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The earliest civilisations were cultures based around cities. The cities developed along rivers in Asia and the Middle East and then spread throughout the Mediterranean by 600 BC. These early civilisations had a great influence on the history of the world, particularly with the concept of building new colonies. Ancient civilisations such as Greece, Rome, Assyria and Persia were intent on building empires and expanding their power and territory by invading and conquering the territory of other civilisations.

Ancient Assyria

Ancient Assyria was a kingdom located on a river called the Tigris. Today, the area is located in parts of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon. The Assyrian empire was at its peak between the 9th and 7th centuries BC when it extended from the Mediterranean Sea across Arabia and Armenia and included cities such as Babylon and Nineveh. Refer Image 1

The Assyrians were warlike people that brutally conquered nearby kingdoms. In the 9th century BC, the Assyrian king, Ashurnasirpal II came into power. He pushed his conquests north to Urartu and west to Lebanon and the Mediterranean. He installed Assyrian governors in the new lands so that he could have more control over the empire. He also made the conquered people pay heavy taxes. Eventually, the Assyrian Empire became too big to control and the Empire began to dissolve. In 612 BC, the cities of Ashur and Nineveh were completely destroyed and the Empire collapsed.

Ancient Persia

Another ancient coloniser was the Persian Empire. Persia is the old name for the country we now call Iran. The Persian Empire was a vast empire in south west Asia that was founded by Cyrus II after 546 BC. It was brought to the height of its power and glory by Darius I and his son Xerxes. Refer Image 2

The Persian Empire consisted of conquered lands and colonies. The Empire was divided into regions. Each region was run by a local ruler called a satrap. Officials kept an eye on the satraps and made sure they stayed loyal to the King. Roads built across the Empire ensured that messengers could travel more quickly and let the King know of any problems. In this way the King was able to control all the colonies of the Empire.

Eventually the Persian Empire extended from the Indus River valley in present-day Pakistan to the Mediterranean Sea. It was the largest empire the world had ever seen before Alexander the Great (a Macedonian king) conquered it between 333 and 331 BC.

Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece is the period in Greek history that lasted for about 1000 years until the rise of Christianity. The civilisations that developed in Greece, particularly in the years 400 and 500 BC, have had a strong and continuing influence on history. Greek culture was a powerful influence in the Roman Empire and was carried through to many parts of Europe. Refer Image 3

Ancient Greece was comprised of many separate settlements that were independent and self governing. These settlements were called city-states. Because Greece had poor soil, food had to be imported as the population grew. New city-states were established overseas as colonies. These new colonies supplied grain, wool, timber and iron, as well as providing slaves to mainland Greece. In return, Greece exported olive oil and other products such as pottery. Some of these colonies were located in Egypt, the Black Sea and southern Italy.

Around 300 BC, Alexander the Great extended the Greek Empire into the Middle East and Asia by conquering Persia, Egypt and parts of India. When Alexander died in 323 BC, the Greek Empire was the largest in the world. Greek culture and learning had spread throughout the new world. The great age of ancient Greece ended in 146 BC when Rome conquered Greece.

Ancient Rome

Ancient Rome was a civilisation that grew out of the city-state of Rome, which was founded in the 9th century BC. Roman civilisation flourished in Italy because of its fertile soil, warm climate, natural harbours and good location for trade and conquests. Through conquest and assimilation, Roman civilisation came to dominate Western Europe, including Britain and the area around the Mediterranean Sea. By the first century AD, the Romans ruled over an empire that stretched from England to Palestine, and included the ancient civilisations of Egypt and Greece. Refer Image 4

Colonising other countries and territories was important for the Roman Empire. New lands and countries provided trade and other raw materials. They also provided slaves for Roman households, and possibly to be trained as gladiators. The Roman army developed into the strongest fighting unit in the ancient world and was able to keep fighting back invaders and conquering new territories. The Roman Empire had eventually declined by AD 476.

Ancient history shows us the beginnings of colonisation and how important it was for countries to have a large territory. In the next chapter we will look at the four great modern colonisers.

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1. On what river was the ancient kingdom of Assyria located?






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