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Title: The Birth of Civilization in the Near East
Author: Frankfort, Henri
Language: English
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                               THE BIRTH
                            OF CIVILIZATION
                                 IN THE
                               NEAR EAST

                            HENRI FRANKFORT

                         Doubleday Anchor Books
                       Doubleday & Company, Inc.
                         Garden City, New York

Henri Frankfort was born in 1897 in Holland. He first studied history at
Amsterdam University, obtained his M.A. in London, but returned to the
University of Leiden for his Ph.D. He has done extensive field work in
the Near East, his main project being the Oriental Institute of
Chicago’s excavations in Iraq from 1929 to 1937. Dr. Frankfort both
organized and headed these excavations, which yielded much new
information on the early history of Babylonia, from 4000 to 2000 B.C. In
1938 Dr. Frankfort went to Chicago to write and to teach at the
University of Chicago, which had appointed him Research Professor of
Oriental Archaeology in 1932. In 1949 he was appointed Director of the
Warburg Institute and Professor of the History of Pre-classical
Antiquity in the University of London. Among his other writings are
numerous contributions to professional journals and a book, _Ancient
Egyptian Religion_ (1948). Dr. Frankfort died in 1954.

                    Cover design by Antonio Frasconi
                       Typography by Edward Gorey

_The Birth of Civilization in the Near East_ was published by Indiana
University Press in 1951. The Anchor Books edition is published by
arrangement with Indiana University Press.

                       Anchor Books edition: 1956

            First published in the United States of America
                      by Indiana University Press


A full description of the birth of civilization in the Near East would
require a work many times the size of the present book. We have
concentrated on the social and political innovations in which the great
change became manifest. These bear most directly on the questions to
which the appearance of the first civilized societies gives rise; yet
they have received less attention than the concomitant changes in the
fields of technology and the arts, the manifestations of religion, or
the invention of writing. In so far as technological and artistic
developments reveal social and political conditions, we have taken them
into account; but we have not attempted to describe them in detail, and
have kept our subject within manageable limits by a somewhat strict
interpretation of the word civilization. While it is true that the terms
“civilization” and “culture” count as synonyms in general usage, and
that every distinction therefore remains arbitrary, there are
etymological reasons for preferences in their use. The word “culture,”
with its overtones of something irrational, something grown rather than
made, is preferred by those who study primitive peoples. The word
“civilization,” on the other hand, appeals to those who consider man in
the first place as _homo politicus_, and it is in this sense that we
would have our title understood.

A question which we have left unanswered is that of origins. The reader
will find that in trimming the ramifications of historical beginnings we
have exposed the trunks rather than the roots of Egyptian and
Mesopotamian civilization. To what extent can their roots be known; what
were the forces that brought them into being? I think that the historian
must deem this question unanswerable. It can but lead him astray in the
direction of quasi-philosophical speculations, or tempt him to give
pseudo-scientific answers. It is the latter alternative which has done
most harm, for time and again such changes as an increase in
food-production or technological advances (both, truly enough,
coincidental with the rise of civilization) have been supposed to
explain how civilization became possible. This misconception bars the
road to a deeper understanding. For Whitehead’s words are valid for past
and present alike:

  In each age of the world distinguished by high activity there will be
  found at its culmination, and among the agencies leading to that
  culmination, some profound cosmological outlook, implicitly accepted,
  impressing its own type upon the current springs of action. This
  ultimate cosmology is only partly expressed, and the details of such
  expression issue into derivative specialized questions ... which
  conceal a general agreement upon first principles almost too obvious
  to need expression, and almost too general to be capable of
  expression. In each period there is a general form of the forms of
  thought; and, like the air we breathe, such a form is so translucent,
  and so pervading, and so seemingly necessary, that only by extreme
  effort can we become aware of it.[1]

It is this effort which the historian cannot shirk, nor is there a short
cut to the understanding of an alien past; but I believe that the
comparative study of parallel phenomena leads most surely to an
elucidation of manifest and implicit form.

I have confined myself to Egypt and Mesopotamia, the cultural centres of
the Ancient Near East; for in the peripheral regions civilization arose
late and was always, to some extent, derivative. Egypt, too, was
influenced by Mesopotamia during its formative period, but without
losing its distinct and highly individual character. This matter of
early cultural contact is of such importance for our problem that I have
discussed the relevant evidence in an Appendix.

The following chapters are expanded versions of lectures delivered at
Indiana University, Bloomington, in the winter of 1948-9, on the Patten
Foundation. I am grateful to Dr. Helene J. Kantor, of the Oriental
Institute, the University of Chicago, for generously providing me with
the drawings for Figures 1 and 4.

                                                            H. Frankfort
  17 DECEMBER 1950


    PREFACE                                                             v
    LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS                                              xi
  I. THE STUDY OF ANCIENT CIVILIZATIONS                                 1
  II. THE PREHISTORY OF THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST                          25
  III. THE CITIES OF MESOPOTAMIA                                       49
  IV. EGYPT, THE KINGDOM OF THE TWO LANDS                              90
    APPENDIX. The Influence of Mesopotamia on Egypt Towards the End
          of the Fourth Millennium B.C.                               121
    CHRONOLOGICAL TABLE                                               138
    INDEX                                                             139

                         LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
                          _Following page 64_

  1A. Bone sickle haft with end carved in form of animal’s (goat’s)
          head, and groove for inserting flints, 38 cm. long, from
          Mugharet el-Kebarah, Natufian (_Journal of the Royal
          Anthropological Institute_, LXII [1932], Plate XXVII, 1)
  1B. Upper part of bone sickle haft with carving of a young deer, about
          11 cm. long, from Mugharet el-Wad, Lower Natufian (D. A. E.
          Garrod and D. M. A. Bate, _The Stone Age of Mount Carmel_,
          Vol. I [Oxford, 1937], Plate XIII, 3)
  1C. Upper part of bone sickle haft with end carved in form of human
          figure and groove, 12.8 cm. long, from Sialk in Persia (R.
          Ghirshman, _Fouilles de Sialk_, Vol. I [Paris, 1938], Plate
          LIV, 1)
  1D. Sickle of wood with cutting edge of flints, 51.5 cm. long, from
          the Fayum (G. Caton-Thompson and E. W. Gardner, _The Desert
          Fayum_ [London, 1934], Plate XXX)
  1E. Wooden sickle of the First Dynasty with cutting edge of flints, 45
          cm. long, from Saqqara (Walter B. Emery, _The Tomb of Hemaka_
          [Cairo, 1938], Plate XV, D)
  2. Camp site at Hassuna (_Journal of Near Eastern Studies_, IV [1945],
          Fig. 27)
  3. Papyrus swamp on the Upper Nile (Courtesy of Natural History
          Museum, New York)
  4. Chart of the sequence of predynastic and protodynastic remains, by
          Dr. Helene J. Kantor, Oriental Institute, University of
  5. Sculptured trough in the British Museum (W. Andrae, _Das Gotteshaus
          and die Urformen des Bauens im alten Orient_ [Berlin, 1930],
          Plate II)
  6. Marsh Arabs in Southern Iraq (Photo Underwood)
  7. Clay objects of the Al Ubaid period, from Tell Uqair, in the Iraq
          Museum, Baghdad (_Journal of Near Eastern Studies_, II [1943],
          Plate XVI)
  8. The “White Temple” on its ziggurat at Erech (_Achter vorläufiger
          Bericht, Abhandlungen der Preussischen Akademie der
          Wissenschaften_, 1937, Phil.-Hist. Klasse, Plate 40_b_)
  9. Semi-engaged columns covered with cone mosaic (_Dritter vorläufiger
          Bericht, Abhandlungen der Preussischen Akademie der
          Wissenschaften_, 1932, Phil.-Hist. Klasse, Plate I)
  10. Colonnade on platform at Erech (_ibid._, Plate 8)
  11. The Ishtar ziggurat at Erech in Assyrian times (W. Andrae, in
          Otto, _Handbuch der Archaeologie_, Plate 144)
  12. Cult relief, from Assur (W. Andrae, _Kultrelief aus dem Brunnen
          des Assurtempels zu Assur_ [1931], Plate I)
  13. The development of Mesopotamian writing (J. H. Breasted, _Ancient
          Times_, 2nd ed. [Boston, 1935], Fig. 86)
  14. Impression of a cylinder seal of the Protoliterate period showing
          bulls and ears of barley (Frankfort, _Cylinder Seals_ [London,
          1939], Plate V_b_)
  15. Impression of a cylinder seal of the Protoliterate period showing
          offerings of fruit, vases, etc., being made to the
          mother-goddess (_ibid._, Plate V_c_)
  16. Impression of a cylinder seal of the Protoliterate period showing
          frieze of monsters (_ibid._, Plate V_h_)
  17-18. Front and back of the stone figure of a ram in the Babylonian
          Collection, Yale University (Courtesy of Yale University Art
          Gallery), length 21.8 cm., height 15.8 cm.
  19. Early Dynastic temple at Khafajah (P. Delougaz, _The Temple Oval
          at Khafajah_ [Chicago, 1940], Frontispiece)
  20. Copper model of primitive chariot, from Tell Agrab (Courtesy,
          Oriental Institute, University of Chicago), height 7.2 cm.
  21. Alabaster figure of the Early Dynastic period, from Khafajah
          (Frankfort, _More Sculpture from the Diyala Region_ [Chicago,
          1943], Frontispiece), height 7.2 cm.
  22. Head of an Akkadian ruler, from Nineveh (Courtesy of Department of
          Antiquities, Baghdad)
  23-24. The Gebel el Arak knife-handle (Louvre: _Journal of Egyptian
          Archaeology_, V [1919], Plate XXXII)
  25. The Hunters’ palette (British Museum and Louvre; Capart,
          _Primitive Art in Egypt_, 231, Fig. 170)
  26. Macehead of king “Scorpion” (Courtesy of Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)
  27-28. Palette of King Narmer (Cairo Museum; photographs of the
          Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)
  29. Harvesting scenes, from the tomb of Ti, Old Kingdom, about 2400
          B.C. (Wreszinski, _Atlas zur Altaegyptischen
          Kulturgeschichte_, III, Plate 49)
  30. Agricultural scenes, from the tomb of Menna, New Kingdom, about
          1400 B.C. (Wreszinski, _Atlas zur Altaegyptischen
          Kulturgeschichte_, I, Plate 231)
  31. Plan of workmen’s village at Tell el Amarna, about 1360 B.C. (Peet
          and Woolley, _The City of Akhenaten_, I, Plate 16)
  32. Impression of a Mesopotamian cylinder seal, from Egypt (Berlin;
          Scharff, _Altertümer der Vor- und Frühzeit Aegyptens_, 1929,
          Plate 25, No. 135)
  33-34. Impressions of two cylinder seals of the second half of the
          Protoliterate period, from Khafajah (Courtesy of Oriental
          Institute, University of Chicago)
  35. Wooden cylinder seal of the First Dynasty, from Abydos (Berlin;
          Scharff, _op. cit._, Plate 27, No. 48)
  36. Impression of Fig. 35
  37. Cylindrical funerary amulet (Berlin; Scharff, _op. cit._, Plate
          26, No. 145)
  38. Impression of Fig. 37, showing long-haired man seated at offering
  39. Cylindrical funerary amulet showing seated man (Berlin; Scharff,
          _op. cit._, Plate 26, No. 146)
  40-41. Flint knife with gold-foil handle, from Gebel et Tarif (Cairo;
          J. E. Quibell, _Archaic Objects_ [Cairo, 1905], p. 237)
  42. Two buildings, with recesses and towers, of the First Dynasty in
          Egypt, and a seal impression of the second half of the
          Protoliterate period, from Khafajah (_American Journal of
          Semitic Languages and Literatures_, LVIII [1941], Plate I,
          _a_, _b_)
  43. Stela of King Djet of the First Dynasty (Louvre)
  44. Three buildings with recesses, rendered on monuments of the First
          Dynasty in Egypt, and three Mesopotamian cylinder-seal
          impressions of the Protoliterate period (_American Journal of
          Semitic Languages and Literatures_, LVIII [1941], Plate 341,
          Fig. 7)
  45. Plan of the “White Temple” on the archaic ziggurat at Erech
          (_Achter vorläufiger Bericht_, 1937, Plate 19_b_)
  46. Plan of the Tomb of Hemaka at Saqqara (W. B. Emery, _The Tomb of
          Hemaka_, Plate I)
  47. Tomb ornamented with recesses, at Abu Roash (_Kemi_, VII [1938],
          Plate XI_a_)
  48. Recesses of the “White Temple” at Erech (Drawn after _Achter
          vorläufiger Bericht_, 1937, Plate 14_b_)
  49. Wooden coffin imitating a recessed building with round wooden
          beams, from Tarkhan (Petrie, _Tarkhan_, I, Plate XXVIII)
  50. Recessed tomb with round wooden beams, of the First Dynasty, at
          Abu Roash (_Kemi_, VII [1938], p. 40, Fig. 9)
  51. Map of the Ancient Near East, from the _Westminster Historical
          Atlas to the Bible_ (The Westminster Press, [Philadelphia,
          1945], 22)


Our subject is the birth of civilization in the Near East. We shall not,
therefore, consider the question how civilization in the abstract became
possible. I do not think there is an answer to that question; in any
case it is a philosophical rather than a historical one. But it may be
said that the material we are going to discuss has a unique bearing on
it all the same. For the emergence of Egyptian and Mesopotamian
civilization has some claim to being considered as the birth of
civilization in a general sense. It is true that the transition from
primitive to civilized conditions has happened more than once; but the
change has mostly been induced—or at least furthered—by contact with
more advanced foreigners. We know of only three instances where the
event may have been spontaneous: in the ancient Near East, in China, and
in South and Middle America. However, the genesis of the Maya and Inca
civilizations is obscure, and for China we must count with the
possibility—some would say the likelihood—of a stimulus from the West.
But no appeal to foreign influence can explain the emergence of
civilized societies in Egypt and Mesopotamia, since these lands were the
first to rise above a universal level of primitive existence.

In the sequel we shall leave this aspect of our subject to one side: in
other words, though the fact that in the Near East civilization arose
spontaneously, and for the first time imparts a particular weight and
splendour to the events, we are specifically concerned with the events
themselves. And here, at the very outset, a difficulty must be faced.

It seems easy to deal in a general way with civilizations as entities;
at least this is commonly done. Arnold Toynbee, in his _Study of
History_, distinguishes without hesitation twenty-one
civilizations—“specimens of the species,” belonging to the “genus
societies”—by what he believes to be an empirical method. But consider
the problem which arises when we want to study the genesis of any one
civilization in particular! We cannot merely assume that it is an entity
and has a recognizable character of its own; we are bound to make that
character explicit in order that we may decide _when_ and _where_ it

This problem is hardly ever envisaged by those who are best acquainted
with the actual remains of antiquity. The archaeologist is either
occupied with disentangling successive phases in his stratified
material; or he constructs from his finds a fairly continuous story of
man’s increasing skill and enterprise. In this context the questions
_when_ and _why_ we are entitled to speak of the existence of Egyptian
or Sumerian (_i.e._ early Mesopotamian) civilization seem of secondary
importance. On the other hand, the philologist does not encounter the
question at all. For him, Sumerian or Egyptian civilization exists from
the moment when texts were written in these languages.

Our problem is pre-eminently a historical one, and it has, accordingly,
two aspects: that of _identity_ and that of _change_. What constitutes
the individuality of a civilization, its recognizable character, its
identity which is maintained throughout the successive stages of its
existence? What, on the other hand, are the changes differentiating one
stage from the next? We are not, of course, looking for a formula; the
character of a civilization is far too elusive to be reduced to a
catchword. We recognize it in a certain coherence among its various
manifestations, a certain consistency in its orientation, a certain
cultural “style” which shapes its political and its judicial
institutions, its art as well as its literature, its religion as well as
its morals. I propose to call this elusive identity of a civilization
its “form.” It is this “form” which is never destroyed although it
changes in the course of time. And it changes partly as a result of
inherent factors—development—partly as a result of external
forces—historical incidents. I propose to call the total of these
changes the “dynamics” of a civilization.

The interplay of form and dynamics constitutes the history of a
civilization and raises the question—which lies outside our present
inquiry—to what extent the form of a civilization may determine its

For the moment, the distinction of form and dynamics enables us to bring
some clarity into the problems connected with our present subject, the
birth of Near Eastern civilization. Under the aspect of “form” we may
ask: what actually does appear when this civilization comes into being?
Is its form established piecemeal? If so, whence comes the coherence
which characterizes it throughout its historical existence? Under the
aspect of “dynamics” we may ask: is the emergence of this civilization a
gradual process? Are earlier elements transmuted or combined by degrees,
or is the peculiar coherence of a mature civilization the outcome of a
sudden and intense change, a crisis in which its form—undeveloped but
potentially a whole—crystallizes out, or rather, is born? The title of
this book indicates the answer which I think the evidence compels us to
accept as correct. But, before we consider the evidence, it will be
profitable to discuss certain current opinions. For if it is true—as we
have said before—that those best acquainted with the ancient Near East
have rarely found occasion to consider our problem, it is equally true,
of course, that we are not the first to discuss it.

Curiously enough, the two men who have devoted their life’s work to the
problem of the genesis of civilization have done so under a compelling
awareness of its decline. Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee both wrote
under the shadow of an impending world war; and their work is, to some
extent, warped by their preoccupation with decay. Oswald Spengler’s
_Decline of the West_ was first published in 1917 and bears the
subtitle, _Outline of a Morphology of World History_.[2] This indicates
that the aspect of form (as we have called it) is fully considered in
his work. In this resides, as a matter of fact, the element of lasting
worth of his sensational, arrogant, and pompous volumes. They were
written as a reaction against the prevalent view of history which was
prejudiced in two respects: it considered world history exclusively from
the western standpoint; and it presumed, with evolutionary optimism,
that history exemplified the progress of humanity. For Spengler the word
“humanity” is merely an empty phrase. The great civilizations are
unconnected. They are self-contained organisms of so individual a nature
that people who belong to one cannot understand the achievements and
modes of thought of another. He maintains that not even in science does
knowledge show accumulations transcending the limits of one

It would seem that under such conditions world history is not feasible
at all, and this has, in fact, been maintained by no less a historian
than Ernst Troeltsch.[3] But Spengler thinks otherwise because he
applies biological methods to the study of civilizations. The very word
“morphology,” which figures in his sub-title, usually denotes the study
of form and structure in plants and animals; it warns us to expect
biological categories and these, indeed, abound. For instance, Spengler
maintains that in different civilizations we can find not
_analogues_—features similar as regards function—but only
_homologues_—features similar as regards form. He also maintains that
the life-cycle of each civilization runs through the same phases: youth,
maturity, and senescence. This implies that a comparison of
corresponding phases in different civilizations may be instructive, but
that it is merely confusing to compare phases which do not correspond;
for then one is led to expect, for instance, that an ageing civilization
(like our own) might yet be able to produce great poetry or a live
religion, which are features peculiar to civilizations in their youthful

The birth of civilization is succinctly described by Spengler in the
following passage:

  It comes into flower on the soil of a precisely definable region, to
  which it remains linked with a plant-like attachment. A civilization
  dies when it has realized the sum total of its potentialities in the
  guise of peoples, languages, theologies, arts, states, sciences.[4]

I have omitted certain untranslatable references to an _urseelenhafter
Zustand_ from which civilizations are supposed to emerge and to which
their “souls” return. For the quotation shows clearly that Spengler,
notwithstanding these irrational additions, writes, like Toynbee, under
the spell of the nineteenth century and attempts to interpret history in
the terms of science. Even if we admit that the country in which a
civilization arises influences its form, we must balk at Spengler’s
formulation (repeated elsewhere in his work, _e.g._ I, 29) which
approaches materialistic determinism. By interpreting the harmony
between each civilization and its natural setting in this manner, he
denies a freedom of the human spirit which—to name but one instance—the
achievements of the Greeks in Sicily and southern Italy splendidly

In describing the death of a civilization Spengler is likewise under the
spell of scientific notions. This is not obvious; in fact, Spengler’s
success is largely due to the plausibility of some of his most
imaginative statements. We feel that it makes sense, even that it is
illuminating, to speak of a youthful, or ageing, or dying civilization.
But for Spengler such phrases are not metaphors; and when he speaks (as
in the previous quotation) of a civilization’s dying “when it has
realized the sum total of its potentialities,” he believes that he
refers to a state of affairs as inevitable and as accurately predictable
as the withering of a plant. He actually calls civilizations “living
beings of the highest order,”[5] and he undertakes to state with
precision which phenomena characterize each stage in their life-cycle.
For him, an imperialistic and socialistic order follow a traditional and
hierarchical society; expanding technique and trade follow greatness in
art, music, and literature as certainly as the dispersal of the seeds
follows the maturing of a plant which will never flower again. But to
take the biological metaphor literally, to grant in this manner reality
to an image, is not morphology but mythology; and it is belief, not
knowledge, which induces Spengler to deny the freedom of the spirit and
the unpredictability of human behaviour.

Spengler substitutes the mystery of natural life for the dynamics of
history which he, therefore, fails entirely to explain.[6] But to the
aspect of “form” he has done justice as few before him. Here too,
however, he goes much too far. It is one thing to stress the singularity
of each great epoch of the past as a prerequisite of deeper
understanding, and quite another to declare the discontinuity of
cultural achievements to be absolute. Had the first been Spengler’s
intention, no one who had once comprehended the uniqueness of a
historical situation, a work of art, or an institution, would have
quarrelled with his dictum: “Each civilization has its own possibilities
of expression, which appear, mature and wither, and never recur.”[7]
When he states, furthermore, “I see in world-history the image of a
perennial configuration and transfiguration, a wonderful formation and
dissolution of organic forms. The professional historian, however, sees
in it the image of a tape-worm which tirelessly puts forth period after
period,” there is enough truth in this scathing remark for it to strike
home. It is a negative truth, but it is born of a true perception of the
poverty of our usual view of history as an evolutionary process. This
view encourages us to project the axioms, habits of thought, and norms
of the present day into the past, which, as a result, seems to contain
little that is unfamiliar to us. It is remarkable how rarely historians
of ancient or alien civilizations have guarded themselves against that
danger. In this respect Herodotus was more perspicacious; he realized
that the values of different cultures may be incommensurate when he
frankly epitomized his description of Ancient Egypt in the statement
that its laws and customs were, on the whole, the opposite of those of
the rest of mankind.[8] This peculiar integration of the facts satisfied
a Greek facing Barbarians. We, however, seek understanding. We can be
resigned neither to registering astonishment nor to accepting the
solution which a misconceived regard for objectivity sometimes proposes:
a mere chronicling of the facts. We cannot rest content when we know
that the Egyptians considered their king a god, entombed him in a
pyramid, buried cats and dogs, and mummified their dead. We want to
recover the cultural “form” in which these odd phenomena find their
proper place and meaning. But it is a laborious, and never completed,
task to rediscover the original coherence of a past mode of life from
the surviving remains. Spengler attempts short cuts; overrating the
extent of his truly remarkable erudition, and, for the rest, trusting
recklessly his intuition, he forces the evidence to fit the schemata
which he has conceived. He describes, for instance, the bearer of
Egyptian civilization as follows:

  The Egyptian soul—pre-eminently gifted for and inclined towards
  history, striving with primeval passion towards the
  infinite—experienced past and future as its entire universe, and the
  present ... but as a narrow borderland between two measureless
  distances. The Egyptian civilization is an embodiment of concern—the
  soul’s correlate of distance—concern with the future, manifest in the
  choice of granite and basalt as the material for sculpture, in the
  engraved documents, in the elaboration of a masterly system of
  administration and a net of irrigation works; of necessity a concern
  with the past is linked with this concern for the future.[9]

I hold this image of ancient Egypt evoked by Spengler to be totally at
variance with the evidence. I have recently interpreted this evidence
and described how (to take up the points raised by Spengler) the
Egyptians had very little sense of history or of past and future. For
they conceived their world as essentially static and unchanging. It had
gone forth complete from the hands of the Creator. Historical incidents
were, consequently, no more than superficial disturbances of the
established order, or recurring events of never-changing significance.
The past and the future—far from being a matter of concern—were wholly
implicit in the present; and the odd facts enumerated above—the divinity
of animals and kings, the pyramids, mummification—as well as several
other and seemingly unrelated features of Egyptian civilization—its
moral maxims, the forms peculiar to its poetry and prose—can all be
understood as a result of a basic conviction that only the changeless is
truly significant.[10] I do not offer this summary as a formula by means
of which Egyptian civilization becomes comprehensible, for it explains
nothing by itself and does not pretend to replace the detailed and
concrete description of Egyptian life and thought which it summarizes.
Nor can even such a detailed description ever be final or entirely
comprehensive. I do hold that a viewpoint whence many seemingly
unrelated facts are seen to acquire meaning and coherence is likely to
represent a historical reality; at least, I know of no better definition
of historical truth. But each new insight discloses new complexities
which now demand elucidation, while at all times a number of facts are
likely to remain outside any network to be established. However, if our
view is true as far as it goes, then Spengler’s view is baseless.

Spengler’s lack of respect for the phenomena has a twofold cause. It is
due in part to his overweening conceit, in part to his lack of
experience. Like Toynbee, he is truly familiar only with classical
antiquity and its western descendant. His _Urmensch_, his “primordial
man,” is the Greek or the Aryan Indian.[11] He ignores altogether the
work of those who have ventured outside the familiar in order to meet an
alien spirit on its own terms—the anthropologists, or, more precisely,
the ethnologists or cultural anthropologists. These scholars have come
up against behaviour defying every modern norm in their personal contact
with primitive peoples, and in their encounters discovered an approach
to the study of alien cultures which the historian of antiquity would be
wise to make his own. The ethnologist will not take for granted savage
customs and usages which seem comprehensible—even familiar—to him. For
he has observed that cultural traits cannot be studied in isolation
since they are integral parts of a whole—the given civilization—and
derive their meaning from the particular whole in which they occur. Ruth
Benedict, in her lucid _Patterns of Culture_, states the case as

  It is in cultural life as it is in speech: selection is the prime
  necessity.... We must imagine a great arc on which are ranged the
  possible interests provided either by the human age-cycle or by the
  environment or by man’s various activities. A culture that capitalized
  even a considerable proportion of these would be as unintelligible as
  a language that used all the clicks, all the glottal stops, all the
  labials, dentals, sibilants and gutturals from voiceless to voiced,
  and from oral to nasal. Its identity as a culture depends upon the
  selection of some segments of this arc. Every human society everywhere
  has made such a selection in its cultural institutions. Each, from the
  point of view of another, ignores fundamentals and exploits
  irrelevancies. One culture hardly recognizes monetary values; another
  has made them fundamental in every field of behaviour. In one society
  technology is unbelievably slighted even in those aspects of life
  which seem necessary to ensure survival; in another, equally simple,
  technological achievements are complex and fitted with admirable
  nicety to the situation. One builds an enormous cultural
  superstructure upon adolescence, one upon death, one upon

Hence—and as a warning to those who are partial to utilitarian
explanations: “The importance of an institution in a culture gives no
direct indication of its usefulness or its inevitability,”[13] for
cultural behaviour is integrated and the whole determines the
significance of the parts:

  Within each culture there come into being characteristic purposes not
  necessarily shared by other types of society. In obedience to these
  purposes each people further and further consolidates its experience
  ... and the most ill-assorted acts become characteristic of its
  peculiar goals, often by the most unlikely metamorphoses. The form
  that these acts take we can understand only by understanding first the
  emotional and intellectual mainsprings of that society.[14]

  We have seen that any society selects some segment of the arc of
  possible human behaviour, and in so far as it achieves integration its
  institutions tend to further the expression of its selected segment
  and to inhibit the opposite expressions.[15]

There is, in this last passage, a suggestion of the dynamics of the
formation of a civilization but it is not this aspect but that of “form”
which prevails in the work of Benedict or Malinowski. For modern savages
are relatively stagnant if we discount the disturbances caused by the
white man. Hence the title _Patterns of Culture_.

It is, however, precisely the problem of the dynamics of cultural
change—a problem misconstrued by Spengler and rightly ignored by Ruth
Benedict—which lies at the centre of Arnold Toynbee’s work. The first
three volumes of _A Study of History_ appeared in 1934, a second group
of three in 1939, and a final group is still to be published. But we are
told that the preoccupation from which the work has sprung, goes back as
far as 1911, when Toynbee travelled in Crete and saw the newly
discovered remains of the sea-empire of Minos. Then he chanced on the
ruins of a Venetian villa, remnant of the time when Venice had dominated
the Mediterranean with its galleys. And Toynbee was disconcerted at the
thought that yet another empire that “rules the waves” even in our own
day might follow its predecessors in decline.[16] Now a preoccupation
with decay such as underlies Toynbee’s work need not in itself vitiate
study of the birth of civilization; however, the “change and identity”
of cultural forms must not be handled mechanically but with all the
reverence for the singular which historical material demands. And it is
here rather than in errors of fact (which are inevitable in a work of
this scope) that we find Toynbee’s work defective. We must, moreover,
take exception to his lack of critical precision and to the inadequacy
of his conceptual apparatus.

Toynbee, like Spengler, invests certain images which he uses with a
spurious reality. These ostensible similes pervade the argument with an
implied assurance that they reflect historical situations. When Toynbee
compares civilizations with motor cars on a one-way street,[17] or with
men resting or climbing on a mountainside, he conveys the impression
(which he himself judges correct) that a definite direction, a forward
or upward movement, is discernible in history. But such dynamics are
imputed, not observed. He writes:

  Primitive societies, as we know them by direct observation, may be
  likened to people lying torpid upon a ledge on a mountainside, with a
  precipice below and a precipice above; civilizations may be likened to
  companions of these “sleepers of Ephesus” who have just risen to their
  feet and have started to climb on up the face of the cliff.[18]

This image (further elaborated in the book, and duly illustrated with a
picture in _Time_ magazine) does a great deal more than tell us that
primitive societies are static and civilizations dynamic. The dominating
feature of the image is the rock cliff with its succession of ledges and
precipices. Where is the historical reality corresponding to this
scenery which exists _independent_ of the sleepers and climbers and
_determines_ their direction? The “one-way street” likewise suggests a
predetermined orientation and limitation of cultural endeavour. Toynbee
believes that there is a cliff to be climbed, a street to be followed.
Yet the truth is—in the terms of his images—that we see figures at rest
or on the move in a cloudy space but know nothing about their relative
position: we do not know which ledge is above or below which other
ledge. Or again: we see motor cars moving, halting, or out of order. But
we do not know whether they move in an alley, or on a four-drive
highway, on an open plain, or within a circle—we do not even know
whether there is an entrance or exit at all.

Toynbee’s images betray an evolutionistic as well as a moral bias which
interferes with the historian’s supreme duty of doing justice to each
civilization on its own terms. Why should we characterize civilizations
which have achieved a deep and lasting harmony (like those of the Zuni
or of certain Polynesians) as “arrested civilizations” where “no energy
is left over for reconnoitring the course of the road ahead, or the face
of the cliff above them, with a view to a further advance”?[19] Where is
this road or this cliff? Why should these chimaeras and a feverish
desire for “advancement” disturb the satisfaction of people who have
attained the double integration of individual and society and of society
and nature? Toynbee merely projects postulates which fulfil an emotional
need in the West into human groups whose values lie elsewhere. In our
own terms: Toynbee declares the “dynamism” of western civilization to be
universally valid; and he can do that only by ignoring the “form” of
non-western civilizations. But understanding is thereby precluded.

Toynbee is not the first historian to introduce the notion of “progress”
in his work, and the fallacy of this procedure has been well
demonstrated by Collingwood.[20] Of his arguments we can quote only two
passages. He maintains that a historian comparing two historical periods
or ways of life must be able to “understand (them) historically, that is
with enough sympathy and insight to reconstruct their experience for
himself.” But that means that he has already accepted them as things to
be judged by their own standards. Each is for the historian “a form of
life having its own problems, to be judged by its success in solving
those problems and no others. Nor is he assuming that the two different
ways of life were attempts to do one and the same thing and asking
whether the second did it better than the first. Bach was not trying to
write like Beethoven and failing; Athens was not a relatively
unsuccessful attempt to produce Rome.”

Collingwood then indicates the exceptional (and really purely academic)
case in which one may be entitled to speak of progress,[21] and in doing
so touches upon a subject with which modern man is particularly

  Can we speak of progress in happiness or comfort or satisfaction?
  Obviously not.... The problem of being comfortable in a medieval
  cottage is so different from the problem of being comfortable in a
  modern slum that there is no comparing them; the happiness of a
  peasant is not contained in the happiness of a millionaire.

Toynbee, though he is less precise than Collingwood, does formulate what
he means by progress. He equates it with growth, and “growth is progress
towards self-determination.”[22] But Toynbee, who is a believing
Christian, surely knows that self-determination may not be a matter of
gradual advance at all, but rather a flash-like illumination in which
one’s true nature stands revealed. As a rule, the sequel to this
experience is a life-long struggle for a realization of the vision. Why
could not this type of self-determination also, like the slow and
gradual realization, have an analogy in the life of civilizations?
Flinders Petrie and others have maintained that every significant trait
of Egyptian culture had been evolved before the end of the Third
Dynasty. We find once more that Toynbee has uncritically proclaimed the
universal validity of one of several possible sequences. And if he
describes “the consummation of human history” as “accomplishing the
transformation of Sub-Man through Man into Super-Man”[23] and calls this
“the goal towards which ‘the whole creation groaneth and travaileth’
(Romans viii, 22),”[24] we may respect his faith but can hardly accept
it as the argument of an “empirical student of history.”[25]

It is, in fact, odd that Toynbee, who opens his work with an excellent
statement of the relativity of historical thought, who complains that “a
local and temporary standpoint has given our historians a false
perspective,” remains himself so completely under the spell of a
nineteenth-century western outlook. His evolutionary bias, his
empiricism, and his treatment of civilizations as “specimens of a
species” are all of a piece. He sometimes equals Spengler in
myth-making, treating his equation of civilizations and living beings as
a reality, and appealing to biological opinion to uphold a historical
conclusion.[26] His use of “species” and “genus” obscures the
fundamental fact that science can study individuals as members of a
species only by ignoring their individual characteristics. The
historian, following this course, would defeat the very purpose of his

In fact, Toynbee’s vaunted empiricism is an attempt to transpose the
method of the natural sciences, where experiment is essential and
experience is reduced to figures, to history, where experiment is
impossible and experience subjective. Toynbee’s “experience” (a word
which, in the case of a historian, may stand for intimate acquaintance
with historical data) is confined to classical antiquity and its western
descendant. It is an odd fact that he should have supposed this limited
field capable of supplying the conceptual apparatus with which every
historical phenomenon could be comprehended, and that he should have
done this, not unconsciously, but knowingly, although unaware of the
enormity of his assumption. For anyone moving outside western tradition
should soon discover the truth that the values found in different
civilizations are incommensurate. And so we find Toynbee, like Spengler,
doing violence to the evidence and forcing each civilization into a
preconceived system of categories. In his case the system is not, like
Spengler’s, an imaginative construction; but it is derived from the
crucial period in western history when the Roman Empire disintegrated.
His generalization of particular circumstances results not in historical
errors but in irrelevancies. It would be a tedious and laborious task to
demonstrate this to the full; but let us take two characteristic
quotations referring to Egypt.

Toynbee expects to find in every civilization an analogy of the early
Christian Church in the Roman Empire, and thus postulates for Egypt an
“Osireian Church” as a “universal church created by an internal
proletariat.”[27] Now, a “church” as an organized body of believers was
not known in Egypt at any time (nor in Mesopotamia, for that matter).
The worship of Osiris, always a main concern of the king, spread through
all classes of the population, but merely as one among many devotions
which filled the life of every Egyptian; the god was never honoured by
one group more than by another. And, in fact, no section of the
population of Egypt can be called a proletariat if this word is to
remain applicable to imperial Rome or to modern times. If,
elsewhere,[28] Toynbee describes the expulsion of the Hyksos invaders
from Egypt as due to a “_union sacrée_ between the dominant minority of
the Egyptiac society and its internal proletariat against the external
proletariat as represented by the Hyksos” one can only say that the
words, severally and in conjunction, do not apply. But he continues:

  for it was this reconciliation at the eleventh hour that prolonged the
  existence of the Egyptiac society—in a petrified state of
  life-in-death—for two thousand years beyond the date when the progress
  of disintegration would otherwise have reached its natural term in
  dissolution. And this life-in-death was not merely an unprofitable
  burden to the moribund Egyptiac society itself; it was also a fatal
  blight upon the growth of the living Osireian church ... for this
  _union sacrée_ ... took the form of an amalgamation of the living
  worship of Osiris with the dead worship of the official Egyptiac

Reading this, one would not suspect that the five centuries following
the expulsion of the Hyksos are the most brilliant epoch of Egyptian
history. One would also not assume that after about one thousand years
of this “life-in-death,” religious texts glorifying Amon-Re were written
which in profundity of thought and literary splendour belong to the
greatest in Egyptian literature, and are its nearest approach to the
majestic monotheism of the Old Testament.[29] Surely an “empirical”
approach would have started from the fact that Egyptian civilization did
actually retain its vitality over an unusually long period. Toynbee,
however, declares that the Egyptian achievements in the second and first
millennia B.C. are but illusions, for the scheme to which he is
committed (although it is alien, and hence irrelevant, to Egyptian
history) requires a “time of troubles” before the Middle Kingdom[30]
which must be followed by a “universal church” with its two types of
proletariat. Thus the confessed “empiricist” adheres to a preconceived
system and disposes of the facts by proclaiming the Hyksos period “a
date when the process of disintegration _would otherwise_ have reached
its _natural_ term in dissolution.” (The italics are mine.)

The scheme which we have criticized in its application to Egypt is
intended to render account of the dynamics of civilizations in their
last phases. For the early phases, the classical world cannot supply
ready-made notions. Here Toynbee introduces a set of formulas which may
be summarized in his own words:

  Growth is achieved, when an individual, or a minority, or a whole
  society, replies to a challenge by a response, which not only answers
  the particular challenge that has evoked it, but also exposes the
  respondent to a fresh challenge which demands a fresh response on his
  part. And the process of growth continues, in any given case, so long
  as this recurrent movement of disturbance and restoration and
  overbalance and renewed disturbance of equilibrium is maintained.[31]

But communities react differently under a common challenge; some are apt

  to succumb whereas others strike out a successful response through a
  creative movement of Withdrawal-and-Return, while others again,
  neither succeed in responding along original lines nor fail to respond
  altogether, but manage to survive the crisis by waiting until some
  creative individual or creative minority has shown the way through,
  and then following tamely in the footsteps of the pioneers.

These plausible words do not, upon closer inspection, explain the
problem which concerns us. The “creative movement of
Withdrawal-and-Return” is illustrated by examples which rob it not only
of its obvious, but of all definite, meaning.[32]

The other formula—that of “Challenge-and-Response”[33]—is not evolved
from inside history either but is applied, as it were, from the outside;
and its applicability, let alone its power to explain the facts, is
often more than doubtful. “Challenge-and-Response” is sometimes used to
describe a true conflict; sometimes it refers merely to the ordinary
seesaw of historical fortune. Always, however, it has a misleading ring,
since _observed facts_ are called a response, to a _hypothetical
challenge_ construed to meet those facts. In Volume II, “The Range of
Challenge-and-Response,” we find headings like “The Stimulus of Hard
Countries,” “The Stimulus of New Ground,” “The Stimulus of Blows,” “The
Stimulus of Pressure,” “The Stimulus of Penalization,” and so on. The
primary data of history merely show that certain peoples achieved
greatness; Toynbee thinks that the adverse conditions which he
enumerates served as stimuli. That may be so. In any case, it does not
explain the fact which, above all others, requires explanation, namely,
that in some cases these conditions worked as stimuli and in others they
did not. I do not find, therefore, that the formula is conducive to
understanding; it must in each case invent a challenge to fit a
historical reality which it labels response.

Our criticism does not proceed from a positivistic belief in a so-called
“scientific” historiography which is supposed first to assemble
objective facts which are subsequently interpreted. Our objection here
is not against Toynbee’s procedure, but against a terminology which
obscures what is the starting-point, and what the outcome, of his
procedure. And we make the further criticism that he does not actually
evolve from each particular historical situation the notion of a
particular challenge to which it can be construed as a response; he
applies the formula, as I have said, from the outside, and it is
therefore doomed to irrelevance. For example: Toynbee considers the
descent of the prehistoric Egyptians into the marshy Nile valley as
their response to the challenge of the desiccation of North Africa. In
their new homeland they faced, in due course, as a further challenge,
“the internal articulation of the new-born Egyptiac society” and failed.
The truth is that the Egyptians flourished exceedingly for two thousand
years after the Pyramid Age; but Toynbee thinks they failed because he
cannot conceive of a “response” in Egyptian terms, but only in those
with which he is familiar: secular government, democracy, and the Poor
Law.[34] But since neither the rich nor the poor Egyptians took this
view of their state, Toynbee’s conclusion is irrelevant. It is true that
he quotes the tales which dragomans told to late Greek travellers about
the oppressive rule of the builders of the pyramids. But the actual
folk-tales of Pharaonic Egypt show us that the people took as great a
delight in tales of royalty as the public of the Arabian Nights took in
the doings of the despot Harun al Rashid. Snefru, whom Toynbee names, is
known as one of the most popular rulers in legend. The fact of the
matter is that Toynbee should have started from an analysis of the
“response.” This would not have shown, as Toynbee has it, that “Death
laid its icy hand on the life of the growing civilization at the moment
when the challenge that was the stimulus of its growth was transferred
from the external to the internal field [from the subjugation of nature
to the organization of society, H.F.] because in this new situation, the
shepherds of the people betrayed their trust.”[35] Studied without
preconceived ideas the “response” of the Egyptians stands revealed as a
vastly different achievement. The ideal of a marvellously integrated
society had been formed long before the pyramids were built; it was as
nearly realized, when they were built, as any ideal social form can be
translated into actuality; and it remained continuously before the eyes
of rulers and people alike during subsequent centuries. It was an ideal
which ought to thrill a western historian by its novelty, for it falls
entirely outside the experience of Greek or Roman or Modern Man,
although it survives, in an attenuated form, in Africa. It represents a
harmony between man and the divine which is beyond our boldest dreams,
since it was maintained by divine power which had taken charge of the
affairs of man in the person of Pharaoh. Society moved in unison with
nature. Justice, which was the social aspect of the cosmic order,
pervaded the commonwealth. The “trust” which the people put in their
“shepherds” was by no means what Toynbee imagines; their trust was that
Pharaoh should wield to the full the absolute power to which his
divinity entitled him, and which enabled him—as nothing else could—to
ensure the well-being of the whole community.

It seems to me that these discussions have cleared the ground for our
understanding. Generalizations based on a limited historical experience,
and theorizing, however ingeniously conducted, _must_ fail to disclose
the individual character of any one civilization or of any one series of
events. We must concentrate on what Ruth Benedict called the “selected
segment of the arc of possible human behaviour,” “the characteristic
purposes not necessarily shared by other types of society.” In our own
terms: In studying the birth of a civilization we are concerned with the
emergence of its “form.”


At the end of our last chapter we said that the study of the birth of a
civilization means watching the emergence of its “form.” We have also
seen that this “form” is elusive, that it is not a concrete mould, or a
standard which we can apply to our observations to see whether they
conform with it. We have described it as “a certain consistency in
orientation, a cultural style.” Recognizing it amounts to discovering a
point of view from where seemingly unrelated facts acquire coherence and
meaning. Even so the “form” of a civilization remains intangible; it is
implicit in the preoccupations and valuations of the people. It imparts
to their achievements—to their arts and institutions, their literature,
their theology—something distinct and final, something which has its own
peculiar perfection. Therefore a discussion of the emergence of form
entails a knowledge of a civilization in its maturity, a familiarity
with its classical expression in every field. Then it should be possible
to work backwards from better-known to early times until the point is
reached where the familiar phenomena are lost sight of and where,
conversely, their emergence must be postulated.[36]

This procedure, however, has a double disadvantage. It obscures
development because it moves against the current of time; and it fails
to describe, first of all, the conditions under which the civilization
took shape—in other words, its prehistoric antecedents. Now I am not
prepared to attempt a definition of the distinction between prehistory
and history in general terms, for even within the ancient Near East the
distinction is problematical.[37] I shall simply use the term
“prehistory” to denote the period preceding the emergence of Egyptian
and Mesopotamian civilization, and shall discuss first the climatic
conditions in the Near East at that time and then the form of society
which prevailed before the events with which we are primarily concerned
took place.

At present the arable lands of Egypt and Western Asia are embedded in
large tracts of desert. But it seems that in the Ice Age the pressure of
cold air over Europe compelled the Atlantic rain storms to travel east
by a more southerly track so that the whole area from the west coast of
Africa to the Persian mountains was a continuous belt of park and
grassland. In Algeria and southern Tripolitania hunters of the Old Stone
Age engraved images of elephants, buffaloes, and giraffes on rocks now
surrounded for hundreds of miles by an arid waste where life is utterly
impossible. Paleolithic implements have been found on the high desert
which flanks the Nile valley, and in Syria, Palestine, and Kurdistan.
Carved tools found in Palestine (Fig. 1, A, B) and the engravings from
North Africa find close parallels in the splendid engravings and
paintings from the caves of southern France and northern Spain.

We want to dwell for a moment on the paleolithic remains in order to
insist that even these distant hunters cannot be understood as “part of
nature.”[38] From paleolithic times onwards, man has been aware of being
involved, not only with his kindred, but with superhuman powers. This
dual involvement becomes apparent as soon as we find more than the mere
bones and implements of man. In France and Spain hunters of the Old
Stone Age left us astonishing paintings and engravings depicting the
game upon which they were dependent. These works of art are found in the
remote depths of caves and could only be reached at mortal risk.
Analogies found among modern people still living in the Stone Age allow
us to see in the marvellous images of the beasts, the traces of dancing
feet on the soil of the caves, the stones marked with linear signs, the
figures of masked or dancing men, expressions of a coherent religious
conception, proclaiming man’s intimate and reciprocal relationship with
the animals, and beyond these, with the divine. Such a brief formula is,
of course, ludicrously inadequate;[39] for one thing it substitutes
articulate concepts for unreflected experience. But we formulate it in
order to emphasize that, from the first, man possessed creative
imagination, and we have to reckon with this in considering social
cohesion. If the earliest men of whom we have knowledge co-operated in
order to trap and kill animals far more powerful than themselves, their
hunting differed _toto cælo_ from the hunting of a pack of wolves. Their
art proves that their relation with their game was not a mere matter of
killing and devouring, and that their parties were kept together, not
merely by common need, but also by imaginative, religious conceptions,
made explicit, not in doctrine, but in acts.

The transition from paleolithic to neolithic culture is not yet known;
but we do know that a change of climate, which started in the Old Stone
Age, continued in the New, and very gradually changed living conditions
throughout the Near East. Libya remained rich in vineyards, olive trees,
and cattle up to the end of the second millennium B.C.—a fact which may
be surmised from records of booty brought back from there: by a Pharaoh
of the First Dynasty;[40] by Sahure of the Fifth Dynasty (about 2475
B.C.), who listed 100,000 head of cattle and more than 200,000 each of
asses, goats, and sheep;[41] and finally by Ramses III (about 1175
B.C.), who was still able to take away 3600 head of cattle, in addition
to horses, asses, sheep, and goats.[42] At the opposite end of the Near
East, in south-eastern Iran, Sir Aurel Stein was unable to round up a
“minimum of local labour” to investigate the thickly dotted ruins of
ancient settlements.[43] Nevertheless, progressive desiccation marked
the period from perhaps 7000 B.C. onwards, turning the plateaux from
grassland into steppe and, ultimately, into desert, and making the
valleys of the great rivers inhabitable. When meadows and shrub lands
began to emerge from the swamps and mudflats along the river courses,
man descended from the highlands.

Now the earliest inhabitants of the valleys were in possession of a
considerable body of knowledge which the hunters of the Ice Age had
lacked. And we do not know how the change from old to new, from the Old
Stone Age to the New Stone Age, came about; for nowhere has a series of
continuous remains covering the transition been _recognized_. I use this
word advisedly, for we shall see in a moment that the change was of such
a nature that its earliest consequences may well defy recognition. We
know, however, that this change, like the later one with which we are
more especially concerned, took place in the Near East.[44]

The outstanding new feature of the neolithic age is agriculture, with
emmer wheat (_Triticum dicoccum_) and six-rowed barley (_Hordeum
hexastichum_) as the main crops. Now the wild ancestors of these grains
survive even to-day in Syria and Palestine. In the same region, in caves
on Mount Carmel, were discovered remains of the earliest men who used
sickles.[45] This does not prove, of course, that they _cultivated_
grain; they may merely have _harvested_ grasses which grew wild. The
point is of importance since these people—known in archaeological
literature as Natufians—belong to the very end of the Old Stone Age. Yet
the Natufians were the initiators, or at least the early practitioners,
of a technique of harvesting which survived in the earliest agricultural
settlements of neolithic times. Their peculiar sickles consisted of a
grooved haft of bone in which short pieces of flint—“teeth”—were mounted
(Fig. 1 A, B).[46] Such sickles are also found in the oldest settlements
in the Fayum (in Egypt) (Fig. 1 D),[47] at Hassuna in northern Iraq,[48]
and at Sialk near Kashan in Persia (Fig. 1 C).[49] They date perhaps
about 5000 B.C., possibly a thousand years or more after the Natufians.
In Egypt, during the First Dynasty (about 3100 B.C.), the sickle-haft
was improved by being curved; it was now made of wood but retained its
cutting edge of small flints (Fig. 1 E),[50] and sickles of this type
were used as late as the Twelfth Dynasty (about 2000 B.C.).[51] In Iraq,
too, sickles with curved wooden handles in which flint teeth were set
were used as late as the Second Early Dynasty period, about 2700
B.C.[52] In Asia Minor and Europe no trace of the hafts has survived,
but the distinctive flint teeth have been found in Anatolia, South
Russia, on the Danube, and at the western end of the Mediterranean at
Almeria. They occur also throughout North Africa. It is clear, then,
that the diffusion of agriculture consisted not merely in spreading the
knowledge of emmer and barley but in a simultaneous diffusion of the odd
and complex harvesting tool, first used, as far as we know, by the
Natufians. Radiating from the Near East, the new knowledge spread in
widening circles, reaching the shores of the Baltic and the North Sea
about 2500 B.C.[53] However, many questions remain at present
unanswered. When did men undertake to improve the wild grasses and to
produce, by cross-breeding and selection, the vastly more nutritious
grains which were known to the earliest farmers of the neolithic period?
When, in fact, was the extraordinary first step taken and the
satisfaction of immediate needs limited in order to save seeds, store
them, safeguard them against insects and rodents, and sow them when the
time was propitious? This may have been done by the Natufians, but of
this we know nothing. Furthermore, we do not know how far agricultural
methods had advanced when they began to be diffused throughout the Old
World. In particular we know nothing about the origin of irrigation,
which played so large a part in Egypt and Mesopotamia, and which has
been repeatedly recognized as a factor greatly furthering social and
political cohesion, since it makes each settlement dependent on its
neighbours. We must, therefore, consider this invention.

It deserves notice that irrigation can be resorted to by people who do
not cultivate but collect wild-growing plants. This is done, for
instance, by certain Indians of the Great Basin of Western North
America,[54] and their methods could very well have been followed by the
Natufians utilizing the wadi running at the foot of their cliffs. We may
admit, then, that irrigation _could_ have been one of the features of
the original agricultural complex which spread from the Near East; but
there are serious arguments to the contrary.

In the first place, the spread of agriculture seems to have been
achieved by means of a slow migration of the cultivators. Primitive hoe
or garden cultivation (which is still practised) exhausts the soil it
uses. It ignores rotation of crops or fallowing; after some years a
fresh piece of ground must be cleared and sown. When the neighbourhood
has been farmed, the village moves farther into the bush. The smallness
of the neolithic settlements and of their cemeteries,[55] and the manner
in which they spread into the European continent, suggests this type of
slow but continual migration outwards from the centre where agriculture
was first practised. There is no dependence on irrigation to be observed

In the second place, there are African parallels which suggest that the
earliest agriculture in the Nile valley and Mesopotamia could also have
proceeded without irrigation. The conditions in these river valleys in
antiquity resembled closely those found nowadays on the Blue Nile, where
semi-Hamitic nomads, the Hadendoa, sow and harvest in the simple manner
which we shall now describe. It is possible, therefore, to postulate
similar simple methods for the prehistoric Egyptians. Burckhardt renders
his observations in the Taka country of Nubia as follows:

  About the latter end of June ... large torrents coming from the South
  and South-east pour over the country and in the space of a few weeks
  cover the whole surface with a sheet of water, varying in depth from
  two to three feet.... The waters, on subsiding, leave a thick slime,
  or mud, upon the surface, similar to that left by the Nile....
  Immediately after the inundation is imbibed, the Beduins sow the seed
  upon the alluvial mud, without any previous preparation whatever. The
  inundation is usually accompanied by heavy downpours. The rains last
  several weeks longer than the inundation but they are not incessant,
  falling in heavy showers at short intervals.

  The people appear to be ignorant of tillage. They have no regular
  fields; and the Dhourra, their only grain, is sown among the thorny
  trees and tents, by dibbling large holes in the ground, into each of
  which a handful of the seed is thrown. After the harvest is gathered,
  the peasants return to their pastoral occupations; they seem never to
  have thought of irrigating the ground for a second crop with the water
  which might everywhere be found by digging wells. Not less than
  four-fifths of the ground remains unsown; but as the quantity of
  Dhourra produced is generally sufficient ... they never think of
  making any provisions for increasing it, notwithstanding that, when
  the inundation is not copious, or only partial (no one remembers it
  ever failing entirely) they suffer all the misery of want.[56]

This kind of procedure could not, of course, have been invented in
Palestine and Syria where rivers with regularly recurring inundations
are unknown. However, the same results can be achieved where there are
copious spring rains. Newberry says of the Alabdeh (Hamites living
between the Nile valley and the Red Sea): “Some of these nomads sow a
little barley or millet after a rainstorm, and then pitch their tents
for a while till the grain grows, ripens and can be gathered. Then they
move on again with their little flocks.”[57]

There are, then, many ways in which a temporary abundance of water can
be utilized by simple people to produce crops, and it may well be that
the systematic distribution of water which marks the agriculture of
historical times in Egypt and Mesopotamia did not exist in prehistoric
times at all. We shall see that the problem of drainage was at first as
important as that of irrigation, or rather more so; in this respect the
modern analogies do not hold good.

The uncertainty attached to the earliest phases of agriculture makes it
impossible to speculate on the immediate social consequences of the
invention of food production. One would expect these to consist in a
greater emphasis on local rather than tribal groupings, a limitation of
outlook and horizon, a progressive differentiation of separate
settlements as a result of their attachment to the soil. But the
introduction of agriculture probably did not mean the more or less
speedy transition to a fully settled life or to a socio-political
organization on a large scale.[58] Nor did it mean that all the other
ways of finding sustenance were neglected. A “partial exploitation of
the environment”[59] is characteristic of modern savages who have become
stuck in a backwater, but not of the true primitives of antiquity. The
Natufians may have sown a catch crop or gathered wild grasses, but they
also hunted deer and speared fish. All the early settlements of the Near
East show signs of a many-sided economy, although in all of them
agriculture played an important part. In all of them, too, we find
stock-breeding; and this is an innovation which we must simply take for
granted since its origin and motivation is at present quite obscure.[60]
The Natufians did not possess domestic animals.

Other inventions, too, were known throughout the Near East in the
earliest settlements of the New Stone Age. Pottery-making is one of
them, weaving another. It is hardly to be wondered that we cannot follow
the first phases of their existence. If the earliest pots, for instance,
were only dried in the sun or lightly baked or were merely clay-lined
baskets, they cannot be expected to have survived. And it may be
considered exceptionally fortunate that of early textiles a few scraps
have survived for six or seven thousand years.[61] It is likewise only
due to the refinements of modern excavation technique that the oldest of
the successive settlements of Hassuna, near Mosul (Fig. 2), was
recognized as a camp site, consisting of no more than a number of
hearths, still containing wood ashes. They were made of “potsherds and
pebbles set in a kind of primitive cement” with pottery lying around
them.[62] Only in higher levels did adobe walls appear. This single
instance in which a very early settlement was recognized explains why
others remain unknown.[63] But we know that after (or during) the time
of the Natufians these important discoveries were made and diffused
among villages stretching from the Nile valley through the Delta and
thence in a great arch (Fig. 51) from Jericho in the south, via Byblos
and Ras Shamra on the Syrian coast to Mersin in Cilicia; then, through
the Amuq plain, east of Antioch, via Carchemish on the Euphrates to Tell
Halaf and Chagar Bazar in North Syria to Nineveh and Hassuna near Mosul,
and on eastwards, to Sialk near Kashan in central Persia.

Throughout this region we find small self-contained and self-supporting
settlements. Some beads, shells, or other luxuries may have been
imported from more or less distant regions by means of hand-to-hand
barter. Occasionally a rare raw material, such as obsidian—volcanic
glass, flaked and used, like flint, for tools—was obtained regularly
from outside. For the rest, one gets an impression of a somewhat
stagnant prosperity in which the great new inventions were thoroughly
exploited but little changed from generation to generation for a very
long time. There are differences in the crafts: flint tools, pot designs
(even ceramic techniques), and personal ornaments differ from region to
region and even, as in prehistoric Thessaly, from village to village.
There are also changes in style in the course of time. But these local
and temporal differences must not detain us as we survey the prehistory
of the ancient Near East with a view to the subsequent development. For
that purpose we can divide the region into three parts: the two great
river valleys and the area between, in which the rich plains of North
Syria were the most important part. This central area was prosperous,
but it remained unprogressive until the second millennium, dependent on
the great cultural centres in Egypt and Mesopotamia. For that reason, we
shall confine our attention to the river valleys.

Modern Egypt, even if we disregard the aridity of its climate, differs
entirely from the land with which we are here concerned. Nowadays the
whole of the country is so intensively cultivated that it does not
possess sufficient grazing for its cattle, and one sees cows, buffaloes
and asses tethered at the desert edge and fed on cultivated crops such
as clover. The river is thoroughly controlled. The desert
valleys—wadis—are devoid of vegetation except for bushes of camel-thorn.
But in prehistoric, as well as in Pharaonic times, Egypt was a land of
marshes in which papyrus, sedge, and rushes grew to more than man’s
height (Fig. 3). The wadis, too, teemed with life; they are best
described as park land where as late as the New Kingdom (1400 B.C.) man
could hunt Barbary sheep, wild oxen, and asses, and a wide variety of
antelopes with their attendant carnivores. It has been pointed out[64]
that the methods of hunting prove that different types of landscape
could be found here. Sometimes rows of beaters are shown driving the
game towards the hunter or into nets, a method possible only in areas
which are somewhat thickly wooded. At other times lassos are used, which
presuppose pampa-like open spaces with low shrub.

In the valley, the annual flood of the Nile continuously changed the lay
of the land. When the water overflowed the river banks the silt,
previously kept in suspension by the speed of the swollen current,
precipitated. Some of this precipitation raised the river bed, the
remainder covered the banks and the area closest to them; towards the
edges of the valley there was comparatively little deposit. Thus banks
of considerable height were formed, and after some years the weight of
water broke through these natural dikes to seek a new course in
low-lying parts, some distance away. The old bed turned into swamp, but
its banks remained as ridges and hillocks whose height and area were
increased by wind-blown dust and silt caught at their edges. Trees took
root, and man settled there, sowing his crops and grazing his beasts in
the adjoining lowlands, to retire with them to the high ground of the
old banks when the river overflowed. During the inundation, fish, wild
boar, hippopotamus, and huge flocks of water birds invaded the
surrounding fields and supplied an abundance of food throughout the

All traces of these settlements in the valley proper have long since
disappeared; they have been not merely silted over but washed away by
the changes in the river’s course.[65] This explains why we find traces
of early settlements only at the edge of the valley, on the spurs of
detritus at the foot of the high cliffs. We must imagine the valley, not
flat and featureless as it is to-day, but dotted with hamlets perched on
the high banks of former watercourses and surrounded by an ever-changing
maze of channels, marsh, and meadow. Even as late as the First
Intermediate period, just before 2000 B.C., the populace of a province
in Middle Egypt left their homes and hid in swamps in the valley to
escape the dangers of civil war and marauding soldiers.[66] And the
early predynastic settlements at the valley’s edge were built in groves;
among the remains of huts and shelters, tree roots of considerable size
have been found.[67]

The prehistoric, “predynastic,” period of Egypt clearly falls into two
parts or stages (Fig. 4). The earliest of these is known in three
successive phases called Tasian, Badarian, and Amratian,[68] each a
modified development of its predecessor. Together they represent the
African substratum of Pharaonic civilization, the material counterpart
of the affinities between ancient Egyptian and modern Hamitic languages;
of the physical resemblances between the ancient Egyptians and the
modern Hamites; and of the remarkable similarities in mentality between
these two groups which make it possible to understand ancient Egyptian
customs and beliefs by reference to modern Hamitic analogies.[69] The
second stage of predynastic culture—called Gerzean[70]—is in many ways a
continuation of Amratian; in other words, the preponderantly African
character remained. But new elements were added, and these point to
fairly close relations with the East, with Sinai, and with Palestine.
Foreign pottery was imported from that quarter. A new type of Egyptian
pottery, implying a change in ceramic technique, was derived from a
class of wavy-handled vases which were at home in Palestine. Several new
kinds of stone used for vases may have come from Sinai,[71] and the
increase in the use of copper points certainly to closer relations with
that peninsula. Although flint remained in use and flint-work achieved
an unrivalled beauty and refinement, copper was no longer an odd
substance used for luxuries but appeared in the form of highly practical
objects: harpoons, daggers, axes (one of which weighs 3½ pounds).[72]
The language of the country may also have been affected.[73]

The innovations of Gerzean can best be explained as the effect of a
permeation of Upper Egypt by people who had affinities with their
Asiatic neighbours and derived from them certain features of their
culture.[74] We know that in historical times a similar gradual but
continuous drift of people from Lower Egypt into Upper Egypt can be
observed.[75] During the Gerzean period the country seems to have become
more densely populated; and it has been suggested that the reclamation
of the marshland was begun.[76] Such work presupposes co-operation
between neighbouring groups and organization of men in some numbers. We
may assume that this took place, but on a strictly limited scale. For
there are no signs of large political units. There are no ruins of great
size, no monuments of an exceptional nature; and if it is objected that
these may have existed but may not have been discovered yet, we must
insist on the significant fact that among the many thousands of
predynastic graves which have been found, there is not a single one
which by its size or equipment suggests the burial of a great chief.[77]
The Gerzean innovation did not change the general character of the
country’s culture; the remains suggest a prosperous homogeneous
population, fully exploiting its rich environment and loosely organized
in villages and rural districts. It was in this setting that the
efflorescence of Pharaonic civilization occurred.

In Mesopotamia the corresponding change took place in the extreme south,
in the marshy plain between the head of the Persian Gulf and the higher
ground which stretches north from Samarra and Hit.[78] This older
diluvial part of the country had been farmed already for many centuries
before the south was inhabited. The northern farmers had passed through
three phases which can be distinguished by their material equipment (see
chronological table at end of book).[79] When the third was predominant
in the north, men from the Persian plateau entered the southern marshes.
Under present conditions it would be inconceivable that highlanders
would elect to do so, or even that they would be able to survive there.
But in the fifth and fourth millennia B.C. the Iranian plateau had not
yet become a salt desert. Many rivers, descending from the surrounding
mountains, ended in upland seas without an outlet and ringed by swamps.
Even to-day, in eastern Iran, marsh dwellers are found on the shores of
the great lake of the river Hamun.[80] Like the Marsh Arabs of southern
Iraq, they build boats and huts of reeds, fish and keep water buffaloes
and cattle. Similar conditions must have prevailed over much of Persia
in the period we are discussing, and immigrants from such regions would
be well prepared to face life in the delta of the Euphrates and Tigris.

The pottery made by the earliest settlers of South Mesopotamia shows
that they came from Persia. At first they retained the tightly
interwoven geometric designs used in their homeland;[81] but left to
themselves they soon adopted an easier flowing, careless decoration
(called Al Ubaid) which remained in use for many centuries and
represents the Persian tradition in only a very debased form. In many
places it is found on virgin soil, which shows that the settlers spread
farther through the country of which they had at first occupied only
certain localities. At Ur, for instance, detailed observations were made
which reveal the conditions in which men lived when the site was first
inhabited. The relevant layers show:

  a stratum of irregular thickness composed of refuse resulting from
  human occupation—ashes, disintegrated mud brick, potsherds, etc. This
  went down almost to sea-level; below it was a belt about one metre
  thick of mud, grey in colour above, and darkening to black below, much
  of which was clearly due to the decay of vegetation. In it were
  potsherds, sporadic above but becoming more numerous lower down and
  massed thickly at the bottom, all the fragments lying horizontally;
  they had the appearance of having sunk by their own weight through
  water into soft mud. At a metre below sea-level came stiff, green clay
  pierced by sinuous brown stains resulting from the decay of roots;
  with this all trace of human activity ceased. Evidently this was the
  bottom of Mesopotamia.[82]

Southern Mesopotamia resembled the Egyptian Delta, rather than the Nile
valley where cliffs constrain the meanderings of the river, and old
banks and spurs provide high ground. In Mesopotamia the lowest course of
Euphrates and Tigris presents, even to-day, a wilderness of reed forests
where the Marsh Arabs lead an amphibious existence (Fig. 6). All traffic
is by narrow bituminous skiffs; the people fish and keep some cattle,
living in reed huts built on mattresses of bent and trodden-down reed
stems. Their dwellings are described as follows:

  at one end is a low and narrow aperture which serves as a doorway,
  window and chimney combined; on the rush-strewn and miry floor sleep
  men and women, children and buffaloes, in warm proximity ... the
  ground of the hut often oozing water at every step.[83]

The chiefs’ reed tents are more impressive; they are large tunnels of
matting covering a framework of reed bundles which form semicircular
arches. Doors and windows are arranged in the mats closing either end.
We know that such structures were also used in the fourth millennium
B.C., for they are represented, with all the necessary detail, in the
earliest renderings of sacred buildings, notably the byres and folds of
temple animals (Fig. 5).

But modern savages are but diminished shadows of the true primitives,
and the ancient people of the Al Ubaid period exercised a mastery over
the marsh to which the modern inhabitants never as much as aspire.
Moreover, the people of the Al Ubaid period belonged to the most
advanced group of the prehistoric farmers. Copper was used in their
homeland for axes and adzes and even for mirrors. Bricks were known
there, too; and brick buildings and the waterproofing of reeds with
bitumen are certified for the period. It is likely that some reclamation
and drainage of marshland was undertaken. In any case, the men of the Al
Ubaid period appear from the first as cultivators, and we are free to
imagine their fields as shallow islands in the marsh or as reclaimed and
diked-in land.

The vitality and power of these earliest settlers is astonishing. Their
influence can be traced upstream, where their pottery replaced the Tell
Halaf wares completely, even occurring in appreciable quantities in
North Syria. Since it has nothing to recommend it as an article of
export, we must assume that its makers came with it and settled widely
throughout the upper reaches of Tigris and Euphrates. Nevertheless, the
Al Ubaid people were simple cultivators like their contemporaries in
Egypt and their predecessors in northern Iraq and Syria. This is most
clearly shown by their inability to organize trade in order to obtain
the copper which they had been accustomed to use in their country of
origin. Once settled in Mesopotamia and removed from the sources of the
metal, they used a substitute material that was locally available,
making axes (Fig. 7_a_), choppers, and sickles (Fig. 7_b_) of clay which
they fired at so high a temperature that it almost vitrified and thus
obtained a useful cutting edge. These implements were, of course, very
brittle and were broken by the hundreds. But they could be easily
replaced; and the isolated settlements achieved that autarchy which is
characteristic of early peasant cultures.

And yet the Al Ubaid period has left us some remains which suggest that
certain centres began to be of outstanding importance and that a change
in the rural character of the settlements was taking place. At Abu
Shahrein in the south,[84] and at Tepe Gawra in the north, temples were
erected. And these not only testify to a co-ordinated effort on a larger
scale than we would expect within the scope of a village culture, but
show also a number of features which continue in historical times—for
instance: the simple oblong shape of the sanctuary, with its altar and
offering table; the platforms on which the temples were set; the
strengthening buttresses (which developed into a system of piers and
recesses, rhythmically articulating the walls). Moreover, it is likely
that at Eridu there was continuity, not only of architectural
development, but of worship. In the absence of inscriptions this
contention cannot be proved. But the god worshipped there in historical
times was called Enki—lord of the earth, but also god of the sweet
waters. He is depicted surrounded by waters (for he “had founded his
chamber in the deep”) and fishes sport in the streams which spring from
his shoulders. Now an observation made during the excavation of the Al
Ubaid temples suggests that the same god was adored in them. At one
stage the offering table and sanctuary were covered with a layer of fish
bones six inches deep, remains, no doubt, of an offering to the god of
whom it was said:

  When Enki rose, the fishes rose and adored him.
  He stood, a marvel unto the Apsu (Deep),
  Brought joy to the Engur (Deep).
  To the sea it seemed that awe was upon him,
  To the Great River it seemed that terror hovered around him
  While at the same time the south wind stirred the depths of the

The importance which one attaches to these signs of a possible
continuity remains a matter of personal judgment. But, in any case, the
Al Ubaid culture which we have described was the first to have occupied
Mesopotamia as a whole. It seems to have spread along the rivers from
the south.[86] And it was in the south that, after an interval, the
profound change was brought about which made first Sumer, and then
Babylon, the cultural centre of Western Asia for three thousand years.

                     III. THE CITIES OF MESOPOTAMIA

The scene we have so far surveyed has been somewhat monotonous. The
differences between the various groups of prehistoric farmers are
insignificant beside the overriding similarity of their mode of life,
relatively isolated as they were and almost entirely self-sufficient in
their small villages. But by the middle of the fourth millennium B.C.
this picture changed, first in Mesopotamia and a little later in Egypt;
and the change may be described in terms of archaeological evidence. In
Mesopotamia we find a considerable increase in the size of settlements
and buildings such as temples. For the first time we can properly speak
of monumental architecture as a dominant feature of sizable cities. In
Egypt, too, monumental architecture appeared; and in both countries
writing was introduced, new techniques were mastered, and
representational art—as distinct from the mainly decorative art of the
preceding period—made its first appearance.

It is important to realize that the change was not a quantitative one.
If one stresses the increased food supply or the expansion of human
skill and enterprise; or if one combines both elements by proclaiming
irrigation a triumph of skill which produced abundance; even if one
emphasizes the contrast between the circumscribed existence of the
prehistoric villagers and the richer, more varied, and more complex life
in the cities—one misses the point. All these quantitative evaluations
lead to generalizations which obscure the very problem with which we are
concerned. For a comparison between Egypt and Mesopotamia discloses, not
only that writing, representational art, monumental architecture, and a
new kind of political coherence were introduced in the two countries; it
also reveals the striking fact that the purpose of their writing, the
contents of their representations, the functions of their monumental
buildings, and the structure of their new societies differed completely.
What we observe is not merely the establishment of civilized life, but
the emergence, concretely, of the distinctive “forms” of Egyptian and
Mesopotamian civilization.

It is necessary to anticipate here and to substantiate the contrast. The
earliest written documents of Mesopotamia served a severely practical
purpose; they facilitated the administration of large economic units,
the temple communities. The earliest Egyptian inscriptions were legends
on royal monuments or seal engravings identifying the king’s officials.
The earliest representations in Mesopotamian art are preponderantly
religious; in Egyptian art they celebrate royal achievements and consist
of historical subjects. Monumental architecture consists, in
Mesopotamia, of temples, in Egypt of royal tombs. The earliest civilized
society of Mesopotamia crystallized in separate nuclei, a number of
distinct, autonomous cities—clear-cut, self-assertive polities—with the
surrounding lands to sustain each one. Egyptian society assumed the form
of the single, united, but rural, domain of an absolute monarch.

The evidence from Egypt, which is the more extensive, indicates the
transition was neither slow nor gradual. It is true that towards the end
of the prehistoric period certain innovations heralded the coming age.
But when the change occurred it had the character of a crisis, affecting
every aspect of life at once but passing within the space of a few
generations. Then followed—from the middle of the First until the end of
the Third Dynasty—a period of consolidation and experiment, and with
this the formative phase of Egyptian civilization was concluded. Few
things that mattered in Pharaonic Egypt were without roots in that first
great age of creativity.

In Mesopotamia a parallel development possessed a somewhat different
character. It likewise affected every field of cultural activity at
once, but it lacked the finality of its Egyptian counterpart. It cannot
be said of Mesopotamia that its civilization evolved in all its
significant aspects from the achievements of one short period, decisive
as that had been. Mesopotamian history shows a succession of upheavals,
at intervals of but a few centuries, which did more than modify its
political complexion. For instance, the Sumerian language,[87] which was
dominant throughout the formative phase of Mesopotamian civilization,
was replaced by Semitic Akkadian during the second half of the third
millennium. And the shift of the centre of power, in the third
millennium, from Sumer in the extreme south to Babylonia in the centre,
in the second millennium to Assyria, in the extreme north, brought with
it important cultural changes. Yet notwithstanding all the changes,
Mesopotamian civilization never lost its identity; its “form” was
modified by its turbulent history, but it was never destroyed.

We shall now desist from comparisons and consider the formative age of
Mesopotamia, which is called the Protoliterate period since it witnessed
the invention of writing. To this period the earliest ruins of cities
belong. Now one may say that the birth of Mesopotamian civilization,
like its subsequent growth, occurred under the sign of the city. To
understand the importance of the city as a factor in the shaping of
society, one must not think of it as a mere conglomeration of people.
Most modern cities have lost the peculiar characteristic of
individuality which we can observe in cities of Renaissance Italy, of
Medieval Europe, of Greece, and of Mesopotamia. In these counties the
physical existence of the city is but an outward sign of close communal
affinities which dominate the life of every dweller within the walls.
The city sets its citizens apart from the other inhabitants of the land.
It determines their relations with the outside world. It produces an
intensified self-consciousness in its burghers, to whom the collective
achievements are a source of pride. The communal life of prehistoric
times became civic life.

The change, however, was not without its disadvantages, especially in a
country like Mesopotamia. The modest life of the prehistoric villager
had fitted well enough into the natural surroundings, but the city was a
questionable institution, at variance, rather than in keeping, with the
natural order. This fact was brought home by the frequent floods and
storms, droughts and marsh-fires with which the gods destroyed man’s
work. For in Mesopotamia, in contrast with Egypt, natural conditions did
not favour the development of civilization. Sudden changes could bring
about conditions beyond man’s control.[88] Spring tides in the Persian
Gulf may rise to a height of eight to nine feet; prolonged southerly
gales may bank up the rivers for as much as two feet or more. Abnormal
snowfalls in Armenia, or abnormal rainfall farther to the south, may
cause a sudden rise of level in the rivers; a landslide in the narrow
gorges of the two Zabs or of the Khabur may first hold up, then suddenly
release, an immense volume of water. Any one of these circumstances, or
the simultaneous occurrence of two or more of them, may create a flow
which the earth embankments in the southern plain are not able to
contain. In prehistoric times when primitive farmers sowed a catch crop
after the inundation, it was possible to adapt human settlement to the
ever-changing distribution of land and water, even though the villages
were frequently destroyed. But large permanent towns, dependent upon
drainage and irrigation, require unchanging watercourses. This can be
achieved only through relentless vigilance and toil; for the quickly
running Tigris carries so coarse a silt that canals easily get blocked.
Even when cleaned annually, they rise gradually above the plain as a
result of precipitation; and the risk that they, or the rivers
themselves, may burst through their banks is never excluded. In 1831 the
Tigris, rising suddenly, broke its embankment and destroyed 7000 houses
in Baghdad in a single night.[89]

Small wonder, then, that the boldness of those early people who
undertook to found permanent settlements in the shifting plain had its
obverse in anxiety; that the self-assertion which the city—its
organization, its institutions, citizenship itself—implied was
overshadowed by apprehension. The tension between courage and the
awareness of man’s dependence on superhuman power found a precarious
equilibrium in a peculiarly Mesopotamian conception. It was a conception
which was elaborated in theology but which likewise informed the
practical organization of society: the city was conceived to be ruled by
a god.

Theocracy, of course, was not peculiar to Mesopotamia: Egypt, too, was
ruled by a god. But this god was incarnate in Pharaoh; and whatever may
be paradoxical in a belief in the divinity of kings, it at least leaves
no doubt as to the ultimate authority in the state and subjects the
people unreservedly to the ruler’s command. In Mesopotamia no god was
identified with the mortal head of the state. The world of the gods and
the world of men were incommensurate. Nevertheless, a god was supposed
to own the city and its people. The temple was called the god’s house;
and it functioned actually as the manor-house on an estate, with the
community labouring in its service. We shall describe the organization
of the temple community at the end of this chapter. It is necessary
first to survey the actual remains of the Protoliterate cities—the
earliest cities in Mesopotamia.

In Protoliterate ruins the temples are the most striking feature. We
have seen how, in the Al Ubaid period, temples were erected at Eridu in
the south and at Tepe Gawra in the north. But the edifices of the
Protoliterate period at Erech are much more impressive. The temple of
the god Anu (Figs. 8, 45) was placed upon an artificial mound forty feet
high and covering an area of about 420,000 square feet. It dominated the
plain for many miles around. Near its base lay another great shrine,
dedicated to the goddess Inanna. Several times changed and rebuilt, it
measured, at one stage, 240 by 110 feet; at another it possessed a
colonnade in which each column measured 9 feet in diameter (Figs. 9,
10). Each of these, and also the adjoining walls and the sides of the
platform supporting them, was covered with a weatherproof “skin”
consisting of tens of thousands of clay cones, separately made, baked,
and coloured. These formed patterns of lozenges, zigzags, and triangles,
and so on, in black and red on a buff ground. The cones were stuck into
a thick mud plaster which covered the brickwork. The patterning in
colour enlivened a façade already richly articulated by complex systems
of buttresses, recesses, and semi-engaged columns, and thus achieved an
effect far beyond anything which the exclusive use of mud as building
material would suggest as attainable.

The most characteristic feature of Mesopotamian temple architecture was
the artificial mound, called a ziggurat or temple tower (Figs. 8, 11),
the tower of Babel being the best known, that of Ur the best preserved,
example. However, ziggurats were not found in connection with all
temples. The Protoliterate temple at Tell Uqair, which has the same plan
and even the same dimensions as the contemporary temple on the ziggurat
at Erech, stands on a platform only a few metres high.[90] I am inclined
to see in this an abbreviated rendering of the ziggurat, but the
possibility that the two differed in significance cannot be excluded. We
cannot explain why some temples should lack ziggurats; but we can
understand why so many great shrines were equipped with them, and why
the staggering communal effort which their construction entailed was

The significance of the ziggurats is revealed by the names which many of
them bear, names which identify them as mountains. That of the god Enlil
at Nippur, for example, was called “House of the Mountain, Mountain of
the Storm, Bond between Heaven and Earth.” Now “mountain,” as used in
Mesopotamia, is a term so heavily charged with religious significance
that a simple translation does it as little justice as it would to the
word “Cross” in Christian, or the words “West” or “Nun” (Primeval Ocean)
in Egyptian, usage.[91] In Mesopotamia the “mountain” is the place where
the mysterious potency of the earth, and hence of all natural life, is
concentrated. This is perhaps best understood if we look at a rather
rough relief of terra cotta (Fig. 12) which was found at Assur in a
temple of the second millennium B.C., although similar representations
are known on seals of a much earlier date. The deity represented is
clearly a personification of chthonic forces. His body grows out of a
mountain (the scale pattern is the conventional rendering of a
mountainside), and the plants grow from the mountainsides as well as
from the god’s hands. Goats feed on these plants; and water,
indispensable to all life, is represented by two minor deities flanking
the god. Deities like the main figure on this relief were worshipped in
all Mesopotamian cities, although their names differed. Tammuz is the
best known of them. As personifications of natural life they were
thought to be incapacitated during the Mesopotamian summer, which is a
scourge destroying vegetation utterly and exhausting man and beast. The
myths express this by saying that the god “dies” or that he is kept
captive in the “mountain.” From the mountain he comes forth at the New
Year when nature revives. Hence, the mountain is also the land of the
dead; and when the sun god is depicted rising daily upon the mountains
of the East, the scene is not merely a reminder of the geography of the
country. The vivifying rain is also brought from the mountain by the
weather god. Thus the mountain is essentially the mysterious sphere of
activity of the superhuman powers. The Sumerians created the conditions
under which communication with the gods became possible when they
erected the artificial mountains for their temples.

In doing so they also strengthened their political cohesion. The huge
building, raised to establish a bond with the power upon which the city
depended, proclaimed not only the ineffable majesty of the gods but also
the might of the community which had been capable of such an effort. The
great temples were witnesses to piety, but also objects of civic pride.
Built to ensure divine protection for the city, they also enhanced the
significance of citizenship. Outlasting the generation of their
builders, they were true monuments of the cities’ greatness.

It is in these temples that we find the first signs of a new invention
without which the undertaking of works of this magnitude, or, indeed, of
communal organization on a considerable scale, would not have been
feasible, that is, writing.[92] From the first it appears in the form of
impressions made by a reed on clay tablets. The earliest of the tablets,
found in the temple at Erech, were memoranda—aids for the running of the
temple as the production centre, warehouse, and workshop of the
community. The simplest were no more than tallies with a few numerals.
Others bear, besides the numerals, impressions of cylinder seals to
identify the parties or witnesses to the transactions recorded. Still
others indicate the object of the transaction. For instance, a simple
inscription may consist of the entry: so many sheep, so many goats.
There even occurs a more complex type, namely, a wage-list with a series
of entries—presumably personal names—followed by the indication “beer
and bread for one day.” There is no reason to assume (as has usually
been done) that these earliest tablets represent the last stage of a
long development; the script appears from the first as a system of
conventional signs—partly arbitrary tokens, partly pictograms—such as
might well have been introduced all at once (Fig. 13). We are confronted
with a true invention, not with an adaptation of pictorial art.[93]

As regards the art of the Protoliterate period, the vast majority of the
extant works deals with religious matters. Sometimes ritual acts were
depicted, sometimes an ornamental pattern was built up of religious
symbols; and occasionally it is impossible to be certain whether the one
or the other was intended. But the reference is, in all cases, to the
gods. Among the symbols—on seals[94] and in the mural decoration of
temples—plants and animals, especially those upon which man depends for
his livelihood, were by far the most frequent. These were the emblems of
the great goddess worshipped at Erech and throughout the land. They
occur singly or in combination (for instance an ear of barley and a bull
[Fig. 14; cf. Fig. 44]), the vegetable kingdom often being represented
by rosettes. Friezes of sheep or cattle covered the walls of the
Protoliterate temples—painted at Uqair, inlaid or carved in stone at
Erech (Figs. 17, 18).[95] Implements used in the cult, such as stands
for offerings, were likewise decorated with animals, as were also sacred
vessels: a trough (Fig. 5), from which the temple flock was presumably
fed, shows sheep near their fold—a reed structure (_srefe_) like those
still built by the Marsh Arabs in southern Iraq (Fig. 6); and the
building is crowned by two curiously bound reed bundles which correspond
to the oldest form of the sign with which the name of the mother-goddess
was written. Vases and seal designs showing the performance of ritual
acts (Figs. 15, 44) are also common. Like the symbols used in decorative
art, these acts point consistently to the worship of deities manifest in

The gods were also symbols of a collective identity. Each city projected
its sovereignty into the deity which it conceived as its owner. There
seems to be a contradiction here: the nature gods whom the Protoliterate
monuments celebrate would seem more suitable for worship by countrymen
and farmers than by townsmen as we know them. But our contrast “town
versus country” is misleading.[96] While it is true that the city in
Mesopotamia was an outstanding innovation of the Protoliterate period,
the great divergence between city and countryside, between rural and
urban life, is, in the form in which we are familiar with it, a product
of the “industrial revolution,” and emphasis on this contrast mars our
perspective when we view earlier situations.

About 400 B.C. roughly three-quarters of the Athenian burghers owned
some land in Attica,[97] and as recently as the European Middle Ages our
contrast “urban-rural” was unknown. At that time the city was as
distinct a social institution as it has ever been, but it was intimately
related with the land. Trevelyan writes:

  In the Fourteenth Century the English town was still a rural and
  agricultural community as well as a centre of industry and commerce
  ... outside lay the “townfields,” unenclosed by hedges, where each
  citizen-farmer cultivated his own strips of cornland; and each grazed
  his cattle and sheep on the common pasture of the town.... In 1388 it
  was laid down by Parliamentary Statute that in harvest-time journeymen
  and apprentices should be called on to lay aside their crafts and
  should be compelled “to cut, gather and bring in the corn”; mayors,
  bailiffs and constables of towns were to see this done.[98]

In Mesopotamia, then, many of the townspeople worked their own fields.
And the life of all was regulated by a calendar which harmonized
society’s progress through the year with the succession of the seasons.
A recurring sequence of religious festivals interrupted all business and
routine at frequent intervals; several days in each month were set aside
for the celebration of the completion by the moon of one of its phases,
and of other natural occurrences. The greatest annual event in each
city, which might last as long as twelve days, was the New Year’s
festival, celebrated at the critical point of the farmer’s year when
nature’s vitality was at a low ebb and everything depended upon a turn
of the tide. Society, involved to the extent of its very life, could not
passively await the outcome of the conflict between the powers of death
and revival. With great emotional intensity it participated by ritual
acts in the vicissitudes of the gods in whom were personified the
generative forces of nature. The mood of these urban celebrations, as
late as Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian times, shows that the main issue was
still the maintenance of the bond with nature.

We do not know for what reasons certain of the nature gods became
connected with a given city. We only know that the city, as soon as it
became recognizable, appears as the property of one god, although other
deities were worshipped there as well. The city god was sometimes viewed
as an absentee landlord, always difficult of approach and apt to express
himself somewhat casually in signs and portents, dreams and omens of
dubious meaning. Yet a misunderstanding of the commands thus conveyed
was likely to provoke the calamity of divine anger.

It is in keeping with the tenor of Mesopotamian religiosity at all times
that the relationship between the city and its divine owner could be
conceived only as one of complete dependence.[99] Throughout we meet
with the sombre conviction that man is impotently exposed to the impact
of a turbulent and unpredictable universe. This feeling was rationalized
in theology, which taught that man was created especially to serve the
convenience of the gods. In the _Epic of Creation_ man was brought into
being after Marduk, the creator, had remarked casually:

  Let him be burdened with the toil of the gods that they may freely

The same view is implied in an older, Sumerian, myth in which Enlil
breaks the earth’s crust with a pickaxe so that men may sprout forth
like plants. And the other gods surround Enlil and beg him to allot to
them serfs from among the Sumerians who are breaking forth from the

The belief that man fulfilled the purpose of his being by serving the
gods had very remarkable consequences for the structure of early
Sumerian society. Since the citizens projected the sovereignty of their
community into their god, they were all equal in his service. In
practice this service took the form of a co-operative effort which was
minutely organized. The result was a planned society, and the remains of
the Protoliterate period show that it existed then, although it is
better known from Early Dynastic times.[101]

We must start by distinguishing two interlocking but distinct social
institutions. The political unit was the city; the economic-religious
unit the temple community. Each temple owned lands which formed the
estate of its divine owners. Each citizen belonged to one of the
temples, and the whole of a temple community—the officials and priests,
herdsmen and fishermen, gardeners, craftsmen, stone cutters, merchants,
and even slaves—was referred to as “the people of the god X.” Ideally
one can imagine one temple community to have formed the original kernel
of each city; but whether this situation ever prevailed we do not know,
since the Early Dynastic tablets acquaint us with cities comprising
several temples with their estates.[102]

    [Illustration: 1. Sickles of bone and wood with flint “teeth”: A, B,
    from Carmel, Palestine; C, from Sialk, Persia; D, from Fayum, Egypt;
    E, from Saqqara, Egypt.]

    [Illustration: 2. Camp site at Hassuna.]

    [Illustration: 3. Papyrus swamp on the Upper Nile. (_Courtesy of
    American Museum._)]

    [Illustration: 4. Chart of the sequence of predynastic and
    protodynastic remains by Dr. Helene J. Kantor.]

    [Illustration: 5. Sculptured trough, Protoliterate Period.]

    [Illustration: 6. Marsh Arabs in Southern Iraq.]

    [Illustration: 7. Clay objects of the Al Ubaid period, from Tell

    [Illustration: 8. The “White Temple” on its ziggurat at Erech.]

    [Illustration: 9. Semi-engaged columns covered with cone mosaic,

    [Illustration: 10. Colonnade on platform, Erech.]

    [Illustration: 11. The Ishtar ziggurat at Erech in Assyrian times.]

    [Illustration: 12. Fertility god on cult-relief, from Assur.]

    [Illustration: 13. The development of Mesopotamian writing.
    (arbitrary tokens are not included in column A.—See p. 58 f.)]

    A _Original pictograph_
    B _Pictograph in position of later cuneiform_
    C _Early Babylonian_
    D _Assyrian_
    E _Original or derived meaning_
    _1_ bird
    _2_ fish
    _3_ donkey
    _4_ ox
    _5_ sun, day
    _6_ grain
    _7_ orchard
    _8_ to plow, to till
    _9_ boomerang, to throw, to throw down
    _10_ to stand, to go

    [Illustration: 14-16. Seal impressions of the Protoliterate period.]

    [Illustration: 14]

    [Illustration: 15]

    [Illustration: 16]

    [Illustration: 17-18. Stone ram of the Protoliterate period, Yale
    Babylonian Collection.]

    [Illustration: 17]

    [Illustration: 18]

    [Illustration: 19. Early Dynastic temple at Khafajah.]

    [Illustration: 20. Early Dynastic copper model of a chariot, from
    Tell Agrab.]

    [Illustration: 21. Early Dynastic figure, from Khafajah.]

    [Illustration: 22. Bronze head of an Akkadian ruler.]

    [Illustration: 23-24. Knife handle, from Gebel el Arak.]

    [Illustration: 23]

    [Illustration: 24]

    [Illustration: 25. The Hunters’ palette.]

    [Illustration: 26. Macehead of king “Scorpion.”]

    [Illustration: 27. Reverse of King Narmer’s palette.]

    [Illustration: 28. Obverse of King Narmer’s palette.]

    [Illustration: 29. Harvesting scenes from the tomb of Ti, Old

    [Illustration: 30. Agricultural scenes, from the tomb of Menna, New

    [Illustration: 31. Plan of workmen’s village at Tell el Amarna.]

    [Illustration: 32-34. Impressions of cylinders: 32, found in Egypt,
    33 and 34, in Iraq.]

    [Illustration: 32]

    [Illustration: 33]

    [Illustration: 34]

    [Illustration: 35-39. Protodynastic cylinders and impressions, from

    [Illustration: 35]

    [Illustration: 36]

    [Illustration: 37]

    [Illustration: 38]

    [Illustration: 39]

    [Illustration: 40-41. Flint knife with handle of gold-foil, from
    Gebel el Tarif.]

    [Illustration: 42. Mesopotamian seal impression (right) and Egyptian
    First Dynasty buildings (left).]

    [Illustration: 43. Stele of Djet, First Dynasty.]

    [Illustration: 44. Mesopotamian seal impressions (right) and
    Egyptian First Dynasty buildings (left).]

    [Illustration: 45. “White Temple,” Erech.]

    [Illustration: 46. Tomb of Hemaka, First Dynasty, Saqqara.]

    [Illustration: 47. Tomb at Abu Roash.]

    [Illustration: 48. Recesses with timbers, “White Temple,” Erech.]

    [Illustration: 49. Wooden coffin, Tarkhan.]

    [Illustration: 50. Recesses with timbers, Abu Roash.]

    [Illustration: 51. Map of the Ancient Near East, from the
    _Westminster Historical Atlas of the Bible_. (_Courtesy of the
    Westminster Press, Philadelphia._)]

Part of the temple land was actually worked by all for all, or again, to
put it in the terms of the ancients, by all in the service of the god.
This part of the land—not more than one-fourth of the whole in a case we
can check—was called _nigenna_-land, a term which may be translated
“Common,” since the land involved was cultivated by the community as a
whole. A second part, called _kur_-land, was divided into allotments
which were assigned to members of the community for their support. A
third part, called _Uru-lal_-land, was let out to tenants at a rent
amounting to from one-third to one-sixth of the yield. Most of this rent
could be paid in grain, but a small part had to be paid in silver.

The temple supplied the seed-corn, draft animals, and implements for the
cultivation of the Common; and high and low worked every year in the
“fields of the god,” repairing the dikes and canals as a _corvée_. The
_sangu_, or priest, who stood at the head of the temple community
assigned the shares in the communal tasks. He appeared as bailiff of the
god and was assisted by a _nubanda_, or steward, who supervised labour,
magazines, and administration. Stores of grain which had accumulated
were not merely used for seed-corn, nor were they exclusively at the
disposal of the priest, to be used for sacrifices and for the sustenance
of the temple personnel. The priests, like everyone else, had their
allotments to support themselves, and the fruits of communal labour
returned in part to the citizens in the form of rations of barley and
wool, which were distributed regularly, and extra rations, supplied on
feast days.

Although the amounts of rations were not equal, nor the tasks assigned
to all men equally burdensome, we observe here a fact unparalleled in
the ancient world, namely, that in principle all members of the
community were equal. All received rations as well as allotments to
support themselves; all worked on the Common and on the canals and
dikes. There was no leisure class. Likewise there were no native serfs.
Some foreigners and prisoners of war were kept as slaves, but private
people possessed very few, if any. Slaves worked in the temple alongside
free-men as porters and gardeners. Slave girls were kept in considerable
numbers as spinners, and they helped in the kitchens, the brewery, and
the sties where pigs were fattened.

The allotments differed in size, even when assigned to men of the same
profession, and we cannot explain the differences. There is no evidence
of large estates in the hands of single members of the temple community,
but we may suppose that the existence of several temple communities in
one city may have made it possible for some men to dispose of allotments
in more than one of them. We know of a _nubanda_ who had about 120 acres
and a supervisor of the herb magazines who owned about 80 acres.[103]
But such conditions represent deviations from the original system. More
significant is the fact that even the smallest allotment entered in the
temple lists—a _gan_, or seven-eighths of an acre—would suffice to keep
a man. Monogamy and the scarcity of slaves would, in any case, limit the
area which one family could cultivate.

Women are also listed as holders of allotments, and this means that they
served the community in some function or other. For the basic rule of
the temple community was that a person received land for his sustenance
because he put his specialized skill at the service of all: the shepherd
and the fisherman, the carpenter and the smith provided the temple
magazines with certain quantities of their produce or simply devoted all
their time to work on temple property.

The magazines (Fig. 19)[104] contained an immense variety of articles:
grain, sesame seed as the raw material for oil, onions and other
vegetables, beer, dates, wine (which was rare), fish (dried or salted),
fat, wool, skins, huge quantities of reeds and rushes used for ceilings
and for torches, temporary structures, mats for floor coverings and
hangings, wood of many kinds, asphalt (used wherever anything had to be
waterproof), valuable stones like marble and diorite, to be made into
statues and cult objects such as offering-stands, ritual vessels, and
the maceheads of the temple guards. The stone, and some of the wood, was
imported by merchants, who also brought from Elam aromatics which, in
the “oil house,” were made into ointments with a base of animal fat.
Tools were owned by the temple in great quantities and given out on

All these articles and materials were checked and booked upon arrival
and either stored or worked up within the temple precincts. Carpenters
made ploughs and other implements, kept them in repair, and built
chariots, and probably ships. Tanners prepared skins for harnesses and
for leather bottles in which milk and oil were kept. Wool was prepared,
and part of it spun, by slave girls; the Baba temple at Lagash employed
127 of these, with 30 of their children. But only 18 were spinners. The
others cleaned and prepared the wool, of which large quantities were
used in the export trade. A good deal was also distributed as rations to
the members of the community. The shearing of the numerous sheep—or
rather, the plucking of their wool—was done in a special compound
outside the temple precincts, as was, likewise, the milling of the

Barley constituted the main crop, but spelt and emmer wheat were also
grown. Monthly rations of barley went from the granaries to the brewery
and kitchen of the temple. The brewers also took charge of sheep and
cattle to be fattened. But cattle were scarce, for there was little rich
meadow land for grazing. The steppe in Iraq will sustain sheep in
spring, but the sun burns the grass early in the summer; and even in
antiquity the flocks had to be tided over the worst period with grain.
In some local calendars there is a month “in which barley is given to
the sheep.”

The common protein food was fish rather than meat. We have records of
private fishponds, and fifty different kinds of fishes are named in the
texts. These also distinguish river fishermen, canal fishermen, coast
fishermen, and fishermen of the high seas. Sheep and goats were kept for
milk and wool. Oxen were used for ploughing, as were also asses. Both
oxen and asses were used in teams of four head and fed on barley. The
native breeds, deteriorating in the exhausting climate of the plain,
were periodically invigorated by crossing with animals imported from
Persia. Pigs were kept in the marshes and were also fattened.

Beside extensive cane brakes the temple owned “woods”; these consisted
largely of date groves, and there, between the palms, other plants were
cultivated, such as grapes, figs, pomegranates, and mulberries.[105]
Other groves consisted of timber trees, and there were apple orchards
where, it seems, the blind were put to work.[106]

The citizens, when working for the temple, were organized in groups or
guilds under their own foremen. These divided the tasks among the
members of the group, were responsible for the delivery of the produce,
and received the rations for the group. Other lists, enumerating the
citizens liable for military service, suggest that the men served
guildwise with their foremen as cadre. But there were also professional
soldiers, distinguished in two groups, spearmen and shield-bearers. In
peace time they worked on the Common, harvested reeds in the cane brakes
and assisted in building operations.

The specialization and detailed division of labour of the temple
community, and especially the grouping of all kinds of labourers under
foremen responsible for deliveries and receipt of rations, offered many
opportunities for oppression. But too much can be made of the weaknesses
of the system. To speak of the “surplus” of food which must be produced
in order to maintain officials as well as merchants and craftsmen, and
to imply that the officials must have been a parasitic class which kept
the farmers in subjection,[107] leaves out of account several
circumstances, of which the most important is the climate of the
country. Wherever there is power there is, inevitably, abuse of power.
But the rich soil of Mesopotamia, if well watered, produces food in
abundance without excessive or continuous toil. Labour in the fields was
largely seasonal. At seed time and harvest time every able-bodied person
was no doubt on the land, as was the case in medieval England. But the
farmers were not a separate class or caste. Every citizen, whether
priest, merchant, or craftsman, was a practical farmer who worked his
allotment to support himself and his dependents. Once the seed was sown
and the harvest gathered, plenty of time remained in which special
skills could be developed, taught, and exploited. There are interesting
analogies in villages of our own time, where often enough a farmer or a
labourer is a specialist in some branch of craftsmanship. In Europe this
condition is rapidly disappearing and was never regularized; but we may
quote two modern African instances which will make it easier for us to
imagine how practical husbandry and the exercise of crafts and home
industry can go together. The modern instances differ, of course, in
important details but are instructive nevertheless. It is said about the

  There are no specialized and hereditary trades though certain persons
  may acquire a local reputation for skill in making such things as
  pipes, collars for bulls, canoes or ivory bracelets. These people are
  not craftsmen by trade, and their activities centre round their
  cattle, like every other Nuer. Their services are normally accepted by
  others as part of the integral system of mutual aid which is the basis
  of every Nuer community, and they are repaid by assistance in pastoral
  or agricultural activities or by reciprocal gifts.[108]

For another instance, with a rather peculiar character:

  In West Africa the Pangwe do not make a business of carving and
  weaving; all such work is done on the side, in the intervals of
  fishing and farming. But in so far as a man does carve he is the
  narrowest of experts. He will manufacture tools but will leave bows to
  his neighbour, and a spoon carver would never attempt a ladle.[109]

We are reminded of the many names to designate fishermen in Sumerian,
even though specialization was certainly less narrow in the Mesopotamian
cities. But the point I want to make is that, for all the guilds and
professional skills which we find there, the population as a whole was
concerned with the primary business of tillage and cannot be compared
with any modern body of city dwellers.

Since a considerable proportion of agricultural and other produce passed
through the temple magazines, an elaborate system of administration was
set up. To illustrate the kind of careful accounts kept of the expenses,
we shall quote a record of the grain used in a certain operation. To
understand it, it is necessary to know that the fields were ploughed
twice, first to break up the ground, then to sow and cover the seed. For
the second ploughing a seed funnel was attached to the plough to ensure
an even distribution along the furrow. Since the second ploughing was
less heavy than the breaking of the ground, the oxen used for it got
only half the fodder allotted to the teams used in the first. (The
Sumerian measures can be converted by taking the _gan_ at just under an
acre and the _gur_ at about 3⅓ bushels.)

  147 _gan_ arable land, the oxen put in the plough and seed:
       barley for food of the ploughing oxen           24½  _gur_
       barley for food of the sowing oxen              12¼  “
       seed-corn                                       12¼  “
       waste                                            1½  “
  36 _gan_ sown in addition:
       seed-corn                                         3  “
       fodder                                            3  “
  Together: 183 _gan_ arable land. Its grain           56½  “
  Expenditure for the Common[110]

This grain came from the temple magazines which had been filled by the
harvest of the Common.

In order to make it possible to draw up a budget, the yield per acre was
estimated, account being taken of whether the land was good and arable,
newly reclaimed, swampy, or distant from water. The monthly allowances
of functionaries were listed, as were the monthly supplies to brewery,
bakery, and kitchen, and the tasks allotted to the guilds of craftsmen,
shepherds, fishermen; and other specialized workers were also listed in
monthly quotas. All these documents were signed by the _sangu_ and the
_nubanda_. But the absence of money made simplification imperative,
since the accounts recorded a continual intake of all kinds of goods,
and the outflow of similarly varied stores, in the form of rations,
sacrifices, materials for repairs, goods for trade, and so on—which were
not reduced to a common standard of value. It would have been impossible
to budget from month to month and from year to year unless the
book-keeping had been adapted to a somewhat simple scheme with fixed
ratios prevailing throughout. The schematic character of the temple
accounts can be seen in the one instance which we quoted above: the
fodder for the sowing oxen was precisely the same quantity as that used
for seed. The span used to break the ground received precisely twice the
amount allotted to the span following after with the seed funnel.
Similar simple ratios were used for valuations: one _gur_ of barley was
reckoned equivalent to one _gin_ of silver; one _gur_ of barley was
likewise charged as rent for one _gan_ of land. It is obvious that such
equations reduced the innumerable calculations of the temple
book-keeping to manageable proportions. But it is likewise obvious that
these simplified and rigid scales never corresponded to the actual
values of goods or services. The margin cannot have worked consistently
to the detriment of the people, for then the system would have
collapsed. Consequently, the margin must have been disadvantageous to
the temple economy which could well afford it and which was, in a way,
the property of the people as a whole. When in bad years deliveries of
certain goods fell short of the quantities due each month to the temple
magazines, debts arose and were duly booked and were expected,
ultimately, to be paid off. But, on the whole, the organization of the
temple economy aimed at simplicity rather than efficiency; and in the
Sumerian city, although it was a “planned society,” men found
considerable scope for private enterprise.

The margin between the schematic values used in dealings with the temple
and the actual yield of fields, flocks, and workshops must have given
opportunities for some accumulation of private wealth and hence for
barter. Craftsmen could utilize their special skills for private
commissions as long as they used materials not supplied by the temple
magazines. The shepherd could dispose of any increase in his flock
beyond the statutory figure; the fisherman could dispose of the
remainder of his catch after delivering to the temple his monthly quota.
If, therefore, “the people of the god X”—the temple community—can be
said to have lived under a system of theocratic socialism, we must add
that this planned economy formed a hard core which was surrounded by an
ample fringe of private enterprise that remained free.[111]

That the accumulation of private wealth was accepted by the community as
a matter of course is shown by the rule that a proportion of the rent of
_uru-lal_ land had to be paid in silver and not in produce. Moreover,
the variety of imported articles testifies to the scope left to barter.
It is true that the import and export trade was again organized at the
centre. Merchants travelled abroad to obtain stones, gold, silver,
copper, lead, wood, and aromatics for the temple. In exchange they could
offer grain, dates, onions, and similar produce. But their best
opportunities were offered by the produce, not of the rich Mesopotamian
soil, but of the skill of the people. Manufactured goods sent abroad
included, above all (and at all times), textiles—woollen clothing,
hangings, and carpets—and also, to judge by the wide distribution of
Sumerian types of tools, weapons, and jewellery, metal objects fashioned
in the Plain from imported materials. The merchant in those early days
was concerned exclusively with export and import. He did not conduct
trade among members of his own community; he exchanged locally finished
goods for products of other cities in the Plain or of foreign countries
like Elam. It is significant that in return for his effort he received
an allotment of land—certain proof that he was in the service of the
community. Moreover, he had the use of a team of donkeys belonging to
the temple, no doubt in view of his travels (Fig. 20). It seems likely
enough that the merchants found opportunities for private trade on the
side, and it remains uncertain to what extent they supplied directly the
imported articles found in houses. In excavations, for instance,
handmills consisting of flat stones with roundish grinders were found in
every house. Yet the hard volcanic stones used for them must all have
been imported. In the private tombs of the end of the Protoliterate
period lead tumblers and stone vases are common. At Khafajah copper
vessels, and stands for stone food dishes, or drinking cups, or lamps,
are found in graves of the Second Early Dynastic period. The somewhat
later cemeteries at Kish and Ur show even greater luxury and refinement.
There were found copper mirrors; copper and gold toilet sets—tweezers, a
toothpick, and an ear-scoop, fastened on a ring and carried in a small
conical case; pins of copper or silver with round lapis lazuli heads;
beads and animal pendants of alabaster, carnelian, and lapis lazuli, and
other semi-precious stones. The silversmith knew how to make filigrain
pendants and girdle clasps, and even fine-linked chains.

Most of these articles were, of course, luxuries. In matters of
dwelling, food, and clothing, the country was self-supporting. The
houses were built of sun-dried bricks and make an entirely unpretentious
impression. They do not show a regular system of planning. Rooms were
fitted together as the available plot allowed. Doors were low and
arched; one had to stoop to pass from one room to another. Windows were
small and high up in the walls and fitted with wooden bars or with
screens of baked clay. But the ruins of mud brick do not give a fair
impression of the setting in which these people lived. We must imagine
the floors covered with smooth, clean rush mats, the walls and benches
with gaily coloured rugs and blankets.

The people wore a shawl-like dress, wound round the waist, sometimes
with one end pulled round the back and forward over the left shoulder
(Fig. 21). It is rendered on the monuments in a manner which suggests
sheep or goatskin, but this may be a ceremonial dress only, for it is
certain that textiles were worn and they are depicted from the middle of
the third millennium onward.

Thus the actual remains found in the excavations demonstrate that the
temple community did not impose as rigid a form of life on its members
as our description may have suggested; and the texts, in proving the
existence of private property and trade, corroborate the elasticity of
the system. We know, moreover, that it was able to bear the strain of
hard times; for it has been calculated[112] that the temple received a
great deal more grain from the _nigenna_ land and as rent than was
normally needed. The accumulated reserves were made available in an
emergency—a better safeguard of the people’s food supply than reliance
on individual providence might have been. It seems also that the temple
supplied rations during the interval between sowing time and harvest,
when stores were low.[113]

The accounts of the temple do not differentiate between its role as
central store of the community and its religious function; goods
withdrawn for sacrifices are treated exactly like those serving for
rations. The distinction in function was apparently not made. The temple
community was a religious institution regulating the social life of the
community, and the two aspects which we distinguish were apparently
experienced as one and indivisible.

The temple community seems not, however, to have been a political
institution. The oldest such institutions of which traces have yet been
recognized[114] show the same equalitarian spirit as the organization of
the religious community. Political authority seems originally to have
rested with the citizens; sovereign power under the city god lay in an
assembly—presumably consisting of all free males—guided by a group of
elders who seem, moreover, to have been in charge of current affairs.
Since the terms for “assembly” and “elders” occur already in the
Protoliterate tablets, we can surmise that these peculiar political
institutions existed as long as the cities themselves.

It is well to recognize the extraordinary character of this urban form
of political organization. It represents in the highest degree the
intensified self-consciousness and self-assertion which we recognized as
distinctive of the innovations of the Protoliterate period. It is a
man-made institution overriding the natural and primordial division of
society in families and clans. It asserts that habitat, not kinship,
determines one’s affinities. The city, moreover, does not recognize
outside authority. It may be subjected by a neighbour or a ruler; but
its loyalty cannot be won by force, for its sovereignty rests with the
assembly of its citizens. Thus, the early Mesopotamian cities resembled
those of Greece, of the Hanseatic League, of Renaissance Italy, in many
respects. In all these cases we meet local autonomy, the assumption that
every citizen is concerned with the common weal, and a small group of
influential men who deal with current affairs and sometimes impose an
oppressive oligarchy upon the mass of the people.

We do not know whether oligarchic rule ever became a Mesopotamian
institution. Our Protoliterate sources are too scanty to disclose
gradations of power within the existing framework. And in Early Dynastic
times, when the texts became plentiful, the framework had collapsed and
the old institutions were no more than ghostlike survivals of the past.
But it was single rule rather than oligarchy which had supplanted the

The reason for the change is clear; the equalitarian assembly possessed
the disadvantages of freedom to an uncommon degree. Subjection to the
will of the majority, as expressed in a vote, was unknown. The assembly
continued deliberation under the guidance of the elders until practical
unanimity was reached. This might be the result of true agreement, or of
mass emotion, or due to a prudent concurrence of the opponents with a
line of action advocated by a powerful group. In any case, it was not
easily attained; and in an emergency when quick decision and purposeful
action was required, the Mesopotamian city, like the Roman republic, put
itself into the hands of a dictator. In Sumer he was called _lugal_,
which means “great man” and is habitually translated “king.”[115]

Kingship was a _bala_, a “reversion,” or “return to origin.” In other
words, the kingly office had a limited tenure; at the end of the
emergency authority reverted to the assembly. But, in practice, the
threat of an emergency was never absent once the cities flourished and
increased in number. Contiguous fields, questions of drainage and
irrigation, the safeguarding of supplies by procuring safety of
transit—all these might become matters of dispute between neighbouring
cities. We can follow through five or six generations a futile and
destructive war between Umma and Lagash with a few fields of arable land
as the stakes. Under such conditions the kingship seems to have become
permanent in certain cities.

Elsewhere the concentrated authority called for by the dangers to which
the community was frequently exposed was conferred upon leaders who held
important permanent offices. Some of these were exalted enough to enable
their holders, when emergencies arose, to exercise power similar to that
of the _lugal_. The _sangu_ or _nubanda_ in the temple of the city god
was the administrative leader of the most important temple community in
the city. For him to become the political leader of the city was
perfectly feasible, but in such a case the official who had usurped the
prerogatives of a ruler assumed, instead of the secular title _lugal_, a
title emphasizing his dependence on the city god and proclaiming, by
implication, the god’s agreement with his rule. This title was _ensi_,
best translated as “governor” (viz. of the god).

Whether _lugal_ or _ensi_, the city ruler in Mesopotamia did not derive
his position from any innate superiority or right of birth. He acted
either on behalf of the assembly, or as steward of the real sovereign,
the city god. In theology, personal rule was sanctioned by a doctrine of
divine election which remained the foundation of kingship down to the
end of the Assyrian empire. Divine approval could be withdrawn at any
time, and the formation of a dynasty, the succession of the son to the
throne of the father, although known already in Early Dynastic times,
had no basis in the theory of kingship but was interpreted in each case
as a sign of favour bestowed by the gods. These limiting conceptions of
the monarchy reflect the preponderant influence of the city in
Mesopotamian thought. Monarchy remained a problematical institution and
failed, therefore, to become an instrument of unity as it did in Egypt.
It carried in some degree the taint of usurpation, especially in early

The task of the _ensi_ in the main was to co-ordinate the temple
communities within the city. To each he assigned a share in the common
tasks on buildings, canals, and dikes. These _corvées_ were then divided
among the guilds and individual members of a community by its _sangu_ or
_nubanda_. The _ensi_ dealt, furthermore, with matters of defence and
trade, in other words, with foreign affairs. The professional soldiers
were under his direct and personal command and formed an important
source of his power within the city. Like every other citizen, he
received an allotment for his sustenance; but his fields were part of
the Common and were cultivated by the people as part of their communal
task. Here, again, was an opportunity for abuse of power. Moreover, it
became customary to acknowledge the _ensi’s_ exalted position by
offering him presents on the festivals of the gods. He also took a fee
for making legal decisions or decreeing a divorce, and imposed certain
taxes. While he administered the main temple of the city, he appointed
members of his family to head other temple communities.

Although the assembly seems not to have been superseded entirely, the
effective power of the _ensi_ was preponderant; and what had been the
original strength of Sumerian society, its integration with the temple
organization, became its weakness when the leaders of the temple
communities utilized the need for leadership, which the growth of the
cities called forth, to oppress the people. We know, for instance, that
one _ensi_ sequestered fields assigned to him on the Common and used
them to build up an independent “estate of the palace,” modelled on that
of the temple. The tablets from Fara show how varied an assortment of
people had become directly dependent upon the _ensi_: scribes,
chamberlains, heralds, pages, cupbearers, butlers, cooks, musicians, and
all kinds of craftsmen.[116] An equalitarian society had been thoroughly
transformed, and the power assumed by the ruler was reflected in the
presumptions and extortions of his officials. In fact, the Early
Dynastic period ends, in Lagash, in an abortive attempt to move against
the current and restore the theocratic form of its ideal prototype to
Sumerian society. An _ensi_, called Urukagina, states that he
“contracted with the god Ningirsu (the city god of Lagash) that he would
not deliver up the orphan and the widow to the powerful man.”[117] He
also put a stop to specific abuses: “he took the ships away from the
master of the boatmen; he took the sheep and asses away from the
head-herdsman.... He took away from the heralds the tribute which the
_sangus_ paid to the palace.” These “changes,” and many like them,
listed in the so-called reform texts, mean that the prerogatives usurped
by the foremen and officials were abolished and that these rights were
vested once more exclusively in the temple as a vital organ of the

Urukagina also ended abuses introduced by his own predecessors; he
forbade, to use his own words, “that oxen of the god plough the onion
plot of the _ensi_.” He lowered the fees for interments and for prayer
services. He vindicated the right of the lowly man to his property:

  When a good donkey has been born to a royal soldier (?), and his
  foreman has said to him, “I will buy it from thee”—if he then lets him
  buy—he shall say: “Weigh out unto me silver as much as is pleasing to
  my heart.” And if he does not let him buy, the foreman shall not
  molest him.

It is, of course, possible to suppose that Urukagina, by curbing the
power of prominent people, was trying, not only to restore the temple
communities to their original purity, but also to win the support of the
common people for himself. In any case, factors outside his control
interfered with his plans. He was attacked by the ruler of the
neighbouring city of Umma and destroyed.

The abuses Urukagina tried to abolish were, in essence, those which
vitiate the realization of any political ideal. Weaknesses peculiar to
Mesopotamia, however, became clear when serious attempts were made to
establish a unified state comprising all the separate cities. This
change was attempted by Sargon of Akkad and his successors (Fig.
22).[118] Sargon had been a high official under a king of Kish, and
about 2340 B.C. he founded a city of his own, Akkad. He defeated
Lugalzaggesi, the conqueror of Urukagina, and other city rulers who
opposed him, until he was paramount throughout the country. Similar
successes had been achieved before his time, but they had always been
short-lived. And while Sargon’s rise to power conformed entirely to the
older pattern, a piecemeal subjection of other cities, he struck out a
new course in consolidating his position. This time the state survived
its founder for several generations. The novelty of his approach may be
due to the fact that he represented a northern element in the
Mesopotamian population which now became dominant for the first time.
This is indicated by the inscriptions: royal inscriptions and many
business documents began to be written in the Semitic language which is
called Akkadian. This change, in particular, is responsible for the
opinion held by some scholars that the rise of Sargon represents a
foreign conquest;[119] and it is true that the language points to the
middle Euphrates and adjoining territories as its country of origin. But
this region had been permeated by Mesopotamian culture for centuries,
and people from that quarter cannot be called foreigners in the ordinary
sense of the word. Already in Protoliterate times Sumerian civilization
had moved northwards along the two rivers, as the Al Ubaid culture
(probably also Sumerian) had done in prehistoric times. As Roman
influence in barbaric Europe can be traced by means of coins, the
influence of Protoliterate Mesopotamia throughout the ancient Near East
can be traced by the distinctive cylinder seals of the period. They are
found as far to the north as Troy, as far to the south as Upper Egypt,
as far to the east as middle, or even north-east Persia.[120] At Brak,
on the Khabur in northern Syria, 500 miles north of Erech, has been
discovered a temple built on the plan of those in the south, containing
similar objects and decorated with cone mosaics.[121] Later, in Early
Dynastic times, Ishtar temples at Mari on the Euphrates and at Assur on
the Tigris were equipped with statues of Sumerian style, representing
men in Sumerian dress.[122] Thus it is obvious that there existed along
the two great rivers a cultural continuum within which people could move
without creating a disturbance in the fabric of civilization. And the
change of language to which we have referred, points to a gradual but
continuous drift of people towards the south, as if the cultural
influences emanating from Sumer attracted those who had come under its
spell. Evidence of this movement is contained in Early Dynastic
inscriptions. The thoroughly Sumerianized people of Mari, who had
adopted the Sumerian script, inscribed their statues in Akkadian. The
same seems to have happened at Khafajah near Baghdad. At Kish, a little
farther to the south, the population seems to have been bilingual.[123]

These observations in the field of language are valuable pointers; there
may have been other, intangible, differences between the northern and
the southern elements in the population of Mesopotamia, differences
which would distinguish two strains with distinct cultural traditions.
And although the old view that the accession of Sargon of Akkad
represents a foreign conquest is untenable, his reign truly marks a new
beginning. In the arts a new spirit finds magnificent expression, and in
statecraft an entirely new attempt is made to create a political unity
which would comprise the city states but surpass their scope, and which
had no precedent in the past.[124] The house of Sargon appears as a
succession of rulers consistently claiming kingship over the whole land;
and it is possible that their political ideal was not unrelated with the
fact that they were free, as their predecessors were not, from the
traditional viewpoint which grasped political problems exclusively in
terms of the city. For among most semitic-speaking people kinship
provides the supreme bond. It is possible that the Akkadian-speaking
inhabitants of middle and northern Mesopotamia had always acknowledged
loyalties which went beyond the city proper. In Sumer there is no sign
of the existence of such loyalties, nor was there a political
institution which over-arched the sovereignty of the separate cities.
But of Sargon a chronicle reports: “He settled his palace folk for
thirty-three miles and reigned over the people of all lands.”[125] The
first part of this entry suggests that Sargon allotted parts of lands of
temple communities to his own followers, thus overriding the age-old
local basis of land rights. No conqueror could rely on the loyalty of
the defeated cities, and it seems as if Sargon built up a personal
following, perhaps exploiting kinship ties in the wide sense of tribal
loyalty. Under his grandson Naramsin, governors of cities styled
themselves “slave of the king.”

Sargon also seems to have made a bid for the loyalty of the common
people. This appears from a change in the formula for oaths.[126] The
name of the king could now be invoked alongside the gods. This had a
definite practical significance: if an agreement thus sworn to was
broken, or if perjury was committed, the king was involved and would
make it his business to uphold the right of the injured party. This was
of the utmost importance, for the judge had originally been merely an
arbitrator, whose main task was the reconciliation or satisfying of both
parties. He had had no power to enforce his decisions; and if a man
without personal prestige did not have a powerful patron to “overshadow
him,”[127] there was little chance of his finding satisfaction in court.
The new oath formula put the king in the position of the patron of all
who swore by his name; in practice he constituted a court of appeal for
the whole land, independent of the cities—a step of the greatest
importance in the development of Mesopotamian law and society. Another
step towards unification of the country was the introduction of a
uniform calendar. Hitherto each city had had its own, with its own month
names and festivals. Finally, the existence of a single monarch, who
styled himself “King of the Four Quarters of the World,” served as a
perpetual remainder of the unity of the state.[128]

If pressure from the outside world could be relied upon to bring about
national unity, Mesopotamia would no doubt have become a single state on
the lines laid down by the kings of Akkad. For the country was at all
times exposed to great dangers. Civilized and prosperous, but lacking
natural boundaries, it tempted mountaineers and steppe dwellers with the
possibilities of easy loot. Raids could be dealt with by the cities, but
the large-scale invasions, which recurred every few centuries, required
a strong central government to be repelled. The safeguarding of the
trade routes, too, went beyond the competence of individual cities, and
one would expect them to have co-operated in a national effort. Indeed,
we find an epic, “The King of Battle,” which describes how Sargon of
Akkad, at the request of Mesopotamian merchants trading in Anatolia,
went there with an army to champion their cause. The story may well
reflect an actual occurrence, for Sargon’s grandson, Naramsin, built a
strong castle at Brak on the Khabur, and the lumber used in its
construction included not only poplar and plane, but also ash, elm, oak,
and pine, which must have been imported.[129] The Akkadian kings thus
undertook a task which occupied all succeeding rulers of the land. Even
in the first millennium, the annual sweep of the Assyrian army up into
the mountains of Armenia and down towards the west was a sustained and
systematic attempt to keep the mountaineers in check; for, with the
unlimited possibilities of retreat into their remote valleys, it was
impossible to subject them permanently. From Sargon of Akkad on, kings
knew that it was necessary to maintain a unified and centralized state;
it was necessary to dominate the borderlands sufficiently to meet
aggression there; in short, imperialism was the only guarantee of peace.

One would expect to find the people rallying to the new order imposed by
the Akkadian kings, especially since a feeling of national coherence did
exist. The Sumerians had a phrase, “the black-headed people,” to
designate themselves as an ethnic unit; and the gods Enlil and Anu,
among others, were worshipped throughout the land. But this feeling had
never found expression in a political form; it remained without effect,
it seems, on the country’s history. The particularism of the cities was
never overcome. At each new accession of a king in Akkad, the land rose
in revolt. Far from rallying against the barbarians, the people
attempted to revert to the local autonomy which had been the rule before
the rise of Sargon. Similar conditions persisted throughout the
country’s history. For example, the discoveries at Tell Asmar (ancient
Eshnunna) illustrate the prevalence of local over national
considerations. The ruler of that city collaborated with the Amorites
who ravaged the country after the fall of the Third Dynasty of Ur; the
barbarians were tolerated, and perhaps even assisted in their attacks on
neighbouring towns, which were incorporated into the state of Eshnunna
after the Amorites had looted them.[130]

Under the Akkadian kings the tragic pattern of Mesopotamia’s history
became visible. About 2180 B.C. their dynasty collapsed under the
onslaught of the Guti from the Zagros Mountains. Combined invasions of
Elamites and Amorites ended the empire of the Third Dynasty of Ur in
2025 B.C. The invasions of Hittites and Kassites ended the empire of
Hammurabi’s dynasty in 1595 B.C. The invasion of the Medes destroyed the
Assyrian empire (611 B.C.). The attack of Cyrus the Persian ended
Neo-Babylonian rule (539 B.C.).

The absence of safety and stability in the political field is entirely
in keeping with the prevailing mood of the country. Mesopotamia achieved
her triumphs in an atmosphere of deep disquiet. The spirit pervading her
most important writings is one of disbelief in man’s ability to achieve
lasting happiness. Salvation might be experienced emotionally in the
annual festivals of the gods, but was not a postulate of theology.


The ancient Egyptians said that Menes, who first ruled at This,[131]
brought the whole of the land under his control. They designated him as
the first king of a first dynasty and thus unequivocally marked the
unification of their land as the beginning of their history. If we allow
for the telescoping of events by which tradition often credits a single
person with the achievements of two or more generations, we may say that
archaeological discoveries have corroborated this tradition. The
establishment of the single monarchy appears, indeed, as the political
aspect of the birth of Egyptian civilization.

We possess contemporary monuments on which two Upper Egyptian
kings—“Scorpion”[132] and Narmer—record their conquests in the north
country. A votive macehead (Fig. 26) shows the earlier of the
two—Scorpion—at the opening of a canal. He wears the tall white crown
which in historical times symbolized dominion over Upper Egypt. Above
this main scene appear emblems of divinities placed on standards which
serve as gallows to _rekhyt_ birds; these birds, in all probability,
designate inhabitants of Lower Egypt.[133] Scorpion seems to have
subjected the whole Nile valley, for his monuments have been found as
far north as the quarries of Turah, near Cairo.

Narmer, however, extended his power even over the marshlands of the
Delta and appears, therefore, as the true prototype of the legendary
Menes. Among several monuments of his which have been preserved, a large
votive palette of slate (Figs. 27, 28) is the most important. It seems
to be a concrete record of the unification of Egypt or, at least, of an
important stage in its realization. On one side, Narmer, wearing the
crown of Upper Egypt, destroys a chieftain of the northern marshes. On
the other side, the king, now wearing the crown of Lower Egypt, inspects
a number of beheaded enemies. Thus Narmer is shown as the first “Lord of
the Two Lands.”

But it would be a mistake to read the Narmer palette as a mere tale of
conquest. The “unification of the Two Lands” was, to the Egyptians, not
only the beginning of their history, but also the manifestation of a
preordained order which extended far beyond the political sphere and
bound society and nature in an indestructible harmony. Of this order
Pharaoh was the champion. Throughout historical times the texts
proclaimed this conviction, and pictorial art expressed it by great
compositions in which the towering figure of the king destroys,
single-handed, the misguided wretches who have sided with chaos in
opposing Pharaoh’s regimen. It is significant that this aspect of
Pharaoh’s power should be expressed in art for the first time in the
reign of Narmer.[134]

To appreciate the novelty of the design of the Narmer palette, we must
investigate its antecedents. Material and shape proclaim it as a
specimen of a common type of toilet article: throughout predynastic
times slate palettes (Fig. 4) had been used for the grinding of a green
powder which, put on the lids, protected the eyes against glare and
infection. On the Narmer palette, too, a round space is set aside for
this purpose, even though the size of the object seems to preclude
actual use. Now palettes, as well as combs, knife-handles, and so on,
had been embellished with reliefs during the last phase of the
predynastic period. Among such decorated objects, two treat new
subjects. The first, an ivory knife-handle found at Gebel el Arak in
Upper Egypt (Figs. 23, 24), shows, on one side, the pursuit of game, a
motif which recurs on other objects of the same age; on the other side
is depicted a battle. The second, the Hunters’ palette (Fig. 25), shows
two groups of men who have joined forces in an attempt to destroy lions,
perhaps because these infested wasteland which had to be reclaimed. The
two groups are identified by standards carried in their midst.

The battle scene and the hunting scene are without parallels in
predynastic times. But they are likewise unconnected with later Egyptian
art. Their novelty consists in the rendering of communal action, their
un-Egyptian character in the manner of that rendering. Both knife-handle
and palette present a faithful record of the actual course of events:
groups of men are engaged in combat or move together towards game. We
must suppose that some of the figures stand for leaders or chieftains,
but there is nothing by which we can identify them. Each scene shows the
melee characteristic of the occasion. But to the Egyptian of historical
times such a veristic rendering was totally unacceptable. It hid the
true significance of occurrences by merely rendering their outward
appearance. However large the masses that moved in battle, built temples
or pyramids, went into the deserts to quarry stone or mine gold, they
were moved by the will of their divine ruler. Art was adequate to its
purpose only if it stressed this fact. It did so by using, throughout
two and a half millennia, variants of Narmer’s composition. Note that on
the macehead of Scorpion, the classical Egyptian viewpoint is not yet
rendered in its purity: men are shown to assist the ruler;[135] and the
strangled _rekhyt_-birds swing from the standards of the gods. On some
other fragments which antedate Narmer[136] the divine standards are
provided with hands to show their active participation in a ruler’s
victory. But on the Narmer palette, as on all monuments of historical
times, Pharaoh acts alone. The standards of the gods have become
adjuncts to his progress (Fig. 28), and men are merely followers; no act
of theirs can be significant beside his own.

If the characteristic Egyptian conception of kingship first received
pictorial expression under Narmer, it found its first literary
embodiment in a famous text which, from internal evidence, must likewise
be assigned to the formative years of Egypt.[137] This is the so-called
Memphite Theology. The lasting value of the theory of kingship which it
expounded is shown by the fact that the only copy now extant was made as
late as the reign of king Shabaka in the eighth century B.C. Moreover,
it relates the theory with an act of Menes, the founding of Memphis. The
text concerns us, therefore, because of the date of its inception; the
act which it presupposes; and the interpretation which it offers.

The significance of the age of our text is evident. In view of the
overriding importance of the institution of kingship for Egyptian
society, the formulation of a theory of kingship at the very beginning
of the monarchy aptly illustrates the emergence of the “form” of
Egyptian civilization at that critical time.

Reference to the founding of Memphis is made in our text by implication:
its tenor is to emphasize the profound significance of the city. Thus
the content corroborates the linguistic evidence for an early date of
the document, since a trustworthy tradition, preserved by Herodotus,
ascribed the founding of Memphis to Menes. The text expounds the
theology of the new foundation. Of the actual course of events the
following account survived into Greek times: it was believed that Menes
threw up a dike across the western part of the valley north of the
Fayum, thus compelling a branch of the Nile to rejoin the main stream,
and reclaiming fifty miles of valley. On the newly won land he then
founded a royal castle, a little to the south of modern Cairo. It was
called “The White Walls,” and thus characterized as an Upper Egyptian
foundation—for white was the colour of the mother-goddess Nekhbet, the
protectress of Upper Egypt and of the king’s house. But the new
settlement was not really a capital of the united country. The
successors of Menes in the First and Second dynasties did not even
reside there. They seem to have maintained their residence at This and
were buried in neighbouring Abydos,[138] within the district whence
their ancestors had come. Memphis was originally—and remained for
fifteen hundred years almost exclusively (see pp. 97 f.)—a sacred city,
the locus where events of unparalleled importance for the Egyptian
commonwealth had taken place. The Memphite Theology deals precisely with
these events.

We have elsewhere attempted to elucidate the text, which is too abstruse
to be discussed here.[139] It translates history into mythology and
purports to reveal thereby the transcendent significance of Menes’
achievement. Later generations acknowledged the validity of these early
teachings by their deeds: each new king came to Memphis to celebrate the
“Union of the Two Lands” and to perform the “Circuit of the White Wall,”
as Menes was thought to have done when he had constructed his royal

The state which Menes created was habitually referred to as “The Two
Lands,” a designation apt to be misunderstood; we meet here—as so often
in Egypt—a term with cosmological rather than political connotations. We
have shown elsewhere[141] that the dualistic mould of the “Kingdom of
Upper and Lower Egypt” satisfied the Egyptian mode of thought which
conceived totality as an equilibrium of opposites. A meaningful symmetry
was imposed upon the unified land, but it had no basis in fact, for
Scorpion and Narmer conquered the north piecemeal, as far as we know.
Nor is there any sign of resentment against the north. On the contrary,
northerners were found among the highest in the land: two queens of the
First Dynasty reveal a Delta origin by their names, and officials of
that dynasty, buried near their royal masters at Abydos, exemplify the
Lower Egyptian physical type.[142]

The outside world did not challenge the exalted view of their state
which the Egyptians entertained. None of their neighbours threatened the
safety of “The Two Lands”; all of them disposed of natural resources
which seemed predestined to be offered as tribute to the divine ruler of
Egypt. We have seen that the southern littoral of the Mediterranean was
not a desert in antiquity. Narmer’s successors had to consolidate their
northern frontiers even though they prevailed with ease over the
neighbouring populations. Some had to fight the Libyans in the west. At
the malachite mines in Sinai, Semerkhet recorded his victory over the
local Bedouin on a rock-stela repeating the main motif of Narmer’s
palette. Another king of the First Dynasty had an ivory gaming piece
engraved with the picture of a bound Syrian captive. The roofing beams
of the royal tombs at Abydos consist of coniferous wood imported from
the Lebanon. Jugs of Syrian and Palestinian manufacture have been found
in these tombs and in those of dignitaries buried at Saqqara: they
probably served as containers of olive oil. Gold, ivory, ostrich
feathers, and ebony came through Nubia from inner Africa.

However, in this phase of Egyptian civilization, signs of contact with a
yet more distant region are also found. They differ in character from
those we have just mentioned. Libya, Sinai, and Syria supplied the Nile
valley with much-needed raw materials; but Sumer supplied ideas.
Imported Mesopotamian cylinder seals have been found in Egypt, and the
same odd form of seal was adopted in Egypt. The earliest Egyptian brick
buildings resemble the Protoliterate temples of Mesopotamia in all
significant matters of technique. Egyptian art—even in the Narmer
palette—used Mesopotamian motifs. Even writing seems to have been due to
the stimulus derived from acquaintance with Mesopotamian writing of the
end of the Protoliterate period.

We have dealt with these matters in an Appendix. For although it is
certain that contact between the two great centres of the Near East took
place, it did not affect the social and political sphere with which we
are concerned here. In fact, if we look back over the evidence presented
in this chapter, the autochthonous character of the Egyptian development
is unmistakable. The basic structure of the society which emerged was
the direct opposite of that which came into being in Mesopotamia. In
Egypt the great change did not lead to a concentration of social
activity in urban centres. It is true that there were cities in Egypt,
but, with the single exception of the capital, these were no more than
market towns for the countryside. Paradoxically enough, the capital was
less permanent than the towns in the provinces, for in principle it
served for only a single reign. Each pharaoh took up residence near the
site chosen for his tomb, where, during the best part of his lifetime,
the work on the pyramid and its temple continued, while the government
functioned in the neighbouring city. But after his death the place was
abandoned to the priests and officials who maintained his cult and
managed his mortuary estate, unless the new king decided to continue in
residence because the adjoining desert offered a suitable site for his
own tomb. Until the middle of the second millennium B.C. (when Thebes
assumed a metropolitan character) there was no truly permanent capital
in Egypt, a situation which clearly demonstrates the insignificant role
played by the concept of the city in the political thought of the
Egyptians.[143] In Mesopotamia, on the other hand, even the most
powerful rulers of the land styled themselves rulers of cities and
functioned as such, in Akkad or Ur, in Babylon or in Assur.

The contrast in social structure and the divergent conceptions of
kingship can be seen as correlated. The city as the ultimate form of
political organization is inconceivable without a ruler who remains
potentially one among many; conversely, absolute power entails a unified
realm. We did, therefore, not lose sight of our theme when we discussed
in this chapter the origin of the myths and rites of kingship under
Menes; nor is it due to the accident of discovery that we studied the
birth of Egyptian civilization with the aid of royal monuments. For
Pharaoh symbolized the community in its temporal and transcendent
aspects, and, for the Egyptians, civilized life gravitated around the
divine king.

Our discussion of the rise of the monarchical society of Egypt must now
be complemented by a concrete description. The administration of the
country[144] functioned on the strength of delegated royal power.
Pharaoh was the living fount of law, governing by decrees which were
formulated as inspired decisions.[145] In early times the government
assumed a somewhat patriarchal character. Sons and other close relatives
of Pharaoh acted as his principal advisors and aids. Distant relatives
and descendants of past rulers were found in minor government posts. At
first no single minister stood between the king and the various branches
of the administration. There was no Grand Vizier. Under the Fourth
Dynasty, however, the vizierate was introduced as the apex of the
bureaucracy; but it was, at first, occupied by a prince of royal blood.

Even in later times the king reserved certain prerogatives, such as the
imposition of the death penalty and of mutilations; and the vizier had
an audience each morning to report on the state of the land.
Nevertheless, the vizier’s power of initiative was very great. He was
Chief Justice, Head of the Archives, and, in fact, of every government
department. His messengers travelled through the country carrying his
orders to the local administrators and reporting back to him on the
conditions they observed. One of his designations was “to whom is
reported all that is and is not.” In view of the overwhelming importance
of agriculture for the state, every transaction involving land had to be
registered at the Vizier’s office. After the Sixth Dynasty the vizier
was, probably for practical reasons, “Mayor of the Town,” that is, head
and military governor of the royal residence.

The administration which functioned under the vizier was divided into
several departments. First among these was the Exchequer, headed by the
“Treasurer of the god (_i.e._ king).” This was the central depot for all
imposts and duties owed to the state. In view of the ideal form of the
Dual Monarchy it was called “The Two White Houses,” but in practice
there was no division. It had branches with storehouses throughout the
country where the dues were collected and from where the central
treasury was supplied. The administration was highly centralized; and
the Treasurer was responsible, not only for the collection and disposal
of the native produce paid in as taxes, but also for the royal
expeditions which, as we shall see, brought new materials such as
copper, malachite, wood, or gold, from abroad. Therefore he sometimes
bore the title “general” or “admiral” and had troops and ships at his

The second important government department was the Ministry of
Agriculture, in which a “Chief of the Fields” dealt with purely
agricultural matters, while a “Master of (the King’s) Largesse” was
concerned with everything pertaining to livestock.

These government departments were not rigidly separated, and an
administrative career was likely to take a man through all of them, as
well as through the local administration. Promising young men, or sons
of those whom the king trusted or favoured, were educated at court, and
then acquired administrative experience by passing through a succession
of posts which they filled with the assistance of knowledgeable scribes
of the relevant departments. Methen (Fourth Dynasty) was a Royal Kinsman
who acted successively as Scribe of the Exchequer, apparently also as
Physician, then as District Chief, Judge, Supervisor of all the flax of
the king, to end as nomarch or ruler of a province. In this last
function he administered three provinces in succession—which proves that
the administration was independent of local worthies. At the end of the
Old Kingdom the nomarchs had achieved some sort of permanence by
regularly obtaining their offices for their sons as their successors,
and so they developed into a landed gentry. At first, however, they were
royal officials who were moved from one post to another, who had no
pretence to independence and no local ties. Their affinities and
interests—as those of all officials—were with the court; and Methen
remained until the end “Master of the King’s Hunt,” a purely courtly

Neither the several departments of the government nor the central and
local administrations were clearly delimited, and their province
remained ill-defined until the end. It has been pointed out, for
instance,[146] that, under the New Kingdom, tribute from abroad could be
received upon arrival in Egypt by the “Treasurer of the god” as head of
the Exchequer, by the “Supervisor of the Treasury,” his subordinate, by
lower officials of the Exchequer, by the vizier, by high military
commanders, or by the chief priest of Amon. This fluidity of competence
is simply due to the fact that all authority was delegated royal power
and hence comprehensive in its very nature. There was similarly a
vagueness of demarcation between the central and the local authorities;
and when Seti I (Nineteenth Dynasty) issued a decree commanding that the
temple of Abydos should receive its shipments of gold from Nubia without
being subject to tolls and other dues normally levied from ships in
transit, he had to address his decree to twelve different classes of
officials, starting with the vizier and so down to “the mayors and the
controllers of camps in Upper and Lower Egypt ... every inspector
belonging to the king’s estate and every person sent on a mission to
Nubia.”[147] For local officers, no less than those of the central
government, represented Pharaoh. A nomarch of the Fifth Dynasty,
Nesutnefer,[148] is marked by his titles as “Leader of the Land (_i.e._
province),” which probably meant that he was the head of the provincial
administration in all its branches. He was “Chief of Fortifications,”
which meant that he was head of the police as well as responsible for
the guarding of the frontiers of his province against desert tribes. He
was “Ruler of the King’s People,” namely, of the serfs and tenants,
bailiffs and stewards, craftsmen, scribes, fishermen, and so on, who
were employed on the royal domains within his province, whether they
were free or bond. Finally, he was called “Chief of Commands,” which
meant that orders from the king or the vizier went to him and that he
was responsible for their being carried out in his province.

In the nomarchs we find an element most dangerous to the unity of the
state. Under the Old Kingdom there was, at first, no question of any
power opposing the king. Nesutnefer, whose office we have just
described, was twice transferred to another province. But the kings
rewarded their faithful servants with gifts of land; and, at the same
time, officials pressed for hereditary appointments. Officially this
claim was never admitted, but in practice there was an advantage in
letting a son succeed his father, since the loyalty of the incumbent of
an office was then ensured and his successor was certain to receive most
careful professional training. However, the two tendencies together
changed the relation between the great officials and the king in the
course of time. Hereditary offices and property turned the officials
into landed proprietors who were no longer entirely dependent upon their
function at court,[149] although, as long as the central power remained
strong, Pharaoh could cancel all rights to land or to office at any
time. Nevertheless, when the central administration collapsed completely
at the end of the Sixth Dynasty, the hereditary landowners were in a
position to assume responsibility for the maintenance of rule and order
in their districts. The manors of their estates were turned into
miniature courts. This situation flouted every native theory and
practice of government, and it did not outlast the period of confusion.
The kings of the Twelfth Dynasty restored centralized government.

It is possible to gain a clear idea of the mentality of the Egyptian
official, since many texts define the norms of his behaviour. The ideal
official was “the silent man,” who is respectful of established
authority and just, since _maat_ (which means truth, justice, rightness)
is part of that world order of which his royal master is the champion.
The “silent man”[150] is, therefore, not the meek sufferer, but the
wise, self-possessed, well-adapted man, modest and self-effacing up to a
point, but deliberate and firm in the awareness that he is thoroughly in
harmony with the world in which he lives.

We cannot draw a corresponding picture of the common people of Egypt.
Since they were illiterate, they are known to us only in descriptions of
peasant life from the schools of scribes; and these are tendentious,
singing the advantages of a “soft” job as an encouragement to the pupils
involved in the arduous task of mastering the script. Notwithstanding
the smug complacency of these texts and the evident satisfaction which
the writers found in parodying every employment other than their own,
the section dealing with the peasantry is worth quoting since it
pictures well enough the farmer’s lot under inefficient or corrupt

  Remember you not the condition of the cultivator faced with the
  registering of the harvest tax, when the snake has carried off half
  the corn and the hippopotamus has devoured the rest? The mice abound
  in the fields. The locusts descend. The cattle devour. The sparrows
  bring disaster upon the cultivator. The remainder that is on the
  threshing floor is at an end, it falls to the thieves. The value of
  the hired cattle (?) is lost. The yoke of oxen has died while
  threshing and ploughing.

  And now the scribe lands on the river bank and is about to register
  the harvest tax. The janitors carry staves and the Nubians (policemen)
  rods of palm, and they say, “Hand over the corn,” though there is
  none. The cultivator is beaten all over, he is bound and thrown into
  the well, soused, and dipped head downwards. His wife has been bound
  in his presence, his children are in fetters. His neighbours abandon
  him and are fled.[151]

If such brutality had been the rule, it is clear that Egyptian society
could not have survived. Agriculturalists are inevitably the prey of
occasional calamities because they are dependent on weather and water.
But if disasters follow one another frequently without relief, or if
oppression by those in power exceeds a certain limit, there is no
inducement for the peasant to continue his labours at all. He takes to
flight or to revolt. We have seen why the texts used in the scribal
schools emphasized the shadow-side of the peasant’s lot. Moreover, we
should remember that the humdrum normal life of the rural population
offered no interest to the _literati_. The elementary satisfactions of a
life wedded to nature, its crafty game of hiding assets from the
bureaucrats, its tough endurance of injustice, the latent power of its
indispensability—all these did not supply the scribal schools with
material for the florid compositions which were their pride.

It was otherwise with the sculptors and painters. These men, charged
with depicting on the walls of the great tombs the various rural
activities from which the sustenance of the owner, in the next world, as
in this, derived,[152] rendered these with the liveliest interest. Their
work (Figs. 29, 30) presents to us a gay, light-hearted people,
resembling in many respects the modern fellahin who similarly live on
the verge of poverty under hardship and oppression. In the tombs we see
fishermen and herdsmen at their tasks, joking with one another (the
words are sometimes rendered over their images). Harvesters move in a
row, rhythmically swinging their sickles to the tune of a song which is
accompanied by a man with a long reed pipe (Fig. 29).[153] Women bring
food to their menfolk; two little girls squabble, while a third draws a
thorn from the foot of her friend; a shepherd dozes under a tree, his
dog asleep beside him (Fig. 30);[154] another herdsman refreshes himself
from a goatskin bottle.

None of these people was free; not a single Egyptian was, in our sense
of the word, free. No individual could call in question a hierarchy of
authority which culminated in a living god. But it must not be forgotten
that the reverse of freedom, isolation of the individual with or without
“inalienable rights,” was likewise lacking in Egypt. And servitude loses
much of its sting if authority rests with those to whom faith has
attributed the power of safeguarding the existence of society. Moreover,
if it was true that all were at the disposal of the divine ruler and his
officials, it was also true that even the lowliest might appeal to
him[155] and claim what was “right”—_maat_ (justice, right, and
truth)—by which the ruler and the other gods were said to live and which
informed, or was supposed to inform, his functionaries.

There were no castes, and men of simple origin might rise to the highest
posts. The life-story of one Uni under three successive kings of the
Sixth Dynasty shows that even lower officials, without influential
relations, could rise to the highest offices once their ability and
integrity had been recognized. The talented and industrious were not
frustrated by a rigid class distinction or by a colour bar. A Nubian,
frankly calling himself Panehsi, “the Nubian,” or “negro,” might be
found in the highest places. The educated men were assigned by Pharaoh
to whatever offices he thought fit. The common people were mostly tied
to the land which they tilled for their own living and for the
maintenance of the state. We do not know whether or not they were serfs.
We do know that they had to turn in a considerable proportion of their
produce as taxes and that they were liable to _corvée_. A proportion of
the young men of all villages and estates was levied for the army, which
was really a militia, but functioned much more frequently as a labour
corps, available for all kinds of public works. It was this “army” which
was sent on quarrying and mining expeditions, which dug the canals and
built the temples and the royal tombs. If additional labour was needed
to undertake special tasks or to expedite those in hand, the population
at large could be drafted. For instance, the number of men required for
the building of pyramids ran into many thousands, and it is likely that
the stone-cutters and their crews of unskilled helpers worked
continuously in the quarries, the masons and their navvies on the site,
but that during the inundation special levies were drafted to transport
the stone from Tura, on the east bank, to Gizeh or Saqqara on the west
bank of the Nile. For this purpose it was convenient that in summer,
when the arable land was flooded, all agricultural labour came to a
standstill, and the water covering the fields facilitated transport to
the very foot of the desert plateau.[156]

We have some evidence of the life which these labourers lived. Three
places are known where workmen were housed. Near the pyramid of Chephren
at Gizeh there are, around a court, extensive barracks consisting of
ninety-one galleries, each 88 feet long, 9½ feet wide, and 7 feet high.
Petrie estimated that these could house 4000 men. Near the pyramid of
Senusert II at Lahun there is a walled town covering an area 900 by 1200
feet. And at Tell el Amarna, near the northern group of rock tombs, is a
walled village measuring only 210 by 210 feet (Fig. 31).[157] Its layout
is dreary, with identical houses built back to back along straight
streets. Each house consists of a court serving for kitchen and
workshop, a central room as living-room, and two little bedrooms at the
back. The enclosure wall has but one gate, opening on a square where the
men no doubt mustered before being marched off to work. At one end of
the square there is a larger house for the foreman or commandant.
Described in this way the settlement makes the impression of a penal
colony. But when one visits the site or reads the excavation report with
some care, that impression changes. One is struck by the variations
which one observes in going from house to house. Although the plans are
identical, the tenants had made many changes to suit their individual
needs and predilections. The internal arrangements are hardly ever the
same. The objects found in the houses also show considerable variety and
do not suggest penury or gloom. In one room was discovered a gay,
painted frieze of dancing figures of the god Bes, the popular genius of
music and love. One gets a distinct impression at the site that lack of
freedom neither interfered with the home life of these workers nor
destroyed their gaiety.

Abuses naturally existed. Royal decrees granting freedom from _corvée_,
or levy, to the personnel of certain shrines explicitly protected these
men against removal to other parts of the country, and show incidentally
that common folk were exposed to this hazard. The small man was
dependent on the protection of a man of influence whose client he might
become if he was not already his serf. At this distance of time we
cannot distinguish grades of servitude. It has been suggested that the
best land of the large estates was worked with serfs while the less
productive fields were let out to peasants who paid a fixed rent in
produce; but the categories are not clearly distinguishable. Slaves,
however, as distinct from serfs, did not play an important part in the
economy of Egypt. It is doubtful whether they were kept in any numbers
at all before the New Kingdom.[158] At that time the Syrian campaigns
resulted in large numbers of captives who were used on royal and temple
domains and in stone quarries. In earlier times captive Nubians may have
been employed occasionally, but such isolated slaves served in families
or at court as domestics, entertainers, dancers, or musicians and lived
(one suspects) very much like the other servants. It has been pointed
out[159] that the successful growing of grain requires a personal
interest on the part of the cultivator, which slave labour lacks.

The craftsmen, too, were usually serving some great lord. Large numbers
were employed by the king. We know, in fact, that the country was
drained of talent for the benefit of the royal residence. The graves at
Qau el Kebir—a cemetery in Middle Egypt used throughout the third
millennium—show the scantiest equipment, and that of the poorest quality
of craftsmanship, during the flourishing period of the Old Kingdom when
the pyramids were being built. When the central government had collapsed
in the First Intermediate period, both the quality and the intrinsic
value of the grave goods at Qau increased greatly. When craftsmen worked
for the court, it is almost certain that they, too, were not free agents
selling their wares or their services where they pleased. But we must,
once more, guard against exaggerating their lot; they were not slaves.
We happen, for instance, to know something of the extensive linen
factories of Pharaoh. Under the Sixth Dynasty a royal weaving
establishment in the north was under the management of one Seneb, a
dwarf who, having worked himself up from the ranks, married a woman of
the class of “Royal Kinsman” and could afford to build himself a fine
tomb at Gizeh, from which we get our information.[160] One of the scenes
in this tomb depicts the giving of rewards to Seneb’s subordinates;[161]
they receive headbands and necklaces, and this is significant, for these
ornaments resemble in form the “gold” with which Pharaoh honoured
officials of special merit. Let us assume that the jewellery with which
the weavers were rewarded was less costly and consisted of bronze and
fayence. It is nevertheless clear that the award was by no means a
payment but a kind of gift which it was an honour to receive. Now it is
noteworthy that the recipients depicted in Seneb’s tomb are not all
overseers and foremen, but also men and women who are merely mentioned
by name, without title, and who therefore must be assumed to be simple

Craftsmen also worked for officials and on the large estates which came
into being towards the end of the Old Kingdom. Such estates, like the
royal domains, and the temple estates of later times, were
self-sufficient economic units. Each had its own wharves, for
instance,[162] where Nile boats were built and repaired. These served
not only as ferries, but for every trip of any length which the owner
had to undertake and for the shipment of grain, cattle, and other dues
to the magazines of the Exchequer. They were used, furthermore, for
shipments of supplies to the funerary establishments of past members of
the family who might be buried near Memphis in a royal cemetery. When
the weakening of the central power, to which we have referred, and the
concurrent rise of a landed gentry, made it more and more customary for
high officials to be buried in rock-cut tombs near their estates in the
provinces, the equipment of these tombs was supplied by masons,
cabinet-makers, jewellers, and so on, employed on the estate. There
were, moreover, hunters, who not only killed game, but caught it to be
fattened for the table; several kinds of antelopes, cranes, and even
hyenas were treated in this way. Fishermen and fowlers were also
employed, for wild geese and duck, fattened in the barnyard, were
consumed in large numbers. Fish was dried and kept, but it was probably
largely used as rations for labourers.

As regards the cultivators, whether they worked for a private estate,
for a temple, or on a royal domain, they had to pay imposts of many
kinds, and the hamlets and villages were collectively responsible in the
person of their head man; this worthy had to produce the stipulated
amounts on the day of reckoning or he risked a beating. The craftsmen,
too, were organized in groups of five or ten men under a foreman who
received their rations of food, clothing, and raw materials and was
responsible for their work. Similar groups of men, working in shifts of
one month, functioned as “hour priests” in the temples and funerary
chapels. When they took over, their foremen received the inventory and
were responsible for its proper maintenance.

The material basis of the Egyptian commonwealth was agriculture,
regulated by the unaltering rhythm of the inundation. The names of the
three seasons (of four months each) which the Egyptians distinguished
were “Inundation” (middle of July to middle November), “Coming Forth”
(of the seeds, or possibly of the land from the inundation, from middle
November to middle March), and “Drought.” The conditions prevailing in
prehistoric times, described in the second chapter, were not materially
altered during the Old Kingdom. Land had to be reclaimed from the
marshes. We have seen that the first king, Menes, undertook such work on
a considerable scale. But the more the valley was drained, the more the
need arose to distribute the inundation water so that it reached all the
fields. From the beginning of the First Dynasty annual records of the
height of the Nile were kept; their purpose can only have been to
provide a basis for an estimate of its extent and thereby of the
probable yield of the harvest. The digging of canals and the building of
dikes was normally done by the central government, but there are some
indications that the king encouraged the nomarchs to reclaim land by
granting them the new fields which they then were allowed to settle with
people from their estates. In the First Intermediate period when each
nomarch had to take care of his area as best he could, one of them

  I stocked villages in this nome that were enfeebled with cattle and
  men of other nomes, and those who had been serfs elsewhere I made rank
  as notables.[163]

The annual inundation with its fertilizing deposit of silt made manuring
and rotation of crops unnecessary. The tax records distinguish between
low land, which was regularly inundated, and high land, which came under
water only when the flood was high. This land was used for grazing or
truck gardening. The bulk of the arable land was left soft by the
retreating inundation and could be worked with primitive wooden hoes and
ploughs. Animals, mostly sheep, were used to tread in the seed, and this
had to be done speedily after the land had emerged but before it became
hard and dry. Six-rowed barley and emmer wheat were the main crops.
Lettuce, onions, beans, and lentils were, in antiquity as now, important
secondary products. Ricinus plants were grown for oil, and flax for

When the grain had grown to a certain height, surveyors measured it to
assess it for taxation on an estimated yield (Fig. 30). It was harvested
with sickles, threshed on a circular threshing floor by asses (and later
by cattle) who trod out the kernels. As a rule, women did the winnowing
by throwing the grain up in a winnowing basket. After that it was stored
in barns or in beehive-shaped silos, and the portion due to the king or
to the estate-owner was handed over. Large estates, including the royal
domains and the temples, had reserves to supplement bad harvests.
Seed-corn was lent to the tenants, and teams of oxen and asses for
ploughing or carrying were lent or let out, too. There are records of
great landowners relieving tenants who could not meet their obligations
in difficult years.

But not only the grain harvest was taxed. There was a tax on canals and
ponds, on trees and wells. The produce of the home industries and of the
spare-time occupations of the people were taxed: they had to turn over
some of their textiles, leatherwork, honey, oil, wine, vegetables, some
of the catch of the fowler and fisherman, some of the increase of the
shepherd’s flock. Genesis xlvii. 24 states that one-fifth of all produce
was owed to the government; this may or may not be correct; it is not
improbable. Certain people were liable to pay fixed quantities of
produce, irrespective of yield.

Again, it is necessary to correct our first reaction to a description of
these conditions. In Egypt personal enterprise was made subsidiary to
the performance of public duties; and it would seem that under normal
conditions sufficient scope for private initiative, in production and in
barter, remained. The contents of graves which are best, perhaps, called
lower middle class (since of the poorest people no trace survives) show
as much. It is likewise revealing that during Egypt’s long history no
attempts to overthrow the existing order were made. This shows that the
Egyptian experiment of organizing a rural community was, on the whole,
successful. The obligation to hand over part of every kind of produce
may seem pettifogging to us. But money was unknown; the state could
function only if it disposed of all kinds of articles to supply those
who were in its service. If officials abused their power and oppressed
the people, the peasants had an effective weapon at their disposal: they
fled. This was a catastrophe for their owner since he remained liable
for the normal dues on his land, which now lay deserted. The case is
concisely put in a letter written by a steward to his master who was
responsible for the management of a certain royal domain:

  Another communication for my Lord’s good pleasure, to the effect that
  two of the field labourers of the _mine_ land of Pharaoh which is
  under my Lord’s authority, have fled before the face of the
  stable-master Neferhotep, he having beaten them. And now, look, the
  fields of the _mine_ land of Pharaoh which are under my Lord’s
  authority are abandoned and there is no one to till them. This letter
  is for my Lord’s information.[164]

A somewhat patriarchal relationship between master and men persists in
many rural districts of old countries even to-day. A certain amount of
arbitrariness, even of despotism, is taken for granted in the great; it
is their privilege, but only if it is counterbalanced by a sense of
responsibility for the land and for those who till it.

We may, therefore, accept as inherently probable such statements as the
following, made by an Upper Egyptian nomarch who had taken matters in
his own hands in the First Intermediate period.

  I was one who computed (carefully) the consumption of Lower Egyptian
  grain.... I made a canal for this town when Upper Egypt was in a bad
  way, and one did not see any water.... I made high fields into marsh,
  I made the Nile inundate wasteland.... Whoever needed water got Nile
  water as he desired.... I was great in Lower Egyptian grain (barley)
  when the country was in tribulation. I was the one who fed the town
  with measure and bushel. I made the small man and his wife carry away
  Lower Egyptian grain and (likewise) the widow and her son. I had all
  imposts reduced which I found registered (as arrears) from the time of
  my father.[165]

Another nomarch, at Crocodilopolis in Upper Egypt, south of Thebes,

  I fed the “island in the river” (Crocodilopolis) during years of
  drought when 400 men were (in penury) there. I did not take away a
  man’s daughter nor his field. I acquired ten flocks of goats with
  people to take care of them, two herds of cattle and one of asses. I
  bred small livestock. I obtained thirty boats of one kind and thirty
  of another and brought Upper Egyptian grain to Hermonthis and Asphynis
  after Crocodilopolis was taken care of. The nome of Thebes came
  upstream (_i.e._ to obtain grain from me), but Crocodilopolis never
  sent downstream nor upstream (for grain) to another nome.[166]

The last inscription makes much of livestock, and stock-breeding was
next in importance to agriculture. We have seen that a special official,
“The Master of the King’s Largesse,” was in charge of its supervision.
In antiquity, in contrast with now, plenty of marshland was available
for grazing in the valley, and the large herds were also sent to the
Delta in spring to graze. One official of the Sixth Dynasty lists 1000
head of cattle, 760 asses, 2200 goats, and nearly 1000 sheep as his own.

Trade played a subordinate part in the internal economy of the country.
There was, naturally, a great deal of barter between individuals. There
were markets where food, especially garden produce, or birds netted in
the fields, or fish, were exchanged for tools or sandals or
walking-sticks, necklaces, textiles or oils—luxuries or articles which,
although issued by the estate office, might not, in quantity or quality,
suit everyone. Barter in the market-place allowed a man to adjust his
share in various goods to his own particular taste or to dispose of
catches or produce obtained on the side. These markets are sometimes
depicted in the tombs, and we know that already, in the Old Kingdom,
pieces of metal served as standards of value. An important object was
said to be worth so and so many rings. In the New Kingdom this system
was simplified, and the value of an object was said to be so much weight
(deben) of gold, silver, or copper. In the New Kingdom, too, the closer
contact with Syria made more imported articles available for the market
trade. A tomb-painting shows a Phoenician ship just made fast at the
quay of Thebes. Some of the crew have gone ashore and approach booths
where sandals, linen, fruits, and vegetables can be exchanged for a jug
of Syrian oil or wine. This type of trade remained, however, purely
marginal to the economy of Egypt. Neither the home-grown staple products
nor the main imports were distributed through the markets. We do not
meet the word “merchant” until the second millennium B.C., when it
designates the official of a temple privileged to trade abroad.

Raw materials which Egypt lacked were procured through royal
expeditions, organized by the Exchequer (which included among its
personnel interpreters to assist the commanders in various foreign
countries).[167] These expeditions were of two types. In Nubia, the
eastern and western desert, and in Sinai, the nomad tribes and poor
peasants could not oppose the Egyptians in any way at all. The army came
and took what it needed. On quarrying and mining expeditions the
military component of the expedition was no more than an armed escort,
while the bulk of the “army” (as it was called) consisted of navvies to
assist a core of trained stone-cutters or miners.

Another type of expedition was required to obtain wood from the Lebanon
and frankincense and myrrh from Punt, the Somali coast. These lands were
outside the sphere of Egyptian military influence, and the native rulers
could ask for a price. This was offered in the form of royal presents to
favourite vassals, and their products were listed as tribute. In reality
there was an exchange; some splendid and extremely costly Egyptian
jewellery, inscribed with the names of Pharaohs of the Twelfth Dynasty,
has been found in tombs of the local princes of Byblos at the foot of
the Lebanon. Coniferous roofing beams in the tombs of the First Egyptian
Dynasty and a record of a sea expedition of Snefru of the Fourth Dynasty
prove the great age of this lumber trade with the Levant. And from a
late period we have the following list of objects which an Egyptian
envoy—Wenamon—offered in exchange for wood from the Lebanon:

  Five gold and five silver vessels; ten garments of royal linen; ten
  pieces of other linen; five hundred pieces of fine paper; five hundred
  cattle skins; five hundred ropes; twenty bags of lentils; thirty
  baskets of fish.

The Phoenician export included, besides wood, oil, wine, resin, and

It has been said that Pharaoh was the only wholesale merchant in Egypt
and that foreign trade was a royal monopoly. But the implication of
profit-making and exploitation is inappropriate. It was merely due to
the complete consistency with which the Egyptians had organized their
community as a centralized monarchy that they supplied themselves with
the foreign materials of which they stood in need by means of royal
expeditions. It is curious evidence of the practical effectiveness of
Pharaonic rule that the absolute monarchy of Egypt did supply essential
commodities, whether imported or produced at home, to the people as a
whole in sufficient quantities; the distribution took place “from
above,” the king making gifts and allotments to his officials who in
turn rewarded their retainers and so down the social scale. And in the
First Intermediate period, when royal power suffered an eclipse, the
texts contain a complaint that there is no wood available for the making
of coffins.

Whatever aspect of Egyptian society we have scrutinized, we have found
Pharaoh at the centre. Yet nothing would be more misleading than to
picture the Egyptians in abject submission to their absolute ruler.
Their state can be described as “a self-directed organism held together
by a common regard for customary rights and obligations.”[168] Their
polity was not imposed but evolved from immemorial predilections, and
was adhered to, without protest, for almost three thousand years.
Similar predilections have, in fact, maintained the institution of
divine kingship among Africans related to the ancient Egyptians down to
our own days. It was good, not evil; it gave a sense of security which
the Asiatic contemporaries of the ancient Egyptians totally lacked. If a
god had consented to guide the nation, society held a pledge that the
unaccountable forces of nature would be well disposed and bring
prosperity and peace. Nor does the Egyptian view lack ethical content.
Truth, justice, were “that by which the gods live,” an essential element
in the established order. Hence Pharaoh’s rule was not tyranny, nor his
service slavery.

  The Influence of Mesopotamia on Egypt Towards the End of the Fourth
                          Millennium B.C.[169]

The problem to which we turn now has been discussed intermittently for
the last fifty years, but in the earlier discussions preconceived ideas
played a considerable part. For while it is admitted that intercourse
stimulates individuals, it is often believed that granting foreign
influence to have affected a people is derogatory. The essential
difference between mechanical copying and creative borrowing, between a
slavish dependence on foreign examples and a free selection of congenial
material, is entirely overlooked. Another circumstance, too, has
militated against an unbiased weighing of the evidence. When our
knowledge of the ancient Near East was fragmentary, it was habitual to
explain changes in terms of conquest and immigration from some
hypothetical, as yet unknown, region; but the extensive explorations
which took place between the two world wars have discredited this type
of explanation, and the supposed homelands of the newcomers proved, in
cultural matters, to have been peripheral dependencies of the two great
centres in Egypt and Mesopotamia. These, on the other hand, were seen to
have been unusually resistant to foreign influence and capable of
imposing conformity upon all comers.[170]

Our increased knowledge has thus induced an unwillingness to appeal to
foreign influence or migrations as explanations of cultural changes.
Now, however, the opposite viewpoint receives exaggerated emphasis, and
we find students proudly proclaiming their ignorance of anthropology and
emphasizing, without a critical examination of all the facts, the
autonomy and self-containedness of the great cultural centres of the
Near East.

Evidence obtained in the decade before the Second World War allows us,
however, to solve the problem, at least as far as it concerns the
formative phase of Egyptian civilization. For the discovery in
Mesopotamia of remains of the Protoliterate period revealed the source
from which curious and passing features of Egyptian culture in late
predynastic and protodynastic times were obviously derived.

The strongest evidence of this contact between Mesopotamia and Egypt is
supplied by three cylinder seals shown by their very material and by
their designs to have been made in Mesopotamia during the second half of
the Protoliterate period (Figs. 33, 34), but found in Egypt. One was
excavated at Naqada (Fig. 32), in a Gerzean grave; and the same origin
is probable for the other two.[171] These importations were not without
consequence: from the beginning of the First Dynasty the cylinder seal
was adopted in Egypt and made at once in considerable quantities. Since
it is an odd form for a seal, used only in countries in contact with
Mesopotamia, and since one of the Mesopotamian cylinders was found in
Egypt in a context just ante-dating the earliest native seals, it would
be perverse to deny that the Egyptians followed the Mesopotamian
example. But it is quite characteristic for them that they exploited the
new suggestion with the greatest freedom. They even used engraved
cylinders for a purpose for which there is no Mesopotamian prototype:
some of these objects, found in the graves of the First Dynasty, are not
seals at all but funerary amulets showing the dead man at the table
(Figs. 37, 38, 39).[172] In addition, the Egyptians used cylinders as
seals, but they very rarely covered them with pictorial designs. They
engraved upon them the names and titles of officials written in
hieroglyphs (Figs. 35, 36). In Mesopotamia the earliest cylinders (Figs.
14-16, 42, 44) bear designs, not inscriptions; inscribed seals are
unknown before the second Early Dynastic period, and then even the
inscribed examples always bear a design as their distinctive feature.
Moreover, the early Egyptian seals are usually made of wood, a material
not used in Mesopotamia, as far as we know. Since, on the other hand,
the cylinder was better adapted to the sealing of merchandise and clay
tablets than to that of documents on papyrus, it was replaced in Egypt
during the Middle Kingdom by the stamp seal in the shape of a scarab.
The Egyptians, therefore, in no way copied slavishly the Mesopotamian
invention, but adapted it to their own needs until such a time as they
had discovered a more suitable form of seal.

In the field of art a somewhat similar development can be observed.[173]
We can distinguish two groups of phenomena: motifs are taken over from
Mesopotamian monuments of the Protoliterate period, or Egyptian motifs
are composed in a manner which is, to judge by later usage, un-Egyptian
and can be understood as a passing influence of Mesopotamian style. The
most striking example of the copying of an alien, Mesopotamian, motif,
is the group of the man dominating two lions on the Gebel el Arak
knife-handle (Fig. 23). Such groups are common at all times in
Mesopotamia but exceedingly rare in Egypt. And in the present case the
derivation cannot be doubted: the hero between the lions copies in every
detail of his appearance—his garment, his beard, his hair, wound round
his head and bound up in a chignon at the back—the often recurring
figure of the “leader” or king depicted on a granite stela from Erech
and on numerous seals (Figs. 15, 44). Even the style of the figure, the
way in which the muscles in the legs are rendered, for instance, is
entirely un-Egyptian, as a comparison with the figures on the other face
of the knife-handle (Fig. 24) shows.

Other motifs on palettes and knife-handles likewise have Mesopotamian
prototypes. The serpent-necked lions or panthers on the Narmer palette
(Fig. 28) recur, identically intertwined, on seals of the early and late
Protoliterate period (Fig. 16). Winged griffins (Fig. 40)[174] and
intertwined snakes (Fig. 41)[175] are also at home in Mesopotamia from
the Protoliterate period onwards and put in a passing appearance in

Antithetical groups[176] and the carnivore attacking an impassive prey
(Figs. 23, 40), are examples of Egyptian designs composed in an
un-Egyptian manner.[177] We may even formulate the way in which they are
un-Egyptian: they share with the group of the hero dominating two lions,
the intertwined snakes and lions, and the serpent-necked panthers a
pronouncedly unrealistic character. Animal forms are, in all these
instances, used to produce a decorative design; they are subjected to a
purely aesthetic purpose. And though the Egyptians eventually used plant
motifs in such a fashion, they never again so employed animal or human
figures. In Mesopotamia, on the other hand, imagination and design
usually prevailed over probability or nature.[178] Hence we see, once
again, that the Egyptians experimented with Mesopotamian inventions
during the formative phase of their civilization but soon rejected what
was uncongenial.

There remain two fields in which Mesopotamian examples have produced
results more important than those we have discussed so far. They are
architecture and writing. With the First Dynasty, monumental brick
architecture makes its appearance in a form, both as regards material
and plan, which recalls the Protoliterate temples of Mesopotamia.[179]
It is a moot point whether bricks were made in Egypt in prehistoric
times. In Persia, Mesopotamia, and Asia Minor (Mersin) they were used on
a great scale from the Al Ubaid period onwards, and were known even
earlier. In Egypt a few bricks have been found in prehistoric context,
but not actually in walls, and whether they were used for buildings may
well be doubted, since in Nubia, where prehistoric culture continued to
flourish even after the accession of Menes, bricks were used only at a
later date. Moreover, a design on the Hunters’ Palette (Fig. 25), and
hieroglyphs representing traditional palaces and shrines, indicate that
predynastic public buildings were made of wood and matting, or perhaps
of wattle and daub. It is likely that the palaces and other important
buildings of the First Dynasty were still made of those materials.[180]
But in this dynasty highly sophisticated brick architecture is suddenly
used in the construction of graves.

In Egypt secular buildings were at all times less permanent than tombs
and temples. When, from the Third Dynasty onwards, these were built of
stone, houses and palaces were still built of brick. And this
distinction holds good for all subsequent periods. Under the First
Dynasty, when brick architecture came into its own, this new and more
permanent architecture was used, at first, for the royal tombs which
were decorated with buttresses and recesses on all four sides (Figs. 46,
47, 50). This ornamentation was achieved, in some cases (Fig. 46),[181]
by the use of two kinds of bricks—large ones for the core of the
building and smaller ones for the recessing. These small bricks are of a
size and shape peculiar, in Mesopotamia, to the latter half of the
Protoliterate period and were used in an identical fashion, three rows
of stretchers alternating as a rule with one row of headers.[182] The
recesses and buttresses duplicate exactly the recessing of Protoliterate
temples. Other technical details—the manner in which a plinth or
platform is constructed (Fig. 47),[183] the use of short timbers
inserted horizontally as the strengthening in the niches (Figs. 49,
50)—likewise reflect Mesopotamian usages of the Protoliterate period
(Fig. 48).[184] In Mesopotamia the whole method of recessed brick
building can be seen to come into being, starting with the temples at
Eridu and Tepe Gawra of the Al Ubaid period (when the buttresses, widely
spaced, seem merely to strengthen the walls), until, in the
Protoliterate age (Fig. 45), the exact degree of complexity was reached
with which brick building appears under the First Egyptian Dynasty,
unheralded, and yet with every refinement of which the material is
capable. Contemporary but simplified renderings of these buildings on
Protoliterate cylinder seals in Mesopotamia resemble those on First
Dynasty monuments in Egypt (Figs. 42, 43, 44).[185] There are
differences, too, which indicate that the Mesopotamian renderings were
not copied in Egypt, but that the Egyptian and Mesopotamian renderings
are abbreviations of buildings which themselves were closely alike. The
towers appearing on the Stele of Djet (Fig. 43) are found in the later
part of the Protoliterate period (Fig. 42 right). Entrance towers with
straight sides were, since Early Dynastic times, in use in Mesopotamia
but not in Egypt, where the pylon with a pronounced batter was

In view of this great variety of detailed resemblances there can be no
reasonable doubt that the earliest monumental brick architecture of
Egypt was inspired by that of Mesopotamia where it had a long previous
history. In conclusion, it is worth notice that the architectural forms
used in Mesopotamia for temples were applied in Egypt to royal tombs and
royal castles.[186] But then, Pharaoh—in life and in death—was a god.
Stone architecture, so characteristic for Egypt in historical times,
replaced bricks in the royal tombs from the Third Dynasty onward.

We must turn, finally, to the invention of hieroglyphic writing. It is a
moot point whether it first appears on the macehead of Scorpion (Fig.
26), or whether the two signs on the Hunters’ palette (Fig. 25) must
count as writing. These cannot be read, although they may mean “shrine
of (the earth-god) Akeru,” for this name is written with the double
forequartered animal in the pyramid texts. Whether this palette or the
Scorpion mace is the first inscribed monument, the appearance of writing
falls within a period in which Mesopotamian influence has been proved to

It has been customary to postulate prehistoric antecedents for the
Egyptian script, but this hypothesis has nothing in its favour.[187] In
the annals of the kingdom (which happen to survive in a version of the
Fifth Dynasty), events are recorded only from the First Dynasty onwards,
a fact suggesting that no written records of earlier times existed. Only
some names of prehistoric Chieftains were still known and entered in the
annals as “kings” preceding Menes.[188]

But the writing which appeared without antecedents at the beginning of
the First Dynasty was by no means primitive. It has, in fact, a complex
structure. It includes three different classes of signs: ideograms,
phonetic signs, and determinatives.[189] This is precisely the same
state of complexity which had been reached in Mesopotamia at an advanced
stage of the Protoliterate period. There, however, a more primitive
stage is known in the earliest tablets, which used only ideograms. To
deny, therefore, that Egyptian and Mesopotamian systems of writing are
related amounts to maintaining that Egypt invented independently a
complex and not very consistent system at the very moment of being
influenced in its art and architecture by Mesopotamia where a precisely
similar system had just been developed from a more primitive stage. To
state this view is, of course, to reject it.

But, again, the Egyptians did not copy the Mesopotamian system
slavishly; they were merely stimulated to develop a script of their own,
once the notion that language could be rendered graphically had been
conveyed. The writing signs—the “hieroglyphs”—which they invented have
nothing at all in common with the Mesopotamian signs. They depict
Egyptian objects; they depict them faithfully; and they remain to the
end exact pictures in the majority of cases. In Mesopotamia the tendency
to use abstract symbols was strong from the beginning, and prevailed at
an early date. And before the middle of the third millennium even the
pictograms had lost all trace of semblance to the objects they
originally rendered (Fig. 13). This contrast between the Egyptian and
Mesopotamian scripts undoubtedly has a twofold cause. The Egyptians
always loved the pictorial rather than the abstract and had a strong
inclination towards the concrete. This tendency (which also prevented
them from distorting animal forms for the sake of ornamental schemes)
made them adopt and retain minute images as writing signs. But, in the
second place, writing was at first used in Egypt for a purpose different
from that to which the Mesopotamians put it. In Mesopotamia writing was
invented to serve the practical needs of administration. In Egypt it was
used, at first, as an element of monumental art, in the form of legends
added to reliefs (Figs. 26, 27, 28).

The legends fixed the identity of the figures in the reliefs which could
be made explicit only by the adding of names and titles. But once
writing was introduced, it was—in Egypt also—used for practical
purposes; and this required a shorter and more cursive script. In the
tomb of Djet, the fourth king of the First Dynasty, a note in cursive
script has been discovered;[190] and it has been pointed out[191] that
documents must have been in common use in the Second Dynasty since the
sign of the papyrus roll, tied up and sealed, is used from then on. For
monumental inscriptions, however, the pictorial hieroglyphs were used
even under the Roman emperors.

In view of the doubt which persists in many quarters, it seems worth
while to represent the evidence for Mesopotamian influence in Egypt at
about 3000 B.C.—excluding writing—in a table which shows that we are
confronted, not by a few random resemblances, but by a group of related
phenomena. And this is, in fact, corroborated by the observation that
the foreign features in Egypt all derive from one and the same phase of
Mesopotamian civilization, namely, the later part of the Protoliterate
period.[192] Now this phase (formerly called after Jamdat Nasr)
represents an age of expansion: a richly equipped temple was built at
Brak in Northern Syria (see above, p. 84); Mesopotamian tablets were
found not only at Susa in Elam but at Sialk near Kashan in Central
Persia (Fig. 51); and Mesopotamian cylinders were found, not only at the
places mentioned just now, but as far afield as Cappadocia and Troy. At
a time when Mesopotamian influence radiated in all directions it was but
natural that it should touch Egypt also. Thus the traces of Mesopotamian
arts and crafts which we find in pre- and protodynastic Egypt represent
but one more manifestation of the expansion of Mesopotamia during the
latter part of the Protoliterate period.


    _A. Mesopotamian Objects found in Egypt._
      1. Three cylinder seals of the late Protoliterate period.
    _B. Mesopotamian Usages temporarily adopted in Egypt._
      1. Sealing with engraved cylinders.
      2. Recessed brick building for monumental purposes.
    _C. Mesopotamian Objects depicted on Egyptian Monuments._
      1. Costume, on the Gebel el Arak knife-handle.
      2. Scalloped battle-axe on fragment of late predynastic stone
      3. Ships, on Gebel el Arak knife-handle, “decorated” vases, and
          ivory labels of First Dynasty.[194]
    _A. Mesopotamian Motifs depicted in Egypt._
      1. Composite animals, especially winged griffins and
          serpent-necked felines, on palettes and knife-handles.
      2. Group of hero dominating two lions, on Gebel el Arak
          knife-handle and in tomb at Hierakonpolis.
      3. Pairs of entwined animals, on knife-handles and Narmer palette.
    _B. Mesopotamian peculiarities of Style apparent in Egypt._
      1. Antithetical group, on knife-handles and palettes.
      2. Group of carnivore attacking impassive prey, on knife-handles.
      3. Drawing of musculature, on Gebel el Arak knife-handle.

It would, however, be an error to see the birth of Egyptian civilization
as a consequence of contact with Mesopotamia. The signs of change
accumulating towards the end of the predynastic age are too numerous and
the outcome of the change is too emphatically Egyptian in its general
character and its particulars to allow us to speak of derivation or
dependence. In fact, Mesopotamian influence can be entirely
discounted—except in the field of writing—without altering in any
essential respect the outcome of the change. We have said elsewhere that
there is no necessity to assume Mesopotamian influence in order to
explain the development of Pharaonic civilization, but it so happens
that we have evidence that such influence was, in fact, exercised. We
observe that Egypt, in a period of intensified creativity, became
acquainted with the achievements of Mesopotamia; that it was stimulated;
and that it adapted to its own rapid development such elements as seemed
compatible with its efforts. It mostly transformed what it borrowed and
after a time rejected even these modified derivations.

It is unfortunate that we cannot yet answer the question where and how
contact between Egypt and Mesopotamia was established. We only know the
time at which it took place. The signs of Sumerian influence point, one
and all, to the Protoliterate period in Mesopotamia, and more especially
to the latter half of that period; and they appear in Egypt towards the
end of the Gerzean period and during the very beginning of the First
Dynasty. This is, of course, an invaluable synchronism, even though it
is still impossible to express it in exact dates. It may also have a
bearing on the question in which locality contact was established.

In Egypt, signs of contact with Sumer almost cease after Narmer’s reign;
and since contact with Syria increased rather than diminished during the
First Dynasty, it seems unlikely that the Mesopotamian influences
reached Egypt from the north. The argument is not conclusive; we have
seen that Sumerian culture moved upstream along the Tigris and
Euphrates, and that a great temple was built at Brak on the Khabur in
North Syria in Protoliterate times. But in Syria we do not find signs
that native culture was deeply affected by contact with Sumer. This may
be due to the incompleteness of our evidence; or it may be that Syrian
culture was so unprogressive that it could not profit from such contact
in the way Egypt demonstrably did. But before we accept this view we
must consider an alternative.

It is possible that the Egyptians came into contact with Mesopotamia in
the south, on the route which led from the Red Sea, past Southern
Arabia, to the Persian Gulf. There are two arguments against this
assumption: it has no analogy in historical times; and there is
absolutely no sign of contact with Egypt to be found in Mesopotamia. But
it is possible that the meeting-place was a region along the southern
route, outside Sumer. In both Sumerian and Egyptian temples censing with
aromatics was usual. In the time of Herodotus, frankincense was used for
this purpose in Babylon, but we do not know at what date this was first
introduced. In Egypt frankincense was known very early; if that holds
good for Sumer also, contact might have been established in the regions
from which frankincense was obtained—Southern Arabia or the Somali
coast. There missions might have met, or middlemen might have acquainted
Egyptians with Sumerian achievements. We know that the route to the Red
Sea from Egypt—through the Wadi Hammamat—was used at a very early date.
Archaic statues of the god Min were found at Koptos at the Egyptian end
of that route.[195] They belong to the end of the Gerzean period or to
the First Dynasty, and bear designs scratched on their sides which
include the sword of the swordfish and pteroceras shells, found in the
Red Sea. But the bearing of these facts upon the question where contact
between Egypt and Sumer took place must remain, for the moment, a matter
of surmise.

                          CHRONOLOGICAL TABLE

    [Illustration: Chronological Table]


 Tasian Period                  5000 ?
                  Fayum A       Hassunah Period
 Badarian Period                Samarran
 Amratian Period  Merimde       Halaf Period      Eridu
                                Northern Ubaid    Southern Ubaid Period
                                                  3900 ?
                                Gawra Period      Warka Period
                                                  3750 ?
 Early Gerzean                                    Early Protoliterate
 Period                                           Period
 Late Gerzean                                     Late Protoliterate
 Period                                           Period
                  3100          Ninevite Period   3100
 Protodynastic    I                               Early Dynastic Period
 Dynasties        II
 Old Kingdom:     V                               2425
 Dynasties                                        Proto-Imperial
                                                  Period 2340
                  VI            North Akkadian    Dynasty of Akkad 2180


    [1]A. N. Whitehead, _Adventures of Ideas_ (New York, 1933), pp. 13,

    [2]O. Spengler, _Der Untergang des Abendlandes_ (München, 1920).

    [3]“Der Aufbau der europäischen Kulturgeschichte,” in Schmoller’s
    _Jahrbuch für Gesetzgebung, Verwaltung und Volkswirtschaft im
    Deutschen Reiche_, XLIV (1920), 633 ff.

    [4]O. Spengler, _op. cit._, I, 153.

    [5]O. Spengler, _op. cit._, I, 29.

    [6]Spengler’s position is invalidated in his own terms by Bergson’s
    criticism of a deterministic view of life in nature.

    [7]O. Spengler, _ibid._ Leopold von Ranke has expressed a similar
    idea in the splendid and simple phrase, “Alle Epochen sind
    unmittelbar zu Gott.”

    [8]_History_, II, 35.

    [9]O. Spengler, _op. cit._, I, 15. Incidentally, this quotation
    illustrates the very point at issue by emphasizing the almost
    insuperable difficulty of formulating an alien mode of thought. In
    transposing the words of a German contemporary I have been obliged
    to blur his thoughts and lose shades of meaning at almost every
    step: _Seele_, _eminent historisch veranlagt_, _urweltliche
    Leidenschaft_, _Sorge_, derive their overtones and deepest meaning
    from a world of thought which includes, at the very least, German
    literature of the romantic period; these terms, therefore, hardly
    bear translating. It is obvious that the disparity of terms and
    concepts is immeasurably greater where an ancient civilization is

    [10]See my _Ancient Egyptian Religion_, New York, 1948, and
    _Kingship and the Gods_, Chicago, 1948.

    [11]O. Spengler, _op. cit._, I, 224 f.

    [12]Ruth Benedict, _Patterns of Culture_ (New York, 1934), 23-4.

    [13]_Ibid._, 250.

    [14]_Ibid._, 46.

    [15]_Ibid._, 254.

    [16]_Horizon_, Vol. XV, No. 85 (London, January 1947), 25-6.

    [17]_A Study of History_, I, 176.

    [18]_Op. cit._, I, 193.

    [19]_Op. cit._, IV, 130.

    [20]R. G. Collingwood, _The Idea of History_ (Oxford, 1946), 328-30,
    especially 328-9. The whole section should be read, since our
    quotations give but an inadequate impression of its cogency.

    [21]R. G. Collingwood, _The Idea of History_ (Oxford, 1946), 328-30,
    especially 328-9. “There is only one genuine meaning for this
    question. If thought in its first phase, after solving the initial
    problems of that phase, is then, through solving these, brought up
    against others which defeat it; and if the second solves these
    further problems without losing its hold on the solution of the
    first, so that there is gain without any corresponding loss, then
    there is progress. And there can be progress on no other terms. If
    there is any loss, the problem of setting loss against gain is

    [22]_A Study of History_, III, 216.

    [23]_Op. cit._, I, 159.

    [24]_Op. cit._, III, 381.

    [25]_Ibid. et passim._

    [26]_Op. cit._, I, 172-3. Edgar Wind, “Some Points of Contact
    Between History and Natural Science,” in _Philosophy and History,
    Essays Presented to Ernst Cassirer_ (Oxford, 1936), 255-64, shows
    that the latest developments of science, which make it so much less
    “exact,” lead to the raising of questions by scientists “that
    historians like to look upon as their own.” But if these latest
    developments have made science more “humanistic,” Wind is
    over-optimistic when he says that “the notion of a description of
    nature which indiscriminately subjects men and their fates like
    rocks and stones to its ‘unalterable law’ survives only as a
    nightmare of certain historians.” For many of them (not to mention
    sociologists) it seems still to be a cherished ideal.

    [27]_A Study of History_, _e.g._, I, 143.

    [28]_Op. cit._, V, 28.

    [29]These texts have been discussed by Kurt Sethe, _Amun und die
    acht Urgötter von Hermopolis_. “Abhandlungen der Preussischen
    Akademie der Wissenschaften, Phil.-Hist. Klasse,” No. 4. Berlin,

    [30]_A Study of History_, I, 137. It is, perhaps, not unnecessary to
    add that Toynbee’s scheme would be no more relevant to Egyptian
    history if he shifted the date of his “time of troubles” to the
    second or even the first millennium B.C. The error is one of method,
    not of chronology.

    [31]_Op. cit._, III, 377.

    [32]_Op. cit._, III, 248-377. In the history of individuals Toynbee
    applies it not only to the Buddha or to saints who of their own free
    will withdrew from society in order to clarify their mission and the
    message which they were to preach, but also to men like Thucydides,
    Dante, and Macchiavelli, who were exiled, and bitterly lamented
    their banishment even though it did not destroy their powers to
    create. They worked in a solitude not of their choosing and never
    returned at all, however effective their work may have proved to be
    in the course of time. Toynbee also applies the formula of
    “Withdrawal-and-Return” to social groups in a manner which fails to
    explain anything, as, for instance, when he states that the
    Nonconformists, after the Restoration, reacted on persecutions by
    “withdrawing into the realm of private business in order to return
    omnipotent, a century and a half later, as the authors of the
    Industrial Revolution” (_Ibid._, 334). Thus, the interplay of dire
    necessity and circumstances of every description is reduced to a
    formula which confuses the issue by a theological implication
    (withdraw in order to) which in more than one place (_e.g._ in the
    image of the climbers and the mountainside) turns Toynbee’s account
    of the facts into mythology. I am purposely avoiding a discussion of
    Toynbee’s examples taken from the Near East or Crete, since I should
    then have to correct his facts and should become a “critic aiming
    instruments at bits and pieces” (_Horizon_, XV [London, January
    1947], 50.) Readers interested in a detailed criticism by an
    authority on European history (who likewise considers principles
    rather than isolated errors) are referred to the essay of Professor
    P. Geyl in _Journal of the History of Ideas_, IX (New York, 1948),

    [33]Part of Volume I and the whole of Volume II are devoted to its

    [34]_Op. cit._, III, 214.

    [35]_Op. cit._, III, 215.

    [36]We have actually adopted this method in _Archeology and the
    Sumerian Problem_, SAOC 4 (Chicago, 1932), an example followed by
    Anton Moortgat, _Frühe Bildkunst in Sumer_ (Leipzig, 1935); but the
    latter book suffers from the confusion caused by an inadequate
    delimitation of the successive periods.

    [37]It would be simple enough if we could equate the beginning of
    history with the introduction of writing, as is often done. The
    equation holds good for Egypt where the oldest inscriptions refer to
    the first identifiable events and personalities and thus, as records
    of battles and royal names, form the earliest raw material of
    Egyptian history. But in Mesopotamia this is not so; there
    civilization took shape, and writing appeared, well before
    historical documents in the narrow sense came into being. We shall
    see that this difference between Egypt and Mesopotamia was due to
    the different purposes which writing and art were made to serve; but
    it illustrates that generalizations about history and prehistory are
    hazardous even within a limited field.

    [38]So, _e.g._ J. S. Slotkin, “Reflections on Collingwood’s Idea of
    History,” in _Antiquity_, No. 86 (June 1948), 99. Against this
    misconception see Helmuth Plessner, _Die Stufen des Organischen und
    der Mensch_, Berlin, 1928.

    [39]For a penetrating study of this matter see Gertrude Rachel Levy,
    _The Gate of Horn, A Study of the Religious Conceptions of the Stone
    Age and Their Influence upon European Thought_, Faber & Faber
    (London, 1948).

    [40]On the so-called Libyan palette: Capart, _Primitive Art in
    Egypt_, 236-7, Figs. 175, 176.

    [41]L. Borchardt, _Das Grabdenkmal des Königs Sahure_, II (Leipzig,
    1913), 10 and Plate I.

    [42]W. F. Edgerton and J. A. Wilson, _Historical Records of Ramses
    III_ (Chicago, 1936), 67 f. Wreszinski, _Atlas zur altaegyptischen
    Kulturgeschichte_, III, Plate 66.

    [43]Sir Aurel Stein, _An Archaeological Tour in Gedrosia_ (Memoirs
    of the Archaeological Survey of India, No. 43), 34; cf. 6-7.

    [44]R. J. & L. Braidwood, in _Antiquity_ XXV, No. 96 (December
    1950), 189-95.

    [45]D. A. E. Garrod and D. M. A. Bates, _The Stone Age Of Mount
    Carmel_, Oxford, 1937.

    [46]These “teeth” show a peculiar gloss produced by the silica in
    the stalks of grasses so that we are certain that they were used for
    cutting cereals. (Cecil E. Curwen in _Antiquity_, IV [1930], 184-6;
    IX [1935], 62-6.)

    [47]G. Caton-Thompson and E. W. Gardner, _The Desert Fayum_ (London,
    1934), 45 and Plates XXVI, XXVIII, XXX.

    [48]_Journal of Near Eastern Studies_, IV (1945), 269, 274, and Fig.

    [49]R. Girshman, _Fouilles de Sialk_, I (Paris, 1938), 17 ff. and
    Plates VII, LIV.

    [50]Walter B. Emery, _The Tomb of Hemaka_ (Cairo, 1938), 33 and
    Plate 15.

    [51]W. M. Flinders Petrie, _Tools and Weapons_ (London, 1917), 46
    and Plate LV, 7.

    [52]P. Delougaz, _The Temple Oval at Khafajah_ (Chicago, 1940),
    30-1, Figs. 26, 27.

    [53]C. F. C. Hawkes, _The Prehistoric Foundations of Europe_
    (London, 1940), 82-4.

    [54]C. Daryll Forde, _Habitat, Economy and Society_ (London, 1934),
    35: “In Owen’s valley several groups took advantage of favourable
    conditions to irrigate patches of ground. The growth of bulbous
    plants and grasses is patently more luxuriant wherever abundant
    water reaches them, and this was achieved artificially by diverting
    from their narrow channels the snow-fed streams flowing down from
    the Sierra Nevada. In spring, before the streams rose with
    snow-melt, a dam of boulders, brushwood and mud was thrown across a
    creek where it reached the valley floor.... Above the dam one or two
    main ditches, sometimes more than a mile long, were laboriously cut
    with long poles to lead the river water out on the gently sloping
    ground over which it was distributed by minor channels.... After the
    harvest the main dam was pulled down.... There was, however, no
    attempt at planting or working the soil, and none of the cultivated
    plants grown to the south of the Colorado were known.”

    [55]V. Gordon Childe, _Man Makes Himself_, 109, states that some of
    these villages, when completely excavated, covered no more than from
    1½ to 6½ acres, lodging from eight to ten households. In _The Town
    Planning Review_, XXI (1950), 6, he states that sixteen to thirty
    houses was the normal figure of a local group which he estimates at
    200 to 400 souls.

    [56]John Burckhardt, _Travels in Nubia_, 2nd ed. (London, 1822),

    [57]Percy E. Newberry, _Egypt as a Field of Anthropological
    Research_, Smithsonian Institution, Annual Report for 1924
    (Washington, 1925), 435-59.

    [58]It seems as undesirable, therefore, to speak here of a neolithic
    “revolution” as it is to refer to our theme as an “urban revolution”
    (see below, p. 61, n. 10). Both terms, used by V. Gordon Childe,
    place the changes in parallelism with the “industrial revolution,”
    but the word “revolution” in this phrase is already used
    figuratively; it does not refer to an event such as the French
    Revolution or the Russian Revolution, but to a change of conditions.
    And by extending its use in this sense, an impression of violent,
    and especially of purposeful change is made which the facts do not

    [59]R. U. Sayce, _Primitive Arts and Crafts_ (Cambridge, 1933), 27

    [60]An attractive guess is made by V. Gordon Childe, _Man Makes
    Himself_ (Oxford, 1939), 87-90. For a recent discussion of the
    problem which accentuates our uncertainties, see André
    Leroi-Gourhan, _Milieu et techniques_ (Paris, 1945), 96-119.

    [61]_E.g._ G. Caton-Thompson and E. W. Gardner, _The Desert Fayum_
    (London, 1934), 46 and Plate XXVIII. Guy Brunton and Gertrude
    Caton-Thompson, _The Badarian Civilization_ (London, 1928), 64 ff.
    Jacques de Morgan, _Mémoires de la Délégation en Perse_, XIII
    (Paris, 1912), 163 and Plate XLIII.

    [62]Seton Lloyd and Fuad Safar, in _Journal of Near Eastern
    Studies_, IV (1945), 271.

    [63]This point has been emphasized by Robert J. Braidwood in
    lectures and papers. See _Human Origins, an Introductory General
    Course in Anthropology, Selected Readings_, Series II, 2nd ed.
    (Chicago, 1946), 170 ff., 181 ff. See also Linda Braidwood, _ibid._,
    153 ff. The Braidwoods, excavating in 1948 for the Oriental
    Institute at Jarmo near Sulimanieh, found remains of a settlement
    perhaps even older than Hassuna. See p. 29, n. 9 above.

    [64]S. Passarge, _Die Urlandschaft Aegyptens_ (Nova Acta Leopoldina,
    N.F., Vol. IX, No. 58, Halle, 1940), 35.

    [65]In 1923 an expedition going to Qau el Kabir in Middle Egypt
    found no trace of a Ptolemaic temple which Champollion, a hundred
    years earlier, had marked on his maps on the east bank of the Nile;
    the river had destroyed both the ruins and the village of Qau and
    subsequently cut a new bed (G. Brunton, _Qau and Badari_ [London,
    1927], 2-3, Plate I).

    [66]Rudolf Anthes, _Die Felseninschriften von Hat Nub_ (Leipzig,
    1928), 52 ff., 95 ff.

    [67]Brunton, _Mostagedda_ (London, 1937), 67; Sir Robert Mond and O.
    H. Myers, _Cemeteries of Armant_, I, 7.

    [68]Amratian is called “Early or First Predynastic” or “Naqada I” in
    the older literature.

    [69]Frankfort, _Kingship and the Gods_ (Chicago, 1948), 348, n. 4,
    and Index, Africa, Hamites. Badarian objects have been found, not
    only in Middle and Upper Egypt (at Badari, Mahasna, Naqada, Armant,
    and Hierakonpolis—see Brunton in _Antiquity_, III [1929], 461), but
    in Nubia (Brunton, _The Badarian Civilization_ [London, 1928], 40),
    in the northern provinces of the Sudan (report of the discoveries of
    Mr. Oliver Myers of Gordon College, Khartoum, in _The Times_
    [London] of March 31, 1948), in the desert fifty miles west of the
    Nile in the latitude of Abydos (_Man_, No. 91 [1931]), and again far
    to the south, four hundred miles west of the Nile in the latitude of
    Wadi Halfa (_Journal of Egyptian Archaeology_, XXII [1936], 47-8).

    [70]Also called “Naqada II” or “Middle Predynastic.” Note that “Late
    Predynastic” or “Semainean” has been proved a chimera. The remains
    so labelled belong to the Gerzean period, which thus leads right up
    to the First Dynasty. See Helene J. Kantor, in _Journal of Near
    Eastern Studies_, III (1944), 110-46. When we use “late Predynastic”
    we mean the last part of the predynastic period, in other words,
    late Gerzean.

    [71]A. Lucas, in _Journal of Egyptian Archaeology_, XVI (1930), 200

    [72]_Nature_, XII (October 1932), 625; Lucas in _Journal of Egyptian
    Archaeology_, XIII (1927), 162-70; XIV (1928), 97-108.

    [73]The Egyptian language has been explained as a common tongue
    imposed upon a country where several dialects existed, in the same
    manner as the French of Ile de France became the official French
    language, and “Hochdeutsch” the vehicle of communication for all
    Germans. Now this ancient Egyptian language included two
    recognizable Hamitic strains—one Southern or Ethiopian, the other
    Western or Berber—and also one Semitic strain (see the studies of
    Ernst Zyhlarz in _Africa_, IX [London, 1936], 433-52; _Zeitschrift
    fur Eingeborenensprachen_, XXIII [1932-3], 1 ff.; XXV [1934-5], 161

    [74]It would be possible to assume that the Semitic elements entered
    through the Wadi Hammamat from the Red Sea, but this leaves the
    Gerzean innovations unexplained and ignores the arguments put
    forward by K. Sethe, “Die Aegyptische Ausdrücke für rechts und links
    und die Hieroglyphenzeichen für Westen und Osten,” in _Nachrichten
    von der Königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen_,
    Phil.-Hist. Kl., 1922, 197-242.

    [75]It even affected the physical type of the population; see G. M.
    Morant, “Study of Egyptian Craniology from Prehistoric to Roman
    Times,” in _Biometrika_, XVII (1925), 1-52.

    [76]Brunton, _The Badarian Civilization_, 48. The assumption finds
    strong support in the tradition that Menes, the first king of the
    First Dynasty, reclaimed all the land from Wasta to Cairo before he
    founded Memphis at the north end of the strip so reclaimed. Such an
    enterprise presupposes some established skill in work of that

    [77]For a criticism of the hypothetical construction of Egyptian
    prehistory in terms of united Upper and Lower Egyptian kingdoms in
    conflict with one another, see my _Kingship and the Gods_, Chapter
    I, 349, n. 6; 350, n. 15; 351, n. 19.

    [78]The head of the Persian Gulf was perhaps 125 miles to the north
    of Basra; or this area may have been a lagoon, separated from the
    Gulf by the “Bar of Basra.”

    [79]The oldest of these is marked by various kinds of simple pottery
    wares (Hassuna ware) decorated with incisions or merely burnished to
    a high gloss. In addition there were sickles with flint “teeth” and
    underground silos for grain storage. Sheep, goats, oxen, and asses
    were kept. In a second stage appears fine painted pottery, called
    Samarran—an offshoot of a ceramic tradition at home in Persia. It
    was, in its turn, displaced by another type of pottery called Tell
    Halaf, which is found from the Gulf of Alexandrette to the region
    east of Mosul. The archaeological material is fully discussed in Ann
    Louise Perkins, _The Comparative Archaeology of Early Mesopotamia_
    (Chicago, 1949).

    [80]See the article and photographs of Melvin Hall in _Asia_ (New
    York), February 1939.

    [81]This stage of their ceramics had been known from a small site
    near Erech (A. Nöldeke and others, _Neunter Vorläufiger Bericht....
    Uruk-Warka_, Berlin, 1938, Plates 36-40), when it was found well
    represented at Abu Shahrein (Eridu): See _Illustrated London News_,
    11 September 1948, p. 305; _Sumer_, IV (Baghdad, 1948), 115 ff.
    There is nothing against calling this pottery “Eridu ware” as long
    as its historical connections are not obscured. It is quite
    gratuitous to claim that “Al Ubaid people” can no longer be called
    the earliest settlers in southern Mesopotamia, for the Eridu ware is
    simply an earlier stage of the Al Ubaid ware. If quibbles about
    names are disregarded, it remains true that the earliest settlers of
    the plain descended from Persia; the new ware shows an earlier stage
    of their ceramics than has hitherto been found in the plain but it
    was already known from the western edge of the Highland, _e.g._ Tepe
    Khazineh near Susa (J. de Morgan, _Mémoires de la Délégation en
    Perse_, Paris, 1908).

    [82]C. Leonard Woolley in _Antiquaries Journal_, X (1930), 335.

    [83]Fulanain, _The Marsh Arab, Haji Rikkan_ (Philadelphia, 1928),

    [84]Ancient Eridu. _Illustrated London News_, 31 May, 1947, 11
    September, 1948; _Sumer_, III (Baghdad, 1947), 84 ff.; _Orientalia_,
    XVII (Rome, 1948), 115-22. _Sumer_, IV (1948), 115 ff. shows the
    development from a very small and primitive village shrine in the
    earliest layer to a building recognizable in its main features as
    the prototype of later temples.

    [85]After T. Jacobsen in _Journal of Near Eastern Studies_, V
    (1946), 140.

    [86]We cannot say for certain whether its bearers were the Sumerians
    who created the earliest civilization of Mesopotamia in the
    subsequent—the Protoliterate—period. But no decisive proof for a
    later arrival of the Sumerians has been offered, and the continuity
    in cult and architecture support the view that they were the
    dominant element in the Al Ubaid period, as they remained throughout
    the third millennium in the south of the country. See also p. 51, n.
    1 below.

    [87]The earliest tablets, of the Protoliterate period, seem to be
    written in Sumerian. They use the Sumerian sexagesimal system (with
    units for 10, 60, 600, and 3600) and refer to Sumerian gods like
    Enlil. But Sumerian has no clearly recognized affinity to other

    It is important to realize that the term “Sumerian,” strictly
    speaking, can be used only for this language. There is no physical
    type which can be called by that name. From Al Ubaid times until the
    present day, the population of Mesopotamia has consisted of men
    predominantly belonging to the Mediterranean or Brown race, with a
    noticeable admixture of broad-headed mountaineers from the
    north-east. This is, for instance, true of the Early Dynastic
    period, as the skulls from Al Ubaid and Kish show. Skeletons of the
    earliest known inhabitants of the plain, found at Eridu and Hassuna,
    have been briefly discussed by C. S. Coon in _Sumer_, V (1949),
    103-6; VI (1950), 93-6. They represent “rather heavy-boned
    prognathous and large-toothed mediterraneans.” The much-discussed
    problem of the origin of the Sumerians may well turn out to be the
    chase of a chimera.

    [88]A. J. Wilson in _Geographical Journal_, LIV (London, 1925), 235

    [89]W. K. Loftus, _Travels and Researches in Chaldaea and Susiana_
    (London, 1857), 7-8. On 17 May 1950 the correspondent of _The Times_
    reported from Baghdad that “after a break in the Tigris bund ...
    about 2000 mud houses have already collapsed.”

    [90]“Tell Uqair,” by Seton Lloyd and Fuad Safar, in _Journal of Near
    Eastern Studies_, II (1943), 131-58.

    [91]It is sometimes said that the Sumerians, descending from a
    mountainous region, desired to continue the worship of their gods on
    “High Places” and therefore proceeded to construct them in the
    plain. The point is why they considered “High Places” appropriate,
    especially since the gods worshipped there were not sky gods only
    but also, and predominantly, chthonic gods. Our interpretation takes
    its starting-point from “the mountain,” not as a geographical
    feature, but as a phenomenon charged with religious meaning. Several
    current theories have taken one or more aspects of “the mountain” as
    a religious symbol into account and we do not exclude them, but
    consider them, on the whole, subsidiary to the primary notion that
    “the mountain” was seen as the normal setting of divine
    activity.—The whole material referring to the temple towers, and the
    various interpretations which have been put forward, are
    conveniently presented in André Parrot, _Ziggurats et Tour de Babel_
    (Paris, 1949).

    [92]The basic work on the subject of early Mesopotamian writing is
    Adam Falkenstein, _Archaische Texte aus Uruk_ (Leipzig, 1936).

    [93]A few words may be added here about the early development of
    writing; although true pictograms—images of the objects (Fig.
    13)—occur, many of the most common objects are rendered by simpler
    tokens: either highly abbreviated (and hence conventional) pictures,
    such as a figure with two curved lines across one end (No. 4), which
    represented the horned head of an ox (the sign means “ox”), or, more
    often, purely arbitrary signs, such as a circle with a cross—the
    commonest sign of all—meaning “sheep.” The system, therefore, is a
    collection of abstract tokens eked out with pictograms. The range of
    notions which could be expressed was enlarged by certain
    combinations. The sign for “woman” combined with that for “mountain”
    meant “slave-girl,” since slaves were foreigners generally brought
    from Persia. The sign for “sun” could also mean “day” or “white.”
    That for “plough” could mean either the tool or its user, the
    ploughman. Even so the script was of limited usefulness. It could
    not render sentences, for it could not indicate grammatical
    relations. Its signs were ideograms which listed notions; and that
    was what the script was, first of all, required to do. But even
    within the Protoliterate period a further step was taken towards
    writing as the graphic rendering of language. We find that the arrow
    sign, for instance, was soon regarded, not as a rendering of the
    notion “arrow,” but as a rendering of the sound “ti,” which means
    arrow. For the arrow sign was also used to render the notion “life”
    which likewise sounded “ti.” This shows that the rendering of speech
    rather than notions had become possible. The development of writing
    consisted of a series of makeshifts and compromises introduced
    piecemeal when the shortcomings of the system being used became
    noticeable. Some signs acquired a variety of sound values. Some were
    used to clarify the sense of other groups, although they themselves
    were not pronounced at all. (These are called determinatives.) Thus
    “ti” when it meant “arrow” (and certain other implements) was
    accompanied by a sign which by itself read “gish” and meant “wood,”
    but which, used as a determinative, merely indicated that an
    implement of wood was referred to. Similarly, place-names were
    accompanied by the sign “ki,” meaning “earth,” divine names by the
    star sign, and so on. Nevertheless, the fact that phonetic values
    became attached to most of the signs made the rendering of
    grammatical endings, and, in short, of true speech, possible.

    [94]From Protoliterate times onwards, officials, and later also
    private persons, owned seals with which they could mark merchandise
    or documents. The shape of these seals was peculiar and remained
    characteristic for Mesopotamia until the end of its independent
    existence in Hellenistic times. They were small stone cylinders
    carrying on their circumference an engraved design which could be
    impressed on a tablet or on the clay sealing of a jar or bale of
    goods. Since the purpose of the seal design was the making of an
    individual and recognizable impression, its engraving at all times
    challenged the inventiveness of the Mesopotamian artists, who
    responded with outstanding success. (In our illustrations the
    rolled-out impressions, not the seals themselves, are shown. But see
    Figs. 35-9.)

    [95]The inlays consisted of terra cotta plaques set in among the
    clay cones which covered the walls. The carved figures were executed
    in stone and fixed to the wall with copper wire through loops
    drilled in their backs (Fig. 18).

    [96]The same applies to the “urban revolution”—a phrase often used
    to describe the birth of civilization. This term has been introduced
    by V. Gordon Childe, whose great achievement has been the
    replacement of period-distinctions, which had only typological
    significance, by others which suggest socio-economic differences.
    However, in the later editions of his _Dawn of European
    Civilization_, in _Man Makes Himself_, and in _What Happened in
    History_, his point of view has assumed a Marxist slant which
    applies to ancient Near Eastern conditions inappropriate categories.
    His recent article, “The Urban Revolution,” in _The Town Planning
    Review_, XXI (Liverpool, 1950), 3-17, and his recent L. T. Hobhouse
    Memorial Lecture, “Social Worlds of Knowledge” (London, 1949), seem
    to embody, however, a change of viewpoint. As regards the term
    “urban revolution,” it can in no way be applied to Egypt, as we
    shall see, even if we should accept it, with the qualifications
    stated in our text, for the transition from prehistory to history in

    [97]This matter has been studied by Professor Elizabeth Visser in
    her inaugural lecture “Polis en stad” (Amsterdam, 1947), who quotes
    Busolt-Swoboda, _Griechische Staatskunde_, II, 920 and also Zimmern,
    _The Greek Commonwealth_, 228: “Greek civilization is, in a sense,
    urban, but its basis is agricultural and the breezes of the open
    country blow through Parliament and the market place.”

    [98]G. M. Trevelyan, _English Social History_ (London, 1946), 28.

    [99]We have discussed elsewhere the feeling of anxiety which
    pervades Mesopotamian religion: _Kingship and the Gods_ (Chicago,
    1948), 277-81.

    [100]_Journal of Near Eastern Studies_, V (1946), 137.

    [101]A. Deimel published and discussed the texts. See his “Die
    sumerische Tempelwirtschaft zur Zeit Urukaginas und seiner
    Vorgänger,” _Analecta Orientalia_, II (Rome, 1931), 71-113. His
    pupil, an economist, published a study on which we have largely
    drawn: Anna Schneider, _Die Sumerische Tempelstadt_, “Plenge
    staatswissenschaftliche Beitrage,” IV (Essen, 1920). The
    Protoliterate tablets offer a sufficient basis for the view that the
    organization of Early Dynastic times continued in most respects that
    which was created at the beginning of Mesopotamian history.

    [102]The city god was, for political purposes, and often also as
    regards the importance of his temple, the chief god of the city. But
    “the chief god owned only his own temple’s land. His relationship to
    the other gods may most probably be compared to that of the headman
    of a village to other landowners and their holdings in the village.”
    (Thorkild Jacobsen in _Human Origins, An Introductory General Course
    in Anthropology, Selected Readings_, Series II (Chicago, 1946), 255.

    [103]Schneider, _op. cit._, 35.

    [104]The illustration shows a reconstruction, warranted in all
    essential details, of an Early Dynastic temple excavated at Khafajah
    by the Iraq Expedition of the Oriental Institute. The magazines were
    built against the inside of the oval enclosure wall. They surround
    entirely the platform supporting the shrine and the open space in
    front of it. See P. Delougaz, _The Temple Oval at Khafajah_
    (Chicago, 1940).

    [105]_Cambridge Ancient History_, I, 499.

    [106]This has been demonstrated by Professor Thorkild Jacobsen in
    lectures at Chicago.

    [107]V. Gordon Childe, _Man Makes Himself_, 152 _et passim_. In
    _Social Worlds of Knowledge_ (London, 1949), 19, he concurs,
    however, with the view expressed in our text.

    [108]P. P. Howell, in _Man_, No. 144 (1947).

    [109]R. H. Lowie, _Are We Civilized?_, 108.

    [110]After Anna Schneider, _op. cit._, 54.

    [111]M. David, “Bemerkungen zur Leidener Keilschriftsammlung,”
    _Revue de l’Histoire du droit_, XIV, 3-6, has pointed out that the
    “Staatssozialismus” of early Sumerian times was only fully replaced
    by a free economy under the First Babylonian Dynasty, about 1800
    B.C. Under the Third Dynasty of Ur, private property could consist
    of houses and the gardens belonging to them, but not of arable
    fields, which belonged to the temple or to the king.

    [112]Schneider, _op. cit._, 93 f.

    [113]This seems the most probable interpretation of the fact that
    even holders of allotments received rations during four months.
    Schneider, _loc. cit._, 92, views this as payment for _corvée_; but
    since many holders of allotments, such as craftsmen, worked for the
    temple all the year round, this seems less likely.

    [114]Thorkild Jacobsen, “Primitive Democracy in Ancient
    Mesopotamia,” _Journal of Near Eastern Studies_, II (1943), 159-72.

    [115]The word has not yet been found in Protoliterate texts, a fact
    which does not prove, of course, that the institution was unknown in
    that period, although it does make a _prima facie_ case for that
    assumption. On the monuments (Figs. 15, 44) a bearded figure in a
    long garment is throughout the main actor. He wears his hair wound
    round his head and gathered in a chignon at the back, a style usual
    with rulers in the Early Dynastic period. But it should be
    remembered that the Protoliterate objects on which he appears derive
    from Erech where, according to the Epic of Gilgamesh, there was a
    permanent king in very early times. (This was possibly connected
    with the cult of Inanna.) Note, however, that even Gilgamesh
    consulted the assembly and the elders before he embarked on a course
    of action which entailed the risk of war (_Journal of Near Eastern
    Studies_, II, 166, n. 44). At Erech the ruler was called, not
    _lugal_, but _en_, “lord.”

    [116]The enumeration recalls the so-called “Royal Tombs” of Ur,
    where, under conditions which are as yet obscure, a courtly society
    had been buried in all its splendour. The riches discovered in these
    tombs, which belong to the very end of the Early Dynastic period and
    appear far removed from the simple co-operative society of the ideal
    temple community which we have described, recall Homer and Malory
    rather than Hesiod and Piers Plowman. Since Sidney Smith suggested
    in 1928 (_Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society_ [1928], 849 ff.)
    that these rich tombs, containing numerous attendants killed when
    the main occupant was buried, derived from the performance of a
    “fertility rite,” the discussion has continued without leading to a
    decisive conclusion. See my _Kingship and the Gods_, 400, n. 12.

    [117]Translation of Col. xii, 25-6, after Thorkild Jacobsen.

    [118]The head is uninscribed but represents in all probability one
    of the Akkadian kings. The eyes were inlaid with precious materials
    and had been chiselled out by robbers.

    [119]This view has been refuted by Thorkild Jacobsen, “The Assumed
    Conflict of Sumerians and Semites in Early Mesopotamian History,”
    _Journal of the American Oriental Society_, LIX (1939), 485-95.

    [120]Frankfort, _Cylinder Seals_, 227 ff.

    [121]M. E. L. Mallowan, “Excavations at Brak and Chagar Bazar,”
    _Iraq_, IX (London, 1947).

    [122]Walter Andrae, _Die Archaischen Ischtar-Tempel in Assur_
    (Leipzig, 1922).

    [123]_Journal of the American Oriental Society_, LIX (1939), 490.

    [124]However, Lugalzaggesi, whom Sargon overthrew, had assumed the
    title of “King of the Land.”

    [125]L. W. King, _Chronicles concerning Early Babylonian Kings_, II,
    5; Sidney Smith, _Early History of Assyria_, 93.

    [126]So F. W. Geers and Thorkild Jacobsen; see Frankfort, _Kingship
    and the Gods_, 406, n. 35.

    [127]Frankfort, _loc. cit._

    [128]The Akkadian rulers were themselves apparently too close to the
    period of local autonomy to draw up a single king list for the whole
    land. This was done under Utuhegal (_ca._ 2100 B.C.), the destroyer
    of the Gutian invaders who had overthrown the rule of Akkad.
    Utuhegal’s “pride in new independence and in the ‘kingship’ which
    had been brought back” led to the compilation of the country-wide
    list in which the traditional lists of local rulers of the important
    cities were combined (Thorkild Jacobsen, _The Sumerian King List_,
    Chicago, 1939). Thus a conception of kingship established by the
    Sargonid dynasty was projected into the past.

    [129]_Iraq_, IX (1947), 15.

    [130]H. Frankfort, S. Lloyd, and T. Jacobsen, _The Gimilsin Temple
    and the Palace of the Rulers at Tell Asmar_ (Chicago, 1940), 4,

    [131]Near Abydos, in Upper Egypt (Fig. 51).

    [132]The name is written with the sign of the scorpion, but we do
    not know how it was pronounced.

    [133]Alexander Scharff, “Archaeologische Beitraege zur Frage der
    Entstehung der Hieroglyphenschrift,” _Sitzungsberichte der
    Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Phil.-Hist. Abt._ (1942),
    Heft 3, 10, n. 17. Gunn, _Annales du Service des Antiquités de
    l’Egypte_, XXVI, 177 ff., had seen in the _rekhyt_ the people from
    Lower Egypt. Gardiner, _Ancient Egyptian Onomastica_, I, 100-8,
    discussed the use of the word at length and hesitated to accept
    Gunn’s conclusion because in later times they are not confined to
    Lower Egypt; but by then the term, and the use of the lapwing sign,
    had become purely conventional.

    [134]We confine ourselves to this, the most obvious, aspect of the
    Narmer palette as a work of art. But its extraordinary significance
    for the history of art has recently been fully discussed by H. A.
    Groenewegen-Frankfort, _Arrest and Movement, An Essay on Space and
    Time in the Representational Art of the Ancient Near East_ (London
    and Chicago, 1951), 20-3.

    [135]For the unique features of this scene see H. A.
    Groenewegen-Frankfort, _op. cit._, 19.

    [136]The so-called Bull and Lion palettes. See Capart, _Primitive
    Art in Egypt_, 238, Fig. 177; 242, Fig. 181; or Frankfort, _Kingship
    and the Gods_, Figs. 27 and 28 and 91 ff.

    [137]The evidence for the early date is linguistic. Junker’s view on
    the date of the text is ill-founded. See Frankfort, _op. cit._, 352,
    n. 1. In chapter ii of this work English renderings of the major
    part of the Memphite Theology are given.

    [138]In recent excavations at Saqqara, W. B. Emery has discovered
    the tombs of high officials of the kings of the First Dynasty, but
    there is no evidence, as far as I can see, that there were royal
    tombs there.

    [139]Frankfort, _Kingship and the Gods_, chapter ii.

    [140]The reader conversant with the role of Osiris in the Egyptian
    theory of kingship may here be reminded of the fact that the
    “Interment of Osiris” was localized in the “Royal Castle” by the
    Memphite Theology, and that this interment, as well as the
    resurrection of Osiris in the Djed pillar, was annually performed at

    [141]Frankfort, _op. cit._, 19-23.

    [142]See G. M. Morant, “Study of Egyptian Craniology from
    Prehistoric to Roman Times.” _Biometrika_, XVII (1925), 1-52.

    [143]The rural character of the Egyptian commonwealth became
    apparent also in times of internal conflict. The wars between the
    Sumerian city-states find their Egyptian counterpart in struggles in
    which large parts of the Nile valley appear united under rival
    chiefs: a Theban family of Antefs and Mentuhoteps leading Upper
    Egypt against the royal house residing at Herakleopolis; or Kamose
    or Ahmose leading, first the Thebaid, then the whole Nile valley,
    against the foreign Hyksos in the Delta.

    [144]We may note in passing that the rudiments of the official
    hierarchy were established in the First Dynasty. Cylinder seals of
    that period (Figs. 35, 36) bear titles (and presumably names) of
    officials. The investiture with a cylinder seal confirmed the
    official in his function, and the term _ś‘ḥw_, which is usually
    translated “noble,” in reality means “he who owns a seal of
    office”—in other words, a high official.

    [145]This may have been a contributory cause to the extreme scarcity
    of legal and administrative documents, the main cause being the
    perishable nature of the Egyptian writing materials—leather and
    papyrus; but when the king’s decision is the source of law, the need
    of codes and statutes is much reduced (see my _Ancient Egyptian
    Religion_, 43-6). In any case, the rarity of written documents
    obliged us to telescope in this chapter evidence much more widely
    spread through time than we used in our description of Mesopotamia.
    We have attempted to stress the features of society which we believe
    to have been present well-nigh from the first and which remained
    fairly permanent. But we are aware of the danger that we have
    distorted our sketch of conditions in the early part of the third
    millennium B.C.

    [146]Kees, _Kulturgeschichte_, 210.

    [147]_Journal of Egyptian Archaeology_, XIII (1927), 200.

    [148]Junker, _Giza_, III (Wien, 1938), 172 ff.

    [149]The change was a slow one. Methen (whose career under the
    Fourth Dynasty we have described) thought it worth while to record
    in his tomb the possession, not of a large estate, but of a country
    seat of about 2½ acres, provided with a garden, with vines, figs,
    and other good trees, and a pond.

    [150]H. Frankfort, _Ancient Egyptian Religion_ (New York, 1948),
    Chapter iii.

    [151]Gardiner in _Journal of Egyptian Archaeology_, XXVII (1941),

    [152]This is an over-simplified description of the significance of
    the scenes of daily life found in the tombs. For a more penetrating
    treatment, see H. A. Groenewegen-Frankfort, _Arrest and Movement_,

    [153]Fig. 29, a relief from the Old Kingdom, shows, in the upper
    register, the harvesters with their sickles; on the extreme left is
    an overseer; the third figure from the left plays a long pipe, while
    his companion sings, holding the side of his face, as oriental
    singers do to this day. In the second register donkeys are brought
    to carry the harvest home. The register below shows various
    incidents in the transport; the bottom register shows how the
    sheaves are stacked.

    [154]Fig. 30, a wall painting from the New Kingdom, is best “read”
    from the bottom upwards. At the left bottom corner teams of oxen
    draw ploughs, while sowers, holding a bag with seeds, sprinkle the
    grain with uplifted hands. Farther to the right men are shown
    breaking the ground with hoes. Behind the three of them shown on the
    right we see a girl drawing a thorn out of the foot of her friend.

    The second register from below shows the grain being cut—one of the
    labourers takes a swig from a water jar handed him by a girl who
    stands in front, a basket hanging from her shoulder. Farther to the
    right the grain is carried away in hampers (underneath one of these,
    two girl gleaners are fighting and tearing each other’s hair); and,
    on the far right, it is forked out in readiness for threshing. The
    threshing is done by bullocks who trample the grain—this is shown at
    the extreme right of the third register from below. To the left
    women winnow the grain, their hair wrapped in white cloth against
    the dust. The tomb owner watches in a kiosk and receives two water
    jars. Behind the kiosk squat the scribes who note the yield of the
    harvest while the grain is shovelled into heaps.

    The upper register shows the deceased in his function as “Scribe of
    the fields of the Lord of the Two Lands.” On the left are shown a
    group of his officials, dressed in white, pencase in hand, busy
    measuring the grain on the stalk; their attendants (with bare
    bodies) hold the measuring cord. A peasant (followed by his wife who
    carries a basket on her head with further gifts) offers something to
    the tax officials, to propitiate them. But on the right, before the
    kiosk of the tomb owner and near the mooring-place of the boat which
    brought his subordinates to the scene, a peasant, who apparently
    defaulted, is beaten, while another kneels and prays for grace.

    [155]“The Eloquent Peasant” is a tale of such an appeal. See
    _Journal of Egyptian Archaeology_, IX (1923), 7 ff., and a short
    discussion in my _Ancient Egyptian Religion_, 46, 146-50. For the
    conception of _maat_, _ibid._, 49-58.

    [156]For a detailed discussion of the building of the pyramids, see
    I. E. S. Edwards, _The Pyramids of Egypt_, Pelican Books, chapter

    [157]T. Eric Peet and C. Leonard Woolley, _The City of Akhenaten_,
    Part I (38th Memoir of the Egypt Exploration Society), London, 1923.

    [158]Gardiner in _Zeitschrift für Aegyptische Sprache_, XLIII
    (1906), 43.

    [159]Max Weber, _Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Sozial- und
    Wirtschaftsgeschichte_ (Tübingen, 1924), 24.

    [160]Junker, _Giza_, V (Wien, 1941).

    [161]_Op. cit._, 52 ff.

    [162]Junker, _Giza_, IV (Wien, 1940).

    [163]After Griffith, _Deir el Gebrawi_, II, 30.

    [164]Gardiner, _Journal of Egyptian Archaeology_, XXVII (1941), 22.

    [165]After Kees, _Kulturgeschichte_, 40.

    [166]_Ibid._, 41.

    [167]Gardiner, _Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology_,
    XXXVII (1915), 117; XXXIX (1917), 133.

    [168]F. M. Powicke, _The Reformation in England_ (Oxford, 1941), 31.

    [169]This subject has been studied in the works named on p. 124, n.
    5. Since the last of these was published during the war and is
    hardly known abroad, we have included in this Appendix more matter
    dealt with on a previous occasion than would otherwise have been

    [170]Phrased differently, one might say that we had, without
    justification, used the expansion of the Indo-European and
    Arabic-speaking peoples as an analogy for the changes observed in
    Egypt and Mesopotamia.

    [171]Frankfort, _Cylinder Seals_ (London, 1939), 293.

    [172]The reader unacquainted with these cylinders may identify the
    figures as follows. In Fig. 37 he will see some hieroglyphs which
    appear, reversed, at the extreme left in the impression of Fig. 38.
    To the right of them one sees the offering table with two crescents
    representing loaves of bread; over these a man extends his hand. He
    is seated on a bed with legs ending in bull’s or lion’s feet (such
    beds have been found in the graves at Abydos). His long hair is
    rendered in a crosshatched mass. In Fig. 39 is a similar figure,
    facing to the right. His hair is rendered with a straight line.

    [173]In order not to overload this Appendix with footnotes, we shall
    refer only to the most important monuments. These are conveniently
    collected in J. Capart, _Primitive Art in Egypt_, London, 1905.
    Detailed discussions with references will be found there and in the
    following three works: H. Frankfort, _Studies in Early Pottery of
    the Near East_, I (London, 1924), 117-42; A. Scharif, “Neues zur
    Frage der ältesten Aegyptisch-Babylonischen Kulturbeziehungen” in
    _Zeitschrift für Aegyptische Sprache_, LXXI (1935), 89-106; H.
    Frankfort, “The Origin of Monumental Architecture in Egypt” in
    _American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures_, LVIII
    (1941), 329-58. In this last article, I have formulated disagreement
    with certain ideas propounded by Scharff, especially as regards
    cylinder seals, and have shown (_op. cit._, 354, n. 55) that the
    relief of shell in Berlin (also depicted by Capart, _op. cit._, 83,
    Figs. 50-1) is a purely Mesopotamian object, and therefore
    irrelevant to the present discussion.

    [174]They occur on the Small Hierakonpolis palette: Capart, _op.
    cit._, Fig. 172.

    [175]See also the University College knife-handle (Capart, _op.
    cit._, 72, Fig. 37) and the Berlin knife-handle (Capart, _op. cit._,
    73, Fig. 38.)

    [176]Gebel el Arak knife-handle (Fig. 23); Small Louvre palette
    (Capart, _op. cit._, 235, Fig. 174); Lion palette (Capart, _op.
    cit._, 239, Fig. 178 plus 241, Fig. 180); Zaki Youssef Saad, _Royal
    Excavations at Saqqara and Helwan_, 1944-5, _Supplément aux Annales
    du Service des Antiquités de l’Egypte_, 166, Fig. 14.

    [177]The Egyptian manner of representing carnivores and their prey
    is shown in the central row of animals on the Hunters’ palette (Fig.
    25) where they appear in headlong flight. See also the Small
    Hierakonpolis palette and Egyptian renderings of the historical
    periods. In Mesopotamia the prey is rendered as unaffected by the
    attack; our Fig. 14, for instance, can be matched by a seal
    (Frankfort, _Cylinder Seals_, Plate V _a_) where a lion is shown
    striking his claws into a bull’s hindquarters. The bull stands as in
    our figure. This is but one example from many. Another instance of
    this rendering in Egypt is found on a macehead from Hierakonpolis
    (Capart, _op. cit._, 97, Fig. 68) with alternating dogs and lions,
    each of which attacks the one before him with teeth and claws. This
    type of design, a circular interlocking by activation of the
    individual figures, is characteristic for Mesopotamia and occurs on
    numerous cylinder seals, on the silver vase of Entemena, and on the
    macehead of Mesilim of Kish in the Louvre.

    [178]See Frankfort, _Cylinder Seals_, Epilogue _et passim_.

    [179]See Frankfort, “The Origin of Monumental Architecture in
    Egypt,” in _American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures_,
    LVIII (1941), 329-58. In this article we have not only discussed the
    detailed technical similarities between recessed brick building in
    the two countries but also demonstrated the inadequacy of prevalent
    explanations of the Egyptian examples, “irrespective the fact that
    they failed to account for the contemporary construction of similar
    buildings in Mesopotamia.”

    [180]This does not imply that they must have been mean structures.
    In Uganda, for instance, no fewer than a thousand men are
    continuously engaged in the royal enclosure on building and repairs
    (John Roscoe, _The Baganda_, 366).

    [181]See also Borchardt, “Das Grab des Menes,” in _Zeitschrift für
    Aegyptische Sprache_, XXXVI (1898), 87-105.

    [182]This is the _Riemchenverband_, observed by the excavators of
    Erech (E. Heinrich, _Schilf und Lehm_, 40) and of Tell Asmar
    (Delougaz and Lloyd, _Pre-Sargonid Temples in the Diyala Region_
    [Chicago, 1942], 169, Fig. 127).

    [183]In our figure and in the tomb of Neithotep (“Das Grab des
    Menes”—see n. 2, above), the structures, like the Babylonian
    temples, appear to stand on a brick platform; but in reality a low
    revetment was built up against the outside of the walls after these
    had been built up—complete with recesses—from the foundations. In
    Babylonia this apparent platform is called a _kisu_.

    [184]Our Fig. 48 shows the impressions of these round timbers in the
    brick work of the White Temple at Erech, of which Fig. 45 shows the
    plan. Fig. 49 shows a wooden sarcophagus found in a First Dynasty
    tomb at Tarkhan in Egypt, which imitates a recessed building with a
    similar strengthening of round timbers. Fig. 50 shows an actual tomb
    found at Abu Roash in Lower Egypt with some timbers still in place.

    [185]The Egyptian designs (Figs. 42, 44 left, 43) are supposed to
    render a palace façade, an assumption incapable of proof and
    ignoring the fact that the tombs have recesses on all four sides.
    But whatever the original of this design may have been, its
    abbreviated rendering in Egypt resembles an abbreviated rendering of
    temples in Mesopotamia (Fig. 44 right) very closely.

    [186]At Abydos three of these, perhaps built under the Second
    Dynasty, survive. See Petrie, _Abydos_, III (London, 1904), Plates

    [187]Scharff, _Archaeologische Beiträge zur Frage der Entstehung der
    Hieroglyphenschrift_ (München, 1942).

    [188]See _Kingship and the Gods_, 20 and 350, n. 15.

    [189]We have shown that in early Mesopotamian script words sounding
    alike (_e.g._ “to live” and “arrow”) could be written with the same
    sign and the meaning clarified by the addition of determinatives
    which were not pronounced but indicated what kind of notion was
    rendered. In Egypt from the first we find the same devices in use.
    The hieroglyph depicting a rib can also be used to render the verb
    “to approach,” in which case two legs are added as a determinative.
    Just as in Mesopotamia the picture of the arrow became a phonetic
    sign for _ti_, so the Egyptian signs become phonetic signs. There
    is, however, a difference. In Mesopotamia both consonants and vowels
    were rendered by the sign. In Egypt the vowels were ignored, and
    only the consonantal skeleton of the word was rendered. This was
    natural to the Egyptians, because the consonants of their words
    remained constant while the vowels changed in the conjugation and
    declension (as with us the verb “to break” has in the past tense “he
    broke”). To turn to our example, the picture of the rib stood for
    _spir_ when it meant rib, _soper_ when it meant “to approach,” and
    so on. (This is the vocalization in Coptic, the latest stage of
    Egyptian which used the Greek alphabet and, therefore, wrote
    vowels.) The phonetic value of the sign of the rib is therefore
    _spr_. In this way the Egyptians adapted the notion of how language
    might be rendered (which they evidently got from Mesopotamia) to the
    peculiarities of their own language. I do not want to suggest that
    Egyptian necessarily calls for a script in which only the consonants
    are written. Scharff (_loc. cit._), points out that Hebrew and
    Arabic developed in their punctuation a method of rendering the
    changing vocalization alongside the permanent consonantal skeleton
    of the words.

    Some of the phonetic signs of Egyptian consist of only one
    consonant. In a discussion concerned with Egyptian writing there
    would be no reason why they should be mentioned in particular, since
    they do not differ in principle from the other signs. But in a wider
    historical context the signs with the value of a single consonant
    are of unique importance: they seem to be the distant ancestors of
    the alphabet.

    [190]Petrie, _Royal Tombs_, I, Plate 19, No. 11.

    [191]Scharff, _op. cit._, 55.

    [192]Some features of Mesopotamian civilization remain almost
    unaltered during the Protoliterate period, hence it is very
    important that the Egyptian links can be proved to derive from the
    latter part, which is known to be a time of expansion in any case.
    The evidence for the synchronization of the rise of Dynasty I in
    Egypt with the later part of the Protoliterate period in Mesopotamia
    consists of three groups:

    (_a_) The cylinder seals found in Egypt all belong to the “Jamdat
    Nasr” style and do not include any of the earlier style, known from
    seal impressions found in Archaic Layer IV at Erech. Likewise absent
    are examples of the brocade style which succeeds the Jamdat Nasr
    style in Early Dynastic I. Thus the upper and lower limits of the
    period during which contact took place are defined.

    (_b_) The small bricks used in recessing at Naqada and Saqqara (Fig.
    46) are predominant in the later part of the Protoliterate period in
    Mesopotamia. In the earlier part larger bricks are commonly used; in
    the subsequent Early Dynastic period the bricks are plano-convex.

    (_c_) During the Protoliterate period Mesopotamian buildings were
    decorated all around with elaborate recesses (Figs. 45, 48); and
    this is the decoration found in the earliest monumental buildings in
    Egypt, the tombs at Naqada, Abydos, Saqqara, etc. In Early Dynastic
    Mesopotamia simplified recessing all around became the style; and
    the multiple recessing was reserved for towers flanking temple
    entrances (Fig. 19). These towers are introduced in Mesopotamia in
    the later half of the Protoliterate period as a seal impression
    shows (Fig. 42 right). The abbreviated renderings of recessed
    buildings in Egypt show both flat buildings and buildings with
    towers (Fig. 42, left; 43, 44), a combination which corresponds
    neither with the earlier part of the Protoliterate period nor with
    the Early Dynastic period in Mesopotamia but only with the later
    part of the Protoliterate period. Again, the upper and lower limits
    of the period of contact are defined.

    [193]This object is depicted in Capart, _op. cit_., 100, Fig. 70,
    and Scharff, _Die Altertümer der Vor- und Frühzeit Aegyptens_, II,
    Plate 22, No. 108.

    [194]There are no parallels in Egypt in historical times for the
    ships with vertical prow and stern, while the Mesopotamian
    _belem_—represented in silver, _e.g._ in the Royal Tombs at
    Ur—assumes that shape. See Woolley, _The Royal Cemetery_, Plate 169,
    and, for older literature, Frankfort, _Studies in Early Pottery of
    the Near East_, I, 138 ff.

    [195]Petrie, _Koptos_ (London, 1896), Plates III, IV, V 4; Capart,
    _loc. cit._, 223, Fig. 166.


  Abu Shahrein, 46.
      _See also_ Eridu
  Abydos, 95, 96, 102
  administration, Egyptian, 99 ff.
  African character of early Egyptian civilization, 39;
      modern A. parallels, 33, 70, 120
  agriculture: Egyptian, 100, 105 f., 113 f.;
      Al Ubaid period, 44;
      of Mesopotamian cities, 63 ff.;
      neolithic, 29 f., 32;
      social consequences of introduction, 34 f.
  Akkad, 82, 87, 88
  Akkadian, 83
  Alabdeh tribe, 34
  allotments of temple land, 65 f.
  Al Ubaid culture, period, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 54, 83, 126
  Amon-re, texts glorifying, 19 f.
  Amorites, 88
  Amratian culture, 39
  amulets, funerary, 123
  animal forms, use of, in art, 124 f., 131, 134-35
  Anu, 55, 88
  Arabia, Southern, 136
  Arabs of marshes of S. Iraq, 43, 45 f., 60
  architecture, 45, 55, 56, 127, 128;
      monumental appearance of, 49, 126, 127;
      Protoliterate, influence of in Egypt, 97, 126 f.
      _See also_ bricks, houses, recessed buildings, reed
          structures, temples
  army service, 69;
      usually as labour corps, 108 f., 118
  art: Egyptian, 92, 97;
      Mesopotamian influence in, 124 f.;
      Mesopotamian Protoliterate, 59 f.;
      palaeolithic, 27;
      representational, 50
  assemblies in Sumerian cities, 77 f.
  Assur, 84

  Babylon, 48, 137
  Badarian culture, 39
  Baghdad, 53
  barter, 73, 117
  Bes, 109
  blind, employment of, 69
  boats on Nile, 112
  Brak, temple at, 84, 87, 133, 136
  bricks, 45, 126
  Byblos, 36, 119

  calendar, 62, 86.
      _See also_ seasons
  canals, 53, 66
  Cappadocia, 133
  Carchemish, 36
  Chagar Bazar, 36
  Cilicia, 36
  cities: Egyptian, insignificance of, 97;
      Mesopotamian, basis of rulers’ power, 98;
      economic organization of, 64 ff;
      particularism, 88;
      political institutions, 77 ff.;
      ruled by deity, 54, 61;
      rural connections of, 61
  civilization, genesis of, 2 ff.
  climate, 26, 51 f., 68, 69
  Collingwood, R. G., 15 f.
  common land, 65
  copper, 40 f., 45, 75, 100
  _corvée_, 65, 76 n. 27, 80, 108, 109
  craftsmen, 67, 73, 110, 111
  Crocodilopolis, 116
  crops, 29, 68, 113-14
  cylinder seals, 58-59, 60 and n., 83, 97, 122
  Cyrus the Persian, 89

  dictatorship, 78 f.
  Djet, Stele of, 129, 132
  drainage, 34, 113
  dress, Sumerian, 75 f.
  dynamics of civilizations, 3, 12, 13

  Egypt: compared with Mesopotamia, 49;
      early conditions, 37 f.;
      foreign contacts of, 39 f.;
      formative period, 51;
      ideal of society in, 23-24;
      Mesopotamian influence in, 122 ff.;
      time of, 135-36;
      predynastic culture phases, 39;
      rural life in, 104, 105, 106 f.;
      sickles, 29;
      Spengler’s idea of, 9 f.;
      Toynbee’s, 18 f., 22-23;
      unification of, 90 f.
  Elam, 67, 74
  Elamites, 88
  Enki, 47
  Enlil, 56, 63, 88
  _ensi_, “governor,” functions, 79-80;
      equality of Mesopotamian citizens, 77
  Erech, 54, 55 f., 60, p 78 n., 124
  Eridu (Abu Shahrein), 47, 128
  exchequer, Egyptian, 100, 101, 118

  Fayum, 30, 94
  festivals, 62
  First Dynasty (Egyptian), 30, 95, 113, 122-23, 126, 127, 128, 130,
  First Intermediate period, 39, 111, 119
  fish, fishing, 47, 68, 112
  floods of Tigris, 53.
      _See also_ Nile flood
  “forms” of civilization, 3, 7, 25, 49, 94
  Fourth Dynasty, 99
  frankincense, 118, 137

  Gebel el Arak, knife-handle from, 92, 124, 134
  Gerzean period, 40 f., 122, 136, 137
  Gizeh, workmen’s barracks at, 108
  gods: chthonic, 57;
      of waters, 47;
      man created to serve, 63;
      Pharaoh regarded as a, 54, 129;
      rulers of Mesopotamian cities, 54, 57
  “gold” reward of merit, 111
  Guti, 88

  Hadendoa tribe, 33
  Hassuna, 30, 36
  Herodotus, 8, 137
  hieroglyphs, 131
  history, idea of progress in, 15 f.;
      theories of, 4 ff.;
      distinction between prehistory and, 26 f.
  Hittites, 88
  houses, Mesopotamian, 75
  hunting, 38, 112
  Hyksos, 18, 19

  Inanna, temple of, 55
  inventions, neolithic, 35 f.
  Iraq, 30
  irrigation, 31 ff., 34, 49

  Jamdat Nasr, Late Protoliterate, formerly called, 132
  Jericho, 36

  Kassites, 88
  Khafajah, 67 n., 75, 84
  king-figure in art, p 78 n., 124
  kingship, 78, 79, 86 and n., 93, 94 f., 98, 120
  Kish, 75
  knife-handles, 92.
      _See also_ Gebel el Arak
  Koptos, 137

  labour corps, housing of, 108
  Lagash, 68, 79, 81
  Lahun, workmen’s town at, 109
  land of Mesopotamian cities, division and cultivation, 64 f.
  language: Akkadian, 52, 83;
      Egyptian, Hamitic elements in, 39, 40 f.;
      Sumerian, 51 f.
  law, 86;
      Pharaoh fount of, 99
  Lebanon, timber from, 96, 118
  Libya, 28, 97
  _lugal_, “great man,” “king,” 78 f., 79
  Lugalzaggesi, 83
  luxuries, trade in, 37

  Maat, 104, 107
  Marduk, 63
  Mari, 84
  markets, 117
  Memphis, 94
  “Memphis Theology,” 94 f.
  Menes, 90, 91, 94, 95 f., 113
  merchants, 67, 74 f., 118
  Mersin, 36, 126
      prehistoric, 42 f.;
      southern, 44, 45 f.;
      cities of, Chapter III _passim_;
      compared with Egypt, 50 ff.;
      formative age of, 51;
      influence in Egypt, 121 ff.;
      invasions of, 89
  Methen, career of, 101, 103 n.
  Min, statues of, 137
  money, absence of, 72, 115
  “mountain,” religious significance of, 56 f.

  Naqada, 122
  Naramsin, 85, 87
  Narmer, 90, 96;
      palette of, 91, 92 f., 96, 125
  Natufians, 30, 31, 32, 35, 36
  Nekhbet, 95
  Nesutnefer, 102 f.
  New Stone Age, inventions, 35
  New Year’s festival, 57, 62
  _nigenna_-land, common, 65, 76
  Nile flood, 38, 108, 113
  Nineveh, 36
  nomarchs, 101, 113
  _nubanda_, 65, 66, 72, 79, 80
  Nubia, 97, 102, 118, 126

  oath by name of king, 86
  officials, 69, 99 ff.;
      ideal, 103;
      oppression by, 81, 104, 115
  Old Stone Age, 28, 29, 30.
      _See also_ palaeolithic
  oligarchy, 77
  ornaments, 74-75
  Osiris, 18

  palaeolithic remains, express religious concepts, 27 f.
  Palestine, wild grains in, 29;
      early relations with Egypt, 39, 40, 96
  palettes, votive: Hunter’s, 93, 126-27, 129;
      Narmer’s, 90 ff., 96, 125
  Panehsi, 107
  peasant life, 104
  Persia, 42, 43, 68, 84
  Pharaoh, position and functions, 24, 54, 91, 93, 98, 119-20, 129
  “planned society” in Sumerian cities, 64, 73
  ploughing, 71, 72
  pottery: earliest, 35;
      in Egypt, 40;
      Mesopotamian, 43;
      Tell Halaf, 43 n., 46
  prehistory, distinction between history and, 26;
      of ancient Near East, 27-48
  private enterprise, property, 74, 76, 115
  progress in history, 15 f.
  Protoliterate period, 52;
      age of expansion, 132;
      seals of, in Egypt, 122;
      temples of, 54;
      influence Egyptian technique, 97, 125 ff.
  pyramids, 108

  Qau el Kebir, 110

  Ras Shamra, 36
  rations, 66, 76 n., 112
  raw materials, 100, 118-19
  recessed buildings, 55, 127 f., 133 n.
  Red Sea, 136-37
  reed structures, 45, 60
  _rekhyt_-birds, 90, 93
  religion, palaeolithic, 27 f.;
      early Mesopotamian, 62-63 f., 89
  rents, in kind or silver, 65

  Samarra, 42
  _sangu_, 65, 72, 79, 80
  Sargon of Akkad, 82 f., 85 ff.
  Scorpion king, 90, 96;
      macehead of, 129
  seals, cylinder, 58, 59, 60 and n., 122;
      stamp, 122 f.
  seasons, 113
  Semerkhet, 96
  Seneb, 111 f.
  serfdom in Egypt, 108, 109-10
  Seti, 102
  ships, 124.
      _See also_ boats
  Sialk, 30, 36, 133
  sickles, toothed, 30 f.;
      clay, 46 f.
  Sinai, 40, 96, 97, 118
  slaves, 66, 68, 110
  Snefru, 23, 119
  socialism, Sumerian theocratic, 73
  soldiers, 69
  specialization, 69
  Spengler, O., views discussed, 4-12, 17-18
  stock-breeding, 35, 116-17
  Sumer, 48, 84, 97, 136, 137
  Sumerians, 51 n., 57, 69, 88
  Susa, 133
  Syria, contacts with Egypt, 96, 97, 117, 136

  Tasian culture, 39
  taxes, 100, 104, 112, 114-15
  Tell Asmar (Eshunna), 88
  Tell el Amarna, workmen’s village at, 109
  Tell Halaf, 36;
      pottery, 44 n., 46
  Tell Uqair, 55, 60
  temples: of Al Ubaid period, 47-48, 54, 128;
      Protoliterate, 54;
      their influence in Egypt, 97, 127 ff.;
      accounts kept by, 71 ff.;
      civic importance, 57;
      earliest writing in, 57, 58;
      economic units, 50, 54, 64 ff.;
      magazines, 67 f.
      _See also_ Assur, Brak, Erech, Mari
  Tepe Gawra, 46, 128
  Thebes, 98, 118
  Theocracy, 54
  This, 90, 95
  Tigris, 43, 45, 53;
      and Euphrates, cultural continuum along, 84
  toilet sets, copper and gold, 75
  tools, 67
  towers, 129, 132, 133 n.
      _See also_ ziggurat
  Toynbee, A., views discussed, 2, 4, 10, 12-23
  trade, 74, 117, 133
  trade routes, defence of, 87 f.
  Treasurer of Pharaoh, 100, 101, 102
  Troy, 84
  “Two Lands, The,” 95

  Umma, 79, 82
  Uni, 107
  Ur, 43, 55, 75;
      Third Dynasty of, 88
  urban-rural contrast, found in early times, 62
  Urukagina, reforms of, 81, 82
  _Uru-lal_-land, 65, 74

  vizierate in Egypt, 99

  Wadi Hammamat, 137
  weavers, weaving, 35-36, 111
  Wenamon, 119
  “White Wall,” Memphis, 94
  women as allotment-holders, 66-67
  wood, seals made of, 123.
      _See also_ Lebanon
  wool, 68
  writing, 49, 50, 58 and n., 97, 129, 130

  ziggurat, 55;
      significance, 56

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