Monday, 22 May 2017

The 8th Century BC in the Near East: Part I

This post will deal with history in the Near Eastern region from the years 800-750 BC (or BCE if you prefer). Although there are many other things happening in the world during this time period, I will focus mainly on the region from Greece to Iran (west to east, and from Armenia to Sudan, north to south).

Our sources for the period are notable but meagre compared to later centuries. This post will mainly use Assyrian chronicles and inscriptions, some later Greek myths and writings that speak of this time, some Egyptian and Urartian inscriptions and the Biblical narratives of 2 Kings/2 Chronicles. All of these sources are problematic. The Greek sources are quite late, some of them over a thousand years after the events described, and should be treated with caution. The Assyrian/Babylonian accounts for this period suffered a lot of destruction from the kings who came after them and they were written as propaganda. The Egyptian sources suffered from the dynasties that came after them and, again, were propaganda. The Hebrew sources were not contemporary (they are from a few hundred years after the events described) and they are also focusing on the narrative of the God of Israel and his people. Anything outside that narrative gets excluded, regardless of how historically important it may have been. So, as always with history, we have to be careful with our sources but thankful that we have any sources at all and especially grateful when archaeology sheds additional light on the written record.

Oracle at Dodona
In Greece we begin to see the sparks of light that would eventually give rise to the Classical Greek civilisation that is so famous in antiquity and beyond. Around this time we believe that the Greeks began to write again. They used a borrowed Phoenician alphabet, changing the characters to suit their own needs. The original writing was done in majuscule (capital letters), as it was mainly inscribed on stone or written on pottery. The lower case variants only really developed a few hundred years later, when writing on scrolls came into more common use.

The Greeks had a number of different dialects (Ionian, Doric, Aeolian etc.) and there were originally a number of different Greek alphabets that differed from each other very slightly (some used the Chi symbol differently than the usage that is known today for example). It is important to note that we have no real Greek writing from the fifty years that we are mentioning but that, as we see Greek writing in the next fifty years coming into more regular usage that it must have been invented in or around this time. For the first time since the Mycenaean Linear B script was being written, the Greeks could preserve their thoughts and deeds other than in memory.

This period sees the beginning of a number of traditions that would be influential in the classical world. One of the main one is the establishment of oracles, particularly the oracle of Delphi. There is evidence that the oracle of Delphi was established around this time. There are legendary accounts of its founding from the previous centuries and more rationalist accounts written later (involving vapours rising from the earth, such as the one preserved in Diodorus Siculus, who wrote around 30BC and is quoted below). There was also an important oracle at Dodona in northern Greece. These oracles, particularly the Delphic Oracle would become very famous and would be consulted by many Greek city states before any great decision would be made.

Modern drawing of the Oracle of Delphi
It is said that in ancient times goats discovered the oracular shrine, on which account even to this day the Delphians use goats preferably when they consult the oracle. They say that the manner of its discovery was the following.
There is a chasm at this place where now is situated what is known as the "forbidden" sanctuary, and as goats had been wont to feed about this because Delphi had not as yet been settled, invariably any goat that approached the chasm and peered into it would leap about in an extraordinary fashion and utter a sound quite different from what it was formerly wont to emit. The herdsman in charge of the goats marvelled at the strange phenomenon and having approached had the same experience as the goats, for the goats began to act like beings possessed and the goatherd began to foretell future events.
After this as the report was bruited among the people of the vicinity concerning the experience of those who approached the chasm, an increasing number of persons visited the place and, as they all tested it because of its miraculous character, whosoever approached to spot became inspired. For these reasons the oracle came to be regarded as a marvel and to be considered the prophecy-giving shrine of Earth.
For some time all who wished to obtain a prophecy approached the chasm and made their prophetic replies to one another; but later, since many were leaping down into the chasm under the influence of their frenzy and all disappeared, it seemed best to the dwellers in that region, in order to eliminate the risk, to station one woman there as a single prophetess for all and to have the oracles told through her.
Diodorus Siculus 16.26.1–4 (written around 30BC)

Another tradition that would be central to Greek culture and that is still practiced in a modified form today, is the Olympic Games. These were a series of contests held at Olympia near the city of Elis (the Eleans supervised the games) as part of a religious festival honouring Zeus, held every four years. Legend states that this was instituted in the 800’s but that it was only in 776BC that they began to record the names of the victors. The victor in the race was Coroebus of Elis and is the first recorded Olympic victor (the victors received laurel wreaths rather than anything valuable). It is probable however that the games only began around this period rather than stretching into remote antiquity. It is also interesting that the first winner was from the local area, suggesting that the games were not seeing many competitors from outside the region. The next recorded winners from succeeding years tended to be from Messene, a city in the Peloponnese whose sad fate in the following decades would shape Greek history for the next centuries.

Location of the stadion race in Olympia
As a result of this, Iphitus proclaimed the truce [which had been fixed by Heracles at the summer solstice; they no longer fought against each other,] and he organised the games together with Lycurgus, who happened to be his relative because they were both descended from Heracles. On this occasion, the only contest was the stadion race; later the other contests were added in their turn.
Aristodemus of Elis relates that the victors in the athletic contests began to be registered in the 27th Olympiad after Iphitus. Before then, no-one had thought to record the athletes' names. In the 28th Olympiad Coroebus of Elis won the stadion race, and he was the first victor to be registered. This was then established as the first Olympiad, from which the Greeks calculate their dates.
Eusebius, Chronicon

As had been the case for the preceding centuries, the expanding population of Greece and the small-scale conflicts between and within the settlements led to Greeks leaving their cities to found new ones. This process, known as sending colonies (rather different from later colonisation in history) saw Greek cities being spread across both sides of the Aegean and was only to expand in later times. As we conclude looking at Greece in the year 800-750BC we see that Greece is still silent but that the seeds of the classical world are being sown. It is important to remember though, that were it not for later sources, there would be almost nothing that could be said of Greece at this time.

Further to the east, in Phrygia, in Asia Minor there is not really much that can be said, save that the Phrygian kingdom, centred on the city of Gordium, existed. We have neither legendary material nor written records of the period to shed light on this kingdom. It is worth noting that if there were no later legends and writings in Greece, we would be able to say nothing about Greece for this period either. Basically, we must be cautious about interpreting lack of evidence. Ancient Phrygia during this time period was certainly wealthier and more connected with the Near East than Greece was, and a chance find of inscriptions might open up unexplored vistas to the historian. We know that the Phrygians had their own alphabet, similarly sourced from Phoenician, and that their language was similar to Greek in certain ways. We have some later inscriptions from this century but very little from the time period that we are dealing with here. Perhaps this will change.

To the south of Egypt, in the land of Nubia, there was a period of consolidation and strengthening among the kings in Napata. The first king that we are aware of is Alara. He unified Kush, lived for a long but currently unknown length of time and was buried in one of the pyramids at the royal cemetery of El-Kurru, near Napata.

Kushite Tomb Painting
The King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Nima’re, Son of Re, Lord of the Two-Lands, Kashta, beloved of Khnum, Satis and Anukis, living forever.
The Elephantine Stela of Kashta

His son, Kashta, further strengthened the Nubian kingdom and began to encroach on Egypt to the north, establishing control over the city of Elephantine. A stela placed in this city shows that the Nubian kings at this point considered themselves fully Egyptian and had ambitions to conquer all of the land of Egypt. While Kashta may have begun the conquest it was not fulfilled during his lifetime.

Egypt at this time was a land divided among the descendants of the Libyan invaders (like Shoshenq I of the earlier dynasty). The 22nd Dynasty controlled much of Lower Egypt, near the mouth of the Nile, while the 23rd Dynasty controlled the area of Upper Egypt with their power centre near Thebes and tied in to the High Priest of Amun whose main sanctuary was at Thebes.

Shoshenq IV of the 22nd Dynasty was succeeded by Pami, in whose reign there were supposedly Apis bulls (bulls that exhibited a particular set of unusual physical characteristics and were worshipped as gods.)  Apis bulls were also recorded in the reign of his successor, Shoshenq V, although the record may be confused and the memories of the Apis bulls recorded may have been confused between the Pharaohs. As the Apis bulls were seen as a sign of divine favour, and as these kings seem to have been weak, there may have been pressure put on the priesthood to declare these omens to bolster the claims of the kings.

Egyptian Inscription
This god (Apis) joined with his father Ptah in regnal year 12, fourth month of winter, day 4 of King Aakheperre, Son of Re, Sheshonq V, given life, being born in regnal year 11 of his Majesty and resting upon his seat in the necropolis in regnal year 37, third month of inundation, day 27 of his Majesty
Stele of Pasenhor

In Upper Egypt, Shoshenq VI was overthrown by Osorkon III who was succeeded by Takelot III. Takelot III was succeeded by his brother Rudamun. The sources are quite poor for these kings and the historical record relies heavily on some inscriptions found that record the Nile levels during the reigns of these kings. In certain cases their burial places are known (albeit looted) and this gives some information. Like their counterparts in Lower Egypt, the kings of the 23rd Dynasty were descendants of the Meshwesh Libyans, who retained a number of their own customs. This left those who followed Egyptian customs feeling that the Libyans were outsiders, and the fragmented nature of their kingship was to expose the dynasty to conquest and rebellion. Ultimately, these dynasties were to be swept away by the Kushite kings of Napata to the south, who were to destroy many of the records of this time, in the name of cleansing Egypt from a foreign scourge. But the Kushite conquest of Egypt falls outside the timeframe we are looking at.

In Elam, there were presumably kings during this period but we know almost nothing about Elam at this time apart from a few fragmentary king names. However, in this era the Iranian tribes were moving into Iran, with the Medes and Persians in or around the western regions of the Urartian kingdoms (in north-western Iran). They were mentioned in some Assyrian inscriptions as powerful tribal confederations but there was as yet no hint of the full greatness that awaited them.

Fortress in Erebuni
Moving on from the land Namri I received tribute from twenty-seven kings of the land Parsua. Moving on from the land Parsua I went down to the lands Mēsu, Media (Amadāiia)...
Inscription of Shalmaneser III’s 24th regnal year detailing campaigns against the Persians and Medes

"Thanks to the greatness of the god Haldi, Argišti says: I conquered Eriahi's country, I conquered the city of Irdaniu, (reaching) as far as the country of Išqigulu"
Urartian Rock Inscription

Urartian quiver showing chariots
In Urartu, in the mountainous regions to the north of Mesopotamia, the Urartian rulers were reaching the peak of their power. This time period, where Assyria and Egypt were weak, allowed many smaller states to thrive on the peripheries. Urartu was in many ways the greatest of these states and was able to rival Assyria itself for a very brief period. King Menua, who reigned from around 810-786BC, built up extensive fortifications and canals and engaged in attacks on Urartu’s neighbours. The Assyrian Empire appears to have been weakened and a number of small buffer states between the kingdoms were now primarily controlled by Urartu.

Through the greatness of the God Ḫaldi, Argishti, son of Menua, built this canal. The land was uninhabited, no one was to be found here. By the grace of Ḫaldi Argishti made this canal. Argishti son of Menua, mighty King, great King, King of Bianiili, ruler of Tushpa
Urartian Inscription

Menua was succeeded by Argishti I, who reigned from around 786-764BC and is famous for building the city of Erebuni, better known today as Yerevan, which is the current capital of Armenia. He fought the Assyrians and appears to have raided within about thirty miles of the Assyrian capital Nineveh. More gallingly for the Assyrians, the Neo-Hittite city of Carchemish and other cities in present-day northern Syria seem to have been under Urartian rule, nullifying the Assyrian gains in that region that had been so bloodily fought for in the previous century.

Urartian Inscription
The same year, for the third time, I went to Eriahini, fired the cities, pillaged the countryside and exiled the population to Biaina. I built forts at Eriahini and annexed the country. The god Khaldi I glorified.
Inscription of Sarduri from Van

Argishti’s son, Sarduri II, who reigned from 764-735BC, continued the onward rush of Urartian power and this era may well be viewed as the golden age of the Urartian kingdom. In many ways, the inscriptions of Sarduri and Argishti can be read similarly to Assyrian inscriptions. They speak of themselves as universal rulers, detail the constant campaigns and building works and seem to actually control a large empire; one that seems to have reached from the Black Sea to the edge of Assyria. Only the fact that the Urartians dedicate their conquests to Khaldi rather than Ashur speaks to the difference. But Assyria had been humbled, not destroyed, and would soon revive to wreak a terrible vengeance for their humiliation.

The boundary which Adad-nārārī, king of Assyria,and Šamši-ilu, the field marshal, established...
Assyrian Inscription of a boundary stone showing the importance of Samsi-ilu.

Assyria, even at the end of its strength, was still very strong. Adad-Nirari III ruled from 811-783BC. He was under the influence of two very powerful characters: His mother, Shammuramat and one of his generals, Shamshi-ilu (or Samsi-ilu depending on the spelling; I have omitted the diacritics). Shamshi-ilu would go on to be the power behind the throne for subsequent kings and even erected monuments to himself. Hazael’s powerful kingdom of Damascus must have been seen as a threat and in 796, the year Hazael died, Adad-Nirari III attacked Damascus and received tribute from the kingdoms of the region, including Israel. While not mentioned in the Biblical texts Adad-Nirari’s intervention would have been seen as a deliverance from the rule of the Arameans of Damascus and the kingdom of Israel revives once Damascus was attacked. Babylon was also attacked by Assyria during Adad-Nirari III’s reign and we know very little of Babylon for his time.

Assyrian statue
Adad-nirārî, strong king, king of the universe, king of Assyria, son of Šamšī-Adad(V), king of the universe, king of Assyria, son of Shalmaneser(III), king of the four quarters: I mustered my chariotry, troops, and armed forces and ordered the march to the land of Hatti. In one year I subdued the entire lands of Amurru and Hatti. I imposed upon them tax and tribute forever. I received 2,000 talents of silver, 1,000 talents of copper, 2,000 talents of iron, 3,000 linen garments with multi-coloured trim - the tribute of Mari, the Damascene. I received the tribute of Joash, the Samaritan, and of the people of Tyre and Sidon.
Assyrian Inscription of Adad-Nirari III

After Adad-Nirari III died, three minor kings followed. Shalmaneser IV reigned from 783-773BC. Ashur-Dan III reigned from 772-755BC and Ashur-Nirari V who reigned from 755-745BC. It is unclear why there are so few records for their reigns. Possibly Assyria had been weakened so much that they were unable to create inscriptions. Possibly their records were destroyed by a later usurper. I suspect that the truth is a combination of the two theories. Shamshi-ilu, the powerful general, continued as a power behind the throne during at least part of this time and fought campaigns against Argishti of Urartu. It is possible that the kings were weak and incompetent and that, as the Assyrian state needed strong kings to survive, that the Turtanu (highest general) would step in to stabilise the state. On one of the only remaining fragments from the reign of Ashur-Nirari V, we hear of another general, Marduk-sharra-usur, who may have been a replacement Turtanu.

However, this situation could not last. Assyria needed a king and in the year 745, a general called Pulu staged a rebellion and quickly took over the Assyrian Empire. He would become known as Tiglath-Pileser III, one of the bloodiest and yet one of the most successful monarchs in history. The period from 800-750 sees a general decline and weakness in the Assyrian Empire. Under Tiglath-Pileser and his successors this would radically change in the next fifty years, and all the other states in the region would suffer from this terrifying renaissance.

Kudurru text from Babylonia
The king of Karduniaš (Babylon), bowed down … He brought back the abducted people and granted them an income, privileges, and barley rations. The peoples of Assyria and Karduniaš were joined together. They fixed the boundary-line by mutual consent.
Synchronistic Chronicle

While Assyria grew weaker, Babylon was unable to capitalise on this weakness. The records of this era are also very poor. The Synchronistic (or Synchronic) Chronicle, written by the Assyrians but dealing with Assyrian/Babylonian relations, ends around 790. Even the names of the kings are obscure. One king is known merely as Ninurta-apla-X, as his name cannot be reconstructed from the damaged clay of the chronicle. Ninurta-apla-X was succeeded by the almost equally unknown Marduk-bel-zeri, whose deeds and regnal dates are unknown but whose name at least survives.
After these kings, a Chaldean, one of the desert tribes from the south of Babylonia, called Marduk-apla-usur came to the kingship. We know very little about him either, save that his dynasty rose and fell with him. He is significant however, as this shows the Chaldean tribes were aspiring to the rule of the city of Babylon. The Chaldeans, particularly those of the House of Yakin (Bit-Yakin tribe), would subsequently rule Babylon.

The next king of Babylon was Eriba-Marduk, one of the first rulers from the Bit-Yakin clan or tribe. He restored Babylonian temples and was seen as bringing back order. As Assyria was weak to the north, Eriba-Marduk was probably one of the most powerful kings of his day, but almost no inscriptions remain from his time.

Eriba-Marduk was succeeded by Nabu-shuma-iskun, who is known in literature, primarily because a rather harsh condemnation of his rule was compiled under his successors: The Crimes and Sacrileges of Nabu-shuma-iskun, which is exactly what it sounds like. He was not from the Bit-Yakin tribe but was a Chaldean ruler. He reigned around 761-748BC. The polemic condemning him attributes crimes such as the bringing of leek vegetables into the temple of Nabu, which sounds pretty trivial to modern ears (although it would have been ritual pollution and very serious in the eyes of the priests). But he is also described as a harsh and unsuccessful ruler who imposed heavy tribute and burned people alive. In short, Assyria was weakened but the Babylonians were divided by infighting, religious strife and tribal conflicts. There is not much more that can be said of Babylon at this point.

Year after year, he made unbearable their burden of slaughter, robbery, murder, corvée, and forced labor. In only one day, he burned alive sixteen Cutheans at Zababa's gate in the heart of Babylon.
The Crimes and Sacrileges of Nabu-shuma-iskun

Aramean ivory carving possibly depicting Hazael
Under Hazael, the kingdom of Damascus had been very powerful in the Levant, with the Arameans sacking Philistine cities on the coast and subduing the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. However, once Hazael was dead, around 796, the kingdom of Damascus weakened dramatically. It is a little difficult even to know who the kings were. The Assyrians attacked Damascus in 796 and spoke of a person called Mari hiding in the city of Damascus (which the Assyrians were unable to take) but this may have been a different name for the king. The Hebrew Book of Kings refers to the son of Hazael as Ben-Hadad and the Stele of Zakkur refers to a king of the period as Bar-Hadad but exactly what happened when Hazael died is rather unclear.

And Jehoash the son of Jehoahaz took again out of the hand of Benhadad the son of Hazael the cities, which he had taken out of the hand of Jehoahaz his father by war. Three times did Joash beat him, and recovered the cities of Israel.
2 Kings 13:25 KJV

It does seem clear that the power of Damascus declines, with Assyria attacking and the smaller kingdoms such as Israel and Judah breaking free from the Aramean yoke. Hamath, a small but significant city-state with close ties to Israel also broke free. One of the kings of Hamath, named Zakkur, was besieged by the Arameans of Damascus but was able to survive the siege and dedicated a stele of thanks to his god, Baalshamin. 
Stele of Zakkur

And Bar-hadad son of Hazael, king of Aram, united against me seventeen kings ... And I lifted up my hands to the Lord of Heaven, and the Lord of Heaven answered me and spoke, the Lord of Heaven to me, through seers and astrologers, and said to me the Lord of Heaven: Fear not, for I have made thee king and will stand by thee, and I will deliver thee from all these kings that have set siege against thee...
Stele of Zakkur

After the reign of Bar-Hadad (who may have directly followed Hazael, or Mari, or have been identical to Mari etc.) there is an interim period where no dates can be drawn with certainty. Towards the end of the period however, a king by the name of Rezin (in Hebrew) or Rahianu (in Assyrian) reigned in Damascus. There is not much more that can be said about Damascus at this time.
The Phoenicians are also not well documented for this period. It is not that the period is a dark age per se. Any of the sources that do exist seem to show the cultures behaving much as expected. But a surprising number of regions that are normally well-documented are silent. There are few sources from the Ammonite, Moabite and Edomite kingdoms for this period as well, with the exception of the Edomite inscription of Deir Alla, which mentions Balaam of Beor. The text is heavily damaged and all translations of it are rather problematic but it seems to speak of Balaam having a dream of impending destruction by the gods.

Deir Alla Inscription: Image from
The misfortunes of the Book of Balaam, son of Beor. A divine seer was he.
The gods came to him at night. And he beheld a vision in accordance with El's utterance. They said to Balaam, son of Beor: "So will it be done, with naught surviving. No one has seen [the likes of] what you have heard!" Balaam arose on the morrow; He summoned the heads of the assembly to him, and for two days he fasted, and wept bitterly…
Deir Alla Inscription

In Israel and Judah, the first few years of the period saw the domination of the region by the Aramean king Hazael. However, their deliverance was near at hand. After the Assyrians had attacked Damascus and Hazael had died, the northern kingdom of Israel counterattacked under king Jehoash (sometimes referred to as Joash). They were able to retake the lands they had lost and the power balance seems to have shifted to see the kingdom of Israel become the most powerful state in the Levant region. Jehoash reigned around 798-782BC but these dates are conjectural. It is rather unlikely that the kingdom of Israel could have recovered from the domination of the Arameans without external factors. The attacks on Damascus by the Assyrians must have been seen as a deliverance, even if it involved paying tribute to the Assyrian rulers. The later Assyrian weakness, combined with the memory of this assistance leads to one of the few moments in the Tanakh where the Assyrians are spoken of well. The prophet Jonah is supposed to have been active around twenty years after this incident and the story of his preaching to the Assyrians and their repentance points to a moment of brief amicability between the two cultures, united against their common enemy in Damascus.

Now Elisha was fallen sick of his sickness whereof he died. And Joash the king of Israel came down unto him, and wept over his face, and said, “O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof”. And Elisha said unto him, “Take bow and arrows.” And he took unto him bow and arrows. And he said to the king of Israel, “Put thine hand upon the bow.” And he put his hand upon it: and Elisha put his hands upon the king's hands. And he said, “Open the window eastward.” And he opened it. Then Elisha said, “Shoot.” And he shot. And he said, “The arrow of the LORD'S deliverance, and the arrow of deliverance from Syria: for thou shalt smite the Syrians in Aphek, till thou have consumed them”.
2 Kings 13:14-17

The Judahite contemporary of Jehoash was their king Jehoash/Joash, who was murdered around 796. His son, Amaziah, took over the throne and was a competent ruler. He fought the smaller kingdoms around Judah and triumphed over Edom, before taking advantage of his strength to attack Israel and being soundly defeated by Jehoash of Israel. After his defeat he was murdered around the year 767.
Jehoash and Amaziah were succeeded by Jeroboah II and Uzziah respectively. These kings seem to have worked in alliance with each other. Egypt was extremely weak. Damascus had been curtailed and Assyria was weak. The reigns of Jeroboam II and Uzziah thus saw one of the last great flowerings of Israelite culture.

Jeroboam II seems to have conquered Hamath and Damascus, although it is more probable that he forced them into a tributary relationship rather than actually conquering the cities. If this was the case, Jeroboam would have led a loose coalition of states that stretched from near the Euphrates River all the way to the borders of Egypt. A great burst of literary creation took place in this milieu of restored power and the prophets Hosea, Jonah, Amos and possibly Joel all active during this time period, although they tended not to be fond of the splendour of the court.

In the southern kingdom of Judah, the king Uzziah took advantage of the new found peace with Israel to attack other states and subdued the Philistines and others to enforce tribute (he probably was paying tribute to Jeroboam II at the same time). The reigns of Jeroboam and Uzziah appear to be the high points for both Israel and Judah.

The power of Jeroboam II was of no help in preserving his dynasty, as his son Zechariah was murdered around six months into his reign by Shallum. Shallum reigned for about a month before Menahem defeated Shallum in a civil war and took over the kingdom. The Northern Kingdom of Israel periodically had bloody dynastic takeovers but the dates of this period are rather confused and not easy to verify archaeologically.

The one major event that is verifiable archaeologically from this time is a great earthquake. The Bible records a major earthquake during this time. Archaeology shows a massive earthquake that caused significant destruction across the Levant and that carbon dating and stratigraphy gives a rough date of around 760. There are destruction layers across nearly every city in the region and geologists class the earthquake as around 7.8-8.2 on the Richter Scale, making it significantly more destructive than any earthquake that has been recorded in the region over the last century. It was destructive enough that it was still referenced in literature over two hundred years after its occurrence and left a lasting cultural memory.

Yea, ye shall flee, like as ye fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah
Zechariah 14:5

Artist's rendering of the ancient Marib Dam
There are two other items that occurred, or were reputed to have occurred during this period that I thought were worth mentioning. The first was one of the greatest engineering wonders of the ancient world. In the south of Arabia, in present-day Yemen, the Sabean kingdom built the Great Marib Dam. This would provide water for extensive irrigation works and was probably the largest dam anywhere in the world at this point. The irrigation it allowed gave the region such prosperity that the later Romans referred to the region as Arabia Felix, meaning Happy/Fortunate Arabia. The dam would be repaired and extended over the years but it stood in one form or another until the generation before Muhammad, finally breaking around 575 AD. Sadly, the remains of the dam have been damaged by the ongoing civil war in Yemen, but damaged or not, its memory stands as a testament to human ingenuity and skill.

...and Ahtaban in Yasran, irrigated by the sluice-ways and his palm grove of Masaman in the district of Nasqum and his house Harur in the town Gaharan and his houses and his river-side fields and his lands and his stream beds in the district of the two tribes Muhanifum and Yabran, when Ilumqah granted to him what He had promised him and when He appointed him as administrator of Marib,...
Later Inscription from the city of Marib showing the concerns of the kings of the Sabaeans with water and irrigation

The other item of note from this time is a legendary one. On the 21st of April, 753BC, legend says that in an obscure set of hills in central Italy, a man named Romulus founded a city and named it after himself. The legend and the dates may be false or obscure, but I thought that the city of Rome was worth mentioning. It is the merest fragmentary detail in this period (if there were no later sources, Rome’s founding would have passed unnoticed). But it would become one of the most crucial places on earth in later periods.

Later Roman sculpture of Romulus and Remus
Remus is said to have been the first to receive an omen: six vultures appeared to him. The augury had just been announced to Romulus when double the number appeared to him. Each was saluted as king by his own party. The one side based their claim on the priority of the appearance, the other on the number of the birds. Then followed an angry altercation; heated passions led to bloodshed; in the tumult Remus was killed. The more common report is that Remus contemptuously jumped over the newly raised walls and was forthwith killed by the enraged Romulus, who exclaimed, ‘So shall it be henceforth with everyone who leaps over my walls.’ Romulus thus became sole ruler, and the city was called after him, its founder.
Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, 1:7

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