An increasing number of people realize that familiarization with the historical past is not only an acquaintance with the masterpieces of world civilization, unique monuments of ancient art and literature, not only a school of moral and artistic education, but also an integral part of modern life, to a certain extent an assessment of the present and even “Discovery” of the future through the prism of historical experience.
New research has largely changed previous ideas about the early stages of the history of mankind and its culture. Archaeological and linguistic research, modern methods of scientific research have significantly removed the time of transition to agriculture and metal processing, the emergence of writing, the formation of urban civilizations into the depths of millennia. But here’s the paradox: the time distances are increasing, the chronological framework is noticeably moving apart, and the ancient civilizations themselves are becoming closer to us. Closer because more needed.
Without the achievements of ancient civilizations, our world is not conceivable in any of its links. This simultaneously connects us with ancient civilizations with a strong thread of continuity, and separates us from antiquity, because it did not have much of what it extracted for its descendants, only preparing further progress. It is precisely because of their fruitfulness that ancient civilizations seem to us, although natural, but a unique, inimitable stage in world-historical development.
Many extremely important discoveries in material and spiritual culture date back to ancient civilizations. Humanity today gratefully draws from this richest source. Creating something new, it involuntarily and with necessity turns to the legacy of previous civilizations. And this appeal is the search for essential knowledge and experience, the desire to understand the wisdom of our distant ancestors, the reasons for their successes and insights, mistakes and delusions, the motives of noble and immoral acts.
With all the differences and contrasts, ancient civilizations are united by a set of most important features that give them fundamental differences both from primitive cultures and from civilizations that have come to replace them.
Firstly, ancient civilizations are civilizations, a kind of unity opposed to what is not yet a civilization – pre-class and pre-state, pre-urban and pre-civil, and finally, which is very important, pre-written state of society and culture. More recently, primitive society was called prehistoric. Now, when science has achieved important results in the study of the period of development that preceded civilization, this definition had to be abandoned. And this is true. However, this approach had its reasons, especially if we understand history in the original, Herodotus sense of the word: as an interrogation of oral tradition.
We admire the wonders of preliterate culture – from cave and rock carvings to the megaliths of Stonehenge (in Great Britain), study them, comprehending the secrets hidden in them, and at the same time we realize that the people who created these masterpieces will never “talk” to us or will tell what words they called the events that marked the time of their lives, what they bequeathed to their contemporaries and future generations.
Meanwhile, already the coming to power of Sargon the Ancient is known to us from written documents as a drama with a plot, with “intrigue”, we have an idea of the personality of Ashurbanipal and Qin Shikhuandi, we understand the true motives of the declarations of Darius I, we hear the living voices of Akhenaten and Ashoka, not to mention already about the heroes and events of the history of the Greco-Roman world, about ancient characters, whose intonations are almost unmistakably guessed. And it’s not just that historical knowledge about societies that have left a written down tradition is becoming more complete. It is important that it acquires a fundamentally different meaning. The object of knowledge itself is incomparably richer. Compared with primitiveness, the transition to a civil society marked a qualitatively new stage in the development of culture and other aspects of human activity. The world of classes and class struggle, cities and urban civilizations, the world of written traditions creates such a contentfulness of the process of historical time itself, which did not exist before.
And on this basis, the most archaic civilization is closer to the Athens of Pericles and to the Rome of Augustus, than to the seemingly “yesterday” and so still near primitiveness. This is the bottom line of unity. But at the same time, we must not forget: the upper limit is determined by the fact that ancient civilizations are ancient not so much in terms of time as in their very essence. They inherited from primitive cultures the mythological patterns of thought, speech and action characteristic of the latter much more directly than later civilizations.
No less impressive are the geographical boundaries – the “expanses” of ancient civilizations. These are not only the classical civilizations of the East and the ancient West, but also the cultures of Africa, Central Asia, the Far East, and the civilization of the New World. They are strikingly different from each other and at the same time surprisingly organically welded together. The more familiar stereotypes of ancient societies, the well-known events of their political history, myths and legends familiar almost from childhood seem to have overshadowed other civilizations, which have not yet been studied in so much detail, but the solution of the secrets of which will certainly bring surprises to science. These surprises will not be inferior in significance and sensationalism to the discovery of Troy or Pompeii.
Let’s turn, for example, to the early cultures of Africa – North and Tropical. Their appearance is unusually different, not only the time is diverse, but also the pace of formation and development of civilizations here – along with Nok and Meroe, Axum and Ife, the brilliant Swahili civilization. Every year, the African origins in the culture of Ancient Egypt are more and more clearly highlighted. Similarities between the Paleolithic and Mesolithic cultures of Egypt and the Arabian Desert, the culture of Upper Egypt and Northern Nubia from the Badari era, the most ancient drawings on the rocks of the Sahara (Karruba, Bu Alem, Jebel Seba, Zenaga, Tassili, etc.) and the Arabian Desert (Wadi Hammamat) with images of sacred animals, cult boats and hunting scenes reminiscent of the murals of pre-dynastic Egyptian ceramics – all this makes the ancient Egyptian culture related to the North African world. With him Egypt was tied particularly close ties, and he had a tremendous impact at the time of his heyday. On the other hand, the ease and depth of perception of the elements of Egyptian civilization by neighboring African peoples is a clear evidence of the initial involvement of Egypt in the single world of the most ancient cultures of Africa.
Quite different events took place in the New World. When the legions of Caesar subjugated the rebellious Gauls to the power of the Romans, and hordes of Sarmatian nomads moved west from the endless Asian steppes to the Danube, the first Indian civilizations arose on the other half of the globe. They were born independently, on local soil, without experiencing significant influences from the ancient peoples of the Old World, and even before the arrival of the European conquerors in the 16th century. managed to go through a long and difficult path of evolution.
The “meeting” of two worlds and two cultures, so dissimilar to each other, of course, can be attributed to the number of amazing historical paradoxes: if the most developed civilizations of American aborigines corresponded in their general level to the most archaic forms of statehood of the ancient East, then Europe has already passed the Renaissance and stood on the verge of antifeudal revolutions.
Of course, it is far from easy to reveal the essence of differences, the main reasons, moments of similarity, convergence of ancient civilizations – scientists from various humanitarian and even natural disciplines are working on solving this problem. Any attempt to ignore the laws of human development, the general and the particular in the historical process, reveals its inconsistency. The path traversed by ancient civilizations, united by the bonds of continuity and cultural exchange, is unusually long and diverse.
This is the path from the most archaic mythological concepts to the logic of Aristotle and Dignaga, to the morality of Confucius and Zoroaster, to the metaphysics of the Upanishads, to the universal world religious systems of Buddhism and Christianity, to the purest abstractions – “Tao” and “Logos”, “Brahman” and “Nous” , “Atman” and “psyche”.
This is the path from the oldest forms of verbal and artistic creativity, still inseparably associated with a common ritual, to developed poetry, rhetoric, refined art, which presupposes both individual authorship and the exactingness of an expert, to the theory of poetics, to the psychology of fine art.
This is the path from doubts about the truth of traditional ideas to the search for independent concepts of the universe and the “structure” of the universe, to the philosophical teachings of Socrates and Plato, Nagarjuna and Wang Chun, the atomism of Democritus and the Vaiseshiks.
The same qualitative changes took place in other areas of human activity. Gradually, the main components of culture acquired the meaning that is already familiar to us.
At its later stage, ancient civilizations came to another great achievement: they put forward the principle of scientificity, the principle of rationalism. The most clear, familiar and recognizable features for our view are of ancient rationalism – the rationalism of the Sophists and the Athenian school (Socrates, Plato, and especially Aristotle), the scientific nature of Euclid and Archimedes; the very essence of early rationalism is associated with the presence of an epistemological problem in the main schools of ancient Indian thought and the first experiments of ancient Chinese.
In order to more fully appreciate the grandiose scale and unique specificity of the contribution of ancient civilizations to the cultural treasury of mankind, it is important to distinguish more clearly the rationalism that was born then, on the one hand, from pre-scientific knowledge, and on the other, from the new European rationalism, already on new foundations that arose in the era of Galileo and Descartes.
The era of antiquity is associated not only with the birth of such world religions as Buddhism and Christianity, but also with the emergence of Plato-Aristotelian metaphysics, to which European philosophy did not reach until Francis Bacon, and the Confucian code of conduct that prevailed in China until the recent past. A world that emerged from the bosom of ancient civilizations, where people are divided not so much by ethnic, geographic and cultural as by confession – into Orthodox and Catholics, into Shiites and Sunnis, etc .; where the new category of confessional affiliation itself makes sense; where Platonic models of thought are widely included through scholasticism and mysticism of Christianity and Islam into the life of the masses who have not read Plato and have not even heard of him, and the Confucian tradition solidifies in the Sung neo-Confucianism; where the spirit of metaphysical constructions can materialize in the most concrete professional practice of the visual arts, for example, in the Byzantine-Russian icon or Chinese landscape painting of the Song era (960-1279), standing under the sign of Chan Buddhism, this is a different world, the world of the middle ages.
These are just a few, the most general outlines of the problems, plots, phenomena considered on the site. One can hardly doubt the constant growth of interest in this topic – exciting, necessary, grateful. Each era perceived ancient cultures in its own way; in a different way, obviously, the coming generations will approach their assessment, but the wealth of material and spiritual culture inherited from ancient civilizations will forever be imprinted in the memory of peoples.
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