Ancient history

Article

May 25, 2022

Ancient history (or antiquity, ancient age, or ancient age) is one of the four historical ages (ancient, medieval, modern and contemporary). From antiquity it is customary to distinguish a "pre-classical" history (preceding the appearance of Greek-Roman sources) and a classical one (ancient Greece and Rome). The term "Ancient History" also indicates the discipline that studies this period (lasting approximately 4000 years).

General Features

Geographical and chronological limits

From a geographical point of view, ancient history is first and foremost the history of the Mediterranean and the surrounding territories. The ideal unity of this area has not so much to do with the "national" characteristics of the peoples who inhabited those areas, as with the richness of cultural exchanges, with respect to which the Mediterranean represented a sort of "mediating function". But the central axis of this immense human upheaval has moved over time and reached the Mediterranean from the east, from the so-called Near East, and the ancient Near East represents the beginnings of ancient history in many respects (for a long time it was understood as unique "cradle of civilization"), so much so that, as a whole, the borders of the geographical area in question can be indicated in the Indus river and in the Pillars of Hercules. The cradles of civilization are today considered all five areas, in the various continents, where the urban revolution and the invention of writing first developed: Mesopotamia, Egypt, Mesoamerica, Indus Valley, Yellow River Valley. As for chronological terms, a "pre-classical" history can be distinguished, whose initial limit can be associated with the appearance of written sources in addition to archaeological ones, while a terminus ad quem can correspond to the appearance of Greco-Roman sources . Another decisive caesura is the constitution of the Persian empire (about 500 BC), which coincides with the definitive inclusion of the near-eastern populations in a supra-regional historical articulation. This has to do with what has been said with respect to the geographical axis: a first fundamental hint of the relationship between East and West (with the latter's entry into history illuminated by written sources) is represented by the appearance of the so-called Peoples of the Sea (1200 BC): the crisis of the XII century BC involves a very far-reaching reorganization in the Near East and the same traditional nineteenth-century scan identified in this situation the separation between the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. Traditionally, historiography has identified the end of prehistory in the invention of writing (logographic in the second half of the IV millennium BC, syllabic in the first half of the III). This beginning, however, should not be seen as isolated, but in close association with other decisive factors: the birth of cities, specialized work, socio-economic stratification, constitution of the state, all elements that represent the culminating elements of what Gordon Childe called "revolution. urban ", a process that can be considered consolidated around 3500 BC. Lower Mesopotamia should be thought of as an "early" hotbed of urbanization and there are other important nuclei: Egypt, Iran, Central Asia, the Indus valley, the Aegean, southern Arabia, but also the China, Mexico and Peru, the latter of which, however, obviously have a character of total separateness with respect to the Mediterranean and near-eastern center of gravity. of the State: the agricultural revolution, with the increase in the production of commodities that it entailed, is the prerequisite for the creation of a food surplus which, managed by a "central redistributive pole", makes it possible to keep specialized workers. The logical (but not chronological) priority, in a maximum simplification, must be attributed to the pole