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The Big Answer


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Civilization Before Greece And Rome

a book by H. W. F. Saggs

(our site's book review)

Thousands of years B.C.—before the rise of Greece or Rome—in the Early Dynastic period, there were civilizations in bloom with groups of extended families that seemed to function well. Limits in the amount of available land is a major factor in what stratified these communities so that some people ended up working for other people, and eventually kings (those who owned enough to be considered a kingdom) were created, as much by unequal irrigation locations as anything. Rather like the relatively undifferentiated and diffuse universe coalescing into differentiated concentrations separated by space billions of years ago, fortune smiled on some people with regards to their relationship to land (which was life back then), but frowned on others.

Primitive-man's relationship to the land
Primitive-man's relationship to the land

And as the author implies, conservatism may have been born then, because those that Have got, and those that Have Not got not. Understandably, "those that have" liked the idea of keeping things the way they were: why change when things are going great? This wasn’t oppressive or selfish; back then it was just the gods smiling on some more than others and people accepted their “fate." An ethic developed in Egypt and Mesopotamia whereby the powerful were not to oppress the weaker—they were to protect them. (Sounds a lot like the birth of the liberal welfare state, doesn’t it?) This even found itself into written laws.

The gods smiled on some more than others and people accepted their 'fate'
The gods smiled on some more than others and people accepted their 'fate'

As the powerful of one area began to do battle with the powerful of nearby areas, from self-defense, aggression, or both, slaves were accumulated. Slaves were simply those people who were unlucky enough to be captured in battle. But there was social mobility back then, and one who set himself to the task of getting ahead had a chance of doing just that. The people back then were inventive and artistic, as Saggs shows.

As the powerful of one area began to do battle with the powerful of nearby areas, from self-defense, aggression, or both, slaves were accumulated
As the powerful of one area began to do battle with the powerful of nearby areas, from self-defense, aggression, or both, slaves were accumulated

One contrasts this with the stagnation of the Dark Ages, thousands of years later, and asks why there is such a contrast in the lives, values, beliefs and practices of the people from these two eras. One word pops into mind more than any other: authoritarianism. The good news is that the lesson to be learned from this stark contrast has been learned by many people and societies in various ways, in our current world. And of course the bad news is: many people and societies have yet to learn this lesson (e.g., Iran and North Korea).

Slaves were simply those people who were unlucky enough to be captured in battle
Slaves were simply those people who were unlucky enough to be captured in battle