I have been behind schedule on my weekly reading of The History of the Ancient World by Susan Wise Bauer. I should be finishing up with Chapter 49 this week; I need to get back on track to finish my reading by the end of June. This is the first book in her narrative on world history, covering the period up to the Fall of Rome. The next two volumes are already out and on my bookshelf awaiting their turn, The History of the Medieval World and The History of the Renaissance World.
I just worked my way through Chapters 19-21. While the chapters in the book are usually just a few pages long (~5) they pack in a wealth of information. I know I will be re-reading this book multiple times as I do readings pertinent to this time period to digest all the information and continue to connect the dots.
In quick summary Chapter 19 covers the period from 2181-1782 BC dealing with a period of anarchy in kingdoms of Egypt. Egyptian historians of the time choose to avoid this period of upheaval by trying to leave the Ninth and Tenth dynasties out of the history writings. In the middle of the Eleventh dynasty Mentuhotep I begins his reign on the throne in Thebes and finally is able to change his name to "Uniter of the Two Lands" (Upper and Lower Egypt). It took him nearly 40 years to achieve this uniting; he didn't appear to have left behind any blood heirs to the throne and was followed by Amenemhet I, a commoner. Amenemhet I was murdered by a bodyguard but his son was able to succeed him and was followed by his son, a grandson and his great-grandson, Senusret III. Senusret III was an enormous man standing 6'-6" tall and went about building forts, at least thirteen, more than any other pharaoh.
Chapter 20 set in Mesopotamia during 2004-1759 BC. What happens in the chaos following the fall of Ur to the Elamites in ~1600 BC? Here we learn you can't cheat a death prophesy, even if you are ruler. Erra-imitti, ruler of Isin, tried to prevent his foretold misfortune by appointing a stand-in ruler, only to choke on soup (more likely poisoned) and die leaving the stand-in the ruler. This fortunate stand-in was to be executed at the end of the stand-in day, but instead went on to rule for twenty-four years.
Wrapping up with Chapter 21 set in 1766 in what is known as modern day China. The Xia Dynasty did not have to deal with the barbaric threats common to the kingdoms of Egypt but their own rulers balance between virtue and wickedness. "The first kings of a dynasty earn their right to rule by their wisdom and virtue. They pass their rule to their sons, and as time goes on those sons become lazy. Laziness becomes decadence, decadence becomes dissolution, and dissolution leads to a dynasty's fall." I think this snippet is well stated and continues on for a bit more if you grab a copy of the book.
Sima Qiam (~ 145 BC – 86 BC) took his father's place as Prefect of the Grand Scribes to continue to document history in China. Somewhere along the way he seemed to have upset the Emperor and only spared his life by being castrated. He wrote Shiji (Records of the Grand Historian) that covered the Yellow Emperor (~2600 BC) to publication in 91 BC. He changed the standard for history writing from being event driven to biographies. He didn't divide his work up by historical sequence but by subject to try and show a pattern or development over time in a particular area. Subjects included economics, religion, ceremonies, annals of dynasties, and those deemed exemplary lives.
Oxford World Classics has published The First Emperor: Selections from the Historical Records that includes selections from Sima Qiam's work.
[Notice: Original posting 2014-01-17 at Plethora of Books Blog: http://bookchallenges.weebly.com]
Tags: General, History, Updates