B2 High-Intermediate 13547 Folder Collection
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Hi there. I'm John Green; you're watching Crash Course World History, and today we're
going to talk about "Iraq" No, you purportedly smart globe. We're going to talk about Mesopotamia.
I love Mesopotamia because it helped create two of my favorite things: Writing and taxes.
Why do I like taxes? Because before taxes, the only certainty was death.
Mr. Green. Mr. Green, did you know that you're referencing Mark Twain?
I'm not referencing Mark Twain, me from the past, I'm referencing Benjamin Franklin,
who was probably himself quoting the unfortunately named playwright Christopher Bullock. Listen.
You may be smart, kid, but I've been smart longer. By the way, today's illustration
points out that an eye for an eye leaves the whole world monocular.
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So 5,000 years ago in the land meso, or between, the Tigris and Euphrates potomoi, or rivers,
cities started popping up much like they had in our old friend the Indus River valley.
These early Mesopotamian cities engaged in a form of socialism, where farmers contributed
their crops to public storehouses out of which workers, like metalworkers or builders or
male models or whatever—would be paid uniform "wages" in grain. So, basically—
Oh younger version of myself, how I hate you. [Scoots to strike dramatic chair pose, laughs
at own buffoonery] Oh the humiliation I suffer for you people... that was my best Blue Steel.
That was as close as I can get.
So anyway, if you lived in a city, you could be something other than a shepherd, and thanks
to this proto-socialism you could be reasonably sure that you'd eat--
STAN, Is there any way we could get another globe in here? I feel like this shot is inadequately
globed. Yes, much better.
You know you can tell the quality of the historian by the number of his or her globes.
But even though you could give up your flock, a lot of people didn't want to.
One of the legacies of Mesopotamia is the enduring conflict between country and city.
You see this explored a lot in some of our greatest art such as
The Beverly Hillbillies and Deliverance, and the showdown between Enkidu and Gilgamesh
in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh is one of the oldest known works of literature and
I'm not gonna spoil it for you— there's a link to the poem in the video
info—but suffice it to say that in the showdown between country and city, the city wins.
So what were these city states like? Well, let's take a look at one such city-state,
Gilgamesh's home town of Uruk, in the Thought Bubble:
Uruk was a walled city with an extensive canal system and several monumental temples, called
The priests of these temples initially had all the power, because they were able to communicate
directly with the gods.
That was a useful talent, because Mesopotamian gods were moody and frankly pretty mean—like,
according to Gilgamesh they once got mad at us because we were making too much noise while
they were trying to sleep so they decided to destroy all of humanity with a flood.
The Tigris and Euphrates are decent as rivers go, but Mesopotamia is no Indus Valley, with
its on-schedule flooding and easy irrigation.
A lot of slave labor was needed to make the Tigris and Euphrates useful for irrigation;
they're difficult to navigate and flood unpredictably and violently. Violent, unpredictable,
and difficult to navigate: Oh, Tigris and Euphrates, how you remind me of my college
So I mean given that the region tends to yo-yo between devastating flood and horrible drought,
it follows that one would believe that the gods are kind of random and capricious, and
that any priests who might be able to lead rituals that placate those gods would be very
useful individuals.
But about 1000 years after the first temples we find in cities like Uruk, a rival structure
begins to show up, the palace. This tells us that kings—and they were all dudes—are
starting to be as important as priests in Mesopotamia.
The responsibility for the well-being and success of the social order was shifting from
gods to people, a power shift that will seesaw throughout human history until...um, probably
forever actually.
But in another development we'll see again, these kings, who probably started out as military
leaders or really rich landowners, took on a quasi-religious role.
How? Often by engaging in "sacred marriage" -- specifically skoodilypooping with the
high priestess of the city's temple.
So the priests were overtaken by kings, who soon declared themselves priests.
Thanks, Thought Bubble. So how do we know that these kings were skoodilypooping with
there's a written record. Mesopotamia gave us writing, specifically a form of writing
called cuneiform, which was initially created not to like woo lovers or whatever but to
record transactions like how many bushels of wheat were exchanged for how many goats.
I'm not kidding, by the way; a lot of cuneiform is about wheat and goats.
I don't think you can overestimate the importance of writing but let's just make three points
1. Writing and reading are things that not everyone can do. So they create a class distinction,
one that in fact survives to this day. Foraging social orders were relatively egalitarian;
but the Mesopotamians had slaves and they played this metaphorically resonant sport
that was like polo except instead of riding on horses you rode on other people.
And written language played an important role in widening the gap between classes.
2. Once writing enters the picture, you have actual history instead of just a lot of guesswork
and archaeology.
3. Without writing, I would not have a job, so I'd like to personally thank Mesopotamia
for making it possible for me to work while reclining in my lay-z-boy.
So why did this writing happen in Mesopotamia? Well the fertile crescent, while it is fertile,
is lacking the pretty much everything else. In order to get metal for tools or stone for
sculptures or wood for burning, Mesopotamia had to trade. This trading eventually led
Mesopotamia to develop the world's first territorial kingdom, which will become very
important and will eventually culminate in some extraordinarily inbred Hapsburgs.
So the city state period in Mesopotamia ended around 2,000 BCE, probably because drought
and a shift in the course of rivers led to pastoral nomads coming in and conquering the
environmentally weakened cities. And then the nomads settled into cities of their own
as nomads almost always will unless—wait for it—
...You are the Mongols.
These new Mesopotamian city states were similar to their predecessors in that they had temples
and writing and their own self-glorifying stories but they were different in some important
First, that early proto-socialism was replaced by something that looked a lot like private
enterprise, where people could produce as much as they would like as long as they gave
a cut, also known as taxes to the government. We talk a lot of smack about taxes but it
turns out they're pretty important to creating stable social orders.
Things were also different politically because the dudes who'd been the tribal chiefs became
like full-blown kings, who tried to extend their power outside of cities and also tried
to pass on their power to their sons.
The most famous of these early monarchs is Hammurabi or as I remember him from my high
school history class, "The Hammer of Abi". Hammurabi ruled the new kingdom of Babylon
from 1792 BCE to 1750 BCE.
Hammurabi's main claim to fame is his famous law code which established everything from
like the wages of ox drivers to the fact that the punishment for taking an eye should be
having an eye taken.
Hammurabi's law code could be pretty insanely harsh. Like if a builder builds a shoddy building
and then the owner's son dies in a collapse, the punishment for that is the execution of
the builder's son. The kid's like, that's not fair! I'm just a kid. What did I do?
You should kill my dad.
All of which is to say that Hammurabi's law code gives a new meaning to the phrase
tough on crime, but it did introduce the presumption of innocence.
In the law code Hammurabi tried to portray himself in two roles that might sound familiar:
shepherd and father.
"[I am] the shepherd who brings peace. My benevolent shade was spread over the city,
I held the peoples of Sumer and Akkad safely on my lap."
So again we see the authority for protection of the social order shifting to men, not gods,
which is important, but don't worry, it'll shift back.
Even though the territorial kingdoms like Babylon were more powerful than any cities
that had come before, and even though Babylon was probably the world's most populous city
during Hammurabi's rule, it wasn't actually that powerful, and keeping with the pattern
is was soon taken over by the formerly-nomadic Kassites.
The thing about Territorial kingdoms is that they relied on the poorest people to pay taxes,
and provide labor and serve in the army, all of which made you not like your king very
much so if you saw any nomadic invaders coming by you might just be like "Hey nomadic invaders!
Come on in; you seem better than the last guy."
Well, that was the case until the Assyrians came along, anyway. The Assyrians have a deserved
reputation for being the brutal bullies of Mesopotamia. The Assyrians did give us an
early example of probably the most important and durable form of political organization
in world history, and also Star Wars history, the Empire.
Let's define empire as the extension by conquest of control over people who do not
belong to the same group as the conquerors. The biggest problem with empires is that by
definition they're diverse and multi-ethnic, which makes them hard to unify.
So beginning around 911 BCE, the neo-Assyrian Empire grew from its hometowns of Ashur and
Nineveh to include the whole of Mesopotamia, the Eastern Coast of the Mediterranean and
even, by 680 BCE, Egypt! (INSERT MAP)They did this thanks to the most brutal, terrifying
and efficient army the world had ever seen. More adjectives describing my college girlfriend.
For one thing the army was a meritocracy. Generals weren't chosen based on who their
dads were, they were chosen based on if they were good at Generalling.
Stan, is generalling a word? [pauses, two thumbs up w answer] It is!
The armies also used iron weapons and chariots and they were massive. Like the neo-Assyrian
Empire could field 120,000 men.
Also, they were super MEAN. Like they would deport hundreds of thousands of people to
separate them from their history and their familes and also moved skilled workers around
where they were most needed.Also the neo-Assyrians loved to find would-be rebels and lop off
their appendages. Particularly their noses for some reason. And there was your standard
raping and pillaging and torture, all of which was done in the name of Ashur, the great god
of the neo-Assyrians whose divine regent was the King.
Ashur, through the King, kept the world going, and as long as conquest continued the world
would not end. But if conquest ever stopped, the world would end and there would be rivers
of blood and weeping and gnashing of teeth. You know how apocalypses go.
The Assyrians spread this world view with propaganda like monumental architecture and
readings about how awesome the king was at public festivals, all of which were designed
to inspire awe in the Empire's subjects.
Oh that reminds me, ITS TIME FOR THE OPEN LETTER.
An Open Letter to the Word Awesome:
But first lets see what's in the Secret Compartment today. [opens door] Oh, Stan is
this yellow cake uranium? You never find that in Mesopotamia...
Dear Awesome,
I love you. Like most contemporary English speakers in fact, I probably love you a little
too much.
The thing about you, awesome, is that awesome is just so awesomely awesome at being awesome.
So we lose track of what you really mean, awesome: You're not just cool, you're
terrifying and wonderful. You're knees-buckling, chest-tightening, fearful encounters with
something radically other- something that we know could both crush and bless us. That
is awe, and I apologize for having watered you down.
But seriously, you're awesome.
Best wishes, John Green
So what happened to the Assyrians? Well, first they extended their empire beyond their roads,
making administration impossible.
But maybe even more importantly, when your whole world view is based on the idea that
the apocalypse will come if you ever lose a battle, and then you lose one battle, the
whole world view just blows up. That eventually happened and in 612 BCE, the city of Nineveh
was finally conquered, and the neo-Assyrian Empire had come to its end.
But the idea of Empire was just getting started. Next week we'll talk about mummies—oh,
I have to talk about other things too? Crap, I only want to talk about mummies. Anyway,
we'll be talking about [tapping stylus to talking globe replying Sudan] No! Dangit!
We'll actually be talking about [taps globe to reply Egypt] Thank you, Smart Globe.
See you next week.
Crash Course was produced and directed by Stan Muller. Our Script supervisor is Danica
Johnson. The show is written by Raoul Meyer my high school history teacher and myself
and our graphics team is ThoughtBubble.
Last week's phrase of the week was "Better Boyfriend." If you want to take a guess
at this week's phrase of the week, you can do so in Comments where you can also suggest
new phrases of the week.
And if you have any questions about today's show, leave them in Comments and our team
of semi-professional quasi-historians will endeavor to answer them.
Thanks for watching and as we say in my hometown: Don't forget to be awesome.
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Mesopotamia: Crash Course World History #3

13547 Folder Collection
Chi-feng Liu published on April 17, 2013
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