More History You Didn’t Learn in School: The Nazca Empire (100 BC) in Southern Peru

World History Part 3 – The Word and the Sword

BBC (2018)

Film Review

Part 3 traces the rise of the Quin dynasty in China, the Mauryan empire in India, the Roman empire, the Nazca empire in South America, and the first Islamic empire. It also traces the development of world religions that arose in reaction to the barbarous violence of empire building. In my mind the ghoulish reenactments of human sacrifice and the popular Roman spectacles of massacring Christians in the Coliseum significantly detract from the film.

The film starts by contrasting the rise of the Quin empire with that of the Mauryan empire in the 3rd century BC. After coming to power, the Mauryan emperor Ashokan embraced Buddhism, renouncing violence and issuing a universal of human rights. In addition to sending Buddhist missionaries across the known world from Vietnam to the Mediterranean, he abolished the slave trade and established schools and hospitals for the poor.

It goes on to cover the rise of the Roman empire, which owing to an alliance between Julius Caesar and Cleopatra in 48 BC made Egypt a Roman colony.

In this context, it traces the rise of Christianity, thanks to the missionary zeal of Saul of Tarsus (St Paul), who dedicated his life to spreading the Christian faith to non-Jews, and the Christians’ cult of martyrdom in the face of Roman persecution.

The Nazca Empire, which emerged in South America in 100 BC practiced human sacrifice to guarantee soil fertility and protect their civilization against natural disasters. The empire vanished owing to the inhabitants’ depletion of verango trees they relied on for fuel and food. Without tree roots to anchor it, fertile soil was washed away and the region became a desert.

The film ends with the rise of Islam on the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century AD and the role of Bilal, a freed African slave, in uniting warring Arabian tribes in a religion that united belief in jihad with conquest. Within 120 years, Muslims controlled more territory than the Romans, extending from Central Asia to Spain.

History of the World: BBC Version

Survival: History of the World Episode 1

BBC (2018)

Film Review

This informative eight-episode BBC series is framed as a history of the species Homo sapiens. In reality, it’s a gruesome history of Western imperialism, but I didn’t figure this out until Episode 7. Obviously aimed at a millenial audience, the melodramatic reenactments are too long and a bit nauseating (especially the really gory scenes depicting human sacrifice and torture).

Part 1 begins 70,000 years ago with the 1,000 fully evolved members of the homo sapiens species leaving Africa by crossing the Red Sea to the Arabian peninsula. At this point in their development, they possess both language and weapons. Following the trails created by migrating herds, they head east towards India and South East Asia and north towards Europe. Some would reach Australia by 50,000 BC, Europe by 45,000 BC and North America (via the Bering Strait) by 15,000 BC (other non-BBC sources suggest they reached North America by 30,000 – 40,000 BC and were well in place by 15,000 BC).

In Europe, homo sapiens encounter Neanderthals, a second species of human apes which migrated there (from Africa presumably?) around 150,000 BC. Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalis coexisted in Europe (and according to modern DNA analysis interbred) for between 5,000 – 10,000 years. The Neanderthals become extinct, around 30,000 BC, possibly because tools and language help Homo sapiens compete more successfully for limited game.

During the 27,000 – 16,000 BC ice age, most of Europe is covered with vast sheets of ice. As the climate begins to warm, homo sapiens hunter gatherers in the fertile crescent region of the Middle East learn how to domesticate plants and animals. This knowledge spreads north to Europe over the next 1,000 years. A parallel agricultural revolution also occurs in China, India and South America.

This new found ability to produce their own food leads nomadic hunter gatherers to begin settling in permanent towns and villages.

In cataloguing the earliest evidence of “civilized” society, the filmmakers start with 4,000 BC China, which had a population of about 2 million. Next they highlight the Minoan civilization in Crete around 3,700 BC. Estimated to number approximately 100,000, the Minoans produce aqueducts, multistory architecture, and bronze weapons and jewelry. They also engage in human sacrifice to appease gods who inflict earthquakes and volcanoes on them.

In 3,200 BC Egyptian civilization develops the first written language, which enables them to develop a legal system and the first recorded history.

1177 BC: The Year Civilisation Collapsed*

When Civilisation Collapsed

The Histocrat (2019)

Film Review

I have always been morbidly fascinated by ancient history, largely because most public schools refuse to teach it. I wanted to major in ancient history at university but was scared off by the surplus of PhD cab drivers in the late sixties.

This intriguing documentary concerns a four-century “dark age” in the late Bronze Age between 1200 and 800 BC. It began when four powerful empires collapsed more or less simultaneously. Because literacy also collapsed, there is no written history describing this period. Thus nearly everything we know about it is based on archeological evidence and oral history Homer captured in the Iliad and the Odyssey.

The four Bronze Age Empires that collapsed are Egypt, the Hittite empire (in Asia Minor), the Mycaenean empire (Greece), and the Assyrian empire (in Mesopotamia).

For several centuries prior to their demise, these prehistoric empires battled each other on their borders and traded territory back and forth.

Since the late 19th century, most historians have blamed their collapse on an invasion by mysterious “Sea Peoples.” However as laid out in this documentary, except at Troy (aka Ilium, aka Wilusa), there is no archeological evidence supporting a major military invasion.**

Based on contemporary archeological evidence, the film argues that a combination of natural disasters (earthquakes, droughts and famines) internal revolts, and a surge in sea piracy*** is a more likely explanation.

By the time written language reappeared in the 8th century BC, a number of new tribes and languages had appeared. Athenian and Dorian tribes had migrated into Greece, Phoenicians and Philistines had migrated into the Levant,**** the new kingdom of Lydia had expanded to cover most of Asia Minor. Assyria would ultimately expand to become the largest empire the world had seen.


*Professor Eric H. Cline’s book 1187 BC: The Year Civilisation Collapsed is credited as a main source for this documentary.

**According to archeological evidence, the Greco-Trojan war most likely occurred between 1300 and 1200 BC.

***All four empires were dependent on Mediterranean trade, especially for copper (from Asia Minor and Cyprus) and tin (from Afghanistan and the Balkans) needed to make bronze.

****Area including modern day Syria, Israel, Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon.

 

The Civil War in Libya

The Lust for Libya: How a Nation Was Torn Apart Part 2

Al Jazeera (2018)

Film Review

Part 2 of Lust for Libya links the 2011 “uprisings” in Libya to the Arab Spring uprisings elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa.

It makes no mention of the CIA role in fomenting and arming the rebellion in Libya, along with the more peaceful 2001 Arab Spring “color revolutions.” See The Arab Spring: Made in the USA

I was surprised to learn the 2011 NATO bombing campaign was spearheaded by French president Nicolas Sarkozy (whose 2007 election campaign was financed by Gaddafi) and former UK prime minister David Cameron. It was they who approached the Obama administration as a third partner.

In total NATO bombers embarked on 20,000 sorties and 67,000 total bombings to virtually destroy Libya’s civilian infrastructure. With US intelligence support, rebel fighters captured, tortured and executed Gaddafi as he was fleeing Tripoli. With his demise, Libya became a failed state as it descended into a civil war between rival armed militias.

Libya’s National Oil Company and its central bank continued to operate, and for some bizarre reason the new de facto government (National Transition Council) granted a salary to all past and present militia fighters – a move that clearly fuels the ongoing war.

Libya has held a number of parliamentary elections since 2011, but none has been able to control the militias or effectively rebuild state institutions.

In 2015, the UN created the government of National Accord, which meets in Tripoli, although any government institutions that continue to operate are run by militias. A CIA-linked exile General Khalifa Hafter has created a rival government run by the Libyan National Army and which has seized the oil ports and all oil production.

France, the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are all supplying Hafter with weapons, in open violation of a UN arms embargo. Italy backs the Government of National Accord because they control natural gas resources Italy depends on – and, to some extent, the flow of African refugees departing from Libya for Italy.

Part 2 begins at 47 minutes.

Egypt’s Chronic Bread Shortages: How US Trade Deals Have Bankrupted Egypt’s Economy

Egypt on the Breadline

Al Jazeera (2016)

Film Review

This film is about Egypt’s chronic bread shortage and a corrupt system of subsidies that severely threatens the country’s food security.

Under Nasser (1956-1970), Egypt was self sufficient in wheat, its main staple crop. In the 1980s, as Egypt allied itself more closely with the US, farmers were pressured to grow export crops instead of wheat. The ultimate effect was to bankrupt Egypt’s economy, as it fell victim to global commodity prices and were forced to borrow to pay for wheat imports.

Egypt’s 2011 Arab Spring revolution and 2013 military coup have significantly reduced its productivity. 6,000 factories have closed and there has been a significant decrease in cultivated land.

The current government continues the pattern that emerged under the deposed dictator Mubarak. It allows government officials to monopolize Egypt’s imported wheat market, by setting a fixed price for wheat and flour that barely covers production costs.

At present, there are two main types of bread in Egypt. The first is government subsidized. Produced from imported flour, it has a fixed price of 10 cents per loaf. It’s widely described as “unfit for human consumption” – due to its tendency to contain insect parts, nails, cigarette butts and sand. The second type of bread is made from Egyptian-grown wheat and costs ten times as much.

Many analysts believe a skyrocketing increase in global fuel and food prices was a major trigger for the 2011 Arab Spring “revolutions.”

“Bread, freedom and social justice,” was a common chant in Tahir Square.

 

Egypt Post-Arab Spring: Women Street Sellers

Egypt’s Women Street Sellers

Al Jazeera (2018)

Film Review

Another documentary that offers a rare glimpse into the lives of poor women in modern-day Egypt. Too often, we in the industrial North have no sense of the human struggle to survive in the third world.

The film profiles five Egyptian women who have overcome male resistance to sell farm products at a market they started in the poor Egyptian town of Manshiyat al-Qanatir. Owing to the scarcity of full time work, most men are unemployed. In many cases, these female street sellers are the sole providers for their families. Typically they get up at 2-3 am to buy produce from rural farmers. Then they seek out transport into town to re-sell their foodstuffs at the market they started.  All of them want their children to go to university so they can get good jobs.

The Failed 2011 Arab Spring: Extreme Poverty and Repression in Egypt

Zabbaleen: Trash Town

RT (2014)

Film Review

This film offers a rare glimpse into how little life has changed for Egypt’s poor following the 2011 Arab Spring “revolutions.”

It specifically concerns the Cairo dump and the tens of thousands of people who live and work there collecting and sorting garbage for Egypt’s capitol. Most of the residents are Coptic Christians, but there are also Muslim families.

Men with trucks work in teams of 12 to collect trash from their assigned neighborhoods. Sorting and recycling metal plastic is also considered men’s. The plastic is cleaned and ground into powder to be sold to factories that remold it into plastic utensils and containers. Women mainly sort food waste and distribute it to chicken and pig farmers.* Children begin working at age 10-12, unless the family is destitute and needs the income of younger siblings.

Zabbaleen is largely self-governing and self-supporting. Ten percent of the community are managers and fairly well off. The managers refer disputes and criminal acts to a group of elders to resolve. Zabbaleen residents despise the police and army.

Many residents are descendants of Zabbaleen families engaged in this work for 40 or more years. The community has their own butchers, grocery stores and schools – though most children are too busy working to attend.

The average life expectancy in Zabbaleen is 55. This contrasts with an overall Egyptian life expectancy of 70.9.


*Raising pigs was banned for the two years the Muslim Brotherhood ran the Egyptian government.