Ancient History (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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Ancient History is a result of the early, exciting days of archaeological exploration. Even today, George Rawlinson's text remains the only brief introduction to the entire panorama of the ancient world. It gives equal weight to each of the civilizations of the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean rather than subordinating them to the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome.

Born in Chadlington, Oxfordshire, on November 23, 1812, George ...
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Overview

Ancient History is a result of the early, exciting days of archaeological exploration. Even today, George Rawlinson's text remains the only brief introduction to the entire panorama of the ancient world. It gives equal weight to each of the civilizations of the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean rather than subordinating them to the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome.

Born in Chadlington, Oxfordshire, on November 23, 1812, George Rawlinson began his long career as an ancient historian with an appointment at Exeter College in 1840. From 1861 to 1889, he held the distinguished Camden Professorship of Ancient History at Oxford. He died in 1902, his most lasting contribution to society being his translation of Herodotus.
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Introduction


George Rawlinson's Ancient History or Manual of Ancient History, the most popular general history of the ancient Near East and Mediterranean available to an English-reading audience when it first appeared in 1869, enjoyed frequent reprints and revisions until after the turn of the century. A byproduct of the early exciting days of the archaeological exploration of the Near East, Rawlinson's Ancient History covers some thirty-five hundred years of the history of the civilizations of the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean. Even today Rawlinson's text remains the only brief introduction to the entire panorama of the ancient world that gives equal weight to each of the civilizations rather than subordinating them to the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome.

Born in Chadlington, Oxfordshire, on November 23, 1812, George Rawlinson studied classics at Trinity College and in 1840 began his long career as an ancient historian with an appointment at Exeter College. He participated in the reforms that culminated in the Oxford University Act of 1854, a major administrative reform and modernization of the university, and thereby met the Liberal politician William Gladstone. In 1852, he became a moderator of Oxford University, and from 1861 to 1889, he held the distinguished Camden Professorship of Ancient History at Oxford. He also pursued a parallel career in the church: ordained in 1841, he served Merton, Oxfordshire, as curate in 1846-1847; in 1872, he became a canon at Canterbury Cathedral on the nomination of his friend Gladstone; and he received the lucrative rectorship of All Hallows Lombard Street, London, in 1888, after which he resigned his Oxford professorship. Rawlinson's first publication reflects his dual orientation as an historian and Anglican clergyman: his Bampton Lecture at Oxford in 1859, The Historical Evidences of the Truth of the Scripture Records Stated Anew with Special Reference to the Doubts and Discoveries of Modern Times. Much of his work, whether historical or religious, aimed at defending the historicity of scripture against the prevailing Higher Criticism, which questioned the privileged status of the Bible and early Christian traditions in the interest of literary and historical scholarship. At the same time Rawlinson worked on his translation of Herodotus, published in 1859-1861 and dedicated to Gladstone. The translation featured extensive notes written in collaboration with his brother, the Orientalist Henry Creswicke Rawlinson, and the Egyptologist J. G. Wilkinson. Even today most English speakers have their first exposure to Herodotus in this magnificent translation, Rawlinson's most lasting achievement. In the 1860s, Rawlinson began to write a series of books about the ancient Near East in order to make the latest information available to a general public fascinated by the new archaeological discoveries in Egypt and Mesopotamia. He also produced a one-volume universal history of the ancient world, his Manual of Ancient History (1869), later condensed as Ancient History (1887). In addition, he wrote sermons, tracts, commentaries on the Bible, biographies of biblical figures such as Moses and Paul, and an adulatory memoir of his brother Henry. George Rawlinson died in 1902.

The heroic age of archaeology began when Napoleon attempted the conquest of Egypt and Palestine in 1798 with an army of scholars as well as soldiers. The British fought Napoleon for control of the Levant but also for control of antiquities such as the Rosetta Stone, the trilingual text that furnished the key to Jean Fran├žois Champollion's decipherment of hieroglyphics in 1822. It now became possible to discover information about ancient civilizations in northern Africa and southwestern Asia beyond what Greek and Roman writers and the Bible offered. In the 1810s, the British consul in Baghdad, Claudius Rich, investigated ancient Babylon, and the French subsequently appointed an archaeologist-consul who made remarkable discoveries in northern Mesopotamia (ancient Assyria) in the 1840s. In the 1830s and 1840s, the work of Rawlinson's elder brother Henry in Mesopotamia resulted in the decipherment of cuneiform inscriptions in the Persian and Akkadian languages.

The wealth of new historical information that such investigations generated opened up great new vistas of ancient history. George Rawlinson undertook to make this information available to the general public in a comprehensive, scholarly, and well-illustrated format in a series of volumes on the ancient Asian monarchies: The Five Great Monarchies of the Ancient Eastern World (Chaldaea, Assyria, Media, Babylonia, and Persia, 1862-67; 2d ed. 1870), The Sixth Great Oriental Monarchy (Parthia, 1872), The Seventh Great Oriental Monarchy (Sassanian or New Persian Empire, 1875)-these combined as The Seven Great Monarchies of the Ancient Eastern World (1870)-and further works on Egypt (1880), Phoenicia (1889), and Parthia (1893). New information on Egypt and Mesopotamia continued to accumulate, and much of Rawlinson's work in those areas quickly became outdated. Moreover, even contemporaries faulted his lack of familiarity with the non-Greek languages of the ancient Near East. But scholars continued to consult Rawlinson on Parthia until the mid-twentieth century, and they still consider his work on Persia, Phoenicia, and Bactria indispensable because of his command of the sources written in Greek and Latin.

Rawlinson explains his motivation for writing his histories in the preface to The Five Great Monarchies:

The history of Antiquity requires from time to time to be rewritten. Historical knowledge continually extends, in part from the advance of critical science, which teaches us little by little the true value of ancient authors, but also, and more especially, from the new discoveries which the enterprise of travellers and the patient toil of students are continually bringing to light, whereby the stock of our information as to the condition of the ancient world receives constant augmentation. The extremest scepticism cannot deny that recent researches in Mesopotamia and the adjacent countries have recovered a series of "monuments" belonging to very early times, capable of throwing considerable light on the Antiquities of the nations which produced them. The author of these volumes believes that, together with these remains, the languages of the ancient nations have been to a large extent recovered, and that a vast mass of written historical matter of a very high value is thereby added to the materials at the Historian's disposal.

To make the fruits of his labors accessible to a larger reading public and for use in the schools, and also to correct what he perceived as an exaggeration of Roman power and a lack of awareness of its eastern rivals Parthia and Persia, Rawlinson prepared a comprehensive one-volume universal history of the ancient civilizations of the Near East and Mediterranean. The Manual of Ancient History appeared first in 1869 and in a revised edition in 1880. So as to make this information even more accessible in a briefer form he condensed the Manual for his Ancient History in 1887.

Perhaps we can best understand Rawlinson's approach to ancient history by bearing in mind not only the contemporary discovery of the ancient Near East but also his interest in Herodotus and the Bible. Herodotus' world ranges from the Straits of Gibraltar eastward through North Africa and Europe and southeastern Asia as far as India. Historians of the ancient world have tended to follow Herodotus in their conception of the geographical limits of ancient history, so that it encompasses not only the Mediterranean world but also those regions whose peoples came into contact with the Greeks and Romans. Rawlinson shares this geographical conception-indeed each section of his Ancient History begins with a detailed geographical survey of the region whose history he goes on to describe.

Rawlinson's histories begin with the series of ancient civilizations that emerged in the Fertile Crescent consisting of Mesopotamia ("The Land between the Rivers"-that is, the Tigris and Euphrates), or modern Iraq and surrounding regions, and the Levant, or the lands at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. These civilizations began with the Chaldaean and Babylonian empires, which had their centers near modern Baghdad; Assyria in northern Mesopotamia with its center near modern Mosul; the Median, Persian, Sassanian, and Parthian empires of modern Iran; Bactria, or modern Afghanistan; and the Anatolian states of modern Turkey. The Levantine civilizations included Syria, Phoenicia (Lebanon), the Palestinian states-notably Israel and Judah-and finally Egypt. Rawlinson also treats the Carthaginian Empire of northern Africa, Spain, and the islands of the western Mediterranean, as well as Greece and the Macedonian and Roman empires.

Herodotus introduces his work as follows, in Rawlinson's translation:

These are the researches of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, which he publishes, in the hope of thereby preserving from decay the remembrance of what men have done, and of preventing the great and wonderful actions of the Greeks and the Barbarians from losing their due meed of glory; and withal to put on record what were their grounds of feuds.

Herodotus goes on to relate what he learned about the eastern civilizations of Lycia, Assyria, Media, Persia, and Egypt, and the tribes of Scythia and northern Africa-fully half of his book-before turning to the great wars between the Greeks and the Persians. Rawlinson likewise wanted to redirect the attention of his readers from the classical Mediterranean world and remind them of the great and wonderful civilizations that preceded the Greeks and rivaled the Romans. He presented his history of Parthia as "a supplement to the ancient History of the West, as that history is ordinarily presented to moderns under its two recognized divisions of 'Histories of Greece' and 'Histories of Rome,'" for "that picture of the world during the Roman period . . . was defective, not to say false, in its omission to recognize the real position of Parthia . . . , a rival state dividing with Rome the attention of mankind and the sovereignty of the known earth." He wrote his Seventh Great Oriental Monarchy on the Sassanians because "no European author has previously treated this period from the Oriental stand-point, in any work aspiring to be more than a mere sketch or outline." It remains true even today that brief surveys of the ancient world treat the Sassanian Empire in only the merest outline, so that Ancient History continues to offer a valuable corrective to the usual Greco-Roman emphasis in ancient history.

Rawlinson shared with his contemporary historians a vision of history as useful and empirical: while grounded in the evidence, it should provide salutary lessons for moral and public life and also delight the reader. Thus the lessons that historians of this age discerned served to validate Victorian assumptions about the social and spiritual order. History would serve a society that ruled colonies throughout the world by educating young men to become politicians, administrators, soldiers, and lawyers in particular, and gentlemen in general. In his own older brother Henry, George Rawlinson found the avatar of this ideal: well educated and a lifelong sportsman, Sir Henry pursued a career in the army and ultimately rose to the highest ranks of colonial administration in southwestern Asia and India; simultaneously he undertook groundbreaking work in Asian studies, including the decipherment of the cuneiform inscriptions of the Persian king Darius I at Behistun. After his brother's death, George published his adulatory Memoir of Henry Creswicke Rawlinson (1898).

George Rawlinson shared Herodotus' attention to the variety and integrity of human cultures but did not escape the prevailing racism and Eurocentrism of his time. For example, in his view, Alexander's conquest of Asia demonstrates "the intrinsic superiority of the European over the Asiatic." Rawlinson refers here specifically to military ability, but he goes on to generalize: Alexander's early death delivered the future from his plan to integrate the races, which would indeed have improved the Asian races-"lower types of humanity"-but the new race "would have fallen far below the Hellenic, perhaps even below the Macedonian type."

Moreover, Canon Rawlinson's religious beliefs colored his scholarship. As contemporary reviewers noted, he lacked any critical sense when it came to the Bible as a historical source. He considered Titus' sacking of Jerusalem in 70 CE one of the great crimes against civilization because the general destroyed "the magnificent city which alone, of all the cities of the earth, was, by her beauty and her prestige, a rival to the Roman metropolis." The morality of Victorian England governed his assessment of the various peoples he studied, and he could not approve of pagan religions, although he considered some forms, such as Roman religion, superior to others. Rawlinson condemned such unwholesome practices as polygamy, which he thought encourages "effeminacy and luxury" and-due to the manufacture of eunuchs and their attainment of prominent positions in court-"introduces a degraded and unnatural class of human beings into positions of trust and dignity." Polygamy dilutes "domestic affections . . . , degrades and injures the moral character of those who give its tone to the nation, lowers their physical energy, and renders them self-indulgent and indolent." This father of nine children saw the result when families sell their daughters to the harem: "the family bond, corrupted in its holiest element, ceases to have an elevating influence; the traffickers in their own flesh and blood become the ready tools of tyrants, the ready applauders of crime, and the submissive victims of every kind of injustice and oppression." Rawlinson noted that Xerxes, after his failed attack on the Greeks in 480-479 BCE, "found consolation for humiliating failure in the delights of the seraglio . . . ; submitting himself to the governance of women and eunuchs, [he] lost all manliness of character."

Rawlinson also had a vision of the consequences of empire-building: England should take note that when a conquering people begin to enjoy empire, they soon succumb to the temptations of wealth, luxury, and idleness, nobles give up "the habit of athletic exercise," and rulers substitute mercenaries for citizen soldiers. How different are the Greeks! Their "home-grown" civilization-tribal, royal, and aristocratic-eschewed polygamy, gave women high status, and emphasized the martial and athletic arts. Ultimately their political development yielded complex systems "more favorable to freedom and to the political education of the individual"-not unlike what Rawlinson saw in his own England, becoming increasingly liberal through a series of political reforms culminating in the Reform Bill of 1867. Only after Alexander conquered the Asian despotisms did intercourse with Asia in fact debase Greek culture: in the Hellenistic period "the people sank into a nation of pedants, parasites, and adventurers" and lost the spirit of patriotism, so the Romans conquered the Greek East effortlessly. According to Rawlinson, a few remarkable individuals could by strength of character preserve the integrity of a nation: the early Ptolemies, for example, or the good emperors of Rome in the first part of the second century. But a bad ruler not only exemplified the moral failure of an age, he caused it. Rawlinson calls the reign of the emperor Elagabalus (218-222), "the most disgraceful and disgusting in the Roman annals. Elagabalus was the most effeminate and dissolute of mortals. He openly paraded his addiction to the lowest form of sensual vice. . . . Syrian orgies replaced the grave and decent ceremonies of the Roman religion." Next, however, came Alexander Severus (222-235): "he presents the remarkable spectacle of a prince of pure and blameless morals cast upon a corrupt age, striving, so far as his powers went, to reform the degenerate State, and falling at length a victim to his praiseworthy but somewhat feeble efforts." At last the state became Christian, but the empire's fatal degeneration in the end corrupted a religion that persecution had kept pure for three hundred years. As for Constantine, the first Christian emperor: "he was strangely superstitious; and his religion . . . was a curious medley of Christianity and paganism, which it is not pleasant to contemplate."

By the time of his death, shortly after the turn of the twentieth century, Rawlinson had come to exemplify an old school of clerical scholarship in England about which a new generation had mixed feelings. They saw passing away a world of less rigorous scholarly expectations, of less professionalism in the academy, but a world that had a place for a hard-working, conscientious man of strong beliefs. According to his obituary in the London Times, they saw in Canon Rawlinson "not a man of genius, but a scholar of solid ability, who early found a field of work for which he was especially fitted, and devoted himself to it with success." George Rawlinson's success lives on in his Ancient History and above all in his translation of Herodotus.
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