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Cross Cultural Exchanges in the World from Prehistory through 600 CE
Scientists believe that human life begun in eastern Africa within the Rift Valley. As time went by, small bands of these early humans who were mainly hunters left the rift valley and gradually migrated across Africa. Others may have went north along the river Nile and crossed into Europe and Asia. Paleolithic people were nomads who often moved in search of food. With the seasonal changes or when there was scarcity in game, they moved to new campsites. Through following regular routes and revisiting the same places every year, they came to define their territories. Part of the paleolithic culture that is known to the archaeologists was their technology. This comprised of the tools and the skills which they exhibited in using these tools.
As hunters and gatherers moved from place to place, they became used to many kinds of environments.
Gradually, groups spread over the world. With the invention of fire, life took a different turn. Fire served an important role in the lives of these early humans as families could gather around them and share their views on life, and hence transmit culture. This helped in the development of a more defined culture. The people lived in small groups of about twenty five to forty individuals who were mostly blood relatives. When these bands grew large, they split into smaller group and drifted apart. These groups stayed small because a smaller group was easy to manage and conflict was unlikely to occur. If individuals realized that they could not live together, they split so as to avoid situations of war and violence. The same things that made these early humans to disintegrate has also come to be a major determining factor in their integration. The most important social aspect that took place during the Old Stone Age was the development of language. Paleolithic hunters lived in a society of equals with no chiefs, kings or noblemen. As such, it was a society of equals. However, there were differences within these groups as the best hunters were accorded extra respect. Not much is known about the beliefs and traditions of the Old Stone age. Nevertheless, they had a culture. At this moment, it is early to look at how wars could have led to cross cultural exchange as the system could have been uniform and there could have been few instances of violent clashes.
Around ten thousand years ago, there must have been about ten million people spread across the world. By the standards of the hunters and gatherers, the world was becoming crowded. The New Stone Age begun during this time and it was a period of rapid changes. The discoveries which form the basis of our modern society begun at this time, the most important ones being the discovery of domestication and farming. As the world population increased, food became scarcer and new methods of keeping food emerged. Permanent settlements also arose. With farming, population begun to grow tremendously and more defined cultures in terms of civilizations begun to emerge.
As people spread apart, different cultures arose. As such, distinct groups of people developed their own languages, tools, customs and rules. Civilization thus emerged as an important aspect of culture. It is with the emergence of distinct civilizations that cross cultural exchanges begun to take root through conquest. The first people to be considered civilized were the Sumerians who developed a new way of life that distinguished them from their neighbors. They developed cities and were dependent on trade. The Sumerians also developed writing which became an important tool in the preservation and continuity of culture. With the bustling population, a system of organized governance emerged. The Sumerians were thus the first people to set up a formal government with officials and laws. There were certain aspects that the Sumerians had which did not exist in the Paleolithic or neolithic period. These were cities, specialized workers, the use of writing, advanced tools and complex institutions. Through interactions, these traits were to spread to other people.
With no natural barriers for protection, Sumeria was almost defenseless. Nomadic herders from the nearby mountains and deserts raided their cities. The city states were also constantly at war. From 2000 to 3000 B.C., the city states fought one another. With constant war, the city states became weak hence could not ward off attacks from the a different enemy who also had developed and followed different cultural traits. The nomadic raiders had looked with envy on the wealth of the Sumerian cities. Around 2000 B.C., The nomadic worriers scaled the walls of Ur. Although they did not recover from the attacks, the Sumerian civilization did not die. The succeeding sets of rulers adopted the basic ideas of the Sumerian culture to meet their needs. As the kingdoms expanded, the Sumerian pattern of civilization spread more widely across Southwest Asia through conquests and wars. At the same time, the newcomers made important cultural contributions to their culture.
Around 200 B.C., the Amorites, a group of nomadic worriers, invaded Sumeria and established Babylon as their capital. Amorite power reached its peak with the reign Hammurabi. This group integrated their cultural system with that of the Sumerians and hence established one of the first known empires. With increased organization and integration, a new culture emerged. The first written laws came into fore as the need to define human relation increased. With the Hammurabi code, civilization took a different turn. However, the empire fell to nomadic worriers two centuries later leading to fragmentation of different groups. With the breaking of the kingdom due to war, different groups became autonomous even though they carried on the culture which had been acquired due to contact with the nomads.
Even though Southwest Asia was a mixture of various peoples, surprisingly it was united culturally. The culture that started in Sumer spread over a wide area, carried through trade and war. In the years after 900 B.C., a series of empires united Southwest Asia and each seemed to rise out of what remained of the subsequent empire in terms of culture. They would rise and fall, as humans violently followed the dictates of their ego and social intercourse led to increasing cultural exchange. War was a major factor in determining how cultures interacted. Around 850 B.C., another group begun an active conquest of southwest Asia. The Assyrians who came from the farming villages of northern part of Mesopotamia had been exposed to wars since they were often being attacked by barbarians from the nearby mountains. Their campaign made them the greatest power in Asia. With iron swords and pointed spears for their soldiers, the Assyrians were well equipped to conquer large parts of Asia. They could scatter the conquered people to different parts of the empire which further enhanced cross cultural exchange.
In 612 B.C., the Assyrians fell to the combined armies of the Chaldeans and Medes. The Assyrian cruelty had led to them having many enemies and their downfall pleased many of the people they had conquered. The Chaldeans also came with a new system and once again rebuilt Babylon as their capital. With marvelous designs and buildings, Babylon flourished as a central culturally rich place. With the construction of tall buildings, the Chaldeans could observe the night sky which led to the emergence of astronomy and astrology. Much of this knowledge was passed to the Greeks who used it to develop several theories about the earth, planets and the stars. However, one amazing fact is that these cross-cultural exchanges hardly took place peacefully as ,aspects like trade only came after one faction had totally conquered another.
In 550 B.C., another empire arose. The Persian empire defeated several neighboring kingdoms and just under eleven years, Cyrus had conquered all of the fertile crescent. However, his conquests were different. When his army marched into cities, they did not loot or burn but instead, Cyrus believed that it was wise not to interfere with the customs and religions of the people. As such, many cultures independently flourished. One of the defining moments in history which later had an impact on cross cultural exchange was in about 480 B.C when the Persians, in an attempt to widen their territory, came against the Greeks, a group with another rich culture. Greek was however not a united empire but after the encounter, they opted for unity which also led them to be the strongest empire.
An elegant civilization flourished in Greece in the period between 2000 and 1400. this civilization is often referred to as the Minoan civilization. These people wielded much power in the Mediterranean. The Greek speaking people moved into the mainland Greece in about 2000 B.C and settled there. The cities that they established had strong defenses than the earlier cities. The main business of the kings who ruled these cities was war. The most famous war was the siege of the great seaport in Asia Minor called Troy. This war led to the collapse of the civilization that was flourishing in this area. However, after some time, numerous city states begun to emerge. War between the Persians and the Greeks begun in Ionia. Greeks had long settled in the region but in around 520 B.C., the area got conquered by the Persians. After three wars where the Greeks became victorious, another culture flourished in Greek. Jthe prestige of victory and the wealth of their empire set the stage for a dazzling outbursts of creativity.
In 336 B.C., a twenty year old became king in Greece. Alexander the Great, through his conquests, spread the Greek culture to many parts of the world. Alexander conquered the Persian territories, making them part of his empire. As such, cross cultural exchange between the Greeks and the conquered people moved to another level as the Greeks believed their culture was superior. Every instance of territorial expansion was marked by war. With the collapse of the Greek empire, another stronger empire emerged which also had an impact on culture.
Migration that took place during the prehistoric times led to settlement in the Italian Peninsula. Italy’s prehistoric times drew into a close at around 1000 B.C. Over the next 500 years, Italy’s culture got shaped by three dominant groups, the Latins, Greeks and the Etruscans. All these three groups had massive cultural influences upon each other and war was the major mode of interaction. With these interactions through time came the emergence of the Roman Empire whose war tactics proved to be superior the Greeks hence facilitating their rapid conquest. Many aspects of Roman culture was borrowed mainly from the Greeks. However, all these civilizations arose and fell through the mechanisms of war.
Tignor, Adelman, Aron, Brown, Elman, Kotkin, Liu, Marchand, Pittman, Prakash, Shaw. (2008) Worlds Together, Worlds Apart: A History of the World from the Beginnings of Humankind to the Present. Norton.