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Overview

The Ancient era begins with the Biblical period and ends at the climax of the Roman period in 476, with the dethronement of the last of the Caesars, Romulus Augustus. According to the genealogies recorded in the Bible, human civilization began around 4000 B.C. The book of Genesis gives the account of God's creation of humankind in the Garden of Eden. Historians and archeaologists concur that civilization began in "The Fertile Crescent," a small sliver of land where Asia, Africa and Europe meet and where the current state of Israel is located. From the first created humans, Adam and Eve, came all the peoples of the earth. Major ancient civilizations included the Egyptian, Canaanite, Chinese, Indian, Mesopotamian, Mayan, African and Greco-Roman cultures.

One of the earliest civilizations appeared on the continent of Africa. By 3200 B.C., two kingdoms known as Upper and Lower Egypt had sprouted along the River Nile. King Menes united Egypt in 3100 B.C., and ushered in the Old Dynastic Period, which was followed by the Pharaonic Period. This latter period was itself comprised of three main stages: The Old Kingdom (2575-2134 B.C.); the Middle Kingdom (2040-1650 B.C.) and the New Kingdom (1570-1070 B.C.). Ancient Egypt under the Old Kingdom was ruled by Pharoahs who were considered incarnations of the gods. These god-kings commanded an elite class of priests, nobles and civil servants, while the vast majority of Egyptians supplied labor for the pharoah's building projects. In addition, ancient Egypt established a well-organized military, law enforcement body, and system of taxation. Around 2134 B.C., the Old Kingdom ended in a revolution, and a period of chaos ensued, during which time political authority was fragmented among local monarchs. The Middle Kingdom began when Mentuhotep II restored order and established a new capital at Thebes. Over the next four centuries, the pharaohs again regined, and the nation expanded southward to include Nubia and Kush. In the seventeenth century B.C., the Hyksos, invaders from western Asia, gained control of the Nile Delta. Ahmose I of Thebes ousted these invaders in 1570 B.C., ushering in the New Kingdom period. Ahmose then consolidated royal power by rebuilding the state bureaucracy, maintaining a standing army, and declaring a state religion. His successor pharaohs, however, including Ramses the Great, contended with economic decline, religious unrest, political intrigue, and foreign invasion by the Hittites. By 1070 B.C., the Egyptian empire crumbled.

Meanwhile, around 1000 B.C., Israel elected to have a king appointed over the nation, ushering in what is known as the United Monarchy under King Saul. After Saul, King David ascended to the throne, and allowed the nation to enjoy prosperity and numerous military victories under his reign. Under his leadership, Israel extended into the north, and triumphed over the Canaanites and the Philistines. David was succeeded by his son, King Solomon, who completed construction of the First Temple in Jerusalem. Shortly after Solomon's reign, Israel became a Divided Kingdom. The northern tribes took the name "Israel," with Samaria as the capital, while the remaining southern tribes were called "Judah," with Jerusalem as the capital. Israel eventually went into exile to Assyria in 722 B.C., and Judah followed shortly in 586 B.C. under what is remembered as the Babylonian Exile. During this tumultuous time, the First Temple was destroyed and plundered by the Babylonian army. Israel and Judah remained in exile until the reign of King Cyrus of Persian, who ascended the throne in 538 B.C. Under his rule, the tribes returned to the land of Israel and gradually rebuilt the Temple. Therein began the Second Temple Period, as recorded in the end of the Old Testament.

Jerusalem continued to shift between ruling powers. Alexander the Great took control of Jerusalem in 333 B.C., and soon Greek and pagan influences corrupted religious life in Jerusalem. When Seluicid King Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the Temple by sacrificing a pig, Mattathias and Judas the Maccabee led a Hasmonean army to expel the Seleucids. Their victory is celebrated in the Jewish holiday of Hannukah. For a short time, Jerusalem returned to Jewish control. But soon, the Romans gained control of Jerusalem and within a century, Jerusalem fell. When the Jews revolted against Roman rule, the city fell under siege until 70 A.D., when Titus led the Roman army into the city. The Temple was burned and the city desecrated. A few years later, remaining Jewish revolters chose their deaths over surrender at Masada. Although Bar Kokhba led another Jewish rebellion, the city was soon completely turned over to Gentile control. The Roman emperor Hadrian rebuilt the city as a pagan one, changing its name to Aelia Capitolina.

The Ancient world also saw the emergence of both the Greek and Roman empires, both of which were cultures from which modern Western culture has been based. Perhaps the most significant contribution from an American perspective was the Greeks' development of political ideology and practice. Greek culture introduced the concept of democracy, which gradually developed from 507-318 B.C. in Athens. Written laws were recorded and used as a means of ensuring justice for all classes of people. The Greeks also developed a ruling model similar to the tripartite form of government used in the United States today: The Greeks established an Assembly, Council and Courts. In addition, they endowed their citizens with certain rights. The Romans followed the Greek pattern of democratic ideals and politics. In 509 B.C., Rome established a republic ruled by two consuls that were elected by a legislative body called the Senate. Male citizens of the republic who were property owners could vote. This system of government became the forerunner of American democracy.