The main characteristics of the Ancient Age were the following:
- Development of the first writing systems: the Mediterranean peoples created different writing systems. The Mesopotamians used the cuneiform script, while the ancient Egyptians invented the hieroglyphic script and the Phoenicians devised a 22-letter consonantal alphabet. The Phoenician alphabet was adopted by the Greeks, who added vowels to it. The supports for writing were also different. Mesopotamian peoples wrote on clay tablets; the Egyptians and Greeks used papyrus, and the Hellenistic kingdoms created parchment. The Romans used both papyrus and parchment.
- Preponderance of polytheistic religions: most of the ancient peoples believed in the existence of many gods that were associated, in general, with natural phenomena. The exception to this generalized polytheism were the Persians and the Hebrews. The religion of the Hebrews, Judaism , is the first monotheistic religion in history. The Persians were also monotheists, because of their exclusive worship of Ahura Mazda; but his religion, Zoroastrianism, had a dualistic aspect in affirming the constant struggle between good and evil.
- Written drafting of the first laws: to ensure a harmonious coexistence between people, during the Ancient Age the first laws were drafted. These typified crimes and applied penalties to offenders. The first known compilation of laws dates from 1750 BC. C. and was ordered by Hammurabi, king of the Mesopotamian city of Babylon.
- Coexistence between different forms of State: in the ancient world there was no predominant form of State. Sumerians, Phoenicians, and Greeks organized into independent city-states. Hebrews, Lydians, and Hurrians formed unified kingdoms. Egyptians , Akkadians, Hittites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Macedonians, and Romans built empires that encompassed a large number of peoples. The most extensive empire of antiquity was the Roman Empire, which in its heyday, around the 1st century AD. C., unified the entire Mediterranean world.
- Predominance of the monarchy as a form of government: during the Ancient Ages almost all states had absolute monarchies , in which kings concentrated all state powers in their hands. Some were elective (the nobles chose the king) but most were hereditary, since when a king died he was succeeded by one of his sons or some other relative. As well as being absolute and hereditary, the Egyptian monarchy was theocratic, as the pharaohs claimed to be living gods.
- Preponderance of war as a form of conflict resolution: invasions and attacks on towns, fields and caravans were constant in the ancient world. The war, followed by the taking of spoils and the imposition of tributes to the conquered peoples, became the main source of resources for most of the empires of this time. Peace accords were rare. The first known peace treaty, that of Qadesh, was signed between Hittites and Egyptians around 1250 BC. C.
- Importance of agriculture as a source of food: during Antiquity, most of the population lived in the countryside and worked the land. The main crops were wheat, barley, lentils, and chickpeas. Their surpluses were traded through the barter or exchange of products. Monetized commerce only began to develop in the 7th century BC. C., when the Lydians invented the world’s first currency, an alloy of gold and silver.
- Hierarchy of societies: in the Ancient Age, the population was grouped into groups that had different rights and obligations. In most societies, the social pyramid included the following sectors: royalty, nobles, priests, merchants, artisans, peasants, and slaves.
- Extension of slavery as the main labor force: slaves were people who were not free and belonged to a master whom they had to obey. This type of service existed in all ancient civilizations, but slavery became the predominant labor force in Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire.
Main civilizations of the Ancient Age
During the Ancient Ages, a large number of civilizations developed, among which the following stand out:
- Ancient Egypt: established on the banks of the River Nile, in northeast Africa. The first dynasty created a unified kingdom by uniting Upper and Lower Egypt, around 3150 BC. The main creations of the Egyptian civilization were the hieroglyphic writing, the construction of pyramids and the mummification of the corpses of the pharaohs.
- Asian Mesopotamia: located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, in the so-called Crescent of the fertile lands. From 3500 a. Sumerians, Acadians, Amorites, Assyrians, Casitas and Babylonians settled there. His main cultural creations were cuneiform writing, legislation and the sexagesimal system.
- Hellas or Ancient Greece: located at the southern tip of the Balkan Peninsula, it was the cradle of philosophy, history, comedy, tragedy, politics and the Olympic Games. In one of its city-states, the Athens of the 5th century BC. C., direct democracy was created as a form of government.
- Rome: emerged in the center of present-day Italy around the middle of the 8th century BC. C., the Roman civilization came to dominate all the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea. In those vast territories, the Romans spread their language (Latin), their laws and their way of building cities.
Pyramids of Giza, built in Ancient Egypt during the Old Kingdom.
Main events of the Ancient Age
Among the main events of the Old Age are the following:
- First Indo-European invasion: between 1800 and 1600 BC. C., a wave of Indo-European peoples, coming from the Eurasian steppes, invaded the Balkan peninsula and Asia Minor. Among these peoples were Ionians, Aeolians, Achaeans, and Hittites.
- Trojan War : between 1260 and 1250 BC. C. Trojans and Achaean Greeks fought for the dominance of trade between the Aegean and the shores of the Black Sea. The Achaeans seized and burned Troy and enslaved the survivors.
- Second Indo-European invasion: around 1200 BC. C., a second wave of Indo-European peoples spread through southern Europe, Asia Minor and the Iranian plateau. Among those peoples were Latin, Dorians, Medes, and Persians.
- Medical wars : between 490 and 449 BC. C. the Persian Empire and the Greek polis fought for the dominion of the Aegean basin. The Greeks defeated the Persians and stopped their expansion westward.
- Expedition of Alexander the Great to the East: between 334 and 326 BC. C., a Greek-Macedonian army of 40 thousand men, commanded by its king Alexander the Great, marched east, conquered the Persian Empire and reached the Indus river valley. Alexander created a new empire, which when dissolved gave rise to the Hellenistic kingdoms.
- Punic Wars : between 264 and 146 BC. Romans and Carthaginians fought for the dominion of the Western Mediterranean. After three wars, the Romans destroyed Carthage and took over Sicily, Sardinia, the Iberian Peninsula, and North Africa.
- Irruption of Christianity: in the time of the Roman emperor Tiberius (14 to 37 AD), a Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, preached a new monotheistic religion, which after his crucifixion began to be called Christianity. Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in AD 395. C.
- Germanic invasions: from the 3rd century AD. C., various peoples of Germanic origin (Suevi, Franks, Goths, etc.) crossed the borders of the Roman Empire. Although they carried out very violent invasions, the Germans also settled peacefully, as allies of the Romans. In 476 a. C. the king of a Germanic town, the Herulos, dethroned Rómulo Augústulo, last Roman emperor of the West. This fact marks the end of the Old Age and the beginning of the Middle Ages.
Extra Mediterranean civilizations
At the same time in which the Ancient Ages passed in the Mediterranean world, different urban civilizations were developing in other parts of the planet, created with hierarchical societies and based on the practice of agriculture. Among them the following can be mentioned:
- Olmec civilization : flourished on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, between 1500 and 500 BC. The Olmecs built ceremonial centers and developed a writing system.
- Chavín civilization : developed between 1200 and 200 BC. C. in the central Andes. The Chavín were polytheists and centered their economy on the cultivation of corn and potatoes.
- Indus Valley Culture: Between 3300 and 1200 BC its inhabitants built cities, developed commerce, and invented a writing system.
- Chinese civilization: from 3000 a. The ancient Chinese, who lived in the Yellow River basin, developed a civilization that invented paper, the compass, silk, gunpowder, and a writing system based on ideograms.