The Art of the Middle East Including Persia, Mesopotamia and Palestine

By Leonard Woolley | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
THE GEOGRAPHY OF THE MIDDLE EAST AND
ITS HISTORY DOWN TO 500 A.D.

The title of this volume calls for explanation, if not for apology. The term 'The Middle East' is used here to include the countries later known as Anatolia, Syria, Palestine, Iraq and Elam, which is part of Persia, together with the whole of the Arabian peninsula. Those countries differ widely from one another in character and climate; from the outset they were inhabited by peoples of very different stock, and in most of them the original inhabitants had, by the close of our period, been replaced by wholly alien folk; it might therefore be objected that there can be here no unity, that we are dealing with a congeries of independent cultures and should treat of them seriatim, that, in fact, 'The Art of the Middle East' is a misnomer, and 'The Arts of the Middle Eastern Countries' would be our only proper title.

The diversity of the countries is indeed obvious, and it would be foolish to disregard it. On the contrary, it should be emphasised by the historian because it was so marked that the different areas became to a large extent complementary one to another. Economically and politically their inhabitants were forced to collaborate if they were to make real advance; for any of them isolation, even if it were possible, meant stagnation. The Middle East as a whole provided everything that man required to achieve civilisation, but that was not true of any one of the areas that comprised it; none were self-sufficient. Great civilisations came to birth there, but each was obliged to acquire, by trade or by war, some or other essentials to progress which in their own land were lacking.

Although in dealing with the development of the arts we are obliged to employ such terms as Anatolian, Syrian, Mesopotamian, etc., implying a certain cultural unity, it must yet be insisted that none of these is a geographical unit. The deeply-indented western coast of Asia Minor, with its fertile river valleys, looks towards and by its chain of islands is connected with the Aegean rather than with the Asiatic hinterland from which it is cut off by mountain ranges. The central high plateau, parched in summer-time and in winter bitterly cold, is at best an inhospitable land, and only where it breaks down to the Halys basin do the conditions of life become more easy; but beyond

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