HIST 101 Lecture Outline (Spring 2023 – Week 2)

HIST 101

Week 2: Tuesday

Babylonia and Egypt


Cuneiform: Irving Finkel and Jonathan Taylor (British Museum, 2014, 2:27 min.):

Deciphering the rules of the royal game of Ur: Irving Finkel (British Museum, 2015, 7:02 min.):



Cultures, pp. 20-44 (Sumer to Old Babylon; Egypt)


c. 2000 – 1600 BCE     Old Babylonian Period

1792-1750     Reign of Hammurabi of Babylon, who deceived neighboring Amorite kingdoms into fighting one another, and then conquered them himself. A basalt stele engraved with Hammurabi’s law code shows the king before the god Marduk. The text says that the two highest gods, Anu and Enlil, made Marduk the god of all mankind, and  appointed Hammurabi to rule the people and to maintain justice. Hammurabi required all subjects of his empire to accept Marduk as their supreme deity, and pioneered the concept of justifying wars of conquest as a religious duty.

1595     Babylon destroyed by the Hittites (from Anatolia)

c. 3500 BCE     Beginning of agriculture along the Nile in Egypt

The Nile flooded annually in August-September, depositing rich silt on both banks. The ancient Egyptians called their country Kemet (“the black land”), and they called the surrounding desert Deshret  (“the red land”). The marshy Nile delta was “Lower Egypt,” and the land bordering the 600-mile-long stretch of river to the south, upstream of the delta, was “Upper Egypt.” Egypt was rich in building stone and metals, but had to import timber.

Crops were planted in October, following the annual flood, and harvested the following spring and summer. Food crops included grains (such as wheat and barley, used for brewing as well as bread), vegetables (including beans, lentils, onions, garlic, radishes, cabbage, and lettuce), and fruits (including melons, plums, figs, and dates). Industrial crops included flax (for making rope and linen) and papyrus (for making boats, baskets, sandals, mats, and paper). Domesticated farm animals included donkeys, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, and ducks, and fish were raised in fishponds. There were no horses and no wheeled vehicles until the New Kingdom.

The defining characteristic and cultural focus of Egyptian life was stability (ma’at) – in nature, in relations with the gods, in royal governance. Breakdowns in royal governance (from internal rebellion or external conquest) led to dynastic disruptions (“Intermediate Periods“).

Kings (known beginning in the New Kingdom as pharaohs) were worshiped as living gods descended from the god Horus, ruler of the world. Horus was the son of the gods Isis and her brother Osiris, who was murdered by their brother Seth, and became the ruler of the dead in the afterworld. The dead were examined and judged by Osiris and other judges. Only those who passed entered Osiris’s realm in the afterworld; those who failed spent eternity wandering in a dim wasteland. Until the Middle Kingdom, the eternal kingdom was only open to royals.

c. 3150 – 2686 BCE     Archaic Period (Dynasties 1-2)

Upper and Lower Egypt unified under a single king, Narmer. Thereafter, kings wore a double crown: the White Crown of Upper Egypt and the Red Crown of Lower Egypt. The capital is Memphis in Lower Egypt, near the border with Upper Egypt (just S. of  modern Cairo).

Beginning of writing (hieroglyphics)

c. 2686 – 2134 BCE    Old Kingdom (Dynasties 3-6)

Pharaohs built monumental stone pyramids near Memphis at Saqqara and Giza.

c. 2134 – 2035 BCE    First Intermediate Period (Dynasties 7-10)

Royal financial failure leads to usurpation of royal power by provincial governors (nomarchs), and end of Old Kingdom

c. 2035-1640 BCE    Middle Kingdom (Dynasties 11-12)

Mentuhotep subdues the lawless nomarchs and restores central control from a new capital, Thebes, in Upper Egypt. Invasion of Nubia (in S.) secures stone quarries and gold mines, possibly leading to recruitment of foreigners (hyksos) to work in them.

Eternal life in the afterworld is extended to the wealthy (nomarchs, other nobles, and commoners). Evidence: appearance of the Pyramid Texts and Book of the Dead in non-royal tombs.

c. 1640-1570    Second Intermediate Period (Dynasties 13-17)

Revolt of the hyksos (possibly Amorites from Palestine), using cavalry with bronze-tipped lances, and archers with bows (horses and bows were previously unknown to the Egyptians): delta region seized  and Middle Kingdom shattered. The delta (north) was under hyksos control; Upper Egypt continued to be ruled from Thebes, though under hyksos dominion; and Nubia (south) won independence as the new kingdom of Kush.

The hyksos rulers cultivated trade with Palestine, Syria, and the Aegean islands

c. 1570 – 1070 BCE    New Kingdom (Dynasties 18-20)

Theban dynasty defeats the hyksos in the north and the Nubians in the south, restoring access to the gold mines and re-uniting Egypt under their sole rule. They also adopt use of bows shot from horse-pulled chariots (and thus the wheel), and the title of pharaoh, and go on to conquer Palestine and Syria and create an empire.

By c. 1500 Egypt had become a fully militarized society, with army officers replacing civilian bureaucrats as chief administrators. Wealth poured into the royal treasury, and the pharaohs built numerous palaces and temples (and tombs) of great splendor. The dominant god became the god of war, Amen (or Amun). Amen’s main temple compound – at Karnak, across the river from Thebes – was expanded and embellished to become the largest religious compound in the ancient world.

Amenhotep IV clashed with the priests of Amen, and chose a different got, Aten, the sun disk, to worship as the sole and universal deity. He changed his name to Akhnaten, and built a new capital called  Akhetaten (modern Amarna) 300 miles N. of Thebes, where he and his QueenNefertiti, launched a short-lived religious and artistic revolution from there. His successor, the young Tutankhaten, was forced to restore the cult of Amen and change his name to Tutankhamen, and died in his teens, after which Akhetaten was abandoned and the royal capital moved back to Thebes.




Tutankhamen in Colour (BBC 2020, 59:10 min.; start at 2:40; then go to 15:50):



Cultures, pp. 44-53 (The Indo-European Irruption; The Age of Iron Begins)

Sources, pp. 5-27 (Tale of Sinuhe, Epic of Gilgamesh, Laws of Hammurabi, Loyalist Teaching, Book of the Dead, Hymn to the Aton)


1258 BCE (not 1286-85)– Treaty of alliance between Ramses II of Egypt and the the king of the Hittites, who had clashed over control of Syria. The treaty lasted until the fall of the Hittite empire c. 1180 BCE.

c. 1300-1200 BCE   The “Sea Peoples” overrun the Aegean, the eastern Mediterranean, and the Nile delta, with the aid of bronze double-edged swords and bronze plate armor

c. 1200-1100 BCE     New advances in ironworking lead to the widespread use of iron for weapons and tools, and the beginning of the Iron Age

c. 1070 – 664 BCE     Third Intermediate Period (Dynasties 21-26)

Widespread disarray (“late Bronze Age collapse”) in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean. Fall of Hittite empire and New Kingdom in Egypt. Rise of new powers, including the Phoenicians (seafarers based in modern Lebanon and Tunisia; inventors of the first alphabetic script), the Philistines (in Palestine), and the Assyrians (in N. Mesopotamia, with capital at Nineveh), who used massacres, brutality and threats to conquer and rule a large empire.

c. 664-332 BCE     Late Period (Dynasties 27-30)

Assyrians conquered by Medes (from modern Iran) and Chaldeans (or “neo-Babylonians,” from S. Iraq), after which Babylon created a new empire in Mesopotamia and Syro-Palestine; last period of Egyptian independence


Primary sources:

Tale of Sinuhe – A noble of the Middle Kingdom lives most of his life in exile, but longs to return home to Egypt

Epic of Gilgamesh – Legend of Sumerian king Gilgamesh of Uruk, his  friendship with Enkidu, and his quest for eternal life, as told in later centuries

Laws of Hammurabi – selection of laws concerning justice, commercial ethics, marriage and the family, professional fees and liability, etc.

Loyalist Teaching – Egyptian advice by a father to his son(s) on a man’s duties: loyalty, obedience, good behavior

Egyptian Book of the Dead – the “Negative Confession” that a soul must make when being judged by the gods of the dead

Hymn to the Aton – Amenhotep IV (Akhenaton)’s monotheistic concept of Aton, the Sun-Disk