What could these all have to do with one another? Be patient, and you will find out. History is a continuous process, with each event producing consequences which spread far and wide, over time and space. Again, situations arise over the millennia in nations which produce similar responses and consequences. Human response doesn’t vary from age to age. Nor do the basic problems communities face over time and space change much either.
We have all heard of Tutankhamun, the boy-king whose tomb seems to be better known than the young ruler himself today. No doubt the shortness of his reign accounts to some extent for this. Similarly his father Amenhotep IV has been a shadowy figure with reaction to his rule depriving future generations of historians of a source of interesting material. Sometimes there is a reverse reaction to a ruler’s actions Henry VIII performed similar deeds, provoking a stormy reaction which has given “grist to the historian’s mill”ever since. Which is better – obscurity or notoriety? Perhaps Henry was less lucky because now everybody is an “expert”on his deeds, whereas the students of Akhenaten have had to do some hard work over a century or so. If I may be excused a side-step, both monarchs were followed by “boy-kings” of limited survival periods but this is perhaps purely coincidental! Edward VI, Henry’s son, had a weak chest – Tutankhamun on the other hand is still the subject of debate on the question of “Did he fall or was he pushed?”
In the case of both Amenhotep, or Akhenaten as he is probably better known, it was religion which loomed large in his story. Egypt in the period we are looking at – around 2000 BC – had a religious system with a whole range of national, international, provincial, local deities serviced by priests, administrators, servants, tenants, and possessing wealth, temples, hospitals, educational establishments. Many aspects of this would be familiar to folk in Henry VIII’s day too. It could be said that the Pharaoh, as well as being the titular ruler of the state, had a prime responsibility for the army, defence, law and order, taxation, social and economic issues etc. Christian Europe of the sixteenth century was not all that different. In both periods clashes occurred between the religious establishment and the state as embodied in the Pharaoh/King. In Europe there was only Christianity embodied in two main groups – Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Eastern Church. In Egypt there was a vast range of gods and goddesses ranging from powerful gods like Amun to humble household spirits. The temple set-ups of the great gods provided a challenge to temporal authority. Also it could well be felt that such a multiplicity of expressions of religious feelings could well be condensed into a simple faith headed by one supreme Deity.
Such a religious set-up however, greater even than that of Amun, could have immense influence over the state. Amenhotep tackled the problem by establishing himself as the founder of the new faith, its creator. The new religion was to be centered around the Sun, with the Pharaoh as its manifestation, so to speak. The monarch changed his title to Tutankhaten, in honour of the Sun God Aten. Temples of the old gods were closed – no doubt their immense assets “nationalized” (Wonder why Henry VIII springs to mind)? It is a pity that subsequent Egyptian rulers deprived us of much knowledge of how this was done because it sounds virtually unbelievable. Perhaps the traditional gods were losing their ground with the people – perhaps the combined personality of the Pharaoh and the heat of the Sun were deemed to be insuperable – perhaps taxes to one combined religious establishment were lower than hitherto (or am I being cynical)? Anyway the new system was established and survived the rest of Akhenaten’s reign – and he too survived!
Apparently there was an immense freeing-up of art and culture during this period. Akhenaten established a new capital city – Amarna – and there must have been a great “breath of fresh air” in what had been a stuffy and traditionalist Egypt. Some scholars have suggested that Akhenaten was acquainted with Moses, who was also an exponent of the concept of One God. There is however a lack of evidence to this effect. It could well be that there was an underlying feeling that the multiplicity of deities was becoming too complex generally. Akhenaten was less successful in areas like foreign policy and Egypt’s territories and influence shrank during his reign. His son Tutankhaten on inheriting power changed his title to Tutankhamun – an indication that his counsellors had restored the old religion headed by the great god Amun. Not surprisingly political chaos reigned supreme for years as the old ways were restored. The great new capital Amarna was literally razed to the ground, with the foundations only being discovered in recent years. (It would almost seem that one “modern”king, Louis XIV knew all this. He called himself the Sun King and images of the sun dominated Versailles as they had dominated Amarna all those years earlier).
TO BE CONTINUED———
Humanity sometimes gives the impression of an obsession with age. Newspaper reports of things happening to people invariably seem to include the age of the person concerned. Fashion is dictated by age. In the social side of life age categories dominate. Did Shakespeare create the tendency with his often-quoted “Seven Ages of Man”? (It is perhaps significant that the ladies seem to have raised no objections to the title.) Shakespeare often tended to be a trend-setter.
In the early 19th. century a Danish prehistorian Thomsen carried Shakespeare’s concept a stage further, in looking at not individual Man, but Mankind. If we assume that a main difference between humankind and the animal kingdom was the ability to use tools, then the idea arose that the development of human civilization could be measured by developments in the tools being used. In Thomsen’s time the idea was that the history of mankind’s development could be divided into three areas. These were Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age. Soon however folk came along to make it more complicated – surprise, surprise! It was felt that the use of stone world-wide as a tool source came in three phases. These were Paleolithic (Old Stone), Mesolithic (Middle Stone), Neolithic (New Stone) Ages. In addition it was found that in certain parts of the world people did not use the more sophisticated bronze straight away, with its addition of tin to make it harder, but instead for a period (usually brief) made do with softer pure copper. So for them the Copper (Chalcolithic) Age appears between Neolithic and Bronze.
There are however significant weaknesses in this basically Three Age System. One complaint about learning History is its apparent obsession with Dates. But when it comes to putting dates on these periods of civilization we run into problems. Nowadays we are so used to instant reactions world-wide to change that we have problems with the concept that one part of the world might have adopted bronze while another culture some distance away might go on using stone for many hundreds of years thereafter. There are several reasons for this. Bronze required copper and tin (the latter a comparatively rare ore). The technology of finding and mining both and even more of smelting and processing was daunting. It often meant importing the ores which had to be paid for by goods in exchange. In fact international trade and navigation got a great boost when bronze came into use. Also if stone meets your needs effectively why get into bronze with all its complications – “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
The Iron Age leaves us with problems. Depending on where you were it could have been said to appear between 1500 BC and 500 BC. But communities in the Pacific Ocean were spared this innovation until the 1800’s AD. Again, it would be interesting to compare the use of iron in Roman times, say, with the use of iron in 1890 , and again in 2016.Between Roman and Victorian times iron was accompanied with timber, bronze, stone etc. But by the 19th.centurt the use of iron increased massively with the coming of steam-driven machinery, iron ships, utensils and items of all kinds. So did the European Iron Age begin around 500 BC or 1800 AD?
Another problem future archaeologists will have to contend with is the impact of new metals and technologies. From the beginning of the 20th. century aluminium and related light alloys have contended massively with iron. From the latter years of Victoria’s reign our tools have been driven by electric power – the Electric Age? If Communication is regarded as more important than the use of tools what about the Electronic or the Digital Age?
A side issue arising from the “Age” system of tracking the movement of culture is the assumption that each age marked an increase in basic human intelligence. If “necessity is the mother of invention” does that mean that as people evolve new methods of doing things they automatically become more intelligent? Humanity’s track record from the time bronze replaced stone doesn’t seem to bear this out. Conversely, did Robinson Crusoe become less intelligent when he had to go back to earlier ways? There seems to have been a Victorian concept that people who got together in cities, used metals, law, writing, political systems were in some way of superior intelligence to other communities still leading a more simple life. We still seem to be stuck in that materialistic groove. Until fairly recently in archaeology societies which produced the megaliths were regarded as inferior to the urban societies of, say, Sumeria and Egypt.
We could ask ourselves what is progress – how do we measure it? Medicine has made enormous advances, but the resulting increase in the world’s population has not been catered for by advances in agriculture and trade. Advances in military technology are not an acceptable answer to the population problem. Did the Bronze – Iron – Digital Ages produce answers?