’Twas a time of great upheaval, that shining interval after the rise of the first human empire, but before the invention of marshmallows. Sumerian civilization (as always) was in a death spiral, much like the band it was named after (Sumer’s #1 hit, “I Dream of Water” went bronze c.a. 1900 B.C.E.).
People speaking languages from the branches of a Semitic root took the ancient Near East by storm, but the final nail in Ur’s coffin was Ibbi-Sin. Ibbi-Sin was an amazing man whose shining incompetence and predilection for calling his mother “Mommy” in official government records allowed the mighty Empire of Ur a glorious decline into obscurity. Mesopotamians for centuries after Ibbi-Sin’s demise came to recall his reign of ineptness fondly, and countless politicians have since tried to match his sheer stupidity. Only a handful have succeeded; even less have surpassed it.
It was in this climate that a series of crude and disparate civilizations sprouted from the detritus of a thousand years’ angst.
Baby-lonians were a race of super-intelligent toddlers, and the first people to make widespread use of the “frivolous lawsuit.” The first such suit most likely took place around 1800 B.C.E. when a traveling salt merchant sued the owner of a pepper plantation for charging him using a base sixty counting system. This suit was later dropped when both sides agreed to a joint condiment salt and pepper power-share which still reverberates today in our very kitchen cabinets.
For centuries, Babylon had been a weak city, subject to the looming threat of their neighbors’ (the Aggressiveites and Conqueronians) imperial imposition. That all changed once Hammurabi took over one cold and stormy night. Hammurabi was seen as an “aristocrat of the people,” and worked day and night to ensure that laws clearly stating the inferiority of the peasantry to the nobility were written down on stone tablets.
Hammurabi wasn’t just concerned with creating a system of uniform justice dispensation, though. No, not by a long shot. He was a military genius, turning foreign heads of state against each other using the deadly art of diplomacy (and necromancy). Naturally, Hammurabi used his neutrality to consolidate his reputation as a really good ally while building his forces for an eventual mass invasion of his good allies. Unfortunately, Hammurabi’s greatest strength was also his undoing. After 42 solid years of hamming up Babylon, Hammurabi was crushed to death under a giant stone tablet with Babylon’s laws carved onto it.
Some historians in the late 20th century speculated Hammurabi’s death was orchestrated by a secret quasi-religious organization, and that Hammurabi left behind subtle clues to allow watchful adventurers the opportunity to catch them. Though this has been repeatedly debunked, the “Hammurabi Code” still persists in some historical circles.
Born on the sandy banks of the Nile, Egypt was torn apart during its early years by a cabal of insane mapmakers, angered by the mislabeling of northern Egypt as the “Lower Kingdom” and southern Egypt as... wait for it... the “Upper Kingdom.”
Once their civil war died down and the mapmakers were sealed for all time in the bowels of the sphinx (which is why the sphinx was originally created), Egypt was once again united under the rule of a single pharaoh. Okay, truth be told the pharaohs of this time period (the Middle Kingdom) were seen as less of a deity than their predecessors. This is corroborated by an opinion poll finding the great Metuhotep had a lower name recognition rate than a famous bartender in Memphis. To be fair, the bartender was Chuck Norris.
In a pitiful attempt to boost the standing of the pharaoh in popular culture, propaganda ran on all the media outlets warning citizens that it was “better to die in the service of the pharaoh than easily become the tribal leader of another nation using your superior Egyptian knowledge and to live the rest of your lives in luxury and contentment.” Fortunately, the Middle Kingdom came to nothing and soon it was conquered by the Hicks, mountain folk from central Asia.
This ushered in an era of darkness, in which the Egyptians fought for their freedom against the redneck menace. Shirtless and with but a single tooth each, the Hicks’ contribution to western civilization is sadly often underrated. In the 1950s, archaeological evidence surfaced indicating that the Hicks were responsible not only for the domestication of the dune buggy, but for the invention of deep frying.
The reign of the Hicks was short-lived, however. Once Ra descended onto the Great Pyramid in his spaceship, he saw the plight of his human slaves and immediately summoned over ten thousand (10,001 is still technically over 10,000) Jaffa from his stronghold on Abydos through the Earth’s Antarctican stargate. Realizing their imminent doom, the Hicks fell back to the Egyptian stargate they’d captured during the beginning of the conflict. But the fools accidentally dialed out during a solar flare, and the entire Hick army was sent back to the Cretaceous Period. They single handedly killed every last dinosaur. Thus Egypt’s New Kingdom began.
Hatshepsut was the first female pharaoh of the New Kingdom, and indeed the first woman in all of Egyptian history. Before her every Egyptian was a cloned male, derived from a master genome stored in the capital. She was desperately afraid of being a trendsetter, though, and had all statues of her carved to include a beard. She was succeeded by Thutmosis III, who was elected with the largest divine mandate in Egyptian history. Thutmosis III is best remembered for his conquest of Miami, Florida, and his formation of the metric system. He was also the first pharaoh to write his name in wet cement, to the chagrin of the Bricklayer Guild.
“It’s not impossible to understand the Greeks without first looking at the Minoans and the Mycenaeans, but why would you? I mean, seriously, why?”
Dr. Galacto (the world’s foremost historian/economist/spaceman) said this during his keynote address at the World Hellenic Society conference of 1992, but it could have been said by any archaeologist at any time. Without the influences of both the Minoans and Mycenaeans, ancient Greece would not have existed as it did... exist.
Unlike other civilizations of the time, the Minoans were aquatic. They had gills, and rode giant domesticated sea horses. Though they traded extensively with land-based civilizations, they held a deep disdain for humans. Mycenaeans were a horse of a completely different texture. They created what would later evolve into the Greek language, Linear B. Linear A was already trademarked by the Minoans, and they did such a good job of covering their tracks that we still can’t decipher Linear A.
As Dr. Galacto pointlessly pointed out, the Minoans were a sea-based people who worshiped the bull. Later, one of the Greek gods, Poseidon, would be represented by a bull. Now, Dr. Galacto wasn’t intimating that the religious nature of the bull was transferred from Minoan society to Greek society... but he sure made it seem that way in his keynote speech. Some field archaeologists criticize Dr. Galacto for oversimplifying Greek religion, and for mocking the Greeks for “forgetting how to read a simple little children’s book during their childish dark age.”
The good doctor was quick to point out during the Q/A that he admired some parts of archaic age Greece, such as the Iliad and Odyssey, which achieved a level of cultural pervasiveness in Byzantine culture that the bible has never reached in western Europe. “Then again,” he quipped, “the Byzantines were a truly pathetic people. I mean, if you look at the way their society caved to the Turks, then I’m sure Russia is a worthy successor to their legacy.” The World Hellenic Society never invited Dr. Galacto to another summit.
Another fascinating factoid about the Greeks: they had no eyelids. True story.