The Paleolithic Era

40,000 – 8000 B.C.E.

The period known as the Upper Paleolithic or Late Stone Age, which dates from about 40,000  to 10,000 years ago, was a time of notable advances in human mental development and technology. More sophisticated tools and artifacts were produced, the first settlements were established, the first languages were spoken and the first works of art created. Humans also began to travel, building boats or rafts that took them to Australia and crossing the freezing land bridge into the Americas.

Scientists have puzzled over the causes of the ‘Upper Paleolithic Revolution’ – the sudden acceleration in human development 40,000 years ago. Some say climate change played a part in this. The Earth, already in the midst of an ice age, grew colder during this period. Necessity of survival in these harsh conditions may well have been the mother of human invention. Lower global temperatures may have, for example, reduced the availability of timber and made flint brittle and unusable as a tool, forcing people to consider other materials. According to another theory, the development of language may have actually changed people’s behavior, giving humans the capacity to plan for the future and communicate complex and abstract ideas.



Modern humans had arrived in China and South-east Asia by around 75,000 years ago. Here they learned how to build rafts or boats, and by 40,000 years ago they had reached New Guinea and Australia (then joined into one giant continent), probably by a series of great island-hopping voyages. At about the same time, modern humans moved into Europe, where they hunted the vast herds of reindeer, horse, bison, and mammoth that moved across the Eurasina steppes and tundras.

North-eastern Siberia was settled around 20,000  years ago, perhaps by people moving up from northern China. At that time, Asia was connected to North America by a frozen landbridge, which was first crossed by people some 15,000 to 20,000 years ago. These original American gradually spread through the new continent, reaching the southernmost tip of South America 11,000 years ago.

The earliest organized settlements date to around 27,000 years ago. These took the form of campsites, some with storage pits, and they were often located in the bottoms of narrow valleys, perhaps to make it easier to hunt passing herds. Most were probably not settled all year round, but were inhabited at certain times of the year to take advantage of seasonal food sources.





One changing aspect of our Earth affected Stone Age people more than anything else – the climate. Over many thousands of years, the climate gradually grew cooler and then just as slowly warmed up again. This cycle happened many times, changing the landscape and the plants and animals that lived in it.

During cool periods, called glacials, sea levels dropped, exposing more land. Herds of animals grazed vast grasslands and the cold, bare tundra farther north. When temperatures rose, so did sea levels, isolating people on newly formed islands. Woodlands gradually covered the plains.

Prehistoric people faced severe challenges from the environment. During several ice ages, the Earth cooled. Thick glaciers, or sheets of ice, spread across parts of Asia, Europe, and North America. To endure the cold, Paleolithic people invented clothing. Wrapped in animal skins, they took refuge in caves or under rocky overhangs during the long winters. They also learned to build fires for warmth and cooking. In this harsh life, only the hardy survived.

Glacier Photographs taken during my visit to Alaska (2010)


Mr. Martinez @ Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska

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Ancient ice still forms many worldwide glaciers. The height of the last glacial was reached about 18,000 years ago. At this time almost 30 percent of the Earth was covered by ice, including large parts of North America, Europe and Asia, as well as New Zealand and southern Argentina. Temperatures dropped, and sea levels fell by over 100 meters.
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Hunters and Gatherers


Foraging societies were composed of small groups of people who traveled from point to point as the climate and availability of plants and animals dictated. Because they were tied to nature for sustenance, they were also at the mercy of nature. Climate changes, disease, famine, and natural disasters could endanger or eliminate entire communities. Even when times were good, foraging societies were limited by the capacity of their surroundings. Members of these societies did not build permanent shelters and had only a few personal belongings.

Paleolithic people lived in small hunting and food-gathering bands numbering about 20 to 30 people. Everyone contributed to feeding the group. In general, men hunted and fished. Women,, with their small children, gathered berries, fruit, nuts, wild grain, roots, or even shellfish. This food kept the band alive when game was scarce. Paoleolithic people were nomads, moving from place to place as they followed game animals and ripening fruit.

People depended wholly on thier environment for survival. At the same time, they found ways to adapt to their surroundings. They made simple tools and weapons out of the materials at hand – stone, bone, or wood. At some point, Stone Age people developed spoken language language, which let them cooperate during the hunt and perhaps discuss plans for the future.



Before the Upper Paleolithic period, all tools were made of stone. Most were crude in appearance and could be used for a number of functions. Around 40,000 years ago, the archaeological record shows a dramatic improvement in the range and sophistication of tools. Bone, ivory and antler were used to obtain more refined and complex designs than was possible with stone or wood, and tools came to serve more specialized functions, such as cutting, slicing, carving, piercing, engraving or drilling. Eyed needles of bone, oil lamps and rope all appeared for the first time during this period, and bone needles in particular were important in the development of close-fitting clothing. As people became more skillful and ambitious at hunting and fishing, they created better equipment, including sturdy spears, darts, harpoons and fish hooks.

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One of the most fascinating developments of this period was the first art. As people progressed beyond mere subsistence they began to decorate themselves with jewelry, such as beads made from polished shells. Then, from about 30.000 years ago, the first carvings appeared –  sculptures and engravings of animals and people, made from bone, ivory or stone. At about this time, the first cave art appeared in Europe – paintings of hunted animals, such as mammoths, horses and bison, many of them of very high artistic quality. Some show animals that have been speared. The colors they used – black, red and yellow – were obtained from charcoal, clay, iron and other minerals. Late-Stone Age Europeans also made clay, ivory or stone figurines of women, which may have represented fertility.



Exactly when spoken language developed is a mystery. It is possible that Neanderthals had a crude language. Studies of the anatomy of their vocal tracts show they were certainly capable of it. However, many anthropologists believe that speech first developed during the late Stone Age. They argue that the development of complex tools, the increasing specialization of human activity and the invention of art, all required greater cooperation between individuals, necessitating long speech.



We can only speculate about what life was like in the late Stone Age. It is estimated that there were around ten million humans in the whole world at that time. There is evidence of limited trade, with finds of exotic materials in some settlements, far from their origins. However, most people lived isolated existences, rarely if ever meeting anyone outside of their own group or tribe. These groups were certainly larger and more settled than those of earlier epochs. The earliest remains of built settlements, from around 10,000 years ago, suggest that these groups might have included between 400 and 600 people. The social organization of these groups can only be guessed at.

Content Source:

A Short History of the World , Alex Woolf, Metro Books, New York, 2008
The Princeton Review: Cracking the AP World History Exam, 2006-2007
Edition, Random House, New York, 2007.
The Encyclopedia of Ancient History, Hurdman, MacDonald, Steele,
Tames, Armadillo Books, Pennsylvania, 2011.
Glacier Personal Images: Robert L. Martinez,
World History: A Connection to Today, Prentice Hall, 2003.


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The Early Stone Age

2,000,000 – 40,000 B.C.E.

The first hominids to be considered human beings appeared in Africa about two million years ago. These are commonly divided into three species: Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis and Homo erectus. All three had larger brains and flatter faces than Australopithecus but of the three,Homo erectus had the largest brain and the most upright posture. Most scientists believe that Homo erectus evolved into modern humans

Historians call the earliest period of human history the Old Stone Age, or Paleolithic Age. This long period dates from about 2 million B.C.E., the time of the first stone toolmakers, to about 10,000 B.C.E.

First Tools


All three of these early human species made and used stone tools. At first, these were nothing more than sharp-edged stones used for cutting, scraping or chopping the flesh and bones of the animals they killed- made by striking one stone against another, chipping away pieces to form a cutting edge. Later toolmakers used wood or bone mallets to produce straight, sharp cutting edges. Homo erectus learned to make double-edged hand axes, which they used to shape wood or bone and cut up meat, showing that they may have been the first hominids to hunt large animals.

Out of Africa


Homo erectus were the first hominids to live outside Africa. Some time after 1.8 million years ago, they began a migration that led them through the Middel East to South and South-east Asia and northern China, although they did not reach the Americas or Australia. The earliest non-African examples of Homo erectus have been found on the island of Java, Indonesia, and are around 1.8 million years old – although some scientists think this is a separate species.

The ice ages of the Pleistocene era, which lasted from about two million to 11,500 years ago, prevented much human migration to Europe, because of the massive glaciers that covered large parts of the continent during this period. The earliest human remains in Europe, found in northern Spain, date to around 800,000 years ago.

To survive in colder, northern areas, Homo erectus mastered fire and began to wear clothing – the first hominid species to do so. The earliest evidence of the use of fire was found in a cave in northern China occupied by Homo erectus around half a million years ago.

Anthropologists have found startling evidence of early human life in East Africa. In 1959, Mary and Louis Leakey found pieces of bone embedded in ancient rock at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. After careful testing, they concluded that the bone belonged to early hominids, or human-like primates. In 1974, Donald Johanson found part of a hominid skeleton in Ethiopia. Johanson named his find “Lucy” after a Beatle’s song.

Because of such evidence, many scientists think that the earliest people lived in East Africa. Later, their descendants may have migrated north and east into Europe and Asia. In time, people reached the Americas, Australia, and the islands of the Pacific.

Field Museum of  Chicago
Home of “Lucy



Homo Sapiens


Modern human beings are classified as Homo sapiens. This group evolved higher, more rounded skulls, while the ridged brows and protruding faces of earlier hominids gradually disappeared and a noticeable chin developed. Certain differences, such as skin color and eye shape, continued to distinguish the various groups of Homo sapiens, depending on where they lived in the world, and these differences can still be seen among humans today.

There are two main theories about how Homo sapiens developed: the single origin theory and the multiple origin theory. According to the more widely accepted single origin theory, the humans that spread out to Africa to different parts of Asia and Europe did not maintain contact with each other. Those that remained in Africa evolved into another species, Homo heidelbergensis, which spread throughout Africa and then into Europe around one million years ago. Those that spread into Europe adapted to the cold and severe conditions to form Homo neanderthalensis, or Neanderthals.

The first Homo sapiens appeared in Africa between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago, having evolved from the African Homo heidelbergensis. The new species then spread thoughout Africa, as well as into Asia and Europe, displacing those who lived there. These earlier peoples, including the Neanderthals in Europe and Homo erectus in Asia, eventually became extinct.

According to the multiple origins theory, sufficient contact was maintained between early human subgroups, including Homo erectus, Neanderthals and Homo heidelbergensis, to ensure they remained part of the same species. The differences in appearance between each subgroup were due to their adaptation to local conditions. At some point between 700,000 and 400,000 years ago, these scattered groups evolved into Homo sapiens.



The Neanderthals lived in ice age Europe between 150,000 and 35,000 years ago. With large noses and short, sturdy bodies averaging around 5.2 ft. in height, they were well adapted to the cold climate. They were the most advanced toolmakers of their time, using hammers made from bones, antlers and wood to produce a range of tools for butchering animals, scraping hides and carving wood. Advanced hunters, they also made spears for hunting animals such as horses, reindeer and mammoths. Most lived in caves, but some built circular tents from hides, leaves or bark supported by wooden posts. Interestingly, the Neanderthals were the first people known to bury their dead.

Early Religious Beliefs


About 30,000  years ago, people began to leave evidence of their belief in a spiritual world. To them, the world was full of spirits and forces that might reside in animals, objects, or dreams. Such beliefs are known as animism. In France, Spain, and northern Africa, cave or rock paintings vividly portray animals such as deer, horses, and buffaloes. Some cave paintings show stick-figure people, too. The paintings often lie deep in the caves, far from a band’s living quarters. Cave paintings may have been part of animistist religious rituals in which hunters sought help from the spirit world for success in an upcoming hunt.

Archaeologists have also found small stone statues that probably had religious meaning. Statues of pregnant women, for example, may have been symbols meant to ensure survival of the band. They suggest that early people worshipped  earth-mother goddesses, givers of food and life.

Toward the end of the Old Stone Age, some people began burying their dead with great care. This practice suggests a belief in life after death. They probably believed the afterlife would be similar to life in this world, so they provided the dead with tools, weapons, and other needed goods. Burial customs like these survived in many places into modern times

Content Source:

A Short History of the World , Alex Woolf, Metro Books, New York, 2008.
World History – Connections to Today, Prentice Hall, 2003.
Posted in world geography, World History | Leave a comment

Classical Greece

Classical Greece (500 B.C.E)


The fifth century B.C.E. witnessed a remarkable flowering of culture among the city-states of Greece, particularly Athens. For perhaps the first time in history, a social elite began to think deeply about the world around them, to experiment with new architectural, artistic, and literary forms, and to consider rational explanations of nature without recourse to gods and goddesses. So much of what we take for granted in contemporary Western civilization – democracy, science, medicine, drama, philosophy – has its roots in this belief, yet extraordinary era. So revolutionary were its achievements that historians have come to view it as the start of a new chapter in human history. Thus, in 500 B.C.E., ancient history made way for the classical world.


Ancient Greece was located on a peninsula between the waters of the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. Because the land in Greece was mostly mountainous, there wasn’t much possibility for agricultural development on the scale that marked the ancient river valley civilizations. But Greece did have natural harbors and mild weather, and its coastal position aided trade and cultural diffusion by boat, which is precisely how the Greeks conducted most of their commercial activity. The Greeks could easily sail to Palestine, Egypt, and Carthage, exchanging wine and olive products for grain. Eventually, they replaced the barter system with a money system, and soon Athens became a wealthy city at the center of all this commercial activity.

Greece’s limited geographical area also contributed to its dominance. Land was tight, so Greece was always looking to establish colonies abroad to ease overcrowding and gain raw materials. This meant that the Greeks had to be militarily powerful. It also meant that they had to develop sophisticated methods of communication, transportation, and governance.



Like the other early civilizations, Greece wasn’t a country then in the way that it is now. Instead, it was a collection of city-states, very much like those of early Mesopotamian civilizations in Sumer or Babylon. Each city-state, known as a polis, shared a common culture and identity. Although each polis was part of a broader civilization known as Greece, and shared a common language and many similar traditions, each was independent from, and often in conflict with, the others.

The two main city-states were Athens and Sparta. Athens was the political, commercial, and cultural center of Greek civilization. Sparta was an agricultural and highly militaristic region. Most citizens in Sparta lived a very austere, highly disciplined existence. Men and women received military training, which stressed equality but not individuality.

Each polis was composed of three groups: (1) citizens, composed of adult males, often engaged in business or commerce; (2) free people with no political rights; and (3) noncitizens (slaves, who accounted for nearly one-third of the people in Athens, and who had no rights). Among the citizens, civic decisions were made openly, after engaging in debates. All citizens were expected to participate. This practice led to Athens being regarded as the first democracy. But it’s important to point out that only adult males could participate, so it was not a democracy in the modern sense of the word.

It’s also important to point out that democracy in Athens did not develop immediately. As Athens grew more and more powerful, the government changed from a monarchy to an aristocracy, and finally to a democracy.

Ironically, it was slavery that enabled the Greeks to develop their democracy. It was by slave labor that Greek citizens gained the time to meet and vote, and to create great works of art and philosophy. Slaves, obtained by various means, were the private property of their owners. They worked as laborers, domestic servants, and cultivators. Educated or skilled slaves became craftsmen and business managers. Some owners helped slaves set up small businesses and then kept part of the profits; and in a few cases, slaves who earned and saved enough money could eventually buy their freedom.



The Parthenon is regarded as the supreme achievement of Greek architecture. It was the most important building in Athens, where it still sits on top of the Acropolis. The temple took 15 years to build and was dedicated to Athena, guardian goddess of Athens. Around 22,000 tons of marble, transported from over 15 km away, were used in its construction.


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The omphalos was a carved stone kept at the shrine at Delphi. The ancient Greeks thought that this holy sanctuary was the centre of the world. The omphalos stone was placed there to mark the centre. It was said to have been put there by Zeus, ruler of the gods. It may have also served as an altar on which sacrifices were made.

The Ancient Greek World


The map shows the main ports and cities through which the Greeks traded. The ancient Greek world centred on the Aegean Sea. The Greeks were adventurous seafarers. Trade took them from the Aegean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean and the shores of the Black Sea, where they formed many settlements. These colonies helped Greece to spread its influence beyond the mainland and it offshore islands.



Many possible reasons have been cited for the magnificient achievements of Greek – and especially Athenian – culture in the fifth century B.C.E. Some have argued that the fiercely independent nature of the Greek city-states placed a strong emphasis on individual freedom and encouraged creative thought. Others have speculated that the emergence of democracy, and the political debate it generated, led to an insistence on rational argument and the need for proof in other areas of human activity. Certainly, the widespread use of slaves for manual work allowed a wealthy elite sufficient time to devote themselves to matters of an intellectual and artistic nature.

Whatever the cause, the ancient Greeks were among the world’s first philosophers, scientists and physicians. They were the first to speculate deeply about the underlying nature of the universe, the nature of knowledge and reality, and the meaning of good and    evil. Among the most important Greek philosophers were Socrates and Plato.

Greek scientists believed the universe operated according to laws that they could discover using logic and reasoning. Some of their conclusions anticipated the discoveries of modern science. For example, Aristarchus of Samos claimed that the Earth revolved around the Sun, and Democritus believed all substances consisted of tiny, indivisible atoms.

Greek Mythology


The Greeks were polytheistic. The myths surrounding their gods, like those of Zeus and Aphrodite, are richly detailed and still hold our interest to this day. As you know by now, most early civilizations were polytheistic, but Greek polytheism was unique in one major respect: The Greek gods were believed to possess human failings – they got angry, got drunk, took sides, and had petty agruments.

Greek mythology remains part of western heritage and language. Every time we refer to a task as “Herculean,” or read our horoscopes, we’re tipping our hats to the ancient Greeks.

The Gods of Olympus


The Greeks worshiped dozens of gods, the most important of whom were the 12 who were believed to live on Mount Olympus in northeast Greece. The king and queen of the gods were the stern sky-god Zeus and his consort Hera, the goddess of women and marriage. The other gods of the Olympian pantheon included Aphrodite, the goddess of love; Hermes, the messenger of the gods who guided souls to the underworld; Athena, the goddess of wisdom, the corn goddess Demeter; Poseidon, the sea god; Apollo,the Sun god; Artmeis, the Moon goddess; Ares, the war god; Hephaestus, the god of fire, volcanoes, and blacksmiths; and Hestia, the goddess of the hearth. Also of universal importance were the wine-god Dionysos and Hades, the ruler of the underworld. There were wide variations in cultric practices in Greece and every city had a special relationship with its own particular patron deity, for example Athens with Athena, and Corinth with Poseidon. The gods behaved like powerful humans, with human virtues and vices. They interacted directly with humans and even had children by them. Greek religion had no systematic theology and no consistent moral teaching: the Greeks understood that the source of law was human, not divine.

The Greeks believed in an afterlife for the soul in the underworld. The underworld was originally conceived of as a uniformly gloomy and cheerless place. Later, it came to be believed that the souls of mortals were judged after death, the good going to blissful Elysium and the wicked to suffer in hellish Tartarus. Those who had done neither great good or great evil went to the Asphodel Meadows, a rather bland place where souls mechanically performed a ghostly version of their everyday lives on Earth. Specifically favored humans, like the hero Hercules, could be rewarded by the gods with deification.


The Olympian Games

Olympia, in the western Peloponnese, was a sanctuary dedicated to Zeus and named for the home of the gods on Mount Olympos. The athletic festival which made Olympia famous was first recorded in 776 B.C.E., but it probably originated during the dark ages. The festival was held once every four years until it was abolished by the Christian Roman emperor Theodosius in C.E. 393 because of its pagan associations. Olympia became wealthy from the offerings of visitors. The gold and ivory statue of Zeus, by the Athenian sculptor Phidias, which stood in the temple of Zeus, was considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World.The earliest games consisted simply of a 180- meter foot race, but by 632 B.C.E. they had expanded to include foot races of different distances, horse racing, chariot racing, wrestling, boxing and the pentathion. Later, separate events for boys were introduced. Two days before the start of the event, the athletes who had gathered to compete joined a procession to the sanctuary from the nearby city of Elis. The festival lasted for five days, attracting thousands of spectators from all over Greece. This stadium could seat 40,000 people. The festival was an exclusively male event; women were not even permitted to watch. At the end of the festival, the victors went in procession to the temple of Zeus to receive their olive wreaths. Though these were the only prizes given, successful athletes could expect to be treated as heroes by their home cities. The festival closed with the sacrifice of 100 oxen to Zeus and feasting


Persian Wars

It is perhaps astonishing that the achievements of Classical Greece took place against a backdrop of almost constant warfare. Provoked by Athenian assistance to the rebellious Greek cities in Persian dominated Ionia, Persia attacked Greece in 490. When Athens defeated the Persians at Marathon, their emperor decided to mount a full-scale invasion, which took place ten years later. The Persian force was said to have been the largest assembled in ancient times – 200,000 soldiers, supported by around 1,000 ships. 

The northern Greek states thought it wisest to remain neutral, leaving the southern states, led by Athens and Sparta, to confront the invaders. The Spartans tried to block the Persian advance, but were defeated after a heroic stand at Thermopylae. This gave the Athenians time to evacuate their population, leaving the Persians to occupy their empty city. The Persian fleet was ambushed and destroyed by the Athenians at Salamis. Half the Persian army then retreated, while the other half was crushed by the Spartans at Plataea in 479.With the threat to their homeland now lifted, the Athenians took the fight to the Persians, reopening the Bosphorus to Greek shipping in 475 and liberating the Ionian Greeks in 468. There were further outbreaks of fighting in the following years until a formal peace was negotiated with the Persians in 448. With Persia held back, Greece was free to enter into an era of peace and prosperity, which is often called the Golden Age of Pericles.

Spartan Militarism

PictureSpartan society was totally geared for breeding good soldiers. At the age of seven, boys were taken from their families to begin the agoge, an austere, state-organized upbringing aimed towards military training and excellence. Education centered around gymnastics and training for war and involved developing loyalty to the group, increasing an individual’s pain tolerance, hunting and stealth, as well as dancing and singing. The ultimate aim of the agoge was to mold the individual Spartan into the most efficient and terrifying fighting machine.  Bullying was officially condoned and comforts were few, even shoes were forbidden. Meals were deliberately inadequate to encourage boys to use their initiative to find extra rations or even steal them from their fellow students. The boys were also encouraged to fight among themselves to find out who was the dominant leader within the group. Boys who dropped out of the agoge, the ‘tremblers’, lived with the shame for the rest of their loves and could never become a full citizen. In the final stage of the agoge, the krypteia (concealment), the boy hid out in the countryside to prove his manhood by hunting down and murdering a helot (slave). At the age of 20, those who completed the agoge became full citizens and joined a dining-mess and military unit called a syssitia. Though now allowed to marry, they were expected to live inthe syssitiauntil the age of 30, when they were finally able to set up their own households. Even then, however, men were expected to eat daily in the syssitia. The common upbringing created a tough, cohesive, disciplined, conformist society, in which a man’s birth counted for little. Spartans were proud to describe themselves as homoioi, ‘the men who are equal’.

The Arts

PictureThe Greeks invented many new artistic and literary forms, which remain influential to this day. Whatever medium their artists worked in, they strove for an ideal of beauty based on harmonious proportions. Their architects built magnificent temples, such as the Parthenon in Athens, with tall columns arranged around a rectangular inner chamber. Their sculptors, such as Phidias, produced astonishingly lifelike figures of gods, goddesses and heroes. Their vase paintings depicted vivid portrayals of their myths and legends. Writers such as Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles and Aristophanes introduced new literary forms: the tragic and comedy drama. So universal were their themes that their plays are still enjoyed today.

Greek Theater

PictureAthen’s greatest contribution to Greek, and western civilization was the invention of drama. Drama developed for choral songs about the life and death of Dionysos. In the sixth century B.C.E., the poet Thespis (from whose name the word ‘thespian’ is derived) introduced a new type of performance where he impersonated a single character and engaged in dialogue with a chorus of singers and dancers. Competitors in the Dionysian drama festival, founded in 534 B.C.E., were originally required to produce four plays: a trilogy of tragic plays followed by a burlesque satyr play (satyrs were mythological creatures, half man, half goat, who featured in the cult of Dionysos). In the fifth century B.C.E. the satyr plays developed into a separate genre, comedy. Only one complete trilogy of tragic plays has survived, the Oresteia by Aeschylus (525-456 B.C.E.) Aeschylus introduced a second character, allowing greater development of conflicts of character. The number of characters gradually increased and the chorus became less important. Staging became more elaborate after the first theaters were built in the fifth century B.C.E. A side-effect of this was the development of perspective painting, first used by Athenian stage painters to create optical illusions.

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Delian League

To pay for the war against Persia, Athens formed the Delian League in 479, consisting of Greek cities bordering the Aegean Sea. Each member state contributed to a common fund on the island of Delos. As it wealthiest and most powerful member, Athens dominated the league and often used it navy to forcibly collect contributions from other members. It also insisted that other member states follow the Athenian system of coinage, weights and measures. As the threat from Persia receded, members bgfan to resent making payments to the league, particularly when, in 454, the treasury was moved from Delos to Athens and funds were diverted into building schemes for the city, including the Parthenon. However, few dared openly to confront Athens and the league became, in effect, an Athenian Empire.Athens may have had the strongest navy in Greece, but the strongest army belonged to Sparta, a city in the Pelponnese. After Athens tried to extend its power to the Peloponnese in 457, war broke out between the two cities. Sparta provoked anti-Athenian rebellions in the Delian League, which Athens forcefully quelled. However, Athens could not sustain its position on the Peloponnese and eventually accepted Spartan dominance there in 445.

Golden Age of Pericles


Under the leadership of Pericles, Athens became a cultural powerhouse. It was under Pericles that democracy for all adult males was firmly established. It was under Pericles, too, that Athens was rebuilt after its destruction by the Persians (the Parthenon was built during this reconstruction). And it was under Pericles that Athens established the Delian League with the other city-states, an alliance against aggression from its common enemies. Under Pericles, philosophy and the arts flourished, and continued to do so for the next two centuries.

During the Golden Age, Greek drama was dominated by the comedies and tragedies of Aeschylus and Euripides; the sculptures of Phidias adorned the streets; and Greek architecture earned its place in history with distinctive Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns. Math and Science thrived under the capable instruction of Archimedes, Hippocrates, Euclid, and Pythagoras.
Make no mistake, during the Golden Age, the arts and sciences became firmly cemented into the western consciousness. The accomplishments of this period served as the inspiration for the European Renaissance and the Enlightenment nearly two millenia later.

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Peloponnesian War

Although Athens dominated the Delian League with its powerful navy, other Greek city-states in the Aegean allied themselves with Sparta’s great army to form the Peloponnesian League. Athens and Sparta as leaders of their respective alliances, became increasingly fearful and envious of each other’s power. After years of increasing tensions, a trade dispute involving the city of Corinth pushed Athens and Sparta into the Peloponnesian War in 431 B.C.E. Athens attempted a defensive strategy, hiding behind its great walls while allowing the Spartan army to ravage its farmlands. This worked well for the Athenians for a time until two tragedies occurred. First, a great plague afflicted the city, killing vast numbers of the population including Pericles. Then, Athen’s navy suffered a devastating defeat at Syracuse on the island of Sicily. Athens was never the same again.

Sparta, though, didn’t destroy Athens, out of respect for the defeated city’s former role in the Persian War. But Sparta failed to dominate the region for long, because in spite of its victory, it also was so weakened by the war that it became vulnerable to outside aggression. The Macedonians, under the rule of Philip of Macedon, who reigned from 359 to 336 B.C.E., invaded Athens from the north and conquered the entire region. Fortunately, Philip respected Greek culture and, rather than destroy it, encouraged it to flourish.



The first important Athenian-born philosopher was Socrates (469-399 B.C.E.). Pre-Socratic Greek philosphers were mainly interested in metaphysical questions about the nature of the universe. Socrates was interested in ethics. Socrates believed that there were objective concepts, such as ‘the good’, ‘bravery’ or ‘justice’, and that these could be understood by reason. Socrates made many enemies by his ability to make those arguing with him contradict themselves through the use of rational cross-questioning. He made one of the scapegoats for Athens’ defeat in the Peloponnesian War and sentenced to death for impiety and corrupting the youth of Athens.



Socrate’s ideas were developed by his pupil Plato (429-347 B.C.E.), also an Athenian, who sought to establish an absolute basis for knowledge with his doctrine of ‘Forms’ in which concepts such as ‘beauty’ had a real existence as eternal entities. Plato presented his thought in an accessible way using a series of dramatic dialogues in which the discourse was placed in the mouths of characters, chief among whom was his hero Socrates. In his most famous work, the Republic, Plato set out his vision of the ideal state ruled by an intellectual elite of ‘philosopher kings’ governing in accordance with the principles of reason. In 388 B.C.E., Plato founded his own school, the Academy, which ensured that Athens continued to be a major center for the study of philosophy well into the Christian era.



Plato’s ideas were challenged by his pupil Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.). Aristotle was born in Stageria in northern Greece. He came to Athens aged 18 to study at the Academy and stayed on to teach. In 343 B.C.E., he went to Macedon as tutor to the young Alexander the Great. On his return to Athens in 355 B.C.E., he founded the Lyceum, which taught a wider curriculum than the Academy. Aristotle believed that observation and experience of the physical world were essential to rational enquiry. As well as exploring ethical issues, Aristotle wrote extensively on the sciences of astronomy, biology, chemistry, physics, and zoology. Aristotle’s greatest achievement was his system of logic, which has still not been superseded. It is important not to be too dazzled by the achievements of the ancient Greek philosophers. Their influence at the time was confined to a small intellectual elite and their beliefs were ridiculed by comic playwrights such as Aristophanes, who coined the expression ‘cloud cuckoo land’ as a metaphor for impractical Utopianism.

Alexander the Great


The Macedonians didn’t stop with Greece. Philip’s son, Alexander the Great, who was taught by Aristotle, widely expanded Macedonian dominance. Under Alexander, they conquered the mighty Persian Empire and then move eastward to the shores of the Indus River, in what today is India, eventually creating the largest empire of the time. To manage his massive realm, Alexander divided it into three empires: Antigonid (Greece and Macedon), Ptolemaic (Egypt), and Seleucid (Bactria and Anatolia).

Along with its size, the Macedonian Empire is notable for the fact that it adopted Greek customs and then spread them to much of the known world. Consequently, much of the world became connected under a uniform law and common trade practices. Therefore, Hellenism – the culture, ideals, and pattern of life of Classical Greece – didn’t perish as a result of the victories over Athens and Sparta; instead, it came to be influential far beyond its original borders.

In the immediate aftermath of the expansion of Hellenism, the economies of Athens and Corinth revived through trade. Of the three Hellenistic empires, the Ptolemaic Empire became the wealthiest. Alexandria, its capital, was built at the mouth of the Nile. Wisely, the Ptolemaic rulers did not interfere in Egyptian society, and, eventually, Ptolemaic Egypt also became a cultural center, home of the Alexandria Museum and Alexandria Library, the latter which contained the most scrolls of any location in the empire, perhaps the whole world.

When Alexander the Great died, at 33, his empire started to crumble. With the Macedonians focused on the East and on Egypt, the door was open in the West for a new power to rise to the world stage. That power was the Romans.

Content Sources:

A Short History of the World , Alex Woolf, Metro Books, New York, 2008.
The Ancient World, John Haywood, Quercus Books, Massachusetts, 2010.
The Princeton Review: Cracking the AP World History Exam, 2006-2007 Edition, Random House, New York, 2007.
The Encyclopedia of Ancient History, Hurdman, MacDonald, Steele, Tames, Armadillo Books, Pennsylvania, 2011
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Sumer- The First Civilization

4300 – 2334 B.C.E

Sumer – The World’s First Civilization

The world’s first civilization arose in Sumer, which is the ancient name for southern Mesopotamia, during the Uruk period. In these fertile, low-lying marshes, the land had to be drained and irrigated before it could be farmed, and flood barriers had to be built. All this required cooperation between different villages. As the population rose and pressure for reclaimed land grew, it must have made sense for these villages to unite to form towns, usually on the site of the shrine of the local god. These towns then grew to form cities.


4525125_orig 4361715_orig


The first cities were built in about 3500. They were, in fact, city-states – independent states consisting of a city and the surrounding territory. There were around twelve of these city-states, the largest being Uruk, with a population of around 10,000. Uruk was the dominant city until around 3000. Other cities, such as Kish, Ur, Eridu, Lagash, and Nippur had populations of between 2,000 and 8,000. Each city worshipped its own deity and had at its center a large temple complex administered by priests. Gradually, the gods of each city became organized into a hierarchy, which changed as the power of the cities waxed and waned.


Invention of Bronze

If writing was a cultural revolution, the invention 3900 B.C.E. of bronze, an alloy of copper and tin or arsenic, was a technological revolution. Ornaments and small tools, such as needles, were made by hammering native copper and gold as early as 7000 B.C.E. by smelting it in adapted pottery kilns, in which hand- or foot-operated bellows were used to raise the temperature sufficiently to melt copper, and cast it in simple stone moulds. Copper was too soft for it to replace stone tools in everyday use, however, and it was only with the invention of bronze that the Stone Age truly came to an end. Bronze is much harder than pure copper and keeps an edge better. Though more costly, tools and weapons made of bronze are less likely to break than those made out of stone, are more easily re-sharpened, and, when worn out, can be melted down and recast.

A relative advance in metallurgy was the invention 3600 B.C.E. of the cire perdue, or ‘lost wax’, method of casting, which allowed complex three-dimensional shapes to be cast in metals such as bronze, gold, silver and lead. First a model of the object was made in wax. This was then covered in clay, which was heated to a temperature hign enough to melt the wax so that it ran out of the mould. Molten metal was then poured into the mould, which was broken open to reveal the completed object. The most common objects cast were farm and carpentry tools and weapons. These important developments probably originated in hte metal ore mining areas bordering Mesopotamia, perhaps Anatolia or Iran, but their use was very quickly adopted by the Mesopotamians.


Rise of Armies

With the rise of kingdoms and empires came the first formally organized armies. Most of the evidence for the nature of Sumerian armies comes from battle scenes in art and from weapons buried in high status graves, such as that of Meskalamdug, who ruled Ur 2600 B.C.E. Meskalamdug’s gold helmet and ornate gold dagger demonstrate that martial display was very important to Sumerian kings. In art, Sumerian war leaders are shown riding over their enemies in four-wheeled war wagons drawn by mules. Most Sumerian soldiers were infantrymen armed with bronze-tipped spears, daggers and axes. For protection, they wore a bronze or leather helmet, a metal-studded leather cloak and carried body-length rectangular shield. In battle, the soldiers formed a wall of overlapping shields which bristled with spears. On other occasions soldiers may have dispensed with their shields so that they could use a weapon in each hand. Representations of the bow are rare, but documentary evidence refers to the production of bronze arrow heads in very large quantities, demonstrating the importance of archery. The production and distribution of weapons was controlled by palace officials. Swords, metal armor and horse-drawn chariots were not used in warfare until the middle of the second millennium B.C.E



Religion was more dominant in Sumerian society than elsewhere in the ancient world, perhaps because few others felt more at the mercy of the gods. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers were subject to devastating floods and unpredictable changes of course. It was a land of high winds, dust storms, plagues and merciless droughts. It is understandable therefore that they turned to higher powers to impose some order and certainty on their lives. The first kings of these cities were, not surprisingly, priests.
Sumerians were polytheistic, meaning that they worshipped more than one god. The interesting thing about Sumerian polytheism was that each city-state had its own god that was worshipped only by its people. In addition, there were a bunch of gods that all the city-states. They believed that when disaster struck, it was because the gods were angry.




Sumerians built temples, called ziggurats, which were kind of like pyramids, to appease their gods.



PictureThe city temples doubled as distribution centers where surplus food and craft products were collected and then distributed to the townspeople or used for trade. Trade links were established with other parts of the Middle East, helping to spread Sumerian culture. The Sumerians also traded with places as far afield as Afghanistan and India. The problem of keeping track of the many transactions prompted the invention of writing.



The Sumerians developed a form of writing known as cuneiform. Scribes used this form of writing to set down laws, treaties, and important social and religious customs; soon the use of cuneiform spread over the trade routes to many other parts of the region.



Trade was also enhanced by the introduction of the wheel, a major development that greatly reduced the time it took to transport both goods and people between two points.



Sumarians also developed a twelve-month calendar and a math system based on sixty (as in sixty seconds and three-hundred-sixty degrees). They used geometry, as well, to survey the land and to develop architectural enhancements such as arches and columns.

Early Dynasty Period

Between 3000 and 2334, known as the Early Dynasty Period. Sumerian history entered a new and turbulent phase. As the population of the city-states grew, they came into conflict with each other over territory, and wars broke out. The cities defended themselves with large walls are armed themselves with bronze weapons. the art of this period depicts rulers trampling their enemies. The scribes, whose original purpose was to record commercial transactions, turned their skill to poetry, glorifying the epic deeds of conquering kings. The first slaves were recorded at this time, most likely prisoners of war. 

Kings became more secular in character as their authority came to depend on their armies as much as their priests. They established the first law codes and built opulent palaces next to the temple complexes. On their deaths they were given elaborate burials, accompanied by luxurious objects and even their sacrificed servants.


Epic of Gilgamesh


Gilgamesh is a legendary hero of Mesopotamian literature. His adventures were recorded by an Assyrian king in the seventh century B.C.E., but his origins go back much earlier than that. It is possible that the character of Gilgamesh was based on a king who ruled the Uruk between 3000 and 2500. The epic tells of a king of Uruk, part-god part-human, who is consumed with a desire for adventure and goes in search of eternal life. The epic may preserve something of early Mesopotamian history in the character of the wild man Enkidu, who is tamed by the gods and then helps a group of herdsmen. He is later brought to a farming city where he first fights, then became friends with, Gilgamesh. Enkidu’s progress could be seen to represent the gradual evolution of the Mesopotamians from wild hunter-gatherers to civilized city-dwellers.

Picture Picture

Content Sources:

A Short History of the World , Alex Woolf, Metro Books, New York, 2008.
The Ancient World, John Haywood, Quercus Books, Massachusetts, 2010.
The Princeton Review: Cracking the AP World History Exam, 2006-2007 Edition, Random House, New York, 2007.
The Encyclopedia of Ancient History, Hurdman, MacDonald, Steele, Tames, Armadillo Books, Pennsylvania, 2011
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Fertile Crescent

Because of its rich resources of wild foods, the Fertile Crescent supported a relatively dense population of semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers during the last Ice Age. As the Ice Age came to an end approximately 10,000 years ago, the climate of the Near East became drier, reducing the availability of wild foods. The hunter-gatherers living in the region responded to these changes by deliberately planting the seeds of their favorite food plants close to their campsites to improve the security of their food supply. they also began to control and manage herds of wild cattle, sheep and goats, achieving this by penning them up and selectively slaughtering young male animals while releasing females of breeding age. In herd animals, only dominant males get to mate, so large numbers of young males can be taken without depleting the breeding stock. From these simple beginnings there followed a long process of selective breeding to produce fully domesticated crops and farm animals best suited to supplying grain, meat, milk and skins for clothing and shelter. The need for vessels to store and prepare food spurred the development of pottery technology.



In the Fertile Crescent, the transition from hunting and gathering to complete reliance on agriculture and settlement in permanent villages took around 2,000 years and, once complete, there could be no going back. With hunter-gatherers, population is limited by the natural productivity of the environment. If the population rises to an unsustainable level, starvation soon restores the natural balance. Hunter-gatherers who survived into the modern age often took extreme measures to limit population growth, for example, by killing or abandoning unwanted babies. Farming broke this link, though perhaps not permanently. Even simple subsistence farming can support a much denser population than hunting and gathering. The human population began to rise, and, as it did so, it inevitably became more reliant on farming for its food supply. However, more mouths also meant more hands, enabling more land to be brought into cultivation and worked more intensively, so increasing the food supply even more. More people also meant more brainpower and the pace of cultural and technological change began to increase too.



Except for brief pauses resulting from plagues and famines, the global population has risen inexorably ever since the introduction of agriculture, aided by ever more efficient farming methods and technology.

As the population in the Fertile Crescent grew, settlers moved out of established villages to create new villages on virgin land. As the ever-growing numbers of farmers encroached on thier hunting grounds, the remaining hunter-gatherers in the region were forced to take up farming too in order to survive. By around 6000 B.C.E., the farming way of life had become widespread in the Near East, but only in areas with sufficient rainfall for dry farming. Around 5900 B.C.E. , farmers in the foothills of the Zagros mountains began to dig canals to carry water from rivers to their fields to irrigate them during the dry season. This was the key development that allowed farmers to settle in Sumer and unlock the tremendous fertility of its alluvial soils.


Content Source:
The Ancient World, John Haywood, Quercus Books, Massachusetts, 2010

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San Antonio Spurs Tribute – The Beautiful Game

I attended my first ABA San Antonio Spurs in 1973.  Alamo City fans waited along time before our first unimaginable NBA Championship. I never thought that the Spurs would be considered one of the true dynasties of professional sports (5 championships, 19 consecutive playoff appearances). San Antonio is a small city with a big heart – plus the Spurs.  Thank you George Gervin, David Robinson, and Tim Duncan. No question, the 2014 NBA Champions San Antonio Spurs were in a class to themselves, celebrated for playing unselfish basketball – team basketball.

I hope you enjoy the Spurs tribute videos as much as I did. They did a great job!

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Gettysburg Address – “Saving Lincoln” movie clip

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