Setting the Stage

It is always hard to know just where to start when it comes to history as there is so much, going back so far. For these write ups I have decided we shall start the timeline at around 500BC and go on from there.

First of all before covering any eras or events in particular, I believe it would be better to get some general understanding of the nations and peoples that will be covered at a later date.

So here is a little backround of the state in which the world, or at least the part of it we will be covering, was in and some of the major players (and soon to be such) that resided within it.

To start with we must first introduce the Phoenician people as their endeavours play a major part in how ancient history unfolded. These people came from Phoenicia which was an ancient civilisation in a region known as Canaan, located in modern day Lebanon. The Phoenicians were quite an advanced people who spread their influence far and wide, founding colonies across the coastline of the mediteranian, including several major cities. The Phoenicians had an enterprising maritime trading culture that spread across the Mediterranean from 1550 BC to 300 BC. They were famed in Classical era Greece and Rome as ‘traders in purple’, referring to their monopoly on the precious purple dye of the Mrex snail which was used for, among other things, royal clothing. They were also known for their spread of the alphabet, upon which all major modern alphabets are derived.

Much of the Phoenicians’ prosperity was thanks to their trade which they at first mostly did with the Greeks.  As trading and colonizing spread over the Mediterranean, Phoenicians and Greeks seemed to have split the sea in two with the Phoenicians sailing along and eventually dominating the southern shore, while the Greeks were active along the northern shores. The two cultures clashed rarely, mainly in Sicily, which eventually settled into two spheres of influence, the Phoenician southwest and the Greek northeast.

One of the major cities founded by these people was Carthage which was constructed in 814BC.  Initially a dependency of the Phoenician state known as Tyre, Carthage gained independence around 650 BC and established it’s political hegemony over other Phoenician settlements throughout the western Mediterranean thus becoming an Empire of it’s own and would eventually become the main power of the Mediterranean, after the decline of Phoenicia in the 500’s BC.

Carthage is now one of the major players on the world stage.

Another people that must be introduced are the Persians. By the 800’s BC the Persians had settled in the south-western portion of the Iranian region of Persis, which came to be their heartland. By the 600’s BC Persis would eventually become overshadowed by the Medes which were another ancient Iranian people who spoke the Median language and inhabited an area known as Media between western and northern Iran.

The region of Media was bounded by the Zagros Mountains to it’s west, to it’s south by the Garrin Mountain in Lorestan Province, to it’s northwest by the Qaflankuh Mountains in Zanjan Province, and to it’s east by the Dasht-e Kavir desert. In the 600’s BC, Media’s tribes came together to form the Median Kingdom.

In the year of 616 BC the Median king Cyaxares allied himself with King Nabopolassar of the Neo-Babylonian Empire.  Media at this time was a vassel state of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, however with this alliance and the conflict that followed this would all change. During the reign of Sinsharishkun, the Assyrian empire, which had been in a state of constant civil war since 626 BC, began to unravel. Subject peoples, such as the Medes & Babylonians stopped paying tributes and Neo-Assyrian dominance over the Medians came to an end during the reign of Median King Cyaxares, who, in alliance with King Nabopolassar of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, attacked and destroyed the strife-riven empire between 616 and 609 BC thus bringing about an age of Median dominance.

Cyaxares would eventually be succeeded by his son King Astyages.

Perssia was a vassel of the Median Empire and at the time of Emperor Astyages in the year 559 BC, was ruled by Cyrus II. Though Cyrus’s father, king Cambyses was quite contempt to play the role of a subjugated ruler, Cyrus would look at the vast lands of the Median Empire and beyond with ambition. At first Cyrus would acknowledge the Median overlordship but upon his fathers death would begin to act on his ambitions, though ultimately the foundations for Cyrus’s future Empire and title would be brought about due to his enemies agressions and not his own.

Astyages launched an attack on Peris in 553 BC, however the leader of the Median army (a general named Harpagus) betrayed the Median king and sided with Cyrus, encouraging him to revolt against his overlord. The resulting hostilities and conflicts lasted a full 3 years until a final battle in 550 BC which ended with Cyrus’s great victory and the capture of Acbatana, the Median capital, thus begining the Achaemenid Empire or first Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great.

Cyrus the Great would go on to conquer the Lydian Empire and eventually the Neo-Babylonian Empire. He conquered Phoenicia in 539 BCE. The Persians divided Phoenicia into four vassal kingdoms. They prospered, furnishing fleets for the Persian kings. Phoenician influence declined severely after this.  Much of the Phoenician population migrated to Carthage and other colonies following the Persian conquest therefore bulking up Carthages population and possibly aiding in it’s growing power.

Needless to say by this point the Persian Empire was too a major power on the world stage, having the largest empire ever seen at this point in history and it’s expansions would eventually lead it towards the Greek city states for further conquests….

The next people we shall take a look at are the ancient Greeks. Greece at the time of these other powers wasn’t so much a nation as you would think of one today. No, it was not a state with an established border or capital but a vast collection of very distinct and completley independent city states that began to emerge after the Greek Dark Ages, of which lasted from somewhere around 1100 BC – 800 BC.

Most may wonder how this came to be. The answer quite simply is geographic as Greece is made up of many Islands and small peninsulars. Only a handfull of these small land masses were suitable for agriculture, which would obviously prove to be a great problem as much fertile land would be needed in order to feed the people of these rising city states, thus the great Greek colonization began. Colonies were founded all over the Mediterranean by the houndreds, from modern day southern Italy all the way to the Black Sea and modern day Russia. Eventually trade would be conducted from these colonies, city states and the Greek people would become quite powerful as a result in the before mentioned northern shores of the Mediterranean , just as their Phoenician and later Carthaginian neighbours were in the south.

2 of the most notable city states that, for the most part, did not participate in this colonial expansion were Sparta and Athens. The Spartans were decendants of a warlike people known as the Dorians. Unlike most of the other city states, the Spartans solved the land issue by simply conquering all of their neighbours in the fertile region of Messinia. The locals of these conquered lands were declared ‘helots’ which is sort of like a slave. The helots greatly outnumbered the Spartans. The now fully militarized Spartans mostly prioritised the prevention of any uprising and as a result did not possess any ambition of expansion or invasion beyond it’s own borders. The Spartans would become one of the most extreme societies in human history in the form of a sort of eugenic worrior state. Whenever a new citizen was born, the elders would inspect the baby and kill it if any physical imperfections were present. At age 7 all Spartan boys were to attend an education system to be drilled in the arts of war. This would brutalize them physically and mentally, sometimes to the point of death. The result was a perfected and hardened soldier. Due to this Sparta had, unquestionably, the best heavy infantry in the ancient world. Spartan scociety was based around the ideal of shunning individualism. Duty to the state and self sacrifice were paramount.

Things were very different in Athens. Hunger and lack of land had forced the Aristocracy and people to come to terms, this would eventually lead to a form of democracy after the overthrow of the then Greek Tyrant.  Very much unlike their Spartan counterparts, the Athenians valued individualism, disdaining all and any who were unable to debate and argue political opinions, leading to their society creating many mariners and philosophers. The leaders of Athens were politicians, one in particular named Themistocles persuaded the people to increase the naval power of Athens. This mixed well with Athens’ abundance of mariners and set the stage for a formidable navy. Although, Greek democracy was not like a modern system you would find in a western nation today. Only a select percentage of the population known as citizens could vote, this made up less than a quarter of residents. Slaves, women and any migrant workers were not allowed to vote, these people were known as metics.

The Greek city states would culturally and economically flourish and would enhance their wealth due to the trading networks they controlled.

These city states, numbering around 700, would tend to trade and war with eachother as independant nations and there wasn’t so much a unified feeling of Greek identity just yet. However with the formation and rapid expansion of the before mentioned Persian Empire, the threat from the east would become clear to many. By the mid 500’s BC the eastern Greek cities were the most advanced, eclipsing both Athens and Sparta, being the first to master ideas such as the alphabet, coinage, naval fleets and complex trade logistics. Unfortunately for them though, all these city states to the east would come to be conquered by the vast Persian Empire whilst the western Greeks would remain untouched…. for now.

Though not unified, their mixture of the intellectuals and mariners of Athens, the near perfect soldiers of Sparta and other traits in numerous cities made the Greek people a major player in their own right.

Finally due to the huge impact they would eventually have on the world, we will now turn our attention to the Italian peninsular and take a look at the Romans. When looking at the history of Romes origins we must first understand that the people in the area had incredibly diverse cultures and ways of life due to various different landscapes on the peninsular comprising of flatlands, rivers and mountains, mountainouse areas are extensive and take up around 40% of Italy. This is important as it led to a diverse comunity of people. Early settlers would take advantage of their local terrain, for example fertile lowlands would spawn farmers where as coastal or river access would spawn traders. This would all have an impact on various settlements’ cultural and military activities.

Now there is the legend of Romes founding according to which, Ancient Rome was founded by the two demi-god brothers named Romulus and Remus. The legend claims that, in an argument over who would rule the city, or some such story as they tend to vary, Romulus killed Remus and named the city after himself. However I prefer to focus on what has been proven due to documents and/or archaeological findings but just thought I would include this anyway.

Around the time of the founding of Carthage, Rome was merely a collection of Italic families spreading across the slopes along side the Tiber river. Starting off as several little hamlets which would eventually join together to defend eachother around the late to mid 700’s BC, as possibly proven by archaeological findings of a wooden defence baricade surounding the area around these hamlets. At this point Rome was far from special, being surrounded by numerous settlements growing in the same way.

These settlements, including Rome, would war with eachother many times throughout the 700’s & 600’s BC.

The Kingdom of Rome was founded in 753 BC and the first town to fall to the Romans was Caenina in 752 BC, though little is known about these events. The next town to fall would be Atemnae and throughout the next decades a slow but steady expansion would ensue as Rome continued to win minor wars against it’s small neighbours. Many who were ethnically close enough to the conquerers would be granted full Roman citizenship and added to their growing population. In this way, the mass of the Roman state grew and grew, so too did it’s gravitational pull. Such united communities could now pull manpower and throw their weight around to a much greater extent. This resulted in a cycle of conquest that would continue for hundreds of years.

By the time of the expulsion of the kings and the founding of the Roman Republic in the year 509 BC, Rome had managed to take over around 800 squared kilometers and had a population of an estimated 35,000. From humble beginnings and frankly an uninteresting founding, these people would go on building and growing like a slowly burning flame. There were many others in the area to contend with and setbacks were plentiful.

At some point in the 600’s BC a group of small kingdoms formed what was known as The Latin Legue as a sort of mutual defence pact. This was centered around the town of Albalonga but as Romes power grew it came to dominate this group. Less than 2 decades after the Republics founding, these other Legue members decided to declare war on the Roman Republic in order to balance the power, however at the Battle of Lake Virgilius, Rome won a decisive victory. Rome became leader of this league and would go on to introduce reforms which dictated that rather than destroying  conquered communities, they were to be left intact so they could be entered into a treaty which would bind them to Rome. This would set a presidence for Roman assimulation that would play a huge role in their culture and would later change the world through militaristic and cultural expansion.

Though Rome at this point is not exactly a power house on the world stage, it now has the foundations for what will be in the future. By warfare and military campaign Rome would expand, being the complete polar opposite to the people of the then main regional power, the Carthaginian Empire, of which overshadowed Rome and would do so for many years to come…….

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