History of Literature

E. H. Gombrich

"World History for Children"


E. H. Gombrich

born March 30, 1909, Vienna, Austria-Hungary [now in Austria]
died November 3, 2001, London, England
Austrian-born art historian who was one of the field’s greatest popularizers, introducing art to a wide audience through his best-known book, The Story of Art (1950; 16th rev. ed. 1995).
Studied art history under Julius von Schlosser at the University of Vienna. In 1936 he moved to London, where he became a research assistant at the Warburg Institute. During World War II he worked at the British Broadcasting Corporation, translating German-language radio broadcasts. In 1946 he returned to the institute and held a series of positions there before becoming director in 1959; he remained at the post until his retirement in 1976. Also held academic appointments at the Universities of Oxford, London, and Cambridge, as well as at Harvard and Cornell universities in the United States.
First book, Weltgeschichte für Kinder (1936; “World History for Children”), led to the idea of an art book for children. The result was The Story of Art, a clearly written work that appealed to both youth and adults. Eschewing aesthetics and art criticism, which he considered too deeply rooted in personal emotions, focused on iconography and innovations in technique, taste, and form as demonstrated in specific works by individual artists. He also had little use for modernism, which he derided as overly commercial and too often bent on novelty for its own sake. An international best seller, The Story of Art was translated into more than 20 languages. Also influential was Art and Illusion (1960), in which examined how people perceive images. Other notable works included Meditations on a Hobby Horse, and Other Essays on the Theory of Art (1963), The Sense of Order (1979), and The Image and the Eye (1981). The recipient of numerous honours, Gombrich was elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1960. He later was made a Commander of the British Empire (1966), knighted (1972), and appointed a member of the Order of Merit (1988).


"World History for Children"



Part I

1 Once Upon a Time
The past and memory - Before there were any people - Dragon-like creatures - Earth without life - Sun without earth - What is history?

2 The Greatest Inventors of All Time
The Heidelberg jaw - Neanderthal man - Prehistory - Fire -Tools - Cavemen - Language - Painting - Making magic - The Ice Age and the Early Stone Age - Pile dwellings - The Bronze Age -People like you and me

3 The Land by the Nile
King Menes - Egypt - A hymn to the Nile - Pharaohs - Pyramids -The religion of the ancient Egyptians - The Sphinx - Hieroglyphs -Papyrus - Revolution in the old kingdom - Akhenaton's reforms

4 Sunday, Monday
Mesopotamia today - The burial sites at Ur - Clay tablets and cuneiform script - Hamurabi's laws - Star worship - The origin of the days of the week - The Tower of Babel - Nebuchadnezzar

5 The One and Only God
Palestine - Abraham of Ur - The Flood - Moses' bondage in Egypt and the year of the departure from Egypt - Saul, David, Solomon -The division of the kingdom - The destruction of Israel - The prophets speak - The Babylonian Captivity - The Return - The Old Testament and faith in the Messiah

6 I C-A-N R-E-A-D
Writing with the alphabet - The Phoenicians and their trading posts

Part II

7 Herois and their Weapons
The songs of Homer - Schliemann's excavations - Sea-raider kings Crete and the labyrinth - The Dorian migration - The songs of the heroes - Greek tribes and their colonies

8 An Unequal Struggle
The Persians and their faith - Cyrus conquers Babylon (iambvses in Egypt - Darius's empire - The Ionian revolt - The first Punitive Expedition - The second Punitive Expedition and the Battle of Marathon - Xerxes' campaign - Thermopylae The Battle of Salamis

9 Two Small Cities in One Small Land
The Olympic Games - The Delphic Oracle - Sparta and Spartan education - Athens - Draco and Solon - The People's Assembly and tyrants - The time of Pericles - Philosophy - Sculpture and painting - Architecture - Theatre

10 The Enlightened One and his Land
India - Mohenjo-Daro, a city from the time of Ur - The Indian migrations - Indo-European languages - Castes - Brahma and the transmigration of souls - 'This is you' - Prince Gautama The Enlightenment - Release from sufffering - Nirvana - The followers of the Buddha

11 A Great Teacher of a Great People
China in the time before Christ - The emperor of China and the princes - The meaning of Chinese writing - Confucius The importance of practices and customs - The family- Ruler and subject - Lao-tzu - The Tao

12 The Greatest Adventure of All
The Peloponnesian War - The Delphic War - Philip of Macedon -The Battle of Chaeronea - The decline of the Persian empire -Alexander the Great- The destruction of Thebes -Aristotle and his knowledge - Diogenes - The conquest of Asia Minor - The Gordion Knot - The Battle of Issus - The conquest of Tyre and the conquest of Egypt - Alexandria - The Battle of Gaugamela The Indian expedition - Porus - Alexander, ruler of the Orient Alexander's death and his successors - Hellenism The library of Alexandria

13 New Wars and New Warriors
Italy - Rome and the myth of Rome's foundation - Class warfare -The twelve tablets of the law - The Roman character - Rome's capture by the Gauls - The conquest of Italy - Pyrrhus - Carthage - The First Punic War - Hannibal - Crossing the Alps - Quintus Fabius Maximus - Cannae - The last call to arms - Scipio's victory over Hannibal - The conquest of Greece - Cato - The destruction of Carthage

14 An Enemy of History
The Emperor Shih Huang-ti of Ch'in - The burning of the books -The princes of Ch'in and the naming of China - The Great Wall of China - The Han ruling family - Learned officials

Part III

15 Rulers of the Western World
Roman provinces - Roads and aqueducts - Legions - The two Gracchi - Bread and circuses - Marius - The Cimbri and the Teutones - Sulla - Gladiators - Julius Caesar - The Gallic Wars -Victory in the civil war - Cleopatra - The reform of the calendar -Caesar's murder - Augustus and the empire - The arts

16 The Good News
Jesus Christ - The teachings of the Apostle Paul - The Cross - Paul preaching to the Corinthians - The cult of the emperor - Nero -Rome burns - The first Christian persecutions - The catacombs -Titus destroys Jerusalem - The dispersal of the Jews

17 Life in the Empire and at its Frontiers
Tenements and villas - Therms - The Colosseum - The Germans -Arminius and the battle in Teutoburg forest - The Limes - Soldiers and their gods - Trajan's expeditions in Dacia - Marcus Aurelius's battles near Vienna - Warrior-emperors - The decline of Italy - The spread of Christianity - Diocletian's reforms - The last Christian persecution - Constantine - The founding of Constantinople - The division of the empire - Christianity becomes the religion of the state

18 The Storm
The Huns - The Visigoths - The Migrations - Attila - Leo the Great - Romulus Augustulus - Odoacer and the end of antiquity - The Ostrogoths and Theodoric - Ravenna - Justinian - The Pandects of Justinian and the Agia Sophia - The end of the Goths - The Lombards

19 The Starry Night Begins
'The Dark Ages'? - Belief and superstition - Stylites - Benedictines
- Preserving the inheritance of antiquity - The importance of the northern monasteries - Clovis's baptism - The role of the clergy in the Merovingian kingdom - Boniface

20 There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His Prophet
The Arabian desert - Mecca and the Kaaba - Muhammad's background and life - Persecution and flight - Medina - The battle with Mecca - The last sermon - The conquests of Palestine, Persia and Egypt - The burning of the Alexandrian library - The siege of Constantinople - The conquests of North Africa and Spain - The battles of Tours and Poitiers - Arab culture - Arabic numerals

Part IV

21 A Conqueror who Knows How to Rule
The Merovingians and their stewards - The kingdom of the Franks - Charlemagne's battles in Gaul, Italy and Spain - The Avars -Battles with the Saxons - The Heldenlieder - The crowning of the emperor - Harun al-Rashid's ambassadors - The division and decline of the Carolingian empire - Svatopluk - The Vikings - The kingdoms of the Normans

22 A Struggle to Become Lord of Christendom
East and West in Carolingian times - The blossoming of culture in China - The Magyar invasion - King Henry - Otto the Great - Austria and the Babenbergs - Feudalism and serfdom - Hugh Capet - The Danes in England - Religious appointments - The Investiture Controversy - Gregory VII and Henry IV - Canossa - Robert Guiscard and William the Conqueror

23 Chivalrous Knights
Horsemen and knights - Castles - Bondsmen - From noble youth to knight: page, squire, dubbing - A knight's duties - Minstrelsy -Tournaments - Chivalrous poetry - The Song of the Nibelungen -The First Crusade - Godfrey of Bouillon and the conquest of Jerusalem - The significance of the crusades

24 Emperors in the Age of Chivalry
Frederick Barbarossa - Barter and the money-based economy -Italian towns - The empire - The resistance and defeat of Milan -The dubbing feast at Mainz - The Third Crusade - Frederick II -Guelphs and Ghibellines - Innocent III - The Magna Carta - Sicily's rulers - The end of the Hohenstaufens - Ghengis Khan and the Mongol invasion - The lack of an emperor and 'fist-law' - The Kyffhauser legend - Rudolf of Habsburg - Victory over Otakar -The power of the House of Habsburg is established

25 Cities and Citizens
Markets and towns - Merchants and knights - Guilds - Building cathedrals - Mendicant friars and penitential priests - The persecution of Jews and heretics - The Babylonian Captivity of the popes -The Hundred Years War with England - Joan of Arc - Life at court -Universities - Charles IV and Rudolf the Founder

Part V

26 A New Age
The burghers of Florence - Humanism - The rebirth of antiquity -The flowering of art - Leonardo da Vinci - The Medici -Renaissance popes - New ideas in Germany - The art of printing -Gunpowder - The downfall of Charles the Bold - Maximilian, the Last Knight - Mercenaries - Fighting in Italy - Maximilian and IXirer

27 A New World
The compass - Spain and the conquest of Granada - Columbus and Isabella - The discovery of America - The modern era - Columbus's fate - The conquistadores - Hernando Cortez - Mexico - The fall of Montezuma - The Portuguese in India

28 A New Faith
The building of the Church of St Peter - Luther's theses - Luther's forerunner, Hus - The burning of the papal bull - Charles V and his empire - The sack of Rome - The Diet of Worms - Luther at the Wartburg - The translation of the Bible - Zwingli - Calvin - Henry VIII - Turkish conquests - The division of the empire

29 The Church at War
Ignatius of Loyola - The Council of Trent -- The Counter Reformation - The St Bartholomew's Day Massacre - Philip of Spain - The Battle of Lepanto - The revolt of the Low Countries - Elizabeth of England - Mary Stuart - The sinking of the Armada - English trading posts in America - The East India Companies - The beginnings of the British empire

30 Terrible Times
The Defenestration of Prague - The Thirty Years War - Gustavus Adolphus - Wallenstein - The Peace of Westphalia - The devastation of Germany - The persecution of witches - The birth of a scientific understanding of the world - Nature's laws - Galileo and his trial

Part VI

31 An Unlucky King and a Lucky King
The Stuart king, Charles I - Cromwell and the Puritans - The rise of England - The year of the Glorious Revolution - France's prosperity- Richelieu's policies - Mazarin - Louis XIV - A king's lever-Versailles - Sources of the government's wealth - The peasants' misery - Predatory wars

32 Meanwhile, Looking Eastwards...
Turkish conquests - Insurrection in Hungary - The siege of Vienna - Jan Sobieski and the relief of Vienna - Prince Eugene - Ivan the Terrible - Peter the Great - The founding of St Petersburg - Charles XII of Sweden — The race to Stralsund - The expansion of Russian might

33 A Truly New Age
The Enlightenment - Tolerance, reason and humanity - Critique of the Enlightenment - The rise of Prussia - Frederick the Great -Maria Theresa - The Prussian army - The Grand Coalition - The Seven Years War — Joseph II - The abolition of serfdom - Overhasty reforms - The American War of Independence - Benjamin Franklin - Human rights and negro slaves
34 A Very Violent Revolution
Catherine the Great - Louis XV and Louis XVI - Life at court - Justice and the landowning nobility - The Rococo - Marie Antoinette - The convocation of the Estates-General - The storming of the Bastille - The sovereignty of the people - The National Assembly - The Jacobins - The guillotine and the Revolutionary Tribunal - Danton - Robespierre - The Reign of Terror - The sentencing of the king - The foreigners defeated - Reason - The Directory - Neighbouring republics

35 The Last Conqueror
Napoleon in Corsica - To Paris - The siege of Toulon - The conquest of Italy - The Egyptian expedition - The coup d'etat - The consulate and the Code Napoleon - Emperor of the French -Victory at Austerlitz - The end of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation - Francis I - The Continental System - Victory over Russia - Spain and the War of Spanish Resistance - Aspern and Wagram - The German uprising - The Grande Armee - The retreat from Moscow - The Battle of Leipzig - The Congress of Vienna -Napoleon's return from Elba - Waterloo - St Helena

Part VII

36 Men and Machines
The Biedermeier era - Steam engines, steamships, locomotives, the telegraph - Spinning machines and mechanical looms - Coal and iron - Luddites - Socialist ideas - Marx and his theory of class war -Liberalism - The revolutions of 1830 and 1848

37 Across the Seas
China before 1800 - The Opium war - The Taiping Rebellion -China's submission - Japan in 1850 - Revolution in support of the Mikado - Japan's modernisation with foreign assistance - America after 1776 - The slave states - The North - Abraham Lincoln - The Civil War

38 Two New States in Europe
Europe after 1848 - The Emperor Franz Josef and Austria - The German Confederation - France under Napoleon III - Russia -Spain's decline - The liberation of the peoples of the Balkans - The tight for Constantinople - The kingdom of Sardinia - Cavour -Garibaldi - Bismarck - The reform of the army in defiance of the constitution - The Battle of Koniggratz - Sedan - The founding of the German empire - The Paris Commune - Bismarck's social reforms Dismissal of the Iron Chancellor

39 Dividing Up the World
Industry - Markets and sources of raw materials — Britain and France - The Russo-Japanese War - Italy and Germany - The race to mobilize - Austria and the East - The outbreak of the First World War - New weapons - Revolution in Russia - The American intervention - The terms of peace - Scientific advance


40 The Small Part of the History of the World Which I Have Lived Through Myself: Looking Back
The growth of the world's population - The defeat of the central-European powers during the First World War - The incitement of the masses - The disappearance of tolerance from political life in Germany, Italy, Japan and Soviet Russia - Economic crisis and the outbreak of the Second World War - Propaganda and reality - The murder of the Jews - The atomic bomb - The blessings of science -The collapse of the Communist system - International aid efforts as a reason for hope


Part I


1 Once Upon a Time

The past and memory - Before there were any people - Dragon-like creatures - Earth without life - Sun without earth - What is history?



All stories begin with 'Once upon a time'. And that's just what this story is all about: what happened, once upon a time. Once you were so small that, even standing on tiptoes, you could barely reach your mother's hand. Do you remember? Your own history might begin like this: 'Once upon a time there was a small boy' - or a small girl - 'and that small boy was me.' But before that you were a baby in a cradle. You won't remember that, but you know it's true. Your father and mother were also small once, and so was your grandfather, and your grandmother, a much longer time ago, but you know that too. After all, we say: 'They are old.' But they too had grandfathers and grandmothers, and they, too, could say: 'Once upon a time'. And so it goes on, further and further back. Behind every 'Once upon a time' there is always another. Have you ever tried standing between two mirrors? You should. You will see a great long line of shiny mirrors, each one smaller than the one before, stretching away into the distance, getting fainter and fainter, so that you never see the last. But even when you can't see them any more, the mirrors still go on. They are there, and you know it.

And that's how it is with 'Once upon a time'. We can't sec where it ends. (Grandfather's grandfather's grandfather's grandfather . . . it makes your head spin. But say it again, slowly, and in the end you'll be able to imagine it. Then add one more. That gets us quickly back into the past, and from there into the distant past. But you will never reach the beginning, because behind every beginning there's always another 'Once upon a time'.

It's like a bottomless well. Does all this looking down make you dizzy? It does me. So let's light a scrap of paper, and drop it down into that well. It will fall slowly, deeper and deeper. And as it burns it will light up the sides of the well. Can you see it? It's going down and down. Now it's so far down it's like a tiny star in the dark depths. It's getting smaller and smaller . . . and now it's gone.

Our memory is like that burning scrap of paper. We use it to light up the past. First of all our own, and then we ask old people to tell us what they remember. After that we look for letters written by people who are already dead. And in this way we light our way back. There are buildings that are just for storing old scraps of paper that people once wrote on - they are called archives. In them you can find letters written hundreds of years ago. In an archive, I once found a letter which just said: 'Dear Mummy, Yesterday we ate some lovely truffles, love from William.' William was a little Italian prince who lived four hundred years ago. Truffles are a special sort of mushroom.

But we only catch glimpses, because our light is now falling faster and faster: a thousand years ... five thousand years . . . ten thousand years. Even in those days there were children who liked good things to eat. But they couldn't yet write letters. Twenty thou sand . . . fifty thousand . . . and even then people said, as we do, 'Once upon a time'. Now our memory-light is getting very small . . . and now it's gone. And yet we know that it goes on much further, to a time long, long ago, before there were any people and when our mountains didn't look as they do today. Some of them were bigger, but as the rain poured down it slowly turned them into hills. Others weren't there at all. They grew up gradually, out of the sea, over millions and millions of years.

But even before the mountains there were animals, quite different from those of today. They were huge and looked rather like dragons. And how do we know that? We sometimes find their bones, deep in the ground. When I was a schoolboy in Vienna I used to visit the Natural History Museum, where I loved to gaze at the great skeleton of a creature called a Diplodocus. An odd name, Diplodocus. But an even odder creature. It wouldn't fit into a room at home - or even two, for that matter. It was as tall as a very tall tree, and its tail was half as long as a football pitch. What a tremendous noise it must have made, as it munched its way through the primeval forest!

But we still haven't reached the beginning. It all goes back much further - thousands of millions of years. That's easy enough to say, but stop and think for a moment. Do you know how long one second is? It's as long as counting: one, two, three. And how about a thousand million seconds? That's thirty-two years! Now, try to imagine a thousand million years! At that time there were no large animals, just creatures like snails and worms. And before then there weren't even any plants. The whole earth was a 'formless void'. There was nothing. Not a tree, not a bush, not a blade of grass, not a flower, nothing green. Just barren desert rocks and the sea. An empty sea: no fish, no seashells, not even any seaweed. But if you listen to the waves, what do they say? 'Once upon a time .. .' Once the earth was perhaps no more than a swirling cloud of gas and dust, like those other, far bigger ones we can see today through our telescopes. For billions and trillions of years, without rocks, without water and without life, that swirling cloud of gas and dust made rings around the sun. And before that? Before that, not even the sun, our good old sun, was there. Only weird and amazing giant stars and smaller heavenly bodies, whirling among the gas clouds in an infinite, infinite universe.

'Once upon a time' - but now all this peering down into the past is making me feel dizzy again. Quick! Let's get back to the sun, to earth, to the beautiful sea, to plants and snails and dinosaurs, to our mountains, and, last of all, to human beings. It's a bit like coming home, isn't it? And just so that 'Once upon a time' doesn't keep dragging us back down into that bottomless well, from now on we'll always shout: 'Stop! When did hat happen?'

And if we also ask, 'And how exactly did that happen? 'we will be asking about history. Not just a story, but our story, the story that we call the history of the world. Shall we begin?



2 The Greatest Inventors of All Time

The Heidelberg jaw - Neanderthal man - Prehistory - Fire -Tools - Cavemen - Language - Painting - Making magic - The Ice Age and the Early Stone Age - Pile dwellings - The Bronze Age -People like you and me


Animal herds depicted in cave painting, France; Lower Paleolithic

Near Heidelberg, in Germany, somebody was once digging a pit when they came across a bone, deep down under the ground. It was a human bone. A lower jaw. But no human beings today have jaws like this one. It was so massive and strong, and had such powerful teeth! Whoever owned it must have been able to bite really hard. And must have lived a long time ago for the bone to be buried so deep.
On another occasion, but still in Germany - in the Neander valley - a human skull was found. And this was also immensely interesting because nobody alive today has a skull like this one either. Instead of a forehead like ours it just had two thick ridges above the eyebrows. Now, if all our thinking goes on behind our foreheads and these people didn't have any foreheads, then perhaps they didn't think as much as we do. Or at any rate, thinking may have been harder for them. So the people who examined the skull concluded that once upon a time there were people who weren't very good at thinking, but who were better at biting than we are today.

But now you're going to say: 'Stop! That's not what we agreed. When did these people live, what were they like, and how did they live?'
Your questions make me blush, as I have to admit that we don't know, precisely. But we will find out one day, and maybe you will want to help. We don't know because these people didn't yet know how to write things down, and memory only takes us a little way back. But we are making new discoveries all the time. Scientists have found that certain materials, such as wood and plants and volcanic rocks, change slowly but regularly over a very long period of time. This means that we can work out when they grew or were formed. And since the discoveries in Germany, people have carried on searching and digging, and have made some startling finds. In Asia and Africa, in particular, more bones have been found, some at least as old as the Heidelberg jaw. These were our ancestors who may have already been using stones as tools more than a hundred and fifty thousand years ago. They were different from the Ne.m derthal people who appeared about seventy thousand years earlier and inhabited the earth for about two hundred thousand years. And I owe the Neanderthal people an apology, for despite their low-foreheads, their brains were no smaller than those of most people today.

'But all these "about"s, with no names and no dates. . .this isn't history!' you say, and you are right. It comes before history. Th.it is why we call it 'prehistory', because we only have a rough idea of when it all happened. But we still know something about Unpeople whom we call prehistoric. At the time when real historv begins - and we will come to that in the next chapter people already had all the things we have today: clothes, houses andi tools, ploughs to plough with, grains to make bread with, cows for milk ing, sheep for shearing, dogs for hunting and for company, bows and arrows for shooting and helmets and shields for protection. Yet with all of these things there must have been a first time. Someone must have made the discovery. Isn't it an amazing thought that, one day, a prehistoric man - or a woman must have realised that meat from wild animals was easier to chew if it was first held over a fire and roasted? And that one day someone discovered how to make fire? Do you realise what that actually means? Can you do it? Not with matches, because they didn't exist. But by rubbing two sticks together until they become so hot that in the end they catch fire. Have a go and then you'll see how hard it is!

fools must have been invented by someone too. The earliest ones were probably just sticks and stones. But soon stones were being shaped and sharpened. We have found lots of these shaped stones in the ground. And because of these stone tools we call this time the Stone Age. But people didn't yet know how to build houses. Not a pleasant thought, since at that time it was often intensely cold - at certain periods far colder than today. Winters were longer and summers shorter. Snow lay deep throughout the year, not only on mountain tops, but down in the valleys as well, and glaciers, which were immense in those days, spread far out into the plains. This is why we say that the Stone Age began before the last Ice Age had ended. Prehistoric people must have suffered dreadfully from the cold, and if they came across a cave where they could shelter from the freezing winds, how happy they must have been! For this reason they are also known as 'cavemen', although they may not have actually lived in caves.

Do you know what else these cavemen invented? Can't you guess? They invented talking. I mean having real conversations with each other, using words. Of course animals also make noises - they can cry out when they feel pain and make warning calls when danger threatens, but they don't have names for things as human beings do. And prehistoric people were the first creatures to do so.
They invented something else that was wonderful too: pictures. Many of these can still be seen today, scratched and painted on the walls of caves. No painter alive now could do better. The animals they depict don't exist any more, they were painted so long ago. Elephants with long, thick coats of hair and great, curving tusks - woolly mammoths - and other Ice Age animals. Why do you think these prehistoric people painted animals on the  walls of caves? Just for decoration? That doesn't seem likely, because the caves were so dark. Of course we can't be sure, but we think they may have been trying to make magic, that they believed that painting pictures of animals on the walls would make those animals appear. Rather like when we say 'Talk of the devil!' when someone we've been talking about turns up unexpectedly. After all, these animals were their prey, and without them they would starve. So they may have been trying to invent a magic spell. It would be nice to think that such things worked. But they never have yet.

The Ice Age lasted for an unimaginably long time. Many tens of thousands of years, which was just as well, for otherwise these people would not have had time to invent all these things. But gradually the earth grew warmer and the ice retreated to the high mountains, and people - who by now were much like us learnt, with the warmth, to plant grasses and then grind the seeds to make a paste which they could bake in the fire, and this was bread.

In the course of time they learnt to build tents and tame animals which until then had roamed freely around. And they followed their herds, as people in Lapland still do. Because forests were dangerous places in those days, home to large numbers of wild animals such as wolves and bears, people in several places (ami this is often the case with inventors) had the same excellent idea: they built 'pile dwellings' in the middle of lakes, huts on stilts rammed deep in the mud. By this time they were masters at shaping and polishing their tools and used a different, harder stone to bore holes in their axe-heads for handles. That must have been hard work! Work which could take the whole of the winter. Imagine how often the axe-head must have broken at the last minute, so that they had to start all over again.

The next thing these people discovered was how to make pots out of clay, which they soon learnt to decorate with patterns and fire in ovens, although by this time, in the late Stone Age, they had stopped painting pictures of animals. In the end, perhaps six thousand years ago (that is, 4000 вс), they found a new and more convenient way of making tools: they discovered metals. Not all of them at once, of course. It began with some green stones which turn into copper when melted in a fire. Copper has a nice shine, and you can use it to make arrowheads and axes, but it is soft and gets blunt more quickly than stone.

But once again, people found an answer. They discovered that if you add just a little of another, very rare, metal, it makes the copper stronger. That metal is tin, and a mixture of tin and copper is called bronze. The age in which people made themselves helmets and swords, axes and cauldrons, and bracelets and necklaces out of bronze is, naturally, known as the Bronze Age.
Now let's take a last look at these people dressed in skins, as they paddle their boats made of hollowed-out tree trunks towards their villages of huts on stilts, bringing grain, or perhaps salt from mines in the mountains. They drink from splendid pottery vessels, and their wives and daughters wear jewellery made of coloured stones, and even gold. Do you think much has changed since then? They were people just like us. Often unkind to one another. Often cruel and deceitful. Sadly, so are we. But even then a mother might sacrifice her life for her child and friends might die for each other. No more but also no less often than people do today. And how could it be otherwise? After all, we're only talking about things that happened between three and ten thousand years ago. There hasn't been enough time for us to change!

So, just once in a while, when we are talking, or eating some bread, using tools or warming ourselves by the fire, we should remember those early people with gratitude, for they were the greatest inventors of all time.



3 The Land by the Nile

King Menes - Egypt - A hymn to the Nile - Pharaohs - Pyramids -The religion of the ancient Egyptians - The Sphinx - Hieroglyphs -Papyrus - Revolution in the old kingdom - Akhenaton's reforms


Pharaoh Chephren with the Horus Falcon, ca. 2500 B.C.

Here - as I promised - History begins. With a when and a where. It is 3100 вс (that is, 5,100 years ago), when, as we believe, a king named Menes was ruling over Egypt. It you want to know exactly where Egypt is, I suggest you ask a swallow. Every autumn, when it gets cold, swallows fly south. Over the mountains to Italy, and on across a little stretch of sea, and then they're in Africa, in the part that lies nearest to Europe. Egypt is close by.

In Africa it is hot, and for months on end it doesn't rain. In many regions very little grows. These are deserts, as are the lands on either side of Egypt. Egypt also gets very little rain. Hut here they don't need it, because the Nile flows right through the middle of the country, from one end to the other. Twice a year, when heavy rain filled its sources, the river would swell and burst its banks, flooding the whole land. Then people were forced to take to boats to move among the houses and the palm trees. And when the waters withdrew, the earth was wonderfully drenched and rich with oozing mud. There, under the hot sun, the grain grew as it did nowhere else. Which is why, from earliest times, the Egyptians worshipped the Nile as if it were God himself. Would you like to hear a hymn they sang to their river, four thousand years ago?

Glory be to thee, Oh Nile! You rise out of the earth and come to nourish Egypt! You water the plains and have the power to feed all cattle. You quench the thirsty desert, far from any water. You bring forth the barley, You create the wheat. You fill the granaries and storehouses, not forgetting the poor. Eor You we pluck our harps, for You we sing.
So sang the ancient Egyptians. And they were right. For, thanks to the Nile, their land grew rich and powerful. Mightiest of all was their king. One king ruled over all the Egyptians, and the first to do so was King Menes. Do you remember when that was? It was in 3100 вс. And can you also remember - perhaps from Bible stories - what those kings of Egypt were called? They were called pharaohs. A pharaoh was immensely powerful. He lived in a great stone palace with massive pillars and many courtyards, and his word was law. All the people of Egypt had to toil for him if he so decreed. And sometimes he did.

The pyramids of Giza, third century B.C.

One such pharaoh was King Cheops, who lived in about 2500 вс. Не summoned all his subjects to help construct his tomb. He wanted a building like a mountain, and he got it. You can still see it today. It's the Great Pyramid of Cheops. You may have seen pictures of it, but you still won't be able to imagine how big it is. A cathedral would fit comfortably inside. Clambering up its huge stone blocks is like scaling a mountain peak. And yet it was human beings who piled those gigantic stones on top of each other. They had no machines in those days - rollers and pulleys at most. They had to pull and shove every single block by hand. Just think of it, in the heat of Africa! In this way, it seems, for thirty years, some hundred thousand people toiled for the pharaoh, whenever they weren't working in the fields. And when they grew tired, the king's overseer was sure to drive them on with his hippopotamus-skin whip, as they dragged and heaved those immense loads, all for their king's tomb.

Perhaps you're wondering why the pharaoh should want to build such a gigantic tomb? It was all part of his religion. The Egyptians believed in many gods. Some had ruled over them as kings long ago - or at least, that's what they thought - and among these were Osiris and his consort, Isis. The sun god, Amon, was a special god. The Kingdom of the Dead had its own god, Anubis, and he had a jackal's head. Each pharaoh, they believed, was a son of the sun god, which explains why they feared him so much and obeyed all his commands. In honour of their gods they chiselled majestic stone statues, as tall as a five-storey house, and built temples as big as towns. In front of the temples they set tall pointed stones, cut from a single block of granite. These are called 'obelisks' (a Greek word meaning something like 'little spear'). In some of our own cities you can still see obelisks that people brought back from Egypt. There's one in London by the Thames.
In the Egyptian religion, certain animals were sacred: cats, for example. Other gods were represented in animal form. The creature we know as the Sphinx, which has a human head on a lion's body, was a very powerful god. Its statue near the pyramids is so vast that a whole temple would fit inside. Buried from time to time by the desert sands, the Sphinx has now been guarding the tombs of the pharaohs for more than five thousand years. Who can say how long it will continue to keep watch?

And yet the most important part of the Egyptians' strange religion was their belief that, although a man's soul left his body when he died, for some reason the soul went on needing that body, and would suffer if it crumbled into dust.

So they invented a very ingenious way of preserving the bodies of the dead. They rubbed them with ointments and the juices of certain plants, and bandaged them with long strips of cloth, so that they wouldn't decay. A body preserved in this manner is called a mummy. And today, after thousands of years, these mummies are still intact. A mummy was placed in a coffin made of wood, the wooden coffin in one of stone, and the stone one buried, not in the earth, but in a tomb that was chiselled out of the rock. If you were rich and powerful like King Cheops, 'Son of the Sun', a whole stone mountain would be made for your tomb. Deep inside, the mummy would be safe - or so they thought! But the mighty king's efforts were in vain: his pyramid is empty.
But the mummies of other kings and those of many ancient Egyptians have been found undisturbed in their tombs. A tomb was intended to be a dwelling for the soul when it returned to visit its body. For this reason they put in food and furniture and clothes, and there are lots of paintings on the walls showing scenes from the life of the departed. His portrait was there too, to make sure that when his soul came on a visit it wouldn't go to the wrong tomb.

The Great Sphinx and the Pyramids

Thanks to the great stone statues, and the wonderfully bright and vivid wall paintings, we have a very good idea of what life in ancient Egypt was like. True, these paintings do not show things as we see them. An object or a person that is behind another is generally shown on top, and the figures often look stiff. Bodies are shown from the front and hands and feet from the side, so they look as if they have been ironed flat. But the Egyptians knew what they were doing. Every detail is clear: how they used great nets to catch ducks on the Nile, how they paddled their boats and fished with long spears, how they pumped water into ditches to irrigate the fields, how they drove their cows and goats to pasture, how they threshed grain, made shoes and clothes, blew glass - for they could already do that! - and how they shaped bricks and built houses. And we can also see girls playing catch, or playing music on flutes, and soldiers going off to war, or returning with loot and foreign captives, such as black Africans.
In noblemen's tombs we can see embassies arriving from abroad, laden with tribute, and the king rewarding faithful ministers with decorations. Some pictures show the long-dead noblemen at prayer, their arms raised before the statues of their gods, or holding banquets in their houses, with singers plucking harps, and clowns performing somersaults.
Next to these brightly coloured paintings you often see lots of tiny pictures of all sorts of things, such as owls and little people, flags, flowers, tents, beetles and vases, together with zigzag lines and spirals, all jumbled up together. Whatever can they be? They aren't pictures, they are hieroglyphs - or 'sacred signs' - the Egyptian form of writing. The Egyptians were immensely proud of their writing-indeed, they were almost in awe of it. And of all pro fessions, that of scribe was the most highly esteemed.

Would you like to know how to write using hieroglyphs? In fact, learning this sort of writing must have been incredibly hard, as it's more like constructing a picture puzzle. If they wanted to write the name of their god, Osiris, they would draw a throne (h), which was pronounced 'Oos', and an eye (ae), which was pronounced iri', so that the two together made 'Os-iri'. And to make sure that no one thought they meant 'Throne-eye', they often drew a little Hag like this beside it (p). Which meant that person was a god. In the same way that Christians used to draw a cross after a name, it they wanted to show that that person was dead.

So now you can write 'Osiris' in hieroglyphs! But think what a job it must have been to decipher all that Egyptian writing when people became interested in hieroglyphs again, two hundred years ago. In fact, they were only able to decipher them because a stone had been found on which the same words were written in three scripts: ancient Greek, hieroglyphs and another Egyptian script. It was still a tremendous puzzle, and great scholars devoted their lives to it. You can see that stone - it's called the Rosetta Stone - in the British Museum in London.
We are now able to read almost everything the Egyptians wrote. Not just on the walls of palaces and temples, but also in books, though the books are no longer very legible. For the ancient Egyptians did have books, even that long ago. Of course they weren't made of paper like ours, but from a certain type of reed that grows on the banks of the Nile. The Greek name for these reeds is papyrus, from which our name for paper comes.

They wrote on long strips of this papyrus, which were then rolled up into scrolls. A whole heap of these scrolls has survived. And when we read them we discover just how wise and clever those ancient Egyptians really were. Would you like to hear a saying written more than five thousand years ago? But you must

listen and think about it carefully: 'Wise words are rarer than emeralds, yet they come from the mouths of poor slave girls who turn the millstones.'
Because the Egyptians were so wise and so powerful their empire lasted for a very long time. Longer than any empire the world has ever known: nearly three thousand years. And they took just as much care as they did with their corpses, when they preserved them from rotting away, in preserving all their ancient traditions over the centuries. Their priests made quite sure that no son did anything his father had not done before him. To them, everything old was sacred.

Only rarely in the course of all that time did people turn against this strict conformity. Once was shortly after the reign of King Cheops, about 2100 bc, when the people tried to change everything. They rose up in rebellion against the pharaoh, killed his ministers, and dragged the mummies from their tombs: 'Those who formerly didn't even own sandals now hold treasures, and those who once wore precious robes go about in rags,' the ancient papyrus tells us. 'The land is turning like a potter's wheel.' But it did not last long, and soon everything was as strict as before. If not more so.
On another occasion it was the pharaoh himself who tried to change everything. Akhenaton was a remarkable man who lived around 1370 вс. Не had no time for the Egyptian religion, with its many gods and its mysterious rituals. 'There is only one God,' he taught his people, 'and that is the Sun, through whose rays all is created and all sustained. To Him alone you must pray.'

The ancient temples were shut down, and King Akhenaton and his wife moved into a new palace. Since he was utterly opposed to tradition, and in favour of fine new ideas, he also had the walls of his palace painted in an entirely new style. One that was no longer severe, rigid and solemn, but freer and more natural. However, this didn't please (he people at all. They wanted everything to look as it had always done for thousands of years. As soon as Akhenaton was dead, they brought back all the old customs and the old style of art. So everything stayed as it had been, for as long as the Egyptian empire endured. Just as in the days of King Menes, and for nearly three and a half more centuries, people continued to put mummies into tombs, write in hieroglyphs, and pray to the same gods. They even went on worshipping cats as sacred animals. And if you ask me, I think that in this, at least, the ancient Egyptians were right.



4 Sunday, Monday

Mesopotamia today - The burial sites at Ur - Clay tablets and cuneiform script - Hamurabi's laws - Star worship - The origin of the days of the week - The Tower of Babel - Nebuchadnezzar


It was in this part of the world, between Mesopotamia and Egypt, that the history of mankind began, with bloody battles and daring voyages by Phoenician trading ships. You can look at this map again as you read the next chapters.

There are seven days in a week. I don't need to tell you their names because you know them already. But have you any idea where and when it was that the days were each given a name? Or who first had the idea of arranging them into weeks, so that they no longer flew past, nameless and in no order, as they did for people in prehistoric times? It wasn't in Egypt, but in another country which was no less hot, but where, instead of just one river, there were two: the Tigris and the Euphrates. And because the important part of that country lay between two rivers, it was called Mesopotamia, which is Greek for the land 'between the rivers'. Mesopotamia is not in Africa, but in Asia, though still not so very far from our part of the world, in a region called the Middle East, in the country we know as Iraq. The Tigris and the Euphrates join together and then flow out into the Persian Gulf.

Picture a vast plain, crossed by these two rivers. A land of heat and swamp and sudden floods. Here and there tall hills rise out of the plain. But if you dig into them you find that they aren't hills at all. First you come across a lot of bricks and rubble, and when you dig deeper you meet stout, high walls. For these hills are really ruined towns and great cities laid out with long, straight streets, tall houses, palaces and temples. But unlike Egypt's stone temples and pyramids, they were built with sun-baked bricks which cracked and crumbled over time, and eventually collapsed into great mounds of rubble.

One such mound, standing in the desert, is all that remains ol Babylon, once the greatest city on earth, a city swarming with people who came there from every part of the world to trade their wares. Upstream, at the foot of the mountains, sits another. This was Nineveh, the second greatest city in the land. Babylon was the capital of the Babylonians - that's easy enough to remember -Nineveh was that of the Assyrians.

Unlike Egypt, Mesopotamia was rarely ruled by just one king. Nor did any single empire survive long within firm frontiers. Many tribes and many kings held power at different times. The most important of these were the Sumerians, the Babylonians and the Assyrians. For a long time it was thought that the Egyptians were the first people to have everything that goes to make up what we call a culture: towns and tradesmen, noblemen and kings, temples and priests, administrators and artists, writing and technical skills. Yet we now know that, in some respects, the Sumerians were ahead of the Egyptians. Excavations of rubble mounds on plains near the Persian Gulf have revealed that the people living there had already learnt how to shape bricks from clay and build houses and temples by 3100 вс. Deep inside one of the largest of these mounds were found the ruins of the city of Ur where, so the Bible tells us, Abraham was born. A great number of tombs were also found that appeared to date from the same time as Cheops's Great Pyramid in Egypt. But while the pyramid was empty, these tombs were packed with the most astonishing treasures. Dazzling golden headdresses and gold vessels for sacrifices, gold helmets and gold daggers set with semi-precious stones. Magnificent harps decorated with bulls' heads, and - would you believe it - a game board, beautifully crafted and patterned like a chessboard. The explorer who found these treasures took many of them to England, where you can see them in the British Museum. Others are in the University of Pennsylvania and the Museum of Baghdad in Iraq.

They also found round seals and inscribed clay tablets in those tombs. However, the inscriptions were not in hieroglyphs, but in a totally different script that was, if anything, even harder to decipher. This was because pictures had been replaced by neatly incised single strokes ending in a small triangle, or wedge. The script is called cuneiform, meaning wedge-shaped. Books made of papyrus were unknown to the Mesopotamians. They inscribed these signs into tablets of soft clay, which they then baked hard in ovens. Huge numbers of these ancient tablets have been found, some recounting long and wonderful stories, such as that of the hero Gilgamesh and his battles with monsters and dragons. On other tablets kings boast of their deeds: the temples they have built for all eternity, and all the nations they have conquered.

There are also tablets on which merchants recorded their business dealings — contracts, receipts and inventories of goods — and thanks to these we know that, even before the Babylonians and Assyrians, the ancient Sumerians were already great traders. Their merchants could calculate with ease, and plainly knew the difference between what was lawful and what was not.
One of the first Babylonian kings to rule over the whole region left a long and important inscription, engraved in stone. It is the oldest law-book in the world, and is known as the Code of Hammurabi. His name may sound as if it comes out of a storybook, but there is nothing fanciful about his laws - they are strict and just. So it is worth remembering when King Hammurabi lived: around 1700 вс, that is some 3,700 years ago.

The upper part of the stele of Hammurabi's code of laws

The Babylonians, and the Assyrians after them, were disciplined and hardworking, but they didn't paint cheerful pictures like the Egyptians. Most of their statues and reliefs show kings out hunting, or inspecting kneeling captives bound in chains, or foreign tribes-people fleeing before the wheels of their chariots, and warriors attacking fortresses. The kings look forbidding, and have long black ringlets and rippling beards. They are also sometimes shown making sacrifices to Baal, the sun god, or to the moon goddess Ishtar or Astarte.

For both the Babylonians and the Assyrians worshipped the sun and the moon, and also the stars. On clear, warm nights, throughout the year and over centuries, they observed and recorded everything they saw in the skies. And because they were intelligent, they noticed that the stars revolved in a regular way. They soon learnt to recognise those that seemed fixed to the vault of heaven, reappearing each night in the same place. And they saw shapes in the constellations and gave them names, just as we do when we speak of the Great Bear. But the stars which seemed to move over the vault of heaven, now, say, towards the Great Bear, and now towards the Scales, were the ones that interested them most. In those days people thought that the earth was a flat disk, and that the sky was a sort of hollow sphere cupped over the earth, that turned over it once each day. So it must have seemed miraculous to them that, although most of the stars stayed fixed to the heavens, some seemed, as it were, only loosely fastened, and able to move about.

Today we know that these are the stars that are close to us, and that they turn with the earth around the sun. They are called planets. But the ancient Babylonians and Assyrians couldn't know that, and so they thought some strange magic must lie behind it. They gave a name to each wandering star and observed them constantly, convinced that they were powerful beings whose positions influenced the destinies of men, and that by studying them they would be able to predict the future. This belief in the stars has a Greek name: astrology.

Some planets were believed to bring good luck, others misfortune: Mars meant war and Venus, love. To each of the five planets known to them they dedicated a day, and with the sun and the moon, that made seven. This was the origin of our seven-day week. In English we still say Satur (Saturn)-day, Sun-day and Mon (moon)-day, but the other days are named after different gods. In other languages - such as French or Italian - most of the days of the week still belong to the planets that the Babylonians first named. Would you ever have guessed that our weekdays had such a strange and venerable history, reaching back all those thousands of years?

To be nearer to their stars, and also to see them better in a misty land, the Babylonians, and the Sumerians before them, erected strange buildings with a wonderful name: ziggurats. These are tall, broad towers made up of terraces piled one on top of another, with formidable ramps and steep, narrow staircases. Right at the very top was a temple dedicated to the moon, or one of the other planets. People came from far and wide to ask the priests to read their fortunes in the stars, and brought offerings of great value. These half-ruined ziggurats can still be seen today, poking out of the rubble mounds, with inscriptions telling how this or that king built or restored them. The earliest kings in this region lived as long ago as 3000 bc, and the last around 550 вс.

The last great Babylonian king was Nebuchadnezzar. He lived around 600 вс and is remembered for his feats of war. He fought against Egypt and brought a vast number of foreign captives home to Babylon as slaves. And yet his truly greatest deeds were not his wars: he had huge canals and water cisterns dug in order to retain the water and irrigate the land, so that it became rich and fertile. Only when those canals became blocked with silt and the cisterns filled with mud did the land become what it is today: a desert wasteland and marshy plain with, here and there, one of those hills I mentioned.

So, whenever we are glad that the week is nearly over, and Sunday is coming round again, we must spare a thought for those hills of rubble in that hot and marshy plain, and for those fierce kings with their long, black beards. For now we know how it all fits together.

Nebuchadnezzar, by William Blake



5 The One and Only God

Palestine - Abraham of Ur - The Flood - Moses' bondage in Egypt and the year of the departure from Egypt - Saul, David, Solomon -The division of the kingdom - The destruction of Israel - The prophets speak - The Babylonian Captivity - The Return - The Old Testament and faith in the Messiah



The finding of Moses, by Edwin Long


Between Egypt and Mesopotamia there is a land of deep valleys and rich pastures. There, for thousands of years, herdsmen tended their flocks. They planted vines and cereals, and in the evenings they sang songs, as country people do. But because it lay between those two countries, first it would be conquered and ruled by the Egyptians, and then the Babylonians would invade, so that the people who lived there were constantly being driven from one place to another. They built themselves towns and fortresses, to no avail. They were still not strong enough to resist the mighty armies of their neighbours.

'That's all very sad, but I can't see what it has to do with history,' you say, 'for the same thing must have happened to thousands of small tribes.' And you're right. But there was something special about this one, because, small and defenceless though they were, they didn't just become part of history, they made history - and by that I mean they shaped the course of all history to come. And this special something was their religion.

All other peoples prayed to many gods - you remember Isis and Osiris, Baal and Astarte. But these herdsmen only prayed to one god, their own special protector and leader. And when they sat beside their camp fires in the evening, and sang songs about their deeds and their battles, they sang of his deeds and his battles. Their god, they sang, was better and stronger and more exalted than all the gods of the heathen put together. Indeed, they insisted as the years went by, he was the only god there was. The One and Only God, Creator of heaven and earth, sun and moon, land and river, plant and beast, and of all mankind as well. It was he who raged furiously against them in the storm, but he never abandoned his people. Not when they were persecuted by the Egyptians, nor when they were carried off by the Babylonians. For that was their faith and their pride: they were dispeople, and he was their God.

You may have already guessed who these strange and powerless herdsmen were. They were the Jews. And the songs of their deeds, which were the deeds of their god, are the Old Testament of the Bible.

One day - but there's no hurry - you may come to read the Bible. Nowhere else will you find so many stories about ancient times so vividly told. And if you read them carefully, you may find that you now understand many of them better. There's the story of Abraham, for example. Do you remember where he came from? The answer is in the Book of Genesis, in chapter 11. He came from Ur in the Chaldees. Ur - that mound of rubble near the Persian (lull, where they dug up all those ancient things like harps and game-boards and weapons and jewellery. But Abraham didn't live there in the earliest times. He was probably alive at the time of Hammurabi, the great lawgiver, which was - as you remember! -around 1700 bc. And many of Hammurabi's strict and just laws turn up again in the Bible.

But that isn't all the Bible has to say about ancient Babylon. Do you know the story of the Tower of Babel, when the people of a great city tried to build a tower that would reach up to heaven, and God was angry at their pride and stopped them building any higher by making them all speak different languages so that they could no longer understand one another? Well, Babel is Babylon. So now you will be able to understand the story better. For, as you know, the Babylonians really did build gigantic towers 'the top of which reached even to the heavens', and they built them so as to be nearer to the sun, the moon and the stars.

The story of Noah and the Flood is also set in Mesopotamia. A number of clay tablets have been dug up, inscribed with cuneiform script telling a story very similar to the one in the Bible.
One of Abraham of Ur's descendants (the Bible tells us) was Joseph, son of Jacob, whose brothers took him to Egypt and sold him, despite which he became a counsellor and minister to the pharaoh. You may know how the story goes on: how there was a famine throughout the land, and how Joseph's brothers travelled to Egypt to buy corn. At that time, the pyramids were already over a thousand years old, and Joseph and his brothers must have marvelled at them, just as we do today.

Rather than return to their own country, Joseph's brothers and their children settled in Egypt, and before long had to toil for the pharaoh as the Egyptians did at the time of the pyramids. In the first chapter of Exodus we read: 'And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour: and they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar and in brick . . .' In the end, Moses led them out of Egypt into the desert - probably in around 1250 bc. From there they tried to win back the promised land - that is, the land in which their ancestors had lived since the time of Abraham. And finally, after long, cruel and bloody battles, they succeeded. So now they had their own small kingdom, with its capital: Jerusalem. Their first king was Saul, who fought against a neighbouring tribe, the Philistines, and died on the battlefield.

David Plays the Harp for Saul, by Rembrandt van Rijn

The Bible has lots of good stories about the next kings, King David and King Solomon. Solomon was a wise and just king who ruled soon after 1000 вс, which was about seven hundred years after King Hammurabi and 2,100 years after King Menes. He built the first Temple of Jerusalem, although his architects weren't Jews, but foreign artisans from neighbouring lands. It was as large and as splendid as any built by the Egyptians or the Babylonians. But in one respect it was different: deep inside the heathen temples there were images of Anubis with his jackal's head, or of Baal, to whom even human sacrifices were made. Whereas in the innermost part of the Jewish temple - the Holy of Holies - there was no image at all. For of the God, whose first appearance in the history of the world was to the people of the Jews - God, the Almighty, the One and Only God - no image could or might be made. All that was there were the tablets of the Laws with their Ten Commandments. In these God had represented himself.

After Solomon's reign things went less well for the Jews. Their kingdom split in two: the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah. Many battles followed, at the end of which one half, the kingdom of Israel, was invaded by the Assyrians in 722 вс, and was conquered and destroyed.

Yet what is so remarkable is that the effect of so many disasters on the few lews who survived them was to make them even more devout. Men arose among them - not priests, but simple people -who felt compelled to speak to their people, because God spoke through them. Their sermon was always the same: 'You yourselves are the cause of your misfortunes. God is punishing you for your sins.' Through the words of these prophets the Jewish people heard again and again that suffering was God's way of punishing them and testing their faith, and that one day salvation would come in the form of the Messiah, their Saviour, who would restore their people to its former glory and bring unending joy.

But their suffering was still far from over. You will remember the mighty Babylonian warrior and ruler, King Nebuchadnezzar. On his way to war with the Egyptians he marched through the Promised Land, where he destroyed the city of Jerusalem in 586bc, put out the eyes of King Zedekiah and led the Jews in captivity to Babylon.

There they remained for nearly fifty years, until, in its turn, the Babylonian empire was destroyed by its Persian neighbour in 538 вс. When the Jews returned to their homeland they had changed. They were different from the surrounding tribes and saw them all as idol worshippers, who had failed to recognise the one true God. So they kept themselves apart and had nothing to do with their neighbours. It was at this time that the Old Testament was first written down as we know it today, 2,500 years later. To those around them, however, it was the Jews who seemed odd, if not ridiculous, with their ceaseless talk of a unique and invisible god, and their strict observance of the most tiresome and inflexible rules and practices ordained by a god whom no one could see. And if the Jews had been the first to distance themselves from other tribes, it was not long before those others were taking even greater care to avoid the Jews, that tiny remnant of a people that called itself'chosen', who pored night and day over their sacred songs and scriptures as they tried to understand why the one and only God allowed his people to suffer so.


The Judgment of Solomon, by Nicolas Poussin



6  I  C-A-N R-E-A-D

Writing with the alphabet - The Phoenicians and their trading posts


Phoenicians bringing gifts for the Persian King, Persepolis relief, 5 century BC


How do you do it? Why, every schoolchild knows the answer: 'You spell out the words.' Yes, all right, but what exactly do you mean? 'Well, there's an I, which makes "I", and then a "C" and an "A" and an "N", which spells "can" - and so on, and with twenty-six letters you can write anything down.' Anything? Yes, anything. In any language? Just about.

Isn't that amazing? With twenty-six simple signs, each no more than a couple of squiggles, you can write down anything you like, be it wise or silly, angelic or wicked. It wasn't anything like as easy for the ancient Egyptians with their hieroglyphs. Nor was it for the people who used the cuneiform script, for they kept on inventing new signs that didn't stand just for single letter sounds, but for whole syllables or more. The idea that each sign might represent one sound, and that just twenty-six of those signs were all you needed to write every conceivable word, was a wholly new invention, one that can only have been made by people who did a lot of writing. Not just sacred texts and songs, but all sorts of letters, contracts and receipts.

These inventors were merchants. Men who travelled far and wide across the seas, bartering and trading in every land. They lived quite near the Jews, in the ports of Tyre and Sidon, cities much larger and more powerful than Jerusalem, and quite as noisy and bustling as Babylon. And in fact, their language and their religion were not unlike those of the peoples of Mesopotamia, though they didn't share their love of war. The Phoenicians (for this was the name of the people of Tyre and Sidon) made their conquests by other means. They sailed across the seas to unknown shores, where they landed and set up trading posts. The wild tribes living there brought them furs and precious stones in exchange for tools, cooking pots and coloured cloth. For Phoenician craftsmanship was known throughout the world - indeed, their artisans had even helped in the construction of Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem. Most popular of all their goods was their dyed cloth, especially the purple, which they sold throughout the world. Many Phoenicians stayed in their trading posts on foreign shores and built towns. Everywhere they went they were welcomed, in Africa, Spain and in southern Italy, on account of the beautiful things they brought.

Nor did they ever feel cut off from home, because they could write letters to their friends in Tyre and Sidon, using the wonderfully simple script they had invented, which we still use today. It's true! Take this 'B', for example: it is almost identical to the one used by the ancient Phoenicians, three thousand years ago, when they wrote home from distant shores, sending news to their families in those noisy, bustling harbour towns. Now you know this, you'll be sure not to forget the Phoenicians.



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