Image:The West-Eurasia World System, 3600-1400 BC
"The rich mineral resources of the highland rim of the Fertile Crescent were a latent precondition for the formation of a complex trading system: a "periphery" waiting for a "core". The growth of temple-centres in the unusual conditions of lowland Mesopotamia and southwest Iran, with their relatively dense concentrations of farming population supported by irrigation agriculture, created an organised body of potential consumers in the middle of a network of contacts reaching into the surrounding highlands. The Tigris and Euphrates provided arteries of transport as well as water for irrigation. During the fourth millennium the combination of a powerful ideology with a labour-force capable of manufacturing textiles, milk-products and alcoholic drinks from their domesticated plants and livestock, provided the basis for a process of expansion which mobilised the products of surrounding areas and initiated an explosive process of urban growth in the later fourth millennium BC. In the second half of the millennium, colonial settlements were founded at nodal points in upper Mesopotamia, giving access to Anatolia, the Caucasus, and the Levant. Coastal connections brought this growing network into contact with Egypt, stimulating a period of accelerated changes and the formation of a second "alluvial civilisation" along the Nile.
"After 3200 BC there was a notable expansion on the Persian plateau, and an extension of contacts down the Gulf. The "colonial" enterprise in the north was replaced by an expansion of indigenous trading networks, which reached beyond Anatolia to the steppes and the Aegean. Egyptians founded their own colonial settlements in the southern Levant. Then, towards the end of the third millennium, the Indus valley joined the trio of "alluvial civilisations", and much of the traffic formerly crossing the Persian plateau was carried down the Indus and along the Gulf (including lazurite from new sources in Badakhshan, initially tapped by Indus colonies.) After 2000 BC there was a major expansion of population and trading activity on the steppes and the Danube corridor, partly stimulated by the spread of new metalworking technologies in the outer hinterlands of the urban core region. After 1700 BC, the Indus valley and the Gulf network collapsed, while expansion in the east Mediterranean continued. Between 1600 and 1400 BC a major maritime trading network developed, integrating the coastlands from Egypt and the Levant to Anatolia and the Aegean, where large sailing-ships plied a circular route. Links to Italy stimulated the formation of contacts across the Alps, and the formation of a new Amber route which replaced the earlier Danube axis. Latitudinal routes across the steppes continued to extend, bringing wheeled vehicles to China (hitherto ignorant of the wheel) in the late Shang period.
"This brief summary ends with the climax of Bronze Age development, before the radical changes which took place at the end of the second millennium, leading to widespread retraction and reorganisation, and also to the development and spread of ironworking. The larger scale of demographic growth and urban development in the first millennium BC, which saw expansion both in the Mediterranean basin and the Ganges valley and in the intervening area where the first large land-empires developed, demands a larger scale of treatment which is impossible here. Nevertheless the systematic mapping of urban centres and trade networks is as illuminating for this larger world as it is for the early stages of urban expansion represented here."
© ArchAtlas 2006
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