The familiar division of general history into ancient, mediaeval, and modern may be ac cepted as the most practical, though it is ex ceedingly difficult to define these long and com plex ages. Most obvious is the geographical characteristic. Leaving out of account India and the farther East, which have contributed little to the progress of the rest of the world, ancient history has to do (1) with the fertile river-valleys adjoining the east end of the Med iterranean; (2) with the Mediterranean basin itself ; for the few outlying countries which had a share in ancient history depended upon this area for their civilization. Or taking race and religion as the basis of division, we may define ancient history as the development of pagan, non-Germanic civilization; for with the thor ough establishment of Christianity and the com ing of the Germans the Middle Age begins. Although ancient history includes many nations and numberless movements of growth and de cay, it shows nevertheless remarkable unity. From simple though diverse beginnings the various peoples of the area above defined de veloped into the one complex political and social organization known as the Roman em pire; and when with the wreck of this system the ancient world passed away, there began under new conditions that fresh life of man kind which in its earlier stage we call media val and in its more mature growth modern.
History does not concern itself with ulti mate origins ; it begins with man in the lowest condition in which it actually finds him, and with the help of anthropology, archeology and kindred sciences it traces his improvement from that point upward through the earlier known stages of his existence. For the pre historic age, which precedes contemporary written records, we are in many cases in a posi tion to ascertain with great distinctness the condition of government, society and culture, although the nature of our sources do not per mit us to reconstruct a narrative either of po litical activities or of personal achievements. Even when the historian reaches the period of contemporary documents and literature, he con tinues to use all available auxiliary sciences, principally epigraphy, archaeology, numismatics, philology and geography. In testing the genu ineness and the historical value of sources he makes use of critical principles which are be coming more and more definite and effective with the growth of historical method into a science.
Nowhere has source material accumulated so rapidly in recent )cai in the Orient and the region about the Sea. As a result of continued explorations there our knowledge of human life has been ,ly increased, and the beginnings of history nave been pushed much farther back into the past. We are now able to study the Egyptians of the paleolithic age (cf. Petrie, (History of Egypt) (4th ed. i.
p. 5 ff), although no date can yet be assigned to that primitive culture, nor have yet been dis covered all the links which connect it with the historic age. Beginning with the earliest ap pearance of written records in the Orient, we may divide ancient history into the following periods. In the chronology of the entire time preceding 1500 B.C. there have been great dif ferences of opinion. This article accepts the system of Eduard Meyer, which has been most widely adopted by scholars.
1. Dawn of Civilization; Political Unifi cation and the Early Centuries of the Old Kingdom of Egypt; the Sumerian Period in Babylonia; the Later Neolithic Age in the Span Country, 4000-3000 B.C.—Whether man kind first emerged from the Stone Age in the valley of the Nile or in that of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers has long been disputed, but the evidence now seems to incline decidedly in favor of Egypt. The date of this event, how ever, has not been closely determined. There can be no doubt that in the fourth millennium B.C. the Egyptians were acquainted with the use of copper tools and weapons. They irri gated their fields, built cities in which they lived under kings, and were acquainted with the elementary practical sciences, such as arithme tic, geometry, surveying and astronomy, as well as with the art of writing (pictographs, hiero glyphs). They had a year of 365 days, which they divided into 12 months.
Gradually the many small principalities along the Nile were united by conquest in a Northern and a Southern kingdom, which were finally joined in one kingdom under Menes about 3300 B.C. The earliest period of united Egypt is designated as the Old Kingdom. Meanwhile tribes of mountaineers, the Sume rians, were invading the lower valley of the Euphrates, evidently from the East. They re deemed these lands from developed agriculture, created a system of writing (cune iform), which in time they improved in a pho netic direction, and they discovered the use of copper (Hall, 'Ancient History of the Near East,' p. 30), although for this period no cer tain written records have been found. They invented also the moon-month calendar and the sexagesimal system of numbers. Briefly, they laid the foundations of Babylonian civilization. As no communication between them and the Egyptians can be discovered, we assume, at least provisionally, that these two peoples made their cultural progress independently of each other. During this period the population of the region about the /Egean Sea were passing through the final millenium of neolithic civili zation, best represented in the excavations of Dr. Evans at Cnossus (Hawes, 'Crete the Fore runner of Greece'). The rest of the world was not as yet advanced beyond the neolithic stage.