle, human beings coagulate into social “super-organisms.” These may sometimes be based on shared genes and geography, but more often on shared memes: “theories, world views [and] cultures.” Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme” in The Selfish Gene, Oxford University, 1976. Merciless competition between meme super-organisms triggers most Prism misbehavior. The dissemination of Learner (and equivalents that may exist out there) is an uphill battle against the most dominant of cultural memes, weapon mentality.
Tracing the disappearance of great libraries is like answering the Zen riddle: What sound does a tree make if no one is present to hear its fall?
In his book, Famine: A Short History, (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2009, p. 36) Cormac Ó Gráda notes how few famines are recorded in ancient history. He goes on to hypothesize that all-out famines must have been relatively rare in the past, and those that occurred were for the most part short-lived and not Malthusian “demographic correctives.” Otherwise they would have punched such a hole in local populations based on subsistence agriculture and it minimal replacement rate (hovering just above 2.1 children per female most of the time: forty-year-olds were rare; soaring infant mortality was very much not) that extinction could not have been averted, at least regionally.
Similarly, the Encyclopedia of Plagues and Pestilence, (George Kohn, Ed., Facts on File, Inc., NY, NY, 1995), lists two dozen epidemics before 1000 CE, four and a half hundred since, two thirds of which occurred during the 19th and 20th century.
Even though it is not possible to prove a negative from mere lack of evidence, I’ll never let that stop me until factual counter-proof is offered. In the mean time, a novel hypothesis occurs to me.
Not only were ancient famines, follow-up epidemics and ensuing social chaos frequent, recurrent and ubiquitous, they were also hyper-lethal (approaching 100% casualties in cases of multi-year repetition) therefore devastating for urban settings that shared the same bioregional climate. It is rare to find plagues and famines on record in ancient times, not because they were mild and few and far between, but because they were so frequent and lethal that hardly any records survive. When an urban civilization collapsed, its written records rotted away unattended unless carved on massive stone monuments. Most of those carvings would have reflected fatter times during which they were inscribed—which is indeed the case for those we’ve dug up.
Scholars keep talking about a maximum one-third-mortality
rate during the European Black
Death, citing a few census registers that remain from (relatively) giant cities of that era. No-one reflects on the fact that urban populations may have been replaced several times by survivors streaming into town from the desolate countryside. Regional death rates, multiplied by the famine and military mayhem that must have followed, may have approached 100%. They would have killed off most of the original inhabitants and the most efficient scribes in those cities, where pestilence was constantly renewed by an influx of rural refugees. The ultimate record keepers, once the death toll began to drop off after its relentless peak, would have had other things on their mind than tallying every old corpse and listing every survivor’s résumé. Thus our optimistic, one in three death projection could have doubled or tripled in reality.
Ancient burial registers are even more misleading, as one could have disposed quite handily of over-numerous corpses in impromptu funeral pyres, backyard burials without records, and river, lake or sea dumping, rather than bury them in an orthodox, well-recorded manner.
Prof. Ó Gráda describes famine’s severity as a function of the number successive years during which drought and flood combined to blight harvests. In other words, one year of bad crops was tough: food prices shot up, and many more of the poor died than usual (when they died like flies anyway). The best government was stressed to provide relief; the worst, some sadistic pretense of order. There was a significant aggravation of profiteering from above and theft from below. Two years in a row were disastrous: many died among the young and the old of all classes, epidemics took hold as mass immunity was impaired by mass hunger, most elites gave up and ran away to infect outlying citadels. Bad harvests for three years and society simply collapsed: no-one was left to bury the dead, plant crops or harvest them, or just lead a civilized life; it was every man for himself; psychopathic anarchy reigned supreme, made hellish by routine bouts of cannibalism. Four years or more in succession and there was nothing left to consolidate except a bunch of post-traumatically stressed survivors living (literally) hand to mouth in empty ruins.
Setting aside its moral, aesthetic and culinary limitations, cannibalism was not a militarily sustainable solution. It magnified human cross-infection and killed off more precious labor than it fed, in a world that ran on human labor and not much else. It was unsustainable unless enough food crops were on hand to make it redundant, as shown in pre-Columbian civilizations whose many ancient cities now stand empty even though they once housed tens of thousands of people or more. Ruins of such towns pockmark the globe, like the ravaged face of a smallpox victim. Almost every major town in the Old World is underlain with several layers of older ruins that once flourished and were left carpeted with corpses; many more such sites are barren of a modern town.
Swarms of road warriors, (either local cannibals or non cannibal ruffians from the less infected regions) plundered at will. Or some wannabe warlord, with his horde of thugs, took over almost without resistance, ransacked and burned everything, killed everyone except nubile women, and either installed himself permanently, marched on through or wasted away from local disease.
Nowadays, historical epidemics are almost always described as the outbreak of a single disease, (plague, typhus, typhoid, yellow fever, smallpox, influenza, malaria, encephalitis, etc.). Quite often, the signs and symptoms carefully narrated at the time do not coincide with any disease known today. It was more likely that a host of lethal agents that had simmered endemically for a long time in the local population, combined to kill off immune-suppressed famine zombies with a new cocktail of dreadful afflictions.
It is only recently that the following phenomena have emerged:
· cosmopolitan populations, the survivors of a long series of epidemics from all over the world, somewhat immunized against new pandemics;
· mutually supporting urban centers so widespread they could draw strength from those outside the bioregional kill zone;
· food crops so diverse that the failure of a fragile, primary harvest could be compensated by more hardy, secondary ones;
· regional populations so dense that local mass casualties would be replaced by massive immigration; and
· literate leadership so numerous that its survivors could take up once again the reigns of civilized governance.
· public health measures (vaccination, antibiotics, soap and clean hot water, thus hygiene) that virtually eliminated the re-emergence of old epidemics, at least in populations rich enough to have “brought under control” their lethal conflicts;
· large populations of epidemically naïve people enormously vulnerable to new pandemics (Ebola, MERS, influenza);
· globalized food industries specializing in industrial monocultures, super-inbred and thus highly vulnerable to bad weather and new crop blights; and
· genetic engineering capable of custom-tailoring new plagues of absolute lethality, and end-times terrorists unafraid to use them against one and all, including their own people.
By these recent means, we have pushed back the threats of pestilence and famine somewhat, but retained their potential to re-emerge a thousand times more lethal. At least for the last few centuries in heavily inhabited parts of the world, the climate had grown so mild that such disasters only manifested as momentary, local blips in an ever-accelerating cycle of human multiplication. Global warming is likely to reverse this climate trend and its human growth rate, to our catastrophic hurt.
Thus have we been indisposed to consider the next series of decade-long, continent-spanning catastrophes and shield ourselves from their effect. Nowadays, all the governments of Earth should be stocking food reserves the way frantic squirrels would, like Joseph on behalf of Pharaoh.
If the prospect of reading a long list of dates and place names does not appeal to you, scan the next few paragraphs and skip the rest of this chapter (Burning Libraries BC) and the next (Burning Libraries AD). Hopefully, you will have begun to grasp the vast sinkholes of lost memory we can’t overlook or recover. Huge treasure-troves of information have sunk into uncharted oblivion. Peace information (perhaps crucial to our well-being) has disappeared at alarming rates—almost as quickly as Learners could acquire it.
Look around you. Recall that we are sitting down together to share a super-deluxe pizza that stretches out past the horizon, covered with thick toppings of mouth-watering goodies. But we are starving, since we focus our attention on a very narrow slice of this pie, a mere degree in width, charred black and gnawed bare: WeaponWorld and its peripheral supports. The infinite leftover (PeaceWorld) we hold out of sight and out of mind—as pseudo-science, magic, fantasy and utopian dream.
This chapter glosses vast stretches of space-time. Oftentimes, tales of destruction have grown so wanton and redundant that I had to abridge, condense and skip many. I have struggled against the myopic worldview inherited from my Western upbringing. According to it, the universe is an idealized dartboard laid out as follows. Caucasian nobility and upper bourgeoisie, their sycophants and satirists occupy a giant bull’s eye of exhaustive glorification. History’s worst pirates and murderers are honored with ceremonial salutes. Intensive study is made of Jewish, Greek and Roman war tribes—at the expense of everyone else.
Even those well-known tribes lost more than 99% of their literature.
Otherwise, a fixed inventory of soap opera novels and philosophical quibbles (the Great Books, with but few exceptions) is selected for crashing boredom, labyrinthine verbiage (see Kant, Marx, et al.), biographical reductionism, trivial redundancy and masterful obscurantism. Its ultimate value may be summarized as follows: it provides a thorny obstacle course for grad students, and an elaborate cultural code, the elements of which weapon elites may swap enthusiastically and forever without clarifying any of the worst social contradictions. A greasy smokescreen that reveals nothing important: what a compendium of genius! While our real Learning texts have disappeared.
A handful of thousand-year religious texts provided job security for ancient copywriters who cloaked their ignorance in ambiguity. Today’s fundamentalists grace us with their “literal” misinterpretations of comparable value and clarity.
Weapon-narrowed technologies are analyzed in microscopic detail along with the skeleton of scientific dogma that supports them. Then they are declared the only certainties in the Universe. I haven’t heard such unbelievable bunk sustained with such obstinacy since, maybe, Lagash. Meanwhile, few texts remain on the destruction of ancient thought or on peace in general, for that matter: perhaps the most important and poorly documented topics on Earth.
Historical dates appear to fluctuate in proportion to the number of historians consulted and inversely to their expressions of certitude. For convenience’s sake, I used the last date referenced, provided it meshed with adjacent events. I invoked Procrustes whenever I had to trim dates to measure. Torn between the inter-relatedness of events and strict chronology, I’m afraid I’ve done violence to both.
My thanks to Hammond Past Worlds: The Times Atlas of Archaeology; Encyclopedia of Library Science; The Timetables of History – The New Third Revised Edition by Bernard Grun; Timelines of War: A Chronology of Warfare from 10000 BC to the Present by David Brownstone and Irene Frank; The Encyclopedia of Military History by the Dupuy Brothers; Joseph A. Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies; Grousset’s The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia as translated by Naomi Walford; War and the World: Military Power and the Fate of Continents by Jeremy Black; and The New York Library Book of Chronologies by Bruce Wetterau. Those texts provided multiple chronologies and cross-references, as did others cited below. Also, Beck’s History of Ethics Chronological Index filled in many gaps; available at http://www.san.beck.org/AB-Chronology750-1300.html.
Those texts and others cited below offered me many citations and chronologies; many more did not get the mention they deserve here. I am afraid I read them long before I began documenting this research in earnest. I was born knowing nothing of this stuff, so I should have annotated every item.
Ancient cities formed sequential stacks of ruins based on some combination of sweet water, dependable crops, economic opportunity, terrain both defensible locally and accessible regionally. Usually, some navigable waterway – provided the natural highway of ancient bulk transport, a dependable source of high-quality protein: fish, and a means to wash away the worst urban waste. That was required for a real city, each one built upon the ruins of its (perhaps more elegant) predecessors.
For every mangled remnant of a text collection retained from the past, hundreds of royal libraries and thousands of oral histories never made it. We have forgotten uncounted preliterate healers, bards, scribes, sibyls, shamans and mages, in addition to conventional authors, editors, publishers and librarians. All of them celebrated the wisdom of their people; all of them forgotten.
For example, of the 142 books written by Livy, only 35 remain. He was one of the best documented of ancient Roman historians. You’ll find some more examples in this book, and will have to imagine many more for which no documentation remains. While you read this chapter, picture countless archives crumbling to dust and ashes; but think also of exquisite poetry, religion, medicine, psychology, botany, etc. – entire prehistoric civilizations, oral and written – silenced forever.
Remember, for the greater part of historic time, soldiers were rarely paid except with weapons, booty and rations (and often not even those). Wherever ancient armies marched, misery trailed close behind, among the camp followers.
Recall also that Saddam Hussein’s tyranny was pretty middling compared to most of those of old. His many persecutions and crimes mirrored those of antique weapon lords. Just as resentment and payback fantasies must have festered thick among ancient city dwellers, as well as Ali Baba dreams of getting rich quick while no-one stood guard. Thus, when ancient “regime change” induced a temporary vapor-lock of power, local criminals rose up in riot, looting and arson, the same way the worst Baghdadis did when they got the chance. Any urban booty that armies had not destroyed or carried away, local survivors would have plundered.
I have tried to list the destruction of as many big towns as I could find. But do not assume that peace reigned elsewhere, just because I made no mention of wars in that space-time continuum. Essentially, no civilization avoided war for much longer than a generation. Look at us; we haven’t. And we’re so very advanced, sophisticated and peace loving!
Quite frequently, natural catastrophes overtook entire civilizations. At least every five years for the past few thousand, somewhere around the world, some important document collection suffered major damage along with its host population. Quite frequently, independent civilizations collapsed all at once, no matter how far apart their cities were spaced across the planet.
While the boastful inscriptions and booty ledgers of greasy warlords recorded now and then the devastation summarized below, often no literati (literates, Learners) survived to lament the end of remarkable civilizations. In effect, entire civilizations were erased from human memory—probably a majority of them and certainly the most peaceful ones.
According to Rick Potts in Humanity’s Descent (William Morrow and Co., New York, 1996, pp. 201-203), the oldest symbolic artifact is a female figurine carved from an exotic pebble, unearthed from an Israeli dig and dated 230,000 years old. In 2003, a perfectly formed hand-axe was found in a burial pit 300,000 years old and those less sophisticated, 500,000. In 2008, traces of a fire were found, that had been set 790,000 years ago. Recognizable tools of chipped rock date back two and half million years in Africa; more sophisticated, bi-faced hand axes, as of 1.78 million years ago. All kinds of specialized hand-rock tool kits evolved about 150,000 years ago, including a regional trade in favored kinds of stone. 130,000 years ago, Neanderthals carved, notched and engraved animal bones and teeth. Recognizable human symbols became widespread about 40,000 years ago. Their diversity exploded around 18,000 years ago, when climatic spikes of forbidding northern glaciers and frigid southern deserts drove human survivors into the Fertile Crescent.
Our ancestors, human and pre-human, were hammered without mercy. We are history’s anviled progeny, beaten flat in a thousand folds like the steel of a Japanese sword or a French crumb pastry. Human DNA was brutally jetted through genetic bottlenecks where all but a handful of breeding lines were wiped out. This has befallen us so often that we have become hard, sharp and brittle indeed – as well as close siblings – all seven billion of us.
Personal codes, memory aids and perished written media may have driven Neolithic (10,000-50,000+ years ago), Paleolithic (older) or pre-human civilization.
After all, the few blue whales that survive these days, share daylong tunes planet-wide that vary seasonally. Do they demonstrate an advanced culture stripped of “hard” technology?
Beyond a few knickknacks, cave wall paintings, knot strings and burial sites, we recognize no records so old nor such signs of ancient sentience. The scope of our arrogance is astounding; it is only matched by the depth of our ignorance.
Denise Schmandt-Besserat published her brainstorm in Before Writing, Volume One: From Counting to Cuneiform, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1992. She figured out that clay tokens were used as counting devices and memory enhancers long before humans developed the writing we know about (8,000 to 4,000 BCE – before the Christian Era). The first written words were encoded inventories inscribed on the outside of clay “envelopes” that held these tokens. Such tokens are uncovered from many prehistoric digs; they are some of the oldest fired-clay artifacts. Up until her time, we presumed that pre-historic writing never existed: a typical human conceit.
In The Chalice & the Blade, Riane Eisler presents a compelling case. She bases it on her interpretation of Marija Gimbutas, The Language of the Goddess: Unearthing the Hidden Symbols of Western Civilization, 1989, Thames and Hudson, London.
About ten thousand years ago, matrilineal societies worshipped the Goddess. They occupied unfortified sites across Europe, Anatolia and the Middle East. Apparently, these people separated according to the articles they left in funeral sites: Beaker people and Axe people. The former buried (drinking?) beakers of soft metal with their dead; the latter, thin stone axe blades shaped like half- or quarter-moons, fragile and impractical as weapons.
Their villages were lovingly selected for beautiful vistas, fertile fields and sweet water nearby. Houses were of uniform quality and surprisingly current design; they boasted whitewashed, multi-room interiors, latching doors, overhead storage bins and windows fitted with clear membranes. Their grain was stored in pits carefully lined with clay; this sealed moisture out and pest-destroying fermentation gasses in.
Is that why soda pop and beer go down so well with our cheapest fast food? Their carbon dioxide content would kill off nasty "bugs" that might otherwise provoke indigestion.
From Europe and Western Asia to many places in North Africa and the Middle East, we’ve found red ocher-covered remains and flower-filled burial sites. Many stylized female figurines surfaced, as did sculpted bull’s heads, moon crests, and double-headed axes (labrys) made from thin sheets of copper (i.e.: ornamental and non-weapon grade). Elitist claptrap such as weapons, body armor and city fortifications were largely absent.
It is anyone’s guess how these people handled the inevitable sociopaths and psychopaths that human genetics inevitably throw up if not modified. The most treacherous ones may have been exiled out into the wilderness, and surviving outcasts might have radiated out onto the Eurasian steppe to form the killer hordes described below. Otherwise, I’m afraid this Goddess worship cult might have implied the selective human sacrifice of the worst deviants.
This cult might have reflected a superior culture that thrived beforehand, drowned since.
Robert O’Connell, in Ride of the Second Horseman: The Birth and Death of War, believes that humans started out as peaceable, fully free Bushman-style hunter-scavengers.
At first, they raised a few children devotedly into sane and healthy adults. Afterward, they fell victim to the Plant Trap. In exchange for a marginally more reliable food source, the Plant Trap demanded unending stoop labor, submission to routine toil unbefitting proud huntsmen, and female hyper-fertility.
Plant-trapped women had to bear too many children; they were too abused, degraded and overworked to give their infants proper care. For example, prolonged breastfeeding was a natural method of pre-Plant Trap birth control, abandoned since. It also ensured that most infants would benefit from lavish attention and fondling during their first five years of life.
Babies held at adult height would naturally assume an adult perspective of the world, much more readily than those that crawled along the ground or were wheeled ones. Fondled and carried aloft during their waking infancy, their bodies would have developed with stronger immunity, bones and musculature along with more extensive neural networks.
The Plant Trap took away these hunter-gatherer benefits through parental overwork, exhaustion and neglect. These problems were worsened by small village hydro-agriculture and its evermore-intensive labor requirements. They finally became unmanageable by free people when slave-driven hydraulic civilizations – the weapon organizations our historians love to praise – demanded corvée labor (korvay, “fatigue duty”, seasonal forced labor).
No matter how hard the toil of those caught up in the Plant Trap, terrible famines followed transient years of plenty. While hyper-fertility multiplied farming manpower, it also accelerated epidemics and high infant mortality made plagues inevitable by the dense populations that agriculture demanded. Eventually, over-cultivated ecosystems collapsed and famine followed close behind. Warfare turned into a favorite means of fine-tuning the reciprocating engine of population explosion and collapse.
There ensued the split between Cain and Able, the herdsman and the farmer. Note that, as distinct from our bias, the farmer was found guilty in this story whose originators must have been biblical era herdsmen. The Bad Guy is always the Other in these stories, even though, from a psycho-statistical perspective, half of your potential friends are among the Others and a fraction of your real enemies, the psychopaths, among your own. Please note.
By the way, farm animals incubated most human epidemics. Pandemics had to wait for the urban world. Few diseases could jump from wild animals to hunter-gatherers and then spread beyond the initial infection site. Hunter-gatherers were too isolated from their fellows, compared to townfolk.
I’m beginning to change my mind on this topic. The transmission of global pandemics via wild birds (as we’ve discovered with Avian Flu, West Nile Virus, etc.) could have struck these hunter-gatherers just as hard. In the absence of compulsive taboos forbidding them from eating infected species ‒ more easily caught on the fly or harvested once aground ‒ those birds would have presented as much of a death threat to hunter-gatherers as to townspeople. Given a sky filled with infected birds, and hunting grounds crawling with sick scavengers, the relative dispersal of hunter-gatherers compared to the cheek-by-jowl of city slickers, those factors would have been irrelevant to this epidemiological problem. Otherwise, ancient infections could have been dispersed by those filthy hypodermic needles in flight, mosquitoes.
Anyway, herdsmen were at their most miserable in late winter when their livestock was scrawny and least trade-worthy. At such times, herdsmen were sorely tempted to raid farm communities and rip off their known surpluses. However, while raider mobs headed home laden down with loot, they were vulnerable to rapid pursuit, ambush and reprisal. According to O’Connell, they resorted to ultra-violence against the villagers so that their shock and grief would impede effective pursuit. The farmers’ horrified reaction was to fortify their village walls; and those fortified enclosures became pressure-cookers of social stress, pestilence and tyranny. Besides, fortified farmers began attacking unfortified neighbors. Eventually, every community got caught up in the bloody game. So concludes Mr. O’Connell.
This outcome would have resembled what befell the ancient Iroquois. Intertribal warfare, fanned by overpopulation and resource depletion, grew so fierce that military anarchy reigned supreme. No-one could venture in safety beyond tribal fortifications to glean, hunt, fish, fetch water and tend crops. Starvation ruled the long houses and cannibalism became commonplace. No warrior mythology could survive such abuse.
The Iroquois endured endless misery and despair until they heeded the words of their Peace Maker, Deganawida. He was a Huron and should have been considered a dangerous outsider and a potential threat. Instead, when he preached of peace, abundance and confederation, they listened and followed his advice with religious conviction. Thus arose the most powerful Indian confederation, the Six Nations, which governed itself in internal peace for centuries.
Eventually, pro-French, isolationist and pro-British factions tore the Iroquois Confederacy apart. It became the prey of Western predation and disease. The framers of the American Constitution lifted valuable inspiration and governing models from traditional Iroquois politics. The first American Constitution was written in wampum.
Riane Eisler differs slightly in describing the outbreak of organized human violence. From 5000 BCE onward, Kurgan war bands overran every unfortified, Goddess worshipping community. Presumably, they exterminated everyone they found except little girls.
A few grandiose palaces arose amidst miserable hovels, human sacrifice burials, elaborate weapon caches and oft-burnt stockades. Perched on earthen mounds and rocky crags, these fortifications were inaccessible, toilsome, ugly and uncomfortable. The rule of conscience was drowned in innocent blood. Our culture never recovered from this global disaster mechanically self-repeating.
Lovely, modernistic figurines from the Cycladic Islands date back to 3500 BCE; other such cult artifacts dot Mediterranean shores.
Goddess worship barely survives today; it was decimated at repeated intervals by patriarchal decree. It has taken sophisticated weapons elites like ours plenty of patience and cunning to extirpate this worship. Nowadays, disinformation replaces brutality; goddess worshipers are slandered and trivialized instead of being massacred outright.
Later chroniclers would hearken back to a “Golden Age” long past. They consigned subsequent generations to degenerate Bronze and Iron ages corresponding to the weapon-grade materials at hand.
The Indian Vedas describe a longer succession of Ages (Yuga, Yurga) in nested cycles lasting 25,772 years. Each corresponds to one recession of the vernal equinox: the complete rotation in the heavens of Earth’s polar axis, also the oscillation of the solar system’s orbital plane above and below the galactic equator, whose duration modern science confirms.
Humankind has emerged from (into?) the Kali Yuga, the last and worst of four Ages, from which morality, empathy and goodness have virtually bled dry compared to the other Yugas. http://cycle-of-time.net/cycles_of_precession.htm
In this scenario, we figure as Dioxin People of the Plutonium Age: “half clay and half iron” per Daniel’s Old Testament nightmare. We have turned into degenerate creatures fleeing from the sharpened hooves of the Four Horsemen to whom we’ve surrendered this planet: famine, pestilence, war and death. Then again, since we’ve hit bottom in terms of public morality, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere to go, but up. I beg of you, rise up!
Chinese civilization arose nearly a thousand years after the Nilotic (Egyptian) and thousands more after the Dravidian (Indo-Pakistani). Peaceful, Neolithic China seems to have suffered a similar degeneration. The cultivation of millet dates back to 8,000 BCE in the North; and that of rice, to 5,000 BCE in the South. An archeologically recognizable transition, from pastoral peacefulness to military chaos, crushed China under hooves of Central Asian nomad cavalry from 3000 BCE onwards.
Recent (2008) discoveries in Syria show that wild cereals were gathered from 15,000 to 18,000 years ago, before the last glacial maximum. http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/research_pushes_back/. It is likely that primitive agricultural communities, as old or older, will be dug up in the future. Potsherds have surfaced on the Japanese islands of Tsushima, Kyushu and Shikoku that date as far back as the 16th millennium BCE.
The construction of a series of terraces involved lifting 885 meters (2904 feet) up Gunung (Mount) Padang over a million tons of stone blocks averaging 300 kilograms (660 pounds) apiece from an unknown quarry. These rare masses are lithophonic: they ring with their own music like those at Stonehenge. This mysterious, Indonesian “Shrine of the Sun” has been dated as far back as 14,000 BCE.
At Visocica Hill in Bosnia-Herzegovina (nearby to Sarajevo), a group of pyramids up to 720 feet high (thus taller than those at Gizeh in Egypt), made of a high-quality concrete of an unknown kind, has been recently unearthed from its few inches of topsoil. The whole is said to date back 12,000 years.
At Nan Madol, 250 million tons of prismatic basalt and thousands of cubic meters/yards of coral were stacked in towers and courtyards up to 8 meters above sea level, in 96 artificial islands over an area 18 square kilometers. Accurate geological dating cannot be determined due its distant archipelago setting in the Western Pacific, and its structures of stone on the island of Pohnpei.
Hundreds of standing stones were discovered at Gobekli Tepe in Anatolia in 1994, pairs of which are stacked in the form of a T, are carved with high-relief friezes of animals and stylized human figures. They date back at least 9,000 years, thus to 7,000 BCE or prior, even prior to recognized agriculture. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%B6bekli_Tepe.
Among the oldest known Neolithic villages is Catal Huyuk, founded in Anatolia c. (circa) 7000 BCE. Drawings, sculptures, tools, weapons, even a town map were found there.
Mehrgarh, a primeval town in what is now Pakistan, was founded in the 7th millennium BCE. Lipinski Vir, just off the Iron Gates of the Danube, was occupied c. 6000 BCE. Its inhabitants were hunter-gatherer villagers before they became farmers, proving this transition is possible. As did American Indian tribes of the Pacific Northwest, whose settled societies (among the wealthiest in North America) were based on salmon fishing to supplement forest hunting and gathering. It’s anyone’s guess how many more fisheries/gardening communities were annihilated by rival agricultural/nomad militarists.
The oldest village discovered in Europe is Provadia in Bulgaria; it dates between 4700 and 4200 BCE. Its 350 inhabitants ran a salt-boiling operation that earned them a gold cache. They huddled behind a stone perimeter wall ten feet high and six feet thick. Rare wealth, growing insecurity and panic hysteria have gone hand-in-hand throughout history.
In a dig forty miles to the south of Paris, a skeleton was discovered dating back to 4900 BCE. The patient’s forearm had been surgically amputated and he survived this operation for at least several months. The absence of bodily infection indicates that the operation was staged in a sterile field and that some sort of anesthesia was used. http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/content/view/38229/
Around Varna in Bulgaria, from 5,000 BCE on, a civilization called “Ancient Europe” evolved an entire trading network of copper that had been purified with great heat and exported all the way to the Volga, of Spondylus shell jewelry imported from the Aegean Sea, as well as other remarkable arts and crafts. If you subscribe to the degenerate belief that hierarchical societies might have been superior to egalitarian ones (in any context but the military one), this one had already achieved this level of organization.
Arslantepe (Turkish for Lion Gate) was founded about 4,250 BCE. By 4,000 BCE, a major temple had been built on the site for the storage and distribution of food. Cereals had already been cultivated in Anatolia for three thousand years, and a thousand years prior in Palestine. Arslantepe would be abandoned during the collapse of the Assyrian Empire around 610 BCE.
The first traces of humanity in the New World date up to 15,000 years in the past, and perhaps to 200,000 prior. http://www.humanjourney.us/america.html
The first documented American civilization sprang up about 5,000 years ago or 3,000 BCE. The “first” urban civilization in South America is lately said to be Caral, 120 miles north of Lima, Peru. Its excavation came complete with monumental architecture and irrigation farming dating back to 2,627 BCE (thus contemporary with Egyptian equivalents). The site of Norte Chico was excavated on the Peruvian Plateau. It lasted for 1,200 years before its people moved to the north and the south into larger upland valleys and converted from fishing and gardening as primary food sources to the intensive cultivation of corn. (http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn6829 ).
The first known documents began with an Egyptian calendar stretching back to 4,241 BCE. Vedic texts may be (much) older, based on old astronomical observations found in them. These Vedas were transmitted by means of miraculously error-free oral recitation across thousands of years of absolute illiteracy. Entire Vedic texts disappeared in the process, no doubt the more peaceful ones.
Egypt first united around 3,100 BCE. Shielded by vast desert wastes, proto-Egyptians endured many civil wars (including a seven hundred year hiatus chillingly dubbed “Anarchy”). Eventually, national power consolidated along the Nile’s narrow flood plain.
It used to be strictly forbidden to build urban enclaves on that flood plain reserved for agricultural use alone. We shall see if Egyptians come to regret having disobeyed such a strict commandment.
Egypt was raided, invaded, occupied by and self-liberated from the Nubians and their northern allies, the Hyksos, in 1800-1600 BCE; the People of the Sea in 1200-1170 BCE; Philistines and Ethiopians in 730 BCE; and Assyrians and Libyans in 671 BCE. Around 661 BCE, the Assyrians managed to sack Thebes. It had been the Egyptian capital since 2100 BCE with its giant Temple of Ammon. In 605 BCE, Babylonia drove Egyptian armies from Syria and Palestine.
Back in those days, in those cities that we can “read into,” nothing existed but palaces, barracks, bazaars and hovel/shops. For millennia, local “temples” served as banks, mints, monasteries, palmistries, time and calendar keepers, geomancies, post offices, warehouses, wholesalers, hotels, brothels, museums, libraries, publishing houses, advertising agencies, newspapers, radio stations, cathedrals, theaters, casinos, flophouses, observatories, hospitals and universities, plus other functions forgotten since. If you valued curiosity, imagination and fellow-feeling, priesthood was the only game in town, despite its inbuilt reactionary tendencies.
What was the attrition rate of ancient Egyptian archives? Think how easily buried vaults-full of papyrus and clay tablets must have disappeared during long centuries or mere months of bloody anarchy. Dust to clay – then fire, blood and flood – then back again to dust.
The foremost Egyptian library probably lies sunken under the bed of the Nile – intact and unrecognized – level with the Pyramids at Gizeh. Its location would be cryptically indicated by a geometrical relationship between those pyramids and the stars of the constellation Orion. In this case, the Nile would represent the Milky Way. The library’s location, buried and sealed below the waters of the Nile, would be represented by the brightest star at the intersection of the Milky Way and this constellation as oriented when these monuments were built, and that did not already reflect an existing monument; otherwise, wherever it would be least inconvenient to divert the Nile upstream of another passage of that river corresponding to another astronomical house. No one in a position of authority seems to care. This might not be such a bad thing, given the prevalence modern grave robbers, their long reach and sticky finger; much less the sledge hammers, bulldozers and dynamite of today’s fundamentalist iconoclasts.
Today’s fundamentalist iconoclasts! Andrew Brevig declared sound of mind after having massacred 70 children in a day. Homelessness or prison for the mentally ill as an institutional expedients. We haven’t built enough insane asylums or hired enough psychiatrists—to treat the insanity of current world leadership.
Unbaked, soft clay tablets turned into indestructible ceramic when imperial palaces burned down with their library annexes. There remains the minor problem of uncovering those collections and deciphering them. Forget tree leaf, parchment, vellum, paper and papyrus archives; any environment less sterile than a salt desert would have rotted them away.
Think of these ephemeral archives. Were cuneiform markings scribed by fingernail on leaves fresh-picked from broadleaf trees that lined the avenues of stately cities? That’s how I would have pictured it, had there been nothing but Nature and low-tech to call upon. Any document so transcribed would be less than mulch today; archives containing those documents would have wound up ankle deep in indecipherable loam.
Some ancient Chinese collections survived:
· The An-yang, Hunan collection of Shang Dynasty oracle bones 1523-1027 BCE;
· The Ma-wang-tui collection of 120,000 characters inscribed on silk, 722-481+ BCE;
· The collection at Chu-yen Lake in NW China. 10,330 pieces of poplar or willow bark inscribed and bundled together. The collection covers a period from 468-221 BCE;
· The collection of Tun-huang, Kansu. 20,000 paper scrolls from 406 CE (Christian Era) into the 1000’s CE; and
· The collection of Yin-ch’uen-shan, Lin-i County, Shantung: 4,942 bamboo slips in Han tombs from circa 1100-1200 CE, including the original manuscript of Sun Pin’s Ping-Fa, The Art of War. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/book/10.1081/E-ELIS3
Please excuse me for not using the approved Pinyin Chinese-English transliteration script. I have grown too old and slow to learn another foreign alphabet and exotic spelling system (there seems to be a new, gobbledygook one for every foreign language transcribed into English―with little justification beyond the prickly national pride of the linguists involved). I have a hard enough time dealing with common English, much less HTML, much less some indecipherable ᾂлfᾇβἓt dreamt up by frustrated foreign nationalists…thank you very much.
The feudal Chou oversaw the first Golden Age of China when they carefully balanced mundane coercion against the newfound payoffs of civilization. Their proto-peace technology lasted from 1122 BCE until 771 BCE. It was during this period of peace, and the following ages of trouble, that the Confucian canon, the Five Classics, was written. They include the I Ching (Book of Changes), the Shu Ching (Book of History), the Shih Ching (Book of Odes), the Li Chi (Book of Rites), and the Ch’un Ch’u (Spring and Autumn Annals). The last ruler of Western Chou died in battle. Northern invaders profited from internal discord to sack his capital, Hao. The Eastern Chou never took up the slack from their capital at Loyang.
China endured vicious assaults through the Spring and Autumn period (770-464 BCE) and the Warring States period (463-222 BCE). Wu forces under General Sun Tzu, author of yet another Art of War, destroyed the Ying capital, Ch’u (modern Jiang-ling, Hubei) in 506 BCE. The Four Books comprise the Lun Yü (the Analects of Confucius), the Meng Tsu (the Book of Mencius), the Ta Hsüeh (a treatise on practical wisdom) and the Chung Yung (the Doctrine of the Mean). These nine works would form the bedrock of Chinese thought for the next three thousand years. What equivalent or superior works perished?
In 213 BCE, Prince Chen Shih-huang-ti (First Ch’in Emperor) complied with the advice of his prime minister, the reactionary Legalist Li Ssu, and proscribed all schools of philosophy. He had every book burnt except the writings of fellow Legalists and “useful” works on medicine, divination and agriculture. Seven years later – after many book lovers in China had been buried alive for shielding their library and almost all their books had been burned – the Ch’in capital at Hsien-yang burned down. This fire destroyed the last copy of most of the proscribed titles.
Founders of the Han Dynasty rescued a few useful texts before the old capital burned down. The brilliantly cruel Han established two archives: Shih-ch’u Hall and T’ien-lu Hall.
Emperor Wu established more collections around 147-80 BCE. Ssu-ma Chien studied Chinese imperial collections intensively in order to prepare his Shih Chi (Historical Records) circa 100 BCE. Around the year one CE, Lui Hsiang produced the first known annotated Chinese bibliography, the Pieh Lu. His son, Liu Hsin, produced China’s first surviving classified catalog, the Ch’i lueh.
Elsewhere, the Sumerian record goes back to the fifth archaeological level of Uruk, which dates from around 3500 BCE. Up until around 2000 BCE, Sumerian text remnants are rare. Uruk ruled until 1700 BCE, the date of origin of a King’s List: our periscope into Sumerian proto-history. At that time, the cities Ur and Mari contended for dominance. The empire of Akkad stretched from the Mediterranean to the northern headwaters of the Tigris-Euphrates. It lasted from 2,340 to 2,154 BCE when its purpose-built capital, Agade, disappeared under a swarm of disgruntled mountaineers, never to re-emerge.
Nearly simultaneously, some planetary disaster overtook the Old Kingdom of Egypt; the Early Bronze Age cultures of Israel, Anatolia and Greece; the Indus Valley civilizations of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro; that of Hilmand in Afghanistan; and the Hongshan Culture in China. Every urban culture in the Old World was destroyed at the same time: (World War, indeed!).
From their ancient city of Ur, the Chaldeans ruled both Akkad and Sumer. Elamite invaders sacked it in 2,000 BCE. Established around 3,500 BCE, Ur was flash-buried under eight feet of river sediment sometime around 300 BCE. Sumerian writing was the most sophisticated literary medium of its day; it served Middle-Eastern elites much the same way Chinese served the feudal Japanese, Koreans and Vietnamese; Latin did Europeans during the Middle Ages; and the elaborations of calculus distinguish our info elites from their less numerate info proletarians like me.
Babylon was established c. 2,000 BCE. The cities of Larsa, Isin, Eshnunna, Marti, Khana, Elam and Ugarit were founded around the same time. The Hittites took over Babylon in the 18th century BCE, and the Cassites, in 1746 BCE. In 1759 BCE, Hammurabi of Babylon sacked Mari, a Syrian city that had reigned supreme for centuries. Its archive of 25,000 cuneiform tablets is our principal source of historical texts for Northern Syria and Mesopotamia.
Assyrian Emperors applied military terrorism with systematic obsession. They sought iron-fisted control over the cities of the upper Tigris, from 3,000 until as late as 612 BCE. They did this despite Hittite raids from the northwest, Sumerian-Babylonian conflicts in the southeast and widespread rebellion in every community they conquered, at every opportunity, no matter how desperate the outlook.
Anything, up to and including elaborate torture and death at Assyrian hands, was preferable to their long-term rule. Rebellion became inevitable. A word of warning to those who worship the death penalty and the structural brutality that it inflicts on its society. After five thousand years of failure to establish justice, the death penalty is no more useful today than it was back then, except as a hobby for local psychopaths.
Babylon was sacked around 1180 BCE, this time by the Assyrians. Among other cities, the Assyrians destroyed Babylon in 689 BCE, then Susa, capital of Elam, dating back to 5000 BCE. Vengeful Babylonian survivors then massacred the forces of Elam, Assyria and Arabia. I wonder how many people changed sides at the last moment.
Even the location of the Mittani Empire’s capital, Washukanni, is unknown. Much like the United States of America, the Mittani were the cat’s meow for a couple centuries between 1595 and 1334 BCE. The Hittites conquered many Mittani cities, including Aleppo. Their capital, Hattush or Khattusha (near the Turkish village of Boghazkoy) lasted from 1792 BCE until just before 1380 BCE, when either the Gasga (Kaska) or the Peoples of the Sea burned it to the ground. At that point, the Hittite Empire achieved military parity once again with Egypt, only to see its Syrian and Anatolian cities succumb around 1204 BCE. Local writings vanished for over a century.
Minoan civilization arose on the island of Crete around 2000 BCE. Its combination temple-commissary-civic-center-palace structures were rebuilt in 1700 BCE, after a series of earthquakes, revolts and/or raids damaged them. The Minoan Golden Age lasted until 1450 BCE, when the nearby volcano, Thera, exploded. It annihilated the societies established on Thera, Crete, and who knows where else across the Aegean and further downwind?
Theran culture may have been more brilliant than the Minoan, the same way St. Petersburg outshines stuffy old Moscow. Or it may be that Thera was a military base and naval harbor dedicated to the defense of the demilitarized and idyllic island of Crete, the same way Pearl Harbor serves the other enchanted islands of Hawaii.
In any case, this eruption projected mighty tidal waves across Aegean shores and disrupted growth seasons with meter (yard) deep ash falls. It probably wrecked every flotilla in harbor and on the beach. Opportunistic (Mycenaean?) invaders followed up with gusto, snuffing out this beacon of civilization.
In their heyday, the Minoans achieved civilization through Goddess cult redistribution of forest products, highland wildlife, abundant fisheries, fertile agriculture and master craftsmanship. Olive groves had flourished in Crete since at least 3,500 BCE. (Based on recent archeological evidence, the Armenians may have been the earliest cultivators of the vine). Relatively few and insignificant fortifications were found there; no fortified harbors, no city walls, no militarist or kingly inscriptions.
Minoan frescoes and potsherds were decorated with a fantastic naturalism. That and their preference for ochre red and carbon black call to mind Neolithic artwork. Bronze circlets girded wasp-waisted youths and fashionable attire uncovered young women’s breasts. With all due respect to Ursula Le Guin, I salute a culture lighthearted and self-disciplined enough to permit this fashion statement without disrupting the peace. Imagine the uproar this kind of indulgence would cause in our “modern” barbaric societies.
Clean running water was piped into homes (even heated water), and wastewater, piped away. Houses were of equal size and quality across the population. Another peaceful equity we haven’t matched since.
Bulls are depicted tossing priestly dancer/acrobats between their horns and over their mighty shoulders: a ceremony thought to portray a suicidal and practically impossible ritual confrontation. A fighting bull doesn’t raise his horns straight up, the way a bulldozer operator lifts his blade. Instead, it hooks its horns diagonally from below into the vitals of its enemy, the way a sly knife fighter would. That doesn’t lend itself to gymnastics.
More likely, children destined for priesthood were taught to raise prized calves as beloved pets, then trained with them as adolescents to act out this sacred dancing game. In the same way, Asian peasant children frolic with the family’s water buffalo in the village duck pond, even though strangers (especially suetty Westerners) risk sullen attack from the same tame beasts.
Some people assert that the entire Cretan civilization was a fake: a giant, stage-set mausoleum peddled across the Mediterranean as a funereal Paradise for wealthy patrons who had died and been processed into mummies: Club Dead. Yet all that beautiful art was aimed just as much to amaze its audience (in this case, us), as to lure from overseas the embalmed corpses of fat slave owners.
Nothing decipherable remains of Minoan written culture except accounting ledgers. The elegant vibrancy of its artwork astounds us; its prose and poetry must have kept pace. Too bad nothing decipherable remains for us to read.
It may well be, as Graham Hancock suggests in Underworld: The Mysterious Origins of Civilization, (Crow Publishers, New York, 2002), that law and custom restricted artistic and sacred expression to oral presentation and painstaking memorization; and people used written words only for inventories, calendars and suchlike profit-grubbing and high tech.
Some scholars hypothesize that the Sea People or Philistines may have been post-disaster Minoan evacuees. The ancient Greek historian and avid purveyor of superstition, Herodotus (The History of Herodotus, Tudor Publishing Company, 1943, Dial Press, Inc., 1928, George Rawlinson, Trans., Manuel Komroff, Ed.), ascribes a Minoan origin to the Spartans—those loathsome weapon technicians. Then again, I enjoy so-called “superstitions” as much as he did; they are most entertaining.
Just as scientific technology foretold before its time can be dismissed as impossible magic, a superstition (merely a recurrent, anecdotal phenomenon with no good explanation) can be dismissed as non-existent until science gets around to noting specific facts that clarify its fuzzy details. It would be like passing from a blurry microscope view to a focused one. See “primitive” pharmacopoeia.
Others postulate that Cretan civilization was the last outpost of the legendary Atlanteans. They may have occupied Thera or other shorelines now submerged.
Plato – quoting his mentor Solon, a statesman and natural philosopher renowned for his wisdom – asserted that this civilization was ten thousand years old by his day. Solon had learned this from priestly historians in Egypt. Modern historians assert that those Egyptians were vague in reckoning thousands or tens of thousands of years. I suspect they were seriously reporting it happened ten thousand years before their time.
Just our luck that one of the most brilliant civilizations in human memory was stuck at ground zero of a planetary catastrophe. Just as we, its ultimate survivors, have sealed ourselves into an earthly double boiler of our own making.
Simcha Jacobovici directed a brilliant video documentary, The Exodus Decoded, in which he merges the Hyksos and the Jews into one historic people, the Ten Plagues of Egypt and the drowning of the Egyptian Army during the Jews’ expulsion and Exodus, as outcomes of the explosion of Santorini. See http://www.amazon.com/Exodus-Decoded-History-Channel/dp/B000HOJR8A.
The Atlantis myth gains credence from striking similarities shared by trans-oceanic civilizations: sculpted faces with distinctly foreign racial features, plus remarkably analogous trade artifacts, cultural habits and monumental architecture.
The eminent historian, Fernand Braudel, noted that all the initial sites of organized agriculture in the Mediterranean basin were settled at elevations of 600 to 900 meters above sea level (nearly 2000 to 3000 feet); (Fernand Braudel, Memory and the Mediterranean, Alfred A. Knoff, New York, 2001, translated by Siàn Reynolds, p. 40). Did these sites survive a series of super tsunamis that wiped out prehistoric civilization on coastal lowlands?
The predatory Mycenaeans didn’t last much longer than their Minoan victims. From 1200 BCE on, more and more of their palaces were set afire and brooding fortifications sprang up to replace them. At-best middling artwork grew rarer and shoddier. Local archeology reveals that traumatized casualties rose to 90%, an incredible proportion of the population denoting systematic internal genocide. What a frightful birthplace for the civilization of Homer and Plato!
The Indian subcontinent dealt with many invaders, including the nomadic Yueh-chi from China, Sakai or Shaka nomads from Central Asia, and others listed below. From 2,400 to 1,750 BCE, Dravidian and Aryan cultures colonized and evacuated the city-states of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. (Victorian engineers would mine the brick ruins of Harappa to lay one hundred miles of cheap roadbed under the Lahore-Multan railway). In those days, there were at least 2,500 prehistoric settlements. Equitable housing could be found there, as well as elaborate public granaries and sewage systems. Unfortunately, these cultures have become opaque to us: their language, writings and social instruments irretrievable.
Massive earthquakes uplifted the land. The sun “burned up” the mighty Sarasvasti River (now the Ravi?) along the banks of which Harappa flourished, halfway between present-day Multan and Tagore, about which we will hear again. This, according to In Search of the Cradle of Civilization: New Light on Ancient India, by Georg Feuerstein, Subhash Kak and David Frawley, Quest Books, 1995. Other rivers (especially Mohenjo-Daro’s Indus, further downstream) were drawn off by additional earthquakes. Elaborate irrigation projects were wrecked and desert sand smothered croplands and orchards. The survivors must have experienced an apocalyptic sense of despair.
As we speak, India and Pakistan are thumping this deceptively quiet landscape with atomic blasts. They’re just inviting renewed tectonic activity.
Few records remain of these flourishing civilizations, beyond the Vedas: symbolic epics written down around 1500-1200 BCE, though much older by way of oral transmission. A succession of Dravidian and Aryan groups appear to have occupied the same ground at intervals. Fighting and/or replacing each other, they developed the Vedic religion with its built-in apartheid of caste based on consecutive reincarnation (as opposed to reincarnation independent of time and place). This became the immediate predecessor of Hinduism. Hinduism emerged with scriptures called the Upanishads, finally written down between 600 and 400 BCE.
Back in 1200 BCE, the Sea People subjected many Mediterranean cities to amphibious assault. Fatally weakened by the iron-armed Assyrians, the Hittite Empire was destroyed along with its capital, Aleppo. Concurrent catastrophes (or one catastrophe of planetary proportion) terminated the Shang Dynasty of China, the Mycenaeans of Greece, the Egyptian New Kingdom as well as the Late Bronze Age civilization in Israel. Crop-wrecking bad weather, river-draining super-quakes and/or scattergun comet/asteroid impacts may have brought these civilizations to their knees. Scientific opinion varies. In the late 13th and early 12th Centuries BCE, Ugarit, Enkomi, Citum in Cyprus, the Canaanite towns of Tyre, Sidon and Biblos (the presumed invention site of books) went under—some never to reemerge.
Troy (during the greatest of its nine incarnations) was sacked and burned around 1250 BCE. Thebes in Greece underwent the same fate about the same time. Perhaps it succumbed to the same stinking pack of Homeric pirates.
The Iliad and Odyssey are two of the main sources of Western psycho-military inspiration. In them, Homer chronicles the annihilation of the city of Troy and the aftermath of that disaster, which he composed centuries after the fact. The story becomes even more interesting if one looks for lost epics that may have been their contemporaries of Homer’s writings or even written by him. The Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology lists a lost epic called The Return, which is supposed to narrate the return from Troy and mass shipwreck of the rest of the Greek fleet under Agamemnon’s command, besides Odysseus' ship, the Penelope. Then there's the Oichalias Halosis or Sack of Oichalias of which only one line remains. It may have been the third book of Homer's mutilated trilogy. http://omega.cohums.ohio-state.edu/mailing_lists/BMCR-L/2002/0396.php I'll bet both works were a lot less enthusiastic about the glories of war; which may have been the reason for their disappearance.
Palestine was another bloody cockpit: a highway to hell connecting three continents. How any God of Love could have picked that snake pit for His Chosen People, is beyond me. Not that the strategic dead-ends of Norway, Tasmania, Tierra del Fuego, or South Africa were much better settings… wholesale slaughter prevailed there as well as everywhere else.
The five towns of Phillistia in southwest Palestine (Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron [never rediscovered] and Gath); Phoenician cities on the Lebanese coast: (Tyre, Sidon, Tripoli, Aradus and Byblos); and the Aramean kingdoms of eastern Syria (including Damascus), all fought each other furiously. After surviving punitive expeditions from above-mentioned powers, the Canaanite cities and their populations were exterminated by the Jews, presumably under orders from the Jewish God. These included one of the oldest cities, Jericho, founded c. 9,200 BCE.
Joshua captured Jerusalem in 1451 BCE (#-1). David established his capital in Jerusalem in 1004 BCE, after he had massacred its Jebusite inhabitants (sack #1). He went on to destroy the Philistines who had once offered him royal refuge from Saul, his own vindictive king. Solomon’s hands were somewhat less bloody. An elite propaganda corps immortalized his inhuman wisdom. That done, he ordered the Temple of Jerusalem built: a quite costly project for the poor to bear, like everything else he did. After this reign, Judah and Israel fought each other for two hundred years. Amaziah, King of Judah, conquered Edom (now Jordan). He forced the Edomites to convert to Judaism and he captured Petra. According to Paul Lackman, the family of Herod the Great was of Edomite origin. His subsequent mass murder of the first-born males of Palestine may have seemed to him a fitting revenge. Israeli King Jehoash took Amaziah prisoner, entered Jerusalem and sacked the Temple in 775 BCE (#2).
Incurably shadistic Assyrians besieged Samaria, stormed Jerusalem, crushed Jewish resistance and sacked the city in 721 BCE (#3). They conquered the Kingdom of Ararat in Armenia (Urartu?) and sacked its capital, Musdasir, in 714 BCE. This turned out to be not such a good idea, (like most weapons “ideas”). Urartu had screened Assyria from Cimmerian steppe nomads. Their cavalry army erased what was left of Urartu, then its Assyrian garrison, then the Assyrian King and his field army.
Napata, the Sudanese capital city of Cush, thrived from the 8th century BCE until the mid-6th. Thereafter, Meroë became the Cushite capital until some time around the 10th century CE. At one point, the Cushites dominated Egypt. They built their own pyramids and disseminated iron technology at spear point throughout Central Africa. Founded around 750 BCE, Meroe was destroyed by Ethiopian Aksumites in the 4th century.
Axum benefited from a climatic interregnum during which two rainy seasons fell on the Abyssinian plateau’s rich volcanic soil and permitted two good crops a year. It dominated Red Sea trade from the 7th century BCE until the 7th CE – several centuries after the twin rainy seasons reverted to one per year and starved out that population.
Wise elders of the Dogon tribe of Mali can point out, to the satisfaction of baffled astronomers, the star (Sirius B, invisible except with a big telescope) from which their tribe descended to Earth. Their land has a mound of iron tailings weighing hundreds of thousands of tons. According to Professor Vincent Serneels of the Swiss Friburg Institute of Mineralogy and Petroleum Sciences, they manufactured ten or more tons of iron implements each year for centuries, for distribution to the rest of ancient Africa.
In 612 BCE, Medes and resurgent Chaldeans-Babylonians destroyed the Assyrian capital at Nineveh. The clay tablet content of the Sargonid imperial library was fired into ceramic when it burned down. A torrent of mud sealed the collection uncovered only recently.
Babylon destroyed the Holy Temple of the Jews; it razed Jerusalem (#4) and deported its people in 586 BCE. They were released from captivity and allowed to go home by Cyrus the Great of Persia. He was one of the few “Greats” who actually deserves that appellation due to his genial benevolence after military conquest – even though he wound up dying stupidly during a dead-end military brawl with yet another peripheral tribe.
After Roman conquest (#5), the whole “Promised Land” remained under alien control for the next twenty-seven centuries. Today, its Palestinian and Israeli inhabitants are hopelessly Balkanized, at least until they wake up to the idea that their country could become another Switzerland: twice as peaceful, ten times more prosperous and to a great extent holier.
Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Tyre in 574 BCE. Babylon burned down in 538 BCE, with much loss of life.
Tartessos was a great emporium on the coast of Andalusia, an ancient trading city founded around 1200 BCE. From then until 669 BCE, this city monopolized trade beyond the Straits of Gibraltar. Herodotus pointed out its tremendous wealth in two stories about Phoenician merchants who sailed home and built city walls and a man-sized devotional urn of precious metal from the profits of their trip to Tartessos. The Carthaginians took Tartessos in the early 400s and controlled its thriving trade in amber; tin (a critical component of bronze, very rare in the Mediterranean Basin yet plentiful in England and Brittany); callais, a kind of translucent turquoise; and furs in exchange for the wine and finished products of the Med. The Romans annihilated the city when it revolted in 195 BCE. They built a military camp in the region, now the Spanish city of Jerez. No trace of Tartessos remains and its location is lost.
Phoenician colonists settled Carthage around 800 BCE. The losses of three “World Wars” stained the Mediterranean with blood from 264 until 146 BCE, when Rome finally annihilated Carthage. Its legionaries sowed the ruins with salt so that nothing would grow there again. The main library in Carthage was said to have contained 500,000 volumes of Phoenician art, science and history. The Phoenicians were master mariners, canny merchants, fearless explorers and disseminators of the common alphabet, among other clever inventions. In ruthless pursuit of trade monopoly, Carthage destroyed many Mediterranean cities including the Sicilian towns of Himera and Selinus (409 BCE), Agrigento (406 BCE) and Acragas (c. 400 BCE) home of the philosopher Empedocles.
Rome itself originated around 725 BCE. Established in 1100 BCE, Alba Longa was destroyed by Rome in 600 BCE. Numa, Rome’s second king, invented the most enduring Roman political instruments, and then sealed his last writings in a time capsule before he died. The Roman Senate reverently dug it up six hundred years later—then declared its content a shameful forgery and had it burned. It would no doubt have made fascinating reading.
Officially, Western libraries are said to have begun with the Greeks around the 6th century BCE. The Lyceum was established in Athens in 336 BCE. Subsequently, Athenians buried and badly damaged this collection to prevent its acquisition by its rival city Pergamum. The Romans took the remnants home with them in 40 BCE.
Greek Ionia (Greek colonies on the Turkish Peninsula and among the Aegean Islands) was the mixing-bowl of Eastern and Western thought: the fountainhead of “Greek” philosophy. The Persians were enraged when Ionian Greeks burned down their splendid Lydian capital, Sardis, in present-day Turkey. In retaliation for Sardis, the Persians razed the Greek colony of Miletus (494 BCE). They destroyed the works of philosophers Thales and Anaximenes forever, among others. By 479 BCE, Persia had sacked and burned every Ionian city. Some of the work of Ionian philosopher Heraclitus survives—probably because he coined such verbal gems as: “War is the father of all things.”
Athens annihilated Aegina (457 BCE), Potidaea (430 BCE) and Melos (416 BCE), source of the Venus of Milo. Platae, Athen’s ally, was destroyed by Thebes and Sparta (427 BCE). Insectile Sparta reduced the city of Messene into a warehouse of Helot slaves.
Phidias was the greatest sculptor in ancient Greece. Not a single original or good copy of his work survives. Not his statue of Zeus in the temple of Olympus, another of the Seven Wonders of the World, similar in pose to the Lincoln Monument in Washington, DC and twice its size. Not his Athena Parthenos, the foremost pride of Athens. Both colossi were adorned with draperies of beaten gold and flesh parts made of brilliantly unpealed, softened and molded plates of elephant ivory. This Zeus was shipped off to Constantinople where a fire reduced it to ashes in 462. The same thing happened to all the strikingly realistic paintings of Zeuxis (born in Southern Italy during the late 5th century BCE) and no doubt the work of hundreds of others artists just as inspired.
By the way, eleven of Aristophanes’ forty known plays survive today, seven of Aeschylus’ ninety, seven of Sophocles’ one hundred twenty, and nineteen of Euripides’ ninety-two. All the written works of Chionides, Magnes, Cratius and countless others were lost. The seven sages of the Greek world during the 6th century were: Bias, Chilon, Cleobulus, Periander, Pittacus, Solon and Thales. For the most part, only a few pithy quotes remain of their lifetime achievement, if that.
“The expression used to designate landscape paintings – shan-shui, “mountain-water” – highlights the importance of mountains, or shan, in Chinese thought as one of the two basic constituents of the natural environment. The second element, shui or “water,” takes the form of streams or rivers that issue from the heights or peaks to wind about their feet and spread across the plains…Together the two engender the totality of nature and reveal the presence of the Tao.
“One of the most famous and influential artists of the T’ang Dynasty, Chang Tsao, who worked in the 8th century, was a wild-eyed figure who brought the spirit of the mountains directly into the act of painting. …More than a painter of landscapes, Chang Tsao transcended his art to become an exemplar of the artists as sorcerer and sage. The dynamic force of his personality and the effortless perfection of his style played an important role in shaping the ideals and aspirations of those who followed him. Unfortunately, none of his paintings have come down to us. [Italics mine.] Edwin Bernbaum, Sacred Mountains of the World, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1997, p.p. 226-227.
Founded in the 8th century, the island town of Mozia was the most important Phoenician colony in Sicily. It was destroyed in 397 BCE by Dionysus the Elder, despot of Syracuse. The Romans destroyed Veii, an ancient Etruscan city, in 396 BCE. The Gauls and their Celtic allies defeated the Roman Army in 390 BCE, then they sacked Rome and burned all its archives. By 380 BCE, Persia had burned down Athens and many other Greek cities. In 373 BCE, the ancient city of Helike on the Gulf of Corinth was wrecked by an earthquake and raked by a tsunami. Apparently, an Early Bronze Age city located nearby had suffered the same fate two thousand years prior.
Corinth was a pretty average city during the Classical Age. A regional capital, it was founded around 6,000 BCE on the narrow Isthmus of Corinth that connected the Peloponnesus to mainland Greece. It was famous for the Corinthian order of architecture (the most ornate and complex one, succeeding the Doric and Ionic) and for the canal it had cut and named after itself, which was not successfully deepened until 1893. As far back as 600 BCE, a flat highway was cut across the isthmus to allow smaller merchant ships to be rolled along it. Like Panama, it grew rich from commercial traffic, which turned it into a magnet for armed hordes passing through the region.
Corinth was destroyed by Rome in 146 BCE, by earthquakes in 375, 551 and 856 CE. It was plundered by Visigoths around 395, by Normans in 1147, sacked by Crusaders after a five-year siege in 1210; by Byzantines in 1388; by Ottomans in 1395; again by Byzantines in 1403; and again by Ottomans in 1458; by Venetians in 1687; by Ottomans in 1715; and destroyed by the Turks in 1830. Earthquakes leveled it in 1858 and 1928, as did fire in 1933: the usual routine for vulnerable Mediterranean cities.
In 342 BCE, the Persian Empire destroyed Sidon, one of the great seaports of Phoenicia, in retaliation for the vital help it had given to the Greeks during the naval battle of Salamis. This fight took place just off smoldering ruins of Athens that the Persians had burned.
Alexander the Great (Butcher of Human Flesh) destroyed Greek city of Thebes in 335 BCE, Phoenician Tyre and Gaza in 332 BCE. Almost every “X the Great” merits this job description. Perhaps we should paraphrase the German expression and call every one of them as “X the Gross.” He also captured Jerusalem in 333 BCE (#4.5), as well as several other metropolises whose citizens were too sophisticated and independent-minded for his taste.
The tomb of Mausolus of Caria was erected in the city of Halicarnassus by his sister/widow. It was the Taj Mahal of the ancient world, one of its Seven Wonders (from which we derive the word mausoleum). It burned down with the rest of the city under Alexander’s direction. In 330 BCE, that military genius destroyed the brand new, fully archived Persian capital at Persepolis. According to Plutarch, he had its looted treasures carried away on 20,000 mules and 5,000 camels. He ruined 12,000 cattle hides upon which the prophet Zarathustra had encoded the entire Zoroastrian religion.
The Pyramids mystify us today because Alexander executed all the pyramid-expert priests of Heliopolis and Persepolis. For personal reasons, he destroyed every Egyptian text he could find. Priestly survivors declared him a god because he clove with his sword a large knot that was called Gordian and said to be incurably snarled. Well, duh! But can you blame them?
Alexander’s place as history’s most admired mass murderer is partly attributable to the instruction he received from Aristotle, his personal (and this civilization’s premier) weapon mentor. He slashed his way from cultural the outback of Macedon as far as the Indus River. Then he lost most of his mutinous troops during their parched return home across the desert of what is now Sind, Pakistan. Whoops! Shortly after his premature demise, his Successors sacked the holy city of Benares on the Ganges. Otherwise known as Varanasi or Kasi, it was another of the world’s oldest cities.
A crazed attention-getter (whose name merits oblivion) set fire to the world-renowned temple of Artemis at Ephesus in 356 BCE, the same day Alexander the Gross was born. Under the Seleucid Successors of Alexander, the Western World’s administrative centers were Pella in Macedonia (the birthplace of Alexander), Pergamum in Asia Minor, Antioch in southern Turkey and Alexandria in Egypt.
Circa 300 BCE, a Seleucid king “had all the books in the world burned because he wanted the calculation of time to begin with himself”—according to Luciano Canfora’s The Vanished Library, translated by Martin Lyle, University of California Press, 1987, p. 183.
In the process of securing its hold over the Italian peninsula, Rome annihilated the Etruscans, the Samnites, the Aequi and the Volsci—each a fully developed urban civilization. In 278 BCE, invading Celts sacked Delphi, Greece. At the time, the Temple located there was the Greek equivalent of Fort Knox, the Ivy League colleges and the Library of Congress combined.
The Alexandria Library burned down in 272 BCE, during a war between another Roman Emperor and a rebellious Queen whose famous capital, Smyrna, he sacked. The Romans took Syracuse by assault in 211 BCE. They executed the mathematician Archimedes along with many other inhabitants.
In 255 BCE, King Ashoka acceded to the Mauryan throne of India. He renounced military aggression and emphasized the welfare of his subjects, in accordance with standard Buddhist values: rarety in world history. He planted his admirable policies on stone stele throughout his empire. He will tell them to you directly in his own chapter of Learner.
The great city of Epirus was sacked by Rome in 167 BCE. Rome captured the Macedonian Royal Library at Pella in 168 BCE. Balkh, the Bactrian capital, fell to the Parthian and Sakan nations in the 2nd century BCE. Rome allied with Sparta in 146 BCE (big surprise) to destroy Corinth. Another Seleucid King destroyed Beirut, the last Phoenician homeport, in 140 BCE. Fregellae, the second largest city in Italy, was destroyed by Rome in 124 BCE. So was Roman Florentia (Florence) in 88 BCE. Rome sacked Athens bloody and partially burned it down in 86 BCE. Its Emperor expropriated the Athenian Apelliconte’s library. That content disappeared when the Emperor’s profligate son sold it to satisfy his creditors, according to A Gentle Madness by Nicholas A. Basbanes, Henry Holt, New York, 1995, p. 66.
The last cuneiform tablets found in Mesopotamia date from 75 BCE (probably inscribed in corrupt Sumerian). That area was once a breadbasket of civilization and was said to have been the location of Eden. It is now a baked-clay wasteland called Iraq. Centuries of excess population overworked the soil with imperial aspirations and easily taxable herds of goats that ate everything down to the roots.
Edward Hyams, in Soil and Civilization, Thames and Hudson, London, New York, 1952, pp. 33-40, states that stock-raising, nomadism and patriarchy arose on mountain parklands of thin, high-loess soil; whereas tillage, permanent settlement and matriarchal systems originated on thick, lowland, alluvial soils. He concluded that the democratic principles of Athens were based on its poor soils and its cultivation of olives and grapes for luxury export in exchange for wheat and other bulk commodities grown in thicker foreign soils. Whereas Sparta’s slave system was based on thick alluvial soils and homegrown wheat crops. Sorta like the difference between flinty New England soil with its canny merchants and sailors; versus the black, lowland soil and slaveholding elites of the Deep South. He said that one of the characteristics of a warfare society is that it always exhausts the native soil – a word to the wise today.
The only thing more destructive of nature than a goat herd is a car lot. The only thing more destructive than both: that would be man. The latest and most accurately placed site for the Garden of Eden is the Valley of Tabriz in Iran, now a polluted industrial wasteland of the kind we mass-produce worldwide, or else the homeland of the Marsh Arabs outside of Basra, which Saddam had drained, spoiled and wiped out.
Caesar destroyed every independent Gaelic town; he had over a million Gauls put to the sword. Caesar slandered and exterminated the Druids as well. In 48 BCE, the inhabitants of Alexandria blockaded him and his troops in its citadel. Proud Alexandria was the capital of Egypt and the foremost library city of the Western world. If Rome was the seat of Power, Alexandria was that of Reason. For centuries, every merchant crew docking in Alexandria Harbor had to hand over its documents to the Library in exchange for clean copies. Caesar allowed the library’s Museum to burn down. Shiploads of texts also burned, which his friend M.T.Varro had selected beforehand for delivery to Rome, along with the Library docks. The whole facility may have burned down along with its attached research institute, the Mouseion (shrine of the muses); who knows? Modern historians argue that the Library had no physical contact with the docks—this despite the fact that every passing merchant vessel had to swap everything from ship’s logs to tourist paperbacks in exchange for hand-written copies?
As a history writer, Caesar specialized in making himself look good at the expense of his victims. He spread equivalent mayhem in Spain. He led a succession of Roman oppressors whose stupid cruelties were surpassed only by their replacements’ and by those of the Roman Senate that had dispatched them. Sound familiar, fellow Americans? Brilliant exceptions were two governors whose massacres were followed by leniency. This novel approach brought peace, after decades of blind punishment had prolonged the Spanish revolt. Contrary to standard propaganda (like Shakespeare’s version of Julius Caesar), the Roman Senate never defended freedom against reactionary tyrants. On the contrary, the Senate protected its criminal privileges against all comers. It bowed to any tyrant as long as he promised to steal his wealth from the poor instead of them. Wherever it came, saw and conquered, Rome upheld the wealthy and the powerful over the poor and the weak.
Caesar, in his day, was the closest thing Rome got to a progressive politician. He dared to tax Senatorial corruption and died thereby. He realized – like many tyrants before and since – that the most powerful weapon technologies encourage an iron aristocracy of military talent. Flabby, hereditary Conspiracies of Greed, such as the Roman Senate of the Late Empire in decline, evolved at best second-rate military technologies. They wound up being even more costly than the first-rate ones, and doomed to defeat, civil war and military chaos in the long run. Thus, Rome’s Decline and Fall—and ours soon to come if we don’t straighten out.
In 40 BCE, Anthony sent to his lover Cleopatra in Alexandria the entire library of the town’s archrival, Pergamum (where parchment was invented). In part, he was punishing the Pergamumites for joining with his rivals during a recent Roman civil war. He may also have intended to compensate Cleopatra for Julius’ undocumented act of vandalism.
Rome destroyed and rebuilt many cities; it uprooted homegrown cultures and scattered their survivors elsewhere, more or less at random. Rome was an insignificant contributor to library scholarship. It specialized in villa libraries for the rich. No scholars were assembled when Rome established its first Public Library in 39 BCE, unlike centuries prior of common practice in the “decadent” East. The Romans sacked Thebes in 29 BCE, ending its thousand-year era of prosperity.
The following chapter, Burning Libraries (AD), covers the next two millennia. Click NEXT, below.
The 3rd millennium AD is up to us—God help us.