Ancient Near East. Cultural History

History 110

GE C-1: World Civilizations & Writing Intensive Advanced Study Course

Prerequisite: WPE Passing Score

California State University, Sacramento 

Professor Henry E. Chambers

Thursday 6:00-8:50 PM

Office Tahoe 3091.

Hours: TR 9-10:00 AM, Noon-12:30.

Office Phone:278-6234

Home Phone: (916) 486-0400.




Catalog Description: The course will study the growth and development of the Ancient Near East from its origin in Ancient Sumer and Egypt to its fruition in the Babylonian, Assyrian, and Egyptian empires. Relgion, literature, social, and political institutions will be emphasized as integral elements in an historical process. Primary interest will be on the internal development of the two great cultural empires, Mesopotamia and Egypt as the foundations of the ancient Mediterranean civilizations and only secondarily on other Levantine peoples.

As an Advanced Study course students will prepare different types of written exercises: two in class exams and three 4-5 page formal essays on the assigned readings and accompanying discussions. Your instructor will provide specific paper topic assignments for the papers.


Course Objectives

  • Students will read, discuss, and write three short papers on a variety of Near Eastern texts.
  • Each student will use computers for emailand accessing course materials.
  • Babylonian and Egyptian Literarature will be the central focus for student appreciation of the two cultures.
  • Babylonia and Egypt will stressed as the primary historical foundations for Mediterranean culture.


The following assignments are due on the dates indicated.



Due Date
Essay I - Sumerian Civilization

Oct 4


Essay II - Babylonian Literature


Oct 18

Essay III - Egyptian Literature


Nov 29

Exam I - Mesopotamia

20 %

Oct 25

Exam II - Egypt


Dec 20

Grade Scale













Reading Materials


William Kelly Simpson. ANCIENT EGYPTIAN LITERATURE. 3d Edition. Yale, 2003.

S. Dalley. MYTHS FROM MESOPOTAMIA. Oxford, 1989.

William Stiebing. THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST. Longman, 2003.


Weekly Topics and Readings:

Agricultural Revolution


  • Topography
  • Irrigation Technology
  • Early Settlements

Readings: Stiebing, pp. 1-25.

Sept. 6

Early Dynastic Sumer to Neo-Sumerian Renaissance

  • Peasant Agriculture and a Redistributive Economy
  • Kingship and the Kengir League
  • City and Temple Structures
  • Early Sumerian Art and Archaeology

Readings: Stiebing, pp. 29-61, 65-84,

Sept 13

Sumerian and Babylonian Cosmologies

  • Myth and Religion
  • Cosmic World View
  • Sumerian-Babylonian Pantheon
  • Inanna and the Role of the Goddess in Babylonia


Readings: S. Dalley. MYTHS: Descent of Ishtar, 154-162; Nergal and Ereshkigal, 163-201;Anzu, 203-231; Adapa, 182-188; Etana, 189-200.

Sept. 20

Old Babylonia: Creation of New Political, Economic, and Social Forms.

  • Search for Social Justice
  • Sumerian Legal Antecedents
  • Freemen, Gurush, and Slaves
  • Women in the Family and Kingdom
  • Babylon as the Cultural Center of Mesopotamia

Readings:. Stiebing, pp. 85-99.

Hammurabi's Law Code.

Sept. 27

Paper I Due


October 4

Babylonian Literary Norms

  • Creation of a Canon from Sumerian Antecedents
  • Sumerian-Akkadian Writing Systems
  • Gilgamesh and the Struggle for Life: The Archetypal Hero
  • Sumerian Narrative Tales

Readings: Dalley, MYTHS, Epic of Gilgamesh

October 4

Babylonian Literature

  • Creation and Flood Stories
  • Exhaltation of Marduk
  • Adapa and Etana Tales

Readings: Dalley, MYTHS, Atrahasis, 1-39; Epic of Creation, 228-277.

Oct. 11

Paper II Due


OCT 18

Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Traditions

  • Assyrian Imperial Conquests
  • Lesser Peoples: Hittites, Israel, and the Phoenicians
  • Neo-Babylonian Renaissance: Wisdom Texts
  • Babylonian Art and Architecture: Ishtar Gate
  • Conclusion of Mesopotamian Civilization.
  • Review


Readings: Stiebing, pp. 193-289.

Oct 18


Oct. 25

Old Kingdom Egypt: Political/Social Norms

  • Egypt as an Island Culture
  • Pharaoh as Divine Ruler
  • Saqqara Complex of Zoser
  • Geography and Irrigation Economy
  • Peasant Labor. Slavery, and the Riverine Village


Readings: Stiebing, pp. 103-134, Simpson EGYPTIAN LITERATURE, Tale of Cheops and the Magicians, Teaching of King Amenemhat I for His Son Senwosret, Teaching for King Merikare, Three Autobiographies of the Old Kingdom.

Nov. 1

Foundations of Egyptian Religion

  • Early Cosmologies
  • Horus/Re Cult and Pyramid Texts
  • Creation of an Ethical System

Readings: Simpson, Maxims of Ptahhotep; Pyramid Texts, Selections from the Coffin Texts, Book of the Dead 125: "The Negative Confession."

Nov. 8.



Middle Kingdom

  • New Directions in Government and Literature
  • Creation of a Literary Canon
  • Search for Immortality and Life's Meaning
  • Ma'at and the Egyptian Mean of Justice


Readings: Stiebing, pp. 139-159; Simpson, The Admonitions of an Egyptian Sage, Story of Sinuhe, The Man Who Was Weary of Life, Shipwrecked Sailor, Prophecies of Neferty, Tale of the Eloquent Peasant

Nov 15.

Thanksgiving November 23 (No class)


Paper III Due



Nov. 29

Imperial Egypt

  • Egypt and the Hyksos
  • Pharaoh and an Overseas Empire

Readings: Stiebing,pp. 162-178; Simpson, The Kamose Texts, The Poetical Stela of Thutmose III, The Israel Stela


Nov 29

Egyptian Religion and Society

  • Amun-Re's Temple at Karnak
  • New Religious Forms: Aton and Amarna
  • New Kingdom Egyptian Literary Forms

  • Peasant Lifestyles
  • Women's Varied Social and Political Roles

Readings: Stiebing, pp. 178-190; Simpson, Hymns to Amun and Aton, Love Songs and the Songs of the Harper.

December 6

Conclusion of the Ancient Near East

  • Influence of Egypt on Classical Civilization
  • Persian Conquest
  • Legacy of the Ancient Near East

Readings: Stiebing, pp. 225-227, 293-320, 323-328.

Dec 13,

Exam II   Final Exam Dec 20



1. Three papers, 4-5 pages in length. The first two may be redone for a second and higher grade. Paper assignments will be on specific topics provided by the instructor. Cribbing information or worse still, direct quotes without citation violates University policy and will not be tolerated.

2. Two Examinations, essay and short answer in format. Each exam will require one essay from a selection of two (50 pts) and ten short answers (50 pts) from fifteen available. Study questions will be provided for both examinations..

  Computer Requirements:

  • Each student must have a saclink account from CSUS.
  • The course uses WebCt, a proprietary web site. Students must have access to a computer either at home or in campus labs and be able to use a web browser. Netscape works well for web access. Individual passwords and access numbers are your saclink number and the final four digits of the student ID number. Class notes, exam study questions, assignments, and email are available on the class WebCt site.


Page updated: August, 2007 AD