On the Eastern Factors in Greek Civilization

2020-06-22 | By Historian | Filed in: Character.

Summary: There are probably many people who believe today that Western civilization is very different from other civilizations in other parts of the world and evolved independently from ancient Greek and Roman civilizations through medieval Christian civilization to modern industrial civilization. Even some people attribute the political, economic, legal, cultural and educational systems in Europe after the Industrial Revolution to the evolution of the “inherent essence” of ancient Greek and Roman civilizations. In fact, in ancient times, this view was opposed by people. In the 1920s and 1930s, this view that the “West” has become a civilization tradition since ancient Greece and Rome began to be fundamentally questioned. Now more and more scholars have found that “western” civilization actually “originated” from non-western-more specifically, ancient “eastern” civilizations. Greece in the oriental era was influenced by eastern civilization in various fields.

Hegel once said:“The Eastern world is the foundation of the Greek world”.As far away as the West is still in the period of primitive society, the two river basins in the East, Egypt, India and other places have established powerful countries.With the development of East-West trade, the continuous occurrence of wars and large-scale immigration, the people of all ethnic groups along the Mediterranean coast merged with each other to a certain extent, which promoted the gradual introduction of Eastern culture into Greece.The Greeks learned pinyin characters from the East, natural knowledge such as astronomy, mathematics and medicine from Egypt and Babylon, as well as their agriculture, handicraft industry, navigation and ironware manufacturing technologies. They also learned a lot from various primitive religious superstitions in the East, thus producing and enriching their own culture.Mesopotamia and Egypt, which are the so-called East-West confrontation, are like two lighthouses shining on the unknown Western world.

“Light comes from the East”, a famous ancient Greek proverb, describes the influence of ancient Asian and African cultures on ancient Greek culture. However, there are still many people who hold sufficient reasons to believe that western civilization is very different from other civilizations in other parts of the world. It was developed and evolved independently from ancient Greek and Roman civilizations through medieval Christian civilization to modern industrial civilization. Even some people attribute the political, economic, legal, cultural and educational systems in Europe after the Industrial Revolution to the evolution of the “inherent essence” of ancient Greek and Roman civilizations. In fact, in ancient times, this view was opposed by people. In the 1920s and 1930s, this view that the “West” has become a civilization tradition since ancient Greece and Rome began to be fundamentally questioned. Now more and more scholars have found that the “western” civilization actually “originated” from non-western-more specifically, the ancient “eastern” civilizations, [2] the most representative work among them is Bernal’s “Black Athena”.

Generally speaking, it is difficult for the debate among classical scholars to attract the attention of the general public, but Black Athena, the Non-Asian Root of Classical Civilization (Volume 1) [3], which was published in 1987 and won the 1990 National Book Award, is an exception. This is a revisionist work on the origin of Greek civilization. In fact, it is also the most controversial work on ancient history published in the West in recent decades. Its purpose, method, logic and hypothesis have become the focus of people’s attention. Major academic institutions in the United States, such as the American Classical Society, the Egyptian Society and the Language Society, have all launched heated discussions on this issue. Today, the debate is no longer limited to classical scholars and Egyptian scholars. Various media have joined the debate and published a large number of research articles and comments. There are some supporters and some opponents. Some even call the debate a “cultural war”. Some people accused him of drawing a conclusion easily without sufficient evidence-the so-called “only bold assumptions, not careful verification”, while others said that this was the fashion of catching up with revisionists. In any case, his important proposition that ancient Greek culture, which is not new, is influenced by ancient civilizations in West Asia and North Africa cannot be easily ignored. However, what we want to oppose is the kind of “African-centered theorists”-this view has long been expressed in the form of “pan-Egyptism” and “pan-Babylonism” of world civilization-who not only deny the achievements of ancient Greeks in philosophy, science and democracy, Moreover, it is ridiculous to say that Socrates and Cleopatra are both black, Aristotle stole Alexandria’s library, etc. [4]

Martin Bernal is an orientalist with a sinological background and a major leader of contemporary African centralism in the United States. He now teaches at Cornell University in New York. He is a halfway decent person in classical studies, but it is precisely because of this book that he became famous and became the focus of the media. Bernal was born in 1937 in a Jewish scholarly family in London. His father was a consultant to General Mountbatten during World War II. His grandfather was a famous Egyptologist A. Gardiner. He studied at King’s College, Cambridge University in 1957, received a doctor’s degree in Orientalism from Cambridge University in 1966, and was a professor of Orientalism at Cornell University in 1988. Early studies of Chinese history include “Liu Shipei and the Quintessence of Chinese Culture” and “China’s Socialist Movement Before 1907” [5].

Although the first two volumes of the four-volume macro book are planned to be published, the special interest and heated debate aroused by the book are beyond people’s imagination. The book “Black Athena” marks a challenge to ancient and modern scholars studying ancient Greek history. The ancient Greeks believed that many important factors in their culture were borrowed from various civilizations in the Near East, especially from Egyptian civilization. Professor Bernal called this theory the “Ancient Model”, Almost all scholars from ancient times until the Enlightenment accepted this view. However, in the 1830s and 1940s, people suddenly changed this view and replaced it with the so-called “Aryan Model”. This view emphasizes that invaders from the north who speak Indo-European languages play a decisive role in the formation of Greek culture, and this view still hangs over western academic circles. The core of Black Athena is to advocate the abandoned “ancient model”, The view that people have abandoned is not based on historical facts, It is because this view emphasizes the influence of “East”, especially “Egypt”, on the history of ancient Greece, which is absolutely intolerable to those scholars who have superiority for 19th century European culture, whether romantic, nationalist or radical. If scholars accept Professor Bernal’s point of view, they will understand the origin of Greek civilization as a “Modified Ancient Model”. That is to say, they emphasize the decisive influence of Near East civilization, especially Egyptian civilization, on Greek culture during its formation in the 2,000 years before the era, while the “Aryan Model” only emphasizes the Indo-European characteristics in Greek.

It is unprecedented to revise the history of ancient Greece on such a large scale, so it is not surprising that people have found some deficiencies in Professor Bernal’s works.

First of all, he underestimated the effective explanation given by predecessors, especially German scholars in the 19th century, to the root of Greek culture emphasized by the “ancient model”. Therefore, Professor Bernal’s accusations against classical scholars in the past are not all acceptable. In fact, in ancient times, Hercetaeus of Miletus believed that the Greeks had long been descendants of Egyptian civilization. [6] Herodotus pointed out that Cadmus, the founder of Thebes, a major Greek city-state, was a prince of Phoenicia belonging to the Semitic race, and pointed out that many Greek divine names came from Egypt, such as the name of Hercules, who was a true god. Herodotus decided to sacrifice to him after visiting several temples. In fact, many Greek religious ceremonies also came from Egypt. [7] Ancient Greek historians claim that many Greek philosophers and artists (both legendary and real historical figures) have studied in Egypt. For example, many such figures can be found in the works of historian Diodorus in the 1st century BC: Daedalus, Homer, Lycurgus, Plato, Solon, Pythagoras and Eudoxus, etc. [8] Contemporary scholars seldom think that all these people have traveled in Egypt, but few people all deny that they have not been to Egypt. More importantly, few scholars today argue about the fact that Egyptian culture has an important influence on Greek civilization. As early as the Renaissance, French classical scholar Joseph Scaliger [9] pointed out that Greeks benefited from the achievements of non-Greeks.

George Sutton, a great expert in the history of science, said: “The foundation of Greek science is completely Eastern. No matter how profound Greek genius is, without these foundations, it will not necessarily be able to create anything comparable to its actual achievements. …… We have no right to ignore the Greek genius of the Egyptian father and Mesopotamian mother “; [10] Whitehead also said: “We inherited morality and religion from the Semitic people and practice from the Egyptians”; In the late 1960s, Assyrian scientists Godon, [11] Astor [12] and classical scientist Webster [13] tried to establish an important connection between ancient Greece and the ancient Near East. However, people of that era were so hostile to this kind of view that in 1967, the outstanding classical archaeologist Cook wrote in ” The Journal of Greek Studies asserted with a little fear that “the style of Egyptian sculpture probably had no direct influence on Greece in the 7th century BC… and there was no sign that Greek sculptors at that time had obtained Egyptian statues”. [14] The main viewpoints concerning Egypt’s influence on early Greece during this period were fully elaborated in the article entitled “Egyptian Mirage” published by Vladivodi in 1971. [15] In any case, the academic view on the relationship between Greece and Egypt has changed greatly since 1971, but Professor Bernal’s research on this academic development has only been dealt with hastily.

In fact, the influence of purely Indo-European factors exaggerated in the past on Greece is also rapidly disappearing. In the past 20 years, some things, like the “ancient model” revised by Professor Bernal, have been rapidly accepted by scholars interested in the origin of ancient Greek civilization. When there are different opinions expressed, it mainly involves Professor Bernal’s views, such as Egypt’s influence occurred in what and how, rather than affecting the facts themselves.

Secondly, Professor Bernal’s attitude towards the relationship between Greece and Egypt is one-sided. He only emphasizes that Greece borrowed a lot from Egypt and ignores Greece’s influence on Egypt. For example, Egypt in the Hellenistic era was deeply influenced by Greece. The Hellenistic era (323-30BC) is an important era to communicate Eastern culture and Greek culture. Greeks and Orientals lived together in Hellenistic cities, thus bringing about complicated social and cultural changes on both sides. But in the first century after Alexander’s conquest, the reference was almost one-way: the East learned from Greece. At this time, the confidence of the conquerors had not declined, the social vitality of Greece itself had not yet declined, and Greek immigrants had flocked to the East, bringing their unique lifestyle. The upper-class society in Hellenistic cities wants to be regarded as a standard Greek regardless of its origin and cultural background. It can be said that different traditions and cultures at different levels participated in the process of Hellenization.

Another example is the Sanskrit words “book”, “pen” and “ink” originated from Greek. This superficial knowledge was only initiated in India after Indians gained some knowledge in the book trade with Hellenistic people. [16] In the Nisa Court of Parthia, the wine glass is engraved with Dionysian stories. The palace is decorated with statues of Aphrodite, Heracles and Hera, and Greek plays are also staged. [17] The small monarchs of Cappadocia, Bendu, Bitinia and Armenia in Asia Minor also fell in love with Greek culture at first sight. They accepted the name of Greek worship, used Greek language in the court, built Greek temples, and named the newly-built cities after themselves, [18] all tried to be listed with the Greek-Macedonian monarchy. Basileus (King) has been written on Persian currency, which shows the deep influence of Greek culture on it. [19] Of all the social groups in the Hellenistic world, Jews are perhaps the least susceptible to external influences. However, according to the Biography of Magabi, a prelate named Jason in Jerusalem Church led his compatriots to accept the Greek way of life. The trend of pursuing Greek lifestyle and foreign customs has reached such a crazy level that even the priests have lost interest in the holy system and are not interested in sacrifices. As soon as they saw the signal, they rushed out to take part in the sports meeting prohibited by the law. [20] In order to compete in sports, some Jews even did not hesitate to undergo surgery to remove the scars left by circumcision (1 Magabi, 1.15).

However, Professor Bernal has pointed out that he is not trying to prove that “Greece is like Egypt or Levante”, but only that the relationship between Greece and Egypt is like “Vietnam, South Korea or Japan is like China”. Therefore, the Greeks and the present-day Westerners of their spiritual successors need not be confused by the fact that they borrowed scientific knowledge and technology from the Egyptians and Babylonians, because they have improved them and can completely give up the mentality of abandoning chauvinism and self-defense. Equally important is that the value of the recipient culture is determined not only by the foreign culture they borrow, but also by the background of the new culture.

The discussion on the origin of Greek civilization caused by Black Athena not only makes people notice the important role played by Egyptian civilization in the formation of Greek civilization, but also discovers some incredible details from time to time. What is the reason why classical scholars have neglected or forgotten these details for a long time? Just like the famous Assyrian expert Frankfurt, who proved that there were some Sumerian factors in the culture of the late pre-dynasty Egypt, he could not provide key details on the history of the formation of Egyptian civilization. Therefore, the determination of North Africa and West Asia factors in early Greek culture does not necessarily explain how Greek classical civilization was formed. [21]

However, facts have proved that various civilizations in the East-Sumerian civilization, Egyptian civilization, Hittite civilization, Babylonian civilization, Hebrew civilization and ancient Indian civilization, etc.-have made great contributions to ancient Greek civilization, especially Hittite civilization played a bridge role between ancient East and ancient Europe. As early as 3,000 BC, highly developed and rigorous countries with political and written systems were established in what is now called the Near East, including Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, Egypt and other regions. This Near East cultural circle has established close contacts with its neighboring regions, not only in politics, military affairs, commerce and technology, but also in language, literature and art.

Around 3000 BC, in various fields deeply influenced by the East, there was a prosperous Crete civilization in the Aegean Sea area in the eastern Mediterranean world. This civilization was very closely related to the Asian and African continents and was deeply influenced by various civilizations in West Asia and Egypt. At that time, Europe, the “Greek region”, was still an ignorant and uncivilized region. Unlike the Hebrews, the Greeks had no direct ties with Mesopotamia itself, but in the Mycenaean era, the Greeks had close political and economic ties with the Hittites and Canaanites, close neighbors of the Mesopotamians. Through the cities of South Anatolia, Canaan, Cyprus and Crete transmit material and spiritual wealth. There is no doubt that these things have taken root in Greek culture. The cylindrical seal found in the public astonishing cellar at Depis several years ago did not shock the archaeological community. What is certain is that many such items will be found on Greek soil in the future. In the early 20th century, British archaeologist Wu Lei excavated Al Mina near the mouth of the Orontes River in Syria. It is confirmed that the Greeks on the island of Ubija came here at least before the end of the 9th century BC (which may be called Posideion at that time). A large number of unearthed cultural relics show that the Greeks used this place as a trade warehouse, indicating that Greece had strong trade relations with West Asia during this period. This Trade Point flourished for hundreds of years [22] and the Greeks used it as a stronghold and then conducted direct trade with the two river basins. This trade spread bronzes, jewelry and ivory ornaments from West Asia to Greece. At the same time, due to social unrest in West Asia, not only many articles were exported to Greece, but also a considerable number of craftsmen came to the Greek world to seek a way out. They set up their own handicraft workshop in Crete, engaged in jewelry processing and making bronze ware, and some artisans even arrived in Attica. Such exchanges and contacts have had an immeasurable impact on Greek culture. [23]

Not only in West Asia, the ancient Greeks also built the Nocradis Commercial Station on the Canosse River, a tributary of the Nile River in Egypt. Egypt’s Pharaoh Sametik I (663-609 BC) established a powerful army and fleet for hegemony. Most of his soldiers were Greek mercenaries. He also invited many Greek businessmen to settle in Egypt, [24] Nocradis was established at this time. [25] When Pharaoh Ames (578-525 BC) promised the Greeks that they could build this place into a pure Greek city, where temples could be built in their own form and markets could be operated according to their own wishes. Since then, Nocradis has become the commercial center of Egypt, Greece and other Mediterranean countries. It is conceivable that the Greeks learned much about the Egyptians from here.

North Africa and Asia Minor along the Mediterranean coast have long had relatively frequent commercial exchanges and produced metal currencies. About the 7th century BC, coins were introduced into Greece from Lydia in the western Asia Minor Peninsula and soon played an important role in Greek social life. Early Greek progressive politicians and philosophers all cared about and encouraged the development of commodity monetary economy. Ksenopheni (about 565-473 BC), who lived in the 6th century BC, recorded in his works that “Lydians were the first to make coins”. Pythagoras was the first to introduce scales and rulers from the east to Greece, and was the first city-state of Croton in Greater Greece to lead the casting of metal currency and actively promote the commodity economy. The development of commodity economy and the widespread use of metal coins prompted the rapid disintegration of Greek primitive tribes. As Engels pointed out: “The ancient clan system is not only unable to oppose the victory of money, but also has absolutely no way to find a foothold for money, creditors, debtors and forced debts within its own structure.” The tribal system linked by blood ties was destroyed. The social structure has changed, Class differentiation has intensified. Within the slave-owner class, “a new class has emerged, that is, the rich engaged in industry and commerce”, “a class not engaged in production but only engaged in product exchange-businessmen has been created”, “the new wealth aristocrats, since they have not been in conformity with the old tribal aristocrats from the very beginning, have completely excluded the tribal aristocrats to the back”. The Greek nation has become a “commercial nation” with commodity currency in a dominant position. This is a prominent feature of the ancient Greek nation.

Commercial exchanges will definitely bring about the spread of culture. We can find Eastern factors in various fields of Greek culture.

The writing of modern European and American countries, tracing back to its origin, mostly comes from ancient Greek, which in turn comes from hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt. Before 3000 BC, Egypt had invented 24 pictographic symbols. After the Aramais, who mastered the commercial hegemony in West Asia, and the Phoenicians, who mastered the commercial hegemony in the Mediterranean, absorbed Egyptian hieroglyphs around 1600 BC, the hieroglyphs were gradually simplified to 22 letters because businessmen were busy keeping accounts. Each letter represented a simple consonant and no vowel. The Aramais spread this letter to all parts of West Asia and finally to India and Central Asia, from which Indian Sanskrit letters developed. Phoenicians also introduced it to Greece by sea around the 14th century BC (the direct meaning of Greek phoinikeia is “Phoenician”). Phoenician’s 22 letters are arranged in sequence and each letter is given a name. The Greeks adopted the names of these letters, and their order was basically the same, with a slight correction in pronunciation. For example, the Greek letter aIpha and Phoenician mean aIeph, which means cow. Beta, beth, means tabernacle or house; Gamma, gimel, means camel; DeIta, daIeth, means door, etc. Around 900 BC, Greek talents gradually created 24 Greek letters based on these letters. As for the Greek dialects, such as Ionian, Ionian, Doris, etc., which were slightly different from each other at first, but by the 5th century BC to the 4th century BC, they had mixed into a common language, Ionian.

Early Greek writing, like Phoenician letters, was written from right to left. But after the 5th century BC, the Greek alphabet was also written from left to right. For the convenience of writing, some letters have also been reversed. At the same time, some changes have been made to the Phoenician alphabet. For example, the Phoenician letters do not have letters representing vowels, and it is also seen that a few of the Phoenician letters represent consonants that are not found in Greek. The Greeks then use such consonants to represent Greek vowels, that is, a, e, i, o, u to represent Greek vowels, thus gradually forming a perfect pinyin character with clearer and more accurate pronunciation. The Greek Athens alphabet was later introduced into Eastern Europe and is still used in Russia and Poland today. The Greek alphabet of Calcas of Ubija was introduced to Rome through its Italian colony Kumai. The Romans used it to create Latin, and Ladine became the originator of Western and Northern European languages.

At first, Greek phonetic alphabet was mostly used for commercial transactions, bookkeeping and religion, and was only applied to politics around the 7th century BC. As for the application to academic culture, it may be later. Greek writing tools dipped reeds in ink and sponges sucked ink or erased the words written. According to the ancient Roman writer Pliny, at first, the Greeks wrote on leaves or bark, while the general Greeks used clay tablets when writing. Later, the more durable ones were written on papyrus imported from Egypt, and some were written on sheepskin. At that time, the article was written in sections on papyrus or sheepskin, with a length of about 20 feet, and then rolled on a wooden stick. This scroll is called “biblos”, which was originally the name of Phoenician city, and papyrus was input from the city. When the scroll forms a work, it is called Jomos. At that time, reading and writing were difficult and expensive, so before the 7th century BC, few Greek civilians could read and write. It was not until the 6th century BC that Pisistratu began to collect books and set up a library.

The appearance of writing has had a profound impact on Greek social system and spiritual culture, especially in the field of literature. Greek mythology also shows that it was influenced by many Mesopotamians. Such as Sumerian myth, Hittite myth, Canaanite myth, etc. The narration of Hongmeng’s early opening and other parts in Hesiod’s “Divine Spectrum” have much in common with oriental myths. The flood story in Mesopotamia is similar to the legend of Ducallion in Greek mythology. Ducallion built a boat and passed through the flood, which destroyed other human beings. The theme of killing dragons in Mesopotamian mythology has similar legends in Greek legends, such as the stories of Jason and Hercules, both of whom killed several monsters. God’s plague to punish human beings is a subject in Greek and Mesopotamian mythology. The underworld of Greece and Mesopotamia is also strikingly similar. The underworld of both is a gloomy place, separated from the real world. The afterlife and reality are only connected by an ominous river through which the dead are transported. Similarly, the Greek elegy for the dead seems to have similarities in Sumerian works, which have recently been translated from clay tablets by Moscow’s Pushkin Museum. In the work, a Mesopotamian poet laments the death of his father and wife in exaggerated language. Even the forms of Greek epics, the Iliad and Odyssey influenced by other media, can be found in Mesopotamian epics. [26] At this time, Phoenician gods were also introduced into Greece. For example, in Phoenician mythology, there was a god called “Pu’ang” (Hammer God), which was later renamed “Pigme” by the Greeks, meaning “God with Big Fist”. [27]

Some heroic themes also spread from the East to Greece during the Mycenaean period. For example, Achilles and Paltroclus can be compared with Gilgamesh and his friend Enji. Odysseus’s wandering can be compared with Gilgamesh’s wandering. His beloved wife was recovered (Menelaus’ search for Helen-the cause of the Greek appearance in Troy; Odysseus’ search for Penelope), a theme also found in the narrative poems of Hittite and Canaan.

In the field of Greek “wisdom” literature, scholars have only recently discovered archetypes from Mesopotamia. Several stories in Aesop’s Fables have archetypes in Sumer. The persuasion words in the 18th century BC edition of “The Almanac of Farmers” in the two river basins are strangely similar to Hesiod’s “The Time of Field Workers and Peasants”. Many Sumerian dialogues are now being pieced together for translation, which may prove that some works such as Plato’s Dialogue Collection have some prototypes from Mesopotamia.

There are great differences on the extent to which Greek philosophers were influenced by the East. Greek worshippers in the 19th century believed that Greek thought was original. If it was detrimental to this, they could not admit it. This has led to an opposite tendency to think that Greek thought is completely foreign and to deny their originality at all. Guthrie, a famous historian of ancient Greek philosophy, objectively believed that these opinions were based on prejudice and conjecture, not on real knowledge. He said that the excavation of thousands of clay tablets has correctly explained how much Eastern science and philosophy have taught Greece. He admitted that in specific astronomy, mathematics and other scientific and technological fields, the Orientals had already surpassed Greece and were teachers of the Greeks. He also restated Herodotus and Aristotle’s statement that the oriental people developed these science and technology only for practical and religious needs, only at the stage of individual and specific things, and had not yet risen to the understanding of general theories. Only when the Greeks raised the question of “why” and made further demands due to exploring the reasons did they get a general understanding. Fire, in the eyes of the Egyptians, is a useful tool that affects all aspects of their lives. The Greeks, on the other hand, want to ask why the same fire can do many different things. Is the essence of fire what? In this way, the Greek thought rose greatly to reach the general abstract thinking, resulting in theoretical science or philosophy. It was on this point that the Greeks surpassed their pioneers. This is embodied in what the Greeks called “seeking logos”. This statement is more realistic and accepted by most scholars. The popular claim that philosophy originated in Greece is obviously absurd. In fact, as early as many centuries before the Greeks, the Egyptians put forward many ideas on the nature of the universe and the ethical issues of human society. The contribution of the Greeks is not to say that philosophy has developed into more extensive and all-encompassing than before. [28] It can be seen that people often describe Greek culture as a miracle produced by gifted Greeks themselves who are not influenced by their eastern neighbors, which is not in line with the facts. Burkett’s works provide strong evidence to refute this fallacy, pointing out that it was “under the influence of Semitic East-such as writers, craftsmen, businessmen, healers, etc.-that Greek culture began its unique glorious period and soon gained cultural hegemony in the Mediterranean world”. [29]

In terms of art, pottery of the period called “Primitive Corinthian Style” (about 720-640 BC) has obvious traces of the East. These oriental pottery are generally made of patterns, animal images and mythical figures extracted from oriental textiles or gold and silver handicrafts. Therefore, this early civilization in the eastern Mediterranean, including Greece, is more appropriate to belong to the East than to Europe. However, the Greeks did not just imitate the Eastern style blindly. This style was in the transitional stage between Homer’s era and the Great Colonial era. Taking this as a starting point, Greek art embarked on its own road of development.

Pottery of this style mostly comes from city-states that have close trade relations with West Asia and other places. Such as Collins, Milo Island, Rhode Island, etc. At that time, the decorative motif on the widely marketed “Corinth Bottle” mostly came from the East. We know that the ancient oriental narrative art is relatively developed, and this style is also reflected in Greek art. A binaural bottle unearthed in Eleusius in the 7th century BC proves this point. In this work, narrative depiction occupies the main position, although there are still small decorative patterns scattered in the blank space between portraits.

In ancient times, the two rivers and the Nile River basins formed rich scientific knowledge on the basis of production practice. Mathematics, geometry, astronomy, mechanics, medicine and architectural engineering have all reached quite high levels. Many ancient Greek thinkers, such as Thales, Pythagoras, Democritus and others, traveled to Egypt, Babylon and even India to study and receive Eastern knowledge materials. On this basis, they carried out further research and innovation and formed their own philosophical and scientific views. These thinkers themselves frankly admitted that they were students of the East. As Plato said, the Greeks are completely children.

With the decline of Mycenaean civilization, this connection between early Greece and the Near East ended. This situation was not broken through until the 8th century BC, when the Greeks walked out of their “dark age” and were once again shocked by the outstanding achievements of their eastern neighbors. During this period, the Miletus School in Asia Minor began to study the works of Babylonian astronomers. It introduced the sun clock and sundial from the Babylonians and divided the day into 12 parts. [30] It began to carry out astronomical research, which reached its peak in Athens’ philosophical school. By the 5th century BC, the Greeks had entered the golden age. It almost showed the influence of Eastern tradition in science, art, architecture, philosophy and literature.

More importantly, Greece has readily accepted a higher level of productivity from the East, which is marked by ironware, i.e. Iron production tools and the farming techniques associated with it. Slavery in the East generally corresponds to the late Neolithic Age or Bronze Age in the archaeological age. Around 2000 BC, the East invented an effective method of ironmaking. In the 11th century BC, the Greeks learned to make iron from the East and began to enter the Iron Age, which resulted in the special situation of Greek slavery adapted to iron. The spread and use of ironware in the East and Greece led to completely different results in the development of history. If the invention and use of Eastern ironware promoted the collapse of slavery and the arrival of feudal system (as is basically the case in China), then the use of ironware in Greece accelerated the removal of the remnants of primitive commune system and the rise and development of slavery. If the use of iron in the East led to the formation of complicated class relations and sharp class struggles in the late stage of slave society, then the use of iron in Greece led to the vigorous political life in the early stage of Greek slave society. If the scientific and cultural achievements in the late period of the Eastern slave society were built on the new level of productivity marked by ironware, then it was the sudden rise of Greek civilization that emerged on this basis. Iron weapons and tools also enabled the Greeks to effectively colonize the Mediterranean coast and resist the intrusion of the primitive nomadic tribes in the north, so that their newly built civilization would not be destroyed by the backward primitive tribes. It was iron tools and high-level production technology that formed the material basis for the rapid development of Greek slavery and Greek culture in the early days. The rise of Greek civilization in the early days of slave society is ultimately explained by this material basis.

In the era of Orientalization, the contribution of oriental civilization to mankind has been spreading westward through Greece, Hebrew and Christianity, and finally reached the modern western world. Technically, this contribution includes wheels and sowing machines that are common in people’s lives. In science, it includes the beginning of astronomical research. The 60-digit system is still in use to this day, such as dividing circles by degrees, dividing hours into components, seconds, etc. Astronomical observations in Mesopotamia eventually led to the division of seasons and the fixation of moon phases. Astrology accompanied by astronomy, Mesopotamians invented the names of the ecliptic: Bulls, Gemini, Leo, Scorpio, etc. Politically, Mesopotamia passed on the two most important contents of its political system to the concepts of western civilized city-states and sacred kingship. The city-state system is distributed in most areas around the Mediterranean. The concept of royal power and divine power and the concept that the monarch should report to the gods are introduced into the essence of western society. Legally, Mesopotamia passed the written law to the West. Perhaps this is not an exaggeration. Mesopotamian laws illuminate most parts of the civilized world. Greece and Rome were affected through contacts in the Near East. The Islamic world only had a formal code after conquering what is now Iran, the center of ancient Mesopotamia. How many elements of the present law can be traced back to Mesopotamia can be determined, as the British historian H.W.F. Saggs said in his book “Great Belongs to Babylon”: “The laws on mortgages can finally be traced back to… the ancient Near East. “

Therefore, tracing back to the source, it is the cultures of Asia and Africa that influenced Greek culture, especially in the century from 750 BC to 650 BC, Greek culture was deeply influenced by Eastern culture. In view of the above historical facts, British scholar Oswald Murray first put forward the concept of “The Orientalizing Period” in 1980, [31] which was soon accepted by people. This concept affirmed the influence of Eastern culture on Greek culture in essence for the first time. From this we can know that in the ancient Mediterranean world, there was a culture in which Greek factors and Eastern factors merged. Of course, this convergence is not a simple “merger”. The relationship between the two sides is interactive and does not always have a strong one-sided influence on the other. Who has a great influence on whom is determined by various specific and complicated factors in different periods.


[1] This is a famous ancient Greek proverb, describing the influence of ancient Asian and African cultures on ancient Greek culture.

[2] As early as the 1820s, the West published Sir Wm. Ramsay: “Asian Elements in Greek Civilization”, New Haven 1928 edition; G. H. Beardsley: “The Negro in Greek and Roman Civilization: A Study of the Ethiopian Type”, Baltimore and London 1929. Recently published works in the Western world on this subject include: J. H. Rogers: “World’s Great Men of Color”, London 1946 edition; George G. M. James: “Stolen Cultural Heritage” (Stolen Legacy, 1954); Walter Kurkert: “The Orientalizing Revolution” (1982); M. L. West: “The East Face of Helicon”, London 1987; Martin Bernal’s “Black Athena” and so on. Different works from Bernal’s point of view include: Mary Lefkowitz and Guy Rogers: “Black Athena Revised”, a collection of essays published by the University of North Carolina Press in 1996. The author is an oriental scholar and a classical scholar in the fields of archaeology, etymology and history. Their articles dissect Bernal’s argument in detail. Mary Lefkowitz: “Not Out of Africa: How Africa Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History”, New York: New Republic and Basic Books, 1996. She refuted Bernal’s African-centrist view, saying that “myth is not equal to history, academic freedom is not equal to casual speech, and the label of racism should not be put above everything”.

[3] Martin Bernal, Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, Volume I: The Fabrication of Ancient Greece 1785-1985, New Brunswick: Rutgers University 1987; Black Athena: The Archaeological and Documentary Evidence, Volume II, New Brunswick: Rutgers University 1991.

[4] Meng Yue: “Times Digest: what is a Western Civilization”, published in “Reading” No.8, 1998; Dong Leshan’s “East and West, Meeting for an End”, published in Dong’s “Misreading of Culture”, China Social Sciences Press, 1st Edition, March 1997.

[5] Chinese Socialism Before 1907, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1976. The Chinese translation was published by Fujian People’s Publishing House in 1985.

[6] (US) J. W. Thompson: “History of Historical Works” (Volume I, Volume 1), translated by Xie Defeng, Li Huoxiao, Commercial Press, 1st Edition, May 1988, p. 66; See also Herodotus, History, translated by Wang Jiajuan, 1st Edition of the Commercial Press, June 1959, p. 340.

[7] Donald R. Kelley, Faces of History, Yale University Press 1998, p. 22.

[8] Diodorus 1. 96. 2.

[9] J. J. Scaliger (1540-1609), a French classical scholar and linguist, was born in Italy and once taught at Leiden University in the Netherlands. His main book is “The School of the Age”, which first established chronology on the basis of science.

[10] (US) George Sutton: “History of Science and New Humanism”, translated by Chen Hengliu, Liu Bing and Zhong Weiguang, Huaxia Publishing House, 1st Edition, March 1989, p. 64.

[11] Cyrus H. Gordon, Homer and Bible, Hebrew Union Annual, 26 (1955), 1-66; and The Common Background of Greek and Hebrew Civilizations, 2nd ed. (New York, 1965).

[12] Michael C. Astour, Hellenosemitica: An Ethnic and Cultural Study in West Semitic Impact on Mycenaean Greece (Leiden, 1967).

[13] T. B. L. Webster, From Mycenae to Homer (London, 1958).

[14] R. M. Cook, Origins of Greek Sculpture, Journal of Hellenic Studies, 87 (1967), 25.

[15] Christian Froidefond, Le mirage égyptien dans la littérature grecque d’Homère à Aristote (Aix-en-Provence, 1971).

[16] A. L. Basham, The Wonder that was India, London 1954, p.230.

[17] According to Plutarch’s “Biography of Crassus”, Parthia and Armenian kings have just formed a marriage alliance. When Crassus’s head was thrown onto the stage by a messenger from the battlefield of Carrhae, they were watching Euripides’s “Baka”. See Plutarch, Biography of Greek and Roman Famous People, Commercial Press, 1995, pp. 617-618.

[18] W. W. Tarn, Hellenistic Civilization, London 1952, pp. 170-171.

[19] (Japan) Original Suiyuan: “History of Greek Culture Spreading East”, translated by Yang Lian, Commercial Press, 1940, p. 45.

[20] The Greek Games were held naked, thus violating the law of the Jews. See Zhang Jiuxuan’s Translation of the Postscript of the Bible, the Commercial Press, 1994, p. 347.

[21] Henri Frankfort, The Birth of Civilization in the Near East (New York, 1956), 121-137.

[22] The Macmillan Dictionary Archaeology, edited by Ruth D. Whitehouse, London: Macmillan Press 1983, p. 14.

[23] Huang Yang: “Influence from the East”, edited by Zhang Guangzhi: “World Cultural History (Ancient Volume)”, Zhejiang People’s Publishing House, 1st Edition, February 1999, pp. 187-188. [24] (Egypt) A. Fecry: Ancient Egyptian History, Science Press, 1st Edition, August 1956, p. 100. [25] The Macmillan Dictionary Archaeology, edited by Ruth D. Whitehouse, London: Macmillan Press 1983, p. 348.

[26] A.Toynbee, Hellenism, Oxford 1959, p.2.

[27] (Su) A Ni Gladshevski: “Ancient Oriental History”, translated by the Translation Office of the History Department of Jilin Normal University, Higher Education Press, 1st Edition, June 1959, p. 227.

[28] (US) Edward McNall Burns et al.: “History of World Civilization” (Volume 1), translated by Compass State et al., Commercial Press, 1st Edition, January 1987, p. 231.

[29] Walter Burkert, The Orientalizing Revolution, Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age, translated by Margaret E. Pinder and Walter Burkert,

[30] Herodotus: “History”, translated by Wang Jiajuan, Commercial Press, 1st Edition, June 1959, p. 321.

[31] Oswyn Murray, Early Greece, Glasgow, Fontana Press, 1st ed. 1980, 2nd ed. 1993, chapter 6 of the book is entitled “The Orientalizing Period”. The Orientalization era was first a concept that appeared in the field of art, and then this concept was gradually introduced into other fields of guidance. In the period of orientalization of art, there are four stages: Early Proto-Corinthian (725-700), Middle Proto-Corinthian (700-650), Late Proto-Corinthian (650-625) and Corinthian = Animal Frieze Style (625-550); In Athens, there are mainly three stages: Early Protocol-Attic (700-675), Middle Protocol-Attic Black and White Style (675-640) and Late Protocol-Attic (640-610). There are also different views on the starting and ending points of the Orientalization era, such as 725-650 BC, 700-650 BC, 8-6 century BC, 700-600BC, etc.

Reprinted from Public Number: History and Order

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